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.”

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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.”

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?

Homily for Baptism of the Lord Sunday – the conclusion of the Christmas Season

Excerpts from Today’s Scripture Readings:

Isaiah 42: 1-4 Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit; . . .

to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Isaiah 40: 11 Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.

Psalm 29:  R. The Lord will bless his people with peace.

ACTS 10; 34 Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered
in the house of Cornelius, saying:
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.


Luke 3: 15-16;21-22  The people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.”

Note the difference between these two scenarios.  Who do we want to be?  

A man wakes up early in the morning.  The cool morning air on his face contrasts pleasantly with the cozy warmth under the blankets.  The old clock radio clicks on to play a sad, sweet, silly song he loved as a teenager and hasn’t heard for years.  It evokes sweet, sad nostalgia interrupted by a bit of static.  This  thirty-year old AM Clock radio was a gift from his parents when they could hardly afford anything.  Amazing it still works at all.  It broadcasts another song he has never heard before.  He listens intently, focused and attentive and looks lovingly at his wife still asleep at his side. With each passing year he loves her more and more, marveling how they, though no longer fit and trim, still delight each other. He whispers a prayer of thanksgiving to God filled with hope for the future.

Another man wakes up early that same morning. The cool morning air on his face is an affront to his comfort. The old alarm clock radio starts and stops with static before the morning broadcast begins. He recalls how  disappointed he was getting this piece of junk for Christmas when he was young.  Cheapskate parents –they never appreciated the finer things of life, nor did they fill him with ambition and tools for success. “Fool that I am,” he says, “you’d think after all these years I could at least have bought myself a Cd player alarm but who could afford it on the lousy salary I make?” His wife stirs beside him.  She’s gained too much wait.  Their relationship isn’t anything what it used to be.  What hope is there for the future? *

Today we commemorate the Baptism of the Lord.  In doing so we must recognize everything about the life of Jesus is meant to tell us about our own.  We follow Him into baptism so we may lead our lives as close to Jesus as we can be, embracing His Vision that we are beloved and wonderfully made.  No exceptions.  If we accept that we can see ourselves and others differently, not as the world sees us.

Many people think Baptism is only about freedom from Original Sin—our compulsion toward a “ME” centered world instead of a God-centered world.  However, Baptism offers us something more.  Our baptisms (bestowed upon most of us when we were mere infants) consecrated us into the truth that God loves us first –before we were even old enough to do anything good, bad or indifferent to ourselves or others.  Remember, in this fourth great event of the Christmas Season (After Christ’s Birth, His Consecration of All Families as Holy Families and His Offering Friendship to the World via the Magi on Epiphany) God called Jesus his “beloved” before he performed any miracle, before he preached any sermon, before he picked up his cross.  So,  too, God calls us his beloved sons and daughters, before we put any of God’s grace and goodness into practice.  Accepting the truth that God loves us first offers us ample opportunities to  love God, ourselves and others more readily, more spontaneously– out of gratitude, awe and wonder.  Thanksgiving for God’s Love, for the life God bestowed upon us constitutes the heart of a good life consecrated in God’s grace.   Baptism insists that we see that.  Jesus underwent Baptism to insist that we understand that.

Baptism and all the subsequent sacraments of the Church inaugurate in us a Heavenly Vision here on earth.  Jesus turned societies’ rules upside down – refusing to judge others in comparison or contrast to Himself.  Instead, He offered Himself in relationship to all—seeking friendship for the sheer enjoyment of being known and knowing others, confident that relationships of honesty, of quality and integrity are the heart of earthly life and the heart of heaven.  Why even the difficult relationships–and Jesus had many of them, including conflicts with his own disciples—yes, even difficult relationships offer opportunities for growth, for patience, courage and transformation.  Jesus literally didn’t care if people were of his stature, wealthy or poor, socially or religiously educated or even disciplined in their behavior.  He made no such judgments. He only desired to engage, to share Himself, His Being and HIS VISION—GOD’S VISION—an alternate way of living, engaging the world for all it CAN BE rather than taking the world on its own terms which all too often (although not always) eschews spiritual truths and values.  

