Archive for the ‘Homilies’ Category

TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – September 15, 2019

A reading from the Book of Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
A reading from the fist Letter of St. Paul to Timothy 1:12-17
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 15:1-32

Dear Friends in Christ,

How are you at forgiving?  That was the question my Confessor asked me one evening during Spiritual Direction.  I responded to the question with a blank stare – or was it a deer-in-the-headlights stare?  He broke the silence after what seemed to me to be an interminable pause, during which my heart pounded and my mouth went dry.  He had been watching me the whole time.  I looked at my hands clasped in my lap.  The evening turned out to be one of the most important in my faith journey.

After some gentle prodding, he told me that my answer to the question about how I was at forgiving was among the most important that any person of faith could consider.  My answer would determine how I pray.  It would determine how I would respond to adversity.  I told my Confessor that I did not bother much with forgiving.  If someone offended me, I either swallowed it and resumed the friendship after a day or two to cool down, or, I ended the friendship, especially if the offender wasn’t that significant in my life.  After a second thought, I said there was also the possibility that I would think I forgave, but reserved the right to terminate the relationship should the offense ever happen again.  Forgiving, for me, was one thing; forgetting was quite another.

He listened patiently to my babble.  When I paused with the hope that I had impressed him with the mature way I dealt with offenders, he looked at me and asked the question that stunned me.  Do the ways you forgive reflect the way you want God to forgive your sins?  You pray every day that God will, you know, every time you say the Lord’s Prayer.  ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’   Then came the question that resulted in our discussion for  the rest of the session.  Do you think of yourself as a sinner?

Those are the issues intertwined in the Liturgy of the Word for this Sunday.  These readings, especially the gospel, are among the most important that we will hear this Liturgical Year.  I have heard many people make snide remarks about Catholic Guilt.  Sometimes the remarks are said in jest.  Often they speak of pain because of unresolved issues in their own lives.  Even more often, the remark rises from the wrath or scorn of a priest in the Confessional.  There are those who would say that you might as well get used to living with guilt.  There is no way to get rid of it.

How many people have left the church because of issues of guilt?  More than we would care to admit.

So then, perhaps the question should be, what kind of forgiver do we think God is?  Search Hebrew Bible and you can come up with passages that indicate God is subject to temper tantrums, those moments when God threatens to annihilate with fire and brimstone because of sins Israel has committed.  This Sunday’s first reading is a case in point.  God is angry because of Israel’s infidelity.  They have fashioned a molten calf and are sacrificing to it, proclaiming it to be the god that led them out of Egypt.  God tells Moses to warn the people that their end is near.

Moses asks God if the promises made to Abraham have been forgotten.  What will the word be when the nations hear that God has eradicated the very people God brought out of Egypt?  Moses reminds God that the promise was for a perpetual heritage.  God remembers.  God relents.  Hebrew Bible is really the saga of God’s pleading with Israel to let God be their God and for them to live as God’s people.  God forgives over and over again.

Paul, in the second reading, marvels at the abundance of forgiveness he has received in his life.  He began as a persecutor of the church.  Now he is an apostle of the faith.  He acted out of ignorance.  Grace intervened and brought him to faith and forgiveness.  Now he believes that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I am the foremost.  That forgiveness is the Good News the church must proclaim.  That is the Gospel to be announced so that all people can live in hope.

Now let’s consider the question again: Do you think of yourself as a sinner?  That question is not asked to get us onto a guilt trip.  That was not what Paul was saying to Timothy.  The question is asked so that, in answering it, we can find our commonality with the human race.  Like it or not, with the exception of the Mother of the Lord, and her Son, every human being knows what it means to sin.  Some just have a harder time admitting it than others.  This brings us to the Gospel reading.

Notice the audience.  Once again those in attendance are segmented.  In one group are the tax collectors, hated by the Jews, and sinners, that is, those designated as such by the judgmental members of society, and ousted and shunned accordingly.  These gather around Jesus and hang on his every word.

Then there are the scribes and the Pharisees gathered in condemning judgment: This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.  The scribes and Pharisees do not consider themselves sinners.  They know the Law and they keep it.  They judge everyone else who might struggle with the Law.  They do not need God’s mercy.  They might long to see the God of fire and brimstone rain havoc on the ones they have judged.  It would be justice, after all.

