Homily – 26th Weekend in Ordinary Time

     My friends, being that I was away at retreat with my sister priests for the greater part of this week, I opted for using most of an earlier homily on today’s readings with a few updates.  Hopefully, there is still good for us all in this previous work.

   Once again with today’s readings, we are challenged to care for those who in our society and world, live with less because most of us live with more.  It isn’t news that we in the First World have managed to accumulate the lion’s share of the world’s goods and we are willing to fight to keep it, and whether we personally believe that or not, our country does and that is why we fight many of the wars that we do, to protect our interests around the world.  The years of COVID certainly lifted up for us the disparity between rich and poor and how those with less suffer far more and quicker than those who have enough of this world’s goods. 

   Lives are being lost today, as throughout history, on both sides of battles, over nations wanting more, rather than trying to find a way for all of us to have the basics which will ultimately mean some having less so that everyone can have some.

   Our United States is really good about giving humanitarian aid throughout the world when disasters strike, and so we should!  We can look at the unequal distribution of the world’s goods and say truthfully, that no one of us is responsible for this situation—but people of heart and character will always struggle over what to do to help, and so we should! 

  The Scriptures today don’t speak so much against having wealth when others do not, but against being complacent in our lifestyles.  Complacency seems to be the greater evil for which the prophet Amos has his dander up with the Israelite people today. Complacency is about being so wrapped up in our own world, our own lives, and our own projects that we cease to see the “Lazarus” people at our door, looking for the scraps. 

   I have found myself doing a great deal of reflecting of late as we recently celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary, and I am realizing anew that the way I feel about my family—all the memories of the good of those years and of how we stood by each other in the hard times as well, is how most other families feel about each other—we all want happiness and good for those that we love.

   Unfortunately, over the years, figures continue to show that the poor have become poorer and the rich—richer, a fact that we can’t be complacent about.  Complacency can drive us to see our own children and their needs and wants without realizing that we are likewise connected to all the children throughout the world, especially to those who have no food, and being Jesus’ followers should call us to, no less.  Every religious belief system calls its people to service of the less fortunate and the deeper message and challenge is always to understand why the imbalance exists, and then, to do what we can to right it. 

   I think we find ourselves troubled by the story of the rich person and Lazarus today—probably more so by the cruel-seeming outcome for the complacent rich person.  We speak often here in our gatherings of the great love and mercy of our God—a few weeks ago we had the story of the prodigal child—wasteful of this world’s goods and the prodigal, wasteful, almost, love of the parent in accepting the wayward one back.  So why today, do we see no leniency for the rich person? 

   It seems the difference is that this wealthy person never made the connections in his life, even though fiery prophets such as Amos and others, one after another, came and proclaimed, challenged that there be a better, more just way of life for all.  The rich person didn’t heed the message whereas the prodigal found the way home and did see the light.

   My friends, we all have free wills—no one from on high or from below will ultimately be able to force us to do anything—we will need to choose.  The responsibility is ours and so too the consequences.  I believe that Jesus wants us to get the message, in no uncertain terms, that many things, while not good, can and will be forgiven, but when we simply don’t care or can’t be bothered, or for whatever reason, don’t attempt to see the connection to the whole; we are on shaky ground.

   It has been suggested that the poor, destitute person, Lazarus, has a name in the story and that the rich person does not to uplift the plight of the poor man and to downplay the actions of the rich person. It has also been suggested that we try and see how we might be like the rich person; not that the situation is the same—of not feeding the hungry, but maybe there are other ways that we are capable of sharing in issues of inequality. Can we perhaps make a call; write a letter, saying “no” to a congressperson that we don’t agree with? Who are the people right in front of me, at my doorstep, so to speak, whose needs I am ignoring? 

   At the conclusion of my RCWP retreat, we celebrated the liturgy together—this same liturgy and the presider suggested that the person, right in front of us, might be ourselves who most need care today. A very valid point!

   And friends, that is truly what it is all about—taking the Scriptures and making them come alive today, applying them to our current life situations.

   The Spirit of God is continually renewing the face of the earth, calling each of us to be our best selves; and that isn’t about a narrow, strict following of man-made law and regulation, but about the law of love, prodigal loving even, that Jesus talked about.  We simply can’t be about living our lives with reference to “black and white” rules when the solutions to many of our world’s problems; climate change, gun violence, unending wars, hypocrisy in leadership in both Church and State throw us into “gray areas” where “heart action,” not “head action” alone, is needed.

