Freedom of the Children of God – the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Writer Bianca Vivion Brooks posted an Op-Ed in the NYTIMES on Friday.  Titled I USED TO FEAR BEING A NOBODY, THEN I LEFT SOCIAL MEDIA.  In it, she shared how her identity and wellbeing were tied up in the world wide web.  She wrote:

 “For years I poured my opinions, musings and outrage onto my timeline, believing I held an indispensable place in a vital sociopolitical experiment.

But these passionate, public observations were born of more than just a desire to speak my mind — I was measuring my individual worth in constant visibility.

 “After all, a private life boasts no location markers or story updates. The idea that the happenings of our lives would be constrained to our immediate families, friends and real-life communities is akin to social death in a world measured by followers, views, likes and shares.

“I grow weary when I think of this as the new normal for what is considered to be a fruitful personal life. Social media is no longer a mere public extension of our private socialization; it has become a replacement for it. What happens to our humanity when we relegate our real lives to props for the performance of our virtual ones?”


Ms. Brooks was right.  That is the message we get from our culture because culture often addressed our most basic human instincts: it is so very human to crave affirmation from strangers, to desire blessed assurances of our worth.  Everyone wants to feel valued by others beyond our immediate circle of family and friends, certainly everyone needs to feel that we certainly are more valuable than our bank accounts. Still, to live with constant expectation that somehow, somewhere we will be acknowledged, that we will be awarded, we will achieve recognition—these are the burdens society thrusts upon us.  We must remember these do not comprise the yoke of Christ, the blessed burdens of Christianity.

Sure, it is disappointing to write a book that nobody reads or organize community outreach on important issues –spiritual or social– and nobody shows up.  But that’s not the same things as centering our lives on social acceptance, praise and success. 

Jesus walked the way of the humble, rejected by his hometown natives, he made the Lord God his foundation–nurturing disciples to be sure–but not dependent on their adulation or even their solidarity,  Indeed, they often misunderstood him, they could not comprehend all that he taught. nor did they exquisitely follow his example.  What kept him going?  His honesty, his willingness to sigh, trusting  that all will come to pass in God’s time. Jesus was content to plant seeds, finding comfort in life’s basic pleasures while offering hope, insisting on a better future but not manipulating people into it.  Critical of all established institutions –He called the tetrarch Herod “that fox” and many religious leaders “you hypocrites!” –all the while witnessing to the Great Commandments and not despairing when his followers didn’t or couldn’t live up to them.  

When disappointments plague us, we may recall the prophet Habakkuk as Jesus must have recalled him:

For the vision still has its time,
 presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
 if it delays, wait for it,
 it will surely come, it will not be late.
 The rash one has no integrity;
 but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.

Meanwhile, Jesus was content to praise God for life’s little pleasures, close friends and family, however imperfect, yet still sharing meals with disciples and strangers alike, engaging with people of wealth and of little or no means, always seeing the inner soul of whoever sat beside him; observing nature’s beauty and challenges –the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, pastures of sheep and farms cultivating wheat, and, like Abraham before him, the stars of the skies, the sands on the shores of the ocean.  

Simplicity doesn’t mean not to try writing the great American novel — if that is your ambition.  It doesn’t mean not bringing your ideas to your boss or high school principal or your local Congress person.  In fact, we are obliged to live, to be engaged, to share insights and experiences with those who make decisions for us and for others.  And, should we be the ones who are making the decisions, it is vitally important that after expressing our ideas, our preferences, we listen to others who think differently, live differently without needing their adulation –or even their votes! 

In all this, Jesus insists we keep the bigger picture whether we are heard or not, our ideas are accepted or not, whether our dignity is acknowledged or not.  Truth, Goodness, Justice, Mercy are not rooted in imperfect society, or culture of meritocracy but in Faith, Hope and Love.  There is no better foundation, no great truth.  

Emily Dickenson grounded herself in spiritual realities and knew the distinction between integrity and popularity when she wrote: 

I’m Nobody!  Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there’s a pair of us?

Don’t tell!  they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!

How public – like a Frog –

To tell one’s name – the livelong June –

To an admiring Bog!

