Sunday, August 28, 2016

Oh Lord, It's Hard to be Humble

Oh Lord, It's Hard to be Humble
Homily for August 28, 2016    Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Today’s readings are about humility, and they make me think about a somewhat spiritual country and western song that was popular when I was in college.  I’m sure many of you remember it, even if it was written before your time. I’ll bet you could even finish the chorus:  “Oh Lord it's hard to be humble / When you're perfect in every way.”  (I can't wait to look in the mirror. / Cause I get better-looking each day.)  Yep, Mac Davis’ little ditty actually made it into the top 10 in 1980.

I know it seems silly, but there’s a lot of spiritual truth in this song.  Oh, I don’t mean the part about getting better-looking each time we look into a mirror – we all know better than that.  But the part about it being hard to be humble – we might as well say it’s almost impossible to be humble all the time.  Or, even most of the time.  Why is that?

Well, we don’t see very many examples of humility in our world today – it’s very pride-oriented.  All we have to do is look at the egos of those running for political office, or the actions of many of the people in professional sports or the entertainment industry to see powerful egos at work.  (Not everyone – there are a FEW humble sports figures.) And we want to share in their glory – we say that we are PROUD to be Americans or we seek to join groups or organization that we think are important to others.

And we are proud of the accomplishments of our children, or even of our friends and co-workers; and we often equate pride with that good feeling we get whenever we do something good for someone else.  Is that so bad?  Can we be humble while still feeling pride in ourselves or those around us?  Yes, if we recognize the source as coming from God.

In his book, “How to be Somebody”, Mark Mendes points out that the virtue of humility can be especially difficult to develop since it requires us to overcome the vice of pride, the deadliest of the seven deadly sins.  And Mendes’ book is full of examples of how the saints and others lived humble lives and it has many prayers and quotes from them on how they worked be humble before God.  If humility is the opposite of pride, then we must find ways to become humble.  Jesus points out over and over again that humility is the key to get into heaven.   

But most of us want to be a SOMEBODY.  And while I’m sure we’ve all done things we are NOT proud of, each of us usually has at least one thing in our life that we brag about, whether it is something to do with what we have or what we’ve done.  And we often depend on recognition of our accomplishments to get ahead and “succeed” in the world.  Often our sense of self-worth comes from whatever it is that we are “proud” of.

It IS hard to be humble.  But, we are NOT perfect.  And we need to work at overcoming our pride. In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us two lessons in humility that we can learn from – one has to do with who we think we ARE and how we think we should be treated, and one about rewards for what we DO and how we should treat others. 

The first, the example of the seating at a banquet, is a warning about having a false sense of self-worth, of thinking too much of ourselves in comparison with others.  When we go out somewhere, don’t we position ourselves in relation to others, especially as a group – maybe because we want to sit beside someone? Or, do we become indignant when someone cuts in front of us in line at a store, or cuts us off driving? How often do we resent how we are treated by others because it isn’t FAIR or they don’t understand “our” rights?  If things don’t go our way do we become embarrassed or angry? When we judge ourselves in relationship to others and how they treat us and we don’t recognize that our true value in life comes from being a child of God, then we risk becoming angry or resentful; or worse, we risk entering into a state of depression or despair whenever our false sense of self-worth fails us.

The second example is one of earning rewards. When we do something good for someone else, don’t we want someone to say “thank you” or make some other kind of acknowledgment of our actions?  Jesus is warning us about becoming part of a “mutual admiration society” where we exchange “gifts” with those who really don’t benefit from them while those who are in need go without.  While we are created equal in the eyes of God, we are not created equal in our earthly situations.  God expects us whom He has blessed to help others in need, and if we focus on gaining earthly rewards, then we risk losing our heavenly ones.

I wonder – are the saints horrified when we name something after them?  How many buildings should be named, “Anonymous”?  In one of the many biographies of Mother Teresa, who will be canonized next Sunday, she said that she was always worried that people would think too highly of her and her accomplishments.  She always said that it wasn’t her; that it was God who accomplished everything and she just happened to be the poor instrument that He used at times. Do we have that same attitude of acknowledgment to God whenever we do something that deserves recognition?

There is prayer called The Litany of Humility.  It is divided into three parts: in the first we pray for Jesus’ help to overcome our desires; in the second we for Jesus’ help to overcome our fears; and in the third we pray for grace to desire actions of humility.  I hate the prayer because it makes me very uncomfortable, but maybe that’s the first step for me to become more humble.  Maybe it can help you, too.  “The Litany of Humility.”

