“Many live like angels in the midst of the world. Why not you?”
–St Josemaria Escriva
“Many live like angels in the midst of the world. Why not you?”
–St Josemaria Escriva
One of the many things that bothers many of us about this election, I think, it the lack of decency, the lack of honor, the lack of respect we see each day on the television, at each debate, at each rally. It is perhaps the first time in our history the presidential candidates refuse to shake hands. There is a fundamental lack of honor, a lack of respect.
Honor. I’ve been thinking of that a bit lately. We had two weddings here yesterday. One thing that always gets me at a wedding is when the groom and then the bride use these words in their promises: “I will love you, and honor you, all the days of my life.” We promise when we accept our vocations to show honor each and every day of our lives–and not to ourselves.
Honor. The Catechism says that honor is simply the social recognition of another person’s dignity–the dignity that we all possess by virtue of being human.
One thing that we Christians ought to do, I think, is to look for opportunities to give honor to others, to give respect, to show honor.
Before I go any father, I think we sin against honor in three important ways. First, calumny. This is when we speak bad things about another person–perhaps a sin the other has committed, a bad deed he has done, etc. These things are true, but we don’t need to broadcast them. Doing so is the sin of calumny. Then there is detraction. This is when we speak something about another person that is not true. We make it up and share it in order that the whole world know how bad the person we are talking about it. Both calumny and detraction are mortal sins. I don’t hear them mentioned often in confession….
And then there is pride, the biggest sin against honor. I think it’s because we want the whole world to know how good we are, how many great things we’ve accomplished. We want the credit. We’re like the bad guy in our Gospel today who with some fake pious prayer thanks God for making him “better than everybody else.” He lists all the reasons he’s better: he pays the right tithes, he fasts, etc. He wasn’t better. In fact, we imitate the other guy at each Mass–the sinner who beats his breast as we do in the Confiteor, and says, I’ve messed up and I’m sorry and the rest are better than I am. He got it, he got what we say at every Mass to God: “All glory and HONOR is yours forever and ever.”
I think we Christians, we ought to look for ways to give honor to God and to others. I’ve been thinking of some ways.
First, we ought to give honor to our spouses. Growing up, normally Mom would take my brother and me home, but sometimes Dad would. We’d stop at the store on the way home to get milk or bread or whatever. Sometimes Dad would also buy flowers. I remember asking him one time what they were for. He said, “They’re for your mother.” I asked hat the occasion was. He said, “Just because.” That’s what I’m talking about. We ought to do things for our spouses just because. It’s been wisely said that the best thing a Dad can do for his kids in raising them is to honor his wife. Why? Becuase doing so teaches a kid how to love, how to respect, how to honor.
Second, we need to honor those we work with. I’ve been thinking fo MSgr and me When I returned from Haiti, Msgr made me breakfast. That was a way of showing honor. He also, without my knowing it, printed copies of my Haiti sermon to distribute to all parishioners. That honored me big time. I also try to show Msgr honor. Sometimes people will tell me they think I’m a wonderful priest. I usually reply, “It’s because Msgr lets me be, he opens so many doors for me.” I would be a lousy priest here if it weren’t for Msgr. Plus I clean the dishes in the rectory….
Third, we need to honor our parents. This is the fourth commandment. Kids: give your mothers dandelions. Draw your parents pictures. Give them hugs. Do what they say. And parents: honor your kids. Hug them, tell them you love them, give them a happy home to grow up in. Brag on them. They may bother you sometimes. They are kids. Forgive them and rememebr they are miracles entrusted to you, given to you.
Fourth, honor those you come into daily contact with. At bus driver school, they said that so few bus drivers say good morning to the kids as they walk in, and so few kids say thanks as htey walk out. Honor one another folks! Doing so might be just what someone needs at just the right moment.
Fifth, we honor life. As our first reading says, we honor those who are most vulnerable. We honor the oppressed, the orphan, the poor. We honor the immigrant (JESUS WAS AN IMMIGRANT), and the unborn, and the elderly. We honor human life in all its forms.
Above all, we honor God and his church. We speak highly of our faith, of our parish, of our priests, of our pope, of our God. We make the sign fo the cross, we read our bibles. We pray . We live good lives.
