Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sing with me if you know this: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” My apologies, that song will now be stuck in your head all day. If you’re like me, you’ll rmember that Fred Rogers welcomed so many of us to his neighborhood every day with that song. As a child, I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood nearly every day and still have such fond memories. Over the years not much changed with the show; it was the same house, the same trolley to take you to the world of make believe, and the same puppets like King Friday. And, in every single episode Mr. Rogers always asked the same, simple question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Our Gospel today is also asking us to reflect on who is our neighbor. Today’s passage follows last week’s in which the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus with their question about paying taxes to Ceasar. This week, its’ the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus, this time with a question about the greatest commandment. The textbook answer, of course, is the love of God. But, Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy their question, but challenges His listeners. Just like last week, Jesus gives the other side of the coin, which, in this case is the love of neighbor.
Jesus makes the point that anyone who truly loves God must also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of our neighbor. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Or as we hear more succinctly in the First Letter of John, “God is love, and whoever remains in love, remains in God, and God in them.”
Jesus is challenging the Pharisees one-dimensional understanding of love that somehow allowed them to express devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. For Jesus, true love has three essential components: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe. God took just as much time to create each one of us; to create you. We are all God’s masterpieces.
Pope Francis touched on this topic reflecting on today’s Gospel. He said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and the face of our brothers and sisters. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present. No longer can we separate a religious life from service to the concrete brothers and sisters we meet every day. No longer can we divide prayer, the encounter with God in the sacraments, from listening to others, from closeness to their lives, especially to their wounds.”
This concern resonates with what we see in our world today. Yes, the error of the Pharisees is still with us. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the unjust treatment of immigrants and refugees, the ongoing scourge of racism, prejudice, violence, and war that are so much a part of our world. These things cause us to wonder where is the love of our neighbor?
Just like the Pharisees of old, today there are too many Christians who try to separate the love of their fellow human beings from their love of God. There are too many followers of Jesus whose commitment to faith does not include commitment to issues of human rights; to economic and legal justice; to the call for peace; to equality and the ending of prejudice and persecution. Again, we hear in the First Letter of John, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
My friends, let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our brothers and sisters – especially those who are different from us; especially those who others reject; especially those in need. Let us ask God to open our eyes to realize when we see the face of those around us – all those around us – we really see the face of God.
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?
May the Lord give you peace.
Saturday, October 14, 2017
A good friend of mine often tells a story about an encounter he had with his father when he was a child. One day, Mike was in his bedroom when he heard a sound on the roof outside his window. He looked out just in time to see a figure quickly making his way into the room next door through window. The room was his Dad’s study. Mike rushed into the hallway and knocked on that door. He heard some commotion and his father’s voice, “Just a minute.” A few moments later, his Dad opened the door hastily buttoning up his shirt. But, as the shirt closed, Mike could see clearly below the large “S” emblem of the son of Krypton. Mike had just realized that his Dad was Superman! His mild-mannered Dad who worked for the state by day, was secretly the Man of Steel during his off hours. I always love that story.
Anyone my age or older will remember watching Superman on television. You would hear those words, “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!” And, then you’d run to the TV to hear the rest, he was, “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.”
Now, when we were kids, we all wanted to be Superman. We ran around with towels tied around our necks to serve as a cape, and jumped off of higher and higher pieces of furniture to our parents fright, and we would debate about which power of Superman’s we’d most like to have – I always wanted to fly! And, yes, as kids we were faster than a speedy tricycle, more powerful than our little brothers, and could leap tall ottomans in a single bound!
I was thinking of this as I was reflecting on the Word of God we heard today from our second reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. St. Paul said something utterly incredible today. He said, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” I can do all things. And, isn’t this is our dream? This is perhaps the more adult version of wanting to be Superman. We want to be able to do all things. We want to be invincible. We want to be beyond the reach of anything that could harm us. We want to be the hero or heroine in our families and in our communities.
But, the reality is that we, all too often, feel helpless, not heroic, against the challenges of life. We struggle with our own faith. We struggle with trying to have the greatest marriage, the perfect children, the happiest life. But into those moments of doubt and struggle, let us hear Paul’s words again, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” So, what does St. Paul mean?
Well, when Paul claims “I can do all things” he doesn’t mean that he can fly, or bend steel with his bare hands. He’s not saying that he can travel to the moon, or visit heaven at whim. He is not saying that he can paint like Rembrandt, compose like Mozart, write like Shakespeare, or theorize like Einstein. But what he does mean is that when he invites God into the daily joys and struggles of his life, he and God will meet them together, and God will always make them better by His presence, and will lead us to the best outcome if we surrender our will to His. Jesus is always waiting to fill us with His presence. To fill our struggles with His love.
If you know enough of the story of Superman, you know that back on his home planet, he would be just another ordinary man. It is earth’s yellow sun that gives Superman extraordinary strength and abilities here. My friends, it is the very same for you and for me. We do well to remember that the Son also gives us our greatest strength, but not the sun in the sky, for us it is the Son of God who we are humbled to receive in the Eucharist at each and every Mass. When we humbly open our lives to God and truly receive Him in the Eucharist, we are filled with a strength that was previously unimaginable. And isn’t that why we are here week after week?
We can be tempted to look at the pressure we’re under, the mountains we must climb, the burdens we bear, and we say, “I just can’t do it. It’s too much!” And in those moments, let us remember today’s words, “I can do all things with him who strengthens me.” My friends, we can climb any mountain, we can bear any load, we can endure any pain, we can overcome any temptation, and we bear any struggle with the God who gives us strength, who fills those struggles with His presence.
“In every circumstance and in all things, I have learned the secret…I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” Let God strengthen you today through this Holy Mass, and you too will do all things.
May the Lord give you peace.
