Sunday, September 24, 2023

Do you want a job? (Sunday homily)

In case it isn’t obvious, our Lord’s parables are on one level, 

very plain in meaning; almost too much so. 

It’s very tempting to listen and nod and say, “got it,” and move on.

But stop and think: do you suppose he didn’t know that?

The Gospel emphasizes, “he spoke this to his disciples.”

That is, he wasn’t speaking to a mass of curious onlookers, 

but to that smaller group of those 

who had been drawn by grace to begin to believe in him; 

and who spent a great deal of time with him.

This means not only the Twelve Apostles, 

but also a larger group of men and women 

including his own mother, Mary Magdalene, 

and others we might mention. 

In the days after the Resurrection, according to Acts chapter one, 

this group was about 120 people.

And, we know from several places in the Gospels, 

that there were people who followed for a while, 

but later turned away.

So they’re listening to this parable, same as you.

On a surface level, it’s so simple. 

Be content with your reward, no good can come from envy.

So what if the Lord gets some last-minute converts; 

how does that hurt you or me?

But let’s hit the pause button, and let me ask you: 

are you a hired day worker? 

Is that who you are to Jesus? Is that who any of us is?

If you have a farm, and it’s harvest time, 

It’s all hands on deck, especially if the crop is perishable.

But you can distinguish two groups working side-by-side. 

Those who are hired for a wage, 

and those who are the family, whose farm it is.

When I was a boy, one time my father asked me to do a job.

And I was at the age where I started to get a little mouthy.

And I said, “what will I get paid?”

I remember my dad smiling a little, and discussing that.

But then, after we’d settled on pay, he said, 

“Hold on. There are some other items.”

And he went on to talk about rent, and food, 

and utilities, and insurance; 

if I wanted things to be on a business basis, 

I had to pay my full share.

I blanched, and my dad very graciously let me back up, 

and be part of the family, rather than a hired worker.

But even that wasn’t the full lesson.

It was some time later – and this moment comes for us all –

when we realize, the true reward isn’t the home, the hot showers, 

the air conditioning, the full refrigerator. No!

The reward was and is my father, my mother, my family!

And, yes, our family life isn’t always happy.

I’m not trying to paper over the harsher parts of the picture.

But what do you suppose Jesus is inviting you and me into?

Are we not being welcomed into his family?

Would you really rather just be hired for the day?

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Justice Plan and the Mercy Plan (Sunday homily)

 So: what our Lord Jesus said is crystal clear. 

Let’s talk about forgiveness. It comes up all the time: 

people say, “Oh, it is so hard to forgive.” 

Of course it is hard. That’s the point.

Now, let’s be clear what forgiveness is and is not. 

Forgiveness does not mean that the wrong didn’t happen; 

or that what happened, wasn’t wrong.

Nor does it mean you have to pretend.

It doesn’t even mean you have to like that person.

Finally, forgiveness doesn’t mean 

there’s no accountability or recompense.

Forgiveness simply means you are letting go of that person 

and giving him or her to God. 

Let God take care of justice and repayment.

Forgiveness isn’t a feeling; it is a choice. 

Think of the person who chooses to give up smoking. 

She knows she did the right thing, 

but what does she feel? 

At any time, she may feel grumpy or irritated or even regretful.

But those are feelings, they come and go.

So, how do we forgive? 

Here are some things that might help us get there.

First, ask God for the grace to forgive. 

And I mean, more than once. Ask, ask and ask again.

You and I can’t do it on our own; we can’t do anything on our own. 

This is a humbling truth we may take a lifetime to learn. 

Do you think you need God’s help only now and then?

This is a good time to remember something 

the American author Flannery O’Connor demonstrated in her stories;

namely, that God’s grace isn’t always pleasant. 

It may not make you feel good.

But God’s grace will always bring you closer to him.

Remember: the purest expression of grace is the Cross!

A second point: if you want the power to forgive, 

pray for the people who hurt you. 

Again: not just once, but over and over.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying, “Act is if.” That’s how you start. 

A third point: if you want the grace to forgive, think about hell. 

That’s right; think about hell.

I suspect a lot of people don’t take hell seriously.

They figure only people like Hitler go there, that’s it.

The trouble is, Jesus certainly takes hell seriously,

and he is always warning ordinary people like us about hell.

A priest friend of mine sometimes poses this question: 

try to imagine the first ten seconds in hell. What would that be like? 

