Sunday, September 24, 2017

Harvest Time

 Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A 

A rich old man was dying.  He sent for his accountant and his lawyer to come and sit by his bed as he died.  After a long, awkward silence, one of them asked, “Sir, why have you called us here?”   “Because I want to die like Jesus,” he answered, “between two thieves.”

We know that Jesus hung on his Cross between two thieves.  But who stood there below at his feet?  His Mother, of course, and Mary Magdalene.   But also his Apostle, John.  John had been one of the very first to follow Jesus, called from his fishing nets on the seashore.  He left his job and family, walking the dusty roads of Palestine with Jesus for years, following him all the way to Calvary—the only Apostle to do so.  And after the Resurrection, John took the Virgin Mary into his home, caring for her during the rest of her earthly life.  He wrote one of the four Gospels for us, and four other books in the New Testament.  It’s believed he died in his 90’s, after a long and full career in the Lord’s service.

It’s safe to guess that St. John has a pretty high place in heaven—right?  (Of course, he and his brother James were hoping for just that, once asking Jesus for seats to his right and his left in his kingdom!)

Now, back to those two thieves.  What do we know about them?  From their own words, we know they were guilty as charged and received a just punishment for their crimes…which tells us they’d been arresting for something far worse than shoplifting.  What’s the difference between the two?  One of them mocks and reviles Christ, but the other, seemingly now repentant for his sins, says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  What a beautiful profession of faith!  This hardened criminal is able to look at the man crucified beside him and see, not only one who is innocent, but a King whose reign is beyond this life and even this world.  And how does Jesus answer him?  “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  That makes the “good thief” the only saint to have been personally canonized by Jesus!

Is it also safe to guess that the “good thief” has a pretty high place in heaven?

But wait.  St. John had dedicated 70 years or more to following Christ, and given up everything.  How long was the “good thief” a disciple?  Only minutes or hours!  And what had he given up?  You might say he’d given up his former ways…but that’s easy enough to do when you’re dying and there’s absolutely no chance you’ll return to them anyway.  How could it possibly be fair for them both to receive the same eternal reward?

Such a contrast between these two saints is a perfect parallel to the parable Jesus tells us this Sunday.  The parable of the workers in the vineyard is probably the one with which Christians struggle the most.  It’s not fair!  But we must remember Jesus wasn’t teaching us about labor relations or encouraging people to join the union.  He tells us this is a parable about the kingdom of heaven.  And, because of that, it contains many important points for us to ponder.  I want to consider three of them with you this Sunday.

Who is the “landowner” in the parable?  God, of course.  And what does this parable tell us about him?  That God is amazingly generous.   First, that landowner is generous in his hiring practices.  If it’s 5:00pm, and quitting time is 6:00pm, and nobody’s hired you yet…there just might be a good reason for that.  But he hires such folks anyway.  And then there’s the salaries.  Everybody got the amount specified in their contract, right?  No one was cheated out of what they deserved.  It’s just that most of the workers got even more than they deserved—many, a whole lot more.  The bonus was a pure gift.  Our God is exceedingly generous.

Who are the “workers” in the parable?  Well, that’s us.  And what are they doing before they got hired?  Absolutely nothing.  So what does that say about you and me?  That from God’s perspective, we often look pretty idle.  (Remember what God says through his prophet, Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways you ways….”)  It makes me think of a bumper sticker I’ve seen a few times:  “Jesus is coming.  Look busy!”  Most of us feel exceptionally busy these days—even if we’re technically retired.  But we’re busy about our own affairs, with the things of this world, rather than busy about God’s affairs, with the things of heaven.

