23 September 201825 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
25 Ordinary Time
25 Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B - Mark 9:30-37

Pain sometimes can be the making of us. Beethoven is the classic example. Deafness hit him as a young man. It did not sit well with the young Ludwig. As a consequence, this period of his life was not distinguished. But once he had come to accept it, his genius bloomed. Arguably his Ninth Symphony is the most beautiful work of music ever written. If Beethoven had written nothing else, the Ninth would have won him immortality. Yet, the night he conducted the symphony for the first time, he could not hear a bar of his music. Nor could he hear the wild applause that greeted its debut. Yet, he sensed his labor was a triumph.

So will we rejoice if we learn to master our pain as Christ would have us.

When it comes our turn to die, as somebody has noted, God will not be shouting to us to help someone else. Rather, He will Himself be rushing to comfort us and He will be telling us that "His love is greater than our pain."

Jesus tells His people that He must suffer and die. In verse 32 of today's Gospel, Mark writes, "But they did not understand what He said..." Perhaps Sigmund Freud would tell us the apostles were blocking out understanding. They had no wish to know what He had spoken to them on this dour subject. They wanted to hear only pleasant lines that promised them happy days.

However, there should be none among us ready to throw the first stone at the twelve. Who among us gets our pleasure out of suffering? It is a condition we wish would become history.

It is said that our conscious life begins with a cry and will end with one. In the first case, it is a shout of bewilderment. And in the second, it is often a cry of pain.

The Gospels assure us that God will not turn His back on our pain. To underline that assurance He sent us His Son. We are, says Michael Himes, what God chose to become. The Jesus story of pain is familiar to us. But we are reminded that without a Good Friday there can be no Easter Sunday.

The British writer CS Lewis wrote an incisive line in The Problem of Pain. "God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain."

And why cannot we as Christians shout to another who is in pain? A woman with terminal cancer told me how much the prayers and visits of a fellow Christian mean to her. That visitor brings with him a special broth, mums from his own garden, and the day's newspaper. Then they spend some time in prayer together. That man may be doing but a small thing, but he is doing it with love.

In Frannie and Zooey of JD Salinger, we learn of Mama Glass' answer to all difficulties: consecrated chicken soup. Very often a chicken, run quickly through some boiling water, is just the medicine the doctor ordered for many of us.

In Genesis rings that ugly question of Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Christ gives a clear response, "YES!" The genuine Christian looks at the person in trouble and speaks, "I look at you and I see myself." Remember: "Great occasions for service come seldom. Little ones surround us daily."

Furthermore, it is only through suffering whether it be our own or someone else's, that we for the first time begin to appreciate the gifts that God has given us. It has been observed that it took centuries for our ancestors to stand erect and put one foot in front of another. But, as our doctors testify, few of us take the effort to exercise. So, our bodies, these temples of the Holy Ghost, begin to come unglued before our eyes. Do we take care of this wonderful machine that is our body?

Or take the question of sight. As one philosopher noted, so many of us look but do not see. Many of us confess to reading trash. But few of us take the time to read the magnificent prose poetry of the Book of Isaiah or the Psalms or Dag Hammarskjold's Markings. Why not refresh our spirits with the giants?

Or the ability to pray. Reflect on Karl Barth's words. "To clasp hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorders of the world."

It is time to begin again. Why do we wait? But be gentle on yourself. Jesus attempted to reach everyone about Him, but He was not successful. Why should you get a hit every time at bat?

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
25 Ordinary Time
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: From Jealousy to Wisdom

Do you remember reading Shakespeare's play Othello? For those of you who may not be that up on your Shakespeare, Othello is the story about a Moor, an African sailor, who ascended to the rank of admiral. Othello then married a beautiful young girl named Desdamona. At the beginning of the play, they are happy and devoted to each other. Life should have continued that way, but then the wicked Iago enters. Iago is jealous of Othello's success and upset that he had been passed over for a promotion that was given to a young man named Cassio. He plots to destroy Othello by using Othello against himself. He convinces Othello that Desdamona is not being faithful to him and that Casio was the other man. Ultimately this results in Casio's, Desdamona's and Othello's deaths. Yes, this is just a play, but Shakespeare captures some of the most destructive human faults: jealousy and selfish ambition.

I'm sure that many of us have experienced people behaving badly, trying to destroy others out of jealousy or for their own self promotion.

