Sunday, July 29, 2007

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gn 18:20-32
Col 2:12-14
Lk 11:1-13

Prayer; as much as I hate to admit it, I do not spend enough time at it. Oh sure, as a member of the ordained clergy I say the required prayers, but beyond that, I don’t spend nearly enough time praying. Like most people these days, I don’t have a lot of time, but that’s not the main reason I don’t seem to pray enough. For me, and I think for many of us, so often when I pray, nothing happens. I want to feel all of these wonderful things, I want to have a great emotional experience, but I don’t. I want the things I’m praying for to happen NOW, but they don’t. So discouraged, disheartened, and maybe even a little disillusioned, I don’t pray. Even though I know better, I don’t pray. If anyone came to me saying these very things, I would encourage them to keep praying, to be persistent, to never stop. So why can’t I take my own advice? Because it’s easier to stop than to struggle through, persistence is hard, it takes effort, sometimes more effort than we are willing to expend. Yet today’s readings speak to us of prayer, and of the importance of being persistent. God speaks to Abraham, telling him that he is going to check out all the stories about Sodom and Gomorrah, and if they are true, well, let’s hope they aren’t, because you don’t want to be there if they are. Abraham then dares to approach God asking if God will sweep away the innocent with the guilty. Would God spare the city if there were fifty innocent people there? God acquiesces to Abraham’s request, but Abraham does not stop, continuing to ask God to spare the Sodom and Gomorrah until God agrees to spare Sodom and Gomorrah even for the sake of ten innocent people. In the Gospel a man has visitors show up late at night, and he has nothing to feed them. He goes to his neighbor seeking to borrow three loaves of bread, and is rebuffed. Go away, I’m in bed, I’ve already locked the door, but our man is persistent. He doesn’t go away, he continues asking until his neighbor relents and gives him what he needs. In each of these cases it would have been easy for either Abraham or the man with the late arriving guests to walk away. Abraham, after all, got essentially what he wanted on his first attempt. Our breadless friend could simply have said, sorry, I won’t bother you anymore, and sought another way to care for his guests. Persistence helped them get the things they needed. The hard work of persistence helped them get what they needed, and maybe to appreciate it. We want everything, and we want it yesterday. (That, however, is another homily.) Jesus tells us, “Seek and you will find, ask and you will receive.” Our breadless friend got what he needed by asking. Abraham got what he wanted by asking.
“What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” What we need is there for us, God wants us to have it, all we have to do is ask. As difficult as it may seem at times, as much as we may not want to, even though it may at times seem pointless to us, what we have to do, what we need to do, is pray.

Deacon John
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 29, 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

Continuing Education for Deacons

I have just returned from this year's session of N.D.I.C.E., The National Diaconate Institute for Continuing Education. A link to the N.D.I.C.E. webpage is provided on the side of this page. I would urge all of my deacon brothers and their wives to attend this conference if possible. I would especially like to ask those deacons west of the Mississippi River to consider attending. We need more diversity geographically and racially. The sessions from this year's conference are available as podcasts on the N.D.I.C.E. webpage. Though the sessions are geared toward deacons, the talks can be valuable to anyone. I especially reccomend the talk given by Sister Anne Bryan Smollin, CSJ. A true New Yorker, she spoke so fast the I think she gave a four hour talk in one hour! The sessions are good and informative, but the opportunity to meet with other deacons from around the country is the best part of the conference. Thanks to N.D.I.C.E. I have friends from many dioceses, and I look forward to seeing them each year. The conference is held at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, an easy place to reach either by car or by air. I urge my brother deacons and their wives to join us next year in Cincinnati. The conference dates are July 20, 21, 22, and 23. I look forward to meeting you there.
Deacon John

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gn 18:1-10a
Col 1:24-28
Lk 10:38-42

The three most horrific words in the English language, at least for me, are … “Some Assembly Required”. All of you parents out there know exactly what I mean. I hate it when I buy something, bring it home, and then have to put it together. It never goes the way it is supposed to. If my wife and I ever get divorced, it will be over some item labeled some assembly required. The last thing we put together was a grill. As we began my wife looked at me and said you’re angry already, and we haven’t even started. I replied that I knew I would be angry at some point, so why waste time? Cut to the chase and get angry now. Of course it would help if I would listen to the directions instead of just bulling ahead, thinking I can do this, who needs directions? In the gospel today Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary. Martha is running around, taking care of all the things that she thinks are necessary to properly care for the guests she and her sister are entertaining. Mary, on the other hand, sits at the feet of Jesus, soaking in what the Lord has to say. In exasperation Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to get up and help with the work. Jesus tells Martha to stop worrying, Mary has chosen the better part. Many people have interpreted this to mean that contemplation, sitting quietly, is superior to working, to acting, to doing things. However, like many things in our faith this is not an either or situation, it is rather a case of both/and. Martha was running around doing things, important things, acting much the way we do, jumping in, trying to fix things, running from this thing to that, and unfortunately often accomplishing little. Mary was doing the thing we all need to do first, she was taking the time to get the directions. We need the directions to know what to do, to know how to act. It isn’t that one way of being isn’t better than the other. We need both. We need to act, but we need direction, and that direction can only come from taking the time to sit at the Lord’s feet and listen. We need to read, to study, and most of all to pray. Life comes in a box labeled “some assembly required”. We can struggle, trying to put it together, growing angry and frustrated, or we can read the directions. It may not always go smoothly, but at least with the directions we have an idea of where to go.

