Tuesday, October 16, 2018

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - October 14, 2018

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
October 14, 2018      
4:00 pm and 8:00 am at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville  

11:00 am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore


Disconnect 


So, you are a good person.

You don’t steal or cheat or cheat on your husband or wife.  You work hard and try to be good to others. 

And yet, you are not quite sure.  Something feels incomplete and so you ask Jesus, “Am I doing okay?”  

This is what the man in today’s gospel is feeling and doing.  And then Jesus answers you and says, “Well, as a matter of fact, there is one thing that is lacking.”   

You anxiously ask, “Uh, what’s that?”  And Jesus responds to you or me with a 2018 answer – different from what he says to the man in the gospel, but just as unsettling.

He says, “Power off your cell phone and shut down your tablet and your laptop.  And just be there for your family or friends or for the people you work with and definitely for anyone who is in need.”

You and I are really put off, much like the man in the gospel.  “Power off my Smartphone and shut down my tablet and my laptop?

“Are you kidding?  I might miss out on something.”

FOMO


And that is the issue, maybe the problem.

Some psychologists are studying this fear of missing out on something as an addiction.  They refer to it by the acronym FOMO – F-O-M-O – Fear of Missing Out.

It is the fear of missing out on something or someone more important, more interesting, or more exciting than the thing we are now doing or the person we are now with.  This other something or someone may be better or worse.

We don’t know, so we just have to check it out. The thought of missing an email or a text or a tweet terrifies us.  

So, we interrupt one call to take another.  We’re constantly checking Facebook or LinkedIn to make sure we are not out of the loop.

We are connected and available 24/7.  This is what we are holding on to, much as the man in the gospel was holding on to his wealth. 

Shocking Us

Now, Jesus is not telling us to throw away our cell phones and tablets and laptops.

In fact, the man in today’s gospel is the only person that Jesus ever tells to sell all that he has and give the money to the poor.  He never says this to the apostles or to Martha and Mary and Lazarus or anyone else.

Jesus apparently says this here to shock this man – to shake him into looking more deeply at his life.  And I think it is the same thing with us and all of our electronic and social communications.

Communicating or being connected is a wonderful thing, Jesus would say.  But the kingdom of God is not just digital and real caring is not just a virtual experience.  

Disconnect to Connect

I think Jesus would say: “Disconnect in order to connect.”

Disconnect from the cell phone or tablet or laptop and do this to connect with those around you.  The purpose of communication is not just communication but communion – communion with others and with God too.

The persons around us are the “poor”to whom Jesus tells the man in the gospel to give his money.  They may not be financially poor or any more emotionally or spiritually in need than we are.

But they are the persons we are with right now – your family at home, your friend with whom you are having a beer, the guy or woman who live next door.  Jesus is saying: let go of what you are afraid you are going to miss – FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out.  

Disconnect in order to connect.  Make sure your communications are for communion with others.

If you do this, then you are really with the other person or with God or even with God by being with that person.  And then you will experience an inner peace and no longer FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - September 30, 2018

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
September 30, 2018
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville       4:00pm
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore             11:00am
            

Hopkins Buildings 


One day several years ago, I was leaving Johns Hopkins Hospital after visiting a person who had major cardiac surgery.
                                                                                                 
I noticed something at Hopkins that really caught my attention. I was leaving the Sheikh Zarad building.

This building is for patients who are in critical care, including heart surgery. It is named after Sheikh Zarad who was the major donor.

He is a Muslim and is from the United Arab Emirates. What caught my eye is that the ground floor hallway connects the Sheikh Zarad building to the Weinberg building. 

This building is a cancer center and the major donors are Harry and Jeannette Weinberg. They were a Jewish couple from Baltimore. 

And then, not far from these buildings is the Anne Pinkard School of Nursing. Anne Pinkard was a Catholic, a member of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Parish in Baltimore. 

She and her husband Walt – an Episcopalean – were major donors to this building. Well, today’s gospel triggers my memory of these buildings at Hopkins.

“Whoever is not against us is for us.”


And this is why I say that.

The apostles are upset because someone, who is not part of their group, is helping others and invoking the name of Jesus. So, the apostles try to stop this man for just one reason: he is not part of their group. 

But Jesus says: “Let him alone. Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Jesus’ point is that he wants us to recognize good by whomever it is done. He doesn’t want us to be exclusivist and think that only those who are part of our group are good and can do good.