But today is SUNDAY and we must let Jesus have the last words: Are we feeling dejected, bereft of camaraderie, devoid of success and affirmation?  Recall Jesus speaking from his own experience:  “No prophet is ever accepted in his own native place. ” And, like Jesus, we must move on.   Yes, we can dream, yes, we still can share. We can give and forgive.  We must do all these things FREED from our drives for self-importance so we may give thanks to God and say: ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'”

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Re; HOW TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM – a book by NYTIMES Staff Writer Bari Weiss

As a Catholic priest committed to fighting anti-semitism, I attended Bari Weiss’ NY Times Talk on Thursday evening, Sept. 5, promoting her book (2019, New York: Crown) which I just finished. There’s also a NYTIMES magazine piece 9/8.  I think this very short book (206 of 7” x 4 ½ “pages) is best in its definition of Anti-semitism and its overview of its history (the “HOW TO segment is shorter and addressed primarily to the Jewish community itself),  I want to share some of Bari Weiss’insights (and mine–IN PARENTHESIS) with you:

  • Judaism is not only a religion, it is an ethnicity, a people and a nation.  Not acknowledging all three opens critics to contributing to antisemitism .
  • Anti-Semitism comprises a goal of eliminating Judaism and the Jewish people.  (In that sense, I believe Christian supersessionism is Anti-Semitic)
  • Anti-Semitism includes superstitions, lies and falsehoods about Jews and Judaism’s but can include misunderstandings that are not fact checked.  There is also a strong illogic– Jews and Judaism are blamed for whatever! –with no basis on reality. E.g., ” controlling the planet, controlling banks/ Wall Street/ education / Hollywood/ government policy / responsible for the spread of communism/ engineering wars for profit.”
  • (Anti-semitism is in evidence whenever inquiry into the standard ” who, what, when, where, how?” questions go unanswered.)
  • Anti-Semitism includes Denial of, and/or refutation of, the distinct ethic, moral, faith, social and literary contributions of the Hebrew Bible and the major contribution of Jews to Western Civilization. 
  • The FAR-LEFT ideologies contribute to Anti-Semitism:
  • “The Politically Correct”  dynamic makes adherents  of left-leaning ideas disproportionately fearful of offending Islam (Islamophobia), thus they downplay the acts and rhetoric of  Radical Fundamentalist Islam ignoring its extreme hatred of Jews.
  • There is  disproportionate blame and outright scapegoating of Israel as a nation that is essentially anti-semitism.  In contrast, holding American and Israel to their highest ideals and constitutional directives is not Anti-Semitism. E.g., one may fairly state that “the current policies of the Jewish state betray Jewish (and American constitutional) values.

The FAR-RIGHT: White Supremacy ideology forms hatred of Jews because of its biblical ethics, sensitivities to immigrants, minorities; hated for its internationalist character. It is threatened by Jewish civilization

HOW TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMTISM:

Weiss offers this:

  • Follow Abraham’s example: refuse to worship false idols (incl. lies, biased reporting) and nurture courage to keep out-of-step with the status quo;  risk acting on behalf of deeper, biblical values; don’t be afraid to stand alone, even while cultivating community within and beyond Judaism
  • Remind people that the American values of liberty, freedom of thought and worship, the notion that all people are created equal—are Jewish values coded in Genesis 1 and throughout the Hebrew Bible.  So, too, the very notions of Hope and a present that nurtures a more positive future for humanity are specific Jewish contributions to Western Civilization. 

I offer this:

  • Hold all comments made in conversation about “The Jews” (or any group) to the “Who, What, When, Where, Why, How” standard
  • A foundational aspect of the Bible’s inspiration is the way the Jewish community writes of its great accomplishments and its failures, often with more accounts of the failures and the sufferings it endures.  All peoples would do well to do the same, holding accomplishments –positive contributions to wisdom, world values and cultures while remaining humble of all the failures.  I think one aspect of antisemitism is that others are not secure about their own ethnicity, heritage, strengths and failures and so let themselves become envious and resentful of the Jewish identity and its outstanding contributions.  More HUMBLE pride all around could help!

See: See:  https://www.bariweiss.com/                                           Twitter:  @bariweiss

See: https://forward.com/culture/books/431220/bari-weiss-anti-semitism-how-to-fight-review/

Homily for 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time –Invest in Faith: There’s a Great Pay-Off!

