Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sunday Homily on Gratitude

Gospel: Luke 17:11-19 - Ten lepers were healed.

“There were ten cleansed, were they not?  Where are the other nine?

You can understand Jesus’ surprise can’t you at the ingratitude of the nine? Can you imagine being healed of something as horrible as leprosy and not coming back to say thank you? As I was thinking about this story, and the whole idea of ingratitude, it struck me. You know who the most ungrateful of all are; the people who never get leprosy in the first place.

I’m a cancer survivor and I know from my experience that nearly everyone who gets cancer and survives is so grateful for that healing. But the truth is shouldn’t we be grateful every day for being healthy?  How often do we drop to our knees and say: “Thank you God for my good health!”

Just as Jesus did so much for the ten lepers, so he has done so much for us. And our response, for the most part, is a lot like the response of the ten lepers. Only one out of ten of us takes the time to give thanks to Jesus. We get so caught up in our day to day lives that we forget all about Jesus.

The truth is when we flip a switch, and there is electric light we should say: “Thank you Lord!” You turn on a faucet, and there is warm water and cold water, and drinkable water, that’s a gift millions and millions in the world will never experience.  And we forget to be grateful.  Some people were never taught to be a grateful person.

A few years ago, a local high school student went to Nicaragua during his summer vacation to do volunteer work.  He accompanied a medical team to a tiny mountain village. Life in the village was primitive. Most of the children had no clothes and were inadequately fed. The houses, built right on the ground, were made from old lumber and banana leaves. The medical team vaccinated the villagers against polio and measles. Sometimes they had to turn children away because they had already gotten the disease. The high school boy found this especially heartbreaking.

When he returned home he wrote in an article for the local newspaper about his experience.  He said: “By the end of the first week of work, I started feeling sorry—even guilty— for the conditions these people lived in. I became homesick and depressed.

“One night I was sitting outside in the darkness. I was thinking about home, my girlfriend, and why I had volunteered. I asked myself why people had to live like this. Whose fault was it? Why did God permit it? “Then I heard someone in the darkness. It was José Santos, the schoolteacher and the father of the family that I lived with. He sat down next to me, tilted his chair back against the wall, and stared up at the sky. “After a minute, he broken the silence, saying, ‘Isn’t it great!’ “I questioned what he said, and he repeated, ‘Isn’t it great—all that God has given us!’ His eyes were still staring up at the sky. “I tilted my head and looked up. I hadn’t noticed that the sky was lit up with millions of stars. “It was spectacular. The two of us just sat there looking up at the stars. It was an experience I will never forget.

“The next morning I got up early to bathe. Walking through the woods to the river where we washed, I stopped to look around. Everything was green. The only sounds were those of birds and running water. “Then I remembered what Jose had said: ‘Isn’t it great—all that God has given us!’ At that moment I felt great. Everything fell into place. “Never before had I felt so thankful for all that God had given me. Never before had I felt so loved. “As we vaccinated the villagers that day, I had such a big smile on my face that my cheeks actually hurt toward the end of the afternoon.’’

I like that story. It makes two important points. First, it recalls the two groups of people whom Jesus talks about in today’s gospel: those who are grateful for God’s gifts to them and those who are not. Second, the story illustrates the point that if children grow up to be ungrateful, it’s probably because they were never taught to be grateful. The high school student in the story became grateful because José Santos taught him to be grateful.

A few years ago I saw David Steindl-Rast a Benedictine monk give a presentation at a conference on gratitude. He stood on a stage in front of a gigantic video screen looking very much out of place in his brown monk’s habit and his sandaled feet. He spoke with a heavy Austrian accent.  He said: “There is something you know about me, something very personal, and there is something I know about every one of you that is very central to your concerns. There is something that we know about everyone we meet anywhere in the world on the street that is the very mainspring of whatever they do and whatever they put up with and that is that all of us want to be happy. In this we are all together. How we imagine our happiness, that differs from one to another, but it’s already a lot that we all have in common that we want to be happy.”

But his topic wasn’t happiness, it was gratefulness. And so he asked, “How is the connection between happiness and gratefulness?” Many people would say, ‘Well that’s very easy. When you are happy you are grateful.’ But think again. Is it really the happy people that are grateful? We all know quite a number of people who have everything it would take to be happy and they are not happy because they want something else or they want more of the same. And we all know people who have lots of misfortune, misfortune that we ourselves would not  want to have, and they are deeply happy. They radiate happiness. Because they are grateful.” “So it is not happiness that makes us grateful,” he said, “it is gratefulness that makes us happy.” And in that one sentence, David Steindl-Rast reveals the secret of happiness — It comes from being grateful. When you receive something valuable, and you receive it as a gift, not something you work for, not something you earn, not something anyone owes you ... then you are grateful.

Brother David made a beautiful video on gratefulness that I watch whenever I’m feeling low.    You can find it on YouTube, just search these four words: Nature ... Beauty ... Gratitude ... and Louie. Louie Schwartzberg was the videographer.   Louie’s visuals are amazing and the voice you hear is Brother David.

