25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1st Reading: Isaiah 55: 6-9
This chapter starts the writings of 3rd Isaiah, a prophet who wishes to encourage his people as they come back from the Exile and face the rebuilding of their country and their faith. This chapter started with that beautiful image of all being invited to come to the water – come to the feast where there will be rich food and plenty – come without paying and without cost! In light of this vision and the gospel story this reading really says it all: God’s ways are not our ways – alleluia! What do you think of this reading? When might God be found?

2nd Reading: Philippians 1:20c – 24, 27a
Remember when Paul talks about Christ being magnified in his body that he also referred to the church as Christ’s body. Paul is such a powerful example of how the grace of God can transform us and renew us, even in the midst of the most difficult situations.

This was probably written by Paul when he was in prison in Ephesus maybe about 52-55 A.D. In this ‘holding tank’ of a place, death was a real possibility. In this case, we know Paul later went free to travel to Rome where eventually he was again imprisoned and killed. So his words are powerful and real, even if at this point he did not face death. Besides this situation, this letter to the Philippians is probably a compilation from two or three short letters written by Paul to the community at Philippi over perhaps many months. He is in a state of tension, and yet is living the peace that surpasses understanding (4:7) that he talks about in the letter. Paul knows now that “to live is Christ” – it is not about some mystical union, but about trusting that in all his labors and sufferings and work, Christ is at work. That is all that is important. Just like in the gospel, Paul shows us that we are not to be concerned about ‘rewards’ or our ‘pay.’ Rewards are not denied, but they are not the purpose of toiling for Christ and his kingdom. They always come as a surprise. Paul is a profound example of someone who takes the gospel parable to heart – and lives it. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )

What Paul speaks of is freedom. He seems to be okay with living or dying, because either way he is with Christ. Margaret Silf says, “Whose kingdom am I serving, my own or God’s? It takes a lot of courage to recognize the truth that we ourselves are not the fixed center of things but rather that we are beings through whom life flows. But when we do understand and acknowledge this, we discover that our emptiness will lead us more surely to our true purpose than our imagined fullness ever could, because God’s life and grace will flow so much more fully and freely through empty hands,” (Inner Compass, p. 110). We are called to live in a state of: I don’t mind…

The Gospel: Matthew 20: 1-16a
This parable (unique to Matthew) follows Jesus’ discussion of the unequal ‘right’ of males to divorce a woman, Jesus’ blessing of the children, and then the story of the rich young man ending ch. 19 with “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Now Matthew opens this chapter with another illustration of the surprising and unsurpassing goodness of God and His kingdom. This chapter will go on to give us another prediction of Jesus’ suffering and death along with James’ and John’s request for places of honor in the kingdom. It will end with the healing of two blind men.
Given the surrounding stories and its own powerful message, what do you make of this parable? How does it comfort you? How does it challenge you? Can you sense the kindness in the owner’s face? Do you feel the gloom of the ones who had had no work and were hired late? Can you feel their amazement and joy?

This parable was probably quite a challenge to Matthew’s community, also. This Christian community was no doubt struggling to understand the place of Gentiles in their community – and God’s kingdom. This was a highly Jewish group of people who were being stretched to accept and welcome ‘the late-comers’, the Gentiles. The ‘same wage’ is extended to all. Of course, it is not about wages at all, but about salvation. No one can get ‘more salvation’ than another. Can there really be ‘higher places’ in heaven, if it is really heaven (There are many dwelling places…)? All who work in God’s vineyard, God’s kingdom, get the same wage: fullness of life with God for all eternity – incredible generosity = truly Good News! (“Working with the Word”, http://liturgy.slu.edu. )

In Jesus’ culture, workers had to be invited to work; they could not apply or go looking for work. That was seen as dishonorable since you might be taking what belongs to someone else. To have a ‘patron’ was a particularly great blessing. A patron is someone who freely chooses to treat other people (always of a lower class) ‘as if’ they were family members. This is how God acts in this parable.(John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”, http://liturgy.slu.edu. )

It is important also to notice that the owner calls the ‘complaining worker’ at the end a friend, even though the worker never even addressed the owner with a customary title of respect. Discipleship is serious business; we need God’s insight and grace. Justice is only possible through love. This parable is a clear call to conversion for all of us. There is only one God, and we are not it! There is a place for us in God’s kingdom, but it is not on God’s throne! Our conversion is about seeing anew, considering a new world view. God is kind and faithful, but also surprising. We must stay alert and in relationship with our loving Lord if we do not want to miss what God is doing. Prayer and Scripture are ways for us to do just that. (Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, 516-519)

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24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1st Reading – Sirach 27: 30; 28: 7 & The Gospel – Matthew 18: 21-35

Both of these readings this week are about forgiveness: God’s mercy toward us and our mercy toward each other.

