All posts for the month August, 2022

August 28, 2022 Vacation time – this homily was prepared for this site.

 Sirach 3, 17-18, 20, 28-29 + Psalm 68 + Hebrews 12, 18-19, 22-24+ Luke 14, 1 7-14

I am frustrated with what the church gives us today for this Gospel. What frustrates me is the way some committee decided to do some “cut and paste” with these verses. Notice that six verses missing, clipped out for whatever reason, leaving us with a parable from the lips of Jesus without the reason Jesus had for telling it. 

In those missing verses, a man has slipped into the banquet who is suffering from what our translators call: “Dropsy.” Whatever that means is beside the point. It’s not good, and his presence there had to put everyone on edge. He would have been considered “unclean”, and his presence in the midst of people who would have scrubbed up to get in there created a very uncomfortable situation. To make matters more complicated, Luke tells us that this is Sabbath day imposing a lot of restrictions.

In the missing verses, Jesus asks several questions of those present about what to do for this man, and Luke tells us that everyone was silent. Their silence is part of the message here because, they know the answer, they know what they should do, and they do nothing and say nothing because they know very well that the law they pretend to obey does permit the saving of a life on the sabbath. All of this leads up to Jesus then using this parable to teach us something about a virtue required of every disciple.

For us there is something even more going on here than just a lesson on humility. Put into a larger context of this chapter, there is something being revealed here by the setting as much as by the wording. In Luke’s Gospel, meals are often the occasion for a revelation, and the meals always have a eucharistic overtone. We have to listen to this story using the image of the eucharist as the setting.  Eating with Jesus should always be a time of healing, and as he said once very clearly, it is the sick who need the physician. That man who must have barged his way into that banquet is the very one who most needed to be there, but you can bet that there was no place reserved for someone suffering from “dropsy.”

Through this incident, Jesus has the occasion to reject the whole idea of reciprocity, as well as that custom of inviting people of equal status.

So, if we put back the six missing verses, we have a question raised by the fact that those guests are silent in response to the question Jesus raises. Why are they silent? They know the law because they are watching to see if Jesus will break the law. This incident speaks to many these days who are silent, who know what the law of God requires and remain silent and do nothing when something is required. This incident also continues a theme that has been developing over the past weeks: Who belongs at the heavenly banquet. As the chapter continues, the answer emerges: the humble. It is not humble to keep silent.

In thinking about and measuring my own humility, I often remember something said to me long ago during my seminary formation years. A wise instructor reminded us that the virtue of humility is not thinking that we are nothing special or of no value. Real humility requires gratitude to God for making us all unique and using our unique gifts for the glory of God, not denying or hiding them. Humility is never thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less and thinking of God more.

August 21, 2022 at Saint Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Naples, FL

 Isaiah 66, 18-21 + Psalm 117 + Hebrews 12, 5-7, 11-13+ Luke 13, 22-30

There is an undeniable and an unmistakable image of the Kingdom of God being put before us by Saint Luke today as Jesus speaks to us in a very direct way. The whole idea of locking people out of the heavenly banquet is strange and ought to make us uncomfortable because we will have to begin to think about whether or not we are in or we are out.

For you and me, there is a special danger that comes with thinking that we’re in, or we should be in, or deserve to be in because we’re here right now, because we go to Mass, listen to the Gospel, and do this and that because that’s what we ought to do. That’s risky thinking.

Jesus, who knows well the teaching of the prophets like Isaiah whose words we heard moments ago makes it very clear that those who find a place at the heavenly banquet will not necessarily be those we expect or even want to find there. Getting that point puts us in a questionable spot. Are we in or are we out will always be the question. It’s not are they in or out, but am I in or out. 

You see, it is not going to be a matter of coming to Mass and all that this implies. For in the Gospel there are plenty of stories told about those who ate and drank with Jesus and never made his values their own. They just wanted to be seen with someone famous. There was that guy who invited Jesus to dinner and never washed the feet of his divine guest. In contrast, to make the point more clear, remember how Jesus invited himself to the home of Matthew the Tax Collector and to Nicodemus? In those moments, there came about a powerful and personal conversion and acceptance of what Jesus stood for. So, who’s in? The first guy who just wanted to be seen with the famous man from Nazareth, or the unlikely and unwanted people looked down upon by the synagogue elite?

