What makes for a practicing Catholic

I came across this post from Father Ron Holheiser O.F.M. and I thought it would be a good way to start Lent.  This is one of the best explanations on this topic I’ve ever seen.   Enjoy!

There’s a national phone-in show on radio in Canada that I try to catch whenever I can. Recently its topic for discussion was: Why do so few people go to church today? The question triggered a spirited response. Some called in and said that the churches were emptying because they were too progressive, too sold-out to the culture, too devoid of old, timeless truth. These calls would invariably be followed by others that suggested exactly the opposite, namely, that the churches are emptying because they are too slow to change, too caught up in old traditions that no longer make sense.

And so it went on, caller after caller, until one man phoned in and suggested that the real issue was not whether the church was too progressive or regressive. Rather, in his view, less and less people were going to church because “basically people treat their churches exactly the way they treat their own families; they want them around, but they don’t go home to visit them all that much!” The comment reminded me of Reginald Bibby, the Canadian sociologist of religion, who likes to quip: “People aren’t leaving their churches, they just aren’t going to them – and that is a difference that needs to be understood.”

Indeed it does. There is a difference between leaving a family and just not showing up regularly for its celebrations. This distinction in fact needs to shape the way we answer a number of important questions: Who belongs to the church? What makes for a practising Christian? When is someone’s relationship to the church mortally terminated? What does it mean to be outside the church? As well, this distinction impacts on the question as to who is entitled to receive the rites of baptism, eucharist, confirmation, marriage, and Christian burial.

People are treating their churches just like they treat their families. Isn’t that as it should be? Theologically the church is family – it’s not like family, it is family. A good ecclesiology then has to look to family life to properly understand itself (the reverse of course is also true). Now if we place the questions we just posed within the context of family life, we have there, I believe, the best perspective within which to answer them. Thus, inside of our families: Who is in and who is out? When does someone cease being a “practicing” member of a family? Does someone cease to be a member of a family because he or she doesn’t come home much any more? Do we refuse to give a wedding for a son or daughter just because he or she, caught up in youth and self-interest, hasn’t come home the last couple of years for Easter and Christmas? Not exactly abstract questions!

Many of us have children and siblings who for various reasons, at this stage of their lives, largely use the family for their own needs and convenience. They want the family around, but on their terms. They want the family for valued contact at key moments (weddings, births of children, funerals, anniversaries, birthdays, and so on) but they don’t want a relationship to it that is really committed and regular. A lot of families are like that. They understand this, accept it, swallow hard sometimes, and remain a family despite it. In any extended family, it’s natural that, while everyone is a member of the family, there will be different levels of participation. Some will give more, others will take more. Some, by virtue of maturity, will carry most of the burden – they will arrange the dinners, pay for them, keep inviting the others, do most of the work, and take on the task of trying to preserve the family bond and ethos. Others, because of youthful restlessness, immaturity, self-interest, confusion, peer-pressure, laziness, anger, whatever, will carry less, take the family for granted, and buy in largely on their own terms. That describes most families and is also a pretty accurate description of most churches. There are different levels of participation and maturity, but there is only one church and that church, like any family, survives precisely because some members are willing to carry more of the burden than others. Those others, however, except for more exceptional circumstances, do not cease being members of the family. They ride on the grace of the others, literally. It’s how family works; how grace works; how church works.

Church must be understood as family: Certain things can put you out of the family, true. However, in most families, simple immaturity, hurt, confusion, distraction, laziness, youthful sexual restlessness, and self-preoccupation – the reasons why most people who do not go to church stay away – do not mortally sever your connection. You remain a family member. You don’t cease being “a practicing member” of the family because for a time you aren’t home very much. Families understand this. Ecclesial family, church, I believe, needs to be just as understanding.

8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Hopefully, if you were here last weekend you got a copy of this book, Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly. If not, please take one home today. It’s an excellent book for Lent because there are almost 40 chapters and the chapters are short, making it easy to read a chapter every day.

 

Now, Lent is supposed to be a time for penance so it may seem odd to read a book about happiness during these forty days. It’s especially odd when today’s Gospel cautions us not to worry about our lives. Jesus asks us, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” But do food and clothing make us happy? I suppose they do on a short-term, superficial level. But what is REAL happiness, the kind of happiness that Kelly writes about?

