15th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

The parable of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Prodigal Son are likely the two most famous parables of all, perhaps because they best both encapsulate the mercifulness that Jesus calls us to. The story of the Good Samaritan has been told and resonated with audiences for centuries, and it is easy to see why.

A man is beaten and robbed on the road to Jericho, a dangerous one that he should have never traveled alone. A priest and a Levite see him and pass him on the other side in order to remain ritually pure as they prepare to serve at the Temple. (I remember my first mass 18 years ago back at my home parish and this was the Gospel.  I thought did we have to have the Gospel in which the priest is the bad guy?)  Finally, a Samaritan, the hated enemy of the Jews, treats the victim with tremendous generosity.  He cleans and binds his wounds, puts him on his own animal and takes him to an inn where gives the innkeeper an exorbitant amount of money to care for him with the promise of more if it is needed. Even the self-justifying scribe who asked, “Who is my neighbor?” must admit it is the one who treated a stranger like a brother.

It is a powerful story. It is kind of a perfect story with twists and a strong moral message.  But in a week like this, I wonder if it has lost its meaning.  Does it seem quaint and antiquated?   Is it responsive at all to our era?  This was my forlorn thought as I prayed over the parable in the midst of two more young African-Americans killed tragically.  When I heard of the horror in Dallas where the five officers were murdered, I went out to my porch to pray and immediately I saw a man leaning his entire upper body out of the car to yell at the driver in front of him.  There is so much anger and what people consider a right to be angry for their own reason, by their own lights, uninterrupted by civility or even the rule of law.  It is reflected in our political discourse (and trust me I do not single out any person or party) where the rhetoric grows sharper and more divisive.  The word neighbor is not becoming more inclusive, but is narrowed to the people who look like me, think like me and believe like me.  How can this old story still inspire?  Has it lost its value, its sway in our world?

But a closer look reveals that the parable of the Good Samaritan, still packs a punch, still answers our needs. For it is a story about racism.   How did the Samaritan feel about helping someone who likely hated him; more importantly, how did the Jew feel about a Samaritan saving him?  And it is about authority as the two religious figures pass the victim on the side of the road.  And in the embroiled cultural and governance disputes of Roman occupied first century, it is also clearly a political statement.

I was invited recently for a meeting at the Niskayuna school district about our schools. Someone said that we need to promote tolerance, but a member of the Sikh community said that tolerance is a bare minimum; what we need is love and harmony.  If we give up on the parable of the Good Samaritan, we have given up everything.  We have given up on the idea of the tremendous dignity of every person, that we are truly God’s children and Christ is truly our brother.  We would have given up on the idea that we are not to judge and continually assign blame when we are called to be a people of reconciliation.  We would have given up on the idea that we were commanded by Christ to love one another.  We would have given up on the idea that Jesus told us to do but one thing with to our enemies – to love them.  I will not give up on the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

I do not want a namby pamby political correctness where we cannot discuss our ideas and differences, where we cannot truly address what ails our country and neighborhoods. But if we are to heal our discourse and relationships it must begin with three simple words, “I love you.”  Only then can we treat each other as neighbor.  I don’t expect that at the first Presidential debate that Donald and Hillary are going to begin with “I love you.”  But treating each other with respect would be for me a sign of leadership that is desperately needed.  We too must embrace the role of Christian neighbor.  What is it like in someone else’s shoes, be it a cop or a young black male?  How can I learn to respect what I do not understand?  How can we ignore those who are hurting by blaming them?  If we don’t try to understand, we are simply passing by on the other side of the road.

Only love and harmony and understanding can heal us. Only generosity and care for the stranger can make us whole.  Reluctantly, the scribe recognized the Samaritan was neighbor to the victim.  We must follow the command that Jesus gave him.  “Go and do likewise.”

Baccalaureate Mass 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

St. Paul                 speaks about freedom in the second reading and that is a word that is I am sure on a lot of your minds for at this crossroads of life, you are about to come into more freedom.  You will have your own way space and your time to manage.  You will be free of curfews and easily enforced rules.  You are given more responsibility then you ever had before.  And even as your smile grows in excitement at the prospect, so your parents eyes grow wider in concern.

Yet, I imagine no one grows without freedom. We use that newly created space to stretch ourselves, to challenge ourselves and even to make the mistakes we all need to make.  Use this freedom to edge your mind to new horizons.   Learn from the sciences how intricately and carefully God created everything.  Be dazzled at the arts as in word and in the visual arts we dare to fly so close to the beauty of God.  Have your faith challenged – and that will only help it to grow.

