30th Sunday of Ordinary Time–To Love the Lord

We’ve heard this Gospel many times.  “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  We’re also to love our neighbors as ourselves.

 

Loving God sounds like a good idea.  After all, God gives us everything.  He created a perfect world for us in the Garden of Eden.  But then He created Adam, and everything got messed up.  Imagine being in Adam’s place.  Everything around him was perfect.  God said to him, “I’ve created all of this just for you.  You have perfect surroundings and perfect knowledge of all of it.  I love you and want you to be happy.  Oh, there’s just one thing.  See that tree over there; the one with the red fruit?  You can’t have that.  Stay away from it.  You don’t need it because you have everything else.”

 

Well, guess what?  Adam, being human like the rest of us, couldn’t resist.  He had to taste the red fruit.  So he did.  And here we are.  See, Adam didn’t trust God, and love and trust are opposite sides of the same coin.  We can’t love someone we don’t trust.  Just like you and me, Adam had free will and he chose to not trust God.  “The creator must be holding back something from me if He says I have to leave that one tree alone.”

 

You know the rest of the story.  Adam ate of the tree and got himself, and us, thrown out of the Garden.  It’s what we call original sin.  You and I didn’t eat from the tree, but we inherited Adam’s sinfulness; his lack of trust.

 

The world’s still perfect.  The trees and the rocks and the birds and the other animals are all exactly as God created them to be.  The only creature in all of the universe who isn’t perfect is man.  So, even though the world is perfect, our species has gone astray.  Our sins impose imperfection on God’s perfect world.

 

But what does Jesus tell us?  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  How do we do that?  It’s hard enough to love someone you can see, and hear, and touch.  How do we love someone we’ve never seen?  I think first, unlike Adam, we have to trust God completely, and how many of us really do that?  God sent His Son to save us from our sins.  He left us a Church, the Roman Catholic Church.  He promised that the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail against it.  He said to Peter and the other apostles, “Whoever hears you hears me.”  He gave them the power to forgive sins on His behalf.  That’s our Church.  That’s what we believe in.  Or is it?  When Jesus gave the Apostles the authority to speak for Him, that was His guarantee to us.  But how many of us, myself included, have never been Catholic buts?  Catholic buts are easy to recognize.  They’ll say, “I’m a loyal Catholic but…..” and proceed to explain all the Church teachings they don’t agree with.  Another name for Catholic buts is cafeteria Catholics.

 

Loving the Lord, our God, means loving His Church and accepting its teachings, not just some of them, but all of them 100% of the time.  It’s trusting God to insure that our Popes and Bishops don’t lead us astray.  That’s our faith and we’ll profess it here in just a few minutes.

 

Jesus is God.  He promised us that when His Bishops, including His Popes, speak definitively on matters of faith and morals, they’re speaking for Him.  If you believe that any of the Church’s teachings are wrong, then Jesus must have been lying.  I don’t know about any of you other parents, but don’t tell me you love me then call one of my kids a liar.  That ain’t gonna fly.

 

We also show our love of God by assenting to His will.  Like I’ve said before God wants each of us to be the best version of ourselves we can be.  Like our many saints represented by the statues here in church, we each have a unique calling to live a life of heroic virtue.  If God has chosen you to be a parent, then He wants you to be the best parent you can be.  Not the best parent in the world (whatever that is) but the best parent YOU can be.

 

For example, I’m not good at building things.  When my boys were growing up, every year the Cub Scouts would have their Pine Wood Derby and every year they would be embarrassed by their ugly, slow cars.  I’d really feel like a failure as a parent when my son would come in last….again.

 

Now that my kids are all grown up, I realize that I WAS the best parent I could be.  I made a decent living.  I sent them to Catholic schools.  Jan and I are still married after 43 years.  Just because some of the other dads could build spiffy wooden cars, it didn’t mean that I was a failure as a father.  One year my son Patrick’s car didn’t even make it all the way down the ramp.  The other day he was awarded a PhD in atmospheric science.  I guess his dad’s lack of car-building skill didn’t scar him too badly.

