All posts for the month October, 2020

November 1, 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Revelations 7,2-4, 9-14 + Psalm 24 + 1 John 3, 1-3 + Matthew 5, 1-12

Those of us Baptized as infants in the Catholic Church, and especially those of us who had the privilege of experiencing Catholic Education in our early and formative years have shared a common experience, at least I would like to think so. I don’t want to think that I am the only one here who grew up dazzled and awe struck by the stories and images of the saints. We had statues and picture, prints, and holy cards always in front of us stirring our imaginations, our hopes and dreams all motivating our failed attempts to become Saints. And so, here we are.  Some of us have given up the effort and just decided to be who we are, while I suspect that some have decided to embrace martyrdom at the hands of loved one who is determined to make us saints.

I am not too sure when it happened to me, but sometime ago, I think back in the seminary, I gave it up, and just decided that becoming a saint was not about something you did, but about something you are. With that, I abandoned all those youthful ideas that if I just suffered enough without complaining, offered up enough penance, said enough rosaries, went to Mass more than once a week, went to confession really often, I would have it made. It was as though I thought of it like a contest, like some prize I could win if I just did enough. The problem for me was that I never knew how much was enough.

This all came home to me visually many years ago when I had the opportunity to visit the Cathedral of the Angels in Los Angeles. If you have never been there, take a trip via the internet and explore the tapestries that line the upper walls of that fascinating holy place. When you stand in the midst of them, you find yourself surrounded and caught up in the wonderful procession headed toward the altar. I never counted them, but I’ve read that there are 25 of those tapestries with images of 135 wonderfully diverse saints. Some of them in the upper sections are recognizable by their images, clothes, and other symbols, but in line with them there are images of a diverse and very different people. Right away you get the point that joining that procession is possible for anyone from young people holding a ball bat or a doll, to a teacher or a doctor, a lawyer, a fireman, a letter carrier, a woman with a baby in her arms, or a man with a hammer and saw. They are black skinned, brown, yellow, white, and if these days in November remind us of anything, they are also blue and red whether you like the idea or not.

We are a church first, not a race, culture, or a nation. We are a church celebrating today and hopefully honoring our parents, our grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, teachers who put up with us, and people who have cleaned up after us. These are real people who are not included on the calendar of Saint’s days. This is not like the Oscars for technical achievement or a perfect performance. This is a day for sinners, because that’s what all the Saints have been. It is a day for us who should hold out every hope that by God’s grace we shall enjoy the fulness of divine life.

What we recognize today is that all these people we remember with such great affection have built the church, that they are the church, in a way we, as yet, are not. Their lives have closed; their contribution is complete. The church we have is their work. It would not have come to us without their example, witness, sacrifices, sorrows, sufferings, and prayers. The honor we may bestow upon the saints is nothing in comparison with what they have given to us. We all have our favorites among them. Today for the Knights of Columbus it is Father McGivney, who founded the Knights of Columbus. For young people it ought to be Fifteen-year-old Carlo Acutis who died of Leukemia in 2006. The teenager used his taste for technology to create a website that traced the history of Eucharistic miracles, which has been used by more than 10,000 parishes worldwide, says the Vatican. For me, it’s Stan Rother that Oklahoma country boy who became a priest shortly before me. He is the first American born martyr murdered in Guatemala. We all ought to have our heroes and models through which we can see Jesus Christ. You see, it’s not really about them, and they would be the first to say so. It is about who we see when we see them, who we know when we know them, who we become when we live as they lived.

We are a communion of saints because we were born into a communion of saints. Salvation comes to us as the free gift of God because they faithfully shared that very gift with us. Without the saints, Christ would be a small footnote of history. In the lives of the saints, he is their champion, who leads his great host through the centuries, claiming each age for the kingdom. I stand here today and look out at your faces, and I see saints in every one of you. It’s not a matter of how guilty you feel, how unworthy, or how sinful. We are all saints because we are the elect of God, chosen and set apart, because there have been saints before us. If we live our lives as saints, giving others a chance to see Christ Jesus, there will be more saints to come. Today we simply try to see how past, present and future are a seamless procession into the kingdom of heaven.