Reading 1:   Wis 9:13-18b     Responsorial Psalm   Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14 and 17  

Reading 2     Phmn 9-10, 12-17    Gospel    Lk 14:25-33

By this time in our history, what Catholic doesn’t know when Jesus states “You must hate your father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister if you are to follow me”  he used hyperbole / exaggeration to express that we must love God first above all others.  If not, we tend to love family and friends selfishly, manipulatively, with jealousy or envy or with inflated pride or too much criticism.  Following Jesus first, we see our loved ones as Jesus sees them, love them as Jesus loves them, support them as much as we can mirror Jesus’  support—i.e., loving them while insisting on the Two Great Commandments which foster honesty, humility, forgiveness, and courage to repair any damage that we’ve done.   As for “hating even our lives,” of course, we must always be GRATEFUL for our lives, for being invited to share in Jesus’ life, his mission, cultivating his perspectives in how we interact with the world.  What we need “to hate”  is our tendency to default to society’s ways of valuing us – our looks, our possessions, our neighborhoods, our needs for other’s approval.  Grateful that we may have these things but not resentful that we may not.

In the NYTIMES Sunday Arts section today, there’s an insightful interview with Linda Ronstadt, a very popular recording artist of the 1970 and 80’s , now retired and, it seems, living gracefully with Parkinson’s disease.  Regarding her unique recordings of Mexican songs when bringing Spanish into mainstream pop was extremely rare, her interviewer asked her:  ““When critics talk about the pop artists who brought music from outside the U.S. or U.K. to the pop mainstream, they mention Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel, not you. Is that frustrating?  HER RESPONSE:  Who cares? My music is not curing cancer. It will be gone soon enough.

That, my friends is a shining example of being thankful for our lives and talents while being humble and keeping the big picture –whether we ever get our name in a newspaper or our YouTube posts go viral. 

Following Jesus, picking up our cross—i.e. accepting trials and conflicts and difficulties as challenges, opportunities for grace, and being “ever-ready,” “prepared,” “prudent,” eager to learn is the theme for our Eucharist today.  And, I know, how often we may not feel any of that.  Remember, each Mass is here to return us to hope, to courage—to trust in Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life.  I know that not all family, friends and co-workers support us in these beliefs and endeavors.   Many chide, or ridicule us for going to Mass, or for remaining Catholic, or for believing in God.  Others are quick to lord it over us when we do something harmful or indulge our tempers or hurt ourselves or another human being. It is then that we must humbly acknowledge how dependent we are on Christ and His Story of forgiveness, for reconciliation, for courage to admit our wrongs and make amends.  Today’s Eucharist offers us that, too.  Thank God!

And yes, the Church as institution has given us plenty of reasons to judge it, to even hate it.  Yet today and everyday Jesus gives us the grace to hold it accountable with faith and hope, loving it back to its true self and reinstating it to its primordial purpose. Hey, if not  you and me, who?

So, may we not despair that only some of us among family, friends and neighbors have chosen to celebrate Jesus in us and for us today. We never know when the deposit of Grace bestowed on in any given Eucharist will bear fruit  — even when we may not be conscious of it.  I’ll close with what I hope is for you a shining example –an inspiration—as to the possibilities, the grace in store for us precisely because we’re here, cultivating our friendship with God and all that entails.

One day, a certain dad indulged his dark side in ways that were deeply demeaning to his adult daughter.  She found herself brimming with rage.  But a voice within, however, pleaded with her: “Postpone your wrath!”  “Postpone your wrath!” What Eucharist do you think that came from?  “Anyway,” she pacified herself with this thought, “I’ll plot my revenge at a later date.“

As the days went by, the incident replayed repeatedly in her mind, evoking the worst of all her childhood and adult memories.  She’d see her father’s face before her and cringe and craze.  And then it happened!  A realization that she didn’t have to live this way.  She had a choice.  Yes, she could indulge these thoughts and feelings, or she could release herself from unending trauma. She must recall the good times, the pleasant moments with her dad or she’d make herself sick and kill her kinship with her father forever. 

She decided to throw him a party. She hadn’t prayed to Jesus for deliverance, but faith is active even when we’re unconscious of it. Her preparations brought good memories forward to balance the bad ones. Her dad was not a determinedly daily tyrant. No, not at all.  She recalled moments of kindness, patience and generosity. Grace happened!  The party was a singular success and none of those who attended, especially dear dad, would ever know all that transpired in her heart.  She was free, her heart restored, and she thought, “Thank God!” Remember, friends, Eucharist means “Thanksgiving.”

