Monday, August 31, 2015

Human Precepts vs. Divine Doctrine

Human Precepts vs. Divine Doctrine
Homily for Sunday, August 30, 2015    
Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

When I was a kid, I remember distinctly my mom making me wash my hands before dinner.  I wasn’t a big bible reader back then, and that’s probably a good thing – because I’m sure I would have pointed out this gospel passage to her.  And knowing my mom, I probably wouldn’t be here today to talk about it.

But is Jesus really saying that it is not important to wash our hands? Or, for that matter, would Jesus tell us that the precepts of our faith today are not important, either?  I don’t think so.

Listen to the first reading.  Moses says to the Israelites: “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe.”   Moses told them to carefully observe the laws and statutes because they came from God – GOD gave them to us.  They are “just” – a sign of wisdom and intelligence, a sign of a great people. 

So, is Jesus contradicting what Moses said?  Again, I don’t think so.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus did not say that Jewish Laws and Traditions were bad.  He did not say that they were to be ignored.  He did not say that they were not important.  In fact, look what Jesus said in chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel:  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?  So, why is he chastising the Pharisees and the scribes? He should have been praising the Pharisees and the scribes for pointing out the faults of some of his disciples!

Let’s take a quick look at Jewish law and where it comes from.  (I got this from several Jewish History Websites on the Internet, and we all know that the Internet is trustworthy and accurate.)  There are two main parts to Jewish law: the Written Law, also known as the Torah.  We know it better as the first five books of the Old Testament.  And there is the Oral Law, from which we get the 613 laws that we commonly hear about and which is itself derived from the Torah and from the traditions which were handed down from generation to generation.  The Oral Law was just that - in fact, Jews were forbidden to write it down, for by passing these statutes down orally each generation was forced to memorize the laws, and thereby take them more to heart.  It wasn’t until well after the destruction of the Temple in 70AD and the subsequent dispersal of the Jews that the oral laws were written down in what is known as the Mishnah, in order to preserve them for future generations.

But during the time of Jesus, these Oral Laws were exactly that – handed down orally, with their foundations based on the teachings in the Torah.  They derived from the Word of God, and so the Jewish people should have known them and followed them.  It was one of the jobs of the Pharisees and scribes to pass on these oral laws. So why does it seem that Jesus was condemning them?

St. James gives us a clue: “all good giving and every perfect gift” is from God, and that we need to be “doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deluding ourselves”.  He goes on to say, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Therein lies the key.  It’s not just that we need to follow the traditions of our faith – we need to understand WHY we do.  We need to know what it is that motivates us to be doers of the Word, to follow the law.

And that has to be LOVE.

Remember when Jesus was asked about what was the greatest commandment?  His reply was: “Love God”.  He said that the second greatest commandment was “Love Your Neighbor”.  He went on further and said that all of the laws and the words of the prophets were based on these two commandments. 

The problem faced by the Pharisees and the scribes, and in fact what many of us face today, is that we lack understanding of how everything that we are commanded to do by God has to be based on love.  If we strip away love, then we risk stripping away the divinity in God’s laws and we replace it with our own personal interpretation of the meaning of the law. 

Those of you who work with your hands understand this.  We all “know” in our heads that it is better to wash our hands before eating, otherwise something unpleasant may occur – the food may end up contaminated; it might end up tasting bad; or worse, it might make us ill.  

But sometimes it is impossible to take the time or find the soap and water to wash with before we eat.  A friend once told me about how, when he was younger, he had to work in the fields of his father’s farm.  When lunchtime came, there wasn’t any water to wash with, so all they could do was wipe their hands on their clothes and eat.  It was either that, or go hungry.
I used to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, and come lunchtime we might only have hand sanitizer to clean our hands.  But all it would do is make mud out of the dust and dirt so we’d just skip it and eat with unwashed – “unclean” – hands.  If we had refused to eat unless we washed – well, a couple of things might happen.  First, we’d go hungry.  But more importantly, we could be insulting the very people who had gone out of their way to provide food for us!  We would not be acting out of love, but out of a misguided notion of being “right”.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus points out to the Pharisees and the scribes that they have taken the good and perfect gifts given to them by God – His statutes and decrees – and have defiled them by stripping away love and compassion from them and replacing them with a self-righteous judgment that ignored the greater commandments of God.  And it concludes with a command to the crowd – to all of us – to hear and understand; to think about WHY we do what we do, and why we believe what we believe.    Do we take particularly difficult teachings of the Church and impose a self-righteous attitude to condemn others who fail to follow them, even as we struggle with them ourselves?  Do we take the moral laws given to us by God, all good and perfect in themselves, and twist them into signs of hate and condemnation, defiling them in the process?

