Sunday, September 28, 2008
A priest was standing at the Church doors greeting people as they left after Easter Mass. As Joe tried to pass by, the priest pulled him aside as said, “Joe, you need to join the Army of the Lord.” Joe replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Father.” “Well, then how come I don’t see you in church except at Christmas and Easter?” the priest asked. Joe whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”
We all know that it seems today like the Secret Service in the Church may be the fastest growing part of the Church. We all know people who say that they are Catholic, but who don't come to Mass on Sunday - they only come on Christmas and Easter, if they come at all. We all struggle with this among our family and friends.
Our Gospels over the last few weeks have asked us to focus on the Kingdom of Heaven; that Kingdom where we all hope to find ourselves one day; that glory that the heart of every baptized person desires. And, today’s parable asks us to look at the hypocrisy that sometimes exists when we say one thing, but do another. We all know people who say that they are ardent and practicing Catholics, but who publicly support positions that go directly against some of the most basic tenets of the faith. And if we are honest with ourselves, we even recognize in our own lives this same tendency.
We call ourselves practicing Catholics, and yet we spend more time working on our favorite hobbies than on our prayer life, and we spend more time becoming an expert in our profession than in our faith, and we tolerate in our own lives hidden habits of selfishness and sin while we criticize other people for their more visible faults. We all face the challenge of modern living where so many things, too many things, take importance over our life of faith with God.
If we think about it a little bit, we see very clearly that this contradiction between what we believe and how we live is not a good thing. It is like the second son in today's parable. He impressed his dad with fancy words and a good show of healthy obedience, but underneath the surface he was still living for his own self-centered gratification, not for the greater good of his mission in the Father's kingdom.
When we fall into that contradiction, it is no wonder that we don't grow in our experience of Christ's love and grace, and it is no wonder that we don't grow in wisdom, interior peace, and the deep Christian joy that we thirst for. Faith, if it's real, makes a real impact on our lives. When it doesn't, our spiritual growth is stunted.
This kind of integrity - not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk - is something that all of us admire in others, but find difficult to live out ourselves. Contemplating the saints can help strengthen our weakness.
St. Euplus is a unique example of this kind of spiritual integrity. He was a Christian who lived in Sicily in the early 300s, when the Roman Emperors were initiating their final and most brutal persecutions against the Church. He had a passionate love for the sacred Scriptures, and used to study scrolls of the Gospels constantly. When a new edict came out condemning the Christians and demanding the destruction of all Christian writings, Euplus refused to hide. Instead, he marched right up the governor's palace, with a copy of the Gospels under his arm, and turned himself in for being a Christian.
When questioned, he defended the truth of Christ valiantly and intelligently, refusing to compromise his faith. So the governor threw him into prison and confiscated the sacred books. Three months later he was dragged out of the prison and interrogated again. And again, he courageously professed his faith in Christ and refused to worship the pagan Roman gods. When asked if he still kept the forbidden writings he said yes, he still did. Of course, he had no book, so they asked him to explain. He answered, pointing to his heart, “They are within me.” And truly they were.
In fact, his heart was so firmly immersed in Christ that instead of renouncing his faith, he suffered torture, threats, and, in the end, execution by decapitation. St. Euplus truly understood that real faith requires real action. Likewise, if Christ is truly within us, it will show up in what we say and how we live.
Luckily for us, we will not be tested in such a dire way. No one will march us before the Emperor and give us the choice between life or our faith. But, we would do well to know that even though we are not brought before an Emperor we will stand before the Supreme Judge one day and He will ask the same of us that Christ asked in our Gospel, “Which of us did our Father’s will?” We pray today to be strengthened in our Christian life, to leave the Secret Service for the Public Witness of God, to in the words of St. James, “Not be merely hearers who hear, but doers who do” the Word of God. And thus we too will be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven.
May God give you peace.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
This is an important thing, which I have told many peple, and which my father told me, and which his father told him. When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent the person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his), but that is the perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.
I am reminded of this precious instruction by my own great failure to live up to it recently. Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our behavior, and the reaction of God to us might be thought of as aesthetic rather than morally judgmental in the ordinary sense. How well do we understand our role? With how much assurance do we perform it? I suppose Calvin’s God was a Frenchman, just as mine is a Middle Westerner of New England extraction. Well, we all bring such light to bear on these great matters as we can. I do like Calvin’s image, though, because it suggests how God might actually enjoy us. I believe we think about that far too little. It would be a way to understand essential things, since presumably the world exists for God’s enjoyment, not in any simple sense, of course, but as you enjoy the being of a child even when he is in every way a thorn in your heart. “He has a mind of his own,” Boughton used to say when that son of his was up to something. And he meant it as praise, he really did. Now, Edward, for example, did have a mind of his own, a mind worthy of respect.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
We hear Jesus start off with that familiar phrase in today’s Gospel, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Jesus often likes to gives us insight, previews, into what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like, how the world will be in its Godly perfection. In today’s passage we hear of a harvest in which some workers put in more work than others. When pay time comes, they are all treated equally and the early birds among them begin to complain and grumble. How often in life do we find ourselves siding with the grumblers? We listen to the voices of our society which would agree – if you worked more, you should get paid more. Equal pay for equal work.
But, imagine if we worked in a situation where we found out that someone was getting more money for the same job we were doing. What if we went to complain to the manager, only to discover that the other person is perhaps supporting several children on their own, or has some serious and expensive medical condition and needs a little extra just to keep the roof over their head. In such cases, our perspective might change. Why? The reason is simple – in those, and other cases, we begin to see the situation not through the eyes of individual competition or even jealousy, but through the eyes of community, of family, of church – in other words, with eyes of compassion.
In the Kingdom of Heaven that our Gospel speaks of, we are all united into one community, one family, one church, under God our Father, with Jesus our Brother. And, aren’t the norms of behavior, the rules of contribution and reward, in a family different from those in a society of unrelated individuals? When someone in our family is in need, do we demand equal work for equal pay? Or, do we give from the heart, give generously, and do whatever we can to help out our loved one regardless of the cost?
Jesus today speaks strongly of the great generosity of God and asks us to ponder a simple question: Do we see ourselves as family with a common purpose or do we see ourselves as a bunch of individuals, each with our own agenda? We call ourselves brothers and sisters. Why then do we often see and treat one another as rivals and competitors?
Family is the key to understanding today’s parable of the workers. For the early-bird workers who ended up being reprimanded by the landowner it was all a business affair. Their working in the vineyard was preceded by a detailed contract regarding their wages: a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. The latecomers were less legalistic in their approach. They took the job trusting in the landowner’s word of honor. “He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’” And, the ones employed in the sixth, ninth and eleventh hours were told nothing whatsoever about payment. “He said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’“ There is no employer-employee contract here. Everything is based on a relationship of trust. These later workers approached the work with a family spirit.
As Matthew was relaying this parable, he surely had his fellow Jewish-Christians in mind. God called them a long time ago to build the Kingdom of Heaven. Now, at an apparently late hour, God was calling the Gentiles to work with them in building up the same divine kingdom. It would be wrong for the early-bird Jewish people to see the Johnny-come-lately Gentiles as deserving of a lower status than themselves “who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” The problem of Matthew’s Jewish audience was their difficulty in seeing that God was intent on building, in Christ, a kingdom where all peoples -- Jews and Gentiles; everyone -- would be one family.
This parable reminds them, and us, that the Kingdom of Heaven is a family much more than a society. Society is too often characterized by us-and-them, by rivalry and the survival of the fittest. But a family, on the other hand, is all “us” and no “them.” It is characterized by a spirit of co-operation and compassion, rather than competition. If the latecomers were family members of the early birds, the early birds would have rejoiced with them at their good fortune rather than grumbling.
Today we are called upon to review our own notions of the Kingdom of Heaven and we are challenged to see God’s promised Kingdom truly as a family where we are happy to expect from everyone according to their means and give to each according to their need -- as generously as God our Father does.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a family drawn together by the love of their Father, lead and guided through the example of their Brother, motivated out of their love for each other, driven by their desire to help one another, called to be holy, working towards eternal life, saved and transfigured and united as one.
What is the Kingdom of Heaven like for you?
May God give you peace.
Those on the path are the ones who have heard,
but the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts
that they may not believe and be saved.
Those on rocky ground are the ones who, when they hear,
receive the word with joy, but they have no root;
they believe only for a time and fall away in time of temptation.
As for the seed that fell among thorns,
they are the ones who have heard, but as they go along,
they are choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life,
and they fail to produce mature fruit.
But as for the seed that fell on rich soil,
they are the ones who, when they have heard the word,
embrace it with a generous and good heart,
and bear fruit through perseverance.”
I would bet that at different times and in different places, different parts of this parable ring more loudly. But, I think it is the seed among thorns that calls out to our time: "As for the seed that fell among thorns, they are the ones who have heard, but as they go along, they are choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life, and they fail to produce mature fruit."
"Choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life" seems to be almost a mantra of our day, doesn't it? We live in our over programmed world where everything is more important than our relationship with God. I think of something I heard at a youth retreat this summer. The speaker laid out the life plan the world wants to offer: "You have to get good grades, to get into a good college, so you can get a good job, and make a lot of money." This couldn't be further from God's plan for each of us.
It isn't that education, good jobs and financial stability are bad for us, but when they become the goal and not the means, we've upended God's plan for our lives.
I hope for a continued conversion of heart, for myself and for everyone, so that we can all be "the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance."
May God give you peace!!!
Friday, September 12, 2008
Sr. Beatrice, Sr. Bea as we called her, was my first grade teacher. She was a very holy and dedicated woman of God. My constant memory of her, one I think of very often, is that she taught us the hymn, "Immaculate Mary," and I think of her whenever I sing of it. May she rest in peace and receive the reward prepared for her in Heaven. Here is her obituary:
FAIRHAVEN — Sr. Beatrice Lapalme, OP, 95, and formerly named Sister Raymond Beatrice, of the Dominican Sisters of Hope, died Wednesday, September 10, 2008, at Alden Court Rehabilitation Center.She was the daughter of the late Elzear and Anna (Lelievre) Lapalme.
She was born in Acushnet on June 13th, 1913.Sister Beatrice entered the novitiate of the Dominican Sisters of Fall River in September 1936, and made her First Profession in March 1938 and her Final Profession in March 1941. She taught at St. Anne School in Fall River (1938-1941) and at St. Francis Xavier School in Acushnet (1941 — 1993).
Survivors include her sister-in-law, Cecilia Lapalme of Acushnet; and several nieces and nephews. She was the sister of the late Maurice, Raymond, Lionel, Elzear and Laurette Lapalme.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made in her memory to the Sr. Beatrice Lapalme Scholarship Fund, c/o St. Francis Xavier School, 223 Main St., Acushnet, MA 02743.
Visitation will be Saturday morning only 9-10:30 AM at Rock Funeral Home, followed by her Funeral Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church at 11 AM. Her interment will be private at Notre Dame Cemetery, Fall River, on Monday.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
THE PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI:
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
May all those who lost their lives seven years ago, and all who continue to bear the burden of grief, find peace in God's loving arms.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
In our first reading from Ezekial today, we heard God say, “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, I will hold you responsible.” All of today’s readings beg a very familiar question of us: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Our Scriptures answer that question with a definitive “yes” today.
As Christians we are called to be noticeably different than the rest of the world. To a world bent on greed, we are to be signs of selfless giving; to a world bent on violence and war, we are to be signs and instruments of peace; to a world bent on deception and lies, we are to be a sign of honesty and truthfulness.
Consider these three situations: A salesman for an airport limousine service said to a father, “Sir, your son looks young for his age. Take a half-price ticket. If the limousine driver questions you, just say that the boy is under 12. Save yourself a few bucks.” If you had been that father, what would you have said to the salesman?
Take another case. A mother caught her five-year-old daughter with a stolen candy bar just after they returned from the supermarket. If you were that mother what would you do?
Or a final case. Suppose you heard your son’s best friend say to your son, “If you need any answer on the math test, just give me a signal.” If that had been your son, would you keep on reading your newspaper, or would you put it down and have a talk with the boys?
I have no way of knowing what you would do in those cases, but I do know what Jesus would do. The answer is found in today’s readings which focus on the mutual obligation that every Christian has towards one another. Christians have a moral obligation not only to do what is right, but also to help their brothers and sisters do what is right. Jesus told his followers, “You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world…Your light must shine brightly before others.”
Let us return to our three cases. What would a Christian response be to each of them? What should a follower of Jesus say to the limousine salesman who encouraged the father to lie about his son’s age? Well this is a true story. The real father told the salesman, “I appreciate where you are coming from, but I want my son to be truthful, even if it works to his momentary disadvantage.”
