Do Not Be Afraid

27th Sunday of OT -Year A Homily Fr. James M. DiLuzio C.S.P.

Scriptures: Isaiah 5: 1-7:   Psalm 80: Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 4: 6-10:   Gospel of Matthew 21: 33-43

Parents say to their children:  This is your Home; We have taken the responsibility of your material needs, your need for love and nurturing AND the essential importance of learning about cooperation, mutual respect and the give and take, patience and generosity required for appreciating life in this family, and ultimately, in this world.  Together we are building your FUTURE.  And, if the family is a family of faith, they would add, continually, “God will see us through.”

The tenant farmers in the Gospel are equivalent to children or adults dependent upon a parent/ adult / employer for their life and livelihood. But evidently, they either have not had good parenting OR, for reasons we are not given, they found themselves filled with FEAR & DISTRUST.   They turned inward instead of outward.  Rather than bringing grievances, uncertainties, disappointments to their employer, they decided to take matters into their own hands. No desire for deeper understanding, no desire for compromise, no prayer, no attempt at dialogue are in evidence. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, they empowered their fear and distrust which inevitably gave way to “Selfishness” and “Greed.”  Their fears fed envy and jealousy, their distrust, violence. In the parable, the consequences were deadly; a matter of spiritual life and death, because the true OWNER of the Vineyard was God, the Father of All, who welcomes our questioning, our prayer, our disappointments.  In hearing the parable today, we are meant to muse “If only the Tenant Farmers had turned to God who sent His Son to bring deeper understanding, and hope; if only WE could abandon our fears and distrust–be it of God, Church or State and believe without reservation that God’s Holy Spirit is with us continually to inspire, to engage and motivate us to work through our anxieties and fears and strive for a better future.

Many commentators and pundits tells us that Americans are not living in faith these days but in Fear and Distrust. We read that many Americans are afraid of immigrants, of foreigners, or people of religions other than their own.  They read, see and hear the news –which, because of the way news is prioritized—is often the BAD NEWS of community, country and cosmos—and are literally afraid and demoralized.  Others are afraid of our government limiting our freedoms, while, at the same time, many others lost faith in our government to keep us safe.  Some want protection from the economy and its impact on the workforce, others consider that inappropriate intervention.  Some make speeches about freedom of religion and freedom of speech–noting that, at times, questions as to “whose religion” and “whose speech” are not satisfactorily answered; nor is the degree to which hate and violence-inducing speech is a right or abuse of a right.  And most recently, many writers deduce that fear is what makes so many people unwilling to evaluate the benefits and burdens of the 2nd Amendment– about the right to bear arms as it applies to the 21st century.   Common sense tells us that the lawmakers of 1791 could never have envisioned the great diversity of guns and ammunitions available to the American civilian today—certainly not the kind that were used to kill a music loving crowd in Las Vegas.  But, for many, it is as if the mere suggestion of a discussion on the possible ways we could adapt an 18th century Law to 21st century circumstances was somehow “Un-American.”  We have to ask, “What price “liberty?” when fear and distrust rule the heartland?

One thing the Scriptures tell us is that Liberty has responsibilities.  Individual Freedoms of one person or group do, in fact, impact the individuality and freedom of others. When Jesus tells us that He is with us “For when two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in the midst of them,” it’s not only His assurance of his answers to prayer, but to the necessity of communion with and among others for His presence to take full hold of our lives.  To apply this Gospel to ourselves today, we must ask, “To what extent do we have faith and trust in God?  In Jesus and His teachings?  In the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins as part of the road to Resurrection of the Body and Life in the World to come?”  In short, “to what extent do we offer Jesus the highest priority within our lives, positions and priorities, and, yes, even our politics?” To what extent to we cling to Jesus who repeatedly tells people of faith: “Do Not Be Afraid?”

The Gospel today is not only a reflection on religious history regarding those who did not accept Christ as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, which, on the surface, is exactly what the parable is about.   It is also about how any or all of God’s Children can misuse the faith and life situations we have been given.  It’s about how people who lack trust in God, in Providence, in the Holy Spirit active in the world bring suffering upon themselves.

