Sunday, July 31, 2016

Vanity of Vanities! - Homily for the 18th Sunday in OT (C)

As Deacon Schneier is preaching this weekend, I am bringing out a treasure "old and new." From this very weekend three years ago, a Top Five Most-Read homily from this blog. On our Stuff and Vanity...

A Dumpster of Vanity

            Have you ever seen one of those green street signs that say “End St. Louis County Maintenance”? I don’t know where he got it, but my grandpa had one. He had it placed above the entrance to his basement: “End St. Louis County Maintenance.” You can figure, then, that grandpa had piles and piles of junk in the basement: several televisions that he was “working on”; typewriters; boxes and boxes of electrical equipment and tools…  The joke was that if one of the kids was going down there, be sure to have string tied around its wrist so that it wouldn’t get lost.
            When grandpa died, it was his family who had to clean up the piles of stuff. Piles that he had never got to. So much stuff he had that it filled two dumpsters—and not like the ones on our parking lot. We’re talking semi-truck dumpsters. Grandpa was a hoarder.
            I thought of this when I heard the first reading today: “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” My grandpa had all that stuff, had spent so much money on all the stuff, and the vast majority ended up in the dumpster. “Vanity of vanities!”

Am I Building Bigger Barns?

In the Gospel, we see vanity clearly: the rich man has a bountiful harvest, but in trying to hold on to it all, he finds himself anxious: “What shall I do?” he worries. So he comes up with the idea that he will simply organize his riches better and then he goes to bed content. But he dies that night. And he loses all of his stuff. To that man God says, “You fool!”
(Not too often that you hear Jesus saying that!)

            So, the question is: at what point do our possessions make us foolish?

            Perhaps we need to take an inventory of what we own and why we own it. Does a girl of 9, for example, need 20 My Little Ponies and 14 Barbie Dolls to be happy? And if she does, what does that say about her and her parents? Or the boy: does he need 140 matchbox cars, 15 lego sets, 3 light sabers, and a few baseball gloves to be happy? If so, then we are all foolish. All of these items have been given from good intention—we want our children to be happy—but all of this “stuff” can easily make our lives miserable. 

For the parents, we find ourselves harping on our children to put away their stuff. And sometimes there is just so much stuff that it is impossible for the brain to organize it—especially a little brain as a child’s. So, we think and we think and then we come up with the solution: let’s buy organizers! Yes, spend more money for organizers—that will solve the problem! And so we “organize” our stuff as the rich man did with barns. How foolish!
            And we rationalize it, don’t we? We say “I might need it… later…” And later becomes tomorrow and tomorrow becomes a month and a month becomes a year and then five years, fifteen, … and then we’re dead and it’s thrown in the dumpster—and we never used it. How foolish!

The Weakened Imagination

For the child, the seed has been planted. Our children grow up with the mentality that this is “normal”—that to have a lot of stuff and to organize it is the way to go. So, when they become parents, they think that this is what they need to do. And when they can’t afford giving their children as much stuff as they had, they feel like they are bad parents. And even if they can afford all of the stuff, they feel overwhelmed by it all.
            This has side-effects too for the greater community. Take for example the current cultural revolution. If you haven’t noticed, fewer and fewer kids are going outside to play. Why is it that fewer are riding bikes? or playing hide-and-seek? or playing in the mud? Sure, parents might be more protective, but I think another big part of this is the electronic devices we throw at kids. The iphones, ipods, ds’s and whatnot—while they are not bad in themselves—they do not stimulate the active imagination of a child. In fact, these devices retard the active imagination because the device itself is what does the imagining. Thus, the child is trained to have things imagined for it. As a result, the child never is challenged to create: wonder, imagination, and the desire to seek the adventure of what lays beyond us is weakened and oftentimes destroyed. (We wonder why we have teenagers, 20-somethings, and even grown ups who can’t think outside the box, create, imagine, wonder, go outside—and instead prefer to sit and have a device imagine a world for them). They have become neutralized, perfectly content to stay indoors. (I find it lamentable that most kids have never seen the Milky Way. Instead, they think it is a candy bar).

