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.       

Homily 26th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C September 29, 2019

It’s the greatest happening in human history. Yet, some toss it aside like a bad-tasting carrot. But a bad carrot it’s not. It’s a good carrot. Good for the eyes, as my mother used to tell me about eating my carrots. It’s good for the body and good for the soul. It’s good for the entire person. What is it? Someone rising from the dead. And, if it can happen once, it can happen again.

               We get the name of the poor man in our Lord’s parable. Lazarus. Jesus must have asked Lazarus from Bethany, the brother of Martha & Mary, if he didn’t mind if he used his name in a story of someone rising from the dead. An event in which Lazarus from Bethany would be very familiar with. “Lazarus, come out!” So, Lazarus from Bethany said to his good friend Jesus, “Sure, Lord. Use my name if it brings people home to heaven, and how to get there.”

               On the other hand, the rich man is … the rich man. With no name. I suspect Jesus wasn’t too chummy with any rich men at this point in his ministry. But we further suspect that our Lord wasn’t into using people’s names in ways that would cause others to walk away from him. He always used people’s names in a way that showed their dignity as a child of his heavenly Father. Thus, he’s the rich man, and not George or Harry, whom Jesus is trying to personally embarrass. God doesn’t stoop that low.

               So, what we have in this parable are two names; Lazarus, and the rich man. One known, the other unknown. Also, one silent, for Lazarus in the parable speaks not a word. And, one who talks a lot, begging Abraham to do something he cannot do. Something reserved for God alone; welcoming a soul into heaven.

               And in the parable what we have at stake are some pre-resurrection issues. The issues of neglect, intentional avoidance (“I know you’re at my front step, Lazarus, but I don’t see you”); the issue of the material goods of the world, and how they can blind a human soul, preventing us from acts of love; and, the issue that “You Lazarus, don’t even exist in my world.”

               Let’s admit it; it’s very difficult to believe that the rich man doesn’t see Lazarus sitting at his front door every day. But he likely doesn’t see him. Because if he did, he would have Lazarus removed by a couple henchmen. “Get that poor beggar out of here! Remove his carcass from my step!” But no. There’s no removal of Lazarus, because he really doesn’t see him. Lazarus is a non-entity; a zero; a nothing. How can anyone be so blind? Is that even possible? When’s the last we entered our home, and there was a poor person sitting at our front step, and we didn’t see them? I guess it’s possible, according to how Jesus tells the parable.

               Even though it’s a parable, a story Jesus put together, we can be certain there are people who live like the unnamed rich man. It’s a real person somewhere. Otherwise, Jesus wouldn’t waste his breath telling the story.

               So, our Lord does tell the story, with an emphasis on neglect and avoidance, and how as Christians we are to avoid neglect and avoidance in our faith lives, which is all the time. Is there anything that makes us more uncomfortable, or feel like we’re at the bottom of our humanity, than when we intentionally avoid someone in need? I can say firsthand there’s nothing I can think of, because I’ve done that. I’ve been guilty of such neglect on my part. But I’ve confessed those sins. And God has forgiven me.

               But we also know, I pray, the immense joy it brings to our spirit when we make a loving difference in someone’s life. There’s nothing better. When we see them “sitting at our front door,” and treat them with Christian dignity. In the same way God treats us sinners.

               The parable, however, is not centered in good works alone. This story of Jesus is centered in good eternal life. The life all of us are walking toward and will arrive faster than we would like. (Except for all those older folks who say, “Father, why doesn’t God take me? He doesn’t like me.” “Yes, he does, Mrs. Smith. God likes you. He’s still painting your room right now, and he needs to buy you some furniture. He’ll be done shortly.”)

               Good eternal life is our destiny. It’s the final, lasting stage of our humanity. Jesus tells this parable because there is the real possibility that some folks, like the rich man, will miss the mark. After death, they will take a route to the other side that corresponds to their lack of faith in God, their absence of fear of the Lord, and their lack of good actions. Their soul will take a route, a highway, that God did not lay out, or pave. The route God has paved for us is the road that that travels through the Cross of our Lord. Lazarus was familiar with this route before his death into eternal life. The rich man was not.

               Our Lord’s parable seeks to call our attention to the joy of our final, everlasting destiny. In a world that grows more and more less afraid of God, and less believing in God’s gift of eternal life, where more and more humans are pretending to be God, and play God, we are to remain steadfast in the humble truth that as authentic Christians, we love and care for those in need. It is a sign to the world that we are Church. We recognize the value of every person, because God does.

