Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Great Deal - Homily for the 25th Sunday in OT (C)

Do you know a deal when you see one?

A few weeks ago, I was in the market for a car. And for various reasons—but it was time. Of course, I didn’t want just any car. I wanted a Ferrari.

Actually, I just wanted a deal. And even better: I wanted a great deal.

And what is a great deal? A great deal is where we get a lot of something while only having to pay a little. Something amazing for not much cost.

Now, no one goes into a car dealership and says, “Yeah, uh, give me your worst deal. I want to pay a lot for a clunker.” No. Give me a great deal.

We all want a great deal.

But the question is: Do you know a great deal when you see one?

*          *          *

The parable we heard today is the Parable of the Dishonest Steward. It’s one of the more difficult parables, I think. So, to help me remember its meaning I like to call it the Parable of The Great Deal.

So here we have this salesman, the steward, who has been making bad deals; he has been costing the company millions. The store owner, the master, wants to know what in the world is going on. So he asks the salesman/steward for a report. Now, the steward knows he’s in trouble. So, in order to save himself, he makes several deals and lines his pockets for a “golden parachute” retirement plan.

Now what’s the problem with this? It’s going to cost the company millions.

And who’s going to pay for that? The owner of the company, the master.

So, when the crowd around Jesus hears this—many of them Pharisees—they would have been shocked. Justice dictates that this steward be fired (and far worse things).

But instead of condemning the man, Jesus praises the man—in effect saying, he’s made a great deal!

But wait? what? Is Jesus advocating cheating and swindling?

Well… in a way, yes.

*          *          *

But we’re not talking about money. We’re talking about something else. And to get there, we have to go back a week.

Last week, we heard about the Prodigal Son. You remember that story: the Prodigal Son squanders half of his father’s money and then repents. The father takes him back and gives him mercy.

Today’s reading takes that theme and goes deeper.

Jesus knows that the Pharisees were business-minded, so he re-crafts the Prodigal Son parable in terms of business. Instead of a father and son we have a business with a store owner and a salesperson.

So, Pharisees, He is saying, who got the better deal—the father or the son?

The Pharisees could reply: the son is getting the better deal. He doesn’t have to pay a thing!

And who is getting the better deal: the master or the steward?

It’s the steward, of course.

So, what Jesus is telling the Pharisees is: look, all of us have squandered so much of what was given to us: our life, our blessings—we’ve lost so much and made deals with sin and the devil. If you are men of justice, tell me: who is going to pay for that?

And could you pay for that?

Could you really pay for the cost of the effects from your sins? Could you ever pay back for the graces and the blessings that you have squandered in your life?

And tell me about heaven: if you could put a price tag on heaven, how much would it go for? … Do you really think you could pay for your way into heaven?

If you are men of justice, my dear Pharisees, note well that you will never be able to pay the cost. You don’t have enough to cover the cost of your sins, much less the cost of heaven.

This is where Jesus points to the mercy of God: He is saying, Look at my Father. He's the master. And he's giving you an opportunity for a deal right now. And it’s a Great Deal. All you have to do is be like the Prodigal Son and come back to the Father. Receive mercy and give mercy. And the Father will cover all the costs.

The cost for your sins? My Father will cover that.

The cost for everything that you have squandered? My Father will cover that too.

The cost to get into heaven? My Father will even pay for that.

Just like the dishonest steward's debts, my father is going to cover that.

So do you know a great deal when you see one? ... And will you take the deal?

*          *          *

This past week, I went to the dentist. I’m embarrassed to say that it had been a long, long time since I had been. I stopped going to the dentist in college and, well, after missing for five years, what was another five? And with each passing year, the embarrassment of what my teeth must be looking like—well, I started to pretend that all was ok.

But this week, by the grace of God, I went to the dentist. And I’m sitting there and I’m thinking: "So, this must be how it feels to come back to confession after fifteen years..."

Dentist, forgive me, it’s been fifteen years since my last cleaning….

Why did I wait fifteen years? Pride… embarrassment…

Ultimately, I had built up into my mind that the cost of going far outweighed the reward.

