Homily for Sunday, August 30, 2015

Readings for Today

There is an expression, it is what is on the inside that counts. There are times when we say that a book cannot be judged by its cover. There is a thought that for it to be possible to get to what is important, we need to get to the heart of the matter. Or, we need to look deep inside to reflect upon the most significant aspects of life. These expressions point out to us that we need to look past appearances on the outside to see what is real on the inside.

This is the message Moses delivers in the first reading today. He stresses to the people the closeness of God, and the importance of the heart in understanding the way of life to which God calls us. For it is there where God dwells. “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?

But for me, and perhaps for you, the question becomes, how aware am I of this closeness of God? Do I take the time to look deep within, or am I too busy with tasks and actions to seek to discover the presence of God in my life, or to see how God is trying to move my heart closer to the life giving relationship that fulfills?

I do not know about you, but I find it difficult sometimes to slow down from the busy tasks that seem to be important. In fact, sometimes they are important. But sometimes I become surprised when I realize how quickly time has passed, and how much I have missed when I stop to think of all of the things I miss as a result. Even though I think I am about doing good things, too often I am tempted to be so busy that I lose sight of the priorities of the things I should really pay attention to in my own life. I work and work and work only to learn that I have missed out on the very things that are really important.

Harry Chapin expressed this in a folk song in the 70s with his song, Cats in the Cradle. If you are of a certain generation, you probably know it well enough to sing it if I were to begin it. It tells the story of a father who is so busy that he misses out on the relationship with his son. Work, work, work. And in the song we see the lack of receiving the most important gift caused the son to live in the same way.

Do we pay attention enough to the priorities of God? Or are we moving from place to place, from this activity to that one, and as such, find little or no real time for God? For what we learn from the gospel is this lack of attention to the heart is not just about being a good father or mother. It is not just keeping the proper work-life balance. No, this temptation to be perpetually active is the temptation of the spiritual life too.

Talk to me about parishes I have served in, or schools I have taught in, and I will tell you all of the things we accomplished there. But do I ever stop to ask myself, “Through my preaching, and with my prayer, are the people here being made more holy because they see God in my witness?” In other words, do I place so much emphasis on the activities and programs that I lose sight of the importance of simply finding the presence of God, reflecting upon his word, simply being with God, rather than doing for God?

This seems to be a point Jesus is seeking to drive home in this gospel. Were the Pharisees bad people? It is not readily apparent that is the case. Saint Paul, for example was a Pharisee. Some scripture scholars suggest the Jesus too may have been a Pharisee. The difficulty encountered when Jesus argues with the Pharisees does not appear to me to be one where it is incompatible to be a Pharisee and a follower of God, but rather that the emphasis upon external actions is not to grow in deeper relationship with God, but to be seen as someone who might be doing that. In fact, in one part of the gospel Jesus says as much.

The problem we encounter is when we make high demands with our words but fall very short in our actions. I found it interesting to see a headline on the CNN website discussing the hypocrisy of Josh Duggar, the child in the reality show featuring his very large family who admitted to molesting his sisters and then recently was on the “Madison Ashley” list, that website people could apparently sign up for if they wanted to have a little fling or sexual affair. It was not the news story about Josh Duggar specifically, but rather the headline that not only emphasized Josh Duggar as a hypocrite, but had a feature related that referred to as “Other hypocrites”.

What struck me was the tone that suggested it was only the people who were on that list that were hypocrites. Maybe there are others who are not hypocrites, but I know I am a hypocrite. I am like Saint Paul too often, knowing the good I should do but choosing the bad. I tell people one thing and do another. As much as I would like to say I am a good example of witnessing to God’s holiness in my life, I know that I do not. I fail. I sin.

Pope Francis when asked to identify himself in a news interview early in his papacy, said this. When asked, “Who is Jorge Borgoglio?” his answer was that he was a sinner. The pope’s witness to being concerned for the poor and living a simple life has clearly gotten the attention of people all over the world. And yet, he does not refer to those actions as defining characteristics of his identity. He is, rather, a sinner, redeemed by Jesus.

This is what the Pharisees forgot. They felt that by clinging to the traditions of their ancestors in the easy things, they could consider their witness authentic. But the Christian witness is not easy. When a homeless person walks toward me, begging for a gift, inside I want to run the other way. There is a part of me that can feel put out if I have to do something for the less fortunate. Why are they bothering me? Why are they taking my time?

I have noticed, though, that when I feel this way, it is also often at the same time I realize I have not been silent in the presence of God, seeking his will, stilling my heart to discover him. It is, rather, when I think my activities, whatever they are, are more important than seeing the face of Christ in the world, in those most difficult people.

The sinful inclination is fed not first in our actions, but starts in our hearts. Interestingly, the disposition mentioned in the second reading that leads to being a doer of the word is also found first in the heart. So if you are busy, try to take a few moments to slow down and find God.

Homily for Thursday, August 27, 2015

Readings for Today

I was in a school that required all students to take speech. One important moment in the class was when the students delivered their “hero” speech. While there were speeches that focused on what might be expected, there were a few speeches each year that identified heroes that might not have appeared likely when the topic of hero was considered.

When this time of year rolled around, usually early in the semester if I remember correctly, it got me thinking about baptism and confirmation sponsors, which I tried to present in programs as “heroes in the faith.” My point was to help people to think about those persons who had made a big difference in their lives of faith with God. I’d also ask my students to write about this same idea. I invited them to consider people they believed lived an authentic life of faith they could be considered a hero because of their faith in God. Often what they wrote was inspiring.

I thought of this as I read the first reading today. In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul is reassured by the accounts of faith he is hearing about them. While they may not yet be “heroes” in the faith, their lived witness reassures Paul that the constant presence of Jesus is active and alive in the church there. It causes him to be filled with gratitude for what God is doing in their lives.

This awareness leads Paul to invite the Thessalonians to deeper love, for one another, and for God. It was this same awareness that led Saint Monica to pray again and again for her son Saint Augustine. Any good mother, it seems to me, is always concerned for her children. Any good mother of faith, becomes most concerned about the quality and depth of their relationship with God.

What all this means is that the invitation of the gospel must be considered seriously. We are called to be on the watch for God’s presence, which is constantly around us. Yet we do not always see it. How is it that someone is “on the watch?”

In the hustle and bustle that can be all to pervasive today, perhaps more than ever we are called to the type of internal accountability that means we reflect our current priorities with those that God holds out to each of us. There are so many things that can be distracting us from the things that are most important. We can be too overcome by the demands of our work, or the lure of the internet, or pornography, or the running from silence that is really a running from ourselves and God.

What we need to do is be on the watch for the ways in which God longs for us to discover the really important things in life, those things which lead to fulfillment. Too often the things that occupy our time are not fulfilling. Work may help us to see what we can accomplish, but when it gets out of whack, we forget the importance of the people we love. The Internet can be tremendously helpful, but it can also lead to attempts to fill emptiness that it cannot fill. Pornography is no substitute for love. Games are no substitute for social relationship. Status updates on Facebook are no substitute for authentic friendships built in “real time”.

In the gospel, it is the servant who feeds the people that is most rewarded. Consider what food we can give if our lives are spent seeing what God has given us, and being able to share the good food that God makes available to all in the form of a deep relationship with others.

It’s been awhile

I am sorry to say that the DePorres Pages have been rather silent over the past few weeks. But they have been busy. Too busy. But now that we are ready to “come up for air,” we are hoping to get into a more regular updating cycle. So, what’s ahead?

Return of the Daily Homily. We will re-commit to working hard to post a daily spiritual reflection. We have received great feedback about this and we hope to resume it. We are going to work very hard to continue the short spiritual reflections each day. We will work hard to get back to the regular schedule of updates.

Educational apps and websites. There has been a lot of interesting things going on recently in the age of educational technology. We’ll work to bring them to you at the start of another school year.

Commentary. Whether it is the questions raised by the recent Planned Parenthood videos, the increasing circus that is “Deflategate”, or other things, the commentaries will return, and hopefully generate some discussion.

So, sit back and relax.

Homily for Friday, December 5, 2014

Readings for Today

Isn’t time a funny thing? When we are very little, and we hear someone say, “I will be with you in a little while,” we usually can wait no more than a few seconds. As we grow older, our concept of time changes. It seems to move faster and faster. We arrive at a certain time in our lives, say at 50, and part of us, maybe even all of us wonders how it arrived so quickly. And yet when we were children, we may have felt like we would never get to be able to grow up.

Even in our adult lives, there are different types of waiting. If we are waiting for a loved one to visit, the wait seems long. If we are waiting for the doctor to give us the result of tests, the wait can be agonizing. As we have come to the place where we can deliver things faster and faster, it still seems to take too long for something we want very much to arrive.

When that loved one does arrive, it seems like time speeds up, and before we know it the visit is over. Parents know that their children grow up all too fast, and grandparents feel the same way about their grandchildren. There just seems to be no making sense of time. Even God speaks of time in a way that suggests there are differences in understanding it. “A thousand years is like a day” we read, and Jesus says , “I am coming soon”, and some two thousand years later we wait.  We wait for our prayers to be answered. Sometimes this seems like it will never happen.

And so what do we make of the phrase, “a very little while.” The actions that follow hardly seem like things that will happen in a little while. Consider the blind men in the gospel. How long had they waited for someone like Jesus to come along in their lives? And after all this waiting, it would be understandable that they no longer could believe that God would do this, this great restoration of sight so they could perceive clearly again. They could witness the vivid world around them.

These different notions of time caused the Greeks to develop two words for time. One is like what I describe. Χρονος, (chronos) from which we derive our word chronology. This is the time measured by watches and calendars. Then there is Καιρος (kairos) which is God’s time. It is the time when we experience the person and presence of God. It is when all is ready. It is the time for fulfillment. It is that time that is beyond measuring. It is in this sense that something happens in “a very little while.” It is this time that we focus on during this season of Advent. It is this time that made the blind men ready for Jesus to do something marvelous.

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