Tuesday, June 27, 2017

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - June 25, 2017

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A
June 25, 2017
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4:00pm
Saint Mary Magdalen Mission, 9:00 and 11:00am


This morning, I want to talk about encouragement – the importance of encouraging one another.  But first, I want to explain why I am reflecting on this.


Killing the Spirit

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us to be afraid of those who can kill the spirit.

And you know, it’s true.  Our spirit can be killed.

Sometimes on sports teams, the coach is always on the back of the players – maybe kids – for every dropped ball or missed point and never gives them any praise.  This can kill the spirit of the players.

Sometimes this happens on work teams where the boss or leader is always pressing for better results and never affirms what’s been done.  And this can kill the spirit of the employess.

Sometimes at home a husband or wife always picks away at little things and never recognizes a good job with the gardening or with cleaning the house or stuff like that.  And this can kill the spirit.

A Study on Encouragement

Recently, an organization called the Gotman Institute did a study.

They focused on the ratio of words of criticism to  words of encouragement that the average person hears.  And they found that the ratio is 6 to 1.

So, the average person hears 6 words of criticism for every 1 word of encouragement.  I mean – isn’t that unfortunate?

That creates a negative environment.  It explains why some workplaces and teams and relationships are toxic.

These words tear down self-esteem.  To go back to Jesus, this heavy ratio of critical to encouraging words can kill the spirit.

Two truths about Encouragement

There are two truths about encouragment that we need to know.

First, everyone needs encouragement.  I don’t care who you are, how successful or intelligent or attractive or popular or talented you seem – we all need encouragement.

And the second truth is that everyone can be an encourager.  Regardless of our age or job or position or personality type, we can be encouragers of others. 

Two Ways to Encourage

There are also two things to keep in mind in our encouraging of one another.

First, everyone wants to know that they are not alone.  Sometimes we feel alone and that we are the only person in the world dealing with a certain issue.

Maybe it is a mother or father who are not sure if they are doing the right thing with their kids.  Or maybe our finances are tight and we cannot take the kind of vacation that the neighbors are taking.

Or maybe a teen or young adult is struggling with an identity issue.  In these and many other situations, we can feel very alone.

So it is important for each of us to be alert to one another, to listen and to let those around us know that we understand or that we are dealing with the same issue or that we’ve got other stuff we are dealing with.  Our sharing and our vulnerability like this is a way of encouragement because it helps others know that they are not alone.

And the second thing to bear in mind about encouragement is that everyone wants to know that they’ve got what it takes.  So we need to affirm the strengths of one another.

Maybe that’s all they need to hear to apply for nursing school or whatever it is.  Maybe that’s what someone needs to redirect them in a way that will really suit their God-given abilities.

We need to let others know that we believe in them.  We encourage them by letting them know that they’ve got what it takes.

Jesus Encourages

Right in today’s gospel, Jesus encourages us.

Jesus knows that things will be tough at times and that we will need some encouragment.  So he uses the example of a small bird, a sparrow and says that God watches over and knows every take-off and landing even of a sparrow.

If God does that for a sparrow, won’t he do much more for us?  After all, we count for so much more.

And then Jesus says that God is so close to us and knows us so well that even the hairs on our head are counted.  That may not be too difficult for God to do with some of us guys, but I think you get the point.

Jesus is encouraging us because he knows we all need encouragement.  And he wants us to be encouragers just as he is.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Cycle A - June 18, 2017

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Cycle A
June 18, 2017    

A Rabbi’s Embrace

There is a story about a six-year-old Jewish boy named Mortakai.

Mortakai was refusing to go to school.  Each day, his mother would take him to school, but as soon as she left, he ran back home.

Mortakai’s mother would then bring him back to school once again.  This scenario kept happening day after day and finally, in desperation, the parents contacted their rabbi. 

The rabbi said, “If the boy won’t listen to words or to reason, bring him to me.”  And so, the parents took young Mortakai to the rabbi. 

They entered the rabbi’s study and the rabbi, without saying a word, simply picked up the boy and held him to his heart for a long time.  And then, without speaking, the rabbi set the boy down. 

