All posts for the month February, 2017

Ash Wednesday March 1, 2017

Joel 2, 12-18 + Psalm 51 + 2 Corinthians 5, 20; 6,2 + Matthew 6, 1-6, 16-18

St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL

From our very beginning we are dust touched by the loving hand of a Creating God.  We were filled with life and with hope by the Spirit of the God’s breath. But the King we welcomed with palms and glad Hosannas has been betrayed by our infidelity, fragile faith, and broken promises. So, we go back this day to that from which we came. There is a lot of dirt in all our lives the dirt of sin, the dirt of secrets, the dirt of lies and falsehood. Today we remove the masks of our pretense, and the truth is revealed; the truth of what we are without God. For had that loving creating God not breathed His life and His love into us, we would still to this day be nothing more than a handful of dirt blown about by the wind.

At no other time has the truth of our identity been so visibly marked on our skin. On the day of our Baptism, we were signed with the sign of the cross marked proudly as a royal, priestly, and prophetic people. But since that day, through the many years of our lives, that identity has been spoiled and damaged by our sinfulness. This Lenten anointing is a rougher, grittier, and dirtier marking accompanied now by stark words: “Remember,” because we have forgotten!

There is a lot to remember for all of us. The ritual words bid us to remember our beginnings, but there is far more to remember than those ritual words suggest. We must remember what we have done that brings us here, and we must remember what we have not done which might be even greater. We must remember too what this cross means, and what it promises. We must remember who we are as children for God, for we have too often forgotten. We must remember the gifts we have been given by the Holy Spirit, and the promise those gifts still hold for the future and the coming Kingdom of Go

We must remember the Beatitudes and our call to faith as disciples. We must remember one another and those who have brought us to this day by word and example, prayer and sacrifice. We must remember what it means to come to this altar and say “Amen” with outstretched hands and open hearts. We must remember finally where we are headed and the tombs into which we will be lowered, but from which we shall all be called on that glorious morning when the dead will arise arm in arm with the risen one who calls us to life this day.

There is a lot to remember today in this holy place where we shall once again, “Do this in memory of me.”




Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time February 26, 2017

Isaiah 49, 14-15 + Psalm 62 + 1 Corinthians 4, 1-5 + Matthew 6, 24-34

St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL

The times in which we live provide more than enough reason to worry and be anxious. Fear is being used by too many to manipulate and manage our thinking and our options. It is a handy weapon to silence opposition and easily leads to abuses of power. History is full of examples. To these times and to all our fears and worry speaks this Gospel. Worry threatens us all. It is a part of daily life; but this Gospel suggests that for people of faith it will not control our daily lives. There are some worries not caused by external circumstances either, but rather by an internal disposition. I’m not one of them, but I know many who are worriers and are perpetually anxious. My mother was one of them, but as she grew older, I watched her get over it, as she grew more grateful for all the blessings and joys in her life.

It seems to me that anxious people and those who worry are not thankful enough for the good things that happen to them, and they spend way too much time thinking about what might happen that is not so good. I read a survey recently that reports that the most common worry people have is about money, 45%. Then 39% of people surveyed worry about people, 32% about their health, 20% about exams, and 15% worry about their job security. Now, we know that worry is not only useless, but that it is positively injurious to one’s health. Going through life without any worry or fear would probably suggest that one has not really lived very much; but reducing the power that worry has over us is possible, and Jesus speaks about that today.

Concentrate on what is essential is what Jesus proposes for his faithful, which is doing the Will of God. There is no suggestion anywhere in revelation that it is God’s will for us to be fearful or worry. In fact, the first words spoken aloud in the New Testament are: FEAR NOT, and they are spoken over and over again. Worry is out of the question when pleasing God and trust in God are the dominant elements in one’s life. It’s a matter of living one day at a time. Worry robs us of the pleasure of enjoying this day and this moment. It keeps us from a full and joyful life. Worry about an unknown future and things that may never happen spoils the moment when all is well because God is good.

The essence of faith is knowing that life is full of risk, but we are not helpless victims because we are God’s children. The essence of faith is knowing that things are always uncertain and fragile, they come and they go, but God provides what we need even if sometimes not what we want. The essence of faith provides the courage to live with grateful joy in an uncertain world amid things and people who will pass away.

The prayer which Jesus taught us is a good one for those who worry, and a reminder for those who don’t. It urges us to ask for “our daily bread” not tomorrow’s or next week’s. It the prayer of people who live in the present with confidence in the one called, “Father.” What we must learn to do says St Augustine: is leave the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time February 19, 2017

Leviticus 19, 1-2, 17-18 + Psalm 103 – 1 Corinthians 3, 16-23 + Matthew 5, 38-48

St William Churches in Naples, FL

The examples Jesus uses today can preach this Gospel if we understand them correctly from the time and the culture in which they were spoken. If we fail to do that, we end up with some rather odd behavior that will not get make us holy or get us close to perfection. When it says “offer no resistance to injury” Jesus is not saying lay down and let anyone hurt you or take advantage of you. Jesus was never passive in the face of evil or wrong-doing. A better translation says: “Do not react with hostility to one who is evil.” That is an entirely different thing from not resisting evil. So, the challenge is how to resist evil, and then comes some examples.

