Friday, February 24, 2017

"LET THE CHILDREN COME TO ME."


Homily for February 25th, 2017:  Mark 10:13-16.        

The world in which Jesus lived was certainly not child centered. Children were supposed to keep out of the way: to be seen, perhaps, but not heard. That is why Jesus’ disciples thought they were doing him a favor by shooing children away from him.  

          Jesus surprises his disciples (he’s still surprising people) by saying: “Let the children come to me.” Then he adds something which he repeats, in one form or another, throughout the gospels: “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” – in other words, to children. Elsewhere Jesus tells us that, to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must “become like little children” (cf. Mt. 18:2ff, Mk 9:36, Lk 9:47).

          What is it about childhood that Jesus recommends? First, an aspect of childhood which he certainly does not recommend: two little ones in the playpen fighting over a toy that interested neither until the other one picked it up. Even young children can be selfish. As we grow older we learn ways of hiding our selfishness. Children don’t know how to do that.

          One thing about children that Jesus does recommend is their natural sense of dependence. It never occurs to little ones that they can make it on their own. Few things are more devastating for a young child than to be separated from Mummy or Daddy.

          Another feature of childhood recommended by Jesus is the ability to wonder. Everyday things which we adults take for granted amaze little children: birds in the sky, flowers, balloons. Sadly, TV has robbed children of this quality. By age 3 at the latest, they have seen it all on the Boob Tube. Artists retain this capacity for wonder – and saints. A painter sees a piece of driftwood on the beach and gives it a place of honor in his studio at home. Bl. Teresa of Calcutta’s face was wreathed in smiles whenever she picked up a small child.

We pray, then, in this Mass: “Lord, give me always a sense of my dependence on you. Help me to gasp with wonder at the beauty of your creation!”  

Thursday, February 23, 2017

GOD'S PLAN FOR MARRIAGE.


February 24th, 2017: God’s plan for marriage. Mark 10:1-12.

AIM: To contrast marriage with co-habitation.

     We have just heard Jesus explaining God’s plan for marriage. Marriage in Jesus’ day was very different from marriage today. Engagements were often made by families while the couple were still children. Only some years later did the young people go through what was called betrothal. This confirmed the engagement and lasted one year. Betrothal could be terminated only by divorce, which in Jesus’ day was available only to men. Marriage followed after a year, and often consisted only in bringing the bride to the groom’s home after a wedding feast.

     How different the whole marriage scene is today. In our country it is estimated that some eight million couples, engaged and non-engaged, are co-habiting: living together without marriage. Many people think that’s no big deal; but it is a big deal because marriage is a big deal. There are many reasons for co-habitation, including loneliness, fear, convenience, and lack of commitment. The commitment of co-habiting couples is fragile, and private. It can be terminated by either party at will.

     One thing that has not changed, however, is this. Couples who follow God’s plan for marriage are abundantly blessed and happy. Because the commitment co-habiting couples make to one another is private, it is fragile. Either party can terminate it at will. In his parable of the house built on sand, which is washed away when a flood comes [Matt. 7:24-27], Jesus tells us to build our lives only on firm foundations. For people who wish to live together this means making a public promise to be faithful to one another, “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health” until death.

     Couples who cohabit, without such a promise, are not bad people. They are good people who are not living as God intends. The Church wants to walk with them on a new path. This starts with a good Confession, the doorway to the graces needed to make changes that lead to increased joy and peace, in this life and in the next.

     Living separately before marriage is a great way to grow in sacrifice, patience, and love, three qualities which constitute the firm foundation upon which any marriage according to God’s plan must be built. We pray for co-habiting couples, that they may see there is a better way. And we pray for married couples who struggle to be faithful to God’s plan, that they may receive from Him the strength to remain faithful to their marriage vows.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

PUTTING GOD FIRST


Homily for February 26th, 2017: 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
          Isaiah 49:14-15; Matthew 6:24-34.
AIM: To show that God=s providential care is experienced most by those who live with generous trust in him.   
 
