All posts for the month September, 2022

September 25, 2022 at Saint Agnes, St William, & St. Peter Parishes in Naples, FL

Amos 6, 1, 4-7 + Psalm 146 + 1 Timothy 6,11-16 + Luke 16:19-31

This is a complex and troubling parable. I’ve always been disturbed by that man who even after death thinks that Lazarus should serve him. “Send him to my brothers” he says as though nothing has changed. While some may see his concern for his brothers, I find it troubling that he’s only worried about his own family. Oddly, at this point, the rich man has suddenly learned the name of someone he could not see before. 

In the context of Luke’s Gospel, the closer we get to the end, to Jerusalem, and the culmination of his ministry, Jesus begins to focus on the poor and the demands of discipleship. Watch how that happens in the weeks to come this fall. We heard it last week as Jesus spoke about the use of “mammon”, a term that literally means “more than you need.” We will hear it again.

We have to remember that the rich man of this Gospel was not responsible for the condition of Lazarus. No more than most of us have consciously added to the poverty of migrants, refugees, and people living in tents or their cars. This parable has nothing to do with causes. It has to do with hunger, human dignity, respect and tenderness. Notice that the wealthy man remains anonymous. He is recognized and defined by his possessions not by his relationships. He failed to discover what the clever steward discovered in last week’s Gospel. He failed to discover the potential of his wealth watching it become worthless in the face of death. On the other hand, Lazarus gets a name. He is real. He is recognizable. He is not alone, and he enjoys the company of great ones like Abraham and the angles who see him and do not look the other way.

Parables like this are not comforting bed-time stories. They are told by Jesus to wake us up to a new perspective. The first sign that we are hearing the message is that it makes us uncomfortable. When we allow that to happen, the next step is to ask ourselves what we are to do about it. One certain sign that we have found a good answer is that there are changes for the better, for everyone and especially for the poor. Jesus did not go around giving people guilt trips, but rather he tries to stretch our imaginations and challenge our creativity over how to bring the dream God has for this world into reality. The issue is not that the wealthy are wealthy. The issue is often how the wealthy achieved that wealth and their unconcern for justice on behalf of those in need. 

It is a very observable fact that riches, comforts, and the security those things seem to offer draw one’s attention away from God. How else is it possible that in this rich western world we close churches and have so much room in the pews of those churches that remain open? It is probably not our problem since we are here, but the absence of those others should strengthen our resolve to hold fast to the faith and grow deeper into the mystery of our communion with Christ and each other. 

Caring for the poor and even contributing to their aid takes us a step beyond that rich man’s blindness. But prayers and donations do not free us from being trapped behind our doors, gates, and locks like that other rich man. The divine works within the human condition to free all people from whatever binds them. God’s plan with the Incarnation is that our salvation, our hope, our future comes from one like us, one of us. 

The truth is, our time is more limited than our resources. Jesus speaks to us today with a serious reminder of that. In this parable, everyone dies, the rich and the poor. We have now, both time and resources, but they are limited. We can learn each other’s names. We can learn each other’s stories. We can face the fact that we all hunger more for compassion, mercy, and forgiveness more than for food.

The parable today shows the double side of hunger. Those who hunger will be satisfied. Those who fail to respond to the hunger of others will one day hunger for compassion and then meet that face of indifference. Hunger affects us all.

September 18, 2022 at Saint Agnes, St William, & St. Peter Parishes in Naples, FL

Amos 8, 4-7 + Psalm 113 + 1 Timothy 2,1-8 + Luke 16: 1-13

In preserving this parable for us, Luke proposes a new creative management strategy that seems a little “off” until you sit with it for a while. The steward and his boss both know that the debts owed to them would probably never be paid in full. Droughts, floods, plagues were all too normal catastrophes that ruined a sharecropper’s chances of getting out of debt. There might be enough to pay the boss, but the left-over for the one in debt would be minimal. The steward is very clever and Jesus recognized this immediately.

The steward is a financial genius. He offers a big discount in return for immediate payment. The genius is that the discount is within the means of the debtors. The result is everybody wins even though there might be some question about the ethics. The advice of Jesus at the end speaks of the word “mammon”. It is term unfamiliar to anyone not a scholar of scriptural languages. It means “surplus”, or more than one needs to live decently. A few lines late Jesus warns that none of us can serve both God and mammon suggesting that mammon has questionable value in itself, but can and should be use to do some good.

