If you were here back in mid-August, on the 19th Sunday of Ordinary time, you heard me begin my homily by saying:
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 that God does not want to force us into in anyway – but one that we freely embrace and nurture.
For those of us old enough to remember the Baltimore Catechism – question 6 was: Why did God create us?
The answer: God made us to know him, and to serve him in this world, and to be happy with God forever in the next.
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 – so that we come to know God, so as to serve God by building the kingdom in our midst - and so that we will enjoy eternal life.
This whole process is what we mean by REVELATION: God allow us to get to know him by revealing to us who God is and what God’s love is like.
As the 2nd Vatican II document on Divine Revelation states: God wants nothing less than that we come to know God fully: to know God’s constant love for us, to understand God’s unfathomable faithfulness and to experience these things in our lives.
Revelation is all that God wants to say to us, whisper to us, shout at us, sing to us, and breathe in us.
The ultimate form of God’s revelation is when God sent Jesus to live among us: the one who walked the earth; who taught us how to love, forgive, and be compassionate and merciful; the one who said:
come, follow me: the one who took on our flesh when he was born in Bethlehem - the one we await to come in glory.
God ultimately reveals to us who God is - and how much God loves us –in the person of Jesus Christ. Which gives us a slight problem I think we need to deal with –
Sometimes we are so focussed on the Jesus that came to us – the one born in Bethlehem – the one whose birth we are preparing to re-celebrate at Christmas –
And sometimes we are so focussed on the Jesus who is going to come again in glory – the one who is going to separate the sheep from the goats depending on how well we met the needs of the least of our brothers and sisters –
That we forget about the Jesus who is coming to us now –
In our reading of scriptures, in our celebration of the Mass, in our time spent in prayer, in the wonders of nature; the one whose face we should see in our family members, our friends, those who gather with us here, or those in our neighborhoods or the needy halfway around the world — and many, many times – in the faces of complete strangers.
Jesus comes to us now – God is continuing to reveal who God is and how much God loves us – through Jesus – each and everyday – and
that’s why we need to be watchful and alert – for we do not know when the Lord will come to us. We don’t want to be sleeping, or distracted, or looking for meaning in what the world offers us – when we are being offered a relationship with the true and living God.
And so we want to pay attention to the messengers of God’s love that come to us every day.
We want to pay attention to how God might be calling us to be a messenger of God’s love to others.
And how all we have to do is be able to echo Mary’s words: may it be done to me according to your word.
So what I say to you, I say to all: WATCH!
And may there be a longing in your heart to recognize God’s revelation – to joyful receive God’s revelation – and to generously respond to God’s revelation.
Have a great Advent!
It seems like everywhere these days, I see or hear about some financial advisor who wants to give advice on medicare, retirement, or buying gold with an IRA. . .
Some are well known companies with lots of branches and employees. Others are individuals who say they have some expertise who want us to trust them with our assets.
Now I’m not certain that this explosion of financial advisors means that everyone has a lot of disposable income - or that the current generation is awash in money in ways previous generations weren’t.
But it most likely means the days of stashing money in shoe boxes in closets and in envelopes under mattresses or –
in very basic bank accounts that earn little or no interests – are all things of the past.
Rather it seems that people really don’t want their money just sitting there – they want their money to earn even more money – they want their money to grow and want a greater return on their hard work and investments.
So maybe I’m just imagining this is a bigger deal now than it once was – case in point – the parable we just heard Jesus tell.
It’s a long one – but one that can be summed up pretty simply:
2 servants who were entrusted with their master’s money used it to make even more money - pleasing their master.
The other servant, out of fear - did nothing with the money and simply returned the same amount to the master – and this left the master NOT happy at all.
He wanted a return on his investment – and from the one servant he got no such thing. . .
Most everyone wants good returns on their investments. Bosses want employees to be worth more to the company than the salary they are being paid.
Sports teams want their draftees to not simply tread water in the minors - but to excel - eventually making a great contribution to the team.
No one wants to sell a house for less than what they bought it - and people who invest hours at the gym want their bodies to show it.
Yes, most of us, probably all of us – want good returns on our investments.
But have we given God a good return on God’s investment in us??
That may sound crass, using that sort of expression to talk about God. It sounds beneath God.
