Tuesday, August 30, 2016

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - August 28, 2016

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
August 28, 2016

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 8:00am

Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11:00am

The Fine Art of Small Talk

A woman named Debra Fine – spelled F-I-N-E as in, “everything is fine –— she leads seminars that are titled The Fine Art of Small Talk.

These seminars have attracted many people.  Often these people cringe at the thought of making small talk at social gatherings.

Debra Fine has an interesting insight.  She says that to be a good conversationalist, we need to focus the attention first on others and not on ourselves.

She says that a good conversationalist always lets others know that they have our undivided attention.  That begins the process of a relationship.

Then, after others feel that we are interested in what’s going on in their lives, they will usually turn the spotlight back to us.  Then we will have a chance to share something about ourselves.

What Humility Is Not  

Well, without intending it, that seminar – The Fine Art of Small Talk –contains a significant insight into humility.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says: “Those who exalt themselves shall be humbled and those who humble themselves shall be exalted.”  So, Jesus lifts up the virtue of humility, but the question is: what is humility?

Humility is not trying to come across as less skilled or less knowledgeable than we really are.  And it does not mean that we put ourselves down and feel that we are less than others.

What Humility Is

Instead, humility has more to do with our center of attention.

It means that in our relationship with God, we recognize that we are less than the One who has created us and given us life.  So, our focus first needs to be on God and not on ourselves self.

And then, humility means that in our human relationships, we recognize that each of us is of equal value.  And because the love of God calls us to take the first step in reaching out, again our focus first needs to be on the other person and not on ourselves.

So the insight is that humility is really about the center of attention.  It means that our center of attention is first on God and others.

Not Easy to Do

Now, this is not always easy to do.

It is not easy for shy folks to engage with another person;
or for chatterboxes to listen to the other person;
or for those of us who are driven by our own personal goals to do this;
or for those of us who are stressed all day long to do this. 

Placing our attention first on God and others takes real effort because so many factors in our human condition and in our culture lead us to do just the opposite.  So, let’s look at a few examples that may help us.

Some Helpful Examples

Young children with their toys have a good training ground for humility. 

By sharing their toys, they develop the ability to be friends.  Our encouragement helps them to focus the center of attention on others and not just on themselves.

A married couple or two adult friends also have opportunities for learning humility.

When we see one another after a hectic day, we might first be tempted to unload and dump.  Instead, you might first invite your spouse or friend to share how their day or week has been.

Or even, when we come here to Mass, we have an opportunity for humility.

We can make sure that we are first interested in what God wants to say to us rather than what we want to say to God.  And we can make sure that our prayers include the needs of our world and those who are sick and on it goes. 

If we do things like these, if we first make God and others the center of our attention, then amazingly, we will also find ourselves well tended.  As paradoxical as they seem, the words of Jesus will ring true: “Those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - August 14, 2016

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
August 14, 2016
4:00pm at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville
11:00am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore

What Does Jesus Mean?

Today’s gospel is not one of those warm passages of Scripture.

It is very different from Jesus saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.”  And it is very different from Jesus praying, “I pray that they may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you.”

And, of course, it is very different from our prayers here at Mass.  We don’t say, “May the division of the Lord be with you,” but “May the peace of the Lord be with you.”

This passage can seem out-of-sync, almost contradictory to the rest of the gospel.  So, I ask, we can ask: what does Jesus really mean here?

I think the key to understanding this lies in the three images that Jesus uses.  1) Fire, 2) Baptism and 3) Division.

1.    Fire

Scripture commentaries say that fire is an image for choice.

So Jesus is saying that sometimes we will have to make a choice to follow his way or not.  We will have to discern and choose right from wrong.

This will be true for children who are tempted to go onto the Internet when their parents have told them not to, or for business people in their dealings with customers.  The image of fire says that Jesus calls us to make choices.

2.    Baptism

And then, when Jesus speaks of baptism here, maybe surprisingly, he is not talking about the sacrament.

Scripture experts tell us that this means our willingness to be immersed at times not in water but in suffering.  The idea is that some of the choices we have to make will be uncomfortable.

So maybe we’re looked down upon and talked about because we will not participate in a conversation that negatively stereotypes certain people, especially those who are different from us in some way.  The image of baptism says that Jesus calls us to accept some suffering as a result of the choices we make.

3.    Division

And then – and here’s the most confusing of the ideas – Jesus says that he has come for division and not for peace.

This also flows from the image of fire or our choice to follow the way of Jesus.  The idea is that sometimes our choices will divide us from others.

So our youth who say no to alcohol or drugs or sex may find themselves divided from some of their peers.  This is the kind of division that Jesus means.

Who Causes Division?

But notice: it is not Jesus who causes the division.

Jesus never intends, never wants and himself never causes division.  Just page through the gospels and look at Jesus’ life.

Jesus never divides himself from anyone.  And he never divides anyone else from himself.

His being with those who were isolated and on the margins of society and with those labelled as sinners is clear proof of this.  There is no division here.

In fact, this is one of the traits of Jesus that some people choose – they choose to reject.  Some of the people of Jesus’ day hold themselves above and beyond certain others and think Jesus should do the same.
So they reject Jesus.  They divide themselves from him and, in the end, they precipitate his crucifixion.

This, I suggest, is the division that Jesus foresees.  He foresees that his humble, open, embracing way would be hard for some people to accept and that is why he speaks of division.

Still, the example or model that Jesus himself gives is not division but relationship and oneness, no matter how right we think we are and how wrong we think others are.  Jesus sees this as the way for everyone to grow closer to God.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - August 7, 2016

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
August 7, 2016   9:30 and 11:15am 
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville

The Consequences on Others  

Recently I read an article by a business consultant named Peter Bregman.

