Thursday, July 30, 2015

Human Mercy and Divine Mercy

Human Mercy and Divine Mercy
A Reflection for the St. Vincent de Paul meeting on Monday, July 27, 2015
By Dcn Bob Bonomi

Today’s (Monday) second reading from the Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings was taken from a sermon by the late 5th/early 6th century bishop, Saint Caesarius of Arles.  It addresses the relationship between divine mercy and human mercy, and how important it is for us to show mercy to others if we, in turn, would receive mercy. 

Let us listen to what St. Caesarius has to say:

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. My brothers and sisters, sweet is the thought of mercy, but even more so is mercy itself. It is what all men hope for, but unfortunately, not what all men deserve. For while all men wish to receive it, only a few are willing to give it.

How can a man ask for himself what he refuses to give to another? If he expects to receive any mercy in heaven, he should give mercy on earth. Do we all desire to receive mercy? Let us make mercy our patroness now, and she will free us in the world to come. Yes, there is mercy in heaven, but the road to it is paved by our merciful acts on earth. As Scripture says: Lord, your mercy is in heaven.

There is, therefore, an earthly as well as heavenly mercy, that is to say, a human and a divine mercy. Human mercy has compassion on the miseries of the poor. Divine mercy grants forgiveness of sins. Whatever human mercy bestows her on earth, divine mercy will return to us in our homeland. In this life God feels cold and hunger in all who are stricken with poverty; for, remember, he once said: What you have done to the least of my brothers you have done to me. Yes, God who sees fit to give his mercy in heaven wishes it to be a reality here on earth.

What kind of people are we? When God gives, we wish to receive, but when He begs, we refuse to give. Remember, it was Christ who said: I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. When the poor are starving, Christ too hungers. Do not neglect to improve the unhappy conditions of the poor, if you wish to ensure that your own sins be forgiven you. Christ hungers now, my brethren; it is He who deigns to hunger and thirst in the persons of the poor. And what He will return in heaven tomorrow is what he receives here on earth today.

Do we sometimes forget that it is really Jesus who comes to ask for assistance? We’ve heard the story of the sheep and the goats so often that we may forget that it is truly Jesus who we are encountering.  That is our challenge; that is our blessing.  We come face to face with Jesus in our encounters.  As we pray at the close of each meeting, “We thank You, Lord, for the many blessings which we receive from those whom we visit.”  May we always recognize the blessings that our clients are to us.  They aren’t just people in need; they aren’t just children of God.  They are Christ.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Meal of Love

A Meal of Love 
Homily for Sunday, July 26, 2015
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Today we hear about one of my favorite subjects: Food.  Lots of food.  Enough food to feed large gatherings of people, although it doesn’t seem like it at first. 

Let’s start with Elisha.  In our first reading from second book of Kings, Elisha takes an offering of 20 barley loaves and a few ears of grain and feeds over 100 people.  And, when they are finished eating, there is food left over.

Jesus starts with only 5 barley loaves and a couple of fish, and feeds over 5000!  And there is food left over.  

Think about that the next time you plan on serving a large number of people.  That’d be like trying to feed everyone at the ACTS BBQ dinner (tonight / last night) with a couple of BBQ sandwiches from Rudy’s.  And knowing how much we here at St. Francis love to eat … well, let’s just say that more than a couple of cows might be grateful if the beef had multiplied itself without requiring their sacrifice.

We often hear in Scriptures about food in the context of large, communal gatherings.  For example, there’s the manna and quail in the desert that feeds the Israelites for 40 years; there’s the copious amount of wine created out of water at the wedding feast at Cana; and in today’s Gospel we hear about Jesus feeding the 5000.  Food is often used to show God’s providential nature, and as a metaphor for the grace and mercy of God.  And in all instances, it is God who does the catering.

Those of you who are in the restaurant business, especially those of you involved in catering, know what it takes to host a successful banquet and provide food for a large gathering of people.  It takes planning, attention to details, and a good knowledge of the needs of the people who will be served.  And those of you who have attended such a gathering know whether or not the caterers succeeded. 

And do you know what makes or breaks such an event?  Is it the type of food, or how much food there is, or how hot or cold it is?  No, none of these.  (Well, OK, to be honest, I’ve never known catered food to be served too hot, and cold food CAN be a real turn-off.) 

But, the number one element that measures the success or failure of these events is – LOVE.  Think about the successful restaurants that you know of.  The owners love to serve those who dine there; the staff reflects the love that the management shows to them and to their customers.  Servers smile and laugh; they listen and try to help; they care.  If there is a problem, management is willing to apologize and tries to make amends BECAUSE it cares.

