All posts for the month March, 2011

March 19, 20, 21, 22, 2011 Saint Peter Catholic Church Pine Bluff, AK

Genesis 12: 1-4 + Psalm 33 + 2 Timothy 1: 8-10 + Matthew 17: 1-9

“All of us are engaged to one degree or another in a personal, ongoing battle with sin and vice, although we may not think of the conflicts with our nature in those terms. Although our anger doesn’t make most of us murderers, our lust doesn’t make most of us rapists, and our greed and envy do not make most of us outright criminals, they together with gluttony, arrogance, and sloth, often make us and those who have to live with us miserable. Moreover, when we give in to these passions we debase our humanity. Our failure to live up to the best we can morally be is as tragic as the unhappiness our evil causes.” There is a social dimension to all of this as well for which we are responsible. It works its way through our commerce our entertainment, and our whole culture. Pride, greed, and anger profoundly influence domestic and foreign policy. If we truly had generous and compassionate leaders who were imbued with the value of social stewardship rather than greed and ambition, we would not have tolerated the corporate scandals we have endured in the last ten years. “Every deadly sin fuels harmful social phenomena: lust-pornography; gluttony-substance abuse; envy-terrorism; anger-violence; sloth-indifference to the pain and suffering of others; greed-abuse of public trust; and pride-discrimination.”

These sins are about what it means to be human and humane, not about what it means to be perfect or “holy.” This is basic stuff. It concerns the core of what we are, of what we can become, and most importantly, of what we should aspire to be. In the end, the question of what we want to be has an answer most of us would quickly give: happy. We want to be happy. What those of us who share a common faith believe is that happiness is not dependent upon physical or material pleasure. In fact it is often hampered by it. “Our culture teaches that pleasure and possessions are happiness with the result that pleasure is often substituted for happiness and meaning in life.” When a crisis comes along that pleasure cannot resolve a secular person runs to the psycho-therapist. It is not so for us. We have a treasure of wisdom and tradition, teaching and revelation that leads us to a life of virtue and balance, holiness and joy. It is not that pleasure is inappropriate, but that it comes from character and virtue, and a right relationship of one’s self to others. That is where we shall find pleasure.

“If we do not take seriously our capacity for evil, we are unable to take seriously our capacity for good.” There will be no taking credit for the good that we do if we fail to accept the blame for the evil. The tradition I invite you to reflect upon This evening, tomorrow, and Tuesday evening is called “The Seven Deadly Sins” That tradition does not allow us to compartmentalize our lives. It reminds us that our lives are ours to make. Unlike our bodies so influenced by our genes; our souls, our spirit, and the lives they animate are free to be shaped by our choices. We can choose to be whole. There is more and better in us than we have chosen to become. Accepting the fact that we sin is a summons to life. 

We are always inventing gods. It seems to be a characteristic of our age and perhaps every age. The god most popular this day is a god who does not demand much of us, is certainly not a god that punishes, although we don’t mind a reward now and then. The sentimental god of most sappy religious pop music is a god that just pats us on the head like grandpa and sends us on our way. With a god like that, there is certainly no need to trouble one’s self about the devil but there’s the trouble. The devil’s best trick is to convince us that there is no devil.

We recognize evil in others, but if we ever want to see the face of sin, we must look in the mirror. All we see in others is it’s reflection from ourselves. The honest among us know that what we always criticize first in another is the very thing we dislike in ourselves. Sin is our secret from others. Only we know where and how deeply it has taken root in us. Saint John says: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 

When we recognize and confess that sin and our inclination toward it is a part of our nature, and that we alone will never wholly eradicate it, there is at least something for us to do in our lives that will not in the end seem just futile and absurd. We can make sense of our lives because the existence of evil presents us with moral choices, and in making those choices, we form our character. We have been given our nature, but we choose our character. When we say someone is a good man or a good woman, we do not suggest that they are people in whom there is no inclination to evil, but rather that they are people who have wrestled and still wrestle with it and never give in because their quality and their goodness comes from the struggle. Those people are truly noble. 

“Morality is like art, said G.K. Chesterton, “it consists of drawing a line somewhere.” We live in an age in which no lines seem to be drawn at all, or those that have been drawn are being erased. In my 68th year of life and my 43rd year as priest I have come to recognize that an unhealed wound, a kind of sinful restlessness, afflicts humanity. Our humanity is losing much of its real glory and beauty. It is less and less a mirror of the creator. That’s what is going on in today’s Gospel – on that mountain top. Those apostles see the glory of God, the glory of God in humanity. It is possible, it is desirable. It is God’s will to have God’s glory revealed in human nature; not just his Son’s, but in all of us. I want to propose to you that if we can take our sinning seriously we might at least find that we can be interesting again, and so can life itself.

I invite you to give three evenings this week for the sake of the truth, three evenings in a church in front of the mirror for the sake of life itself; your life. Tonight it will be about Pride and Envy, tomorrow night about Anger and Sloth, Tuesday night about Greed, Gluttony, and Lust.  I’ve saved the best till last! I hope to see again for prayer tonight night when we might begin again to wonder about how it might be that the glory of God might again be revealed in human nature, in our nature, in our lives. It is not only Jesus who must reveal the glory of God, but everyone who bears the name of Christ and who lives the life of Christ.


Sunday evening Saint Peter Church Pine Bluff, AK

March 20, 2011

Opening Hymn:

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament

……..a few moments of adoration

Reading 1 (Sirach 10 12-18, 22, 26)

“A reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes also called the Book of Sirach.

The first stage of pride is to desert the Lord and to turn one’s heart away from one’s Maker. Since the first stage of pride is sin, whoever clings to it will pour forth filth. This is why the Lord inflicts unexpected punishments on such people, utterly destroying them. The Lord has turned mighty princes off their thrones and seated the humble there instead. The Lord has lucked up the proud by the roots, and planted the lowly in their place. The Lord has overthrown the lands of the nations and destroyed them to the very foundations of the earth. Sometimes he has taken them away and destroyed them and blotted out their memory from the earth. Pride was not created for human beings……The rich, the noble, the poor, let them pride themselves on fearing the Lord.  Do not try to be smart when you do your work, do not put on airs when you are in difficulties. Better the hardworking who has plenty of everything, than the pretentious at a loss for a meal. My child, be modest in your self-esteem, and value yourself at your proper worth.”

The Word of the Lord.


When the church fathers made their list of sins, pride was always at the top of the list because it was idolatry – the first sin for the Jews is the beginning of all sin. There are all kinds of ways to describe the behavior that manifests pride. The proud are arrogant, haughty, conceited, egocentric, narcissistic, insolent, presumptuous and vain, and way more besides! We know when we are angry or greedy, but pride is more clever and subtle. Unique among the others, we are frequently unaware of pride. It shows itself in secret: in secret contempt and self-righteous judgment; in secret illegal and unethical behavior; in the smug attitude we have toward the weakness and failure of others as well as in a sense of privilege which marks our age so severely. The proud think they earn things which they then possess because of something they have done. You see, it’s all about them.

Pride easily finds a home among us because our culture predisposes us to competition, and that’s a bad thing! “Pride must be competitive, since it cannot concede first place to anyone even when its real wants are satisfied.” The games and the competitive world of commerce in which we find ourselves are natural breeding grounds for pride. “I’m number one.” “I made it.”  “It’s mine.” Now there’s nothing wrong with being one unless you can’t live with being number two. But the real problem here is the pronoun, that notion that it’s me, that I did it.

