All posts for the month July, 2016

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

 Ecclesiastes 1, 2 & 2, 21-23 + Psalm 90 + Colossians 3, 1-5, 9-11 + Luke 12, 13-21

July 31, 2016 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

There is a little detail in the first verse of the parable Jesus uses in response to the quarreling brothers. It slips by easily either because we know the story, or because we too often want to get to the end and see what it’s all about. However, this little detail is the key to opening up what is to come in the parable. It says: There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. The point is: he did not produce that bountiful harvest. The land produced it. However, this man who talks to himself, perhaps because he has no friends, thinks he produced the harvest. It’s all about him. Six times in only three verses he uses the first person pronoun, “I”; but let’s be fair about this so that we get to the real point. There is nothing here to suggest that he cheated anyone or stole anything. There is no hint that he mistreated the workers or committed any criminal act.

What makes him wealthy is sun, soil, and rain. He is conservative and careful. Yet in spite of this he is a fool! He has a lot of stuff crammed into his barn, but he has no friends. He is alone, and the sad implication in this parable is that he dies alone with no one at his bed side, and no one to mourn his passing. The question asked at the end carries that idea. Asking to whom all his riches will go suggests that there are no heirs. There is no one around to receive the inheritance much less argue about it like the situation that starts this whole episode.

What makes him a fool is revealed in that first sentence. He has not believed or perhaps ignored what everyone in that crowd would have known from singing at the great harvest feast or at synagogue Psalm 24 which says: “The earth is the Lord’s and all it holds, the world and those who live there.” What makes him a fool is his thinking that there is no God. Then he is finally confronted by the God who owns not only the land and the produce he is trying to hoard, but also the very life of the man himself. It all belongs to God, and the fool is the person who thinks that what is God’s is theirs to keep. Instead of imitating the generosity of God, he acts as though there is no God.

And so we are left this weekend with a stark reminder about what Jesus has said before. Having had everything in this life leaves nothing for a future life. He’s had it all now. It’s over. There will be no more. We are left this weekend with a reminder that amassing great wealth often leads to family bitterness and squabbles as we have heard again and again in the story of the prodigal. We are left this weekend with the clear reminder that we are nothing but stewards of this earth and all that it can produce, and that what comes from God’s earth is not ours to keep or to save. In the end, such saving reveals a lack of trust in God and the fear that things will run out. How could it be that a God who has provided so much would suddenly cease being generous unless those God has entrusted with his gifts suddenly start to hang on to what has been given and stop the generosity that is always from God.

The behavior of this man wold have provided a shock to the people of his time for in those days, one’s self-identity was imbedded in one’s family, clan, village, and religious group. Every important decision was made in community, in endless dialogue with others. Every angle was examined, every possibility weighed, every scenario painted before arriving at a conclusion. Our modern day notion of individuality was completely foreign to this time, and his self-determining behavior was shocking. There is no thought given about how his decision might affect others, and what it might mean to the community. We are left this weekend with a look at what our growing culture’s hedonistic, individualistic, and ego centric attitudes and behavior really looks like, foolishness! Lost on this man and the culture seen in him is any sense of gift and duty leaving us a little sad but inspired to look upon what we have, where it came from, and ask what we must do with it. When we rest in the arms of the divine Provider we will be able to embrace every person as a brother and a sister all who are equal heirs to the same promise. Competition and hoarding will give way to cooperation and generosity with what the earth produces. Entering into this world will be an experience of the Kingdom of God. It seems to me that having the love of family and many friends is a richness and a kind of wealth that far surpasses what can be stored in warehouses and the climate controlled storage facilities of our time. This is wisdom and it is a long way from foolishness.

The Eleventh Sunday of Pentecost

Ephesians 2, 17-22 & Saint Luke 19, 1-10

July 24, 2016 at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Norman, Oklahoma

This story comes immediately after an encounter with a blind beggar. What Luke gives us then is a stark contrast between someone poor and someone rich. Both of them get to see Jesus. One chapter earlier there is another story of an encounter with a rich man that ends sadly leading us into this story that has a different ending, because Zacchaeus, unlike the other rich man in the previous story, can and does give away. This story is a powerful one for us, because the poorest among us in comparison the rest of the world are very, very rich. We cannot listen to this story and think that it is just about the chief tax collector in Roman occupied Israel a long time ago.