Jesus may have accepted, for example, that it is inevitable that there will be rich and poor in this world, but while society insists that “Progress is King,” that those who succeed are superior beings to those who don’t measure up to its standards of success,  Jesus insisted such disparities never be perpetuated.  Rather, in communion, He invites us to bridge the gap of “the haves” and “have nots” by affirming our common heritage as children of God. If we believe we are “beloved” as Jesus in his humanity was beloved by God, then our task is to affirm the beloved-ness of all including those outside of our “set,” beyond our circle of friends, including those with whom we disagree—even they who are hostile to our vision of communion, those who intentionally thwart cooperation among peoples or refuse to see each and every one as a saint-in-the-making. 

By inaugurating us into a people, a Church, Baptism and the Sacraments support us in helping one another, struggling with one another, conflicting with one another insisting differences can be overcome because of The ONE who first Loved Us.  Sacraments insist we remain thankful for every opportunity we have, and that through Grace, we begrudge no one the same opportunities.  May our commemoration of the  Baptism of the Lord rekindle our lives with the fire of our Baptisms and this Eucharist, confirming our identities as followers of Christ Jesus in whom the Great Commandments to love God, self and others as ourselves continue to hold sway. Christmas may be over,  but its Spirit can perpetuate and enhance our faith, hope and love today, tomorrow and always if we let it.  God Bless us, everyone!

*These scenarios adapted from the book “How To Want What You Have” by Timothy Miller, PH.D. New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc. Copyright 1995 pp 44-46

Eyes of the Blind Must Be Opened

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily by Father James DiLuzio CSP for Saint Barnabas, Bronx, NY

When “the eyes of the blind be open be opened, and the ears of the deaf cleared:”  your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.

These words from Isaiah remind me of the story of Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes who after the many visions of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception entered the convent of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers.  Most of the sisters welcomed her, but one, in a Superior’s role, took an instant disliking to the girl becoming woman because of Bernadette’s celebrity.  This sister ignored the fact that one of the reasons Bernadette sought religious life was to avoid all the attention that her apparitions of Mary, mother of God, brought to her and to focus on prayer and the virtues of penance.  Moreover, when Bernadette was later stricken with tuberculosis of the bone in her right knee, the pain of which caused her to limb in prayer processions, her Superior mocked and ridiculed her and accused her of seeking favor and pity from the other sisters. Only when the Superior’s eyes were opened to the extent of the disease that had spread and the physician’s verification that Bernadette was dying did the Superior move to compassion and repentance.  Her eyes were opened, and she spoke as an advocate for the young woman ever after, taking care of Bernadette for the remaining time of the Saint’s life until Bernadette died at the age of 35.

Take note, again, of Isaiah’s phrase: “Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,  he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.”

Clearly God is ever at work in the world, but human hearts and minds are so prone to ignore the signs, to override impulses of grace for more selfish motives.  The realities of evil, temptations toward the deadly sins of envy, pride so often thwart the kingdom which is way, dear disciples, that God’s will is not done “on earth as it is in heaven” until some breakthrough of Grace occurs.  That grace occurred in the waning year of Bernadette’s life, but it may not have occurred on earth, for the power of evil is great in this world, but, joyfully, it did.

Jesus perpetuated the realization of God’s will for the deaf man with the speech impediment.  The reality of the miracle is but our first entry into faith in Jesus –belief that God’s will does include the miraculous, not for show, not for excitement, but always for healing, for reconciling people back to health and true human dignity.  Jesus’ healing ministry also reconciles others to compassion and patience with the sick and suffering in our lives.

How can today’s Scriptures not bring us, once again, to attend to our institution’s failures to “see and hear”  regarding the suffering of minors—children and teens—for decades.

