Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Lord is not fair!!
















HOMILY FOR THE 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 1, 2017:

About a decade ago, I had what is easily the most extraordinary experience of my priesthood. My own Dad was not raised in a family of church-goers. And as a result, he had never been baptized. Now over the years my Mom, myself, surely others, had long encouraged him to become a baptized member of the Church, but to no avail. I even tried to convince Dad as I was approaching my own ordination 17 years ago. I said, “Dad it would be so wonderful if I could give you communion on the day I celebrate my first Mass.” Now, I have to tell you that is grade A guilt right there. But, no effect. Instead, I just continued to pray every day in those moments of quiet prayer after receiving Holy Communion, “Lord, through the grace of this Eucharist, please place in Dad’s heart the desire for baptism.” Then, a little before his 69th birthday, Dad called me one day and said just two words to me: “I’m ready.” And in the absolute honor of my priesthood, I baptized, confirmed, and gave First Holy Communion to my own Dad.

But before the baptism, we had a process of preparation for Dad. I would go home and sit with both Dad and Mom, Mom was going to be his sponsor. We would get together and review key aspects of the faith. At one point, my Mom said quite definitively to Dad, “Now Scott, before you get baptized, you have to go to Confession.” But I had to respond, “Mom, actually, baptism forgives all sins. So, he doesn’t have to go to confession. Any sins he has committed in his life up to that point will be forgiven in that moment.” At this point, my Mom looked at me, looked at my Dad, and then said, “You mean, he gets away with it?! That’s not fair!”

Although she was joking, Mom’s words were not too far away from the words we heard in our first reading from Ezekiel today, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” We know that these are words we hear an awful lot in life from many different people. “That’s not fair!” People often feel as though life is not treating them fairly, sometimes that God is not treating them fairly. Children are the most frequent issuers of this statement. A sibling or friends gets something they’d like to have; a group of kids go somewhere they want to go. It can be just about anything that leads them to cry out, “It’s not fair! Why can’t I have that? Why can’t I go there?”

In the passage from Ezekiel, when the people cry out, “The Lord’s way is not fair” they are actually complaining about the fact that God is a forgiving God. They are not happy that God will forgive a sinner who turns away from their sin and back to Him. They would prefer that God condemn sinner for their sin – and not only the one who sinned, but even that person’s family for many generations. The fact that God’s forgiveness is not fair is the heart of their complaint. They just don’t like it.

And you know what? They are right, God is not fair. We know this once we have experienced God’s ways ourselves. We, too, might also say, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” But, instead of that being a complaint, it is statement of gratitude. God’s ways are not fair. Thank you God for that!

Instead of merely fair, God’s ways are infinitely generous, gracious, and overflowing. We have a God who loves us beyond measure, more than we could ever earn. We have a God who never, ever tires of forgiving us, more than we could ever deserve. We have a God who is always present to us – in our joys and triumphs, in our sadness and sorrow, in our failures and even in our sin. And rather than abandoning us in our trial, God continually calls us to Himself so that He can – over and over and over again – make us whole and make us new. He call us so that He can heal our wounds; so that He can fill us with His presence; so that He can help us become more and more like Him.

God never tires of loving and forgiving us. And, He wants our ways to be like His. He wants us to be unfair too. He wants us to be just as generous in giving and even more generous in forgiving – as He is. God wants us to live in the way St. Paul tells us today, “Do nothing out of selfishness; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for [your] own interests, but for [the interests] of others. Have, in you, the same attitude that is in Christ.”

Pope Francis said, “Feeling mercy changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: mercy changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. This mercy is beautiful.”

My friends, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” And we are so grateful for that. Let us thank God for the generosity with which He loves and forgives us – and let us share that same love and forgiveness just as unfairly with the world!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Called to forgiveness







HOMILY FOR THE 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 17, 2017:

“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” “Peter approached Jesus and asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’”

I am regularly in awe at the way that the Holy Mass has a way of speaking to exact moments in history. Earlier this week, for example, we commemorated the attack on our nation that took place 16 years go; events that changed our world and changed our lives. Looking back on that day, we ask, “How have we changed since then?”

To answer that, let’s think about the way that God speaks to us through the Mass. My most poignant memories of September 11th are celebrating Mass in the days immediately following. So, what did God say to us in those days? Two days later, the Gospel at Mass was, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” We also heard that day from St. Paul who wrote, “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body, you have been called to that peace.”

The day after that we marked the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross and the next day was Our Lady of Sorrows. These were not mere coincidence, instead, they are what God always does for us – He reminds us of who He is and He reminds us of who we are in His sight – especially at the most critical moments.

So, who are we? First, God said, “Love your enemies?” Those words may have never been harder to hear than on that day, but God wanted us to remember something very simple, “Do not hate them.” Do not let hatred push the love and the peace of Christ out of our hearts. When that happens Evil prevails in us. And so, do not hate them. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “To be a Christian is to forgive even the inexcusable, because God has already forgiven it in us.”

