All posts for the month March, 2022

27 March 2022

Joshua 5, 9-12 + Psalm 34 + 2 Corinthians 5, 17-21 + Luke 15, 1-3-& 11-32

This homily is simply for publication here as I am serving the Maronite Parish in Tequesta, Fl this weekend.

In Luke’s typical style, we get a dramatic piece in five acts: the opening dialogue with the son’s demand, act two with the son’s disillusionment and repentance, act three with his return home, act four with the father and his older son, and act five which remains unfinished. There are four principal characters: the father, two sons, and the listeners, you and me. Each of the characters has an important role. There are really no stars in this drama unless it’s the Father whose presence and spirit seems to drive it all, but concentrating on the Father drains the story of its real message. We hardly need to be reminded that God is good, and none of us could step into that role convincingly. We know how we would likely behave. Some of us would change the locks on the house and cancel all the credit cards that the younger kid might use. Some of us would stand there like the older son with our arms folding, chin in the air, insisting on our privilege because, after all, we’re so dependable and do everything right. Some of us might want to simply remain in the crowd watching it all unfold content to stay where we are and let them work it out.

We are provided this Gospel on the Fourth Sunday in Lent as an urgent plea to find our place in this story which is so like the drama of life. If we are still under the illusion that money and pleasure will make us happy, we need to admit that there is something wrong and something always missing in this life style. It is happiness which is not the same as pleasure, and it is a sense of belonging and real identity.  If we are in the place of that older son, we need to get off our pedestal and listen to our pompous and judgmental talk. That guy never even recognized the other son as his brother. There is something really wrong here. In his haughty attitude, he never even claims the father as his own. He rudely says, “You” every time he opens his mouth.  If we’re standing in that crowd watching it all, we’re still not at the party which has already begun. It might be worse to be a spectator rather than be part of that family.

In any case, the party has begun, the curtain has gone up on the last act of this dramatic piece of Luke’s Gospel. It’s time for us to step out onto the stage with something to celebrate either our own homecoming or the homecoming of those who have been away. The father is waiting for us all.

27 March 2022 at Mary, Mother of Light Maronite Church in Tequesta, Florida

Mark 2, 1-12

A question is put before us: “Which is easier to say, “Pick up your mat and walk or your sins are forgiven?” It’s a good question we might well ask of ourselves. For Jesus the answer is obvious. He can do both with ease. To be honest with you however, I would not approach someone in a wheelchair and say: “Get out of that chair and walk.” If I did, someone might put me away. I could say to anyone: “I forgive you.” At least it ought to be easier to say that than try to heal someone who can’t walk. Forgiveness is something we can do, and we have been instructed by Jesus to do so, even to forgive in his name. But we make it hard with our easy resentments and grudges. Our wounded ego gets in the way, to the point that it’s ridiculous to even ask the question because we don’t want to. It’s a lot more comforting to play the victim and be offended rather than put all of that aside and do what we can to heal a relationship. On the other hand, when we accept forgiveness from others, we recognize our own sickness and sin and find ourselves in the presence of God, whose forgiveness matters the most.  

We should take notice that Jesus calls himself, “Son of Man” here which is a very safe title used by Ezekiel to describe himself because he wanted to be seen as an ordinary person. There is a message here in this title that suggests the answer to the question. It is easier for us human beings to forgive.

Yet, that’s not all we can learn from this incident in Capernaum. We can learn the power of friendship which Jesus recognizes and affirms. It was the faith of that man’s friends that earned him the double gift that Jesus offers: forgiveness and healing. There’s nothing said about that man’s faith except for the faith he had in those friends. Imagine, laying helpless on a mat and being hoisted up onto the roof of a house and then be lowered down through a hole. Not one word is spoken by those men, but their action reveals their faith. This man’s disability is very symbolic. Guilt cripples. It hinders our worship of God and handicaps our relationships with family and friends. We have no idea if the man every says anything because at the moment Jesus forgives him the story takes an ugly turn. 

