Thursday, November 23, 2017

GOD'S TEMPLE: VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE


Homily for November 24th, 2017. Luke 19:45-48.

          Jesus’ people, the Jews, thought of the Temple in Jerusalem as the earthly dwelling place of God. God, the creator and ruler of the world, was there as truly as he is the tabernacle in every Catholic Church the world over. A modern biblical scholar writes: “When Jesus enters the Temple, or is in the Temple, the Temple is really the Temple.” What those words mean is this: when Jesus, who is God made visible in human form, is in the Temple, then God’s presence, normally invisible, becomes visible.

          In his first Letter to the Corinthians St Paul tells us that we too are God’s temples or dwelling places: “You must know,” Paul writes, “that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within – the Spirit you have received from God. You are not your own.” (6:19) And the Catechism says this happens at baptism. “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte [a technical term for a newly baptized Christian] ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son [or daughter] of God, who has become ‘a partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (No. 1265).

          This truth of faith, that in baptism we become temples or dwelling places of God, corrects a widespread but false conception of our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ. The Christian life is not a striving after high ideals which constantly elude us. Rather it is living up to what, through baptism, we have already become and are: God’s adopted sons and daughters, partakers of God’s nature, members of Christ’s body, co-heirs with him of God’s kingdom, and temples of God’s Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

"I WAS AFRAID OF YOU."


Homily for November 22nd, 2017: Luke 19:11-28.

          How can we make sense of the story? Is the central figure, the master, simply arbitrary: generous with the first two servants, cruel to the third? So it would seem. 

          To make sense of the story we must ask not about the master, but about servants. The first two servants acted out of trust. A man who had entrusted them with so much of his riches, they reasoned, was clearly generous. He could be trusted. The third servant was motivated by fear.  He says so himself. “I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man.” It is this fear which the parable condemns. Jesus came to cast out fear. 

          To escape condemnation we don’t need to establish a good conduct record in some heavenly golden book: a series of stars after our name representing our prayers, 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. 

          Trust is at the heart of faith. Many Catholics think of faith as a matter of the head: affirming as true the statements we recite in the creed. Those truths are properly called the faith. Our assent to them is important, and necessary. Faith itself, however, goes beyond mental assent to a list of truths. It is resides not so much in the head as in the heart

          Yes, and trusting God means risking our hearts. It means loving: generously, recklessly, without limit and without conditions. Because that is the way God loves us. And yes, doing that will mean suffering when those we love fail to respond, or even betray us. .    

          With this parable of the three servants entrusted with gifts on behalf of an absent master Jesus is inviting us to imitate the first two servants: to recognize the generosity of the One who gives us all our gifts; and to trust him as we use and share these gifts, confident that when the Master returns we shall hear his voice, speaking to us personally, and with great tenderness: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come share your master’s joy!” (Matt. 25:21)

 

Monday, November 20, 2017

JUDGMENT


JUDGMENT  
Christ the King, Year A. Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Matthew 25:31-46.
AIM: To present Jesus’ parable of judgment as both a warning and encouragement.
 
          “Thus says the Lord God: I myself will look after and tend my sheep, as a shepherd tends his flock ...” Ezekiel’s words from our first reading give us the theme for this final Sunday in the Church’s year. We find it continued in the responsorial psalm, with its familiar opening words, “The Lord is my shepherd.”  We hear the same theme in the gospel from Jesus himself, telling us that on judgment day we shall find him sitting, as a king, “upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.” He will act like a shepherd, separating the sheep from the goats in his flock. 
          But what does this image of a shepherd have to do, you may be wondering, with today’s feast of Christ the King? It tells us what kind of king Jesus is. He is no conventional ruler, a person of might, power, and glory who lords it over people. Jesus is a king who serves those he rules. “He exercises his kingship,” the Catechism says, “by drawing all men to himself through his death and Resurrection.” (No. 786) 
          In baptism we receive a share in Christ’s kingship. The first Letter of Peter says that baptism makes us “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own ...” (2:9). We exercise this royal priesthood when, like Jesus our king, we serve others; “particularly,” the Catechism says “the poor and the suffering, in whom the Church recognizes the image of her poor and suffering founder” (786, cited from Vat. II: LG 8).
           The parable of the sheep and the goats which we heard in the gospel tells us that service of others will the standard by which, one day, we shall be judged. We won’t be asked how many prayers we have said, or how many Masses we have
attended. We shall be asked one question only: How much have you done for others? Have you done anything at all?
          Can Jesus really be serious?  What about our duty to God: Sunday Mass, prayer, obedience to the precepts of the Church? Are these things unimportant?  Of course not. Duty to God is his first commandment, every bit as important as duty to our neighbor. In this parable, however, Jesus tells us that we fulfill our duty to God first of all by serving others. That is why St. Vincent de Paul could write: “God is not neglected if prayers are put aside ... Therefore, when you leave prayer to help some poor man, remember this – that the work has been done for God.” (Letter 2546; Office of Readings, Sept. 27). Jesus says it even more directly: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
          Common to both groups in this parable of the sheep and the goats is surprise at the verdict pronounced on them. Those who are condemned appeal to their good conduct record. They have not lied, murdered, stolen, or committed adultery. As far as they know, they have kept all the rules. And now they find themselves condemned not for anything they have done, but for things left undone.  Surely, they think, there must be some mistake.
          The just are no less astonished to hear themselves praised. They were never conscious of doing anything special. They had not looked for any reward; and they certainly had never even started to calculate how high the reward might be. And precisely for this reason they receive a reward – one far greater than any they had ever dreamed of. 
          What a lesson there is there for us Catholics. The parable is, first of all, a warning. It tells us that everything we do in life, as well as the things we leave
undone, have eternal consequences. The choices we make each day and hour are determining, even now, our final destiny. Judgment is not a matter of adding up the pluses and minuses in some heavenly account book. Judgment is simply God’s confirmation of the choices, or judgment, we have already made by the way we chose to live our lives. That is the warning.

