Monthly Archives: October 2016

Homily for October 30 2016



Most of us are as wary of a letter from the I.R.S. as we are of having a patrol car pull up behind us in traffic.  The I.R.S. has a well-earned reputation as a ruthless collection agency, at least depending on which political party or elite group you belong to.  One I.R.S. director was forced to resign a few years ago because she was heading the agency when certain groups annoying to the party in power were clearly targeted for audits and penalties and general harassment.  Such shenanigans were no surprise to most of us, who have unfortunately become quite cynical about the lack of ethics of those in government.

However, whatever loathing we might have for I.R.S. agents individually or collectively, it really can’t compare with the way tax collectors in Palestine in the time of Jesus were despised.  Because they were Jews who were hired by the Roman occupation to extract money from their own people, they were already identified as traitors to the nation.  They were assigned a certain amount of tax money that they were to squeeze out of a given geographical area.  To encourage the cooperation of these tax collectors, the Empire let them keep anything over and above their target – kind of like C.S.A.!  (Omigosh, did I really say that??!!)  And because the Empire looked the other way at how much MORE the tax collectors made over and above their assigned amount, many of them became extremely wealthy – at the expense of their hapless countrymen, whom they could order to be thrown in prison if they didn’t cough up the arbitrary amount they were charged.  So, the tax collectors were seen not only as traitors, but as thieving crooks of the absolute worst order.

I say all this because we all hear the story about Zacchaeus and tend to think of him as kind of a lovable character, since Jesus goes to have dinner at his house.  Jesus notes that salvation has come to his house, and that he is a “descendant of Abraham.”  Zacchaeus has a nobility and a place in the house and nation of Israel that not even his sins can take from him.  But that’s not the way the people saw it, certainly not the way the Pharisees saw it.  Zacchaeus was a public sinner, a traitor, a thief.  He had made his very comfortable living on the backs of his own people, maybe even on the widows and the poor.  He wasn’t a businessman involved in a successful private enterprise.  He made HIS wealth not by earning it, but by TAKING it from others.

You might compare Zacchaeus to someone like Bernie Madoff, whose pyramid schemes collapsed several years ago as Bernie “made off” with the money of hundreds and hundreds of people, most of them retirees who had trusted him and depended on him to invest their money and to help them live securely in their golden years.  Bernie’s in jail forever, while those he defrauded are broke, ruined.  There’s really no way to bring about real justice in a horrible turn of events like that.

You could also compare Zacchaeus, in a way, to the sleazy pornographers who make billions off other people’s biological interest in and psychological addiction to what they produce and sell.  These are among the human traffickers who, to make their billions, destroy the bodies, hearts, minds, consciences, and souls of those who work for them as well as those to whom they sell their products.  The Internet has made their “product” accessible even to young children, destroying at an early age any hope they might have had to experience the beauty and joy of loving and committed intimate relationships.

So Zacchaeus was no saint.  And the crowd was stunned that Jesus would go to have dinner with him at his house.  What had HE done to deserve this attention?  The answer is:  Nothing, except sin.  What have YOU done to deserve God’s mercy?  The answer is:  Nothing, except sin.  Because we are fallen, because we have no moral stature, we have no claim on the Savior.  Oh, we NEED a Savior, but most people aren’t interested enough to even climb a tree to find him.  He provides forgiveness, he lavishes it on us although we are unworthy.  He extends a hand to us, whether we are up a tree or down in the gutter.  And he says, “Your sins are not the end of your story.  No matter what you’ve done, there is hope for you.”

Most of us love to see public sinners, or especially those who have sinned against us personally, humbled and crushed into the dust.  THAT, we imagine, is the justice of God.  But the Book of Wisdom in the first reading hints that God’s justice tends to FAVOR us sinners.  It notes that God rebukes “offenders little by little.”  That’s not fast enough for us, unless we’re the offenders in question.  But it does teach us that each of us, saint and sinner alike, is precious in God’s sight with a dignity that even sin cannot erase, because we were created in God’s love.  No matter the exact circumstances of our conception:  GOD is our Creator, our father and mother are PRO-creators.  God tells us through the prophet Isaiah in his chapter 49, “Even if a mother could forget the baby nursing at her breasts, even if she could forget the child of her womb, I will NEVER forget you!”  Jesus puts those words into flesh, and invites US SINNERS to carry on the message.  Who is up a tree or in the gutter, to whom YOU can extend your heart and hand in mercy each day?  Do it in God’s name.  There are still ‘way too many people who associate God’s name, and God himself, with damnation more than with eternal life.  Put some flesh on the Scriptures for them.  Give them a boost.  They might not have the moral stature to see it on their own.

