Tuesday, September 26, 2017

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - September 24, 2017

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A
September 24, 2017
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 8:00 AM
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11:00 AM

Two Lessons

One thing that probably all of us dislike is a lack of fairness.

We want everyone to be treated fairly.  We want fair pay, fair games, fair trials, and on it goes.

So, we may agree with the guys in the gospel story who have worked all day long.  They are upset when the landowner pays those who have worked just one hour or a few hours a full day’s pay. 

In truth, the landowner is being fair because he pays the full-day workers exactly what they agreed upon and that was the going rate-of-pay.  He simply chooses to be generous with those who have worked fewer hours.

Now, we have to say that Jesus is not giving a lesson here on good management or compensation practices – that’s not the point!  Instead, he is teaching us lessons first about God and then about ourselves.

Lesson 1: About God

We can summarize Jesus’ lesson about God in the word: “generous.”

To those who have worked all day and are complaining about what he has paid the others, the landowner says: “Are you envious because I am generous?”  Jesus is presenting the landowner as an image of God. 

The idea is that God is absolutely generous in his love for us.  In another passage of Scripture, Saint John says this so beautifully: “Love consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us.”

So, God first loves us, each of us, personally.  God takes the initiative in loving.

God’s love is a purely and simply a gift.  We don’t merit it or earn it.

To us, this is counter-cultural.  Our experience is that we have to merit or earn practically everything.

But this isn’t true when it comes to the love of God.  One of our Catholic writers puts it this way.

“We don’t change to earn God’s love; instead, we change because of God’s love.”  The idea is that it is God’s love within us that moves us to grow and change. 

And, as if that isn’t enough, God is also so generous that he treats us all in the same way – like those in today’s parable.  So maybe we come to God or come back to God later in life.

But amazingly, God treats us as the landowner treats the late workers.  In some way, God loves us all equally.

It may be difficult to wrap our heads around this but we have to remember that God is “generous” – that’s the key word, “generous.”  God gives his love as a gift and we don’t earn it or merit it. 

Lesson 2: About Us

The second lesson really flows from the first.

It is also summed up in one word and that word is “envious.”  The landowner says to the all-day workers: “Are you envious because I am generous?”

I and probably each of you, we human beings can be envious.  Envy is the sin of being upset at someone else’s good fortune.

Maybe a fellow employee gets a promotion; maybe a family member gets named in an inheritance; maybe someone gets publicly recognized for doing some charitable work – these are the kinds of things that can make us feel envious – resentful, begrudging, even hateful.

Notice in the gospel what leads to the envy.  The day-long workers compare themselves with the part-day workers and their pay. 

It’s the comparing that leads to the envy.  So Jesus wants us to stop comparing ourselves to others in this way.

Instead, he wants us to focus on God’s generous love for us.  He wants us to be aware of the gifts God has given us – like our school, our job, our family, our friends, our home and on it goes.

Instead of comparing ourselves to others who seem to have something we don’t have and becoming envious, Jesus wants us to look at ourselves and God’s generous love for us and be thankful.

And that’s the key point.  Being thankful is the opposite of being envious.  


So, two words: “generous” and “envious.”

God is amazingly generous to each one of us.  If we remember this and are thankful, we will not become envious.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - September 17, 2017

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
 Cycle A
September 17, 2017
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 9:30 and 11:15am


This morning, the message is about forgiveness.

I suppose that’s pretty obvious after listening to the gospel.  Jesus says that we are to forgive “seventy-seven times.” 

Let’s hope no one would need to be forgiven that often!  Jesus is using hyperbole or exaggeration here.

He wants us to develop a forgiving spirit and then live out of that.  So, this morning, let’s talk about this.

I first want to mention three things that forgiving is not.  And then I want to look at three steps that are involved in the process – and yes, forgiving is a process – three steps that are involved in the process of forgiving.

Forgiving Is Not…

First, forgiving does not mean that we deny our feelings. 

It doesn’t mean that we pretend we are not hurt.  Admitting that we are hurt is actually a good and healthy thing to do.

Second, forgiving does not mean forgetting.

It’s almost impossible to forget what has happened, even if we want to.  We cannot expect ourselves or others to do this.

And third, forgiving does not necessarily mean that we resume a relationship.

Sometimes, maybe often, reconciliation will be possible and that is great.  But sometimes reconciliation is not possible or wise or appropriate.

So, forgiving does not mean 1) denying our feelings, 2) forgetting, and 3) necessarily resuming a relationship.

Forgiving Is

Now let’s look at three steps or actions that are involved in forgiving.

1.    Review

First, we need to review what happened.

Review in your mind what the other person did or said.  Try to remember it in detail.

And as you do this, get in touch with your feelings.  How did you feel as it happened and right after it happened, and how do you feel about it or about him or her right now?

And, as part of this review, we need also to look at ourselves.  As the old saying goes, “It often takes two to tango.”

So, did I say or do something to trigger this?  Is there some way, maybe something minor or subtle, but some way that I contributed to the problem?

2.    Humanize

So, 1) review what happened, and then, 2) humanize the offender.

Try to separate the hurtful word or action from the person who did it.  And then, try to walk in that person’s shoes for a bit.

What might she have been experiencing within herself?  What kind of day or week might she have had?

Or, what kind of home life did he have when he was a child and a teen?  What woundedness might he be carrying around inside?

This can be a very challenging part of the process that we may not want to do, but still try to humanize the offender.  Try to step back from the hurt for a moment and allow some empathy to enter the process.

3.    Choose

And then the third step or action is to choose to forgive.

We may feel resentful, angry or vengeful.  But even with that, we can still choose to let go of it – and yes, forgiving is a choice. 

Not to let go hurts us as much or even more than the other person.  The Buddhists have a saying about this. 

They say that holding on to resentment is like picking up a hot coal in our hand with the intention of throwing it at the person who offended us.  I think that this image makes it clear that choosing to let go is as important for us as it is for the other person. 

And then, eventually, when you are ready and when it is possible, try to talk with the other person.  This is not always possible, but when it is, it gives life to the forgiveness and makes it very real.


So, at some point in our lives, each of us will have to choose whether or not to forgive someone.

It might be a parent, a spouse, a son or daughter, a sibling, a friend, a neighbor, an employer, a priest, and on it goes.  I hope that these three steps or actions – 1) Review, 2) Humanize, and 3) Choose – I hope that they will help us respond to Jesus’ call to be forgiving.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - September 10, 2017

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
 Cycle A
September 10, 2017
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 4pm and 8am
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11am

An Intervention?

Several years ago, I read about an incident between a father and his teenage son.

This father discovered a half-empty bottle of wine in his son’s bedroom and quickly reacted, “How did this get here?”  The son mumbled, “I don’t know.”

The father got angrier, “I’ll give you one minute to come up with a better answer than that.”  The son, “It belongs to a friend of mine.”

The father, “Do you expect me to believe that?”  And with that, the son walked out of the house and slammed the door.

Things got worse, and eventually the father called the counselor at his son’s school.  The counselor first asked the father why he was so concerned about the wine and he replied, “I don’t want him to get into trouble.”

The counselor then asked the father why he didn’t want his son to get into trouble.  The father answered that he didn’t want his son to get into legal trouble or get addicted to alcohol and ruin his future.

Again, the counselor pushed the father about why he was so concerned.  Finally, he responded, “I love my son and I want the best for him.”

And to that the counselor asked, “Do you think that your son got that message?”  And after a minute, the father sadly replied, “I guess not!”

Guidelines for Intervening

That incident helps us to appreciate today’s Scripture readings.

The passages call us to address situations where someone is doing something wrong or harmful or offensive.  They give us three guidelines for doing this.

First Guideline: Motives

First, we need to make sure that our motives are pure. 

We need to be careful that we are not trying to put others down or get back at them.  Our motive needs to be the well-being of the other person, like that father for his son, or reconciliation with the other person, like talking with your husband or wife about a problem between the two of you.

Today Saint Paul says whatever we do needs to be grounded in love.  That can be very challenging.

In the situations we are talking about, I think this means things like asking rather than accusing, speaking calmly rather than loudly, and seeking agreement rather than argument.  This would be more of our approach as we try to be pure in our motives.

