It’s about time. Here we are at another Ash Wednesday -
another Lent. We, along with well over a billion Christians, around the world
today - are beginning the Season of Lent. And we enter the season by entering a
church like this to formally enter into this season.
It’s about time. Lent is about time - 40 days. If we look at world religions we find the practice of taking special time periods and
days for fasting and emptying, lessening and letting go - as part of one’s traditions. Muslims, Jews,
Christians, Hindus all have special times and days of fasting.
It’s about time. So the first thing on the agenda for today
is to be marked. In Islam - which follows a lunar or moon calendar - their
period of fasting is 29 or 30 days. As you know the crescent moon is the symbol
of Islam appearing on many flags. People
look for the first sign of the crescent moon marked on the forehead of the sky to begin the season of Ramadan. For
Catholics it’s today - with Ashes put on our forehead. It used to be just
Catholics whom could be identifed as Catholics today. Now various Protestant
congregations are using ashes as well. May that be one more step towards unity of
Christians. Listen carefully today to
the words said as you receive ashes, “Remember you are dust and into dust you
shall return!” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
It’s about time. So during this season we ought to consider
time. We only have so much of it. We have a shelf life. It’s not tattooed on
the side of the package - for example, on our ribs. At every funeral we
attend we notice the casket containing the body of someone who has died - or
the person has been cremated and put in a nice box or case with cremains - with
ashes. It’s a powerful reminder every time that, “It’s about time.” We only have so
much of it. How old am I? How much time do I have left? What’s my bottom line?
What’s my final date and final 4 numbers? Will any of us here make it to 2100?
It’s about time. During this season we take the time to ask
other big questions: Am I having the time of my life? Am I living life to the
full - as Jesus put it. Am I a good
steward of time? Am I living a balanced life? Am I wasting time? What are my
values? Do I see the value of each person? Am I wasting their time?
It’s about time. During this season we take the time to fast
- meaning an emptying - a not having. Muslims are asked to fast during Ramadan
from eating, drinking, smoking, etc. during the day - sunrise to sunset. Catholics used to say out loud what they are giving up for Lent. I remember
hearing of folks who gave up smoking or drinking for Lent and family members
wished they didn’t - because they became strident or nasty for the next 40
days. Yet some improved - and were nicer.
In our time we’re hearing ideas like fasting from TV or computer or
talking, talking, talking - face to face or cell phone to cell phone or I-phone
etc. When the electricity goes out, we experience how dependent we are for
juice. When we fast we realize what our dependencies and addictions are. Then what do we do with the time we gain? What do we do with and in the emptiness? This
parish gives out Lenten Booklets. People have said, “Thanks”
because they present something different to do for Lent - to do some spiritual
reading each day - with gained time from blank screens. Every once and a while
I suggest having a prayer chair in our house - one specific chair. People have
told me at various times: “Great idea Father. I’ve been doing that ever since
you suggested it.” Have next to it a Bible or a deepening book or a booklet. Have next to it a Rosary. And I love to
suggest that a rosary can be used for 10 Hair Mary’s or 53 Hail Mary’s - or for
simple prayer beads. Just sit there in your prayer chair and say on the 59
beads, “Lord, have mercy.” or “Thank You God” or “Help” or at night pick out 10
blessings of the day - 10 beads - 5 minutes - then a “Thank You God” or ten
times saying, “Thank You God?”
It’s about time. Lent - it’s all about time. 40 days from
now we’ll be at Easter - Spring - New Life. Lent - it’s a good time to enter
into what is called, “The Secret Garden of our Soul” and do what Jesus did in
gardens: enter into deep communion with Our Father - Our God.
Quote for Today - Twenty Second Day of Black History Month and Ash Wednesday
"Sometimes you've got to let everything go - purge yourself ... If you are unhappy with anything ... whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you'll find that when you're free, your true creativity, your true self comes out."
The title of my homily is, “Covet!” C O
V E T [Spell it out]
I don’t know if I ever preached specifically on the word,
“covet” - nor do I ever remember using that word. It came up as I reflected
upon today’s first reading - which I’ve doing at these weekday Masses. I’ll
miss the Letter of James - because
tomorrow with Ash Wednesday, we’re into Lent - with all its special readings.
Well, at least we made it to Chapter 4 - and James is only 5 chapters.
The word “covet” appears there in 4:2 - as the cause of wars
- big and small - as the cause of many of our inner problems and struggles
I remember hearing a comedian doing a skit on going to
confession. “Bless me Father for I have sinned. Covet - lots of covet. Put me
down for a lot of coveting Father - a lot.”