Mac Davis’ song ends with, “But I’m doing the best that I can.” That is our challenge; that is the question we must ask ourselves: Are we doing the best that we can? With God’s help and Mercy, we can.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Religious War

A Religious War
Homily for August 14, 2016    Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Today’s Gospel is short and - maybe – not so sweet.  Jesus is saying that there will be division in the world for those who follow Him.  And we only have to turn to the news to see that even today, he’s STILL right. 

Pope Francis said two weeks ago that the world IS at war, but not a religious war.  ISIS disagreed, responding to the pope’s comments that he is na├»ve and that from their perspective, it IS a religious war. Which is right?

Maybe both.

Pope Francis is right when he says that wars, despite what a person may claim, are usually about someone (or a group of someones) that want something that someone else has – whether it is money or resources, or power – and are willing to resort to violence to obtain it.  And ISIS is only the most recent group in our long history that has used religion as an excuse to obtain what they want – their own way.

But in reality, for true Christians there is only one true “religious” war, and it is fought daily by individuals against themselves.  It is the ages-old battle that we often refer to as being between Good and Evil – and I don’t mean between Jesus and the Devil.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, the Devil does exist, and when he takes sides, he isn’t on the side of Good.  But for each of us the true religious war lies in deciding which of two gods we will follow – the One True God, or a false god.  And there is only one false god, and it's not Satan.  It’s the god that we see whenever we look in a mirror.  It is either God’s way or our way, and we try to make ourselves into gods when we decide not to follow God's Will.  All of the wars and divisions and hatred and greed and pride and any of the other deadly forces we face are the result of wanting things our own way.

That’s the division Jesus is speaking of today.  And if everyone truly followed the teachings of Jesus - of love, of obedience, of mercy - then there would be no wars – there would be no need for them.

But we refuse to follow Jesus, and so, we are at war.  As Christians we must be defenders of our faith when attacked, whether that be from terrorists from half-way around the world with warped ideologies, or from those closest to us in our families and workplaces.  As Christians versus the rest of the world, however, there has to be a difference in our approach to the battle – like the original old hippies’ 1960’s anti-war slogan: Love not war.  (It wasn’t “make love not war”, despite what some might think.) To be a Christian, our approach to battle has to be one of love and mercy.  One of peace and not violence.  One of sacrifice.

But not everyone believes as Christians should, and so we are a house divided.  That's how Jesus describes it: A House Divided.  And then Jesus makes it even more personal: it's father against son; mother against daughter.  (In-laws against out-laws? – uh, nevermind.)

For those of us who have children who have left the Church, or family members or friends who have left the faith, this Gospel passage strikes at our hearts.  We love and care for our children, our family, our friends, and yet they won’t listen to us!  They have NO respect!

I mean, just look at the kids today.  They almost all have cell phones and, if they still watch TV, it’s probably because they have one in their bedroom.  We blame their bad manners and lack of respect for us and other authoritarian figures like teachers and police officers on the media and we claim that they are tuned out because of computer games and texting and social media.  Reminds me of a quote I once heard:

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

(By the way, for those of you who didn’t figure it out, that quote comes from Socrates, approximately 400 years before Christ walked the earth.) Nothing new here - some things never change.

But we really do want them to save them, right?  And as good Catholics, we see in our faith the way to salvation.  And so we must be strong in our faith.  And if we are to be strong in our faith, we must be on FIRE for our faith.

Do you consider yourself on fire for your faith?  If not, why?  What would it take to light a fire within you?  To make you STRONG in your faith?

Many of you have been watching the Olympics in Rio, and you know that in order to compete at that level, there is one thing they must do – PRACTICE.  They practice in their field because they believe in their ability to compete.  And so it should be with us.  We must PRACTICE our faith in order to compete well against the challenges that we face.

As we begin a new school year, St. Paul’s has many, many opportunities for you to grow stronger in your faith, but it will take more than just the one hour at Mass on Sunday.  Become a member in one of the many organizations here like Catholic Daughters, the Men’s Club, Knights of Columbus, the Women’s Guild, and VOLUNTEER whenever the opportunity arises.  Spend at least one additional hour each week participating in something beyond the hour you spend at Mass.  And if you REALLY want to help set the world on fire for Christ, set YOURSELF on fire through participating in our upcoming ACTS retreat.

But for next week, I want you to put your faith to work and try something.  Invite a family member or friend who has fallen away from the Church to come to Mass with you.  Invite your children – those older ones you can’t force to come with you – and bribe them with lunch or dinner or SOMETHING if you have to.  They may say, "no", but you can and must keep trying.  It may be the spark they need to start a fire in their soul.

And it may help enkindle that fire within you, too.