(A book by Cheri Meiners: Talk and Work it Out):
Erin, whose name means peace in Gaelic, was trying to learn how to get along with lots of different people.
Because sometimes she did not agree with her brother. And sometimes she did not get along with her friends.
But Erin was slowly figuring out it's okay to have different ideas and opinions.
She is also figuring out that when someone really does something that bothers her -she doesn’t have to give them the cold shoulder – she can choose to work things out.
She can stop and take a deep breath to calm herself. Before saying something she may regret.
Erin can choose to take some time to think about what to do - before choosing to act, hopefully making things better rather than worse.
Erin can talk to the person who has bothered her: looking at the person and explaining how she has been hurt.
Then, together, they can choose to talk about the problem. Both trying to listen and understand each other.
Together, they can choose to think about ways to solve their problem, hurt, or misunderstanding.
And then choose the best way to move forward.
Erin can choose to listen and think about how the other person feels.
She can certainly learn more about a problem when listening to another point of view.
As Erin talks about the problem, she can choose to be polite and friendly, rather than trying to blame or just being nasty about it all. This certainly can help everyone feel good, and valued, and to be able to understand things better.
Working together, they can probably come up with lots of ideas to move forward - again, if they just listen to one another.
Both can simply ask the question: what do you think?
And then If the problem is still unresolved: they can ask others for their help and input.
Then, they can think about each idea:
-What might happen if we did this?
-Can we both walk away happy?
-Do we just have to sit a bit with our ideas before we move on?
Erin wants to have a plan that’s good for her and the one she is having conflict with – and she has many, many, MANY choices to make sure this happens.
Erin and the other person might choose to share, to take turns, to cooperate to make things work or do something nice instead of holding on to the anger or hurt.
Even when it is hard to find an answer everyone likes, which often happens - Erin knows she can still choose to be respectful to the other person – which is one of the more important choices she can make.
Erin is trying to learn how to solve problems peacefully -- and is finding out that getting along with others can even be more important than always getting her way.
Erin has found that if she cares about someone else's ideas and feelings as much as she does her own -- - she can usually find a way to work things out: by all the different choices she can make along the way. After all, she does want to live up to her name: Erin: which means peace in Gaelic.
(End of Book)
Jesus calls us to be saints – but he knows we aren’t there yet.
And Jesus calls us to love one another as he has loved us - but he know we aren’t there yet.
Because Jesus knows wherever two or three are gathered – there is going to be conflict – misunderstandings – hurt feelings – and anger – if we also don’t make the right choices along the way. . .
No one I know enjoys conflict. And not many people I know like confrontation - but if we are going to be saints, if we are going to love each other – then we have to do these things.
Trouble is, no one ever really teaches us how to do them. . . and that’s what Jesus is trying to do today - teach us how to resolve conflict.
1st, we go and talk to that person we are having difficulty with – not talk ABOUT them. Not GOSSIP about them - but go and talk with them.
If that doesn’t work, get some people to sit down with you – not so that you are ganging up on the person - but so that you can put many minds and hearts to the task of figuring out a resolution.
And if that doesn’t work – take it to Church – which means we are going to put in lots of prayer time about it.
And then, when all else fails: treat them like a tax collector or a Gentile. Which how did Jesus treat these people? With patience and respect as he sat and ate with them.
If we want to be saints, as Jesus calls us to be. And we want to love others, as Jesus wants us to – then we have to be able to resolve our differences.
Otherwise, we give into the temptation of satan – who of course wants us to be divided, rather than united.
So once again, we have to be able to say: get behind me satan - because I want to think and act and speak like Jesus. . .
You have to be at least my age - maybe just a bit younger, to remember the Flip Wilson show that was on television from 1970-1974: over 50 years ago!!
We thought then it got a little racy at times - nothing like you can see on tv today - so I am sure my parents really didn’t approve of me watching it - which made it all the more appealing.
In some of its skits, it featured appearances by “Geraldine Jones” - actually Flip Wilson in a wig and dress.
Geraldine was always in trouble and did many things she wasn’t supposed to do. But she always had an answer for her misdeeds:
She would put her hand on her hip and shake a finger and say: “The devil made me do it.”
She bought three new dresses in one week: The devil made me do it.
She gossipped about her friends: The devil made me do it.
She ran her car into the side of the Church: The devil made me do it. //////
The devil made Geraldine do a lot of things - and the devil was making Peter tempt Jesus with an easy way out – rather than facing the cross. . .
Jesus knew a lot about the devil and temptations – he faced the devil down and his empty promises right after his Baptism and before he began his publicly ministry.
I like the phrase St. Luke adds to the end of Jesus’ desert experience. Luke says: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Jesus until another time.”
This is one of those other times - when Peter tries to get him to abandon the way of the cross and look for an easier out. . .
St. Matthew, himself, knew a lot about the devil and temptations. In the Gospel he writes, he mentions Satan or the devil 27 times.
