Readings: Wis 11:22-12:2; 2 Thess 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10
It would be very easy to preach about the gospel story of Zacchaeus. In many ways he is among the most appealing figures in the New Testament and someone we can certainly identify with. But I’m more intrigued by the first reading we heard, from the Book of Wisdom. It’s a marvelous little meditation on the love and mercy of God.
The Book of Wisdom is part of a collection of writings in the bible that are called "Wisdom Literature." We should take just a moment to describe this type of writing, because in some ways it’s unfamiliar to us and in other ways it isn’t. Wisdom literature was a kind of writing that was widespread in the ancient world. It was found in the cultures of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Syria as well as in Old Testament Jewish culture. The purpose of wisdom literature is practical guidance in the daily struggles and challenges of life. It’s trying to develop the art of "living well" in a world that is often conflictive and confusing. In some ways Wisdom Literature looks a lot like the advice columns in daily newspapers: Dear Abby, Dear Ann, Dear Carolyn. People have problems and they want some practical help in getting through them.
One big difference separates biblical Wisdom Literature from the newspaper advice columns. The biblical Wisdom Literature always assumes that you are dealing with daily problems in the light of a relationship with God, and that your problem has not only has a human dimension but also a divine dimension. The Wisdom writer wants to offer some suggestions and guidelines to help you cope with the particular problem you are facing in both dimensions.
What is the particular problem that our Wisdom writer is dealing with? Unfortunately, that occurs in the passages just before the reading we heard. (That’s one of the problems with Lectionary texts; sometimes you only get half the picture.) The writer was responding to a question about the punishments the Egyptians received because of their persecutions of the Hebrews (the plagues). He writes about the sins of the Egyptians, the greatest being the worship of false gods. And that God struck them down because of these sins. But then it’s like the Wisdom writer realizes that his readers might take him the wrong way and think that God will immediately strike them down for any serious offense. So that’s when he begins the beautiful meditation we heard in today’s reading. He turns it into a prayer: "But you (O Lord) have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook sins that they may repent. (Overlook doesn’t mean God forgets about them, but rather that he delays any action to give time for repentance.) For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made." And later: "You spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and Lover of souls..." I love that phrase, "Lord and Lover of souls," and it shows up in a lot of prayers in the Byzantine tradition. So the Wisdom writer is saying: whatever you have done, God gives you a chance for repentance! There is nothing that cannot be forgiven.
This is a Christian message that needs to be given over and over. People can do some sinful and pretty stupid things in their lives....whether by bad choice, ignorance, peer pressure or something else. Later on, in a different frame of mind they realize what a mistake and horrible decision they made. They may very easily think and feel that they can never be forgiven by God. In my forty-three years of priestly ministry I’ve met more than a few who have felt like that. They need to hear that they are forgiven by God if they have true sorrow in their hearts and ask and pray for God’s forgiveness. Often a lot of these people have turned their lives around a long time ago, but in their hearts they continue to feel unforgiven. They need to hear this reading again and again: "You, O Lord, have mercy on all...and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent.....O Lord and Lover of souls."
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Readings: Wis 11:22-12:2; 2 Thess 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Serving at the Cathedral Kitchen was really a great experience. I felt a variety of feelings and emotions. My mind was swirling with ideas. I felt that I was really helping these people who couldn’t live their lives otherwise. I feel that I can contribute more to the well being of society. I also felt that people can come together putting aside their differences and backgrounds and support each other. People who have never seen each other were able to come together and serve the needs of others. It really is a testament to the power of the human spirit. There were a few disputes, though, but they were easily resolved. Serving at the soup kitchen helped me realize that there are people in much worse situations than my own. As bad as I may feel sometimes, I have to remember that there are those who are even worse, just barely squeaking by. It really was an experience that I will never forget.
