25th S. 2021: Self – LESS

Today’s homily is for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary time, Sept. 19, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here soon.

You might now know that my major in college was Speech Comm. I just couldn’t believe they gave degrees for talking! I thought, I’ve been in trouble growing up because I wouldn’t shut up, and they give people degrees for this? I don’t think Portuguese people should even have to go to college, just give ‘em a speech degree! One of my classes was in adolescent communication, so I had to watch children playing. I thought it was going to be a waste of time, but it turned out to be such a blessing that I’ve never forgotten and refer to often. Have you ever just sat and observed small children playing? It’s magical. 

There must have been a hundred three to four year-olds. They were like ants all over the play yard! Walking along logs, going down the slide, playing on swings and play structures. Nothing but joy, smiles, and turn-taking. For almost an hour I watched them play. There was so much levity and joy–they hadn’t a care in the world. They were just living their best life, playing with their friends, and having fun. That was not the life I was living. 

I was stressed out with school, going a hundred miles an hour, drinking too much, spending too much, working too much, and had made the whole world all about me, my achievement, my growth, my greatness, my needs. We live in a world that is quite contrary to Christian values. I call it Me-ism. Where the whole world revolves around me. My likes, my wants, my needs, me, me, me. This is what frustrated Jesus in the Gospel today. He’s making his way to the cross, and confessing to his inner circle–his closest friends–that he will be handed over to suffer and die, and what are they doing; arguing about which of them is the greatest. Can you imagine standing in the presence of God and arguing about your greatness? 

How does this happen? James tells us in the second reading. He says, “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” Jealousy – envious of what others have, and selfish ambition – a desire to achieve for one’s own sake. It’s me-ism. It’s thinking only about your self, your needs, your wants, your time, your treasure. There was a wonderful book I once read called, “Fr. Joe.” Fr. Joe said that at the root of all sin is selfishness. Doing what I want without regard for others.

St. James says that’s where wars and conflicts come from! It’s why we are divided inside ourselves and cause violence toward others. We covet and kill and are envious, and fight. We will not possess, we will not ask, we will not receive, because we ask wrongly. In our selfishness and self-centeredness we ask only for ourselves and we forget what those small children had figured out so well–life is way more fun when you take turns, laugh, play, and share what you have with others. That’s God’s way. 

It’s no wonder Jesus points toward children as the example of the Christian life, and we must recognize that there is much about our culture’s attitude and values that are inconsistent with Christian living. All I ever hear nowadays is about what I deserve, what I need–the vacation, the car, the job, the night life that I need, that promises my happiness, but what about others? What about family? What about community? What about everyone else on the planet that isn’t me?! Thank God for grandparents who continue to sacrifice for others–especially their grandchildren while parents are getting “what they deserve.”

Again, James gives us the antidote to the sickness of selfishness and greed. He tells us that “wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy, and good fruits.” He says we should be “without inconstancy or insincerity.”  Which is to say we should be stable, strong, and sincere. This is the Christian life and Christian attitude. Not climbers but givers. Not polluted and angry, but pure and peaceable. Not harsh and obstinate, but gentle, compliant, and merciful. Not selfish, but selfless.

24th S. 2021: Never Forget

Today’s homily is for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary time, Sept. 12, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here.

Twenty years ago, our nation was attacked in a cowardly act of violence against men, women, and children, that made no distinction between civilians and combatants. In the planes hijacked and buildings destroyed, 2,997 people were killed. At that time we vowed to never forget, and this weekend we honor those who lost their lives on that horrible day, but also those who have lost their lives in the twenty years since–even most recently in the airport attack at Kabul, where thirteen soldiers and upwards of ninety Afghan civilians were killed–tragically, and disgustingly, in the name of God. Can you imagine that God, the author of all life, might find any joy in his children’s suffering and pain? God mourned that day, and mourns still today when people act in violent ways, lying, hurting, and killing one another. 

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, creator of Heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible…ALL things visible and invisible. God is the creator of ALL things, the author and sustainer of ALL life. We believe that in God ALL things are sustained, move, and have their being. To remember this is to think as God does. When we forget this, we begin to think as human beings do. That was Peter’s problem in today’s Gospel. 

In one moment, Jesus says that God himself had revealed to Peter that Jesus is the Christ–the Son of God. To recognize Jesus as Lord is not of human origin, but of God. But in the very next moment, Peter is reprimanded by the Lord, and even referred to as Satan, for trying to be an impediment to Jesus’ mission to lay down his life, to reconcile sinners, and to save the world–and that mission continues on still today. 

