Father Bob’s homily last Sunday…
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time C
Luke 18: 9-14
You have to begin with the obvious fact is that the Pharisee is an arrogant fool. He simply has to make sure he is different from everyone else. He probably dresses differently to get noticed. He takes the most prominent position and makes sure that everyone knows he is praying. I just realized that I am the Pharisee.
That is in stark contrast to the tax collector, who beginning a two thousand year old tradition in the Catholic Church, chooses to sit in the back of the congregation, dares not to raise his eyes to heaven, beats his breast and prays, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” And his is the prayer that justifies. He is the one God exalts because he has named precisely what we need from God.
Mercy is far more than just the forgiveness…
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1st Reading – Wisdom 11: 22 – 12: 2
This reading, actually a poem, echoes our opening prayer and psalm. It was a popularly held belief that the book was written by Solomon, but the author does remain anonymous. The most we know is he was a learned, Greek-speaking Jew and probably a teacher, and he was familiar with Hellenisitic philosophy, rhetoric and culture .
The word love is used as a verb, an action word. God continually creates us anew, preserves us and forgives us. (M. Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook,C, 517-8).
What is most mysterious is God’s superabundant life pouring itself forth, the love of God who gives and gives again but is never emptied in the giving. This self-giving is at the very heart of who God is (M. Downey, Altogether Gift, p. 43). How do you experience God’s love in your life?
2nd Reading – 2 Thessalonians 1: 11- 2:2
This is another letter that is questionable whether Paul actually wrote someone writing as Paul. Either way, there is truth in the letter. The people of Thessalonica (the capital city for the Roman province of Macedonia) are being told that they are being prayed for and not to be fooled by anyone saying they know when the second coming will be. Doesn’t it feel good to know you are being prayed for? Pope Francis recently said, “Without love, effort becomes a lot heavier.” Praying for others is an act of love.
We must be diligent in living the Christian life…be watchful and alert. During that time, everyone thought Jesus was coming back any minute. This was to the point where they were just waiting around and not doing anything! Paul was saying cut it out. There’s still a lot to do, so get busy doing it. (Birmingham, W&W, p. 519). How can this reading be good for us today?
Gospel Reading – Luke 19: 1-10
Here we have story of Zacchaeus (zuh-KEE-uhs, not zuh-KAY-us). This story is found only in Luke’s Gospel. This is Jesus’ last encounter before he enters Jerusalem.
Remember: Welcoming another into one’s home to share at table was an act of profound friendship. Meals were sacred times reserved only for close friends and family. Yet, one of the most historical ‘facts’ that we know about Jesus is that he often ate with sinners and the outcasts of society. When Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he is coming to dinner, the offer is clear. Jesus is asking him for his friendship. And, Zacchaeus responds by changing his way of doing business – and his way of living. Such generosity delights Jesus for he knows that now salvation (full health and life) has come to Zacchaeus’ whole house. (R. Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu ; Celebrations Oct., 2004)
From “Working with the Word” http://liturgy.slu.edu :
We sometimes tend to think that we need to repent and then God will come to us. But the gospel would suggest that just the opposite is true: Jesus comes to Zacchaeus who then responds by repenting. We do not repent so that God will give us his grace; God’s grace is a free gift. We just need to be open to receiving this grace so that we can repent.
William Barclay tells us to notice that the gospel ends with the encouraging words: “For the Son of Man (the Human One) came to seek out and to save the lost.” The word lost in the New Testament does not mean damned or doomed. It merely means in the wrong place. A thing is lost when it has got out of its own place into the wrong place . . . A person is lost when he or she wanders away from God. To come back into a right relationship with God is a cause for rejoicing and new life. (p. 245, The Gospel of Luke)
Someone recently said to me that it will be St. Helen’s and Our Lady of Fatima until there is no one left from before the merger. On this accord, I suppose I am more fortunate than others. Fortunate because my history at Union Street, the better name to use, dates back to the 80’s and into the beginning of the 90’s. I spent two decades in Las Vegas, tending to my parents and sisters, when I knew it was time to come home. My return has made me the new kid on the block.
