Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas, Cycle C - December 25, 2012

Cycle C
December 25, 2012 4pm and Midnight

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


When Night Ends

Some centuries ago, a wise old rabbi once asked his students how they could tell when night had ended and day was on its way back.

The students first responded, “Could it be when you see an animal in the distance and can tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?”  The old rabbi answered, “No!”    

Then the students said, “Could it be when you look at a tree in the distance and can tell whether it is a fig tree or a peace tree?”  And again the old rabbi answered, “No!”

Now the students were frustrated.  So they asked, “Well, then, when is it?”

The old rabbi responded, “It is when you look on the face of any man or woman and see that she or he is your brother or sister.  Because if you cannot do that, then no matter what time it is, it is still night.”

O Holy Night

Tonight, we celebrate a very special night.

The famous Christmas Carol proclaims this O Holy Night.  And we call this Holy because what happens on his night marks or intends to mark the end of night.

The birth of Jesus Christ is the moment when “day is on its way back,” to use the words of the wise, old rabbi.  This makes night begin to end and day begin to return in several ways.

Day Returns: Brothers and Sisters

First, the infant in Bethlehem embraces all human beings.

This child attracts and reaches out to the poor, lower-class, uneducated shepherds.  And he attracts and reaches out to the more affluent, upper-class, educated wise men.

With his outstretched arms, Jesus sees everyone as brother and sister.  And so, with him, the day is on its way back as we are empowered to look on the face of all persons and see our oneness with them.

The words of O Holy Night invite us to do this.
“Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His Gospel is peace.”

Day Returns: Self-Worth

And then the infant in Bethlehem affirms our absolute worth as persons.

God taking on our humanity proclaims the inherent value of each person.  No longer do we need to look for self-worth or self-esteem in any other place.

The birth of Jesus has so fused the human with the divine that the night of self-doubt and self-deprecation is over.  The day has come to feel assured of our inherent value, from our first moment in the womb to our last breath before meeting God face to face.

And again, the words of O Holy Night convey this so well.
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

Day Returns: Hope

And finally, the infant in Bethlehem gives us hope.

Sometimes we grow weary trying to keep up with the stresses of everyday life.  Sometimes we grow weary as we look at the extent of the problems facing our country and our world.

In the midst of this, the infant offers us the hope of “Emmanuel – God is with us.”  He offers us the assurance of his presence each step of life’s way, sustaining us through each minute of personal “night” until personal “day” starts to come back.

And again, the words of O Holy Night lift up this hope.
“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”   


So, the night begins to end and the day is on its way back.

This happens because the infant in Bethlehem embraces all persons as brothers and sisters, affirms our absolute self-worth, and by all means gives us hope for the light of day.  And so, no wonder we sing:
“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!”

Monday, December 24, 2012

4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 23, 2012

4th Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
December 23, 2012       9:30 and 11am

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


Receiving Instead of Giving

Some years ago the comic strip For Better or For Worse had a humorous episode right before Christmas.

Mom and Dad and six-year-old April are shopping at the mall.  April is absolutely captivated by all the toys and everything else.

“Look, Dad!  I want it for Christmas!  I want a ‘Wake-Up-Willy’ and a rocket sleigh!  An’ a real camera an’’…an’…”
Eventually Dad has had enough.  “April, Christmas is a time for giving!  There is a lot more joy in giving to others.”

April immediately responds, “I know, Dad.  But somebody has to receive or there’d be nobody to give stuff to.”

Elizabeth and Mary

Little April, of course, has a lot of child-like, self-interest going on here.

But April also leads us to a good insight.  It is important for us to see ourselves first as receivers and only then as givers.

In the background to today’s gospel, we know that Mary’ cousin Elizabeth is an older woman, at least those times.  She is probably in her 40s but the average lifespan is about 50.

Elizabeth and her husband have had no children and now surprisingly she is bearing a baby.  She sees this as a gift from God and knows that she is a receiver.

Mary is Elizabeth’s much younger cousin.  She doesn’t fully understand the angel’s message, but she trusts God and sees herself as receiving a gift from God.

So both Elizabeth and Mary see themselves as blessed by God – as receivers.  And, very significantly, seeing themselves as receivers moves them to be givers and shapes how they give to others.