And we do that with a lot of things, right? Exercise. Going to the doctor. Forgiving somebody.

This isn’t a “P.C.” thing to say, but Jesus says we’re dumb:

…the children of this world
are more prudent in dealing with their own generation
than are the children of light. 

In other words: we’re so anxious to jump on a great deal for a car or for a job or for a retirement plan, but when it comes to the greater deals in life, those that really matter—working on our marriages, spending time with family, going to confession—when it comes to the great deals, we don’t jump at the chance.

And Jesus says that’s dumb. Dumbest of all is refusing God's mercy in confession.

I mean, God is there, saying: “I’m going to forgive you and pay for the cost of your sins. I’m going to pay for what it would cost you to get into heaven. I’m going to pay that.”

And we don’t jump at that? What are we thinking?

Do we really believe this is a bad deal for us? Does the cost of going really outweigh the forgiveness?

Who is this a bad deal for?

It's a bad deal for the Father. In the story of the Prodigal Son, the older brother gets angry precisely because of how bad a deal this is for the Father.

But the Father does it anyway. Because it means having his son back. And having his son back is worth more than all the gold in the world. What the older brother doesn't see is that mercy is a Great Deal for everyone.

If this doesn't resonate with the business-minded Pharisees, then what will?

*          *          *

And so I invite you to confession and so many say *in an Eeyore voice* “No thanks, Father, I don’t want that.”

Are we insane?

I mean, the devil is happy to make you pay full price! And he'll make you pay for all eternity!

Don't we know this is a limited time offer?

This is the whole point of the Parable of the Great Deal: Jesus is saying, hey! you have a chance to “swindle” God out of millions!—the very cost of heaven and your sins—more than the steward did his master. And you’re not going to take advantage of that?

I praised the steward—not so as to promote greed for money, but to show you how upside-down you are: you jump for great deals when it comes to money and cars and jobs and retirement, but you are slow to jump at the things that really matter. You are greedy for money, but not for mercy and eternity.

*          *          *

Right now, God is asking of you One Thing. I don't know what it is, but He is putting on your heart That One Thing that you think costs so much. Maybe it's....

Going to the doctor—friends, the reward outweighs the cost. 

Or maybe it's going to the adoration chapel—no cost at all, eternal rewards.

Forgiving someone.

Getting help for your marriage.

Gong to confession.

We all live as though these cost so much more than what they are worth. But, really, aren’t they worth so much more than they cost?

You tell me.

*pointing to the Cross* Do you know a great deal when you see one?

*          *          *

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, you are a generous and merciful God. Please help me to see that One Thing that you want me to do, that you want me to trust you with. Please give me the grace to jump for the Great Deal that you offer in your mercy. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Contemplation in the University - Homily for the 22nd Sunday in OT -

Given at a local university's Newman Center

In the college atmosphere, it is really easy to make ourselves the center of the world. I don’t mean that as a judgment on you—I’m simply stating that’s just the temptation that faces us at college: we worry about “my classes” and “my projects” and “my professors” and “my studies” and “my schedule” and “my social calendar.” It’s very easy to become worried about “me.”

As an aside, we see how deep this me-centered world has become in us when we go home for summer break. There, mom or dad tells us to do something and suddenly the me-centered world is thrown for a loop. Indeed, it can be very frustrating: coming home and being told what to do—doesn’t my mom or dad know that I’m very busy? (With what? Isn’t it obvious? With my life!)

Your generation and mine—and I say that because we are very close here—our generations stink at volunteering precisely because of this reason. When we graduate, we remain me-centered: focused on my job, my spouse, my kids, my retirement—such that, when someone (especially a priest or family member) asks us to volunteer, we politely say, “I wish I could, but I’m busy” without saying with what we are busying ourselves. But we all know what it is. And there’s guilt there. And I see it when people start to squirm when I ask them to break free of their me-centered orbit.

*          *          *

The problem with the me-centered orbit, however, is not only that it leads to a lower sense of community and our responsibility to it through volunteering and building bridges and so on, but it also leads to a wrong-headed approach to college education.