               The good side of the chasm is our destiny, our true home. And whether we are rich or poor, or somewhere in between, we take joy in the truth that Jesus knows our name.                 

Immaculate Conception Parish Council Meeting: 15 SEP 19

Attendees:

Fr. Riley
Deacon Kevin
Matthew Foster
Adam Foster
Ann Marie Sheehan
Stephen Sycks
Polly Flynn

Topics:


Mr. Sycks gave a finance overview.  Discussed in detail the Legacy of Hope results and we had a brief discussion on the projects that will impact the parish as a result.  Also mentioned a new subgroup focusing on the lifecycle management of the church property in support of budgeting for infrastructure needs.  There was a discussion about the growing changes in the trending of our annual giving and the change in demographics of the parish community. 


Fr. Riley reported that the parish will be removing the old oil tanks from the basement and is pursuing quotes for that work.  He mentioned some upcoming parish projects to include the design and layout of the new adoration chapel.  There was a discussion regarding the 9th division mass and that the changing of the colors ceremony will be held on Oct 20th after the 10AM mass.  There was a discussion about investigating how best to post some signs and possible paint on the pavement to prevent cars from driving poorly and protecting the people.  Also, we discussed the Ice Cream social, but have yet to lock in a date for the event.

Mr. Foster discussed the scouts of Troop 84 and how there is a push this year to recruit more from the parish.  He discussed a plan to advertise and support the church with the troop and attempt to swell the ranks with boys from within the parish community.  The troop is planning to help with the signage initiative mentioned above, support the 9th division ceremony and plan a trip this year to Gettysburg as a learning trip.


Next meeting will be set in January.

Father Riley gave the closing prayer.

Homily 25th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C September 22, 2019

And since all of us are servants, servants for Christ, we cannot serve two masters. Stop trying to perform the impossible, the unreachable, the unattainable, the unwanted situations in life that do great damage to the human soul at the end of the day.

               We cannot serve both God and cheating. We cannot God and greed. We cannot serve God and infidelity. We cannot both God and selfishness. We cannot God and a false human brand of marriage that more and more Christians have no issue with, while God continues to be insulted. We cannot serve both God and Planned Parenthood, as they continue to treat the beautiful gift of human life as easily disposable, and then sell parts of it for a little extra mammon. We cannot serve both God and a sports team, or Sunday morning sports, or yelling at the television. But we can serve God and enjoy any sports in a healthy context.

               This is one of those parables Jesus tells to his disciples where at the end of it, either your head is spinning out of control, trying to figure out exactly what he’s saying, or, there’s a natural understanding in one’s heart that he’s teaching something rather simple. I prefer the simple interpretation. Such as, don’t place your politics and bank accounts beyond the reach of humbly kneeling before a merciful God who desires our prayer, prudence, and penance, and not our punishment.

               This parable, simply, points to the power of Divine forgiveness and the master’s willingness to let go of some debt owed to him, rather than hold that debt – that sin – against the foolish steward, which we all are at times. The foolishness of acting in a manner that is unworthy of the master’s compassion is reversed by the steward – us – acting prudently on behalf of the master, and not oneself.

This parable is like a semi-conversion story, where the steward realizes he’s in some very deep do-do because of his intentional waywardness. The line in the sand has been crossed. The wall has been hit hard. He’s in trouble, and he knows there’s no place where he can go that will take him beyond the reach of God. There’s nowhere in this created world, even to the farthest ends of the universe, where God will not see us. Beautiful Psalm 139. Read it please. “O where can I go from your spirit, or where can I flee from your face? If I climb to the heavens you are there. If I lie in the grave you are there.”

               The steward has nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide form the Master, the Savior. And neither do we. So the steward’s best bet, coming to his senses like the Prodigal Son, is to give in, somewhat. It reminds of St. Augustine’s famous quip, “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” The steward becomes prudent instead of greedy; In his fear he says, “I’ll do something in favor of my master instead of against him before my master does something to me. I’ll beat him to the punch, and hopefully avoid his punch.”