 

Another way we show our love of God is in our worship.  We come to mass at least once a week to give Him thanks and praise.  I hate the term “Sunday obligation”.  It implies something we HAVE TO do.  That’s not the point.  The point is that if we truly love God we want to come to mass.  Wild horses shouldn’t be able to keep us away.  Remember our ancestors, not the ones who built this church, but the ones who lived someplace other than the United States.  Some of them risked their lives to attend mass.  That’s faith and that’s love of God.

 

Finally, we love God by loving one another.  Today is Mission Sunday.  It’s a day when we’re reminded of how much so many of our brothers and sisters have given up to do what Jesus has called them to do.  Missionaries go to every corner of the world preaching the Gospel by their words and by their actions.

 

Everybody’s not called to that kind of life.  But some are, and love of God requires us to support them both financially and with our prayers.  300 years ago Saint Louis was settled by missionaries.  We were a mission territory.  Today we send missionaries to all parts of the world.  They spread the Good News to people who may have never heard of Jesus and while they’re at it, they provide education, food, and medical care to the local people just like those early missionaries did here in Saint Louis.

 

I know you’ll be generous in our second collection, and I know you’ll keep our missionaries in your prayers.  It’s one more way that we can love the Lord, our God, with all our hearts, and all our souls, and with all our minds.”

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Serandon Calls Holy Father a “Nazi”

Actress (and I use the term loosely) Susan Serandon said in a recent interview that Pope Benedict XVI is a “Nazi”.  Here’s a link to the story from CBS News.  In speaking of Pope John Paul II, she clarified that she was referring to the former Pope, “”Not this Nazi one we have now.”  Bill Donahue of the Catholic League responded that “”it is very hard to find someone dumber” than Sarandon.”

The best response to her comments would be “who cares?”  Serandon’s best days as an actress are behind her.  Obviously this is a publicity stunt.  Like they say, “any publicity is good publicity,” and she needs all she can get.  Why any entertainment figure feels qualified to speak on serious issues is a mystery.  Having the ability to pretend that you’re someone else makes you an expert on nothing.  Serandon’s opinion means has no value whatsoever.

You might wonder if the actress isn’t afraid of a backlash by Catholic movie-goers.  I doubt if she’s too worried.  Sadly, rank-and-file American Catholics aren’t known for sticking up for the faith.  If we love God and His Church we should be outraged by Serandon’s comments and refuse to ever spend our hard-earned money on anything that carries her name.

Sadly, it’s a well-known fact that anti-Catholicism is about the only prejudice that can be practiced in the public square with little or no fear of reprisal.  TV, movies, and main stream media are full of anti-Catholicism every day.

I’m not sure what it’s going to take to make Catholics mad.  If a has-been actress referring to Christ’s representative on earth as a “nazi”, the embodiment of evil, killers of millions of our Jewish brothers and sisters, doesn’t rile us up, I don’t know what will.

OK, if you’re not a baseball fan this story may not mean much to you.  It was Game 3 of the National League Division Series when a squirrel came from out of nowhere, ran across home plate, and disappeared into the stands.  This shouldn’t be a big surprise.  Baseball is played outdoors (or, at least it should be) and outdoors is where you find squirrels.  This particular furry critter’s timing may have been exceptional, but a squirrel is a squirrel is a squirrel.  We have some very bright (in squirrel terms) squirrels at my church.  These guys come to the door of the rectory and beg for nuts.

Here’s the thing.  Saint Louis baseball fans have gone crazy over “Rally Squirrel”.  You’d be hard pressed to find a stuffed squirrel within a hundred miles of Saint Louis.  There are “Rally Squirrel” shirts and hats everywhere.  At last night’s game there was someone in a giant squirrel head wearing a
Cardinal uniform with “Rally Squirrel” across the back.  It’s a real phenomenon.  Major League Baseball has even edited their “Legends are born in October” ad campaign to include our furry friend.

