Trinity Sunday: Mass Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of My Ordination to the Priesthood at Saint Paul the Apostle Church, New York, NY

WHAT I’VE LEARNED THUS FAR –3 Points for Trinity Sunday

By Father James DiLuzio C.S.P.

 From Sunday’s Scripture Readings:

Excerpt from Deuteronomy 4: “This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the LORD is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other. You must keep his statutes and commandments that I enjoin on you today, that you and your children after you may prosper, and that you may have long life on the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you forever.””

Excerpt from Matthew 28:  And Jesus words confirm all this: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

 What follows is a more detailed expression of my thoughts.  For the Sunday Mass, I spoke on what follows more extemporaneously.  (I did not include the RED text on Sunday)

 It actually happened!  25 years!  I’m humbled and grateful for these years of faith and service and I am thankful to the Paulist Fathers without whom I never would be living a life in continual dialogue with the Scriptures and the People of God in extraordinary, intimate ways.  Today’s readings also remind me how in debt I am to the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ teachings.  They bring true freedom.  Observing them as closely as we are able, we may place our heads on our pillows each night and sleep soundly embraced by amazing grace.  We may wake up each morning as a child awakes filled with hope and enthusiasm,  conscious of God’s love and energized for the day for the good, the true and the beautiful.

 

In celebration of TRINITY SUNDAY on which we contemplate the Christian understanding of ONE GOD in Three Persons—we affirm that GOD IS RELATIONSHIP ITSELF—that’s the true meaning behind “Father, Son and Spirit.”  Indeed, as God is the SOURCE OF LIFE, THE FORCE MAINTAINING THE COSMOS, an UNDYING ENERGY FROM WITHIN AND WITHOUT –God extends God’s very essence expanding loving relationship to and through humanity and all creation.  Relationship is the heart of life—all people, the entire cosmos is inter-related in ways we need to keep exploring, understanding and celebrating.  And the best way is to keep cultivating the awe and wonder and freedom of childhood.  On this Anniversary Celebration I would like to share 3 (3 ½) insights I’ve gained from my 25 years as a Paulist priest.  Here we go:

  1. Point 1: “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom like a child shall not enter it.” Luke 18: 16-17
  • An energized adulthood demands that we cultivate and grow in our childhood JOYS. Are childhood joys comprise the essence of who we ARE, and Who God CALLS US TO BE.  Share who we are!  That’s the mission. . .. Don’t gauge your joys and talents in terms of money you make from them.  That’s not the point. We must keep developing our childhood happiness whatever our ultimate livelihood.  Get out those guitars, gardening tools, baseball gloves, science kit, puzzles or whatever it may be that keeps you fully alive. Let your lights shine!
    1. THE SHADOW SIDE OF CHILDHOOD: Childhood inevitably imparts wounds, too.  True growth engages us in “un-learning” negative patterns bestowed on us by exploring healthy patterns of thinking and living. Faith offers us the “bigger picture” we need to trust in a Loving God, accept the truth that people who mistreat, manipulate or domineer are transmitting pain they received in their childhoods.  We never deserved their cruelty, and, ultimately, safe distance may be required, yet in our hearts we need to develop compassion for ourselves and our family’s and institutions’ failures so that we don’t let our hurts prevent us from living and loving.
    2. In Exodus the Scriptures reveal God as saying God will be about “inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation.” All that means is that God allows the consequences of wrong actions -be they selfish, greedy, violent—to play themselves out and they do, indeed, impact many subsequent generations. Meanwhile, both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures affirm God never abandons us as we work through the harmful residues of the past.
    3. Later the prophet Ezekiel assures the people saying, “The son shall not be charged with the guilt of his father, nor shall the father be charged with the guilt of his son. Justice belongs to the just, and wickedness to the wicked.”  This implies, in part, what I’ve come to understand:  God invites each new generation to correct, amend and extinguish the sins of the past –be they that of our parents, grandparents or ancestors, or our nation’s or our religious body’s—so we keep ever-growing in the ways God set out in the beginning:  the 2 GREAT COMMANDMENTS: Love of God, self and neighbor as self.  Strong faith gives us the COURAGE to do just that.  It’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Pick up your cross and follow me” and “I am with you always, even unto the end of time.”
    4. Strong feelings from childhood are often evoked in contemporary situations that nonetheless must be distinguished from the situations and contexts of the past. We must learn to deal with these and the distinct people involved in them in healthier, more creative ways, detaching from our past.  e., the person who treats us ill today is not our parent, our wicked 4th grade teacher, the abusive boss from our last job.  He/She and we are in a different situation now.  We must calm our bruised inner child and live in the present. We must assert ourselves because we don’t need other’s good behavior to claim our self-esteem as children of God.  Claiming our foundational dignity in God’s love, no one can take it away. We can then see the person and his/her inappropriate or hurtful behavior as someone in pain; someone who tries to claim their dignity at the expense of another because they are deeply insecure.   Assured of who we are as Loved by God, we can move from anger, to pity, to compassion for the wounded, insecure fellow (without ever telling him or her that they are wounded or insecure—that won’t get us anywhere!).  Centered in this way, we are far more able and likely to “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6) and advance to the Biblical Vision: “With firm purpose you maintain peace (O, Lord!); in peace, because of our trust in you.” Trust in the Lord forever!  (Isaiah 26)