               The good news is the turning away, at least momentarily, from serving himself in greed, and serving the goodness of his master. I suspect that’s a continuous temptation for many of us…where the blessings and the temptations of a passing world can override being a faithful, humble servant to Christ on his terms. And representing our Lord with truth and accuracy. Prudent acts are required on our part, be they spiritual or physical, to allow God’s grace to carry us back to a better place where we stand before the Master.

               Interestingly, the master in the parable admires and commends the semi-conversion of his unfaithful steward. “Here’s your promissory note for 50 measures of olive oil, instead of 100 owed, which is better than zero collected.” You know what that is in the world of eternal thinking? That’s a recipe for Purgatory. The semi-conversion keeps us out of eternal damnation; H-E- Double Hockey Sticks. So the master here is okay – for now – with semi-conversion. The prudent acts of the steward on behalf of the master means the master doesn’t have to wipe out the steward. Because of mercy and compassion.

               This parable reveals very clearly that we have much to say about our final destination. However, in being servants for Christ, it’s okay to have some semi-conversions along the way over the years, as long as we don’t stay there. But not serving both God and mammon is a teaching from Jesus that calls us to full conversion.

               Full conversion to Christ is nothing short of maintaining a daily life of prayer; performing consistent works of mercy – from the sick to the poor; being faithful to the teachings of our Christian faith without watering them down, or trying to change the unchangeable. Full conversion to Christ incorporates the prudent act of reading about the lives of the Saints, and increasing in our lives the virtues in their lives that raised them to a holy Communion.

Full conversion to Christ, the only true master between God and men, must be grounded in the reception of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation. Many folks are satisfied with collecting promissory notes for 50 when 100 is available and owed to Christ.

               The steward in this parable is satisfied with Purgatory. Through God’s mercy and compassion, he has at least been saved for the moment through acts of prudence. Our goal is not Purgatory. Our goal is heaven, which means full conversion to Christ.       

Homily 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C September 8, 2019

Normally, on September 8 each year, the Church proclaims the readings from the birthday of Mary, the mother of Jesus. If she was conceived on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, then we go forward 9 months to the day of her birth, September 8.

               But falling on a Sunday this year, as will December 8 also, we blow out the candles for Mary’s birthday and light the candles for Jesus’ resurrection, as we do every Sabbath. Thus, our readings direct us toward that great event that will consume our lives on the day of the Lord, the day Jesus returns in glory and comes to snatch you out of your grave, to snatch you from the jaws of hell, to raise your undefiled and never again to be corrupted body to the place where Blessed Mary prays and waits for us.

               Along the way, meaning now, we seek to build a tower. Building it through the countless blessings that God extends to us as we journey as pilgrims. And we’re all in different places on this road to salvation. A father who’s supposed to hate his children according to the words of Jesus – can you believe we still worship him after speaking those words? – the father is further along the path than the child. We’re all in different spots on this journey, as long as we make it to old age. And that’s no guarantee for some of us.

               Remember when our past President spoke what became a popular phrase during his Presidency, “You didn’t build that!” Well, there is some truth to those words. You didn’t build your body. God created you. You were created in the mind of God. You had no say in your existence. So you didn’t build your nose, your legs, your voice, or your brain. I suspect if we all built our brains, we’d be someone else right now. I’d be John Paul II. I wouldn’t just look like him, I’d think like him.

               But, constructing our tower, and making sure we have enough tools to finish the job, is not beyond our talent. It is within the circle and reach of our talent. We have much say in how this tower continues to be built. God does not control us. But he does, in his unconditional love, provide the tools to finish the work we’re responsible for, each of us in a unique way particular to our lives.

               First, the hating family teaching by Jesus in this Gospel does not mean hate your family literally. These words of Christ do not give free reign to family strife. God is always the God of love. These words – at least in the 2000-year history of the Catholic Church of Jesus Christ – we do not take literal. They’re spoken for the purpose of loving our Creator and Savior above all. Christ teaches radical love, not pure hatred. The hatred here in the Gospel points to a prioritized love. The priority of eternal concerns over temporal goods, which includes our families.

               Second, the tower we build, and have so much say in building it, must be finished by the time the angels come for our souls. It must be completed, even if the angels show up unexpectedly or unannounced on a day and hour we don’t know. There are many spiritual and physical directions to travel with this tower-building image that Jesus speaks. But I offer you just one. And we’ll use today’s second reading as a proper example.