Jesus’ Take on “The Grasshopper and The Ants”

HOMILY FOR 19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 2019

Gospel: Lk 12:32-48

Five Hundred or so years before Jesus, Aesop recorded a Fable entitled “The Grasshopper and The Ants.”  It went like this:

One bright day in late autumn a family of Ants were bustling about in the warm sunshine, drying out the grain they had stored up during the summer, when a starving Grasshopper, his fiddle under his arm, came up and humbly begged for a bite to eat.

“What!” cried the Ants in surprise, “haven’t you stored anything away for the winter? What in the world were you doing all last summer?”

“I didn’t have time to store up any food,” whined the Grasshopper; “I was so busy making music that before I knew it the summer was gone.”

The Ants shrugged their shoulders in disgust.

“Making music, were you?” they cried. “Very well; now dance!” And they turned their backs on the Grasshopper and went on with their work.

Moral:  There’s a time for work and a time for play.

Sound a little bit like Jesus’ parable, doesn’t it?  BE PREPARED! Folk wisdom can be found throughout the ages in Ancient and Biblical literature alike.  WISDOM is a gift from the Holy Spirit, guaranteed in the Church and Synagogue but never limited to it. And we well know how wisdom builds on wisdom from one age to the next. So, what did Jesus add to the sagacity of his time for our time?  He says,  “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”  His listeners knew full well He was speaking about the End Times—the End of All Things.  But they also knew that Promise of the Ages could be experienced in aspects of their lives in their day.  In our day, we know that Christ attends to us, is with us, guides us through Sacraments and all acts of faith, hope and love.

Jesus also says, those who are “prepared”– those who live open to Christ and His Spirit–will have great rewards in the here and now and future.  He also says those who are not prepared will be “beaten” – an image not to be taken literally but understood as “beaten down,” discouraged, despaired, debilitated by doubts, fears, vengeance, greed—the results of a faithless life.  

In the ensuing years, the fable of “The Grasshopper and the Ants” has evolved into one with more Christian aesthetics in the just the same way we have come to interpret what sounds like Jesus’ harsh sayings in newly inspired ways.  In the more recent rendition, the Ants have compassion on the Grasshopper, invite him into their colony for the winter to entertain them with his fiddle. Everybody eats to the sound of music, and afterward, dancing ensues, celebrating a kind of heavenly banquet!  The implication here is that with compassion comes a new consciousness that there’s a unique work for everyone to do –many gifts but one Spirit.

This vision of all working, living and playing together, adds much to how we read Jesus’ parable of the Faithful and Prudent Steward.  To get right down to it:  Why put us through the suffering of being without Christ, living in despair, hurt, anger, begrudging what we have or envying what we don’t have–when Jesus offers abundant hope, solace, energy and grace-filled resources as needed.  The Gospel reminds us that although Jesus is ever-present at our door, we are tempted not to open it, or we can’t or won’t because we’re more focused on our fiddling than on God who gave us the ability to fiddle in the first place!   On the surface Jesus’ parable threatens us with punishments for failing to live the Gospel.  More importantly, Providence inspires us to acknowledge our weakness and fallibilities not to cultivate guilt but to strengthen our resolve–if we let it–to hear Jesus knocking at our door and let him in!

HOW shall we keep the LIGHT of faith burning in our hearts and homes to let Jesus in?   We may do so by cultivating an ever enthusiastic “Yes”  to living with integrity, honesty, fairness in our work and leisure. We can cultivate a deeper Christ Awareness in what we choose to read, how we speak, engage in dialogue regarding family matters, news, politics or local community matters.  We do these things not to “please Jesus” who loves us unconditionally but to grow in solidarity with Him, to allow ourselves to experience His friendship more fully, conscious He is HERE and Comes to Us Continually.

Furthermore, we may live faith, hope and  love daily by saying “No” to lies, by refusing to ignore the deep realities of issues, people, places and things; by saying “No” to blaming others and saying “Yes” to exploring and sharing in solutions to daily dilemmas and wider woes of city, state and world. 

