Thanksgiving 2014

thanksgiving1

Today is a day to give thanks to an awesome God who has given us so many great gifts.  It’s one day when everyone, regardless of their religious faith, or lack thereof, is reminded of all the good things in our lives.

Many of us will gather with our families and friends to celebrate this unique holiday.  It’s also a time to remember those who have so much less than we do.  (Up on my soapbox) It isn’t a day to try to score a great deal on a flat screen TV.  Don’t get me wrong,  there’s nothing wrong with “Black Friday” but I honestly don’t see how intruding on our day of thanks, especially making retail employees leave their family celebrations to run the cash registers, is a good idea.  Are people really going to buy more because they have a few extra hours to shop, or are the sales just going to be spread out a little bit?

Here’s link from ABC News to twenty-two stores that won’t be open Thursday.  Of course, most local, independent retailers won’t be open either.  I urge you to stay home on Thanksgiving and join the shopping fray later.  Enjoy the time with your families and join me in a prayer of gratitude for all the blessings in our lives.

On a personal note, my wife and I will be spending “Black Friday” the same way we always do, shopping at independent retailers.  Obviously we won’t do all our Christmas shopping that day, but we’ll be doing our part to support our local merchants.  I hope you’ll join us.

On a related subject, it’s time for my annual rant about saying “Merry Christmas”.  It does seem that many businesses have restored that phrase to their vocabularies.  But there are still some holdouts who insist on wishing us “season’s greetings” or “happy holidays” in spite of the fact that they make the lion’s share of their annual profits selling us gifts for Christmas.

Frankly, this confuses me.  Some will say that referring to Christmas is offensive to non-Christians.  I say “nonsense”.  Seeing a menorah, or having someone wish me a Happy Chanukah doesn’t offend me.  In fact, I think it very nice.  Why shouldn’t we share our joy with others?

When someone wishes me “happy holidays”, I always smile politely and answer “Merry Christmas”.  I’ve been doing it for years and I’ve yet to have someone object.

Merry Christmas

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

If Father were preaching today, he could choose any of the readings as the basis for his homily. But as a married deacon, I feel kind of obligated to talk about the first reading from the Book of Proverbs, especially if I want to avoid any painful consequences later at home. It’s not that Father can’t talk about the virtues of a good wife. It’s just that I can speak from experience.

 

“When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize.” You don’t have to be married to understand this statement. I know lots of men who have worthy wives. But, thanks be to God, I can include myself in that blessed group.

 

“She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.”

 

The writer goes on to describe other virtues of a good wife and ends by saying, “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.” All I can add to that is “AMEN!”

 

Some people in the 21st century will look at this and say, “Wait a minute! This is sexist language. Women aren’t meant to take care of men. We’re all equal!” To that I would say, “yes, we’re all equal in the eyes of the Lord but we’re not the same. Just today (yesterday) there was an article in the Post about remarriage. Don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say. We all know the Church doesn’t condone divorce and remarriage. Marriage is ‘til death do us part. But we also deal in reality and we know that spouses die and marriages end for other reasons. The point is that research has shown that newly unmarried men are almost twice as likely to get married again as newly unmarried women.

 

The conclusion of the research is that this is because men need someone to take care of them and women aren’t necessarily excited to take on that role again. Another example of researchers spending a lot of time and money to find out something the rest of us already know. Women are the nurturers. That’s why God in his infinite wisdom made women to be mothers.

 

A case in point. Last week Mrs. Buckley was out of town for a couple of days. I hated it. She makes this trip every year and God knows she deserves time for herself. But I can barely function on my own.

“When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls.”

Forty-six years ago this week, I moved out of my mother’s house and moved into our house. I’ve never lived alond. I’ve never had to fend for myself. I’m not much of a cook. I don’t know how to do the laundry. I’d rather sleep on the couch than have to make the bed. I totally missed an obligation I had on Friday morning because my alarm didn’t go off and there was no one there to get me up. Frankly, I’m pretty useless when it comes to taking care of myself. This may not be politically-correct, but it’s just the way it is.

 

The article in the Post pointed out that older men who remarry are much more likely to marry a younger woman. I think it’s because older women know better. Been there, done that. They’re not interested in becoming caretakers for another helpless old man. Of course, there are exceptions. Two older riends of mine were married a few years ago. Both of their spouses had died. But, they had been living alone for a while and the husband had figured out how to make it on his own. For the record, they’re very happy. They do things together and they do things separately. God bless them. I think they may be the exception to the rule.

