Saturday, October 27, 2018

Mookie Betts and the Kingdom of God


This is a sleepy week for Red Sox Nation – especially after last night’s record setting 7 hour, 18 inning World Series Game. I have to adjust my prediction now to Red Sox in 5 games! My favorite moment of this World Series so far is, actually, not anything that took place on the field, but rather the actions of one player off the field - Mookie Betts. Mookie has had one heck of a season and is on a well-deserved course to be named MVP. But, in addition to his skill as a ball player, I always love to watch the pure joy with which he plays baseball. Watching him is like watching little leaguers in their childlike thrill for baseball. He just seems like a great guy.

That was confirmed this Wednesday. After winning Game 2, Mookie went home to celebrate with friends and family. They had a huge buffet of Dominican food, and Mookie and his friends insisted they could eat the whole countertop full of chicken, steak, rice, beans, vegetables, and flan. They stuffed themselves, but finally they admitted defeat.

That’s when they had the thought, “We should go and give it away the rest.” They recalled the line of people who usually sleep wrapped in blankets, shivering on cardboard boxes, next to Boston Public Library. It was amost 2 a.m. and just 37 degrees out, and Mookie and a friend wrapped themselves in warm clothing and headed out into the night. Grabbing a nearby shopping cart, they loaded it with tin foil trays, plastic silverware, napkins and wet naps, and cases of bottled water. They gently woke a few people to offer them dinner, and within a few minutes close to two dozen men and women were eating. “Thank you so much,” one of them said. “We were hungry all day.”

Mookie declined to comment, and never intended anyone to find out. His friend said, “It was just the right thing to do.” None of the homeless that night recognized Betts. No one cared that he will likely be the MVP, that the Sox won a record 108 games this season and is two wins away from a title. You see, he didn’t act in his capacity as a baseball celebrity. He acted in his capacity as a human being – one who had the choice between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing. He chose the right thing. Betts is baffled by the attention he has received, as he considers it an ordinary act of kindness.

I was thinking of this moment as I reflected on the healing story of blind Bartimaeus in our Gospel today. Of all of the healing stories in the Gospels, this is the only one where we are told the name of the person healed and so that must mean something. Mark gives us the name “Bartimaeus” – a name which is a hybrid of both Aramaic and Greek, and has two different meanings in each.

First the name Bartimaeus in Aramaic means "son of defilement." So, Bartimaeus could be a nickname given to him because he was a blind beggar and popular belief of the time said that blindness was a punishment for sin. On the other hand, the name Bartimaeus in Greek means "son of honor." And so, by giving us this name with its double meaning, Mark is telling us something important. Bartimaeus is supposed to be a man of honor in God’s sight, but is instead being treated as a man of defilement. What Jesus did for him was not simply heal his physical sight but, more than that, Jesus restored his God-given destiny and dignity. “Take courage; get up! Jesus is calling you!” Jesus heals not only Bartimaeus’ eyes, He heals his soul, his dignity, his very humanity.

And, I think, this is the challenge Jesus places in our lives too. In our increasingly fractured world, Bartimaeus is all around us. We encounter Bartimaeus, like Mookie did, in the many homeless and hungry on the streets each day. We see him in the people whose human dignity has been stripped away because of their race, their ethnicity, their political affiliation, their gender, their immigration status, or any of the countless ways our world decides some are unworthy of dignity. Our world today constantly turns people into sons and daughters of defilement; not worthy of our time, our concern, our care, or compassion. But, Jesus once again calls us to open our eyes so that we can see everyone sons and daughters of honor, of dignity, of holiness; worthy of our love and care.

