Saturday, July 30, 2016

What can I give today?


With the conventions just completed, this is a season that brings to mind some of the most famous political slogans we know, “Morning in America,” “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” among them. A number of years ago, I heard a speaker who was trying to motivate people to make a difference in the world. His words reminded me of these type of slogans. He said, “Instead of asking, ‘What do I want today?’ ask ‘How can I serve today?’ Instead of asking, ‘What can I get today?’ ask, ‘What can I give today?’ It’s no longer, ‘What’s in it for me?’ rather it’s, ‘How can I help?’” But, more than a slogan, I think this is exactly what Jesus was getting at in our gospel today.

This shift from focus on the self to focus on others is at the heart of our Gospel message today. We heard proclaimed, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions.” A simplistic reading of this passage can lead us to the conclusion that if you are rich, Heaven will be difficult for you to attain; or if you are interested in living a comfortable life, having a nice car or house, then the Kingdom is far from you. But, I think this superficial reading of the text misses the bigger point that Jesus is making today.

Jesus is trying to lead us from ‘What can I get today?’ to ‘What can I give today? The question isn’t about whether or not possessions or wealth are good or bad, the question is what is our relationship to these things and how do they effect the way we relate to others, to the world, and to the most needy in our midst.

Things, of course, are nice and even necessary for life. But possessions can assume such an importance in our lives that they become obsessions. When we are so concerned about the things that we can have, so much so that we no longer hear the urgent call of God, then we have got our priorities all mixed up. Such is the man in today’s Gospel who asks Jesus to come and make his brother give him his share of the family inheritance. Jesus isn’t against him having more wealth, nor is he against justice being done between him and his brother. But Jesus is disappointed that after listening to all His preaching, the man’s concern is still about his money. The very Words of Life were falling on deaf ears.

Jesus, fearing there could be more people in the crowd like this man, turns and says to them, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions.” To illustrate His point Jesus tells the Parable of the Rich Fool. Now when you read the parable you might ask, “What wrong did this man do?” Think about it. He did honest work on his farm and the land gave a bumper crop, so he decided do build larger storage so that he could live the rest of his life on Easy Street. Only he did not know that the rest of his life was less than 24 hours. Jesus uses him to illustrate greed in its many forms. The man did not take from others. In this sense, he didn’t do something wrong. His greed lies not in what he did, but in what he failed to do. Instead of using his material wealth for the good of the world, to do the things that God calls us to do – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, etc. – he used it only to better himself.

Pope Francis has talked about this same theme calling it the Cult of Money in our world. He has said, “Today, and it breaks my heart to say it, finding a homeless person who has died of the cold, is not news. Today, the news is scandals – that is news. But the many children who don't have food - that's not news. This is grave. We can't rest easy while things are this way. Today, if investments in banks fail, it is a ‘tragedy’ and people say 'what are we going to do?' but if people die of hunger, have nothing to eat or suffer from poor health, that's nothing. This is our crisis today. A Church that is poor and for the poor has to fight this mentality."

There is a quote that says, greed is “the belief that there is no life after death. We grab what we can, while we can, however we can, and then hold on to it hard.” The rich man in our Gospel – and many people in our world today - qualify as examples of this greed. That’s why Jesus was so hard on greed. That’s why the Holy Father, so often in his papacy, speaks about this.

Today’s Gospel invites us to ask the fundamental questions that I began with: “‘How can I serve today?’ ‘What can I give today?’ ‘How can I help?’” Do we use what we have to make the world a better place? Or do we use what we have merely for our own pleasure? God calls us to realize that the most valuable possession in the world is faith in His Son; and He wants us to be rich in what matters to Him. God wants us to realize that the greatest thing we can do is to work every day – through the gifts of our time, talent and treasure – to make the world a better place; a more Christian place; a more caring, loving and compassionate place. That is the truest measure of success.

So, let us all pray today that we might become rich in the Words, in the Will and in the Way of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And let us ask: what will we give today?

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Make America KIND again


If you’re like me and millions-upon-millions of other people of a certain age, you grew up each day listening to Mr. Fred Rogers sing a little song that went something like this, “It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” Every day, Mr. Rogers would invite his viewers to please be his neighbor as he took us to the land of Make-Believe or taught lessons on how to be peaceful people or how to deal with difficult situations or just to meet the many different people in the neighborhood. Everyone was a neighbor in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.

This idealized, halcyon memory came to mind as I have been praying about the violent and deadly events of the past week, month and year here in our country – the most recent being the horrific and tragic deaths of five police officers in Dallas this week. With the constant barrage of bad news that fills the newspapers and airwaves, we can begin to believe that violence, death and killing are out of control in our midst. We live in an extraordinary time of terror, of violence, of division and polarization and of fear. And to all of that our God says to us over and over again – in fact more than 300 times in the Bible – “Do not be afraid.” Love conquers all.

It amazes me, as God so often does, that as we gather today in the wake of all of these tragic stories, our Scriptures speak so perfectly to this moment. As always, God is once again reminding us of what He wants of us in the midst of so much rancor. He wants us to remember that we are not at odds, we are not in conflict, but that we are all neighbors – even if we thought we were divided.

Jesus proclaim again to us today the Christian Golden Rule, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Nearly every religion and culture in the world has a Golden Rule in one form or another. For example, in Judaism, they say, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.” In Buddhism, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” In Hinduism, “Do nothing unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” And in Islam, “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”

When we look at the violence of this week and wonder what we can do, the answer lies in not adding our voice to the chorus of negativity drowning out the world. Our response should me, must be, one of tenderness, kindness and compassion. Robert Kennedy, who also knew very violent times, said, “Each time we stand up for an ideal, or act to improve the lot of others, or strike out against injustice, we sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Or more simply, won’t you be my neighbor?

