Homily 29th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C October 20, 2019

When Jesus went up the mountain to pray at night, was it in silence, or did he speak words openly? When the Lord prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified, and the Apostles fell asleep on him, not “watching” with him, did he speak words openly on this fateful night of his arrest, or did he pray in total silence, contradicting the loudness of “Crucify him!” the following day?

Prayer is the salt of the Christian. It favors our lives, as well as having many flavors. There are many different forms of prayer, a few of them informal.

               There’s what the newly canonized St. John Henry Newman calls form prayer: reading and praying words on a page open before us. Organized prayer. All clergy do this every day of every year in the morning and evening, better known as Lauds and Vespers. At least we’re supposed to, making the promise to do so at our Diaconate ordination before priesthood.

               There’s the prayer of praying with the Scriptures, reading God’s word, and allowing it to speak to us in ways that lead to a more solid, lasting relationship with Christ Jesus. In the words of the Patristic Church Father, St. Jerome, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” It’s why we listen to God’s word at every liturgical celebration, and why we should read it at home every day; so we are not ignorant of our Savior. Reading Scripture is a most beautiful way to pray.

               There’s what I call the “prayer of grunting; the prayer of deep breath alone; the prayer of exasperation; the prayer of rolling our eyes at God, which he can clearly see; the prayer of no discernable words, but only sounds that only humans can make. The prayer of sighing and the prayer of “when am I going to catch a break?” This is one of my personal favorites; the prayer that speaks no words, held in the deepness of our hearts, that God can read and hear with perfect clarity. It’s the prayer where God actually writes the sentence, because we cannot speak it.

               And there’s the spontaneous prayer. the Evangelicals like this one; so do the charismatics in the Catholic Church, as well as the Quakers and Shakers. There’s no written text; without the Good Book; just take a deep breath and let the Spirit blow where it wills.

               In our readings this Sunday, we’re offered for our benefit a few forms of prayer. In the 1st reading where Joshua mows down Amalek – one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament – we’re given this visual of Moses with hands raised during the battle. When his hands are raised, Joshua and the Israelites get the better of the fight. When the hands of the one who carried down the 10 Commandments from Mt. Sinai grow tired and weary, the Israelites are pushed back by Amalek the adversary.

               What we see here in this reading is that there are no rules to this prayer. We can even cheat a little. Such as having Aaron and Hur hold up your hands when they grow weary. Here, the understanding of prayer is twofold: first, that the Israelites pray, and Amalek does not. That’s a recipe for disaster for Amalek, as well as all of us. If we fail to incorporate daily prayer into our lives, then eventually we will be mowed down by Amalek, the adversary. We will die in body and spirit. And second, cheat little if you have to. Pray in your car. But don’t read the Scriptures while you’re driving. But praying a decade of the Rosary is possible. Cheat a little with prayer in places that are out of the ordinary. It has great benefits.

               And the prayer that comes from Paul to Timothy is called the prayer of remaining faithful. To what we have learned and believed. This is simply the prayer that is ever faithful to our Christian nature. We don’t pray for violence; or revenge; we avoid the type of prayer that seeks to do damage to another. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. I will repay.” Where repayment is due, God is the just Judge.

               The prayer of remaining faithful to what we have learned and believed is our search for unity, while not watering down or compromising our faith. Such as when life begins, or the Sacrament of Matrimony.

               And the prayer Jesus addresses in the Gospel parable is the prayer of not becoming weary. Which is an ever-present danger. The parable our Lord shares with us disciples seeks to render a just decision against an adversary. The widow wants justice. For what we don’t know. What we do know is that whatever is bugging her, she isn’t going to stop pestering the judge until he arrives at her answer. She’s already written the answer for her case, just as Jesus has already written the answer for our case through his Cross. It’s the widow’s stamina that will wear down this judge who fears no one, except one widow.

               The prayer marvel in this parable is the energy and persistence of the widow to go up against a heavyweight and knock him out. She knows the judge is the only one who can bring about the verdict she wants against her adversary. And she’s going to bother him until she gets it.

               How brave are we in our prayer? How bold can we be? Are we one and done with prayer? Or, are we bold and persistent over time? Do we have the spiritual energy over years, like St. Monica praying for the conversion of her son St. Augustine for 30 years? The energy and determination to overcome the adversaries of this world through the power of prayer to God?

