Saturday, September 24, 2016
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
Saturday, September 17, 2016
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
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.