Striking someone on the right cheek does not mean being hit with a fist or a club. The detail of the right cheek speaks to a specific kind of behavior. It refers to a backhanded slap with the right hand which is intended to demean not physically injure. This is a put down or a power play. So, getting into a fist fight misses the point. Rather than hit, the turning of the other cheek changes the game, and it says, “Hit me with integrity and then we’ll see who is best man here.” The people who heard this example from Jesus would have been quite surprised imagining a browbeaten servant standing up like that to an arrogant overlord. The point is made by the response. A servant doesn’t take the insult, but the servant does not escalate this into violence. They simply show up or reveal the arrogance of the offender.

It’s the same thing with the extra mile. A Roman soldier could force a local to carry his pack for only one mile. No more. The offer to go a second mile robbed the bully of the initiative, and it put him in danger of being reported for going beyond the limit. Imagine the people around Jesus hearing this and laughing at the thought of a Roman soldier pleading to get his pack back from a clever pacifist rebel.

With that, Jesus turns our thoughts to hatred, a dangerous thing. It must be kept for a cause not a person. We can hate things or events like war or plagues, but not people. When Jesus talks about the enemy he is not referring to enemies in war. He is talking about someone who is close to us, in the neighborhood, at work, in the family; someone making life difficult for us. Our enemies are not those who hate us but rather those whom we hate. Hate poisons the heart, but love purifies it. When Jesus says that we must love our enemies, it is not for the sake of the enemies. It is for our own sake because love is more beautiful than hate. Love is the greatest gift, but hatred is the one thing that can destroy love.

Love your enemies is one of the most revolutionary things ever said. All other revolutionaries said that the enemy must be destroyed, and we can see where that has taken us into an endless cycle of destruction and hatred that most of the time does more harm to us. Most of us find it hard enough to love our friends, and all of us have some enemies, or at least people we dislike, and when we take the time to reflect upon why we dislike them most of the time it is not because they said or did something to offend, but because they bring out the worst in us. Enemies expose a side of us which we usually manage to keep hidden from our friends, a dark side of our nature which we would rather not know about. The enemy stirs up ugly things inside us, and that’s the real reason we feel hatred.

What is expected of us is not to “feel” love for an enemy, because love is not a feeling. It is an act of the will. We can make a decision to love someone even though we do not have feelings for that person. Love allows someone to be different, to be themselves, and not try to turn them into a copy of ourselves so that we can love them – which is a very distorted kind of fake love. In the end, what Jesus asks is contrary to human nature, but it is not contrary to the divine nature, and so this is what draws us near to perfection. The perfection Jesus speaks of is the perfection of love. God loves God’s children unconditionally not because they are good, but because God is good. And so, it would be for us who seek to perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. We love others not because they are good, but because we will and we choose to be good.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time February 12, 2017

Sirach 15, 15-20 + Psalm 119 + 1 Corinthians 2, 6-10 + Matthew 5, 17-37

St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL

I believe it is true for all of us here willing to look back on our lives with some honesty and humor recognizing that when it came to rules and laws we pushed boundaries. I can remember a confrontation with my father over my first car which he did not want me to have. I suffered many depravations until I had saved enough money to buy the most ridiculous old jollibee which he then forbad me to park in the driveway because it leaked more oil than it burned gasoline. The imposed rule was that I could only drive it to school and back, no cruising on Sixteenth Street, and no passengers. So, when I passed him going about forty-five in a 30mph zone on Sixteenth Street with eight of my classmates in the car, there was a problem. I considered the rules an infringement on my freedom and a public declaration that I was irresponsible and a danger to others. Then when I moved on to the seminary and discovered a community of rules and laws beyond count, there was then an even greater struggle over limitations, boundaries, interpretations, and the fine points of language. We had to wear cassocks if we ever stepped out of our rooms. The rule didn’t say what you had to wear under the cassock, and in the opening weeks of the school year it was hot in those things. The monks didn’t take kindly to bare legs showing when we walked in the wind or genuflected in chapel. What I now see about those days is that I was determined to get away with all I could. My father and I had no common values then. While I wanted absolute freedom to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. He wanted me to be safe and live long enough to perhaps suffer a son like the one he had! Those monks had a value of respect and devotion with a sensitivity to gentlemanly behavior. We just wanted to see how much we could get away with. Conformity, unity, and mutual respect were a long way from the minds of 20 year olds.