Some of us may experience weariness as the crisis unfolds, but we must not let weariness hide the sins nor the vindications and restitutions that must be fulfilled for our hierarchy’s  tragic failures.  And there is much work to do for those who suffer beyond the Church’s walls : in homes and schools and sports clubs and everywhere else where there are maladjusted, unhealthy adults preying upon the young and innocent –not only sexually, but physically, emotionally and spiritually. It must be apparent by now that the Church’s scandal is so closely aligned with the dynamics of incest evident in many families who have yet to seek justice, heal and reconcile because family members caved into to incredulity, fears of scandal, and, in those cases where victims were believed –insisted on secrecy  rather than truth.  That is what our bishops have done and it’s time they accept the full scope of the civil consequences of their actions.  And here’s the most important, of many reasons why:  when Church and families have the courage to bring the offenses of the innocent to light–no matter the rank and file of their perpetrators– victims have their suffering acknowledged and that, in and of itself is the necessary breakthrough that empowers healing and introduces hope.  Our Church could commission studies by psychologists and social workers on the tragic secrecy and denial dynamic—so harmful in that it prevents victims’ vindication.

 

I urge Catholics to be pro-active:  write our bishops with your feelings and your ideas on all that we can still do to transform our institutions and build on the progress we’ve made to ministering to those hurt by the Church.  Of course, we begin with ministries to minors abused by clergy, but there are many more abused emotionally and spiritually from negative Church encounters of other kinds.  Last week I myself wrote to Cardinal Dolan and Cardinal DeNardo, President  of the US Conference of Catholic of Bishops with suggestions I gleaned from many conversations with people from insightful articles in the news.

At the heart of these is the recommendation that Church Authority include far more lay people, professionals in all fields, especially women among them, and programs that will include life-long follow-up to victims of abuse—children, teens and young adults within the Church and outside of the Church because abuse of minors requires a life time for healing –and we owe them every opportunity.

The miracle of seeing and hearing the truth from victims and walking with them as Jesus walks with all of us will purify and strengthen all those who participate in these ministries.  We cannot afford to proclaim the Miracles of Jesus, the healing power of Jesus as we do today, and not participate in it.  Our Church has fallen into darkness once again  – as it has many times before during history –but you and I together must rekindle the light of Christ through our words and actions to all who suffer.  It’s now or never.

The Scripture Readings:

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 128

Reading 1IS 35:4-7A

Thus says the LORD:
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10

  1. (1b) Praise the Lord, my soul!
    or:
    R. Alleluia.
    The God of Jacob keeps faith forever,
    secures justice for the oppressed,
    gives food to the hungry.
    The LORD sets captives free.
    R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
    or:
    R.Alleluia.
    The LORD gives sight to the blind;
    the LORD raises up those who were bowed down.
    The LORD loves the just;
    the LORD protects strangers.
    R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
    or:
    R. Alleluia.
    The fatherless and the widow the LORD sustains,
    but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
    The LORD shall reign forever;
    your God, O Zion, through all generations.
    Alleluia.
    R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
    or:
    R. Alleluia.

Reading 2JAS 2:1-5

My brothers and sisters, show no partiality
as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes
comes into your assembly,
and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in,
and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes
and say, “Sit here, please, ”
while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet, ”
have you not made distinctions among yourselves
and become judges with evil designs?

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.
Did not God choose those who are poor in the world
to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom
that he promised to those who love him?

Alleluia  CF. MT 4:23

  1. Alleluia, alleluia.
    Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the kingdom
    and cured every disease among the people.
    R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  MK 7:31-37

Again, Jesus left the district of Tyre
and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee,
into the district of the Decapolis.
And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment
and begged him to lay his hand on him.
He took him off by himself away from the crowd.
He put his finger into the man’s ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue;
then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,
“Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” —
And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly.
He ordered them not to tell anyone.
But the more he ordered them not to,
the more they proclaimed it.
They were exceedingly astonished, and they said,
“He has done all things well.
He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The HOMILY I Did Not Preach Sunday, August 26, 2018

by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

Having prepared the text that appears several pages hence, I arrived at Saint Barnabas to find that a Propagation of the Faith Missionary was preaching at all the Masses. So instead, I offered a condensed version of what I had prepared to the congregation after we prayed the Closing Prayer.  This is what I said:

“Not having the opportunity to preach you to you today, I feel obliged to say that after all we have heard and seen in the news these past two weeks, I wish –and I’m sure I speak for your parish priests here –we all wish to say we care about your feelings and what you must be thinking in response  to Pennsylvania report. The scandal of child and teen abuse is something we’ve been living with for years now, but the Pennsylvania report gives numbers of cases and egregious accounts that accentuates the severity of the Church’s sins.  The Gospel today asks if we wish to return to a former way of life, and many of us wish we could.  We must remember Christ is with us through all things and that faith will get us through this scandal if we let it. Prayer is needed but so is action on our part to hold our leadership to greater accountability. I invite you to consider some of the following:

  1. Shall we urge our bishops in all Catholic diocese worldwide to release the secret papers listing the guilty priests and negligent bishops before more states require them to do so? Public confession and identification of the criminals in the Church is something we owe to victims because seeing names in print acknowledges the reality of their suffering which is an essential component of the healing process for most if not all. It should have been done long ago.  Tragically, our leaders abandoned us and abandoned Jesus, making Church as institution their God. We are a people called to serve, not to secrecy.
  2. The Church’s mission is not just to take care of our own but to serve the world. To accomplish both, its time our hierarchy open its doors to include lay professionals, especially women, from all sectors of society from psychology to medical, law enforcement, educational and spiritual leaders to address the full  scope of all that has happened in ways our bishops failed to do.  Furthermore, consider writing our bishops to initiate this kind of cooperative process so that ultimately universal standards of justice could be set for all victims regardless of their abilities or lack thereof to obtain legal counsel and to ultimately begin a process that could result in International standards for protection of children and teens, reparation for all victims of abuse and accepted standards for just penalties for perpetrators in churches, schools, scouts, sports, medical institutions in whatever context they are found.  Initiating and engaging this complex enterprise could mark a much-needed public penance on behalf of our leadership.

Time does not permit me offering more suggestions or details, but If anyone wishes to talk more about the PA report or anything related to what going, I offer to spend time with you after mass so please do not hesitate to approach me.   May God bless us to take prayerful action to transform our Church to a greater honesty and integrity reminding the hierarchy and ourselves that  we are the people who witness to the power of admission of sins as an essential way to encountering God.

 

Dear Readers: I was humbled by the assembly’s applause after my speech, and many thanked me afterwards although no one chose to speak with me at length.  For the time being, perhaps that is all that needs to be said.  However, if you want to delve further, what follows is the text  I would have preached at the liturgy of the Word:

 

The Gospel today states: “Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

 

Jesus’ question applies to all the faithful in today’s world:  “Do we also want to leave?” Amidst the Pennsylvania report regarding the egregious numbers of priests abusing minors since 1940’s (along with some of the most abhorrent details), many of us are asking ourselves this very question.  Therefore, we must not eschew the topic at mass today, for this is our public sacrament addressing all the public and personal aspects of our life with Christ and one another. Indeed, today this same topic is being extended to Pope Francis’ mission to Ireland this week and the context of abuse there.  No, we cannot be put the topic aside today.

 

To begin, we must remember that Jesus is present to us even in our sins, even as we repeatedly encounter institutional shame. Christ within the body of the faithful must be our recourse in these awful times when evidence of our leaders’ failures  once again comes to light.  How many people, including priests, are experiencing despair today, thinking of abandoning the Church, discarding our faith,  feeling God has abandoned us? Such feelings are natural and inevitable in these times,  but faith compels us to accept a truth greater than what we feel: God never abandons us. Therefore, this ongoing public tragedy must become yet another occasion for us to deepen our relationship with Christ whose Truth alone will set us free.  Together we must petition the Holy Spirit for the courage to change the things we can to hold our leaders and our institutions accountable, to insist they lead us as they were meant to lead us: with honesty, with bold confession of their sins which alone allows for just amends to be made and merciful recompense to those they have harmed.  This is what our leaders have asked of us, we now continue to insist that they do the same. The faithful had to do this throughout the early church controversies, before and after the Reformation, the Inquisition and we must do it again. Let us reflect on how Jesus can help us address today’s  public scandal:

 

Admitting our wrongs has always been a hallmark of our faith.  Repentance is our path to Jesus NOW as it was in Biblical times beginning with the preaching of the prophets that culminated in John the Baptist:  Repent! In the early centuries of Christianity, often sinners were required to go public for serious crimes. The local communities compelled penitents to wear sackcloth and ashes at the entrance of churches until their penance and reparations were fulfilled. This concept is rooted in Jewish tradition, the grandfather of our faith. Remember the story of Jonah and the sinful City of Nineveh?  The whole metropolis put on sackcloth and ashes.  Knowing this our Church should have implemented public admittance of its guilt as the only fitting justice–long before the Pennsylvania government released its report.  Only public confession expresses genuine contrition from an institution, reflecting the sinners’ willingness to let God purify and transform it.  Furthermore,  it should have been evident by now that victims need to have their suffering acknowledged if they are to heal well.   Naming convicted perpetrators is also important because, as I have heard, many remain in reprehensible denial of the harm they caused. Their sin and their thinking need to be exposed and condemned.

 

As for our bishops who covered up and reassigned criminal priests, the fact that for decades they paid more attention to lawyers than victims adds yet another layer to our 20th and 21st century shame. The Church should be above that,  judging by today’s Gospel, our leaders abandoned Jesus and made Church-as-institution their God, neglecting a central Christian tenet that to confess our sins is the first step toward reconciliation with God and others. If poverty would be the result, well, as Jesus has said, “Blessed are the poor.”

 

In light of these insights, I propose we ask all Catholic diocese, world-wide, to  release the names of perpetrators and bishops who mishandled the situation so that all victims’ abuses can be formally acknowledge.  Then, at last, our Church would regain its integrity, demonstrating true contrition before all peoples–before state and federal government compels us to do so.   Only then can what the bishops have offered victims and their families— life-long professional counseling and financial recompense be placed in its proper context.  Hindsight also makes evident that faithful Church members would have handled bishops’ open confession of criminal priests without shame if announced at the onset.  Immediate public announcements would have prompted simultaneous change in canon law, priest policies and seminary formation at a much earlier point in this terrible saga and so much violence against innocents could have been prevented. Now, of course, the Church has instituted significant changes in policy and in education of priest and lay ministers that highlight child and teen protection and safety and alert the faithful to signs of dangers. Nevertheless,  the current issue remains:  how must the Church take responsibility for the sins of its past, especially its recent past?  How can the Catholic Church regain its credibility in our witness to Christ in this world?   Perhaps this sacramental Church of ours needs a ritual that acknowledges its institutional sins, that humbly and prayerfully embraces an institutional penance.  What would be the equivalent of sackcloth and ashes for guilty priests and bishops today? Here’s one possibility:

 

  • Guilty bishops could resign; guilty priests laicized in public rituals before being handed over to civil authorities. No one is above the law when laws are just, and victims cry out in pain.

 

Here’s something else we could do right here, right now:  insist that our Church hierarchy engage ecumenical, multi-faith, government officials and lay persons, victims and families to draft universal standards of recompense to victims that are compassionately fair and, at the same time,  clearly define just punishment for surviving perpetrators in both ecclesiastical and civil terms. Local and national  commission could be formed to include professional lay men and women in psychology and all behavioral sciences in addition to experts in education, spirituality, law enforcement, legal experts and other related fields.  The times call for  a heterogenous, diverse assembly of people to be convened  because Councils of Bishops need an interdisciplinary wisdom of men and women beyond its male hierarchy if they are to address the full scope of all that has happened to the people of God.  These convocations could produce a formal International agreement specifying just consequences for all forms of child and teen abuse that could be promulgated just as Human Rights are defined and promulgated and these consequences would be applied  to all domains where sexual abuse and all forms of violence against children, teens and adults occur – in homes, schools, youth clubs, sports, business and medical institutions, etc.  as well as churches with no exceptions. For when the same truths are articulated in all institutions and sectors of society, the prospects for acting upon and realizing TRUTH and Justice become more fully realized.  And remember, the Church is here to serve the world, not just itself.

