Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: July 10th, 2016

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – C

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Deuteronomy 30: 10-14

Colossians 1: 15-20

Luke 10: 25-37

 

Today we hear the parable that Jesus told called “The Good Samaritan.”  Every one of us knows how it goes. We call someone who does a good deed a Good Samaritan, the parable is that familiar.  Many hospitals and health care facilities are called Good Samaritan.

You have heard lots of homilies on the Good Samaritan parable, talking about how the priest and the Levite saw the Jewish man who had been beaten, robbed and stripped, and went to the other side of the street and ignored him.  And then how the Samaritan came along, the enemy of that Jewish man who had been beaten, robbed and stripped.  And the Samaritan shows him neighborly compassion.

We have heard about how we can resemble the priest and the Levite more than we do the Good Samaritan.  And so we are warned.

You know that parable, you know that explanation, and it truly is a valid one.  But today I would like to present to you another way of looking at this parable, maybe one that you have never heard before.  And yet is backed up by the parable itself.

We begin by looking at the group that heard Jesus speak this parable for the very first time.  Who were they, and how did they understand it?

They were Jewish, they were from Galilee, and they were peasants.  Unlike us, they would not have identified so much with the priest or the Levite or the Good Samaritan – but rather with that poor Jewish victim who got beaten, robbed and stripped and left for dead on the roadside.

Why would they identify with him?  Because he was like them.  They knew what it was like to go on that dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho.  And what happened to that poor man could easily happen to them.

They could picture themselves beaten, robbed and stripped, and then, opening their eyes, seeing in their enemy’s face the merciful face of God.

And this would challenge them to see every person as a neighbor, and to become a doer of mercy across any boundary of pride, prejudice or hatred.

This parable would have knocked them off their feet.  And when Jesus says at the end, “Go and do likewise,” He did not mean for them only to imitate the Good Samaritan but also to imitate the victim:  if mercy and compassion can come from one’s apparent enemy, then no one is an enemy.  Everyone is neighbor.  This is quite a teaching!

And all this is in answer to the lawyer’s original question:  “And who is my neighbor?”

I have a story to illustrate this – it’s a pretty blunt story, and it makes a strong point.  And here it is:

He didn’t know how it happened – it had never happened to him before.  But there he was, a third grader, seated at his school desk, and he had just wet his pants.  He could hardly breathe, he was so upset.

“When the boys see this, I’ll never hear the end of it. And when the girls see this, they’re going to gossip about me and I’ll be ashamed for the rest of my life!”

And so he bowed his head on his desk and prayed: “Dear Lord, this is an emergency – help me – please, help me!”

He lifted his head, and saw his third grade teacher coming down the aisle, and she had that look in her eyes that said:  “I know what’s going on!”  He was so embarrassed.

Then behind his teacher came a classmate, a girl named Susie, and she was carrying a fishbowl full of water and fish.

She was following her teacher and the teacher goes to step aside to let Susie pass by.  And Susie bumps into her teacher’s hip and dumps that whole bowl of water and fish into his lap.

He pretends to be angry, but inside he’s saying, “Thank you, God! Thank you for this miracle!”

What could have been an opportunity for ridicule now became an opportunity for sympathy.  His teacher says to him, “Go to your locker and get your gym shorts, then go down to the lavatory, and dry off.  You may wear your gym shorts the rest of the day.”

While he was out of the room, the class turned on Susie, telling her, “You are such a klutz!”

At the end of the school day he saw Susie waiting for her bus.  So he went over to her and whispered, “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?”  She whispered back, “Yes, I did.  I wet my pants in school once too.”

He looked at her face – the face of one that he used to think was his enemy – and now he saw that it was the face of his friend.  He said to her with all his heart, “Thank you, Susie!  Thank you so much!  You saved my life!”

Jesus tells us this familiar parable today about the Good Samaritan.  He is asking us to look not only at the compassion of the Good Samaritan, but also at the conversion of the victim, who was shocked to see the mercy of God coming to him from someone that he always thought was his enemy, but now could call his neighbor and his friend.

And Jesus says to us, “Go and do likewise.”

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: July 3rd, 2016

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – C

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  Isaiah 66: 10-14c

Galatians 6: 14-18

Luke 10: 1-9

 

On this Independence Day weekend, we thank God for the freedom that we enjoy in this great nation, the United States of America.  And we pray that the religious liberty that our Constitution guarantees will be defended and safeguarded for every person in our country.  We salute and our flag and proudly pledge our allegiance to “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

As precious as our flag is to us, there is another symbol that speaks of the freedom that Jesus won for us:  the cross.  Saint Paul acknowledges this in today’s second reading from his letter to the Galatians:  “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

One of the roles of our altar servers is to be “the crossbearer” [or the one who leads the procession by carrying the cross].  Sometimes that server will say to me before Mass begins, “I’m cross today, Father.”  To which I often reply, “But you don’t seem cross today.”

Well, we are not supposed to be “cross” [“crabby”] people.  But, as followers of Jesus, we are all to be “people of the cross.”  It is through His cross that we enjoy the freedom that Jesus won for us.

A person can live in a lovely home and still feel like a prisoner.  A person can have all kinds of money to spend and still feel like a prisoner.  A person can travel the world and still feel like a prisoner.  We look to the cross for our true freedom in life and our release from things that can hold us imprisoned.

Our possessions can sometimes imprison us.  There was the Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania in 1889.  Two fashionably-dressed young women had just boarded a train to spend the weekend in Philadelphia.  The South Fork Dam broke and they were told to get off the train and head for safety.  They did – and then noticed that their brand new shoes were getting muddy.  So they ran back to the train to get their boots.  And that was as far as they got.

Our possessions can sometimes hold us as prisoners.  They can be walls that keep us from good relationships with others and with God.  The walls may be beautiful, but they can still be a prison.  What sets us free?  The cross of Jesus.  The freedom of the cross.

Another thing that can imprison us is our past – sins we committed that we never admitted, amends that we never tried to make.  There is no pain in life that is as acute as that of a troubled conscience.

There was a school on the west coast that was located in a neighborhood where gunshots were often heard.  So to keep the kids safe, they built a concrete wall around the school that was ten feet high.

One day someone wrote a letter to the newspaper asking:  “What if, instead of using that money to build a wall, we had used that money to re-develop the neighborhood and make it a safe place for everybody?”

Our sins:  we try to ignore them.  We try to rationalize them by claiming that everyone is doing this.  We want ignore the consequences of our bad decisions.

But we need to get to the root of our troubles and seek forgiveness and make amends – rather than building walls that imprison us.  Where do we find that freedom and release?  “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Our possessions, our past … another thing that can imprison us is fantasizing about the future and not fully living today.

In an essay entitled “The Station,” a writer compared life to a train trip across the United States and how much there is to see, looking out the windows – cityscapes, the countryside, the people, the animals grazing, the mountains, the valleys, the plains.  But sometimes people on a train may only think about the station that is their final destination.  And they don’t see anything that lies in between.

The writer says that we do this in life sometimes.  We have a station in mind and we think that when we get there, all our worries will be gone.  “When I turn 18, I’ll have it made…  When I get the last child through college, my life will be wonderful…  When I get that promotion, I’ll be on Easy Street…  When I get that Mercedes…  When I retire and get to enjoy the golden years…”  [By the way, how are the golden years?]

Our final destination is heaven, where we will be happy forever.  But how do we get there?  By living each day fully with God’s grace, one day at a time.

And where do we find our freedom today?  Where do we find our hope?  Saint Paul tells us:  “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That was his boast – and it is our hope as well.  For we are “people of the cross.

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: June 26th, 2016

13th  Sunday in Ordinary Time – C

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 1 Kings 19: 16b, 19-21

Galatians 5: 1, 13-18

Luke 9:  51-62

 

“I am really looking forward to that!”  We all know what it feels like to look forward to something so much that we just can’t wait until it happens.

We hear in today’s Gospel about people being invited to follow Jesus.  One of them responds to Jesus:  “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”  “Yes… but,” was that person’s objection.

And Jesus answers:  “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

That is a farming image that we have no trouble visualizing.  Trying to plow in a straight line while constantly looking back…  Imagine what a mess that field would be.  Jesus was asking that man to follow Him right now, leaving the past behind and looking forward to a future with Jesus.

Sometimes people’s plan for the future is merely preserving their past:  wanting a Williamsburg that is not simply a nice place to visit but a permanent address to live in.    We have expressions like:  “It is very difficult to move ahead if you keep your eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror.”  And:  “Hope is a rudder to take us forward, and not an anchor to hold us back.”

The past:  “The past is a guide post and not a hitching post.”  “The past is over and the future is not here yet.  All that we have at hand to work with is today.

I remember getting a new alb to wear in church for Mass.  [“Alb” comes from the Latin word for “white,” from which we get the word “albino” in English.  It is this white gown that I wear underneath the other vestments.  It is a baptismal garment that reminds us that all that we do and are in the Church is due to our Baptism.]

I wore that alb for the first time one Sunday and it turned out to be a bit too long.  As I processed up the aisle to the first of many steps leading into the sanctuary, I caught my toe in the hem of this garment.

Instead of just admitting my circumstances and backing up and starting over, I kept going.  As I climbed the sanctuary steps, I also climbed higher and higher into the inside of the alb.  When I got to the top, I was all hunched over and in terrible straits.  And I had fooled no one!

Sometimes in life we are like that.   We get all wrapped up in ourselves.  And we get all tangled up with our worries and our woes and become oblivious to present opportunities that offer a solid hope for the future.

There was a lady who had been badly hurt emotionally earlier in her life, and had never really dealt with this.  Ever since, she tended to see people and events around her through a lens of rejection.

Someone at work said to her, “My, don’t you like nice today!”

She responded sharply:  “What you are really saying is that I looked lousy yesterday.  And what you probably mean is that I look a mess most of the time – except for today!”

There are people who see today in the light of yesterday’s pain.

We need to take care of the past.  If forgiveness or amends need to be sought, then we need to do it.  For wonderful memories and experiences, we need to be grateful.

But living in the past is like visiting the old neighborhood, from which we moved away long ago, and expecting it all to be just as it was.  We learn from the past, we seize the present moment, and we move on to a future that we are called and graced to help shape.

Jesus calls people to follow Him in today’s Gospel.  He has personally called each one of us, with all of our histories, to be His disciples.  And Jesus gives us sure direction when He says:  “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Jesus is with us today, and He gives us hope for tomorrow.  For God is faithful to us, always.

As one of the great hymns of the Church puts it:

Great is thy faithfulness!  Great is thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed thy hand hath provided.

Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

God’s faithfulness to us is something that we can count on – and really look forward to – every blessed day.

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