FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 27, 2020:
As I look out at the congregation today, of course, what I see is an ocean of beautiful, but masked, faces. Wearing a mask is something that we have all become used to in a relatively short amount of time. It is required of us, it is necessary, and it is good – it is an effective measure to protect us from this terrible virus on our world. This past week, I made some class visits at our school. And one of my favorite classes was fourth grade. One wall in the fourth grade depicts all of the students as masked superheroes. And I was included on the wall driving a very cool car, not all that different from the bat mobile. Before COVID, we viewed masks differently. We think in the movies, very often people who wear masks are often the bad guys – they are robbers, and thieves, and the like. But, we know there are also others who wear masks too – we think of heroes like the Lone Ranger or Zorro, and superheroes like Batman, Spiderman, or the Flash. But why do these people wear a mask? Well, whether good or bad, the mask hides your true identity from the world around you.
I was thinking of masks when reflecting on our Gospel today. One of the most frequent sins that Jesus contends with is hypocrisy. The original meaning of the word “hypocrite” comes from a Greek word meaning: an actor; one who wears a mask. In the ancient world, actors portrayed different characters by literally holding a mask in front of their face. And this is the straight-forward theme that Jesus is addressing today – saying we are one thing and doing another. Or put another way, Jesus invites us to make a choice between living the life of a hypocrite or living a life of Christian sincerity.
Jesus tells a parable of two sons who say one thing and do another. Asked by the father to go and work in the vineyard the first son said no but later reconsidered his decision and did the work. The second son, on the other hand, courteously said yes to the father but failed to do the work. Who actually did what his father wanted? Clearly it is the first son, the same one who had initially said no.
Jesus had a very low tolerance for hypocrisy. Perhaps because it is one of the easiest sins to fall into. It's too easy to change our outward behavior to fit in with everyone around us. And, it isn’t easy to honestly witness to the truths of our faith in a world that constantly calls us into sin. But falling into this type of hypocrisy is a losing strategy, because sooner or later every actor has to take off their mask.
An example of this hypocrisy comes from the Marquis de Condorset, a nobleman who lived during the French Revolution. The Revolution was tough on the nobility. For years they had exploited the common people, forcing them to suffer and starve while the nobles lived in luxury. With the revolution came payback and so many nobles tried to escape by disguising themselves and slip out of the country undetected. And so, the Marquis donned the ragged clothes of a peasant and attempted to make his way to the border. It worked until he stopped at an inn full of actual peasants. The disguised nobleman walked into the inn, sat down at a table, and ordered an omelet made with a dozen eggs; a bad move in front of a group of people who could never afford such an extravagant meal. They immediately saw through his mask; and he was sent off to prison.
Hypocrisy is like that: we put on different masks in order to be someone or something we are not. But, Jesus reminds us that when we lose sight of who we really are, we also lose sight of everyone else, including God.
And this is where sincerity comes in; the antidote to hypocrisy. If hypocrisy makes us blind to God's presence in our lives; sincerity opens the eyes of our hearts to find Him everywhere, helping us to be more clearly and honestly the people He has called us to be. And so, we are called to reject any hypocrisy in our lives and embrace sincerity in three key areas of our lives.
First, we’re called to be sincere in our relationship with God. We must never try to impress God or put on a show for Him; or change Him into the God of our own making. We must simply open our hearts to Him like little children, so that he can touch our hearts with His transforming grace; so that He can fill our hearts with His message and direction for our lives. After all, He knows our hearts and thoughts and minds thoroughly already. And He knows the truth of what we are called to be.
Second, we must be sincere in our relationship with ourselves. We must never lie to ourselves about the reasons we do things, making false excuses or immaturely passing the buck. We must take responsibility for our actions, good and bad, confident that God can fix whatever we may break. The truth will always set us free.
Third, we are called to be sincere in our words. It’s easy to distort the truth when we talk. We like to flatter people, or try and make them admire us, and so we say things that aren't really true; we say things that are an exaggeration. Now, we don't have to tell everything to everyone, but we always have to be truthful in what we say; especially when witnessing our faith. Our world needs sincere followers of Christ who are not afraid to share their faith in beauty, in joy, with the world. Do people know we are followers of Christ by the sincerity of what we say and do?
