Archive for November, 2011

Loving With Our Hearts

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Christ The King

Ez 34: 11-12, 15-17; 1 Cor 15: 20-26, 28; Mt 25: 31-46

Dc. Larry Brockman

The other day, while I was at Health Central Hospital helping the Chaplain in the emergency room, I stopped by the fountain for a drink of water.  .A little girl was there right after me, and try as she could, she couldn’t get a drink, she was just too short.  So, without giving it a thought, I lifted her up and turned the fountain on for her.  .She smiled, scurried away, and I heard her Mom thank me from across the waiting room.  I didn’t really think about it again until I started to prepare this homily.  But, after hearing the Gospel, I truly believe the incident spoke much to me about the Last Judgment. 

 For the last couple of weeks, Jesus talked in parables about being ready for the Last Judgment.  The emphasis was on preparation.  Last week, we were told that we all need to be servants who exercise good stewardship of the gifts, or talents, that God has given us.   Now, we have been given a lifetime to accomplish this task,  So, the message is, that whether our lifetime is short or long, we need to take the steps needed to use our talents prudently in the service of God while we have the time. 

The week before, we were told that we need to be ready to shine the light of Christ constantly in our lives because there is no predicting when we will die and be called to the Last Judgment.  To do that, we need oil for our lamps to light the way.  And we get the oil by being ready and prepared- no procrastinating, no hiding our sins, no negativity is permissible.  We have to be proactive and ready at all times.

 For several weeks before these two Gospels, we heard about the Kingdom of God itself- what it was; and what it was not.  Jesus’ descriptions of it are summed up by his metaphor of the lightning flash.  We see flashes, or glimpses of the Kingdom once and a while in the beauty of nature, a child’s words, or a conversation with another.  It is described as a feeling of great joy in all the parables.  That after all, is our hope- a joyful life ever after in the Kingdom of God.  All of us want that.  So, what is missing in our lives?

Well today, on the Feast of Christ the King, we are told in no uncertain terms, that unless we follow the golden rule, that is, “Love our neighbor as ourselves”, we will not enter the Kingdom of God.. The Old Testament Reading and Gospel both bring up the image of a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats.  The separation is permanent- not just temporary.  The sheep go to heaven; the goats to hell.  So, what are we to make of this severe language?  Well, if we have done what we can to always shine the light of Christ; and if we have recognized and used the talents that God gave us to serve God, then the last thing that he demands of us is simplicity of heart in loving one another.  That, after all is what he is talking about here.  We do that by sharing our food and water; sharing our wealth, whatever it is; visiting the sick and imprisoned, and in general, by being present for various folks in need as if it was second nature to us. 

 This idea of simplicity of heart in loving one another in this way leaped out at me when I read the Gospel because it was then that I remembered the little girl and the fountain.  .God had given me that experience to help me understand this Gospel lesson.  We will not be judged on how much we know; how famous we are; how much money we gave away; how well we are regarded; or any of a number of other areas of greatness by man’s standards.  We will be judged on how we learned the lesson of being kind and loving and present to everyone and anyone that God puts into our lives- even the ones we see by accident or happenstance.  And not only that, this attitude of kindness needs to be second nature to us, not contrived. 

 This, it seems to me, is why Ezekiel talks so severely about the sheep that are “sleek and strong”.  Because if you are independent, strong, and totally in control at all times, then you are not listening to the shepherd and so, you won’t follow him- you are bent on doing your own thing.  We need to recognize our shepherd, Jesus, and move towards him like it is second nature to us. 

 What is interesting about this is how amazingly simple it is.  It is something all of us can do, to love, as well as we can, everyone we meet out of simplicity of the heart.  They are all God’s children; and Jesus is in all of them. 

Would Jesus Weep Today?

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Thursday of the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time

(St. Elizabeth of Hungary)

1 Mac 2: 15-29; Lk 19: 41-44

Dc. Larry Brockman


Suppose Jesus flew into Washington DC this morning, and looked down onto our Capital City.    Do you suppose He would weep?     


Scholars tell us that as Jesus went down from the Mount of Olives, on His way to Jerusalem, He would have had a bird’s eye view of the whole city and area.   Just imagine- Jesus taking in the hustle and bustle of the whole area, like the view from an airplane in today’s world.   And what did Jesus see?   He saw folks going about their daily business as they had for millennia-   buying, selling, teaching, working, soldiering, praying, cursing, politicking, romancing, touring, tax collecting, and yes, even prostituting and robbing,  as if nothing special was about to happen or had been happening.   They were oblivious to the spiritual events leading to the salvation of the world- the incarnation of the Christ  and his Gospel, that is, His good news message of Salvation.   And, after 3 years of trying to get their attention, Jesus is now about to enter into Jerusalem for the last time for what would be His trial, death, and Resurrection.       


