Fr. Alex’s Corner, October 28, 2018
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice;
turn to the Lord and his strength;
constantly seek his face.” (Psalm 105)
[The verse from Psalm 105, cited above, is the “Entrance Antiphon” for today’s Mass. We rarely use the Entrance Antiphon on Sundays, because Mass begins with a song. These antiphons are used at weekday Mass in churches when there is no music. I find today’s Antiphon an appropriate introduction to the Gospel story.]
Today’s First Reading, from the Prophet Jeremiah (Ch 31) is a paean of praise to God who has once again delivered His people from exile. Even the blind and the lame will return home. That gives rise to our Responsorial Psalm (126), “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.”
Think of a time when something really good happened to you. How happy you were! Maybe you even said “Thank you” to God for the favor.
In today’s Gospel (Mark 10) a man who was blind from birth pleads with Jesus to give him eyesight. Jesus does, and He tells the man, “Go your way.” But the man does not go his way. He follows Jesus “on the way.” That’s Mark’s way of saying that the man who, for the first time in his life, had the gift of SIGHT, also got INSIGHT. He knew that Jesus’ way was “the way,” and wherever that would lead, he would follow. That describes conversion.
A few weeks ago in my Blog (Sept. 30) I told the story of a woman who was born blind and whether she would ask Jesus for the gift of sight like the man in the Gospel did. She shocked the beejeebies out of me when she said “No,” she would not. “If I did, I would have to learn everything over again.” She learned to live with her handicap and was satisfied with her life. That’s understandable.
The moral of the story is an important one: once we learn to “see things” as God sees them, yes, by all means, we may have to learn how to do things differently. Receiving the Gift of the God-Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation, and reflecting on the teachings of our faith, brings the Holy Spirit into our lives. And yes, we should begin to see things as God sees them. That’s what being a Christian is about.
As I sit down for my final edit of this Blog, I hear of another mass shooting. This time it’s a synagogue in Pittsburg. More news comes in about pipe bombs, and here in California, like other places, we are not only encouraged to vote, but warned how to vote, because “that other person/party” is the devil incarnate. I have never been so concerned for my country. I am embarrassed – and afraid – for the bruised America we are handing down to my beautiful nephews and nieces. Worst of all, I am a CHICKEN (with all due respect to the birds!) at being afraid or squeamish to say what I need to say. I’m a Franciscan, right? I’m supposed to be an Instrument of PEACE.
The problems in today’s world are complex. Anyone who thinks that only one person/party understands it all or that only one has the solutions is naïve and clueless. We have to come together to understand our problems and work together to solve them. That requires cooperation and mutual respect for those who may be adversaries, but not necessarily mortal enemies.
And so, today, like the man born blind in today’s Gospel, I come to Jesus on behalf of my country and pray, “Son of David, have pity on us.” And, “Master, we want to see.”
I beg the Lord Jesus to bless my homeland and its people. May the blindness caused by our errors, prejudice, anger, our lies and false accusations (on all sides) be healed. WE WANT TO SEE… We need to see… how God sees things. Then, maybe, just maybe, we will follow His way. A way that leads to mutual respect, and hands and hearts joined to make this better for our kids. They deserve that much “Lord, Jesus, we want to see….” Yes, let us turn to the Lord and His strength.
Fr. Alex’s Corner, October 21, 2018
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Whoever wishes to be great among you
will be your servant….” (Mark 10: 43)
You can’t really blame the boys for being confused. Jesus kept speaking about the Kingdom of God. Where there is a Kingdom, there is a king, and princes, royal staff, and dignitaries. So James and John came to Jesus with their resumes. They wanted to be part of the action. Why not? Jesus burst that balloon rather quickly.
Here is another balloon-burst story. At the wedding of a former student, the groom’s father introduced me to the president of his company. The man was impressed with the ritual and invited me to offer the Benediction at the firm’s awards banquet. I should have realized something amiss with the calls asking if I was still available, needed a ride, etc. So, I drove to the banquet and someone was out there to park my car. The wife of the president greeted me with a cocktail and introductions to company officials. Very nice! Finally, I was escorted to the main table, and after more introductions, the president invited me to pray: “It is my pleasure to present the Very Reverend Father Alexander, the Archbishop of Curley High School.” There was a flutter in my heart and a twitter among some of the Catholic guests, but I offered my prayer.
