Stone By Stone, a Homily

Homily, Nov 12-13, 2016: Cycle C, 33rd Sunday of Ord Time (Stone Upon Stone)

In our Gospel, today, we are given a picture of the Jewish temple before and after its destruction. In the process, we learn that even those things that symbolize stability can fall. Change is inevitable.

We may not like it – we may resist it, but the reality is, things change. “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill. While those are very wise words, they don’t offer much in the way of consolation when we are waist deep in the alligators of change.

Sometimes changes are welcome. But, there are days when change brings loss or the fear of loss. There are days when our life is forever changed, the world is different, and nothing is like it used to be.

You and I know those days. We could each tell stories about those days. They are stories about the death of a loved one, they are stories of the health diagnosis that pointed to the end, they are stories about the divorce, the business that failed, the job that was lost, the day Hurricane Matthew blew over the Island’s trees and not just the dead wood, but huge healthy trees as well.

In the language of our Gospel today, the things we look to for stability can be referred to as our temples. Sometimes our temples are people, places, values and beliefs, institutions.

In that sense, Temples are the things that we think give structure and order to our lives, give meaning and identity, provide security. At least we think they do, until they don’t, anymore.

For many people the Catholic Church is not the church we remember. It is not like it used to be when we were growing up.

Things have changed. As a country, the temple of our economic system has changed. We can no longer count on investments that will grow predictably every year.

Globally, we read of wars, plagues, famines. Nations have risen against nation. Security, peace, and diplomacy have given way to fear, violence, and terrorism. Temples are falling everywhere.

In today’s gospel, some were speaking about the Jewish temple, its beautiful stones, and gifts dedicated to God hanging on its inside walls. It was a massive structure, able to seat thousands. It is what structured their community. It gave identity and meaning. It was the center of Jewish life.

Yet, Jesus looks at it and says, “The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” Construction had taken over 50 years, but it was destroyed in 70 AD after a Jewish rebellion against the Romans.

So, what do we do on the day our temple falls?

Change has a way of pushing us into the future. If we are not careful we will soon be living in a future we do not yet have. We will be living in a future created in our minds. That is not Jesus’ response. He is calling us to be faithful in the present.

Sometimes, after our temple falls, we look for a scapegoat, someone to blame or even demonize. We look for someone or a group who does not think, act, or believe like we do. That is not Jesus’ response.

Or, maybe we will simply give up and walk away in despair. We can see nothing left. Everything is lost and the situation is hopeless. That is not Jesus’ response.

Some will become angry, resentful, and fight back. Others will say this is God’s will or maybe even worse, this is God’s punishment. And, we are referring to a group that behaves in a way that offends us and we think, God as well.

Jesus’ response is just the opposite. Be still, He says; be quiet, He says; do not be led astray. Do not allow your life to be controlled or defined by fear. Do not listen to the many voices that would cause you to run and follow after them. Endure he says. Be faithful, steadfast, persevere here and now.

Jesus is calling us to be present and faithful in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. If we cannot find God here, in our present circumstances, especially in the midst of our temple ruins, we will likely not find God, anywhere, because He tells us in Psalm 34 that He is closest to us when we are crushed in spirit.

The place of fallen temples is the place in which God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, declares: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.” We have a God who creates.

Those promises are fulfilled through our perseverance. By perseverance we gain our lives – the last words of today’s Gospel.

Jesus is calling us to the virtue of stability. We are to remain fully present and faithful, no matter how uncomfortable life may be. In so doing we discover that God has always been with us – in the changes and chaos of life; in the pain, loss, and disappointment; in the destruction of our temples.

Endurance, perseverance, stability are the ways in which we offer God the fallen stones of our temples. Stone by stone He rebuilds our life.

Stone by stone God restores the original beauty of our life and world. Stone by stone a new temple arises from the rubble.

And, we become the temple of God. That is the story that needs to be told. That is our opportunity to testify to the Good News of God’s love for all of us, warts and all.

We can all tell the story of the day our temple was destroyed. Too often, however, we believe and live as if that is the end of the story. It is not. Oh, it will be, if we run away, scapegoat, respond with anger, or try to put it back together like it used to be.

But it does not have to be the end of the story. Indeed, the greater story is how we discovered God next to us in the temple ruins and how, stone by stone, He rebuilt what we could not.