But what if we simply replaced the word investment –with blessing?? Isn’t that what a blessing is –a kind of investment in you and me??
Doesn’t God shower good things upon us NOT simply so we can exclusively enjoy the fruits of those blessings – clinging to them as if they were our own personal possessions – but so we can turn around and BE A BLESSING to others? To turn what our loving God has given us into something even greater – something more than it was before??
It’s NOT always easy to believe that God has and is investing in us – to believe that God continually provides for us in ways we really don’t deserve - in abundant ways, in extravagant ways – trusting and hoping that we will respond in faith and become those very same things for those we come into contact with.
We may wonder: does God really love us this much? Believe in us this much? Trust us this much?? AND THE ANSWER IS YES!
Our God forgives us, and then expects us to become even more forgiving - multiplying God’s mercy to those in need.
God understands our faults and expects us to be more tolerant of the faults of others.
God dries our tears and understands our pain, and expects us to be a shoulder to cry on for those who are filled with sorrow and brokenness.
God picks us up when we have fallen, and expects us to do the same for others.
Put simply – God loves us unconditionally, and expects us to multiply that love and spread it throughout the earth in abundant and extravagant ways – for God’s grace can never run out.
And so it needs to be asked again: has God gotten a good return on God’s investment in us??
I would hate to think that I might be sort of just treading water when it comes to God’s blessings – sort of staying in the same place - barely afloat - somewhat aware of what God is doing in my life – but not doing anything about increasing those blessings to be able to touch other people’s lives with them. . . . But I am from time to time. . .
And I don’t think if is out of fear, like the third servant in the story that I don’t act on those gifts.
Rather, it’s most likely a kind of spiritual laziness or indifference - an “I’ll get to it tomorrow” kind of attitude. But then one day becomes two, then becomes a week, and all of a sudden God’s investment in me is buried safely in the ground. . .
Is God then angry with me? Disappointed in me? Sad for me?
Perhaps all three.
And so maybe today is a good day for all of us to reflect on our many blessings. Especially those we like to take all the credit for. And then ask ourselves honestly – what are we doing with the good things God showers upon us?
Are we hoarding them – or multiplying them?
And if the answer is hoarding them and hiding them away – then we’ve got some work to do. . .
Whenever I get invited to someone’s home – for a dinner or a party or just to visit – I always consider two things:
The first is the most obvious - deciding whether or not I will accept the invitation.
This is based on a number of things - such as the date and whether my schedule will allow it – the distance from my house – and how many other commitments I have already had that week, especially in the evening or at night.
And I must admit - covid and the shut down kind of did me in – now nothing makes me happier than to get home and know that I can just stay there - not having to go back out for anything.
So saying yes to an invitation – is not automatic for me – and probably not for you either. It’s a decision we make.
And if I say YES: there is another thing I have to consider. . . you see I never like to go to someone’s house empty-handed. I like to bring something - even though the host might say it’s not necessary. I bring a present, or something to snack on – if it’s a party. Or something to eat or drink, like a bottle of wine - if it’s a dinner.
Part of that, besides just wanting to be a good house guest – is I don’t want the hosts to think I am taking their generosity for granted - and that I want to make the event the best it can be.
Because the invitation may come from the hosts – but everyone plays a part in how the event will turn out.
A party or dinner is not just something someone else puts on – it’s something that everyone who comes – participates in. . .
We just heard a parable about a social gathering – a very important one – a wedding! But it may be one of those parables that might be hard to understand.
It seems to be rooted in the culture of the time - so that we might not know for sure exactly how it would have been received by those who heard Jesus tell it.
In this case, Jesus, knowing his audience, felt that a lot of explanation was not necessary, and so he sums it up in just a few words:
Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
So the parable has something to do with expectations, and preparation, and vigilance.
The foolish virgins in the story really messed up, for reasons we might not fully understand – and in doing so, missed both the bridegroom - and the wedding feast.
By seeing Jesus as the bridegroom and the wedding feast as heaven – or unity with God – or the new life won for us by Christ’s death and resurrection – the story comes more clearly into focus.
What’s not always clear is WHAT it means to be prepared, what it means to be ready, what it means to be awake. . .
How exactly do we make sure we are ready to meet Jesus and accompany him into the wedding feast that never ends?
