The Road to Happiness begins with Communication…and Sometimes Separation

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HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings:  Ez. 33:7-9/Rom. 13:8-10

Psalm:  95:  1-2,6-9

Gospel:  Mt. 18:15-20

 

There was a nun who was devoted to her life in the convent and her devotion to God.  During her brief time in the community, she began to notice one of her fellow sisters showing quite a bit of an attachment to the Mother Superior, almost to the point that her time with the Mother was all-consuming.  This nun, who had only been there a few years, wanted to say something to this nun who had been there much longer than her, but was concerned that her interference may be detrimental not only to her but also the community.  At the risk of her reputation being sullied, she went to her fellow sister and counseled her on the attachment the nun had with Mother Superior and that the sacrifice of one’s self was needed in order for true happiness be found.  After the meeting, the sister corrected her ways and became a better nun than she could ever aspire.  That young nun who approached the other was St. Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower.”

What St. Therese did was an example of the Gospel proclaimed today from St. Matthew.  The 18th Chapter of his Gospel is an instructional chapter on wrongdoing and forgiveness.  It begins with understanding who is the greatest in Heaven and ends with how we must seek forgiveness. During this chapter, the one thread that is throughout is that those who are responsible for spreading the Good News must be genuine in their mission or risk their exclusion from the inner circle of believers.  It is a call that Jesus’ disciples had heard before from the Prophet Ezekiel.  In the First Reading today, Ezekiel tells the crowds that God commands the Chosen Ones that if He tells a wicked person that they will die and they do not do anything to help that person change their ways, they would be responsible for their death.  Yet if they warn the person, and the person refuses to change, then they will be saved.

How this process is being handled was the focus on the Gospel proclaimed today.  Jesus begins by saying if there was someone who sins against another, then the one who was wronged will speak to the other in private.  If they change their ways, then the matter is over.  If they do not, then the one who is wronged brings a few others to hear the testimony.  If the person still does not change, then it is to go to the community, the ecclesia or church, for which a decision will be made.  If after all that, the person still does not change their behavior, then they would be removed from the main group and treated “as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”  In other words, while they would not be a part of the group, they are not necessarily shunned by the community, but just that both sides need to step away from each other and re-evaluate their relationship.

This is a way to set up some healthy boundaries that will help each other take stock of where they went wrong and make the necessary adjustments.  While we understand our mission as Children of God to preach the Good News, sometimes it takes our brothers and sisters in the faith to help us with our task when we go astray, and vice versa.  When we set up those boundaries, they are not just to keep people away.  They are a way to help both sides to clear their minds and hearts so, over time, they can come closer to God and, perhaps, with each other.  There was an 6th Century Irish monk who was had a passion for learning everything he could about God and His Church.   He was a voracious reader and would get his hand on any book that he could.  One day, he noticed the Abbot had a copy of the Psalms and wanted desperately to read it and possibly to copy it.  This monk would travel from monastery to monastery wanting to borrow or copy as many books as he could.  Most of the time, he was met with very little success.  When the monk asked the Abbot for permission to copy his Psalter, the abbot refused.  Outraged, he snuck the psalter out of the bookcase and transcribed the book.  Once the Abbot found out, he went to the monk and demanded that he return the copy to him.  The monk refused.  After much debate amongst the monastery, the matter was forwarded to the King of Ireland.  The King sided with the Abbot with the pronouncement “To every cow its calf.”

That didn’t sit well with the monk, who decided that he would gather as many friends and family that he could and waged war with the King’s Army.  It was a bloody battle that cost many lives on both sides.  After the war was over, a synod was held to deal with this monk and his behavior.  It was concluded that he would be exiled from Ireland to re-settle in Scotland.  While he was there, his heart that was once vindictive and cruel became tender and sincere.  He made a vow that he would save the souls of the same number that were lost in the battle that he started.  He settled on an island in Northern Scotland and began a religious community that is still in existence today and is well-known for its hospitality and devotion to God and all of His creation.  That community is known as Iona and the Monk was St. Columba.

We as a society today have a weakness in embracing conflict, mainly as a way to gain favor from those we wish to gain favor.  This sentiment caused one commentator to remark that it is some sort of right or privilege in American society to solve any and all problems with conflict and/or violence.  It is like some badge of honor.  I remember one time I was at the Kentucky Derby in 2013.  I had my rain jacket with the Notre Dame logo on it.  I was looking around at the crowd while I was walking to the paddock and I hear someone make a comment about the jacket.  I looked up and there was a guy wearing an Alabama shirt. (Remember this was just a few months after the BCS Championship where Notre Dame lost). I acknowledge the game and offered my congratulations, but the guy would not let it go.  He would keep on how Alabama was such a better team, has better players, a better coach and on and on.  I finally said my goodbye and walked away.  He wasn’t talking to me because of a game.  He was boasting the importance of his allegiance to a place that, like me, was not a student of the place, just a fan.

Could the structure that Jesus laid out have helped in that situation?  Perhaps not.  But I use this as an example of someone who would rather show his importance over another than celebrate the importance of the moment.  Like St. Columba, this guy felt he was entitled to show how important he was and felt compelled to let me know how important he was.  I don’t know if our separation changed the way he behaved, but thinking back on that reminded me of the psalm today:  “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”  When we know something that is right, we have a habit of being superior to another.  When it comes to understanding the Word of God, we run the risk of holding it inside and not using it to help others, but only as a mark of identity. Our hearts become hardened to the problems of the world and allow our faith to become stagnant.  Only when we have a loving heart can we allow the Word of God to grow.  Without growth, the stagnant attitude remains, and the sin of pride is planted in our souls.

Instead of embracing conflict, Jesus wants us to embrace conversation.  The path to that conversation is what we heard today.  It is the path that most conflicts in Christianity are resolved.  It is also a way to resolve conflicts within ourselves as well.  Whenever we think we are going down a path that is just not right, then we ask ourselves if this is the right thing to do.  If we are still not sure, we ask friends or family.  If we are still conflicted, we can ask the Church.  Finally, if it still does not feel completely right, we can walk away from it and not be burdened by its hold in our lives.  These guidelines along with the Word of God need to be used as a baseline, not as a finish line.  Only then can our actions bring growth into our lives.  We can only hope and pray that when these guidelines are used, we use them like St. Therese and be successful.  But if they are used on us, let us hope and pray we, like St. Columba, will finally see the error of our ways and turn our hardened hearts into loving hearts.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

Questions for Reflection:

  1. If you could go back and use this guideline to avoid conflict, what would it be?
  2. How does one behave toward someone “as they would a Gentile or a tax collector?”
  3. Can you remember a time when “setting healthy boundaries” between you and another actually made things better?

 

 

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Bonus: Five years in and a Theology of the Person

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FIVE YEARS IN…..

                On June 16, 2017, I “celebrated” five years as a Permanent Deacon in the Catholic Church for the Diocese of Springfield, IL.  I put “celebrated” in quotation marks because that day was not a very good day in my life and in the life of my family.  The day before, we had a funeral for my niece, Jennifer, who died of a brain aneurysm while 7 1/2 months pregnant.  They were able to save the baby, a girl, but the damage to her brain was too great was her to survive, leaving her husband with three young children to raise on his own.  To top it all off, the day I was to celebrate five years would have been their ten year wedding anniversary.  So you will understand why this year was anything but celebratory.  What I can say about it is that it has been certainly reflective.

In light of tragedy, what we see reflecting back to us is our frailties being held up in front of us.  For me, those frailties were being held in the hands of my niece.  During the funeral, as I was looking down on her casket, I could see an image of her holding a box.  She opened the box and inside was a piece of paper.  On it was written a simple question:  “Do you believe in what you say or not?”  As I looked up, she looked at me with her chin in her chest, her eyebrows raised and her eyes looking up at me and she says “Well…?” and with that she was gone.  The question stayed with me ever since and it is the reason for this personal evaluation.

So, if I was to begin a personal reflection on the past five years, where would I start?  I start with her question:  Do I believe in what I say or not?  It is not so much in that I have doubts about my faith in God, in Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Church, but in the manner in which it has been presented to the faithful.  How we bring the faith to the faithful can make the difference between bringing people to God or just keeping them focused on man-made problems thinking they are signs from God.  How we present the faith is as much a reflection of ourselves as we do looking in the mirror.  It gives us an image of our soul; our true self.

When Jesus was asked what is the Greatest Commandment, he quoted from the Book of Deuteronomy:  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is Our God, the Lord is One!  You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.”  He then added something else:  “And the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”[1]  If we look at these Commandments, they are a call for us to make the first move in loving God, others and ourselves.  Yet, how are we expected to love God and our neighbors as ourselves if we do not know HOW to love ourselves?

In order for us to love ourselves, we must first ask ourselves who we are.  Are we MAN? Are we a body?  Are we an individual? Are we a person?  How we define ourselves begins our identity.  So we begin to ask ourselves:  Are we MAN?  Man is merely the race of intelligent, erect biped mammals that are more advanced than other forms of life.  Are we a body?  That is just the structure by which MAN can operate on this planet.  Are we an individual?  Individuals have the capability to be unique from all others in order to show their importance over others; particularly those with whom they believe are inferior.

What I believe that we are, and what I believe God intended us to be, is called a person.  A person takes all those previous identifications (MAN, body, individual) and begins to develop a purpose outside of their own well-being.  For example, Webster’s Dictionary has a definition of a person as “one of the three modes of being in the Trinitarian Godhead as understood by Christians.”[2]  Each of the three prior identifications has the limitation of being focused on the self.   The person, on the other hand, is focused on the well-being of others as well as themselves.  These traits are what are in the Trinity, so therefore they should reside in us.  The person is the one concept of our being that connects the biological (MAN) with the mental (body), psychological (individual) and the spiritual.  How we become a person, the concept that God requires us to be, takes us to understand what God is asking us to be before we can try to understand how we can interact with each other in all four aspects?

