About Harvester's Wanted:

A Catholic priest's reflections along the path of Faith.

When this life is complete, I pray they say I lived for the Greater Glory of God +AMDG+

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Nice is Nice... But


Homily for the Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Given at Saint Aloysius Parish, Pewee Valley 

August 17 & 18, 2013 

            It is nice to be home, it is nice to be home and it is even nicer to be here doing this, proclaiming the Word of God for you and expounding upon that Word in a homily. Dreams, anxieties, anticipation, and many many years of work and prayer have gone into the formation that I received in preparation to be right here, right now. That fact, like these readings for today, might frighten you a little, but we’ll get back to that.

            First I want to reflect for a moment on that word nice. I used it there at the very beginning… it’s nice to be home; please don’t get me wrong, that is true and all, but the word nice just doesn’t really indicate that which I fully mean. I remember it vividly, my sister once told me – in the way that only younger sisters can – that I should be nice because I’m a seminarian. I was probably poking fun at her or something… imagine! Anyways, I responded with “if by nice you mean I should lie, then forget all of this.” The truth is that nice is often used to do two things: to say that the thing in question is good enough and/or to sugarcoat the truth of the matter by accentuating the limited but true positive qualities that the subject does possess. Take Christians for example… they’re nice Christians. What do you think of when you think of nice Christians in this context? Are you a nice Christian, am I a nice Christian? All the while Christ himself is saying to us how I wish it were already blazing!

Saint Aloysius, Pewee Valley, Easter Vigil 2011 

            How I wish it were already blazing! Now if you ask me that’s not nice, oh no, that’s real! That’s Christ talking about true disciples, not nice disciples, not nice Christians, but rather that is Christ talking about true Christians, true Christians willing to get into the mess and filth of a broken and sometimes blazing world. I warned you this might be a little frightening! And if you’re not frightened, frightened at least a little, then you’re probably either stuck on being nice, or you’re in a nice sleep right now. Either way it’s right there in our Gospel: Christ coming to set the world on fire and cause division instead of peace. Jesus! You should be nicer! You are a Christian after all! A nice Christian!          

            It is all throughout our readings, this insistence the world has for followers of God to be nice. The Jews wanted Jeremiah to be nice, believe me Jeremiah was not nice: Jeremiah spoke the truth and caused division. So what did they do with this troublemaker? They threw Jeremiah into a cistern. Now a cistern could have been a well from which clean drinking water came, but why throw a man into your clean water? Instead I imagine them throwing Jeremiah into a sewer. Now that is not nice at all! If that is what it might take to be a true disciple them I tell you that scares me! I have a little OCD, and by a little I mean a lot, and the thought of being in a sewer, nope I could not deal. This cuts both ways you see, true discipleship is scary for all who are called to follow God’s way. Paul too is talking about running the race to win it, to win the race against the opposition from sinners. A nice Christian may want to stop and make sure that the opposition is smoothed over, at least a bit; Paul here is saying to run right past them and let your joy in Christ challenge them to run the race as well. A true disciple is a runner, not someone who just makes their way eventually.    

            I was speaking with a friend of mine recently, she makes jewelry, nice jewelry let’s say. I think she would agree that it can always get better, so we’ll say nice jewelry. Anyway she was talking about how many people would assume that jewelry comes out of a nice clean process. Instead she described a process of fire, heat, shaping of metals, dust, dirt, and even the use of acid to clean the metal after all of this upheaval has taken place. We don’t see all of that do we? We just see the beautiful jewelry that comes out of this tumultuous process. The formation of Christian disciples is a lot like that, except the end product is our eternity in heaven; that is when we get to fully shine. We may see, and others may see, a glimpse every now and again of that beauty while on earth. The true glory, however, is waiting for us and I pray we can hardly recognize one another when we get there, after the dust and ash of this life are finally cleaned away.    

