Monday, October 24, 2016

O God, have mercy on us

30th Sunday of OT year C 2016:
We have all heard this parable before.  We see the bad Pharisee and the good tax collector.  But, it’s more complicated than that.  It is important to remember the historical context of the gospel.  It is easy to think of the Pharisees as the bad guys of the gospel.  Jesus is always arguing with them and pointing out what they are doing wrong.  In fact, we have a term “pharisaism” which means something like “hypocritical or fake.”  So, it comes as no surprise to all of us that Jesus once again talks about a Pharisee who is messing up.  But, the Pharisees were the religious leaders at the time.  In fact, everyone listening to Jesus would have thought of the Pharisees as being the good guys.  In a way, the Pharisee is a good guy, right?  He is not greedy, dishonest or adulterous; he fasts, tithes, and generally does all the right things.  The tax collector, on the other hand, was synonymous for a sinner, because they were famous for dishonestly accruing wealthy by taking money from the people.
But, Jesus is not criticizing this hypothetical Pharisee because of his actions.  Rather, Jesus is trying to show the necessity of the conversion of the heart.  Everything the Pharisee does in life is great, we should strive to be as virtuous as he is.  But, he doesn’t have the right attitude in his heart.
When I hear this parable, I think of it as a great examination of conscience.  I ask myself 2 questions: do my actions live up to the example of the Pharisee?  Number 2, does my attitude live up to the example of the tax collector?  This parable helps me to see that my actions and my attitude need conversion.  I know I’m a sinner.  My actions are not as virtuous as the Pharisee.  So, I try to make the words of the tax collector my own: be merciful to me a sinner.
Over the past year we have been living out this Year of Mercy.  Pope Francis has given us a great gift with this special year.  By having a whole year dedicated to remembering God’s amazing gift of mercy, it gives us a chance to renew our faith in God, our hope for forgiveness, and our love for God and our neighbor. 
As a way of celebrating this year of mercy, we are dedicating this year’s parish mission to the theme of mercy.  We are blessed to have Dr. John Sehorn as our presenter this year.  Dr. Sehorn is a professor of theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver.  I have known him and his family for years, I met him when he was studying at Notre Dame.  John has a terrific ability to present information in an approachable and engaging manner.  I really think you will love his talks.  The theme is mercy, and the way we are going to reflect on mercy is really interesting.  Each night we are going to hear the thoughts of a different saint: Athanasius, Augustine, and Leo the Great.  Each one of them has interesting insights into God’s mercy.  I’m guessing that most of us have probably never heard the unique insights of these extraordinary teachers of the faith.  John is going to be able to shed some new light on the mystery of God’s mercy by teaching us the insights of these wonderful saints.  I think this will be a fantastic way for St. Jude parish to celebrate God’s mercy during this jubilee year of grace.  I hope all of you can join us.

The tax collector today shows us that the pathway to salvation, the pathway to God’s mercy, is the humble and contrite heart.  O God, be merciful to me a sinner.  This sentence is a great summary for the year of mercy.  I’m praying that our parish mission will be a great moment of grace for all of us.  That our hearts might be moved by the hope of God’s forgiveness.  Even if we cannot emulate the virtuous actions of the Pharisee in today’s gospel, I hope we can emulate the humility of the tax collector and pray: O God, have mercy on us.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The mass is our place to give thanks

28th Sunday of OT Year C 2016:
Our readings these last couple of weeks have been teaching us about the attitude of the Christian person.  I know that it is easy to talk about actions: we need to be kind, loving, just, holy.  But, attitude is so much more difficult.  Attitude is the internal, action is the external.  I know that I can find it much easier to control the external, but the internal is tough.  Last week Jesus taught us about humility: when you have done all that was commanded say, I am an unprofitable servant, I have only done what was commanded.  This attitude of humility ensures that Christ will remain the center of our live and the heart of what we do.  Having an attitude of humility is essential if we want to be followers of Christ, because Christ was humble and he calls us to follow him.
Today we hear about another important attitude, the attitude of thanksgiving.  In the first reading, and in the gospel, we hear about the healing of lepers.  In both readings, God has pity on these suffering souls and brings them healing.  In the first reading, Naaman is healed by plunging down into the water.  In the gospel, the lepers are healed by begging Jesus for pity, for mercy.  In both readings, we hear about the joy of the person who was healed.  Naaman is ready to give a large gift to the prophet, the Samaritan comes back to praise Christ, “glorifying God in a loud voice.”  These two should be great examples for us.  The proper response to the gifts of God is thanksgiving.  An essential attitude for the Christian man or woman is an attitude of thanks.
But, this attitude is not simple, and it’s not automatic.  Parents out there, how many times do you have to instruct your kids: “now what do you say?”  For whatever reason, gratitude is not natural to us, we have to learn it, grow in it.  But, when we do, it can change our lives.  Just think about some of the things that can be a source of tension in your life.  Family.  Sometimes we can get into disagreements, fights, resentment.  There can be a lot of negative tension in our families.  Imagine if everyone in the family had an attitude of thanksgiving about everyone else in the family, might that not change everything?  Jobs.  Many people struggle with tensions at work.  What about being grateful for the chance to earn an income, being grateful for the chance to interact with people in the workforce, grateful for the chance to do something meaningful? Many people are frustrated with politics.  But, I am certainly grateful to live in this great nation.  Is our nation perfect?  Certainly not.  But, it is still a great nation, for which we have much to give thanks.
So, my contention is that the attitude of thanksgiving can change our daily circumstances in ways you can’t believe.  Without actually changing the situations of our lives, if we are specifically and consciously thankful for the good things of life, the negative and difficult things become so much easier to deal with.  Make thanksgiving an important part of you daily lives and you will not be sorry.
But, we can start by following the example of Naaman and the Samaritan.  Naaman was cleansed by washing in the Jordan.  We have been cleansed by washing in the waters of baptism.  Naaman wanted to give something to thank the God of Israel.  Instead he takes dirt.  What is that all about?  He wanted the land of Israel so that he could offer sacrifice on the land.  We have been washed in baptism, and we offer sacrifice too.  Right here at Mass we offer the sacrifice of Christ.  In the gospel, Jesus has pity on the leper, and the Samaritan returns glorifying God in a loud voice.  We have received the mercy of God.  I’m conscious of that every time I go to confession.  In that sacrament we receive the mercy and compassion of Christ.  What is the response?  To glorify God with a loud voice.  Again, we do that right here.  Mass is the place for us to be thankful to God.  Mass is not about what we can receive, Mass is about what we give, namely giving God thanks for all his blessings.  Mass can be the most powerful teacher of gratitude we have.  By learning an attitude of thanksgiving, the mass can literally change our lives.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Take care of others

26th Sunday of OT Year C 2016:
As many of you know, I’m a bit of a golf-addict.  And I usually golf with Fr. Mark Gurtner, who is the pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope.  Fr. Mark will freely admit that he is a lucky golfer.  In fact, he always says that he is the luckiest golfer in the world.  It’s true.  I’ve seen him hit it into ponds, only to have it skip the water and land on the green.  I’ve seen him shots that would go yards past the hole, only to hit the flagstick and go right in.  I like to say that he could hit it into the woods and a squirrel would bring it out for him.  I’m the opposite.  I always seem to get bad breaks, especially with cart paths.  My ball will be heading for the green, hit a cart path and go miles.  So, I always say that on the golf course, I’m Lazarus, and Fr. Mark is the rich man.  He gets all the good luck, and I get the bad.  I always tell him: this parable is about you, and it doesn’t end well for you.
Of course, that is just a joke.  But, this parable is actually quite serious, it’s also about all of us.  This parable is a powerful reminder for all of us to be thankful and generous.  The rich man in the parable ends up in the place of torment, not because he received good things in this life, but because he didn’t use these good things for the betterment of others.  Rather he spent his money on fancy clothes and expensive food.  Poor Lazarus sat by his doorstep, and the rich man didn’t even notice him.
My friends, we are all the rich man.  God has blessed us in so many ways.  But, we don’t want the story to end badly for us.  Take some time this week to reflect on the many ways that God has blessed you.  Then ask: what am I doing with all these gifts?