AZion said, >The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.=@ Those were the opening words of our first reading. Have you ever felt like that? You pray, and the Lord seems to answer with silence. In that first reading the whole of God=s people ask whether God cares. In one of the most beautiful verses of Scripture, God answers their plaintive question. ACan a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even if she should forget, I will not forget you.@
Scripture portrays God as our father many times over. God=s loving care for us includes qualities usually regarded as masculine: strength, power, sternness in discipline, and generosity in reward. But God is more than a father. Here he speaks as a mother. His concern for us includes qualities we think of as feminine: gentleness, tenderness, and warm, protective love.
Jesus continues this theme in the gospel. God=s tender concern for us, his children, exceeds that of the best father and mother combined, Jesus says. He knows our needs before we do, even as a good mother senses in advance the needs of her baby. Even nature shows God=s loving care for everything he has created, Jesus tells us. Look at God=s handiwork in the flowers, his care for the birds. Do you suppose for one minute, Jesus is asking, that you are of less value than these? If so, you have little idea of your true worth in the eyes of your heavenly Father.
AStop worrying,@ Jesus says. ADo not be anxious.@ Is he telling us not to work and plan for the future? Of course not. The people to whom Jesus was speaking in today=s gospel lived hard lives. They had to work longer hours than almost any of us. Moreover, they lived close to nature. When they heard Jesus speaking about the wild flowers, and the birds, they understood. They knew that there are few creatures who work as hard for their living as the average sparrow, flying back and forth innumerable times to build a nest; foraging for worms and other food, and then flying back to the nest to feed its young.
What do you worry about? Some people worry about basic necessities. In our rich and comfortable society others worry not about necessities but about luxuries. They think they must have everything bigger and better. They want to Amake it big.@ Some die of heart attacks in the attempt. Others burn out on their way up and never have time to enjoy the fruit of all their worry and toil. 
Has your job or your career become an end in itself? Do you ever take time to relax, to be with your loved ones, to enjoy God=s beautiful world, to read a good book, listen to some fine music B to pray? If not, don=t you think it=s time you started B before you burn out, or burn up?
ANo one can serve two masters,@ Jesus says. AYou cannot serve God and mammon.@ Mammon is money and possessions. Money is a wonderful servant. It enables us to do so much good: for the people and causes we love, to help those in need, to satisfy our own needs. But money is a terrible master. Are you being mastered by what you have, or would like to have? If so, you are not rich B no matter how much you have accumulated. You are poor.
If that is your problem, then start today to put God first in your life. For instance, instead of giving to Church and charities the loose change left over after you have taken care of your necessities and as many luxuries as you think you can afford, how about deciding to give God and his poor the first share of your income B a truly grateful, generous share?


When you do that, you are making a faith-decision. You are trusting that what is left over after giving God Ahis@ share will be enough for you and your loved ones. People who make that faith-decision discover that what Jesus says in today=s gospel is literally true: AYour heavenly Father knows all that you need.@

Lent starts on Wednesday. Here’s a suggestion. Why not think and pray seriously about putting the Lord first in your life – yes, and in your budget as well. I decided to do that over sixty years ago. It has brought me so many blessings – yes, financial ones as well – that frankly, I can’t afford to stop.

Some years ago I submitted a sample of my handwriting to a graphologist for analysis. One passage in his report interested me especially: “You are not particularly thrifty; your plans for conservation and use of money may be somewhat haphazard. But you are certainly not worrying about money, for your debt frustration is one of the lowest I have ever seen.” I smiled broadly when I read that. I knew the reason. God had the first claim on whatever money I received from any source. I found that what was left over for me was always enough, and more than enough.   

Once you begin to put God first in your life, in all areas of life B including the one so important to most of us today, money B you are fulfilling Jesus= command in today=s gospel: ASeek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.@ When you start doing that, you make a wonderful discovery. All the things you previously spent so much time fretting and worrying about are taken care of. And you make another beautiful discovery: God can never be outdone in generosity.

ASeek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you besides.@ That is Jesus Christ=s personal promise to you. And when Jesus Christ promises something, he always keeps his promise. 

