Monthly Archives: July 2016

18th Sunday C: You Can’t Take It With You

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file:

For the last four Sundays our gospels have been from St. Luke’s journey narrative. From chapter 9 to Chapter 18 Luke’s gospel describes the journey Jesus takes from Galilee to Jerusalem where he will suffer and die and rise again. This is not an ordinary journey. He gathers disciples on his way. He’s not making this journey alone. On his way to Jerusalem Jesus calls people to follow him and he teaches them how to follow him, so that they may be taken up into the mystery of his death and resurrection.

We learn as we listen how Jesus called people then and what following him means. We learn how he calls people now.

For one thing, we see that some of those Jesus met then didn’t seem eager to follow him at all. For example, two weeks ago our Sunday gospel was about the teacher of the law who asks Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him to love God and love his neighbor. But Luke says the teacher of the law, “wishing to justify himself” says “Who is my neighbor?” You get the impression that this fellow is a self-assured teacher who knows everything. He’s one of the scribes, the Jewish teachers whom the gospels say were hostile to Jesus. He’s there not to learn or to follow but maybe to compete, to show off what he knows or to discredit Jesus as a teacher.

Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, which seems to silence the teacher of the law. You wonder if the meeting challenged him and eventually changed him. We don’t know. What we do know is that Jesus met people on the journey to Jerusalem who didn’t respond immediately to his call, like the teacher of the law.

Matthew’s gospel has a similar story, about a rich young man who approaches Jesus on the journey and asks him “ What must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus tells him to love God and his neighbor and adds the challenge to “Go sell what you have and give to the poor and come follow me. But the young man “went away sad, for he had many possessions. ( Matthew 19, 16 ff.)

Again, we wonder if the young man ever reconsidered later? We like to think so. But the story doesn’t say. It only says that he resisted the call of Jesus. In the case of the rich young man, it looks like his life style got in the way.

Today’s gospel is about another person who doesn’t seem to answer Jesus’ invitation to follow him. “Someone in the crowd said to Jesus “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” You can see what’s mainly on his mind– money and maybe getting back at his brother. Not an unusual story, by the way. A lot of family fights are about money.

Jesus tells the man “I’m not here as your lawyer or financial mediator.” In fact, he cautions him about greed. “Life does not consist of possessions.” Then he tells the story of a rich farmer feverishly building barns for storing his wealth and thinking, “This will do it! I can rest, eat, drink and be merry for the rest of my life.”

“You fool,” God says. “You and your wealth can be gone in a night.”

It’s another story of Jesus’ call on his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem going unanswered.

As we listen to these stories, it’s evident that some then didn’t answer the call of Jesus to follow him and we see some of the reasons why. In the teacher of the law, it seems to be pride. He knows everything. In the rich young man, it was his life style, the good life. In the man in today’s gospel, it was money and greed and maybe anger with his family. The things make them deaf to the call that can bring them so much; they can’t hear.

It’s the same today. The journey of Jesus goes on in our time and in our lives. He calls us now and we may resist him, for many of the same reasons we’ve mentioned. We can be just as deaf as some were then.

But there’s something else we should remember as we read the gospel narrative of Luke about the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. The journey is a favorite theme in Luke’s gospel. It occurs over and over. A key to its meaning is found in the journey reported in the last chapters of Luke’s gospel when Jesus, risen from the dead, journeys from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two of his disciples. They don’t recognize him, but he keeps walking with them unrecognized, patiently continuing to challenge their unbelief and reluctance, waiting for the moment when their hearts burn and they recognize him. He stays with them, the gospel says. The journey is a journey of mercy and patience. He will not leave them.

That’s what we should remember as we hear these stories from the past and see them also in stories of the present. Certainly we should learn to avoid what we see in these stories. But what about the teacher of the law, the rich young man, the man fighting over money? Did they only get one chance and that was it, or did Jesus keep walking with them and challenging them.

Luke’s Gospel teaches that conversion is a lifelong gift. All through our lives Jesus calls, even though we resist him, even though we fail. At the end of St. Luke’s story of the passion, Jesus’ last words are to a thief who failed. He calls him again, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

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Friday Thoughts: A Room Full of Toys

An Old Man and his Grandson ca 1490 by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Domenico Ghirlandaio, “An Old Man and his Grandson”, ca. 1490

 


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Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.

—John 14:1


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awoken by the night

the good father makes his rounds

peeking into rooms to make sure all is where it should be

a silent prayer

a midnight blessing

a distant siren

a room full of toys

a smile

a memory

giving life to his own father’s watchfulness many years before

the needy cat cries

he better attend to her needs

before she awakes the rest of the house

but before returning to bed

he’ll lovingly recall

once more

a great promise

a great hope

a room full of toys

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In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?