Don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  A lot of the RS swag is being sold by charities as a way to raise money.  Some purists might argue that the game’s the thing.  Isn’t October baseball exciting enough without stuffed squirrels.  And, how does Fredbird feel about all this?  There are good arguments on both sides.

But I can’t help wondering, what if Jesus showed up at Bush Stadium?  Would he generate the same enthusiasm as a furry rodent with good PR?  After all, He did show up on earth once and got crucified.  Don’t think I’m comparing the Son of God to a squirrel, I’m not.  What I’m comparing is human reactions.  As Catholics we believe that Jesus shows up at every mass.  That’s not an act of a beast with a brain the size of my thumb.  It’s the work of God.  Would that most of us could work up even a tenth of the enthusiasm for the appearance of the Word made Flesh.

I’m just sayin’….  Where are the Jesus T-Shirts?  Where are the Jesus hats?  Doesn’t the Lord deserve more attention than a squirrel at a ball game?  Don’t forget, in 1999, the Pope, Jesus right-hand-man on earth helped the Rams win the Super Bowl.  Now THAT was a miracle.

Rally Squirrel

OK, if you’re not a baseball fan this story may not mean much to you.  It was Game 3 of the National League Division Series when a squirrel came from out of nowhere, ran across home plate, and disappeared into the stands.  This shouldn’t be a big surprise.  Baseball is played outdoors (or, at least it should be) and outdoors is where you find squirrels.  This particular furry critter’s timing may have been exceptional, but a squirrel is a squirrel is a squirrel.  We have some very bright (in squirrel terms) at my church.  These guys come to the door of the rectory and beg for nuts.

Here’s the thing.  Saint Louis baseball fans have gone crazy over “Rally Squirrel”.  You’d be hard pressed to find a stuffed squirrel within a hundred miles of Saint Louis.  There are “Rally Squirrel” shirts and hats everywhere.  At last night’s game there was someone in a giant squirrel head wearing a
Cardinal uniform with “Rally Squirrel” across the back.  It’s a real phenomenon.  Major League Baseball has even edited their “Legends are born in October” ad campaign to include our furry friend.

Don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  A lot of the RS swag is being sold by charities as a way to raise money.  Some purists might argue that the game’s the thing.  Isn’t October baseball exciting enough without stuffed squirrels.  And, how does Fredbird feel about all this?  There are good arguments on both sides.

But I can’t help wondering, what if Jesus showed up at Bush Stadium?  Would he generate the same enthusiasm as a furry rodent with good PR?  After all, He did show up on earth once and got crucified.  Don’t think I’m comparing the Son of God to a squirrel, I’m not.  What I’m comparing is human reactions.  As Catholics we believe that Jesus shows up at every mass.  That’s not an act of a beast with a brain the size of my thumb.  It’s the work of God.  Would that most of us could work up even a tenth of the enthusiasm for the appearance of the Word made Flesh.

I’m just sayin’….  Where are the Jesus T-Shirts?  Where are the Jesus hats?  Doesn’t the Lord deserve more attention than a squirrel at a ball game?  Don’t forget, in 1999, the Pope, Jesus right-hand-man on earth helped the Rams win the Super Bowl.  Now THAT was a miracle.

I think I put together a pretty good homily for this week.  I say that because when I came down here Friday for a wedding rehearsal, I picked up a copy of this week’s bulletin and there was my homily right on the front.  For example, here’s what I was going to say:  “For the last few weeks, our Sunday Gospels have been parables.  Some were pretty straight forward, others not so much.”

 

Ms. Esker, the author of this week’s bulletin cover wrote:  “Sometimes Jesus’ words can seem quite vague to us; at other times he makes his point with extreme clarity. For the past three Sundays, Jesus has used parables to indict the religious leaders for their self-righteousness, and so on.

 

There you go.  You read the bulletin and I’ll go sit down…..  No, I’m kidding.  I’m not going to let you off that easy.  Even though Ms. Esker and I agree on the clarity thing, I think we may both be wrong.  In fact, Jesus is hardly ever clear about what He means.

