Friday, October 28, 2016

THE FEAST OF SAINTS SIMON AND JUDE


Sermon to the saint Louis Priory School on October 28, 2016

In one of the greatest scenes of Western literature, the enraged warrior, Achilles, unbeaten and unbeatable, stands outside his tent on the beach of Troy, while three ambassadors beg him to rejoin the battle.  Achilles, unmoved by their arguments and their tears, answers, “I hate that man like the very Gates of Death who says one thing but hides another in his heart.  So I will say it outright.  Will Agamemnon win me over?  Not for all the world…Not now that he has torn my honor from my hands.”
It is a shockingly powerful passage—shocking and heart-wrenching—but also somewhat confusing.  After all, we moderns have to ask ourselves, how could anyone steal another man’s honor?  Well, scholars have written whole books on the topic, but the long and short of it is this: The Greeks of the Bronze Age measured their honor in stuff and in reputation: time´ and kleos were the words they used—sometimes you hear it translated “honor and glory”.
Time´ was measured in stuff.  The more stuff you had, the more honor.  And if someone took your stuff, they literally took your honor.  If someone stole a Greek hero’s cow, they stole one cow’s worth of honor.  Similarly kleos (or glory) was determined by popular opinion.  So if someone insulted a Greek warrior in public, he literally damaged that man’s glory.
So when Agamemnon, the general of the Greeks, publicly seizes Achilles’ slave-girl, he literally steals one slave worth of honor, and Achilles never gets over it.  Because honor is a zero-sum game.  The more of it you get, the less I have.
Now the reason I tell you this story is to give you a sense of how radical Christianity was when it came along.  That story, The Iliad—it was the Bible of the Ancient Western World; but when Jesus showed up, he turned their whole system of honor on its head.  Jesus said that the poor would rule the kingdom of God and the humble would inherit the earth.
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude—two men who owned nothing and about whom we know very little.  Saint Jude was confused with Judas so often that he eventually became the patron of lost causes. What’s more, the gospel writers themselves couldn’t seem to keep his name straight: John calls him “Judas – but not the Iscariot!” Luke calls him “Jude the brother of James,” and Matthew calls him “Thaddeus.”  Nothing is said about him in any of the gospels except that he asked one question, and not a very good one.  He says, “Lord, what’s this?” (Jn 14:22).  And that’s it.  There’s a New Testament letter that bears his name, but most scholars agree that someone else probably wrote it for him.  And we know even less about Simon.  Mostly, he goes by “not Simon Peter”.  Luke calls him “Simon the Zealot,” Matthew and Mark call him “Simon the Canaanite.”  And that’s pretty much it for Simon.
A Feast like this would have baffled Achilles.  Simon and Jude died without time´ or kleos.  No honor or glory here—not by Ancient Greek standards.  And come to think of it, Simon and Jude come up rather short by modern standards as well…even by our standards here at this school. You compete for honor and glory with other schools and in athletic events; you compete among yourselves.  Priory is, as they say, a “highly competitive school.”  Many of you hope to attend “highly competitive universities.”  And that’s a good thing.  I mean, no one enters a competition hoping to lose, right?
I remember, though, when I was on the swim team in high school, there was a poster in the locker room that read: “No one remembers who came in second.”  And that, in retrospect, strikes me as rather the wrong attitude as well.
            So what is the right attitude?  Well, Saint Paul says, “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize?  So run to win.”  And Saint Benedict actually encourages his monks to compete with one another.  “Let each strive to be first,” he says.  Though, as usual, the logic of true Christianity moves in a radically new direction.  “Let them strive to be first” says Saint Benedict, “first to honor one another.”  They must compete with one another in obedience.  No one, he says, should pursue what he judges advantageous to himself, but rather what benefits others.  Imagine a race where all the runners were trying to help each other win.  Admittedly, it wouldn’t be much of a spectator sport.  But true honor—the honor that comes from a virtuous life—that is not a zero-sum game.  Because the prize is infinite.  Every athlete exercises discipline in every way,” says Saint Paul, “They do it to win a perishable crown, but we do it for an imperishable crown.  Heaven is the finish line, and there’s only first place when you get there.
            Now, there have been great saints who were famous authors, brilliant scholars, powerful politicians, and successful businessmen.  There have even been great saints who were great warriors.  [I’m going to go off-script here for a second so I can tell you about one of my favorite saints.  His name was Gabriel Possenti, and he was an Italian Seminarian at a time when Italy was more or less run by gangs of armed thugs.  Anyway, one afternoon, one of these gangs came into town and started stealing stuff and burning down houses.  Gabriel Possenti came running out of the seminary to find the thugs in the middle of the town square torchuring a young woman.  So he ran into the middle of the group and started shouting for them to stop.  Of course, they wouldn’t listen to him, so he wrestled a pistol away from one of them and said, “I’ll shoot the next man who touches her.”  One of the thugs pointed out that there were only six bullets in the gun, so Saint Gabriel (who, it turned out, happened to be a sharp-shooter) turned around and shot a lizard off the wall behind him and said, “Now there’s only five bullets in the gun.  Who’s next?”  The brigands were so impressed, they went around to the various houses and returned what they had stolen—and helped put the fires out!  Now that’s my kind of saint!  That’s the kind of saint who would have impressed Achilles.]  But today, we are celebrate the Feast of two anonymous saints, and they are just as important.  Saint Therese of Lisieux put it this way: “The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of it’s scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”  Yeah, it’s corny.  But it’s also true.  Some of us aren’t ever going to be rich or famous or powerful.  But we can all be saints.  And this feast is for us.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wednesday Reflection by Priory School Senior, Colin Limp