Ordinary Time 29 – October 18, 2020

There will be no audio for this homily. It was not delivered in 2020.

I am serving a Maronite Community away from Naples.

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

This episode continues the conflict of Jesus with the leaders of the people who are always hanging around, it would seem, trying to trap him in some act or opinion that would set him up for condemnation. We are still in the Temple precincts.  It’s a busy place. There are a lot of people around. Those money changers Jesus had disrupted were quickly back in business because they had to be there for the Temple to function. It was forbidden to use Roman coins for the offerings needed for the rituals. They had to change the money into a coin without that image of Caesar. There was in that issue, two conflicts: Israel’s law allowed no images, and Caesar claimed to be divine. Those within hearing distance and the Jewish/Christian community for whom Matthew writes must have smiled or maybe even laughed over the way Jesus traps the trappers. Jesus has no coin. When one of them pulls out the forbidden coin, without a word spoken, Jesus has them cornered.

We have to hear this instruction very clearly in terms of that second issue. Rendering to Caesar is a partial fulfillment of a much more basic duty which is rendering to God what is God’s. In other words, the two are not equal. The two renderings are not separate but equal, or two halves of a responsibility. Jesus recognizes that everyone must have a certain concern for the political and social well-being of one’s country, but that well-being is just one part of a responsibility for what is God’s. That loyalty or concern for Caesar or one’s country is rooted in the greater and more important concern and fidelity to God because everything is God’s. There is no intention on the part of Jesus to make them equal.

This is no early explanation of our contemporary separation of Church and State. There is no intention on the part of Jesus to compartmentalize our lives and think that the two are separate and equal. They are not. The wisdom or revelation here is that while there is a legitimate function of human authority it is always in relation to God’s authority. We are citizens of two countries, so to speak: a kingdom of this earth, and the kingdom of heaven. We need to be clear about that, and the more important and lasting one of them holds the higher authority. The challenge here demands that we engage in the difficult and complex discernment of how to live in history and society aware of our greater commitment to the reign of God.

This confrontation over the coin is not a solution to the controversy of church verses state. This is not some easy way out of what may well be the purpose and meaning of life. The struggle with our consciences and the values we have deep in our hearts is exactly what this life is all about, and entering into that struggle is what ultimately determines what life will be like here and in eternity. In this age of rapidly growing secularization, what emerges is the urgent need for all of us to act out of our deepest convictions and values rooted in the Gospel as it reveals the will of God. We have to ask over and over again, “Is this the will of God? Does God want God’s children separated by skin color? Does God want a privileged few to maintain that privilege at the disadvantage or many? Does God want or will the taking of any human life? Does God want anyone to be hungry?” That question can never stop being asked.

Today, Jesus Christ appeals to us all to look beyond the simplistic politics and black and white legalisms that are represented by Caesar’s coin and realize that we are called to embrace the values centered in a faith that sees the hand of God in all things and recognize every human life as part of the one human family under the reign and providence of God. We really don’t live in two separate worlds. How we live in the world of Caesar may very well determine how and if we shall live in the world of God. Perhaps, our purpose and task in this life is to bring into fulfillment the Kingdom of God.

October 11, 2020

There will be no audio for this homily. It was not delivered.

This weekend I am serving a Maronite Community away from Naples.

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

Matthew still have us in the Temple area, and the audience is still the Chief Priests and Elders of the people. In case you did not notice, we have been there now for three weeks. It is not a parable this time. It is an allegory, a story that speaks of one thing but means another. There is a strong message here with this garment issue that just showing up is not enough, and we should not miss the detail that it is the King who makes the judgement about how is dressed right and who is not. Clothing in the scriptures is often a metaphor for good works and faithful discipleship. In the Epistle to the Romans, St Paul speaks about those who have “put on Christ” and have “clothed themselves in Christ.”