MEANING OF THE WORD
Today we’re more apt to use the word “envy” or “desire” or
“greedy” and people mix up “jealousy” with “envy” at times.
Covet is too much - over the top - inordinate - wanting or
desiring and it can does us in. And that’s exactly what James is telling us in
today’s first reading. It can do us in - inside our minds and hearts.
IS THE FOLLOWING
When I was doing my research on this last night I came upon an interesting
quote from the Confucian Analects, 17:8. Confucius says: “There are three
things which the superior man guards against. In youth … lust. When he is
strong … quarrelsomeness. When he is old
I have to think about that last part: “When he is old …
I remember hearing about one of our old priests hoarding
toilet paper. They found rolls and rolls and rolls or toilet paper under his
bed, in a box in his closet. He had a trunk in his room - with lots of toilet
paper. Maybe he got caught short once. I don’t know.
I have too many books in my room and some old newspapers -
because each had something in it - that I wanted to hold onto - knowing my
memory is going slowly. Hold on to. Hold on to….
INNER CLOSETS - INNER TRUNKS - INNER ROOMS
James goes even deeper - so that we will go even deeper.
James says to go within. Listen to our inner conversations - inner thoughts -
inner conflicts. Is the bottom line: we want life to go our way? My will be
done on earth as it is in heaven. Give me my daily bread!
We covet - we desire - that our life didn’t go the way we
wanted it to go - especially regarding deaths or how kids turned out, etc. etc.
etc. We wish we would have done more with our life than we did.
If only, if only…. If
only out kids turned out like so and so’s kids.
I’m just dabbling into this - and that’s another thing - I
envy those who understand and can explain these things better than I can.
Feelings of regrets … inadequacy … disappointments ….
laziness - spilled milk - I think this is what James is getting at today.
We are at war with ourselves - or we’re not at peace - with
ourselves - because we covet, we fix our desire on, we don’t possess, the way
we think we ought to pray, the way we ought to be and on and on.
James says we don’t know how to pray.
So maybe for starters, in order to pray - why not just to be silent in the
presence of God, lest our prayers turn into coveting.
So maybe for starters -
James doesn’t say this - but to laugh at ourselves - but he does end today’s
first reading with “humility”.
Quote for Today - Twenty-First Day in Black History Month
"It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others .... One ever feels his twoness - an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warrings ideas in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."
William Edward Burghardt DuBois [1868-1963], The Souls of Black Folks (1903)
The title of my homily for this 7th Monday in Ordinary Time is, “Cultivating Peace.”
The last sentence in today’s first reading, just the last sentence, James 3:18, has lots of meat on the bone to chew on and to be challenged by: “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.”
TWO WORDS: CULTIVATING PEACE
“Cultivating peace” is the way the New American Bible - the translation we use for our liturgy - translates the last two words of today’s first reading. In Greek the two Greek words are, “POIUSIN EIRENEN”,
I was wondering why the translator translates “POUISIN” with the English word “cultivate”. I love Greek and I haven’t see the verb “POIEO” translated into English as “CULTIVATE”. I was taught it means “to make” or “to do” - “to construct” or “to produce”. So I was going to entitle my homily, “Making Peace” or “Producing Peace” or “Being A Peacemaker.”
Then I noticed the first verb in that last sentence. It’s "SPEIRETAI". It’s from the Greek verb, “SPEIRO” “to sow seed”.
Reflecting on that, it seems to me that the author of James is making a neat parallel: sow the seeds of peace and you’ll produce peace.
I also wondered if the translator or translators were trying to get into the mind of James when they use that image of cultivating - because in that same sentence is the word “fruit” - “KARPOS” in Greek.
Once more the full sentence in our English text is, “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.”
Next I noticed in the New American Bible - the Catholic Book Publishing Edition - there is a little footnote marker after the last word, “peace”. In the footnote I noticed “Matthew 5:9”. It’s the Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
I was also wondering if this is where Pope Paul VI came up with his saying, his formula, “If you want peace, work for justice.” That was on thousands and thousands of banners in the early 1970’s.
I also noticed the word “righteousness” - “DIKAIOSUNE” in Greek - in this last sentence. It can be translated by the word “justice” or “making things right”.
So it hit me that today’s first reading might be part of the background of Pope Paul VI message. James talks about producing fruit by starting with the planting. Then to come up with fruit, one has to cultivate it.
The title of my homily is, “Cultivating Peace.”
