Sunday, September 25, 2022

Ease poverty -- both kinds (Sunday homily)

 In the readings we heard, there are two kinds of neglect: 

physical and spiritual.

The Gospel describes physical neglect. 

The rich man was aware of Lazarus at his gate;

he knew who Lazarus was, he’d seen him before.

His sin wasn’t failing to solve Lazarus’ problems.

His sin was choosing not to do anything.

Perhaps he thought others would take care of him.

Maybe he figured Lazarus brought his troubles on himself 

through bad choices – and for all we know, that was true.

You and I see lots of Lazaruses who wreck themselves 

with booze and drugs and bad company.

But let’s cut to the heart of it.

There is a very simple and sharp lesson from the Gospel:

If you and I forget those in need, we will go to hell.

I’ll say it again: if we forget the poor, we will go to hell.

Now, very often we view these as political issues, and they are.

Some of us would say, the government must do more.

Others would say, what the government is doing makes it worse.

Those are legitimate points for a discussion elsewhere.

But nowhere does Jesus say, 

you only have to help the needy when the government is well run.

Some might think this command only applies to the really rich, not us. 

To most of the Lazaruses in this world, you and I are “rich.”

Considering the advantages most of us have, they are correct.

Pity the rich man: he spent his life thinking he had it all;

Yet in abandoning his fellow man, he lost his own soul.

Which leads to the spiritual neglect I mentioned;

That’s what is going on the first reading.

The prophet Amos is describing those leaders 

who were in a position to help keep the nation on the right track.

But they didn’t care. 

The king, his advisors, the priests and the people of importance,

were either promoting false worship, or else unwilling to rock the boat.

I think I am guilty of not doing enough to help the poor.

And maybe many of us feel the same.

But here’s something to think about.

No one is going to oppose us if we do more to feed people, 

to provide clothing and vaccinations, and the like.

Everyone will approve of that.

But how do people react if we apply the same zeal 

to addressing spiritual poverty?

A priest stands in the pulpit and says, go feed the poor.

Everyone applauds.

But if I call attention to the debasement of our culture, 

and say that there are places on the Internet, 

and forms of music and entertainment that offend God…

If I insist that God has a plan for marriage and family 

and none of us has the right to re-invent it…

And if I, like Amos, summon others to fasting and confession…

There might not be so much applause. 

I might be lucky just to get silence.

And that doesn’t just happen to me—

it happens far more to you, 

if you speak up at work, or with family, or in other settings.

So here’s the question: do we only believe in one kind of poverty?

That the only poverty that God cares about is physical?

That doesn’t make sense, does it?

Sunday, September 18, 2022

What to do with your stuff (Sunday homily)

 The parable Jesus told is confusing in some ways. 

But here's the key point: 

Jesus is telling us to have the right approach 

to money, and stuff, and material success.

Let's compare the worldly way with God's way:

The worldly way is to use people to gain success and money;

God's way is to use money and position to gain people – 

that is, for the Kingdom.

One of the principles our Church teaches 

in the category of social justice 

is "the universal destination of goods." 

What does that mean?

It means that while we may own this or that thing, ultimately, everything belongs to God; 

and God gave everything in Creation for all his children to enjoy.

Think of a family. Dad passes out slices of pizza to everyone. 

He intends everyone to get some. 

What happens when Dad looks up and sees one child has three slices, and two have none?

God doesn't intervene the way my father, or yours, would. 

But he sees, and he will hold us accountable.

Now, the point is not socialism, 

because that just lets someone in government play god, 

and they make a mess of it. 

Rather, the point is that you and I help 

every one of God's children get a fair chance. 

My pizza analogy can be misunderstood, 

because while on any given day, 

there is only going to be a specific amount of pizza on the table;

but it isn’t that simple with the resources God has given us.

Many people mistakenly argue that our world is resource-poor,

and that we have too many people. 

First, it is simply not true that we are lacking in resources.

This is a good and abundant world. 

It is a worldly thing to say, there are too many people.

God never says that.

Remember the large, hungry crowds following Jesus?

