Tuesday, July 16, 2019

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C - July 14, 2019

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
July 14, 2013      

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville   9:30 and 11:15am


Hurrying and Helping


Some years ago, Princeton University did a study on what they called “Good Samaritan” responses.

The University divided some students into three groups.  Each group was told to report to another building across the campus to take a test.

The first group was told to get there immediately and they were called the “high hurry” group.  The second group was told to get there in fifteen minutes and they were called the “middle hurry” group.

And the third group was told to get there sometime that morning and they were called the “no hurry” group.  Without knowing it, the students had been set up for a study.

Along the way, various individuals posed as persons in need.  One was crying, another pretended to be sick, and another had a flat tire.

Interestingly, none of the students from the “high hurry” or the “middle hurry” groups stopped to help anyone.  But every student from the “no hurry” group stopped.

This was one indicator that led the Princeton study to conclude that as the hurry in our lives increases, our caring decreases.  This finding strikes me as pretty accurate.

The Good Samaritan

This Princeton study gives us a helpful angle for looking at today’s gospel.

The gospel says that someone asks Jesus, “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” Maybe this person is really asking: “What do I have to do and what don’t I have to do?”

Jesus ends up telling the parable of the Good Samaritan.  As I look at the parable, I have to imagine that there are three levels of response to the man lying by the side of the road: 1) Seeing, 2) Feeling, and 3) Acting.

Seeing, Feeling, and Acting


All three people who are walking on this road see the injured man lying there.  The first two, the priest and the Levite, just keep walking.

They know that if they get near this guy or touch him, the religious law makes them ritually unclean.  And if that happens, they will have to jump through some time-consuming hoops to become ritually clean again.

So, the first two people see the man but don’t slow down to really see what has happened or to help. The third man comes along, a Samaritan, and he sees the injured man and then slows down and stops.

The Samaritan sees to the point that he feels compassion for the beaten man.  And with his compassion, he then acts and does what he can to help.

So, to go back to the Princeton study, it seems that we have to slow down enough to see, to really see the person who is in front of us.  For us, it could be a homeless person at a traffic light, carrying a cardboard sign asking for help.

Or it could be a son or daughter who is upset about a relationship that has fallen apart but is trying to hide it.  We have to be slow enough to really see who is before us.

And then, if we allow ourselves to do that, we will probably feel compassion for the person or persons who are hurting. And once again, if we are slow enough, the feeling of compassion will move us to act – to do what I humanly can to help, even if it means delaying whatever I was going to do.

So, seeing leads to feeling and feeling leads to acting.  But the first thing in this process is that we are willing to slow it down, to live slowly enough at least within ourselves 1) to really see and then 2) to really feel the other person’s plight and then 3) to take time to help.

Conclusion


That seems to be the answer that Jesus gives to the question: “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?”  

So, this slowing down so that we 1) see and 2) feel and 3) act must be pretty important stuff.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C - July 7, 2019

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
July 7, 2019

Unfinished America


This may sound like a strange request, but if you have a $1 bill in your wallet or purse, please take it out for just a minute.

And no, I am not going to collect them!  Go to the backside of the dollar bill and notice what we call the Great Seal of the United States of America.

One side of the Seal – the side on the right – features the American eagle.  The eagle is clutching arrows in one of its talons and an olive branch in the other, with 13 stars above its head.

Now notice the other side of the Seal – the side on the left.  This shows, under the eye of divine providence, a pyramid, but notice that the pyramid is unfinished, with no top on it.

The interpretation I have read says that the designers of our Great Seal saw America as unfinished.  They were conveying that America is a country that always remains incomplete.

Building a nation of liberty and justice is a never-ending task.  It began 243 years ago and continues right down to today.

The Contributions of Catholics

The question I want to ask this Fourth of July weekend is this:  What can we as Catholic Americans, or for that matter all Christian Americans, what can we contribute to the unfinished work of our country?

What can we, as persons of faith, contribute?  I see two contributions that are rooted in today’s gospel.

