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November 13th, 2016…Thirty third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel: Luke 21:5-19

While some people were speaking about
how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings,
Jesus said, “All that you see here–
the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

Then they asked him,
“Teacher, when will this happen?
And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”
He answered,
“See that you not be deceived,
for many will come in my name, saying,
‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’
Do not follow them!
When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end.”
Then he said to them,
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.

“Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

Homily

One of the benefits of the liberal arts education that I received is that I am chock full of literary knowledge that on occasion comes in quite handy. Usually, I delve into my pool of literary references when I’m helping the kids with their homework or watching Jeopardy or like today, when I wish to illustrate a point.  While studying English literature here at USF, I stumbled across a Russian poet by the name of Ivan Krylov who penned a fable titled An Inquisitive Man.  Briefly, this fable tells of the conversation between two men.  The first of which describes his recent trip to the museum of natural history.  As he expressed in great detail the minutest detail of the smallest of exhibits, the second man asked about the elephant.  Embarrassed, the first man confesses that he, in fact, never noticed the elephant in the museum.  This is the origin of the often used phrase “the elephant in the room.”  This idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk that no one wants to discuss. As I see it today, the elephant, the problem that no one wants to talk about is division.

In today’s gospel, Jesus foretells of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem; an event that takes place some 40 years after his death and resurrection. In response to this, the disciples ask Jesus when will this happen and what signs could they recognize to know that the time has come. Jesus goes on to paint a rather bleak and dark image of turmoil and destruction. He mentions wars, insurrections, nation rising against nation, earthquakes, famines, and plagues. We are given an impression of utter ruin and death.

Today, we have a devastation that is literally tearing apart the fabric of our society. There is a great tension across every religious, racial, political, and socio economic line. For many, the focus is only on what makes us different. For many, the idea of seeking common ground is not even a remote possibility. In many cases, dialog and community have been replaced with hostility and conflict. In talking with folks recently, anxiety and friction seem to dominate our conversations. Dark times indeed.

When scripture speaks of end times, it is usually synonymous with the second coming of Jesus.   The coming of Jesus is what I’d like to focus on for a moment.

Jesus says that destruction and conflict will mark the time when the temple at Jerusalem will lie in ruin. And indeed it came to pass. The Roman emperor, Nero dispatched an Army in 70 AD to swiftly deal with the Jewish-Roman war that had taken place. The building that was the temple was destroyed. However, the church was still very much intact. Christ’s church could not be contained by any one building.

The church is a community of believers who represent the mystical body of Jesus here and now. 2,000 years ago, Jesus’ physical body walked the earth. Today, as a community, with the presence of Christ within and among us, we make up the body of Jesus. The second coming of Jesus, in this mystical form is what should be our focus.

In today’s gospel Jesus goes on to say that all of the darkness and devastation will lead to the giving of testimony. Of this, Jesus says, “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”

This is where we are today. Our words and actions should reflect the spirit of Christ within us. After all, being a part of the body of Christ today, we are compelled to act as Jesus would act. This alone should mean that we look to bridge the divides that separate us. We can do this by seeking common ground with those whose opinions differ from our own. We can be Christ like by looking to establish dialog and community. We can choose to resist the temptation to engage in conflict and discord. We can rise above all our differences and disagreements so as to choose love and peace above all else.

In a few moments, our assembly here, which is as diverse as our greater community, will come forward as one to receive Christ in the form of the Eucharist. This coming together in this fashion is what it means to be church. Spreading the presence of Christ beyond the walls of this building should always remain our calling.

October 9th, 2016…Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel: Luke 17:11-19

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”

Homily

We’ve all been there. We’ve gone out of our way to do something nice for someone and they barely acknowledge our graciousness.  It could be something as simple as holding the door open for the person walking behind us just to notice them saunter by without even a glance.  Perhaps we let someone driving ahead of us into our lane and they don’t give us the courtesy wave.  Maybe it’s something much more significant.  Perhaps we alleviated the suffering of another by assuming their burden as or own and they don’t even bother to acknowledge it.  Maybe we forgave someone for a past hurt only to be hurt in the same fashion all over again.  Whatever the case, no matter how large or small our act of graciousness may be, it just doesn’t sit right when we fail to see gratitude.