Chapter 2: What Sort of Man the Abbot Should Be
When a man is elected abbot, he should govern his disciples by a twofold teaching; namely, he should show them all that is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words… Let him so adjust and adapt himself to each one according to his character and understanding–that he not only suffer no loss in his flock, but may rejoice in the increase of a worthy fold.  And let the abbot always bear in mind that he will be held accountable by God Himself for both his own teaching and for the obedience of his disciples.
Amongst all people, religious and non-religious, clergy and laymen, there are leaders.  Leaders exemplify qualities necessary to the fields in which they lead.  Leaders are people who demand respect, and—in the cases of abbot, teacher, and parent—obedience.
There are an infinite number of ways in which to categorize leaders; but perhaps the best way to do so is to sort leaders into two groups: those we elect, and those we don’t.
For those we elect, there is a lot of give and take.  These leaders have a great deal of accountability to those who elect them.  We choose these people.  There are a lot of examples of this kind of leadership: we elect the President of the United States; we elect mayors, councilmen and school boards; we even elect members to the most glamourous and important position of all, Priory Student council.  Since we choose these people, we expect them to perform to our satisfaction.  When they don’t, we’re able to express our displeasure with their performance through measures such as petition and impeachment. 
Even when these leaders inevitably disappoint us in some way, we still owe them our respect.  On the most basic level, respect is something that should be shown by and to all people.  That being said, we owe our elected officials more respect than just acknowledging their basic rights as people.  Being responsible for and accountable to others is a huge job, no matter what level of governing it takes place at.  And while we have every right to disagree with what that person says or how that person acts, we still have to respect their authority.  For example, look at President Obama.  Personally, I disagree with him on a lot of his policies and opinions; however, I completely respect his authority as the leader of this country, and I don’t question his right to believe and impose those policies, even though I think he’s dead wrong.
What we do not owe elected leaders, though, is obedience.  Not only are these leaders very prone to error, but they have sought this leadership out—they have “ran for office”.  To quote Thomas Jefferson, elected leaders “Are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  We give them the authority they hold.  We can also take this authority away from them.  Because of this, we are not and should never be obedient to this type of leader.
There is, however, a second kind of leader.  This person is not elected.  He is not chosen, voted for, or even asked for.  While with unchosen leaders—people I will refer to as superiors—there is in some ways slightly less give and take than with those who are elected.  They in return owe more to their followers.  As it says in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 783-786, Jesus calls us to serve as Priest, Prophet, and King.  When it says King, it means “not to be served, but to serve”.  If a person is in a position of authority that is thrust upon him, that person owes it to his followers to truly serve to the fullest of his ability.  Some examples of superiors would be teachers and parents. 
Does this call to service mean that these people will be infallible?  Of course not.  Our parents will make mistakes.  Our teachers will make mistakes.  Even the monks will make mistakes.  However, as with elected officials, we still owe them our respect.  The difference is, with superiors, we also owe them obedience.  You are to obey your parents, and your teachers.  Why?  Because their authority is derived from something higher than just a democratic process.  Their authority comes from God.  From a Catholic perspective, all you have to do is look at the Fourth Commandment for proof of this.  And, in a classroom, “Honor thy mother and Father” extends to teachers as well.  But even in a secular sense, obedience to parent and teacher is part of the natural order of human interaction, and can be explained by Natural Law.  Now, does “obedience” mean do everything that this person tells you, even if you know it is intrinsically evil?  No.  Obedience means heeding the direction of those superiors, even if you disagree, because those superiors are still being held accountable, but not by you—by God.
The position of Abbot doesn’t fall perfectly into either of these categories.  The abbot is elected; I cannot tell you exactly what that election process entails, but regardless, there is a great deal of choice by the rest of the monks as to who their abbot will be.  However, the abbot commands obedience; perhaps even more obedience than is commanded of all of you by your parents and teachers.  On the surface, this is somewhat frustrating, as I am someone who likes for things to fit into categories whenever possible.  But instead of being an outlier, the Abbot position is a union between the two categories of leadership—in the same way that Christ is the union between two categories: God and Man.  As Father Augustine stated in a previous reflection, “For a monk, the abbot takes the place of Christ in this world”. 
This connection with Christ that the abbot shares is also shared by the rest of us to some extent.  We are all called to be Priest, Prophet, and King.  We are all called to be Christ to others.  Frankly, we are all called also to rise above the mundane and simple system of elected leadership.  There are more important things than being President, than being mayor, than being on Student Council.  There are even more important things than being parents and teachers and abbots.  Showing respect and obedience to Christ is chief among them.
As you are all undoubtedly aware, we are in the midst of the most bizarre and comical election season in decades.  This is a prime example of the first kind of leadership.  I’m not here to offer my opinion on who you should support; especially this time, since both answers seem like wrong answers.  What I will encourage you to do is to be mindful of your conscience when choosing who you want to lead you.  And more importantly, whoever turns out to be our next President, I implore you to remain respectful of that person—but not obedient.  Please stand.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Annoying Guests