These five years has been rather eventful.  This past year probably has been the most traumatic.  With two surgeries along with the death of my niece, my time in reflection has been more intense than it has ever been in my life.  Her message to me, “Do you believe in what you say or not” was not just a mandate for me.  It will be a mission of my ministry in developing this line of thought in developing the person as a whole in order to be a better member of society and, more importantly, a better child of God.  If we cannot understand who we are, we cannot be able to be ourselves among others.  So, I will, with the help of God, develop this Theology of the Person.  This will be an ongoing effort that I hope will enable those who feel that they are being pressured to become part of a group (no matter how large or small) before they are ready.  Being a person is to be mature, well-rounded and genuine.  The more genuine the person, the more genuine will the group become.  The more genuine the group, the better they can hear the voice of God calling them to do His will.  “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst.”[3]

TO BE CONTINUED……

[1] Mt. 22:3-40.

[2] www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/person.

[3] Mt. 18:20.

When we are backed into a corner, it helps to know which hand to bring us out

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HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings:  Is. 56:1,6-7/Rom. 11:13-15,29,32

Psalm:  67:2-3,5,6,8

Gospel:  Mt. 15:21-28

 

When we feel as if we have been backed into a corner, we seem to reach for something or someone that we think can help us, but more times than not, they are only there to help themselves.  Whether it be a person or a group or even a church, the risk for one to lord over another is great.  It causes the group to feel exclusive, or privileged or even prejudiced over all others who think they should belong but for one reason or another, would be considered “unworthy” of their time and energy.

And what of those who keeps being told that they are “unworthy?”  They are people, with just as much pride and dignity as those who tell them otherwise.  They have feelings and emotions and dreams and goals for them to better themselves and those that they love.  So, for a person to be told time and time and time again that they do not belong, or they are the wrong heritage, or the wrong gender, it starts to become second nature.  The more a person hears that negativity, the more they will begin to believe it themselves and will behave in that way for the better part of their lives. Their identity and their dignity were handed over to someone else for them to control.

During the time that Jesus was in the world, there were similar arguments over the various groups in Israel.  Since God chose the Jews for his own, obviously they believed they were better than everyone else, and how they acted within their group.  Jesus had dealt with Pharisees and Sadducees and Samarians and, to some extent, even the Roman occupiers of Jerusalem.  Each one was held to some disdain by the Jews because they did not follow the Law of Moses in the way the Jews did.

In the Gospel proclaimed today, the group that is looked down upon is the Canaanites.  This was a group that was descended from Canaan, son of Ham and grandson of Noah.  The Canaanites, while devoted to God, were forever cursed to live a life of slavery for Ham’s sins against Noah. This was the group that had occupied the Promised Land while the Hebrews were in Egypt.  When Moses brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, they were given that land by God, who helped them defeat the Canaanites and claim their birthright.  From then on, the Canaanites were looked upon as sub-human to the Israelites.

The Gospel states that Jesus was met by a Canaanite woman who was pleading for Jesus to remove a demon who had possessed her daughter.  She pleads with him to have pity on her, but she is ignored.  She continues to cry out, and the disciples were asking for Jesus to send her away.  This action of Jesus and his disciples had been described by some Biblical Scholars as one of the most disturbing acts in the Gospels.  Someone is crying for help, and Jesus does nothing.  She calls out to him and identifies him as the Son of David.  He replies in kind that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  Jesus had done so many miracles by that time, yet he will not lift a finger to help this woman just because she was a Canaanite?

In the eyes of the disciples, she was not one for whom Jesus is to associate.  She was a Canaanite, and a woman.  That meant she was one of the lowest beings on the planet.  But in Jesus’ eyes, she could be one of the lost sheep of Israel.  Was she someone who was crying out to Jesus because she heard he could perform miracles, or did she believe that he was the Son of God?  Was she reaching out from that corner she and her daughter were in and grabbing any hand that will reach out?  Jesus wanted to be sure.  So, after she pleaded with him once more, Jesus told her “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

To the listener, this may seem shocking and disgusting for Jesus to compare someone to a dog.  But the mention of the dog is very important.  Dogs did not come inside a Jewish home, so in order to feed the dogs, a person had to take the food off the table-“the food of the children”-take it outside to feed the dogs.  The Canaanites, and in fact most Gentile households, the dogs were allowed to come into the house where they could be fed from the table.

So, when Jesus speaks of giving food to the dogs, he was speaking about the Jewish custom and giving food to the outsider.  But to the woman, the food to the dog was for an insider, someone who belonged in the house of God[1].  This confirmed Jesus’ belief in the woman that she had indeed knew who she was reaching toward.  Her daughter was cured and because of her great faith.  She did not see her standing in Jewish eyes as one of an outsider.  She was a child of God, just like any Jew.  Her faith in Christ confirmed that fact.

