On the first day, God created
the dog and said, "Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who
comes in or walks past. For this I will give you a life span of twenty years."
The dog said, "That's a long time to be barking. How about only ten years
and I'll give you back the other ten?"
And God said that it was good.
On the second day, God created the monkey and said, "Entertain people, do
tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I'll give you a twenty-year life
The monkey said, "Monkey tricks for twenty years? That's a pretty long
time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the dog did?"
And God again said that it was good.
On the third day, God created the cow and said, "You must go into the
field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and
give milk to support the farmer's family. For this, I will give you a life span
of sixty years."
The cow said, "That's kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty
years. How about twenty and I'll give back the other forty?"
And God agreed it was good.
On the fourth day, God created humans and said, "Eat, sleep, play, marry
and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you twenty years."
But the human said, "Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my
twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten
the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?"
"Okay," said God, "You asked for it."
So that is why for our first twenty years, we eat, sleep, play and enjoy
ourselves. For the next forty years, we slave in the sun to support our family.
For the next ten years, we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And
for the last ten years, we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.
Life has now been explained to you.
There is no need to thank me for this valuable information. I'm doing it as a
public service. If you are looking for me I will be on the front porch.
INTRODUCTION The title of my homily for this December 20th is, “Amazing Grace!” That word “grace” in today’s gospel - Luke 1:26-30 - when the Angel Gabriel says to Mary, “Hail, full of grace” - triggers all kinds of stuff for me. It’s a great reminder that God is always “hailing” me - that life is full of grace. Everyday is filled with gifts. However, I need reminders over and over again - every day in fact. For starters, what a great morning prayer, to wake up every morning - to sit on the edge of one’s bed - to pause - half awake or half asleep still - to listen - to hear the message from the angels of the morning saying to us, “Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with you.” That should / would / could scare us and then we can hear the angels follow up by saying what the Angel Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid.” What a great attitude to have for each day - not to be afraid - because the Lord is with us - and we are filled with grace. IN GREEK In Greek the words for “Hail, full of grace” are “Kaire kekaritomene”. Obviously, the English is just a translation. This greeting in Luke becomes part of the Hail Mary - as in, “Hail Mary, full of grace.” “Kaire” means “Hello”. It’s a greeting - a joyful greeting. It’s a connecting. We’re hailing down Mary - and we still use that word “hail” as in “hailing a cab”. It’s a cheerful “hello”. It’s a call to celebrate, rejoice! It’s a “Surprise! I’m here!” Then it’s followed in Greek by a big long word, “kekaritomene”. Hear the sound in that word of the Greek word “charis” - gift - as in being gifted - receiving charisma. The angel is saying to Mary that you are God’s favorite. You are favored and loved by God. You’re God’s delight. To translate these words “charis” and kekaritomene” - is quite a trick - especially because the theology of Grace has a long and heavy and varied history - in theology and in understandings. A man named Ilion T. Jones said, “The word ‘Grace” is unquestionably the most significant word in the Bible.” Questionably that’s quite a statement. As I looked up the word “Grace” in two theology dictionaries last night, I caught what he was saying. Grace was presented in long articles - many pages long.  I also quickly went through Section IV of M. Scott Peck's classic book, The Road Less Traveled, pp. 233-312. It's entitled, "Grace!" and well worth going through again and again.  THIS MORNING For this morning I would simply like to convey that grace is amazing. Grace overwhelmed John Newton - who wrote the famous hymn, “Amazing Grace”. I’m sure you heard the story about how he was a slave ship captain - who had a tough life - whom God delivered, who saved a wretch like him. In a great storm at sea he thought he was going to die. He didn’t. He converted to Christ. He eventually became a Calvinistic Methodist minister - who was against slavery.
The more we reflect upon our life - that we are alive - that we are in our skin - that we exist - that we are not slaves - we’re free - should have a tremendous impact on us. For starters we have to reflect upon all that had to happen for us to be here this morning. We are a link in a chain - a long chain - of happenings - our parents meeting each other - getting married - the same with their parents - and their parents - all the way back to the beginning. Amazing. Amazing graces. Being single - not having children - stares me in the face - on and off through my life. I stopped a line. I broke a chain. Amazing - as well as an “Uh oh!” I’m also amazed that I have been blessed with a hundred million miracles to be me. Today’s first reading from Isaiah 7:10-14 talks about asking for a sign - there are dozens of them every day - and thousands in a lifetime. I have been gifted with faith and hope and love by God and so many. When I hear the word “grace” I think of the phrase, “But for the grace of God.” I’m here in church this morning by my own choice. I came with my own legs. I dipped my own hand in the holy water font. I said with my own mind, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” I realize that. Yet, I hesitate. How much of all that is the result of forces and people other than myself. I wonder how much of me is me? I’m amazed when I read some book that I read twenty years ago and I laugh and say to myself, “That’s where I heard that.” When I see a mom or dad walking into church with their kids, I say, “Thank you mom and dad for walking me into church.” So when I think of others, I say, “Who am I to judge my neighbor - who’s here - who’s not here?” Yet I do it - and we all do it - everyday. Well, not everyday - but some days. Father forgive me for I don’t know what I do at times. But for the grace of God here I am. I think of e.e. Cummings words, “be of love a little more careful than anything”. I then say, “be of grace, be of faith, be of judging, be of thinking a little more careful than anything.” Amazing grace….
