repentA few weeks ago, I got a tip that the end of the world was nigh. Usually I don’t pay much attention to them. But these were different. These warnings were a series of post it notes put on different doors of the parish complex over 4 different days. Someone went to some trouble to make sure I got the message. <<Read the notes>>
• The Second Coming of Jesus Christ is soon. Repent for these are the last days.
• These are the last days. Jesus is coming back soon.
So, obviously, I was not getting the message out quickly enough, because the next note was written on a RED post-it:
• The World is ending and the AntiChrist is about to rise! Jesus is the only way!
And the last one:
• Fr. Bill, (yikes) you must warn your congregation NOW! If you do not, you will have blood on your hands. So, you have been warned…

It is tempting to brush these notes off, to not take their message seriously. Yet, in today’s gospel, Jesus seems to think that we need just such a reminder. Our scriptures for this weekend use a type of literature we refer to as apocalyptic. Strange symbols and language, which have as their goal, in part to remind us that things end. There will be an end to our ability to work; our friendships. An end to the nation as we know it; the church as we know it. There will be an end to our very lives, and to the lives of those we love.

When Jesus tells us that we do not know the day nor hour this will happen for us, he doesn’t say that to frighten us. He does so to focus our awareness again on what we say we value. Sometimes we get so caught up in things that mean very little in light of the shortness of life, that we forget what really matters to us. Remembering that we don’t know when our world will end asks us if we are living now what we say is important to us.

Case in point: One morning, years ago, Alfred Nobel, the man who invented dynamite, sat down to have a cup of coffee, opened his newspaper and, to his surprise, read his own obituary. A reporter had mistakenly reported Alfred’s death in place of his brother’s. As you could imagine, Alfred was shocked. But it gave him the fascinating opportunity to read what was written about him and how he would be remembered. His obituary described him accurately as the “dynamite king” who had spent his life making instruments of death and destruction.

This was not the legacy that Alfred Nobel wanted to leave the world. That morning Alfred Nobel resolved to change his life. Not only did he resolve to do so, he actually did. He changed the direction of his life in such ways that – later, in his name – annual prizes would be awarded in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. He went from being the “dynamite king” to the one for whom the “Nobel Peace Prize” was named.

Such is the gift of facing the reality of our own death. Facing the reality of our deaths provides a chance to choose again what really matters. There are some here who need no reminder; some who have faced death too recently – or who narrowly escaped it – and for whom the reality of the shortness of life is altogether too much in their faces. Yet, even when we are aware, there is a part of each of us that tends to go back so quickly to ‘business as usual’.

Alfred Nobel got to see what would have been written about him had he been the one who died. What do you think would be written about you if you died? Better yet, what would you LIKE to be written?
If you or I had the opportunity to write an article about ourselves to be published after we died, what would we want to say about ourselves? What would we want to be noted for? If I want my legacy to be that I was a person who cared for others, a person of prayer, or someone who loved my family, I do well to examine whether or not I am living those values now. We DO NOT KNOW when the hour will come.

And so are there: Any words of kindness to speak? Now is the time!
Any risk to be taken; forgiveness to be sought? Now is the time!
Any friend or relative to call or visit? Now is the time!
Any prayer to be prayed or virtue to be embraced? Now is the time!
Any act of service you have been putting off? Now is the time.

For each of us, the end of our days will come. My friend who left these notes on the doors of the church reminded me of that. Jesus tells us clearly today that we do not know WHEN that will happen. But happen it will. I keep these notes on the door frame of my room, a daily reminder that the end is indeed coming. I invite you to put your own ‘post it note’ which will remind you – perhaps just with the words: “Alfred Nobel” on it, and leave it on the door frame to your room. And every time you see it let it remind you of the urgency of these hours. Are you now those values that last?

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“Who notices you?”

Published on 08. Nov, 2015 by in Sunday Homilies


kindnessIt was just a couple of coins… << toss coins in metal bucket >> It was just a couple of coins, but you could say a number of things about them:
You could say, for example, that those coins don’t amount to much and they don’t.
You could say they are a sign of great generosity, of selfless goodness… and they are.
Or you could say those coins symbolized religious oppression. And you would be right.

The widow is a symbol, a symbol of someone in the direst of needs. In a society that did not have such things as life insurance, annuities, and social security, to lose one’s husband was to lose one’s livelihood, to become quite marginalized, and to be at the mercy of sexual and economic predators. Thus those who devour a widow’s savings – who prey on the helpless – as Jesus put it, deserve the harshest of judgments our scriptures say.

It was just a couple of coins, but it was all she had to live on. Even though she was being taken advantage of, that did nothing to diminish the goodness of her action. She was doing what she thought God asked of her for love.

The beauty of this Gospel? JESUS NOTICES HER. In the midst of all the craziness in the temple that day, Jesus notices HER. His seasoned eye does not take in the high and the mighty who have captivated everyone else. His seasoned eye picks out someone whom everyone else has overlooked. He observes this little invisible, nondescript human being from the bottom of the social ladder. He notices her quiet act of fidelity, kindness, and generosity, those acts that make a difference in this world. He notices that and comments about it.

And that, ultimately, is the point for us, two thousand years later. Jesus notices. Jesus notices the “un-celebrities” of this world. Our small deeds when done for love are seen by God, cherished by God, and remembered by God. No one else may know them or comment on them, but God does.

• You have a parent with Alzheimer’s and you feed them and wipe their chins countless times … and you think that no one notices… BUT GOD NOTICES
• It’s 3:00 in the morning. Through bleary eyes you put the sheets – soiled by a sick child – in the washing machine … knowing how tired you’ll be for work… Your spouse didn’t even wake up. You are so tired and you feel so alone… BUT GOD NOTICES
• It’s Thursday night and there a number of parties on campus. It’s your one chance to sit with your friend who is struggling in algebra, so you do it. It seems like the rest of the world goes on without you… BUT GOD NOTICES
• You’ve been lied about and others fall for it. You could lash out, but you choose a humbler path…
• Some of the boys invite you to go to the east-side for a “few beers – wink-wink” after work, but you say “no.” You stay true to your commitment. Your wife might never know that you were even invited, but God notices.

Among other things, today’s gospel tells us that God’s focus is on the goodness in the human heart and how it shows up in our lives …

I know it can feel so lonely. It can be so hard … but those seemingly unseen acts of love and kindness are our greatest chance to change this world. They are ultimately true goodness. They are what matter most of all. And God notices …

It was just a couple of coins… << toss coins in metal bucket >>
It might be just a couple of coins: it might be any act of loving service, humble goodness or generous care. I hope that is what we learn to see in others – and in ourselves – more than anything else. May we see that goodness! – because that, indeed, is what God always sees in us…

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houseAs most of us suspected, it was much ado about nothing as “Destination America” did its “Exorcism: Live!” show in Bel-Nor on Friday night. And even though the show had the usual disclaimers: “Our experts are trained professionals equipped to deal with dangerous situations. Do not attempt this at home. Viewer discretion is advised.” there was not much activity – paranormal or otherwise – to be had. I have a theory about that, though. Their mistake is that they were looking for the wrong type of ‘paranormal’ activity in the wrong location.

They should have had their cameras at the Caritas food center as the meals on wheel dinners we sent on their way. Or the Vincent De Paul society meeting on Tuesday night as they worked on getting utility assistance for folks in need. Or the Wednesday morning bible study group. They could have been set up for our All School Mass, as the third grade saints were “Marching In” in their full regalia this past Wednesday. Their cameras should have been following the Thursday evening scout leaders. And our school room Mothers and Fathers as they provided a little All Hallows Eve festivities. And the 6th grade parent chaperones at Camp Lakewood. Or, if they wanted a ‘scary location’ – they could have filmed at our Cemetery on any Thursday, as our volunteers, Ken and Joe, cut the grass, pick up the branches and trim around the headstones.

Zooming in a bit more, they could have followed any number of our parishioners as they care for an elderly parent; or a sibling with mental illness, or a special needs child. They could have filmed a dad as he helped his son with a reading assignment, a mom as she played in the yard with her kids or tended to a sick child.

Their ‘paranormal activity meters’ should have been registering off the charts while bedtime prayers were being said, rosary beads were passing through elderly fingers, or a family paused to bless the meal before them. Dials should have been buried into the red zone as the Kyle family celebrated their son’s baptism; as hospital vigils were kept, as my friend Dave’s family prayed around his bedside as he was passing from this life to the next on.

How strange, this fascination with evil, that had trucks and watchers and newscasters from all around the country unsettling our Bel-Nor neighborhood, when the real paranormal activity – the stuff that makes saints out of the most common of us all – is going on all around us. People being poor in spirit. Mourning the world’s sorrows and evils. Meek. Hungering and thirsting for right relationships with God and neighbors. Showing mercy. Forging peace in a post Ferguson world. Being clean of heart in a world where so much that is ugly is thrown in your face. And, yes, even as we are being persecuted.

Paranormal activity is all around us. Of those who engaged in it – some have the official title like Saint John Paul II, and Saint John the 23rd. Some are nearly there, like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Blessed John Cardinal Henry Newman. And still others have lived saintly lives that merit them a place with all those who have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb, but they don’t have the official title of Saint. ALL of them have done it by becoming this image given to us by Jesus – they have been men and women of the beatitudes.

So, the challenge of this day is simple. If Destination America showed up on your doorstep and followed you around all day – would they record any ‘paranormal activity’? Anything that looks like saintliness and beatitude? Would they find evidence that indeed, you are becoming more and more like the Saint that God is calling you to be?

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phoneJesus certainly has the best lines of all the words recorded in the gospels. And it is great to hear them, to listen to them, to let them soak in. “Be not afraid” – are the words that come most often from his lips. “Come to me, all you who are weary.” Who hasn’t drawn comfort from that? “I am going to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, you also may be” gives us hope about our eternal destiny.

But every so often, the words that the crowd speaks also can be important for us. In Mark’s narrative of the Gospel, ‘the crowd’ usually functions in two ways – it either helps people to Jesus or it hinders their approach to Jesus. In today’s gospel, it actually does both. Scholars have noted in this regard that the role of the crowd parallels the role of the church. The church is meant to help people get to Jesus. Sometimes it does that well. Other times, not so much. Yet they tell us, it is important to hear the words of the ‘crowd’ as words that are addressed to us as believers.

So, what does it mean to hear the crowd say to us, today: “Take courage; Get up, Jesus is calling you.”

Take Courage. Sometimes courage looks like trusting in the fact that God made you good and made you for a purpose. It is my favorite line in any catechism – Why did God make you? Because He thought you would like it. And he thought your friends would like it too. And yet, too often we don’t trust that, don’t lean into that truth. “Take Courage” – the deepest truth about who you are is that you are loved beyond measure. In my college and grad school years, my good friend Mary Morton would, when I was struggling with that belief, tell me to ‘repeat after me.” “I” (I) “am” (am) “Loved” (urrgh! – loved) “Unconditionally” (Do I have to say it…. Unconditionally.) It was never easy, but through her patient loving of me, I learned to trust the Good News of God’s love for me.

Sometimes courage means to stand up in a relationship and speak the truth in love, even when it is difficult. Or to seek/offer forgiveness. Or to leave behind a mask that once protected you, but now keeps you back. Or to learn to trust that love is real, even when you haven’t seen much in your own family. Take courage – you are loved unconditionally

Get up. I think of those words as ‘morning words’. As in ‘time to get up.’ Yet, it is easy to sleep walk through life. To not make a stand. To follow willy-nilly the currents of life and society. Get up invites us to do life differently. To make a commitment to change this world that you and I walk in. Get up, there is work to do.

Jesus is calling you. “Gulp!” “Really? Me, Lord? Can’t someone else volunteer Lord? Isn’t that what campus ministers are for? Or priests? Besides, it’s someone else’ turn.” Maybe. But what if the Lord is calling you? How can you turn him down?

Bartimaeus, the man to whom these words were first addressed by the crowd, is in my opinion the most courageous man in the gospels aside from Jesus, because at that threefold command, he tosses aside his cloak, (pardon the pun, but he’ll never see it again. He doesn’t even know what it looks like) comes to Jesus and asks for the grace to see. We are told that he follows Jesus ‘en te hodos’ – On the Way – which is Marcan shorthand for being a disciple. May we follow his example and do the same.

This week, write those words on your mirror – let them be the screen saver on your computer; put them in your planner. Hear those words addressed to the crowds as words addressed to YOU…

Take courage; get up. Jesus is calling YOU…

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checkIt was pretty bold of James and John. “Jesus, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” “Really?” would have been my response! Can you give me a clue as to what category the ‘ask’ is going to be made in? Nope. WE just hear their variation of: We want you to do whatever we have in mind, only we’re not going to tell you what it is until you say yes. I don’t think I know a single parent who would take their child up on that one. I am pretty sure I would not. But that is exactly what the disciples were asking for, wasn’t it? For Jesus to write them a blank check. It’s a pretty gutsy move on their part.

Yet to his credit, Jesus doesn’t roll his eyes. Patiently, Jesus “goes there”, doesn’t he? “Boys, what do you have in mind?” So they name their price. Here is the check that we want – places of honor in your kingdom. We’ve been with you from the beginning. You know us. You know how we have been there for you. So what is in it for us?”

Here is what I love in Jesus’ response, because it tells me something about how he responds to my prayers and my sometime off balance requests. He asks James and John to do exactly what they asked of him: Can you write me YOUR blank check first? “Can you drink the cup I drink and be baptized into my baptism?” Will you be willing to follow me, come what may, regardless of what comes back to you?”

And to their credit, James and John don’t flinch. Yep! We’re right with you, boss. It is then, that Jesus grants, not their ask of him – not their request for a blank check – but his ask of them. “The cup that I drink you will drink, and the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” And my suspicion is that Jesus smiles inwardly, because he has just ‘beaten them at their own game.’ They came asking to receive a blank check, and they left having given one away. And then, to make sure that not just James and John ‘get it’ – but that the rest of the disciples do as well, Jesus reminds them of his mission: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

For what it is worth, I don’t like to think of myself as being like James and John. In my mind, I have never asked God to ‘grant me whatever I am going to ask him before I tell him what it is.’ I like to think that I have never asked God for a blank check. But I think the truth is not quite that convenient. I sometimes am disappointed ‘when I don’t get anything out of mass.’ Sometimes I get disgruntled when my prayer is dry. I complain and moan when the diocese comes out with another ‘demand on my time’, even though it might be a great thing. And in each of those little frustrations, I am guilty of wanting exactly what James and John were after – assurances that “I will have my reward in heaven.”

What Jesus would have me know is a much more immediate truth. There is a LIFE that wells up within you when you give yourself away. There is a goodness to living that comes from sacrificial love. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” THAT is where Jesus found his life. In his blank check to His Father, in his choice to not let it be about him, but to be about giving his life away in service.

So, if you come here this day, hoping that God will be loving you into life, hoping that he will reward your time with him with a blessing – that is okay. But don’t miss the Jesus-James-and-John moment we are offered – the chance to write our blank check before God. TODAY and every mass – when the gifts are brought up, put your heart and love into that basket. And when those gifts are raised above the altar in our song of thanksgiving, offer to the Lord YOUR BLANK check for the day. Hear the invitation from Jesus to you: Can you drink the cup? Can you be baptized as I am to be baptized? At that moment, write the Lord your blank check…

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ropeIt seems a hunter was trying to capture a type of monkey for a local zoo, but the monkey was too quick for him to get his nets thrown over him, no matter how he tried. So he went to plan B. He took a gourd, sliced it in half, hollowed it out and then put a ripe mango fruit inside of it. He then cut a hole in one end, just big enough for a monkey to slip his hand inside. He tied the gourd back together and hung it from a tree, close to the ground. Attracted by the fruit, the monkey put his hand inside the gourd and closed his fist around the mango fruit. But now his fist was too large to withdraw from the opening, and even though the monkey saw the hunter approaching with his nets, he would not let go of the fruit. He could not pull free and so was captured…

I wonder how often, I, like the monkey, like the rich man in today’s gospel, live EXACTLY like that – my fist clenched around something that I just know I NEED to have, when the truth is, God may want greater things for me than what I have in my fist? I found that out sooner than I had hoped.

The yearly “Priests’ Profile” showed up in my inbox, and needed to be returned by this past Friday. It asks about your will and if your funeral plans are made out; who is your durable power of attorney and the like. It also asks whether you would like to stay or are seeking to move on in your current assignment. So I filled out the section entitled: At this time I:.. I quickly found and checked the box that finishes: “would like to stay in my current assignment.” Check. (Can I boldface that check mark? TWO check marks, if I could!) That part was easy. But then the next section asked: “My Dream for my next assignment.” (Wait, didn’t I just say, I would like to stay in my current assignment?) And you had several options to check: Be pastor of a single parish/pastor of a twinned parish. Pursue studies. Do a Specialized Ministry – eg High school, missionary, or campus ministry. And then, there is the ever dangerous “Here I am send me – no strings attached” box. I have to tell you, I wrestled a long time with that section. I had made it clear in the section above that I want to stay. But what was difficult was precisely how tightly I wanted to close my fist around the option of remaining the pastor of St. Ann and Director of the Newman Center.

(look up to heaven) “Lord, like the man in the gospel, is that what I am clinging to, so tightly, that I am missing the life that you want to call me?” (pause, look back at congregation) I don’t know. But at that moment, I completely understood that rich young man who went away sad – because it was so hard for him to vision life without his wealth to rely upon. He was clinging too tightly to what he thought he needed. Just as it is so hard for me to vision a life away from here and from the Newman center. I become, like that monkey, trapped by my own closed fist.

To be honest, I did eventually check that box. – Here I am, send me – no strings attached” should there be another assignment. I was not volunteering, nor asking to leave at anytime in the near or far distant future. I hope the diocese does NOT take me up on that offer. But it was important for me to make that ‘stance’ known – less to the personnel board and more to God. I wanted God to know that my heart is where it always has been, since the day I chose ordination to the priesthood 31 years ago this week. “I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.”

It is so easy to become comfortable with the known, isn’t it? I know this parish, this neighborhood, this routine, this group of friends. I know what is expected of me. Yet, if we want to find an inheritance in the Kingdom of God, Jesus tells us that is not enough. Merely keeping the commandments was not enough for that rich young man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus wanted him to know a freedom he would never have if he clung so tightly to his wealth. And like the rich young man, we have to be willing to leave behind all that would encumber us, all that we cling to too tightly…

I hope there will be a moment for you this week, when YOU will have the same choice – to let go of whatever you cling to so tightly. Mine came in the annual priests profile. Perhaps it will be the beggar who accosts you outside of Walgreens. Maybe it will be the story of the temporarily halted executions in Oklahoma that God will use to stir you to action to stop the death penalty. Perhaps it will be the struggling co-worker/dorm student who is always asking for a listening ear, and then goes on and on, while you have other responsibilities to attend to. Recognize, in whatever the situation that arises this week, the invitation of which the Lord gave to the rich young man. See the Lord looking upon YOU in love, yet demanding of you a choice – to let go of what you cling to so tightly that it traps you, not where God wants you to be, but where you are. And then pray for the grace to check the box in your heart that says: “Here I am Lord, send me – no strings attached…”

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98288162-D603-48BA-8191-C2E7ACF5A4DEThe ‘Twitteratti’ and internet bloggers were going crazy this week, as they tried to figure out what to make of Pope Francis meeting with Kim Davis, the county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses in Kentucky. Is he endorsing her position as part of protecting religious liberty? What about his meeting with an ex-student and his partner that happened a day before then? What does that say about his belief in traditional marriage? And then there was the internet meme that got a huge amount of laughs – “Following the example of Jesus, the Pope surrounds himself with Prostitutes, Thieves and Tax Collectors.” It was a picture of Pope Francis addressing congress…

I suspect this would be one of the hardest parts of being Pope – people reading into or second guessing EVERYTHING that you do. But right up with that is what I think is the second hardest part – someone else sets your schedule! On a trip to a foreign country, someone else completely schedules you day. They control who you meet, where you meet them, and for how long. So, it was someone in the Nunciature in Washington, D.C. who scheduled the meeting with Kim Davis. I understand that this is a necessary function for the Pope, especially this one, for whom EVERYONE wants a piece of his time. Someone has to run his schedule to keep him doing the important things/meetings – otherwise, he would get sucked daily into the tyranny of the urgent – the people who ran to the front of the line and yelled the loudest – and in doing so, miss out on the important things.