He doesn’t want us to think that only Christians or only Catholic Christians or only those who agree with us on everything can do good. He wants us, as I said, to accept good by whomever it is done.

Jesus is calling us to embrace this open attitude and mindset. And if we do, there will be good results.

The Effects in General  

This is why I am remembering those buildings at Hopkins.

Muslims, Jews, Catholics, other Christians and probably persons of other faiths or of no faith tradition are all cooperating in the mission of Johns Hopkins Hospital. The results are excellent. 

Hopkins is one of the finest hospitals in the world. This happens because of openness to the good that everyone can do – even though there are major differences among those involved.    

This openness to the good that others can do and collaborating with them in doing it also brings people closer together. It prevents differences from becoming divisions and it helps to melt some of the divisions that we have allowed differences to create. 

The Effects for Our Church

Jesus’ words today – “Whoever is not against us is for us” – are good guidance for our Church.

We as a Catholic Church and any religious group can easily slide into the attitude of the apostles. In fact, we have done this at times.

In the name of God and of what we believe to be true, we can slide into a kind of exclusivist mindset. We can fail to see the good in those who are not part of our group – our Church.

Sometimes we have done this because of disagreements – maybe on issues of faith or morality. At times, there seems to be a fear of watering down our faith – I have heard that expression used – the fear of watering down our faith if we recognize the good and cooperate with others with whom we disagree.

In truth, we water down our faith when we fail to do this. We are not living the gospel. 

The truth is that Jesus calls us to recognize the good that others do regardless of who they are. If we do that, a lot more good will be done.

If we do that, we will not be allowing differences to become a source of division. In fact, we will be melting some of the divisions in our relationships, our community, our country and our world that we have allowed differences to create.

We will be building up the kingdom of God. That’s my take on this gospel passage today.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - September 23, 2018

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
September 23, 2018
            

“Compare and Despair” 


Back in 2010, a Jesuit priest named James Martin published what I think is an excellent book.

It is titled: A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.  It is insightful and enjoyable reading.

At one point, James Martin talks about the human tendency to compare ourselves with others.  Sometimes we look at others and their lives and may feel down because we think we don’t have it as good as they do.

James Martin says that this tendency to compare is a real trap.  He has this little saying: “Compare and despair.”  “Compare and despair.”

He says that when we compare, we often minimize the good things in our own lives and maximize the good things in other persons’ lives.  And ironically, we often maximize the bad things in our own lives and minimize the bad things in other persons’ lives.  

So, “Compare and despair.”  Martin advises that we just be with our own strengths and challenges and find our peace right there.

Striving to Be First 


This insight helps us to appreciate today’s gospel.

The apostles have been arguing about which of them should be number one – above all the others.  On the surface, each of them is asserting that he should be number one because of his own special talents.

But my bet is that, underneath the surface, each of them feels less than the others and that being designated as number one would make them feel better.  They are comparing and, as Martin says: “Compare and despair.”  

In response to this, Jesus points to a little child.  And with the child, he teaches two lessons. 

1. See the Value of Each Person 

First, each of us is already valuable just in being ourselves.

In the culture of Jesus’ day, children were at the bottom of the ladder.  For example, if a family did not have enough food, the father would eat first, then the mother, and only then would the children get what was left over.

This sounds backwards to us.  In our culture, some of our parents may have held back on eating or on buying something so that the children could have enough. 

Well, in that very different culture, Jesus says, “Whoever receives a child such as this, receives me.”  He’s saying that a child and who that child symbolizes is valuable – anyone seen as insignificant, powerless or hurting.

So, if a child has such value and worth, then each of us does too.  Our value is inherent in our very being and is given to us by God.

This means that we don’t have to compare ourselves with anyone and we don’t have to be above others, as the apostles were trying to do.  Our value or self-worth is already there.
     
2. Care for the Least

And then Jesus teaches a second lesson with this child.

He calls us to care for the insignificant, the powerless and the hurting among us.  He does this when he calls us to receive the little child as if we were receiving him.

So, we are not to compare ourselves and see ourselves as better than those whose income is at poverty level.  We are not to look upon them as a drain on society.

When we do this kind of comparing, the “Compare and despair”rule acts in reverse.  Here we will not be caring for those in need and so they will despair.   

I sometimes think of it this way.  In a hospital, the health care professionals simply treat us when we are sick.

