Monday, June 25, 2018

"ENTER THROUGH THE NARROW GATE."


Homily for June 26th, 2018: Matthew 7: 6, 12-14.

AStrive to enter through the narrow gate,@ Jesus says. That Anarrow gate@ stands for every situation in which God=s demands weigh heavily on us and seem too hard to bear. We all experience such situations. It is important to know that trials and troubles are not signs not of God=s absence, but of his presence. Everything that threatens our peace of mind, or even life itself, is a challenge, and an opportunity to grow. Our trials and sufferings are the homework we are assigned in the school of life.

The idea that God is a supernatural protector who guards his own from all suffering is not a Christian idea, but a pagan one. Why is there suffering in a good world, created and upheld by a good and just God? Which of us has never asked that question? Our faith does not answer it. Faith gives us instead the strength to endure amid of suffering.

Our teacher in this school is Jesus Christ. Whatever trials and sufferings we encounter, his were heavier. The letter to the Hebrews says of Jesus: ASon though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him ...@ (5:8f).

This is the Anarrow gate@ of which Jesus speaks in the gospel: the patient endurance of all the hard and difficult things that life sets before us. Jesus never promised that God would protect us from trials and sufferings. He promises that God will be with us in every trial and in every suffering. 

We pray, then, in this Mass in a special way: “Be with us, Lord, in times of darkness, when clouds shut out the sunshine of your love. Be with us in the power of your Holy Spirit. Lead us ever onward. Give us the protection of your holy angels, to lead us to you.”

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"STOP JUDGING."


Homily for June 25th, 2018: Matthew 7:1-5.

          “Stop judging,” Jesus says. Can we really do that? Even simple statements involve judging: “This coffee is too hot;” or, “Children, you’re making too much noise.” And what about the moral judgments of others that we make, and must make, all the time? An employer makes a judgment every time he hires a new employee. The pope judges when he makes a priest a bishop. Parents make judgments about their children in deciding such questions as  when to entrust them with a cell phone, or the family car. Clearly Jesus cannot be forbidding judgments like that.

          What Jesus forbids is making judgments that only God can make – because only God can see the heart. When God sent the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem to find a new king for his people, to replace Saul, Samuel was especially impressed with the young man Eliab. Surely, he must be the one, Samuel says. To which the Lord responds: “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7) Jesus, who was steeped in the Jewish Scriptures, would have been familiar with that passage. He would also have known the verse from the prophet Jeremiah, who represents God saying: “I, the Lord, alone probe the mind and test the heart, to reward everyone according to his ways.” (Jer. 17:10)   

          “Stop judging, that you may not be judged,” Jesus says. That is what Bible scholars call the “theological passive.” What Jesus meant was, “Stop judging, so that God will not judge you.” A devout Jew could not say that. Pronouncing the name of God was forbidden. To avoid doing so, Jesus uses the passive: “that you may not be judged.”

          We find this confirmed in the words that follow: “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.”  What this means is: God will judge you with the severity, or generosity, which you show to others.  Do you hope that, when you come to stand before the Lord God in judgment, he will show you mercy? Then start showing mercy to others. It’s as simple as that!

Friday, June 22, 2018

"DO NOT WORRY ABOUT YOUR LIFE."


Homily for June 23rd, 2018: Matthew 6:24-34.

          “Do not worry about your life,” Jesus says, nor about what you will eat, drink, and wear. In Jesus’ day Galilee, where he spoke those words, was relatively prosperous. Were he speaking in a region of dire poverty, like many places in the Third World today, his words would seem heartless, and he would have spoken differently. The Greek word translated “worry” really means “be concerned about,” or “be preoccupied with.”

          Jesus uses examples from nature to encourage trust in God’s care. The people who first heard Jesus’ words lived close to nature. When he spoke about the birds, they knew how hard birds work. A collection of photos of birds’ nests that landed in my e-mail box recently showed intricate constructions that must have required weeks to build.

          Jesus goes on to speak about the beauty of nature, exemplified by wildflowers. His hearers did not live, like so many today, in concrete jungles. They looked out daily on God’s handiwork. Jesus’ conclusion: “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not

worry  …”

          Here is what a man of science says about worry. Dr. Charles H. Mayo, one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota: “Worry affects the circulation, the heart, the glands, the whole nervous system. I have never known a man who died from overwork, but many who died from doubt.”

What is the cure for worry? I know none better than the message of an evangelical hymn:

Cast your eyes upon Jesus / Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim / In the light of His glory and grace

Oh soul are you weary and troubled? / No light in the darkness to see
There's light for a look at the Savior / And life more abundant and free

His words shall not fail you, He promised / Believe Him and all will be well
Then go to a world that is dying / His perfect salvation to tell.