The people who heard this parable from the mouth of Jesus would have laughed at the situation. It is comical, but jokes in one language rarely seem funny in another language and usually leave people waiting for the punch line. That’s what happens with this comical parable. The corrupt steward is no fool. He knows that generosity is always appreciated and most often brings even more generosity in return. That is the punch-line or the purpose of this joke. If scoundrels recognize the value of generosity and forgiveness, then those who are would-be-disciples of Jesus ought to recognize their value all the more.

There is a very practical and ethical side to this parable worth a lot of thought in this world today. Imagine listening to this story from another culture. Let’s say we are sitting around sharing scriptural reflections with impoverished people in the Southern Hemisphere. Those people would be thinking, “That foxy guy really knew how to do it. The owner was never going to collect all those debts. How did he get so rich anyway? Giving the little guy a break is only fair” they would probably say.

Giving the little guy a break might just be what Jesus thinks we as his disciple should be about. There is ho doubt that there is plenty of mammon around, or none of us would be floating down the Saint Lawrence River in this luxury. Jesus did not tell parables like comforting bed-time stories. Parables should wake us up to a new perspective. The first sign that we are heating the message is that it makes us uncomfortable. When we allow that to happen, the next step is to ask ourselves what we are to do about it. One certain sign that we have found a good answer is that there are changes for the better, for everyone, and especially for the poor. It only makes sense that when things are better for the poor, they are better for us all, and that’s the way this story goes: the owner gets something, the steward gets something, and the  workers get something. Sounds like a good plan, says Jesus.

September 11, 2022 On Board the MS Zaandam

 Exodus 32:7-14 + Psalm 51 + 1 Timothy 1:12-17 + Luke 15:1-32

With our first day on this ship and a wonderful week ahead of us, we are gifted with a very familiar Gospel that in some ways could set a theme or a give some focus to the time we spend onboard together. My own hope is that your presence here today and perhaps during the week will be a real-time proclamation of this Gospel and it’s three parables all of which have a common element that might not be obvious from just reading the text. In each one of these parables, there is a party, a dinner, a joyful celebration, and that is Luke’s concern for us.

Often the third parable is mis-named as the Parable of the Prodigal Son when in fact, all three of the characters are prodigal if we understand that the word means extravagant. The younger son is prodigal in his use of the inheritance. The father is prodigal in his willingness to give the inheritance away before he dies as well as the way he spends his time waiting. The older son is prodigal as well as he lists how faithfully and dutifully he has fulfilled his obligations. This is not about their extravagance. It is about God’s extravagance revealed in the behavior of the father who wants both of those crazy kids to come to the banquet.

Ultimately, that father, that shepherd, and that woman reveal something to us about God which is exactly what the life and the word of Jesus Christ still does. Which of course, is all very well and good, unless it’s all about someone else. Luke preserved these parables for us, and because the church proclaims them today, there is more. The revelation is not finished, and there might yet be a fourth parable to add to these three in which case, you and I take our place among a shepherd, a woman, a father and a family. When you get right down to it, that just about includes us all, women, men, parents, and priest.

In the context of Luke’s Gospel now at the fifteenth chapter, Jesus is being watched and criticized for hanging out with the wrong crowd and even eating with delinquents. In response, Jesus does not criticize anybody. He takes up one of Israel’s favorite images, a Shepherd. The trouble is, this shepherd is prodigal. Obviously though, this irrational shepherd and a zealous housekeeper represent God. Luke sums it all up with a family story that is the story of God’s family. Some of us in this family are not so faithful to our duties, and want to take without giving. Some of us think that being “good” means doing what we’re supposed to do while silently judging others and refusing to join in the fun when someone who does not deserve a party gets one.

There’s a lot to think about through this week, and a reminder comes from Luke that revelation continues on this ship as it takes us out of our routine and normal lives. There are people out there wandering around this ship who are not in here. I can tell you from experience after serving on more than 20 cruises that before I get back to Boston in fourteen days, I will have heard people say: “Ah, Father, I was raised a Catholic” more times and I want to count. I always respond by saying: “I don’t like the past tense. Why is that?” 

