The title of my homily for this 6th Tuesday in
the Easter Season is, “Coming and Going!”
These readings after Easter are filled with the human
reality of coming and going.
So what? That was my next thought as I said that. So what?
Paul is coming or going. Jesus is coming or going.
We come to church; we go from church. We come to work; we go
from work. We get into the car; we get out of the car. We go into the house; we
go out of the house. We take the first sip of chicken noodle soup; we take the
last lip of the chicken noodle soup.
Life moves on. Clocks tick forward. Calendars change their pages - month to month, year to year.
It hit me just yesterday: another school year is almost up -
there are graduations again - and then there’s another Summer Bible School coming
and on and on and on.
So what? Once more I
heard myself saying just that. Then a key question: are there any lessons to learn about all these comings and
all these goings?
BE IN THE
The lesson I came up with is not to become stale - not to
get stuck in feeling that life is the same old, same old, same old.
thinking: here we are at Mass - again this morning - and we’ll do this again
tomorrow morning and we did it yesterday morning. How does one do the same old
same old and make it new - fresh - actual?
I have noticed in many sacristies a sign - right near the
door of the sacristy: “Priest of God celebrate
this Mass as if it is your first Mass, your last Mass, and your only Mass.”
I read somewhere that that sign is in every sacristy of The Missionaries of Charity - Mother Teresa’s
I know when I read that sign I say Mass a bit more attentive
That tells me that attentiveness, awareness, pausing before doing, can help
someone be more aware of what they are doing - even though they have done what
they are about to do a thousand times.
I learned from listening to a CD talk by the Vietnamese
Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, not to eat a bag of potato chips - but to slowly
eat and savor every single potato chip in the bag. It’s the difference between stuffing and enjoying.
It’s the difference between eating with one’s fingers than eating fist full’s of potato chips. This
is easy to forget when the Orioles have based loaded and might be able to beat
the dreaded Yankees. That simple message
from Thich Nhat Hanh taught me to try to
eat all meals and snacks that way. It’s difficult, but it’s worth it. He calls
I learned from a Broadway Musical that some people are into the show and some people are just
going through the motions.
We’re not supposed to judge, but I’ve been at Masses
where the priest simply seems to be going through the motions. I can fake it
with the best of them - but I have to warn myself, this isn’t something you fake
or be mechanical at. It’s real.
The Broadway musical where I learned this
lesson was a revival of No, No Nanette.
I went up to New York and Broadway with the
staff we had at our retreat house in New
Jersey. The seats we got were horrible. They were off
to the side looking down into the orchestra pit.
Surprise! What I remembered more than the show was what I began noticing in the pit. One violinist had on his music stand, not the music, but the New York Post or
the New York Daily News. As everyone turned their pages, he kept on reading that paper.
Obviously he knew the score by heart. I've never forgotten that scene. I don't want to do life like that violinist.
That scene got me
wondering: how do opera and country western singers do the same song the 500th
Did Jesus tell the Prodigal Son story a second time in the next village? If he did, did he make it better? Did he change the happy ending of the
father welcoming him home and with the twist that the older brother refused to forgive his younger brother?
How about those who flip hamburgers in Wendy’s or those who say “Hello” to
customers in Giant when the 83 person comes to their register?
Does an “I love you” or a “Thank you” ever
How about the “Our Father” or “This is my body” - “This is
my blood” at Mass - or “Peace!” or coming up the aisle for communion today and
hearing “Body of Christ” and going back down the aisle having said, “Amen.” Will this Passover Meal be any different than
every other Massover Meal?
The title of my homily is, “Put Your Name In The Hat.”
Today is the feast of St. Matthias - the last of the
apostles - unless you let Paul wear that hat as well.
For various reasons, I like this feast.