What were those workers hired to do in the vineyard?  Most likely, it was to bring in the harvest.  And what is the harvest God wants us to gather into his kingdom?  Souls!  We have been given a share in the mission of Jesus: to win souls for eternal life.  That’s the “fruitful labor” St. Paul talks about—unable to decide if he prefers death or life, since dying means heaven but life means bring more people to Christ.  Do you want to go to heaven?  It’s going to take some effort though, right?  Not because it’s the wage due a job well done, but because we ought to lead lives worthy of such an incredible gift.  And I suspect you’d be willing to work a bit at getting those who came with you to Mass this morning into heaven, too.  But about those who aren’t at Mass today—those we only see at Christmas and Easter?  What about those who never go to this or any church anywhere ever?  How much are you willing to do to get them to heaven?  One of the motivations for getting to heaven is knowing about the alternative.  If we really believe that there’s a hell, then what must we think of our fellow human beings—friend or stranger—if we don’t do everything in our power to keep them out of it?  There’s a huge harvest out there, ripe for the picking—but the season is limited.  And God is always hiring.

In response to our most generous God, let’s be sure not to stand idly by, but to get right to work at gathering in souls, that together with St. John and the “good thief” we might celebrate a most bountiful harvest and live with the Lord Jesus forever.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

All Is Forgiven

 Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A 

This is one of those stories that I couldn’t verify if it were true…but it really ought to be.

A man in a large South American city placed an ad in the local newspaper addressed to his estranged son: Juan, Meet me at the Grand Plaza Hotel on Thursday at 6:00pm.  All is forgiven.  Love, Your Father

His son saw the ad and arrived at the hotel at the appointed time.  But he found himself lost in an immense crowd: hundreds of young men all named Juan—every single one of them looking to be reunited with his own father.

Have you ever noticed how often “forgiveness” comes up in the course of every Mass?
In the Penitential Act: “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.”  During the Gloria: “…you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us….”  In the Creed: “I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins.”  At the Consecration: “…the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins….”  During the Lord’s Prayer: “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….”  Before Holy Communion: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world….”  It comes up so often because forgiveness is God’s business.  And he’s rather extravagant about it.  We’re not just dealing with a Master to whom we owe an exceptionally large amount; we’re dealing with our Maker, to whom we owe absolutely everything.  As St. Paul reminds the Romans, “Both in life and death, we are the Lord’s.”

If God is so lavish with us—even in our sinfulness—how can we be tightfisted with one another?

Jesus lived and died and rose again, not simply to make us feel good or give us an example of how to “be nice,” but to heal a fatal wound, to bridge a gaping chasm: that sins may be forgiven.  And we’ve been given the most amazing privilege of sharing in that mission by extending forgiveness to one another.  In fact, as we’re reminded each and every time we repeat the Lord’s Prayer, we can only truly know that we’ve been forgiven when we pass it on to another.

Waiting to be forgiven is interminable.  That’s why God wastes no time in making the offer, and repeats it many more than seventy-seven times.  But he doesn’t print it in the newspaper.  He sends the message to us alive, in his Word made flesh: All is forgiven.  Love, Your Father.

Let’s be sure not to withhold from our brothers and sisters what God has so graciously extended to us.

with much inspiration taken from Fr. Lawrence Donohoo, O.P. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017


No homily for you this Sunday: Fr. Scott preached so I could help with the launch of our new Family Catechesis program...

 Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time   A 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Got Your Compass?

 Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time   A 

Four nuns and a priest pile into a car.  (This is not a joke, but a true story!)  It was December, six or seven years ago, while the Grey Nuns were still working here in the parish.  I was going with them to a celebration outside of Montréal in honor of St. Marguerite d’Youville, the foundress of their order.  Besides the five of us, I seem to recall there also being in the car two GPSs and a printed sheet with directions.  As you can imagine, they never all agreed with one another at the most crucial junctures…

We found ourselves moving right along on a divided highway when the GPS in which we had the most confidence told us to take the exit on the right in 100 feet.  There was no exit in 100 ft.  In fact, a sign had just told us the next exit was some 20 miles away.  (We later found out that they had rebuilt and rerouted the highway, but forgot to notify both us and the satellite.)  So we pulled into the “No U-Turn” spot to make a u-turn.  But it had snowed, and the lane hadn’t been plowed, and we got stuck.  My memory is fuzzy, but I like to think it was Sr. Rita Francis laying on the gas as I pushed on the bumper.  Somehow we not only got out of the snow and found our way to the basilica, but we even made it there with time to spare.

But getting taken for a little joy ride isn’t the only trouble with a GPS.

Remember how we used to plan a trip before a GPS?  You’d look at the map ahead of time to get the lay of the land and consider the best route.  You’d actually read the traffic signs and learn the names of the street.  You’d watch for landmark and take note of the terrain.  If you came upon an accident or a detour, you could often find your own way around it because you’d already taken in the big picture.  And if you did get lost, you’d actually stop to talk to a real live human being in order to find your way again—maybe meeting someone you know, maybe making a new friend.

Sometimes it was by our mistakes, but we learned how to navigate—how to find our way wherever we were going.

We Americans like to think of ourselves as rather independent—free thinkers, rugged individualists.  But the fact of the matter is that more and more often, we let somebody or something else do most of the thinking for us.  We might consider ourselves rather self-reliant, but our actions say that we actually prefer to be told what to do and where to go.  It just makes things easier, doesn’t it?

But this is a rather dangerous approach to making our way through life.

In this technological age, we can get the idea that God is like a super GPS in the sky, beaming down clear directions—as long as we maintain the signal—whenever we need them: “Do this!  Don’t go that way!”  I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally find God working that way!  And because he doesn’t, we could get the idea that God has failed us.  The truth is, we have failed to recognize who God really is.  You see, God is less like a GPS and a more like compass.  God gave us a mind and reason, a will and freedom, and he fully intends for us to make good use of these gifts.  The Lord won’t think for us or make our decisions, but he always stands ready to point us in the right direction.

Consider this Sunday’s and last Sunday’s gospel readings side-by-side.  Last Sunday, Jesus asked his Apostles, “Who do you say that I am?”  And Peter moves to the head of the class: “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”  Jesus praises him saying, “Blessed are you, Simon!  For this was not revealed to you by human flesh and blood, but by my heavenly Father!”  He didn’t figure this out with his wits alone, but by following the guidance of grace from on high.  He read the compass, and took his direction from God.

But this Sunday, Jesus makes the first prediction of his coming passion, death, and resurrection.  At the first mention of this suffering and shame, Peter says, “God forbid it!  We’ll never let such a thing happen!”  Peter goes straight from being on the way to being in the way.  “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus answers.  “You’re not thinking as God does, but as men do!”  (You can almost hear the GPS: “Recalculating!”)  Peter struck out on his own, taking advice from other than heaven, and he loses his way.

Jesus quickly puts us all back on track: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.“  The way of Jesus is the way of the cross.  I don’t think it’s an accident that the four point of the compass mirror the four points of the cross!  It’s the cross that ought to give us Christians direction.

For one thing, the cross tells us that we ought not look for detours around suffering.  Our age attempts to avoid the least suffering at all costs.  But I know that, in my life, it’s in times of trial that I usually learn and grow the most.  Suffering is of little value if we simply endure it, but if we accept it, it can become a means by which God grants us new life.

Likewise, the cross reminds us of the incredible depths of God’s love.  He would stop at nothing to save us!  The truth of God’s boundless love for each one of us should be the basis on which we get out bearings for every single step we take.

Wouldn’t it just be so much easier for God to download into our brains the most efficient route to heaven?  Of course!  But we’re not computers, and neither is God.  God’s a person.  What he wants isn’t so much to communicate information to us; what he wants is draw us ever closer into a relationship with him.  That’s why Jesus doesn’t simply say, “Go this way!” but instead says, “Follow me!”  It’s his plan that we walk along this path together.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul warns us about being conformed to present age.  We mustn’t let the world—whether it’s Washington or Hollywood, Wall Street or Facebook—do our thinking for us.  Instead, we must allow God to transform our minds—to reset our inner compass by the cross of Jesus—so that we can discern what is truly good and pleasing and perfect in all things.

Four nuns and a priest piled into a car…and somehow they got to the church on time!  Yet we’re all still on the way to our true destination.  The only way there is the way of the cross.  Take it as your compass.  Travel along with Jesus.