Counterfeit men: A homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

counterfeitThere 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.

How stiff is your neck? A homily for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

64a8a94ebc7e806503ff1c119d9330e6-427x640x1First, 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:

  • I know I need to start reading the bible, but I don’t see the time
  • I know I need to volunteer more and pray more, but I just don’t think I cna now
  • I know I should be better to my wife, but…
  • I know I need to stop cheating on my schoolwork, but..
  • I know I need to move into a nursing home, but..
  • I know I need to go to confession, but…
  • I know I should call my sister I’ve not spoken to in years, but….
  • I know I should be donating some money, but….
  • I know I need to start exercising and eating better, but…
  • I know I need to tell this or that person that I love them, but…
  • I know I shouldn’t go to this or that internet site, but….
  • I know I need to be less angry and upset with my kids, but…

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.

 

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Tomother-teresa-02day’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.

Three ways to grow in humility: A homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

praying-and-kneeling-manToday our readings tell us to be humble, that the way to live a good life, a Christian life, is to be humble, to get over ourselves already. St. John Vianney said, “What sweetness there is in forgetting about ourselves in order to seek God!”  Which is to say, as the saying goes, that humility is not about thinking less about ourselves, but thinking about ourselves less. To live a good Christian life, we have to get over ourselves.

Humility is realizing that others have better ideas than I do, that, even with the opinions I am most passionate about, I might not be right–and I don’t have to be.  Sometimes I think I have the best homily ever, and then I listen to Msgr at one of his Masses and I wonder how I misunderstood the texts so horribly.  You know, the most wonderful and beautiful people I know realize and admit they are not perfect, that they are not the best.  The most obnoxious people I know think they are perfect and try to fool the world into thinking the same thing.

This morning I had children’s liturgy of the word. One kid from our school, when I asked what humility is, said, “it means you don’t have to be the best.”  That’s about the best definition of humility I’ve ever heard!  I think a lot of people waste a lot of time trying to be the best, and trying to prove to the world that they are the best. It is hard work being perfect! Our Jesus is so good that he says, “Look! You don’t gotta be the best….you can’t be, and that’s okay, because I am!”

We don’t have to be the best, we don’t have to be perfect.  Oh, we should keep on trying to get better, trying to become holier and more virtuous and more perfect, but humility is about realizing that it isn’t all about us, that we aren’t the center.  For that reason, in the Gospel, Jesus says to take the lesser positions at the table.  A lot of us want to be the center, or at the head of the table. Think even about the table of the Lord, the holy altar. Here, Jesus is the center.  Sometimes, if we aren’t careful, we can forget this and imagine the priest to be the head of this table.  The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Sarah, he’s the guy Pope Francis put in charge of safeguarding the liturgies of the holy church. He was talking recently about ad orientem worship, the ancient way of celebrating Mass where the priest faces the same direction as the people at Mass, the east (the direction from which Jesus will return says the scriptures). This is still the way Mass is done in many parts of the world–and the Missal certainly allows for it–and it was how Christians had Mass for hundreds of years. Cardinal Sarah said that ad orientem worship expresses very naturally the fact that Jesus is the center, the focal point of this table and every part of our life. Not the priest, not any nun or bishop or pope. It’s Jesus!

I just want to mention three ways to grow in humility, three ways we can grow in our not always needing to be in the center, at the head–three ways we can get over ourselves.

First, we pray.  To pray is to acknowledge that we depend on God. God is our strength. Our abilities, no matter how great, are never enough. We need God, we need his church, we need the bible, we need the sacraments. Sometimes we feel this need for God very strongly, in moments of failure. The Little Flower said, “the beginning of all holiness is humble admitting that without God we can do nothing, but that with, in, and through him, everything is possible.”  A humble man kneels every day and prays, each day, knowing that he can’t do a thing without the Lord.  A side note: I think often our prayers are very prideful, very me-centered. I know I have that problem.  A humble person spends a lot of time in prayer, and spends more time praying for others than himself.

Second, we give.  It takes a humble person to have the time of day for another person.  I think a lot of people would prefer to think that the universe depends upon them.  There is a lot of selfishness in our world.  Generosity is the antidote.  The humble man is generous with his time, with his blood, with his sweat, with his money–knowing that it’s better to serve than to be served, knowing that there is something more important than his liesure time and money.  We have a ministry fair after Mass today.  There are so many ways to give back to God here at OLG.  If you are humble, you will sign up for something.

Third, we offer thanks.  A humble person is thankful.  Perhaps you noticed in the Olympics that most of the winners are devout Christians.  I’m thinking especially of swimming champion Katie Ledecky–she went to Catholic school as a kid–and David Boudia and Steele Johnson.  They all said in their interviews, before anything else, that they are thankful to God…not to their coaches, their training regimes, their diets, their trainers: no, they are thankful first to God.  They know their strength and successes and even their crosses–they are gifts from God, a gift that deserves an offering of thanks.

There we have it: three ways to be more humble–pray, give, and offer thanks.

I will end with a nice traditional prayer called the litany of humility:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

 

Jesus, the way: A homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

I had an excellent monk as a professor in seminary named Fr. Guy Mansini, OSB.  The man is brilliant.  I remember mostly his side comments.  He said once, “Never trust anyone in matters of faith who has never, at least at some point in his life, feared he might go to hell.”  It is sheer genius.  Because I think there are a lot of people who think that everybody automatically goes to heaven, no matter what.  That is a misunderstanding of God’s mercy.  God is merciful because he allows us the opportunity of salvation, and because he helps us along the way, but Jesus today tells us it still takes some effort, some strength on our part to get there. “For many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough,” says the Lord.

Jesus today tells us again that the gate to paradise is narrow and that it takes some striving on our part to get to and through it.  The image of the narrow gate does not mean, as the early church gnostics thought, that only certain people are eligible for heaven.  No: the whole world is invited, all nations, all languages as our first readings says, and from the north and south and east and west as our gospel says. But the narrow gate does mean that only certain people care enough to make the effort to get there and get through it.

Here’s the thing: Jesus is the gate, he is “the way” as our alleluia verse reminds us.  Jesus, when he came to earth, did not say that he had come to give us the directions to the Promised Land.  He did not say that he came to show us the way, to give us a map.  No.  He told us, I AM THE WAY.  God invites us today to live deeply immersed in the Lord and his body the church.   We have an opportunity this weekend to immerse ourselves more in the Good Lord and next week, too, with the ministry fair.

May God bless us and give us each day a stronger thirst for the Lord and his kingdom–here and in in heaven.

Assumption of Mary

Fly, my soul, with Mary fly,
Soar beyond the golden sky,
Mount to Mary’s throne on high.

Bright the queenly crown she won,
Sweet the reign she has begun,
As she stands beside her Son.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

How endure this long delay?
Living here how can I stay
From such beauty far away?
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

Sad my lot is here below;
Who can hope or life bestow?
Who will help or pity show?
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

But though far away from me,
Still our sovereign Queen will be
Full of love and clemency.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

With a mother’s loving care
She will lift those hands so fair,
And will save us by her prayer.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

Mother’s heart can ne’er forget
That we are her children yet,
By such dangers fierce beset.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

Gently, still, she bends her eyes
On the soul that longs and sighs
For her love, the heavenly prize.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

Blest the soul who, like the dove
Borne upon the wings of love,
Follows her to heaven above.
Fly, my soul, with Mary fly.

St. Alphonsus de Liguori
Grimm, Eugene, editor. The Glories of Mary. New York: Redemptoris Fathers, 1931.