Thursday, July 5, 2018

"Do Not Be Afraid - Just Have Faith"

Homily for Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

One way to engage with Scripture is to put yourself into the story– to be one of the characters, to see what they are seeing, to feel what they are feeling. Today’s Gospel gives us a wide variety of characters to help us do just that, but I want to focus on the two main characters – Jairus and the woman with a hemorrhage.

On one level, these two characters couldn’t be more dissimilar: Jairus is a man, he is prominent in the community, he is ritually pure since he is a synagogue official, and for the same reason, he is also well off. The woman, on the other hand, is, first, a woman – who were second-class people at best – she was also ritually impure because of her affliction, she was broke from paying all the doctors that didn’t help, and she was an outcast because of her disease.

But even though they are so dissimilar, when I put myself in their place, and I try to picture what they are feeling, the same one word comes to mind – desperation! Both Jairus and the woman are desperate, and to a great extent they share a desperation for something similar – their children. For the woman, it is the desperation for the children that the hemorrhage is preventing her from having, and so keeping her as an outcast. For Jairus, it is a desperation for his daughter’s very life.

Think of what lengths you would go to protect your children. Would you even perhaps break the rules if you had to? That’s what the woman did – she broke social norms and religious prohibitions – she broke the rules in order to get to Jesus, in order to be healed. Jairus, too, this prominent synagogue official, falls down at Jesus’ feet, embarrasses himself and begs Jesus to help – for the sake of his daughter. Their desperation for their children emboldens them to break the rules, to break with norms in order to save their children.

I’ve witnessed that kind of desperation first-hand. I’ve spoken to Syrian refugee fathers who have scooped up their children and taken them to a foreign land –with no plan, no guarantees, no direction – all they know is that they are doing what they have to do to save their children.

I’ve spoken to mothers in El Salvador who have sent their children north, sent them with people they hoped they could trust, just to get them away from the gangs and the violence and the threats to their lives.  “It is sad”, one mother said, “that our children might become our most valuable export”. Other mothers expressed hesitation of ever being able to send their kids on their own, but were convinced that if the threats continued, they would not hesitate to take their children and to head north to save their lives.

These desperate folks land on our borders sometimes. And how do we respond? Do we approve when children are separated from their parents at the border? Do we cheer when children are sent to immigration court alone? Do we applaud when people are turned around and sent away or locked up because they were asking us to protect them from violence and gangs and abuse?  And then we have the audacity to sing our opening song, “All Are Welcome”?

How should we respond? I would ask you to consider three articles that appear in this month’s issue of the WNY Catholic. The first is by Bishop Malone that talks about why we must build bridges instead of walls. The second article is one about our US Bishops’ reaction to the Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the border. The third is my column that talks about what the Church teaches about migration.

I think that it’s important that you listen to what the Church has to say about these issues because there are other voices out there – voices that want you to be afraid. They want you to be afraid that these desperate people are going to take your jobs or use up your resources. They want you to be afraid that these people will come and bring murder and rape and drugs and violence. They want you to be afraid that somehow what we give to them will mean less for you – as if we don’t have enough to go around. They want you to be afraid.

Maybe the words that Jesus spoke to Jairus he is speaking to us: “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith”.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

WHEN? A Homily for the First Sunday of Lent - February 18, 2018

Moment of silence for the 17 lives lost in the tragic and senseless violence in Parkland Florida last Wednesday.

The irony is not lost on us, I am sure, that Valentine’s Day, the day when we celebrate love, will now only be remembered as a day of hate and violence to those who lost someone they loved.  And the coincidence of this massacre occurring on Ash Wednesday compels us to reflect on how we spend this Lent, this year.

Just about the time that many of us were gathering right here on Wednesday afternoon for our Word Service, the shooter was entering Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. And shortly after that, a teacher, two coaches and 14 students had been taken from this life. And while panicked students texted their parents, or fled in terror from the school, I was signing foreheads with ashes and saying, “Repent and believe in the Good News”.

Could our need for repentance be any clearer to us? As long as we see all of the evil in the world as something that happens “over there” or is perpetrated by “others” we will not see our role in it, we will avoid having to ask for forgiveness, we will refuse to see our need to repent.