The disciples get caught today trying to do just that for Jesus – to prioritize whom he will see and where and when and for how long. And though it would be easy to take them to task, what they were trying to do was commendable. “Let’s make sure Jesus gets face time with the folks who need it the most – those who were sick and in need of healing. And let’s make sure he stays ‘on mission’ – to fulfill his highest calling and most useful service to the larger good.” The disciples saw part of their job as being Jesus’ schedule handlers. It was thankless and difficult work, but someone had to do it, or the entire mission might be lost.

So when the disciples vetted the parents seeking an audience and learned that all they wanted was to have Jesus place his hands upon their kids, they made a judgment. The kids weren’t sick, they weren’t dying, and they were not in mortal danger. They were simply children whose parents who wanted to give their kids a photo-op – an experience that they would remember for the rest of their days. They would get to meet the famous JESUS, and they’d be able to tell all their friends in Hebrew school, and one day, THEIR children and grandchildren: “I met Jesus.” But the disciples would have none of that. ‘The master has more important work to do!’

But as Jesus so often did, he surprised the disciples with his response. Jesus not only cleared his calendar, but he created a safe and welcoming lap for these children to come to him. He gladly placed his hands upon these healthy children, blessed them and their parents, and cradled the infants in his arms. And while he did this, he used the moment to underscore a few important priorities of the Kingdom. I will mention just one.

Families matter. They matter to members of the family itself, they matter to members of a healthy society, and they matter to God. (I am so grateful for mine as we deal with mom’s aging.) We should not fail to notice that this story of the blessing of the children comes directly after Jesus offered his teaching about the sanctity and importance of marriage. God created us to live in loving relationships, and those relationships should not be started or ended lightly. The ripples of decisions regarding family commitments wash ashore for years to come, whether for good or for ill. God takes family seriously, and so should we. Perhaps that is one of the reasons he paused in his busy schedule to affirm the decision and commitment of these parents who waited in line so patiently just to have Jesus touch and bless their children. Like parents today who place a priority on the spiritual nurturing of their children, Jesus wanted to show that God notices, affirms their commitment to holiness, and joins them in that priority.

So, if Jesus puts a priority on the family, what might we do in response? Let me propose two actions: For the next three weeks I invite you to pray for the Pope and the Bishops around the world as they gather in Rome for the Synod on the Family. Ask that God inspire them to teach us once again how to honor the family, and how to prioritize our time, not around the urgent, but the important.
And, closer to home, in your family – whatever configuration that might look like:

● Schedule a family game night. ​
● Go out to dinner together.
● Go to a movie together.​​
● Take a walk in the woods.

Do some of those things that probably would only with difficulty make it onto the Pope’s schedule – but that are a sign of the richness of the life that God wants for our individual as well as our parish families! And as you do so, know that Jesus always has a lap open and hands ready to bless you and your children, and your children’s children…

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5C8DA9DC-BA57-41C2-BA74-EF44F1C97886In the novel, All is quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, we follow a bit of the life of a young German soldier named Paul Baumer, fighting in World War One. In one part of the story, we find Paul huddled in a shell hole in the midst of an enemy bombardment. The first wave of enemy troops clatters over him, but then an enemy soldier falls into the shell-hole as well. Instinctively, Paul pulls out his dagger and stabs him. The enemy’s body grows limp and lifeless. Paul thinks he has killed him, but, after a while the dying soldier moves a bit and even opens his eyes. He looks at Paul in terror. Paul knows he is dying, and gives him some water and tries to bandage the three stab wounds in the man’s chest. But the soldier dies shortly after that. Paul is deeply disturbed by it all.

He looks in the soldier’s pocket and discovers that the man’s name was Gerald Duval, that he was a printer and kind of poor. This man who had been an abstraction, an enemy soldier, now becomes all too real for him. He finds a picture of a woman and a child. Moved, he speaks to the corpse…”Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother.” Filled with remorse, he says to himself… to the world… “We always see it too late”

We always see it too late. It is almost hard wired into us to see that which is ‘different’/‘other’ before we see what is the same.

That is the work of Satan. The primary work of Satan is to divide. The primary work of the Holy Spirit is to unite. But we humans have always been so quick to respond to the temptation to divide.

We see it in today’s scriptures. In the first reading, there were two who were prophesying who weren’t there at the beginning. So Joshua, Moses’ right hand man, asks Moses to divide the two groups. “Moses, my lord, stop them!” They are not the same as us. The Gospel tells of a similar situation with Jesus. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” Jesus who is about the work of uniting, not dividing, responds: “Do not stop him. Whoever is not working against our purposes is working with us.”

Satan works to divide. The Holy Spirit works to unite. Moses and Jesus refuse these arbitrary divisions. Jesus will simply NOT divide. He will not make an enemy out of those doing it another way.

When Pope Francis addressed the congress on Thursday, he said it this way: “There is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.” The devil divides. The Holy Spirit unites.

So how do we avoid this temptation? How might we live this gospel?

1) Delete this phrase from your vocabulary. “Those people.” It does not matter who we finish that sentence with – the rich, the poor, the murderers on death row; the frat boy or the sorority gal. As long as we see them as THOSE people, we’ll never see them for who they are in God’s sight.

2) Unfortunately that is exactly what we will be inundated with these next 13 months – people labeling the other as dangerous, as the enemy. We call it an election year… So, put on a set of filters this election season – EVERY TIME you hear a candidate dividing us – Ask: Who are they keeping out? Who is excluded in the values they are proposing? And do you like the prospect of that kind of world? 3) The next time you are ‘in the proverbial fox hole with your enemy, do something to “see pictures in their wallet” or cell phone. – Find out about their family. Recognize the humanity, the fears, the struggles of the person you are in disagreement with.

“Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy? If we threw away these rifles and this uniform you could be my brother.” Filled with remorse, he says to himself… to the world… “We always see it too late.”

Let us not see it too late.

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0DD9F548-C49A-4CF6-AE34-1251A55BE3A6In February of 1999, Monster.com ran a famous ad in that year’s Superbowl. Perhaps you remember it. It was a bunch of kids answering the question: What do you want to be when you grow up? The answers were a bit telling… “When I grow up, I want to…” “File papers all day…” “Have a brown nose…” “Claw my way up to middle management…” “Be a yes man…” “Be a yes woman…” “Be underappreciated…” “Be forced into early retirement…” And then the tag line, written across the screen, reading: “What do you want to be?” – with the Monsters.com logo displayed. Unspoken was the assumption that, “with us, you don’t have to settle…”

What made the commercial so striking is what it tapped into in our human psyche. We don’t like being unimportant or unnoticed.

Neither did the disciples. And they got caught, right in the act of pretending to be somebody. An argument, a discussion – “who has done the most for Jesus – who’s given up the most, sacrificed the most, laid the most on the line for Jesus”? And therefore, who is going to get the biggest reward, the biggest prize at the end of it all?

Jesus, who was always so alert to what was going on around him, asks, once home: “What are you talking about?” I suspect he was hoping they would ‘man up’ and admit it. But like kids with hands caught in the cookie jar who knew they had no defense, they were silent.

“SIGH!” And so what does Jesus, the teacher do? He gives them his version of the monster.com commercial. “If anyone wants to climb the corporate ladder of the kingdom…” then be ready to do the filing, or the laundry, or the middle management, or taking out the trash, or cutting the lawn, or… That is what it means to be important in the kingdom of heaven.

And then, to make sure they “GOT IT” – Jesus places in their midst a living example of the unimportance they are to strive for. A child. And it is not because the child is a child and kind of cute and adorable, as in the commercial, but because the kid is a NOBODY, a NOTHING. No rights, status, rank, privilege, anything. Though that is a foreign concept to us, even as late as the middle ages Thomas Aquinas instructed people in the Summa Theologica that the order of ‘rescuing people from a burning building was: Father, Mother, Wife and THEN children. They were on the lowest rung. So Jesus says in effect – you must be willing to serve those who are the last and least. That must have given his disciples pause.

It is so difficult to learn that, to trust that, to embrace that way of thinking. If you have watched any of the republican presidential debates, you realize how counter cultural a message it STILL is here in the United States and in most of our world’s history.

I sometimes wonder if we could have some kind of ritual within the Catholic church that would remind us of that. Sort of like the holy water reminds us of our baptism, this ritual, whatever it would look like, would put Jesus’ invitation before us as clearly as that child Jesus put in front of the disciples in his day.

To that end, I do know that in Vienna in Austria there is a church in which the former ruling family in Austria, the Hapsburgs, are buried. When royal funerals used to arrive, the mourners knocked at the door of the church to be allowed in. A priest inside would ask “Who is it that desires admission here?” A guard would call out, “His apostolic majesty, the emperor.” The priest would answer, “I don’t know him.” They would knock a second time, and again the priest would ask who was there. The funeral guard outside would announce, “The highest emperor.” A second time the priest would say, “I don’t know him.” A third time they would knock on the door and the priest would ask “Who is it?” The third time, the answer would return: “A poor sinner, your brother” and the priest would let them in.

When all is said and done, God will not ask how important we were, how many companies we led, or even if we ‘clawed our way up to middle management, or lived with a brown nose.” Rather, he will ask simply: “Did you serve every last, least and lost one of my brothers and sisters with all you had and all hoped to be…”

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Source: Press Photo

Press Photo

It is a heartbreaking image, one that you can’t ‘unsee’ once you have seen it. It is a small boy, face down on the edge of the surf, arm tucked neatly at his side, tennis shoes limp on the sand behind him — lifeless on the beach. Now we know his name and what happened to his family. The 3-year-old found dead Wednesday along the shores of a Turkish resort town was named Aylan Kurdi. His family was trying to reach the Greek island of Kos when their boat capsized. His brother and mother also died. Only the boys’ father, Abdullah, survived.

His family are Kurdish Syrians from Kobani, a town near the Turkish border fought over by the Islamic State and Kurdish forces. They were desperately trying to emigrate to Canada. They decided not to give up after their attempts were unsuccessful. Like so many people fleeing conflict and economic destitution for the relative safety of Europe this year, it cost them their lives. In a report published Thursday, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council estimated over 2,000 Syrians have drowned since 2011 trying to reach Europe. And though those other 2,000 will be nameless for most of us, Aylan Kurdi has put a face upon this humanitarian crisis. What will we do about this massive wave of immigration that threatens to inundate much of Europe?

I would like to hope that this image will turn some kind of tide. That, somehow, seeing this human tragedy – written so absolutely small in that limp body of a three year old child – will galvanize our hearts to say: “No more. Never again.” That it will move our hearts to say with Isaiah to every other immigrant on the shores of Turkey – “Be Strong, Fear Not. Here is your God, who comes with vindication; with divine recompense, he comes to save you.”

How hard it is to say that, much less HOPE that in our days. And this image (show pic) is not the only ‘tough image out there. There are images from the latest of the Planned Parenthood Videos showing the callous treatment of aborted children’s remains – speaking of them as ‘commodities to be bought and sold and traded.” We read about an 11 year old boy shooting to death a 16 year intruder with his parents’ gun. When hear the relentless chants of “Black lives Matter” followed by “Police lives matter” or “Gay lives matter” or “Fill in the blank lives matter”, when the truth is that “ALL lives matter”! It is easy to get fatigued. It is easy to say: Where do I start?

Maybe we start with one simple image. Aylan Kurdi. And we print it and put it on our bathroom mirror, so that everytime we shave and wash and brush our teeth, we let it connect us to that desire for justice that God has implanted so deeply within us, that it comes out sometimes as outrage, and anger and sorrow/heartbreak.

And, if we are courageous enough, we can let this image train our hearts to learn that every bit of suffering in our world has a human face and a human story. When we know that, not just in our heads, but, as this picture evokes within us, in our hearts – then we must cry out for the oppressed, weep for the loss of innocent life and act to create a world of justice. But here is the kicker.

We must never forget to pray in hope.

God has not forgotten and God will not forget. Our hope for justice is an inkling of God’s will, “who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.” as we heard in the responsorial psalm.

When we let God’s will and desire for us take root, then like the apostle James, we begin by not making distinctions among the poor and the rich at church, treating the “poor person in shabby clothes” with disdain and “the one wearing the fine clothes” with honor. Like Jesus, we know that sometimes, all we can do is to tenderly take ONE suffering person aside and touch their ears and heart that they might know God’s healing love through us.

I made some copies of this picture (yet because it is disturbing, I understand that perhaps some of you with small children might not want to take one home). Take it home and put it where you will see it. And each time, remember Aylan Kurdi and his family in your prayers. And let that image – as tragic and sad and hard to look at as it might be – move all of us to be God’s vindication and justice in our world.

Print copy of Aylan Kurdi’s picture (pdf)

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