In searching for Sophia, we strive to be one of “The Many.”

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HOMILY FOR THE 32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 

Readings:  Wis. 6:12-16/1 Thes. 4:13-18

Psalm:  63:2-8

Gospel:  Mt. 25:1-13

 

For those of us who are inadvertent Church geeks, I ran across an article regarding a homily Pope Francis gave a week ago.  One of the changes in the Mass was a phrase that we hear during the Eucharistic Prayer.  The phrase, which is said at the consecration, was previously read as “Which will be shed for you, and FOR ALL, for the forgiveness of sins.”  Now, the phrase is “Which will be shed for you, and FOR MANY, for the forgiveness of sins.”  Now that change caused a bit of concern for the Church geeks in that it gave the impression that the Church was not as welcoming a place as we know it is.

At the homily, Francis said that he agreed with the current phrase, like his predecessor, Benedict, because of the significance of how we should live our lives on earth so that at the time of judgement, we can be with God in Paradise.  “The ‘many,’” says Francis, “who will rise for eternal life are to be understood as the ‘many’ for whom the blood of Christ was shed.  They are the multitude that, thanks to the goodness and mercy of God, can experience the life that does not pass away, the complete victory over death brought by the resurrection.”[1]

When this article came online, I had been thinking about the retreat I just returned from at St. Meinrad Monastery in Southern Indiana.  That is a place where one can just sit alone with their thoughts and get a better grasp of what God wants us to know about Him and His creation.  In looking through the readings at Mass, I could not help but to contemplate the soul and how it is a receptacle of whom we are as a person.  The more we focus on the soul, the more we are prepared to meet Christ.  The less we focus on the soul, the less prepared we are to meet Christ.  When we care for our soul, the soul begins to grow inside of us so much so that what we do is no longer for our self-interests, but for the interests of our brothers and sisters in Christ; which in turn places our focus on God Himself, which is where He wants our focus to be.

As I began reading, I saw that Christ was trying to prepare us in order that we able to care for our souls.  That preparation starts with the understanding that, while we at times are placed in a position of power, we have to remember that we should not require others to do something that we would not do ourselves.  In last week’s Gospel (Mt. 23:1-12) Jesus understood those who are in power can sometimes use that power to keep others down.  And to prove their importance, they-and those who aspire to be like them-will make a show of their importance to the world around them.  When we see that in today’s world, we have the tendency to dismiss everything they say and do because of what we see as hypocrisy.

Yet despite all that, Jesus reminds us that because they are sitting on the chair of Moses-the seat of power-they are the final authority.  We have to listen to what they say and observe the laws they pass.  We may not like them, but until someone else is in charge, we have to follow then because the office is more important than the person who is in it, whether we like it or not.  The more we understand that when it is our turn, the better we will fit the post, the better the work will be and the better those in our care will understand and follow the rules that are handed down. Our soul yearns to be closer to God each and every day.  Listening to His law regardless of how we hear it keeps our soul moving in the right direction.

Most of the time, we listen and understand what God wants us to do day in and day out.  We get up, go to work or school, enjoy the time we have with friends and family and even go out once in a while to celebrate the wonders of God’s creation. Eventually, we get to the point where our faith becomes second nature to us and we feel God’s presence each time we take a breath.  We don’t think about keeping our focus to God because we think we always have.

Yet every once in a while, when we least expect it, we lose focus and forget what is best for our soul.  We coast through life thinking we are in good shape only to find out that what we have done is not enough.  We think that it is, but over time what faith we have slowly goes away for one reason or another and when we see the end of our journey; we find we don’t have enough to reach it.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns us to always be focused on what our souls require to enter into Paradise.  Ten virgins are assigned to escort the bridegroom into the wedding feast.  While all ten appeared to be prepared, only five of them were.  The other five looked ok, but the lamps that each one carried did not have enough oil to stay lit until he arrived.  When he did come, those who had enough oil went out to greet him while the others scrambled around town in a vain attempt to get enough oil at the last minute.  When they finally returned, the doors were closed and no one, not even the bridegroom, would let them into the feast.  Had they prepared like the other five, they would have entered the feast like they were assigned.