I graduated from a Top Ten university and have earned three post-graduate degrees. So, being fairly well-acquainted with higher education, I’ve come to realize that it has a certain “blind spot.” And that blind spot is that higher education often overlooks the fact that man and his ability to know is limited. And not only is there only so much that I am able to know, but there is only so much humanity as a whole is able to know.

I am not God. We are not God.

And I know that’s a truism, but it is nevertheless very important. And I say it is important because that simple understanding opens the door for greater exploration. Indeed, there is a great problem when a professor or student doesn’t understand that. Let me explain.

I’m 35 now and there came a day when I realized that there are things that I don’t know that I don’t even know I don’t know. (Try that on for a minute). There are things about which I don’t even know where to begin asking questions. This “humility” in knowing that there is a world “beyond” me—this humility is the very stuff that spurs on good questions and exploration.

The Age of Discovery, for example, was spurred on by this humble understanding that there is a world beyond my visible horizon. Something is “out there” which I do not know—and so let’s go in search.

And while there is still a kind of Age of Discovery going on in our universities (as I hope there would be), there is not so much exploration and discovery into the great “out there” questions of Why.

*          *          *

An example. Why are there craters on the moon?

Go ahead and answer.

Ok. Most of us have answered that there are craters on the moon because of asteroids and the pre-conditions of the moon’s thin atmosphere and, going back in time, the colliding of some likely broken-apart celestial bodies in what could be described as a kind of giant Marbles game up there.

And that’s all well and good. But that doesn’t answer my question. You answered “how?” How are there craters on the moon?—but I asked why. “How” tells me the process by which something happens—in this case, asteroids. But “how” is different from “why.” “Why” deals with meaning; with the deeper reasons.

In my experience with higher education, I have found that we have become very good at answering how questions, seeing the process, knowing how things work. But we don’t do very well at the why—the meaning questions. And, in my humble experience, as fascinating as the how questions are (and they are very, very fascinating!—I who thought about being a chemist)—as fascinating as the how questions are, even more fascinating are the why questions.

Why craters or the moon at all?

But it's those questions that have been pushed to the side. I could theorize why this is and my speculation would simply boil down to the fact that why questions are hard questions and they humble us and they put us face-to-face with our limited capacities to know—and that maybe there is something beyond my me-centered orbit.

In my hundreds and probably thousands of conversations with atheists—strangers, friends, and family all included—I have noticed that why questions are oftentimes dropped. So, for example, there’s that discussion on how man came to be and evolution and so on. And the conversation revolves around the how of the coming to be.

But the conversation ends when I ask the very simple question: why existence at all?

And they don’t know. Maybe they chalk it up to chance (a how-answer) or to aliens or a spontaneous emergence from nothing …. (And they accuse Catholics of magical thinking!).\

[[[Please hear me correctly: this is not an attack against science. Actually, this is a promotion thereof. After all, only a universe written in some logic can be scientifically understood—as science itself presumes some kind of logic. (Else, we have no such thing as understandable results—at which point, why do science if it doesn’t yield results understandable).]]]

At any rate: the conversation ends when I ask the why questions. And I humbly submit that the conversation ends because such questions appear silly. I further submit that such questions appear silly because to the person with the me-centered orbit—just like I was in my youth—the question places me face-to-face with my limitation. And so, I either have to accept my limitation or dismiss the question.

And it’s easier to dismiss the question than dismiss myself—especially when I’m prideful and surrounded in an environment of me-centeredness as a place of higher learning is so often tempted to be.

*          *          *

So would you like to know what the answer is? Why are there craters on the moon?

(It’s a very humble answer…)

The answer is Love.

I know. That’s unsatisfying to some of you. But walk with me for a second. If we presume that God is Creator and that God wills His creation to be; and if we further presume that God creates from a will that is Love and Love straight through—then the ultimate answer for why there are craters on the moon is Love.

Yes, asteroids—that’s how. Love is why.