Contribution 1: Think Broadly


Our first contribution is to think broadly.

Luke in today’s gospel says that Jesus sends out 72 disciples.  That number is significant.

It goes back to the story of Noah and the flood in the Book of Genesis.  Noah’s children had 72 sons.

So, the number 72 is symbolic of everyone on the earth – all persons and peoples.  Our contribution then can be to think beyond myself and beyond what is good only for me.

We in Harford County need to think of the well-being of Baltimore City.  We in Maryland need to think of the well-being of the entire country.

We in the United States need to think of the well-being of the entire world.  When we fail to think this way, we easily get into a dog-eat-dog world.

Distance and mistrust and hostility easily develop. But when we do think this way, we are more connected with others.

And then trust and harmony have a much better chance.  So, thinking broadly is the first contribution we can make.    

Contribution 2: Live Simply


And our second contribution is to live simply.

Jesus in the gospel tells the 72 disciples to carry “no money bag, no sack, no sandals.”  In other words, take only what you really need.

I think Pope Francis is giving us a good example of this.  He lived in a simple apartment in Argentina, is now living in a simple apartment in the Vatican, dresses simply, and on it goes.

By his example, he is already calling the Church and all of us to a simpler lifestyle.  One thing I think we all could do is look at what we intend to buy and see if it is a need or just a want.

And if it is only a want or a desire, do I hold off from buying whatever it is and use the money in a different way?  We also need to look at waste.

Do we waste food or water or electricity and oil?  Can we make a conscious effort to cut out the waste?

Living more simply helps us to stay in touch with what is really important.  It keeps us from just living on the surface.

It also keeps us in touch with the great disparities in our world, where 3 billion of the 7 billion people live on $2 a day or less.  So, living simply is a contribution we can make.
  

Conclusion


Of course, there are other contributions we can make, but to 1) think broadly and 2) live simply are rooted in today’s gospel.  

In doing these things, we will be respecting others and creating an environment where the peace that Jesus talks about has a chance to emerge.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C - June 30, 2019

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
June 30, 2019     
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville   9:30 and 11:15am  

A Journey


Jesus’ statements in today’s gospel really need some explanation. 

I mean, at first hearing, they can sound cold and insensitive. So, we need to look at these statements, but first I want to note something else.

In this rather brief passage, Saint Luke uses the word “journey” four times. Luke apparently is trying to make a point. 

He sees Jesus’ entire ministry as a journey to Jerusalem. For Jesus, this was both a geographical and a spiritual journey. 

Jesus was literally on a journey from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south, but he was also on a spiritual journey, a mission for us and all of God’s people. Saint Luke also wants us to know that Jesus’ journey is symbolic of a spiritual journey that each of us is on. 

Each day is another step in the journey – with Jesus, and back to God. It is a journey with new opportunities and new challenges always coming up.  

Seeing my life as a journey helps me to see myself as on the way and not yet there, in other words, as human and imperfect and in need of growth. So, the theme of journey is important and powerful. 

Virtues for the Journey

Now, in today’s gospel, we see some of the traits that Jesus calls us to have for the journey of life.

These traits emerge in Jesus’ response to some people who want to follow him. As I said at the beginning, we need to understand Jesus’ responses carefully because they may seem rather blunt and callous. 

1. Go Beyond Comfort Zone


One person says, “I will follow you wherever you go.”Jesus responds, “Foxes and birds have places to stay, but I do not.”

Jesus is saying that sometimes following him won’t be very comfortable. Sometimes we will have to push ourselves and go out of our comfort zone.   

So, maybe we’ll have to swallow hard, eat our pride, admit we made a mistake, and ask for forgiveness. Or maybe we’ll have to open our minds and be willing to think differently about something.

The point: if we are going to journey with Jesus, sometimes we’ll have to go out of our comfort zone.

2. Do Good Now


Then, someone says that he’ll follow Jesus but first he wants to go and bury his father. Jesus bluntly says, “Let the dead bury their dead.”