If a monk from another monastery comes to visit and is satisfied with the customs he finds here, and does not trouble the monastery with excessive demands, he should be welcome to stay for as long as he likes. Furthermore, if he has advice about how things might be done differently (and he makes his complaint with humility and charity) the abbot should consider carefully whether the Lord did not perhaps send him for that very purpose.
   
    No one likes to be told how to run his own house.  Still, a fresh pair of eyes might notice something that the abbot and his community have missed.  Ironically, one of the universal truths of human existence is that “birds of a feather flock together.”  It’s much easier to listen to people we agree with, so we favor the company of people who think like we do.  But this makes it difficult to have a balance opinion.  If we were truly open to new ideas and anxious to broaden our horizons, we’d seek out people we don’t agree with, and hang out with them instead.
In the fifth century, BC, there was guy who actually lived this way.  His name was Socrates.  He used to spend his days walking around Athens seeking out (and questioning) people he didn’t like.  He’d spend all day grilling them until he found a hole in their arguments.
     Socrates was a brilliant, charismatic, honest man.  But he did this all day every day, and pretty soon the Athenians had him killed.  After all, no one can handle that kind of interrogation on a regular basis.  It’s just too annoying.  But before he died, Socrates had time to teach his method of argumentation to a few young disciples, and they passed it on to others, and eventually, it became known as “The Socratic Method.”  It’s a really great way to argue, especially if you have the patience and charity to really listen.

It works like this:
    Before you start arguing with someone, you let them know that you are genuinely interested in their opinion.  This is harder than it sounds, especially if they’re wrong and you know it.  But understand that they will be much more interested in hearing your opinion if they think you understand theirs.
    Next, repeat what they have to say.  Repeat their own words back to them so that they know you really are listening.  This is important for you too.  Maybe you have been hearing something that they didn’t intend.  Maybe you’ve been reading too much into their argument.
    Lastly, ask questions.  Lots of questions.  Anywhere that you see a contradiction or an omission, instead of pointing it out, ask a question about it.  If there’s a point you’d like to make, keep asking questions until they make the point for you.
    I’ll give an example.  I once had an encounter with a Fundamentalist who told me I was sinning because, as a priest, I allowed people to call me “Father.”  At first, this annoyed me.  After all, I hadn’t asked this guy for his advice.  But instead of punching him, I took a deep breath and said, “So you say that I am sinning whenever I allow someone to call me ‘Father’?”
    “Yes,” he answered, “because Jesus said, ‘Call no man Father.’”
    “Well, you’re right there,” I said.  “That’s straight out of the Gospel of Matthew: “Call no man ‘father.’  There is but one Father in heaven” (23:9).
He nodded and smiled.
“But I’m a little confused,” I said.  “What do you call…uh…the guy who impregnated your mother?”
    “That’s different,” he said. “I can call him father.”
    “Why?” I asked.
    “Because when I you have a child, you participate in God’s fatherhood.”
    And just like that, he had made my point for me.  We had a good laugh,  shook hands, and went our separate ways.  I don’t think he changed his mind, but I think I learned something about his opinion, and he came a step closer to understanding mine.
    The Socratic Method is very Benedictine because it revolves around listening.  It also requires a great deal of humility because, no matter how stupid, arrogant, judgmental, or wrong-headed your adversary may be, you have to be willing to let him teach you.  After all, as Saint Benedict points out, it may be the case that “The Lord has sent him for this very purpose.”

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Don't Blame Martha


Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.

   I can't help feeling a little sorry for Martha.  Saint Luke tells us she was “burdened with much serving.”  Hadn’t Jesus himself said: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened”? Well, she did.  And look what she get for her efforts.
  “Martha, Martha,” says Jesus in a tone that even in writing seems a little condescending, “you are anxious and worried about many things.”  Well, who is she doing all the serving for anyway?  And if you’ll think back to our gospel reading from a few weeks ago, you might remember what Jesus said to Simon the Pharisee when he dined at his house: " When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet…you did not give me a kiss…you did not anoint my head with oil…”  Here’s Martha washing and oiling and everything else.  And for that, she’s scolded while Mary gets all the credit for being a loyal disciple. I wonder what would’ve happened if she had said to Jesus, “Fine. I’ll just sit here next to Mary. You can feed yourself.  Make your own bed.  Eat off dirty dishes.”
  Would some of the other disciples have gotten out of their seats and pitched in?  Would Jesus have changed his mind?   Or would he have multiplied some loaves and fishes, changed the water into wine and had some angels do the washing up?  We’ll never know, of course, because Martha said what she said and all we have is Jesus’s response.
  Still…I can’t help wondering if she was really at fault.  There are, of course, many different ways to read this passage.  The traditional way is to think in terms of lower and higher vocations: Martha is the ‘active’ Christian worried over the things of this world, and Mary is the contemplative, already enjoying the beatific vision.  That’s not a bad way to interpret it.  Saint Ambrose read it this way.  But notice also that Jesus doesn’t tell Martha to stop working—or even to stop worrying—only to leave her sister alone.
  Saint Bernard read the passage a little differently.  “let Martha welcome the Lord into her house,” he wrote, “since to her is entrusted the direction of the household… Let those who share her tasks also receive the Lord, each according to their particular service. Let them welcome Christ and serve him, helping in the person of his members the sick, the poor, travelers and pilgrims.  And while they are undertaking these ministries, let Mary remain at rest.”  Mary gets to rest while Martha works,
But without Martha, Mary loses her place at the feet of Jesus.  You can’t have contemplation without action.  So there wasn’t anything wrong with Martha’s service per se.  What was it, then?  Her resentment?  Again, we can’t blame her for being frustrated.  She’s the only one doing the chores.
  No, what’s lacking in her service is obedience.
  When I was working on the Beach Patrol, I was told a story about a boy who slipped off the 53rd Street Pier.  Instead of signaling to the lifeguard (who was no more than twenty yards away), his father jumped in after him, and pulled him to shore by the hair. As it turned out, the child had broken his neck in the fall.  He might have survived, but his spinal cord was severed when his father tugged on his hair.  So you see, even good works can do harm if they are done in the wrong way.  And the only safeguard against making this kind of mistake is the virtue of obedience.
  We can’t blame Martha for wanting to help.  But maybe we can blame her for not asking first.  Let us pray that when we choose to serve, we do so in obedience; when we give a gift, we give what is truly needed; and when we act, we do so in a manner that is consistent with God’s Will.  But most of all, let us pray for the good sense to ask Jesus first.  Because we can smile a little at Martha’s resentment, but we have to give her this much credit: she had the presence of mind to bring that resentment straight to Jesus.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Ascension

