Saturday, August 30, 2014



22nd Sunday of the Year  


"You know, there's a lot they didn't tell me when I signed up for this gig."

It seems that’s what the prophet Jeremiah was saying in the first reading tonight/today.

In his lifetime, Jeremiah watched the people of Jerusalem and Judea fall from bright promise into moral and social decay.

God called Jeremiah warned his fellow believers of their sins, declaring that their crimes and sins against one another were ultimately against God.

As he spoke the truth to the evils of his day, he was laughed at for the Word of God had alienated him from everyone.

Jeremiah, feeling overwhelmed as a prophet declared: "Lord, you duped me!" This is not what I hoped for.

So Jeremiah seeks to abandon his vocation as a prophet and an announced: "I will no longer speak his words!"

Some of us here might have that same feeling in our own vocations as husbands, wives, parents, employees or employers. We may feel overwhelmed in our discipleship with the Lord.  We may want to just give up.   Our faith is certainly being tested these days, isn't it?

But after Jeremiah tries to keep God's Word to himself, it becomes like a consuming fire within him and he realizes he must continue in his ministry, preaching and proclaiming the truth, and bearing the personal consequences for speaking the truth.

Jeremiah had to tell the truth that the people of God were going to destroy themselves and their nation if they did not turn from their sins.

And as a result of the people’s disobedience and failure to respond to God's Word, the Babylonians were able to sweep into Jerusalem with cruel devastation in 587 B.C.  The Temple was destroyed, and Jerusalem was leveled to the ground, and what people were not killed were sent off in exile.

As for Jeremiah, he was stoned to death by his own people.
Not exactly the happy ending people like to hear, is it?

Saint Paul didn't realize what he had signed up for either. Paul's words to the Romans are as truthful and timely today as when they were first written.

Paul's message today reads: "I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…"

Paul meant for us to offer our whole selves to God, entrusting him with our hearts, minds, bodies, and soul. This involves a sacrifice. We are called to be transformed and offered to God! 
And that involves the Cross.

When St. Paul wrote: "offer your bodies as a living sacrifice" he was being serious! St. Paul Wrote elsewhere: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit...and that you are not your own? You were bought with a price," (namely the Blood of Christ); therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Cor 6.19-20).

So what would Jeremiah or St. Paul say to our culture today?

Let us consider how our world regards the gift of human life and human sexuality today.

Let's face it, The gift of human life has been cheapened. Workers are underpaid and underemployed, often used as mere cogs in the economic machine, and worldwide peoples are impoverished and starving in the shadow of a fast-food world of endless buffets.

And as we are sorely aware, people around the world are being hounded into exile by radical regimes and murderous violence; barbarically martyred because of their faith or bombed because of their ethnicity.

And it is sad that some American companies profit from selling weapons and armaments to warring factions - to the point where Americans are now being killed by  U.S. made weapons in the hands of former so-called allies.

The gift of human sexuality has been reduced to the level of entertainment, and human persons are degraded as things, a means to someone else's profit or pleasure ;  and irresponsible, casual sex and pornography have become mainstream, and many now defend it.

In fact, romance is rejected outright and conjugal love has even been reduced to violence and domination, as is evidenced in the increase in domestic violence as well as being portrayed as sexy in popular novels and film.

Much of advertising edges on the verge of pornography, as the human body - often the female body - is routinely used to sell consumer products, beer or hamburgers, and even children themselves - the gift of human life - the fruit of marital love - are regarded as undesirable and treated as disposable - unless someone thinks they should harvest their organs.

And, regretfully, it isn’t simply the secular world that has bought into these cultural lies, of so-called freedom. Many of our Catholic and Christian brothers and sisters have done so as well.

[But true freedom is not having the right to do whatever we want; Freedom is having the right to do what we ought to do, (St. John Paul II)].

I realize it is difficult to hear, and having said all that, now we may have a better idea why they killed the prophets, but the prophets were called to critique the culture in light of God's Word.
Again, the Cross looms.

St. Paul further reminds us in today's reading: "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." 

So how do we do that?

Jesus' words bring us back to reality: "Deny yourself, take up your Cross and follow me." That is the one reality that we cannot avoid: The Cross of Christ.

Many of us here have endured or are enduring our own share in the Cross of Christ.

