Saturday, August 13, 2016

MARY, WOMAN OF FAITH


The Assumption.  1 Cor. 15: 20-27.
AIM: To present Mary as the model of faith and our intercessor before God.
 
Mary, the Second Vatican Council says, Ashines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God@ (LG 68).  The Council spoke often about God=s Apilgrim people.@ The phrase expresses the awareness we have today that in the Church we are underway to a goal we have not yet reached.  Our pilgrim way is beset with difficulties. We are reminded of them each time we read the morning headlines, or watch the news on television.
On this feast of Mary=s Assumption we are reminded that Mary also confronted difficulties on her own pilgrim way. We know remarkably little about Mary=s life. What we do know, however, shows that she had to walk often in darkness. There were many things which, as Luke tells us, Mary Adid not understand@ (Lk 2:50) and could not understand.       
What did Mary understand about the angel=s message that even before her marriage to Joseph she was to become the mother of God=s Son? She understood at least this: that in a tiny village where everyone knew everyone else and gossip was rife, she was to be an unmarried mother. Yet Mary responded without hesitation in trusting faith: AI am the servant of the Lord.  Let it be done to me as you say@ (Lk 1:38) 
That act of trusting faith was not blind. Young as Mary was B and the Scripture scholars think she may have been only fifteen B she asked what any girl in her position would have asked: AHow can this be, since I do not know man?@ (Lk 1:34) Even this question, however, reflects faith. Mary was questioning not so much God and his ways as her own ability to understand God=s ways.
Nor was Mary=s faith a once-for-all thing. It needed to be constantly renewed.  Before her Son=s birth, Joseph wanted to break their engagement. When the couple presented their newborn child to the Lord in the Jerusalem temple, Mary heard the aged Simeon prophesy the child=s rejection and his mother=s suffering (Lk 2:34f).  Three decades later, after Jesus left home, he seemed on more than one occasion to be fulfilling his command to his disciples about turning one=s back on parents and other relatives (cf. Lk 14:26). At the marriage at Cana Jesus seemed to speak coldly to his mother. She seems not to have been present  at the Last Supper. Only at Calvary was Mary permitted to stand beside her now dying Son, along with Athe disciple whom Jesus loved@ (John 19:26); deliberately unnamed, many Scripture scholars believe, to represent the ideal follower of Jesus Christ in every time and place.
The last glimpse we have of Mary in Scripture is immediately before Pentecost. With the apostles and Jesus= other relatives, she is praying for the descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14). Thereafter Mary disappears. Her work of bringing Christ to the world was taken over by the Church. 
How did Mary=s life end? We do not know. In defining Mary=s Assumption on All Saints Day 1950, Pope Pius XII said simply: AWhen the course of [Mary=s] early life had ended, she was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.@ The body the Pope referred to is Mary=s new resurrection body: the body with which Jesus rose from the dead B the heavenly and spiritual body which, as St. Paul says, each one of us will receive in heaven (cf.1 Cor. 15:35-53). There Mary continues to pray for us on our pilgrim way. As the Catechism says: AThe Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary ... and to entrust supplications and praises to her.@ (No. 2682).
For many Christians, however, and for almost all Protestants, Catholic teaching about Mary, and our devotion to her, are troubling. Especially troubling is the Catholic practice of praying to Mary. Surely, Protestants say, we can pray only to God. Strictly speaking, they are right. When we Catholics pray to Mary, or to any of the other saints, what we are really doing is asking them to pray for us and with us. The conclusion of the classic Marian prayer, the Hail Mary, makes this explicit: AHoly Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.@
If it makes sense to ask our friends on earth to pray for us, doesn=t it also make sense to ask the prayers of our friends in heaven, the saints? The Catechism says it does: ABeing more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven ... do not cease to intercede with the Father for us. ... We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.@ (No. 956 & 2683) Without Mary=s prayers, I would not be a Catholic priest today. Let me tell you how I know this.
As some of you know, I had the great privilege of serving for six years, like my father and grandfather before me, as a priest of the Anglican Church, called in our country the Episcopal Church. Leaving the church which had taken me from the font to the altar, and taught me almost all the Catholic truth I know, even today, was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Starting in 1959, and for almost a year, the question of the church, and of my conscientious duty before God, were not out of my waking thoughts for two hours together. 
One of the many obstacles to my decision was the need to abandon, possibly forever, the priesthood to which I had aspired from age twelve, and which had brought me great happiness, with no guarantee that it would ever be given back to me. In Holy Week 1960 a Trappist monk at St. Joseph=s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, himself a convert from Judaism, who was helping me along the last stretch of my spiritual journey, said to me: AWhy don=t you give your priesthood to Our Lady, asking her to keep it for you, and to give it back to you when the time is right?@ With his help I did this. 

