Tuesday, July 18, 2017

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - July 16, 2017

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A
July 15-16, 2017
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4:00pm
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11:00am


The Message: Listening


This afternoon/morning I want to reflect with you on listening.

I am doing this because listening is the main point in today’s gospel.  In the parable, the seed stands for the Word of God and the different types of soil represent different ways that we may or may not listen.

I am also focusing on listening because I think our culture has a problem with this.  In recent years, I have become very sensitive to the fact that we often don’t really listen to one another.

Often we interrupt others when they are speaking.  We can probably see this played out in our personal experience and I know for sure that we see it on TV and in the public life of our country.

Now I have to admit, it was really drilled into me by my parents when I was a child that you don’t interrupt others but you listen to them when they are speaking.  So I guess I am especially sensitive to this – I hope not too much so. 

At any rate, I don’t want to dwell on the negative today.  The more important thing is that listening can be a positive force in our lives.

So, I have three simple recommendations for responding positively to Jesus’ desire that we be good soil or good listeners.  I think that these will be helpful, but you can see what you think of them.

Recommendation 1: Believe


My first recommendation is: Believe. 

If it is the Scripture or Bible that we are listening to, we have to believe that this is the inspired Word of God.

We are called to believe that God speaks to us here.  There is a message here about God or about us or about how we are to relate to God and to one another.

If it is another person that we are listening to, like a family member or friend or whomever, we again need to believe. 

Here we need to believe that the other person is made in the image and likeness of God, just as we are.  And so, we assume that this person may have something worthwhile to say or is deserving of our attention.

Recommendation 2: Inquire


So, 1) Believe, and then my second recommendation for good listening is: 2) Inquire.

Maybe a passage of Scripture that is read here at Mass or that we read at home is confusing.

So we need to inquire.  We look at the footnotes or commentary on the Bible or we ask someone here at the parish to try to clarify this for us.  

Or maybe we are in a conversation with someone and trying to be attentive but we just don’t get what is being said.

So again we need to inquire.  We respectfully ask: “Would you please explain what you meant by that?” or “I don’t think I understand, so could you please say more about that?”

Recommendation 3: Receive


So, 1) Believe, 2) Inquire, and my third recommendation for good listening is: 3) Receive.

If it is the Word of God, the Scripture, we need to receive it.

This means that we take it in, reflect and pray over it and see how it relates to our lives.  It means – and this is crucial – that we are willing to allow the Word of God to modify our vision of life or change our opinion about something or make a difference in what we say or do.

If it is something that another person has said, we again need to receive it.

Here this means that we enter into the person’s life experience or thought process that are behind what they have said.  In this case, to receive means that we at least appreciate more about that person as a result of this.

Conclusion


So, I offer these three recommendations for listening well to the Word of God and to one another.

1)   Believe opens us up.  2) Inquire draws us in.  And 3) Receive transforms both me as the listener and the relationship with the person who is listened to.



Tuesday, July 11, 2017

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - July 9, 2017

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A
July 9, 2017   8:00 and 9:30am
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville


The Amish and Jesus


The Amish farms in York and Lancaster Counties often present us with a kind of throw-back-in-time picture.

The image I am recalling is that some Amish farmers work their fields with horses.  Some of them do not use sophisticated John Deere farm equipment.

Instead, there are two horses pulling a plough.  I am thinking of this image today because in Jesus’ time, it was very similar.

They used a pair of oxen to plough the fields.  And there was something called a yoke – spelled Y-O-K-E. 

The yoke was a wooden collar that fit around the neck of the oxen and connected the two animals to the plough.  A yoke had to be made rather carefully so that it would fit the oxen just right. 

If the yoke fit well and was comfortable, the oxen could go on ploughing for hours.  But if it did not fit well, it would dig into the oxen and really hurt.

It would sap their strength and they would not be able to plough for a long time.  This is the image that Jesus has in mind in today’s gospel.   

“My yoke is easy”


He says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The yoke that Jesus is speaking of is his way – his way of living.  Now I think a fair question is: can we really say that Jesus’ way or “yoke” is “easy”?

I mean, practically speaking, is it easy to love our enemies?  Is it easy to share what we have with people who are in need and whom we do not even know?

And on top of all that, doesn’t Jesus also say that following him means taking up our cross?  So, isn’t it a bit of a stretch to say that Jesus’ yoke is easy?

Why Is It Easy?


Maybe the best way to evaluate how difficult or easy it is is to compare his way with other ways of living.

For example:
Do we really think that a dog-eat-dog approach – maybe in the workplace – do we really think that this is easier on our nerves than a more respectful and team-like approach?  
Or, are we better off emotionally by holding on to our resentment rather than forgiving a family member or a friend?

Again, does it make me feel better about myself when I judge others as less than I am, or when I refrain from judging and put myself in their skin and life situation? 
Similarly, does prejudice – racial, religious or gender prejudice – does this expand me as a person, or am I bigger as a person when I am try to be open and inclusive? 

