From the Archives: Fr. Metzler’s Homilies

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 4th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

Have Life in Abundance”

If there’s one sermon all of us are willing to listen to to the very end it’s this one. And I mean that quite literally.

 In this passage from John, Jesus says that he has come so that his followers — all of us — may have life and have it more abundantly. Life, obviously, is good, desirable, important. How much more so, then, abundant life? There was a time when I had developed a very bad habit. If someone told me of their difficulties, their struggles in life, I would respond, “Well, survival is progress.” But, in fact, survival is not progress. Progress is progress.

 The chance to not simply endure, or even persist, but to thrive; to not simply exist, but to flourish. To have a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment; to know and be known, accept and be accepted. I believe that if there is one thing that pretty much everyone here today — and those not here as well – desire, even if they can’t name that desire, it’s this. More than that, I believe we regularly make all kinds of sacrifices in the hope of earning or achieving or purchasing this life, and each time we fail it kills us just a little.

 The PBS documentary series, Frontline, in a recent episode about the changing nature of advertising and our culture, shows how keenly we seek a sense of fulfillment and purpose — that is, abundant life — often from the things we buy.

Advertising in our country has shifted from making promises about the quality of the product to promises about quality of life. It showed how ‘emotional branding’ seeks to fill the empty places that civic institutions like schools and churches used to fill; and although the things themselves may be perfectly useful — a great laptop or pair of running shoes — they can’t provide the abundant life of meaning and purpose that we so desperately seek. Ads even try to convince us that we can achieve abundant life through such things as our choice of a tooth paste or a deodorant.

So here we are, seeking meaning and fulfillment — that is, abundant life — from things in part because we no longer find them in our prayer life or education and reading or especially in charitable works, in doing for others.

But authentic abundant life flows ultimately from having meaningful relationships. Certainly in our relationship with Jesus and through him. So much of our life is instead about protecting ourselves: giving the impression that we really do have it all together. But we can’t experience abundant life without exposing, even celebrating, those very vulnerabilities we want to hide. We can’t go selectively numb. And in trying to protect ourselves from hurt and disappointment, we have so numbed ourselves that we have cut ourselves off from the very things that can allow us to really feel alive: love, and satisfying work and appreciation of both of these as seen in the great works of art and literature.

So much of our life is caught between wanting intimacy and honesty in our relationships — with each other as much as with God — and yet simultaneously holding back, not risking, not exposing ourselves fully to others for fear that they may reject us. It’s a legitimate fear, of course; people have rejected us in the past. And so we ensconce ourselves in emotional armor, living half-truths and sometimes outright lies about who we are, hoping to protect ourselves from hurt, perhaps all the while knowing that as long as we are not honest about who we are, we cannot trust the love and acceptance others would offer us. After all, would they accept us, we silently ask ourselves, if they really knew us?

It is this very real human condition and dilemma that God embraces in coming to live on earth, taking on our lot and our life in the flesh and blood of Jesus. The man born of woman, born under the law; the one who experienced love and laughter, sorrow and disappointment; the teacher of love and peace who accepted death on the cross, trusting the power of His Father to overcome even death — this one knows the deepest recesses of our fears and insecurities and has embraced them all. And when he is resurrected, he comes bearing the peace he has offered all along, accompanied with the promise that his love is greater than fear and that his new life is greater than death.

Which means that the second thing we need to do is declare this promise. And it is a promise! Abundant life is not something to earn or achieve, buy or barter for. Rather, it is a gift, the sheer gift of a God who loves us enough to lay down his life for us. There are so many thieves and bandits in this world who would rob us of life, who would cheat us of abundance. And so Jesus comes as the gatekeeper and good shepherd, the one who knows his sheep — intimately and truly — and who calls us by name so that we, hearing the difficult truth about ourselves, may believe and receive the second and wonderful truth about God’s great and victorious love for us.