There is a chance that because you have been here today, one of those people will come home to the banquet that is already prepared because of your witness, your kindness, your patience nurtured on the Bread of Life. Those of us who dare to say: “Amen” and stretch out our hands in communion receive not just the Body of Christ, but a mandate to be what he is and always has been, a revelation of the Father’s love.

September 4, 2022 at St Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

 Wisdom 9, 13-18 + Psalm 90 + Philemon 9, 10, 12-17+ Luke 14, 25-33

Not just the crowds, but Jesus’ closest disciples do not seem to understand the radical nature of his mission or the total cost of it. They only see the glory of victory after their experience of Jesus’ powerful campaign of miracles and preaching and his rising popularity as they approach Jerusalem on the eve of Passover. His repeated predictions of suffering and rejection fall on deaf ears in the din of the welcoming crowds and swirling rumors of a messianic breakthrough.

The truth is that few of us just like those earliest disciples fail to grasp the radical nature of following Jesus. We are much like those disciples who had to go through a series of baptisms before they realized the cost of imitating him, dying with him in order to rise with him, and I mean “a series of baptisms.” That Baptism of Fire Jesus speaks of is something other than a ritual ceremony. It is the day in and day out perseverance in face of every temptation and failure accepted with patience and embraced without complaint. That “baptism of fire” is suffering sometimes emotional, sometimes physical, and sometimes spiritual.  What eventually got those first disciple through their “baptism of fire” was their willingness to say “yes” and not waver in their faith and commitment to the one whose ultimate “baptism of fire” gave them hope for the future and the resurrection. It can be no different for us. Like them, we can only continue to say “yes” to the small, daily invitations to die to ourselves for the sake of others, to listen for the voice of Jesus in our own circumstances to hear his instructions for us.

Our personal transformation in Christ and the fulfillment of our baptismal journey is not a program of self-improvement but a surrender to God’s will as it is uniquely revealed to us one step at a time. Losing ourselves to find ourselves is more than a metaphor. That dark moment when we stop living for ourselves will be unmistakable. God loves us so much that every false self we cling to will be taken from us to prepare us for the gift of Gods image in us, our true self.  We rejoice that God will accomplish this in each of us.

By emphasizing the phrase “his own life,” Luke highlights what we might today call ego. The things Jesus demands his disciples leave behind are indicators of importance, like family connections, social status and possessions. Striving after these is a temptation in every age, but something in Luke’s own journey of discipleship convinced him that a life built on them was utterly empty.

Discipleship requires the absolute renunciation of one’s ego. The measure of far we have come with that renunciation can be seen in the accumulation of possessions. Is there anything we can’t give away or do without? It can be seen in striving after status and recognition. Again, the measure of how far we have come is seen in how much we expect to be thanked and recognized for doing the simplest of things. Searching for purpose in “riches, honor and pride,” as St. Ignatius put it, might satisfy briefly, but the inevitable reality of death makes these efforts futile. Most of our ego monuments vanish with our last breath. Only a life spent pursuing God’s dream, after the example of Christ, will give a human life eternal consequence, and we know very well what God’s dream for us and all creation really looks like. One look at Jesus Christ, and we can’t get it wrong. 

Christ issues this same challenge today. A life primarily spent crafting an ego cannot support the demands of discipleship. A life of trust in the Spirit, on the other hand, reflects Jesus’ own fulfillment of God’s dream. Just as Jesus renounced everything and so saved the human race, disciples who fulfill God’s dreams in their own lives will draw others to the same saving power.

In one of my favorite books, “Happy Are You Poor,” Fr. Thomas Dubay writes: “If we wonder why, despite the millions of us who follow Christ, the world has not long ago been converted, we need not look far for one solution. We are not perceived as men on fire. We look too much like everyone else. We appear to be compromisers, people who say they believe in everlasting life but actually live as though this life is the only one we have.”

The challenge for myself then is to look at my life with Gospel eyes and see what in my heart still belongs to this world, what in my heart seeks to run from suffering and daily crosses, and what in my heart I haven’t fully given to Christ. Then, make a plan, renounce it all, and live radically for Christ.