The “New Normal

            And it’s not just about going outdoors; it’s about being able to go outside of ourselves. Study after study is showing that material contentment does not lead to community life; it leads to isolation—like a dragon that sits on its gold alone. We can see this in the declining rate of marriages and families, and a declining rate of feeling responsible to take active part in the greater community.
This not only has a detrimental effect on making our world a better place, but it makes it nearly impossible for young adults to find that suitable spouse. And if they should find that special someone, they face the worry of sharing money and finances, and they worry about how their lifestyle might change. So they don’t marry or they get a “pre-nup.”
            All of this has developed a “new normal” in our American culture. “Normal” is now marrying at 30 with separate bank accounts and a pile of debt because of student loans. The couple believes that they must have a house—and typically a house the size of their parents’ last house: the house that their parents had saved and saved and started saving by starting out with an apartment—that house. So the young couple mortgages themselves into such a spot that they will have 2 kids, max—and Catholic education? Don’t even start on that! It is just too expensive! Fools!

(On a personal note: I am convinced that student loans and mortgages are the newest and worst form of contraception today).

            When did the mentality arise that said that there had to be only one child living in only one bedroom? This is crazy. When my mom was raising four of us by herself (and gosh, I sound like an old codger: “when I was a young boy…!”) I lived in a 10X10 room with my sister (ew!) and a bunk bed. Was it a cross? Yes. But how many lessons were learned there! About how to get along when times were tough; about sharing; about community; about not killing each other in the middle of the night… We learned about sacrifice and compassion and family.

An Opportunity Missed: The Catholic School

            When we vainly spend the money God has given to us—and it is His harvest, not ours—not only do we miss out on developing an imagination, community, and greater learning, but we also miss opportunities to spend our money on the things that really matter.
            I think of our own Catholic school. It is a CATHOLIC school—and so it is specifically your school. Our Catholic school! Many think it is expensive because it costs just under $5,000 to send a child here. I agree. I wish it could be free to all. It also needs to be even better at being a good steward of your gifts and operating simply, too, while also giving teachers a living wage. All of this is something Monsignor and I are working on. Let’s pray for this!
But let us also look at the public schools in the area. I mean no disrespect to them; but people see them as free. But they aren’t. Whereas our school costs $5,000 per child, public schools cost Joe Taxpayer an average of $16,000 per child in Jefferson County. The government is providing a “service” that we can do for a third of the cost. I don’t know about you, but wouldn’t Joe Taxpayer be better off knowing that we are saving him $11,000 less per student? But the current mentality out there is costing him and is going to lead to the closing of our Catholic schools. We have a choice here—oh, if only ALL CATHOLICS would support THEIR CATHOLIC schools! It is our duty, whether we have a child there or not, whether we have supported in the past or not, whether we have two dollars or two million dollars—we have a duty to support our Catholic school. And we know that the Lord cherishes those who give from their living and not simply from their excess. 
And we have a lot of excess. I think of the woman who, in her religious fervor, has 20 different pieces of religious art in her kitchen or the grandma who has 30 “precious moments” dolls. I have nothing against them, but there comes a point when the clutter prevents us from enjoying the one thing. Have two pieces of art and two dolls! Sell the rest to sponsor a child at our school! Follow the example of Pope Francis who asks us to consider: why drive a Cadillac when a Chevy will do? Why add on an extra room for your stuff when your brother is homeless?

Becoming Rich in God

            But it’s not just about living more simply or even about living more equitably with one’s brother.
You see, an anonymous “Someone in the crowd” asked Jesus to resolve his financial dilemma. Jesus rebukes that man. Why? Because the man in his vanity had overlooked the reality that an eternal inheritance stood right in front of him! JESUS WAS RIGHT THERE. The dispute about money was petty in comparison to the riches of God that were open before him. If only that man would have asked for an eternal inheritance! But no: he was blind with vanity.
            Paul exhorts us:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died….
He means our baptism!
Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly….
And rise to the glory of God!