Had I known then that it would be eight years before I could once again stand at the altar as a priest, I would never have had the courage to go through with it.  During those years I had many difficulties B so many that well meaning priest-advisers told me I should forget any idea of priesthood and embrace a lay vocation.  This I was never willing to do. I knew that Our Lady was keeping my priesthood for me, and I was confident that she would give it back to me one day. 

After eight years, on January 27th 1968, I knelt before the bishop of M√ľnster in northern Germany, where I was then living, to receive the Church=s commission to stand at the altar once again, as a Catholic priest. I had never told the bishop about entrusting my priesthood to Our Lady. You can imagine my joy, therefore, when, at the end of the ninety-five minute ceremony in his private chapel, the bishop turned to the altar and intoned the Church=s ancient Marian hymn: Salve regina, AHail, Holy Queen.@     

Friday, August 12, 2016

"LET THE CHILDREN COME TO ME."


Homily for August 13th, 2016:  Matt. 19:13-15. 

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, August 11, 2016

BETTER NOT TO MARRY?


Homily for August 12th, 2016: Matthew 19:3-12.
        Once again, we hear Jesus’ telling his friends that marriage is lifelong, and can be ended only by death. What about Moses’ permission for divorce, Jesus’ hearers ask? That was never part of God’s plan in creation, the Lord responds. It came about because of your sinfulness. Shocked by the rigidity of Jesus’ teaching, his hearers suggest that perhaps it is better, then, never to marry. No, Jesus responds, the single life is not for all. It is reserved for those who freely choose to forego marriage “for the sake of God’s reign.” For most people God’s words in the second creation tale (Genesis 2) apply: “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
        We tell engaged couples preparing for marriage that “it takes three to get married.” I used to think that the reason for that was because the problems which will arise when two grown up sinners, previously independent, decide to embark on life in double harness, they will encounter difficulties which they can overcome only with the help of the Lord God. That is true. But there is a further and more important reason why it takes three to get married: because no human relationship, no matter how intimate and filled with love, can ever fully satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts. We are hard-wired for God.
        That is why there is so much loneliness in the world: because people, whether married or single, fail to seek their deepest desires from the only one who can fulfill our heart’s hungers – that is the Lord God. Mother Teresa use to call loneliness “today’s greatest suffering.”
        A seminarian asked me recently: “Are priests lonely?” “Johnny,” I told him, “everyone is lonely at times. Married people are lonely. Loneliness is part of the human condition. Loneliness comes about because no human relationship can ever completely satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts: not the perfect marriage, not the ideal friendship – and how many people have found the perfect marriage or the ideal friendship?”
        Are we doomed, then, to be always lonely? Not at all. There is One who can fill that empty place in our hearts. He longs to do so. But he will never force himself on us. He waits for us to open the door, to invite him in. An evangelical hymn says it best:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus / Look full in his wonderful face, 
and the things of this world will go strangely dim / in the light of his glory and grace.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP



20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C: Jr. 38:4-6, 8-10; Heb. 12:1-4;

Lk 12: 49-53.

AIM: To challenge the hearers to a fresh decision of Jesus Christ.

Is it easy to follow Jesus Christ – or difficult? Sometimes Jesus makes discipleship sound easy. Here is a well known example: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest … For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Mt. 11:28, 30).

