All posts for the month September, 2017

The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time October 1, 2017

Ezekiel 18, 25-28 + Psalm 25 + Philippians 2, 1-11 + Matthew 21, 28-32

St Joseph Catholic Church in Norman, Oklahoma

 The entry into Jerusalem has taken place. Jesus has cleansed the Temple resulting in a serious challenge to his authority by those in charge. He responds by raising the issue of John’s Baptism promising to answer them if they answer his question about the source of John’s authority. They talk about this among themselves, and then tell him that they do not know. So, he refuses to answer their question about his authority, but then poses three parables which indirectly do answer their question. We get the first of the three today, and the others over next two Sundays.

From our cultural perspective, the choice between these two children is easy. We would say that the one who said “no” but in the end, did what asked is the better. But, from the cultural perspective of Jesus, it is not so obvious and simple. Both children fall short. At that time and place, with honor so highly prized, saying “no” to the request of the father is outrageous. It could have resulted in banishment on the spot. Publically humiliating one’s father was unheard of and totally unacceptable. There is here a great dilemma. When given a choice between being publicly honored and privately shamed or publicly shamed and privately honored, the honorable choice is for the public saving of face. So, the child who said, “yes” is really the better of the two. In other words, look good no matter what! This is what is being called into question with this parable.

When applied to the Pharisees, we get the idea. They look good, but looking good is all that is good about them. However, we are not here to talk about or think about the Pharisees. This Gospel is not written for the Pharisees. It is written for you and me, and when we proclaim it in this assembly, Jesus speaks now and asks us to look at ourselves and measure whether we prefer to look or to do good; whether we are content to say pious things and talk about faith, or whether or not we have ever really “changed our minds” and put the talk into action. There is a little more to being a faithful disciple than just saying prayers, keeping the rules, and going to church. I heard a rabbi quoted recently who said that prayer does not save us. It just makes us worthy of salvation. Signs of holiness are not limited to prayers.

My friends, most of us in here today have said, “Yes”, but when we peel away what is superficial, none of us have really totally embraced the Father’s will. If we had, there would be a lot less poverty and greater justice in this world. There may be some among us who have in the past said, “no” but by the power of the saving spirit of grace have changed their minds. To those who have said “yes” but done little about it, there is still time. Because, in the parable Jesus never says they will not be welcome, it simply says that others will get there first. Neither of the children in this parable had it all together, but the one humble enough to change his mind and change his ways is closer to the father. What we can take away from this Gospel today is simply the assurance that what ultimately counts is not the promises we make but the actions we take. Getting to the two into agreement is the work of a faithful disciple.

The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time September 24, 2017

Isaiah 55, 6-9 + Psalm 145 + Philippians 1, 20-24, 27 + Matthew 20, 1-16

St Joseph Church in Norman, Ok

There is a line in this dialogue that ought to leave us stunned in wonder, and it is not the wonder of admiration. Stunned by shame would be more like it. As a people who easily get impatient in the line of a check-out stand or waiting for someone to make right turn with their foot on the break, the culture and society we have created easily leads us to think that out time is worth more than others, that people “in the way” need to get out of our way, and with that, pride looms up and makes angry, impatient, and ugly people out of the best of us.

There is a line in this dialogue that we ought to take home today and ponder its meaning for a long time. Studied with the mind and heart of faith, it speaks to and challenges much of the behavior and thinking that has deeply disturbed the fabric of our society in our life-time. It is a challenge to the individualism that has pushed us apart. It is a challenge to a racism that at its roots suggests that one race or country of birth is superior to another. It calls into question attitudes of superiority that begin to reveal and unmask someone far from God.

The complaint of those who were paid last reveals a kind of superiority and exceptionalism deeply rooted in envy making them angry, impatient, and ugly people no one would want to be around. “You have made them equal to us!” they grumble. “You have made them equal to us.” Listen to those words and think about what an affront this is to God, the Creator, the Father, the Provider, the Protector, the Owner of this Vineyard.

In this kind of self-centered thinking, the envy they have is really directed toward the vineyard’s owner. Their self-centered, puffed up, opinion of themselves makes them unable to be good and be generous. This fault in their character and their lives is revealed by their grumbling and bitterness. Instead of gratitude for being paid exactly what they were promised, they are angry because by the generosity of the owner others received the same wage. Not more, mind you, but just the same, what was agreed upon.