And the Church knows a lot about the power of the devil and the temptations that can come our way. There are three questions during the rite of Baptism a priest or deacon asks the parents and godparents to answer on behalf of the child being Baptized:
Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises? To which the answer is: I do.
Jesus, St. Matthew, and the Church – all know a lot about the devil and the temptations that come from him — but do we??
Perhaps we think it is a bit old fashioned to believe in this negative force unleashed upon the earth by this fallen angel of heaven. But unless we are willing to admit the existence of the devil and the possibility of temptation – then we have no power over them.
Jesus identified satan in various ways. He called him the Prince of this world - because Satan uses material things to distract us from God. We can be tempted to adore the material, the sensual, and the powerful – rather than to adore God. The devil lures us into a false security of thinking we can build our own little kingdom here and now without any need of God.
Jesus refers to Satan as the Father of Lies: because he perverts the truth, as he did with Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden. He fills our minds with doubts. He provides rationalizations why something is right — even though we know through Jesus and the teaching of the Church they are wrong.
Jesus calls the devil the Prince of Darkness - one who lurks about and is crafty. He fills us with pessimistic and hateful thoughts. He shows us all the hurts, frustrations and troubles of this world and our own lives hoping to lead us to despair by sucking out all the joy from us and our lives.
And finally, Jesus calls satan the murderer - who seeks to kill the grace of God in our soul – that help which God gives us to live our lives with integrity and peace: in imitation of Jesus.
Unless we are willing to admit the existence of the devil and the possibility of temptation - then we have no power over them. And we will see no need to heed the advice of St. Paul in our second reading from the Romans –
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Unless we are willing to admit the existence of the devil and the possibility of temptation - then we have no power over them – and will see no need to echo Jesus words in our daily lives: “Get behind me, satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
But if we are willing to admit the existence of the devil and the possibility of temptation – then we will surely know the need we have for the Eucharist –
when sinners gather to be refreshed and renewed by the very body and blood of Christ to be transformed more and more into his image and likeness.
Because what difference does it make if the bread and wine on the altar are changed into the body and blood of Christ – if those who gather at the altar remain the same?
This time we have together, gathering with like-minded individuals – is our time to recharge our spiritual batteries – so that we can do out best to fight the devil and all his empty promises throughout the week — and hopefully by doing that: we make the kingdom of God more present in us and in our world.
Most of you know I was a Benedictine for the first years of my priesthood. And St. Benedict has in his Rule for Monks a chapter that I think is appropriate for us today. I have changed some nouns and pronouns to make it fit our parish situation.
It’s Chapter 72 of the Rule: The Good Zeal of Monks – changed to the Good Zeal of Christians. St. Benedict writes:
Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell – so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life.
This, then, is the good zeal which Christians must foster with fervent love:
They should each try to be the first to show their respect to one another, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in compassion for one another.
No one is to pursue what they judge better for themselves, but instead, what they judge better for someone else.
To their fellow Christians they show the pure love of brothers and sisters, to God - loving fear. And to their pastoral leaders unfeigned and humble love.
Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.
Or as Jesus would simply say: Whoever wishes to come after me must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Jesus leads his disciples to Caesarea Philippi, a regional commerce center of the Roman Empire, located about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee.
The city was built at the base of Mount Hermon, the northern border of Israel at the time, and from Mount Hermon flows a large spring feeding the Jordan River.
The spring emerges from a large cave which became the center of pagan worship, especially of the god Pan – the pagan god of the wild as well as shepherds and their flocks.
The city also had Roman political significance. Herod the Great named it after his patron, Julius Caesar, who regarded himself as a god.
And Herod’s son, Philip, added the Philippi to bring attention to himself and his power and control over the region.
So it is as Caesarea Philippi, where the Roman empire and the pagan gods competed for people’s attention and loyalty – that Jesus asks his disciples his profound question:
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
In response, they give him their Gallup Poll findings - each one identifying him with a dead prophet of the past: John the Baptist (who had recently been killed by Herod), Elijah, Jeremiah, or perhaps some other prophet.
But Jesus is more interested in their opinion, rather than the opinion of the crowds – after all, they had been with him for awhile by now.
So he asks them: but who do you say that I am.
And Simon Peter blurts out the correct answer, identifying Jesus as the Christ, which quite literally means “the anointed one” or the Messiah.
In other words Peter is asserting that they cannot depend on the pagan gods to save them. Nor will Caesar or any of his regional allies save them. When Simon Peter identifies Jesus as the anointed one – he is saying he knows that it is only Christ who can save them.
Jesus points out that Peter who we know so well – the one who almost drown because of his lack of faith, the one Jesus will call Satan in next Sunday’s Gospel –
that old foot in the mouth Peter could never have figured this out all by himself – Jesus knows that his heavenly Father has placed this answer in Peter’s heart.
And so like when Popes are elected, men and women religious profess their vows, or even when the young Church is Confirmed – when a major turning point in life occurs – it’s time for a new name - and Jesus calls Peter “the rock. The Rock upon which his Church will be built.”