Mookie Betts did such a simple thing this week. He took his excess and gave it to those who had nothing. But far more than food, he gave them dignity as brothers and sisters on the journey. True and lasting healing lies in lifting up hearts that were broken, in reconciling relationships that were shattered, in seeking out forgiveness when we have wronged another, in looking into the eyes of someone that the world has forgotten and saying, “I see you. You have value and dignity. You are loved and treasured in my eyes and in the eyes of God.” How easy it is for us to choose to be healers too – we have the power to heal our world.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus. May our answer be the same as his, “I want to see.” Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us for the times when we have been blinded to your presence around us; especially in those who need to be lifted up the most. Master, we want to see.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Mega Billions in the Kingdom of God


By a show of hands, how many us played the Mega Millions this week? Yes, I confess, that I couldn’t resist grabbing a Quick Pick this week too. As we all discovered this morning, none of us won, and now the pot has grown to $1.6 billion. I guess they’ll have to rename it the Mega Billions! I bet as you purchased your one-in-260 million chance of winning, you probably gave some thought to what you would do with the cash. Perhaps pay off some bills, buy a new house or car, start a business, go on some wonderful trips, quit your job. The more philanthropic among you hopefully thought you’d give a nice chunk to St. Margaret’s or other worthy causes. It is easy to think of the “things” that a lot of money could do in our lives, but, I wonder, do you think that winning would make your life happier?

I came across a study of more than 3,000 lottery winners that asked: All things considered, how happy would you say you are? They found that winners were certainly more comfortable than they had been, which makes sense if they don’t have to worry about bills and the like. Surprisingly, though, they did not find any noticeable increase in happiness because of their win. Similarly, Forbes Magazine conducted a study of the happiest professions in the United States. They did not find bankers, business people, or money managers on their list. The happiest people are: artists, teachers, physical therapists, firefighters and the number one spot? Priests!

Last week, I mentioned a quote of Pope Benedict who said, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” Greatness and wealth; greatness and comfort; greatness and power – these are not usually the same things. This question is also at the heart of our Gospel today. Our passage shows us this grab-for-glory by two of the disciples – James and John – who want a privileged place in the Kingdom; one at the right and one at the left of Jesus. They are grabbing for what they believe to be success and greatness – an important position in the Kingdom and the perceived power that comes with it. But, Jesus turns their question on its head, “You do not know what you’re asking,” He tells them. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant, whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”

This is a timeless message of the Gospel – greatness is found by being the least; success is found in servanthood. Yet, how often we treat that message as quaint and fail to embrace it. James and John learn the hard way that greatness isn’t determined by accomplishments, wealth, power, or status. The measure of our success and happiness is whether or not we are cooperating with God’s plan. If there is one thing we know for sure, it is this: God created everyone for success. As Pope Benedict said, we are created for greatness. God did not create any one of us for failure. They key is to make our measure of greatness the same as God’s measure.

For most people, as for James and John, success means to be head of the pack. To succeed means to excel. Success is measured by comparing one's achievements against “competitors;” stacking up your wealth against another’s. That’s why James and John go to Jesus and instead of asking that they be granted a place in His kingdom, they ask for prime position; a position of perceived power.

Jesus teaches them a new meaning of success. Success means realizing and fulfilling God's dream for you. There can be no life happier than that. Jesus is inviting us not to compete, but to cooperate with Him. He is inviting us not to plot for conquest, but to learn to listen to the plan that God speaks to our hearts; not to sew divisions based on color, nationality, status or wealth, but to be unified as members of One Body.

James and John today represent the mentality of our world which encourages unbridled ambition, and the ruthless triumph over our rivals, rather than seeking to discern God's will for our lives. It encourages unhealthy competition, rather than cooperation and the contentment of realizing that when we become servant to one another we achieve a greatness that nothing can take away.

God has more than enough dreams to go around, a different dream for everyone here today, a different dream for every single person in the world. Our goal in life should be simply and only this: to discover and live God's dream for us; to serve one another and find greatness in that service. And that, my brothers and sisters, is the only true measure of success, of greatness, and of happiness: what would God have me do? Because if we don’t fulfill God’s dream for us – who will?

“Whoever wishes to be great among you, first among you, will be the servant of all.” And if each of us does that, never mind 260 million-to-one, I guarantee we will all win. May we achieve the greatness that God has dreamed us for.

