All posts for the month September, 2019

September 29, 2019 at Saint Peter and Saint William Parishes in Naples, FL

 Amos 6, 1, 4-7 + Psalm 146 + 1 Timothy 6, 11-16 + Luke 16, 19-31

Saturday 3:30pm Mass at St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

From this Gospel, there is a question Luke wants us to ask, “What it is that kept that man from getting to Abraham?” Now, there is a risk of getting sidetracked in the telling this parable that could distract us from asking that question. It leads to a commonly shared idea that the poor should just tough it out and wait, because things will get better after they’re dead. That kind of thinking is an insult to God’s Justice and Mercy. This parable is not about Justice or Mercy. It is about what might keep us out of heaven.

Usually, it is the poor who are nameless in life, while the rich with all their inconsequential doings are covered by the media for our admiration. There is even a cable TV channel called, “E” that makes sure we know their names. In this Gospel, it’s the other way around the rich man has no name, but everyone knows Lazarus. Luke is proposing that this is the way it will be in the Kingdom of God.

There is nothing in this parable to suggest that this rich man was evil, that his wealth was gained by theft or in any other immoral or unethical way. In fact, there is a hint that he might have actually been a good man concerned at least about his family as he tries to get word to his brothers and save them from his torment. How ironic that this nameless rich man even after death cannot throw off his sense of privilege as he who couldn’t even spare a scrap for Lazarus at his gate now expects Lazarus to be his errand boy, and bring him a cup of water. I guess the problem is that he never thought of Lazarus as though he was a brother. I find it interesting that he knew Lazarus’ name! He knew Lazarus was there. He would have had to walk around him to go in and out. There is something else even worse, and Jesus points to it directly. No one was paying attention to Moses and the prophets. They were deaf to the Word of God. They did not listen. They did not respond to what was spoken to them in the Scriptures. All that mattered was the good life.

This is what kept that man from getting to heaven and finding the welcome and comfort of Abraham’s company. Abraham, you know, was the great figure of hospitality in the Scriptures. If we are comfortable in a world of the “haves” and “have-nots”, God’s Word says that there will be reversal forever in the days to come. Lazarus had sores, and had no home but that doorway. Those who have live in nice homes. Those who have not live in shelters or their cars.. The “haves” buy a healthcare and medicine for their sores. The “have-nots” stay sick and die young. A reversal is coming says the Word of God. To ignore that Word is to get caught in the reversal that will come.

They lived in separate worlds, those two men, but they were only steps apart from each other. The rich man never stepped into the world of that poor man. He didn’t see Lazarus as a human being much less as a brother who shared a common humanity. He was indifferent, and indifference is the worst thing of all. What kept him out of heaven then, is the question raised by this Gospel today. He was without compassion. He lived only in his own little world gradually losing his soul as he gained his wealth. Sin kept him out of heaven, and most of the time sin is not about doing wrong, it is about the failure to do good. To close one’s heart it to begin to die. To open one’s heart is to begin to live.

September 22, 2019 at Saint Peter and Saint William Parishes in Naples, FL

 Amos 8, 4-7 + Psalm 113 + 1 Timothy 2, 1-8 + Luke 16, 1-13

There is something going in here with this parable beyond lesson on the wise use of money. To stop there in our reflection is to stay in the shallow water. There is something shocking about Jesus using someone dishonest to talk about. This steward is not only dishonest, but when caught, he refuses to change. There is something more to this story than setting up a situation in which we can simply announce: “You cannot serve two masters.”

What if we switch the spotlight from money and give some thought to this servant who is so clever, so ambitious, and so anxious for his future. This faces some choices as all of us do: Work and life. Often these two become something of a scramble unless you’re retired, like me, and those of you who are retired know what I’m talking about. Suddenly work takes on a whole different perspective. Work tends to claim most of our time and effort. If we take our eyes off of it, we get fired, fall behind, or become obsolete. It can also mean we become workaholics. If we sacrifice our whole life to work, what’s the point? This is exactly the question the servant is facing and asking himself. A question we could all ask ourselves is whether we live to work or work to live?

There seems to be two conflicting demands or responsibilities here, but work and life are both good in themselves. The best we can hope for is to give priority to the most important when it comes to a choice. The gospel talks about loving one and hating the other, but most of the time it’s just not that extreme as hate and love. Even when it comes to God and money, because we have to learn how to use money without making it our god. That was the problem for this servant. Money was his god. So, Jesus uses him to teach us something about how to achieve our priority, if it’s God. That servant was industrious, clever, creative, and committed. Evil people can make sacrifices for what they want. Good people, on the other hand, often sit around doing nothing and seem unwilling to make any sacrifice for their future and for what is good.

Someone very wise once said: “Sow an act, and reap of a habit. Sow a habit, and reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.” This parable is less about money and more about character and destiny. It reminds us that evil will triumph when good people do nothing.

Today Jesus speaks to us in the Gospel showing disciples what commitment to the cause of God looks like with the example of this dishonest servant was committed to the cause of self-enrichment. When we do act like this servant, not in his dishonesty, but in his passion for his future, the power of evil in this world will be conquered. I was taught that there are three stages to moral development: doing right out of fear of punishment, doing right out of a feeling of solidarity with others, and doing right because it is right. A little good old zeal for the cause of God and Justice with as much energy and commitment as we have had for the cause of money and our own security might help us to grow into a people who do what is right all the time because God would have it so.

