November 26, 2017 Christ the King

 26 November  Comments Off on November 26, 2017 Christ the King
Nov 262017

Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus said to his disciples:  “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.  And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.   He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.   Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.   Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.   For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’  Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’  And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’  Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’  He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’  And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”


We’ve come to the end of another Church Year and we celebrate it with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe or more commonly referred to as Christ the King Sunday.

I want to start by asserting the 3 basic messages that we get from Christ our King. He tells us:

  1. I love you. There is nothing you can do to keep me from loving you.
  2. I want you to love me. This is the critical component of having eternal life. If you don’t love me, then you really don’t have true life in you.
  3. You must love other people as you love yourself, even the ones whom you don’t like and especially those who may want to do you harm. And by the way, this is absolutely the best way to express your love for me.

This is basic. In reflecting on all this, I go to today’s Gospel lesson and take a rather cursory look at goats, the ones representing those who will be cast out at the final judgment. Not much good is said about goats in scripture. Although goat milk was used (Prov27:27), the rabbis discouraged the raising of goats.

The rabbis compared goats to “armed robbers” who could jump over fences and destroy crops. Goats are an independent, hard-headed lot and these are the qualities that make them representative of those being cast out at the final judgment. They tend to be self-centered, stubborn and especially defiant.

Our vernacular is tough on goats. Here are some of the more negative expressions I found:

“Old goat” is a description of an obnoxious older man.

“Scape goat” is someone on whom the blame is put.

“Judas goat” is a goat that is used to lead sheep into trucks and railroad cars to be taken off to slaughter.

Being the “goat” is the brunt of a joke or prank.

“He’s got my goat” means that someone has pulled a fast one on me.

Sheep on the other hand, are given a special place in scripture. Probably the most prominent of all the Psalms, Psalm 23 starts with that wonderful line “The Lord is my shepherd.” Note in the OT Lesson from Ezekiel that we read of a “shepherd” who tends his flock but does so with both a tender kindness and a ferocious, even ruthless protection. The Gospel lesson issues both a fierce and a loving warning. Note especially that it is both a prescription and a description.

On the one hand, a prescription is something that we must do if we are to achieve a desired goal. If our goal is heaven, then Jesus is clear that certain behaviors are required: a prescription.

On the other hand a description is a picture of the way things are or will be. Sheep and goats are identified by what they already are. In the Gospel lesson, one is either a goat or a sheep before the time of judgment. Here judgment is really an unveiling of what has long been true. The deeds of mercy which the sheep perform were not primarily deeds of merit, they were deeds of love.

What this means in large part is that the day of judgment is really a day of verdict.  This is when the sentence is passed, based on quite a lot of historical evidence. The judgment has been percolating for a long time. Of course there are always opportunities for confession and reconciliation, a true conversion of life, but mostly we tend to continue our expressions of faithfulness or the lack thereof throughout our lives.

The ultimate expression of true faithfulness is really about our converted nature. Are we sheep, loving, humble and obedient to our Lord’s calling and directives or are we goats, consistently hard-headed, hard-hearted and a bit hard eyed, especially when it comes to our reluctance to put ourselves out for those in need.

In the Epistle of James, chpt. 2:14ff we read:

What does it profit…if someone says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Let me share with you a couple of stories: Prominent Baptist Pastor Tony Compollo tells about the time his mother called him and told him that Mrs. Kilpatrick had died. He said, “I’m 50 years old, but when you’re an Italian and your mother calls and tells you to do something, you do it.”

“Mom called me up and said, ‘Tony, Mrs. Kilpatrick died and you need to go to her funeral.” He said, “Mrs. Kilpatrick lived just down the street from us when I was growing up on the streets of Philadelphia.”

So on the day of the funeral Compollo went to the funeral home. Arriving a few minutes late, he rushed through the door, sat down and then saw that he was the only one there, except for one little woman in front of him.  Then he looked at the coffin and suddenly realized that the man in the coffin was not Mrs. Kilpatrick. He was in the wrong chapel.

He said that just as he was about to stand up and leave, the woman turned around, touched him on the hand and asked, “Did you know him?”  Compollo said, “What would you do if you were in a situation like that? If you were the only one who came to the funeral of this grieving woman’s husband, what would you do? He said, “I stayed for the whole service.”

“Then since I was the only one there, I even felt compelled to go the graveside service and stand there with the widow. When that was over and we were riding back together, I turned to her and said, ‘Mrs. King, I want you to know that I really didn’t know your husband.’”

He said “She reached out and took my hand and gripped it tightly and speaking softly and slowly, said, ‘That doesn’t matter. You’ll never know what your being here has meant to me.’”

Another story: St. Martin of Tours was a Roman Soldier who became Christian. One cold winter day as he was entering a city, a beggar stopped him and asked for alms. Martin had no money, but the beggar was shivering with the cold, so St. Martin gave him what he had.

He took off his soldier’s cloak, battered and thread bare as it was, cut it in two and gave half to the beggar. That night Martin had a dream. In it he saw heaven open and there was King Jesus on his throne surrounded by all the heavenly host. And Jesus in all his glory was wearing this half of St. Martin’s cloak that he had given to the beggar.

One of the angels asked, “Master, why are wearing this battered old cloak? Where did you get it?”

King Jesus replied, “My servant Martin gave it to me.”

Wonderful stories. In closing I’d like to share some thoughts:

Help in the simple things: find someone who is hungry and give them something to eat. Maybe even go work in a food kitchen.

Cheer up a sick person

Visit someone in jail

Give clothes to someone who doesn’t have any—or at least give some of your good stuff to St. Vinnie’s.

It doesn’t take anything out of the ordinary to do these kinds of things. It just means that you are making yourself available for another person who’s going through some tough times.

  1. Be uncalculating. From the Gospel, we see the sheep, those who made themselves available to tend the needs of others,were surprised when Jesus told them that what they did for others they did for him. They were motivated by a loving heart; they were not seeking approval.
  2. Compare them to the goats, who in essence said, “Gee, if we had known it was you Lord, we would have been glad to help. We just thought they were some of those whiney energy drainers who are always trying to play on our sympathies.

It’s always easy to help if we think we will be rewarded or appreciated or even thanked. I think that to give help like that is less about helping and more about pandering to self-esteem.  Such help is not generosity; it’s disguised selfishness. The help which wins the approval of God is that which is given for nothing except for the sake of helping.

Jesus confronts us with the wonderful truth that all such help given to others is love expressed to him—and all such help withheld is withheld from him.

As we close out this liturgical year and begin a new one, let us resolve to give with a sense of joy and less judgment. If you think you might be with the goats, consider doing a serious personal spiritual inventory, get to confession and pray for conversion of life. This is one of those great mysteries of faith: Goats can become sheep. And sheep know that in contributing to those in need they are ministering to Christ Jesus himself. That puts things in perspective. This is loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And it is the primary criterion for being welcomed into heaven at the time of the final judgment.






November 19, 2017 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 19 November  Comments Off on November 19, 2017 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nov 192017

Matthew 25:14-30

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one– to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'”


The traditional way of assessing a passage of scripture is by engaging in exegesis first and then applying the hermeneutic. Before you say “what?” I’d like to put it in language that is more accessible. Exegesis is analysis of the text. We ask, “What is actually being said, what is the setting in which the passage was written and what is the situation and circumstance of the actual writing?” Exegesis.

Hermeneutic, from the Greek God Hermes who was the winged messenger, hermeneutic takes the message from back then brings it to us here and now. It is the ancient Word conveyed to us today. In the 15th chapter of Romans, St. Paul wrote “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction…” We have the “there and then” message and the “here and now” application.