We must understand that the Divine Doctrine of love underlies ALL of the precepts of our faith.  We cannot pay lip service to them and treat them as being mere human precepts that we ourselves created.  When we deal with others who may have problems understanding or following them, we must allow the goodness of the Lord to flow through us to help them.  We must live those divine precepts with love. Otherwise, we risk defiling them and us by the evils which lie in our hearts.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Creed as a Prayer (StVdP)

The Creed as a Prayer
Reflection for St. Vincent de Paul meeting, Monday, August 24, 2015
By Dcn Bob Bonomi

Each Sunday after the homily we express the tenets of our faith by reciting either the Nicene Creed
– or especially during certain Mass celebrations, or when we recite the Rosary – the Apostles’ Creed.  These creeds are less a prayer than they are a statement of our beliefs.

But it can be helpful to profess those beliefs as a prayer, as they present to us an opportunity to tell God directly that we believe in Him and His Church.  By putting the creed into a prayer we enter into a conversation with God where we can ask for understanding and guidance as we try to understand the great mystery that is our faith.

Here's an example of the Nicene Creed as a prayer.  Read it slowly, as you would if you were talking with God face-to-face. 

The Nicene Creed as a Prayer           

I believe in You, God, the Father Almighty. You are the maker of Heaven and Earth - of all things visible and invisible.

And I believe in You, my Lord Jesus Christ. You are the Only Begotten Son of God, born of God the Father before all ages.

You are God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.  You were begotten, not made, of the same substance as Your Father.  Through You all things were made.

For us men and for our salvation, You came down from Heaven, and by the Holy Spirit You were incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became a man like us.

For our sake You were crucified under Pontius Pilate. You suffered death and were buried, and You rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

You ascended into Heaven, and You are seated at the right hand of Your Father.  You will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and Your kingdom will have no end.

And I believe You too, O Holy Spirit.  You are the Lord, the giver of life. You proceed from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son You are adored and glorified.  You have spoken through the prophets.

I believe in Your one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  I confess to You one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come with You. 


Monday, August 17, 2015

An Encounter with Jesus (StVdP)

An Encounter with Jesus

Reflection for St. Vincent de Paul meeting, Monday, August 17, 2015
By Dcn Bob Bonomi

In today’s Gospel, we see an encounter between a young man and Jesus that leads to the young man having to make a choice: continue to live his life as he has, in pursuit of what he believes to be best for him, or radically change it to pursue the perfection offered by Jesus.

Isn’t that the story of our own lives?  On the one hand, we try to live holy lives in accord with what we believe are the requirements of our faith: we pray, go to Mass, contribute to the upkeep of the Church and its mission – and of course, volunteer our time and talents to the St. Vincent de Paul Society and/or other ministries.  But, on the other hand, we also live our lives pursuing the desires and demands that we believe will lead US to a happy life – a successful career; a nice home; a new car; travel and leisure opportunities – things that represent the “good life.”

The young man, although he had many possessions, by all appearances was living his faith.  He observed all of the commandments and, in Mark’s version of the events, Jesus looked at him and “loved him” so we can tell that he was honestly practicing his faith.  But merely practicing his faith wasn’t enough to lead to perfection because he allowed his possessions to have a priority in his life.

Jesus loves us, too.  But we need to ask ourselves: are we, in our efforts to practice our faith, merely meeting the legal obligations of our faith?  Or are we truly seeking to follow Jesus?

It is a hard choice, to give up everything that we have for Christ.  And not all are asked that; Zacchaeus only offered half of what he owned and it was enough to please Jesus.  But it is the attitude that God looks for – a contrite spirit, a sacrifice of the heart.  If we truly want to follow Jesus, then that must be the priority of our life, to the potential sacrifice of all else.

Are we merely satisfied with where we are in the practice of our faith?  Or are we prepared to radically change it in response to our encounter with Jesus?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Opportunity Knocks

Opportunity Knocks
Homily for Sunday, August 16, 2015
Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

If you watch the news or listen to the radio, you cannot help but notice that there is evil all around us in the world.  Is it the worst that it has even been?  Probably not.

