All posts for the month October, 2017

The Solemnity of  All Saints 2017

Revelation 7, 2-4, 9-14 + Psalm 24 + 1 John 3, 1-3 + Matthew 5, 1-12
November 1, 2017 at St Joseph Parish in Norman, Oklahoma

Today we sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his instruction. As always,
Jesus is telling us something about God. These Beatitudes reveal our God to
us. They tell us what God is like and therefore, what how God-like people
Hoy nos sentamos a los pies de Jesús y escuchamos sus instrucciones. Como
siempre, Jesús nos está diciendo algo acerca de Dios. Estas Bienaventuranzas
nos revelan a nuestro Dios. Nos dicen cómo es Dios y cómo le gusta a Dios
que vivan sus semejantes.
These holy people we remember today have one thing in common: their need.
This is a need for food for mercy, for peace, for happiness. All of these
things are different forms of needing God. Those who are blessed in this
life are people who know they need God. They know that they cannot go
through life or go into eternal life with God, and without God’s grace,
help, and peace.
Estas personas santas que recordamos hoy tienen una cosa en común:
“necesidad” . La necesidad de alimento para la misericordia, la paz, la
felicidad. Todas estas son formas diferentes de necesitar a Dios. Aquellos
que son bendecidos en esta vida son personas que saben que necesitan de
Dios. Ellos saben que no pueden ir por la vida o ir a la vida eterna sin la
gracia, la ayuda y la paz de Dios.
These “saints” are not called “Saint” because of their perfection. They are
saints because they knew that they needed God. They had failures and faith.
They were not super-human filled with grace and gifts, faith and virtues
that we lack. They fell and were picked up, sinned and were forgiven, forgot
the promises they made and they were reminded again. The saints we remember
today are part of us all.
Estos “santos” no son llamados “Santos” por su perfección. Son santos porque
sabían que necesitaban de Dios. Tuvieron fracasos y fe. No fueron súper
humanos solo estaban  llenos de gracia y dones, fe y virtudes que nos
faltan. Cayeron y fueron recogidos, pecaron y fueron perdonados, olvidaron
las promesas que hicieron y se les recordaron nuevamente. Los santos que
recordamos hoy son parte de todos nosotros.
We are not saints because of our perfection, but the lack of perfection does
not keep us from becoming saints. We know that too often are not meek,
merciful, or peacemakers. We become saints because we know that we can never
become saints without God. Knowing out need for God and living that way is
what we must do. It is why we are here, and it is what will eventually get
us into the Kingdom of God.
No somos santos por nuestra perfección sin embargo la falta de perfección no
nos impide convertirnos en santos. Sabemos que con mucha frecuencia no somos
mansos, misericordiosos ni pacificadores. Nos convertimos en santos porque
sabemos que nunca podremos volvernos santos sin Dios. Saber la necesidad de
Dios y vivir de esa manera es lo que debemos hacer. Es por eso que estamos
aquí, y es lo que finalmente nos llevará al Reino de Dios.

The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time October 29, 2017

Exodus 22, 20-26 + Psalm 18 + 1 Thessalonians 1, 5-10 + Matthew 22, 34-40

Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Norman, Oklahoma

                                          When you stop to think about it, a command to love seems a bit puzzling and perhaps even difficult if not impossible. If love is spontaneous and free, if it is a gift that we give, we might do well to wonder how it can be commanded. When we begin to do so, we start to dig into what God is asking of us. Contributing to the puzzle is the fact that the word “love” means too much and too little. It stands for just about everything, and it justifies too many things. People have done things for love that have destroyed the very object of their obsession, and they have done things for love that have destroyed their very souls.

It is probably the most misunderstood word of all. For some it can mean sex, or thrills, or feeling wonderful. For some it makes the world go round, it’s what the world needs now, or all you need is love according to some of the song writers of our ages. It’s supposed to fix things, make us feel better about ourselves and the world. “Love is all you need” according to another song. Suddenly in Matthew’s Gospel, that word “love” shows up as the sum of the law and prophets.