Here’s a little exegesis for today’s Gospel lesson. The setting is about Wednesday in Holy Week. Jesus has made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem; he has cleansed the Temple and he’s had major confrontations with various Jewish authorities. He’s challenged and infuriated enough powerful people to get him crucified. Jesus did this intentionally and time is running short; Friday will soon be here.

The air is thick with tension as Jesus is having a private word with his disciples. He is not speaking to the general crowd or the scribes or Pharisees or other powers that be. It is a personal moment with his committed followers who are really uneasy. Things are happening very quickly. Violence is looming. Jesus is instructing them with a parable. Let’s take a closer look.

Jesus is telling his disciples that a rather affluent man was going on a journey, and he called his three servants to him and gave each one a specific amount of money. A talent was a considerable sum. One commentator mentioned that a talent was about 15 years worth of wages. So if we pick a number, say $50,000 as a year’s wage in present day America, then a talent would be about $750,000 in today’s money. Two talents would be akin to $1,500,000. And 5 talents would be $3,750,000. It’s quite a bit of money. So our Lord is saying that one servant was given 5 talents, a second two and the third servant was given 1 talent, and then the affluent man went away. The servant with the 5 talents doubled the money as did the one with 2 talents, but the servant with the one talent buried his in the garden because he didn’t want to take the risk of losing it.

When the affluent man came home, he called the servants to him and he heaped praise on the two servants who had doubled his money. But the one who buried the equivalent of $750,000 in a hole in the back yard was chastised and ordered to give the one talent to the first servant who had doubled the 5 talents—and then the cautious, but unfaithful one talent servant was banished. This must have been a most upsetting parable for the disciples.

You see, according to the rabbinical tradition of that day, a person entrusted with a considerable sum of money for safekeeping fulfilled his obligation if he protected the money by burying it. To hear otherwise had to have been most unsettling to the disciples. We can hear them asking, “Isn’t burying the money the best way to safeguard the treasure?” Jesus said “no.”

Obviously our Lord was talking about a lot more than money. Time was getting short, and Jesus was making sure that his followers understood the value what he was leaving them: the saving Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Some would have more responsibility than others in spreading this Gospel. But all of them were entrusted with a share of the Good News. It must not be hidden away, buried in the back yard if you will. Nothing was—and is—more valuable.

Now I’d like to open this up a bit and look at the motivation especially of the one talent servant. I can see a lot of reasons why the servant entrusted with one talent might have buried the money. These are some of the excuses he might have used:

  1. I did not want the responsibility of this much money in the first place, so I thought that if I buried it, I knew it would be safe.
  2. I’m tired. I’m just plain weary. I’m burned out and the thought of having this kind of responsibility is just too much.
  3. I’m afraid that I might fail. I do not want to look foolish. There’s something about failing that’s so awful that I’d rather not even try.
  4. I’ve got some “hang-ups.” I’m from a dysfunctional family. I never did learn how to deal well with authority, especially anyone who put unwanted responsibility and expectations on me. My master is pretty demanding. He reminds me of my father who used to abuse me. I just resent the fact that my master gave me this talent to take care of.
  5. I just don’t have the time. I have a whole lot of other things to do and this is a most unwelcome burden.

I can just see this servant. Hands plowed deep in his pants pockets, shoulders folded down into a perpetual slouch, face cast in a hardened scowl. He complains about everything: the weather, the economy, the government, the neighbors who don’t rake their leaves and let their dogs bark too much. All of this is just speculation on my part.

In the text, Jesus does tell us why the one talent servant did what he did: Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ Jesus tells us that the Master was infuriated by this response. He told him to give the money to the one who had doubled the 5 talents and then he was cast out.

The key phrase in this whole passage is often looked at as a “throw away” line. The Master said to the servant who buried the one talent: Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?   This verse is critical because I think that this passage is a whole lot less about individual gifts and talents and a whole lot more about asking for help when we need to do what God calls us to do.

Let me develop this if I may. I want to once again offer a basic truth of the Catholic Church : “Catholics are called to think “we” instead of just “me.” We are a people of community. And I think that we can find this especially in this parable. For example we see that the servants given 5 talents and 2 talents had identical results—they both doubled the money entrusted to them. This suggests to me that they probably worked together and the servant entrusted with one talent did not work with the other two.

The exegesis, the “there and then” message was given by Jesus to his disciples in the form of a parable. Like all parables, there are a myriad of interpretations. What is clear however is that Jesus offered this teaching just a couple of days before he was crucified. Last minute instructions tend to be the most important ones. Jesus is clear that at the time of judgment, even disciples will be held accountable for not profitably using gifts and talents that are given to them—to us.

As we apply this to ourselves, we do understand that not all of us who resist God’s will, who don’t want to use our God-given talents for the glory of God look or act like this one talent servant. When we find ourselves in this situation, of knowing what our talent is, we often will do about anything to avoid using it.

Each of us can say: If I have the talent to work with kids, but I’m afraid that they’ll stick me back in the nursery working with the youngsters during a children’s liturgy.  Or—If I have the talent to be hospitable, they’ll want me to coordinate coffee and donuts on Sunday morning.  If I have the talent to be kind, they’ll probably want me to be a lay Eucharistic minister and take Holy Communion to shut ins. How time consuming.

Applying the exegesis to our hermeneutic, it would be helpful to remember that we are to live as if time is getting short for us too. It may well be Wednesday in Holy Week for us and we need to reflect on the faithfulness Christ is calling us embrace and to use the talents entrusted to us. Some have more responsibility than others, but we all have important talents given to us and we must not bury them in the back yard out by the apple tree.




Nov 122017

The theme of the gospel lesson for today is the importance of vigilance. The watchfulness of the faithful cannot be passive; it must be proactive and constant. The Church emphasizes that a primary way for us to be diligent is by our good works, by reaching out to those in need and by loving God and neighbors as our selves.

Often it’s difficult to maintain this vigilance individually. That’s why it is most effectively done in groups and there is one group in the Church that is sworn to maintain this diligence and I’d like to comment on this organization now.

Some time back I told my very Protestant brother-in-law that I had become a member of the Knights of Columbus. His response surprised me. He said, “The Knights of Columbus are a bunch of stand-up guys.” As I thought about it, he was absolutely right. The Knights of Columbus are a bunch of ‘stand-up guys,’ guys who prayerfully put their time and their talent and their money to the service Christ and his Church. They defend the poor and oppressed and especially those most vulnerable in our society—unborn babies. The Knights are a bunch of stand-up guys and I’m blessed to be one of them.

Let me give you some numbers. In 2015, the Knights of Columbus gave over $175 million directly to charity and performed 73.5 million hours of voluntary service. In 2010, knights donated 413,000 pints of blood. Pope St. John Paul II once referred to the Knights of Columbus as “the strong right arm of the Church.” It’s a bunch of stand-up guys.

Founded in 1882 in New Haven, Ct. by Fr. Michael McGivney, the Knights are a fraternal order originally established to address the needs of Catholic immigrants who were struggling in their new home. Named in honor of Christopher Columbus, the Knights came together as faithful Catholic men to support their families, their community and the Church.

There are four degrees or levels and each degree has a particular focus. The first degree emphasizes charity, the second unity, the third fraternity and the 4th degree, patriotism which we will look at especially because of Veteran’s day and those Knights who recently advanced to the rank of 4th degree.

I borrow much of the following from Bishop William Lori, Supreme Chaplain of the Order. He wrote:

Since our founding, the members of the Knights of Columbus have been patriots. In all the countries where the Knights are active, its members have fought to turn back the rule of modern-day tyrants and terrorists, and to defend human dignity, freedom, and rights. We continue to express our love of country by being active in the political process, by our strong defense of innocent human life and the role of the family, by doing our daily work as well as we can for the sake of our homelands, and by seeking to rid our countries of all that departs from their most sacred values. Through the Fourth Degree of the Order, we highlight the commitment of the Knights of Columbus to the love of God and country.

