Tuesday, May 21, 2019

5th Sunday of Easter, Cycle B - May 19, 2019

5th Sunday of Easter

Cycle C

May 19, 2019
St. Mary Parish, Pylesville 9:30 and 11:15am

The Heifer Project


Several years ago, my brother Charlie and sister-in-law Lynn sent me a different kind of Christmas gift.

The gift was a sheep. Now, they didn’t send a sheep to me by FedEx.

What they did was to donate a sheep to a very poor family in Uganda. They gave this in my name and as part of what is called is called the Heifer Project.

The Heifer Project is a not-for-profit organization that helps very poor families in Third World countries. The plan is to give a specific animal to a specific family.

The animal might be a sheep, a goat, a heifer, chickens, and on it goes. The family is taught how to care for the animal and then the animal becomes a source of income.  

For example, the family might sell the eggs from the chickens or the wool from the sheep. In some Third World countries, this money enables parents to send their children to school, since they do not have free public education.  

“By Your Love For One Another…”


Well, I remembered all of this when I was reflecting on today’s gospel.

Jesus says, “Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for one another. This is how people will know you as my disciples: by your love for one another.”  

The Heifer Project is a good example of living out Jesus’ words. My brother and sister-in-law gave a sheep in my name that one Christmas.

And their giving this also helped others who were very much in need. Now, as I look at Jesus’ life, I am seeing three ingredients that are part of our loving others as Jesus has loved us.

1. Looking Beyond Myself

First, we need to look beyond ourselves.

We are to look beyond what I need or what I want. And sometimes we are even to look beyond what is in my best interest to the needs and well-being of others.

When you think about it, this is exactly what Jesus does for us in the Eucharist. He is looking beyond himself to us and our needs.

When I see parents giving of themselves so unselfishly to care for their little baby or child – that, for me, is a great example of this. So, looking beyond ourselves to the needs of others is an essential ingredient in loving as Jesus has loved. 

2. Feeling Compassion

Then, we are to allow the needs of others to touch our hearts.

This means that we feel compassion for those who are hurting. We feel empathy for those who are burdened in some way. 

Jesus repeatedly feels compassion – for the hungry, the sick, the grieving, the rejected. So, we feel compassion for the friend who has lost his job and is facing a lot of uncertainty 

Or we feel empathy for persons in other parts of the world who are subjected to ethnic cleansing. So, allowing the needs of others to touch our hearts is an essential ingredient in loving as Jesus has loved.

3. Committing Something

Finally, we are to do something – to commit something of ourselves to assist others.

We see Jesus repeatedly doing this. In fact, he commits himself so fully to us that he even gives his life for us.

Maybe a father resolves to spend more time with his college-age son who may be going off the tracks a bit. Or maybe you decide to prepare and take a meal over to your neighbor who is grieving the loss of her husband.

Or maybe we donate some money to Catholic Relief Services to assist them in their work in Third World countries. So, committing something of ourselves to assist others is an essential ingredient in loving as Jesus has loved.

Conclusion

So,
1) Looking beyond ourselves to the needs of others, 
2) allowing their needs to touch our hearts, and 
3) committing something of ourselves to help – 
this is loving as Jesus has loved.  
And as Jesus says, “This is how people will know you are my disciples: by your love for one another.”

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

2nd Sunday of Easter, Cycle B - April 28, 2019

2nd Sunday of Easter

Cycle C

April 28, 2019
4pm at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville
11am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore

 

A Couple’s Struggle 


This past week, I received an email from a young man named Sean.

Sean and his wife Sharon are in their late twenties. I have known Sean since he was a little boy and I even gave him his First Communion. 

Sean emailed me saying that they are considering having their five-month-old baby baptized and would like me to do it. However, they are not sure about this because of where they are with their faith. 

Sean wrote this: “Dear Father Mike, I wanted to reach out to you. In full transparency, my wife and I identify as agnostics and are trying to discover our beliefs and path. 

“We plan on raising our daughter understanding Christianity while also being exposed to many other faith traditions. We would like to have her baptized out of respect for our family’s belief and because of our own Catholic upbringing.

“Understanding our current situation, would you be comfortable in baptizing our daughter? We are open to discussing this in further detail.” 

Thomas’ Struggle

Well, Sean and Sharon and I have begun talking and we will discern what is appropriate to do.

I share this email because today’s gospel is also about a struggle with faith. It’s interesting that in our Catholic liturgy, there is a three-year cycle of readings. 

