All posts for the month October, 2021

October 31, 2021 at St. William Catholic Church in Naples, FL

Deuteronomy 6, 2-6 + Psalm 18 + Hebrews 7, 23-28 + Mark 12, 28-34

After countless unpleasant arguments and trick questions in an effort to trap Jesus, this is a rare and pleasant moment. The two agree with another. The scribe is “not far from the kingdom of God” Jesus says, but something is lacking. Why is he so close, but not quite there? For Mark in this Gospel, what is missing is the following of Jesus on the way and all the way to the cross. What’s missing, in other words, is commitment to discipleship. The kingdom of God is not agreeing on the right answers, important as the search for truth is. It is a relationship, a commitment, an identity that makes him part of the group, the family of faith which becomes the church.

The common thread that runs through the response of Jesus, is love: love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. Our understanding of this text and its message depends on our understanding of the word, love. Our English language is impoverished when it comes to this word. It can mean way too many things. Even the Greek language which was somewhat primitive had three words for love depending on what kind of love was being expressed. We use the word to describe all sorts of things from a tennis score, to express our taste in food, to the most sublime affection and bonding. The problem rests upon the fact that this world of ours equates love with feelings. That is not what Jesus and the Scribe are talking about. Our western world individualism only compounds the challenge to understand what Jesus and the Scribe are talking about.

In their group-centered Mediterranean world, affection, emotion, and feeling had nothing to do with it. That’s internal stuff. “Love” as they are speaking is about something external, an attachment to one’s group or attachment to a person in the group. It is “kinship”. It is the village or the clan or the tribe that one joined at some point in life that mattered most of all, and that membership is what provided one’s very identity. So, to love God means to become attached to God exclusively. There is no other God, and it means attaching oneself to the group that clusters itself distinctly around this God.

To love one’s neighbor as oneself means to become exclusively attached to the people in one’s own neighborhood or village as if they were family. That same idea is what is behind that statement in Luke’s Gospel when Jesus says: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sister, yes and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus is not suggesting a negative emotion toward one’s blood relatives. What he asks is detachment from that kinship group for the sake of the Kingdom and joining the Jesus movement. This is not about emotions. It is about commitment.

The kind of group attachment in the world and time of Jesus is hard for us to attain in the Western culture. As precious a cultural value as it is, Western individualism is a huge obstacle to community. We are always thinking and talking about me. “I” is always the way we think. Forget about “We” or “Us”. That’s the problem with all this fussing about rights. It’s always about MY rights. Forget about how claiming or exercising my rights might affect the community or someone else, or maybe someone unborn. We join groups and remain members as long as the group meets our needs. When that fails, we drop out and join another group on similar terms.

With that in mind, we might begin to wonder how this encounter with the Scribe ends because in the text it is unresolved.  What is lacking we ought to wonder? While wondering, it would not hurt to wonder about ourselves. Are we there yet, or is there something lacking for us? The Scribe admires, understands, and praises Jesus, but that does not make him a Christian. He must follow Jesus which means giving everything one has. There is no dropping out when it doesn’t feel good or isn’t fun or entertaining. In the very next story of Mark’s Gospel we will learn from the story of a widow in the Temple what it takes. Come back next week. Don’t miss it.

October 24, 2021 This homily is posted here by not delivered in person as I am in Oklahoma City this weekend.

Jeremiah 31, 7-9 + Psalm 126 + Hebrews 5, 1-6 + Mark 10, 46-52

This is the final miracle of Mark’s Gospel, and the consequence is a profound act of faith. In front of the disciples and the crowd, Bartimaeus pronounced his creed.  This man, blind from birth, may not have sight, but he can see alright. He can see what those disciples have been blind to. He can see the “Son of David”, the shepherd King that prophets spoke of. He can see how to get free from everything that holds him back. He is not really the blind man. We are.

We have an odd way of using that word, “see.” We often use it to express understanding as when someone might say: “I see what you mean.” All four of the evangelists use sight as a way of expressing faith. Believing is the deepest kind of seeing. Our early church even called Baptism “Enlightenment”. We could learn something from Bartimaeus because our blindness.

The blindness most of us suffer from is not physical although it is sometimes selective. We don’t see homeless people with a cardboard sign at street intersections. If we do, we pretend we don’t We don’t see the homeless because most of us live in gated communities, and if they crowd around our boarders, we expect someone to do something about it like the crowd trying to silence Bartimaeus. However, Jesus sees, and Jesus calls the man to a new kind of sight that frees him from his past as he leaves that cloak behind. There is a tenderness and respect in the way Jesus speaks to this man that is far different from the way the crowd treats him. Even the disciples change their tone after the call of Jesus. They no longer want to silence him, but they encourage him and say, “Get, Jesus is calling you.” They may very well have taken him by the hand and led him to Jesus. 

