Loving God, our neighbor and ourselves
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 31st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 31, 2021:
Our Scriptures today brought to mind a childhood memory. If you’re like me and millions-upon-millions of other people of a certain age, you grew up each day listening to Fred Rogers sing a little song that said, “It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?” Every day, Mr. Rogers would invite his viewers to please be his neighbor as he took us to the land of Make-Believe or taught lessons on how to be peaceful people or how to deal with difficult situations or just to meet the many different people in the neighborhood. Everyone was a neighbor in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.
Today, Jesus is posing the same Mr. Roger’s question to us from our Gospel. “Won’t you be my neighbor?”. In today’s passage a scribe asks Jesus one of the most fundamental questions of faith, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” The textbook answer, of course, is to love the Lord our God with all that we are. But, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy the question, but challenges His listeners to expand their vision of that love to understand that loving God means loving your neighbor.
Jesus makes the point that anyone who loves God must also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of our neighbor. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. [And], you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus challenges a one-dimensional understanding of love that allows religious people to express devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. For Jesus, true love has three essential components: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe.
Pope Francis, speaking on this same topic, said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and the face of our brothers and sisters. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present.”
Our world needs this neighborly reminder more than ever. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the unjust treatment of immigrants and refugees, the ongoing scourge of racism, prejudice, violence, and war that are so much a part of our world. The state of the world is really as simple as a failure to see each other as neighbors, as connected, as worthy and worthwhile, as children of God.
Jesus must be wondering what has happened to our neighborhood? To these challenges, the First Letter of John speaks to us, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
My friends, let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our any of our brothers and sisters; any of our neighbors – especially those who are different from us; especially those whom the world rejects; especially those who are most in need; especially those who are persecuted for any reason. Let us ask God to open our eyes to realize when we see the faces of those around us – all those around us – we really see the face of God. Jesus tells us this is the most important commandment to follow. The most important.
Fred Rogers once said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” My friends, let us all be heroes. Let us all be neighbors. When we reach out to each other, we have the chance to touch the very face of God.
“You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?
May the Lord give you peace.
Created with dignity
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 24, 2021:
In Red Sox Nation today is sad today after losing this week to the Houston Astros. A week ago, we felt like a team of destiny and now we’ll be watching from the sidelines. But, as a consolation, I want to share one of my favorite Red Sox stories – and it is not anything that took place on the field, but rather the actions of one player off the field - Mookie Betts.
This story took place three years ago, when the Sox successfully made it to the World Series. After winning Game 2, Mookie went home to celebrate with friends and family. They had a huge buffet of Dominican food, and Mookie and his friends were certain they could eat the whole countertop full of chicken, steak, rice, beans, vegetables, and flan. They stuffed themselves, but finally they admitted defeat.
That’s when they had the thought, “We should go and give it away the rest.” They recalled the line of people who usually sleep wrapped in blankets, shivering on cardboard boxes, next to Boston Public Library. It was amost 2 a.m. and just 37 degrees out, and Mookie and a friend wrapped themselves in warm clothing and headed out into the night. Grabbing a shopping cart, they loaded it up with all the food. They gently woke a few people to offer them dinner, and within a few minutes close to two dozen men and women were eating. “Thank you so much,” one of them said. “We were hungry all day.”
Mookie declined to comment, and never intended anyone to find out. His friend said, “It was just the right thing to do.” None of the homeless that night recognized Betts. No one cared that he was on course to be a World Series winner. You see, he didn’t act that night as a baseball celebrity. He acted as a good human being – one who had the choice between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing. He chose the right thing.
I was reminded of this moment as I reflected on the healing story of blind Bartimaeus in our Gospel today. Of all of the healing stories in the Gospels, this is the only one where we are told the name of the person healed and so that must mean something. Mark gives us the name “Bartimaeus” – a name which is a hybrid of both Aramaic and Greek, and has two different meanings in each language.
In Aramaic Bartimaeus means "son of defilement." So, Bartimaeus could be a nickname given to him because he was a blind beggar and popular belief of the time said that blindness was a punishment for sin – so, he was defiled. But in Greek the name Bartimaeus means "son of honor." By giving us this name with a double meaning, Mark is telling us something important. Bartimaeus is supposed to be a man of honor in God’s sight, but is instead being treated as a man of defilement. What Jesus did for him was not simply heal his physical sight but, more than that, Jesus restored his God-given human dignity. “Take courage; get up! Jesus is calling you!” Jesus heals not only Bartimaeus’ eyes, He heals his soul, his dignity, his very humanity.