There were a lot of great places to worship when I returned. I have had a history with a few other parishes along the way. None of which was Rosa Road, the better name to use. Union Street became my most comfortable house of worship once again, my “home base”. This feeling of comfort, I am sure, is the very reason that most of the parishioners go solely to their own home bases.
When I had the good fortune to attend my first ever mass at Rosa Rd, I was amazed. It has an intimacy, a closeness that is breath-taking. The WORD carries so well in this majestic House of God. The music is upbeat, the parishioners friendly, even the priests rest and meditate down near the people. The organist and the announcements are close enough to reach out and touch. The choir, while clad in their gowns, raise their voices from a gently raised platform.
The social atmosphere after the mass is great. They have doughnuts and conversation, a tradition well entrenched in this half of our parish. The offices and the grounds, used for picnics, carnivals and of course the blessings of the animals, are more strong attributes of Rosa Road.
It is sounding like I have been converted from my old home base of Union Street. Not so fast. Union Street has the beautiful stain-glassed windows, the school, and the open spaces that allow so many faithful people to assemble. Periodically, the children from the school arrive at Mass and use their voices to enhance the Mass. Also special are the celebrations of Christmas, Easter, and the special event when all the teachers in the diocese attended one of the dwindling appearances of Bishop Hubbard as he prepares for his retirement. The P.A. System recently upgraded to bring the voices from the choir to all the areas of this grand old building. The carefully orchestrated movement of the readers and the Psalmist is addicting. I love the priests, during homilies, traveling the isles and enlightening us with their words, which carries to all corners of this half of our parish. Finally, one of my favorite events occurs when all the Eucharistic Ministers begin converging on God’s Altar, following the peace greeting and during the “Lamb of God”. They come from all different directions to lend their hands in the celebration of the centerpiece of our faith, the Body and Blood of our Lord.
So I conclude, if you feel an urge to proclaim you belong to either of the old parishes instead of to St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the real name, in honor our most worthy patron saint, then I suggest you wander from your own home base and experience the other half of your parish. Maybe you will see what has made this whole parish my new home base and why I love the beauty of both of these Houses of God. We are a truly great Parish of God.
Let us pray using Psalms 34:1-8…
I will praise the Lord at all times.
I will never stop singing his praises.
Humble people, listen and be happy,
while I brag about the Lord.
Praise the Lord with me.
Let us honor his name.
I went to the Lord for help, and he listened.
He saved me from all that I fear.
If you look to him for help, he will put a smile on your face.
You will have no need to be ashamed.
As a poor, helpless man I prayed to the Lord,
and he heard me. He saved me from all my troubles.
The Lord’s angel builds a camp around his followers,
and he protects them.
Give the Lord a chance to show you how good he is.
Great blessings belong to those who depend on him! Amen
Reading #1: Sirach35: 12-14, 16-18
Jesus Ben Sirach lived and wrote around 180 BC. He was an educated man whose main writing concerns were reflection on the Torah and practical suggestions for upright living. To live uprightly is to live up to the covenantal relationship one has with God – hesed. Hesed assumes a reciprocity and requires that love of one another flow out of love of God, (W&W, Birmingham, p. 510). What does this mean to you?
God knows no favorites. There are no prayers better than any others. Sometimes we are afraid to go to God with our small requests. But Sirach says the one who serves God willingly is heard! Pope Francis says, “Today amid so much darkness we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope, it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds.” The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds!
Reading #2: 2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18
Paul’s ‘departure,’ a euphemism for death, uses a Greek word that means to leave, to loosen the bonds or fetters, to relax, to be released from prison – unyoked, free, unfettered. (Celebration, Oct. 1998)
From Celebrations Oct. 2004:
Scholars suggest that the abandonment that is referred to in this reading happened at the end of Paul’s life, during his second imprisonment in Rome under Nero. Even though there was a sizeable Christian community in Rome, no one appeared at Paul’s preliminary hearing to encourage or to defend him. Paul who had brought countless numbers of people to Christ, found himself alone, with no one other than Christ to strengthen and support him. Paul likens his death to a sacrifice or a libation. Libations of wine and oil were done sometimes by Jews, but even more often by Greeks and Romans. Before meals and, at times, in between courses, as well as at religious ceremonies, a goblet of wine was poured out on the ground as a gesture of homage to the gods.