 

This brings me to today’s Gospel. We all know the story of the talents. The servants who used the master’s money wisely were rewarded. The guy who buried his share of the money in the ground, not so much. God has given all of us talents which we’re supposed to use. Whether we use our talents to earn a living, or to take care of our families, that’s what God wants us to do.

 

A perfect example of using our talents was on display here at Saint John’s last Sunday. We’re blessed to have some very talented cooks. We have people who can organize things and get things done. We have a deacon who’s smart enough to stay out of their way. Today we have over $6,000 in the bank that wasn’t there a week ago. We also have new friends who came and saw what a group of dedicated people can do when they invest their God-given talents for a common cause. No one person was responsible for our success. It was a group effort and there’s no doubt that the Holy Spirit was present to help us and guide us to use our talents in the most productive way. It’s all about teamwork, and sadly, some people who prefer not to be part of a team chose not to participate. My prayer is that we can continue to work together, as a team, using our various talents and skills to build up the Kingdom of God in our small corner of the world.

 

Frankly, fund-raisers are a lot of work and can be a pain in the you-know-what. But I don’t look at the events we hold here as fund-raisers. The money is nice but it’s only a way to keep score. We made more money this year than we did last year, so some might say the event must have been a success. But our mission here isn’t to sell goulash and beer. Our mission is to make disciples and that’s much harder to measure. But from what I saw, we did God’s work last Sunday and I know that He will continue to bless us. And make no mistake, our devotion to the Holy Infant of Prague is a big part of everything we do that’s good.

 

window damage - 01I’m sure some of you are wondering about “the window” and some of you may not even know about it. Late Wednesday night someone threw a brick through our beautiful Nativity window. They tried to break several other windows, but the Plexiglas covering did it’s job, stopping any further damage. We have insurance which will cover most of the cost of the repairs, but it’s still discouraging that someone would deliberately damage something so beautiful   Your first reaction is probably the same as mine; anger, disappointment, confusion. As a flawed human being, when I first saw what happened I wanted to catch this person and see that they’re punished.

 

But since Thursday morning, the story was covered by Channel 2 News and the outpouring of support has been amazing. We’ve heard from current and former members of the community who want to know how they can help. We’ve found out that we have a lot of support in the community. We’re fortunate that the company who originally created the windows is still in business and they’re dedicated to restoring the window to its original glory.

 

The publicity generated from this unfortunate event has been very positive. While it’s only human nature to be angry with the person who did this, we have to understand that this person has some serious issues. A person who would attack a house of God needs help. Rather than be mad, it’s important that we pray for this individual. God creates good out of evil and it’s up to us to make that good happen. We’ve gotten support from friends and strangers in South City and from throughout the Saint Louis area. Even a friend of mine, a protestant minister who lives in Wyoming, offered his condolences.

 

Thanks be to God that the damage can be repaired and that no one was hurt.

 

Saint Louis is bracing for potential violence and property damage on a much bigger scale when the Michael Brown grand jury verdict is announced. If and when it happens, we at Saint John Nepomuk should have a greater insight into the bigger picture. Everything happens for a reason and great good can come from evil. As Catholic Christians, our task is to pray. Pray for our city and pray that the basic goodness of people will win out. We must also be vigilant. While Ferguson may seem like a long way from us, violence and property damage can happen anywhere, even right here at our own church.

 

I’m going to end with a personal story. My son and his wife live on Nottingham in South Saint Louis. Nottingham is one of those streets where Halloween is a big deal. Jan and I were there to help give out candy to nearly 800 kids. The neighborhood is almost entirely white but most of the kids who were trick-or-treating were either black, or Hispanic, or Muslim.

There were no problems. The kids were well-behaved and polite. There were times when there were thirty or more kids lined up at my son’s house to get candy. There was no pushing or shoving. Frankly, it was an awesome experience. I couldn’t help wondering, where was CNN? Where was Channel 5? Where was Mayor Slay? The media has painted Saint Louis as the epicenter of racism and violence of the entire country. Yet, something as simple as Halloween brought all these different people together just to have a good time. That’s our city. That’s who we are. A few agitators, many of them from out of town, have given us a huge black eye. But we know better.

 

Jesus said “a little child shall lead them.” Maybe when the Grand Jury makes its announcement, we should all give out candy. Wouldn’t that be nice?

 

Dear readers, You can see more pix of the window damage on Saint John’s Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/SaintJohnNepomuk

 

 

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jesus was a Jew. Everybody knows that. His mother was a Jew. His step-father was a Jew. All his aunts and uncles and cousins were Jews. Most of the people He ministered to were Jews. Jesus lived in a Jewish society.