They don’t ask if our intestinal or coronary trouble is our own fault because of eating fatty foods and, if that’s the case, they refuse to treat us.  They simply treat us, help us to get better, and then advise us on how to take care of ourselves.

Well, in the same way, we are to care for the insignificant, the powerless and the hurting in our society.  We are to do this without comparing and seeing them as below us or as undeserving.   

And interestingly, Jesus is saying that again, in doing this, we ourselves will find self-worth.  Our sense of self will be strengthened and enhanced.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - August 26, 2018

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
August 26, 2018        10:00am

Mepkin Abbey, Moncks Corner, South Carolina 


“This saying is hard”


“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Jesus has just said – we heard it last Sunday – that “The bread I give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  So, today some of the people respond, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”  

This response got me thinking. If we page through the gospels, we find that there are other hard sayings. 

Two Specific Hard Sayings 


For example, right at the beginning, an angel appears to Joseph.  

The angel explains that “It is through the Holy Spirit that Mary is conceiving a child.”  This is a hard saying.  

It goes against all we know about how children are conceived and born.  And yet, could it be so?  

Would the almighty, transcendent God who is the source and creator of all that is be limited to what we know?  Might the divine emerge in our humanity in a way that is beyond our imagination?  

So, in the end, might we answer Jesus’ question, “Do you also want to leave?” in the same way Peter does?  “Master, to whom shall we go?”

And then, in another place, Jesus says, “Whoever find their life will lose it, and whoever lose their life for my sake will find it.”

This is also a hard saying.  Aren’t we supposed to find ourselves as persons and in that sense, find our lives?

Isn’t it a good thing to seek my fulfillment in life? And yet, how many persons who focus so exclusively on this end up feeling empty?

How many persons, maybe especially those who have a lot of stuff, how many still feel that something is missing?  On the flip side of it, isn’t it true that many of those who give of themselves to others and in that way lose their life really find their life?

So, once again, might we answer Jesus’ question, “Do you also want to leave?” in the same way Peter does today?  “Master, to whom shall we go?”

Other Hard Things

There are other hard sayings in the gospels.

But today, rather than look at more sayings, I want to focus on some hard events. The recent events in our Church have been hard for us.

The report of the Grand Jury in Pennsylvania leaves us almost speechless. It is hard to grapple with this.

The number of children who were abused over the seventy-year period is staggering. The failure of some of our bishops to protect anyone and everyone who is vulnerable is also appalling.

Last Sunday, in my homily in Maryland, I said that I felt sad and angry. I also feel disheartened – I think that is the right word – something has pierced me close to the heart.

I know that many Catholics have similar feelings. These are hard matters to hear and admit.         

“Master, to whom shall we go?”

I believe that Jesus is asking me, maybe you, but certainly Jesus is asking me the question he asks today: “Do you also want to leave?”I find myself answering it in this way.

I cherish the spirituality passed on to me from people like Benedict of Nursia, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola and in my own time, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and Joan Chittister.

I cherish the theology passed on to me from people like Thomas Aquinas, Theresa of Avila and in my own time, Richard Rohr and Elizabeth Johnson.

I cherish the examples of social justice in people like Vincent de Paul, Peter Claver, Leo XXIII and in my own time, Teresa of Calcutta and Dorothy Day.

I cherish the inclusive and open spirit in my own time of people like John Courtney Murray, John XXIII, James Martin and Francis, the present bishop of Rome.

I cherish the sacramental tradition that sees the divine coming to us in the human and the ordinary, like bread and wine. 

And I cherish the many, maybe thousands of women and men who have ministered with me over my forty-six years as a priest. 

So, at this hard time, I am answering Jesus’ question “Do you also want to leave?”by recalling these parts of my faith and Church experience. And I end up saying: “Lord, to whom shall I go?”

I realize that not everyone can answer the question in this way. The answer may be very hard especially if you or a loved one has been hurt or abused by someone in the Church.

But, Jesus’ question today is still directed to each one of us. We all need to answer it in our own, authentic way and certainly not judge others if their answer is different from mine.

   

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - August 19, 2018

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle B
August 19, 2018
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4:00 pm
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11:15am

Second-Graders


In every parish, when we prepare the second-graders for First Communion, we are careful in the way we teach them.

What I mean is that today Jesus speaks of our “eating his fleshand drinking his blood.” These words can at first be startling and confusing to children.

So, we are clear with the children that the bread still looks and tastes like a thin wafer of bread. And the wine still looks and tastes like real wine.