   Being “black and white” as a response to the needs of this world, can often leave us feeling really disconnected from our best selves.  We can’t fully know what it is like to be on the receiving end of a law, such as those against the LGBTQ community, women and more, that are devoid of love, or to be discriminated against for the way we were born, if that hasn’t been our reality, unless we walk in someone else’s shoes for a while.  We can’t always do that, but we can try very hard to treat others as we would want to be treated.  In every situation where we encounter strife, animosity, or division; we must apply the law of love.  We can’t just talk about labels devoid of the human component. Once we give the label a human face; we can never again be complacent; we can never again say, “It’s not my business.”  We can no longer walk away. 

   If we choose to stay and confront the evil present; (remember, evil is easy to spot—it is that which is devoid of love) then we must be good listeners of people’s stories, as we spoke of last week. We must have ears that can truly hear and hearts that can feel their pain.  I think of the many in this world and their families who live with mental illness—certainly not something that they chose.

   It isn’t an easy thing to confront the powers-that-be if that is the route, we choose to make a difference, because we have all been taught to give them the respect of the office; but we must always remember that we answer to a higher power.  We all know right from wrong and must simply speak up when people are being misused and abused—no matter who is speaking the untruth.  It was what our brother Jesus did, and it is what we must do! 

   You all remember Swedish-born, Greta Thunberg who has given such a great example of speaking truth to power in the past concerning climate change and saving our planet for the next generation.  Her plea and demand even, that each of us steps up, was right -on, refusing to be complacent any longer. 

   The times in which we live friends, are crisis-laden, lacking in morality—selfish times, that we must, simply must address with love—continually ask our brother Jesus to stand by us as we endeavor to be “the light” this world needs.

   In conclusion, looking back at today’s gospel, the rich man was apparently “condemned” not for his selfishness, but for his complacency that effectively allowed him, “not to see” the suffering right in front of him! Let us not be guilty of the same! Amen? Amen!

Homily – 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, the Scriptures for this Sunday speak a great deal about “listening”—to ourselves and to others, in order that we might have a better understanding of who we are—what God may be calling us to, and what others in our world may be needing from us.  Because you see, for the Christian follower of our brother Jesus, it is very much about action on our parts—we can’t just “hear” the Word and do nothing—this is clearly not acceptable. 

   I belong to a Franciscan Life Group (FLG) as a Cojourner with the Rochester, Minnesota order of Franciscan Sisters, that this past week was finally able to meet in person after all the months of COVID where only Zoom gatherings were possible. 

   Our topic for reflection was the volume of ideas and concerns that have been raised over the past couple of years under the title, Synod on Synodality called for by Pope Francis. This synod or any synod is a time when the laity and the bishops, especially the bishops, are encouraged to truly “listen” to one another, so as to perhaps make concrete decisions for change to make our Church more inclusive, open, and vibrant.  As you might expect, our discussion of a half hour was only able to scratch the surface of the needs out there to make our Church more inclusive, open, and vibrant. 

   I told my life group that when I heard of this synod two years ago, I didn’t approach it with much enthusiasm as I still remember a like process done in the 1980’s—for a pastoral letter on women.  Thoughts and comments from women were sought from around the world. The letter went through four revisions with the first draft the most complete and telling about what women were asking for, and by the time the fourth and final draft appeared, the beautiful and complete statements of what women wanted and needed from their Church were completely gutted.  But when those who have the power within the Church represent only half of the people, (the men) this is to be expected. 

   When I did my pastoral project for my master’s degree from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Pastoral Ministries in 1999, I chose to study and write about clericalism and lack of voice for women within our Church under the title, Excluded by Birth, Diminished by Language: A Case for Inclusivity Within the Catholic church. I had the rare privilege of working with then, Bishop Raymond Lucker of the New Ulm diocese in Minnesota as he was implementing a system of lay pastoral administrators in his diocese to cover for the lack of male priests. 

   I had hoped to eventually have my research published and tried several avenues to have that done, and other than being able to place a hard-bound copy of it in the university library, that was the extent of sharing the word of how one bishop was “listening” to his people and doing what he could to allow the voices of lay women and men, as well as women religious to be heard. 

   A final note might be to add that we were in the long papacy of John Paul II who basically was not listening, so in many respects, other than the National Catholic Reporter, not many other publications were willing to “listen” either. 

   The prophet Amos is attempting today through the first reading to get the people of his time to “listen,” and his issue was the “poor” and he speaks rather forcefully relaying God’s displeasure of those who “trample on the needy” [for their own gain].

