Friday, August 26, 2016

"I KNEW YOU WERE DEMANDING . . . "


Homily for August 27th, 2016: Matt. 25:14-30.

          The sums entrusted to each servant were huge. Our version speaks of “talents.” In Jesus’ world a talent was a sum of money, the largest there was, something like a million dollars today. This tells us something crucial about the man going on a journey. He is not a bean counter. On his return from a long absence, he praises the first two servants for doubling the sums entrusted to them.   

The people hearing the story now expect that the third servant will also receive generous treatment. How shocking, therefore, to find the man not praised but rebuked as a “wicked, lazy servant.” “Out of fear,” the third servant explains, I kept your money safe. Here it is back. It is this fear which the parable condemns.  

          How often Jesus tells his followers, “Do not be afraid.” The master in Jesus’ parable rewards the first two servants not for the money they gained, but for their trust. He rebukes and banishes the third servant for lack of trust. The parable is about the one thing necessary: trust in the Lord who gives us his gifts not according to our deserving but according to his boundless generosity.

          Do you want to be certain that your heart will never be wounded as you journey through life? Then be sure to guard your heart carefully. Never give it away, and certainly never wear your heart on your sleeve. If you do that, however, your heart will shrink. The capacity to love is not diminished through use. It grows.       

“Out of fear ... I buried your talent in the ground,” the third servant says. Jesus came to cast out fear. To escape condemnation we don’t need to establish a good conduct record in some heavenly book – a row of gold stars representing our sacrifices and good works. Thinking we must do that is “not believing in the name of God’s only Son.” His name is synonymous with mercy, generosity, and love. Escaping condemnation, being saved, means one thing only: trusting him. It is as simple as that.

We don’t need to negotiate with God. We don’t need to con him into being lenient. We couldn’t do that even if we tried, for God is lenient already. He invites us to trust him. That is all.   

Thursday, August 25, 2016

WISE AND FOOLISH VIRGINS


Homily for August 26th, 2016: Matthew 25:1-13.

          The midnight cry, “Behold the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” will come for each of us, when, at life’s end, the Lord sends out his angel to call us home, to him. The story tells us that we are to prepare for this great and final event by living not for ourselves, but for God and for others. That means pursuing justice instead of exploitation; trying to build people up rather than tearing them down; being more interested in giving than in getting. 

          Jesus uses the story to warn us that if we live for ourselves, heedless of God’s claims on us, we are headed for disaster. We are like the foolish bridesmaids who made no preparations. They assumed that they could always get more oil for their torches whenever they needed it, and that the door of the house would be opened for them even if they arrived late. The foolish bridesmaids are shocked to discover that, at the decisive hour, they are unprepared, and excluded. Until then, there seemed to be no difference between the wise and foolish bridesmaids. “They all became drowsy and fell asleep,” Jesus tells us. The midnight call to action finds the wise prepared, however, and the foolish unprepared.

          Here is a modern commentary on this gospel story. It’s a young woman’s letter to the man she loves. Someone I can no longer identify sent it to me by e-mail long ago. Here’s what the young woman wrote:

          “Remember the day I borrowed your brand new car and dented it? I thought you'd kill me, but you didn't. And remember the time I flirted with all the guys to make you jealous, and you were? I thought you'd leave me, but you didn't. Remember the time I forgot to tell you the dance was formal and you showed up in jeans? I thought you'd drop me, but you didn't.

          “Yes, there were a lot of things you didn't do. But you put up with me, and you loved me, and you protected me. There were a lot of things I wanted to make up to you when you came back from Afghanistan.

          “But you didn't come back.”

          We think there is always tomorrow; but one day our tomorrow will be

on the other side. Today's parable of the wise and foolish Virgins is asking us: on which side of a locked door do you wish to spend eternity? We need to make our decision now, not later; because soon that will be too late.

 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"MY MASTER IS LONG DELAYED."


Homily for August 25th, Matthew 24:42-51.

AMy master is long delayed,@ the unfaithful servant in Jesus= story says. Behind those words lies the thought: >Maybe he=s not coming at all.= Then this unfaithful servant begins to act as if he were the master himself, abusing his fellow servants and breaking into his absent employer=s wine cellar to stage wild parties for his free-loading friends.

The unfaithful servant=s words, AMy master is long delayed,@ had special meaning for the community for which Matthew wrote his gospel. They believed that Jesus was going to return soon, within the lifetime of some of them at least. As time went on and the Lord did not return, many in Luke=s community were tempted to say: >Maybe he=s not coming at all.=

Jesus= story warns them not to yield to such thoughts; not to forget that they are servants who, one day, will have to give an account of their service. When they forget that, Jesus says, “the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely.”

