All posts by dickrento

About dickrento

In this time of revolutionary change in both the Church and the world, as a Catholic priest I have been persuaded by a dear friend to share my homilies and contemporary theological insights with other seekers. I hope you find this blog useful in your life’s journey.

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

I’ve never done this before. I had finished working on a homily for today when the following piece arrived via email. It was written by Kelly Adkins for Christianity Today. My homily yields gladly and gratefully to the wisdom and beauty of the following words.

GOD LIVES UNDER THE BED

I envy my brother Kevin, who thinks God lives under his bed. At least, that’s what I heard him say one night.

He was born 30 years ago, mentally disabled as a result of difficulties during labor.

Apart from his size (he’s 6-foot-2), there are few ways in which he is an adult.

He reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and he always will. He will probably always believe that God lives under his bed, that Santa Claus is the one who fills the space under our tree every Christmas, and that airplanes stay up in the sky because angels carry them.

I remember wondering if Kevin realizes he is different. Is he ever dissatisfied with his monotonous life?

Up before dawn each day, off to a workshop for the disabled, home to walk our cocker spaniel, return to eat his favorite macaroni-and-cheese for dinner, and later to bed.

The only variation in the entire scheme is laundry, when he hovers excitedly over the washing machine like a mother with her newborn child.

He does not seem dissatisfied. He lopes out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple work.

He wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stove before dinner, and he stays up late twice a week to gather our laundry for his next day’s chores.

And Saturdays – Oh, the bliss of Saturdays! That’s the day my dad takes Kevin to the airport to have a soft drink, watch the planes land, and speculate loudly on the destination of each passenger inside. ‘That one’s goin’ to Chi-car-go! ‘Kevin shouts as he claps his hands. His anticipation is so great he can hardly sleep on Friday nights.

And so goes his world of daily rituals and weekend field trips. He doesn’t know what it means to be discontent. His life is simple.

He will never know the entanglements of wealth or power, and he does not care what brand of clothing he wears or what kind of food he eats. His needs have always been met. He never worries that one day they may not be.

His hands are diligent. Kevin is never happier than when he is working. When he unloads the dishwasher or vacuums the carpet, his heart is completely in it. He does not shrink from a job when it is begun and he does not leave a job until it is finished. When his tasks are done, Kevin knows how to relax. He is not obsessed with his work or the work of others. His heart is pure.

He still believes everyone tells the truth and that promises must be kept and when you are wrong, you apologize instead of argue.

Free from pride and unconcerned with appearances, Kevin is not afraid to cry when he is hurt, angry or sorry. He is always transparent, always sincere. And he trusts God.

Not confined by intellectual reasoning, when he comes to God, he comes as a child. Kevin seems to know God – to really be friends with God in a way that is difficult for an ‘educated’ person to grasp. God is his closest companion.

In my moments of doubt and frustrations, I envy the security Kevin has in his simple faith.

It is then that I am most willing to admit that he has some divine knowledge that rises above my mortal questions.

It is then I realize that perhaps he is not the one with the handicap. I am. My obligations, my fear, my pride, my circumstances – they all become disabilities when I do not trust them to God’s care.

Who knows if Kevin comprehends things I can never learn? After all, he has spent his whole life in that kind of innocence, praying after dark and soaking up the goodness and love of God.

And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are opened, and we are all amazed at how close God really is to our hearts, I’ll realize that God heard the simple prayers of a boy who believed that God lived under his bed.

Kevin won’t be surprised at all!

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31ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2018

All practicing Jews, even today, begin each new day with a prayer that includes the words, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is Lord alone!” It’s a simple, profound prayer that Jesus said, and it’s the one with which he responded to the question, Which is the most important commandment?

The answer he gave is that, above everything else, we are to recognize that God is the creator and sustainer of all that is, and that the first and overriding duty we have as creatures is to acknowledge that fundamental, underlying truth by returning love for God’s immense love for us.

Deep down, we know that nothing else matters more: our possessions, our money, our life are all left behind when we stand alone at death with our creator. No surprise then that Jesus should say that the whole of our being here on earth should be directed lovingly toward God.

But you and I are not living in a monastery. How can such a command apply to us in the constant, often hectic, busyness that occupies us day and night?

The response to that question seems to be that Jesus doesn’t say that we are to love only God; he says that we are also to love ourselves and all others, whom he often referred to as our neighbors. Three loves which together constitute a fully human life. Consider each of them —

To love God means, first of all, never forgetting that I come from the creator, the source and ground of my being, not at some moment in the distant past, but in every minute of my existence from cradle to grave. That awareness tells me that I am to live in gratitude for the pure gift of life, a gratitude that finds expression in my thoughts and words and actions always.

