Compete well for the faith!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 25, 2022:
One of the most renowned individuals who lived a truly heroic life was the great Albert Schweitzer. Schweitzer was a theologian, a minister, a musicologist, a writer, a humanitarian, a philosopher, and physician. In 1950, he was named the “man of the century” by the National Arts Foundation. Two years later, he would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of the “Reverence for all life.” He wrote, “Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing all life; and that destroys, harms, or hinders life is evil.”
Although he achieved great heights, this is not how Schweitzer’s life began. In fact, in his youth, Albert was much more focused on pursuing a life of pleasure. He promised himself that he would simply enjoy life until he was 30 and then he would get serious. On his 30th birthday, he kept that promise and enrolled in university to get a degree in medicine. He promised that he would go to Africa and work among the poor as a missionary doctor after graduating.
His friends and family all tried to change his mind. “Why would you waste your life like this?” they asked. Nevertheless, by 38 he was a doctor and at the age of 43, he left for Africa where he opened a hospital on the edge of the jungle in Equatorial Africa. He would work there until his death at 90 years old in 1965.
What motivated him to give his life to work among the poorest of the poor? What caused him to alter the course of his life from a life of pleasure to a life of service? Well, Schweitzer himself said that it was today’s Gospel and the story of Lazarus and the rich man. He said, “After reading these words, it struck me as incomprehensible that I should be allowed to live such a happy life, while so many people around me were wrestling with suffering. I had to do something.”
So, let’s think about these two images that Jesus gives us today – the rich man and the poor Lazarus. In this passage, what was the rich man’s sin? Did he order the poor Lazarus removed from his property? Did he beat him or shout obscenities at him? Did he otherwise directly harm the man? No. He did none of those things. The sin of the rich man was worse – he never even noticed Lazarus. The rich man’s response to the suffering right in front of him was apathy. He simply accepted this poor, sick, destitute beggar as just another part of the landscape. The sin of the rich man was doing nothing to help Lazarus when he should have. His sin was clinging to his personal wealth while not lifting a finger for the poor.
Last week, I shared a quote from Pope Francis about just this type of apathy. He said, “Poverty and the real needs of many people have become the acceptable norm. For example, if on a winter’s night a person dies in the cold, that’s not news. Or if there are children who have nothing to eat, that's not news, it seems normal. It cannot be this way! What matters is the love we express in our world by using our goods to help not just ourselves, but to help others in charity.”
I think this is, in part, why God chose to come among us as a poor, homeless person. Have you ever thought about that at Christmas time when we set up our beautiful nativity sets? The Nativity is really a scene of a poor, homeless family with nowhere to lay their heads. God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often turn a blind eye to. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we recognize them as icons of the very image of God as He was when He came to us?
I think this is exactly why Jesus came to us in a family that was homeless and migrant and in need of the help of others. Because He wanted us then and now, to look at our own family, to look at the homeless and helpless around us, and to see that God is present there too; they are not the “other;” they are our brother, our sister, our family; and to reach out to them in need.
By now, you know well one of my favorite quotes of Pope Francis when he was reflecting on the encounter between Jesus and St. Thomas, when Thomas places his fingers in the wounds of Christ. The Pope said, "Jesus reveals Himself in His wounds and so the path to our encounter with Jesus are His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because and is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus today. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus. We must caress the wounds of Jesus. We need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness. We have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. To enter into the wounds of Jesus all we have to do is go out onto the street. Let us have the courage to enter into the wounds of Jesus with tenderness.”
Jesus reminds us today that living our faith means having eyes that are open to the needs around us; and the willingness to do our part to make the world a better place, a kinder place, a more compassionate place. The only thing that is not an option is to do nothing. We are called to reach out to Christ in His wounds all around us. As St. Paul encouraged us in our second reading today, “But you, man or woman of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith.”
May the Lord give us peace.
Zealous for Heavenly things
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 18, 2022:
An angel appeared at a faculty meeting and told the dean that to reward him for his years of devoted service he could choose one of three blessings: either infinite wealth, infinite fame or infinite wisdom. Without hesitation, the long-time educator asked for infinite wisdom. “You got it!” said the angel, and disappeared. All heads turned toward the dean, who sat glowing in the aura of great wisdom. Finally one of his colleagues said, “Say something.” The dean looked at them brimming with infinite wisdom and said, “I should have taken the money.”
