Homily for Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Readings for Today

Do you ever feel that you are unredeemable?  That is to say, do you feel you have committed sins that are simply too big, too evil, for God to forgive?  The people of Sodom and Gomorrah must have felt this way.  In a footnote in the New American Bible, in a note to the reading, many reasons for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  “The immorality of the cities was already hinted at in 13:13, when Lot made his choice to live there. The “outcry” comes from the victims of the injustice and violence rampant in the city, which will shortly be illustrated in the treatment of the visitors. The outcry of the Hebrews under the harsh treatment of Pharaoh (Ex 3:7) came up to God who reacts in anger at mistreatment of the poor (cf. Ex 22:2123Is 5:7). Sodom and Gomorrah became types of sinful cities in biblical literature. Is 1:910;3:9 sees their sin as lack of social justice, Ez 16:4651, as disregard for the poor, and Jer 23:14, as general immorality. In the Genesis story, the sin is violation of the sacred duty of hospitality by the threatened rape of Lot’s guests.”

Whatever the reasons, Sodom and Gomorrah have become synonymous for places steeped in sin, places beyond the mercy of God.  But the readings today present a different picture.  There is hope, a chance at redemption.  “Wash yourselves clean!”  “Cease doing evil, learn to do good.”  “Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord.”  We know that of our own accord we cannot set things right, that it is only by the grace of God that such occurs.  Rather, it is when we heed the words of God, when we are “willing and obey” that we are able to accept the Lord’s forgiveness and have our sins, as bright and obvious as scarlet on snow, will indeed become white, pure, clean.

Indeed, Lent is a time for us to turn to the Lord.  Many parishes have reconciliation services, those times when people can be made who through the grace of the sacrament of confession.  Take advantage of these opportunities.  Hear today the words of the Lord:  Wash yourselves clean!

Homily for Monday, March 17, 2014

Readings for Today

We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and your laws. We have not obeyed your servants the prophets . . .” Not such a good day for the Israelites today.  An open and honest admission that they have failed to follow the will of God.  A lot.  Sinning.  Being wicked. Doing evil.  Rebelling.  Departing from commandments and laws. Not obeying.  This is a pretty complete list.

I know I can point out similar things in my own life.  I sin, am wicked, do evil, rebel, depart from commandments and laws, and do not obey.  Such is my list.  Where is the healing for such a list?  To be sure, we experience profound forgiveness of God by asking.  But, Jesus also knew the weakness of our hearts, and the effects of our sins.  He knew we needed to speak them, not only in prayer, but to another.  Such brings a greater awareness of the will of God.

Jesus stresses those things that make it more likely our hearts become open to this forgiveness.  Stop judging.  Stop condemning.  Forgive.  At the heart of our sins I think is that pride that says we know better than anyone, even God.  So we judge and condemn those who do not live up to our standards.  We find it hard to forgive such people.  Yet, when we sin, we desire the forgiveness of God, which is primary, and the forgiveness by others.

Look deep into your hearts today, into your souls, and invite God inside.  Ask God to help you to be merciful just as he is merciful  Can we become known as the givers of compassion and mercy, especially when it is undeserved, as when we go before God?

Homily for Saturday, March 15, 2014

Readings for Today

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Easy, right?  After challenging us to be as attentive to the interior of our lives as well as the exterior, Jesus ends with what seems to be spoken as if it were easy.  And, the truth is, were we to follow Jesus with our whole heart, it would be.

Just what is the way to perfection?  To be sure, we look to Jesus as the Way, Truth and Life.  But how is it that we get on that “Way”? What do we need to do?  Who do we need to be?  As with everything, it all starts with God.  It can run counter to our western understanding of life to say this.  Wait, it does not all start with me?  I just need to be more active. do more things, work on more projects, and I will be perfect, right?

Quite honestly, the way to perfection is to recognize the God who made us, and to be that person.  We are made in the image and likeness of God.  If we are really to be what and who we were created to be, then we would be perfect.  But of course, we sin.  We do not always strive to act like God acts.

