The title of my homily for this Second Tuesday in Lent is,
“Humor and Humility.”
Father Tizio likes to use props in his homilies - and he
uses them very well. They are not the message. They help his message. And they
don’t get in the way of his message - which I always find very clear - not just
with kids - but with adults.
So I have a prop for my homily this morning. It’s a Whoopee
Cushion. Someone gave me a present recently that had 2 Whoopee Cushions in the
box. Why? I don’t know. I gave one away and kept this one. One evening last
week I filled this one with my hot air and placed it on the cushy chair that
Father Joe Krastel uses. However, the cushion of the chair doesn’t lift, so I
put this Whoopee Cushing under a blanket on the chair. I’m sitting there
watching the evening news when Joe walked to the chair. He grabbed the blanket
first and spots the Whoopee Cushion. He laughs and the laugh was on me. My
little game didn’t work.
The reason I mentioned the Whoopee Cushion is because every time we have this
gospel, I remember a story I heard it from a bishop telling a story about
In South America they had
this very, very pompous bishop who was the top guy in the Bishop’s Conference.
Well, before he came into this big room for a big meeting of bishops, this one
bishop put a Whoopee Cushion under the
cushion of the big shot’s chair and told all the bishops in the room to
be ready. All were waiting for the big moment. In marches the bishop, serious
as a bishop, in all his regalia. He sits down on the chair and you know what a
Whoopee Cushion does. And all laughed except himself - at first. Finally he
Well, in today’s gospel [Matthew
23: 1-12], Jesus talks about the Scribes and the Pharisees taking their seat on
the chair of Moses.
And Jesus says “they
preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and
lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their
phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets,
seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation
'Rabbi.' As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.' You have but one teacher, and
you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father
in heaven. Do not be called 'Master'; you have but one master, the Christ. The
greatest among you must be your servant.” Then Jesus finishes this blast with
the message: “Whoever exalts himself will
be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
stuff. The title of my homily is “Humor and Humility.”
after blasting and ridiculing the scribes and the Pharisees here in Matthew 23 - which is close to the end of
his gospel - gives us one more clear reason why they wanted Jesus killed. I’m sure some of the folks hearing Jesus
speak these words laughed - seeing the humor in hypocrisy - seeing those who
exalt themselves being humbled.
priests - as well as bishops and the pope -
are voicing these words from pulpits and podiums around the world today.
Obviously, we need to hear these words more than others. These past years we
have certainly been humiliated with our sins and our mistakes - especially in
the abuse cases - the harming of so many young people. Will we ever learn? [Pause!] I sense that some good has come out of the
horror cases: more protection for more
young people. It also seems that Rome
is broadcasting to the dioceses of the world to wake up. Obviously abusing
others is wrong. No more cover-ups; much more vigilance. It hurts as priest to hear comedians
use the abuse stories for laughs - but in another sense, may the humor and the
humiliation make us better - protecting the innocent everywhere.
and humility are connected. Humility and being human are very connected. In the
Book of Genesis we read that God bent
down and created us from the clay, the humus, of the earth and then breathed
the spirit of life into us. Then we rise - and sometimes we stop being down to
earth. We think trappings and titles - seats of honor - will make us better
than others. When we start to think that way, it’s a signal we actually down
deep think less of ourselves. That’s the paradox of wanting power - seeing it
at times as the power to put down others - to humble them - to make ourselves
can laugh at ourselves - when the air is knocked out of us - when our inflated
ego is deflated - then we’ll see what we’re really doing and who we really are
- just one more human being in the room.
thought about this stuff last night preparing this homily, I asked myself,
“Should I put this in my homily - say this stuff in church?” Then it hit me, “Hello! Isn’t this the kind
of stuff Jesus is getting at in this gospel - which the church is asking us to
listen to today?” So we better laugh and laughter helps us with humility.
I’ll close with a
Jewish proverb: “Don’t make yourself so big. You are not that small.”
The title of my homily for this Second Monday in Lent is, “Kyrie Eleison”
For the Penance Rite, the first part of the Mass, before the recent
changes in the Liturgy, we were encouraged to use variations - and one was
I suspect we priests didn’t use that too often - or it all
depended on which priest or deacon was up here - and I suspect we’ll use it a
bit more now with the new prayers - because there seems to be less variation -
or what have you.
I know I’ve been using it a bit more.
IT’S GREEK TO ME
When I was a kid in grammar school at OLPH Brooklyn, N.Y. we
grew up saying or singing this Greek prayer at every Mass. I have to read up on this, but it
seems it sort of dropped out with the
arrival of the Liturgy in the language of the people.
Greek was the language of the scriptures and I assume that
of the Liturgy before Latin - and after Aramaic - the language of Jesus.
Kyrie is a variation of the Greek word, “KURIOS” meaning
Eleison is a variation of the Greek word “ELEOS” - meaning
Christe is a variation of the Greek word “CHRISTOS” - meaning anointed.
So Kyrie eleison is a most basic prayer: “Lord have mercy.”
It touches a normal human saying we use in our basic
interactions with each other, “I’m sorry.” “Forgive me!”