In addition to being a big baseball fan, I'm also a fan of baseball movies (especially when our Sox aren't doing so well). Just think of some iconic lines that come from baseball movies. There’s, “If you build it, he will come,” from Field of Dreams. Or the great line, “There’s no crying in baseball!” from A League of their Own. I recently re-watched another great baseball move, 42, which tells the story of Jackie Robinson and how he became the first African-American to play in the major leagues.
There is a dramatic scene in the movie when Dodger’s owner Branch Rickey offers to sign Robinson. He tells Jackie, “You will have to take everything they dish out to you and never strike back.” And he was right. On the field, pitchers brushed Jackie back with blazing fastballs and opposing fans and teams taunted him. Off the field, he was thrown out of hotels and restaurants because of the color of his skin.
But, through it all, Jackie kept his cool. He turned the other cheek. And so did Branch Rickey who was also hounded for signing Robinson. Together, they changed the face of baseball and professional sport for the better. Yes, Branch Rickey did a noble thing breaking down the color barrier in baseball, but the movie reminds you that he was also a smart business man and not all of his motives were pure. There was one scene when Rickey, played by Harrison Ford, says, “People ask me why I want to do this? You know why? Because I like money. And people will spend money to come see you play.” Even while doing a noble thing, Rickey was still out for his own best interest.
That scene came to mind as I reflected on today’s Gospel. Jesus gives us this image of the dishonest steward. We heard, “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of the light.” Or more simply, “People work harder for money than they do for heaven.” Jesus challenges us not only to strive for goodness, holiness and righteousness, but He also calls us to be smart and committed and eager in pursuing these heavenly things. He wants us to work just as hard and as smart for His Kingdom as we do to make our lives comfortable and successful.
This is also a message Pope Francis has been sharing with us. He wants us to think about and strive for the important things. For example, he said, “Poverty and the real needs of many people have become the acceptable norm. For example, if on a winter’s night a person dies in the cold, that’s not news. Or if there are children who have nothing to eat, that's not news, it seems normal. It cannot be this way! What matters is the love we express in our world by using our goods to help not just ourselves, but to help others in charity.”
The challenge of our Gospel, the challenge of Pope Francis, the challenge of our faith is this – can we be as vigilant for the things of God as we are for all the other things that are in our lives? Can we care as much for the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the immigrant, the refugee, and those on the margins all around us, as we care for ourselves? We are called to be recreated, made new, through our Baptism, to see with new eyes through our faith – and what we are meant to see is that we are not different, we are not separate, we are not “other”. Rather, we are connected and united; we are brother and sister to each other; we are one family of God.
And so, we pray today, Lord, open our eyes to your word, even when it challenges us more than we want to be challenged. Open our minds to your word, even when it disturbs us more than we want to be disturbed. Help us to put your word in practice, even when it means changing our lives more than we want to change. Above all, Lord, help us realize that you want to achieve great things through us and that we can achieve great things for you if we only open our hearts to you. Open our hearts Lord.
May the Lord give you peace.
God never tires of forgiving
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 11, 2020:
There’s a short story by Richard Pindell called “Somebody’s Son.” It opens with a runaway boy, named David, sitting by the side of a road writing a letter home to his mother. The letter expressed the hope that his father will forgive him for all that he has done to wound his family and accept him again as a son. The boy writes: “Dear Mom, In a few days I’ll be passing home. If Dad will take me back, ask him to tie a white cloth on the apple tree in the field next to our house.”
Days later David was on a train approaching his home. Nervously, two images flashed in his mind: the tree with a white cloth tied on it and the tree without a cloth on it. As the train drew closer, David’s heart began to beat fast. Soon the tree would be visible. But David couldn’t bring himself to look; too afraid the white cloth won’t be there; too afraid that he will be rejected; too afraid that his father will not forgive him and accept him back.
Turning to the man next to him, he said, “Will you do me a favor? Around this bend on the right, you’ll see a tree. Tell me if there’s a white cloth tied to it.” As the train rumbled past, David stared straight ahead. And then, he asked the man, “Is a white cloth tied to one of the branches of the tree?” The man answers, “No. There’s not a white cloth on one branch, there’s one tied to every branch!”