And God is speaking powerfully to us again today in our liturgy. We heard God say that “wrath and anger are hateful things” and that each of us who follow Him are called to forgive “seventy-seven times” an analogy that means that we are called to forgive infinitely, always, everywhere. These again seem like timely words as our world is once again afraid – afraid of terror, afraid of those different from us, afraid of the immigrant and the refugee; afraid of many things. Into the midst of this fear, God speaks His calming words of love and peace, in the hopes that these will take root in our hearts; and define who we are as God’s people.

Like the ungrateful servant in the parable, we focus on the small amount our neighbor owes us rather than the huge amount we owe to God, a debt which God has graciously cancelled through Christ. Think about this parable. In the old translation of this Gospel, the monetary amounts were specified. The servant refused to forgive a debt of 100 denarii, the modern equivalent of about $700. But the master forgave a debt of 10,000 talents that his servant owed him – the modern equivalent would be more than $7 billion. Clearly, Jesus was making a point that this is a debt that could never be repaid. And yet, the master forgave it. This is a symbol of the debt we owe God; a debt we likewise could never ever hope to repay. Yet God in his infinite mercy sent Jesus to forgive our sins. And all He asks of us is to be grateful; to realize that He has done for us so much more for us than we could ever be required to do for our neighbor. He asks us to offer that same forgiveness to others, willingly.

Through the terrible events in our country 16 years ago, God reminded us that He is with us; that He is one of us. The French poet Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” In the days, weeks and years that have followed, God has continually remained near to those who suffer, comforting those who are in pain, consoling those who grieve, forgiving those in need of mercy, speaking to the hearts of all His message of love and peace and comfort and healing; offering to us, His children, another way – the way of peace, a way that rejects the hatred of one against the other, a way that opens our eyes to see each other as brother and sister and friend. 

We need only look at our risen Lord and the wounds Thomas asked to touch. We don’t think about this often, but Jesus took His wounds with Him to eternity. He is a wounded God, sharing in our infirmities, carrying our brokenness with Him forever. He let Himself be injured because He loves us. These wounds of His: how real they were 16 years ago; and how real they are to us today.

So, have we changed? I don’t know. But, I dearly hope and pray that every day we become more fully who God calls us to be; that we are more clearly a people who believe in justice and compassion; in love and kindness; in forgiveness and mercy and prayer. And, that we are more keenly aware than ever that our God is close to us, comforting us, sheltering our pain in His wounds and giving us the hope that tomorrow will be a better day; a day bursting forth with new life.

My friends, “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body, you have been called to that peace.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s








HOMILY FOR THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 10, 2017:

A man was walking on the beach praying when all of a sudden he said, “Lord grant me one wish.” Instantly, the clouds parted and a booming voice said, “Because you have been faithful to me, I will grant you a wish.” The man said, “Please build a bridge to Bermuda so I can drive over anytime I want to.” God answered, “That’s a very materialistic wish. Just think of the logistics; the supports required to reach the bottom of the ocean; the concrete and steel it would take. I can do it, but it is hard to justify. Take another moment to think of a wish that would honor and glorify me.” The man thought and finally said, “Lord, I wish that you could help men and women understand each other – how they each feel inside, what they are thinking, why they get mad or sad, and how they can make each other truly happy.” After a few minutes God responded, “How many lanes do you want on that bridge?”

We heard in Ezekiel today, “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from [their] way I will hold you responsible.” All of today’s readings beg a timeless question of us, “Am I my brother’s keeper, my sister’s keeper?” Our Scriptures answer that question with a definitive “yes” today. As Christians, we know that 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 polarization and lies, we are to be a sign of honesty and unity. And as we’ve seen recently in our country, to a world that continues to be bent on racism and prejudice, we are to be signs of acceptance, tolerance, welcome and care.

Consider these situations: First, a salesman for a limo service said to a father, “Your son looks young for his age. Take a half-price ticket. If the driver questions you, just say that the boy is under 12. Save a few bucks.” If you had been that father, what would you have said? Or, A mother caught her five-year-old daughter with a stolen candy bar after they returned from the supermarket. If you were that mother what would you do? Or finally: Suppose you heard your child’s best friend say, “If you need any answers on the math test, give me a signal.” If that was your child, would you ignore it, or would you have a talk with them?

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 responsibility that every Christian has towards one another. As followers of Christ, we have a moral obligation not only to do what is right, but also to help each other 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 situations. What should a follower of Jesus say to the salesman who encouraged the father to lie? 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 mother had the child return the candy to the manager and apologize.

And, what about the children 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, his third grade math teacher, Mrs. O’Neill, gave her class a test one day. When grading the tests, she noticed that 12 boys had given the same strange answer to one question. The next day she asked the boys to remain after class, and without saying a word, wrote one sentence on the board; a quote from Thomas Macaulay: “The measure of one’s real character is what they would do if they knew they would never be caught.” Weidman wrote, “I don’t know about the other boys, but this was the single most important lesson of my life.”