And, I think, this is the challenge Jesus places in our lives too. In our fractured world, we see Bartimaeus all around us, everyday. We encounter Bartimaeus in the many homeless and hungry on the streets. We see him in the people whose dignity has been stripped away because of their race, their ethnicity, their political affiliation, their gender, their immigration status, or any of the countless ways our world decides some are unworthy of dignity. Our world today constantly views people as sons and daughters of defilement; not worthy of our time, our concern, our care, or our compassion. But, Jesus once again calls us to open our eyes so that we can see everyone sons and daughters of honor, of dignity, of holiness; worthy of our love and care.
Mookie Betts did such a simple thing that night three years ago. He took his excess and gave it to those who had nothing. But far more than food, he gave them dignity as brothers and sisters on the journey. True and lasting healing lies in lifting up hearts that are broken, in reconciling relationships that are shattered, in seeking out forgiveness when we have wronged another, in looking into the eyes of someone that the world has forgotten and saying, “I see you. You have value and dignity. You are loved and treasured in my eyes and in the eyes of God.” How easy it could be for each of us to choose to be healers – we, too, have the power to heal our world.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus. May our answer be the same as his, “I want to see.” Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us for the times when we have been blinded to your presence around us; especially in those who need to be lifted up the most. Master, we want to see.
May the Lord give you peace.
A listening church
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE BEGINNING OF THE SYNOD ON SYNODALITY, October 17, 2021:
“Where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrated earlier this month, is one of the most popular saints in the history of the Church. One of the innovations in the leadership of the Order he founded more than 800 years ago is that the Franciscans have no religious superiors. Instead, those who are elected to roles of leadership are referred to as ministers and guardians. Why? Because St. Francis believed that the only true superior of his community was the Holy Spirit. And so, the ultimate ruling body of the Franciscans are the brothers themselves, when they come together intentionally in prayer, when they invoke the Holy Spirit and invite Him to be in their midst to lead, shape, and direct their conversations and their decisions. Those who are ministers and guardians are there to carry those decisions forward in between their gatherings of the fraternity.
I was thinking of that image from the Franciscans as we begin today this Synod on Synodality. I don’t know how many you are aware of this Synod – convened last week by Pope Francis and engaging the church throughout the world for the next few years – but the hope is that just like that image from the Franciscans, we will all come together as a community of believers, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to share our hopes and dreams about the future of the Church.
The word “synod” comes from two Greek words, syn which means “together” and hodos meaning “road” or “way”. So a synod is a coming together or a journeying together. Spending some time together along the way. The Synod of Bishops was first instituted by Saint Pope Paul VI in 1965 following the Second Vatican Council. The Pope did this to keep alive the spirit of the Council and to help the church engage the signs of the times in the light of faith, so that the Church might always be attentive to the needs of all, so that, sharing in their grief and pain, their joys and hope, we may continue to proclaim the Good News of salvation. These synods have taken place every few years since 1965 and tackled topics like vocations and the priesthood, evangelization, the Eucharist, the missions, and most recently, in 2018 youth and the family.
This Synod which we begin today has a more ambitious goal than any before it. It is called the Synod on Synodality because Pope Francis hopes that the whole church will not merely have a brief experience of this type of journeying together, but that we will in fact become a synodal church – a church that listens. Pope Francis said, “Synodality is an expression of the Church’s style. The word ‘synod’ says it all: it means ‘journeying together’. And the movement is the fruit of docility to the Holy Spirit, who directs this history, in which all have a part to play. Dear brothers and sisters, may this Synod be a true season of the Spirit! For we need the Spirit, the ever new breath of God, who sets us free from every form of self-absorption, revives what is moribund, loosens shackles and spreads joy.”
If you are wondering what this journeying together could look like then there’s no better examples that our gospel passages both last week and this week. In both of these passages we see synodality at work. Recall last week we had the story of the rich young man who wanted to know what it would take to gain eternal life. Jesus in this encounter didn’t merely give the man list of tasks to perform, but so importantly, Jesus listened to him, allowed the man to speak about his own circumstance. He truly heard him.
This week we have another and perhaps the best example of synodality from Jesus – this literal walking together along the road to Emmaus. Let’s remember the scene. These two disciples travelling along the road to Emmaus had once followed Jesus with hope and joy. They truly believed he was sent by God to establish God’s kingdom. Then came the stormy hours of Good Friday - all their hopes and dreams got smashed into a thousand pieces. Totally disillusioned, they left Jesus in an unmarked tomb and returned to their former ways. They are disillusioned and disappointed and believe that all is lost. And then Jesus joins them as they walk away. Notice what Jesus does and doesn’t do. He doesn’t turn them around. He doesn’t tell them they’re wrong. He doesn’t chastise them for their lack of belief. Jesus simply says, “What are you talking about?” and He walks with them and He listens to them. It is only then that He brings the power of Scripture and Sacrament and that makes all the difference. This is what synodality is. This is what a synodal church can look like.