Now, part of the problem is language. We no longer use the word “pride” only to refer to idolatry. Today we use it carelessly to sometimes mean “self-esteem” which is not necessarily a bad thing. We tell our kids to take pride in themselves, to be proud of their work. We tell them, I hope, that we are proud of them. The result is a kind of semantic switch that gets this all mixed up in a kind of psycholinguistic soup. The result is that feelings of guilt are no longer interpreted as messages from God or signs of broken covenant. We are now allowed to think that it is a matter of low self esteem. So, pump up the old feel – good ego, and I’ll get over the guilt. Then the higher our self-esteem becomes, the more insulated we become from the pain of broken relationships. When you start thinking that way, you’ll end up with a moat around your soul, isolated, lonely, and distant from everything and everyone beautiful which is just where the proud person is always found. Lonely!

Perhaps the real truth is that the excessively proud person is really not in love with themselves at all, at least not in a healthy way, but actually suffers from the opposite malady. My experience with the puffed up people is that they are in fact excessively insecure. They are self-obsessed because they are always trying to prove something. They look down on others because they never look up to themselves. 

I have come to the conclusion that American Culture is not Christian. I think that is why radical Moslems do not want us near them. If we were really living like Christ, we would be easy companions with Islam. When they refer to us as “infidels” instead of getting all bent out of shape we might give some serious thought as to how much we really do seem like those pagan, infidel “Romans”. Like that dead culture, we worship perfection and power. We hate our imperfect lives and feel powerless in the face of impossible standards. These imperfections torment us, and our obsession with self-improvement leaves little time or energy for meaningful relationships. It’s Pride.

Now consider this: there is an answer to this deadly sin that eats at us day in and day out. It is simple, and it stares us right in the face, yet we do not recognize it. A more authentic and natural love of self is how pride is disarmed: in other words, Truth! Now, loving oneself is not the same as being in love with oneself. I am talking here about a new virtue called: WORTHINESS. You see, a worthy person has nothing to prove because worthiness cannot be earned. It can only be recognized. It is a gift. 

Years ago, I went to summer school in New Orleans at Loyola. The first morning in the dining room at the dorm my order came out with this small, milky-colored, grainy-looking pile of mush on one side of the eggs. “What’s that?” I asked the waitress.

“Them’s grits,” she said.

“But I didn’t order grits,” I said

“You don’t have to,” she replied. “They just come.”

Now, that’s the way it is with Worthiness. You don’t have to order it, and you can’t do anything to earn it. It just comes.

The Protestant work ethic that has so shaped this nation demands that we earn everything, and that’s a set up for pride.

Worthiness at its core is grace. Like true beauty, which is best described as the “effortless manifestation of inner peace,” true worthiness is the effortless manifestation of inner gratitude. We have forgotten that we are born good – at least I think that’s what we heard God say when he looked at all of this! We may make mistakes, but we are not a mistake. Imagine what this world would be like if more people felt not just good about themselves, but worthy. One of the most devastating and deadly realties in American life is our obsession with physical beauty. We live under an astonishing barrage of images whose message is, quite simply, “You don’t look so good, don’t you wish you did?” Image is everything. Having a look is not enough. One must have the look. How else do you explain that plastic surgery is the fastest-growing form of medicine? This is Roman culture, we are obsessed not with beauty and truth, but with perfection.

So, this “worthiness” I’m proposing is really just a new version of an old a trusted virtue: humility. The trouble is, “humility” too has gotten a bad language twist, and too often we think it has something to do with being soft and self-depreciating. That is ridiculous. To be humble is not to put oneself down. In fact thinking too little of oneself is also a manifestation of pride. The foundation of humility is truth. The sadness here is that we fail to take truth seriously: the truth about our worthiness, our goodness, and our inherent value and dignity.

Kneel for adoration

Reading 2 (James 3:14-18)

 “A reading from the Epistle of James.

Anyone who is wise or understanding among you should from a good life give evidence of deeds done in the gentleness of wisdom. But if at heart you have the bitterness of jealousy, or selfish ambition, do not be boastful or hide the truth with lies; this is not the wisdom that comes from above, but earthly, human and devilish. Wherever there are jealousy and ambition, there are also disharmony and wickedness of every kind; whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it is also peaceable kindly and considerate; it is full of mercy and  shows itself by doing good; nor is there an y trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it. The peace sown by peacemakers brings a harvest of justice.”

The Word of the Lord.


I had a terrible time choosing scripture to lead us into this reflection. There is so much to draw from I finally settled on the letter of James simply because of time. Yet you might think about Cain and Able, about the tale of Joseph and his brothers, or about the account of the relationship between King Saul and David as it deteriorates. And then there is that wonderful story of King Solomon and how he exposes the envious impostor who would allow the baby to be split in two when the real mother would not. Then, there are the two brothers of the prodigal father who stands between them begging them to come into the banquet.

The roots of envy begin early in life. From childhood we are compared to others. Our value as individuals is measured by how much dumber or smarter, uglier or more beautiful, weaker or stronger, poorer or richer we are than our peers. Competition, as I said earlier: it’s killing us. These are deadly sins. We begin to interpret our lack of what another person possess as somehow indicative of our lesser worth in general. “One of the destructive forms that Envy takes today is the widespread assumption that everyone should be able to do and experience and enjoy everything that everyone else can do and experience and enjoy. That thinking is the beginning of Envy. The idea that we are all equal has been perverted into the idea that we are identical; and when we then find that we cannot all do and experience and enjoy the things that others do and experience and enjoy, we take our revenge and deny that they were worth doing and experiencing and enjoying in the first place.”  The result is that we make no place for the unique for what is rare and cannot be imitated since we would then not be able to achieve it. We end up unable to admire, respect, or be grateful for what is more noble, more lovely, or greater than ourselves. We must pull down or put down what is exceptional. So, envy is not just grieving because of another’s good which is an element of pride; but envy grieves because the good in another diminishes one’s own self.  It’s no sin to recognize or even feel badly that you lack something someone else has. It is a sin when envy makes us wish the other did not have it at all. 

Dejection is a striking symptom of envy. Bitter regret over what we cannot have is envy. That bitterness leads to chipping away at the reputation of another. Pointing out their faults becomes an escape from the dejection. It is a spiteful malignancy. It is an ugly effort to level the playing field or bring another down because we are not up. The envious are completely without gratitude. The envious see themselves as “losers.” Again, competition makes winners and losers. There is something about competition that dooms those to failure who judge themselves by looking at others. There are two assumptions: that everyone begins with an equal chance from the starting line, and that the rules of the competition are fair at every stage. These conditions are unrealizable which is the flaw in the idea that there is equality of opportunity.

Someone once said: “Imitation is the best form of flattery.” I think that idea leads to phony and empty pretense. Admiration or Emulation is what is called for, and it is the surest antidote to envy. The attitude: “If I can’t have it, I don’t want anyone else to have it” is the heart of darkness. It is the loser’s emotion. It is an irrational quality when there is a better way, a lively virtue, a more noble human response: Emulation. To be in the presence of excellence, virtue, bravery or enlightenment does not always produce feelings of sinful envy, or even disappointment that we failed to reach such a high mark. Sometimes we just wonder how that excellence was acquired, what part of it might be available to us or how we might be more like the one we admire! 

Imitation is a counterfeit form of emulation. Imitators do not take the time and energy required to learn what constitutes the soul of those they admire. They merely rifle through their bag of tricks, confusing technique with essence. Dressing like your hero, even talking like him, does not make you, in any sense, heroic. In fact, that sincerest form of flattery nonsense is just that. Imitation is hazardous to your soul.

Have you ever noticed in the New Testament that more people get mad over God’s generous treatment of those who do not deserve it than they do over God’s harsh treatment of those who do?  That parable of the folks hired at different times of the day and then all paid the same is the perfect example of envy at work. The parable speaks of our inability to calculate the mercies of God. Human nature leads us to think that other people are always getting more than they deserve, while we assume that our rewards are just compensation. 

What would happen if, instead of sinful envy, the workers actually sought to emulate the owner? That is, you know what Jesus was always doing. He never told people what to believe. He simply showed people what to do, and then asked them to go and do likewise. So, the eleventh-hour workers could be grateful for their good fortune and model their behavior after that of the owners. Having received beyond merit, they could choose to be generous beyond deserving. At the very least, they would buy the first round of drinks.

