26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”.

These words, from Father Thomas Merton’s autobiography, “The Seven Story Mountain” were quoted by the Holy Father in his address to Congress on Friday. If you’ve been paying attention for the last few years, you know that I’m a great fan of Father Merton. In fact, I’ll be going on retreat to Gesthemane Abbey, Merton’s home, in a couple of weeks. Naturally, I was pleased to hear Francis choose him as one of four Americans, along with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Dorothy Day, to cite in his talk.

I know you’ve been following the Pope’s visit to the United States, along with millions of other Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Wherever the Pope goes, especially this Pope, there’s a tremendous interest in what he has to say.

Thursday night I was talking to my brother-in-law and we were discussing what a huge impact this man has on everyone, regardless of their faith. I suppose it’s because he’s not just OUR Pope, he’s THE Pope. No other faith tradition has a single leader like we do. Even non-Catholics recognize the man’s holiness and his authority to speak on matters of faith and morals.

In his talk to Congress, he hit on just about all the hot-button issues of our day. Naturally liberals disagree with him on many issues and think he’s too conservative. On the other hand, conservatives find him too liberal. But, both sides of the aisle applauded his comments, sometimes reluctantly. But, they all recognize his authority and his spirituality.

We live in a divided nation and a divided world. Yet no one can dispute this man’s leadership. Like most of his predecessors he’s not afraid to tackle the tough issues, and that’s what he does and has been doing in his visit to our country.

Obviously many people in Jesus’ day violently opposed things that the Lord said. Some were so opposed that they had Him tortured and killed. Many of His teachings went against the leaders of the day, and they still rub many of our current leaders the wrong way as well. But they all listened!

One reason that so many opposed Jesus is that His teachings threatened their power and authority. But that didn’t stop Him from speaking the truth.

Merton said that he was born into a world that was “the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Today’s world is no different from Merton’s; in fact it’s worse. Those “self-contradictory hungers” are running rampant. We’re still born to love God, but our hunger for self-gratification often blinds us to the truth.

Great Americans, like Lincoln, King, Day, and Merton suffered for their beliefs. Lincoln and King were assassinated. Day was scorned by many. And Merton, who deserves to be declared a saint, hasn’t been and possibly never will be because his views were often unpopular.

So, what’s all this mean to us? It means that we must all stand up for the truth, even if it makes us unpopular and uncomfortable. It’s ironic that our Catholic faith disturbs people on both sides of the political spectrum. I think most people agree that we should respect life. But we often disagree when it comes to particular lives. The same people who argue that abortion is wrong have no problem with capital punishment. Jesus taught murder is always wrong. “Thou shalt not kill” is one of the Ten Commandments. It doesn’t say “except when the new life is inconvenient” or “except when someone has committed a terrible crime.” We don’t get to make that choice. Yet people of faith will argue forcefully on both sides of this argument. How ironic is it that our local daily newspaper is so accepting of the killing of an innocent child but is diametrically opposed to capital punishment?

Even as the Holy Father was speaking to Congress, they were in the process of killing legislation that would have taken our tax dollars away from Planned Parenthood. Their desire to gain political points is more important to them than doing what is right. It’s one of those “hopeless self-contradictory hungers” Merton spoke of.

The Pope spoke about the importance of the family, yet same-sex marriage is now the law of the land. But even he must wrestle with contradiction. His past words show that he’s no fan of capitalism, yet he recognizes that the great wealth of the United States is important in so many ways.

He ended his message by saying, “In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!

 

And God bless Pope Francis for telling it like it is.

I do want to take just a minute to mention that next weekend there will be a second collection for the formation of Permanent Deacons.

It’s no secret that the Church is suffering from a vocation crisis. We desperately need more priests to serve the people of God. Here at Saint John Nepomuk we are more aware than most that the Church is looking to ease the shortage by using deacons and lay people to do the things that priests have always done in the past.

Right now the Archdiocese is taking a hard look at every parish to find better ways to use our limited resources, both physical and human. We’re going to see more cases where parishes are administered by non-priests, freeing priests up to do the things that only they can do. But we need more deacons almost as desperately as we need more priests. The formation of deacons is a long and expensive process and the men in training for the diaconate pay many of their own expenses.

