Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Day, Cycle B - November 22, 2012

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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

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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

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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.