When we understand and listen to God’s message, the burden that He places on our shoulders are not as difficult as we might think. The First Reading today from the Book of Wisdom speaks to us how His message appears to us and how it is ready to be a part of our lives.  “Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.”  Notice the author describes wisdom as a person, using the female pronoun.

The Greek word for “Wisdom” is “Sophia.”  The Greeks viewed all knowledge as being alive.  It is not a random concept.  Wisdom is a living and breathing entity like anyone else on this planet.    The reading continues that “she hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire” and “whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed.”  Where can we find Sophia?  Right where we expect her to be:  sitting by the gate of God.  As we seek her out, she comes to us when we need her and brings to us the prudence necessary to go through this world with as little difficulty as possible.  It does take time, but once Sophia becomes part of our lives, we have her with us until we enter into paradise.

Our souls desire to be closer to God. Christ understood that and wanted to give the wisdom that he had to anyone who would come to him.  During the Mass on All Souls Day, Jesus tells the crowd that he “came down from heaven not to do (his) own will but the will of the one who sent me.”  That is Wisdom.  That is Sophia.  He gives her to the crowds so that “everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life…” (Jn. 6:37-40).  Having the wisdom of God feeds our souls with the nourishment it needs to finish our journey, the oil in our lamps to stay vigilant for the bridegroom and the foresight to understand that any authority that is given can be taken away just as quick.

When Pope Francis spoke about the difference between “for all” and “for many”, it was this sense of wisdom that we all have for us to be the many to enter paradise.  In fact, Francis said that the phrase “for many” is the better phrase because it means that we have to make those choices here on earth to listen to the wisdom of God-to follow Sophia-or not and be prepared to live an eternity apart from God.[2]  My only suggestion is that, if and when the bishops look at this translation once more, they take the phrase “for many” and make it into “for THE many.”  That would make the phrase “Which will be poured out for you and FOR THE MANY for the forgiveness of sins.”  It makes the phrase more in the spirit of what Francis (and Benedict) was implying for this translation.  That would make what we do in the first part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, more of a conversation with Sophia rather than an obligation of doctrine.  The souls of the living and the dead need want and desire Sophia, the wisdom of God.  When we achieve that, then we can enter into the feast that has been prepared FOR THE MANY.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Are you a “Church Geek?” What makes you say that?  What other things do you “Geek out” about?

 

  1. What are some ways that you seem like the 5 wise virgins? The 5 foolish ones?  How do you know the difference?

 

  1. In some cultures, “Sophia” (wisdom) is identified as an actual person or a deity.  In what way to you view “Sophia?”  Is it a person?  Is it an idea?  Is it a destination?  Is “Sophia” continual or is there an end?

[1] San Martin, Ines. Pope Francis sides with Benedict, says Christ shed his blood “for many”  Crux (November 3, 2017)  https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2017/11/03/pope-francis-sides-benedict-says-christ-shed-blood-many/

[2] Ibid.

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In the path toward Sainthood, let our virtues overcome our vices

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HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS 2017

 

Readings:  Rev. 7:2-4, 9-14/ 1Jn. 3:1-3

Psalm:  24:1-6

Gospel:  Mt. 5:1-12

 

In the 1979 season of “Saturday Night Live,” an actor by the name of Don Novello appeared on a recurring basis on the “Weekend Update” segment as the gossip columnist and rock critic for the Vatican Newspaper “L’Osservatore Romano, Fr. Guido Sarducci.  During one of his appearances, he spoke about the Canonization of the first American-born saint, Elizabeth Ann Seaton.  His satirical commentary was focused toward her ascension because of the number of miracles that had been attributed to her.  He claimed that the final miracle was waived only because she was American. “It’s all politics,” he said. “We got some Italian people with forty, fifty, sixty miracles to their name.  They can’t get in because we already have too many Italian saints, and this woman comes along with three lousy miracles.”  And then he finishes his routine with the comment, “I understand that two of them were card tricks.”