The disciples voiced the worldly mindset when they said, 

“send them away.”

Second, that “too many people” mentality fails to grasp 

that people, themselves, are the greatest resource of all. 

It took human ingenuity to turn mold – that grows on cheese – 

into a revolutionary life-saving medicine: penicillin.

God desires that you and I use the intellect he gave us

to continue making the best use of our good and abundant earth, 

for the sake of human well-being. 

Let's get back to how we approach our stuff and our plans.

It is good to be a go-getter; and to seek financial security.

But the key question we might ask is...

What is it all for?

What will I do with my success, and whatever stuff I acquire?

Jesus praised the dishonest steward for being prudent.

He used stuff to gain people.

And Jesus’ point is not to favor dishonesty, but to say, 

Shouldn’t you and I, as children of light,

Do the same thing: to use our stuff to gain people for the Kingdom?

If you have a house, you can welcome people.

If you have a car, you can give rides.

And whatever you have – money, stuff, talent, or time –

you can give it away.

Of course, the most important “thing” to give away is…yourself.

You and I can do a lot of good with stuff; but it is giving ourselves, 

creating relationships, that makes the most difference.

We talk a lot about “stewardship,” but that’s all it really is.

If we reach heaven, you and I won't see any of our possessions there. 

What we will see is people. And won't it be wonderful 

to see all the people we helped get there, with our stuff?

Sunday, September 11, 2022

God's shocking mercy (Sunday homily)

 The readings are all about God’s mercy. Let me make three points.

First: God’s mercy is so generous as to be shocking.

Second: God’s mercy requires a response.

Third: That response is both hard – and easy.

Scripture scholar Brant Pitre points out something 

about the parables of Jesus that we may not realize: 

hey often contain a twist or a surprise.

In the first parable, Jesus says, 

“what man…would not leave the ninety-nine…

and go after the lost one until he finds it?” 

And the answer is, no one would do that! 

If you leave 99 sheep unguarded, you will lose a lot more.

In the second parable: who would throw a party 

to celebrate finding a $10 bill? Has anyone here ever done that?

Now we come to the third parable. The son’s sinfulness is extreme. 

He wants his father dead; and he coldly abandons his family.

But the twist is in the response of the Father. 

His response is even more extreme.

He searches the horizon for his son and he runs to him.

He restores him without any conditions.

When God gives, he always gives super-abundantly. 

Manna in the desert. Wine at Cana. Dying on the Cross. 

And so it is here.

So listen: if you ever doubt God’s mercy, 

Or fear you weren’t forgiven: STOP IT!

We all have these feelings; 

but be clear on this: if we ask for God’s mercy, he will give it. 

One drop of Jesus’ blood can wash away all sin, 

and when you receive absolution in confession, 

you are bathed in God’s mercy. 

It’s not because we deserve it, or work for it, 

or are in any way worthy of it. 

The psalm we prayed was written by King David, 

after he committed rape, adultery, murder,

betrayal of a loyal servant, and lies to cover it all up. 

And God forgave him.

God’s mercy is so generous that it’s shocking.

Now, second: God’s mercy requires a response. 

This is where God’s mercy is misrepresented.

The usual idea is that Jesus is a kind of flower-child,

criss-crossing the landscape, passing out hugs 

and he doesn’t ask anything in return.

The truth is, our Lord could be a kill-joy: 

Talking about hell and the need for radical conversion.

We heard it last week: take up your cross. Die to ego, die to money, 

die to family attachment, die to sex, die to ambition, die to self. 

The younger son had to die to his pride and dreams and come home. 

Or else, he’d have died in his sins.

So we must respond to God’s mercy.

And that means seeking mercy for others;

and, of course, for ourselves. 

Those go together: the more we know our own need for mercy, 

the easier it is to seek mercy and give mercy to others.

The older son presents himself as without sin;

No wonder he had no leniency for his brother.

Finally, the response that mercy demands is both hard and easy. 

The sins in our lives: what keeps us from leaving them behind?

If we’re visiting the dark places on the Internet, 

or inflicting anger on others around us, 

or making a god of money or food, why don’t we give these things up? 

