September 15, 2019

Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 22, 2019, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

Parable of the Dishonest Steward
(Click here for today’s readings)

The Gospel passage you’ve just heard is a part of a series of parables dealing with spiritual crises that are generated when we misuse our possessions, when we end up being possessed by our possessions. Last Sunday’s Gospel was about the Prodigal Son who demanded his share of his father’s estate and then went out and squandered it all. Next Sunday’s Gospel will be all about the rich man eating a sumptuous meal at his table while poor Lazarus sat starving at the rich man’s gate. The lesson today involves, as you all know, the devious and clever wicked steward who doctors the accounts of his master’s books in order to win friends, friends who will care for him after he faces his impending firing.

We need to give attention to some background before we unpack the meaning of today’s parable while noting the number of instances when in His parables Jesus uses business practices so familiar to His listeners. In the parable of the talents He used the investment of monies given to servants of a rich man to make His point. The parable of the prodigal son involved the monetary inheritance the son would receive upon his father’s death. Then there was the woman who searched for her lost coin, the story of the merchant who sold everything in order to purchase the pearl of great value, the parables involving fishermen, farmers, lost sheep, and others, all of which involved the business practices of the people of those times.

Today’s parable needs to be understood with the realization that it was against Jewish law to charge interest on loans of money. Instead of bankers, the Jews earned interest by lending out produce instead of money. Here in this particular case the rich man was probably an absentee landlord who loaned olive oil and wheat to his debtors expecting to receive more of each commodity in return than what he had loaned them, the difference being the equivalent of interest charges on his loans. It was understood that the master’s steward would also earn his commission out of the differential amount, the amount between what was borrowed and the amount of the payback.

The religious understanding of the Pharisees was a very meticulous spiritual bookkeeping exercise. Everyone had to pray, pay, and obey. Anyone who didn’t was considered to be a law-breaker and was cast out. Everything had is price and everyone had their value in that spiritual economy. Jesus had a different understanding of our value in God’s eyes.

What must have scandalized the Pharisees was the realization that the foresightful steward in today’s parable was being praised by Jesus precisely for his prudent vision of what lay ahead of him, not because he was a cheat but because he was a sinner who dared to hope for redemption.

Jesus is not commending the steward’s dishonesty. The steward’s dishonesty had been discovered and was obvious to everyone. Jesus didn’t concern himself with the obvious. The prodigal son squandered his money and the steward squandered his master’s property. Both, however, took the necessary steps to secure their futures, just as did the characters presented in similar parables that Jesus used. What Jesus is concerned with is the lack of spiritual foresight on the part of His followers.

The point Jesus making is that we all ought to be as foresightful and prudent in planning ahead for our spiritual futures as the worldly-wise are in planning ahead for their financial and material futures. Jesus, clearly, is not commending the wicked steward for his deviousness. He was, after all, establishing a conspiracy to defraud the owner of the interest on his loans while at the same time returning the master’s principal amount on his loans, making friends with his mater’s debtors, and securing his own future along the way. Jesus was presenting His followers with the example of the zealous fore­sightfulness of the wicked steward and wishing that His own followers would be at least as enterprising in caring for the future of their souls.

And so the immediate question confronting you and me is: How zealous are we in providing for our spiritual futures? Do we assume that God is a sort of Sugar Daddy in the Sky who is going to take care of us no matter what we do? Is it my unspoken assumption that what I do or what I don’t do in this life really doesn’t matter in the long run because a loving and infinitely merciful God will provide for me anyway? That insults God.

Many charitable and service organizations have Mission Statements. Most parishes have them. Successful businesses all have Business Plans. People who work in them, executives and worker alike, from time to time need to examine what they’re doing in the light of those plans and statements in order to keep focused and not devote their energies and divert them from their goals.

The world we live in is filled with distractions, distractions that come to us in all of our electronic devices both visual and audial. At times we get so busy that we wonder what we are accomplishing and where we are going. There are consequences that flow from our decisions and there are consequences that flow from our non-decisions and neglect. When you stop and think about it, not to decide is in itself a decision, a neglectful decision that can have bad consequences for us. This is particularly so when it comes to our spiritual lives.

So, what do you see in your own future, your own spiritual future? Can you accept that fact that you are a sinner, a sinner who can be much like the steward in today’s parable, a sinner who dares to hope, a prodigal son who returns home believing in his father’s love? It’s a question of faith. It’s a question of hope. It’s a question of love. What steps are we taking to provide for our spiritual futures?

So today let me suggest that making a retreat may be more important than you think. It may be that a retreat isn’t something that is simply a nice thing to do. It may be a very necessary thing to do. Time alone with God is essential if we are to spend eternity with God forever in heaven?

We all have a destiny, a destiny God has given us. God didn’t give you and me a life to be lived only until we die. God gave us a life that He wants to share with us for all eternity, an eternal life to be lived in love, in a love relationship between you and Him. That, it seems to me, is the point for today’s parable and why Jesus was commending this foresightful steward to our attention.

September 8, 2019

Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 15, 2019, Year C

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

(Click here for today’s readings)

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. The celebration of the prodigal son’s return will last, in keeping with the local custom, a week or so. But when the party’s over that son will get his wish. He will be like a hired servant, maybe better off and enjoying certain privileges, but he will be forever dependent. He will have no inheritance when his father dies. His father makes that clear when he says to the elder son, “Everything I have is yours.”

The elder son wasn’t concerned about questions of inheritance. He was angry because he never had such a party. This parable comes close to home for a lot of people. It dredges up images of old sibling rivalries. But that is not the point.