Now while this was an amusing look at the process, one thing we should be asking ourselves is “what do we really know about the saints?  What was it that made them saints?  Were they always holy?  Sometimes the only encounter we have with a saint is when we look at an image or a statue of them and only see a perspective of them that the artist want to portray.  It’s not as if once the Vatican announces someone is to be made a saint, the person gets an artist to come in and take their portrait.  The first requirement of being a saint is that they have to be dead.  So, do we really know what it takes to be a saint on a first-hand basis?

A saint, by definition, is one who was so devoted to Jesus and His Gospel that their life was dedicated to share that devotion so that others can be devoted as well.  While the Church calendar has feasts honoring many saints on certain days (and on some days we have multiple saints celebrated) there are other saints who we do not know their names, so we honor their memory today in this Feast of All Saints.  While their names are known or unknown, the characteristics from saint to saint are the same.

Those characteristics are reflected in the readings today.  To find a requirement for someone to be a saint, the words of Christ in the Gospel gives us a starting point. Jesus looked at the crowd and, seeing their hunger for holiness, began “Blessed are the poor in Sprit, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs…”  And on he went.  He spoke about those who mourn, those who were meek, were merciful, who are pure of heart; these are the ones who are comforted, shown mercy and will be inheritors of the land.  These are the ones who, just in their daily work, have proven themselves to be worthy of sainthood.  This is the sentiment expressed in the Second Reading today from the First Letter of St. John.  Even though the world cannot see that what we do makes us Children of God; God can see that in us.  While we cannot see what lies ahead, when it is revealed, we will know that we have lived as God wanted us to live from the beginning of time.

Jesus also spoke about others who were eager to know the wonders of God, but they want to defend and protect the faith from those who would bring it harm.  He spoke about the Peacemakers; the ones who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness and others who were persecuted for some or all of it, even to the point of being accused of things that were untrue.  Christ assures them that their reward would be great, so there was nothing to fear.

Those who survived this distressed time are the ones who are portrayed in John’s vision from Revelation.  They, along with the poor and meek had shown themselves before the throne of God and cried out “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne and from the Lamb.”  They, along with the angels worshipped God for they “are the ones who have survived the time of great distress.”  They washed their dirty robes in the Blood of the Lamb and became dazzling white.

While the cause for sainthood can be long and confusing for those who are, well, normal, the path by which we can achieve sainthood is well within our reach.  The path can be arduous and can seem to be against our better judgement or what we have been taught, yet as John wrote “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  Yet while we look at these people with the highest regard, we still have to remember that they were sinners just like us during their lives on earth.  It is only through their virtues that their vices were diminished.  While we ask them to intercede on our behalf, they still remember what it was like to be human, so their pleas have an extra-special emphasis.  I can even imagine sometimes that when they bring our causes to God, I would like to think that they would start by saying, “My friend has a problem and needs our help.  What can we do?” We honor the saints today because they have kept the faith.  God gave us His Son on earth so that we can be the saints that are yet to come.  Today, let us begin to make that happen.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

To understand the balance between Church and State is to understand the Greatest Commandments

 

 

download 2HOMILY FOR THE 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings:  Is. 45:1,4-6/1Thes. 1:1-5

Psalm:  96:1,3-5,7-10

Gospel:  Mt. 22:15-21

 

A guy is walking down the road where he loses his balance and falls into a large hole.  As he is struggling to get out, he sees a doctor looking down at him.  He says “Hey Doc, I need some help out of this hole.”  The Doctor scribbles something on a piece of paper, throws it down the hole and walks away.  The guy looks at it and sees that it is a prescription for a pain killer and a note “All my thoughts for a speedy recovery.”  Later on, the guy sees a minister looking down the hole.  They guy shouts up, “Hey Pastor, I have been in this hole for a while, can you help me out?”  The Pastor writes something on a piece of paper and throws it down the hole.  The guy looks at it and it says, “I hope this prayer helps you as you continue in your struggles.”  Great the guy thought, I have been in this hole for some time and all I have been given are hopes and prayers.

