Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sermon Notes: Benjamin Franklin and Jesus

Reflection for 6:30 pm Mass
St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Tuesday Week VII of Ord. Time
Feb. 25, 2014

Humility: Today the readings clearly speak of humility. James finishes reproving his audience saying: God resists the proud, but give grace to the humble. And in the Gospel, Jesus has to use a child to teach the disciples to stop acting like one, arguing over who will be first in line.

The Hardest Virtue: I would claim that this is the hardest of virtues for us as Americans to grasp. A life of taking the lowest seat, moving to the last spot in line, differing accolades, and refusing recognition seems to be in no way consistent with the American Dream. Indeed, we often scoff at such actions saying: “stop it;” “get over yourself.” In the end, we really struggle to see acts of humility as anything other than weakness or lack of self-confidence.

Humility and Zeal: How, then, does humility accord with zeal or a drive to be the best? Humility will always be seen as contrary to zeal if it fails to recognize that to which Humility gives ground: God. Humility is not opposed to zeal or drive if that zeal or drive is for the exaltation of truth and goodness and beauty: God.

Benjamin Franklin: In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin recounts his attempt to become perfect. He made a list and began evaluating himself. The last virtue on his list was that of humility. Adding it only at the suggestion of a Quaker friend, he simply said: “imitate Socrates and Jesus.” At the end of his attempt, he states bluntly: “I cannot boast of much Success in acquiring the Reality of this Virtue; but I had a good deal with regard to the Appearance of it.”[1]

Humility Exalts the Other: Franklin as do many of us mistake humility for a set of actions useful for acquiring favor and general impoliteness avoiding the appearance of being too proud because we fail to see that true humility exalts the other. Taking Franklin’s advice, to imitate Jesus who was “meek and humble of heart” means to always exalt God the Father and likewise those whom He cares for, the lowly. For as Mary says “He has scattered the proud and lifted up the lowly.”

Exhortation: Humility is not opposed to your ventures at work and desires to accomplish great things in this life. Humble yourself today by giving praise to God and lifting up those around you.

[1] Part II p. 75

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sermon Notes: Pope Francis: Who do you say that I am?

Reflection for 6:30 am Mass
St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Thurs. Week VI of Ord. Time
Feb. 20, 2014

Turning Point: “The Turning Point:” one of those high powered theological terms associated with this passage we hear today from Mark’s Gospel. Indeed, we hear today the very middle or fulcrum of Mark’s Gospel, the confession of St. Peter that Jesus is the Christ. This confession marks (pun intended) the climax of Jesus’ teaching up to this point. He has finally convinced the disciples that He is the Christ, and they have professed it through Peter. Now through the end of the Gospel, Jesus will proceed as He does so abruptly here to teach them what this means: the Cross.

Peter’s Confession: And it should not be lost on us that it is Peter who makes this confession, Peter who properly identifies and confesses who Jesus our Lord and soon to be Savior is. In turn as we hear in Matthew’s Gospel, Peter receives the keys to the kingdom and is made that rock upon which the Church is founded, the Pope. Important because it is the Pope to whom the special charism of infallibility rests, that is, the guarantee by the work of the Holy Spirit that the Church in her teaching (as articulated and proclaimed by the Roman Pontiff) will not err in matters of faith and morals. This charism of infallibility is, simply put, the Pope’s duty by the Holy Spirit to identify the Christ, as Peter does in today’s Gospel. In other words, look at the various opinions and teachings, and declare the truth. Thus in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus replies: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (16:17).

The Pope: This is the Pope: the Vicar of Christ to whom is entrusted the sanctification and governance of the Church, and the proclamation and protection of the Gospel. Yet who do you say that he is? I challenge you to pose this same question but in regards to the Holy Father, for there are many many opinions out there. To some he is a sort of John the Baptist: a voice crying out that the world might repent of its mistreatment of the poor and the marginalized in society. To others he is Elijah: a great prophet and wonder-worker who continually performs signs and miracles. If only we knew what he was going to do next! To others just one of the prophets: TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year. 

