All posts for the month July, 2022

July 31, 2022

Ecclesiastes 1, 2; 2, 21-23 + Psalm 90 + Colossians 3, 1-5 + Luke 12, 13-21

Living as I do in what is often referred to as “East Naples” makes this Gospel very real and the message of Jesus very troubling. Some of the folks who live up in North Naples actually refer to this part of town as “Storage Town.” The number of climate-controlled facilities in this part of Naples is astounding, and we know that one reason is that those other parts of Naples would never allow them to be constructed in their sight. The other reason is because people everywhere think they need them. In my neighborhood there are two car garages for every home. It amazes me how many cars are parked outside all the time, and we know why. When there is a popular TV show called “Hoarders” we know that what this Gospel addresses is no longer considered a sin. Now it is entertainment, and what’s wrong with that?

It is, of course, as much about power as it is stuff, and it is the power that corrupts. This past year we’ve heard a lot about Oligarchs and the power that they wield, the influence that they leverage to keep things just as they are and secure their privilege and power. What we must not lull ourselves into thinking is that the only Oligarchs are in Russia. If you stop to think about it, you could name some of them here and if not them, at least the industry names they hide behind. 

Our cultural climate of materialism always suggests that having the most stuff equals success and promotes admiration. Sadly, it is true. It also permits contentment and sometimes opposition to justice and a deliberate deafness to the teachings of our church and the voice of the Gospel. 

Years ago, I served a parish that actively supported an orphanage in Haiti, and I would visit there from time to time. The first time I was struck by the fact that many homes had no doors. At first, I ignorantly thought it was for ventilation until my priest friend and host reminded me that doors were not necessary because there was nothing to steal. What a contrast to our neighborhoods where have doors, locks, security systems, and gates. I’m left to wonder when I proclaim this Gospel who Jesus is speaking to. I don’t think it is Russian Oligarchs today. 

We are invited today to ask what our lives consist of. Poverty is not a social issue. It is a moral issue, and for us, Poverty is a virtue. It must be chosen, not be the consequence of a broken or protected system that makes and keeps people poor.  As a virtue, it becomes a way of relating to things and to people. It is virtue that when embraced brings a kind of freedom that is unimaginable to those who are anxious and worried about how to protect what they have and get more.

There is simple and profound old saying that whatever is not given is lost because what we have not given will be taken when we die. What we have given away will escape corruption for it has been sent ahead into eternity. That’s really the only way to keep something. Send it ahead.

This Gospel passage began with a word that brought me back to my childhood and the spats and arguments that sometimes erupted between me and my sister. It was always over sharing, and I can remember clearly how impatient and frustrated my parents could become when we didn’t share. It was and still is a simple lesson on how to have peace, harmony, respect, and even hope, because living with someone who shares always offers a promise. 

Nothing can more effectively divide and polarize us than greed whether it is the greed of power or the greed of wealth. Yet, in the midst of this world’s turmoil as long as people of conscience are breathing, hungering for and committed to sharing, hope remains alive, and it is that hope that we celebrate today.

July 24, 2022 Not delivered at a liturgy – recovering from Covid

Genesis 18, 20-32 + Psalm 138 + Colossians 2, 12-14 + Luke 11, 1-13

It is important to notice that an instruction on prayer is followed by examples of action. The two cannot be separated. First, we get the words. Then we get the action. The words begin by establishing our relationship with God when we say the word, “Father.” The very next part of the prayer commits us to do all in our power to bring God’s Kingdom into our time and place. Those words: “Thy Kingdom Come. Thy will be done” are not telling God to do something. They express our readiness to do whatever it takes to bring the Kingdom. That is accomplished, says the prayer, by doing God’s will. The words of the prayer then go on to ask God to provide all that we need to accomplish God’s will in a world where forgiveness overcomes selfishness and revenge with a plea that we will resist all temptation.

The words of this prayer establish the unequal relationship that exists between a child and a parent. In doing so, the words acknowledge a dependency. They invite us to trust that a loving parent always provides what is needed for their children.

