Monday, October 17, 2016

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - October 16, 2016

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
October 16, 2016         4:00pm, 9:30 and 11:15am   
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville

“Will he find faith…?”

So, Jesus asks: “When the Son of God comes, will he find any faith on earth?” 

When Jesus asks “Will the Son of God find faith on the earth?” he is referring to the woman in the parable tat we just heard.  You remember.

This woman, a widow, just won’t give up asking a judge for a fair response to her request.  One of our Catholic authors says that Jesus is not using this woman’s faith as an example of persons who know all the teachings in the catechism, as good as that might be – so, not that kind of faith.

Instead, he uses her as an example of persons who trust in God, persons who trust in God regardless of what is going on in their lives.  These persons center their lives on God when things are good and they turn to God when things are tough.

There are several other places in the gospel where Jesus says to people, “Your faith has saved you.”  He says this as he heals people physically, emotionally or spiritually.

And when Jesus says “Your faith has saved you,” he means that they trust in God in their heart.  They have opened themselves to a personal relationship with God that is heart-centered and not just head-centered.

They pray to God out of their hearts.  They trust that God is with them and caring for them, even if things are difficult.

They may not fully understand the ways of God and they may be living a very imperfect life, but they have this heart faith, this trust in God.  And this trust is first and foremost a matter of the heart.


A Trusting, Heart Faith

So, this seems to be the kind of faith that Jesus is talking about here.

You know, today and every Sunday, we recite the Profession of Faith here at Mass.  It is an important expression of our faith.

But, we have to make sure that this is not just a mental, an intellectual thing, a head faith.  We have to make sure that there is a trusting, heart faith at the basis of this.

This seems to be what Pope Francis has been getting at.  He has not been hammering away at just two or three points of doctrine or moral teaching.

Instead, Pope Francis has been focusing more on the love and mercy and goodness of God and on our need to have a trusting relationship with God.  He seems to see this as the core of faith.

He is calling us to live with this inner sense of God, of Jesus being with us through it all.  And he is calling us to do our best to live out of this relationship.    

Heart Faith and Pope Francis

Maybe this is why Pope Francis sees the Church, to use his image, as a large home for many and not as a little chapel for a few.

Maybe this is why the Pope seems reluctant to exclude people from the community of the Church.  At one point, he even says that “the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”

So, maybe the bottom-line test of being part of God’s family is not that we live perfectly or that we agree with each other on everything.  Maybe the test is that we try to embrace this kind of trusting, heart faith that Jesus lifts up today.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - October 2, 2016

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
October 2, 2016  11:00am 
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore

The Vision

The word, the one word I am focused on this morning is the word vision.”

The prophet Habakkuk in the first reading says: “Write down the vision.  [Be patient because] the vision will have its time.”

For me, this one word summarizes our Scripture passages today.  1) We are to see the vision.

2) We are to trust the vision.  3) And we are to live the vision.

1.    See the Vision

First, we are to see the vision.

This means that we need to see Jesus himself.  We see him as the way to God and the way to know God because he is the Son of God.

And so, we are to work to know Jesus just as thoroughly as we can.  We do this by carefully reading and reflecting on the gospels, day by day, week by week, year by year.

What he says and what he does and how he relates to people – this is to be the center of our spiritual life.  This is the vision we are to see.

It gradually shapes who we become as persons.  Step by step, it shapes how we think and what we say and do and how we relate to one another.


2.    Trust the Vision

Then, with this seeing, we are to trust the vision.

Here we have to go back to the first reading – the prophet Habakkuk.  The people are suffering and crying out to God.

“How long will this last, O Lord?  We are surrounded by violence and destruction.

“There is strife and discord everywhere.  So, how long, O Lord, how long?”

And the Lord, through the prophet, reassures them.  “Write down the vision.  [Be patient because] the vision will have its time.”

So, we are to trust the vision.  Maybe we are in the middle of chemotherapy treatments or we are caring for a loved one who is slipping away with Alzheimer’s Disease. 

Maybe we are dealing with an addiction issue in our family or we are wondering how we are going keep paying all of our bills.  In situations like these, we are to trust the vision.

We are to trust that God is still with us in Jesus.  We are to trust that the Lord will give us strength to get through and bear up under it all.

We are to trust that dying – not just physical death, but dying in all its forms can lead to new life with God.  We are to trust the vision we see in Jesus.

3.    Live the Vision

And then finally, we are to live the vision in a positive way.

Jesus says today: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.”  So, very intentionally, we are to live the vision.

Here in the year 2016 in America, one thing that this has to mean is that we respect diversity.  We do not view those who are different from us as wrong or as bad or as less than we are.

Instead, we show respect for others in our words and actions.  We do this whether they are citizens or recent immigrants, whether they are Christian or Muslim or Jew, whether they are black or Asian or white or Latino.

And we expect the policies of our government and the words and actions of the political leaders we vote for to show this same respect.  This is a very real way to live the vision positively.

And, if we do this, as Jesus says in the gospel, this will be our reward.  This is what Jesus means about the servants not expecting the master to wait on them. 

We will not expect reward or acclaim, because the living of the vision will bring us an inner satisfaction and peace and that will be a be reward in itself.  So, that’s the message today: 1) see the vision, 2) trust the vision, and 3) live the vision.

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!