Your generosity to this collection will make it possible for more men to answer the call to serve. Let me be clear. This collection does not benefit those of us currently ordained. The administration of the office of the Permanent Diaconate is funded through the Annual Catholic Appeal. This collection is for the educational expenses of our upcoming deacons. It would be a shame if future deacons had to be turned away because of the lack of funds. It would be an even greater shame if small communities like this one had to be closed because of the lack of deacons.

Please be as generous as possible to this important collection.

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Eulogies

After assisting at my third funeral in a week and suffering through my FIFTH dreadful eulogy (Yes, some funerals have more than one) I was wondering why the funeral liturgy is the only mass where lay people are allowed to speak.  If family members have something to say at a wedding, that’s what the reception is for.  If someone has something to say at a baptism, they save it for the after party.  Imagine how long first communion, first penance, or confirmation would take if every parent got up to talk.  Only at the funeral liturgy, when family members are in a poor emotional state, do we allow them to speak.

Here’s what Catholic Answers says about eulogies:

According to the Order of Christian Funerals, there is never to be a eulogy at a funeral Mass (OCF 27), although the celebrant may express a few words of gratitude about the person’s life in his homily, or he may allow a relative or a friend to say a few words about the deceased during the concluding rite (GIRM 89). The remarks must be brief and under no circumstances can the deceased person be referred to as being in heaven.  (emphasis mine) Only the Church has the authority to canonize.

Contrary to common assumption, the purpose of the funeral Mass is not to celebrate the life of the deceased but to offer worship to God for Christ’s victory over death, to comfort the mourners with prayers, and to pray for the soul of the deceased. Relatives or friends who wish to speak of the deceased’s character and accomplishments can do so at a prayer service to be held in a home or funeral home or at the graveside following the rite of committal.

Here’s what typically happens.  The priest or deacon homilist has done exactly what the rite calls for us to do, that is to offer comfort to the mourners, to celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, and to pray for the soul of the deceased.  Having done that and offering Holy Communion to the Catholic’s in attendance, the rite calls for silent reflection followed by the final prayers.

Sadly, at many funerals, family members think it’s a good thing to stand up before those assembled and to try to speak.  Often they end up making fools of themselves, becoming a teary mess.  Who ever thought this was a good idea?  Besides making themselves look foolish, they destroy the moment.  Whatever peace Father or Deacon has brought to the family is replaced with sadness and sympathy for the eulogist.  We humans are a sympathetic bunch.  When the speaker breaks down, chances are we’re going to do the same.

If a person has been a faithful Catholic all of his (or her) life, shouldn’t their last interaction with the Church on earth be the best it can be.  We have professional clergy who have been trained to do the job.  Let’s save amateur night for some other occasion.

One last thought, notice the sentence in the Catholic Answers quote that I put in bold type.  Without getting into too deep a theological rant here, the Church teaches that when we die in a state of grace we will go to heaven after a period of cleansing which we call purgatory.  We have no idea how long this period is, it could be minutes or it could be years. We just don’t know.  That’s why we pray for the dead.  If we thought that our loved one went directly to heaven, what’s the point of praying for them?

While we don’t want to talk about grandma being on the outside looking in, it’s not accurate to just assume she’s in heaven.  Father Benedict Groschel once said, “The worst day in purgatory is better than the best day on earth.”  Plus, once we’re in purgatory, we know we’re going to heaven.  That’s what the Church teaches.  That’s what we believe.

Our HOPE is that we will get to heaven one day.  There are no sure things.  In fact, (gasp!) some of us aren’t going to heaven.  Sorry, but it’s true.  It’s just another reason why it’s best to leave these things up to the pros.

Don’t our loved ones deserve the best sendoff we can possibly give them?  I think they do.

Merry Christmas

You’d think that it would be easy to preach on Christmas. After all, the Church does a lot of things very well, but we don’t do anything better than we do Christmas. On this day we do all the things that people expect from the Church. We have bells, and incense, and lots of candles. We have special music and larger crowds than on any other day of the year. If a stranger would walk in here today he or she would know that something pretty special is going on. The homily should be a piece of cake.

