Tuesday, October 15, 2019

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C - October 13, 2019

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle C
October 13, 2019

“Where Are the Other Nine?”


Jesus heals ten persons with leprosy.

One returns to thank him.  “Where are the other nine?”

The Other Nine 


One of the healed lepers goes off to build a new life for himself.

He busies himself finding a job, a new place to live, and maybe even a family.  He becomes so busy building a new life for himself that he forgets the great blessing he has received.

Another of the lepers is filled with fear and worry because he has few skills and cannot imagine who will hire him and how he will support himself.

He is so afraid and worried that he is virtually paralyzed from doing anything.  He remains huddled at the town gate, alone like a leper. 

Still another of the lepers determines to even the score with everyone who has ever laughed at him or scorned or ignored him because of his illness.

He vows: “They will pay for what they did to me.”  He is obsessed with vengeance and never experiences any joy in his cure.

One of the healed lepers runs as far away as he can.

All he wants is to forget his old life and everything about it.  He even tries to block out the cries of others who are suffering.

Another of the lepers just goes out and parties and parties and parties.

His joy lasts as long as the wine and money do. Once they are gone, he has to face his new life, lost and alone.

Still another of the lepers believes that there must be a catch and that he is not really clean and healed.   

He thinks: “After all, why would anyone, especially God, do this for me?”  So, he does nothing and just waits for the leprosy to return.

Healed or Not

On and on it goes with these other nine.

Because they lack a sense of gratitude for the miracle they have experienced, the miracle does not last very long.  Their self-absorption, their fear and worry, their anger, their repression, their misplaced values, their skepticism, – these responses have just made them lepers all over again.

The One Who Thanks

But there is the one leper who realizes that he has not just been made clean.

He realizes that he has been touched by God and so, he returns to give thanks to Jesus.  This reflects the healing that has happened in his soul as well as in his body.

This leper has faith.  Faith is primarily the recognition of the love and compassion of God.

This recognition moves us to give praise and thanks to God. In this, the one leper is a great model for us.

Our Response

God is in our midst, active in our lives.

But sometimes, like the nine lepers, we are not aware of this. Sometimes our self-centeredness isolates us from one another.

Sometimes our fears and worries trap us.  Sometimes our anger dictates our behavior.

Sometimes our skepticism or doubting or questioning becomes an end in itself.  Sometimes our misplaced hopes and values lead us away from the divine, the transcendent, away from God.

When all of this is the case, we do not experience God in everyday life.  And so, we need to look to the one leper for our lead on this.

We need to approach life with a sense of faith.  We are to realize the presence and love of God in the birth of a baby, in the magnificence of creation, in the tenderness of a spouse, in the skill of a doctor, in our own ability to bring life to another through our love and care.

Maybe the bottom line is this: that for no reason other than a love that we cannot even fathom, God has breathed life into us and given many other gifts to us as well.  Our only fitting response is to stand humbly before God in quiet thanks.

This gratitude can transform us.  It can make so much of life an experience of God’s presence, love, and healing action.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C - October 6, 2019

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
October 6, 2019          

Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 5pm and 11am

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 8am

The Vision 


Today, I am focused on one word in the Scripture passages – the word vision.

In the first reading, God says: “Write down the vision. The vision will have its time and will not disappoint you.”

God wants to make sure that his people will remember the vision when life is tough – as it was at that time. That’s why he tells them to write it down.

God’s advice about the vision is important. We are to 1) see the vision, 2) trust the vision, and 3) live the vision.

1.   See the Vision

First, we are to see the vision.

This means that we need to see Jesus himself.  We are to see him as the way to God and the way to know God because he is God present in our humanity.

And so, we need to work to know Jesus just as thoroughly as we can.  We are to see his vision of God as a loving Parent – One who loves us unconditionally.

We are to see his vision of ourselves – as human and sometimes sinful, yes, but also as worthy and beloved by God. And we are to see his vision of all humanity – of all persons as God’s sons and daughters.
  
This vision gradually shapes who we become as persons. It shapes how we see our life, ourselves, others, our world and God himself. 

 

2.   Trust the Vision 


Then, with this seeing, we are to trust the vision.

Here we have to go back to the first reading – the prophet Habakkuk.  The people are suffering and crying out to God.

“How long will this last, O Lord?  We are surrounded by violence and destruction.

“There is strife and discord everywhere.  So, how long, O Lord, how long?”

And the Lord reassures them: “Write down the vision. The vision will have its time and will not disappoint you.”

