Tuesday, March 17, 2020

3rd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A - March 15, 2020

3rd Sunday of Lent
Cycle A
March 15, 2020
Our Lady of Grace Parish, Parkton   5pm 

Samaria

Imagine that someone is in Towson and wants to drive out here to Parkton.

I think the easy way would be to take I-83 or York Road and go through Hunt Valley to get here. But, this person really dislikes Hunt Valley and the people who live there and won’t even drive through the area.

So, they head east, far out of the way, and take Dulaney Valley Road and the Jarrettsville Pike up into Harford County. And only then do they turn west to get to Parkton.

Now, that’s all make-believe and it is ridiculous, but it helps us to appreciate today’s gospel. Jesus is traveling, maybe walking from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north.

But there is an area between Judea and Galilee was called Samaria. Most Jews of Jesus’ day would have gone out of their way to avoid passing through this area.

Why? Because they had strong, negative feelings and prejudice against the Samaritans and refused to have anything to do with them. 
   
A Samaritan Woman

So, here is Jesus traveling through Samaria.

Even more dramatic, he stops at a well to get a drink of water and a Samaritan woman also comes up to the well. Jesus starts talking with her. 

I mean, this is like three strikes and you’re out in baseball. This person is 1) a different ethnic background, 2) a different religion, and to top it all off, 3) a woman. 

Jews in Jesus’ day would have nothing to do with these Samaritans because of ethnic and religious differences. And, in that culture, women were treated in such a diminished way that a man was not to even talk with a woman in public. 

So, Jesus crashes through these three barriers or prejudices. He is showing that God’s love reaches out to all persons – regardless of who they are. 

And here is the first lesson on faith that we are given in this story. 1) If we are going to live a life of faith, and 2) if we are going to draw others to a genuine faith, we need to get beyond differences and barriers and prejudices.

We need to see others as human beings like ourselves, no matter who they are. In our day and age, this may relate especially to our attitudes – and that’s where it starts, with our attitudes.

We need to examine our attitudes toward minorities in our own country, and toward refugees and migrants from wherever. 1) Living faith in Jesus Christ and 2) attracting others to this faith demands that we see others as persons like ourselves, no matter who they are.       

The Samaritan Woman’s Background

And then, notice this.

In their conversation, Jesus says that he knows this Samaritan woman’s personal background – and it’s a doozie! She has had five husbands and the man she is now living with is not her husband.

From the wording, it is clear that Jesus is not shaming or condemning this woman. He just states what he knows and leaves it for her to think about.

Jesus must sense that within herself, this woman, like all human beings, is really thirsty for a water that satisfies us completely – a spiritual water. She’s looked for this in the wrong places and just hasn’t found it yet.

Jesus’ approach is how I see our Sacrament of Reconciliation or confession. It is not to be a time for heavy guilt trips or judging.

Instead, it is more of an experience of looking at ourselves and come to fuller life in Christ. It’s a time to quench our thirst for living water, as Jesus says today.

And here is the second lesson of faith in this passage. Because of Jesus’ respectful approach to this woman, she comes to see him as more than ordinary – maybe as the Messiah.

And she even goes and tells others about Jesus. So, 1) living a life of faith and 2) attracting others to that faith demands respect for others as persons – no matter what they have done. 

Conclusion

So, 1) the importance of our attitude toward others no matter who they are, and 2) the importance of respecting others as persons no matter what they have done – two important lessons today for 1) living faith and 2) attracting others to faith.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A - March 8, 2020

2nd Sunday of Lent
Cycle A
March 8, 2020 

Others – More Than Meets the Eye

It is easy to label people.

It is easy to slide into the habit of summing up others with a one or two-word description.  We might say that a co-worker is lazy, or that a neighbor is moody, or that an in-law is very self-absorbed.

Sometimes we make quick conclusions about the character of others and sum them up in a word or two.  We may even be partially correct.