In fifty years of priesthood, the thing I have most come to understand is that most people don’t like themselves very much, and so they cannot understand how God could ever like them either. And so, proclaiming these two truths, — the truth about how often we search for love and life in all the wrong places and the second truth that God in Christ understands, embraces, and redeems us in love — are the most important messages I can impart to you so regularly. And I call on you to share and to accept this good news, above all. “I have come”, He says, “that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”       (David Lose)

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Raised Up, the Breath of Hope

Ezekiel 37:12-14   Romans 8:8-11   John 11:3-45

We are so near to Jerusalem. To Jerusalem, and Calvary, and the cross. In fact, today’s gospel story told at the tomb of Lazarus says we are “two miles away,” in this place of death and mourning, at the grave and with those who gather nearby, troubled in spirit: the family and friends of Lazarus, including Jesus. And we are, in church time, only two weeks away from the empty tomb. How fitting, then – and how challenging – to read this Gospel of the raising of Lazarus, set firmly within, even entangled with all the hope and confusion and the controversy that swirl around Jesus as we approach this Holy Week to come.

But first, there is his own grief over the death of his friend. In this story, there is so much of the human experience of loss: receiving word of a loved one’s illness and need; decision-making and complications to be considered; frustrations, questioning, and lack of understanding on the part of those closest to us; grief and mourning by loved ones and the community encircling them. Our swirling thoughts of ‘what might have been’; courage, anger, and weeping; and finally the loss, the death; the trust of Mary and Martha, even in the face of physical reality. We do not hear a single word from Lazarus or know of his response to his extraordinary experience. We see only release, glory, and Jesus’ own gratitude to God.

We hear the words of Jesus, “Unbind him, and let him go. We are all held back in one way or another and bound by the old habits that the fear of dying has taught us so well,  How many of us have known the feel of those strips of cloth, the grave’s apparel, that wraps us up in a leaden existence and makes us long for release, for the light of day and the feel of fresh air in our lungs? What are the ‘strips of cloth’ that bind us, the addictions and fears, and the feelings of hopelessness and loss? Perhaps grief, anxiety, financial troubles, hatred, resentment, or a lack of faith has put us in our own tomb of despair.

Jesus stood outside that tomb and called out, “Lazarus, come out!” God is still speaking to us today, calling us out from our tombs of despair, denial, and death to new life, right now, right here. What are those tombs for you and I? What is the tomb for our parish community? In what ways  are you part of the unbinding, when God is trying to release the bonds, when God is trying to bring new life in the face of death? How are you ‘unbinding’ and ‘letting go’ those who have been put into such places of death?

In a world where the dead have returned to life, the word ‘trouble’ loses much of its meaning. Perhaps there are some in our congregation today, standing around and watching, formulating their judgments and deciding what they’ll believe and how much they’ll believe it, or maybe they’re moving to the center of what’s happening, pulling back the ‘stuff’ of death, the things that surround death, and releasing the new life that God has granted, the new life that lies just beneath the surface of what appears bleak and beyond hope. Perhaps there are some among us who are calculating the costs and the possible unpleasantness of giving ourselves over to the power of God, even, ironically, to healing and new life.

Martha’s great profession of faith is also an powerful moment in this beautiful and complex story. How do we move from just saying what we believe to giving our selves and our lives over to transformation and the new life that God brings? How often, in fact, we do say we believe but live as if we do not? Where does our religious imagination fail us, stop, refuse to move to places of new life and possibility? What does the world tell us about “real life” and how does that contrast with a gospel vision of being truly alive? What do we think we need to do in order to achieve or accomplish new life, as if it were our doing, and not God’s?

It is not easy to convey a sense of wonder, let alone resurrection wonder, to another. It’s the very nature of wonder to catch us off guard, to circumvent expectations and assumptions. Wonder can’t be packaged, and it can’t be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement.

How and when have we been Lazarus in this story? Perhaps just as important: how and when have we been part of the crowd, which moves around in the background, trying to figure out what’s going on, drawing conclusions, not wanting to miss anything, helping to release the dead man…and then going back to our lives, transformed, believing, experiencing new life – or being critical, suspicious, cynical?

If you live in the dark a long time and the sun comes out, you do not cross into it whistling. There’s an initial up-rush of relief at first, then–for me, anyway–a profound dislocation. My old assumptions about how the world works are buried, yet my new ones aren’t yet operational.

There’s been a death of sorts, but without a few days in hell, no resurrection is possible. Where do you stand? Oblivious to death? In that initial numbness of denial? In the Hell of awaiting and facing it?

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 3rd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Journey to Living Water

Exodus 17:3-7;   Romans 5:1-2,5-8;   John 4:5-15,19b-26,39a.40-42

Gospel Summary

It is high noon when Jesus stops to rest by the well of Jacob. His revelation about life-giving water will provide a light that challenges the sun. When he asks the Samaritan woman for a drink, she is amazed that he seems so unaware of how things really are.