For those of us who take seriously the commandments and really want to follow them, it is rather important to discern what that verb, “love” means in the bible, because in the rest of life, it is certainly not very clear. I would say that it is a word more abused than understood, and the misunderstanding leads to a lot of guilt, sadness, frustration, and disappointment. There is a command here. Clearing up what exactly is being commanded opens the way to faithfulness and holiness.

We believe that God is Love, and our experience of that love, or that God, leads us to understand what is being commanded. The mystery of God takes us far beyond human emotions, warm feelings, and sentiments. These are human traits, not divine traits. It is rather trivial to attribute human sentiments to God. That’s backwards suggesting that God is made in our image rather than us being made in the image of God. When we begin to discern what God’s love is like and how God’s love is expressed and experienced, the best word we have is commitment. In the Old Testament, stubborn, unwavering commitment is what God’s people experience from God. No matter what they do, how they act, and who they worship, God never leaves them and never abandons them. There is no talk of sentimentality here. It’s all about commitment, and that is biblical “love.” With that understanding, commitment can be commanded, and a people made in the image and likeness of God can make commitments just like God.

So, love of neighbor has nothing to do with affection for another, but it has everything to do with not abandoning, ignoring, cutting off, or pretending that someone has no claim on us or that we have no responsibility toward them. We do. To love the neighbor is to imitate God by taking their needs seriously, and by never leaving them alone to fend for themselves. This kind of love commanded of us by God involves heart and will, soul and life, mind and strength. In the end, it requires fidelity, and its roots are in covenant. Loving one’s neighbor as one’s self means that we can no more break the relationship with another than we can break our relationship to ourselves. This love is ultimately an affirmation of our oneness in God’s sight; our oneness with each other, and our oneness with God. Any break destroys it all.

Profound human love is always an image of God’s love. We can see it all the time, and from time to time we share in it. I have watched people married for fifty and sixty years content to sit quietly in each other’s presence, yet become upset if the other returns home later than expected or is absent for more than a few hours. Behind this silent presence is decades of mutual commitment. Love of God is like this. It means never quitting, never stopping, never giving up. It means attention, patience, and service. It always means some sacrifice that is easy when it comes from a grateful heart that rests secure in the knowledge and love of a God who is always beside us, with us, and within us.

The Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time October 22, 2017

Isaiah 45, 1, 4-6 + Psalm 96 + 1 Thessalonians 1, 1-5 + Matthew 22, 15-21

Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Norman, Oklahoma

                                                      As I was sitting with this passage in reflection and prayer a few weeks back, I decided that it was best understood aloud. In other words, just reading the text was not working. I needed to hear it just as the people “heard” it from the lips of Jesus. So, I read it out loud several times with different emphasis which seemed to shift the focus. When I read it with a long pause between the first part about Caesar and then raised my voice emphatically with the second part, I really think I heard Jesus.

For way too long people who want to take an easy way out of what is being proposed here take the words out of context to justify a “two kingdom” theology that has life neatly divided into two autonomous realms: the secular and the religious, or worse, to justify unswerving obedience to secular authority with that slogan, “my country right or wrong”! Really? I would like to say after digging into the meat of these verses. Is there really anything that does not belong to God? When that question begins to be raised, we begin to move into the heart of what Jesus means.

There has hardly been a time in history when there was no clash between what Caesar wants and what God wants. The clash is usually over moral issues. In our times with rapidly increasing technology and a weakening faith life with little room for God in the scheme of things, we are facing more and more ethical issues where the law of God conflicts with civil law. We who render to God what is God’s recognize that what is legal is not always what is moral, and right at this point, the voice of Jesus rings out clearly. Jesus never intended to make God and Caesar equals in the loyalty of our heart, our service or our dues. God alone is God. There is no other. God commands the first and the best of us. Even when committed to public service, Caesar is no match for God.