Folks, here’s the challenge this week: look for new ways to show honor to your spouses and kids and parents and our Good God.
Our readings today tell us that we must not grow weary in our lives of prayer.
The devil likes to attack us when we are tired. We must be on guard, in prayer.
Case in point: Moses in our first reading has his hands extended. It is a symbol of prayer, to extend your hands. It is why we priests extend our hands, and why folks at Christian music concerts naturally lift up and wave their hands. Whenever Moses became tired, his hands dropped and the enemy began to win. But when his hands were extended, when he was praying, “Israel had the better of the fight.”
We must not grow tired in our lives of prayer.
How many of us spend more time on social media than on our lives of faith, than in prayer?
I have a vivid memory. When I was in sixth grade, I was on my bunk bed. I promised God I would pray every night before going to bed. (Of course, the practice had been habituated into me by my parents for my whole childhood–a reminder that the most important thing a parent does is teach his or her child friendship with God, how to pray.) God has helped me be faithful to my sixth grade promise.
We must pray every day.
There are so many ways to pray. Msgr is talking about the rosary today. The second reading talks about scripture. Those are two big helps to pray.
But I want to reflect with you about the four categories of Christian prayer. They spell CAPT, like the abbreviation of captain.
C – Contrition. With contrition, we come face to face with our sins. In the presence of the Lord, we consider our sins. There is virtue in sitting with our sins, looking squarely at them for a while. Because I think an awful lot of the time we just sin and move on, without thinking another time about it until the next time we do the same sin. The more we think about the times we’ve messed up, about how we hurt God and others, the less likely we will be to do it again.
A – Adoration. We adore God. God is always doing miracles. We adore him. Creation, the sacraments, the people in our lives; God has outdone himself. We adore him for it all. The other day I was at school bus school, just because I have this ridiculous desire to drive a bus. (Plus it will come in handy…) But at the end of the class, a woman came up and mentioned simply seeing a priest in the class made her realize it’s time to come back to church. We adore God for hatching up such wonderful plots! Who knows? Maybe a soul ill be saved because of my desire to drive a bus. God is doing miracles everywhere. We adore him for it all.
P – Petition. With petition, we pray with all our hearts for people. Msgr and I both have big lists of people we pray for. Lots of names on these lists. We should pray for people, lift them up to God. One day we will see how much good our prayers did for others. It will be beautiful! We pray also for the suffering folks. I’ve been praying a lot for Haiti lately. And during this respect life month for an end to abortion. We petition God for these things. He answers in his way, and on his clock.
T – Thanksgiving. We thank God for all his blessings, for all the graces we have in our world and lives. We are deeply, deeply blessed. God is so good to us. Someone once suggested that, if a person utters only one prayer in his life–‘thank you’–it might just be enough. There is power in gratitude. And gratitude will change the world.
So I want to encourage you to do something new in prayer. Each day we ought to do a little of all four of those categories–some contrition, adoration, petition, and thanksgiving. A good way to do a holy hour (people often wonder what to do in one), is to do 15 minutes of each. And maybe the petition part we pray a rosary for people. Maybe during the thanksgiving part we read a psalm. But let’s shake up our lives of prayer a bit, let’s find some way before we leave Mass today that we might do something new in prayer. Maybe you pray ten minutes a day. Make it fifteen. Maybe you come to Mass each Sunday. What about a daily Mass? Maybe you haven’t given God much time recently in prayer; fix that. What if you commit to a holy hour in our adoration chapel?
Let’s thank God for the rich tradition of Christian prayer we have at our disposal, and for the Holy Spirit who helps us to pray from within!
As many of you know, I was part of a group that set out for Haiti towards the end of September to visit our sister parish in Bassin Bleu, St. George’s. We had a whirlwind of a trip, and we ended up in Haiti four extra days due to the hurricane. I want to share some of our experiences, though they were so powerful I cannot articulate them even in my own heart. Before I speak of the tragedies there, I want to speak about the most beautiful things I saw in Haiti. There were many. I want to talk about what made Haiti real to me.