            Maybe you feel convicted by this. Maybe you realize that we all need to grow in simplicity in life and have a paradigm change in the way we spend our money. And maybe some of you feel sad that you have spent your money poorly and are in a hole.
See Jesus in front of you!

And so, if your house is a mess, have you ever asked God to help you clean it?
Lord, please help me clean my house. Please bring order to it. Please help me to let go of stuff and to be freed from the slavery of things!

If you are in a hole because of vanity, then we need to ask for God’s mercy. God’s mercy is stronger than our past vanity! Let’s run to him and ask him for his merciful help. He will help us!
And then, perhaps, we need to seek someone in the parish for good financial advice. Maybe we need someone to instruct us in good habits of spending and taking care of ourselves.

            Or maybe you feel enslaved by what you own, enslaved by image and by vanity. To you, hear the words of our Lord: He says:

do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious …? … All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides…

Elsewhere, He says:
where your treasure is, there is your heart as well.
And also:
What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?

You will be free from your vanity and your possessions by giving. By giving away. By living simply. By seeing your gifts benefiting others-- this is truly a greater joy than having stuff.

So, brothers and sisters: Seek God above all else. Sell all the rest. Become rich in what matters to Him!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Logic of Prayer - Homily for the 17th Sunday in OT (C)

One of the more difficult paradoxes in the Bible is the idea that in the Old Testament, God is all war and famine and fire and wrath, but in the New Testament, God is all love and mercy. It is almost tempting to look at it as though they are different gods or that He learned along time’s way. So how do we explain that—this war on one side and mercy on the other?

I think the key rests in who He is dealing with. At the time of Abraham, for example, we must remember that God is dealing with a nomadic, Bedouin tribe. They aren’t a people moved by finer points of Greek or Roman argumentation; they are a people moved by their passions. War moves them. Death moves them. Hence, God must speak in their language—this Logic of Suffering, if you will—to move them.

We see this in our own day, actually. I’ve seen it happen too many times to count where a person has lost all sense of God—that is, until some tragedy strikes or some death draws near. Then they ask the big questions: who am I? what is the meaning of life? what happens after I die? and so on. When people have closed their minds and hearts so much, the Logic of Suffering is sometimes the only way for God to break through.

This is what makes the first reading so novel: Abraham sees the impending destruction of an entire city—Sodom and Gomorrah—and in this moment, Abraham sees that there may be some innocent people there. The Logic of Suffering is not enough; Abraham is starting to be moved by love. And there, with the Lord, the Lord helps Abraham to learn the Logic of Love: that is, when we love, we place ourselves into the breach and intercede. In this case, Abraham, our Father in Faith, intercedes as destruction looms, praying that disaster will be averted.

Thus begins a great and beautiful history of men and women interceding for the world, the culmination of which is seen in Jesus Christ and in every Catholic who stands in the breach when it seems the world is on the verge of destruction.  

*          *          *

But for all that, we must all admit that war is still the language of the day. And we’re not the only ones taking notice.

Father Donald Calloway, a priest becoming more well-known for his preaching and mission, tells the story about a priest who was ministering in Japan.

This priest in Japan was attending an international gathering of Christians from across the world and it was attended by foreign dignitaries. One particular dignitary, an Ambassador from Japan, approached the priest. The Ambassador asked the priest if he was serving in Japan whether he was a Catholic one. The priest said he was.

The Ambassador then said, "War is your fault."

Struck by surprise, the priest gathered himself and asked what the ambassador meant. The ambassador said, "You Catholics, all of you — we do not have peace in the world. It is your fault."

(Can you imagine? What would we say to that accusation?)

The priest said, "Ambassador, why do you blame us?"

The ambassador said, "I've read about this. The Lady came to you at Fatima, right? That's what you believe? She told you what to do to secure peace in the world. Well, there's no peace in the world, so obviously you Catholics haven't done it."

The priest was stunned and, trying to defend himself, said "But Ambassador, isn't peace everyone's responsibility?"

The ambassador doubled-down: "No, she came to you Catholics. Not to Buddhists. Not to Hindus. She came to you, and it is your responsibility."