               Finally someone looks down the hole and sees that it is a friend.  The guy cries out, “Hey Mike, it’s Pat.  I’m stuck down here and I can’t get out.”  All of a sudden, Mike jumps down into the hole to be with Pat.  Pat looks at him funny, “What are you doing  here” he asks?  Mike tells him “Well, I have been down here before and I know the way out.”  Whenever we see that we that we are in a spot that we think is hopeless to get out, it takes more than hopes and prayers, but the aid of someone who has been there before that can truly bring us out of the hole and back into the light of the sun.  In the Gospel proclaimed today, Jesus is still dealing with those who only see that all of our problems can be solved by either thoughts or prayers.  In fact, if we were to look at the entirety of the 22nd Chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, we have an entire synopsis of Jesus’ frustration with both sides.  Each of the three people in the story can be seen in this chapter.

               Let’s take a look at the first person:  The Doctor.  He was the first person to look down in the hole.  He saw someone in despair, but chose to focus only on himself and his abilities rather than helping someone in need.  Now, while we all know that this is a bit of a stereotype, we all know of someone who would rather focus on his own importance than being engaged in the importance of the moment.  In the Gospel last week, those who had been invited to the wedding knew of what was expected on them when they arrived, but thought their work was more important than the celebration held by the king for his son’s wedding.  Either they did not want to, or they chose to arrive after the feast had begun, so as to make a big entrance (i.e. “fashionably late”).  So the king invited anyone that wanted to come, and they arrived when it began in the outfit for a wedding.  The one who did arrive at the feast late, while possibly an original invitee, decided to come dressed as he would at work or for a normal dinner.  His lack of preparation for the wedding caused him to be cast out of the feast, because he believed that what he did in his life-without showing proper respect for the king-was enough to enter the feast.

Now, let’s look at the second guy, the Pastor.  This could be someone who was ordained or called to the ministry; or it could be someone who is really passionate about their faith, how it is displayed in the Temple and how others treat it in their presence.  Their self-focused evangelization along with their belief that nothing can go right without everyone believing as they do can cause more harm than good to the society at large.  Divisions will be made that would not have been there because of their piety and rigidity in their beliefs and the beliefs that they profess to others.

This belief is not just a religious thought; it can be a social or political thought as well.   Much of the time we try to keep one from the other (not mix politics and religion) but there have been cases where the mixture of the two can present interesting results.  One wants to control the other and the results of that tend to be disastrous for both sides.  In the Gospel today, the Pharisees (lovers of the Temple) and the Herodians (lovers of the King or the State) came together for a common purpose:  To get Jesus to commit to their side.  It didn’t matter which side it was.  It was just to get rally points for their particular cause.  We see that today whenever our elected officials are faced with an important vote.  Whichever way that they cast their vote will be a rallying point for both groups later on, particularly when it comes to election season.  When these groups came to Jesus to ask him if they should pay tribute to Caesar or not, their only intent was to gain ammunition for their cause, not a confirmation of their beliefs.  So when Jesus tells them to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to give to God what belongs to God, it was not a declaration of one greater than the other, nor was it saying that one was equal to the other.  It was that whatever the state provides for their residents, the residents should repay in kind.  Yet whatever God has given us, we must also return to him. So, rather than debate whether or not to pay Caesar, the question now becomes what is Caesars, and what is God’s?