In Christ, and through Communion with Him, we allow ourselves to be Enlivened, energized by the Holy Spirit for all the work at hand, balanced by proper “sabbath” rest and leisure – all in a proper balance of time and place exemplified by the Change of Seasons, themes and ideas supported by fable and parable alike.    Humility offers Heaven on Earth as we affirm and live-out Jesus’ words: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

THE SPIRITUAL & THE MATERIAL TOGETHER — GOD IS ALL IN ALL

HOMILY FOR 18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME AUGUST 4, 2019

Woe to the family that does not anticipate retirement, make provisions for health care and reduce its credit card debt.  Practicality entreats us to model ourselves on the squirrels.  In summer and fall, they gather nuts for sustenance in winter and spring.  We, too, must prepare prudently investing in annuities and 410Ks, or, if those are not available to us, we try to go without some luxuries today so we may expand our savings accounts for tomorrow.  Forthright foresightedness is  a top priority for all–or, at least for those among us who don’t have to live hand-to-mouth on a weekly basis.  Either way, we’re probably befuddled by Jesus’ parable.  No precautions for the future? Are there not retirement scenarios we can dream about?  Goals for creative hobbies, lengthier leisure time, Church and community involvement?  Hmmmm. 

We mustn’t see today’s Scripture readings as a threat to these very human concerns,  but we must engage in conversation with the Bible to assess our priorities among our passions, properties and possessions.  

Jesus isn’t against us having things—in fact, he’s not against us at all.  He is the Savior who is FOR US, WITH US and IN US.  He invites us to celebrate life as we allow Him to diminish our worries and anxieties.  He does that, in part, by endowing us with faith, intelligence and talents to make our way in this world including our relationship with things. Jesus invites us to honor the gift of work to procure for ourselves, our children and dependents the necessities of food, clothing and shelter.  Beyond that, the Holy Spirit engages us in what we buy in the way these things reflect our personalities, our likes and dislikes.  What we own—and how we take care of what we own– is an expression of ourselves and even our beliefs.  For all that, Jesus invites us not to take our money, our belongings or ourselves too seriously.   He bestows on humanity intelligence and the ability to cultivate a sense of humor.  Here are a few jokes that might put us at ease:  Who was the world’s first stockbroker? Noah.  Noah?  Yes, he floated his stock while the world was in liquidation.

Once an investor asked his advisor: Is all my money truly gone?
No, of course not. It’s just with somebody else!

Dear Friend,  I’ve come to realize Money can buy a House…But not a Home; Money can buy a Bed…………..But not a Good Night’s Sleep; Money can buy a Clock…………But not Time; Money can buy you a Book….But not Knowledge; Money can buy you Medicine…….But not Health; Money can buy you Sex…………But not Love.  So you see money isn’t everything. It often causes pain and suffering. I tell you all this because I am your Friend, and as your Friend I want to take away your pain and suffering.  Send all your money to me and let me suffer for you.

The cynicism of Qoheleth in the Book of Ecclesiastes offers helpful insights as well. The things we treasure, what we work hard to have and appreciate, may not be treasured or appreciated by those who inherit what we have, what we saved for. Some people prioritize a comfortable home, others money for travel.  Some value collections of books or recordings, paintings, momentos, Nativity sets and Statues of the Saints –others prefer large screen smart tv’s and sound systems, others gardening and landscaping. IF the next generation doesn’t love what we love, what do we leave them?  Do we owe them anything at all?

Jesus says the key is to know that for all that we value, know what matters most to God.  Scriptures make it clear that God cares about relationships –ours with God and others.  Clearly God delights in every human being, all animals and all creation because God sustains all with a life force that engages all.  As Saint Paul once said to the Greeks at the Areopagus: “In God we live and move and have our being.” This is the concept that grounds all faith and therefore must be the foundation of all our lives’ choices: Thanksgiving for life itself and responding to God’s graciousness by consciously reminding ourselves that our lives are not our own; that ownership is always and forever will be temporary; that what we can or cannot afford has nothing to do with our innate dignity or the place or state of being that Christ offers us here and now and what Christ reserves for us in heaven.  Practically speaking, what we think we own are God’s gifts to us to be shared– to learn from and to engage with others. 

Our pray for today is for Prudence.  The more commercials and pop up adds on our computer bombard our psyches, the more we need the Spirit of Wisdom. We must not throw caution to the winds but exercise cool judgment.  Our culture readily cultivates jealousies and envies, manipulating us to equal or exceed our neighbors’ buying power. It tempts us to assess  ourselves and others on the quality of our clothes, cars, homes or apartments.  None of these things last, but our relationships will.

