The Tax Collector in the Tree

Looking  back, it’s hard to believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted.  But it seems I’ve developed arthritis in my hands and it’s very hard for me to type.  But I did preach this weekend so here’s my homily for the 31st Sunday of ordinary time.  I hope you enjoy it.  Meanwhile I’m looking into voice recognition software so I can type without using my hands.

“Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew upon the earth”.  But we have this all-powerful, all-knowing God who takes the time to care for each of us.  The Wisdom writer tells us that God overlooks our sins so we can repent.

 

Because, as we heard in the first reading, He loves all things that are and loathes nothing that He has made.  See, God doesn’t need me. He doesn’t need you. But He made us and so He loves us. If He didn’t love us, why would He have made us? “ His imperishable spirit is in all things.”

 

And, here’s the best part of the first reading, “You rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!”

 

That’s why we come to mass every week.  God has prepared this handbook for us to remind us, to warn us, of the sins we are committing and to give us a chance to repent.  That’s a loving God. He doesn’t just give us the punishment we deserve, He gives us a way out. A “get out of jail free card” that we call the sacrament of reconciliation.

 

Then, at every mass God provides us with readings that rebuke us “little by little.”

 

Today’’s Gospel is a good example. 

Jesus in on the way to Jerusalem.  He passes through Jericho. Now Jericho isn’t just some backwater town.  It’s the oldest city in the world dating back to 8,000 BC. and it’s fairly big.  Luke tells us that there’s a man, Zacchaeus, who wants to see Jesus. Here’s the thing about Zacchaeus.  He’s a tax collector. And not just any tax collector, he’s the head tax collector. Tax collectors in Jesus’ day worked for the Romans.  They were basically enemies of the Jewish people. The way the system worked, the tax collector would come to your house and take whatever he could.  Then he would send what was actually owed on to Rome and keep the rest for himself. Tax collector didn’t have a lot of friends. And this guy wasn’t just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill tax collector, he was the head guy, a real favorite of the Romans.

 

Zacchaeus was also short.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that,  but he couldn’t get close to Jesus because he had no friends to help him and he couldn’t see over the crowd because he was vertically challenged.  So he had an idea. He ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree.  

 

The sycamore is a type of fig tree. It has large leaves.  In fact scholars believe the sycamore was the source for Adam and Eve’s fig leaves.  So, there’s a bit of historical significance to Zacchaeus hiding in this particular tree.  Adam and Eve hid themselves behind sycamore leaves and Zacchaeus hid in the sycamore tree.

 

So Zacchaeus is up in the tree and Jesus walks by.  He says “Zacchais, come down quickly for today I must stay at your house.”  Notice two things here.  First Jesus calls Zacchais by name.  Remember in the first reading from the book of Wisdom the writer tells us that to God, the whole universe is like a drop of dew.  Now, here’s Jesus recognizing Zacchaeus and calling him by name. He recognizes him just like He recognizes you and me. Don’t ever think that the Lord doesn’t take an interest in our lives.  He knows every single one of us and He knows everything we do.

 

Next, notice that Luke’s Gospel tells us at the very beginning of this passage that Jesus intended to pass through Jericho.  Now he’s telling Zacchaeus that He plans to spend the night. What’s up with that? Jesus sees this as a teaching moment. First then Zacchaeus says, “I’m going to give half of my possessions to the poor and, if I’ve cheated anyone (which we know he has) I’m going to pay them back fourfold.  It’s a win-win.  

 

Finally Jesus tells Zacchaeus, and the Pharisees, and you and me, “today salvation has come to this house because this man, too, is a descendant of Abraham.  For the Son of Man has come to seek and save what is lost.

 

It’s easy for us to feel like we’re not important or that God is so huge that he doesn’t have time for us.  But it’s just not true. God has a plan and we’re all part of it. We may not know or understand it, but it’s there.  Sometimes good things happen to us. Sometimes bad things happen to us. Sometimes we find ourselves asking, “Why me, Lord.”  Maybe a better question is “Why not me, Lord.”

The little tax collector, a man with no friends, became a lesson for millions of Christians.  You just never know how God is going to use us to benefit others.

 

4th Sunday of Easter—Mothers

This weekend’s homily:

On this 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, we hear one of the shortest Gospel passages of the whole reading cycle; just five sentences. But, even though it’s short, it says an awful lot. We call it “Good Shepherd Sunday” because Jesus begins by telling us, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

We HEAR Him. He speaks to us. We recognize His voice, just as the sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd. That’s important. Sometimes we Catholics get a bad rap because we don’t read the Bible as much as some of our Christian brothers and sisters. The thing is, we don’t read it as much as we hear it. Every Sunday when we come to mass, we hear three readings, a Psalm, and parts of scripture that are repeated in every celebration of the Eucharist, for instance, the Lord’s Prayer. Every three years we pretty much hear the whole Bible.

