Homily, March 5, 2017- the 1st Sunday in Lent

lent2Recently, we had the experience of sharing in the birth of little Isaac. What is there not to love in the birth of an infant? But, you know what comes to mind in seeing this, is that each infant, each person in this world is entirely unique. Even identical twins or triplets etc, are individually unique because at gestation everything becomes different for each one. Each person though does have a relationship with God, even if the person chooses not to pursue it. As each of us develops, we are certainly conditioned by family and all our surroundings and experiences. Jesus himself was a unique human being, but even more so lent-1as he had a second nature as he was divine also. His life, his work was to make it possible for humans to have a relationship with God. His life seems to have been a period of gradually preparing to do his ministry. After his baptism, we see today he goes off alone to the desert to contemplate, to prepare. As is common in Mediterranean culture and the middle east, the spirit of evil or the devil appears to once again challenge humanity to somehow be equal to God as we saw in the Genesis reading today. As we see in today’s gospel, Jesus rejects the devil and moves on to his ministry.

lent-4For us, the gospel and the story of the garden reminds us that as human beings we are vulnerable to overestimate ourselves, to have an inflated notion of our very self, to want to stand out in some way. Yes, our uniqueness can sometimes make us feel more important or even superior to others. We all know that within a family it is important to know and accept each other as they are, and so it is in the family of humanity itself. Christ’s message of love and care of each other means that we live and work and accept others. In doing this, we must learn and accept the abilities of all and the role we play in working together. While we certainly can not solve all the ills of the world, we certainly shouldn’t be adding any to the list. As we look forward to the coming weeks, we should be positive in examining all the good things we do and what more we can do or change to further the kingdom Jesus has given us. This will truly make us ready for Easter Morning.

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Value the Valuable

8th Sunday Ordinary time, year A, 2-16-17, Isaiah 49:14-15, Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-93,  1 Corinthians 4:1-5, Matthew 6:24-34, 2-16-17

Most people recognize this gospel passage about the “flowers of the field.” We can connect to it.  We still treasure flowers, so many years later.  We give them to people to speak of our love, when we beg forgiveness, when we try to console people for their losses.  We wear flowers when we dance, and when we marry.  We print flowers on our clothing, on our wall paper, on our stationery, and on gift wrap.  We grow flowers in our home gardens, in public parks, and as part of the landscaping around shopping malls.   Our lasting fondness for flowers is not just the result of a well-planned media effort by the Florists Association.  Even the harder hearts among us, deep down, recognize flowers as one of those gifts of the earth, a fragile miracle of creation.

Jesus, as always, got the message exactly right, when he used flowers as the memory token of God’s love. I can imagine Jesus as a toddler, running to Mary in that funny little way toddlers run, with a dandelion or some weedy-flower clutched in his little cubby fist, gurgling with joy as he presented it to his mother.  Jesus, of all people, knew intimately what it takes to make a beautiful field of “wild” flowers.  I suspect he spend long hot hours in the family garden as a child,  hoeing with a stick, hauling water from a stream or well, making sure every precious plant in that garden grew to feed his family.

We so glibly repeat the doctrine of Jesus as “fully God and fully human.” Do we remember that for many years, we have no records of Jesus living anything other than the ordinary life of a young Jewish boy? Yet the story of Jesus in the temple with the teachers brings us to believe that his understanding was deeper than even his parents expected.  He must have considered the perfect timing of our world. The breeze, blowing the fragile seeds of the flowers, needed divine help in finding the perfect meadow, the spot of rich soil, the moisture so precious in the dry Middle East, and the clouds parting for the sun – all coming together to bring about a brief and fleeting beauty of the flowers in the fields.

Many of Jesus’ stories and parables use homely, earthy images that everyone listening to him could relate to. But anyone who has tried to craft a few paragraphs that possibly might hold the attention of an audience knows, that to write reasonable well, much less create a lasting image that could withstand thousands of years, that would be copied and translated and minutely studied by scholars ready and able to dissect them, is another matter.

How do you tell children that an invisible God loves them intimately? Why not tell them about the flowers.  Even the youngest child knew what a treasure those flowers were – to bring to Mother, to weave necklaces out of, to run and roll in their sweet scent.  All the children listening to Jesus had gathered the dead flowers along with the cut grass, to be thrown into the fire.  They understood such beauty had value, and the idea that God would lavish such joy on a weed that would last a few days, was proof enough that God would lavish love on them too.

How do you convince poor, needy, over-burdened adults that they are valuable to God? Why not point to the birds.  Many birds have a very short life span, and yet are seen soaring in the sky in joy, lazily drifting on the wind currents. They get their sustenance free, found as seeds in the flowers or on the ground, or as leftovers in the food trough of other animals.  Their homes are made of the leaves and sticks and mud that wait for them.  Everything seems to be provided by God, lavishly given at no cost.   Their life seems so simple.  Then why do we worry, why are we anxious, why do we search out the Coach purse at $500, the newest styles, the hot labels?  Science has proven that constant stress and worry shortens life.  Why do we whine to God that we can’t take the stress- the stress we have brought upon ourselves by valueing what is not valuable?  The birds and the flowers are the model God provides for us to learn to enjoy what is simple and free, like the love which rains down on us.

How do you persuade the sick and forgotten, those who have made a mess of their lives and have been shamed again and again, that God finds them beautiful? Jesus offers them new direction, a new path.  Seek God.  Watch how God loves – with the goodness of creation and the abundance provided for us by the earth.  Yes, when life has not gone well for a while, don’t allow the past to pile up on you and smother you.  The rain will fall on you, good or bad.  Spring always comes back to the world, regardless of the hard winter the warmth of the sun always returns.  Each morning is a new day.  When Isaiah spoke with the people of Israel who had disobeyed God, who had broken their relationship with God and been held in captivity for years, Isaiah spoke of the certainty of a mother’s love.  Even should the unthinkable happen and the mother should forget her child, God will never forget.  God will never abandon.  God will never be without tenderness.