The first beautiful thing we found, right as we left the airport, was a bar. It is called the God is Good bar. We also spotted Sacred Heart Auto Parts and Mama Mary Barber Shop. Everything is stamped with the divine. But of all that great signage, the best was on the top of the windshields of almost all the vehicles, a strip where it is written, “Thank you Jesus” or “Merci Jesus.” Haitians are a very thankful people, as our gospel commands us to be today. I must confess, my first thought was: What do these folks have to be thankful for? Look—there is smog all over, trash everywhere, and sewers overflowing. But it didn’t take me long to realize just how rich these folks are, why they are so thankful: they have one another, they have faith, family, enough food, and Jesus. For that they are rich.
After a five-hour drive, we arrived at Bassin Bleu at our sister parish St. George’s, and there I saw a few more things. First, there was the well. It is built on church property. When people need water, they come to the church. It reminded me of Ezekiel’s vision of the church–a temple on the top of a mountain from which gush out waters that give life to all the animals and plants and people on the mountain and below it. That is church: from our church flow living waters, waters we are baptized into, waters that give us life here but also life everlasting. That is church!
Then I saw the basketball court, which is used more for soccer than anything. In Haiti, they don’t have televisions or iPads or computers or Rascals. But the kids do have each other and a ball. I had some of the most genuine fun I’ve had in ages playing soccer with those kids! They are pretty good at soccer, too.
Then we saw the schools–an elementary school with 800 kids and a high school with 350. I was incredibly happy to see a room filled with 12th graders. It’s a big deal for a school in Haiti to have a 12th grade, and St. George’s is the only place in the city with one. It is such a foreign concept there, a 12th grade, because most of the time folks are done with school after the 11th grade. But St. George’s has 24 folks in the 12th grade. So thankful are they, so much do they appreciate their education, that they threw us a party to thank us for helping to make it possible.
We also saw many Catholic schools under construction, including one of St. George’s mountain parishes, St. Michael’s in La Plat. Almost every Hatien parents wants his kid to go to Catholic school, so they are busting at the seams. All these foundations, they reminded me of what America looked like when Mother Theodore and her sisters were building schools everywhere. As we stood in the foundations, I wondered how many lives would be changed here.
The Masses were another beautiful sight. You ought to hear those folks sing. They sing with all their voices, all their hearts. They do the collection as we do communion: with two folks up front holding wooden boxes. Everyone–everyone–deposits a coin. Many people, come Wednesday, start thinking: Where am I going to get the coin I will put in this week? It is the widow’s mite, often all they have. They give from their poverty, with nothing left over, and for that they are rich.
Of all those beautiful things I saw, nothing of that beauty compared with the beauty of the people. We met Fr. Cholet, the pastor of our sister parish. A wonderful, competent man. We also met Fr. Rodolphe, who is rector of their cathedral and was with us most of the trip. Fr. Rodolphe and Fr. Rick Nagel became friends at St. Meinrad. Together, they have linked over ten parishes in the States with parishes in Haiti. I got to thinking about many lives have been changed because those two men became friends. Friendships, when they are built on Christ, bear so much fruit.
Then we met the kids. There is one boy, his name was Waltzie. Waltzie is 8 years old. His mother works in the marketplace selling anything she can make. She is lucky to make 50 cents a week. His father makes caskets. Waltize has five siblings. He and I became instant friends, though we could not converse easily. On our first day, after Mass and breakfast, Waltize tried to tell me something in French. I did not understand. So he took me by the hand–the ultimate sign of hospitality and love–and led me where he wanted me to go. First, it was to the soccer field for a game of soccer with a group of the older kids. Then, Waltize led me to a stoop outside of the well that is built there at St. George’s. There, he made the cross in Creole as he said, “Nan non Papa a, Ak Pitit la, Ak Lesprisen an. Amèn.” They know how to pray in Haiti. We sat next to each other for an hour as he looked through the pictures on my phone and pointed. Then he took me and our group to the marketplace to meet his mother and then to show us his house. They do not have running water. The walls are a combination of sheet metal and wood and palm branches. But it is home. They have very little, but they are rich. They have life, they have family, and they have faith. That is what they have to be thankful for. They may be poor, but they are richer than a good many of us. We also met up with some older kids, kids who we have sponsored for many years. It is something else to see who they have become in eight years. We met many new friends, too.