So, over three years, we hear a wide variety of passages and seldom is a gospel repeated. But, on this Sunday after Easter, the gospel reading is the same every year – the same for all three cycles of readings. 

Why? Why is this story about Thomas struggling with his faith always read on this Sunday?

I think it is because the Church knows that faith in the risen Christ and in our own resurrection is challenging. It hits us directly with the question: do you believe?

Two Recommendations 

I want to make two recommendations that might help us or someone we know who is struggling with faith.

First, focus on the gospels. The gospels, taken as a whole, give us a healthy, full, and accurate image of God.  

Don’t focus so much on the Old Testament which sometimes portrays God as simply a judge who is punishing and even vindictive. Some of that seeps into the New Testament.

But the thrust of the New Testament is very different. We see Jesus healing and not hurting, guiding and not coercing, lifting up and not putting down, accepting and not rejecting. 

This is the image of God that Jesus gives us. So, focus on the gospels as the heart of faith. 

My second recommendation is to work at developing a relationship with Jesus. In each passage of the gospel, imagine that Jesus is speaking to you.

Ask: what is Jesus, God, saying to me in this passage? What is he saying about me or my life?

In turn, speak to Jesus in your own words. Tell him what you are thinking, how you are feeling, and where you are struggling.

This approach allows God to be a person and not just an abstraction or a list of truths. It allows faith to be a relationship and that may end up satisfying much of our struggling.

Conclusion

The last thing I want to say is to see our faith as a decision to trust – to trust in the person of God.

Father Richard Rohr expresses this in a way that I find very helpful. Father Rohr is a Franciscan priest, a theologian, and an author of many books and articles.

He says this: “I believe that faith may be the ability to trust the Big River of God’s providential love, which is the visible embodiment (the Son), the flow (the Holy Spirit), and the source itself (the Father).” So, he sees faith primarily as trust and he likens God to a big river of love.

“I believe that faith may be the ability to trust the Big River of God’s providential love, which is the visible embodiment (the Son), the flow (the Holy Spirit), and the source itself (the Father).”Maybe that approach will help us and others when we are struggling with faith.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Holy Thursday, Cycle B - April 18, 2019

Holy Thursday 
Cycle B
April 18, 2019

Sisters of Saint Joseph

Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania 


“Took, Blessed, Broke, and Gave” 


In a few minutes, I will stand here at the altar and lead us in the Eucharistic Prayer.

I will repeat some words that we have heard many times. The prayer says that Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples.”

This evening, I am focusing on those four action words. Jesus tookblessedbroke, and gave.”

What I am thinking is that Jesus has also taken and blessedbroken and given usHere is what I have in mind.

We Are Taken and Blessed 

First, we are taken and blessed.

I remember when I was growing up, we would often organize our own baseball games on a field in the neighborhood. Each time we did this, two of us would be the “managers” of the two teams and they would take turns choosing players from among the guys who were there.

Well, it was a big deal to be taken or chosen first. It meant that you were a good player and it was a real ego-booster.

Thank God, in the end, everyone was taken. No one was left out.

Well, the first thing we have to realize in the spiritual life is that God has taken and blessed each one of us.  God has spoken over us the same words that God speaks over Jesus at his baptism: “You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter.”

In this, God has touched the very core of our being. In and through Jesus, God has made us valued and worthy, wanted and loved.

This is so important as our foundation for living. In our world, value and worth is often contingent on having sparkling white teeth or having a good job or even on having a good assignment in the priesthood or religious life. 

But in truth, Jesus assures us that God has already taken and blessed each one of us, as in my childhood pick-up baseball games. What a wonderful sense of self and what a strong foundation for living this is for us. 

We Are Broken and Given 

And then, Jesus has broken and given us.

Here we have to understand the word broken a little bit differently. Jesus has not really broken us but wants us to realize that we are already broken.

Each one of us is broken in at least some way because we are human. We are incomplete in our own humanity and we are restless for the wholeness that only God can give.

We may be broken because of something that has happened to us or because of an addiction or because of a lost relationship. Or maybe because we feel guilty about something we have done.

So, Jesus wants us to be aware of our brokenness. And then, with that awareness, we can be given.

We can be given or give of ourselves with compassion and wisdom. We can do this with loved ones, family and friends.