 

In Jesus’ time, Jews had an entirely different view of God than we do today. Look at today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus. The Lord says “you shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword, then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.”

 

Whoa! The Old Testament God didn’t mess around. “If you’re not nice to widows and orphans, I’ll kill you.” End of story. Jesus introduced us to a kinder, gentler God. He told us it was OK to call God “Our Father”.

 

Look at our Gospel reading.   The Pharisees decided to test Jesus. One of them asked Jesus “which commandment of the law is the greatest?” We all know the answer to that question. “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment.” He goes on to say that the second commandment is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Of course, he knew that the Pharisees, experts in the Jewish Law, weren’t following either of these two commandments.

 

As 21st century Christians, we look at this reading and think, “OK, out of the Ten Commandments these two are the greatest. But wait! “Love your neighbor” isn’t one of the ten.

Maybe we should have a little quiz here. Who knows the Ten Commandments?

  1. I am the LORD your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  3. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
  4. Honor your father and your mother.
  5. You shall not kill.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

The first three are about loving God. The last seven are about loving our neighbors. The Ten Commandments can be reduced to just two.

 

But, remember, Jesus was speaking to 1st Century Jews, not 21st Century Christians. The question the Pharisee asked Jesus was, “which commandment of the law is the greatest?” He wasn’t asking about Moses’ TEN commandments, he was asking about the commandments of the Jewish law. The Jewish Law, which still applies to Jews today, was made up of SIX HUNDRED THIRTY ONE LAWS! And every good Jew was expected to know all of them!

 

If we look back at the first reading, every point the writer makes is one of the Jewish Laws. Don’t molest or oppress an alien. Don’t wrong widows and orphans. Don’t demand interest on a loan. If you take your neighbor’s cloak, give it back before sunset. There are 627 more. And observant Jews know all of them.

 

One of the Jewish laws is to “love all human beings who are of the covenant”, in other words, to love all other Jews. Another law says to “love the gentiles”. The Jewish laws did direct the Jews to love everyone, but Jesus wrapped up dozens of individual laws of the Old Covenant into one law of the New Covenant.

 

Even though the Jewish Law says to love one another, it does make some distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. For example, charging interest on a loan to a fellow Jew is prohibited in the law and in today’s first reading. But the law also says charging interest to a Gentile is mandatory.

 

The point is that today’s Gospel, which we’ve all heard dozens of times was a major shift in thinking about God. Don’t fear God. Love God. Love your neighbor. The two are one and the same. Our God’s not an angry God. He doesn’t kill people with swords. We don’t think of Him as being wrathful. We think of Him as Our Father.

 

When Jesus came, everything changed. He didn’t come to abolish the Jewish law, He came to fulfill it. At the time, the 631 individual laws made sense. They covered every area of life. The Jewish people weren’t just a religious group, they were also a society. Their laws were their constitution. Their laws protected them from making bad choices. In today’s world, our Church doesn’t care if you charge interest on a loan, as long as it’s not excessive. If you were to take out a loan from the Vatican bank, you’d better believe you’ll be charged interest.

 

There are a lot of Jewish dietary laws. Many of them make perfect sense, even today. “Don’t eat a worm found in a piece of fruit” is pretty good advice. “Not to eat or drink like a glutton or a drunkard” is also wise. Some of the laws about certain foods were written to keep people from poisoning themselves and that’s a good thing.

 

Without rules, it would be impossible for people to live together. You and I have rules where we work. If we’re retired, we still have rules we have to follow. If you’re married, there are rules you follow to keep a happy home. If there weren’t traffic laws, none of us would ever be able to go anywhere. There would be chaos. But it’s hard to find a rule about anything that doesn’t fall under “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” And “love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

The Catholic Church has laws. They’re called Canon Laws. This is the Canon Law book. Thanks be to God you and I don’t have to memorize it. It’s nearly 2,000 pages long. I’m willing to bet that you don’t even own a copy of it. Frankly, if someone hadn’t given it to me, I wouldn’t own one either. It costs about $100.00. But it exists and there are people who do know it backwards and forward. They’re called Canon Lawyers.

 

When I studied Canon Law the instructor told us there was just one thing we needed to remember. It was the telephone number of the Office of Canon Law. They could answer any question.

 

The thing is, we need these rules and laws to maintain an orderly church. What happens at Saint John Nepomuk in Saint Louis is the same thing that happens at Saint Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague. At least that should be the case. It’s in the book.