Jesus proclamation of the Christian Golden Rule insists that all humanity is really one big neighborhood. Jesus broke down the walls of division and the borders of prejudice and suspicion that humans have erected between “us” and “them” throughout time. To bring home this point He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. This man regarded as Enemy Number One by the establishment for no other reason than that he is a Samaritan, is ironically the one who truly proves himself to be neighbor to the Jewish man in need. Thus to the question “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus offers new and challenging answer to His hearers: Anyone and everyone is your neighbor – without exception.

In our own world today – so especially today – we need to be reminded that everyone is our neighbor – even the enemy; even the immigrant; even the person who is different than us; even the person we don’t like or who doesn’t like us. They are our neighbor and we must offer them mercy. We must overcome the tendency to think in terms of “us” and “them” and instead heed the command of Jesus to, “Go and do likewise” – to offer mercy, to treat everyone with respect, to be neighbor to the world.

The Christian understanding of “neighbor” has no borders or boundaries. Today we are called to identify and tear down all the walls we have erected between those who belong to us and those who don't belong to us. The Gospel today challenges us all to dismantle these walls. This way we work with Jesus to realize His dream of the world as a neighborhood without borders or boundaries.

As we gather once again today, on this the Lord’s Day, we look for answers. We come to church for some comfort, we come to church for a measure of peace, we come to church to hear what word God has to speak to our pain. But, we also come to church to be sent back out. “Go and proclaim the Gospel,” “Go and glorify God by your life.” We come to be healed, strengthened, renewed and sent once again to be that peaceful presence in our world. Jesus, today, sends us to “go and do likewise” and to be neighbors to the world.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Vocations are for us all


“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” When we hear this quote from today’s Gospel, we are usually quick to interpret in light of vocations to the priesthood, diaconate or religious life. That makes a lot of sense to us. After all, we know that fewer men and women are pursuing these ways of life in our times, and so the natural temptation is to preach today about the need for more men and women to take up the call to a life dedicated in service to God, humanity and the Church. And, all of this would certainly be a valid way to go with this passage. After all, we do need a renewed desire for people to pursue the ordained and religious life.

But, I was thinking about this passage recently and a thought dawned on me. When Jesus said these words, of course, we did not have the developed structures of ordained and consecrated life as we do today. There were no Sisters of St. Joseph, Sisters of Mercy, Jesuits or Franciscans running around Jerusalem when Jesus sent out the 72 disciples. So, who are these words directed to? And, of course, these words are directed to all of us – certainly to priests and religious, but the call to be “sent out” for the harvest, is the call Jesus gives to every single believer; every last one of us.

It reminds me of the old Baltimore Catechism. When it came to vocations, the Baltimore Catechism used illustrations to make a point about vocations. On one page there were two men side-by-side, one was dressed in an ordinary business suit, the other was a priest. The caption under the business man read, “This is good.” And under the priest, “But, this is better.” The next page had a woman in a dress with children at her side, and next to her was a religious sister, a nun. The captions again, under the Mom, “This is good,” and under the nun, “But, this is better.” I don’t think this is quite how Jesus would explain vocations. One is certainly not better than the other, rather we are all called to be witnessed of Jesus wherever we find our calling. The caption should have perhaps read, “These are both good, but they are different ways of serving God and the Church. Which one is God calling you to?” The danger of focusing only on the ordained and consecrated as those “called to the harvest” is that we think it let’s the rest of us off the hook. They’ll bring in the harvest, I don’t need to worry about that.

Jesus, then and now, intends to call each and every last one of us who believe in Him and in His message to be the laborers who spread His message around the world; no matter what it is that we do in life. What Jesus means when tells us, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few,” is that the world is full of people in need. Whether it is people in the third world or the homeless and drug addicted on our city streets, or even members of our own families – people are looking for help; looking for connection; looking for compassion; looking for God. The problem is that there are too few people willing to offer those things. All we have to do is turn on the TV to see how people respond to the need all around them. The too often respond with anger, with accusations, we prejudice, or the worst of all, with complete indifference. Never before has there been such a need for compassionate people – people like you and me – to step forward and help Jesus with the harvest.

Pope Francis reflected a few years ago on the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, whose feast day is also today. It was the Gospel passage where Thomas places his fingers in the wounds of Christ. Reflecting on that, the Pope said, "Jesus reveals Himself in His wounds and so the path to our encounter with Jesus are His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because and is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus. We must caress the wounds of Jesus. We need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness. We have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. To enter into the wounds of Jesus all we have to do is go out onto the street. Let us have the courage to enter into the wounds of Jesus with tenderness and thus we will certainly have the grace to worship the living God.”

My friends, our Gospel today reminds us that it is the responsibility of us all – whether we are priests, deacons, religious, popes or any of the myriad of beautiful, wonderful Baptized members of the Body of Christ – we are all called; we all have that vocation to reach out to the world around us – especially the world in need; especially to touch Christ in His wounds. If we have the courage to do it, we will be changed and changed for the better by it; changed to be more like Christ.

The Lord once again sends each of us today to proclaim the Kingdom of God; to live the Kingdom of God; to be the very Kingdom of God in the midst of our world; to enter His wounds. It is the call – the vocation – of us all.

May the Lord give you peace.

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