            Our readings, our Gospel message, for weeks now have been about building discipleship. Today’s Gospel especially warns us that this is not an easy process. Discipleship is not something where everyone will get along as a nice big happy family. Instead, at times, there will be division. Sometimes that division will be among friends, sometimes among coworkers, sometimes even among families. This is not to say that personal salvation is the only thing we are to be concerned about, we’re Catholic and the community means too much for us to take such an individualistic path. Our example is the key; instead of trying to force someone into becoming a disciple, we invite discipleship. Returning to the running analogy of Paul, to stop running is to stop being a disciple; to stop and try to convince a bystander to run would be to stop running. Paul, as the coach, is instead yelling at us to “keep running!” Believe me this race is too long to only pass a bystander once, this race is on a circular track and you’ll pass by people who are close to you numerous times; eventually they may get bored of simply standing there and decide to run the race as well. It may not be nice to pass people like that but if you are burning with the fire of discipleship that fire may catch in their hearts as well.

            Bear with me for a moment, I’ve always wanted to add a certain visual quality to a homily and I can think of no better occasion than my first time preaching back home.

[Go get the crucifix and return to ambo]

Saint Meinrad Seminary, Saint Thomas Aquinas Chapel 

This is it folks. This is what it is all about. It is through this that we have our salvation. It is through this that we have the Eucharist and the Church; and this is not nice. This is anything but nice! This is blood, tears, pain; this is standing on the edge of despair. This is the reality of discipleship! And this is what Paul says we should be running toward! Filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit all of us young and old, all of us woman and man, all of us nice and not so nice! We are all called to run this race keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus on the cross, keeping our eyes fix on Jesus raised from the dead, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus in the Eucharist and, through the Eucharist, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ found in each and every one of us. My sisters and brothers I wish to expound upon what I said at the beginning. It is nice to be home; it is also good and true that I am home. It is good that I am home where I first learned what discipleship is all about. I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!     


Friday, August 23, 2013

Vanity of Vanities

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Given at Immaculate Heart of Mary and Christ the King parishes

August 4, 2013 

            Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity! That’s a wonderful line isn’t it? It’s the kind of line that poets and songwriters only dream of. This time say it with me… vanity of vanities! All things are vanity. A wonderful line, but what in heaven’s name does it mean? Here in a second I want you all to spend a moment and think about vanity that you have in your lives; but before that let me first say that vanity here is not a simple kind of vanity wherein a person is typically called vain. We can be vain in that way of course: on days when the temperature is up and sweat is pouring down my face I have a somewhat nasty habit of responding ‘thank you, I know’ when someone says ‘you look hot.’ I then often encounter their response in the form of a look that says ‘really?’ That’s vanity in the simple sense. Vanity in a larger sense, however, is an over the top focus on any aspect of one’s life. It would be as if the wicked queen in Snow-white, contrary to the way we all remember it, said: mirror mirror on the wall, who is the smartest, or wealthiest, or most athletic of them all?  Now after all of that go ahead and spend a moment and think about what your daydreams reflect in that mirror. Now in Father John fashion turn to one another and tell your neighbor “I am vain.” Amen, I am vain too.

            Many, I would imagine, thought of socially acceptable things to take pride in. I wonder if anyone thought of things like most hurt, sickest, most misunderstood, most underrated… the list here could go on for as long, if not longer, than the traits that people on first glance would feel good about taking pride in. All of these traits can become vanity because they take up a portion of the person’s attention that is far beyond what the thing deserves. Whether or not they are characteristics that we might at first glance described as a drive for success, or are rather ways of thinking that tend to separate the person from society; both of these ways of thinking take the width and breath of what it means to be a fully engaged human person and narrows that focus to one or two smaller issues that then become blinding of all the rest.   

The point here is to not put vice, particularly the vice of vanity, into a box. The moment one puts a particular vice into a box, labels it, and considers themselves done with that particular issue… well it’ll probably come back to bite you some other way. Many addicts report that once they have kicked their original addiction they are surprised to find themselves in an unforeseen and different addictive struggle. It’s not smart to put vice into a nice, neat, little box. Vanity is a lot like that. As fallen humans we seem to have a way of getting stuck on a single aspect of life; and then making that one things our all. Vanity, in many ways can be likened to idolatry in that what we are vain for becomes, in a sense, our god.

The readings for this week are full of people who have a focus on the singular and then take it to the extreme. In the first reading, right after that memorable line, vanity of vanities, we encounter two people: one whose sole purpose seems to be the acquisition of knowledge, and the other who is obsessed with work. Both, the author of Ecclesiastes assures us, are practicing vanity. Then in the second reading we have Paul telling us to “think of the things above, not of what is on earth.” He then goes on to talk about how distinctions between people, Greek and Jew, slave and free… all of these cause division, and while he does not directly state it, these characteristics that divide are a source of vanity as well.    

Then there is the Gospel with its great example of a man practicing both greed and vanity. This man cannot be accused of putting vanity into a little box; oh no! He feels the need to tear down his old barns just to build newer, bigger, better barns to hold his large crop. He thinks he is set for life, but little does he know that that life is a lot shorter than he imagines. He has taken his vanity for work, because God knows he was probably singularly focused on raising that huge crop before it came in, and turned it into vanity for his wealth after all his hard work paid off. I imagine these new barns weren’t just built to hold all his stuff; they were also built to show it off. “Look at me and my big barns, have you seen my barns, let me tell you about my barns,” he planned to say to all who would listen!


There is a detail of the Gospel that I want to point out, and that’s the fact that even had he lived I’m not sure that he would have had many people around to brag about his barns to. The parable only has two characters: the man, and finally God, and notice how the rich man was all too happy to leave God out of the conversation. It was God who interrupted this man’s dialogue with himself, a dialogue that consisted of a lot of I language and the frequent use of the words me and my. I don’t imagine the rich man lying in bed that night waiting to die thinking about his foolishness, no I don’t think he was ready for that yet, instead I imagine him lying there realizing how lonely he was, something that was bound to happen eventually even if he lived for years to come. God did not bring this loneliness upon him; the man brought it upon himself, brought it upon himself through his vanity.

While it was basically stated before I want to make sure that it is clear that all these readings have at least one thing in common and that is the fact that the vanity described is only vanity because it excludes God and others, instead of including God and others. The hard worker and the person in pursuit of knowledge could have done so for God and the people. The people that Paul was preaching to could have taken a measure of pride in their identity, without excluding God and God’s family. And of course the rich man in the Gospel. Without even taking away his imminent death wouldn’t the sleepless night that we presume he had, wrapped up in his loneliness waiting for the end, wouldn’t this sad fate have been more cheerful if instead of building new barns he built new tables to offer a feast for the entire community, rich and poor alike? A feast, not to brag, but instead meant to thank God for the bountiful harvest. There is a Native American saying that I heard somewhere along the way that says if a person catches too many fish for their family to eat in a single day, they would store it in their neighbor’s belly. The rich man’s hard work would have paid off all the more had he been more intent on including God, both in the work, and in the success.


These bible readings help to reveal to us today that God, in a strange way like vanity, cannot be put in a box. God deserves so much more than that. These biblical characters, however, wanted to do just that, they tried to keep God in a box. Perhaps they worshiped God once a week, they paid their respects, but then they returned to that one thing that meant enough to them to hold their attention for the other six and a half day. God deserves so much more than our little boxes, our little corners of life. It is not that God is saying we should not live our lives; God is also not saying that we should live our lives without passion and drive. We might be tempted to make God the most important thing and then stop there, but even that is not what God wants for us. God wants to be part of all that we do, a part of our passions, a part of our success, a part of our failure, a part of anything and everything that might consume us if God wasn’t there right beside us calling for love and balance. My friends, my sisters and my brothers we deserve to have God exist within every part of our lives. We deserve to feel the security of knowing that while we make mistakes, while we encounter small deaths and large deaths on a daily basis and throughout our lives, we deserve to know that those deaths bring life in Christ Jesus.


Sisters and brothers, you have taught me this, you have renewed my understanding of the love that Jesus has for us all. In speaking with Father John about the things I have learned over this remarkable summer I have often talked about how the strength of the people, the strength of you all, to hold in tension a realization of the limitations the world sets against you, alongside a joy that only comes in freedom. The joy, the openness, and the warmth have surprised me and I believe they come from your struggle to live out the point of this message, to let Christ into your lives more and more every day. In as much as I hope to represent Christ for you, know that you have welcomed me in. Please know that while my official time with you draws to a close in the next week I will never again feel like a visitor among you but a member of the body of Christ coming home, because have no doubt, I can’t stay away from my new family long. In the words of Father John a visitor is a blessing, both blessed by the community and a blessing for the community and I hope to continue being that with you and for you as you continue to strive and keep Christ in all that you do. God bless!