Deacon John
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 22, 2007

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dt 30:10-14
Col 1:15-20
Lk 10:25-37

A man was traveling from one town to another. Along the way he falls prey to robbers, who take his possessions, beat him, and leave him for dead along the side of the road. The one person who stops to help him, the one person who shows mercy, the one person who acts with love, is surely the last person our crime victim would have expected. A Samaritan, undoubtedly this man’s sworn enemy, is the only one to show love to the man who was beaten. These people lived in a very polarized world. Either you were good, or you were evil. Either you are with us, or you are against us. There was little room for a middle ground. Yet from this highly polarized world, emerges one who transcends that polarization, who rises above ethnic, religious, racial differences, to care for someone who probably could not stand him. If the tables were turned, it is doubtful our victim would come to the aid of his savior. When Jesus used this example it must have shocked his listeners. How could a Samaritan be capable of such an act? Either you are with us, or you are against us, they lived in a very polarized world.
The world we live in today is just as polarized. We are, after all, a people at war. Other people are either good or they are evil. Either they are with us or they are against us. War pushes us to place someone in the role of the other, someone so evil that there can be no redeeming quality to them. Yet that enemy is a human being, a person just like us, a child of God, just like us. War pushes us to deny the enemy’s humanity. After all they hate us, they want to kill us, indeed they have already tried, all too successfully. The human response is to hate back, right? The human response is to return hate for hate, right? The Samaritan undoubtedly realized that the man he was helping quite likely despised him. He could have just as easily passed him by. Yet the Samaritan chose to act in the truly human way, by rising above prejudice, by rising above religious and ethnic differences, and returning love for hate. Yes, there are those who hate us. Yes, there are those who may indeed wish us dead. They have pushed us into war. War makes us forget. It makes us forget who we are, it makes us forget what we believe, it makes us forget who are neighbor is. Our world is polarized. Either you are with us, or you are against us. Lord, what must I do to attain eternal life? Love God with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. And who is my neighbor? That man over there with the bomb, he is my neighbor.

Deacon John
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 15, 2007

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Gn 32:23-33
Mt 9:32-38

Two men meet on the road and begin to...wrestle? Why, in a land where hospitality is so valued, would two complete strangers meet on the road and begin to wrestle? Exactly who was Jacob wrestling with? Was it an angel, or perhaps even God? If Jacob was wrestling with God or even an angel, how is it that this stranger was forced to intentionally injure Jacob by wrenching his hip, in order to avoid losing? How did Jacob wrestle with God and not lose? If we see this as an actual physical wrestling match, God should win with no difficulty. But Jacob held his own, more than held his own, and would have won had his hip not been injured. If, however, we look at this differently, not as an actual, physical, wrestling match, we can see Jacob winning. If Jacob were wrestling with God in his heart, in his soul, in his mind, Jacob could win easily. After all, we do it all of the time. I don't believe that any of us does something that we see as evil. Whatever we want to do, even those things that can be called evil, we do, after we find a way to justify it in our minds. We turn that evil act into a good so that we can do it. That is when we win the wrestling match with God. Occasionally, in this epic struggle, God may give us a shot to the hip, not to hurt us, but to get our attention, to remind us of what we already know. Indeed, God does not want to hurt us, rather God wants to keep us from hurting ourselves. When we choose to ignore God, when we choose to do that which we know we should not do, all too often the one we hurt the most is ourselves. Perhaps we would do well to listen to God, to choose more wisely, to abstain from the wrestling match. We'd limp a lot less.

Deacon John
Tuesday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time
July 10, 2007

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 66:10-14c
Gal 6:14-18
Lk 10:1-12, 17-20

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.