The first reason is that my dad had three sisters who
entered the Sisters of Mercy in Portland,
Maine. Two of them, I never met. They died very early - in their early 20’s. The
other, Sister Mary Patrick, whom I met and enjoyed, lasted for over 50 years as
a nun. Sister Matthias was one of the two sisters who died early. I got to her grave in Portland, Maine at least 2 times. So I always remember her on this
day: May 14th.
The second reason I like this feast is because of how
Matthias was chosen to be the 12th Apostle - the one to take the
place of Judas. He was chosen by lot.
The third reason is a new one. Two years ago we got to Budapest in Hungary. Having looked at the tour
books, a key church to see was St. Matthias Church [pictured right above this]. We got there and checked it out. We said our prayers there - following the old tradition of making 3 prayers or 3 wishes or 3 intentions or
3 hopes whenever you enter any church, big or small, for the first time.
I learn more about a place after I’ve been there. That’s when I do my
homework. I found out that St. Matthias’ church is actually named after Our Lady. So it's not named
after St. Matthias, but King Matthias, who was married there twice. Here I was
thinking it was St. Matthias the apostle - figuring, maybe they had his relics there or there was a legend or a tradition he made it to Hungary. So I found out, after the fact, that it had been reconstructed or fixed up a bunch of times on that
site. I noticed that when the Turks controlled the Budapest they turned it into a mosque. Later it became a church again. So
the lesson was: what I think is true, often is not true. How many times
in my life have I discovered the truth of that reality - but only with hindsight?
PUTTING ONE’S NAME IN THE HAT
Now let me get back to the 2nd reason I like the Feast of St. Matthias. I hope I can provide at least one homily idea to chew upon.
We know Judas had hung himself. Wouldn't it have been a great story of
forgiveness if Judas didn’t - and instead - he came back and asked the group for forgiveness. Or the story could have been that the first person Jesus appeared to in his resurrection was Judas.
In today's First Reading the apostles and disciples are gathered together. They wanted 12
apostles - because that was Jesus’ plan - so they picked two possibles. Then they drew lots and Matthias was chosen. I looked up how this might have
been done. I found a few possibles. Maybe they put the two names on pebbles or papyrus. Then the names were put in a hat or an urn. Then someone pulled a name out of the
From the reading, it seems that it was as simple as that. I’m sure we’ve seen that same scene played out in parish raffles,
kids parties, games to figure out who’s on what team or what have you.
In case nothing has grabbed you yet, let me provide three quick thoughts to ponder and pray
and think about coming out of this idea of putting your name or pulling your name out of a
hat or pot or bowl.
1) Sometimes being selected at random or out of a hat can change our lives. So looking back on your life, what have been the
things you were chosen for and your life was changed as a result? It could have been being named for a school
board, a committee, a parish council, or you were made captain of a team. You name it.
2) We don’t get chosen
if we don’t put our name in the hat - if we don't throw out hat in the ring. So we have to do something to be chosen
for something in life. As the old saying about the Chinese laundry goes: "No ticki, no shirt."
3) And this
might be the biggest thing we can learn. How have we dealt with those times in life when we have not
been chosen? Our name was in the hat, but we were not selected. The guy or gal we hoped would pick us said no or chose someone else. We didn’t get the job and we thought we had the best resume. The teacher chose someone we thought was the Teacher’s
Pet or what have you. How did Joseph (called Barsabbas, also known as Justus) - the guy who wasn't chosen - but Matthais' name was - how did he deal with not being picked? What happened to him after that? How do we react to being picked - or we feel rejected - or not wanted?
It was Mother’s Day - and Vera was all alone at Sunday Mass at her parish church of St. Christopher’s here in Boondocks, Tennessee. What do people think about during Sunday Mass?
Her husband wanted South - after his retirement. She wanted where she was - North - after his retirement. He could be so strong and so stubborn at times - and it seemed to be getting worse, the older he got. So after the initial struggle - it wasn’t worth the fight - South they went.