When we first arrived at the soup kitchen I saw a guy sleeping at the door. We entered the building and went to where we were going to serve the food. I noticed a lot of cheese, cereal and sugar. When the people came in the room to eat, most of them headed toward the soup. Many were thirsty and drank several cups of Kool-Aid. They ate cereal with what looked like a mountain of sugar on top. Three huge pots of soup were gone in no time at all. I heard a few words from those we served. It felt really good to help others in need.
The soup kitchen was an eye opening experience for me. I got to serve with my classmates, Derek, Oscar and Elliott. Mrs. May and Mrs. Buckley both drove to the soup kitchen. I rode with Elliott and Mrs. May. When we arrived at the soup kitchen we found a guy asleep next to the door. We had to wake him up so Elliott could get through in his wheelchair. Derek and I served the Kool-Aid, while Elliott, Mrs. May and Oscar served the salad. I was impressed with how well manned everyone was.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Readings: Sir 35:16-18; 2 Tim 4:6-18; Lk 18:9-14
It’s relatively easy to summarize the main themes of each of the three readings we have just heard. The book of Sirach says "keep crying out to God for our needs." The letter to Timothy urges us to "have confidence in God to bring us to the heavenly Kingdom." The passage from the Gospel of Luke advises, "Do not despise other people and glorify yourself." It’s harder, though, trying to figure out which one to accent in a homily. After some consideration I decided to go with the last one, mainly because the idea of "despising someone" intrigues me.
Maybe one of the reasons I’m drawn to that topic is because the cultural mood of our country is so much about despising others, as the current political campaign so sadly shows in many examples: there are people refusing to shake hands or walking out on a debate. But long before this political campaign began, "despising groups of people" had become a staple of many stand-up comedy shows on TV and radio—despising homosexuals, Jews, Hispanics, Catholics, blacks. The shocking surge in the amount of bullying nationwide is also rooted in seeing some other people as "despised." Now we can add the Internet to TV, radio and stand-up comedy. Of course, despising others makes any possibility of meaningful communication absolutely impossible. How did we get this way?
Let’s consider the notion of "despising someone" a little more closely. It’s very easy to say that you don’t like someone. In that case you can just avoid them at parties and so on. If you have to work with someone you don’t like, you would consider it as an irritation but you can probably put up with it. And in most cases you can even interact with them on corporate tasks. That happens all the time in businesses today. But "despising someone" goes a couple of steps further than disliking. As dictionary definitions go, they agree that "despising someone" means "to look down on someone with disdain," "to regard with contempt," "to view with scorn," "to regard as contemptible and worthless." Then another step beyond that is the intent to "irritate, annoy or even hurt," "to try to injure or thwart" the other person. Sadly, all of that is showing up in this political election and the phenomenon of bullying.
We, as Catholic religious, might disavow ourselves of any such attitudes and behaviors, but we can’t deny that we are influenced by them just by living in the middle of them. And I must say that I have detected some "despising" in criticisms that some people, Catholics or otherwise, make of the Catholic Church and its leadership in particular. Living in the culture we absorb this mean attitude sometimes unknowingly.
The real question is: how does one move from "disliking someone," which is understandable and probably unavoidable because of personality differences, to "despising someone?" One answer that I found noteworthy and provocative says that the move from disliking to despising happens because of a loss of a sense of reverence in one’s life. Reverence is recognizing and appreciating the value or goodness of a person or thing. I’m talking about reverence as a natural aptitude, not in any specific religious sense, such as a book-lover has a reverence for a rare book. Reverence appreciates and responds to innate value. The Pharisee in today’s gospel passage doesn’t see any value or good in the other people who are praying in the Temple. Even though he himself is performing religious acts, there’s no real reverence in him at all. I do feel that’s one of the reasons there’s so much "despising" in our culture today: because a lot of people have just lost any sense of reverence. So it might be good for us today to do a little self-examination on the reverence in our own lives. Do we instinctively turn to look for the value or goodness of a person or thing we meet? That’s reverence. And this natural reverence forms a foundation for a reverence toward God. It’s good to remember that.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Often I post reflections written by my 8th grade students who serve at the Cathedral Soup Kitchen. Today I am honored to share with you a reflection written by Mrs. Linda Buckley, a teacher at Holy Name. For years Linda has made it possible for students to serve at the soup kitchen. She has a passion for the poor and shares that passion with our students. Soon you will find reflections written by the students Mrs. Buckley writes about in this post. Thank you Linda for serving God and God's people so lovingly. You are a wonderful example of servant leadership!
