Ingratitude, the root of all sin: A homily for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

1200px-SolanuscaseySt Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, said something interesting. He said that we often think that the root of all sin is lust or pride or anger or one of those “big ones.”  But, he said, those are simply symptoms of something else.  The root of all sin, according to the sound teaching of St Ignatius, is ingratitude.

I think he’s right.  Our first reading from Proverbs says that a husband should remember that his wife is worth more than the finest pearl.  If a man can remember that–if he remembers the treasure that is his wife, if he remembers to thank God for her every day–he will be a better husband.  Same with the wives. Parents who thank God for their kids, even in the hard times, are better parents.  Children who thank God for their parents are truly thankful for them are better sons and daughters.  Same with everything.  Especially our faith.  People who are truly thankful for their faith are better disciples of Jesus.

Yesterday, Solanus Casey was beatified in Detroit. Cardinal Tobin was there. Solanus Casey is an interesting figure. He spent most of his life as a doorman.  They almost didn’t ordain him a priest because he wasn’t deemed good enough, smart enough.  They did finally ordain him, but he was forbidden to preach of hear confessions.  They assigned him to the doorpost because he couldn’t cause too much trouble there.

That man was thankful for his position at the door.  He spent most of his life as a doorman, even a short spell here in Indiana in Huntington.  He could have complained, why didn’t I get a higher office?  how’s come I’m stuck here at the door while Father so-and-so is doing all this glamorous ministry?

That’s the problem the man with one talent fell into.  The others–the guy with 5 talents and the guy with 2–they were entrusted with more.  We shall never know why, expect that the master gave them what he gave them “according to their ability,” that is, he did what he did for a reason.  This guy with the one talent–he forgot to be thankful for what he had, unlike Solanus Casey, who was also dealt some “low cards.”

The reality though, is that one talent in the bible world was worth 6000 days of wages!  That’s a lot!  This guy–we shouldn’t feel too sorry for him!  he still had more than most. he was still quite blessed.  All he had to do was be thankful for what he’d been given and then spend it to the best of his ability.

We fall into this trap often.  We think, why do I have only this one talent? why am I stuck as a doorman?  why don’t I have his job? her kids?  their house?  their vacation?  their money?

And then we forget to be thankful for what we do have.

This Thanksgiving, let’s thank God for all our blessings, all of the talents he has given us.  And we thank God for the talents he has given to others.

Making prudent decisions: A homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today our readings talk about the virtue of prudence. There’s a saying, “You can’t live straight if you think crooked.“ Prudence helps us think straight so we can live straight. Our first reading names the virtue of prudence and discusses it. Our gospel is about the ten virgins, five of whom were prudent and five of whom were not. Prudence is important. Because thinking and living right is important.

Prudence is about taking abstract teachings and tenets of our faith and beliefs, and applying them to real, concrete situations. We need this virtue all the time. Should I take this new job or not? Should I move there or not? Should I date this person or not? Should I go to this college or that college? Should I get married to this person or not? Should I donate my money here or there? Should I get confirmed or not? Should I take my loved one off life support? Should I go to seminary? Goodness! So many decisions. They all need the virtue of prudence.

There are three steps to making a prudent decision according to our tradition: Deliberate, Decide, Do. All start with D.

Deliberate. We consider the options on the table and we deliberate about them. We use our minds, our intellect. Many today rely heavily on feelings, almost exclusively. Some people have stopped coming to Mass—where Jesus becomes present!!!—over the years because their feelings were hurt about something. That is not a prudent decision. You shouldn’t risk eternal damnation, or be willing to walk away from God, simply because of a hurt feeling. That is not prudent. It is foolish.

When we deliberate, we consider the past, present and future. And then we consult the teachings of the Church and the wise people in our lives.

Say you have a guy named Fred. Fred likes to gamble. A lot. Fred gets his paycheck and wonders if he should go gamble it away or not. So he deliberates. He considers the past. Every time Fred has gambled, or at least many times, he has come out behind. It doesn’t work well for him. Then he considers his present situation. Fred is a husband and a father and the family needs this paycheck. It’s not like he has money to play with. He needs this money. Then he considers the future, what might happen if this or that.

Then he consults the church. The church does not forbid gambling, but we caution about it becoming an addiction or something irresponsible if carried out when it shouldn’t be. He consults his priest, his wife.

Decide. Then he makes a decision. He weighs it all and decides: i will not do it. He makes a rational decision, informed by his mind, his feelings, his conscience, his Church, and the wise people in his life.

