Monthly Archives: August 2016

Homily for August 27 and 28, 2016

 

HOMILY – AUGUST 27-28

My old baseball coach back in grade school taught all of us lots of life lessons.  One of them was the relationship between the civic virtue of sportsmanship and the spiritual virtue of humility, which we were learning about in the Catholic school.  Now, I didn’t have a whole lot to be proud of in the way I attempted to play baseball.  But on those rare occasions when I actually did something right, like getting on base without the help of an error by the other team, I knew better than to do any more than mumble “Thanks” if someone congratulated me.  “You did your job,” we were told.  “Now keep your feelings to yourself.  Let other people do the cheering.”

That attitude and demeanor became common to hear during and after 9/11, when so many fire fighters and police officers were asked about how they had dared to rush into buildings from which everyone else was rushing out.  “I was just doing my job,” they would almost unanimously reply.  If a spectacular rescue was accomplished, they would attribute it to their training, and quickly note that it was all teamwork, and that any member of the team would have done the same thing, and probably done it better.

Humility is the lesson we have refreshed for us in the Scriptures today.  The word comes from humus (HYOO-muss), which means earth, dirt.  From humus, we get the word human, because, according to Genesis 2, we were formed by our Creator “from the dust of the earth.”  And from those words, we get humility, which is the virtue of recognizing WHO AND WHAT WE REALLY ARE.  And who and what we are is so surpassingly special that we really cannot express it in mere human words.  God’s Word sings the praises of his human creations.  Regarding man, Psalm 8 says, “You have made him little less than a god, with glory and honor you crowned him.”  That’s all of us, men and women, boys and girls.  Each of us has an honor and a dignity given by God himself, in whose image we are made.  We have to remember that about ourselves, and it is especially important to remember it about others – ALL others, especially those in whom the recognition of some dignity might be particularly difficult for us.

Humility is not something that you put on only when you want to use it for your own advantage.  We quickly become transparent to everyone but ourselves when we attempt to do that.  Insincerity and humility are entirely incompatible.  So Jesus’ lesson in the Gospel today is not just a lesson in table etiquette.  He’s not telling us to take the lowest place at the table JUST SO our host can invite us to a more prominent position.  Our whole attitude, our whole LIFE as Christians must have as our model Jesus himself, who came “not be served, but to serve.”  If you’re always alert to opportunities to be of service to others rather than waiting to be served yourself, you won’t have TIME to think about what’s coming to you.  And you won’t have to be preoccupied with becoming holy.  Holiness and humility are closely related:  the more you try to be noticed for them, the more you lack either one.  Get your focus off yourself, your privileges, your prerogatives, and start focusing on others, their needs, how you can help.  If they tell you to go fly a kite, humility won’t let you waste a moment licking your wounds.  Insults and disrespect will wash off you like water off a duck’s back, as you quickly find others to quietly assist.  You will accept discipline and correction as something that comes from God himself, difficult at times, but always worthy of consideration.  Why?  Because you know that truth is not yours to determine alone.  Humility makes us servants of the truth, and the truth sets us free.  Believe it.  Try it, over and over again.  When pride makes you fail, laugh and realize that that’s why we PRACTICE virtue – we can always get better at it!

Homily for August 20-21 2016

 

HOMILY – AUGUST 20-21

Have you ever noticed, how many times in the Gospels Jesus is asked a direct question about stuff we all want to know about, stuff we’re STILL asking about, and he gives his disciples or whoever is questioning him an oblique answer?  Today’s Gospel gives a good example.  The disciples ask him a simple question:  “Are they few in number who are to be saved?”  Hey, people are still asking that today.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses used to say that only 144,000 people would be saved, because that’s the number they pulled out of the Book of Revelation.  That was no big deal when the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses was less than 144,000.  The only problem was, they had to sit down and recalculate their approach to the Scripture when their own number exceeded 144,000, which was quite a long time ago now.  And there’s a lot of things they’ve been recalculating ever since!