From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series on Mathew:

It is Rabbinic teaching that a man must forgive his brother 3 times.  The 4th time they do not forgive.  This is based on a Biblical truth in Amos where there were a series of condemnations on various nations; God forgave 3 times and then punished the sinner in the 4th.  Since we are not to be more gracious than God, forgiveness was limited to 3 times.  Peter thought he was being generous by saying 7 times, but Jesus says 70 x 7, which really means unlimited.

From Living Liturgy, Year A, 236-237:

The ‘large amount’ in the gospel is literally 10,000 talents or 100,000,000 days’ wages, an unthinkably large amount.  (John Pilch says that 10,000 talents would require more than 164,000 years of work, seven days a week.) The smaller amount is 100 denarii or 100 days wages. The exaggeration is meant to remind us how much we should be in awe of the God’s gracious forgiveness.

The Hebrew word for forgiveness means to lift and carry away; the Greek word means to send forth.  Both words tell us that forgiveness puts transgressions and their hurt at a distance – or out of our mind and focus.  We put the hurt at a distance so we can get on with healing and life-giving relationships.

Pheme Perkins reflects like this:

God’s forgiveness of us is not primarily concerned with getting himself loved, a two-party reciprocal relationship.  The parable is not meant to imply that I have some set of obligations to God . . . rather, it suggests that the experiences we have of compassion, forgiveness, mercy, extra assistance, and so on are meant to be directed outward. They are not relationships to be shaped solely on the legal model . . . the first servant’s experience of forgiveness should have changed his own behavior . . . divine forgiveness is like that – it is so unequal that it must be applied in transitive fashion to other relationships. And, the issue is how I treat the other, not how I feel about the other.

JC Arnold’s Why Forgive?:  Certainly forgiveness is sometimes given and received lightly, or used to whitewash the ugly underside of life.  But such forgiveness has no staying power.  Even the most genuine declaration of forgiveness will wear thin if it is not accompanied by a change of heart (see end of Gospel reading), both in the forgiver and the forgiven.  In other words, it must cost something if it is to have any lasting effect.  There is, moreover, little value in seeking forgiveness if we let it touch us only momentarily and then slide back into the same behavior that required an apology in the first place.  It is true that forgiveness is a gift and that it comes with no strings attached.  But it is a useless one unless we let it change us for the better  (p. 131-132).

The 2nd Reading – Romans 14:  7-9

From: “Feeling and Pain and Prayer” by Margaret Bullitt-Jones

The question is whether we are willing to let God in on the depth of our anger and sorrow and anxiety and shame. Are we willing to disclose these parts of ourselves to God? What if God yearns to know and to enter not only our warm and loving feelings, but the depth of our anger and sadness and fear and doubt? What if God not only tolerates, but actually welcomes, the expression in prayer of our true selves, including those feelings that we tend to hide away and repudiate and despise?

C.S. Lewis once observed that “the prayer preceding all prayers is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’” If this is so, then our intention in prayer is to be our real selves and to encounter the real God. As Hart pointedly puts it, “The first principle of prayer is to be yourself. Prayer is being yourself before God.” Getting real involves opening to the truth of what we feel.

Winning in a Different Way

Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…

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22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time A

This is the last weekend at Saratoga, so I thought I would share one of my favorite stories of my Dad.  He had one week off a year and spent it going with his friends to Saratoga and the races with his buddies.  He was never too proficient.  He use to claim that the escalator of the clubhouse was named after him because he lost so much there.

The guys all had rules and one of them was never to bet too much on a steeplechase race because you could never know what would happen during the jumps.  But one day they got a tip from the outrider for the horses on this one particular race.  They were told he was the most outstanding horse by far so they all bet a lot on him.  And sure enough, the horse leads after every…

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On Charlottesville

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Remarks on Charlottesville Riot on August 13, 2017

In the beautiful first reading of Isaiah waiting for God in the cave, God is not found in the powerful wind, the earthquake or the fire.  Instead, God comes intimately, in “a tiny whispering sound.”  Yesterday, in Charlottesville, we found that God can speak even more softly than that – in the sound of a tear hitting the ground.