          Jesus never issues a warning, however, without giving us with it reason for encouragement. This consists here in the assurance that we need not fear judgment if we are trying to help people in need whom we encounter along life’s way. It is not that our good deeds gain us a row of gold stars in some heavenly account book which help balance out the black marks. Jesus is saying something quite different.  He is telling us that the person who is genuinely trying to serve others’ needs will not fail to attain moral goodness in other areas as well. And such failures as remain (and we all have them) will be forgiven by God.  

          So which is the story for you? Warning? or encouragement? That depends.  When you come to Confession, do you find that you have little to confess? You haven’t missed Sunday Mass. You have avoided mortal sin. Oh, perhaps a few white lies now and then, some bad language, and a little impatience – “but nothing really serious, Father.” If that is your situation, the story is probably a warning for you. Then ask yourself: Do I ever fail to help, when help is possible? Am I offended by sermons or statements by Church leaders on topics like war, oppression of the poor, or racial justice? Do I complain that in Church we should hear only about spiritual things? If the answer to such questions is Yes, then the story is certainly a warning for you.

          Perhaps, however, your situation is different. Do you come here discouraged because your life is a tangle of loose ends, failed resolutions, and broken promises? You pray poorly, you lose your temper, you’re impatient, you are unable to overcome some bad habit or, as they say, to “get it all together.” Take heart! If that, or any of that, is your story, then the parable of the sheep and the goats is Jesus’ encouragement for you. It is his way of telling you that your failures are not ultimately important, if you are looking for opportunities of helping others, and using those opportunities when you find them. Anything good you try to do for others, no matter how insignificant, is of infinite worth. It is done for Jesus Christ. One day you will discover, to your astonishment, that you have been serving Him all along, without ever realizing it. You will hear the voice of your shepherd-king saying to you tenderly, and very personally: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

          That, friends, is the gospel.  That is the good news.

"HE HAS GONE TO A SINNER'S HOUSE."


Homily for November 21st, 2017: Luke 19:1-10.

          Zacchaeus was an outcast. He collected taxes for the hated Roman government of occupation. And everyone knew that much of the money he collected went into his own pocket. So when Jesus went to dine at Zacchaeus’ house, the good religious people of Jericho were scandalized. “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner,” they protest. What for them was a scandal is for us good news. Jesus is the one who “has come to seek out and to save what was lost.” 

          Those words tell us who Jesus is. Then, now, for all time, Jesus Christ is the one who does not look at what we have been, or even at what we are. Instead Jesus looks at what, deep in our hearts, we would still like to be. He is the one who has come to search out and to save people without hope, the most abandoned, those most deeply entangled, like Zacchaeus, in webs of selfishness, self-indulgence, and greed.

          “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus told Zacchaeus. He says the same to us today. This is our great today. This is our hour of salvation. Jesus is calling us, inviting us to his holy table. He reaches out to us in active, accepting love, though we have done little or nothing to deserve such love. He comes to us for no other purpose than to seek out and save people who, without him, are floundering, without hope, and lost. 

          Zacchaeus “welcomed Jesus with joy,” Luke tells us. We can share that joy. Because of Jesus Christ, and his love for us, life is not aimless, not without meaning. Our sins, our failures, our compromises are not the last word about us. The last word belongs to the One who tells us that he has come “to seek and to save what is lost.” No matter what others think of us. No matter what we may sometimes think of ourselves. There is One to whom we are infinitely precious. He is Jesus Christ: Son of man and Son too of God — our brother, our lover, our best friend; but also our savior, and our God!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

THANKSGIVING


Homily for November 23rd, 2017: Thanksgiving Day.