He was sick and tired of New England winters. Shoveling snow was never fun. Okay, to be honest, sometimes it wasn’t too bad. It gave him the feeling of seeing results. Results was something he often didn’t see in his job: a high school social studies teacher. He also wanted the sidewalk cleared and the path and steps to their front door ready for the mail and paper carrier. She discovered - newspapers - especially the political columns - are important to retired men. So clear that winter snow - open up that path to one’s front door.
Her husband wanted Tennessee. He had to be different. Many of their generation moved to Florida for good or went there for at least a month or two to break the back of winter. They - better he - settled on Tennessee for better or for worse. He thought about the better; she thought about the worse. Surprise - it worked out somewhat okay. Surprise - they got some snow at times in Tennessee’s winters - but the living was cheaper - slower and easier.
They adjusted - more difficult for her than him. Then came cancer for him. It was seven years after his retirement that he died. She was healthy and had forged some good friendships - so that’s where she stayed. Now she had to get used to being alone - a widow.
It was Mother’s Day and Vera sat there wondering what mothers - the ones with the corsages - probably from their adult daughters - were thinking in their inner minds this Sunday at Mass. The priest up front was also wondering, “Where is everybody? What’s on your mind today?”
It was Mother’s Day and Vera found Mother’s Day could be worse than Christmas or Thanksgiving - if by oneself. They only had one kid and he was in Maine with his wife - and their 4 kids. Her daughter-in-law was from a big French Canadian family. To say the least - she had to be with her family for all holidays - and her son, just like his mom, had to be obliging to the stronger spouse.
Vera made some friends down here in rural Tennessee and their Catholic Church wasn’t too bad. In fact, it was pretty good. She got used to it. Their priest was from Ireland and she gradually understood his accent - Irish - with some Southern slow vowels that he picked up. He was a Teddy Bear type of a guy - one of those Southern pastors who were pastors in their parish forever. If you got a good one, great; if you got a bad one, ugh.
It was Mother’s Day and she’s sitting there at Mass and she rubs her hand under the bench she’s sitting on. She feels something. She’s trying to figure out, “What is this?”
“Oooh!” She realized it was gum - dry dead gum - perhaps there for 10 to 75 years. It was an old wooden church. “When did they invent gum?” she wondered to herself.
She was the only one on her side of her regular bench over there on the left side about half way down the side aisle of St. Christopher’s Church. So, out of curiosity, she moved another butt distance along her bench. She rubbed her hand again under the bench. Sure enough another piece of gum. Then another. Then another.
She smiled. She wasn’t listening to the priest. She heard all that he had to say that first year there. She was wondering, “Maybe every bench in the church has gum stuck under it. What would it be like to start a ‘Society for the Removal of Unwanted Gum Under Benches at St. Christopher’s!’”
Old chubby Father Michael Connelly would laugh at that suggestion - probably saying, “Vera, gum is what’s keeping all these benches together in one piece all these years. Mind you. It’s gum.” Then with Irish wit, which he had a lot of, he would surely conclude, “Let sleeping gum, sleep.” Or, “Let what can’t be seen, remain unseen.”
She smiled, Then thought, “Oh! One of these days, I’ll have to confess my sins of distraction at Mass.” Then she thought, “No. This is me. Vintage me. I’m always having distractions. It’s life. It’s called thinking - reminiscing - wondering.”
Then she wondered if they can get DNA off old gum? Then she thought, “I’ve been watching too many NCIS TV shows.”
Next she found herself off on another tangent. Here it was Mother’s Day and she should be thinking about God and mothers and love as the readings of the day were talking about. And the priest was talking about love, love, love. He said the word “love” appeared 17 times in today’s readings. He seemed to be filled with more blather and Blarney than usual this Mother’s Day.
Then she found herself back to the gum. It was sticking to her. It got under her being. “Oh my God,” she thought, “is the underneath of my soul filled with gum - dried gum - mistakes from my past - that I chewed on 100 times - couldn’t get rid of - so I simply stuck them under the bench of my soul?”