And, so what does He do?   He weeps, overcome by the emotion of the moment, that here, in this bird’s eye view, He catches a glimpse of the collective soul of man.   A collective soul that doesn’t see Him and has not responded to Him even after 3 years of direct contact- individually and collectively they are oblivious.     


And as a result, what does He say?   “If this day you only knew what makes for peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.”   Indeed, they were so busy with the things of this world, that they had missed the message, and so they had missed the day of the visitation, that is, the arrival of the Messiah.   And because they missed that, they missed what it takes to make peace, the kind of peace that every single one of them longed for.   They are just carrying on in the world as usual.     


It is no different in our world, is it?   If Jesus were to fly into Washington DC this morning,   He would catch a catch a glimpse of our collective souls arguing and bickering over the horrendous public debt and taxes; terrible unemployment and economic times; legal hassling over the constitutionality of a three thousand page hastily written law that nobody understands; people demonstrating in the streets who can’t explain why they are there or what they want; and terrible poverty amidst tremendous affluence.  


What Jesus would not see is what he did not see in His own time-  people who had heard His message over their lifetimes, and were working together to make the peace of Christ happen.   The lifetime of opportunity that they all had to put into practice their faith collectively has been as lost for us as for the Jews.   Not only that, Jesus second coming could come at any time for any of us,  just like it would come soon after Jesus arrival in Jerusalem.   And yet, it would seem we are far from ready.     


Yes, Jesus would weep.  

Using Your Talents

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

33rd  Sunday in Ordinary Time

Prv 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31; 1 Thes 5: 1-6; Mt 25: 14-30

Dc. Larry Brockman


Suppose I handed you a bag with 80 pounds of silver in it, and told you to take care of it for me while I was gone?   Well, that’s what a single “Talent” was in Jesus day- 80 pounds of silver- 80 pounds of it.   That’s about 17 years-worth of daily wages for the average worker at the time.   So, one single Greek “Talent” was a very large sum of money.   And yet the least of the three servants was entrusted with this much by the Master.   Other servants were given twice as much or five times as much.  


This really sheds a different light for me on this parable, because the reality is that all three servants were entrusted with significant responsibility, protecting a large sum of money.      Now, the Master is said to be gone for a long time.   Our Bible scholars tell us that “the long time” referred to here is the length of time between Jesus Resurrection and the second coming of Christ; and that all of us are the servants, each gifted by God with a generous, yet unequal share of talents.   We will be asked to give an accounting of ourselves at the Last Judgment, just like the three servants in the parable.   Although we are each given varying and different talents, we are all expected to use them- make them work in the service of the Lord- equally.   And those who don’t do something with their talents will be thrown out of the Kingdom of God.     


Let’s consider a few things about the details in this parable.   First, the talents were given to “servants”; not to sons, friends, or other relationships.   Second, a single talent was quite valuable, as I’ve already pointed out.   Third, the talents were entrusted, not given outright to the servants.   So, they always belonged to the Master, not to the servants.   And lastly, the task that the servants had  was to do something with the talents for the Master.   The Master intended for his wealth to be handled prudently, but not locked up in isolation.     


Each of us is entrusted with one or more gifts by God.   We don’t own them- they are not ours to do with as we wish.   And they are gifts, not something we have earned.   Rather, we are loaned the talent or talents so that we will do something with them for God.   We are his servants when it comes to stewardship of these talents   We cannot lock them up.     


Now, some of us seem more fortunate than others.   Some are gifted with good looks, brains, athleticism, and money- in fact some seem to have everything.   I see that these gifted people are seated to your left and right.   Others seem to have nothing, at least by this World’s standards.   Most of us are somewhere in between.   But God has given each of us a valuable talent- that’s part of the message.   Yes, each of us has been given at least 80 pounds of silver, as it were.   We just have to recognize what our gifts are.     


These gifts may be disguised as something else, for example- caring for children, caring for an elderly relative, or learning to live with a disability.   These can all be viewed as gifts rather than a problem.   In God’s eyes, children and the elderly are as valuable as any other life.   So, being a custodian for such lives is like caring for precious gold or silver.   It is, after all, the Lord who decides what is valuable and needs to be cared for, not us.     