So, we are to trust the vision. Maybe we are in the middle of difficult chemotherapy treatments.  

Or maybe we are in-between jobs and worried about how we are going meet our mortgage and cover all of our other bills.  In situations like these, God asks us to trust the vision.

God asks us to trust that Jesus is walking this journey with us. God asks us to trust that the Holy Spirit will give us the strength we need to get through it all.

3.   Live the Vision 

And then, with this seeing and with this trust, we are to live the vision very intentionally – with intentionality.

Jesus says today: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.”  In other words, we are to set out to live the vision that faith gives us.

So, a child or teen is to tell their parents the truth about what they did even if they will be sent to their room or grounded for a while. They tell the truth.

Or, we support human life not just in one area or on one issue, but in all areas and on all issues. We accept that this is complicated and not simple, and we try to be consistent in our human life ethic.

So, we live the vision. We make this a priority, or rather, the priority to guide us in our lives.

Conclusion

If we do this, this in itself will be our reward.  

This is what Jesus means in our gospel passage when he talks about the servants not expecting the master to wait on them. Here Jesus isn’t talking about how a master in his day should treat servants or how we in our day are to treat one another.

Instead, he is talking about our vision of ourselves – all of us, you and me seeing ourselves as servants of God. He doesn’t want us to expect acclaim or feel entitled to this or that.


Rather, he wants us to 1) see the vision, 2) trust the vision, and 3) live the vision. And he is saying that an inner satisfaction and peace will be our reward and we will find that to be enough. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C - September 22, 2019

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
September 22, 2019    
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville   4pm and 8am 

The Weight of a Snowflake 


There’s a story that once upon a time, a field mouse asked a wise old owl: “What is the weight of a snowflake?”

The owl answered: “Nothing!  Nothing at all!” Well, the field mouse went on to tell the owl about the time he was resting on the branch of a fir tree.

It was snowing and he was counting each snowflake, until the number was exactly 3,471,952 snowflakes. Then, with the landing of the very next flake – c-r-a-c-k!

The branch of the fir tree snapped and the mouse tumbled to the ground. The mouse looked at the owl and said: “So! What is the weight of a snowflake?”

Little Things Have Effects 

That anecdote highlights an important lesson in today’s gospel.

Jesus says: “If people are trustworthy in little things, they will also be trustworthy in greater things.  But if people are dishonest in little things, they will also be dishonest in greater things.”

The point is that everything we do has significance.  Sometimes we think that some of our actions are not all that important – that they count for nothing, like a snowflake that seems to weigh nothing.

But the truth is that everything we do has an effect. It has an effect 1) on our own moral character and 2) on the character of others.

 

Effects on Us 


Jesus clearly says that the way we handle the little, apparently unimportant things effects our total moral character.

A priest friend of mine tells a story about his first pastor. That pastor would always fold money in half three times when people handed him cash donations for the parish.

He did that to make sure he did not mix it with his own personal money. That is a good example of developing character by beginning with small matters.

Jesus suggests that we need to be alert to what seem to be small things: like telling lies to make ourselves look better or because we think it won’t hurt anyone; or like taking home office supplies from where we work because everybody else does it. Jesus is saying that if we avoid “little” things like these, slowly but surely we will be developing good moral character.

One minister said: “Integrity does not emerge full blown in us. It is built of thousands of little acts and decisions over many years that form our lasting character.”

Effects on Others 

Then, I believe it follows that our actions will have an effect on others, especially our children and youth.

Some years ago, there was a cheating scam at one of our major universities. A number of students were expelled.

A newspaper reporter studied the situation and wrote an article about why these young adults might have cheated on their exams. The reporter conjectured that it might have been a 6-year old hearing his father tell someone who was interested in buying his car that it didn’t burn oil when in truth, it did burn a quart and a half of oil every 3,500 miles. 

Or a 10-year old might have heard his parents talk about not including on their income tax return some money they had made on the side. Or a teenager at her job in a supermarket being instructed to hide the over-ripe strawberries on the bottom of the boxes.  

The newspaper reporter said that experiences like these could lead children and youth to develop an attitude about cheating on an exam. These “little” actions by adults have an effect on the character of young people.

Conclusion


So, eventually one more snowflake, that apparently weighs nothing, cracks the branch of the tree.

And the same thing can happen to us.  Eventually, one more “little” action that disregards moral norms can have a decisive and negative influence on character.

On the other hand, an accumulation of “little” things that are done from a sound moral basis will positively mold character and prepare us and others for life’s bigger issues. As Jesus says: “If people are trustworthy in little things, they will also be trustworthy in greater ones.”

