Monday, August 24, 2015

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - August 23, 2015

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
August 23, 2015        4:00pm, 7:30 and 9:00am
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

“This saying is hard”

“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Jesus has just said – we heard it last Sunday – that “The bread I give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”

So, today some of the people respond, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”  This response got me thinking.

If we page through the gospels, we find that today’s is not the only “hard saying.”  There are others.

Two Specific Hard Sayings

For example, right at the beginning of the gospels, an angel appears to Joseph. 

The angel explains that “it is through the Holy Spirit that Mary is conceiving a child.”  This is a hard saying. 

It goes against all we know about how children are conceived and born.  And yet, could it be so? 

Would the almighty, transcendent God who is the origin of the universe and the creator of the amazing complexity of the human body be limited to what we know?  Might the divine emerge in our humanity in a way that is beyond our imagination? 

So, in the end, might we answer Jesus’ question, “Do you also want to leave?” in the same way Peter does today?  “Master, to whom shall we go?”

And then, in another place, Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

This is also a hard saying.  Aren’t we supposed to find ourselves as persons and in that sense, find our lives?

And isn’t it a good thing to seek my fulfillment in life?  And yet, how many persons who focus so exclusively on this end up feeling empty?

How many – and I have seen this in my ministry and on news reports – how many really successful and wealthy people still feel that something is missing?  On the flip side of it, isn’t it true that so many of those who give of themselves for the well-being of others – like parents for your children or like so many of you who volunteer in some way – isn’t it true that so many of us find inner fulfillment and find our life?

So, once again, might we answer Jesus’ question, “Do you also want to leave?” in the same way Peter does today?  “Master, to whom shall we go?”

Other Hard Sayings

There are other hard sayings.

Like forgiving “seven times seventy-seven times.”  Or like “loving your enemies.”

Or like “being great by being the servant”.  Or like “the first being the last and the last being the first.”

Or like “Keeping holy the Sabbath.”  Or like God or Jesus being “life” itself and the author of life and, therefore, all human life, from conception in the womb right until physical dying, being sacred.

“Master, to whom shall we go?”

So, these are all “hard sayings.”

But, if we just stay with them quietly, thoughtfully, and prayerfully, we know that there is something here.  There is something undeniable and magnetic here.

Jesus’ words call us to become who we were made to be by our Creator.  They are the way to fullness, to the fullness of life.

And so, like Peter, we stay and accept the “hard sayings” when Jesus asks, “Do you also want to leave?”  We say, “Master, to whom shall we go?

“We have thought about other ideas and ways.  We have even tried some of them but they just don’t do it.

“Whether we understand fully or not, and whether we follow your way fully or not, we now believe that you have the words of eternal life.  You are the Holy One of God.”

The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Memorial, Cycle B - August 22, 2015

The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Memorial
August 22, 2015   8:30am
Isaiah 9.1-6
Luke 1.26-38

Today’s celebration of the Queenship of Mary has special significance for us in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Our Cathedral is named the Cathedral of Mary our Queen.
There is so much to say about Mary.
I want to share just one thought, based on today’s very familiar gospel passage.

We refer to her as the Blessed Mother.
Mary emerges in the Scripture, as we heard today, as the one who is to be mother of the Savior, the one who will bring God’s Son into the world.
In doing that, Mary exalts the role of motherhood.
She is a kind of patron of mothers.
She shows the great vocation and role simply of being a mother – of bringing a child into the world and then of nurturing the child toward full maturity.

In doing this, the Blessed Mother also lifts up for us the life and value of all children.
At least indirectly, Mary affirms the sensitivity and reverence and respect that we owe to the life of all unborn children.
And she calls not just mothers, but fathers and all of us to remain aware of how noble and important is the calling to foster the growth and well-being of all children.

That is something of Mary as Mother.

And that is one reason why she has come to be known as Mary our Queen. 

Wednesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - August 19, 2015

Wednesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
August 19, 2015   8:30am


Today’s gospel parable is not teaching us about good business practices.
It is not telling employers to pay employees who work just part-time as much as they would pay fulltime employees.
That would never work in the real world.

This parable, like most of them, has one main lesson.
Jesus’ main lesson is the generosity of God.
Eternal life or entrance into God’s kingdom is always a gift from God – a gift, no matter who we are or what we have done to respond to God.
God gives this to anyone who turns to him.
This turning to God opens us to receiving the light and love and life that God wants to give us.
That is Jesus’ main lesson.