One more group that does need to be mentioned, although we will not hear of them in the near future, is the Sadducees.  These are the ones that hold a strict, literalist interpretation of the Law of Moses.  They only took the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses, as Scripture and nothing else.  Their argument with Jesus is the concept of the soul and the afterlife.  Since nothing was mentioned of it in those books, then it does not exist.  These people-whether or not they were on the Church side or the State side- would be considered “original literalists.”  This was a different thought than those of Pharisees who believed in the resurrection of the body; or that of the Greeks, who understood the belief of an immortal soul.  They came to Jesus to ask him about a woman who was married to seven sons on seven different occasions.  After one son died, she was married to the next one in line.  Their question was to know after she had died, who wife was she in the afterlife?  This was a stupid question in the eyes of Jesus, who reminded all that when we die our earthy bodies are gone and we are given a heavenly body in a realm of a Heavenly Paradise.  He reminds everyone that God is the God of the living and not of the dead.

So now we come to the third person; the friend who comes to help.  When we fall down and do not see any way of getting up, where do we look for assistance?  We look to experts that seem to know what direction we need to go so we can get up and get going.  Yet sometimes these experts are only talking in generalities rather than understanding the specific problem and helping out right then and now.  While we think we understand and appreciate their words of wisdom, the fact is that while we are upbeat, we are still down in the hole with no way of getting out.  Like the Doctor and the Priest, they only give out “thoughts and prayers.”

The one who comes down to the pit is the one who really knows how to get out of this spot.  The Gospel next week has someone come to Jesus and ask him what they needed to get out of their “hole”, meaning what they need to do to gain happiness.  How they asked him could have been another test, but it was also an inquiry toward salvation.  The man asked him “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

Jesus looked at him and, in my mind, saw him not with disdain but with genuine love and concern.  The question was not a trap, but an actual desire to know the will of God.  So Jesus tells him to love God with all your heart and all you soul and all you mind.  Then he goes one further and says the second greatest is to love each other as ourselves.  Without these two, everything we say and do, whether it is for God or for the State will be for nothing.

The story is told that during the (U.S.) Civil War Abraham Lincoln was asked if God was on his side in this conflict.  Lincoln was to have responded, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”  When we try to do what is best, we sometimes say we do it to get God on our side.  Yet as we heard last week, what we hear today, and what we will hear next week, we can only hope and pray that what we do will confirm that we are on God’s side.  For it is arrogance to suggest that God will come to us in what we do or what we say.  Only when we go to God will we understand that what we do or say will be for his benefit and not for ours.  Then we can truly say we are not just subjects; not just disciples; but the Children of God.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. How do you understand the teaching “repay to Caesar what 

         belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God?”

       

  1. Who do you see are the modern-day Pharisees? The Herodians?

         Sadducees?  Have you ever found yourself turning into one of these?

 

  1. If the Second Greatest Commandment is to love your neighbor

        as yourself, is your love of your neighbor  the same as the love you have for yourself?

 

 

 

Hospitality is the First Step Toward Paradise

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HOMILY FOR THE 27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 

Readings:  Is. 5:1-7/Phil. 4:6-9

Psalm:  80:9, 12-16, 19-20

Gospel:  Mt. 21:33-43

For those growing up in the country, there is a sense that those who lived in town did not want those from out of town to join them in what they did.  They would get invited to the occasional birthday party as a kid, but as the years go by and everyone gets older, those invitations become few and far between.  Those moments would be cherished because they would never know when another one would come their way.  They would sit down and just watch everything going on.  Not because they were being anti-social, but they wanted to take in every moment, because they never knew when they would be allowed to enjoy it again.  In a way, they stopped being classmates and friends and started to become an elite societal class who they just happened to be around.  They were with them, but they weren’t one of them.

While we think that things like this can only happen in school, the sad truth is that this sort of thing happens all the time.  Take a look at the town you live or the place you work or even the church where you worship.  There are a handful of people who have control of certain areas that give them a certain power and with the help of others have a sense of empowerment over a group or area.  And when they feel threatened, they believe they have to resort to doing something drastic to keep their supposed power just to prove they are in charge.  It is one thing to be bullied because of who you are.  It is another to be bullied (or even ignored) because you are not looked upon as part of the club.

