Wednesday, September 29, 2010

VincentFest & VincentFast

Homily from the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

I have a friend at my old seminary, the Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. He is from Burma: a tiny, poor country in Asia. His name is Saw Francisco.

Saw Francisco is the happiest guy in the seminary. In all the time I spent with him, not once did I ever see Saw Francisco angry, cross, agitated or frustrated. I’ve never seen him lose his temper. Saw Francisco always, always has a smile on his face; always offers a friendly greeting and asks how you are doing.

One day, a bunch of the guys were hanging around and someone asked Saw Francisco what he would miss most about the seminary. Saw smiled and said, “Two things: my bed and hot water.”

Everyone just kind of froze when they heard this. I think a couple jaws dropped a bit… eyes widened. And we quickly realized how different our lives are from Saw Francisco’s and so many other people around the world.

We often forget the poor. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us about the rich man who dressed in the finest clothes and ate the finest foods every, single day. While Lazarus, a sick, poor, starving man lays at his doorstep. When these men die, Lazarus goes to Heaven and the rich man goes to Hell.

Why did the rich man go to Hell? Was it because he was rich, or because he had the finest clothes and the finest food? No. Pope John Paul II said of this Gospel, “Nowhere does Christ condemn the mere possession of earthly goods as such. Instead he pronounces very harsh words against those who use their possessions in a selfish way, without paying attention to the needs of others.” (Homily in Yankee Stadium, 2 October 1979.) The rich man went to Hell, not because of his riches, but because he ignored the poor man, Lazarus.

Jesus tells us that Lazarus would gladly have eaten of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. In those days, there were no such things as napkins. So the very wealthy would wipe their hands clean with pieces of bread and throw them onto the ground. These are the scraps Lazarus would have gladly eaten. But Lazarus does not get so much as a scrap because the rich man ignores him.

We must not forget our brothers and sisters who have no bed, no hot water, no food, no job, no clothing, no home, no one to love them or pray for them. We who have so much, must be ever mindful and ready to help those who have so little. The Second Vatican Council reminds us of this obligation in its document, Gaudium et Spes which states, “Everyone must consider his every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all his life and the means necessary to living it with dignity so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus.” (G&S 27).

And we, above all people; and at this time, above all other times, should be mindful of the poor. For this weekend, we celebrate the feast of our patron Saint: Saint Vincent de Paul who dedicated his entire life to imploring the wealthy to give generously of their resources for the sake of the poor. We’re familiar with this work of St. Vincent de Paul for the poor; he also ministered to condemned prisoners who would lay on damp dungeon floors, while they were covered with vermin and sores, whose only food was black bread and water. Sounds like Lazarus doesn’t it?

St. Vincent de Paul the man did not forget the poor. And St. Vincent de Paul the parish will not forget the poor.

We will be mindful of the poor through the three acts of penance: prayer, almsgiving and fasting. We will be mindful of the poor in our prayer at this Mass. We will be mindful of the poor in our second collection today which is for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. And we must be mindful of the poor through fasting.

Fasting is not just something we do during Fridays in Lent. As Catholics we are to offer some form of penance every Friday of the year: be it abstaining from meat, or fasting from a meal, or walking the stations of the cross, or praying a rosary. (Code of Canon Law: #1249-1253).  We do this every Friday because we offer it as a penance for our sins to Jesus who gave his life for us on Good Friday.

And we offer it, not just to deny ourselves of too much food, or drink, or pleasure; but also so that we may be in communion with our brothers and sisters who do not have what we have.

This doesn’t mean, we cannot enjoy the good things we have. Jesus wants us to relish his gifts which we have received from his bounty. Jesus wants us to have feasts. That’s why days that honor Jesus, Mary and the Saints such as today are called feasts; because Christians would celebrate these days with feasts. And that’s what we're doing this weekend at our VincentFest (Fest by the way, means feast). We will enjoy good food and good company.

We Catholics are feasting people. We’re also fasting people. So this weekend, let us observe VincentFest. And this Friday, let each of us observe a VincentFast.

At this Mass, pray about how you want to fast this Friday as a way to be in communion with our poor brothers and sisters around the world; then when you go home, write it down on your calendar so you won’t forget. Maybe you’ll abstain from meat. Maybe you’ll skip a meal. Maybe you’ll fast from your bed and sleep on the floor Friday night. Maybe you’ll fast from hot water and take a cold shower Friday morning.

