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!

Alex
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.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Waiting Place

Homily for school children for the Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

I really don't like waiting, do you? I don't like it, but it seems like I do so much of it. What are some examples of where you have to wait?........

Dr. Seuss talks about waiting. Who likes Dr. Seuss?....One of my favorite Dr. Seuss books is called “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” and it’s about all the places that you can go to – but there are some dangers, too! In the story he talks about what happens when you might get confused and then end up in a place called “The Waiting Place”. He describes it as a useless place where people are just waiting.

[From “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”]:

The Waiting Place…for people just waiting.
            Waiting for a train to do
            or a bus to come, or a plane to go
            or the mail to come, or the rain to go
            or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
            or waiting around for a Yes or No
            or waiting for their hair to grow.
            Everyone is just waiting.

            Waiting for the fish to bite
            or waiting for wind to fly a kite
            or waiting around for Friday night
            or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
            or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
            or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
            or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
            Everyone is just waiting.

We all have to spend some time in this "waiting place" that Dr. Seuss talks about, but I don't think it has to be a useless place. While we are waiting we can make good use of our time. What can we do? Well, we could read a good book or call a friend on the phone. We could make a list of things we need to do today or, we could even study for a Math test. Well, maybe that's going a bit too far, but there are many things we can do besides just waiting.

And that’s the lesson of Advent. Advent means "to come." Do you know what's coming? Of course, Christmas is coming. This is an exciting time, but it may also be a difficult time of waiting -- waiting for the day when you can open the gifts that you see under the tree. What can we do to make this time of waiting for Christmas more than just a useless time in the waiting place? Well, we can think about the true meaning of Christmas. We can think about Jesus and his love. We can think about giving instead of receiving. We can enjoy all of the beautiful music and the decorations of the season like the Advent wreath or setting up the Nativity in our homes. When we do those things, we will find joy in the waiting place.

We can also do what Jesus did in the Gospel. You heard that Jesus helped people by curing their illnesses and feeding them when they were hungry. We can also make use of our time while we are waiting by helping the people around us like Jesus did. We can be kind to them, we can do good things for people who have less than we do, and we can always pray for everyone who is hurting or sad.

We are waiting for Christmas, but what should we do while we are waiting? We should worship and praise God, love and serve God, and share God’s love with others. When we are doing those things, we will be ready for Christmas, and more importantly, we’ll be ready for Jesus to come into our hearts. Then we will really find joy in the waiting place.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Readings:

1st Reading:       Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm:                Psalm 34:2-7
2nd Reading:      Ephesians 5:15-20
Gospel:               John 6:51-58

     Don’t you think we just about have an obsession with food in this country? For one thing, we are really concerned about what goes into our food, including additives, and dyes and preservatives. Plus we have at least two cable TV channels devoted to food and cooking. Not to mention the commercials for all kinds of food and restaurants. And people are always posting on Facebook where they are eating and what they are having.

     Over the last four weeks we have been listening to the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John – and each week we have heard another aspect of Jesus as the Bread of Life, beginning with him feeding the five thousand plus, and continuing to today when he says that we must eat his body and drink his blood in order to have life.

     This feeding and eating theme obviously has overtones about the Eucharist and Mass– and I wonder what effect our cultural images of eating have on our approach to the Eucharist. What is it that you expect to find when you come to this table?

     Maybe some of us come to the Eucharist only wanting a snack – you know, you don’t want to fill up too much so you can save room for other important things. You don’t really want to think too heavily about anything – it will just be too much to digest.

     Maybe some come to Mass like it’s a fast-food restaurant. We come in as late as we can, we leave as soon as we can, and we don’t see any real substance or enjoyment of the food while we’re here – we just want to kind of “get it over with”. Oh, and if they could find a way to have a drive-through feature, that would be GREAT!

     Or maybe some look at Sunday Mass like it’s a Chinese buffet. We really appreciate all the interesting things in front of us, but we really don’t like all of them. We like to have a lot choice, but we really want to pick and choose what we eat. We might like a lot of spiritual stories, but if someone starts talking about abortion, we’d rather just leave that off of our plate. Or we might really like the prayers and the songs, but if we are called to feed the poor, it’s really kind of distasteful.

     It might be that some people think of the Mass like they are having a private, intimate dinner with their friend, Jesus. No one else really counts as long as they have their time with him and can have a nice one-on-one visit with him.

     Perhaps some see the Eucharist like a family meal where we’re all gathered around the table sharing our common experiences, our hopes and our fears, our challenges and our aspirations. And each of us has brought something to share and pass around, and as we are together we strengthen the bonds of the family and our own understanding of who we are and why we are here.

     Some might see the Eucharist like a banquet – the kind that Woman Wisdom is throwing in the first reading. It is a grand event where all are invited and we are sure to have rich foods and fine wine, and we are not expected to bring anything other than ourselves. It is a feast that becomes a significant event in our relationship with God and with one another. We come as guests but we leave as friends – with Jesus as a part of us and we as a part of him.

     So which is it for you? Like Woman Wisdom, Jesus invites us to his feast, to this table, to share in his wisdom and his very life – so that he can remain in us and we can remain in him. And by being a part of him we become him for others – ready to serve, to give of ourselves to our brothers and sisters for the life of the world.

     Jesus invites us all to this table. What kind of meal do you expect when you come here?