There’s a reason why Father doesn’t just say the opening prayer and then ask us to sit down and read the readings assigned to that day to ourselves. Jesus wants us to HEAR Him. He wants us to listen to the readings, not just to read them. It’s especially true of the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus speaking to us and He wants us to hear Him. How do we know? Because He just told us. 4-legged sheep follow their shepherd because they recognize his voice!

Over the years I’ve discovered that I almost always get something different from the readings when I hear them read out loud as opposed to just reading them out of the book. The spirit works through the lector, the deacon, or the priest, to give them the gift of inflection. The way the words are said convey a different meaning than the way the words are presented on the page.

Here’s something you may have never thought of. The Gospel readings are in the Sacramentary, along with the other readings. But we proclaim the Gospel from a separate book, the Book of the Gospels. The deacon, or some other minister, carries the Gospel into church as part of the opening procession. We give the Book of the Gospels much more respect than paper and ink alone deserve. We’re bringing Jesus’ words into the church.

Did you ever wonder why we don’t carry it back out? It’s because you hear His words and you carry them out of church, in your minds and hearts. Again, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.”

As far as we know, Jesus never wrote down anything. God the Father inspired all scripture, but Jesus wasn’t into writing. He was into speaking. “My sheep hear my voice.” He didn’t say anything about His sheep reading His blog, or following Him on Facebook or Twitter. And He handed His teaching authority on to His bishops at Cesarea Philippi when He said, “Whoever hears you, hears me.”

But, here’s our challenge. When Jesus spoke, people listened. There was no television, no radio, and no Internet. His listeners were just that; LISTENERS. Our Gospel readings usually begin, “Jesus said to His disciples….” He didn’t have to say “please turn off your cell phones and other electronic devices.” They hung on every word that He said.

Today, there’s just so much competition for our attention. We’re inundated with constant noise. Even the Son of God has a hard time getting through to us. That’s one reason why we need to come to mass. At least for these few minutes each week, we’re away from outside distractions and free to listen to God’s word. For the other 167 hours per week, not so much. Let’s not waste this valuable time.

We’re living in a time when we’re surrounded by false prophets. We may want to listen, but maybe we’re not sure which voice is actually His.

In matters of faith, there are a lot of people who claim to be speaking for Jesus.  They can’t all be right. How do we decide? For me the answer is simple and I already gave it to you earlier. Jesus told Peter and the Apostles, “Whoever hears you, hears me.” He left us one Church with one teaching authority. Lucky us; it’s the Church we all belong to.

What else does He tell us in this short Gospel. He promises us eternal life. He promises us that we shall never perish. “No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of my Father’s hand.” That’s some serious stuff.

You and I can live forever if we follow Jesus. The only person who can take us out of Jesus’ hands is ourselves. We have to follow Him. We have to listen. We can’t just go off on our own. We all know what happens to a sheep when he leaves the flock. The wolf has a nice dinner. Jesus closes by telling us that He and the Father are one.

In five short sentences Jesus has given us everything we need to know. Listen to Him, follow Him, and we’ll go to heaven. That’s it. It’s so simple. Yet, it’s so difficult.

 

I have to close by mentioning another voice that we all recognize and that we celebrate today (tomorrow) and that’s our mother.  Jesus set the example for us in the relationship he had from the time He chose her to bear Him in her womb until He hung on the cross and gave her to Saint John and to us.  “Son, behold your mother.”

 

On this Mothers Day we honor our mothers, living and dead and thank God for the gift of them in our lives.  Let us also honor Jesus’ mother by praying, “Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the Fruit of thy Womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen.”

 

 

Happy Mothers Day!

 

Times Square Rally

 

There was a big pro-life rally Sunday in Times Square in New York.  You probably aren’t aware of it because the main stream media couldn’t be bothered to cover it.  But my friend Carolyn covered it quite well in her blog and I’m sharing her post here because I think you should be aware of this event.

Caralyn also includes a video by Rep. Brian Sims.  Please watch it.  If this is the kind of person we’re electing to office, I’m afraid we’re doomed.  This guy is an embarrassment.

8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Have a great Lent!

 

God Bless America!

I was talking to a friend the other day.  She told me she has started a blog.  I gave her some encouragement and offered to help any way I can.  Then I came home and looked at this blog and realized that I haven’t posted since Memorial Day!  Over a month ago!  If I were an aspiring blogger I would take Deacon Mike’s advice and toss it in the trash can.  I’m embarrassed.

I could make all kinds of excuses for my inactivity but I won’t.  I know better.  This coming November, this blog will be ten years old.  I actually started blogging for my former employer in April 2006, more than twelve years ago.  I think I know how to blog.  I even know how to blog on a regular basis because in my capacity as “professional blogger” I was expected to do it as part of my job.  So, what happened?

