Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: March 13th, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Lent-C

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Isaiah 43: 16-21
Philippians 3: 8-14
John 8: 1-11

 

Part of today’s Gospel is included in one of the flashback scenes in the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”  A woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery was brought to Jesus by the Scribes and Pharisees.  And they asked Him:  “Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.  So what do you say?”

The Gospel goes on to say that “they said this to test Him, so that they could have some charge to bring against Him.  And Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with His finger.”

Why did He do this?  I will give you three theories, all of which are plausible.

The first theory says that Jesus did this to buy some time.  It is like what we do when we say, “Would you please repeat the question?”  He wanted to think things over in prayer, so He took some time to draw on the ground with His finger.

The second theory is that He wanted the Scribes and Pharisees to keep on talking so that maybe they would come to realize just how cruel they were being to that woman, and perhaps talk themselves out of it.

The third theory – and this is the one I like best – says that Jesus began writing down the sins of her accusers.  And this gives a lot of punch to His statement, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  He resumed His writing.  “And they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.”

The Gospel then says that “He was left alone with the woman before Him.”  And He said to her, “Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  And she replied, “No one, sir.”  Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

This Gospel passage shows us how Jesus treats sinners:  with His compassion and mercy.

As human beings, we are often tempted to hold other people to a higher standard than we live by.  We criticize the faults of other people, when those same faults are glaringly part of our own lives.

Jesus is showing us how we should treat people who have done wrong:  with compassion and mercy.  As is said of doctors, “to frequently heal, often bring relief, but always deliver compassion.”

When we see someone else who has fallen into sin, our attitude should not be:  “That stupid fool!”  Rather we should remember how we have been forgiven by the Lord, perhaps in some very serious ways, and offer them the kind compassion and mercy that we have so gratefully received.

Jesus also shows us how He treats this individual who was before Him.   He did not say that her sin was not serious or that it was no big deal.  It was serious and a big deal.  Rather, He forgave her and He gave her another chance.  Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Our parish mission with Fr. Michael Denk, takes place in Saint Joseph Church on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings this week at 7:00 PM.  I hope that you can come.

And on Tuesday evening, our parish mission will conclude with a Communal Penance Service at 8:00 PM. with a good number of priests available for individual Confession and sacramental absolution.

Please take advantage of the Lord’s offer of mercy.  Today’s Gospel shows us what kind of Savior we are privileged to have.

“Has no one condemned you?”  And she replied, “No one, sir.”  Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

What a mighty, compassionate and merciful Lord we serve!

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: March 6th, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Lent-C

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Joshua 5: 9a, 10-12
2 Corinthians 5: 17-21
Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

 

A young man had gotten into serious trouble and was afraid to face his father.  He sought advice from his parish priest, who told him the story of “The Prodigal Son” and then recommended that he tell his dad the truth and ask for his mercy.

A while later, the son came to tell the priest how it all went.  The priest asked, “Well, did your father kill the fattened calf?”

“No,” the young man said, “but he almost killed the prodigal son!”

“We implore you on behalf of Christ:  be reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5: 20].

So Saint Paul proclaims today in the second reading.

What kind of God are we to be reconciled with?  Jesus answers with one of the most beloved stories in all of literature, the story of “The Prodigal Son.”

The word “prodigal” means “recklessly extravagant” and “lavish.”  It refers to the son who, being “recklessly extravagant” and “lavish,” squandered his early inheritance on prostitutes and drinking and carousing.

“Prodigal” can also be applied to the father who received him back, being “recklessly extravagant” and “lavish” with his mercy.

It is a beloved story because it is our story.  It involves a father and his two sons.  And we can be like either one of his children.

The younger son sins with great flamboyance and comes back with sincere repentance.  And the father, “recklessly extravagant” with his mercy, throws a “lavish” party to celebrate his return home.

The older son claims to be a faithful son and perfectly obedient.  But actually he is filled with resentment and bitterness.  The father goes out to him too and invites him to join in the party celebrating his brother’s homecoming.  But older son would rather remain outside and wallow in his self-righteousness.

The artist Rembrandt [1606-1669] has painted this parable on canvas.  And it is entitled, “The Return of the Prodigal.”

The wayward son, returning home, is on his knees before his father.  His head is shaved, his cloak is tattered, and one sandal is off his foot.  His father bends down over his kneeling son and puts his hands on his son’s shoulders with tender mercy.

And older son is also there, standing tall and stiff, with hands crossed in judgment and watching from a distance.  Older son and his father are both dressed in red cloaks and both have beards.  But the similarity drops off from there.

Older son has no heart, no compassion, no admission that he too is a sinner.  And he insults his father by refusing to go inside to the banquet.

Maybe something like that has happened in your family where someone says, “If you invite them, I’m not coming.”

The Lord wants all of us to be at His Eucharistic table and to be at peace with each another.  That is what we pledge when we offer each other the sign of peace before we come forward to receive Holy Communion.  Jesus is teaching us that if we want to be in good relationship with God, we need to work on being in good relationship with each other.

Both sons were sinners.  Which one did more damage?  Younger son with his lust and carousing, or older son with his resentment and bitterness?  Both were in need of their father’s mercy, but only younger son took the opportunity.

Lent calls all of us to repentance and offers us graced, personal opportunities.

So “be not afraid” to take Saint Paul’s invitation to heart :  “We implore you on behalf of Christ:  be reconciled to God.”

Earthly parents might be ready to kill the prodigal child, but our Heavenly Father is always ready to kill the fattened calf for His “recklessly extravagant” and “lavish” welcome-home celebration.

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: February 28th, 2016

Third Sunday of Lent-C

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Exodus 3: 1-8a, 13-15
1 Corinthians 10: 1-6, 10-12
Luke 3: 1-9

 

There are lots of people in our world who are very good at what they do.  But sometimes they don’t always cultivate a lot of hope in people they serve.

A man was reflecting on his successful chemotherapy.  While he was in the hospital his fever had spiked.  A doctor he did not know looked at his report and said, very officially, “You are infected.”

The man said that he had felt very bad when he came to the hospital, and now, after that remark, he felt even worse.

And then his own oncologist came by and looked at the same report, and said to him, “You are really an amazing person to be able to put up with these levels of toxicity!”

The man reflected that this doctor’s attitude not only built up his hope but also spurred on his efforts to recovery.

A bishop had written this:  “In Saint Paul’s trio – faith, hope and love – love is certainly the greatest of the three.  But hope is what is most needed today.”

And I think that is true.  As I reflect upon my priestly ministry over the last 40 years, I have found in people a lot of discouragement and despair, a lot of feeling worthless and hopeless.  As we look at today’s Gospel, the fig tree without fruit may be an image of our own lives.

But we need to hope.  We need to trust that God is patiently watching over us.  And we need reminders of that hope.

The ancient Diogenes said, “The last thing that dies in a person is their hope.”

Thomas Fuller, the 17th century British churchman, wrote, “If it were not for hope, the heart would break.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must accept disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”

And then there is this one that comes from a priest in Baltimore:  “Hope is going to your mailbox on a Sunday morning and expecting to find a gift package in it!”

We all need hope, and the parable that Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel is all about hope.

“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard.  And he came in search of fruit on it but found none.  He said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none.  So cut it down.  Why should it exhaust the soil?’

“The gardener said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it.  It may bear fruit in the future.  If not, you can cut it down.’”

Gardeners are so often people of great hope.  Even though the ground is cold and snowy right now, there are bulbs buried there that are going to come to life in just a few weeks – and we will enjoy the blossoms.

We can feel sometimes that our possibilities are buried in the frozen ground and the sun is doing very little to warm the winter winds.  But God, the Master Gardener, is always patiently watching over us.  He will give us what we need – one day at a time – to bear the fruit that He intends for us:  to become the best version of ourselves, the one He has in mind.  So live in that hope.

And there is one more detail in this parable.  Right at the end, the gardener says, “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it.  It may bear fruit in the future.  If not, you can cut it down.”

“YOU can cut it down” – not me!  And that is how God is with us.  God is like the gardener.

Saint Francis de Sales, the seventeenth-century bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, used to say to people who were anxious and fearful, “God and I will help you.  All I ask is that you don’t despair.”

We are called and graced to be people of hope – and to cultivate hope in those around us.

“God and I will help you.  All I ask is that you don’t despair.”

This is great advice and great example – from a great saint – on this winter day.