It is the ongoing story of God recreating life out of loss and ruin, a story of God rejoicing and delighting in his people.

This story is the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ ‘according to you’. It is not just Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. It is according to you. It is real, sacred, and true. Trust that story, tell it over and over, proclaim it to all who will listen, and live that story to the fullest.

Forgive the Church

When we have been wounded by the Church, our temptation is to reject it. But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ. When we say, “I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,” we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially. But the Church as an often fallible human organization needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness.

It is important to think about the Church not as “over there” but as a community of struggling, weak people of whom we are part and in whom we meet our Lord and Redeemer.

Henri Nouwen

God’s Seasons, Eccl 3:1-11

“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for everything under the heavens.”
This opening verse tells us that there is a seasonality surrounding our lives in this world. It goes without saying that we benefit when we respect the season that is currently in vogue. Yes, we can make things happen out of season, but the results are not nearly as impactful. In season, our work benefits from the appropriate actions all around us. Out of season, we are totally on our own. Our goal should be to identify the season in which we live at any point in time, and adjust our work efforts to match what is going on around us for maximum results.

“A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.”
In this sweeping statement we see the whole of our life from beginning to end. We are reminded that at our birth we are ‘planted’ in this world, and when we die, we are in effect, ‘uprooted’ from this world. What we do, what we experience, what we accomplish is contained between these two events. This statement reminds us that we are not of this world. We come into it from afar, and we return from whence we came. We are here for a purpose. Books like, “A Purpose Driven Life” help us fill in the blanks between arriving here and leaving here. All throughout lives, we find ourselves being born into new circumstances and have to re-invent ourselves. Also, we recognize things that we have to extricate or uproot ourselves from time to time in order to grow.

“A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build.”
We think to ourselves, I could never kill another human being. Usually, that means we have never been faced with a kill or be killed situation and like to present ourselves to others as being a good person not given to violence. Yet, when we think of ourselves in comparison to a plant we know that at the end of the growing season when the plant has gone to seed, the remains are killed, torn down, and plowed back into the soil to be reabsorbed. All the fruits of the plant have been obtained and it is time to prepare and build for the next season of growth. There are times and circumstances when we must stand in the face of evil and do our best to overcome it, that is, kill it. Other times appear where our effort must be directed to healing the wounds of ourselves and others.

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
During our lives we are faced with occasions of sadness at the loss of a loved one, difficult life circumstances, hurt or harm to the innocent that bring tears to our eyes. We mourn the loss and learn to walk around the hole left behind in our lives. Over time the season shifts and we learn to laugh again and even dance in joy again, though still mindful of the earlier loss but less stung by it. It is a hard lesson in the truth that life goes on in its parade of lives. We are reminded that we should make the most of every day for we know not the time nor the hour of our own passing.

“A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.”
Scattering stones brings to mind demolition of an old building. It had been painstakingly constructed one stone at a time but now it is time to remove it in preparation for something new. The old stones are gathered to be reused. The old structure had been embraced by its owner, perhaps families had used it, but now it is time to move on to a new purpose and so it is far from embracing in anticipation of the new structure that will replace it. Internally, we tend to gather and hold onto our old ways instead of embracing new opportunities to re-invent ourselves in order to be better used by the Lord to serve others.

“A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.”
When we want something strongly we go after it with all of our energy. We seek it and win it by efforts and resources, and intend to hold onto it with all our might. Yet, over time our desires and purposes change due to a change of season and life circumstances and we find ourselves ready to let it go. In the process we may even acknowledge we no longer want what we set out to win and look for ways to rid ourselves of what may have become an albatross around our necks. Nothing serves us better than casting away that which is out of season. Periodic inventories internally and externally will help us move on into new opportunities that present themselves.

“A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak.”
Watching a skilled seamstress rip out a seam so it can be re-sewn in a new place gives us a graphic that should be very helpful throughout our lives. Silently listening to others speak to us before jumping into the conversation is a discipline sorely needed in this world, and it is a way of rending out tendency to overstate our cause. When the other has had a chance to express themselves then and only then may we take a respectful turn to share our thoughts.

