What Must I Do for Eternal Life, Homily

Ezekiel 24:15-23

Today in our First Reading we hear Ezekiel wanting to mourn the death of his wife, but the Lord calls him to groan in silence and ‘continue on’ with the work to which God has called him.

As we remember from last week, Ezekiel was calling his people to accept their exile in Babylon where they were taken in 597 by Nebuchadnezzar, and to accept the destruction of Jerusalem which was coming in 587.

Ezekiel believed that the exiles were the hope of Israel’s restoration once the allotted time for the exile had been accomplished.

In our Gospel from Matthew we hear the story of the young man who came up to Jesus asking what he must do to gain eternal life.

Jesus gives him a few examples from the 10 commandments to which the young man tells Him that he has observed all of these, and asks, what more must he must do.

You can almost see Jesus smile as He says, if you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, then come follow me.

We’re told the young man went away sad for he had many possessions. While that is probably true, it seems Jesus saw him coming a long way off and understood his deeper problem was his Richness of Spirit. Otherwise, Jesus would have increased the load he placed on the young man’s shoulders incrementally without going to the limit that He did.

Jesus knew that the young man’s possessions likely fed into his Richness of Spirit and that it takes a long time in life to reach the level of Poverty of Spirit to be truly useful to the Kingdom. But, since the young man persisted in pushing Jesus to make himself look good to those around Him, Jesus gave him the whole enchilada since nothing less would appeal to him or change him quick enough to be useful to Jesus in His short public ministry here on Earth.

Third Sunday of Lent, 10 Commandments, a Homily

Homily, Mar 07-08, 2015: Cycle B, Third Sunday of Lent

When NASA sent up the first moon rocket, they did not just roll it out to the launch pad, take careful aim, and then light the fuse. From the first moment after liftoff, a feedback loop began to take measurements of the rocket’s actual position with respect to its ultimate destination.

Periodically sampling that feedback loop, a series of mid-course corrections brought the rocket to the exact position necessary to enter Lunar orbit. Sorry, I don’t mean for this to sound like Science 101. I am not Bill Nye the Science Guy.

My point is that we use that same process for any project we undertake. We know where we want to end up, so we review where we are over the course of the projects life & make the necessary corrections to arrive at our desired endpoint.

On Ash Wednesday, a few weeks ago, we “launched our Lenten Journey” that would lead us to Holy Week and Easter Sunday with a new appreciation.

We hoped the process would help us improve our relationship with the Lord, give us a better understanding of ourselves, and what we need to do to improve

On this Third Sunday of Lent, we are at the halfway point of our Lenten Journey. It’s time to check our feedback loop and see how we are doing. How are we progressing on our journey?

Our readings today actually give us considerable help. The First Reading from the Book of Exodus details the Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from the mountain. Scholars tell us they are very similar to the Code of Hammurabi originating from Babylonian Laws of ancient Mesopotamia.

For us as Christians, the Ten Commandments are basic tenets that we should all have pretty much under control in our lives as we grow in maturity. If not, that’s a good starting point.

Jesus calls us to even more than those basics; He calls us to higher order considerations in how we live our lives. For instance, the Commandments tell us we should not commit adultery, but Jesus tells us that a man should not even look at a woman that way.

Our Second Reading from First Corinthians tells us that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. A few verses later, we read that God often uses the weak and the foolish to confound the strong and the wise.

All of that is a lead-in to the concept of Poverty of Spirit, which is accepting our true worth, no more – no less. It means not trying to appear to others as if we are stronger or wiser, than we really are.

Obviously, we should work hard to be the very best we can be with the gifts God has given us, but not work hard at all trying to appear to be more than we are.

Human nature often makes us worry about how others see us. But in fact, we should embrace our true Poverty of Spirit and resist that desire to be Rich in Spirit. If we do not, the desert fathers tell us over time we may face anxiety as the harbinger of that “out of place” desire.

So, at this midpoint in our Lenten Journey, where do we stand with respect to that whole concept of Poverty of Spirit. Are we prone to attempt to impress others? Do we prefer the company of “special people” to the company of ordinary people, thinking that somehow elevates us?

Remember, as Christians, we emulate Jesus Christ and He dealt with the poorest of the poor, and died the most agonizing, humiliating death for us.

He could have used His strength to be Rich in Spirit and come down from the cross and confound His tormentors. But, He chose to accept the depths and the dregs of His humanity to save us humans.

As we heard in our Gospel today, Jesus chased those who were selling the animals of sacrifice & the money changers from the temple. The man of peace, by all measures, seemed to be quite zealous for the temple.

We might ask ourselves what are we zealous about. What wrongs do we stand against? What is our cause?

Last week, at this podium, one of the Sisters of Life spoke to us about their Right to Life ministry including ministry to women who were trying to overcome the emotional pain and devastation of having had an abortion.

What really caught my attention was how she spoke about the healing power of the ‘feeling of being chosen.’ Just treating others as if they are special enough for us to choose them as our friends can engender healing within them, because it brings them face to face with a human face of an all-loving God.

Wow, how is that for a ministry? How is that for a cause to be zealous about? That certainly takes a lot of time, patience, effort, and sacrifice. I bet the rewards are few and far in-between.

Perhaps, at this halfway point in our Lenten Journey we can redouble our efforts if we have fallen behind. We can still look for ways to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, our families, and our friends.

We, too, can demonstrate with our own lives our desire to make Christ present to others in this world by our thoughts and our actions.

To that end I would like to leave you with a quote about Lent from Pope Francis: He recently stated that when we fast, others should benefit directly from our fast.  Make sure that the food from which we fast or the money that we would have used to purchase it, finds its way to a person with no food.

Nameless Emissary: Anxiety

Nameless Emissary: Anxiety                                                           2/16/15

“Left to ourselves, we still remain the prisoner of our own being. We cannot successfully hide for long our mysterious being. If we attempt to hide it, the truth of our being haunts us with its nameless emissary: anxiety.

“This anxiety becomes the prophet of the repressed mystery of our being: with its alienation, anxiety takes the place of the scorned poverty.

“In the final analysis we have one of two choices: to obediently accept our innate poverty or become the slave of anxiety.”


Excerpt from “Poverty of Spirit” by Johannes Baptist Metz

Yikes, I’m Mortal!

There is nothing that can convince us of our mortality more than serious illness. We may feel like we are in the pink of health and nothing can touch us, but then it does. There’s nothing like a heart attack, cancer, or some other life threatening illness, to get our attention – we are mortal after all.

Worse of all is the knowledge that not only are we mortal but there are some things that are totally beyond our being able to ‘fix’ ourselves. Laying there on the gurney in the hospital as they work their emergency magic on us fills us with a well-defined sense of just how helpless we really are. We become overwhelmed with the understanding that if we continue to live in this world, someone else will have to save us because the solution is way beyond our pay grade.

In the scriptural sense, we face our own Poverty of Spirit that we have read about in the Sermon on the Mount. We look at just how poor we truly are and how tentative life really is. For those reasons we are never the same afterward. We are never quite our old selves again. Life looks different from then on.

All the posturing, all the verbiage to the contrary, is all in vain. Telling ourselves and others that we will be back good as new in a short time after a little rehab, learning to eat the right foods, getting more rest, will not make it happen. After my own heart attack I remember people telling me that I’d be better than I use to be once I get back to the gym, eat right, and learn to deal with stress.

If only that were true. Telling ourselves and others this kind of goods news in the face of a life threatening event is a chase after the wind and our own vanity, and is to be avoided at all cost. Saying it is so, does not make it so, and sets us up for worse calamities unless core changes are made.

Don’t misunderstand my message here. There is good news to be had, but it is not getting well and returning to the same old lifestyle with the same old attitude and the same old indulgence of our vanity.

A retired psychologist sat me down about a month after my heart attack and told me that God was trying to give me a gift. Mary said, most likely He wanted me to change some directions in which I had been headed. She said, as we get older she thought God wants all of us to become more contemplative, more settled, more in touch with Him and His greatness and less of our own.

As I look back over the last five years, I agree wholeheartedly with what my friend told me. Life looks differently, my own spirituality is less strident, my accepting of others without insisting they change, has grown. I have not become “Mr Wonderful” but I have changed and feel much closer to God and His creative self than I ever could have, because of the gift of that heart attack and the words of wisdom of my friend.