So we pray to God, “I’m sorry!” “Forgive me!” “Lord have
mercy.” “Kyrie Eleison”. Want a simple act of contrition. There it is.
As priest in confession I hear people unfolding a crinkled
piece of paper that has an Act of Contrition on it or they struggle with a long
formula that is an Act of Contrition. I suggest as an Act of Contrition to
simply say, “Lord have mercy” or “Kyrie eleison”. If some priest complains say some priest said
“Lord have mercy” was a beautiful Act of Contrition.
Whenever we come to today’s gospel I wonder when did Jesus
come up with his comments about the measuring that takes place in the market
place. [Cf. Luke 6: 36-38]
Was he a teenage boy and he was shopping with Mary?
Was he an adult - just walking through the market and saw a grain merchant
doing just what Jesus said one did in the marketplace?
A lady is shopping and asks for a certain amount of grain
and the merchant pours some into her garment. Then he packs it together. Then he shakes it
and pours some more in - till it’s falling out.
Did Jesus stop to watch this marketplace ritual? Did he
watch the woman’s face as she watched the ritual? Did he see her face change
and she added layer upon layer of success, smile, wonderful, at each step by
the merchant. Did he see the merchant’s face light up gradually in making one
more customer happy?
Did he see the faces of those who judge - as rigid tight faced
Did he see the faces of those who don’t judge as more
There you have it. And let me conclude with a repetition of today’s gospel:
said to his disciples:
"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
"Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you."
The title of my homily for this Second Sunday in Lent, Year
B, is a question, “Who Could Ever Know The Mind Of The Lord?”
Today’s readings trigger that question for me. Like
everyone, at times I wonder about the
what, the why and the how of the mind of
And as I thought about this yesterday, I realized it’s easy
to ask the question - but very difficult to come up with answers on reading the
mind of God. Hey, we often can’t even understand each other. Moreover, after I
finished this homily, I found out that my homily is more of a question than an answer. How’s that
for covering oneself?
IT’S PAUL’S QUESTION
Paul near the end of his letter to the Romans - which we have an earlier part today as our second reading [Romans 8: 31b-34] - quotes an Early Church
prayer and hymn, “How rich are the depths of God - how deep his wisdom and
knowledge - and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his
methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord?” [Romans 11: 33-34]
That last sentence - that's where I got the title for this homily. “Who Could Ever Know The Mind Of The Lord?”
Yet we hear people talking about God, how God works, what
God’s will is - on a regular basis. Just listen - especially when tough things
Next, just listen to our own inner conversations when it
comes to God. We ask the
question: what does God want of me? We ask: what
is God’s will? People lose their jobs and they wonder: maybe God has other
plans - and maybe that's why I lost my job.
Fortunately, we haven’t heard anyone shoot off their mouth
telling us that God is angry with the United States by sending these recent tornados. But we’ve heard things like that from time to time.
We also hear people voicing to others statements like
these: “This is God’s will.” “This is
God’s plan.” “This is what God wants.”
I don’t know about you, but some people need to have some
doubts before making these statements.
Francis B. Sayre said, “Religion isn’t yours firsthand until
you doubt it right down to the ground.” [Life,
April 2, 1965.]
Hesitation is part of humility. Not being so sure of
everything is part of humility.
I love to quote the following from the Talmud: “Teach thy
tongue to say, ‘I do not know.’”
TODAY’S FIRST READING
Today’s first reading places us up on a
mountain - where Abraham takes his son Isaac - to holocaust him - to kill him -to sacrifice him - because he hears a voice from God to do just that. [Genesis 22: 1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18]
It’s crazy - to kill one’s own son - as a sacrifice -
because someone heard a voice from God
to do that. Was God really putting Abraham to a test? Check Chapter 11 of Hebrews whichhighlights this theme.
There’s a half-dozen attempted explanations on what’s going
on here in this story in Genesis. I don’t know what the true story or the motive why this story was put
into the sacred Jewish scriptures. It's difficult to read the minds of those who got scriptures in the Scriptures. Abraham is dated to have existed between
2000 to 1500 B.C. These writings are a
combination of several writers - the most primitive being from roughly around 1000
B.C. Some see this story as a "come back" at Abraham - because of his behavior towards his other son, Ishmael - by another woman , Hagar - whom he sent out into the wilderness. The theory that many scholars of today say is underneath this old, old
story is that it’s addressing infant sacrifice - the killing of one’s first
born in sacrifice to God. There is evidence that this was part of some people’s
thinking in the Middle East around 1000 years
before Christ. Then they say that this story was an insight - a breakthrough -
that God wouldn’t want that. Put an end to this practice. There is evidence that this was what
happened in the Middle East around that time.
A switch was made to sacrifice animals instead.
One of my questions is this: if God made an intervention in
this story, why doesn’t He make interventions in our times?
Maybe God does. Maybe the story is an attempt by story to
tell us how life works. Maybe God’s interventions take place in human brains.
Someone starts to think and says, “I
just realized that the way I'm thinking might not be right.” Realizing that they might be wrong might be the first step towards a new way of thinking and they change. Is that the plan? Is that the way God
works life? Even that is tricky. “Who
Could Ever Know The Mind Of The Lord?”