September 15, 2019 at Saint Peter and Saint Elizabeth Seton Parishes in Naples, FL

 Exodus 32, 7-11, 13-14 + Psalm 51 + 1 Timothy 1, 12-17 + Luke 15, 1-32

4:30pm Saturday at St Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naples, FL

Three parables about parties. I love it! And, who doesn’t love a party except someone who doesn’t like the people invited, and that’s the trouble with this third party. There is someone who will not go in because he doesn’t like someone who was invited. He stands outside pouting and grumbling, complaining about the cost of the party, actually insulting the host who is his father. He never calls him “father.” He just says: “you” with insolence and bitterness. After listening to him, you almost have to be glad he didn’t go. He would have ruined the party anyway.

Then you have to wonder, what is he mad about? Before it all starts, we are told that the father divided his property between them. He already had his share. What is he so mad about anyway? My own guess is that he was just jealous because he didn’t choose the freedom to run around and have a good time. He decided to stay home and look good in the eyes of everyone else. So, now when he sees how it all ends, he’s really mad at himself for staying home and being the nice boy. But, he’s not so nice after all. He’s jealous, he’s angry, he’s rude, and resentful in the face of mercy and love. How can that be, you have to ask when he hears that man say, “My boy. You are always with me. Everything I have is yours”?

Those words come from a man who has left the party and all his guests to come outside once more and gather up a lost one. When I stand back and listen to this parable and the two before it, I suddenly get it when it comes to the Incarnation. It is suddenly clear to me that Jesus has left the Father and the glory of heaven to come down in the flesh and listen to our whining, our resentments, our excuses, and say one more time: “Everything I have is yours.” Everything Jesus has is ours!

The fifteenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel is the most simple and clear revelation of who God is, of what God is doing, and what Divine mercy looks like in human flesh. There is a party going on, and it’s a family gathering. Why in the world would any one of us stay outside resentful or bitter over who gets to come and why we are celebrating? The Inheritance that is ours has already been given. It clearly isn’t just the perfect among us who get to party. If you’ve messed up your livfe and waisted your inheritance, all you have to do is repent, change, turn around and head home. It clearly is not a matter of how much you’ve done, how hard you’ve worked, and what you have sacrificed. All that really matters at the end is that we celebrate, that we are joyful, not just because some folks found their way home, but because God never changed the locks while they were gone and even if we’re late because we’ve busy working, someone is waiting for us to get over it, and get inside.

September 8, 2019 at Saint Peter and Saint William Parishes in Naples, FL

 Wisdom 9, 13-18 + Psalm 90 + Philemon 9-10, 12-17 + Luke 14, 25-33

11:00am Sunday Saint William Parish Naples, FL

This Gospel begins by telling us that there were great crowds following him. The impression Luke would give us here is that he was a “rock star” at this point. I suspect Jesus knew that most of these folks were following him because they were entertained, excited, and curious about all that he was doing and the challenges he issued to those who often made their lives burdensome. Today he speaks to them, not to the Scribes and Pharisees. Today he speaks to us. He is on his way to Jerusalem. There is going to be trouble there, a lot of it, and if they are going along and survive the experience with him, they are going to have to do something radical, shocking, and maybe even frightening. When he says, “Take up a cross”, they know what that means. They know how people are tortured and killed with that thing. This is real powerful frightening image to them.

“You want to follow me?” he says, “Then nothing can come before me, not parents, children, brothers, or sisters.” When you make pleasing them the most important thing in your life, there is no room for pleasing God. That Semitic expression, “hate” in our terms means, “love less.” The great models of faithful discipleship left their families behind because Jesus was the only way. Remember Francis of Assisi who abandoned his comfortable family life and the future his father had planned for him to follow Jesus? He did not hate is father. He just loved Jesus more. I think of Father Stan Rother, a farm boy in Oklahoma who would have pleased everyone and would one day have inherited the whole farm. It’s what everyone expected, but he left his family to follow Christ in the suffering people of Guatemala. Our tradition is full of stories and examples of holiness and heroism in the lives of people who let nothing and no one take precedence over Jesus Christ.

To be worthy of Jesus, we must follow Jesus rather than follow the expectations of anyone else. Our lives are not about anyone except God. Our lives are lived in relation to God. God’s plan for our lives is what must matter, not our plans, the plans of our parents for us, or anyone else’s. Only the most free can be worthy disciples of Jesus Christ, and that freedom is best described as having nothing to lose, which is why possessions get in the way. It is that kind of freedom for which we must strive, but only if we calculate carefully and knowingly the cost to determine if you have what it takes. What is coming, is the cross. There is no way to say: “I didn’t know it was going to be like this.”

We have to pay attention to who it is we are always trying to please in this life. If it isn’t God, we’re in for a lot of sadness and disappointment. Jesus had one great task in life, to carry out the will and the plan of God. That is what he lived for, and he was willing to pay any price in order to fulfill that task. He expects the same of his disciples. The cost is probably more than we can imagine, but so is the reward.