—John 14:2


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—Howard Hain

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Praying with Mary and Ann

The Feast of Saints Ann and Joachim, the parents of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is celebrated on July 26.  Some churches prepare for the feast with novena services in honor of St. Ann all this week.

A few years ago I visited the ancient ruins of the temple in Jerusalem that stood in the time of Jesus.  Jewish women were fervently praying with their daughters before the temple’s western wall.The women were probably praying the psalms as generations before them have done.Thousands of years before, Ann and her daughter Mary must have prayed here too.

The picture above is a model of the temple from Jesus’ time at the Israel Museum. Tradition says Ann and Joachim were closely connected to the temple and may have lived nearby.  The Pool of Bethesda, where the paralyzed man was healed by Jesus, is to the right of the temple. A church honoring St. Ann stands there today. (below)

st.ann basilica

A statue of Ann and her daughter Mary can be found in the Jerusalem church. Statues like it are common in Catholic churches; Ann is teaching her daughter at her side.

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What is she teaching her? Some statues I’ve seen show her teaching Mary her ABCs; others show her teaching Mary the scriptures. She teaches her daughter how to pray and how to live.

How can we form our children in their faith today? How can we teach them how to live? Here’s  a way that’s worked for centuries. Parents and grandparents are indispensable teachers of faith and the lessons of life. The next generation is at their side. Ann and Joachim pray for us; show us the way.

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Feast of St. James, the Greater. July 25

James the greater
James and John were sons of Salome and Zebedee, the gospels say, and at the Sea of Galilee Jesus called them to follow him. They were fishermen, relatives of Jesus. The gospels mention James first; he must have been the oldest. They’re described as quick-tempered and ambitious but they were part of the innermost circle of Jesus’ companions. They heard him teach and saw him transfigured in glory and then shaking with fear in the garden of Gethsemane before his death.

Our first reading at Mass for the Feast of St. James reminds us that “we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians, 4,7) A good description of James and his brother John. They’re earthen vessels indeed, as our gospel describes them, using their mother Salome as their intermediary, looking for a big place in the kingdom they hope Jesus will bring. Earthen vessels break easily.

Jesus asks them if they can drink from the chalice that he will drink from, the chalice of serving others, no matter what the cost. “We can,” they say.

His brother John and his mother Salome stood near the cross of Jesus, but James fled immediately when Jesus was seized in the garden. Yet, God’s “surpassing power” filled him with treasures of faith, and James drank from the cup he was asked him to drink.

According to the Acts of the Apostles, James spoke bravely about Jesus risen from the dead to the people of Jerusalem and to the Jews visiting the Holy City from all parts of the world at Pentecost. He became a leader of the Jerusalem church.

In the year 41, Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, became king of Judea and ruled in Jerusalem. Educated in Rome, he knew how to favor the emperors of his time and he also knew how to please the powerful Jewish ruling class that had a key role in his kingdom.

When the Jewish Sanhedrin accused Christians of threatening the peace of Jerusalem, Herod sent his soldiers to seize James, the son of Salome and Zebedee, and had him executed by the sword. Strike the shepherd, Herod reasoned, and the sheep will scatter.

James was the first of the apostles to die a martyr’s death. “My cup indeed you will drink,” Jesus promised, and his promise came true.

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17th Sunday C: Are Prayers Answered?

Audio version of homily here:

Two wonderful readings in today’s Mass for the 17th Sunday of the Year. (Genesis 18,20-32,Luke 11, 1–13)

The Genesis story says that God came down to stand with Abraham before two notorious cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, that stood near the Dead Sea. Should these places be destroyed? God comes down and looks at these evil cities with Abraham at his side.

Not a pretty picture, the two cities where corruption and evil of every kind have taken hold. We might imagine seeing the same picture in some places we know today.

But Abraham speaks up for them, and how familiarly he speaks to God! “Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?”

How simply they talk together. “How about 45 people? How about 30, 20, 10,” Abraham asks? “I would save the city for 10,” God says at the end.

We’re told something about God here. God certainly doesn’t want the world destroyed, even if evil seems so bold and prevalent. God who made heaven and earth stands with us as we look regularly at our world, seeing what we see and even more. God wants to save what God has made.

We’re also told something about how we as human beings should face evil in our society as we listen to Abraham, our father in faith. He stays hopeful about the world he lived in, even at its worse. He wants to save it too. Shouldn’t we follow him?

