Monday, October 25, 2010

Homily for Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Deacon Jerry Franzen - Cathedral - October 24, 2010
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee and the tax collector both prayed to God.
Jesus said,
“I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former.”
“Justified” as the late Fr. Jerry Britt put it, “means
put in line with God, just like our print is lined up
or justified at the left margin on a page.”
The tax collector’s prayer served to put him in line with God,
The Pharisee’s prayer did not.
Why was the tax collector's prayer
better than the Pharisee's prayer?
Because the tax collector actually made a connection with God,
but the Pharisee was only making a connection with himself.
You can’t put yourself in line with God,
unless you have made that connection.
The Pharisee’s prayer only served to put him in line with himself.

Tax collectors were despised by the Jewish community in Palestine.
They were Jews who collaborated with the occupying Roman forces
by collecting taxes from fellow Jews.
They often collected more than the law required,
pocketing the extra and further angering their countrymen.
They were openly sinful.

The Pharisees were just the opposite.
They were the most respected members of the Jewish community,
the elite, THE undisputed religious leaders of the nation,
never being openly sinful or admitting their sinfulness.
And yet, Jesus praises the tax collector's prayer
and criticizes the Pharisee's prayer,
the prayer of the religious leader.


Throughout the centuries, in fact, the tax collector's simple prayer,
"O God, be merciful to me, a sinner," has been taken up
as a complete summary of Christian spirituality.
"O God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
There are even cases of monks who made this prayer
the only words that they spoke,
and they reached heights of sanctity by means of it.
This prayer makes a connection with God
because it recognizes two things.

First, it acknowledges God's greatest quality
in relation to fallen mankind, his mercy.
The Latin word for "mercy" is “misericors” which comes from
the Latin "miseria” meaning “wretched” or “miserable”
and “cor” meaning “heart".
Literally, “mercy” means to take someone else's wretchedness
into one's heart. That's what God does with us.
He takes our most wretched part to his heart.

Second, the tax collector's prayer
recognizes his need for that mercy.
There is the important connection his prayer made to God.
The tax collector accuses himself of being a sinner,
someone who has selfishly abused God's gifts
and has used, instead of loved, his neighbor.
The Pharisee’s prayer begins with “O God, I thank you ….”
But it is an empty “thanks” because it doesn’t thank God
for anything God has done.
The Pharisee thanks God for what he, the Pharisee, has done –
that he has not been like the rest of humanity,
certainly not like the tax collector.
The Pharisee's prayer shows no knowledge either of God's mercy
or of his need for God;
rather, it is an exercise in narcissism, in self-admiration.

God wants to connect with us, but he can only do so if we let him,
and we can't let him if we don't think we need him.


We can tell that we are falling into the Pharisee's trap
when we are over-concerned about being recognized
for the good things we do.
A true story about two youth groups illustrates this point.
St. Mary's Parish was located a couple streets down
from St. Joseph's Parish.
Since they were so close to each other,
the two youth groups from the two churches
were often competing with each other.
They played sports against each other,
tried to outdo each other in food drives,
and had become intense rivals in just about everything.

One Saturday, the youth minister at St. Mary's
organized the kids into "disciple teams" and challenged them
to go out and serve others in the community.
The theme for the activity was: "Do what Jesus would do."
So St. Mary's youth group fanned out into the neighborhood
and started serving.
One team washed cars for free.
Another team visited and performed for
the residents of a convalescent home.
At day's end, all the teams reported back at the parish.
One team described how they had gone to serve an old widow
who lived close to St. Joseph's parish.
When St. Joseph’s parish,
their rival, was mentioned, everyone groaned.

"We mowed grass, raked leaves and did yard work for her,"
said one of the students.
"And after we finished, she invited us in for lemonade
and we all prayed the Rosary together.
And then she said to us,
‘You young people from St. Joseph's
are always doing such nice things for us old folks.'"
"Oh no!" said the youth minister.
"She thought you were from St. Joseph's?
Well, I hope you set her straight and told her
that you weren't from St. Joseph's, but from St. Mary's!"
"Well, no we didn't," said the team leader.
"You told us to do what Jesus would do, didn't you?
We decided that Jesus would just keep his mouth shut."

What matters to a Christian
is not being considered better than everyone else,
as the Pharisee thought,
but being close to Christ, as the tax-collector discovered.
It's remembering our need for God,
not acting as if we could do just fine without him.

[Illustration adapted from "Hot Illustrations"
copyright 2001, Youth Specialties Inc.]


Today's Gospel passage is actually the second time
in Luke's Gospel that Jesus says,
"whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
Jesus must really want us to get that message.
But it is not an easy message to get.
The Pharisee in Jesus' parable thought he was doing great.
Others did also.
He went to the Synagogue every Saturday.
He prayed his prayers.
He didn't commit any big, scandalous sins.
He really thought he was on track for a gold medal from God.
But he wasn't.
In fact, he was heading in the completely wrong direction.
He thought that he was so good
that he was doing all the right things on HIS OWN.
In fact, in his eyes, that is what made him SO GOOD.
But he was blinded to the invisible sins of arrogance
and vanity, sins that are not overt and thus easily seen.

The tax collector's sins were more obvious, easier to recognize.
He cheated and extorted and bribed.
Those were sins you could see.

So, how can we recognize our sins that aren’t easily seen,
the invisible sins of how we regard others?
Christ's parable tells us exactly how:
by looking squarely at our thoughts about other people.
Do we see every person in the world as loved by God?
Do we see that this means
that His Son died to offer salvation to every single person?
Do we really understand that His love and His mercy
have no limits.

As Christians, followers of Christ,
those trying to be more Christ-like,
we are called to that same universal respect and love –
even for the people who get on our nerves,
even for those that let us down,
for those who make our lives miserable.

If we look into our hearts and discover
that we don't have that universal respect and love,
that we do entertain vindictive, self-righteous thoughts,
and if we look at our actions and discover that we play favorites,
that we take pleasure in criticizing others,
if we see these problems as our being unlike Christ –
then we can say thanks be to God!

Because then we will know
that we haven't been blinded to these sins.
We will then be able to pray like the tax collector,
aware of our need for God's mercy,
and confident that his mercy will never run out.

Patterned after material take from the website for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C

Friday, October 15, 2010

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Ttime – Year C

By Deacon Jerry Franzen – St. Henry Parish - October 17, 2004
Exodus 17:8-13 - 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2 - Luke 18:1-8

Jesus was a master story-teller.
Sometimes the parables he used were easy to understand.
Their truth was apparent, the treasure of insight obvious,
like coins lying out in plain view on the sidewalk.
At other times Jesus left not only his enemies scratching their heads,
but also his friends and disciples.
There are parables that leave us confused and bewildered,
wondering if we heard Jesus correctly.
There have been a string of parables on recent Sundays.
On the surface, today’s parable seems to be easy to understand.
Jesus said that it was about prayer.
At first glance, the story could be about our prayers of petition
about what we ask for,
about how we should be like the widow,
persistent in our prayer to God.
AND then, we ask the standard questions:
“Where is God in this parable?
Where are we in this parable?”
The easy answers are that God is the Judge and we are the widow.
But is it really that easy? I don’t think so.
The treasure of insight in this Gospel passage requires
that we dig below the surface.
There are no coins out on the sidewalk today;
We must get out the shovel and the metal detector.


I suggest that we enter into the Gospel story,
and take a good look at the characters
of whom Jesus is speaking.
If we were Israelites of those days, we’d have certain expectations.
And neither the judge nor the widow,
as Jesus describes them, would fit these expectations very well.
The judge is a far cry from what was expected of a judge
as chronicled in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In those times, judges acted on behalf of God.
Standing in God’s stead,
they were to seek justice, show no partiality, take no bribes.
This judge has no fear of God, let alone human beings.
Initially, he is unmoved by the widow’s pleas.
It appears that this seemingly powerful, stern judge is then afraid
that the poor defenseless widow will come
and give him a black eye.

No less startling is the portrayal of the widow.
Widows were grouped with orphans and aliens
—that is, those most vulnerable,
those most likely to be outcasts.
Widows were without finances and without social status
and were at the mercy of their closest male relative.
Jesus’ widow is far from this description.
She boldly faces the judge,
demanding justice on her own behalf.
There is no male relative doing her bidding.
She is relentless in her pursuit.
The judge has no change of heart;
he gives the widow what she wants,
only because he wants to be rid of her.
The final comment that the judge is afraid she will strike him
turns the story inside out, upside down.
This is what Jesus intends.
God is consistently at work to shake us out of our complacencies.
Jesus intends to jolt us into a new way of seeing.


Let’s begin with considering
who best comes closest to imaging God in this parable.
Certainly not the judge!
This judge neither fears God nor respects people.
He does not hear and respond to the cries of the poor.
He acts totally contrary
to what the psalms and the prophets say of God.
In Sirach Chapter 35, God is not deaf to the cry of the poor;
God judges justly and affirms what is right without delay.
If the judge were the God figure,
then the story would suggest that,
if one were to badger God enough,
one could eventually wear God down and get what one wants,
that God would be fearful that we would harm him.
God is not like that at all.
We do not need to wear down God.
God is ever aware of our worries and our needs AND
sympathetic toward them.

Let’s consider that Jesus has cast the widow as the God figure.
God is the one who is in relentless pursuit of justice,
who desires only the right and the good for his people.
Seen in this light, the message of the parable is
that when a person doggedly resists injustice,
faces it, names it, and denounces it until right is achieved,
then one is acting as God does.
The persistence of one apparently weak widow
achieves the victory for justice.
God is persistent, and
for us to be more like God, we too must be persistent.

And where do we find a lack of the fear of God,
a lack of respect for human beings,
those who are slow to act against injustice?
In the world around us – there’s the image of the corrupt judge.
So the images are not God and us, but us and the world around us.
And where does prayer come in?
Recall that Jesus did say that the parable was about prayer.

The word pray is from the French word
meaning to entreat, to implore.
These words have a sense urgency about them.
Urgency means no time wasted—time is short.
Yes Jesus is saying that our prayer, like God, like the widow,
must carry this urgency to act,
to press forward, to endure, to be persistent.
And about what are we to be persistent?
Persistent in bringing about the reign of God,
persistent in naming injustice,
persistent in confronting injustice.
And we are to persist no matter the enormity of the challenge.
The powerful systems of injustice in the world,
like discrimination in all its forms,
like militarism that serves only the powerful
and economic injustice can be dismantled.
Not all at once.
The judge, remember,
was not converted from his egotistical hard heartedness.
However, the widow won a small victory.
Powerful systems of injustice are dismantled step by little step.
God asks for our faithfulness.
Our job is persistence and trusting in God.
The parable represents God asking us to persevere in God’s ways.
That is how the world will be transformed,
that is how we have made the progress we have made
in the area of racial discrimination,
that is how we will make progress in the pro-life movement.
That is how we will make progress toward world peace,
That is how we will make progress in the war on drugs,
poverty and abuse in its various forms.
It’s not about prayer alone, but about praying and acting.


It’s not just our perseverance in asking God to change the world.
Our perseverance in prayer does not change God;
our perseverance in prayer must change us,
cause us to act differently.
It will not come easily;
there is danger that we will grow weary.
Prayer must lead to action on behalf of God
for the good of our sisters and brothers,
actions that seek to make the reign of God visible.
Jesus demonstrated what the reign of God looked like by
defending poor people,
raising the status of women,
raising the status of aliens,
performing healings and exorcisms,
preaching the reign of God.
His mission was to make the reign of God present
in the world, in his person and in his teaching,
and to invite people to experience the liberation it presented.
Such is our mission as well, our prayer in action.
We are to persistently make the reign of God visible
by all that we do and say in our daily activities,
whether that be making a business deal,
answering the telephone,eating dinner with our families,
taking an evening of recreation.
We must evaluate everything we do by asking,
“How does this preach the Word of salvation,
the word of freedom and justice?

When our prayer truly brings us around to this view,
rather than the one of acting only out of fear or discomfort,
then the world’s answer to God’s call for justice
will not be slow.
The justice of the kingdom will come speedily.

Must we persevere in prayer? Yes, for sure.

Perseverance because God has not given us the justice
we think we deserve. NO!
Perseverance because we have yet to give to God
the justice he deserves.
Perseverence because we have not yet been transformed
by our prayer into the agents
that will help to bring about the kingdom of justice.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

By Deacon Jerry Franzen – Cathedral Parish October 7, 2007
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14 Luke 17:5-10

Let’s have a little review; it’s part of my teacher mode.
Last week we heard the story of the rich man and Lazarus in the Gospel.
It described just how difficult it is for the rich to get to heaven.
Did it make you decide to give away all you had to become poor?
I doubt it.
The week before, it was praise for the squandering and dishonest servant.
Would you now applaud when you learned that your neighbor
had to pay back only 50% of his mortgage,
while you were held responsible for the full amount of yours?
I don’t think I would. I’d probably complain.
The week before that it was the father forgiving his prodigal son.
Would you be able to forgive a son or daughter who
deserted you and wasted his or her inheritance
on a lifestyle of unworthy acts. Not very easily.
And from the week before that:
Have you been working on being last, so that you can become first?
Jesus said that the last will be first and the first last.

This section in Luke’s Gospel contains a string of difficult teachings
that the apostles were having to deal with
as they were traveling with Jesus.
Is it any wonder that they said, “Increase our faith?”
They were asking for help to follow the teachings.
We, too, often find the same difficulties with following Jesus.
Like the apostles, we might also plead with the Lord,
“Increase our faith. Help us to follow your teachings.”


And what did we hear today as the response from Jesus?
It seems to be a put down,
Jesus seems to be very critical of the apostles’ faith.
It is as though Jesus is saying,
“If only you had just the least little bit of faith, you’d be fine.”
The apostles plead with the Lord for help,
and he seems to give a sarcastic answer.

There are people who are rich, like the rich man last week.
Their riches can be a roadblock to heaven,
but they just can’t take that leap of faith
that says that they will be alright
if they divest themselves of a major portion
of their riches for the good of others.
They cling to the roadblock; they may not even recognize it.
Some have difficulty with going out on the limb
that sees the good in what someone else has done.
It’s a limb that might darken their self image.
Some can’t let go of a grudge in true forgiveness of another;
letting go would be interpreted as a sign of weakness.
Some always have to be first; it seems necessary for survival.
We, like the apostles, plead, “Help us to follow your teachings.”

It is not always something within us.
It’s “out there” around us also.
We have seen the ruin of the lives of many
at the hands of those with guns, knives or other lethal weapons.
We are well aware of the destruction and violence of war.
October is Respect Life Month.
We are reminded that we have witnessed the ruin of the lives of many
at the hands of abortionists, at the hands of executioners
and at the hands of those who promote assisted suicide or euthanasia.
We have experienced the misery
of post-abortion mothers and fathers,
the misery of the friends and family of victims of capital punishment,
and the strife among families of the victims of euthanasia.
We have witnessed the clamorous discord
brought on by street crime, war, abortion, capital punishment
and by assisted suicide and euthanasia.
We question why God could allow such violence to happen.
Like the apostles, we pray, no we beg, for an increase of faith.
And we, like the apostles, hear the response that seems to say,
“Y’know, if you had just a little bit of faith, you would be fine.”
How do we understand Jesus’ response?
Let me illustrate with a story.


*It was a Sunday morning in a little chapel in South America.
As Mass was beginning, a not uncommon occurrence took place:
a band of men armed with machine guns came out of the jungle
and forced their way into the chapel.
The priest and the congregation were very afraid.
The men dragged the priest outside to be executed.
Then the leader of the group
came back into the chapel and demanded,
“Anyone else who believes in this God stuff, come forward!”
Everyone was petrified. They were frozen. There was a long silence.
Finally, one man came forward
and stood in front of the leader and said,
“I love Jesus.” He was roughly taken outside to be executed.
Several others came forward and said the same thing.
When no one else stood to be identified,
those standing were escorted out by the leader.
After the sound of machine gun fire, the leader came back in
and told the remaining congregation to get out.
“You have no right to be here!” he said,
and with that he herded all of them out,
where they were astonished
to see their pastor and the others standing.
The priest and those who stood up
were ordered back in the chapel to continue with Mass,
while the others were angrily warned to stay out.
“Until,” said the leader, “you have the courage
to stand up for your beliefs!”
and with that, the gunmen went back into the jungle.


The apostles were asking for an increase in faith;
it was as though they wanted more.
And Jesus’ response about the mustard seed was
that the amount of faith is not the important issue.
Jesus was saying that even the smallest amount of faith
is very powerful.
It is the character of the faith that is important.
Even the smallest amount of faith
put into action is very powerful.
The apostles had the right amount of faith;
they just had to put it into action.
That is what the last part of the gospel is all about,
the part about plowing, tending sheep and serving at table.
Faith gets its character by how it is put into action.
Faith must include standing up and taking action based on beliefs.
Instead of asking for more faith,
the apostles should have been asking for help, for the courage,
to put their faith into action.
This should be our petition also.
God is always there for us with the help to put our faith into action.
We all have that small seed of faith. We must use it.

If you are rich, give of your riches to those who are poor.
You will be amazed at what you can accomplish with your generosity.
Recognize the good in others, even though they may not be perfect
like you may think you are.
You will be amazed how it will help to clarify your own self image.
Open yourself to forgive those who hurt you.
Make it a win – win situation of rebuilding a relationship.
Check out being last.
It’s never a struggle to be last;
it’s a struggle always trying to stay on top.
Stand up against violence in its many forms,
especially violence that threatens innocent life.
Remember, God is standing also, right there next to you.
This is how we plow the field,
tend the sheep and serve at the table.
Faith is not a list of rules or beliefs that can be expanded.
Faith is a virtue, and, like any other virtue,
it must be put into action
A teacher once told me that faith was our response to God
who is ever inviting us into a relationship with him.
Our response to this invitation is action,
our action supported by the grace of God.

*Story taken from W.J. Bausch, “A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers” Twenty Third Publications Mystic , CT 1998 #121 p 271