Sunday, August 25, 2013

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Cycle C - August 15, 2013

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Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Cycle C
August 15, 2013 6:30 and 8:30
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air


The Old Guide

There is a story about a man and his young son who went on a camping trip to the mountains.

They hired an experienced old guide, a Native American, who led them into areas that they would never have found on their own.  He was always pointing out beautiful little sights that most hikers would have missed.

The young son was fascinated by the guide’s ability to see so much in the surroundings.  One day he said to this Native American, “I’ll bet that you can see God out there.”

The old guide smiled and replied, “Son, as life goes on it’s getting hard for me to see anything but God out there.”

Mary Saw God

That wise, old guide helps us to appreciate why we are honoring Mary today.

Mary saw God everywhere in her life.  For example, she saw God at work in her bringing this special child into the world.

Mary did not really understand this, but she still saw the greatness and mystery of God at work.  In today’s first reading from Revelation, the inspired writer has a vision of a woman and a child being saved from a dragon.

The passage is understood as referring to Mary and Jesus.  The vision sees God as stronger and as winning out over the forces of evil and death.

The vision tells us that what we sometimes see as great and strong – symbolized in the dragon – may not be so in God’s eyes.  In the gospel, Mary shows that she sees things in the same way as this vision.

Mary sees God’s ways as sometimes the reverse of our ways.  She sees God as lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry and being especially present to the humble.

In other words, Mary sees God and the forces of life and goodness as winning out over the forces of death and evil.


So, like the old guide in the forest, Mary sees God everywhere.

She sees not as we humans are sometimes inclined to see, but as God sees.  This is what makes her a holy person, the holiest of all human beings.

It is because of this that we believe that Mary came to the fullness of life with God, to resurrection right at the final moment of her life on earth.  This is what the Assumption of Mary is all about.

It is why we honor her today. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - August 18, 2013

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
August 18, 2013 4:00pm, 9:30 and 11:00am 
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

I Dislike This Gospel

If I were to give you a list of my favorite gospel passages, today’s would not be on it.

It is not one of my favorites.  I probably dislike it and I have two reasons for this: 1) it contradicts and 2) it misleads.

Why? It Contradicts

To begin with, it seems to contradict the rest of the gospel.

Jesus consistently says that he comes for peace and unity.  He wants us to have peace and unity with one another.

Even in our liturgy, we say, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”  We don’t say, “The conflict and division of the Lord be with you.” 

So, we have to ask: what does Jesus really mean here?  Apparently the answer is in the meaning of the words “fire,” “baptism,” and “division.”

“Fire” is a Scriptural image for choice.  So Jesus is saying that sometimes, maybe often we will have to make choices whether to follow his way or not.

We will have to choose right from wrong.  This will be true for all of us – for business people in their transactions with customers or employees, for priests in the way we do our ministry.

And then when Jesus speaks of a “baptism with which we must be baptized,” he is not talking about a baptism with water.  Instead, in this context “baptism” means taking a bath in suffering.

The idea is that some of the choices we have to make will be hard.  For example, we may have to be silent or try to redirect a conversation that is negatively stereotyping people

And then, Jesus tops it all off by saying that there will be “division.”  This really flows from what he has already said.

Sometimes our choices to do the right thing will separate us from others.
For example, our youth may have to say no to alcohol or drugs or sex and this may separate them from their peers.

So, I guess when I really understand this passage correctly, it does make sense.  It does not really contradict the rest of what Jesus says.

Why? It Misleads

But, I still have a second reason why it is not one of my favorites: it can be misleading.

This passage might lead some people to justify a kind of in-your-face Christianity or in-your-face Catholicism.  Some people might use it to justify a harsh and divisive approach.

I think we see some of this today in what is often called the “culture wars.”  There is sometimes an unnecessary berating of what is called the “secular” – a berating that does not recognize the complexity of the relationship between the “sacred” and the “secular” in American society.

Sometimes we also see this in-your-face approach on placards being carried alongside the road, sometimes about the important issue of human life, but with divisive and offensive messages.  Pope Francis recently gave some guidance to us priests that tells us something about all of this.

Pope Francis was speaking about the situation where a couple brings a baby to be baptized.  He was referring to situations where the parents are not married or are not married in the Church.

There have been incidents where priests have refused to baptize a baby in these circumstances.   The Pope simply says: by all means, baptize the baby.

Welcome the parents, bring the baby into God’s family, encourage and work with the mother and father to be good parents and to share faith with their child.  That is the positive, embracing approach of Jesus of Nazareth.

Refusing to baptize only creates unnecessary division and will probably alienate the couple from the Church forever.  Pope Francis also applies this to other areas of our ministry and, in effect, tells us not to use today’s gospel to justify an in-your-face approach.


So, there we are.

A challenging gospel passage today, one that I at first glance dislike!  But on second thought, a passage that I also embrace!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Friday of the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - August 2, 2013

Friday of the 17th Week in Ordinary Time

August 2, 2013    8:30am

A French author names George Sand once made this simple statement:
“Admiration and familiarity are strangers.”
“Admiration and familiarity are strangers.”
I suppose that this is another way of saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
This seems to be the basis for what happens in today’s gospel.

Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth and the people treat him with suspicion and derision.
After all, they had seen him growing up.
They knew that he came from a home and family just like their own.
So, how could he be so special?
They reflect an odd and unfortunate human tendency – to miss and even to reject the talent, the wisdom, or the brilliance of those we know very well.

Maybe we do this because we just look at the ordinariness of one another.
Maybe we do it because we only look at the dark sides, the deficiencies of one another.
Maybe we don’t expect and therefore don’t look for the special in those we live with or see all the time.

A French writer named Gabriel Marcel said that a mystery isn’t something that is so far beyond us that we can’t grasp it.
Rather, it is something that is so near to us that we can’t get a fix on it.
It is so close that it simply eludes us.
Maybe this is why we have a hard time explaining something as important, as pervasive, and seemingly as simple as love.

So today Jesus stands before his home town people with the mystery of God’s presence and of salvation.
This mystery is not hidden or complicated, but they miss it and turn him off.
So maybe the lesson is to look for the positive, for the good, even for the special right in the ordinary persons and events and things around us.
Look for this, keep it simple, and then we won’t miss God or Jesus when he is standing right before us with that breakthrough insight or healing word or kind action.