We will not ignore our poor brothers and sisters lying at our doorstep. May this Eucharist inspire us to spend a moment this Friday to live in communion with them.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"The Ball Was Here... and it Rolled to Here."

Homily from the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

This past Thursday, something happened at a baseball game that unfortunately is not uncommon; and even more unfortunately, is regarded less and less today in our culture as a problem and instead is seen as “part of the game.” The New York Yankees were playing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Both teams are neck and neck in a race to win the American League pennant and the Yankees were down by a run. Derek Jeter was at the plate for the Yankees and took a pitch that appeared to hit him in the wrist. Jeter yelled in tremendous pain, jumped up and down clenching his arm. He even went over to the team trainer to have his arm checked out. He was ruled as being hit by the pitch and was awarded a free base. So Jeter went to first.

However, the instant replay clearly showed that the ball didn’t hit Jeter at all. Rather, it hit the knob of the bat.

Afterwards, Jeter was asked by a reporter in the locker room where the ball hit. Jeter readily and unapologetically said, “The bat.” Then he said, “What can you do? My job is to get on base.”

A reporter wrote that “batters often try to pretend they’re hit by pitches that just miss; it’s something they’re taught to do.” People will say, “Oh, it’s just part of the game.” Really? Cheating is part of the game? Maybe its been a part of the game, but that doesn’t make it right.

If we teach our children that it’s OK to reach first without merit, what are we teaching them? Are we teaching them that “As long as you don’t get caught, it’s OK”?

Jesus tells us today, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.”

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there’s been a lot of cheating in baseball recently. Nearly every big hitter in baseball over the last decade has admitted to, or is strongly suspected of, using illegal drugs to give themselves an unfair advantage.

I don’t think anyone jumps from being squeaky clean to using steroids. Just as no one goes from being pure of heart to being an adulterer. Big sins don’t just show up. Everything starts off small. And uncorrected, sin grows and grows and grows.

If we allow ourselves to “skim a little off the top,” what are we training ourselves to steal next? If we say, “Its O.K. to look, but not touch,” how long will it be before the look no longer satisfies and what will we seek next?

There’s a book called, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” You know what? I think we need to sweat the small stuff. Because (and you’ve heard this phrase before and its true) it’s the little things that matter.

Mother Theresa once said, “If we deliberately allow venial sin to become a daily bread, a moral anemia, the soul becomes weak all around, the spiritual life begins to crumble and fall apart. God preserve us from any deliberate sin, no matter how small it may be. Nothing is small when it means going against God.”

There’s a great scene in a favorite movie of mine that illustrates the right thing to do when tempted with, what seem to be, only very small matters. The movie is “The Legend of Bagger Vance” and it’s a fictional story about a golfer named Junuh who climbs out of the dumps and is given the chance to play against the two best golfers of his day: Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. And Junuh, unexpectedly takes a one shot lead heading into the 18th hole. There’s only a couple shots to go and Junuh will win the match.

So Junuh is lining up his approach shot to the 18th green, and he sees a tiny twig lying close to the ball and he reaches down to move the twig so he can have a clear shot. And as he pulls the twig away, the ball moves… about a half an inch.

Junuh freezes and mutters, “The ball moved. It moved. I have to call a stroke on myself.” No one else saw the ball move but Junuh, his young caddy Hardy, and his coach Bagger Vance.

Hardy pleads with Junuh, “No! Don’t do it! Please don’t do it. Only you and me seen it and I won’t tell a soul. Cross my heart. Ain’t nobody gonna know!” Junuh replies, “I will Hardy. And so will you.”

Hardy runs to Bagger and begs him, “You’ve got to tell him not to do it, Bagger! It’s just a stupid rule that don’t mean nothin’” And Bagger says, “That’s a choice for Mr. Junuh, Hardy.”

No one wanted the penalty assessed, not even Junuh’s opponents. Bobby Jones says, “Maybe you’re mistaken Junuh. Maybe the ball moved before you touched the twig.” Walter Hagen says, “Might not have moved at all. The light plays funny tricks this time of day.” Everyone is giving Junuh the opportunity to avoid the penalty.

And the field judge reads the rule: “A ball is deemed to have moved if it leaves its original position in the least degree, but not if it merely oscillates and comes to rest in its original position. Did it move? Can you be certain? Sometimes a ball will shudder and then settle back again, Junuh.”

Junuh answers, “The ball was here… and it rolled to here.” The distance the ball moved was so very little... a very small matter. But Junuh’s duty to play by the rules, to not resort to cheating, to do what was right, was a very great matter indeed. It's a very great matter for all of us.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"All In!"

Homily from the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Quite frequently, on a Friday or Saturday night in the seminary, the guys will get together for a game of cards.  A lot of guys like to play Euchre.  But the most popular game they play is probably No Limit Texas Hold Em.  You’ve probably seen it on TV, it's wildly popular right now.  It's a version of poker played with chips and the player who is holding all the chips at the end of the game is the winner.

One of my buddies from the seminary, Father Andrew Trapp, a priest from the diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, got so good at Texas Hold ‘Em, he appeared on a poker game show a few months ago and played for charity against the top professional poker players in the country.

Now most people, when they first start playing poker, they play their chips very conservatively.  They place small bets because they don’t want to lose their chips.  The problem is, if you play scared, and make timid bets the whole time, you’ll never win, you’ll never rake in a big pile of chips.

If you want to be a successful player of Texas Hold ‘Em, you have to be willing to take a big risk every now and then.  You have to be willing to go “All In!”  That’s when you bet everything you have.  You shove all your chips into the center of the table and say “All In.”  Then, if you have the better hand, you win the whole pot.

See the YouTube of Fr. Trapp going "All In!"
This is what my buddy Father Trapp did. We were watching the show on TV and he’s playing against Daniel Negreanu, who is one of the absolute best poker players in the country.  Father Trapp wasn’t holding an outstanding hand, but he took a risk and he shoved all his chips into the middle of the table and declared “All In!”  The pro’s eyes got really big.  He was a like a shark who smelled blood in the water.  He wanted to take all of Father Trapp’s chips so he went all in too.  However, when the cards were laid down on the table, Fr. Trapp had the better hand and he beat the world pro and won $100,000 dollars which he donated to his Church building fund.  God was on Father Trapp's side!

Jesus wants us to go “All In!”  He tells us in today’s Gospel that if we really want to be his disciple, we have to give him everything.

In fact, he even uses some pretty harsh words.  He says, “If anyone comes to me without hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Now, you have to understand that Jesus is using a figure of speech here.  He doesn’t want us to really hate our family.  I mean, how much sense would it make for us to love our enemies but hate our family and friends?

Jesus is saying that as much as we love our families, we must have a love for him that is on an whole another level.  We must have an absolute love and preference for Jesus above all other things, above all other people, above even our own lives and preferences.

And this is not an unreasonable expectation, because Jesus does the same for us.  Jesus was asked by his own Father, to be obedient to his Father’s will above all other things, even his own life.  So Jesus left everyone he knew behind – his disciples, his mother.  He took up his cross and gave his life to the Father for us.  He went “All In!”  He did this, because it was the very thing, the only thing, that would bring us happiness.

If someone goes out for a sports team, they are expected to give it all they’ve got so we can win the big game.  If someone signs up for the armed services, they are expected to commit themselves completely for the defense of our nation.  When a man and woman enter into marriage, they are expected to enter into an unbreakable bond that lasts all the days of their life. 

Now if we’re willing to commit ourselves so strongly to sports teams and the armed services which are worldly institutions, how much more should we commit ourselves to God?  Worldly institutions such as these last only for a period of time.  Even marriages last only “all the days of our life?”  How much more should we commit ourselves to the one who is offering us eternal life in Heaven?

Jesus says, if you don’t go all in, if you don’t come after me with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, you’ll look foolish like the guy who starts to build a tower then halfway through runs out of resources and is stuck with something that is only built halfway.

Jesus offers us eternal life by committing himself completely to us.  So he embraced his cross and gave us his life.

Jesus asks us to receive eternal live by committing ourselves completely to him.  So we must embrace our cross and give him our life in return.

And guess what, our crosses are not easy, they are heavy.  You can’t carry your cross with one hand.  You have to embrace it with both hands and it requires all the strength you can muster.

And our crosses shouldn’t be easy either.  Because our lives are not cheap; we have infinite value.  And Jesus purchased us at a great price.  So, it is only just that we give back to him, a worthy offering that requires great sacrifice on our part.

So, we’ve got a number of questions to ask ourselves:

“Do I really want to share the eternal life Jesus offers me from his cross?”

“Do I really want to be his disciple and put him above all other things?”

“Am I willing to embrace my cross, and willing to follow all that Jesus teaches through his Church?”

“Do I give Jesus my entire life? Or, am I playing scared and making a timid offering of myself?”

“Am I willing to go ‘All in’?”