Perhaps it is time for us to evaluate our contributions to America’s distrust and fears; confess our personal culpabilities as to the extent we contribute to the fears and anxieties of our age, rather than trust in God to guide us through them with patience, with charity, with hope. Saint Paul wrote in his Letter to the Philippians 4: 6-10: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

 Paul’s emphasis on Thanksgiving strengthens the foundation of faith that Everything belongs to God: every land and every people.  Recognizing our very lives are “on loan” from God, makes gratitude the only way to live.  We have this Eucharist to focus us on Thanksgiving, trust that the Holy Spirit of God and Jesus, both, will guide us through the anxieties of the age to insist on fairness, justice and hope—and not to be afraid of change that is for the better for all rather than a few; not be afraid to cultivate charitable discourse “in-person,” i.e., with persons rather than in the impersonal dimensions of the internet alone.  Not afraid to say we believe in a communion of saints-in-the making, believe in Christ Jesus and that communion commands dialogue with rich and poor, church leaders and local communities, police and their precinct constituents, neighbors with neighbors, citizens with immigrants, different colors of peoples mingling with peoples of different colors.

May this Eucharist increase the grace that endows us with courage, perseverance and hope to address this age of anxiety, its fears and discouragements. May our worship today inspire us to advance the Good News: God is with us, to help us expand God’s kingdom so that HOPE is offered to all, here, now and in the Future for generations to come.

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Forgiveness & Accountability CAN go HAND-in-Hand

Some THEOLOGY FOR TODAY: Regarding how FORGIVENESS & ACCOUNTABILITY can go hand-in-hand:
It is always good that we WRESTLE with the dynamics of both, just as Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32) the night before he took the chance to return to his homeland and be greeted by his brother Esau (the one from whom he took the birthright and blessing of the firstborn). Already we see that Jacob had to take the consequences of his actions (flee his homeland, live under the authoritarian rule of Uncle Laban for over 14 years, etc.) There is a strong Biblical sense that God allows the consequences of our actions to play themselves out–assuring us that God is with us in these undertakings and strengthens us, helping us to mature and grow while still forgiving us. The magnanimity of Esau when he greets and hugs Jacob is quite astonishing but not at all unrelated to Esau being fully aware of Jacob’s years of exile. Similarly, Jesus forgave Peter for denying him, yet Jesus did not respond immediately to Peter’s tears but allowed Peter to experience the grief and self-scrutiny he needed before the Resurrection proclamation of PEACE BE WITH YOU. Of course, there is a time to completely “wipe the slate clean,” as the saying goes, but this requires prayerful discernment in relation to the offense and the harm to self and others, and the personalities and age of the persons involved. The Prodigal Son, for example, is forgiven and embraced, but the Father’s property is not going to be divided once again for the prodigal’s benefit. His brother’s portion remains intact and the prodigal will be indebted to the Father’s and ultimately his brother’s mercy until which time he is able to go out on his own with a sense of responsibility and dignity–if ever.
In the Sermon on the Plain, when Jesus says, “‘From the one who takes what is yours, do not demand it back,” I think Jesus is referring to our usual rage and insecurities that someone has taken advantage of us. He invites us to move from the bitter anger we feel and instead, find our dignity and worth with confidence in God’s love so that when we address the “robber,” there is a sense of God’s justice, not ours–i.e., some accountability but not as if our life and dignity depended upon it (in which case the punishments often do not fit the crime). Rather, “The Kingdom of God” invites us to always be about growing in wisdom, forbearance and Hope–for the offender just as much as for ourselves.
This issue is a large one with many levels and applications — including, for example, our prison systems that are far more punitive than redemptive. It doesn’t mean killers go free to kill again but it does mean that they are treated with dignity throughout their life in prison to the extent that their souls and spirits through “tough love,” if you will, are given opportunities toward remorse, empowering them to accept the consequences of their actions, take responsibility for them, and prepare for heaven– mental and emotional illnesses notwithstanding. Not everyone, not every Christian agrees with this but I believe we are compelled to wrestle with these concepts.

Religion & Politics Must Mix

A friend asked me why, as a priest, I continue to comment on politics.  Here’s why: 

