All posts for the month February, 2023

February 26, 2023 at St Agnes Church in Naples, FL Also see Maronite Rite Homily

Genesis 2, 7-9 & 3, 1-7 + Psalm 51 + Romans 5, 12-19 + Matthew 4, 1-11

In case you failed to notice, the readings that open this Great Season of Lent put sin right in front of us. It could and probably should make us uncomfortable. I’ve often said, and I believe it to be true, that the age in which we live is an age of denial. We don’t have sinners anymore. Therefore, we don’t really need the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. There are no sinners because no one has sins. We just have “issues.” Denial!

Sin is a reality, and today’s readings should make it clear that sin is there from the beginning and no one can escape confronting it. From “the man” and “the woman” in Genesis right up to Jesus Christ himself there is sin, and there is the option in the face of it to say “yes” or “no.” In the first reading, they said “yes” and they ate. In the Gospel, someone says “no”, and with that, a whole new way of confronting the reality of sin is set before us. It’s a lot better and more effective than denial. The difference really, is simple. The difference comes with recognition and acknowledgement. It’s sin. It’s wrong. 

This Gospel has three explicit refusals. Jesus refuses and gives us an example of how to face sin. When we know something wrong, refuse to do it. That sounds very simplistic, but the Gospel reminds us that the way to begin resisting temptation is to recognize that sin really is sin. After that, the choice is there. Don’t sin.

Our observance of this Holy Season serves to strengthen our resolve in the face of sin. Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving are extraordinary tools the wise can use in the face of sin. Prayer and Almsgiving work in two directions much like the Commandments that work in two directions: to God (first three commandments) and to others (the last seven). Prayer points us to God and Almsgiving points us to others. The virtue of fasting is a kind of rehearsal or exercise that provides us with the courage to say “no” and mean “no.”

Jesus confronts sin the desert, and that same sin is still before us. Satan tempts Jesus to be something other than God intended, a child of God. The suggestion is made that he should use his gifts for himself: feed people so they will make you special, do spectacular things to call attention to yourself, and use power to get what you want. Choosing Satan’s plan would be contrary to what God expected of his Beloved Son which was that he be a humble suffering servant. In the end, all sin might be reduced to one thing: the choice to be something other than what God has created us to be.

The reality that we see all the time is that heroes falter and ordinary people compromise. Each is a step into sin making it easier than the step before. Lent invites us into the desert to know our need for grace, wisdom, and strength in crises with the insight and knowledge to know and recognize sin for what it is. Now is the time to look to God in whose image we are made. Now is the time to look to others to see the image in which they are made. Now is the time practice saying “no” to what we know is wrong without any compromise. Only when we say, “No” and mean it will our, “Yes” to God’s will be credible in God’s sight.

February 26, 2023 at Mary, Mother of Light Maronite Church in Tequesta, Florida

2 Kings 5: 1-3, 9-14 + Romans 6: 12-23 + Mark 1: 35-45

I doubt that most people hearing this Gospel could pick out the most important verse from these ten. One verse reveals what the mission of Jesus is at the time and still is today. We are only thirty-five verses into the first chapter when Mark reveals to us what that mission is.

This is not about Jesus at prayer. Although he does run off for some “down time” in prayer several times in Mark’s Gospel. But, Jesus did not come among us to pray. It is not about the disciples seeking him even though this reveals how little they understood what was going on. The fact is, that from the beginning they thought it was about them, their power and influence. They liked being the “gate-keepers”. Remember how they tried to keep little children from getting close to Jesus? This is not about that crowd either. They are running around looking for him for one reason. He is amazing and entertaining. There was no Cable Television nor Super Bowl back then. Jesus was the best show in town and no one wanted to miss the next episode. Those people failed to go deeper into what it all means. They have failed to ask the question that matters: “What is God doing here?” In fact, there is no evidence that they think God is involved at all. It’s all sensationalism. At the same time, this story is not about this miracle although the condition of this leper is what sets the scene for this revelation that tells us so much about the mission of Jesus which becomes our mission as well.