But one thing you have to realize is that we really have three different groups of people here today. One, we have our “regulars”. You’re the people who come to Saint John’s week after week. You know me. Hopefully you know where I stand on things. You’re the ones that are easy to talk to.

Second, we have family and friends who normally attend mass at another church but you come here on Christmas because of your family tradition, because you consider this a special, holy place. For you my task is to make you glad you came and maybe to convince you to come back more often. That’s a little bit more of a challenge.

Then there’s the third group, the 600 pound gorilla that no one wants to talk about. You’re the ones who only come to mass once or twice a year. Hopefully I can give you a message that makes you want to kick your Catholicism up a notch; to become more active in your faith.

So, what should I talk about? I thought about it and prayed about it, then the Holy Spirit said to me, “Hey dummy, why not ask someone who’s coming what they want to hear.” That’s what I did. The answer I got was eye opening. She said, “Talk to us about our lives. Tell us what all this means to us.”

You know, when you live in “church world” like I do, it’s very easy to get caught up in theology. It’s also tempting to show off what I know about the technical parts of the faith.   But on this day, when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, you don’t want to hear that stuff. After all, God didn’t send us a scholar, or a theologian, or a liturgist, He sent us His Son. He sent Jesus to be born as an ordinary human infant in the poorest of circumstances. When He began His public ministry, Jesus’ message was simplicity itself. “Love God. Love your neighbor. Do what I tell you and you will be saved.” He left the details up to us. He didn’t tell us to follow Him one day a year. He calls us to share the joy of Christmas every single day.

At Christmas time we’re bombarded with requests for help. It seems like the phone at home never stops ringing. The local paper reminds us every day of the “100 neediest cases.” There are bell ringers everywhere. That’s because charitable organizations know that we’re more generous this time of year. But Jesus doesn’t call us to love our neighbor every December. He calls us to love our neighbor every single day of the year.

It’s not easy. We live in a very secular world and frankly, that world is a mess. Here in Saint Louis, we’ve just had another officer-involved shooting and more protests, even on Christmas eve. In just a few short months, the tiny town of Ferguson has become a household word, not just locally, but around the world. Other words in the news, North Korea, Cuba, Afghanistan all remind us of how unstable our world really is. Yet here we are, in this church in South Saint Louis, joining with millions of Christians around the world, celebrating the birth on one little child, more than 2,000 years ago. That says a lot about us.

In the midst of the greed-fest that the secular world has attached to this day, we’re taking time to remember the one who can save us from our sins. If there is ever going to be peace on earth, it begins here. As the prayer of Saint Francis says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Our challenge is to take the feelings we associate with Christmas and keep them going every day. That’s what Christmas means to each of us. That’s how it should affect our lives.

There has been a Catholic church on this corner of 11th and Lafayette for 160 years. Generations of people have sat where you’re sitting, coming together to worship and to praise God, not just on Christmas, but throughout the year. In it’s heyday, this church was the largest parish in the Archdiocese. But times have changed. Our lives are full of distractions and temptations. Many former parishioners have moved away. Today just one in three Catholics attend mass regularly. If you only attend Saint John’s on Christmas, and maybe Easter, you may think that the chapel is full like this every week. Sadly, if you come back in a few weeks, you’ll find that there are maybe 30 to 40 people at a mass.

In this troubled world, it’s almost impossible to continue this “feeling of Christmas” without attending mass regularly. One of Christ’s greatest gifts to us is the gift of His Body and Blood. Many of us take great care of our bodies, some better than others. We visit the doctor. We take vitamins. We exercise. We try to watch what we eat. Most of us get annual flu shots. That’s just common sense.

But how well do we care for our spiritual selves? The Eucharist is our spiritual vitamin. By ingesting the very Body and Blood of Jesus, we recharge our souls giving us the strength to resist temptation. You might say it’s a spiritual flu shot. Another way to strengthen our spiritual selves is through prayer. Catholics are known to be praying people. We learned the main Catholic prayers, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and others when we were children. Here at Saint John’s we have a special devotion to the Infant of Prague. We pray to Him after every mass, as we will today. I’m convinced that these prayers to the Infant whose birth we celebrate today have sustained this community through many trials and tribulations.