Pope Francis regularly reminds us that, “God never tires of forgiving us.” This story of David and his father, illustrates the same point that Jesus wants to make today in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It is a message so simple, so profound and yet so often overlooked – God loves us; God always forgives us; He forgives us generously, repeatedly, lovingly, joyfully. And nothing can take us away from that love and forgiveness – and, of course, we are called to forgive in the same way.
This parable is one of the best known and one that just about anyone could recall, but it’s one that I’m not sure we always appreciate in its depth. Yes, we get that the Son sinned. Yes we get that the Father forgave him. And yes, we get that the older brother didn’t like it one bit. But, this story is meant to teach us not only more about the depth of God’s love and forgiveness for us, but also more about how we are meant to truly love and forgive each other.
We live today in a world of broken relationships. There isn’t one among us here who hasn’t been touched by divorce – whether directly in our own families, or extended family or friends. There isn’t one of us here who doesn’t have a broken relationship somewhere in our lives – a friendship destroyed, a misunderstanding overblown, regretted words spoken and never taken back. But, the myth of the world is that we have to accept that brokenness and believe that those relationships can never be healed. Jesus tells us something different and gives us the opportunity to restore, heal and reconcile the broken relationships in our lives.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a story of broken relationships. The younger son has severed the relationship with his father. He recognizes his wrong actions and wants nothing more than to be accepted again into his father’s household – not in the status he had before, but even just as a lowly servant. That’s supposed to be us – recognizing our sin, approaching our God asking to simply be allowed to remain a member of His household; of His family. And, what is the father’s reaction to the younger son? He is overjoyed at the son’s return. He says, “Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
And the real kicker is that this is not just a story. Jesus tells us that God deals with us the same way. God will always forgive us with joy. “God never tires of forgiving us.” And, he expects us to do the same with each other. We pray it every day, “Forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is the bargain we make. God forgives us and restores us to His family and He wants us to forgive each other the same way. There is a story about President Lincoln. Someone asked him how he would treat the South after the end of the Civil War. Lincoln responded, “I will treat them as if they’d never left home.” This is how we are meant to forgive as well – as God has forgiven us. We are called to forgive others and take them back into our hearts with the same generous love that God shows us.
Jesus came to establish a beautiful cycle of forgiveness. He came and died for our sins on the Cross. He gave us the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that when we sin, the forgiveness that God offers is never further away than the nearest confessional. And He invites us to model that forgiveness that we receive in the way we deal with one another. And yet, how frequently we look at that cycle of healing and say “no thank you.” Our confessionals remain unused. The forgiveness offered their remains unaccepted. The sins we carry remain on our hearts, clouding our lives, damaging our relationship with God and with each other. And yet, all we ever have to do is ask for forgiveness, and God says over and over and over, “Your sins are forgiven. Live in My love.”
As we hear this beautiful parable once again, let us banish from our hearts whatever it is that keeps us from seeking out God’s love and mercy found so beautifully through confession. Let us allow our loving God to take away our sins, and invite Him to help us find the healing we need in the broken places of our lives. Imagine living each day with those wounded places healed; our broken relationships mended, our heavy sins forgiven – renewed in God’s love and mercy. If we do this, we can be sure that when we depart this world and approach the gates of heaven, we too will see a tree with a white cloth tied to every branch. So, let us not be bound by the hurts and wounds we carry, but be freed by the forgiveness God extends to us and we can extend to others.
Let’s end with a prayer. Please close your eyes as I pray. Dear Lord, show me your mercy and fill my heart with your forgiving love. I am the younger child who ran away and has returned home. Thank you for receiving me back. I am also the older child who finds it hard to forgive sometimes. Touch my heart with your forgiving love. Help me to know the peace, the joy and the freedom that comes from dwelling in and offering to others Your forgiveness. Thank you for never tiring of forgiving me. Amen.
May the Lord give you peace.