Do. Then he carried out his decision. Once a decision is made, prudence says we keep to it. Which means when hank calls and invites Fred to the casino, he must refuse. There is often a temptation to go back on ones word, or change his mind. Prudence says, I’ve already deliberated and decided. Now I carry it out.

Prudence is a great virtue. Like all the virtues, it makes is human. An animal just does things. We have the gift of mind. The word virtue comes from the Latin word “vir,” meaning man. To be a person of virtue is to be an authentic person. An animal would simply eat a whole pizza or kill someone for looking at him the wrong way. Not a human—at least not a virtuous one.

It is time for the annual diocesan appeal. Please make a prudent gift. Deliberate, decide and do. Consider what you’ve done before, how it worked (was it enough? Or too much?), now consider your present (did you have more income this year? How is your financial situation different now?). And then consider what would happen if. Draw up a budget. Plug in the numbers. Consult the Church, who teaches at least a 10% tithe for all charitable giving. Deliberate, decide on your amount, and carry it out.

Thanks be to God we have this virtue. You can’t live straight if you think crooked.

Full candy baskets: A homily for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

I love Halloween.  When I was a kid, we’d got out and get candy and mom would stay home. For several years there, few kids came to our house for trick-or-treating.  Maybe it was the hill.  Who knows.  A wonderful priest, Fr. Tony Hollowell, reflected on a similar phenomenon in his own life. He had a bunch of candy to give away at Halloween but no one knocked on the door.

Which made him wonder: perhaps this is the same way with the saints.  We celebrate the saints this month. They have a treasure trove of graces to bestow on us, and they want to give it away, but we aren’t knocking on the door.

Same with the Lord.  He says in our first reading…I got lots of words, but no one is listening. I want to put lots of things in your hearts, but they’re not open.  St Paul says we’re like babies and God is mother whose breast feeds us….but we often remove ourselves from that source of life.

God and his saints have an unending basket of candy, but something better: grace and life and love.  They are waiting to shower it on us.  If only we knock on their door.

Knock and the door will be opened.  Seek, and ye shall find.

Hold Jesus and let go of the rest: A homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

I’mIMG_9957 happy to be home from my pilgrimage. It was certainly a grace-filled time. I want to share those graces with you, so I’m going to put together a slideshow and share a little next Sunday at 6:30pm. I’ll also give the presentation in Spanish.  I didn’t see our Lady in the sky or in my toast, but I saw her in my heart and that is probably more important.

There is a painting that caught my eye in Medjugorje called “Kissing the face of Jesus.” It is beautiful. I was so moved by it I bought a copy and am going to put it up in the office. It is an picture of Mary tenderly holding the child Jesus in her arms and giving him a kiss.  I’ve been reflecting on this image and what it means for us.

I think it means this:  when we hold onto Jesus–I mean when we really hold him in our hearts–we can and do let go of everything else.  So many of us hold on to so much. We hold on to past failures, grudges, anger, addictions, wrath, money, power, titles…this person treated me badly and I hate them….that woman is a witch….all this stuff….we hold onto it.  Sirach says that in our humanity we often hug war and wrath.  We hug this stuff.

But in holding Jesus, we can let go.

In holding Jesus, Mary let go of everything else–her fears of the future, her preoccupations of what others thought about her, her uncertainty, everything.  She held Jesus and let go of the rest.

There is a Hill in Medjugorje called Cross Hill.  It takes a while to climb. On the top is a giant cross. People go up there and leave their junk there, and they let go.  A man on the pilgrimage told how he left his addiction to alcohol there some years ago and hasn’t had a drop since. He let go. And he held onto Jesus.

But we don’t have to go there to let go of this stuff.  We can do it right here.  Hold on to Jesus!  And then you can let go of the rest!

Hold onto Jesus!!  That we must do, and teach our kids to do.  I don’t know that anyone “loses Jesus” or “loses the faith.”  They throw it away.  Our job is to teach everyone we know–through example, prayer and words–to hold tight to Jesus, to embrace him with everything, just like Blessed Mother.  We show the world the joy and peace and love and faith that comes from holding onto Jesus more than anything else.

We don’t just hold Jesus. We look him into the eye and kiss him.  My favorite thing about baptism is staring the child in the eye as I pour water on his head. I’ve searched for the words to describe this, and then the other night I went to Poetry Night at the Strand. A young woman read a poem and one line went like this: “I wish you could see: there is a universe inside you!”  When I stare into the eyes of a child, I see that universe inside!  Like Isaiah says in our first reading: God knows your name! St Paul says in our second reading: I love you and pray for you! You were chosen in Jesus!  There’s something incredible about looking someone in the eyes. You feel your connection to the person, your obligation to him.

