Monday, September 21, 2015

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - September 20, 2015

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
September 20, 2015 9:00am and 11am
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air

“Compare and Despair”

Back in 2010, a Jesuit priest named James Martin published what I think is an excellent book.

It is titled: A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.  It is insightful and enjoyable reading.

At one point, James Martin talks about the human tendency to compare ourselves with others.  Sometimes we look at others and their lives and may feel down because we think we don’t have it as good as they do.

James Martin says that this tendency to compare is a real trap.  He has this little saying: “Compare and despair.”  “Compare and despair.”

He says that when we compare, we often minimize the good things in our own lives and maximize the good things in other persons’ lives.  And ironically, we often maximize the bad things in our own lives and minimize the bad things in other persons’ lives. 

So, “Compare and despair.”  Martin advises that we just be with our own strengths and challenges and find our peace right there.

Striving to Be First

This insight helps us to appreciate today’s gospel.

The apostles have been arguing about which of them should be number one – above all the others.  On the surface, each of them is asserting that he should be number one because of his own special talents.

But my bet is that, underneath the surface, each of them feels less than the others and that being designated as number one would make them feel better.  They are comparing and, as Martin says: “Compare and despair.” 

In response to this, Jesus points to a little child.  And with the child, he teaches two lessons.

1. See the Value of Each Person

First, each of us is already valuable just in being ourselves.

In the culture of Jesus’ day, children were at the bottom of the ladder.  For example, if a family did not have enough food, the father would eat first, then the mother, and only then would the children get what was left over.

This sounds backwards to us.  In our culture, some of our parents may have held back on eating or on buying something so that the children could have enough.

Well, in that very different culture, Jesus says, “Whoever receives a child such as this, receives me.”  He’s saying that a child and who that child symbolizes is valuable – anyone seen as insignificant, powerless or hurting.

So if a child has such value and worth, then each of us does too.  Our value is inherent in our very being and is given to us by God.

This means that we don’t have to compare ourselves with anyone and we don’t have to be above others, as the apostles were trying to do.  Our value or self-worth is already there.

2. Care for the Least

And then Jesus teaches a second lesson with this child.

He calls us to care for the insignificant, the powerless and the hurting among us.  He does this when he calls us to receive the little child as if we were receiving him.

So, we are not to compare ourselves and see ourselves as better than those whose income is at poverty level.  We are not to look upon them as a drain on society.

When we do this kind of comparing, the “Compare and despair” rule acts in reverse.  Here we will not be caring for those in need and so they will despair.  

I sometimes think of it this way.  In a hospital, the health care professionals simply treat us when we are sick.

They don’t ask if our intestinal or coronary trouble is our own fault because of eating fatty foods and, if that’s the case, they refuse to treat us.  They simply treat us, help us to get better, and then advise us on how to take care of ourselves.

Well, in the same way, we are to care for the insignificant, the powerless and the hurting in our society.  We are to do this without comparing and seeing them as below us or as undeserving.  

And interestingly, Jesus is saying that again, in doing this, we ourselves will find self-worth.  Our sense of self will be strengthened and enhanced.

The Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, Cycle B - September 14, 2015

The Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross

September 14, 2015      8:30am

Just a week ago yesterday, we placed this San Damiano crucifix here in the chapel.
As I said last Monday morning, the original of this crucifix is the one that Saint Francis of Assisi was looking at when he experienced his calling from God.
For that reason, this crucifix is central to the tradition and spirituality of all Franciscans – the priests, the sisters, and the lay Franciscans.
So, I think appropriately, today, as the Church celebrates the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, I want to share a reflection by a Franciscan Sister.
Her name is Sister Ilia Delio.
She has a wonderful insight on the cross or crucifix.

Sister Ilia Delio says that when we gaze on the cross, we see God, who is self-giving love.
We see this self-giving love of God in the mystery of the crucified Christ.
It is good just to allow ourselves to be consumed with this love.
But, there is another step.
We also discover ourselves and who or what we are meant to be in the cross.
The image of the crucified Christ, self-giving love, is also the image in which we were created.
This is the basis of our identity.
So, if we gaze and contemplate and pray long enough, day after day, year after year, we will come to this new understanding of ourselves.
And this understanding in turn will be creative.
The image of the crucified Christ will transform us more and more into a reflection of the image itself.
To make it short and simple, the more we gaze upon the cross, the more we will come to resemble Christ himself in his self-giving love.

This, of course, is why the cross or crucifix is so central in our Catholic imagery and has such a central place in our churches.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - September 13, 2015

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle B
September 13, 2015 8am and 10am
St. Margaret Parish, Bel Air

The “Church Downstairs”

Recently I read an article written by a pastor in Commonweal magazine.

For years, Alcoholics Anonymous has met in his parish hall every day of the week.  That, by the way, is close to what happens in one of our rooms here at Saint Margaret’s. 

After a new parishioner talked with him, this pastor started thinking of these meetings as the “church downstairs” She told him how she came to join the parish after going “downstairs” for several months.

This priest occasionally sits in on the meetings and he says that it has helped him understand what it means to be “church.”  Three things about AA have really struck him.

1. Welcoming

First, there is a genuine sense of welcoming.  It is not simply a matter of a greeter shaking every new hand.

In fact, the pastor says that AA is most hospitable after the meeting is over.  No one is bolting for the door.

Instead, people stay around for another cup of coffee, especially if someone new has joined.  I have often seen this welcoming with the groups right here on our parish property.

2. Rallying around the Weak

The second thing that the pastor noticed is how the “church downstairs” rallies around the powerless and the hurting.  The pastor writes that even those whom some might relegate to the social fringes find acceptance.

The common denominator is – “We are all powerless over alcohol” – and that remains the unifying force of AA.  So everyone is treated with respect and support because they all know that they all need it.

3. Listening to Stories

And the third factor that this pastor admires in AA is the belief that everyone has a story to tell and a right to be heard.  The pastor writes that this belief is essential not only to the Twelve Steps but also to AA’s sense of community.

Everyone can learn something from another person’s story.  So, this priest says that welcoming strangers, rallying around the hurting, and listening to everyone’s story – they are the great strengths of what he calls the “church downstairs.”

Who Do You Say That I Am?

I see a strong connection between this article and today’s gospel.

Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  He is asking us the same question: “Who do you – who do I – say that Jesus is?”  

If we believe in Jesus whose name means “God saves;” If we believe that Jesus is “the Christ,” as Peter says today – a title that means “the Anointed One of God;”

If we believe , as Peter eventually says, that Jesus is “the Son of God” – God who has emerged in our humanity; and if we believe, again as Peter eventually says, that Jesus is the“Lord” – the unquestioned master of our lives;

If we answer Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” in these ways, then a lot follows.  This will affect what we do and how we live.

What Do You Do?

So, among many other things, we will do what those AA groups do.

We will welcome strangers.

We will be open to those who come from different places or seem different from us.  We will do this here at Mass or in the way we think through tough issues like immigration.

We will also rally around the powerless and the hurting. 

It might be a parent who has lost his or her job and is feeling lots of anxiety about how to pay all the bills.  Or it might be a teen struggling with identity and acceptance issues. 

And we will listen to one another’s stories.

We will refrain from judging by appearance.  Instead, we will take others as persons like ourselves and listen to their hurts and hopes, and to their weaknesses and potentials.


So, “Who do you say that I am?”

How we answer this question is really crucial.  It will determine our lifestyle, how we live and what we do.  

Friday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - September 11, 2015

Friday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time
September 11, 2015      8:30am


Imagine that someone’s sarcastic remarks really bother you.
You start forming an opinion about them, but before you do, you wonder if you’re seeing the whole picture.
Is there something going on in that person’s life that you don’t know about?
It doesn’t make what they did right, but it may slow you down and help you to see more about them as persons.

Maybe someone at home or at work really messes up something today.
You are ready to really let them have it, but then, you decide to talk first with the person.
You are even humble enough to see that you may have done something to contribute to the mess or make the situation worse.
This helps to temper your temper.

Maybe someone lets you down and really disappoints you.
Before you walk away and just write them off, you decide to talk with them.
You may discover that they are also disappointed in themselves and that they want to do well.
You may discover that they want your help and support to do well.

The point underneath these possible situations is this.
Often the “beam” in our own eye – to use Jesus’ expression – is simply
not understanding the full picture in someone’s life,
or forgetting that we have done or neglected to do something that is partially responsible for what happened.
or being unaware of the other person’s good intentions.

Jesus asks us to get in touch with what he calls “the beams” in our own eyes.

That will often make what we see in others not as big and horrendous as it seems, maybe even just like a “splinter.”