Jesus’ call to repent means that we have to have a “change of mind”, we have to re-think what we have assumed that we know, we have to earnestly plead to God like the psalmist says, “Teach me your ways, O Lord!”

We need to repent and re-turn to God’s ways and God’s direction. We need to repent of our habit of not paying attention and only seeing what concerns us directly. We need to confront the evil we see and not be afraid – to rely on God’s strength to deal with what we see before us.

Pope Francis once said that, “No evil is infinite, no night is without end, no hatred is stronger than love.” Jesus faced the wilderness and the wild beasts, and came out declaring the time of fulfillment. He heard about JBap’s arrest and knew the consequences for himself, and still declared the reign of God. He faced being tested by Satan, and called for belief in the Good News!

Rabbi Abraham Heschel wrote a book on the prophets, and he pointed out that when the prophets spoke of the need for repentance, they spoke to everyone, from the king on down to the lowliest peasant. As Rabbi Heschel pointed out, when the covenant is broken, “few are guilty, but all are responsible”.

We are responsible when we see a tragedy like Parkland and say that it is too complicated to really do anything about it. We are responsible when we shrug our shoulders and chalk it up to how things are in the world. We are responsible when we don’t raise our voices in pain, and in frustration, and even in anger.

The “Good News” is that Christ has won the battle; as the letter from Peter says, he has suffered for sins once…the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God..

Lent is the beginning of a change in the rest of our lives – to make a difference in ourselves that will last way beyond Easter Sunday. Our opportunity to repent this Lent is to open ourselves up to God’s work within us, to stand in Jesus’ name against the power of evil, and to challenge ourselves by asking: WHEN?

When will we not be so indifferent to suffering?
When will we be uncompromisingly impatient with cruelty and falsehood?
When will be adamantly concerned for the dignity of every person?
When will we choose love over fear?
When will we choose the common good over our own self-interest?
When will we choose life over death?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Insidiousness of Bigotry

This is the day after Doug Jones narrowly defeated Roy Moore for the remaining term of the Senate seat of Curtis Strange. I make it a habit to switch around from CNN to FOX to MSNBC to see what these outlets are saying in reaction to the headlines. I find it to be interesting and enlightening to hear views from across the political spectrum.

But today was a day that made me shout out loud at the TV (am I turning into THAT GUY?) when I was watching FOX and Friends. They had this great little story about two runners in a marathon in Dallas over the weekend - the woman who was going to take the women's title was collapsing just yards from the finish line, and a high-school relay runner stopped and helped her get across. A great story of compassion over competition and human kindness.

Now, it wasn't that FOX and Friends were the only ones who covered the story. As you can imagine, news outlets everywhere had this as part of their shows, with interviews of the two women, and praise from whatever news commentators were covering the story. But Steve Doocy, never one to waste an opportunity to say something inappropriate, commented that it was a good thing that it happened in the South, because if it had happened "in New York City or a lot of other places" no one would have stopped to help.

And there it is. An offhand comment that implies that "big cities" (even though this happened in Dallas), and people on the two coasts (even though the runner who had been helped was a psychiatric doctor in NYC!) are not compassionate or kind. This is the kind of insidious nature of bigotry that creeps into our brains if we are not constantly vigilant to reject it. It is like the comments that folks make about "those people" or when we see posts on Facebook and other places that show blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and others in unflattering light.

Sometimes there are outright statements and opinions that show a person's bigotry - right after this story about the marathon, FOX and Friends had a short interview with Michele Malkin (another FOX commentator) who was screaming - and I am not really exaggerating - about how we can only prevent terror actions like the one the other day in NYC if we don't let in anyone who can't prove that they will help make America great. At least with those "in your face" arguments others can respond, but the offhand comment, the wink and nod of racist jokes and "humor", the bigotry by implication and innuendo is insidious and eats at our psyche and gets stuck in our subconscious.

If we want to begin to drive out racism, to help people see "the other" with compassion and human decency, to guard ourselves against this insidious bigotry, then maybe we have to raise our own awareness of when it is happening, and reject it from our thinking - and maybe it starts with shouting at the TV.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Stand in Support of Dreamers

Stand in Support of DREAMERS
Justice Perspective – September 2017
Deacon Don Weigel

Parents will do just about anything for their children.  Sacrifice is a quality that seems built in to being a parent, and protecting your children from danger, suffering, or threats to their life and well-being is both natural and expected.