Behind all of this there is really a question of authority which has been stirring in the Gospels for the past three weeks. The question is, “Who speaks to us with real authority?” I would suggest that it is not Caesar. It is not government nor any political party. There is hardly any difference between them. Behind all the talk and noise, they all offer the same thing: money, power, nationalism, and entertainment. One version of this offers us low taxes and more prosperity, national security and power, enlightened egotism, and the narcissistic myth that since we have “earned” our possessions, the poor of our country and this world have no claim on us. The other version appeals to unbounded self-indulgence where individualistic choice trumps every value and good imaginable. All the talk about “rights” has nothing to do with the real value of people and humanity. It is all a lot of noise about special interests demanding satisfaction. So, one jabbers on about morality and the other about “the right thing.” All the while there is a numbing silence about justice, discipline and sacrifice. If there is any thought about it, it’s something others should be doing.

There is here no neat and easy solution to the question of Church and State relations. A legitimate state has rights and good citizens respect them, The Gospel has given us a principle however that always leads us to think about, value, and make choices that are in the common good, not the good of some select few or some special interest. The Common Good is what matters. This twenty-second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel ends with a pronouncement of the greatest of all commandments which we will proclaim next week: loving God with one’s whole heart, minds, and soul, and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.  Read that commandment out loud all week long with the same pause and emphasis on the second part as I proposed with this text. For you see, humans, not coins bear the image of God, and no edict or law, president, king, or congress can absolve followers of Jesus from this mandate to love God and see God in the neighbor.


The Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time October 15, 2017

Isaiah 25, 6-10 + Psalm 23 + Philippians 4, 12-14, 19-20 + Matthew 22, 1-14

Saint Joseph Church in Norman, Oklahoma

                                        This is now the third and last parable at the end of Matthew’s Gospel after the authority of Jesus has been challenged by the Pharisees in the Temple. There are two parts to this reading which is why in some of your books there is a long version and a short version. The parable which is in included in both long and short versions is, like all parables, about God revealing how much God wants everyone to come into the Heavenly banquet. The longer version adds an allegory, that says something about us.

There is something sad about the parable. We know what it’s like to invite people to a dinner or some celebration and be turned down, or have people accept and then not show up or cancel at the last minute as though some better offer came along they could not refuse. Then there is the other side of the experience when we’ve been invited and might have to make a choice between two options. Every time I read this parable, I remember an afternoon several years ago. I was in Rome with my young niece who was enjoying a trip to Europe with Uncle Tom as a High School graduation gift from her parents and grandparents. We were at a luncheon at the North American College, and the Rector came by the table and said: “We have had a call from the Vatican and the Holy Father is asking if any Americans would come this evening for an audience.” I looked at my niece who was wide eyed and I said: “Do you want to go?” Her response was a loud, “Yes” quickly followed by a question. “What shall I wear?” My response was rather direct: “We’re not going shopping. Wear the best you have.” She did, and we went. There were just a hand-full of us there, and I stood back and watched the Holy Father thinking: “Here is a wonderful but lonely old man surrounded by these officious clerics trapped in this palace and clearly desperate for some simple human conversation and company.

For me that is the way I always imagine this “king” who wanted so desperately to fill up his banquet hall and hear the sounds of music and joyful laughter. This is God revealing Himself to us. It is the God whose friendship was turned down by His first love, Eve and Adam; traded for the company of a snake. For those first hearing this parable from Jesus, that parallel would have been unmistakable. As Adam and Eve were banished from Paradise for their refusal, so these latter ones will meet the same fate. As the story goes on, we listen sadly to the excuses of these people who were invited. They are so busy making a living that they have no time for life. That is really what this all about: priorities and life. A God who wants us badly enough to risk the life of his only Son in order to gather us in is set before us. Too busy running from this to that, worried about bills and deadlines, schedules and appointments there is no spiritual life at all and no lasting relationship with the one who invites us all to life.