After we sat down, I said to the president, “that was some introduction.” “Anything wrong,” he asked. “Do you think I’m an Archbishop?” “Aren’t you?” “No, I am a priest teaching at Archbishop Curley High School.” “A priest? Just a regular priest?” “Yes, just a regular priest,” I said. “Oh…,” he said. And once again, “Oh…. OH!”
No balloon hit by a B-B ever hit the earth as ignominiously as did my glory that day….. After dinner, I was drafted to stand on a chair and hold the flash attachment for the group photo while they tried to find my car keys. I was not included in the photo, and I never heard from them again. “OH!”
Like everyone, the Apostles expected Jesus to rout the Romans and re-establish the Kingdom of Israel. That’s why they couldn’t accept predictions of his suffering and death. They expected days of glory, Games of Thrones, Crowns and fancy vestments.
They should have caught on when they asked Jesus how to pray. He didn’t say: Say, “Great King and Master of the Universe,” or, “Almighty King and Lord.” What He did say when teaching them to pray was: Say, “FATHER,” or “ABBA,” “DAD.” The very first words of “the Lord’s Prayer” are a major revelation of Jesus’ teaching: God is FATHER, DAD, and we are all family! A family works together. A family helps each other, and, serves one another.
At that Last Supper, Jesus got on His knees before His “brothers,” just as He often got on His knees praying to His Abba. He washed their FEET! Dusty, pungent, corn-and-bunions FEET! Feet collect the dirt of our daily walks; they pick up germs and are often wounded by the weight they carry. Feet take us on our faith journey from earthly life to our heavenly home. Those feet need to be cleansed and refreshed. Jesus does that, and He tells His Apostles – and us, His Church – to do the same.
The Church knows that and we SERVE our ABBA and His (and our) family. But all too often we forget that and we emphasize the Institution and the “dignitaries” rather than the family members in need of clean feet, and we mess up. BADLY!
The end of the Liturgical year is approaching. We will be hearing more about that Final Judgment when God’s Kingdom on earth moves into His Kingdom in Heaven. At that Judgment Jesus will say “What you did for the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me.” It’s all about service. It’s all about washing FEET. “If I have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. As I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13). This is our mission and the mission of the Church: to serve as Jesus did. No games of thrones here.
Fr. Alex’s Corner, October 14, 2018
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Go, sell what you have and give to the poor,
…then, come follow me.”
(Mark 10: 21)
Oh, my! Lots of people will be groaning at today’s Gospel. There is some explaining to do, but let’s be clear on this: Jesus said it! The young man was so impressed by Jesus he asked what he must do to be His disciple. The words quoted above are Jesus’ response. Jesus was calling him to discipleship. Mark tells us that the young man was sad, and walked away, because he was wealthy and he liked it that way. Tradition says that this may have been Mark himself. He walked away, but then came back.
Jesus’ response and all that follows may have been a bit unnerving for the Jewish audience. Jews believed that wealth was a blessing from God to be enjoyed and used wisely to provide for their families and neighbors in need. Giving everything away might make them dependent on others and that wouldn’t be good, would it?
Jesus goes on to say that “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Whoa!
More explaining to do: all ancient cities were surrounded by a wall so that invading armies, on horses or camels, could not invade. During the day the gates were open for commerce and the coming and going of the people. At night the gates were shut and guarded. What if a citizen was coming home late? How could he enter? There were a few small gates for one person to pass. There was a loop over the gate to prevent horses and camels from entering. That gate was called “the Needle’s Eye.” That’s the metaphor Jesus was using. He wasn’t talking about the needle Mom used to sew buttons. (Does anyone sew buttons anymore?)
So, what is the problem with worldly wealth?
In fifty-three years as a priest, I’ve conducted hundreds of funerals. Not once has a U-Haul been attached to the hearse. You can’t take IT with you.
Secondly, I know people who are comfortably wealthy. They worked hard. They are kind and generous in sharing their wealth with endowments, the Church, schools, and charitable endeavors.
