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.

 

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4th Sunday of Easter

PEACE BE WITH YOU!

Peter just isn’t going to let up on the elders and leaders of the people. Remember these guys would just as soon kill Peter as look at him. And eventually they do. But in our reading today from the “Acts of the Apostles he reminds them again that they crucified Jesus the Nazorean and that He has been raised from the dead. Peter is going to pay for his sharp tongue eventually, but not just yet.

 

He reminds them that the stone they rejected has become the Cornerstone. There is no salvation through anyone else.

 

Jesus begins today’s Gospel by saying, “I am the Good Shepherd”. Often in the Old Testament Israel had been referred to as sheep. One day God would send them a shepherd. Well, here he is and we celebrate Him on Good Shepherd Sunday. Interestingly, today is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We are desperately in need of modern-day shepherds.

 

Jesus says that He’s the Good Shepherd. What makes Him better than the average shepherd? Well, He tells us. “A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” Are you kidding me?  We would expect a “good” shepherd to do everything in his power to protect his flock. But, when push comes to shove, when the wolf is threatening the shepherd himself, would we be surprised to see the shepherd run for his life. Isn’t a human life more valuable than a sheep’s life?   But we know that Jesus isn’t talking about four-legged sheep. He’s talking about two-legged sheep; you and me.

 

But, again, Jesus is God. Whoever heard of a God giving up his life for his creatures. That’s just outrageous! But, it’s what He did. He gave up His life for you and me. He was the “good” shepherd.

 

What else makes Jesus the Good Shepherd. He tells us again. “I know mine and mine know me.” Sheep, the four-legged variety, recognize their shepherd’s voice. When it’s time for them to follow him home he calls out to them and they know which shepherd to follow. Likewise, if a sheep is in trouble, his shepherd will recognize his cry, which is distinctive from other sheep. Sheep’s voices actually sound very human.

 

Our God, even though He created the entire universe, isn’t some far-off diety. He’s close enough that He can hear and recognize our voices. That’s how He hears us pray. He knows our voice and we know His.

 

In a few minutes, we’ll all pray, both as a community and as individuals. At the same time Christians all over the world will be praying. And, He’ll hear all of us. Jesus isn’t A Good Shepherd, He’s THE Good Shepherd. He hears us and we hear Him.

3rd Sunday of Easter

PEACE BE WITH YOU!

These are the first words Jesus speaks to the Apostles both in today’s Gospel and in last week’s. Remember, last week he appeared to them in the locked room. That was when Thomas wasn’t with the others. A week later he came back, and again He greeted them “Peace be with you.” Now today He comes back as they were talking to the two disciples who had met Jesus on the road to Emmaus` and what are his first words?  “Peace be with you.”

peace be with you

See, here’s the thing. Jesus was dead. They saw Him die. He was as dead as Monty Python’s parrot.  Now, here He is again “in the flesh”. That had to be a frightening thing to experience. He knew that so He started his conversation with them by offering them “Peace”.

 

In today’s Gospel Luke writes that they were “startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.” So Jesus said to them, “Hey. Do you have anything to eat?” “They gave Him a piece of baked fish and He ate it in front of them.” He did that to prove that He wasn’t a ghost.  If a ghost had eaten the fish it would have just fallen on the floor.

 

A little sidebar here, if you read the entire Gospel of Luke you’ll see that Jesus was always eating. The book is full of dinners that Jesus attended with various people. Luke loved to write about these events. So it’s no surprise that even after Jesus has died and been risen from the dead that Luke would introduce some food.   Luke’s Jesus would have loved Saint Louis fish fries during Lent. But, I digress.

 

Jesus tells the Apostles that everything written about Him in the law of Moses and in the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.

 

Now, if we look back at the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, also written by Luke, Peter says to the people, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus.” Remember, in Jesus times there were lots of gods running around. There were Roman gods, and Greek gods, and Egyptian gods. But Peter tells the people that Jesus didn’t come from any of those phony-baloney gods, He came from The God. Capital T, capital G. The God of our fathers.

 

But, he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say “You denied the holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.” Then here’s the real zinger,  “The author of life you put to death.” Ouch!

 

But John, in his letter, our second reading, gives us hope. He tells us not to sin, but if we do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ. He is expiation for our sins.” How can we be sure of this? Keep Jesus’ commandments. And His commandments are very simple. Love Him and love our neighbors. That’s it. It’s amazing how many people can’t get that right.

