Archive for October, 2017

Being True to Self

Sunday, October 29th, 2017

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Ex 22: 20-26; 1 Thes 1: 5c – 10; Mt 22: 34-40
Deacon Larry Brockman

Years ago, my wife posted a picture in our front powder room. The picture is an artistic rendering of a beautiful natural site, augmented with a quote from Pierre Tielhard de Chardin. It says: “For you, as for everyone, there is only one road that can lead to God; and that is fidelity to remain constantly true to yourself; to what you feel is highest in you. Do not worry about the rest. The road will open before you as you go.”

Today, we are told what it means to align our hearts with God. That’s really the same thing as being true to yourself. I say that because God created each and every one of us in his image and likeness; and chose talents, inclinations, and limitations for each of us. The challenge in life is to find out who we really are- the person God intended us to be and as Chardin says, to be true to that, as we walk through life.

It seems to me that this is a three-step process, and that the steps are covered by our scriptures today. First, notice that Paul compliments the Thessalonians for receiving the word of God, even in the midst of affliction, with great joy, and imitating Paul and his companions for all to see. So we have to listen to the word of God to find our who we really are intended to be; and then follow it. Yet, we may know all the right things to say and do; but if our actions don’t follow our hearts; then we are not being true to who we really are.

Jesus makes it very explicit in the Gospel that love of God is important. The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. So, we must first make loving the word of God a priority. That means taking the word of God for what it truly means, not just what it says on the surface.

Just as an example, let’s talk about keeping holy the Sabbath. That doesn’t just mean going to Mass; but keeping the Sabbath holy. What does it mean to you to keep the Sabbath holy? What is genuinely holy and sacred in your life- your relationship with God; with your family; with your friends? Or is it something else?

Now our first reading gives some explicit examples about living the word of God in our hearts. But it does so from the Old Testament perspective. We are to treat foreigners with the same dignity and love as we treat our families and close friends; the same with widows and orphans. The cultural norms of the ancients were particularly hard on these three categories because of the lack of status of foreigners, abandoned women and children. In the ancient cultures, generosity to these three categories was rare for tribal sentiments and rules abounded. People very strongly identified with their tribe. Outsiders, women and orphans were suspect, second class, subject to scrutiny. Some of the religions of today retain this tribal flavor to them. For Christians, it is not to be so. For however a person becomes present to us, we are called upon to respect them and love them as a neighbor. We are called upon to respond to that urge within us to do the right thing. We are all called to listen to God with our hearts.

When we respond out of conviction and feeling, we are being true to ourselves. Trusting in God, we share of ourselves knowing that we will not have to worry about the rest. The road will open before us as we go.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 18: 25-28; Phil 2: 1-5; Mt 21: 28-32
Dc. Larry Brockman

Appearances can be deceiving. What seems to be mild mannered and agreeable to us, may in fact be evil.

Both our Old Testament Scripture and our Gospel today talk about this kind of evil. Both of these scriptures also address those who have a true conversion- a conversion of heart which their actions attest to, for actions speak louder than words.

First, there was the son in the Gospel who says “yes”, but ignores the father’s command. The fact is that there are many ways a person exhibits this kind of behavior. The first and foremost way people fulfil this behavior is complacency. They “talk” a good story, but when it comes right down to it, there is no action behind all the talk. I used to have a boss who talked about these kinds of people. He told me to beware of people who offered to “hepp” me. When I looked puzzled at this response, he went on to define “hepp” as all the help you can get short of actual help. I am sure you have all run into these kinds of people as well. Their “help” consists of constructive criticism, advice on how to do something properly, and half-hearted encouragement; but they never actually lend a hand. It’s as if they distance themselves from real help because they just don’t want to put themselves out.

This is an example of a special kind of evil person; a person who talks a good story, but has absolutely no intention of disturbing his own comfort to do something to help. This includes those who are complacent and unwilling to step up to a moral challenge, those who ignore others need for help, or those who refuse to face a difficult situation. They are folks who don’t see a need to change because they are too comfortable with the status quo. Such was the first son in the Gospel. Such were the Pharisees and scribes who considered themselves better than the common folk.

Then there was the second son, who said no at first, but then did as the father commanded. This is like the great majority of us- people who are sinners and are in some way challenged to face their sins. They may feel conscience pangs, have heard a great preacher; read the Gospel; or experienced any of a number of other ways of confronting their imperfections. They resolve to change; they resolve to bring themselves in harmony with God. These are the people that Jesus talks about in the parable- the Publicans and the prostitutes. They are the people who heard John the Baptist’s preaching, a preaching which addressed “righteousness”, which is bringing one into conformity with God and his plan. These sinners were moved by John’s words and responded to them by changing their way of life. Another way to say that is that they repented- changed their behavior.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, couldn’t get beyond the literal interpretation of the Mosaic laws and rituals. To them, compliance with a strict dietary law was more important that coming to someone’s aid on the Sabbath. They couldn’t see what “righteousness” really was all about even when they saw it first hand from John the Baptist. Righteousness is summed up in the two great commandments to Love God and neighbor. To do that we have to first repent, that is change our behavior, and then to act, not just to say the right thing.

In the second reading, St. Paul challenges the Philippians to be of one mind. He advises humility and self-deference in order to achieve that harmony. This is how we can receive the consolation of Christ that he speaks about. That’s because the harmony of the body of Christ, which is all of us, is the ultimate consolation offered by God. It is our destiny to live in that harmony in the Kingdom of God. Those who act “righteously” by challenging themselves to recognize their sins, repent from them, and act according to their new-found faith will be saved. Those who are comfortable with their own situation, don’t see a need to change, and pay lip service to their challenges are only kidding themselves. Because they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Appearances can in fact be deceiving.