Receivers First, Then Givers

This may be a different way of looking at things, but it is a valuable insight.

We need to live first as receivers, not exactly like April in the comic strip, but as receivers from God.  We need the awareness that ultimately, everything in life is a gift from God.

If we live with that awareness, then we will probably be moved from within to be givers.  And beyond that, our awareness of receiving will shape our giving. 

Receiving Shaping Our Giving

For example, this awareness that first we are receivers will lead us to be attentive to others and to give what they really need. 

In the gospel, Mary gives her time and assistance to Elizabeth when her cousin really needs it.  We might give our listening or empathy to a spouse or child or friend, and not just a sweater or something else, good in itself, but maybe not what the person most needs from us right now. 

The awareness that first we are receivers will also lead us to give without our ego needs getting in the way.

Again, in the gospel, Elizabeth praises Mary as greater than herself, even though Mary is much younger and much less significant in the eyes of others.  We might give an apology to a friend or recognition to an employee, without letting our need to be right or also be recognized get in the way.

And the awareness that first we are receivers will also lead us to give with no expectation of return.

Mary gives her time to Elizabeth and Elizabeth gives praise to Mary – each of them doing this because they want to do it and it is a good thing to do and each of them expecting nothing in return.  We might give care to our parents or a nice present to a friend because we want to do it and it is good to do and we expect nothing in return.

So, it may sound surprising, but Christmas is first about receiving and only then is it about giving.

Our awareness that we are first of all receivers from God will also lead us to give and it will shape our giving.  It will lead us 1) to give what others really need, 2) to give without our ego getting in the way, and 3) to give with no expectation of return.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

3rd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 16, 2012

3rd Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
December 16, 2012       7:30 and 9am

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


Newtown, Connecticut

Yesterday afternoon at the 4pm Mass, I gave a homily that I had prepared and finished by early Friday morning.

But then, later last evening I finally had a chance to watch some of the television coverage of the tragic shooting at the school in Newtown, Connecticut.  I listened to the news journalists and also listened to a father named Robbie of one of the six-year-old girls who had been killed. 

At any rate, I decided before going to bed to “junk” my prepared homily.  Instead, I want to share a few thoughts on this mass shooting and what this might be saying to us.

Maybe we and all Americans, certainly all people of faith are in the position of the people in today’s gospel.  They ask John the Baptist: “What are we to do?” 

John has been telling them to repent to get ready for the coming of the One promised by God.  Even in this tragedy, I believe God comes to us in some way – as unintended and unwilled by God as this event is. 

So if that is true, then we too can ask the same question as those in the gospel. “What are we to do?”   

“What Are We To Do?

My first thought centers on the Christmas carol Silent Night.  We sing, “Silent Night, Holy Night.”  I have begun thinking that maybe that night could be holy because it was silent.

Mary, Joseph, the shepherds – they are not recorded as saying a thing.  Only the angels are singing.

So maybe their silence enables the Holy One of God to be born.  Maybe their silence was the only appropriate response in the presence of the Holy One of God.

Right now we, all Americans, need some silence in the face of this tragedy.  Only in this silence can the Holy One of God, Jesus, comes to us and speak to us at this moment.

My second thought is that we must connect the dots between words and actions.  What we say and how we say it sows the seedbed for behavior, and that can be very inappropriate and bad behavior.

Hateful, poisonous words about those with whom we disagree have become common.  We hear this way of talking on certain programs on certain news networks on TV and radio.

We might hear this in social settings right in this community.  We might even see improper modeling of this behavior in some public figures.

Sometimes even in the name of religion and of God and, as the saying says, standing up for what you believe, we hear words that are venomous and poisonous and hateful.  We must connect the dots.

This languaging creates an environment not just for bullying, but for extreme hateful behavior.  We just have to stop this.

We need to stop listening to such programs on TV.  We need to turn them and maybe their audience will dry up and they will have to turn to some better form of programming.

We need to steer social groups who are engaged in this poisonous talk in another direction and if we cannot, we should just leave or not go back.   I am sad to say I have had to do some of that. 

Jesus says that at a certain point, just leave and move on to where the peace of God can reign and be heard by others and by ourselves.  We should not feel ashamed to do just that

My third thought is that we have some hard economic times here in America.  These have been difficult and frustrating years for some individuals and families.

