Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist, Cycle B - June 24, 2018

Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist 
Cycle B – June 24, 2018
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville         8:00am
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11:00am


Seven years ago, my nephew Mark and his wife Augusta were preparing for the birth of twins – a boy and a girl.

Mark and Augusta gave a lot of thought to the names for these children. In the end, they decided to name the little girl Matilda Lynn – Matilda after Augusta’s aunt, and Lynn after Mark’s mother.

They named the little boy George Franklin, George after both Mark’s and Augusta’s grandfathers, and Franklin after Augusta’s uncle. So, with these names, they connected these children with family members who meant a great deal to them.

I imagine that many of you have done this. Naming your children is an opportunity to connect them with loved ones or with favorite saints or with people in our cultural heritage.

Or it is an opportunity to select a completely new name and make your child very special in that way. Naming children is a wonderful opportunity.

Jewish Naming

We hear about the naming of a child in today’s gospel.

The Jewish custom in Jesus’ day allowed neighbors to have a say in the naming. That sounds strange to us, but to them a new child was seen as a gift for both the family and the entire village.

Their custom also dictated that the first son would be named after the father. So, it is natural that the villagers in today’s gospel expect this little boy to be named after his father Zechariah.

What they don’t know is that an angel has told Elizabeth and Zechariah that their son is to be named John. Apparently, God sees this child as special and this gets expressed in a special name.

Conclusion 1: Call by Names 

One conclusion that I draw from this is the importance of using the name of those we are speaking to or speaking about.

This may sound like a no-brainer, an obvious statement. Maybe it is, but I think it may be timely to be reminded of basics like this.

So, we call others by their name: James, Meghan, Sharon, Gregory – using the first or given name whenever that is possible and appropriate. Making an effort to learn the name of another person, maybe a server at a restaurant or a clerk at the supermarket, our trying to know the name and then using it shows respect.

It is a basic way of recognizing the uniqueness of another person. It is a way of saying that they are special.

I find today’s first reading very valuable on this point. Isaiah senses that God called him from even before his birth.

He says: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”This is a beautiful statement of our life and personhood and of our relationship with God even before our birth.

Of course, usually our parents give us our name, but I would say that they do this on behalf of God. In other words, God names us through the thoughtful and caring naming by our parents.

This naming makes us, like Isaiah, special, unique persons. That’s why I say it is important to address others by their name whenever that is possible and appropriate. 

Conclusion 2: Don’t Call Names

The other conclusion I want to draw today is that we should not call others names.

This again may sound like an obvious statement, but I think it is timely to be refreshed on this basic principle. Now, I am not thinking of affectionate nicknames that family members or close friends might give to one another.

I am talking about diminishing names, put-down names. This was an important lesson that my parents really tried to drill into us.

Mom and Dad really got on us if we called somebody “Fatso”or “Loser”or “Dumbbell”or the N-word. They simply forbade us to call other people names.

On a human level, calling other people names is immature behavior. And on a spiritual level, it is simply disrespectful. 

So, we need to avoid name-calling and we need to respect the life, the dignity, and the personhood of others – no matter what. We need to remember that, like us, they “are called by God from birth and given a name from their mother’s womb.” 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - June 17, 2018

11thSunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle B
June 17, 2018      


Résumé Virtues and Eulogy Virtues

Several years ago, there was an interesting column in The New York Timesthat really has something to say to us.

Columnist David Brooks writes that from his experience, he sees two sets of virtues.  He calls these: “the résumé virtues”and “the eulogy virtues.”
The résumé virtues are the skills we bring to the marketplace.  The eulogy virtues are the traits that are talked about at our funeral.

The résumé virtues are things like technological and management skills.  They also include academic degrees and job titles.

All of these have a place in our lives.  We need them to make a living and to make a contribution to our world and for our own fulfillment.

But columnist David Brooks says that our culture focuses so much on these résumé virtues that we often forget the eulogy virtues.  Our years can pass by and the deepest parts of us can go undeveloped.  

We may be much clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.  And so, we need to be attentive to these eulogy virtues.  

These include patience with others and faithfulness to our life commitments when that is easy and when that is difficult.  The eulogy virtues include honesty in our work situations and truthfulness in our relationships.  

They include care for those in need and an effort to understand the perspective of others who are different from us.  The idea is that we have to be alert and work at these eulogy virtues.  

David Brooks says it so well: good people, he says, “are made, not born.”  His idea is that we achieve inner character and virtue by the day-in, day-out, year-in, year-out stuff we do with family, friends, employers, employees, clients, customers, neighbors and people we do not even know. 

 Why We Have Mass

I think that remembering and working at these eulogy virtues is at least one reason why God told us to “keep holy the Sabbath day.”  

It is one reason why we are to come to Mass on Sunday.  It is like what Jesus says in that first parable in today’s gospel about the growth of the seed.  

He is teaching that it is God’s power at work that fosters our personal and spiritual growth.  So, here at Mass the Word of God refreshes us in these eulogy virtues.

It also deepens us in what they mean for our life situation.  And then the Eucharist nourishes the growth of these virtues within us.

The Smallest…The Largest

The last thing I want to say is that all of this doesn’t happen overnight.  

It takes time for us to emerge as a person of character, of inner depth, the kind of person Jesus calls us to be.  Again, it is like what Jesus says in the second parable of today’s gospel.  

The smallest of seeds, the mustard seed, ends up becoming the largest of plants.  So, maybe a lot of things we do seem small and insignificant.  

Maybe we don’t think about their value and what they are doing to us.  But, taken together and over the long haul of life, they mount up.  

From all the things that we say and do, by working at these eulogy virtues, we emerge as persons of character and inner depth. We become the whole or holy persons that Jesus calls us to be.    

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B - June 10, 2018

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle B
June 10, 2018             8:00 and 9:30 am

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville

From Scam to Partnership 

At the end of April, just a little over a month ago, the CBS Sunday Morning show carried a good story that I want to share with you.

The story goes that a man in Utah named Ben found this brief message on his Facebook page. “My name is Joel from Liberia, West Africa. 

“I need some assistance from you. Business or financial assistance will help empower me.”

Ben was very suspicious, but he decided to respond to this man named Joel. He thought that he might come up with a good story about Internet scamming that he could share on YouTube.

Well, Joel in Africa responded to Ben’s reply and proposed a business partnership involving used electronics. Ben wouldn’t bite on that, but proposed a different partnership.

Ben pretended that he owned a photography business and said that he needed some photos of an African sunset. He never expected to hear from Joel, but two weeks later, an envelope arrived with two photos of sunsets.

Ben thanked Joel for the photos, but said that he needed a better camera to get better photos. So he sent Joel a $60 camera.

Ben’s wife and children thought he was crazy to be doing this. But steadily, Joel sent photos and over time, he got pretty good with the camera.

One day, Ben’s skepticism melted when Joel sent him photos that captured the poverty near Monrovia. Now Ben felt that he had to figure out a way to compensate Joel – or he was going to feel like he was the scammer.

So Ben put together a booklet of Joel’s pictures. And amazingly, sales exploded through YouTube. 

Ben then told Joel that he would send him $1000 of the proceeds. Joel could use $500 of that for his family, but the other $500 he had to donate to charity in Liberia.

Soon a new batch of photos arrived: poor students at four schools in Liberia with new book bags and school supplies that Joel had bought with the $500. So, to make a long story short, Ben in Utah and Joel in Liberia have become business partners.

They split the profits on the photos 50-50. Ben has created a YouTube series about Joel and his life in West Africa, and Joel is using his share to help his family and neighbors. 

Ben says: “If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that you shouldn’t judge people. When we actually take time to get to know each other, we might be pleasantly surprised.”

Sin Against the Holy Spirit

Well, I think this is a great story, but I do want to be clear about something.

I am not encouraging you to be rash with things like this on the Internet. I am very cautious and I encourage you to be too, because there is scamming and it could hurt us.

But with that said, I share this story because it helps to bring out an important point in today’s gospel. Some people refuse to recognize the good that Jesus is doing.

They get so ridiculous that they even say he is casting out Satan by the power of Satan. They say that the apparently good things that he does are really bad.

This is what Jesus calls the sin against the Holy Spirit and the unforgivable sin. Our Scripture specialists tell us that Jesus is exaggerating here to make a point.

In truth, this sin and all sins are forgivable. But Jesus wants us to know that refusing to recognize good and be open to the good in others is very serious.

Seeing Good

This can happen when we get trapped in cynicism and skepticism. 

Our cynicism and skepticism may lead us to see only darkness in today’s world. It can lead us to completely give up on a family member who is caught in some kind of addiction.

And it can lead us simply to fear persons whom we don’t know or entire peoples who are different from us. So, sinning against the Holy Spirit is refusing to see and be open to the potential goodness in others. 

This sinning condemns others to isolation and hopelessness. And, in truth, it also condemns us to isolation and fear.

So, Jesus’ very serious lesson is: Don’t sin against the Holy Spirit. Be open to seeing goodness and God’s presence in the other person.  

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Cycle B - June 3, 2018

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Cycle B
June 2, 2018  4:00pm Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 
June 3, 2018  8:45 and 11:00am Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore       

Our Words 

Today I want to reflect with you about the words that we use.

Our words are very important. They have an effect on us and to some extent, they form who we become as persons.

Our words also have an effect on others. They may lead others to feel good or to feel lousy about themselves, or to become angry or compassionate.

And because of this, our words have an effect on our relationship with God. So, my concern is that we need to be intentional about our use of words.

As the saying goes, we need to think before we speak. For the past three or four months, I have been thinking about some basic rules for our use of words.

I’ve got six, quick, positive rules for the kinds of words we are to say, and, corresponding negatives for the kinds of words we are to avoid. So, here goes!

Six Rules on Words 

Number 1. Use words that are respecting and not belittling.

Respect others as persons and if possible, affirm their good qualities. Don’t belittle others and make them appear as no good.

Number 2. Use words that are unitive and not divisive.

Emphasize the things that you share in common with others and that unite you. Don’t divide yourself from others as if there is no common ground between you. 

Number 3. Use words that are reconciling and not distancing. 

Ask for forgiveness or be forgiving, or at least speak in a way that leaves the door open to reconciling. Don’t distance yourself from others especially by holding yourself as absolutely right and them as absolutely wrong.

Number 4. Use words that are protecting and not bullying.

Be protective of others who are vulnerable. Don’t bully them by taking advantage of their weakness or inferior position.
Number 5. Use words that are persuasive and not coercive.

Treat others as reasonable persons and try to respectfully persuade them about whatever the issue is. Don’t try to coerce others into seeing or doing things your way.

Number 6. Use words that are truthful and not untruthful.

Say things that you know or believe to be true even if they are not in your best interest. Don’t say things that are untrue, maybe to make yourself look better.

The Body of Christ

Okay! I see these as six basic, but important rules on our use of words.

I think they are a timely and needed refresher for us at this time. And I am moved to talk about this by today’s celebration in honor of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus gives us bread and wine, his body and blood as our spiritual food. Jesus also intends that his sacramental body would make us into his living body on this earth. 

The result is that we need to live like the living body of Christ that we are. And one very important way of doing this is in our use of words. 

And so, when we use words that are respecting, unitive reconciling, protecting, persuasive, and truthful – when we use words like these, we are being Eucharistic people. We are building up the living body of Christ on this earth.

But when we use words that are belittling, divisive, distancing, bullying, coercive, and untruthful – when we use words like these, we are not being Eucharistic people. We are tearing down the living body of Christ on this earth – and we saw an unfortunate public example of this with the entire Roseanne Barr incident just this past week!


So, our use of words is very important. 

The words we speak to your husband or wife, to your parents or children, to our classmates or co-workers, to our neighbors or friends – these are important and they have effects.

The words may be about those with whom we are speaking. Or they may be about other persons or groups – maybe persons of other nationalities, races, religions, or cultures.

Let’s you and I be an example of how to speak and what words to use and not to use. Then we and our words will have a positive effect on our community and our American society.