2. Point 2: I’m continuing to discover and develop the virtue of Abandoning Aesthetics regarding human persons.

  1. We are all nurtured in aesthetics based on our family backgrounds and communities. We learn what our group deems appropriate for dress, personal hygiene, decorum, and proper pleasures.  This is natural.   As we grow and assert our individuality, we adopt, adapt or reject aspects of what we’ve learned and apply them to ourselves.  In addition, Education invites us to develop critical thinking regarding works of art, music and literature; Church and Society cultivate ethics regarding social norms and proper politics. The gift of critical thinking is essential to life and advancing public mores.
  2. Yet, we fail to engage in the Gospel, when we view another human being according to the criteria we deem best for ourselves or evaluate them as if they are a theatre piece or literary work. We can project our expectations upon them and fail to see who he or she really is. Jesus emphatically insists: “Stop Judging, and you will not be judged.  Stop condemning and you will not be condemned; Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6).  It’s letting go of aesthetics and critical evaluation of a person–even his or her actions –that help us see a fellow human being as God sees him or her.
  3. Judgment and Condemnation create chasms between people and prevent us from working together to solve problems, to undo the damage that is done. Instead of saying “How can you wear that? Say that?” or worse, “How dare you!”  “How could you!” I’m learning to keep silent and inwardly pray about my evaluations of another.  Only when someone’s actions warrant it, I find it’s better to ask, “What’s going on within you that brings you to speak or act in this way?” or “Please, help me understand your choices in this matter.  Might there be a more productive way to deal with this?  How may I help?”   (In truth, even compassionate statements such as these can rile another person, so this approach it’s not a guarantee for successful dialogue. In the realm of human relations, there is no perfect panacea.  Furthermore, our own emotions can get in the way of our best intentions, making what we think is a “kind response” received by another as anything but.  (God help us!)

3. Point 3: “Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span? 26 If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest? “(Luke 12). To follow Jesus is to “Come Down to Earth.”

Our Christian faith is centered in God who enters human history through the Incarnate Word, in Jesus of Nazareth.  To follow Jesus, we must “come down to earth,” too.  Living in a “down to earth” way, we may more readily “live in the present moment” with much less anxiety. Here are life’s bare bone essentials to always keep in mind when in relationship with others but especially in times of conflict:

  1. Everyone needs air and water. (Deprive any one of these and the issues before us have no weight, no matter.)
  2. Everyone needs food, clothing and shelter. God created us as beings that must cooperate, collaborate to provide us with these bare necessities. No one can obtain all these essentials on his or her own. This basic concept assures us that we are all in this world together.
  3. Everyone needs LOVEFORGIVENESS –I understand this now as ONE WORD. Each dynamic is inseparable from the other. Mere Existence becomes LIFE in its fullness when this irrefutable, indivisible dynamic is nurtured and maintained.  Besides, no one can live without it. Now, LOVEFORGIVENESS doesn’t mean we can’t hold people accountable for their actions but it does mean that the accountability offers hope and opportunity to change while taking responsibility for his or her actions. We must assist ourselves and others always to claim and re-claim our true dignity as children of God.  (Another dimension of “Pick up your cross.”
  4. Everyone needs STORY to endow meaning to all the other fundamentals I’ve stated. Our FAITH provides the greatest and foundational stories, and in our diverse and heterogeneous world, we need to dialogue and discern the commonalities in all people’s stories –religious, national and personal—to create the solidarity in addressing the problems we face.  So many Religious Traditions affirm Unity, Harmony and Peace as God’s goal for the world. We all need to know our stories and keep learning from them.
  5. Everyone dies. Humble recognition of this truth may help us advance LIFE and LIFE-GIVING CHOICES for as long as we are on this earth because our earthly life is inextricably linked to our life and relationship with God and others for all eternity.  Detaching from our emotions or taking “time out” from an argument or discussion when emotions are strong can keep us alive and well until our time is up.

Keeping life “simple” is the best way to live, for, in truth God is the simplest, most uncomplicated essence of Being, of Personhood and Relationship there is—all generative, all creative, all overflowing love.

I would like to close with the song I sing at the opening of every parish mission I offer:  Leonard Bernstein’s SIMPLE SONG with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

You can hear me sing via this YouTube link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3h9s0OY2Ues

(This was recorded several years ago.  I think I sang it better on Sunday!)

God bless you all for reading and sharing in my reflections.

 

 

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Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Sunday 4th of February 2018

 Reading 1JB 7:1-4, 6-7

Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?

Responsorial PsalmPS 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

  1. (cf. 3a) Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.

Reading 21 COR 9:16-19, 22-23

Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!