   It is important for us all to remember that people are “poor” in many ways.  In the discussion of “synodality” or any other synod issue, when all the voices are not heard, we are all a poorer people.  Our second reading today from Timothy speaks in a general way to this issue, where he says, “there should be prayers offered for everyone…[this] will please God…who wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth.”  When we listen, truly listen, to another and hear perhaps, a reality other than our own, we give the very best “prayer” to another. 

   The gospel from Luke today has a somewhat confusing message from our brother Jesus.  We may have found ourselves asking, is Jesus really praising the dishonest steward who is trying to save himself from ridicule and/or punishment?  Exegetes tell us “No” and that Jesus is really lifting up the “creativity” of the steward in finding a solution that ultimately helps others. 

   Within our FLG, I shared my frustration with Church leaders who justify their inaction or inability to truly hear the needs of their people with the adage: “the Church moves slowly!”  As one of our members said, “Well that is just an excuse!” 

   Going back once more to Luke’s gospel for today, our brother Jesus ends his teaching with, “You cannot worship God and money.”  Again, looking broadly at Jesus’ words, “money” can be seen as a catchall for whatever stands in the way of “worshipping God” through our actions in the world.  We can certainly look at “power” in that sense and our Church hierarchy’s strong grasp of it!

   Clericalism, that need for men to stand alone as the only conduit for the message of the Spirit is truly about “power” and their need to hold on to it.  Not much that is truly good can be accomplished through this synod or any other until this issue of clericalism is addressed. 

   So my friends, in Timothy’s words once again, [let each of us offer] “prayers for everyone,” that we might be good “listeners” of all the stories and strive to address all the needs expressed.  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, I would guess that you, like me, had to wonder a bit hearing the first reading from Exodus today.  Here we have a “God” depicted through the words of Moses who is definitely lacking in one of the key components that we all would look for in a loving God—the quality of “mercy.”  In fact, Moses seems more compassionate and understanding than does God, and he has to basically talk “his God” into acting more like God. 

   We question why God is depicted this way, and all that I can come up with is that the people of Moses’ time, as we have discussed before, saw their God more as a reflection of themselves, then of the loving entity that God was.  Often, in the Old Testament, it is the prophets, like Moses, who call out the best in the people when “God” apparently falls short. It would take Jesus coming among us, to show who God truly is!

   Few of you probably remember Pope John Paul I because he was only pope for a month, dying far too soon, and as one reads about him and his life, he had much that he could have offered our beleaguered Church.  Some have even thought and wrote about the fact that this otherwise, very healthy man may have had some help in dying before his time.  Regardless, this John Paul was said to have not liked the “God” of the Old Testament! My guess is that the Old Testament God, as depicted here by Moses, was a far cry from the God depicted by our brother Jesus. 

   The remainder of the readings for today uplift the quality of mercy—in Paul’s letter to Timothy, his young convert, and also in the gospel of Luke, where in the long version that we used today, we are gifted with three versions of our merciful God:  the Good Shepherd who will always search out the lost one, the woman who turned her house upside down looking for a lost coin—which by the way, is the same story as the Good Shepherd, only giving a feminine face to our loving God.

   The final face of God given us to consider in this lengthy reading from Luke is probably, in my mind, the most beautiful depiction Jesus gave us of who our God truly is—the story of the “Prodigal Son,” but more so, the “Prodigal Parent.”  The son shows us, “over-the-top” selfishness, and disregard for the mores of his family and community, and the parent shows, “over-the-top” love, and acceptance, regardless of mores, for the errant child, and thus, we, today, get a clear view of how God will look upon us as well. 

   In order for us to truly get a view of what Jesus is saying here about God in using the story of the Prodigal, it is important for us to look at how the people in Jesus’ time and culture would have heard and understood it.

   An inheritance was given to an offspring at the death of the parent.  In this story, the son asks for it early—the first custom broken which shows disrespect for the parent, which the parent dismisses and gives the inheritance anyway. 

   Now it would have been one thing had the son gone out and used the inheritance wisely, but as the story reveals, this was not the case.  When the son, who eventually becomes penniless and is basically starving, having squandered his father’s gift, comes to his senses and returns, expecting to no longer be treated as a “son,” but as a “servant,” he discovers instead, the over-the-top love of his father. 

   It is good to look further into the cultural mores of this time, to get a better—more complete view of the parent’s action.  The story tells us that the father “runs” to meet his son.  This is important because the custom would have been for the “errant one” to be met at the city gates by a representative of the community, who would have broken a clay pot at the person’s feet, signifying that the relationship with the community had been broken, and going forward, “the sin” would always be remembered.