In just a few moments Jesus will feed us once again with Holy Communion – His Sacred Body. The Eucharist is the God-given source that can strengthen our resolve to be sincere Christians, with hearts open to God's grace, and not hypocrites who merely say one thing but do another.
The pure, white, unleavened bread that will be transformed into Christ's Body is an image of sincerity. Its beauty is in its simplicity - no show, nothing fancy, just flour and water, just a humble host of Eternal Truth miraculously transfigured into Christ’s Real Presence in our midst.
Let us all pledge to become what we receive. We receive that simple, humble, honest Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the hopes that we will become the same in our world. Let us make the prayer we pray before receiving communion our deepest pledge today, “Lord, I am not worthy…but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Let Jesus heal any places of hypocrisy in our lives so that we may be sincere and true followers of your Son.
May the Lord give you peace.
God is not fair
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 20, 2020
Almost 15 years ago, I had the incredible honor to baptize, confirm, and give first Holy Communion to my own Dad. It will always remain one of the greatest experiences of my priesthood. But, today’s readings got me thinking about a particular moment in that process. As my Dad was getting ready to receive the Sacraments, I would go regularly and meet with him to discuss our Catholic faith. My Mom was always part of these conversations as she served as his sponsor for the sacraments. One day we were talking about mercy, forgiveness, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. At which point my Mom got rather self-righteous and said, “You hear that Scott. You need to go and make a good confession before you are baptized.” To which I responded, “You know Mom, actually, he doesn’t. The Sacrament of Baptism forgives all your sins, which is why people in the early church often waited to be baptized.” My mother took a good moment to think about this, then she turned to me and said, “You mean to tell me, he gets away with it?!”
I love to tell that story, and it immediately came to mind when reflecting upon our Scriptures today. Jesus gives us this parable of the workers in the field. Some come at the beginning of the day, and others at various intervals throughout, including those for just the last hour. When all was said and done, they all received the same daily wage. And the ones who got there early didn’t like it one bit.
It is like when we are young. Children are often preoccupied with things being fair. We don’t want our siblings or friends or classmates to get more than we get. We will stomp our feet and complain if something in our young world is not fair. But, Jesus offers us a very interesting message today. If you were hoping that in the end God would be fair, you are mistaken. Jesus tells us that our God is not a fair God; instead He is something far better – our God is a generous God. He does not merely give us what is due, what is just; instead He gives us far more than we could ever imagine, far more than we could ever earn, for more than we could ever hope for. God gives us everything.
The prophet Isaiah told us as much in our first reading. He said, “Our God is generous in forgiving.” And Jesus reiterated this point in our parable, “Are you envious because I am generous?” And yet, as St. Ignatius of Loyola famously said, “God will not be outdone in generosity.” But, God does expect us to try. Imagine our world if we all earnestly strove to be as generous to others as God is to us.
What is our reaction to God’s generosity? Are we like those in the parable who grumble at the master’s generous heart? Or do we respond by in turn being generous to those around us? Imagine, for example, if you worked in a situation where someone was getting more money for the same job you were doing. What if you complained to the manager, only to discover that the other person is perhaps supporting several children on their own, or has some serious and expensive medical condition and needs the extra just to survive. In such cases, your perspective might change because you begin to see the things not through the eyes of competition, but through the eyes of community, the eyes of family, the eyes of church – in o ther words, with eyes of compassion. In Christ, we are all united into one community, one family, one church. And the norms of behavior, of contribution, and reward in a family different from those in the world. When someone in our family is in need, do we demand work from them or do we give from the heart and do whatever we can to help out our loved one regardless of the cost?
You see, family is the key to understanding today’s parable. For the early-birds who showed up first, it was all a business affair. Their work was preceded by a contract regarding their wages: a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. And this is why they were so disappointed. The latecomers, though, were less legalistic. They took the job trusting in the master’s word. “Whatever is right I will give you.’” And, the ones employed later and later in the day were told nothing at all about payment. “He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’“ For them, everything was based on trust. These workers approached the work with a family spirit.
My friends, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a family drawn together by the love of their Father, lead and guided through the example of Jesus, their Brother, motivated out of their love for each other, driven by their desire to help one another, called to be holy, working towards eternal life, transfigured and united as one.
