All posts for the month October, 2023

Saint Peter the Apostle at 12 Noon

November 1, 2023 at Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, Florida

The Gospels have beatitudes scattered all through the life of Jesus. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. Blessed is she who believed that the promises of God would be fulfilled. Blessed is the breast who nursed you, and all through the Old Testament there are many more.  What Matthew has done is collect some of these proclamations and woven them into the first of several talks or discourses Jesus gives in Matthew’s Gospel. If the teaching of Jesus were condensed into a dozen verses we would have it all, everything he taught and lived.

The trouble with these verses is that they have become so familiar that we hardly give them any more deep and serious reflection. Perhaps a new version might give us more comfort and reassurance, because that is what they are intended to do in Matthew’s Gospel. These are not goals to be achieved, but words spoken to reassure and comfort those to whom they addressed. Maybe this would work for today:

You are blessed when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God.

You are blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

You are blessed when you are content with just who you are – no more, no less. That is the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that cannot be bought.

You are blessed when you have worked up a good appetite for God. He is good and drink in the best meal you have ever had.

Blessed are you when you care. At the moment of being care-full, you find yourselves cared for.

You are blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

You are blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That is when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

You are blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s Kingdom.

Not only that: count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens: give a cheer, even, for though they don’t like it, I do. And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten in this kind of trouble.

Exodus 22: 20-26 + Psalm 18 + Thessalonians 1: 5-10 + Matthew 22: 34-40

October 29, 2023 at Saint William Parish in Naples, Florida

There is a great temptation we all face to separate love of God from love of people. We may well go out of this church today and demonstrate how we have separated the two by the way we get out of the parking lot. Those opponents of Jesus will not let up. Last week it was all about coins and Caesar this week is about law not surprisingly raised by what Matthew calls, “a student of the law.” It’s one of those be careful what you ask for moments. He asks for one law and gets two. In sitting with this text, we should take note that when Jesus says the second is like the first, the word like not mean imply they are separate. It means they are the same. They are equal in importance and inseparable. A door hangs on two hinges. If one is out of alignment it will not swing properly or open easily. If love of God and love of neighbor are out of balance, our lives will be badly aligned.

In spite of what Jesus says, love of God and love of another human person are tough to imagine. I find a command to love God a little puzzling. First of all, if love is spontaneous and free, how can it be commanded? God, being God after all does not need our love, nor is God changed by our love as a neighbor, a spouse, or a child is changed by love.

We know what love of neighbor looks like. All you have to do is watch people married for fifty or sixty years who are content to sit quietly in each other’s presence. It’s also an act of gratitude for years of simply staying together sharing sorrows and joys.

In this commandment a serious challenge that pushes our limits. There is a teaching here that without love for an “other”, especially a stranger and even our enemy, we become caught in a one-dimensional kind of self-love. That’s wrong! Without contact with people whose experience, culture or faith tradition stretches us, we live trapped in a self-affirming hall of mirrors. The God who is bigger than we can ever imagine commands us to love an “other” lest we fall into narcissistic idolatry. Loving someone like us is no big deal. It does not even require a commandment. It’s really kind of self-love that might not be very healthy in the long run.

Saint Ignatius left behind a kind of “how to” list at the end of his Spiritual Exercises called: “Contemplation to Attain the love of God.” He didn’t mean how to attain God’s love for us because that’s a given. He did mean our love of God which always needs coaching. First on the list is the simple reality that love consists more of deeds than words, that lovers give what they have to each other. Then he says that we have to place ourselves in the presence of the Lord asking the Lord to wake us up to the gifts we have received and to stir up our gratitude. After that he offers four concrete ways of getting in touch with those gifts of God.

  1. Review your life story, calling to mind my own creation, redemption, and other personal gifts.
  2. Consider how much we ought to offer God. Ignatius does that through his famous prayer: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will – all that I have and possess. You, Lord have given all that to me. I now give it back to you.”
  3. Consider how God is present in all creatures giving them existence; giving life to plants, animals, giving humans emotions and intelligence, and finally how he dwells in me making me his temple, since I am created as a likeness and image of the divine Majesty.
  4. Finally, there is a focus on how God works for me, cares and provides, protects and comforts and how all good things around me are just a partial reflection of their source.

As Matthew says at the end of this episode, “That’s all there is.” Without love, there is nothing, nothing at all, and without love we are nothing.

Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6 + Psalm 96 + Thessalonians 1: 1-5 + Matthew 22: 15-21

October 22, 2023 at St. Peter and St. William Parishes in Naples, Florida

We are living through a time of catastrophic change, turmoil, the dismantling of former systems and ideology, and extreme uncertainty. I think that is why our civil leaders seem so inept and paralyzed. It is probably why we are so polarized around three ideologies: liberalism, conservatism, and socialism. Left to themselves, these are all extreme and not very pragmatic. It is not too farfetched to conclude that the systems we have in place are broken and unable to address much less solve the problems spiraling out of control before us? If we get really honest with ourselves, we ought to admit that there is no perfect way. A really sincere and honest follower of Jesus Christ can never find a happy home here. Jesus knew that it would be different which is why he put forth God’s vision for the world in the Beatitudes. It would be nice if it all could just come together as one, without disharmony or discord. Practical sense and wisdom continue to tell us that it won’t. It is why the central symbol of our faith lies in the torn and mutilated body of a man hanging on a tree. What can be perceived by a non-believer as a gruesome defeat is for the person of faith a tremendous victory! We live with contradictions, but not with fear.

More than ever before we are called to embrace God’s vision for the world working for justice, peace, and integrity, all the while preserving the sacredness of human life at every stage. We cannot neglect returning to God the very image God has placed upon us, and we do that by restoring that very beautiful image in all our brothers and sisters. None of us are objects to be manipulated, ridiculed, or berated. We are all God’s children who need to find our way back to the innocence we once knew at our conception. This is no pipe dream. It is real, and it is possible.

Those who have come to that Temple to trap Jesus want to get him to take a side in some political dilemma. He won’t go there. We ought not miss the point that this happens in the Temple, in God’s holy place. He dismisses Caesar and turns the issue to God. We’ve all heard all kinds of speeches and sermons about this text assuming wrongly that it is about the separation of the Church and State. The idea would never have entered their minds at that time. Jesus is talking to people who pay their taxes to keep the peace with Rome, but do nothing, give nothing, and have no thought about why or how to give to God. They have forgotten how to do that.

This confrontation over a coin is not a solution to the controversy of church verses state. This is not some easy way out of what may well be the purpose and meaning of life, to give to God what God is due. When Jesus says: “Whose coin is this?” they all know it is Caesars, because all money belongs to Caesar. The real question his is, “What is God’s”?  We know the answer. Everything.

So, how do we give back to God? We could start by putting the will of God ahead of our own will. We could ask ourselves some tough questions like: “Is it God’s will that God’s children be separated by skin color, where they are born, or what language they speak? Is it God’s will that we take human lives? Is it God’s will that anyone should be hungry? At the same time, we can start giving back to God when we listen to each other without judgement or criticism, hearing their pain and their fear. We also give back to God when we realize that our resources need to be protected and shared because they really belong to God. They are not ours. When that happens, we might begin to realize that “success” is not about power or domination, but about opportunity and abundance. It’s not about what I can keep for myself but about what I can do for others with what I have. That might go a long way toward losing our sense of entitlement and lead us to the virtue of humility.

Today, Jesus Christ appeals to us all to look beyond the simplistic politics and all the black and white legalisms and ideologies of the day and realize that we are called to embrace values centered in a faith that sees the hand of God in all things. There is nothing socialistic, conservative or liberal about that. We do not live in two separate worlds. How we live in the world of Caesar may well determine how and if we shall live in the world of God.

Isaiah 25: 6-10 + Psalm 23 + Philippians 4: 12-14, 19-20 + Matthew 22: 1-14

October 15, 2023 I will be at Saint Gregory Abbey in Shawnee, Oklahoma this weekend.

At an earlier time in my life, I was on the faculty of a Catholic High School staffed primarily by the Sisters of Mercy. There was a dress code. It did not exactly amount to a uniform, but it was specific in terms of color, collars, skirts, and hair styles. When I was assigned there at age 28, I had very long hair. You may find that hard to believe, but there is evidence in the archives. It was the early 70s. The Sisters wore habits and veils. At the very first faculty meeting before the school year began, I showed up in shorts and a Tee shirt. It was August in Oklahoma for heaven’s sake. Sister Mary Wilfreda, the Principal and I had never met. She was also new there. When I walked in, her eyes nearly popped out of her wimple, and it was not long before she asked me how I was going to enforce the dress code looking like “that.” In response, I said: “Sister, I do a lot of things these young people are not going to do like drink a beer now and then and drive a car. They need to get over it.” She grumbled something and went on with the meeting. I learned a lot of things from that assignment about myself, and Sister Wilfreda and I became good friends.

When I look back at those times, I recognize that an insecure 28-year-old, not yet comfortable in his new role and identity needed to stand out and “do my own thing.” I guess it was just part of maturing, but I know that I had more trouble enforcing the dress code than the Sisters did.

At first reading the story Matthew shares with us today seems a little unfair. The guy with no wedding garment did not seem to have a lot of advanced notice. Yet, in the culture of that time, the host would have provided the proper garment. Nonetheless, the man refused to put it on. I like to think he wanted to do his own thing. Perhaps draw attention to himself? If so, he was successful, and ended up without desert. There is something about our culture that makes this parable more troubling than unfair. A lot of us still want to do our own thing. We like to pick and choose and we call that freedom even though the consequences of our choices cause a problem for others.

I believe this parable comes as a challenge to the “do your own thing” attitude especially when it comes to rules, customs, decorum, and even laws. The do your own thing attitude is everywhere around us and sometimes we’re in it. I’ve never lived in a community where more people run red lights than here in Collier County. The attitude shows up in church as well with picking and choosing how we act or what applies to me or what applies to you.

The whole point of the dress code at that School was to create a unified “team spirit” of working together. One of the High School seniors who gave me the most trouble over the dress code was also on the Basketball Team. After weeks of arguing with him over his attire, I got the Coach to take his uniform out of his locker forcing him to practice and play the next game in his street clothes. After that I never needed to say another word.

This parable reveals that it is the will of God that we all come together as one family of faith accepting the invitation to the feast. Some ignore and some refuse. Some make all kinds of silly excuses perhaps waiting for a better invitation. Those who do come to the feast must come with the intention of belonging, blending in, and being part of the whole body. Picking and choosing what to believe or how to act, does nothing to strengthen the unity. All it does is call attention to one’s self all the while ignoring the identity of the community because I can do my own thing. It does not work. It insults the one who has called us to be together, and it makes us the center of attention rather than the one who provides such a lavish feast.

Isaiah 5: 1-7 + Psalm 80 + Philippians 4: 6-9 + Matthew 21: 33-43

October 8, 2023 This homily was not delivered as I will be on vacation

The scene we call the Temple cleansing has just taken place, and Jesus stands before his adversaries with this Parable. They knew and he knew the Isaiah story we just heard, and they got the message that they were out, that the vineyard was being passed on to others. Jesus makes a big change to the Isaiah story. In that one, God destroys the vineyard. In the updated version Jesus tells, it is not the vineyard that is destroyed.

That’s all very fine when it comes to the context of this parable, but it has little to do with us today unless we want to make it a warning to leaders of the church or of nations. However, doing so gets us off the hook and just continues the scourge of our times, blaming and finger pointing.

The fact is, the vineyard, this world created by God, cared for and loved by God has been placed in our hands. We are the ones who have inherited it. Here in this vineyard, God has chosen to take flesh and be revealed to us with one expectation, that we care for it, nurture it, and produce some fruit. We don’t have to earn it. It is a gift to us. It is not ours. Yet, we are responsible.

We can either understand the message spoken to us through these words as a challenge to care for the precious and fragile environment or we can more immediately hear it as a challenge to bring in a harvest, good fruit, from this Church. If we choose to understand this parable in the first way, it looks as though we are repeating the mistakes made by those selfish tenants in the story. Already prophets who speak to us about this are too often silenced, mocked, and dismissed. Even our Holy Father is mocked by too many as he fulfills his role teaching us and speaking about our carelessness for this earth always ignoring the un-intended consequences of our actions.

If we hear this parable and see the Church as God’s vineyard where again God is revealed time and time again, there is a challenge to recognize that we really are in charge here, and something more is expected of us than simply showing up now and then. This Church must be alive and filled with living, joyful people. This Church must continue to be place of welcoming compassion, generosity, and justice. This living Church, which we area, must always look to the future not to the past listening to the cry of those who suffer from the ills of these times gathering the lost, forgotten, avoided, and shoved aside into a great harvest for the one who expects unity and peace.

Listen to the top song hits in any country these days, and you can be guaranteed to hear about spurned love. Isaiah’s love song is what we heard today. It begins with what seems like an actual friend who loved his vineyard lavishing tender care. Then, just like those hit songs, it transposes into discord when the vintage season comes and the yield is only bad fruit.

The song is over now. The friend turns to his audience, the people of Jerusalem, the people of Naples, inviting them, asking if there is anything more that could have been done. This parable is really a love story revealing God’s unrelenting, tireless love for us. We can easily become possessive rebels who want people and possessions to serve our own ambitions with no thought of offering service to someone else. By deafness to the prophets in our own times, we run the risk of becoming self-condemned tenants of God’s vineyard. Yet this loving God has sent his Son to us not because we are deserving, but because we are loved. There is still time to respect, treasure, and return that love. That would be very good fruit indeed.