Friday, July 3, 2015

THE  CHURCH: 
THE ONE  AND THE MANY


INTRODUCTION

The title of my homily for this feast of St. Thomas, the Apostle, is, “The Church: The One and The Many.”

When I read today’s first reading from Ephesians, I began thinking how we are all connected - like different bricks - that make up the wall of a building - or a sidewalk.  I’ve been to various churches where they have a wall or a walk with people’s names in it - for a fund raiser. All those bricks and stones. They are connected - hopefully like a church - like a home.

When I read today’s gospel from John 20:24-29,  I thought about how each of us has our own unique personality - especially in contrast to all those around us.

Put together we are both: the one and the many.

That’s life - the me - the individual called, “me” - or “I” and I have a name. For example, “Thomas - the apostle Thomas.” Yet Thomas was not alone. He was one of the 12.

That’s life, the one and the many.

That’s life - the me and the we - I am part of a family. I can’t arrive on the planet alone. I need a mom - and a dad - a we - and we become three - with me -  then four, five, six or even more as they joked years ago - if we’re Catholic.

The call of the church is that each of us are called to be disciples, to be apostles, to be church - to be a many -  and to be the fullest me I can be.

And both the we and the me are called to be united and not divided.

SCRIPTURES

Listen to today’s first reading again:

Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God, 
built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.
Through him the whole structure is held together
and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord;
in him you also are being built together
into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

As Alfred Lord Tennyson put it in his poem, Ulysses, “I am part of all that I have met.”

I am my father and mother’s genes and DNA. My dad planted the seed. My mom knitted me together in her womb - in her sewing room.

If we look at the scriptures, the Bible, we hear all about lots of individuals - but we also hear about groups - families. There’s Adam and Eve, there’s their boys, Cain and Abel.

There’s Martha. There’s Mary. They had a brother named Lazarus.

There’s Jesus, Mary and Joseph. They have cousins and the people of the small town of Nazareth.

Sometimes those neighbors are one; sometimes they are divided.

LOOKING AT LIFE

Looking at life, it’s important that we go it together - but it’s also good to go it alone at times - like taking a walk alone around town or in a park with our dog or with ourselves. We see the morning dew and the morning light. We see the evening sunset. We see the full moon and the sliver of a quarter or half silver moon at other times.

We walk the morning beach at Ocean City by ourselves and watch the sand pipers and waves hitting the beach and the sun rise in the east. We feel a smile on our face. We are alone - but we don’t feel alone because we sense God and the other people in our lives.  We also recall and remember the evening before  when we walked that beach with our beloved - or maybe with a grand kid - or if a spouse died a while back -  we are still walking with them holding a memory or walking hand in hand with them on this same beach quite a few months or years ago.

We might be the first footsteps on the beach that morning or one of ten thousand footsteps on the beach that evening.

The one and the many.

THE ONE

I am a one - with my personality - with my story - my history - my successes and my failures - my stars and my scars.

Who knows my story?

I should know it for starters. It’s good to write one’s memoirs. It’s good to tell our stories - what it was like.

It’s good to bring to prayer - our joyful, sorrowful, glorious and light bearing mysteries.

It’s good to say the rosary with our own mysteries in mind: annunciations, visitations, births, presentations, findings, crosses, assumptions, deaths, weddings, the whole mix.

I am a story. I am an autobiography. I am a library.

I need to read me.

Who else reads me?

I love the saying,  “When an old person dies, it’s like a library burnt down.”

Tell your story to someone - soon. 

Listen to each other’s stories - soon.

Who am I?

Does anyone know?

I like the stories of the apostles: Peter the one who could put his foot in his mouth and also in Jesus’ footsteps.

Andrew the one who brings food and people to Jesus.

James and John - young men filled with passion, fire and fury - but John could also be a poet.  

Thomas: the one with his dogmatic doubts - who had the courage to voice them and forever give us an example of someone who has them.

Don’t we all?

That’s me - but what about the so many on the planet who haven’t told us their gospel yet.

In the gospels we’re told to love one another.  A great way to do that is to listen to one another - and give back another’s chapter and verse.