There are two little pieces to this episode of Luke’s Gospel for us to dwell upon. Zacchaeus, in his conversion and in response to the presence of Christ in his life does way more than anyone might expect. The custom and the rules of that day set out very clearly what restitution was required or legally necessary in cases of fraud or robbery. What Zacchaeus does greatly exceeds what is required. This is not a man of minimalism. He does not simply do the minimum required of him. It reminds me of the Samaritan who picks up the man on the street after others have passed by. That Samaritan says to the inn-keeper, “Do whatever you can for him. He leaves some money and then says, if there is more I will pay you upon my return.” He doesn’t just drop him off. There is here a sense of greater generosity than just the minimal in both stories. To make the point even more powerfully, both stories use people despised by others as examples of goodness: a Samaritan and the Chief Tax Collector. If these kinds of people rise up to do more than the bare minimum, how much more so for the rest of us?

At the end of this episode comes another message from Luke that speaks to us just as clearly as it did to those for whom he first composed this Gospel. He tells us that Jesus came to seek and save the “lost.” For some reason when we use this word in a religious context, it takes on a meaning not all intended. Too often the “lost” refers to those who are doomed or condemned. This is not all the meaning of the word. When we lose something it does not mean it is destroyed. It means that it is not in its proper place. I remember so clearly as child crying out to my mother when I couldn’t find something like a missing sock or a book. Her response was always a question: “Where did you leave it?” which always frustrated me because if I knew where I had left it, I would not be looking for it. Well, it’s the same with people who are “lost” and it might well be that we’ve all been lost from time to time. It means we are in the wrong place. We are lost when we wander from God, and we are found when we take our rightful place in the family of God.

What the Church puts before us today is a reminder that if we want to enjoy the companionship of Jesus Christ, we need to be in the right place, and then once we have found that place the only proper response to the wonder that we have been called to faith by Jesus Christ is a generosity that far exceeds anyone’s expectations or limitations. The best news of all today is that Jesus Christ has come to this house.

 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

 Genesis 18, 20-32 + Psalm 138 + Colossians 2, 12-14 + Luke 11, 1-13

July 24, 2016 at St Joseph Church in Norman, OK (Spanish Mass)

Luke tells us today that Jesus is at prayer when someone comes and asks him to teach them how to pray. They do not ask Jesus what is praying about. So he teaches them how to pray. What he teaches them is a technique more than the words to use. What he says to them is: This is how you do it, and these are some things to pray about.

First, put yourself in the presence of God and acknowledge your relationship and give God glory. “Father, you are Holy.”

Then he proposes some things to ask for: God’s Kingdom, whatever is needed for the day, forgiveness, and the courage to resist temptation. There is one more thing, but Luke holds that to the very end of this episode.

Jesus then quickly moves to tell them a story that ends with a promise. In the story it is easy to think that we are the ones who are knocking on a door, and that God is the friendly neighbor. I would suggest to you that this is not the only way to hear this story. I do not like the idea that God is sleeping and must be awakened to know about our needs. I want to suggest to you that this is a story about us and how we must take care of one another when there is a need regardless of the time or the day. This is a story about friendship. It is a story about how friends share what they have, and about not being ashamed to ask a friend for help.

Finally the episode concludes by returning to thoughts of God as he speaks about a father who gives what is needed. Luke finishes these verses with the assurance that God, the “father” addressed in prayer will give the perfect gift, and now added to that list of how and what we should pray for is that greatest gift, the Holy Spirit!