My politics aren’t limited to any one realm but they are informed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus was very critical of all peoples in power and in institutions that run without mercy just as God is mercy. Jesus would condemn terrorists, communists and greedy capitalists equally as each in their own way (terrorists most explicitly) contribute to the suffering, and yes, death of many peoples far beyond “self-defense.” It’s a social sin that governments build up armaments at the expense of fare trade food, health and education for their people. I certainly think Kim of North Korea is filled with evil and so is his nuclear tests, and he should be handled with harsh criticism and sanctions, but hasn’t our country set the example of “might makes right” long ago? Not that we shouldn’t be able to defend ourselves and innocent people–and, yes, hindsight regarding our pacifism to Hitler early on was a terrible mistake, but, all the same, if we spent an equal amount on diplomacy and support of our poorest citizens, and assist, when we can, other countries to do the same, there would be far less to criticize.  Peoples who have basic needs met are far less likely to revolt, turn to violent revolutions, racisms and the like. In the 1986 the United States Bishops Conference issued a researched paper calling for Justice in the Economy (See Below) Wall Street and Conservative Catholic Economists crucified the contents saying that religious leaders need to keep out of non-spiritual matters. However, Jesus received the same hostility when he began his public ministry (See Luke’s Gospel Chapter 4) and his criticism of established norms of state and church put him on the Cross. (He called Herod “a fox.” And “render to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God’s “is not about separation of Church and State but pointing out the limits of the state because, for believers, all belongs to God. All prominent Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox scholars have affirmed this for almost a century, but people still hold on to old world views and old ways of interpreting the scriptures. The point of the Cross was to put a mirror onto society and its violent, selfish aspects to forgive and transform them. Not simply forgive and let business continue as usual. Nothing should stay the way it is because it worked in the past. People forget the Bible is as much future-oriented as it informs us of the past. At any rate, that is just some of the basis for my informed, prayerful sense that religion and politics must be kept in dialogue and that religion considering Jesus is asked to take a critical stance and look at the consequences for as many people as possible, not just a few, in reviewing current trends and legislations. 

Meanwhile chick this out http://www.usccb.org/upload/economic_justice_for_all.pdf 

God bless!

Homily for 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 20: 7-9; Psalm 63; Romans 12: 1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

 “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped!”  I’ve always loved those lines from Jeremiah, finding comfort in them whenever I feel let down, overwhelmed, or just plain sad about my life or what’s going on in the world.  What good has all my preaching accomplished–who remembers homilies, anyway?  To what effect all these Eucharists?  People still hate one another, misinterpret Scripture to bully people, justify their prejudices, and, particularly this week, ask why God does not intervene in Nature’s devastations in Texas and elsewhere.

As we pray Psalm 63 this morning, aren’t we thirsting for God to show up?  Wouldn’t it have been inspiring had God whisked Hurricane Harvey out to sea in the same way Jesus calmed the storms 2,000 years ago?  Of course, the Holy Spirit will inspire people to respond to Hurricane Relief.  In solidarity with those who lost homes and livelihood, Catholic Charities and other noble organizations will solicit contributions from us all.  Indeed, with eyes of faith, we expect the milk of human kindness to be in strong evidence once again.  God is and will always be part of these grace-filled endeavors.   Still, we may be haunted by the age-old mystery as to why God allows tragedies to play themselves out as readily as God enhances goodness to breed goodness, grace to build upon grace.

What hope do we have other than to trust in this mystery?  Jeremiah, despite his desire to run from God and live without faith, without prayer and rituals, acknowledged that, ultimately, God’s Spirit became “like fire burning” in his heart, his faith in God somehow “imprisoned” in his bones.  Jeremiah’s faith in God conquered his disillusionment and fear.  How?

Jesus tells us by “picking up our cross,” he strengthens us to live within faith’s paradox, to embrace mystery, to trust in eternal truths.  Because our past informs our present, we know that we have, we can and we will overcome hatred, prejudice and even natural disasters because of faith’s common denominator: we are all children of God on a journey unto eternity.  Of course, like Saint Peter on that day, we would have preferred an invincible Messiah who would establish a suffering-free universe. Yet, from the beginning death was part of God’s plan—our human bodies as we experience them were destined to be but a prologue to a transcendent way of life with body and soul beyond the grave (yes) but not without some dying and rising from day to day to day. Along with hundreds of events from the past, Houston invites us, once again, to review our attachments to material things and to scrutinize the degree to which we honor our relationships with God and others and live each day as if it were our last.

What are our expectations of life?  Why are our capacities for mystery so limited?  In part, because we’ve kept our faith rooted in what we learned as children—neglecting to nurture it into adulthood.  We continue to change with the times regarding science, medicine and technology, even morality and ethics, but not in fundamental aspects of faith. Meanwhile, change has occurred in the ways the Church interprets the Bible and appropriates the Sacraments.