Envy is always about power. Emulation is about goodness. In the end, the simple test of determining if the envy we feel toward another might be redeemed is to ask: “Would I like to be more like that person? Or do I wish that person would fall from grace? If envy drives us to hate someone or to wish someone harm, then it’s deadly indeed. The world is starved for heroes, and we have settled instead for celebrities. Celebrities are the creature of an envious age. We ascribe no virtue to them. We never think of them as wise or generous, they are simply paid more than we are paid. In envy we erect them, for awhile let our envy prey on them, and then in our envy we destroy them. When we are asked to name the people who have made a difference in our lives, we almost always name a teacher, a family member or a close friend. These people did not make us jealous. We wanted to emulate them, even surpass them. When parents talk about wanting things to be better for their children than they were for them, they are not just talking about money. They want their children to be more, to feel more, to live more. Nothing pleases a real parent like having a child who actually excels over them in all these ways. Envy is a secret thing that makes us bitter, lonely, mean and petty. It never allows us nor motivates us to do better nearly as much as it wishes others to do worse. This malice and evil-mindedness easily and quietly takes possession of us and hardens our hearts. Yet, gratitude and admiration, contentedness and joy at another’s goodness will set us free.

A time of adoration follows and Tantum Ergo is sung.

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, you have given us the eucharist as the memorial of your suffering and death. May our worship of this sacrament of your body and blood  help us to experience the salvation you have won for us and the peace of the kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Benediction is given, and at the conclusion, the following Litany is sung:

We have been seduced by the arrogance of our self-sufficiency without recourse to your grace. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

In our search for self-esteem, we have lost sight of our brokenness which cries out for your healing. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have denied our responsibility for others and shown indifference to their suffering and plight. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have worshipped the image of ourselves in our achievements without gratitude to you.  Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have presumed on the rightness of our opinions and actions and failed to admit our faults. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

Because of our narrow mindedness, we have refused to acknowledge the blessing and goodness of others. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

In our envious spirit, we have been reduced to competition instead of cooperation with each other. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

For fear of feeling like failures, we have belittled and criticized the successes of others. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

By comparing ourselves with others, we have not embraced and appreciated our own blessing. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have become self-righteous in our jealousy of the intimacy and friendship enjoyed by other. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

Our Father…….

Go in Peace.


Monday Evening Saint Peter Pine Bluff

March 21, 2009

Reading 1 (Ephesians 4:26-32)

A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Church of Ephesus.

“My brothers and sisters never let the sun set on your anger or else you will give the devil a foothold. Anyone who was a thief must stop stealing; instead he should exert himself at some honest job with his own hands so that he may have something to share with those in need. No foul word should ever cross your lips; let your words be for the improvement of others, as occasion offers, and do good to your listeners; do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God who has marked you with his seal, ready for the day when we shall be set free. Any bitterness or bad temper or anger, or shouting or abuse must be far removed from you – as must every kind of malice. Be generous to one another, sympathetic, forgiving each other as readily as God forgave you in Christ.” The Word of the Lord

The Homily

Whoever said that “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you.” must have lived among deaf mutes. That old saying deserves to be deleted from our memory. As a child I never believed it, and as an adult, I have come to wonder what kind of person could have ever thought such a thing. What were they thinking? “Careless words can do untold damage; one word may destroy even a sublime love.” This sin, called Anger is not about sudden flashes at things gone wrong – those outbursts here one minute and gone the next make the best of us giggle at how silly we reacted over something of little consequence. This sin is about a disorder, an outburst of emotion connected with a desire for revenge. This is an emotion that becomes an obsession. Perhaps it is better called: “Wrath.” It is a fixation and we live in an age of wrath.

This wrath is observed everyday in the behavior of terrorists, kidnappers, hijackers, looters, and sometimes the clenched fists of demonstrators.

This is an angry age. Our world is crowded with angry people. Sometimes we are the angry ones. In my reflection on this third of the Deadly Sins, I am coming to realize that much of this anger is fueled by a serious confusion over rights and wants. We have come to a time in human history when any need any desire any longing for anything that one lacks but someone else has, is today conceived to be my rightthat, when demanded, must be provided without challenge, and if it is not at once supplied the one making the demand as entitled to be angry. In that kind of climate, you can hardly blame the one making the demand for taking advantage of this foolishness since they are justified in advance on four grounds:

what they want, it is their right to have;

when it is asked, it should be granted;

if it is not granted, it is understandable that they are angry;

since they are angry, it is clear that their demand in the first place was justified.

I don’t think any civilization in human history has ever gotten itself in this mess before. It is a vicious circle: any and every felt want is translated into a “right” which incites the citizens to Anger then to destructiveness.

I have no intention of “preaching to the choir” so to speak, or of getting side tracked by this example, but this is something to think about seriously, and I think it is the best example for thinking about this matter of a woman’s “right” to control her body: “Abortion.” The bottom line here is that there are no boundaries that can logically be set to the concept of individual and human rights. We are so individualized in this culture that every individual need, want, or desire has become a “right.” But any high school student who studies biology knows that we don’t have control over our bodies.  They are subject to infection, disease, decay, and death.  The truth is, one cannot claim as a right what cannot be guaranteed, and there is no way of guaranteeing to any of us, male or female, the right to have “control over our own bodies.” To present as rights what cannot in the end be secured as rights, as we all too often do today, is a sure prescription for Wrath.

Wrath is inevitably directed, even if not intentionally, at an innocent object. In this case, it is the conceived child. The mother may want to abort, but it isn’t a right. To translate a wish into a right is an example of the absurdly distorted concept of individual and human rights by which our society is now confused. It sets us against each other in an endless combat for the rights we claim. Anger is the consequence.

Most of these “rights” someone will claim will, if granted involve the diminishing of another’s rights. The freedom of a woman to choose not to have a child can be a diminishing of the freedom of a man to enjoy the child whom he has played some part in conceiving; to say nothing of the rights of the child to life. If anyone can claim that any felt want or need or longing is a right, there are clearly no such things as rights left at all, since everyone’s supposed rights are pitted legitimately against everyone else’s supposed rights, and we no longer have any way of deciding what is a right and what is not. These cases may seem now to be harmlessly in the courts, but the assumptions behind them can only breed discord, which in turn can only breed a violent society. We have it, and we have it big time!

The desire for revenge is both an outcome of Wrath and a cause. “Getting even”, Getting back” – it’s all the same. Driving up Bardstown Road today, I pulled up behind a car as traffic slowed at Taylorsville which had a bumper sticker that read: “I get mad, and I get even.” Road rage is an epidemic in our time, and so is gratuitous violence. Both are directly related to a culture of hyper-individualism which has placed a giant chip on everyone’s precious shoulder. “How dare the world slow me down? How dare we be inconvenienced by a traffic jam, by someone in the grocery store line ahead of us who chats kindly for just moment with a tired checker? How dare that old person slow down in front of me before turning right?”

We are living through the angriest time in the history of our nation. The horrible events of September 11, 2001 created more anger in this country than anyone has seen since Pearl Harbor. The anger raged into wrath and the need to retaliate against the real perpetrators. We’ll get Osama and his network He’ll be hunted down, smoked out, and brought home dead or alive. Anger, you know, often causes us to make promises we can’t keep. What’s more, when dealing with September 11, the distinction between real and perceived injury becomes more than academic. Most Americans defended the war to drive the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and shut down the terrorist training camps. The problem came when “perceived” injuries were ascribed to Iraq, and our anger was directed at a country which, although suffering under a cruel dictator, had done no real harm to us.