The Tenth Sunday of Pentecost

 1 Corinthians 12, 1-11 & Saint Matthew 12, 22-32

July 17, 2016 at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Norman, Oklahoma

It is almost impossible to get to the point of this episode of Matthew’s Gospel because of that verse about unforgiveable sin. I cannot tell you how many times in my 48 years as a priest people have come to talk about this either because they are intellectually curious or because they are frightened and guilt ridden. Countless good people have tormented themselves unnecessarily by the thought that they are guilty of the unforgiveable sin. A wise preacher once said that those who worry about the unforgiveable sin cannot be guilty of it. Today I am that preacher. The whole point is that if you are aware that you are a sinner, you have nothing to worry about. At that point the mercy of God takes over. There is always hope.

Once that’s out of the way, there is a lot more serious business going on here. Remember that at the time of Jesus every kind of illness was thought to be the consequence of sin and Satan, so the work of Jesus, his healing and liberation, is cast in the setting of a battle with Satan which is exactly what it is and why this controversy gets started. When it comes to facing off with evil, sin, or Satan (call it what you will) Jesus makes it clear that there is no neutrality. There are only two sides. You are either in the fight with him, or you are against him. There is no middle ground, and there are no bystanders. You have to take a side. Not taking a side is to choose. When it comes to our life in the church the same thing holds true. If your presence does not strengthen the Church, then your absence weakens it. There is no rest-stop.

It has been proposed that there are three things that cause people to seek neutrality. There are people who just want to be left alone. Their lives are marked by sheer inertia. They shrink away from anything that disturbs them in any way.

There are also people who are simply cowards by nature. Fear rules their lives. Most of all, they are always controlled by what others will think of them or say about them. To them the voice of a neighbor is louder than the voice of God. Finally there are people who simply avoid adventure and like the security of the way things are. They want things predictable. The older they grow, the more this is so. Following Christ and conforming one’s life to Christ Jesus will always mean adventure, will always mean someone is talking about you, and it means you will not be left alone. God will be speaking.

For those grounded in the sayings of Jesus, this quotation seems on the surface to contradict a similar saying in Mark and Luke wherein Jesus says the reverse. “Whoever is not against us is with us.” However, in those sayings, the focus is on the “other” – it is outside of one’s self. In this instance, the focus is on me. It is not about others.

Today, this Gospel presents a test for us. Shuffling through life avoiding conflict, hiding behind a shallow neutrality on issues of morality and justice will not do. There is a challenge here for anyone who hears the word and the call of Jesus to bring in a harvest for the kingdom of God. Whoever is not with us is against us. We have to take a side, and there will be consequences now and in the days to come.

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

 Genesis 18, 1-10 + Psalm 15 + Colossians 1, 24-28 + Luke 10, 38-42

July 17, 2016 at St Joseph Church in Norman, OK

At some point in time, and for some reason completely unknown to me, this fragment of Luke’s Gospel has been twisted and distorted to suggest that sitting around at the feet of Jesus is better than feeding Jesus. If that were really the purpose of telling this story, Jesus would have left that house looking for something eat somewhere else. I have always believed that he went there because Martha was a good cook, and that the ancient Jewish tradition of hospitality would always be extended to him, and maybe his twelve companions. Can you imagine showing up with twelve friends at someone’s house. It is no wonder she was in the kitchen frantic for some help!

This little piece of Luke’s Gospel is focused not so much on Martha or Mary, but upon something that affects us all from time to time and can lead us away from Jesus Christ. What Jesus speaks of is worry and anxiety. This is what concerns him when he sees it in someone he loves. Worry and anxiety are what keeps Martha from realizing who is present in her home and what peace and tranquility, confidence and hope are found in his presence and from listening to his Word.

Perhaps she is worried about getting the dinner on the table in time. Perhaps she is worried about what someone would think if it is not perfect in every way. Perhaps she is worried that there will not be enough. Perhaps she is anxious over her appearance or the condition of the house and how things look with someone sitting around and not helping. Who knows what else she might be worried about or what may be causing her anxiety which is really just a fear of nothing. Whatever it is, Jesus says that worry and anxiety are not good for us, and they are certainly not good when brought into relationships with one’s brother or sister. Look at the possibility of what worry and anxiety might do to the relationship between these two sisters. They could easily end up in a big fight that would be terrible between sisters.