Blessed Father Cyril heard the Infant say that “if you pray to me, I’ll take care of you.”   There are cards in the pews containing Father Cyril’s prayer. Normally we ask you to leave them, but today I’m inviting you to take one home with you and get into the habit of saying the prayer daily. I promise you won’t be disappointed in the results.

To close, I’d like to go back to the original question, “How does the birth of Christ impact our daily lives?” God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to save us from ourselves. The Son left us with very simple instructions. “Love God. Love your neighbor.” How you demonstrate that love is up to you. It sounds simple, but in practice it can be very difficult. Face it, some of us aren’t very loveable. It’s easy to love those who love us. The hard part, the real challenge is to love those who don’t love us or maybe even hate us. That’s what Jesus did. If we love Him, can we do any less; not just today, but every day of the year?

More on Phil Robertson

Thanks for all the excellent comments on my previous post.  Phil-gate has started a lot of wonderful conversations all over the Internet and in other places.  (You may recall an old-time method of communication where two or more people actually sit in the same room and TALK TO EACH OTHER.  That’s happening too.)  As I said yesterday, this isn’t about Phil Robertson and it’s not about A & E.  It’s about public discussion of religious issues. Some commenters here and elsewhere have cried “foul” wondering why A & E isn’t protected by the same free speech rights as Phil Robertson.  They most definitely are.  The cable cops have not shown up at their headquarters with a warrant for anyone’s arrest.  Yes indeed, they are perfectly within their rights to suspend or even terminate Phil for violating their company policy. But here’s the thing, you and I have a right to demand that our media sources uphold a certain standard.  Obviously for millions of us that standard includes allowing their employees to express their religious views.  If the network wants our business then they should give us what we want.  If they don’t want our business, that’s ok too.  There are a lot of other channels. It’s worth mentioning that an A & E representative was present at the GQ interview.  As part of the ABC/Disney conglomerate, the network definitely could have applied pressure on the magazine to filter Phil’s comments.  They did not.  Hmmmmm. I would like to comment on a comment made by Chaz Peters on my earlier post.

Loved this article. On a side note you mentioned that Robertson’s stance on homosexuality is in alignment with the Catholic Church. Sadly, according to statements from the newest Pope and the conclusions of the Third Vatican Council, the catholic church has changed its official position on that matter. In fact they appear to declare that God has changed His opinion as well. It might be nice if you wrote on this matter as I see it as of far greater concern world-wide than the Duck Dynasty controversy.

This is a misunderstanding perpetrated by the same media that are saying Phil is a racist and a homophobe.  The Pope has actually said nothing of the kind.  What he has said corresponds to the ancient teaching going all the way back to Christ.  “Hate the sin.  Love the sinner.”  Being homosexual is not a sin.  Performing homosexual acts is.  We, as Christians, are not called to judge others even though most of us do it and even think we’re very good at it.  Logically then homosexual men and women are called to be celibate.  Of course our “modern” society laughs at such an old-fashioned notion.  Doesn’t it say in the Bible, or the US Constitution, or the Magna Carta, or somewhere that we all have the right to sexual satisfaction? Sorry but no.  In fact, Scripture tells us that a celibate life is the most excellent life of all.  But why would we expect society to believe that when they either don’t believe anything in the Bible or choose to believe just the parts that suit them? No, Church teaching hasn’t changed.  God’s opinion hasn’t changed.  And, unfortunately, the media’s ability to twist and spin a public figure’s words to fit their story hasn’t changed either.

The media are counting on us to forget this story in a short time.  They hope that Christmas and New Years and other news stories will push Phil-gate out of our consciousness.  Please don’t let that happen.  Stay informed.  Make your feelings known at every opportunity.  I’ve been wondering for years what it would take for Christians to be fed up enough to take some action.  Maybe the time is now.

