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Month: September 2019

Hired Hand or Child of God?

Hired Hand or Child of God?

On Saturday night, I was at St. Anthony’s Parish in Casper to celebrate the Ministry of Lector for the the six men in formation for the permanent diaconate.  This Sunday, I will be in Kaycee for Mass.  Following is the homily for today’s readings.

Do you understand why Jesus clashed with the Pharisees?  Why were they always so upset with him?  Today’s gospel begins, “The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’  So to them he addressed this parable.” (Lk. 15:2-3)

Their grumbling is the context of the parables in Luke 15.  It is essential to understand what is behind their grumbling.  This is crucial if we want to be true disciples.  To gain insight into the Pharisees’ grumbling, let’s look at the two sons.  Have you ever noticed how they relate to their father?  The sons do not really relate to him as a loving father, but more like a business man. 

 The younger son said to him, “Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” (Lk. 15:12)   Give me my share!  He just wants his inheritance.  He relates to his father not with loving respect, but out of selfish gain.  Then when he came back destitute, he said, “I don’t deserve to be called your son; treat me like a hired hand.” (Lk. 15:19)  The older son isn’t much different.  The first words out of his mouth are about serving his father like a slave.  “All these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders.” (Lk. 15:29) Another translation says, For all these years I have been working like a slave for you.” 

 Neither son relates to him as a loving father.  Instead they see him as an employer or even a task master.  The younger son said, “Treat me like a hired hand.”  The older son said, “I have been working like a slave for you.”

As a child, I often saw my dad as a business man.  He was always in debt. He had huge loans on land and cattle.  He constantly worried about debt and talked about money problems. But one experience showed me a different side of my dad.

One night I was in a neighboring town for a dance and dared a classmate to drag race.  While racing, I hit a black angus cow on the highway and totaled the pickup.  When I came home, I woke up my parents and told them that I wrecked the pickup.  My dad sat up in bed and asked, “Did anyone get hurt?”  When I said “No,” he replied: “Okay.  We’ll talk about it in the morning.”  Then he laid back down.

As I walked upstairs to my bedroom I was stunned by his concern for me.  The only important thing to him was that I returned home safe and sound.  I still remember lying awake and feeling overwhelmed that his main concern was my safety.  The same concern has been expressed by countless parents; their greatest concern is for the well-being of their children.

Can you imagine how much more that is true for God the Father?  His only real concern is our safety, to have us back home safe and sound.  In the parable, the servant explains to the older son the reason for the celebration.  He says, “Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” (Lk. 15:27) 

Now, the next morning I never explained to my dad that we were racing.  Do you think that would have changed his reaction?  Now imagine this. What if I told him that we had been racing, and he ran over to me and hugged me with tears in his eyes and said that the only thing that mattered was to have me home perfectly healthy?  Then he said, “We’ll slaughter the steer that we have been fattening and have a huge party.”  Then he announced that he would get a loan to buy a new pickup, and I would be given my own set of keys for it.

I suppose you’re thinking, “Nobody would ever do that!  Nobody is that naïve.  Only a parent who is a total idiot would do that.”  But that is how Jesus describes the father of the prodigal son.  He gave him his best robe, a ring and sandals to reassure him that he’s not a hired hand but a son, and everything he has is his son’s.

The father is not an idiot.  Nor is he a strict business man!  Rather, he is a merciful father!  His love for a lost son rules his heart.  “He was moved with deep compassion” for his wayward son. (Lk. 15:20)   The verb means that his ‘guts ached.’  And they were aching since his son left home.

How do you think that God looks on you when you sin?  Do you believe that God is like a Father who constantly watches down the road for his lost son or daughter to return?  “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him.” (Lk. 15:20)  He saw him coming because he was always watching for him.

When we have sinned, normally we concentrate on our sins.  We beat ourselves up with how stupid we acted, or how selfish we are.  But Jesus insists that God does something entirely different.  Yes, he sees our sin and all the damage is does to our relationship with God and others.  But that is not the main thing God sees.  The heavenly Father sees a lost son or a wayward daughter, a beloved lost son and a beloved wayward daughter.

Do you understand why Jesus clashed with the Pharisees? The Pharisees tried to be the best Jews!  They tithed faithfully.  They fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays to show penitence and to pray for Israel and its salvation.  They were committed to perfect observance of the commandments.  But in all of this, they saw God as a business man.  This was their mindset, “If I do my part, then I will earn God’s reward.”  So Jesus’ image of God as a merciful Father was blasphemy.

