The title of my homily for this 29 Friday in Ordinary Time is, “Yetzer Hara.”
It’s a Hebrew term for the inclination or impulse to evil.
I first heard about it when reading Bill Moyer’s book on Genesis. It’s in reference to Genesis 4:7 where we hear about Cain
and Abel and the comment about sin
lurking at one’s door like a crouching beast ready to devour us. Then it says
you have to master it.
In the traditional Hebrew belief system, Yetzer hara is considered as
an essential part of human nature.
Today’s first reading from Romans - Chapter 7 -
triggers my memory of reading that comment in Bill Moyer’s book years
ago. Paul’s famous words should resonate with every one of us. Paul says we
plan on doing good - and yet we walk out the door and do just the opposite.
Then he adds: ”Why do I do this?”
How many times have we said, “Why, why, why? Why am I so
stupid, stupid, stupid?”
Then Paul says that we don’t do evil, but the evil within us
We can all relate to this - because we all do this - whether
it has to do with gossip, sexuality, dieting,
money - walking away with a nice ballpoint pen at the Funeral parlor -
or what have you.
How come: sin is at our door - trying to sneak in like a mouse
or a cat.
We’ve all heard the American Indian similar take on all this. They had a folk tale that inside every
person there are two wolves [or dogs]: the bright one and the dark one.
American Indian wisdom teachers tell their kids that these 2
are always fighting inside us. Don’t we know it? And when asked, “Which one wins?” the answer
is: the one we feed.
In a Charlie Brown cartoon, we see Charlie, when told about the two dogs fighting within
each person, stopping and listening and then he says, “I can hear them fighting
in there right now.”
I have type 2 diabetes and I’m very good in not eating
cookies and cake - ice cream and candy - but I also have bad skin - and I tend
to pick it - if it’s uneven. Why do I do this? Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Yet I do it every time.
here in Chapter 7 gives the classic text on all this - and it has helped folks
ever since. Saint Augustine
grabbed onto this - because he knew it was so true - and in his Confessions he talked about this reality
of the pull towards self destruction - when it came to his lusts. Paul calls it
a war - a battle - or the law of sin - and how can we be saved from this
dynamic” make good choices - as well as communion with Jesus Christ.
Anyone familiar with the 12 Steps in Alcoholics Anonymous
spirituality - know the first 2 steps. In Step One we admit I’m powerless over
alcohol or some addiction. In Step Two I ask a Higher Power for help to move
towards a healing. Christians simply
call their Higher Power God or Jesus Christ as Paul states it here in Romans 7.
O O O O O O O
1) Bill Moyers, Genesis,
Doubleday, New York, 1996. This is the comment made by
Rebecca Goldstein, “In the Jewish
tradition, there’s a notion of the yetzer
hara, the evil inclination. It’s almost an externalization of your evil
inclinations, waiting there to attack you.” page 78
2) Here’s the Cherokee Parable of The Two Wolves
An old Cherokee chief was teaching
his grandson about life...
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight
and it is between two wolves.
“One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity,
guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and
“The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility,
kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
“This same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which
wolf will win?”
Quote for Today - October 23, 2013 "The past is never dead - it is not even past." William Faulkner [1897-1962] Questions: 1) Make some personal comments about William Faulkner's comment about the past? 2) Looking at your life, name 5 disasters in your life, from your past? 3) Looking at your life, name 5 amazing moments? 4) Looking at your life, name 5 regrets? 5) Looking at your life, list 5 total surprises?
The title and theme of my homily for this 29th Sunday in Ordinary
Time - Year C - is, “Persistence!”
It jumped right off the page in today’s second reading from
Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy: “Be
persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient!”
It’s the obvious theme of today’s gospel from Luke as well
as today’s first reading from Exodus.