Even though today’s Gospel is more an invitation to discipleship than a Catholic charities appeal, the focus is on giving. Last week millions of our citizens lost so much to another storm. We are constantly called to give and to give again. Few of us can be generous to every cause that comes our way. We must give as we can. Prudence, not prejudice…. That’s all Jesus asks.
Friar Paul was a missionary in Ghana. His people were not destitute, but many were poor. Our Franciscan Province sent containers (dumpster-size) filled with non-perishable foods, clothing, books, and medical supplies. I was in Ghana when one of those shipments arrived. I saw how the women raced after the truck, bowls in hand, for a bit of the food that was available. Fr. Paul loved dishing out the food and Gospel verses to his people. On a visit home to the States, he took his Mom to the supermarket. When he got to the aisle filled with food for dogs and cats, he began to weep uncontrollably. Yes, this was for cherished pets. But they were animals. And his people had to run up a hill for a bowl of dried beans.
Make of that story whatever you wish. I sense that the reality in our country today is that rather than helping people, we can think of many reasons why we shouldn’t. Why they don’t really deserve it. And you know what? Those reasons may be valid. We may be totally correct.
There is, however, ONE reason why you and I must try to give. Because Jesus said so. First, give to the poor, and then, and only then, come follow Him. In another place He adds: Whatever you did for the least of them, YOU DID IT FOR ME.
Fr. Alex’s Corner, October 7, 2018
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.”
(Today’s Responsorial - Psalm 128)
This story is told by Fr. Joseph Hamilton in his “Guiding Light” homilies: The waiters and waitresses at Cinderella’s Castle in Disney World treat their customers like royalty - literally. A man wrote in to Readers Digest that after lunch the waiter asked, “Is there anything else My Lord wishes?” “Yes,” he said. “I’d like my wife to treat me like this at home.” Then the waiter bowed to the wife and said to her, “My Lord desires to be treated like a king in his castle. May I suggest a reply?” “Sure,” his wife said. “Tell him he’s spent too much time in Fantasyland.”
Two of the three Scripture readings this Sunday make reference to marriage. In the First Reading from the Book of Genesis we read how God created a “suitable partner” because “it is not good for the man to be alone.” This is from Chapter 2, and it is good to note that there is a slightly different version in Chapter 1. No one filmed this significant act of creation, but it is worth noting that companionship among human beings reflects the companionship of the Blessed Trinity. Being alone is never easy. I recall visiting the elderly in their homes on First Fridays, and so often I heard the complaint that the worst pain of old age is not the physical pains of bodily deterioration, but “no one seems to have the time to visit me.” The folks are speaking of their family. No one has the time…. In some cases this may be exaggeration, but all too often, it may be the truth. (Grandchildren, please take note!)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus sets the story straight about the indissolubility of marriage: “what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
Try as I might, this Blog doesn’t allow me the space to make any wise statements about divorce. I think we all have seen hurt and disappointment come from marital breakdown. The reasons are many and complex, and not ours to judge.
So, what I’d like to do here is to compliment those who have said “I do,” and still “do.”
Over the years I have watched family and friends go through the trials and tribulations that young couples experience in marriage. It’s not easy. Strong forces can pull people apart. Jobs, economic instability, personal pressures, the challenge of raising a family, all can take a toll. What we refer to as “the sandwich generation” today is often called to help care for their aging parents and their own grandchildren. I’m always amazed and inspired by heroic couples who do this. They are busier in what should be a relaxed middle age than when they were raising their own kids. This often includes financial burdens.
Obviously, I’m impressed to see families grow in their Catholic faith together. Notable in the California parishes where we help with Sunday Masses is the presence of whole families. It’s not unusual to see the entire pew taken up by one family, including several generations.
The good example of parents is invaluable. I still remember my Dad (a big guy!) kneeling in prayer by his bed. That was awesome. I do it now because he did it then.
One regret in my retirement as a priest and pastor is not having done enough to support our young couples and young families. They need all the support they can get. Jesus would want that.
So on this Sunday when Jesus affirms God’s idea about marriage, I would like to salute all married couples and thank them for the example they give us every single day in doing their “I do.” For those who are struggling, just know that God is with you. Jesus said so. We pray that your families and friends will support you in your struggles.
As we pray in today’s Responsorial Psalm: “May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.”