Elie Wiesel, who survived the horror of the Nazi concentration camps , wrote often of his experiences. He once said:  “When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.”  Gratefulness is the key to a happy life.  A key we all hold in our hands.

Jesus was surprised that only one came back to be grateful.

Will he be surprised by our lack of gratitude too?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sunday Homily 23rd Week in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. ....... Luke Chapter 14

Jesus was a great public speaker. We know that because millions of people around the world are still to this day listening to his speeches in awe and wonder. And like any great public speaker he knew how to get the audience’s attention.  Today he begins his speech, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life he cannot be my disciple.”  Now there is an opening line that will grab your attention. Right?

Jesus was enormously popular with the crowds as a great healer, brave teacher, and miracle worker. But clearly in his mind they didn’t understand what following him was all about. So he turned to them and makes this dramatic statement.

His point is: if you want to follow him, if you want to be a Christian, then you need to be ... ALL IN.  No half way followers allowed; this needs to be the most important thing in your life.

If the language in Luke’s Gospel is a little too harsh for you, listen how Jesus says the same thing in Matthew’s Gospel.  “Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37). No matter how you say it, the point is clear there should be one absolute priority in our life. One love that is more important than anything else in our life.  And that’s your love of God.

Is God first in your life?  Is Jesus the love of your life?

Jesus forces us today to ask ourselves: Do we love Jesus more than everyone else?
Do we put him before parents, spouses, children, even our own lives?        
Or, does something else take first place in our lives?

This Gospel reading sets a high bar for any of us who call ourselves Christians. He tells us he cannot be merely a part of our life.  He cannot be just an important “ingredient” in our life occupying an important “niche” in our personal portfolio. He must be first.                                                                                                                    
When I was growing up, my favorite football player was a man named Gale Sayers who played with the Chicago Bears back in the 1960s. I still think he’s the greatest running back who ever played the game. Around his neck, he always wore a gold medal about the size of a half-dollar. On it were inscribed three words: I Am Third.

Those three words became the title of his best-selling autobiography.  The book explains why the words meant so much to Gale. They were the motto of his track coach, Bill Easton, at the University of Kansas. Coach Easton kept the words on a little sign on his desk. One day Gale asked him what they meant. Easton replied: “The Lord is first, my friends and family are second, and I am third.’’ From that day on Gale made those words his own philosophy of life. The story of Gale Sayers illustrates the point Jesus makes when he says: “Whoever comes to me cannot be my disciple unless he loves me more than he loves his father and his mother.”

The second point that Jesus makes in today’s Gospel reading is about realizing that there is a cost to being his follower. He said – “If one of you is planning to build a tower, he sits down first and figures out what it will cost to see if he has enough money to finish the job.”  In other words, it’s not enough to give top priority to God – you need a plan. Gale Sayers said in his book: “It’s one thing to put God first in your life. It’s quite another thing to live out that decision.’’ The message for us today is clear. If we are just going through the motions of our faith we’ve missed the point of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

Today in Rome the Church honors a person who took this teaching and lived it in the extreme. Today Mother Teresa of Calcutta will be declared a saint of our church. 

Mother Teresa was .a simple Catholic woman who after 20 years teaching high school in a comfortable convent school for rich girls, at age 38,  launched a ministry in the streets of Calcutta India to the poorest of the poor. Something in her heart told her she was holding something back. That to be – ALL IN – she needed to do more. She left the comfort of her convent and went into the streets where there was filth and ugliness; where she face the daily death of adults and babies from starvation and illness.  She lived in the extreme Gayle Sayer’s motto. She put God first, the people she served second, and her own needs a distant third. She lived in a small room with no symbols of affluence. They say she could pack to move in about 10 minutes.  She learned to keep her needs to a minimum so she could focus on loving Jesus through those she served.

Today the Church honors her as a great saint. 

Most of us will never live the kind of life she did, few of us are called to such an extreme life.  But we can follow her lead in putting Jesus first in our lives and then looking for how we are called to make a difference in the world – as she did.  Mother Teresa often said that the greatest hunger in the world is not for bread, but for love. If we put others in second place behind Jesus and love them profoundly, then we’ve put God first others second and ourselves third.

Jesus is calling us out of our comfort zones today.

How will we respond?                      

Abraham Heschel on prayer.

Abraham Heschel thought of prayer as not an occasional exercise but rather like an established residence, a home for the innermost self.

In his essay On Prayer, he says that all things have a home: the bee has a hive, the bird has a nest. For the soul, home is where prayer is, and a soul without prayer is a soul without a home. Continuity, permanence, intimacy, authenticity and earnestness are its attributes.

I enter this home as a supplicant and emerge as a witness;
I enter as a stranger and emerge as next of kin.
I may enter spiritually shapeless, inwardly disfigured and emerge wholly changed.