You are entering a privileged time of self-discovery. Don’t waste that freedom by copying the foolish behaviors of others just because you can.  It is just another kin of slavery.  Instead, understand what Paul meant when he said, “For freedom Christ set us free.”  Only in freedom, when we can consciously reject all that would distract us, can we finally embark on the mission that was and is always before us – to become whom God made us to be.  Deep in our DNA , God planted within us something of unrepeatable beauty.  Each of us is a unique gift to the world.  No one can love, befriend and care in precisely the way that you do.  Find exactly what makes you you, the power you have within you, that original beauty that is only yours and share it.  Then you will truly be free for you will truly be as God made you to “serve one another through love.”

Use all the tools that are available to you. Pray, for God is constantly whispering a word of confidence and hope.  Go to mass, get involved in campus ministry, and, as I say each year, meet your second favorite priest of all time.  Find your vocation.  There is a difference between ambition, an internal engine that moves you forward and a vocation, the external voice of God leading to where you are needed.  Choose mission over ambition and you will not regret it.  And trust that God who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion.

You might have noticed that Jesus seemed a little cranky in the Gospel. It is because he has come to an important moment as you have.  He has “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.”  From here on in Luke’s Gospel literally every step takes him closer to his destiny.  He is ready to fulfill his mission.  In order to do so, you cannot stay where you were before.  Missions always move forward.  But you don’t leave home behind for there is too much of value.  You bring it with you.  You bring the love of your family, the support of your friends, the prayers of your faith community and a priest who has grown quite fond of you over the years.  This is how you will find beauty.  This is how you will spread the love of God.  This is how you will show the face of Christ.

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time C

There is an important theological concept that you many of you I am sure are aware of.  It is called “Already, but not yet.”  What it means is that we already have all we need to make the kingdom of God a reality.  “Already” we have been redeemed and forgiven.  We have been cherished and loved by a God who suffered and died for us.  We have known ultimate love so there is nothing that stands in the way of our capability of making the kingdom of God alive in our midst.

On the other hand, “not yet” refers to the fact that we fail to appropriate all of the love and grace that is given to us at baptism.  We make choices contrary to the Gospel and this inevitably results in our failure to live in a society governed by divine justice and love.  Our sins are the cause of our failure to build the kingdom.

St. Paul’s bold statement to the Galatians is a powerful example of the “already, but not yet.”  He claims that in Christ Jesus, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female.”  Paul takes the opposite poles of his world and dares to say that in the immense love of Christ, they are brought together.  The Jews as the chosen people defined themselves specifically as being different than the Pagan Greeks.  What larger gap in life could there be other than slave or free?  And while the difference between men and women remains formidable, its intensity is not close to ancient times when women had neither rights nor status.  Yet, Paul was convinced that the love of Christ and his death and resurrection were enough to bridge the widest of chasms.  And surely we can dare to say that because of the love of God there is no Jew or Greek or slave or free person, male and female.  Because of the love of God there is no gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor.   That in the essence of the promise of the already, that we may see everything through eyes of Jesus.

Then sometimes, like this past week in Orlando, the “not yet” hits you like a punch to the gut.  And we recognize how far we are from the kingdom of God – that our differences have not melted away in love.  Indeed, when we gather among like, whether it is gays and lesbians in a nightclub, or one year ago, African-Americans at a bible study at Mother Emmanuel in Charleston, there is danger.  Even some who are doing this very act, going to mass, risked their lives this morning in Syria, Nigeria and Pakistan.  And when an entire great religion stands accused due to the actions of their worst members, we are far from the promised land.  We are simply more vulnerable when an unholy alliance of hate, bigotry and violence threatens to terminate anything that seems different or nonconforming.  Then we are in the very throes of the darkness of the “not yet,” far from the vision St. Paul promised.

I hope no one goes home today and thinks that Fr. Bob took a strong stance against hate today. We are all against that kind of hatred.  But ee must look at ourselves.  What we can do to ensure that we do not contribute to the kind of thinking we deplore?  For if the word “them” is in our vocabulary, we are not one in Christ Jesus.  If we dismiss or dislike people for the way they dress, or their politics or for their status in life, we are denying the basic principle that every person is endowed with the overwhelming dignity of God.  We may stop far short of hate in our attitudes and judgments, but we are still resisting being one in Christ Jesus.  We must change ourselves if we are to change the world, for I will not give up on the already.