And he gives Petrus, or Peter, or the Rock – the keys to the kingdom which Peter will use for the good of the Church.
Those keys will open the gates to eternity. The way to eternity will not be through the cave at the base of Mount Hermon filled with images of pagan gods –
it will not be through the might of the Roman empire and its legions of soldiers – but it will be through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This past Monday, the Church celebrated the feast day of the patron of our Catholic High School across the street – St. Pius X.
Unlike Shebna, the master of the palace in the first reading – who used the keys to the king’s palace for his own good – St. Pius X used the keys of his papacy for the good of the Church wanting to “restore all things in Christ.”
He wanted the prince of peace to reign – especially as he saw building hostilities in Europe.
Saint Pius shied away from many of the royal trappings of the papacy – often complaining to his friends about how those in the Vatican fussed over him and dressed him up with finery.
Today, we ask for his intercession, as we see building hostilities among people even in our own country and Church – much less throughout the world – and as we answer the same question of Jesus – addressed to each one of us:
Who do you say that I am?
Like the disciples gathered at Caesarea Philippi – we also live with forces competing for our allegiance.
The false gods of today are perhaps more subtle than the pagan gods.
The gods that tempt us might be wealth, or fame, or glamor, or pleasure. All of these make us an empty promise of happiness or success.
But gathering here at Mass is a first step of acknowledging we don’t follow after those other gods – but our allegiance, our loyalty is with Christ our Savior.
Saying that in here, with the comfort of being surrounded by our friends and family in faith – is one thing — leaving here and actually living this allegiance is something else.
No, we also have to live our faith – to show others by our actions that love is stronger than hate.
That putting ourselves last is the way to become first.
And that dying to ourselves will give us a share in the rising of Jesus Christ.
We proclaim by our words AND our actions that we remain members of the Body of Christ, the Catholic Church and this parish – because we trust the promise that the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against us.
A woman came home one evening from Church and encountered a thief in her house busy taking her valuables. Being a woman of faith and familiar with the Scriptures she shouted: Stop! Acts 2:38!!
For those of us who don’t know the Scriptures as well as she did, Acts 2:38 reads: “Repent and be Baptized in the name of Christ so your sins may be forgiven.”
When he heard the woman shout, the thief stopped in his tracks, sat down and put his hands behind his head.
The woman calmly called the police – and when they arrived, the man was still sitting there - as she explained everything that had taken place.
As the police handcuffed him and began to lead him to the squad car – one officer asked him: “how did a simple Scripture verse get you to stay until we arrived - why did you not just run off.”
“Scripture verse?” the thief said. “I thought she said she had— an ax and two 38s!”
The woman, however, was not surprised at all. As she knew from past experience, her faith would get her through anything.
Evidently, so too, did the woman in today’s Gospel. As Jesus eventually says to her: “O woman, great is your faith.”
The ending of this Gospel story we can certainly agree with – but the beginning may be a bit hard for us to swallow or to understand.
A poor woman asks Jesus for a favor – and he not only ignores her – but he even insults her by calling her a dog.
What was going on? Was Jesus — testing her faith? Was he so preoccupied by his primary mission to the Jewish people that he could not deal with anyone else? Was Jesus just reflecting the cultural prejudices of his day against the Canannites: ancient enemies of the Isrealites. – Or was Jesus just being somewhat playful?
After all, dogs were kept as pets in Jesus’ day and “dog” does not always mean something bad.
Way back in my seminary days at St. Meinrad in Indiana, I had a roommate who got up, always a little bit too cheery in the morning -
would look at himself in the mirror and say, “Oh you handsome dog, you!” Granted his good looks were exceeded only by his humility!!
What was going on when Jesus refers to this woman as a dog?
Well, let’s admit, we will never know for sure – because for instance, we don’t have the benefit of Jesus’ inflections or his tone of voice, or his facial expressions or gestures – all of which often times speak louder than the words themselves.
Let’s look at the Gospel, then, from the point of view of our own reaction to it.
Why are we so uncomfortable with Jesus’ treatment of this woman – or at least I should say – my discomfort with it. . .
Is it because we think Jesus or God should never say NO to us?
Is it because we think Jesus should answer every request that comes his way?
Is it because we think God should never force us to ask for something more than once?
Whether we are aware of it or not – we all have our expectations of how we think God should act. But sometimes God doesn’t fit those expectations. . .
How many times have we ourselves felt like this woman – that God was ignoring us – giving us the cold shoulder – or even offensively telling us to go away?
And what do we do when God says NO to us? Do we keep on asking, like this woman of faith - do we get angry and vow to never turn to God again for any of our needs? Or do we peacefully say: thy will be done?
Sometimes we do just have to accept what comes our way as the will of God – but other times, Jesus encourages us not to give up praying: keep asking, keep knocking – Jesus has told us in some of his parables.
Today’s Gospel is a good example of faith and perseverance in prayer.
It also strikes me as a good example of praying to the saints and asking other people to pray for us. Notice that the women went to the apostles and asked them for help as even they wanted Jesus to send her away “for she keeps calling out after US.”