But, if we are honest, we also have to admit that we are likely seeing only part of the picture.  We all know that there is a lot more to an iceberg than what shows on the surface.

Well in a similar way, we cannot sum up ourselves or another person in one or two words.  There is more to a person than what meets the eye.
   
Jesus – More Than Meets the Eye 

Today’s gospel gives us a similar message about Jesus.

It says that Jesus is transfigured – or transformed – before the disciples.  The voice from the heavens proclaims: “This is my beloved Son.”    

And then there is the presence of Moses and Elijah.  Up to Jesus’ time, they did not refer to the Scripture as the Bible.

They simply called the sacred writings “The Law and the Prophets.”  So, when Moses – the giver of the law, the Ten Commandments – and Elijah – the last great prophet – when they appear with Jesus in the middle between them, the meaning is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets – the fulfillment of everything in the Scripture.

So, Jesus’ unique relationship with God and his unique mission shine through here.  His divinity shines through.

Before this moment, the disciples had been seeing just the tip of the iceberg.  Here the disciples discover that there is a lot more to Jesus than what meets the eye. 

For Us – More Than What Meets the Eye

There is also more than what meets the eye in each one of us.

We are composites of many qualities.  Our task is to allow the divine, God-like qualities shine through us more and more.  

Maybe this is a good way of understanding the mission we have for our time here on earth.  We are to allow Jesus to transfigure or transform us.

So maybe we are demanding, but we can also allow our gentleness to emerge.  Maybe we are very task-oriented and hard-working, but we can also allow our easier, person-centered self to shine through.

Maybe we are cranky at times, but we can also allow our positive self to be seen.  The idea is that there are divine-like qualities in each of us, like forgiveness, imagination, generosity, joy at the accomplishment of another, and on it goes.

There is more to us than what meets the eye.  The gospel calls us to allow Jesus to transfigure or transform us too.

How to Be Transfigured/Transformed?

I want to recommend one specific way of doing this.

My thought is that we use the Penitential Act at the beginning of Mass to help us with this.  And on the other days of the week, we do a brief examination of conscience on our own.

Pick out just one thing in my life that is blocking a divine, Christ-like quality from emerging.  Just pick one thing and keep bringing that to God maybe for three or four months.

Ask God’s forgiveness for this as we feel it is needed.  And also ask God’s grace for the flip side of that quality to emerge in us – like patience instead of impatience.

Maybe even think of a way to take the initiative and express in a specific situation the divine, Christ-like quality that needs to shine through.  Over time, this will be a way to allow what is more than meets the eye in us to emerge, a way to be transfigured or transformed.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle A - March 1, 2020

1st Sunday of Lent
Cycle A
March 1, 2020
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville   4pm

Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore    11am


The Temptation to Sin

So, Jesus is tempted to sin.

This is a very dramatic event. If Jesus can be tempted to sin, by all means, we can also be tempted.

I am thinking that the three ways Jesus is tempted are very fundamental ways that we can also be led to sin. These may be very common, even universal challenges. 
   
First: Hunger for More 

We are first told that Jesus is hungry and that the devil tempts him to change stone into bread.

The deeper issue I see here is the hunger itself. We all have hunger – and I don’t mean just physical hunger – we all have hunger and desire within us.

We want more, more of what we have, or more by getting something we don’t have. It is so easy to get lured by advertising into thinking that this hunger or desire can be satisfied by more and more things.

Better food or more of it, a new car, nicer furniture, a bigger home, the latest-styled clothes, the most up-to-date i-Phone, a glamorous cruise to the Caribbean, and on it goes. All of these things are good in themselves, but they never really satisfy us.

And they don’t because God in the act of creation planted this hunger within us and it can only be satisfied by God. It can only be satisfied as we grow in our relationship with God and become more compassionate, understanding, patient, and life-giving persons – more God-like.

So, Jesus’ temptation is a very real temptation for us. And we too need to say: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”     

Second: Expect No Pain

Then, Jesus is led to the roof of the temple and the devil tempts him to jump off.