An act of love resounds unto eternity. Today we recognize that what we buy and recycle has a much greater impact on others and future generations than we may like to acknowledge.  The Spirit of God and Jesus’ love will guide us if we attend to their Holy Spirt.  Remember, our Eucharists direct us to cultivate community, to care for ourselves and others without material excess so that not only our futures but future generations can benefit from what we own, what we accomplish, what we recycle, how we care for the air and water and the animals with whom we share them, and , equally important,  how we may inspire them to allow Jesus to expand their lives with faith, hope and love.  And the greatest of these is love.

Reading 1 Ecc 1:2; 2:21-23

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth,
vanity of vanities!  All things are vanity!

Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill,
and yet to another who has not labored over it,
he must leave property.
This also is vanity and a great misfortune.
For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart
with which he has labored under the sun?
All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation;
even at night his mind is not at rest.
This also is vanity.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14 and 17

R. (1) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
You turn man back to dust,
saying, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight
 are as yesterday, now that it is past,
 or as a watch of the night.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
You make an end of them in their sleep;
 the next morning they are like the changing grass,
Which at dawn springs up anew,
but by evening wilts and fades.
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Teach us to number our days aright,
 that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
 Have pity on your servants!
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
 that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
And may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours;
 prosper the work of our hands for us!
 Prosper the work of our hands!
R. If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Reading 2 Col 3:1-5, 9-11

Brothers and sisters:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died,
and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry.
Stop lying to one another,
since you have taken off the old self with its practices
and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed, for knowledge,
in the image of its creator.
Here there is not Greek and Jew,
circumcision and uncircumcision,
barbarian, Scythian, slave, free;
but Christ is all and in all.

Alleluia Mt 5:3

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Lk 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus,
“Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
He replied to him,
“Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”
Then he said to the crowd,
“Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one’s life does not consist of possessions.”

Then he told them a parable.
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”

ENTERTAING ANGELS – RE-THINKING THE GOOD SAMARITAN

We come again to Jesus’ parable of The Good Samaritan, acknowledging it applies to far more than whether we offer a handout to a beggar on the street. As far as that is concerned, we know we can’t always, but sometimes, we must.  As Pope Francis reminds us, charity must be without judgment, without lectures or reprimands but a surrender to the Holy Spirit—unqualified as it may be quantified.  But we mustn’t settle with only one application of this Gospel.  Our times call for expansion of our faith as it applies to all aspects of our lives.

Some say politics and religion must never interact, but the parable of the Good Samaritan insists we attend to our current immigration crisis–the refugee camps and holding cells for immigrants from Central America and elsewhere.   Witness’ statements are alarmingly conflicted. Some literally weep over the suffering—people in confinement without access to toilets and shower facilities– and others report that all is well, that everyone is treated humanely.  We don’t know truly who to believe. But our faith insists we attend to the side of those who suffer and not look the other way.

Some say charity has no place in government. Charity belongs to the realm of churches synagogues, temples and mosques.  But wait!  We believe in a government by the people for the people, do we not?  If our government does not respond to people in crisis in ways we believe are good, then who is our government representing?

Even if you believe that every undocumented immigrant must return to his or her own country—a stance that the United States Catholic Bishops insist is not fair or compassionate because of the many hostile situations most of the immigrants are fleeing—the very essence of human kindness insists that we treat fellow human beings with dignity, provide them with at least the most basic comforts while we assess their situations before sending them back to their countries of origin.

Furthermore, charity requires we analyze our government and our American Corporation involvement in these countries to see where we help or hinder the local populations. These are just some of the applications the Good Samaritan Parable insists we consider.  Let’s take a brief look at human history and see what insights our pasts offer. 

Kindness to strangers has always been an essentially human value. Indeed, we find it in evidence in ancient documents that predate the Bible.  As the civilizations of Samaria, Mesopotamia and Egypt were being cultivated, most of humanity lived as foragers and wandering nomads with herds of sheep and goats. When they came upon the outskirts of cites, it was customary for citizens to offer them food and rest before they moved onward.  Our Jewish ancestors insisted this practice was divinely inspired and made it an outright obligation. Consider these examples:

  1. Abraham and the Three visitors. Without hesitation, Abram asks his wife Sarai to make a meal. Had they not, the promise of Covenant, children and future would not have cone to them.
  2. Esau forgives and welcomes back his brother Jacob / now named Israel  with Israel’s wives, children, other relatives and many servants and flocks even though Israel had been gone over 14 years.
  3. Joseph, advisor to Pharaoh welcomes All 11 brothers, father and all the Israelites to Egypt when Canaan was plagued with drought and famine.
  4. Moses guides the people to welcome aliens in their midst for the people were once aliens themselves.

