All posts for the month October, 2016

Revelation 7, 2-4, 9-14 + Psalm 24 + 1 John 3, 1-3 + Matthew 5, 1-12

November 1, 2016 at St Peter Catholic Church in Naples, FL

For the power of this Gospel to inspire and move us deeper into the mystery of Christ, these Beatitudes must be understood as an exclamation of what is, not some not pious hope of what shall be. They are not glowing prophecies of some future bliss or some future world postponed. The beatitudes are a proclamation of what it is to know Jesus as Lord. They proclaim the conditions in which people of the Covenant live.

The best way to look at these Beatitudes is to see them as a revelation of what God is really like revealed in the life of Christ Jesus. If we are made in God’s image, then these Beatitudes are about what we have been created to be, which is what “Blessed” really means. It describes those who are most God-like.  Luke begins his narrative of the mission of Jesus with this sermon. It is an outline of what we shall hear and come discover is the very life of Christ as the Gospel begins to unfold. He is the one who is poor and persecuted with no place to lay his head, chased from his own synagogue, hunted and haunted by Scribes and Pharisees. He is the suffering servant alone among human kind meek and pure of heart. He above all others hungered and thirsted for his Father’s holiness from an encounter at a well in Samaria to that moment on the cross when he cried out “I thirst.” He alone touched the depths of both the human and divine sorrow standing over unrepentant Jerusalem and at the grave of his friend, Lazarus. He alone showed perfect mercy to those who were ungrateful and even to his friend, Peter.

Those whose memory we celebrate today shared his Spirit having heard and accepted his words. They were transformed slowly and painfully into a community we call “Saints”. They were “Beatified” or “Blessed”. They became so in this life by conforming their lives to Christ Jesus. They did not have to die to become Blessed. They found God exactly where God wanted to be found and be known, in Jesus Christ. These Beatitudes tell us where to find God; not outside of ourselves, but within. These Beatitudes announce that God is to be found when we give up seeking happiness in things and the stuff of this world and become totally dependent upon God. This is what it is to become Christ like or “Blessed.” We are merciful, hungry and thirsty, single hearted, and peaceful.

These Beatitudes announce that the Kingdom of God is at hand for anyone who chooses to conform their lives to Christ Jesus. It is a choice we make day by day. It is choice and a chance to be glad and be joyful. For Blessed are we who hear the Word of God and keep it in our hearts for then we will be living in the reign of God. We will see God, know mercy, be consoled, always remember that they we children of God.

Wisdom 11, 22-12, 2 + Psalm 145 + 2 Thessalonians 1, 11-2, 2 + Luke 19, 1-10

October 30, 2016

The first reading today draws our attention away from the visit of Jesus at the home of Zacchaeus to consider the constant searching of God for those who are lost. That shift of focus might be a good thing. Like the previous two weeks, this episode has many details that can lead us in many directions none of which are necessarily wrong. In fact, Luke’s purpose in placing this episode in his narrative might well have more to do with wealth and the use of it than what our Church proposes by setting the reading from Wisdom ahead of it. Luke has a lot to say about wealth and riches in many places within his Gospel.

The very name of this man can begin to raise a question about what is going on here. The simple easy reading of the story would leave us to suppose that this is about Zacchaeus being saved and being converted by the response and the visit of Jesus. But his name means “Clean” or “Pure.” If “Clean and Pure” is what this man is, then perhaps the focus of the story is not really or entirely about him. While Zacchaeus may have been looking for Jesus, maybe Jesus was not really looking only for Zacchaeus that day.

The problem for Zacchaeus is not that he is short, or that he is a tax collector. If you can tolerate one more Greek word reference, the word Luke uses for “short” is not only used as a measurement. It can also be translated as “least” especially when used in the superlative which is exactly the way Luke uses the word. So more than something about his stature, Luke is telling us something about what other people think of him. He is the “least”, the lowest, the “least respected”, or simply judged so by others. He is marginalized, shunned, scorned, and avoided by those others who by judging him pump up their own ego and self-respect. When you begin to understand these details, there is suddenly a parallel here with the Gospel of last Sunday and those two men praying in the temple.