          On this Thanksgiving Day I’d like to tell you about something the Lord moved me to do on my 13th birthday, in May 1941. It has been a source of great blessing to me ever since. I visited the chapel of the small and very spartan Connecticut boarding school where I was being educated. Kneeling, or perhaps sitting, in the presence of the Lord in the Tabernacle, I wrote down a list of all the things I was thankful for. I continued this practice on my birthday for a number of years thereafter. The list was always a long one. And it was never difficult to compile. It always brought me joy.

It is decades since I have used my birthday to compile that list of blessings. But that boyhood practice has made thanksgiving central in my life, and in my prayer. If you are looking right now at a happy man, and a happy priest -- and I can assure you that you are – it is because I have trained myself to say every day, more times than I could ever tell you: “Lord, you’re so good to me. And I’m so grateful.”

And now I have a suggestion for you. Before you start to eat your Thanksgiving dinner today, go round the table and ask each person, young or old, to say at least one thing that he or she is thankful for. You may hear some surprises. Whether you do or not, I promise you one thing that a richly blessed life of more than 89 years has taught me. Thankful people are happy people – no exceptions!

"LORD, I WANT TO SEE."


Homily for November 20th, 2017: Luke 18: 35-43.

          “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks the blind beggar who has been calling out loudly, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” Having heard that Jesus would be coming to Jericho, the beggar had positioned himself on the road where he knew Jesus would pass. There would surely be a good crowd eager to see the famous rabbi from Nazareth. With any luck at all, the beggar expected to receive many gifts. Yet when Jesus asked him what he wanted, the beggar asked for something more important than money: “Lord, please let me see.” The words of that blind beggar changed the life of a man who has been for the last 22 years the leader of the Benedictine community here in St Louis: Abbot Thomas Frerking. Let me tell you his story, just as he related it to me.         

Born into a Lutheran family, Thomas Frerking, like many young people today, gave up all religion in high school. Following graduation from Harvard, he went to Oxford University in England, on a Rhodes scholarship, to study philosophy. Reading Mark’s gospel one day, he came to the story about this blind beggar. We have just heard Luke’s version. “That’s me,” he thought. “I felt convicted of intellectual pride, and kept repeating: ‘Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I heard Jesus saying: ‘Call him over.’ So I went to Jesus – and he gave me a hard time. He asked me: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ I had to tell him: ‘Lord, I want to see.’ This happened several times over the next few days. I realized that the people around Jesus were Catholic Christians. I knew I must ask for instruction in the Catholic faith. But then I thought: ‘Oh no, I could never do that!’”

“That was in July 1969. In August I came home for a holiday n the Rocky Mountains with his parents. Looking up at a cloud one day, the decision was just given to me. When I got back to Oxford in September I called the Catholic chaplain. He did know me from Adam. Yet he was with me in 15 minutes. I was received into the Church the following Easter.”

Jesus continues to speak to us today. His words still have power to change lives.

Friday, November 17, 2017

WILL THE SON OF GOD FIND FAITH?


Homily for November 18th, 2017: Luke 18:1-8.

Most of Jesus= parables involve a similarity between the central figure and God. In this case the story turns on the dissimilarity between the corrupt judge and God. It is a Ahow much more@ story. If even so cynical a judge as this one grants the petitioner her request in the end, how much more will God grant the prayers of those who ask him for their needs. God, Jesus is saying, is not like the corrupt judge. It is not difficult to get his attention. God is always more ready to hear than we to pray. God is approachable.

What is the point of praying, however, if God knows our needs before we do, and better than we do? To that question there is no fully satisfying answer. Prayer, like everything to do with God, is a mystery: not in the sense that we can understand nothing about it, but that what we can understand is always less than the whole. One thing is certain. Prayer does not change God. Prayer changes us. It opens us up to the action of God in our lives, as the sun=s rays open the flowers to their life-giving warmth and the nourishing moisture of dew and rain.

Prayer also reminds us of our need for God. How easily we forget that need, especially when the sun shines on us and things go well. Then we start to think we can make it on our own: by our cleverness, by luck, by pulling strings, by hard work, even by being so good that God will have to reward us.

We need to be reminded again and again that we can never make it on our own. No matter how clever we are; no matter how much luck we have; no matter how many strings we pull; no matter how hard we work or how hard we try to be good. None of those things is certain, Jesus tells us. There is certainty only in God. He alone can satisfy our deepest desires. Hence Jesus= final, insistent question. He is putting it to us, right now:

   AWhen the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on the earth?”

 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

THE GOD OF THE UNEXPECTED.


Homily for November 17th, 2017: Luke 17:26-37.