Saturday, July 25, 2015

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - B

     Readings:
Reading 1:                     2 KinGS 4:42-44
Responsorial Psalm:     PSalm 145:10-11, 15-16, 17-18
Reading 2:                     EPHesians 4:1-6
Gospel:                          JohN 6:1-15

     What do you think happened to that boy? You know, the boy with the basket that had the loaves and the fishes? He disappears out of the picture once his loaves and fish are multiplied and used to feed over five thousand people. What do you think happened to him after this?

     Putting yourself as one of the characters in the Gospel story, or imagining other aspects of the story that are not told is one way to pray with Scripture – it sometimes provides deeper insights into familiar people and scenes. So what do you think happened to him? What do you think the rest of his life might have been like?

     Chances are he told everyone he saw for quite a while about what he had witnessed on that grass-covered hill – that Jesus had fed thousands with just a few loaves that he had had in his basket. And I can imagine that he spoke with some surprise, at least, that he had had a role in that miraculous event. I wonder how he was received – apathy? Skepticism? Ridicule?

     I can imagine that this experience had a deep and profound impact on him – and I like to think that maybe after what he witnessed he became a very generous person, a person who became very giving and selfless – that he did for others what he had seen Jesus do for the crowd.

     And I wonder why he had that basket of loaves and fishes – maybe he was on his way from the market or a family member’s house. Five loaves and two fishes were probably enough to feed his entire family for a week. But he gave it up willingly – all that he had - when asked by Jesus.  When they gathered up the fragments, I wonder if he got his basket refilled. We don’t know what happened to the twelve baskets that were gathered up. Maybe he got even more than the five loaves and two fish that he had originally.

     His experience of Jesus was probably a life-changing event. He was a different person after seeing what compassion, generosity, and the power of Jesus do when put together.

     What about you?


     You are here at this table to celebrate and remember a miracle – not just of the transformation of bread and wine into the very Body and Blood of Jesus- but Jesus offering his own life to save us. Because you have witnessed it, do you go out to tell others? Or is it something you keep to yourself?

You are here at this table to celebrate and remember the gracious generosity of God and how extravagantly God has provided for us with everything we need to grow and to thrive. Has it made you a more generous person? Have you become more selfless and giving? Do you look for ways to do for others what Jesus had done for the crowd?

     You are here at this table to celebrate and remember how Jesus took what appeared to be so little and miraculously used it to create a community, a feast, an icon of the Kingdom of God. Do you willingly give what you have and who you are to Jesus, knowing that he can take your gifts and use them to help bring about the Kingdom?

I do wonder what happened to that little boy because of his encounter with Jesus.

What happens to you?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Whose Shepherd Are You?

Homily for Fourth Sunday of Easter - B
"Good Shepherd Sunday" 2015         

         What a comforting image our Gospel gives us today. It is probably a familiar one to you – Jesus the Good Shepherd. There are so many images in art and music of Jesus holding a lamb, or carrying a sheep on his shoulders. Jesus – the shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, the Lord who is our shepherd, who invites us to the table he spreads before us. And these young people will make their way to the banquet table of the Good Shepherd this afternoon/morning as they make their first communion. It truly is a comforting and engaging image for us.

            But sometimes we have heard this Gospel and thought about this image without allowing ourselves to be challenged by it. Because Jesus is the Good Shepherd for his sacrificial and self-giving love. He is the shepherd who is “good” not because he does his job well, but because he is the shepherd who is noble, who is righteous, who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep – not like the hired hand who abandons the sheep when he has to look out for number one. Jesus is the Good Shepherd because he is the model for us. And so that causes us to ask ourselves a question: Whose shepherd are you?

            Being a disciple means following the model of Jesus – and so we are called to love others as Christ has loved us and loved the whole world.  We are called to live and to love sacrificially. Whose shepherd are you? For whom do you lay down your life? For whom do you sacrifice, and whom do you protect and watch out for?

            In our first reading, Peter and John healed the crippled man at the Temple gate rather than walk by. They recognized that he must be treated with dignity – regardless of the lack of benefits the world would give. We must also lay down our lives – and our pursuit of success by the world’s standards – on behalf of those most in need of love and most in need of our care. Whose shepherd are you?

            Some of us have our task presented clearly in front of us. Some of us care for a parent or a spouse who needs constant care, or is dealing with a debilitating illness like Alzheimer’s, or ALS or MS. Some of us care for sick children, or elderly relatives. But many of us have opportunities to reach out in love and care for those around us – but don’t. Whose shepherd are you?

            We are called to as a series of concentric circles of concern. The small circle is the immediate family and those who are right around us. The next circle is our extended family, then our neighborhood, our city or town, our nation, and the rest of the world. We should be challenged to constantly push ourselves to the next circle of concern, expanding our care and love in ever wider circles.

            In a beautiful document by our Bishops titled “Communities of Salt and Light”, they note that every disciple and every Catholic community are called to be “salt of the earth and light of the world”, and that the pursuit of justice and peace is an essential part of what makes a parish Catholic.

            In our parish, we have a new organization named for that document, called Salt & Light Ministry, which arose out of the inspiration of the parishioners who went through the Good News People program. The Salt & Light ministry is intended to coordinate the social outreach activities of the parish and to offer our parishioners opportunities to step into the next circle of concern. At the end of Mass you will hear from one of our parishioners about a ministry that they participate in, and they will extend an invitation to you to join them.


            Jesus the Good Shepherd has given us the model of self-giving, self-sacrificing love, and that model challenges us to step out in love into circles of concern around us to help our brothers and sisters. How far are you willing to go? Whose shepherd are you?