There is something unique in this miracle story. In nearly every other cure, Jesus goes to the sick. Here however, Jesus simply stops, and he calls the man from a distance to come. Think for a moment how difficult that may have been. Bartimaeus was blind. He might have said: “Come and help me, I can’t find my way.” He didn’t do that. He got up, threw off his cloak and went to Jesus. He probably stumbled along the way and maybe even fell down all the while just guessing where Jesus was. That was enough. He got there. He was given his sight, and he kept on moving right along with Jesus says Mark.

As we proclaim this Gospel today, we must find out place in this Gospel story. As members of Christ’s body, we can call those who are blind searching for forgiveness or healing to come with us, and we can open their eyes to see the Lord within us. As members of the crowd, we can simply tell the needy to keep quiet and stay where they are. As Disciples, we can encourage those blind to faith, and we might well lead them to Jesus. Or, it may be that some of us are blind, but knowing that the Lord is near we keep calling out, “Lord, have mercy”, and one day get up with joy and follow the Lord straight to the Jerusalem of his glory.

October 17, 2021 This homily is posted but not delivered as I will be serving a Maronite Community this weekend.

Isaiah 53, 10-11 + Psalm 33 + Hebrews 4, 14-16 + Mark 10, 35-45

Whenever this incident is told in the proclamation of the Gospel, I am always struck by the contrast suggested to us by these two ambitious and self-serving disciples who want to be on the left and right of Jesus. Their denial and almost deliberate refusal to even imagine what Jesus has been saying to them is to their shame as we are left to wonder where they were and how it is that two criminals end up to the right and left of Jesus when he enters into the presence of the Father.

The whole incident springs out of a question that must have been running through their minds as they listened to Jesus speak three times of what was to become of him. It is not so much that they reject suffering because they do claim that they can and will drink the same cup the Jesus drinks. It is that they think they will get something out of it, and that’s the question running through their heads, and it is a question that still lurks in all our minds when there is a decision to be made. “What am I going to get out of it?”

To whatever extent that question runs through our minds at any time or with any decision, we know we are far from understanding what God asks of us. Charitable contributions measured as a tax deduction is perfect example. When something is given, it can’t be done to get thanks, recognition, or get something in return. That’s called a “bribe”. The consequence of letting this thinking influence or control brings a terrible result in any family, community, or church. We see it in the other disciples today: indignation. “They became indignant at James and John” says the text. That indignation is destructive of unity, destroys trust, and erodes respect. 

There is plenty of indignation going around in this world today. It is the consequence of corruption that leads to anger and violence, and that corruption is nothing more than a What am I going to get out of it mentality easily found in places of unrest where injustice is ignored and grows like a deadly cancer in the life of a society. What Jesus has revealed over and over again is that service and sacrifice must spring out of love, not ambition or expectation of some reward. We do not fast to lose weight. We do not fast to get a ticket to heaven. We fast to experience solidarity with the hungry of this world and remind ourselves that we are not self-sufficient. Parents who sit at the side of a sick child do not sit there with the hope that this child will get well and take care of them someday. They sit there and suffer because of love.

Jesus did not suffer death to get something for himself. He already had it all and left it behind because of the Father’s love. He suffered to show us obedience. He suffered because we suffer, and he did not want us to suffer alone. He speaks to us, a sometimes-indignant people who spend too much time looking at what others have, and invites us once more to serve not to be served, to love not be loved, and find our greatness in our care for one another.

October 17, 2021 Mary, Mother of Light Maronite Church in Tequesta, FL

Philippians 2, 12-18 + Matthew 25, 1-13

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

                                                        A few years ago, I was fling to Houston for a meeting. On the return, I witnessed something that made me very sad. A woman with three young girls I assumed to be her daughters arrived at the gate just after everyone had boarded a flight going to Denver. There were some anxious looks down the concourse, and a frantic conversation with the gate agent. Clearly to me, someone was missing. The agent paged a man’s name, and kept motioning for the woman and the children to board the plane. They refused. I walked over to them and said: “What does he look like? I’ll go and have a look.” She raised her hand to indicate his height, and said: “Curly hair.” I made a quit trip down the concourse, checked the restroom, the restaurants, and the shops. No curly hair. When I returned, the door was closed, the plane had pushed back, and the woman and three girls were sitting together looking very unhappy. Moments later, the man with curly hair sauntered up looking amazed that the plane was gone. You can imagine what the conversation might have been like. I stayed where I was.

                                                        This is a story played out over and over again in human lives. We all know people who are always late for everything. There is usually an excuse and someone else to blame. Like the five in the parable, they blame their friends for not sharing or the shop owners for not be open in the middle of the night! There is always an excuse with the expectation that they could just slide on in with the help of others. This story also speaks to those who are wise describing what wisdom looks like, and these are the ones Jesus is really speaking too. This parable is about wisdom, and it is a theme that will be presented again next Sunday as well. This concern seems to occupy the mind of Jesus as his own life comes near its close.                                                        It is the Bible’s assumption that our death will catch us in the way we normally live either in a prepared state or a postponed state. There are some who rely on last-minute preparations like five of the virgins who had taken no extra oil. 

                                                        I am not a great believer in last-minute preparations. I am working on this homily in September. I have wisely learned that something could come up on October 14th or 15th that keeps me from preparation. So, get it ready early. After fifty years as a priest, I am not a great believer in death-bed conversions either. I do not rule them out, but believe me, they are an infrequent grace. Now, 40,000 people died in auto deaths last year in this country, and 610,000 of heart attacks, and 140,000 of strokes. Just those figures alone ought to give us reason to question the wisdom of putting off anything that might strengthen and enrich our friendship with God, our relationship with his Church, and our care of God’s children sometimes entrusted to our care. Making excuses or blaming others will change nothing when it is finally just too late. Pretending that God’s mercy will always reopen the door when it has been closed goes contrary to what Jesus has said not only with this parable but many times before. Those who cry “Lord, Lord” will get no hearing because this is the time for action not later. It is possible to be “too late.” This is the time to prepare. This is the time given for us to prepare.

                                                        For those of us here, this is our graced future. We are the ones who carry the light and wait for the Lord. We take hope and courage from these verses, confident that all we do in service, in prayer, in sacrifice, and praise will lead us into the banquet we anticipate around this altar. We can’t do much for those who are not wise enough to prepare. We might go wandering around the airport concourse looking and hoping, but sometimes it doesn’t work.  Yet we can pray for them and by the witness of our good lives, we might signal to them that the groom is coming. May we live each day worthily in constant expectation of Christ’s return. This is real wisdom.

October 10, 2021 Mary, Mother of Light Maronite Church in Tequesta, FL

1 Thessalonians 5,1-11 + Matthew 24, 45-51

Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that wicked slave says to himself, “My master is delayed”, and he begins to beat his fellow-slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The Gospel of Saint Matthew is arranged as series of sermons. There are five of them. You know the first one. It was delivered on a mountain side and we call it the Beatitudes. This final one nearing the end of the Gospel concerns the coming of a new age, and our readiness for it. Historically, Jesus is speaking to the leaders of the Jewish community. When Matthew writes, Jesus is speaking to the leaders of the early Christian communities that have grown lax and become disinterested in the new age to come. In this 21st century, and in this church, Jesus speaks to us. To me he speaks about my leadership in the Divine Liturgy and my preaching. To Elias, he speaks about his local leadership and service here, and to any parents because they too are leaders in their household. To young people he speaks about your leadership, example, and service in school.

In this day and age, there is little thought given to the return of Jesus of Christ as things are going to be called to account for our behavior with what we have been given and for how we have treated one another. We don’t like the image of judge who punishes where there has been abuse or neglect, but that does not change one bit of this Gospel. When we hear these words of Matthew’s Gospel, we could be surprised at how prominent in the mind of Matthew is the coming of the Lord at the end of time. This is certainly not something at the forefront of our thoughts. When it is at the forefront in our day among Christians, it’s usually with some group intent on setting the day and the hour of that coming. All of this is in flat indifference to what we hear from Jesus: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.

For people my age, the death of friends and classmates is an all too frequent reminder that it may not be too long for me. For younger people, the sudden death by accident of people who seem too young to die can shake those who survive and make them feel their fragility. But that passes sooner or later, and we slip back into that attitude and behavior that reveals our denial that life is short, fragile, and it ends. 

Years ago, my father was having a hard time with shortness of breath. His doctor, like a good physician, told him the truth about his smoking habit and the fact that it was going to kill him and his death would be slow and painful. It scared him enough that he stopped smoking that day to everyone relief in our family. Sometimes, the Gospel is like that doctor telling the truth and expressing the consequences of behavior that assumes we’re just going to go on merrily forever. This Gospel is proclaimed in our Maronite Churches today as a wake-up, a reminder and a warning. The challenge of all this is to keep alive a joyful hope not that the Lord will not notice or remember what we’ve done or failed to do, but that we have lived with wisdom and faith ready to be found exactly where we belong doing what we’ve been called to do with the gifts entrusted to us. If that is the case, whenever it’s time, all will be well.

October 10, 2021 This homily is posted but not delivered as I will be serving a Maronite Community this weekend.

Wisdom 7, 7-11 + Psalm 90 + Hebrews 4, 12 13 + Mark 10, 17-30

Last week, in a confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus made it clear that simply keeping the law or observing the rules was no guarantee of a “free ticket” to the Kingdom of God. While he never explicitly said what was more important than the law, he spoke about relationships and finished that episode by blessing some children and confirming that they were the ones who were blessed and had a place in the Kingdom.

This week, Mark’s Gospel gets more specific having Jesus clearly state what must happen over and above keeping the law. The conversation with the rich man reaffirms that keeping the commandments is far from enough when it comes to having a place in the Kingdom. Of all the people living at the time of Jesus, children were the poorest of all. Totally dependent, unable to do any work and provide for themselves, they are the in the greatest need, and they stand in stark contrast to this rich man.

In this encounter we find the only time in all the Gospels when it is recorded that Jesus loved someone. The only time! He looked at that man with love, and the man sadly walked away. He thought he could do something to inherit everlasting life, like write a check, or volunteer at a food pantry. Of course, either one might be good, but it is not what Jesus asks. It is not about doing something. It is about becoming something. Jesus asks that man to become poor which is not just an economic condition. Being poor economically is a comparative condition. The poorest person in this country is still rich to a starving homeless person in other parts of this world.

What Jesus asks is that we become like him, poor. Powerless, defenseless, and totally dependent upon the Father is what Jesus is, and it is what we must become if we have any hope at all of entering the Kingdom he has offered us.  No one buys themselves into the Kingdom. There is no score keeping and no points to add up because, the Kingdom of God is gift given to those who know they can do nothing and live in a relationship with God that is like the relationship that Jesus enjoyed. In many ways, Jesus is the poorest of all. He did what he asks of that rich man. He gave up everything to come among us. He left behind all that heaven offers so that we might share through him, with him, and in him all that the Father promises.

Our best hope is that he may look upon us with the same love with which he looked upon that man. Our best hope is that we might surrender all the power that our wealth provides and risk discovering the freedom that belongs to those who are truly poor. We can only be possessed by one thing, the love of God. Those possessed by their possessions are never free, and they are far from being real children of God.

October 3, 2021 at St. Peter and St William Parishes in Naples, FL

Genesis 2, 18-24 + Psalm 128 + Hebrews 2, 9-11 + Mark 10,2-16

After all these years since Jesus encountered those Pharisees, we have not come very far when it comes to morality and human behavior. What leads me to this observation is that, like the Pharisees, we are still asking the wrong questions when it comes to choices. “Is it lawful?” they ask. In spite of everything they have heard from Jesus, they still think that the perfect observance or keeping of the law is what matters. There is only one question that must guide us: “What does God want?” Of course, for too many, that question is too hard because it implies a relationship with God and a desire to do God’s will. It’s a lot easier to just check the rule book and charge on, but a strict observance of the law has every possibility of leading anyone of us into misery, alienation, and sin. There are countless ways to think of this, but imagine a parent who is out of work and out of money. They steal a loaf of bread to feed their children. Is it lawful some might ask? What does God want? Might better resolve the moral issue.

So, here comes these silly Pharisees trying once again to trap Jesus. You have to wonder if they could ever learn that it won’t work. Yet, they ask him about the law and he traps them instead of the other way around by raising the real question: “What does God want?” He takes them back into their own scriptures which we just heard proclaimed here before the Psalm. I hope you noticed something that is important here, because that second chapter of Genesis describes creation in a very different way and order than the first chapter which confirms what we believe, that the Bible is teaching a kind of truth that has nothing to do with history or science. When you wake up to realize that Chapter One and Chapter Two have very different stories of creation you begin to see that there is something else going on here. In Chapter One, Adam is last in creation. In Chapter Two everything is created after Adam except Eve. In Chapter Two, God is fashioning a creature endowed with godly characteristics, then feeling the same loneliness of that one-of-a-kind creature, God made other living creatures.

Before Adam met Eve, he was little more than a zoo keeper and gardener. Then, when they met another thinking, speaking person, they realized they were made for each other. As they learned to love, they grew in their likeness to their Creator. By leading the Pharisees back to the beginning just as he does here with us, he leaves us to ask what it is God wants, and we can quickly realize as did the Pharisees, that the law does not express the will of God. In this case, it simply exposes the hardness of hearts and more seriously, the injustice of the old system which gave a man all the power and left the woman helpless.  No will or wish of God in that thinking.

In the end, Jesus speaks to us today of relationships and the importance of mutuality and the beautiful partnership that must be at the heart of every marriage. At the very end of this passage, Jesus reimagines the whole hierarchical relationship between adults and children as he calls those children into his midst. He affirms the value of children which that culture at that time did not see. Yet, he insists by word and deed that children are equal to adults because all are invited to hear the Good News and be blessed. He traps the Pharisees and anyone else who trapped into a narrow vision of salvation. He gives us a bigger vision that puts first a concern for the will and wish of God before enforcing the letter of the law. He invites us to experience the grace of being caught up in the Genesis vision of God’s plan for our union with God and neighbor which leads us to hold every single person with respect and esteem as a unique gift of God.