Second Guideline: Who

The second guideline is that we first need to try to deal with the issue one-on-one.

This is the most respectful and least confrontational way of proceeding.  It minimizes defensiveness.

If this does not work, then we can bring in a third party.  And a third party can be a family member, a friend, a counselor, or a priest.

Whoever is involved in doing this needs to be respectful.  The goal is to respectfully lead the other person to go in a better direction or to help work out a reconciliation. 

Third Guideline: Commitment

And the third guideline is that we hang in there and don’t give up on another person. 

In the gospel, Jesus says that if a person will not listen to third parties, then “treat them as you would a tax collector or gentile.”  We’ve got to interpret these words very carefully.

Jesus does not cut off or excommunicate or refuse to have anything to do with gentiles or tax collectors.  On the contrary, he makes a point of hanging out with them and and even having dinner with them.

Now, no question, with children and youth, we need to provide direction and rules.  And no question, in the case of abuse or things like that, we have to protect others and ourselves.

But in general, the direction that the gospel gives is: don’t give up on the other person.  As hard as it can be at times, stay open and keep the door open to them.


So, the Scripture today leaves us with some guidelines for how to proceed in these real-life situations.  I hope they will be helpful for us. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - September 3, 2017

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
 Cycle A
September 3, 2017

Becoming More

Once upon a time, a dandelion whispered to the nutrients in its soil: “How would you like to become a dandelion?  You need only allow yourself to be dissolved in the earth’s water, and I will draw you up through my roots.

“Afterward you will be able to grow and flower and brighten the world.” The nutrients said: “Okay!”

The next morning, a rabbit hopped by and, feeling generous, said to the dandelion: “How would you like to become a rabbit?  You would have to let me chew you up and swallow you, and you would lose your pretty petals.

“It would hurt at first, but afterward you would be able to hop around and wiggle your ears.”  Not being rooted in just one place sounded good, so the dandelion allowed itself to be munched and it became a rabbit.

The next day, a hunter spotted the rabbit, and being in a friendly mood, asked: “How would you like to become a human? Of course, you must let yourself be shot, skinned, stewed and eaten.

“That would be rather painful, but think of what you’d gain. You’d be able to think, laugh, cry, get 50 credit cards and watch football on a wide flat-screen TV.”

The rabbit was scared, but who could pass this up? So, he gave up the carefree life of a rabbit and became a human.

Years later, God noticed this human going about everyday human living. Feeling very fatherly, God said: “Hey! How would you like to become a super-human?”

Becoming Divine

That, my friends, is the question God asks each human being.

And, in case we don’t know what is involved in this, God’s Son, Jesus, spells it out: “You have to lose your life to find it.”  Sports coaches and athletes say: “No pain; no gain.”

Psychologists say: “Lose your false self to find your true self.”  Spiritual writers talk about the “dark night before the dawn.”

What is it that we must lose and what do we gain?  Well, the good news is that we don’t lose anything essential to our humanity.

We don’t lose anything that is good within us. All we really lose is our inhumanity, our bad self.

What Do We Lose?

For example, we must lose our self-centeredness, which isolates us from other good people.  We must lose our prejudices, which blind us to the truth.

We must lose our lust, which distorts our love.  We must lose our insecurity, which restrains us from doing what we believe is right. 

We must lose our obsession with money, which prevents us from being generous. And we must lose our fear, which strangles our hope. 

What Do We Gain?

To the degree that we do this losing, we gain.  We actually enlarge or expand our humanity.

We don’t have to get there all at once.  We can do it step by step.

And we don’t have to advance in every department of life. Actually, most saints are imperfect and unfinished in some way.

The best part is that in fulfilling our humanity, we simultaneously become divine. We participate in divine life.

We become intimate with God and start thinking and loving in a Godly way.  We engage in communion and conversation with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And here is the really best part. In losing our lives in God, we don’t really lose at all – like the nutrients in the soil or the dandelion or the rabbit.

Instead, we retain our own self and grow bigger.  But we have to remember: only with God and only in going through this process of losing can we gain and be our fullest self.