29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

At that he said to them,
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.”

Whose image is this?

I think this statement begs the question, “What doesn’t belong to God?” I think I’ve often missed this irony on Jesus’ part.

After all, Jesus certainly wasn’t preaching that we should compartmentalize our lives: every part of our lives belongs to God, and we owe it all back to Him. Every moment of our time, every earthly treasure we may own, all of our talents and gifts, our health and well-being, our very breath … all of this belongs to God. And all of it has been given to us as a great trust.

We are stewards of all that we are and all that we have. We need to get it right, and to live every moment as though we were borrowing these great treasures from our generous and giving God.

The thought occurs to me that these words may seem empty to those who have comparatively little. Those who don’t have great health, or great wealth. The unemployed and those with financial troubles. The aged and lonely. So many have what seems to be great poverty. Yet many of those who might be considered very poor can teach the rest of us how to get it right. So many who have comparatively little give what little they have, knowing it belongs to God.

Because with God it doesn’t matter whether we’re wealthy or not, healthy or sick: what matters is that we use what we have for God’s purposes and that we sing with the Psalmist:

Give to the LORD, you families of nations,
give to the LORD glory and praise;
give to the LORD the glory due his name!

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Wedding Garment

“But when the king came in to meet the guests,
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’”

Deacon Bob at my home parish today spoke of this parable as a case of someone wanting the Kingdom of heaven, but on his own terms. That really struck a chord with me. I had been thinking about the whole idea of the wedding garment as I lived with this Scripture this week. It’s a colorful detail that’s really hard to overlook in this parable, and I think it has to be explained homiletically.

It probably stands out because it can be seen as an example of Jesus being unfair. If the man was poor, as we can perhaps surmise from the fact that he was brought in off the street, how could Jesus have expected him to be in a proper garment? But we’re told by scholars that at the time, when someone threw a wedding feast, they provided the regal garments for their guests to wear. So Jesus wasn’t expecting the man to do anything difficult: he was invited, he presumably knew the custom, he was provided with a proper and beautiful garment, but he refused to put it on. He wanted to be at the feast, but on his terms, not those of the host.

The feast foreshadows the great wedding feast in the Kingdom of heaven to which we are all invited. Jesus goes so far as to have his servants call people in off the streets, from the highways and biways; he has his servants bring people in from wherever they are. And that’s the wonderful thing about the heavenly banquet: all are welcome, indeed, all are brought in, no matter what kind of garment they are currently wearing, because our God longs to meet us where we are.

And we are provided with a beautiful garment: in baptism we can clothe our souls in a garment that is regal and perfect. Our task is to put on that garment, to preserve the beauty of that garment and bring it unstained to the heavenly banquet. That’s the part that calls for our response: we have to accept the invitation, put on the garment, and preserve its beauty until the day that we are called to the banquet.

But there are so many problems that enter in. We are tempted in so many ways to accept ways of life that stain that garment, or even cause us to take it off completely. We may think we’ll have time to put it on and clean it up later, whenever later may be. We still want to be at the banquet, but we want to get there on our own terms. And it doesn’t work that way.

God forbid that we would arrive without the proper garment. God forbid that we would arrive with that garment in horrible condition. We have been given so much: the free invitation, the free garment, and all it takes is our own response. We have to accept it all on God’s terms, whose ways are not our ways, and whose thoughts are not our thoughts. So may we all accept the Kingdom on God’s terms that we might exclaim with the Psalmist:

You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.

Guardian Angels, Watch Over Us

Guardian AngelsIf this hadn’t been Sunday (not that Sunday is bad mind you … the Resurrection is the summit of all our feasts), this would have been the feast of the Guardian Angels. I remember being very young (four or five, maybe) and mom teaching me the prayer:

Dear angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love commits me here,
ever this day be at my side,
to watch and guard,
to rule and guide.

This prayer got me through things even in my adult life when I didn’t know what else to pray. I remember being not so young (thirty maybe) and getting ready to have my tonsils removed, of all things. That prayer got me through the pre-op procedures that had me just a little scared.

Who doesn’t need a guardian angel these days?

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,
if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
– Philippians 4:8-9

One of my favorite passages of Scripture today. It always makes me think twice about what I’m thinking about. A lot of the stuff we let ourselves see, well, we weren’t created to see. God wants nothing for the best for us, and He provides that. But we have to open our eyes to it and close our eyes to the false, the dishonorable, the unjust, the impure, the ugly, the ingracious, the mediocre and everything not praiseworthy. That’s a decision we have to make every day … every moment of every day. Those decisions get us a little closer to the Kingdom all the time.

Blessed are your eyes

Turning to the disciples in private he said,
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

During my CPE experience, this was a quotation of Scripture that greatly consoled many of us. We saw a lot of nasty stuff in those days, but we also saw some things that were really holy. People who died after a wonderful old life, ready to go to the kingdom; families who rallied around a sick or injured member; spiritual growth in our fellow chaplain interns. It was a blessed time, and I think we always knew that, even in the crazy times.

How true that is in everyday life. We see a lot of things that we would rather not see, but if we are looking and attentive, we see a lot of God’s grace at work as well. And blessed are we to see it.

The question for me right now — as difficult as it is to be at seminary now with the grief of our tragedies and the craziness of the Apostolic Visitation — is what is it that I am seeing that blesses my eyes; what is it that I am hearing that blesses my ears? That will be the focus of my prayer in these days.

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, pray for us.

We’re laughing with you…

Some Catholic humor:

Joke #1:

Two men considering a religious vocation were having a conversation. “What is similar about the Jesuit and Dominican Orders? ” the one asked. The second replied, “Well, they were both founded by Spaniards — St.Dominic for the Dominicans, and St. Ignatius of Loyola for the Jesuits. They were also both founded to combat heresy — the Dominicans to fight the Albigenisians, and the Jesuits to fight the Protestants. “So what is different about the Jesuit and Dominican Orders?” “Met any Albigenisians lately?”