             Jesus continues his teaching about the end time, which began with yesterday’s gospel reading. The end time refers to Jesus’ return in power and glory, a total contrast to his first coming as a helpless infant, in weakness and obscurity. In today’s gospel the emphasis is on the unexpectedness of the Lord’s return. On page after page of Holy Scripture we see God acting in ways that no one could have expected.

Jesus gives two examples familiar to his Jewish hearers. No one expected the flood which swallowed up all but those who embarked in the ark which Noah built at God’s command. No one save Lot foresaw the catastrophe which befell the wicked inhabitants of Sodom.

Here are two more examples of the unexpected. The younger son Joseph was hated by his older brothers, who sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt. There Joseph is thrown into prison on a trumped up capital charge – only to become the second most powerful man in the kingdom and the savior from death through famine not only of the Egyptians but of his whole family, including his resentful brothers.

          At age forty Moses has to flee Egypt after failing to save his people from slavery. Forty years later, with Moses’ life for all intents and purposes over, God summons him from a life of obscurity to do what he had miserably failed to do forty years before: liberate his entire people from bondage. These biblical stories, and many more like them, have given birth to our modern saying: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

          How do we prepare for the unexpected? Jesus’ answer is clear: by living with our eyes directed not upon ourselves and our own interests, but on the Lord God.  That is what Jesus means when he says: “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it.”

If we are trying to do that, then, when the Lord comes – whether to us individually through the angel of death, or for all of us through the Lord’s return in glory – his coming, though unexpected, will be a day not of terror, but of joy – the joy of seeing face-to-face the One who alone can satisfy the deepest longings and desires of our hearts; and who told us during his short time on earth: “All this I tell you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)

 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"HE BURIED HIS MASTER'S MONEY."

Homily for Nov.19th, 2017: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. 

Matthew 25:14-30.

AIM:  To help the hearers overcome fear, and develop deeper trust.
                                 
          It seems terribly unfair, doesn’t it? The first two servants are praised for taking chances. The third is condemned for being prudent. There were no safe deposit boxes in Jesus’ day. Burying treasure in the ground was an accepted form of safekeeping. Jesus’ original hearers would have been shocked to find someone who had done his duty being condemned. Let’s look at the story more closely.
          The sums entrusted to each servant were huge. Our version speaks of “talents”: five, two, and one. Biblical commentators tell us that one talent was equivalent to the subsistence wage of an ordinary worker for fifteen years. The sums involved were clearly enormous. Jesus’ hearers recognized that at once, even if we do not.   
          This tells us something crucial about the story’s central character: the man going on a journey. He is not a bean counter. Generous in extending his trust, he is no less generous in reward. On his return from a long absence, he praises the first two servants for doubling the sums entrusted to them. The words he speaks twice over, “You were faithful in small matters,” are ironic: the sums entrusted to each, and now doubled, were not small. They were huge. The master backs up his praise of the first two servants by inviting each to “share your master’s joy,” words which clearly imply a handsome financial reward.
          The people hearing the story now expect that the third servant will also receive generous treatment. By returning to his master the smaller but still enormous sum entrusted to him he has faithfully discharged his responsibility as custodian. True, he has not increased the sum entrusted to him, like the first two servants. But he has also avoided the risk of loss which they incurred by what today would rank as speculation.     
          How shocking, therefore, for Jesus’ hearers to find this third servant not praised but rebuked as a “wicked, lazy servant.” In place of the reward which the first two servants received, this man, who has acted prudently according to the standards of the day, goes away empty-handed, banished into “outer darkness” to “wail and grind his teeth” in disappointed rage at his unjust treatment. The master, who up to this point in the story has seemed so generous, turns out to be no better than the greedy absentee landlords Jesus’ hearers knew so well, squeezing the inhabitants of the land for every penny they could get out of them. The third servant’s description of the master seems to be all too accurate: “I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter.” With someone so grasping and unreasonable, prudence was the only safe policy. “Out of fear,” the third servant explains, “I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.”
          How can we make sense of the story? Is the central figure, the master, simply arbitrary: generous with the first two servants, cruel to the third? So it would seem. The master’s final action confirms this view. Taking the money which the third servant has faithfully preserved, he gives it to the first servant as an additional reward for the enormous risks he has taken in doubling the sum entrusted to him — an example of arbitrary injustice if there ever was one. 
          To make sense of the story we must ask about motives: not those of the master, but the motives of the three servants. The first two servants acted out of trust. A man who had entrusted them with so much, they reasoned, was clearly generous. He could be trusted. The third servant was motivated by fear. He says so
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himself: “Out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.”  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 third servant did nothing bad. As we have seen, he fulfilled his responsibility. Like those at the king’s left hand in the parable of the sheep and goats, which follows at once in Matthew’s gospel, the third servant is rejected not for anything he did, but for what he failed to do. Fear paralyzed him into inactivity.
          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. 
Refusing to trust, the third servant concentrates on security above all, and loses all.  Jesus is challenging us to be bold. For most of us that is difficult. Boldness is not our long suit. Like the third servant, we prefer to play it safe. The boldness of his two colleagues came not from themselves, but from their trust in the master’s generosity. Burying our gift to keep it safe is like opting for a low-risk spiritual life, avoiding sin as far as possible but not loving much because of the risk involved: the risk of not loving wisely, the risk of having our love betrayed, or not returned, and so being hurt. 
          Do you want to be certain that your feelings will never be hurt, 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. What mother ever ran out of love because she had too many children? From the beginning of time loving mothers have found that with the birth of each child their ability to love is increased.
          “Out of fear ... I buried your talent,” the third servant in the story tells his master. Jesus came to cast out fear. 
God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him avoids condemnation, but who whoever does not believe is already condemned for not believing in the name of God’s only Son. (John 3:17f)
          To escape condemnation we don’t need to establish a good conduct record in some heavenly golden book: a series of stars after our name representing our prayers, 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. 
          Trusting him means risking all, our hearts first of all. It means loving: generously, recklessly, without limit and without conditions. Because that is the way God loves us. And doing that will mean suffering the wounds that love inevitably inflicts. Show me a person whose heart is battered and bruised, and I’ll show you someone who has loved: not always wisely, perhaps, but deeply, passionately, tenderly. I’ve suffered those hurts myself: more times than I could ever tell you.
          With this parable of the three servants entrusted with enormous gifts on behalf of an absent master Jesus is inviting us to imitate the first two servants: to recognize the generosity of the one who gives us our gifts; and to trust him as we use and share his gifts to us, confident that when the Master returns we shall hear his voice, speaking to us personally, and with great tenderness: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come share your master’s joy!”