*          *          *


I don’t know about you, but this convicts me.

It convicts me because I’ve never looked at peace and prayer in this way: in such close proximity to each other—and my responsibility. The Ambassador’s words evidences that he sees something, a Logic, that I think it is so easy for me (and I speak for myself here)—it is so easy for me to overlook.

For example, I realize that deep down I’m always deferring the work towards peace to my political candidates and politicians. I mean, they are the ones with all the real power, right?

But wait! When was it that I forgot the power of prayer? When was it that I forgot that the world changes when we pray (Mary promised!) and that this great work was given to me. The work for peace isn’t simply given to politicians and judges—it’s give to me, to all of us!

When did I forget this great dignity that each of us holds in our hands?—this great dignity of prayer!

*          *          *

I think it is easy to think that our prayers don’t matter much because we either think that we are too little and we don’t matter very much, or that God is too big and He doesn’t listen very much.

I mean, look at Sodom and Gomorrah: Abraham prayed, but the cities were eventually destroyed. Lord, didn’t you hear his prayer?

Or yesterday, I went to the NICU at Cardinal Glennon Children’s hospital. And the place was at capacity were 80 children. Lord, it seems like there are a lot of unanswered prayers there.

Or I think of a friend and his wife who were pregnant with twins and moving from one part of the US to the other. And how, during the middle of their journey, they went into labor—four months early. They asked for prayers and we prayed and we prayed, but the twins didn’t make it. Lord, didn’t you hear our prayers?

I just don’t see it, Lord.

*          *          *

At that point, I have to take a breath and step-back for a moment. And in that moment I realize that I’m a results-driven prayer kind of guy. I want result and I want them now.

But that’s actually a kind of hopeless and melancholic—even self-centered—kind of way of looking at things.

Maybe there were graces that that I didn’t see! Maybe something deeper—deeper beyond my ability to comprehend—was going on there. Maybe He has something better... (Better than keeping those twins alive? Yes! Something even better-- this is the hopefulness of God and His eternity! Blessed are those who can see this!)

Shoot, maybe things could have been worse and I was overlooking that, too.

Yes, being merely a results-driven prayer kind of guy can blind us to actual graces and lead us to a kind of hopelessness that wonders where the heck God is—when in reality He’s been there all the time and really helping us through.

*          *          *

I also realize, when I take a step-back for a moment—I realize that my results-driven kind of prayer also weakens my ability to love.

Here’s what I mean by that. Jesus prays and then turns to us and reveals that God is a Father: He has a heart, He has desires, He loves. But so often I turn God the Father into a vending machine. I think that if I “put in” a prayer, make my selection and jump through the hoops, that God will give me what I want. And if I don’t get it—then, like any vending machine, I get angry and shake it and say give it to me!

But where is love in that? For me, I know that I want to be loved for who I am, not just for what I give people. I think that’s more akin to what the Father wants as well: He wants us to love Him for who He is, not just what we get from Him.

And yet, He wants to give.

Parents: when your child is young and they ask you for a candy bar in the aisle at Target, sometimes you say “no,” right? And why? Not because you're skimpy or unloving, but likely it’s because dinner is around the corner and there is something better for your child. Sometimes when your child asks, you can’t give because maybe it won’t help or maybe there is something better that you want to give. That's the Logic of Hopefulness.

Now, the child might get angry at this—the Logic of Suffering!—but he doesn't see. Not yet. But one day he will. And that's the process of maturity: of moving from something childish to being an adult. 

And yet, when your child grows older and becomes a man or a woman, you still want them to come to you and ask, right? To seek your wisdom and your generosity? Of course!

And you hope that, between being a child and being a man or woman, they move from seeing you as a vending machine to seeing you as someone who loves them with all their heart. And that they can ask from that love.

That’s the Logic of Love. That’s what the Father wants. That’s what He is revealing through Jesus today. That’s why we see Jesus praying to His Father. There is love there.

*          *          *

So, when we are invited to pray, God is asking us: “Do you trust me?” And not only that, but “Do you love your neighbor enough to bring them to me? to stand in the breach for them?” “Do you love me?”