Now, we might ask:
Does this mean that we all get the same thing and that there are no differences in eternity?
This parable doesn’t really address that question.
Common sense tells us that we have different capacities for happiness.
A four-year-old may find happiness in getting to go to Arctic Circle for ice cream.
A person matured by life may find happiness in the love of another or in giving of himself or herself for the good of others.
So, there probably are differences in our capacity to receive the light and love and life of God in eternity.

But Jesus doesn’t get into this or explain how it works.
He wants us to keep in mind that it is all a gift from God to all of us.
We do need to do at least the basic work, like the employee who worked just one hour in the story, and turn to him and the Father.
And maybe Jesus doesn’t tell us anything else because he doesn’t want us to compare ourselves to others like some of the workers in the parable are doing.
He doesn’t want us to the trap of comparing and seeing ourselves as better than some others and seeing them as less.

He just wants us to focus on God’s generosity and love and on our response by opening ourselves and our lives as fully to God as we can.

Tuesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - August 18, 2015

Tuesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
August 18, 2015   11:00am Faculty

As I understand it, the school theme for this year is peace.
And specifically, it is “Be the Peace.”
That got me thinking – and thinking practically.
I think we also glean from the gospel some practical guidelines for being peaceful and peacemaking in our relationships.
I want to recommend a few things and they are all in the area of communication – how we communicate.
Often, maybe most of the time, peace or the lack of peace starts right there – in our communication.
So, here are a few practical guidelines that I find helpful.

1. When you have a disagreement or feel offended by someone, don’t just sit and stew on it.
Go and talk with the person one-on-one about it.
Talk to the person involved and not about him or her.

2. When you do this, try to avoid saying things like,
“You were thoughtless and insulting.”
And, also try to avoid saying things like, “You really made me angry.”
Statements like these are attacking.
They will only put the other person of the defensive.
They will not be peacemaking.

3. Speak in the first person and speak of your feelings without attacking the other person’s behavior.
For example, “I really felt hurt or put down or angry when you said that.
I really need to talk this through with you.”

4. Listen.
Listen to what the other person says in these interactions.
Listen especially when someone is coming to you with an upset you may have caused.
For that matter, listen to others in any kind of conversation.
Ask a question to make sure you understand what they are saying.
And try to understand how they are feeling – put down, unattended, whatever.
Good listening is always, always important.

5. Picking up on listening, do not interrupt others when they are speaking.
And do not be thinking of what you want to say and just waiting to plunge in as soon as the other person takes a breath.
Those behaviors are violent.
We may usually not classify them as such, but they are violent and are at the root of other forms of violence in our culture.

6. Stick to these rules whether or not others reciprocate and treat you that way.
Your doing this at least gives this way chance of spreading and being adopted by others.
This is being peaceful and gives some chance of peace between you and the other person.

7. These guidelines apply to all kinds of situations, including problems within the school, among you as a faculty and administration.
They also apply to our relationship with parents.
They certainly apply to me and how I relate to parishioners and groups in the parish.

I hope these ideas have some value for us as we begin a year trying to “Be The Peace.” 

Monday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - August 17, 2015

Monday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
August 17, 2015   6:30am

The man in today’s gospel is described as young and rich.
And, apparently, he is also a good person.
But, he feels that something is missing in his life.

He obeys the commandments, but he still asks Jesus:
“What do I still lack?”
In other words, “I am missing something.  What is it?”
I think we all feel this way at times throughout our lives.
There is more, there must be more, something feels missing.

Jesus’ answer is interesting.
He tells him to sell everything he owns and give it all to the poor.
I think Jesus is exaggerating to make a point here.
He does this at times, like when he says to tear out your eye if it is an occasion of sin.
Jesus exaggerates with this good, rich, young man to make a point.
Jesus wants him to go beyond laws and commandments, to go beyond black and white stuff and enter a religion and spirituality of relationship.
Jesus wants this man to enter a deeper relationship with himself.
He wants him to remove the clutter that is in the way and enter a deeper communion or inner life with God.
And in doing this, Jesus wants this man to enter a deeper relationship with others by becoming more proactive and initiating.
He wants him to remove the clutter so that his religious practice will not just be doing this or avoiding that as it is prescribed in the law.
Jesus wants him to actually catch the spirit of all the laws and commandments and even go beyond and do more than the letter of the law.

I guess this man is not quite ready for all of this just yet.
That’s too bad, but I believe he remains a good person.
Maybe he will get the idea and be ready for this spiritual step a year or two from now.
Maybe the same thing happens for us in our lives.

What do you think?