All posts for the month November, 2017

The Solemnity of Christ the King November 26, 2017

Ezekiel 34, 11-12, 15-17 + Psalm 23 + 1 Corinthians 15, 20-26, 28 + Matthew 25, 31-46

                                          All of a sudden, the Gospel of Matthew concludes with this parable that reaches back to the beginning tying it all together. The last of the parables repeats the last of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” The next verse in Matthew’s Gospel begins the plot to kill Jesus and the story of his passion. So, what Matthew give us here is this grand pageant of the Last Judgement, a kind of Gospel within a Gospel for people dedicated to works of charity and justice for today’s multitudes suffering hunger, thirst, horrible illness, and imprisonment.

This parable is the crown of all reversal stories, a perfect example of what parables do: turn things upside down. Contrary to what most people generally think, when Jesus speaks of the “least brothers” he is not speak about the poor who are everywhere. This parable is spoken to his disciples telling them how to live during his absence with the assurance that he would always be with them. When he says: “Whatever you did for one of the least brothers” he is referring to his disciples”. “Brothers” is a term he reserves for disciples. In simpler terms then, the nations will be judged on how they received the Christian disciples, the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters who carry the presence of the absent Jesus.

With that clarification, take this parable now and think of it terms of the story we have told again so faithfully and so powerfully with the ministry of Blessed Stanley Rother. He is the blessed one. He is the least of Christ’s brothers as one who knew Christ was always with him. He is the one who was persecuted by those who refused the message of justice the Gospel proclaims. It is to men and women like Blessed Stanley Rother that this parable is addressed so that they may not lose courage and hope. It is spoken to us as well. It is spoken to a church that to this day is persecuted. Even more personally, it is a parable spoken to us who might sometimes waver or falter in our mission when we are judged and mocked, teased or attacked because we speak up for and stand up for justice and mercy, defending the homeless or immigrants, or warning of the dangers of great wealth and power.

What Jesus says to us today is that how we choose to live shapes our eternal future. All the readings today depict Jesus in his weakness so that we may understand how totally he has identified with us and remains one with us. In all that weakness, he still retains the greatest power of all. It is a power nothing and no one on this earth possesses. It is the power to move human hearts to compassion. With this power, we are turned lose on this earth by the command of Jesus, and we should fear nothing and no one keeping our eyes fixed on the image of this grand pageant Matthew puts before us as our hope and as his promise.

The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 19, 2017

Provers 31, 1-13, 19-20, 30-31 + Psalm 128 + 1 Thessalonians 5, 1-6 + Matthew 25, 14-30

This is a sad story even if you look at it from the viewpoint of the two who are praised by the master. I think the sadness comes from the lingering image of a God who still is judged by some to be demanding, fierce, and angry. The consequence of what the third man chooses to do deprives the whole scene and the whole world, for that matter, of the good he could have done with what he was given. It isn’t just a private matter of what each one does with what each one is given, there is a collective sense of goodness and joy that is lost because one of them is afraid.

In a moment of formation for his disciples, Jesus proposes that doing what God does the way God does things is the heart of discipleship. Servants who imitate his way of working get caught up in his way of living. The trouble with that third servant is that he failed to do what the master wanted. The master could just as easily have buried the money, but he didn’t. He took a risk with the hope that his servants would follow his example. One of them was too afraid of failure to do anything which is hardly the way the master lives. He handed his fortune over to his servants so that they could keep his business going. Those who did so not only increased the master’s fortune, but they became more like him as they did his work and carried on his mission. When the master returned, he did not look at the amounts, but rather at the two who had done his work.

As Matthew’s Gospel is quickly moving toward the passion of Christ and the time when Christ hands over to us his work and his mission we would be wise to carefully look at how we have managed the gifts entrusted to us. This church through which the generous, loving, and gracious God is still revealed is ours to build up.  Fear does not become us. Bold action, courageous witness to faith, and a desire to share the light of Christ and a place at this table is what is expected of us. As Jesus reached out to those on the margins of society, to those others avoided, and to those who had lost hope, we act as the master has acted to make sure no one is left out or left alone.

Being afraid to invite someone to prayer, to Mass, or to discover the healing peace of forgiveness makes us like that third servant, and it does nothing to further the work of Jesus that has been entrusted to us.

We are disciples of Jesus Christ. His mission and his work have been entrusted to us. Laziness is not compatible with discipleship. Excuses for doing nothing will never be accepted. It will be better to have done the wrong thing than to have done nothing. He will return to measure what we have done and how well we have been faithful to his mission. We do not know when because he has given us no timetable, but he has given us many possibilities.

The Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time November 12, 2017

Wisdom 6, 12-16 + Psalm 63 + 1 Thessalonians 4, 13-18 + Matthew 25, 1-13

                                                        At the end of October, I flew down to Houston for a meeting. On the return, I witnessed something that made me very sad. A woman with three young girls I assumed to be her daughters arrived at the gate just after everyone had boarded a flight going to Denver. There were some anxious looks down the concourse and a frantic conversation with the gate agent. Clearly to me, someone was missing. The agent paged a man’s name, and kept motioning for the woman and the children to board the plane. They refused. I walked over to them and said: “What does he look like? I’ll go and have a look.” She raised her hand to indicate his height, and said: “Curly hair.” I made a quit trip down the concourse, checked the restroom, the restaurants, and the shops. No curly hair. When I returned, the door was closed, the plane had pushed back, and the woman and three girls were sitting together looking very unhappy. Moments later, the man with curly hair sauntered up looking amazed that the plane was gone. You can imagine what the conversation between them might have been like. I stayed where I was.