2nd Sunday of Advent–Pope Francis on the Joy of the Gospel

Recently our Holy Father, Pope Francis, issued a document called Evangelii Gaudium, or the Joy of the Gospel.  It’s fairly long, almost 70 pages, and frankly, I’ve only read about 2/3 of it, but I’m getting there.  As usual, the media is trying to spin it as something that it isn’t.  In the past week our president has quoted from it and several conservative commentators, including Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly have attacked it; an interesting turn of events to be sure.  Our local paper, the Saint Louis Post Dispatch even joined in the fun.

 

But, of the 70 pages the Pope has written, the critics have focused on just a few paragraphs on the subject of economics.  As Catholics, you and I are called to follow the Pope’s guidance in matters of faith and morals.  Francis is a brilliant theologian, but he’s not an economist and I don’t think he’s trying to be one.  I don’t believe, as some would suggest, that he’s condemning capitalism in favor or socialism.  What he’s written reflects the current problems of the poor.  The idea that we should help the poor, to share what we’ve been given with those in need, isn’t a new idea.  It’s what Jesus told us 2,000 years ago.

 

The problem with our society today isn’t one of economic systems, it’s a problem of greed and corruption in governments and in business.  He writes, Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.”

I think most business leaders are basically good people.  Sadly, there are some who aren’t.  The real issue isn’t that making a profit is bad.  The issue is what do we do with that profit?  Do we buy bigger houses and better cars, or do we share it with those in need?  Is it really a problem with our capitalist system, or is it a problem of minds and hearts?

 

He also writes, “Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.”  Again, we have the greatest political system in the world, but I’m afraid that too many of our politicians don’t see their jobs as a vocation, but as a way to line their own pockets.  As Francis says, “no government can act without regard for shared responsibility.”

 

What I believe the Holy Father is saying in this lengthy document is that we must help the poor.  Other than a few paragraphs, his focus is on the Gospel, not on politics or economics.

 

In the second reading today, Paul writes to the Romans, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you for the glory of God”  Our call is to work together for the Glory of God.

 

In Matthew’s Gospel John the Baptist tells the Pharisees and Sadducees to “produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”  And he warns them that “every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

So, what does all this mean for you and me.  We’re not business tycoons.  We’re not politicians.  We’re just average people doing our best to get through this life and to make our ways to heaven.  But are we really just average?  John says that Jesus will baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  That’s pretty strong.  For most of us it’s been a long time since our baptism.  But the great thing about baptism is that it’s forever.  We have just as much Holy Spirit and fire in us today as we did on our baptism day.  It never leave us, but maybe our fire isn’t burning as brightly as it once was.  It may just be embers but it’s still there, waiting for us to fan the flames.

 

The title of Francis’ document is “The Joy of the Gospel.”  In the third paragraph he gives us a very profound prayer, “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you.  I need you.  Save me once again.  Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.”  Think about that.  Why are we here at mass. We’re here to renew our covenant with Him.  We do need Him, much more than He need us.  If the fire of our baptism needs to be rekindled, the mass is the place to find the fuel.  Maybe we take the Eucharist for granted.  Maybe it’s just something we do because we’ve always done it.  Let’s make this season of Advent a time of renewal.  In a few minutes we’ll receive Christ into our own bodies through the sacrament of the Eucharist.  What a great gift!  That’s what keeps our fire going.  If it’s not burning as brightly as it once was, it’s not the Father’s fault.  It’s not Jesus’ fault.  It’s not the Holy Spirit’s fault.  God gives us the fuel, it’s up to us to use it properly.

 

The joy of the Gospel!  There is no greater gift!  Praise God!

Let’s say the Holy Father’s prayer together:

 

“Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you.  I need you.  Save me once again.  Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.”  Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (3)

 

 

 

Clergy Assignments

priest shadow

Based on some things that have happened recently at my current assignment, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss the process for assigning clergy to parishes and other ministries.  Obviously, these are important decisions that can have a long-term effect on everyone involved.