Today's readings confront these human maladies. The first reading presents wicked men plotting the destruction of the Just One. They can't stand the fact that he is so close to God. They are jealous, just like Cain was jealous of his brother Abel's relationship with God. "He's obnoxious to us," the villains from the Book of Wisdom claim, "Lets humiliate him, torture him, and condemn him to a shameful death." This is almost a blow by blow description of what would happen to Jesus. It is also a description of the motivation of those who sought his death. The Pharisees, Scribes and leaders of the Temple could not bear the fact that Jesus radiated the Presence of God in the world. Instead of listening to Him, they decided to destroy Him, or, at least, destroy His physical life.

The Letter of James in today's second reading begins with:
Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.

There are so many problems that come from jealousy and selfish ambition. At work, people place a few negative thoughts into the ear of a boss in order to hamper a fellow employee's promotion and open up a position for themselves. In the schools, particularly the High Schools, people routine destroy other's reputation so they can look better before their peers: "Well, she might seem to be all that holy, but let me tell you what she is really like." or "He might appear to be this great moral guy, but this is what he's done." And the hurt begins. Good people suffer.

Jealousy is evident in the workplace, schools, homes and even the Church. Jesus' closest disciples didn't get the message. In today's Gospel the Twelve are arguing over who was the most important among them. What was with these guys, anyway? They were following someone who gave up everything to care for others and to proclaim the Kingdom of God. He continually emptied himself out for others, and all they are concerned with is their positions in the heavenly kingdom. "Stop it," the Lord says to the Twelve. The first should be last and a servant. He would wash their feet at the Last Supper and then tell them to do this for others.

Jesus uses a child to make his point. Taking care of a child is too low a task for the high and mighty. People who think they are so important have better things to do than wipe noses, tell bedtime stories and change diapers. The disciples of the Lord are never to see themselves as high and mighty. They, we, are to be servants to all, particularly to those who are most vulnerable.

So, there are two things that we are confronted with today: dealing with other people's jealousy, and our own over inflated view of ourselves.

Actually we can't do anything about other people's jealousy except ignore it. We need to be kind to those who are so vicious that they want to destroy us. The most important thing is that we don't stop doing our best out of concern for what others are thinking. We have to do our best but in a way that does not promote ourselves to others. Let me tell you about Tom McGahee. I was in the seminary with Tom. He is now Fr. Thomas McGahee. Tom is a super genius. How intelligent is he? When we were in the seminary the IQ people used to send him their tests and then correct the tests when Tom's answers didn't coincide with theirs. People from all over the world used to contact him to solve complex problems. And, yet, Tom never flaunted his intelligence. If one of us asked him to explain something to us, he would drop everything to explain it as simply as possible without ever making us feel dumb. Tom was humble. We also need to be humble. At the same time we need to develop the talents God gives us. If people are jealous, well, so be it. The talent comes from God, not from us. We don't have a right to let our talents shrivel to nothing. Whatever God gives us; He gives us for others.

And we have to fight against an over inflated view of ourselves. A wag once said, "Last year I was conceited, but this year I'm perfect." None of us are as good as we sometimes think we are or as bad as we sometimes think we are. We have to get rid of our own conceit and be concerned not with ourselves but with serving others.

Being our best selves, the best versions of ourselves, results in the Wisdom that James speaks about in the second part of the reading:
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.

People can be hard. People can be hurtful. People can be jealous. But we do not have to be part of the self centered society of evil. We can change society. We can change society by being kind and understanding, caring and forgiving. We can change society by being the people we were created to be: People of God.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
25 Ordinary Time
Combating the Green Eyed Monster
(September 23, 2018)

Bottom line:
To begin each day with gratitude and petition will go a long way to combating that green eyed monster of envy.

This month we hear selections from James. He begins on a lofty note: all good giving comes from above - the father of lights. In Jesus God enables us to not only hear his word but to do it - to practice an undefiled religion which shows itself in care for the afflicted.

James then warns about "defilement" - sins like gossip and unchastity. These sins cause great destruction. You can see it in the #MeToo movement, the clergy abuse scandal and the widespread family breakdown.

Today we see something even more destructive than lust. This sin gnaws constantly. Shakespeare calls it the "green eyed monster" - jealousy or envy. Jealousy and envy are similar although, as we shall see, we can distinguish them. In today's Gospel envy rears its ugly head. Jesus begins teaching about the cross but his words go over their heads. Instead of grappling with the mystery of the cross they start arguing about who is the greatest!

