Sunday, September 22, 2013

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - September 22, 2013

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle C
September 22, 2013    10:30am and 12 noon
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

My Parents: Three Fundamentals

When I look back to my childhood and teenage years, I have to say that my parents gave my brother Charlie and me an awful lot.

I especially mean that they taught us a lot of important things.  When I think about today’s readings, I recall three core things my parents gave us.

First, they grounded us in God.  They took us to Church every Sunday.

They made sure that we learned our catechism and religion lessons.  What came across was that God is first and that our life ought to be built on God.

The second thing I recall is a sense of right and wrong.  They taught us what is good and bad and it was based on our faith.

For example, they taught us to respect our elders and to tell the truth, and not to cheat in school or to use bad language.  And all of this was based on the commandments of God.

And the third thing that they left us with is care for the poor.  My father had the saying: “Never forget the little guy” and by that he meant persons who didn’t have much or were simply poor.  

My father wanted us always to be sensitive to those in need.  He taught us social justice without using the expression.

The Fundamental Option

Now what my parents taught us in those formative years was crucial.

And of course, what all parents teach your children in those years is crucial.  Some of our Catholic theologians speak of what is called the Fundamental Option.

These theologians say that somewhere along the line, we all make a Fundamental Option about our lives.   This is the basic direction or guiding theme or value we choose for our life.

For most of us, our experiences in those childhood and teenage years have a great effect on the Fundamental Option that we make.  And then, as we mature and go through life, we may reaffirm or change our Option.

Our Fundamental Option may not be perfect.  So I can choose to make God and Jesus and the gospel the guiding force for my life.

And yet, I can say and do things that are inconsistent with that.  This means that I need to grow to greater wholeness and get my life more fully lined up with my Fundamental Option.

We can also change our Fundamental Option.  I can back off of my Option for God and start living just for myself, or I can back off of living for money and career and start living for God.


The Scriptures: Fundamental Option

Today’s Scripture passages lead me to share all of this.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says it in one sentence: “You cannot serve God and mammon.”  The word “mammon” means anything besides God that we make the center of our lives.

So Jesus is saying we cannot serve both him and something else.  Somewhere along the line we must make a choice about the purpose and direction of our life.

In this gospel, Jesus is also concerned about right and wrong in everyday life.  He calls us to be honest and trustworthy.

Jesus calls us to do this out of our basic choice or option for him.  And if we do this now, in everyday matters, then he says God will give us greater blessings in eternity.

And finally, the prophet Amos in the first reading focuses on our relationship with the entire human community.  He decries taking advantage of or neglecting the poor.

Amos calls us to social justice – to compassion and justice for those in need.  He sees this as part of our relationship with God, part of our Fundamental Option.     

So, maybe the question today is: what Fundamental Option have we made?

We have all made one, consciously or subconsciously.  It is good to get in touch with this and see what we have to do to tighten it up or even change it.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - September 15, 2013

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
September 15, 2013    9:00 and 10:30am and 12 noon
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

Mother Teresa

Back in the 1990s, I was working directly for the Archdiocese.

One of the projects that I was part of involved Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  Mother Teresa came to Baltimore to open a new mission for her Sisters, the Missionaries of Charity.

We – the Archdiocese – had provided a large, old convent building near Hopkins Hospital.  We renovated it to accommodate how the Missionaries of Charity wanted to use it.

The Sisters live on the first floor, in very simple, basic conditions.  The second and third floors house about twelve persons with AIDS.

This is one of the core ministries of Mother Teresa’s Order – caring for persons with AIDS.   The Sisters care for those who are in the advanced stages of the illness and literally have no one to care for them, no place to go, even no place to die.

One of the Sisters explained it very well to me.  “We want them to know that there is a God and that God loves them” – that clear, that simple, that powerful!

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 – who seem pretty full of themselves – 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. 

So, right at the start, Jesus is challenging these religious leaders.  I say this because the society of that day looked down on shepherds as kind of low-life people and it looked down on women as second-class persons.