We let our anger get the best of us, and then later we learned that the weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaeda did not exist. We were right to be angry about September 11, but by focusing on our own desire for revenge we allowed ourselves to be dragged or manipulated in a war that has not brought us any closer to capturing the real terrorists. We were hurt, and so we lashed out. But the convenient target isn’t necessarily the legitimate target. While our response may have made us feel better, it hurt our reputation around the world. You know what the difference between a reaction and a response is? It’s a pause. I remember my mom standing still with lips tight counting to ten. She taught me to do that. It makes the difference between an angry reaction (knee jerk) and a reasonable response (wisdom).

Mahatma Gandhi warned us that “an eye for an eye just leaves the whole world blind.” 

So, when things don’t go well, or we fail to get something we want, someone else must be to blame. That is the thinking of our culture. We are taught to assume personal responsibility, but as individuals we often act like victims. The lyrics of nearly every country and western song reveal the sorry mess we are in: “Somebody Done Somebody Wrong.” and, we’re, “Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” (Another bumper sticker I saw this week.) There always has to be someone to blame with this crazy thinking because Wrath needs an enemy, and even where this is none, it will invent one. Timothy McVeigh grew up angry and then left a loveless home to live in a world of cheap hotel rooms, hate radio, and the fraternity of racism. Failing to find himself worthy of love, he became addicted to hatred, which can be its own kind of narcotic. After the bombing, our anger was first directed against Arabs, and we immediately detained several men of Arab descent without cause, except that they looked to white America like terrorists. When the real perpetrator turned out to look very much like a clean-cut Marine, we found it difficult to believe that he acted alone, and began to spin out conspiracy theories like cotton candy, because anger can blind us and make us believe we know something, even when we know nothing.

So what about a virtue to use against this sin? There is a theory about “good anger and bad anger.” Let’s call it Indignation. Put the word Righteous in front of it if you want, but I think that’s confusing. “Indignation” has to do with dignity, and what I want to suggest is that a little indignation – that is to say, a little good anger about the right things might help us refocus and surface a little good old passion for justice, not revenge. It might be a good idea sometime to get angry because we care, not just because our feelings have been hurt. Lots of people are mad these days, but not about anything that matters. 

The Gospel images of Jesus do not avoid the reality of anger and the human passion of Jesus Christ. That occasion when he cleansed the Temple was an experience of human passion that could not be ignored. The image of Jesus as “meek and mild” is not always reconcilable with the Jesus of the Gospels. Remember the time when he walked past a fig tree looking for something to eat? In fact, when you start looking at the man who cursed a fig tree because it didn’t give him food when he wanted it even out of season, when you remember that he suggested a mill-stone as a necklace for those who hurt children, you might suspect he needed an anger management class. This matter of anger is really about passion directed in the right way. It is about action, doing something, not just thinking something. The reality of Jesus is that he was angry, but not over some injustice done to him. Rather he was boiling over with indignation over the corruption of religion in his time. I think he is still indignant. The scandal of our church today is not about sex abuse nor that people do not believe the right things as some on the far right would like to suggest. It is that people hardly ever do the right things. Jesus has become a cosmic pal, a buddy. God has become wise and adorable, maybe awesome, but never disturbing. The Word of God has become a study guide. It might be time for God to become frightening again. It might be that so many are obsessed with the second coming because the first coming was so disappointing.

Anger is self-serving passion. When we stir our passions for the sake of others, stop worrying about our rights and act more out of justice, it won’t be so dangerous on our streets. We are at war with terrorism and we will be for a long time to come. The manner in which we marshal our anger and wage this war will determine whether we make the world safer or more dangerous. National anger, smoldering beneath a fervent and even oppressive patriotism, can ultimately sanction the kind of indiscriminate rage that only breeds more terrorists. Indignation on the other hand moves deliberately but patiently to bring terrorists to justice rather than bringing ‘justice to terrorists. Instead of a deadly sin, we need a lively virtue. The love of justice perverted into the desire for revenge and the injury of someone else will end our civilization. When ever love is translated into hatred, we know that sin has entered and wrecked its havoc.

Reading 2 (Mark 4:26-29)

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark

A man scatters seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, de does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoots then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, at once he starts to reap because the harvest has come.”

The Gospel of the Lord 

The Homily

“Life is tough. Then you die.” Another bumper sticker I saw just yesterday. I think I may change the name of these talks from: “Seven Deadly Sins” to “Bumper Sticker Wisdom”! But there’s another old saying like the one I just mentioned: “Sticks and Stones”. It’s a simple one; four words that were drilled into me as child: “Mind Your Own Business.” As an adult and priest, I have begun to question that wisdom. I have begun to suspect that it is at the root of a seriously sinful life style. “Live and Let Live.” is part of that false wisdom. “Don’t’ get involved.” my father once said to me. Bad advice!

“Sloth”. I choose to stick with the old English word because it is so curious. It sounds like being lazy, like laying too long in the bathwater or sleeping through breakfast. It hardly sounds deadly, and certainly not like a capital offence, but it is. It is way more than an energy deficiency. It is not about deciding one morning that you’ll roll over and go back to sleep, or taking a nap in the afternoon when you should be doing laundry. It IS about a fundamental loss of faith in one’s ability to do anything about anything. It is about a feeling expressed this way: “So what? I couldn’t care less.”

If we are living in an age of Anger, it is also an era of anxiety. Like the previous sin, it rests upon the false notion that an individual can find fulfillment and salvation in nothing but his or her own self and the denial that we are members one of another, and that “the solidarity of mankind links the crimes of each to the sorrows of all.” It is that business of individualism again. It is summed up best in the advice: “Look out for Number One.” It is the first commandment of Sloth.

This whole idea, the whole concept of individualism reached a new high and new approval/acceptance in this country during the Reagan years – it was the philosophy of that administration: a new era, a new approval of selfish self-approval and an economics of ego centric individualism. It failed us, and while he may have been “The Great Communicator”, what he ended up communicating was a kind of isolated individualism that set the stage for a gradual polarization as the rich get richer and the poor take care of them.

The first symptom of sloth is Complacency. Individualism breeds it. It is the complacency of the comfortable. As they have grown in number, one begins to hear the denials that we are our brothers’ keeper. That’s Sloth in your face. Looking out for Number One has been given even more enforcement by the self-indulgent ideas that “I’m OK, you’re OK” or “I am I and You are You.” “I’ll leave you alone, and you leave me alone, and if we do that, everything will be fine!”

No it won’t!  It will not be fine. I won’t be fine, and you won’t be fine. I think I remember in Genesis God is quoted as having said: “It is not good for man to be alone.” There is something wrong here. This is a breeding ground for indifference, and “Indifference” is another word or manifestation of Sloth – it is deadly: deadly to individuals and deadly to the human family.

One of the consequences of all this in our society is getting more and more obvious to people like me. It is at the root of many divorces and the cause of a pressing crisis in our church. I have been interviewing, one by one, the young people in this year’s confirmation class. One of the questions I ask them is what they will be doing after High School. My favorite answer is: “I don’t know.” I squirm when they tell me they are going into law school, medical school, or planning to be an X ray technician. To those I have a second question: “Do you think that’s what God wants you to do?” At least those who have not made up their minds might be open to wondering what God wants them to do with their lives. It’s all about pursuing some purpose in one’s life, and that means it’s about commitment to someone or something other than oneself. I am of the opinion that young people have no interest what so ever in the priesthood because it requires that frightening experience called: “Commitment.” Avoiding that is what gives so much anxiety to young people approaching marriage. Living it is what makes keeping a marriage alive so difficult. Avoiding it because a marriage like priesthood is hard work is called SLOTH.

Sloth grows quietly and steadily in an environment of gratification. If it doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t get done. If the good feeling is delayed, other things will come first. A lot of charity work is like that, and I am suspicious of it. A large group of young people from Norman, Oklahoma went to a town in Mexico under the sponsorship of a local Methodist church and they built a couple of houses. They came home. Some of them felt really good about it and they want to go again, and I wonder: to build houses or feel good, can they build enough houses to really matter, will they do something about the system that creates the problem if it means they will have to suffer with less? Some became profoundly disturbed, and they have the best chance of all to make a difference if they stay disturbed. The good feeling here is like a narcotic. It satisfies, provides contentment, and nothing changes.