THE END TIME


Homily for November 16th, 2017: Luke 17:20-25.

          We are nearing the end of the year in the Church’s calendar. Two weeks from Sunday, the third of December, is the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a new Church year. As we approach the threshold of this new year, the Church gives us readings about what has traditionally been called “the end time,” when Jesus will come again: not as he first came in Bethlehem, in the weakness and obscurity of a baby, born in a little village on the edge of the then known world; but in an event so dramatic that all will know that history’s final hour has struck.  

          From Jesus’ day to this people have wanted to know when this will be. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says that even he does not know this. “As for the exact day or hour, no one knows it, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father only” (Mt. 24:36).

Hence, Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, when people claim to have a timetable, we should pay no attention to them: “There will be those who will say to you, ‘Look, there he is,’ or ‘Look here he is.’ Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.” Jesus’ return will be dramatic, but also unexpected. “For just as lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will he Son of Man be in his day.”

Then comes a shocker: “First he [the Son of Man] must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.”  Friends, this suffering and rejection continue today. Four years ago, Cardinal Dolan of New York, in his final address as outgoing President of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, spoke about the worldwide persecution of Christians today. The 20th century, he said, saw the death of half the total number of Christian martyrs since Jesus’ death and resurrection. And in the not yet 18 years of this century, more than a million Christians have already died because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Those martyrs are our brothers and sisters in the family of God, Dolan said. We must pray for them, as well as for those still living, in Iraq and Syria but also elsewhere, who are facing cruel persecution. Pope Francis has said the same many times. I invite you to do this in a special way in this Mass. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

ONLY ONE RETURNS TO GIVE THANKS.


Homily for November 15th, 2017: Luke 17:11-19.

Jesus heals ten lepers. In Jesus’ day leprosy was something like AIDS today. Because the disease was incurable, and thought to be contagious, the leper had to live apart, calling out AUnclean, Unclean!@ lest others approach and become infected. So in healing the ten, Jesus was restoring them from a living death to new life. Yet only one comes back to give thanks for his healing. He was a foreigner, despised by Jesus= people. If he goes to the Temple, the priest will probably tell him to get lost. He doesn=t belong to the right religion, or the right people. Related ethnically to the Jews, he doesn=t observe the full Jewish Law. Priests in Jesus= day were also quarantine officials. Only the Samaritan, who lives outside the law, follows the impulse of his heart, returns to Jesus, and gives thanks.  

What about ourselves? Are we grateful people? Do we take time each day to count our blessings, and give thanks to God for them? The Church helps us to be thankful people by placing thanksgiving at the heart of its public prayer. Eucharist, you know, means Athanksgiving.@ The Mass C every Mass C is a public act of thanksgiving to our heavenly Father for all the blessings he showers upon us. In a few minutes we shall hear once again the familiar story of what Jesus did for us at the Last Supper. AHe took bread and gave you thanks .... When supper was ended, he took the cup. Again he gave you thanks and praise.@

Giving thanks to God over something is the Jewish form of blessing. In giving thanks to his heavenly Father for the bread and wine, Jesus was blessing them. And in so doing he was also transforming them: changing their inner reality into his own body and blood. It is because of this miraculous though unseen change that we genuflect to Jesus present in the tabernacle when we come into church. We ring a bell at the consecration, reminding everyone in the church: Jesus is here, right now, in a special way, with a special intensity! The light burning near the tabernacle, day and night, says the same thing. 

