Sunday, January 21, 2024

Sinners of Men

Sinners of Men
January 21, 2024    3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi


I’ve never trusted the story of Jonah and the Ninevites. I’ve always thought there was something fishy about it.  (Sorry, lately I’ve been amusing myself with “Dad Jokes” on Facebook.)

But seriously, Jonah was arguably one of greatest preachers of all time.  In less than 24 hours, he convinced the majority of the population of Nineveh, estimated to be around 120,000 people including the king and other legal authorities that the God of their enemy Israel, would destroy them in 40 days.  Jonah didn’t even call them to repentance and yet, without even an “or else” to offer them hope, they abandoned the status quo of their lives, put on sack cloth and fasted man and beast alike in the unspoken hope that God would spare them.  As for Jonah, he didn’t even want to be there!

But when God calls, we need to listen.  And in one way or another, we’re all called by God.

The calling of the first disciples in today’s Gospel is one of the few stories that can be found in one form or another in all four Gospels.  Last week we heard John’s version where Andrew and John were followers of St. John the Baptist and he pointed Jesus out to them, which led Andrew to bring his brother Simon Peter to Jesus; in Luke’s version there is a detailed interaction between Simon Peter and Jesus, with Jesus getting into Peter’s boat with him and Peter experiencing the miraculous catch of fish.

Both Matthew’s version and today’s version from Mark are briefer; Jesus merely says to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” and they immediately drop everything and follow him.

I just finished re-watching Episode 4 from Season 1 of “The Chosen”, and it reminded me that even in the midst of our problems and sins – maybe because of them – God still calls us.

Why is this calling so important that all four Gospels include a version of it?  Last week Fr. Szatkowski talked about the call to religious vocations, and like the call of our first Pope, St. Peter, that is a significant message to us all, especially to the young men and women who are considering life as a priest or a member of a religious community.  But Jesus’ call is more than just a summons to future clergy and religious.  He is summoning each of us to become “fishers of men.”

I’ve shared this story many times, but it is still relevant today.  Twenty one years ago this month I made my first mission trip to Honduras, and the Sunday Gospel was this one.  I was traveling with a priest friend of mine who, fortunately, spoke better Spanish than I did.  Better, but not perfect.  You see, he presided at the Mass and proclaimed the Gospel, and when he got to the part where Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men", which in Spanish is "Síganme y haré de ustedes pescadores de hombres" (forgive my Spanish), he said, "Síganme y haré de ustedes pecadores de hombres", which in English would be "Come after me, and I will make you sinners of men."  

The local priest who concelebrated the Mass with him loved the slip of the tongue, and he used it all week long in his homilies to make a very important theological point – Jesus calls US, as sinners – to become fishers of men.  Every one of us.

What would it take for you to abandon your livelihood and follow Jesus?  In all four Gospels, those first called left everything to follow him.  In today’s Gospel, Peter and Andrew “abandoned” their nets and followed him.  James and John left behind parents and coworkers and followed him.

One thing is certain.  The early Christians believed Jesus when he said, “The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the Gospel."  Gospel.  The Good News.  The GOOD news.

Good?  Jesus said this just after John the Baptist had been arrested and thrown into prison. Although Mark’s Gospel is considered the first of the four to be written down, remember that all of the Gospels were written after Jesus had been crucified, died, and had risen from the dead so the early Church had a pretty good idea of what would happen to them if they followed Jesus, and they did anyway.

Do you really believe that the Kingdom of God is at hand today?  The Kingdom of God IS at hand.  We are ALL called to be fishers of those people who are in need of the Good News.  We do not need to walk away from our families or livelihoods to proclaim the Good News – we can do it right where we are: to our children (or parents); to our friends; to our co-workers; to our neighbors.  Will it take sacrifice?  OF COURSE! While St. Paul may have seemed a little extreme in his letter to the Corinthians today, he is correct in that we must learn to place Jesus and his Good News as the priority of our lives.

One final thought.  Bishop Robert Barron, in a homily on John’s version of today’s message, once said that it “offers a compelling meditation about the importance of Christ for the activities of the Church. Christians are meant to be fishers of men, but when we operate according to our own agendas and efforts we will catch nothing. We must act under the Lord's direction. If we follow Christ we will do great good indeed.”