Too often preachers, and others, read these words and see them as a call for “vocations”, by which they mean a call to enter religious life, either as a vowed religious, a nun or a monk, as a deacon, or especially as a priest. How can the work of God be done if there are no workers? And those workers must be priests. Now I understand the need to have more people entering these ways of following God’s call, I pray daily that more people do, especially that more will enter the priesthood. This is, however, a very narrow way to view what is meant by vocation, what is meant by being called by God. Jesus had a circle of followers, and among those he had an inner circle, those we have come to know as the Twelve Apostles. Traditionally the Twelve are seen as the first priests and bishops. So, logically, it would seem that when Jesus was sending out workers to prepare the way of his coming, he would send these proto-priests. Yet in this Gospel Jesus does not limit the persons sent to twelve. Rather he sends seventy-two. Jesus did not limit those sent to do his work to those we traditionally see as “priests”. He sent seventy-two followers. We do not know who they were. They could have been men, perhaps some were women. They may have been married or single. They may have been young or perhaps they were old, we simply do not know. What we do know is Jesus called them, and they answered the call. Our vocation is to hear that call as well. If we are young or old, man or woman, married or single, ordained clergy or not, we all have that same call. Spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ is not limited to those in Orders, or to those who have taken vows. Teaching about Jesus isn’t just the task of priests, or nuns, or monks, or even deacons. Sharing the Good News doesn’t belong just to them, it is God’s gift to all of us who believe, and it is God’s gift that all of us are called on to share. Taking Jesus to the world isn’t just their responsibility, it is our responsibility. The laborers are few because too few of us understand that we are the laborers. The vocation of sharing the Gospel is shared by all of us, all of us baptized into the Body of Christ. The harvest is abundant, and it is time to reap. Come, we have much work to do.

Deacon John
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 8, 2007

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle

Eph 2:19-22
Jn 20:24-29

There’s an old cliché, I haven’t heard it much lately, but I’m sure it is still in use. It says, “seeing is believing”. I think that does a pretty good job of summing up who we are as a society. We are more heavily influenced by scientific method and the need for empirical evidence that we realize. We want to see, we want evidence, otherwise we remain skeptical. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it isn’t always a good thing either. So why give Thomas such a hard time? He hears a fantastic story, a story that all evidence tells him cannot possibly be true, and so he refuses to believe without empirical evidence. He wants to see, he wants to touch, he wants to know. When Jesus appears again, he invites Thomas, now present, to place his fingers in the nail marks, to place his hand in the wound on Jesus side, to do all he said he wanted to do in order to believe. Thomas, on just seeing, says “my Lord and my God”. Thomas sees and believes. He doesn’t even need to touch, seeing is enough. Jesus says “blessed are those have not seen and have believed”. We, all haughtily, puff ourselves up and say that’s me, I believe without seeing. Oh really? Too often, I fear, empirical evidence of our belief may be in short supply. We may go to Church, but do we take Church with us when we leave? Does the faith we profess, the believing without seeing we claim, inform our lives? We can claim to see without believing, but do our actions reflect that? Or does what we do make us seem as unbelieving as Thomas is accused of being? We may say that we do not see, but our actions may help others see. Others need to see Jesus in us. In our actions, in our lives, we must strive to reflect Jesus to those who otherwise may not see him. We need for others to see Jesus in us, so that we in turn may see Jesus, in them. To say that we believe without seeing is to deny the empirical evidence in front of us. We see Jesus everyday in the faces of the poor, the homeless, the refugees, our neighbor who may need our help. We, if we look, see Jesus there. When we act for them, when we help, when we pray, when we live for others, they see Jesus as well. When we live our belief they see Jesus in us. Then all of us can together turn to him and say “My Lord and My God”.

Deacon John
The Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle
July 3, 2007

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kgs 19:16b, 19-21
Gal 5:1, 13-18
Lk 9:51-62

If you saw the movie “The Graduate” you may remember a scene from the graduation party that occurs close to the beginning of the movie. A man comes up our protagonist, young Benjamin, and says “I have just one word for you, plastics.” I suppose it was an admonition to Benjamin to go into the manufacture or sale, or something, of plastics. Well today I have just one word for you, priorities. Priorities are what the Gospel today is all about. Jesus actually sounds harsh, almost uncaring, when he tells one man who wishes to defer following Jesus in order to bury his father to “let the dead bury the dead”. Another wishes to first go and say goodbye to his family. Jesus tells him that he must follow now and not look back. Sounds pretty rough, doesn’t it? Jesus seems to saying, walk away from everything, abandon all and follow me. Well, in a way He is. Jesus is not, however, advocating that these people, that we, must abandon our duties to family in order to follow Him. What Jesus is asking is what are your priorities? What is important to you, how important is it? What will you allow to stand in the way of following Jesus? What Jesus wants us to see is that nothing should stand in the way of our relationship with God, nothing is so important that it should keep us from following Him. In the culture that Jesus lived in, nothing was more important than family. Duty to one’s family came before everything. Burying the dead was a sacred obligation. Even a priest who would be made ritually unclean by touching a corpse was obligated to bury a body found by the side of the road, much less a family member. As important as these things were in Jesus time, as important as they still are in our time, our relationship with God is more important still. Living the Gospel should be the center of our whole life. Following Jesus, proclaiming the Good news, should inform everything we do. Our other relationships are, in essence, dependent on this primary relationship, our relationship with God. Without that relationship, nothing else matters. So today I have just one word for you, priorities.

Deacon John
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 1, 2007