From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :
Remember, Paul had entered ‘the race’ only after he met the Risen Christ and realized that all his accomplishments were so much rubbish. He gave up the pretense of being a self-made, self-righteous man. In Christ, he learned the freedom and the gift that is God’s grace poured out for us. The mercy of the Lord was his hope, his joy, his faith.
Gospel: Luke 18:9-14
From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu :
Prayer, most surely, is not about trying to change God’s mind or heart about anything. It is about changing us. And that is why the Pharisee’s prayer is so meaningless. There is nothing in his life to be changed – no empty spaces to be filled up. Remember Mary’s Magnificat: God fills the hungry and the ‘full’
(the rich) go away empty . . .” (Lk. 1:53) If the cries of the poor are to be heard or the orphan or oppressed are to be cared for, it will not be by some magic changing of God’s mind. They will be heard and served by concerned people who can recognize their needs and decide how to respond to them. Prayers can indeed be answered by a God who can ‘get through’ to prayerful people. We need to open a place for God’s entry into our lives. This is true prayer.
From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu :
To strike the breast is a Middle-Eastern gesture that was usually used by women. It was used by men only in extreme anguish, so it is touching that this tax collector uses this gesture. The closing phrase (“whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted”) is one of those ‘floating sayings.” It occurs also in Lk 14:11, Mt 18:4: 23:12; James 4:6, 10; 1 Peter 5:6. Most of us go through life tallying successes and failures. God’s ways are not like that. With God’s help, we can discover even in our so-called failures examples of divine reversals, a better plan, a more rewarding venture, new life after hitting a dead-end. What looks like a set-back, can be an opportunity for growth. This is the Paschal Mystery: new life from death.
Father Bob’s homily last Sunday…
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I have thought many times that it is good that I am not Jesus. In the Gospel, we hear that Jesus cures ten lepers and only one returns to thank him. If I were Jesus, I would have given the other nine leprosy again immediately. Like I said, it is good that I am not Jesus.
Still one must wonder why it is so important to give thanks to God. The lepers call to Jesus from far away because they are not allowed to approach anyone. Imagine the isolation they had lived with. I am sure that the other nine went home to embrace their loved ones, to become part of the community again. Why does Jesus emphasize that only the one leper truly understood that what was most important was to give thanks to God?
After all, giving thanks to God does nothing…
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1st Reading — Exodus 17: 8-13
Amalek incurred God’s wrath for attacking the Israelites when they were faint and weary on their journey out of Egypt. (Just before this passage is the section where God provides food as manna, and drink as water from a rock.) Amalek had set upon the most vulnerable and weak, the stragglers who were too exhausted to keep up with the rest. Amalek did not fear (respect) God. His sin is not unlike that of the corrupt judge who “feared neither God nor humans” who we will hear in the Gospel.
Picture Moses: he is sitting on a rock holding up the staff of God with his tired and aching arms supported by fellow believers. This is not meant to be seen as magic or ritual superstition. It is symbolic of the powerful presence of God in our midst. Remember also, that Joshua, who’s name in Latin is Jesus, is the one who defends the people against the aggressors. Who supports you in prayer?
*Another thing to keep in mind when we read passages from scripture that seem primitive, even grisly – even the most shocking texts from the Bible are given for our instruction. Sometimes the instruction is more about human nature than that of God’s nature. We need to remember that the ‘inspired truth’ in scripture is the overall meaning that God intended to communicate. In the Noah story, for example, Noah listens to God’s words; he, thus, finds safety and life even in the midst of great difficulties. Sin and evil can flood over us and drown us. But in the end, God with his ‘rainbow covenant’ pledges to always be for life. This is the God that Noah worships. (This Sunday’s Scripture, Twenty-Third Publications. 10/21/01)
2nd Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:2
Do you have a favorite verse or phrase that you find helpful – hopeful – faith-filled?
This reading reminds us that as long as we are laboring at faith, faith is winning. We just need to stay at the task, living with trust in God’s love and doing as God would have us do — when it is easy and convenient — and when it is not. (John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
Henri Nouwen says, “Often I have found myself saying: ‘The Gospel that I read this morning was just what I needed today!’ This was much more than a wonderful coincidence. What, in fact, was taking place was not that a Gospel text helped me with a concrete problem, but that the many Gospel passages that I had been contemplating were gradually giving me new eyes and new ears to see and hear what was happening in the world. It wasn’t that the Gospel proved useful for my many worries but that the Gospel proved the uselessness of my worries and so refocused my whole attention.” Here and Now, p. 127
The Gospel – Luke 18: 1-8
This judge is obviously corrupt – nothing like God. God throughout the Hebrew Scriptures speaks on behalf of the oppressed and the widowed. The word ‘widow’ in Hebrew, admanah, means unable to speak, a silent one. Chera, meaning forsaken or empty, was also often applied to a widow. The prophets always challenged the people and leaders to care for the widow and orphan, those without power. See Isaiah 1:23; 10:2; Malachi 3:5; Jeremiah 49:11; Psalm 68:6; James 1:27. (J. Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
Luke’s gospel is often called the gospel of prayer. What does prayer have to do with faith?
How do you see prayer as important? How do you keep from ‘losing heart’ about problems?
More thoughts from John Pilch:
The word that is translated, ‘strike me’ literally meant to “give a black eye.” It was used also to imply a public shaming. In other words this pestering widow puts the ‘fear of the Lord’ back in this awful judge due to her persistence and public pressure! The point of this story is that if a helpless widow can get what is needed from a shameless judge, how much more can we trust that our ever-loving, honor-sensitive God will be with us to help us.
If you are feeling like your prayers are not being heard, don’t give up. Don’t despair. Don’t relent to your fears. It is in the persistence. “Perseverance in prayer is more than true grit that will never quit; it is trust in a God who will never abandon or ignore those who entrust themselves to the divine power, care and mercy in prayer. With this assurance, perseverance in prayer without losing heart becomes not only possible but a permanent practice in the life of the believer.” (Celebration, 10/21/01)
Father Bob’s homily last week…a five step back boogie of salvation…
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
You don’t get Habakkuk that often. But when you do get it, you get this passage. “For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint.” Israel is in the midst of a literal panic. They had always believed that they were protected as a chosen people. Now they are threatened with invasion, with exile, with destruction. They have lost all hope. Imagine how reassuring the prophet’s words must have been. “For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint.”
While Israel’s situation is ancient, its reaction is modern. The feeling that there is no way out is shared by all of us at some time. In my ministry, I am truly blessed that so many come to me at times when they feel the deepest of troubles. They feel panicked, anxious and…
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1st Reading — 2 Kings 5: 14-17
Naaman the Syrian is cured of leprosy. Although Syria and Israel were enjoying an unstable peace at the time, Syrians were still excluded from the Israelite community. When Naaman says there is no God in all the earth except in Israel, he is referring to the covenant relationship God had with Israel. The books of Kings further maintain that Yahweh is a jealous God and there are to be no other. Yahweh alone is one, and the place of worship is also one and central (in Jerusalem). BUT, after Naaman’s conversion, he takes some earth from Israel with him to his home in Syria so he could build an altar (Birmingham, W&W, p. 497-498) What does this say to you? How will this healing compare to the healing in the Gospel?
2nd Reading — 2 Timothy 2: 8 –13
This letter in the name of Paul assures us that though he was ‘chained’ and eventually killed, “the Word of God is not chained” and that the God we find in Jesus Christ will be forever faithful – even when we are not. God continues to work and inspire even our stage of reading and interpreting – helping these words live for us – enfleshing His love and presence in us.
“The Bible is not a book to be read,
but a drama in which to participate.” Abraham Heschel
How can the word of God free you? William Barclay says, “Jesus must always be our own personal discovery. Our religion can never be a carried tale. Christianity does not mean reciting a creed; it means knowing a person,” (The Gospel of Luke, p. 121).
Margaret Silf says, “God’s life and grace will flow so much more fully and freely through empty hands, “(Inner Compass, p. 110). How do we DO that? Perhaps the leper teaches us…
The Gospel – Luke 17: 11-19
The leper was healed while ‘Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem.” This is what happens to us when we walk with Jesus even to and through the difficult times and places of our lives. We are healed each time we come to Eucharist praising God and becoming more perfectly a part of Christ’s body. We are healed each time we put others ahead of ourselves. We are healed each time we choose to forgive those who wrong us even as we try to overcome the evil. We are healed each time we pause a few seconds to ‘give thanks to God’ for the many blessings of each day. Such gratitude makes our faith a vibrant and growing reality: we owe all to God who gives us everything that is good. Faithfulness and thankfulness go (grow?) together (Living Liturgy, Cycle C, p.224-227).
The ten lepers asked Jesus to have pity on them. Pity, or mercy, in the Mediterranean world, means to motivate someone to meet his or her interpersonal obligation. In effect, the ten people in Luke are asking Jesus to give them what he owes them!
Jesus as healer was constantly challenging existing boundaries and pushing them ever outward. Sinners, the blind, the lame and lepers were welcome within the boundaries of the holy community Jesus was forming. Now that the lepers were healed, they are restored to their communities. The nine that left may have gone to the priests to thank God there. The Samaritan leper could not enter Jerusalem, so he couldn’t do that. He recognized Jesus as being one with God, and so he thanked him personally. The other nine lepers may actually bump into Jesus again…do you think they might thank him later? The Samaritan grabbed his opportunity while he had it, (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle C, p. 150). What opportunities do you have to thank God?
What I love about studying my religion for the first time since 8th grade is realizing what a STORY it is. I am, by profession, a storyteller. A story savorer. A myth wonderer. This is my life’s work. I was called to it as the prophets were called. I want to share how examining memories, the stories people tell me, and the stories of scripture and the saints’ lives has led me to storytelling as a ministry. Part of this ministry is inviting others to see their lives AS STORY. Part is teaching others how to tell faith stories. In Part II, I’ll explore more of how I’m becoming clearer at how God reveals God’s Self through Bible stories.
Every story is a gold mine waiting to be explored and mined for its gold. No person’s life is not a story. Nor is anyone’s life a bad story. Suffering through difficulties and savoring the sweetness of Life’s triumphs both lead us to the gold, if we are willing to mine for it. Our FAITH story – the Hebrew Scriptures we call the Old Testament joined to the gospels and writings we call the New Testament – these contain untold nuggets of gold as well. And those stories need mining as well. The Church’s history, containing the traditions it espouses, is yet another important story.
In this blog I’ll share some of what I’ve learned over decades working as a storyteller and new understandings about the nature of my story ministry. Finding the meaning(s) of any storytelling requires digging deep, as miners do, for gold. My grandfather used to stand at the piano as my relatives took turns singing. He implored us, “Tell the story.” He wanted us to understand and feel the words we sang, so as to convey the meaning in them. From a young age I learned to examine poems and stories for meaning. Eventually I taught middle schoolers to find the stories they loved and ask themselves, “What meaning(s) does this story contain? Most stories contain layers of meaning. To discover multiple meanings over time a student or storyteller returns to them through study or retelling. Just as we might return to view a great painting or reread a powerful book, we learn more and more by returning to and re–examining stories by telling them. People sometimes think I’m like a therapist, helping them make sense of a moment in the past. I might do that, but I see myself as an artist, savoring the beauty of even a dark or troubling tale. I can help others see or shape a tale. And as I listen out a story, I watch for the gold threaded through it. But I try not to tell anyone what their story means. The meaning(s) will shine through for the teller with the support of authentic listening. My ministry includes listening to tales and sharing them. It also involves teaching others about the importance of deep listening. Every day I learn more how the memories we share change the people who hear our tales.
I didn’t feel guided to study my faith after I left Catholic education at age 13. I simply had experiences, all the while tending my relationship with God. I didn’t read the Bible or imagine that I should! But I knew Bible stories like the Tower of Babel, David and Goliath, the Annunciation, and the Finding of the Child in the Temple. Those and more were at work in me. When my Dad died suddenly in a car accident in 1964, the story of God never deserting those with faith kept me going. I felt sure God would care for my dad and my 5 siblings and mom, and God has. We didn’t talk about Dad much, however, and I was always hungry to hear anyone speak of him. My mother simply couldn’t. But she kept us connected to Church where God could work on us. At 16, just after Vatican II, during the Vietnam War, I was accepted as an exchange student to Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia. There, I attended mass with a Catholic whom my Muslim host family had found to take me. Hearing mass in English as the vernacular shocked me, but Kuala Lumpur, once colonized by the English, included a multicultural population who spoke English well. Chinese Christian friends excitedly took me to Billy Graham video nights. Several gave me copies of The Good News for Modern Man to share with friends when I returned home. My faith had deepened, but the big untold story of my dad’s death made it difficult to speak God’s story to anyone.
I believe now that God guided me through countless challenging experiences: my first bout of depression at 17, my first marriage and the birth of a son, an early divorce, good therapy to help me share my tight-held grief. I turned to God through it all. A kind priest encouraged me to explore the annulment process, so I might examine what beliefs I’d brought to marrying and look closely at the story of what happened in my marriage. Ironically, I then met a wonderful ex-Catholic “burned” by being forced to attend what he considered the joyless experience of mass. He’s still not ready to worship in a building, but he finds God in the silence of Nature. I trust God’s way of working on him and with us as a couple. Years back, I attended my first Buddhist retreat, curious to hear a speaker whose writings I admired. I loved hearing the story of how Thich Nhat Hanh became deeply connected to the Buddha at a very young age. He felt called to be a monk as a boy. I think God led me to the Buddhists to learn about SILENCE (storytelling’s opposite). I experienced insights in the deep silence and dreamt wondrous images following that retreat. Grace, all of it. Experience, stories, and God – my teachers.
A long-time devout Catholic friend recently told me why she left the church. Celiac disease led her to receive rice communion hosts but the Church outlawed non-wheat hosts well before gluten-free hosts arrived. It was her last straw. Years earlier, while very active in the parish where she raised her children, she had been emotionally hurt by a priest. Somehow the communion host “betrayal” brought up that buried hurt, and she left, angry. As we talked, she told me of a modern church where she’s studying scripture along with books about the historical Jesus and other spiritual leaders from history. When I told her I was studying theology, she asked, “But you don’t still believe all that stuff about Jesus being GOD, do you? Sure, he was a great man and probably a prophet, but he wasn’t GOD.” I feel her long untold, unresolved STORY has shaken her faith to the extent that a community could talk her out of her belief in Christ. She seemed to feel foolish having believed in Him all her life, as if she’d been duped.
This is my friend’s story. It is powerful and important, containing layers of literal and sub-textual meaning. It’s not a bad story. I hope she might, in time, come to see it as the story of an experience. Then she might mine it for the gold she’ll find. I want to hear my friend’s story again. I will ask, gently, for it. Not finding fault or arguing -simply listening with respect. I regret that I tightened up when she said, “You don’t still believe… do you?” I made it, suddenly, my story. I felt hurt by her words and her tone. But God is guiding me as He did those prophets of old. I trust God and the faith I’ve seen in my friend over the years. It’s her story to tell, not mine. But for the sake of this discussion, I share it as story. Soup for our souls. I will continue to listen, and pray for her. We’re friends. And God’s got her.
Would you keep me in prayer as I explore this new ministry?
I’ll be back with Part II after a while.