Life happened.  Other things seemed to always get in the way.  Believe it or not, these beautiful words of wisdom don’t just flow magically from my fingers.  A good post takes time.  Sometimes a lot of time.

Then there are those fingers themselves.  I’ve developed a neurological condition called Essential Tremor, that causes my hands to shake.  It’s hereditary.  My mom had it too.  Aside from being very aggravating, it makes it very hard to type (or eat).  If I’m going to continue, and I am, I’m going to look into voice recognition software to make this less of a chore.  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Declaration_Engrav_Pg1of1_doctored_0.jpgBut, as I often do, I digress.  Today is America’s birthday.  242 years ago a brave group of colonists thumbed their noses at King George and declared our independence.  In doing so, they risked everything.  If this experiment had failed they would have lost their families, their homes, and their lives.

Those original Americans had settled along the East Coast.  The thirteen colonies all bordered the Atlantic Ocean.  There’s no way those Founding Fathers could have imagined the vast land we know today as the United States of America.  They had no way of knowing the natural resources that we would enjoy.

God blessed those founders in their efforts and has blessed our country throughout its history.  But today so many of us want to turn our backs on God.  We want Him out of our courthouses and our schools.  So many forget what He has done for us.

There’s a contentious fight over undocumented foreigners coming into our country illegally.  But whichever side of that argument you happen to be on, here’s one incontrovertible fact.  Thousands of people want to come into our country but nobody’s trying to sneak out.  If the President builds a wall, there won’t be any US citizens trying to climb over it.

So, enjoy your freedom.  Enjoy your ability to come and go as you please.  Enjoy the day off from work but don’t forget the reason for the celebration.

Check out this video:

http://a.msn.com/09/en-us/AAzwpfz?ocid=se

National Essential Tremors Awaress Month

NETA-2018-Facebook-BannerChances are you’ve never heard of essential tremors.  Simply put, ET is shaky hands.  It looks like Parkinson’s Disease but the symptoms are different, except for the shaking.

I’ve suffered from ET for a long time as did my late mother.

This is a Catholic blog so this might not be a relevant topic except that it affects everyone, Catholic or not.

I just want to call it to your attention because it’s a serious illness that affects millions of people but it’s not well-known unless you or a loved one has it.  The disease is eight times more common than Parkinson’s.  So if you see someone whose hands are shaking or who has a shaky voice, there’s a good chance it’s ET.

There are some medications that may be used, but in my experience, they don’t do much good.  There’s also a surgical option but only as a last resort as it involves drilling into the brain.  Research is ongoing, but because Essential Tremors isn’t one of the BIG diseases that attract a lot of attention and lots of cash, it’s a slow process.  Imagine looking at a plate of food and knowing that there’s no way you can get it from the plate to your mouth.  Imagine spilling everything.  Imagine not being able to sign your name.  It’s not fun.

Please take a moment to visit the ET website and learn something about this disease.  Then say a prayer for those of us who suffer from it.  We’re easy to spot.  We’re the ones with soup on our shirts.

The ET foundation has a Youtube channel or you can check out their website.   Here’s a good video to watch if you’re interested in learning more.

Thy Will Be Done

Lord's prayerIf you’re like me, you say the Lord’s Prayer often, possibly many times per day.  After all, it’s the prayer that Jesus himself taught us.  The Apostles asked Him how they should pray and He gave him this prayer, so we call it the Lord’s Prayer.  But do we say it so often that we don’t consider what it means?  I’m afraid maybe we do.

For example, I’m going to have surgery tomorrow.  It’s called “insertion shunt ventricular peritoneal“.  Pretty scary, huh?  What it means is that they’re going to drill a hole in my head and insert a plastic tube in my brain.  The tube will then run down the side of my head, through my neck, and eventually end up in my abdomen.

inside outIt will relieve pressure that has been building up inside my brain and messing with the wiring.  Once all that extra liquid is gone, the things in my brain should have more room to move around and control my thinking, my balance, and who knows what else.  It’s a fairly common surgery.  They do it all the time.  But they’ve never done it to me!  To be honest, I’m a little scared.  No, that’s wrong.  I’m a lot scared!

Which brings me back to the Lord’s Prayer.  We begin by praising God, “hallowed be thy name.”  The very next line we say “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”  We say it, but do we mean it?  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times about this surgery.  “It’s in God’s hands.  It’s all about God’s will.”  And I believe it.  I really do.  But I don’t know what God’s will is.  Maybe His will is for me to jump out of bed and be totally cured.  But maybe His will is for me to be the same, or worse.

The good news is that by this time tomorrow we should have some idea.  It may be good news.  It may be bad knows.  But either way it’s God’s will and I have to accept it.  I want to accept it because I have faith in Him and I know that everything always turns out for the best.

So, keep me in your prayers and I’ll let you know how everything turns out.