In other passages, however, Jesus makes discipleship sound very difficult. Today’s gospel reading is a case in point. Jesus says there that he came “to light a fire on earth” – not for peace but for division. Jesus spoke those words out of his own lived experience: “I have a baptism to receive. What anguish I feel till it is over!”

Those words refer not to Jesus’ baptism in water in the Jordan River, but to his coming baptism in blood on Calvary. That was what caused Jesus “anguish.” Those words from today’s gospel give us a rare and precious glimpse into Jesus’ inner life.

From his birth at Bethlehem to his death on Calvary, Jesus was the faithful disciple of his heavenly Father. He summons us to be his faithful disciples. But he also warns us that obeying his summons will mean “division” from some of those nearest and dearest to us. Such divisions are unavoidable, because Jesus demands a decision: for him, or against him. Where decisions are demanded, people will decide differently. The resulting divisions can be painful – and costly.

Our first reading told about the cost of discipleship for the prophet Jeremiah. God commanded Jeremiah to warn his people of disaster if they did not repent and place their national life on the firm foundation of obedience to God’s law. The people responded not with repentance but by frantically shoring up their military defenses against foreign enemies. Jeremiah warned that a purely military response to danger was futile.

That message was, understandably, unwelcome to the military and political leaders of the nation. Lacking the courage to kill Jeremiah, they tried to silence him by putting him into one of the underground cisterns used in Jerusalem to store rainwater. This incident is a good example of the divisions Jesus speaks about in the gospel between those who, like Jeremiah, are willing to follow God’s call regardless of the cost, and those who reject God’s call because the cost seems too high.

 Is the cost of discipleship today too high? For many it is. In today’s dangerous world there are many voices warning us Americans of the need for a strong military defense. We hear less about the need to repair our moral defenses. In a world filled with terrorism, military defenses are as important for a nation as an efficient police force is for a city. All the military might in the world will not save our country, however, or any country, if the moral fabric of our national life is rotten. We do not need to look far for signs of this moral decay. Here are just a few examples:

       Schools that are awash in a sea of drugs, physical and general lawlessness; where parents who want the best for their children are willing to have them driven many miles to attend better schools; and where many who would like to be teachers instead of wardens are quitting in disgust.

       Lying, cheating, and taking unfair advantage of others at every level: in business, government, in labor unions, and in the so-called learned professions. A retired lawyer said to me recently: “When I was admitted to the bar, you could take another lawyer’s word for it. Now you had better get it in writing.”

       The indiscriminate and legal killing of unborn children in our country, because their birth might be an inconvenience. There are now a million and a half abortions a year in our country. That is one tiny human life snuffed out every twenty seconds of every hour, day and night, day in and day out. Some pro-life activists are upset that Pope Francis seldom speaks about abortion. Here is what Cardinal Sean O’Malley, one of eight cardinals from all over the world chosen by Pope Francis to be his advisers, recently said about this: “I think he speaks of love and mercy to give people the context for the Church’s teaching on abortion. We oppose abortion, not because we are mean or old fashioned, but because we love people. And that is what we must show the world.”

          Those examples are just the tip of the iceberg – only a small part of the evidence of moral sickness in our society. There are, thank God, also many beautiful signs of moral health, especially in the idealism and willingness to sacrifice of many of our young people. I’ll give you some examples in a minute. But all this good evidence cannot cancel out the bad. A moment’s reflection discloses part, at least of the reason for this moral sickness: placing private gain ahead of public good; seeking happiness through getting rather than through giving.

          Calling attention to such things is as unpopular today as it was in Jeremiah’s time. Critics today are called unpatriotic, or silenced with the simplistic slogan: “America – love it or leave it.” Anyone who has experienced that kind of hostility knows what Jesus means when he says in today’s gospel: “Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

          The price of following Jesus Christ is high. How could it be otherwise, when the One we follow found that the price of his discipleship was death?

          Perhaps there is someone here who thinks that the price is too high; that Jesus Christ makes unreasonable demands; that is better to compromise, to bend with the winds of public opinion, and not to try to swim against the stream. Such thoughts are understandable. But they are wrong.