Those who have taken ill with sloth have no identity except their personal identity. There is an absence of group identity. That’s what happens with people too lazy to go to church – they think they are Catholic, but the very identity of Church springs from the assembly. If you’re not in it, if you’re not part of it, if you’re not identified by being in the middle of it, you can’t claim the identity. You’re just claiming an idea. The individualism that is on the rise in our culture shows it’s self in that question: “What’s in it for me?” with immediate gratification of one’s need coming before all other loyalties. So, the commitment to marriage or to having children while debts get paid off begins. The individualism of our age is an ideology that encourages people to maximize personal advantage while consideration of the common good is increasingly irrelevant. It’s SLOTH.

I find it fascinating to discover that in collectivist societies which are often religious (Islam being a perfect example) a person’s loyalty to his family or group takes precedence over his personal goals. Such societies have among the lowest rates of crime, dysfunctional families, and alcoholism. The thought/comparison makes me uncomfortable, but have you ever wondered why no one among us ever blows themselves up for a cause or an ideal or a vision of what should be? We don’t care enough. We are too complacent. We don’t care about the right things and are too easily satisfied with puny pleasures that never last. 

Meanwhile, in the real world, millions of people are moving through life like zombies, staying outwardly busy but not finding anything much worth living for. “I’m so busy! I hardly know what to do.” Business! It is deadly. I’ve given up on a couple of relationships I had hoped would foster lasting companionship because the other person was just too busy all the time. All they could ever talk about was how busy they were. I began to feel like an interruption, an intruder. Personally I hate it when people walk up to me or call me on the phone and start by saying: Father, I know you’re busy, and I’m sorry to bother you!” WHAT?  My life is not about meetings and reports which fill in the gaps that anyone else can do. So when I hear that, rather than be insulted, I simply quietly realize I am being corrected. I can’t count the marriages I’ve seen blow up because people are so busy or the number of families that fall apart because of busy parents and equally busy children who run from soccer to Tee ball, to ballet or swimming lessons. Their refrigerator doors are covered with schedules and lists, and inside there is nothing to eat because they don’t have time to sit down and look at one another, so they eat on the way to or from some game or some practice or some meeting. This is deadly. It is sloth.

Herein lays the paradox of sloth: its ability to disguise itself in misdirected activity. The consequence is neglect, neglect of higher things, greater things, spiritual things, in the end, neglect of self. This is life in a vacuum.

There is a spiritual side to this as well. Just as the slothful avoid obligations that demand sacrifice, so do we experience the same thing spiritually. I think it is what gives rise to some popular devotions that are so shallow and silly and ask so little of us while the real stuff of spiritual life gets ignored: Fasting, Prayer, Sacrifice. Instead of visiting the sick, the nursing homes, the homeless and taking up a share of Saint Vincent de Paul Society’s work, we just look quickly and think: that person in the nursing home isn’t my mom or dad. Someone should so something! I am always suspicious of spiritual exercises that bring consolation and comfort to those who are already so by their position in life.

This is an anxious age. Anxiety is essentially a dread of nothing. What to do about it? I would suggest some balance in life that the little story from the Gospel suggests. Sow the seed, and wait. It is the ancient dilemma of when to do and when to wait. The parable defines something called contentedness in terms of the proper order of things: first you do, then you wait. After you have done what only you can do (plant the seed), you wait while the seed does what only it can do. When the time for harvest has come, you gather in the crop that grew itself, but which cannot harvest itself. This is divine wisdom – a revelation! “The order here is very important. First the seed is sown, and then sower knows that he can do nothing more so he waits. Nobody stands over a seed and screams, “Come on now, grow!” A seed carries its own future in its bosom. The sower has done all he can do. Now he waits patiently for God to do what only God can do.

“No one would think to call his waiting slothful. It is wise. He turns his mind to other things. He hopes for rain. He mends fences. He watches and waits because he is not the master of the harvest; he is the steward of the mystery. When that mystery is fully present, his waiting is over, and he puts the sickle to the stalk.

“Mark preserved this parable for an anxious church, one that waited for the return of Christ and wondered why it hadn’t happened. The answer is that we cannot know, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can and then be content. We plant the seed of the word, and then we wait for the mysterious way in which God brings it to fullness. 

This kind of contentment means that we know there are limits to what we can do, but these do not produce feelings of failure. Failure comes from doing nothing. This kind of contentment makes us more attentive to those moments when we can do something and more patient when we know it is time to wait. Being busy does not make us happy. “Idol hands are the devil’s workshop.” is a lie. More than anything, Sloth is a sin of omission, a sin of neglect. Technology and gadgets have freed us from drudgery leaving us the challenge of what to do with the time now available. Minding our own business, not getting involved means we will not hurt nor get hurt. But of course, the hurt is deep both ways because it leaves us separated from humanity and that’s a deep inner tear that ultimately separates us from God, which by ancient definition is sin.

A time of adoration follows and Tantum Ergo is sung.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, you have given us the eucharist as the memorial of your suffering and death. May our worship of this sacrament of your body and blood  help us to experience the salvation you have won for us and the peace of the kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Benediction is given, and at the conclusion, the following Litany is sung:

We have been seduced by the arrogance of our self-sufficiency without recourse to your grace. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

In our search for self-esteem, we have lost sight of our brokenness which cries out for your healing. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have denied our responsibility for others and shown indifference to their suffering and plight. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have worshipped the image of ourselves in our achievements without gratitude to you.  Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have presumed on the rightness of our opinions and actions and failed to admit our faults. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

Because of our narrow mindedness, we have refused to acknowledge the blessing and goodness of others. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

In our envious spirit, we have been reduced to competition instead of cooperation with each other. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

For fear of feeling like failures, we have belittled and criticized the successes of others. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

By comparing ourselves with others, we have not embraced and appreciated our own blessing. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have become self-righteous in our jealousy of the intimacy and friendship enjoyed by other. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have harbored resentment against others, long after they have asked forgiveness. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have felt justified in retaliating against our adversaries and have refused to seek understanding and reconciliation. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have controlled and intimidated others by our outbursts of rage and our threatening words and behavior. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

In our misguided search for perfection, we have sadly grown intolerant of human weakness. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have preferred to inflict pain on others rather than be agents of healing and peace. Look upon us. Lord, and have mercy.

We have been mindless in the practice of our faith; our worship and prayer lack interest and feeling. Look upon us. Lord, and have mercy.

We have been careless in our work, and failed to put our priorities into place with the Gospel. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have presumed on the goodness and kindness of other and looked away from duty and obligation. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

Our Father…….

Go in Peace.


Tuesday evening Saint Peter Pine Bluff

March 21, 2011

Reading 1 ( Luke: 12:13-21)

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke

There was a rich man who, having had a good harvest from his land, thought to himself, “What am I to do? I have not enough room to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: “My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.” But God said to him, “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then? So it is when someone stores up treasure for himself instead of becoming rich in the sight of God.”

The Gospel of the Lord

Greed or “Avarice” as I learned it in school is not so much the love of possessions, as it is the love of possessing. It is the buying of things we do not need, more even than we need for our pleasure or entertainment. It is possessing for its own sake. At the risk of offending someone in here, I’m going to tell this story on myself. I was hunting for a parking place at my dentist office last week. There were none. Right in the middle of the parking area there was a humvee sitting across three parking spaces. As I was walking across the street from an empty lot some distance away, the owner of the humvee came out and very cheerfully greeted me. Making great effort to hide my annoyance, I asked: “Why do you have a vehicle like that?” Using everything restraint I had to keep from saying: “and take up three parking spaces.! With obvious innocence she said: “Because I can.” Opened the door, climbed up and drove off leaving three full sized parking spots and me standing there……..”Because, I can.”  Avarice!  The issue is not the vehicle obviously; it is the reasoning and the decision.