 

PEACE BE WITH YOU.

 

Good Friday

[Originally posted March 29, 2013]

Good Friday is a day of fast and abstinence in preparation for Jesus’ glorious resurrection. We’re all encouraged to attend services today, but it’s not a Holy Day of Obligation. You don’t have to come to church today. You can’t eat meat and you can’t eat between meals, but you don’t have to come to church. I think that’s a little bit odd. On the day that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to save you and me from our sins, I think we should be here. Obviously, so do you.

On the other hand, the fact that this isn’t a day when we’re obliged to come to church, says something about those of us who do come, and those who don’t. One of my wife’s pet peeves is people who don’t send thank you notes. It seems like that simple, common courtesy has fallen by the way side. It’s just good manners to thank someone who’s done something for you. If it’s bad form not to thank someone who has given you a toaster, how much worse is it to not thank someone who’s died for your sins.

Our church will be full tomorrow night for the Easter Vigil. Doesn’t it make sense that it should be full today too? Even in this politically correct, what’s in it for me, don’t mix religion and politics, world, a lot of people get today off. Good luck trying to find a politician in Washington DC today. They’ve all gone home for the Easter break. You’d think that more people, not having to work or go to school today, might take an hour to drop by and say, “Hey, Jesus! Thank you for suffering terrible torture, being beaten and ridiculed, and for dying the painful death on the cross for me.”

I could have told you ahead of time who would be in church today. I can also tell you a lot of people who aren’t. But you and I are here. We love Jesus and we’re thankful that a loving God would send His only begotten Son to die so that we might live.

Today is a solemn celebration. We mourn Jesus’ death. We see Him lying in the tomb and we realize that if it wasn’t for our sins, He wouldn’t be there. We’re sad and we’re sorry for what we’ve done. We also have the advantage of history telling us what’s about to happen. Tomorrow the tomb will be empty because He’s risen from the dead. Where today’s service is solemn, tomorrow’s will be joyful. There will be candles and bells and incense and we’ll rejoice that He’s overcome death. We will celebrate His resurrection because it’s the precursor to our own resurrection!

In a few minutes, we’ll quietly leave church anxious to return tomorrow or Sunday for the great celebration.

Thank you, Jesus, for saving us from ourselves.

The Feast of All Saints

Are you a minimalist Christian?

You’ve heard the expression “It’s the least I can do.”  I wonder how many of us approach our faith with this expression as our “mission statement”.  What’s the least I can do to get into heaven?

The best example I can think of of this attitude is the question priests and deacons hear all the time regarding Saturday wedding masses.  “Does this count?”  Count??  Count for what?  Of course, we know what they’re asking.  “If I go to this wedding, do I have to go to mass on Sunday?  The bride and groom are going to have a great party and I’d really rather not get up on Sunday morning.”  They’re asking if the Saturday wedding fulfills their “Sunday obligation.

First, let me say I hate the term “Sunday obligation.”  Paying your taxes is an obligation.  Going to work every day is an obligation.  Contributing to the support of the Church is an obligation.  Worshipping the Lord IS NOT AN OBLIGATION.  It’s something we do out of love for our Creator.  Were you listening to the Gospel this Sunday.  “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your soul, with all your heart, and with all your mind.”

Loving with all your heart is not a minimalist concept.  We have to give Him everything, including our time.  The short answer to the above question is almost always NO.  God works outside of time.  Your so-called Sunday obligation is judged by the week’s readings, not by the time you showed up.  If you didn’t hear the readings for the Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, you didn’t attend last week’s mass.

Make no mistake, if you love the Lord God, “with all your soul, with all your heart, and with all your mind,” then the concept of a “Sunday obligation” should have no meaning to you.  You should attend mass every Sunday (or Saturday evening) because you want to be there.  What part of the word “all” do you not understand?

Today is All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation.  There’s that word again.  Do you go to mass today out of some sense of obligation, or do you go because you venerate the saints and want to pay tribute to them?  The Church has watered down the concept of Holy Days by moving some of them to Sunday but they are still holy days.  (small h and d)

Advent is coming and Christmas isn’t far behind.  This might be a good time to review your attitude toward the Lord.  The commercials for Christmas stuff have already started.  Let’s not let the commercialism of our Lord’s birthday get in the way of our love for Him.  I’ll say it one more time,

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your soul, with all your heart, and with all your mind.”  Now, if you haven’t gone to mass today, turn off your computer and get going.