As we try to work our way out of the economic collapse, we need to refrain from scapegoating.  It is so easy to scapegoat one person.

When ancient peoples selected a scapegoat – a real animal – they would kill it.  We cannot allow that violence to grab hold of us as a people and culture.

I am afraid that some of it has already gotten a hold.  We need to stop scapegoating and start accepting collective responsibility – all of us. 

Only then can we constructively move to solutions.  Only then can we avoid the unfair and unhealthy expressions of anger and frustration.

My fourth thought is that let’s use our good mental health community.  When we see someone in trouble – a family member, a friend, a fellow employee, a neighbor – let’s make a caring intervention.

Let’s try to guide that person to the right kind of assistance.  We need to feel a sense of responsibility for one another, have the courage and take the risk to guide and help.

Isn’t that the gospel?  Isn’t what a gutsy, but real-life love of neighbor must mean at times?

And my fifth and last thought for this morning will I bet be controversial but I believe it and am going to say it.  We need some gun control in our country.

I just do not understand why any private citizen needs an automatic assault weapon.  We need to get over the idea that in this and maybe other areas, our rights are unfettered.

By the way, I believe it is a flimsy reading of the Constitution to say that there shall be no limiting of the right to bear arms.  I do not believe our Founding Fathers ever envisioned the situation we are in today or intended such an unfettered right.

I saw the movie Lincoln last Sunday – and it is a great one, well worth seeing.  At one point, Lincoln is talking about the abolition of slavery.

He says that letting go of the right to oppress others might lead us to find other rights that we have not yet discovered.  What a great insight.

Letting go of our right to bear certain kinds of weapons – I am not saying all weapons, but the kinds I have referred to – this might lead us to discover more fundamental rights that we have – like the right to expect and build respectful processes for resolving differences and finding solutions to problems.

Maybe we Americans would regain some of the leadership and respect we have lost in the world if we did things like this.  And, more to my concern, then we for sure would be living the gospel of Jesus Christ and be Christian and Catholic Christian in a much clearer way than we have been.


Well, all of this written between 5:45 and 6:45 this morning.

There is more to say, much more, but another time.  That is enough for now.

Monday, December 10, 2012

2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 9, 2012

2nd Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
December 9, 2012         10:30am and 12 noon

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


Introducing John

Imagine a person being introduced in this way:

“In the days when Mr. A was Secretary-General of the United Nations, in Mr. B’s seventh year as President of the United States, when Mrs. C was Governor of Maryland, and Mr. D was County Executive of Harford County, in the fifth year of the pontificate of Pope E, and while Archbishop F was Archbishop of Baltimore –

“A man named John felt God calling him.  He began talking about repentance.”

This gives us a sense of how Saint Luke is introducing John the Baptist in today’s gospel.  He wants us to know very precisely where John fits in history.

And so, Luke names the civil and religious leaders of the day.  But, he makes absolutely no comment about them.

Not Others but Us

In fact, Luke could say some critical and negative things, but he does not.

Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, and Herod are secular rulers leading a secular government.  But Luke does not blame all the troubles of the world on them because they are not religious or spiritual persons.

Annas and Caiphas are not the best of religious leaders.  But again, Luke does not bash them as being too progressive or too reactionary or too wishy-washy.

Luke just names them to get to his real point and that is John the Baptist and us.  John calls us, personally and individually, to prepare for the coming of the One sent by God.

John calls us to do this by dealing with the stuff in ourselves.  He wants us to look at how we live and the kind of persons we are.

This is how to let the Lord be more fully alive in us, not by being negative about our leaders or anyone else for that matter.  And to guide us in looking at ourselves, John uses images that some of the prophets had used.

Preparing the Way of the Lord

First, John says, “Every valley shall be filled in.”  Do we have a valley that comes from being caught up in our culture of consumerism?

Is there an emptiness in us that we try to fill by allowing mere desires to become needs?  This Advent, is there a valley we really need to fill with God by being more reflective and prayerful in the midst of all the busyness?

And then, John says, “Every mountain shall be made low.”  Do we have a mountain of rugged individualism?