Scripture scholars tell us that from the original wording here, this man’s father was not dead and not even dying. Instead, this man’s words were an expression of the day and he was just saying that he’d follow Jesus but not now, sometime later on in his life.  

Jesus’ response is that if we are drawn to do something good, do it now and don’t put it off. So, if we feel drawn to send a note expressing our appreciation and love to our parents or children or wife or husband, just do it.

The point: if we are going to journey with Jesus, do right now the good things that we feel drawn to do.

 

3. Look Ahead


Then someone else says that he’ll follow Jesus, but he first wants to say good-bye to his family. Here Jesus says that if you’re plowing a field and look back over your shoulder, that’s no good.

Jesus is using a farming image that some of us would understand right away. His idea is that if you are planting rows of corn, the rows won’t be straight if you’re looking over your shoulder and behind yourself. 

Jesus doesn’t want us to get stuck in the past but live in the present and for the future. So, don’t be bogged down in past hurts or in past mistakes or in regrets about the past.

The point: if we are going to journey with Jesus, look ahead and make the most of today’s opportunities.
  

Conclusion


So:
1) Sometimes we’ll have to go beyond our comfort zone. 
2) Do good now and don’t put it off until later. 
3) Look ahead and don’t get bogged down in the past. 

They are some of the traits for living life as a journey with Jesus and back to the Father. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Cycle C - June 23, 2019

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Cycle C
June 23, 2019     

A Rabbi’s Embrace


There is a story about a six-year-old Jewish boy named Mortakai.

Mortakai was refusing to go to school.  Each day, his mother would take him to school, but as soon as she left, he ran back home.

Mortakai’s mother would then bring him back to school once again.  This scenario kept happening day after day and finally, in desperation, the parents contacted their rabbi.  

The rabbi said, “If the boy won’t listen to words or to reason, bring him to me.” And so, the parents took young Mortakai to the rabbi.  

They entered the rabbi’s study and the rabbi, without saying a word, simply picked up the boy and held him to his heart for a long time.  And then, without speaking, the rabbi set the boy down.  

Amazingly, what words did not accomplish, a silent embrace did accomplish.  Mortakai began going to school willingly and went on to become a famous scholar and rabbi. 

God’s Embrace


One of our current Catholic writers, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, says that the story of Mortakai expresses something very core about the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Through the Eucharist, God physically embraces us and holds us close to his divine heart.  No question, words are important but at times, they often do not go deep enough and they fail us.  

For example, the older I get, the more I realize that it is important that I am just there with an embrace or a handshake with a person who is grieving the death of a loved one.  My presence is a spiritual embrace that communicates more than my words. 

Now we all know that Jesus makes powerful use of words.  This is why the Scripture is so important here at Mass and why we listen especially to Jesus’ words in the gospel.  

But even Jesus’ words have limits and so he resorts to another language – the language of ritual and action.  This is what the gift of his Body and Blood in the forms of bread and wine is all about.  

The Eucharist is Jesus doing what that rabbi did for young Mortakai.  It is Jesus’ physical embrace, holding us close to his heart.

A Parent’s Embrace


The author Ronald Rolheiser offers another example.

He says that there often comes a time, usually late in the afternoon, when a little child can get very tired.  Maybe the child has been to pre-school and did not get much of a nap.

At times like these, a child can get very cranky.  He doesn’t know what he wants or what to do with himself.

She may torment the dog and begin to whine.  At the same time, the parent is also tired and may begin to reprimand the child.

But the child just whines all the more and now the parent knows exactly what to do.  They just scoop up the child and without speaking, just hold the child close their heart.

 

The Eucharist’s Embrace


Again, Rolheiser says that this is a good image of the Eucharist.

Sometimes we come to Mass, to the Eucharist, feeling tired, strung out, lonely, preoccupied, or worried.  There are times when we have no words to say and cannot really hear any words.

And then, in that moment, God touches us and picks us up.  In that moment, only physical touch and embrace will work.

This is why God, in Jesus, gives us the Eucharist. This is God’s divine, physical embrace.

So, no wonder that the Eucharist is so powerful. Here we find inner comfort for our anxiety and upsets.

Here we find strength for our tiredness and searching. That is what the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, is for us: the divine embrace that communicates without any words at all.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, Cycle C - June 16, 2019

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

Cycle C

June 16, 2019     
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville   4pm

Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11am

 

In the Image of God

 

This morning, I want to do something a bit different.

As we know, today in our Church we honor the Holy Trinity. For me and for all of us, the Trinity is a mystery of faith.

We accept God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit but we are not able to understand this fully. So, I am not going to try to give some abstract theological teaching about the Trinity. 

I am sure that my effort would be very lacking and probably boring. Instead, this morning I want to focus on us and our own experience. 

Here is what I have in mind. The Book of Genesis says that we are made in the image and likeness of God.

Just think about that. If we are made in the image and likeness of God, then there must be signs or traces of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit right within us and in our experience of living. 

Here is what I have in mind. Try to reflect and look at yourself as I guide us in this. 

The Father


First, let’s be aware of our desire to give life.

For many of us this desire gets fulfilled by bringing a child into the world. Or, as in my own case, we have this desire fulfilled by instilling the life of faith in others or by assisting others in living a full, happy or healthy life.

Also, think of the pleasure we have this time of year in bringing life from the earth by growing tomato plants or flowers. Think of the satisfaction we receive in being a shoulder for someone to cry on and eventually come out of grief or depression and back to life.

So, let’s be aware of experiences like these. They are signs of the presence of God, the creator, God the Father.   

The Son


And then, let’s be aware of our thirst to restore.

There is something within you that wants to restore your marriage to the love it once had. There is something within us that wants to restore a friendship that has grown distant.

Also, if we are honest with ourselves, look at our need to forgive and our restlessness when we do not forgive. Or look at our lack of peace when we have not asked for forgiveness, even though we know that we should.

So, let’s also be aware of experiences like these. They are signs of the presence of God, of Jesus, God the Son.

The Holy Spirit

And last, let’s be aware of our passion for certain things.

Look at your passionate love for your husband or wife or children or close friend. Or look at our passionate care for victims of violence.

Also, notice how ardent our faith in God can be or how strong our commitment to the environment can be. Or notice whatever it is that we will skip a meal for or even die for.

So, let’s also be aware of experiences like these. These are signs of the presence of God, the Spirit, the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

What I am saying boils down to this: 

Let’s remember the basic revelation in the Bible about being made in God’s image and likeness. And with that, we can see that at least some of our human experiences confirm or even lead us to our belief in the Trinity – in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Feast of Pentecost, Cycle C - June 9, 2019

Feast of Pentecost
Cycle C
June 9, 2019       
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville   4pm and 8am
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore    11am

Evangelization


When I was a child, my parents would sometimes take us to downtown Baltimore and I remember seeing some street preachers.

These preachers were trying to convert people to Jesus. They would shout and decry everyone’s sinfulness and threaten damnation if people didn’t listen.

This is my earliest recollection of what is called evangelization. We hear this word used a lot today even by Pope Francis.  

The word comes directly from the Latin word that means gospel or good news. So, evangelization means that we bring the gospel or good news of Jesus to the world around us.

As I look back, I wasn’t hearing much good news from those street preachers when I was a child. It felt so scary and negative.

Naming Grace 


Recently I came across an insightful way to understand evangelization here in the twenty-first century.

One of our Catholic theologians says that evangelization is first of all about naming grace – naming grace. It is not really about bringing God to people, as though God were not already there.

Instead, when we evangelize, we name or identify or point out how God is already present. As I have come to see it, this means that our human experiences can speak to us of God.

So, evangelizing first requires us to be interpreters of everyday human experience. We are to look at life with the eyes of faith and help each other see life as touched by God.

It is looking at the human and everyday and seeing the divine right there.  I think this insight is excellent and must be the first step of evangelization in this century and culture. 