Surely God will protect him from getting hurt. The deeper issue I see here is expecting God to protect us from all pain.

In other words, do we see a life of faith as something like a quid pro quo with God? If I have faith, and if I come to Mass, and if I obey the commandments, then surely God will take care of me.

I will be protected from sickness and losing my job and automobile accidents and family upsets and all the rest. But, as Jesus responds here, we are not to expect God to exempt us from all struggle and suffering.  

Sadly, some of this is part of being human. Still, the good news is that God will help us to deal with all of this and even to grow through all of this to be more like Jesus – who also suffered. 

So, Jesus’ temptation is again a very real temptation for us. And we too need to say: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Third: Get My Own Way

Finally, we are told that the devil takes Jesus up on a high mountain and offers him power over all the kingdoms of the world.

The deeper issue I see here is our use of power. We are tempted sometimes to want things our way at all costs.

We are tempted to use our strong personality to muscle others. Or we are tempted to manipulate others with guilt or half-truths.  

And when we do this, we are in effect worshipping ourselves and making ourselves the center of everything. In contrast, Jesus is humble and shows the power of a certain vulnerability with others.  

His way is one of respect for others, regardless of who they are or what they have done. His way is one of conversation and not coercion.

So, Jesus’ temptation is again a very real temptation for us. And we too need to say: “The Lord your God shall you worship, and him alone shall you serve.”

Conclusion

So, these three temptations of Jesus are probably universal human temptations. Maybe they can provide some good focus for our examination of conscience during these six weeks of Lent.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Saturday of the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A - February 8, 2020

Saturday of the 4th Week in Ordinary Time

February 8, 2020          11am 

Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center


Jesus says to the apostles: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
Jesus knows that he and the apostles need to take a break.
They need some time to eat, to sleep, and even to get refocused.
They needed some space away from it all to recall what they were really doing and what they were all about.

But, almost as soon as they got to the place where Jesus thought they could do this, a whole group of people showed up.
They wanted attention, some words of wisdom, even some healing.
And Jesus responds and gives his time to them.
I have to imagine that the apostles did the same thing.

I bet lots of us have had experiences like this:
really needing some time to ourselves but having a tough time getting it.
There’s always more to do or someone who needs us.
Getting this personal time – this can be difficult.

I don’t have an easy answer for this.
I think we need to live the best we can with this tension. 
But, I do have three quick pieces of advice that may help us.
First, make sure that we ourselves really want the space and time for ourselves.
Make sure we keep looking for it.
Second, make sure that we are not compulsively inventing one thing after another to do.
Or that we are not always saying “Yes” just to please the other person.
And third, make sure that the incursions to our alone time are real needs of others.
Make sure that it is responding to others with real needs that leads us to shorten or sometimes go without this time to self, as Jesus does today.

It’s a tension we have to live with.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A - February 9, 2020

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle A
February 8-9, 2020

Salt in Food


I seldom add salt to food.

We all know what the medical profession says about limiting the amount of sodium in our diet.  Most food needs some salt, but I rarely add more to what is already in it.

But, every August, I find myself using the salt shaker.  I enjoy a simple tomato sandwich: slices of vine-ripe August tomato, mayonnaise on the bread, a slice of cheddar cheese, and definitely a dash of salt on the tomato.

The salt brings out the wonderful taste of the tomato.  It just isn’t quite as good without the salt.

Those who like to cook tell me how important salt is. Just the right amount brings out the full flavor of the beef or green beans or whatever, but too much salt can ruin the taste.

We Are Salt

Our use of salt on food helps us to appreciate today’s gospel.

Jesus tells us that we are “the salt of the earth.”  The idea is that we are to flavor and enhance the world.

Just as salt does for food, we are to bring out the best in those around us.  So, parents are salt by helping their children develop their math skills or by working with them on their reading.