 

But the point is, Jesus boiled all of this down for us into two sentences. Love God. Love your neighbor. That’s it. If we judge everything we do according to those two simple sentences, we’re doing God’s will. Anything we do that’s contrary to those two sentences is against God’s will. It’s all so simple. And it’s all so very, very hard.

 

When we gossip; when we talk about people behind their backs, we’re not loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. When we refuse to accept change because it’s not the way we’ve always done things, we’re not loving our neighbor either. When we criticize the Church and its leadership, we’re not loving God or our neighbors. When we don’t welcome strangers, we’re not doing God’s will. When we come to church with the attitude that “it’s all about me”, we’re violating God’s commandment. When we act like a Pharisee instead of like a disciple, we’re breaking the covenant that God made with us by the death of His Son.

 

Our faith is simple, but it’s not easy. The Pharisees thought they knew it all. They did everything they could to defeat Jesus, up to and including hanging Him on a cross. But they didn’t win. They committed the greatest Sin of all time. And Jesus lives! He’s alive for each of us and He’s in each of us. All we have to do is remember the two commandments He reminds us of today.

 

We’re called to constantly judge our actions against these two commandments. We have to ask ourselves, “Am I a Pharisee or am I a disciple?”

 

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Our readings today speak to us about heaven and hell; good and evil. Jesus reminds us in the Gospel that “many are called, but few are chosen.” One man is thrown out of the king’s wedding feast because he wasn’t prepared. Here in Saint Louis, just this weekend, and just a few blocks from where we are now, we can see situations playing out that remind us of just how real these struggles can be.

 

A few blocks to the north, our Cardinals will begin the National League Championship Series in a few hours. It may be a bit of a stretch to call their series with the Giants a battle of good and evil, even though some die-hard fans in Saint Louis and San Francisco may see it that way. But it’s certainly a test to see who is most prepared.

 

When spring training started nine months ago, thirty teams all thought that they would win the World Series. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have shown up. But after weeks of practice and 162 games, just ten teams made it into the playoffs. After months of preparation, ten teams moved on and twenty teams went home. Now we’re down to just four teams. “Many are called but few are chosen.”

 

In just a couple of weeks only one team will be left. One team, the one who is most prepared, will make it to “baseball heaven” and twenty-nine will have to wait until next year. It’s an exciting time in the four cities that are left, but it also says a lot about our modern society. Millions of people are watching. People are paying outrageous prices for tickets to the games. Fans will dress up in team colors and cheer for their favorite team. Meanwhile, many of those same people won’t give an hour this weekend to come to church, to prepare themselves for their own heaven.

 

A couple of blocks east of here, thousands of people are attending the Soulard Octoberfest. Again, it’s a gathering of hundreds of people, doing their best to enjoy their earthly lives. In this case, no preparation is required. All you have to do is be over twenty-one and show up. There will be gallons of beer and lots of music. There will also be people getting drunk and making fools of themselves, all in the name of “fun”. Again, many of them will try desperately to have a good time but most of them won’t have time, or will be too hung over to make it to church tomorrow morning. I’m not sure exactly what equals “success” at the Octoberfest.

 

Tomorrow morning, again right here in our Soulard neighborhood, hundreds of people will be taking part in the Go Marathon. In this case, a lot of preparation is required. Most of the runners will have spent hours in training for this event. Many of them will come back next weekend for the other marathon, again running through our neighborhood. The runners who are most prepared will win. It’s obvious that the one who runs the fastest race will be called a winner but for a lot of other runners, their definition of success may be something different. Just finishing a marathon is an accomplishment. For others, just showing up is a major feat. There will be lots of individual “successes” but one thing we know for sure, no success in any kind of race is possible without preparation. “Many are called but few are chosen.”

 

Something else is happening here this weekend. It’s not a game or a festival or a race. There’s nothing happy about it. There are no winners but there surely are losers. Our city is in the midst of a crisis that’s getting national and even international attention. Two months after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, racial tension isn’t going away. Worse, just this week another young man was fatally shot by a police officer. This time, instead of happening in Ferguson, which for many of us is like the other side of the moon, this time it happened right here in South Saint Louis.

 

After two months, we still don’t have closure in the Ferguson shooting. As they say, “the jury is still out.” Details of the shooting in the Shaw neighborhood seem to be a little more clear-cut. There seems to be pretty clear evidence that Vonderitt Myers shot at the police officer who then returned fire and fatally wounded the 18 year old. More demonstrations and protests are planned for this weekend, not just in Ferguson, but all over the area.

