Recent Homilies and Reflections

July 30, 2017 Hidden Treasure Homily: Brothers and sisters, recently a citizen of the state of Ohio, Karl Kissner, had an unexpected stroke of good fortune. Inside a cardboard box that had been under a wooden dollhouse in his grandfather’s attic, he found some old, vintage baseball cards. The cards were much smaller than the ones he remembered from his childhood. As a life-long baseball fan, the names on the cards were familiar to him. They were some of the greatest players of the game, all members of the Baseball Hall of Fame: Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Cy Young. Issued in the year 1910, the cards were untouched for over a century. The lucky man who stumbled upon the cards by chance hit the jackpot. The cards were later valued at 2.35 million dollars! When asked for a reaction to his discovery and learning the value of the cards, he said, “It’s like finding the Mona Lisa in the attic”.

In Matthew’s thirteenth chapter, Jesus reveals the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. In the three parables of today’s gospel, “hiddenness” is a dominant theme. Jesus speaks of a hidden treasure, the pearl of great price hidden in the shell of an oyster. The only purpose in their being hidden is their ultimately being found. The parable makes clear that one can’t be idle. Sitting in bed or reclining in an easy chair is self defeating. One has to be active in the field in order to find the object of one’s desire.

Perhaps a story once told by the Noble laureate, Elie Wiesel, a Jew, might prove helpful.

Jehel, a little boy, comes running into the room of his grandfather, the famous Rabbi Baruch. Big tears are rolling down his cheeks. “My friend”, he says, “has given up on me. He is very unfair and mean to me”. The rabbi asked for some explanation. “We were playing hide and seek. I was hiding so well that he could not find me. But then he simply gave up and went home. Isn’t that mean? The master then caresses the boy’s face. He himself has tears in his eyes. And he says, “Yes, this is not nice. But it is the same way with God. He is in hiding… and we do not seek him. God is hiding and people do not look for Him”.

The evangelist, Matthew, clearly wants his readers to know that Jesus is “the pearl of great price” and his Word is the treasure once buried in the field but now found, and is a gift for all peoples. What follows is joy. “Out of joy (he) goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Mt.13:44)

In his letter to the Christian community at Philipi, St. Paul eloquently expresses in heartfelt words, the ineffable joy of discovering Jesus. “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.” (Phil. 3:7-9a)

In the modern quest for happiness and the search for meaning, too many have not discovered Jesus. Even more regrettable are those who have abandoned him. Embracing the values of a secular, Godless world always leads to a dead end. Despair usually follows. But just consider how lives have been transformed by their encounter with Christ. The joy-filled lives of the saints are an extraordinary testimony to the wisdom revealed in the parables and the blessings of the faith. Conversely, idleness and walking aimlessly without any purpose or direction in life is a life not well lived. Perhaps we all need to re-discover Christ again. If we do so, we will win the only lottery that truly counts!

Amen!

 

July 23, 2017 Imperfection Homily: Brothers and sisters, every so often a consumer, while shopping in a store, sees an item of merchandise drastically reduced in price, a mere fraction of its true value. And the reason for the mark down? The product has a slight defect, a minor flaw. It may be a dent, scratch, nick or chip. If the product was badly damaged, it would have been discarded. The product has not lost its value completely. Indeed, a skilled craftsman could restore the product to its original beauty (a chair, desk, table, bookcase, etc.) and perfection. He sees great potential in the “imperfect” item on sale. However, one must be patient!

In today’s gospel (Mt.13:24-30), the account of the parable of the wheat and the weeds, Our Lord is teaching his disciples about the greatest of mysteries: the kingdom of heaven. In doing so, he is also affording his listeners a vivid description of the community he came to establish, the Church. The church is a mixed crop of saints and sinners, righteous and unrighteous. All of whom stand under God’s judgment and mercy. Fr. George Rutler, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, accentuates this perspective by pointing to the piety of Muslim weavers, who are of the Islamic faith. The devout Muslim intentionally weaves a discordant thread into every rug he crafts in order to avoid the sin of blasphemy. The Muslim believes only Allah (God) is perfect. The Muslim makes no pretense of achieving perfection. Seeking perfection in this life is, at best, delusional, and, at worst, a grave offense to the deity.

It is worth noting that the slaves make an appeal to their master to purge the field of all the weeds (Mt.13:27). The owner advises them to be patient and allow the wheat and weeds to grow together. There will always be the weeds of the unchristian next to the good wheat sown by Christ. The servants must learn the values of compassion and patience as they await the harvest. In his profound reflections on today’s gospel, the erstwhile Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, spoke of the “temptation of impatience”. To insist on immediately finding great success and large numbers, he wrote is not God’s way.

Since the gospel is the “Good News”, it is not surprising that the time of the harvest will be a time of richness and plenitude, not destruction (Mt.13:30). The parable of the wheat and the weeds conveys a message of hope. As long as the kingdom is growing, it remains possible for the weeds to change into wheat until the time of the harvest. In the eventuality of seeing a damaged piece of merchandise on sale, you may want to recall today’s parable and see yourself as that product. The Master Craftsman has not ceased to care for us.

He is patiently preparing us for a heavenly feast in which the wheat sown in this life may bear lasting fruit in eternity.

Amen!

 

July 16, 2017 The Seed Homily: Brothers and sisters, arguably, one of the greatest artists of the nineteenth century was the renowned and beloved Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh. A rather tragic figure, Van Gogh is perhaps best remembered by many of us today for severing his right ear in a moment of despair. Back in the 1970’s his life was immortalized by the American songwriter, Don Mclean, who penned the song “Vincent” in his honor.

Van Gogh was a man of deep faith and many of his paintings afforded the artist an opportunity to capture on canvas his often profound insights on the gospel of Christ. One of his most famous oil paintings, “the Sower” is undoubtedly inspired by today’s gospel reading, the parable of the sower and the seed.  His interpretation is noteworthy if only because he sheds light on an often neglected theme of the parable:  the extraordinary generosity of the sower. With reckless abandon, he scatters seed everywhere, oblivious to the inevitable waste. In biblical times, seed was expensive and not, as is common today, wasted. One thinks of the many obstacles facing the farmer planting seeds: scorching winds, locusts, thorns, birds, rocky ground and worms. The artist may have had in mind the words of St. Paul: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and whoever gives generously will reap generously”. (2 Cor.9:6)

In two of our readings today, the seed takes center stage. In the Book of the prophet Isaiah, God is depicted as a sower. The seed represents his word. “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth. My word shall not return to me void, achieving my will for which I have sent it”. (Is.55:11)

In the gospel (Mt. 13:1-9), Jesus identifies himself with the sower of the seed in the parable. Recognizing that some of the seed will not fall on fertile soil, the planter is undeterred and scatters the good seed, the Word of God, confident of the harvest to come.

In his commentary on the parable, the noted German scholar Joachim Jeremias offers his readers words of caution and hope. He writes, “To human eyes much of the labor of the sower of the seed may seem futile and fruitless, resulting in failure. But Jesus is full of confidence. God brings from hopeless beginnings the glorious end he has promised …a bountiful harvest”. Our labors in the field will be blessed. A minister of the gospel need not be concerned about immediate results. God’s word will bear abundant fruit in due time.

The current state of the Church alarms many of the faithful today. Some may be tempted to give in to despair, or, even worse, walk away for the Church for good. The bountiful harvest at the end of the parable must awaken our slumbering faith and assure us of the triumph of the sower who is Christ.

Lastly, the Eucharist reminds us of the power of the seed. In John’s gospel, Jesus speaks of the seed in view of his impending saving death. “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit”. (Jn. 12:24)

“Whoever has ears ought to hear”. (Mt. 13:9)

Amen!

 

 

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