GospelMK 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

It’s easy to fall into the existential angst of Job – “what does anything matter?” We let the words of Ecclesiastes echo repeatedly in our heads: “All is vanity. Life is meaningless.” When we’re in that state of mind, it is profitable to remember that faith insists that humanity needs a Savior.  God initiated a Covenant with mankind for this very purpose: deliverance from mere existence into fullness of life.

For us, the story of Jesus is a healing story.  It’s restorative, transformative.  Jesus’s destiny was and remains a healing ministry just as he healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and myriad of others long ago.  But note Jesus’ exemplifies an essential aspect of his restorative technique right here in today’s Gospel for all of us to appreciate:  solitude: “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.”  We must remember that prayer does not / must not always include words.  Sometimes in our despair, words are even too much for us to bear.  Solidarity with God requires silence, too.  Here’s a perfect example from a story by religious sister and spiritual writer José Hobday:

“One summer Saturday when I was 12, I was waiting for my friend who wanted to come over. We had planned the morning together. She was quite late. I was fretting and complaining and generally making a nuisance of myself. In fact, I was becoming rather obnoxious to everyone else in the house.

“Finally, my father said to me ‘Get a book a blanket and an apple and get into the car!’ I wanted to know why, but he repeated the order. So, I obeyed. My father drove me about eight miles from home to a canyon area and said, ‘Now get out.  We cannot stand you any longer at home. You aren’t fit to live with.  Stay out here by yourself today until you understand better how to act. I’ll come back for you this evening.’

I got out, angry, frustrated and defiant. The nerve of him! I thought immediately of walking home.  Eight miles was no distance at all for me. Then the thought of meeting my father when I got there took hold and I changed my mind.

“I cried and threw the book, apple and blanket over the canyon ledge. I had been dumped and I was furious. But it is hard to keep up a good, rebellious cry with no audience, so finally, there was nothing to do but face up to the day alone.

“I sat on the rim, kicking the dirt and trying to get control of myself. After a couple of hours, as noon approached, I began to get hungry. I located the apple and climbed down to retrieve it– as well as the book and the blanket.  I climbed back up and as I came over the top, I noticed the piñon tree. It was lovely and full.
I spread the blanket in the shade, put the book under my head and began to eat the apple.  I was aware of a change of attitude. As I looked through the branches into the sky, a great sense of peace and beauty came to me.  The clouds sat in still puffs, the blue was endless; I began to take in their spaciousness. I thought about the way I had acted and why daddy had treated me so harshly.  Understanding began to come and I became more objective about my behavior. I found myself getting in touch with my feelings, with the world around me.

“Nature was my mother, holding me for comfort and healing. I became aware of being part of it all, and I found myself thinking of God. . .. I felt in communion with much that I could not know, but to which I was drawn.   .  .  Of touching the holy.

“By the time my father came to get me, I was restored.  Daddy did not press me about the day.  He asked no questions and I gave him no answers.  But I was different and we both knew it. . . Before I got out of the car, I thanked him.”

May we begin with a little more silence now then we usually do—that is, before we return to the words of The Creed.  And so, may the balance of this Mass increase our comfortability with solitude and the mystical presence of Jesus.

God’s Authority is Compassion

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

28 January 2018

Reading 1 Dt 18:15-20    I will raise up for them a prophet like you (Moses) from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9:   If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us. For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.

Reading 2 1 Cor 7:32-35   An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided.

Gospel Mk 1:21-28  Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority.

Several years ago, a group of computer salesman from Milwaukee went to a regional sales meeting in Chicago. They assured their wives they would be home in plenty of time for dinner, but with one thing or another, the meeting ran overtime so the men had to race to the station, tickets in hand. As they barraged through the terminal, one inadvertently kicked over a table supporting a basket of apples. Without stopping, they all reached the train and boarded it with a sigh of relief.  All but one.

This one paused, got in touch with his feelings and experienced a twinge of compassion for the boy whose apple stand had been overturned.  He waved goodbye to his companions and returned to the terminal.  He was glad he did. The 10-year-old boy was blind.  The salesman gathered up the apples and noticed that several of them were bruised. He reached into his wallet and said to the boy, “Here, please take this $10 for the damage we did. I hope it won’t spoil your day.”  As he started to walk away, the bewildered boy called after him, “Are you Jesus?” The man stopped in his tracks. And he wondered.

Well, so much for being married and being distracted from the ways of the Lord!  We know the ways of the Lord most when we allow the Holy Spirit to move us into action.  It only takes a moment.  Or, perhaps, an extra moment –to feel something, to ponder—to move away from the compulsion to keep asking, “Where am I going?” “What’s next?” and ask, instead:  “Where am I?” and “What about NOW” Even more than these, there are the essential questions of faith: “Who guides me? Who is with me now and every moment of my life?  Who is my true authority?  My touchstone?  My cornerstone?”