But that must have worked, and Jesus found he could not ignore her any more. We don’t always understand the dynamic of prayer - as we don’t always know the mind of God. >>
But Jesus said there is great power in united prayer. He will remind us in a couple of weeks “if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray – it will be granted to them by my heavenly Father.”
My own personal opinion of what was happening in today’s Gospel – is that Jesus was simply tired and worn down. . .
He recently heard of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. And most of us know how exhausting grief can be.
He had recently gone home to Nazareth and could do not do any mighty works because of their unbelief. And many of us know how rejection of any kind can zap our joy.
He had battled the scribes and Pharisees multiple times in the last few chapters of Matthew’s Gospel – and last week had to deal with the lack of faith of his closest followers.
I think Jesus was simply tired and worn down –
How many times have you or I said or did things when we were tired, that we wish we could re-do later after a nap or a day off? But Jesus is going to keep at it – perhaps this encounter with the Canaanite woman allows him to re-focus – and recommit himself to his pastoral ministry.
But just like clockwork – next week Jesus will have to deal with the lack of faith of his closest followers.
Let us ask God for the grace we need – to stay awake and alert to the needs of others – even when we think we simply can’t do one more thing. . .
The reason we have the Bible, and the Eucharist and the other Sacraments. The reason we have faith at all - and come here week after week to nourish our faith – is because God loves us. And God wants to be in a relationship with us.
A relationship which God does not want to force upon us - but one that we freely embrace and nurture.
God loves us. And God wants to be in a relationship with us - and so God is continually revealing to us who God is and what God’s love is like.
That’s why, as St. Paul tells us, there was a covenant, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises;
why there were patriarchs, and from them, the ultimate expression of God’s love: the sending of Christ to dwell among us.
God loves us. And God wants to be in a relationship with us - and just like in our earthly relationships - so to with our relationship with the divine - there needs to be communication - in order for the relationship to be nurtured and to grow.
Sometimes God communicates with us in a way that is powerful and unmistakable– like Peter, James and John experienced in the Transfiguration of Jesus last weekend.
Or the communication may not be in thunder and earthquakes as often happened in the Old Testament -
although if we can stand in awe before the wonders of nature - we certainly can hear God communicating to us.
God may speak to us through a special healing or a prayer answered that we never thought possible - as some of you, I know, have recently had happen to you.
These moments are worth treasuring. They are important to hold onto and remember when it seems God is quiet – for one of God’s favored ways of communicating with us is in — silence.
Like the prophet Elijah, we often need to quiet our lives so we can discover God in the depth of our own hearts. And when we are able to let the Lord take us by our hand and lead and guide us - our eyes are usually a bit more open -
and then we are able to see and hear God all over the place - communicating love, care, and concern, and forgiveness, and acceptance – to us.
When I was preparing my homily this week, I came across a reflection on today’s readings by a Chicago priest: Fr. Dominic Grassi – who is not only a pastor but also the author of several books: a couple are – Still called by name: why I like being a priest // and// Living the Mass: how one hour a week can change your life.
Fr. Dominic writes in a homily: one of the most popular nicknames for our city of Chicago is the “windy city”. Most people think the name comes from the sometimes very strong winds that blow into the city from Lake Michigan.
But, he said, Chicago was dubbed the “windy city” because of its history of long-winded politicians who would promise voters everything during a campaign – and give them very little after elected.
Now I don’t want to doubt Fr. Dominic’s words – but they do lead me to ask the question - why, then, isn’t every city in the nation referred to as the windy city??
Anyway, Fr. Dominic then applied this “windy city approach” to the Church. Currently, he thinks, people have deep concerns about the church – why not women priests?
Why is their little accountability for bishops, priests, and others - especially when they mess things up. . .
How are we going to continue to sustain the buildings that have been built over the centuries - with fewer numbers of Catholics to fill them?
What happened to all the religious women that used to staff our schools?
Or the question on many minds of parents: how can I get my adult children to go to Mass?
Many people, including myself from time to time - are self-appointed experts on just about every problem in the Church and have a solution for every problem. . . We wouldn’t have these problems if people would just listen to us – or do things our way.
But sometimes all our talking and problem solving, especially if we dwell only on the negatives – can get in the way of living out the Gospel of Jesus in our lives.
Perhaps the readings for today are telling us not to be so “windy”. After all, Elijah finds God not in the strong wind, or the earthquake – but in a tiny whisper.
The wind scares the apostles to the point where Peter almost drowns and needs Jesus to save him. And so Jesus calms the winds.
God loves us. God wants to be in a relationship with us – and so God communicates with us: sometimes in a strong and heavy wind. Sometimes in the crushing of rocks or in earthquakes or in fire – however those things come crashing into our lives.
But most times - God comes in the silence.
Fr. Dominic concluded his reflections by saying: maybe if we talked less and listened more – it would be better for us and for the Church.