We can do this with those in our local community or with co-workers at our jobs. And we can do this for those who are living in desperate situations and whom we may never personally know, maybe in Philadelphia or in Central America or in South Sudan or wherever.

In other words, we will be given authentically because we know that we ourselves are also broken. That is the richness of these words.  

Conclusion

So, at the Last Supper, Jesus “took, blessed, broke, and gave”the bread to us. 

He gives us this Eucharistic bread to strengthen us so that we, in turn, can be a bread for one another. This will happen as we realize that we, like the bread, also are taken and blessedbroken and given.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion, Cycle C - April 14, 2019

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion 
Cycle C
April 14, 2019
4pm at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville
11am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore          

Injustice


I imagine most of us can think of a time when we were treated unfairly.

I remember way back, when I was in the sixth grade, some tattle-tale accused a whole group of us boys of saying “bad” words on the playground.  I wasn’t an angel, but I didn’t say those “bad” words; I still got punished.

More serious than that, the employees of some of our big businesses have been unfairly treated. Some businesses have closed or gone into bankruptcy and the employees lost their pensions that they had worked hard to earn.  

Maybe we have felt unfairly treated by a friend who has turned against us for some reason. I am sure we could cite other examples of personal and societal injustice. 

Jesus himself experienced great injustice.  And this is the background for Saint Luke’s account of Jesus’ Passion. 

Jesus’ Innocence

Luke’s Gospel carefully emphasizes Jesus’ innocence.

Only in his telling of Jesus’ Passion – not in Matthew, Mark or John – only in Luke does Pilate three times declare Jesus innocent.  Only in Luke does Herod also pronounce Jesus innocent.

Only Luke carefully recalls the words of the one man being crucified with Jesus: “We have been condemned justly, but this man has done nothing wrong.”  Only Luke recalls the Roman centurion saying right after Jesus dies: “This man was innocent beyond doubt.”

So, Luke very intentionally reminds us of Jesus’ innocence. He is showing us how unfair, how unjust all of this is.
  
Jesus’ Care, Healing, and Forgiveness

And yet, Jesus responds positively.

Luke tells us that at the Last Supper, Jesus prays for Peter – even though he knows that Peter will deny him, he prays that Peter’s faith will in the long run not fail.  Only Luke’s gospel tells us that in the garden, Jesus heals the ear of the high priest’s servant.

Only Luke shows Jesus’ compassion for the women who are weeping, advising them not to be concerned for him, but for themselves and their children.  Only Luke recalls Jesus, on the cross, asking the Father to “forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

And only Luke shows Jesus assuring the one man being crucified with him: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  So, Luke very carefully shows that nothing – injustice, suffering, and even impending death – nothing gets in the way of Jesus’ caring, healing, and forgiving.

Communion with God

Luke, of course, wants us to realize that we are called to be the same way and he shows us how this is possible.  

Jesus remains in communion with the Father.  And he maintains this from start to finish.  

Luke’s depicts Jesus’ prayerfulness on the Mount of Olives. And this communion with the Father continues to the very end when Jesus prays, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Luke is making the point that this inner, steady communion with the Father – this is what strengthens Jesus.  This is what empowers him to deal with such injustice and suffering.

This is what energizes him to remain caring, forgiving, and peaceful.  Luke calls us to the same inner communion with God, the same prayerfulness.

This will help us to deal with injustice and suffering in our lives.  It will help us to remain at peace rather than become violent, to heal rather than to hurt, to forgive rather than to take vengeance.  

Monday, April 8, 2019

5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C - April 7, 2019

5th Sunday of Lent
 Cycle C
April 7, 2019       

Put It Back Together

There is a story about a surgeon and his wife who were having dinner at the home of some friends.

The surgeon was enjoying a drink in the kitchen while his host was getting ready to carve the roast beef.  The friend asked, “Would you like to do the honors, Doc?”

The surgeon politely declined.  The friend began carving the roast, and then teased, “So how’s my technique, Doc?

“I think I’d make a pretty good surgeon.  See, it’s all in the wrist.

“You know, I might take your job.”  The doctor was used to this kind of humor and just laughed. 

Soon the host finished his work and held up a tray of beautifully carved roast beef.  “So, what d’ya think, Doc?”  

The surgeon replied, “Not bad.  But now – let’s see you put it all back together.”

Jesus Puts It Back Together

Jesus does not put a roast beef back together, but he does teach the way to put us back together.