The people in the synagogue were amazed that Jesus cured the man from his demons, but even more marveled at His “authority.” Jesus had complete freedom to express His powers (i.e. no inhibitions / insecurities / fears). Only a pure Union with God could endow a person with that kind of authority.  Because of this, the people realized  Jesus had more authority than their scribes. Indeed, Jesus’ power was akin to the Sun’s power over the day (Ps 136.8) and its ability to overcome the night.

Jesus has confidence in God and in Himself as God’s Anointed One: confirmed by his Baptism and His experiences of His Power over the Devil’s Temptations in the desert –important events that precede today’s Gospel.  Jesus believes God’s WORD: “You are my beloved Son” and refused to be tempted by Satan not to trust that affirmation.  We, like Christ, will often be tempted by Satan not to believe the words pronounced at our Baptisms: “you have been clothed in Christ,” “you have received the Oil of Salvation,” “you are destined to be among the Saints” when the power of evil seems to be invincible. When we forget these sacred realities we allow  our insecurities and fears to possess us.  Then, unlike Jesus, we are tempted to adopt the world’s forms of power and authority rather than one of service, mutual benefit and solidarity with others.  We can try desperately to advance our own reign rather than God’s reign. Sadly, many people with power these days seem to fall head over heels into that temptation.  But we don’t have to. Jesus’ authority comes from His conviction that He and God are one and that God always chooses the benevolent act, the supportive action, the healing word—contrary to many world philosophies.

Note this important detail in today’s Gospel.  Mark asserts that Jesus began His public life channeling his authority in an act of compassion—freeing a person from evil’s grasp.  Jesus once again shares that power and authority with us through this Eucharist.  His plan is to increase our faith, strengthen our confidence in Him and His authority—the only true authority there is. Shall we cooperate with the Plan of God today?  The choice is ours!  Are we not his Beloved?  Will not this Eucharist unite Us with Him?   Not to believe, not to trust in that truth makes us more susceptible to doubts, insecurities and the powers of evil.  But fear not! In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ authority makes it clear: Compassion trumps fear His compassion will move us out of ourselves, our inner conflicts, our dramas and into the only true way to live:  trusting in the power of God and of His Christ.

 

 

Sunday Homily 19 November 2017

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Reading 1 Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31

Responsorial Psalm Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5

Reading 2 1 Thes 5:1-6

Gospel Mt 25:14-30

 If we were welcomed into a loving home with our necessities met, our toddlerhood compelled us to awaken with excitement:  We’re up and ready for a new day!  Come and play!  See Me!  Delight in me!  Know who I am and see what a can do!   Not an ounce of intimidation or insecurity.  We can do things!  We have talents!  Come and See!  And even for those less fortunate, the drive of the Divine Spark, what secularists call “the human spirit,” is strong in the young, striving to overcome parental neglect or adversity with Love.  Social workers are amazed at how even underprivileged children strive to evoke delight in others.

As we grow into new levels of creativity, childhood awakens us with surprising aptitudes. We withdraw into our own rooms with books or into playrooms with toys, or we go outdoors with tools and implements of earth and science and imagination as the Spirit moves us.  We explore and find out more about who we are and who God calls us to be.  If so blessed, we enjoy recognition from family and friends–the hug from dad, a kiss from mother, a brother or sister’s “pat on the back,” the Gold Stars from our teachers, the artwork or spelling test displayed on home refrigerators.  The Divine Spark grows within and without and our individual lights shine.

Our teen years, by contrast are filled with confusion.  A “come and go, approach / avoidance” of almost everyone and everything.  We may seclude ourselves more often in our rooms, but creativity is censored with judgments –our own judgments based on comparisons with others, social and media heroes, and constructive and sometimes not-so-constructive criticism and expectations of parents, teachers and others.  At a point when the Divine Spark needs reinforcement, we tend to question God and Faith and attend less to the spiritual self which, ironically, is the very pursuit that will guide us through this difficult time.  Still, we may find a group of friends with whom we identify and can shine, or certain talents burst forth from us–from only God knows where– to gain us recognition in school, in sports, in competitions.  And, if we’ve been blessed with confidence–an attribute not all are given nor can cultivate on their own–we navigate the storms of adolescence.  If not, we enter the Good Friday experiences of life.  We pout, we slog through our teen years with a wish and a prayer.  Hopefully, without totally eschewing enthusiasm for at least some “one,” some field of study, music or entertainment that helps us identify where we are, who we are and possibilities for the future.

Young Adult carries some adolescent residue, but college or technical school can support self-awareness and sharpen skills as we search for a meaningful livelihood and circle of friends and gain a more mature outlook on life.

Adulthood hits us with harsher realities about the degrees we can use our God-given talents including cognitive, spiritual and emotional intelligence and other skills at our work, at home and in our social networks. For decades many parents sacrificed these aspects of fulfillment for work that supplied the necessary food, clothing and shelter and education for their children.  Many adults today are surprised that they, too, still, in this age of progress, are having to do the same.   Some get depressed, some resentful, others seek either new employment or bide his or her time unto retirement.