Notice Luke’s version of the Our Father in the gospel for today. Unlike Matthew, Luke omits the phrase “who art in heaven.” Does the evangelist want us to know that God is not a distant God, far away and unavailable–in heaven? God is the Father standing at our side, looking on the same reality we do. A Father who gives us daily bread and nourishment, who opens the door we think is closed. A constant watchful parent, ever present, never far away.

These readings invite us to pray to God in a familiar way when we face evil in our world. That advice might not be a popular today. Recent surveys of religious belief say that many Americans believe in God, but does that mean they believe in a familiar God, like the God revealed in our two readings today? Or is God simply unknowable, maybe possible, uncertain, or someone for an emergency? Is God someone we can talk to as we face hard days, and does God answer our prayers?

In facing the violence and hard times of today, we often hear calls for prayer, but today you also hear some say: “Forget about prayer, let’s do something about it.”

If we hear our first reading for today, Abraham’s prayer was doing something about it. His prayer came from his concern and love for people and cities dsperately in need. And God was not unconcerned either, if we understand our reading right. God hears.

Prayer is not something we should forget about. It’s the most important step to take when we need to be delivered from evil.

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Friday Thoughts: Being qua Being


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Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.

—Matthew 6:28


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Does a flower make pronouncements? Does it define itself? Does it box itself in with titles, names, and distinctions?

And yet, “not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:29)

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A flower simply exists.

And its existence glorifies God.

There is no need for it to do more.

By its very existence it magnifies what cannot be further magnified: God’s Presence, God’s Glory, God’s Beauty…

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“I’m a flower.”

“I’m a rose.”

“Look at me!”

Statements such as these we shall never hear.

Flowers are divinely indifferent to the world’s definitions and distinctions, to its approval and applause.

After all, it’s a person who receives the medal at an orchid show, and not the flower herself. No, her finely-placed petals would only be weighed down by such metallic-based ribbons.

What a gift it is to simply exist.

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Flowers don’t cling to seasonal life.

When it’s time to go, they gracefully drop their heads and lose their pedals.

Never has there existed a man as poor as a flower.

Never has mankind so possessed the richness of fleeting, transitory, and momentary life.

It’s their genius to instinctively believe that death leads to new abundant life.

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Flowers graciously receive:

Ladybugs, drops of dew. Beams of light, the relief of shade.

Flowers give and receive as if not a single thing has ever been made by man.

They welcome sun as well as rain.

They never cry over fallen fruit or a stolen piece of pollen.

They quietly applaud instead, rejoicing that their little ones have the opportunity to travel abroad—perhaps even the chance to help nurture a neighbor.

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A flower, perhaps most of all, knows it place.

It never wishes to be bigger or thinner…greener or higher…it never dreams of being more like a tree.

A flower’s blessing is simplicity beyond you and me.

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Christ is a flower.

He is the one true perfect eternal flower, through whom all other flowers partake, toward whom all other flowers reach.

Christ is a flower. His ways are not our own. He simply exists. Bowing His head. Dropping pedals. Feeding hungry bees. Giving and receiving. His identity is crucified—leaving nothing behind but being “qua” being.


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If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

—Matthew 6:30


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—Howard Hain
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(Dedicated to Brother Jim, a man who knew how to simply exist.)

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Is God at the Convention?

Our political conventions are beginning. A time, especially this year, when we wonder about our future. No perfect candidates, no perfect plans, no perfect solution. Should we pay any attention at all?

I’m thinking of John Henry Newman, the illustrious 19th century English theologian who converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 1845. An Italian Passionist priest, Fr. Dominic Barbari, received him into the church.

Newman’s conversion came through his efforts to bring the Church of England, then struggling against the rationalism of the Enlightenment, back to its orthodox Christian roots. He sought the answer in studying  early Christianity and its development to the present day. The Oxford Movement begun by Newman and other university friends strongly affected the Anglican church and other Christian churches of his time.

Originally convinced that the Catholic Church was corrupt and unfaithful to the gospel, Newman came to accept it as the Church founded by Jesus Christ. An important reason for his acceptance was his study of the Donatists, a 4th century Christian group that split from the larger church over who should be members of the church. The Donatists believed that the church should be a church of saints, not sinners.

Newman came to understand that the Church develops over time, and its development takes place in the real world, which is the world of saints and sinners. The spirituality he arrived at was anchored in this reality. We live in a world of weeds and wheat. “Nothing would be done at all if one waited until one could do it so well that no one could find fault with it.” We don’t live in a perfect world or a perfect church.

The world we live in is blessed by God with a purpose and a mission. No, it’s not perfect nor will it ever be perfect.We may cringe at the circus our political world can create these next few weeks. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try to make politics live up to its ideals. In all the hoopla God is at work.

 

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