Then she thought, “It’s secrets - secrets - especially the secret sins of our lives that are stuck underneath the seats and benches we’re sitting on.” Then she said to herself, “Wow, it’s hard to get rid of some memories or what have you. It’s hard to get rid of some sins - even in the confession box in the back of the church. I wonder if there is any gum stuck in there. It’s dark. It’s hard to get rid of the past.”
She thought about the bumps and slips and mistakes of her life. She made peace with most of them. Time can do that. But, like that gum underneath these benches, sometimes - something - someone says - or some song comes on the radio or something we see on TV - touches on an old memory or mistake and we start to chew on it once again. Uuuuh! Ugly.
During Father Mike’s homily this Mother’s Day - she thought about a wonderful homily he preached a few years ago - the one about forgiveness. Father Mike told the congregation that Christianity centers itself on forgiveness. Then he said that forgiveness has to start with oneself. He said that was one of Jesus’ biggest insights - self-forgiveness. “If you can’t forgive yourself, you won’t really be able to forgive those who trespass against you.”
Then she remembered Father Mike paused in that homily. He liked to pause when he preached. I guess he would instinctively listen during those pauses. If there was absolute silence, he knew he was in the soul. If he heard coughs and sniffles and shiftings, he knew he wasn’t. Then after that long pause in his forgiveness homily, he said, “Till we get that, I guess we won’t get Christ. Till we get Christ, we won’t get that.”
Then he paused an even longer pause.
Then he added, “It’s mistakes. It’s sins. It’s being hurt or hurting others - that can break us - as well as make us - make us great people - people who understand. Jesus understood that for sure. Those who are always screaming - wanting others to change - wanting others to see what they see - to be like they are like - maybe they haven’t been inside themselves enough. Maybe they spend their lives walking around inside other people’s sins and never in their own sins." Father Mike continued, "That’s a switch on the old saying about walking in other people’s moccasins. Walk in your own sins first. The Pharisee in us - needs to come down from our tree - to stop spying on people - to come away from other people’s lives and invite ourselves or have Jesus himself into our heart and mind - to sit still in our inner room with him - which the Pharisee in us doesn’t like to do. The gift of mistakes - falling on our face - can put us close to the ground again - from which we came.”
Then Father Mike said, “I think that’s why Jesus chose Peter - and that’s why he chose Paul. One could be so stupid and the other could be so head strong in so many ways. Then when they got Jesus’ way, they were on their way - but first they had to fall on their face and look face to face at their mistakes - at their miss takes on life.”
Vera got that - that message from Father Mike - which he gave a couple of years ago in that sermon. She realized her mistakes - helped her to be understanding - of others who made mistakes. Her son said just that to her once in a Mother’s Day card he sent - and she has it in her box of treasures - in a bottom drawer.
Her son didn’t know it, but his mom had gotten pregnant in high school and her parents convinced her to give her baby up for adoption. She did. What killed her was this became a family secret - a life time secret - like that gum under this bench.
She never told her husband or her son. That’s the way her family did it back then. Every day of her life - she thought about her daughter - wondering if her daughter ever thought of her. It was 57 years ago this month. Life. I wonder where she is now and what her life story was.
As she sat there in church that particular Mother’s Day - that story from her past - which was stuck on the underneath of her soul - like dried gum - uh oh’ed her.
Then that Mother’s Day - down there in rural Tennessee - during that Mother’s Day Mass, she thought to herself - better she made a major decision for herself, “I’m going to find her. I’m going to see what happened to my daughter. It might take some undoing - but maybe she too is wondering this day - where I am and what happened to me."
Surprise. They met each other for the second time in their lives. It was on the July 4th weekend in Agawam, Massachusetts. Both wondered why it took so long - why it took so long. She found out that her only daughter, Michelle, had 8 kids - a wonderful husband - and 7 grandkids - and all her kids and now Vera’s grandkids and great grandkids were thriving. Wow. The stories…. Maybe for some Fourth of July - Independence Day - is more important than Mother’s Day.