With that, Luke takes us right into what these words mean in action. For without action, there is nothing but words. To illustrate how the prayer turns into action, a parable comes with the hungry, the seeker, and the sleeper by way of illustration. This is not an instruction on how to ask or beg cleverly enough to get what you want. The instruction tells us to ask for the Holy Spirit, and that’s all we need. So, asking for the right thing does matter, but a further look at the parable invites us to consider the neighbor. There is action here too. It is an action that relieves hunger.

We ought not miss the fact that part of this prayer gets repeated, and Luke will allow us to hear Jesus at prayer in the Garden: “Thy will be done.” When we pray like this, with openness to God’s will and ready willingness to bring the Kingdom, we become true disciples of Jesus making it possible for God to work through us, since prayer is a union of our will with God’s. God may not keep us from harm, but because of God’ love, we will never face harm alone. As we allow Christ to teach us to pray, we might stop asking God to do what we want and join Christ in doing everything we can for the coming of God’s kingdom.

July 17, 2022 at St. William Church in Naples, FL

Genesis 18, 1-10 + Psalm 15 + Colossians 1, 24-28 + Luke 10, 38-42

Blessed is the family that never has quarrel! There are few such Blessed families in the Scriptures. It begins with Cane and Able, runs down through David and his brothers. It includes Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau. So, when we find this tense scene between two sisters in Luke’s Gospel, it should come as no surprise. That Luke would include this tense moment in his Gospel that often highlights women is certainly to be expected.

There are all sorts of odd details in this episode: Mary seems to be assuming the role of “Guest Master” which in reality at the time was the role of a man. Where is Lazarus? How is it that these women have the resources to do this with no man? Single women at the time would have been penniless. Then, there is Mary sitting at the feet of the Rabbi. Only men do that in their culture. There are enough contradictions here to confuse and disguise the teaching or revelation Luke may be presenting.

All of these issues must not distract us from what is happening, a family quarrel. We all know that some family conflict is simply inevitable. Both of these two sisters are doing something important. One is paying attention to and listening to a welcome guest. The other is providing refreshment. Perhaps the problem giving rise to the conflict is not that one is doing something right thing and the other something wrong, but that there is no balance here between action and contemplation. Or perhaps we could say: between prayer and work. Somehow when that balance gets tipped in one direction there is going to be trouble.

We might do well to let this Gospel speak to us simply about restoring or preserving some good balance to our lives. Working every day with no time for prayer or no time for attending Mass is way off balance. A person who neglects their work and responsibilities for others is a long way from holiness and headed for a crisis. The conflict between the two obviously keeps them from really enjoying the presence of Christ. At the same time, later communities receiving this Gospel may be in conflict trying to adjust their behavior and attitude over the obvious role of women whose previous role was very restricted. 

The presence of Jesus always seems to stretch limitations and push hard for inclusiveness. He constantly rejects rules and regulations that demean or eliminate others. Usually when Jesus comes to a house, he becomes the host making a place at his table for everyone. The only requirement for communion with Christ is acceptance of the others he invites. With a wholesome balance in our lives, we can see, hear, and understand what he offers us by having a place at his table.

Mary Mother of Light Maronite Church in Tequesta, FL

July 17, 2022   Matthew 13: 36-43

We are in the middle of Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel, and that chapter is full of parables. These are not parables that tell us how to live. They are not about what the Kingdom of God will be like. These parables speak to us about now, this time, this year, and this place. The trouble with these verses we have today is that they are taken out of the whole context of Chapter 13. Most scholars think that these verses were added later either by the author or a scribe at some early point in making a copy of the text. It could well be that some in the community for whom Matthew was writing misunderstood the whole thing and needed to be corrected. Whatever, Matthew now has Jesus explaining a parable about someone sowing weeds in a field that a farmer has just sown with good seed. What to do about the weeds was the problem.