Do you see the faith in the Asking of prayer? And the hopefulness? and the love of the Father?

Let us listen and respond to this Logic of Love and pray—pray for the world that still only knows the Logic of Suffering: the wars and the famine and the fire….

Let us pray!

Our Lady of Fatima, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

So, so anxious...! - Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Let’s be honest: I could give you a very short homily—and all that I’d have to say today is: “Stop worrying.”

Ok, thanks for coming.

*          *          *

We’ve heard the story of Martha and Mary before: about how Jesus approaches and then how Martha becomes anxious while Mary is contemplative. We know that story. But did you notice the first reading?

In the first reading, God approaches (appearing as three men—a prefigurement of the Holy Trinity). And as He approaches, Abraham and Sarah become anxious to serve. It’s just like our Gospel! But instead of a Mary and a Martha, in our first reading we have two Marthas! Both Abraham and Sarah are anxious with serving!

So we would think that God would teach them a lesson. But He doesn’t.

Instead, one person of the Holy Trinity (perhaps the Holy Spirit?) promises them both a blessing, saying, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a Son,” Isaac (which prefigures Jesus and Mary and how she conceives by the Holy Spirit. But I digress).

Ok, so why the difference? Why is Martha chided for her anxiousness while Abraham and Sarah are blessed?

The answer comes when we consider the two stories together as one. In Abraham and Sarah, humanity has already fed God. So, when he approaches humanity again, this time in the story of Martha and Mary, God comes to us not hungering for food, but hungering and thirsting for our love.

*          *          *

Let me explain with a quick story why that matters.

When I was in grad school, I would come home during various breaks throughout the year: Thanksgiving… Christmas… Spring Break, and so on. And when I’d come home, mom was quick to make dinner for me and the family. Plates would be set out, napkins, … she would ask what we all wanted to drink and there would be five different options. All of the family would be gathered around the table and mom would be bringing the food over. And then she would sit. – Finally, mom will be in the conversation. – But then she remembered that she forgot the salad dressing… So mom would get up and get the dressing and eventually sit back down… until she realized that the bread was still in the oven and up she went to get that.  

And as much as I love mom and her cooking, after months of not seeing mom, I must admit: I could care less about the forgotten salad dressing. When we’re home, food can wait. What we’re really hungry for is the heart.

Martha and my mom, for their part, were loving Jesus through their service. And I love my mom for that.

But for Martha, in that serving, she started to lose track of why she was serving in the first place. She became envious and jealous and even angry that Mary was just wasting time with Love.

But that’s what Jesus wants. In that present moment, all He wanted was for Martha to sit down with Him and share her heart and let Him share His. That’s all He wanted. So she can stop being so anxious.

Yet that's so hard to do, right?

*          *          *

Pope Emeritus Benedict once said (and it was either in “Faith and the Future” or “Jesus of Nazareth”—I forget which)—he once said that humanity lives in three moments: the past, the present, and the future. And the most “eternal” of those three moments is the present moment. In this present moment, he said—this is where Jesus dwells. Jesus doesn’t dwell in the past, because the past is dead. Nor does He dwell in a distant future, because the future doesn’t even exist yet. Right now, this moment, this is where Jesus comes to us and wants communion with us. Not down the line in heaven, but now.

Yet, it’s the present moment that is so elusive for us. The devil and the world seem to be pushing us into any moment but Jesus and the present moment.

So we dwell on the past. The what if’s and the if only’s. The regret. … And that translates into anxiety in the present moment. We are anxious because we don’t want to make the same mistakes again—the mistake of messing up or the mistake of missing out. That translates into being exceedingly busy and trying to do as much as we can (so we don't miss out or regret what we missed) and we pressure our children so that they don’t miss out or we are quick to correct their mistakes. Shoot, we can be so anxious about the past that we simply busy ourselves in this Now so that we don't have to deal with it. I don't want to think about the past; I'll avoid it; ... and while we might not say that, underlying our busyness in the Now is this avoiding.... 