In today’s gospel, some men bring a woman to Jesus.  They accuse her of a great sin and ask Jesus if it’s okay to stone her to death.

I find Jesus’ response very instructive in two ways.

1.  Jesus Sees Sin 

First, Jesus says to the men who want to stone the woman, “Let the one without sin throw the first stone.”  

The effect of his simple, calm, one-sentence response is to get these men to look within themselves.  Jesus moves them – and us – to look at our own humanity and sinfulness.  

In doing this, he recognizes the reality of sin. The truth is that we all sin in some way.  

We can sin against ourselves by abusing alcohol or by not using well our God-given abilities.  We can sin against our relationship with God by not coming to Mass or by not making space for personal prayer.  

We can sin by being unfaithful to basic responsibilities of our vocation – as a woman and a man are accused of in this gospel story.  Or we can also sin by being self-righteous, hateful and unforgiving, as the group of men are in this story.  

Jesus, in his response here, sees the reality of sin and wants us to see that we all sin in some way.   

2. Jesus is Respectful 

The other lesson I see here is equally important, especially at this time. 

Jesus is respectful and not violent.  He does not resort to any kind of violence with these persons – verbal, emotional, spiritual, or physical.

Jesus recognizes that this woman has sinned, but he doesn’t call her a sinner.  He doesn’t label her or sum up her entire personhood with the one word – sinner.

Instead, he respects her as a person and allows her to keep her self-respect.  And he does the same thing with the group of men.

In doing this, Jesus shows how growth can best happen.  We are more inclined to grow personally and spiritually when our self-respect is left intact.

So here Jesus shows us how we are to treat one another.  And this is an important lesson for us today.

For the past twenty years or so, we here in America have been in the midst of cultural warfare.  And in our Church, some promote what they call spiritual warfare.

In these cultural and spiritual wars, people demonize and name-call and label others.  They see certain others as all bad and all darkness.  

There is little respect in these approaches and they leave others with little self-respect.  Jesus today shows a vastly different approach.  

His approach gives the opportunity for us to grow personally and for us to live and grow and sort things out together as a community.

Jesus Puts Them Back Together

So to go back to where I began, Jesus in effect does what that surgeon teases his friend to do.

He is not putting a roast beef back together, but he teaches the way for us to be put back together with and in him. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C - March 31, 2019

4th Sunday of Lent

Cycle C

March 31, 2019

Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville         4pm

Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore  11am   

 

Sandals


So, I’m guessing that many of have or have had a pair of sandals.

I’ve got a pair of Rockports and I like wearing them in the summertime. Back in Jesus’ day, sandals were the only footwear they had.

They either wore sandals or they went barefoot and this really symbolized something. If you wore sandals, it meant that you were a free person.

If you had no sandals and went barefoot, that signified that you were a slave. Now this point about sandals is helpful in understanding today’s gospel and the three persons in this story.

The Younger Son


First, there is the younger son.

This younger son is something like children who talk back to their parents.  Or like teenagers who are rebellious and sometimes do risky, maybe even reckless things. 

Or like adults who get self-absorbed, taken up in their own pleasures and priorities. My bet is that in some way or at some point in our lives, we have all been something like the younger son. 

Now, the significant thing in the story is that the younger son comes home barefoot.  He has no sandals – physically, but also spiritually. 

He plans to say to his father, “I am not worthy to be called your son, so just treat me as one of your slaves.”  That is his understanding of his relationship with his father – as a slave and not as a son.

He realizes that he has lost that close, father-son relationship. So, he is without sandals, barefoot, both physically and spiritually. 

 

The Older Son


Then, there is the older son.

This older son is something like us when we resent any good fortune that comes to others. There’s this expression: “Zero-Sum Game.”

This expression – “Zero-Sum Game” – it means that one’s person’s gain must mean the other person’s loss. Well, this older son seems to have fallen into this trap when it comes to the love of his father. 

He seems to think that the attention the father gives to the younger son must mean a lessening of the father’s love for him. So, this older son doesn’t address his father as “father” or “dad.” 

And he resentfully refers to his younger brother as “your son.” On top of that, he talks about his work on the family farm as service and obedience. 

So, this older son, physically, is wearing sandals, but spiritually, he is also barefoot, without sandals. He also sees himself as more of a slave than as a son who would be working happily for his father. 

 

The Father


Finally, there is the father.

The father must have been hurt when his younger son asked for his inheritance. He knew that this amounted to his son saying that his father was as good as dead to him. 