The good people in the Church that Matthew is writing to have a problem. Gentiles are infiltrating their communities with strange ideas and ways that these loyal and faithful first followers of Christ have suffered to maintain. These new converts do not want to keep the rules and respect the customs carried over from Judaism. They want to clean things up. Jesus says: “Wait just a minute.” Matthew has seen how the Scribes and Pharisees took matters into their own hands with that man from Nazareth who disrupted the Temple, cured on the Sabbath, touched lepers and other sick people, talked to Samaritans, ate and drank with tax collector and known sinners. They thought he had to go, so they killed him and cleaned things up. But God didn’t buy their judgement. What they thought was a weed was really the wheat God had sown to feed us. What Jesus wants to make clear to all of us is that it’s not our job to pull up the weeds any more than it is our job to bring in the harvest. 

We plant, and then we wait. Gathering in this church, week after week are sinners and saints. It’s hard to tell the difference. Sometimes we feel like one and the next week we feel like the other. Maybe we’re both. A lot of so called “Sinners” who come to pray with me I think are really saints because of their faith and the hope that in the face of their failures, they humbly accept the loving forgiveness of God. Some of the so-called “Saints” who say all their prayers and never miss an “Amen” never do anything else either and never sincerely recognize their need to say: “Bless me Father, I have sinned.”

So, we can look around and admit that we might not know what is wheat and what is weed, who are sinners and who are saints. The honest among us know that we don’t even know for sure about ourselves. Sometimes we feel one way and act it, and then turn right around and feel the other way as well. The good news is, it is not time for the harvest. The angels have not come, and the fire has not been lit. As long as we can keep from taking charge and assuming that we know weed from wheat, we have a chance to get it right. No one except God has the right to call someone else a sinner. We can only claim that for ourselves.

The problem this chapter addresses then and still today is not the weeds and wheat. The problem we have is that there is a temptation to take charge, assume the power, authority, or the right to clean things up, straighten up this place, this church or this world. That temptation to judge and name a sinner is always lurking.

We must learn a lesson from the Scribes and Pharisees. We must not repeat their behavior by cleaning up things ourselves because we run the risk of condemning ourselves. The righteous who will shine like the sun in the Kingdom are those who hear the warning that simply says: Wait! It’s not time. Throwing someone out takes away their chance to repent, and that would not be a good thing to do. We simply have to make certain that we are not a weed that takes up space or crowds out the wheat. When we understand that we’ve been planted here by that generous sower and owner of this field, we might finally begin to bear fruit and no one would be hungry.

July 10, 2022 This homily will not be delivered as I am on vacation.

Deuteronomy 30, 10-14 + Psalm 69 + Colossians 1, 15-20 + Luke 10, 25-37

We have all heard and read this Gospel episode multiple times in our lives. I dare say, we could easily tell the whole story in our own words. Sometimes that kind of familiarity narrows our vision a bit and obscures other dimensions and details. I have heard countless homilies about the people who passed by, and just as many about the “Good” Samaritan. I will admit that I have even given a brief homily about the Inn-keeper. However, concentrating on the parable and forgetting about what prompted the telling of this parable is quite another thing, and we should not miss the chance to reflect upon this “Scholar of the Law”. He is really at the center of this. He is the real one in this episode. All the others are simply characters in a story Jesus makes up as an example revealing something to us.

What we know from St Luke is that this “Scholar of the Law” was sharp and knew his stuff. He responds to the question Jesus poses reciting chapter and verse from memory! Jesus is impressed at first. Then the “Scholar” reveals something about himself that does not go well. He either does not believe what he had just said or he simply did not understand. What emerges are two things that give us cause to wonder about ourselves. He thinks that we can justify ourselves. Wrong! We do not save or justify ourselves. There is nothing we can do to “earn” or “deserve” God’s grace, favor, and love. It is always a gift. Just keeping the rules does not get us anything. That’s the minimum requirement that sets us free to really move deeper into the mystery of God’s grace. So, the “Scholar” is off to a bad start. Then, things get worse because with his question about who is my neighbor, it’s obvious that he is looking for some limits. He’s wondering just how far we have to go with this business of loving with our whole heart, mind, and strength.

To dig deeper into this, we might do well to clarify what it means to be “justified”. The question of righteousness was the source of a great deal of discussion at the time of Jesus. So, it’s not surprising that this “Scholar” comes to the Rabbi Jesus with the question. What “righteousness” means is just as much a challenge to understand today as it was then, especially when people put “self” in front of it. Basically, it means living as God intended. To help God’s chosen people do this God provided what the Israelites called: “The Law”. The Scholar has nicely condensed the Law into a single phrase. His problem is that he’s looking for a way out, the minimum; and that never goes over well with Jesus.