In our second reading, we hear St. Paul tell the Ephesians that there is great evil in their day, too.  He cautions them to be on guard and watch how they live, making the most of the opportunities of their life, and he challenges them to discern the will of the Lord.  But instead of being angry or depressed with the evil around them, St. Paul tells them to “Be filled with the Holy Spirit”, to sing and pray, and to give thanks for everything in their lives.

What a challenge!  How often do we find ourselves anxious about our life, instead of at peace?  And yet we see those who are at peace, with joy in their hearts, and we have to ask ourselves, “Why?”

It’s funny but when I was reflecting on Paul’s words, a quote popped into my mind, “Ask not what your country can do for you – Ask what you can do for your country.”  The quote comes from the inaugural address by John F. Kennedy over 50 years ago – January 1961.  I encourage you to look it up, for I doubt you would hear anything like it from a politician today – it is so politically incorrect!  For example, in it, JFK states that our rights in society do not come from the generosity of the State, but from the hand of God.

The Hand of God.  Wow!  He goes further and talks about our shared responsibility to fight our common enemies:  poverty, disease, tyranny and war.  How we need to be united in our fight.

Can we do that and still remain joyful?  How do we do that and be filled with the Holy Spirit?
Well, for the last three weeks we have listened to St. John as he relates Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life.  So first, we need to come here as often as we can to be fed: fed on God’s Word, and especially on the Body and Blood of Jesus.  It nourishes us and gives us the strength to persevere in our attempts to overcome the challenges we face today.

Second, to paraphrase JFK’s quote: “Ask not what your Church can do for you – Ask what you can do for your Church”.  Next Sunday is Stewardship Sunday and you’ll have an opportunity to see the many ways you can fight the evils of the world through the ministries offered at St. Francis.  In a few moments, you’ll listen to how two of our youth have found joy and peace in what they do in our ministries.  Please listen and open your heart to the Holy Spirit.  YOU are called; the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit has laid out the banquet of opportunities for you – an awesome buffet of choices.  Be ready next week to pick and choose SOMETHING.


Monday, August 10, 2015

The Treasure of the Church (StVdP)

The Treasure of the Church
A Reflection for the St. Vincent de Paul Society meeting, Monday, August 10, 2015
By Dcn Bob Bonomi

Today is the feast of St. Lawrence, a deacon who was martyred about 258 AD.  I LOVE the story of St. Lawrence, because it shows me that deacons can have a sense of humor and still be saints.  There’s hope for me, too.

But Lawrence’s story is particularly suited for your work as Vincentians.  According to his bio, Lawrence was a deacon for Pope St. Sixtus II.  Legend has it that after Sixtus II was killed, the prefect of Rome sent for Lawrence in order to confiscate the treasures that he believed that the Church held.  Lawrence knew he would be arrested like the pope, so he sought out the poor, the widows and the orphans of Rome and gave them all the money he had on hand, selling even the sacred vessels to increase the sum.

When he met with the prefect, the prefect twisted Scriptures in order to claim rights to what he thought was the wealth of the Church, quoting how Church doctrine said to render to Caeser what belonged  to Caesar, and how God didn’t need earthly wealth, only His words.

So Lawrence agreed to bring the Church’s treasure to the prefect.  After three days he gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons in the church and when the prefect arrived, Lawrence simply said, “These are the treasure of the Church.”

The prefect was obviously ticked off, so he supposedly had Lawrence roasted over a bed of hot coals.  Before he died, Lawrence told his tormentors, “This side’s done. Turn me over!”

But what is important about St. Lawrence to us as Vincentians is Lawrence’s insight into the gift that is those whom we serve.  When we look at the assistance board with all the various cases of those who are seeking help, we sometimes only think about how hard these poor people have it and how they are depending on us to help them.  And looking on the magnitude of their need, we question how we can ever help them enough.  They are so MANY and their needs are so GREAT!

But if we look to the story of St. Lawrence, we should realize that THEY are the true treasures of the Church.  THEY are what give value to the Church – to us.  They are God’s treasures; they are God’s gift to us.  And unlike treasures that are displayed in a museum somewhere, to be stared at from a distance, these treasures are meant to be touched and shared like a family around the dinner table.

Our clients show us the way to holiness.  If there were no needy – if they did not exist – then there would be no need to serve them and there would be no need for the Church.  Jesus said that whenever we help the least of our brothers, we are helping Him.  It is in our service to them that we encounter Christ.  We think we are helping them, but they are helping us far more.  We help with their earthly needs, but they open the doors of Heaven for us.  We must always remember to treat them as the treasures that they are.