Bishop Lori continues:

Our Order was born in a period of intense, even overt bigotry against the Catholic Church, a bigotry that persists in various forms today, at the least in some parts of these United States. Nonetheless, we are persistent in our patriotism not because we imagine our [country and culture] to be perfect – but because we are confident that God’s truth and love, working through us and our fellow citizens can help mend our native [land], prompting [this land] we call home to live up to [our] founding ideals, to embrace that which is coherent, true, good, and beautiful in our native culture. Patriotism, my dear friends, is a virtue not for the faint of heart.

Bishop Lori also pointed out that to help us in our piety and patriotism, we Knights have special devotion to our Blessed Mother. Mary teaches us about the presence of Christ, true God and true man, and in his light, she enables us to discern those elements in our culture which accord with human dignity and those which do not, those which help communicate the faith, and those which do not. As we look toward the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, toward complete communion with the Triune God and with one another, our longing is not an escape from the world: its tragedies, dilemmas, and problems.

Rather, like our Lady, we seek to cooperate in bringing the communion of God’s own life and love right here to the heart of our country, right here to the confusion, the tragedy, the mischance that always characterize human endeavor and the history we write by our lives. No matter how evil and shocking the events, whether it be a crazed killer shooting up a worship service in rural Texas, or the obscene slaughter of unborn children in an abortion mill in Glenwood, Oregon, we Knights will not flinch in the face of evil. We honor Christ’s call to be vigilant.

We look forward to the Celestial City, our true home with the Triune God, together with Mary and all the saints and angels. The beauty of this new and eternal Jerusalem has been shown to us by the Daughter of Zion, by Mary, the woman arrayed with the sun and the stars. As that beauty takes hold of our souls, then we are equipped to be true patriots, true citizens of the earthly city which we are to transform into a true civilization of love. The Blessed Virgin did not come to create an earthly utopia but she did plant the seeds of a culture in which human life and dignity is respected, in which caring for one another and the needs of others is the norm, and in which peace and justice is consistently sought. This all is embraced and defended faithfully by a bunch of stand up guys.

Let us now join with Knights everywhere and close with this brief prayer honoring and commemorating the past and present members of our armed forces:   

Mary, Immaculate Virgin, Our Mother, please pray to your Son, Our Lord,

 for our warriors and our veterans,  for our country and our continued freedom. Amen.


November 5, 2017 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

 05 November  Comments Off on November 5, 2017 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nov 052017

1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13

Brothers and sisters: We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us. You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.

Matthew 23:1-12

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”


There’s a theme in both the epistle and gospel lessons assigned for today, and I’d like to reflect on this theme for a bit. It’s burden-bearing. If the essence of our Church’s social doctrine is thinking “we” instead of just “me,” then one of the more practical things we can do is be empathetic, sensitive to and helpful in bearing one another’s burdens.

As we all know, sometimes the burdens get really heavy and both Jesus and St. Paul express concern about this. St. Paul states in his first letter to the Thessalonians: You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. Paul is saying that he’s putting in a lot of effort so as not to add to the burdens of the Thessalonians. 

In contrast, Jesus speaks of the scribes and Pharisees, who pile on heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.   Note the difference between the two statements. On the one hand we have St. Paul who has no desire to add to the numerous burdens of the Thessalonians, whereas Jesus speaks of the unnecessarily heavy loads that the scribes and Pharisees pile on the people.

The topic of burdens is important throughout the Scriptures. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2) Jesus himself says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28) We all know what it is like to feel burdened by life.

Every single person we know is bearing a burden of some kind, some seen, some unseen. Cancer, financial hardship, broken relationships, caregiving for an elderly parent, a child struggling in school, addiction, chronic health issues; the burdens add up and weigh us down. And we all feel the collective burdens of lives lost or afflicted because of natural disasters, mass shootings, and the global struggles of war, poverty and disease.

It’s no surprise that the bearing of burdens shows up all through the Bible. And in our texts for today, we have the contrast between how Paul is trying to convey the Good News of Jesus to the faithful in Thessalonica in a non-burdensome manner, over against the scribes and Pharisees who demand things that are oppressive. What differentiates them? After all, Paul began his religious life as a Pharisee. What helped him to escape being a burden to his community? And more than that, how did he become someone who lessened the burdens of others?

The scribes and Pharisees were guilty of making religious leadership more of a public display than an act of service. More often than not, their good works were performed in order to be seen and admired by others. Sometimes they enlarged their phylacteries to make them more conspicuous. (By the way, phylacteries were small leather boxes containing passages of scripture that were strapped to the forehead and left arm during prayer.)  They also liked to display longer than usual tassels on their garments as visible reminders to keep the commandments. And as they preened and pranced in public, they would also shove one another out of the way to get to the place of honor, somewhat like a politician today who elbows others aside to get in front of a TV camera.

It must be noted that Jesus was not opposed to religious dress, official titles or even positions of honor. What he criticizes is calling attention to one’s practice of religion for the sake of receiving accolades from people rather than the approval of God.  Jesus is stressing that humility is essential for all ministry, lest those who are placed in authority over others think of themselves as superiors rather than servants. Our Lord even went so far as to say that anyone who exalts him or herself can expect the day of reckoning to bring humiliation.

In probing a bit, we can speculate from how Jesus describes the scribes and Pharisees, that they are creating burdens for others because they are carrying crippling burdens of their own. Their burden is made of a toxic combination of trying to curry God’s favor by their demonstrations, all the while demanding that everyone around them acknowledge their superior efforts. They have taken the sacred Law of Moses, which Jesus upholds in this passage, and saddled it with the deceptively heavy weight of their fragile egos, the all too often petty and fearful tyranny of the ego.

However, we have to be careful. Before long we can start to think that we’re better than other people who aren’t working as hard as we are to further the Kingdom of God. It can be a short road from “trying to help and care for others” to being “holier-than-thou and insufferable.”  What began as an honest search for the love of God and a life of holiness can turn into our becoming a burden to all we encounter. Why did this happen? What is missing?

What is missing is the space, silence, and humility needed to actually receive and convey the radiant love of God. When we approach the Christian life as a constant stream of virtuous activity directed as loudly as possible both at God and at our brothers and sisters and neighbors: “Look at me! Look at all the wonderful things I’m doing!”  The still, small voice of the Holy Spirit is very easily drowned out. Our self-imposed burden of a needy ego, never patient enough to surrender to the love of God, will sooner or later become the arrogance and self-satisfaction of the scribes and Pharisees depicted in our gospel passage today.

Contrast this with the words of St. Paul: You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. This “toil and drudgery,” “night and day,” that Paul speaks of consists in large part of patient and faithful prayer: Regularly going silently within, becoming still and engaging in spiritual disciplines, finding and remaining faithful in daily spiritual practice. Joining this with the formal prayers of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, The Our Father, The Hail Mary and so on, this is the labor and toil that, over time, lifts our false internal burdens and sets us free. The freely chosen work of prayer and building spiritual intimacy with God slowly transforms us from being burdens, to merely having burdens, to one day lifting the burdens of others.

That’s one half of the equation: the labor and toil of prayer and individual submission to God. The other half is the night and day patient engagement with other people. Moving from being a burden to other people to lifting burdens from other people requires exactly that: other people. The quest for gospel transformation does not take place in a bubble. There are some of us who might enjoy sitting alone all day and thinking beautiful thoughts about God, but that is not love.

Individualistic spiritual practices taken to an extreme will make us a burden to others as surely as no spiritual practice at all.  Anyone who has had to carry heavy burdens will know that balance is the key. Trying to carry heavy bags of groceries up flights of stairs in only one hand is very difficult. Shift the bags to carry them equally in both hands and the burden is suddenly much easier to bear.