Their arrogant attack on the latecomers is more than economic. It is the revelation of envy. In the Greek use of that word, there comes that expression of looking at someone with “an evil eye”, a vision that is distorted and darkens one’s perception. Their complaint and envious grumbling provokes a strong rebuke. “Go home” says the owner. “Get away from me” is the message – way away.

“You have made them equal to us” is the center of this parable. Seven words for a serious look and examination of our deepest attitudes and expectations. These words are the best test to discover the power and the sickness of envy in our lives. We can see easily what this envious attitude has done to communities of people everywhere in the dysfunction and collapse of civility, respect, and justice. When we step before the owner of the vineyard we certainly would not like him to say, “Go home.”

The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time September 17, 2017

Sirach 27, 30-28,7 + Psalm 103 + Romans 14, 7-9 + Matthew 18, 21-35

St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples, FL

We have all heard this this instruction of Jesus many times over the years, and the challenge of forgiveness remains with us always. I have given and you have heard as many homilies on this text as there years of its repetition in the cycle of our readings. But, as I sat with it a few weeks ago, a verse emerged that I had passed over. It’s that part about those fellow servants who, as the Gospel says, “saw what had happened, were badly shaken, and went to their master to report the whole incident.” I would like to suggest that perhaps God’s Word is giving us more than an instruction on forgiveness here.

The story hangs on the role of those fellow servants who were badly shaken. If they had kept quiet and minded their own business perhaps expecting to get the same favorable treatment for themselves, there would be nothing here to admire. What’s happening here happens all the time. Way too often beneficiaries of kindness or generosity fail to follow the example of those who have been generous to them. They get and they keep. They feel as though it is theirs, they earned it, and they are going to keep it all. What makes this story important and formative for faithful people is those fellow servants. Some would call them names, especially those who have some behavior to defend. In our younger days we called them, “snitches” or “tattletales.” Now we call them “whistle blowers”, or “impractical dreamers”, and their reward for courage is not always so good.

However, I call them “advocates”, and the world and the society in which we proclaim this gospel could use a few more of them, because their courage uncovers and calls into question all kinds of injustice and bad behavior that is incompatible with the world we would like to live in. I think, in many ways, this Gospel is encouraging us to work for and create the kind of world we all want, the kind of world that God dreamed of at the moment of creation. It is a world of generous forgiveness, but more than that. It is also a world of justice; a justice that can only be achieved when people like these fellow workers do not just shrug off or look away in the face of all kinds of injustice. Advocates like these take a stand without concern about what someone else may think or what names they may be called.

There is a ministry of “bringing to attention” the injustice suffered by others. These advocates speak for others. They are people who make real the truth of our communion, the bond we share together in this life. They understand that what happens to one of us happens to us all. Advocates speak up and sometimes act up to right things that are wrong. We have an example of that in this Gospel. We have a challenge put before us. Disciples of Jesus are more than ministers of forgiveness, they are also ministers of justice. I’ve always found it interesting that in other countries and in their languages, the title used for lawyer or attorneys is “Advocate”. Isn’t it interesting how that title sifts the focus from the law to the person.  It will be a really good day, and move us closer to the Reign of God when we are badly shaken by anything that deprives another of justice.

Commemoration of 9/11 at St Peter the Apostle Church, Naples, FL

September 11, 2017

Colossians 1, 24-2,3 + Psalm 62 + Luke 6, 6-11

          These are the readings being proclaimed throughout the world in churches that share the Common Lectionary on Monday of the 23rd week of the year. That is today. In 2001, these readings were proclaimed on September 10, the day before the attack, and I can’t help but wonder how many us may have been prepared by these words of scripture for what was to come the next morning.

Paul writes words of encouragement that we still need to hear in the face of every tragedy and disaster. Speaking about a suffering and struggling community he says: “I wish their hearts to be strengthened and themselves to be closely united in love.” At the center of the readings from the Bible that day and still today are those verses from Psalm 5 we have just heard reminding us that God takes no delight in wickedness with the promise that all who take refuge in God will be glad and exalt forever.

When we pick the 6th chapter of Luke’s Gospel trouble is brewing between Jesus and those Scribes and Pharisees who seem always on the lookout for some way to stop and silence this man of peace who values people more than rules. A question is raised in the heat of this confrontation about whether it is right to preserve life or destroy it.

