Friday, February 24, 2017

8th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Luke 2:22-40) You cannot serve both God and money

 In 1929 in a particular part of New York city, several wealthy business men committed suicide, all at the same time. Why? Because of what became known as ‘the Wall Street Crash.’ The New York stock exchange collapsed over night and as a result many people lost millions of dollars. Many of them could not handle this and sadly they killed themselves. Money for them had become everything. It was their god and it had just proved itself to be a false god, an illusion. When their god collapsed, they were left with nothing, no money, no faith and apparently nothing to live for.  It seems that many of them despaired.

A few years ago, a woman by the name of Maura Grealish—a good friend of mine—took her final vows in the Poor Clare convent in my home town of Galway. She took four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience and enclosure. She will never own anything of her own, she will not get married, and she will spend the rest of her life enclosed in a convent, dedicating her time and energy to God and to praying for all of us and for many others. Some would consider this a useless waste; others see it as the gift of God which it is, the highest calling in the Church. Her life lived in this way—as with any religious—is a sign that we believe in the life to come and that it is worth making sacrifices for it. If we didn’t believe in the life to come, then it would be a waste of time.

How are the two related? Well I suppose they are really the opposite of each other. Those in Wall Street and in the business world sometimes put everything into their money. Money can become the only thing that matters. They work for it, they live for it, they may even lie and cheat for it. On the other hand Sister Gabriel, has given up everything for God, and is depending totally on God for everything. 

Most of us are probably somewhere between the two. We may not be millionaires, but we have not given up everything for God either. We work and try and put bread on the table and provide for our families and loved ones. Most people are under a lot of pressure to pay their bills and mortgages, etc. 

Poor Clares, Galway, with Sr. Gabriel second from left.
  Money is an important tool. It would be very hard to live in our society without it, but it is only a tool. If we lost everything over night it would be very difficult, but we would still be alive. It happens to people every so often, but we do survive. But if God disappeared, what would we have left? When we died there would be nothing. Thankfully God does not disappear, regardless of whether we have more than we need, or barely enough to survive on. Either way God is waiting for us and when we have served our time on this earth then we will go to him.

In the Gospel Jesus says ‘You cannot serve God and money’. We must choose who is going to be our master. That doesn’t mean that we can not enjoy our money or the things we have, but we must be careful to use it wisely. At the end of the day it is only a tool and if it was suddenly taken away from us, we would still survive.

 When we live in a world that places so much emphasis on having plenty of money, it’s hard not to be affected by that. There is nothing wrong with having money so long as we remember that it is only a tool to help us survive. It is not primarily what our life is about. God has made us much deeper than just flesh and blood. We also have a spirit and that spirit will never be satisfied with material things alone. It is a reminder that we are not just animals and that we are called to something greater.

I want to finish with some verses from Psalm 49.

No one can buy his own ransom,
or pay a price to God for his life.
In his riches man lacks wisdom,
he is like the beasts that are destroyed.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

7th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48) by Deacon Scott Little

This week Deacon Scott Little of the diocese of Venice, Florida is giving a five day mission in our parish. The following is his weekend homily. Scott is a dear friend and truly a man of God. Thank you Scott.                    

Today we continue to listen to the teaching of Matthews’ Jesus, here in ordinary time.

Matthew has moved past the extraordinary teaching of the beatitudes and his teaching about what his disciples are to be in the world. The gospel now moves into a section of teaching that seems to be mostly about our interior. Jesus does a teaching about anger, about adultery and divorce, and taking oaths. In this gospel he speaks to us about retaliation and holding enemies. As usual it’s a pretty remarkable teaching.

It's important to remember that Jesus lived in a shame and honor society, even more than in the current day. Maintaining your honor was extremely important. That would have been the mindset at the time.

We should remember that the phrase "An eye for an eye tooth and a tooth  for a tooth", was not a requirement, it was a limitation in the Jewish law. They believed that there needed to be equivalency, but Jesus Christ as usual was trying to teach us about our souls and the effect that held anger, resentment and retaliation have on our ability to be connected with our heavenly Father. His teaching was elegant because it did provide for a strong statement to be made to the person who was guilty of taking advantage.

Turning the other cheek to an aggressor required that aggressor to change hands to render a blow. They only struck backhanded. Turning the other cheek would require them to switch hands, which was never done in their culture.

No one would ever demand a person’s cloak along with their tunic because a cloak was so essential for a persons welfare. It was essentially a person’s sleeping bag. It  was essential for each person’s welfare. There was also a set limit on how far anyone could be conscripted to carry anything. That limit was one mile. So Jesus saying they offer a second mile was a suggestion that the conscripted person make an offering that was outrageous and sure to point out the unreasonableness of the demand .

So there was a real activism in the responses that Jesus called for, but they were not responses that would damage the aggressor or would damage the afflicted person's interior. The response was aimed at changing the person’s heart, by forcing them to be open to the person that they had afflicted.

God calls us to holiness because our growth in holiness determines the orderliness of our world.
Jesus Christ’s teaching on this actually was demonstrated very recently and  the media reported widely on it.