Just down the street from Saint Mark church, a large construction site is very busy these days. It will be the largest climate controlled storage unit facility in the country. Avarice!  I am not here talking about theories this week. I am talking about evidence that we are in the grip of sin. This is not an idea, it is actual behavior. Evidence of these deadly sins is everywhere you care to look, not in others but within us all. This Avarice is not an old fashioned sin even though it is an old fashioned word. It is alive and well. The evidence is crowding the cars out of our garages and sagging our ceilings. We set our security systems when we are away, rarely when we are inside because they are not there to protect human life from danger, but to get a lower rate on our home owners or apartment renter’s insurance premium.

Our language betrays our sin. We say and we hear others say; “I must have that.” Of course, it’s about having it, hardly ever about needing it. We have more clothes than we need and way more accessories. The very word “accessory” tells you what it’s all about. “For the man who has everything…” the saying goes! Then why give him more? Avarice! It might all seem trivial and harmless until we begin to measure what it is doing to us. I think of Mrs. Buckett in this regard. You know that lady on the British comedy series that airs on PBS?  She is possessed by her possession, and they speak for her more than herself, and her attention to her husband is as though he were a possession she has to put on her show. It’s as though those things were her — Avarice.

A wise Greek writer reminds us that wealth consists not in having great possessions but in having few wants.

We live in a culture where Greed is not just considered good. It is considered Gospel. It is the way to do thing, the way to get ahead, the way to achieve success. Never mind that Enron was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to corporate crime sweeping America. Never mind that accountants are in cahoots with the companies they are supposed to audit, insiders trade after hours, and millions of employees have their pensions robbed. If you’re homeless and rob a 7-11 you’ll get ten years to life in jail. But in corporate America, you can steal all you want and fly away untouched in a first-class cabin seat. The very fact that I can say that, that you know it’s true, and that we all just sit here confirms the problem: we have given the “OK” to greed.

As a priest of thirty-seven years, I have come to the most amazing observation. You can talk about anything from the pulpit, and most people will glaze over, and on the way out they’ll wave and say: “Nice sermon, father.”  But talk about money, and the eyes tighten up, and everyone slips out the door without a glance. We never talk about it. It is the big secret. It is considered rude to ask what someone makes or how much something cost, but yet we will talk casually and simply about the most intimate and personal matters! 

It’s not as though there is anything wrong with desire. Desire is a form of energy. It motivates us about many good things, the desire for peace, the desire for love, the desire for justice; but the sad truth is that we are taught to want without limit. Enough is never enough. If you thought you were going to get out of here without another bumper sticker, you’re wrong. “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.”

The problem, as I said at Mass here Saturday is that “line.” I quoted Chesteron who said that morality like art consists of drawing a line. No one is drawing any lines. There is no longer a line that says and means, “That’s enough.”

This past November, a profoundly sad thing happened in this country. I have met no one who was as touched and profoundly saddened by the news report as I was. Someone was killed after staying up all night to be the first through the doors of a store for the Christmas sales having been trampled by the mob. The media showed people in a shopping rage tearing toys and games out of one another hands with hatred. Avarice has overtaken us. If you were not in the mob but were not the least bit appalled by the scene, Avarice has taken us captive.

What virtue we need then is a clear understanding of when desire is good, elevating life or when it is bad and an obsessive vice. Wanting Wisely is the virtue. Some things are valued because they are instruments for getting more, and other things are valued in and of themselves. We have to know the difference, because if we don’t the confusion transfers to people. Friends ought to have value in and of themselves not because they help us get something. We have all been used by someone, used by other people, and we know how it feels. Greed brings us to sacrifice what’s really important for the sake of what is not.

Before September 11, 2001, congress passed into law a $1.35 trillion tax cut (nearly $4 trillion if left in place over twenty years), almost half of which will benefit the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. Two more tax cuts have further widened the gap between rich and poor, and the result is the largest deficit in U.S. history. Wealth now buys power, which rewards wealth, which buys yet more power. Nothing is trickling — Avarice is in control. Politicians call it “supply side economics”. I call it sin.

To want something wisely is to want it for reasons other than status. The desire parents have to give their children the best possible education and make sacrifice for it is wanting something wisely. On the other hand, enrolling a child in the most elite and expensive private school to put them on the fast track to fame and fortune is Avarice.

Those who succeed in this world and become wealthy are not all immoral, but they all have a moral responsibility to give something back to a world from which their riches came. The rich are always the most indignant about paying taxes yet the civilization created by those taxes is what made the rich in the first place. So now that they have it made, they want to shut off the system that gave them opportunities. Avarice. No redistribution of wealth is a world without roads, school, and hospitals. There is a sign on a freeway outside Oklahoma City demanding that we pay no taxes. It is placed for maximum effect along a federally funded interstate highway built by the taxes the sign maker wants to stop. 

For Christians, the answer to this matter is simple. It is Stewardship: a way of life, a witness to faith, the response of a grateful heart. The embrace of that life style will be the end of Greed. 

A Brief period of Adoration begins.

Reading two (1 Thessalonians 4: 3-7)

My brothers and sisters, 

God wills you all to be holy. He wants you to keep away from sexual immorality, and each on of you to know how to control his body in a way that is holy and honorable, not giving way to selfish lust like the nations who do not acknowledge God. He wants nobody at all ever to sin by taking advantage of a brother in this matter. God called us to be holy, not to be immoral; in other words anyone who rejects this is rejecting not human authority, but God, who give you his Holy Spirit.

This is the Word of the Lord.

Lust is not a sin of the flesh. It is a sin against it. It is in our flesh that we are present to the rest of creation, and particularly present to each other, revealing, and exposing, sensitive to others and even vulnerable to them, open to hurt. This then is the problem, the paradox of lust, because Lust is not interested in partners, but only in one’s solitary pleasure. If there is a hint of concern for the other, it is simply an ego concern that one did well, performed well, and of course is then adequate and desirable. Lust then accepts any partner for a moment, and then they’re gone.

To begin with, we ought to be honest. Sex is the most powerful human hunger next to survival itself, yet it has now moved largely out of the realm of sacred mystery and into the realm of commerce. It sells everything, and like greed, there is never enough. Oddly enough, the message of most modern advertising is that sex appeal builds self-esteem, but in our society the opposite may be true. Beautiful women in particular learn to distrust compliments and to be suspicious of even the most ordinary acts of kindness. Our children are the most vulnerable to this image building/image destroying consumer abusing stuff. It may sell a pair of jeans, but the innocent who buy those jeans will never look like the model in the add, and it only eats away at their developing and fragile self respect and self image all the more. We hunt flesh, but what we really crave is intimacy. Our culture’s addiction to sex is like our addiction to fast food: more of it never really satisfies, and it can be more than just unhealthy. The truth is, our sexual addictions are more rooted in ego than in physical desire. Our insecure, self – absorbed culture has begun to using sex to satisfy emptiness, insecurity, loneliness and self-doubt. The pandemic of internet sex is at the heart of this. Why live in the real world? Escape into fantasy! That body on the screen will never reject us. There is a huge issue of ego in this behavior. Self absorbed and insecure, people sit wide-eyes in front of a computer screen pretending: pretending because the truth and reality are too hard. All the while, minutes and hours of one’s life are gone forever. Intimacy is what we crave, and it has never been found in a chat room or in pornography. It’s all anonymous – empty, and it leaves the victim even more empty and alone. The only thing that responds to our longing and need for intimacy is love; and it doesn’t take long to figure out that love is not something you “make.” It is something you are. Like all the sins, lust makes us solitary. It is lonely, empty, and fleeting.  One of the surest signs of it’s presence in our midst is pornography. It’s big business. There is money in loneliness, and the clever have discovered it.