          Though the price of following Jesus Christ is high, it is price which an uncounted multitude of God’s faithful daughters and sons have already paid, and which many more are paying right now. They did not find the price too high. On the contrary they were happy to pay it.

A few years ago I received into the Catholic Church a 29-year-old graduate of Yale and former Lutheran seminarian who made his decision for the fullness of Catholic faith despite the embittered opposition of his family. And in that same week two young men whose religious vocations I have been nourishing gave their lives to Jesus Christ; one through ordination as a transitional deacon, the other through taking life vows as a Jesuit. And at the same time a young woman from Ohio, who spent nine months working in an inner city school as a Vincentian volunteer, was clothed as a novice with the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George. She is now in junior vows.

          In making their decisions for Jesus Christ those four young people, all under 30, joined the “cloud of witnesses” we heard about in our second reading. They are portrayed there as spectators in a stadium cheering on us who are now running the same race which they ran in their day. Unanimously they proclaim that the race is worth running, and price of discipleship is worth paying.

          Listen again to those words, in a modern translation. They thrilled me with I first discovered them at age 13 or 14. They thrill me still. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us; looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

"I CANCELLED YOUR ENTIRE DEBT."


Homily for August 11th, 2016: Mathew 18:21-19:1

          “Lord, when my brother wrongs me,” Peter asks Jesus, “how often must I forgive him? Seven times?” “No,” Jesus replies, “not seven times; I say, seventy times seven times.” Jesus was saying that the duty of forgiveness was unlimited. Then, as so often, Jesus tells a story to illustrate his teaching.

          The story’s opening is ominous. A king, for Jesus’ hearers, was a man with power of life and death over his subjects. The people with whom he intends to settle accounts are officials responsible for collecting the king’s taxes. “One was brought in, who owed a huge amount.” A lifetime was insufficient to pay it. The king’s cruel punishment, ordering not only the man himself but his whole family to be sold into slavery, would have shocked Jesus’ hearers. Then comes a surprise. When the man pleads for time to pay the debt, the king suddenly shows mercy: “Moved with pity, the master … wrote off the debt.”

          No sooner delivered from his desperate plight, the official finds a colleague who owes him “a much smaller amount,” and demands immediate payment in full. The second official’s reaction to the demand that he pay his debt mirrors that of the first. “Just give me time and I will pay you back in full.” The sole difference is that the second official’s debt could easily be paid, given reasonable time. How shocking for those hearing the story for the first time to learn of the first official’s harsh response. Seizing his colleague by the throat and throttling him, he insists that the man be imprisoned until the debt is paid.

          In the story’s conclusion the colleagues of the two debtors go and report the injustice to the king. Summoning the first official again, the king reminds him of the unmerited mercy he has received and, in an act of grim irony, grants the man what, in his original desperation, he had requested: time. Now, however, the time will be spent not in repayment but in prison, under torture. This detail would have deeply shocked Jesus’ hearers. In Jewish law torture was unknown.  

The story’s lesson is simple: if we are not forgiving toward others, as God is already forgiving toward us, we risk discovering one day that the forgiveness God has extended to us has been canceled. Jesus is telling us, in short, that our treatment of others, here and now — and especially of those who have wronged us — is already determining where, how, and with whom we shall spend eternity.   

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

"GOD LOVES A CHEERFUL GIVER."


Homily for August 10th, 2016. 2 Cor. (9:6-10) [Lectionary No.618]

          “God loves a cheerful giver,” Paul writes in today’s first reading. Paul wrote his letters in Greek. And the Greek word which Paul uses for cheerful is hilarios. That’s where we get our English word “hilarious.” If we wanted to translate Paul’s words literally, therefore, we would say: “God loves a hilarious giver.” Why? Because that is how God gives: not sparingly, not grudgingly, “without sadness or compulsion” (as Paul writes in that first reading), but with overflowing joy.

“There is more happiness in giving than in giving than in receiving,” Jesus says (Acts 20:35). Those words, incidentally, are the only saying of Jesus that is preserved outside the gospels. Paul speaks them to representatives of the Christian community at Ephesus, telling them to remember a saying that they were already familiar with from the oral teaching of Paul and other apostles. The New Testament did not yet exist: it hadn’t been written. But already the Church was teaching the faith, and telling people what Jesus had said and done. That is the answer to people who say they have a religion of “the Bible only.” The Church’s faith is older than the Bible – older, at least, than the New Testament.