In this morning’s gospel we see ten lepers calling to Jesus from a distance. Why the distance?  Lepers were outcasts; deemed unclean.  They were required to stay away from the community.  They relied solely on the charity of others for their survival.  So they call to Jesus from a distance.  They are told to show themselves to the chief priest.  They then follow their directive and walk towards the village.  One of them, a Samaritan, realizes that he has been cured of this horrible disease and runs back to Jesus; not ten only one.

Jesus expresses a very human response at this. He says, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?” He doesn’t let the absence of the others escape him. He continues, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God, stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

Jesus’ initial reaction was to notice that nine lepers who had been healed through his charity and compassion were not there in gratitude. They received a huge gift. Besides the fact that they were now rid of this terrible disease, let’s not forget that they were outcasts. They could now return to their communities, their homes, their families. This brings us to the very heart of the matter as it pertains to this gospel passage. The nine were indeed healed. But they weren’t saved.

Each time our kids receive a present for their birthday or any other occasion, Diane makes them sit down and write a thank you note to the person who gave them the gift. The note usually acknowledges the gift received, further details a sense of appreciation for that gift, and then expresses gratitude for that gift; a pretty simple format. The Samaritan leper recognizes that he has been healed. He then screams to the heavens praising God for the gift. Then he falls at the feet of Jesus and gives thanks. The leper realizes that he has been healed by the power of God, mediated through Jesus.

Recognizing the presence of God in all the goodness we encounter and expressing gratitude for that goodness is what leads to our salvation. I suppose we could, like the other nine, freely accept the goodness that comes into our lives and simply enjoy it. We could experience being forgiven, being offered compassion and mercy, being loved and like the nine not acknowledge that this grace has its roots in God.

Gratitude, similar to the type shown by the Samaritan leper, gives us the very real opportunity to stop and truly notice those times God has taken an active role in our everyday lives. We can embrace his real presence among us as we wallow in his grace; his love. We hold in our hearts that our prayers, our wants, our desires have been acknowledged by God, addressed, and given life. Gratitude like this highlights God’s abundant and very personal love for each of us.

This works both ways. When we find that we are being charitable and kind, we should remember that it is precisely Christ within us, stirring our spirit so that we may act in a loving way. We should feel grateful for having an opportunity to be like Jesus and share his love.

Like the leper, we approach God’s altar in need of healing. Whether we care to share it or not, each one of us is carrying some type suffering. Like the leper, we seek to be restored. Let us prayerfully, with gratitude in our hearts, open ourselves to Christ’s mercifully healing embrace.

September 25th, 2016…Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel: Luke 16:19-31

Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
Abraham replied,
‘My child, remember that you received
what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go
from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father,
send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers,
so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.’
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Homily