Pope Francis said, “The experience of encounter changes us and it suggests new ways we never thought of taking. This is how God so often points out new paths. Everything changes once we are capable of genuine encounters with Him and with one another.”
There could not be a better time in our world and in our church for us to embrace this synodality from the Vatican right down to each and every parish. We live in a world that does not listen to each other. Instead, we are all held captive in our camps, in our tribes, in our politics, in our anger; and all we want to do is to tell everyone else why they are wrong. We have reached a point where we no longer see each other as sister and brother – we only see people as “other.”
Pope Francis said, “Participating in a synod means taking the same path as the Word made flesh: following in His footsteps, listening to His word and the words of others, discovering with amazement that the Holy Spirit always surprises us with fresh paths and new ways of speaking.”
A simpler way of saying it is this – Jesus wants to walk with us on our journey. Whether we are journeying towards Him or away from Him; He comes up along side and simply asks us, “What are you talking about?” And Jesus can’t wait to patiently listen to our answer.
Imagine how things could look in our world and in our church, if we simply stopped and listened – truly listened to the joys and hopes, to the grief and pain of one another – and if we walked along together with Jesus and His Holy Spirit at the heart. This is what the Synod on Synodality hopes to accomplish for us. In the weeks ahead, we will continue to hear about and learn about this process. There will be opportunities for us to come together and to listen to one another. Let us embrace this incredibly moment in the life of the church, and we too might say with the disciples, “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke to us along the way?”
A final quote from the Holy Father, “The Spirit asks us to listen to the questions, concerns and hopes of every Church, people and nation. And to listen to the world, to the challenges and changes that it sets before us. Let us not soundproof our hearts; let us listen to one another.”
"Where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them."
May the Lord give you peace.
What are you listening for?
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 28th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 10, 2021:
One day, two friends were walking along the crowded streets of a big city. The street was full of the noise of people, cars, busses, construction – the hubbub of city life. Suddenly, one of the friends stopped and said, “Can you hear that cricket?” The other friend said, “You can’t possibly hear a cricket with all this noise.” The man walked over to a planter along the sidewalk, pushed aside some branches, sure enough, there was the cricket. His friend was shocked, “How did you hear that?” The man simply said, “It just depends on what you’re listening for. Let me show you what I mean.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change and dropped them on the sidewalk. Immediately, every head turned in his direction. “You see,” he said again, “it just depends on what you are listening for.”
Our Gospel today asks us the same question, “What are you listening for?” We heard today the rich young man ask Jesus a straight-forward question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him, “Sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The story ends that “he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” I always feel sorry for this young man. He certainly meant well. He was a good and faithful person, following all of God’s commands from his youth. But, what Jesus asks of him is just too much to for him to bear.
Did you know this young man is the only person in the Gospels that we are specifically told refused to follow Jesus once invited? Imagine saying “no” to Jesus invitation in your life. The rich young man had the right desire – how to attain eternal life – but unfortunately for him, his possessions meant more. So, what was he listening for? This man was faced with a choice – security with Jesus, or security in the bank; rely on Jesus or rely on wealth. It is a human predicament that we’ve all felt at one time or another, and the sad situation of this passage is that the young man chose to listen to the voice of the world instead of the voice of the Lord.
This passage reaches out to us today and asks us the same question, “What voice are we listening to?” What is holding us back from following Jesus completely? What is it that’s causing us to drag our feet? It could be our money or possessions as it was for the young man; or it could be something else – like grudges we refuse to let go of; the forgiveness we fail to seek out or to offer to others; maybe it’s the indifference to the struggles of others. You see, to follow Jesus is to follow in love. “Love one another, just as I have loved you,” He told us.
I wonder sometimes what happened to the rich young man. Did he become a rich old miser? Did his money ever make him happy? Did he lose it all along the way? Jesus visited him and invited him into the wonder of a life lived for Christ – a life that makes a difference; a life that matters. He walked away. He missed the chance to do good; to reach out to people; to serve Jesus in the world as His follower. Imagine if our spiritual heroes and heroines had made the same bad choice. What if St. Paul had said no; or St. Peter or St. Andrew or St. Mary Magdalene or St. Pope John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa, or the countless other holy men and women we honor in the Communion of Saints. These are women and men whose lives made a real difference in the world because they chose to say yes when Jesus said, “Follow me.”
The famous Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.” We are reminded today that Jesus is the answer to the second part of that statement. Jesus is the “why” that makes all the difference in our lives. Pope Benedict said, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!”
