Sunday, July 16, 2017

Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - July 16, 2017

Homily for Ordinary Time 15

July 16, 2017

Ridding Our Soil of Sin


            One of my least favorite chores growing up was picking up rocks. My dad had a huge garden – probably twice the size of this church. Every year, during the spring time, my dad would pay us a dollar to fill up a bucket of rocks from the garden, and then dump them in the woods. Not a fun task – but an easy way to make a buck, and an important job, because it is hard to make a garden if there are too many rocks in the soil.

            The rocky ground, the hard ground, and the thorn-infested ground in today’s Gospel are symbols of three things. The rocks symbolize unrepentant sin – if our life is full of sin, we will be unable to become holy. The hard ground is a symbol of a hard heart and a bad attitude – we are convinced that we don’t need God. The thorns and weeds are a symbol of worldly desires – we want pleasure and money and comfort far more than we want Christ.

            All of us would like to believe that we are the good ground – that we are living a life of faith in God. But are we really? Let’s look at each of these types of ground more closely to see which ones we really are.

            First – the rocky ground. St. John tells us in his first letter that “if we believe we are without sin, we are deceiving ourselves”. No matter how many rocks my siblings and I took out of our garden, there were always more. It was a never-ending chore! Likewise, all of us are sinners, even if our sins are small. Thus, repentance must be daily. St. Francis wrote to his Franciscan brothers that their lives should be marked with “constant conversion”.

            So what does that look like, practically? Well, when is the last time you have been to Confession? If it is more than a couple months, then you are still living in sin. Are there sins in your life that you have made peace with? Perhaps an addiction to lust and impurity, or greed, or unforgiveness? Or even worse – living in a state of sin, such as those who are divorced and remarried outside the Church, or living with someone without marriage? If we are not making a daily effort to repent and rid our lives of sin (with God’s grace, of course), then we are not truly disciples!

            Second – the hard ground. Many of us live our lives as practical atheists! Perhaps we believe intellectually in God but He makes no real difference in our life. How do you know? Well, do you pray – really pray, seeking Him in Scripture and the Rosary and the Mass and silent prayer? Do you ask God what His will is for your life? I love what Corrie Ten Boom, a Holocaust survivor and author of the famous book “The Hiding Place” says about prayer – she asks, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” In other words, does your relationship with God direct your life? If not, then we are hard ground!

            Third – the thorns and weeds. What do you truly want in life? What is the most burning desire of your heart? Is it to be holy, or to be rich and famous? I sponsored a great kid for confirmation this past year, and at his confirmation party we were all outside playing sports. In the heat of competition, he let out a mild curse word – as mild as you can get. I didn’t think anything of it, but he immediately came up to me and apologized. I said, “Peter, it’s not a big deal.” But he responded, “It is a big deal. I don’t want to be the kind of person who has a foul mouth.” I was taken aback – wow, this kid gets it. His goal in life is to be holy, and he is willing to do what it takes to live for Christ.

            So, for us, what really is our goal in life? What do we spend our time on, our money on, our energy on? Is it soccer, or our job, or living for Christ?

            This was meant to be an honest – even brutally honest! – examination of where we are in the spiritual life. Do not be discouraged if you find your soul to be rocky ground filled with sin, hard ground without a deep relationship with God, or thorny ground distracted by the things of this world. The good news is that soil can change! To make a garden, we have to till the ground, remove the rocks, weed it, water it, and prepare the soil – in the same way, God wants to change you – if you will let Him. Ask Him to do that today. Invite Him into your soul. He will come, with His grace, and like a master gardener, produce the fruits of a holy life in your soul. Invite Him in – start praying deeply from your heart, receiving the Sacraments frequently, seek the Lord in His Word. His grace is all you need to change hard ground into a fruitful garden.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Ordinary Time 13 - July 2, 2017

Homily for Ordinary Time 13

July 2, 2017



            There was once a poor man who owned an orchard, and one year his trees produced a remarkably beautiful, huge apple. He debated what to do with it – should he eat it, or make it into a pie, or what? Finally, being a generous man, he decided to give it away to a widow who was even poorer than him. So he put it into a basket and anonymously left it on her doorstep.

            She opened the door and was surprised and delighted at what she saw, but immediately thought, “This is far more than I need! I know what I shall do, I will add some of my grapes to this basket and pass it along to a family who is even poorer than me.” So that is what she did, and she went down the mountain and left the basket with the apple and grapes on the doorstep of an even poorer family.

            This poorer family opened the door and was surprised. “We cannot keep such a gift,” they thought. “Let us give it to the even poorer man who lives down the road.” So they added a quart of wild blueberries that they had been collecting, and set off to leave it at the door of the very poor man down the road.

            The poor man saw the basket and was filled with gratitude but said, “I have more than enough. I know – I will bring it to another man who needs food, and I will add some of the eggs from my chickens.” So he went up the mountain to a poor man who lived at the top.

            The man who owned the apple orchard was shocked when he saw his own basket back on his front steps – not just with the apple in it, but also with grapes and blueberries and eggs! He thanked God for the multiplication of the food, and invited all of his poor neighbors to a feast.

            There is a saying that “God is never outdone in generosity.” I have absolutely found that to be true. There have been times in my life when I have debated, “Should I make such a large donation to this organization that helps the poor?” The times that I have said yes, I have found that God – through other people – has actually allowed me to end up with MORE money than before!

            At the risk of sounding like a televangelist, I can confidently assure you that God is never outdone in generosity. He promised in today’s Gospel that anyone who practices hospitality for the sake of the Gospel will receive a reward. Consider what He says – if you give a cup of cold water, which costs nothing and only takes a little effort, you will be rewarded. And if you treat a disciple with kindness, we will receive a disciple’s reward.

            It feels like a risk to be generous sometimes. We wonder if it’s worth the effort, if we will ever get that money back, or if we can really open our homes to someone. What if they are not grateful? What if they take advantage of us? It is risky, indeed – but with risk comes great reward. Just like it’s a risk to invest in stocks, but the payoff is huge, it is a risk to be generous with your time, money, and energy, but the payoff is huge – and guaranteed – in the blessings you will receive back.

            Allow me to suggest three practical ways in which we can practice generosity.

            First, we can tithe. That’s a dirty word to some Catholics! Tithing is a biblical principle which means giving 10% to the Lord – either to the Church or to a Catholic charity. In the Old Testament, the Lord requires a tithe of all of the crops, grain, wine, oil, and livestock. The first 10% belonged to Him – as a sacrifice in the Temple, or as an offering to the priests, or as generosity to the poor. Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first-fruits of your crops, and your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” In the New Testament, St. Paul instructs his churches to practice tithing, and the early Church followed suit.

            We do not tithe because the church needs a new roof or because the poor need food. Ultimately, we tithe as an act of worship! By tithing, we are recognizing that God is the source of all blessings and that we honor Him by our generosity. Money can strengthen our union with God if we use it rightly, by giving it away to the Church and to the needy. I tithe, and I highly recommend the practice to every Christian!

            A second way to practice generosity is to be open to life in our marriage. I used to ask couples preparing for marriage, “How many kids do you want to have?” But I stopped asking that question because it’s a fundamentally stingy attitude! (And because no couple ever said more than 2 or 3!). We should rather be asking, How many kids does God want us to have? If children are a gift, why would we not want more gifts from God? Yes, it does take time and effort to raise children – and this is where the generosity part comes in. God wants us to be as generous as possible in opening our family to His gift of new life!

            Finally, one last act of generosity that we ought to practice is to give time. Think to yourself – how many of you would say that your life is “busy”? Busyness is the curse of the modern age. Often, we are too busy to take time to listen to people, to reach out to family members and friends who would benefit from a conversation or a visit. This can be a powerful form of generosity – to reach out to a neighbor, friend, or family member who could use a listening ear or a friendly visit.

            So, my challenge for you is to challenge God. I said at the beginning that God is never outdone in generosity – put that to the test! Pick one of those three ways: tithing, openness to life, and spending quality time – and practice it this week or this month. See if God does not overflow your life with joy and blessings in response to your generosity!