The People in the Gospel 


Well, many of the people who listen to Jesus’ words in today’s gospel are startled and confused.

The people almost naturally ask, “How can this be? How can [Jesus say that] ‘Whoever eats my fleshand drinks my bloodhas eternal life?” 

Well, if we dig into the passage and put it in context, we can see what Jesus really means. I see three beautiful lessons here.

Lesson 1: The Person of Jesus Is Present

The first is that Jesus, as a person, is present here.

When he says these words about the bread and wine being his body and blood, this is what it all comes down to. This is what this sacrament is about.  

We believe that these ordinary things – bread and wine – we believe that these are symbols but not just symbols. They actually make Jesus present to us.

This is what we mean when we talk about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Jesus, the person, is present here.

Lesson 2: Jesus Gives Us God’s Life 

The second lesson is that through Jesus, we have God’s life.  

Jesus says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”And again, “The Father sent me and I have life because of the Father.”

I would bet that these words are also a reason why some of the people in today’s gospel just pack up and leave. It is too much for them to believe that Jesus comes directly from the Father and has God’s own life. 

But, this is exactly what Jesus is saying. And he is also saying that through this food, the bread and wine, his body and blood, we now have God’s life within us.

That is why we call this Communion, Holy Communion, a communion of life with the Holy One. This is one of the most wonderful, profound and comforting parts of our faith.  

Lesson 3: Jesus Gives Both Body and Blood

And the third lesson is that Jesus gives us both his body and his blood.

In truth, it would have been enough for Jesus to give us just his body. But he also gives us his blood separately.

And the reason is that Jesus gives us himself as having poured out his blood for us on the cross. And in giving himself in this way, he is defining how the divine life is to affect us.

Like him, we are now to give of ourselves for one another. We are to pour out our energy and life not just for ourselves, but also for others.

This weekend, I have to think about this in relation to the Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania that was issued this week. Right now, our institutional Church and especially our bishops need to pour out our empathy for all those who have been victims of abuse over the years.

We need to pour out our love directly to these persons. We – the institution and especially our bishops – need to listen to them and do whatever we can to assist in their healing.

And we also need to pour out our love for them indirectly. We do this by confessing our sins and mistakes in dealing with abuse. 

Along with that, we need to assure that the system and culture of the Church will deal openly with things and be accountable to God’s people. And we must commit ourselves to always protect the vulnerable.

As I say all of this, I feel sad, appalled and angry – they are at least my top emotions. I also feel committed to do my part as one person or one priest to improve the Church’s system and culture. 

Now, to go back to the Eucharist, this pouring out of love is what the Eucharist empowers us to do. If we and now especially our leaders do this, then we or they are practicing what we preach and really being Eucharistic people.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - August 12, 2018

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
August 12, 2018

Food


The well-known humorist Andy Rooney once said that the two biggest sellers in any bookstore are the cookbooks and the diet books.

The cookbooks tell you how to prepare food. The diet books tell you how to avoid eating it.

A California scientist has calculated that the average person eats 16 times his or her own weight in a year.  A horse eats only 8 times its weight.  

The scientist concludes that if you want to lose weight, just eat like a horse.  Orson Welles once said, “My doctor has advised me to give up those intimate little dinners for four, unless, of course, there are three other people eating with me.”  

Underneath all of this humor, there is a real truth. We all enjoy food, we need it, and it is central to our lives.

Jesus as Food – In 2 Ways 


In today’s gospel, Jesus talks of himself as food – as the bread of life.  If we look closely at the passage, we hear that Jesus responds to our two basic needs for food. 

1. Food for Growing

We need food first of all for growing.

An infant who weights 7 ½ pounds at birth or a sixth grader who is four feet eight inches tall – both of them need food to grow. Of course, sometimes we older adults continue to grow because of food, but in another way!

Today, Jesus says:“Whoever believes has eternal life.”  “Whoever believes has life.”

Here Jesus is speaking of himself as the wisdom and word and revelation of God.  He is food for us in this way.

So, he helps us to grow in our understanding of God.  He helps us to grow in seeing God as He really is.

Jesus helps us to grow in how we are to relate to one another. Saint Paul lists some of these ways today – relating with kindness and compassion, and not with bitterness and malice. 

And Jesus with his teaching and with the teaching of the Church down through the centuries helps us to grow in figuring out what to do in life’s complex situations, like end-of-life issues.  So, Jesus as food helps us to grow: “Whoever believes will live.”  