So it is with our balance of individual and communal spiritual intimacy. Keep it all on one side of the equation and we are quickly out of balance, becoming heavy to both ourselves and others. Seek an even distribution of time alone with God and time together with God’s people, especially at Mass, serving the poor and needy, watching the neighbor’s kids while she tends to an emergency and suddenly progress forward is smoother and easier.

Paul says in our epistle today that the Word is at work in us as believers. That’s important to remember as we seek to carry our own burdens and to be sensitive and helpful to those who are heavy laden. No burden we shoulder is ours alone. The Holy Spirit within us is always present and ready to do the heavy lifting. Jesus says it himself in the Gospel of Matthew: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The burdens of life and community may never go away, but when the love of God pervades them, they are no longer crushing weights. Our burdens become a steadying presence, anchoring and grounding us in the faithful pursuit of grace and truth. For it is when we commit to turning our burdens over to God that we are empowered to bear the burdens of one another. And a burden shared becomes a burden halved, as the old saying goes. We can modify this: a burden shared becomes a burden graced.







October 29, 2017 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 29 October  Comments Off on October 29, 2017 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Oct 292017


It’s enlightening to ponder the setting in which Jesus speaks; it regularly can give us things to see that we may not see otherwise. For example, in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says those most familiar words about love. What’s enlightening to me is that he is saying them to the Pharisees on Wednesday in Holy Week. He’s going to be crucified in two days. The Pharisees are plotting to kill him and Jesus is telling them that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your being, and to love your neighbor as yourself. It is a not-so-subtle reminder that the bottom line for all the Faithful—then and now— is to put love first and everything else is to follow. It’s agape love and I like to define Agape love as unconditional positive regard. Often that can only happen by divine intervention. I’ve been thinking about this in context of all the issues of violence in the world that are connected with Islam. It’s prompted this homily.

In light of current events, I thought I’d provide some very brief information about Islam in general, the Catholic Church’s teachings about our relationship with Islam and then I’d like to comment about some responses to Islam in the wake of all that is happening today.

Here’s a very brief snapshot: As you probably know, Islam is a religion that was founded by the Prophet Mohammad around the 7th century. The word “Islam” means both “peace” and “surrender” in Arabic and the one who surrenders or “submits” is called a Muslim. Mohammed’s message was that all people must submit both to God, Allah, and to Allah’s righteous will. At the Day of Judgment those who have submitted and lived righteous lives will enjoy eternal bliss in Paradise, while those who resist will be consigned to a fiery Hell.

Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is an “Abrahamic” faith; in other words is it monotheistic and it traces its roots back to the Patriarch Abraham. Muslims argue that their heritage flows from Adam to Abraham and on through Ishmael, the son of Hagar the slave girl, rather than through his half-brother Isaac, through whom Jews and Christians trace their lineage. Islam also reveres Moses, the Old Testament Prophets, John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus and even the Virgin Mary. Muslims consider Mohammed to be the last and greatest of all the Prophets.

Islam teaches that Jesus was born of the Blessed Virgin, that he was crucified, died, was buried and rose again on the third day. However, they don’t consider him to be God Incarnate as we Christians affirm: Resurrection yes; Incarnation, no.

The sacred scripture of Islam is the Koran which must be read in Arabic if one is pick up the essential nuances of the faith.

There are five requirements or “Five Pillars of Faith” that every Muslim is to observe.

  1. There must be an affirmation and frequent recitation of the Shahadah or Creed, which is: “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.”
  2. There must be recitation of specific prayers 5 times a day directed toward Mecca. In a mosque there is a niche in a wall that indicates the direction.
  3. There must be generous giving of alms.
  4. The believers must fast during the daylight hours of the season of Ramadan.
  5. There must be a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s lifetime. If it is impossible to go, a faithful Muslim is then encouraged to provide gifts to help another to make this pilgrimage.

In addition to these 5 obligations, Muslims also practice circumcision, they abstain from alcoholic beverages and pork, and it is permitted for a man to have as many as 4 wives.

Islam has always had an aggressive policy about converting others. Some, for example the Taliban and Al-Qaida, proselytize with the threat of violence, although the vast majority of Muslims do not.

Islam is not monolithic. To say that one is Muslim, is akin to saying that one is Christian; there is a wide variety of Islamic parties that are as diverse as fundamentalist Baptists, liberal Episcopalians and highly scrupulous Catholics. And yet there is this common core set of beliefs.

At the second Vatican Council the Bishops wrote that: “the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the [Muslims] who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God” (LG 16)

The council also tells us that the Church holds Muslims in high esteem because:

“They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; [Muslims] take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their desserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.” (NA 3)

Several years later, Pope St. John Paul II added:

“I wish to reaffirm the Catholic Church’s respect for Islam, for authentic Islam: the Islam that prays, that is concerned for those in need. Recalling the errors of the past, including the most recent past, all believers ought to unite their efforts to ensure that God is never made the hostage of human ambitions. Hatred, fanaticism and terrorism profane the name of God and disfigure the true image of man.” (Address, Sept. 2001)

So how do we apply this to all that is happening today? As my old colleague Bp. Dan Martins pointed out, we need to begin with the issue of “Islamaphobia.”

Islamaphobia is splitting our country. It has created a polarity that pits those who look for a violent Muslim behind anybody who looks even vaguely Arab or South Asian, fearing that they might be jihadist terrorists who long to cut our throats and abscond with our children. This is countered by those whose only understanding of Islam is of a peace-loving “Abrahamic” faith, a faith that is conjoined with Christianity and Judaism.

For the first group, they need to ratchet down the fear mongering. It is prudent to be watchful, but it is easy to move over into the camp of the bigoted and over reactionary. This group thrives on those almost daily stories of young U.S. Muslims doing all they can to join up with Isis, Jihadists and other radical Islamists; however, it must be pointed out that there is overwhelming, incontrovertible evidence that the vast majority of Muslims living here in the US have no sympathy whatsoever with acts of politically or religiously-motivated violence against anyone, anywhere.

That said, to the second group who tend to be dewy eyed progressives, I must say that it is naive and dishonest to deny that groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS (or ISIL, depending on how you like to translate the Arabic) who locate their identity and mission squarely and solely in the teaching and practice of Islam. One can argue that they distort and misconstrue Islam, as many Muslims indeed do argue. But they are not generic terrorists, they are Islamic terrorists. In a society where freedom of thought and expression are valued, it must not be off limits to criticize not only violent acts, but also the avowed motivation of those who commit violent acts, in this case, Islam. It is a dilemma.

Both of these statements are true. Fear-mongering and ethnically-based prejudice are particularly reprehensible. And calling into question this or that aspect of Islam is not necessarily in and of itself either “hate speech” or bigotry. It’s a fine line. We need to pray for the gifts of wisdom and prudence.

Returning to Jesus and the Pharisees in Wednesday of Holy Week and the looming crucifixion, I would remind you that Jesus is crystal clear about one thing: that love of God and love, unconditional positive regard of neighbor, including our Muslim neighbors, is our Lord’s single greatest admonition to us and we jolly well better take it to heart. And pray for help when our suspicions and prejudice seem to be winning the day.

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:34-40



October 22, 2017 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 22 October  Comments Off on October 22, 2017 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Oct 232017


Today I want to talk about conscience. We need to start with the Church’s understanding of the result of the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. To be sure, we have all inherited original sin but we Catholics see the fall as being only partial. There is always the tug of the world, the flesh and the devil. In spite of that, we believe that all people, even un-baptized non-Christians, are able to make good, moral choices simply because they are human beings created in the image of God. (Moral Natural Law.) So for example in Romans 2: 15 we hear St. Paul saying that the Gentiles  show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts,  while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even defend them.

