Sunday, February 24, 2019

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - February 24, 2019

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
February 24, 2019

What Is Hardest?

This morning, for just a minute, please try to think about this one question.

What is the hardest thing God has ever asked you to do? Or, to put it another way, what is the hardest thing that your faith in Jesus has ever called you to accept or confront? 

Maybe letting go of your spouse in death. Maybe watching your son or daughter struggle with a sickness and you feeling completely helpless.

Maybe caring for an elderly parent.  Or, maybe taking Jesus seriously when he says today: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you.”


Is Forgiving the Hardest? 

I wonder if sometimes, forgiving is the hardest thing we are called to do.  

Taking these words of Jesus seriously can be very difficult at times.  Maybe your husband or wife or close friend has really let you down and hurt you.

Maybe people died without ever working through a misunderstanding over money.  Or maybe terrorists have attacked us.  

In situations like these, no question about it, forgiveness can be hard and it takes strength.  It takes real, inner strength to forgive someone who has hurt us or to let go of a long-harbored resentment.

In situations like these, we may want to say: “This forgiveness thing does not apply here.” Or, “I have a right not to forgive.”  Or, “We need to protect ourselves, don’t we?”

And no question about it, we do need to protect ourselves from a hurtful person or from criminals or from terrorists.  We need to do this as individuals or as a community or as a nation.

But forgiveness is still important.  Not inflicting and not wanting pain for others as a way to get back at them, and being open to growth and reconciliation – as hard as it can be, this is important, and I see three reasons why it is important.

Why Forgiving Is So Important 

First, anger and bitterness and vengeance can kill us.   It is like a cancer growing inside us.

It consumes and destroys and twists the human spirit beyond recognition.  Regardless of what it does to the other person or even the other nation, it chews up our stomach and our spirit and can end up destroying us.

Second, the greatest motive for forgiveness and for letting go of retaliation and vengeance comes from beyond this world.  Jesus says today: “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.”

When we are forgiving, we are God-like, acting like God, being like the One in whose image we are created.  When we are forgiving, we are living out of the spirit or divine life that is within us.

And the third reason why forgiveness is so important is that it connects us with our eternity.  Jesus says: “Forgive and you will be forgiven.

“For the measure you measure with, will in return be measured back to you.”  Apparently, our acts of forgiving foreshadow or even shape our eternity.


So, my bet is that forgiveness, at least sometimes, can be life’s most difficult challenge.

It may help us to remember that in its root, forgiveness is a choice and not a feeling.  It is an act of our will – not to return hurt for hurt and to be open to reconciliation with an individual or even with an enemy.

It is a decision to respond to these people with a light that dispels the darkness of bitterness and vengeance.  It is a decision to set them and us free for better possibilities.  

This forgiveness is divine wisdom and divine life.  It will release the Holy Spirit of God and steer us to peace and even eternal peace.

Monday, February 18, 2019

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - February 17, 2019

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Cycle C

February 17, 2019


Beatitudes: A Challenge for Us

Today’s gospel reading has led me to reflect a bit first about myself.

To begin with, I, as a person, like to have enough money and some financial security, and yet Jesus says, “Woe to you who are rich.  I enjoy a good meal and going out to dinner at times, and yet Jesus says, “Woe to you who are full.”

I like having a good time with my friends, and yet Jesus says, “Woe to you who laugh now.” And I value being accepted and respected by others, and yet Jesus says, “Woe to you who are well thought of.”

Today’s gospel also led me to think a little bit about our society or culture.  I think it is fair to say that ours is a consumer-based system that markets things so as to get us to feel that we want or even need new cars, designer clothes, the latest Smartphone, and on it goes.

The emphasis is on owning more and more things.  So, I have wondered about all of this in relation to Jesus’ statements today.

What Do the Beatitudes Mean?

These statements are known as the Beatitudes.

The question is: what do they really mean?  How are we to understand them?

Certainly, when Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the weeping and the disliked,”I do not think he really wants us to be that way.  He doesn’t want us to be unhappy or in pain.

And when Jesus says, “Woe to you who are rich, full, laughing and well thought of,”I don’t think he is saying that these things are wrong.  So, what is he saying?

The more I think about these statements, the more I see some important moral values underneath them.  I see three values here and these serve as standards for gauging how closely we are following Jesus.

Three Moral Values

The first moral value is: do we place our trust in God?

Are we looking for happiness through our relationship with God, through prayer and spirituality?  Do we live with an awareness that more money or more possessions or more comforts may bring us some pleasure, but will not really satisfy us or make us happy?

On a bigger level, does our social and economic system try to get us to trust things as the source of happiness?  And with respect to this, are we in control of the system, or is the system controlling us?

The second moral value: do we use the resources of this earth wisely?

Are we careful not to waste water or energy or food?  When we are thinking of buying something, do we at least think about whether it is a need or simply a want?

On a bigger level, is our society respectful of the world’s limited resources?  Do we have adequate laws to protect our rivers and oceans and air?

And the third moral value: do we share what we have with those who do not have?

Do we give at least something to charity to help those who are in need?  Are we sensitive to the plight of the homeless and the unemployed?

On a bigger level, is our society serious about providing a good education for all children? Are we at least interested in finding a workable way to provide health care for all citizens, as our Catholic social teaching calls for?  


So, I find these sayings of Jesus today quite challenging and I see three moral values or standards underneath them.  

1) Do we place our trust in God above anything else?  2) Do we use the resources of the earth wisely?  And 3) Do we share adequately?

Our answers will tell us how closely we are following Jesus.    