In the first reading - we have this ancient story about Moses on a hill while Israel’s soldiers are fighting down
in the fields and plains below. As long as Moses’ arms are raised Israel is
winning the battle - when his arms start to fall they start to lose. Needless
to say, notice the verb “mowed down” - as in “And Joshua mowed down Amalek and
his people with the edge of the sword.”
Wouldn’t we rather like it to be a game - a sport - instead
of a battle where people are being killed? Haven’t we seen that beer commercial
- when drinking buddies are rubbing heads - shaking bobble head figures - doing
this or that - trying to effect their teams chances of winning from a distance?
I was watching the Red Sox fans last night. They would all stand up and scream
and cheer at key moments to encourage their team. Evidently it worked. I wish
my Dodgers could have done that - as well as the football Giants - so right now
I’m in the basketball season.
And today’s gospel has this gem of a story about the nagging
widow who is driving a judge crazy with her persistence. He settles a case in
her favor - just to shut her up and get her out of his hair.
The title of my homily is “Persistence.”
Persistence …. stick to it tiveness ….. never giving up ness
…. staying the course …. The patron saint animal example - well actually it’s
an insect - it’s the mosquito - who keeps coming, coming, buzzing,
buzzing, till it gets our blood. Persistence!
The main area for persistence from today’s readings is
prayer - obviously - but I want to look at 3 other areas where we see the power
FIRST OF ALL: EDUCATION
When I began thinking of persistence, I began thinking about
education for starters. Think about how much persistence plays its part when it
comes to educating each of us.
How many times does a kid have to see, to write, to be
encouraged to say a letter out loud - till she gets it. So too one’s numbers. So too one’s colors,
I went to grammar school way before Sesame Street - which made learning these
basics so colorful and game like. In fact most of the years I was in grammar
school - we didn’t have television. It was before black and white TV.
remember writing in those exercise books with a Dalmatian look alike cover an
exercise called, “Over the loop, under the loop, over the loop, under the loop”
as a way of learn good penmanship. I liked doing them because they looked like
turtles or small hills - sometimes upside down.
I ended up doing the same thing in the seminary with Latin
and Greek words - writing them over and over and over and over again - dozens
and dozens and dozens of times till I got them.
Persistence is central to education.
I remember a guy in the seminary with us - Ralph Leone. I wonder what ever
happened to Ralph Leone. He was very bright and very bored with studies - so he
started memorizing the dictionary and he made it to N I think before he left
Persistence is central to education.
Thank a teacher today in person or in prayer for your education.
Yesterday I had a funeral for a lady from our parish named
Paula Ginnetty. For 15 years she taught Exceptional Children. I was talking to
her husband John last week to get some information for a homily for Paula.
She came up with a way blind kids could play baseball. She found a softball
that had bells in it - and when thrown it sounded. Step one. She got bats. Next
she came up with bases that made sounds
- so when a kid hit the bell sounding ball, he or she knew which way to run. It
taxed my imagination trying to picture all this - but her husband said that it
She ran into a boy - whose mother was a drug addict - and
went to jail - so they took the kid in as a temporary foster child for 3 or 4
years - and he didn’t kept saying, “I can’t” when it came to reading. Well
Paula was persistent and kept saying, “You can. Yes you can!” And sure enough
in 6 months he was up to his grade level - and other teachers were amazed at
how good a teacher Paula was.
The title of my homily is, “Persistence.”
SECOND AREA: MEDICINE
Think medicine. In
the year 2013 we benefit from the persistence of researchers, doctors, scientists,
inventors, medical engineers - teachers - who have advanced medicine to where
it is today.
We are standing on the undergirding of a great history of
trial and error - success and failure -
diagnosis and prognosis.
Thank a doctor and a nurse this week in person or in prayer.
I had my gall bladder out a few years ago - as an out
patient. I had often heard that it meant a week at least in the hospital and
big belly scars for life. I have a tiny little reminder scar just above my
belly button. If you are persistent I’ll show it to you. Well, I went into the hospital
around 7 AM - got bounced because of an emergency - and finally got knocked out
around 9:30 AM - and I was walking downtown Annapolis at 3 PM. Thanks to modern procedures, it was a piece
of cake out patient operation.
The title of my homily is, “Persistence.”
THIRD ARENA: PARENTING
Think of all the persistence needed in parenting.
As in education - which parenting is - think of all the
persistence needed in raising a child. Step by step, the kid learns to climb
the steps - and walk the walk and talk the talk.
Don’t we smile when we see a mom or a day teaching a kid at the baptismal or
holy water font, how to bless oneself? Right hand, left hand, wrong side, right
side, the kid eventually gets it.
I remember visiting a family once. I was watching the mom
feeding her little baby son in a high chair with a spoon and a heated jar of
mushy - ugly looking baby food. She made
it a game - but it was taking forever. The little jar was ¾ empty when her
husband came into the room. He had just got home from outside work. She said,
“Here I have to start supper for us!” She handed him the spoon and the jar of baby
food. The father didn’t do indirect.
Spoons - food - go directly to the mouth. The little guy wanted the game and
kept his mouth shut. Well the father got angry with the little guy for not
obeying daddy’s command: “Eat!”
So the little boy
started crying and looking past his daddy to his mummy - till she finally took
over again. I’ve often wondered if that was the daddy’s plan in the first
I think of my dad. Part of our parent’s love story is my
father’s love letters. Both my parents, Mike and Mary, knew each other in Ireland -
living within a stone’s throw of each other. Both came to America. My
father ended up in New York City.
My mom was in Boston.
My mother’s job was to make money to bring her brothers to America. My
father’s hope was to marry my mom - so he wrote love letters to her from New York to Boston
for 10 years. The last letter said, “If you won’t marry me, I’ll become an
Irish Christian Brother.”
Well, obviously, that worked. Persistence paid off. Thank God.
I slowly realized - but honestly more looking back as an
adult - that my dad headed out the door for work at Nabisco - over on the West
Side of Manhattan - every morning at 6 AM. That meant the subway from our stop - 59th Street
in Brooklyn - to 14th
Street in Manhattan. Then Nabisco decided to move their cooking
making plant to Fair Lawn, New Jersey.
This now meant he had to leave every morning at 4:30 or so - take the subway to
in Manhattan and then take a bus to Fair Lawn. I never found out how far from the bus stop
the Nabisco plant was. Then back home every evening.
Work - the work our parents do for us - is ongoing, never
I think of my dad taking all 4 of us kids to the park every
Sunday after Mass all through our childhood to give my mom a break. At times -
it was “Ugh!” and a “Oh no not again!” But he did it.
I noticed my brother then did the same thing with his 7
daughters - bringing them to WashingtonD.C. on Sundays to give my
sister-in-law a break. Persistence - in spite of the “Oh no, not again!”
The title of my homily is, “Persistence!”
Jesus stressed persistence in prayer.
I would stress it as a theme of prayer for the gift of
I don’t see prayer as prayer for stuff - but prayer for
gifts like persistence and patience - whether one is an educator, a doctor, a
nurse, a researcher, a parent or what have you.
I mentioned earlier
on that I learned Latin by writing down words over and over and over again.
We once had a teacher who had us memorize Latin sayings. It
helped that some of them were dactylic hexameters like this one - that has the
theme of this homily: “Guta cavat lapidem, no vi, sed saepe cadendo.”
Translated freely: “Drop by drop water hollows a hole in a stone
- not by force - but by persistent falling.”
[The following is a story for our Kids' Mass - this 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C]
Jesus was talking to some kids just after he was telling his
disciples his story about the widow and the judge.
One kid said, “Good story Jesus, but I wouldn’t make it a
widow and a judge - because that might not grab or interest kids like us.”