Bregman writes that one evening he was running late.  He was scheduled to meet his wife, Eleanor, for dinner, but a meeting with a client had run longer than expected.

Peter Bregman writes that he arrived at their table in the restaurant 30 minutes late and apologized: “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be late.”  Eleanor replied, “You never mean to be late.”

Bregman immediately realized that his wife was angry.  So, he said, “I’m sorry.  It was unavoidable – my meeting ran over.” 

His explanation seemed to make matters worse and that started to make Peter angry too.  The evening just went south from there.

Well, Peter Bregman writes that a few weeks later, he was talking to a colleague, a professor of family therapy.  Peter told him what happened and the professor smiled.

He said, “You made a classic mistake.  You’re stuck in your own perspective. 

“You didn’t mean to be late, but that’s not the point.  The point — and what’s important in your communication — is how your lateness affected Eleanor.” 

So, Peter was focused on his intention, while Eleanor was focused on consequences.  Peter and Eleanor were having two different conversations.

Peter goes on to write: “It’s stunningly simple, actually.  When you’ve done something that upsets someone — no matter who’s right — always start the conversation by acknowledging how your actions affected the other person. 

“Save the discussion about your intentions for later – much later, maybe never, because in the end, your intentions don’t matter much.  So, what should I have said to Eleanor?

Maybe something like this: “‘I can see you’re angry.  I’m sorry that you’ve been waiting for me for 30 minutes and that’s got to be frustrating. 

“And it’s not the first time.  Also, I can see how it seems like I think being with a client gives me permission to be late.  I’m sorry you had to sit here waiting for so long.’”

Bregman concludes: “What I’ve found is that once I’ve expressed my understanding of the consequences, my need to justify my intentions dissipates.  That’s because the reason I’m explaining my intentions is to repair the relationship, but I’ve already accomplished that by empathizing with her experience. 

“At that point, we’re both ready to move on.  After that conversation with Eleanor — after really understanding her experience of the consequences of my lateness — somehow, someway, I’ve managed to be on time a lot more frequently.”

Jesus and Consequences

I think this is a good life-lesson for all of us and it is also a good way to understand what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel.

When you put this entire passage together, Jesus is saying: be alert to the consequences of your behavior.  Be aware of the effects of your words and actions on the other person.

If you set out to tend others well – no matter who they are or what they’ve done or where they live – you are ready for the coming of the Son of Man.  If you make amends for behavior that has hurtful consequences, you are prepared for meeting God at that unknown hour.

So, don’t just talk about intentions and don’t offer excuses.  Instead, be responsible for what you say and do and be responsible for the consequences of your behavior.

Monday, August 1, 2016

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - July 31, 2016

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
July 31, 2016      11:00am 
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore

Viktor Frankl’s Insight

I am sure that some of us have heard of the famous psychiatrist named Viktor Frankl.

Viktor Frankl died in 1997 and was a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp.  He has some wonderful insights in his writings.

For example, Frankl tells a story about a woman named Alice who works for a cleaning service.  She cleans the central offices of a large corporation.

Alice wears blue jeans and a Marlboro cigarette tee-shirt to work.  The executive of this corporation – let’s call him Millionaire Mike – wears a dark business suit with a white shirt and gold cuff links.

Alice vacuums carpets and cleans toilets.  Millionaire Mike directs his multi-million-dollar corporation.

Alice works evenings.  Millionaire Mike works days and evenings to keep up with the pace of business and the social life that this demands.

Alice works to send her son to a state university.  Millionaire Mike works to make more money for people who are already wealthy, like himself.

Alice finds her work bearable and light, but Millionaire Mike finds his work stressful and draining.  Every evening they pass each other in the hallway of the office building and they are puzzled.

Alice wonders, “Why does he look so preoccupied when he makes so much money and lives so comfortably?”  Millionaire Mike wonders, “Why is she always cheerful when she has to do this demeaning work?”

Viktor Frankl says that the difference between the two of them lies in their goals.  Alice, the cleaning woman has the goal of educating her son, while Mike, the executive has no real goal beyond making large profits.

Need and Greed

Frankl’s story and his observations help us to appreciate God’s Word today.

In the gospel parable, Jesus is not condemning us for working to meet our family’s needs and to maintain a reasonable lifestyle.  But he is saying that greed is a problem.

Greed means that we feel that we never have enough and we always want more.  The challenge is to tell the difference between need and greed.

When are our needs satisfied and where do our needs stop and does greed begin?  The Scripture readings offer two guiding principles to prevent need from becoming greed.

1.    Look to Others

First, we must look beyond ourselves to others.

The rich man in the gospel is totally focused on himself.  Notice that the words of his conversation are all mewords.

“What shall I do?  I will tear down my barns and build larger ones.  All my grain and my goods will go there.  Then I can relax and I will have security for the rest of my life.”

This man thinks that satisfaction and happiness are found in himself and in material security.  He is very much like the corporate executive in the story.

He totally misses the higher value of living for someone else and sharing what we have with others, as the cleaning woman is doing.  Because he does not look beyond himself to others, need has turned into greed.

2.    Look to God

A second guiding principle to keep our need from becoming greed is to look beyond this world to God.

In today’s second reading, Saint Paul tells us “to seek the things that are above.  Set your minds on things that are above.”

If we look beyond this world, we will be in touch with God who satisfies us like nothing else can.  We will be in touch with the One who can satisfy our deepest longings – for affirmation and love and belonging.

We will then live more and more for the Lord who is our final goal in life.  As the gospel says, we will realize that “our life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”


So, Jesus does not condemn some financial security or comforts or possessions. 

But he cautions us to 1) look beyond ourselves to others and 2) look beyond this world to God.  If we do this, we will probably not get carried away and allow our need to turn into greed.