Saturday, September 24, 2016

Why would you waste your life?


In 1950, Albert Schweitzer was named the “man of the century.” Two years later, he would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. All of this, because he proved himself to be a man of deep faith called to live a life of heroic action. When he was 21, Schweitzer promised himself that he would enjoy life until he was 30 and then he would get serious. On his 30th birthday, he kept his promise and enrolled in university to get a degree in medicine. He promised that he would go to Africa and work among the poor as a missionary doctor after graduating.

His friends and family all tried to change his mind. “Why would you waste your life?” they asked. Nevertheless, by 38 he was a doctor and at the age of 43, he left for Africa where he opened a hospital on the edge of the jungle in Equatorial Africa. He would work there until his death at 90 years old in 1965.

What motivated him to give his life to work among the poorest of the poor? He said that it was today’s Gospel. “It struck me as incomprehensible that I should be allowed to live such a happy life, while so many people around me were wrestling with suffering. I had to do something,” he said.

In today’s Gospel passage about the rich man, what was his sin? Did he order the poor Lazarus removed from his property? Did he beat him or shout obscenities at him? Did he otherwise directly harm the man? No. He did none of those things. The sin of the rich man was worse – he never even noticed Lazarus. He accepted this poor, sick, destitute beggar as just another part of the landscape. The sin of the rich man was doing nothing to help Lazarus when he should have. His sin was clinging to his personal wealth while not lifting a finger for the poor.

Pope Francis makes this point in The Joy of the Gospel. He wrote, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? It cannot be this way. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?”

I think this is, in part, why God chose to come among us as a poor, homeless person. Have you ever thought about that at Christmas time when we set up our beautiful nativity sets? These are really scenes of a poor, homeless family with nowhere to lay their heads. God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often turn a blind eye to. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we recognize them as icons of the very image of God as He was when He came to us?

We know that the poor are all around us here. Our city and region struggles with unemployment, with a heroin epidemic, with homelessness and hunger. In many places, you can find a homeless woman or man huddled under a blanket or a cardboard box. As we pass them by, do we see God present there when we see them? This is where He is present today.

I think this is exactly why Jesus came to us in a family, and one that was homeless and migrant and in need of the help of others. Because He wanted us then and now, to look at our own family, to look at the homeless and helpless around us, and to see that God is present there too; they are not the “other”; they are our brother, our sister, our family; and to reach out to them in need.

Pope Francis reflected a few years ago on the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle where Thomas places his fingers in the wounds of Christ. He 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. 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.”

So, what are we to do? Well, that will be different for each one of us. It starts with seeing the most marginalized people in our society as our brothers and sisters, as people in need of God’s love expressed through our prayers and actions. Jesus reminds us today that the only thing that is not an option is to do nothing. Our faith calls forth so much more from us. We are all called 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 for the better by it; changed to be more like Christ.

May the Lord give us peace.

Friday, September 23, 2016

We can do better...

NOTE: One year ago, Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress. We need to hear those words again now as we move toward this election season. Here are some key quotes. - FT

The Role of Law and Politics
[Speaking about Congress] You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.
Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.
The Sanctity of Life
The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.
The Family
It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.
In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.
Religion, Violence, and Freedom
Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.
Political and Economic Injustice
We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.
The Role of Religion in Society
In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.
Politics and Economics
If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.
In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.
Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.
The Refugee Crisis
Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).
The Death Penalty
This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.
The Role of Wealth in Fighting Poverty
The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.
It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).
The Environment
In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play.
The Arms Trade
Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.
The Four Americans
I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.
Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.
Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.
Four representatives of the American people.
A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Take the money?

An angel appeared at a faculty meeting and told the dean that to reward him for his years of devoted service he could choose one of three blessings: either infinite wealth, infinite fame or infinite wisdom. Without hesitation, the long-time educator asked for infinite wisdom. “You got it!” said the angel, and disappeared. All heads turned toward the dean, who sat glowing in the aura of wisdom. Finally one of his colleagues whispers, “Say something.” The dean looks at them all brimming with infinite wisdom and said, “I should have taken the money.”

What a great week this has been for our beloved Red Sox! Holding on to first place in the division and how about Hanley Ramirez’ walk off home run on Thursday night against those Yankees! It looks like it will be a great post season. I am not only a fan of baseball, but I also love baseball movies. Just think of some iconic lines that come from baseball movies. “If you build it, he will come,” from Field of Dreams. Or my favorite line, “There’s no crying in baseball!” from League of their Own. I recently re-watched another great baseball move, 42, which tells the story of Jackie Robinson and how he became the first African-American to play in the major leagues.

There is a dramatic scene in the movie when Dodger’s owner Branch Rickey offers to sign Robinson. “You will have to take everything they dish out to you and never strike back,” he tells Robinson and he was right. On the field, pitchers brushed Jackie back with blazing fastballs and opposing fans and teams taunted him. Off the field, he was thrown out of hotels and restaurants because of the color of his skin.

But, through it all, Jackie kept his cool. He turned the other cheek. And so did Branch Rickey who was also hounded for signing Robinson. Together, they changed the face of baseball and professional sport for the better. Yes, Branch Rickey did a noble thing breaking down the color barrier in baseball, but the movie reminds you that he was also a smart man and not all of his motives were quite so pure. There was one scene when Rickey, played by Harrison Ford, says, “People ask me why I want to do this? You know why? Because I like money. And people will spend money to come see you play.” Even in the midst of doing the noble thing, Rickey was still a smart business man.