When ordinary acts of kindness occur before our eyes they are sometimes missed. When we move too quickly we run the risk of missing our God in the midst of those very ordinary actions. Today, I just about missed our God right before my eyes! I stopped what I was absorbed in doing for a very brief moment and I saw our God! He was present in those who went to The Cathedral Soup Kitchen this morning to feed the people in our city who were hungry. Our God was right in front of my eyes when I saw Mrs. May helping Elliott pass out soup. Her undaunted spirit and her “can do” attitude gave witness to our God working through her. Elliott, doing his part to help out while passing bowls to his mom was an unforgettable image of service and a call to action. Austin being sensitive to Elliott’s needs the entire morning just about got overlooked. I just about missed our God working through Oscar when he took charge of dishing out salads and then the fruit like he had been doing it forever. I saw Dereck putting his faith into action by confidently pouring drinks and then clearing tables. It was his willingness to do whatever was asked of him to the best of his ability that I saw our Lord working in him. When it was time to return to school the boys all piled in Mrs. May’s van to ride with Elliott. Our service was completed and back to school we went. I saw our God in the midst of our students and an extraordinary woman! I just about missed it! How can that be an ordinary day?
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Readings: Ex 17:8-13; 2 Tim 3:14-4:2; Lk 18:1-8
The great scientist, Albert Einstein, once said: "Science can tell us a great deal about the universe—how old it is, how vast it is, what laws of physics control it. But science is powerless to answer the most important question of all: is the universe a friendly (and happy) place, is it supportive of human hopes and desires?" (Harold Kushner, The Lord is My Shepherd, p. 7) For that, human beings must look elsewhere. And they have for ages, long before science came along. We in the Judaeo-Christian faith tradition look to our scriptures for the answer to the question: is the universe a friendly (and happy) place? And the answer is yes! Because it is presided over by a God who looks after us. "I will be your God and you will be my people." And how exactly does this Lord God look toward us? The 23rd Psalm gives us an answer: "The Lord is my Shepherd." There is someone who ultimately looks over me, and will ultimately care for me! That doesn’t mean that there will be no sorrows, woes or trials in my life in this world. But it does mean that we will not have to face those difficulties alone. "The Lord is my Shepherd" and will watch over me.
But how do we know this in the first place? We know it because of the "learning communities" we have grown up in: our families, our churches, our schools. They are the means that pass along to us the answer to: is the world a friendly place? They are the ones who teach that "The Lord is my Shepherd" no matter what happens. That’s what St. Paul is suggesting in the Second letter to Timothy: "Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known the Sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ." These faith convictions are passed along from person to person, from generation to generation. The person to person communication remains vital in all this. Fr. Andrew Greeley has written on numerous occasions that the greatest theological "teaching moment" in the Catholic Tradition is when a young mother takes her child for the very first time up to the Christmas crib and points out the Baby Jesus in the crib and his mother, Mary, watching over him. The young mother tells her child, "That’s the way God watches over all of us." The greatest theological teaching moment in the Catholic tradition! That’s the beginning of the "learning communities" in our lives. There are many others.
