Sunday, September 26, 2010

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

By Deacon Jerry Franzen – Cathedral - September 26, 2010
Amos 6: 1a, 4-7 1 Timothy 6:11-16 Luke 16:19-31

Amos brought God’s word to the Israelites:
“Woe to the complacent of Zion,” the couch potatoes on beds of ivory,
dining on the finest of the lambs and the calves,
drinking wine by the bowl,
anointing themselves with expensive oils,
and not caring about the collapse of Joseph.
They would be the first in exile
and their comforts and excesses would be done away with.
This was a rather discouraging message for the listener.
And Luke tells us of the parable Jesus presented to the Pharisees:
The rich man was oblivious to the poor man, Lazarus,at his door;
Lazarus was poor, covered with sores
and starving for the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.
The rich man did nothing for Lazarus and was condemned to hell.
In hell, he couldn’t even get a drop of water to cool his tongue;
He couldn’t get any extra help for his sinful brothers either .
I can’t imagine that the Pharisees were thrilled to hear this parable.
Another discouraging message.
Just the other evening,
I was meeting with the seven deacons
ordained this past April in this diocese.
Msgr. Neuhaus and I are conducting
a practicum in preaching for them.
We were having our first meeting
and I was going over some general principles.
One of them was: “Preach the Good News.”
As deacons we should never loose sight of our charge
to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Today’s readings present quite a challenge for this deacon!
Where is the Good News?


Woe to the complacent, those with all of the comforts,
those who are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph.
“Joseph” here is a word used to represent the Israelite nation.
Some did not care about what was happening to their nation,
as long as they could revel in their own comforts.
Amos was presenting a stern warning from God:
Straighten up or your revelry will come to a swift end
as you will be the first taken into exile.
Could this have been the exile of hell? Maybe.
Jesus aimed his parable directly at the Pharisees,
And he did that for a reason.

They were like the rich man only caring about themselves.
The rich man didn’t even see Lazarus at his door.
The Pharisees didn’t acknowledge those who were not like them.
The Pharisees only saw themselves.
Jesus was showing them that if they continued
in their self-righteous practices,
they would meet the same fate as the rich man;
they would be condemned to hell for all eternity.
There would be no way back.

The self-righteousness, the better than thou attitude, of the Pharisees,
would lead to the finality of hell,
for the divide between heaven and hell is to large to be crossed.
When the rich man did finally see Lazarus,
he was in heaven, in the arms of Abraham, but it was too late.
Jesus did not want the Pharisees
to meet the same fate as the rich man in the parable.
I’m sure he hoped that they would change after hearing the parable.


We are hearing this,
because God doesn’t want us to meet that same fate.
We must not be so tied up in our possessions and comforts
that we lose sight of those in need around us.
It is very easy to lose sight of our responsibilities
to our brothers and sisters.
We think that we need every penny that we own;
we worked hard for every cent.
We can’t afford to contribute to the DPAA, to Catholic Charities,
to Care Net, to the New Hope Center
or other agencies that serve the needy.
At times we may be too preoccupied with ourselves,
too possessive of what we have
to share what we have with those in need.
And the parable tells us that this can be a very serious matter.
The parable tells us that it can lead to hell.
Some may have decided that there really is not a hell,
that “hell” is an outdated concept.
I think that the words of the Gospel are pretty clear.

Furthermore,our care for others
can clearly extend beyond the monetary.
It could be: “Oh! I’m too busy to care
about helping my daughter with her homework.” or
“I don’t need to hear your sad stories, I have enough of my own.”
Yes, these readings are about our caring for others,
about our giving of ourselves for others.
And it is clearly a serious matter, directly related to our salvation.


I am especially intrigued by the latter part of the Gospel,
when the rich man asks Abraham
to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers
that they might not commit this same sin.
Abraham told the rich man that the brothers
had all the information they needed
in the Word of God, the law and the prophets.
All the brothers had to do was open their ears
to really listen to God’s Word.

The Pharisees had that same Word of God,
but their ears were closed to those parts about really caring
about others rather than themselves.
The reply of the rich man was,
“Abraham, you don’t understand, the brothers will listen
to someone who has returned from the dead.”
And Abraham’s response was,
“If the brothers will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
they will not be persuaded, if someone should rise from the dead.”

Jesus was telling the Pharisees that they also
would not be persuaded by God’s own Word,
which they highly regarded and
which they used selectively to justify their own self-righteousness.
The Pharisees took a blind eye
to those parts of the law and the prophets
which taught that they were to be charitable to others.
The Pharisees were so entrenched in their self-righteousness
that they would not even recognize
that a person had miraculously returned from the dead,
let alone be persuaded to change their thinking by such a person.
Here Jesus was predicting that the Pharisees
would not recognize His own resurrection.

And we? Are we like the Pharisees? In some ways, yes.
Because of original sin, we tend to focus on ourselves.
That is what Adam and Eve did;
they were convinced that they could be god (small “g”)
better than God could be God (capital “G”).
We enter the world with the same tendency.
But we are not condemned to hell immediately
for our self-centered sins of commission or omission.
Our redemption is at hand.

We too have the law and the prophets to guide us;
we must listen to them.
We also have the words, the advice, the counsel,
of a person who came to fulfill the law and the prophets,
a person who did in fact rise from the dead.
Therein lies the Good News of today and every day.
We may at times have the attitude of the Pharisees,
that we are better than others,
that we have the final word and it’s our way,
that we have it all figured out on their own.
This is the very type of attitude can lead us to hell,
but we are not condemned to that. We can rise above it.

By our baptism we receive the graces to overcome that attitude.
We become followers of him who rose from the dead.
If we truly follow Him,
if we love God with all our hearts, our minds and our souls,
if we follow the second commandment
to love our neighbors as ourselves,
and if we recognize our own sinfulness
and express our sorrow for our sins,
we will avoid the horrors of hell,
the torment of being forever separated from God.
We will then enjoy the everlasting life of heaven with God.
That is the Best News.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

9/19/04 – St. Henry Church - Deacon Jerry Franzen
Amos 8: 4-7 1 Timothy 2: 1-8 Luke 16: 1-13

*Donna McLean tells the story of shopping with her eight-year-old son who
spotted a toy that he wanted but did not have enough money to buy it.
He lacked a dollar.
Of course he asked his mother for the extra money.
Wanting to teach him some fiscal responsibility, she explained that
she couldn’t just give him the needed dollar.
He would have to wait until he had saved it.
In a brilliant display of resourcefulness, the boy reached in his mouth,
and to the astonishment of the onlookers,
he pulled out a loose baby tooth and gave it to his mother.
The tooth fairy is generous these days. He got the toy.


Today’s Gospel, the so-called parable of the unjust servant
and the associated collection of sayings,
is one that poses many questions to those who attempt to interpret it.
Chief among them is the question,
“Why does Jesus make the point that the master praised the squandering steward
after the steward has curried the favor of the debtors by reducing their debt?”
“And the master commended the dishonest steward for acting prudently.”
It would seem that the steward was further shirking his duty
by not collecting the full measure of the debts,
and thus continuing to squander the master’s money.

Allow me to add a bit of information to the story
that might help to make some more sense of it.
One interpretation maintains that stewards
functioned somewhat like tax collectors in those days.
Tax collectors collected the debt of taxes
owed by the Jews to their Roman masters.
Tax collectors regularly added their fee to the tax bill;
this is how they made their salary.
Sometimes they added excessively large amounts to increase their salaries
and to thus unfairly tax the Jews.
Tax collectors were despised by the Jews,
not only because they collected tax for the Roman Emperor,
but also because they often cheated their fellow Jews.

Most probably the steward, who was squandering the master’s money,
was likewise looking out for himself.
The amounts owed by the debtors were probably inflated
by the steward, so that he could be sure to get his cut.
And, he might not have always been returning the master’s full cut to him.
This may be why he had been reported as squandering.

In this light, we can see the prudence in what the steward did.
It wasn’t just a matter of his resourcefulness
that he wanted to make some friends that might be able to help him later in life,
but it might also have been his resourcefulness
that led him to relinquish his fee by reducing the debts.
Maybe, just maybe, he truly deserved the acclamation that he was now prudent,
because he decided that he valued the love and compassion
he should have for the servants AND THEIR LOVE AND COMPASSION FOR HIM,
more than he valued his own desire for wealth.


Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues of the Church.
The four are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.
The term cardinal comes from the Latin “cardo” meaning “hinge.”
On these virtues hinge all the other lesser virtues.
And prudence is called the “rudder” virtue, because it “steers” all the others.
To live a moral life one must know what is good AND
have the intelligent discernmentto translate
the general demands of morality into concrete actions.
That intelligent discernment and its translation to action is prudence.
Prudence requires really good thinking, darn good thinking.
St. Thomas Aquinas said that prudence is the virtue
which enables us to do the right thing at the right time.
The steward did the right thing at the right time,
both for the debtors and himself.

Because we squander the gifts God has given us, when we sin,
Jesus is teaching us that we must be prudent
like the steward who reduced the debts.
We must seek to do the right thing at the right time.


Fr, Lou Guntzelman of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati,
in a recent article listed some practices that can help us
to become more prudent.
I will mention four of them.

1. We must have the facts; we must inquire,
look at all sides of a situation.
The steward realized that there was more
than just his relationship with his master.
He knew he needed friends;he saw the bigger picture.

2. We must think. Reason deeply.
While emotion may play a part,
acting solely out of emotion can be dangerous.
We may not be accustomed to the level of deep thinking required for prudence.
We may be used to making decisions based on slogans,
impressions and “gut feelings.”
We must determine with good reasoning
what would be good for ourselves and for others.
We must discover what love demands, what authentically expresses love,
love of self and love of the other.
I believe the steward was not just looking out for himself,
acting out of the emotion of self preservation.
I believe that as he thought the situation through,
he found a way that his actions could also benefit others.

If we are faced with what to do after we have been hurt by another,
we must listen to reason not emotion.
Emotion leads us to retaliation.
Retaliation adulterates love. Forgiveness authenticates love,
love of the other person in our forgiveness of them,
and love of ourselves in removing that burden of the need for retaliation.
When we take this view, it becomes simply prudent to forgive.

3. Don’t let fear be your enemy.
Some act impulsively without deeply thinking something through
for fear that they will be mired in complexity.
“Just make the decision and get it over with.”
Or, some do not follow a reasoned approach,
for fear of being out of step with others.
I believe that most couples who decide to live together before marriage
make that decision without much serious thinking,
because they are fearful of what will happen to their relationship,
if they actually tried to deal with all of the complex issues
that are raised by seriously considering
all the implications of their cohabitation.
On the other hand some couples make this decision,
because they fear that other couples will wonder what is wrong with them.

4. When in doubt, seek advice.
When we are unsure about our capacity to make a decision,
we must be open to seeking out someone we can trust,
not to make the decision for us, but to give input AND
to provide the confidence that will help to validate our decision.

In summary:
We must know the facts of the situation,
and the teachings of Jesus related to the situation,
and the teachings of the Church.
We must do some deep thinking;
take the reasoned approach, not the emotional approach.
This is how Jesus operated.
We might measure what we are about to do
against the question, “What would Jesus do?”
We must not let fear keep us from a decision, based on right reasoning.
Our faith in Jesus must be stronger than those fears.
If we need help, we must be open to seeking it,
either from those around us who can advise us, or from the Lord in prayer.

God wants us to be prudent,to make decisions that will ensure
that we do the right thing at the right time.
We cannot serve two masters: God and the world.
Some know only one master, the world.
It controls their decisions
and sadly they are often not the right decisions.
We know another master: God.
He has given each of us gifts, among them our intellect,
which we must use to make prudent decisions.
Each of us must look within ourselves,
know where those “little loose teeth” are so that we can pull them out
and use them at the right time.

A former Yale University chaplain once said,
“Christ came to take away our sins, not our minds.”

*Story taken from “Humor for Preaching and Teaching”
E. K. Rowell and B. L. Steffen Eds. Baker Books, Grand rapids MI, 1998 p 145

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Deacon Jerry Franzen - Cathedral - 9/9/07
Wisdom 9: 13-18b - Philemon 9b-10, 12-17 - Luke 14: 25-23

In the Gospel of several weeks ago,
Jesus explained that as a result of his coming into the world there would be division of households father against son, mother against daughter,
not peace, but division.
That was a challenge for the reader, listener and the preacher.
And now we hear Jesus say that, in order to be a disciple,
a person must hate father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters, even his own life.
Imagine you were one of the listeners in the crowd around Jesus.
You might be thinking: “How does he expect to gather a group of followers,
when he sets out such hateful requirements?”


We know that being a disciple of Jesus is not easy.
There are some Churches that seem to have no requirements,
nothing need be denounced or set aside,
just come and everything will be rosy.
Not the Catholic Faith; there are requirements in the Catholic faith.
Some things must be denounced; Jesus must take priority over everything.
All Christian religions, if they are truly Christian, must require
that Jesus be given priority over all possessions
and all other wants and desires.
But in today’s Gospel
Jesus is telling us just how difficult it might be,
if one chooses to be his follower.

He is saying that it might even come down to choosing
between Him and family.
Following Jesus might even require rejecting family.
The love we must have for Jesus,
the degree to which we must give ourselves to Him
must be absolute, taking priority over
giving ourselves to others in our family.
At times, others, their wants and needs, must be rejected
and this will be interpreted by them
as contempt for them or hatred for them.
We, ourselves, may even interpret our setting them aside
in favor of Jesus as our hatred for them.
And it’s not just anybody, Jesus was speaking of, it is family.
You might say that in applying his requirement to family,
Jesus was citing the worst case scenario.
We are often reminded that being a disciple of Jesus is costly.


Following Jesus would require that a wife denounce
her husband who is addicted to drugs.
If she intervenes, turns him in, in order that he get help,
he may interpret this as her lack of love for him,
as her hating him, and she may also have to deal with the question
of her love or hate for him in the process.
Such instances of so-called “tough love” are seen as hate.
“You hate me and want to see me punished?”
Discipleship requires that parents reject and correct
inappropriate behavior of their children.
Children, especially teenagers,
often characterize the correction meted out by parents,
usually the denial of privileges,
as an indication of their not being loved, or as their parents hating them.
Some parents shy away from such corrective actions,
because of the fear that their children will hate them.

Discipleship requires us to take a stand for the protection of all life
from conception to natural death.
Those who protest against abortion are seen as “hating”
the women and men who seek the convenience of an abortion.
Not helping them to be rid of the “inconvenience” of a pregnancy
is interpreted as a type of hatred toward them.
And even if it be a brother or a sister who is involved,
we must take the same action –
turn away from those who would have an abortion
and from those who promote abortion.
As disciples we must keep turned toward God.

And the result of our rejecting others
in favor of our faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus
may be that they will feel rejection.
Our “hatred” of them will result in their “hatred” for us.

The more I worked on this homily, the more I realized
I could list many more “hateful” situations.
And it was depressing, because “hate” is such a strong word.
Yes, Jesus used the word “hate;”
yet he tells us to love others as he has loved us,“unconditionally,”
to love others, our family, our friends
even those who have hurt us, our enemies.
And here he is saying that, if one comes to him
without hating those closest family members, that person cannot be a disciple.
How do we resolve this?


I believe that the resolution comes in recognizing that
we have a problem with what we mean when we say
that we “hate” a person.
The same is true with regard to the word “love.”

When we say that we love a person,
are we saying that we love what that person does
or do we mean that we love that person for who that person is?
When Jesus was saying that we must hate family members,
was he really saying that we should hate some things
that family members might do
or did he mean that we should hate family members for who they are?

I will just bet, that the people of Jesus’ times
had that same problem of expressing their love and hate.

We say that we hate the 9/11 terrorists.
But Jesus tells us to love your enemies.
The Jewish people hate Hitler.
But Jesus tells us to love those who persecute you.
Many hate those who killed little Marcus Feisel .
But Jesus tells us to love those who would kill you.
Some hate the mother who had a sexual relationship with her son’s friend.
But Jesus tells us to love those who would do such terrible things.

We hate what the terrorists of 9/11 did, but we must love them.
What Hitler did is to be hated, not the man.
What people did to Marcus Feisel is to be hated, rejected,
but the killers are to be loved.
The immorality of extra marital sex is to be hated, not the people involved.

A wife can love her husband and hate his addiction.
A parent can love a child and hate some behaviors.
We can hate abortion and love those who have suffered one.
We often find that making the distinction between the person
and what the person does is very difficult.

To be a follower of Jesus you must reject sin, reject the act of sinning,
even if it is the act of a family member.
We must reject the sinful acts of others,
no matter how close to us they might be.
It is certainly more difficult to reject the sinful acts
of a brother, a sister, a parent, a child, a spouse.

It is most difficult for us to reject the sinful acts of ourselves,
to hate what we may have done.
Jesus said the disciples would even have to hate their own lives,
hate the sin in their own lives, turn away from themselves in favor of Him.
That may actually be the worst case scenario.

The cost of discipleship is high; we who have committed to it,
must recognize sin in all of its forms and turn away from it,
reject it even if this causes problems with family members,
reject it even if it involves rejecting things that we have done.

Mahatma Gandhi was a political and spiritual leader in India,
a promoter of peace and non-violence, who was assassinated in 1948.
He was not a Christian, but a Hindu.
Yet he knew how a follower of Jesus can both hate and love.
He put it this way: “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.”