That failure of faith is always a temptation for the Church, and for each of us who are the Church. We yield to this temptation when we use the blessings that God gives us through his Church solely for ourselves. That is why the Church is, and always must be, a missionary Church. We can=t keep God=s gifts unless we give them away. And when we do give them away, handing on to others the faith God has given us, we don=t become poorer. We grow richer. In passing on our faith to others, our own faith is deepened and strengthened.

Whenever in its 2000-year history the Church has forgotten its servant role; whenever the Church has settled in too comfortably and accumulated too much worldly power, prestige, and wealth, it has become inwardly flabby and spiritually sick. To find an example of this we need look no farther than the history of the Catholic Church in our own country from roughly 1950 to the present day.

 What is true of the Church is true also of each of us, the Church=s members. We are servants: servants of the Lord, and servants too of our sisters and brothers. And we are people on a journey: pilgrims underway to our true homeland with the Lord B pitching our tents each evening, as we lie down to rest for the next day=s journey, a day=s march nearer home.       

 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

ANGELS ASCENDING AND DESCENDING


Homily for August 24th, 2016: John 1:45-51.

 It is a little disappointing to find, on this feast of St. Bartholomew, that the gospel reading is about a man named Nathanael. Scripture scholars believe that Bartholomew and Nathanael are actually the same person. The gospel writers wrote inspired by faith, and in order to instill faith in others, not in order to give us “just the facts.”

“We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets,” Philip tells his friend Nathanael, “Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” Nathanael responds with skepticism: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nazareth was then an insignificant village, unmentioned in the Old Testament.

          Despite this skepticism Nathanael is willing to accept his friend Philip’s invitation to “Come and see.” This attitude of openness is what causes Jesus to call Nathanael “a true child of Israel,” with no duplicity in him. Too many of Jesus’ own people lacked this openness. We see this in their many demands that Jesus produce some dramatic “sign” which would compel belief; and in their refusal to heed the signs Jesus did offer: his miracles.

          Philip was telling Nathanael, in effect, that he had found the one so long foretold by the Jewish scriptures: the Lord’s anointed servant, the Messiah. Nathanael responds to Jesus’ identification of him as “a true child of Israel” without duplicity by an explicit acknowledgment of what Philip has just told him: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

          Acknowledging the faith expressed in Nathanael’s words, Jesus tells him that further blessings await him: “You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” The words are the climax of this brief reading, and the most important. They tell us that Jesus is the contact person between earth and heaven, between humanity and God.  

We contact God by offering prayers to our heavenly Father through his Son Jesus, in and through the Holy Spirit, who inspires us to pray and supports us as we do so. The ascending angels are carrying our prayers heavenward. And the descending angels are bringing us the Father’s blessings in answer to our prayers. If we were on that ladder, we’d grow tired of going up and down. God’s angels are never weary. They are active always – on our  behalf.

Monday, August 22, 2016

"YOU HAVE NEGLECTED THE WEIGHTIER THINGS."


Homily for August 23rd, 2016: Matthew 23:23-26.

          An elderly monk, Father Benedict, was returning to his monastery from a journey. With him was a young novice, Brother Ardens. It had been raining and the road was muddy. When they came to a dip in the road still covered with water, they found a beautiful young girl standing there afraid to proceed, lest her long dress be soiled. “Come, dear,” Father Benedict said, when he saw her predicament.  “I’ll carry you.” Then he picked the girl up in his arms and carried her across. She thanked him, and the two monks walked on in silence.

          When they reached the monastery, Brother Ardens felt he had to say something about the incident he had witnessed. “Monks are supposed to keep away from women, especially from beautiful young girls. How could you pick up in your arms that girl we met on the road?”

          “Dear Brother Ardens,” the older monk replied, “I put that girl down as soon as we reached dry ground. You have carried her in your thoughts right into the monastery.”  

          The young novice was like the scribes and Pharisees in the gospel reading we have just heard: zealous, as many young people are, and determined to see all the rules and regulations carefully observed. The ardent young monk never realized that this could mean failing in something even more important: helping someone in need.

          Behind each of the Ten Commandments is the highest law of all, charity: active, generous and sacrificial service – to God, and to others.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

"WOE TO YOU HYPOCRITES."


Homily for August 25th, 2013: Matt. 23:13-22.

          Today’s gospel gives us the first three of the seven woes pronounced by Jesus against those who refuse to accept him and his message. They correspond to the blessings or Beatitudes spoken by Jesus in the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. 

          The scribes and Pharisees against whom Jesus pronounces these woes are the interpreters and teachers of God’s law, the Ten Commandments. Nowhere does Jesus criticize, let alone reject, God’s law. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets,” Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. “I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them” (Mt. 5:17).