A MESSAGE FOR TODAY
So a message for today: work on cultivating peace.
So a message for today: If we try to be peacemakers, we have to work at being just - to be filled with that grace and attitude.
TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE
I collect people descriptions. So here’s another one that I made up for today. “There are two kinds of people: peacemakers and trouble makers.”
I’ve seen and heard down through the years some people being described as grenade throwers. One of the gestures that I’ve seen some people described as goes like this. [GESTURE WITH YOUR HAND THAT YOU HAVE A GRENADE IN IT. THEN PULL THE PIN. THEN THROW OR LOB IT.]
I’m not making up this description of their being two types of people out of thin air. I deconstructed today’s first reading from James and noticed that he describes two kinds of behavior.
First type: sometimes we can be ambitious, jealous, a boaster, disordered, earthly, unspiritual, demonic and unjust.
Second type: or we can also be pure, gentle, compliant, full of mercy, have good fruit within, being wise, constant, and sincere.
Each of us has to look in the today's text as in a mirror and ask this question: “Am I a peacemaker or am I a troublemaker.”
Once more it’s the basic Native American Story of the two dogs.
That was one of the teachings of the Wisdom Figures of the various native tribes here in this land. Inside every person there are two dogs - the happy dog and the unhappy dog. From time to time they would fight. If you listen you can hear the fight going on in your stomach. Then a kid asks, “Which one wins?” And the Wisdom Teacher or a teacher says, “The one we feed.”
So if we want to be a growler and a grouch and a pain you know where, feed that angry dog - give that angry dog your attention.
If we want to be a nice lovable dog, feed that dog.
The title of my homily is, “Cultivating Peace.”
CARTOON IN AMERICA MAGAZINE
There was a “Without Guile” cartoon in America Magazine last October 31st. It shows two people in heaven - on clouds. A wife is standing behind her husband. Both are wearing halos. The husband is sitting there hands behind his neck talking to his wife. He’s looking at a TV. The caption on the bottom of the cartoon is, “It’s really nice up here, but I miss all the negative political ads.”
How to cultivate peace? Say the Peace Prayer of St. Francis every morning and then put it into practice its various good attributes.
How to cultivate trouble? Feed yourself with tons of negative stuff every day and then go out and spread those seeds of discord.
Conclusion: Here is a litmus test. Just listen for a week to the groups you hang with. If your groups are filled with good stuff, then great. If your groups are filled with negative stuff, then realize likes attract.Run!
INTRODUCTION The title of my homily for this 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time - B - is, “My Mistakes.” Just as some people find it difficult to say, “I love you”, so some people find it difficult to say, “I made a mistake” or “I was wrong” or “I did it” or “I blew it”. Some people - like that - can make - half way comments - like, “Love you” or “Me too.” Then in the area of forgiveness, they can say, “My mistake.” In time, they just have to add the “I” - as in, “I made a mistake” or “I was wrong!” Is the Catholic Church on to something with confession when someone says out loud, to another, “Bless me Father for I have sinned.” FORGIVENESS Today’s readings trigger the theme of forgiveness. The first reading from Isaiah 43 - has the Lord saying something we all need to hear - loud and clear: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” If there is one thing I have learned as a priest, it’s right there. We remember the mistakes of our past. As we get older, we slowly lose our short term memory - but our long term memory can be loud and clear - especially regarding sins. If there is one thing I have learned as a priest, it’s we forget many of the good things we have done with our lives, but we don’t forget a few of big mistakes we made long ago. If there is one thing I have learned as a priest, it’s that it’s much easier to say the Creed prayers, “I believe in one God” than to pray, “I believe You God that You have forgiven me that mistake I made in 1967 or 1977 or 1987. “ If there is one thing I have also learned as a human being, it’s that it’s much easier to forgive another than to forgive ourselves. Yet, don’t we get mad when we forgive someone and they still feel guilty and don’t seem to believe that we have forgiven them? What’s behind this difficulty in accepting forgiveness in ourselves - for our own mistakes and sins? Is that part of the sin of pride? Is that down deep that we can’t believe we can fall or fail? Is that because we want to keep the belief that the others are the sinners not I? Is that so we can keep in reserve our stones that we want to throw at others? Is that what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Let him or her without sin cast the first stone?” Yet, some people down deep keep casting the same stone at themselves. Today’s second reading from the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians has God telling us that his word to us is, “Yes.” Yet, often we have the problem of not believing God accepts us, God loves us, God forgives us and God promises us that acceptance. We feel because of our sins that God looks at us and gives us a, “No!” - gives us a