Do we live with the attitude that we made it on our own and everyone else should be able to do that too?  This Advent, is there a mountain we have to level by remembering that we are both individuals and part of a community and that we have responsibility for ourselves and for the community as well?

Next, John says, “The winding ways shall be made straight.”  Do we create winding ways by pushing and twisting others to think or do things my way?

Are we so insistent on our way that we don’t really consider what this does to those around us?  This Advent, do we need to straighten these ways by talking things through with others and together arriving at something that we can all live with?

And finally, John says, “The rough ways shall be made smooth.”  Do we have a roughness about us that both Saint Luke and John the Baptist avoid?

Are we caught up in blaming and bashing with angry and demeaning words?  This Advent, do we need to smooth these ways by refraining from attacking and trying to understand things from the perspective of others?

Monday, December 3, 2012

1st Sunday of Advent, Cycle C - December 2, 2012

PODCAST - Press sideways triangle below to listen

1st Sunday of Advent
Cycle C
December 2, 2012         9:30 and 11am

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


3 Habits for Advent

I imagine that most of us have heard of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Steven Covey wrote this back in 1989 and it has been a national bestseller.  Just recently, I heard a corporate psychologist refer to this as a classic in helping business people become more effective.

Actually, Covey’s insights can help just about anyone in any walk of life.  He cites seven habits as crucial in our being effective and the first three of these deal with our inner dispositions. 

Covey says that highly effective people are, first of all, proactive.  Second, they live with the end in mind. 

And third, they put first things first.  It strikes me that these three habits express well what today’s Advent readings are saying. 

1. Be Proactive

First, Covey says that highly effective people are proactive.

They take the initiative.  For example, in the business world, the merger of one bank with another might be a proactive way to grow and to offer services more efficiently. 

In today’s second reading, Saint Paul expresses his pleasure with the way the people are living the faith.  But, he wants them to do even more, to be proactive as persons of faith.

For us, this may mean that we pray not just when we need something or feel overwhelmed by a situation.  Instead, being proactive means that we pray every day so that we have a real inner communion with the Lord.

2. Live with the End in Mind

Then second, Steven Covey says that highly effective people live with the end in mind.

They are goal-oriented.  For example, in the business world, McDonald’s has a goal of a high market share and so they are always trying new things like salads and specialty coffees.

In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks of omens in the universe and disasters that will threaten us.  These words are not to be taken literally but rather as more of a scare tactic to get us to live with the end in mind.

For us, this may mean that we not get swallowed up in the rush of day-to-day living or in the consumer culture of just having to get the latest iPhone or whatever it is.  Instead, living with the end in mind means that we stay aware that someday there will be an accounting of our life to God and that our eternal status will to a great extent depend not on what we have, but on how well we have lived.

3. Put First Things First

And third, Covey says that highly effective people put first things first.

They live with a sense of priorities.  For example, in the business world, there are car dealerships that know that quality service and repair is crucial, and they make this a priority in their entire operation. 

The theme in all of the Scripture passages today is to live whatever my vocation or state-of-life is in the way God wants me to live it.  We are to make this our priority above anything else. 

For us, this may mean that if you are a parent, you give priority to your husband or wife and children.  Putting first things first may mean that you make sure you all have dinner together as many evenings as possible, because it is right there in those minutes eating together that the most valuable communication usually happens.


So, I am saying that these three habits really express what Advent invites us to do.

And, all three of these habits are connected.  If I am proactive but don’t have the end in mind, I will probably be going in many directions.

If I have the end in mind but am not proactive, I will be going nowhere.  And if I have both of those habits but don’t put first things first, I will easily get caught up in unimportant things.

We need all three habits to be highly effective as disciples of Jesus.  We need all three habits to grow spiritually and be close to the Lord.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Day, Cycle B - November 22, 2012

PODCAST - Press sideways triangle below to listen

Thanksgiving Day
Cycle B
November 22, 2012       10am

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

The Lepers and the Middle School

Last Wednesday, I celebrated Mass with the middle school students of our parish school.

The gospel for that day was the healing of the ten lepers, the same passage we just heard.  I focused with the boys and girls on one question: What does being thankful do for us?

What does our saying “thank-you” do for us or you?  The middle school students and I focused on three ideas or themes – three things that being grateful does for us. 

I then asked if three of them would volunteer to write just 5 sentences on one of the ideas and then be here at this Thanksgiving Day Mass and share what they wrote.  Well, 5 students volunteered so I said yes to all 5. 

Two 6th graders wrote on one theme, two 7th graders on the second theme, and one 8th grader on the third theme.  So, I now invite these 5 students to come up and join me and share what they have written.

6th Grader – Madison Oswald – Positive

First, I introduce one of our sixth graders, Madison Oswald.

“Saying thank you helps me to be positive because it reminds me of my blessings.  I am very blessed to go home to a roof over my head and a fresh, hot meal. 

“Some people are not as lucky as I am.  When I say thank you, it makes me appreciate the things I have more and helps me realize that the material things I don’t have, really are not all that important.    

“Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to look at the positive side of our life and give thanks for our wonderful blessings.”

6th Grader – Gabby Sparzak -- Positive

Now I introduce another sixth grader, Gabby Sparzak.

“Giving thanks keeps us positive by giving us good feelings about the people who help us.  Also giving thanks makes us realize that our blessings are special.

“We should have a positive, cheerful attitude when we give thanks.  We should be grateful for the things we have and not think about things we don’t have.

“Giving thanks reminds us of the good people in our lives and about having God in our life.”

7th Grader – Sarah St. Clair -- Respectful

Now I introduce a seventh grader, Sarah St. Clair.

“Respect is one of the things Jesus taught us when he was here on earth, to be thankful by respecting others.  Respect is something everyone should have for everyone else.

“You should show thanks by being respectful to your parents because they give up their time for you, teachers because they work so hard to help you learn, and soldiers because they give their lives so we can be free.

“You should also thank others such as peers in class, brothers and sisters, and pets by giving them respect.  Most of all, you show thanks to God by respecting all living things and this beautiful world he has provided for us.”

7th Grader – Veronica Ewing -- Respectful

Now I introduce another seventh grader, Veronica Ewing.

“Thanking others keeps us respectful in many ways.  You can respect family, friends, and teachers. 

“When saying ‘thank-you’ to my parents they know that I appreciate them.  Being thankful to my teachers proves to them that I understand that their teachings are important to me.

“My friends’ compliments make me feel loved, and returning thanks reflects my loyalty to them.”

8th Grader – Bailey Chapman -- Humbleness

And finally, I introduce an eight grader, Bailey Chapman.

“One of the most important things that the saying ‘thank-you’ gives us is humbleness.  Being humble means that we as humans are believers in God and that we are not too great, yet not trivial. 

“Humble people are the ones who will look back to someone and be thankful for anything they have done.  We want to remember every day, every item, and every feeling God has given us, thank him, and praise him. 

“Giving thanks to everyone and anyone keeps us humble by allowing us to think of the little and big things that others, including God, have done for us.”   


Well, I think you can see that the middle school students have some great ideas for us on Thanksgiving Day.

Saying ‘‘thank you’ or giving thanks does great things for us.  It keeps us positive, it keeps us respectful, and it keeps us humble.

Today we thank these five students for helping to enrich our Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B - November 18, 2012

PODCAST - Press sideways triangle below to listen

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
November 18, 2012       4 and 5:30pm

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


Experience of Dying

There is famous short story written over a hundred years ago.

The story is titled Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and it is about a man who is about to be hanged.  Enemy soldiers march this man out to the bridge over Owl Creek. 

The man’s wrists and ankles are tied and a noose is put around his neck.  The commanding officer barks the order and the condemned man falls. 

But then, the rope breaks and the man goes into the river below.  He sinks down into the water and miraculously frees his hands and his feet. 

He realizes that he now has a second chance at life and he begins to swim down the river.  As he swims or floats, he is struck by the beauty of the leaves on the trees. 

He notices the blueness of the sky.  Never has the world looked so beautiful and he senses how great it is to be alive. 

Finally, he swims ashore and starts to walk.  Soon he comes to a house and he can’t believe his eyes because he is back home. 

His wife comes running out to greet him.  But then, just as they are embracing, the story flips back to Owl Creek Bridge. 

Shockingly, the body of this same man is hanging there.  The man had only imagined in the split second that he fell to his death that he had gotten a second chance at life. 