2.  Food for Living

And then, we all know that we need food just for living.

For me, when it gets to late afternoon or early evening, I’m really hungry.  I’m low on energy and really need something to eat to keep on going.

Well, today, Jesus says: “I am the living bread and whoever eats this bread will live forever.” “Whoever eats will live.”

Here Jesus is speaking of himself as sustenance and energy for living. He is food for us in this way too.

So, maybe we are burned out with our job, and this food keeps us going.  Maybe we feel worn out by the long-term care of a loved one whom we want to care for, and this bread gives us the energy we need.

Maybe you are grieving the loss of your husband or wife, and the Eucharist gives you the sense of closeness – closeness with God.  Maybe we are sick and filled with anxiety about where this is leading, and this food gives us comfort and strength.  

Maybe we are dealing with hurts from the past and an injured, very low self-esteem, and the bread of life gives us God’s unconditional love and acceptance.  So, Jesus, as food, helps us to live: “Whoever eats will live.”  

Conclusion

I really like looking at Jesus and today’s gospel in this way.

Jesus is food for us.  And we need spiritual food for the same reasons we need physical food – for growing and for living.

“Whoever believes will live.”  “Whoever eats will live.”

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - August 5, 2018

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle B
August 5, 2018           
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville         4:00pm and 8:00am

Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore  11:00am


A Couple Realizes… 


Ten years ago, in 2008, one of the biggest financial frauds in history took place.

A New York stockbroker named Bernie Madoff swindled 20,000 investors out of more than $64 billion – imagine that, $64 billion! Investors found their portfolios, their retirement savings and the college funds for their children all wiped out.

Madoff is now serving a 150-year prison term in North Carolina. Many of Madoff’s investors, besides losing their money, also lost their homes and in some cases, they lost their marriages and their families. 

But some of them have shown great strength and have gained a new perspective on life. And this is why I am recalling all of this today.

A New York Times article told the story of one couple. They had been enjoying a luxurious retirement but then, they lost 80% of their assets in the Madoff scheme.

They had to sell homes in New Jersey, Florida, and Vermont. They now live in a small house in a Vermont community.

This couple says that they feel lucky. They realize that what they lost has not affected their health and the love between them and with their children.  

He says,“When your life gets altered overnight, you realize that you don’t have to belong to a country club or drive an expensive car. You certainly don’t have to own three separate dwelling places.”

Several years ago, they went to their old country club for a wedding reception. This made them realize that it is not just their circumstances that have changed.

They themselves have changed. She says, “That’s not who we are anymore.”

“…What Endures for Eternal Life” 


This husband and wife may not realize it, but they help to illustrate what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel.

Some of the people who had experienced Jesus feeding the 5,000 – last Sunday’s gospel – some of these people are pursuing Jesus. But Jesus, in effect, says that they are only interested in him to see what else he could give them. 

Jesus is not discounting the importance of food and of eating. What he is getting at is our being absorbed in things that are not of lasting value.

So, Jesus says: “Do not work for food that perishes.”Instead, “Work for food that endures for eternal life.”

Jesus wants us to focus our energy on things of long-term importance and deeper value. And then he identifies the two “things” he has in mind. 

The Two “Things” That Endure

First, Jesus stresses the importance of relationships. 

He says: “I am the bread of life.”His point is that the “thing” that really gives life is a person or persons and not money or comforts or possessions.  

So, we need to put our energy into the persons in our lives – your husband or wife or friend, your son or daughter or parent. These relationships will have far greater value than any amount of money or material things. 

We need to give priority to these relationships. What they do for us and for the others as persons will, as Jesus says, “endure for eternal life.”

And then, Jesus gets very specific about therelationship that is most important and most valuable. 

He says: Iam the bread of life; whoever comes to mewill never hunger.”In other words, the relationship with him is paramount. 

Why? Because it will positively affect all of our other relationships and our entire life.

So, we need to make our relationship with Jesus central to our lives. We do this through personal prayer, through reading the Scripture, and through the Eucharist. 

Jesus, his way of living and his way of relating will be both a glue and an enrichment for all of other relationships. It will “endure for eternal life.”

Conclusion

So, as we receive the Eucharist, let’s allow this Sacrament of the “bread of life” to enliven our relationship with Jesus.

And then let’s allow this relationship to move us to make a priority of the other important relationships in our lives. This, as Jesus says, will be “the food that endures for eternal life.”