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - February 10, 2019

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Cycle C
February 10, 2019

Being Aware of Who We Are

Usually, in our Catholic Lectionary, the first reading, the passage from the Old Testament and the Gospel are complementary.

They have a similar or identical theme.  Often the gospel passage is a kind of fulfillment of the message in the Old Testament reading.

The middle reading pretty much stands on it own. We hear over the years many passages usually from Saint Paul, and the idea is just to give us a sense of Paul’s thinking and teaching.

In this way, the middle reading usually has little to do with the other readings.  Well today, all three readings have virtually the same focus.

Isaiah in the first reading, Paul in the second, and Peter in the gospel, all have the same experience.  Let’s just look at Peter.

With the great catch of fish, Peter becomes aware of the presence of the divine in Jesus.  He responds by saying, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

In other words, “I am nothing, O Lord; I am nothing.”  So, Peter has this intense experience of God in Jesus and with this awareness, he becomes aware of himself and his own humanity.

This awareness – first of God, and then of self – this enables Peter to do great things.  It enables him to grow toward being the kind of person God calls us to be.

This awareness is also important for us – the awareness that I and we are all equally human and all in need of God.  Now there are three moments here in the celebration of Mass for us to be aware first of the presence of God, and then of our humanity and our need for God.

Moments for Awareness 

The first moment comes right at the beginning of Mass in what we call the penitential prayer.  The core of this is our becoming aware first of God, of God’s presence with us.  

Then, with this awareness, we can get in touch with ourselves. We realize that we are not God.

We become aware that we are human, a mix of light and darkness. With the openness that this awareness brings, we can then allow the Lord little by little to make us whole and permeate our lives more and more.

Then the second moment for being aware of who we are is with the readings.  We believe that these are inspired passages – that the human authors are inspired by the Holy Spirit and this is really the Word of God.

The readings consistently place before us the unconditional love of God. They consistently express the compassion, wisdom, and holiness of Jesus.

And again, with this awareness and comfort, we also become aware of some discomfort, some area where we need to live up better to our side of the relationship with God.  So again, this is an opportunity to be aware of God and of ourselves, our humanity.

And then the third moment for being aware of who we are is when we receive Communion.  We believe that Jesus is present and comes to us in the bread and wine.

Our receiving the Eucharist gives us an intimate relationship with God.  This is why we call it Holy Communion.

And so again, with this awareness of God’s presence, we are also aware of our raw need for relationship with the divine and for the strength that comes from this for everyday life.  We are aware that without this, we will be lost, without purpose, and probably sinful.


So, we have these moments for awareness right here at Mass – to be aware of God and aware of self.

And perhaps the important insight is this.  We are only really aware of our humanity when we are aware of God.

It is only in the presence of God, the all-holy One, that we can gain the fullest and most accurate sense of self. This is one reason why our participation in Mass is so very important week after week.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C - February 3, 2019

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
February 3, 2019
4pm at Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville         (did not preach here)
11am at Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore

The Big Gap 

This past week, I read an article that really got my attention.

The author points out that in the Creed that we recite here at Mass, we profess our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. At one point, we say this: “By the Holy Spirit [he] was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”

And then immediately: “For our sake he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified and died.” So, we jump from the birth to the death of Jesus.

There is no mention of anything in-between. The article that I was reading calls this the Big Gap.

There is no mention in our Creed of Jesus’ teaching on love, service, caring for the least among us, and on it goes. The author asks: Don’t we also have to profess our faith in what Jesus teaches us to do – in how we are to live? 

I think this is an excellent point. 

A Vision Statement

I wonder if we might call the Creed our vision statement.

It is the vision of who God is and what God has done for us. Many groups and organizations have a fairly brief vision statement about who they are.

But they also have a longer mission statement about what they are to do. So, for us, our mission statement is how Jesus calls us to live on this earth.

Our mission statement is the Scripture and especially the gospel. I believe we also need to profess our faith in this.


A Mission Statement  

Let’s take a look at our first reading today to get just one idea of our mission or what’s in our mission statement.

God speaks to the prophet Jeremiah. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you.”

They are beautiful, personal words. And they have some real messages for our mission.

For starters, we are to see not just Jeremiah, but each baby in the womb as already known by God, as special and sacred. This means that we are to respect and value the life of the unborn.

And beyond that, God says to Jeremiah that he has already dedicated him for something. From even before birth, God has a role or mission in mind for him – and for us.

This means that the life of each child and teen and young adult and middle-aged adult and senior adult and elderly adult is also special and sacred. God has dedicated each of us for something and we need to respect and value others with this in mind.

Lately, I have been thinking about the expression “Whole Life” – spelled W-H-O-L-E. I wonder if this term is better at expressing the mission God gives us – our mission statement. 

My thought is that the whole life of the whole of humanity is special and sacred. So, the way we speak to and encourage, the way we guide and provide for those in our personal lives is very important.

And then, our support for programs that encourage expectant mothers and couples to bring their child to full term is important. Our approach to affordable health care for everyone, to today’s immigrants, to those who are disabled, and to all minorities is important.

All of these things and others are part of a Whole Life ethic. Our mission is to treat all persons at all stages of life as special and sacred.


This is a very central and significant part of the mission statement that Jesus gives us.  

So, here is what I recommend. In just a minute, we will pray our Creed together.

I am recommending that today, we pause at the Big Gap. So, right after we profess our faith in Jesus’ birth, let’s stop for a moment. 

And there, let’s silently profess our faith in the Scripture as our mission statement and in the mission God has given each of us. Let’s make sure that we are also professing our faith in how God calls us to live on this earth.