So following that advice - let’s take a few moments to quiet ourselves – and to listen – and let God speak to us.
Fr. Terrence enjoyed being here last weekend - and is at St. Therese parish this weekend. He told me you were kind to him and I would expect nothing else – so I hope you were generous to his appeal to help the Basilians in their mission work.
I enjoyed being home with my sister and her family – and we got more of my mother’s house cleaned out – and played lots of card games. . .
A lady wrote this story about a childhood experience she had –
She recalled that when she was a child, her wealthy parents would take an extended vacation to Europe every summer and they would leave her in care of a sitter.
When she was eleven, the regular sitter quit right before her parents left - and they had to hire a last-minute replacement, who they knew only by her references.
Before their departure, the girl came upon her mother wrapping up all the family silverware and other valuables, hiding them away in a locked closet.
The girl - having never seen her mother do this before – asked her mother what she was doing — so her mother explained since she did not know the new sitter - she could not trust her around the family’s treasures. . .
You can imagine how the girl interpreted the remark – the parents could trust the new sitter with HER –
but not with anything that had material value. Wasn’t she more important than silver knives and forks???
I’m sure the parents - if questioned - would of course say they valued their daughter more than any of their possessions – but for the girl – their actions spoke louder than their words.
The woman concluded the story that with a bit of counseling over the years, she had gotten over the shock of not feeling valued – and considers herself a somewhat adjusted adult.
How many times do we allow our actions to speak louder than our words??
In these two parables today - Jesus is making the point that the kingdom of heaven and living in God’s grace should be of the utmost value to us – certainly worth sacrificing for.
Going to Mass, taking time for prayer, following the Commandments, reading the Scriptures, loving God and our neighbor – is not just some form of insurance to make sure that we live later in the eternal kingdom of heaven --
It is supposed to be something that we enjoy, and help bring about in our lives right now –
And that’s where are actions may speak louder than our words. . . we say we believe in the kingdom of heaven - and want to live in the eternal kingdom someday –
but do we follow up those words by making an investment in the kingdom with our time, talent, and treasure?? Singing “how great thou art” is one thing – but living it is something completely different!
The person who found the treasure in the field was extremely lucky – but the treasure was not in their possession until they sold all that they had in order to make it their own.
Again, the person who found the pearl of great price was lucky – but the pearl did not belong to the merchant until everything was sold and the pearl was in their hand.
Both of these people were willing to sacrifice everything they had – in order to obtain the treasure!
Likewise, the kingdom of heaven does not come to us automatically. Yes, it is freely offered to us – it’s a gift – but we have to invest in it to really posses it – or rather I should say - to have it posses us.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.
So the most important thing we have to invest is our time – how to spend it, or more importantly - how do we waste it – day after day. Do we invest any of our time in making the kingdom more a part of our lives – by praying, by reading Scripture, by serving others?
The kingdom of heaven requires an investment of our WILL –
we have to deliberately choose to guide our lives by Christ’s teachings rather than making up our own rules about what’s good or bad - what we should do or should not do.
And the kingdom of heaven takes an investment of our treasure - our finances - for if we truly value our faith – and this parish community which helps to nurture our faith – and our school which helps to form our children in the faith — then we will adequately support them.
When our lives are over, we will have to leave behind every material possessions we have accumulated here on earth – U-Hauls simply do not follow a hearse to the cemetery.
But we will take with us the treasure we have stored up in the kingdom of heaven: our good works and our love for God and others – these will be our joy for all eternity. A life of holiness and goodness is a treasure that will not fail.
The kingdom of heaven is worth our sacrifice and our investment – for -
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.
And so we pray that the Lord may purify our hearts – making holiness and goodness our utmost desires – so that we will be set apart, ready to do God’s will.
And as my friend Fr. Phil Eagan would say: can I get an AMEN??
We live in a society that likes instant results and instant gratification.
For those of us who still go to the grocery: we buy instant meals and then try to get in the shortest line on the way out - or go to the self-check out to hurry things along.
The internet provides us with instant information and we find instant replays essential when it comes to our sports.
Now I will be the first to admit - I don’t like wasting time - so I do head for the self-check out lines – and am still searching for the quickest way to get south of the river these days . . .
But we can’t deny the reality that some things just take time. People who are highly successful in life did not get where they are at without patience and effort - whether that’s in the arts, sports, business or academic field. Children do not grow up instantly - no matter how quickly we want the adolescent years to pass - and nobody gets to retire before putting in years of work.
I think what Jesus is telling us in today’s gospel is our spiritual growth – our being transformed more and more into the image and likeness of Christ – is one of those things that takes time, patience, and perseverance.
These days, computers on tractors and planters make the sowing of seeds very precise – there is very little waste. . . But even in Jesus’ day - an ordinary farmer would have sowed sparingly - only seeding good ground.
But in the parable – the farmer is far from ordinary. Because the farmer stands for God – and when God scatters seed – it goes everywhere. In other words, God’s call and God’s grace and God’s mercy – are offered to everyone – indiscriminately and unconditionally.