You know, I like to think that the rich young man eventually came to his senses. I like to imagine that after walking away with a sad heart, he realized his mistake and not only returned, but came back to Jesus running. I like to believe that he changed his mind and made a choice with all of his mind, his heart, and his being – and followed Jesus all the way to the eternity he first asked about. I like to think that he realized the most valuable possession in his life is his faith and the relationship that Jesus invited him into – and that in the end, he made a difference.
“All things are possible for God…There is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more.”
So, what are you listening for? What has the greatest hold on your heart? May we too be possessed by nothing more than our love of God, our desire to serve, our hunger for holiness, and our call to make a difference in our world.
May the Lord give you peace.
It is not good to be alone
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 3, 2021:
A couple had been married for 60 years and had no secrets except one: The woman kept a shoe box in her closet that she forbade her husband from opening. But, when she was close to dying, she allowed him to open the box and he found a crocheted doll and $95,000 in cash. She explained, “My mother told me that the secret to a happy marriage was to never argue. Instead, I should keep quiet and just crochet a doll.” Her husband was touched. After 60 years of marriage, there was only one doll in the box. He asked, “So what about all this money?” “Oh,” she said, “that’s the money I made from selling the dolls.”
Today, our Scriptures speak powerfully of God’s hopes and dreams for the way we live with one another. We heard from Genesis, “It is not good for us to be alone.” Both Genesis and our passage from Mark’s Gospel invite us to reflect on the holiness that can be found in married life, and it is a holiness that we can extend to all of the relationships we experience in life.
This is a timely concern for us as we think of the ways that our world, our society are increasingly fractured. People get married later than ever today. The average age for a new couple today is 32. Fewer and fewer get married in the Church. Young people are increasingly likely to be disconnected from faith, from church, from community.
If entertainment is a reflection of culture, just take a look at some of the visions of married and family life we get from TV. There are a lot of reality TV shows that deal with marriage. There’s “Joe Millionaire” where women try and woo a man who they believe to be rich pursuing the relationship for money. There’s a show called “The Love Test” in which a couple purposely puts themselves in situations of temptation to see if their love will survive. “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” turn marriage into a competition. There’s “Cheaters” which turns a couple’s infidelity into entertainment. There are a lot of these shows. There’s “Who Wants to Marry My Dad,” “Married By America,” “Married At First Sight,” “Race to the Altar,” “Love Stories,” “Love Shack,” “Love Cruise,” and more than you can imagine. If these reflect our culture, what does that say about our view of the holiness of married life?
You see, there is something wrong with the way too many people in our world relate to one another today. We live in a world that is characterized by a profound lack of kindness, a lack of compassion for those in difficult situations, for those on the margins, a lack of care and joy. We increasingly fail to see ourselves as connected; as related; as concerned with and for one another. This all has an impact on our lives, on our families, on our church, and on our world.
To all of this God speaks some loving words to us today in Scripture. He says perhaps most profoundly, “It is not good to be alone.” He says, “The two shall become one.” What He says to us is essentially this – you are connected, you are related, you must care for one another. Care for those who are closest to you; care for those you don’t know. Care for those who are on the margins because of their poverty or homelessness or hunger or immigration status. Care even for those who are your enemies. Because God is our Father, we are all related. So, we need to see each other as brother and sister; as related and loved.
As part of the Synod on the Family a few years ago, Pope Francis said, “A Church which is family is able to show the closeness and love of a father…A Church of children who see themselves as brothers and sisters, will never end up considering anyone as a burden, a problem, an expense, a concern or a risk. Other people are a gift, and always remain so, even when they walk different paths. The Church is an open house hospitable in the simplicity of her members. That is why she can appeal to the longing for peace present in every man and woman, including those who – amid life’s trials – have wounded and suffering hearts. This Church can indeed light up the darkness felt by so many men and women.”
“It is not good for us to be alone.” This, my brothers and sisters, is God’s plan for each of us. Our good and loving God desires for us to be in a relationship first with Him – one that is built on faithfulness, holiness, goodness and care. And, He calls us to mirror those same things – life, love, fidelity, commitment and sacrifice – in all of the relationships we have in life.
Pope Francis is calling us to have a bigger picture than the small squabbles we usually engage in; and he is also calling us to have bigger hearts that can embrace and love as God loves; that can see and care as God cares; that can be part of transforming this world of darkness into the kingdom of light that Jesus came to inaugurate in our midst. We are being called to live relationships – within marriage, with the person we love, within families, within our church, with the stranger and even our enemies – that have Christ at the center; that Christ Himself be the lens through which we live our lives. Having the courage to do this will make all the difference in our lives; will make all the difference in the world. That is God’s plan for us.
“It is not good to be alone,” and thank God, we have each other, we have our families, we have our faith, we have our God, and we have our Church. What God has united, let no one divide.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.