People who have never experienced the joy of giving that Jesus speaks about are poor, no matter how large their bank accounts, stock portfolios, or other possessions. As a help to finding this joy, consider this. God does not need anything. He is, the theologians say, “sufficient unto himself.” Hence anything we give to God – or to people in need, or to good causes – comes back to us. But it comes back to us changed, and enlarged. The bread and wine we offer in the Mass come back to us transformed into the Body and Blood of God’s divine Son. The same is true with all our gifts. That is why Paul writes: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

There are people here who know that from personal experience. They experience the joy of living with open hearts, and open hands. If you’re not yet one of them, the Lord is inviting you to join our happy company -- today!              

Monday, August 8, 2016

A MODERN MARTYR


Homily for August 9th, 2016.

On an August evening in 1921 a brilliant 30-year-old Jewish woman in Germany who had long since abandoned religious belief was staying overnight with some Catholic friends. They apologized for leaving her alone: they had a previous evening engagement. Among their books their guest found the autobiography of the Spanish Carmelite, St. Teresa of Avilla. She read it through overnight and declared the next morning: “That is the truth.” She was baptized on New Year’s Day 1922. The woman’s name was Edith Stein, the saint whom we commemorate today.

          In October 1933, Edith Stein, by then well known in German university circles as a brilliant philosopher, but now excluded from academic employment by the Nazi racial laws, entered the Carmelite convent in Cologne. She took the name Teresa Benedicta a Cruce: “Teresa blessed by the cross.”  On the night of November 9/10, 1938, the Nazis instigated the notorious “Kristallnacht”, smashing Jewish shop-windows all over Germany, and torching synagogues. At the news Edith Stein, who, like St. Paul, never abandoned her identification with her own people, felt herself “paralyzed with pain.” Shortly thereafter, to avoid imperiling her fellow Sisters, she moved to a Carmelite convent in Holland. 

          At the end of July 1942 the Nazis, having invaded Holland, retaliated for the public protest of the Dutch bishops against the persecution of Jews by rounding up all Dutch Jews who had received Catholic baptism, Sister Teresa Benedicta among them, and shipped them like cattle to Auschwitz. Upon arrival they went straight to the gas chamber. The date: August 9, 1942.

          After the war Edith Stein’s Sisters put up a memorial tablet in the Cologne Carmel with the inscription: “She died as a martyr for her people and her faith.” Pope John Paul II confirmed these words on October 11, 1998, when he enrolled Edith Stein in the church’s official list of saints, with the title “martyr.” With thanksgiving therefore, we pray in this Mass:

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – Pray for us.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

TRUSTING FAITH


19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. Wisdom 18:6-9; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48.
AIM:  To deepen the hearers= faith.
 
AFaith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.@  This definition of faith in our second reading is unusual for the Bible. The Bible is not fond of definitions. It prefers examples. Immediately following this definition of faith, therefore, that second reading gives us an example: Abraham. ABy faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.@ Abraham trusted, however, that God knew. Meanwhile, the second reading tells us, Abraham dwelt Ain tents.@ A tent is a temporary dwelling. Its occupant can take it down and move on. Abraham=s nomad life shows us, the second reading says, that Ahe was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God.@ 
Abraham could obey God=s call, to abandon security and venture into an unknown future, because he trusted God, who gave him the call. That is faith=s fundamental meaning: personal trust. Faith in this sense is not something learned once and for all, as we learn the alphabet or the multiplication table, or how to ride a bicycle. Faith is developed only through time. It must be constantly nourished.  That is why we come here week by week: so that our loving trust in our heavenly Father, in Jesus his Son, and in the Holy Spirit, may be renewed and nourished at the twin tables of word and sacrament.    
In the gospel reading Jesus tells us to live by faith; to hold on, like Abraham in our second reading, to Athe evidence of things not seen.@ ABe like servants who await their master=s return from a wedding,@ Jesus says, Aready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.@ 
In the gospel reading Jesus contrasts this attitude of faith-filled readiness with that of the unfaithful servant who says, AMy master is delayed in coming.@  Behind those words lies the thought: >Maybe he=s not coming at all.= Then this unfaithful servant forgets that he has been entrusted with responsibility, and 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 delayed in coming,@ had special meaning for the community for which Luke wrote his gospel. They believed that Jesus was going to return very 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: >The Lord is delayed in coming. 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. People who live as if there will never be an accounting have broken faith, Jesus warns. They have abandoned what our second reading calls Athe realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.@ For such faithless servants the day of reckoning will be unexpected, and painful. AThat servant=s master will come,@ Jesus says, Aon an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish the servant 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, for our own spiritual comfort and profit. That is why the Church is, and always must be, a missionary Church. Our wonderful Pope Francis reminds us of this often. 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.