It is different for people who recognize their gift, but bury it.   For example, some people continuously hear a call by the Lord.   We know a priest from another Diocese who was ordained later in life- in his 50’s.   He told us that he had run away from God’s call for 20 years!   And, even though he had been successful in the business world, smething wasn’t quite right.   So, in the end, he went into the seminary.   Likewise, some of you are being called by God and know it- that is your gift.   Are you hiding it?  Suppressing it?   It doesn’t have to be a religious call, although sometimes it will be.   It could be a nagging feeling about something that you perceive is not quite right; something you feel you need to do something about but, you just haven’t acted on it.   It could be getting involved with politics; helping by volunteering your time or talent; learning more about your faith.   All of these are ways to follow through on a call to use your talent.     


And then there are those who have and recognize a talent but; they really don’t use it much.   They may have a beautiful voice- but don’t join the choir.   They are a great teacher- but are deaf to the call for helping with CCD or Prep.   Or any of a number of artistic capabilities that remain dormant.   Did you know that burying a large sum of money was a perfectly acceptable practice to keep it secure in Jesus day and age?   Likewise, there are many legitimate excuses for burying our talents today, such as a sense of false humility or fear or just the turmoil of life.   Every one of us can understand such roadblocks.   The question is, how will God view them?     


Notice that the servants in the parable have been given plenty of time- the “long while” that Jesus speaks of, to use their talents while the Master is gone.   Two of them do, basically doubling their Master’s wealth; only one of the servants does not.   Likewise, all of us have been given a lifetime.   Things happen in life, and that’s OK.   That’s why God is patient with us, and for most of us, gives us 50 to 90 years.   But the point is that God has given us adequate opportunities because he has given us a lifetime.     


Now St. Paul tells us about the second coming of Christ in the second reading:   He says “It will come like a thief in the night”.   So, it could be at any time.   That‘s the catch- we have been given a lifetime, but we just don’t know when it will end.     


Over this weekend, the Parish is conducting seven funerals- an uncharacteristically large number.   And they are being held for 3 year olds all the way up to folks in their 80’s.  This points to the truth of Paul’s epistle.   Because God could call any one of us to our Judgment at any time, just like these seven people have been called.   But are you ready?     

Are You Ready?

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Westminster Towers

Mt 25: 1-13

Dc. Larry Brockman


Are you ready!  That’s the main question posed by the parable of the 10 virgins.  I hope and I pray that all of you are watching and are ready.   


Now this parable, like all of Jesus’ parables has both a surface and a deeper hidden meaning.  Before we get into the meanings, it is helpful to have a little appreciation for Jewish culture.  You see, the story of the watchful virgins attending the bride at the reception was, and still is, a very common practice in Palestinian culture.  It wasn’t just some story pulled out of the air. A wedding is a big deal there, and the custom goes like this: 


The bride awaits the arrival of the bridegroom at the couple’s new home.  She is attended by her bridesmaids, who, at the first sign of the groom go out to meet him, day or night, and they light the way for his entry.  In the meantime, the bridegroom and rest of the wedding party parade through the streets of the town heralding the wedding event.  They take the longest possible route, and often this is done on the fly.  So, the bridegroom often tarries as he randomly parades around expressing his joy and announcing the event.  Even today, this process can take from hours to a day, in reality.  So, there is no fixed time for the wedding itself!  When the bridegroom does arrive, the throng enters the home, the wedding begins, and then the celebration.  The doors are locked, and latecomers are not let in.  So, rather than begin what our culture calls a honeymoon by themselves; the couple shows hospitality and shares their joy right after the wedding.   They get married, and then celebrate their marriage with family and friends over what might be days.  Very different than our customs, that’s for sure.  And so this picture painted by Jesus was very familiar to the crowd at the time.   


Now, the most immediate meaning of the parable was a warning to the Pharisees and the Jewish hierarchy.  They had been telling the people that the Christ was coming for thousands of years.  But, the Jews had waited so long, that they had all but fallen asleep.   They simply were totally unprepared for the great moment that they had been waiting centuries for.  Jesus was trying to tell them that they were about to miss the greatest event in their salvation history.   