Remembering a learning moment is, in a way, a time of going back to the basics, the ABCs of our life and of our faith. We need to do this at times for our monastic life, to re-visit the periods of monastic life that shaped us and that made us who we are. It’s one of the things that’s been happening to me as I am teaching the Vatican II course to Srs. Heather Jean and Anne Louise. We are going through the Constitution on the Liturgy right now and all the events that happened in the years right after the Council are making me replay those shaping events in my own life. It’s a very vivid reliving of them. The Vatican II passage that had the most powerful, shaping effect on my priestly ministry was this: "It is by the apostolic herald of the Gospel that the People of God is called together...so that all who belong to this people...may offer themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Through the ministry of priests the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is completed in union with the sacrifice of Christ." (The Ministry and Life of Priests, #2) That became my vision of priesthood....in a nutshell. The ministry of the priest, in all that he does, is to bring to completion the spiritual sacrifices of the faithful.
St. Paul is calling all of us to "Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed." It’s for each of us to examine our lives in that regard.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
The 8th graders continue to amaze me with their essays on what serving means to them. I think you will enjoy reading their work as well.
When I went to the soup kitchen I was excited to go. As soon as I got out of the car I saw a person sleeping on the ground and at that moment I thought to myself, 'Wow!' I am so lucky I don't have to sleep on a cold floor every night, cold, hungry, tired and no one to be with. When I started to serve I thought the people would be mad and mean to me. After awhile, I realized that they were not mean at all. They had manners and were very polite. After serving for awhile this teen came up and asked for Kool-Aid. He said hi to Anzley and me. Anzley asked him how old he was. He responded, 'I'm a sophomore in high school.' After talking to him I heard him say, 'If you ever get into trouble and hear the police just put your hood up.' Anzley and I laughed but I wondered if that was why he was here...because he got into some trouble. I saw lots of people and the same question kept coming to my mind, Why are there 5 times as many guys than girls? I was told that many of the guys got involved with drugs. I wondered if the drugs prevented them from finding a girlfriend and meaningful employment. For breakfast we served cereal and donuts and a few other items. I noticed that those who took cereal also took a lot of sugar. Large dosage of sugar, I was told, can trick the body into thinking it is drugs. The room I served in was small. The people had little space to eat. People kept coming in and out. I was busy at my station where I poured the drinks. Many people took up to four glasses at a time. They were very thirsty. I must have gone through about 10 gallons of punch. I realized that the reason they drank so much was because this was their last drink until tomorrow. So, they drank as if it was their last drink on the Earth. After it was all over I looked around and I was surprised that these people were not scary like I half way expected to find them. They are funny, nice and great people to be around and to talk to. It would have been great to spend all day with these people just to talk to them and hear their story. This will be a time I will never forget. I can't wait until I get to go again.
My experience at the soup kitchen was an interesting one. The soup kitchen was an experience I will never forget. It really made me glad to have the life I have. While there I helped serve the food to the people. I mainly helped out with the salad station. I noticed there were a lot more men than women. It really just felt good knowing I was helping people in need. A lot of people, including myself, sometimes doubt how lucky they are. They want things that are not essential to life, such as toys. What they don't realize is that there are people out there who don't have a home, don't have a car, and don't have enough or possibly any money to support their families. There are many ways to help people. Donating to a charity and helping out at a local food shelter are just two of many ways. Doing this doesn't only deepen your faith, but it also moves you closer to God and His kingdom. In conclusion, my experience at the soup kitchen was an interesting, yet at the same time, new experience for me. It will always serve as a reminder to me to always follow God.
This wasn't my first time going to a soup kitchen but, it was my first time going to the Cathedral Soup Kitchen. When we were walking through the doors there was this guy sleeping on the ground. At that point I realized how blessed I am. Austin and I were serving Kool-Aid. Every person that walked by said, 'Thank you,' or 'God bless you.' They smiled at us. Every time someone smiled at me that made me smile, too. It was the best feeling ever to know an average 14 year old girl can make a difference in the lives of others. There was a young teenager who stopped by the soup kitchen before he went to school. He told Austin and me to stay out of trouble. I was blown away at how close in age we were. I couldn't imagine what he goes through every day. This trip to the soup kitchen made me see how grateful and thankful I should be!
