Saturday, July 31, 2010

This Old Extreme Makeover (2010-08-01)

This is my homily for Sunday 1 August 2010, 18th Sunday in ordinary time. On-campus Mass at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ resumes 7:30 p.m. Sunday August 29 for the 2010-2011 school year. I am the Catholic campus minister for this campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association.

Eclesiast├ęs 1:2, 2:21-23 | Psalm 89 | Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11 | + Luke 12:13-21

[_01_] Some ideas are so innovative, so successful that the concept will be the source of comedy/satire or the concept will be taken up by others …

Such is the case of This Old House, a public-television series launched in 1979 on WGBH in Boston.

This Old House follows the remodeling projects of houses over a number of weeks. In This Old House -- and in the programs which imitate it -- the builders discover, plan and construct a home that might otherwise be lost.

A few years, later, in the 1980’s a popular situation comedy made a spoof of This Old House -- Home Improvement with Tim Allen.

And … now, on ABC, we have Extreme Makeover Home Edition (E.M.H.E.). And, we also have the Home and Garden Network and the other followers. These are the Hollywood full-color action-hero versions of This Old House. And, on E.M.H.E., they even finish the job in one week for an impoverished family.

[_02_] The Gospel parable today is also about upgrading and improving, an extreme makeover, perhaps?

In the 12th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus relates this parable –

“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” (Luke 12:16-19)

This man believes he has plenty of time and money. Unfortunately, time is running out on his upgrade opportunity.

[_03_] It is certainly exciting to discover something which can be improved, upgraded, saved … salvation.

It is our faith to believe in salvation too. And, we believe that the Lord reaches out to us with his grace, to discover us, to make us over.

St. Paul touches on this in his letter to the Colossians, saying that we are also remade, rebuilt. Paul is writing about the need for meditation – prayer – repentance – forgiveness – renewal. This is the “stripping off of the old self” (cf., Colossians 3:9).

However, this is not a superficial process with paint and sandpaper. Forgiveness, in particular, goes much deeper.

Consider how difficult it is to ask for forgiveness or to show forgiveness. This is a rethinking of the whole structure. We need a new architect…and Christ is the cornerstone.

It is an extreme makeover.

Or, we might say, we are rebuilding This Old House.

[_04_] Rebuilding requires imagination … and faith and commitment. We are called to imagine God’s love for us.

This is what we do when we are trying to rebuild something which is fragile …or something which has failed or fallen down.

And, we too have fallen down at times.

It requires a subtle touch.

[_05_] The man in the Gospel parable is not into subtlety. Perhaps, it’s not necessary. He has the money (and the time, or so he thinks) to tear down and rebuild his barns. And, when we are rebuilding something strictly material, we can do that.

However, Jesus – in the parable – is encouraging us not to put our faith in material things …even steel-reinforced concrete.

There are other upgrades, improvements which we do. And, to undertake them requires observation, reflection, discovery, prayer.

[_06_] On This Old House – and usually on E.M.H.E. – they don’t just knock the whole house down. They work with what they have. And, in our daily upgrades – our daily conversion – we are called to do the same.

[_07_] For example, consider the building and renovation and upgrading which mothers and fathers do for their children.

To help a child grow in wisdom and intelligence and maturity requires the parent exercise authority and also to plan ahead.

This is a huge responsibility. And, it is also an exercise in humility. In the Gospel, John the Baptist describes his relationship to the Lord in a similar way. He says, “he must increase, I must decrease …or he must become greater, I must become less.” (John 3:30).

The same is true in raising a child. As a child grows and receives credit, the parent is not always acknowledged. The parent might not be credited. Yet, it also natural to take a step back and let the child increase while we decrease. This too is a blessing. This is an upgrade.

[_08_] A similar challenge applies to the care of our loved ones who may suffer illness, or disability, or are growing older.

We want to plan and control. And, under such circumstances, we could lose sight of the person. That is, we might add up all the problems, calculating how hard this care is.

Yet, illness and advanced age can be times for special intimacy and love and thanksgiving in the family. This upgrade is also a limited-time offer. Don’t let it expire.

We are called to see the upgrade – and the upside -- even when we are in difficulty. To turn our eyes toward Christ, to meditate on his death and life. We try to die to ourselves each day and to rise to new life.

Because it is not only This Old House which is being upgraded. Through our relationship to Christ, through his rebuilding, his death and resurrection, we too are also worth saving. [_end_]

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Negotiator (2010-07-25)

This is my homily for Sunday 25 July 2010, 17th Sunday in ordinary time. On-campus Mass at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ resumes 7:30 p.m. Sunday August 29 for the 2010-2011 school year. I am the Catholic campus minister for this campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association.

Genesis 18:20-32 |Psalm 138 |Colossians 2:12-14 |Luke 11:1-13

[_01_] What is the best way to obtain 3 loaves of bread? How much will they cost?

One way – the simplest way - is to go to the supermarket and buy them.

Late at night, however, when Shop Rite and Safeway are closed, we cannot go to the store. We need some other connection, a friend.

In fact, we need a friend who is willing to stay up late to lend us these loaves of bread.

And, Jesus describes the usefulness of this friendship in a parable:

Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,' and he says in reply from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.' I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence. (Luke 11:5-8)

This parable is a reminder about the need for good connections. As we say, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Knowledge is power, but relationships are more powerful.

[__02__] Knowing someone can be an advantage. Knowing someone with expertise can be a very profitable advantage.

For example, consider the purchase or sale of a home. A transaction as complicated as any calculus assignment. In such a case, we might have to brush up on – arithmetic … plus economics/taxes, zoning laws, carpentry, plumbing, electricity, and more.

All of these are so complicated that we hire experts. We hope this will help us to get some sleep. We want the experts to stay up doing the homework. We want them to get us our “daily bread” through a fair deal and transaction.

[_03_] In the Book of Genesis, Abraham is up late as an agent, interceding on behalf of the two cities Sodom and Gomorrah.

Abraham is able to be their agent (their intercessor), having done some homework. That is, Abraham know about God’s mercy and love from his personal experience.

And, Abraham wants to negotiate some of this mercy for the two cities. He is the skilled advocate, the assertive negotiator who takes risks to move the deal along.

[_04_] A skilled advocate is supposed to take risks.

And, Abraham takes the risk, the bold risk of speaking directly to the Lord about the destiny of the 2 cities.

A is the bold negotiator who argues the price of salvation, eventually getting a discount.

Starting out at the price of 50, Abraham is able to move the auction price down from 50 to 45 to 40 to 30 to 20 to 10.

It helps to have an expert on your side.

[_05_] However, this negotiation between Abraham and the Lord is only a prelude to something greater. Yes, Abraham takes risks. But, Chrsit takes an even greater risk for us.

Jesus is the one who accepts the repentant sinner directly.

(There is no third party intermediary. We have both intercessors in heaven…and access to our Father in heaven. We are blessed to have both. )

[_06_] This is the prayer which Jesus teaches us, the Our Father.

And, in this prayer, we are not asking someone else to negotiate for us. Rather, we pray as Jesus does. We acknowledge and power of God personally.

[_07___] We speak to our Father directly about our need for daily bread. The daily bread of patience, money, health, employment, contentment, education.

Take nothing for granted. Negotiate everything with the Lord.

As we enter this negotiation personally, we also recognize that Jesus no longer calls us slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. He calls us friends, sharing everything he knows. (cf. John 15:15)

[_08___] By making us his friends, Christ invites us to share that friendship and mercy with others. To forgive as we have been forgiven.

This is part of the Lord’s prayer – part of gaining our daily bread.

We are called to forgive others even if we cannot be reconciled to them, to forgive others may still hold a grudge against us, to forgive even those who have died.

[_09_] Teaching us to pray, Jesus is also teaching us that forgiveness makes us holy, even if our forgiveness is rejected by another person.

Forgiveness is beneficial for the one who forgives, making this person both gentler and stronger.

Forgiving others, we also acknowledge our salvation comes through Jesus Christ.

What is the price of this salvation? Will it be available in the middle of the night? Jesus give us a new price…and new access day and night.

[_10_] Jesus get us a discount lower than Abraham’s negotiated bid which is 10, 10innocent people.

How much does the bread -the bread of life- cost? Jesus reduces the price to one, his one life given for us.

[_11] And he calls us to speak directly to the one who made us, loves us, and gives good things to those who ask. [__end__]

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Advantage: Mary (2010-07-18)

This is my homily for Sunday 18 July 2010, 16th Sunday in ordinary time. On-campus Mass at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ resumes 7:30 p.m. Sunday August 29 for the 2010-2011 school year. I am the Catholic campus minister for this campus and for the FDU Newman Catholic Association.

Genesis 18:1-10a | Psalm 15 | Colossians 1:24-28 | Luke 10:38-42

[_01_] Martha is occupied with the work of the house. This is the work of serving her guests.

Martha is convinced that hard work will produce advantages. Therefore, she puts forth effort, even overtime for her family and guests – including Jesus and probably some traveling companions – who have stopped in.

Jesus notices how hard she is working. But Jesus says that her sister Mary has the better part.

Mary seems to be lagging behind and is not even moving. Yet, Mary has gained something better. How could Mary have a head start? What’s that – advantage -- about?

[_02_] This encounter among Mary, Martha, and Jesus is a reminder that God freely bestows gifts on us, even when we are not noticing them or working for them or deserving of them.

In Psalm 127, we read about the house which symbolizes our lives. The house for which we give our lives. The house is our shelter our home, our existence. And, the house is also a burden to construct, to renovate, and to maintain.

Martha knows this as well as anyone. The house is the symbol of our lives. Psalm 127 reads:

“If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil.

In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat: when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.” (Psalm 127)

[_03_] The Psalm reminds us who the builder is … who the architect is of our lives. And, we also know that Christ is the cornerstone. The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Such an idea does not mean that we should not work hard or do our best. However, this idea - of Christ as the architect and the cornerstone – reminds us that the results are beyond our control.

What we often want – (Martha too, it seems) – are both advantage and control.

Martha wants control.

[_04_] Martha is vigilant over the house, the its furnishings, and probably over her sister as well.

Martha identifies the differences, weaknesses to be corrected in all these things. She finds this a deficiency in her sister’s behavior. This difference does not please Martha.

Mary herself is identified as the less productive – if not lazy – sibling. Martha sees this as a weakness, something to be addressed and changed.

And, we might even say that Martha sees Mary as her opponent, if not her enemy. Sometimes, even the people we love can be obstacles to us, even enemies.

Martha might also recall that we are called to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us” (Matthew 5:44-45)

We cannot win out (or defeat) a person (even if the person does not please us) the way we can win a soccer game … the way Spain beat Holland in the World Cup.

However, Martha is going to try this competitive approach to a rival. She perceives a weakness in Mary and Martha wants to score a point.

Thus, she asks, “ Lord, do you not care that my sister is not helping me?“

Well, our Lord cares ..but he also cares more for Martha than her desire for victory over Mary.

[_05_] What Martha is being told – as we all are– is about the real advantage in life.

We don’t gain true advantage by pointing out the failings of others, for we can only change ourselves.

Our advantage does not come in outperforming others.

Rather, Martha is called to bring her own dreams and work to Jesus and to take a break from the action.

[_06_] And, the Lord helps us when we surrender to him. This surrender does not mean that we are conceding or quitting.

This is not Spain surrendering to the Netherlands and giving up in the World Cup.

This surrender is our prayer, our meditation, the better part, the best part of the match. [__end___]

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stopped, Pulled Over (2010-07-11)

Deuteronomy 30:10-14 | Psalm 69 | Colossians 1:15-20 | Luke 10:25-37

This is my homily for Sunday 11 July 2010, 15th Sunday in ordinary time. On-campus Mass at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Teaneck, NJ resumes 7:30 p.m. Sunday August 29 for the 2010-2011 school year. I am the Catholic chaplain for the community and FDU Newman Catholic Association.

[__01] Caution and prudence are necessary on the road. For example, whether you and I are behind the wheel as drivers seat or in the crosswalk as pedestrians, we are called to stop – look – listen.

To watch where we are going; watch out for others.

And, if we were to fail to do so – or if we travel too rapidly, we could find ourselves – pulled over .

[__02] A person will be pulled over if he or she were to do something outside the law or boundary, right?

And, the Good Samaritan is pulled over.

A legal scholar (perhaps, a Pharisee) and Jesus are debating what and who is within the law (or not).

The question is “who is my neighbor?” And, this leads to other related questions -- who is within the law? Am I within the law? How do I gain life and eternal life?

A reminder also comes from the Book of Deuteronomy today – in our first reading – that the commandments and statutes are neither remote nor mysterious.

Therefore, Moses says we need not say,

'Who will go up in the sky to get [the law – these commandments] for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' Nor is [the law] across the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' No, [the law] is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out." (cf. Deuteronomy 30:10-14)

We believe the law is person, Jesus himself.

We are called to carry out the law and imitate Jesus – in our homes, at the table, in the kitchen, in the car, at school, everywhere. In how speak and act.

As Jesus also shows us that the commandments are in our midst through this parable of the Good Samaritan symbolizes our savior by going BEYOND the law, BEYOND the boundary of who I think or prefer my neighbor to be …

Be careful – going outside the law will get us pulled over to the side of the road.

And, the Good Samaritan is also pulled over to the side of the road to carry out this new law of love.

[__03] [THE PARABLE] So, the Gospel is telling us how to gain eternal life, to imitate the Good Samaritan.

*** First – by compassion.

Recognize that while you and I suffer - illness – sadness – grief – we are also called to recognize that others also suffer.

These are the people we might walk by or speed by. We might put the pedal to the metal. So, we are called to slow down, not only because the State Trooper arrives with lights and sirens. Rather, to decrease the speed on our own.

*** Secondly – to approach the victim.

Seeing someone who is suffering is one thing. Then, we called to move closer.

To move closer to the person who may be upset, might be angry, might be displeased with you or me.

Under such circumstances, we might imagine ourselves to be the victim.

And, to do this, we also need to recall the Good News of the New Testament.

As Paul writes to the Romans:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep … Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. (Romans 12:14 - 15, 12:21)

When we approach the victim, we are doing as Jesus does.

*** Thirdly – take care of him.

The Good Samaritan imitates Jesus – the Good Samaritan is a symbol of Jesus – who spends his own money, time, resources, fuel to pay the innkeeper he will return.

[__04] Getting pulled over could be bad news, could be a problem. In this case, it is good news. Good News from a personal standpoint and even a legal standpoint.

To be pulled over, stopped once in a while to see what the Good Samaritan is doing. Then, to be sent as Jesus says, to go and do likewise.