Such is the fundamental choice Moses lays out before the people.  Observe the decrees of God (be perfect), or life will ultimately turn out badly (choosing death).  We should not get confused here.  Being perfect is not, however, a choice of checking off a set of rules on a piece of paper.  No, being perfect, as Jesus tells us in the gospel, is to have that heart that is inclined to God’s will.  It is making sure the grace of God makes its way into the very depths of our heart and soul.

To do that means very much to be hearers and doers of the Word.  To turn our lives over to the God of majesty who has more in store for his followers than can possible be imagined.  So, choose life and be perfect.

Homily for Friday, March 14, 2014

Readings for Today

“That’s not fair!”  How many times has a child said this to mom or dad?  “That’s not fair!”  Equality seems to be a fundamental value in the United States.  The word is thrown around a lot in politics, it is an early concept learned by children, and it is something we all desire, to be treated fairly.  But what does equality really mean?

The word equal can be translated the same as.  So when we speak of a right, such as the right to free speech as being a sign of equality, it means the right given is the same for everyone.  It does not treat one person differently than the next.  No, in the name of equality, every person has the same right to free speech.

There are other moments, however, when we do not treat someone exactly the same, and doing so, creating some inequality, is ok.  Parents do not treat their children equally, because each child has unique needs and a unique personality.  An effective teacher does not treat all children equally, because each child has a different way to effectively learn.  And each child has unique needs.  We do not punish children who wear glasses by telling them to take them off, because we want to treat all children the same, and since some children do not have glasses, then no one can wear them.  That would be silly.  We recognize that treating children fairly does not mean treating them equally.

I worked in a school where a teacher had this taped to her desk:  “Fair is not always equal.”  And so it is with God.  God loves every person he has created.  But God also knows that every person is not the same, precisely because God is the creator.  Differences require that God deal in a unique way with each one of us.  And these differences, if celebrated, make for a more complete picture of the image of God.

Where do we see this in the Church?  There are different religious orders, stressing different gifts, there are different styles of preaching, different cultures, different ways of expressing the call of God in our lives.  How is it that God invites you to a deeper prayer life?  What is it that God does that helps you to grow closer to him?  How is it that you need to change your life to be more attentive to the presence of God?

Homily for Thursday, March 13, 2014

Readings for Today

Ask.  Seek.  Knock. It all sounds so easy, doesn’t it?  Prayer, I mean.  Ask.  Seek.  Knock.  Oh, and trust.  Trust that God answers prayers, that when we ask, God answers, when we seek, God helps us to find, when we Knock, God opens the door.  The challenge with all prayer is to believe that God answers our prayer.  God is the all-faithful God, waiting for us to ask, seek and knock.

Do we do this?  Do we ask, seek and knock?  I find that this can be the real challenge in my life.  So much of life is filled with activity, with noise, with distractions.  Finding that quiet time where I can know and experience the presence of God is important indeed.  And it takes discipline.  Dominicans promise at least 30 minutes a day of mental prayer, as well as the rosary each day.  To take that time to step back and do nothing, only to be in God’s presence.  That is prayer.  That is the call of faith.

But in a western world that tends to equate accomplishments with self-worth, that we are only valuable if we can do something, asking, seeking and knocking is antithetical to such quiet.  What do you mean, do nothing?  What do you mean, not be productive, or profitable?  Just as God yesterday challenged Jonah to follow God’s voice to preach in Nineveh, even though Jonah did not want to, God calls us too, to slow down, to reflect and pray.

Can you make a little time for God today?

Homily for Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Readings for Today

The story of Jonah is one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament.  Jonah is the reluctant prophet.  He does not want to go to the people of Nineveh, he does not care about their salvation, he does not care that it is God who is asking him to go.  The introduction to the book of Jonah in the New American Bible  says this: “It concerns a disobedient prophet who rejected his divine commission, was cast overboard in a storm and swallowed by a great fish, rescued in a marvelous manner, and returned to his starting point. Now he obeys and goes to Nineveh, the capital of Israel’s ancient enemy.”