Homily for October 9 2016



Most often when we hear the story of the ten lepers in the Gospel, we reflect on the point that Jesus makes about only one of them returning to give thanks to God.  It is, we suppose, a lesson about the necessity of gratitude.  And well it can be.  But let’s not stop there.

The first reading, from the Second Book of Kings in the Old Testament, provides a clue as to what else the Church might want us to consider as we celebrate the Mass today.  Here, the man who is cured is clearly a foreigner.  He has followed the suggestion of one of his servants, an exile from the land of the Jews, to seek out a holy man down in Israel who might just have the power to cure him of his leprosy.  And so Naaman goes, traveling to a despised and conquered land to seek out one of THEIR prophets.  But when he gets there, the prophet won’t even come to the door.  He sends word by way of a servant, to tell this military official with his grand entourage to go jump in the river.  Not just once, but seven times!  And not just any river, mind you, but the JORDAN River, sacred to the Israelites but in many places not much more impressive than Indian Mill Creek where it runs along Ann Street a few blocks north of here.

Naaman is insulted.  He comes from Syria, the land of the headwaters of the great rivers of the Middle East, the Tigris and the Euphrates, the cradle of civilization.  What could this miserable trickle, the Jordan, have to offer?  But his same servant prevails upon him, talking sense to his bruised ego.  “If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, wouldn’t you have done it?  This is simple.  What have you got to lose?”

Clearly, the only thing Naaman had to lose was his pride.  And he did.  THAT’S the first step of faith, and how tough faith is for those who won’t lose their pride!  How often Jesus told people he cured, “Your FAITH has saved you!”  Sure, he had the power, and it was so real, so tangible, that he could even feel it going forth from him.  But someone had to draw on it with faith.  Put a straw in a glass of a nice cold beverage and it won’t do a thing for you unless you make yourself look a little silly, purse your lips, and SUCK!  There.  Just thinking about it might make you lose a little pride.  Well, the same thing is true of faith.  You have to draw on Jesus’ power, and that takes faith.  But you won’t be saved without it.

So Naaman takes the leap of faith, not just once, but seven times – and he is cured of his leprosy.  The foreigner comes, not to the temple, but to hear the word of God from the prophet, and he responds to it.  In the Gospel, the ten lepers cry out to Jesus with faith:  “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  They are so miserable in their disease and the low estate to which it has brought them that they even have a Samaritan in their company.  See?  “Misery loves company” – even when it’s someone we would ordinarily NEVER associate with.  But the disease has associated them with each other.  What human decency could not accomplish, their sorry state does.  And the clamor they make along the road, calling out to Jesus?  Well, they’re already covered with leprosy, who cares about pride?  They have nothing to lose.  Jesus very simply tells the lepers to go show themselves to the priests.  And just like his first miracle, at Cana, a divine word is all it takes.  Water becomes wine.  Corrupt, leprous flesh becomes smooth as a baby’s cheeks – all four of them!  And the nine Jews, former lepers, continue on as they have been told, to show themselves to the priests at the temple in Jerusalem.

But the Samaritan won’t be welcome at the temple.  THEY won’t let him in, and perhaps he doesn’t care to set foot in it himself.  Samaritans and Jews were like the Shia and Sunni Muslims – bitter enemies.  The Samaritans had their own “temple” of sorts, up on Mount Gerizim, and their worship was greatly corrupted with pagan influences and idolatry – like a leprosy of religion.  So he has no place to go except back to Christ, giving thanks to God, and recognizing in Jesus something he could receive neither in the temple in Jerusalem nor at the corrupted temple of Samaria.