We want to experience the celebration – and certainly don’t want to show up empty-handed – or do we??
I think this is one time we DO want to do the opposite of what we would normally do. . . because the best way to prepare for this wedding invitation IS to show up empty-handed – to come to the party with NO attachments. To empty ourselves of everything that is getting in the way or holding us back.
The truth is, the things of this world will NOT be required to get in – will NOT help us on this particular journey. In fact, they almost certainly will hinder us. And theses things we are clinging to and refusing to let go of are different for each of us –
It may be possessions for one – power for someone else. Wealth for one - ego or the sense of importance for someone else. Control for one or self-sufficiency for someone else.
And so we need to look deeply and honestly as to what those weights, those burdens, those useless attachments might be – and let loose of them.
But there is something we do need to have filled – something that should not be empty - -something which God expects, wants, and longs for.
This is the OIL the foolish virgins forgot - or neglected to prioritize in their lives. And this thing that need to be full is each of our hearts.
We can’t get into the wedding feast - we can’t experience the celebration that begins in this life and continues into eternity – if we decide to show up— empty-HEARTED.
Jesus, the bridegroom, wants our hearts filled with every good thing. Hearts full of kindness and mercy and understanding. Hearts full of compassion and forgiveness.
Hearts open to grace – longing to be filled with the presence of our loving God who wants nothing more than to dwell within us for all eternity.
And so our hands need to be empty – but our hearts need to be full. Only then will we be properly prepared to accompany Jesus into the wedding feast beyond all wedding feasts – the celebration for which we were created and for which Jesus died to make possible.
We’ve been invited. And this is one party we should never say NO to. So let’s do the faithful thing, say yes, say Amen – and then do whatever we can to make our loving host happy – helping make the celebration the party— God so deeply desires for all of us.
“O priests. . . you have turned aside from God’s way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction.”
OUCH! The Prophet Malachi does not mince words. We don’t get to hear from him often in our Sunday Scriptures – just twice in the three year cycle of readings.
Like most of the prophets, by God’s prompting – Malachi looked around and was not very happy with what he saw.
In our reading today, he is rebuking priests - the temple leadership of his day - who he felt were failing both in their behavior and in their teachings.
As a member of the clergy, each time I hear a passage such as this - one that includes something negative about priests – I can’t help but think of the many ways many of us have failed you - sometimes in small ways – and – as all of us know - sometimes in horrendous, even criminal ways.
I won’t use our time revisiting all that painful stuff – I just hope we are making progress toward being more faithful and more trustworthy.
Because – we expect a lot from our leaders – whether they are priests, or school teachers, or coaches or politicians – or bosses or people in any type of authority over others.
In a very real sense, we want them to be good examples to us – examples of what it means to be a good person, a good citizen, a good neighbor, a good friend, a good employee, —a good disciple.
I guess you could say that we expect our leaders to teach us something - to help us be better at whatever it is we are pursuing.
And when they don’t, it hurts. It’s disappointing. It’s deflating and defeating.
– And if their failure is great enough, it might even make us justifiably angry.
“O leaders. . . you have turned aside from God’s way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction.”
We know the importance of having good teachers. And while we most often use this word to mean those standing in front of a classroom – we also know that teaching is not limited only to schools.
Parents hopefully know well that they have the primary responsibility of teaching their children – teaching them right from wrong – teaching them how to be polite and good people - teaching them things they will need to be healthy, happy, and HOLY adults. Important stuff.
And while parents have countless opportunities to tell their daughters and sons all about these things – do this / don’t do that – remember to be polite – be safe –
- be sure to take care of others – study hard -
–in the end the words won’t carry much weight - unless there is also a good example being set by the parents: acting and talking the same as the children are being asked to do.
And that’s not always easy. The saying, talk is cheap - always rings true. . .
And that’s what should lead parents to appreciate the many good teachers we have in our midst – because good teaching takes real skill. It takes passion. It takes creativity. It takes a lot of compassion, patience, and persistence.
And that’s why we should be grateful for those who do choose teaching as a profession – a life of service for the betterment of others. Thank goodness we ALL don’t have to be teachers. . .
Or do we?
Friends may hear us say unkind things about others, or make insensitive comments or jokes. What are we teaching them?