Whether we are Pescadores or Pecadores, God has need of us.  And as Pecadores, we have need of Him.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas
December 24, 2023    Fourth Sunday of Advent - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi


Twas the night before Christmas, and all across our nation,
    There was a sense of joy, of anticipation.
And yet, in other places this year,
    The celebration of Christmas was cancelled in fear.
For many this year there’s no joy, no peace.
    Only hope that the violence, the hate, would cease.

I have to admit that, when I read the headline that Christmas was cancelled in Bethlehem, I was crushed.  After all, all of the Christmas references to Bethlehem have always made me think of it as a peaceful place, as we hear in the song, “O little town of Bethlehem / How still we see thee lie / Above thy deep and dreamless sleep / The silent stars go by”

But in researching the history of the town, I realize that throughout its existence the “City of Bread” has been rocked with conflict.  So, as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth, it is appropriate that we take a moment to reflect on why the coming of Jesus is just as important to us today as it was 2000 years ago.

Think about this.  At the time of Jesus’ birth, the world was not really at “peace”; rather, there was just a sort of lull in the action – a sort of truce.  Judea was under Roman occupation; Mary and Joseph were required to report to the equivalent of immigration officials to be “registered” by the Romans and had to leave home just as Mary was due to give birth.  They had no place to stay, so they had to take refuge in a cave.

As for Jesus, well, Herod wanted him DEAD and had all children 2 and under killed.

But that doesn’t mean that this shouldn’t be a time of JOY.  Despite the world’s best efforts, Christmas itself has not been cancelled, even if some of the glitter and festivities are subdued.  And God has not left us alone. There will still be Christmas Masses in the Holy Land.

As for us, every year we are encouraged to remember the true meaning of Christmas, and this year is no different.  Only this year, we can be tangible witnesses to that reality in the world today.  The news of the birth of Jesus is GOOD NEWS, and despite what our personal circumstances or those of the world at large may be, we are called to have JOY, remembering what JOY stands for – Jesus, Others, and You.

One final thought.  At his weekly audience last Wednesday, Pope Francis reminded those present that:

"Having fun is not a bad thing if it is done in the right way, it's something human," he said, "but joy is even more profound, more human… " and, said that those who witnessed the first Nativity scene by St. Francis, “returned home with an ineffable joy." Such joy, the pope said, did not come from bringing home gifts or attending lavish parties, "no, it was the joy that overflows from the heart when one touches the closeness of Jesus, the tenderness of God who does not leave one alone but consoles them."

He ended by asking people not to forget those who suffer because of war, particularly those in Palestine, Israel and Ukraine.

"Let us think of the children in war, the things they see; let us go to the Nativity scene and ask Jesus for peace," the pope said. "He is the Prince of Peace."

May your Christmas be one of peace and joy.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Accounting

The Accounting
November 19, 2023    33rd Sunday in OT - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

If the world ended today, would you be ready to make an accounting of your life?  

Of all of the books of the New Testament, most scholars say that Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is the first, or maybe the second, and that was written less than 20 years after Jesus’ Resurrection.  So when Paul writes that the early Christians already know that the 2nd coming of Christ could come at any time without warning, he is also reminding them that it won’t be long before they too will need to make an accounting of their lives.  The Church continues to remind us of that future as we approach the end of our Liturgical year next Sunday, when we celebrate Christ, the King of the Universe.

However, first we will celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday. Although it isn’t a Holy Day of Obligation – and it should be – Thanksgiving still reminds us to be thankful for the many gifts that God has entrusted to us.  That’s the truth of it, isn’t it?  Despite our thoughts to the contrary, what we have aren’t only a result of our personal efforts, but are gifts given to us by God.

But today’s Gospel also reflects a more important truth – all that we have aren’t just gifts given to us to do with as we see fit, but they represent precious treasures that actually belong to God and which have been entrusted to us as stewards to use according to His Will, and at the end of our life He will want them back.  Jesus compares these gifts to talents.

What’s a talent?  Today, when we hear the word “talent” we may think about exceptional artistic skills like painting or singing or playing the piano (none of which I possess), or physical skills like playing sports (which I don’t have, either).  