What a lesson for us!  When Jesus knocks down the boundaries of Israel in the New Covenant, he intends his Body, the Church, to be the locus of worship for ALL people.  But it does cost something.  The gift is free, but THEY MUST REACH OUT IN FAITH, and that just might cost them something:  their pride!  Once they reach out in faith; and once they are washed and cured of the leprosy of sin, not in the waters of the Jordan but in the waters of BAPTISM, they, no matter who they are, Jews, Samaritans, Greeks, Romans, Africans, Asians, they can come to Jesus giving thanks to God – EUCHARIST, “thanks-giving.”  And that’s why we are here this morning, my friends.  We former lepers have been healed by Christ.  Every time we slide back into the cesspool of sin, we can be healed again if we swallow our pride and call out to Christ the Lord for mercy.  And we can find in him, in the bread of life that is his Body and the cup of salvation that is his Blood, the food we need to sustain us as the visible sign of his healing presence in all the world.  Now let’s go out and act like it.  Your faith has saved you!  And perhaps THROUGH you, your faith will help to save others, too.  You might not even know who they are yet.

Homily for October 2 2016



We rarely hear from the very short Book of the Prophet Habakkuk, so the first reading this morning is a rare delight.  Habakkuk has his prophetic vision just before the time of the Babylonian exile, and it’s a nightmare.  He is deeply distressed by the violence he sees, especially when the victims are innocent people.  Oh, the people of God GENERALLY were anything but innocent.  The Promised Land of God’s people was and IS at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, at the convergence of both land and sea trade routes.  Anyone going to Egypt from the north passed through Palestine.  And anyone going to Syria or Asia Minor or Persia from the south passed through Palestine.  There were always temptations to imitate the immoral customs and religions of the people passing through, and to forge political alliances with their governments – RATHER THAN relying on God alone to sustain them.  Why had God brought Abraham to THAT place?  Likely precisely SO THAT his people could have a positive effect on the people around them.  And what often happened was just the other way around.

After all, look what happens in our own day!  We, God’s people, often wind up being heavily influenced by the society and culture around US.  But WE are the ones who are supposed to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, the beacon of truth for the people in whose midst we live.  Look at the numbers of those who leave the Church, and wind up living as though they were never baptized to be disciples of God’s Anointed One, the Savior of the world.  And their attitude, if you ask them, is often, “None of your business!”  Not exactly a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Look what happens when we vote.  Candidates who promote abortion, same-sex marriage, assisted suicide, and every kind of bizarre and immoral personal behavior could not keep getting elected if it were not for the votes of a majority of Catholics.  This is astounding!  We have the power to make a distinct difference in the world, and we fail continuously.  The old saying, “If you don’t stand up for something, you’ll lie down for anything,” certainly can apply to us.  And the resulting human wreckage in terms of suicide, drug addiction, broken homes, broken hearts, and broken lives is all around us, crying to heaven like Abel’s blood from the earth.  So now you have a picture of what Habakkuk saw in his vision.  Violence and bloodshed all around, and why does God allow innocent people to suffer?  Why doesn’t he just punish the wicked and be done with it?

The Apostle addresses this issue in his letter to Timothy in the second reading.  “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. . .  God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control.”  Be confident about your testimony to Christ, by the way you live and speak and pray.  That doesn’t mean being smug or feeling superior.  We are here as the world’s servants, but it’s service rendered in the name of the Lord and Master of all.  It’s testimony to HIM, not to ourselves, that we provide to others, so they can make THEIR choice to follow him or not.

How do you feed your faith each week?  It’s really like staying strong and healthy physically:  you have to work at it.  Prayer, fasting, Scripture reading, participation in the sacraments, studying and reading about your faith, listening to Catholic radio and TV, taking advantage of Catholic lectures and instruction classes – all these things are a necessary and ongoing PREPARATION for being a faithful witness out on the street, at work or school, in the neighborhood, or in the family.  And what’s the REWARD?  The satisfaction of being able to say, like a heroic soldier or fire fighter or police officer, “I was only doing my job!”  For a disciple of Jesus, that would be our highest honor.  That’s because what the Lord has in store for us is so much, much more than anything this life can offer.  An eternity of being home again at last, of both pressure-free relaxation and yet thrilling discovery in the loving embrace of God and the companionship of the whole communion of saints!  And every time we celebrate the Mass, we are proclaiming with Jesus that the victory is in sight.