All posts for the month October, 2019

October 27, 2019 Prepared for Publication while in Rome, Italy

 Sirach 35, 12-14 & 16-18 + Psalm 34 + 2 Timothy 4, 6-8 & 16-18 + Luke 18, 9-14

 As much as it might be easier to preach about prayer from these verses, that would avoid the real issue. What is important here comes at the very end, and that should be of interest to us. Luke tells us that “The tax collector went home justified.” The word “Justified” is important. It leads us to reflect how or what it means to be “justified.”

These were both probably good men, and their prayers were honest and true. The problem surfaces with the comments of Jesus. This parable is aimed at those who pride themselves on being virtuous while looking down on others. Although he was boastful, the Pharisee was no hypocrite. Everything he said was true and sincere. His problem was that he had no concept of his need of God. Since he didn’t consider himself a sinner, he felt no need of God’s mercy. In fact, he believed he had run up a formidable credit-balance with God. Which meant that he had God in his debt. He’s the kind of person in today’s world that just doesn’t think he’s done anything that should take him to the Sacrament of Penance. He also made the mistake of confessing the sins of others rather than his own. As confessor, I can tell you that confessing the sins of others as a way of minimizing your offences making yourself look better is a serious issue. These are the people quick to tell others that they need to “go to confession.” This man’s sins were not wrongful deeds, they were wrongful attitudes. What goes wrong for him is thinking that he could justify himself by right behavior, and that is just not how it works with God.

The way it works with God is shown with the other man, the one in the back. He knows he needs God. He knows God’s mercy. He never thinks for one minute that his life is perfect and therefore that God owes him anything but mercy. His prayer is the best: “Have mercy on me God. I am a sinner.” In the words of the first reading today, we are reminded that “the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds.” He leaves justified because the just ones are those justified by God, not by their own deeds. He leaves justified because he knows God and he knows himself very well. He knows that he can do nothing on his own, and that most of his mistakes are trying to do so. His words are few, but the attitude of his heart makes him pleasing to God. That is what it means to be “justified.”

October 20, 2019 at Saint Peter and Saint William Parishes in Naples, FL

 Exodus 17, 8-13 + Psalm 121 + 2 Timothy 3, 14 & 4, 2 + Luke 18, 1-8

Sunday 9:00am Saint William Church Naples, FL

The widow reveals the power of weakness as we shall soon see when Jesus gets to Jerusalem with his passion, death, and resurrection. In Luke’s Gospel, widows are often seen and heard which might reveal the powerful role these women played in the earliest church. The Judge here is not one of the Jewish elders, but a paid magistrate appointed by the Romans. They were notoriously corrupt, extorting money from people to secure a favorable ruling. This judge is a scoundrel. He may well have taken a bribe from the woman’s oppressor. He is cast as the most unjust of all, becoming for us the polar opposite of what God is. So, the judge is not the point of the story. The woman is, and she provides a revelation about God. While Jesus in telling the story wanted to reveal something about God, Luke is more interested in the widow as an example for us. We need her example still, because too many give up prayer and lose faith.

This persistent widow lives among us still. She is the poor, the helpless victim of injustice. She still stands waiting for justice today in a court system bogged down with a huge backlog of court cases for the poor who cannot afford expert legal help. She faces justices today who jockey for positions behind the scenes and cultivate the favor of those who elect them or the government that appoints them. Suddenly in our time, Justice seems to be either Red or Blue.

Faith and prayer belong together. They are interconnected. Saint Augustine says that “Faith pours out prayer, and the pouring out of prayer sustains and strengthens faith.” He ought to know, because without a life-time of his mother’s prayer, we wouldn’t know who he was. Prayer is answered not when we get what we want, but when we get a sense of God’s nearness with the assurance that God has not abandoned us. Prayer may not change the world for us, but it can give us the courage to face it. The prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” was not answered. But through that prayer Jesus got the strength to face what was to come.

The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. And the fruit of service is peace. Let’s get started. It is always a good time to pray.

October 13, 2019 at Saint Peter and Saint William Parishes in Naples, FL

 2 Kings 5, 14-17 + Psalm 98 + 2 Timothy 2, 8-14 + Luke 17, 11-19

12:00pm at Saint Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

In the second act of Shakespeare’s play, “As You Like It” Lord Amiens, a musician sings before the Duke these words: “Blow, blow, thou winter wind, thou are not so unkind as man’s ingratitude; Thy tooth is not keen, because thou art not seen, although thy breath be rude. Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky, that does not bite so nigh as benefit forgot: though thou the waters warp, thy sting is not so sharp as a friend remembered not.” And so today, the Word of God speaks to us about gratitude, healing, faith, and salvation all in one well known story.

