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.”

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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.

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.

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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All Saints Day

Today on All Saints Day, November 1, 2017, the Church commemorates Saints in Heaven – those officially canonized AND those Known to God Alone. To address ongoing misunderstanding toward Catholic and Orthodox Christianity regarding our veneration of Saints – in some denominations judged as “idolatry,” I offer these explanations:

  1. All Christians recognize “Christ With Us,” in and through Believers in Jesus. Christ is expressed in every age in and through all the Baptized as they live out their faith. I.e., Christ, by God’s design has Many Faces. (An equivalent understanding for non-Christians, we believe and us the name “Christ” to express what others often refer to as “Heart of God,” moreover, “the Spirit of God united to humanity in Faith, Word and Blessed Deeds.”) [1]
  2. To honor goodness in any Christian is to recognize Christ’s presence.
  3. To remember a “Saint” is to remember how Christ was made present through his or her lifetime and the ways they embodied of faith, hope and charity because of their Christian Faith.  It is fitting to offer gratitude for their witness. These Saints also extend an understanding of “What Would Jesus Do” in different cultures, societies and time frames. [2]
  4. To venerate the Saints as we do on All SAINTS DAY is to witness to the world that we believe in:
    1. a. Life after death for all the faithful who live lives true to their Baptism and to all whose Faith is known to God Alone and All Who Die in Your Friendship” (i.e. we no longer hold heaven is reserved for only recognized, canonized Saints, nor for Christians alone.)[3] 
    2. There is a vital connection between Heaven and Earth – a unity of Spirit moving humanity to goodness, kindness, truth, love and shared beyond the grave through prayer and adoration of the one, true God.
    3. the efficacy of Prayer that unites us to God in Christ who shares His Spirit with all believers.  I.e., one prayer to Jesus Christ is united to all prayer and adoration of Jesus Christ –no one’s prayer is separate or divorced from others.
    4. Jesus is ever present to and through all who unite with Him as disciples; “The Body, i.e. “The Body of Christ = Christian Community” not only on earth but extended  into heaven.
  5. We build on Scripture when Jesus assures the faithful “37 That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; 38 and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”  Luke 20: 37-38
  6. There is comfort in the faith that Discipleship in Jesus continues from the first Apostles to us and through us onward toward eternity.
  7. Christ’s Body is extensive and inclusive, not separate from those who believe in Him. See John 15: 5: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”

[1] Ephesians 4: 1-6:  Ï, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to9 preserve the unity o9f the spirit through the bond of peace; one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

[2] 2 Thessalonians 1: 11-12  11 To this end, we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, 12 [d]that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.

[3] Our Liturgy (Mass) includes this phrase in our Eucharistic Prayer.

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?