You see, the arrival of Jesus was the arrival of the Christ, the anointed.  And Christ is the Bridegroom in the parable.  The Bride, who symbolizes the body of believers, or the Church in today’s terms, waits inside.  But the attending virgins, the Pharisees, were caught asleep with the lights out.  Indeed, most of them did not make their way out to welcome the Bridegroom, Christ.  They didn’t recognize him, they didn’t understand him; and they didn’t embrace him.  They certainly didn’t light his way.  As Pharisees, they may have the most pure and holy of the body of Jewish believers, but they had no oil- no fuel for the lights that should have been turned on to herald the Christ.  Not only that, Christ’s salvation parade would pass them by, and they would find themselves locked out, almost before they knew it.    From a historical perspective, that’s what the immediate meaning was. 


But, this parable was intended to speak to all the people at a deeper level, and indeed, still speaks to us today.  Only now, the coming of the bridegroom refers to the second coming of Christ..  Every year, the Church calendar includes several weeks of gloom and doom end time prophecies in the Gospel just before we get to the season of Advent, where we prepare for Christmas.  These Gospels predict the second coming of Christ with the Last Judgment.  This Gospel, proclaimed in most of our Churches this weekend, marks the first such gloom and doom Gospel in the series.   


Now both the King James version of the Bible, and the New American version, the Catholic version, specifically call the ten attendants “virgins”, whereas other paraphrased versions use the term “bridesmaids”.  I think the term “virgin” fits better- for while they are all bridesmaids attending to the bride, Jesus intended for them to be described as virgins as well.  First, notice that we really hear nothing of the bride.  Now church people- that’s people like me-  like to call the Church the “Bride of Christ”.  And so, we have the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, on his way to the wedding of Jesus with his Church.  The salvation history of the Jews spanned a couple of thousand years.  And it has been 2,000 years since Jesus came amongst us.  It is any wonder that everyone has fallen asleep waiting!  


Now, the ten virgins collectively symbolize the bride, or Church.  So we can look at this as if all of us are represented by these ten virgins.  We are all still sleeping, waiting for the last judgment.  And the Bridegroom will come as a surprise.  But when the wedding occurs,  It will be after the last Judgment in the Kingdom of God.  That means that when the wedding party enters that house, the collective bride must be pure and holy for the wedding.  So these bridesmaids need to be virgins in that sense.   


Next, notice half of the ten virgin are described as wise; the rest foolish.  The wise virgins have oil for their lamps, the foolish do not.  Now, think about that for a moment.  Think about a young virgin excited about her friend’s wedding.  She prepares herself to be an attendant at the wedding.  All ten are wise enough to bring a lamp because, as the custom goes, the arrival of the bridegroom is indefinite.  It could be day or night.  So, they all thought about what kind of preparation was needed.  And yett half of them don’t bring any oil.   


Having or not having oil is really what it’s all about.  Most of us feel called to the wedding.  And, most of us think we are prepared, and would respond to the call to be a bridesmaid.  But do we have our oil?  Suppose oil symbolizes our readiness for the Kingdom of God.  Let’s look at it this way:  Do you remember when you were in school, and you would wait till the last day to study for an exam?  Or do you remember times that you needed to buy food for a special occasion, but you just kept putting it off?  Or do you remember when you needed to practice a dance or a sport, or prepare for a speech, and you kept putting it off till tomorrow?  Well, suppose the test was all of a sudden right now; the dinner is an hour from now; and you are going to have to come up to give your speech right after I get done here.  That would be like bringing your lamp, but forgetting your oil.  And in a spiritual sense, all of us have the same problem as well.  We can hear the call to the Kingdom, and we can feel that we are ready, but when it comes right down to it, we really are not ready- there is something missing- the oil.  Maybe there are people that you should reconcile with;  Sins that weigh you down that need to be offered up and confessed to God; and other tasks that have gone undone that weigh on your consciences.  But whatever it is- you may not be ready.  Because you see, Jesus could come at any time, maybe even this afternoon.  And there won’t be any time left to go get your oil then.  You either have it now, or you don’t.   


Now the parable also talks about how some of the foolish virgins tried to borrow some oil.  When I first read this parable, my first impression was that the wise virgins seemed a little harsh.  Because there are always folks out there who plan to be generous- bring something extra for someone else.  So why don’t we see that here?  Jesus is making the point that the oil is a personal thing.  You really have to have your own oil.  You have to be ready for the test, not your neighbor; and you have to give the speech, not your neighbor.  Likewise, you have to reconcile with those who you have offended; and you have to confess your own sins.