First of all, the final decision on all clergy assignments in a diocese is made by the bishop.  Like any large organization, the bishop , as the  CEO, consults with a lot of people before he makes such an important call.  These consultations are very confidential.  In the course of making these choices, a lot of possible scenarios are considered.  “What if we move Father A to parish B?”  “If we do that, who gets Father A’s old position?”  “What about the current pastor of parish B?  It’s a complicated process.  Lots of possibilities are considered and rejected.  In the Archdiocese of Saint Louis we might ordain a half-dozen new priests in the spring.  Placing these men in parishes might result in twenty or more new assignments.  Frankly, I wouldn’t want to have to figure out all those moves.

Imagine, following our example, that it’s decided that Father A won’t go to parish B.  If someone unwisely had leaked this possible move to someone in the parishes involved, the rumors would fly.  “Father A is leaving!”  “Father A is coming to our parish!”  “What about Father B?  Where’s he going?”  On on, and on.  Lots of people are upset by something that’s not going to happen.

The bottom line is that until the bishop starts sending out letters to the clergy involved, nothing is set in stone.  If just one priest or deacon rejects a change in assignment, the whole process has to be redone.  Any speculation, based on early discussions, can only cause problems.

Recently a priest at a neighboring church asked me if I might be interested in moving.  I told him no.  I’m very happy where I am and I didn’t think the change he was proposing would be good for Saint John’s.  Keep in mind that this was just a priest talking to a deacon.  Archbishop Carlson wasn’t even aware of the conversation.  The next thing I knew, someone had started a rumor that I was leaving.  Like all rumors, it spread quickly, upsetting some people and making others happy.  Now it’s up to me to put out the fires.

Let’s face it; some people love their priests and deacons, some don’t.  Nothing good can come from building up people’s expectations about changes, either positive or negative.

A lot of prayer and discussion precedes any clergy moves.  What we have to remember, as faithful Catholics, is that our bishops are descended from the original twelve Apostles.  They are guided by the Holy Spirit.  Whenever they assign clergy, they are putting the men they believe to be the best fit in each position.  When priests and deacons are ordained they promise to be loyal to their bishop and his successors.  Personally, I will go where ever Archbishop Carlson wants me to go.  And until he tells me he wants me to move, I won’t speculate on what he might have in mind.  

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

I think most of us are old enough to remember when stores were closed on Sunday.  They called it the “blue law” and about the only thing open was the drug store.  If you needed gas you’d better get it on Saturday because even the filling stations were closed on Sunday.  Eventually the drug stores got the idea of selling bread and milk on the Lord’s day.  Every once in a while some discount store would decide to break the law and be open.  Then the police would show up and arrest everybody, they’d all make bail, and the store would be open again.

Today, with everything open 24/7 that all seems like a distant memory.  But the memory is a good one.  Sunday was special.  You’d go to church in the morning then have the whole day to rest and relax with your family.  Life was much simpler.

Now, there are very few days in the year when everything’s closed and soon those days won’t be special anymore either.  Look at Thanksgiving.  First stores started opening really early on Friday morning.  Now we have some opening on Thursday evening.  It won’t be long before Thanksgiving will be just another day to shop.  When that happens, Christmas and Easter won’t be far behind.

Two of my adult children are still in the retail business and it’s almost impossible to schedule a birthday party or other family gathering on the weekend because one or both of them is working Saturday and Sunday.

In the early ‘70s I worked for a retail electronics store.  It was part of a chain and my boss lived in Chicago where they had no blue laws.  It used to drive him crazy that the drug store next to us in the strip mall could be open on Sunday, selling batteries and TV tubes while we had to be closed.  I could see what was coming and got out of retail before the blue laws were repealed.

I thought about those days when I read today’s first reading.  “Hear this, you who trample on the needy and destroy the poor of the land!  ‘When will the new moon be over,’ you ask, ‘that we may sell our grain, and the Sabbath, that we may display the wheat?’

Under Jewish law, you couldn’t do business during the new moon or on the Sabbath.  Like the retailers back in the 1970s, they hated to lose even one day of business.  Notice what Amos calls them:  “you who trample on the needy and destroy the poor of the land”.  Apparently these weren’t nice guys.  All they cared about was the almighty dollar, or shekel, or whatever it was that they worshipped.  Their hearts and minds were in the wrong place and Amos warned them that “The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob; Never will I forget a thing they have done.”