In that split second, he had seen life for what it is – as a precious gift to be appreciated.  He had realized how differently he would have lived if only he had been given a second chance.

The Author and Jesus

That is the story of Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.

It seems to me that the author has the same lesson in mind that the Scriptures are conveying today.  He is saying that the condemned man did not get a second chance at life but we, the readers are given a second chance because we have witnessed this man’s experience.

In the same way, the Prophet Daniel in the first reading and Jesus in the gospel focus our attention on the end of our life on earth.  Jesus wants us to live with an awareness of this.

And with this awareness, he wants us to appreciate life right now for the precious gift that it is.  In effect, he gives us a second chance.

Priorities: Love and Service

Probably those of us who have been very ill, or those of us who been with loved ones who are very ill or dying, have learned that in the end, only two things really matter.

And they are: the love you have shown and what you have given of yourself to others.  All other things that seem so important pale by comparison.

This insight is at the heart of Jesus’ message.  And maybe it raises some questions for us to think about!

First, are we in our own way expressing the love that we feel in our hearts?  Do we show affection and warmth to those who really matter to us – your husband or wife, your children, our parents, a close friend?

And, for that matter, what about our love for God?  Do we express this through our prayer, maybe especially with prayers of gratitude for our blessings?

And second, are we giving of ourselves in some way for the well-being of others?  Are we willing to go out of our way for others and at times place their needs above our own plans or preferences?

Are we willing to give our time or our listening ear to whomever it might be?  Are we willing to give of ourselves personally when we will receive nothing in return other than the satisfaction of what we have done?


So, the Scriptures today invite us to ask: how satisfied will we be at the end of our lives on this earth with the expression of our love and the quality of our giving of ourselves? 

Unlike the man in the story, beginning right now we have a second chance to prepare for that hour.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B - November 11, 2012

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle B
November 11, 2012  7:30am and 9am

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


The Consulate in Libya

I am sure we all remember that in September, some Islamic militants stormed our American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Four Americans, including our United States Ambassador, were killed.    Since that attack, our journalists have given us some insight into the challenging and sometimes dangerous work of diplomacy.

Some newspaper articles have especially focused on our Ambassador in Benghazi, J. Christopher Stevens.  They portray him as personifying the best of our diplomatic corps.

Traits of Ambassador Stevens

Ambassador Stevens is remembered as a person who really gave of himself to his work, wherever he was.

He is described as a street-smart, low-key negotiator.  He knew how to get things done by building personal relationships.

Those who served with him in other diplomatic posts say that wherever he was living, he would let go of everything else and live that place completely.  He gave of himself to the people and the tasks that were present.

Ambassador Stevens had a passion for Arab culture and politics.  This began when he was a Peace Corps volunteer and taught English in Morocco.

He spoke Arabic and would go out of his way to use it.  He would do this whether he was with government officials or with ordinary shopkeepers in Libya, as a way to show respect for their language and culture.

One quality that both his American and Libyan colleagues recall was his ability to listen.  He never felt the need to monopolize a meeting or a conversation.

Ambassador Stevens sought out local merchants, farmers and students, as well as diplomats, activists, and journalists.  He wanted to listen and understand their perspective.

Our Secretary of State said that with his ability to listen and his personal humility, he won many friends for our country.  “He made these peoples’ hopes his own.”

Traits of the Kingdom

I do not mean to make a saint of Ambassador Stevens.

I imagine he was as human as you and I are.  But I do think that his personal and professional traits help to highlight what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel.

Jesus lifts up the humility and generosity of the poor widow in the temple.  He also puts down the self-absorption and self-importance of the scribes.

Jesus is teaching that we are like him when we embrace the spirit of a servant.  He moves us to respect everyone as a son and daughter of God.

Jesus calls us to find our fulfillment in the empathy and assistance we can extend to others.  He calls us to place the human needs of others who are less fortunate than ourselves above our own wants and narrow interests.

Jesus wants us to give of ourselves with the inner, heartfelt, sincere generosity of the widow in the gospel.  And he wants us, like that widow, to humbly be with God in personal prayer and in worship here in church.

A Needed Message

Jesus’ message in this little story is important for us to hear.

It is a bit counter-cultural, maybe even counter-intuitive.  But it is so important.

If we try to embrace these qualities and live this way, our human self-centeredness will be kept in check.  The prejudice or hostility we may have will be softened.

We will find a satisfaction and completeness that we can find in no other way.  And we will become most God-like, most Jesus-like, and that is our long-term mission in life.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

31st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B - November 4, 2012

PODCAST - Press sideways triangle below to listen

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle B
November 4, 2012    10:30am and 12 noon

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


“I should get up”

There is a story about a young married couple named Bud and Nancy.

One night around 1AM, Bud was awakened by the crying of their four-month-old son David.  Bud says that he immediately had the feeling that “I should get up and tend to David and let Nancy sleep.”

Instead, Bud confesses that he didn’t move.  He began thinking that Nancy must also hear David crying. 

“Why doesn’t she get up and take care of the baby?  Why should I have to do this?”    

Leadership and Self-Deception

That is just the beginning of the story.

I read this in a book entitled Leadership and Self-Deception.  This book never refers to the Bible or to the two great commandments of love in today’s gospel. 

In fact, it never uses the word “love.”  But, this book – Leadership and Self-Deception – gives some excellent insights into our human behavior and how to become persons of gospel love. 

Two Significant Mistakes

Let’s go back to the story about Bud and Nancy and I think you’ll see what I am saying.

Bud says first, that he was seeing things only from his own perspective.  He was thinking that Nancy was awake even though he didn’t know whether she was or not.

Bud says that he was treating Nancy as an object and not as a person.  In effect, he was thinking of her as a foe or as a thing to be used for his own purposes.

And second, Bud says that he betrayed himself.  He betrayed and did not respond to his inner sense of what he should do – to get up and take care of the baby.

Bud correctly assumes that we have this inner sense of what we ought to do.  We call this our conscience.

The Results

Then, in the book, Bud talks about the unfortunate results 1) of treating Nancy as an object and 2) of betraying his sense of what he ought to do.

Bud says that this led him to self-deception – the words in the title of the book.  It led him into a distorted idea of both Nancy and himself.

He started seeing his wife as lazy, irresponsible and selfish.  He started blaming her for everything that wasn’t just right.

And on the other hand, Bud started justifying himself and his decision not to get up and care for David.  He saw himself as hard-working, responsible and as deserving to stay in bed and sleep. 

So, 1) treating Nancy as an object and 2) betraying his inner sense of what he should do led Bud into a lot of self-deception.  And, of course, this self-deception began to snowball and hurt their relationship.

Two Remedies

The conclusions that Bud and the book make are probably obvious.

First, we need to see each other as persons and not as objects.  We need to treat others as persons like ourselves – with needs for rest, for affirmation, and for accomplishment.

Just think about how this might affect the way we see a spouse or a friend, or an employee or employer.  Think about how this might also affect the way we see Muslims, Hispanic immigrants, African Americans, and on it goes.

We need to see each other as persons and not as objects.  We need to see others as persons like ourselves.

And second, we need to respond out of our inner sense of what we should do.  In other words, we need to be true to our conscience.

Think about what this means in this simple example.  The next time we get onto an elevator, and think we hear someone walking down the hallway heading toward the elevator, what ill we do in that split second – hit the open button to wait for them or hit the close button so we can just keep going.

We need to respond out of our inner sense of what is the right thing to do.  We need to be true to our conscience.

The 2 Great Commandments

For me, these insights have a lot to say about the two great commandments of love.

They can help us in our one-on-one relationships.  And they may even assist us on a bigger scale with the relationships between different ethnic or age groups, with the relationship between members of different political parties, or with the relationship between religion and what is often called secularism in America.

All Saints Day, Cycle B - November 1, 2012

All Saints Day
Cycle B
November 1, 2012         12:15pm

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

Special Persons

I have been blessed with some special persons in my life.

I hope each one of us has been blessed in this way.  Some of these special persons have motivated me to develop and use my gifts fully.

Some of them have inspired me to become a whole and holy person.  I am recalling today my father and mother.

I am recalling a priest named Ray, a Sister named Rosalie, and a psychiatrist named Bob.  These persons, and others, have been wisdom figures for me.