I will not give up on the already because I will not give up on Jesus Christ, the one whom they pierced as was prophesized by Isaiah.  I understand now what the apostles could not have grasped at the time, why the Messiah “must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”  For if we are all to be one in Christ, his life had to reach all of our lives. There could be no pain where his suffering could not be felt, no darkness where his light could not penetrate.  So that in the horror of a nightclub in Florida, or in the midst of a bible study erupting in gunfire or in the most broken moments of our life, the suffering face of Christ on the cross comes to us as someone who has known and shared in our tears.  Why did he suffer and die like he did?  So that no person or place would be beyond his presence. No circumstance would be beyond his love.  He still have the power to bring us together.  I still believe in power of the “already” because I believe in Christ Jesus.

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Do you think that God keeps score?  I want to get back to that question.  But first, let’s get into this Gospel which I must admit is a little uncomfortable for me.  It might be the public display of affection for Jesus or the woman’s outlandish and very physical encounter with Christ, anointing his feet and wiping his feet with her hair.  All of that seems pretty discomforting especially given that it is being done to the Lord.  Besides, if you were giving a dinner party, who would want that scene to break out?

But that is not what is disquieting to the Pharisee who has invited Jesus over for dinner.  He is disturbed that Jesus allows himself to be touched by a sinful woman.  He can only conclude that if Jesus were really a prophet he would know better; a true Rabbi would not allow himself to be in this position.  Of course, Jesus knows exactly who this woman is and how sinful she has been.  It is the reason he allows it.  He can sense her need for change, for conversion and he will not deprive her of a moment that is full of grace.

You see the encounter of the sinful woman and Jesus is the encounter between great need and greater mercy.  Her past has given her a hunger to be restored, made whole and holy.  In light of all that Jesus is and offers, she cannot contain herself like a thirsting woman coming to a fresh oasis, she needs to drink in all that she can.  This is the essence of our relationship with Christ – to allow our need to be met by his mercy.   Every encounter with Christ should be like the sinful woman’s encounter – love and gratefulness with abandon.

I asked at the beginning, does God keep score.  Perhaps God does, but not in the way we expect.  We imagine God carefully taking note of our behavior – you were bad on Tuesday, good on Thursday and a disaster on Friday.  That is not how God keep score.  Yet, Christ does contrast the over the top greeting of the sinful woman with the cold greeting of his host who neglects the social rules of the time – neglecting to offer Jesus a drink or water to wash his feet from the pounding of those hard, dusty roads.  If God is keeping track, it is only of the question of who has loved the most.

To be honest, sometimes I love God more like the Pharisee than the sinful woman.  I want the relationship on my turf and on my terms.  I carefully select what I want to share or need forgiveness for.  I ask for what I need this day, for what I expect and what I want.  That is a lot of “I” in my prayer.  St. Paul said in the second reading it.  “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.”  I must make space for God by making less allowance for me.

If we were really praying as we should, we would all pray like the forgiven woman.  Fully aware of our need, thirsting for mercy and overwhelmed by the love Christ offers us.  But my problem is I usually pray on my porch facing Union Street and I am not sure that my writhing on the ground in ecstasy is really good for the parish. It might cause accidents and I would feel badly because they have done such a great job working on the road. So I have started to do this instead.  I try toward the end of my prayer to empty my mind of my stuff –whatever I need or expect and simply ask the Lord to fill me up. Fill me with the light you want me to have for that will dispel any darkness that I face.  Fill me with the grace you want for me, for that will ensure that your will and not mine is done.  Fill me with your love, and I can bring all the people I meet that day to your beauty.  Christ fill me in such a way that those who see me really see you.  Lord Jesus, fil me.

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Elijah had fled to Zarephath of Sidon for refuge from the wrathful king of Israel and was staying at the house of a widow when her son died.  She is obviously devastated by the loss and she wonders how it could have happened under the same roof of the so called prophet of God.  Elijah himself seems shaken and blames God. “O LORD, my God, will you afflict even the widow with whom I am staying by killing her son?” He lays his body over the son’s body and prays three times until the “life breath” returns to the child’s body.