My Lord, my God, my All
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 4, 2022:
A number of years ago, I remember watching an episode of The Oprah Winfrey show. The topic that day was “looking for love” and they had a group of women explaining what they were looking for in a husband. Most of them were looking for the kind of things you would expect on a daytime television show – they wanted to find a man who was really rich and could treat them the way they’d like; others were looking for someone who was extremely handsome so that the two of them would make a beautiful couple and beautiful babies. Just about all of them were naming qualities that were really pretty superficial. But, I still remember this particular show all these years later because of the answer of one particular woman. She said, “Oprah, I’m looking for a man who understands that he needs to love God more than he loves me.” Her answer was surprising, even shocking, given the rest of the show. But, I’ve never heard a better answer – for a married couple, or for life in general.
In our Gospel today, we just heard Jesus use some surprising and shocking language too. He said, “If anyone comes to me without hating their father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even their own life, they cannot be my disciple.” These are jarring words to our ears. Hate our father and mother? Don’t the Commandments tells us to “Honor your mother and father.” Of course, Jesus is not instructing us to hate our families, rather, He’s trying to get us to wake up; He’s trying to shake us up so that we might embrace the full impact of His message of the Kingdom of God. He’s trying to rhetorically make the point that nothing can take place in our lives before God. Remember the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Our world is often obsessed with wealth and competition; it’s full of violence and war. We usually refer to this as the “real” world. And if someone were to suggest that instead of power, money and fame, we can live lives guided by peace, love, joy, compassion, and forgiveness, they would probably be called crazy. But, Jesus reminded us that the so-called “real” world is actually the illusion; it is phony and full of false hopes and promises. This “real” world gets us to desire things that we probably can never have, and should not want in the first place. Jesus calls us to throw off that illusion and instead be immersed in the Kingdom of God. His strategy? Well, in today’s passage, the strategy is spiritual shock therapy. After those shocking words about hating our mother and father, He is essentially saying “Do I have your attention now?” Jesus wants to shake us out of our complacency and into a whole new way of thinking, acting, and being – Kingdom thinking, Kingdom being. Jesus wants to remind us today that we cannot follow Him half way. Our faith and our discipleship is meant to be all or nothing. It is meant to be the most important thing in our life. We’re not called to be kind of Christian, or sort of Catholic. Jesus wants us – like Him – to be all in.
This is the point of His shocking words to us today. If we’re going to follow Jesus, He wants us to go with Him the whole way. We can’t stop at His preaching and miracles and leave Him when it comes to the Cross. We’ll never reach resurrection unless we’re along for the whole journey. We have to accept His way of seeing life and put that into practice in the way we live. Just as that woman on Oprah understood, Jesus and His Gospel have to be the top priority in our lives. Because, the eternal truth is that when Jesus comes first, everything else falls into place. When we surrender our will, our desires, our hearts to Jesus – it is only then that we have been freed so that His plan for our lives can unfold.
So rather than judging our lives by the standards of our world – standards that are concerned with mere superficial trivialities, we need to judge our lives by the level of love and service offered to God through our relationships with those around us. What counts is not how we are looked at by others but the degree of care and compassion with which we look at them, and especially the most marginalized people in our midst.
That is the meaning of the two parables Jesus gives today. “Great crowds” were following Jesus with enthusiasm but were they ready for His message? Did they realize what it really meant to follow Him? If not, they are like the king who goes out to war totally unprepared. They are like a man who started to build a tower and ran out of funds or material. They are sort of followers; kind of believers. They become inauthentic. If we try to walk with Jesus without being ready to commit; we too will miss the joy and happiness of the totally fulfilled life that Jesus is offering us. All we have to do is surrender. Allow God’s will to be the driving force in our lives. Throw our hands in the air in praise and say, “My Lord, my God, my All.”
Jesus tells us today that to be His disciple is to make every other thing in life second to Him. He means that on the list of our goals and priorities in life, attaining the kingdom of God must come first and then everything else will follow. He, and only He, is the way, the truth and the life. Following Jesus is much harder than we may have thought at first. But, the Good News is that Jesus recognizes this and still invites us on this journey with Him.
St. Francis of Assisi often said very simply, “Jesus, You are enough for me.” Let us make his words our own, and let us know that we need to love God first and more than anything else in our lives. Jesus, you are my everything. You are enough for me.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.