 

In Jesus’ story the man who wasn’t prepared was thrown out of the banquet, into the dark where there will be “wailing and grinding of teeth.”  OK, we get that.  Heaven is a good place.  Hell is a bad place.  But we don’t really know what either place is like and we’re not quite sure what we have to do to be prepared.

 

Week before last, I went on retreat with two other deacons.  One day we were talking about this very subject.  What is it like in hell?  Is there fire and brimstone.  Scriptures do talk about a “fiery furnace”.  But we all agreed that just knowing that we would be separated from God for all eternity would be more suffering than we could bear.  The fact is that we just don’t know what it’s like and we all pray that we never find out first hand.

 

Then there’s the big question.  How do we get into heaven and avoid hell?  We all know what we’re supposed to do.  Jesus told us to love the Lord our God and to love one another as ourselves.  But we’re human and we don’t always do what we’re supposed to do.

 

We know that God is just and we also know He’s merciful.  But how does He balance justice and mercy.  Face it, for most of us, if God is truly just, we’re in serious trouble.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I deserve to go to heaven.  I try to do His will, but I don’t always do it.  There are a lot of people who deserve to go to heaven more than I do.  So, if God is just, they should get in and I should stay out.  The king in the parable didn’t show any mercy to the guy who was unprepared.  Think about the last seven words of the reading.  “Many are called but few are chosen.”  That’s a little scary.

 

On the other hand, our God is kind and merciful.  He’s slow to anger and quick to forgive.  If God is all about mercy, then He should let everybody into heaven, even the worst of us.  He made us the way we are.  He knows our capacity for goodness, and for badness.  If He made me the way that I am, shouldn’t He take that into account at the final judgment?  If He lets everybody in, where’s the justice in that?

 

So what’s the answer?  I wish I new.  But I can’t know and you can’t either.  It would be great if there were some kind of list of things that we have to do to get into heaven.  There ARE the ten commandments and the beatitudes.  Those are kind of lists.  But there are even gray areas in the Commandments.  “Thou shalt not kill” is a biggie.  But even there there’s some wiggle room.  You can kill someone in self-defense.  You can serve your country and kill someone in a just war.

 

What if there was a list?  What if God told us that we had to feed twenty hungry people?  We might do exactly that and let number twenty-one go hungry.  Or, what if we’re on our way to feed our twentieth hungry person and we get hit by a bus?  Are we in or out?  Surely a loving God isn’t going to keep us out on such a technicality.

 

God doesn’t work that way.  That’s thinking like men think and not like God thinks.  We’re called to a higher standard than that.  God created you and me for a purpose.  It’s up to us to figure out what that purpose is and the way to do that is to pray.  I don’t mean the “Do this. Do that.  Give me this.  Give me that.  Let me win the lottery.” Kind of prayer.  I don’t mean telling God what you want Him to do.  I mean sitting in a quiet place and asking God what you can do for Him.  “God, what can I do today to make myself the person you created me to be.”  Then shut up and listen.  He will speak to you.

 

In this church we’re surrounded by statues of saints.  They’re here to encourage us and to inspire us.  We’re called to study them and to use them as roll models.  BUT, we not supposed to copy them.  For example, Saint Wenceslas was a great saint and a great king.  Face it, you and I are never going to be kings or queens.  Even if we were, there’s already been a Saint Wenceslas.  We don’t need another one.  God didn’t create any of us to be a second Wenceslas, or a second anything.  He created you and me to be the best you and me we can possibly be.  That’s what He wants from us.

 

So we study the saints.  We emulate their courage, and their wisdom, and their charity, but we use those traits to improve ourselves; to be the best you and me that we can be.  We won’t be kings or queens, we won’t lead crusades, hopefully we won’t be martyrs.  But if it is God’s will that I be a martyr, then I pray for the strength and the faith to be like the blessed virgin who said, “let it be done to me according to your will.”  If we do our best to do God’s will, then, when we stand before Jesus at the final judgment we’ll know that we’ve done the Father’s will.