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
On the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, we celebrate the beginning of the end of the fifty-day Season of Easter.  The last surge of joy before it all erupts into a blazing fanale at Pentacoste.  With the apostles, we stand at the summit of the Mount of Olives and watch as Our Savior ascends to heaven on a cloud.  Floats up to heaven on a cloud, no less!  Personally, I always thought that was a little dramatic.  And also a little selfish.  I mean, why didn’t he just stay here with us?  Why didn’t he just hang around for another couple thousand years, just to make sure that we got all the doctrinal fine points straightened out?  We could have avoided the Reformation altogether.  The Great Schism.  The Inquisition.  Maybe some of the nastier bits of the Crusades.  Why didn’t he just stick around a little longer?
            These are the sorts of thoughts I always have when the Feast of the Ascension comes around.  And I like to think that they’re the sort of thoughts that were going through the apostles minds as they stood, bewildered and abandoned, looking up at the sky.  “Is he really gone?”  “Is he coming back?”  “Should we just wait here?”  “Maybe he just left something up there and he’s coming right back down again.”
            These thoughts, of course, miss the entire significance of Christ’s act.  But they’re not unreasonable in lieu of the fact that Pentacost has not yet arrived.  The apostles do not yet have the spiritual insight that they will have once they are baptized in the Spirit.  They don’t see—as we do (or should)—that Christ had to leave us FOR OUR OWN SAKE.  He had done what he came to do.  Born his witness.  Founded his Church.  Now it was time for us to take over.
            Yet the apostles stand limp-handed and stoop-shouldered staring after Him.  The angels, it seems, can’t resist a little joke at their expense:  “What you looking at?  What are you staring up into the air for?  He’ll be back.  But staring at the clouds won’t bring him back any faster.”
            No, he has returned to the Father.  And while, understandably, we feel a touch of melancholy at seeing him go, still, his departure is a two-fold blessing.  First because we now are given the magnificent vocation of being his witnesses to the world—of being, in fact, HIM to the world.  Secondly, because we now are assumed with him into heaven.  Our own human nature is assumed into the Father’s Divinity.  Ad thirdly, because we now are ready to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, May 6, 2016

STRESS AND JOY


Homily to the Saint Louis Priory School
May 6, 2016
Father Augustine Wetta, O.S.B.

So the end of school is just around the corner and that means…stress.  Stress and worry and short tempers and…well…more stress.  This is the last school mass for our seniors, which means that they are about to enter the world of adult stress (which is just like kid stress but there’s more of it).  Yet here is what Jesus has to say to you today: “You are in anguish now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”  You hear that?  You may be in anguish, but you also have a joy which no one can take from you.  How is this possible?
 First we have to distinguish between happiness and joy.  Happiness is something you are lucky to have.  The word actually comes from the middle English word for luck, hap, from which we get the words happen and perhaps.  Luck is what makes you ‘happy.’ 
So.  You find $20 on the sidewalk…that makes you happy.   You make an A on the test…happy.  You’re accepted at your first choice college…happy.  You win your rugby game…happy.  Now, hard work is likely to have had some influence on this.  But bad luck can take it all away in a second.  Your $20 slips out of your pocket; you studied the wrong chapter for the test; the college interviewer just didn’t like you.  Bad luck.  It can ruin your day—it can ruin more than your day—BUT only if you let it.  Because real happiness is yours for keeps.  In theological language we call it blessedness or beatitude or joy.  No one and nothing can take it away from you.  This is what Socrates meant when he said, “No one can harm the good man.”  You can take away his money and power and influence, but you cannot touch the things that make him a man: you cannot take his virtue, his courage, his joy, his beatitude.
Let me put it another way: there are a lot of miserable people in the world.  And some of these people are that way because they are suffering serious oppression and have been pushed beyond their strength; others are miserable because they’re struggling with their own brain chemistry; but for most of us, we’re unhappy because we choose to be. You say, “That guy makes me angry!”   But he doesn’t make you angry.   He did something inconsiderate and you made you angry.  Dorotheos of Gaza, the great 6th century abbot, wrote in his conferences, “If your brother provokes you, don’t blame him for your anxiety.  You were a pile of dry leaves.  He was just the breeze that blew you over.”
 Two days ago, I saw something that made me unhappy.   A kid in the lunch line dropped his plate and it broke into about a dozen pieces and everyone laughed at him.  Even I laughed because, frankly, it was nice to see someone else look stupid for change.  But then I realized that everyone was laughing and no one was helping him clean up the broken plate.  Oddly, that made me angry… but it didn’t seem to make the kid angry.  In fact, he laughed along.
 And at that very moment, I learned the secret to real happiness.  And I’m going to share it with you now: the secret to real happiness (by that, of course, I mean joy/beatitude) is to be kind to other people when they don’t deserve it.  That kid—and I honestly don’t remember who he was because I was too busy judging everyone else in the lunch room—that kid could’ve turned around and yelled at the people who were laughing, but what good would it have done?  Instead, he laughed while I yelled at everyone.
            Now which of the two of us brought more joy to that room?  A few weeks ago, I was talking to one of our assistant rugby coaches.  His name is Randal.  He’s got two kids and he just discovered that he has a third on the way.  He and his wife didn’t exactly plan for this third kid, and he was explaining to me that he was a little worried.  They just moved into a new house, the timing is all wrong, he just switched jobs, etc. etc.  I said to him that I probably wasn’t the best guy to come to for advice on this because I don’t like babies; but that I could tell him this one thing: Coach Randal is a good person and good people tend to have good kids and as a twenty-year veteran of the educational system, I can say with real confidence that one good kid can make a very big difference.  And with that, as if on cue, Tony Kraus walked up.  He’s got the coach’s sunglasses in his hand.  “Hey Coach,” he says, “You left these on the bench.  I picked them up because I was afraid someone would sit on them.”  I couldn’t have planned it better.  Coach Randall actually got choked up. It was a small gesture for Tony, perhaps, but it had a profound effect on Coach Randall.
            Now maybe your life really does feel like it’s going down the tubes.   Maybe you are lrgitimately stressed out.  Maybe your teachers are giving you too much work.  Maybe you’ve got a teacher that doesn’t even like you.  Maybe there’s some kid in your class that doesn’t like you.  Maybe you’ve been mistreated, pushed around, taken for granted, bullied.  Maybe you’re dealing with all these things at once.   Or maybe none of them.   Maybe you are perfectly content.  If that’s the case, then I’d ask you to spread that happiness around today.  And if it’s not the case then I’d ask you to fake it. Just today as a kind of social experiment.  So I have some homework for you.  Actually no, it’s schoolwork. I have a list of assignments.  I want you to choose one. And I want you to finish it by the time lunch is over.  In fact, I want you to finish it during lunch. I’m going to post these lists all over the school so you won’t forget.   I’ve even posted lists around the lunchroom.  Let’s see if we can make lunch today the best lunch so far this year.  Just choose one of these six assignments and make sure you complete it by the end of lunch.  Here they are:
At lunch today…either
1.     Let someone pass you in the lunch line.
2.     Help yourself to the least attractive piece of lasagna.
3.     Serve someone else in the lunch line.
4.     Clear someone else’s dishes.
5.     Volunteer to wipe down a table.
6.     Clean up someone else’s mess. Bonus points if it’s on the floor.


Just do one of these seven assignments and lets see if it has an effect.  Or better yet, see if you can do them all!

