5th Sunday of Lent

In the New American Bible, which is the Bible from which we get our Lectionary, today’s Gospel, Chapter 8 verses 1-11 is called “A woman caught in adultery.”  Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and our good friends, the scribes and the Pharisees show up dragging a woman who they have caught committing adultery. This incident raises a very real question.  Where is the man? They say she was caught “in the very act of adultery” but somehow they couldn’t find the man who was also participating; who was just as guilty. Obviously this is a test.

 

We’ve heard the story many times.  The punishment for adultery is stoning and Jesus says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  What we don’t often hear is that no sooner had he said it than a rock came flying in from behind Jesus and hit the woman in the chest.  Thunk! Jesus turned around and looked and said, “Aw, Mom.”

 

Now, you may not like that joke.  Maybe you think humor has no place in religion.    But every time I look in the mirror and see myself looking back wearing s Roman collar, I know that God has a sense of humor.  It’s hard to imagine that someone who hung out with twelve other guys, and could turn water into wine, didn’t enjoy a good joke.

 

I spent seven years at Saint John Neopmuk Church in Soulard.  If I’d told that joke in a homily the Archbishop would have gotten letters (to go along with all the other letters he got about me.)  But the Czech culture is very serious. When they sing the Gloria in Czech, you’d swear you were at a funeral. But that’s just the way they are.  It took me a while to figure it out.

 

I think we’ve all heard this Gospel enough times that I can’t really add much to it, so I’m going to talk about what you just sang, the Responsorial Psalm.  We don’t preach on the Responsorial Psalm very often, but I think today, as we get ready to wrap up Lent, it might be a good time.

 

The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with rejoicing.

 

I think Father will agree with me that it’s not always easy to get Catholics to rejoice.  We don’t usually seem to be filled with joy. But, why the heck not? The Lord has done great things for us.  We’re alive and we’re living in the greatest country on earth.  You may or may not know that I just got back from a cruise to the Caribbean.  Every American should make a trip like that one time. When you see the poverty that exists just a few hundred miles from our shores you want to get down on your knees and thank God for what we have.  They may have beautiful weather but they don’t have much else. And they don’t show the tourists the really bad stuff.

 

The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

This is the front page from today’s (yesterday’s) paper. ( I held up the front page of the Saint Louis Post Dispatch, which is copyrighted.  If you want to see it, you can look it up.) It’s a picture of Ozzie Smith waving to the crowd on opening day at Busch Stadium.  The headline reads:  “It’s a Holy Day of Obligation.”  Obviously, the headline writer hasn’t been inside a Catholic Church for a while.  It doesn’t look like this picture, either in the size or in the enthusiasm of the crowd on a Holy Day, or even on Sunday.;

 

Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”  The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad indeed.

 

Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing.

 

Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves.

 

[pause]

 

I want to close by looking back on the first reading from the book of Isiah.  Quoting God, Isiah says,
See I am doing something new.  Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.  Wild beasts honor me, jackals and ostriches, for I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, the people whom I formed for myself that they might announce my praise.”

 

We weren’t created to be gloomy and sad.  We were created to announce God’s praise so others could see us and want what we have.  We sing “Glory to God in the highest” and “hallowed be thy name” and give Him praise. The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.

 

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The Wisdom of Sirach, Chapter 2

“Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?”  What a great line!  It’s right in the middle of Chapter 2 (verse 10).  If we’re looking for a subject for medication, I think this verse is it.

There’s a lot more to this chapter, eighteen verses in fact.  But I’m going to leave you with just this one to think about.  If you’re hungry for more, here’s a link to the entire chapter.

The Wisdom of Sirach, Chapter 1

Thanks  for joining me today as we begin to explore the Book of Sirach, or the Wisdom of Sirach as it was once called.  The book begins with “Praise of Wisdom.”  Sirach tells us that “all wisdom comes from the Lord and with Him it remains forever.”

Wisdom was the first creation.  “To whom has wisdom’s root been revealed?”  The answer is pretty obvious..  “There is but one, wise and truly awe-inspiring, seated upon His throne;  It is the Lord; He created her, has seen her, and has taken note of her.”