Luke states clearly that Jesus addresses the parables that follow primarily to the scribes and the Pharisees.  the tax collectors and sinners are the secondary audience.  Remember, we began with the question I was asked: What kind of forgiver are you?  In the parables Jesus tells us what kind of forgiver God is.  Those who are paralyzed with guilt and corresponding fear ought to listen carefully.  So should the rest of us who deal with the reality of sin in our lives.  Those who are not sinners can learn something, too.

The parable about the shepherd with the hundred step who notices that one lamb is missing and leaves the rest to go out searching for the lost one describes God who searches for the sinner and rejoices when the lost is found.  The woman searches for the lost coin until she finds it.  In itself, neither the one sheep nor the small coin is of significant value.  But that is not so in the eye of the shepherd or of the woman.  And so follows the retrievals the great rejoicing, the celebrations, and the lavish parties.  Notice that Jesus introduced each parable with the question: What man among you…what woman…?  He is saying, would not all of you act just the way that these two did?  Chances are the answer would be something like: You’ve got to be kidding!  Ah, but that is the way God acts.

During Lent, so many months ago this year, we heard the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Chances are that this Sunday, because of the length of the gospel reading, the Prodigal Son parable will be skipped.  As I recall, I told you then that I read the Prodigal Son at least once a week, and pray with it.  During Lent we looked at the parable primarily from the son’s point of view.  He represented all those among us who were coming late to the faith, the catechumens and elect preparing for Baptism.  There is an implicit warning to any among us who might resent latecomers, by the way, and those who disparage deathbed conversions. 

In the present context, the parable is about God as forgiver.  Jesus is saying that the attitude of the Father of the Prodigal Son is God’s attitude.  The Father loves his two sons and divides the family fortune between them when the younger son asks for his share of the inheritance.  The young man leaves home and goes off and sows his wild oats, as it were, and falls into ruin when famine hits the area where he is living.  Could there be anything more degrading to befall a Jewish man than to sink to such a level that he had to tend pigs in order to survive?  We use the phrase bottom of the barrel to describe the lowest point to which people descend.  Sometimes we conclude that some have to fall to that level before they can begin to climb their way out.  That was the case with the Prodigal.  It was when he found himself longing to share the slop fed to the pigs that he remembered his father and how well he teated even the hired hands on the estate.  We could call that a grace moment for the son.

Jesus tells us that the father, longing for his son, goes out to the head of the road every evening, hoping to catch sight of his son returning.  On the evening that he does, the father doesn’t stand where he is, tapping his foot, waiting to see what his son will have to say for himself.  He runs to his son and embraces him.  He doesn’t care to hear about the shortcomings that emerged during his absence.  The Father wants to dress his son like a prince and throw a banquet to celebrate his return.  Pretty lavish, don’t you think?  Shouldn’t there have been some form of retribution?  Some punishment?  Not in this story.  I would wager that practically every one of those tax collectors and sinners felt a flood of emotion when they heard about the father’s embracing of the prodigal one.  I always do.

But the story doesn’t stop there.  The older son, after working all day in the fields, hears the din of the celebration and learns it is for his brother who is, in his view, a wastrel and lecher.  He refuses to go in to the banquet.  This son is the stand-in for the scribes and the Pharisees, and for all those who see themselves to be without sin and therefore in no need of  mercy or forgiveness.  And they are not too keen to see mercy and forgiveness lavished on those who need them.

The father comes out to the older son and tries to encourage him to come in and be part of the celebration.  But this son is seething with resentment and cannot even refer to the returned one as his brother.  The older one has been slaving for his father all the while this son of yours squandered his inheritance in lewd ways.  The father tries to get his son to see things differently.  The father speaks of your brother, of his having been lost and now is found, being dead but having come to life again.  Don’t we have to celebrate?

We do not know whether the older son goes into the party, or if he welcomes his brother home.  That is for the hearer to decide.  What will determine the conclusion will be the ability to identify with the younger son, to know what it means to be a sinner, to rejoice at having been forgiven.  These will hope that there will awaken in the older son and the other judgmental ones, a desire to rejoice with those who find the same loving embrace of the Father that they have been blessed with all their lives.