thumbs down. Paul is proclaiming today that God says “Amen” - which means “Yes” to us. Today’s gospel tells us the intricate story of the four men who bring a friend to Jesus so as to be healed of his paralysis. When they see a crowd surrounding the house where Jesus was, they don’t give up. They go up on the roof and break through the roof and lower their friend down to Jesus. Jesus surprises them by saying to the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven.” They were not there for that reason. Yet, that’s what Jesus does at first. Now the scribes, meaning those who could write - the more educated - thought to themselves, “Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus, to prove just that, and so much more, says to the paralyzed man whom he just given the gift of forgiveness, “Rise, pick up your man and walk.” And the paralyzed man stood up and started celebrating in front of everyone. He came in on a mat and walked out on his feet - healed. SIN AS PARALYSIS I don’t think the author of this gospel was specifically trying to say that sin paralyzes us. However, at times, I see that preachers see that as a powerful way to read and hear this gospel text - as well as a way to understand sin. Sin can paralyze us. Sin can get us to forget everything as we spend all our energy on the sin - the mistake we made. Here’s an example I came up with last night. I’m not sure if it’s exactly on the point, but let me float it towards you this morning. A lady prepares an elaborate dinner for 12 people. Everything is perfect - perfect - perfect. The table is elegant. Her husband says, “Let’s say grace.” Her eyes are closed. Then in the middle of the prayer, she peeks to scan the table - expecting to see her perfect creation. Then she spots it. The one thing she asks her husband to do - to put the bread in two baskets on the table - which have green cloth napkins as a base - doesn’t have the bread she baked herself. It has sliced white bread. She’s furious. She screams inwardly to herself, “How do I get this bread off this elegant table and how do I get the two loaves I baked this afternoon onto the table, smoothly?” She’s sees her husband getting up and going into the kitchen for the cork screw for the wine. She follows right after him. The door is closed. She grabs his arm. She whispers, “The bread. The bread. The bread. Where’s the bread? It’s a disaster. I give you one thing to do and you blow it. The bread. The bread. Where’s the bread I baked this afternoon?” He says, “I know. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find it. Sorry!” She says, “It’s here somewhere. It’s here somewhere.” The search is on…. Then she realizes it’s in the oven. Relax! The oven wasn’t on. She put it in there to keep it warm - up to the last minute - but didn’t tell her husband that. She takes it out puts it in another two baskets - with green cloth napkins. Now what? She’s still furious. She feels mortified. How is she going to march back out there to the guests - with two bread baskets - and remove the other two - the ones with the white slices of store bread? At that, her husband takes both baskets and walks out to their dining room. He says out loud, “I blew it folks. My wife gave me one job to do and I brought out sliced white bread. Here’s the fresh bread she baked this afternoon - and it’s nice and warm.” They all laughed and clapped as he took away the white bread - back to the kitchen. Then when he came back, the women - with their husbands present - all said out loud to his wife, “We wish our husbands a) would do some work around the house and b) admit their mistakes.” It saved the day. Little things however have been known to ruin the day - and sometimes come back as attacks from time to time. This homily is about forgetting and forgiving - letting go - not of little things - but big things and then living life to the full. Sin paralyses us. Sin drains us. Sin makes us want to hide. Sin can shame us. Forgiveness can be healing - and getting us moving again. Let me throw in another curve. I played sports, but I was never a star athlete. One thing I noticed about star athletes, it’s that they remember everything - ever pitch - especially if the other guy hit it for a game winning hit. They remember every missed field goal, especially if it meant they didn’t make the Super Bowl. Why is it we remember the errors - the mistakes - the sins of life? Take cars. They can be replaced when they are totaled. They can be restored at a body shop if they have dents and bruises. Take humans. The cuts and mistakes seem to be unsightly scars and tattoos on our soul. Nobody else sees them. We do. CONCLUSION The readings today say we can be healed. The readings today say we can be forgiven. The readings today say we can become brand new, fresh bread on the table of life. Ash Wednesday - Lent starts - this week. There are some deep things we all need to think and pray about. Sin and forgiveness are certainly key.
Painting on top: "Healing of the Paralytic," c. 1560-1590, Netherlandish 16th century painting that is part of the Chester Dale Collection in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Notice the people on the roof and the house in the background - plus lots of tiny details.
Quote For Today - Nineteenth Day in Black History Month
"I am an invisible man .... I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."
Ralph Ellison [1914-1964], The Invisible Man , prologue