And often we like to showcase those abilities that we consider exceptional in shows or competitions.  For example, I’m sure many of you have seen or at least heard of the TV show “America’s Got Talent.” And don’t forget our fascination with sports – I guess we could say that the World Series-winning Texas Rangers have particular talents. The verdict is still out on the Cowboys…

But, as presented in today’s Gospel, a “talent” was a unit of measure usually used to weigh precious metals.  It varied between about 60 and 75 lbs. depending on the culture, with Jewish tradition being on the heavier end.  It was also the equivalent of about 3000 shekels, and a shekel was the average daily wage for the common laborer of the time.

So in today’s Gospel the servant who only received one talent still received the equivalent of 10 years wages.  And with gold currently worth almost $2000 an ounce, that means your average 10yr old child, who weighs about 70lbs, would be worth about $2.2 million dollars today – if he or she was made of gold.  I know we say that a child is more precious than gold, but sometimes I think that only means they are just that expensive to raise.

But whether or not we’re talking about talents as precious metals or of talents being special skills or abilities, do we recognize that they are gifts from God?  They are.  And whether we have been blessed with financial success or a great voice or ability to play sports, it is up to us to cultivate our talents – for the glory of God.

In today’s Gospel, the Master gives his servants a ridiculously large sum of money to take care of, and then he just – leaves.  No instructions on how to use the talents, no instructions on how to invest them – he simply entrusts his servants with them.  And he leaves.

In a way, God has done the same thing with us, with one exception:  God has told us what needs to be done with the talents that he has entrusted to us, as we hear in the parable of the sheep and the goats concerning the Works of Mercy and in the Beatitudes.

Even if he hasn’t given each of us specific instructions, the challenge remains.  Although we often don’t think that some of the things we are good at are of any value to others, God has gifted us with them for a reason and each one can be used, first and foremost, for the building of the Kingdom of God.  Every one!  Trust me.  When I was being yelled at to be quiet as a kid, I would never have guessed that one of my most precious talents as a deacon would be my big mouth.  

Talents are meant to be nurtured and grown. Today’s Gospel ends with, “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Whatever your talents – athletics, money, singing, whatever – if you do NOT use them FIRST for the Glory of God, then no matter how successful you are, how famous you are, or how rich you are – you’ve buried your talent in the earth.  And eventually, as with all things buried in the earth, they will waste away and soon be of no value to you or anyone else.  Especially for you.

One final thought.  If we do treasure the gifts we have received from God, if we are truly thankful for them and pray in thanksgiving to God for them this Thursday, do we recognize that they still belong to God?  Do we use them for His Glory?  

Remember – we are only stewards of all that we have.  Today’s Gospel reminds us that there will come a day when God will ask us to make an accounting of all that He has entrusted to us, and we will have to give it back.  And, He expects it with interest.

 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

In the Face of Adversity: Pray!

In the Face of Adversity: Pray!
October 15, 2023    28th Sunday OT - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi    

When I first found out that I would preach this weekend, I wanted to focus on St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians because, as Father Szatkowski mentioned a couple of weeks ago, it is rich with material worth reflecting on. This Sunday wraps up our journey through the letter which has been presented to us for not only the last 4 Sundays at Mass but which was the heart of the readings each day from the Liturgy of the Hours’ Office of Readings a week ago, and I find it one of the most uplifting and joyful of all his letters.  And with coming off retreat last weekend and the wonderful weather we have been experiencing, it has truly seemed to be an uplifting and joyful time in the world.

But that was before the horrendous events which occurred in the Middle East, and I’ve struggled to reconcile the feelings of joy and peace that I get from Paul’s letters with the negative emotions which have assailed me because of world events in the Ukraine and the Middle East, as well as day-to-day problems in my personal life.

And yet, if we listen closely to what Paul has to say to us, we will understand that God is still active in our world despite the conflicts of today, and God remains with us even in the personal problems we face.

To understand that, we should first look at the circumstances at the time in which Paul is writing.  First and foremost, he’s been persecuted for proclaiming the Good News.  He’s been stoned, run out of towns, and faced obstacles from both man and nature, and he has given up all that he owned and his position among the Jews in order to proclaim the Gospel.  Now, Paul is in prison.  He’s been there for a while, and he has been abandoned by those who were near to him. It would be understandable if he were depressed or anxious or even questioned the faith he professed.

We see in his letter a life that reflects the circumstances of life which we all have experienced: of being hungry and of being well-fed; of having everything we thought we needed and of having to do without.  Of feeling accepted and of feeling abandoned or persecuted.

But he doesn’t.  He describes his life as one of joy and peacefulness of heart, one of gratitude and confidence.  

The beginning of Chapter 4 has what is one of my favorite of all Bible verses from Paul:  “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (4:4)  He follows that with a challenge for us in light of what which we face today: “Have no anxiety at all but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” (4:6)

In light of the circumstances of the last week, we too are now called to make our requests known to God through prayer and fasting.  The Latin Catholic patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, has called for a day of prayer and fasting on Tuesday, Oct. 17, for peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land.  He has urged Catholics to organize times of prayer with Eucharistic adoration and recitation of the rosary “to deliver to God the Father our thirst for peace, justice, and reconciliation.”

He further said, “In this time of sorrow and dismay, we do not want to remain helpless. We cannot let death and its sting (1 Cor 15:55) be the only word we hear. … That is why we feel the need to pray, to turn our hearts to God the Father. Only in this way we can draw the strength and serenity needed to endure these hard times, by turning to him, in prayer and intercession, to implore and cry out to God amidst this anguish.”

In response to his request to the Universal Church, we will have a day of prayer and adoration at St. Paul’s, beginning with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament immediately after the 8am Mass, and concluding with Benediction at 9pm.  Fr. Szatkowski hopes that everyone will stop by at some point during the day for quiet prayer and to recite a rosary. If your circumstances prevent you from coming, please pray a rosary as a family at home.  Also, consider offering some sort of fasting or sacrifice that day for peace.

I would like to offer one final thought.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed in the face of tragic events in our own lives, and the feeling of helplessness in light of events happening half-way around the globe is understandable.  But we are NOT helpless.  Paul today gives us the line which should be our motto:

“I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.”

Through Christ we DO have the strength to face whatever the challenges that may arise in our lives. And the most important, the most powerful weapon that we have in the face of any adversity is prayer.  Come Tuesday, PRAY.

And in spite of adversity, remember Paul’s words: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”

Or, as I quoted a few weeks ago, “Remember to play after every storm.”

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Blessings from Forgiveness

Blessings from Forgiveness
September 17, 2023    24th Sunday OT - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

For the last two weeks we’ve been on a journey with Jesus learning about what it takes to be His disciple.

•    It began when He explained to His disciples about how He was going to suffer and die at the hands of others and how we too need to be ready to embrace the crosses in our own lives.  
•    It continued last week with how we have the responsibility to provide fraternal correction to others and have been given the power to forgive others when we have been hurt.
•    Today we learn about the consequences of not using that power to forgive.

We begin with the directive from the book of the Wisdom of Ben Sira, better known as Sirach:  “Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.”

Then, from Psalm 103:  “Bless the LORD, my soul; and do not forget all His gifts, Who pardons all your sins, and heals all your ills”

And from today’s Gospel:  "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

We also hear of the consequences of unforgiveness:  “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?" Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."

Forgiveness.  Easy to say, hard to practice.  Yet we pledge just that, to forgive others, every single time we recite the Lord’s Prayer:  “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us …”

Whenever we contemplate forgiveness, I think there are four important questions that we must ask ourselves:

1.    What keeps us from forgiving others?
2.    What is the one thing that we cannot forgive in others?
3.    Is forgiveness a sign of weakness?
4.    Can we admit our own need for forgiveness?
.    
The last one may actually be the easiest to answer, at least superficially.  “Do I need to be forgiven for something I’ve done or failed to do?”  We usually acknowledge that whenever we say the Confiteor at Mass: “I confess to Almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I’ve done and in what I’ve failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”  And we usually have a list of our sins ready for Confession.

But what about the forgiving the sins of others?  The other three questions can be closely intertwined:  has someone done something so heinous that they don’t deserve forgiveness from me?  Something that I want them condemned for and to suffer for for all eternity, or at least for the rest of their life?  If I grant someone forgiveness, does that mean there are no more consequences for their actions?

These are complicated issues but there is one other question which needs to be answered:  “WHY?”  Why can I not forgive? Why do I think something cannot be forgiven?  Why should I forgive someone if I cannot forgive myself?

Often the answer to “why” is both simple to say and difficult to resolve.  It's PAIN.  Pain blinds us.  When we are hurt, we want the pain to go away, and if we can’t make the pain go away, then we want others to suffer with us, especially the one who caused the pain.  We seek vengeance.  How often in today’s action movies are we shown revenge as a way of getting even with someone who has hurt us?  If it isn’t a person that caused us harm but something else beyond our control, we still seek for someone, something, we can blame.

But we are commanded to forgive.  Again the question, why?

Well, one reason is because we are told to, and we see this reflected throughout the Bible.  Today’s readings are examples of the command to forgive, and there are plenty of other scriptures that show forgiveness in action.  For example, in the Acts of the Apostles we see St. Stephen, one of the first deacons and the first recorded martyr, crying out in a loud voice as he was being stoned to death, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep.”  And don’t forget Jesus’ own words, from the cross:  “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Closer to home, all we need to do is to look to the lives of the saints, especially the martyrs, to see the peace they experienced in the peak of their suffering.  And we don’t have to look far into history to see that.  

There is St. Maria Goretti, who was murdered in 1902 by Alessandro Serenelli as he assaulted her.  She forgave him from her deathbed in the hospital the day after the attack.  

Then, there's Pope St. John Paul II who, after surviving an assassination attempt in 1983, publicly forgave his assailant and asked for prayers for him. He eventually met with him and they developed a friendship with each other.

In her book, “Left to Tell”, Immaculee Ilibagiza, who at the age of 23 survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide, describes her journey of forgiveness. She spent 91 days hiding with seven other women in a 3’ by 4’ bathroom in a neighbor’s house. When she meets Felicien, a formerly successful and wealthy Hutu businessman who headed the gang that killed her parents now in prison, she looked him in the eye and told him that she forgave him.  When she was asked how she could forgive him, she replied, “Forgiveness is all I have to offer.”

Finally, you may have heard me speak of the book “The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness” by Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal. In it he recounts his experiences as a prisoner during World War II at the Lemberg concentration camp and of being assigned to medical waste removal at its hospital. At one point he has an encounter with a mortally wounded Nazi officer who asked for a Jew – any Jew that the hospital staff could find – to come and serve as a sort of proxy that he could confess his actions to and to ask for forgiveness for an incident where 300 Jews were trapped in an apartment building which was set on fire and shot as they tried to escape.  Simon is forced to come and listen, but he cannot bring himself to offer forgiveness.  When he comes back the next day, the officer had died.

The book's second half is a collection of answers to letters he sent to various people, including other Holocaust survivors, religious leaders and former Nazis with the question of whether or not he should have offered forgiveness to the dying officer.

Of the 53 people who responded, most said “no, do not forgive.” As you might have imagined, not a single person of Jewish descent said “yes”, but the majority of those who expressed no religious affiliation also said “No”.  Interestingly, of the Christians (including Catholics) who responded, over 50% believed it was OK to forgive or were at least uncertain about it.  Only the Buddhists were unanimous about it being OK.

In order to prepare ourselves to face the emotions we experience in painful situations, St. Philip Neri suggested that we practice controlling our emotions by pretending that we’ve just suffered terrible insults or misfortune and then imagine ourselves imitating Christ’s example by bearing these burdens and offering forgiveness with patience and charity. This sort of rehearsing can eventually make it easier for us to automatically respond in a more loving way when faced with real affronts.

Remember, just because forgiveness is difficult does not mean it is wrong or impossible. Rather, the difficulty of compelling oneself to forgive belies the happiness, the relief – the peace – that comes when one is actually able to do so. Today’s Gospel intellectually tells us of the rewards of forgiving and being forgiven, but the stories of the saints and those in our own lives who have offered or received forgiveness gives us real-world hope and experience of God’s love through the power of forgiveness.

So I urge you: forgive, so that you too can be forgiven.  Forgive, and make room in your heart for God’s love.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Why Are You Here?

Why Are You Here?
August 13, 2023    19th Sunday OT - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi    

Today we heard from two scripture passages that I often like to reflect on: our first reading from First Kings about Elijah on the mountain, and St. Matthew’s version of Jesus walking on the water.  The first serves as a reminder to me that God is always there to listen to me whenever I begin to doubt my ministry and call, especially whenever I face a challenge that I don’t really understand or know how to face; the second because it serves as a reminder to me that God has a sense of humor even in the face of those challenges.

First, Elijah.  I found it intriguing that in today’s first reading, a particular phrase is omitted – twice.  “Why are you here, Elijah?”  It’s missing from the 2nd part of the very first line, when Elijah takes shelter in a cave, and again as the 2nd part of the very last line, as Elijah stands at the entrance of the cave as God passes by. “Why are you here, Elijah?

“Here” in this case, is the mountain of Horeb.  Horeb: also known as Mount Sinai or the Mountain of God. It is first mentioned in the Bible when Moses has his encounter with the burning bush in Exodus; it is also where God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.  Now, in this passage, the mountain is where Elijah encounters God.

We often focus on the whispering sound of God found in this scripture, and rightfully so.  It is hard to hear God in the noise of the world and, when we are trying to understand what God wants of us, we need to know that we can best hear Him when we make room for silence in our lives.

But I think we can miss a bigger picture if we don’t see this in the total context of Elijah’s prophetic mission which, in light of our ministry fair this weekend, is appropriate for us to reflect on.

Elijah the Tishbite.  We should all be familiar with him, for in the Gospels Jesus compares him to John the Baptist.  He is first mentioned in Chapter 17 when he goes to Ahab, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, to call him to repentance.  He proclaims a drought that lasts 3 years.  He lives with a widow in Zerapeth, providing food for her and her son and he raises that son from the dead.  He also contends with the 400 prophets of Baal and defeats them by calling down fire from heaven.  He flees from the scene because Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, wants to have him killed.  Today’s scripture picks up from there.

Although he was called by God to mission, Elijah thinks he’s a failure since Ahab and the people of Israel failed to repent, and he comes before God to complain about his mission.  

Why are you here, Elijah?”

Too often I think that,when we hear this line, God is being stern with Elijah, putting him on the spot.  But the fact that God comes to him not in the storm or the fire or the earthquake but in the gentle whisper of the breeze should be a comfort to him – and to us.  True, He will send Elijah back to continue his mission, just as He sends us even when we think we're failures.  But here, we’re reminded that God is a gentle, loving God to those who serve Him, even when they are uncertain of their efforts.

Then, from the storms of the mountain we move to the storm on the sea. I love this particular Gospel passage because unlike many people, I see it as proof that God has a sense of humor.  One might think Jesus is disappointed with Peter – “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  But Jesus already knows what is going to happen so, instead of saying, “Come” why wouldn’t He have just said, “Wait, Peter, I’ll be there in a minute.”

To me, this is the perfect practical joke.  It begins with Peter, after hearing the Lord’s voice, issuing a challenge to Jesus:  “Command me...”  There’s almost an arrogance to it.  It’s not a request; it doesn’t even show that Peter questions who Jesus is. It’s more than a statement; it IS a command in and of itself.

Jesus already knows that Peter is in no danger from the storm or the water.  Jesus is there.  What better way to break the tension of the storm and provide Peter with a lesson in humility that to just say, “Come.”

Now, Peter is on the spot.  I’m not sure I know what Peter was expecting, but I’m not sure that “Come” was it. Everyone in the boat most likely was afraid of the storm: at the very least they were having to battle the storm about them.  To step out of the boat in the face of it would certainly require an act of faith.

And, as soon as Peter began to sink, Jesus was there, holding out His hand.  Unlike the movies showing Peter becoming fully submerged, I think it more likely that the water began to move up his legs, since it didn’t say that he sank like a stone.  Still, if it was me, even water only up to my ankles would make me cry out, “Lord, Save Me!

