July 29, 2013

Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Christ teaching the disciples to pray

About 30 years ago I worked at a seminary. We had a librarian named Sr. Frances. Whenever she would remind me of something I had promised to do, I would answer, “In due time.” To which she always replied with a paraphrase of Luke 16:22: “In due time the beggar died.”

Most of us know the type. They ask for something. They remind us the next day. And the next, and the next... Until we do it, convenient or not, just to make it stop!

Today’s story of Abraham has a brief prologue that is not included in the lectionary.  “With Abraham walking with them to see them on their way, the men set out from there and looked down toward Sodom. The LORD considered: Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, now that he is to become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth are to find blessing in him? So the LORD said”—and here begins our text, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great,” etc.

God actually shows no impatience with Abraham. Not only doesn’t he “make it stop”, but as we have just see he sets the stage himself. He wants Abraham to intercede. We mustn’t think this discussion lasted only a few minutes. It not doubt followed a leisurely ancient Middle Eastern pace.

Note that Abraham asks nothing for himself, not even for his nephew Lot’s family.

Hearing the gospel, we might wonder: Didn’t the disciples know how to pray? They had the example of Abraham. They probably knew all the Psalms by heart. In fact, every phrase in the Lord’s prayer (except the promise to forgive as we are forgiven) has a correspondence in the Psalms. In Psalm 103, for example, we read: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” This is just like the fathers Jesus speaks of in the gospel, who know how to give good gifts to their children. Note that it is not a matter of just giving them what they want. No matter how much the child might want to play with a scorpion, no parent could grant that request.

We need to ask for the right things, for “good gifts.” In pleading for the remaining ten just people of Sodom, Abraham asked for a good gift. If the conditions had been right, God was ready to give it to him.

We would expect Jesus to say that the Father will give good things to those who know how to give good things to their children. That is in fact what we find in Matthew 7:11. But today’s gospel says that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. This is similar to Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” There is a good gift that includes all other good gifts. That is the Holy Spirit. Or we might say the Holy Spirit is the criterion. Anything we ask for that the Holy Spirit dwelling in us can ask for is a good gift.

To sum up, in this long discourse on prayer Jesus reminds us who it is we are addressing (the Father), who we are (needy children), how to pray (persistently, insistently), and what to ask for (good gifts, most especially the Holy Spirit). It’s a lot more than just saying certain words.

July 22, 2013

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

In Jesus’ place, what would you have said to Martha? What would you have said to Mary?

I know what I would have said: “People are like snowflakes, no two are alike.”

It is one of my favorite sayings, which I often use in talks. Sometimes, when there are people in the audience who have never seen snow, I have to show pictures of snowflakes to help them see the point.

Probably Martha and Mary had seen snow. It’s mentioned often enough in the Old Testament. They certainly knew it was white, and that the melting snows in the mountains were important for the spring harvests. But the idea of snowflakes not being alike? Well, it’s a nice psychological idea. But the Gospels aren’t about psychology.

Still, the image helps us to see how Martha and Mary related differently to Jesus. So the psychological point has very important spiritual consequences.

Have you ever noticed that when you think of Jesus—outside of liturgy or personal prayer—you tend to think of him a certain way? Possibilities include:

The Baby in Bethlehem. The 12-yr-old who stayed behind in the Temple.

Jesus Crucified, Jesus Risen, Jesus in the Eucharist.

Jesus teaching (what is he teaching?), Jesus condemning hypocrisy.

Jesus forgiving, Jesus associating with sinners.

Jesus healing, Jesus feeding the multitude.

And there are many more possibilities. We all have a “favorite Jesus.” This is why there are four Gospels; each is a portrait of the “favorite Jesus” of the Evangelist or of the community for which he wrote. Each one has a different “take” on Jesus. Paul’s “favorite Jesus” emerges from his writings, too

We see something similar in the Old Testament. Abraham had unique relationship to God. So did Moses, so did the Prophets.

The way you relate to Jesus says more about you than him.

The way you relate to Jesus isn’t coincidence. It’s faith. Not just THE faith. It’s YOUR faith. In a sense it’s your vocation.

So... which Jesus is your favorite?

There is a proverb that says, “Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.” I would paraphrase it to read, “Tell me who your favorite Jesus is, and I’ll tell you who you are as a disciple, as a Christian.”

Follow THAT Jesus, and you will be true to YOUR faith, to YOUR vocation, and to yourself.

July 13, 2013

Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

The Good Samaritan

In reflecting on today’s gospel, I spent way too much time reading about Torti v. Van Horn. This was a California court case, in which a “Good Samaritan” was sued for injuries she allegedly caused when pulling a friend from a car after an accident. The friend later wanted to sue her, a lower court said no, but the California Supreme Court said the suit could be allowed. The decision began with these words: “Under well-established common law principles, a person has no duty to come to the aid of another.”

In the light of that principle, the priest and the Levite in today’s parable did nothing wrong.

In the light of Torti v. Van Horn, they actually did the sensible thing.

In any case, now I know why the scholar of the law asked the questions he did. It’s what lawyers did in those days. It’s what lawyers still do today. They test each other. It’s a contest. They justify themselves. That’s just  lawyers being lawyers, I guess. (This might apply especially to law students.)

So, the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  was in that sense was an honest one. The scholar was testing Jesus, looking for a debate, specifically on Leviticus 19:18.

Context is everything.  If someone asks me what “right” means, the answer is, “it depends.”  Depending on the situation it can be the opposite of left, wrong, inappropriate, absurd, or, as a noun, privilege.

“Who is my neighbor” means, “define neighbor.” Here, too, from a legalistic perspective, it depends.  It can be the opposite of stranger (or alien), i.e. an acquaintance or relative; it can be the opposite of enemy, i.e. friend.

Another way to put the question would be: If I have to love my neighbor as myself, then I don’t have to love one who is not my neighbor. Who would that be?

Moses would have said:  the answer is obvious. (See the first reading.)

Jesus was up to the challenge, but didn’t use the typical legal method. Instead he told a story.

Paul writes in today’s second reading that Jesus is the one who reconciles all things for the Father, making peace by the blood of his cross. This is deeper than any legal language, and more effective teaching than any parable.

Actually, the law itself answered the scholar’s question, in Leviticus 19:34, which tells us: You shall love the stranger as yourself!

Jesus actually turns the question on its head. For him the question isn’t, “Who is my neighbor?” The parable asks, “Who should I be a neighbor to?” The answer is obvious.

July 6, 2013

Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

I have always had a problem with the portion of today’s Gospel where Jesus tells his disciples to shake or wipe from their feet the dust of the towns that do not welcome them, i.e. that did not accept the Gospel. It seems so harsh.

Now this is the same Jesus who, in last Sunday’s Gospel, rebuked James and John who wanted to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans that would not let them come into their town.

Is there really any difference between the two situations? In fact, there is.

First  there is the urgency of the situation. Last week we saw disciples sent simply to prepare the way for Jesus. Today we see them sent to do the same things Jesus did, particularly curing the sick and preaching. They were not to be distracted by financial concerns or casual conversation. To judge by the final paragraph in today’s text, their mission was largely successful.

Then there is the reason for the rejection. The Samaritans refused admission to their town because Jesus and the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. There was a long-standing feud between Jews and Samaritans about the legitimacy of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerazim, and feelings obviously ran high on the subject.

In the other situation, people rejected the message, the Good News of the Kingdom. With the dramatic gesture of wiping the dust from their feet, the disciples were to emphasize the importance of the message, and proclaim it one last time before leaving. Maybe, just maybe, some of the people would get the point and heed the warning.

Put yourself in the position of those townspeople. You see the disciples wiping the dust from their feet while repeating the same message they have said all along. What are you supposed to think?

I am reminded of the scene from the wonderful film The Miracle Worker, when Helen Keller finally understands the meaning of the finger movements of her teacher Annie Sullivan. Before this happens, however, there is a lot of “tough love” on the teacher’s part, and even the great moment of revelation is framed in that context.

Helen’s parents simply pitied her and usually let her have her way. Annie Sullivan recognized the 8-year-old’s intelligence and did what she had to do to light the spark of humanity in her. Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, she “must be cruel to be kind.”

In the same way the harsh gesture of the disciples is not a matter of personal frustration, but becomes an act of “cruel kindness.” No one really enjoys being in that position, but, when all else fails, you do what you have to. Not to do so would be the real cruelty.

July 1, 2013

Pope Francis to publish his first encyclical on Friday

Pope Francis will publish his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), on Friday.

Benedict XVI drafted the encyclical before his retirement and Pope Francis has reworked and completed the draft.
The encyclical will focus on the subject of faith and its publication is one of the major events of the Year of Faith, which ends on November 24.

From the Catholic Herald of Britian