Faced with the temptation to forget that we are servants and not masters, we need to pray that God=s Holy Spirit will preserve our realization of what we hope for, and help us hold on to the evidence of things not seen. Only with the Spirit=s help can we remember that we may be summoned at any time to give an accounting of how we have used the Lord=s gifts. Have we kept them for ourselves? Or have we shared them generously with others?     

Keeping faith and remembering that we are servants and not masters also means preserving Abraham=s readiness to move on, whenever God calls, abandoning what is familiar and secure, and trusting solely in God. Whenever in its 2000-year history the Church has forgotten its role as God=s servant; 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 recent history of the Catholic Church in our own country.

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: nomads like Abraham and, like him, pilgrims underway (to quote our second reading a final time) Ato the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God@ B pitching our tents each evening, as we lie down to rest for the next day=s journey, a day=s march nearer home.       

NEVER LOOKING BACK


Homily for August 8th, 2016: Luke 9:57-62. [Lectionary No. 457]

          Three potential disciples come to Jesus. The first pledges total loyalty: “I will be your follower wherever you go.” The man’s good will is obvious. With his unique ability to read minds, Jesus sees a potential defect in the man’s stated willingness to serve. He may find the road more difficult that he has reckoned: “The foxes have lairs,” Jesus tells him, “the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 

          The next recruit responds to Jesus’ call, “Come after me.” There is something he wants to do first, however. “Let me bury my father.” An important duty for Jews, burying the dead has been taken over by Christians as the last of the seven corporal works of mercy. When Jesus calls, however, this takes precedence over all else. “Let the dead bury the dead,” Jesus tells him. “Come away and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

          The third recruit, like the first, volunteers for discipleship: “I will be your follower, Lord,” he says. But like the second man, he sets a condition: “First let me take leave of my people at home.” With seeming coldness, Jesus tells him he is not truly qualified: “Whoever puts his hand to the plow but keeps looking back is unfit for the reign of God.” Jesus’ message to all three is the same: the Lord’s call takes precedence over all else. Is that possible? For some it is. Let me tell you about one.

          She was born in Albania in 1910 and baptized with the name Agnes. As a young girl she was fascinated by stories of missionaries in India. At age 12 she decided to join them. A Jesuit told her that the Loreto nuns, based in Dublin, worked in India. At age 18 Agnes, not knowing a word of English, journeyed to Ireland to become a Sister of Loreto. She would never see her home, or her mother, again. After only 6 weeks, she was sent to Calcutta, where she received the religious name Teresa, after the then recently canonized French Carmelite Ste. Therese of Lisieux,  In the years following she became a teacher and later Principal of a girls’ school.

          On a train journey in 1946, she received what she called “a call within a call”: to leave the security of the convent to live among and serve the poor. Slowly former pupils and others joined her. At her death in 1997, at age 87, the Missionaries of Charity, whom she had founded, numbered over 3,800 in 122 countries – and that in a day, when in the United States alone, over 1000 Sisters left the convent to pursue other paths. Another thousand have joined the order since.

          Toward the end of her life Mother Teresa summed up her life in a single sentence: “I am but a small pencil in the hand of a writing God.” Happy are we if we can say the same.