If Zacchaeus is the “pure” or “clean” one, it is not Zacchaeus that Jesus has really come to save. In fact, the behavior of Zacchaeus would give us reason to think that he really was a good man doing far more with what he had than was ever required. As Luke tells this part of the story, this “giving” by Zacchaeus is in the present tense. He is already doing that. It is not something he promises to do in the future because Jesus came. The focus then shifts to those who have judged him, pushed him outside their social circle, and not welcomed him. Many in that crowd have done the same thing to Jesus, judged, condemned, scorned, and tried again and again to trap him and discredit his works and his words. Jesus and Zacchaeus have a lot in common. 

On his part, Zacchaeus has desired to see Jesus and he made the first effort to establish the relationship and make contact with Jesus being then rewarded with this divine guest. The crowd on the other hand stand back and murmur critically not about Zacchaeus, but about Jesus leaving us to see that it is the crowd who need to be “found” or “saved”. It is the crowd who need to see Jesus. In fact, then, it is any crowd or any people, who judge, alienate, criticize, scorn, and despise another child of God. So this Sunday, the tables get turned on us, so to speak. Things are not always what they seem to be, but either way, the Son of Man has come to search out and save what is lost. Zacchaeus was not the lost one. That murmuring crowd with their scornful attitude and quick judgements are the lost. Let us make certain that we are not among them with our judgements and scorn so that we might rejoice to discover that the Lord has come to stay with us.

Sirach 35, 12-14, 16-18 + Psalm 34 + 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18 + Luke 18, 9-1

October 23, 2016


It is the same today as last week in that it is easy to think that this parable is simply about prayer and draw some pious conclusions and then go right on to the next one episode. The complexity of last week’s parable does not allow this, and in contrast, the simplicity of this parable following immediately does not allow this approach either. One look at the posture and position of these two in the Temple, and one ear to the words of their prayer should lead to wonder what is going on here because in some ways neither prayer can be judged as a good prayer or a bad prayer. We do not know anything about these two. On the way to the temple the Pharisee may have dropped off some food at the home of someone hungry, and he may well have paid someone’s rent that day before. The Tax Collector may well have cheated his way into that job, and that morning he may also have caused someone to be evicted because he raised their tax leaving them unable to pay their rent. This cannot be dismissed as a simple matter of right and wrong or good prayers and bad prayers.

There is an attitude problem being revealed here, an attitude that is inappropriate for anyone who wants to come face to face and commune with God which is exactly what prayer is all about. There is a word here that should spark our attention and make us very uneasy. The word is: contempt. If you will excuse one more excursion into Greek, this is the same Greek word used to describe how soldiers of Herod treated Jesus. What the word really means is that the human dignity of the other person is denied before God. A illustration that some might think is off the point would be to say that this is the way (contempt) some think about and treat an unborn human being. The dignity of that unborn person is being denied. That is what is going on in this parable. To put it briefly and bluntly, where there is contempt of any kind in a human heart, there is no possible prayer, and consequently no justifying or saving relationship with God.

What is being explored here is a kind of humility before God that leads to the recognition that every human being has dignity before God and therefore deserves respect. The consequence of this means that scorn and contempt for any person with whom we disagree is not possible in someone who wants to pray and be in communion with God. It is based on a kind of humility rooted in respect for others, all others: no exceptions, no exclusions. Our Holy Father, Francis is quoted in September as having said: “Dialogue is born when I am capable of recognizing others as a gift of God and accept they have some to tell me.”

The times and the culture in which we live is too often an age of contempt. There is a lot of contempt around us and sometimes within. The discourse between too many reveals this contempt dramatically. So, there is no dialogue and no one listens to anything, a fact or an opinion, because so many are convinced that they are righteous and that their opinions and positions about everything are the only way things can be. They hold anyone who disagrees or sees anything differently in contempt and they are treated with scorn.