For in the parable - the seed is the word of God that Jesus preached. Like:
Come to me all you labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
Or - whoever does not take up their cross and follow after me - is not worthy of me. . .
So, not everyone was receptive to Jesus’ message. Some people listened to his teachings, liked his stories – then quickly forgot what they were intended to teach.
Some people got very enthusiastic about what they heard, then other things quickly drew their attention and overtook the core of their being.
Some were even hostile to Jesus.
But there were some - who did listen to Jesus’ message and allowed the seed to take root in them, to grow, and overtake their hearts – so that the word of God was at their core.
One of the most detrimental things, I think, to our spiritual journey – is discouragement–
discouragement that we are not growing fast enough - or someone else seems to be more holy than we are, or we think we will never become the people we want to be. . .
I think we all want God’s grace and God’s love to lift us up, to spur us on, to fill us with joy each and every day – and some days it does.
But other days we let discouragement get the better us. The wonderful things we think our faith should do for us don’t seem to be there.
And so we give up on our faith and our progress in our becoming more and more like Christ – much too quickly, and God’s grace and love becomes in us that seed which withers and dies. And that’s not what God wants for us - and not really what we want for ourselves.
The most important thing this parable can teach us – is – perseverance – the need to stick to our spiritual journey no matter what.
Sure our prayers are not always wonderful, our lives are certainly not always sinless, and our charity is not always perfect. Let’s be honest and admit we do have a lot of imperfections – and the more we grow spiritually, the more we become aware of them.
But THE most important thing is to keep on trying. To persevere. To not give up on ourselves or one another – because when we give up – we backslide - and our hearts become hardened rather than becoming softened.
The great inventor Thomas Edison once said: “I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident – they came from work.” And so does our growth in faith.
Another time he said: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” And that’s a four letter word many of us dislike.
A Russian Orthodox proverb tells us to:
“Pray to God, but keep rowing to the shore.”
The great salesman and author, Coleman Cox, states: “Even the woodpecker owes its success to the fact that it uses its head and keeps pecking away until it finishes the job.”
And Saint Mother Theresa is just as profound for saying: “To keep a lamp burning, you have to keep putting oil in it.”
Are we putting oil in the lamps of our faith wo we can be the light of the world which Jesus calls us to – or are we forgetting the oil all together much like the foolish virgins we will hear about in mid-November?
God’s word and God’s grace and God’s mercy and love – are like seeds - they need to be nurtured and cared for with prayer, the sacraments, and good works.
God is an indiscriminate and unconditional, and a rather sloppy farmer: for God offers grace freely – but we can’t ignore it, can’t sit on it, can’t let it be choked out by distractions or laziness, or taken from us by the world’s temptations.
We have to nurture it – which does mean some effort and care and work on our part – and that’s why we gather at this table today. . .
You may have heard, because the word has been out for awhile – that in November 2021, the American Bishops kicked off what they are calling a three year Euchristic Revival: which is to culminate with a national Eucharistic Congress to be held in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 17-21, 2024 - the first such event since 1976.
The Bishops want the Church to use the time leading up to the national gathering to inspire, educate, and unite Catholics around the one thing we have that no one else has: the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
We Catholic believe that when Jesus said “this is my Body, this is my Blood” – he meant it. That is, the Eucharist isn’t a symbol of his Body, it isn’t his Body only when we are gathered –
but that He is really present: soul and divinity- in the bread we break and the wine we drink. What an awesome gift God gives to us each and every time we come to the Eucharist.
One way Bishop Johnston wants our local Church to be inspired, educated, and united in the Eucharist – is for all the priests in our Diocese to preach on some aspect of the Eucharist on the first Sunday of every month.
So welcome to month one. And since I was taught you always preach about the readings of the day – welcome to a very difficult month of preaching on the Eucharist. But I did have a whole week of retreat to think about this. . .
So here goes.
The words in today’s Gospel can be hard to hear – whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter more than Jesus – is not worthy of him?
Isn’t Jesus all about love – how many times does he say love one another as I have loved you in the Gospels?
And that’s the point – at least I think . . . it’s about priorities – not about the denial of love. . . or the love of one person, Jesus, at the expense of not loving others. . .
Love one another, as I have loved you. . . so we must first get at HOW Jesus loves us – so we know how to love one another.
The origin of our English word CORE – that is the part of something which is central to its existence or character – such as core values –
or what are the core activities in your science class today – is the Latin word CORDA - which means – heart.
So I think what Jesus is after today in the Gospel – is: what is at our core, what has captured our hearts – as a Christian??
And the answer to that has to be Jesus – or why call ourselves Christian?
Now remember for the last couple of weeks I have said that the Scriptures and our faith are very clear on the fact that God loves us – and we heard a couple of weeks ago from St. Paul in his letter to the Romans – that God proves God’s love for us – in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . .
So God’s love for us is unconditional – it doesn’t matter what we do or don’t do – no matter what —God loves us — God will not abandon us —
And this is the love that has to be at our core – at the center of our existence and character – in our hearts –
For once that love is there – we can try to love others as unconditionally as God loves us.