This is a story played out over and over again in human lives. We all know people who are always late for everything. There is usually an excuse and someone else to blame. Like the five in the parable, they blame their friends for not sharing or the shop owners for not be open in the middle of the night! There is always an excuse with the expectation that they could just slide on in with the help of others. This story also speaks to those who are wise describing what wisdom looks like, and these are the ones Jesus is really speaking too. This parable is about wisdom, and it is a theme that will be presented again next Sunday as well. This concern seems to occupy the mind of Jesus as his own life comes near its close. It is the Bible’s assumption that our death will catch us in the way we normally live either in a prepared state or a postponed state. There are some who rely on last-minute preparations like five of the virgins who had taken no extra oil.

I am not a great believer in last-minute preparations. I am working on this homily in October. I have wisely learned that something could come up on November 10 or 11 that keeps me from preparation. So, get it ready early. After fifty years as a priest, I am not a great believer in death-bed conversions either. I do not rule them out, but believe me, they are an infrequent grace. Now, 40,000 people died in auto deaths last year in this country, and 610,000 of heart attacks, and 140,000 of strokes. Just those figures alone ought to give us reason to question the wisdom of putting off anything that might strengthen and enrich our friendship with God, our relationship with his Church, and our care of God’s children sometimes entrusted to our care. Making excuses or blaming others will change nothing when it is finally just too late. Pretending that God’s mercy will always reopen the door when it has been closed goes contrary to what Jesus has said not only with this parable but many times before. Those who cry “Lord, Lord” will get no hearing because this is the time for action not later. It is possible to be “too late.” This is the time to prepare. This is the time given for us to prepare.

For those of us here, this is our graced future. We are the ones who carry the light and wait for the Lord. We take hope and courage from these verses, confident that all we do in service, in prayer, in sacrifice, and praise will lead us into the banquet we anticipate around this altar. We can’t do much for those who are not wise enough to prepare. We might go wandering around the airport concourse looking and hoping, but sometimes it doesn’t work.  Yet we can pray for them and by the witness of our good lives, we might signal to them that the groom is coming. May we live each day worthily in constant expectation of Christ’s return. This is real wisdom.

The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time November 5, 2017

Malachi 1, 14, 2, 8-10 + Psalm 131 + 1 Thessalonians 2, 7-9, 13 + Matthew 23, 1-12

Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Norman, Oklahoma

                                          If a pious Jew had taken seriously and practiced the kind of religion the Pharisees were teaching, they would have had ulcers and time for nothing else in life. Their homes would have been a mess, and they would have been out of a job and completely without friends. That religion enslaved them to a God who was a relentless taskmaster. The Pharisees themselves were trapped in a system that was totally self-focused thinking that what they did was going to save them. Nothing else! It was all up them.Their whole self-esteem rested upon the admiration of others, and so everything they did was to gain approval and impress other people. No wonder Jesus, his message and behavior, was so impossible for them to embrace.

Suddenly, the focus is off of one’s self to the point that titles are set aside because there is only one father and one teacher. In the religion Jesus describes, we do not pose as savior or master of anyone. If someone aspires to be number one they will be the first, but not the first in line. They will be the first to arrive when another has need, the first to forgive when there is offense, the first to heal when there is hurt. There is no mistaking the message of Jesus preserved in this Gospel. We are brothers and sisters. That’s that. In the matter of salvation and grace what we do is never done to look good or to earn something. It is done because we have been so blessed and given so much. Who we are is not a matter of titles earned, or for that matter bestowed by some authority, but rather a matter of who we are and how we behave.

I often wonder why so many of our young people have abandoned us and leave so many of these pews empty on Sunday. The more I think about it, the more I begin to feel as though the message of Jesus is still unfulfilled leaving us trapped in a religion that is sometimes more about rules and regulations than it is about is about relationships, friendship with God, and loving care for one another. Not always, but sometimes there is too little joy, too little excitement, too little desire to come together in praise and thanksgiving for the hope we share in this place. In homes where assembling for Mass is something anticipated with joy throughout the week, and in parishes where the welcome is sincere and the gifts of the Holy Spirit abound, there ought to be people lining the walls and waiting to get in. Moaning about the priest or the deacon, complaining about the music, criticizing the bishop, with negative comments about the parish do nothing to bring life and hope, joy and peace into a community. This has to be a place of forgiveness, respect, and joy where people who may have been battered around during the week can come for healing and understanding, where people whose skin color or accent makes them feel unwelcome can find a home, where people whose sexual identity is different are treated like children of God, where people who are worn and tired with age and work find a gentle shoulder to lean on, and where people who feel alone can find a companion.

In these verses today, Jesus has four criticisms of the Pharisees with which we might inspect and critique ourselves as a church. 1) Practice what you preach. 2) Obey God’s commands which are always about love and service. 3) Piety that attracts the attention of others and their admiration is wrong. 4) Do nothing for the sake of recognition and honor, which really means don’t be disappointed or angry when you are not recognized for doing the right thing even when no one is looking. With this wisdom, we can safely avoid the woes and worries that threatened those Pharisees trusting that this wisdom is always relevant in every age and in every place. Integrity is what matters, and it is a noble and necessary trait for disciples of Jesus Christ.