Driving to work Friday, I took the 4th Street exit off of the freeway, just as I do most every morning.  On the left hand side of the off ramp was a man holding a tattered piece of cardboard with a single word written on it; “Hungry”.  Continuing along Bryant Street, just past the Shell station, there was another homeless man.  He looked tired and was moving slowly, as if he had just woken up.  His meager belongings tucked in the corner of a doorway.  I turned left onto Third Street and just before reaching Harrison, traffic stopped me under the overpass.  To my left, there were men sleeping alongside the wall of a building.  One man used his shoes for a pillow.  There are planters along that building and these homeless men were lying between them.  The planters are there to add beauty to this otherwise dreary and shadow covered space.  Continuing up Third Street and approaching Market, I saw tradesmen unloading sheetrock from their truck.  Their path was blocked by a man, wearing no shoes and holding his hand out to passersby, begging for change.  The workers yelled for him to get out of the way.  Their language was ugly and hurtful.  Crossing Market Street and preceding up Kearny, along both sides of the street, the doorways were full of men and women lying on the cold, filthy ground.  Most of them were lying on sheets of cardboard.  Some were wrapped in sleeping bags.  Others were lying under worn and tattered blankets.  Some had nothing at all to cover themselves.  All of them were dirty, alone, hungry, and forgotten.  As I stared at them, my view was constantly interrupted by people walking by, presumably on their way to work.  These pedestrians had simply grown immune to the presence and suffering of the homeless.  I saw visitors to the city with their name badges hanging from their necks making their way to Moscone Center for a conference.  They clutched their briefcases and purses as they walked past the occupied doorways.  They carried looks of fear on their faces as they stared at the homeless and stepped away from the buildings and directly into the paths of oncoming pedestrians.  Stopping at a red light at Pine Street, I saw the familiar face of a homeless man who was sitting on the ground against a building, and rocking back and forth, mumbling to himself.  His hand was out.  He stopped muttering only to ask for spare change.  He was probably in his late twenties or early thirties but his worn face and ragged appearance made him look much older.  After I parked my car I walked to the office and saw an older woman, sitting on the corner of California and Kearny.  She too was holding a sign.  Hers read, “A little kindness please.”  I see this every day.

In today’s gospel, we hear Jesus address the Pharisees with a parable.  The Pharisees were the keepers of God’s law.  They were distinguished by their strict adherence to the Jewish tradition.  Jesus’ parable begins with two men.  A rich man who remains nameless and Lazarus.  The rich man is portrayed as living a lavish lifestyle.  We are given an image of a man luxuriating in wealth and comfort.  We are also given a painful and unsightly description of Lazarus; hungry and covered with sores.  Lazarus lies in the doorway of the rich man’s house.  They both die and it is Lazarus who is taken to heaven where he is nursed and cared for while the rich man lies in torment surrounded by the flames of the netherworld.

What do the rich man in the gospel, all of the folks who walked by the homeless downtown, and me all have in common? We are guilty of looking past the humanity of the homeless and impoverished.  We have somehow come to a point where we are no longer shocked by the appearance of another human being lying on the ground hungry and suffering, alone and forgotten.  We have been anesthetized from the pain that ravages others.

In today’s gospel, the rich man presumably ignored Lazarus while they were both living. Looking up to heaven, the rich man does not call to Lazarus directly but rather to Abraham.  The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus down to ease the suffering of the rich man.  Lazarus is to be sent; like a servant.  The rich man never speaks to Lazarus directly even as Lazarus is carried away by angels and held at the bosom of Abraham; exalted.  The rich man never sees Lazarus as an equal; as someone worthy enough to be acknowledged.

Today, Jesus is speaking to all of us. Today, We are the keepers of God’s law.  We are distinguished by the strict adherence of Christian values. Namely, to love one another as God loves us.  We are challenged to respond with love to the humanity of those who are suffering.  Ignoring them carries with it a price that which none of us want to be saddled; living with the torment and anguish that come when we find ourselves living with the absence of God.  For that is the definition of hell.

Every day we are given an opportunity to be Christ-like. There is no doubt in my mind that if Jesus found himself walking along Kearny Street on any given morning, he would not rest until he alleviated the suffering of the homeless.  Today, as a church, as a community of believers, We make up the body of Jesus here on earth.  We have the power to bring about healing and comfort.  It doesn’t take a miracle.  It takes only having an awareness that folks need our help and that we can and ought to provide that help. How?  If we bring a lunch to work, maybe we prepare a little extra food and hand it to someone who is hungry.  Maybe we buy a second cup of coffee and offer it to someone who is cold and thirsty.  If we pick up lunch or a snack, maybe we buy a little extra to give to a homeless person.  It’s going to be getting colder soon.  Maybe we clean out our closets and round up coats, sweaters, and blankets to give to those who need it the most.  Perhaps we can reach out to Catholic Charities to see where they need an extra pair of helping hands.  The point is to embrace the humanity of those in need and then act accordingly.