Now, do you see yourself as a sinner?  How are you at forgiving?  My confessor reminded me that I prayed every day that God would forgive me the way I forgive others.  Do you think it is a good idea to present God as being so lavish in forgiving?  I didn’t until after that conversation when I realized my own need for forgiveness.  I’m still working at being lavish in forgiving those who offend me.  In the meantime, every Sunday I go to the banquet where that reconciliation and return are celebrated.  I continue to learn the language of rejoicing.  And I say I am willing to be sent from the banquet to invite others to come to the feast.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

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TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – September 08, 2019

A reading from the Book of Wisdom – 9:13-18b
A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to Philemon 9-10, 12-17
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke – 14:25-33

Dear Friends in Christ,

This Sunday’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom is Solomon’s prayer for wisdom, that wisdom that only the holy spirit of God can give.  Solomon’s holy spirit is not  what the Christian era would come to understand as the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.  Here it is God breathing in wisdom, inspiring the recipient to know God’s counsel  Solomon’s prayer fits as a reading in relation to the gospel for this Sunday.  Jesus is making it clear to those who are considering becoming disciples, what the cost of discipleship will be.  It is as if Jesus is asking the candidates, Are you sure you can do this?  When the implications begin to press on you, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

While it is not the main theme in the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon, Paul makes it clear what discipleship has cost him now that he is an old man, in prison, and awaiting his being put to death for his faith.  Would Paul have made the choice that he did on the road to Damascus had he known what discipleship would cost him?  From the opening of this reading, it seems clear that he would.  Paul urges Philemon to recognize the new relationship he should have with his run-away slave, Onesimus,  now baptized and a brother in the Lord.  Paul doesn’t address the issue of slavery as such, but he certainly makes it clear how Philemon should look on Onesimus, and that he should welcome him as he would welcome Paul.  Baptism unites us all as members of the Body of Christ.  All divisions cease.  Granted, unfortunately that is not always clear in the Christian community we call Church, but it should be.

So we come to the gospel.  For several weeks now, we have been hearing an outline of characteristics disciples should possess.  They should be vigilant.  They should strive to enter by the narrow gate.  They should serve the poorest of the  poor, even, as we learned from the parable about the Good Samaritan, if those poor they seem more inclined to despise.  And last week we heard about humility.

All along the way, following Jesus as he journeys to Jerusalem to suffer, to die, and on the third day, to rise again, there have been two distinct groups – the disciples and the crowds.  The disciples are those who have made the commitment to follow Jesus and to walk with him on the Way.  The crowds are those who may well be amazed at Jesus’ teaching and preaching, and even awed by the miracles he has worked, but they have not made the commitment to discipleship.  

The number of those making up the crowds was huge.   Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, Luke tells us.  Those who choose to accept Jesus’ invitation to discipleship, after they have traveled down the road a bit, will have no excuse for saying we had no idea what would be entailed in being a disciple.  They won’t be able to say to Jesus; Why didn’t you tell us?

I remember wincing the first time I heard Mahatma Gandhi’s quote, in effect saying that he loved Christ, it was Christians that he could not abide.  Perhaps as an outsider he could look on dispassionately and note the marked contrast between the Gospel as it was preached, and the Gospel as it was lived.  He and his people experienced the heavy stomp of the Christian foot on their backs, and the violence and bloodshed by which he and his people knew oppression.  Chances are that Gandhi knew the parable of the Good Samaritan that we heard a few weeks ago and wondered why it failed to have application in the present situation.  If he knew about the Spanish Inquisition, he may well have wondered if that parable ever applied.

You may well have heard today’s gospel proclaimed before.  Have you ever heard anyone gasp, or poke the person next to him and ask if s/he heard the same thing he did?  Have you ever seen a silent shaking of a head in pity for the reader, or seen someone get up and stomp out, muttering , or shouting: Who can take this seriously?  No?  Well, that might be  because we are so good at adapting texts to what we want to hear.  It is seldom that we are unsettled by the demands of the Gospel.

Listen carefully this Sunday.  Jesus puts squarely before us the cost of discipleship.  If you do not at least ask whether or not you can do this, you have not let the Good News penetrate to the core of your being.  Make no mistake about it.  Jesus’ call is that demanding and uncompromising.

Jesus will not allow anything to come before him in a disciple’s life.  He uses the word hate.  The disciple cannot follow Jesus without hating father and mother, husband or wife and children…even one’s own life.  Jesus uses the word hate, but as a Semitic idiom.  Matthew put it another way: Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.  

The word hate must be juxtaposed in one’s mind with all Jesus’ exhortations to love.  He said that the whole Law and the Prophets was summed up in the commandment to Love God with one’s entire being and to Love one’s neighbor as one’s self.  Love is still the law, even here.  But what if following Jesus became a source of conflict with your parents?  What if your spouse or your children told you they could not accept or be part of the demands the Gospel made in your life?  What if your being a Christian meant that you could no longer do the kind of work you were doing to earn your bread and butter and to put a roof over you and your family?  What would you do if your being a Christian meant you had to love and serve someone you might naturally hate, someone who had betrayed you, done violence to you or to someone you love?  Or, what if your being a disciple of Jesus meant you were going to be imprisoned and put to death?

