Monday, July 25, 2016

HOMILY 17TH Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C July 24, 2016

What do you think of today’s Gospel?  There are three parts to it.   It starts off rather nicely with Jesus teaching his disciples – that is, us - the Lord’s Prayer.  It ends with an exhortation by Jesus for us to pray.  “Ask and you will receive.”  That’s nice too.  But in the middle is a strange story of a guy trying to borrow three loaves of bread at midnight.  This parable is only in St. Luke’s Gospel.   And it is kind of weird.         
What are we to make of this story???  ¿That since the friend in question will not give the loaves to the guy out of friendship, he will do so out of frustration, just to get rid of the guy?       The annoying neighbor’s persistence is rewarded.   Fr. Carroll Stuhmueller, a famous scripture scholar, says that the word translated as “persistence” in our reading is really better translated as “shamelessness.”  I like that word.  Sounds like some of our politicians.   “Shamelessness.” 
So, is the point that this is how God deals with us?  Do we need to pester and badger God into responding?   Do we just shamelessy have to wheedle and nag and aggravate God, till finally it is easier for God to give in to our demands than it is to continue to listen to our moaning and groaning?
Well, it is, after all, an effective tactic.  Children seem to know innately, instinctively, the value of shameless persistence.  If they get told "NO" the first time, they then begin the siege of whining, begging, pleading, nagging, and asking:  "Why not, huh, Mom?  Can I, PLeeease?  Billy can, can I Mom, huh?, Pleeeeeeease?" 
Why do kids do this?  Because it works!  Like in the Gospel, the man's friend at midnight finally caves in to get some peace.  A crude tactic, but effective. 
Is this how we are to approach God?  Welll...   Yes and no.  You see, it is about relationship.  The shameless neighbor is counting on his friendship, his relationship with the man in bed.  Children when they do this are counting on their relationship with their parents when they resort to this.   Jesus is using some Middle-Eastern exaggeration here to urge us to count on our relationship with our heavenly Father when we pray. 
Prayer is not like a bureaucratic request we put into the central office at work, nor like an application we put into some government office, nor like some requisition we submit in the military.  No.  Prayer is much more personal.  Much more familial.  Much more intimate.  And that is why Jesus uses this rather odd example of shameless friendship.  We can rely on our relationship with God, because we are intimately related to God.
 It is not Jesus' point that God must be wheedled, begged, cajoled, pleaded, bothered, nagged and harassed into responding to our prayers; but rather that if this crude tactic is effective, how much more will our Heavenly Father - who loves us more than any human parent could - respond to us:  "If you, 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?"
St. Matthew has basically this same saying in his Gospel, only he has "How much more will your heavenly Father give good things to anyone who asks him!"  St. Luke changes the "good things" to "the Holy Spirit."  That is what God will give in response to our prayers.
I am intrigued by this change of Luke's.  "Good things" is pretty easy and straight forward, but "the Holy Spirit" is a mystery, and hence a little more difficult to get a handle on.
The Holy Spirit is nothing less than God's own inner life, the love that is poured out between the Father and His Beloved, the Son.  This is what God gives to those who pray persistently.  According to St. Paul, the results - or as he says, the fruits - of having the Holy Spirit are:  "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." [Gal 5:22-3].
These are the "good things" that St. Matthew talks about that God will give us:  not necessarily a BMW, nor a large house, nor a big promotion, nor the latest i-phone, nor good grades, nor good weather on the weekend, but rather the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Understanding what it is that God will give us in response to our prayers helps us understand the importance of persistence in prayer.  If we were praying for things, like health, or a job, or to sell our house, then once we got what we wanted, there wouldn't be any reason to keep praying.  But since the Holy Spirit is not a thing, but rather a living person, the relationship has to stay alive.  It is not that you get the Holy Spirit once and for all, and that is it.  No, you grow deeper and deeper in relationship with the Holy Spirit, growing in "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." [Gal 5:22-3].
These gifts do not mean that our life will be easy, that God will make all the bad things go away and keep us safe - just as he did not shield His Son Jesus from pain, disappointment and hurt.  But these gifts give us the strength to pass through all the dark and difficult times without becoming bitter and closed in on ourselves. 
Rather, we will be able to pass through the troubles with greater compassion and love. 
These gifts also give us the strength to pass through all the good times without selfishness or complacency, but instead with gratitude and joy.  And that is what makes for a full life.
Jesus teaches us to pray with persistence because we can rely on God’s care for us, so that we might grow in the Holy Spirit, His Spirit, and so become more like Him.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Our Gospel today raises the issue of POWER.   That is a good red-blooded American and especially Texan topic, appropriate for this Independence Day weekend.  Power.  What is it?   How to get it?   How to use it?
          And more specifically, what does Christian power look like?
          It is a bit tricky.
          At the beginning of today’s Gospel Jesus appoints 72 disciples, sends them off in pairs, and tells them “Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”   Like lambs among wolves?    Hmmm.  What would that be like?   Where does the power lie in that image?
          Even if you have never been a shepherd, or worked with sheep, or have never encountered a wolf, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure this one out.  Like lambs among wolves is a position of powerlessness
          In the way of the world the wolves have the power.  Lambs are cute.  They are innocent.  They are charming.  But they are not powerful.  They are powerless.  That is the judgment of the world, and Jesus tells us “I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”   You are powerless.   How does that make you feel? 
          Look around at the forces that drive the economy, at greed, at illness, at injustice, at natural disasters, at war, at famine, at crazy people with assault rifles, at all the distracted and rotten drivers and the accidents that happen every day, at cancer and the Zika virus and superbugs immune to antibiotics, and you will begin to recognize yourself as a lamb in the midst of wolves.   (You’re screwed.)   Good luck.
          But then, just a few verses later, Jesus says almost the opposite:  “Behold, I have given you the power to tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.”
          Well that is more like it.  That sounds powerful: power to tread upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.   I like that a lot better than being a lamb in the midst of wolves.   How about you? 
          So which is it?  Was Jesus just joshing us and joking with us when He told us we were lambs among wolves?   Teasing like an older brother?   Getting a fright out of us?   Or did Jesus change His mind and decide we really are powerful?   Which statement of Jesus is true?       
          Well, Like so much in religion, they BOTH are true, and both are true at the same time, and in the same way.  ¿How can we be both powerless like lambs among wolves and at the same time be powerful to tread on the full force of the enemy so that nothing will harm us? 
          The key to understanding God’s power – which is what Jesus is teaching us about – is the cross.  On the cross Jesus was utterly powerless.  //  On the cross Jesus was supremely powerful. 
           On the cross Jesus was totally helpless, at the mercy of His executions, pinned to the cross He could hardly even move.  Yet, on the cross Jesus fully defeated sin and death and won the victory of life for all, the greatest triumph ever.  He was both like a lamb among wolves and supremely victorious.
          The power that Jesus gives us is not the power to smite our enemies.  Not the power to destroy, not to blow things up, not the power to water-board, nor enslave, nor to harm.   Rather the incredible power that Jesus promises us is the power to overcome sin in our hearts.  The serpents and scorpions we are able to tread on are the hatred, the vengeance, the violence, the greed, the pettiness, the juicy gossip, the indifference, the laziness, the lust, the prejudice, the fear and all the other serpents and scorpions of evil that nest in our hearts. 
          Over these, over our own selves, Jesus gives us the power.  He can set us free from all the works of death that diminish and demean us.  We can be free.  Free to live as children of God, free to live lives of dignity and integrity, free to love without pettiness or selfishness, free to be children of God.