When Christ speaks to us today, we are either the invited guests or the servants sent out with the invitation to others. Perhaps we are both. It is not just the evangelists and the prophets of old who announce the invitation, it is a prophetic people, an apostolic church, and a mission of evangelization that is given to us. Being laughed at or ridiculed because we accept the mission might just be expected. We will be in good company as the prophets were mocked and some killed because they fulfilled their mission. Yet, we are reminded again that just showing up is not enough for the King who hosts this banquet. Slipping in for Mass at the last minute and grabbing communion on the way out is not enough. At the feast of the Eucharist, we don’t just show up, not caring much about the guests around us, not being concerned about whether or not we are clothed with compassion and kindness, with no interest in offering ourselves to others.

Despite the warning at the end of these verses today, there is a word of encouragement to us from Jesus Christ. There is room for everyone at the banquet in heaven, and the King wants no one to be left out. Every one of us has been invited to that banquet feast. Excuses are not acceptable. Ignoring the invitation because of ambition, greed, or a self-satisfied life here is risky business. Someone else may take our place. It might be easy to get in to the banquet, but it’s not easy to stay, and today Jesus speaks to us who are already in about the Father, who like the king in these verses will be checking to see how we are clothed.

October 4, 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

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

We all just stood up to hear Jesus Christ speak to us directly from this Gospel. To sit down now and to think that we have heard Jesus of Nazareth attacking the chief priests and leaders of the people is to completely miss the point and somehow dis-engage the Gospel from real life. It is not about them. It is about us. They are entrusted with the care of God’s creation and God’s children. They blew it, and in a clever trap with this dialogue, Jesus gets them to condemn themselves.

History and Literature are full of stories about tenants and landlords. Almost always, the landlord is the bad guy and the tenants are victims of greed and abuse. This parable is different, because the landlord is the good guy and the tenants are the bad guys. It ought to leave us a little troubled and perhaps disturb our consciences which we so often like to keep quiet. This is a stark reminder that we are expected to bear fruit, that the owner, God, will come to collect, and if there is no fruit to return, it will not go well for us.

I am not a firm believer in coincidences, because I believe in a provident God.  Yet, it is wonderful and helpful today to hear Jesus speak to us this way on the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, and during the time of leadership by a Pope named, Francis who has spoken to us time and time again about our responsibility for this earth, God’s vineyard. How we care for it matters, because it’s not ours. The earliest story in our scriptures reveals God’s intention by putting us here with clear instructions. We ought to learn a lesson from this Gospel about how it goes with those who begin to think that just because they are here it belongs to them and they can do what they want with it.

We are warned today by the truth of this Gospel that this earth is not ours, and that the one to whom it belongs expects us to bear fruit and return it to return to him. To whatever extent we may have become possessive and ambitious, we run the risk of becoming self-condemned tenants of God’s vineyard. We are not placed here to build huge estates for ourselves or amass great portfolios and fat bank accounts. God is not interested in any of that. In fact, as Pope Francis has warned, this quickly slips into idolatry. What God longs for then and still today is social justice and integrity, and things that bring peace. When the master comes and finds us well fed, fat, and comfortable while 2/3rd of his children are hungry, it isn’t going to go well. When more than half of what gets produced on American farms goes to waste and spoils on grocery store shelves, we won’t have much to show the master.  When the master comes and finds people refusing to speak to one another, a life-time of broken promises, violence, abuse, and the hording of this vineyard’s goods, we cannot pretend that the master will be pleased.

The truth is that sitting here on a Saturday afternoon in October there isn’t much we can do about it, but when we leave here, we could get at least get interested, study, and think about how what we might change, improve, and empower the right people to make some reforms, to minimize this damage we are constantly doing to God’s creation. The chief priests and elders of the people eventually solved their problem by taking the master’s son out of town and killing him just as their ancestors silenced the prophets who interrupted their comfortable lives and troubled their consciences. Leaving this Gospel message in the church, and deciding that religious values have no place in our secular lives the rest of the week does the same thing. When the prophetic Francis, Pope of Rome is written off or ignored because we think he should be taking care of pious or religious matters, the same disastrous consequences are likely to follow. The good news here is that we know how it works with God, and that this vineyard owner is yet to come. But, he will.