In the Greek and Roman empires, hospitality to strangers was a lawful and religious act.  They believed any of the gods or goddesses could be a beggar in disguise.  Christianity affirmed that attributing the invitation to kindness as consorting with angels.  We read this in Chapter 13 of  the Letter to the Hebrews:  “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body.”

Another important aspect of the Good Samaritan Parable is the context of religious fundamentalism, rigidity and scrupulosity in living out the faith. We cannot ignore the fact that Jesus highlights the people unresponsive to the robbers’ victim are religious clerics. Here is an alarming example of legalism trumping a deeper, more universal humanity.  We all know the priest and Levite are following “the letter of the law,”  they cannot be contaminated by the victim’s blood nor by someone who may a member of their clan or tribe if they are to serve at worship at the temple or synagogue. Jesus’ parable questions such allegiance.

We must admit that Catholicism has also had  a reputation, in our past and somewhat in our present, for rigidity in practice and scrupulosity in spirit; in brief:  Legalism. The Good Samaritan Parable reminds us that people can avoid compassion, neglect charity as much BECAUSE of, if not despite our religion.

In the decades prior to Vatican II,  there’s a story of a woman who neglected her toddler – keeping him alone at home in playpen– so she could get to church and not incur mortal sin. Today she would be arrested.  I also know of a band of brothers who cheated a brother out of shares in their business justifying themselves because he no longer was a practicing Catholic.  Hypocrisy for sure.

We used to not be able to attend weddings in Protestant churches or go to church or synagogue with people of other faiths, but today, Holy Spirit has won out just as Jesus broke through the rigidity of religious practices of his time.  Vatican II institutionalized what Catholics sensed and recognized long before, that God is all in all, and that we need to respect faith in all its many forms within and among our families’ relatives in the wider neighborhoods. Such rigidity in rules were always meant to be broken and come of age.

Still, rigidity and legalisms can still hold sway even in our times. There are those who continue to  come to confession, saying, “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.  I missed mass on Sunday, but I was terribly sick with flu.”   Confessors assure them that God cares about their health and wellbeing and they made the right decision not to attend–for themselves and for the rest of us.  What makes people still so overly concerned with the Church’s  rules and guidelines?  Must they live in fear of mortal of a wrathful, vengeful God?  That is not the God of Jesus Christ.

A more common question I get concerns whether Catholics should attend a wedding if their children or relatives are marrying outside the church – out in a field or by a swimming pool.  In more serious and much more complicated situations they ask the same about LGBTQ  relatives and friends. Here we must remember the many, many stories of Jesus in the homes of tax collectors and people of ill repute. He never insists that they follow him , but rather gets to know them, affirm their God-given dignity, their loving and life-affirming qualities, always highlighting the good He saw in them at the same time He invites them to a relationship. A Good Samaritan would always celebrate our common humanity by putting love over judgment.  Should you go to these weddings, these homes?  Our answer is irrefutable YES!  Remember:  God says, “judgment is mine,”  and Jesus said many times in many ways, “ be merciful just as your father is also merciful.”

Now that we have reflected on the Word, we are all invited to the Eucharistic table. I assure you, on behalf of Jesus and His Church, I am not going to ask you for your green cards, your passports, your politics or anything else other than your “Amen,” i.e. your assent that Christ is with us, in us, in me and you and all, at work in us, conforming us with patience and unconditional love to break through the barriers of yes,  even law and order,  to acknowledge our common humanity–a humanity which He assumed fully and completely for our sake—to make Good Samaritans of us all.  

FOR SCRIPTURE READINGS FOR TODAY, THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, GO TO: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071419.cfm

Keeping Us God-centered – a Homily for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Reading 1:IS 66:10-14C Responsorial Psalm   PS 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20 Reading 2  GAL 6:14-18 Gospel   LK 10:1-12, 17-20 

Jesus said Satan was being conquered by the Gospel. How did that happen then?  How does it happen now?  Are we still applying the Gospel to advance the good and limit if not eradicate the bad by the grace of God?