Whatever the stage of life we are in, whatever the talents and enthusiasm, we have a God who became one like us in Jesus to guide us through these very dynamics among many others.  Jesus’ gentle yoke empowers us to accept our responsibilities and duties with His vision: God’s kingdom is at hand!   Literally, that means it is within reach within us — no matter the circumstances or personalities involved.  Although it may require more prayer than we think we have time for, more attentiveness to faith and identification with Scripture, we have within us the Divine Spark that can bring us to use our talents and enthusiasms no matter the job, or career, or studies or family situation.  We just need not gauge our worth on our salaries or bank accounts or people’s opinions—a very strong temptation in our quantifying world’s vision.

This is the Gospel truth: We have no great moments in our lives without a pile of smaller ones to stand on.  We’ve all created more “little steps” than we think!  Beneath all these, however, is the solid foundation of faith that utilizes the Divine Spark bestowed on us from the beginning—in evidenced from toddlerhood right down to today. Chapters may be finished in our lives, but, friends, our books remain open.  See yet what God can and will do to make us fully alive, never taking for granted the power of this Eucharist and the gifts of the Holy Spirit!  As God told the prophet Jeremiah, and, by extension, to all the Israelites in exile from their homeland:  “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the Lord—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope ( Jeremiah 29:11 )” As people of faith, disciples of Jesus Christ, we are all “oracles of the Lord” sharing witness to HOPE for ourselves and others.

You may have heard the story of a visitor to a quarry who asked the people who were toiling there what they were doing. “Can’t you see I’m breaking stone?” said one of them, gruffly.  “I’m making a living for my wife and family,” said another.  The third said something else entirely: “I’m helping to build a cathedral,” he replied. And he smiled.

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Men & Women Loving Neighbors

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Homily by Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

 Reading 1;        EX 22:20-26

Responsorial Psalm:  PS 18:2-3, 3-4, 47, 51

Reading 2:       1 THES 1:5C-10

Gospel:    MT 22:34-40

 Considering recent headlines of women being harassed, exploited, intimidated in the workplace, it should be evident we need to look at the relationship between men and woman in accordance with the Great Commandment that irrevocably link Love of God and Love of Neighbor.  “How should men treat woman?” is the primary topic, but its counterpart, “How should women treat men?” is also an aspect in the equation.  How may we remedy the sexism of our age and the not uncommon practice of sexual harassment?

 

First let’s look at its probable cause: There is an erroneous concept and/or belief that sexual engagement is an entitlement rather than a sacred gift.  This idea is legion in social media in ads and programs that focus on sexuality at the expense of all other facets of the human person. Who is not tempted in some fashion to indulge in the fantasies these constant images and temptations provoke?   We can and often do feel helpless in the realm of sexuality because of too many mixed messages, too many insecurities about our bodies and too little certainty of what it means to be a fulfilled human being.

 

It seems obvious today that many people are apt to let their feelings overpower logic, desires outweigh morals, appetites take precedent over respect—a respect which expresses Love of God and Neighbor.   With the prevailing attitudes toward love-making as sport and entertainment, human sexuality is reduced to “favors” and “benefits” as if our bodies are commodities, means to a financial end.

 

Sex as recreation and entitlement continue to hold sway in the mind of many—an aspect that is not at all divorced from the abuse of women, the manipulation of women and in some cases men, too, in the workplace, in college and universities and everywhere else.  It is also a component in psychological disorders and the abuse of vulnerable minors and children—scandals that continue to be a grave concern.

 

Church and society may agree that no one should be pressured into surrendering themselves against his or her free will in any circumstance.  Lacking is the commitment, time and patience required to nurture reverence of the human person-body, soul and spirit. This Spirit of Discipleship is not to control people (a common secular accusation against the Church) but to cultivate maturity, trust and commitment in all friendships and associations.  This is the role of Church and family. This is what we are called to contribute to improve society.

 

In truth, in the past, a disproportionate negativity regarding human sexuality on the Church’s part in some ways contributed to the current confusion and the libertarian approach to sexual expression.  Still, the Church has learned and keeps on learning to see the gift of sexuality in a far more holy and holistic light.  Acknowledging sexual thoughts and feelings as part of an aspect of human experience that cannot be ignored, refuted or demeaned but rather as a component of the beings God made and intended is where we now begin. This is what is called for: Respecting ALL the respective components of the human person, not dismissing or avoiding them—but rather integrating them in healthy balance: the intellectual self, the emotional self, the psychological self, creating a beautiful harmony between a well-informed conscience and the generative and creative/ productive/ artistic dimensions in each of us.

 

The truth is that Society and even some (though not all) sexual education programs continue to give very confusing, mixed messages.   People of faith must work together to transform society’s mixed message to one of positive, healthy relationships that guide men and women to higher values and greater integrities in our friendships, in business relationships, dating, in courtship, in marriage. If the schools don’t offer courses on “how to be Friends,” “How to be Healthy Families,” “How to be Respectful Workplace companions” then Families and Church must take up the slack and take advantage of the many spiritual and therapeutic tools offered us.