Show me someone who is embittered, angry, filled with resentment and hate B and I=ll show you a person who has no time for thanksgiving. But show me a person who radiates peace and joy B and I=ll show you someone who daily and even hourly gives thanks to God for all his blessings. Which of these two persons would you like to be?

Monday, November 13, 2017

"WE ARE UNPROFITABLE SERVANTS."


Homily for November 14th, 2017: Luke 17:7-10.

          “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” The closing words of our gospel reading today tell us that we never have a claim on God. Even when we have done all that God commands – and which of us has? – we can never sit back and tell God: “I’m waiting for your reward, Lord.”

          That was what the Pharisee did in Jesus’ story of the two men who went up to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray. In his prayer the Pharisee tells God all the good things he has done. And he really had done them. He was a genuinely good and devout man. His good works went far beyond anything that was required.

          The tax collector, on the other hand, knew that he had few if any good deeds to appeal to. He could pray only for God’s mercy: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Yet, Jesus says, it was the tax collector who went home justified – which means “put right with God” – rather than the devout Pharisee. His mistake lay in assuming that his good deeds gave him a claim on God. We never have a claim on God. God has a claim on us, and it is an absolute claim 

          Does that mean that there is no reward for faithful service? Of course not. Jesus speaks often of God’s rewards. To experience his reward, Jesus is saying, you must appeal, not to what you think you deserve; appeal instead to the Lord’s mercy. Learn to stand before Him saying the words of the hymn, “Rock of ages” (hardly known to Catholics, but a favorite of our Protestant brothers): “Nothing in my hand I bring / Simply to your cross I cling.”

 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

JESUS USES HYPERBOLE.


Homily for November 13th, 2017: Luke 17:1-6.

          Today’s gospel reading gives us an example of Jesus using hyperbole. How so, you ask? Webster’s dictionary says that hyperbole is “a statement exaggerated fancifully, as for effect.” The American humorist Mark Twain was using hyperbole when he said: “The first time I ever saw St. Louis, I could have bought it for 3 million dollars; and it is the mistake of my life that I did not do so.” In Mark Twain’s youth 3 million dollars was like 300 million today. The statement is absurd – but also very funny, which is of course the effect Mark Twain was aiming at.

          Helping people understand the power of faith is the effect Jesus was aiming at when he spoke the words in today’s gospel: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” That is as absurd as Mark Twain claiming he could have bought Louis for 3 million dollars. No one would want to a plant mulberry tree in the sea. The salt water would kill it.   

          What Jesus is actually saying is that with faith we can accomplish the impossible. What is faith, anyway? Many Catholics would probably say: faith is the list of truths that we profess every Sunday in the creed. That is not wrong. But faith in that sense is properly called the faith.

          The primary meaning of faith is trust. Even in the Creed, we say “I believe in God.” To believe in someone is to trust that person. When we say we believe in God, we’re saying that we trust him enough to entrust our lives to him. Faith in that sense is not something that comes to us naturally. It is a gift. And the one who gives us this gift is God.

          Each time we come here we are praying that through his two tables of word and sacrament God will deepen and strengthen our trust in him. We are like the man in Mark’s gospel who comes to Jesus asking healing for his boy, who suffers terrible convulsions. Jesus asks the man if he truly believes that Jesus has power to heal. “I do believe,” the father replies. “Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). With this gospel reading Jesus is inviting us to make that man’s prayer our own.  

Friday, November 10, 2017

"YOU CANNOT SERVE GOD AND MAMMON."



         The sayings of Jesus which Luke has collected into today’s gospel reading are comments on what we heard in yesterday’s reading. That was about the unjust steward who realized that he was about to lose his job because of mismanaging his employer’s property. To assure himself of friends who would be indebted to him, and might offer him future employment after he was let go, he calls in the people who owe money to his master’s estate and settles their debts for fifty cents on the dollar. To our surprise Jesus commends the steward “for acting prudently.” Jesus does not praise the man’s dishonesty. He praises his prudence. Realizing that the knife is at his throat, the man acts, desperately, to ensure his future.    

         Today’s gospel continues Jesus’ teaching about money, for which he uses the ancient Hebrew word mammon. This culminates in the sayings, “No servant can serve two masters. … You cannot serve God and mammon.” Jesus is not saying that money and possessions are bad. Nothing that God has made is bad; indeed everything that comes from God is good. It participates in some measure in the absolute goodness of God the Creator. What is at stake is how we use money. Used to support people and causes we love, money is good. Given the central place in our lives by trying to amass more and more and more, money makes us unhappy and frustrated (as people who give money the central place in their lives soon discover) – because we find we can never get enough.