Because it can be hard. Sometimes it seems impossible.

Or sometimes, we just don’t really want it enough.

The son didn’t come home until he became desperate. 

Nevertheless, he HAD to respond, in order to receive it.

And yet, the response is the easiest thing in the world. 

Go to the Father! Go to confession! 

Don’t worry if you forgot how; the priest knows, and we’re not nervous. 

I admit we may talk too long, 

but in the end, if the penitent turns from sin,

the priest has to give absolution, that is, mercy!

God is shockingly ready to forgive. He waits for your response.

Sunday, September 04, 2022

With Jesus it's all or nothing (Sunday homily)

Jesus' idea of all or nothing is a little different from that of Ado Annie & Will Parker

During Lent, we talk about “giving things up” and making sacrifices.

But in today’s Gospel Jesus makes clear: that’s not just Lent.

It’s all the time. Lent is just when it’s dialed up.

I’m sure we’ve all noticed some other churches, or pastors – 

you might see a billboard or a TV ad – 

that will say something like, “no expectations; just come.”

And while I get the appeal of that, 

could it be more obvious that isn’t what we just heard Jesus say?

First, he said, “hate your family and possessions, even your own life.”

Now, he doesn’t mean “hate” in the sense of contempt or malice.

He means what he says later: completely letting go of the attachment.

Remember the story of St. Francis of Assisi.

His family was wealthy and his father wanted him to be part of that.

Francis wanted to live free of all attachments.

At a certain point, Francis had to stand up to his father;

and in front the whole town, he gave up everything—

he even took off his clothes and handed them back to his father.

Sometimes children have different dreams from their parents—

they choose a course that means less money or prestige.

If they choose the religious life or the priesthood,

then it means no grandchildren!

I’m sorry to say this, but I’ve had parents admit to me,

they discouraged their children from the priesthood or religious life,

precisely for these reasons:

Their children won’t make money, and there won’t be grandchildren.

It’s a funny thing; in so many stories of the saints – 

whether it’s Francis, or Aquinas, or Rose of Lima, and many more –

you have this happen: family members try to talk the saint out of it. 

Imagine being those family members in eternity.

Someone says to you, Oh, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was your niece! 

How wonderful! 

And you hang your head as you say: “I tried to talk her out of it.”

I know we all feel a little nervous around zealots,

someone who is just a little TOO intense!

But here’s the truth: that’s the kind of folks Jesus hangs out with.

I’m not saying everyone has to be a John the Baptist or Rose of Lima.

But beware the voice of caution inside us that always says, 

hold back, be careful, don’t go overboard.

And I’m telling you – and you know this is true –

That more than we like the push of the Holy Spirit 

precisely IS to “go overboard.” Remember Peter? 

He stepped out onto the water; he literally went overboard! 

Saint Paul writes from prison. He wasn’t “careful”; he went “too far.”

Jesus says, go overboard, but he also says, “count the cost.”

So, what is the cost?

Well, it costs something to help the poor. Not just money, but time.

If we obey Christ and wait till marriage, that costs us something.

One of the treasured possessions many of us grip tightly 

is our own self-righteous fury: “How dare they?!”

That is hard to let go of. 

In a lot of places—Egypt, for example—

Christians pay a huge cost.

Their jobs, their businesses, their families, their homes,

their churches and their lives.

In Germany, a Christian family saw the government storm their home

and take their four children away. Why?

Because they were home-schooling their children.

In our country, medical professionals or those in the wedding business 

are being forced out because they won’t get on board with abortion, 

or euthanasia, or a redefinition of marriage, 

or some extremely questionable medical practices involving children 

in this whole thorny issue of “gender identity.”

There’s no avoiding it: count the cost of being Jesus’ disciple.

Is it a good deal? Well, we get to know and live with the Holy Trinity. 

We get our sins forgiven; our lives are changed. We become saints.

In the resurrection, we get our bodies back, new and improved. 

We will enjoy a new heavens and a new earth forever.

The price is: everything. All in. All of me, to have all of Him.