We pray because there is a vast disproportion between human misery and human compassion. We pray, he said, because our grasp of the depth of suffering is comparable to the grasp of a butterfly flying over the Grand Canyon.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, 
or mend a broken bridge, 
or rebuild a ruined city; 
but prayer can water an arid soul, 
mend a broken heart, 
and rebuild a weakened will.

Abraham Joshua Heschel

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

After seven decades of watching the political process, two things are evident to me.  Frist, those seeking high office are all flawed.  The very best Christians who have been president in my lifetime were often the worst presidents; George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter come to mind.  Both were very decent God-fearing people who were utterly incompetent as presidents.  John Kennedy, our only Catholic president, was a sexual deviant. I fear that is a disorder many of our leaders have suffered, Bill Clinton being the poster boy.

When the good ones are so often bad leaders, and the bad ones as often good leaders, what is one to do? This election year is the worst in my lifetime.  Never could I imagine America choosing two such awful people. With the flawed candidates we are offered how do we make a right decision?

There is only one answer:  pray!  
Pray for America. Because our culture is sinking into a quagmire of moral confusion.

Trust God will answer our prayers.  If America does not soon drop to its knees in prayer, we are destined to get what we deserve.  If you want real leadership in America – pray for it!  Our God can do anything!  

If ever America needed a miracle this is the year.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Homily - Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 2016

First reading from Ecclesiastes
Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! 
All things are vanity!

Gospel reading from Luke 
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do?’ ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! 
This night your life will be demanded of you.’”

There is an insightful story about an American tourist, traveling in Europe, who paid a visit to a famous wise and holy priest who lived there. The American was surprised when he saw how simply the man lived, in a single room with only books and a table and a chair. “Father, where is your furniture?’ asked the tourist. “Where is yours?” the priest asked. The American tourist answered, “My furniture? I am passing through here.” The wise priest responded: “So am I”!

This little story gets to the heart of our readings today. Today the readings are simple and clear, and they force us to deal with one of the fundamental questions of life. 
Today we are asked: 

What’s it all about? Is it all about the possessions we accumulate, or eternal life?

In the first reading, we heard the voice of a man known as Qoheleth who says:  You work and worry your way through life and what do you have to show for it? He says if you give your life to nothing but the accumulation of possessions, in the end, it’s all vanity. The Hebrew word for vanity means puffs of air. It’s all just --- puffs of air --- here today and gone tomorrow. 

The speaker of this story is said to be King Solomon who was very wealthy.  He sounds like a cranky old man at the end of his life who has it all, but is feeling empty, when he says: Vanity of vanities!  All things are vanity!

Jesus says the same thing.  

He says of the man who decided to tear down his old barns and build bigger ones so he can store up the possessions of this world:  “You fool!  This very night you will have to give up your life.”

“You fool!”  I’m pretty sure that’s one greeting none of us hope to hear from Jesus at the end of our lives. But if I’m being honest, Jesus’ parable creates anxiety in me. I mean isn’t the rich man’s reaction to a financial bonanza pretty much the same as anyone’s?  You have a banner year at work, hit a bull’s eye in the stock market, get an inheritance don’t most people then consider:  How can I save this money?  Where will it be safe?

The farmer’s problem isn’t that he’s had a great harvest, or that he’s rich, or that he wants to plan for the future.  The farmer’s problem is that his good fortune has curved his vision so that everything he sees starts and ends with himself. In Jesus’ story, the rich fool in his speech refers to himself 13 times in 5 short sentences. It was all about him. It was never about being thankful for the blessings of God. And, he never gave one thought to sharing his good fortune with those in need.

The point of the parable is not that money, and earthly goods are bad. In the Scriptures, there are many texts that underscore that having riches is not sinful; it’s what one does with them that determines virtue or vice.  Abraham, for example, was said to be highly favored by God because he had great flocks and herds and a great number of servants. The goods of the earth are not only good, according to God’s Word itself, but they are also essential for human survival.  But … they’re not enough.  They’re not what life is all about, and they don’t satisfy the deepest longing of the human spirit.  Jesus is saying if the way you measure your life is by the things you possess, you better re-think that!

The man in the parable was a fool because what he gave his life for was transient, fleeting and temporary – puffs of air!  VANITY!

When we focus our lives exclusively on this world and on acquiring and hoarding the passing treasures in this life, and never give a thought to God and what he wants of our lives – we’re fools. The desires of the human heart cannot be satisfied by what is here today and gone tomorrow.  This foolish man was so pre-occupied with himself and the things of this world that he forgot that there was another world — an eternal world. Jesus is saying don’t build your treasure on earth build it in heaven.

Someone once wisely said: “This world is a bridge. 
The wise man will pass over it but will not build his house upon it.”

This world is just a preparatory stage to another world and the person who forgets this is foolish. The main object of life is to prepare for eternity. To remember – We’re only passing through. That’s the answer to the fundamental question of life: “What’s it all about?”

Saint Paul tells us to live a life full of meaning and wisdom:  
Seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pope Francis told us how to grow the Church. He said:

            “We should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point
             to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.
             It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction.’ ”

Attraction to JOY – that’s our call.