“Okay,” said Jesus, “How would you tell the story
about nagging someone to get your way and that's the way to pray to God! You got to nag
Well, that got those kids thinking. The kids were wrinkling
their foreheads above their eyes as they were trying to figure out just how to
tell Jesus’ story better than Jesus told it.
“Okay, said Jacob, “I
have this fat dog - named Fig - and my mom and dad told me to stop feeding Fig
so much food - because he’s getting too, too fat. But my mom and dad are always
working. They don’t hang around with Fig like I hang around with Fig - like all
the time. All the time he somehow mysteriously shows up and just stands there
whenever I’m near food. He’s always begging, begging, begging - begging for
more food. Now that’s the way to pray. Be like my dog Fig - who whenever he
smells food, he wants food and he never, ever, like never stops begging, begging, begging for food. Now
that’s the way to pray.”
“Not bad,” said Jesus. “Not bad. Anybody else?”
Judith said, “There’s this girl in my class named Deborah. She’s a real pest to
every teacher that she ever, ever had. But one thing about her. Whenever our
teacher asks a question, Deborah somehow is the first one - every time - to
raise her hand. She keeps saying, ‘Teacher, teacher, teacher,’ till our teacher
calls on her - just to get her to put her hand down and stop saying, ‘Teacher,
teacher, teacher!’ Now that’s the way to pray. Keep raising your hand till God -
and keep saying, ‘God! God! God!’ till God finally hears you yelling at him and
keeps on seeing you have your hand up and God finally answers your prayers - just to shut you up Now that’s the way to
And Jesus said, “Wonderful! You got my message - and you
said it so much better than I said it.
And Judith bowed and said, “You’re welcome!”
And Rebecca said, “Jesus I got a story.”
Jesus said, “Okay, Rebecca. I’m listening. How would you
tell my story?”
“Well,” said Rebecca, “My father has a little spot in the
market place where he sells wheat flour. Now he gives everyone exactly the
exact amount of flour that they want. He never cheats with his measurements -
like some wheat and barley flour merchants do in the marketplace. Well, I once
said to him, ‘Daddy why don’t you look at the clothes of the people who come
for flour. If they are poor, give them more.’ My dad said, ‘I can’t do that. We’ll
go broke.’ I said to him, ‘Dad do it and
watch the smile on the face of the person buying the flour.’ He kept on saying,
‘No, no, no. I can’t do that.’ Well, I kept saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes. You can do
that!’ Well just to prove me wrong - or maybe just to shut me up, he did it.
And guess what happened? Everybody talked about how generous my dad was - and
then everyone came to him for flour - and his flour booth in the market was the
most popular place in the whole market. People would ask for 2 scoops of flour.
He would say, ‘Open up your cloak!’ And he would pour in two scoops - then he
would shake it and add some more and then he would pack it down and add some
more. You should see the smile on the smile on his face every time this happens.
So see nagging works every time. That’s the way to get your way to our Father.’”
“Wow!” said Jesus. “Great example. Can I use that the next
time I preach?”
And Rebecca smiled as big a smile as her dad has at his
little spot in the marketplace.
“Any more?” asked Jesus.
Zach said, “Whenever I ask my father for an egg or a piece
of fish, he gives it to me - but I have to ask him 100 times - so I have learned
to wear him down. Once I was driving him so crazy, that when I asked for a
piece of bread he gave me a rock - but then he realized you don’t do that to a
kid - so he gave me a whole goat for me to feast on with my friends. I learned
you got to ask if you want to get. So I guess it’s just like praying to Our
Father for our daily bread. Ask and you’ll receive. Knock and your father will
open up the door for you - every time.”
Jesus was amazed at how much kids knew. The next day when he
was talking to his disciples, he saw them trying to tell kids to be seen but
not heard. In other words, “Get lost!”
But Jesus got angry at them and said, “Unless you’re like little
children - you won’t enter into the kingdom
of God. Unless you’re
like little children, you won’t understand the Kingdom of God.”