But you see, Jesus wants to heal us in the Now. He wants you to sit with Him, right now, and give Him your past. Perhaps this is what Mary is letting Him do: to heal her, to say to her, “hey, the past is behind us. Let it go. You are forgiven.” That’s what Jesus is bringing in this Present Moment; He is bringing healing to our past—if only we would slow down and allow Him entry to our heart in this present moment.

*          *          *

Or maybe you’re anxious about the future. We’ve seen a terrible month of terrorist attacks—and that gets us all worried. We start thinking: when’s the next one going to happen? Will it be here? What if it’s a biological attack or nuclear weapons? What if our society collapses? What if it’s the end of the world and Jesus comes? – and we can quickly get ourselves into a panic attack about it all.

But the future doesn’t even exist. Stop worrying. And maybe that seems simplistic and easy for me to say. But consider who is here in this Present Moment: we have Jesus and our Father. I mean, didn’t Jesus calm the storm?

(If I were at a Pentecostal church, I’d be asking for an Amen!) Amen?

Didn’t Jesus feed the five thousand who came to him hungry? … Amen?

Didn’t Jesus show Himself to be King and Lord and Messiah and Savior when He powerfully conquered the dead? 

So, what are we so worried about?

I know: we’re fragile. We’re afraid of dying. But aren’t we already dead—were we not baptized into the death of Christ such that neither “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword”—nothing will separate us from the love of Christ. Indeed, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (cf. Rom 8:35-39).

So stop worrying. Avoid the despair that always comes with worry (yes, they are connected!); for Jesus Himself said: “do not be anxious about tomorrow… let the day’s trouble be sufficient for the day” (Mt 6:34). For don’t we have a Father in heaven who is going to take care of us; for “even though I should walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are at my side” (Ps 23).


And perhaps Mary was worried. The crucifixion was on the horizon. But it was this moment, this Present Moment, when Mary would take a deep breath and Jesus would remind her of His love for her and how He is going to take care of her.

*          *          *

So I want you to do something right now. I want you to take a deep breath. Go ahead…  And exhale.

That’s grace.

God gave you that breath. And He’s going to give you the next one. And we’re going to take it one step, one day at a time, trusting that the Lord will “give us this day our daily bread.”

Because this is what happens in this Present Moment when we stop and let Jesus in: we start to realize that we are important to Him. He cares about us more than we care about ourselves. He’s saying: let me be anxious about your life. Let God be God… Let me be the one who serves you.

And notice: at the end, Jesus makes a promise. He says, “Mary,” who “has chosen the better part”—that is, this freedom, this peace, this “will not be taken away from her.”

If we live aware of Jesus in this Present Moment, if we slow down each morning and start the day with Him, the Prince of Peace, then no matter what happens, we’re going to be ok; we’re going to be at peace; we’re going to be with the Lord.

And He’s going to be with us.

Amen? Amen.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Who is My Neighbor? - Homily for the 15th Sunday in OT (C)

I must admit, I am really psyched about today’s Gospel. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of my favorites….

So, “How do you read it?” That’s what Jesus asks the man. (He’s getting him to think). How do you read this parable? What’s the “moral of the story”?

I think most of us would say: “Help those in need” or “Be like the Good Samaritan”—that’s the moral of the story.

But I think there’s something more than that here.

Consider this: why does Jesus need to tell a very, very detailed story about a Samaritan when the question of morality (that is “what must I do to inherit eternal life”) has already been answered? Why another lesson when it is already clear that we must “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself”?

Because the Good Samaritan isn’t just a nice story telling us to help others. It’s a story that answers the question: “Who is my neighbor?”

Of course, the answer to that question seems easy enough: Everyone is my neighbor.

And that’s right… But . Remember, it’s a scholar of the law who is asking this question of Jesus. There is something philosophical being asked here—the man is not simply asking about quantity, he’s asking about what is at the heart of this word “neighbor.”

It is akin to asking the question: “Who am I?”

We could answer that question quantitatively: “I am a priest, I am someone works and who does x, y, and z for a living….” But the question still remains: Who am I?

That’s an existential question. What is at the heart of me? what is the meaning of my life? …

And who is my neighbor?