Let’s try (count to ten).

When you and I refuse to forgive, we are wishing that on that person.

Right? Because you don’t want him or her to be forgiven? 

That means wishing those people in hell. 

Or, do you mean you want God to forgive, while you refuse? 

That means you want God and that person to be at peace, 

but you don’t want to be part of it? 

Then that means you are sending yourself to hell. 

If you want to go to heaven, 

and you want those other people to go to heaven, 

then our grudges and hurts can’t go to heaven. 

See, God has two plans for humanity. 

He offers the Justice Plan, and the Mercy Plan,

and they are both on display in this Gospel. 

What’s the Justice Plan?

That’s where each of us is measured by strict justice; 

no excuses, no mulligans, no leeway. We get precisely what we deserve. 

So, if you have wronged no one, 

committed no sin, and you have a perfect score, 

you can apply for the Justice Plan.

Don’t like that? No problem. God also offers the Mercy Plan. 

God will forgive: absolutely anything and everything. 

That first servant owed a debt that, in today’s dollars, 

would be in the BILLIONS. Wiped away.

But there is a condition: to gain the Mercy Plan,

you and I must apply the Mercy Plan to everyone else, 

without exception. 

Not because it’s easy, not because they deserve it, 

not because they are good enough, 

not for just certain categories,

and no, not even only if they ask for it. They don’t have to ask for it!

It is Jesus, the Supreme Judge, who commands it. 

You want mercy? Give mercy, even to your enemies.

In a moment, in our presence, 

the Sacrifice of Mercy will be offered on this altar – 

you and I will witness it! – and then we will have the opportunity 

to receive Mercy: that is, Jesus’ Body and Blood. 

And if we receive the Eucharist, that is accepting the Mercy Plan. 

You want Mercy? Give it. That’s the deal.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Who is the watchman? (Sunday homily)

This Gospel passage reminds us that in following Jesus 

there is a social dimension. 

It isn’t just Jesus and me; it’s Jesus and US.

Both aspects – the personal and the social – need emphasis.

First, let’s talk about the personal.

As you and I grow into adulthood, 

we gradually transition from being “along for the ride,” with our family, 

to where we start thinking in terms of our own personal commitment. 

That tends to happen in our teen years, into our early 20s.

If you are in that age group, I’m speaking to you, right now.

When I was 19, I had a moment where I woke up to my faith, 

and I remember thinking, why hadn’t anyone challenged me?

The truth is, I had been given the challenge, but I hadn’t listened – 

till I was ready to.

So now, I’m giving you that challenge. 

Wake up! Jesus is real, and he invites you – 

you, not the people around you, you – 

to know him, be close to him, 

to take the driver’s seat in your own faith life.

And if you think, great, but I need help with that!

You’re right, and that’s actually something we all need.

But again, speaking to our teens and young adults,

There are a variety of opportunities in our parishes for you.

And if you don’t find it, call me. Email me. I will get you connected.

And that leads to the other point, 

about the social dimension to our Faith 

Our society stresses individualism, 

and each of us jealously guards our own ability to choose. 

As we all should know, there will be a ballot measure this November; 

and the word “choice” is used to defend the indefensible.

There’s a certain mindset that has a surface appeal:

Everyone does whatever he or she wants, to each his own.

For some things in life, that makes sense.

But at a certain point, it becomes an abdication:

It can really mean, I don’t have to care about you. You’re on your own. 

As to this ballot measure, voting for it would mean 

repealing even limited protection for unborn children’s lives,

and for vulnerable women from being pressured 

into a decision they’ll regret their entire lives.

The first reading talked about a “watchman.” Who is that?

Sometimes it’s a parent, or a pastor, or government;

But underneath it all is the duty each of us has 

to watch out for each other, as one human family.

People say, “am I my brother’s keeper?” 

forgetting that God’s answer to that question is, 

yes, we are!

This principle of social responsibility 

is woven deep in our Catholic faith. 

One of the things pagan Romans said about Christians 

in the early centuries was, look how they care for one another. 

And not just for fellow Christians, but for everyone, 

especially the most vulnerable.

There are times when justice – 

not merely as our government measures it, but as God measures it – 

demands more from us than just good conduct person-to-person.

For example, God’s Justice says 

that the good things of the world He created 

are intended for the benefit of everyone. 