You and I don’t know exactly what happened in either incident. What we do know is this. Two young men are dead and racial tension in Saint Louis is near the breaking point. We also know that what happened in North County is now happening in our own neighborhood.

 

While the shooting of these two young men is a tragedy, what’s could happen next would be an even greater tragedy. As Catholic Christians, we have an obligation to pray for the souls of the two young men. We have an obligation to pray for their families and friends. And we have an obligation to pray for our community, that cooler heads will prevail and that there is no more violence. We must also pray for our policemen and women. They do a very dangerous job and it gets more dangerous by the day

 

I think a lot of us are isolated from the events of the last 60 days. We feel safe and secure in our white, suburban communities. But this most recent shooting brings the whole thing closer to home. The baseball playoffs, Octoberfest, the Blues game tonight, the marathon, and the Ram’s Monday night game are bringing thousands of people into a very concentrated area. The potential for trouble is huge. The world is watching us. We must pray that there are no more tragedies in Saint Louis.

 

The problems in our community, in our country, and in our world may seem almost insurmountable. But as Paul said in today’s second reading, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” It makes me sad when I hear people who claim to speak for Jesus calling for actions that can only stir up more trouble. Anyone who calls themselves “reverend” should be a person of peace.

 

Finally, when we look at all that’s happening around us, we should look at our own problems and how they compare to the big picture. Saint Paul was remarkably positive for a man who was persecuted and thrown into prison more than once for preaching the Gospel. In today’s reading he tells the Phillipians, “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
The prophet Isaiah and Jesus Himself promise us today a seat at a magnificent banquet…..if we’re prepared. What does that mean? It means we should love God and love one another. It means we should work for peace. It means we should humble ourselves before God, placing our lives in His hands. It means we should be disciples and we should make disciples. It means we should take inspiration from the saints and do our bests to live holy lives. It means we should remember, “Many are called but few are chosen.”

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

 

The world-famous high wire walker stood on the banks of Niagara Falls. A steel cable was strung from one side to the other and a huge crowd had gathered. He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, today I am going to walk this thin cable across these mighty falls. But, in order for me to do it, I must know that you believe I can. Do you believe??”

 

The crowd yelled out, “WE BELIEVE! WE BELIEVE!”

 

So he jumped up on the cable and began to walk. Slowly he proceeded to the other side and when he reached the other side, the crowd went wild. Then he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, now I’m going to perform an even greater feat. I’m going to cross the falls on this thin cable blind-folded. The crowd gasped and he said again, “In order to accomplish this amazing feat, I need to know that you believe I can do it. I draw my strength from your belief in me.” Again the crowd went wild. “WE BELIEVE! WE BELIEVE!” they yelled, even louder than before.

 

With that, the daredevil put on his blind-fold and proceeded to cross the falls again and again the crowd went wild!

 

Then he said, for my third and final act today, I’m going to cross these mighty falls on this thin cable, blind-folded and pushing this wheelbarrow with someone sitting in it. Once again, I must ask, do you believe I can do it?” Again the crowd yelled, “WE BELIEVE! WE BELIEVE!”

 

Then the daredevil said, “I need a volunteer from the crowd to sit in the wheelbarrow.” And they all started walking away. The only sound was the roar of the falls.

 

See, there’s a big difference between saying you believe and actually believing. Saint John tells us in today’s Gospel, possibly one of the most famous of all the scriptural passages, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” You might say to me, “Deacon, I believe in Jesus so I’m going to go to heaven when I die.” But hold on. Do you believe like the crowd at Niagra Falls? Do you believe as long as there’s no personal risk? Or are you willing to risk your earthly life to gain eternal life?

 

This is where a lot of us get it wrong. We say, “of course I believe. I go to mass every weekend.” That’s all well and good, but what else do we do? We may never be called on to actually risk martyrdom, but how do we act when someone challenges us? Do we risk embarrassment by defending the Church? Are we willing to do something as simple as making the sign of the cross and saying grace in a restaurant with our friends? Are we willing to call out a friend or family member when we see that they’re doing something sinful? Will we even do something as simple as inviting a friend or family member to come to mass with us?

 

You tell me you believe. PROVE IT! Get in the wheelbarrow. Turn your life over to Jesus, not just for one hour out of 168 each week, but every minute of every day!

 

A lot of us who wear this Roman collar are even more guilty of this phony belief stuff than any of you are. We’ve been called to preach the Gospel but when push comes to shove, we’re afraid to get in your face and ask the hard questions because we don’t want to make you mad. We want everybody to like us. We don’t want to hurt your feelings. And, God forbid, you should stop giving money because of something we said. So, we don’t challenge you. We don’t stand up here and point out your sins or warn you of what might happen. We’re happy with the status quo.

 

But, where would we be if Jesus had been happy with the status quo? If He avoided hurting people’s feelings? I think you know where we’d be. Jesus let Himself be hung on the cross that we exult today, to save us from our sins; to save us from ourselves. But we have to do our part.
I started my sales career selling life insurance more than 40 years ago. Believe me, that’s a tough sell. For one thing, nobody wants to think about their own death. And they definitely aren’t inclined to give up money today for something that’s going to come in the future, especially when they don’t know when that future date is. No young father wants to think that he’s not going to be around to see his kids grow up. He thinks he’ll always be here to provide for his family. It’s just human nature. But the fact is, we’re all going to die sometime. And we have to prepare for that day.

 

Here it is, 2014, and I’m still trying to convince you to prepare for that day that will come. I’m selling eternal life insurance.

 

Here’s the thing. When you and I stand before Jesus for that final judgment, He’s not going to ask us how many friends we had. He’s not going to ask us how much money we made. He’s not even going to ask us how many times we went to mass. He’s going to ask us how many people we helped get into heaven.

 

He’s not going to care how many years we were an altar server, or how many years we sang in the choir. He’s not going to ask me if the people I served liked me or not. All He’s going to look at is how we served Him. Whatever He asks us, He already knows the answer.

 

In the first reading today, the people complained against God and against Moses. He had brought them out of captivity. He had saved them from slavery. What were they saying. They didn’t like the “wretched” food. And the Lord punished them by sending snakes. Then they changed their tune. “Wait a minute, Moses. We’ve sinned by complaining. Take away the snakes and we’ll be good.”

 

Does that sound familiar? How often have we been ungrateful to God? Some of you, not many, but a few, sound just like those Israelites. You know who you are. Things may not always go the way we want them to go. Sometimes we have to look at the big picture. Maybe the food isn’t great, but it’s better than what Pharaoh gave us in Egypt and we’re free! Maybe Saint John’s isn’t a parish anymore, maybe we don’t have a resident priest, maybe you don’t like me, but we’re still open!

 

If we’re going to stay open, maybe we have to do some things differently. Take a look around at all the empty seats. Obviously what we’ve been doing isn’t working. Change is hard. It makes us uncomfortable. But it’s also inevitable. Like any organism, if we don’t grow we die. In 1896 this church, which the people had built with their own hands just 26 years ago was destroyed by a tornado. I’m sure there were people who were angry. I’m sure there were some who cursed God for their misfortune. Some of them probably even blamed the pastor. But the majority of them rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt this church, bigger and better than it was before. Those were the people who got into the wheelbarrow.

 

Today, we’re faced with an even bigger challenge. It’s hard work, but rebuilding a physical church is not nearly as hard as rebuilding a church community. That’s what you and I are called to do. Like the daredevil at the Falls, I’m asking you, “do you believe?” Are you willing to trust God to do what’s best for all of us and to sacrifice your own ego to gain eternal life?

 

Jesus died on the cross but He also asked us to take up OUR crosses and follow Him. Are we willing to get into the wheelbarrow? It’s a question we all have to answer.

 

 

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

Well, the readings today are quite a handful, aren’t they? First we have poor Jeremiah, the prophet. He’s ticked off. He’s miffed. He’s mad at the Lord. Or, maybe he’s mad at himself. He says, “you duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.”

Jeremiah is the object of ridicule and scorn because he’s been proclaiming the Lord’s message. But he can’t stop. He can’t help himself. He says “it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in.”

 

Next comes Paul, writing to the Romans. He tells them to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice. “Wait! What? What kind of religion IS this? I thought we sacrificed lambs, and goats, and doves and stuff. You want me to offer my own body!? What’s up with that?”

 

He also tells them, AND US, not to conform to this age, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God.” The Romans were pagans. They were used to gods who gave them stuff. Now this Jew is telling them something totally different. It couldn’t have been easy being Paul. Like Jeremiah, he suffered his share of scorn and ridicule and time in prison.

 

Finally, we have the words of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is speaking to His disciples about what was going to happen to Him. But Peter rebukes Him! Imagine that. You have to admire Peter for having the intestinal fortitude to rebuke Jesus. But he pays the price. “Get thee behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

 

With Peter suitably put in his place, Jesus turns back to the disciples. By the way, exactly what IS a disciple? The dictionary says it’s “a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.” In this context, the disciples were obviously the people who followed Christ. And by follow, I mean they physically followed Him around. But they also hung on every word He said and did their best to follow His teachings.

