November 26, 2017 Christ the King

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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

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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

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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.