“Go and show yourself to the priest”. That is the most important verse in this passage. When we remember that people in the days of Jesus believed in a system of reward and punishment. It’s a nice system for those who think they are “blessed” because of good health, good looks, good jobs and lots of money. It’s not a good system for anyone sick, a foreigner, or someone depressed. Those people were expelled from the Temple and the Synagogue, which means from the very center of social life. People shunned them. They ran away from them.

When Jesus sends the man to the priest, he follows the custom of the day which allowed the priest to reinstate a person into the community. The priest could declare them “clean” restoring that person to their place in the community, restoring their dignity. This is the ministry of Jesus. It is a ministry of reconciliation. Every miracle recorded in the Gospel has the consequence of healing a relationship. I think that is why Mark takes such pains to present to us every possible kind of illness so that eventually we might ask: “What’s really going on here?” If it’s the sick child of a Roman Centurion, that family is restored to wholeness. If it’s the raising of widow’s only son, it is the restoration of that relationship. It’s always about reconciliation. That is the healing miracle that happens again and again as sign that the Kingdom of God has come.

The Jesus of this story is a man of kindness, who respects an outcast. The Jesus of this story reveals the mercy, kindness, and compassion of God who desires his people to be healed where ever there is division and brokenness. It is not healing from a disease that we need. It is acceptance, compassion, and reconciliation that we need, not just with God, but with each other. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people began to run around and talk openly about how they had been treated by us Catholics: about the kindness, the compassion, and the respect with which we met them day after day? It’s amazing what people can do for others. We are expected to share in the mission of Jesus. We can rekindle hope, and bring back a joy for living. We can restore self-respect and pride in others because we are called to be a mirror of the infinite charity of God.

February 22, 2023 at Saint Peter the Apostle and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

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

The three pillars of the spiritual life are set before us today as we step forward and into the Great Season of Lent. I am fairly sure that we all get it when we think of fasting. That’s not hard to understand even if it is a challenge in world of plenty with huge piles of food served up at restaurants all over town. Alms Giving too is not hard to understand. There’s a poor box at the entry of nearly every church, and our responsibility to fill it up does not go away just because walk past it every time. That empty poor box really means someone’s stomach is empty while we eat our way into diabetes and every other kind of illness that comes from eating too much. We don’t like to think about these things much less hear about them, but that’s what today is all about as the first reading indicates. It’s about calling an assembly and being reminded of who we are and why we are. 

We are about to begin forty days that must challenge the kind of conspicuous consumption that is all around us. God did not give us life and call us all by name so that we could eat and buy things. There is more to us than that which brings up that third pillar of the spiritual life, prayer. That one is not quite so obvious or easy to understand, and I’m not sure we all get it right because it is not about reciting formula prayers over and over again. This season is not just about making the Stations of the Cross. They hang there all year round. We didn’t just put them up. At the same time, it is not about kneeling in Adoration unless those two things lead us deeper into a profound relationship in which we discover a real intimacy with God. That is the purpose of prayer.

Every now and then, I hear someone complain about the noise in church, the sound of people greeting one another, the sound of music, or of a baby crying. That complaint reveals a confusion over the difference between prayer and worship. We need to do them both, and they don’t really happen at the same time or necessarily in the same place. Worship is noisy or it isn’t working. Prayer on the other hand is something personal, intimate, often quiet, and usually experienced alone. The Gospel writer knew that when he encourages those in prayer to go shut the door. Right now we are here to worship God and get ready to go pray.

This season we must continue our worship, the duty we have before God to give glory, praise, honor, and thanksgiving. This season, we must renew our efforts in the midst of busy lives, hectic demands, ringing cell phones, and text messages to shut the door and put some contemplative and active balance back into our lives. Before we can turn outward toward others, we need to turn inward to God who waits quietly for us to be quiet, come closer resting in God and rising to serve. As St Paul says so well: “Behold, now is the acceptable time and now is the day of our salvation.” Let us begin.

February 19, 2023 at Saint William Church in Naples, FL

Leviticus 19, 1-2 & 17-18 + Psalm 103 + First Corinthians 3, 16-23 + Matthew 5, 38-48

We are all big on that business of being “perfect”. Jesus didn’t have to tell us to do that. We like to be perfect which usually means being right in every argument. So, we like to have the last word. We get impatient with everyone else who is less perfect than we are wishing they could be as perfect as we are. Perfection is the game of the day in this world. So, when we sit with the Word of God today we might do well do wonder just how God is perfect and what it means and what that looks like.

Behind this is really a theme of holiness, because that’s really what God is, Holy. In fact, we just heard that as God spoke to Moses saying “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” That’s the perfection Jesus is speaking of to his disciples. It might come as a surprise to notice, and maybe you never have, that when speaking of holiness there is hardly any mention of prayer. Holiness always has something to do with relationships. I know a lot of people who don’t seem to spend a lot of time in prayer, but I always sense their holiness by the way they treat other people, and if you notice in the Gospels Jesus goes off to pray now and then, but that never attracts others or brings them to awe nearly as much as the way he treats people. It seems to me that this is the way to real holiness. Imitation of the way Jesus treats other is the perfect imitation of God.

That first reading from Leviticus describes holiness as a change of heart. It suggests that we encounter holiness in people who have learned to free themselves from attitudes that reject and judge others. Those are holy people. Those are people to imitate. I’ve always believed that we humans are natural mimics. It starts early in life. I have little four-year-old grandnephew who loves to put on his father’s shoes, and he walks around the house exactly the way his father does with his father’s gestures and looks. He gets into his father’s tool box and begins fixing things around the house. Teenagers watch and imitate the trend setters when it comes to dress, vocabulary and even behavior sometimes with disastrous results. I’ve also noticed that couples married for a long time slowly but obviously over the years begin to think, look, and act like each other. You might be shaking your head no, but I am here to tell you, I’ve heard some of you finishing one another’s sentences and stories. Good friends do the same thing.

My friends, we can hardly go wrong by deciding to mimic God. Our image of God will determine not only our concept of holiness, but also our sense of justice and of what it means to live a good life. The one concept of holiness Jesus reveals about God is mercy. The only way we can claim our full humanity and divine destiny is to live up to the image of God imprinted on our very being. Oppression and violence dehumanize those who abuse and humiliate others. They are the first victims of their own behavior because they will never know God. Loving enemies is the path to wholeness because hating diminishes our capacity to be our true selves and experience how full and wonderful our lives are meant to be. The commandment of love of God and neighbor is the very foundation of civilization and spiritual harmony. 

When whole societies seethe with distrust and fear, a winner-take-all spirit of class and racial hatred, blame, and exclusion, everyone is diminished.  Jesus’ command to “be holy as God is holy” is not an option it the only way to come out of darkness and chaos becoming the Beloved Community we were created to be. It is in the end the choice between life and death, and it is in our highest self-interest to choose life.

Leviticus 19, 1-2, 17-18 + Psalm 103 + 1st Corinthians 3, 16-23 + Matthew 5, 38-48

February 12, 2023 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

We have an uneasy relationship with law, and we have to keep careful watch over the civil law and the moral law. While they ought not conflict, the truth is, sometimes they do, and we need to be very clear about which one we choose to obey. Law is a guide, not a goal, and that’s the conflict Jesus addresses in this part of the Sermon on the Mount. Those who take offense at him have chosen to see the law as a goal, and they think that just keeping the law makes them righteous. Jesus says otherwise. The law leads to righteousness. It is a guide, not the goal.

Jesus insists that he came to fulfill the law, not abolish it. If anyone thought that Jesus was abolishing the law, they have not listened to the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew, Chapter 5. If the law was tough before, it gets tougher after Jesus. Now, it’s not just murder that will put someone on trial. It’s anger. No longer is adultery, but now it’s the lust that leads to it. 

To truly keep the law is to go beyond it, or maybe get behind it to explore why the law is there. In doing so Jesus speaks about the little things that can erode our relationships with God and with each other. Ignored or left unattended, they erode relationships with God and others escalating into major offenses. Fulfillment of the law then means going deeper, getting into very heart of what the law protects or points to. 

