Archive for the ‘Wisdom’ Category

Parables of Towers & Kings

September 3, 2022

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

The disciples asked Jesus, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” The gospels show him explaining parables to his apostles in private, but the meanings of Jesus’ symbolic stories about the Kingdom of God were kept somewhat hidden from the crowds. Christ’s enemies and scoffers would dismiss these tales as nonsense but those with faith in him would keep them and contemplate them. The foes to his public ministry walked away with no additional ammunition to attack him with, but his faithful disciples would discover wisdom in his teachings. As Jesus says, “To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Sometimes the gospels explicitly tell us Jesus’ interpretations of his parables, as with The Parable of the Sower or The Parable of the Weeds. But many parables get presented without being unpacked, like our parables today: a parable about building a tower and a parable about considering battle against a stronger king. The context gives us clues to their meaning but some ambiguity remains. I believe this openness to interpretation can be intentional – inspired by God to convey multiple ideas at the same time, like that optical illusion where two profiled faces outline a vase between them, or the one where the same image depicts either an old woman or a young lady. Is the tower being built in today’s parable a good thing or a bad thing? Is the opposing king we contemplate fighting a wicked one or righteous? Each of these interpretations teaches us a lesson for the Kingdom of God.

In the first parable, Jesus asks, “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’” In this parable, is the tower something good or something bad?

What is the Bible’s first and most famous tower? It’s the Tower of Babel in Genesis. The people at Babel said: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth!” This was after God had commanded Noah and his descendants to “Be fertile and multiply and fill the earth.” But the people of Babel turned inward, seeking to glorify their own name apart from God through building a city and tower rivaling heaven.

The God of heaven, whose name is above every name, had to come down to examine their efforts. And God, foreseeing what evils Babel’s unchecked hubris and concentration of power would bring about on earth, confuses their speech. Having amusingly lost the ability to even say, “Hey, pass me that brick,” great and mighty Babel must abandon its proud project and its people scatter across the earth. Babel is the image of a wicked tower project, but another kind of tower in the Bible has positive connotations.

Both the Old Testament prophet Isaiah and Jesus Christ in the gospels speak of building watchtowers for vineyards to safeguard their previous fruits. Jesus’ Parable of the Tenants begins, “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower…” This echoes Isaiah’s song about his friend’s vineyard, which also notes, “within it he built a watchtower.” A farmer would dwell atop his tower to watch and guard his vineyard during harvest time, on the lookout for hungry foxes, badgers, jackals, and even human thieves. But a vineyard’s half-finished watchtower is of little or no use at all. Unlike the Tower of Babel, this sort of tower is good and wise to complete.

There also are two ways to take today’s second parable. Jesus asks, “What king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.” Can you prevail against an enemy who outnumbers you two-to-one? In ancient battles the side with the far more numerous forces typically won, but there were exceptions.

In the 1st Book of Maccabees, the army of the wicked, pagan King Antiochus, led by a commander who sought to ‘make a name for himself,’ came to fight the people of God on the battlefield. The soldiers of the Jewish leader, Judas Maccabeus, asked him: “How can we, few as we are, fight such a strong host as this? Besides, we are weak since we have not eaten today.” But Judas replied: “Many are easily hemmed in by a few; in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between deliverance by many or by few; for victory in war does not depend upon the size of the army, but on strength that comes from Heaven.” The people of God prevailed that day. Though outnumbered, the Jews would go on to win battle after battle against their enemy, so long as they were faithful in serving and honoring God.

So what do today’s parables mean for us? Well, what kind of tower are you intending to build? Is it a structure of sin, vanity, and pride (like the Tower of Babel) which will not reach heaven? Then sit down, recognize your foolishness, and change your plans, lest your foreseeable failure become your mockable, lasting legacy. Or do you plan to build a watchtower to guard your soul and protect your good fruits from anything or anyone (that is, any temptation) that would rob you? Then do not only invest in your project halfway. You cannot clear a ten-foot-wide chasm with five-foot jumps. Our hearts must not be divided, but fully devoted to Jesus Christ.

Jesus tells us, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon (or, both God and money)… Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions (that is, anyone who would be unwilling to sacrifice his wealth to do my will) cannot be my disciple.” Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me without hating (that is, if anyone loves more than me) his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” This is the level of commitment that Jesus Christ expects from us.

And who is the powerful king we contemplate doing battle with? If that king in the parable is God we would be foolish to oppose him. You could not defeat him or the coming of his Kingdom with even a billion troops at your command. So it is wise to seek out and accept his peace terms now before Jesus Christ returns. Alternatively, what if that king in our parable is the Evil One? Then we should not be afraid. The devil and the demons hate us and war against us; they are legion. Yet “victory in war does not depend upon the size of the army, but on strength that comes from Heaven.” As St. James writes, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

In conclusion, as you can see, the simple parables of Jesus contain riches for those who listen and keep them. Reject the foolishness of pride and vanity. Resist sin and the devil by being fully allied with Christ. Do not have a divided heart, but instead wisely invest all-in with Jesus.

Mentors & the Gift of Wisdom

October 9, 2021

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Deacon Dick Kostner

What makes me successful, what wealth can I take with me into the next life? Bottom line: What will make me happy both in this life and in the next? Where can I acquire the knowledge to answer these very important questions? The answer lies within this weekend’s Scripture readings. The Father and Jesus share with us the answers to these very important life questions.

Very shortly after I had passed the Bar Exam I sat down one day and drew up what I thought would be my plan for success and happiness. The answer I had was to make my Fathers Law firm increase its profits by and through my participation and thus I would make my Father and my family proud of me. Feeling very proud of my great plan I sat down one day with my Father to share my plans of success and happiness for not only myself but for the firm by earning more money and wealth.