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C - September 15, 2019

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
September 15, 2019    
9:30 and 11:15am  

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4pm and 8am        


Seeking What Is Lost


Several years ago, I lost a credit card.

I was at a gas station. When I opened my wallet to get a credit card to pay for the gas, I immediately saw that I had only one card there.

The other one – I have two credit cards – was missing. Well, I pumped the gas and then immediately started looking for the missing credit card.  

I took everything out of my wallet and it wasn’t there. I looked in the glove compartment and under the seats of the car and it was nowhere in sight.

I went back to the rectory at Saint Margaret’s. I looked all through my study and my bedroom – no credit card!

And then, I tried to get a grip on my anxiety. I asked myself: when did I last use the credit card?

Almost right away I realized I had used it the night in buying Chinese carry-out food. So, I immediately called that restaurant and sure enough, I had left the card on the counter after signing the bill and they had it. 

Seeking Who Is Lost

Well, my intense focus on finding my credit card helps us to appreciate today’s gospel.

Jesus tells two stories: the one about a shepherd looking for one lost sheep and the other about a woman looking for one lost coin. With these two images of the shepherd and the woman, Jesus is showing us how intense God is in looking for us when we are lost.

God is even more intense than me looking for my credit card! And then, with the images of the lost sheep and lost coin, Jesus shows us that we can be lost in two different ways.

 

Lost: Our Fault 


First, we can be lost like the one sheep.

We can wander off and our being lost is our own fault. So, we can get lost when we stop coming to Mass or stop praying personally outside of Mass and lose our centeredness in God.

We can get lost when we drift into being unfaithful to our major life commitment or vocation – to your marriage or for me to the priesthood. Getting lost in ways like these is what we call sin. 

But even though we get lost in these ways, Jesus is saying that God is still there, still loving us and looking for us. God is like the shepherd looking for that one lost sheep.  

In fact, when we are like that one lost sheep, hopefully our conscience will bother us and we will feel guilty. These guilt feelings are really God intensely looking for us and trying to bring us back. 

And, by all means, notice in Jesus’ image that the shepherd does not scold or punish the lost sheep. Instead, he joyfully carries it back to the flock – what a good example this is for how we as a Church are to relate to a lost sheep!

Lost: No Fault

And then we can be lost like the lost coin.

This means that we are lost through no fault of our own. For example, we can feel lost when we are grieving the death of a husband or wife.

Or we can feel lost when we are dealing with depression. When we are lost in ways like these, God is still there, loving us and wanting to be close to us, even though we may not feel it. 

God is like the woman looking for the one lost coin. Some of our great spiritual teachers have called these experiences dark nights of the soul.  

In these times, we may need to push ourselves to come to Mass or to pray. We may need to push ourselves to do the commitments and things of everyday life. 

And we may need to push ourselves to respond to the companionship of family and friends. But, if we hang in there and give God a chance in these ways, we can be found and we can find ourselves once again.   
    

Conclusion


So, a powerful lesson today: 1) about God, searching for us when we are lost, and 2) about ourselves, the ways we can be lost and how we might respond when that happens!

Monday, September 9, 2019

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C - September 8, 2019

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle C
September 8, 2019

St. Mary Parish, Pylesville 8:00am

Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11:15am

A Seagull: Holding On


A few years ago, a father wrote about his family’s visit to Niagara Falls.

He says: “It was late March, and blocks of ice were rushing down the river. I could see that there were carcasses of dead fish embedded in the ice.

“Seagulls were riding on some of the blocks of ice, feeding on the fish. When they came to the brink of the Falls, their wings would fan out, and they would fly away and escape.

“But we noticed one particular seagull that seemed to be holding on and on and on. It seemed engrossed in the carcass of a fish and when it came to the brink of the Falls, out went its powerful wings.        

“The bird flapped and flapped but its claws had become frozen in the ice. The weight of the ice was too great and that seagull plunged over the Falls into the abyss.”

Jesus: Letting Go 


In today’s gospel, Jesus calls us to do what that one seagull failed to do.

Jesus calls us to be willing to let go. He is talking about what it means to be a person of faith, a disciple. 

Jesus is using some exaggeration here, some hyperbole, like when he talks about hating our loved ones. This is a Semitic idiom of Jesus’ day that doesn’t mean to hate anyone, but instead it means to make a choice.