And we may even be questioning our faith. We may even have our doubts in the face of family illness, tragedy, and senseless, untimely death.

Like Jeremiah, we may feel duped!

Yes, we know the Cross - splinters - nails - a crown of thorns - and all.

But we often desire to avoid the Cross in our lives. Who doesn't?

In the Gospel, Peter does not want Jesus to suffer the Cross, so he says to Jesus, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” 

Peter meant well. He didn't want Jesus nailed to a cross.

Yet, in response to Peter, Jesus turned and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

And so Christ takes up the Cross.

Christ is always on the way to the Cross. (And so are we if we are following him).

"For the Cross is the only ladder by which we may go to heaven." (St. Rose of Lima)

Though nowadays there is a cultural Jesus - a Cross-less Christ, a Cross-free Jesus, - that has been fabricated by a narcissistic society that wants Jesus to approve every cultural lie and to allow us to live without the Cross.

The world was always telling Jesus what to do.

And the world is always telling the Church what to do:

Avoid suffering and death.

Avoid the Cross.

Today we hear the critics say: "What does the Church know about sexuality, economics, or justice?"

We hear people say that Jesus never said anything about sexual purity or the dignity of marriage or the lives of children - born or unborn.


We hear people say that Jesus never criticized those who put profit above people or that he never challenged racist attitudes or questioned a nationalistic superiority complex.
These are lies.
From Satan.
Shortcuts away from the Cross.

Jesus tells Peter, "Get behind me, Satan." Do not tell me what to do. Don't tell God how to be God.

If all we do is want to avoid suffering and pain, we will likely never experience true joy.

So today we cannot afford to simply claim a sort of ethnic Catholicism, as if being a Catholic in name only is enough, and that's all there is to discipleship. 

St. Paul reminds us: "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." 

We must consciously, intentionally entrust ourselves to Jesus Christ, in a personal, life-giving relationship, nourished through Sacred Scripture and the Sacramental life of the Church.

And, yes, that comes complete with the Cross.

Anything less is counterfeit. 

So by the grace of Christ and the Holy Spirit, we will put on the mind of Christ and begin to think as God thinks, not merely as human beings.

And when we each can become a living sacrifice of praise, we can pray, as did St. Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ Jesus who lives in me. (Galatians 2.20).
However, in following Christ, we may be ignored like the prophets, we may become excluded as were the apostles....
We may experience the same fate as the prophet Jeremiah….
Peter was crucified….

Paul was beheaded....

Now we may not be killed for our faith in Christ – though I cannot promise any of us that – but we may lose some of our human friendships, no longer being invited to certain social soirees, for we will no longer share the same values and interests of the world.  

St. Peter said to the followers of Christ, "You are a peculiar people, a people of His own," for we were not meant  to fit in; we were born to stand out as lights of truth in a darkened world full of lies.
In the words of [the Catholic author] Flannery O'Connor: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”

But so be it.

For we are following Christ.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Desperate Mother's Love Without Borders: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 17th, 2014

Gospel Mt 15:21-28 

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, "Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon."

But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.

Jesus' disciples came and asked him, "Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us."
He said in reply, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me."

He said in reply, "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs."

She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters."
Then Jesus said to her in reply, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.

 A Desperate Love Without Borders

Did I just hear what I read? Jesus ignores a desperate woman with a demon possessed child and then he says, “It is not right give the children’s food to the dogs.” At first glance, this story might seem demeaning to women; she was ignored, pushed away, and was considered no more than a dog. Jesus disturbs us with his actions and his words today.
Jesus continues on his journey north until he is at the border near Tyre and Sidon surrounded by Gentiles. The disciples likely had no idea where he was going or why he was heading north into Gentile territory. I’m sure they thought Jesus was out of bounds!

The Canaanite woman approaches Jesus as he moves along the border. One can imagine the hostility between the Jews and the Canaanites; it was like the rancor between Jews and Palestinians or some Texans (or "Ameircans") and Mexicans today. As Jesus walks along the border near Tyre and Sidon, the woman calls him Lord and Son of David.

But Jesus represented all that the Canaanites despised. One can almost see a showdown Jesus and his disciples are on one side of the border while the Canaanites are on the other side – with the poor woman and her possessed daughter caught up in the ugly war of political and theological differences, trapped between two worlds, likely cast away by her own people because of her possessed daughter, hence her reason for dwelling at the border of her country.

Jesus was her last great hope. Yet Jesus ignores her cries. Jesus’ silence must have been deafening! Then Jesus’ disciples add insult to injury; they are desperate to get rid of her! “Send her away! She’s embarrassing us. You can’t have riff-raff following you around. You have a godly reputation to keep. Pretty soon all the gentiles will want to follow you and have a share in the kingdom of God.”

She couldn’t win, she was despised by everyone. She was completely abandoned. She had thrown herself upon the mercy of the Lord God only to hear nothing. But Jesus’ silence and his disciples’ ugliness did not deter her from calling upon the Lord!

        Imagine this woman’s desperation. We do not have a lot of information about her, but sorrow filled her life. Her daughter had gone to the dark side of demonic possession. One also wonders where her husband was in all of this. Perhaps he had abandoned her as a result of the nuisance of a troublesome daughter and all the difficulty she caused their marriage. Or maybe the woman was a widow and had no one to rely on. Her life and that of her daughter must have been as desperate as we can imagine! Lack of financial means, emotional pain, fear and exhaustion! And now spiritual abandonment! The worst thing imaginable.

        And yet in this woman’s desperation she keeps getting pushed away! She is longing to belong, she is longing for happiness, and is will do anything for her daughter – even seek the God of Israel. She throws herself on the ground in front of Jesus and begs for mercy, but he tells her he is on a mission to the lost sheep of Israel.

        Certainly one of the disciples should have been troubled by the way Jesus was treating this woman. Or was he trying to get their attention by acting like them?

        Jesus then says, “It is not right to throw the food of the children to the dogs.” So now she is reduced to a dog.

        Maybe it was a common cliché tossed around like “It is not right to take the wealth of the rich and throw it to the poor” or “The poor are poor because they lack morals,” or “America is for Americans.”

It is clear that the disciples did not want Jesus crossing into any unfriendly territories, or going into the wrong neighborhoods or, God forbid, crossing any borders.

        Yet Jesus’ mere presence along the border of Tyre and Sidon is teaching his disciples that all territories and lands are the Lord’s and all peoples are called into the Kingdom of God. It is the good news that never grows old.

        Yet there are borders that we put up between ourselves and the Lord. We may think we know we have all the answers, we think that certain people are not good enough, we may consider certain attitudes tolerable or acceptable, or we may be guilty of placing ourselves first when others are clearly in more need. Or we may have preconceived notions of who God is or believe that one can only be a real Christian if one has a particular socio-political or theological view. Or what I see so much of today is the idea that one has to be perfect before one can be a Catholic or a Christian. How sad! Christ came to call the unworthy – and that includes all of us!

        A closer look at this wonderful Canaanite woman reveals to us an example of a Mother’s love for her children. A love that protects at all cost, even to the point of ridicule. “Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

       The woman was not distracted from her mission: saving her daughter from the demon. This Gentile woman fulfilled her mission, because of her boldness in faith, love for her child, and trust in a merciful God. And she was willing to even accept the scraps from the table of the master, all for the love of another human being.

        The woman’s persistence shows that Jesus is accessible to all people–even those along the borders, on the fringes of society, the marginalized. 

There are still Canaanites in our midst: outsiders who some people would rather ignore and send away, and women and men who are bearing great family burdens, and those who have suffered great losses, yet still come to church, kneel in the pew and remain faithful to the Lord, despite their doubts and questions, they still cling to their faith.

        Jesus dared cross established borders that his disciples wanted to keep, and ministered to the one who called upon him in faith. And the woman found acceptance across the forbidden border.

        We are called to be like Christ.

Jesus allowed this woman to enter his world.

This one act changed everything.

Jesus is changed by the encounter with this woman of faith.

And so are his disciples.

And so are we.

All are welcome to enter the House of the Lord! All are invited to His table!

This woman turns Jesus' ministry to the gentiles, the non-Jews. She not only wants to enter the House of Israel, but she wants to sit at the table of the Lord, and is willing to accept the lowest place in the house – even if it is as a desperate dog.

The woman only wanted a crumb of bread from the Master’s table.

She was desperate to belong.

She was desperate for the Lord.

How desperate are we?