“A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time peace.”
Common wisdom tells us that the opposite of love is fear not hate. Yet, as we consider that fact we see that the reason people hate another person , is almost always because they fear them. So, it is important when we experience that strong dislike of another that we spend time to determine what we fear about them, and then deal with that issue. When we are successful in identifying and dealing with it, then and only then, will we be able to truly find peace in our hearts.

“What advantage has the worker from his toil? I have considered the task that God has appointed for the sons of men to be busied about. He has made everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless into their hearts, without man’s ever discovering, from beginning to end, the work which God has done.” Eccl 3:1-11

Stealing People’s Loyalty for Their King

In 2nd Samuel chapter 15,   we hear of the actions of Absalom toward his father, David. David and Absalom had always had a tumultuous relationship but in this particular story we hear of a unique treachery that son Absalom visited on his father, David.

Absalom would arise early in the morning and station himself along the road leading to Jerusalem’s gate. When travelers came on their way to the city, Absalom would endear himself to them by extending his hand, holding them, and kissing them while he told them that he would render justice on their behalf.

Verse 6 tells us that, “By behaving in this way toward all the Israelites who were on their way to visit the King for a favorable judgement on their behalf, Absalom was stealing away the loyalties of the men of Israel.”

As we read this story we see that Absalom was very cunning in his actions. Who would ever think to do something like that, we ask.

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is, “We would.” Granted, we may not formulate our actions exactly like Absalom did, but we come very close at times. Close enough that the results are essentially the same. Substitute the phrase “Authority Figure” for the word “King” and we see that by our actions we steal the loyalty of others for our authority figure, aka, our boss or our supervisor.

Let’s look at ways that action can play out. When others mention how they think highly of our boss we might agree at first but quickly point out some of the boss’s short comings. We might second guess some of his decisions. Perhaps, we point out how one of his decisions was not well thought out and how we would have better handled the situation. We could slowly but surely shift their high opinion of him to ourselves.

Our actions are little more than a violation of the ninth commandment where we are told not to bear false witness against another. That false witness need not be only in a court of law; it can happen in the normal day-to-day relationships we have with others.

Let us not forget and be on guard, there is a little Absalom in the best of us!

Jesus Brings Division, Homily

Homily, Aug 13-14, 2016: Cycle C, 20th Sunday of Ord Time (Jesus Brings Division)

Our Gospel today can be a bit unsettling and confusing.

With all the examples of division He uses between fathers against sons, mothers against daughters, in-laws against in-laws, Jesus sounds like He is describing a Jewish family reunion.

He says, “Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth?” It makes me want to answer, “Well, yeah, I did as a matter of fact.” So, what is He talking about?

Certainly, He is a man of peace. He’s the prince of peace. Isaiah prophesied about Him hundreds of years before that He’d be “Mighty God and Prince of Peace”

After His birth in Bethlehem, the Heavenly Host said to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

After His Resurrection He often greeted His Apostles with “Peace be with you”, starting in the upper room.

He instructed His disciples, to bring peace from house to house. He said “If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it.”

All of these references reinforce our belief that He promotes peace.

Yet, in our Gospel today, He seems to be saying just the opposite.

Is He really calling dads to be at odds with their sons and mothers to be at odds with their daughters and mother-in-law’s with their daughter-in-law’s?

What does He mean when He says, I have come to bring division in families?

Obviously, He’s speaking with hyperbole to make a point. The point seems to be that the truth that He brings to the world can cause division and He wants us to be aware.

Let’s look at some examples.

A man discovers the truth about the Catholic Church by spending time around Catholics at work. He realizes that most of his life he has been exposed to negative exaggerations about it. Finally, he steps out on his own to discover the truth about our faith by going to RCIA. He is enthralled with it and enters the Catholic Church. Case closed? Good story? Humm, not so fast.

You see, the rest of his family might not see the truth as he sees it and it feels to them like he is rejecting them and rejecting the truth they follow and the family can be divided about it. We hear of this happening to people going through our own RCIA classes.

Truth can cause division!

A daughter wants to have an abortion, but her mother knows the truth, that there is a real person in her no matter how small or what trimester. The mother tries her best to pass on that truth but the daughter argues against her.

In the process, the two are divided which can causes the entire family to be divided as well. It can end up three against two and two against three as Jesus pointed out in today’s Gospel.

Again, Truth can cause division!