Much to my dismay, and after pouring me a cup of coffee and sitting down with me, his response to what I thought was a great plan, was: “Why do you want to waste your life on making more money all at the expense of happiness and enjoyment of family and friends in this life? Make enough money to care for your family and then enjoy life!” What he was saying to me was that money will not make me successful and happy and will only waste what little time I have here on earth to accomplish real wealth that I will be able to not only enjoy now but also take with me into the next life.

Dad loved to help others. He enjoyed people and spent his time here on earth making their lives easier. I remember many Friday evenings he would spend time with some of my sister’s high school friends playing Sheepshead into the early morning and then moving on to helping them with understanding and completing calculus assignments for their school classes. Dad did not let money control his life but rather used the money he made to help others enjoy their life. I remember one of those young people he played cards with coming up to me at his funeral and telling me that if it were not for my dad he and his wife would not have been able to purchase their home as they were unable to get a loan at the bank and dad loaned them the money to purchase it.

Our First Reading from the Book of Wisdom instructs us to seek mentors who will gift us with Wisdom. With this gift we are told, “Yet all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands.” Jesus the ultimate Mentor tells us in our Gospel that the wealth we should seek is not money but rather the wealth and happiness we acquire by serving God and our neighbor.

Wisdom is not intelligence per say, it is rather a gift of understanding that can only come from our Creator. Jesus tells us to seek out those who have been gifted with wisdom for they know truth and they will lead us to the Father’s house. I have had many mentors during my life all of whom I spent much time with listening to their instructions on how to live a happy life. Many I would not have encountered if I would not have listened to my dad’s wisdom lessons.

I will share with you one more mentor story about a person many of you knew. His name was Ed Hassemer better known as “Gabby” Hassemer. He was a sheet metal worker by trade but he was also gifted with much wisdom. He had earned a living and spent his time not so much for himself but rather for his family, friends and even strangers. He owned several rental properties in Bloomer. His typical tenants were marginal people with limited resources but were able to find good housing that they could afford because of this person. He had a big heart and helped out many who just needed some help. I watched and listened to his wisdom and Barb and I followed his lead in acquiring rentals to supplement our income and provide housing for others.

Gabby was always helping out others. He heated his basement with a wood stove and would spend time during the summer cutting and splitting wood to burn in the stove for winter. One day while we were heading out to the woods to go hunting he was shaking his head and I asked him what was wrong. He said that one of his friends had come over to his house and said he was in trouble because he had no wood to burn and could not acquire any for a month or so. I suspected this was not true, as I knew his friend and I suspected he was just trying to take advantage of his friendship to save some money. In any case Gabby gave him the wood he had cut for the winter on the promise that before it got real cold, the friend would supply and pay him back for the wood he was gifted with. This never happened and Gab went without wood for most of that winter. I offered to go after his so-called friend but his response was “No, he needed it more than I did.”

Gabby had a lot of wealth but it was not something he earned by working but rather by giving of himself for others. He had the kind of wealth that he could take with him into the next life. About a year before he died he gifted me with wisdom I had heard before. He said, “Kostner, some day soon you will be standing over me looking at me lying in a casket. You will hear people talking about me and how I lived my life. But one thing you won’t hear them say about me is: #1, That man worked himself to death; and #2, He never took the time to go fishing!

Today’s Scripture readings tell us that happiness cannot be purchased—it is a gift from God for living out and obeying His two greatest commandments to love God and neighbor as ourselves. Next month I will try and explain to you what I think God would like to see you do with the gifts you have left over after your death.. I have an assignment for you folks. I would ask that sometime you sit down and make a list of events in your life that gave you the most happiness. I did this and I found out that my happiest times in life were when I was conversing with God and helping others either celebrating their life or helping them get through tough times. I believe this was not by chance. Our Catechism teaches us that we were created to know, love, and serve God. To know love and serve God is to be of service to God and our neighbor as Jesus lived out His life. This is not by chance but rather part of our very being. This is how God wired us at our creation. This will gift us with happiness because it makes us whole.

Our Gospel this week has Jesus, our mentor, instructing us that wealth is not bad and will bring us happiness and eternal life, if we but share it with God, family, and our neighbors.

Tips to be Better Prepared

March 31, 2020

Since February 20th, I have encouraged parishioners to be well-prepared for disaster in both body and soul. This post offers some advice on how to be better materially-ready to face this pandemic.

Statistical models from The University of Washington predict U.S. Coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths to peak nationally around April 15th and to peak in Wisconsin around April 27th. Our home state looks like it will fare better than most, but the worst of this crisis still remains ahead of us.

To prepare for this pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security recommends:

  • Storing-up additional supplies of food and water.
  • Periodically checking your prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply in your home.
  • Having nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand (including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins).
  • Obtaining copies and maintaining electronic versions of your health records from doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and other sources and storing them for personal reference.
  • Talking with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they get sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.

DHS also urges social distancing; washing your hands with soap or sanitizer; covering your coughs and sneezes; not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth; avoiding people who are sick; and practicing healthy habits.

I also personally recommend these steps (for the unlikely possibility of power or water outages):

  • Storing-up nonperishable food items.
  • Filling spare bathtubs or containers with water, or at least remembering that your water heater and toilet tops contain fresh water.
  • Keeping some extra cash money on hand.
  • And, if running low, filling-up your car’s gas tank. (Though be careful with your hands in touching the pump and nozzle.)

If you need to visit the pharmacy to fill a prescription, call ahead and they may be willing and able to bring out your order to your car and drop it through your passenger side window.

Since, according to the World Health Organization, temperatures of 140° to 150° Fahrenheit are enough to kill most viruses, your oven may be used to sanitize things like mail, documents, or money. (Note however, while paper famously burns at 451°F, some plastics melt at temperatures as low as 165°F.)

God bless and be well.

Concerning Coronavirus

March 12, 2020

Coronavirus is a Serious Concern

The Wuhan Coronavirus is very contagious and estimated by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to be ten times deadlier than the seasonal flu. This new pandemic poses some small danger to the young but puts the elderly and those with underlying health issues at much graver risk. In Italy, where 6% of those confirmed to be infected with Coronavirus have died thus far, the Italian Catholic bishops have suspended all public Masses in their churches until at least April 3rd. And in Washington State, where 31 people have died, the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle has suspended all public Masses indefinitely.