               Prayer is the salt of the Christian. There are many forms of prayer we can attend to. But first, be open to praying, like Moses, Timothy, and, yes, even the widow in her bothersome requests. Have hearts that seek communion with God, the just Judge.         

Homily 28th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C October 13, 2019

Gratitude is an attitude that has the force to overcome much of the ugly things we deal with in life. From the crazy, zany world of politics, to issues of life and death, and how hearts can be converted to a love for God rather than a love for passing things.

               Gratitude, and maintaining its spirit throughout a given day, has the good power and capacity to turn the ugly into beautiful, the confusing into sense, hatred into love, and anger into forgiveness. All because we are grateful to God.

               Grateful for what? For the gift of who you are, while not being a curmudgeon. For the gift of the blessing of years; honestly, if many of us moved on to eternal life this week, and we could look back a moment before we take our last breath, we could say, “God has been good to me with the amount of time I’ve been personally given to live and love, to enjoy the blessings of this world, and know in my heart I haven’t been cheated in days, months, or years.”

               That’s not to say we don’t look forward to much more. I pray you do. But many of us can call it a day and know we haven’t been robbed of time. And be grateful for it before the heart stops beating. We always have more to do. But we can be satisfied with what we’ve accomplished.

               And, the young folks should be grateful to God for the many good parents who guide them and lead them to a good place in life. We can tell how spiritually mature a youngster is by how aware they are of the blessings and good situation they have in life, and continually thank their parents and/or grandparents for all the sacrifices made over the years on their behalf. And be grateful they don’t live in a tent behind City Hall or under some bridge.

               Faith was the word last week, and commanding Jesus to increase that fundamental virtue in our lives. This week the word is gratitude. A virtue to be grateful for. Being grateful bonded with humility. Humility is not a first cousin to gratitude. Humility and gratitude are siblings; of the same flesh and blood. It’s not possible to offer to God or anyone else genuine gratitude absent a profound sense of humility.

               So, the lepers are over in their own special corner of the world. A corner created special for them. “You got rotting skin? Go over there and stay there, away from everyone else, except those who are like you.” Lepers were confined, restricted, in a real sense imprisoned. Not behind bars or in dungeons. But territory-wise, they had they own little forced corner of the world with like members of the Rotting Skin Club. Where skin rots and falls off like a real-life horror movie. No directors, no producers, no actors and actresses. Just a real life 1st century horror flick.                                                          

Obviously, they heard about the one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Otherwise, they wouldn’t yell out at the top of their lungs from a distance, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us.” In that request, in that command, another command this week directed at Jesus to show pity, there’s the potential for a volcano of gratitude ready to erupt.

Thankfully, our Lord’s hearing is very good. However, hearing his name yelled out by a group of confined lepers doesn’t guarantee good results. But Jesus is having a good day and he’s in a good mood. He feels like revealing his loving power. ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.”

So off they fly. The 10 of them. To the priests to be unconfined. As they go, the volcano of gratitude is welling up, moving closer to the top of the mountain. And as they realize God has performed another special act of love on their behalf, he has spilt the Red Sea in two again for them, cleansing their rotted flesh, the eruption of gratitude begins. Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. St. Helen’s pour forth their ashes of gratitude.

Here’s the lynchpin point. Which direction do we go? Do we run away from that territory of confinement as far as we can go? Run to another country. Run to another god. Run back to my old life. Run to the moon now that I’m cured and free. All of which are the opposite direction from “Jesus, Master!” Is the eruption of my gratitude heading in a misplaced direction?

Or, do we go back to the Source of all blessings? Where the eruption of our gratitude returns to Pure Goodness in the Person of Jesus Christ.

It’s hard to believe that the hearts of 9 lepers were not filled with gratitude when they realized they were cured from such a dreaded disease. Just like it’s hard to believe a teenager lacks gratitude for all that parents sacrifice for them. But it’s possible. It’s possible for a heart to be that confined, that restricted, in a territory of prison, behind barbed wire fences.

The invitation of Jesus is to travel back each day in the direction that returns to him, to extend gratitude, even to the point of our suffering. Only he can demand such, because he carried a Cross for you.