Picture on top: from inside Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, Spain, this past September.
(1) Quentin Quesnell, “Grace,” in The New Dictionary of Theology, editors Joseph A. Komonchak, Mary Collins, Dermot A. Lane, A Michael Glazier Book, Collegeville, Minnesota, pp. 437-450; Robert Haight, S.J., “Grace,” in The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, editor, Michael Downey, A Michael Glazier Book, Collegeville, Minnesota, pp. 452 - 464.
 M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, A Touchstone Book, Published by Simon and Schuster, New York, 1978
INTRODUCTION The title of my homily for December 19th, is, “Ouch!” One of the words that I heard my god-child and niece Patty use is, “Ouch!” When someone says something stupid or offensive or without thinking and it’s something that hurts or is the wrong thing to say, she says, “Ouch!” I’m glad she does that, because now I find myself saying that to myself a few times - and if the dumb thing has already been flying out of my mouth and into and around the room, I say, “Sorry! That was the wrong thing to say. I apologize.” But better, I have found myself saying, “Ouch” a bunch of times before I said something stupid. Then I say in-loud, “Thank you Patty. Thank you!” NO CHILDREN One of the instances where people do say the wrong thing is about people having or not having children - too many, too few or none. I’ve heard “Ouch” moments around that question from time to time. We don’t know other people. We don’t know their story. We don’t know their situations. We haven't walked in their moccasins for a mile - or their sins - if that's what we think is going on for that matter. In today’s readings we have two stories about women who wanted to have children - whom neighbors and perhaps even themselves - described that woman as “barren”. There are enough stories in the scriptures about this question - that we know in the Biblical world if you didn’t bring a child into the world, you were looked down upon - and people even looked down on themselves. [Cf. Judges 13: 2-7, 24-25a; Luke 1: 5-25] Today’s gospel ends with Elizabeth going into seclusion - before giving birth to her child - in her old age - and she’s thinking and praising God saying, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.” So she felt it was a disgrace not to have had a child. NOT BEING MARRIED Or take Mary and Joseph - they weren’t married yet - and Mary was with child. Read these early chapters of Luke and you pick up this issue of comments about others in small town Israel. Once more, we don’t know another’s story. The same thing happens today. Or take people who make “ouch” statements about those who never got married or people who were divorced or what have you - as well as those who are gay or lesbian. I remember many a Saturday evening Open Forum session on weekend retreats when some guy ranted and raved about gay people - only to have some father speak up and say, “You have no idea what you’re talking about - till you have a son who is gay - and all the pain and struggle that brings about - till one makes peace with one’s son or daughter or family.” Ouch! Silence. CONCLUSION So this is a short sermon or reflection on the simple but powerful word, “Ouch!" Before you shoot your shotgun on any issue: from abortion to zebra stealing - pause - take your finger off the trigger. Before you shoot off your mouth off about other’s motives - pause. This would be include comments about clothes, length and look - or what have you. Haven't we all heard comments like, “Did you see her - what she’s wearing at her age - or her weight?” “Ouch!” Haven’t we all heard comments like, “Did you see who was talking to whom?” Or, “Did you see who was having lunch with whom? What’s up with them?” “Did you see who went to communion?” Or, “She never goes to communion. I wonder why?” “Ouch!” Pause! Sometimes guns backfire. Pause! Otherwise you might cause yourself shame - or hurt - or both - as well as for the other - and when we hurt or are hurt we all feel, “Ouch!”
INTRODUCTION The title of my homily for this 4th Sunday of Advent, B, is, “Surprise! God Is A God of Surprises!” Life would be very boring - if there were no surprises. Life would be very boring - if we wrote the script - and that’s the way our life went. Life would be very boring - if we could see around the corner, if we could see tomorrow and next year - and the rest of our lives. Life could also be very nerve wracking, dangerous, depressive, if we knew how our marriages, jobs, our family, our future were going to happen. Surprise! God is a God of surprises. Life is the surprises. That’s why we put wrapping on the gift! Question: How well do we do with surprises? Question: How well do we do - when things don’t go our way? Same question but phrased slightly different: What do I do when I want what I want and I don’t get what I want or get? IF WE WERE GOD If we were God, how would we create the world, the universe, life, death, change, that is, if we could create things any way we wanted things to be? After all - we are made in the image and likeness of God and we are called to magnify the Lord. Could we come up with a better plan than the present plan? Would we make anything different from the way things are happening now? How would we plan today? Would we plan it differently than what’s going to happen today? Who’s going to win today’s games? What happens if someone else was also God and they planned the other team to beat our team? I remember thinking something like that while we just about to begin a high school basketball game. We were standing in a circle praying. I looked up from the prayerful head bowed down look and noticed the other team was also praying - and I thought, “God how does this work?” If we were God, would there be life on other planets - besides earth? Maybe there is, but as of now, we don’t know if there is. Would people get cancer, heart problems? Would there be deaths at 15 or 5 or 35 or 95? Does God zap people? Does God know what our choices are going to be? Do our choices get God to change His plans? How does all this work? If we were the Creator, would we have come up dinosaurs and Dalmatians? How come the dinosaurs disappeared and the Dalmatians still run through our fields? How about hippos and horses, mosquitoes and monkeys? Why did God create what God created?
