Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Wednesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle A - August 20, 2014

Wednesday of 20th Week in Ordinary Time
Memorial of Saint Bernard
August 20, 2014   8:30am


Today’s gospel is a good lesson about comparing ourselves to others.
The workers in this vineyard who began working at dawn would have been okay if they had not known and compared their pay to the pay of those who worked only part of the day.
The comparison is what led them to be resentful and envious.
A good lesson from this is to find our peace in ourselves, in who God made us as persons and in what gifts God has given us.
We don’t need to compare ourselves to anyone.
We just need to become fully who God made us to be and to use fully what gifts God has given us.
If we do that, we will find peace and fulfillment.

Father James Martin in one of his writings says that when we compare we tend to minimize our gifts and maximize our problems.
When we compare ourselves with others, we tend to see them as better or as better off or as having more.
We maximize their gifts and minimize our own.
And when we compare ourselves with others, we tend to see them as not having as many problems or challenges in life as we do.
We minimize their problems and maximize our own.

So when we compare, we minimize our own gifts and maximize our own problems.
That is why it makes good spiritual and personal sense not to compare.
As James Martin says, “Compare and despair.”
“Compare and despair.”

Just takes ourselves and our gifts as we are, do our best, respond to God as we are, and peace and fulfillment will follow.

Tuesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle A - August 19, 2014

Tuesday of 20th Week in Ordinary Time
August 19, 2014   8:30am

Saint Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, has a little saying that goes like this:
Riches to Honors to Pride.

Ignatius’ idea is this.
Riches – money, material possessions, competence, success, status, titles – all of these things and others like them can constitute Riches.
These Riches can lead to Honors – being recognized and well thought of by others and then even wanting that and counting on that for our sense of self-esteem.
And then Honors can lead to Pride – feeling self-reliant, being caught up in ourselves and our own goodness.
Ignatius sees this – Riches to Honors to Pride – he sees this as perhaps the main source or main cause of sin and evil in our world.

In contrast to this, Ignatius calls us to the virtue of Humility.
And he describes Humility as living as close to the truth as possible – living as close to the truth as possible.
So we need to live as close to the truth as possible with God: recognizing that all that we have and are comes from God; admitting that we still need to understand the truth about the mystery of God more and more.
And we need to live as close to the truth as possible with ourselves: coming to know ourselves as best we can, and working just to be ourselves, definitely not pretending or trying to be more than what we are.
And we need to live as close to the truth as possible with others: being ourselves, speaking what we think God’s way is and at the same time being respectful and not judgmental of others.

This is how Ignatius describes Humility.
Ignatius calls us to be cautious about Riches and not allow them to lead us to Honors and then to Pride.

It is, I suggest, a good way to understand the message of both of today’s readings.

Monday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle A - August 18, 2014

Monday of 20th Week in Ordinary Time
August 18, 2014   6:30am and 2:30pm (Faculty)

I have to admit that I am not about to sell my car and everything else I own and give all the money that comes from that to the poor.
My bet is that no one here is about to do that.
Does this mean, as Jesus says this morning, that we will never be perfect?

I think Jesus is using some exaggeration with this young man to make his point.
Jesus does that at times – like when he says that if your eye is a source of sin, pluck it out.
Sometimes Jesus exaggerates to get his point across.
So then, what is his point here?

When this rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to gain “eternal life,” Jesus quotes some of the commandments.
And the interesting thing is that the commandments Jesus quotes all deal with our relationships.
Jesus wants us to be thinking about others.
In contrast, the rich young man, maybe unconsciously, maybe without being aware of it, is really focused on himself.
He asks: “What can I do to inherit eternal life?”
“I have kept all of these commandments.”
“What do I still lack?”
He is focused on his own long-term, ultimate well-being.
He thinks that by keeping the commandments which are minimal and which are mostly do-nots, he is okay.

Jesus exaggerates to wake up this rich young man.
He wants him to act for the good of others, to go beyond the minimal requirements of the commandments and do what he positively can do to assist others.
It is this attitude or mindset that will lead him and us to eternal life.
In fact, the very term “eternal” in this passage means life as befits God or as is characteristic of God.
And the dominant characteristic of God is that God loves and gives.
So Jesus is saying here that if we live with a loving, giving attitude or mindset toward others, then we will gain eternal life.

In fact, then we will already be living God’s life, eternal life. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - August 17, 2014

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle A
August 17, 2014        9:30 and 11am Masses
St. Margaret Parish, Bel Air

What a Story!

Well, that’s quite a gospel!