 

Once Church and State agree on fair and just recompense to victims, and just punishment for perpetrators, statute of limitations on victims seeking justice could be lifted in all sectors of Church and Society—comprehensive with no exemptions. Because of the well-documented  trauma victims experience throughout their lives, it is time Church and State set things right in all situations, in all places for all people.

 

As God helps Church and Society recover, may our Church abandon its sinful pride, its propensity to defend itself and cling more closely to Jesus “who alone brings LIFE” –Life in its dimensions in and beyond this troubled world. Christians everywhere would do well to commit to the age-old Jesus Prayer on a daily basis:  “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Have Mercy on Us for We are Sinners”  and, now more than ever, we must add, “strengthen us to put true repentance, TRUE FAITH into action.”

 

FYI:  HERE are the Biblical Texts for Today’s Mass:

“Whom Shall We Serve?”

Readings for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1 Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b

Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem,
summoning their elders, their leaders,
their judges, and their officers.
When they stood in ranks before God,
Joshua addressed all the people:
“If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

But the people answered,
“Far be it from us to forsake the LORD
for the service of other gods.
For it was the LORD, our God,
who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt,
out of a state of slavery.
He performed those great miracles before our very eyes
and protected us along our entire journey
and among the peoples through whom we passed.
Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

 

Responsorial Psalm Ps 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21

  1. (9a) Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
    I will bless the LORD at all times;
    his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
    Let my soul glory in the LORD;
    the lowly will hear me and be glad.
    R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
    The LORD has eyes for the just,
    and ears for their cry.
    The LORD confronts the evildoers,
    to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
    R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
    When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
    and from all their distress he rescues them.
    The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
    and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
    R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
    Many are the troubles of the just one,
    but out of them all the LORD delivers him;
    he watches over all his bones;
    not one of them shall be broken.
    R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

Reading 2  5:2a, 25-32

Brothers and sisters:
Live in love, as Christ loved us.
Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ loved the church
and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
that he might present to himself the church in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish.
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself.
For no one hates his own flesh
but rather nourishes and cherishes it,
even as Christ does the church,
because we are members of his body.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.

This is a great mystery,
but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.

 

Alleluia Jn 6:63c, 68c

  1. Alleluia, alleluia.
    Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life;
    you have the words of everlasting life.
    R. Alleluia, alleluia.

 

Gospel Jn 6:60-69

Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said,
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, “Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending
to where he was before?
It is the spirit that gives life,
while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.”
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.
And he said,
“For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

 

 

 

Know the Past to Improve the Future: Knowing Jesus

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time  Lectionary: 101

Reading 1 Ez 2:2-5  Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you.  But you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD GOD!  And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house— they shall know that a prophet has been among them.they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

Responsorial Psalm  PS 123:1-2, 2, 3-4   Our souls are more than sated with the mockery of the arrogant, with the contempt of the proud.

Reading 2       2 COR 12:7-10  :     for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Gospel  MK 6:1-6   Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”  So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Two men rummaged through the remains of their deceased Uncle’s estate.  They happened upon a stack of canvas paintings, unframed, piled high in a corner.

“What a waste of money, buying all this junk” said the older brother to the younger. “He was a foolish man.”

“You didn’t know him as I knew him,” said the younger.  “He enjoyed supporting the locals, the shops that were on the verge of closing. Maybe some of these are worth something. I’m going to have them appraised.”

His brother retorted: “Don’t waste your time or your money. Not much of an inheritance. That’s all I can say,”

In time, the paintings were appraised.  Alas, all worthless, except for one. It brought a great price.

“Here’s your share,” said the younger to the older.

“It’s yours,” said the other. “I didn’t want any part of it.”