 

Kelly’s happiness revolves around daily prayer and meditation, exercise, and all the other things that we know are good for us. But if those things are good for us and make us happy, who in their right mind would resist them? The answer is every single one of us. We’re all guilty of putting off things that make us happy, usually in favor of some other thing that makes us happy for just a short time.

 

Our Responsorial Psalm today says, “Only in God is my soul at rest.” We know that’s true yet how often are we distracted by something of little or no value. Take the Internet, for example. There are a lot of good things about the Internet. It makes it possible for us to communicate instantly with people all over the world. The web can answer just about any question we can think of. I use it every week to research homilies. But I also waste a lot of time with stuff that does me no good at all. I get very easily distracted. One page leads to another and before I know it I’m nowhere near where I started. Sometimes I get so far off the track that I can’t even remember where I started.

 

Facebook, and Twitter, and all the other social media sites can be huge time wasters. I like to keep up with my kids and grandkids, but I have dozens of so-called friends who I’ve never met and in some cases don’t even know who they are.

 

We can talk about television and a lot of other time-wasters, but the point is that they intrude into our day because they’re pleasant diversions. They make us happy for a little while but they take time away from things that will give us long-term happiness. That’s what Kelly is talking about in Resisting Happiness.

 

There’s also a negative side to all this. How often do we do things that we KNOW aren’t good for us. When we drink too much, or eat too much, or smoke too much, we’re letting short-term pleasure rob us of our better judgment.

 

Paul writes to the Corinthians that it doesn’t bother him if he’s judged by them or by any human tribunal. He says he doesn’t even judge himself. But we all know that when someone passes judgment on us it hurts. We don’t like it. So we often don’t do anything so we can avoid being judged. My life was much easier when I didn’t preach. In the twelve years I’ve been privileged to preach the Gospel I’ve been called on the carpet a few times because somebody didn’t like what I said. I’ve been called names and even threatened. The easiest path for me would be to avoid any controversial subjects. The absence of conflict would add to my short-term happiness. But I wouldn’t be doing my job.

 

If I stand up here and tell you that everything you’re doing is fine, that you don’t need to change anything, that would make you happy. But is that really why you come to church? Or do you want to be challenged to be the best version of your self? I hope it’s the latter or we might as well all stay home.

 

So, what’s the solution? To get Kelly’s answer you’re going to have to read the book. But, if you want my answer, here it is. It’s the third step of the twelve step program. “We made a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to God.”

 

We all have a God-sized hole in our souls that must be filled. If God’s not there then we’re going to turn to something else. Whether it’s drugs, or alcohol, or gambling, or the Internet, we have to find something to take up that space. We human beings are always looking for answers. We want to be happy. We want to be fulfilled. What’s the answer? It’s in our Responsorial Psalm. “Only in God is my soul at rest.”

Blog readers, you can get a copy of Matthew’s book, Resisting Happiness, by clicking on this link.

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

In 1980 a country music singer/songwriter named Mac Davis wrote a song called “Oh Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble.” The song was a big hit on the country charts and on the Top 40 charts, too. It was a parody song. The rest of the first line goes like this. “Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. Today’s readings all remind us that humility is very important, even though it may be hard.

 

For one thing, we have to understand what humility is. It’s not insecurity. It’s not being unsure of ourselves. Humility is understanding that we were created by God to be part of His plan. We are His coworkers. He’s given each of us our own set of gifts. Humble doesn’t mean we can’t achieve great things. It does mean that we have to give God credit for all the gifts He’s given us.

 

The first reading today begins, “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who have observed His law; seek justice, seek humility” and maybe you’ll be “sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.”

 

In the 2nd reading Paul writes to the Corinthians (and to us) “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”

 

“Whoever boasts should boast in the Lord.”

 

It’s so easy, especially in our materialistic age, to get caught up in the idea that we’re better than someone else because we’re smarter, or better looking, or because we make more money, have a bigger house and better car.

 

Sure we all want those things, and it’s certainly ok to live in a nice house or drive a nice car if we can afford it. But we have to remember that those things don’t make us better than anybody else. And, if we spend our money on those things and neglect charity to those who don’t have so much, then we have a problem. If you’re driving a Mercedes to mass and putting five bucks in the collection basket every week, you might want to reconsider your priorities.