Because the truth of the matter is – so many times we love each other conditionally – that is we put limits on it – we often times cut it off if we don’t get what we want or need from others – and that’s just not the way God loves us – nor wants us to love others.
I haven’t lived to be 64, nor have I heard Confessions for over 35 years – not to know the people who are supposed to be the easiest to love in our lives – like fathers, and mothers, and sisters and brothers, and best friends, and fellow Christians — are not always the easiest to love in our lives – mostly because they know exactly what buttons to push to get us going.
And once the buttons are pushed – it’s easy to flip on the switch to conditional love – I’m not getting what I want or need for you – so I am going to cut you off – and that’s not the love God wants us to have for one another.
That’s why we were plunged into the waters of Baptism – so we can live in newness of life – a life where and when and how –
we love each other as God wants us to – unconditionally: with heartfelt compassion, in kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience – as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians — all of which is impossible to do, unless we have the love of God at our core – in our hearts - to guide and direct us.
One of the things you will probably hear me say often during these first of the month homilies on the Eucharist is –
What difference does it make if the bread and wine ON the altar are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ – if those AT the altar remain the same??
The Eucharist is not just something the Church does — it’s something that we need to become –
For we can venerate the Lord present in Eucharistic Adoration for hours on end.
And we can participate in the Mass: fully, consciously, and actively every week – and even every day –
But if our hearts remain the same – if our core does not change – becoming more and more the image and likeness of Christ who we adore and receive - then what difference does it make??
That’s the Eucharistic revival we need in the Church – to know that the Eucharist can and should have an effect on our lives.
We’re not just putting in time here – we are supposed to be allowing God to love us – and allow that love to change our hearts –
so that we can leave here and do better at loving father, and mother, and sister, and brother –
and those who we meet and encounter each and every day.
So let the revival – begin. So we can go out and make a difference in the world.
The first time I went zip-lining was several years ago. My very first time was a short line - but across a very deep canyon.
I am afraid of heights. So my fear kept me from enjoying the view I was being offered -- mostly because I had my eyes closed and I was hanging on for dear life.
After a few more attempts at this past time -- I learned how to relax - knowing I was perfectly safe in my harness. And it was only after I felt comfortable - that I truly enjoyed the experience.
I learned to enjoy zip-lining -- by doing it.
One of the things I feared the most about becoming a priest -- was speaking in public. I'm an introvert. I seek out quiet corners at gatherings.
I totally dislike being the center of attention.
It was only by doing this -- over and over again -- that I became comfortable doing it - and now enjoy it quite a bit - even though I still get intimated from time to time depending on who I am speaking to.
To become good at public speaking - to get over the fear that most people fear more than death itself -- you just have to do it. And it certainly helps to be convinced that you have something worthwhile to say and share with people.
Jesus said: "Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father."
This certainly builds on the idea that we heard last week: that all of us are called to evangelize. That all of us, not just me --- but all of us -- are called to be the light of Christ -- and to draw others into the light of Christ. And we get used to doing it -- by actually doing it! And it should help that we do have something worthwhile to say: we are proclaiming the Kingdom of God – a way of being and of doing here on earth, so that we enjoy life in heaven for all eternity.
Oh I know - we don't like doing it. We are afraid people will think we are some kind of Jesus freak. And we are also probably fearful of rejection and of failure.
Which puts us right there in the pit with Jeremiah who experienced terror on every side when he tried to prophecy on behalf of the Lord. Or like St. Paul who was writing his letter to the Romans as he was on the way to that city to be put on trial -- for boldly preaching the kingdom of God to Gentiles!
So if we are a little afraid of responding to our call to be evangelist -- those spreading the good news of the kingdom -- we are in good company. Name the saint - and chances are they had a rough time too. BUT IT DID NOT KEEP THEM FROM DOING WHAT GOD WAS CALLING THEM TO DO!
And I think that's because they remembered at least two things -- that we would benefit from remembering also.
First - most often they let their actions speak louder than their words. As St. Anthony of Padua, no stranger to misunderstanding as he spent several years in a treehouse to get away from his detractors -- once stated:
" Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speak."
Or as St. Mary Mackillop stated: "we must teach more by example than by word."
So if people don't want to listen, and if they out-right reject us -- we just keep doing what we are supposed to do - living the calling God has given us – being the light in our dark world and leading others to the light of Christ --- because we never know who is paying attention and WILL grow closer to God because of us.
The second thing we should remember -- is what Jeremiah tells us today: that no matter what: "the lord is with us, like a mighty champion and our persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph and in their failure they will be put to shame."
Which is just a re-enforcement of what we heard last week: when we are actually failing, or think we are a failure -- that's when God swoops under us -- and lifts us up as on Eagle's Wings -- and allows us to try to soar once again.
My sisters and brothers - the Scriptures and our faith are very clear on this: God loves us. And God wants to get that message across to as many people as possible.