Teachers and guidance counselors are salt by guiding young people into the extra-curriculars that will develop them well – the school newspaper, or drama, or lacrosse, whatever.  We can be salt by listening carefully to a spouse or friend, helping them to clarify what their upset is all about, and then assisting them in figuring out how they might best express themselves.

It is important to remember that ordinary salt is something we seldom notice.  We never say: “Wow, that salt really tastes good!”

Instead, we say: “That fried chicken was great!”  If it is the right amount, the salt enhances and draws the best out of the food but draws no attention to itself.

That is an important feature of salt.  Jesus wants us to have this same feature.

We Are Light

Jesus also tells us that we are to be “the light of the world.”  

Well, we don’t sit and look at a light bulb and we definitely should not look directly at the sun.  Instead, we look at what light illumines.

So, something like being salt, as light we are not to be the center of attention.  Instead, we are to light up what is beyond us and enable others to see certain things.

Maybe it is the light of an insight, when we try to guide a young adult on a relationship issue.  Maybe it is the light of lifting up the good possibilities that someone still has instead of just focusing on their mistakes and failures.

Maybe it is pointing out the light instead of cursing the darkness in general.  Instead of just harping on the bad things is our society and world, we can lift up persons who give generously of their time in Habitat for Humanity and things like that.

Several years ago, Pope Francis gave an interview to a journalist who is a non-believer, probably an agnostic.  And the Pope showed great respect for this talented man. 

He affirmed the good things this man is doing and said we meet and are one in doing good.  That’s a way to be light in today’s world and it is a good example for us maybe in dealing with a son or daughter or others who have fallen away from the practice of the faith. 

Conclusion

So, Jesus uses some simple images to describe how he wants us to be his disciples.  Both salt and light focus beyond themselves, not on themselves.

And both are very positive in the way they act.  Helpful images and lessons for us today!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, Cycle A - February 2, 2020

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
 Cycle A
February 2, 2020
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4:00pm and 8:00am 
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11:00am 

Habits 

This morning, I want to reflect with you on habits.

Habits! If we think about it for just a second, each of us can quickly see that we have habits in our lives.

When I get out of bed in the morning, I brush my teeth and shave and shower and get dressed. And all of this is habit.

When we go to bed at night, we make sure that the doors are locked and the lights are out. Habits.

We get in the car and automatically buckle our seatbelts. Habit.

We may drive to work or to the grocery store and not even think about which roads to take or which turns to make. Habit.

There is an expression that we human beings are creatures of habit – creatures of habit! I’ve heard an estimate that 40 to 50% of the things we do in everyday life are out of habit – amazing!

Definition of Habit 

A habit can be defined as any practice that we do regularly and routinely with little or no effort of the mind or the will.

So, any practice that we do maybe every day, maybe even at the same time every day. And we do it without having to think about it or having to decide whether to do it or not.

We just do it automatically – something that has become automatic probably from just doing it over and over again. So, A habit is any practice that we do regularly and routinely with little or no effort of the mind or the will.

Habits: Simeon and Anna

In today’s gospel, we see these two older persons: Simeon and Anna.

They are like warm, wise, loving grandparents. And what strikes me is that Simeon and Anna have habits of faithfulness.

They come to the temple regularly. They pray every day.

And these habits of faithfulness to God give them hope and peace. Simeon has the hope that he will see the savior of God before he dies.

His habits of faithfulness sustain this hope. And this in turn makes him so peaceful that he is ready to die after he has seen the Christ Child.

Simeon offers that beautiful prayer that we hear today: “Now, master, you can let your servant go in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”The same thing is true for Anna.

She is eighty-four years-old and gives thanks to God upon seeing the Christ Child. Her habits of faithfulness have also sustained her hope and brought her inner peace.

Our Habits 

Today, I want to recommend three habits of faithfulness for us to consider. 

If we don’t have any of these in our lives right now, please consider trying to develop one of them. If we already have one of these in our lives, maybe we are ready to adopt a second.