And from this comes a wonderful frontier of questions to explore and discover! And for the me-centered person, we could ask the me-centered question: “What does this have to do with me?”


One saint, when she discovered that everything was created because of Love—Love of her, Love of all, Love Itself—it then happened that she would walk along a sidewalk lined with flowers and she realized the flowers were calling out, “I love you! I love you! I love you!”

Strangely, the world became all about her—not because it was about her, but because it was a total gift from the One who loved her. The flowers, the craters, … it was God trying to woo us with beauty.

*          *          *

Imagine how different our academic studies would be if we were to approach them in this way! To study science would no longer be to simply study the how of things (of course, it would), but also to realize that what we are really studying is the logic of God Himself.

Saints would say that theology should be done on the knees. I humbly suggest that when we study, we should at some point genuflect at the whole, amazing exercise: we are delving into things mysterious and deep.

A thing is no longer just a thing. You are not just the sum parts cells gathered. Written in you and communicated through you is the reality that God loved you into being.

Rene Descartes once said, “I think, therefore I am.” No. That needs revision: “I am loved, therefore I am.”

*          *          *

Why the moon at all? Why existence at all? Why studies at all?

Your book is not just simply the communication of information to be read, stored, and (hopefully) accurately regurgitated. Your book is a door into the why of Love.

What I am getting at is the need to rediscover the role of contemplation in university studies.

To not just study, but to pray in and through our study. To enter more deeply into them by the humble admission that there is Someone greater present here whose mind and heart I am exploring—and, indeed, who wants to be known by and through these Studies.

I am sounding the call to be real explorers. A new Age of Discovery is truly upon us—the beginning of which means to embark from the me-centered to the God-centered world.

Strangely, just when we do that and just when we think that we lose everything because of it—like those explorers of the past who saw the mainland disappear behind them—a new and beautiful world appears before us, a world—so wonderfully—given precisely for us from the God who is Love.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Gap - Homily for the 23rd Sunday in OT (C)

Did He get your attention?

Here we are, just another Sunday, a group of disciples following the Lord, and our Lord turns and says:

If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife … children, brothers … sisters, … his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.

Did I hear that right? Did Jesus just tell us to hate? … Does He have your attention?

Jesus wants your attention. No, He doesn’t want you to hate. He upholds the Ten Commandments and tells us to honor our father and mother, after all. And to love our enemies.

So what is going on here?

Well, I think of a young woman who has decided to enter a religious order. And her parents aren’t happy about this. And they say, “Daughter, why are you doing this to us? Why are you leaving us? Do you…. hate us?”

The daughter doesn’t hate them. She loves them. But she simply loves Jesus more—He’s her everything. And He is.

The same thing happens so often when people convert to Christianity. So often, the other family members say, “Why are you converting to the Catholic Church? What did we do wrong? Why do you… hate us?” There’s no hate here—just total love for Jesus. He’s the One Thing—next to which everything else pales.

That’s what Jesus is talking about here. He wants to be the One Thing. That’s why He says that we have to carry our Cross, else we cannot be His disciple. He wants us to love Him more than we love our comforts. The Cross, after all, is a Cross—not a couch.

It’s why Jesus finishes by saying that if we cannot renounce all of our possessions, we cannot be His disciple—that is, if we love our stuff more than we love Him, then He’s not the One Thing in our life. And He doesn’t want to be Number Two. He wants to be Numero Uno. But we often place Him at Number Two—and often we don’t even know it. So, He startles us today. If I'm not your Number One, you cannot be my disciple.

Does He have your attention?

*          *          *

Recently, I listened to a phenomenal CD by Matthew Kelly entitled The Jesus Question. In his talk, Kelly asks a very pointed question, namely:

if I just lived this one gospel reading 100%—not all of Sacred Scripture, not all of Church teaching—just this one reading, 100%, how much would my life change?

For me, if I lived out today’s Sunday Gospel 100%, my life would see a radical change. I will admit that, while I have given up much to be a priest (and I’d happily do it again), I realize that my decision to love God is not a full 100%.

And that teaches me that there’s a gap between my life and the Gospel. And it’s a big gap. And I’m not the only one, right? I mean, as we heard today’s Gospel, we all realized that there’s a big gap between our lives and the Gospel.

What’s strange to me, however, is that when I pray, I don’t pray as though there were a big gap.

I think I’m kind of alright—like I just need… tweaking. I pray, “Lord, help me be patient—but don’t do anything that would give me superhero patience, because, I mean, wow, that would require some serious work. So, Lord, give me … a little more patience.” Tweak me a little, Lord, but that’s all, ok?

But God is not interested in tweaking! He’s interested in transformation! Did He simply tweak Peter’s life? No! He radically transformed it!

The Cross is not here to tweak us. It’s here to transform us.

Jesus is interested in radical transformation precisely because He is radically in love with us. He radically loves us and wants us to love radically—because that’s where true freedom and joy are found.

When I’m a people-pleaser or when I’m constantly seeking out comforts or when I’m jealous or living life for the pursuits of material stuff—when we’re constantly seeking that stuff, we’re not free; we’re slaves! But Jesus came to free us! And when we are freed from all that and put the First Thing first, we become more joyful.

And that’s going to involve a radical transformation.

But how often do I pray for this?—for this radical transformation?—to say to Jesus, “Ok, God, everything is on the table. My family, my career, my health, my finances, my life… everythingit’s all on the table. Do with it as you wish, Lord. You’re in control.”—How often do we make such prayers?

*          *          *

I don’t pray like that because, beyond the obvious exercise in being vulnerable, praying for radical transformation involves a decision about who we think Jesus is.

When I pray to Him as though He can radically transform me and I’ve given Him permission to do so—when I pray to Him like that, I am admitting that He is God and my Savior and that I am not.

But that’s a tough step to take, because—let’s be honest—it’s a lot easier to simply ignore Jesus. It’s a lot easier (at least at first) to ignore how much He radically loves us. And so we are tempted to explain away His hard teachings as relics of the past or, at best, polite suggestions about how we can become nice people—instead of the brutal, brutal Truth: He loves us so, so much!

What’s more, that frightens me. I’m afraid because I don’t know how it is all going to work. Not that it won’t end well (I have hope it will). But I don’t know what the journey is going to look like—that whole going from “here” to “there”; from where I am to where God is calling me.

I have a degree from WashU and other post-graduate degrees, but I find that I’m often not smart enough to see through the jungle of life that is between me and heaven. (I can’t even see my way through this political election!) I hear the first reading again:

Who can know God’s counsel,
or who can conceive what the LORD intends?

For the deliberations of mortals are timid,

and unsure are our plans.
what is within our grasp we find with difficulty…

This is precisely where I have to let God be God—where I have to let Him be my Savior. And notice: transformation is "within our grasp." I find it with difficulty, however, because I think I have to become become holy and have to do life all by myself. We all do that, right?-- go it alone, thinking we got this, I don't need anyone....

Do you remember the Tower of Babel?—it's that Old Testament tower which men built in their pride as an attempt to reach heaven without God’s help It didn't work out too well for them. (And did you notice how Jesus talks about a tower in today's Gospel?). He's saying: Don't make that mistake of trying to go it alone. We need God. He's within our grasp.

*          *          *

This is why He wants to get our attention. He wants to alert us that we can't be His disciples on our own. We require something more than tweaking. We require transformation. And this comes by the Holy Spirit. This is what He wants to give you today. But He needs your permission.

So, what in your life do you need to give to God for transformation? Where is the gap between you and the Gospel? Is there a place in your life where you are ignoring Jesus? Where do you need to let God be God?—He who loves you and died for you and is your Savior and your king.

Let us ask for the grace and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Let us give Him permission to come upon us today and to help us.

Come, Holy Spirit! Come and transform us. You have our permission. Everything is on the table: our families, our careers, our finances, our health…. our entire life. Transform us. Close the gap. Fill us with your glory. Bring us to heaven! Everything is yours!