         Jesus’ personal religion taught the law of tithing: giving the Lord out of gratitude, the first claim on our money and possessions. For most Catholics that seems so out of reach to be almost preposterous. There is one place in our country, however, where tithing is a reality: the diocese of Wichita, Kansas. There, after decades of teaching, tithing is all but universal. One consequence is that whereas all other dioceses are struggling to maintain Catholic schools in the face of today’s rising costs, all the Catholic schools in the Wichita diocese are tuition free! Another consequence: the Wichita diocese has almost as many seminarians as does our own archdiocese of St. Louis – which has five times the Catholic population of Wichita.                         

Think about that, friends. Above all, pray about it.  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

THE MIDNIGHT CRY


Homily for Nov.12th, 2017: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary time, year A. 
Wis. 6:12-16; Thess. 4:13-18; Mt. 25:1-13.

AIM: To help the hearers live in the light of our final end.

 

          “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep.” These words from our second reading direct our attention to a subject we mostly try to avoid: death. The Church puts death front and center during this month of November. It begins with All Saints’ Day, which is immediately followed by All Souls’ Day, when we pray in a special way for our departed loved ones.

          The celebrated eighteenth century Englishman and wit, Dr. Samuel Johnson,  said once: “Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” In a sense we are all like the man who knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight. We all know we must die. What better time to think about death than in this month of November, when we can do so calmly and prayerfully, rather than pushing the whole uncomfortable subject out of our thoughts until the knife is at our throat?

          In our second reading Paul says that when the Lord Jesus returns in glory, those who have already died “will rise first. Then we who are alive ... will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” That is poetry. It is symbolic, not literal. Throughout the Bible clouds symbolize God’s presence. God appeared to Moses in a cloud atop Mount Sinai to give him the Ten Commandments (Ex. 24:15-18). God spoke from the same cloud at Jesus’ transfiguration (Mk 9:7). At his ascension Jesus disappeared into a cloud (Acts 1:9). He said he would come again “on the clouds of heaven” (Mk 14:62). 

          When that will be, we cannot know. The Bible nowhere gives us any kind of timetable for predicting the end of the world. Jesus himself says this quite specifically: “That day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father” (Mk 13:32). Nor can any of us know the time or circumstances of our own death.

          The Bible tells us that we are to prepare for this great and final event, and for our own personal death, not by speculation about the date, but by living here and now in the light of Christ’s return and God’s final triumph. This means living not for ourselves, but for God and for others. It means pursuing justice instead of exploitation; trying to build people up rather than tearing them down; being more interested in giving than in getting. That way of living is the “wisdom” we heard about in our first reading: “The perfection of prudence,” that reading told us, which makes those who pursue it “quickly free from care.” 

          In today’s gospel reading Jesus warns that those who spurn this wisdom, living for themselves, heedless of life’s meaning and of God’s claims on them, are headed for disaster. They 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 soon 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.”

          Let me conclude by telling you the story of the medieval morality play Everyman. It is still performed today, in some places. At the play’s opening Everyman is walking home, thinking happily of dinner, family, and fireside. He almost bumps into a black-clad figure. Startled, he asks the man’s name.

          “My name is Death,” the man replies. “I have come to take you with me.”

          “There must be some mistake,” Everyman insists. “I never felt better in my life.”

          “There is no mistake,” Death tells him. “You must come with me.”

          Desperate, Everyman pleads: “At least let me bring a friend with me.  I don’t want to go alone.”

          Death smiles: “If you can find a friend who will go with you, he may come. I will give you one hour. Then meet me here.”  

          Everyman hurries back toward town to the house of a friend he knows well, knocks on the door, and pours out his story to his friend. The man looks at him with mingled sadness and terror. “I cannot come, my friend. It’s impossible.” The friend’s name is “Riches.” Increasingly desperate, Everyman hurries to the house of a second friend, then to a third. In each case the answer is a frightened, “I’m sorry. I cannot come.” Their names are “Fame” and “Pleasure.”

          Slowly Everyman turns back down the path to his rendezvous with Death.  As he walks along, he comes upon another old friend, one he has not seen lately.  Without much hope, he tells his sad story again. To his astonishment, this friend replies: “Sure, I’ll go with you.” His name is “Good Deeds.”

          Death was a familiar figure in the Middle Ages. Average life expectancy was under forty; infant mortality was common. There were no hospitals or nursing homes. People tended their dying and buried their dead. Death at a great age was rare. Today we take it for granted. We Americans tend to insulate ourselves from death. When it comes, we cosmeticize it. Perhaps it’s all a way of trying to avoid Everyman’s question:

          Who will go with me on my final journey?