This attitude is nothing new.  The readings proclaimed today reflect the attitudes of those who were in charge to not only to take care of their own, but also to care for what they were asked to do by the owner.  When Jesus was speaking this story to the crowds, he was at an important time in his life.  The 21st Chapter of St. Matthew starts with Jesus coming into Jerusalem riding on a donkey while the crowd was throwing their cloaks on the ground and waving palms in the air.  In other words, in relation to the liturgical calendar, this occurred just days after Palm Sunday, during Holy Week prior to the Easter Triduum. So, when the crowds have gathered, it was in anticipation of the Feast of Passover.

When Jesus came to the Temple, his heart sank.  In his mind (and in the mind of his Father) the Temple was his home, the world is the vineyard, and those who were chosen to bring the blessings of God to the faithful are the tenants and the workers of the vineyard.  It was this image that was proclaimed in the Psalm:  “The Vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” In order for Jesus to explain the pain and the hurt he was feeling whenever he came to Jerusalem, he tells them this story.  A landowner plants a vineyard, marks it out with a hedgerow, then builds a watchtower and wine press to begin his work.  He leases the land out to tenants as he sets out on a trip.  When it was time for the grapes to be picked and pressed, his servants came to the tenants to claim his percentage.  The tenants balked and beat up the servants to the point of death.  The owner sent another group and yet another group and each time they were beaten and killed.  Finally, the son was sent to the vineyard to collect what was due.  Believing this is their chance to take over, they kill the son and demand his inheritance.

The crowd had heard this story before.  It was something that was read to them from the Prophet Isaiah. The same story we heard in the First Reading.  “Let me now sing of my Friend,” Isaiah begins and tells his story of the vineyard.  He set up the hedges, the presses, in fact the entire operation was in place, the same way Jesus has said.   Once Jesus tells his story, he asks the chief priests and elders what the owner of the vineyard what he should do to the tenants.  They said that the tenants should be put to death and the land re-rented.  He agreed with them and told them that the stone which the builders rejected will become the cornerstone.  Therefore, the kingdom of God will be taken from them and given to those who would produce its fruit.  But who would those people be?  Jesus mentioned it in the Gospel proclaimed last week:  “tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.  When John came to you….you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did.” [1]

The Gospels proclaimed the past three weeks are both a warning and a sign of hope.  They are a warning to the Chief Priests and Elders of the Temple that what they had been chosen to do was for the glory of God, not of themselves.  Yet Jesus gave them one more chance to correct their behavior or the circumstances of their actions will be their own undoing.  For this Gospel foreshadowed what was to happen:  Jesus’ death on the cross and the destruction of the Temple.

While this was a warning to those in charge, this story became a cause for hope for those in their care. Some are the Tax collectors and the prostitutes that he mentioned previously.  Others are those who did not follow the Law as close as those in the Temple, but do the best they can. While others still are the ones who did not live in Jerusalem and worshipped their God on the outskirts. These are the ones that were told they were not welcome by both the workers and the tenants.  Now they are the ones who Jesus said were entering Heaven before the Chief Priests and Elders.  It is having faith in God while doing the best we can to serve him rather than paying lip service and making empty gestures that will bring us to paradise.

Who are the prostitutes and tax collectors of our day?  Who are the lepers and gentiles who are considered “unclean” to come and worship with us?  They are the ones we need to seek out and assure them that they are welcome to worship with us.  They are the elected official or the corporate executive who, because of the particular business climate, have to strive to find a balance in their work life with their personal life.  That balance can be hard, and it gives the impression to those on the outside that they have turned their backs on friends and family, and even on God.  Their lives would have the appearance that their working life or their elected life has even become their God.  When we have that view, then it is easy for those who profess to worship God to turn their backs on them and walk away, making it harder and harder to make them feel welcome. So their decision to keep striving in their professional life rather than their personal life becomes easier to make.