Monday, October 11, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Readings: 2 Kgs 5:14-17; 2 Tim 2:8-13; Lk 17:11-19
There’s a strange little passage in the first reading this morning that deserves some comment. After Naaman the Syrian was cured of his leprosy and the prophet refused a gift in return, Naaman asks for two mule-loads of earth. What’s the meaning of that? To understand the significance of that seemingly odd event we must remember the special place that the land of Israel has in the whole of the Jewish faith. The land (eretz Israel) was the very first promise of the Lord God to Abraham: "Go from your country....to a land that I will show you." (Gen 12:1) The land—the actual physical soil and dirt—always has a special place in Jewish faith. The land of Israel is the best and finest place to worship the Lord God. That’s what Naaman wants two mule-loads of earth for: to build in his native country his own little plot of "the land of Israel" so he can worship the Lord God there...on the actual land (dirt) of Israel. That same reverence for the actual land of Israel continued through the centuries in Jewish belief and practice. For example, the best place to be buried was in the land of Israel. But since Jews were spread all over the world, how could that happen? They kept little bags of dirt which had been taken from the land of Israel when they or some of their friends visited there and had them placed inside their coffins. So they could be buried in the land of Israel.
This special reverence for the actual land of Israel is one of the issues that separates Judaism from Christianity. Very early on the followers of Jesus moved away from this special attachment to the land. The key reason seems to have been their recognition that God’s Spirit moved on people who were outside the traditional land and faith of Israel. In the eleventh chapter of Acts Peter is describing to the community in Jerusalem how he had seen the Spirit of God descend upon Gentiles, and "when they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God saying, Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life." (Acts 11:18) The practical result of this was that "place" no longer mattered in the Christian perspective. You could be just as good a Christian whether you were in Jerusalem or Antioch or Rome. You could be a "good" Jew outside the land of Israel; but you could only be a "best" Jew in it.
And yet even within Christianity there is still something to be said for a recognition of some special places as holy and sacred. The study of the history of religions automatically includes sacred space and place as one of its primary categories whereby the holy is manifested. One of the tragic losses of our modern, mobile society is the loss by so many people of being able to identify a particular place or space as their own, "where they belong."
We Benedictine monastics have a little advantage there. The very structure of Benedictine life imparts a feeling of the sacredness of a place. Benedict never directly talks about that in his Rule, but it flows rather naturally from his insistence that the tools of the monastery should be treated as the "vessels of the altar." There’s a sense that "this is a holy place." And the Benedictine charism through the ages has seen the monastery as a sacred space. You can feel it as you walk through the ancient monastic buildings all over Europe. It’s here too in the United States. If you live in a place day after day and deal with all the people there, it may not seem like a very holy place. Visitors feel it more sharply. I’ve spoken to some of your visitors here at the monastery and heard things like, "This place is a God-send for me." I heard another lady say, "This place is a little bit of heaven for me." But it remains for us to again and again grab the appreciation that this little piece of ground here in Beech Grove is a sacred place, a place where God is especially worshiped.
The question that this reading of Scripture asks each of us is: what little bag of dirt would you like placed in your coffin?
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Readings: Hab 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2 Tim 1:6-14; Lk 17:5-10
In 1981 Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a little book that became a national best-seller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. He wrote it after his own young son died of a rare childhood disease. Millions of people bought the book and read it because they identified with the premise in the title of the book. Evidently there were a lot of bad things that happened to a lot of good people. But Rabbi Kushner in the book was merely restating the message we heard in today’s first reading from the prophet Habakkuk. "I cry for help, but you do not listen. ... Why do you let me see ruin? ... Destruction and violence are before me." The answer that Habakkuk receives from the Lord is hardly satisfying. The Lord says: "Wait! Fulfillment will happen. ... Just wait. The just one will live by faith." That’s basically the same answer that Rabbi Kushner gave in his book.
But there’s a subtle meaning that’s often missed here. We, as Christians, have heard that passage from Habakkuk frequently. Mostly because St. Paul quotes it directly in his letter to the Romans as do other New Testament authors (Hb 10:38-39). But already in these New Testament passages an added dimension of meaning has appeared. The word "live" has begun to signify the reward that will be received after death. "Live" in this context means the reward of eternal life. But that’s not what was the meaning intended by the prophet Habakkuk. In the time he was writing—some six hundred years before Christ—the Jews had no belief in life after death. That won’t come along for another four hundred and fifty years. What Habakkuk really meant was that, even in the face of destruction and violence, one who is just still lives with faith in God’s promise. That means being a hope-filled person when everything seems hopeless. Now that’s a lot tougher message.
The prophet puts these words into the mouth of God: the just one lives by faith. What God wants—that is, for one to be righteous before God—is for you to be a hope-filled person. (The word, faith, in this context has the special meaning of hope.) Especially in times of great difficulty, when the chances of coming through this difficult time don’t seem very good. In the news lately there have been lots of reports about the two young men from Westfield, IN who disappeared during a plane flight in Alaska. The plane disappeared a month ago and searchers could find no trace of it. Then some partial wreckage was found a few days ago, but no sign of any persons. During this whole ordeal the young men’s parents have been in Alaska. The mother says over and over to reporters: "We just try to have hope." That’s being a hope-filled person in a time of great difficulty. The prophet Habakkuk would understand very well.
The story of Habakkuk is being played out in multiple dramas all the time. You just have to go out and read all the requests on your prayer board. There are many there who probably feel exactly like the prophet—overwhelmed with the challenges of life they face. We, as Christian ministers, have to try and help them be hoped-filled persons, despite overwhelming odds. I always like something that Harold Kushner wrote at the beginning of his book on the 23rd Psalm. He wrote: "God’s promise was never that life would be fair. God’s promise was that, when we had to confront the unfairness of life, we would not have to do it alone for God would be with us."(p. 3) The prophet Habakkuk would surely shout: Amen. In summing up the significance of the 23rd Psalm Kushner uses words that Habakkuk would agree with: "In his despair, the Psalmist cried out to God, and a miracle happened. The miracle was not that the dead came back to life, or that the man’s health and wealth were restored. The miracle was that he (again) found life worth living." (p. 11) The miracle was that he (once again) found life worth living. That’s beautifully said.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Each month, Anne, a lay apostle, receives a message from Jesus. This is the message for October. To read more about the locutions Anne receives from Jesus and His Blessed Mother click on this link: Direction For Our Times.
My dear apostles, you are proceeding through your time on earth amidst many changes. Exteriorly, there is a great deal of motion and upset, which affects God’s children. Some are affected negatively and some are affected positively. Who is affected positively when there is suffering? I ask you this because I want you to view suffering from the perspective of one who trusts in God and trusts in God’s plan for all of His children. If you trust God, then suffering is viewed more simply, whether it is your suffering or the suffering of those around you. If you are suffering, then you are called to endure, but not without God and not without God’s grace. If someone near you is suffering, then you are called to offer compassion and even assistance if possible. You have the grace to understand your role and to understand your response, whether in your own suffering or in the suffering of those around you. In every experience in life, temptation is possible. If all is going well for you, then you may be tempted to become complacent about your response to the many graces I give you. I would prefer that during times of relative ease, you praise Me and be alert to helping others. If all is not going well, there may be a temptation to believe that your prayers are not heard by God. I would prefer that you use these times to practice trusting Me. Offer your suffering to Me with a heart that shares My experience willingly, not resentfully. Dear apostles, we are together, you and I. The unity we share was always intended by the Father. All is well. Do not be tempted against Me if you are suffering. I will never leave you and I will use your suffering in ways you do not understand yet. You will understand later and you will be so grateful to Me because I offered you these learning experiences. Rejoice. I am always with you.