 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

TREASURE IN HEAVEN


Homily for June 22nd, 2018: Matthew 6:19-23.

          At a fund raising dinner for St. Louis University many years ago, the principal speaker was the then Chancellor of the university, Fr. Paul Reinert SJ. “They say you can’t take it with you,” he told the crowd. “But you can send it ahead.” The roar of laughter from the more than five hundred people attending went on for a full minute at least.

          Laugh if you like, but this is what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.”  

          A man of great wealth said once: “Whoever thinks that having a lot of money will make you happy has obviously never had a lot of money.” Jesus speaks about thieves who break in and steal. People of great wealth today have to worry about much more than thieves. If they have children they must hire guards to prevent kidnapping. They cannot keep fixed and regular hours, lest they themselves be waylaid and harmed. They must constantly worry about servants and other employees ripping them off and harming them financially or in other ways.

          “Store up treasures in heaven,” Jesus says. They cannot be lost. And you will be happy both in this life, and in the life to come. How do we store up treasures in heaven? By doing good to others; by putting God first, others second, and ourselves last; by letting no day pass without spending some time at least with God in prayer. And we don’t need to wait for heaven to receive a reward. People who try to do those things are happy here and now – no exceptions!

Our life here on earth is sometimes compared to the weaving of a tapestry. It is woven from the back. Those working on it cannot see the pattern, or only dimly. That is because the pattern is visible only from the front.

One day, however, when the Lord calls us home, we’ll see the tapestry from the front. What looks to us now like a tangle of loose ends will be something wonderful. “How beautiful!” we’ll say. And then we’ll ask: “Did I do all that?” And the Lord God will answer: “Well, you did some of it. I did the rest.”

 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"OUR FATHER."


Homily for June 21st, 2018: Matthew 6:7-15.

          With his gift of the Lord’s Prayer, the only prayer Jesus ever gave us, he offers us a pattern for all our prayer, starting with our private prayer. “Father,” Jesus begins. When we begin like that, we are acknowledging that we can’t make it on our own. From infancy to old age we are dependent on Another: the One whom Jesus addressed with the intimate word, Abba – akin to “Daddy” in English.

Three petitions follow, having to with our heavenly Father himself. “Hallowed be thy name” is the first. It means “may your name be kept holy.” God’s name is kept holy when we speak it with faith, not as a magical word to get his attention, or to con him into giving us what we want. We couldn’t do that even if we wanted to, for God acts in sovereign freedom.

          “Thy kingdom come” is a petition for the coming of God’s rule over us and the whole world. We are unhappy, and frustrated, because the world, and too often our own personal lives as well, do not reflect God’s rule. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” extends this petition. In heaven God’s will is done immediately, and gladly.

          Four petitions follow which have to do not only with own needs, but also with those of our brothers and sisters in God’s family: for bread, forgiveness, deliverance from temptation, and victory over evil.

          Here is a suggestion which can help you to appreciate the Lord’s Prayer more deeply. Rather than just rattling it off, as Catholics mostly do, take at least five or ten minutes to pray it slowly, phrase by phrase, even word by word. Start with the opening word: “Our.” Ponder the full meaning of that word. Pray that you may be mindful not only of your own needs, but also of the needs of others -- your brothers and sisters. That could be your whole prayer for five or ten minutes. Move on the next day to the word “Father,” and on the day following pray over the words “Hallowed be thy name.” Practiced faithfully, and with patience, this way of praying the one prayer Jesus has given us will help you realize that the words are not just a pious formula. Rightly prayed, they bring you close to Him who tells us in John’s gospel: “All this I tell you that my joy may be yours, and your joy may be complete” (15:11).

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

ALMSGIVING, PRAYER, FASTING


Homily for June 20th, 2018: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18.

          Continuing his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks in today’s gospel reading about almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Traditionally associated with Lent, these religious practices are spiritually profitable at all times – provided (and this condition is essential) that they are done for God, and not to gain recognition and praise from others. The Roman stoic philosopher, Seneca, a contemporary of Jesus, makes this point when he writes: “Whoever wants to publicize his virtue labors not for virtue but for glory.” Jesus says the same with his thrice repeated statement, “they have received their reward.” The reward he is referring to is human recognition and glory – and beyond that, nothing. To receive a reward from God (and Jesus never tells us to be indifferent to rewards, provided they come from God) our almsgiving must be quiet, if possible anonymous. Then, Jesus says, “your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

          Similarly with prayer. Jesus is speaking here not about public worship; he himself took part in such worship in the Temple and in synagogues. He is speaking about private prayer when he says: “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” The 4th century bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose, explains that Jesus is not talking about “a room with four walls separating you physically from others, but the room that is within you, where your thoughts are shut up, the place that contains your feelings. This room of prayer is with you at all times, wherever you go it is a secret place, and what happens there is witnessed by God alone.” (On Cain and Abel B 1:34)

          Fasting too should be secret, Jesus says. We fast for two reasons. First, to strengthen our wills. Voluntarily denying ourselves food and drink that we may legitimately enjoy helps us to say no to pleasures that God’s law forbids. And the sacrifice which fasting requires strengthens our prayer for the things, people, and causes for which we pray. When we fast, the Lord who sees in secret recognizes that the intentions for which we pray are so important to us that we are willing to forego hunger and thirst that they may be granted.