If we look at Luke’s Gospel for today, there’s a similar theme.  Jesus tells his disciples the parable of the dishonest steward.  He’s been squandering his master’s property and the master demands a full accounting.  The steward is in a real spot.  He knows he’s probably going to be fired.  When word gets out that he was fired for stealing, no one will hire him.  Remember there was no such thing as unemployment insurance, food stamps, or any other kind of aid for him.  What can he do?  “He says “I’m not strong enough to dig and I’m ashamed to beg.” But those will be his only choices if he loses his job.

So, he decides that if he calls in his master debtors and offers to reduce their debts, at least he’ll have some friends when he gets thrown out on his ear.

Now, here’s where the parable gets confusing.  When the master hears what the steward has done, he commends him for acting prudently.  Wait a minute! He’s been ripping his master off.  He’s been found out.  So he rips the master off some more and he’s commended.

But here’s where we have to remember that Jesus often said outrageous things.  “Love your enemies.”  “Turn the other cheek.”  “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.”  His message isn’t if you get caught stealing, steal some more.  His message is that when you get in trouble, take a good hard look at the situation then do something about it.  Don’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself, take action.

He’s also telling us that money isn’t a god.  We don’t worship money, or at least we shouldn’t.  Temporal goods are temporary.  “No servant can serve two masters….You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  In yesterday’s (Friday’s) Gospel He said, “Love of money is the root of all evil.”  We often hear this phrase quoted as “money is the root of all evil.”  But that’s not true.  It’s loving money that gets us into trouble.  We all need money.  We need it to live and we need it to share with those less fortunate than we are.  We couldn’t run this church without money.

And that brings up a good point.  We all give money to the church; at least I hope we do.  If you give all that you can, then you’re showing that you love God more than stuff.  But, if you toss a few bucks into the offering basket, but not too much because there’s a big screen TV you have your eye on and you really want it, especially during the football season, then you have to ask yourself what you love more.  Are you turning money into a god?

Only you can answer that question, but God’s telling us today that you’d better get it right.  Remember what Amos said, “The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:  Never will I forget a thing they have done!”  We might add that he won’t forget a thing that we haven’t done either.

Times are tough.  In spite of what you hear on the news, a lot of people are out of work.  The unemployment numbers are looking better only because so many people have just given up.  They’ve stopped looking for a job.  It used to be that we’d get a phone call here once in a while from someone looking for help with their rent.  We always refer them to Saint Vincent de Paul or Catholic Charities.  But I’ve gotten two calls like that in the last week.

On top of that, you’ve got the flooding in Colorado and now in Mexico.  There are just so many people who need our help.  We don’t want to be like those merchants in the first reading, trampling the needy and destroying the poor.  Just this week our Holy Father spoke about how important it is for us to help one another.  Like his namesake, Francis of Assisi, he has a special concern for those in need.

If we do nothing else, we should be bombarding heaven with prayers for those in need.  Even better is to back up those prayers with whatever money we can afford.  There are also a lot of opportunities right here in the neighborhood to volunteer our time.  Like I said, only you know what you can afford in time and treasure.  You’ve been very generous in your contributions of food and school supplies, in supplies for the elderly and in our yearly toy collection.  But we all need to do more.

Be aware of those around you.  Something as simple as helping someone carry their groceries to the car, or helping someone in a wheelchair get through a doorway is the kindness that’s often missing in this world.  The Catholic Church has always been known for helping the poor.  Catholic Charities is the largest social service agency in the state of Missouri.  Catholic hospitals provide millions of dollars of free care every year.

As they told me when I once volunteered with Catholic Charities, “we don’t help people because they’re Catholic.  We help them because we’re Catholic.”  That’s our calling.  Can we do any less?

If you’ll bear with me for just another minute, I want to mention that next Saturday is the feast of Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech Republic.  When he was killed by his brother’s men, he was almost immediately declared a saint.  The people loved him because he was a benevolent king but even more for all that he did to help the poor.  He used to sneak out at night and take food to the poor when no one was around to see him.  Even though he was a wealthy man, he did everything he could to help his people in need.  Saint Wenceslas, pray for us .