But still, the father respects this son and gives him freedom. Then, when this son returns, he runs out to greet him and what does he do? 

He puts a pair of sandals on his feet. He wants him to know that he’s not a slave, but a son – welcomed back fully into the family.

In the same way, the father takes the initiative to go out and talk with the older son. He doesn’t debate that son’s feelings or put him down.

He just says, “Okay, but come on in and please be part of us.”He is placing spiritual sandals back on this son’s feet and reminding him that he is a member of the family.

Conclusion


So, in this unforgettable story, Jesus wants us to know that God is like this father.

God has put sandals on our feet. God has made us members of his family, his sons and daughters.

We may wander into wasteful and sinful ways. Or we may develop resentful and exclusionary feelings toward others.

But, God is still here with us. God continues to place sandals on our feet.

And the result is that the choice is ours. We can choose to become more and more like the father in the story – more and more like God in whose image we are made.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

3rd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C - March 24, 2019

3rd Sunday of Lent
 Cycle C
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville   4pm and 8am Masses
March 24, 2019   

Does God Punish? 

There is a way of thinking that I have heard sometimes and that makes me very uncomfortable.

Over the years, I have heard some Christians groups condemning various people or kinds of people. They have labelled them as sinners and even evil.

And then they take it a step farther. When bad things happen to those people whom they see as great sinners, these Christian groups say that it is God punishing them.

So, maybe those people have fallen on hard times financially or maybe they have contracted a serious sickness. These Christian groups say that because those people are so bad, God is punishing.

According to these groups, the bad things that are happening to those people are God’s intentional punishment. And, in turn, the punishments are proof of how bad those people are.

God Does Not Punish

Well, in today’s gospel, Jesus debunks this way of thinking.

The people around Jesus bring up a recent event. Some folks up in Galilee were put to death by the Roman official Pilate.

They were thrown into a fire that they themselves were using for their religious sacrifices. Jesus realizes that the people around him are thinking that those Galileans who were killed must have done something bad.

They must have been really bad sinners and it must have been God punishing them. And Jesus says: “No way!

“They weren’t any more sinful than any of you. You can’t say this and think that way.”

Jesus himself then raises another example. A building had collapsed and some people were killed.

And again, Jesus insists that those people weren’t any more sinful that anyone else. This was not God punishing them for being bad or sinful persons.

Not Punished forSin

So, what I see here is Jesus teaching us something about our image of God.

The point is that God is not a punisher. Yes, sometimes bad things happen to us.

But bad things don’t just happen to bad people – we all know that. They happen to good people too.

They just happen. God is not a punisher.

If we look at the thrust of the gospels, Jesus’ dominant theme is that God loves us – unconditionally and forever. And a loving God does not, ever, turn his back on us and punish us.

God is not playing a reward/punishment game with us. God just loves us and keeps loving us when we foul up and keeps trying to draw us into his way of love.

It’s something like me standing here in the sanctuary facing the tabernacle. I am facing Jesus in the Eucharist.

I can turn around and turn my back on Jesus and the tabernacle. But Jesus is still there, still looking at me and present to me and loving me. 

Punished bySin 

One of our good Catholic theologians puts it this way.

We are not punished forour sins; we are punished byour sins. We are not punished forour sins; we are punished byour sins.

This is really a key point and may be a shift in our understanding. So, yes, you and I can sin, but it is really our sins that punish us.

For example, if I keep on holding a grudge against someone, the bitterness and vengeance in my heart really eats away at me and distorts and disfigures me as a person. That behavior hurts or punishes me.

Or if I overeat or overdrink, the result is that I may get coronary problems or liver disease or lots of other possible troubles. That behavior hurts or punishes me. 

The point is that we are not punished forour sins by an all-loving God. Instead, we are punished byour sins – to the sadness and disappointment of our loving God.

Repentance 

At the end of today’s passage, Jesus gives the image of the fig tree.

Scripture scholars tell us that Jesus is not saying that he is going to cut us down as someone might cut down a tree that bears no fruit. Instead, Jesus is trying to shake us up a bit. 

It’s as if he’s grabbing us by the shoulders and saying: “Wake up! Turn back to the Father, to God!

“Identify the sin in your lives and repent of it. Because if you don’t, that sin is going to punish you right now and might end up punishing you for all eternity.

“Just turn around and look at your loving God! And live out of that love and you’ll be fine.”