This question raised by Jesus must still be asked every day in every age. What draws us together today, and what troubles our memories, is that far too many people who share this earth with us have decided for one ideological reason or another that is it is better to destroy life, and the evidence of that is not just confined to a September day in 2001. In London, Barcelona, Nice, Paris, Ft Lauderdale, and countless other places, this madness reveals itself leaving us with a choice just like the one Jesus faced in that synagogue. You see, the Scribes and Pharisees would have left that man to suffer. Jesus would not. Which of the two is the better way: to preserve or to destroy?

A physical image emerges from this Gospel that should last longer than our memories of burning buildings. Stories of courage and selflessness that are part of the memory are expressed in that simple image Luke puts before us: … outstretched hand. “Stretch out your hand” says Jesus. “Stretch out your hand.” And, that is exactly what men and women like you first responders did and still do every time someone else choses to destroy. The promise of this day is that we will continue to stretch out our hands.

Remembering brings an event from the past into the present. We are about to do that at this altar. We will bring the broken body of Jesus Christ from the past into the present so that in remembering and sharing we may also share in his resurrection in the future. Today we remember 9/11 not to dwell on the past but to look to the future and remember what that day taught us; that an outstretched hand is the promise of life and a future. A clenched angry fist only offers us pain, sadness, and destruction. There is still a choice to be made.  Brothers and Sisters, obey the Word of the Lord, and stretch out your hand.

The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time September 10, 2017

Ezekiel 33, 7-9 + Psalm 95 + Romans 13, 8-10 + Matthew 18, 15-20

St Peter the Apostle & St William Churches in Naples, FL

In listening to and understanding these verses, it is absolutely necessary to know that the verses immediately before these instructions in Chapter 18 tell the story of the lost sheep with that heartfelt description of the shepherd who goes looking. That story begins with these words: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.” With that introduction, Jesus goes on to tell about the man with 100 sheep who leaves 99 to find 1 that has wandered off, and then describe what joy there is when he returns with the lost one.

The instructions given to the church through Matthew’s Gospel for correcting and healing offences provide a very responsible method for governance, and an excellent model for one’s personal life. We all know how not to deal with someone who has offended us. Instead of simply and honestly admitting to the person that they have hurt us giving them a chance to make amends, we withdraw, pout, avoid contact, and then in a kind of second stage, we tell others how we’ve been offended to justify our feelings and maybe gain some pity. Meanwhile nothing happens. In fact, with that method, nothing ever happens that’s good, healing, and healthy. Most of the time if we paid attention to this Biblical wisdom, the first step would be all we need to do. When it comes, however, to community life and community issues, the wisdom and common sense of this method is something worth a try. It ends up with the honest recognition that sometimes having tried every step of the method, there is nothing to do but give up. Only then is that brokenness acceptable. Yet, there is something important to notice at the very end of these instructions. The offender is to be treated like a Gentile or a tax collector. That instruction is the heart of the matter and the point of this Gospel. It does not say they are to be punished, run off, or treated like an enemy. Remember, it was the Gentiles and Tax Collectors Jesus came include in the Reign of God. They are to be treated as someone who has simply not yet received the message of the kingdom. Not yet – get the point! They never will if they are treated harshly or with meanness. There is an openness to the future implied here.

In sitting with these verses, it becomes possible after a while to shift the focus off the method being proposed and onto the person whose decisions, behavior, convictions, or maybe their belief has led to their departure or this rupture of communion with God and Body of Christ we have become as a Church. Leaving the practice of the faith is not like quitting boy scouts, a school club, the Rotary, or a Country Club. Leaving the Church is breaking the unity we have with Christ. That unity is there because of our oneness. When someone steps out of that unity, something breaks; and often it is the heart of parents who watch their children abandon this source of grace, hope, and its promise of life.

It is painful to bring that experience into the light of the gospel in a parish like ours where so many feel that brokenness and sadness because one or more of your children are not one with us in prayer feasting on the Bread of Life at the table of the Lord. The Word of God speaks to us all today about that experience and reminds us with these instructions on how we are to respond, and perhaps how we ought to feel. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones” is says. This Gospel ends today urging us to pray together about this after reminding us how we should treat those who have left us. It is not over for them the Gospel says, because the Shepherd will find them and bring them home. Comforted and encouraged by this assurance, we might just as well begin the rejoicing even as we pray for those we miss.