That tear sets off an alert in us.  That forces of hatred and bigotry, white supremacists and neo Nazis must still be confronted.  That when such horrific forces are at work they are borne of ignorance, fear and isolation.  Predictably, they can only offer violence and hatred in support of their banal arguments. They must be challenged as they were yesterday with peace, creativity and love.  We can never let down our vigilance against the forces of hate until we are one nation…

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Enough

Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…

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Feast of the Transfiguration A

I have fallen in love with the word ENOUGH.  It is a strange word to fall in love with. It does not come poetically to the ear.  When someone asks how much do you love me, no one wants to hear “Enough.”

But perhaps they should. For of all that Jesus promised could be summed up in that word.  We are loved “enough.”  Jesus did not make outrageous promises of this life of smooth sailing and uninterrupted happiness.  He spoke of carrying our cross and imitating him.  But the cross would not crush and we may die to ourselves but it is also followed by a resurrection.  You see we have been given enough to endure our crosses, our heartbreak and our tragedies.

The Transfiguration is a story of enough – enough to sustain the disciples through the shattering events of the cross.   A reminder…

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The Pearl of Great Price

Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…

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17th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

They come about it in different ways.  A man stumbles on a treasure buried in a field.  He reburies it elsewhere on the land and then sells all he has and purchases the entire lot so as to obtain his treasure. (It sounds a little sketchy, but the Rabbis of the time it was, for lack of a better word, “Kosher.”)  Another man, this one seeking wealth, finally finds the pearl of great price.  He too leaves it, sells all that he has, to buy the pearl. Neither man can consult with anyone for fear the secret value would be revealed.    They have come to a decision point that is instinctual and will change their life forever.

We all have, or will one day, come to this type of decision.  It is not the moment you fall in love or the moment of…

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Prayer is a Clearing, by Kris Rooney

My family and I recently took a trip to the Adirondacks and found a small, out-of-the-way place to hike called Moose Pond.  It is entirely on state land, so there were no houses to take away from the wilderness we were in.  Everywhere we looked was blue, green or brown – water, sky, grass, trees and dirt.

The trail was not marked and not clear.  It would go off in different directions.  Sometimes they would come back together.  Sometimes there were low branches in the way.  Or a collection of rocks to maneuver.  There had been a lot of rain, so parts were muddy.  We would try to balance on rocks and roots to get around the mud patches, but our dog Benny would just plow through.  None of this was a big problem because we could figure out how to get back by staying near the pond.

Every so often, there would be a clearing so we could take in the vista.  Few people were around, so we would mostly be looking out at pristine nature.  When we neared the end, we stopped at a lookout to take off our shoes and socks and cool our feet.  It was absolutely quiet except for dragonfly interruptions.

It made me think that this is what prayer is like.  Our life is the trail:  unclear, different directions, obstacles, mud.  People who care about us walk along with us.  Some tread carefully and others barrel through.  Some enjoy the scenery while others focus on the task at hand.  All of it may seem endless and confusing if it weren’t for the clearings.  Clearings are the prayer.  They are a chance to check out the vista.  A pause, a breath.  A time to consider.  An opportunity for clarity.  Or a course correction.  Prayer is getting off the trail, taking a good look around, and remembering there is something greater happening than what is right in front of us.  There is a deeper truth, and we are a part of that truth.  We just need a clearing to see it.

What’s your trail like?  Can you find a clearing?

Hope and Dour

Fr. Bob’s homily last Sunday…

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16th Sunday in Ordinary Time A 2017

In the old comic strip for children – Goofus and Gallant – Gallant was the character to did everything right, always polite and kind.  Goofus on the other hand was a disaster of manners and consequences.  Each week the strip compared the failed exploits of Goofus and the triumph of Gallant.  To understand today’s Gospel, let us understand two more characters.  Dour and Hope.

Dour bases his life on cynicism. He is content to expect the worse so that he may never be disappointed.  He lives a quiet and small life, keeping himself closed off.  He applauds himself when things go badly and congratulates himself for knowing it first.  Dour does not love, less he be heartbroken; does not befriend less he be betrayed; does not hope, less he be crushed.  His greatest prize is smugness.