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

This was the second to last homily at my current assignment.  I will preach one more time before I move on to my new post.  There were a few references to my move, but the main point of the homily was a reflection on the Gospel.  I hope you enjoy it.

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 the same thing.  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.”

adam-and-eve

 

In the twelve step programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and others, Step 3 says “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.” That’s a statement of trust and millions of people have been healed of their addictions by taking this step. But we’re independent creatures. The idea of completely turning our will and our lives over to someone else, even God, is hard for us to take. We like to think we can do anything we put our minds to. Down through history, our greatest heroes have been men and women who took the bull by the horns; who made something happen. “The meek shall inherit the earth sounds good, but do we really believe it?

 

Yesterday (Friday) Jan and I were taking care of our grandson, Finnegan. I had just fed him and he fell asleep in my arms. I was watching him sleep and I couldn’t help thinking how small and helpless he is. He has to rely on someone else to do everything for him. How can you not love someone so small and innocent?

 

It occurred to me that God must look at us the same way. Compared to His Majesty, we must seem as small and helpless as Finn does to me. Our problem is that we don’t recognize how helpless we are. We’re not babies anymore (at least most of us aren’t). In our own minds, we’re invincible. We can do anything on our own. But can we really? I don’t think so. We have to depend on God for the things we really need. And we have to depend on one another.

 

I’ve always been one of those people who thinks he can do anything. I’ve always prided myself (and remember what the Bible says about pride) on being self-sufficient. Then a year ago I was in the hospital twice in two months. All of a sudden there were a lot of things I couldn’t do for myself anymore. Having to ask someone to help you go to the bathroom, or just to turn over in bed, is a real wake up call. I HAD to ask for help. Poor Jan has been a saint when it comes to taking care of me. I still can’t put on my own socks and shoes. I’ve gotten so weak and have so little energy that I’ve had to retire from my job at Saint John Nepomuk.

 

In the process, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. People want to help! They love to help! It validates them and makes them feel good about themselves. When someone says to you, “can I help you with that” and you say, “no thanks. I’ve got it.” or something like that, you’re denying that person the satisfaction of being helpful. Your ego is denying them the opportunity to be Jesus for you.

 

One of my two trips to the hospital last year was the first week of November. I wasn’t here for the Goulash Festival. What would happen if I wasn’t here? Well, what happened was everyone worked together and it was the most successful Goulash Festival ever. It turns out I’m not indispensable at all. It’s a community event and the community made it happen. My job is really about staying out of your way. That’s when I seriously started thinking about retirement. I prayed long and hard and I believe my work here is done. God needs me somewhere else now.

 

“Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” That also means to trust Him with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Turn your life and your will over to Him. When you pray ask for knowledge of His will for you and the power to make it happen. He will take care of you if you just give Him a chance and don’t let your ego get in the way.

 

 

 

 

 

More on Seeing Jesus

monks

I posted yesterday about seeing Jesus not just in the helpless, but also in the helper.  Today God taught me that lesson in a big way.  My blood sugar was very low this morning and I was having some trouble getting around.  The cafeteria lady saw me struggling with my tray and asked me if I needed help.  My first inclination was to say “No thanks.  I can manage.”

Then I remembered Father’s words.  I said that would be great and she carried my tray over to “our” table (Once you claim a table in the dining room it’s yours for the week.)  I thanked her profusely for helping me and the look on her face was priceless.  Among  all the priests, monks, deacons, and even a Bishop in this place this week, I found Jesus working in the cafeteria.  It was a lesson I hope I never forget.

merton

The most famous resident of Gesthemani was Father Thomas Merton, possibly the greatest Christian thinker of the 20th century.  He was famous all over the world and people come here every day just to see where he lived.  A “famous monk” seems like an oxymoron, but that’s what he was.  He died in 1948 and the  Abby is still collecting royalties from his books.  But in the end, a monk is a monk.  Father’s grave is marked with this simple metal cross just like all the other monks.  His reward is in a much better place.

This is the last day of our retreat.  Tomorrow we go back to reality.  I’ve spent a lot of time reading this week and I’ve discovered a lot about God and about myself.  I plan to share some of that in future posts.  Stay tuned.