Whenever we come across a moment where we either act in a way that is above or below someone else, we need to ask ourselves why.  Granted, when we are at work or school or home, there are those we look up to because of their position, and for those in power we have those who look to us because of where we stand.  But that does not mean that they have permission to either lord it over someone or be overly-submissive to another just because of a power that was given but could also be taken away.

We all have to be wary of how power is used.  Abuse of power is the main cause of our difficulties in becoming a true family of God.  Those who are given power must understand that what they have must be used to guide those in their care to be successful.  Likewise, those who are under one with power must do their duties with their peers in the manner given to them.  In this way, both are giving respect and dignity to each other as well as themselves and to God.

We should not feel like we are stuck in a corner reaching out for help.  We are all children of God, one not more important than the other.  We should not look at our faith as a prerequisite for membership but rather a pathway toward unity.  We call upon Christ, like the Canaanite woman, to have pity on us and recognize our belief in Him to grant us His grace.  Our Help is in The Name of the Lord-Who Made Heaven and Earth.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Those who lord power over another is a bully. When have you been bullied? Had anyone ever consider you a bully?

 

  1. If you had heard Jesus speak to the Canaanite woman like he did, what would you have said to him?

 

  1. Had you ever reached out to someone for help? Did they ever use that help for your benefit or for their own?

 

[1] Shea, John. On Earth As it is in Heaven:  The Spritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers   (Collegeville, MN:  Liturgical Press, 2004), p. 254.

The Help we need from God may not be in the way we want, but in the way we need.

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HOMILY FOR THE 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings:  1Kings 19:9,11-13/Rom. 9:1-5

Psalm:  85:9-14

Gospel:  Mt. 14:22-33

 

There is a rather infamous story about a US Marine during World War II who gets separated from his unit in the Pacific.  While searching for his troop, he could hear the enemy coming closer and closer.  He went up a nearby mountain where there were a set of caves along its side.  The caves were small enough for him to crawl in and try to hide from the enemy.  Once he took stock of his situation, he realized that once the enemy started to inspect the hill, his life would be over.  This bunch did not take prisoners.

So he did the only thing he could do.  He asked God for help.  As the troops came closer to his cave, he thought that his time had come. Well so much for God’s help, he thought.  Looks like I am going to see him sooner than I planned.  As he was waiting, he saw a spider start to build a web in the entrance of the cave.  Slowly the spider set one strand over another as the web is starting to cover the entrance.  The Marine was beside himself.  He wanted God to give him a brick wall.  Instead, He gave him a spider web.  This must be some sort of Divine Joke, he thought.

The enemy made its way up the mountain to the caves.  They started to look into each one of them, shooting at anything that moved.  Finally they came to his cave.  The Marine got his rifle in position and got ready.  Before he could pull the trigger, he saw the feet of the enemy turn around and make their way down the mountain.  As he started to wonder why, he looked again at the spider’s web.  He then realized that the spider’s web made the cave look like nothing had entered in it for some time.  The Marine began to ask God for forgiveness, understanding that God’s blessings comes in the smallest gifts, but are stronger than any structure built by Man.

When Elijah went to a cave in Mt. Horeb, he was in a similar frame of mind as the Marine.  In the First Reading today from the First Book of Kings, Elijah was running away from the being killed by the King of the Northern Kingdom, Ahab and his wife, Jezebel.  He fled their kingdom and found his way to Mt. Horeb and hid. The word of God came to Elijah and told him to stand outside the cave, for God will be passing by.

Now, if you knew someone who is mighty and powerful was coming by, you would think they would come with some sort of a flourish.  First came a strong wind that took down boulders and felled trees.  God could have come that way; but Elijah did not see Him in the wind.  Next came an earthquake that split the ground around him.  God could have come that way; but Elijah did not see God in the earthquake.  Then there was a fire that consumed the mountain.  God would have surely come in fire, for he came to Moses in a burning bush.  But Elijah did not see God in the fire.

Then after the wind, after the quake and after the fire, there came a whisper.  And in that whisper, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went to the front of the cave.  That whisper was God.  Elijah was in His presence and spoke to God directly.  After they talked, God gave Elijah his commands to continue his mission to bring God’s message to the Israelites.