This is the image we need as we face the beginning of Lent, a time to consider our response to God’s love, the tenderness and forgiveness offered to each and every one of the entire family of humanity. It is a message which does not scold and upbraid us for our faults, our turning from God, our refusal to love each other, much less God.  It is more like the doorbell ringing, and the people who have offended us and abused us coming to us, repentant, offering remorse and apologies and, yes, a bouquet of beautiful flowers, hoping to repair our relationship.  Or perhaps we are on the other side of the door, ready to say that we were wrong and intolerant, greedy or thoughtless.  It is a time to sow seeds of peace, of love, of compassion, or of forgiveness, that we may truly be ready for the blossoming of the flowers of hope and joy.

Homily February 26, 2017 the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

8sun3“Seek first the kingdom of God and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you”

The kingdom of God is the kingdom we share now in this world, a kingdom of believers called to live out the Word. It means to answer God’s call right now in this life. It is not a call to not care or worry, but a call to place your self in God’s care. Jesus was from the poor of his time, he was aware of the difficulties and problems of daily life and the struggle to survive day to day. All of us have dreams and cares and so to speak a plan 8sunfor life and living. But, I ask you, how many people do you know who mapped out a plan at 20, were still in the parameters of that plan at 50? Life is unpredictable and changing. All of us do the best to prepare and live accordingly. A certain amount of anxiety is normal, but nothing we do will completely remove the anxiety unless we 8sun-2place ourselves in God’s plan. No amount of wealth possessions and even power assures a long healthy life with a successful career. Only by doing our best and living as best we can within the precepts of Jesus’ commands are we assured of the true comfort of God. It is always a battle to not put ourselves first all the time and see the needs of others. Yet, the poor, the hungry, the homeless in one way or another find a way to get by because of the goodness of God and good people8sun4 who see the need to help out and share with those in need. Jesus was always harsh on the Pharisees and scribes simply because their concern was themselves and their immediate comfort. Their own self planning overlooked those for whom they were called to look after. As Jesus pointed out, instead of relieving struggles, they added to them. Thus, Jesus called for love, and service, for a life of walking together as sister and brother amid all the days of life.

Homily, February 19, 2017, the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

7sunWhen we are wronged, most of us really get our back up and want justice or revenge. We get so angry, we want the most extreme punishment possible. In Leviticus, to temper anger and even out justice, we hear the dictum ”eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.” It was not meant as a prescription, but a restriction of what we do. A person could not exact a 7sun1penalty, harsher than what was done to harm. Yet, how often do we hear these words used to justify actions and revenge even today. Sure we heard Jesus say them, but what followed? He said don’t resist evil! If challenged with the law give in, if forced into service as 7sun2the Romans used to do, just do it. Don’t turn your back on those who wish to borrow. The hardest thing of all, he tells us to love our neighbor. But, he tells us our neighbor includes our enemies. How could that be? Well God created both our loved ones and our enemies. God gave the world to both good and evil people. If as Jesus says, we love only those who love back, what good is that.

God’s love is embedded into our hearts with Baptism and the coming of the Spirit. God’s love takes over and with prayer we come to know and discern what is right. Love tells us the things we must do, it helps us navigate through a whole life’s7sun3 journey. God’s love enables us to journey through the minefields of life today. Modern day Pharisees and Scribes at times seem to burden humanity just as the people of Israel were once so burdened. Jesus call and commandments are no less essential today as they were when He was put to death for daring to challenge the comfort of written the love God implanted on all our hearts. Finally Jesus said be perfect, as God is perfect. We know such an ideal is impossible yet are we called to any less?

Homily February 12, 2017- the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

6sun4As we grow up, we all looked at right and wrong in terms of black and white, yes or no. We saw law and morality as yes or no, as absolute. Only as we grew and matured did we see and understand the complexity and at times that there was a gray area in many laws and interpretations. We seem at times to look at things and call ourselves conservative or liberal. Yet, if we look at today’s gospel, and I chose the short form to more easily see its point. We see Jesus state the law, but actually reinterpret it to place it as not some ideal out there, but something flowing from our own interior disposition and passion. Anger is wrong and opposite to what we should be as Christians. God’s love and our love of God should enable and help us to control ourselves as persons and do far more than follow the letter of the law. Conservative or Liberal are labels and really irrelevant. Love begets 6suncompassion and relationships and should enable us to reach out and live our lives in God’s love with the Holy Spirit he has given us. Laws are for the most part, ideals to reach and follow, but obviously all of us fall short of the ideal at one time or another. It is then that God’s love and compassion will embrace us when we reach out to him, to discern with him what is the best for us. Christ is calling all of us to interiorize his message, to control our inner self and to be the salt and light he mentioned in last week’s gospel. This requires we walk with him and open our hearts. The Scribes and Pharisees were the teachers and followers of the law and insisted on it to the point others couldn’t follow it, because the poverty and difficulties of life itself made the many man-made prescriptions impossible to follow. Jesus clearly 6sun1invoked compassion as his love embraced those caught up in such a way.

Jesus clearly has given a new life and a new way in proclaiming God’s love and a way of life coming from within the hearts and minds of his followers. Love, compassion, reaching out all called for a way to a new life that even now we as Christians and as Church are still struggling to achieve. Yet Christ’s love keeps us going and holds us together in our work and journey together. It is in our committing to him that we find the peace of heart and mind and find the patience and rest that we all seek, even as we continue on each day. Hopefully, it enables us to be that light that beams his message.