Today, some people in the Church are so upset with Pope Francis.  They think that he is acting wrongfully by his insistence on mercy.  In the past year, a deacon in this diocese told me that the pope is wrong in this area of his teaching toward the divorced and remarried.  Some lay people are saying that he is a heretic because of the mercy he proclaims for those on death row. Two former Catholic college professors from our diocese signed a document stating that he is a heretic for this reason.  This should not surprise us because some Catholic media sources as well as bishops and cardinals are saying similar things.

Many people in our Church relate to God as a business man.  This outlook is as old as the parable of the prodigal son.  Can you imagine how angry the Pharisees were after they heard the parable of the prodigal son?  If the pope is proclaiming the Gospel, then people should be grumbling.  It is a sign that the Risen Lord is speaking among us.

In Amoris Laetitia Pope Francis wrote, “The Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems. . . . At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity.  We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance.  This is the worst way of watering down the Gospel. . . . We should always consider inadequate any theological conception which in the end puts in doubt the omnipotence of God and, especially, his mercy.”  (Amoris Laetitia, 310-311)

How do you see God?  As a business man or as a merciful Father?  Are you living as a hired hand grumbling like the Pharisees?  Or are you living as a child of the merciful Father humbly rejoicing in his gracious love?

If you struggle to be that humble child, then make a habit of reflecting on the Gospel each day.  Let Christ teach you about the merciful Father.  This is what Pope Francis shows us.  He is first of all a man taught by the Gospel.  That is what rules his heart.

Let the words of Jesus transform you.  Then you will be able to say what St. Paul said in his letter to Timothy.  “I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated . . . Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I am the foremost. (Another translation says, “I am the worst sinner.”) But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost [sinner], Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him.”  (1 Tim. 1:13, 15-16) 

 As we are fed with the Eucharist, may our hearts be inflamed with mercy so that – like St. Paul – we might be an example of the Lord’s inexhaustible patience for others.

Fierce Disciples

Fierce Disciples

At times, people must have thought Jesus was crazy!  The gospel passage we just heard is a great example (Lk. 14:25-33). What did people think when he said, “If anyone comes to me without hating father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Lk. 14:25-26)  The parallel to this passage in Matthew’s Gospel is not as harsh.  It says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Mt. 10:37)

The ‘hating’ language challenges us to love and obey God above everyone else. He used shocking language to grab our attention. This is hyperbole.  Do you think that Jesus thinned the crowd that day?  I wonder how many walked away saying to each other, “This is just too much!  He’s crazy!  Why does he say such things?”

He wants to know if we’re totally committed.  To be Christian is to make a definitive choice to serve the Lord. To be Christian is to be totally obedient to God.  Does your obedience to God make you say crazy things?  Things that make people take a step back and wonder if they want to be associated with you?

It reminds me of when I first met Mother Teresa as a seminarian.  When I heard her speak to the person in front of me, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to meet her.  I worked as a volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity at a soup kitchen and shelter for homeless men.  When Mother Teresa came to visit, the Sisters would call and say, “Mother is here.  If you come to morning Mass, you could meet her.” 

After Mass, people lined up to meet her, and a man introduced himself and told her that he was making a movie in India.  She interrupted him with a blunt challenge, “What are you doing for Jesus?”  She repeated that question several times.  Then she spoke sternly to him and told him that he was too focused on himself.  I was stunned at how tough she was with him.  Why did she react so harshly toward him?  I thought that maybe this was not a good time to meet Mother Teresa.  I wasn’t sure what she might say to me. 

Mother Teresa was a tiny person, about shoulder height to me.  Yet, she was a formidable presence.  She was fearless.  Why was she so strong?  She had total obedience to God. She made a definitive choice to serve the Lord.  It made her fearless.

For Jesus and St. Teresa of Calcutta, total obedience was rooted in total love of God. It is essential to see the love behind the fearless obedience.  Mother Teresa said, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. . . . As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”  Total obedience to the Lord is rooted in total love for God.

Have heard about Franz Jaggerstatter? He was an ordinary lay man who was declared a martyr of the faith in 2007.  Franz lived in Austria during World War II. He was a farmer, with a wife and three children.  He was beheaded because he refused to serve in the army with the Nazis. He was a conscientious objectorof the Nazi regime.

However, his parish priest, his wife and his lawyer all tried to change his mind.  The bishop of the diocese said that he had a responsibility to obey legitimate authorities and to give greater weight to his family’s needs.  Jagerstatter said, “I cannot believe that, just because one has a wife and children, he is free to offend God by lying.  Did not Christ himself say, ‘He who loves father, mother, or children more than me is not worthy of me?”

In a letter to his godchild Franz wrote: “I can say from my own experience how painful life often is when one lives as a halfway Christian; it is more like vegetating than living. . . . Since the death of Christ, almost every century has seen the persecution of Christians; there have always been heroes and martyrs who gave their lives—often in horrible ways—for Christ and their faith. If we hope to reach our goal some day, then we, too, must become heroes of the faith.”

Are you living as a hero of the faith, or a halfway Christian?  A hero’s life is rooted in God.  Mother Teresa spent the first hour of the day in prayer.  Franz went to daily Mass.  Their total obedience to God was rooted in total love for God.  You will not get obedience right, if you do not put love first.

You might be strong and forceful, but the danger is to be driven by your own convictions. Sometimes, we are driven by our personality, rather than impelled by the love of God.  I notice that tendency in myself at times.  That kind of energy is mixed up with pride and domination, instead of a humility and gentle strength. 

In contrast, Teresa of Calcutta, Franz Jagerstatter and Jesus had a humble and gentle strength. It was bigger than their own desires because they were impelled by God.  They were worked tirelessly, but were never burned out. They were not fearful or harsh, but calm and confident because they knew that God’s Providence would prevail. 

Yet, their love for God made them do crazy things.  Their love was fierce.  It pushed Franz to take a stand that separated him from family.  It gave him the strength to be beheaded. You will not get obedience right, if you do not put love first.

One of the main things people say in confession is, “I have not kept God as my first priority. My prayer life is weak.” As a new school year begins, we need to re-prioritize.  There are so many activities that compete for our time.  Make the love of God your top priority.

  • Do you willingly join in the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist?  Is Mass the center of your entire life because you realize that without it you can do nothing? 
  • Is daily prayer more important than brushing your teeth or taking a shower? Do you pray each day, no matter what? 
  • Have you made a daily commitment to prayerfully read the Scriptures?  Is the voice of God more important than your favorite website?  People spend 6 ½ hours a day online: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.  How would your attitude change if you spent 10% of that time or 39 minutes a day in silence with the Scriptures?

When you get the Love of God right, then you will be a little crazy…. at least, a little crazy.  Then you will be a hero of the faith, instead of a halfway Christian.  At Mass today, ask for the grace to be centered in God’s love.  Then ask the Lord Jesus for the grace to be a fierce disciple.

Hurricane Aid

Hurricane Aid

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, President of the USCCB, has issued the following statement regarding Hurricane Dorian that left seven people dead in the Bahamas and is moving closer to the southeastern United States:

“As we continue to be vigilant for the effects of Hurricane Dorian as it approaches the U.S. coast, we are extremely mindful of the dire need faced by the community in the Bahamas so devastated by this catastrophic storm. We pray for all effected and invite Catholics and all people of goodwill to donate to Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA.”

The donations to CRS can be made at:

Donations to Catholic Charities USA can be made at:

Be Humble

Be Humble

Have you ever walked into a big celebration and seen someone sitting by themselves and obviously a loner?  Students, how often do you notice the kid who is off alone in the cafeteria?  It happens in Hartmann Hall here at St. Mary’s Cathedral.  During Fellowship after Mass some people sit by themselves.  They don’t enjoy much fellowship during Fellowship.

Public meals reveal social structures.  Jesus was keenly aware of that as he said, “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” (Lk. 14:13)  He told us to associate with lowly people.  In this context he taught one of his most important lessons for disciples: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk. 14:11)

There is an explicit call to be humble at least a dozen times in the gospels.  On three different occasions Jesus said, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (see also Lk. 18:14; Mt. 23:12).  Other times he put it in stronger terms.  Twice he said, “Whoever wants to be first among you must be slave to all.” (Mk. 10:44; Mt. 20:27; cf. Lk. 22:26)

At the Last Supper, his actions of humility were more striking than his words.  He knelt at the feet of the disciples who would deny and betray them, and he washed them with mercy.  Then he said to them, “If I, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet.” (Jn. 13:14) Here he models humility before friends who stab you in the back.

Jesus modeled humble fellowship during the most important meal of his life.  This is the kind of humility people ought to experience from us at Mass.  And it should be how we treat others at weddings, the cafeteria at school, in Hartmann Hall or around the dinner table at home. 

Why does he insist so often that disciples must be humble?  First of all, he said that it is the way to experience the kingdom of God right now.  He said to the disciples, “Unless you become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:2-4)

Little children are totally dependent on their parents and trust completely that their mom and dad will take care of them.  Humble disciples are totally dependent on God and trust that the Lord will provide.  So they are lighthearted and joyful.  They experience the kingdom of God here and now.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:3)  Right now! 

They might live in dire poverty, but they are joyful.  Ten years ago, I went on a mission trip to El Salvador with college students.  We lived with the people in their simple homes with no running water, and the electricity was on for only about 4-6 hours a day.  After the trip, I asked the students what was most memorable.  They said, “How joyful the people are, even though they are so poor.” 

It wasn’t merely that they are poor.  In their poverty, they depend on God. They have humble faith.  They are dependent on God and confident that the Lord will provide.  This lesson is expressed clearly in Luke’s gospel, where the first beatitude is: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” (Lk. 6:20)

In the 1990’s, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to the all the people in the Americas, that is, North America, Central America and South America.  He said that the poorer countries have a humble faith that is a valuable gift for the richer countries.  Today, there is discussion about establishing policies to deny permanent legal immigration status to the poorest people, or to those without higher education.  Some are advocating that we should accept only those who can contribute to our country because of their level of education, training and wealth.

But this attitude fails to acknowledge the spiritual gifts that St. John Paul II encouraged us to receive from the poor.  Their humble faith can enrich us.  Their perseverance in adversity can inspire us.  I do not know about you, but my ancestors came to this country with little education or wealth.  They were dirt-poor farmers.  But they were rich in faith and strong in perseverance. 

Some of our leaders have a narrow vision for the future of our nation, a vision focused primarily on material wealth.  They are like the rich Pharisee and his friends vying for places of honor at a banquet.  They know how to hobnob with the wealthy for worldly honor.  They use fancy dinners to make connections and to further business deals.  They would look at you like you were crazy, if you said to them, “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind:  blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” (Lk. 14:13-14)

The danger is to think like the arrogant rich who are independently wealthy, who in their arrogance feel like they don’t need any help from anyone.  They have no idea what it means to depend on God for everything, like the humble poor.  Jesus warns his disciples not to act that way.  Those who act like that will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  They will have fleeting happiness in this life.  People might honor them with status at banquets, or vote for them in popular elections, but they will miss the joy of the kingdom of heaven, here and in the hereafter. 

Do you think that Jesus told his disciples to associate with the lowly so that they could teach us how to be real disciples?  So they could enrich us with their humble faith and inspire us with their example of perseverance in adversity, and show us how to be generous to those who cannot repay the gift?  Obviously, he told us to associate with the lowly so that we could feel the joy of ‘paying it forward.’  He said, “Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.”

We are filled with such joy by surprising others with goodness with no expectation of repayment.  Is there anyone who would know this better than Jesus?  He was the master of gratuitous mercy; that is why he washed the feet of Peter and Judas.  That is the joy he wants for us.  “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk. 14:11)  Jesus was exalted with the resurrection and being seated at the right hand of God.  He longs for us to share in those gifts.

At this Eucharist, be humble enough to receive that pure goodness from the Lord.  Let him surprise you with his goodness, even though you do not deserve it.  This is the key to a humble spirit, simply being open and receptive to God’s mercy. 

Then ask for the grace to be humble at school with kids who are outsiders, or at your job with co-workers who have the lowest positions.  Ask the Lord to guide our nation as it wrestles with how the complex issues of immigration or abortion, where the lives of the least are at stake.  He expects us to associate with the lowly and stand up for their dignity.

Pray with humble faith.  Trust that the Lord will not only show us the way, but provide us the courage and strength to do the right thing ….. if only we are humble and shun worldly honor. 

“When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind: blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” (Lk. 14:13-14)

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