People who live in the presence of Jesus Christ, people who know who is with them and who has been welcomed into their lives are not a people who are anxious and worried. They live in peace with the knowledge and the confidence of people who know that God is with them. Fear does not rule their lives. Fear does not keep them from peace of mind and heart. Worry does not keep them from joy in celebrating and feasting on the presence of God in Jesus Christ. They know that God will provide what is needed if they use those gifts with peaceful, steady, and calm perseverance. The one who came to lift our burdens speaks again to any who feel burdened in this life. All he asks is that we pay attention to and remember his presence with us when we are awake and when we sleep, when we work, and when we play. A simple and single minded heart, a life that is without anxiety and worry is the consequence of living the presence of Jesus. Whenever we become anxious and worried about anything at all, we will not have time to celebrate the presence of the one who loves, heals, and saves. Choose the better part, set aside anxiety and worry, because all will be well.

 The Ninth Sunday of Pentecost

 2 Corinthians 5, 20 – 6, 10 & Saint Luke 4, 14-21.

July 10, 2016 at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Norman, Oklahoma

These Gospel verses today record for us the very beginning of the mission of Jesus Christ. Jesus has emerged from the shadows of his youth as a man of purpose and direction. He knows who he is. He knows what his life is for and what he should do with his gifts. He is focused, consistent and clear about his life. We never get a sense in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus was self-conscious, doubted what God asked of him, or what direction to take with the choices he faced.

These are not qualities unique to Jesus. They are not qualities he possessed because he was someone special or divine making life easy for him. These are human qualities that Luke proposes should be found in those who would be disciples of Jesus Christ and follow him. Yet we see people all the time, and every one of us knows someone who just does not seem to “get it.” People who simply cannot seem to figure out who they are, where they are going in life, or what to do with their gift’s, and many of them are richly blessed. Some of them think they are here to look good, be attractive, be successful in business, yet all the while they are empty and there is a nagging sense that all is not really right. They go around in shallow circles, lonely and uncomfortable with themselves, lonely and fearful that this might all there is to life.

This cannot be so with disciples of Jesus Christ. They know who they are. They know where they are headed. They know what to do with their lives, their gifts, the opportunities that God’s providence supplies. They find things where Jesus found them: in the faithful observance of their religious tradition. They are in church. They are part of that church’s life so much so that they might be called upon to do something as Jesus was called upon to read that day. He was no stranger there. He was not passing through. Most of all, he knew the scriptures. He didn’t just play scriptural roulette and let the scroll fall open. He knew exactly where to find the prophet, and he knew a passage that focused his life and expressed God’s will for him.

In the grand scope of Luke’s writing there develops a parallel in which he reveals something about Jesus and at the same time something about the church as the community of believers. In other words, if Jesus did it so does the church. If Jesus said it, so says the church.

So today we hear Jesus put forth his agenda which is then the agenda of the church. It must be the agenda of every one of us. The work of Jesus began with the descent of the Holy Spirit at his Baptism. The work of the Church begins with Pentecost. First the Spirit guides and directs the work of Jesus, then the work of the church. What we must discover in Luke’s Gospel is that work of Jesus is not just spiritual, and it is not something for some far-off time in the future. What he does is for the present, and what he comes to do is for now. The liberation and the setting free he came to accomplish was for more than some future Kingdom of God. Those he touched did not have to wait till heaven before they could see, hear, walk, or be clean. Those who came in faith were saved by that faith, not later, not in heaven, but right then, and their joy, their praise, and the gratitude did not wait either.

So the agenda of Jesus is the whole person, and the liberty and release he came to accomplish came to mean the forgiveness of sin and all its consequences and manifestations. If he came to confront the sin of injustice, then the consequences of injustice were eliminated. If he came to release those who were held bound, then everything that held them had to go. Luke makes it clear that this ministry of Salvation effected the liberation of the whole person, body and soul, mind and spirit. If it were so for Jesus, then it must be so for us as well. Sharing the same Spirit we share the same agenda. We the liberated become the liberators. We who are saved share the same message of salvation for all. We the forgiven share forgiveness.

