Tuesday, November 14, 2017

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - November 12, 2017

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
 Cycle A
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4:00pm and 8:00am
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11:00am
November 12, 2017

Sand in an Hourglass

There is a story about a little, seven-year-old girl who lived near the beach.

Her grandfather also lived near there and she loved him very much.  He had a beautiful hourglass and this little seven-year-old liked to turn it upside down and watch the sand steadily flow from the top glass bulb though the narrow opening into the bottom bulb.

Her grandfather once told her that the hourglass reminded him of time – that time was limited and precious.  Well, this particular year, Christmas was coming.

This little girl’s mother told her that her Grandpa was in the hospital and was very sick.  He might even die.

The little girl asked what that meant.  And her mother explained that life was something like Grandpa’s hourglass and that there was very little sand left in the top bulb to flow into the bottom.

Well, her mother suggested that she make a special Christmas gift that they could take to Grandpa.  So the little girl excitedly went to work on her gift.

When they got to the hospital, she gave her Grandpa a little wrapped box.  He slowly unwrapped it and looked inside and just smiled.

He immediately understood.  His little granddaughter had filled the box with sand.

The Story of the Bridesmaids

Well, if it were only that easy!

If only we could extend our days and time by adding more sand to our hourglasses!  But, of course, we cannot!

Today’s parable of the bridesmaids addresses this very issue.  There are three important lessons.

Lesson 1: Prepare

First, each of us must prepare for the moment when we will meet God face to face.

We must do this for ourselves.  No one can do it for us.

We see this in the refusal of the five wise bridesmaids to share their oil with the others.  This is not an issue of being selfish.

Instead, it is about being prepared.  These bridesmaids did not share their oil because they could not share this kind of oil.

This is the oil of personal preparation, the oil of who we have become as persons in the course of our lives.  We can encourage one another, but ultimately each one of us must do this preparation for ourselves.

 Lesson 2: Watch the Time

The second lesson is to watch the time.

There are only so many grains of sand in the hourglass.  We see this in the inability of the five foolish bridesmaids to go and buy oil for themselves.

Obviously, it was midnight and the stores were closed.  And that is exactly the point: it was too late!

The moment had come, the groom and bride were arriving and there was no more time to prepare.  This will be true for each one of us at some moment.

So, we need to watch the time and be ready today.  We need to live as if today were our day to meet the Lord face to face.

Lesson 3: Be a Light

And then the third lesson is that we must be about light.

Psalm 36 in the Old Testament praises God by saying: “In your light we see light.”  The idea is that we need to allow ourselves to be drawn into the light of God.

And then, with this light, we can see light in the world and bring light to one another.  “In your light we see light.”

We see this in the oil lamps that the bridesmaids are to keep burning brightly.  We are to be and to bring light in our world.

This is a helpful way for understanding the kinds of things we are to do, like just being there for a young person who is struggling with an identity issue or like advocating for health care for everyone.  These are examples of ways we can be light and keep our lamps burning brightly.

Conclusion

So,
1.    Prepare. 
2.    Watch the time.
3.    And be a light. 


Valuable lessons and reminders in today’s gospel story!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Solemnity of All Saints, Cycle A - November 1, 2017

Solemnity of All Saints
Cycle A
November 1, 2017        4:00pm
Saint Mary’s Seminary and University
Day of Recollection


The Saints Inspire

I cannot be exactly like Saint Francis of Assisi. 

But he does inspire me to live more simply and to be at peace with others and with all of God’s creation.  In this way, Francis of Assisi leads me to embrace Jesus’ lifting up of “the peacemakers,” whom he calls “children of God.”

I cannot be exactly like Saint Teresa of Calcutta. 

But she does move me to care for those who are hurting and look out for the little person who has less than I have.  In this way, Teresa of Calcutta leads me to embrace Jesus’ lifting up of those “who are merciful,” those who have compassion and empathy for others.

I cannot be exactly like Saint Maximilian Kolbe. 

But he does inspire me to sacrifice at times my own comforts or preferences for the good of others, maybe for the common good of all.  And in that way, Maximilian Kolbe leads me to embrace Jesus’ lifting up of those “who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.”

And I cannot be exactly like Saint Catherine of Siena.

But she does move me to speak out for what I believe is the right thing to do or the wiser course of action.  And in that way, Catherine of Siena leads me to embrace Jesus’ lifting up of those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”    
   
Saint John XXIII

I think you can see what I am getting at.

Pope, Saint John XXIII put it this way.  He said: “From the saints I must take the substance, not the accidents, of their virtues.” 

He was using the Thomistic philosophical concepts of substance and accidents.  To put it very simply, the substance is what something or someone essentially is, and the accidents are features that are not necessarily part of the substance.

It’s like saying that the substance of a wine bottle is glass shaped in such a way that it will hold liquid.  The accidents are its height and color and features like that.

So, Saint John XXIII was telling us to take the substance of the virtues of the saints – like the simple peacefulness of Francis of Assisi.  Take that and not so much the literal way the saints lived out the virtues.


So, take their core virtues and embrace them with our own personality and according to our own vocation and in our own life circumstances.  If we do that, the saints will help to mold us in the way of the Beatitudes and make us more and more like Jesus.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - October 29, 2017

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A
October 29, 2017
8:00 am at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville
11:00 am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore


Learn to Love


Some years ago, I came across a book by a psychologist named Daniel Allender.

Doctor Allender writes tells about a conversation he had with a man named Tom.  They were sitting next to each other on an airplane and Daniel tells Tom that he is on his way to give a presentation about love and forgiveness.