   The Prodigal Dad, wanting to spare the child that humiliation, runs ahead, meets him, and lovingly takes him home.  In our time, we would say, this dad “had his son’s back!” 

   And this notion of God, “as merciful” is fine nuanced in Paul’s letter to Timothy where Paul relates the sins of his former life and proclaims the “mercy” he was shown by the God of Jesus, [when he] “did not know what he was doing in his unbelief.”

   So my friends, because “mercy” is so dominant the theme today, I used some literary license in changing the psalm response to the prayer of the 23rd psalm, “Shepherd Me O’ God and used it likewise for the Prayers of the Faithful.  Where psalm 51 indicates the first action needed, “I will rise up and return to my God,” the 2nd response is the on-going prayer of one who wants God to always show them the way.

   In conclusion then, the heartfelt words of Paul to Timothy, “that he did not know what he was doing in his unbelief,” seem perhaps, a response to much that is wrong in our Church and world today.  We must all pray that the God who loves us so much will show us—shepherd us, into the best ways of being for ourselves and for others.  Amen?

Amen!

Homily – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Friends, I feel called to begin this homily with a couple of lines from Psalm 90 in today’s Scriptures which address the passage of time through the virtue of wisdom.  “In every age, O’ God, you have been our refuge…make us realize the shortness of life that we may gain wisdom of heart.”  I find myself thinking this way because in the next two months, September and October, our family remembers the passage of time in three birthdays and three wedding anniversaries.  “In every age, O’ God, you have been our refuge.” 

   With the passage of time, as made obvious by the increasing years in both birthdays and anniversaries, reflection upon what the years have been is appropriate and necessary to keep moving ahead.  This past week, the president of our United States of America felt compelled to speak to our nation, challenging each of us, regardless of political party, to strive toward being our best as people in order that we can protect our democracy, a dream that we haven’t yet realized, but one that is currently being threatened by violent extremists intent on their own selfish agenda of having what they want, when they want, regardless of whom is hurt in the process.  He basically told the nation, our nation, that violence is never, ever the way to anything worth having. 

   In the New Testament letter to Philemon, Paul, writing from prison, appeals to his convert in the faith, Philemon, a slaveholder, to give up his old ways.  “I …appeal [to you] in the name of love.”  In other words, just like President Biden stating that violence against the rule of law and its’ defenders has no place in a democracy, Paul in writing to Philemon, clearly says that Christianity and “slaveholding” are incompatible. 

   The first reading from the book of Wisdom today perhaps sheds some more light on the difficulty we humans have at times, doing the right thing, what is, as our president said in his speech, “the work of our better angels.”  The Wisdom writer gives us the following: “For a perishable body presses down the soul and a clay house weighs down the restless mind.” 

   Each of us friends, comes into our human experience hard-wired to love and live out, to the best of our abilities what we have been gifted with by our God.  And into this mix comes that “perishable body,” described as a “clay house” that through our free wills, egos, and self-preservation get in the way “of the good we would do,” as Paul speaks of it, in another place. 

   Continuing in the Wisdom reading for today, the Spirit, that walked with our brother Jesus all the days of his earthly life, has this to say: “The paths on earth have been straightened…”  In other words, as our brother said before leaving this earth, “I will be with you all days.” 

   So friends, it would seem that we, each one of us have all that we need to become our best selves—and not just for ourselves, but for others.  Our gospel today from Luke gives us a hint about what this might look like.  These words from our brother Jesus through the pen of Luke, at first glance, seem rather tough and hard to shallow, and we wonder, can Jesus really be saying that in order to follow him, we must turn our backs on our families—to abandon them? 

   As with all of Jesus’ teachings, we have to remember to not take his meaning literally.  Also, we have to keep in mind that Jesus was operating under a bit of a time crunch, so to speak—he knew his days of life here were short.  We, like our president in this past week’s speech, must realize the urgency of getting the message across. 

   When it comes to being Jesus’ followers, and today, for us, in “forming a more perfect union,” reflecting President Biden’s plea to us in 2022, that does reflect striving toward, “justice for all,” the time to do these grand deeds, both for Jesus and for our president, seems short!

   We know from everything else that Jesus said and did in his earthly life, that he would not advocate for leaving our parents behind and in need.  His point, I believe, is to stress that we get ourselves clear, once we have decided to follow him, there is no turning back—we must strive to do justice wherever and whenever possible, for all or most of the people—we must always do the most loving thing. 