A father pleads with his 20-year-old son to go to Mass on Sunday because he knows the truth that from the Mass one’s soul is nourished with good, solid spiritual food, not spiritual junk food that the world offers.

The son does not see that truth about Mass as his father sees it, and they are divided, father against son.

Truth can cause division! It doesn’t have to; of course, God’s love is sufficient to overcome, if we’re open to it.

That is what Jesus meant – that He came to bring truth and the division that can follow will not be peaceful.

He brings eternal truth, objective truth. Jesus reveals Himself as the Way, the TRUTH, and the life.

St. Augustine said, “People hate truth for the sake of whatever they love more than truth. They love truth when it shines warmly on them, and hate it when it rebukes them.”

St. John Chrysostom said, “Those who wage war against truth are powerless to win in the long run, rather, they wound themselves”, but they do it anyway.

So, yes, truth can cause divisions! Yes, Jesus has come to bring divisions, in that sense! He wants His truth about His Father’s love for all of us to be received and fully lived like a blazing fire that spreads and covers the entire world as He says in today’s Gospel.

Our role as His followers, is to receive that truth, live that truth to the fullest, and spread it by our lives.

Now, having said that, in fact, most of our divisions don’t involve large issues of faith and morals. In our lifetimes, we may be faced with very few, that serious.

Most of our divisions come about because of ego or differences of opinion about how to handle much less serious matters.

In the middle of those differences our responses to these small matters tend to be way overblown compared to serious larger matters. Why is that? We live in a world of superlatives. Everything is the Best or the Worst.

My friends, there is a huge area between these two extremes, and that’s where most of us live, most of the time. Beware of forces trying to eliminate that large area between the two extremes, and drawing the two so close together that it’s just a step away from one into the other. That’s just not realistic.

So, as we go forward with this somewhat unusual Gospel in our hearts, let us be mindful of our need to show perspective in dealing with every day give-and-take in our relationships with others.

Jesus’ truth can cause divisions, but He wants us to be peaceful as we work our way through them.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. This Gospel does not change that. He wants us to resolve our difference, large and small, with Peace in our hearts. To do that we must keep our eyes on Him no matter what is going on around us.


The Wounded Healer

The Wounded Healer
Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God’s wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus’ suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.

Henri Nouwen

Thou Art The Man, a Homily

Homily, June 11-12, 2016: Cycle C, 11th Sunday of Ord Time (Seeing Sin In Others)

Today’s readings remind us of how easy it is to see sin & wrongdoing in others but in ourselves, not so much!

In the Old Testament Reading from 2nd Samuel we hear quite a story about King David. Actually, our reading is a summation, so let me back up a few verses to get the lurid details.

King David was on the rooftop of his home and viewed Bathsheba bathing at a distance. He was determined to have her and arranged for her husband to be transferred to the front lines of a battle. When he was in fact killed, King David felt free to take her as a wife.

Now you might say, “Well, that’s what kings did back then.” But, David was different from most.

The irony is that David is described in scripture as having a heart modeled closely after God’s own heart.

Yet, here he is seen committing adultery and murder & is seemingly oblivious to his wrong doing.

That is, until Nathan the prophet went to David. Rather than confront him head on, Nathan told him a story in which he hoped David would see himself. The story was about a ruler who took a poor man’s lamb to feed friends, even though he already had many of his own. He took the only one the poor man owned.

The strategy worked because as David listened to the story, he became enraged and said the ruler should be punished for doing what he did. Nathan then dropped the bomb on David and uttered the famous line, “David, thou art the man”. In a flash, David understood what he had done and repented.

There have been several books written with that title, “Thou art the man”. The books point out the leniency we afford ourselves while being harsh at the sin of others.

The theme continues in our Gospel from Luke. We have the story about the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner in his home. A prostitute heard that Jesus would be there and decided to crash the dinner to be close to Jesus.

She brought a jar of fragrant oil with her and after washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and drying them with her hair, she anointed His feet with the oil and kissed them.

The Pharisee complained to Jesus about what happened pointing out the woman’s sinfulness and how Jesus as a prophet should have been able to know what kind of woman she was. Jesus, as usual, filleted the Pharisee for his hypocrisy.

He reminded the Pharisee that he did not offer him water to bathe his feet when He arrived, as was the custom. He did not greet him with a kiss, as was the custom, and did not anoint his head with oil, while the woman had done all of these things out of her great love for Jesus and the forgiveness He offered.

The whole issue in the Gospel is much the same as in our first reading. We are much more adept at seeing sin and wrong doing in others than we are in ourselves.

It is such a universal tendency. I know with me it often comes as a complete epiphany when I finally see something that I have been doing wrong.

And, worse, it is devastating when I realized that it has gone on for a while, and I realize that others may have already noted that in me. Just when I thought I had everyone fooled.

A couple of weeks ago Deacon Mike & I were in conversation at Starbucks, of course about things spiritual. We talked about the spirituality of the presidential campaign. That didn’t take long.

We talked about St Thomas Aquinas & KIA Sorentos & St Augustine & KIA Souls, you know.

I ended up sharing with him how I recently remembered doing something wrong when I was very young, 4 or 5, and I distinctly remembered the motivation for doing what I did. I also realized that, that same motivation was active throughout my entire life, even today.

You might ask how could I possibly remember so long ago. Well, because memories are stored along with the associated emotion and since at that time parents used corporal punishment which I clearly remembered.

Still, when you think about it, it’s pretty amazing. It borders on admitting that my free will is not really as free as I would like to think.

My motivations are affected by things inside and outside of me. How I was raised. Expectations placed on me. How I was affected by the circumstances in life, the proclivities of my parents and teachers, affect me today. Some would even call it approaching, “Hard wiring”.

With that being the case we should take a whole different view about judging and forgiving others. They are affected by influences as well. God tells us not to judge for very good reasons, because He understands those influences better than we do. We don’t even understand them in ourselves much less others.

When Jesus went after the Pharisee for judging the woman, He was also talking to us. Do we have an excuse for our wrongdoing based on our free will not being quite as free as we thought?

Can we blame God for making us that way or allowing us to be formed that way? Can we do whatever we want to do and not worry that there may come a day of reckoning?

In a word, “No”.  Sorry. Not a chance. We should accept our proclivities and motivations as hurdles that require us to redouble our efforts in those areas. They are our special crosses that we bear to make us, ultimately, more like Jesus when we do overcome them.

We can use these opportunities not to excuse ourselves but to show ourselves and others, mercy.

In this Year of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis, we are given a unique opportunity to emphasize the value of the virtue of mercy. As we apply it to ourselves and to others we could find a new sense of peace settling over us.

We could enter a new freedom to enjoy life more completely – freed from constantly judging others and comparing ourselves favorably to them.

We could more fully appreciate the depth of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness toward us.

The Brook Ran Dry

How many times in our lives do we find ourselves in life situations where all the things that had been good seem to turn into something bad?  Just when we think that things can only get better we find ourselves one hundred and eighty degrees out of phase and the bottom drops out?

Probably many times, but we don’t recognize it when it happens. It looks to us like a normal happenstance and we accept it as such.

The story in 1 Kings 17, 1-7 dramatizes this situation. We find Elijah hiding from King Ahab at Brook Cherith.  The Ravens have been instructed by God to bring him bread and meat morning and night and he has the clean waters of the brook to drink. He is all set. King Ahab has no idea where he is and Elijah undoubtedly feels like he can continue in this wonderful environment for ever.

Verse 7 brings all this to an unexpected end. “The brook ran dry”. The lack of water forces Elijah to abandon his sanctuary and move on to another location, Zarephath of Sidon.

Perhaps we find ourselves in a job that appears to be all that we had been looking for. It is new and fresh and exciting and we can only expect that it will continue indefinitely. But, after a season, out of the blue the unexpected happens. Some major portion of the job runs dry. Without it we are forced to leave, to find another place where we can continue our dream.

Perhaps it is a budding relationship. We were filled with wonder that another human being could look on us with love. We are stirred to do everything we can think of to enhance the relationship. It becomes our focus, our reason for living to return the love and stability offered by the other person. When we least expect anything to change, it does. The brook runs dry. Something major rises to the surface and after multiple attempts to reinvigorate that relationship we finally accept the fact and move on.

Another way to look at this is to recognize that God does use the brooks of our lives running dry to move us out of our tendency to languish in a place that He wants us to leave. We would never leave if things had continued to be wonderful. It takes the loss of something important to move us on.

In a sense, it is a very good sign that He has other things for us to learn and experience. He wants us to glean what we can and once we have completed that task He finds a way to cause us to let go and move on to the next thing He has for us.

Life is filled with seasons. The seasons come and go.

Please, Not This

by Elizabeth Gilbert
Most of us, at some point in our lives (unless we have done everything perfectly…which is: nobody) will have to face a terrible moment in which we realize that we have somehow ended up in the wrong place — or at least, in a very bad place.

Maybe we will have to admit that we are in the wrong job. Or the wrong relationship with the wrong people around us. Living in the wrong neighborhood. Acting out on the wrong behaviors. Using the wrong substances. Pretending to believe things that we no longer believe. Pretending to be something we were never meant to be.

This moment of realization is seldom fun. In fact, it’s usually terrifying.

I call this moment of realization: NOT THIS.

Because sometimes that’s all you know, at such a moment.

All you know is: NOT THIS.

Sometimes that’s all you CAN know.

All you know is that some deep life force within you is saying, NOT THIS, and it won’t be silenced.

Your body is saying: “NOT THIS.”

Your heart is saying: “NOT THIS.”

Your soul is saying: “NOT THIS.”

But your brain can’t bring itself to say “NOT THIS”, because that would cause a serious problem. The problem is: You don’t have a Plan B in place. This is the only life you have. This is the only job you have. This is the only spouse you have. This is the only house you have. Your brain says, “It may not be great, but we have to put up with it, because there are no other options.” You’re not sure how you got here — to this place of THIS — but you sure as hell don’t know how to get out…


But still, beating like a quiet drum, your body and your heart and your soul keep saying: NOT THIS…NOT THIS…NOT THIS.

I think some of the bravest people I have ever met were people who had the courage to say the words, “NOT THIS” out loud — even before they had an alternative plan.

People who walked out of bad situations without knowing if there was a better situation on the horizon.

People who looked at the life they were in, and they said, “I don’t know what my life is supposed to be…but it’s NOT THIS.” And then they just…left.

I think my friend who walked out of a marriage after less than a year, and had to move back in with her mother (back into her childhood bedroom), and face the condemnation of the entire community while she slowly created a new life for herself. Everyone said, “If he’s not good enough for you, who will be?” She didn’t know. She didn’t know anything about what her life would look like now. But it started with her saying: NOT THIS.

I think of friends who walked out of jobs — with no job waiting for them. Because they said NOT THIS.

I think of friends who quit school, rather than keep pretending that they cared about this field of study anymore. And yes, they lost the scholarship. And yes, they ended up working at a fast food restaurant, while everyone else was getting degrees. And yes, it took them a while to figure out where to go next. But there was a relief at last in just surrendering to the holy, non-negotiable truth of NOT THIS.

I think of friends who bravely walked into AA meetings and just fell apart in front of a room full of total strangers, and said, NOT THIS.

I think of a friend who pulled her children out of Sunday School in the middle of church one Sunday because she’d had it with the judgment and self-righteousness of this particular church. Yes, it was her community. Yes, it was her tribe. But she physically couldn’t be in that building anymore without feeling that she would explode. She didn’t know where she was going, spiritually or within her community, but she said, NOT THIS. And walked out.

Rationally, it’s crazy to abandon a perfectly good life (or at least a familiar life) in order to jump into a mystery. No sane person would advise you to make such a leap, with no Plan B in place. We are supposed to be careful. We are supposed to be prudent.

And yet….

And yet….

If you keep ignoring the voices within you that say NOT THIS, just because you don’t know what to do, instead…you may end up stuck in NOT THIS forever.

You don’t need to know where you are going to admit that where you are standing right now is wrong. It may have been good for a season, but no more.

The bravest thing to say can be these two words.

What comes next?

I don’t know. You don’t know. Nobody knows. It might be worse. It might be better. But whatever it is…?  It’s NOT THIS

The Woman Caught in Adultery, Homily

Homily, Mar 12-13, 2016: Cycle C, 5th Sunday of Lent (Stone the Woman Caught in Adultery)

On this 5th Sunday of Lent, I’m sure we all realize that next Sunday is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. So we are fast running out of time to accomplish all the things we hoped to, on this journey through Lent. Time to double down.