So, do you mean to tell me we get away with it? Yes, our God will not be outdone in generosity, and, my friends, we’re called to share that same generosity with the world. Imagine our world if we all earnestly strove to be as generous to others as God is to us.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 13, 2020:
“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.”
I am regularly in awe at the way that the Holy Mass and the Word of God is truly living and active – it has a way of speaking to our times and our experiences in a way that is always inviting us into deeper holiness, deeper relationship with our God. Just look at this past week, for examplen. On Friday, we commemorated the hard-to-believe 19th anniversary of the September 11th attack – an event that changed our world. This will always be a moment that showed me profoundly how God speaks to us through our Holy Mass and His Word.
My most poignant memories of September 11th are celebrating Mass in the days immediately following. So, what did God say to us in those days? His message was fast and clear. The Gospel at Mass the very next day was, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” We also heard that day from St. Paul who wrote, “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since you have been called to that peace.”
Then came the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross followed by Our Lady of Sorrows. These were not mere coincidence, instead, they are what God always does for us; in our most challenging moments, God reminds us of who He is and He reminds us of who we are in His sight.
So, what did God remind us of in the aftermath of that horrible day? He said, “Love your enemies?” Those words may have never been harder to hear than on that day, but God wanted us to remember something very simple, “Do not hate them.” Do not let hatred push the love and the peace of Christ out of our hearts. When that happens evil prevails in us. And so, do not hate them. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “To be a Christian is to forgive even the inexcusable, because God has already forgiven it in us.”
And, my friends, God is speaking powerfully to us again today in our liturgy. We heard that striking opening in our first reading from Sirach, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tightly.” In our Gospel, Jesus called us to forgive “seventy-seven times” an analogy that means that we are called to forgive infinitely, always, everywhere – just like He does.
These are timely words as our world is once again afraid – afraid of this horrible virus, afraid of those whose skin is a different color, afraid of those whose politics differs from our own, afraid of the immigrant and the refugee – afraid of many things. Into the midst of this fear, God speaks His calming words of love and peace, of healing and forgiveness, in the hopes that these things will take root in our hearts; and define who we are as God’s people; that these things will be what guides the way we live in the world; the way we interact – especially with those with whom we may not agree.
Too often we can be like the ungrateful servant in the parable, focusing on the small amount our neighbor owes us rather than the huge amount we owe to God, a debt which God has graciously cancelled through Christ. Think about this parable. In the old translation of this Gospel, the monetary amounts were specified. The servant refused to forgive a debt of 100 denarii, the modern equivalent of about $700. But the master forgave a debt of 10,000 talents that his servant owed him – the modern equivalent would be more than $7 billion. Clearly, Jesus was making a point that this is a debt that could never be repaid. And yet, the master forgave it. It is a symbol of the debt we owe God; a debt we likewise could never ever hope to repay. Yet God in his infinite mercy sent Jesus to forgive our sins. And all He asks of us is to be grateful; to realize that He has done for us so much more for us than we could ever be required to do for our neighbor. He asks us to offer that same forgiveness to others, willingly. He asks us not to hug tightly to our wounds, our hurts, our grudges, our sins.
Through the terrible events in our country 19 years ago, God reminded us that He is with us; that He is one of us. The French poet Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” In the days, weeks and years that have followed, God has continually remained near to those who suffer, comforting those who are in pain, consoling those who grieve, forgiving those in need of mercy, speaking to the hearts of all His message of love and peace and comfort and healing; offering to us, His children, another way – the way of peace, a way that rejects the hatred of one against the other, a way that opens our eyes to see each other as brother and sister and friend.
We need only look at our risen Lord and the wounds Thomas asked to touch. We don’t think about this often, but Jesus took His wounds with Him into eternity. The Risen Christ is a wounded God, sharing in our infirmities, carrying our brokenness with Him forever. He let Himself be injured because He loves us. These wounds of His: how real they were 19 years ago; and how real they are to us today.
So, have we changed? I don’t know. But, I dearly hope and pray that every day we become more fully who God calls us to be; that we are more clearly a people who believe in justice and compassion; in love and kindness; in forgiveness and mercy and prayer. And, that we are more keenly aware than ever that our God is close to us, comforting us, sheltering our pain in His wounds and giving us the hope that tomorrow will be a better day; a day bursting forth with new life.