What this Gospel episode allows us to consider is how we are all tempted to consider ourselves righteous or more righteous than someone else. There is always hope however because this is something curable for those willing to confront any shred of contempt in their hearts. It means we look at everyone else as a person like ourselves: sinners calling upon God for mercy with a desire to be healed. What justified the man in the back of the temple was not so much his prayer or his pew, but the truth that he wanted to find righteousness from God not from his own ideas, his own actions, or for that matter, from his own prayer.

(No audio available with this homily because it was not actually delivered during the Sunday Liturgy)

Exodus 18, 8-13 + Psalm 121 + 2 Timothy 3, 14, 4, 2 + Luke 18, 1-8

October 16, 2016 at St Peter the Apostle Naples, FL

There is a lot of stuff going on with this parable! It is almost a challenge to stay on point, and dig for what is being revealed. Take for instance that Judge, who for Jesus almost seems to be the focus. He is a Judge. Justice is his business, yet this judge is a failure because he does not make certain that justice is served for everyone. This is a serious charge against him. It is his responsibility to see that there is justice for all, especially the most vulnerable. This man is a problem. Then there is the widow. She is out of her place. As a widow she is a member of one of the most oppressed classes in Israelite society. It would seem that she is not only widowed but also alone in the world, for the custom of that time and culture was for men to appear before a judge to plead her cause. In contrast to a Judge who does nothing, she is really something!

Since we do not know what her complaint is because there are no details, the complaint itself is not the purpose of the parable. What we have here one injustice coming into conflict with an obstacle or a system that is supposed to provide it. We are not told how long the conflict went on, but it was long enough to wear down the obstacle to justice. Forget about judges and widows with this parable. Jesus is talking about justice and how it is to be achieved.

This Judge, the obstacle to justice does not fear God, says Jesus. Those who do fear God, who keep God’s commandments loving God and neighbor do not allow or maintain a system or a culture of injustice. So first of all the parable prompts us to some reflection on whether or not we are the cause of any injustice. Notice however that the judge has not actually caused nor is he accused of inflicting justice. In other words, this is not about something he has done. On the contrary, it is about what he has not done and simply allowed it to continue by his passive behavior and his dismissal of this injustice until it is right in his face. In other words, until people might start talking about him.

The widow on the other hand is a victim of injustice, and she might just as well represent those who work for justice. Jesus speaks to this as well. He speaks a word of encouragement saying; “Do not sit around thinking that this is just the way it is. Stand up, speak up, and don’t quit. Especially do not let any obstacle get in the way.” Justice, which is one of the hallmarks of the Kingdom of God that Jesus has come to proclaim, is essential; and until it achieved for all, there is no Kingdom of God.

As he winds up this parable, Jesus shifts the focus to faith. Justice and Faith go together. That’s the problem for the judge. He has no faith. When Jesus asks that penetrating and sobering question, he is not asking whether or not he will find devotion, piety, candles and incense. He is asking if he will find justice, and for this we must pray without ceasing, without discouragement.

Prayer is no substitute for action however. It is like a beam thrown from a flashlight before us into the darkness. It helps us to go forward, it encourages us act. Prayer is not an escape from life but a journey into the heart of life. We learn to stand on our own feet before God and the world, and to accept full responsibility for our lives. The main and final purpose of prayer as we see it in the prayerful life of Jesus is to foster our relationship with God. This is the most important thing of all. This is the anchor of our spiritual lives which is not an extra life, but the life of our real selves. This kind of prayer is not asking things of God, but receiving what God wants to give and of shaping us into the people God has made his own, holy, and redeemed. Prayer is its own reward. It enriches us. It enables us to live not only more spiritually, but more deeply, more fully, more justly and therefore more authentically like children of God.