Gratitude is easy when heaven is upon us; when we know it’s heaven touching us. Like 10 lepers who were personally touched by heaven. But even then, the worst decision can be made by not returning to Christ to offer thanks.

Genuine gratitude offers thanks to God in the good times and rough times. Early in life, at the end of life, and in the mid-years. May we never lose sight of the one cure that has touched all of us. The cure of the Cross of Jesus Christ that has won for you and me an everlasting victory over rotting flesh. The cure of our bodily resurrection.       

Homily 27th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C October 6, 2019

We remember Ben Franklin’s famous quip, “Do not put off till tomorrow what can be done today.” Not hard to picture his lips moving on the 100-dollar bill saying this quip for the benefit of our ministry and life. It’s a very Christian thought, what Ben thought up, coming from a Deist.

               But what Mr. Franklin offers is only half of our Lord’s teaching from the Gospel parable. Not putting off until tomorrow what can be accomplished today assumes we have the time to finish today what needs to be done. Some of our lives are so busy, even some of you retired folks, that trying to finish up all that can be done today will keep you awake well past the time when the skunks and raccoons come out from hiding.

               At the heart of our readings is the word faith. And, Jesus being commanded by his Apostles to increase it in them. There’s a twist. They command him. But the command is for something worthwhile, and not about who’s the greatest. The increase our faith command is one we best be ready for. If we tell the Lord we want a deeper intake of some virtue, like faith, get ready for the response to overpower you in God’s time. Or any virtue. 

               When’s the last time we said, “Lord, increase my love for people.” Do we even want to go there? Or to hang on to the bitter pills of people who frustrate and anger us? Yet, there’s a way out of that bag of misery. ‘Lord, increase my love for people.”

               Or, “Lord, increase my capacity to forgive.” Increase my forgiveness toward those family members, former friends, strangers, and even politicians? Is that even possible? Increase my forgiveness toward them? Have we ever demanded and commanded such things from the Lord, even in the silence of our hearts? From the One who said on the Cross, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” Don’t be shy when commanding God to increase your forgiveness. It will pay immeasurable spiritual and physical dividends.

               All good increasing from the Lord, however, begins and ends with faith. For faith one day will end when we gaze upon the face of Christ in heaven, where faith is replaced by an everlasting vision. “Blessed are those who see God forever, for your faith will no longer be needed.”

               But right now, faith it necessary. And the Apostles offer to us the perfect command that tells Jesus what we want him to do for us, “Increase our faith.” Their search for increasing has nothing to do with Powerball, our 401-K, or increasing any sort of mammon. We’ve touched on the mammon stuff the last two weeks. We cannot serve both God and that. Financially, we can put off till tomorrow what can be done today. But with faith in Christ, there’s no guarantee of tomorrow.

               Increase our faith is always a “today” command. It’s not a “tomorrow” command, even though it took the Apostles a good part of Jesus’ public ministry to arrive at their command to him. Which really begs the question, “Where are we in our faith journey at this time? Have we commanded the Savior to increase our faith? Are we miles away from commanding him to increase our faith? Or will we never command him to give us such a gift?

               By commanding Jesus to increase their faith, the Apostles are commanding the Lord to touch their hearts so intimately that when the day is done, they will accomplish all they were commanded as unprofitable servants, doing all they were obliged to do. Faith does not concern itself with any tomorrows. As the Lord teaches, “Do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself.” Faith is a coin that has two sides: today, and eternal life. Increasing faith today, living a life steeped in Jesus Christ, brings us to the other side of the coin.

               With all the commands that God has sent our way for our benefit and good-living, here’s a Gospel that presents us the opportunity to command God in return. Where we can tell God what to do, and it’s not done through the sin of pride, but through our search for holiness. “Okay Lord, you desire me to have faith in you, now increase it in me!” So, if we’re going to tell God what to do, let’s make sure it works to our eternal benefit, and not to selfish motives.

               “Lord, increase my faith, my love, my hope, my forgiveness, my generosity, my compassion, my visits to the sick, my tending your sheep, my better language, my presence with your people, especially the dying. Increase it all! Turn me into a Saint! If you want to increase my bank account a little, that’s okay too.”

               But that’s not the first objective in commanding Jesus what to increase in us. It’s the virtues. The virtues that we don’t put off until tomorrow.