2. To love myself means to cherish my being, to regard myself as a unique and precious creation of God. No need to compare myself, favorably or unfavorably, with others: I am of unimaginable worth in the eyes of the one who loved me into life. Nothing should be allowed to keep me from seeing myself as nearly as God sees me. I love me, not by pampering or worshipping myself, but by pursuing the self that God intended to create when God gave me life.

3. To love others means to leap over my prejudices and try to see that all persons, even those who are unattractive and possibly repulsive to me, are loved by God and should therefore be loved in some way by me.

In this connection, I mention again the TV interview I saw many years ago with a married couple whose young daughter had been savagely abused and murdered by a man about her age. They were asked by Larry King about their feelings toward the murderer. They said that they pray for him every day, that he will find God and henceforth live a virtuous life. (I think that will remain the most Christ-like faith witness I will ever have heard.)

The divisions and conflicts, the aversions and hostilities that we experience with others are the result of our incompleteness here on earth, our sinful attitudes, our pettiness and selfishness. Some of it I’m sure we’ve inherited and some of it we’ve fashioned all by ourselves. But we mustn’t permit it to dictate our behavior. Loving my neighbor is simply trying to see him or her as God does, and then to act accordingly

I know that monks and cloistered nuns face the same problems of loving that we do. The command of Jesus is the same for all: love God and love others as you love yourself. Period.

30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2018

I remember assisting an old and dear friend on the day of her death. She was in the hospital’s intensive care unit, where we conversed at considerable length. She was alert and her usual gracious self, asking about my health, my family, my work as chaplain. We prayed together. I placed my hands on her head and said, “Jesus, may my visit with your good friend Marguerite really be your visit. May my hands convey your gentle, reassuring, comforting touch. May the poor words that I speak be your powerful benediction, commanding her to be at peace and to anticipate joyfully the surprises that lie in wait for her. On behalf of all who love her and pray for her, I too bless her in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

She smiled as I left the room. Around suppertime, I learned that she had died in the late afternoon.

So much of priesthood, as in all professions, has to do with administration. On many a day throughout my 60 years of ministry I have spent far more hours behind my desk than in any other activity. In my contact with Marguerite it felt good to be acting as a priest in so personal and direct a way.

In the gospel passage we just proclaimed, we have a clear picture of Jesus the healer. He understands the blind man; he sympathizes with him, challenges him and confirms him in faith. This was more than a merely human encounter; there were greater power and deeper meaning in it than the physical elements themselves could ever contain or reveal. It was obvious to all that God had touched a human being through the ministry of another human being.

All three readings today have to do with priesthood, telling us that God is not detached from us or unconcerned about us ever. They tell us that God speaks and acts in our lives, not only in the vague and intuitive consciousness of humanity, but also through particular persons and at specific times and places. They assure us that God listens eagerly and responds compassionately, often through intermediaries.

There is priesthood in every believer. There is in you. No one should be ashamed of it, as though it were an anachronism, an oddity in a scientific age. Priesthood arises from the human race with an ever increasing desire to be one with the Creative Spirit. And priesthood comes to the human race, blessing and cleansing, and leading it to greater intimacy with its eternal source.

Whether yours is the priesthood affirmed in your Baptism and Confirmation, or the priesthood of ordination and consecration given to me as a servant of others, it appears to be a principal way by which God sanctifies the world, forgiving its faults and repairing its wounds and holding before it the enticing image of what lies ahead for us all.

We can be only grateful that priesthood – yours, mine, ours – is visible and tangible as it is so widely extended through the ministers and members of the church.

29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2018

Several years ago I was welcomed warmly by the associate pastor of a parish to which I had gone to baptize an infant. That priest could not have been more hospitable and more helpful, even telling me not do anything before leaving except to close the doors – he’d return later on to clean up and put everything back in place.

As I thanked him and shook his hand, I asked if he’d accept a word of advice from his much older brother priest. He said yes, gladly. I told him, “I learned long ago that there are only two kinds of priests: kings and servants. It’s clear to me that you are in the latter category, and I’m asking you, for your own sake and for the sake of the people you minister to, never to change.”

He assured me that he would always remember that advice, and I have the feeling that he has been keeping the promise.

Does it not strike you as strange that we should say about a certain priest or bishop, “Isn’t he a nice person? He’s so humble, friendly, so attentive to what others are saying. You feel as comfortable talking with him as you do with any friend. He’s such a regular guy.”

Strange and revealing I say because comments like those seem to me to be the very least that we should be able to say about a person who has committed himself to being, in his person and as his profession, a representative of Jesus.