But there are plenty of other questions that the Scriptures don’t answer clearly.  “When will all these things happen?’ the disciples ask Jesus when he starts talking about the end of the world.  And his answer is, basically, “No one knows, only God.  There will be lots of signs, but you can’t really tell.”

“What’s the greatest of all the commandments?” the Jewish lawyer asks him.  And Jesus replies that there are TWO, love of God and love of neighbor, and they are inseparable, and all the rest depend on them.  Don’t try to boil them down to one.

The rich young man asks him, “What do I need to do to be saved?”  And Jesus gives him the same ol’, same ol’ :  “Keep the commandments.  And oh, if you’ve done all that, give everything away to the poor and come, follow me.”  And the poor young fellow hangs his head and goes away crestfallen, thinking he could get in on a secret formula.

And then there’s the classic question that Peter asked Jesus as they’re walking along after the Resurrection.  Peter looks back at the Beloved Disciple walking along behind them and whispers, “Lord, let me in on it.  What about HIM?”  And Jesus says, “What ABOUT him?  YOUR job is to follow ME!”  Isn’t that the question we ask so very often?  What about OTHERS?  How come the rich have it so easy?  How come the poor don’t help themselves?  How come the boss gets to make all the rules?  How come my worthless bum of a brother-in-law gets to have such a nice home and family?  Or the priest who asks, “How come Father Den gets to be pastor of SS. Peter & Paul and here I am stuck at St. Ludmilla’s in Knobby Knee?”  And Jesus’ answer to all those questions is the same as his oblique answer to Peter:  “Don’t worry about all that other stuff.  YOUR job is to follow ME!”

As human beings, if we’re not careful, we naturally tend to imitate the world around us.  Even for us Christians, our natural curiosity is spurred on by the media’s need to know every juicy detail of every secret deed and plot.  I mean, who can resist, as we’re standing in line at the supermarket, reading at least a little bit more than the tabloid headline?  I mean, don’t you want to know which movie star’s new baby was conceived with an alien while on a camping trip in the high desert?  What about the end of the world, and the lineup of all the recent tragedies, whatever they were THIS week?  What about this?  What about that?  All these questions are distractions that the evil one plants in our minds to get us off the track of LIVING THE GOSPEL.  IF they are really few in number who are to be saved, there really are, in minds unenlightened by Jesus, only two logical responses:  First, you probably aren’t going to make the cut anyway, so the heck with it, eat, drink, and be merry.  Or second, the mass of humanity is headed straight to hell, so look down your nose at them and be smugly concerned about yourself alone.  And THAT’S precisely why Jesus did not give a straight answer to the question.  It would be too SELF-satisfying for those who ask it.  NOT getting all the answers we want is a part of the DISCIPLINE with which the Father strengthens us, as we heard in the Letter to the Hebrews.

Both the reading from Isaiah and the Gospel should be very unsettling for us.  Our job is to be out spreading the Good News of the Kingdom all over the world, and woe to us if we don’t!  Those whom YOU think of as the Great Unwashed Masses MIGHT be closer to the Kingdom of God than those who celebrate the sacraments and bear the name of Christian.  Jesus, after all, cautions us in another place about our stuffy pride:  “Prostitutes and tax collectors might just make it to the Kingdom before YOU.”  It really depends on how you answer the call of Christ every day.  And that’s the end of the homily.

Because, I don’t know about you, but I’VE got a lot of work to do!!

Homily for August 6-7, 2016

HOMILY – AUGUST 6-7

I tried a couple of times to play shortstop on our baseball team when I was a kid.  It didn’t work out, for me or for the team.  When the batter hit a ground ball anywhere toward me, I was fine until I almost got my glove on it.  Then I would turn my head away, instinctively fearing that the ball might take a weird hop, smack me square in the mouth, and leave me looking like a hockey player.  My teammates unanimously agreed that ANY accident to my face would be an improvement, but their taunts didn’t improve my courage.  “Morrow,” the manager would bark, “RIGHT FIELD!”