Pornography is always something used in secret, alone. A private matter indulged in at late hours by lonely people. Pornography is a substitute for involvement with another person. It is another way of condemning ourselves to solitariness.

There is a deep and widening sadness hanging over contemporary culture that is made all the more unbearable by casual sex. There is the illusion that one can be physically intimate without being emotionally responsible. In the vernacular, we call that being used. Lust will not get involved, and so it is absolutely contrary to love. 

Ultimately it is about desire which is not at all evil unless it is selfish. The desire that sets it all in motion is the desire for intimacy, and this is what I propose as the virtue or the antidote to lust. “Holy Intimacy”. It is something that rests on trust which makes possible a kind of holy vulnerability. Yet the widespread disinclination to become involved, the great fear of commitment I spoke of last night lays the trap for Lust. In no other sin does one feel so much of a void, and this void is not only inside, it is also outside in our society. There is a profound failure of our society to make continuing individual relationship seem part of the much wider social bonds that tie us to them. Marriage and family are still the basic units of our society, but they are weakened, and we tend to regard them today as a matter only of interpersonal relationships, rather than as fundamental elements of the social order. This changed attitude to marriage has resulted inevitably in a changed attitude to other personal relationships. So, if I don’t get anything out of it, I’m not going to do it. Relationships that rest only on one’s own self-justification are not sacred and holy ground upon which one may encounter the divine. There is no covenant.

What comes between a couple when one of them is unfaithful is, not the other woman or man, but what now cannot be shared by them. He or she knows almost at once that something has been withdrawn, that there is something that the other is unable to bring and share. Love requires some effort, but our age encourages us to avoid it by refusing to get involved and when involved to escape from it.

All of us have seen it, and many of us have experienced it. It comes with that early stage of infatuation with a bit of curiosity. It happens when there are no words, or words seem too trivial. Use your imaginations or your memory. Two people are close together, across a table on a couch, in a car. They look at one another and nothing is said. It is a matter of attention. We know it from music, from art, or even a poem. We have to concentrate and give it full attention. So, there they are, gazing. We need to “gaze” not peer or stare, but simply to gaze and let the eyes bring in the other, and let the other eyes draw us out and into a presence that is peaceful, loving, and totally our own. We are doing that in here before this sacrament. It is the gaze of love, the gaze of affection, the gaze of trust, the gaze of faith, and most of all the gaze of holy intimacy.

Love at its best is here before us. Love in the flesh is the gift of marriage. But the adventure of marriage is learning to love the person to whom you are married….love does not create a marriage; marriage teaches us what a costly adventure love truly is. This holy intimacy is for a lifetime. It knows that age can add more in tenderness than it takes away in virility. Sex when we’re young is all about the body, hormones and pleasure. Then suddenly you’re not young anymore, and sex becomes a feast of reciprocity and intimate tenderness because the solitary emptiness is filled with a spiritual presence which is the gift of fidelity and a promise fulfilled.

A brief period of Adoration follows

Reading three (Luke 14: 15-21)

A reading of the Holy Gospel according to Luke

“When evening came, the disciples went to him and said, “This is a lonely lace, and time has slipped by; so send the people away, and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food. Jesus replied: There is no need for them to go: give them something to eat yourselves. But they answered, “All we have with us is five loaves and two fish. So he said, “Bring them here to m e. He gave order that the people were to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves he handed them to his disciples, who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps left over, twelve baskets full.”

The Gospel of the Lord


In the last couple of years, I have come to a curious realization about myself and my appearance. About five years ago, I had some serious heart surgery, and in the process of surgery and recovery, I lost about thirty pounds. As time has passed, I have found what was lost; and I did not have to pray to Saint Anthony. Just after coming back to the parish when I was on the light side of the ordeal, people would come up to me and will say: “Father, you don’t look so good.” As time went on they began to say: “Father, you’re looking good today.” What I have come to realize is that this is all a code message. “You don’t look so good” means I’m down to size 34. “Father you’re looking good” means I’m back up to 38! Or, more crudely stated: “Father, you’re getting fat.” At which point I run home and get out the South Beach book and if nothing else, I read it again. 

It may not be politically correct to say it, but while much of the world is starving, Americans are busy eating themselves to death. At last count, 60% of us are overweight, and the numbers just keep rising. Chronic obesity in children is an alarming public health issue. Meanwhile, there is a multibillion-dollar diet industry in place. Yet despite endless new diet schemes, and any conceivable piece of exercise equipment available for three easy payments, we keep getting fatter. But never fear, there will soon be a pill to fix it all.

To call this a sin would be to imply that someone is responsible, but in a culture of blamelessness we have decided that it’s a matter of genes or slow metabolism or a sweet tooth that runs in the family. That all sounds better than the truth which is that most of us eat too much and do too little by way of exercise. What makes matters worse is that chronic obesity may be more psychological and spiritual than physiological, especially in a culture that idolizes food. Other than the Bible, the only other kind of publication that is growing beyond leaps and bounds is cook books — check out Barnes and Noble if you don’t believe me. It’s a bigger section of the store than history.

The super market is the temple of excess with music, lighting and an ingenious array of visual seductions all designed to prompt us to buy more than we need, especially things we shouldn’t eat. How many of us go into the super market with a list and come out with just exactly those things and nothing more? Last Monday I spent $27.00 for a quart of milk! Two bags! Yet we live in a time when pleasures are regarded as an entitlement, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a prude or a closet hedonist. The whole idea of choosing to live a measured life where less is more and austerity is a virtue sounds almost subversive in our consumer culture.

Gluttony strikes us as sad rather than deadly. What’s a little overeating, after all, when compared to lust? It troubles me when my brother priests get together and I notice what shape they are in. Congregations seem to take pride in getting Father another piece of pie or another donut.

When the early church Fathers made the list we’ve been considering and named the sins we are searching for in ourselves, Gluttony is always placed next to Lust. They are connected. Too much of a good thing is never a good thing. A few weeks ago, I ran into someone from the parish who had been bitterly complaining about their tuition in our school. I was a guest in a very expensive restaurant, and I noticed that the complainer sitting behind me was well known by the restaurant staff leaving me to suppose that they frequently dined there. We claim to be over taxed and underpaid, and so school children go without textbooks and paper. Yet our national restaurant tab could fund them for a decade. We are raising the tuition All Saints School this year. The actual cost of that increase passed on to the school patrons means one less trip to McDonalds each month!

Eating is a “zero-sum game.” The food supply at any one moment is finite. The more you eat, the less food is available to some else. What that really means is that our tendency to waste food, quite literally steals bread from the poor. That story of Lazarus the beggar we just heard suggests that the two of them, the rich and the poor existed only a few feet apart, but they might have been living in separate universes. In some cities, not mine because we hide them under the freeway, you can walk down a street to an expensive restaurant and step over the homeless hungry. If they beg for something, we feel offended, embarrassed, and frightened; then we buy a bottle of wine that would feed them for a month. Gluttony is not just irrational. It is immoral. And it is pointless.

Yet, here’s the paradox. The most constant and frequently used metaphor for the kingdom of God is a banquet, and Jesus was turning water into wine so that there would be more than plenty. He is criticized for eating and drinking and “reclining” at table as he eats which signals more than an ordinary meal. It was a sumptuous and drawn out affair. So here comes the virtue I propose for us to use in the face of Gluttony: COMMUNION.

In a world that continues to hammer away at us to take more and more, this gift from God teaches a different lesson: Less is more. Anyone who looks at the banquet on this altar would have reason to think: “There is not enough.” But there always is. Here the issue the glutton cannot ever address between quality and quantity is finally settled. Eating here is more than a refueling operation. Here, we eat to live, not live to eat. So the opposite of a glutton is not someone on a diet who counts out calories and carbohydrates, nor is it someone who fasts. The opposite of a glutton is someone for whom food is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It is a person who uses food and loves people, instead of loving food and using people.