And if looking at a person does that, all te more so does this happen when we hold Jesus and look him in the eyes!  St John Vianney said, I’m not a smart man…I’m not holy….but when I go to adoration, I look at Jesus and he looks at me.  That’s what it’s about!  Looking into Jesus and letting him look into us.  That is what happens at adoration in a special way.

Hold onto Jesus!  Hold onto him with everything!  And let go of the rest.  Give him everything, give him his due. And let go of the rest.  Kiss him, look him into the eyes and let him look you in the eyes!  This is what a relationship with God is all about.

Bearing Fruit for the Kingdom: A homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

fruit-treeYesterday evening, once the whole day was over…I went over to a family’s house for a baptism party.  This little girl comes up and asks me: “Are you the real Jesus?”  I kind of felt like an impostor!  Then she started asking about what a priest does and so on.  I thought about what I do….and all of it is about this: bearing fruit.  Everything a priest is supposed to be doing should be bearing fruit for the kingdom.

But that is the same for all of us!  At baptism, God gives us this charge: to bear fruit.  It’s kind of like we’re a tree, and we’re planted in Jesus at baptism.  We are supposed to bear fruit in our life.  Because we’re planted in Jesus, we don’t have an excuse not to.

In our Gospel, we see the same message. God in his goodness, he entrusts not just one tree but an entire vineyard to his tenants. In this parable the landowner entrusts a corner of his kingdom to his tenant, and it’s the tenant’s job to look after the vineyard, make sure it’s healthy and growing.

Because one day the landowner will come back.  He will ask the tenant: Where’s my fruit?? 

God loves to entrust corners of his kingdom to people.  This is nothing new.  St Joe’s, we’re a corner of the kingdom. Your houses, corners of the kingdom.  The Garden of Eden, a corner of the kingdom given to our ancestors.

The thing of it is, God is always entrusting things to us.  We are the stewards.  It’s our job to make sure things are growing, doing well, staying alive.

You know, God always sends reminders to us to keep things going and growing, not to get too comfortable in our vineyard.  Remember our ancestors in the faith….they had been in Egypt in slavery, and then they come to the Promised Land and God entrusts to them certain parts of it.  But they do a lousy job keeping the land holy and fruitful, so God sends reminders…..he sends prophets, judges, psalmists…to remind the people to be faithful.

They didn’t listen.  So then God says what the landowner says in our parable today to his tenants who had been doing a terrible job at keeping the vineyard growing: “I know! I will send my son! Surely they will listen to him!”

But then they kill the son in the parable.  Just as we killed Jesus.

Close your eyes.  Imagine you are sitting in this church, and you’re all alone. Then Jesus comes next to you and sits there.  He puts his arm around you and asks, “What have you done with the gifts I have given you?  What have you done with that talent?  Have you built up my kingdom with it?  What have you done with the money I’ve given you?  What did you do in your little corner of the kingdom?  Did you bear fruit in your corner of the kingdom?”

That’s what’s going to happen, I think, when we die.  In our Gospel, Jesus says he will ask us what fruits have we produced.  We must not go to God empty handed.

We’re like trees planted in Jesus at baptism, and so long as we are faithful, we just produce fruits naturally.  It just happens.  We don’t have to try that hard, because we’re planted so firmly in Jesus.  No matter what happens, how many storms or droughts come, we keep on producing fruits….why?  becuase we’re planted so deeply in Our Christ. So when that day comes when Jesus asks what fruits we’ve produced, we’ll give him a whole bushel full.