Listening to how people think, I have heard some people think
God wanted their child to die. Then they find scripture texts to back that way
of thinking. I would add that the Bible, our Scriptures, give lots of ways to
think about lots of things.
What’s your take on the mind of God? Which Scripture text do you gravitate towards to support your thoughts? Are there other texts you might want to check?
Once more I say that I have taught my tongue to say, “I do
However, I still ask the question: “God, why can’t you intervene
and not let children die?”
Or I ask why didn’t God zap Hitler with a heart attack in the night
or let those who were trying to assassinate him be successful? Why didn’t God
intervene in the death of all those people killed in the holocaust? With the
slaughters going on in several cities in Syria right now, why doesn’t God
just let Bashar Assad die in his sleep? Those being slaughtered scream out to the West to help? And I’m
sure when they see mortar shells and bombs coming flying out of the sky towards
them, they scream to God for help. Why
doesn’t God help? Why doesn’t God take on the role of Good Samaritan? He tells
us to be one. Why doesn’t he stop everything to help those who need help?
Based on the evidence, God’s mind doesn’t work this way. Based
on Scripture texts, God does help at times. Other times it seems like a great
silence comes from God. In the meanwhile, the history of the world is War and
Peace and then déjà vu all over again - again and again - and then again.
Soren Kierkeggard was fascinated by this story of Abraham -
and writes about it big time in his book, Fear
and Trembling. Israel
was fascinated by this story - called the Akeda - or the binding or tying Isaac
down for the slaughter. Why would God ask anyone to kill their child?
Kierkegaard’s thought brings people to the reality that many times in life we
face what Abraham faced: the death of a child or a parent or a spouse - and
today we’d add that they are tied down by tubes and cords in a hospital bed.
Kierkegaard gives 4 variations on this story of Abraham and
Isaac on that mountain. Rabbis in their sermons give lots of possibilities on
the story. Once more it triggers the reality that sometimes we just don’t know.
We don’t know what’s in God’s mind. We don’t know God’s motives and methods - we don’t know the “why” of the here and the
now as well as the next life - and so we cry.
And it seems God is asleep in the boat of life.[Cf. Mark 4:38]
Once more the title of my homily is, “Who Could Ever Know
The Mind Of The Lord?”
Today’s gospel brings us to another mountain. And Jesus goes
up that mountain with his 3 favorites, Peter, James and John, and Jesus is
transfigured before them - and they get to see a new side of Jesus.
Peter, James and John hear a voice from the heavens - God
the Father - says, This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Then we have Mark’s take on the scene: Jesus talks about his
death and rising from the dead.
Compared to Matthew and Luke, Mark stresses the cross - the
heading for that reality - much more than the others.
And that leads us back to the Abraham and Isaac story. Christians have to ask whether God the Father wanted his own son killed so as to save the world. Why would God want
such a thing? Why wouldn’t he be satisfied with the sacrifice of a lamb or the
offering of the first fruits of grapes and wheat?
As Christians we hold that Jesus lets us in the door into
the mind of God. That’s the great teaching of the New Testament.
Jesus said, “See me, you see the Father. Know me, you know
Christianity holds that Jesus is the door that leads to the
Father. Yet it’s Paul who says, “Who Could Ever Know The Mind Of The Lord?”
In this homily, I put on the table the question: “Who Could
Ever Know The Mind Of The Lord?” I added that it’s easier to raise the question
than to give answers to the question.
I don’t know the answer, other than to say, “I don’t know
I don’t know the answer, other than to say, “Jesus Christ.”
Paul, when he was Saul, thought he knew what God wanted. He
was sure that those who were following Jesus were in the wrong. He wanted to
right them. So he want after them with the idea of closing them down. He fell
on his face on the way to Damascus.
He slowly saw that he was blind - and started to see that Jesus was the way to
the Father. He saw that the followers of the Way were the Way to go.
Then Paul because of Christ started to enter into the mind
Today’s second reading begins. “Brothers and sisters: If God is for us, who can
be against us? He did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how
we he not also give us everything else along with him?”
So we come here to Church to look at the cross - and look
for answers to why people crucify each other. We come here to church and listen
to the scriptures and we hear questions and answers. We come here knowing that
God has spoken - his Word - to us. And that Word became flesh and walked with
Christ walked and talked. Christ at the end was willing to
be bound to a cross and to die - saying he was doing this for us.
Why did he go this way?
Was it that people will stop crucifying each other? If
that’s true, then that stopping has got to start with me - with us.
Just as Abraham put down the knife - we have to put down the
knife - sometimes it’s our tongue - and we have to realize we come here to
church to be released like Isaac - and
then come down for the high place and then live life to the full like Isaac
Just as the disciples went up the mountain with Jesus and
heard, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” - we come here to do the same
thing - especially to hear God say to us, “You are my beloved Daughter - You
are my beloved Son - Listen to me”
I would also think that we come here for listening prayer - listening
to God’s mind and our own mind - and we’ll slowly put both together.
Painting on top: The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio