All posts for the month February, 2022

27 February 2022 at Saint William & Saint Agnes & Saint Peter Catholic Churches in Naples, FL

Sirach 27, 4-7 + Psalm 92 + 1 Corinthians 15, 54-58+ Luke 6, 39-45

A wise Jesuit once taught me that what Jesus warns against is the danger of judging not actions but the human heart.

With that in mind we take up one last time a part of the great Sermon on the Plain from which we have read for the past four weeks. What we have today is a series of three unrelated separate sayings of Jesus gathered into one place. Shorter than Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, this is a short list of absolutely essential components of authentic Christianity. No matter how we may try to restrain ourselves or control our thinking, inevitably, what we think and what we believe gets said.  We talk, and when we do, we reveal more about ourselves than we do about whatever or whoever we are talking about. Our speech reveals our inner nature. 

This Gospel warns that one who is blind to the goodness in others, and who speaks of evil of them instead, reveals their own puny measure of God’s openness to goodness. Those who see only their neighbor’s tiny faults and rush to point them out expose the logjam that blocks their own hearts from receiving and giving God’s love. 

The good tree is not the tree that looks good. It is the tree that bears good fruit, and as Jesus says: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good.”  The abundant heart expresses itself in abundant deeds, not abundant words which suggests that perhaps, as the Old Testament reading suggests, we all ought to say less and do more. 

Those of us who want to take seriously these essential components of authentic Christianity must truly believe that Christian life is not about searching out the faults of others, but about attacking the greater faults in ourselves.  Our faith is about practice, not theory. It’s about doing, not saying. Religion in the end is a way of walking, not a way of talking. It is about the good deeds of faith, hope, and love, and an abundance of them.  When we cultivate our inner goodness only kind speech will well up and pass from our lips.

In these days when human discourse, courtesy, respect, and honor seem to sink to a new and intolerable low, we must be on guard. One of the surest indications of good or bad in the hearts of people is their speech. The first reading tells us wisely that in adversity one’s inner disposition is revealed. It said: “When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear.” Anyone can speak well of others when all is going smoothly. But those who can resist returning insult for insult when others speak harshly or make false accusation show their real dignity. In every one of us there is a storehouse of evil and of good. What we say and what we do will reveal which is the greater as we look for the good in all those around us.

20 February 2022

As I am out of the country this Sunday, the homily below will not be delivered in person 

It is provided here simply for reflection.

1 Samuel 26, 2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23 + Psalm 103 + 1 Corinthians 15, 45-49 + Luke 6, 27-38

It is very important to know and understand the first reading today and the story there describing the conflict between David and Saul. It sets the scene for what Jesus has to say to us in the Gospel today. They both wanted to kill the other, and David has every opportunity to do so, but he does not. He explains this by insisting that the “Lord’s anointed” (King Saul) should not be harmed. What Jesus has revealed to us is that “the Lord’s anointed” is no longer King Saul. It is every mother’s child. 

What Jesus proposes in the verses of today’s Gospel goes against every basic instinct in human nature, but not against divine nature. Do good to those who hate you. That makes no sense at all. If someone steals your coat, give the thief your shirt as well. That’s crazy! As soon as that gets out to the world, you will have nothing left to give. Yet, four ringing commands spring out of this text: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who maltreat you. This is a nothing more than a total rejection of the culture of violence so characterized by a “tit for tat” mentality.  What Jesus gives us is a strategy for breaking the cycle of evil. 

The Love expected of us is not an emotion. It is a fundamental attitude that seeks another’s good and responds to their need. The source of love and the example of love is not found by looking at others like us. It is found by looking at God. It is only by thinking of and examining God’s love that we can find the inspiration to get beyond self-concern and suspicion. God’s selfless love for us is our motivation for loving others even though we know that our love of others will never quite match the depth and the breadth of God’s proven love for us. A people made in the image and likeness of God must exhaust themselves in the effort to be that image.  Only if we love our enemies and expect nothing back will we be acting like God. 

What we are faced with as this Gospel is proclaimed is the most radical obedience that Jesus asks of his disciples. Loving those who victimize us makes us no longer victims but free people whose behavior is now determined by Christ himself rather than the enemy. 

Perhaps the biggest obstacle that gets in the way when we face the challenge of what Jesus asks of us is that we have failed to believe. The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved.  Thomas Merton wrote that “Until we discover that we are loved, until this liberation has been brought about by the divine mercy, men and women are imprisoned in hate.”  We who are often ungrateful and wicked, but who receive God’s mercy and love, can now see in the face of the enemy the face of God.  

13 February 2022 This homily will not be delivered. It is prepared for this reading only. 

Jeremiah 17, 5-8 + Psalm 1 + 1 Corinthians 15, 12-16 + Luke 6, 17, 20-26

There is something very important to notice in Luke’s Beatitudes that differs from Matthew, and I suspect that hardly anyone would notice if no attention was given to the exact words. We have so easily blended together the two that we hardly notice that Luke says, “Blessed are you who are poor, or hungry, or weeping, or hated”. Matthew says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” In Luke there is no nuance or need to reflect on what it means. It’s right out there in plane language. Both Matthew and Luke have adjusted their precise wording to their own communities.

Luke’s community was very diverse in social, economic, and probably ethnic background. For Luke, the coexistence of genuine wealth and true poverty in any Christian community is a scandal, and so he cries out with a warning to the rich that what they have now is all they are going to get. Nothing in the future. 

The happiness he speaks of is found among those who are poor because poverty creates interdependence, a sense of the common good. The poor know that they need each other so much so that the only wealth they treasure is the richness of human relationships. They know that when one person is hungry, all people are malnourished. 

The happy people Jesus describes are those who weep, because they never weep alone. There is a solidarity among them while the rich end up isolated, anxious, and defensive fearful that some of what they have amassed be lost or taken from them. They lead a lonely life, distrusting others, suspicious, and often in denial, offended by the Gospel.

Luke teaches us that material poverty is a condition of blessedness, and he warns that passivity in the face of others’ needs leads to everlasting woe. With this teaching on the part of Jesus, he is turning upside down the thinking of the time that still seeps into our time. Poverty then, and sometimes now, was never an indication of blessedness. It was regarded as evil. The poor were thought to be bad or sinful, not favored by God; while those not in poverty were thought to be blessed.

Jesus addresses these words today to disciples who are not among the destitute poor. They are the ones who have the means to be agents of divine blessing to those who are needy. His invitation to disciples is to embrace some form of being poor as an essential aspect of their commitment to Jesus. As the Gospel continues, Luke presents many examples of how to respond and embrace poverty. Fishermen and Tax Collectors leave everything behind to follow Jesus. Zacchaeus will give half of his possessions to the poor. In Acts of the Apostles he will describe how the pooling or resources leads to a community that cares for one another. What is never an option in the Gospel is hoarding for one’s self. 

This blessedness that Jesus holds up is not something for the future. It is for the here and now, and it is a foretaste of what it will be like in the Kingdom of God. No wish for the future for an abstract and unknown group of the “poor”, but a concrete possibility when the needs of real people are known and the resources of the community are shared. I find it interesting to note that in the Acts of the Apostles, when the young church is really living the Gospel mandate, the word “poor” is never mentioned.  There are no poor when people live as one.

6 February 2022 at Saint William & Saint Peter the Apostle Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 6. 1-2, 3-8 + Psalm 138 + 1 Corinthians 15, 1-11 + Luke 5, 1-11

The mission is never dependent on the worthiness of the minister. That is the message we hear three times today, from Isaiah, from Paul, and from a fisherman called Peter. He and his companions have been hard at it all night long. Jesus walks up and suggests that he knows something these professionals do not know. Instead of scoffing at the idea, they try something new. The result is surprising. It is not their first encounter with Jesus. Just a few verses earlier, Jesus has been at the home of Peter and cured his mother-in-law. So, their willingness to let him in get into one of the boats is not too surprising. When Jesus tells them to put out into deeper water after his teaching of the crowd. There is brief moment of hesitation as Peter reminds Jesus that a full night of fishing has brought nothing, and then he says something that is important: “At your command, I will lower the nets.” 

Two weeks ago, we heard the Mother of Jesus say to stewards at a wedding, “Do whatever he tells you.” When they do, water jars filled to the brim become more wine than they could ever consume. Isaiah, Paul, and Peter are three people who did what God told them to do with surprisingly successful results. We do not tell their stories today to sit back and admire them. We tell their stories today because they are not the only ones who can overcome obstacles, discouragement, and a weariness that comes from working without results. We tell their stories today because we believe that their experience is not unique to them or that it takes some great skill to produce surprising results. What it takes is what Peter shows us: let Jesus get in your boat, and do what he asks no matter how you feel about it.  

All of us have come up against what seem to be impossible challenges with regard to our calling in life, our health, our jobs, our families, and sometimes we have given up and quit. The Good News we proclaim today is that it might be possible for us to face that challenge one more time with Jesus in the boat listening carefully to what he tells us. It might very well be something we never thought of before or had dismissed as too hard or too risky. The story of Peter, the story of Paul, and Isaiah ought to give us just enough courage or hope to try one more time or try an approach we had not thought of before.

Those three people put before us today all thought they were not worthy of what God asked of them, but they discovered that worthiness has nothing to do with it when it comes to the mission to which we are called. What I find remarkable and admirable about Peter and Paul is that they never thought they knew it all. They were willing to take the sage advice of trying things in a different way under the direction of Jesus. When they did, grace came. It was the grace of peace. It was the grace of knowing that in spite of unworthiness, or maybe because of knowing and admitting it, great and surprising things happen.