          There is Someone who would love to go with you. But he doesn’t walk with strangers. If you want Him to go with you on your final journey, you must start to make friends with Him now.

          His name is Jesus Christ.

 

         

THE DISHONEST STEWARD


Homily for November 10th, 2017: Luke 16:1-8.

“The master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.” From antiquity Bible commentators have disputed about who is meant by “the master.” Is he the man’s employer – or Jesus himself? It is difficult to believe that the praise can have come from an employer who has just told his steward – we would call him a manager -- that he is about to be fired. So the praise must come from Jesus himself. How is that possible? Clever the manager may have been. But honest? Hardly. How can Jesus praise what all can see is a swindle?

          Jesus does not praise the manger’s dishonesty. He praises the man’s ability to recognize his desperate situation. For him, it is now or never. Jesus addresses the parable to those who remain indifferent to his message. The story is Jesus’ attempt to shake them out of their complacency. His message confronted them with the need to decide: for him, or against him. To postpone this decision, to continue living as if nothing had changed, with the attitude of “business-as-usual”, was in fact to decide against Jesus. That meant disaster. Trapped in what looks like a hopeless situation, the manager cleverly found a way out and acted while there was still time. It is this cleverness and enterprise which Jesus commends, not the man’s dishonesty.

Jesus Christ asks us for the same decision today: for him, or against him. It is not a once-for-all decision – something like learning to ride a bicycle: once you’ve learned, you know it for life. Our decision for Jesus Christ needs to be renewed every day.

For those who are trying to renew their decision for Jesus Christ every day, joy awaits, beyond our imagining: eternal life with Him who alone can fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

THE CHURCH: BUILDING OR PEOPLE?


Homily for Nov. 9th, 2017: Dedication of the Lateran Basilica: 1 Cor. 3:9c-11, 16-17; John 2:13-20
            As a devout Jew, Jesus worshiped regularly in the Jerusalem temple. There he was brought as an infant to be dedicated to God. There, at age twelve, he was found by his anxious parents after a frantic three-day search. There, as we heard in today’s gospel reading, he overturned the tables of the money-changers, rebuking people for turning God’s house into a marketplace.
            That temple did not long survive Jesus. Not forty years after his death and resurrection Jerusalem was plundered by the Romans, who pulled down the temple Jesus had known, and in which Peter and the other first Christians continued to worship even after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Now, Paul writes in today’s second reading, we are God’s temple: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
            Today Catholics all over the world celebrate the dedication of a Christian temple: the Church of St. John Lateran in Rome. Though not well known, St. John Lateran and not St. Peter’s Basilica is the Pope’s Cathedral as Bishop of Rome. It is customary in every diocese or local church throughout the world to celebrate the dedication of the cathedral, the bishop’s church. We celebrate this feast in St. Louis on October twelfth. Because the Pope is the chief shepherd of the whole Church, Catholics all over the world celebrate the dedication of his cathedral each year on the ninth of November. Only when that date falls on a Sunday, however, do most Catholics become aware of the observance.
            The preface to the eucharistic prayer for this feast helps us to appreciate the significance of today’s celebration: “You give us grace upon grace to build the temple of your Spirit, creating its beauty from the holiness of our lives.” Even as we celebrate the dedication of a building, therefore, the Church’s public prayer reminds us that the most important temple is the one built not of stones, but of people. 
            A parish where I once served used to attract many visitors. They would often remark: “Father, you have a beautiful church.” To which I always replied: “Thank you. And we think the building is nice too.” The Church is people before it is a building. “The temple of God, which you are,” Paul writes in our second reading, “is holy.” “Holy” means ‘removed from ordinary use, set apart for God.’ It is in this sense that a chalice is holy. It is not an ordinary cup. It is used only for the Lord’s Precious Blood. The buildings in which we worship are holy: they are not auditoriums or theaters. They are set apart for worship.
            We too are people set apart. When did that happen, you ask? In baptism! The Catechism says: “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte [the newly baptized person] ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son of God, who has become a ‘partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.” [No. 1265]  The whole of the Christian life, therefore, is not a striving after high ideals which constantly elude us. It is living up to what, through baptism, we already are: temples, dwelling places of God’s Holy Spirit.
            Today, therefore, we celebrate not merely the dedication of a building: the Pope’s cathedral in Rome. We celebrate no less our own dedication as people set apart for God. What that means in daily life St. Paul tells us in stirring words in his letter to the Philippians: “Show yourselves guileless and above reproach, faultless children of God in a warped and crooked generation, in which you shine like stars in a dark world and proffer the world of life” (2:15) There is no call higher than that, no life more worth living.