Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Carver/Plympton, MA

Homilies

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 3, 2017

Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor

Jeremiah 20:7-9

Psalm 63:2-9

Romans 12:1-2

Matthew 16:21-27

            It’s upsetting to be called names.  But for Jesus to call someone a name – that’s bad.  Jesus’ favored Apostle Simon, whom he had renamed Peter, the Rock, he called Satan!  All because Peter did not want Jesus to die, especially such a cruel, unjust and seemingly unnecessary death.  But, had you or I been there, we probably would have said what Peter said.  So we would have become, like Peter, that temporary Satan.

            We hear harsh words from Jesus.  But Jeremiah also has some harsh words, shouting one of his fiercest complaints to God.  “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped,” Jeremiah railed.  God had promised Jeremiah that, as his prophet, God would always remain with him.  That would prove true.  And Jeremiah would walk with God.  But God is often rejected.  And Jeremiah would be rejected as well.  So Jeremiah complained, because he hadn’t considered the “fine print” in this collaboration.  “You duped me….”

            So in both Jesus and Jeremiah we experience the cost of closeness to God.  Jesus, as one child suggested, could have picked up his cross and cracked those mean people over the head with it.  But that would not have been his Father’s will, for in the Incarnation the Second Person of the Trinity emptied himself of God’s glory. [1] The cross was the completion of emptying himself:  allowing violence and death to seem victorious over love and life.  For, through his resurrection, Jesus destroyed death and gained for us eternal life.

            While Jesus journeyed resolutely toward the cross, Jeremiah shouted.  He was in a snit because of what was happening to him and what was likely to happen later.  Though he had trusted God, Jeremiah was facing unexpected and unwanted pain.  As in the famous stages of grief, Jeremiah had passed through denial and was now just plain angry.  Of course, he would eventually come to acceptance of his prophetic mission.

            What about us?  Some of us – perhaps most of us – have at one time or another railed at God as did Jeremiah.  Perhaps it was at the death of someone we love, a death after a long, painful illness, or a death sudden and unexpected.  Perhaps it was some other shock to our life’s plans.  How could God have allowed this to happen?  We will go through those stages of grief, which include anger at God.  That’s all right.  God can take it.  But an Eastern philosopher warned, [2] “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else – you are the one who gets burned.”  Be angry.  But don’t live there.  We can’t live angry and still find joy in living.  With God’s grace, we shall find acceptance.

            The prophet’s life is one of struggle.  Prophets aren’t the only ones who struggle.  “The cross is the ultimate test for every Christian.  It is easy to see the presence of God in Jesus as he teaches in the Sermon on the Mount.  It is easy to see the presence of God in Jesus as he gathers his disciples for prayer.  The test of faith is to see the presence of God in Jesus as he hangs from the cross.” [3] 

            Explore with me two other ways – beyond railing at God in anger – that we may react to this, our ultimate test.  And I speak not only of the cross on Calvary, but our crosses of which Jesus spoke:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  

            Frankly, one of the alternatives to taking up one’s cross is to say, “I gave at the office.”  When some good person comes to the door or on the phone seeking donations to some worthy cause, that’s the response they sometimes get:  “I gave at the office.”  Now, that rarely means I really donated at work.  It’s more likely to mean “I don’t care.  I don’t want to get involved.  Leave me alone.”  I hear a corollary to this when meeting self-described Catholics, oftentimes in the hospital.  When I ask if we will see them soon at Mass, a frequent answer I get is, “Oh, but I go there for bingo each Wednesday, father.  You’ve seen me there.”  (I gave at the office.)

            This is not about you, because you’re here.  But it may help us to understand people who absent themselves from worship.  And it may give some background for us to evangelize these folks, because “I gave at the office” does not mean these folks have avoided the problems and crosses of life.  It only means they dare to carry these problems and crosses alone.  And that’s a shame, because without Christ these burdens weigh a person down without their knowing the love of Christ.  Their crosses lack that element of redemption.  It’s just empty, meaningless suffering.     

            Another alternative (and this may apply to some of us here) is NIMBY, that acronym for “not in my back yard.”  NIMBY raises its voice when someone proposes building affordable housing nearby or a group home, perhaps for disabled people.  And there are sometimes justifiable concerns that should be addressed, by the developer perhaps. There’s certainly room for concerns and compromises.  But more often NIMBY is a knee-jerk reaction to what seems a burden.  And the reaction is not love.

            The populist philosopher Eric Hoffer offered this insight:  “It is easier to love humanity as a whole than to love one’s neighbor.” [4]  If Christians are to take up the cross, there is a price to pay.  A cross is not a piece of jewelry.  It is a way of life, in which we love one another.  That costs. 

            It’s easy to say we love.  And we all claim to – but in theory rather than in action.  Dostoevsky wrote, “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” [5]  The crucifixion was a harsh and dreadful thing.  But God desired to manifest his love in the most graphic and human of terms, not a theoretical love.  And loving one’s neighbor sometimes levies harsh and dreadful costs, because we Christians don’t just talk the words of love, but do it.  One theologian said it succinctly:  “There is no love which does not become help.” [6] I’m sure we shall witness this in the people of Texas and Louisiana, as we have often seen in the American people before:  There is no love which does not become help. 

            So, there we have it:  the cross of Calvary, the cross of being rejected because of closeness to God, the cross that Jesus bade us take up to follow him.  And here might be our responses:  anger, I gave at the office, and NIMBY.  Grace affords us the will and ability to transcend each of these.  The test of faith is to see the presence of God in Jesus as he hung on the cross twenty centuries ago, but also to see the presence of God – the closeness of God – even as you and I face the struggles of life.  And be reassured that “…the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

[1]  St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 2:7.

[2]  The Buddha, quoted in Reader’s Digest.

[3]  Francis Conroy, Good News (homily service), Sept. 14, 1975.

[4]  Eric Hoffer, New York Times Magazine, Feb. 15, 1959, p. 12.

[5]  Feodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov.

[6]  Paul Tillich.

 

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 27, 2017

Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor

Isaiah 22:19-23

Psalm 138:1-3, 6, 8

Romans 11:33-36

Matthew 16:13-20

The Author of authority is God alone.  God shares authority so that God’s will is done among us.  At President Kennedy’s inauguration he said,  “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking his blessing and his help, but knowing that, here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”  God’s authority is given us so we may do God’s will.

            The prophet Isaiah claimed God’s authority to remove Shebna from royal office.  Shebna’s scheme of foreign allegiances did not fit with God’s plan for Israel.  Isaiah proclaimed Eliakim a better advisor to hold the key – the power to admit or exclude one’s access to the king.  This is what a president’s chief of staff does:  admits or excludes access to the president, fostering leadership without overwhelming the decision-making process.  Just so, Eliakim’s symbol of authority was to be the key that opens or shuts the door to the king.   

            Centuries later, Jesus used “keys” as a symbol of the authority to admit people to, or exclude them from, the Christian community.  These “keys” were entrusted to Simon, whom Jesus renamed Peter (Petros in Greek), as he was to be the church’s rock (petra).  Jesus envisioned Peter’s authority as rock-like.  One’s imagination conjures a strong house built on rock instead of on sand.  That kind of stability is important. 

However, next weekend we will discover a more complex picture of Peter’s authority.  Jesus will call this very rock “Satan.”  Peter, whom we lionize as the Church’s rock-solid foundation, her first pope, becomes a stumbling stone, tempting Jesus to trip and fall when Peter protested Jesus’ going up to Jerusalem possibly to die there.  “Get behind me, Satan.”  Peter did not always conform to God’s will, for God’s will is not easy, not always clear.  Jesus’ journeying toward his crucifixion is a case in point.

            Peter, we might say, is “the rock that moved.”  Peter’s leadership was secure, yet fragile at the same time, as are all who exercise authority.  Authority is a rock foundation that can quickly crumble into a stumbling stone.  Shebna had abused his authority.  Known for his fast chariots, he had built for himself a magnificent tomb hewn out of rock on a high place.  (High places symbolized closeness to God, but often were sites of pagan worship.)  Shebna had forgotten that his authority had been given him to serve God’s people, not to glorify himself as a god. 

One scripture scholar pondered such a leader’s authority: “Where is one’s true memorial?  In the cemetery or in men’s lives?  It is a poor immortality that is bought from the stonemason; but a man has not lived in vain if he is remembered gratefully for what he did and was to his fellows.” [1] 

            Our estimation of leaders, perhaps, should be like the response to Peter’s shaky leadership.  Jesus forgave Peter’s betrayal, both when Jesus called him a Satan, and later when Peter denied he even knew Jesus.  The early Church survived Peter’s flip-flopping on key issues, such as requiring a person to become Jewish before being baptized:  Peter was against this  before he was for it; and he ended up against it again.  The early Church accepted Peter’s imperfections with understanding and with prayer for an increase in grace for his leadership.  Over time, Peter’s faith and authority proved to be rock-solid. 

While we criticize other people’s authority, we must also acknowledge that you and I have also been given authority by God.  This authority comes not from membership in some political-action group, but from our baptism.  This authority is the power (and responsibility) to proclaim God’s good news and to build God’s Kingdom on earth.  Jesus used Peter, the rock-that-moved, as the foundation on which to build His Church.  And God uses you and me to be part of Kingdom-building too.  How are we doing?  Have we proclaimed our faith in Jesus at any time this week? 

            God wants to use you and me to proclaim the good news.  Through baptism and confirmation God anointed us for the task of preparing His Kingdom on earth.  Our authority is based on the faith gifted us by Jesus Christ.  No matter who we are (great or small in the world’s eyes), no matter how accomplished we seem or how simple, we who confess Jesus as the Christ are chosen by God to do His work.  We have God’s authority.

            With Simon Peter our preeminent example, our authority must always be for service.  That is the only godly purpose for power.  In today’s psalm we find the sort of authority believers are to exercise: [2]  “The lowly [God] sees, and the proud He knows from afar.”  The exercise of godly authority must always be about serving the lowly.  The focus of Christ is not on kings and generals, but on widows, orphans, strangers, the poor, the outcast.

            American Christians are charged by God to find ways in which God’s will influences national policies that affect our own country and the world.  Each Christian must consider how our voting and political action can influence national policy regarding care for the weak, the poor, the defenseless.  For this purpose Jesus gave authority to us in the first place.  

We as a culture have become so mired in consumption that Christians fail to use our moral authority to protect the Lord’s Day from shopping and commerce. [3]  We as families have become so hyperactive that parents may surrender their authority to lead their children, for example in allowing otherwise praiseworthy sports programs to replace Sunday worship. [4]  We as a nation have become so jaded that we pretend blindness to the slaughter of the unborn, who are the absolutely weakest of our neighbors. [5]  Political, legal, social and medical cowardice has abandoned homeless people to our streets.  And though there is authentic concern about the respect for the law, there are many strangers among us – legal and illegal – whose human dignity lacks our respect.  God’s authority is given in order to protect the homeless and the stranger.

            You and I have the authority, from God, to affect these issues, and more.  As President Kennedy said, “Here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”  We have the authority, from God, to defend the weak and lowly.  While the selfish use of authority intoxicates powerful people, this perverts authority so that it degenerates into coercion: the strong manipulating the weak.  When you or I abandon our God-given authority (and responsibility), we surrender to evil’s power.  When believers abandon our authority from God, others will exercise authority over us – and never for the sake of God’s kingdom, nor for the benefit of the lowly.

[1]  G.G.D. Kilpatrick, Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 5.

[2]  Psalm 138. 

[3]  I wonder how many of us are already planning, while sitting here at Mass, to go to the mall today! 

[4]  I’ve actually had a parent say to me that her son learns more about life on the ice (hockey) than in church, and so she and her husband have decided hockey is more important. 

[5]  Who is more the “least brother” than one who has not yet been born?

 

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 20, 2017

Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7

Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8

Romans 11:13-15, 29-32

Matthew 15:21-28

          Father, what do you do all day?  I see you on Sundays, but what is it that you do the rest of the week?  One of the things that keeps me busy is visiting shut-ins who hunger for the Eucharist but cannot get to Mass.  So I (and other parishioners also do this) bring Christ in the Eucharist into people’s homes.  When we visit, we chat a little.  Often it’s about their health, the weather, their isolation, regrets about not being able to tend to their home adequately – their lawn work or housekeeping. 

            This week my Communion calls each mentioned concern about the free speech rally on The Common.  The media had these little, old ladies in a tizzy about what was supposedly a White supremacy demonstration and the media’s eager anticipation of violent reactions to it. 

Taking a look at today’s scriptures we may realize there have always been – and possibly always will be – divisions in society.  Jesus, for example, had an unpleasant encounter with a Canaanite woman, a descendent of Israel’s enemies from whom Israel had taken possession of the Holy Land.  And Saint Paul stood in the breach between his Jewish race and non-Jews whom they called Gentiles.  He opined that since Jews had failed in their obedience to God, God would use their disobedience as an opportunity to bring salvation to those who had never heard of the Ten Commandments.  If Jews saw God’s mercy flowing toward these Gentiles, he hoped, they might become jealous and be open to receiving God’s mercy themselves.  Paul sought God’s “mercy upon all.”

            Such divisions seem to be part of the human condition.  While every thoughtful and faithful American will energetically reject a philosophy based on White supremacy, at the same time thoughtful and faithful Americans must reject violence against such unenlightened people.  The so-called “anti-fa” activists, who claim to be anti-fascists, ended up employing in Charlottesville the same violent tactics made famous by fascists.  It seems the Brown Shirts of today prefer to wear black and purple.

            Of course honorable people must oppose error expounded by any person or group of persons.  Such opposition must be bold and clear.  For, there is objective truth.  Not everything can be okay for you while not okay for me.  This means there can be error.  And there can even be objective evil.  But how to dispute error; how to oppose evil?

            Every faithful Catholic opposes abortion.  Though some seem wishy-washy about that, abortion remains an objective evil.  So it must be opposed.  However, one does not do this by blowing up an abortion clinic or assaulting a nurse who works there.  There must be love and persuasion and example, in the form of alternatives provided, such as pre-natal health care, avenues for adoption, sheltered homes, counseling, education about fetal development, and even post-abortion counseling to deal with the guilt women and men often feel after the fact.  Isn’t this what Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was about – a way to bring salvation to non-Jews, and through them, fostering in Jews a jealousy to receive the same salvation?  Love, persuasion, example.

            Jesus took a hard line toward non-Jews, like this Canaanite woman with a tormented daughter.  She wasn’t even worth a moment of his time.  Jesus ignored her.  When this pesky woman continued, Jesus disdained her plea and philosophized instead about how his ministry is only to “the lost sheep of Israel.”  When she persisted, Jesus finally insulted her:  he wouldn’t throw scraps to a dog like her.  (Not much of a meek and mild Jesus here!)  Jesus was not only God, but a completely human person.  As such, he inherited all the prejudices and pride of his native people.  But by her persistence, the Canaanite woman was able to change his mind.  And Jesus actually grew as a human being, developing real sensitivity to the needs of unexpected people in a most unpredictable way.  “And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.”  

            So as CNN and Fox News with wall-to-wall TV coverage eagerly anticipate violence on The Common, we face the racial and ideological differences that divide us as a people.  And we reflect on how such divisions have been overcome in the past.  We have heard today Jesus’ realization that he is not a Jewish Messiah; he is just the Messiah, Savior of all.  Today’s example is Paul’s bringing the King of the Jews to the entire non-Jewish world.  And God’s prophecy through Isaiah is fulfilled:  “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

            But besides these societal and political shifts in the way God’s people are to encounter one another, there are also some individual lessons to be learned.  As a memory device, let me suggest C P V.

            C is about change.  We all have expectations – prejudices or preferences.  God cuts through these.  And if we are to accept God’s plan over our own petty expectations, then we must be open to change.  This God revealed through the prophet Isaiah – and others.  Foreigners were welcome to join in worshiping the one God.  Jews had always thought anyone non-Jewish to be profane and unclean.  It would take a century for that little Jewish sect that followed Jesus finally to accept that Gentiles could believe in Jesus too.  Change is not easy.  But it may be necessary.

            P is about persistence.  Look at that Canaanite woman.  Consider also the Woman at Jacob’s well.  Reflect on the woman with the hemorrhage who touched Jesus’ tassel for healing.  All these people (notice that they’re all women) were in some way rejected, yet they persisted.  And because of their persistence, they received what they asked for.  Be persistent in our nation’s founding ideals.  Never give up in achieving justice.  And be persistent in prayer.  We are sometimes too easily discouraged when God seems to be silent or deaf to our needs.   The Lord will respond.

            V is about the view.  Take the long-view.  Things between people usually do not work out easily.  Any parent knows that it is important to take the long-view with one’s children.  Children may disappoint about keeping their room clean or about studying hard or about choosing friends wisely, but through a parent’s eyes on the long-view these children will become wholesome, happy adults.  Take the long-view of our nation.  There are bumps on the body-politic.  But our Founders and the blood of myriads of patriots have given us a resilient country.  And take the long-view with God.  Prayers will be answered, but in God’s time – not ours.      

            C P V.   Openness to change; persistence for values; taking the long-view.  These will work well for our country and for us personally.

 

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

August 6, 2017

Rev. Anthony Medairos, pastor

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 9

2 Peter 1:16-19

Matthew 17:1-9

 

            Our cavalry squadron welcomed a new commander.  He was friendly but he was also stickler for doing everything in the correct military fashion.  For example, when the soldiers asked permission to have a Hallowe’en event on post for their children, he approved, but only if the entire squadron was involved in the “deliberative decision making process.”  They had to publish the standard 5-paragraph operations order – which is a lot longer than 5 paragraphs.  What had started as a children’s Hallowe’en party became a training exercise that resulted in a “haunted woods” sanctioned by the regimental commander and advertised to the public on local radio!

            But another event transfigured this commander for his soldiers.  (Maybe something or someone has become transfigured before your eyes at some point in time.)  A young scout and his wife suffered a grievous loss: a SIDS tragedy.  And at the Army hospital we saw this same ramrod tough commanding officer weeping in front of the gathered troop, embracing both the grieving mom and even her soldier husband.  And there were other incidents like this, where our commander was transfigured from demanding leader to sensitive uncle or brother.  And the troopers loved him for this.  And their mission performance showed it.    

            When he was transfigured before Peter, James and John, they saw Jesus more clearly than they ever had before.  They already knew Jesus to be a gifted rabbi.  Now they began to grasp that he was not acting like any in a long line of great rabbis, but that what Jesus did and taught was uniquely pleasing God.  These men were privileged to get a glimpse of the core of Jesus’ being,[1] who Jesus really was.  Their master and friend was not like other teachers, certainly not when he spoke of being “raised from the dead.”  At that moment, without complete clarity, these men’s preconceived notions were slowly being transformed.  And so were they.

            His Transfiguration must have been quite liberating for Jesus, as well.  Jesus was self-aware, knowing he was the chosen one.  If he had had any doubt, it was dismissed when Jesus was baptized and he heard from the heavens, “This is my beloved Son.” [2]  But now this awareness of being chosen became a shared experience.  Jesus was beginning to gradually reveal what his mission was about, unburdening himself in some small degree of the weight he must have felt at his own impending passion and death.  That burden he gradually shared, though his disciples were still so slow in understanding Jesus’ unrelenting journey toward the cross, and their role that would follow. 

So Peter said, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”  And Jesus might have felt, “Friends, it is good that you are here – for me.”  Later, Jesus would beg these men to support him at the hour of his passion.  In the garden of Gethsemane he said to them, “Stay here while I go over there to pray.” [3] And when they disappointed Jesus, he said, “So you could not stay awake with me for even an hour?” [4]

In that wondrous, mountain-top event we find the transfigured Jesus inviting Peter, James and John into the intimacy of who Jesus really was.  And we see Jesus seeking solace in human companionship as his suffering and death approached.  But what has this to do with us?

            A Russian Orthodox bishop preached over a hundred years ago that “the goal of the Lord’s revelation was to persuade his followers that they too are to shine with the beauty of God’s love” [5] just as Jesus’ “face shone like the sun.”  As those disciples began their transformation through this vision, so you and I are invited also to become ourselves transformed.  That bishop asked his listeners to look around and to see people who had been transformed by the Lord Jesus.  (Perhaps someone is looking around at you right now.)

             This is a struggle for me – is it for you?   Someone is looking at me (or you) and they may not see in us the shining beauty of God’s love.  This past week the Church celebrated the life of St. John Vianney, the assistant priest (or “curè”) of a parish in the little French village of Ars.  St. John, the Curè d’Ars, is the patron saint of parish priests.  He was not a bright man; some thought him stupid.  But his life was transformed by the Lord Jesus.  And the railroad system had to run special trains from Paris to east-central France – because so many people wanted to talk with the Curè d’Ars and make confession to him.  People found in him the beauty of God’s love.  As our patron saint, parish priests ask St. John to pray that we may show that same beauty of God’s love.

            Like the disciples at the Transfiguration, I am on a journey of transformation too.  We’re all on that journey.  Peter, James and John were only beginning to understand their Lord Jesus.  I admit that I am only glimpsing him also.  Perhaps that’s what all people of faith are doing – just getting a glimpse of Christ.  Whether the disciples understood it or not, they were being invited to take upon themselves some of Jesus’ mission to save mankind.  You and I share this same mission even today:  to share Christ with others.         

Pope Francis has written that “We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being.” [6]  His Transfiguration revealed Jesus as the nexus between what has gone before – the Law, as witnessed by the presence of the giver of the Commandments, Moses – and the future promise to each one of us – resurrection, as represented by Elijah, the prophet who was taken bodily into heaven. 

            Jesus reveals through his Transfiguration what every human being can become when one is open to transforming love.  At the heart, our religious faith is not based on a philosophy, an idea, or an ethical system.  The foundation of your faith and mine must be based on our own encounter with Jesus, just as those disciples encountered the Lord in an unusually awesome way in his Transfiguration. 

They were still confused.  But you and I know what they could not yet understand:  We, with two millennia of Christian faith to support us, know of the depth of God’s love for his creatures by the life, death and resurrection of the only Son of God.  Through this faith, we also may live a transformed life that can transform the world, so that when others look at us believers, they will see we are shining with the beauty of God’s love.

[1]  Sr. Mary M. McGlone, Celebration, July 2017.

[2]  Matthew 3:17b.

[3]  Matthew 26:36c.

[4]  Matthew 26:40.

[5]  Metropolitan Anthony, as quote by Sr. Mary M. McGlone, Ibid.

[6]  Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (the encyclical letter “The Joy of the Gospel”), §8.