Then, Matthew shifts the focus from that image of God to us with a chilling message in an allegory about someone who came, but got tossed out. Seems unfair at first, but the issue is not really about his clothing. The real insult is the man’s silence. He refuses to speak and respond to the question. This is someone who’s just there to watch, someone who came in but does not join in. This is someone who really has no excuse for that and nothing to say. Matthew has now shifted the attention from the Pharisees to the church with this allegory reminding us that just showing up is really not all that is expected of us. Apathetic spectators do not make disciples. Matthew proposed to the church at his time and to the church today that as we accept the invitation to enter into the fullness of life, we need to begin really living the life of faith into which we have been invited.

The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time October 8, 2017

Isaiah 5, 1-7 + Psalm 80 + Philippians 4, 6-9 + Matthew 21, 33-43

Saint Joseph Parish in Norman, Oklahoma

                                          There is a dangerous temptation with this parable to sit back comfortably and use these verses to point a finger at another in a self-righteous distortion of what Jesus has to say. He would not take that any more from us than he would have from his contemporaries, so we must not go there. In times past, this parable has been misused to justify anti-Semitism and a kind of “replacement theology” that is totally outside the lesson. This is not about the Jews being replaced by the Christians. The story is told to encourage repentance and reveal something about God, not to pass judgement on someone else. There is nothing here to allow us to find some kind of self-affirmation. So, before we begin to cheer over what happens to the villains, we need to look further into the text, listen, and ask how this applies to us, not to someone else, not someone with authority, and certainly not to someone who lived ages ago. This parable is spoken out of a living Gospel to you and me. Pay attention to the very last verse: “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.

We are the tenants of this vineyard created by God. It has been entrusted to us with the expectation that we will cultivate and tend this vineyard in order to produce fruit not for ourselves, but for the owner of this vineyard. This parable exposes the foolishness of ever thinking: “It’s mine. I earned it, and I’m keeping it.” This is not our vineyard. We don’t own it. We cannot afford to forget that it was here before we came, and it will be here after we are gone. What we do while we are here with what has been entrusted to us matters to the owner, and what we do or do not do has consequences for our future.

With this made clear by the Word of God, we might do well to take a careful look at what is happening to this vineyard under our care. There are several ways to look at or define the vineyard: our families, the whole human family, the church, and this planet earth itself. It might be a good and safe idea to anticipate the time when we will be asked to produce something from our presence here. We can start with a look at our own families and how our role in those relationships has been the cause of some grace, faith, holiness, and peace. We can look as well at the whole human family, looking to see how much unity and peace we have nurtured, how much greater justice has been reaped because of us. Poverty and Sickness, Homelessness and Hunger are like those wild bitter grapes we heard of in the first reading. When the stones of injustice are cleared and spaded, a life less bitter and less wild will be the produce we can offer the owner.

It must be the same with this church entrusted to our care. The owner has some expectations about what will come of the sacred mission entrusted to us in terms of revealing his goodness and love, and the sharing of his forgiveness. Finally, there is this earth itself that demands an accounting for what we have done with this beautiful creation entrusted to us. The Holy Father has reminded us that our sister Earth, is crying out to us “because of the harm we have inflicted by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”

Jesus told this story to tenants who had forgotten who they were, acting as though they were the master of everything. There is violence in this story, and the futility of that kind of behavior is made clear. In the plan and dream of God revealed in the first story of the Bible, there is a harmony and balance between the creator and the created, a harmony and balance in nature itself. As we examine ourselves and look at what has been produced while we are tenants, we might also remember how carefully and lovingly the landowner of this parable prepared and cared for this vineyard: the planting, the hedge, the press, the tower – all revealing how perfectly it was prepared for us. We who are made in the image of this owner probably ought to care for the vineyard of our family, our brothers and sisters, this church, and this earth with the same careful and loving touch.

The Psalm we have sung today should probably be our song as a song of repentance, promise, and hope: “O Lord, God of hosts, restore us; let your face shine upon us, then we shall be saved.