The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time September 3, 2017

Jeremiah 20, 7-9 + Psalm 63 + Romans 12, 1-2 + Matthew 16, 21-27

at St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples, FL

I am, and no matter where I live, I will always be an Oklahoma priest. Twenty days from today something will happen in Oklahoma City that has only happened once before in the United States. The ceremony of Beatification will take place in my home town. It will be the first time a person born in America will be declared a martyr in the process of being canonized a Saint. There are other American born Saints, but none of them died as a martyr for the faith. The holiness of their lives was witnessed by their service. In the case of this priest, his service and presence among the poorest of the poor in Guatemala brought the ultimate witness of his murder. I knew Stanly Rother. He was one of our men. He went down to the mission we had in Santiago the year I was ordained, 1968. In 1981, he was killed by those who opposed the work he did because of his faith and the power of his love.

I will be going back home for that ceremony in a couple of weeks, so it is in my mind these days, and never more so than during the time I spent with this Gospel and those readings from Isaiah and Paul. As Isaiah, whined and complained to God trying to get out of what God asked of him, I think of Stan and of myself. I want you to do the same. Think of Father Rother and then think of yourselves. When he was informed that he was on the “Death List” everyone urged him to get out and go home. Other priests, people in the parish, his parents, our Bishop were relieved when he did. But, as Holy Week approached during those months in Oklahoma, he was uneasy and very anxious feeling that he had abandoned the people there who were also being killed with nowhere to go. He told our Bishop, “The Shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.” With that, he returned to Santiago. Within months, a group of soldiers broke into the rectory in the night and killed him.

If a farm boy from Okarche, Oklahoma can understand and accept what God asks of him, so can we. His holiness did not come from some divinely inspired insight in the Will of God. It came from simply knowing and trusting that where he was corresponded to where God wanted him to be because he never did anything remarkable in an ambitious way to get there. He simply lived every day open to the will and the call of Christ Jesus. Some will call this “surrender.” It doesn’t need a name. It’s just the path to holiness.

The losing of one’s life does not mean martyrdom. Stan lost his long before he went to that mission in Guatemala. At some point in his earlier life, he discovered that living for God was better than living for one’s self. That’s what it means to die to one’s self. It does not mean you stop breathing, it just means you breath for some other reason that what you can get out of it.

The problem St Peter had with Jesus at this point of formation for the disciples was that he kept trying to take the easy way and avoid all risk. Jesus would have none of that for Peter, and I don’t think Jesus will put up with that from us either. Trying to take control is what Peter was up to, and we do that all the time. It will not work. It will not lead us anywhere except to misery, resentment, depression, and sad frustration. That is a large part of what ails our culture and our society. Too many ambitious, self-centered people want to take control and enjoy the easy life; no matter what the consequence are for someone else. They want to plan their lives without a thought about what God wants for that life God created and brought into being. Thinking as God thinks is what this Gospel proposes. Asking what God might want, and putting that before what I want is the only way. In other words, we may not want to be sick or be old, but maybe God wants us to be sick or old for some divine reason. We may not want to be out of work, but maybe God has a plan for that.

Now, when we proclaim Paul’s words in this assembly, it is God who speaks. You affirmed that yourselves when you said: “Thanks be to God” after the reader said: “The Word of the Lord.” So, God says to us today: “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

It is not easy to accept ourselves as we are when this world urges us to take more, to buy more, to use and keep more of everything. But, my friends, we don’t take the easy way. When some voices these days cry out for the supremacy of one person over another, we remember that we cannot be conformed to this age. If you are getting older and everything aches and nothing works right when you want it to, lose your life and discern what is the will of God. Unless you’ve made some bad selfish choices, you are probably right where God wants you. If you’re not as good looking as you want to be and can’t quite keep up with people who seem to always get a break in life, it’s time to discern what is the will of God. Most likely, the will of God is for us to be who we are and where we are able and willing to find joy in the discovery that we might be actually sharing in God’s dream for peace. When we reach that wisdom, our own sins will be a lot less of a problem and we will be free to turn our attention toward the consequences of the greater sin of poverty and injustice. It’s not likely that there will be some ceremony to recognize our lives as there will be later this month for Stan; but it is likely that we too will have become Blessed and Holy eventually taking our place among all the saints.