 

Hopefully you know that many Religious Education courses for children up to and including teen confirmation classes explore how faith in Jesus cultivates harmony among family members, emphasizes the joy that respectful dating brings and the self-esteem that can be achieved by overcoming temptations to be self-indulgent at the expense of another human being. Yet, discipleship insists on extending these values beyond the classroom to the words we choose to use at home about our bodies and other peoples’ bodies. Discipleship must extend to how husbands and wives treat one another alone AND in front of their children and to the way parents cultivate friendship, patience and compassion among siblings, cousins and neighbors.  Compare our language and conduct in private and social situations.  What words and gestures do we use at high emotional events such as baseball and football games?  Do we insist that every woman be recognized as someone’s mother, wife or sister –with all the integrity those roles provide?  Do we acknowledge that every man is someone’s father, husband or brother?  Seeing each other first in this way needs to be the foundation of all relationships, including those that potentially may lead to dating, romance and marriage for that sacrament insists on a relationship of equal partners.  Millions of married people affirm that friendship is the most long-lasting dynamic of any marriage.  These are Catholic Christian values.  Catholic Christian goals.

 

Goals must be worked at, inform our daily choices. What we clearly need are more hours spent at-home with in-depth discussion about the songs and films and tv shows and books the children encounter –and that we adults encounter.  Yes, scrutiny is needed to discern the most age-appropriate programming for each member of a family,  but because the state of the media and electronics do not prevent kids from stumbling upon less wholesome content at home or elsewhere, our families must commit to setting time aside that not only address the topics, characters, the stories, and the friends and adults that kids encounter but allow  time for children to express feelings, explore attitudes and social conventions with parents and other trusted adults. And to assess all these in the light of Christ and our Catholic sensibilities. Of course, this isn’t only a message for parents and guardians.  We all can benefit from more conversation among adults about what we read and see—not condemnatory, but honest sharing of feelings, vulnerabilities and our temptations, too. More conversation, more understanding among friends, dating partners, engaged and married couples can bring greater integrity and respect to all adult relationships.

 

The Church’s insistence on weekly Eucharist is a constant reminder that we need help applying the Two Great Commandments to our lives.  Consider, also, the Persistence of the Word – how often and in how many ways these Great Commandments are articulated, their benefits exemplified in countless Scriptural encounters throughout the Hebrew and Christian Bibles preached for thousands of years.  What’s more, within and beyond the Bible there are innumerable historical tragedies evidencing the terrible consequences of people who thwart these Commandments.  And because we’ve all become lax and at times unwilling to incarnate them in all our relationships, in all our social, business and political endeavors, we return to Mass and Sacraments. What else can we do?  No!  Not “what we can do?” Rather, what will we let GOD DO with us as boys and girls, men and women on our pathway to heaven?

Calling Forth Constancy to the First Commandment

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time       Reading 1 IS 45:1, 4-6 Gospel: MT 22:15-21

 The old sensibility called the Divine Right of Kings–that rulers can be instruments of God’s grace IF they choose to cooperate with it, is older than the Bible.  Cyrus of Persia did cooperate with God (knowingly or unknowingly).  Having conquered the Babylonians, he took over the Middle East Empire and allowed the Jewish people to return to their homeland, which new Emperors rarely, if ever, did. Rulers usually did not allow people to stay or return to their homelands in fear that once gathered together, they were more likely to revolt.

With Cyrus of Persia one of the rare exceptions, what was believed to be “The Divine Right of Kings” was used and abused through the centuries until finally someone shouted, “The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!” meaning that all too often, rulers and people in authority misuse their power.  Read the headlines in any century, any decade and there’s plenty proof. Taking Presidents and statesmen, explorers and rulers off their pedestals has been the work of historians for centuries, but when people attempt to do this in a literal way, controversy ensues.  And, although there are legitimate concerns on all sides of the issue, as always, the Gospels insist on a bigger picture: God is GOD; we are not.  People of faith are expected to put God above all others, to carefully consider God’s Will as we make our own decisions.  When people do well, praise them!  But, in our hearts, praise God, too–for nothing good is accomplished except from God.  We must believe that.  Therefore, respect positive human achievements while humbly acknowledging all human beings are flawed.  Perhaps all our monuments and tributes need to reflect that.  Meanwhile, Jesus tells us: be responsible with the things of this world for in doing so we get good practice in being responsible to heaven.

We should all know by now that the primary meaning of “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” is NOT about the separation of Church and State.  For too long, Jesus’ statement has been misused to excuse a divorce between moral behavior at home and moral behavior in government and elsewhere.  If God is truly the center of our lives, then “repaying to Caesar” must mean taking on secular responsibilities to give God Glory, because, as the Bible and History teach us, all “Caesars” –be they princes or politicians, business executives or priests of bishops—fall short of leading fully God-centered lives and making consistent God-centered decisions.

To approach misunderstood passages of Scripture such as this one, it is always best to put them in conversations with other passages of Scripture that support and elucidate their meaning. Let’s look at these.