               Paul is in prison. No big shocker there. Prison was his second home for preaching Christ as Lord. Paul has a guy from the outside serving his needs while in prison. Back then, if there was no one to serve your basic needs in prison, you would die in prison by starvation and thirst. There were no 3 square meals a day in the prisons of the Roman Empire. The guy serving the basic needs of Paul, ironically, is a slave. The slave is free, he’s not in prison, and Paul the free man who is a slave for Christ, has lost his physical freedom.

               The slave’s name is Onesimus. Paul writes a letter to the master of Onesimus, whose name is Philemon. And Paul basically says, “Philemon, I’m sending Onesimus back to you, although I need him more than you do. When he returns after be AWOL from you,” – literally absent without permission from his master – “I want you to treat him kindly because his kindness toward me has saved my life.” And then Paul writes this one point of tower-building for every Christian. He writes, “In fact, Philemon, I not only want you to be kind to Onesimus, but if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.” Welcome this slave equally as you would welcome an Apostle of the Lord.

               What Paul is teaching Philemon is that this fellow Christian, Onesimus the slave, has the very same dignity, worth, and equality before God. Paul has finished constructing his tower. He will live for more years. But his tower of Christian love is built, and will be standing on the day the angels appear and take his soul to God.                For our tower to be finished and ready for the day and hour when the angels come by, it is fundamentally Christian to live the truth that Christ died for all. Or, as we say in the Eucharistic prayer, “for the many,” which means all. He did not die for any of us more than he did for someone else, such as someone in prison. He died for all of us, every person, equally, with unconditional love. Our Christian tower is completed when we treat all people as having equal dignity in the eyes

Homily 19th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C August 11, 2019

Faith and preparation. They go together, for sure. Is it even possible to proclaim faith in Christ, and then get caught off guard by not being prepared to practice it?

               When we ponder the gift of our faith, a treasure we behold within, if we had lived before the time of Jesus, the first person we would have looked to for the best example of faith would have been Abraham. A person cannot read about the choices of Abraham and not be impressed by his deep faith in God.

               Look at what this reading from Hebrews teaches us today about the ancient Patriarch: he went out not knowing where he was to go. Meaning, God wanted Abraham to pack up and leave his comfortable quarters, go out to the desert, and when he gets out there, “Then I’ll tell you where to go Abraham. I’ll inform you at that time the very spot where I want you to plant your roots.” And Abraham says, “Okay.” That takes a lot of faith.

               Or, how about being too old to generate, to have children, as Hebrews says? And a wife that is sterile? In that reality of old age, would you believe God if he told you that you were to have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky? Under those physical conditions? I think we’d all turn around to see if there was a young married couple standing behind us. We sure wouldn’t believe that God was talking to us old people. But Abraham did. He did believe it, without turning around. If God said it, Abraham had the faith to believe it.

               Or this 3rd example from Hebrews: He (Abraham) reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead. Remember, Abraham is mega-centuries before the life of Jesus. Abraham reasoning God having the power to raise from the dead is like a person living at the time of Jesus 2000 years ago sitting on their front cement step, say, in Jericho, looking up at a full moon on a clear night saying, “One day some human being is going to walk on that big round ball of mountainous dust.” Only crazy people think such thoughts. Or people with deep faith, thinking thousands of years before the Incarnation that God was able to raise even from the dead. That’s someone who’s ahead of their time.

               Abraham reasoning that God was able to raise even from the dead is a belief that speaks to all of us who have lost someone we know and love, and it makes Abraham the first Christian without the benefit of knowing Christ. But he intimately knew God the Father, having faith that we dream about.

               Faith in Christ is a Sunday topic that never grows old, like Abraham and Sarah. And the reason it shouldn’t grow old for us is the same reason why in the Catholic Church we have crucifixes, and not just crosses. The crucifix has Jesus hanging on it. The plain cross does not, symbolizing his Resurrection. We keep Jesus there because every week we’re in need of looking at it, and having a visual again and again what he did for us. We need this reminder, for we’re forgetful at times.

We need this reminder also because so many of us are carrying crosses right now. We know he’s risen. We have that faith, We’re not dumb in our faith. We believe. But the reminder of the crucifix never gets old, nor does the topic of our faith in Christ.

Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. And in the context of this week’s Gospel, like Abraham, are we ever ready to put that faith into the practice of our culture and society, and not keep it a private faith? Is it a public faith, or do we grow shy when a response is upon us? Do we allow the thief to break into our homes where our treasure of faith resides, and allow this person or that group to steal what belongs to God?