I’d like to close with a quote from Saint John Chrysostom.  He gave a sermon back in 399AD, entitled “No One Can Harm the Man Who Does Not Harm Himself” and he ended it like this:
People today say that the earth is a frightening place.  They say that the world has turned upside down.  That the human race is confused and doomed.  Well I say this is not true.  Because even if a man loses everything at the hands of gossips and miscreants; even if he has been attacked by his own friends, what harm can this do to his virtue?
If you keep in mind that nothing can hurt your soul, then neither loss of money, nor slander, nor gossip, nor banishment, nor disease, nor torture, nor even death can harm you.  And if these things are harmless, how can you be harmed at all?  No, even if all the creatures who inhabit the whole earth and sea teamed up to attack you, they could do you no harm so long as you took refuge in Christ.  Very well, then.  I beseech you, be sober and vigilant in the Lord at all times, and let us endure all painful things joyfully that we may obtain those everlasting and pure blessings in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power, now and ever throughout all ages. Amen.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Being Evangelical

    Last Friday, for the first time ever, I watched an episode of Pokemon, the animated television series.  Please God, I will never watch another episode so long as I live.  But I was willing to sit through twenty-two minutes of screechingly dubbed Japanese animation because Pokemon is inexplicably dear to my Seventh-Grade English students.  And I promised them that if they would finish reading The Odyssey with me, I would watch an episode of Pokemon with them.
    In short, I was willing to do something I hated, and they were willing to do something they hated in order to share something we each loved.  Frankly, I’m not sure what was accomplished, but it impressed me that my students so cherished a television show that they were willing to endure hours of suffering at the hands of Homer in order to share it with me.  And this, I think, is a clue to the mystery at the heart of today’s gospel: when we find something we love, our first instinct as social creatures is to share it.
    “You’ve got to see this movie!” we say.
    “You’ve got to read this story!”
    “You’ve got to hear this song!”
    “You’ve got to!”
    Funny, though.  We’re aggressive enough when we’re talking about pop-culture.  Why then are we suddenly so shy when it comes to sharing our faith? 
    Throughout the history of the Church, countless Christians have suffered for the sake of spreading the gospel, from Saint Paul who was beheaded in Rome, to Saint Jean de Br├ębeuf, who was boiled, branded, and eviscerated by the Iroquois, to Saint Paul Miki, who was crucified in Japan.  Last year alone, twenty-two Catholic missionaries died for the sake of the gospel.
    And yet…as modern, educated citizens of a secular democratic nation, doesn’t the whole concept of evangelization strike us as vaguely…condescending?  Does the message not smack of arrogance—or worse yet, intolerance?  As one popular agnostic polemicist recently wrote, “I [don’t] want to be a missionary or an apostle... I [don’t] want to be an imperialistic colonizing Westerner, bringing the good news to a nation of Godforsaken heathen hordes.”  Well…you put it that way, and all of a sudden I do begin to doubt my so-called “missionary zeal.”
    Just this last Friday, a long-time friend mine described his approach to religion as “live and let live” which struck me as rather unimaginative, but now seems strangely appealing.  “Live and let live” means that no one has to be wrong.
    Still, I don’t quite see the sense in going to church on Sunday if that’s all your faith adds up to.  I believe in letting people live, of course.  But is it fair or loving to let someone live in ignorance or darkness or illness or cruelty?  And it makes even less sense when you think of Jesus Himself who said, “Go out and make disciples of all the nations.”  And to be sure, he practiced what he preached.  “Let us go on to the nearby villages,” he told Simon this morning, “that I may preach there also. For this very purpose have I come.”  Jesus seemed to think his message was worth spreading—that people weren’t really living till they heard it…and if we are to be followers of Jesus, then we are obliged to help him spread it—to live and help live.
    “An obligation has been imposed on me,” wrote Saint Paul, “and woe to me if I do not preach it!”  Or in the daunting words of Saint John Chrysostom, “There is nothing colder than a Christian who has no concern for the salvation of others.”
    So we have a most solemn obligation spread the Good News.  “Everyone is searching for you,” said Saint Simon to Jesus.
    Everyone.
    The World hungers and thirsts for him.  And the fantastically good news—good with a capitol “G”—is that Jesus is searching for them too.
    “The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs,” wrote C.S.Lewis, and “if we are not doing that, then all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, is simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”
    Everyone is looking for Him.   Whether they know it or not, they’re looking for him.  So…to the weak let us become weak, to win over the weak.  Let us become all things to all, to save at least some.  All this let us do for the sake of the gospel,
so that we too may have a share in it.

In the name of the Father…