3 Themes in our Readings Today: A homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

pepe-aguilar-md1Three big themes in our readings today–

  1. St. Paul says in our second reading: “Humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.”  I am not the the center of the universe. A week ago I went to a concert in Spanish, a great man named Pepe Aguilar.  Thousands of people were there.  Pepe Aguilar is an incredible singer. After he sang a few songs, he sang a tune in memory of his late father.  Then he sang a song for his daughter, who was there.  He shared the stage with his daughter and his son.  Pepe, despite how good he is, knows this: my origins, my chlidren–without them, I’m nothing!  All of them are more important than me!  I am not the center of the world.  Jesus is.  Here’s the recipe for happiness and holiness:  JOY….Jesus, Others, Yourself.
  2. We must make sure our yes means yes.  This is a message from Jesus in our Gospel.  We see two men in our gospel today.  Both of them changed their minds.  One of the sons says, “Yes, I will be there” and isn’t.  The other says he won’t be there, but shows up.  We make many promises in life–baptismal promises, confirmation promises, matrimonial promises, priestly promises….so many promises.  Our YES must mean YES.  People change their minds really easily.  But Jesus says no!  Your YES means YES forever!
  3. To be virtuous is to be fully human.  Our first reading today from Ezekiel talks about the virtues.  Virtue comes from the Latin word vir, meaning man.  To be a person of the virtues is to be a fully human person.  Take gluttony for example.  If you eat all you want, whenever you want….you are more like an animal than a human; you lack the virtue of temperance.  Or, chastity.  The one who gives into any and all temptations lacks the virtue of chastity; he is not acting as a human but as an animal.  Or, faith.  The one who lacks the virtue of faith, again—not acting like a human, but like an animal.  The virtues make us true people.  We must always strive after the virtues.  To be a human person is to be a virtuous person.  It’s a good practice to study the virtues in our prayers.  The more we study them, the more we will grow in them.  The more human we will become.  The more we will become the men and women God intends us to be.

Be a theologian: A homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

9016884f-4c91-417b-9809-29c9397a8e4d.pngThere’s a great story of a couple.

They were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in the midst of all their family and friends over a dinner.

The husband stands up to make a toast and he says:

Thanks for coming! Would you believe that in our 50 years of marriage we have never had an arguments?

It’s because of this.  On our honeymoon, right after the wedding, we went to Montana. We wanted to ride horses on the mountains.

Now she got a disobedient kind of horse.  She would say GO and it wouldn’t.

The first time this happened she hit the horse and she yelled: THAT’S ONE.  It happened again, and she hit the horse again and yelled THAT’S TWO.  It happened a third time, and she got off and shot the horse dead.

I yelled, HONEY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING!  YOU CAN’T JUST SHOOT A HORSE BECAUSE IT DIDN’T GO WHEN YOU SAID GO!

She looked at me and said, HONEY, THAT’S ONE.

I like that story because I think that once we know how somebody else thinks we know how to act around them.

This is especially true with God.  Once we know how God things, we know how to act.  We know how to follow.

Our call in our scriptures this weekend is this: We must be theologians!  The word theologian comes from two Greek words, “Theos” which means God and “logia” which means thinking.

To be a theologian is to be one who studies the thinking of God–who studies how he works, how he operates, how he thinks.

This is important.  In our first reading we heard God say, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways.”  We humans have our own kinds of ways of thinking about things but God always has a better idea.  His way is better.  We are called in scripture to imitate him, to be perfect as he is perfect.  To be more godly is to be more Christian.

There’s an example of all this in our in gospel today, this parable of the landowner who keeps hiring people throughout the day and pays them all the same.  No human would act this way.  It is not human logic.  But if we spend time thinking about it and praying with this scripture in our own personal prayer we’re studying the thinking of God.

Everybody ought to be spending at least a little time with the Bible every day!  This is the best way to be a theologian, that is, the best way to study God’s thinking is to see how he has acted in the past!  That is a good indication of how he is acting now!

There are other ways, too.  Deacon Tom is about to start a book study. It’s a good happy thing to spend good time with the Catholic books because when we immerse ourselves in the way that God thinks then we become more like God. And that is what he says right in the scripture.  He says you are to be like me. And how can we ever be like God if we don’t know how God thinks how he works how we operate.  Good Catholic books can help us.

I never liked puzzles as a kid.  I just wanted all the pieces to be put together.  So I’d try to jam this piece into that one, even though it didn’t fit.  That is human logic.  God has the whole picture ni mind, he hows how everything goes together.  Left to ourselves and our own thinking, the puzzle of life makes no sense and doesn’t fit together; it becomes a hot mess.  We try to construct our lives in a way according to our own fallen and broken logic that does not make a masterpiece, nor does it make for a good a good holy life. But by God’s thinking, it all looks great.  It’s a masterpiece.  Things fall into their places.  I think a lot of people spend so much time  trying to get pieces in there that don’t fit.  But when we try to put the thing together or put the puzzle put our life together in the way that God has planned, the way that God has already kind of written out and dreamed up for us when we just put the pieces together according to his logic it all makes sense and everything fits.