A similar tragic scene is played out in Nain.  A widow has lost her only son.  In a society where your place, your property and your rights were only linked to the male in your family, with the passing of her son, she has become a nobody.  But that does not need to be the reason for her excruciating pain.  It might just be that her beloved son has died. That is reason enough to break a heart.  Her pain and her wailing is heard in a thousand places in our lives; it is heard in the refugee camps where hope seems futile and cruel; it is heard in the violent streets of our city or the in the scourge of the heroin epidemic.  These cries have echoed through the ages in the death camp at Auschwitz and the horrors of American slavery.  And they seem to me to ask one large inescapable question: “Where is God to save us?”

But something is different in the city of Nain this day.  Jesus is there.  He has heard the commotion as the body is being led out of the city for he always hears the cry of the poor. He is moved with pity at the sight.  He needs to be there.  And I think for much of our lives we experience that moment with the widow of Nain.  We place alongside each other the absence and the presence of God.  For some the pain will be so great that they give up on God.  For others, perhaps the presence of God can take away all fear and doubt. But for most of us, the absence and the presence lay side by side.  In the midst of our darkness, we long for the dawn, at our greatest hurt, we await our healing and our greatest human devastation looks for some divine consolation.

And that is why it matters what god is present.  For when Jesus comes forward he comes not as a stranger to heartbreak – he knows the depth of suffering.  And it does matter that he knows the cross awaits him.  It must matter that he can come to this crying mother knowing the tears of his own mother.  The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus was made perfect through suffering and that, “In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death.”  As he is about to lay his hands on the coffin to restore life, it is an experienced hand calloused by loss and heartbreak.  It is the hand of one whose journey did not swerve from the face of suffering.

In a society that has little good to say about suffering, we need a Messiah who has.  We need one who has defined the absence and presence of God from the cross.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  We need the one who endured the cross and received the glory of the resurrection, the promise of eternal life.  We need the one always present to us and rejoice that “A great prophet has arisen in our midst, and God has visited his people.” We need to be saved by one who knows the stings and taste of tears.  We need the touch of the master to come to us in our hopelessness, our loss and our heartbreak, and announce his presence with power, so he may say to us as he did to young man – “Arise.”

Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus C

In this year of Mercy, let us celebrate Eucharist, the great sacrament of mercy. The mercy of the Eucharist is never exhausted in how it changes us, builds us up and heals us.  And I mean literally heal us. You know a communion time when I am bending over the altar and mumbling things you cannot hear?  This is what I am praying.  “May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgment and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy.”

Have you ever thought of the Eucharist to have physically healing powers?  Do you remember Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when Sean Connery is healed by the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper?  Who knew it was such good theology?  Indeed, the remarkable thing of the Eucharist is that whenever you ask it a question, it has an answer – an enlightenment, a soothing, a joy.  The body and blood is merciful toward us in whatever way we need mercy.

It is the sacrament of sacraments, providing the mercy of each sacrament in its own way.  Like Baptism, it includes all of us by making us the body of Christ.  It has been said that the true confirmation of our faith is saying Amen to the Eucharist.  Marriage is the second great sacrament of unity after Eucharist.  As God binds all of us together in the sacrament of the altar, a couple partakes of the same unity to unite themselves to one another for the uplifting of all.  And as a priest, nothing could be closer to my heart than Eucharist.  There is a question asked at the Diaconate ordination that suns up the challenge.  “Are you resolved to shape your way of life always according to the example of Christ, whose body and blood you will give to the people?”  Wow.  Interestingly, after having said, “I am” to the previous questions, to this we say, “I am with the help of God.”

Finally, I have spoken how the Eucharist has physical healing powers as in the Anointing of the Sick, but we hardly pay attention to the wonderful fact that every sin that is not mortal is forgiven at the receiving of communion.  We should feel after Eucharist as we do when we leave the sacrament of Reconciliation- restored and forgiven!

But even that great gathering of merciful facts cannot explain how the Eucharist operates in my life.  It is always at the center of it. When I was discerning whether or not to apply to study for the priesthood, a good friend wrote me a letter and quoted the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke that suggested that if we want to know what to do with our life, think of what you would die for and then live for it.  An image of the Eucharist immediately came to mind.  When we have been in crisis in a parish, I would just pray to get through those sleepless nights so I could get to mass again and feel my strength and courage return.  I was starving for Christ.  I remembered my first Sunday mass after my father passed away and suddenly realizing that the moment of going to communion is as close as I could get to my Dad for I was with the body of Christ at one with the Lord Jesus and so is he.  Now I celebrate each Eucharist with both of my parents. The Eucharist has always filled the greatest holes and celebrated the greatest gifts of my life.