There are many ways to live and many different foundations of faith to stand on.  Christianity and Judaism are rooted in worship (which teaches us humility, reverence and awe in God’s presence). Faith assures us that God willingly shares a divine spark and spirit with every member of the human race.  Faith invites us to see each other differently than  the world views us—i.e., as consumers, numbers, quota or constituencies.  

With many abandoning organized religions these days, the most popular “alternate religion” is humanism, which, although it denies God and the need for worship, continues to reverence the human being. As it abandons the Jewish and Christian belief in the Divine Spark, the soul in every person, humanism maintains the importance of people as individuals.  It champions “free will” not as a God-given right but a right, nonetheless.  It values “liberty” while softening its tendency to selfishness by borrowing the biblical ideal of unity among peoples for the common good. 

Yes, Humanism promotes tolerance and good will, respect for differences but without the profound Eucharistic dimensions of true acceptance.  Humanism has difficulty with Jesus’ insistence on forgiveness and reconciliation rooted in the Jewish Covenant.  Humanism promotes a vision of the future in which everyone gets along but that lacks the profundity of the Biblical promise of a new heaven and a new earth guided by cooperation with a loving God.  

Why are these distinctions important?  Because without God there is no true humanity.  Without God there is no true humility;  no deference to a wisdom and  love greater than our own.  Humility rooted in submission to God acknowledges human weakness, limitations, tendency to selfishness –what we call “sin”—without which we see ourselves as little gods, tribal leaders, kings and queens  or their modern counterparts, presidents and prime ministers of our own design. The Bible does say, at times,  “You have made us little less than a God,” but the emphasis is on “less than.” 

 In contrast, humanism trusts not in the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit but in a trinity of its own inventions—commerce, science and technology.  It is time we realize that, more and more,  humanism surrenders human dignity to these newly created gods making “Progress” the greatest good.  If not kept in check, progress will advance at the expense of all religions and even humanist values.  

Saint Paul insisted on humility as a faith foundation, an essential ingredient in true goodness when he wrote: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Covenant with Israel insisted “”Let all on earth worship and sing praise to you,  sing praise to your name!”

And Jesus saw evil being conquered through the efforts of 72 disciples (both Jews and Gentiles at this juncture) participating in His Gift of the Holy Spirit when he said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. … Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,  but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”  i.e. God is at work through you.  That is the faith that will bring you to eternal life.  Life is not about us, but God in all.  We view ourselves as “masters of the universe” at great peril.

Jesus’ commandments to the 72 disciples emphasized God, not humanism, not commerce, nor science.  Jesus sent the 72 abroad to experience God through deference to the kindness of strangers, requiring disciples to see every individual and family as members of God’s family.  Jesus’s instructed them to “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals”  Why?  He did not want them to find their confidence in material things but in the Spirit alive in them.  Jesus said, “Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment.” Notice the “payment” is not gold or riches or social advancement but a sustaining meal; meals in which people truly listen to one another, attend to each one’s feelings and share questions that evoke conversation of values, of faith, of rights and wrongs.  And, since no one is always “right,” but all are sometimes wrong, with forgiveness and hope.   Today’s counterpart to the 72’s experience would be meals without cell phones and private texts, meals without tv, computers or other distractions, meals where monetary concerns are put aside.

Today’s Scriptures offer lessons that teach us how to engage in the modern age.  We must be consistent in posing critical questions to our neighbors, employers, politicians, doctors and heads of corporations and technological conglomerates:

“Who will benefit from these business decisions, from these economic standards, these political views and who will be left out? Will these new technologies advance the health and wellbeing of all or a select few?  Who may be harmed by these decisions and advances?  Do we want to repeat the sins of the past or learn from them instead?

Commerce, science and technology offer amazing possibilities but without God, without you and me and other people of faith, they have no motivation to value a common humanity over a privileged humanity;  no value system to nurture mother earth for the common good.  Instead they will nurture advancement for its own sake, over and above everything and everyone.

Building on the Jewish prophets, Jesus has empowered us to keep commerce, science and technology in check. We must align ourselves with the 72 disciples as we approach the Eucharistic table today.  We must ask the Lord to strengthen our faith -filled convictions, to expand our reverence for God, for all God’s people and God’s good earth.  If  we do not leave this church today with that kind of reverence, what will become of our world? To which Trinity will we have allegiance?  Whose people will we truly be?