Each of us is called not only to recognize Jesus as Lord, but also to both announce and advance his kingdom on earth. If we call him Lord (which is good), but become an obstacle to life and love, forgiveness and healing, then we are not His at all, but are Satan. Satan knows Jesus, but doesn’t follow him or his teachings. Satan knows Jesus, but is an obstacle to God’s reign. And so are we when we engage in speaking ill of others, post hurtful and hateful things about others on social media, inflict violence and pain on others, are selfish or irresponsible with the resources God has given us for the good of ourselves and others, or are destructive and reckless with God’s creation; our water, air, earth and its creatures. And can you imagine doing any of these ugly things in the name of God? 

I think that was the most shocking thing to me about 911. Like you, I remember just where I was when the planes crashed and the twin towers fell. But I was even more shocked to see people celebrating death and praising God as it occurred, as though God was pleased with violence and hate. And that’s why we must never forget. We must never forget that the one who endures in love to the end will be saved. We must never forget if we want to follow Jesus we must take up our cross and follow him. We must never forget that if we want to save our life we must lose it, and that whoever loses their life for his sake and the Gospel will save it.

We do not hate in response to hate, we love. We cannot advance a kingdom of love and truth while acting in a way that opposes the Gospel of Jesus. My brothers and sisters, we cannot claim Jesus, but act like Satan in our words and dealings with others, at work, at school, or on social media. Either we follow him 24-7 or we do not follow at all–a point my wife reminds me of often. We must say with Isaiah, “The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I shall not be put to shame.”

911 isn’t just not-forgetting those who died, it is also about never forgetting that in God’s name we love. In God’s name we forgive. In God’s name we promote life and truth, and in that way we act not like human beings do, but instead we think and act like God does. May we never forget. // Please allow a moment of silence for those that died.

23rd S. 2021: Make No Distinction

Today’s homily is for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary time, Sept. 5, 2021, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video can be viewed by clicking here.

Today’s second reading is from the Epistle of St. James. Martin Luther had a particular disdain for the book of James, for a number of reasons, but especially because it so clearly contradicted his theology of sola fide, or faith alone. The epistle is almost entirely an exhortation about how we ought to live as disciples of Christ. He called the epistle, “an epistle of straw,” because it didn’t contain the doctrine of say Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. More than anything, James is writing to a community and reminding them, during a period of great difficulty, what is a top priority. 

He famously says, “faith, if it does not have works is dead.” He says, “Show me your faith without works, and I’ll show you my faith by my works!” He also compares the human tongue to a ship’s rudder–it’s so small, but has the power to change the whole direction of the ship. He also says, “The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell….with the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.” We who come to church on Sunday, can certainly be guilty of saying things to others, or about others, that are quite inconsistent with the love we are called to have for God and neighbor. 

James’ whole epistle, which is our second reading today, focuses on Christian unity, Christian love, and the way we speak to and treat others. I think that’s important in today’s church. More and more we are a nation divided, and that can begin to create divisions in the Church as a whole, but even among the families that are seated right here in the pew. In today’s reading, James is addressing divisions in the church. Not among mask or no-mask (that’s what our country is dealing with today), but instead about the wealthy and the poor. 

He reminds the church, “show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” When times are good it is easy to be generous and kind, and even loving to others that we disagree with, who look differently than us, think differently, and maybe even act differently. I’m far more tolerant when life is good and when I’m at peace. But when I worry about safety, security, health and well-being, my ability to love greatly, as the Lord commands, can be dulled. This is Satan’s great tool. He scourges us, tests us, divides us, and wants to bury us with him for every. St. Francis of Assisi said, “By the anxieties and worries of this life Satan tries to dull man’s heart and make a dwelling for himself there.”

I invite you just for a moment to reflect. Reflect on your thoughts in these past few hours, days, weeks, and year. Have you lost your peace. Has COVID 19 and the anxiety over health, loss of loved ones, safety, finances, and the constant question of whether or not this mask is really doing any good, and how I’m ever supposed to wear glasses and the mask together. Has anxiety and frustration caused us to lose our love for people in the pew? Leaders in the church? Maybe even family or close friends?

I want to tell you, we will get through this. This is our current struggle, that is it. This struggle is natural and human, but we are supernatural because the Spirit of God lives within us. Call on the Spirit’s wisdom to hear and to discipline this fire of a tongue. Ask Jesus to place his fingers in our ears and to touch our tongue so that we might truly hear what our brothers and sisters are saying, and then speak only in kindness, generosity and love–regardless of whether we agree or not. We can love and disagree

Isaiah painted a beautiful picture of God’s faithful coming into a brighter day. Our God comes with vindication for his faithful. Remain faithful, loving God and neighbor, with kind words and kind actions, for those with whom we agree, and even disagree. In that way, they will know we are Christians, and even in this difficult time they will be exceedingly astonished and say, “he has done all things well, his God lives.”