Moving on to verse 12, we read that “the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, which is formed with the faithful in the womb.”  That certainly puts a different spin on the abortion debate, doesn’t it?  Wisdom is formed in the womb.

I’m going to stop there and suggest that you read the rest of Chapter 1 on your own.  Either find your Bible, or here’s a link to the USCCB page.  Either way, I think you’ll find plenty to think about without my commentary.  In fact, as we dig further into this amazing book, some days you won’t find any commentary at all, just Sirach’s words.

Please feel free to add your own comments below.

Ash Wednesday

Well,  here it is Ash Wednesday.  The warm-up to Lent.  I’ve never been quite sure about this, but in 2019, counting today, there are there are forty four days until Holy Thursday, the official end of Lent.  So where do we get forty days?  I’ve decided at this point to just stop worrying about it and accept it for what it is.

Anyway, I’ve decided this year to read the book of Sirach during Lent.  It works out nicely as there are 52 pages of Sirach in my Bible or just over 1.1 pages per day.  I chose Sirach because it is one of the most practical books in the Old Testament.  Originally called The Wisdom of Sirach,iIt’s full of good advice on how to live your life.  If you follow Sirach’s teaching you will be a better person for it.

The book was actually written by Jesus, Son of Eleazar, Son of Sirach.  (Yes, people in Old Testament times did name their kids Jesus, just as they do in Latin American countries today.)

The book was written in Hebrew between 200 and 175 BC.  It was translated into Greek sometime after 132 BC by the author’s grandson who included his own forward.

Sirach is not included in the Hebrew Bible after the first Century AD or in protestant Bibles, which is too bad.  The Catholic Church uses this book often in its Liturgy.

As Lent goes by, I will share parts of Sirach with you along with my thoughts.

Have a blessed Lent!

8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

This is my homily for the 8th week of Ordinary Time.  We seldom have an 8th week because Lent has usually started by the first of March, but this year we do.  So enjoy some readings that you may not have heard in a while.  

We live in a world of sound bites.  CBS claims to have “real news”. Those two four letter words mean a lot more than their ordinary meaning.  Fox News is “fair and balanced”. I don’t think anybody, even their biggest fans, believe that they don’t lean to the conservative side.  Coca Cola is the “real thing” .  Here in Saint Louis hockey fans bleed blue and we shop at Carroll House because we like nice things. KMOX is “the voice of Saint Louis,” Commercials tell us not to smell like Walter.

 

We have a President who communicates in 140 character tweets.  And most of us carry a telephone around in our pockets or purses even though we may never actually talk to anyone.  If I want to meet my wife for lunch I’ll send her a text message: Lunch? And she’ll reply: ok. Where & when? I’ll text her back Chick-Fil-A @ 1:00.  And she’ll answer back: ok. Seven words and two characters, assuming “ok” is a word. We have the most advanced communication system in history and nobody talks to anybody anymore.  We have to go to the history books to find the great presidential speeches. Imagine if Lincoln had had Twitter at Gettysburg.

 

Do you remember when you were in grade school?  Every year you’d get a new wooden ruler. It had the Golden Rule on it and was sponsored by Coke.  I went to a public school, so I don’t know if they do that anymore or not, but fifty years later I still remember those rulers.  On the front it said “A good rule…Do unto others as you wouldhave them do unto you.” Then on the back it said compliments of the Coca Cola Bottling Company.”  That was back when public schools and public corporations didn’t mind being associated with the Bible.ruler

For around ten bucks, plus shipping, you can buy one of those rulers on ebay.

But, this isn’t a new thing.  Oh, the technology may be new but sound bites date back to the time before Christ.  In the first reading today Sirach, who wrote from 200-175 BC, or about two centuries before Christ,  gives us four sound bites, three of them about speech.:

“When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks.”  We may not be familiar with a sieve, but it’s the way they used to separate the grain from the husks.  You’d put the grain in the sieve and shake it. The holes were a certain size and the grain would be separated from the husks.  Sirach is telling us that when we speak our faults fall out of our mouths just like the husks fall out of the sieve.

 

Then he tells us that:  “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had, so too does ones speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.”  This is a similar message to the first one and finally he says:”Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.”

 

It was either Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain who said “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”  Same thought, just expressed in a different way.

 

Saint Steven was the first deacon and also the first martyr.  He was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel. They told us in formation that Steven was doing just fine until he opened his mouth.

 

In the middle of the reading, Sirach goes off on a different track and says: “As the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace, so in tribulation is the test of the just.”  If you’ve ever gone to Silver Dollar City, chances you’ve watched the potters at work.  After they complete a piece it goes in the oven to be cured. If the clay isn’t right, the oven will crack it and destroy the piece.  So, tribulation will destroy us if our souls aren’t just.

 

If we turn to Luke’s Gospel, we find Jesus speaking in the same type of sound bite.  “Can a blind person lead a blind person?  Will not both fall into a pit.”  Two thousand years later this saying is part of our language.  How often have you heard someone say “that’s like the blind leading the blind.”  Of course Jesus’ meaning is a little deeper here. He’s not talking about two blind guys falling into a hole.  He’s talking about us following false prophets. How can someone lead you to heaven if they don’t know how to get there themselves.  We see these people on television on Sunday morning, but they’ve been around a lot longer than TV.

 

“No disciple is superior to the teacher but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.”  That one’s pretty obvious.

 

But then He asks the disciples a question.  “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”  Think about your basement at home.  Or, if you don’t have a basement, think about the attic.  Think about the wooden beams that hold the whole thing together.  Then imagine one of them sticking out of your eye. Go ahead. I’ll wait.  Got it? OK, now imagine trying to get a splinter out of someone else’s eye with that big beam sticking out of your eye.  You couldn’t even get close enough to see the splinter.

 

YOU HYPOCRITE!  Get your own house in order before you try to help somebody else.  Don’t be like the blind leading the blind.

 

Finally Luke takes us back to Sirach and talks about the quality of the tree producing good fruit.  “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil, for out ot the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

 

Have a great Lent!

 

Southern Baptist leader vows changes

after report alleges widespread abuse.

Let’s be clear about two things right at the outset.  First, I, in no way, mean to diss anyone’s faith tradition.  I was raised in the Southern Baptist Church and have no issue with the 70 million Americans who belong to the church.

Second, any abuse of any child, at any time, any place, by anyone is wrong, wrong, wrong.  There’s no justification for it and there’s certainly no justification for anyone covering it up.

Having said that, I bring this article to your attention for a couple of reasons.  First, it appeared on page 11 A of my local newspaper.  That’s the second-last page of the news section, after the obituaries.  Now maybe I’m getting paranoid, but I can’t help thinking that if the headline had read “Roman Catholic leader vows change”,  this AP article would have appeared on the front page.  Historically any time there’s an article about abuse involving the Catholic Church it always appears on page 1 A.  And any time there’s an article about abuse that doesn’t involve the Church, it gets buried.

The point of the article is that a report by the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle found about 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and workers who were accused of sexual misconduct since 1998.  Note that year:  1998.  This is recent stuff, folks.  In fact, quoting the article, “In 2008, a victim implored SBC leaders to track sexual predators, act against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers and establish prevention policies such as those adopted by other faiths, including the Roman Catholic Church.  (emphasis mine)  That request was rejected.

The point of this rant is that child sexual abuse is not a Catholic problem.  It’s societal problem that must be addressed by our society.  Have Catholic priests abused children?  There’s no doubt that they have.  But children have also been abused by ministers of other faiths, by teachers, and coaches, and scout leaders.  God help us, they’ve even been molested by their own parents.

The Catholic Church may be the organization best equipped to address this problem, but not as long as we’re thought to be the enemy.  The changes put in place are working.

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time–Ezra

Here’s my homily for this weekend,  Enjoy

 

People love stories.  We enjoy stories that entertain us and stories that teach us things.  Stories are powerful. The Book of the Gospels is full of stories about Jesus and stories Jesus told which we call parables.  Jesus parables make up roughly 30% of the New Testament. In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel the Apostles ask Jesus why He speaks to the people in parables.  Jesus answers that while they, the Apostles, know the secrets of God’s kingdom, the people aren’t ready yet so He must speak to them in parables.

 

For example, He could have told them to pray constantly, but they wouldn’t get it.  Instead He told them the story of the judge and the persistent widow. That they understood.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Here’s a more modern parable.  Some of us are cat people and some of us are dog people.   Some of us are neither. I happen to be a cat person. But suppose you don’t know anything about dogs or cats.  I could try to explain the difference or I could tell you a story.

 

A German shepherd, a doberman, and a cat die.  All three meet God and He wants to know what they believe in.  

 

The German shepherd says, “I believe in discipline, training, and loyalty to my master.”  God says “that’s good. You may sit at my right side.”

 

The doberman says, “”I believe in  the love, care, and protection of my master.  “Ah, God says, “you may sit at my left side.” Then God looks at the cat.  “And what do you believe?” The cat answers, “I believe you’re sitting in my seat.”

 

That’s the difference between dogs and cats.

 

Jan and I babysat our 18 month-old grandson last  night.  This morning he and Momo were reading this book. It’s by Dr, Seuss and it’s called “Mr, Brown Can Moo, Can You?” a typical, silly Dr, Seuss book.  You know one of the first things we teach little kids is animal sounds. You know, “the cow goes moo”. Well this book is full of all kinds of sounds and goofy pictures, and my grandson can repeat most of the sounds.

mr brown

 

But, l think if you just sat him down with a list of sounds, he probably wouldn’t get it nearly as fast as he’s gotten it from good old Dr, Seuss.  Again, stories are powerful.

 

In the first reading today from the Book of Nehemiah the Hebrew people have been in exile in Babylon for more than 100 years.  There’s nobody alive who remembers what it was like before they were captured. There are some people, like Ezra the priest who have kept the traditions alive, but to most of the people it’s just ancient history.  Living among the Babylonians for more than a century, most of the people have adopted the Babylonian lifestyle.

But, now they’re back.   They’ve returned to Jerusalem and Ezra has brought them all together, “all the men, the women, and all the children old enough to understand.”  They’re gathered in front of the Water Gate, which isn’t a hotel in Washington DC, but it’s the gap in the city wall where the water comes in. They’re outside in the sun and they’re going to need a lot of water.  Ezra is standing on a wooden platform that’s been built just for the occasion. He opens the scroll and begins to read from the Torah. Notice he read from dawn to midday, around six or seven hours. If you’re one of those people who think mass should never take more than 45 minutes, preferably less, think about that.  They stood out in the sun for six or seven hours. I told you they would need a lot of water,

 

They weren’t just standing around.  They had their hands raised high and were shouting “Amen!  Amen! Then they prostrated themselves on the ground. They were all weeping because they realized what they had been missing; how they had let the Lord down.  Have you ever cried at mass, other than maybe at a funeral? Has it ever occurred to you how undeserving you are of God’s love? Well, that’s how the people were feeling.

 

Then Nehemiah, who was governer, said to the people, “Don’t be sad.  Don’t weep! Today is holy to the Lord, your God. Rejoice in the Lord! Have a party!”  That was some powerful story that Ezra read to the people.

 

Now, normally this is where I would talk about the Gospel.  But since this week’s Gospel and next weeks are basically part 1 and 2 of the same story I’m just going to point out how Jesus reading from the scroll is just like Ezra’s doing it in the first reading and say again that there is tremendous power in stories.  This is the beginning of Luke’s Gospel and he addresses it to “most excellent Theophilus.” The word means “lover of God” so Luke probably isn’t writing to any particular person.

 

Jesus has returned after being tempted and today finds Himself in Nazareth, His home town.  He attends synagogue on the Sabbath and stands up and reads from the scroll just like Ezra had.  He finishes by telling His listeners “today this scripture reading is fulfilled in your hearing.”  But come back next weekend and you’ll hear that the outcome is very different. Stay tuned.