Tom admits that we all need to be reminded of these things, but then he quickly focuses on his career.  He states that what pleases him most about his children is their intense focus on career and success.

Tom also mentions that his three children have been through a total of five divorces.  He has not seen some of his grandchildren for years.

Doctor Allender asks him if it might be important to teach his children how to love and maintain commitment.  Tom responds that he just figured that his children would learn this naturally, on their own.

Allender concludes that often we do not naturally know how to be loving persons.  We need to be taught and we need to teach our children how to love.

How to Love


This psychologist makes an excellent point in relation to today’s gospel.

Jesus gives us the two great commandments of love.  But the question is: how do we love?

How do we love God and love one another?  This morning I want to offer a few some recommendations.

 

How to Love God


First, I think the primary way of loving God is by praying. 

Our coming to Mass, really giving of ourselves to this and participating in it as best we can is an expression of our love for God.  Our desiring to receive Communion and realizing that this is the heartbeat of our life is part of this. 

And then, we love God by praying privately, personally on our own.  Some kind of prayer every day is a real expression of our love for God. 

It could be reading a short passage from the gospels and just letting that be with us through the day.  Or it could be praying the rosary or part of it.

It could be speaking to God in our own words – maybe just thanking God for something or someone each day.  So, weekly Mass and daily prayer – that’s a primary way for how to love God.

How to Love Others


And then, how are we to love one another?

On an interpersonal level, we need to approach relationships with the expectation that they take some work.  This is true of marriage, of parent-child relationships, of friendships and on it goes.

For example, we need to try to listen and to understand the thoughts and feelings of others.  And often we need to process our own thoughts and feelings silently before we speak, and then express ourselves thoughtfully, and not in an “in-your-face” way.

We also need to “love one another” on the wider level of our society in general.  For example, to take a hot-button issue, we as a country need a sensible immigration policy. 

I do not know what that policy should be, but we do need a policy.  And, in this policy, we need to do what we reasonably can to help others.

Look at the Lord’s words in the first reading.  He warns his people not to oppress aliens because you were once aliens yourselves.

The Lord concludes his statement by saying “I am compassionate” and he calls us to be compassionate.  So, we need to refrain from negative stereotyping or demeaning people from Syria or Kenya or Mexico or wherever they come from.

We need to want to do what we can to help.  This is also part of how to love one another.

Conclusion



So, an important theme today and I hope these “how-to-love” ideas are of some help.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - October 22, 2017

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
 Cycle A
October 22, 2017        

Not Either /Or

The way Jesus responds – not so much what he says, but the way Jesus responds in today’s gospel is very significant.

Jesus gives a both/and, not an either/or response.  Here is what I mean.

Two groups of people really dislike Jesus.  They want to undermine his popularity and maybe even get rid of him completely. 

So they pick the very explosive issue of taxes.  The Roman Empire is occupying their country and assessing a head tax on every person.

The Jewish people hate this.  They find it highly offensive.

So Jesus’ opponents ask him: “Should we pay the tax or not?  Are you for it or against it?”

They figure: if Jesus favors paying the tax, the Jewish people will dislike him and his popularity will evaporate.  But if he opposes paying the tax, he will get into big trouble with the Roman authorities.

So what does Jesus say?  He first asks them if they have some money and, sure enough, one of them pulls out a coin. 

It is the money of the Roman Empire with Caesar’s image on it.  So, without saying a word, Jesus exposes them as already participating in the system of the Roman Empire.

Jesus responds: “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”  Jesus converts their either/or dilemma – either you are for the tax or against it – into a both/and resolution – give to both Caesar and God.

But Both/And

The way Jesus handles this dilemma is a good lesson for us.

Sometimes we want to approach everything in an either/or way.  It’s either black or white.

You’re either right or wrong.  The problem is that some things in life – like the one Jesus is dealing with here – just don’t come down to an either/or answer.

In fact, often enough in life a both/and answer is better.  It gets us closer to the truth of the reality we are dealing with.

Examples

For example, we used to take this either/or approach: Either you’re Catholic and you’ll be saved.  Or you’re not Catholic and you will not be saved.

Instead of that, there is the both/and approach: We believe that our Church has faithfully passed down through the centuries the fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus.  And we also believe that all others in different Christian or non-Christian traditions and all people of good will in different ways have the love of God and can be in God’s eternal presence.

Another very different kind of example: Either you support my decision with the kids and back me up.  Or you just take charge of the kids and I’ll have nothing to do with it.

Instead of that, the both/and approach: We have different perspectives on what to expect of the kids and how to discipline them.  Let’s talk through things privately and work for a common position that fits each situation.

One final example: Either you accept everything the Church says and are a good Catholic.  Or you are picking and choosing and not really a good Catholic or even a Catholic at all.

Instead of that, a both/and approach: You believe in all the core tenets of our faith and the core teachings of our Church.  And, in good conscience, you also question or do not accept something that the Church holds and you remain a good practicing Catholic.

Conclusion

So, Jesus’ example today moves us away from an either/or approach to a both/and approach in dealing with certain life situations.

Obviously, there are many things that are just right or wrong, true or false.  But there are also many things in life where a both/and approach is better.

An either/or approach often ends conversation, it shuts out others, it causes a breakdown in relationship, and it divides us.  A both/and approach allows conversation to continue, it includes others, it builds relationship and it unites us.


That is the basic thrust of Jesus’ entire ministry.  His example today lifts this up for us.