   Practically speaking, we will most likely take care of our families while we are accomplishing the works of peace, justice, mercy, and love.  Amen? Amen!

Homily – 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

   My friends, this week’s Scriptures call each of us to a concerted reflection of ourselves and to a renewed vision of who God is for us.  In the 14 years of my priesthood and as your pastor, it seems to me that I have constantly called us, through the Scriptures, “to know ourselves” and, “to walk with our God” who really wants nothing more than that we would enjoy our human experience here, by becoming our best selves, for ourselves, and for others.

   Let’s look first at what today’s Scriptures have to say about who God is.  The writer to the Hebrews seems to be, “setting the record straight” where God is concerned.  The people, in this writer’s mind have the story on God, all wrong as he/she denies that God is “untouchable” or a being of “gloomy darkness.” Further, the writer states that, our God does not speak words that we would rather not hear.

   No, the writer to the Hebrews says, “our God is one of celebration,” a God who has come in the person of Jesus, who, “mediates a new covenant” with us.  So where did the Hebrew people get a view of God as “untouchable” or consisting of “gloomy darkness?” 

   Before I attempt to answer this question, a look at the Wisdom literature of Sirach, which serves as our 1st reading today, is perhaps helpful.  The Sirach writer tells us to, “be gentle in caring out [our] business” and that, “the greater you are, the more you should behave humbly.”  Now if you were looking for a pattern on which to frame your life, you could certainly do worse. 

   This Old Testament wisdom is paired well today with the wisdom of our brother, Jesus.  Through a parable depicting guests at a wedding feast choosing the best seats for themselves, only to later be asked to give up the coveted seat to someone of more importance, Jesus wisely says, “For they who exalt themselves will be humbled” and the opposite is true as well. 

   So friends, it would seem that our basic stance in life should be that of “humility.”  It would seem that if we as humans could better realize who we are and who we are not, coming to know who God is would be so much easier.  I believe that any God worth following would be one who “shows us the way,” as opposed to being one who tells us that we must act in a certain way and that this same God doesn’t act likewise. 

   Jesus, the face of God in human form certainly never asked us to be or do anything that he was not also willing to do himself.  In fact, while with us, he said, “When you see me, you see my Abba God too!”  So again the question, why did the Hebrew people have such a skewed view of who God might be? Why would they need to be told that their God was not “untouchable” and “gloomy” and perhaps one to fear unless they themselves were this way? I believe, my friends, and this is often true for us as well, the Hebrews framed their God in their own image, expecting “less” rather than “more” because if God is “untouchable” and “gloomy,” then they don’t have to expect anymore from themselves.  But, if as Jesus told us again and again throughout his earthly life, our God loves and cares for us in “an over-the-top” way, in stories like the Prodigal and the Good Shepherd, then much more is expected of us as well. 

   The psalmist today seems to understand this too, praying, “God, in your goodness, you have made a home for the poor.”  The psalmist continues, [our God is] “a protector of the weak,” and “in your goodness, you provided for the needy.” 

   So friends, not only do we hear confirmation from the psalmist that our God is good and caring, but that our God has a special interest in the poor and the downtrodden.  Our mission becomes clear then—we cannot be “gloomy” or “untouchable” ourselves, because God is not; and further, we must face our world as Jesus, our brother did his, with love, mercy, and justice.

   And finally, we can’t just hear these Scriptures as “nice stories” about our “loving God” and in particular about Jesus, but must hear them as our call, to do the same. 

   Friends, we live in different times than that of the Hebrews, the psalmist and of Jesus, but the needs are basically the same.  People are still, “poor”—hungry and discriminated against, truth doesn’t stand for much in our present day—mistrust of government, the press, and of each other is more rampant than ever.

   And into this mix we find ourselves and we are called to do our part—to speak our truth when we hear lies, to call for humility in those who want to lead us, whether in Church or State and to demand morality in those same leaders.  Within ourselves, we have to believe that hope and goodness are stronger than lies and selfishness and all the rest of “the gloom,” because if we don’t, then we can never attain a better world. 

   I will end with a wonderful message that was given to our grandson Elliot and his third-grade classmates this past week by their teacher, Mrs. Ratz, as a bit of hope and encouragement for us all, and I will paraphrase.  When you think, “I can’t do this, I don’t want to do this—or in groups, we can’t, they won’t—any of these negative, defeatist words, invite in the word, “yet” to help bring growth.  So, when you feel like, “I can’t make a difference in all that is wrong in our world, think, “yet!”   We are always called to more and together, can do it!  Amen? Amen!