Tuesday, September 20, 2016

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - September 18, 2016

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
September 18, 2016    11:00am 
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore

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 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.  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: “Humph!  So that’s the weight of nothing?

Little Things Have Effects

That anecdote highlights one of the lessons 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 says that we develop character by beginning with the little things.

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 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 work at those little flaws: like telling so-called fibs or little lies that we think will not hurt anyone; or like taking home pens or coffee or other supplies from where we work.  If we start dealing with these “little” signs of spiritual failure, then we will grow in 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, the anecdote about the snowflake also conveys that our actions will have an effect on others, especially our children and grandchildren 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 wrote that it might have been a 6-year old hearing his father tell someone who was interested in buying his old car that it had never been in an accident, when in truth, it had been rear-ended several years before.

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

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 begin to form the character of young people.


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.”

Friday, September 9, 2016

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - September 11, 2016

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
September 11, 2016    9:30 and 11:15am 
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville

Mother Teresa

Last Sunday, Mother Teresa was canonized by Pope Francis: Saint Teresa of Calcutta. 

Mother Teresa founded and led the Missionaries of Charity.  These Sisters have as their mission the care of the least, the lost, and the last in society.

Mother Teresa and her Sisters did this in Calcutta.  They would care for those who were destitute and literally dying on the streets. 

In some cities in our own country, the Missionaries of Charity care for persons with AIDS.  For example, in Baltimore, they house about twelve persons at a time who are in the advanced stages of this illness and literally have no one to care for them, no place to go, even no place to die.

Seeking Out the Lost

What the Missionaries of Charity do illustrates the lesson of today’s gospel.

The context is that some of the religious leaders are upset because Jesus is having dinner with “sinners.”  We are not told what sins these people committed, but they are labeled as “sinners.”

These religious leaders believe that associating with these “sinners” makes you unclean.  In response to them, 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. 

We may not catch it, but right here Jesus is challenging the religious leaders.  The society of that day looked down on shepherds as low-life people and looked down on women as second-class persons.

But here, in these stories, Jesus wants us to identify with the shepherd and the woman.  He is even saying that this shepherd and this woman are images of God – what a challenge that is to these people.

So, Jesus is jolting his listeners to start thinking differently.  And then, he gets to his main point – that we can all be lost in two 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.  We can stop praying from our heart and being open to what God is calling us to do.

The result is that we lose our grounding in God and may well drift into harmful behavior.  For example, we may get into demonizing comments about others, maybe even in the name of God or of what we think is right.

When we are lost in this way, Jesus is saying that God is still there, still loving us and looking for us, just 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.

I suggest that these twinges of conscience or guilt feelings are really God trying to bring us back.  And, by all means, notice in Jesus’ image that the shepherd does not scold or punish the lost sheep, but simply carries it back to the flock – what a good example this is for how we as a Church are to relate to the 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 this way, even though we may not feel it, God is like the woman looking for the one coin.

God is still there, loving us and wanting to be close to us.  Maybe it will take time for us to feel this.

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


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

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - August 28, 2016

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
August 28, 2016

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 8:00am

Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11:00am

The Fine Art of Small Talk

A woman named Debra Fine – spelled F-I-N-E as in, “everything is fine –— she leads seminars that are titled The Fine Art of Small Talk.

These seminars have attracted many people.  Often these people cringe at the thought of making small talk at social gatherings.

Debra Fine has an interesting insight.  She says that to be a good conversationalist, we need to focus the attention first on others and not on ourselves.

She says that a good conversationalist always lets others know that they have our undivided attention.  That begins the process of a relationship.

Then, after others feel that we are interested in what’s going on in their lives, they will usually turn the spotlight back to us.  Then we will have a chance to share something about ourselves.

What Humility Is Not  

Well, without intending it, that seminar – The Fine Art of Small Talk –contains a significant insight into humility.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says: “Those who exalt themselves shall be humbled and those who humble themselves shall be exalted.”  So, Jesus lifts up the virtue of humility, but the question is: what is humility?

Humility is not trying to come across as less skilled or less knowledgeable than we really are.  And it does not mean that we put ourselves down and feel that we are less than others.

What Humility Is

Instead, humility has more to do with our center of attention.

It means that in our relationship with God, we recognize that we are less than the One who has created us and given us life.  So, our focus first needs to be on God and not on ourselves self.