“If you knew him, you would know he wanted us both to have something from him. He was a very generous fellow.  Take it.”

He does.

The crowd in Jesus’ home town didn’t really know him.  They couldn’t have. Evidently, they didn’t take the time to know his story – Angels at his birth, light and revelations at his Baptism, conflict with religious authorities through which he stood his ground and healings that occurred through him in Capernaum and other villages south of the lake.

What’s more, they didn’t know their own stories very well.  Not necessarily their personal stories, but their collective stories; stories from the Torah and the prophets:  Remembrances of things past meant to inform the present.  Why were these stories recorded on scrolls if not for edification, for learning, for hope?  Inspiration and Wisdom to be gleaned from reviewing the conflicts among the great patriarchs, matriarchs, prophets and kings; Passovers of deliverance on more occasions than one; battles between good and evil within human hearts as much as among and between rival tribes and nations. They must not have personalized their own biblical and national histories, otherwise those stories of arrogance and humility, greed and generosity would have kept them constantly aware of the human condition ever in need redemption.

Ignorant or forgetful they were—probably  some combination of both—the people who dismissed Jesus. They reduced him to his contemporary family links. No one special. No one unique.  Didn’t they realize that negating Jesus’ uniqueness they were denying themselves of their own uniqueness, and their universal needs? How foolish they were.

How foolish are we!  It is essential that we  be mindful of our pasts if we are to live fully in the present.  I’m not speaking only of our personal pasts–our families’ pasts, but that of our nation and our biblical heritage as well.  These are the realities that impact our minds and hearts consciously and subconsciously every day; they are the realities that bring our need for Jesus and His communion of disciples—those on earth and in heaven—working together in prayer and action to  navigate the rights and wrongs, the truths, the lies, the generosity, the self-serving aspects of human nature and society in every generation, in every age.

The Good News is whether we know Jesus or not, whether we claim our identity and our heritage as His Disciples or not, His love and Wisdom is for everyone.  And, on wider circles, the same is true for God the Father as the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures reveal God – generous, kind and forgiving to all including the ungrateful, the clueless and the wicked.

Let’s face it, even we who know, we who follow Jesus and seek communion with him, exploring, discerning, illuminating Christ’s Spirit in ourselves and others, yes, even we could be more knowledgeable of Biblical, Church History and that of our nations.  All offer innumerable examples of virtues that triumphed, goodness that failed;  hospitality and selfishness, of peace and violence, the ever-constant approach / avoidance of God we all experience – a treasure chest of knowledge with great potential for Wisdom for today.

Come to the Eucharist today with a greater willingness to wrestle with our past—the failings of Saints and Nations as much as their successes. Gauge them alone and with others as to the degrees of our ancestors’ cooperation with God, with 10 Commandments, the extent of their  identification with Jesus and the Spirit.

Confident that Memory is one of God’s most vital gifts to humanity for Growth and Wisdom, may today’s mass motivate us to keep learning from our mistakes, acknowledging our ignorance, inspire us to know more who of we are, who we’ve been and what the signs of our times call us to be.  Pope Francis has written encyclicals that urge us to attend to care for the Environment and our relationship with the animal world (Laudato Si), to re-evaluate the way business and commerce commence (part of Lumen Fidei—light of faith—an encyclical that insists we engage the world not just our individual souls).  And let us not forget the 1986 US Bishops “Economic Justice for All” – so much of the wisdom and compassion of that document has yet to reconcile our culture to the values of Faith. Nor should we forget the warnings of Pope Saint John Paul II on that same topic: Centesimus Annus – on Capital, Labor and Catholic Social Teaching.

May we trust Christ’s indwelling in us will strengthen us to name the sins of the past, undo the damage done that continues to threaten the land, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the relationships among nations and within and among peoples. May faith, hope and love be strengthened in us through today’s sacrament, moving this entire generation of Christians forward –ever-ready, ever-willing to access every possible opportunity for GRACE, knowing that Christ Jesus and his truth make him not just yesterday’s Savior, but Our Savior for today, tomorrow and always.