Considering the floods in Houston and environs –and with more on the horizon—who among us has not thought of Genesis and Noah and the Flood?  Does God still punish us with natural disasters?  What other insights from childhood continue to echo in our adult brains?  But here’s an example of how biblical scholarship has changed:  We now understand that the ancient biblical writers used a tragic event – a flood – into a lesson on morality and faith, revealing, at the same time, a very narrow, limited understanding of God.  Believing as the ancients did that to be all-powerful was to be responsible for all activity on earth, they understood everything that happens as either a reward or punishment from God. Thus, the story of a flood-to-end-all-floods was presented as God’s weariness with the sins of humanity. Perhaps fed-up themselves with the evil within human nature, the biblical writers projected their disgust as coming from God as they tried to make sense of a catastrophic phenomenon. As centuries passed, however, their own experiences of God, coupled with burgeoning revelations from JOB and the prophets and ongoing prayer empowered the faithful to conclude that God’s all-powerful dimension comprises a greater mystery: God lets Nature evolve and interact with itself (ant that includes humanity) within its own limitations, just as God permits humanity’s free will to make of ourselves and our world what we will—guiding and supporting always, but interfering only rarely. Therefore, today, we acknowledge our childhood understanding of Noah and the Ark is found wanting. And yet, the story remains part of the inerrant dynamic of the Bible–not for what it says about God, but for what it reveals about the power of faith (Noah and his family) and a deeper truth that God supports the faithful through the tragedies of life, promising hope and redemption symbolized by a rainbow. Today, considering Hurricane Harvey, that rainbow symbolizes a whole lot more.  The value of our homes and personal luxuries pale in the presence of a helping hand—no matter the color of the skin, the ethnicity it represents, its age or size, its nation of origin. The Good News is that God works primarily (although NOT exclusively) through US.  We are not alone unless we choose to be.  We never need be afraid.

Today we acknowledge that the Scriptures are both past, present and FUTURE ORIENTED. They inform us about the past as they illuminate HERE and NOW and beckon us onto the FUTURE.  So, too, our current events. It’s clear that the earth has entered a warming phase with erratic temperatures and winds, caused, in part, through ice melts from the poles.  No one refutes that any longer.  What still is debated, however, is the extent the human footprint accelerates this phenomenon. But who could argue this: From the beginning, the Holy Spirit has nurtured Wisdom in human hearts and that centuries ago, the Spirit moved humanity to acknowledge a universal, common sense adage “An Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure.” As Catholics and others throughout the nation this weekend (and in the months to come) contribute and volunteer to Catholic Charities’ appeals to rebuild homes and refortify Texas Gulf cities and surroundings, we must prayerfully consider the bigger picture, engage in more preventative endeavors, more precautions, more safety measures, more environmentally sound uses of power and fuel, however costly—locally and nationally–these may be. The future of Texas as well as our children’s future and the entire earth’s future depend upon it. Whatever our political sensibilities we must defer to the Cross of Jesus Christ that insists we, too, sacrifice for a greater good. And then, because of God’s design, goodness will increase.

Today’s Eucharist is a preventative measure, too. Assuring Christ’s presence within us, around us, our Eucharist cultivates true faith–adult faith, inviting us to attend to our relationships with God and others with patience, awe and reverence and, yes, even patience with God until, ultimately, all shall be on earth as it is in heaven.

Reading 1 Jer 20:7-9

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

  1. (2b) My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
    O God, you are my God whom I seek;
    for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
    like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
    R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
    Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
    to see your power and your glory,
    for your kindness is a greater good than life;
    my lips shall glorify you.
    R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
    Thus will I bless you while I live;
    lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
    As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
    and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
    R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
    You are my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
    My soul clings fast to you;
    your right hand upholds me.
    R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.

Reading 2 Rom 12:1-2

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Alleluia cf. Eph 1:17-18

  1. Alleluia, alleluia.
    May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
    enlighten the eyes of our hearts,
    that we may know what is the hope
    that belongs to our call.
    R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mt 16:21-27

Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
He turned and said to Peter,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

 

On the Tragedy in Orlando, FL

There appears to be significant self-loathing in the emerging portrait of the murderer at the gay-oriented Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL.  The best thing religious leaders can do for their constit…

Source: On the Tragedy in Orlando, FL

On the Tragedy in Orlando, FL

There appears to be significant self-loathing in the emerging portrait of the murderer at the gay-oriented Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL.  The best thing religious leaders can do for their constituents is to promote love of self– the self-acceptance and full dignity of being a unique human being, that includes our ethnicity, physical traits and sexual orientation. Love, compassion and empathy toward others begins here.  There is no other healthy foundation for faith.