 

Matthew ends his Gospel with these words of Jesus, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And, behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

 

But back to today’s Gospel. He tells His disciples, his followers, his students, that they must deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him. He tells them that if they lose their lives for His sake they will save their lives. He promises them, and us, that he will repay all of us according to our conduct.

 

Three readings. Jeremiah is the object of ridicule and scorn for delivering the Lord’s message. Paul tells the Romans that they must sacrifice themselves. Jesus tells His disciples that they must take up their crosses and follow Him, losing their lives to save them.

 

These are very Catholic messages. I say that because a lot of churches have become very popular preaching what is sometimes called “the prosperity Gospel”. If you follow Jesus, everything will be great! God will give you anything you want if you just ask Him. If He doesn’t answer your prayers it’s because you’re not holy enough. It sounds good and attracts a lot of people, especially poor people. Often these “prosperity preachers” make the poor even poorer by asking them to “give ‘til it hurts” knowing that God will provide. Unfortunately, the only one who seems to proper from the “prosperity gospel” are the “prosperity preachers.”

 

Our Gospel message isn’t that you’re going to prosper in this world, but that what God has prepared for us in the next world is so far beyond the riches of this world that we can’t even comprehend it.

 

So, how do we get to the next world? How do we get one of those many places that the Father has prepared for us? There’s a good answer in our missalettes, in the little italicized section at the beginning of today’s readings. You may not normally read it, but today it’s especially good.

 

“No wonder Peter rebukes Jesus! Jesus “began to show his disciples” [there’s that word again] what faithful discipleship demands: denying self, losing self, letting self die. Jesus teaches his disciples to let go of self so that a new self can be given. What we relinquish is ourselves as we are now; what we are given is a new self, born from identifying completely with Jesus. It takes a lifetime of discipleship to embrace Jesus’ way of living. It takes a lifetime of discipleship to let Jesus transform our life into His life.”

 

The writer uses the word “disciple” or “discipleship” five times in that short passage. It must be important. In fact, it’s more than important, it’s critical to our eternal life. The big question for all of us is “Am I a disciple?” Do I identify completely with Jesus. Have I let go of my self? Have I denied my self? Have I let my self die? If not, why not?

 

Is Jesus part of my everyday life, or is the sum total of my so-called discipleship coming to mass once a week? We all know people who call themselves Catholics who can’t even manage to do that! Today’s readings are a real challenge for all of us. It’s right there in black and white. If we’re serious about our eternal souls, and I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t be, then we have to be true disciples; not occasional disciples, not once a week disciples, but 100% disciples, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

 

We’re not called to do the least we can, we’re called to do ALL that we can. We’re called to let go of our selves. We’re called to deny our selves. We’re called to let our selves die. If we insist on holding on to our old selves then maybe we should rethink our priorities. It’s like they say on the airliners, we have to put on our oxygen masks first, then help others with theirs. We can’t make disciples if we aren’t disciples ourselves.

 

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The prophet Isiah lived in the 8th Century B. C., or about 800 years before Christ. Nearly 3,000 years ago he’s writing about racism. He writes that “foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants” will be brought to the holy mountain. He says, speaking for the Lord, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

 

Remember, the Jewish people didn’t play well with others. Foreigners were the enemy. But here’s Isiah telling the Jewish people that foreigners who join themselves to the Lord will enter the heavenly kingdom. This was pretty radical stuff and you can bet that a lot of people didn’t like it.

 

Then we have today’s Gospel, where a Canaanite woman asked Jesus to have pity on her and to heal her daughter. Jesus ignored her. Again, the Jews and the Gentiles hated each other. Jesus’ disciples came to him and said, “Send this foreigner away. She’s bothering us.”

 

What Jesus does next is surprising. He tells the woman that He’s been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Do you think maybe He’s trying to teach the disciples a lesson? Maybe He wants them to see for themselves how wrong they are. He even calls the woman a “dog”. But this woman is no dummy. She says that even the dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from the table.

Finally, Jesus praises the woman for her faith and heals her daughter.

 

Then we have our second reading where Saint Paul is writing to the Romans who are gentiles. Keep in mind that on most Sundays, our readings aren’t in chronological order. The first reading is usually from the Old Testament. The second reading is taken from the New Testament, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then we have the Gospel which usually falls between the other two readings in time.