I’ll admit it.  I lacked faith.  Faith in the ordinary trajectory of a baseball, and faith in my ability to successfully get a glove on it and throw it to first.  And faith that accidents DO happen, and you get over it.  And when I ponder the absolutely amazing things that I admire about really good baseball players, American ninjas, or those undertaking any challenging sport or physical activity, I realize that it all requires a focus and concentration not unlike the virtue and the gift of faith.  You’ve got to get the concentration off yourself and stop asking, “What will happen to me, me, me?”

I’ve tried to remember that, in dealing with people who profess to have no faith, or who have lost their faith.  Sure, we say that faith is a gift of God.  But if it is, why doesn’t everybody have it?  If it’s good for you, if in fact it’s necessary to BELIEVE in order to be saved, how can God be a good and merciful Father if he withholds that precious gift of faith from so many people?  We hear in the first reading, from the Book of Wisdom, how the People of God in the Old Testament collectively responded in faith to the events of their own history as they unfolded and as they participated in them.  Then in the second reading, St. Paul shares with us one example – Abraham – who acted on faith and served both God and the people of whom he became the patriarch.  St. Paul goes on in the letter to detail the exploits of other individuals who were people of faith, but we get the point.  People who have faith can accomplish a great deal.  Now, it’s obvious that people who do NOT have faith can ALSO accomplish a great deal – but what’s the point?  It’s like, “Well, I’m alive, I’m here, I might as well do something with my time, even though it ultimately has no meaning.”  What a strange outlook on life!  But isn’t that really the position of someone who has no faith?

I’m not making fun of them, mind you.  Having failed in my imaginary career as a major-league shortstop, I also once found myself at the top of a high-dive, with friends urging me to jump into the waters of the pool below.  Oh, it wasn’t THAT high, but too high for me.  There was water in the pool, I had a good time watching everybody else do it; but when I got up there, there was just no way I was leaving that platform without coming back down the ladder.  The gang laughed at my lack of courage.  So I asked them, “Hey, you guys ever been up to the top of an aerial ladder, a hundred-footer?”

“Oh, man, no way would I go up that far on a ladder,” one of the guys piped up, “I’m afraid of heights.”

“Well, I can do that,” I replied, “but they’ve never asked me to jump off.”

Faith is like taking the plunge, as we do into the waters of baptism — with a little help from our parents and sponsors, of course.  But faith is also like climbing a ladder, or being a good shortstop.  You really have to forget about yourself and concentrate on the One who is the source of faith, and hope, and charity – God himself.  That’s why we call them the THEOLOGICAL virtues:  they come from God and lead to God.  We don’t have faith or exercise it only as a safeguard for what might happen to us if we don’t.  That would be concentrating on ourselves, not on God.  Like a fire fighter climbing a ladder to rescue someone, like a soldier braving enemy fire to pull a wounded friend back from the front line, like the servants in today’s Gospel who were waiting for their master to return from the wedding, faith means we concentrate on the One to whom faith is leading us, not on ourselves, not on what we might get out of it.

THAT’S why faith can be tough.  It really is leaving something behind and barking out on a journey of trust and confidence.  Like the father in Mark 9 whose son was possessed by an epileptic demon, we can so often only cry out, “Lord, I believe, help my UN-belief.”  But like the good athlete, the good public servant, the good soldier, at a certain point faith means letting go, and being spiritually reckless in a way that engages us with a God who will never let us down, even when it seems like he is!  We dare not mock people who have no faith, or whose faith is weak.  We have to be here for them, help them in any way we can, pray for them, accompany them.  It doesn’t matter how many of them get to heaven just by grabbing onto our coattails.  Otherwise the Lord’s first question to us might well be, “How is it you showed up here ALONE?”