What is at the heart of him? Who is he?

*          *          *

These are the questions that Jesus is addressing. And so, enter the Good Samaritan.

Who is the Good Samaritan?

We want to make him us, as a moral lesson about who I am supposed to be. But that’s not who the Samaritan is. The Good Samaritan is Jesus.

I know that is very obvious, but we have a tendency to gloss over this reality and take it for granted. Indeed, if Jesus is the Good Samaritan, then who are the other people in the story? And where are we in the story?

Let’s start with the robbers. Who are they? They are the devil and his minions.

Who did they rob and leave for dead? The man. That’s Adam. (His name, in Hebrew, literally means “the man”). By extension, that man is all of us: all of us, in Adam, had been stripped of our dignity as children of God, robbed of our eternal inheritance with God, left half-dead because of sin.

Who are the priest and the Levite (that is, a man of the law)? These are the Old Testament Laws and temple sacrifices. But could they save Adam? Could the commandments and the offerings of bulls restore humanity and bring it to heaven? No. And so the priest and the Levite pass by on the other side.

Who can save humanity? Jesus. The Good Samaritan.

(Roll credits!)

But wait! the story doesn’t end there!

It says the Good Samaritan “had compassion” on the man (esplanchnisthe!). He picks the man  up and pours oil and wine in the wounds. Why all of this detail? Because the oil represents the Holy Spirit and the sacraments that use it: Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing, Holy Orders. The wine represents love (think the Wedding at Cana) and its sacraments: Holy Communion and Holy Marriage. These are the medicines that will help restore humanity back to health!

But there is another detail: once these have been poured, its says Jesus “binds” the man’s wounds. That’s the Sacrament of Reconciliation: the great binding and loosing (Mt 18:17-18; Jn 20:22-23). The Sacrament of Reconciliation is such an important part in healing the sins, the spiritual wounds, of humanity!

After this, Jesus carries the man to the inn. That’s the Church.

It is there that Jesus tells the innkeeper: “take care of him.” Who is the innkeeper, this steward? It’s Peter and the apostles—indeed, anyone who is so ordained to care for the Church.

And what does Jesus give him? Two coins—the deposit of faith and of grace by which humanity will be cared for and restored to health.

And notice: Jesus says he will pay the innkeeper back—when? “On my way back.” That’s the Second Coming.

*          *          *

Pretty amazing, huh? The entire story of salvation history, right there. (I take that from Origen (from the early Church), Venerable Bede, and Pope Emeritus Benedict.)

Let’s draw some conclusions from this.

First, we learn about humanity: all of us—ALL of us—are that man who is by the side of the road and in need of a savior. Who am I—who is my neighbor? Someone who is in need of a savior.

We learn about Jesus, the Good Samaritan: He is someone who sees our pain and He stops for us. And He doesn’t just give us a temporary fix. He goes the extra mile, tenderly caring for our wounds and giving grace upon grace, superabundantly so—He even pays the price for us.

We learn about the Church: She exists precisely to care for humanity. And not simply to give humanity food, clothing, and shelter (although She must do this too). But also to heal the spiritual wounds and to restore humanity to health. Indeed, Jesus gives the Church for humanity—for ALL humanity. Everyone is to be invited in. All of humanity needs her!

*          *          *

Finally, we learn about our neighbor. The scholar of the law had asked “who is my neighbor” and Jesus responds by the example of the Good Samaritan. We call that Samaritan “Good” because so many people thought them bad—Samaritans were seen as traitors, sinful, and were thus spurned by the common culture.

When Jesus makes Himself to be one of them, He infuses something deep into “my neighbor”: He gives my neighbor a name.

That “group” out there that is not liked—blacks… whites… cops… muslims… Catholics… whatever group….  there are people there in that group, people who are part of the same Story as we are, and each one of those persons has a name.

And not just any name. At the heart of each person is a name: and that name is Jesus Christ.

When you are giving the Sign of Peace to your neighbor to your left and to your right, you aren't shaking hands simply with Danny or with Jen. You are shaking hands with Jesus Christ.

