All posts for the month August, 2019

September 1, 2019 onboard MS Zaandam

 Sirach 3, 17-18, 20, 28-29 + Psalm 68 + Hebrews 12, 18, 19, 22-24 + Luke 14, 1, 7-14

Banquets, dinners, and parties are all frequent themes in Luke’s Gospel, and he uses these themes to give us a glimpse of what will be in the Kingdom of Heaven. In these verses today, we get a clear instruction about the heavenly banquet to which we hope to be invited. What we discover here is that hospitality and humility are essential virtues for those who expect to have a place at the banquet in heaven.

The reality of this vision of the banquet in God’s kingdom is that people are going to be there we might never think of inviting into our homes, because the Divine host is nothing like this guy who invites people from whom he expects to get something in return. There is a direct contradiction to the custom of social reciprocity that is to this day so endemic to our lives in this world. There is in the comments of Jesus a direct confrontation to a social system that always seems to reward the “haves” at the disadvantage of the “have-nots.” There is no virtue at all in any relationship based upon what you are going to get out of it. So, inviting those who have something to offer is self-serving and egotistical, and it uses the guests in a manipulative way that is shameful and ultimately contrary to the openness and graciousness of real hospitality that mirrors the hospitality of the Divine Host.

Knowing that, anyone who comes as a guest will simply be glad to be invited, and where you sit makes no difference because, you are just grateful to be there in the first place. Those guys Jesus observes elbowing their way around looking for the just right place and just the right people to sit with are foolish and silly looking. They are obviously without gratitude, and more interested in who they are with than in the party itself because, they have to “perform” and look good. The humble are always simply grateful.

It is the role of the Divine host to assign the places of honor, not the guests, and what we can learn from this parable is that we are not going to exalt ourselves. The reality is, we had better humble ourselves, or God will do it for us. The humility found in disciples of Jesus is the grace and wisdom to simply know our place. Saint Thomas teaches that “humility is truth”. Something in this world is always proposing to us that we should expect things or that something is owed to us. The humble are just grateful to be invited to the banquet. They have no expectations about seats of honor or privilege. At the end of the day, those who are worried about who they are going sit with never enjoy the dinner. They are just focused on themselves and the company they seek. In the end, it’s not the place that honors the guest. It’s the guest that honors the place. We don’t know in what place Jesus sat in the home of that Pharisee, but where ever it was, that was the place of honor.

August 25, 2019 onboard MS Zaandam

 Isaiah 66, 18-21 + Psalm 117 + Hebrews 12, 5-13 + Luke 13, 22-30

The question that starts this episode in Luke’s Gospel is asked by people who already feel very certain that they are among the few. They are hoping Jesus will say, “Yes”, securing their self-satisfied position. Jesus was not about to be trapped into playing their game of exclusion. In response, he uses a parable to confuse their rigid attitudes.

Jesus knew very well the writings of the Prophets, and so did they, because they were the religious elite. With this parable he reminds them quite subtly of how the Book of Isaiah concludes. It is a nightmare for nationalists and clerical elites as Isaiah has God gathering all kinds of people to share with them the secrets of divine glory. So, Jesus picks up on that theme as he describes the guest list to the horror of those who ask the question. They are going to come from everywhere, even the people who are least respectable. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that those are the ones he prefers to eat with.

What is being revealed to us is that God is not content with a small group of the elect. Historically, we should hear this and understand that God is not content with just the chosen people, Israel, who think they should be first. What we have to imagine when we proclaim this Gospel today is that God is not going to be content with just those of us who made a little sacrifice to attend Mass on this ship today. God is not going to be content with those who might claim that they are really good and worthy of acceptance. The rule keepers are not going to be the only ones who gain entrance. We have no right to think exclusively and judge that someone else different from us may not be invited and welcomed.

When you think about the great glory of God, it seems impossible to image that without the great variety of people, cultures, and creatures that populate this universe. The fact is, Jesus came up with this story responding to people who were quite willing to limit the number at the heavenly banquet. It is precisely those, he says, who want to limit the number who may very well be told that they are unknown. The story is a direct warning.