Whenever we try to get an image of God’s majesty, we sometimes try to gain an image that we want to see, but that is not necessarily what God wants us to see.  So, when we do get a glimpse of God’s majesty, it becomes almost too much to take.  When Peter saw Jesus walk on the water toward the boat the disciples were in, he was in awe.  When Jesus asked him to come to him on the water, he must have been ecstatic.  Here he was coming to Jesus, on the water, without a boat.  But just then the wind came up and the water began to hit his feet and ankles.  He and the disciples in the boat had thought at first he was a ghost.  These doubts came back into his mind.  His thoughts got in the way of seeing God and he began to sink.  He cried out to Jesus, much like the Marine cried out to God, to be saved.  Jesus grabbed his hand and pulled him back up.  His lack of faith, that faith of having God revealed to him, caused him to fall.  Only with the help of Christ did he, the disciples in the boat, and us, see the true image of God:  not how we think it is, but what it truly is.

It is in the things that we take for granted is where God comes to us.  When we come to the altar to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we do not receive him in the form of a Roquefort-and-Almond Sourdough and a ’52 Chateau Montrose, but in a simple piece of bread (made of flour and water) and wine made from only grapes.  From these simple elements, the presence of Christ comes to us.  It is not just some magic trick or sleight of hand, but a reality of Jesus coming to us every time we come to Mass.  God reveals himself to us in the simplest things, because that is how He wants us to see him as so we can experience his love for us.  When we have seen Him in the simplest, then the grandest of love will be with us for all of eternity.  Our image of God shows our anxieties and limitations.  God’s image to us shows His immensity and care for all of His creation.  When we come to see that image revealed to us, then we can understand the task he has for us to care for each other as He cares for us.

This image of God’s love for us is expressed in a prayer by St. Columba of Iona.  The prayer goes like this:

Alone with none but You, my God,

I journey on my way.

What need I fear when You are near,

O Ruler of night and day?

More safe am I within Your hand

Than if a host should round me stand.

My life I yield to Your decree,

And bow to Your control in peaceful calm,

For from Your arm

No power can wrest my soul.

The child of God can fear no ill,

God’s chosen dread no foe;

We leave our fate with You,

and wait Your bidding when to go.

It’s not from chance our comfort springs.

You are our trust, O King of Kings.[1]

 

It is this kind of trust that Peter cried out for to Jesus in the Sea; it is what Elijah received in the hearing of the whisper; it is what the Marine witnessed in that spider making their web; and it is what you and I have to strive for each and every day.  All we have to do is remember that how we see God is not always how God reveals Himself.  Then when we do, then we can truly see the image of God in not just the great, but the small as well.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Elijah, Jesus and the Marine went up to the mountain to connect with God. Why do mountains have such a connection with speaking with God?
  2. When were the times that you were like Peter and were afraid of the world so much so you could not see God’s grace and mercy?
  3. The Psalmist today asks “Lord, let us see your kindness and grant us your salvation.” When was the last time you saw God’s kindness and in what form was it?

[1] Sanna, Ellyn, “The Otherworld” in The Winged Man:  The Good News According to Matthew (McIntosh, Kenneth, ed.)  Vestal, New York:  Anamarcha Books, 2017, p. 182.

In Order to Understand, We Must First Be Willing to Listen

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HOMILY FOR THE 17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 

Readings:  1Kings 3:5,7-12/Rom. 8:28-30

Psalm:  119:57,72, 76-77,127-130

Gospel:  Mt. 13:44-52

 

How often have we been told to “Listen Up!  Pay Attention!  Do you hear what I am saying to you?”  When we think how we get our news and views, it usually begins with one of those phrases, or something to that affect.  It is supposed to invoke to the listener that what is to be said next (or just before) was so important that our entire attention is needed.  Sometimes we listen; sometimes we don’t.  Or even worse, we think we listen but only hear what we think we hear or what we want to hear.  And lately we have much more things that take our attention away from the things that are really important:  Facebook; Twitter; Snapchat; YouTube and all the other stuff on the Internet and on TV.  We think we can text and drive and talk and walk and pay attention all at the same time.  Yet what happens is that our knowledge is just a scattered as the way we receive it.  And now we are reaping the benefits of that scattered knowledge.

It was this feeling that Jesus must have been experiencing in the Gospels that had been proclaimed these past weeks.  The 13th Chapter of Matthew shows Jesus trying to convey the Kingdom of God to those who wanted to hear him.  But they had a hard time understanding him.  So he went to using Parables, stories that held a meaning that could have been hard for the regular person to understand if they were told up front.  He talked about farmer sowing his field, how that grain went over the many types of soil and only those seeds that fell on good soil and produced a hundred fold. He talks about those searching for treasure in the fields and, after finding it, will sell everything he owns so he can buy the field.  He said the reign of heaven was like yeast that was added to flour to become bread.  And yet, even though he tried to give them clues as to the Kingdom of Heaven, many still couldn’t understand.  It was as the Prophet Isaiah said, “You will hear, but you will not understand; you will see, but you will not perceive; for this people’s heart has grown callous, their ears are dull of hearing, they have closed their eyes.”[1]

What sort of listening was Jesus hoping the crowds would have to his message?  Perhaps he was hoping they would have the same mindset as his ancestor, King Solomon.  In the reading today from the First Book of Kings, Solomon had a dream that God came to him and asked him that whatever he asks, God will give to him.  Solomon had just gotten rid of all the threats to his throne, so he became the true successor to his father David’s Kingdom.  He could have asked for anything:  Power over his enemies, a long life, riches beyond anyone’s imagination.  He could have asked for any of that.  But what he asks from God is something that no one-not even God Himself-would anticipate.  He asked for the gift of understanding.  He wants to be able to rule the Kingdom by ruling with compassion, wisdom and knowledge that someone much older than he could have.  In other words, he wanted the capacity to listen to his subjects’ grievances so he can find out the truth.  God was impressed with his wish and granted his request.  The Scriptures continue with the story of Solomon judging the two women that claimed to be the mother of a child.  When Solomon suggests that the child be cut in two and each woman gets a half, he discovers who the fraud is because she is the one that agrees with the decision.  This is the kind of listening Jesus wants the crowd to have. It is the kind of listening that his Disciples have, and it is the kind of listening that He wants us to have.

When I was kid I had PSR once a week with the Dominican Sisters.  We had this one who stood 6’3” and had a three pew reach.  She scared a lot of us kids and a few of the parents, as well.  But one of the things that she did teach me was that when someone is speaking, you look at them so that what they say can go in one ear and stay put in the brain.  Once you turn your head to something else, what they say goes in one ear and out the other.  What she was telling us that when we listen, it is not only with our ears.  It is with our eyes, our minds and our souls as well.  When we listen, we need the attention of our entire bodies.  Otherwise, what was said may have been important, but we wouldn’t know because we were not paying attention.  This is what Jesus is meaning when he said “Those that have ears, listen.”

It is not just to use our ears to gather the information, but to use our total being to gather what God wants us to know what he wants of us and how we are to live with each other.  When we are able to listen to the Good News with our entire being, then we can live in the spirit of Solomon and Christ.  For when we listen, we understand what God is asking of us:  To love one another as God loves us.  When we listen to one another, it means that we love them enough to pay attention to what they have to say.  When we listen to the Church, we love her enough to pay attention as well. And when we listen to God, we love Him enough to pay attention to Son and those His Son entrusted to carry the Good News to the Ends of the Earth.

This is what Jesus is asking from all of us: yesterday, today and tomorrow.  When we pray to God, we talk to him.  Yet all the time, God is talking to us.  We usually can hear God talking, but to truly understand, we have to remove all distractions…….and listen.

 

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How often do you pay attention to another? How often do you look away?  How often does your attention stray when God is talking to you?

 

  1. Of all the ways that Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven, which is your favorite? Or, which one makes the most sense?

 

  1. King Solomon asked for understanding from God in order to rule his Kingdom. What sort of understanding does a leader need in order to be successful?

[1] Is. 6:9-10.

To live in Christ means to tell a story

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HOMILY FOR THE 15TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings:  Is. 55:10-11/Rom. 8:18-23

Psalm:  65:10-14

Gospel:  Mt. 13:1-23

 

How do you explain the faith to others?  When you are asked what you believe, do you just give them rules and regulations and try to act like you know what you are talking about?  And when there is a change in the way the faith is presented, are you frustrated that what was said was not the way you believed?  That feeling that everything you understood to be true was gone forever?  A sense that whatever power you thought you had that came from this belief is now gone; stolen away by someone else trying to take over?  These are some of the doubts that can creep up in our minds whenever we have doubts about our faith, especially if how it is expressed is different from our own.

How we are given the faith can tell a lot about how we give out the faith.  Some give the faith by having us do rote memorization.  Others will demonstrate their faithfulness and insist on others to do it exactly like them.  Still others will have those around them accomplish certain tasks to show their loyalty.  It is not so much that one way is better than another, but if we only understand one way of doing things, we do not allow ourselves to grow in our faith (as well as those in our care) in order to be the example God desires us to be.

In the readings for today, we see a glimpse in how the different generations struggled to understand how we as Children of God wish to understand the Good News.  The First Reading from the Book of Isaiah recalls a moment in Jewish history where those in exile were encouraged to return to Jerusalem.  The Babylonian exile was over, so now it was time for them to return: Not only to Jerusalem, but also to return to God, which can only take place there.  Isaiah pleads with them to return, for only they can restore the fruitfulness of Jerusalem.  Like the water and snow that come down from heaven to make the ground fertile, so will the Jews restore the fertileness of Jerusalem when they return to their home.  This reading is an example of a simile, by which one thing is compared to another to get a sense of what God is saying we need to do in order to bring us closer to Him.

When we use similes and give them greater depth in order to explain on how we need to behave, they fall into two categories:  Fables and Parables.  While fables are geared toward everyday issues, parables give us a glimpse into the Mind of God.  For example, in the Gospel proclaimed today, Jesus uses the image of a farmer sowing his field with grain.  The grain fell on four types of ground:  a road, on rock, among a patch of thorns and then finally a patch of good ground that is ripe for seeds to grow. Each toss of grain held the promise of growth, but where it landed determined how much those seeds would grow.

Each set of ground was a type of person that Jesus came across in his ministry.  Each one of the first three types of ground that Jesus mentions have, in one aspect or another, “look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.”  They have allowed something or someone to prevent them from accepting the fullness of God and, therefore, it is not received.  It was those who has heard and understood the mysteries of the kingdom that were considered the good soil in which the seeds produced good fruits.

While it seemed easy for them to understand, the disciples still wondered why Jesus had to use parables to make a point.  He tells them that for those who have yet to understand, the parable helps them begin to grasp the message that God has given to them.  Only after the resurrection did his followers grasp what he meant.  This was reflected in the Second Reading today in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Paul talks about the sufferings that they are having at this moment in time.  Paul’s letter harkens back to the time of the exile Isaiah spoke about and that, once this age is over, the glory that will be revealed will be more than we can imagine.  He says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory revealed for us.”  He goes on to liken the anticipation of our entry into paradise as a mother in labor.  And once born, we will be taken as God’s own, the first fruits of the Spirit.  Paul’s analogy of redemption as childbirth gives us a vision of God’s anticipation for our return to paradise.

The art of storytelling has been passed down for centuries.  Every civilization has told stories to one another that reflected their identity with themselves and with other cultures that they would meet during their lifetimes.  Stories are probably the most powerful way in which to tell the deepest truths so all could understand.  In Celtic mysticism, it was always understood that stories held “powerful properties to speak hidden truths.  For them, stories were sacred, capable of revealing God to us in new and surprising ways.”[1]  Our society is always looking for things to be exact and to the point.  And that sentiment goes with our faith.  Yet, as author Kenneth McIntosh puts it, in Celtic Mysticism, The Bible is “Far from being ‘God’s little instruction book’ it is ‘God’s enormous storybook.’  For the Celts this was not a drawback-quite the opposite.  Stories gave them power and pride; stories enabled them to overcome all manner of deadly foes.  Stories were the very blood that ran in Celtic veins, and they were filled with wonder and delight to have so many stories about the King of Mystery and his people.”[2]

When we read Sacred Scripture, let us try to understand them as stories, not sanctions; poetry and not prose.  If we can do that, then when we are asked about our faith, we can see it not as a problem, but as a possibility to tell each other the story of our lives.  To borrow from my favorite show, Doctor Who, “We are all stories in the end.  Just make it a good one, eh.”

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

Reflection Questions:

 

  1. What kind of “ground” do you think you are right now in your life? What sort things could   you do in order to become “good soil?”

 

  1. Jesus tells those that “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” If you heard this parable for the first time, would you have understood what you had heard?

 

  1. Some of the best lessons presented are from storytellers. If you were asked to tell this Gospel in your own words, how would you do it?

 

[1] McIntosh, Kenneth, ed.  The Winged Man:  The Good News According to Matthew.  Vestal, New York:  Anamchara

Books, 2017, p. 39.

[2] McIntosh, 38.

How Corpus Christi can be a lesson from our parents

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HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI

Readings:  Deut. 8:2-3,14-16/ 1Cor. 10:16-17

Psalm:  147:12-15,19-20

Gospel:  John 6:51-58

The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium deals with how the light of Christ is shown to the world.  In it, they wanted to emphasize the role of the parents to bring that light to their children.  The document says, “…the parents, by word and example, are the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children.  They must foster the vocation which is proper to each child, and this with special care if it be to religion…Hence, by example and by their testimony, they convict the world of sin and give light to those who seek the truth.”[1]  This can be a tall task for any parent to take, but if they are grounded in faith (or at least willing and able to seek the answers to their own questions) they can be those “first teachers of the faith” that will enable the next generation of believers to be their children’s “first teachers.”

In order to be a teacher, one must try to ask questions of the things that they cannot understand, or even accept.  In the Gospel proclaimed today, John brings us to a moment in Christ’s ministry that would be one of the greatest questions his disciples ever faced.  How could someone say that in order to live forever in the Kingdom of God, they must eat his flesh and drink his blood?  Those who heard this were just as puzzled as many of us today, both outside of the Church and within.  How can someone give his body and blood for us to eat and drink? No one can eat another person.  This is not the kind of belief the Jews were looking for in this itinerant preacher from Galilee.  They wanted something more.

Jesus began by calling himself the living bread that has come down from heaven. What were the Jews thinking about?   Was it actual bread, or did they think Jesus was alluding to the Manna that was brought down from Heaven by God to Moses and the Hebrews in the desert.  The First Reading today from Deuteronomy speaks of that. That bread was to satisfy the hunger of those wandering the desert for 40 years with a food they did not know about until it was needed.

Why was it needed?  It was needed as a source for salvation and nourishment for those who stood with Moses and were willing to accept the God of Moses as the one, true God.  “(S)o as to test you by affliction,” Moses says, “and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments.  He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.”[2]   Where have we heard that phrase before?  It was spoken by Jesus coming out of the desert and being tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread. [3]  Now, Jesus was looking out at this “wilderness” of those who he feels are lost and gives them hope that he is the bread come down from Heaven.

Jesus saw them as those who were wandering the desert with Moses and seeing their devotion to God.  Yet unlike Manna, Jesus is saying that God sent him down from Heaven to show his father’s devotion to them as much as they had devotion to His Father. “Unlike your ancestors who ate and drank and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”[4]   Most, if not all, Christian Churches have some sort of Communion Ritual.  The act recounted in the Scriptures at the Last Supper when Jesus takes the Bread and says, “This is my Body” and with the cup of wine “This is my Blood.”  Opinions vary as to the meaning of this moment from a symbol of Christian unity to a Memorial Meal to a temporary manifestation of the Holy Spirit while the meal is taking place to the true presence of Jesus Christ’s Body and Blood in the basic forms of Bread and Wine.  How are we as Christians become more united in Christ while we have these issues?

Paul has asked this in the Second Reading Today from his First Letter to the Corinthians.  He asked them if the cup of blessing is not the Blood of Christ. Or if the bread that is broken for all to take and eat is not the Body of Christ?  “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”[5]  Our connection to Christ and his command to “Take and eat/Take and drink” is the one common thread all Christians share.  We as Catholics take this call as the fullness of Jesus’ resurrection.  For if he did not sacrifice himself for the sins of all the world, we would not be in his presence when he comes down at Mass and transubstantiates the Bread and Wine we offer into his Body and Blood that we share.  That moment is so passionate and so intimate that we place him in a place of reverence in the Tabernacle, so that those who could not take part due to illness or tragedy can have him brought to them so they may partake of him.  We see the fullness of his presence and keep it with us in our churches as much as Jesus is present in ourselves.

This past Thursday, my family had the funeral for my Niece, Jennifer.  I have to admit it was rather a grand affair.  She had 4 priests, two deacons and a Bishop celebrating her Mass.  Each one of us had been touched by her in one way or another, so we were all honored to help her on her way into Heaven.  While we were in our various stages of grief, something occurred to us.  First, that next day would have been her 10th Wedding Anniversary.  Second, that day was also the 5th Anniversary of my Ordination. And as I reflected on those moments, looking upon her in her coffin and seeing her two children with their Dad, I began to have something pop into my head.  And seeing that Sunday is Father’s Day in the United States, it could not have come at a better time.

At the beginning, I mentioned about how parents are the first teachers of the faith.  Well, I realized that my Niece, the mother of her three children, was teaching all of us her last lesson.  And that lesson is:

DO WE TRULY, HONESTLY AND PASSIONATLY BELIEVE WHAT WE SAY AND DO AS CATHOLICS OR NOT?

             Here we all were in that church looking at her casket, missing her and wondering what could have been done so this would not have happened.  And we should have those emotions, I am not saying we shouldn’t.  But what she was teaching us is that in all the times we make the Sign of the Cross, or recite the Creed or even when we come up to the altar and then asked “The Body of Christ” and “The Blood of Christ” do we truly mean it when we say “Amen; I Believe?”

Do we truly believe in One God, the Father the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son?  Do we truly believe that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary? Do we truly believe that he suffered under Pontius Pilate and was crucified, died, buried and descended into Hell?  Do we truly believe that he rose from the dead three days later and ascended into Heaven where he will judge the living and the dead?  Do we truly believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins, the Resurrection of the Body, and life everlasting?  Will we know that, at the moment of our last breath, we will be embraced by Christ into heaven where those who were with us in life are with us in Paradise.

We are all children of a parent, so this lesson is for all of us.  As I go into my 5th year of the Diaconate, I know that I will remember this lesson the rest of my life and remind myself that with each moment of reflection, each time I remember my niece, “my little Jenny-Poo”, that I can truly say, with heart and mind and body and soul, that I can say without any shadow of doubt:  “Amen; I Believe.”  And I know that whenever I will have those moments of doubt, I will hear in my head with that sad little voice she always had for me, “Uncle Sean?!?”   May this Lesson begun in heartache begin in us again toward happiness and joy.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

[1] Lumen Gentium, 11, 35.

[2] Deut. 8:2-3.

[3] Lk. 4:1-4.

[4] Jn. 6:58.

[5] 1Cor. 10:16-17.

Questions for Reflection:

1.  How do you see the Bread and Wine offered at Mass?  Is it still Bread and Wine or is it the Body and Blood of Christ?  Why or Why not?

2. If you were one of the crowd that heard Jesus say that the bread that he will give is his flesh, how would you react?

3.  On the Father’s Day, what are some of the lessons you remember from you Dad and/or parents?