But our faith tells us to not turn our backs, but continue to go to them and welcome them as an old friend.  This is what the Church is asking of us when they speak of hospitality.  To be hospitable is to welcome those who are on the margins; not for our benefit, but for theirs.  Legend has it St. Brigid of Ireland had a compassion for those that were rejected by society.  She welcomed lepers and gave them shelter; she fed and clothed the poor; cared for women who were abused by men and even gave sanctuary to the animals that were pursued by hunters.[2]

Hospitality is the key for the Children of God to welcome all and be welcomed by all.  It is a word that we forget sometimes as children and unfortunately do not remember until we become adults.  And even then, there are some who don’t get it.  But if we are to be witnesses of the faith and proclaim what we (will) say in OUR Creed is true, then we must act as the emissaries of hospitality. Then the forgotten ones in school will be remembered by their classmates, who are back to being friends. The forgotten ones in government will be remembered as more than just a fellow citizen, but a neighbor.  And the one who works day in and day out in order to climb the corporate ladder will no longer be just an employee, but they will come back as a spouse and a parent.  Not for our sake, not for their sake, but for God’s sake.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

Questions for Reflection:

 

  1. Who were the ones that were excluded or ignored because of who they were or where they were from in your school? Your work?  Your city?  Or do you believe that you are the one excluded?

 

  1. Jesus tells the Chief Priests and Elders “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Why did he tell them this in light of this Gospel?

 

  1. In light of the current political and social climate, can you prevent yourself from turning your back and walking away from those whom you believe have abandoned God for money or power? How do you start?

[1] Mt. 21:32.

[2] Sanna, Ellyn “The Marginalized and the Realm of Heaven” in The Winged Man:  The Good News According to Matthew, (Kenneth McIntosh, ed.), Vestal, New York:  Anamchara Books, 2017, p. 238.

In the Vineyard, our value is viewed in the eyes of God, not of MAN

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Author’s note:  This is the Homily from last week (just ran out of time to post until now). Sorry for the confusion

HOMILY FOR THE 25TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings:  Is. 55:6-9/Phil. 1:20-24,27

Psalm:  145:2-3,8-9,17-18

Gospel:  Mt. 20:1-16

 

When I was younger, I got picked on in school…a lot.  How I looked at the world was different than the others in my class and it got to the point that I was never included in any of the parties that they had or the trips that they went on and so on.  I stayed at my home out in the country because I knew I wasn’t wanted.  As I got older, that sentiment stayed with me that it became harder and harder to make friends to the point that I preferred my own company.  And I still do to some degree.  I often wondered though if I had not been picked on how my life would be different.

What I based these feelings on is due to how much value I place on my life and the lives of those around me.  It is in how much we value a person that shows how much we value ourselves.  While we place a value on ourselves and others, we should also look at by what standards we are in making that measurement.  Do we value a person in the eyes of MAN or in the eyes of God?  Whenever we measure the value of a person in the eyes of MAN, it is usually based on their industry; their ability to perform in a line of work for a long period of time.  When we hear the Gospel proclaimed today, we hear the value of each worker through the ears of MAN.  First, the landowner goes out and selects workers to work in his vineyard.  These are the ones who are awake early in the morning ready to work a full day to receive a full day’s wage.  When we see them they could be those who were born into the faith and have known nothing else during their life.  They tend to have a sense of privilege being first and expect that special blessings will come their way.

Those that the landowner finds at 9:00 are the ones that perhaps were not found at sunrise or slept in a bit that day.  There was nothing wrong with them, just that they didn’t get the prime jobs.  The landowner goes to them and puts them to work.  These would be the ones who come into the faith later in their lives, perhaps with the help of a loved one or were encouraged to come by themselves.  Either way, they enter the faith by their own choosing and put in just as much effort as those who started from the beginning and expect some blessings to come to them; not necessarily the same amount as those that came before, but just as fair.

Then here comes the ones who the landowner finds at 5:00.  Why were they still in the marketplace?  Why had no one hired them?  Were they unsavory?  Did they have the wrong clothes?  Were they foreigners?  For whatever reason, they were still left in the marketplace, in danger of not getting work so they can get the wages to feed their families.  And even when the owner does send them into the vineyard, what sort of a reception will they face?  Those who had been there will act as if this bunch is beneath their status, as if they did not belong there at all. Yet they were still chosen, like the ones who accepted the faith late in life, even at the moment of their last breath.  They are asking for anything sort of grace that, just perhaps, they can have a share of the blessings that are given.  This view is what the value of a person is in the eyes of MAN.  The vision of how much grace one receives is dependent upon the time they are members of the faith.

Whenever we see the value of a person in the eyes of God, however, the results are much different.  What the workers saw in each other, the landowner saw something more.  For he did not see time and effort as the reason for their pay at the end of the day, he saw their acceptance of his invitation to go into the vineyard and work for him.  For that, each one received his full blessings-their full day’s pay- for their work in the faith.  Those who had been there from the start-those who were born in the faith-will struggle to understand how those who have not “earned their stripes” because of their lack of time.  But what we forget is that this kind of thought is of MAN, not of God.  And when those who believe they do not deserve the amount of grace that God wants to give us, they become overwhelmed by his generosity.

On Thursday, Pope Francis in his homily spoke about a young man who was overwhelmed by the mercy that God had shown him.  Francis said he thought “it was interesting how many Catholics today seem to be scandalized when God shows mercy to someone.”[1]  This sentiment is reflected in the First Reading today from the Prophet Isaiah.  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”  While we see the actions of others and wonder how God can give them the same grace that he gives us, God can only see their devotion to him and their fellow brothers and sister, no matter how long or how short that time is.  God gives his mercy to those who he sees as his children, whether we want to acknowledge them or not.  He sees all of us not just as members of a church or a faith, but as his children.  We are all children of God.

In order for us to stop seeing as MAN sees and to start understanding how God sees is the first step toward selflessness.  When the landowner explains to those who were first in the vineyard that they were not cheated of the wages that they were promised, that was their first step toward selflessness.  It was up to them to realize it.  Once they do, they will begin to understand why the path to happiness starts with not focusing on our wants.

When I previously spoke about St. Columba of Iona, I focused on his conversion from a selfish seeker of knowledge to a selfless servant of God.  When he lost everything that he desired, God showed him the grace he received as he “worked in the vineyard” starting his community in Scotland.  It was at this point that he wrote this prayer:

 

Almighty God,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

to me the least of saints,

to me allow that I may keep even the smallest door,

the farthest, darkest, coldest door,

the door that is least used, the stiffest door,

if only it be in Your house, O God,

that I can see Your glory afar,

and hear Your voice,

and know that I am with You,

O God.

Amen[2]

               It is not easy in our day and age to value a person in the eyes of God.  All of us need the help of those wiser than us to change our vision.  We read the Scriptures for guidance.  We look to the angels and the saints for inspiration. We enjoin ourselves with the Universal Church for support.  We take part in the Sacraments for strength. And yet through all that, if we cannot see the grace given to us that is also in each and everyone else, then our lives become meaningless.  To see the least of us as the equal of us takes courage and conversion.  Those days in school still visit me from time to time.  And in those times I tend to see myself better than those who bullied me.  But it is in those moments where I have to remind myself that even in those moments, God’s grace is the same in me as it is in them.  And from that thought, the true value of MAN is revealed.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Do you remember the last time you were bullied? How long ago was that? Does it still hurt?
  2. How do you fit in the vineyard? How has the work been so far?
  3. What are some things you can do to make sure we all have the same grace?

[1] Wooden, Cindy “Mercy scandalize those who don’t see their own sin, pope says at Mass” in Catholic News Service via www.crux.com (September 21, 2017).

[2] Sanna, Ellyn. “Me First,” in The Winged Man:  The Good News According to Matthew, McIntosh, Kenneth, ed.,

(Vestal, NY:  Anamchara Books, 2017)p. 231.

 

 

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?

 

 

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.