Then we went to the airport on Monday to leave, a five-hour car ride. Alas, the doors were closed at the airport. Our hearts sank. We learned that we would be staying in Haiti to weather the storm. We also knew we would have to stay in Cap Hatien because going back down to Bassin Bleu would leave us trapped there as the roads would deteriorate with the storm. Fortunately, Fr. Cholet knew a guy who would take us in, Fr. Valonne and his Missionaries of St. Jacques. These folks took us in, fed us, sheltered us, dispensed the works of mercy to us. They were God’s grace to us. We became fast friends with them. I cannot express how good these men were to us. With his broken English, Fr. Valonne said, “The Catholic Church is a family. You are home here.” It nearly made me cry.
Another beautiful sight was our group together. We were a helpless bunch. We didn’t know what was going to happen, how bad the storm would be. We had no radar, no money, no television, no clue how much flooding and wind would come our way. We had scant and most of the time no communication with the outside world. But we kept our spirits up. We laughed and prayed and told stories and bellyached and laughed some more. God was there. I miss being stranded with those people already!
Things are not pretty in Haiti. It was plenty messy even before the hurricane, as I described earlier. Now it is even worse. But, I got to thinking. As messy a place as it is–just like our world–it is fused with grace, with faith, with family, with love, with prayer. Maybe the mess is less of a mess when God is there.
Haiti needs our support. Please, please pray every day for them. I mean really pray for them. The official count of deaths is now 900. I’m sure there are more. They were people like my friend Waltize. Catholic Relief Services is already on it and helping the areas worst affected. We will have a collection soon for them. The buildings at St. George’s are okay mostly, but the area around it suffered a lot of damage–and that’s still pretty far north. What happened in the south and the west, that is a whole other story. Total destruction in many places. Those folks, they need our support. We pray also for everyone in the path of Matthew.
The Haitians, they are a resilient people. They will get through this. They know how to suffer, as St. Timothy talks about in our second reading today. Their sufferings show us how to suffer. How quickly we complain about the most minor discomforts and inconveniences. What we suffer does not come close to what they suffer. But they do it, because they do what Timothy says: in 2 Tim 2:8, he offers three words, one of the shortest scripture verses: “Remember Jesus Christ.” We remember Christ, in the good times and in the bad. We remember him, we lean on him, we receive him, we persevere with him.
There was a journalist in the mid-twentieth century named Sydney J Harris. He wrote for the Chicago Tribune. He once made a powerful observation. He said, “Men make counterfeit money; in many more cases, money makes counterfeit men.”
Mr. Harris is spot on. Money, when we serve it, has a way of making us forget that we are human. The Catechism says that what makes us human is that we who are made in the image of God are able to share “by knowledge and by love” in the very life of God.
St. Paul says something of the same thing in our second reading today. Saint Augustine summarizes our Christian tradition well in saying that what makes us human is that we able to love; we can will it.
We are capable of loving and that makes us human.
But when we serve money–or power, or prestige, or popularity–we are no longer capable of this kind of love. We are no longer being true to our nature as humans. We are counterfeit people, fakes.
Maybe you have had the experience of watching people fight. It is a horrible thing. Often it is about money, as our Gospel says today and our first reading, too. In the first reading, we find the Prophet Amos, who lived in the northern kingdom of Israel at a time of great economic growth. He is speaking to the rich who trample upon the poor, who cheat them out of money and land and what little they have. They hated the holy days because on those days they couldn’t sell their stuff and carry on their money-making schemes. Amos tells them they are not being human to each other. So obsessed with money and territory, they are trampling upon one another. They are not loving, not being human.
I have a fish tank. In it I have some wonderful fish. But a few of them are a little territorial. One fish has a little cave. Thing is, he doesn’t like to share. The sucker fish sometimes like to go over there and clean up his house, but he bites and jabs them. He chases them and bullies them. He refuses to act civilly, to be flexible with his timetable, to allow for another to share in his life.
I can excuse him. He is a fish. But humans who act the same way?
In Msgr’s absence this past week, I think I anointed ten people. Life is short. Let’s be good to each other. Let’s be human to each other, lest we be counterfeit men.
First, we remember today the tragedy of Sept 11, 2001. Let us take a moment of silence to remember those who died and their families, and to pray for peace.