I invite people of ALL Faiths to persevere in spreading this message that we are, indeed, children of a magnanimous, benevolent God whose love is unconditional, who delights in diversity and the many colors and shapes and sizes of every living creature on the face of the earth. Condolences to all the bereaved. Together may we cultivate Hope together.

My LukeLive! ministry includes a central segment on the importance of love and self-acceptance.  This meditation comes right after I’ve invited listeners to reflect on the day of their birth.  You can listen to it here:

I invite you to support my ministry by downloading this and other segments, or the entire album of Luke Live! Highlights at

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/revjamesmdiluziocsp

For more in this conversation on the tragedy at the Pulse club, read this blog post from Bishop Robert Lynch of Saint Petersburg, FL.  This is the BEST statement from a Catholic Bishop regarding the murder of gay men, lesbians and trans-gender:  Please read: http://bishopsblog.dosp.org/?p=6644

Here’s an appropriate image for this week:

Pala Baglione, Borghese Deposition or The Entombment – Bing images

Stop Anti-Semitism & Scapegoating NOW!

Are you as saddened and outraged about what has happened at Oberlin College in Ohio  as I am?
An adjunct professor spews anti-Semitic, racial hatred in class and on Facebook. The College President allows it because of “freedom of speech” but  in his speech addressing the issue, he does not specify all that is illogical in the anti-Semite professor’s diatribes. Here’s my response and warning to myself and to all of us tempted to scapegoat, blame or ostracize any group AND our responsibility to counter lies and the dark myths of prejudice:
1. We must never speak about any ethnic, national or religious group as responsible for any one thing in particular. Every group is made up of individuals, sub-groups and marginal groups who evidence tremendous diversity .  When anyone speaks of “The Catholics,” “The Protestants,” “the Jews,” The Nigerians,”  “the Americans”  ” the Italians,” we must immediately STOP RIGHT THERE and ask, “Who?”  “Which ones?”  “What segment?” As soon as any one generalizes about any peoples, nation or religion the statement is a LIE!
2.  Even when a sub-group, or smaller group of individuals or individuals themselves are identified as guilty of an immoral incident or event, questions must be addressed and allegations must be verified and substantiated.  Again, “Who?”  “What Contexts?”  “What evidence?”  “What verifications?”  If No ONE can be substantiated as  responsible, then certainly NO ENTIRE GROUP can be responsible. Furthermore, even when ONE individual or Sub-Group is verifiably responsible, it is extremely unlikely that the entire sub-group is responsible and certainly not the entire, larger group.  THIS I S LOGIC.  This is Justice.  This is TRUTH.
3.  Freedom of Speech does allow for anyone to say anything including spewing of  lies, illogic, hatred, prejudice, etc. but a free society has an OBLIGATION to counter that speech with TRUTH.  Furthermore, we have a moral imperative to substantiate the truth with proofs and verifiable historic and scientific evidence.  Therefore, I repeat: Allowing one person’s freedom of speech to include lies, hate, scapegoating requires others to RESPONSIBILITY and to TRUTH.   In the case cited, the President must conduct a public forum revealing the lies of the given professor’s statements. To allow proliferation of a lie is to renege on responsibility and common human decency and allow the lies to prosper, mislead and corrupt people’s thinking.
4.  Even Free Speech has its limits. The public square no longer tolerates racial slurs in the public forums.  Certain expletives are band in the media.  So, too, must negative generalizations  about any group.  Any allegation must in justice identify individuals and sub-groups so we promote truth and balance in the media.  In truth, even positive statements and praise need to have specific clarifications.  For example, even in this hostile political climate in the USA, we must not speak of “The Italian American Vote,”  “the Black or African American vote,”  “The Evangelical Vote,” “The Jewish American Vote,”  those very statements are dishonest. We may speak of “a large portion of African Americans in Alabama in the Republican party are voting this way,”  or  “More Italian Americans in New Jersey are tending to vote in the Democratic primary this year.”  WE must stop generalizations in all spheres or we are planting the seeds of ethnic scapegoating and ethnic hatreds.  Anti-Semitism is often the symptom of a terrible illogic that festers in human minds and in human societies.  All peoples who seek truth and justice must counter this illogic on all levels including temptations that exist in our own hearts.
If you don’t know about this incident, you can read about it here:
PLEASE COMMENT!  Please don’t let Anti-Semitism or any prejudice, any lies, hate or scapegoating go unaddressed.  ALSO:  in the coming weeks I am going to begin to offer commentary in a series of blogs on a most excellent book: Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s book NOT IN GOD’S NAME.  Watch for it!