Our readings today give us a sense of things changing. In The First reading from Isaiah, we hear the prophet say, “Remember not the things of the past…See, I am doing something new!”  (700 years before Jesus)  He is giving the Israelites a view of the future, of God’s plan. He asks them, “Now it springs forth, do you perceive it?”

As we move into the Second reading from Paul to the Philippians, we see that some of the changes are taking place through the coming of Jesus Christ. Paul describes how totally he has committed to Jesus as an example to us to examine our relationship.

He continues the thought of the first reading to Remember not the past when he says, “Forgetting what lies behind, but straining forward to what lies ahead”.

I think both of the readings are grouped together here to prepare us for the radical changes Jesus brings into the world as shown in our Gospel today.

This story from John’s Gospel is the story of the Scribes & Pharisees bringing the woman caught in the act of adultery before Jesus, to trap Him.

Here’s the trap: The Romans had taken away from the Jews their permission for the Jews to use capital punishment. All capital punishment was reserved for the Romans alone.

So, if Jesus answered, “Yes”, she should be stoned as the Law required & the first to cast the stone had to be one of the accusers – a Jew, he was going to be in big trouble with the Romans.

If Jesus answered, “No”, she should not be stoned, then he was violating the demands of the Law of Moses, and thereby lost all credibility with the Jews.

Obviously, there were politics at that time like today and the leadership felt threatened that Jesus was usurping their hold on power. Hmmm, sounds just like today.

So, here we have Jesus trying to move ahead with the completion of the Law while they are looking backward at the demands of the letter of the Law.

By the way, this particular story is referred to by scripture scholars as a controversial story, for a variety of reasons.

For example, the Scribes & Pharisees reminded Jesus of the Law’s demand that this woman be stoned to death. But the Law, in fact, in Leviticus & Deuteronomy says that both the woman & the man should be stoned. Where is the man?

Others argue that this story was likely not included in the first writing of John’s Gospel, that it was added later.

Some discuss other endings besides the classic that we have today where Jesus stumps them all by saying, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

At which, they all slipped away as Jesus no doubt scribbled their sins in the sand. Then Jesus said to the woman, “Has no one condemned you…Neither do I condemn you…Go and sin no more.”

Isn’t it interesting and aren’t we proud that Jesus’ words to the woman are mirrored by Pope Francis who recently stated that he would not condemn someone when the media tried to trap him.

Now, let me try out a story ending on you that I think would be more in line with Catholic doctrine. You can be a “Focus Group”.

Let’s say that when Jesus spoke those classic words about the “one with no sin throwing the first stone”, indeed, a stone was thrown from the outer fringes of the group and landed at the woman’s feet.

At that point, I suggest that Jesus stood, scanned the crowd, spotted the person He was looking for and said, “Oh, mother please.”   (Sorry…see, doctrinally, Jesus’ mother was without sin). So much for you guys being a focus group.

Lent is a good time for us to take a hard look at ourselves. It is a good time to stop rationalizing how we really don’t sin. Really? Do we condemn others? Do we judge others? Do we engage in Schadenfreude when bad things happen to people we don’t like?

Certainly there are times when we must make a decision, and if not judge, then at least ‘inspect the fruit’, so to speak. But judging is a serious action. Rarely is it redemptive for us or for others.

There is a segment of our society that we invest the right to Judge.

And the graphic of the poor woman being hauled before the crowd and accused and humiliated should absolutely haunt us. It certainly shows us how not to treat others, literally and figuratively. Our heart should go out to this woman, sin or no sin. Jesus’ heart surely did.

If we are serious about trying to become more like Jesus Himself, then His words in today’s Gospel should show us the way.

Jesus is calling us to change to the point where concern for the sinner is at least as strong as concern for the letter of the Law and the punishment it demands.

That idea is only a few clicks away from anarchy. It is radical as Jesus is radical. Radical or not, it is His call to us. Love the sinner, if not the sin. That’s what He does with us.

So, on this 5th Sunday of Lent with a little over a week remaining, let us increase our efforts, adding more prayer, more scripture, more almsgiving.

Then when we arrive at Good Friday and Easter we will feel like we have done our best to prepare for those great celebrations and all they stand for.

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