Children may see us grab a week’s worth of napkins, utensils or condiments from a fast food restaurant to take home. What are we teaching them?
We may tell a neighbor it’s okay to falsify information to pay fewer taxes. What are we teaching them?
People may never see us volunteering for anything – always coming up with some excuse why we can’t help. What are we teaching them?
Our co-workers hear us gossiping and mocking almost everyone and everything. What are we teaching them?
Whether we want to be or NOT – we are all teachers. We are all teachers because our words and actions and our lives - say something about who we are – or aren’t.
The way we talk. The things we do or don’t do. The attitudes we embrace. The way we see and talk about and treat others. – They all speak volumes and are absorbed by those around us.
And if we aren’t careful. If we are not aware of this reality. If we aren’t trying to be the best people we can be – we may be doing harm - not only to ourselves – but to everyone we encounter.
O people of God - you have turned aside from God’s way - and have caused many to falter by your instruction.
What do each of us do – or not do - to cause others to falter?
What do each of us say - or not say - to cause others to falter?
These are the heavy burdens we heard Jesus speak about in today’s Gospel passage - the things we expect from others but refuse to do ourselves - the double standard many of us sometimes adopt.
So let’s not be those people - the people who don’t practice what we teach.
Rather, let’s live in such a way that teaches others that we sincerely mean what we say - that our words aren’t empty - but rather expressions of the very same things we are striving to live out.
There is a story told, which probably never happened - but it is a good story none-the-less.
The King of Sweden wanted to know what it was like just to be a normal human being.
One day, he managed to escape the palace driving a car without a large security detail and no one having knowledge of where he was or where he was going.
Not used to driving a car – he soon exceeded the speed limit and was quickly pulled over by a police office.
The officer asked for his driver’s license and registration.
The king, having never been in this situation before, has no idea what the officer is asking for.
And then the king had what he thought was a brilliant idea – as a form of identification.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out some money and hands it to the officer.
A bribe? No, not that at all. Rather he simply asked the policeman to look at whose picture is on the money – and, of course, there was the king’s face looking out from the bill.
The police officer, after getting the shock of his life – handed the money back, and let the king drive off– warning him to watch his speed.
Wouldn’t that be something that make us feel important – to have our faces on something as precious and indisputably valuable – as money.
Far from a trivial thing as citizens often argue about whose face should, or should not be, on coins and paper money. It says something. It means something – it is important.
“Whose image is this and whose inscription,” asks Jesus when handed a Roman coin.
Of course he knows the Pharisees and Herodians are trying to trap him -
If Jesus says yes to their question about paying the census tax - he will be viewed as being supportive of the Roman occupation.
If he says no, then he will be labeled as a subversive. . .
Jesus doesn’t take the bait and instead answers their question with one of his own: “whose image is this and whose inscription.”
And when they say Caesar – he challenges them to “repay Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”
So what belongs to God? Well every created thing belongs to God – and most especially — all of US.
WE belong to God, and therefore Jesus is challenging each of us to give ourselves completely over to God – to surrender ourselves to God’s wants, God’s invitation to salvation, God’s will – not our own.
It’s not much of a stretch to say that giving to God what is God’s – is at the heart of a Christian’s life — faith – it’s at the heart of our Christian journey.
I think it is easy to hear this story – and immediately stop thinking about the coin – as it was just something Jesus used to make his point. The story really isn’t about the coin – right?
I’m not so sure. . . for the coin has something to teach us about faith and about ourselves.
We are like that coin – and the similarity is reflected in two important ways.
First, the coin has value – and so do we.
We are worth something. We matter. We are important and precious in God’s eyes.
Truly believing this is a spiritual game-changer – for it allows us to have a healthy kind of love of self that allows us to love others.
If we see ourselves as worthless – it becomes nearly impossible to live as God asks us to live.
And then secondly - -the coin is imprinted with an image – and so are we.
The imprint on each of us is NOT the face we see in the mirror each morning as we brush our teeth. . .
No, the imprint on each of us, the face that has been cast on the precious item that is each of us – is God – the image and likeness in whom we are created.
Think about those two things, just for a second. . .
We are of great value and we have been stamped with the image of God. What a gift. What a blessing – let’s not take it for-granted or try to deny it or hide it.