          What Jesus attacks is the gaping contrast between what those against whom he pronounces his woes teach, and how they themselves behave. The first woe is directed against those who do not enter the kingdom of heaven because they have closed their minds and hearts against him. “You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men.”  Even worse, Jesus says, are their attacks against those who are open to Jesus’ person and message. “You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.”

          The woe against those who “traverse sea and land to make one convert” is a back-handed compliment to the missionary zeal of those who take their treasured Jewish faith to non-Jews. Paul would do this with his new Christian faith. What Jesus condemns is the narrow, legalistic version of Jewish faith which they propagate. This is also the basis of the woe against people who take oaths with formulas that allow them to wriggle out of what they have sworn to.

          Does all that belong to a bygone age? Don’t you believe it! The yawning gap between what we claim to believe and how we actually behave remains a danger for us Catholics today. As the old saying has it: “What you are speaks so loud, that I cannot hear what you say.”

We pray in this Mass that this yawning gap may be closed through our daily prayer: “Not what I want, Lord, but what you want.”

            

Friday, August 19, 2016

"CALL NO ONE ON EARTH FATHER."


Homily for August 23rd, 2014: Mathew 23:1-12.
          “Call no one on earth father,” Jesus says. Evangelical Christians charge that the practice of calling Catholic priests “Father” violates Jesus’ command. There is a simple response to this charge. Taking Jesus’ words literally would forbid us to use this word for our biological fathers. Nor can we take literally the following verse: “Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ.” Taken literally this would forbid us to call anyone “Mister,” since this title is merely a variation of the English word “master.” If despite this passage, it is legitimate to call men in our society “Mister,” and to call our biological fathers “Father,” why should it be wrong to call priests “Father”?
          All this is true. But we make things too easy for ourselves if we leave the matter there. We need to see the principle behind Jesus’ rejection of titles like “Father” and “Master.” What Jesus is condemning is not the titles themselves but an underlying mentality. Jesus is warning against the temptation of those who have spiritual authority in his Church to forget that they are first of all servants; and that they will themselves be judged by the authority they represent to others. The scramble for titles is alive and well in the Lord’s Church. There is a saying in Rome which confirms this: “If it rained miters, not one would touch the ground.”
          Jesus’ warnings in today’s gospel have an obvious application to us clergy. Do they apply, however, only to Church leaders? Who are the people today of whom it could be said: “They preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.” 
          It is not hard to find people in public life to whom those words apply. Many public officials are truly public servants. Sadly there are also many exceptions. Hypocrisy, the yawning credibility gap between words and deeds, is a danger for all of us. The American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne writes: “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
          It is God’s love, and his love alone, that gives us the courage to throw away our masks, to stop pretending to be other than we are. That is what God wants for us. Deep in our hearts that is what we too desire: just to be ourselves; to know that we are loved not in spite of what we are, but for who we are: daughters and sons of our heavenly Father, sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ.
          Once we stop pretending and truly accept the love God offers us as a free gift, we begin to discover what Jesus called “the peace which the world cannot give.”

Thursday, August 18, 2016

THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT


Homily for August 19th, 2015: Matt. 22:34-40.

          “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest?” Jesus is asked in today’s gospel. It was a standard test question in Jesus’ day. Studying the Ten Commandments and disputing about how they should be lived in daily life, the rabbis by Jesus’ day had developed 613 commandments: 248 positive laws, and 365 prohibitions. If those numbers seem high, they are modest compared to the 1752 laws in the Church’s book of canon law today.  

          Jesus answers his questioners by citing the command to love God completely in Deuteronomy chapter 6, and the command to love one’s neighbor in Leviticus 19. There was nothing novel about this response. Any rabbi would have approved Jesus’ answer. What was novel was Jesus’ insistence that the two commandments were on the same level. Up to then, the rabbis subordinated love of neighbor to the primary duty of loving God.

          Important for us today is understanding what Jesus means by “love” in his summary of the law. When we hear that word today, we immediately think of feelings. Not so Jesus. Feelings come and go. They are dependent on the weather, our digestion, our mood. In telling us we must love God completely, and our neighbor as well, Jesus is talking about an attitude.

          He is telling us that in every situation, God must come first for us. He must be at the center of our lives, not somewhere out on the fringe. And he is telling us that, in every situation, we must treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. That is the so-called Golden Rule. ‘Love others as you love yourself,’ Jesus says. Do we always have warm loving feelings about ourselves? Of course not. But (unless we are mentally ill) we always wish the best for ourselves.

          Though we often experience tension between our duty toward God and neighbor, Jesus tells us later in Matthew’s gospel that in reality there is no tension. In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25:31-46) Jesus tells us: ‘Whatever you do for others – or fail to do – you do, or fail to do, for me.