Answered Prayers

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Praying the Rosary to Resist Temptation

Praying the Rosary to Resist Temptation
A Day of Blessings, August 8, 2015
By Dcn Bob Bonomi

(Edited Photo)

I was doubly blessed today to participate in two prayer events where people took to the streets to ask God to help combat evil in the world.  The first was when several men, some with their families, gathered on Pioneer Hill in front of the Dallas Convention Center to pray the Rosary asking God to help us resist temptations and to grant us His Divine Mercy. These men came from Plano, Frisco, Arlington - even Norman, Oklahoma - in response to a call for prayer.

Afterward, on our way home we passed several prayer warriors outside the Plano Planned Parenthood facility who were praying for an end to abortion, healing for those who have been hurt by the culture of death, and a return to a culture that respects life.  We joined them in saying the Rosary while sign-bearers drew attention of passers-by.

I would like to share with you a series of special Scriptural mysteries which we used when we prayed today.  St. John Paul II once talked of how we could expand our prayers - to own our prayers, make them more personal - by reflecting on other scriptural passages as we prayed.  Reflecting on the five mysteries below may help you, too, to battle the temptations and evils in the world, and they recall the infinite mercy and forgiveness shows us whenever we fail in our attempts to be holy.


1.    Jesus Cautions Against Temptation.
"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." (Matthew 26:41)

Dear Jesus.  You told us through St. Paul that no temptation comes to us but what is human. God is faithful and will not let us be tried beyond our strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that we may be able to bear it.  Strengthen us in our moments of temptation. (1 Cor 10:13)

2.    Jesus is tempted by the Devil
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. … When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time. (Luke 4:1-2, 13)

Dear Jesus, You allowed the devil to tempt You and You resisted him.  Send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we, too, may resist temptation.

3.    Jesus talks of the Father’s mercy
Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)
Dear Jesus, You instructed us to be merciful to others as the Father is merciful to us.  You forgave the sinful woman; you forgave the paralytic when his friends brought him to you, and you forgave many others who sought your mercy.  Help us to remember our own weaknesses whenever we see weakness in others, and to ask for mercy for them and for ourselves.

4.    Jesus teaches us the Lord’s prayer
 “This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.  If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. (Mt 6:9-15)

Dear Jesus, You taught us the perfect prayer.  Help us always to remember that we, too, have an obligation to pray to you unceasingly, and that you promised to forgive us as we forgive others.  Give us the strength and the courage to seek your forgiveness whenever we falter.

5.    The Infinite Love of God
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

Dear Jesus, You came to save us and show us the way to salvation.  You do not condemn us in our weaknesses but to love us with infinite love.  Let us always remember that love whenever we stumble, for You are there to pick us up.  Thank you for Your love and Mercy.

May God bless you with the strength to withstand the evils of the world that you face every day of your life.  And should you fail in a moment of weakness, know that He still loves you and forgives you, if you only accept His merciful love.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Charity and Justice

Charity and Justice
A Reflection for the St. Vincent de Paul Society meeting, Monday, August 3, 2015
By Dcn Bob Bonomi

I read an interesting story this morning about a Sister Blandina Segale, of the Sisters of Charity, who spent the greater part of her life in New Mexico where she died in 1941, and whose cause for sainthood was promulgated last year.  What caught my eye about her, other than she once faced down Billy the Kid, was how she tried to address not just the immediate problems of those in need, but the systemic problems of social justice issues.  She would work to feed and house railway workers, for example, but then she’d ask why they weren’t being treated fairly and needed help in the first place.

This is also the mission of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.  In the back of our minds there must always be, not only the question of “how to tend to those in need?”, but “why are they in need and what can we do to change the institutions that leaves them in need for our love and charity?”  Sr. Blandina founded schools and hospitals through her work in New Mexico; she was not afraid to personally confront situations of conflict in order to bring peace and justice, and to do so with love.  That remains our challenge today.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the prayer intentions at the end of the meeting was to pray for all St. Vincent de Paul advocates and their clients.  Last Friday, Pope Francis announced that the universal Church’s prayer intention for the month of August would be:  “That volunteers may give themselves generously to the service of the needy”; and his intentions for evangelization would be:  “That setting aside our very selves we may learn to be neighbors to those who find themselves on the margins of human life and society”.

Sounds like Pope Francis heard your prayers, and he is praying for you, too.