Again, do we feel inner peace by just going along with whatever our peers are doing – like bullying a classmate or doing some kind of drug – do we feel more at peace by doing this or by sticking to what we believe is the right thing to do? 
And finally, is it really easier to live with myself when I don’t tell the truth or when I truthfully own up to what I did or did not do?

Conclusion


These are just some comparisons of the effects of following Jesus versus other ways of living.


So, I recommend that we think about these alternatives today. If we try Jesus’ “yoke,” we just might find that it contributes more to our happiness in the long run and it may even be lighter and easier in the short run of life.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Cycle A - June 23, 2017

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
June 23, 2017      9:30am    
Saint Mary, Pylesville



Today’s feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus reveals something very warm about Jesus and God.

Saint John in the second reading speaks of God’s love for us.
God’s heart, the Sacred Heart is one of complete love for humanity – so much so that God sent His only Son into the world.
This reading brings a fuller and even corrected understanding to the first reading, the Old Testament passage.
On the one hand, that passage speaks beautifully of God’s faithfulness and covenant with his people.
But on the other hand, it also speaks of God destroying those who do not keep his covenant.
With the coming of the fullness of revelation in Jesus, we would say that God – who is love – does not destroy, but that we injure ourselves when we ignore or disobey the way of Jesus.
That is a big and important distinction in the way we understand God.
The Sacred Heart, full of love, keeps drawing us to himself and wanting only what is good for us and never injures, much less destroys us.
That is the way of perfect love.

And the other insight I want to highlight is again from our second reading
Saint John says: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he has loved us.”
So God has taken the initiative in loving us.
And in loving us, the Sacred Heart has planted the love of his heart in us, and now we are to accept that and live out of that.
So, things that we do for the well-being of others, our compassion or empathy, our generosity with the poor – these are actions flowing from God’s love within us that has transformed us and moved us to live in this way.


That is the power and effect of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - June 25, 2017

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A
June 25, 2017
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4:00pm
Saint Mary Magdalen Mission, 9:00 and 11:00am


Encouragement


This morning, I want to talk about encouragement – the importance of encouraging one another.  But first, I want to explain why I am reflecting on this.

 

Killing the Spirit


In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us to be afraid of those who can kill the spirit.

And you know, it’s true.  Our spirit can be killed.

Sometimes on sports teams, the coach is always on the back of the players – maybe kids – for every dropped ball or missed point and never gives them any praise.  This can kill the spirit of the players.

Sometimes this happens on work teams where the boss or leader is always pressing for better results and never affirms what’s been done.  And this can kill the spirit of the employess.

Sometimes at home a husband or wife always picks away at little things and never recognizes a good job with the gardening or with cleaning the house or stuff like that.  And this can kill the spirit.

A Study on Encouragement


Recently, an organization called the Gotman Institute did a study.

They focused on the ratio of words of criticism to  words of encouragement that the average person hears.  And they found that the ratio is 6 to 1.

So, the average person hears 6 words of criticism for every 1 word of encouragement.  I mean – isn’t that unfortunate?

That creates a negative environment.  It explains why some workplaces and teams and relationships are toxic.

These words tear down self-esteem.  To go back to Jesus, this heavy ratio of critical to encouraging words can kill the spirit.

Two truths about Encouragement


There are two truths about encouragment that we need to know.

First, everyone needs encouragement.  I don’t care who you are, how successful or intelligent or attractive or popular or talented you seem – we all need encouragement.

And the second truth is that everyone can be an encourager.  Regardless of our age or job or position or personality type, we can be encouragers of others. 

Two Ways to Encourage


There are also two things to keep in mind in our encouraging of one another.

First, everyone wants to know that they are not alone.  Sometimes we feel alone and that we are the only person in the world dealing with a certain issue.

Maybe it is a mother or father who are not sure if they are doing the right thing with their kids.  Or maybe our finances are tight and we cannot take the kind of vacation that the neighbors are taking.

Or maybe a teen or young adult is struggling with an identity issue.  In these and many other situations, we can feel very alone.

So it is important for each of us to be alert to one another, to listen and to let those around us know that we understand or that we are dealing with the same issue or that we’ve got other stuff we are dealing with.  Our sharing and our vulnerability like this is a way of encouragement because it helps others know that they are not alone.

And the second thing to bear in mind about encouragement is that everyone wants to know that they’ve got what it takes.  So we need to affirm the strengths of one another.

Maybe that’s all they need to hear to apply for nursing school or whatever it is.  Maybe that’s what someone needs to redirect them in a way that will really suit their God-given abilities.

We need to let others know that we believe in them.  We encourage them by letting them know that they’ve got what it takes.

Jesus Encourages


Right in today’s gospel, Jesus encourages us.

Jesus knows that things will be tough at times and that we will need some encouragment.  So he uses the example of a small bird, a sparrow and says that God watches over and knows every take-off and landing even of a sparrow.

If God does that for a sparrow, won’t he do much more for us?  After all, we count for so much more.

And then Jesus says that God is so close to us and knows us so well that even the hairs on our head are counted.  That may not be too difficult for God to do with some of us guys, but I think you get the point.


Jesus is encouraging us because he knows we all need encouragement.  And he wants us to be encouragers just as he is.