Now let me tell you about last week.  I had missed my annual winter silent retreat and it has really thrown me off my game.  So I carved out some space this past week and came up with a great plan. I mean a perfect plan. I would go out to my friend Fr. Tim’s and stay in his sprawling rectory.  I would effectively go on a retreat there as Tim went about his day, then go to his daily 5pm mass, share dinner with him and go back to praying.  And if God gave us good weather and golf had to happen, than golf had to happen.  Perfect.  But my friend’s mother died and had the honor of leading her funeral on Monday in Poughkeepsie.  Then a beautiful child in our parish died and his funeral was on Wednesday, a great Mom died and her funeral was Thursday and a great older gentleman died and his funeral was Friday.  There went my week.  I had a perfect plan and God had another plan.  I am not above self-pity.  I went to a parishioner’s house for wine and to whine.  But what I discovered this week, was that I was on retreat with these beautiful families.  That we had something to say to another because the Eucharist had made us family and not strangers. That we all belonged to each other as brothers and sisters.  And we were coming back to the table that had made us one and the body and blood of Christ which is the gift of eternity and promises eternal life.  I was indeed on retreat with body of Christ.

The Eucharist is such a profound and penetrating moment in each of our lives, making us one with each other and one with God that we must celebrate its day with great joy.  This is the font of mercy that never runs dry, the ever flowing river of God’s grace.  Let us thank God for the Body and Blood of Christ.

Most Holy Trinity Sunday C

At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Word Made Flesh.  At Easter we celebrated his resurrection and 40 days later his Ascension into heaven.  And last week, we celebrated the great feast of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost.  When do we ever celebrate God the Father, the first person of the Trinity?  Well, we have today.  Or at least one third of today, the Feast of the Holy Trinity. Where is the love for Father, the begotter of the only begotten son of God and the processor from whom the Spirit proceeds?  Today, I want to celebrate the first person of the Trinity.

It is a story that really begins with love.  God is love.  And love has a certain destiny to reach out, to extend itself.  So love found a beloved in Jesus and the love of the Spirit bound them together.  It is in this interplay of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit that love once again sought a beloved, something to lavish goodness and peace upon.    God created so there would be an object of God’s love.  Thus came creation. Thus came us.

When we ask who we are, we have no fuller response than to say that we are created, created out of the goodness and perfection of God, for he spoke a word and then decided what had come from that word was good.  Before we belonged to our parents, the universe or anything else that might claim us, we were created in the image and likeness of God and if that phrase is to carry any meaning, it means that we hold within us, at a level more grounded than our DNA, is the love of the Trinity.

Of course, we do not know ourselves at all unless we know ourselves as loved.  We are almost unidentifiable as human without love.  Think of what you have learned from the experience of being loved. You have felt your worth and been told of your beauty.  Through the act of love we have discovered unknown horizons within us, we have brushed against the eternal for love never dies. God’s love, meant for each of us, is the truest realization of that feeling, that experience.

Having been loved, the beloved has but one desire – to return that love.  And since all love originated from God, the only love we have to share is God’s love.  Whether the most ardent believer or the most staunch atheist, we are always sharing God’s love because there is no other kind.  It is the true gift of faith however to direct our imperfect return of perfect love to the one who created us.  We are not all we can be until we realize in ourselves the ability to love our original lover.

And I guess there is no better way to do this than thankfulness.  Oh, we turn to God for many reasons: to petition for ourselves and for others – to seek guidance.  But at some point, we have this great gift, the most human of gifts, to stand in the presence of our God, to dwell on what we have been given and say a loving thank you to the one who created us to know love.  And if we were simply to stand in one place, and allow everyone who ever touched us, everyone who ever blessed us and every beautiful thing we have ever witnessed to wash over us, I think we would melt.

And maybe that is the task. To be so consumed in our choseness, in our oneness with each other through creation and our oneness with our God by grace that we would simply melt into the love of God. To be caught up in the play of the Holy Trinity, to be surrounded by a grace older than the universe, to experience a love beyond love.  That is the gift of the Father, the maker of all things, visible and invisible.


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