Amazingly, what words did not accomplish, a silent embrace did accomplish.  Mortakai began going to school willingly and went on to become a famous scholar and rabbi.

God’s Embrace

One of our current Catholic writers, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, says that the story of Mortakai expresses something very core about the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Through the Eucharist, God physically embraces us and holds us close to his divine heart.  No question, words are important but at times, but they often do not go deep enough and they fail us. 

For example, the older I get, the more I realize that it is important that I am just there with an embrace or a handshake with a person who is grieving the death of a loved one.  My presence is a spiritual embrace that communicates more than my words. 

Now we all know that Jesus makes powerful use of words.  This is why the Scripture is so important here at Mass and why we listen especially to Jesus’ words in the gospel. 

But even Jesus’ words have limits and so he resorts to another language – the language of ritual and action.  This is what the gift of his Body and Blood in the forms of bread and wine is all about. 

The Eucharist is Jesus doing what that rabbi did for young Mortakai.  It is Jesus’ physical embrace, holding us close to his heart.

A Parent’s Embrace

The author Ronald Rolheiser offers another example.

He says that there often comes a time, usually late in the afternoon, when a little child can get very tired.  Maybe the child has been to pre-school and did not get much of a nap.

At times like these, a child can get very cranky.  He doesn’t know what he wants or what to do with himself.

She may torment the dog and begin to whine.  At the same time, the parent is also tired and may begin to reprimand the child.

But the child just whines all the more and now the parent knows exactly what to do.  They just scoop up the child and without speaking, just hold the child close their heart.


The Eucharist’s Embrace

Again, Rolheiser says that this is a good image of the Eucharist.

Sometimes we come to Mass, to the Eucharist, feeling tired, strung out, lonely, preoccupied, or worried.  There are times when we have no words to say and cannot really hear any words.

And then, in that moment, God touches us and picks us up.  In that moment, only physical touch and embrace will work.

This is why God, in Jesus, gives us the Eucharist.  This is God’s divine, physical embrace.

So, no wonder that the Eucharist is so powerful.  Here we find inner comfort for our anxiety and upsets.

Here we find strength for our tiredness and searching.  That is what the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, is for us: the divine embrace that communicates without any words at all.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, Cycle A - June 11, 2017

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity
Cycle A
June 11, 2017     11:00am
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore


Spiritual Genetic Code

On TV crime shows, we often see perpetrators identified by the DNA that is left on the crime scene.  

I think that our police forces in real life solve some cases through DNA identification.  As we know, DNA is our genetic code. 

It is the genetic instruction that identifies us as human beings and as unique, individual persons.  I got thinking about this as I reflected on today’s celebration of the Holy Trinity. 

We believe that we are made in the image and likeness of God.  So I am thinking that we must also have kind of a spiritual DNA.

In other words, God must have implanted within us certain elements that make us like him.  And that means that these elements are indicators or even evidences of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

God the Father

For example, isn’t it true that we always want something more or something other than what we have?

So, whatever kind of car we drive, don’t we start noticing other cars that have more bells and whistles than our car has?  Or, no matter how much money we make, don’t we always want a bit more?

The idea is that we are often looking for something other or something more than what we have.  And, of course, we think we will happy as soon as we have that. 

This hunger for the other seems to be deep within us.  I suggest that it is part of our spiritual genetic code.

And I believe that this hunger for the other is an indicator of the Divine Other – the One who alone can really satisfy us.  It is an evidence of God the Father.


God the Son

And then, isn’t it true that we all want to be loved and to love?

For example, don’t we look for affirmation from those who are close to us?  And, on the other hand, don’t we feel good when we have helped someone in need or given a gift to someone special?

The idea is that deep down within us there is this hunger to love and to be loved.  I suggest that this is also part of our spiritual genetic code.

This is why the words in today’s gospel really get our attention: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…”  And in another passage, the Scripture goes so far as to say: “God is love” itself.

So I believe that our hunger to love and to be loved is also an indicator of God.  It is an evidence of God the Son. 

God the Holy Spirit

And finally, isn’t it true that we often want to be with others?