To be sure, we Catholic Christians have a decided advantage in the formation of conscience, but others are still endowed with the hope and instruction that a good conscience provides.

The Greek word for “conscience” is synoida which means to “think together.” By the way, this is the basis of our word “synod” which is the gathering of bishops and other holy people to collectively discern the will of God.

The conscience, synoida, implies that one is thinking and reflecting inwardly with God in order to come up with that which God deems is the good and the right thing to do.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote: If…we feel responsibility, are frightened at transgressing the voice of conscience, this implies that there is One to whom we are responsible, before whom we are ashamed and whose claims upon us we fear.

Conscience is more than just opinion. I rather like the statement in the Youcat, the Church’s revised Catechism for young people. In it we are told that Conscience is the inner voice in [us] that moves [us] to do good under any circumstances and to avoid evil by all means. At the same time it is the ability to distinguish…[between good and evil.] In the conscience God speaks to [us.] (#295)

God’s directives are discerned in that inner voice in which he makes himself known to us. So if anyone of us says with true conviction, “I can’t do this, before the one who causes me to fear and tremble,” then this is God speaking through the conscience. A whole lot of folks have gone to jail or have been martyred because they were true to their consciences.

As St. Thomas Aquinas taught, Anything that is done against conscience is a sin.

After World War II, the Church started doing some very serious reflection on the place and role of the conscience. Finally, when Vatican II came around, Catholic Theologian Karl Rahner wrote that the conscience is the proximate source of moral obligation, and so must be followed even if mistaken; but that we must form our conscience rightly and avoid confusing it with subjective inclination or personal preference. A Catholic must be prepared to accept moral instruction from the Church and never appeal to conscience to make an exception for him (or her)self. If we realize that we may very well have to sacrifice everything or lose our soul, then we would not look for exceptions to be made for us from God’s law and our confessors would not use evasions like “well, follow your conscience” when some hard if sensitive teaching were needed. If in our sinful world God’s law seems unrealistic, the trouble is not with God’s law but with the world—and therefore with us.

Rahner wrote on the verge of a new age in which Christian ethics faced challenges from many quarters, not least from within the Church herself. Vatican II sought to restate and update Catholic moral teaching. Though aware of growing individualism and relativism, the Council seemed optimistic to the point of naïveté about how their words would be received. Many people took up the Council’s views on the dignity and liberty of conscience with greater enthusiasm than they did for its teaching on the duty to inform conscience and exercise that liberty in accord with moral absolutes known to right reason and proclaimed by the Magisterium.

In the heady days right after Vatican II, the conscience often became confused with opinion. The watershed was Pope Paul VI encyclical Humanae Vitae, which in part affirmed the Church’s stance against artificial birth control. A whole lot of people have ignored this teaching. They have rationalized their choice and claimed it was and is a matter of conscience. This was and is linked with a lax attitude toward abortion and other grave moral issues.

St. John Paul II took the opportunity of the 25th anniversary of “Humanæ vitæ” to publish his groundbreaking encyclical “Veritatis splendor.” Here he reasserted the teaching of Vatican II that Christ and the Church instruct definitively in moral matters, and that a well-formed Christian conscience will be informed by such authoritative teaching.  St. John Paul taught us, the faithful, to proceed with obedience of faith, submitting our experiences, insights and wishes to the judgment of the teaching Magisterium. We constantly need to reform ourselves according to the mind of Christ which is authentically transmitted by the Church.

A well-tutored conscience is indispensible for the formation of Godly morality. The magisterium serves the Christian conscience by highlighting and clarifying those truths which a well-formed conscience ought already to possess.  Again the Youcat tells us that No one may be compelled to act against his [or her] conscience, provided that he [or she] acts within the limits of the common good. (#296)  So for example, someone may feel as if an abortion or an act of violent discrimination may be prompted by conscience, but that is simply not true.

And yet, anyone who disregards the conscience of a person, either by ignoring it or by using coercion, violates that person’s dignity. Practically nothing makes a human being more human than the gift of being personally able to distinguish good from evil and to choose between them. This is true even if the decision seems to be wrong. And if anyone is sincere in following the conscience, then God will not hold that person accountable, but he or she had jolly well better be right. The consequences for being wrong could be eternal.

Unless the conscience has been incorrectly and improperly formed, the inner voice speaks in agreement with what the Church deems reasonable, just and good in the sight of God.

In the Epistle lesson today from I Thessalonians, St. Paul tells us that we are enlightened with power and…[the] Holy Spirit and with much conviction.  We are given the promise of help and clarity and specific direction, especially if our goal is to be truly faithful.

In her teaching Dignitas Humanae, Vatican II proclaimed that In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend the sacred and certain doctrines of the Church. For church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth.

It must be said that the first school of conscience is self-criticism. We all have the tendency to judge things to our own advantage. The second school of conscience is orientation to the good actions of others. The correct formation of conscience leads us to that freedom to what has been correctly identified as the “good.” With the help of the Holy Spirit and Scripture, the Church over her long history has accumulated a vast knowledge about right action; it is part of her mission to instruct people and to give them direction.

For me, all this means is that I darn well better be humble. As a consequence, I embrace the teaching of the Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman when he said, “I believe what the Catholic Church believes.” and “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” This is the basis of conscience; this is the basis of faith.


October 8, 2017 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 08 October  Comments Off on October 8, 2017 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Oct 082017

 Matthew 21:33-43

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes? Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

Let’s take a look at today’s parable. The standard interpretation is that God is the Landowner, the Vineyard is Israel, the agents are the prophets and Jesus is the Son. Although this is foundational, I’d like to come at it from a slightly different angle.

So, we have a landowner who is being given the run around by his tenants. They no longer want to pay their rent. These tenants want to be in control; they want to own the vineyard if you will. However, it is not for sale and it never will be. The owner is not looking for buyers.  He is looking for tenants who will give him his fair share of the produce at harvest time, and this is the key part, the real issue is stewardship, a word that puts many of us on the defensive because it challenges our sense of entitlement and ownership.

With few exceptions, we have worked hard for what we have; we have deeds and titles and fence lines to prove ownership of our property. We have registered land plats and mortgage payment books and tax bills and home owners insurance, all with our names on them. We have gone to a lot of trouble to get these things and hanging on to them requires no small amount of financial courage but according to today’s Gospel lesson we are simply deluding ourselves.

Our ancestors became divine tenants thousands of years ago; it was so far back that most of us have forgotten the circumstances. Somewhere along the way someone misplaced or ignored the tenants’ agreement and wrote up a deed instead, saying that we now own the property instead of leasing it and that is the basis of the problem in this parable.

In the story today, the Landowner—representing God—spent most of his time in a far off place.  His absence made him really, really easy to ignore. When he sent messengers to remind the tenants of their agreement, they said, “You have been gone so long and have been so undemanding that we’ve decided that things have changed. This vineyard, this land, is now ours.”

All it took was a little bravado and a couple of bursts of violence and—bada bing— the agents of the land owner who were still alive ran away empty-handed.

The owner could have sent the police or the sheriff or even recruited his own army of thugs. He could have returned violence for violence but he did not. He just kept sending messengers, one after another, each of them pleading with the tenants to come to their senses and honor their agreement with the landowner.

Finally, when there was a whole row of unmarked graves full of messengers outside the vineyard walls, the owner sent his son, unaccompanied and unarmed, to teach the tenants things they had clearly forgotten or had opted not to learn. He reminded them that they were stewards and tenants, not owners. In fact they were guests on the earth. He even might have reminded them of Psalm 24:1—“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein…” It’s all His—none of it was theirs—or now ours.