It is the first time in Mark’s Gospel that we hear of a negative response to his words and works. Up until now, it’s all be exciting and people have flocked to be near him and listen. The accusation of Blasphemy gives us a clue about what is to come.  It is a capital crime by their system, and Jesus understands the cost of forgiveness. To claim the authority to forgive sins is no light matter, and to forgive is not cheap. Yet, if we ever want or hope to bear witness to our faith, it is through our readiness to forgive others, and our willingness to be forgiven. The other great witness is found in the very act of bringing someone to Jesus even if it means climbing up on a roof, digging a hole, and taking a big risk.

So, we are left with the question about which is easier. It is a question that needs an answer from every one of us, and we are left with a remarkable example of faith in action and a the consequence of what faith can do in friendship.

20 March 2022 at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Exodus 3, 1-8, 13-15 + Psalm 103 + 1 Corinthians 10, 1-6, 10-12 + Luke 13, 1-9

These people who came to Jesus with a great dilemma about God’s justice could just as well be any of us. Many are still caught and confused by the fact that good things happen to bad people. Often, they seem to forget that good things sometimes happen to good people. No matter how you look at there are always deep and serious questions about the balance of God’s justice and God’s mercy. 

Much of the Gospel presents a Jesus trying to shake people out of their deficient yet stubborn ideas about God. The people today are trying to make sense of two horrible tragedies with ideas about God that just don’t work. In the first tragedy, Pilate has murdered good people at prayer. The thinking of the day was that those good people were being punished for secret sins that nobody knew about except God who used Pilate to punish them.  In the second case, those random victims of a falling building leave them wondering if those victims deserved death or if life simply has no rhyme or reason. We do not need these old events from ages ago to be drawn into this dilemma. The suffering in Ukraine, a collapsed high-rise in Miami, terrorist attacks all over the place can put us in the same frame of mind. Bad things whether they happen to good people or bad people have to shake us up and get us wondering about God, about God’s Justice and God’s Mercy.  The second half of this text today gives us the answer Jesus has to this dilemma, and it forces us to think about our very idea of God and how God works. It raises the age-old question about the balance of mercy and justice. 

Saint Luke sees the time in which we live as time we are given for one more chance to bear fruit like that fig tree. It is Jesus who softens Divine Justice with a time of Mercy. He is our advocate whose mercy tempers the reality of Divine justice. During this time, the preaching of the Gospel leads us to be fruitful just like the improvement of the soil often leads a barren tree to fruitfulness. During this time, the Incarnation of the Divine into the human gives us a chance when filled with the Holy Spirit to begin to bear fruit. Our tradition spells out those fruits of the Spirit as charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and gentleness. When any of these are lacking in any of us, we might do well to seize these days of Lent to cultivate a transformation of mind which is what early Christians called “metanoia”. 

A life conformed to God’s vision is the fruitful tree that Jesus hopes for in this Gospel. Good things happen to bad people because God hopes and waits for their transformation which takes time. Luke reminds us today that in Jesus humanity has received a reprieve from divine justice. In these days of mercy, Christ works in the Spirit with each of us always hoping that we will burst into bloom with abundant fruit of charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness. 

13 March 2022 at St. Agnes, St. William, St Peter Churches in Naples, FL

Genesis 15, 5-12, 17, 18 + Psalm 27 + Philippians 3, 17-4, 1 + Luke 9, 28-36

I like to imagine that when Abraham told Sarah, his wife, about the vision he had that l day, she looked at him, shook her head and said: “You’re seeing things. You smell like dead animals. Wash up and come in for supper.” I can also just as easily imagine that when Peter, James, and John rejoined the other apostles telling them what they had seen, one them, probably Thomas said: “You guys are seeing things.”

Seeing things is part of what this Gospel scene is all about. Matthew and Mark tell of the same event, but they concentrate on how it affected Peter, James, and John. Luke’s presentation is directed more to the effect this experience had on Jesus. In this chapter, just verses before, Peter has made his declaration that he believes Jesus to be the Messiah.  With that, Jesus begins to clarify what kind of Messiah he would be as he tells them that the “Son of Man” will suffer, be rejected, killed, and raised on the third day. Only Luke’s Gospel tells us why Jesus went up that mountain. It was to pray, he says.