When the foolish virgins finally return to the house with their oil, they find that the procession has passed them by and the wedding and celebration have begun.   In fact, they find themselves locked out.  Not only that, the Bridegroom is behind the locked door and he denies even knowing these foolish virgins.   Well, this is the gloom and doom part.  Each of us has a lifetime to be ready, and that should be sufficient.  If you build a relationship with God in that lifetime, he will know you.  If you wait for the last minute; well it just may not all happen for you.  And I think the real issue here is what’s in the heart. 


Going back for a moment, it would seem that if all the virgins brought lamps, then they recognized the need for these lamps to have fuel.  Could it be that some of the virgins were just cutting corners.  Perhaps they were people who really didn’t know the couple that well; they had heard about the celebration and just wanted to party.  They thought they could show up at the last minute, find the Bridegroom arriving, light their lamps for a few minutes, and then join the party- their real motivation.  They were going through the expected motions just to get into the party.  They were not really rejoicing for the wedding party, but they were in it for themselves.  They are the lukewarm, follow the crowd, self-serving types who don’t really take things to heart.  But Christ does not want party crashers in His Kingdom.  He wants people who know Him and who are committed to him.  He really doesn’t know people who just know him when it is convenient because these are people who deny him in times of trial.


All of us here have been blessed with a long lifetime.  We’ve had careers and hobbies and interests.  We all have been through relationships with Moms and Dads and Grandparents   and kids and grandkids and maybe even great grandkids.  And we’ve had battles with our bodies- some we’ve won, and some we’ve lost or are losing.   There have been lessons and blessings, joy and sadness through it all.  But in the course of those lives, we have had the opportunity to know Jesus Christ.  And in parallel with all that life has dealt us in this world, we have had the opportunity to ready ourselves for our God. 


Are we ready?   


Alfred Lord Tennyson one wrote a poem that was included in one of his books.  A novice nun recited this poem to Queen Guinevere.  The poem addressed the cost of sin, and was based on this parable.  The first verse goes like this:  “Late, late so late the dark and chill!  Late, late so late! But can we enter still.  Too late, too late! Ye cannot enter now”   


Is it too late for you? 

Learning to Recognize Our Own Faults

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Thursday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time

Rom 14: 7-12; Lk 15: 1-10

Dc. Larry Brockman


It is so easy.  It is so easy to see the sins of the other guy, and yet be blind to our own weaknesses.  We see other people gossiping; other people cheating; other people misbehaving; but we can be blind to our gossiping or cutting corners or acting up; or else we quickly and conveniently forget what we have done.  And it is both the little things in life and the big things.


You see, all those habits and patterns of life that we settle into can sometimes be so obviously imperfect to another person, and yet, we just don’t see them.  We learn to live with them- even grow into them.  For example, all of us know that we should eat the proper foods to be healthy and keep our proper weight.  And yet which of us is above commenting that so and so is fat; or so and so is skinny, when we should take a good hard look at ourselves.


Why do we dwell on other people’s faults?  Is it because it makes us feel better about ourselves?  Is it because it distracts attention away from our own faults?  And yet, it is a good image of ourselves that we all need.  Paul hits the nail on the head this morning when he says- “All of us will need to give an accounting of our own behavior before God when we meet him”.  We won’t have an opportunity to say:  “Well what about John, isn’t he a lot worse”.  No, the attention will be on your own sins.   


You know, today’s Gospel makes an important point about all this- that there is more rejoicing in heaven about a repentant sinner than about a righteous person.  It is not so much that God and his angels and saints won’t rejoice over a truly righteous person.  But more that “righteous” is in the eye of the beholder.  You and I, the average beholders, do a pretty good job at recognizing sinners; and maybe not so good a job in detecting the righteous.  How so?  Well, a repentant sinner in today’s society can be persecuted beyond belief.  Let me give some examples:  “He was an alcoholic”; “She had an affair”; “He lied on his application”.  And yet, how righteous is the person who hides, yet holds onto, his or her addition to alcohol or drugs; or keeps up an illicit affair; or conceals the lies he tells?  It is our own lives that we need concern ourselves with- not others. 


Paul says “Whether we are alive or dead, we must live our lives for the Lord if we are to enter the Kingdom of God.”  And that task is worthy of 100% of our time.  We really don’t have the time for being our neighbor’s conscience.  Soon we will enter the season of Advent to prepare for the coming of Christ.  That includes the coming of the Christ Child-  but it also includes the second coming of Christ.  That could be any time for any of us.  So, let’s get real about our own sinfulness.  Turn and look at yourself in the mirror.  What is it that you are hiding?  What is it that you are missing about yourself?  What is it that you are kidding yourself about?  Because when you stand before God, what will you say about all of that.