Is it any wonder, then, why parents who were escaping dangerous conditions in their own land would bring their children with them? Or is it beyond belief that things could be so bad in some places that parents would send their children away – even alone – to find safety or a better life in another land?

Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to travel to places like El Salvador and Guatemala, and I have witnessed the poverty, crime, and gang culture that pervades those places and many of their neighboring countries as well. As beautiful as those countries are, and as genuine as their people are, the conditions under which they live can sometimes be so extremely dangerous or unlivable that they choose to flee their country in hopes for a better life in ours.

Put aside for the moment the actions of the parents who entered the U. S. without going through the proper procedures, and think about the children that they brought with them. For their children, brought into our country sometimes at a very young age, the U. S. is the only country they have really known; they have attended school, played with their classmates and neighbors, and as they have grown up they have worked and paid taxes, served in the military, or become leaders in their parishes or communities.

These children have been called DREAMERS, and in 2012, the Obama administration began a program called DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which gave protection to these undocumented immigrants who came here as children, have lived here since 2007, and met other requirements. There are nearly 800,000 young people who have registered for this program and it has allowed them to work and study in the U.S.

For various political reasons, that program is now in jeopardy, and the DREAMERS now may face deportation – even if they have committed no crime, and have been contributing members of our society.

In order to protect them, a bipartisan bill has been introduced in both houses of Congress. It is called The Dream Act of 2017 (S.1615 in the Senate and H.R.3440 in the House of Representatives). The bill would provide young undocumented immigrants - who were brought to the United States as children and have lived in the U.S. at least four years - protection from deportation and an opportunity to obtain legal status if they meet certain requirements.

The US Bishops support this bill, and have always supported the DREAMERS  because as Catholics we believe in protecting the dignity of every human being, especially that of our children.

You can lend your support to the effort to pass this bill by going to, the Bishops’ site for immigration issues, and tell your Senator and Representative to sponsor and support this bill that will ensure the dignity and security of DREAMERS. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Our God Allows U-Turns!

Homily for 3rd Sunday of Easter - Year A 2017

As you drive around, I’m sure you have seen how a lot of churches use their signs out front to come up with catchy slogans or funny anecdotes. Maybe you’ve seen some like this:

·      “There are some questions that can’t be answered by Google”

·      “Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet him”

·         Sometimes they have an unintended meaning like this one: “Don’t let stress kill you – let the Church help!”

One church on French Road near my parents' house once had this one: “Our God allows U-turns. “

I was reminded of that sign when I was reflecting on the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They had just witnessed the execution of the “one that they had hoped would redeem Israel”, and they were leaving Jerusalem – maybe even fleeing Jerusalem – certainly confused, perhaps in fear. But then they encountered Jesus – and their encounter of the Lord caused them to make a U-turn, to go back to Jerusalem, to face whatever it was that was waiting for them there.

I see this U-turn in my ministry at Collins Correctional Facility. Just last Friday night I was once again visiting with some of the men inside who have decided to turn their lives over to Jesus. Some of them have done some pretty awful things – but because of their encounter with the risen Lord, they too have made this U-turn, to turn their lives around and face the difficult choice of walking as a disciple instead of their previous way of life. The conversions I have seen in that facility have amazed me, encouraged me, and touched my heart.

Some inmates in our country, however, are deprived of this opportunity for conversion because their lives are taken by capital punishment. Thankfully, we have suspended capital punishment in NY, but if you have been following the news you know that there have been 4 inmates executed in the past week in Arkansas – the first executions in 12 years. Ledell Lee, Marcel Williams, Jack H. Jones Jr., and Kenneth Williams, were all executed by lethal injection in Arkansas – and the hurried pace was the result of the fact that one of the drugs that they use in the procedure was due to expire at the end of this month.

Our US bishops have called for an end to the death penalty since at least 1980 – most prominently in a document from 2005 called “The Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death”.  They remind us that, in their words, we need to “abandon the illusion that we can protect life by taking life”. They go on to say that we must promote “a culture of life in which our nation will no longer try to teach that killing is wrong by killing those who kill. This cycle of violence diminishes all of us.”