In truth, they have been saintly figures for me.  I think this is why we honor saints in our Catholic tradition.

It is why we celebrate All Saints Day every November 1st.  We need these special persons who bring God to us and lead us to God.

Saints as Shining Brightness

Pope Benedict gives us a wonderful image for appreciating special persons, saintly persons, and All Saints Day.

The Pope notes that the great feasts of the year are feasts of Jesus – like Christmas and Easter.  He then uses the sun and the moon to show the relationship between Jesus and the saints.

Pope Benedict says that in addition to the sun, which is the image of Christ, there is the moon.  The moon has no light of its own but shines with a brightness that comes from the sun. 

The Pope says that we are in constant need of this little light that comes from the saints.  Their light helps us to know and love the light of the Creator. 

You and I can easily think of favorite saints who are like the moon.  They are like the little light that helps us to know and love the big light of God.

We might name Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton or Saint Francis of Assisi.  Or we might think of Saint Teresa of Avila or Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

These and many other saints are like the moon, like the little light.  They help us to know and love the sun, who is God or Jesus.

This is why the feasts of the saints from the earliest times have been part of liturgy and spirituality.  It is why today we have one great celebration of All Saints.

Their light, coming from God, enables us to know better the interior richness of God’s great light.  Their light draws us to a fuller communion with Jesus who is the light of the world and the light for our lives.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B - October 21, 2012

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
October 21, 2012       7:30 and 9am Masses

Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

The Marriage Law

This weekend we are speaking for a few minutes on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Archbishop Lori has sent a letter on this topic to all pastors.  He directed us to share the letter with you and it is enclosed in today’s bulletin.

The Archbishop has also asked us to include this in our homilies.  So, I am doing that and then I also want to share another reflection with you.

Why Not Same-Sex Marriage?

Our official Catholic teaching is that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

Our Church holds that nature shows that only from the union of one man and one woman can new life arise.  Only through such a union has every person on earth come into being.

Our Church teaching sees the procreation of new life as an essential part of marriage.  The Church states that there are two ends or purposes of marriage.

1) It is for the love and fulfillment of man and woman.  And 2) it is also equally for the procreation and upbringing of children.

The Church sees this as how God has made the institution of marriage.  This is the way nature has been created and we cannot change it.

Because of this, our official Catholic teaching opposes the redefining of marriage to include same-sex relationships.  The Church holds that this kind of relationship is not capable of bringing new life into the world and the definition of marriage should not be changed to allow this.

Other Reasons

Archbishop Lori also cites some other reasons for opposing same-sex marriage.

For example, the Archbishop asserts that many of the rights that would be obtained by granting marriage to gay couples are already granted under Maryland law.  He argues that same-sex marriage is a civil issue, but it is not only a civil issue. 

The Archbishop states that it could have effects on how religious-sponsored hospitals and charities are able to operate.  Finally, he expresses his concern about long-term consequences that redefining marriage might have on children and on the family.

So, the Archbishop asks us to consider all of this in forming our conscience and in voting on this issue.  This is Question 6 on the Maryland ballot this November.
Respect for Others

Now, I want to add one other reflection.

It is important that the Church’s position on this legislation not be used as grounds for prejudice or discrimination.  To say it positively, it is important that we are respectful of persons of same-sex orientation.

Here is why I am saying this today.  I have listened to some parents and grandparents of persons of same-sex orientation. 

I have listened to some of these persons themselves.  I have also talked with some counselors and therapists.

I believe that the Jesus of the gospels calls us to be respectful of all persons.  At times, the way we teach on this issue – the way we teach, the wording we use – at times this is diminishing and may contribute to prejudice.

Some of our wording has been unfortunate.  So, we as Catholics and all Christians need to speak and act respectfully.   

There is a real issue of concern here.  At least one significant study shows that teens of same-sex orientation are five times more likely to attempt suicide than others.

One professional assures me that this finding is just the tip of the iceberg – the tip of the problem.  This same study shows that a supportive environment in our schools, communities, and churches can make a real difference.

Programs about bullying or about respect for diversity are helpful and crucial.  So, prejudice or disrespect in word or in action is not living the truth of the gospel.

Care and respect is the way of Jesus.  It is the way that will lead others and us closer to God and the Lord Jesus.