Ultimately, the preaching of Jesus was to invite us to profound freedom. Lifting the burden of the law was not abolishing the law, but an opportunity to address the issues that resulted in the law. Once addressed, the law would not be necessary. So, if anger goes, why need a law about murder. If Lust is silenced, why worry about adultery. If we address the injustice of this world and put a stop to the use of others for personal pleasure or profit, we are exploring the kind of freedom we would find in the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps in the end, it is really all about a profound respect for others. What is proclaimed here is an invitation to lay claim to the freedom to live in love. We cannot control others, but we can choose how to respond to them. My friends, perfect righteousness is the imitation of God. It is not found in the perfect observance of the law except in the perfect observance of the law of love. So, unless our righteousness, which is the perfect imitation of God, exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. I don’t know about each of you, but that clear and profound statement is a serious challenge in my life. Becoming the perfect imitation of God in whose image we are made makes me think: “Lord, have mercy”, and then continue by grace and by faith the steady and unending business of conversion.

February 5, 2023 at Saint Elizabeth Seton & Saint Peter the Apostle Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 58, 7-10 + Psalm 112 + First Corinthians 2, 1-5 + Matthew 5, 13-16

If you have ever wondered what you are doing here, and I don’t mean in this church, I mean what you are doing on this earth; or wondered why God created you, the answer is right here in this Sermon on the Mount. If you have not wondered about that question, you are part of the problem and part of the reason why the Kingdom of God is seems so far off and difficult to experience.

Having just described what it is like to be Blessed, Jesus sort of rolls up his sleeves and begins to talk about why we here, and what God expects of us. The images he uses are simple ones to people living at the time Jesus first spoke these words, and they are not complicated for us either. It’s about salt and light, images that say a lot to us about who and what we are in the mind of God. Jesus is not speaking to the crowds here. He is teaching his disciples, you and me. “You are” he says. There is nothing vague or generic here. It is specific. It’s about us. Those of us formed and living the Beatitudes are salt and light to this world. 

When tasting well-seasoned food, no one tastes the salt, but it’s there. It does not call attention to itself. If it does, it’s a bad taste. In this sermon, Jesus asks a question. “But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It seems like a trick question, but salt can be diluted. It’s always salty. In other words, the answer to the question is that it’s impossible. So, disciples cannot cease to be who they are seasoning the world with the good news. Like salt in good food, disciples of Jesus bring out some flavor, some pleasure, and some joy to this world quietly, steadily, and consistently never calling attention to themselves, but bringing out the best in others. It means that we compliment not criticize, that where ever we are there is joy and laughter, smiles and good cheer.

“We are the light of the world” says Jesus. No one looks at the sun, but without it we can’t see color, beauty, nor can we see where we are going. No one looks at light bulbs, but because they are there, we can read, we can see one another. Artists know how to use light to draw attention not to the light, but to the figure, to the beauty, or a person or creation itself. And just as salt cannot be anything but salty, light cannot be hidden and still be light.

Salt, you know, is necessary for life. When it is missing from our bodies, there is illness. Sodium Chloride is essential for the body to stabilize blood pressure and absorb nutrition and lots of other things. It comes from salt. Nothing can grow in the dark. Photosynthesis is very process in nature that brings life and growth. You leave a plant in the dark long enough, and it’s dead before you know it.

My friends, Jesus speaks to us today about the very real purpose of our existence as children of God. We’re not here to buy, or consume, or sustain the economy. We are not here to eat, drink, and be merry. Nothing we do should call attention to ourselves, but rather call attention to God, to God’s glory, God’s mercy, and God’s love. We are necessary for life, and not just physical life. Once heard, our call can never be revoked just as salt can never totally lose its flavor. But, if we abuse the call and ignore our real vocation, we are “no longer good for anything, but to be thrown out.” 

Living the values expressed in the Beatitudes will make us salt of the earth and beacons of hope for others and perhaps signal the dawn of a new day called the Kingdom of God.