Pope John XXIII was loved by virtually the whole world because he never saw himself as anything more than a servant-creature of a loving and merciful God. Undoubtedly the best known and the best loved of the billions of people alive in his day, he regarded himself as nothing more than a simple, very limited, imperfect human being. Compare that with many of today’s leaders in both church and civil government!

The stories about John XXIII are priceless, like the one about his gazing at a photo of himself, shaking his head and saying, “If God knew from all eternity that I would be Pope, don’t you think He (sic) would have made me better looking?”

And then there was the time that he was to make a short speech in English, a language in which he was a good butcher! Just before starting, he turned with a mischievous grin to those near him and said, in Italian, “Be sure to listen carefully, because this is gonna be a beaut!”

And then, more importantly, did we love and treasure him for the child-like trust he exhibited in the Spirit of God by calling the Second Vatican Council for the express purpose of bringing the ancient Church safely, and at last, into the modern world. As he himself put it, he wanted to open the Church’s windows and let the fresh air in. He was denounced for such effrontery by ultra-conservatives within the Church, but he persisted head-on, placing his confidence, not in his own or anyone else’s expertise, but in the power and wisdom of the Spirit of God he believed to be at the heart of the movement.

It’s precisely the example of saints like Pope John XXIII, of such warm and happy memory, that illustrates what Jesus had in mind for us all when he said, as we heard in today’s Gospel passage, that, while worldly rulers ordinarily intimidate their subjects by making themselves appear larger and greater than they actually are, it should not be that way with us, his followers. Rather, he said, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For I have come, not to be served, but to serve.’

28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Maybe Jesus’ message concerning our material wealth can be reduced to this: in the end it will be easier to have been poor than to have been rich — meaning that the more we own of money and material things, the harder it is to manage their use and distribution in a way that is consistent with the mind & heart of Jesus.

I have often heard people tell of the almost unbelievable charity of their parents as they struggled to make a place for themselves and their families here in America. They’d often end by saying, “But the nearly incredible thing was that, no matter how little we had, if my parents knew of someone who had less or nothing, somehow they always found a place for that poor person at our table.”

The spirit of poverty isn’t always found in the poor, but it seems to shine with special brilliance when we do find it there. On the other hand, I know many well-to-do persons, including close friends and members of my own family, who possess that same quality of almost unlimited generosity.

But I still think that it is much harder to manage what we have in a truly Christ-like way when we possess very much, when we are rich. The operative concept here is attachment. What we own is attractive and precious to us; in a way, it is like our offspring, our children. We love them; we don’t want to give them up, these material things that have become such important parts of our lives. We know we certainly don’t need them all; we also know that, while we are enjoying our luxuries, others are in desperate need and would be helped by our sharing more with them. But then we tell ourselves that we’ve come through hard times, too, and that what we have now we earned by the sweat of our brows and by our ingenuity and wise decisions and by taking some pretty big risks along the way.

It’s an on-going struggle, I know very well. I am confessing that it is in my life that the struggle goes on. I’m not judging others or accusing others of anything. The agonizing is my own: do I hold on to too much when others, near and far away, are dying for lack of food or water or housing and I am living so well? I don’t know for sure. And what am I asked or expected to do? I don’t always know that, either.

The nearest I can come to a resolution of this nagging problem is my conviction that we must at least cultivate a feeling, a sensitivity, for the plight of the poor and turn that into concrete action, no matter how small. True, none of us can save everyone in the world. We are limited in what we can do. I remember hearing the world-renowned theologian, the late Monika Hellwig, a friend of mine, say that, although we can be radical in all our thinking, we cannot possibly be radical in all our actions. We can reach only some of the many who need our help.

What if we turned to the wisdom of our Judeo Christian ancestors and pledged to give one tenth of our income to the needy poor? Tithing, that’s called. Or some other approximate percentage of our wealth?

It could be that that would be the first step toward a pattern of really Christ-like compassion toward persons in desperate, degrading, dehumanizing need. Who knows where that will lead? It certainly would put us into closer union with the compassionate Christ — and add peace to our own lives.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2018

Those words of Jesus about marriage and divorce can sound very harsh. But don’t despair. Whatever we read or hear — from any source, including the scriptures — has to be interpreted through the conditions and circumstances from which they originally came. To say, for example, “Kill him!” at a murder scene is very different from shouting the very same two words from the bleachers at a ball game.

Could Jesus really have meant what these words attributed to him seem to be saying? Is every person living in a marriage in which one or the other partner is divorced from a previous spouse living in sin? Should such a person be regarded as a sinner and refused Communion at Mass?