This competition to be numero uno James also addresses. Where do wars and conflicts come from? he asks. Well, we covet what the other guy possesses. That sin drives people to harm others. In this envy acts different from jealousy. If I feel jealous of some guy's car, I might work and save to get one like his. But if I envy, I take the keys of my jalopy and scratch his new BMW.

A Spanish proverb says, "Envy is skinny because it bites but never eats." Sometimes we think that envy only affects losers. Not so. A priest told me going from a poor to a wealthy parish. He saw more envy there than in his old parish. One guy told him how miserable he became when he learned another executive got a bigger bonus!

James writes, "You covet but you do not possess. You kill and envy...you fight and you wage war." Then he adds, "you do not possess because you do not ask." To overcome envy we need to ask and to ask rightly.

What does it mean to ask rightly? Perhaps you remember the TARP method of prayer. The first two letters stand for "thank" and "ask." Before we ask we should thank, express gratitude for what God has given. For sure, we have big problems and plenty goes wrong, but don't you and I also have something to thank God for? After you count your blessings, then you are in a position to ask for what you need - not to win the lottery, but what you actually need today.

So before we ask we need to thank. If we did that every morning we could have little and still be joyful. Most children in Peru get very few Christmas presents, some none. Yet those children could bubble over at getting a cup of chocolate and a sweet bread. And I will never forget a family's joy when they installed a new tin roof on their adobe hut. They had joy because they knew how to say thank you - to each other and to God. When you thank God, be specific: thank him for your home, your family members, your food, whatever measure of health you have.

Then lay your needs before him - and don't forget to pray for others: family members in pain, our church, our nation, our hurting world. To begin each day with gratitude and petition will go a long way to combating that green eyed monster of envy.

Next week we will hear that money can serve not only as a good tool, but that it can also become a dangerous trap. For today let's take home James' message: Jealousy and envy lead to disorder. Asking rightly brings peace, mercy and good fruits. Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
25 Ordinary Time
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 9: 30 ? 37

The scene in the Gospel is an easy one to picture. Jesus and his disciples are walking through Galilee and most likely Jesus is up front leading the way like a good shepherd leading his flock. He's telling them the harsh reality of what is going to happen; he's going to be killed and on third day will rise. What a message! I would imagine that when the disciples heard this sobering instruction they would had all kinds of questions; who will hand you over?, who will kill you?, why?, what do you mean by "rise on the third day?", and on and on.

There was no discussion with Jesus about what he said, instead a quiet conversation among them was taking place. The topic was, "Who among them was the greatest.", or in other words "When Jesus dies, which one of us will take his place?" How callous could these disciples be?

It's easy for us to question and maybe even think that we would never act like that. To do so would be disingenuous and a failure on our part to realize that each of us struggles in one way or another with false pride. False pride is when we lift ourselves up at the expense of another. This is different than a healthy pride in which we acknowledge some accomplishment and achievement that we earned by claiming and using some gift or talent God has given to us. It is false pride that comes before the fall and is addressed in the first reading from Wisdom as a characteristic of the wicked.

The reading from the letter of James also addresses false pride and gives us some excellent guidance on how to live a fruitful life in the Christian Community. It is believed that the James who authored this letter was not an apostle, but rather a relative of Jesus who is mentioned several times in the Gospels. He became a leader in the early church and when Peter moved to Rome, James remained in Jerusalem as the leader of that community. He had the gift of taking the Jewish heritage of the people of Israel and connecting it clearly to the message of Jesus. This just wasn't a matter of making simple comparisons between the two, but of showing a progression of the Old Testament teachings to Jesus and how Jesus renewed them and gave a different interpretation to them through his ministry and teachings. Jesus is the Word made flesh who brings new life to the words of the Old Testament. James was familiar with the Old Testament Wisdom literature, and he knew well the teachings of Jesus and the some of the struggles of the early church. James tells us that this kind of behavior is a disorder, while God's wisdom is what leads us to proper behavior. When we live by God's way the following are present, peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits. It is in this way that we can rightfully boast, as Saint Paul did, in the works he accomplished by the grace of God.

We avoid the errors of the disciples and the early Christians if we take seriously the instruction of Jesus at the end of the Gospel; "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." This goes against the grain of the temptation to build ourselves us regardless of the cost to us or others. It is by becoming a true servant of all that we can rise to be the leader, not by our own doing but by the recognition of others of God's presence within us.

Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
25 Ordinary Time
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

There are two parts to our Gospel reading this Sunday. The first part is another prediction by Jesus of his passion and death. The disciples do not understand what he is saying and so simply ignore him. This leads to the second half of the Gospel reading in which we find the disciples squabbling among themselves as to which of them is the greatest. Jesus stops them and gives them the example of little children for them to emulate.

We begin by looking at the first part and the first thing that we notice is that this is the middle one of three separate predictions by Jesus of his passion as recorded in St Mark’s Gospel. It is interesting that in all three of these predictions Jesus speaks only to the disciples and not to the generality of the people. In all three of them we note that Jesus and the disciples are travelling from one place to another and, besides it giving them a good opportunity to be alone, it reflects the interior or spiritual journey that the disciples are on.

The disciples consistently misunderstand or ignore Jesus being preoccupied as they are with their own concerns. In the first Peter remonstrates with him. Here in the second the disciples start arguing about which of them is the more important. And in the third James and John sidle up to Jesus asking for privileged places in the Kingdom. Clearly none of these important prophesies have much impact on them.

In this, the second prediction, as they travel along the road we see how Jesus tells the disciples what is going to happen to him. He waits till they get to Capernaum and then asks them what they were arguing about on the way. It seems as though Jesus has been exercising a great deal of patience with them. After hearing his words about what is going to happen the proper response of the disciples ought to have been a bit of self-examination. They should have been asking themselves how they would cope with Christ’s passion and preparing themselves for the consequences. Instead they argue and jostle for the position of top dog.

At the very least the disciples should have questioned Jesus further and asked him to clarify what he meant by this ominous prophesy. Instead they act, as sometimes we do ourselves, like an ostrich burying their heads in the sand, afraid to face up to something that would prove to be rather terrifying.

What the disciples end up doing is arguing about their rank and position. They show themselves to be highly competitive among themselves, each one wanting to push themselves forward. In this they show that they have plenty of ambition.

Ambition is not always a bad thing. It can be very good; it can be a driving force in a person’s life and can help us to achieve their goals and it can help us to use our abilities to the full. We also want our children to show some ambition; we want them to get good grades at school, a good university degree, and to establish themselves in a worthwhile profession. This is good, as long as it takes into account the true abilities of our sons and daughters and that it is in accordance with their wishes.

And an individual can be ambitions on their own behalf and can strive very hard to achieve a specific goal. Often people will put off short term pleasures in order to achieve what they perceive to be a greater good. We call this deferred gratification and it is one of the important lessons we ought to learn as we go through life.

However, there is a negative side to ambition. Unrestrained ambition can take over our whole lives, it can become an end in itself. We can find that we have become competitive in every single area. This competitive impulse can take us over completely and end up spoiling our relationships and so destroying our lives. Ambition is good if kept in check, but bad if we let it get out of control.

Our second reading today has been well chosen to fit in with the theme of the Gospel. St James warns his people that jealousy and ambition can play havoc with the Christian community. He says that ambition sows dissent and anger within the congregation.

He tells them that the best antidote to unrestrained ambition is prayer, because in prayer we see things in their true light. According to James if we want inappropriate things and then we begin to pray we will see them for what they are and come to the realisation that these things may not be in our best interests. We then begin to pray for the things that we really need such as a spirit of humility and peacefulness.

On arriving in Capernaum Jesus asks his disciples what they were arguing about, although he surely knew quite well what they were discussing. He puts his arm around the little children and invites the disciples to take them as an example. Little children are essentially vulnerable and innocent and it is these qualities that Jesus prizes. He does not want his disciples to be ambitious for the wrong things, he would rather that they adopt the characteristics of a child and be without guile or competitiveness.

Jesus tells the disciples that he is himself essentially like a little child. He is trusting; he takes pleasure in small things; he enjoys being good; he is without ambition. Jesus invites the disciples to accept the fact that in the Kingdom of God it is these attitudes that are valued above all others.

His disciples will ultimately become the leaders of the Church. They will have to model themselves on Christ and they will have to teach the people by word and example just what the Christian life really means. They will have to leave aside worldly ambition; leave aside any kind of aggression or animosity towards others; leave aside jealousy and envy; and leave aside the values of this world.

Their task will be to adopt the values of the Kingdom of God and to embrace attitudes of humility, respect, vulnerability, prayerfulness, truthfulness, love and hope. For it is in these things that the Kingdom of God consists. They are invited by Jesus to understand that little children know these things far better than so-called mature adult men. They disciples have much to learn but perhaps more to unlearn. The same goes for ourselves.

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