That scene came to mind as I reflected on today’s Gospel. Jesus gives us this image of the dishonest steward. We heard, “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of the light.” Or more simply, “People work harder for material reward than we do for heavenly rewards.” Jesus challenges us not only to strive for goodness, holiness and righteousness, but He also calls us to be smart and committed and eager in pursuing these heavenly things. He wants us to work just as hard and as smart for His Kingdom as we do to make our lives comfortable and successful.

This is also the message Pope Francis has been sharing over and over during the last three years. He wants us to think about and strive for the important things. For example, he said, “If you break a computer it is a tragedy. But poverty, and the real needs of so many people end up becoming the norm. If on a winter’s night, for example, a person dies, that is not news. If in parts of the world there are children who have nothing to eat, that's not news, it seems normal. That some homeless people die of cold on the streets is not news. It cannot be this way! In contrast, a 10 point drop on the stock market is a tragedy. A person dying is not news, but if the stock market drops it is a tragedy!” It cannot be this way.

The challenge of our Gospel, the challenge of Pope Francis, the challenge of our faith is this – can we be as vigilant for the things of God as we are for all the other things that are in our lives? Can we care as much for the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the immigrant, the refugee, and those on the margins all around us, as we care for ourselves? We are called to be recreated, made new, through our Baptism, to see with new eyes through our faith – and what we are meant to see is that we are not different, we are not separate, we are not “other”. Rather, we are connected and united; we are brother and sister to each other; we are one family of God.

Let me end with a prayer: Lord, open our eyes to your word, even when it challenges us more than we want to be challenged. Open our minds to your word, even when it disturbs us more than we want to be disturbed. Help us to put your word in practice, even when it means changing our lives more than we want to change. Above all, Lord, help us realize that you want to achieve great things through us and that we can achieve great things for you if we only open our hearts to you. Open our hearts Lord.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The End is Near!


Two priests were fishing on the side of the road one day. They made a sign saying, “The End is Near! Turn around now before it’s too late!” and showed it to each passing car. One driver didn’t appreciate the sign and shouted, “Leave us alone, you religious nuts!” All of a sudden the priests heard a big splash and looked at each other. Then the one holding the sign said, “Maybe it should just say ‘Bridge Out’?” Sometimes the words we choose can be shocking.

In our Gospel today, Jesus also uses some shocking language to get our attention. He says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” These are jarring words to our ears. Hate our father and mother? What about the Commandment which call us not to hate, but to “Honor your mother and father?” Of course, Jesus is not instructing us to hate our families, rather, He’s trying to get us to wake up; He’s trying to shake us up so that we might embrace the full impact of His message of the Kingdom of God. Jesus wants to get our attention and so he says these shocking words. Are we listening?

Our world is often obsessed with wealth and competition; it’s full of violence and war. We usually refer to this as the “real” world. And if someone were to suggest that instead of power, money and fame, we can live lives guided by peace, love, joy, compassion, and forgiveness, they would probably be called a religious nut. But, Jesus reminded us that the supposedly “real” world is actually an illusion; it is phony; it is full of false hopes and promises. He calls us to instead be immersed in the world that he calls so often the Kingdom of God. His strategy? Well, in today’s passage, it is spiritual shock therapy. Jesus wants to shake us out of our complacency and into a whole new way of thinking, acting, and being.

When I was stationed here, one of the great things we did was bring a group of young people to World Youth Day in Germany. I remember at that event a group of young people were passing out stickers that said, “100% Catholic.” It is such a beautiful thought, but how many of us lead lives that are more like 80% Catholic, 50%, or sometimes even less? Jesus wants to remind us today that we cannot follow Him half way. Discipleship, Christianity, Catholicism is meant to be all or nothing.

This is the point of His shocking words to us today. If we’re going to follow Jesus, He wants us to go with Him the whole way. We can’t stop at His preaching and miracles and leave Him when it comes to the Cross. We’ll never reach resurrection unless we’re along for the whole journey. We have to accept His way of seeing life and put that into practice in the way we live. Jesus and His Gospel message have to be the number one priority in our lives.

The only status that counts is our relationship with God and how we relate with other people, irrespective of their status in the world. Our real status is measured not by our rank or occupation but by the level of love and service offered to God through our relationships with those around us. What counts is not how we are looked at by others but the degree of care and compassion with which we look at them, and especially the care and compassion we show for the most marginalized people in our midst.

That is the meaning of the two parables Jesus gives today. “Great crowds” were following Jesus with enthusiasm but were they ready for His message? Did they realize what it really meant to follow Him? If not, they are like the king who goes out to war totally unprepared. They are like a man who started to build a tower and ran out of funds or material. They become laughing stocks; inauthentic. If we try to walk with Jesus without being ready to commit; we too will miss the joy and happiness of the totally fulfilled life that Jesus is offering us.

Jesus tells us today that to be his disciple is to make every other thing in life – family or wealth, prosperity or health, pleasure or fame – second to Him. He means that on the list of our goals and priorities in life, attaining the kingdom of God must come first and then everything else will follow. It is a matter of life and death. He, and only He, is the way, the truth and the life.

Today’s gospel shows us how complete the demands of discipleship are. Following Jesus is much harder than we may have thought at first. The Good News is that Jesus recognizes this and still invites us on this journey with Him. If we’re ready to go with Him, it will change our lives and change our world.

Let us make the simple, powerful words of St. Francis our own: “Jesus, You are enough for me.” Let us be His disciples – completely.

May the Lord give you peace.

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...