Joke #2:

During a Eucharistic Congress, a number of priests from different orders are gathered in a church for Vespers. While they are praying, a fuse blows and all the lights go out. The Benedictines continue praying from memory, without missing a beat. The Jesuits begin to discuss whether the blown fuse means they are dispensed from the obligation to pray Vespers. The Franciscans compose a song of praise for God’s gift of darkness. The Dominicans revisit their ongoing debate on light as a signification of the transmission of divine knowledge. The Carmelites fall into silence and slow, steady breathing. The parish priest, who is hosting the others, goes to the basement and replaces the fuse.

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people:

It’s easy, I think, to distance ourselves from the point of the Gospel. We often think, well, I’m not one of the chief priests and elders, I’m a Christian, so I’m saved and I’m above reproach. But to do that does violence to the Gospel itself, and ignores the call to repentance that comes with Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God.

The point is that this call to repentance is for us. We are the chief priests and elders, and it’s our turn to hear the Gospel and react to its message. The point is that in Christ, God shows us sinners the way, as the psalmist proclaims:

Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
and teaches the humble his way.

We, then, must follow the way to justice, lest we remain in our sin as the chief priests and elders:

When John came to you in the way of righteousness,
you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Yet even when you saw that,
you did not later change your minds and believe him.

So may we too change our minds and believe, and follow in his way, that we may sing with the Apostle:

Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father!

Say More About That

The paradox of transformation is the paradox of death/resurrection, a time of dying to what was, as we move into what will be. It's a strange mix of color and darkness, of both knowing and not knowing. This somewhat abstract image reflects on the leap we take into the mystery of our own tansformative journeys. Here we face the changes and sometimes the death of our hopes, our dreams, our bodies and our relationships. As we stand in these times of change, we simply ask to be faithful and to trust in a loving God who can truly make all things new.   Painting by Doris Klein, CSA.
In CPE, we had a little “inside joke,” if you will, about the statement, “say more about that.” That’s one of those phrases often used in counselling, spiritual direction, and CPE. It’s a good, open-ended question, better than something that would call for a “yes” or “no” answer. But it gets thrown around so much, that our group laughed about it a lot, unless we really meant to use it.

I know if my group were with me right now, they’d be asking me to say more about how things felt with all of the tragedy that’s happened on our campus these last days. And there has been a lot. The two deaths alone would have been enough (kind of a reverse “dayenu” prayer), but another one of our brothers contracted West Nile Virus and is not well, and the mother of one of our professors died in Georgia. So we’ve had enough, and then some.

So how does that make me feel? Well, I guess I’ll say more about that…

First of all, it pisses me off that the availabilty of counseling has not been trumpeted from the rooftops. If this had been a public elementary school, counselors would have been available the next day. Despite news reports to the contrary, that has not yet happened here. Sure, there are spiritual directors and faculty to talk to, but nothing organized, nothing systematic to make sure nobody slips through the cracks. I know that people are slipping through the cracks and will continue to do so, and we should know better than that.

So I guess I’m in the anger stage of my grief right now. That feels pretty lousy, but I know I have to go through it. I do intend to find someone to talk to about it. Friends have been good, but it’s time for an objective point of view, I think.

Cardinal George was on campus the other night to talk to us about the tragedy. I know that what he said was true: we have to learn from this event, use it in our formation; we have to care for one another; we have to model our lives on the saints as we embrace the grief and pain and move through it. But he said nothing about how to take care of ourselves. Nobody has. And that’s what pisses me off most. It’s easy enough to say “you’re here to become priests, so buck up and stay the course.” But it’s quite another thing to have to do that, and quite frankly His Eminence’s words, while well-intentioned and probably the best he could do when it comes to pastoral care, just ring hollow.

So I still miss Matty and Jared. Matty especially, since I knew him best of the two. I miss his music, his laughter, his outreaching friendship for everybody. Grief just stinks.

From the holy card from Matty’s funeral, the Memorare:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection,
implored your help or sought your intercession was left unaided.

Inspired with with confidence,
I fly to you, O virgin of virgins, my Mother.
To you I come,
before you I stand,
sinful and sorrowful.

O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in your mercy, hear and answer me.
Amen.

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’”

Often when I’m reading a familiar passage of scripture, some part of it will jump out at me which has never really struck me before. This week, the part shown above of the parable of the workers in the vineyard really got me. It got me because I think it’s perhaps the saddest part of the parable.

These who have been standing around idle all day may well be those who even at the eleventh hour have not yet had the Gospel preached to them. The parable tells us that our Lord pursues his children up until the very last minute, because He wills that all should be saved, and that all should be gathered in to the kingdom of heaven.

Indeed that kingdom of heaven is symbolized in this parable by the persistent landowner, who returns to find laborers at every moment of the day, who gives generously to all, and brings all to the same reward. We can take heart as the psalmist tells us, because that’s just how our God is:

Great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.

The days just keep on getting sadder…

Jared, Fr. Dan, and Matty
I grieve for Matty and Jared, both way too young to die. I knew Matty pretty well, and worked directing the contemporary choir with him last spring. He was talented, energetic and bright, and will be a loss to his archdiocese.

I also grieve for Rob and Mark, who have minor physical wounds but other wounds which will take longer to heal. And I also grieve for our community, which has lost four outstanding presbyteral candidates, and four beloved brothers.

The picture at right shows Jared, Fr. Dan and Matty during some fellowship time.

This picture is from Matty’s website.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.