Recent Homilies and Reflections

September 15, 2019 Lost In Space Homily: In the early days of space travel, scientists at the command center of Cape Canaveral had some valid concerns about the safety of American astronauts in the depths of outer space. First, if the space craft were ever to be disabled or the means of communicating with the crew suspended or permanently lost, the strong likelihood is that lives would be in mortal danger. In addition, if the space craft  were to veer off course and wander aimlessly in outer space, recovery efforts would, in the end, prove futile, and the early pioneers of space travel would then be “lost in space”, placing their lives in mortal danger. In the days of my youth one of the popular television dramas was based on such a scenario. Perhaps you remember the series, “Lost in Space”, or the song, “Rocket Man”, by the English recording artist Elton John. Recall the words of the song: “I miss the earth so much, it’s lonely out in space”. A successful mission ends in a safe return home!

In today’s gospel (Lk. 15:1-10), both parables underscore that something of great value is lost. In the parable of the lost sheep, one sheep of a flock of one hundred is lost in the wilderness. The sheep has no one to protect or guide it. In addition, the animal is exposed to grave danger: the excessive heat of the desert and the prey of wild animals.

Clearly, the lost sheep in the well known parable of Jesus is a symbol of the human being who has gone astray. His life is one of existential loneliness and despair. The Shepherd is a symbol of God who is in search of man. He leaves behind the glory of eternity in order to go in search of his lost creation. In doing so, he takes an enormous risk. He leaves behind the other ninety-nine sheep. As we learn in John’s gospel, the Good Shepherd willingly lays down his life for his sheep. His concern for his flock costs him his life! “I know my own sheep and my sheep know me… as the Father knows me and I know the Father… and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (Jn.10:14)

Why does the shepherd fret over one single sheep? Simply put, it is because God does not want one of his children to be lost. Indeed, there is great joy in finding what was lost. Should we at all be surprised that all sorts of “findings” pervade the gospels: the shepherds and Magi find an infant in the manger, Philip tells Nathanael he has found the Messiah, Mary Magdalene finds the gardener she wasn’t looking for, and the prodigal Son in the best known parable of Jesus, in the words of his father, “…was lost and is found”. (Lk.15:32)

In the subterranean cemeteries outside of Rome, known as the catacombs, where many Christians hid during a time of persecution, this scene of the Shepherd dominates its walls. The shepherd is depicted with a lamb upon his shoulders. He is a savior who goes in search of sinners and who leads the faithful into green pastures. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, never tires of seeking us out and returning us to his flock.

According to reputable polling data, the flock of many of our churches has suffered a significant loss in numbers over the last generation. Too many have strayed, and the likelihood is that many will not return. Do we realize that we are “lost” without God? Can we truly live a meaningful life in isolation from the community of believers? Is “going it alone” the best option in life?  But even for those of us who are active in church and gladly follow the Shepherd wherever he chooses to lead us, there exist endless opportunities to stray from the flock and lose ourselves in the deserts of this life. At one time or another, we all stray from the flock and abandon the Shepherd.

The fifteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel lays stress on God’s incredible mercy. Our Lord bids us rejoice whenever a sinner is converted and returns home. “Rejoice with me! He (the shepherd) cries. I have found my lost sheep.” (Lk.15:6)

For the sake of his name, the Shepherd guides us in the right path. “Near restful waters he leads us.” (Ps.23) He truly cares for us!

Amen!

 

September 8, 2019 Stealing a Base Homily: The names of former major league baseball players and illustrious members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Ricky Henderson, Lou Brock and Maury Wills, may be familiar to you. Today, they are remembered by fans for the art of “stealing bases”. Taking full advantage of their natural speed and agility, they took full advantage of the opportunities afforded them by vacating one base and stealing another. They refused to “play it safe”. A much slower player would remain stationary on a base and not take a foolish risk in stealing another. The likelihood is that he would be caught stealing. Not so the “base stealer”. Although, by attempting to steal a base, he risked jeopardizing his team’s chances of winning the game by his being caught stealing, he nevertheless was prepared to make the mad dash to the next base, so confident was he of his ability to steal a base and tilt the game in his team’s favor. The three players listed above were the most successful base stealers in the history of the game.

On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus pauses to address words of great import to the large crowds traveling with him. He is nothing less than emphatic that the cost of discipleship is demanding. He calls upon his listeners to prefer him to everyone and everything. Clearly, his words are shocking. Such was his intention! “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Lk.14:25) Even the warmest and closest of all human ties must give way to loyalty to Christ. No love in life can compare with the love we must bear him. The parallel passage in Matthew expresses it, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me”. (Mt.11:37)

The true disciple of Jesus throws caution to the wind and willingly takes risks in order to follow his master. “Playing it safe” is not in their playbook. To play it safe is not to play at all. The disciple of Christ does not stand still; he is not immobile. He follows Jesus, wherever He leads. Contrast the risk taker with the rich man who refused to surrender his great wealth and follow Jesus. (Mk.10:17-22) Undertaking such a risk required too much of a sacrifice. He “played it safe”.

An anecdote from the world of Hasidic Jewish folklore may help us appreciate the words of Jesus. A charismatic, learned nineteenth century Eastern European Rebbe, Menahem Mendl of Kotzk, attracted scores of men and boys to hear him teach and personally profit from his wisdom. People were flocking to Tomashov from every corner of the land. It was becoming the capital of youth. Not all the citizens were pleased. In particular, mothers and wives were agitated, understandably so. For too long their men were absent from home. So they besieged the Rebbe’s house, begging him to return their sons and husbands to them. Alas, they were unsuccessful. The Rebbe explained: “Every being owes his life to three authors… father, mother and God. And God’s share has priority”. Even if he relented, his students would have refused to leave him. They linked their destiny to the great man. One does not leave a place where every moment is an experience.

God must be first.

Ours is not a comfortable religion. To take our Catholic faith seriously is to walk a rocky road. “Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Lk.14:27)

What is our supreme value in life? Wealth? Possessions? Power? Honors? Sex? Our Lord calls for detachment lest the passing things of this world turn to idols. We must withdraw our minds from all that is passing in this life and contemplate what lies in the future.

For the baseball player, there are few accomplishments as rewarding as “stealing” home plate. He and he alone, is credited with scoring a run for his team. The Christian who refuses to “play it safe” and respond to Jesus’ invitation, to take up his cross daily and follow Him, is assured by Christ of reaching home plate, his final destination.  It is a risk worth taking.

Amen!

 

September 2, 2019 So Unlike The Wizard of Oz: From the days of my early childhood, a disturbing image of a human face from an enormously popular motion picture of 1939, “The Wizard of Oz”, continues to haunt me. It is the face of the Great and All-powerful Oz. In one memorable scene, young Dorothy and her companions meet the wizard for the first time. His grim demeanor inspires fear and dread. He is stern and intimidating. His booming voice is threatening. To approach the Wizard without permission was a serious offense, and likely to result in a severe punishment, possibly including death. The Wizard was unapproachable. The poor Cowardly Lion was so badly frightened that he was the first to run from the wizard’s presence. He could not get away fast enough!

(A footnote: On the front of the parish secretary’s desk is a sign, which reads, “Nobody gets to see the Wizard. Not nobody, not no how.”)

In today’s second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the author contrasts two mountains: Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. In the history of salvation, mountains seem to play an important role. On Mt. Sinai, God manifested Himself to Moses and presented him with the Tablets of the Law, the Ten Commandments. One of the key moments in Salvation history was accompanied by remarkable phenomena: a blazing fire, gloomy darkness, a horrific storm, a blast of the trumpet, and lastly, a great voice, the voice of God. So awful was the voice of God that the Jews prayed not to hear it again. Let us re-visit the words from today’s epistle. “And a voice speaking words such as those who heard begged that no further messenger be addressed to them.” (Heb.12:19) So holy was Mount Sinai that even if an animal trespassed upon it, it was immediately stoned to death. (Heb.12:20) What is underscored is God’s majesty, his transcendence and unapproachability. There is stressed the sheer terror of God.

Mount Zion is an image of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Fear gives way to joy for the Christian pilgrim. “Now you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” (Heb.12:22) It is through Jesus that we have access to the Father, and delight in accompanying Him through the Gates of Heaven, where the elect are gathered.

The People chosen by God assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai when the Old Covenant was made on earth. The biblical author of the Letter read today in our church writes of the assembly of the first born enrolled in heaven. (Heb. 12:23) It is striking how often one reads of phrases such as “come to”, “draw near”, and “go to” in the letter. Clearly, the goal of Christian pilgrimage is the heavenly Jerusalem, where all is peace and tranquility. We are still on our way to the heavenly city. We have not yet reached our destination; it is still to come.

Do we see ourselves as a pilgrim people? Do we truly believe that life has a destination? Are we not “in motion”?  We “walk in faith”, (2 Cor.5:7) “walk in the Spirit”, (Rom 8:4) “walk in love”, (Eph. 5:2) “walk in Jesus”,(Col.2:6) and “walk in the day”. (Jn.11:9) Once our earthly pilgrimage ends, we hope to find “eternal rest” from all our earthly labors and forever enjoy the company of the honored ones “whose names are in the register of heaven”. (Heb.12:23)

The French writer Leon Bloy, once wrote “Joy is the infallible sign of the Christian”. Unlike the forbidding countenance of the Wizard of Oz, the face of Christ exudes warmth, mercy and love. Such a demeanor inspires joy, not sadness, and gives us hope to continue on our journey to the Holy City, the Heavenly Jerusalem, unafraid and always hopeful in the life to come.

Amen!

 

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