Some may remember Dylann Roof, who was just sentenced to death for the killing of nine members of a church in Charleston South Carolina.  He insisted on representing himself during his trial. 

On June 17, 2005, nine members of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston were shot to death while participating in a Bible study in the basement of their church. The shooter was a 21-year-old, self-proclaimed white supremacist. He wandered into the room that evening. Imagine this if you can. Nine black church goers were in the midst of prayer and study. They looked up to see a white man in jeans and a sweatshirt. Did they ask him to leave, did they threaten to call the police if he did not leave? No, they actually invited him to join them. For a time he did just that. He actually participated in their Bible study.

Just as they were finishing their study and had their heads bowed in prayer he pulled a gun out of his fanny pack, and one by one shot every single person in the room. Can you imagine the anguish of the families of those nine people? It is beyond comprehension. That is what makes the next part of the story so stunning.

Only three days later, when invited to share a statement at the shooter's bond hearing, the family members, one by one, turned to the shooter and said "I forgive you". Somehow their great call to Christian holiness prevented them from falling into hatred themselves. How could anyone knowing the circumstances expect them to do such a thing? It certainly would seem too much to ask of anyone, even a churchgoer, but these people  were somehow able to do that. And what was the result of this heroic act of holiness? You might recall that less than one month later the South Carolina Legislature determined that the state of South Carolina would never again fly the Confederate flag.   

The symbol of the Confederate flag has historically meant freedom and sacrifice to so many white people in South Carolina. In a real sense their flag represented their right to self determination, to freedom of choice and their own freedom to govern themselves as they saw fit. That same flag meant oppression and intimidation to people of color in the same state. In a very real sense, the flag meant the need to be afraid. Yet many people in South Carolina refused to identify with that concern and that viewpoint. No one ever believed that South Carolina would ever abandon that symbol, but after the heroic act of the family members of these nine people, and out of of sensitivity to their brothers and sisters, a predominately white legislature voted to take that symbol down forever. It was only 23 days after the shootings. There was no filibuster, there was no demonstration in the streets. They just took it down. It was removed reverently and folded to be stored as part of history there in the state house. Something that had seemed impossible became possible through a community compelled by the Christian statement of a few families. This was Jesus, teaching, manifest in our modern world. The result was there for everyone to see.

It is so important for us to believe the teachings of our Savior, and that they really can change the world. Just as important, is our remembering how much the abandonment of anger and retribution will change our hearts as well. It's not that we don't recognize wrong; more that we recognize it without abandoning our dignity and attachment to a God who only loves. He teaches us how important it is to push ourselves to be willing to love more as he loves.
As we move forward in our spiritual lives, and as we receive the love of God in the Eucharist, let's examine ourselves to see if we are holding resentment. Let’s check to  see if we hold a desire for retribution and unforgiveness in our hearts. May we realize how much it damages ourselves and the world when we do. Let’s ask for the grace to understand and believe the teachings of our Lord and to know the peace of Christ.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

6th Sunday Year A (Mt 5:17-37) If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven

Several years ago I heard a woman giving her testimony of how God had healed her from terrible abuse she had suffered from her father from an early age. She said that her family knew nothing but abuse, incest, pornography. She was even sold to other men by her father and yet they went to mass every Sunday as a family. To outsiders, they looked like a perfectly normal family. Obviously the practicing of their faith didn’t mean an awful lot.

Here’s another example: A man I met in a hospital in Ireland told me angrily that it was alright for the Archbishop of Armagh (the head of the Church in Ireland), to pray for priests who had done wrong and to spend the whole day praying for them if he wanted, but that he shouldn’t expect him or anyone else to have to pray for them. In fact how dare he even suggest that anyone else should have to pray for such people.

‘If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the Scribes or Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’  In modern English we would say, ‘If your faith is only outward signs, like going to mass, and doing religious things, you will never go to heaven.’ You will never get to heaven! That seems pretty strong coming from a God who is supposed to love us so much. God takes us seriously, but He expects us to take him seriously as well.  In fact He insists that we do.

This man I mentioned was obviously very angry and felt let down by priests who had done wrong. I don’t blame him for feeling angry, but the point is that he seemed to think that he could quite happily go on practicing his faith, on the outside, so long as he didn’t have to do anything like forgiving, or praying for others who have done wrong, the very things that our faith is all about. This is exactly what Jesus is talking about and it applies to every one of us, priests, Religious, all of us. The Lord is saying, ‘Go deeper than what you can just see. Live from your heart. Pray from the heart. Let your outward practice of faith, like praying at mass and doing novenas etc., be an outward sign of what is already happening on the inside.’ 