The Son reminded them that being guests placed them in relationship with the landowner who also was their host, who also placed them in relationship with each other, and once they got over their delusions of ownership, these relationships, with him and others, could be based on our gratitude, not our fear, nor our resentment nor a false sense of security, nor even the mere desire for power.

He reminded them that as guests they had free access to far more than they could ever have earned for themselves. All he asked was that they take care of the vineyard and that they give him a prescribed portion of what they produced; not because he needed it, for he turned around immediately and gave it away, but they needed to be constantly reminded that they were tenants and stewards and not owners.

They needed to give, in order to remember who they were: grateful tenants and stewards who took their lives and the fruits of their efforts from the Lord’s favor and returned the favor by giving a portion of their largess back to him and to others.

The Son probably reminded them of the Hebrew Scriptures that God, the land owner, gave instructions on paying what they owed to him by giving to others. There’s a good chance he reminded them of the importance of honoring God with the “first fruits” of their labor. Most likely, he shared with them that they would be greatly blessed by so doing. He may have quoted Proverbs 3:9-10: “Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce—then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”

He may even have told them of God’s confrontation through the prophet Malachi, referring to the only place in scripture that God challenges his people to test him. God says: “…you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In your tithes and your offerings.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me.  [What can we do?, we may ask. The answer God says is to…] Bring the full tithes into the storehouse that there may be food in my house and thereby PUT ME TO THE TEST’ says the Lord of hosts. [See] if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down on you an overflowing blessing.” (Mal.3:8-10) By the way, this is the only place in all of the scriptures where God commands us to test him. In all other places we are warned not to test him. I think this was the son’s message.

But in the parable, the tenants weren’t buying it; they killed the son but he would not stay dead and to this day he challenges the tenants and stewards, reminding us that we are God’s guests, welcome on this earth and loved with a fierce love, all the while being reminded that we are not the owners. There is also the warning that violence will befall us if we do not heed.

All this is right in the wheelhouse of Pope Francis’s teachings, especially his 191 page encyclical on the environment, Laudato si. Although the Holy Father doesn’t hold much back about our troubling stewardship of the earth, I would like to share a word of hope with you. He writes:

…all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start. He does offer a word of hope. We can change our ways. And what does that mean?, we may ask.

Well to start, we must not spurn the owner and persecute his messengers because to do that is to court our own destruction. To do that is to forget, or ignore, who we are and what our purpose here is. We are God’s sharecroppers. We tend the earth and reap it’s riches on God’s behalf. We can love this vineyard, this earth, as our own. We can water it by hand and build fires against the frost and take deep pleasure in the harvest. We can even will pieces of it to our children or sell our part of the tenancy to others. But we are expected to represent God’s interests, being as generous with each other as God is with us. We are not owners. We were never meant to be owners. It may fly in the face of much of what we have been taught, but it is the way of the Kingdom of God and I will tell you, if we abide by God’s rules, the harvest will take your breath away.





October 1, 2017 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 01 October  Comments Off on October 1, 2017 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Oct 012017

 Matthew 21:28-32

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir, ‘but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

Tension is rife in today’s Gospel lesson. The setting is Tuesday in Holy Week. Jesus has made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem with an overwhelming ovation and the city is abuzz with rumors and anticipation: “Is this the Messiah? What’s going to happen?” We see in the text that Jesus is in the Temple and he’s having a significant dust-up with the Chief Priests and the Elders of the People. They are feeling threatened and are both defensive and looking for a reason—any reason— to have this self-proclaimed Messiah put in his place.

It’s not going well for the Chief Priests and Elders, they are getting testier, and as we know their reaction is going to get Jesus crucified. Consider their mind-set; they have witnessed this popular Galilean teacher enter their city in a Messianic fashion. They have watched in horror and outrage as he trashed the whole sacrificial system of worship by driving out the money changers with a whip, and he has announced the Temple’s destruction, implying that he has authority that is much greater than theirs. They are more than threatened and so they confront him publically and at length.

In the preceding section of the scriptures they ask: “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you that authority?” (vs. 23): Authority has become the central issue.

This particular confrontation started when Jesus asked the chief priests and elders questions about the authority of St. John the Baptist and because the atmosphere was so fraught with political explosiveness, they punted. They chose not to undermine their own authority by affirming the authority of John, and at the same time they were also aware of how popular John was and the crowd was edgy enough without firing them up by refuting John’s authority. So they said that they’ didn’t know.

Jesus responded by saying that since they wouldn’t answer, neither would he. But the whole thing comes down to Jesus’ Messianic authority and whether or not folks were going to submit to it. Jesus then told the little parable about the two sons, the first said that he would not be dutiful, then repented and was obedient. The second said that he would do what was required of him, and then refused. As we know, the first one who repented is the model for faithfulness.

Faithfulness is a matter of submitting to authority. The question is who’s authority? For Christians, it is the authority of Christ. And the primary place for discerning the authority of Christ is the Catholic Church. The basis of Catholic teaching and belief is that Christ’s authority has been passed on to the Church, the Catholic Church. Let me tell you why I have accepted it and continue to submit to it after living the first 60 years of my life as a Protestant.

First this authority is historical. In the little one chapter NT book of Jude, in the third verse, there is this phrase that refers to the “faith which was once for all delivered.”  In other words, the faith of Jesus was delivered to the first century apostles and in turn it has been handed on through the centuries by means of the apostolic succession of bishops and this faith has been delivered to us today.

This is the Faith of Jesus and it is supremely authoritative. This faith is conveyed to us through the teaching Magisterium and it transmits to us what Christ would have us believe and do and what we do not believe nor should we do. Over the years we’ve often had to have the faith explained through the teaching of ecumenical councils and the prayerful reflections of Popes and bishops and some of the concepts have had to be developed, but there has always been one faith that has been passed along to the Church. That is basis of our authority and it is an historical authority.

My second reason is that this authority is objective. In other words, it couldn’t be subject to my personal whims or the whims of some vote by a Church convention. A 50% plus one vote is not authoritative enough to say that abortion is ok or that the definition of marriage can be changed, let alone issues like the nature of the Eucharist or the question of the Incarnation of Christ. These latter points had to be settled by Church councils.

This authority had to operate within the very fibers of the Church itself. To prove its objectivity, this authority had to be spread out over a large number of people, over a long period of time while remaining consistent in its themes and purpose. The Catholic Church has been faithful and consistent for 2000 years.

Third—connected with the criterion of objectivity— is that this authority is universal. As you know, Catholic means universal. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 396) said that “The Church is called Catholic because it extends through all the world…because it teaches universally and without omission all the doctrines which ought to come to man’s knowledge…because it brings under the sway of true religion all classes of men, rulers, and subjects, learned and ignorant; and because it universally treats and cures every type of sin…and possesses in itself every kind of virtue which can be named…and spiritual gifts of every kind.” (Catechetical Lectures 18.23) The Church cannot be the voice of just one person, one nationality, one theological grouping or one pressure group. This authority has to transcend geographical, cultural and intellectual boundaries. Not only does this authority have to be universal in geographic terms, it also has to transcend time as well. It has to be universal down through the ages, connecting authentically with every age.

But if this authority is universal it must also be particular. This fourth trait means that this authority must be practical and applicable in a particular place and through a particular person. It cannot be just a vague ‘body of teaching’ determined by majority vote, nor can it be some kind of ‘consensus of the faithful’ at a particular time and place, something that is subject to change 10 years from now. However, if it is particular, then it also has to be able to speak to particular problems and circumstances. A particular authority will apply the universal truths of the gospel to particular problems with confidence.