Faith in God is not replaced by faith in people. I have faith that our bulletin company will mail us the bulletins every week in time for Sunday Mass, so you can read my column at some point and fall asleep. But our bulletin company, they cannot raise me from the dead one day. And if they thought they could, we’d be using another bulletin company.

               What never grows old is believing what we place our faith in with Jesus: 1) That he never abandons us. Abraham walked the length of a desert to discover this truth that he already knew about God.                                        2) That he is with us until the end of the age, whatever age we die. Most especially with us in the Eucharist, his word, and in the body of the Church.                                                                                                                 3) Faith never grows old believing that Jesus died for us. not for himself. Our God is not a criminal. He didn’t need redemption. We need him on the Cross. We need a crucifix.                                       4) May belief in the Resurrection never grow old in our faith lives. It’s the central tenet of our faith where all hope resides. Where life is worth living. And 5) What God the Father did for Jesus his Son in calling him out of Joseph’s tomb, he will do for us. If that gets old, then we’re way too old. We need to die right now before we get older!

               And to think that Abraham, who never knew Jesus in his lifetime, believed all this, and had faith in all this. He was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God. Stay on the path of faith. The path of Abraham that leads to the presence of Christ, and, we pray, our loved ones.     

Homily 18th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C August 4, 2019

So, if you ever do see a U-Haul riding behind a Funeral hearse heading to the cemetery, it’s purely by chance. Have you met the person who buys two plots of land in a cemetery, one for their body that will turn to dust, and a second larger plot for their possessions that will also turn to dust? I haven’t.

               Throughout the length of our years on this planet called Earth, we earthlings go through a process of both building up and tearing down. At times this process can seem like a roller coaster that goes up slowly, building up steam, then goes down, tearing the track. The roller coaster is a good image for our possessions in that it takes much longer to build them up, like an uphill endeavor at a slow pace: building up that 401K or taking some time to buy a home you like. And then, the going downhill part of the roller coaster could be the speed at which we either lose it all or spend it all if we don’t take precautions along the way. Or, we give it all away like St. Francis.

               Our readings this week for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time reflect the ordinary process most of us experience; the building up and the tearing down; the profit and the loss; the buying and the selling. But our Lord lovingly reminds us in this awesome parable that in the midst of our building up and tearing down, in the midst of buying and selling, that we as Christians who follow Christ, do not cast aside the holiness called works of mercy. Thankfully, many of us do not cast aside this necessary part of our faith, so necessary that our faith in Jesus cannot reach its fullness without such works.

               In the Gospel parable, this rich man is obviously blessed and loved by God. Not because of his capacity to build up many possessions. He’s loved by God by virtue of his humanity. God does not love the rich man more than any poor person. This is where the present-day Gospel of Prosperity tumbles down like the walls of Jericho. That gospel says that God loves you more by way of blessing you with large amounts of material goods and dollar bills. The truth, however, which can be proven time and again in the Scriptures, is that God favors the poor. The immigrant. The struggler. The one needs assistance. God’s love for those we call poor, and those who are poor, is a special divine love shown only to them, and it surpasses that of God’s love for the rich man.

               The rich man in the parable is blessed, and he is loved by God. He has worked hard, which God gave him the capacity to do. He has built up his fortune with some healthy retirement figures, so much so that he needs bigger barns for storage. He needs more investment companies. All looks good.

               But the shift in the parable is not his life being demanded of him that very night. His time was up no matter what. His heart attack was happening that night not because God was getting even with him for building bigger barns. God loves this man unconditionally. He’s dying that night because his time is up.

               The shift in the parable, if you will, is found in these few words from St. Paul in today’s reading: “Seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” The rich man sought what was above. But when he sat down and looked up, he saw bigger barns of his own possessions instead of the Son of God. We’re given this stark image in Jesus’ parable of a rich man looking up and worshipping his own goods.

When we seek what is above alongside the material blessings we gain, what’s demanded is not someone’s life. What’s demanded is sharing our blessings. What’s demanded are the corporal works of mercy, which, in the parable Jesus tells, there was none.

This parable of Jesus, like any other parable the Lords tells, can be understood in a variety of ways with all the parables the Lord teaches. In this one, the Lord mentions guarding against all greed. Greed on its own is like eating way more possessions than our stomachs can handle. Greed alongside the Person of Christ is a matter of not sharing the many blessings bestowed upon us. Rejecting works of mercy. And in my humble estimation, that’s the heart of this parable.