But is this the face we show to the world??
Or do we show the world something else – someone else??
Do we sometimes put on a mask of indifference or a lack of caring – and show that to the world?
Do we often put on a mask of judgment or prejudice, or criticism – and show that to the world?
Do we put on a mask of self-righteousness - an “I’m better than you” face or attitude?
Do we put on a mask of unkindness or pettiness or lack of compassion??
Masks maybe the thing to wear on Halloween – but they are NOT the thing to wear for life.
What face do we show the world?
Let’s always try, as consistently as we can – to show the compassionate, merciful, loving face of God – because that’s the image and likeness that is stamped on our hearts.
As you may well know, there are many frustrating things about flying these days. Long lines at security checkpoints - even in our new airport.
Extra fees for extra luggage. All sorts of restrictions that did not exist prior to 9-11.
But there is one thing that is especially frustrating. It doesn’t happen that often – but when it does, almost everyone lets out a moan or a groan.
It’s when the pilot announces there will be a delay in landing – and the control tower has instructed him or her to enter into a holding pattern.
And then the anxiety begins to rise over making connecting flights, or getting to a meeting on time, or just getting home for dinner.
Sometimes the holding patterns are due to weather, or increased traffic being diverted from someplace else. Often it’s because the plane which is leaving the gate where you’re supposed to go – has been delayed in leaving.
No matter what the cause – holding patterns when flying – can really be frustrating.
And they are in life, too.
Some of us are in jobs that feel like holding patterns. We are sort of “stuck” doing the same things over and over and over again –and we can’t wait for the day when we get to retire or have sense to take another job. . .
But one month becomes six, and two years become five – and well, nothing changes.
Unhealthy habits can be like holding patterns. Many of us continue to eat foods that aren’t good for us, or fail to get enough exercise, or fall into addictions that threaten our very survival – but we keep on going, and going. . .
And many of us are in holding patterns in relationships – holding on to grudges for years, or stuck in ruts which we never seem to get out of. Things just stay the same year after year.
And we even get stuck in holding patterns in our faith.
Jesus told the chief priests and the elders: “When John the Baptist came to you - You did not believe him.
But tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you say that, you did not later change your minds and believe in him.”
That was the tag line to the parable Jesus told them. The parable is rather short - as compared to last Sunday’s parable – a dad asks his sons for help in the vineyard - one says no - but then changes his mind. One said yes - but never goes – who did the father’s will?
Jesus says the first - the one who refused – but then changed his mind and went. Then Jesus tells his listeners what would have shocked them all: tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom before all you religious people. . .
UNTHINKABLE – they would have thought.
IMPOSSIBLE - they would have said. These are bad people – they were sinners – certainly outside of God’s good graces. . . But Jesus was implying they were actually doing something to please God - so that they were on the fast track to heaven. . . And what were they doing??
They were attempting to turn their lives around - -that is, they were admitting something was wrong, and they were being honest about what needed to change – and were allowing God to show them a new path forward.
All the while the chief priests and elders were way to comfortable in their own goodness – were embracing a kind of self-righteousness, convinced they were doing things right and they did not have to change a thing. >>
And so they were in a holding pattern – circling and circling - acting exactly the same and thinking exactly the same year after year.
Many of the sinners among them were in a holding pattern, too – repeating the same harmful behaviors – the same sins - over and over again.
They, too, were stuck – mired in lifestyles of which they were probably NOT proud, or maybe even ashamed of.
But some of them listened to the voice deep within them, and listened to the voice of John crying out in the desert - and listening now to the words of Jesus.
AND THEY MADE A CHOICE: to leave their holding pattern - leave what was familiar and comfortable and known – to embrace a new life - filled with God’s grace, mercy, and love.
BECAUSE God’s grace, mercy, and love – are available to anyone at anytime – who respond to God’s invitation to be saved.
The good, but challenge news is: God does not want us to remain in a holding pattern month after month, year after year. God does not want us saying “someday I’ll make the changes I need to make, but not right now.” Or “I’ll get around to it – eventually.” Or “I’m not doing anything really bad, so I’ll just keep at it.”
NO - what God wants is for us to be more – and give more – and love more.
And God doesn’t want that a year from now or after we have settled down in our new job, or home, or family.