 

Because the Gospel is Jesus’ words, it deserves the place of prominence as the last of the three readings. It’s like when you go to a concert, the headline act comes on last. The opening acts get the audience ready for what’s to come. It’s not a great analogy, but I hope you get the idea.

 

Anyway, Paul’s job is to convert them to the gentile Romans to the new Christian faith. He tells them, “I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them…..For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.” Like Isaiah, Paul is making a pretty radical statement. Again, the Jews and the gentiles hated each other. But here’s this new religion claiming that they’re all equal in God’s eyes.

 

See, racism isn’t new. Over the centuries, Jews have hated gentiles, then Muslims. There’s centuries-old animosity between the English and the Irish. And of course, today there’s the issue of black and white Americans.

 

The people who started this church were the victims of discrimination. When they came up the Mississippi River they weren’t allowed to settle in Saint Louis. Like the other immigrants, they were forced to locate outside the city limits. When word got out that the Bohemians were going to build this beautiful church, there were a lot of people who thought they couldn’t do it. Face it, a lot of people hoped they would fail. Who did these Bohunks think they were, anyway?

 

When my Irish ancestors arrived in America they were faced with help wanted signs that said, “No Irishmen need apply.” Newspaper editorial cartoons depicting Irish as monkeys were common. There’s even a term for anti-Irish, Hibernophobia. Here in Saint Louis, in 1854, the year our church was founded, there were anti-Irish riots.

 

You may not be aware of it, but there are people who hate us because we’re Catholic. Because Saint Louis is a fairly Catholic town, after all it was named after a Catholic saint, we don’t see as much of it as you might in other places, but believe me it’s there. I was shocked by some of the literature that was handed out here during Pope John Paul’s visit. It was pretty bad. Even our local media have an anti-Catholic bias that’s hard to overlook. You may not realize it, but every one of us has suffered some form of discrimination because of our faith.

 

We all have prejudices, some of us more than others, but we all have them. It’s only human nature for us to want to be around people like ourselves. But, that’s no excuse for hating someone just because they look different than we do, because they worship differently than we do, or because they have different political opinions than we do. There’s just too much hate in the world.

 

Muslims and Jews hate each other. Blacks and whites hate each other. Democrats hate Republicans and vice versa, so much so that nothing ever gets done.

 

You’ve probably figured out by now that what I’m leading up to is the situation in Ferguson. I have no idea what happened in the confrontation between Michael Brown and the police officer who shot him. Nobody knows except the people actually involved. We have to trust the investigators who are trying to figure it all out.

 

What we do know is that there’s a tremendous amount of racial tension in Saint Louis and all over America. Sadly, it seems to be getting worse. The thing is, the government isn’t going to solve the problem. Maybe it can’t be solved considering that Isaiah wrote about it 3,000 years ago. But God calls us to love one another. That doesn’t mean that we have to hang out with people who make us uncomfortable, but it does mean that we shouldn’t be so antagonistic to each other.

 

I’m sure you’ve noticed that most of the people who’ve been trying to diffuse the situation in North County are ministers; black ministers, white ministers, Catholics and protestants, including our own Archbishop Carlson. With the exception of a few misguided souls who think that they’re above the law and entitled to just take the things that they want, nobody wants to see people get hurt. Nobody wants to see violence in the streets. People in North County, and all over the country for that matter, just want to live their lives in peace.

 

Jesus used the Canaananite woman to show the disciples how wrong they were to dismiss her just because she was different from them. Isiah said that the kingdom of heaven was for all. Saint Paul risked his life to take the new faith to the gentiles, even though he was Jewish himself. God is love. He doesn’t want to see His creation destroy itself with hate.

 

So, what can we do? The biggest thing we can do is to pray. We should pray for those who are victims of discrimination, whether it’s racial, religious, or philosophical. Churches all over the area have been holding special prayer services during the last few days. And, guess what? It’s working. Things are calming down. The violence has subsided. But until every one of us, black, white, or whatever, starts looking at others as God’s creatures, there will always be an undercurrent of hate and distrust.

 

We should also pray that God opens our own hearts to those who are different from us. Of course we have to use common sense and be vigilant for our own safety, but we have to accept the fact that just because someone looks different from us, it doesn’t mean they’re a danger. We all want the same things; peace, safety, a loving family, food on the table and a roof over our heads. We all want to live in a world where violence is a thing of the past. Will it ever happen? I don’t know. But I can sure pray for it and work for it. So can you.

PRAY FOR PEACE! 

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