The term “stiff-necked” emerges many times in the Holy Scriptures. I did a search and found 40 places in the bible. Could be more. But we see this term in our first reading. God is mad at the Israelites. He had saved them from slavery in Egypt, and yet here they are building a false god and worshiping it. The problem, God says, is that their necks are stiff.
“Stiff necks.” It is an interesting term. The neck, of course, is the part of the human that connects the head to the rest of the body. When your brain sends a signal to your arm that it needs to go up into the air, for example, that signal goes through the neck. When your brain tells your legs to run, that signal likewise goes through your neck. When your brain sends a message to the heart to love someone (love is before all else a decision), that signal must also go through the neck.
We are stiff-necked when we don’t let the signals go through.
You see, I think many of us have stiff necks. A lot of times we know what is right in our heads but the signal–which goes through the neck–is cut off. Examples:
For the Israelites, they KNEW–beyond all doubt–that God had saved them from slavery. They knew this in their heads, but the temptation to idolatry was strong. The signal was cut off, and the rest of their bodies worshiped the idols.
I want to ask: how stiff is your neck? How many things are there in your life, where you know THIS is the right thing to do, but you aren’t doing it? How big is the disconnect between what you know what you be doing and what you are doing?
Today we ask God to loosen our necks.
Today’s Gospel tells us something of the commitment and work that it takes to follow Christ. The Scripture says we’re kind of like buildings: we have a foundation, and brick by brick by brick we are built up. We hope one day to be skyscrapers, to touch the clouds, to reach up to heaven, to become saints. It’s hard work, though, the building up of a skyscraper. Tomorrow is Labor Day, a day we celebrate labor and how we are wired for it. We are not meant to live our lives in armchairs. We are meant to labor–for our families, for our church, for the kingdom. We are wired to lay bricks.
This takes radical commitment! But it is possible. We have the witness of the saints to tell us so, saints who had the same number of hours in their days as we have in ours. Today I want to talk about our newest canonized saint, St. Teresa of Calcutta, canonized a saint just a few hours ago by His Holiness Pope Francis. St. Teresa of Calcutta!
We know her story. She was born in Macedonia in 1910. From the earliest days she wanted to be a nun, she wanted to make the radical sacrifice our Gospel talks about today. She built up the kingdom in remarkable ways in her years. Our world and our church are better and stronger for all her labor! I think she was able to do all that she did because she saw and reverenced Jesus in three places.
First, she saw and reverenced Jesus in herself. I lived in Nebraska for a short spell and met an old Monsignor there. He was one of Mother Teresa’s spiritual directors. He told about how, one day, after Mother had gone to Mass, she had an epiphany. She came out and said, “I am Jesus.” The monsignor scratched his head. She said, “No–you don’t get it! I just received the Body of Jesus at Mass! My hands are his! My feet are his! My heart is his!” Wow! Mother Teresa spoke in a new way Catholic theology 101 here–that God became man in order to divinize us and that he does that through the Eucharist! Because of the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus lives his life in us! He lives his life in us. Passion and resurrection. That’s how Mother was able to do all that she did; she knew it was her doing anything! It was Jesus.
Second, Mother saw and reverenced Jesus in the poor. There was one time when she was working with a leper, a guy in the slums. He was skin and bones, wounds all over. Mother was caring for him, embracing him. A reporter was there asking her questions. He said, “With all due respect, I wouldn’t do what you’re doing for a million dollars.” She replied, “Neither would I.” She did all she did–not for money, not for glory, not for praise. She did it for Jesus! It was because she knew Jesus called her to it, but also because she saw and loved Jesus inside the poorest of the poor. She saw Jesus in the unfed, the unhealthy, the unhealthy, the unborn, the unhoused, the unclothed, the unwell, the unhappy, the unloved. And she loved him there.
Third, Mother saw and reverenced Jesus in her church, our church. Mother loved her church with all she had. For her, it wasn’t an institution at all. It is the living and breathing body of Jesus on earth. All that He did in the flesh 2000 years ago, his body the church does now: feeds, teaches, heals, loves, suffers for, shelters, etc. And we are a part of it.
See a pattern? For mother–it was all about Jesus! She lived for him, breathed for him, bled for him. We pray in thanksgiving for her example. And we pray that we, too, will come to labor for the kingdom, labor for Jesus–by reverencing Jesus in ourselves, the poor, and the Holy Church.