"IF YOUR HAND CAUSES YOU TO SIN, CUT IT OFF."


Homily for February 23rd, 2017: Mark 9:41-50.

AIf your hand causes you to sin,@ Jesus says, “cut it off. ... And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. ...  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.@ How can Jesus say such things? He is not encouraging us to maim ourselves. He is using hyperbole: deliberate exaggeration for the sake of effect. We use hyperbole all the time. In my early childhood a dearly loved aunt used to say to me, when she thought I was over-eating: AJay, if you eat any more, you=ll burst.@ At age five I had never heard of hyperbole and couldn’t have told you what the word meant. I knew I wouldn=t burst. But I had no difficulty understanding that my aunt wanted me to ease up on the food intake.

What is Jesus= real point? He is telling us that if we are serious about being his followers, our commitment to him must be total. We must be willing to sacrifice even things as dear to us as hands, feet, and eyes. Taking Jesus= language literally would make God into some kind of sadistic monster. The God whom Jesus reveals is a God of love.

But this raises a further difficulty. How could a loving God condemn people to the eternal punishment indicated by Jesus= words about going Ainto Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire@? Gehenna was well known to all Jesus= hearers. It was a deep ravine outside Jerusalem, previously the site of idolatrous rites in which children were made to pass through fire. It thus became a symbol for hellfire. Hence the difficulty B

How can a loving God condemn anyone to eternal punishment B to hell? The answer may surprise you. God does not condemn anyone to hell. If there is anyone in hell B and the Church does not tell us whether there is, while firmly insisting, with the Bible, that hell is a possibility and a reality B then it is because they have freely chosen hell for themselves. The Catechism is clear on this point: ATo die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God=s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called >hell.= ... God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.@ (Nos. 1033 & 1037, emphasis supplied.) The judgment that God will pronounce on each one of us at the end of our lives is not the adding up of the pluses and minuses in some heavenly account book. It is simply God=s ratification of the judgment we ourselves have pronounced by the fundamental choice we have made throughout our lives. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"YOU ARE PETER."


Homily for February 22nd, 2017. Matthew 16:13-19.

          “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” The sentence contains a play on words. In Jesus’ language, Aramaic, the words for Peter and Rock were the same. Jesus was giving his friend Simon a new name. In reality, Simon, now called Peter, was anything but rock-like. When, on the night before he died, Jesus told Peter that within hours Peter would deny him three times, Peter protested: “Even though I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mt. 26:34f)  We all know the sequel.

          Yet Jesus chose Peter, of all people, to be the leader of his Church. As preparation Peter had to become aware of his weakness. He had to be convinced that without a power greater than his own he could do nothing. Then, and only then, could Jesus use him. 

          What was rocklike in Peter was not strength of character or willpower, but faith — Peter’s trust in the One whose strength overcomes our human weakness. That is the rock on which the Lord builds his Church: trust in Jesus as God’s anointed servant: the Messiah, and God’s Son. As long as this trusting faith endures, Jesus says, even death itself will have no power over his Church.

          We Catholics believe that Peter’s office of chief pastor continues in Christ’s Church. Every one of Peter’s successors, Pope Francis included, is an ordinary sinner like each of us, who must constantly seek God’s forgiveness for his sins in the sacrament of penance. Like Peter, he is strong only as long as he trusts not in himself, but only in the power that comes from God alone, through his Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

          When you look within, do you see anything of Peter’s impetuosity and weakness? Take heart! You have a friend in heaven. The same Lord who gave the vacillating Simon the name “Rock” has made you, in baptism, his daughter, his beloved son. He wants you to be his messenger to others. You say you’re not fit for that? Neither was Peter. God does not always call those who are fit, by ordinary human standards. But he always fits those whom he calls.  

          God has a plan for your life, as surprising and wonderful as his plans for Peter. The only thing that can frustrate the accomplishment of God’s plan — for you, for me, for any one of us — is our own deliberate and final No.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE THROUGH FAITH."


Homily for February 20th, 2017: Mark 9:14-29.