Those who want to lock the door are likely to be the ones on the outside of the door they want to lock. They may well protest that they ate and drank with him, that he taught in their streets. But, they do not claim to have assumed his values. What we get here is a picture of God’s banquet as the most ecumenical, international, interreligious gather space in all the universe. The privileged rank here is found at the bottom. The guest will first include the people who don’t want it limited. The only people locked out are those who think they’ve earned the key that gets them in and the riffraff out. The truth is that they would be just as unhappy inside as outside, so in the mind of Jesus, there is no point in letting them ruin the party.

August 18, 2019 at Oklahoma City, OK

 Jeremiah 38, 4-10 + Psalm 40 + Hebrews 12, 1-4 + Luke 12, 49-53

It does not take much time to look at the world today and think that Jesus was very successful. There is division everywhere. Where there is not actual fire, there is fiery language of retaliation, revenge, and threats with missiles and weapons that can obliterate any opposition with fire. However, sometimes these Gospel images given today are used to justify all sorts of behavior Jesus would abhor, and I am puzzled by people who cause trouble and justify it with pious and religious excuses. These words from the mouth of Jesus are not given to us as a go-ahead for divisive behavior and causes that need not cause hurt and division. These words, as Luke recalls them, are to offer comfort to those who have been pushed aside because of a faith that is rooted in reconciliation, forgiveness, love, and peace. We are not called to and expected to scorch the earth and destroy those who oppose or disagree with us.

It can be tough to make Jesus Christ the center of your life. It may bring pain and alienation, because it is tough to be merciful and kind in a world more interested in retribution and revenge. It is tough to be forgiving and work for and live for peace, a kind of peace that means more than an absence of actual military war. That’s not peace, it’s just a pause. At the same time, the Gospel and mission of Jesus has so often been dumbed down, and “Hallmarked” into cheap sentimentality that has no fire, no passion, and little worth dying for. Too often our faith is sanitized beyond recognition. Christmas is the perfect example. That baby was born homeless, and that couple became refugees fleeing from danger and tyranny. Somehow, we have failed to connect all of that with the Incarnation and where and how God chose to be revealed.

In our time, facing the growing reality of secularism, which is more indifferent than hostile to our faith, we grow defensive, and instead of a self-critique that might lead us to wonder how this has happened, we play the victim and it only gets worse. We are a prophetic people as a Catholic Church, and prophets are trouble makers, but the trouble is not their doing. It is the response of those who are troubled. There is no greater disturber than the person who preaches justice and speaks the truth. Take Martin Luther King as an example. He was a man of peace. Yet by speaking about injustice against his race, there was more trouble than anyone could have imagined. He only spoke the truth. The trouble came from those who denied the truth.

Sometimes what we call peace is not really peace at all. There is a phony peace and a phony unity that tolerates discrimination and inequality. The abnormal has become accepted as normal. For instance, the inequalities in society and the gap between helpless poverty and insolent wealth. This is not normal, but many just shrug and say: “That’s the way it is.” Jesus says he came to kindle a fire upon the earth. It may be only a metaphor, but it’s a powerful one. Fire is not something one can remain indifferent to. It’s not a weak, pale, lifeless thing. Fire warms and comforts, but it also burns up what is useless, and refines what is impure. It was justice and integrity that brought Jesus into conflict with those who exploited the weak and the poor. His integrity brought him into conflict with the dishonest. His tolerance brought him into conflict with the narrow-minded and the bigoted.

A South American Bishop once said: “When I give bread to the poor, they call me a saint.  But, when I ask why the poor have no bread, they call me a communist. Go figure that one out!

August 11, 2019 at Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Castle Rock, Colorado

 Wisdom 18, 6-9 + Psalm 33 + Hebrews 11, 1-2, 8-12 + Luke 12, 32-48

St. Francis of Assisi Castle Rock,CO 5:30pm Sunday

We spend a lot of time waiting in this culture. We wait in line at the grocery, and if you go to Costco where I live, you might as well have dinner, because the check-out line so long! We wait in the doctor office, we wait at the airport either to leave to meet someone, we wait for babies to be born, we wait to get out of the parking lot of this church! Someday, I’m going to track how much time is spent every day just waiting. I do not know how you handle it, but I’m not too good at it yet, but I have discovered that if I know what I am waiting for or why I have to wait, it’s a little easier. The other day, I was third in line checking out at the grocery, and the lady ahead of me spent as much time digging in her purse for a credit card as it took to ring up her purchases. Meanwhile six of us were waiting! Did she not know that when the clerk was finished she would have to pay? So, Jesus gives us three parables about waiting and readiness, because, in the end that is exactly what this life is all about, waiting and readiness. What we do while we wait is at the core of these parables, and it an essential part of discipleship. 

