Fr. Tim’s Homily for September 3, 2017

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time-A

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Jeremiah 20: 7-9

Romans 12: 1-2

Matthew 16: 21-27

Very much in our thoughts and in our prayers are the people who are suffering so much from Hurricane Harvey.  The pictures and stories in the news are heart-wrenching, and we want to do something to help.

         Next weekend, in all of the parishes of our Diocese, we will be taking up a second collection to help people who have been so devastated by Hurricane Harvey.  There is a notice about this in the bulletin to remind us of this so that we come prepared next weekend.

We will also have the opportunity later this month to donate non-perishable goods at Saint Joseph and Nativity Parishes that will be picked-up here and then delivered by a semi to Texas.  Please watch the bulletin next weekend for details about how we can help.

Watching the news we see that other storms are developing.  And the islands of the Bahamas are in a hurricane zone, with Irma brewing in the Atlantic.  I have a special place in my heart for the Catholic Archdiocese of Nassau in the Bahamas, having visited there many, many times.  Archbishop Patrick Pinder is friend of mine and so are several of his priests.

Msgr. Preston Moss is the eldest of the priests in the Bahamas, having been the Vicar General and the pastor of Saint Anselm Parish.  And I remember a dinner conversation with Msgr. Moss that reminded me of today’s Gospel.

Jesus teaches us:  “Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”  Underneath this invitation is a personal question that Jesus asks each one of us:  “Do you love Me?  Do you love Me enough to deny yourself?  Enough to take up your cross?  Enough to follow Me?  Enough to be known as My disciple?  Do you love Me that much?”

There can be a difference, of course, between believing in Jesus and loving Jesus.  A person can believe in Jesus and not really love Jesus.  But if a person loves Jesus, they are going to believe in Him as well.  “Do you love Me?” Jesus asks.

During that dinner conversation, Msgr. Moss told me about calling children up into the sanctuary at homily time, as they often do in the Bahamas, to ask them questions and give them instruction.

He began that particular Sunday by asking the children around him at the altar:  “Do you love Jesus?”

And they all answered:  “Yes, we love Jesus.”

Then he asked them:  “How do you know that you love Jesus?”

And one little boy, without a moment’s hesitation, said:  “Because Jesus is with me.  He’s right here,” as he pointed to his heart.

Msgr. Moss said that the homily was over there and then.  That little boy had been absolutely profound in answering how he knew that he loved Jesus:  “Because He is with me.  He’s right here – in my heart.”

Being a disciple of Jesus means that Jesus is with us all the time.  He’s right here – in our hearts.  And because we love Jesus, we deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him.

Msgr. Moss also told another story about a little Bahamian boy named Anthony whose family struggled to make ends meet, but who were rich in their love for God.  Every evening as they prayed before dinner they each added a personal petition.

One night Anthony added:  “Jesus, you know my shoes are getting pretty worn out and they are the only ones I have.  Could you please send me a new pair of shoes?”  Anthony offered that same petition several nights in a row.

Anthony’s mother was talking with one of her friends on the phone about how he had been praying.  And the friend asked what kind of shoes Anthony wanted and what size he wore.  She said that she would buy them and drop them off for them to give to Anthony.

The gift arrived and Anthony’s parents wondered how they should present these shoes to Anthony.  Should they tell him that “they were a gift from Mrs. Rolle who thinks so much of you?”  Or should they tell Anthony:  “I was talking with Mrs. Rolle about you and, because you prayed, God inspired her to go out and buy you this new pair of shoes.”

It was the second approach that they took.  And Anthony felt very good because he truly believed that God loved him so much that God would make sure that his prayer for a new pair of shoes was answered.

God answers our prayers in so many different ways.  And I truly believe that so often our needs are answered because somebody prayed.

And so Jesus says to us in today’s Gospel:  “Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”

“Do you love Jesus?”

“Yes, I love Jesus.”

“How do you know that you love Jesus?”

“Because Jesus is with me.  He’s right here – in my heart.”

Fr. Tim’s Homily for August 27, 2017

image21st Sunday in Ordinary Time-A

Isaiah 22:  19-23

Romans 11:  33-36

Matthew 16: 13-20

         Eric Heiden is an American who was a speed skater.  He won five gold medals in the 1980 Winter Olympics.  In school, he was always the top athlete.  And whenever he entered a competition, he almost always won first place.

Now you might wonder where they found people to compete with him.  How would you like to compete with someone that you knew you had no chance of beating?

Actually other athletes wanted to compete with Eric.  And the reason was that even though they could not beat him, they would compete at their absolute best in trying to.  And he brought out of them what became known as “the Heiden effect.”

This reminds me a bit of today’s Gospel.  You and I are never going to surpass Jesus Christ.  We try to be like Him as His disciples.  But we are never going to surpass Him.  Still, with Jesus as our model, and with His grace, we can strive to live our lives at our absolute best.

And so Jesus asks us:  “And you, who do you say that I am?”  And our answer is all-important for how we decide to live our lives.  Is Jesus the center of my life?  Do I believe that Jesus’ way is the best way for me to live?  Am I allowing Jesus to bring the absolute best out of me so that, day by day, I am becoming “a better version of myself” as His faithful disciple, and as a grateful steward of God’s bountiful blessings?

“And you,” Jesus asks, “who do you say that I am?”

Some years ago I took a vacation at the ocean’s shore.  Every morning I got up before sunrise to watch and marvel at this great event.  And so did a few other people.  I remember two African-American women there and our conversations.

Jean told me that she had had a stroke the previous year and wondered if she would ever be able to travel again.  And here she was.  Her faith in God had gotten her through.  And she was there to greet this new day from God with a grateful heart.

Regina told me that she came to pray because she had learned to take no blessing from the Lord for granted.  She said:  “I need to be here first thing, before I get too busy and too distracted, just to remember how blessed I am.”

And I said to Jean and Regina:  “God is so good!”  To which they immediately added:  “All the time!”

“And you,” Jesus asks, “who do you say that I am?”

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this past week, I participated in and spoke at the Msgr. McGread Stewardship Conference in Wichita, Kansas.  I was invited to come and share some of the story of our stewardship journey at Saint Joseph and Nativity Parishes.

Another priest there, in his presentation, told this story:

Some years ago he was at the local Burger King drive-up window.  And when it came time to pay for his order he was told that the car ahead of him had already taken care of this for him.

He told the server that they probably recognized him from his parish.  The server responded, “No, Father.  It’s not about you at all.  This person does this regularly because she says it makes her feel so good to give.”

The priest figured that he should return the favor.  But when he looked at the truck behind him he saw four big, hungry workers on their lunch break.  So it was a pretty good-size tab that he picked up for them.  But he said that it made him feel so good to give.  And now he does this regularly when he stops at a fast-food drive-up window.

Why does it feel so good to give?  Because that is what God does for us all the time.  God LOVES to give.  For “God so loved the world that He GAVE His only Son” [John 3: 16].  And Jesus GAVE His life for us so that we could live forever with Him in heaven.  And when we GIVE of ourselves generously to others, we are most like Jesus Christ.  We are at our best and at our happiest when we GIVE.

“And you,” Jesus asks, “who do you say that I am?”

In the movie “Titanic,” we see a young, beautiful, privileged woman named Rose, who is tired of the social status that was smothering her, and who felt entrapped by her fiancé who was abusive and power-hungry.  We see her about to jump off the ship and end her life when Jack Dawson, a penniless artist, talks her out of it. And when she begins to slip, he grabs her arm and says:  “I will never let go.”

That line becomes a theme throughout the movie, all the way until its end when the Titanic is sinking and Rose is floating on a piece of debris and Jack is in the icy water.  She lives and he dies, but still with a firm grip of her hand.  “I will never let go.”

That promise is given to us by Jesus Himself who assures us:  “I will never let go.”  In good times and in tough times, He will never let go of us.

God is so good – all the time.

God loves to give.  And it is when we give of ourselves generously to others that we are most like Jesus Christ.

“And you,” Jesus asks, “who do you say that I am?”

 

Father O’Connor’s Homily for August 20, 2017

image20th Sunday in Ordinary Time-A

Isaiah 56:  1, 6-7

Romans 11:  13-15, 29-32

Matthew 15:  21-28

 

I had a chuckle over a story about a man who rushed down to the local supermarket on a Saturday afternoon to pick up a few snack items.  The big game was going to be on, and he was having a few friends over to watch it.

The store was loaded with shoppers.  And as he headed for the 12-items-or-less express lane – the only one that did not have a long line – a woman cut him off and slipped into that check-out line, pushing a shopping cart piled high with groceries.  The man was fuming.

But then the clever cashier motioned for the woman to come forward.  The cashier looked at her overflowing cart and asked ever so sweetly:  “So dearie, which twelve items would you like to buy today?”

 

That story reminds me a bit of the spirit of the woman in today’s Gospel who was clever and determined to get her request met by Jesus.  Let’s look at this Gospel together.

 

This is the only occasion that we know of in Jesus’ adult life when He was outside of Jewish territory.

There was no place in Palestine where He could escape the crowds.  He wanted to prepare His disciples for His approaching passion and death.  So He went to the Gentile districts of Tyre and Sidon because no self-respecting Jew would follow Him there.  But even in this foreign territory He still encountered the demands of human need.

 

There was a woman who came to Jesus, asking:  “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!  My daughter is tormented by a demon.”  And “Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.”

His disciples said to Him:  “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”  They saw her as a nuisance.  They wanted Jesus to grant her request simply to get rid of her.  Their motives were not at all out of love and compassion for her.

But for Jesus there was a problem.  He said:  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  His mission was to begin with the Jews.  And here was a Gentile woman crying for mercy.  There was only one thing for Jesus to do:  He must awaken true faith in her heart.

The woman then came and did Jesus homage, saying:  “Lord, help me.”

So Jesus says to her:  “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

To call a person “a dog” is a contemptuous insult.  But the tone and the look with which something is said can make all the difference.

We can call a friend “an old devil” or “a rascal” with a smile and a tone that can take all of the sting out of it and fill it with affection.  I picture Jesus saying this to the woman with a smile on His face and with compassion in His eyes.

And the Greek word for “dogs” here does not mean the diseased and savage street dogs who probed the garbage heaps.  But rather the household pets that would stay at your feet and climb into your lap.

So the woman, with her clever Greek wit, replies:  “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

And Jesus’ eyes lit up with joy at her faith and He granted her the healing for her daughter that she so desired:  “O woman, great is your faith.  Let it be done for you as you wish.”  And the girl was healed at that very hour.

 

What do we learn from this woman and her encounter with Jesus?

First and foremost, she had love.  She made the misery of her child her own.  Although a pagan, she would approach this stranger, Jesus, and would even accept His silence and His apparent rebuffs out of love for her daughter.  And there is nothing stronger and nothing nearer to God than love that comes from the heart.

She also had faith.  And it was a faith that grew through her contact with Jesus.  She began by calling Him “Son of David,” a popular political title.  She ended by calling Jesus “Lord.”  Jesus wanted her to see that “a request to a great man” must be turned into “a prayer to the living God.”  And she did.

And this woman had the gift of cheerfulness.  She had her troubles and yet she could still smile.  God loves the cheerful person, in whose eyes there is always the light of hope.

This loving, faith-filled and cheerfully-clever woman did indeed move through the express line to Jesus and received from Him an answer to her shopping cart full of prayers.

This Gospel invites us to imitate her faith which, in the end, was rewarded with God’s bountiful blessings.

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