What become clear is that God loves diversity. It is impossible to glimpse the glory of God without embracing and appreciating the variety of people, cultures and creatures that fill the universe of God’s creation. Which, by way of an aside, is what is so very wrong about causing or allowing an entire species of God’s creation to go extinct because of our greed or carelessness with God’s creation on this precious and fragile earth. If we don’t get our act together and pay attention to the consequences of many things, there will be no divine diversity, and that may not sit well with the Creator of it all.

To anyone who might even think of limiting the guest list at the heavenly banquet and to anyone who might be concerned about whether or not they are on the list, Jesus speaks with unusual clarity, and Luke passes that on to us with the grammar and sentence structure of this story. Jesus says: “YOU”. “I do not know where YOU are from.” He goes on in the same way of speaking when he says: “You yourselves will be cast out.” He is speaking to you and me.

Who is that “you”? It is those who want to limit the guest list. It is those who claim some privilege and think that they “deserve” something from the master. The real ones privileged are those who are today the least privileged. Ultimately, the guest list is restricted to those who do not want it limited – those who welcome everyone – those who are anxious and ready to be surprised and delighted by who they may sitting next to – someone totally unexpected and maybe undeserving by our poor judgement.

It might be just as well that those who want access limited to the right people would be just as unhappy inside when they find out who else is there as they would be on the outside. In that case, why would God let them ruin the party? Go ahead and lock the doors!

August 14, 2022 at Saint William Catholic Church in Naples, FL

Jeremiah 38, 4-6, 8-10 + Psalm 40 + Hebrews 12, 1-4 + Luke 12, 49-53

I have always liked these Gospel verses most of which are only given to us in Luke’s Gospel. I like them because they expose the shallow silliness so often suggested to us by cheap art that makes Jesus look like a nice, long-haired sissy. If these verses make anyone uncomfortable with their image or relationship with Jesus, it’s time to deal with it.

In the various ways I have served the church in the past, I have come into contact with priests and lay leaders of the church who for various reasons have become ineffective. They have turned into robots who just go through the motions required, fleeing at the first sign of conflict, and avoiding the consequences of their avoidance or inactivity. We know this condition and call it “burn out.” I’ve often thought it was better to burn up than burn out, better to burn up than rust out. Jesus was not suffering from burn out, and neither can any of his disciples.

The conflict he speaks of, and the conflict he experiences is basically the conflict that inevitably comes from denial – the denial of truth. We all know how hard it is sometimes to hear, recognize, and accept the truth; the truth about ourselves, the truth about our behavior, and the truth about the consequences of that behavior. The conflict that Jesus experienced and the conflict he predicts comes from one thing: the truth.

Jesus was a truth teller, and many people in power, many people who have grown comfortable in their privileged ways, many people trapped in attitudes, ways of thinking about themselves and the world get upset when the truth comes along and their denials no longer work.

That old saying: “The Truth will set you free” is right on target, because people who live the truth about themselves are very free, and there is nothing more free than the “Truth Tellers” of this world. With nothing to lose and nothing gain, those who are really free know who they are and who they are not. They know what they are and what they are not, and there is no hint of denial in them at all. In a sense, these people are real prophets, and prophets are not obsolete or just historical figures out of the past.

We live in a new age of prophets and truth tellers who do way more than just inspire us. They teach us and invite us to step more deeply and more freely into the truth. In our own life time, prophets who tell the truth get silenced like Jeremiah who was thrown into a cistern to silence him. Martin Luther King who told the truth about justice was silence by a bullet. In this year, Mexican priests who had thrown in their lot with a poor man seeking asylum from the drug mafia were silenced first by kidnapping and then by death. A priest from my own home Diocese was murdered by the Army of Guatemala after he publicly asked them: “If you are here to protect us, why are my people disappearing. That did not happen before you came.” 