We ought not pretend that we have all grown up and gotten over it. There isn’t anyone in here who does not keep an eye out of police cars, or drive just about 78 mph on Alligator Alley when the sign says 70, or push on that accelerator when the light turns yellow. We hire professionals to find loopholes, and admire people who don’t exactly cheat on their taxes, but cut every corner and find every conceivable way to pay the least. No matter what the issue or situation, that urge to have our freedom to do what we want is always there. Our attitude toward any law depends on the reasons we see for it and on our feelings for those who have formulated it. On one level of obedience there is conformity to avoid punishment which is purely egoistic. The only reason to follow the law is to stay out of trouble. When the punishment or risk of being caught is slight, there is no motivation for observing the law. So, the law giver must make sure that the cost of disobedience is great enough to insure compliance. Too many of our young people today get more upset over being caught than they do over the truth that they were disobedient. They spend more time and energy trying to figure out how to not get caught than simply being obedient.

Today’s readings speak about a different appreciation for God’s law, and Jesus speaks about that again today just as he did once before to his apostles. In the Book of Sirach, a collection of Jewish wisdom, it is said that obedience to God’s law leads to genuine quality of life. The law turns out to be more of a revelation than a demand. As the Psalm we just heard says, God’s law offers the pathway to a life full of blessing.  What Jesus proposes is that the law is a guide that shows us the way to a life full of blessing.

Jesus applies this wisdom to everyday relationships of people living in community. And it is just as true today as it was the first time he spoke. Anger which leads us to demean another comes from the same root as Cain’s murder of his brother, and if you remember, that murder happened in the context of making an offering to God. So, if we can’t figure out how to make peace among ourselves, we will start taking one another to court and end up imprisoned by our own system of retribution. When he talks about relationships between the sexes, Jesus avoids judging the picky details and simply demands due reverence for every person made in God’s image. He points out that cultivating lust destroys the heart and it devalues the woman. On the question of divorce, Jesus tells the audience that if you put someone in an impossible situation, you are responsible for what happens. No blame!

Considered in this way, we can see clearly that Jesus never came to abolish the law, but to get to the heart of the matter. Fulfillment of the law is simply a question of love. My father’s concern for me when I was 16 years old had nothing to do with his insurance liabilities. He just loved me and wanted me to live a long, healthy, happy life. It cannot be different with the a God we call, Father.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time February 5, 2017

Isaiah 58, 7-10 + Psalm 112 + 1 Corinthians 2, 1-5 + Matthew 5, 13-16

St Peter Church in Naples, FL – MS Koningsdam

Two weeks ago, when I was preparing for today’s homily, I was sitting at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the lectionary. As often happens to me at this stage of my life, I began to wonder how many times I have prayed, reflected, and preached these four verses that come immediately after the Beatitudes. It’s all part of the great Sermon on the Mount. I was gazing out the window, and when I looked back down at the table my eyes came to rest on the salt shaker. It dawned on me that the salt in that thing was really totally useless unless it was poured out and mixed with something else. It is that mixing together that causes something to happen. As long as it sits there on the table turning into one big lump as it does in humid Florida, it is useless. With that, I got up and finished washing the breakfast dishes grateful for one more insight into the wisdom of the Gospel.

It is so simple, this truth, and the wisdom of Jesus is so clear. As long as we sit around in this church we are not particularly useful when it comes to realizing our vocation and doing whatever it is God asks of us. We have to mix! We have to get out into the neighborhood, into the office, the shop, the club, where ever we are mixing it up with others and making a difference. We do that best and most effectively when we do it together, as church, as disciples, as Catholics. One single grain of salt is nothing when it comes to bringing out flavors or awakening tastes. The effect of the salt comes from many grains together.

Using such powerful symbols as salt and light, Jesus speaks to us about what it means to be Blessed and live in the Reign of God. We Catholics who experience the magnificence of the Easter Vigil can hardly miss the point when he calls us to be light. Remember how that one candle enters the darkened church, and then what happens as its light is shared and spread throughout the church. The warmth, the beauty, and the intimacy of that light is exactly what Jesus calls us to be. One little grain of salt or one little flicker of a candle is fragile and easily lost, but altogether there are some extraordinary possibilities.

This desire of Jesus for us to be salt and light goes deeper than just those simple images. It speaks of the need for our unity as well, and the immeasurable potential that lies before us as church for doing good. Yet we must be more than just “good”. We have to be good for something. Recognizing this ought to give us more than enough reason to remain faithful and stay with the church and with each other. The privatization of religion and the individualism of our culture and our times should find a challenge in these verses.

The most important thing about each of us is our capacity for goodness. We can be a source of light. We have hands that care, eyes that can see, ears that can hear, tongues that can speak, feet that can walk, and above hearts that can love. Unfortunately, through laziness, selfishness, and cowardice, our light can be dimmed, so that we become the shadows of the people we could be. When that laziness, selfishness, and cowardice creeps over us, the presence of others who share our hope and our faith can keep us from losing our way in darkness.

There is an old expression in English that describes a wise old timer as being “salty.” In the Old Testament, salt is frequently used as a symbol of wisdom, and wisdom is often spoken of as a “light in the darkness”. The deeper and more securely we tie our faith to the Sermon on the Mount, the wiser we shall become and brighter will shine the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.