In seeking what is above, we adore not the material wealth we’ve gained in barns. We seek Christ, who cannot be separated from his special love for the poor and the material blessings we have. If we die from this world without a heart for the poor, like the rich man in the parable, I can just about guarantee you Purgatory at best. But the goal is heaven, alongside the likes of St. Mother Teresa, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Francis, and the countless others whose personal barns were empty, but looked up and saw Christ in the face of the poor.       

Homily 16th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C July 21, 2019

I’m sure we can all agree that Martha chose a good part also. I’m sure Jesus very much, in the fullness of his hungry humanity, enjoyed the quick meal that Martha worked so hard to put together.

               In the words of Jesus to Martha, while Mary is totally silent, the Lord draws a distinction between better parts and somewhat lesser parts of offering our attention to him. Without question, Martha symbolizes the corporal works of mercy in her person. She’s the fulltime doer. The one who feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty. Martha is the one with the nurse’s bag always on the stand next to the front door, ready to pick it up and go on a call in the village when a sick call comes in. Or the one to go visit the sick and provide for their many needs.

               We can form the impression from this Gospel story that Martha is somehow doing something in the presence of Jesus she shouldn’t be doing in that moment. It’s openly apparent that our Lord is – in a very nice way – telling her to slow down for a short time, take a break, chill out, and have a seat. However, in saying that Mary her sister has chosen the better part, there is no minimizing Martha’s running around with full love in her heart for Jesus, and a little less love for her sister.

               As Mary sits at the feet of her Lord, we ourselves come to an insight for our Christian lives of the importance of listening to God’s voice, and not the distractions of a world that is constantly seeking your attention, begging you to buy their million different sales pitches. In Mary’s good choice of a better part in that moment, we’re taught by Christ why this is a better part for us too. Not at the expense of forgoing the corporal works of mercy of Martha. That would be a poor excuse for not performing acts of Christian love that are demanded each day. There are no good excuses for such neglect. But with the silence and attention of Mary, we’re offered a couple choices necessary to deepen our love for Christ, a love that never peaks in this life, even for the Saints. This is what the Gospel story rides on.

               The first better part is sitting with our Savior. That’s obvious! I strongly recommend we not wait to see him face to face after death in order to sit with him. There are numerous opportunities to sit with him now. Do we avail ourselves of them? Do we recognize them? Mary not only chooses to sit before the Lord, but that choice leads to a greater capacity of intimacy with our Savior.

               When Martha complained, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?” Mary, who was sitting within earshot, heard none of those words of complaint about her. The first better part that supersedes even Martha’s loving service is this total attention on Christ our Light. Who of us can do that even for a moment each day, where all the noise around us cannot be heard because of our full attention is on Him? If we could capture just one minute of such attention with Christ each day, we would experience the joy of divine peace needed in a world of cable news, rabid politicians, and a bad Red Sox team. A short span of attention on the Lord Jesus goes a long way toward inner peace, sanity, and perspective.

               The second part of the better part of Christ is the holy desire of Mary to welcome the Messiah within her. In our 2nd reading from Colossians today, St. Paul writes so nicely about the mystery hidden from ages and generations past, but now manifested to the holy ones… it is Christ in you.”

               As lovely as what Martha is doing in feeding the hungry Jesus, her movement around the house in this moment of the Lord’s presence becomes a personal distraction for her. Again, her actions of love are not criticized by Jesus. But timing is important, as we know. Mary’s choice to sit at his feet is a teaching for us that says, “I want you, Jesus, internally, within me. I want you not just in my life, but inside of my life.”

               In our Catholicism, we can live our lives on the edges and peripheries of our faith by fulfilling Sunday obligations, forgiving once in a while, performing that corporal work of mercy so ingrained in St. Martha to the point of complaint. All such spiritual goods are accomplished through the power of Christ in us. But he doesn’t want the “edges of our lives.” He wants the center. Your core. Our very soul. And since he created us, he deserves that burning bush within us. This is what Mary seeks, which is the better part.

               My prayer is, like Mary, we give at some point each day the better part of our burning bush to him who is Lord and God. To invite him within us, to the center. And then go out and enjoy the many blessings of this life.