Luke 12: 29-32

As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. 30 All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides. 32 Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.

 

In other words, disciples of Jesus must view our material needs and their political implications as SECONDARY to Love 0f God, the dignity of each human person as Child of God, and love of neighbor.  God comes first! Discipleship in Jesus comes FIRST! Attentiveness to the Holy Spirit comes first! Then we have a taste of the Kingdom and everything else falls into place—a world with less hostility, less anxiety because all decisions are made for mutual benefit of all rather than advancement for some at the expense of others.  

Here’s another passage: Luke 16: 8 to 10

“For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.[e] I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,[f] so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 [g]The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.

 

Jesus speaks here of money in its most negative aspect:  it’s all “dishonest,” in the sense of the illusions it perpetuates:  delusions of grandeur, of inflated self-importance, celebrity, fame—all these are fleeting, transitory and distractions from the TRUTH of why we are here. The purpose and meaning of life: each person, each family, each community is responsible to GOD. Of course, it is important to be RESPONSIBLE for our worldly doings. We must apply our ethics to our material consumption, and our politics.  Indeed, wealth can be and may be used for good purposes that extend the kingdom of God, and when it does, we find signs of HEAVEN in the here and now.  But clearly in these times, more signs are needed to empower us to receive the blessings of eternity.  When few signs exist on earth, Heaven becomes disconnected, divorced from the real world in our daily consciousness; we become lax in our attentiveness to the Communion of Saints; Intercessory Prayer feels like a waste of our time—and that’s never a good thing.  We must remind ourselves that Jesus’ insisted that “the Kingdom of God is at Hand” on earth because it is intimately connected to the Kingdom of Heaven. 

The last Scripture passage that I will address, (there are many more, but, well, I leave you to look them up) is the segment when Jesus focuses on the limitations of our pride in material and political accomplishments over spiritual ones:

Luke 21: 5 [b]While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, he said, “All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

 

I.e. all human accomplishments are transitory. What remains for us are remnants of the past that must be studied and scrutinized if our histories are to add to Wisdom for the present and future. We must let our Faith determine what was truly GOOD, what was GOD-CENTERED and what was not.  We don’t often appropriate our histories in that way, but the Gospel insists that we do, addressing everything about our societies that create suffering, pain and disillusionment—and insisting on ways and means that accentuate improvements, redemption and HOPE instead.

If Jesus’ wisdom isn’t enough for us today (and alas, it often isn’t for so many), we can tell them they will find parallels in the Hebrew Prophets, in the writings of St. Paul and the Saints and those of many secular scholars, writers and poets from one century to the next.  

Reflecting on these scriptures, I recalled a poem most of us were assigned to study in high school: Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias:

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.[4]

 

We can spend a lot of time and emotional energy arguing about statues, but the truth is they are all going to fall and decay like the ruins of Rome, Ephesus and Pompeii.  That we’re made for eternity is the crux of the matter. We were made for God.  And that’s the only proper tribute to anyone—the degree he or she manifest their Love of God and Neighbor. Jesus was always aware of GOD, always attentive to the Spirit and asks nothing more of his disciples that you and I do the same.  GOD is everlasting who graciously offers to share eternity with the Saints. So, attend to Caesar, engage in political thought and debate, participate in community events, in commerce, economics and industry for such are the blessings of work and proper use of our God-given talents and creativities, but engage in these always with an eye on the Love of God and neighbor.  Stay in communion with Christ Jesus – for He Alone is more eternal than Spring itself.

RESTING IN THE LORD! 

Homily for Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1    IS 25:6-10A
Responsorial Psalm Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Reading 2  PHIL 4:12-14, 19-20
Gospel Mt 22:1-14

RESTING IN THE LORD!   Isn’t that one or our objectives today?  We come to Mass to “Rest in the Lord,” as the Psalmist wrote: “In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me;” he refreshes my soul.”

Hearing the 23rd Psalm once again—We’re hearing it for the 4th time this year and will once more if that option is taken on All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2nd –we’re reminded that it is a Psalm of consolation; confidence and trust in God taking care of us, soothing our souls. God is the God of hospitality—rewarding any weary traveler who arrives, freely, willingly with reverence and deference to the Source of All Being. We know this because the Psalmist is already a person of faith—through whom we are invited to see ourselves as rightfully and utterly dependent upon God.

Jesus’ parable extends the 23rd Psalm with its image of God as the great host, but he embellishes it with a shot of reality:  everyone is invited to the Lord’s banquet—the table is ready, but many won’t attend.  Some are busy with other things; others refuse outright; others protest with downright hostility.  We should not be surprised by the range of these refusals.  We all consider them–each in our own way, yes, even those of us who chose to be at Worship this afternoon.  Why the confusion?  Why the mixture of feelings of approach / avoidance / willingness / uncertainty?