We live in a fast food world, eating on the run or eating alone with the microwave beeping. Sacramental living requires something else. It requires a table at the center of the family life. TV tables and card tables will not do. Nobody eats in hurry, and no one eats and runs. There is no running from communion for believers. There is too little of it anyway.

Some of us probably grew up in homes where you cleaned your plate. It was a “waste not or want not” life. These days with “all you can eat” restaurants and a belief that “if a little bit is good, then a lot must be better” bringing immense portions and larger plates to the table, there is a conflict and it is costing us. Cleaning your plate has its roots in gratitude, and the virtue of not wasting is virtually impossible to exercise. Too much of a good thing is exactly that, and it brings no health and no life. I often remember that one of the temptations Jesus experienced in the desert concerned food and using food for power. We face that temptation all he time, and we’re not making a lot of progress. World hunger is not a political/economic issue to be resolved by diplomats. It is a moral issue.

The glutton usually eats alone and in silence. Sin always seems to isolate us. Those who share food in communion on the other hand pass what’s on the table before helping themselves. There is an unspoken rule that the portions must be adequate for the number of guests present, lest the food run out before all are served. So we start with small portions and discuss leftovers later. We take turns chewing and talking, we do not eat with face down inches from the plate gulping and gorging. We talk and we listen. Sometimes a toast is raised and we look one another in the eye and express our hopes and encouragement that converts nourishment of the body into nourishment of the soul. It is then not what we eat, but why we eat and with whom we eat. 

Even the person who eats alone can be in a sacramental experience because they begin with a blessing and the spirit of God is the unnamed guest. A prayer before the meal even though unheard by others establishes the meaning of the food and the undeserved grace of having it available. Having all this food reminds us that we are among the privileged in the world. The most powerful antidotes to gluttony are community and gratitude. They turn eating into communion and every table into an altar. As a sin, gluttony makes us solitary. Communion brings us together. Gluttony teaches us to devour. Communion teaches us to savor. 

Since 2001 I sit at a table every day and wonder how it is that we have the funds and the anger and the enthusiasm for a war on terror but no interest at all for a war on poverty and hunger when the truth is, poverty and hunger are breeding the terrorists while our gluttony for oil makes it all possible. Gluttony takes life. Communion gives life. Since I’ve been sick, I have come back with a new sense of food, eating, and even dieting: eat less, more often, with more friends. I remember mom’s advise, chew slowly, pause to speak, and laugh with those at table. It takes half as much food and it’s twice as good. That kind of eating feeds the body and the soul. A hangover is God talking. The message is simple: you are gulping when you should be sipping. Take, Eat. This is my body, broken for you. This is the bread of heaven; this is the cup of salvation. It isn’t much, but it’s more than enough.

A time for Adoration follows

A time of adoration follows and Tantum Ergo is sung.

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, you have given us the eucharist as the memorial of your suffering and death. May our worship of this sacrament of your body and blood  help us to experience the salvation you have won for us and the peace of the kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 

Benediction is given, and at the conclusion, the following Litany is sung:

We have been seduced by the arrogance of our self-sufficiency without recourse to your grace. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have denied our responsibility for others and shown indifference to their suffering and plight. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have worshipped the image of ourselves in our achievements without gratitude to you.  Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

In our envious spirit, we have been reduced to competition instead of cooperation with each other. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

By comparing ourselves with others, we have not embraced and appreciated our own blessing. Look on us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have harbored resentment against others, long after they have asked forgiveness. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have controlled and intimidated others by our outbursts of rage and our threatening words and behavior. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

In our misguided search for perfection, we have sadly grown intolerant of human weakness. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have been careless in our work, and failed to put our priorities into place with the Gospel. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have held the best of our possessions for ourselves and given token contributions to the poor and needy. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have toiled to excess to achieve material prosperity while neglecting the deeper needs of our loved ones. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have used sexuality to manipulate and control others rather than as an expression of love and care. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy

We have been seduced by physical attractiveness and neglected the life of the spirit. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have gorged ourselves with food and drink to excess while our brothers and sisters went to bed hungry;. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

We have buried our hunger for love and affection by overindulging in food and drink. Look upon us, Lord, and have mercy.

Our Father…….

For three nights we have gathered to reflect upon the pervasive power and presence of sin in our lives, and in the society in which we live because of it. I have proposed to you antidotes to those sins which we might as well call virtues. The virtue we possess and must nurture in our lives is bred from the habits of a lifetime. These virtues are more than ideas; they are a way of life. The movement from understanding them to living them is the very stuff of conversion. 

1. You can recognize a virtuous person because they know that the real root of the deadly sin of Pride is insecurity. Proud and Arrogant behavior compensates for deep misgivings about one’s true value. When we believe that we are worthy, that all human life is worthy, there is a deep reservoir of living water on which to draw. No need to be the center of attention, because we have been attentive to our own center. No need to be impatient with others because we know we share the same short comings. These people are recognized because they are not out to be recognized. They listen to others because they respect the worthiness of others. They grow old gracefully because looking young is not what makes you feel worthy. This person wakes up every morning knowing exactly what they are: a child of God.

2. You can recognize a virtuous person because they know that the real root of the deadly sin of Envy is the failure to admire and emulate the beauty of everything and everyone else. There is no cheap imitation in their lives. They do not want anything except the very best for others. This virtuous person is always wide eyed in wonder and delight, never squint eyed in resentment.

3. You can recognize a virtuous person because they know that the real root of the deadly sin of Anger is consumptive and useless. Vengeance or Revenge is far from them, for they recognize the destructive power of that evil. Indignation is their response to what is wrong and the only anger in their hearts is that indignation on behalf of others rather than service to one’s self. This person is recognized as a friend of the poor and defender of people without power or status. They get mad for the right reasons, and they know when to shout and when to whisper.

4. You can recognize a virtuous person because they know that the real root of the deadly sin of Sloth rejects the wonder and goodness of everything God has made by saying, “Who cares? They expend their energy for others, are filled with compassion and they are content and comfortable with themselves as God made them, holy and good. They plant seeds and wait, knowing that the planting is their job and the harvest if God’s. They have peace which surpasses all understanding.

5. You can recognize a virtuous person because they know that the real root of the deadly sin of Gluttony is living to eat instead of eating to live.  They turn every meal into a sacrament and they commune with friends to savor every moment rather than ever meal. They never forget that food is a gift, that less is always more, and that what seems like too little is always more than enough in the presence of God.

6. You can recognize the virtuous person because they know that the real root of the deadly sin of Lust is love of self, and so they never take those who love them for granted. Considerate and thoughtful, knowing that physical attraction is rooted in emotional intimacy and tangible tenderness. Holy Intimacy in love is always Intimacy with the Holy.

7. You can recognize a virtuous person because they know that the real root of the deadly sin of Greed because they remember that desire is both a blessing and a curse. Wanting things for them is no sin if those things are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. They are free of possession. They love life, not things. They do not serve money, money serves them so that they can serve others. They are always stewards of God’s gifts.

For all their glamour, the Seven Deadly Sins are really just seven fallen angels.

Worthiness is the quiet, unspoken antidote to pride;

Emulation, not envy is what makes us all students of beauty and truth;

Indignation is how we turn self-serving anger into a passion for change;

Fidelity and trust is how we keep monogamy from becoming monotonous;

Communion is how food become fellowship with another and with God;

Wanting wisely is how desire gets bent into useful shapes; and

Contentment is how we let things be and trust God Providence to restore all things to goodness.

Praise to God, the source of all our goodness.

Praise to Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh,

the path of Virtue for the Saved.

Praise to the Holy Spirit, the giver life who fills us with Joy.

In the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit, let us be embraced by the power of grace, conversion, and peace.