It seems to me after more than 50 years as a priest that there are two kinds of people who have different ways of waiting. One is either a planner or a pilgrim. The planner likes to have things under control. They take their cue from what society considers success, and they spend most of their time trying to match the life-style and values of others. If they don’t achieve these goals, they are bitterly disappointed, and there are a lot of bitter people around. You might be sitting next to one. Well maybe not in Castle Rock! The pilgrim is someone who accepts life as a gift that unfolds as it is lived. They know that no matter how hard they try, there will never be complete control over what happens. Failures do not disappoint them, and they never feel quite comfortable with the values of society. The planner does not live by faith, but the pilgrim does. They know that life is full of risks, and can still be joyful in the midst of life’s ups and downs. They celebrate the present moment, and they live life to the full.

These parables speak to pilgrims more powerfully than to planners. They give us patience while we wait because they remind us why we wait because we pilgrims who live in God’s time, not by our time. In the middle of these verses, Peter asks: if the parable is meant for them or for the crowds. Without answering his question, Jesus moves right on into another parable that speaks about watchfulness while waiting. The eat, drink, and be merry, attitude is not quite in harmony with what Jesus proposes. The apostles had been planners. They had an idea about what the Messiah should do restoring Israel to its power and glory. Jesus slowly but steadily is changing them into pilgrims who are patient in their waiting and know what to do while they wait.

These parables remind us that we should be found doing our jobs when the master arrives. If we are doing our jobs, our reward will be great. But, if we relax, neglect our duties, and begin to act like the greedy rich man, eating, drinking, and making merry, we will not have place in the kingdom. Watchfulness means living in a such a consistently more and obedient way that we are always ready to give an account to God of how we have lived, and we are not afraid to do so.

August 4, 2019 at Saint Peter and Saint William Parishes in Naples, FL

 Ecclesiastes 1,2 & 2, 21-23  + Psalm 90 + Colossians 3, 1-5 & 9-11  + Luke 12, 13-21

8:00am Saint Peter the Apostle, Naples, FL

The situation that prompts the parable today is not really unusual. In those days and in that culture, a wise Rabbi was often sought out to settle disputes. There were no attorneys or civil courts. Someone known to be wise and impartial would often be asked to help as the man does who comes up to Jesus. Obviously, there is a dispute between brothers, and that disturbs Jesus. While the story he tells could be interpreted as a lesson on greed, there is more to it than that. The situation of the man in the parable really comes as a warning to the brothers who are fighting. The message is simple. If you get a lot stuff you will probably end up alone and unhappy because the greatest wealth is not possessions, but in the love of family and friends.

That poor man in the parable has no one to talk to. Did you notice that he is always talking to himself? Moreover, there is apparently no one to inherit it all. He is completely alone, cut off from everyone, occupied with only one thing, how to hang on to it all and how to get more. Now, in biblical times, famine was always a threat, so people did seek security by stockpiling grain. Jesus understood the need for security. Yet he calls this farmer a “fool” because in his search for security he forgot everything else, he forgot God, he forgot friends, and his obligations to the poor. Again, the message is simple: possessions do not provide security, fires come, thieves come, the stock market takes a dive, interest rates fall. It’s all the same in every age. If everything is ever taken from us, there will be one thing left that no one can take: God. Even if everyone abandons us, there will be God.

Under all of this is the need to learn the difference between needs and wants. Food is a need. Without it, we die. A 68” television is a want. Having it contributes to our enjoyment, but we can live without it. Our wants are many. Our needs are few. What God wants is for us to live, but life can be waisted in the pursuit of material things leaving any of us to die without realizing our spiritual greatness. What Jesus asks of us today is that we make ourselves rich in the sight of God, and what does make us rich in God’s sight is not what we own but what we are. We measure what we are by looking closely at our heart. We are what the heart is. A noble, generous, upright heart makes us rich in the sight of God.

Realizing that kind of wealth will keep us from ever being alone and without friends. It will ensure our capacity for joy, and best of all, we will have discovered something about the purpose of life itself. You stop now and then to wonder what your life is all about, pay attention to what you are doing with it and why. Then, no one will ever call you a fool. Don’t you wonder if those brothers ever stopped their quarreling over the inheritance?  I hope so.