Because coming into the presence of God can be exacting.  It requires surrender to the Spirit which in many ways confronts our busy lives, our preoccupations that so readily keep “Christ consciousness” at bay; distractions that  feed our illusions that we are as self-sufficient, self-reliant, masters of our own ships and vehicles.  We arrive at mass hoping we may take away some new insight, some thought for the day or concept to get us through the week, but we still may leave without a genuine experience of God.  We know this because our mixture of desire and ambivalence at Mass often comes from the knowledge that it takes determination and great effort on our part—far more than simply setting time set aside—be it for this for Mass, or prayers throughout each day, time for contemplating Scriptures alone and/or with others as part of our daily or weekly routine. We have these tools at our fingertips—all of us, these are the timeless tools for every age, but, like in the times of Jesus and forever after, our busy schedules and daily distractions may prevent us from the deep surrender that allows God to minister to us, Jesus to anoint our heads with oil, the Holy Spirit to make more of this meal of words and bread and wine. The point of all this: relationships take time, require tender care; insist that we persevere in vulnerability – not to everyone or everything but to the Father, Son and Spirit.   Here. Now. What we experience at Mass is meant, by its weekly repetition to develop in us the facility of accepting the Tenderness of Jesus in all places, all situations, all engagements.

Relationships take time and willingness to be still.  Without that we keep living lives of avoidance –running from God, from intimacy with God and others. There was a song by folk singer Harry Chapin that became a # 1 hit in back in 1974.  It played for months on end, and for many years afterward–so strongly did people relate to it. Entitled “The Cats in the Cradle,” it was about a father obsessed with work and scheduled activities, who neglects (if not outwardly avoids) spending time with his growing son.  When the man retires and seeks, (finally!) some quality time with his son, he finds his offspring busy with many things: Like Martha in the story of Jesus, Martha and Mary.  The refrain went like this:  And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man in the moon “When you coming home, son?”  “I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, dad, we’re going to have a good time then.”  I.e., the time that never happened, the time that will never come.

Stillness. Quiet. Prayerful Intimacy.  Surrendering our sense of time—that’s the goal of every mass! Maybe it should take more than an hour!  How much time would we need to learn the art of vulnerability with God, contemplative receptiveness, to hold and cultivate this Eucharistic reality beyond our time together.  I could remind you that in other parts of the world each Mass goes on for hours, with greater lengths of song and silence, of words and contemplative prayer, Words leading up to Eucharist and savoring the awareness God is present!  God is within!   God is everywhere –in you, in me, in our breathing, in the beating of our hearts, in activating our minds with story, with songs and images—bestowed on the faithful for our benefit.

And, yet, like the Israelites in the desert complaining to Moses, we’re impatient, we want to get going, we want to move on.   To what?  In their case the Promised Land but, as they found out, the land required work- — yes, required work, required patience, required cooperation, and, often the people made a mess of it.  The Bible tells us they even lost it.  Well, not completely lost, but certainly long delayed and still not yet fulfilled. You and I are equally guilty of delaying the intimacy with God that we continue to seek, delaying the intimacy through experiences of Jesus as Sacrament that we still take for granted by not investing the necessary patience, the hard work of total surrender.

Still, each Mass is an opportunity.  We begin by admitting our impatience with God (perhaps that is the most common, universal “sin!”)  — thus the Kyrie and penitential aspects of the GLORIA!  We give praise to God while acknowledging we so often forget to do so! Then we must follow through by an act of decision and free will to fully surrender to the power of the Scriptures—words and images–and the sensations of the Eucharist, Holy Meal that it is, to savor the Christ With US and IN US.   In other words, literally taking Jesus with us as we go to work, to home, to leisure.  In the parable, some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. We pray today, we won’t lose the bigger picture because we are often busy, over-scheduled and / or burnt out.

In the parable, the king said to one of the guests, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ The Wedding Garment represents a converted life full of good deed.  Sinners are invited but are expected to repent and willingly clothe themselves in perpetual holiness —as envisioned in The Book of Revelation as those wearing the white robes of the elect  Clothing ourselves in Christ is meant to be the purpose, the ultimate attainment of our lives. Is Christ in our business suits?  Our leisurewear? Our comfortable pajamas and nightgowns?  What does that mean?  It means we wear patience and kindness to ourselves and others, we see all life as prayer, we cultivate tenderness as strength, correct wrongs in charitable ways – filled with understanding and HOPE.

Today’s Gospel warns all believers against complacency.  Jesus offers the Vision of Isaiah – a great banquet available to all people, saints and sinners alike.  He incarnates the soothing words of the Psalm: restful waters, banquets overflowing with healing nourishment anticipating the taste of wheat on our tongues, the welcoming, healing power of the Mass.  A vision we can savor, maintain and perpetuate — or not. The Vision has it’s time, it will not delay—the banquet is PIPING HOT, i.e. ever-ready.  I often return to the words of the prophet Habakkuk 2:3 and invite you to do the same:  For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”

NOW is the TIME for there is no time like the present. As Saint Paul wrote to the Philippians:  13 I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. . .. 19 My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”  And, as Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Scriptures: “Where your treasure is, there, also will you heart be.”  Peace!