Tuesday, July 25, 2017

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - July 23, 2017

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle A
July 23, 2017

Sunflowers and Weeds

I have always enjoyed some gardening – at least when I have time to do it.

I remember the first time I planted sunflowers.  I really like them and was looking forward to them forming the background to the other plants and flowers.

Well, as the sunflower seeds sprouted, there were also some weeds.  And it was difficult to tell the difference between the leaves of these weeds and the leaves of the sunflowers.

I realized this too late and pulled up some of the sunflower plants along with the weeds.  And then I decided to stop weeding in that area.

I figured that soon the sunflowers would grow so tall and start to bloom that it would be easy to tell the difference between them and the weeds.  That is exactly what happened and I ended up with some beautiful sunflowers and was easily able to weed around them.

Wheat and Weeds

This is what Jesus is talking about in today’s parable.

The farmer tells his workers not to pull up the weeds that are in with the wheat.  His reason is this kind of weed here looks like wheat in its early stages and you might pull up both weeds and wheat.

And beyond that, this kind of weed had roots that intertwined with the roots of the wheat.  So, even if you could identify and pull out the weeds, you would probably injure the wheat in the process.

Well, as with any parable, Jesus is really teaching us something about life and how we are to follow him. 

Not Saying: Don’t Guide

But first, what is Jesus not saying?

Jesus is not saying that we should not guide our children and youth.  We need to guide them, for example, in what is right and wrong and in choosing good friends.

Also, Jesus is not saying that we should condone certain things – things like foul language, racism, abortion, and on it goes.  We need to be a light for our world when it comes to these things.

Saying 1: Don’t Weed Out

What then is Jesus saying with this teaching about the wheat and the weeds?

First, Jesus is saying: don’t weed out one another.  He wants us to resist the human tendency to separate, divide, and exclude.

Sometimes religion and those who are religious can get into this.  In recent years, there has been some of this tendency right within Catholicism. 

This just does not seem consistent with today’s gospel.  Jesus calls us to be patient and even give what looks like weeds the chance to grow into wheat.

Saying 2: Don’t Label

That leads to the second thing Jesus is saying: Do not call others weeds.

Again, there is a human tendency to do this.  The problem is that it is a dualistic approach – we versus them, the good versus the bad.

The best of our Catholic tradition has condemned this kind of dualism.  Jesus calls us to a more unitive approach.

This means that we see ourselves and others as one because in fact, there is a mix of wheat and weeds right in me and right in you.  Jesus is patient with us in letting us grow and he wants us to be patient with others.

 Saying 3: Nourish the Wheat

And that leads to the third thing Jesus is saying: Concentrate more on the wheat.

Nourish the wheat, just like the sunflowers in my garden, and it will grow well and be easily distinguishable from weeds.  Eventually there will be a good harvest and God in his own way will take care of any weeds.

In other words, act positively in promoting what is good.  A Franciscan theologian, Father Richard Rohr offers some wonderful advice on this and I want to conclude with it.

Father Rohr says: “If you want others to be more loving, choose to love first.  If you want a reconciled outer world, reconcile your own inner world.

“If the world seems desperate, let go of your despair.  If you want a just world, start being just in small ways yourself. 

“If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will always see God beyond you.  For it is only God in you who knows where and how to look for God.” 

In short, pay more attention to the wheat than to the weeds.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - July 16, 2017

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A
July 15-16, 2017
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4:00pm
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11:00am

The Message: Listening

This afternoon/morning I want to reflect with you on listening.

I am doing this because listening is the main point in today’s gospel.  In the parable, the seed stands for the Word of God and the different types of soil represent different ways that we may or may not listen.

I am also focusing on listening because I think our culture has a problem with this.  In recent years, I have become very sensitive to the fact that we often don’t really listen to one another.

Often we interrupt others when they are speaking.  We can probably see this played out in our personal experience and I know for sure that we see it on TV and in the public life of our country.

Now I have to admit, it was really drilled into me by my parents when I was a child that you don’t interrupt others but you listen to them when they are speaking.  So I guess I am especially sensitive to this – I hope not too much so. 

At any rate, I don’t want to dwell on the negative today.  The more important thing is that listening can be a positive force in our lives.

So, I have three simple recommendations for responding positively to Jesus’ desire that we be good soil or good listeners.  I think that these will be helpful, but you can see what you think of them.

Recommendation 1: Believe

My first recommendation is: Believe. 

If it is the Scripture or Bible that we are listening to, we have to believe that this is the inspired Word of God.

We are called to believe that God speaks to us here.  There is a message here about God or about us or about how we are to relate to God and to one another.

If it is another person that we are listening to, like a family member or friend or whomever, we again need to believe. 

Here we need to believe that the other person is made in the image and likeness of God, just as we are.  And so, we assume that this person may have something worthwhile to say or is deserving of our attention.

Recommendation 2: Inquire

So, 1) Believe, and then my second recommendation for good listening is: 2) Inquire.

Maybe a passage of Scripture that is read here at Mass or that we read at home is confusing.