The boy who is brought to Jesus by his father is possessed by “a mute spirit,” Mark tells us. He is evidently both deaf and dumb, unable to speak. The symptoms Mark describes are consistent with what today would be called epilepsy. Jesus lived in a pre-scientific age. Illness was normally attributed to demons. That is not entirely false. Illness and death were not part of God’s original plan of creation. They entered the world as a consequence of human sin. And it was human sin that opened the door for the Devil and his dark power.  

Jesus’ cry, “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?” reminds us of Jesus’ sigh before the healing of a deaf man in chapter seven of Mark’s gospel, which we heard just ten days ago. That sigh, and Jesus’ words here, are expressions of the Lord’s grief over the consequences of human sin – in both cases illness.

The father’s detailed description of his son’s condition shows that he is in anguish over the boy. “If you can do anything,” the father concludes, “have compassion on us and help us.” Quoting the father’s own words, “if you can,” Jesus assures him: “Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Whereupon the man bursts out: “I do believe, help my unbelief!” His prayer for greater faith shows that he still has doubts.

As the story goes on, it becomes clear that even this imperfect faith is enough. It enables Jesus to cast out the demon and restore the boy to good health. Jesus’ words, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again!” show that the healing is permanent. 

What is the story’s lesson for us? It tells us that what opens the door to God’s action is faith. And it assures us that this faith need not be perfect. Finally, the story encourages us to pray with the desperate father of this boy: “Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief!”

Saturday, February 18, 2017

PUTTING GOD FIRST.


Homily for February 26th, 2017: 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
         Isaiah 49:14-15; Matthew 6:24-34.
AIM: To show that God=s providential care is experienced most by those who live with generous trust in him.   
 
AZion said, >The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.=@ Those were the opening words of our first reading. Have you ever felt like that? You pray, and the Lord seems to answer with silence. In that first reading the whole of God=s people ask whether God cares. In one of the most beautiful verses of Scripture, God answers their plaintive question. ACan a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even if she should forget, I will not forget you.@
Scripture portrays God as our father many times over. God=s loving care for us includes qualities usually regarded as masculine: strength, power, sternness in discipline, and generosity in reward. But God is more than a father. Here he speaks as a mother. His concern for us includes qualities we think of as feminine: gentleness, tenderness, and warm, protective love.
Jesus continues this theme in the gospel. God=s tender concern for us, his children, exceeds that of the best father and mother combined, Jesus says. He knows our needs before we do, even as a good mother senses in advance the needs of her baby. Even nature shows God=s loving care for everything he has created, Jesus tells us. Look at God=s handiwork in the flowers, his care for the birds. Do you suppose for one minute, Jesus is asking, that you are of less value than these? If so, you have little idea of your true worth in the eyes of your heavenly Father.
AStop worrying,@ Jesus says. ADo not be anxious.@ Is he telling us not to work and plan for the future? Of course not. The people to whom Jesus was speaking in today=s gospel lived hard lives. They had to work longer hours than almost any of us. Moreover, they lived close to nature. When they heard Jesus speaking about the wild flowers, and the birds, they understood. They knew that there are few creatures who work as hard for their living as the average sparrow, flying back and forth innumerable times to build a nest; foraging for worms and other food, and then flying back to the nest to feed its young.
What do you worry about? Some people worry about basic necessities. In our rich and comfortable society others worry not about necessities but about luxuries. They think they must have everything bigger and better. They want to Amake it big.@ Some die of heart attacks in the attempt. Others burn out on their way up and never have time to enjoy the fruit of all their worry and toil. 
Has your job or your career become an end in itself? Do you ever take time to relax, to be with your loved ones, to enjoy God=s beautiful world, to read a good book, listen to some fine music B to pray? If not, don=t you think it=s time you started B before you burn out, or burn up?
ANo one can serve two masters,@ Jesus says. AYou cannot serve God and mammon.@ Mammon is money and possessions. Money is a wonderful servant. It enables us to do so much good: for the people and causes we love, to help those in need, to satisfy our own needs. But money is a terrible master. Are you being mastered by what you have, or would like to have? If so, you are not rich B no matter how much you have accumulated. You are poor.
If that is your problem, then start today to put God first in your life. For instance, instead of giving to Church and charities the loose change left over after you have taken care of your necessities and as many luxuries as you think you can afford, how about deciding to give God and his poor the first share of your income B a truly grateful, generous share?
When you do that, you are making a faith-decision. You are trusting that what is left over after giving God Ahis@ share will be enough for you and your loved ones. People who make that faith-decision discover that what Jesus says in today=s gospel is literally true: AYour heavenly Father knows all that you need.@