Your Confession: Certainly he is in many ways all of those things and in addition a loving pastor, faith filled man…the titles could go on. But do we see him for who he really is: the Holy Father and Supreme Pontiff, the Pope? One could say that Pope Francis isn't big on such titles and this would most true. I remember that fate filled night when he did not mention once that he was the new Pope. And to this neither was Jesus, as we hear today: “he warned them not to tell anyone about him.” Yet, like Jesus, Pope Francis has not denied these titles. In many ways, it is our job to confess the identity of the Pope: that he is head of the Roman Catholic Church and speaks on behalf of Christ. He knows all too well how much humility is needed in order to catch the attention of the world. And he is doing just that. But we have to be the ones who, as the crowds disperse after the encounter, explain to them why, who, and what just happened. He is our Pope, speaking on behalf of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, and doing a beautiful job. In filial devotion, let us help others see who he truly is. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sermon Notes: Solomon's Wisdom

Reflection for Mass, 8:30 am
St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Wed 5th Week of Ordinary Time
Feb. 12, 2014

Sheba’s Breathe is taken away: “When the queen of Sheba witnessed Solomon’s great wisdom, the palace he had built, the food at his table, the seating of his ministers, the attendance and garb of his waiters, his banquet service, and the burnt offerings he offered in the temple of the LORD, she was breathless.”[1]

Solomon’s Wisdom: Sheba was left breathless, not because of the impressive nature of his kingdom there in Jerusalem, but because of his wisdom. What, then, is wisdom, and why is Solomon seen as such a wise man?

Wisdom: Wisdom is one of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Solomon himself prayed for this gift as we heard this past Saturday: “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding [and wise] heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”[2] Solomon asked for the gift of wisdom because he knew that wisdom consisted in being able to see to the core of an issue. He knew that wisdom allows one to consider the highest cause or most important factor.[3] In Solomon’s case, he knew that God must come first, particularly when ruling over God’s people. So he built the Temple where due sacrifice may be offered.[4]

Order and Peace: The effect of such wisdom is that now order can be established. In Solomon’s case, he was able to order his kingdom around the Temple, i.e. around God. Such wisdom and order bear the fruit of peace, which Solomon certainly experienced during his reign, or at least the first half of it. Thus in the Tradition the gift of wisdom has always been associated with the beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers…” Peacemakers are such because they are wise, seeing to the heart of the issue at hand and establishing order accordingly, for peace consists in the tranquility of order.[5]

The Wiseman, child of God: In our own lives, we know people who have this gift. When we talk to them about our problems or difficulties, they are able to see to the heart of the situation and give us advice accordingly. Here we think of parents, grandparents, and even sometimes children. It is amazing how often we hear such wise things said by our children. While they often know not what they are saying, I think this phenomena captures the true nature of this gift. For the gift of Wisdom makes us peacemakers, who, as the beatitude says, are the children of God.[6] The simplicity of a child’s vision is often quite wise. Let us pray for this gift of wisdom that we might be children of God bringing peace and order to a troubled world.

[1] 1 Kgs 10: 4-5
[2] 1 Kgs 3:4-13:
[3] ST II-II q. 45 a. 1
[4] 1 Kgs 8:1-7, 9-13
[5] ST II-II q. 45 a. 6, citing St. Augustine’s The City of God
[6] Cf. Matt 5:1-10

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sermon Notes: David and Absalom

Reflection for Mass
St. Vincent de Paul
Tuesday of the 4th Wk of Ordinary Time
February 4,, 2014

David’s Passion: The past several days we have been reading out of the second book of Samuel what could be called the Passion of David. Like the Passion of Christ, David prefigures through these events the events in Christ’s life we celebrate during Holy Week. For David, the conflict arises when his own son, Absalom, decides to turn on his father and take the thrown. Seeing that the people had sided with Absalom, David and his men flee the city.

David’s Pain: Today we here of the tragic death of David’s son, Absalom, in an accident. And while one might think David’s response would be triumphant or jubilant seeing his enemy defeated, as the Cushite messenger says: “Let my lord the king receive the good news that this day the Lord has taken your part, freeing your from the grasp of all who rebelled against you,” David’s response is hardly such. No, instead, he is shaken and weeps saying, “My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!”

A Parent’s Compassion: David’s reaction is understandable particularly for us parents. We as parents never want to see our children suffer and we will do anything to keep them from it, including suffer it ourselves, even if that suffering is due to our children’s own fault or imprudence. How many time these words of David have been on our own lips when we see our children suffer: “If only I had instead of you.”

God the Father: We must realize that God the Father has this same love and compassion for us His children. And as proof He gave us His only begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ that we might not die but have life eternal. The Cross is the concrete reality of God the Father saying to us His beloved Children: “If only I had died instead of you.”