And so we have three cases where people spoke up. They heeded Jesus’ instruction to help their brothers and sisters live the Christian life. They took Ezekiel seriously, “If you do not you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked, I will hold you responsible.” They took St. Paul’s seriously, “Love does no evil to the neighbor.” And, they took Jesus’ 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 people in these cases did not keep silent. They encouraged others to holiness and godliness; and they invite us to follow their example. And, it seems as though there could not be a more poignant moment in our world to be reminded of these truths once again. As racism and prejudice once again rear their ugly heads in our midst; as our concern for the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the marginalized, is once again strained; as war, violence, and terror become part of our day-to-day; it is important to remember that for us these are not political issues, they are issues of faith. “Love does no evil to the neighbor,” and of course, everyone is our neighbor.

Make no mistake about the importance of being our brother’s and sister’s keeper. It is part of the fabric from which we were woven by God. God’s plan for you and me, and for everyone, includes being our brother’s keeper. So, the question is whether or not we actually keep our brother or sister, whether or not we look out for them, whether or not their welfare is our concern, whether or not we reach out and share faith and help meet the needs we see around us every day, whether or not we speak up with God’s words of love when evil raises its presence in our midst.

As I wrote in the bulletin two weeks ago, “Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s. Kindness must overwhelm prejudice. Concern for all must silence racism. Let us be the people who join the great chorus and speak love into our world, the love that wipes out the darkness of evil and sin.” Or as St. Paul said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Why do we suffer?













HOMILY FOR THE 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 3, 2017:

Eugene Orowitz was a skinny, 100-pound sophomore at Collingswood High School in New Jersey in the 1950s. One day in gym class, the coach was teaching everyone how to throw a javelin. One by one, the students threw the six-foot-long spear. The longest throw was 30 yards. Finally, the coach looked over to Eugene and said, “You want to try?” Eugene nodded, and the other kids laughed. But as he stood there, a strange feeling came over him. Holding the javelin, he imagined himself as a young warrior about to enter into a battle. He raised the javelin, took six quick steps and let it fly. It soared eventually crashing into the empty bleachers – twice as far as anyone else. When Eugene retrieved the javelin, the tip was broken. The coach said, “It’s no good to us now. You might as well take it home.” That summer Eugene began throwing the javelin in a vacant lot. Some days, for as long as six hours. By his senior year, Eugene threw the javelin 211 feet – farther than any other high schooler in the nation. He was given a scholarship to college and dreamed of the Olympics. Then one day, while throwing, he tore the ligaments in his shoulder putting an end to his throwing, his scholarship, and his dreams. It was as if God had slapped him in the face just as he was realizing his dreams. Eugene dropped out of college and took a job at a warehouse.

This story raises a question echoed in our Scriptures today: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why does He let suffering touch the lives of good people who don’t deserve it? We heard this from Jeremiah. Why did God let a good man like Jeremiah be ridiculed? We heard his frustration, “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.” And, why did God let tragedy take the prize from the hands of Eugene Orowitz after he had worked so hard to win it?

Jesus gives us the answer in today’s Gospel when He says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” What Jesus is saying is hard to believe, even a bit crazy, to someone who doesn’t have faith. “Whoever accepts suffering and misfortune for my sake will find a whole new life.” And it will not be only in the world to come. It will be right here in this world, as well. And Jesus tells us that the life we find with Him will be a far richer than the one we leave behind.

My friends, God doesn’t cause tragedy; He doesn’t harm us; or cause harm in the world; He doesn’t give people cancer or cause drunk driving accidents; He doesn’t cause or condone the wars we engage in. He didn’t wage a hurricane because He was angry with Texas, or send devastating floods to Southeast Asia this week because they had displeased Him. These horrible things aren’t God’s will; in fact they are the opposite of God’s will. But, in the midst of tragedy, God can use even those challenging situations to guide us to newer and better lives.

Let’s go back to the story of Eugene Orowitz. We left him working in a warehouse his dreams seemingly crushed. But, one day, Eugene met a struggling actor who asked him for some help with his lines. Eugene got interested in acting himself and enrolled in a class. His big break came when he was cast as Little Joe in the popular TV western “Bonanza.” Later, he got the leading role in other TV shows like “Little House on the Prairie,” and “Highway to Heaven.” You might know Eugene Orowitz better by his stage name, Michael Landon. And in his success, he came to realize that the most important thing that happened in his life was the day he tore those ligaments in his shoulder, even if it seemed like his dreams had ended that day. What seemed like the worst tragedy of his life was in fact one that led to incredible blessings and fortune; a life that far surpassed the dreams he once held.

Dramatist Paul Claudel said that, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” Jesus said it this way to us today, “Take up your cross and follow me.” So, if we are a young person who dreamed of making the team, but got cut, pick up your cross and follow Jesus. He promises He will lead us to a better life. If we are someone who dreamed of being a success in business, or having the world’s greatest family, or greatest marriage, but ended up with none of these, pick up your cross and follow Jesus. He will mend your broken dreams and lead you to a renewed appreciation of life that you never dreamed possible. He will fill your suffering with His presence.

“Whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for My sake will find it.” My friends, let us have the courage to lose ourselves in the life that Jesus has planned for us. May Jesus fill all of the moments of our lives – the joys and triumphs, the pains and sorrows – with His loving presence. Let us live for God alone.

May the Lord give you peace.