And then, humility means that in our human relationships, we recognize that each of us is of equal value.  And because the love of God calls us to take the first step in reaching out, again our focus first needs to be on the other person and not on ourselves.

So the insight is that humility is really about the center of attention.  It means that our center of attention is first on God and others.

Not Easy to Do

Now, this is not always easy to do.

It is not easy for shy folks to engage with another person;
or for chatterboxes to listen to the other person;
or for those of us who are driven by our own personal goals to do this;
or for those of us who are stressed all day long to do this. 

Placing our attention first on God and others takes real effort because so many factors in our human condition and in our culture lead us to do just the opposite.  So, let’s look at a few examples that may help us.

Some Helpful Examples

Young children with their toys have a good training ground for humility. 

By sharing their toys, they develop the ability to be friends.  Our encouragement helps them to focus the center of attention on others and not just on themselves.

A married couple or two adult friends also have opportunities for learning humility.

When we see one another after a hectic day, we might first be tempted to unload and dump.  Instead, you might first invite your spouse or friend to share how their day or week has been.

Or even, when we come here to Mass, we have an opportunity for humility.

We can make sure that we are first interested in what God wants to say to us rather than what we want to say to God.  And we can make sure that our prayers include the needs of our world and those who are sick and on it goes. 

If we do things like these, if we first make God and others the center of our attention, then amazingly, we will also find ourselves well tended.  As paradoxical as they seem, the words of Jesus will ring true: “Those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - August 14, 2016

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
August 14, 2016
4:00pm at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville
11:00am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore

What Does Jesus Mean?

Today’s gospel is not one of those warm passages of Scripture.

It is very different from Jesus saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.”  And it is very different from Jesus praying, “I pray that they may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you.”

And, of course, it is very different from our prayers here at Mass.  We don’t say, “May the division of the Lord be with you,” but “May the peace of the Lord be with you.”

This passage can seem out-of-sync, almost contradictory to the rest of the gospel.  So, I ask, we can ask: what does Jesus really mean here?

I think the key to understanding this lies in the three images that Jesus uses.  1) Fire, 2) Baptism and 3) Division.

1.    Fire

Scripture commentaries say that fire is an image for choice.

So Jesus is saying that sometimes we will have to make a choice to follow his way or not.  We will have to discern and choose right from wrong.

This will be true for children who are tempted to go onto the Internet when their parents have told them not to, or for business people in their dealings with customers.  The image of fire says that Jesus calls us to make choices.

2.    Baptism

And then, when Jesus speaks of baptism here, maybe surprisingly, he is not talking about the sacrament.

Scripture experts tell us that this means our willingness to be immersed at times not in water but in suffering.  The idea is that some of the choices we have to make will be uncomfortable.

So maybe we’re looked down upon and talked about because we will not participate in a conversation that negatively stereotypes certain people, especially those who are different from us in some way.  The image of baptism says that Jesus calls us to accept some suffering as a result of the choices we make.

3.    Division

And then – and here’s the most confusing of the ideas – Jesus says that he has come for division and not for peace.

This also flows from the image of fire or our choice to follow the way of Jesus.  The idea is that sometimes our choices will divide us from others.

So our youth who say no to alcohol or drugs or sex may find themselves divided from some of their peers.  This is the kind of division that Jesus means.

Who Causes Division?

But notice: it is not Jesus who causes the division.

Jesus never intends, never wants and himself never causes division.  Just page through the gospels and look at Jesus’ life.

Jesus never divides himself from anyone.  And he never divides anyone else from himself.

His being with those who were isolated and on the margins of society and with those labelled as sinners is clear proof of this.  There is no division here.

In fact, this is one of the traits of Jesus that some people choose – they choose to reject.  Some of the people of Jesus’ day hold themselves above and beyond certain others and think Jesus should do the same.
So they reject Jesus.  They divide themselves from him and, in the end, they precipitate his crucifixion.

This, I suggest, is the division that Jesus foresees.  He foresees that his humble, open, embracing way would be hard for some people to accept and that is why he speaks of division.

Still, the example or model that Jesus himself gives is not division but relationship and oneness, no matter how right we think we are and how wrong we think others are.  Jesus sees this as the way for everyone to grow closer to God.