All posts for the month November, 2020

November 29, 2020 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 63, 16-17, 19 64, 2-7, + Psalm 80 + 1 Corinthians 1, 3-9 + Mark 33-37

St. Peter the Apostle Naples, FL 10:00am Sunday

Most of us live with a variety of different calendar years. Depending, I suppose, on your age and your state in life, one or more of them matters more than others. When I was in school, the “School year” was all that mattered, while for my parents there were others that demanded attention. Then, when I became a priest and eventually a pastor, there was the school year, because the parish had a school. There was the fiscal year, because I had to produce reports. There was the calendar year which I’ve always thought was an odd name since all the others are on the “calendar” as well. At one parish where there was a significant population of Vietnamese people, and I learned to pay attention to the Lunar Year and a holiday called Tết, the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture. The word is a shortened form of Tết Nguyên Đán, which is Vietnamese for “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day”. All the while, as a Catholic, there is yet another “year” called “The Liturgical Year” which begins for us today. Regardless of which one might organize your life, the year behind us or shortly to be behind us as has left us all physically, emotionally, and spiritually tired. A year of upheaval, surprises, change, turmoil, anxiety, fear, confusion, disappointment, disillusionment, and detachment only begins to describe how we feel. We have run out of words, and we have been forced to “die” to so many things, routines, celebrations, customs, and sometimes relationships. Our familiar ways, our security has been shaken forcing us into the unknown.

As I have reflected on this, it seems to me that we are a bit like the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years. Wondering where we are going and how long it will take to get there. On top of that, we’re not even sure than when we get there we will like it, but we can hope. What we have discovered is that the mess we are in is not something we can fix on our own. Some would like to try it, but that only makes it worse. Some really struggle and resist learning that lesson.

For us, people of faith, there comes this message today that encourages us to stay awake and watch. Some may wonder and ask the question: “Watch and wait for what?” The current pandemic, political struggles, and Church concerns all find us waiting for solutions to problems, resolutions to conflicts, vaccines for disease, and leadership that can truly be effective and trusted. These are worthy pursuits and necessary, they are all worldly, and they raise hopes that can easily bring disappointment. People of faith know that real hope is found somewhere else.

My friends, the Divine Light that burns within every soul cannot be extinguished. We begin this new year of our faith with the reminder that by Love’s power we will discover something that will make sense. Real hope rests on the firm belief that we are hard-wired for union with God and that God’s will is always creative and sustains what we do. This is the only way we can ever see light in dark moments when people all around us are giving up and walking away. Our hope in faith is joyfully rooted in God’s promise that allows us to watch and wait. It gives us reason to stay the course, even when we may want to just close our eyes and get some sleep hoping to wake up and find that this year has just been a bad dream.

In a moment of divine inspiration St. Paul told us that three things will last: faith, hope, and love. They are three intimate companions on our journey through this life. They are gifts given to us who believe. They help us stay strong, simple, and focused on what matters when everything else is out of control.  This is the power that brought Israel out of the land of Egypt, inspired prophets to speak the truth, raised Jesus from the dead, and sent the Gospel to a weary world. If we have to express in words what we can watch and wait for it is very simple. It is how we get through all suffering and even face death. Six words in English say it all: The Best is Yet to Come.

November 22, 2020 – St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Church in Naples, FL

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

3:30pm Saturday at St. Peter the Apostle

This is the final parable in Matthew’s Gospel, and it may be the most challenging of them all. It not only challenges our image of Christ and his identity, it challenges our identity as well. The image of Christ as “King” that artists have put before us is in stark contrast to the image of Christ as King proposed for us in the Gospel. What artists often give us is a man crowned with gold and jewels, wrapped in luxurious robes, seated on a thrown staring at us with blank, empty eyes. What the Gospel gives us is a tortured and innocent man hanging on cross with crown of thorns. The only jewels are the drops of his blood. The robes are gone. He is stripped of everything, his clothing, his dignity, his friends, and life itself. A sign above his head is all that declares him a King. When it comes to his identity, it would seem from the Gospels that a Shepherd was his chosen identity probably because of our scriptures constantly connect Jesus and King David, the shepherd boy who becomes the great King of Israel. When Pilot presents Christ as King, the image of Christ begins to match his identity and lead us deeper into the wonderful truth of the Incarnation.

When we finally allow this Gospel to challenge our identity, we can’t get away with comfortable images given to us by artists down through the ages. One look at the characters of this Gospel ought to shake us enough to reflect on our own identity as would-be citizens of the Kingdom of God.  If we truly are, then we must no longer simply identify as “American”, “Italian”, “Hispanic”, “Democrat”, “Republican”, or “Independent.” By our Baptism, we have been claimed by and for Christ, and our only and true home is in the Reign of Christ. That home surpasses all boundaries, ethnicities, politics, and time itself. When we allow our allegiance or loyalty to anything that over-rides our loyalty and allegiance to Christ, we’re done for.

This weekend’s celebration reminds us of two things. The Kingdom of God is not something yet to come. We live it now by our identity with the thorn crowned king when we care for the poor, the hungry, and those on the margins of our society. We are also reminded to prepare to face God’s judgment. Reviewing how we have observed the “thou shalt not” commandments will get us nowhere. How closely we have kept the rules will probably not figure into the final exam. The ones Jesus, the King, will choose will be those who are most like him and have remained in solidarity with the one who eats with sinners, tax collectors, and those society has refused to accept.

One contemporary artist has given us an icon of Jesus more inspired by this Gospel than any other, and much truer to the real identity of Jesus. Called, “Christ of the Breadlines”. It is a black and white etching of a slightly stooped, racially indistinct Christ. The only thing that sets him apart from the women and men with whom he waits in that food line is how his presence radiates out to them. Thinking of Christ as the utmost expression of magnificent things that matter is risky when he has taught us to seek God’s self-revelation at the lowest end of power and prestige. Jesus did not come to scare us into charity, but to help us to fall in love with and widen our outstretched arms to embrace him by embracing everyone with mercy and compassion while setting us on fire and stirring our hunger for justice which will finally make him the King of Peace who came not to be served, but to serve.

November 15, 2020

At St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Church in Naples, FL

Proverbs 31,10-13, 19-20, 30-31 + Psalm 128 + 1 Thessalonians 5, 1-6 Matthew 25, 14-30

St. William Catholic Church, Naples, FL 9:00am Sunday

It’s easy to slide along with this parable and turn it into a simple lesson on the importance of using one’s gifts. At the same time, placed here at the end of the Church’s liturgical year, it becomes one more warning that Christ will come again, and there will be a time for accounting. The last two weekends have given us plenty of time to let that sink in. So, I’m not so sure that we ought to let these verses go with just a reflection on our stewardship or some thoughts about the last days. There is way more here than that. The crowds have gone, and this is a private conversation with the disciples on the Mount of Olives. As Matthew writes these verses, Jesus has gone on a journey to the Father, but he told them he would come back again. He told them it would be a long time, but just how long is something we still wonder about 2000 years later.

Notice in the parable that the Master does not tell any of them what to do. He just entrusts them with what is his. No instructions. Each one gets something according to their ability. There is no hint that the servants are in competition. This master has taken a risk, and I think that this is the key to what this parable means for us. It’s not so much about investing or planning as it is about risk taking. When we step back and compare the three of them, two are like the master, they take risks. The third who ends up being thrown out wants to play it safe. He is unimaginative and afraid, so he hides the master’s gift never taking a risk like the master does, and that’s a bad plan.

As with almost all parables, they reveal something about God, usually something that we might imitate since we are all made in God’s image. What Jesus reveals about the Father today is that the Father has taken a great risk in sending his only Son for our Salvation. It isn’t by chance that Matthew has this scene set on the Mount of Olives where the sacrifice of Salvation will take place. We ought to make that connection here. What God expects of us is that we more and more become like God, and this in this example, take some risks. The mistake of that one-talent slave who is afraid and does nothing cannot be our mistake. There is a lesson here about the expectations God has for us.

Non-involvement passivity, fear of making a mistake, a paralysis of anxiety results in only one thing, being thrown out. Discipleship, says Jesus to us today, is not a comfortable holding onto the gifts entrusted to us. We have to do something with them. We have to increase the yield of good works shared with others. We have to take risks with our faith. We have to risk forgiving when we’ve been hurt, and risk being hurt again. We have to take the risk of loving when we know we might be betrayed. We have to take the risk of sharing someone’s sadness and sorrow, grief or helplessness. It’s all about risk, because God is the ultimate risk-taker. God has taken a risk on us, and before Advent begins once again, we might begin to look at what return God will get from risking the mission of his son on us.

November 8, 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle and St. William in Naples, FL

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

3:30pm Saturday November 7, 2020 St. Peter the Apostle Naples, FL

This is not a parable about generosity. It is a parable about wisdom, and the Word of God speaks to us today about Wisdom. This Wisdom that is so essential for those who expect to enter into the Wedding Feast of the God’s Kingdom is not the same as knowledge. I know a lot of smart people who are very well educated, and you probably do as well, but they have no wisdom. They may know a lot of things, be very secure financially, and comfortable with their life style, but the peace and purpose in life does not come from books. It cannot be studied or be bought. That’s what some of these virgins discovered. You can’t buy wisdom, which is what an oil lamp signifies.

Wisdom is the highest virtue. Through it, God communicates to us the meaning of life, and the grandeur of our destiny which is to be with God. That is a greater good than life its self. Unlike knowledge, which is acquired through hard work, wisdom is a gift of God and is found by those who desire and seek it.

This parable is not about some of these virgins forgetting to bring enough oil. That’s not what made them foolish. They thought that this was just going to be party, an evening of some fun, laughter and one more time to kick back and celebrate. For the wise, it is not so. They have realized that this is a once in a lifetime never to be repeated chance to meet the Bridegroom, and in that attitude, there is wisdom. The wise live in this life alert, awake, always realizing that time passes never to return. The wise live alert to every opportunity to greet and welcome the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

This virtue, Wisdom, does not come to us in a day. It comes to people willing to wait, people who are not quick to react, but wide open to all of life seeking life’s meaning and purpose. Wisdom comes to those who take time to reflect upon their lives, and ponder God’s will in good times and in bad. I really believe that the gift of wisdom does not come to those who are in charge, powerful, and have all the answers to life’s questions.

On the 19th of April in 1995, I found myself face to face with an immense violent tragedy. A policeman had taken me to a spot just across the street from the smoking ruins of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I found myself completely at a loss and helpless. Everyone around me was asking: “Why? Why did this happen to us?” For hours I was asking the same question in my heart. “What did we do to deserve this?” A very distraught young man charged up to me, and through clenched teach snarled at me and said: “Where is your God, priest?” I went home that night with the same question roaring in my head and heart. But the next day, when I was back down under that mess off twisted rebar and broken concrete, I saw my God crawling around, in and out of tiny cracks where the floors had pancaked down on top of each other. That first question, “Why” made no sense at that point. Wisdom spoke and I began to wonder, “What are we going to become because of this? As sick and violent as the one who caused this, or compassionate, brave, and patient?”

That’s how Wisdom works; slowly and patiently for those who wait with no need to take matters into their own hands. Wisdom teaches us that it is the hand of God that guides, inspires, encourages, and lifts up those who are bowed down. Wisdom knows this from experience, reflection, and prayer. Real wisdom will always move us toward the highest good, God himself. It is Wisdom that has brought us today into this holy place. It is Wisdom that will keep us all ready, yet not the least bit anxious or concerned, because the wise are always seeking the one who waits for us.