In these stories, Jesus wants us first to identify with the shepherd and the woman – a real challenge for those religious leaders.  And he is even saying that this shepherd and this woman are images of God.

So, Jesus is jolting his listeners to start thinking differently.  And then, in his two stories, he shows 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.  For example, we can choose to stop coming to Mass regularly and lose our grounding in God.

We can drift into behavior that is harmful to us and to relationships, like Internet porn.  When we are lost in these ways, Jesus is saying that God is still there.

God is still loving us, looking for us, and not giving up on us, just like the shepherd looking for that one lost sheep.  In fact, the tug of our conscience and even our feelings of guilt are God trying to find us. 

Isn’t that a great way to understand our tugs of conscience and guilt feelings?  And finally, 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 for us as a Church!

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 these ways, 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 pray and 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 – God searching for us when we are lost, and 2) about ourselves – about the ways we can be lost and what we might do when that happens!

Monday, September 9, 2013

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - September 8, 2013

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
September 8, 2013      7:30 and 9:00am 
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

A Job Interview

Imagine for just a minute that you apply for a job and get called for an interview.

In the interview the boss says that the working conditions are not the best.  It’s an old building and your office area would have no windows. 

The restrooms are antiquated.  And the building gets a bit warm in the summer because the air conditioning system is under-powered.

Then the boss talks about the work hours.  She says that the normal hours will be 9 to 5, but each Friday she lists the hours for the coming week.

Lots of times the hours will shift and go from1 to 9pm.  She knows that this makes planning stuff with your family tough, but that’s the way it is. 

And then the boss talks about the compensation package.  The pay clearly isn’t great.

The benefits are minimal.  And, while they have a 401 retirement plan, the employer doesn’t contribute anything to it.

When you look at all of this, it isn’t great compared to other places.  But you really like this type of work and you take the job.

A Discipleship Interview

That kind of job interview helps us to appreciate today’s gospel.

It’s almost as if Jesus is giving a discipleship interview.  He is laying out some of his basic expectations.

Sometimes you’ll have to do things you dislike.  Sometimes you’ll have to put family and friends second.

And sometimes you’ll have to let go of money and comforts and share with others.  Jesus uses some pretty extreme language here – like hating others.

These are really literary expressions of his day.  Their intention is to jolt us not to hate anyone, but to make a positive decision for him.

Jesus wants us to allow him and our relationship with him to color all that we do.  So sometimes we’ll have to let go of our preferences, attachments, and enjoyments for the sake of following him.

The Job Description

For example, right in these weeks, some of our young adults are in a sense letting go of family.  They are leaving home and family maybe for the first time and going off to college.

And they are doing this as a way to take the next step in developing themselves as persons and using the gifts God has given them.  Consciously or not, they are following the Lord’s calling.

Or parents might let go of going out to dinner to a rather expensive restaurant.  No question, there is nothing wrong with that and it is good for them to get out together.

But they hold off doing this so that they can buy the new jeans or sneakers for their kids or meet some other family bills.  Again, consciously or not, they are following the Lord’s calling.

Or maybe a mother and father-to-be learn from pre-natal testing that their child will have some significant developmental issues.  They are upset and anxious and have to let go of some expectations.

But they do not resort to an abortion and they follow through with the best pre and post-natal care that they can provide.  Again, consciously or not, they are following the Lord’s calling.

Or maybe we Americans in general need to let go of some of our expectations.  Some current authors are saying that the world is shifting and that we can no longer expect the kind of constantly advancing lifestyle that we have had.

So maybe we let go of some of these expectations which were fine in themselves and we do this knowing that material comforts alone will not bring us happiness anyway.  Again, consciously or not, we are following the Lord’s calling.     


So, Jesus gives us a challenging job description for being a disciple.

It is a job description with real-life consequences.  But it will be rewarding work and a rewarding life.