Hope live differently for Hope is…

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15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle A

1st Reading – Isaiah 55: 10-11

In this ‘biblical world’ rain is precious. The total rainfall averages 20-24 inches (Mobile, Alabama, gets about 65 inches.) Certainly then rain was eagerly awaited as a vitally necessary commodity. It was seen as a ‘gift of God.’  Isaiah saw the idea of rain as a far greater reality, as an image of the loving, creative, redeeming Word of God whose utterances could transform even the most hardened heart. The rain of grace could soften and bring life. (Celebration, July 14, 2002)  We must be open to receive this grace so that it can transform our life.  How do you know and feel this to be true in your life?

Thomas Merton had no religion growing up.  His father was an artist that travelled extensively, although a spiritual man.  His mother was a Quaker who died when he was still little.  He lived for himself, had fun…yet little nudgings from God would occur in him.  He finally made a decision to go to a Catholic church, he began spiritual reading, spoke to Catholics about their faith and before you know it-he wanted to be baptized into the faith.  It was only a couple years after that he wanted to become a priest.  In his book, The Seven Storey Mountain, he speaks of the peace that came over him as he got to know the Lord.  This is ‘giving seed to the one who sows’.  Not that we should all become priests, but what is it that God is planting in YOU?

2nd Reading – Romans 8: 18-23

Paul is not a ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die’ kind of guy. On the contrary, Paul regarded the struggles of Christian living as productive, necessary and inherent part of the process whereby we are saved and even all creation is transformed. We are a part of the struggle, but we are also people of hope who live with a joy-filled anticipation of the fullness of life to come. Even in the world of nature we see transformation and struggle as part of the whole process: Butterflies strain to use their new wings as they emerge from their tomb-like cocoons. Salmon swim incredibly long distances in order to spawn and bring forth life. Seeds must crack open and trust the ‘earth-grave’ around them to sprout forth with growth. (Celebration, July 14, 2002)  Brene Brown says hope is a function of struggle.

“Hope is realistic…Hope simply does its thing, like that spider in the corner of my bookshelf.  She will make a new web again and again, as often as my feather duster swooshes it away – without self-pity, without self-congratulations, without expectations, without fear…On my level the stakes are higher.  But I bow to that spider,”  said by Brother David Steindl-Rast.  To learn a little more about this hope and being open to the unimaginable, watch this 6 minute clip of him:   Spirituality for the Future series.

The Gospel – Matthew 13: 1-23

When we hear this parable, we often focus on ourselves as the various types of soil. Are we rocky, hard soil? Are we choked by the weeds of our life? How do we become good soil, receptive to God’s planting and bountiful care? Things to think about . . .

  • What if we focus on ourselves as the sower?  As the seed?
  • Parables are certainly open-ended. They invite us to sit with mystery awhile – to allow time for its secrets and power to penetrate our minds and hearts. Isn’t it true that sometimes we are not sure we have much – or even that there isn’t much there? As Louie Armstrong said once: “There are some people that if they don’t know, you can’t tell ‘em.”  Perhaps, Jesus was trying to say something similar:  “To anyone who has, more will be given . . . from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”  (Exploring the Sunday Readings, July, 2011, & Living Liturgy, Year A, 2002, p. 197)
  • Imagine! Our God is willing to put up with a 75% failure rate! This parable certainly asserts that the kingdom will not be found by those who are afraid to waste – to ‘waste’ their time, energy, and love. God’s reign is fostered not by carefulness but by openhandedness – not by scrupulously measuring but by generously giving – not by the small gesture of micro-management but by large motion which allows seed to fly from our hands and to land where it will. If we give freely and love generously, a lot of our effort will be wasted. But the few things that do work will more than compensate for our losses. The harvest is worth the waste! God assures us. Jesus promises us that the growing seed will produce a harvest of 30, 60, and a 100 fold.  (Living w/ Christ, 7/11, p. 4-5)

To Identify with Christ

Fr. Bob’s homily July 2nd…

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13th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

It seems clear from the readings this week that what we are offered in the Christian life is identity with Jesus Christ.  St. Paul says, “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”  And Jesus himself promises “”Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”  This is what St. Irenaeus called participation in Christ that, for believers, our lives are a mirror of Jesus.  And I promise you that if you choose to live the life of Christ, you will be more satisfied, complete, purposeful and loving than you could ever imagine.  Which leaves me with one question, “Do want to live as Christ did?”

One does not have to look too far as to why you may not. To say yes to Christ’s life is to say…

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