          In the eyes of the world this is nothing.  It is like being a lamb in the midst of wolves: dangerous and imperiled.  But in the firm knowledge of faith, it is victory.   It is triumph.   It is the ultimate power.  It is the paradox of the cross.  

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Fr. Chuck's Column, Sunday, July 3, 2016

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY! This long weekend we celebrate the birth of our nation on the 4th of July. As I do most every year at this time, I want to reflect on the virtue of Patriotism and the corresponding vice of Nationalism. As we look forward to the national conventions this month of the two leading political parties, it seems a particularly good time to do so.
Patriotism is the virtue which embodies a healthy and realistic love of country. The true patriot yearns for the United States of America to be the best country it can, to live up to the noble and inspiring sentiments that gave it birth, namely the freedom of all people to seek life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The patriot is grieved when our country, either in its internal affairs or in its foreign policy, fails to live up to these ideals but rather plays games of power politics and shrewd self-interest. The patriot works to better America, not hesitating to criticize the government, but always out of concern, never out of scorn or derision. The patriot wants America to take its rightful place in the community of nations, contributing to the betterment of all humanity by the shining light of the example of a free and responsible people.
Nationalism on the other hand, is the vice that seeks to make America first in wealth and power at the expense of others, that believes in the slogan “My Country, right or wrong,” that argues that if you are not with me you are against me. Nationalism is an unhealthy pride that derides others because it sees them as a threat. It tolerates no criticism of the United States because it has too weak a grasp of the transcendent principals that are the foundation of the country. All it can grasp are power and advantage. Nationalism separates and divides peoples, and is prone to violence. Not all who wave the flag and wear lapel flag pins are patriots: some are unrepentant nationalists.
I firmly believe that the best defense against the vice of nationalism is not some kind of sophomoric, critical anti-Americanism, but rather a healthy patriotism. The more we cherish and develop our patriotism, the less likely we are to slip into the quagmire of nationalism. A proper love of our country is by far the best defense against the hubris and pride of nationalism.
So on this Independence Day weekend, I encourage you to exercise your Patriotism. Bring it out and wear it proudly. Give it a run around the block. Remember and reflect on the noble words of the Declaration of Independence that enshrine the principals on which this country is founded, and re-commit yourself to working for them. Happy 4th of July!  
God bless,