Sunday, October 8, 2017
HOMILY FOR THE 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 8, 2017:
Two young boys were staying overnight at their grandmother’s house. Every night before they went to sleep they said their prayers. The older boy went first praying about the day he had, about everything he had done and for all his loved ones. Then it was the younger boy’s turn. He prayed much louder than his brother, “God please give me a new bike, new toys and some candy!” When he finished his brother asked, “Why are you praying for bikes, toys and candy so loud? You know, God is not deaf." To which the younger boy responded, “I know, but Grandma is.”
There is an interesting story about one of Napoleon’s Generals, Massena, who, with his army of 18,000 soldiers besieged an Austrian town that was completely defenseless. Knowing they had no chance, the town leaders met to discuss how to surrender. As they discussed giving up, a wise old man in the town stood up and reminded everyone that it was Easter Sunday. He suggested that they hold their usual Easter services and put the problem in God's hands. Everyone agreed and went to the church where they rang the bells to assemble the towns for worship. But, when Massena’s soldiers heard the joyful ringing of the bells they concluded that Austrian reinforcements had arrived to rescue the town. They immediately ran off in retreat, and the town was saved.
I think this little story sheds some light on what St. Paul is saying in today's second reading from the Letter to the Philippians, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” Faith in Christ affects how we face the problems of life. Where people who have no faith typically respond to life's problems with worry, people of faith respond to life's problems with prayer.
We all know that worry sometimes gets the better of us. We worry about our jobs, the bills, our children, our world and our safety and so many other things – some big, some small. Worry and anxiety can take up a lot of space in our lives. But as we heard in our story, worry only encourages surrender to the challenges facing us. In prayer, on the other hand, we raise our hands to our all-loving Father, who can draw us out of our anxiety and into a new world of possibilities with Him. Have you ever noticed how similar the gesture of surrender is to that of prayer? In prayer, we are also surrendering, not to people and their ways, but to God and His ways. And that makes all the difference in the world.
St. Paul today gives us the antidote to the worry that can rule our lives, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” First, he reminds us that prayer is not simply reading a shopping list of our needs before God. It also includes thanking God for the blessing of life and faith that we enjoy already and lifting up before God through petition all other people and their needs. Our prayer involves asking for and offering forgiveness wherever it is needed. And, it involves praying in such a way that our prayer isn’t only about ourselves and our own needs, but it is also about others and their needs – especially those most marginalized in our world.
St. Paul tells us that when we pray in this way “then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This is what happens when we learn to take all our problems to the Lord in prayer. We trade our stress and worry for peace of mind.
So if you find yourself today full of anxiety and worry – worried about your health, worried about your children, anxious about your home or how to pay the bills, then today is the day to throw your hands in the air and surrender – surrender to God all of your cares, and instead of needless worry and anxiety, place them before God in trusting prayer. Let God calm your heart, your mind, your life, and fill you instead with His love, compassion, joy, and mercy.
The key to finding peace in a world of stress and anxiety is not worry but to pray. And not to pray only sometimes, but to pray always in how we think, in what we say and in how we act in the world around us. We start each and every week right here in church with the most profound prayer of the Holy Mass. And what we experience here today, we must bring into the rest of our lives this week so that we can become that prayerful influence among our families, friends, co-workers, and even strangers.
My friends, let us be people of prayer so that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
May the Lord give you peace.
Monday, October 2, 2017
Our hearts are once again broken for those who thought they were out for an enjoyable night at a concert, and instead found themselves the victims of gun violence. We remember them and we pray for them. We pray for all of those who now find themselves trying to make sense of the loss of their loved ones in this tragedy. We pray for the people of Las Vegas who now feel the closeness of such violence and terror in their own community.
And we pray that this will at long last be the mass shooting that wakes up our nation, so that we may begin to address the issue. Maybe this time will be the time that instead of simply retreating into polarized responses on the left and right, we can come together as Americans and work toward reasonable solutions that turn the tide.
Here’s a few things that we can do as people of faith:
Do Not Be Shocked by the Existence of Evil. Unfortunately, evil, like the attack in Las Vegas and so many others before it are a part of our world. We know that humans are sinful, and so we have to expect to encounter the consequences of sin. But, that doesn’t mean that we simply accept evil or that there’s nothing we can do. God has not left us defenseless in these battles. When attacks like Las Vegas happen, the media covers them relentlessly and graphicly. But we don’t have to respond with fear, paranoia, or on the other end, apathy. Responses based in fear are not usually good or helpful. We should be wise to the world, but respond as Christians – in prayer, in calmness, with the love of Christ.
Love Our Enemies—But Don't Let Them Destroy Us. Perhaps the hardest part of our faith is the call that Jesus gives us to love our enemies. It is never harder than when enemies attack us. But, Jesus comforts us in our sorrow and reminds us that this is the only way we will ever break the cycle of violence and vengeance. Loving our enemy does not mean offering them aid or comfort. It doesn’t make us a passive victim. What it means is that we don’t allow hatred to occupy a great space in our heart. We don’t allow a hateful act to turn us into hateful people.
Show Christ's Compassion to Victims. The last thing is the easiest and the most obvious. We are called to be the compassionate and loving presence of Christ in our world, especially to those who have experienced evil. In fact, the best way that they can move forward from that terrible moment is to experience the overwhelming compassion of people near and far. Imagine the effect we could have if we responded to such hate, not with more vitriol, but with love, kindness, and compassion in abundance. There is no better testimony of Christ's love for the world than when His followers tangibly and openly express that love in His name.
We pray for all the lives lost this week. We pray that this, at last, will be the last time this type of senseless violence strikes our land. And, we pray that God will strengthen us to confront such evil and hatred with the overwhelming love of God expressed through us.
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