Tuesday, August 29, 2017

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - August 27, 2017

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A
August 27, 2017       
8:00 am at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville
11:00 am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore

Standing in Wonder: The Universe

This past Monday afternoon, I got into my car to drive home around three o’clock.

The solar eclipse was just ending.  I turned on the radio and one of the networks was interviewing people about their experience with the eclipse.

One person said: “It’s just so good to look up.  It’s so good to look beyond ourselves and our world.”

Another person said: “It’s really overwhelming when you think about it.  It helps you to see how small we really are.”

And another person said: “It helps us to realize how much we know – I mean, for scientists to be able to calculate when this was going to happen.  And it also helps us to realize how much we don’t know.”

Standing in Wonder: God

Well, what I see underneath these comments is our standing in wonder at the universe, and beyond that, our standing in wonder at God.

Saint Paul beautifully expresses this today: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!”

It is as if Paul is also looking up and beyond ourselves and our world.  Paul stands in wonder at the greatness and mystery of God.

Standing in Wonder: The Son of God

And then, today’s gospel opens up another experience of wonder. 

The apostles had already stood in wonder as they saw Jesus calming the stormy lake and healing people.  Now Peter says that he believes that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 

This idea is both simple and simply awesome.  There is the Almighty One, the One before whom we stand in wonder when we look up to the heavens and beyond ourselves.

And now, Peter and we declare that this Almighty One has become one of us.  And so, along with Peter and the other apostles, we stand in wonder before Jesus. 

And, as if that isn’t enough, God in Jesus shows us how to live everyday life in that wonder.  He shows us how to live standing in wonder, as if we are looking up and beyond ourselves and our world. 

Living in Wonder

For example, we live in wonder before Jesus:
·      when we pray from our hearts and really mean what we say;
·      when we receive Holy Communion, and are aware that this is Jesus, the Son of God coming to us;
·      when we receive Holy Communion, and are aware that this Communion – spelled with a capital C – enlivens our communion – spelled with a small c – with all God’s sons and daughters on this earth.

Again, we live in wonder before Jesus:
·      when we are faithful to our commitments to one another;
·      when we sacrifice for the good of our families;
·      when we take a minute to say something supportive to the clerk at the check-out line who seems to be having a bad day.

And again, we live in wonder before Jesus:
·      when we speak respectfully about others and to others, no matter what;
·      when we do things that promote unity among people;
·      when we try to build bridges between others and ourselves.

And finally, we live in wonder before Jesus:
·      when we look above and beyond our own needs and concerns to the common good of all;
·      when we maintain hope based on our faith that God will be with us, no matter what;
·      when we cherish human life across the board and equally, wherever or in whomever it is found.


They are some of the ways that come to my mind – some of the ways that Jesus shows us how to live everyday life in wonder, how to live as if we are looking up and beyond ourselves and our world.

When we live in these ways, we are standing in wonder before Jesus and we are making a very positive difference in our world. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - August 20, 2017

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A
August 20, 2017        8:00 and 9:30am Mass
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville

What a Story!

Well, that’s quite a gospel!

Jesus’ first responses to this woman are downright shocking!  They are inconsistent with everything else he does.

The question is: Why?  What’s going on here?

Some Scripture scholars say that a likely explanation is that Jesus is the Son of God and is divine, but he is also fully human.  And so, even Jesus has to work through the prejudices that can infect all of us. 

Breaking Through Prejudices

If we look at this entire incident, we see that Jesus eventually breaks through the prejudices of his day.

First, there is gender.  He is talking with a woman when women are viewed as second-class and are not to be recognized if they are unaccompanied by their husband.

Then there is religion.  This woman is a not a Jew, and that’s why she is called a “dog” – the demeaning expression of that day for all non-Jews.

Next there is culture.  This woman is of a different culture and probably dresses differently and has different social customs.

And finally there is nationality.  This woman is a Canaanite and they are viewed as enemies.

Well, Jesus comes to see this woman as a person with needs and feelings and hopes like anyone else.  And it’s this that leads him to break through all of these prejudices.

A Lesson on Prejudice

What a gospel story for us today!

The event in Charlottesville has highlighted prejudice in our own country.  I decided that I had to speak on this topic today to be true to the gospel and true to what I personally believe.

This is a spiritual issue.  It is an issue of faith.

White supremacy, hatred and prejudice directed at blacks, Jews, Muslims or members of the LGBTQ community – we’ve seen all of these prejudices emerge in the past week.  All of this is wrong, immoral and sinful.

Personally I have especially grown in my empathy with the life experience of African Americans in our country.  I have had some personal experiences which I see as gifts from God.

For example, several years ago, when I was pastor at Saint Margaret’s in Bel Air, an African American man whom I know well was racially profiled, right in Bel Air.  He and his wife are both professional people, highly educated, and rather affluent – and yet, he was a victim of racial profiling.

I had the privilege of walking with this couple through that experience.  There was a respectful conversation where reconciliation was achieved and the need for some change to prevent racial profiling was recognized.

Last Sunday, I had the 8am Mass here and then I went into Baltimore and did the 11am Mass at Saint Matthew’s Parish.  That parish is about 65% African American.

Many people talked with me after Mass, and one African American woman – a wife and a mother – told me that in recent months, she has not felt as safe for herself and her family.  She was not alone in that feeling. 

A Recommendation for Us

So, where do we go with this? 

What do we do?  I don’t know nearly all the answers, but I do have one recommendation.

Each of us needs to honestly examine whether we have prejudice toward certain kinds of people, and right now, especially toward African Americans.  Do we have feelings of dislike, suspicion or even hatred? 

Do we ever participate in conversations where racist statements are made?  Do we tolerate those statements, or do we remain silent, or do we try to redirect the conversation or walk away from it?

These are not comfortable questions, but I believe we need to ask them.  Today, let’s ask the Lord to give us the grace of realizing our communion with all persons as God’s daughters and sons. 

Let’s ask the Lord to remove any feeling or attitude or mindset of white supremacy.  Let’s ask the Lord to replace that with a feeling and attitude and mindset of human equality.

As I said last Sunday at Saint Matthew’s, it’s got to start with our being a light in our own community.  Being a light is the only way to dispel the darkness of prejudice.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - August 13, 2017

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A
August 13, 2017       
4:00 pm and 8:00 am at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville
11:00 am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore

Physical Balance

This past Monday, I participated in a strength and balance class at a fitness center.

This particular class is designed especially for seniors.  So, I qualify!

One of the balance exercises was to stand on one foot.  We were to concentrate on placing all of our weight on one foot – let’s say my left foot.

Then we were slowly to raise the right foot about six inches off of the floor, touching the side of our left leg.  We were to try to stand that way, with all weight on one foot for about ten seconds. 

But, to succeed in doing this, the trainer advised us not to look at ourselves or others in the mirror or at anything in motion.  Instead, we were to keep our eyes focused on a fixed, still point on the floor.

And doing that, at least for me, was important.  Keeping my eyes focused on that fixed, still point helped me to maintain my balance standing on one foot. 

Peter’s Balance in the Storm

Well, I am not here today to lead us in exercises for physical balance.

But, I am suggesting that the trainer’s guidance to keep our eyes focused on a fixed, still point is also excellent spiritual guidance.  Look what happens to Peter in today’s gospel.

Peter steps out of the boat to walk onto the water.  At first his eyes are on Jesus and he is okay.

But then, Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and gets focused on the wind and the waves.  He gets focused on the storm and quickly starts to sink. 

The crucial point here is that when Peter keeps his eyes fixed on Jesus, he keeps his balance and is dealing fine with the storm.  But when he takes his eyes off of Jesus, he’s in trouble. 

Our Storms

I believe that there are storms in all of our lives – no exceptions!

For me, the one I remember very well is when I was thirty years-old.  I had been a priest for four years and seemed to be doing pretty well.

But all of a sudden, I began seriously questioning my vocation.  Eventually things got sorted out and resolved, but wow, that was quite a storm for me for the better part of a year.

There are lots of other possible storms.  A doctor’s report that we have cancer, a heart attack, the death of your husband or wife or child or parent, an addiction to alcohol or drugs or gambling, the loss of a job, the break-up of a marriage, and on it goes.

Our Balance in Storms

I believe that keeping our eyes focused on Jesus in these storms is crucial.

It’s something like what the trainer told us to do to keep our physical balance.  It’s what Peter needed to do when he stepped out of the boat into the stormy water.

We need to keep our eyes on Jesus as our fixed or stillpoint.  He will help us to keep our spiritual balance and get through the storms.

Practically speaking, I offer one recommendation.  At the beginning of each day, pray.  It can be your own prayer, right from your heart.

It can be a prayer you have learned.  It can be a prayer in a prayerbook.

It can be one of the psalms or a short passage from one of the gospels.  It doesn’t have to be long – maybe five minutes or even less.

But every day – no exceptions – pray in the morning.  And then, from that prayer, take one word or a phrase that you can repeat throughout the day.

For example: “Jesus, be with me.”  Or, “God of love.”  Or, “Emmanuel” or what that word means: “God is with us.”  Or, “Do not be afraid.”

They are just examples.  The idea is to pick a word or phrase, and then, repeat it throughout the day – wherever you are, whatever you are doing.

It is a good way to keep our eyes on Jesus as the fixed or stillpoint of our lives.  It is a good way to keep our balance and get through the storms of life.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, Cycle A - August 6, 2017

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Cycle A
August 6, 2017 
4:00pm at Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air
9:30 and 11:15am at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville

The Message: Beloved  

The message today is clearly about Jesus himself.

But, of course, this focus always leads to us.  So there is also a message about us.

Jesus: Beloved

The gospel passage says that Jesus is “transfigured.” 

He himself doesn’t change but his appearance changes.  Peter, James and John see him differently.

Now, these disciples are probably aware of the description of “the Ancient One” – that’s the expression used in the Book of Daniel, our first reading.  Daniel has this vision of “the Ancient One” – God the Father.

He sees light and brightness surrounding the Father.  “His clothing was bright as snow, and his hair white as light.”

In a similar way, the disciples see Jesus’ “face shining like the sun and his clothes as white as light.”  So, they must have made the connection with “the Ancient One.”

They now know that Jesus has a unique relationship with God.  Then a voice from a cloud really nails it down for the disciples.

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  “This is my beloved Son.” 

These words confirm what the disciples are seeing.  This man whom they have been following, Jesus, is the Son of God.     

We: Beloved

One of our Catholic theologians takes the words spoken from the cloud a step farther.

He says that God is saying the same words to us.  “You are my beloved daughter.  You are my beloved son.”

God is speaking these same words to all of us who are connected with Jesus through baptism.  And God is speaking these words to all human beings because all are connected to the Father in the very act of creation.

So, “You are my beloved daughter.  You are my beloved son.”  

These powerful words form the foundation of our self-worth.  They give us a strong basis for our self-esteem.

So, maybe each day it would be good to prayerfully remember God speaking these words to us.  They give us a footing for the day – to live out of that sense of self-worth.

And maybe we can especially hear God saying these words when we feel down or put down, when we feel failure and when we feel left out.  If we recall these words in those moments, we can continue to live out of our inherent worth as persons.

This will help us not to give up on life and not to strike back at others.  We will know intuitively that we are okay and worthy no matter what is going on.

Others: Beloved

Now there is one more message here about Jesus and about us.

The passage says that Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus.  

Moses is the giver of the Law and Jesus says that he comes to fulfill the Law.  The Law says that we are not to kill, and now Jesus says that we are not to act out of any kind of destructive anger.

Elijah is the last great prophet and Jesus says that he comes to fulfill the prophets.  The prophets tell us to care for the poor, and now Jesus says that when we care for those in need, we are actually caring for him.

So Jesus respects Moses and Elijah, accepts what they say and then takes it farther.  He doesn’t bash or trash them as a way to assert himself and his teaching.

The message for us is that we also are not to bash and trash.  We are not to shame and humiliate others. 

We are not to do this in our one-on-one relationships.  And we are not to do this in any group or public setting. 

We don’t have to do this to feel worthwhile and good about ourselves because our self-worth comes from God.  We are God’s beloved sons and daughters.

And we don’t this to others because they also are God’s sons and daughters.  We just need to recall those words from the cloud.


So, quite a passage of Scripture this morning.

A great statement about Jesus and who he is.  And a great statement about who we are and how we are to live.