THE MANY

And the planet is filled with many different and distinct others - like bricks that make up a wall or a house - and we don’t know them.

Check out the persons who are your neighbor or next to you on a plane.

I once was on a plane and I was on the 2 seater side. A blond was sitting next to me - but we didn’t talk to each other till the announcement came on - “Please fasten your seat belt! We are about to begin our descent.”  For some reason in that short last 15 minutes, I got to know this lady - not big time - about a book she was reading and a book she was writing. 

I ended up giving her some comments about getting published. We exchanged e-mails and I got to know someone I never knew before. She doesn’t live in Maryland, but I recently went up to see her in Johns Hopkins Hospital when she was getting an operation two months ago.

How many people in your life have you met in that way?

Just one of the many….

CONCLUSION

The title of my homily is “The Church: the One and the Many.”

The call of Jesus is to get to know his “I” - Jesus who told Thomas, “I am the way the truth and the life.” Jesus is the one who Thomas discovered is, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus is the one to have a one to one relationship.

The call of Jesus is also that we enter into the Many - to be in Community with each other - communion with each other - holy communion with each other - here and hereafter. Amen.




Painting on top: Doubting Thomas by Caravaggio
July 3, 2015

MARRIAGE - 
25 YEARS LATER

She married him to remold him
into her own image and likeness.

He married her because she
seemed like the one who
would take care of all those
things he didn’t like to do -
those things his mommy always
did for him - before she died.

So …. What happened?


© Andy Costello, Reflections 2015

On top a painting by Edvard Munch
1899, Aase and Harald Norregaard,
in Nasjonalmuseet for Kunst, 
Arkitektur og Design  (Norway - Oslo).
The painting has nothing to do with 
my reflection. I just liked the painting.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

July 2, 2015

DO’S AND DON’TS

Pay your dues.
Pay it forward.
Do the extras.
Do your do’s.
Avoid your don’ts.
Do unto others ….
Don’t forget The Golden Rule.
If you don’t like
what someone just did
to you, then obviously
don’t do that back to them.
It just adds to the mess.
Go that extra mile.
Turn the other cheek.
Watch the difference
how these simple
do’s and don’ts
make a difference
in each other’s day -
in each other’s life.


© Andy Costello, Reflections 2015
July 1, 2015

WAKE UP CALLS

Scraping sounds - a branch rubbing
against my back window in the night,
dark night in my soul, interrupted by
these sounds from my outsides - into
my insides. Are you trying to wake me
up, O God? Are you trying to wake me up?


© Andy Costello, Reflections 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

DON’T  LOOK  BACK

INTRODUCTION

The title of my homily for this 13th Tuesday in Ordinary Time is, “Don’t Look Back.” 

LOT’S WIFE

This morning’s first reading from Genesis 19: 15-29 - gives us a lesson from a legend - about Lot’s wife - that by looking backwards she turned into a pillar of salt.

In the book of Genesis   - as well as many other parts of the Bible - angels are God’s messengers. In today’s reading, they tell Lot and his wife  and family - to get out of town - otherwise you’ll be destroyed - along with everyone in Sodom.

Lot hesitated - so the messengers drag Lot and his wife and two daughters out of town and towards safety. They tell Lot and his entourage to head for the hills at once, or you will be swept away. And don’t look back anywhere on the Plain.

Well, as the story goes, Lot’s wife looks back. She turns into a pillar of salt.

Commentators commenting on this text like to say, “In that part of the Arabian peninsula there are various natural salt columns that are shaped and sculpted from the wind and time into what looks like people. We’ve all had the experience of walking in semi-darkness and we see something looks like a person or an animal.

And in time legends develop.

Is the message that Lot’s wife gets stuck in the past - that she gets stuck in having to leave - that she gets stuck in what she left behind?

I like to reflect that the message is that some of us can get stuck in the past - in what happened - and we miss the upcoming because we are looking in the rear view mirror.

A PERSONAL EXAMPLE

I once went to a Redemptorist preaching conference. I’m  sitting right behind one of our famous old time missionaries.