 

Examples of Naming Grace


So, for example, a child is born. And we stand in awe of this new life from God.

Or, we forgive someone, even though we feel that we ourselves gain nothing from this. And we know that the power to do this had to come from God.

Or, we sacrifice for another person, for a daughter to go off to college or for a person in need whom we never even meet. And we are aware of a spirit within us that moves us to do this.

Or, we are taken by the magnificence of a sunset. And we wonder about the something, or Someone – spelled with a capital S – that is behind all of this.

Or, we find ourselves really loving someone. And we sense that there is mystery to this that transcends human explanation.   

Naming Jesus

So, we need to name the grace of God in ways like these.

That, I believe, must be the first step of evangelization in this century and culture. We point out and identify God’s presence, already in our midst.  

And that presence, my friends, is the Holy Spirit. It is who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit is about.

And then, with this naming done, we can proceed to the next step. We can proceed to lifting up the wonderful way of Jesus and inviting others to that.

So, we name grace and make that a conscious experience. And then we name Jesus and make his way a conscious invitation.

And, in both steps, we are positive. We are not like the street preachers I remember as a child and some preachers I hear today, whom I find to be very negative.  

We are not condemning or labeling others as in mortal sin. We are not threatening others with damnation and manipulating them with fear.

Instead, we are positive, naming the grace that is already present and then naming the way of Jesus. And in doing this, we are living his way, the way of love and respect for others, no matter what.

Conclusion


This, I believe, is the way to celebrate and grow the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is an important way for us to understand and celebrate Pentecost today

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, Cycle B - June 2, 2019

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Cycle C

June 2, 2019       

Tuesdays with Morrie


I imagine that many of us have heard of the book “Tuesdays with Morrie.”

It was first published in 1997 and was soon made into a movie.  The book has remained well-known.

Tuesdays with Morrie is about a university professor, Doctor Morrie Schwartz, and a Detroit sportswriter, Mitch Albom.  Morrie Schwartz had been Mitch Albom’s teacher and mentor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.  

In 1994, Doctor Schwartz was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  He was told that he had a year to live and he decided to do just that – to live his last year to the fullest.  

Morrie Schwartz was even interviewed on ABC’s Nightlineprogram.  He talked about what he was learning through his illness.

Mitch Albom saw this program and decided to visit his former professor.  This was the first of fourteen visits -- all on Tuesdays.

Morrie’s Messages

These visits became the content of Mitch Albom’s book, Tuesdays with Morrie.  

In these visits, Morrie Schwartz expressed the importance of transcending the violence and hatred in our culture.  He reflected on life, suffering, family, marriage, aging, and death.

Naturally, Doctor Schwartz’s perspective was as a man facing his own death. And his reflections brought a whole new perspective to Mitch Albom.  

Mitch had been overwhelmed with work and he was desperate for love and meaning. In their last visit, Morrie Schwartz really summed up things.

He said that“As long as we love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without really going away. All the love you created is still there.

“You live on – in the hearts of everyone you have touched or nurtured while you were there.  Death ends life [as we know it, but] not a relationship.”   

Jesus’ Messages

Those reflections of Morrie Schwartz are similar to what we hear from Jesus.

Jesus has taught great lessons to the apostles.  He has taught them, above all else, to become loving persons – to love God as God has loved us, and to love one another as we love ourselves.

Jesus sums up all of this as he is about to return to the Father.  He then leaves the apostles bodily, physically, visibly.

But Jesus has told the apostles that he will continue to be with them and us through his Holy Spirit.  In effect, something similar to what Morrie Schwartz said, Jesus is saying that his ascension or return to the Father ends life as we know it, but nota relationship.  

This means that we live with Jesus present within us and he empowers us to live out of this inner center of love.  This is how life continues with Jesus.

And, I want to add, this is also how we are to view our living on with a loved one who has died.  And on the other hand, it is how we are to look upon our remaining with our loved ones after we have died.