Fifth, this authority is intellectually satisfying. Unlike some traditions, the Catholic faith has not been “dumbed down.” While it must be simple enough for every person to understand and obey, it also must be challenging enough for the world’s greatest intellects. As St. Jerome, whose feast day is today, said of Scripture, ‘it must be shallow enough for a lamb to wade and deep enough for an elephant to swim.’ This authority must be intellectually coherent within itself and it must be able to engage confidently with all other intellectual religious and philosophical systems. Furthermore, if it is intellectually satisfying, it must offer a world view which is complete without being completely closed. In other words, there must be both answers and questions which still remain.

Sixth, this authority is Scriptural. The Church’s authority is rooted in Holy Scripture. Because it is Scriptural it also looks to the Bible continually as a source of inspiration and guidance. While this authority flows from Scripture it also confirms Scripture and the Church offers the right interpretation of various texts with confidence, never contradicting Scripture as a whole, but always working to further illuminate Holy Writ. In fact,“ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ!” insisted St. Jerome. So to review, I accept and submit to the authority of the Catholic Church for six reasons:

  1. The authority is historical.
  2. It is objective.
  3. It is universal.
  4. It is practical and applicable in particular places and through particular people.
  5. It is intellectually satisfying.
  6. It is based on Sacred Scripture.

The authority of the Catholic Church fulfils all six of these traits. They show that the Church’s authority is not ephemeral and merely human, but is of divine origin; in other words much of it has been revealed by God. Obviously there are many, many more reasons to accept and submit to the authority of the Church. This is at best a partial list. The point is that I need reasons to say “yes” when the Father instructs me to go work in the vineyard of the Lord and these in part are my reasons. And more importantly, I want to follow through, especially during times of great stress and tension. That is the essence of being faithful.





September 24, 2017 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 24 September  Comments Off on September 24, 2017 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sep 242017

Matthew 20:1-16a

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, the landowner found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Let’s just set it out there again: life often is not fair. That’s one of the things that we learn early on. It’s the result of the Fall of our First Parents: Adam and Eve. Resentment was the sin of Cain that led him to kill his brother Abel. It wasn’t fair, Cain thought, that God chose Abel’s offering over his. Our Lord Jesus acknowledged this ubiquitous unfairness when He said in Matthew 5:45 “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” Why should the evil and the unjust get the benefit of sunshine and rain?

We’ve got this issue of fairness in the parable this morning from Matthew 20.

Let’s set the stage. As in so many of Jesus’ parables, the Landowner represents God and the workers represent both Israel and the Church. You see, among other things, Jesus meant this to be a warning to his disciples and by implication to us, the Faithful today, to be careful of our attitudes, especially our resentments and grudges, even in the face of obvious unfairness.

In the preceding chapter, Matthew 19, Peter showed that he was worried about fairness by stating that “We’ve left everything and followed you, so what is our reward?” Jesus promised great return for their sacrifices, but in this lesson today, he also seems to be giving a warning to the disciples and to us. Do not be resentful of folks we think are unfairly rewarded. We the faithful, the disciples of Jesus, are not to be overly concerned about whether or not things are fair. It’s right here in today’s parable.

You’re familiar with the story, so let me paraphrase:

A certain prosperous farmer needed some day laborers. At 6:00AM he went to the employment agency and picked out his crew; they agreed on a fair day’s wage and he put them to work.  At 9:00 he went back and picked up a few more. At noon he came back, and then at 3:00 and finally at 5:00, one hour before quitting time.

Now the climax of the story is the anger and resentment of the workers who put in a long twelve hours; these were the guys who bore the heat of the day, who worked harder and longer than the others and they received no more than the guys who worked only for one hour It just wasn’t fair.

Sometimes you and I have a tough time with this, especially when life is unfair and specifically when life is unfair to me. It’s bad enough when life is unfair to you, but when life’s unfair to me, that’s really awful. It’s easy to slip into this kind of thinking, isn’t it?

Some years ago I saw the movie “Amadeus.” It was the story of that great musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  The movie depicted Mozart as a really irritating spoiled and crude sophomoric brat who also happened to be a musical genius. His social skills were almost non-existent. In the royal court of the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, Mozart acted the buffoon.

In contrast to Mozart was Joseph II’s chief court musician, a man named Solieri, a man of impeccable grooming and manners, but whose musical abilities were rather pedestrian compared to Mozart’s.  Solieri despised Mozart. He resented him. He obsessed over this thought “How could God permit such an obnoxious person to be so gifted? It just wasn’t fair.”

What made this story particularly interesting to me was that Solieri was a pious Catholic. He was a man of deep faith, so he was seriously anguished when he could not understand why God did not make him more gifted instead of squandering all that talent on that boor Mozart.  In a moment of despair and frustration, Solieri takes his crucifix off the wall and throws it into the fire. In his mind, Christ had forsaken him, so he was going to forsake Christ.

Most of us don’t do such dramatic gestures when we think God has forsaken us, or shown more favor to someone else who is much less worthy in our eyes. In response, we generally don’t burn our crucifixes or rosaries. But we may quit saying our prayers, we may stop attending Mass, thereby ex-communicating ourselves. After all, it’s just not fair.

Clinging to our own interpretation of fairness may very well reveal how we can easily misunderstand God’s ways. God’s kingdom is not based on fairness, it is based on love.  And God’s love is not fair. Why? Because God’s love extends to people we think should not receive it:  Muslim extremists, murderers, molesters, members of that other political party.  When we are honest with ourselves, there are a whole lot of times in our lives when we aren’t deserving of God’s love, either, but we receive it anyway.

You see, what all this means is that God is doing business on his terms, not ours. That’s the lesson from the parable. God, speaking through the voice of the landowner says “am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’ I suggest that there are 4 primary difficulties in the human condition to which this parable speaks.

1. Self absorption:   This is a theme I go back to frequently. Some years back I saw a bumper sticker that described perfectly the human condition. It said: “It really is all about me.” There’s a similar phrase from my friends in Alcoholics Anonymous: “I may not be much— but I am all I think about.” This is the basis of sin. This is the manifestation of our separation from God and others. This is not always the case. We are capable of incredible altruism, but there are plenty of times when we complain and grumble about inequities. Each one of us has been known to focus more on my work, my leisure, my problems, my wants and needs and less on God and his kingdom and his overwhelming love and graces. That is what leads to alienation, especially when things go sideways. It’s so easy to be self-absorbed.  After all, it’s not fair.

2.  Comparison:  Growing up with siblings makes us constantly aware of comparison.  Like many of you, we had a rule at our house when i was a youngster, that if there was one piece of cake left and two of us kids wanted it, one would cut the cake in half and the other would have first choice.  My brother and I would literally get out a ruler to measure the cake. We were figuring height and width and depth and volume long before we ever heard of geometry. As adults we get into the comparison stuff so strongly that we all too frequently ignore God’s grace completely. We may not say the words, but we often think, “Hey, he got more cake than me.” It’s not fair.

3.  Presumption:  We often presume too much when it comes to getting rewards. Somewhere along the line we have learned to assume that we are entitled to every blessing, forgetting that blessings by definition are gifts. The biggest problem with presumption is that we neglect to say thank you from the heart and we may tend to be tightfisted with the gifts that God so generously has bestowed upon us. After all, what’s mine is mine, I’ve earned it or at least I deserve it, and if we don’t receive what we think we deserve, we get resentful and affirm in our hearts that it’s just not fair.

4.  Distortion:  When we judge others as unworthy and receiving more than they deserve, we misunderstand that the Kingdom of God is built on Grace and not on our efforts, no matter how much exertion we have extended. If we work hard and play by the rules and we are not rewarded in the way that we think we are entitled, we grouse that it’s just not fair. We identify with the people who worked all day and got paid the same as the workers who worked only one hour. It wasn’t fair. This kind of thinking brings a distorted view of God’s kingdom.