Due to current limitations in the United States’ ability to test for the Coronavius, it is unclear how pervasively the illness is spreading in this country. For some idea of how bad things could become, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) figures the less contagious and less lethal Influenza virus has infected between 3% to 14% of Americans per year since 2010, resulting in 12,000 to 61,000 deaths annually. If, hypothetically, 14% of Americans go on to catch this new Coronavirus and its mortality rate proves to be 1% (as Dr. Fauci predicted this Wednesday in his testimony before Congress) it will result in 458,000 U.S. deaths. The Wuhan Coronavirus is clearly a matter for our serious attention.

Signs of Illness & Means of Prevention

What are the symptoms of the Wuhan Caronavirus? The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that among confirmed cases about 90% of patients manifest a high fever and about 70% have a dry cough. Shortness of breath is another noted symptom. If someone believes they are infected, the CDC recommends calling ahead to their personal doctor or hospital for instructions rather than just walking into their local E.R. and possibly infecting others. The sick are urged to stay home and to wear a mask to prevent spreading the disease. There is currently no vaccine to protect against this Coronavirus and a safe vaccine is not expected for at least another year.

The CDC says the virus is thought to spread mainly person-to-person, between people in close contact with one another (6 feet or less,) especially from the coughs or sneezes of an infected person. They recommend frequently washing your entire hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or (if soap and water are not available) to use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content. They also urge no touching of your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands, disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, avoiding contact with those who are sick, and distancing yourself from other people in general.

Missing Mass & Spiritual Communion

Common, good, and prudent reasons for missing Sunday Mass include being ill, dangerous conditions, or needing to care for another person. Therefore, when someone is sick, or believes that venturing out would be dangerous, or believes that the risk of bringing a sickness back home to someone in their care is too great, they are excused from attending Sunday Mass. However, if someone is avoiding Sunday Mass as a too-risky activity then it seems that person also should not be attending parties, going to the movies, out shopping for non-essential items, and the like, but rather social distancing in a way consistent with one’s concern. And if you will be missing Mass for an extended time, to help ensure the continued health of your parish consider registering for automatic withdrawal (ACH) giving from your checking account. Additionally, even if one has a legitimate reason to skip Mass, our duty to worship God and rest on the Lord’s Day remains.

Jesus Christ’s Catholic Church encourages frequent (even daily) Holy Communion, but if we cannot attend Mass we can still unite ourselves to Our Lord by making a Spiritual Communion. St. Teresa of Ávila wrote, “When you do not receive Communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a Spiritual Communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you.” Once, in a vision, Jesus showed St. Catherine of Siena two chalices, one gold and one silver. He said her Sacramental Communions were preserved in the gold chalice and her Spiritual Communions in the silver one. A Spiritual Communion with Jesus is the next best thing to physically receiving Him in the Eucharist.

If public Masses are suspended in your diocese, remember that the Holy Mass can be seen on TV or online as a next best alternative. Know that the daily Mass readings can be found at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website. And realize that Catholic priests, even if standing alone in their churches, will still be offering the Holy Mass daily for the whole world and bringing Confession, Holy Anointing, and Viaticum to the sick for as long as they are able. The Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic is rightfully concerning, but whatever comes we need not fear, for “we know that all things work for good for those who love God,” and “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 8:28,14:8) As Jesus often said, “Be not afraid.

Be Well-Prepared for Disaster

February 20, 2020

On October 9th, 1859, the first Marian apparition in the United States (since approved by the Catholic Church as “worthy of belief – although not obligatory”) occurred near Green Bay, Wisconsin. Adele Brise, a 28-year-old Belgian immigrant, was walking eleven miles home from Sunday Mass when she saw a beautiful lady with long, wavy, golden hair wearing a crown of stars and clothed in a dazzling white dress with a yellow sash around her waist.

Adele fell to her knees and asked, “In God’s name, who are you and what do you want of me?” The Blessed Virgin Mary replied, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them. … Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation…

Adele was faithful to her mission, teaching the Catholic Faith to the young and praying for sinners’ souls. However, almost exactly twelve years to the day after Mary’s message, Eastern Wisconsin experienced the one of the largest and the most deadly forest fire in our nation’s history. Flames of the vast Pestigo Fire surrounded the shrine built upon the apparition site, but all who fled to this ground dedicated to Mary survived. Consider: is our present time and culture somehow less deserving of divine punishment than theirs?

Another disaster afflicted our land a century ago. From 1918 to 1920, a deadly flu plagued Europe and the U.S. but wartime censors suppressed news reports from many nations besides the World War One neutral country of Spain. The Spanish Flu, as it came to be called, would go on to kill an estimated 675,000 Americans and at least 50 million people worldwide. This largely-forgotten history has been on my mind as the Coronavirus pneumonia outbreak has spread forth from Wuhan, China. There are strong indications that the dictatorial Chinese government is under-reporting how many of their people are infected or have died from this highly-infectious disease, and new cases are being reported day-by-day around the world. Earlier this month, in a effort to contain the spread of the disease, the Hong Kong government asked its citizens to stay at home and the cardinal of their Catholic diocese has suspended public Masses. Could we experience a deadly pandemic here? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control saysthe potential public health threat posed by [Coronavirus] is high.” Therefore, it is wise to be prepared.

I urge prudent preparation on two fronts. First, materially speaking, if an emergency were declared and schools and businesses sent everyone home, could your family be able to shelter at your house away from others for two or three weeks until the crisis passed? What food and water would you have if your electric power went out? Building non-perishable food reserves is easy now while store shelves remain fully stocked. And if no disaster ever comes (as may well be the case) you can simply cycle through these pantry supplies over time; so nothing is lost. The second, more important front in your disaster preparedness is: are you spiritually ready?