So here he is using this expression, an exaggeration, an idiom, as a way to teach us what is involved in being a disciple of his. Sometimes we have to make the choice to let go.  

There are points in our lives where we need to let go and not be frozen in the ice. Points where we need to let go of 1) our ego or self, 2) of our attachments to family or friends, and 3) of our things or possessions.

We: Letting Go

For example, 1) sometimes we may need to let go of speaking and expressing all that we think. No question, voicing our opinion or our feelings is good.

But sometimes we may need to let go of self in this way and listen to the feelings of accomplishment or frustration or another person. And sometimes we may just need to take in the life experience of another and try to see things from their perspective.

Then, 2) there are points in life where we need, in a certain sense, to let go of our attachment to loved ones. Last month and this month, some young adults are leaving their family for the first time to go off to college and pursue their studies.

We may need to stick to our conviction about something even when those close to us think differently. Or we may feel obliged to reach out to that classmate whom others have pretty much cut off.

And then 3) there are situations where we may need, in a certain sense, to let go of our possessions and comforts. I wonder if these words of Jesus apply in our day especially to the environment. 

Maybe we need to let go of habits that waste our resources. Or maybe we need to let go of practices that end up polluting our water and soil and air.

By the way, one Scripture scholar notes that Jesus in this gospel tells the two short parables about a landowner wanting to build a tower and a king thinking about going to war. This scholar notes that Jesus may use these images here because when we have material wealth or power, we may find it more difficult to let go.

Conclusion

So, Jesus calls us not to be like that seagull that just held on too long and got frozen in place.  He is saying that to follow him fully, sometimes and in certain ways we have to let go of 1) self, 2) of loved ones, and 3) of possessions. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C - September 1, 2019

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
September 1, 2019      

Learning Humility


In 1930, a German author named Erich Remarque wrote a novel called All Quiet on the Western Front.

This novel was about World War I and has become almost a classic in literature.  The setting is the trench warfare in Europe, 100 years ago.

Paul Baumer, a 19-year-old German soldier huddles in a large hole made by an exploded shell.  Suddenly, a French soldier jumps into the hole.

Instinctively, Baumer pulls out a dagger and stabs the Frenchman, his enemy.  Then Baumer quickly discovers that the man’s name is Duval, that he is a husband and a father, and works as a printer.

Soon the wounded Duval dies, propped up against Baumer.  And then, as he realizes what he has done, Baumer speaks to the dead Duval.

“Comrade, I did not want to kill you.  If you jumped in here again, I would not do it, if you would be sensible too.

“But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind…   It was that abstraction that I stabbed.

“But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me.  I thought of your hand grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your life and your face and our fellowship.

“Forgive me, comrade.  We always see it too late.

“Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony – forgive me, comrade, how could you be my enemy?  If we threw away these rifles and these uniforms you could be my brother…

“Take twenty years of my life, comrade, and stand up – take more, for I do not know what I can even attempt to do with it now.”     

Jesus and Humility

I find this excerpt from All Quiet on the Western Front to be very moving.  

I find the words of the German soldier so reflective of Jesus’ insight today. “Those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jesus calls us to embrace humility, a humble way of living.  I believe we see the essence of humility in the thoughts of the German soldier.

The Heart of Humility


Humility is not seeing others as an abstraction or as an idea in my mind or as an impersonal demographic.

It is not seeing and summing up a person as just part of a category or a race or a nationality or a religion or a political persuasion or a gender orientation.  Instead, it is seeing others – in fact, each person – as God sees them.

Humility is realizing that we share with every human being the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God.  It is the awareness that we are all basically one – seeking self-worth, a sense of purpose, fulfillment, life’s necessities, some comforts, and opportunities for our children.

Humility is being aware that whites in Harford County and blacks in Baltimore City, Hispanics in Latin America or Hispanic immigrants here, the citizens of China or Iran or Kenya – we are all basically the same.  It means that we see as God sees.

Humility is not a diminishment of myself – not at all! Instead, it is respecting the other as I respect myself.

In fact, what does Jesus say? “Those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  

So, if we are humble, we end up not being diminished but being “exalted”– becoming fuller and more alive persons.  And if we are humble, we also enable others to become fuller and more alive persons.    

But if we are not humble, we end up diminishing and even killing the life of others, as the soldier Baumer realized.  And in doing that, we disconnect ourselves from others, we shrink as persons, and we diminish and, in a way, even kill off our own lives.   

Conclusion


That is what humility is and does and what its absence is and does.  This is the virtue or way of being that Jesus calls us to embrace today.