What were the circumstances or the situations that Jesus had in mind when he said what he did? Well, we know at least this much: that in his day divorce was solely and exclusively the privilege of males.

I will quote from page 130 in my own book now: “A man could divorce his wife for even the flimsiest reason, after which she was left absolutely destitute — no money, no home, no livelihood, no claim to any property, no good name, nothing. She invariably turned to begging or prostitution just to remain alive. It seems to me that one reason for Jesus’ strongly negative position on divorce was his sensitivity to the plight of these discarded women and the evil of the system that allowed men such shameful liberty.

“Virtually all Christian churches today hold that divorce is sometimes unavoidable and that persons who divorce for good reason have not thereby sinned. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church stands virtually alone in forbidding divorced persons to move on to a new marriage and remain members of the church in good standing.” (End of quote) I hope and pray that that will change in the not-too-distant future.

I believe that in this matter, as in others of which he spoke, Jesus was stressing the ideal: a marriage commitment that would be as permanent and unconditional as God’s commitment to each and all of us. I think that he was saying that anyone who treats marriage lightly, casually, and denies in practice, if not in words, that it is by its very nature permanent and is not trying to make it that, is living in on-going adultery

Marriage is not merely a contract like the instrument by which we purchase a house or a car and in which we promise to do certain things and refrain from others. Marriage is a covenant in which two human beings give themselves to one another. It’s their entire past, every bit of the present, and all of the unknown future that they pledge to one another. Marriage is an unpredictable adventure. It’s not based on how the partners feel about one another; feelings change from minute to minute, but love endures and grows in both good times and bad.

Notice that in the marriage ceremony the presiding minister does not ask the couple if they love one another; he or she asks, Will you love this person who is about to become your partner until death separates you? In other words, will you love her when she is not very attractive to you? Will you love him when he hurts or disappoints you? Covenant embraces the many forms that love can and must take — including just plain waiting, holding on until the present clouds lift.

Let’s include in this Mass whatever relational brokenness we have brought to it. The crushed wheat and the pressed grapes from which our offering of bread and wine comes are very symbolic of that aspect of our lives. May we be touched and healed by the understanding and compassionate Jesus Christ.

26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2018

Recent hurricanes and tornadoes and massive floods right here in our own country can make us feel like a third world nation instead of the safe, secure and beautiful America we are living in. As religious people of the Catholic faith, we can wonder what role God the Creator plays in these tragedies. After all, most of us do pray for divine assistance when they occur.

Fundamentalist Christians are quick to interpret these events as signs of God’s anger, which also foretell even greater calamities yet to come, perhaps the destruction of the world, as they believe is predicted in the Bible. (I thought it was amusing that in one of those destructive storms several years ago, in all of New Orleans the area that was the most spared was the very symbol of the city’s immorality – Bourbon Street!) So, God’s role in these horrific acts of nature? Zero, none at all.

The reaction of our first human ancestors to these murderous forces was appeasement: offering gifts to the gods, altar sacrifices (including human), hoping the gods would be satisfied and then withdraw their attacks. One has to wonder how much of that enters into our understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ death, namely, that it was a sacrifice offered to ransom us sinful people from the punishment that God was ready to inflict. One also has to wonder why we are not more openly reexamining that old theology in search of a truer interpretation, which is that Jesus’ death was not payment for anyone’s sins but rather the expression of his love for us, his fellow human beings, and the God he called Father.

In other words, he knew that if he stopped his preaching and teaching about a loving and merciful God, and if he stopped confronting the powers of oppression and violence as he was constantly doing, he could have lived serenely into a comfortable old age and died a natural death. But he chose instead to continue the risky business of truth-telling, aware that it would lead to an inevitable and cruel execution. The cross, to me, is the measure of how much he has loved us and the God from whom we all ultimately come.

The universe is filled with the random forces of nature in addition to the intended and the accidental forces of human beings both good and evil. When these forces act and often collide, harm is certain to occur – destruction of all kinds, injury and death. God does not initiate or orchestrate the process; it simply happens. It’s “natural”. But God is present to it all, experiencing it with us, and from that presence of the Creative Spirit we draw the strength to wait in patience and hope and to do whatever we can to restore normalcy.

The Scripture readings appointed for today are, to say the least, not among my favorites, and that’s why I have diverged from them somewhat in composing this homily. They paint a picture of a stern, angry and avenging God, not consistent with the gentle heavenly father that Jesus so often spoke of. I wish I were a biblical scholar, able to give a more complete and satisfying explanation of that disconnect, but I am not and therefore cannot. So I am left to trust that something that I have said will be useful to you in your life as a faithful disciple of Jesus.

I wish you lasting peace.