And so God sends us --to carry that Good News to others.
And so we need to heed what Jesus tells us four times in the Gospel today: do not be afraid.
Just as God takes care of the sparrows -- God will take care of us -- because we are worth more than sparrows.
And then also listen to this advice of Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta: “If you want to bring God to all the world – first go home and love your family.”
So we are out of the Easter season. We retained white as our liturgical color for the special celebrations of the Holy Trinity and The Body and Blood of Christ — and now we are back to the GREEN of ordinary time – when we resume our count of the Sundays using ordinal numbers – today being the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
We will only count up to the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time – have a peek of white as we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6th – then resume counting the 19th through the 33rd Sunday. Celebrate the Feast of Christ the King – then start a new liturgical year with the 1st Sunday of Advent.
The time is going to fly by – so we might as well have fun – and maybe learn a few things along the way so that we can be more like Christ.
So, there was a little girl on her way to her Catholic school, dressed in her school uniform. Thinking she was going to be late – she began running to get to school on time.
Being the good Catholic she was – She began praying as she ran: “Dear Lord, don’t let me be late!”
And all of a sudden – she tripped and fell, getting a little dirty and banging up her knee.
Not being discouraged, she got up, brushed herself off, and started running again.
This time praying: “Dear Lord, don’t let me be late. But please don’t shove me again to get me to move faster!”
I don’t think God shoves us when we’re doing our best at something – but I do think God shoves us when we need to get moving – or at least when we need to get moving in the right direction.
In today’s first reading we had an image of God in which most people find comfort. God said to his people: “I bore you up on eagles’ wings and brought you here to myself.”
This is the scripture passage Michael Joncas used for the song we will use at Communion:
And he will raise you up on eagles’ wings. Bear you on the breath of dawn. Make you to shine like the sun. And hold you in the palm of his hand.
Michael wrote this song for a couple of his friends for their wedding – but we use it alot at funerals: because it gives us an image of God’s protection and a sense of security.
But there are other aspects of the image of eagles’ wings to consider.
One is – when the baby eagles are old enough to fly, the mother eagle will nudge the little ones out of the nest in order to get them in the air so they can start to fly: the old sink or swim methodology – or in this case fly or crash.
But even eagles are capable of compassion: if a young eagle starts falling and does look as if it is going to crash – that’s when the adult eagles come to the rescue.
The adult bird, either the father or the mother: will soar down under the falling fledgling and support them and lift them up so they can try again.
God wants to keep us from crashing for sure – but God is not in the business of providing free rides so we can get through life without much work or effort.
God is in the business of getting us to mature, to grow up, to use the gifts and talents and energy God has given us.
We’ve all had times when we feel as if God has dumped us and we have to make it on our own. The truth is, God is watching out for us, but God is not going to do our job for us. We’re not getting into the kingdom of God without effort on our part. And part of that effort is to hear God’s voice and keep God’s covenant as God told the people of Israel in the first reading. And doing that is not always easy.
If eagles’ wings symbolize God’s watchful care, God’s watchful care is also expressed by another image in today’s gospel – that of a shepherd.
St. Matthew tells us how Jesus’ heart went out to people of his day who were like sheep without a shepherd, lost and abandoned.
Jesus wants to reach out and help all of them but he knows he can’t so he chooses people to help him. They receive the name “apostles” which means those who are sent out.
Today, Jesus still sends people out. Some of them have the same role the apostles had: to be spiritual leaders of the community: like Pope Francis, and Bishop Johnston, and the three deacons we are blessed to have in this parish.
But there are religious men and women, teachers, those who take Communion to the sick and home bound, those who work in homeless shelters and in food pantries – and parents who do their best to raise their children to be good, and hopefully - holy - people.
We all have our part to be a witness to the risen Lord and to guide and direct other people to him. Just think if everyone here brought just one person with them to Mass next weekend – how tremendous that would be.
Jesus said to pray that the master of the harvest send out laborers for his harvest. God wants to share profound love for all people – but someone needs to let people know that.
That someone is NOT just me – but also you. We could certainly be blessed with more priests. That’s something we need to pray about. Bishop Johnston will soon announce more parishes that will be closing in our Diocese because of the lack of priests.
In my home diocese of Indianapolis – when the new assignments of priest came out – I noticed out of the 21 assignments – 11 were just adding another parish to the one the priest already had – as if priests have an unlimited amount of time and energy. . . especially as we continue to age. . .
So yes, pray for priests. But also pray for a renewed sense of how all of us are called to evangelization – how all of us are called to be first of all the light in the very dark world we live in – but also called to lead others to the light of Christ.
We share with our friends a good story or a good movie we’ve seen or that great restaurant we just ate at the other night – are we also sharing our faith with them???
God’s love flows from every reading today. Can we absorb that love – soak it up while we are here – and then share it with others throughout the week? That’s our calling:
With one voice to pass the word along.
With one voice, to bring justice to the world.
To spread the goodness of God.
Moments in time...