Which, of course, Jesus does.  And then comes that powerful line, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"  I can almost see Jesus smiling at Peter when he says it – not the condescending sneer of someone thinking they’re superior to another, but the loving smile of someone comforting a friend.

And for those of us who might doubt that Jesus might be smiling at Peter, remember that we as humans often need humor to overcome our fears and the trials we face.  There is a reason why psychologists and medical personnel say that “Laughter is the Best Medicine”.  That’s why the tag line on every one of my emails is a quote from Mattie Stepanek, an amazing young man who died at the age of 14 after suffering almost his entire life with from a rare form of muscular dystrophy and who considered himself a messenger from God:  

“Remember to play after every storm.”  (By the way, Mattie was a great practical joker.)

So, in a sense both of these readings have a couple of things in common.  First, they are both about God calling out to us in the noise and storms of our lives.  Second, when God calls to us, it’s not about commanding us to mission, it’s about reassuring us in our mission.  

We are all called to serve, and there are opportunities for everyone.  

  • For youth: God may be inviting you to become altar servers.
  • For those who are seeking to grow in faith: God may be inviting you to work as volunteers in faith formation programs for middle school students, for high school and young adults, or as RCIA sponsors.  Don’t worry about sinking from lack of knowledge; God is there to lift you up and support you as you learn.
  • For those who love God: Serve as a liturgical minister – there’s opportunities to become Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, Proclaimers of the Word, Ushers to provide guidance and safety to others, or to praise God joyfully in a choir.
  • For those called to service of others: Check out the various service organizations available to you.

Like the question posed to Elijah, we are all asked to ponder, "why am I here?"  And like Peter, Jesus commands us all to get out of the safety of boat.

  
THAT’S why we’re here.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

What Kind of Soil Are You?

What Kind of Soil Are You?   
July 16, 2023    15th Sunday OT - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi 
   

Today’s Gospel is one of the few in which Jesus takes the time to explain the meaning of one of his parables to his disciples.  At this point in His ministry, because of past His preaching and performance of miraculous signs, people are being drawn to Him as much out of curiosity as anything, and the crowds are getting large.  And, as one might imagine, the people who are there come from many different faiths and walks of life. In explaining this parable to his disciples, I think He’s pointing out to them what they themselves will face later on when they preach the Good News to others. It is the same challenge which we face today.

Jesus compares those in the crowd with four kinds of dirt upon which His Word – the Word of God – has been scattered, and what kind of reaction it will receive by those who hear it.  Face it, we are all dirt.  Sounds kind of insulting, doesn’t it? And yet, God told Adam in Genesis that "(Y)ou are dust (or dirt), and to dust you shall return."  So it’s not a question of whether or not we’re dirt, but rather: “What kind of dirt am I?”  

What are the choices that Jesus gives us?  

He starts with the hard-packed dirt of a Path. During the time of Jesus, most people walked everywhere, and the paths, especially those leading to major destinations, would be packed solid with the thousands of feet that traveled them every day.  If you’ve ever been somewhere where there’s a dirt trail that you follow, you know that the ground can be almost as hard as concrete.  

So the dirt of the path may be thought of as those who hear with their ears and minds but who have closed their hearts.  They are often intellectuals; rationalists who only believe in what the material world reveals. They have knowledge but no wisdom. Or, as Isaiah put it, they look and see but do not listen or understand. They are not necessarily bad people.  But pride, arrogance and a sense of superiority clouds their ability to see the miracles of God as coming from God. 

The Word of God cannot take root in them – Jesus cannot take root in them – since to even contemplate the possibility would require them to acknowledge that there are things beyond anyone’s ability to understand.  Like Blind Pharisees, they claim they already know all of the answers and so cannot see their own weaknesses and failings, let alone hear the Good News of Jesus.  

If the dirt path represents those who outright reject God or deny His existence, that shouldn’t be us.  After all, we are here at Mass today, accepting and sharing God’s Word as a community of faith, and we profess that faith in God.

But it might be safe to say that we all might have a little of the other three types of soil within us.  

There’s Rocky Dirt.  They might be compared to those who live with a fear of bad things happening to them. They can and do acknowledge the existence of God as long as good things happen to them, but they often refuse to accept the price of discipleship – the price of the Cross – which scares them off.  Think of those disciples in John’s Gospel who, when listening to Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life and heard that they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood, turned away and no longer followed Him.  Or those like the rich young man whom Jesus loved but who was unwilling to sacrifice his earthly possessions in order to follow Jesus.

These too are not bad people; but they live in fear that they may lose whatever good things they have received in life if they follow Jesus too closely.  They struggle with the concept of redemptive suffering and often get angry and turn away from God when they think that their prayers are not answered as they think they should be.

There are times in our lives when, like the rocky ground, we find our faith tested by our personal trials and problems.  The loss of a job or financial difficulties can leave us questioning God’s presence in our lives, especially if we’ve been blessed with prosperity for any length of time in the past.  Our health issues or those of someone we love can lead us into questioning God’s mercy.  Like the rocky dirt, the boulders of adversity that we encounter can block the joy which we once experienced in God’s presence.  We forget that in the Garden of Gesthemane, Jesus leaned on the rocks seeking the Will of his Father.

Then, there’s Thorny Dirt.  They might be compared to those who see God as just one of many factors in their lives that they need to balance and who prioritize their own desires and goals over the Will of God.  They too are not bad people, they just have trouble with prioritizing God’s Will over their own.  Unlike rocky soil in which fear or anger affects our acceptance of God’s Word, in thorny soil we allow our desire for materialistic goods and our personal satisfaction to overwhelm our attempts for holiness.  

We may be trying to grow in our faith, but we allow our priorities to become entangled with the weeds of the world which spring up all around us.  Faith takes a back seat to the immediacy of our wants.   We get poked by the thorns of those who don’t believe as we do, or who do not take their faith seriously, and we compromise our beliefs because it’s easier to go along with the crowd.  We forget that Jesus bore the thorns of the worldly on His head during His journey to the cross – and our salvation.

Jesus saying, “To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” has to do with what we value.  If we see the value of the Word of God, if we see the value of following Jesus despite the work required to cultivate His garden, then we will gain what we need to flourish.  But, if we fail to see the value of following God’s Will, if we fail to embrace our own crosses, if we are not willing to make the sacrifices asked of us, then we risk losing that very faith, which is more precious than the finest gold, which can sustain us during those times of trial and tribulation which will inevitably enter every one of our lives.

But then there’s the Rich Soil.  Rich Soil is NOT Perfect Soil.  All earthly soil has its imperfections, its share of rocks and thorns.  Any good farmer knows that in order to have truly rich soil for their crops they must “work the land” – they plow and sift to remove the rocks; they may burn the stubble add fertilizer and other nutrients to aid in the growth of their crops.  It is a continuous cycle which has to be repeated every year and which doesn’t always succeed in producing a bumper crop because the farmer knows there are outside factors which affect their crops.

So, if we have this “bad dirt” in us, how can we hope to be a garden that produces good fruit?  Fortunately for us, God is a patient and merciful gardener.  He takes us as we are, with all of our rocks and thorns, our clippings and our organic waste, and allows us to “compost”, giving us the opportunity to become a richer soil.  

A few years ago I received a letter from the City of Plano touting a new composting technique called Japanese composting.  Usually composting takes a relatively long time – upwards of three months to produce a cubic yard of dirt.  But in Japanese composting, you put the organic matter into a special barrel and combine it with special ingredients and, instead of months, the material breaks down rapidly and in only a couple of weeks, you can have rich soil which can be added to your garden.  The result is supposed to yield better dirt.

Like Japanese composting, God uses “special ingredients” too – His Sacraments and especially the Eucharist – to speed up the process of making us a richer soil.

So we shouldn’t be discouraged when we encounter another rock or thorn in our life, which seems to block us from God.  Like sun filtering through the leaves of a thorn bush, God’s love will find us.  His love will warm the rocky ground around our heart, and we will produce good fruit.  We only have to allow Him to work in us.

What kind of dirt are you?  Are you ready to let God make you into a richer, more productive garden?  Maybe it’s time to get your hands dirty.