Monday, June 18, 2018

GOD IS NOT MOCKED.


Homily for June 19th, 2018: 1 Kings 21:17-29; Matthew 5:43-48.

          Today’s first reading gives the conclusion to yesterday’s account of   Queen Jezebel engineering the judicial murder of the poor man, Naboth, because he refused to sell his vineyard to Jezebel’s weak husband King Ahab. God sends the prophet Elijah to Ahab to rebuke him for the evil he has done, “urged on by his wife Jezebel,” the text tells us.

         Elijah had already confronted the royal couple when he defeated the four hundred prophets of Baal (the false god of whom Jezebel was a fanatical worshiper) in the contest atop Mount Carmel over who could call down fire heaven. (1 Kings 18) Addressing both Ahab and Jezebel, Elijah tells them that the evil they have done will bring even greater ruin on their descendants. Cut to the heart by Elijah’s words, Ahab repents so sincerely that God relents – but only so far as to say that the punishment promised by Elijah will be postponed. Even when God has forgiven the guilt of our sins, the consequences of what we have done remain.

King David had discovered this after his adultery with Bathsheba. Rebuked by the prophet Nathan, David repented sincerely and at once. Nathan tells him that God has removed the guilt of his sin. But the consequences remain: death for the child David’s adultery has produced; and chaos in David’s family thereafter, starting with the attempt, years later, of David’s dearly loved son Absolom to steal the kingdom from his father. (2 Samuel 12 & 18).

God is not mocked. Our sins have consequences, even after their guilt has been removed by sincere repentance. The college student who loafs and parties all semester and then, at exam time, goes to confession and repents, has the guilt of his sin removed. But not the consequences: ignorance of the subject matter, and a failing grade in the exam. These consequences are called by the theologians sin’s “temporal punishment,” because they extend over time.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

"AN EYE FOR AN EYE."


Homily for June 18th, 2018: 1 Kings 21:1-16; Matthew 5:38-42.

In today’s first reading we heard the story of an injustice which cries to heaven for vengeance. King Ahab of Samaria, a man with absolute power over his subjects and already rich, as all kings were in those days, would like to upgrade his property by taking over the adjoining vineyard of his poor neighbor, Naboth. He could have simply confiscated it. That is what kings did in those days. Instead he offers compensation: a vineyard elsewhere, or purchase at a reasonable price. When Naboth refuses to part with his vineyard at any price, Ahab is so frustrated that he takes to his bed and refuses to eat.  

Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, is made of sterner stuff than her husband. “What are you,” she asks him in disgust, “a wimp? Leave it to me. I’ll get that vineyard for you.” She then writes letters to the authorities, sealed with the king’s seal, accusing Naboth of high treason. Her frame-up, as we would call it, succeeds. After a public show trial, Naboth suffers death by stoning. As the story ends, King Ahab is on his way to take over the now ownerless vineyard. ‘What an outrage!’ we think. But that is not the end of the story – as we shall hear tomorrow.

          In the gospel Jesus speaks about the question of how to respond to injuries received. Jesus’ words, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” are a quotation from the Old Testament, where they were actually a limitation on vengeance: only an eye for an eye, no more. Vengeance must not exceed the injury received. (cf. Deut. 19:21) A later Old Testament passage states what is sometimes called the Silver Rule: “Do to no one what you yourself dislike” (Tobit 4:15). Later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus changes this into the Golden Rule: “Treat others the way you would have them treat you” (Matt.7:12). When we take the initiative in doing good to those who have injured us, we elevate the moral level, creating an atmosphere of positive good will.

          Jesus’ words in today’s gospel, “Offer no resistance to one who is evil,” do not counsel indifference to injustice. They are a strategy for winning – by shaming our adversary into better behavior. In modern times this strategy of non-violence, as it is called, has been used successfully by Gandhi in India, and by Martin Luther King in our own country. St Paul, writing before any of the gospels existed, shows himself fully aware of Jesus’ teaching when he writes: “If possible, live peaceably with everyone. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves; leave that to God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:18f)