All the major events in the life of Jesus are preceded in Luke’s Gospel by a period of prayer: his baptism, the choice of the Twelve, the mission of the 72 disciples, his prayer in Gethsemane and even at the moment of his death. All the “breakthroughs” in the whole history of salvation occur while people are at prayer. The major figures of the Gospel, Mary, Zechariah, Anna, Simeon, the Apostles at Emmaus, the Apostles in an upper room on Pentecost are all people of prayer. So, we are left to wonder about ourselves and how we move forward in life, make decisions, and what kind of things we see.

At this point in the narrative of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is in Galilee where things are going rather well. Crowds are coming around all the time. They follow him everywhere with great enthusiasm. The carping Pharisees are nowhere to seen. No scribes and picky lawyers are trying to trap him. It’s nice there in Galilee, but he is faced with a decision: stay there or take up his mission and move on to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a place that kills prophets. It’s not all about him either. He knows that his closest and loyal friends may well suffer more than just disappointment in Jerusalem, they may well suffer the same fate he will likely have. Faced with that decision, he goes up the mountain to pray.

All of us are constantly confronted with choices and decisions we cannot avoid. We have to make choices some of them big and some not so big. We sit in front of computer screen and we have to choose whether or not to click on that site that in the end just makes us more lonely. The mail comes and there is one more appeal from a charity. We have to choose whether to toss it or be just a little more generous. A doctor tells a couple that the child they have been waiting for has something wrong, and it’s time for a choice, the easy way or the right way? 

What we learn from Jesus today is that when it’s time for a choice the easy way may not be the best way according to God’s will. What we learn from Jesus today is that when it is time for choices big and small, prayer is the way to move forward.

For Jesus that day, mindful that going on to Jerusalem was going mean a lot of suffering and even his death, thoughts of Moses and Elijah came to him with an assurance that passing over, an exodus, made with trust in God would ultimately set him free and lead to the victory of his mission. These three apostles are the same three that will be invited to the Garden of Olives when the suffering begins. By sharing this time of prayer with them, Jesus prepares them for what it is they see that night in Jerusalem.

This then is the lesson of the Second Sunday of Lent as it seeks to bring about our conversion: We must change our ways and make choices. Often not making a choice becomes one and it is usually the wrong one. Disciples of Jesus can never think that fidelity, commitment, and perseverance will be possible without a great struggle. Love is never possible without suffering and sacrifice, and that is a choice otherwise you’re just a victim.

Moving into the second week of Lent, we probably ought to start seeing things, not things that are not there, but things that actually can be if we make the choice to go all the way even to Jerusalem with Jesus Christ. What we will soon see there is an empty tomb. Some may think we are just seeing things, but the eyes faith not it to be true.

Micah 5, 1-4 + Psalm 80 + Hebrews 10, 5-10 + Luke 3, 10-18

March 6, 2022 at St. William Church in Naples, FL

There is always a risk when we think of Jesus. It is the risk of magnifying his Divine Nature at the cost of his Human Nature. It is serious risk because it mutes the very revelation his incarnation provides for us. That man in the desert, a man baptized and called Son of God was a real human being. What he experienced in the desert was a real temptation no different at all from the kinds of temptations you and I face every day of our lives. Baptism does not keep any of us from temptations. Being children of God provides no safeguard from temptations if you forget who you are. What Luke provides for us in these verses is a look at what Jesus did in the face of temptation so that we might do the same.

Luke implies that the struggle Jesus had to understand and live the vocation of being “Son of God”was both unique to him and applicable to every one of us who are also “Children of God.” What we hear of in these verses is a mighty struggle on the part of Jesus to live as a faithful Son of God.  That is the great challenge all of us face day in and day out; to live as Children of God. The temptation that Jesus faces, and so do we all, is the temptation to put self-preservation ahead of everything else. Thinking that he must take care of himself rather than trust in the loving care of his Father. Jesus knew how to prioritize his needs and wants by placing the Will of God before his own because he was the Son of a loving and provident God.