My friends, “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body, you have been called to that peace.”
May the Lord give us His peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 6, 2020:
If you turn on the news at just about any moment lately, what surrounds us are stories of negativity and fear. We are in the midst of an incredibly divisive political season. The effects of racism and its response have lead to months-long protests – sometimes with violent elements. And hovering over it all is the coronavirus which continues to threaten the health and safety of the world. These are not only challenging time, but they can also be confusing times. After all, what are we do to? How are we to respond? What difference can we make? What does our faith have to say to this moment in our lives?
We could not have a more relevant answer from the Word of God than we do in our readings today. We heard in Ezekiel today, “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from [their] way, I will hold you responsible.” All of today’s readings beg a timeless question of us, “Am I my brother’s keeper, my sister’s keeper?” Our Scriptures answer that question with a definitive “yes” today. As Christians, we know that we are called to be noticeably different than the rest of the world. To a world bent on greed, we are to be signs of selfless giving; to a world bent on violence and war, we are to be instruments of peace; to a world bent on polarization and lies, we are to be a sign of honesty and unity. And as we’ve seen recently in our country, to a world that continues to be bent on racism and prejudice, we are to be signs of acceptance, tolerance, welcome, love, and care.
Consider these situations: First, a salesman for a limo service said to a father, “Your son looks young for his age. Take a half-price ticket. If the driver questions you, just say that the boy is under 12. Save a few bucks.” If you had been that father, what would you have said? Or, a mother caught her five-year-old daughter with a stolen candy bar after they returned from the supermarket. If you were that mother what would you do? Or finally: Suppose you heard your child’s best friend say, “If you need any answers on the math test, give me a signal.” If that was your child, would you ignore it, or would you have a talk with them?
What would your response be in any of these scenarios? Our readings today give us the answer as they focus on the responsibility that every Christian has towards one another. As followers of Christ, we have a moral obligation not only to do what is right, but also to help each other do what is right. Jesus told his followers, “Your light must shine brightly before others.”
Let us return to our situations. What should a follower of Jesus say to the salesman who encouraged the father to lie? Well this is a true story. The real father told the salesman, “I appreciate where you are coming from, but I want my son to be truthful, even if it works to his momentary disadvantage.” And what about the mother whose daughter stole the candy bar? Also a true story. The real mother had the child return the candy to the manager and apologize.
And, what about the children encouraging each other to cheat? Well, this too is a true story. Jerome Weidman, author of Hand of the Hunter, had this experience as a boy. As a child in school, his third grade math teacher, Mrs. O’Neill, gave her class a test one day. When grading the tests, she noticed that 12 boys had given the same strange answer to one question. The next day she asked the boys to remain after class, and without saying a word, wrote one sentence on the board; a quote from Thomas Macaulay: “The measure of one’s character is what they would do if they knew they would never be caught.” Weidman wrote, “I don’t know about the other boys, but this was the single most important lesson of my life.”
Three simple cases, but in each one they took Ezekiel seriously, “If you do not you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked, I will hold you responsible.” They took St. Paul’s seriously, “Love does no evil to the neighbor.” And, they took Jesus’ seriously, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”
Edmund Burke once wrote, “All that is needed for evil to prosper is for good people to remain silent.” The people in these cases did not keep silent. They encouraged others to holiness and godliness; and they invite us to follow their example. We live in a time that profoundly calls us to not remain silent. In the midst of the strife, illness, division, and anxiety of our times, our world needs to hear voices of faith, or reason, of compassion, of love more than ever. Jesus calls us to do more than merely magnify the negativity around us; He wants us to cut through it with His words and His ways.
Let us remind the world of the truth of the Gospel; the only real cure to what ails our world. As racism and prejudice rear their ugly heads; as our concern for the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the marginalized, is strained; as violence and terror become part of our day-to-day; it is important to remember that these are all issues of faith. “Love does no evil to the neighbor,” and of course, everyone is our neighbor.
Make no mistake about the importance of being our brother’s and sister’s keeper. It is part of the fabric from which we were woven by God. God’s plan for you and me, and for everyone, includes being our brother’s and our sister’s keeper. So, the question is whether or not we actually keep our brother or sister, whether or not we look out for them, whether or not their welfare is our concern, whether or not we reach out and share faith and help meet the needs we see around us every day, whether or not we speak up with God’s words of love, forgiveness, and healing when evil is present in our midst.
Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s. Kindness must overwhelm prejudice. Concern for those being threatened must silence racism. Let us be the people who join the great chorus and speak God’s love into our world, the love that wipes out the darkness of evil and sin.
As St. Paul said, “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.
May the Lord give you peace.
Finding ourselves in Christ
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 30, 2020:
Eugene Orowitz was a skinny, 100-pound sophomore at Collingswood High School in New Jersey in the 1950s. One day in gym class, the coach was teaching everyone how to throw a javelin. One by one, the students threw the six-foot-long spear. The longest throw was 30 yards. Finally, the coach looked over to Eugene and said, “You want to try?” Eugene nodded, and the other kids laughed. But as he stood there, a strange feeling came over him. Holding the javelin, he imagined himself as a young warrior about to enter into a battle. He raised the javelin, took six quick steps and let it fly. It soared eventually crashing into the empty bleachers – twice as far as anyone else. When Eugene retrieved the javelin, the tip was broken. The coach said, “It’s no good to us now. You might as well take it home.” That summer Eugene began throwing the javelin in a vacant lot. Some days, for as long as six hours. By his senior year, Eugene threw the javelin 211 feet – farther than any other high schooler in the nation. He was given a scholarship to college and dreamed of the Olympics. Then one day, while throwing, he tore the ligaments in his shoulder putting an end to his throwing, his scholarship, and his dreams. It was as if God had slapped him in the face just as he was realizing his dreams. Eugene dropped out of college and took a job at a warehouse.
This story raises a question echoed in our Scriptures today: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why does He let suffering touch the lives of good people who don’t deserve it? We heard this from Jeremiah. Why did God let a good man like Jeremiah be ridiculed? We heard his frustration, “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.” And, why did God let tragedy take the prize from the hands of Eugene Orowitz after he had worked so hard to win it?
Jesus gives us the answer in today’s Gospel when He says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” What Jesus is saying is hard to believe, even a bit crazy, to someone who doesn’t have faith. “Whoever accepts suffering and misfortune for my sake will find a whole new life.” And it will not be only in the world to come. It will be right here in this world, as well. And Jesus tells us that the life we find with Him will be a far richer than the one we leave behind.
My friends, God doesn’t cause tragedy; He doesn’t harm us; or cause harm in the world; He doesn’t give people cancer or cause drunk driving accidents; He doesn’t cause or condone the wars we engage in. He didn’t send the coronavirus because He was angry with us or we had displeased Him. These horrible things aren’t God’s will; in fact they are the opposite of God’s will. But, even in the midst of tragedy, God can use those situations to guide us to newer and better lives.
Let’s go back to the story of Eugene Orowitz. We left him working in a warehouse with his dreams crushed. But, one day, Eugene met a struggling actor who asked him for some help with his lines. Eugene got interested in acting himself and enrolled in a class. His big break came when he was cast as Little Joe in the popular TV western “Bonanza.” Later, he got the leading role in other TV shows like “Little House on the Prairie,” and “Highway to Heaven.” You might know Eugene Orowitz better by his stage name, Michael Landon. And in his success, he came to realize that the most important thing that happened in his life was the day he tore those ligaments in his shoulder, even if it seemed like his dreams had ended that day. What seemed like the worst tragedy of his life was in fact one that led to incredible blessings and fortune; a life that far surpassed the dreams he once held.
Dramatist Paul Claudel said that, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” Jesus said it this way to us today, “Take up your cross and follow me.” So, if we are a young person who dreamed of making the team, but got cut, pick up your cross and follow Jesus. He promises He will lead us to a better life. If we are someone who dreamed of being a success in business, or having the world’s greatest family, or greatest marriage, but ended up with none of these, pick up your cross and follow Jesus. He will mend your broken dreams and lead you to a renewed appreciation of life that you never dreamed possible. He will fill your suffering with His presence.
“Whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for My sake will find it.” My friends, let us have the courage to lose ourselves in the life that Jesus has planned for us. May Jesus fill all of the moments of our lives – the joys and triumphs, the pains and sorrows – with His loving presence. Let us live for God alone.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.