Does God laugh at anything he created? Was God in on how Danny De Vito, Lady Gaga and George Clooney look? Does God laugh only at us humans? We’ve all have heard the words: “Want to make God laugh, tell God your plans?” We’ve all heard John Lennon’s words, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” We’ve all heard the Portuguese proverb: “God writes straight with crooked lines.” We’ve all heard Garth Brooks song, “Unanswered prayers” - how he goes to a hometown football game with his wife and how he meets his old flame - and he reflects on how he prayed to God every night that this high school sweetheart would be the one he’d spend his life with - and as he turns to his wife he sings, “Thank God for unanswered prayers.”
People think and have thought about this stuff “all through the years.” If we were God, would we have picked Israel for the country to come up with One God? Would we have picked Mary? If we were God, say God the Father, would we have sent our Son at the time in history Jesus was sent? Some guy named, William Norman Ewer (1885-1976) wrote “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” Was it odd that God chose the Jews? Whom would we choose, if we were to choose some group to start the plan called “Salvation History”? The Navahos, the Eskimos, the people on the island of Crete? Whom would we choose to be the Mother of his Son - if that’s the way we were going to do this? PEACE Do those who trust in God have more inner peace than those who want life to work differently than it’s working now? What does it take for someone to be at peace with God - with oneself - with others? What are the implications of our having freedom and free will? TODAY’S READINGS In today’s first reading references are made to David being chosen to lead Israel by God and God had expectations of David. It’s payback time. It’s calling in favors time. God is expecting David to build a temple. David is living in a nice big house made of cedar and the ark of the covenant is living in a tent. God is saying, “What’s wrong with this picture? Hello!” [Cf. 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16] As we know from the First Book of Samuel, Chapter 16, God tells Samuel to go to Jesse - who has lots of sons - to find the one whom God has chosen. Samuel sees 7 sons of Jesse - thinking surely the one the Lord wants is here. Nope. So he asks Jesse, “Do you have any other son?” I wonder if the 7 heard that question. Did one of them say, “Hey Jesse, are we chopped liver?” Jesse says to Samuel, “There is still one more, the youngest, he is out taking care of the sheep.” Samuel says, “Send for him. We won’t eat till he comes. The boy appears and God says, to Samuel, ‘Come, anoint him, for this is the one.” Surprise! You never know whom God calls. In today’s gospel God chooses Mary - a young maiden girl living in a small village far from the big cities. Surprise God chooses Mary. And like Eve - like us - she has the power of choice. She asks questions - then she makes the choice to choose to give us the fruit of the tree - the tree of life - the cross - Jesus. [Cf. Luke 1:26-38] And we are given the choice every day to choose Christ: “Take and eat!” In today’s second reading from Romans 16 Paul tells us about surprise. He calls it mystery. He calls it “secret”. Then Paul talks about listening - the call to listen - to listen for revealings, manifestations - from God. That’s the basic meaning of the word “obedience”. It’s to listen. It’s to hear the Word of the Lord in scripture. It’s to embrace Jesus - the word made flesh - who dwelt amongst us. [Cf. Romans 16: 25-27] Mary - whenever an artist paints today’s gospel - pictures Mary listening - listening for annunciations.
Prayer is annunciation - but too often - our mouth is mouthing prayers - and we don’t hear. Jesus calls that babbling - babbling prayer - be careful of that. [Cf. Matthew 6: 7] As they say, we have two ears and one mouth - but that is applied more to everyday conversations. Jesus - watching people praying in his time - warned us and the Pharisees about babbling prayer. CONCLUSION: CHRISTMAS Christmas is a time for deep prayer. Christmas is a time for deep pondering prayer. Did you notice that verb - ponder - in today's gospel? Christmas is a time for great listening prayer. When the Christmas Stable is set up, watch the stable. Listen to the Christmas story. The shepherds are out there in the fields - caring for the sheep - and like David they are called to come to the meet the Lord - in a stable. Look at the animals, they are listening. Watch the Magi - they are searching and come in from the cold into the stable. Listen to the songs, “Silent night, holy night!” “O come all you faithful….” Christmas is a time to change your tent into a temple for the Lord. In the meanwhile, laugh, because Christ comes to this world in a stable, which is filled with you know what - as a baby and welcomes us. Surprise. God is a God of Surprises. Surprise! God came as a baby. Who of us would have thunked up that one? Amen.