So we need to inquire.  We look at the footnotes or commentary on the Bible or we ask someone here at the parish to try to clarify this for us.  

Or maybe we are in a conversation with someone and trying to be attentive but we just don’t get what is being said.

So again we need to inquire.  We respectfully ask: “Would you please explain what you meant by that?” or “I don’t think I understand, so could you please say more about that?”

Recommendation 3: Receive

So, 1) Believe, 2) Inquire, and my third recommendation for good listening is: 3) Receive.

If it is the Word of God, the Scripture, we need to receive it.

This means that we take it in, reflect and pray over it and see how it relates to our lives.  It means – and this is crucial – that we are willing to allow the Word of God to modify our vision of life or change our opinion about something or make a difference in what we say or do.

If it is something that another person has said, we again need to receive it.

Here this means that we enter into the person’s life experience or thought process that are behind what they have said.  In this case, to receive means that we at least appreciate more about that person as a result of this.


So, I offer these three recommendations for listening well to the Word of God and to one another.

1)   Believe opens us up.  2) Inquire draws us in.  And 3) Receive transforms both me as the listener and the relationship with the person who is listened to.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - July 9, 2017

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A
July 9, 2017   8:00 and 9:30am
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville

The Amish and Jesus

The Amish farms in York and Lancaster Counties often present us with a kind of throw-back-in-time picture.

The image I am recalling is that some Amish farmers work their fields with horses.  Some of them do not use sophisticated John Deere farm equipment.

Instead, there are two horses pulling a plough.  I am thinking of this image today because in Jesus’ time, it was very similar.

They used a pair of oxen to plough the fields.  And there was something called a yoke – spelled Y-O-K-E. 

The yoke was a wooden collar that fit around the neck of the oxen and connected the two animals to the plough.  A yoke had to be made rather carefully so that it would fit the oxen just right. 

If the yoke fit well and was comfortable, the oxen could go on ploughing for hours.  But if it did not fit well, it would dig into the oxen and really hurt.

It would sap their strength and they would not be able to plough for a long time.  This is the image that Jesus has in mind in today’s gospel.   

“My yoke is easy”

He says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The yoke that Jesus is speaking of is his way – his way of living.  Now I think a fair question is: can we really say that Jesus’ way or “yoke” is “easy”?

I mean, practically speaking, is it easy to love our enemies?  Is it easy to share what we have with people who are in need and whom we do not even know?

And on top of all that, doesn’t Jesus also say that following him means taking up our cross?  So, isn’t it a bit of a stretch to say that Jesus’ yoke is easy?

Why Is It Easy?

Maybe the best way to evaluate how difficult or easy it is is to compare his way with other ways of living.

For example:
Do we really think that a dog-eat-dog approach – maybe in the workplace – do we really think that this is easier on our nerves than a more respectful and team-like approach?  
Or, are we better off emotionally by holding on to our resentment rather than forgiving a family member or a friend?

Again, does it make me feel better about myself when I judge others as less than I am, or when I refrain from judging and put myself in their skin and life situation? 
Similarly, does prejudice – racial, religious or gender prejudice – does this expand me as a person, or am I bigger as a person when I am try to be open and inclusive? 

Again, do we feel inner peace by just going along with whatever our peers are doing – like bullying a classmate or doing some kind of drug – do we feel more at peace by doing this or by sticking to what we believe is the right thing to do? 
And finally, is it really easier to live with myself when I don’t tell the truth or when I truthfully own up to what I did or did not do?


These are just some comparisons of the effects of following Jesus versus other ways of living.

So, I recommend that we think about these alternatives today. If we try Jesus’ “yoke,” we just might find that it contributes more to our happiness in the long run and it may even be lighter and easier in the short run of life.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Cycle A - June 23, 2017

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
June 23, 2017      9:30am    
Saint Mary, Pylesville

Today’s feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus reveals something very warm about Jesus and God.

Saint John in the second reading speaks of God’s love for us.
God’s heart, the Sacred Heart is one of complete love for humanity – so much so that God sent His only Son into the world.
This reading brings a fuller and even corrected understanding to the first reading, the Old Testament passage.
On the one hand, that passage speaks beautifully of God’s faithfulness and covenant with his people.
But on the other hand, it also speaks of God destroying those who do not keep his covenant.
With the coming of the fullness of revelation in Jesus, we would say that God – who is love – does not destroy, but that we injure ourselves when we ignore or disobey the way of Jesus.
That is a big and important distinction in the way we understand God.
The Sacred Heart, full of love, keeps drawing us to himself and wanting only what is good for us and never injures, much less destroys us.
That is the way of perfect love.

And the other insight I want to highlight is again from our second reading
Saint John says: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he has loved us.”
So God has taken the initiative in loving us.
And in loving us, the Sacred Heart has planted the love of his heart in us, and now we are to accept that and live out of that.
So, things that we do for the well-being of others, our compassion or empathy, our generosity with the poor – these are actions flowing from God’s love within us that has transformed us and moved us to live in this way.

That is the power and effect of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.