The main speaker - a young guy named Charlie - says, “The parish missions are dead.”

At that the old guy right in front of me straightens up, sits up, stiffens up. His neck gets red. He’s tight. He won’t relax his shoulders. And he stays that way.

The talk  ends 15 minutes later and the young guy says, “Any questions?”

Immediately, first question, the old guy says, “You said, ‘Parish Missions are dead.’”

I heard about 7 talks that week and I didn’t  remember any talk or any point.

But all I remember after 35 years were those words and that guy stiffening for 15 minutes ago till he could vent his question. Did he stop listening at that point and miss everything after that.

All I learned from that conference is that people can get stuck in a comment  from 15 minutes  or 55 years ago - and miss everything in between. I also can say now, looking back, was, “That message was good enough for me.”

SOLUTIONS; HOW TO GET UNGLUED - UNSTUCK

Write down your memories where you got stuck from something someone said way back. Jot it down. Give it a title. For example, “The Day I Hit the Principal’s Car.”

Look at it. Look at it as if it was a painting.  For example, there are paintings by famous artists on Lot’s wife becoming a pillar of salt.

Look at. Study the memory when you turned into a stiff - like you’d study a painting of Lot’s wife.

Turn the picture of you being stuck into a movie - moving forward - and move onwards.

Forgive yourself. Laugh at yourself - and move on.

CONCLUSION: SOME CLICHES

As I thought about lessons or messages or learnings from a moment we got stuck - when we were like Lot’s wife - I came up with several clich├ęs.

·       Forgiveness is better than regrets.
·       Scars are better than ongoing picking the skin off a cut.
·       The front windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror.
·       We only have so much energy, so why spend all kinds of energy on the past, or on what might been
·       Too much salt raises our blood pressure.




June 30, 2015

IN BETWEEN

I’m in between your thoughts and my wonderings
that slip into the spaces between your words
when we’re talking. You’re right  when you say
in between my breaths and pauses, “Listen!
Please listen to what I’m trying to say to you.”
You’re right, I slip between the cracks - because
I’ve assume, I presume, I know what you’re
trying to say. I’ve heard your words before,
so I slip into earlier questions and comments
from you or others. No wonder someone slipped
in between the marriage vows, “for better, for
worse, for richer, for poorer….” Between us, will I
ever be content - or will I always be in between?


© Andrew Costello, Reflections, 2015
Painting: Christina's World, 1948

Monday, June 29, 2015

June 29, 2015



AT LAST

I came in last,
but at least
I came in.

Then I said
to myself,
"But I didn't win."


Then I added,
“Well, at least,
I congratulated the winner." 


© Andy Costello, Reflections, 2015


Sunday, June 28, 2015


CONTEXT

INTRODUCTION

The title of my homily for this 13th Sunday in  Ordinary  Time is, “Context.”

When dealing with the Bible - reading it in a rocking chair on a back porch or in a quiet place - or hearing it read at Mass - sometimes we say to ourselves, “Wait a minute? What’s this all about? I don’t get this.”

Without using the word, “context”, sometimes that’s what we’re asking about.

“Con” means “with”.  “Text” means the text itself.  We want to know something more about the text - the background, the reason this text is here or what have you.

IMPORTANT LIFE ISSUE

As I began reflecting upon this issue of context I realize - obviously - it’s important for everything. 

How many times have we said, "Wait a minute, you have to know the whole story!" or "the rest of the story."? 

How many times have we sat on the sidelines listening to someone spouting off and we've said inwardly, "If you only knew"?

How many times have we heard the saying, "A text out of context is a pretext"?

Context is central to all our conversations - all our actions - all our communications with each other.

We jump to conclusions without knowing why so and so did so and so - or said so and so -  and too often we don’t listen to each other - and get the background and back story of why we do and say what we do and say.

THE CONTEXT OF A HOMILY

In this homily I’m mainly going to get into preaching because that’s what hit me as I was preparing this homily.  Maybe my description of some of my context will get your connecting to your context.