Lent starts on Wednesday. Here’s a suggestion. Why not think and pray seriously about putting the Lord first in your life – yes, and in your budget as well. I decided to do that over sixty years ago. It has brought me so many blessings – yes, financial ones as well – that frankly, I can’t afford to stop.

Some years ago I submitted a sample of my handwriting to a graphologist for analysis. One passage in his report interested me especially: “You are not particularly thrifty; your plans for conservation and use of money may be somewhat haphazard. But you are certainly not worrying about money, for your debt frustration is one of the lowest I have ever seen.” I smiled broadly when I read that. I knew the reason. God had the first claim on whatever money I received from any source. I found that what was left over for me was always enough, and more than enough.   

Once you begin to put God first in your life, in all areas of life B including the one so important to most of us today, money B you are fulfilling Jesus= command in today=s gospel: ASeek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.@ When you start doing that, you make a wonderful discovery. All the things you previously spent so much time fretting and worrying about are taken care of. And you make another beautiful discovery: God can never be outdone in generosity.

ASeek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you besides.@ That is Jesus Christ=s personal promise to you. And when Jesus Christ promises something, he always keeps his promise. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

THE TRANSFIGURATION


Homily for February 18th, 2017: Mark 9:2-13

          Few incidents in the gospels are so difficult to speak about as the one we celebrate today. The Transfiguration is a mystery. Not that we can understand nothing about it; but that we can understand will always be less than the whole. The gospel writers use symbols to describe the mystery. Today we have time to speak only about one: the cloud. 

         Repeatedly in Holy Scripture the cloud symbolizes God’s presence. During their desert wanderings God’s people were led onward by a cloud. Mt. Sinai was enveloped in a cloud when Moses received the Ten Commandments. A cloud received the risen Lord at his Ascension.  

          The voice from the cloud repeats the words heard at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved Son, on whom my favor rests.” Here, however, the words are addressed not to Jesus, but to his disciples. The concluding words, “Listen to him,”  remind us of Moses’ prophecy: “The Lord your God will raise up a prophet from among you like myself, and you shall listen to him” (Dt. 18:15).

          The Transfiguration is a mystery because it opens a window onto a world beyond this one. For a brief moment, the veil between time and eternity, between earth and heaven, is lifted. Jesus’ friends catch a glimpse of the invisible, spiritual world of God. The concluding words, “Listen to him,” express the significance of the mystery for Jesus’ friends, ourselves included. 

          We, the friends and followers of Jesus Christ, are the company of those who listen to his words. Jesus does not grant to us, any more than he granted to Peter, James, and John, the continuous vision of his glory. We live not on the mountaintop of great spiritual experiences, but in the valley of life’s ordinary duties. There we do not look for dazzling visions from beyond. Instead we listen for Jesus’ voice.

          Jesus speaks to us in many ways: in the Scriptures, in the teaching of his Church, through the circumstances of daily life. He speaks to us in the promptings of conscience, and in the needs of those whom we encounter along life’s way.

          For a moment, before the descent of the cloud, the three friends of Jesus see their friend and Master transformed beyond anything they could have imagined. The Transfiguration is a manifestation of Christ’s divinity, from a moment breaking through the veil of his humanity.

          Today the Lord God is still speaking to us the words first heard by those three friends of Jesus on the mountain two thousand years ago:

          “This is my beloved Son, on whom my favor rests. Listen to him.”