May the Lord give you peace!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

What are you listening for?


One day, two friends were walking along the crowded streets of a big city. The street was full of the noise of people, cars, buses, construction – the hubbub of city life. Suddenly, one of the friends stopped and said, “Can you hear that cricket?” The other friend said, “You can’t possibly hear a cricket with all this noise.” The man was certain and walked over to a planter along the sidewalk. Pushing aside some branches, sure enough, there was the cricket. His friend was bewildered, “How did you ever hear that?” The man simply said, “My ears are no different than yours. It just depends on what you’re listening for. Let me show you what I mean.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change and dropped them on the sidewalk. Immediately, every head within a block turned in his direction. “You see,” he said again, “it just depends on what you are listening for.”

Our Gospel today asks the same question, “What are you listening for?” We heard the rich young man ask Jesus a straight-forward question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him, “Sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The story ends that “he went away sad, for he had many possessions?” I always feel sorry for this young man. He certainly meant well. He tells us at the outset that he has faithfully observed all of the commandments from his youth. But, what Jesus asks of him is just too much to bear.

Did you know this young man is the only person in the Gospels that we are specifically told refused to follow Jesus once invited. Imagine saying “no” to Jesus invitation in your life. As I said, he meant well, but his trouble was that his possessions meant more to him. What was he listening for? This man was faced with a choice – security with Jesus, or security in the bank; rely on Jesus or rely on wealth. It is a human predicament that we’ve all felt at one time or another, and the sad situation of this passage is that the young man chose to listen to the voice of the world instead of the voice of the Lord.

And of course the passage reaches out to us today too and asks, “What voice are we listening to?” What is holding us back from following Jesus? What is it that’s causing us to drag our feet? Could it also be money? Maybe not the money we need to live, but perhaps a dishonest way of making it, a habit of cheating, or overcharging, or stealing that has found its way into our lives? Could it be our need for the best of possessions in life? More possessions in our lives? The newest gadget? The name brand?

Maybe it isn’t money or possessions for us at all. It could be something else – it could be the grudges we refuse to let go of; the forgiveness we fail to seek out or to offer to others; maybe it’s the indifference to the struggles of others. You see, to follow Jesus is to follow in love. “Love one another, just as I have loved you,” He told us. Perhaps what is keeping us from following Jesus is a spirit of negativity or judgment, an attitude that always finds the worst in others; a tongue that is always quick to cut down. It could be as simple as laziness – being too lazy to care; too lazy to say our prayers; too lazy to make a difference to anyone.

I wonder sometimes what happened to the rich young man. Did he become a rich old miser? Did his money make him happy? Did he lose it all along the way? Jesus visited him and invited him into the wonder of a life lived for Christ – a life that makes a difference; a life that matters. He walked away. He missed the chance to do good; to reach out to people; to serve Jesus in the world as His follower. Imagine if our spiritual heroes and heroines had made the choice. What if St. Paul had said no; or St. Peter or St. Andrew or St. Mary Magdalene or St. Pope John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa, or those holy men and women who Pope Francis declared saints today in St. Peter’s Square – St. Pope Paul VI and St. Oscar Romero. These are women and men whose lives made a real difference in the world because they chose to say yes when Jesus said, “Follow me.”

I recently saw a Mark Twain quote that said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.” We are reminded today that Jesus is the answer to the second part. Jesus is the “why” that makes all the difference in our lives. Pope Benedict said, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!”

You know, I like to think that the rich young man eventually came to his senses. I like to imagine that after walking away with a sad heart, he realized his mistake and not only returned, but came back running. I like to believe that he changed his mind and made a choice with all of his mind, his heart, and his being – and followed Jesus all the way to the eternity he first asked about. I like to think that he realized the most valuable possession in his life is his faith and the relationship that Jesus invited him into – and that in the end, he made a difference.

So, what are you listening for? What has the greatest hold on your heart? May we too be possessed by nothing more than our love of God, our desire to serve, our hunger for holiness, and our call to make a difference in our world.

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...