Tuesday, September 20, 2016

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - September 18, 2016

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
September 18, 2016    11:00am 
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore

The Weight of a Snowflake

There’s a story that once upon a time, a field mouse asked a wise old owl: “What is the weight of a snowflake?”

The owl answered: “Nothing!  Nothing at all!”  Well, the mouse went on to tell the owl about the time he was resting on the branch of a fir tree.

It was snowing and he was counting each snowflake until the number was exactly 3,471,952.  Then, with the landing of the very next flake – c-r-a-c-k!

The branch of the fir tree snapped and the mouse tumbled to the ground.  The mouse looked at the owl and said: “Humph!  So that’s the weight of nothing?

Little Things Have Effects

That anecdote highlights one of the lessons in today’s gospel.

Jesus says: “If people are trustworthy in little things, they will also be trustworthy in greater things.  But if people are dishonest in little things, they will also be dishonest in greater things.”

The point is that everything we do has significance.  Sometimes we think that some of our actions are not all that important – that they count for nothing, like a snowflake that seems to weigh nothing.

But the truth is that everything we do has an effect.  It has an effect 1) on our own moral character and 2) on the character of others.


Effects on Us

Jesus says that we develop character by beginning with the little things.

A priest friend of mine tells a story about his first pastor.  That pastor would always fold money in half three times when people handed him donations for the parish.

He did that to make sure he did not mix it with his own personal money.  That is a good example of developing character by beginning with small matters.

Jesus suggests that we need to work at those little flaws: like telling so-called fibs or little lies that we think will not hurt anyone; or like taking home pens or coffee or other supplies from where we work.  If we start dealing with these “little” signs of spiritual failure, then we will grow in character.

One minister said: “Integrity does not emerge full blown in us.  It is built of thousands of little acts and decisions over many years that form our lasting character.”

Effects on Others

Then, the anecdote about the snowflake also conveys that our actions will have an effect on others, especially our children and grandchildren and youth.

Some years ago there was a cheating scam at one of our major universities. A number of students were expelled.

A newspaper reporter studied the situation and wrote an article about why these young adults might have cheated on their exams.  The reporter wrote that it might have been a 6-year old hearing his father tell someone who was interested in buying his old car that it had never been in an accident, when in truth, it had been rear-ended several years before.

Or a 10-year old might have heard his parents talk about not including on their income tax report some money they had made on the side.  Or a teenager at her first job in a supermarket might have been told to hide the over-ripe strawberries on the bottom of the box. 

The newspaper reporter said that experiences like these could lead children and youth to develop an attitude about cheating on an exam.  These “little” actions by adults begin to form the character of young people.


So, eventually one more snowflake, that apparently weighs nothing, cracks the branch of the tree.

And the same thing can happen to us.  Eventually, one more “little” action that disregards moral norms can have a decisive and negative influence on character.

On the other hand, an accumulation of “little” things that are done from a sound moral basis will positively mold character and prepare us and others for life’s bigger issues.  As Jesus says: “If people are trustworthy in little things, they will also be trustworthy in greater ones.”

Friday, September 9, 2016

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - September 11, 2016

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
September 11, 2016    9:30 and 11:15am 
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville

Mother Teresa

Last Sunday, Mother Teresa was canonized by Pope Francis: Saint Teresa of Calcutta. 

Mother Teresa founded and led the Missionaries of Charity.  These Sisters have as their mission the care of the least, the lost, and the last in society.

Mother Teresa and her Sisters did this in Calcutta.  They would care for those who were destitute and literally dying on the streets. 

In some cities in our own country, the Missionaries of Charity care for persons with AIDS.  For example, in Baltimore, they house about twelve persons at a time who are in the advanced stages of this illness and literally have no one to care for them, no place to go, even no place to die.

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 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. 

We may not catch it, but right here Jesus is challenging the religious leaders.  The society of that day looked down on shepherds as low-life people and looked down on women as second-class persons.

But here, in these stories, Jesus wants us to identify with the shepherd and the woman.  He is even saying that this shepherd and this woman are images of God – what a challenge that is to these people.

So, Jesus is jolting his listeners to start thinking differently.  And then, he gets to his main point – 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.  We can stop praying from our heart and being open to what God is calling us to do.

The result is that we lose our grounding in God and may well drift into harmful behavior.  For example, we may get into demonizing comments about others, maybe even in the name of God or of what we think is right.

When we are lost in this way, Jesus is saying that God is still there, still loving us and looking for us, just like the shepherd looking for that one lost sheep.  In fact, when we are like that one lost sheep, hopefully our conscience will bother us and we will feel guilty.

I suggest that these twinges of conscience or guilt feelings are really God trying to bring us back.  And, by all means, 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 this is for how we as a Church are to relate to the lost sheep!

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 this way, 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 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, like a shepherd or a woman, searching for us when we are lost, and 2) about ourselves – about the ways we can be lost and how we might respond when that happens!