But if there is no love – if all that the management focuses on is the bottom line, what’s in it for them – if they are more worried about the details of the business than the happiness of those they serve, then the business usually doesn’t last long.  Even successful restaurants, if they change hands, can and will fail, if the new management fails to serve their patrons with love.

And love forgives many mistakes.  If you have a bad dining experience, but feel that those who serve you really care for you and show that to you in how they serve you – you are far more likely to return and give them a second chance.  A measure of their success in showing that love is whether or not they remain in business even after making mistakes.

In a sense, the Catholic Church is the ultimate successful catering business.  It has survived really bad reviews and has remained in business for over 2000 years.  Why?  Because the Church reflects God’s love for us.  Because the owner and ultimate manager is God himself.

The most important meal that you will receive today will be served to you in just a few minutes.  It is the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, and NO food has ever been served with the love that God the Father, through His Son, Jesus, has shown to us gathered here today.  And whether or not the “entertainment” portion of this banquet is good or bad; whether there are problems with the service you receive, you KNOW that the meal itself has been provided to you out of God’s infinite love for you.

(I can promise you that the Body and Blood of Christ will not be too hot or too cold, too.)

And so, when you come forward to the table of the Lord, remember that this meal was prepared with love.  Most importantly, the Eucharist IS LOVE – God’s Love – and with God’s love there is always enough, with plenty left over.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Two by Two - Prepared and Ready

Two by Two - Prepared and Ready
Homily for Sunday, July 12, 2015

Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn Bob Bonomi

Okay, here’s what I want you all to do.  As soon as Mass has ended, I want you all to pick a nearby town and walk there.  Let’s have some of you go to Prosper; some all the way to Celina, maybe some of you to Little Elm.  How about some go to McKinney – you should be able to make that in a day, don’t you think? Take nothing with you other than the clothes on your back, and once you got there just start knocking on doors until someone invites you in to stay with them.  I want you to spend the week telling them and anyone who will listen about Jesus.  No?

You can pair up with someone – it can be friend if you like or maybe someone that you know that knows someone there – I just don’t want you to go alone this time.  And if you already live there, you have to go to a different town.  

Ready?  No?  You know, there are those who do just that today.  Did you know that seminarians who are currently attending the Redemptorist Mater Seminary – they are a missionary religious order – as part of their priestly formation have to spend two years in missionary work that begins with a week spent like these 12 – dropped into an area to evangelize without any resources other than the clothes on their backs and a ticket home after the week is over.  They usually have a list of parishes in their area and hopefully they find a kindly priest that will put them up for the week, but if not – it’s park bench time.

But most of us don’t think that way.  Before we go on a trip somewhere, we have to prepare for it.  If we’re flying somewhere, we normally book our plane tickets weeks in advance – can you imagine walking up to the ticket counter at the airport and buying a ticket for that day’s flight?  And what about luggage, changes of clothes, hotel reservations – there’s a myriad of things that we have to plan in advance of our trip.

Even if it an emergency, we still do some prep work.  Rarely do we travel blindly; most of us have some sort of idea before we ever leave the house where we are going and, especially nowadays, we’d at least have a cell phone and a credit card to get us through whatever might come up.

But one way or another, we prepare.  Usually the better prepared we are, the more likely our travel will be a success, even if things don’t go like we planned.  There was a heart-warming story in the news last week when three sisters who had disappeared into the Wyoming wilderness were found safe after three days of being lost; the spokesman for the rescue team said that the girls were well-prepared for hiking; they had the proper clothes and gear, and they stayed together.  When they were found they were hungry, but safe.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus sends the 12 Apostles forth in pairs.  They were to take nothing with them except, at least in St. Mark’s version of the Gospel, a staff and sandals, but nothing extra.  In Matthew’s (10:1) and Luke’s (9:10) versions, the twelve weren’t even allow those things.  The one thing that Jesus gave them to take was His authority over unclean spirits, to exorcize demons, the power to heal illnesses.

All had authority.  All were not to wander around but stay wherever they landed.  All were dependent upon the providence of God.

But were the Apostles unprepared for their assignment?  No.  They had been traveling with Jesus for some time and would be somewhat used to depending on the kindness and providence of strangers – remember Jesus telling prospective disciples that “the Son of Man has no place to lay His head”?

And they were not alone.  Jesus sent them out, “2 by 2”.  This did a couple of things.  First, two people were the minimum number of witnesses that were required in Jewish tradition to verify the truth of something.  Second and more importantly, though, they would be able to encourage each other during those times when they would not be accepted.   They wouldn’t be alone.  Remember, Jesus tells us that “whenever 2 or more are gathered in My name, I am with them.”  And before you think that the twelve were more “special” than His other disciples, in Luke’s Gospel we see that after the twelve return He later sends out 72 more!

In addition, all three Gospels state that Jesus conferred “authority” on the 12 to fulfill their mission of preaching repentance. Through their faith they would be able to cure those they encountered who were sick or possessed. They were well-prepared for their evangelical mission.

So, what about us?  Are we ready?  Each Sunday at the end of Mass, we are sent into the world to carry forth the same mission that Jesus gave to the 12.  The EXACT same mission.  We journey every Sunday with Jesus, and if we’ve spent any time in prayer, we should be confident that our faith should help us face whatever obstacle arises to our mission.

So, let’s go.  Ask a friend to join with you and go!  Or, invite the person beside you in the pew.  And, to make it a little less intimidating, today just take the message to someone in the parking lot as you leave. Today, when you receive Christ in the Eucharist, think about how Christ is now in you and will be with you as you undertake the mission given to you at the end of Mass.  Then go forth and proclaim the Gospel with your lives.

You have been prepared.  But, are you ready?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Listening For God

Listening For God
A Reflection for the St. Vincent de Paul meeting on Monday, July 6, 2015
By Dcn Bob Bonomi

Sometimes when God speaks to us, He does so through a series of events that intersect in a manner that leave little doubt that He is talking to us.

Last week I finished reading Pope Francis’ encyclical “ Laudato Si’ ”, a moving piece which spoke of the need for care of our common home, and how our neglect – our abuse – of the gifts that God has given to us through our environment affect all of us, especially the poor.  It challenges all of mankind to change our attitude to the world around us and accept our responsibility for God’s creation, present in every plant and animal – in the water, on the Earth and in the sky – and to look upon these elements of our environment like St. Francis of Assisi did – as “brothers” and “sisters” through our relationship with God.  Much of the encyclical was devoted to how our selfish, self-centered attitudes harms the poorest among us who are left in want, when God created our world with enough resources to provide for everyone.

Later, on Saturday night, I began watching “The Grapes of Wrath” starring Henry Fonda – the story of hardship, poverty and perseverance during the Great Depression.  The story, about people so poor that they had nothing to eat and who were so proud that they wouldn’t take a hand-out, reminded me of the pope’s encyclical and of the events occurring in the Middle East and Africa, where millions of people are now refugees from their home countries.

But yesterday, the pope’s encyclical especially hit home as I visited with a lady in her nineties in a nursing home and listened to her talk about how, although she had been a devout Catholic all her life, she really didn’t think her faith mattered anymore.  She would normally come to the communion service that was held there each Sunday but that day she didn’t want to come.  She had lost her husband a couple of weeks earlier and the grief which she felt must have been overwhelming; yet she wasn’t crying or angry or yelling or anything like that.  She merely sat in her wheelchair and told me that she didn’t think God was important like she once did and she wasn’t interested in coming to church.

She repeatedly apologized to me about her feelings.  She said she grew up very poor; when she was young she had had to beg for bread for her siblings because they all were hungry and no one would help them, and no one could really help her now.  She was sure that the “rich” Catholic Church did its best but that the Church never helped them when they were poor and hungry. The nursing home where she currently lives was OK, she guessed, but she didn’t like it because she didn’t know where she was. She patted my hand and apologized again, but kept repeating about how poor she had been and how God and the rich Catholic Church really didn’t matter anymore, now that her husband was dead.

It was heart-breaking.  I tried to ask her to tell me more about her life, but she was almost completely deaf and so, while she could see my lips move and so knew I was talking to her, she really couldn’t hear or understand me.  She’d just smile at me and pat my hand and say something like, “It’s OK for you” and “I’m sorry”.  I couldn’t respond to her; all I could do was listen to her.  It was like reading a book or watching a movie: I could see and hear but I was helpless to change the story; all I could do was witness the story.  I could touch her hand but little more.

Listening to the cases that are brought before St. Vincent de Paul here makes me think about the magnitude of the obstacles the clients face and how easily it can be to feel helpless in front of such insurmountable odds.  The aid offered by Vincentians seems so small against such great needs, and you might become discouraged because it may not look like you are making a difference.  But don’t be discouraged!  Sometimes, the message we receive from God in our encounters isn’t a call to fix something; rather, it is a call to be a witness so that something greater can be done later by God.  In bringing God’s love and charity to others, however small, Vincentians let them know that God does care, that faith is relevant, and that they really do matter. And, like we hear in the prayers that we recite at each meeting, Vincentians in turn are graced by God in their encounters with those in need. It is God who provides for them; He speaks to us through them.

Let us listen for God.