Why is it that Jonah does not want to go?  Because he does not care for the Ninevites.  They are the enemy, the “them” in an us and them world.  And so, he is angry that he is asked to warn them.  But there is more.  It becomes more pronounced when it becomes clear to Jonah he must preach, and goes.  But, alas, he preaching has effect, and Jonah gets mad again.  Rather than rejoicing in the acceptance of God’s grace, Jonah becomes angry that Nineveh is not destroyed.

There are so many levels to this story.  First, there is the primacy of God’s love.  Were I God, I would have had a hard time putting up with Jonah.  He hardly seems to be the type of person that would be a good messenger.  I picture him as a surly, angry, cynical person, the type that says “that will never work” or “no” to any new or different idea. But I am not God, and God stays with Jonah because unlike me, God can see into Jonah’s heart and beyond the rough exterior.

The Introduction to the New American Bible chapter of the book of Jonah also points out this irony.  “The book is replete with irony, wherein much of its humor lies. The name “Jonah” means “dove” in Hebrew, but Jonah’s character is anything but dove-like.”   Not the pleasant prophet, but the one who runs far away from God, only to wind up again where he began, and one who is hardly enthusiastic in his message.  In fact, his message is devoid of any mention of God, or any concern that these people will convert and turn to God.

In this story though is hope for us.  God does not abandon us, turn his back, or give up.  No, God is always seeking to find new ways that we might recognize and respond to God’s grace.  Such is the message of Jonah, and of Lent.  Let us pray for open hearts, that instead of turning away from God, we might turn toward God and new life.

Homily for Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Readings for Today

So much is contained in the praying of the “Our Father.”  In fact, it is the perfect prayer.  It reminds us of our place with God, and focuses our attention on the basic needs we have.  Most of all, especially with the lines after the “Our Father”, the emphasis today is on giving and receiving forgiveness.  “If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

I remember hearing a homily once where it was suggested that the words “just as” be added to the Our Father.  “Forgive us our trespasses, [just] as we forgive those who trespass against us,” as a reminder that there was a direct correlation between receiving God’s forgiveness and our forgiving others.  It needs to be clear, however, that this correlation is not because God is limited, but by failing to forgive others our hearts become closed.

The task during the Lenten season is to ask God to open our hearts anew.  It is for this reason that we fast.  By focusing on what might keep us from seeing the presence of God, by fasting from it, then we are able to see more clearly what is truly important.  By reflecting upon and making real the words we pray, or the silence we engage, we come more able to hear the voice of God deep within us.  By almsgiving, we seek to remove that selfishness that keeps us from being more like God.

To be sure, one more point is needed to emphasize here.  The “Our Father” also reminds us that being a Christian is about community.  There is no “Jesus and me” in the Christian religion.  It is always “Jesus and us” or “God and us.”  Jesus prayer beings with the “Our Father” and not the “My Father.”  To that end, we need to be reminded that we are in this together, and one concrete sign of that is being able to forgive one another.

Homily for Monday, March 10, 2014

Readings for Today

Does today’s gospel reading make you nervouse?  It does me.  It sounds like Jesus is suggesting that every other person has the dignity of Jesus.  That every other person demands to be treated by Christians as we would treat Jesus himself.  And I do not do that.

Some people.  I treat some people like they are Jesus.  But not all.  I may even treat most people I encounter as if they were Jesus.  But not all.  I know I do not. And there is the rub.  For what failures will I hear Jesus say to me, “I was thirsty and you did not give me to drink”?

The first reading makes the suggestion that Christianity (or Judaism) can be about only following rules.  But later in the reading we are reminded about the importance of the inner heart, the need to be attentive not only to what we show others, but more importantly the room we make for God in our heart.

It is not just killing, but being angry.  It is not just committing adultery, it is confronting lust. It is not just lying, but avoiding the inner disposition that wants to say things in a way that may technically be true, but are statements designed to mislead.

The most important lesson is the profound human dignity we all possess because we are created in God’s image.  And that everyone we see, in our lives, on our streets, in the news, is an invitation to serve Jesus.  So, as you leave, remember, today you are going to meet Jesus.

Homily for Saturday, March 8, 2014

Readings for Today

Did you ever have the feeling in school that you were doing the same thing over and over?  Or at work, do you feel like the boss says the same things over and over?  As a parent, do you ever feel that you need to say the same things over and over to your children?  Today’s first reading from Isaiah reminds me of these moments.  Yesterday, we heard that fasting, authentic fasting, meant to feed the hungry, free those unbound unjustly, to shelter the homeless or to free the oppressed.  It might seem that after yesterday we could say, “yes, I get it”, and become a little frustrated about today’s first reading.

Today the Lord tells us to “remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech.”  We are challenged to “bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted.”  Sounds an awful lot like the words we heard yesterday.  Why is it we hear such similar words today?  Does God think we are stupid?

God may, but perhaps it is more because we simply do not wish to hear it.  It seems in my view that some have a desire these days to punish the poor, to blame the poor for in fact being poor.  There seems to be a belief that if there are poor, they exist due to their own shortcomings, or laziness, or desire to mooch off of the rest of us.  On some level, we still share that Calvinist Protestant ethic that states being favored by God means not to be poor.

But there is a rather different truth that should move us, much like the first reading.  Namely, we need to listen, to hear, to become aware of the way that Jesus tells us to follow him.  Pope Francis mentioned in an interview that this call of Matthew which we hear today was a powerful influence in his own sense of his call by God.  That in the painting by Caravaggio, when Jesus points his finger and says “follow me” it was meant just for him.

There is always at Mass a deep connection between the first reading and the gospel.  Today is no different.  What do we learn?  We learn that we can only accomplish the challenges laid out in the first reading if we answer the call in the gospel.  In other words, we will only be successful in removing oppression, false speech, maliciousness if we are able to follow Jesus.  To the degree we can be open to a strong relationship with Christ, it is only in that relationship that we can find the grace to live as Jesus lived.

If you open your ears, and more importantly your heart, to answer the call to follow Jesus, you will find no end to the fulfillment a life with Jesus can give.

Homily for Friday, March 7, 2014

Readings for Today

What does it mean to fast?  Dictionary.com defines fast as “to abstain from all food”, or in a religious sense, “to eat only sparingly or of certain kinds of food”.  Today is a day of abstinence, or fasting, in that we choose not to eat meat, but more in the spirit of the discipline, to eat more simply as well.  One might not consider lobster to be meat, and so they feel fine in going to a nice restaurant and feasting on lobster.  But to do so, I think, misses the point.

The first reading refers to the type of fast that would see eating a fine lobster dinner as a fast.  In Isaiah’s reading, the writer notes that people are upset because God does not notice there fasting and suffering.  Remember the reading on Ash Wednesday when Jesus chastises those who wish to do penance, to pray, to give alms, to fast, only in order to be noticed.  God makes note of the fact that whether or not they are fasting or suffering, those who complain are not changing their lives.  “Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw.”

Whatever penitential practices we undertake, they are always to serve a higher purpose.  It is not simply a test of willpower, to see if we can go without candy, or desserts, for these alone do not accomplish much.  Nor is it something that is only to debase ourselves, to wallow in our sinfulness.  Isaiah rejects this too, for the Lord says, “Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: That a man bow his head like a reed and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?”  Rather, we engage in penitential practices only to the degree that these practices help us to grow in faith.  If we are not becoming closer to Jesus, and by extension, kinder in our actions towards others, then our penitential practices are not healthy.

Authentic penitential practices, or Lenten devotions, focus our attention more keenly on what grace is available to us, so that we live as the persons we were created to be.  We must recognize, especially if we have been greatly blessed, that we who have been given much are expected to do much as well.  What does our fasting lead us to do?  Are we fighters and quarrelers, focusing on our own pursuits? Or, are we those who become ever more attentive to the needs of our brothers and sisters?

This second type of fasting is desired:

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.

So, what does your fasting lead to?