While sitting in church during a sermon or a homily,  don't be scared to say to yourself, "Why is he off on this today?" "Where is he coming from?"

And if I pull this sermon off, maybe you'll be thinking during homilies and everyday conversations, "What's this all about? Where is this person coming from? Where is this going?"

Actually, we're all doing this already....

AN  EXAMPLE  OF A COUPLE

Somewhere in some conversation, I heard someone say that every weekend in their parish church they had this visiting priest who taught scripture at Catholic University.  The husband said, “I love his sermons because he always tells us stuff about the background of the text.” The wife said, “It sounds too much like a classroom. I want to hear something practical - something that will help me in my everyday life during the week." Her husband said, “We disagree!”

A SHORT FILM

In a preaching workshop I attended,  the presenters showed us a short film of people being interviewed outside of a church on a Sunday morning. Same gospel, same readings, same priest, same sermon, but the responses were all very different. The last person interviewed - was the priest himself. When told about all the different responses, the priest said, with a smile on his face, “Were all these people at the same Mass I was at?”

THE PREACHER

As preacher I often wonder what people are thinking and feeling and wondering about during Mass. I do notice folks looking at their watches during the homily - or looking at the bulletin. That sends me a message. Sometimes that speeds me up as well.

However, I really don’t know the context of any person in church.

I don’t even know where I am at that moment at times. Sometimes I figure out the why of a sermon or a homily or a conversation - a week later.

I always liked the quote, "Don't write in your diary what happened that day, because you really won't know till a month later."

When I'm preparing a homily, I like to sit somewhere and read the 3 readings a few times till a homily idea hits me. 

When stuck I pray.

All kinds of comments and conversations and thoughts hit me while sitting there at my computer or I take a few books down from the bookshelf in my mind and jot down various ideas triggered by the readings.  

For example, last week was Father’s Day. I’ve heard from teachers of preachers: "Don’t miss the obvious. If it’s Mothers’ Day, you gotta say something about Mothers. Otherwise you're chopped liver." So too on Father’s day.  Other preachers say, “I never do that. I try to preach on the Bible readings for the day.  Others say, “Mention Fathers in the prayer of the faithful and not in the sermon.”

I preached on Father’s last Sunday. I wrote a story about a father - who had a storm in his life. The gospel story was about Jesus crossing the lake and a storm hit.

I wrote a story about a father of 5 kids - and his wife. It was one of their 5 kids birthday.  His wife bought a 7 layer chocolate cake that morning. After supper - with the father and their 5 kids still at the dinner table, his wife went into the kitchen to get the cake. When she opened up a kitchen drawer to get birthday candles - there were no candles. She looked at the clock - put her winter coat on - yelled into the dining room to her husband and kids - “Gotta get something quickly down at the dollar store. Will be back in 10 minutes for cake. Talk to each other. Mary and Timmy clear the table.”  

She gets into the car. She skids on the ice  getting out onto the street - and is hit by a dump truck. She was killed.

I had tied together Fathers’ Day and the storms of life that just hit that Father and his family.

I headed back to the chair after the story homily. It felt like a long, long walk. It was a loud moment of silence.

Then came the Creed.

It hit me, during the creed, “Dumb move. That’s was a dumb move for a Father’s Day homily. Tough stuff. You should have been more joyful.”

Some let me know that after mass. 

Some said, “Have a good week.”

I was thinking during the creed - saying the words - with my mind somewhere else. I asked myself, “What was that all about? Where did that story I had made up, come from?"

By the time the Creed was over I said to myself, “What you were doing there Andrew was trying to put into the minds of folks the storm on the lake story in the gospels. You were doing that so that when storms hit folks, they will have that gospel story and the story of father of 5 kids who lost their wife and mom. Hopefully, that will help them deal with the storms of life."

Then I went on with the Mass.

Two people said to me afterwards, “That was tough what happened to your mom. I hope you’re okay.”

At first I said to myself, “I wasn’t talking about my mom. That was a story about a Father that I made up totally. My father died long before my mom. My mother was killed in a hit and run - while walking to Mass.