Pope Francis said this a couple of years ago: “Today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed. It is an offense against the inviolability of life and the dignity of the human person…It does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters vengeance”.

But in spite of the teaching of our Bishops, in spite of the strong opposition to the death penalty of the last three Popes, and in spite of the fact that Jesus was the victim of capital punishment, half of the Catholics in the US still support the death penalty.  Half!! We need to make a U-turn of our own, away from the path of fear or revenge, or a misunderstanding of justice, or whatever causes us to support capital punishment.
Our bishops have called us to conversion and have suggested that we do four things:

1.    Pray for victims of crime, those facing execution, and those working in the criminal justice system;
2.    Reach out to the families of those affected by violent crime by bringing Christ’s love and compassion;
3.     Learn about the Church’s teaching on capital punishment and educate others;
4.    Advocate for better public policies to protect society and end the use of the death penalty.

Our God does, indeed, allow U-turns; and we who have encountered the Risen Jesus are called to turn away from capital punishment and to turn instead to embrace mercy, to embrace forgiveness, to embrace life.

Monday, October 17, 2016

First, Be Reconciled

Homily for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time  

Can we talk about the election? Not the candidates, or the issues, but the attitudes and conflicts that it has engendered not only in our public discourse, but in our conversations within our Church. This election in particular seems to be so much more vitriolic and nasty than those in the past. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

A friend of mine posted a great meme on facebook the other day. It said, “I just saved a ton of money on Christmas presents by discussing politics on Facebook”. And there is too much truth to that to be really funny.

Bishop Malone released another “Consider This” on Friday about Faithful Citizenship and voting. Bishop Malone: “Ordinarily I’d be looking forward to the day after the election – at least the war of words would be behind us. This time, however, I expect that I will feel no better about the national situation then than I do right now. In fact, I may feel worse…”

Where will be as a nation after the election is over? Where will be as a Church? Are we creating so many divisions based on our political views that we forget the common good of the nation? Will we be able to start a process of reconciliation and healing in our country, in our church, in our families?
Think about today’s parable of the widow and “unjust judge”. St. Luke tells us that it is about praying, but maybe there’s something else going on as well. When you look at it carefully, it is clear that neither character is morally exemplary, and neither is even likable.

In the parable, vengeance rules. It is the desire for vengeance that drives the widow – this desire may be, especially in relation to law courts, more pressing than the desire for justice. The parable challenges us – do I want to be in the widow’s company?

The widow’s behavior is consistent: a person who seeks to be avenged against her opponent is not a person who “loves her enemies”. And certainly the judge perceives the possibility of getting a “black eye” if he doesn’t rule in her favor. Whether it would really happen or not is not the point – the judge believes that there is a real possibility of it.

Where was the attempt in the parable of the widow to reconcile? Where was the attempt of the judge toward “restorative justice” rather than retributive justice? The only closure that the parable creates is that in which the widow and the judge – and so us, too! – become complicit in a plan to take vengeance and certainly not to find reconciliation.

In another part of the Gospel, Jesus tells us that when we are offering our gift at the altar, if we remember that our brother or sister has something against us, we are to leave our gift there and first be reconciled to our brother or sister, and then come and offer our gift.

What do each of us need to do to heal the wounds and divisions that are being created among us now? Can we leave our gifts at the altar and seek out those with whom we disagree so that we may be reconciled?

If you follow international affairs, you may have heard about the peace agreement in Colombia. Colombia has suffered under a civil war for 52 years. 52 years! And they finally negotiated a peace agreement that would cease all the fighting, and would provide amnesty for some of the fighters in the conflict. The agreement had to be put to a referendum for all citizens.  In supporting the referendum, one woman said, “I don’t win anything if I continue to hate. I have to vote yes because peace depends on each of us. There are more of us who are good, and we simply have to keep fighting for a quiet country for our children and grandchildren.” In the end, however, by a slight margin, the referendum rejected the peace agreement. According to one family that a student of mine has contact with, “we wanted more punishment for those who did bad things during the war.”