Jesus’ first responses to that woman are really surprising!  They are so inconsistent with everything else Jesus does.

So, what’s going on here?  How are we to understand Jesus in this passage?

The most likely explanation is that Jesus is the Son of God and is divine, but he is also fully human.  And so, even Jesus has to grow and work through the human barriers and prejudices that can trap all of us. 

The Point

What happens here is that Jesus breaks through the barriers of his day.

Gender barriers – he is talking with a woman when women are viewed as second-class and are not even to be recognized if they are unaccompanied by their husband.  Religious barriers – this woman is a non-Jew, and that’s why she is called a “dog” – the diminishing expression for all non-Jews. 

Cultural barriers – this woman is of a different culture, a different way of thinking and living than Jesus.  And nationality barriers – she is a Canaanite, an enemy of Israel. 

So Jesus eventually breaks through all these barriers.  He comes to see this woman as a person – a mother who loves her daughter and desperately wants her to get well.

Jesus sees her as a person with needs and feelings and hopes like anyone else.  And seeing her as a person leads him to break through all the barriers that we humans can put up between ourselves and others.

A Lesson on Barriers

Is it even necessary to say that we need this lesson in today’s world?

The atrocities going on in northern Iraq with Isis are a tragic example of the evil that barriers can cause.  Thank God, here we have nothing quite like that, but we do have barriers and problems caused by them.

We have barriers based on politics, religion, ethnic group, race, country of origin, and on it goes.  The polarization in our country at least to some extent is caused by these barriers.

We need to go beyond them and see others as persons like ourselves.  If we do that, differences and diversity will not lead to prejudice and hostility.

A Recommendation for Us Catholics

From all of this, I am seeing one recommendation for us Catholics and for Catholicism in general.

My thought is that part of our uniqueness as a capital C Catholic Church must be that we are truly a small c catholic Church.  Small c means that we are universal, inclusive, and respectful.

At this point in time and in today’s culture, this approach is especially needed.  We need to express our faith with this approach in mind.

So I think that today we need to teach our faith positively not negatively and lift up the richness that we have in Scripture and sacraments and spirituality.  We need to lift up positively the way of Jesus in the gospels.

We need to lift up the value of having a Church that has tried to apply the gospel in its teachings through the centuries.  But we also need to be humble and admit that we have been made mistakes especially in the way we have done this. 

We need to invite others to freely consider faith and belonging to this faith community.  But we also need to avoid manipulating or forcing them by saying do it this way or or else eternal damnation will follow.

And with that, we need to be respectful of differences in others and even in others within our Church.  That, I think, is the way to be both Catholic with a capital C and catholic with a small c in this day and age. 

It will be a way of faith that is positive and does not create barriers.  It will be a good example to a world and culture that still resorts to destructive barriers. 

It will mark some of our uniqueness as Catholics in this century.  And, by the way, I believe that this is the way that Pope Francis is trying to instill in us as individuals and as a Church.

Wednesday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle A - August 13, 2014

Wednesday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time

August 13, 2014   6:30am      


When I thought about today’s two readings, I decided that I needed to do some clarifications.
Each passage can be misleading if it is taken only at face value.

In the first reading, there are some sentences about the Lord calling six men with weapons to go through the city and just kill everyone.
Ezekiel has this vision of God ordering this massacre as a punishment for sin.
Well, we have to be clear.
This is an early, pre-Christian concept of God.
It just doesn’t stack up with the image of God that Jesus reveals.
And furthermore, Ezekiel is probably really saying that the sins of people will bring death and ruin on everyone.
God doesn’t so this.
We do this to ourselves when we fail to follow God’s way.
Ezekiel, I suggest, was trying to get that point across when he speaks of God ordering the killing.
That is not who God is or what God is like or what God does.

We also need to understand today’s gospel correctly.
Jesus is giving a procedure for correcting wrongdoing and reconciling.
He says that if someone will not even listen to the Church, to the broader community, then treat the person as you would treat a Gentile or tax collector.
On the surface we may think that this means to throw them out, exclude them, and have nothing to do with them.
But, how does Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors?
He associates with them, finds good in them, and never gives up on them.
Just think of Zacchaeus and even Matthew who wrote the gospel from which today’s passage is taken.
So Jesus is really saying: never give up on people, and never kick them out or exclude them or make them feel unwanted.
Stick with them, include them and make them feel the faithful love of God.
That’s the best way, maybe the only way in the long run to accomplish conversion and reconciliation.

So, two important clarifications to the readings today.