This parable is more like the parable of the workers in the vineyard, where the question is: What’s fair? The elder brother clearly has resentments of long standing. He tries to turn his father against the younger brother. “Look what he’s done!” is the essence of his remarks. “How can you reward him like this?”

It is very important to note that the father doesn’t deny it, doesn’t defend the other son. Nobody is saying he didn’t do anything wrong. That isn’t the point of the celebration.

What matters is that the father and the prodigal son are putting all that behind them. This reflects several Old Testament passages. Here are a few:

Isaiah 38:17 You cast all my sins behind your back.

Micah 7:19: You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins.

Psalm 103:12: As far as the east is from the west so far does he remove our sins.

Saint Paul, in today’s second reading, sees the same reality in his own life. “I have been mercifully treated,” he writes.

In the first reading Moses takes a different approach, not putting behind but remembering: “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, Israel.” He reminds God of certain promises he has made.

All these things speak of a new beginning. So what if the prodigal son starts a new life on new terms? His return is still worth celebrating. This is the goal of the ministry of reconciliation.

The father doesn’t love his elder son any less than the other. What the son doesn’t get is that he doesn’t love him any more, either. He thinks he entitled to be the favorite; he’s earned it. Jesus in this parable makes it clear that this is not the case.

The first two parables in today’s long Gospel, about the lost coin and the lost sheep, are less problematic. They involve no conflicting relationships. In the third one, the elder son turned the story around and made it about himself. He couldn’t see beyond that.

All three parables make same point, “There is more joy over one repentant sinner.” That is why Christ came.

Hmm, one repentant sinner... So it could be about us after all!

September 1, 2019

Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 8, 2019, Year C

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

(Click here for today’s readings)

About 3,350 years ago an Egyptian Pharaoh named Akhenaten decided to make worship of the Sun God the only religion in Egypt. He destroyed images of other gods and fired their priests, imposing an uncompromising monotheism.

It makes sense really. Every morning a star we call the sun rises. Where have the other stars gone? You can almost hear the sun saying, “Don’t bother with those other puny stars. They’re cute but useless. I’m the only star that matters to you. I give you light. I give you heat. Where would you be without me? I am numero uno, the real star of the show known as earth.”

Psalm 19 reflects in part a similar fascination with the sun.
[At the utmost bounds of the world God] has placed a tent for the sun; it comes forth like a bridegroom coming from his tent,
rejoices like a champion to run its course.
At the end of the sky is the rising of the sun;
to the furthest end of the sky is its course.
There is nothing concealed from its burning heat.
When each one of us rises, a similar phenomenon occurs. Maybe we don’t think of ourselves as numero uno in the universe, but each of us really wants and needs to be the star in someone’s life. This usually occurs in families. Spouses are supposed to be the light of each other’s life, likewise parents and kids, at least for a significant period of time; friends can assume that role as well.

Losing that “star status” is devastating. Worse still is the fear of or resentment at losing it. This can lead to seriously dysfunctional situations. In an old Ann Landers column a teenager wrote an open letter to her parents, complaining that her Dad’s promotion forced her to move away in her junior year from the high school, where she had been quite a star. She concluded with: “I hate you, Mom and Dad, for doing this to me. I will never forgive you as long as I live.”

When Jesus said we need to “hate” spouses, parents and children, this is definitely not what he meant! What he is saying is that he has to be the first, he has to be the sun outshining all the other stars.

Yes, his claim is outrageous. But in fact he is the only one who has the right to make it. It’s like the 2nd and 3rd steps of AA. “A power greater than ourselves” was acknowledged, and only then was it possible to make “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

That’s the point of today’s first reading. We cannot rely on ourselves alone. We need God’s wisdom.

Saint Paul was generally not shy about imposing his authority, but in the second reading he wisely chooses not to do so. He sends the slave Onesimus back to his master, “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a brother.” It’s clear that this “brother” is not the object of hatred; he is now “beloved” precisely because he has become a Christian.

The Third Eucharistic Prayer uses the biblical turn of phrase, “from the rising of the sun to it’s setting.” Jesus is the one sun that never sets. No other star even comes close.

August 25, 2019

Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 1, 2019, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

“Well, Father,” I was asked, “what’s wrong with being proud of yourself? Aren’t we supposed to have some pride? Why are we supposed to be humble – what good does it do other than to allow others to take advantage of us?” That’s a good question, one that we should consider.

Balancing pride and humility is a problem for us all. My answer to the question about bring proud is: “It all depends.” It all depends upon what we’re being proud about. There are forms of pride that are good… and there are certainly forms of pride that are bad.

Let’s start with good pride.

We should have enough pride to render good quality to our workmanship. We should do things well and be properly proud of that quality of the product of our craftsmanship. We should be honorable, a quality lacking in today’s world. We should render an honest day’s labor for an honest day’s wage and be proud of it. We should care for our employees and workers and be proud that we care for them.

If we have musical or artistic talents we should openly share them with others and not have a false humility that causes us to withhold what we can create for others. Hiding our light under a bushel does not give honor and glory to God, to our heavenly Father who gave us our talents so that we might brighten and build up the lives of those around us.

So, to be honest, there are forms of pride that are healthy and beneficial not only to ourselves but to others as well.

Then there are forms of pride that are bad. They cut us off from others and isolate us. There is a kind of pride that comes from the delusion that tells us we’re totally self-sufficient. Satan tempted Adam and Eve by telling them that if they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they would be like God, that they could decide for themselves what was good and what was evil. In other words they could make their own reality.

We are deluded if we think we can handle everything and that we don’t need anyone else’s help. We disguise it by saying, “my problems are my problems – they’re no one else’s business. I can take care of my own problems.”

For instance I’ve heard some people proclaim that they’re not alcoholic. For them an alcoholic is a drunken bum, living in filth in the gutter, drinking booze from a bottle wrapped in a paper bag. In their deluded pride alcoholics say, “Thank God I’m not one of them!”

The truth is that judges are alcoholics, doctors are alcoholics, airline pilots are alcoholics… and, yes, even some priests are alcoholics. For many years pride keeps them from admitting that fact. Pride prevents them from acquiring the necessary humility to let others help bring it under control. Furthermore, alcoholism is a disease, and like diabetes for instance, it’s with you until you die. But so is epilepsy, and so it is with any number of other diseases. They will always be with us and we have to have set aside our prideful claim that we only have a “problem” with our diseases and can control them and take care of them all by our selves.

Pride keeps people in a world of denial. They think that while they may perhaps have a problem it’s only a minor problem. The truth is that many others suffer from their problem. “I may drink too much once in a while”, alcoholics claim, “but it’s not hurting anyone.’ All the while their spouse and their children are suffering as the alcoholic rages on in the way he or she treats all who have to live with an alcoholic or work with that drinker.

Pride in anyone’s soul brings with it denial, rationalization, and living a lie. Pride brings us into the hell of living in isolation.

Then there are horrible problem marriages. Pride rears its ugly head again, and I hear it said: “Well, I don’t need any counseling help. Counselors don’t know what they’re talking about. I can take care of my own problems – I don’t need anyone else’s help.”

So in this parable of Jesus that you’ve just heard, Jesus isn’t merely talking about nice table manners. No. He’s talking about the way you and I live our lives. He’s talking about the way we treat our selves, others, and God.

Pride keeps folks away from going to confession. They just can’t bring themselves to admit to a priest the nature of their sins. Too proud and too arrogant they say themselves “I can confess to God without needing to go to a priest.” Such people are delusional – they end up striking their own bargains with God, setting their own terms for His forgiveness, deciding for themselves that they can take care of sin their own way. No help needed from you, Father.

If that’s so, then why did Jesus say to His first priests, the apostles, “Whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” When Jesus rose from the dead His first words to His apostles were “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” Are these words of Jesus not to be taken seriously? Was He wasting His time in speaking to us about our prideful denials – or did He have something to say to us that He wanted us to take seriously?

Going to confession requires humility. Pride has to be put down. Prideful refusal to confess our sins blocks God’s graces from entering into us through the Sacrament of Penance.

And pride affects our relationships with those around us. Living prideful and self-centered life brings me into a hell on earth in which my ego pushes God aside and causes me to dominate, manipulate, rule and control others. Pride, we must always remember, was Lucifer’s downfall.

Pride is the root cause of all sin. Perhaps that’s why Jesus spent so much time pointing it out to us and calling us to humbly deal with it under God’s power, under God’s terms. Furthermore,  Jesus didn’t just talk about it…He lived life humbly and died in humiliation that we might receive the power that humility gives us in order that our own lives and the lives of those around us can be a whole lot better, better because God is in charge and our egos are not.

August 18, 2019

Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 25, 2019, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

Pope Francis caused a bit of a stir when in a homily he suggested that everyone, even atheists, could be saved. This excited newspaper reporters all over the world to declare that according to the Pope everyone will be saved. Actually the news reporters got it wrong. Cooler heads realized that the Pope was simply stating what is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is God’s desire that all men and women of good faith be saved. To that end His Son, Jesus Christ, suffered and died to redeem us, to bring us back to God our Father. Everyone has been, by Christ’s death and resurrection, redeemed.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone will be saved. There is a huge distinction between being redeemed and being saved. In His Son, Jesus Christ, God has redeemed all of the children of Adam and Eve. He has breached the chasm between us and released us from the power of death. The word “redemption,” after all, means “buying back.” In Jesus Christ, God our Father has opened for us the way back. By His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has paid the price and bought us back.

Salvation, however, requires our response to God’s offer. Salvation is, therefore, not automatic. Salvation is possible only when we respond to God’s offer. After all, a gift is not truly a gift unless and until it has been received. So to be saved, we need to honestly look at our decisions in response to God’s redeeming love for us. Do our decisions accept God’s gift to us?

In my journey through life I’ve had more trouble with myself than with any other person I’ve ever met. My biggest regret is my missed opportunities, my lost chances. When I look back over the landscape of where I’ve been and what I’ve done I see it littered with lost opportunities. So many times I’ve been “a day late and a dollar short.” In all of the years I’ve spent in school studying, the most difficult subject to study and master has been myself.

Today’s gospel reading contains one of the least remembered of the parables of Jesus. And those that do remember it are likely not sure of what it means.

Here it is again:

Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply,’ I do not know where you are from. And you will say ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you,’ I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’

Is it a lesson in good manners, telling us to be on time? That would be a good thing, by the way, for many folks to take to heart. Habitual tardiness is very inconsiderate, even arrogant. It is a means of control. I can control you by making you wait for me. Moreover, failure to show up on time sends a message saying, “My time is more important than your time.” What I have to do is more important that what you are doing.” Who’s time is more important, yours or God’s?

But Jesus’ parable isn’t about good manners. It’s about the world we live in, a world full of closing doors. Where is yesterday and what did you not do in it? The door is closed forever. It’s gone. If you ignored your spouse or neglected to hug you children you’ll never, ever, be able to go back and do what you failed to do. The time God gave you slipped away and will never return.

With each click on the clock measuring the passing of time there is also the click of the lock on the door that’s forever closed. Whenever you watch the sun set, a moment comes when there is a silent “click” and that day’s door now closed to you forever. The sun will never rise again on the day that has passed. That day will never dawn again.

God litters the landscape of our lives with opportunities to love Him We need to remember to love Him as we find Him in the hearts and souls of others He sends into our days. He pours out opportunities to join with Him in making our world a better place, to bring His redeeming love to the world around us. Sympathy, compassion, forgiveness, caring, quality time, and attention for others… God gives them all to us in an inexhaustible supply. We can never give away too much of them. And thankfully God’s love is forever replenishing them in the wells of our souls.

We have opportunities to read, to study, and to develop our minds. We have opportunities to invest not only in the stock market but to make lasting investments in the hearts and souls of others. We have opportunities to speak to others about our faith, about God, and about how important it is for us to pay attention to God.

And then there’s prayer. We are all called to it, but few of us make the cut.

God’s will is that we all be saved. He wants each one of us to spend eternity with Him. But how can we spend eternity with Him in heaven if we never spent any time with Him here on earth? The threshold of Heaven, after all, is entered into here on earth, not in some sort of dream world we shall find when we’re no longer capable of finding anything at all.

God has showered you and me with limitless gifts. The outcomes of our lives are not His responsibility, they are ours. Everyone is called to be the best at knowing and loving; only a few actually reach that goal. Everyone is called to share life with God; few make the choice. And we must remember that the choice IS ours! God offers – we respond, and nothing happens unless and until we respond.

All around us doors are slamming shut… and we hardly notice; our eyes and our hearts being so filled as they are with the glitter and clutter of this world. But we also live in a world of open doors. Every sunset is followed by a sunrise. The sun will rise tomorrow morning and God will gift you with another day of opportunities. But while we are hopeful for tomorrow we must remember that one day the sun will rise on our last day here on earth. When that day arrives we will never have another day of opportunities to love and learn in our lives. A final day is coming to you and to me just as sure as I’m standing here in front of you.

Jesus’ teaching that many are called but few are chosen sounds harsh. After all, wasn’t Jesus always optimistic, kind and forgiving? Well… yes He was. But He was also a realist. And it’s reality we need to see, not just wishful thinking about all of the things we’re going to do but never seem to get around to doing.

The road to hell is truly paved with good intentions, as the saying goes. The door to heaven is wide but the path to it is narrow. Many are called, but few make the necessary choices. That is so true, and it remains true even now when I’m conscious of the fact that I’ve had the most trouble in life with myself… far more trouble than I’ve ever had with anyone else.

God offers… we respond. He has given us the ability and the opportunity to respond. The responsibility is ours, not God’s. In Jesus Christ God our Father has chosen to redeem us. Salvation, however, is our choice, in our freely chosen decisions, a point the newspaper reporters failed to note.

August 11, 2019

Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 18, 2019, Year C

 Jesus Christ in Glory, 14th c. Cretan Icon (See full icon below post)

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

Of the four Gospel accounts written by Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, St. Luke’s has been characterized by some scripture scholars as the most beautiful of them all. St. Luke’s Gospel contains accounts of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, for instance. Mary, the mother of Jesus has a special place in his Gospel. Moreover, St. Luke has a special regard for women, for the hurting, the outcasts, and those who were seen to be at the bottom of the social heap in those days. The tender and compassionate heart of Jesus is prominent in St. Luke’s accounts of His life.

Given that context it’s startling to hear the words in today’s Gospel account taken from St. Luke. Whatever happened to the Christmas message about peace on earth and good will toward all men and women? How do we understand the words of the Prince of Peace that we just heard in today’s Gospel?

There are those who think of Jesus as being accepting and tolerant in all things and toward all people. The truth is that He was not. Had He accepted anything and everything He would never have been put to death in a horrible crucifixion. His teaching and His way of living enraged the religious and political power brokers of His day. He lived in a time when ties to family were far more important than they are in our culture. So how do we explain the words of Jesus we just heard?

We need to face some issues. Take for instance the assumption made by many that understanding is the equivalent of acceptance. But does the fact that I understand someone mean that I accept whatever he or she thinks and does? Hardly! Nor should you.

Long, long ago a very wise person taught: “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.” That is very wise indeed. But how do we interpret it? Does charity, compassion, understanding, and love require that we accept anything and everything? Does turning the other cheek mean something similar? Hardly!

Compromise is a difficult concept for us, just as love is difficult to live. When should we compromise and when should we not compromise? When should we trouble others or get ourselves in trouble with them, and when not? And just what will we compromise, anyway? Should we ever compromise our beliefs and our values? No, and certainly not in the culture of our day.

When Jesus tells us that He has come to bring division and not peace He’s telling us that peace is not to be found at any price. There is a cost to genuine peace. Anything else is simply the absence of conflict. The long Cold War with the Soviet Communists following the Second World War was merely the absence of armed conflict. We were not really at peace with them.

Some husbands and wives live with each other in a sort of “cold war” with no real peace in their homes. Some families do also.

The problem we have in so many areas of our lives is the problem of causing trouble, particularly when we know that we should confront others. Being a “people pleaser” leads to a lot of internal strife, stress, and eventual emotional depression. Conflict avoidance solves nothing.

When people make fun of our Christian faith, or of our Catholic faith in particular, do we laugh and go along with them, or do we challenge them? When the group we’re in wants to do things we know are wrong, do we simply go along with them? Certain business practices ought to bother us. They need to be challenged. Sexual promiscuity so prevalent in our culture has cheapened the meaning of intimacy. Lots and lots of people are lonely and feel taken for granted because intimacy has lost its value. Its currency has been cheapened because it has been devalued.

When do we stand up for our convictions? So many times we are told that if we stand for our convictions we are being “mean-spirited” and hateful… or that we are prejudiced and divisive… or that we are hypocrites. Does being a Christian, or being an American for that matter, mean that we should let anyone do whatever they want? Expressing our opinions and living by our convictions can get us into to trouble.

We are told that religion and our religious values have no place in the public forum. They are a private matter, we are told. In other words, it’s okay to have moral values but we should keep them to ourselves. But I ask, are there no moral values to be shared as Americans? Is America supposed to be a value free nation?

As Christians we believe in the dignity of human life and the supreme value of every person from the moment they come into being until the moment they die a natural death. To speak of those values in public challenges and upsets others. What was it Jesus said? “From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

We need to remember that many of the first Christians were martyred because of their values and beliefs. St. Cecelia, St. Lucy, St. Agatha, and other Roman women were put to death for remaining virgins. King Henry VIII beheaded St. Thomas More, Chancellor of England, because More refused to compromise his beliefs. And that division goes on even today as we speak. There are parts of the world today in which Christians are literally being put to death simply for being Christian.

The events surrounding the birth of Jesus are presented to us in lovely words and beautiful images. We need to recall, however, that the Church remembers her first martyr, St. Stephen, the day after Christmas. And on the day after that we remember slaughter of the innocents, that horrific action on the part of King Herod when he ordered the massacre of all the baby boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under in order that he might not be challenged by the King who is greater than all the other kings in the world put together.

Who, then, brings division, hatred, strife, and conflict into our world? God, or humans? Love or jealousy? Good people or people who cannot stand goodness?

You know the answers as well as I do. It’s all a question of what we will stand for.

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you,” Jesus told us. (John 15:18) Jesus was crucified for a reason and we should always remember that.

The icon of Jesus Christ in Glory features Christ in majesty at the center and the symbols of the four evangelists: St Matthew (angel or winged man), St Mark (winged lion), St Luke (winged ox or bull) and St John (eagle) in the corners

August 6, 2019

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 11, 2019, Year C

Assumption of the Virgin
Assumption of the Virgin, Francesco Botticini, 1475-1476.
Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

What awaits us in our future? Today’s scripture readings put that question to us. What does the future hold in store for us? What awaits us when we die? Is what is awaiting us when we die determined by what we did or didn’t do in this life? These are the big questions we face today and in all of the days of our lives.

Jesus talked with His disciples (and we are His disciples) about the future, telling them they were to face it not with fear but with hope and in a spirit of positive expectancy. He spoke to them in terms of making investments, investments in their future. “Sell what you have,” He told them, and buy into the sort of retirement plan I am offering you, a never-failing treasure with my Father and with me in heaven.  “Wherever your treasure lies,” Jesus told us, “there you heart will be.” Stated the other way around he’s telling us: “Wherever your heart is, there will your treasure be found.”

But how can we live in a world and with a future that is not yet? Only by living it in faith. St. Paul tells us “Faith is the confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see.” And it is counter-cultural to live that way. The secularists tell us not to have faith in anything, simply to accept what you can touch, taste, smell, measure ad control. Suspend your beliefs, the world tells us, and don’t accept anything else. Religion wars against science.

In the Culture Wars we now face the secularists have managed to present people of faith as foolish and even dangerous. Religion, they claim, engenders war, is divisive, and is harmful to human progress. People of belief and who are against abortion are, the secularists claim, attacking women. Those who favor abortion regard babies in the womb as merely a part of a woman’s body and totally under the control of women. Ironically, abortionists would have us overlook scientific facts. The fact is that a fetus has its own DNA coding, not the woman. It has its own blood type, not the woman’s. If protected and nurtured human life of a fetus will eventually grow to be eighty or ninety years old. Those are not statements of faith. Those are scientific facts, facts that abortionists would have us overlook.

But can anyone really live without any faith?  Can atheists and secularists really live that way? Well... no! People with no religion are in fact forced to live by faith. They cannot claim they have no need of faith. You cannot get married and not live in faith. You cannot buy a computer in a store and not have faith in what you’ve bought. You cannot step onto an airplane and not have faith, faith in the engineers who designed it, faith in the ground crews who perform maintenance on it, and faith in the pilot and co-pilot who fly under the direction of the ground controllers who in their responsibilities control the paths of the planes placed in their care. You can’t drive on our highways without having faith in the competence of the drivers of those vehicles you will either meet or pass. You can’t buy groceries without having faith in those who both produced the food and those who have marketed it for you.

Faith is not something that belongs only to religion, it belongs to everyday living. Each and every day we take risks and act on probabilities, hardly ever on certainties. We take risks in depending upon the decisions of others, never knowing with certainty what the outcomes will be. Even scientists operate on theories, even the Theory of Evolution. Rarely does science give us proofs, proofs that last anyway.

Our greatest leaders have presented us with leadership based on faith. It was faith that motivated George Washington and the founders of our nation. Our Declaration of Independence is a document based on faith. Abraham Lincoln led us through one of the darkest nights in our nation’s history basing his vision solely on faith. If you read writings of Abraham Lincoln, you will find yourself reading some of the most faith-filled thoughts you will ever encounter. It was Lincoln who said to the American people: “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty.”

What I am saying is that to live out life on this tiny little speck in the cosmos, this little blue dot in the Milky Way, is to live in faith in a wondrous adventure. To graduate from school having chosen a career and to enter into it with all your heart and all your soul is one of life’s greater acts of faith. To get married and have children is a profound act of faith. To enter each day that God gives us with hope and expectancy that we will do good and make the world a little bit better for those around us is a tremendous act of faith. And to die, going forth from this life without knowing exactly where we are going except into the hands of God, is our ultimate act of faith. Everywhere throughout life people live in the confident assurance that what they hope for will one day come to be. Every day we live with convictions about things that are not yet seen.

To be realistic, however, we must pay attention to the fact that a good deal of our recent history attacks our faith. We have been betrayed and betrayed often by people in our lives, all of which erodes our basic need to believe in others. Life is unfair and bad things do happen to good people. And yes, many people are unreliable. But, for all that is wrong in life, in our world and in others, we cannot afford to give up, stop believing, and lose faith. Jesus knew that back then and He knows that right how, which is why Christ presents Himself to us. He comes to us, after all, in faith, placing Himself in Holy Communion in our hands with the belief in His heart that we accept Him in love and with a firm purpose to live with Him as He would have us live.

Yes, this world belongs to God. And yes, God has given us the dignity and the responsibility of working with Him to bring the world to completion, to wholeness and to that unity in which He made it to exist, and us in it, in the first place. For God, you see, has made a tremendous act of faith in you. God believes in you enough to give you the freedom to choose His love, the freedom to choose to accomplish His work, the freedom to do good. For God, you see, made us to love Him and to live with His faith in us.

How comforting it is to know that others have faith in us. How tremendously comforting it is to know that God Himself trusts us, has high hopes for us, and believes in us. What a fantastic honor it is to realize that when we receive Holy Communion, God our Father has believed in us enough to put His only begotten Son into our hands. Faith is forever an adventure in living, an adventure in which God Himself lives and wants to share with us.

July 29, 2019

Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 4, 2019, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

"Vain" is one of those words that has multiple meanings and can be used in several different ways. We use it when talking about someone who is arrogant and self-centered. One thinks of Hollywood movies stars or perhaps of some TV talk show hosts who are hollow and conceited.. Home furnishings called “vanity tables” are built for the purpose of holding mirrors and various beauty aids. “Vain” can be used when describing our efforts that end up being worthless. Folks that are constantly letting you know about their accomplishments are vain and conceited. When we strive for something that is hollow or worthless we eventually realize that all of our efforts were spent in vain.

In today’s first reading taken from the Book of Wisdom the word vanity is applied to everything that is not directed toward God, everything that is directed toward the things of this world.

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill, and yet to another who has not labored over it, he must leave property. This also is vanity and a great misfortune. For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest. This also is vanity.

That’s practical advice. How many sleepless nights have we spent tossing and turning with worries and concerns that either have not come to pass or which we eventually realize were ultimately worthless?

St. Paul likewise gives us wise advice found in today’s second reading when he tells us we should rid ourselves of immorality, impurity, passion, lustful desires and all of the fool’s gold offered us by the worldly. Why? Because in the long run all such things are worthless and empty and all of our energies devoted to those things will be vain. Is lusting the path to happiness? What will it all mean and what value will it have when we meet Christ face to face?

We live in a very competitive world, a world that tells us we are really somebody when we are popular, when we have clothes or money, or look more beautiful than others, a world that judges our value on what we have or how we appear. Our professions, the advertising industry¸ the world of fashion, and even our academic institutions are all built on measures of value that have nothing to do with how God sees us and values us. Who does not want to be Number One? Who among us in our competitive world does not want to come out on top? Who among us does not want to be the most popular? But the question you need to face and I need to face is: Who is measuring our value?

In the end, like the man Jesus was talking about in today’s Gospel account, the man who was so concerned about the things of this world, we may hear God saying to us: ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Jesus gives us fair warning in telling us: Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

On the day we die, what can we give back to God that came to us from this life, a life that He gave to you and to me? Will it be our real estate holdings? A big bank account? Our popularity? Fine clothes? A fancy car? Death, the great leveler, will render what this world values to be valueless. Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!

God wants us to die rich; He wants us to give Him a life that has value, a life that was lived well, rich in meaning and not lived in vain. What He wants and what we can give Him, regardless of our economic position or our social status, is a spirit, a soul that is richly adorned with attitudes and personality characteristics that are similar to those of Jesus Christ. The riches of this world are extrinsic to our souls rather than intrinsic. We should be pursing what is intrinsic and will be part of us forever rather than what is extrinsic and will disappear when we die.

Some Christians advocate a certain false sort of piety, one based on the notion that we are nothing and ought to consider ourselves to be nothing. It’s a sort of so-called humility that falsifies the riches that God wants us to have. We must be rich in the eyes of God. It’s true that by ourselves we can do nothing but it is also true that with God there is nothing we cannot do. After all, God wants us to grow, to mature, to develop characteristics that are rich in the gifts that God has given to us. God does not create junk and He does not want us to consider ourselves to be junk. We do not honor God our Father in heaven by considering ourselves to be worthless.

Worldly people are afraid to die. Their feelings of self-worth are centered on things, not on virtues. The worldly would have us think the only place to have happiness is here in this world. They adorn themselves with the cosmetics of this world and attempt to cover death with cosmetics. The world values us by what we have of this world’s trinkets rather than by what we can give to God when we die.

We stew too much, stew over what we don’t have. We stew over our losses, about preserving what we’ve got. But the truth is that each day has its own gains, its own gifts along with some losses. We need to value what really matters, what is of lasting value, not what is passing. We need to value the love we have given, the love of God that can be present in the love we have given to others.

Each of our days is filled with the presence of the Son of God. The risen Christ is present in the each days rising sun. Every sun rising carries within it the Resurrection of Jesus. Likewise each tomorrow brings with it a fresh start, a new beginning, and the opportunity to live in the new life given us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. True, there will be gains and losses, just as there were in the life of Jesus. The crucial thing is for you and me to find Him in our today's and tomorrows so that we can receive and share His presence with those around us. With that vision we can wake up from the night of death and rise in the presence of God where we will find that our losses in this world and our gains in the life God has given us will not have been in vain.

In the music of the Psalm response between today’s first and second reading we heard: Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days. And may the gracious care of the Lord our God be ours; prosper the work of our hands for us! Prosper the work of our hands!

Without God we can do nothing of lasting value. With God everything we do will have great value. May God prosper the work of your hands so that nothing you do will have been done in vain.

July 15, 2019

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 21, 2019, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

Hospitality, presence, and being personally attentive. All of these are qualities of character that should be a part of our living in relationships with others.

In today’s readings the theme that comes to my mind is that of hospitality, hospitality in the sense of personal presence, an openness of heart that allows guests into the inner home of our hearts and souls. In my years of pastoring souls I have come to recognize that the way we treat others is the way we treat God and the way we treat God is the way we treat others. The Gospel account of Martha and Mary along with the Old Testament account of Abraham meeting God in his three guests give us an occasion to examine the notion of personal presence to others, and our personal presence to God in Jesus Christ.

Abraham, as you may remember, felt that God was absent from him. After Abraham’s initial experience with God we find him in today’s first reading in his old age. Unable in her younger years to have a child, Sarah now in her old age was obviously sterile. Yet Abraham was constantly aware of God’s promise that he would be the father of a nation of people dedicated to God, a nation as numerous as grains of sand along the shores of the world’s oceans. Abraham was also painfully aware that God’s promise was hardly able to be fulfilled, he and his wife Sarah in their old age now being unable to have children. For Abraham, God did not seem to be present. How could God’s promise of numerous children possibly be fulfilled?

The remarkable thing about Abraham was the fact that, in spite of the seeming failure of God to respond to him, in spite of all of the catastrophes and misfortunes he and Sarah had met, in spite of all of the sufferings they had endured, Abraham was still actively searching for the presence of God in his life. He had not given up. He had not been defeated by apparent failure. He was still a pilgrim and a disciple of God. His mind still searched the events of his life for traces of the finger of God writing on the shifting sands of his life’s history. His eyes and his soul were still waiting for the hand of the Lord to give an indication of the presence of God. It was because of this persisting faith that Abraham in his hospitality was able to perceive the presence of God in the three strange men who suddenly appeared in his life. Christians are able to see in them a veiled foreshadowing of the Trinitarian God, the God who said let us make man in our image and likeness, and also a veiled foreshadowing of the three Wise Men from the East who point to the presence of God in our lives.

Presence is a quality of soul, a character trait, a habit of mental alertness, an openness of mind that allows us to integrate our lives and our very selves into the lives and selves of others. It is a prerequisite for intimacy and it is an essential characteristic of discipleship. It is this that Mary chose and that Martha did not understand. Presence means making space for an other in your soul, for the person and spirit of another to be whom they really are for you to admire, respect, and for you to receive with hospitality. This demands the active awareness and the mental and spiritual attention of the disciple, the host, the student, or the friend.

Some people allow others to come deeply into their presence only upon set pre-conditions. The other is allowed into that inner circle of deep awareness only if the other will meet our requirements or fulfill our needs. Discipleship, on the other hand, just as friendship and the intimacy of love, is unconditional. Martha was all too concerned with the social requirements of polite hospitality.

Another practical application can be discerned in the way family members treat each other. Sometimes I’ve watched couples talk at each other rather than really listen to each other. While one is attempting to communicate, and the other is only half listening, all the while trying to think of the most compelling response to make. TV talk shows are good examples of that. The talking heads only talk at each other. Sometimes husbands and wives talk at each other as if they knew beforehand what the other was going to say without hearing what was really being said. Parents can treat their children that way and children sometimes treat their parents that way. There’s no true presence, no real understanding, only hidden agendas that each side compulsively seeks to get out in the discussion.

Presence means withdrawing part of one’s self in order that the other can fill in the space created by that self-withdrawal. Attentive presence is real hospitality, the sort of hospitality that allows the other to enter and be healed of the wounds of isolation and loneliness. It is a hospitality that is unconditional and total.

Hospitality is a virtue, a strength of soul that should perdure through all of one’s life. It cuts through any categorizations of others. Just as religion is not merely a part of one’s life but rather one’s life is a part of religion, so also presence and hospitality are states of mind that should be found in all of our relationships with others. Sometimes we think of hospitality as a virtue that we will haul out of storage only when we have to endure the presence of another. We sort of offer it up to God as a cross we must carry when we are obliged to deal with a person whom we consider to be unpleasant. Genuine discipleship helps us overcome that sort of categorization because through discipleship we develop a mental habit of always trying, like Abraham, to discern the hand of God working throughout the whole of our lives. We should always be talking and listening in the presence of the Lord, trying to see Him in the mysterious strangers who come into our lives, trying like Mary to be receptive without conditions and without any attempt to meet our requirements hidden within us.

Hospitality, presence, and being personally attentive, all of these are personal qualities that are a part of our living in relationships with others. They are essential to living in relationship to God. The critical question you must face and I must face is how welcoming am I to God? How conscious am I of His presence in my life? How personally attentive am I to God’s presence, power, and love in my life?

You and I should be challenged by these questions. Out of love God made us to love not only each other but above all to be open to and accepting of His love… and to love Him in return. Hospitality isn’t simply “nice.” Being personally attentive to God each and every day is essential, something far more profound than good manners.

We may feel we are too busy to pay much attention to God. What if God had the same attitude and was too busy to pay much attention to us? How we treat others is an indicator of how we treat God. Something for us all to ponder.

July 7, 2019

Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 14, 2019, Year C

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

Of all of the teachings of Jesus the parable of the Good Samaritan is undoubtedly the most famous, known to Christians and non-Christians alike. His parable is, of course, about responsibility, about caring for others no matter whom or what they may be. Today, however, I want to pay attention to some other responsibilities we have. Responsibility and caring for our neighbors is not enough even though the definition of “neighbor” is boundless. So what might be those other responsibilities?

Strange as it may seem at first glance we ought to take a look at how we can be responsible for ourselves. I say strange because we hear so much about our selfishness, our self-centeredness, and selfish consumerism that is gobbling up our world’s resources and damaging our environment. We must remember, however, that Jesus told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. So it is important to realize that how we treat ourselves influences how we love others. How can we respect others if we don’t respect ourselves? We cannot give what we don’t have. We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

What I want to point out is our responsibility to our inner selves, our responsibility to our souls. We need to pay attention to our spiritual selves, not just our material selves. So many men in their older years realize that they spent so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence, working, working, and working to have things and have things for their families. But what sort of things should have been the question on their minds. In being obsessed with their work they missed their children’s youth and missed their wives’ closeness and companionship. Like the man in the ditch in today’s gospel account their wives and children were on the side of the road and passed by. This isn’t true just of men. Nowadays with women in the workforce they, too, may fail to give adequate attention to their families, wishing at the end of their lives that they had been more responsive to their husbands and children.

There is another responsibility to our inner selves, namely that of letting our feelings out, letting them be known, expressing our feelings. The phenomenon of living with repressed feelings allows those repressed feelings to be cancerous infections that cause physical and emotional illnesses, many of them resulting in hurtful behaviors to themselves and to others. I am not a social psychologist but I wonder if the widespread addiction to pornography can be traced to a lack of closeness to others, others whom, in our bottled up feelings, we pass by as we travel on the road through life.

Laughter and tears allow others to relate to us in healthy ways just as they allow us to reveal and share our hearts and souls with those around us. To put it simply, feelings allow us to get in touch with our real selves just as they allow others to get in touch with us. This suppression, by the way, is one of the fundamental causes of teenage distress and teenage anti-social behavior. Isn’t it true that teenagers often cry out: “You just don’t understand! You just don’t get it!”

Then there are friends and our responsibility to care for them. How many of those we call friends are at the side of the road as we pass them by in all of our busyness, obsessed as we are by all of our concerns? Notice in the parable that the Good Samaritan didn’t simply give the innkeeper money; he didn’t simply give a moment of caring and then move on. No. The Good Samaritan told the innkeeper he would be back and give further attention to the neglected man. Simply giving money is only superficial concern and gives me permission not to get involved.

Our time and our attention are more important that our money. Staying in touch with our friends is important not only to them but to us, to our sense of well-being. Friendships require time and effort. The same is true in our friendship with God. We can’t simply throw a few crumbs of our time and care for God and then move on.

What, then, do we give to God?

However busy and preoccupied we may be we need to put times of reflection into our lives. Those times of reflection and thought must be intentional and deliberate; they won’t just happen by default. Our ability to respond is learned and cultivated in our families, in our homes, in those with whom we interact daily. Our ability to respond in caring love isn’t just a gift that automatically drops down from the sky. It’s a gift God has planted deep within our hearts and souls, a gift that needs to be nurtured, a habitual state of mind that needs to be developed. Without times of prayer, without times of reflective awareness in God’s presence we will remain spiritual children, immature and self-centered.

Caring involves a change in our attitudes. We fear changes and are comfortable in living in our same old ways. We need a change in how we see things. Worries of what might happen beset us. Mark Twain once said, “I have known many troubles in my life, most of which never happened.” Fear can immobilize us. But while this is so we need to also realize that God is a God of surprises, surprises that can change us in good ways.

This means we must care for ourselves. Leaving ourselves at the side of the road has consequences, some of which can be serious. Out of love God has given us our selves. He wants to be loved by our selves as we have developed them. Who we are and what we have become is our gift of loving God in return.

So the big question is: What kind of persons are we not only in this life but when we return to meet God face to face? Leaving our selves by the side of the road is not giving God what He wants when we go back home to Him.

God has given us the gift of responsibility, the ability to respond. It’s not a burden, it’s a gift, one that can enrich us and helps us to be who God wants us to be, one that at the same time allows us to be who we really want to be.