When Luke describes the Samaritan’s reaction upon seeing the abandoned man he uses the word a Greek word for “compassion”. Luke’s choice of words is for one that is very powerful. It refers to being deeply moved in the gut. In a strange and yet wonderful twist, Luke very subtly uses the despised “Samaritan” as an example for God. That must have raised an eyebrow or two for those who got the point. The parable says to the Scholar and to us that God can work though anyone and look like anyone wherever humans risk taking care of each other.

We can often be a lot like that Scholar of the Law, looking for the minimum and an easy way out of doing more, especially if it might cost us something. The Samaritan does not do the minimum. He does not just dump the man for someone else to take care of. He binds his wound, carries him on his own ride, and takes care of that man’s needs in the future. What we learn, and what that Scholar learned is that God assumes the pain of every person who suffers, and God bears the cost of their suffering. The final message for us is there in the last verse: “Go and do likewise.”

July 3, 2022 at Saint Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Naples, FL

Isaiah 66, 10-14 + Psalm 66 + Galatians 6, 14-18 + Luke 10,12-12 & 17-20

There are a lot of details in this instruction that Jesus gives to disciples sent on mission. When you sum them all up, what it really means is that they are to take nothing at all.  He does not send them out with a fist full of pamphlets, the Catechism, or for that matter, a Bible or the Ten Commandments. He doesn’t even tell them what to say. He just sends them, and we can only conclude that the messengers are the message. From the report they give as they return, it was just right.

We have to get over the idea that when Jesus says: “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” he is suggesting that we should pray that someone else will go. That sort of thinking is a bit typical of our age when we see something wrong and think that someone should do something about that when in fact, nothing is going to happen unless we do it. “Go on your way” says Jesus at this moment in this place. You don’t need anything to be a disciple of Jesus on the mission other than the belief that God wants you to go not someone else. Yet, we always think we need something or we’re not good enough, smart enough, free enough, or strong enough to take up the mission of Jesus.  To that thinking, Jesus says: You don’t need anything. Pray, and Go. Yet, some people probably think that you need a degree or some special training to be part of the disciple’s mission. Some people think that you have to know how to teach and what to teach. Some people think that we meet Christ by an argument or some intellectual persuasion. That is not what Jesus did. He listened. He touched, He healed. He fed. He forgave. He served. He went to people’s homes. He never avoided those that others chose to avoid or ignore. 

What is revealed here is something too often forgotten. It is the simple yet powerful ministry of presence. It is the truth that joyful, kind, merciful, and forgiving people who do not criticize or judge are really nice to be around which is exactly the way Jesus carried on the mission he was given by the Father. Jesus did not call any great scholars, brilliant scribes, or holy Pharisees to be his disciples. He called unskilled, simple working people. He invited them to hang around him for a while to watch and listen. Then he said: “Go.”

This world is still a little short of people who understand that the mission of Jesus was basically a ministry of presence. He simply came to be with us. He did not come to judge or condemn. The only people he criticized were those who criticized others. This world is still a little short of laborers to bring in the harvest. It might be time to stop thinking that someone else should do it. It might be time to get the point of this Gospel. It might be time to recognize that sending 72 rather than the 12 meant that he was sending everybody not just some chosen few. 

The mission of Jesus is not served by just the twelve apostles, bishops, priests or deacons.  Those barefoot disciples discovered that the message was in the messengers themselves. All they needed was confidence in their faith, hope for the future, and the kindness of love. Evangelization in the style of Jesus is all about presence, just being there. It worked for Jesus. People came from all the place to be around that man who did good, who spoke of peace, and showed mercy.

People who evangelize by their presence are always recognized by their freedom. They can hang out with anyone, without concern for what others might think or say. They notice needs and respond to them with whatever they have. They are not anti-establishment as much as they are simply not impressed by power or prestige. They live today knowing that tomorrow is beyond their control and the future holds promises we can hardly begin to imagine.