So, maybe a habit of pre-set prayer – a habit of praying the Our Father or the Hail Mary, a decade of the rosary, or a psalm from the Old Testament. Some habit of pre-set prayer, a prayer composed by someone else that we may have learned by heart, praying a prayer like this each day and, if possible, at a set time each day.

Or maybe a habit of meditative prayer – a habit of reading a short passage of a gospel – one parable or teaching or action of Jesus – and reflecting to see what God is saying to me and wants me to do here. A habit of meditative prayer each day and again, if possible, at a set time each day.

Or maybe a habit of thankful prayer – a habit of looking back on the day and thanking God for both the ordinary and the special blessings of that day. A habit of thankful prayer, maybe at the end of each day, sometime in the evening or right before going to bed.
  
Conclusion

So, pick one or two of these habits of faithfulness.

Make this part of your everyday life. Let this practice become a habit – an automatic.

And see if it doesn’t do for you what habits of faithfulness did for Simeon and Anna. See if it doesn’t sustain you with hope and give you an inner peace. 

Monday, January 27, 2020

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C - January 26, 2020

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A
January 26, 2020

 


The Holocaust Museum: Lessons


Three years ago, I visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Probably some of you have visited this.  I had never been there before.  

As you know, the Museum is a memorial especially to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust in the 1940s.  This genocide by the Nazis killed 6 million Jews.  

The Holocaust eventually included other targets, like citizens of Poland and the Soviet Union, gypsies, homosexual and disabled persons and others.  The Nazis exterminbated a total of 11 million people.  

As I slowly walked through the Museum, I found myself sad, in disbelef, in horror, and at times I became aware that I was just shaking my head NO!  It is just too hard to imagine this.  

Well, that experience quickly put me in touch with some thoughts that have been maturing in me over the last year or so. I have boiled these down to two reflections and I want to share them with you today. 

 

1.   Words Are Powerful 


My first reflection is that our words are powerful

The words we speak and the words we write or text or email – these can be very powerful.  We need to be aware of this.

For example, have you ever said something and the moment it is out of your mouth, you wish you could take it back?  Maybe in frustration, we said to a teenager: “You’re never going to amount to anything.”

Or to someone:“You’re a lazy, self-centered waste!” Or: “You’re a good-for-nothing blankedy blank.”

Our words can help a person develop and grow. Or they can freeze a person right where they are and even send them backwards.

Our words can build up self-estemn and self-confidence.  Or they can tear it down and injure someone for a lifetime.

Our words can give positive vision to a group or community.  Or they can lead those same people to harmful ways.

So, I am suggesting, we have to pause, reflect, and go within ourselves before we speak.  We have to get in touch with our true inner self and with God who is within us.

We have to consider the effects of our words for today and tomorrow and the future.  And then, we have to decide what to say and when to say it and how to say it.

So, knowing that our words have such power is very important.  We need to use our words in a mature and holy way.

2.   Negative Stereotypes Are Destructive 

My other reflection is related to the first.

Negative stereotyping is always destructive.  And it is always wrong.

This is what happened in Nazi Germany and what caused the Holocaust.  Thoughtless and hurtful words were applied to the Jews.  

These words and labels led to negative stereotyping.  In that instance, we know the horrific results.

Some scholars tell us that negative stereotyping arises from the human temptation to scapegoat.  We make another person or an entire category of persons the scapegoat for our problems.

So, we need to resist negative stereotyping of others. Today, it might be directed to Syrian refugees or Hispanic immigrants, to women or African Americans, to members of the LGBTQ community or to Muslims.

We need to have the inner strength not to paticipate in this. In fact, we need to label it as morally wrong.   

Instead, we are to follow the way of Jesus.  In today’s gospel, Jesus calls the first apostles to follow him.

Jesus calls us to do the same.  But following him means more than coming to Mass and receiving the Eucharist.


And one thing for sure that it means is that we use the power of our words constructively and caringly.  And it also means that we resist negative stereotyping and treat all persons as God’s daughters and sons.