Pardon the litany of woes above.  The fact was that in Luke’s time, following Jesus could mean for converts to Christ the loss of everything, even their lives.  Jesus is saying to both the crowds deciding and to us who made our decision, I expect to have primacy of place in your life.  Nothing can come before me.  You must be willing to do what I do.  You must be willing to take up your cross every day and even be willing to die on it with me.

I have talked before about the Ugandan Martyrs and the impact visiting the shrine to the martyrs had on me.  These were a group of 23 young men in the process of becoming converts to Christ.  Some had been baptized, but not all.  We would call them today neophytes and catechumens.  They were slaves of the king and were expected to do whatever he demanded of them.  When obeying him meant compromising what they felt the Gospel called them to do and to be, they refused the king’s sexual demands.  One by one they were lead off to a place of torture and put to a slow and agonizing death.  They were put on spits and wrapped  in reeds.  The reeds were lit at their feet.  As long as it took for the flames to travel to their upper bodies is how long it took for them to die.  Observers noted that not one of them screamed, or cried out in agony, or in condemnation of those who put them to the fire.  Each one sang psalms and praised Jesus to whom they knew they were going.

When I stood in the shrine of the Ugandan Martyrs, I wondered if I could ever suffer anything remotely like what they had endured and handle it with near the grace they had.  Grace has to be the operative word here.  It was grace that transformed the Martyrs.  Please God, were we forced to a similar fate, that grace would be present to us.

When we seek Baptism and determine to continue as Christians, we must be clear about and accept the possibility that being faithful to Jesus and the Gospel could lead to rejection, suffering and even death.  All of that may follow if we take the Gospel call seriously and live lives in marked contrast with those who reject the dignity and worth of all God’s people, even the poor and the aliens, regardless of sex or sexual orientation, or color, or race, or whatever other might give pause.  Disciples must be willing to love even those who can betray and destroy them.  Why?  Because Jesus did.

I doubt that when Jesus spoke these words to the crowds he harangued.  Probably he spoke firmly, but also with compassion.  That is why he told the two parables at the conclusion of this gospel, a parable about a man constructing a building and a parable about a king engaging in battle.  In both cases, the question is: Do you have what it takes, enough bricks and mortar, or enough troops, to successfully complete the operation?  And in both cases, Jesus suggests quitting before the builder or the king becomes a laughing stock or a failure.

Jesus expected each one in the crowd to ask, who could possibly do this?   Who would be strong enough to suffer such hardships and even death?  He would agree.  For ordinary mortals, it is impossible.  But remember what we heard near the beginning of Luke’s Gospel – Nothing is impossible with God!  It is God’s transforming grace that comes to us through Jesus that makes it possible to live the Good News.  Remember what Thomas More said to his wife, Alice, before he went to the chopping block?  Taking a pinch of his flesh, he said to her: This is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.  Oh, but it was when grace empowered him. It is reminiscent of Paul, nearing the end of his ministry and in prison, he said:  I can do all things in him who strengthens me.

So we gather this Sunday and after hearing the challenge of the gospel, we move to celebrate Eucharist.  As we do, we must empty ourselves of everything that would create fraction where there should be unity.  We give thanks to God as we renew Christ’s dying and rising.  We share in the meal and are strengthened by it.  Our witness is meant to strengthen each other and to urge each other to continue in fidelity to follow the Gospel’s call.  Together we will be sent to imitate what we have handled and, as the Body of Christ, we will imitate Christ in loving God with our entire being and in loving our neighbor even as we love ourselves.

God’s grace will strengthen us to accept the consequences.

Sincerely yours in christ,

Didymus 

TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – September 01, 2019

A reading from the Book of Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 14:1, 7-14

My father was a mild mannered man who was well able to control his emotions.  It took a major faux pas to provoke an angry response from him.  The rest of the time a glance from him was sufficient to register his displeasure with something said or done.  That being said, when he did erupt, so to speak, it was memorable.