If I were to step down from here and hand any one of you the scriptures, could you find a passage that is for you and expression of God’s will, and a passage that gives your life purpose, meaning and direction? If not? Why not? The desire to imitate Jesus concerns more than morality and doing good. It must also imitate the whole of his life which was about fidelity to his religious traditions. He did not just go to Temple or Synagogue on the High Holy Days. He was there every time the assembly gathered no matter where he was. He had a firm knowledge of the Word of God. This behavior on his part was the source of his goodness as a human being, and that is where he discovered who he was and what his life was all about, and what he should do with his gifts.

Romans 8:1-11& Saint Matthew 12,14-21.

July 3, 2016 at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Norman, Oklahoma

Matthew frequently quotes Old Testament texts that his first readers would find familiar. This one from Isaiah 42 is the longest of all his quotations. The great Persian king, Cyrus is the subject of Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 45 Isaiah presents Cyrus as a gentle conqueror as the King marched across the east in conquest. This makes him quite unlike conquerors then and now who lay waste to everything in their path as a show of power and control. Cyrus seems to have known that destruction and oppression would eventually mean the costly rebuilding of the conquered territory and the problem of controlling angry resentful conquered peoples. Isaiah describes this kind of gentleness in a word we might call, “meekness.” Matthew sees in Isaiah’s description of Cyrus the figure of Jesus who is here laying out his plan and his idea about what a Messiah who comes from God must be like. There will be no crushing with power, no violence, but only sacrificial service. There would be no throne, simply a cross.

Among many interesting details in these verses, two ideas emerge for our reflection and then our response this week.

The first is this matter of justice brought by the Messiah. Perhaps then, but certainly now, justice has been turned into revenge which is exactly what Jesus comes to confront in his efforts to change the common expectation of what a Messiah will be like. The ancient Greek world that so shaped the times of Jesus defined Justice as giving to God and to men what is their due. For a people formed by faith in Jesus and living in response to his word, the only thing that is due to God is obedience and respect, gratitude, glory, and praise. The only thing due for us is mercy. The truth of this demands that we be very careful about what we expect in terms of justice. For when we get really honest about how we stand before God, revenge and punishment would be the last thing we would want as justice which is exactly what Jesus reveals in the way he treats sinners. We will not be worthy of his name and hardly able to carry his message and carry on his work if we think that revenge and punishment are appropriate.

The second matter to consider with this Gospel today is something Matthew has already taken up in Chapter Five, something Jesus has already spoken of as a revelation of what God is, of what he is, and of what we must be if we are ever to be counted among the blessed. It is Meekness. There is plenty of meekness in Cyrus, the Persian conqueror; but there is no weakness. In the Beatitudes the word Matthew uses for meekness is the same word used to describe the taming of a wild animal. It means great strength under control. As Isaiah proposes in his prophecy describing a Messiah, there will no barking or yelling, no pressure or threats used on opponents. Jesus refuses to harangue the crowds to whip up support for a political revolution. He is humble, gentle, and meek. There will be the nobility of respect, and the persuasion of love rather than oppression or force. As Isaiah puts it, the bruised reed will not be broken nor a smoldering wick snuffed out. This is a challenge just like the one we face with justice. As the people at the time Jesus spoke these words were challenged to change their ideas and expectations about the Messiah and how he would save, conquer, and find victory so do we. Too many still believe that power and force are what is needed instead of kindness and mercy. Too many still believe that loud and rude accusations, condemnations and insults are the way to get ahead. It is so today from Boardrooms to Classrooms, from School bullies to Politicians engaged in political discourse.

This Gospel says a lot in seven verses about how God will redeem, about how the Messiah will ultimately find victory, and how those of us who carry on his mission will respond to opposition and ultimately win victory for the Kingdom of God.