And, those who have been left behind – in education, 

in opportunity, in material things – deserve special attention.

Our social concern leads us to personal action –

Individually, and our parishes, 

support many activities aimed at helping people in need 

and advocating for change –

and sometimes it calls for political action.

I already mentioned the referendum in November.

Here’s another example: the question of immigration. 

It’s a complex subject. 

There are at least two valid principles at play.

First, that a nation has the right to control its borders.

Second, we are our brother’s keeper.

So, how do you and I balance those? 

It’s not easy, 

and good, reasonable people can reach different answers.

What we can say is this: 

it is certainly a wrong approach, from a Catholic perspective, 

to leave aside those starting principles entirely. 

So, yes, while caring for one another requires good laws, 

that doesn’t keep each of us from doing what we can individually.

If you want to give extra help to those struggling economically?

Be a generous tipper at restaurants. 

You and your family can make casseroles for hungry people; 

And there are so many ways to volunteer our time.

Watch the bulletin for details.

And if you can’t find a way to make a difference, 

contact Jennifer Zwiers, our new Director of Care. 

This is her job: to help our family of parishes 

give the best support we can to those in need;

to be the watchman for one another as Christ calls us.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

What is intimacy? (Sunday homily)

 That first reading is surprising:

Do you and I talk to God this way?

“You duped me!” I am miserable because of You!

If you think about it, that’s a conversation

between two who are very close.

That’s intimacy.

“Intimate” means what is most personal and private;

what is closest to who we really are.

So “intimacy” is sharing that with someone else;

it’s when we feel free and safe doing that.

Jeremiah felt free and safe to yell at God!

Now, “intimacy” is often used to describe

a physical relationship: acts pertaining to marriage.

But if we primarily associate intimacy with those physical acts,

that can lead to some big misunderstandings.

Where does that leave a close friendship, or the intimacy of siblings, 

or the closeness we want to have with our parents or children?

What about intimacy with God – 

as Jeremiah had, and as the Apostles were drawn into by Jesus?

This is a point I make with couples when they are engaged.

Our society takes for granted that a couple will get pretty physical.

Waiting till marriage may sound like an outmoded idea,

but the danger is that focusing on one aspect 

can cause many other important but boring issues to be neglected, 

which are the broader dimensions of true intimacy.

Discovering each other’s values and hopes, 

with questions like, do you want children? How many?

What are your religious and spiritual priorities?

If we go to different churches, how will we deal with that?

What about money, budgeting, credit?

All these different threads, if woven together, 

make a marriage so much stronger; 

and if neglected, there will unhappiness later.

When you think about it, it’s obvious that intimacy 

in the truest sense goes so far beyond the physical. 

It’s a sharing of all that matters most.

This experience is what is nourishing and life-giving, 

both in our friendships and our families,

 and of course, all this is a reflection of the intimacy 

we can have with God, who is our source and our hope.

I submit there is a crisis of intimacy in our time.

Many people report not really having close friendships.

Sustaining this intimacy is a huge issue in married life.

And although I can’t prove it, I suspect this intimacy deficit

is behind so many problems in our time, from drugs to young people 

feeling alienated from society and even from their own bodies.

If that’s true, then one way you and I can make a difference 

is almost too simple: form and deepen those relationships – 

with friends, with your spouse, with your children, and with God.

Look at what’s happening in the Gospel. 

Jesus is drawing the Apostles, Peter in particular, into intimacy.

Notice the Lord shares the “inside story” of his plan for saving us, 

and he describes how it will involve a terrible cost: his own life. 

Peter draws back, he isn’t ready for that.

But Jesus insists:

If you want to know me, walk with me, this is the path.

What he says to Peter, he says to you and me:

You can’t know Christ without his Cross.

Intimacy isn’t just about good stuff, the fun stuff,

without the deeper stuff, without pain and cost.

It is risky, it is costly; but is it worth it? You tell me.

Is it worth it having a close friend, a life-partner,

having that place of trust and safety?

This points to the true heart of the Gospel, the part many miss.

Our Faith isn’t just a series of beliefs.

Jesus comes to welcome us to intimacy 

only a Creator and creature can have. 

This is where personal prayer and time with God is essential.

And reconciliation and working things out in confession.

At a certain point, there are no shorter short-cuts.

Nothing is more personal. 

And no one can do it for you. 

You must respond to his invitation yourself.