If a husband and wife are apart because one of them is travelling, don’t they try to be “with” each other through a text or email or phone call?  When we go to an Orioles game, don’t we usually invite someone to go with us?

Don’t we keep photos around the house of our loved ones who have died?  Don’t we enjoy sharing a nice dinner with others?

The idea is that deep down within us there is this hunger for relationship.  I suggest that this is also part of our spiritual genetic code.

And I believe that this hunger to be with others is an indicator of God within us and drawing us to be in relationship.  It is an evidence of God the Holy Spirit.


So, maybe this can be a way of approaching the Holy Trinity!

Maybe we have a spiritual genetic code, something like our physical genetic code.  And maybe these deep down, built-in hungers 1) for something other than what we have, 2) for loving and being loved, and 3) for relationship with others – maybe these hungers are indicators and even evidences of God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Feast of Pentecost, Cycle A - June 4, 2017

Feast of Pentecost
Cycle A
June 4, 2017
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville (4pm and 8am)


The Descent of the Holy Spirit

There is a fifteenth century Russian icon entitled The Descent of the Holy Spirit.

The original of this icon is in a cathedral in Russia.  I brought along a small, inexpensive representation of this and it is here in the sanctuary.

If you want, you can take a look at it after Mass.  I want to try to describe this icon and please just try to imagine it with me.

This painting – The Descent of the Holy Spirit – depicts the event of Pentecost as completely quiet and calm.  It is a very different picture from the strong wind, the fiery tongues, and the fearful disciples that we hear about in today’s readings.

This icon portrays Mary and the apostles sitting in a semi-circle in complete serenity and peace.  Their eyes and hands convey an openness to receiving and listening to the Holy Spirit.

So what the icon is conveying is that the coming of the Holy Spirit is more of an inner event and not so much an outer event.  The idea is that through the sending of the Spirit, God becomes God-within-us, God-within-us.

Also, the figures in the icon are not looking at or talking with one another.  Instead, they are all listening intently to the God-within-them.

And each of the persons is portrayed differently.  They have different complexions, different hair styles, different ways of sitting and even clothes that are different in style and color.

And yet, despite all of these differences, the icon portrays complete harmony.  The message is that God-within-us makes many individuals into a single, unified, though diverse community. 

The Holy Spirit and Oneness

That is the great lesson from this fifteenth century Russian icon The Descent of the Holy Spirit.

The presence of God-within-us is the common ground among us.  And because of that, it makes us one.

And so, what we need to do is awaken our awareness of the Spirit’s presence, much as the apostles do in the icon.  This awareness leads us to realize God’s presence as our common grounding with all people.

This is the most solid basis of community that we could ever hope for.  What a great lesson from this six hundred-year-old painting!

Communion and Community

The well-known Trappist monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton has an excellent insight on the point made by this icon. 

I want to read just a few sentences from Merton.  I will read them slowly and please just try to take them in.

Thomas Merton writes: “The deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion.  It is wordless.

“It is beyond words, it is beyond speech, and it is beyond concept.  Not that we discover a new unity – we discover an older unity.

“My dear Brothers and Sisters, we are already one.  But we imagine that we are not.

“And what we have to recover is our original unity.  What we have to be is what we are.”

Don’t Make Differences into Obstacles

Merton’s thoughts are simple and yet quite profound.

Unlike the apostles in the icon, we sometimes make the differences between us into obstacles to communion or community.  I am thinking of differences like:
Ø Black, white, brown, and yellow skin,
Ø Male and female genders,
Ø People in Harford County and people in Baltimore City,
Ø Christians and Jews,
Ø Christians and Muslims,
Ø Jews and Muslims,
Ø Catholics and those who are not,
Ø American citizens and immigrants who want to be citizens,
Ø Political liberals and conservatives,
Ø Catholic progressives and traditionalists.
And, of course, there are many other differences.

We so often allow these differences to obscure the communion and community that is already here.  As Thomas Merton writes, “We are already one.

“What we have to recover is our original unity.  What we have to be is what we are.”

This is what the Holy Spirit, God-within-us does.  It is what today’s Feast of Pentecost celebrates.