Here again are the 4 reasons why we so often think things are not fair:

  1. Self-absorption
  2. Comparison
  3. Presumption
  4. Distortion

So in closing, it’s not fair that folks should suffer, it’s not fair that little kids get cancer and that old people get ripped off and their retirement funds are embezzled, it’s not fair that folks are victims of terrible abuse and that all too often perpetrators go free. It’s not fair that earthquakes and hurricanes and forest fires should savage so many. And I would remind you that it’s especially not fair that God gave his only son to die on a cross for our salvation, but that’s what love does. It forgoes and sacrifices and serves in the midst of such horrible unfairness. That is the way of love. It’s not about fairness, it’s about gratitude and grace.






September 17, 2017 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 17 September  Comments Off on September 17, 2017 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sep 192017

Sirach 27:30—28:7

Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins? If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins? Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”


I’ve been thinking about prudence. The Catechism tells us that prudence is “The virtue which disposes a person to discern the good and choose the correct means to accomplish it.” It goes on: Prudence “dispose(s) the Christian to live according to the law of Christ,” and “provides…guidance for the judgment of conscience.” (CCC p895-6)

To repeat, the Catechism tells us that prudence disposes us “to live according to the law of Christ” and it provides us “guidance for the judgment of conscience.” For Catholics, the conscience is the ultimate guide. This is from the Vatican II document Gaudium et spes (16), the Pastoral Constitution of the Church:

Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment…For man has in his heart a law ascribed by God…His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.

Without the proper guidance however, we can confuse conscience with other things: the voice of the world, the flesh and or the devil. There may have been some indoctrination that is counter to Church teachings. Events in life can warp our perspectives. Perhaps there was an issue of abuse in our early years. Or we might be victim to some mental illness. There are many things that can lead us to slip into thinking that our consciences are instructing us to do something contrary to the laws of God and the Church.

To give insight into this Pope Saint John Paul II wrote several things on the topic including the encyclical Veritatis Splendor or “The Splendor of Truth.” He teaches that the conscience is not subjective, but is the conveyor of objective truth. There cannot be a moral truth for one person and a different one for someone else. Abortion can’t be killing a child for one person and a good moral choice for another. St. John Paul tells us that the conscience actually represents the overcoming of subjectivity because it brings us into direct contact with the moral truth revealed by God.

Once we know and embrace the teachings of the Church on moral issues we realize that the conscience embraces the truth of moral norms and when that happens, you and I appreciate that these norms are not alien or imposed from the outside. Rather they orient us to our own good and personal fulfillment.

For example, when our consciences perceive the intrinsic value of marriage, then we subscribe to the norm forbidding adultery not because it is some burdensome external command, but because following this norm is in harmony with our own nature and the objective order of goodness willed by God. When we know the truth of the Church, then our consciences are at peace when we practice this truth.

According to St. John Paul, the “conscience is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil.”  Rather, the conscience must act in conformity with the objective moral norms given to us by God, and if this does not happen, then our conscience is in error. Conscience is always subordinate to moral truth. It is crucial, therefore, to dispel the myth that conscience is a lawgiver or represents the final subjective determination of what’s good or what’s evil.

Conscience, therefore, is far more than a rational judgment process. Through our consciences we are open to the demands of moral truth and the voice of God who speaks to us through that truth. Our consciences provide all of us with the capacity to transcend our own egos so that we can grasp those objective truths that perfect us and consequently we are lead to fullness of life.  Saint John Paul emphasizes that our consciences need to be tutored; we need instruction from the teachings of the Church and we need to be instructed especially from the scriptures.

As an example, today we have scriptures before us that instruct our consciences. We must take them to heart if we are to be faithfully prudent. This is God’s instruction for our consciences.

We can start at the opening lines from our first lesson from Sirach: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail.”

A well-tutored, prudent conscience does not permit vengeance, even though there are times when we want to give into the very sinful notion of “I don’t get mad—I get even.”

In the Gospel lesson we hear something more. Here we have Saint Peter asking how many times he needs to forgive his brother. And in response, Jesus tells the parable of forgiveness of monetary debt, which in fact deals with the nature and state of our hearts.

It’s appropriate for each of us to ask, ‘What is the state of my heart, the place where my conscience lies?” Remember the teaching of Gaudium et Spes, we have in our hearts “a law ascribed by God.” This is heart-level faith. I regularly will ask someone in confession if they are suffering from hardness of heart, the state that blocks the holiness of our consciences. I’ve found over the years that when one suffers from hardness of heart there are generally two causes.

The first is the heart that is calloused over. This generally comes from a sense of competency and efficiency. A person may be quite good at accomplishing tasks and gets very impatient with those who are less competent, who get in the way, who mess things up. This kind of hardness of heart, this callousness blocks compassion and gives way to a seriously critical and oftentimes resentful nature.

A second reason for hardness of heart is scar tissue. This is from old wounds that have caused the heart to be scarred. And this scarring prevents one from being compassionate. These old wounds that have been scarred over and often prevent us from being kindhearted to someone who reminds us of the old times of wounding.

The penance I regularly assign to this hardness of heart is for the penitent to ask our Blessed Mother to come and gently massage the callous or the scar tissue and break it up, so that the heart can be soft and supple. When this happens the heart is open to the instructions of God for our consciences and enables us to be more sensitive and more receptive to prudence.

Back to the Gospel lesson.

Peter asks: “Lord if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” The Greek here is a little ambiguous and I think the translation is a bit misleading. It implies that Jesus is saying that there is a finite number of times we are to forgive someone. So if somebody sins against you 78 times, you no longer have to forgive him because he’s already used up the allotted 77 times.

I think there is a better translation of this passage, one that speaks to the intent of our Lord, It is to replace the number 77 with the number 7 to the 70th power. I asked my son the engineer to calculate this for me. He said it was 1.435 followed by 59 zeros. I’m not going to check his math, but remember that a million is 1 followed by 6 zeros. 59 zeros represent a really, really big number. That’s the point.

Once again Jesus is using hyperbole, extreme exaggeration, to teach us. We are to forgive always with no finite number attached. We are never to run out of forgiveness. Why? Because God never runs out of forgiveness for us—never.

And just as we are forgiven, we are to forgive. It’s a critical part of the prayer Jesus taught us “Forgive us our trespasses, as, AS,AS, we forgive those who trespass against us.” Being forgiven and forgiving others are so intertwined they cannot be separated, a basic Catholic teaching.

The New Testament speaks with one voice on the subject. Forgiveness is not like a Christmas present that a kindly old grandfather gives to a sulky kid, even if the grandchild hasn’t bought a single gift for anyone else.

Forgiveness is more like blood in your heart. There’s only room for blood to come in if your heart has pumped the blood out. Your heart pumps out blood and takes in more blood. You can’t separate one from the other.  Whatever the spiritual, moral or emotional equivalent of a heart may be, it’s either open or closed. If it’s open, able and willing to forgive others, it will be open to receive God’s love and forgiveness, and instruction for our consciences.

But if it it’s locked up to the one, it will be locked up to the other. Jesus finishes the parable by making it clear; if you don’t “forgive from the heart,” you are not going to be forgiven.

You can feel it along with your heartbeat: forgiveness out—forgiveness in—forgiveness out—forgiveness in. In fact it’s actually love in—love out—love in—love out—love in—love out. It’s a major rhythm of the life of the Faithful.

Peter’s question and Jesus’ answer says it all: If you are still counting how many times you’ve forgiven someone, you’re not really forgiving them, you’re probably just postponing revenge.

What Jesus is talking about is simple.  Don’t even think about the number of times you forgive, just do it from the heart. It’s the best way to assure your own forgiveness and to honor Christ who died for the forgiveness of your sins and mine. We have no higher calling. It’s the ultimate expression of prudence.

I close with more of God’s instruction from Sirach:

Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay and cease from sin!  Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults. This is real prudence.