How old was I that day?  It seems to me that I was not more than in the second grade of elementary school.  We were walking north on California Avenue after getting hair cuts heading for home and lunch.  I held his hand.  What possessed me?  I saw a black man sitting on the pavement, leaning his back against the Woolworth store.  A scruff of beard showed on his face.  His clothes were well worn and in need of repair.  He had a cup in his hand to accept the offerings of people passing by.  What struck me as funny?  Why did I laugh?  From this vantage point, I cannot recall.  I do remember that my father paused in front of the man and inquired about his health.  He shook the man’s hand and dropped something into the cup.  Father and I continued on up the street for a bit.  Then he stopped and turned toward me, demanding my full attention.

”Listen to me, young man.  And I hope I never have to repeat this.  I am very disappointed in what you just did.  What gives you the right to hold another person up to scorn?  (I don’t think I knew what scorn meant then.)  You laughed at that man, making fun of him.  Do you think you are better than he is?  Do you know the troubles he has dealt with in his life, or the sorrows that have befallen him?  Never forget that God loves that man the way God loves you.  That man is family.

“You think about what you did just now.  When we get home, I want you to tell me what you are going to do to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.  Do you understand me?”

My father did not have to raise his voice.  He did not have to spank me.  The hurt that registered in his eyes was more painful than a shout or a slap.  Even as I write this these many decades later, I can hear his voice and feel the pressure of his hand holding mine.  The lesson etched itself indelibly in my consciousness.

I think of that childhood memory in the context of the Liturgy of the Word for this Sunday.  The reading from Sirach and the Gospel teach us about humility.  Do not miss the point by concentrating on the instruction Jesus gives us to take the lower place at a banquet table.  The possibility of being shown to a higher place by the host and being the recipient of the adulation of the other guests who get the point of just how important the one being reseated is in comparison to the rest of them just might translate into a temptation to vanity.  Of course there is also the possibility that the host, noticing the person in the lower seat, might think the person chose appropriately.  Then imagine the chagrin.

The gospel parable is meant to take us deeper and challenge us to be different from what our natural inclinations might tempt us to do.  As we sit under the Word we should confront our natural perceptions regarding self in relation to others.  That child that I was laughed at the beggar because instinctively I thought I was better than him.  My father apprised me of the truth.

It is not easy to be a Christian.  Jesus never told the crowd considering discipleship that it would be easy to walk with him on The Way.  With this gospel, we are back to the narrow gate,  and the eye of the needle through which the heavily laden camel can only pass with great difficulty.  Through Luke, Jesus challenges his disciples to see people through a different lens.  Te be disciples we are to reverence the poor, the disabled, the lame, and the blind, all those looked down upon by segments of society, those ignored or overlooked by the societal elite.  These are to have primacy of place in our society.  They are all to have a place at the Table.  Jesus practiced table fellowship with this class of people and those publicly denounced as sinners.  Hosting them opened Jesus to ridicule and became the source of charges leveled against him, charges that led to his rejection and crucifixion.  If I am going to be a disciple, I must be the host of that kind of banquet and number these kinds of people among my friends.

I struggled with the community where I once worshipped.  Looking around the Assembly, I saw only the comfortable, the white.  Other races and ethnic groups were not in evidence.  I should have taken my lead from the parking lot.  Luxury cars occupied most of the slots.  Inside the church, everything was too pristine and the padded pews, too soft.  I lasted a few Sundays before I went on a search for a place that told me: All are welcome here!

I knew I was home when I saw a severely disabled woman make her way with difficulty up the stairs to the altar area, there to receive the Body and Blood, and then with difficulty to make her way down the steps to begin her Eucharistic Ministry.  Of course her fellow ministers assisted her but in no way compromised her dignity.  I saw a person in a motorized chair struggling with Cerebral Palsy.  His Amen came a little later than those of the rest of the Assembly.  I saw Hispanics and Blacks and Asians.  And it had all started for me on my way into the Worship Space when three people at different times welcomed me and told me how happy they were to see me.  All are welcome here!

Sometimes I wonder about the padded pews.  I wonder about the elitism that seems evident in some Assemblies.  I hear Pope Francis urging us to be a poorer church that serves the needs of the poor.  Clericalism must come to an end.  The hierarchy must shepherd in the midst of the sheep.  Or so Francis says.  And there are growing numbers who denounce him for such utterances.  A collection for the St. Vincent de Paul Society is not enough to counter the elitism.  God help me if I should look about me and dare to think that I belong among the elite.  God forbid that in recognizing the poor and the disabled that I thank God I am not like the rest of men or even like these.

I don’t think I have to sit in the lowest place.  I certainly do not want the place of honor.  I just want to make myself available to wash feet.  How about you? 

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus