Saturday, June 25, 2016

6-26-2016 -- 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

June 26, 2016 - 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Saint Martin de Tours Catholic Church

Elisha makes a living as a farmer. We encounter him in the first reading today as he is plowing with 12 yoke of oxen. That’s 24 oxen. While he is still quite young, he comes from a rather wealthy family of farmers.

Elijah, the prophet of God, throws his cloak upon the young farmer, Elisha. There is no doubt as to the meaning of this gesture. Elisha is being called by God to succeed the prophet Elijah.

He begs Elijah to wait for him while he goes to say goodbye to his family. Here is that moment of decision: go back home or follow?

Elijah already knows there is a high cost to pay for being the prophet of God. It’s almost as if he is saying to the young naive Elisha, “Run! Go back while you still can. Run fast. Run far.”

What will Elisha do? It’s decision time. His response is radical. He takes those 24 oxen which represents his very livelihood and slaughters all of them. Then he uses the wooden plow to build a fire to cook the oxen and give to his family to eat.

Elisha is past the point of no return. There is no turning back now. He is already beginning to pay the price of discipleship.

In the gospel there are three would-be disciples who are not nearly as committed as Elisha; they are not quite ready to pay the price.

The first has not considered the hardships associated with discipleship. He’s all talk but when Jesus says there is no security and no place to lay your head, he hesitates.

In other words, with Jesus, our citizenship is in heaven and the only home we are guaranteed is our heavenly home.

The second receives the call to follow. She wants to fulfill her family responsibilities first. But for Jesus, answering the call means placing God first, above all else.

The third is still too attached to family. Jesus points out that the call to follow must have primacy. Once we set out, there is no turning back. This is difficult and we are often half-hearted.

Jesus is really saying the same thing as the prophet Elijah. Think before you decide to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Discipleship involved hardship, commitment, self-sacrifice, courage and stamina.

If we are half-hearted about following Jesus, then maybe it is better for us not to begin the task at all. Or maybe we should try harder to do right.

Our call to follow the Lord certainly won’t be as dramatic as the call of the prophet Elisha. And our response probably won’t be as dramatic either. But today we are challenged to count the cost of discipleship and make a choice.

We are called to follow even if we run the risk of being laughed at or made fun of because of our discipleship. We are called to follow even when it means that we must give up something we like because we know in our hearts it’s not right. We are called to follow even when we’d rather do something else.

For most of us, the call comes as a persistent inner prompting
that can be easily drowned out by other things: money, power, security, fame, peer pressure, anxiety.

Or maybe we are drowning in technology, the internet, our iPhones and tablets, so that we are too distracted to even notice that the cloak has been thrown upon us.

But the cloak has been thrown upon us. Are we ready to follow?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

6-19-2016 -- 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

June 19, 2016 - 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Saint Martin de Tours Catholic Church

We live in a time when the way we identity ourselves seems to be in a state of flux. The traditional ways we classify ourselves as human beings seems to be unstable. The answer to the question, “Who am I?” appears to be changing.

The ways we previously defined what it means to be human, how we defined family life and marriage and human sexuality and personal identity all seem to be unravelling.

It seems that Western civilization is slowly redefining what it means to be human. This is very exciting for some. This is very frightening and disturbing for others.

The shifting ground of human identity wreaks havoc on what it means to be male and female. But if we sift through Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians we hear Saint Paul himself speaks of shifting identities.

Saint Paul says there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is neither male nor female.

Saint Paul says to us that these identities that we think are all so important are not necessarily the ones we should focus on or hold onto.

Our religious affiliation and social standing and gender identity might not be as important as we might think they are. And that’s unsettling.

But Saint Paul boldly says that these are not the things we should treasure or hold dear. Rather, he says we must hold onto Jesus Christ.

Being in Jesus Christ gives us a new identity. Being in Jesus Christ gives us a new family. Being in Jesus Christ gives us a new way to answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?”

And Baptism is our entry into this new family, a family where all are welcomed: Jew and Greek, slave and free person, male and female, black and white, gay and straight, rich and poor, old and young.

We tend to identify ourselves in many different ways, and then use those differences as a way of dividing. But the most important way to identify ourselves is often overlooked.

Our identity in Jesus Christ is most important. And this most important identity does not divide. It unites us into one family of faith.

Our primary identity is found in Saint Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?”

“You are the Christ, the Messiah of God.”

Our primary identity is Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. And through him, with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, we become the children of God.

This Christ-centered approach to human identity helps us to become more understanding of and compassionate towards those who are different from us. To be Christ-centered is to be merciful like God.

So, we are called to transcend the other categories. Maybe they are not as important as we thought they were.

At least, Saint Peter and Saint Paul don’t seem to think so.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

6-12-2016 -- 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

June 12, 2016 - 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Saint Martin de Tours Catholic Church

What does the Pharisee want? He wants Jesus to know how righteous and holy he is. But Jesus doesn’t seem to notice at all.

In his own mind, he has defined himself as “worthy” by creating a distinction between himself and all those other people he considers “unworthy.” He has made himself the judge of what is holy.

Because we are told that the woman is a sinner, it is safe for us to assume that Simon the Pharisee does not consider himself a sinner. In his mind, this makes him better than the woman.

Listen again to what he says to himself, “This Jesus is supposed to be some kind of prophet, isn’t he? Doesn’t he know what kind of woman this is?”

Well, in creating this distinction between himself and the sinful woman, what Simon is really saying sounds something like this, “Why is Jesus paying more attention to that sinful woman than he is to me, Can’t he see how holy I am?” He is arrogant and self-righteous.

There are many people in our church today who are just like Simon. They behave just like the Pharisees, pointing out the flaws of others but failing to see their own.

They believe pious actions somehow make them holy, making a distinction between themselves and sinners, all the while, justifying their judgment as orthodoxy.

Simon has been stingy with his hospitality. I bet he doesn’t even realize it because he is so self-absorbed with his own self-imagined holiness. He is overwhelmed with just how wonderful and holy he thinks he is.

But look at his actions. He does not greet the Lord Jesus with a holy kiss. He does not anoint Jesus’ head with oil as is the custom. He does not provide water for Jesus to wash his feet nor ointment to sooth them. He has given very little.

This might even make us wonder what he is up to. After all he is watching and judging every move.

Simon believes that he is already in a right relationship with God. But the woman has no doubt that she is not. The Pharisee and his guests judge the woman. The result: Jesus judges them.

Then there is the woman. She is deeply aware of her own sinfulness. She risks being rebuked by Simon as she bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears of repentance. Then she wipes his feet clean with her own hair and anoints them with costly perfumed oil.

Because she has shown great love, she has received much forgiveness. “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

On the other hand, the Pharisee, who has been stingy and judgmental, receives only a rebuke from Jesus.

The tale is cautionary. We are reminded not to be like the Pharisees. We are reminded not be judgmental. We are reminded not to be complacent in our relationship with God. We are also reminded not to think that we are holy while others are not.

Again, for the second weekend in a row, our readings tell us of God’s mercy. The Lord Jesus welcomes sinners with tender compassion. Those who kneel before him begging for mercy receive forgiveness.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

6-5-2016 -- 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

June 5, 2016 - 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Saint Martin de Tours Catholic Church

The son of the widow of Zarephath stops breathing. The boy dies. Elijah, the prophet of God, did not kill the boy. The young man from Nain, the son of a widow dies. Jesus did not kill the young man.

These deaths are tragic, heartbreaking. Anytime someone so young dies we are stunned, speechless. But notice, if you will, it is not God nor the prophet Elijah who takes the life of the boy. And it is not Jesus who causes the death of the young man.

But so often when someone young dies, in an attempt to cope with the pain and grief, in an attempt to be sensitive to the family, we say things like, “Oh, God took him home. God needed another angel in heaven.”

Well folks, I’m here to tell you, that’s sort of bad theology. I realize that it’s just an attempt to wrap our heads around something that is impossible to understand on this side of heaven.

But I do know that human beings will always be human beings and angels will always be angels. We do not become angels when we die.

I also know that God does not take the lives of the boy and the young man. As a matter of fact, we don’t know how they die.

But we know that God does not take life. God is the creator. God is the one who gives life.

And God, with great mercy and tenderness, reaches out to the boy and the young man to heal them and to restore their lives. Further, God’s mercy is not just extended to the boy and the young man. God also shows great mercy to their mothers.

You see, the young man in the gospel has no wife, which means he is still a teenager. Teenager or not, he is also the man of the household and is responsible for his mother.

At the time of Jesus, women had no standing in society. So the widow, with her son dead, had no way to provide for herself. That’s why Jesus was moved with pity for her. That’s why Jesus touched the coffin and said, “Young man, I tell you arise.”

It is the same with the widow of Zarephath. She would be wracked with grief over the death of her boy. The prophet of God knows this so, the dead are told to arise and the mothers are told that their sons are alive.

Mercy is the hallmark of God’s dealings with his people. God’s mercy reaches out to heal those who are broken, to raise up those who are fallen.

We have all felt the pain of loss. Overwhelming stress. Family crisis. Distress over employment or finances. Maybe even poverty or violence or abuse. We have all felt dead inside. We all have need of God’s merciful love.

We even recognize our need for compassion from our friends, family, neighbors, maybe even strangers. And we know instinctively that we should care for and comfort people who are in distress.

So the next time we are faced with the tragic loss of someone who dies so young, maybe we could be more attentive to what we say. “I’m sorry for your loss.” or “You have my sympathy.” or “I can’t imagine your pain.” are all good places to start.

But “I guess God needed another angel in heaven” just isn’t helpful and maybe not such a good thing to say.

Because Jesus says, “I tell you arise.” The prophet Elijah says, “See! Your son is alive.”