The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that they may avoid the torment that the rich man is experiencing. Abraham says, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

Our Eucharistic celebration today commemorates the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. His rising from the dead made it possible for Christ to take up shelter in each one of us here. Our job is to take his presence beyond the confines of this building and give life to the love he holds for us all.

 

 

August 21st, 2016 … Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel: Luke 13:22-30

Jesus passed through towns and villages,
teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.
Someone asked him,
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
He answered them,
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.
After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door,
then will you stand outside knocking and saying,
‘Lord, open the door for us.’
He will say to you in reply,
‘I do not know where you are from.
And you will say,
‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’
Then he will say to you,
‘I do not know where you are from.
Depart from me, all you evildoers!’
And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth
when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
and all the prophets in the kingdom of God
and you yourselves cast out.
And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.
For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last.”

Homily

I have very dear friend named Sam. Initially, what drew me to him years ago was our shared interest in cars and the Giants.  Over the years, I have grown to really admire him.  Sam is in recovery and has been sober for more than 25 years now.  And as anyone who is in recovery will share with you, the time leading up to sobriety is just plain awful.  Pain is your constant companion whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual.  People in recovery often say that they’ve gone to hell and back.

Here’s the thing though, while Sam’s sobriety is in itself admirable, that’s not entirely what commands my respect.  Sam has chosen to be a sponsor and mentor to those who find themselves struggling with addiction.  He has been doing this for years.  Sam is a husband and a father.  He actively participates in the lives of his children.  He has a day job.  With all of this, he finds the time to offer compassion and mercy to folks who are truly suffering.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is asked if only a few will be saved. He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

There was a point in Sam’s life when he was as far away from that narrow gate as you could possibly imagine. Now, Sam finds himself holding that gate open for others. He knows what it’s like to suffer, to be in pain. He also knows that addiction can be the cruelest of adversaries. Now, with mercy in his heart, he also chooses to guide others towards that narrow gate.

As Jesus says, “many will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

Sam lived this. He will readily admit that it is only through God’s grace that he found sobriety. He now cherishes that gift of grace. He openly displays his gratitude by choosing sobriety and by helping others do the same.

God’s love and forgiveness are a gift. We don’t always deserve it and we certainly cannot earn it. His love is a gift, given freely without condition or reservation. But here’s the thing. No gift can be given unilaterally. Successful gift giving requires both giving AND receiving. If we intentionally refuse the gift, if we knowingly turn away from God’s love, then it is as if no gift was ever given.

Jesus says in today’s gospel, that the Master will refuse to open the door and will say, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!”

Jesus is referring to those people, who are presented with the gift of God’s grace, and either refuse it or worse yet, accept the gift but never give God the credit for it. For example, Sam received God’s gift of grace which moved him to sobriety. Sam could easily have said that he got sober all on his own; that the hand of Jesus was not present in all of the folks who helped him along the way to sobriety. That it was all Sam. I can assure you, having this attitude would not have put Sam in a position to guide others to sobriety. It is precisely that Sam so treasures the gift of God’s grace that he allows God to work through him as he helps others.

The reality is that the road is tough and that the gate is narrow. But also true is the reality that God loves us beyond measure. He created us. God wants to show the personalized love he has for each of us at every opportunity possible. His capacity to offer love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness knows no bounds. He wants for all of us to enter through that gate. He doesn’t make the gate narrow, WE DO. He doesn’t ever turn away from us…EVER. We are ones that turn away from him. Jesus is quite clear in the way he directs us this morning. Strive towards the narrow gate. He knows it’s not easy and that is why he places people like Sam along the road. God wants all of us to return to him.

The Gospel passage ends with a beautiful image where people will come from north, south, east, and west to recline at table with Jesus and share a meal as a community. In a few short moments we will find ourselves doing just that as we approach the altar. We will receive Jesus in the form of the Eucharist. In doing so we move closer towards that narrow gate and are charged with helping others do the same.