And what about the mother whose daughter stole the candy bar? Also a true story. The real Christian mother had the child return the candy to the supermarket manager and apologize. But, to the mother’s dismay, the manager said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s such a small item. My employees steal much more than that from me every day.” What an unfortunate reply. The manager taught the child the lesson that stealing is no big deal if you only steal something small. God tells us that stealing is always wrong, no matter what. “Thou shalt not steal.”
And finally, what about the young boys encouraging each other to cheat? Well, this too is a true story. Jerome Weidman, author of Hand of the Hunter, had this experience as a boy. As a child in school in New York’s lower East Side, he had a third grade math teacher, Mrs. O’Neill, who gave her class a math test one day. When grading the tests, she noticed that 12 boys had given the same odd answer to one question. The next day she asked the 12 boys to remain after class. Then, without accusing any of them, she wrote a simple sentence on the board; a quote from Thomas Macaulay which read, “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be caught.” Weidman wrote, “I don’t know about the other 11 boys, but I can say only this: it was the single most important lesson of my life.”
And so we have three different cases where three different Christians spoke up. Three Christians heeded Jesus’ instruction to help their brothers and sisters live the Christian life. Three Christians took God’s word to Ezekial today seriously, “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, I will hold you responsible.” Three Christians took St. Paul’s words seriously, “Love does no evil to the neighbor.” And, finally, three Christians took Jesus’ words today seriously, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”
Edmund Burke once wrote, “All that is needed for evil to prosper is for good people to remain silent.” The three Christians in these cases did not keep silent. They encouraged others to holiness, truthfulness, integrity and godliness; and they invite us good Christians to follow their example.
Lord Jesus, help us to take to heart your words when you said, “You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world…Your light must shine before others.” Let us all be Your light shining brightly in our world.
May God give you peace.
Monday, September 1, 2008
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Today, too, the apostle Peter is in the foreground of the Gospel reading. But while last Sunday we admired his straightforward faith in Jesus, whom he proclaimed Messiah and Son of God, this time, in the episode that immediately follows, he displays a faith that is still immature and too much influenced by the “mentality of this world” (cf. Romans 12:2).
When, in fact, Jesus begins to speak openly about the fate that awaits him in Jerusalem, when he says that he must suffer much, be killed and rise again, Peter protests, saying: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).
It is evident that the Master and the disciple follow two opposed ways of thinking. Peter, according to a human logic, is convinced that God would never allow his Son to end his mission dying on the cross. Jesus, on the contrary, knows that the Father, in his great love for men, sent him to give his life for them, and if this means the passion and the cross, it is right that such should happen.
On the other hand, he knows that the resurrection will be the last word. Peter’s protest, though spoken in good faith and out of sincere love of the Master, sounds to Jesus like temptation, an invitation to save himself, while it is only in losing his life that his life will be returned to him eternally for all of us.
If to save us the Son of God had to suffer and die crucified, it certainly was not because of a cruel design of the heavenly Father. The cause of it is the gravity of the sickness of which he must cure us: an evil so serious and deadly that it will require all of his blood. In fact, it is with his death and resurrection that Jesus defeated sin and death, reestablishing the lordship of God.
But the battle is not over: Evil exists and resists in every generation, even in our own. What are the horrors of war, violence visited on the innocent, the misery and injustice that persecutes the weak, if not the opposition of evil to the Kingdom of God? And how does one respond to such evil if not with the unarmed love that defeats hatred, life that does not fear death? This is the mysterious power that Jesus used at the cost of not being understood and of being abandoned by many of his followers.
Dear brothers and sisters, to complete the work of salvation, the Redeemer continues to draw to himself and his mission men and women who are ready to take up the cross and follow him. Just as with Christ, it is not “optional” for Christians to take up the cross; it is rather a mission to be embraced out of love.
In our present world, where the forces that divide and destroy seem to prevail, Christ does not cease to propose his clear invitation to all: Whosoever wants to be my disciple, he must renounce his selfishness and carry the cross with me.
Let us invoke of the Holy Virgin, who was the first to follow Jesus and followed him to the way of the cross. May she help us to follow the Lord with decisiveness so as to experience from this point on, and in trial too, the glory of the resurrection.