Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: September 27, 2015

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

 

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Numbers 11: 25-29
James 5: 1-6
Mark 9: 38-43, 47-48

Walt Disney was known to be a ruthless film editor. He felt that if something in the filming got in the way of the story’s flow it should be cut out – even if the scene itself was funny or beautiful.

Good writers tell us that to produce a good piece of literature you have to edit and edit and edit. Pieces of writing are effective largely because of what was cut out – so that only the best remains.

If we think of our lives as the story that God dreams for us, what needs to be edited right now so that the story of our life can flow as God intends?

In the Gospel that we just listened to, Jesus uses some very graphic illustrations to make that point. He is using something called hyperbole: an extreme exaggeration to draw a lesson that we just can’t miss.

Jesus says, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye is the means of your sin, pluck it out. Better to enter into life,” He says, “with one hand or one foot or one eye, than to go to the fires of Gehenna – the fires of hell – with all of your members intact.”

We get the point! What in our lives needs to be cut out so that the story of our life can flow? Sometimes the difference between a mess and a masterpiece lies in what is eliminated.

The first place we would look for editing is the sin in our lives. It gets in the way. It becomes a part of us.

There’s an old rhyme that goes:
“Knock-knock.”
“Who’s there?” I said.
“A little lonely sin.”
“Enter,” I said.
And then all hell broke in.

People will sometimes admit that there was a sin that they gave into years ago that has had a profound effect on them ever since. It seemed at the time to be no big deal, but it has affected them deeply.

Sin can do that. We talk about “the seven capital sins,” or “the seven deadly sins.” What makes them “capital” or “deadly” sins is that they enable other sins to follow. They are: pride [which is the chief one], covetousness [or greed], lust, anger, gluttony [or intemperance], envy, and sloth [or laziness]. These sins can take root and enable other sins. With God’s grace we need to cut them out. And we have to have a plan in order to do this.

There was a woman on an airplane years ago when an airline dinners actually existed! She got her meal and she immediately took the salt and pepper and sprinkled them on the chocolate cake that was there for dessert. The flight attendant said, “What are you doing? That’s not necessary!” And the woman answered, “Oh yes, it is. Otherwise I just might eat it!”

We have to have a plan for eliminating the sin in our lives. And the Sacrament of Penance is an enormous help. We have an opportunity to celebrate this sacrament at Saint Joseph every Thursday evening following the 7:00 PM Mass until 8:30 PM, and every Saturday morning from 11:00 AM until 12:00 Noon.

Second, our relationships in life sometimes need some editing. We need to go back regularly and look at our priorities and be sure that we are living according to them when it comes to our relationships with others.

I see Pope Francis as someone who does this very well. Look at all that he is doing to relate well to people in our nation. English is not his strong language, and yet he practiced for months so that he could deliver his address to Congress in the language of our nation. Imagine how tired he must be after his travels to Cuba and now to the United States. And yet he smiles and looks people in the eye as though each person was the most important person in the world.

What has he been talking about with us? He summed it all up in the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have others do to you.” He has applied that to immigrants, children, the elderly, the hungry, the homeless, the jobless, the imprisoned, and so on.

And how did Pope Francis become so sensitive to human relationships? By daily conversion … by daily editing his life. And his message to America – to continually edit the way that we relate to other people – is all the more convincing by the strength of his own example.

The third area that may need some editing is in our relationship with God. What place do I give God in my life? Well, you might say, “I’m here at Mass right now, on this Sunday morning.” And I’m glad you are, and I commend you for that! But what about the other six days?

What part of your daily life do you commit for prayer? I’m afraid sometimes that if we gave our human friendships the same amount of time and attention that we give to God each week, our human friendships would not survive.

God has offered us a relationship with Himself. How do I respond to that relationship with the gift of time that God has given me?

The Gospel today sounds pretty harsh – cutting off things. But the point is well made. Jesus wants the story of our life to flow from beginning to end according to God’s dream for us. What in our lives needs some editing: in terms of sin, in terms of our relationships with others, and in terms of our relationship with God?

When we allow God to be our editor-in-chief, God can turn the story of our lives from being a mess into becoming a masterpiece. And, with His grace, to end “happily ever after” in the kingdom of heaven.

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: September 20, 2015

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

 

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Wisdom 2: 12, 17-20
James 3: 16-4: 3
Mark 9: 30-37

“Aging is mandatory but maturing is optional.” Or so the saying goes. We can’t do a single thing about getting older. But we do have choices to make about maturing as we age.

Sometimes adults can act like little kids. Today’s Gospel is a case in point. The 12 Apostles were walking with Jesus to Capernaum and they were arguing among themselves as to which one of them was the greatest.

And Jesus sets them straight when He says: “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” And then – as a kind of visual aid – Jesus puts His arms around a child and says: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me. And whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

“Welcome a child,” Jesus says, “and you welcome me.”

Children are a wonderful blessing. But those of you who have them know that they can also be quite messy, quite noisy and they can keep us off balance.

A busy mother was getting dinner prepared for her family, and trying to get that last bit of catsup out of the bottle. Then the phone rang and she asked one of her daughters to answer it. And she did so very politely, as she had been taught.

“Mommy, it’s Father Smith from church.” And then she says back into the telephone: “Mommy can’t come to the phone right now. She’s hitting the bottle.”

Yes, kids can keep us off balance sometimes. And yet – even though they are small – they can teach us grown-ups some powerful lessons.

Look at all of their energy. They don’t simply walk – they run, skip, hop, and probably would fly if they were able. And we mope along, dragging our feet and looking worn out. We can get a bit jaded in life, a bit cynical and disappointed. And yet when we look at our children, they believe that anything is possible. They are full of hope and expectation. They see every person as someone to love. The little ones even serve us.

“Aging is mandatory. Maturing is optional.” Jesus wants all of His disciples to grow in maturity and He gives us the formula and the example: “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

Jesus, the Son of God, humbled Himself and became a man. He chose to be a servant. And if we want to be like Him, we must become servants as well.

For people who are insecure in life, this is a difficult lesson. They frequently try to mask their own insecurities by commanding a lot of attention for themselves or by wanting to control others. Humility is very threatening for them. But Jesus is our model. He takes us from immaturity, where we are takers – to maturity, where we are givers.

A real temptation for so many people is to think that everybody else has it better than they do – perfect marriages, perfect families, perfect homes, perfect jobs. May I tell you from my vantage point of being a priest for 40 years that I do not know of any perfect marriages, families, homes or jobs. I know of lots and lots of people who are working hard to improve in these areas every day – and they make progress, one day at a time. But achieving perfection? Not in this lifetime on earth!

But we continue to strive and to grow each day with God’s grace to become more mature as we age: moving from being less takers to becoming more givers. “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

Look at what happened to the Apostles. They moved from immaturity, arguing about which one of them was the greatest – to becoming more mature, becoming preachers and evangelizers, giving their lives for Christ and for others. They moved from being takers to becoming givers – from self-interest to service.

There is a classic story about a lady who was going through some very tough times in life. And she was feeling very sorry for herself. One day she went to visit the village wise man, asking him how she could become happy again.

He gave her this advice: “Walk through a neighborhood and look for a home where you think there are no problems, and knock on the door. And when you find one such home, come back and let me know.”

She never returned because she never found a home where there were no problems or worries or suffering. And she also discovered that she was a pretty good listener. And moving from the misery of her self-pity to the ministry of serving others she became a very happy person once again.

And so Jesus gives us some very good advice today for our living: “If anyone wishes to be first, they shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

We have His example and His grace – and lots of opportunities before us today.

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: September 13, 2015

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

 

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Isaiah 50: 5-9a
James 2: 14-18
Mark 8: 27-35

Jesus asks a very important question in today’s Gospel: “Who do you say that I am?”

And Simon Peter answers: “You are the Christ – the Messiah – the Son of the Living God” [Matthew 16:16, Mark 8:30, Luke 9:20].

How do you answer that question? It is a critical question, demanding a personal response from every single one of us as followers of Jesus. “Who do you say that I am?”

Over the ages people have provided lots of answers to this question, and very often they want to shape Jesus to their own preferences. There was one age where people thought of Jesus as a kind of Zeus-like deity, ready to cast lightning bolts at the world. Another age has seen Jesus as a well-groomed man on a solid gold cross from Tiffany’s.

Someone said that in our times we tend to look at Jesus as “Jesus L-I-T-E”: Jesus my buddy, who is ready to pat me on the back, give me a high-five, and wink at my “misbehavior” – a Jesus who is sweet and non-judgmental… a live-and-let-live kind of guy. But not someone we would die for, and not necessarily someone we would live for either.

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks us.

There was a survey that was taken of young Americans about their faith-lives. Some good news from that survey was that most of the respondents were not hostile towards religion. But why? Because, as some said, “Religion is no big deal.” Some others even said, “Jesus is no big deal.”

One of the respondents even went on to say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter – everyone goes to heaven after they die, and I know that in the end Jesus is going to forgive me for everything that I’ve done wrong in life. So what’s the worry?” What kind of a Jesus is that? That is not the Jesus of the Gospels.

As Richard Nieber put it: what some people want to believe in is “a God without wrath who brings people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.”

Our young people are full of passion, and we sometimes, as older people, present a passion-less Jesus to them. Our youth want to make a difference in our world – they are idealistic, they are generous, and they are looking to do something meaningful with their lives.

That’s one of the reasons that a million young people turn out for World Youth Day, wherever in the world it is held, in order to be with an elderly Pope. And why do they want to be with the Pope? Because he stands for something, and for Someone. Our young people look for the heroic, but sometimes we, as older people, have presented a Jesus to them that is more like a toothy Paul Lynde with a halo than someone to live and die for.

“Who do you say that I am?” Who is the Jesus we read about in the Gospels? He is a Jesus who will get upset with us and tell us to pluck out our eye if our eyes are accessing pornography on the internet. He is a Jesus who is not happy about the violence in our world that we willingly bring into our lives and our homes through television, through movies, through video games. Jesus tells us that if somebody slaps us on one cheek, we should turn and offer that person the other cheek. And that we are to forgive from our hearts.

And that if we don’t, there are consequences: we run the risk of losing the joy of heaven and coming to the pains of hell.

Is the picture that I’m painting right now of Jesus inaccurate? No, it’s not, if you read the Gospels. In Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus tells the story of the judgment of the sheep and the goats. The sheep say to Him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink….?” And Jesus answers, “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me,” and they went off to eternal glory in heaven.

But the goats said, “When did we see you hungry and not feed you, or thirsty and not give you drink….?” And to them Jesus says, “As often as you did NOT do this for the least of my brothers and sisters you failed to do it for me,” and they went off to eternal punishment in hell.

“Who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered so well: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Take that question to heart, my fellow Christians. So much rests upon your answer and my answer. In fact, everything rests upon our answer. “And you – who do you say that I am?”