 

Our faith is full of what seem too be contradictions as we see in today’s Gospel. The famous Beatitudes are one contradictory sentence after another. Jesus tells us that all these people who we see as disadvantaged are really blessed. It’s all about humility. The people Jesus describes have every reason to be humble and for that they will be blessed.

 

If you fall into any of these categories, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” Be humble because everything you have is a gift from God and it could all be taken away from you in an instant.

 

I think the biggest sin against humility is when we think that we know better than God, or that we can put one over on God. We may be His partners in the Divine Plan, but we’re most definitely junior partners. Sometimes we forget that He sees everything and knows everything. We fall into the trap of sin when we think “just this once won’t hurt. I can take home office supplies from work and nobody’s ever going to know.” There are any number of sins that we might consider “victimless crimes” but whenever we sin there’s always a victim, usually it’s us. When we talk about others behind their backs, we may think we’re building ourselves up by tearing them down, but we’re not. We’re making ourselves look small and God is always listening. Remember “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” is all about humility,

 

Take today’s readings to heart. Appreciate everything God has given us and be ready to share it whenever the need arises. Remember that none of this is our doing. We all have our own gifts and there’s a reason they’re called gifts. They’ve been given to us….freely by a loving Father. If you must boast…boast in the Lord.

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time                        January 22, 2017

You probably know that our weekly readings, our daily readings too, come in sets. They go together. Part of my job, and Father’s job is to figure out why they go together and offer you our words of wisdom, guided by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it’s hard, especially if we try to put too many of our own ideas into it. Sometimes it’s easy. Today’s readings are easy.

 

In the Gospel, Matthew refers back to the first reading, from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah tells us, “First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun
and the land of Naphtali; but in the end he has glorified the seaward road,
the land west of the Jordan, the District of the Gentiles.”

 

In Matthew’s Gospel he tells us that Jesus heard about John’s arrest and “He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet
might be fulfilled”.
Jesus glorified Capernaum just by being there.

 

What was Isaiah’s prophesy? “Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness: for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”
Jesus was the light.

 

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. How many times have we sung the song “City of God?”

 

 Awake from your slumber! Arise from your sleep!
A new day is dawning for all those who weep.
The people in darkness have seen a great light.
The Lord of our longing has conquered the night.

Let us build the city of God.
May our tears be turned into dancing.
For the Lord our light and our love has turned the night into day.

A side note, the song was written by Dan Schutte, a member of the Saint Louis Jesuits, right down the street at Saint Louis U. Ironically, Schutte is no longer a Jesuit.

 

Anyway, we’re seeing here that God can turn dark into light; night into day.

 

In between the first reading and the Gospel we have Paul writing to the Corinthians, complaining about the divisions among them. The Corinthians also seem to be living in darkness. “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”

 

Is Paul speaking to the Corinthians? Or is he speaking to us? Maybe both. Yesterday we inaugurated a new president and we are definitely a divided country. It’s pretty clear that we’re not heeding Paul’s words. One thing we all need to keep in mind is that Donald Trump is the 45th president of the United States. At most he’ll hold the office for eight years. The REAL leader of our country is hanging up on that cross. He’s the King. He rules everything. Always has…always will. Human leaders serve at His pleasure.

 

God has a plan and we have no idea what it is. All we know is that we’re all part of the plan and it will play itself out according to HIS will, not yours, or mine, or Donald Trump’s. It’s no coincidence that on this inauguration weekend that God tells us, through Saint Paul’s writing, that we must be united in the same purpose.

 

It doesn’t matter if we’re Democrats or Republicans, Christians or Jews, black or white, we must be united in the same mind and the same purpose. The United States is the greatest country in the history of the world, but we’re slipping badly because we’re not listening to God’s word. It’s time that we stopped fighting with one another and worked together for the good of all.

 

“Let us build the city of God.
May our tears be turned into dancing.
For the Lord our light and our love has turned the night into day.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

What I’m going to say today may make some of you mad. If so, I’m sorry. But the word “Gospel” means truth and my job is to tell you the truth, so that’s what I’m going to do.

 

In just over a week and a half, we’ll be asked to vote in an historic election. For several weeks Father and I have been receiving letters and emails from the Church telling us what we can and can’t do or say before we all go to the polls. We recently got a 2-page document called “Is It Legal? What Churches Can and Cannot Do During Elections.”