People often say to me that it’s awful not to see young people going to mass and ‘If we could just get them to go.’ I know what they mean and it is sad, but I would also say that I think it would be better that young people didn’t go to mass at all, if it meant they were just doing something on the outside. If it is not something real on the inside, an encounter with God a desire to deepen our relationship with God and to acknowledge and worship God, then it means nothing. I am sure that many of our young people have a sense of needing to find something real. Their faith needs to be something alive, something lived from the heart and they are searching. If their only experience of mass so far has been that it’s just a ‘thing’ that you do, then I don’t blame them at all. They need to discover God themselves and then hopefully the mass will come alive for them and they will see that it is a place where they can encounter the living God, but they won’t go near the mass or anything else if they don’t see it as being something real for us, something that we live from the heart and not just something we ‘do’. It is so important that we live our faith at a deep level. In the same way, my talking to you about God is a waste of time, unless I’m trying to live it myself. This is one reason why Jesus was so angry with the religious professionals of his day. They were experts at doing the ‘required’ thing, the equivalent of going to mass and saying your prayers, but they were only doing it at a surface level. That is why Jesus is saying, ‘Choose life, and choose to live your faith from the heart’.

In the Gospel Jesus speaks in a very shocking way, because He quotes the Law, which was God’s teaching through Moses and He says, ‘You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…’ He is saying that his teaching is now more important, which to many must have sounded very arrogant. But what Jesus is challenging us to do is to live our faith from the heart and not just in a minimal way. We would not live a relationship with a spouse or a dear friend doing the absolute minimum. If we did it would just dissolve. We try to live it at an ever deeper level, from the heart so that we will grow. God is inviting us to do the same, to respond to him with generous hearts, to live our faith in the fullest way, but this is something that we can only do by our own choice.

If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you;
if you trust in God, you too shall live;
he has set before you fire and water
to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.
Before man are life and death, good and evil,
whichever he chooses shall be given him.

Friday, February 3, 2017

5th Sunday Year A (Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16) Share your bread with the hungry…

 Every so often the Lord raises up men and women who live their faith in an exceptional way. It usually seems to be at a time when people really need to be inspired and often when the Church is in crisis. At the end of the 13th century God called a man called Francesco or Francis, to live in a radically different way. He was from a town called Assisi in Italy. Francis was from a wealthy family, but he felt that God was calling him to leave everything and follow him and so he did. To the horror of his father who strongly objected, Francis renounced everything and in front of everyone he stripped off all his clothes and any belongings he had and went off to live on his own as a poor man, living only for God. Soon afterwards while he was praying alone in a broken down church he felt God speaking to him from the cross and saying, ‘Francis, rebuild my Church, which as you can see is falling down.’ So Francis started to collect stones and reconstruct that building.  However, God had a much bigger project in mind. God was talking about the whole Church. Around the same time pope Innocent III had a dream of a poor man holding up the Church which was collapsing. It was a sign of the role that Francis was going to play. 

Not long after Francis began to live in radical poverty others began to see the kind of simple way of life that he was living, one by one they began to join him. They spent their time looking after the sick, the lepers, praying together, preaching the Gospel and most importantly… inspiring people by the way they lived. Eventually when they had been living this way for a while Francis went to Rome to get permission for this new group to officially become a Religious Order. When some of the bishops were discussing this with the pope one of them said, ‘It is not possible to live in this kind of extreme way,’ but one of the others pointed out that if it wasn’t possible to live that way, then it wasn’t possible to live the Gospel, since all he was doing was literally living the Gospel.

Today, over 800 years later, people are still inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, because we still need to be inspired. There have been others like him too, a modern day example being Mother Teresa of Calcutta, soon to be St. Teresa of Calcutta. What is especially important about these people is not so much the work they do as the effect that has on others. They usually become renowned all over the world because they inspire. They preach about God by the way they live more than by anything they could say. St. Francis of Assisi had the lovely saying, ‘Let us go and preach the Gospel and if necessary, use words.’

The Missionaries of Charity in India at least, spend a lot of their time bringing people in off the street who are dying. They clean them up as best they can and allow them to die with dignity. Most of these people would be Hindu or Muslim, but they don’t try to convert them. That is not what they are called to. They are called to bring the love of God where they find themselves among the poorest of the poor. In fact they really say more about their faith in God by what they do than by anything they could say. There is a story of one man they found who was in a particularly bad way. It took them several hours to clean him up and then he said to them:
‘All my life I have lived like an animal in the street, but I am going to die like an angel, loved and cared for.’ Mother Teresa went on to say: ‘It was so wonderful to see the greatness of a man who could speak like that, who could die like that, without blaming anybody, without cursing anybody, without comparing anything. Like an angel - that is the greatness of our people.’

In the first reading today we are called to look out for those around us who are in need and there are always plenty around us in need, often hidden. Some time back I was talking to a man in Sarasota who is homeless. He told me that he had served in the military, he had also done time in prison and now he was homeless. He also said: ‘You know doing time in prison is one thing, but trying to survive on the streets of Sarasota is quite another.’ It’s not what you would expect. While helping the poor materially is really important, respecting the dignity of each person is just as important. The way we look after people and treat people is how we tell the world what we believe in. It is not even about giving great amounts; it is about giving what we can with great love and treating those around us with great respect, whether we like them or not and regardless of what they believe in.  That is how we tell others about God.

Let me finish with this prayer which I always find helpful when I find myself getting cynical about the world around us.


From a sign on the wall of
Shishu Bhavan,
the children’s home in Calcutta.

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spent years building, may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help, but may attack you if you help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.

Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

(from the book, ‘A Simple Path’)

Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.