The devil’s bargain offering Jesus all the kingdoms of the world implied that he would rule as did all the rulers of the day with power and fear believing that being mighty is all there is because “might is right.” Being “Number One” in that thinking is all that matters regardless of what or who you step on, oppress or dismiss to come out on top. That is not the way God works, and neither do his children.

The clever thing about these temptations is that they always seem like good ideas at the time. Satan is a master at disguise slick like fake news, subtler than ads that suggest love comes from having the right car or the right skin. Why not change stones into bread when you’re hungry? What will it hurt? Why not eat that apple if it’s going to make you wise? It’s the easy way. Why not cheat a little here or there? No one’s getting hurt? 

Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke reminds us at the end that temptation is not a one-time event. Luke gives us a Jesus who, in the face of every temptation, knows that the challenge is to always remember and remain a child of God. That is what Jesus did and we must do the same. As this reality came to me preparing for this moment, I suddenly remembered something my father would often say to me when I would get out of the car at school and even more often when I began to drive. “Don’t forget who you are”, he would say.  What lies at the root of every temptation becoming the cause of all our sins and failures?  The failure to remember. Remembering who we are might be what this Lent is all about as we grow in wisdom and grace to face every temptation that comes at us again and again.

2 March 2022 at Saint William and Saint Peter Catholic Churches in Naples, FL

Joel 2, 12-18 + Psalm 51 + 2 Corinthians 5, 20- 6, 2+ Matthew 6, 1-6, 16-18

There is a paradox we must face today.  As the Gospel warns us against external signs of devotion, we make one with Ashes.  Fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are the boot camp of every serious religion, not just Christianity. We must enter this season today with solemnity and determination or not do it at all lest we become fake, nothing more than shallow empty shadows of what we could be. This is no “self-improvement” program. It is a real adventure into a desert place like the one Jesus walked into as the Son of God emerging as the Son of Man.

What happened to him there must eventually happen to us all. He faced down the temptation to use his power and gifts for himself. He accepted the role of a suffering servant as must we all suffer and serve others. The forty-day desert we enter must strip us of distractions, appetites that tempt us for treats and entertainment when we could be caring for others. In the desert of these forty days, we must be quiet and listen carefully to the deepest voice within us waiting to hear the voice of the Spirit. It will never be heard above the noise of this world with its advertisements and seductions to feel better and look better. The blaring sounds of entertainment distract us or silence the cries of those who are hungry and homeless. Those sounds must be silenced so that we can hear and answer their call.

We are all temples called this day to leave the noisy outer courts, enter the inner courts, and on to the sanctuary, the holy of holies. There we must kneel in silence before the tabernacle where God dwells. This is the real prayer in which God can speak because we are silent and listen. This is how and where we discover who we really are and why God has called us into existence, given us each a mission, and loved us into the future. Without this, we will never know ourselves and simply be trapped into believing that we are not good enough or are only what others think of us. What matters is what God thinks of us.

This season is serious for us. It is as serious as the biopsy of a tumor might be for the sick. It is the season when we will discover what we are made of in the life-long contest with evil. It is the season that may predict how that contest will end in our victory or our defeat. In that Palestinian desert, Jesus is challenged to follow a path different from the one willed by his Father. It is not different for us. Our culture offers infinite possibilities for remaking ourselves with a priority put on personal fulfillment and material success. We are challenged to live “not on bread alone” or money alone but on the Word of God.

In the end, the same Spirit that drove Jesus into the desert drives, protects, and inspires him to emerge from the desert renewed, strengthened, and ready for his journey to Jerusalem which is not a place, but the Kingdom of God. It can be the same for us filled with that same Spirit. This is the Lenten journey ever remembered and ever renewed. Don’t take these Ashes if you don’t mean to take the journey.