There is no reconciliation in this parable, there is only revenge. There is no compassion, neither by the judge for the widow nor by the widow for the judge. The “justice” the unjust judge offers is not the justice of God or a program of fairness – it is granting a legal decision based not on merit, but on threat. Jesus was invested in fairness, reconciliation, and compassion. As his disciples, as people of faith, we too must be willing to find the opportunities for reconciliation and compassion – especially after a very contentious election. So, his question at the end should give us pause: when the Son of Man comes, will he find vengeance, and violence, and discord? Or will he find faith on the earth?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Before It's Too Late - Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - C

23 Million. 23 million is the number of refugees that are currently in the world. Over 5 million of them are from Syria and over half of them are children under the age of 18.

Many of you know that I was privileged to go with Catholic Relief Services to Greece and Serbia earlier this year to work with the Syrian refugees – to see their plight, to hear their stories, to provide what aid we could. So I was very interested to hear about the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants that was held earlier this week.

At that Summit, President Obama read a letter from Alex who saw the picture of 5 year old Omran Dagneesh, a casualty of the bombing in Aleppo, as he sat filthy, bloodied, and dazed in the ambulance. Here is what the letter said:

Dear President Obama,
Remember the boy who was picked up by the ambulance in Syria? Can you please go get him and bring him to [my home]? Park in the driveway or on the street and we will be waiting for you guys with flags, flowers, and balloons. We will give him a family and he will be our brother. Catherine, my little sister, will be collecting butterflies and fireflies for him. In my school, I have a friend from Syria, Omar, and I will introduce him to Omar. We can all play together. We can invite him to birthday parties and he will teach us another language. We can teach him English too, just like my friend Aoto from Japan.

And I will share my bike and I will teach him how to ride it. I will teach him additions and subtractions in math.

Thank you very much! I can't wait for you to come!

6 years old

“We will give him a family and he will be our brother”.

I was thinking about Alex and about the rich man in the parable. Alex was willing to share his toys, his time, his home – and make him his brother. The rich man behaved as if he wasn’t even aware of Lazarus lying at his gate, and if he was aware, he was too complacent to care. What had happened to the rich man? Where did he lose the compassion and the kindness that even 6 year old Alex could display? Had he grown into a life of cynicism? Was he ruined by a habit of self-indulgence? Did he just react to people like Lazarus out of fear?

The rich man is not named in the parable – maybe he could be any of us. It’s not his wealth that’s the problem – it’s his indifference. He isn’t able to reach across the gap that separates him from Lazarus, and as a consequence, that gap becomes an enormous abyss in the afterlife. After death, he recognizes Lazarus, he even knows his name, but it’s too late. The abyss is already too large to get across.

There is a gap, too, between us and young Omran and all the Syrian refugees. In a sense, these refugees lie at our gate, perhaps not covered in sores, but wanting only to take some of the crumbs that fall from our very, very, rich table. They are:
·       Ahmed whom I met in Serbia - an electrical engineer and who had to move his family three times to escape the bombing and the violence that threatened him, his wife, and his four boys
·       Hiatt – whose husband was killed in this brutal war, and who was making this trip with her 5 children. Her children hadn’t been to school in three years because of the war, she explained, and she was trying to find a new home where, in her words, her children could learn, and not just learn war
·       Or Samir – a young boy of about 8 who lost his shoe when his foot got stuck in the muck as he got out of the overcrowded rubber raft that had brought him and his family from Turkey to Greece. Since we didn’t have any shoes to give him, we tried to make a new shoe out of 5 or 6 pairs of socks
·       Or Saad, Nabil, and Hussein – three young men in their 20s whose families had sent them all on ahead to be “ice-breakers” as they are called – to find places to live for their families to establish a base so that they could pave the way for their Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters, Grandma and Grandpa.

In commenting on this parable earlier in the year, Pope Francis said that as long as Lazarus was lying in front of his house, there was a chance for salvation for the rich man – but once they are both dead, the situation was irreparable. It was too late.

The rich man had squandered his chance to do the right thing. He had missed the sign of God’s kingdom in the everyday affairs of his life.

We must reach out to Lazarus, and Ahmed, and Hiatt, and Samir, and Saad, and Nabil, and Hussein and bridge the gap – “give them a family and make them our brothers and sisters “– and we have to do it now - before it’s too late.