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.

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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.

 

The Hippest Archdiocese

I have to call attention to this article that landed in my inbox this morning (the day after my 8th grandchild came into the world.  More on that later.)

A recent poll has chosen Saint Louis as the hippest diocese in America.  We knew it all the time, but it’s nice to see it recognized.  And, we all know how accurate internet polls can be.  But, in spite of my doubts about the accuracy of the information, I’m happy to see Saint Louis number one in something besides homicides and car jackings.

If you don’t believe we’re hip, scroll down to the picture of our recently-installed Auxiliary Bishop, Mark Rivituso.  Our bishop is definitely hipper than your bishop.  Take that, Los Angeles!

Archdiocese of Hip

Now, about that grandchild.  In the past I have been roundly criticized for posting about my grandkids without permission.  So, until the media embargo is lifted, I’ll just say that he and his mother are doing well.  More later

 

Something’s Gotta Give

Beauty Beyond Bones is a blog written by a young woman named Caralyn who is recovering from anorexia.  Her posts are always inspirational and uplifting, especially if someone you love is a victim of this terrible disease.  Her most recent post is called Something’s Gotta Give and I encourage you to read it right now.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time paraphrasing what she said because I couldn’t possibly say it better than she did.  Just read it and I know you’ll be as impressed with her work as I am.

Also be aware that Caralyn has a Youtube channel with videos that are also worth your time.  Let’s support this courageous young lady who loves God and doesn’t care who knows it.

(Besides, she follows DeaconCast, so she’s obviously highly intelligent.)  You can also follow her on all the various social media.  There are links on her blog.

It’s Paddy! Not Patty!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, everyone.  This post really has nothing to do with Lent but it’s a good day to show off my Irishness.

First, like the title says, today is NOT Saint Patty’s Day.  Patty is the familiar form of the female name Patricia.  The male form, at least in Ireland, is Padraig.  And the short form of Padraig is Paddy.

If you doubt the truth of this bit of history, in New York City the Paddy Wagon used to go around picking up our drunken ancestors.  They were called Paddy so the horse-drawn police vehicle was called a Paddy Wagon.  For more on the name Padraig, check this article on Wikipedia including a list of famous Paddys.paddy-irish-whiskey-40-07-l-puszka

Currently the most famous Padraig is Padraig Harrington, the Irish golfer.

Need more proof?  Paddy is a very popular whiskey in Ireland.  It’s Paddy, not Patty.

paddypowerLast, but not least, off-track betting is legal on the Emerald Isle, and the biggest legal bookie in the land is a company called Paddy Power.  They’re huge and have betting parlors all over the country and in Great Britain.

As much as we hate to admit it, Saint Patrick (Padraig) wasn’t Irish at all.  He was born in England and kidnapped by pirates who held him in Ireland.  He escaped but returned later to bring Christianity to the country.  Today he is the patron saint of the Irish (and those who wish they were Irish) and his feast day is celebrated all over the world.  How important was he?  Even today many bishops dispense their subjects from abstaining from meat today.

So, if you live in a diocgreen chicago riverese where it’s permitted, enjoy your corned beef and cabbage (something the Irish never eat), drink your green beer, and dance a jig or two, but keep in mind that is is a feast day for one of the most revered saints in history.  (FYI, there never were any snakes in Ireland).

Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show?

Yesterday I shared a post on Facebook called Meet the 50 Richest Pastors in the World.   The post listed most of the preachers you’ve heard of, especially the ones who preach the s0-called “prosperity gospel”.  In essence these guys (and gals) treat Jesus like Santa Clause.  “Love Jesus, and prove it by sending me money” and you’ll enjoy financial success.

Many of these rich pastors live in other countries.  Number one is a Brazilian.  But number two is all-American Pat Robertson, host of the TV show The 700 Club.  Number three on the list, at a net worth of $250 million is none other than George Forman, the former boxer and grill guy.  Obviously the definition of “pastor” on this list is pretty lose.

I won’t boor you with the entire list.  You can check it out for yourself.  I will say that the list is in reverse order so, if you want to cut right to the chase, start with this link and work backwards.  In other words, http://standardnews.com/meet-richest-pastors-world/50 will take you to number one on the list.  Replace the number “50”with “49” and you’ll see number 2, etc.  Or just click the “previous” button.

 

The reason I bring this up today is that I was listening to the comedy channel on my satellite radio today and I heard the song “Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show?”  Maybe it’s just a coincidence but I really don’t believe in coincidences so maybe it’s a sign during Lent.  Watch the Ray Stevens video below.  I think you’ll get a kick out of it.  After all, we are allowed to have some fun during Lent.

 

 

Here’s an interesting sidebar.  Everyone associates this song with Ray Stevens but it was actually written by Chet Atkins.

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Yay, it’s Friday!  Not the ordinary TGIF type of Friday, but the first day of Catholic fish fry season.  Where I live, in Saint Louis, MO, you can’t throw a rock during Lent without hitting a great fish fry, and we take advantage of as many of them as possible.  You get a great meal and you help your local parish.

I am traveling today and was surprised to see that Catholic fish fries apparently aren’t a universal phenomenon.  I guess other places aren’t as into fried fish as we are in the Gateway City.  That’s too bad.

As I wrote in a series of posts called 40 reasons why it’s cool to be Catholic, way back in 2012, reason number 35 was Catholic fish fries.  I wrote back then,

“When the Church said we couldn’t eat meat on Friday the parish fish fry was born.  When it was decided that we only had to abstain on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Fridays of Lent, we turned it into an art form.”

So, do yourself a favor today and instead of settling for a Filet O’Fish, head for your local parish and enjoy the real thing.

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.