There is another way to look and listen to the images of today’s Gospel. It might suggest that instead of that destructive fire Jesus came to light, it might be a desire to fire us up, light us up, warm us up to get up, speak up, and even act up for the sake of truth always after we have faced the truth in ourselves. Those who live in denial of any truth, but especially the truth of the Gospel, the truth of Jesus Christ, and the truth about our faith and what it demands of us will, like those who ignored and opposed Jesus Christ, find the fire he brings destructive. However, those of us who embrace the truth about ourselves, our sin, our need, and our hopes will be filled with joy, on fire with the love of God with our eyes fixed on a Jesus who was anything but a long-haired sissy enduring the cross so that we may not grow weary and lose heart in our struggle to live in the light of the truth.

August 7, 2022 at Saint Agnes and Saint Peter Churches in Naples, FL

Wisdom 18, 6-9 + Psalm 33 + Hebrews 11, 1-2 & 8-19 + Luke 12, 32-48

Did we just hear warnings, commandments, or suggestions? I counted eight: Don’t be afraid, put on your shoes, sell your stuff, give to those in need, put your coat on, turn on the porch light, stay by the door, and shut the windows. That’s my take on these verses, and it might just be that the last seven are instructions on how to have no fear. 

Whatever. The sacred scriptures today give us plenty to think about when it comes to faith, and if taken seriously, these readings ought to give us every reason to take a good new look at this matter of faith because too many people think that faith is a noun, not a person, not a place, but a thing. NOT, says the Word of God. It’s a verb. Faith is not something you have or believe in. It is action. It is practice. It is the movement of our lives. It is what pulls out of our seats as passive or curious spectators changing us into participants. That’s what a faithful person is: person of action, a person who lives, a person who serves, a person who gives, a person who works for the coming of the Kingdom.

People of faith are on the move. They are not stuck in their ways or stuck with their opinions. They are always changing because they are alive and growing. That’s what’s going on between Jesus and his disciples in these verses today. They have been stuck with their old ideas about a Messiah. Here come Jesus, and he awakens their faith and they start to move toward Jerusalem. Remember, Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel is not just city. It must always make us think of the New Jerusalem, Heaven.

“Don’t be afraid” is what he says to them and to us. Don’t be afraid to let go of those things, places, and attitudes that have been our refuge, our hiding places, or those old things that have given us security and made us feel right. We are a people invited into the future, and we can only get there by leaving our fears, our pessimisms, and like the disciples, maybe leaving behind our old ideas about God. That old idea instilled in too many of us too long ago that God is watching us. Remember hearing that? It’s an image of a God who is lurking in the shadows just waiting to catch us at something and punish us. That was the God the disciples had to leave. The God of the rule book. The God of wrath and anger. The God Jesus revealed as Father is watching all right, but he is watching over us, and that is something new. 

We are told that the Israelites ate the Passover meal standing up with their shoes on ready to go. They ate that unleavened bread because they didn’t want to wait for it to rise. We might do well to remember that here. Instead of sitting near the doors ready to grab communion and bolt out those doors in order to get out of the parking lot and go home, we might capture some of that readiness to get out of here alright, but not to go home, not to go back to the same old comforts and the same old ways of thinking and acting, but anxious to get out into this city, this neighborhood and do something because faith will not let us just sit back and watch. Faith will pull us forward, stretch our limits, challenge our old ways of thinking, and lead us to take a risk or two without fear of what someone will think or say, or how they will look at us if we make the sign of the cross.

This place is our launching pad. It’s where we get fueled up and prepped for the journey. It’s where our vision of the future gets focused. We can’t come here to be soothed and sing sweet lullabies. We come here to catch fire, to be singed by the Holy Spirit, and pour out of here with the message of God’s presence, the assurance that someone is watching over us, and that there is a future filled with joyful peace, and a place where everyone will feel at home no matter what they may have done in the past. That is what faith looks like, and it is what faithful people can accomplish. The hungry are be fed. The thirsty have full cup. The naked are clothed. The homeless have a roof not a car. Those who are alone will find one of us at their side.