If you knew this Lent might possibly be your last, how would that change your spiritual focus? What vices would you cut and which virtues would you grow? How would you commit to prayer and prepare your soul? For many, times of great crisis or the end of their lives arrive unexpectedly and people face them unprepared. As Jesus once observed, “In [the days of Noah] before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.” Mark’s Gospel recalls one occasion when the Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from Heaven to test him. Jesus sighed from the depth of his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign?” The Pharisees had heard Jesus’ teachings and known his mighty works but they still obstinately refused to change. Why do we put off the Lord, refusing to listen and respond, postponing our conversion until it might be too late?

Once, after a tower collapse in Jerusalem ended eighteen lives, Jesus asked, “Do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” Will the Coronavirus become a devastating American disaster like the Pestigo Fire or the Spanish Flu? Hopefully not. I pray to God it will not be so and ask that you do the same. Yet even if this crisis never comes to your community, why not prepare? Stocking-up your pantry, regularly washing your hands, instilling our Faith into your children, and deepening your own relationship with Jesus Christ are wise decisions you won’t regret.

Perspective for Our Times

August 9, 2016

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

So begins Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Our time is a mixture of good things and bad. In some ways we’re progressing, while in others we’re in decline. Some despair, but the trials of past generations were far worse than ours. As St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) observed:

“Is there any affliction now endured by mankind that was not endured by our fathers before us? What sufferings of ours even bears comparison with what we know of their sufferings? And yet you hear people complaining about this present day and age because things were so much better in former times. I wonder what would happen if they could be taken back to the days of their ancestors–would we not still hear them complaining?  You may think past ages were good, but it is only because you are not living in them.”

There has been no perfect “Golden Age” since Eden. We learn from the New Testament that even the first-century Christian communities had controversies within and persecutions from without. Yet pining for a romanticized past pairs with an opposite, pervasive error today: thinking that “old things” have nothing to teach or offer us. C.S. Lewis noted this modern disposition in 1955:

“…Chronological snobbery [is] the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also ‘a period,’ and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”

The ignorant dismissal of the past leads to foolishness today. All advocate for change, but not all change is progress. For example, naively tearing down the wrong fences can permit evils to get in. G.K. Chesterton wrote in 1929:

“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

We live in a time filled with serious problems and great blessings. We have grave reasons for concern, such as the present threats to religious liberty and the persistent Culture of Death, but we should not despair. Not only do we know Who wins in the end, but even today’s broken world has good things to offer. Computers are facilitating new technologies and improved communications. Healthcare advances are saving and enhancing lives. International economic development is helping billions rise from poverty. Imagine how these modern-day advances in communication, healthcare, economic wealth, and other fields could be utilized for the Kingdom of God. Jesus once asked his disciples:

“Do you understand all these things?” They answered, “Yes.” And he replied, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” (Matthew 13:51-52)

To keep proper perspective today we must be neither naive nor despondent. We should be conscious of both the dangers and the opportunities around us. These present times will surely try us, but there has yet to be an era of the Church that has not tested the saints. Our generation is called to be faithful witnesses to Christ’s Church and Sacred Tradition. As Scripture says:

Anyone who is so ‘progressive’ as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; [but] whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son.”  (2nd John 1:9)

The world may refuse to heed us as it recklessly marches on but we can still benefit ourselves, for this life and the next, by holding on to  timeless truths. Our Church has persevered through controversies and persecutions from its beginning. It challenged the Roman culture while making use of the best things it had to offer to introduce and spread the Kingdom of God on earth. That Kingdom endures to our day. By keeping what is good and rejecting what is evil, let us remain ever-faithful to Jesus Christ in our times.

O Jerusalem by Greg Olsen

Heeding Our Earthly Mother & Heavenly Father — 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 5, 2014

Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9,11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

A Wall Across the Road

Imagine an wall built across a road which has stood for as long as anyone can remember. The Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton suggested that when confronted by such a peculiar sight:

The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

It is said that human history has been constantly repeating two phases, summed up in two concise phrases:

First, “What could it hurt?
And second, “How were we supposed to know?

All of us are children of the same holy Mother, the Church. And she is united with God, our loving Father. Moms and dads sometimes tell us, “Don’t touch that–it will hurt. I know it glows enticingly, but it will burn you. We’re not saying this in order to control you or to make you miserable, but because we love you. We want you to be safe and happy.

Red_Hot_Coiled_Stove_Burner_3_by_FantasyStockWe then have three options in how we respond: Either we can touch the forbidden thing for ourselves and experience the pain firsthand. Or we can observe others who have touched the thing and learn from them (though they sometimes hide their pain and tears, even from themselves.) Or, and this is the best response, we can trust in the words of our Mother and Father and never get burned.

Sometimes the wise and the learned of this world refuse to see the truth, but to the little ones, to the childlike, the truth is revealed and they welcome it. In our first reading from Zechariah we find a prophesy about the Messiah. The Savior is not coming on a warhorse, but on a donkey—not as a conqueror imposing his will upon the earth by force, but meekly, inviting us to trust in him and freely embrace his will.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

This week’s Supreme Court’s verdict in the Hobby Lobby case comes as good news for religious liberty. However, we must keep praying. Though the five-to-four decision is a positive sign, religiously affiliated non-profit groups are not safely out of the legal woods yet. Many people of goodwill support Catholic institutions in their conscientious refusal to facilitate things they consider gravely immoral, but I wonder how many observers understand why Catholics have any objection to contraception and sterilization to begin with?

People fail to realize that contraception is not something new. For thousands of years, people have used various barriers, chemicals, and techniques to prevent the marital embrace from being fruitful. And most have never heard that before 1930 all Protestant denominations agreed with the Catholic Church’s teaching in condemning contraception as sinful. Most people have not realized what could be wrong with putting asunder what God has joined in the marital act; separating love-making from an openness to life. And though few recognize the harmful impact that contraception has on families and society, its consequences were not entirely unforeseen.

Pope Paul VI

In 1968, in the midst of a sexual revolution made possible by the birth control pill, some believed the Catholic Church would “update” its consistent teaching on contraception. (“What could it hurt?”) Instead, Pope Paul VI shocked the world with orthodoxy. His encyclical, Humanae Vitae or “Of Human Life,” was one of the most controversial documents of the twentieth century, yet the pope’s four predictions of what would happen if contraceptives gained widespread use have proven true:

  1. A general lowering of moral standards throughout society.
  2. A rise in infidelity.
  3. A lessening of respect for women by men.
  4. The coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.

What is more, a contraceptive mentality has so pervaded our culture that healthy fertility is treated like a disease and conceived children are treated like a cancer. Because of procured abortion, in any room of people under 40 years old, there is on average one person missing for every three people you see. This is the fruit of a contraceptive mentality. (“How were we supposed to know?”)

Whether the Catholic Church teaches on indecent images, fornication, cohabitation, same-sex relations, divorce and remarriage without annulment, in-vitro fertilization, abortion, drug use and drunkenness, euthanasia or suicide; for every “no” in her teachings the Church proclaims a greater, more foundational “Yes” to love and life and true happiness. As St. Paul tells us:

“Brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Will we be childlike enough to listen to our Father in heaven and our Mother on earth? Learn from Christ and take his yoke upon you, for according to his promise you will receive rest. His ways require sacrifice, yet compared to the yoke of sin and death which comes with the ways of the world, Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light.

St. Augustine on the Parable of the Dishonest Steward

September 21, 2013

Why did the Lord Jesus Christ present this parable to us? He surely did not approve of that cheat of a servant who cheated his master, stole from him and did not make it up from his own pocket. On top of that, he also did some extra pilfering. He caused his master further loss, in order to prepare a little nest of quiet and security for himself after he lost his job.

Why did the Lord set this before us? It is not because that servant cheated but because he exercised foresight for the future. When even a cheat is praised for his ingenuity, Christians who make no such provision blush. I mean, this is what he added, “Behold, the children of this age are more prudent than the children of light.” They perpetrate frauds in order to secure their future.

In what life, after all, did that steward insure himself like that? What one was he going to quit when he bowed to his master’s decision? He was insuring himself for a life that was going to end. Would you not insure yourself for eternal life?

St. Benedict & The Pharoah — Monday, 15th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 11, 2011

Today we recall two lawgiving rulers, one Egyptian and one Italian, one who was wicked and one who is good. This morning we hear of Pharaoh, who oppressed the Israelites, and we celebrate St. Benedict, who is called the founder of Western monasticism.

When Pharaoh saw the growing demographics of the children of Israel, he saw them as a threat and devised a new social strategy. Pharaoh had the Israelites enslaved and ordered that their male babies be sacrificed to Hapy, the fertility god of the River Nile. This would then force Israeli young women to take Egyptian husbands. In this way, if everything went according to plan, after a few generations of cultural assimilation, the children of Israel would be effectively no more.

St. Benedict, for his part, also established new laws over those he governed. His “Rule of St. Benedict” has directed the spirituality and administration of Benedictine monastic life for more than fifteen hundred years. Both Benedict and Pharaoh were shrewd men, clever and astute about practical matters like human behavior, but Pharaoh’s strategy was evil and failed while St. Benedict’s was good and still endures. Both men had intelligence, but only one had wisdom.

Pharaoh and St. Benedict demonstrate that intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom, that being clever is not the same thing as being good. Just because we know how to do something doesn’t mean we should. We see this in science, which teaches us how to do certain things, but which (of itself) cannot tell us whether we should. Governments can pass new laws, but that does not mean that all laws are just or serve the common good. Intelligence without wisdom is almost a curse. The devil is a brilliant creature, but he is without wisdom.

Where do we find wisdom? We find it in Jesus Christ, who presents Himself as the definitive prophet and righteous man, who presents His life as our pattern to follow. Whoever receives Him receives wisdom, and will receive wisdom’s reward.

3 Mountains / 3 Montañas — 2nd Sunday in Lent—Year A

March 20, 2011
In the life of Jesus, he climbs three significant mountains; The mountain of the sermon on the mount, the mountain of Transfiguration (in today’s reading) and the mountain of the crucifixion. In the Christian life, we must also visit these three mountains. 
The three mountains are united. The wisdom of the sermon on the mount, on the first mountain, brings the pleasures and pains of the other mountains. The life of the Gospel brings the joys of the light and the suffering of the cross. Wisdom, glory and sacrifice; the three are a trio here on this earth. Our glories without sacrifice pass quickly. Our sacrifices without wisdom we regret quickly. And our wisdom will be without glory forever if we do not follow Christ in sacrifice. Which mountain should visit more this season of Lent?
Do you lack wisdom? Do you not know well that Jesus and his Church teaches? Go to the first mountain to learn, like the disciples at the Sermon on the Mount, with the Bible, or the Catechism or many popular resources available in audio or visual forms.
Do you need consolation? Do you not feel well that Jesus is your beloved friend? Go to the second mountain, to feel like Jesus and his disciples at the Transfiguration, through time in a quiet place with God.
Do you need perfection in your love? Do you not carry the cross well? Go to the last mountain to practice it, like Jesus at the crucifixion, through good works for others.
Jesus climbed the mountains of wisdom, glory and sacrifice. To be with him, we must climb these also.

En la vida de Jesús, él sube tres montañas notables. La montaña del sermón del monte, la montaña de la transfiguración (en la lectura de hoy) y la montaña de la crucifixión. En la vida cristiana, debemos visitar estas tres montañas también.

Las tres montañas están unidas. La sabiduría del sermón del monte, de la primera montaña, trae los placeres y dolores de las otras montañas. La vida del Evangelio trae las alegrías de la luz y los sufrimientos de la cruz.  Sabiduría, gloria y sacrificio; los tres son un trío unido en esta tierra.

Nuestras glorias sin sacrificio pasan rápidamente. Nuestros sacrificios sin sabiduría lamentamos rápidamente. Y nuestra sabiduría será sin gloria para siempre si no nos siga a Cristo en sacrificio. ¿Qué montaña deben visitar más esta temporada de Cuaresma?

¿Faltas de sabiduría? ¿No sabes bien lo que Jesús y su Iglesia enseñan? Vaya a la primera montaña para aprender como los discípulos al sermón del monte, con la Biblia, o el catecismo o muchos recursos populares disponibles en formularios visuales o de audio.

¿Necesitas consuelo? ¿No te sientes bien que Jesús es tu amigo amado? Vaya a la segunda montaña para sentirlo como Jesús y sus discípulos a la transfiguración, con tiempo con Dios en un lugar tranquilo.

¿Necesitas perfección en tu amor? ¿No llevas bien la cruz? Vaya a la última montaña para practicarlo como Jesús a la crucifixión, con buenas obras para otros.

Jesús subió las montañas de sabiduría, de gloria y de sacrificio. Para estar con él, debemos subir estas también.

Be Catholic Americans — 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

September 5, 2010

I would like to begin by posing you a little riddle. Let’s see if you can get it:

What human possession do people always carry with them? Another clue: while we tend to hold on to these things dearly, we are also willing to share them with others, sometimes without them even asking. And the final clue: these things are something that we can always make more of, even out of thin air, if we want to.

The human possession I’m thinking of… is our own opinions. We always carry them with us. We tend to hold them dearly and share them with others, and we can form them out of nothing. Human opinions are abundant, but wisdom is scarce.

As our first reading reminds us, ‘rarely do human beings guess the things on earth; and what is within our intellectual grasp we only find with difficulty.’ The Book of Wisdom observes, ‘Who has ever known God’s counsel except when God has given the wisdom and sent His Holy Spirit from on high? Only in this way, with the help of God, are the paths of those on earth made straight.’

Whenever I stand here before you, I pray that I may never preach to you what is merely my own opinion. If I do that, I will do you no great or lasting good, and Jesus Christ will not be pleased with my efforts. The words that I speak must be His teachings, which come to us through the Scriptures and His Church, by the working of the Holy Spirit. Any personal views that I may have must be conformed to Jesus’ true perspective of things.

I feel this especially as a preacher, but the same goes for each of us here who claims to be Jesus’ student, or disciple. As Jesus says in the Gospel, ‘Anyone who would not renounce all of his or her possessions (including one’s own opinions) cannot be His disciple.’ We must conform our views to Jesus’ teaching; for human opinions are abundant, but wisdom (which comes from Christ) is scarce.

It’s important for us to live according to Christ’s view in all times, but I mention it this time of year because we are entering an important season for our country—election season. The Wisconsin primaries are the Tuesday after next, September 14th, and the general election nationwide is November 2nd , the first Tuesday in November.

There are more than sixty-eight million registered Roman Catholics in the United States. These elections will see them break into three different groups: some who will not vote, some who will vote as American Catholics, and some who will vote as Catholic Americans.

Some will choose to stay home from the polls, squandering the right to vote that other Americans died to give them and ignoring Christ’s call to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the transformers of culture. And some will vote as American Catholics, based upon mere opinions molded by the prevailing, secular culture.

But some will vote as Catholic Americans, as I urge you to do, with a worldview formed by Christ and His Spirit-led Church. As Catholic Christians, our first citizenship is in Heaven, but we are also called to be a leaven of goodness on earth. Be Catholic Americans, for our country’s sake.

As we see it over and again in the Scriptures, when a people turns away from God and His path of life their nation declines and falls. We have no guarantee that these United States will endure for a hundred, fifty, or even twenty-five more years, but we have it on Christ’s authority that His Church, history’s oldest institution, shall not perish from the earth. But if we love America and wish it to endure for generations to come, we need to live, speak, and vote as Catholic Christians.

If we conform ourselves to Christ’s teaching, and promote a republic and a culture of life, we can save this nation from becoming an abandoned, unfinished tower. As Catholic Americans, we can transform our country in Christ, and God will surely bless America.

The Rich Fool — 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

August 12, 2010

I regret to inform you that you are going to die. Perhaps not today, but someday, and it could be very soon. We should ask ourselves, “Am I ready? How can I prepare?”

The Gospel relates the story of a man who was not ready, a man God calls a “fool.” Jesus offers Him as an anti-role model; a person whose example we should learn from, but not imitate. Yes, he is a fool for hoarding his possessions. The old saying is true, “You can’t take it with you.” But there are more subtle lessons we can learn from his bad example. This morning I would like to present three things this rich man has to teach us:

The first lesson comes from what he does when his land produces a bountiful harvest. He asks himself, “What shall I do?” There is nothing wrong with this question in itself, but he is a fool in the way he asks it. The rich man asks himself, and only himself, “What shall I do?” He does not consult with God, in either his conscience or in prayer, to learn what His will is.

What is the lesson here for us?  Let us remember to listen to the Lord as He speaks in our conscience, through prayer, the Scriptures, and the people He has placed in our lives. We should listen for God’s direction every day, and throughout each day.

A second cautionary lesson is found in the rich man’s plan for solving his storage problem. He says, “This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.” What was wrong with the older barns? They were not large enough to hold everything, but why tear them down? The rich man has plenty of land. Why did he want to replace his perfectly good barns?

Vanity of vanities, he wanted his storehouses to be the newest, the biggest, and the best. Though the rich man was not very concerned about other people, he was very concerned about their high opinion of him. Even in those days, people were tempted to consumerism.

Consumerism seems to consist in two phantom promises: that having just a little more will truly give me lasting happiness, and that others will regard, accept, and love me when they notice the things that I have. These are phantom promises, for as soon as one reaches to grasp them they prove empty, illusory, receding further out of reach.

The fact is that the people who are happiest in life are not the wealthiest. (By that measure, pretty much every American should be among the happiest people in the world.) The happiest people tend to be those who share the most or give the most away. The person who recognizes they have enough, that life does not consist in possessions, is content and secure enough to share. Some people try to get the most out of life as possible, but what we appreciate most in our lives is the ways in which we have given of ourselves for others.

Our third cautionary lesson is heard in God’s rebuke of the man: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” When we think of the things the rich man has prepared, we think of his harvest and goods.  One of the things he has ill-prepared… is his soul, which this night will be demanded of him. And now, to whom will it belong?

The lesson here for us?  As focused as we are upon our possessions, we must be more attentive to our souls. Someday, we are going to die. In the meantime, then, let us put to death, the parts of you that are earthly, as St. Paul said: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.

What lessons does the rich man teach us? Reject the false promises of the consumer cult, for life does not consist in possessions. (Self-gift is the meaning of life) Turn your heart to your spiritual well-being, for your life and this world shall pass away.  And to frequently ask Jesus, everyday, “What shall I do?” Let us begin today, before it is too late for us to begin living wisely.

Signs of the Times — Thursday, 18th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

August 5, 2010

The Chicago Archbishop, Cardinal Francis George, [reportedly] recently remarked, “I expect to die in my bed. I expect my successor to die in prison and his successor to die a martyr’s death.” An overly-dark prediction? Perhaps. But there are threatening signs for the Catholic Church’s future in America.

Yesterday a federal judge overturned Proposition 8, California’s Marriage Protection Act. He ruled same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right. About two years from now, the issue will reach the Supreme Court, where most anticipate a 5-4 decision to go one way or the other. A poor decision, enshrining a national right to gay marriage, could drive Catholic organizations out of many charitable efforts, such as adoption services.

This year in Wisconsin, the legislature came close to removing the statute of limitation for all child sexual abuse cases. This would have allowed civil suits, no matter how old, to be brought against alleged perpetrators and their employers. (Government institutions, like public schools, were exempted.)

What’s wrong with a law like this? Consider the difficulty of gathering facts, witnesses, and accurate testimony for events twenty, thirty, or even forty years ago. This is why statute of limitation laws exist. How does one question a dead priest or a dead bishop to assess their response to an allegation or their knowledge of an incident? Merely responding to a handful of these new-old cases in litigation would cost Wisconsin dioceses immensely. The legislation died this year in committee, but its supporters intend to reintroduce it next year.

The President’s recent health insurance overhaul will intertwine the federal government into medicine more than ever before. What will this mean down the line for the work of Catholic hospitals? That remains to be seen.

So what shall do? We will pray. As St. John Vianney told us yesterday, ‘God commands us to pray, but He forbids us to worry.’ We shall continue to love, for love is what changes hearts. We should vote, because we live in a democracy where the government is made in the image of those who vote.

And finally, we shall be faithful, no matter what. Even if, God forbid, churches are confiscated and sold off… even if Catholic charities and hospitals have to close their doors… even if priests and bishops go to jail for things they say or things they are unwilling to do… we will be faithful and unafraid. For Jesus promises us, “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against the Church.”

We shall not deny Jesus Christ, nor His teachings, before the world. We, the Church, will be faithful to Christ and His teachings. We shall be His people, and He shall be our God.

Mary and Pilate — 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

February 14, 2010

In a few moments, after this homily, we will recite our creed, the summary of our faith. Every Sunday, we profess, in union with the Christians who came before us, our belief in these truths and our resolve to live our lives according to them. This morning we will look at just one rich aspect of our creed and consider its implications for our lives.

Have you ever noticed that in the entire creed, only two non-divine persons are mentioned by name? These are the Virgin Mary and Pontius Pilate.

“By the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered, died and was buried.”

Now many other figures from the Old and New Testaments could have justifiably been included in our creed; such as Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Paul, and many others. Yet, only Mary and Pilate get mentioned. So why is this? There seems to be two very good reasons. The first of these reasons I will give now—and the second I will save for the end.

The first reason why Mary and Pilate receive special mention is that they ground Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in our real history. Jesus was ‘born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died under Pontius Pilate, and on the third day, He rose again.’ Now other pre-Christian religions sometimes had stories about dying gods who came to life again, but those stories were always said to have happened ‘once upon a time,’ in some remote and mythic past. But with Jesus Christ, this ancient intuition and longing of humanity is actually realized. The inclusion of Mary and Pilate in the creed witness to this: that God became man, died, and rose for us, in this world and in real history.

Some people try to be too sophisticated by saying it doesn’t really matter if Jesus rose from the dead, or even if He lived at all, because His teachings are what’s important. But St. Paul blows this idea out of the water. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” and “we are the most pitiable people of all.” Without Jesus Christ and His resurrection there is no Gospel, there is no Good News.

Just like Jesus Christ, Mary His Mother and Pontius Pilate His executioner are not fictional characters made up for some story. They are real people, from a time not that much different from our own. Our styles and technologies may have changed, but human beings themselves remain much the same. When we look at Mary and Pilate we can see ourselves in these two people whom Christ encountered twenty centuries ago.

Pilate is the secular Man of the World.
Mary is the devoted Disciple of Christ.

Pilate seeks the glory of men.
Mary seeks the glory of God.

Pilate knows worldly wisdom, he is clever and cunning.
But Mary knows God’s wisdom, and she is truly wise.

Pilate thinks he knows how the world works and the pragmatic way to get things done. For Pilate, our world is totally shaped by of power, money, and influence, with some blind luck thrown into the mix. When Jesus stands silent before him, Pilate says, “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have the power to release you and I have the power to crucify you?” Jesus replies, “You would have no power over me if it had not been given you from above.”

Pilate is a very post-modern man.  He’s a moral relativist. When he asks Jesus, “What is truth,” he doesn’t bother to wait for an answer from Truth Himself. That’s because Pilate thinks that the ‘truth’ cannot be known except for the ‘truths’ which we choose for ourselves or impose upon others.

The Gospels show that Pilate knows Jesus is innocent, or at least that he poses no real threat to society, yet Pilate is willing to have this innocent man whipped and even crucified when that becomes the most expedient thing to do. The crowd threatens Pilate, “If you release him, you are not a friend of Caesar,” and he quickly caves and hands Jesus over.

Pilate washes his hands of responsibility, and extends Christ’s arms on the cross. Mary had extended her arms declaring, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” and lovingly held the infant savior in her hands.

Pilate, despite all his power, is ruled by fear.
Mary, despite her weaknesses, is freed from it.

Governor Pilate is rich in wealth and power and yet he has no peace.
Mary, the poor widow, has peace and everything she needs from God.

Pilate has no faith in the God of Israel. He says, “I am not Jew, am I?” But for Mary, God is her rock and this makes all the difference in the world. Mary is defined by her faith, hope and love.

Mary never attends an academy, but she is profoundly wise because she reflects in her heart on the words and deeds of God and because she lives by her own advice: “Do whatever he tells you.” She knows that we do not manufacture the truth for ourselves, we receive it, ultimately from God. We love it, we defend it, and we share it with others. “Blessed [is she],” as Elizabeth said, “who believed that what was spoken to [her] by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary trusted and believed, for she saw the evidence through history that God “has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation,” that “He scatters the proud in their pride, and casts down the mighty from their throwns, but He lifts up the lowly.”

Mary’s life was full, but was not free from trials. When Mary consents to be found with child through the Holy Spirit she is uncertain of what will happen to her, but she trusts in God. She does not know how she and her husband will get by as poor immigrants in foreign country, but she continues to trust. Mary’s response to every trial in life, even to the death of her son, is to trust in God. Despite men’s sins, she trusts in God as the Lord of history, that He casts down the proud and mighty from their throwns and raises up the lowly.

Pilate is indifferent to Christ, and he consents to sending Him to the cross, but Mary is wholly devoted to Christ, and she consents to share in His Passion. Pilate’s heart is hardened despite Christ’s Passion, while Mary’s heart is pierced by it.

Governor Pilate was once the most powerful man in Judea, but where is he now? Mary, the poor widow, is now our glorious queen, the most beautiful and powerful woman in heaven or earth, and through her reign she draws millions to Christ our king.

She is the one who wept and now laughs.
He is the one who laughed and now weeps.

He was rich in the world and now he is poor.
She was poor in the world and now the kingdom is hers.

He took root in the desert, he was barren and uprooted.
But she was planted beside the flowing waters, she endured and bore much fruit.

So what do all of these reflections about Mary and Pilate have to do with us? I promised you at the beginning a second good reason why Mary and Pilate are mentioned in the creed; and here it is: Mary and Pilate represent us. They stand as archetypes, models or patterns, for every person.

The faithful one and the faithless one.

The one who serves God and the one who serves himself.

The one who gives Christ life and the one who puts him to death.

We live our daily lives as either Mary or Pilate, with shades of the other thrown in. As we come to the season of Lent, let us examine and discern who we are. “How am I Pilate, and how am I Mary?” And at this Eucharist, let us ask Jesus to exchange in us the ways of Pilate for the ways of Mary, for hers is the way of Christ.

The Fool’s Blindness — Tuesday, 5th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

February 9, 2010

Some priests like to begin their homilies with jokes. Today I’m going begin by telling you a few jokes—some very, very old jokes. In fact, they come from the oldest joke book in the world, a collection of 265 jokes from the 4th century A.D. entitled The Philogelos, or (in English) The Laugh-Addict.

One day an intellectual bumped into a friend and said to him, “I heard you were dead.” “Well,” said the friend, “As you can see, I am very much alive.” “Yes,” [replied the other,] “but the person who told me you were dead is much more reliable than you.”

[On another occasion,] A doctor stole the lamp of a man whom he was treating for inflammation of the eyes. A few days later, the doctor asked the patient how his eyes were. “It’s a funny thing, [Doctor,] ever since you treated them I haven’t been able to see my lamp.”

[And finally,] An intellectual was [once] on a sea voyage when a big storm blew up, causing his slaves to weep in terror. ‘Don’t cry,’ he consoled them, ‘I have freed you all in my will.’”

Now these three jokes have something in common, besides being very old. They all share the have comedic device: a foolish person who focuses on the wrong thing, like the patient who mistrusts his eyes more than his doctor. This is called majoring in the minors, or as Jesus would say, “straining the gnat and swallowing the camel.” In the Gospel today, Jesus really takes it to the scribes and Pharisees for doing this sort of thing: “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition. … This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…”

So do we focus on small details of our faith and neglect what’s really important? For instance, next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and during Lent we usually give up something we enjoy as a form of penance until the joyful celebration of Easter. Now keeping a Lenten penance is a good tradition, because penance helps us to shed old sins and to grow in our ability to do good and to be happy. But… if we give up pop, cookies, candy, or ice cream, while we neglect to go to Sunday Mass, we are keeping a human tradition while we neglect God’s command: keep holy the Lord’s day. Instead of doing neither this Lent, please do both.  Take a penance and go to Mass every weekend for the love of God.

Maybe your family doesn’t go to Mass on weekends, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t. If you love God enough to ask your parents’ permission to go by yourself or with a friend this Sunday, I doubt you will need to go alone a second time. For you will provide your parents with a needed reminder about God’s important in our lives, and I bet you that at least one of them, if not the whole family, will come with you every week after.

So let us keep first things first, and not be stupid, like the man who was swimming when it started to rain; and dove to the bottom, to keep from getting wet. This Lent, let us keep the Lord’s Day, every Lord’s Day, holy. The reason the Lord calls you out is to call you to Himself.