It does not take a lot of study and prayer with these verses to notice how suffering can bring together people who are enemies. What else was that hated Samaritan doing with the other nine? They needed one another, and suffering often brings people together who nothing in common. Suffering either brings people close to God or drives them away. There does seem to be a third experience. It is also easy to notice that nine are cured, but only one is saved. We don’t know what happened to the nine, but it allows us to think that they returned home with bitterness in their hearts. That Samaritan was an outsider, and he is the one who sees his gift. The nine are insiders who often take everything for granted. Sometime you have to be outside to see things as they really are.

Jesus was not expecting thanks, and that is not what he responded to. Jesus saw more than gratitude. He saw faith which is what prompted him to announce salvation of the Samaritan. “Has no one come back to give praise to God except this foreigner?” he says. In a sense, that Samaritan had two healing experiences: one concerned his physical condition, the other his spiritual condition. He came to faith, to gratitude, through a conversion, and he represents our best hope as we gather in this place always giving thanks. Think of the last words that will be spoken in this liturgy. Unfortunately, they are sometimes missed by other announcements about a hymn number or picking up after yourselves; I wish it wasn’t so, because you really have the last words after being bid to go in peace. What are they?

Gratitude is something that ought to come naturally to us, but sadly we are often better at demanding it than in giving it. Saint Thomas More said this to confirm that truth: “We write in the sand the benefits we receive, but the injuries we write on marble.” Once there was a traveler who came upon a barn where the devil stored seed which he planned to sow in the hearts of people. There were bags of seeds marked: “Hatred”, “Fear”, “Doubt”, “Despair”, “Pride”, “Unforgiveness”, and so on. The devil appeared and struck up a conversation with the traveler. He gleefully told him how easily the seeds he sowed sprouted in the hearts of men and women. The traveler asked, “Are there any hearts in which these seeds will not sprout?” The devil looked sad, and he said: “These seeds will not sprout in the heart of a grateful and joyful person.”

October 6, 2019 at Saint Peter and Saint William Parishes in Naples, FL

Habakkuk 1, 2-3 & 2,2-4 + Psalm 95 + 2 Timothy 1, 6-8 & 13-14

Luke 17, 5-10

Sunday 11:00am Saint William Catholic Church Naples, FL

This gospel parable is very important to me personally, and it has helped me greatly in the past few years as I moved into “retirement.” When I was stepping out of parish administration, which is really what I retired from and left behind on purpose, people would wish me well and often say, “Father, enjoy yourself now. You deserve it.” I was always very uncomfortable with those words even though they were meant kindly, because I never felt as if retirement for a priest was a reward. It simply meant I had out-lived my usefulness or my patience. So, there is a word in this parable that jumps out at me, and I think it should for all of us. That word is: Duty. It isn’t a word people use much these days, and it isn’t even an idea some like to consider. This parable will not allow that.

As the word and the idea has slipped away, it has been replaced by ideas of merit and entitlement, and this does not harmonize with the Gospel and the faith in which we live our relationship with God. This parable of a man who worked all day in the field and then, when the master comes home continues to work into the night for the master’s dinner doesn’t feel right in the days of merit. He doesn’t get to eat and rest until the master is comfortable. Never once does this master pat him on the back and say “Good Job” or “Thank you”; and why should he? In the days of duty that’s just what you did. There was nothing extra ordinary about it. The days of duty and the days of merit are now in conflict, and Jesus has something to say about it.

There is a story told that might make this clear. It was late in the afternoon on a raw winter day in Dublin. Everybody was in a hurry to get home. Suddenly a cry arose: “There is a man in the river.” People rushed to the wall and looked down into the muddy, uninviting water. Sure enough, there was a man down there thrashing about in the dark water. His desperate cries for help could be heard above the noise of the traffic. Then, with a screech of brakes, a car swung out of traffic, and came to halt at the curb. A young man jumped out, took off his coat and shoes, climbed on the wall, and dived into the water. He grabbed the drowning man and hauled him to shore. A crowd gathered around the rescued man as they waited for an ambulance. A reporter came thinking there was good story here fishing for information, but the rescuer had vanished. Far from seeking praise or acknowledgement, he just left, and that is the kind of spirit we must bring to the service of God.

In the days of merit people sometimes think that God might “owe” them something revealing a sense of entitlement. After all, they think, I deserve a place in heaven because we have been faithful here on earth. Apart from being misguided, this introduces a mercenary attitude into what is supposed to be a love affair between God and us. At the time of Jesus, the Israelites were stuck in that thinking that God owed them because they kept the rules. The merit system was going strong, and Jesus came to reject that thinking and that behavior. It still needs to be rejected today in these days of entitlement and merit.

God does not owe us anything, and we cannot put God in the position where he is in debt to us. To put it more simply, God does not say, “Thank you.”  We say that. We do great and even simple things faithfully because it is our duty. We do not do them out of hope for a reward. We do them out of love and commitment to God’s service. The most generous and heroic deeds are never done out of hope for recognition or reward. They are done out of pure love.