Further thinking about all this, I began wondering about a personal issue: I never cried when my mother was killed.  I cried at all the other family deaths. During the telling of that story last week, I cried a few times in pulpit - not breaking down - but I was moved while telling this imaginary story.  So maybe I mentioned my mom’s death in a sermon years ago and these 2 people made the connection.

I don’t know. 

I do know the comment, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” I'd assume it's the same with a homily. 

I also know that  when I started to work on a homily for last Sunday's Father’s Day, I was going to tell a personal story about my dad. It was a Father’s day story from 1970. I had bought a present, a Numbers Painting - over 50 numbers - for my dad. He loved to paint the window frames and tiny sections of woodwork - when doing house painting. So I got him this numbers' painting. He had emphysema and couldn’t move too much - so I thought this was a good present. He never got to do it - dying a week later on June 26th.  So I felt obligated or what have you - to finish that painting in his memory. Now that was a struggle - not liking numbers paintings. I did numbers 1, 2, 3 - and then put it aside. Then further numbers till I finished it in memory of him.

Thinking further, I didn’t use that story about my dad, so I made up this other story, because I had mentioned my mom and dad in my homily the week before for my 50th anniversary. 

Why did I do that. Context: I remember hearing someone complaining about their parish priest - “Stories, stories, stories. All he talks about is his own family.”

I was also taught the preacher has to do three things: tell their story, tell the gospel story, tell the people in church their story.

CONTEXT

So that's the seesaw in the brain that goes on for this speaker or preacher.

The title of my homily is, “Context.”

I just gave an elaborate example of “Context.”

Now where are you this morning?

What I’m saying in this homily is that everyone of you in this church this morning is sitting in the middle of their context.

Some of you are in the middle of something you're going to do this afternoon. Some of you are sitting here in church wanting a homily on the deaths in Charleston. I was aware of that also, but I stuck it in my final blessing. I noticed this week it's going to be mentioned in the Prayer of the Faithful.

Last Monday, The New York Times,  mentioned that very few priests in the Catholic Church talked about the encyclical on the ecology and environment by Pope Francis, “Laudato si.”

I had thought about that, but (a) I hadn't read it yet and (b) it was Father's Day, and (c) it would be tricky to tie that into the readings.

This Sunday how many preachers will address the Supreme Court decisions about the health care and same sex marriages decisions.

Context: preachers make decisions about topics and themes - hot button issues - or what have you. We have our background and folks in the church benches have their views and their context as well.

If a preacher goes into any issue, some folks will say, “About time” or “Oh no”.

To answer some of this you’d have to know the mind set or the context of the speaker. That awareness is the context of my homily today.

At my 50th Anniversary June 14th there were family and friends at the Mass. One was a same sex married couple and there was a transgender daughter of a family friend. I'm sure there were lots of folks who were helped by the Affordable Care Act and some were inwardly screaming about costs. 

Pastors get phone calls and e-mails about comments from the pulpit.

Context....

CONCLUSION

The title and theme of my homily was “Context”.

Hopefully, you heard this preacher talking about some of the background that goes on in putting a sermon together.

In the meanwhile, is there anyone sitting here saying, "Wait a minute, I have questions from today's three readings that I would like to have heard something about. I would like to know the context of today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom, which begins, “God did not make death.”  Or the sentence, “and there is not a destructive drug among them….”

And what about today's second reading and today's gospel about this 12 year old girl Jesus healed - and this woman who had blood problems for 12 years that Jesus also healed?

Is there any significance to the number 12 - or what about etc. etc. etc. and on and on and on. Amen, Amen, Amen.



June 28, 2015

ENVY

Is envy simply a comparison
that can crush or eat us up?

Does the hippo wading in the mud
ever envy the speed of the gazelle?

How about a mouse watching
an eagle - soaring in the sky?

How about the barbed wire
compared to the clothes line?

How about the parrot listening to
a tenor practicing for an audition?

How about the tiger watching a
monkey swinging through the trees?

How about a crawling caterpillar 
watching a soaring butterfly?


© Andy Costello, Reflections 2015