 

The gist of the thing is that a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization (that’s us) can’t support or oppose a candidate for public office under the threat of losing our tax-exempt status. Some of the things we can’t do are to give a homily urging you to vote for or against a particular candidate or label a candidate in the bulletin as pro or anti-abortion (I’ll come back to that one in a minute) We also can’t distribute materials or allow others to distribute pamphlets on church property. There are some other things, but I think you get the point.

 

Not to be outdone, the US Conference of Bishops, who never use a single word when a paragraph will say the same thing, has issued their own 42 page document called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” which says exactly the same thing, “don’t tell ‘em who to vote for”.

 

But, here’s the thing. There is a way around this, and I quote: “It should be noted that the Internal Revenue Code applies to tax-exempt corporations and not to individuals. Individuals are free to participate in the political process, to endorse and support candidates.   Individuals who are officials of a tax-exempt organization, however, should make it clear when speaking publically that their endorsement and support is being made in their individual capacity, not on behalf of the tax-exempt organization.”

 

So, let me be clear. What you’re hearing today is me, not Saint John Nepomuk Chapel.

 

Normally I wouldn’t wade into such deep water but several things are different about this election cycle and I think they’re worth talking about. One is that a lot of prominent Catholic clergy have spoken out about our choice next month. Among them are Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, RI Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Archbishop Kurtz of Louisville who is President of the US Conference of Bishops and local boy made good, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York.

 

As you probably know, Wikileaks has released a batch of emails from Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Among them are several from Clinton campaign operatives bashing the Catholic Church. Here’s what Cardinal Dolan had to say: “The remarks attributed to John Podesta, who is Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff, are just extraordinarily patronizing and insulting to Catholics. What he would say is offensive. And if it had been said about the Jewish community, if it had been said about the Islamic community, within 10 minutes there would have been an apology.” As of today, there has been no apology. In fact, Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate, who claims to be a devout Catholic said on FOX News, “I don’t think an apology is necessary because what they were essentially getting at here was just a difference in opinion with the Catholic hierarchy.” 

 

That “difference of opinion” includes calling the Church medieval and sexist. It also calls for a “Catholic spring”, a revolution within the Church to change its views. This is an obvious reference to the Arab Spring.  The Arab Spring was a revolutionary wave of both violent and non-violent demonstrations, protests, riots, coups and civil wars.

 

So, speaking for myself, and not as Saint John Nepomuk Chapel, I think that if (1) the Clinton campaign has attacked our Church and (2) if Bishops, Archbishops, and even a Cardinal have spoken out, then the IRS probably isn’t going to come after a lowly deacon. Besides, since this church has been operating in the red for years, there’s nothing for them to tax.

 

Mrs. Clinton, herself, in a speech to a women’s group said that we (Catholics and Evangelical Christians) were just going to have to change our religious views. “Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.” Seriously, that’s what she said. And here I thought our Constitution guaranteed religious freedom. Silly me.

 

Of course, all this controversy involves abortion. Mrs. Clinton has pledged to uphold and even increase the availability of abortion throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy. She has also promised to overturn the Hyde Amendment which means our tax dollars would be used to pay for all those abortions. Mr. Kaine, her allegedly Catholic running mate has used the tired liberal cliché, “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but I don’t feel like I can impose my views on others.” Maybe somebody should send this guy a copy of the Catechism. Here’s what it says, “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.” And, “Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.”

 

The Church tells us that “formal cooperation” includes passing laws that legalize abortion and voting for so-called “pro-choice” candidates.

 

Granted, neither major party candidate is perfect. Donald Trump’s stand on immigration and keeping certain immigrants out of the country based on their religious beliefs is contrary to Church teaching. But he’s never attacked our Church and, while he’s not said a lot about abortion one way or the other, he’s not promised to make abortion easier to get, or to make you and me pay for it.

 

And, it’s important for all of us to remember that in four or even eight years, our next president will make appointments that will shape the Supreme Court, and all courts, for decades. As Catholic Christians we need to step up and defend our rights or we may wake up one day and find we don’t have any rights.

 

I don’t expect anyone to vote one way or the other because I said so. In fact, your vote is between you and God. All I’m asking you to do is pray about this before you vote. Ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit. And do your homework. Go online and Google “Clinton and abortion” or “Clinton and Catholic”. You’ll be amazed at what you find. This election will shape our country for decades. Please take it seriously and don’t sit it out.

 

 

 

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

FAITH!  All of our readings today speak of faith.  But what exactly is “faith”?  The dictionary definition is the belief in something that can’t be proven.  We can’t prove that Jesus rose from the dead, so if we believe it that means we have faith.  But, there are other kinds of faith.  Even atheists have faith in something, even if it’s misplaced faith that there is no God.

 

I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow in the eastern sky.  I can’t prove it.  But my experience of almost 65 years is that it rises every day so it must surely rise tomorrow.  But there are a lot of crazy people in this world who have the capability of blowing up the planet if they decide to, so there’s at least a small possibility that there won’t be a tomorrow, let alone a sun rise, at least here on earth.

 

It could also be cloudy and overcast tomorrow so we can’t see the sun.  But even under the heaviest clouds, some light gets through so we know the sun’s up there somewhere.

 

Closer to home, I have faith that when I leave here today and head down Highway 55 toward home that someone won’t be coming the wrong way and hit me head on.  That faith is a little weaker, because I know it does happen.  I’m having faith in my fellow motorists which isn’t quite as strong as my faith in God or the cycles of the universe.

 

Even animals have some faith.  If you feed your dog everyday at 8 in the morning, you know he’s going to be waiting for you at 7:59 tomorrow.  As far as your pet is concerned, you’re god in his world and he has faith in you.

 

So, what’s Jesus telling us today.  If we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move trees with just our voices.  A mustard seed is pretty small.  If I were to hold one up even you people in the front row probably couldn’t see it.  But this teeny-small seed can produce a fairly large tree; one tall enough for you to sit under it and enjoy the shade.

 

I’d like to think my faith is bigger than that little seed, but frankly I don’t believe that I can tell a tree to move and that it will obey.  Of course we live in modern times.  I guess if I had a friend with a bulldozer and I told him to move a tree, technically I’d be moving the tree with my voice, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.  After all, He did like to speak in parables and use examples.

 

I believe what he’s telling us is that He can move trees with just a command.  And, if we have enough faith in Him, He will hear our prayers and move the big things in our lives.  Maybe not trees, but there are a lot of other obstacles that seem just as stubborn that He can move for us if we ask.  But, if we don’t believe that He answers our prayers, there’s a pretty good chance that He won’t.

Look at our own church as an example.  In 1870 I think most people around here gave the Bohemian founders of Saint John’s zero chance of building a magnificent house of worship.  Frankly the locals weren’t crazy about the new immigrants.  Some of them probably secretly hoped that the Czechs would fail.  The odds were against them.  What did they know about building a church?  They didn’t have a lot of money.  But they did build it.  And their neighbors were amazed!  The day it was dedicated was a HUGE celebration.  They had done something that seemed to be impossible.  They had moved the sycamore tree.

 

Then just 26 years later a tornado destroyed their beautiful church.  They could have given up, but they didn’t.  They rebuilt it bigger and better than ever. And I’m as sure as I’m standing here that their faith, and their prayers, were just as important, if not more important than the skill of the builders who did the actual labor.

 

That’s what’s lacking today.  It’s no secret that our country is in a mess.  Unemployment is high.  Terrorists are running wild. Crime is a huge problem. Politicians on both sides of the aisle find it impossible to sit down and come up with workable solutions to these problems.  What went wrong?  I believe it’s a lack of faith.  If every Christian in America, whether they’re Catholics, or main-stream protestants, or fundamentalists, would forget our differences and get down on our knees to pray for our country, there would be a miracle.  And let’s not leave out the Jews and the Muslims and everybody else who believes in the Almighty.  Right now our churches, regardless of faith tradition, should be standing-room-only.

 

But so many people have lost their faith in God that they don’t have faith in anything else either.  Who really believes that our present government, and I’m talking about both parties, can solve our problems?    If we don’t have faith in God, how can we have faith in men?

 

Our politicians are so busy trying to blame the other guys, that nothing gets done.  We’re about to elect a new President. Frankly, neither candidate is very good. It’s going to come down to which one the fewest people don’t like and the majority of people don’t trust either one of them. The same is true right down the line all the way to the local races. Neither side wants to admit that they’re part of the problem.  It’s all about blaming somebody else.

 

We all have to take a look in the mirror on this one.  How often have we said, “it’s not my fault.” ….when it really is?

 

We all know about Adam and Eve.  They sinned.  You ask somebody what they did and they’ll say they sinned.  How did they sin?  They ate the apple.  Everybody knows that.  God told them not to eat the apple but they ate it anyway.  But that wasn’t the real sin.

 

What did Adam say to God when He caught him red-handed with the apple core in his hand?  He said, “It’s not my fault.  That woman you gave me made me do it.”  Then God confronted Eve, standing there with apple juice running down her chin.  What did she say?  “It’s not my fault.  That serpent that you made, tricked me.”

 

Eating the apple, disobeying God, may have been sinful.  But what do we know about God?  He forgives sins.  If Adam had said, “Lord, I’m sorry I disobeyed you.  I shouldn’t have eaten that fruit.”, he might still living in the garden.  If Eve had admitted her sin and that she had talked Adam into eating the apple with her, and then asked for forgiveness, she might still be in the garden with him.

 

No the worst sin was refusing to take responsibility for their own actions.  That’s what got them thrown out of paradise.  And yet, so many people today think they’re going to get INTO paradise after committing the same sin, not just once, but over and over again.

 

God will forgive our sins if we ask Him to, and if we have faith, even faith as small as a mustard seed, He will.

 

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

the-good-placeThere’s a new show on NBC called “The Good Place”.   I don’t think it’s ever going to be called great television, but it’s kind of cute. The idea is that this young woman, Eleanor, played by Kristen Bell, has died and gone to the “good place”. But there’s been a mistake. In life Eleanor was kind of a jerk and doesn’t deserve to be in the “good place”,

 

Her presence in the good place is causing some kind of a disturbance in the atmosphere and Eleanor has to clean up her act before anyone finds out what’s happened and she gets sent to the “bad place”.

 

Like I said, the show is cute, but besides not being great television, it’s also not great theology. No one ever mentions God and the words “heaven” and “hell” are never used. In fact, they don’t talk a lot about the “bad place” except to play a sound bite where there’s a lot of screaming and wailing. Eleanor is told that that’s what’s happening right now in the bad place.

 

There are some good things about this show. One is Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are very good. Another thing is that it’s a show about morality, which is rare today in prime-time television. As hard as Eleanor tries, it’s impossible to curse in “the good place”. Her mentor and “soul mate” is trying to educate her on ethics and morality so she can stay. And, even though the show isn’t very good theology, it’s kind of Catholic in it’s approach to heaven and hell. Overall, it’s a better use of thirty minutes than a lot of other things on television. It’s only been on twice so we’ll have to see how it develops and if it can get and hold an audience with it’s morality message.

 

Eleanor’s story is a little bit like the story of the rich man in today’s Gospel though Luke’s story is much more disturbing. Here we have a rich man who lived high on the hog when he was alive and would have nothing to do with Lazurus, the poor man who was lying at his door. Now they’ve both died and Lazurus has been carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham while the rich man is in torment in the netherworld. Luke tells us he is suffering in the flames.

 

The image is disturbing because it’s a very graphic description of what could happen to us. lazarusIt’s one of the few times in the New Testament when hell is described in such graphic detail. Yes, I said the h-word. Hell. The netherworld. The bad place. It’s something we don’t like to think about. But, here it is in black and white. It IS a possibility.

 

So what does the rich man do? He tries to use Lazurus. “Send him to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Even now he doesn’t get it. Then, when Abraham tells him that it’s not going to happen, he wants Lazurus sent to his father and brothers to warn them of what could happen to them, again taking advantage of the poor man. But Abraham tells the rich man, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to THEM.”

 

This is another disturbing thought for us. We also have Moses and the prophets. The first reading today is from Amos, one of the greatest of all the prophets, telling us “Woe to the complacent.” Are you complacent? Or do you take eternity seriously? The readings today are meant to shake us out of our complacency. How much more warning do we need? The reading ends with the very ominous passage, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

 

One thing about today’s Gospel story that I find interesting is that after 2,000 years we know the poor man’s name; Lazurus. But we don’t know the rich man’s name. He must have been important in this life, otherwise he wouldn’t have been rich. But today we have no idea who he was. His story is important to us but his identity isn’t.