We don’t see Jesus in our neighbor or ourselves (and maybe they don't see Him in us or themselves) precisely because we are all wounded and in need of healing: we aren't yet the Good Samaritan. But that healing is precisely what's going on here at the inn. That whole process of healing is a process of transformation and restoration: that we may be restored and transformed into the Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ, “a man like us in all things but sin” (Heb 4:15).

As we are healed and transformed, we will start to see Jesus restored not only in ourselves, but we will see him "robbed," "beaten," "stripped" "left for dead" in all of humanity. It is then that we will hear Our King's returning words: "Amen, Amen, I say to you, whatever you did to these, you did unto me” (Mt 25:40).

Who is my neighbor? … My neighbor is Jesus Christ.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Home of the Brave - Homily Notes for the Fourth of July

Forty years—indeed, not even forty years—after the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence (of which we celebrate today), America found itself in another battle, the War of 1812. You may recall that it is during a battle in this war that we see emerge our National Anthem: The Star-Spangled Banner.

I love its last line; it’s a question: O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”  Not yet forty years into our nation’s history and already this nation was called the land of the free and the home of the brave. In the war of 1812, Francis Scott Key was asking whether the flag still stood, was still triumphant; in our day, we ask whether this is still the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Let’s simply focus on that last word: the “brave.” I love that word, even though it is not always a part of our common lexicon. Bravery is akin to courage, of running into battle no matter the cost. But there is something deeper to the word. For one, it is connected to hopefulness. A hopeful people will raise the banner and trek onward to their hope, even fighting for it; a despairing, hopeless people have lost the fight in them. Bravery and hope go together.

Bravery is also connected to possession of the True, the Good, the Beautiful. When we know and possess what is right, we are willing to fight for it. A person doesn’t enter into battle without knowing what they are fighting for; indeed, such a person would quickly lose the willingness to battle. Our Founding Fathers, however, possessed a keen understanding of what is True and Good, such that when the True and the Good were attacked, they appealed to the Almighty and with great bravery signed the Declaration of Independence—a Declaration whose last words are:

 [W]ith a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

*          *          *

In our beautiful nation, there is still a remnant of that hopefulness, of that “American Dream.” And there is still a possession, albeit weakening, of the True and Good. Our land is still the “home of the brave.”

But should this “great experiment” continue, we—and Catholics especially—must rediscover from where our Founding Fathers themselves drew this bravery to stand against evil. It was here *pointing to the Cross*.  It is the Almighty who first declared our independence when He sent His son who dwelled among us and established a kingdom whose laws and freedoms no man—indeed, not even the powers of hell—could overcome it. Our Founding Fathers knew and believed that at our Lord’s triumphant Crucifixion and Resurrection, there came this ultimate Declaration of Independence: from the Cross, our Savior declared that we are free from the kingdoms of darkness and evil; we have been liberated from the slavery of sin and death. This is the declaration on which all other rights and liberties would find their source and fulfillment.

From here comes our bravery—the True and the Good and our Hope—for if Jesus Christ has overcome the kingdom of darkness, then no human attack against us could ever take away our freedom. We are free, no matter what political wind blows one day and is gone the next. We are always victorious, even when death is at our side. “Therefore,” says St. Paul, “we are always courageous” (2 Cor 5:6).

Indeed, the only way we could ever be enslaved again is if we, in our own souls, should choose sin, to choose a king to replace Jesus; for where the Truth is, there is Freedom. So we must be brave and “fight the good fight… [holding] tightly to the eternal life to which God has called [us]” (1 Tim 6:12)

Indeed, there will come a day, not unlike this one, when the battle of faith will be over. The Kingdom of God, in which we became citizens at our baptism, will be gloriously made manifest. Yes, today’s celebrations and fireworks will be dwarfed by that great celebration yet to come. All the angels and saints and, we pray, ourselves numbered among them, will find ourselves celebrating our Lord and King Jesus Christ’s great return. And with Him we pray we will go: to heaven, to that kingdom from which we received have really received our own: that great Country which forever is and forever will be “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”