God wants us to leave our holding pattern in this moment – in this very day - and to start heading toward our true destination: into the loving arms of God who wants to help is to be the best versions of ourselves — NOW.
We might expect another day – but we might not get one. Our bedsheets could become our burial sheets . . .
And God gives us the means to break our holding pattern - in this moment - in this very day - by giving us the Eucharist – which helps us to change more and more into the image and likeness of Christ –
For what difference does it make if the bread and wine on the altar are changed in the Body and Blood of Christ – if we, at the altar, remain the same?
We just need to do what the tax collectors and other sinners did: we need to honestly admit that we need to be better – decide we can be better – and then do what we need to do to be better – all with God’s help.
A woman who was a grandmother ran a small store in a southern rural town where everyone knew everyone else - as well as their business.
Almost on a daily basis a customer would come in, and when the woman asked how they were doing - they would start in with a litany of complaints: it was too hot or it was too cool; they could not plow because the ground was too hard from lack of rain, or too wet because of too much rain. Cattle prices are up - but hog prices are down. . . and on they would go.
Whenever this happened, the woman would look at her grandaughter who helped her in the store and give her a nod.
Later, after the complainer left, she would try to teach her grandaughter a lesson by saying:
“did you hear that? Those people have all they really need, and yet they still complain.
There are people who went to sleep all over the world last night, the rich & poor, the young & old - who will never wake again. They expected another day, but never got one. Their bedsheets became their burial sheets.
And those people would give anything, anything at all, for just five minutes of this weather, or 10 minutes of plowing a field.
So be careful when you complain, my dear one. What you are supposed to do when you don’t like something – is change it. And if you can’t change it - then change the way you think about it.”
Jesus’ society was different than our own, of course. The usual daily wage was a denarius - which was enough to feed one’s family for a day.
The only thing the generous landowner of the vineyard was doing was to make sure that none of the people who worked for him that day – even those who came to work at 5 in the evening - would have to beg, borrow, or steal in order to feed their families the next day.
The owner was fair with all – but generous with some – crazy with generosity, to borrow an image Deacon Jim used with forgiveness last week for those who heard him.
And so the ones who got their fair salary, the usual daily wage - but not the extra bonus - complained. And those with whom the owner was generous - certainly were grateful.
Now, we do have to admit - that there are advantages to complaining. . . It helps us get things off our chest instead of letting things build up. Complaining many times helps us sort out our thoughts and it sometimes helps us get things done – when we don’t like something, we can work to change it. And if we can’t change it, then we can change the way we think about it.
But we have to be careful not to make complaining a way of life - which many people do - no matter what, they are the half-empty glass people, rather than the half-full people. And those constant complainers can just suck the life out of the rest of us. . .
And we have to be careful that our complaining is not done out of envy of what others have or receive – like the people in today’s Gospel.
And IF we are going to complain - we should also take the time to count our blessings.
Jesus’ parable is really about salvation, of course. Remember Jesus received a lot of criticism for associating with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other sinners.
The religious leaders of his day thought people such as those Jesus hung out with had little chance of being saved. They thought only they - the scribes and Pharisees, the Saduccees and the priests – were deserving of salvation.
But this parable of Jesus – along with his own words and actions – was saying God’s mercy is available at any time to anyone who responds to God’s invitation to be saved.
It’s never too late! It’s not always smart to decide to wait until the last minute – because many times a person’s bed sheets become their burial sheets. The challenge coming from St. Paul is to “conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ” NOW - not later.
But this parable can be a caution against other things too:
How many times have we thought or said:
God isn’t fair!!
Fortunately God ISN’T fair – if fair means we get what we deserve. God is more than fair. God is crazy with generosity with us all.
But so often we think God is being more generous to someone else and we are more deserving. . .
Even IF we are more deserving, and only God knows that – we will only make ourselves miserable by drawing comparisons.
We will always find someone who appears to be better off than we are. Rather than comparing ourselves with others –it’s best to focus on God’s goodness to us and to trust that God is more than fair toward any of us.
We all have our problems and struggles, our fears and anxieties. But we also have much to be thankful for.
And that’s why we gather here to celebrate the Eucharist – a word which means “thanksgiving”. Because this is the most perfect way to show God that we are grateful.
(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.
Moments in time...