Does he not know that, as a woman with several husbands, that she has been condemned to social invisibility? After all, women were supposed to be ignored in public and she was also a despised Samaritan. How can Jesus be so out of touch?

When Jesus answers her, we discover that it is she who is out of touch, because she doesn’t know about the “gift of God” that Jesus offers–a gift that is as refreshing and enlivening as bubbling, cool spring water, and so very much better than the stale, stagnant well water on which she’s been trying to survive. The woman’s eyes must have sparkled like the waters in the sun as Jesus awakened in her the dream of a life of freedom and dignity. “Sir, give me this water.”

We learn about the nature of this “living water” a bit later when the woman asks Jesus whether it is better to worship in Jerusalem or on the holy mountain. Jesus tells her that such considerations are no longer relevant. What counts now is to welcome the Spirit, who can transform the hearts of people by enabling them to experience the ultimate truth of God’s love for them. Religious places and rituals remain important only insofar as they lead to us to experience of God’s love in our personal union with Christ.

Life Implications

It ‘s all too easy for most of us to identify with the Samaritan woman when she experienced life as often unfair and unjust, that is, like stale well water. How many of our powerful human institutions conceal systematic injustice, opportunities and rewards provided only on the basis of connections rather than ability or merit.

Even those who benefit from such arrangements can sense the lack of that joy in not being rewarded for one’s accomplishments. How sad that so many live a life of emptiness and futility. If only they could realize that a life of loving concern for others, where we ourselves not only give love, but get it in return is so much more important than a constant yearning for security. To shrug off injustice as simply ‘the way things are’ is to be condemned to the half-life of stagnant well water.

The woman runs off to tell all the townsfolk, those who hold her in such contempt, that she has found the messiah. The disciples return; and one sees through the eyes of Jesus the crowds she has stirred up coming across the fields, their robes waving like wheat in the wind. The fields, He says, are ripe for a great harvest.

He invites us to understand the yearnings of so many in nations throughout the world, and in our own country, in revolution for true freedom, who dream about the possibility of a world where opportunity and hope replace the bondage of fear and despair and oppression. God really does not want us to live a life of quiet desperation. Jesus has come to reveal the Father’s love and the Spirit is ready to convince us of that fact.  .

The Spirit of Jesus whispers constantly to us: as he did to the downcast woman: “If you only knew the gift of God…” Our eyes too can sparkle as we dare to imagine a world, at least within our hearts, where the experience of God’s invincible love becomes a source of refreshing, life-giving water to quench our thirst for goodness and justice.

A cynical attitude toward life will not be sufficient. We need to realize that the Holy Spirit wants us to redeem our own little corner of the world. We do not need to be a Messiah, but we do need to inject some messianic hope into the area of life that we can influence. The conversion of the world begins with the conversion of a kitchen or a dining room or a workplace. If each one of us would do that, the larger world would soon become what God intended it to be–a place where justice blossoms and where love bears wonderful fruit.

Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.

 

 

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Journey to the Mountaintop

Genesis 12:1-4;    2 Timothy 1:8-10;    Matthew 17:1-9

When Abram was 75 years old, at rest in a comfortable village of his own people, — somewhere in southern Iraq, we are told — God’s blessing came by calling him to move toward a new place. It was a land far from his own, between Turkey and Syria, and it was already occupied by a people alien to him.

In the Far East, the sons of Abraham terrorize each other in these same lands and in Palestine,. We have to wonder how Abram’s resettlement journey could possible bear hope for peace. And yet Abram’s moving into it is supposed to bear the blessing of God’s intimacy for “all the families of earth.”

Abram was called to let his material blessings go and walk into a future of mysteries, from the familiar, the self-serving, what he knew to what he did not  know, from what he had to what he did not have, from the comfortable to the strange and the unpredictable.  Today, most everything in our culture, education and employment encourages us to journey in the opposite direction: from what we do not have to what we think we want and need, making every effort to remove the strange and unpredictable in order to guarantee the safe and the secure.

In a similar way, three young men go up a mountain with Jesus whom they have grown to know as friend. They return down the mountain men called to believe what they think they saw. Jesus reveals Himself as more than friend. They see Him talking with Moses, a representative of the law, and Elijah, a prophet. Their friend, they see, is keeping pretty good company. They see their friend in a different light, a light so strong that it baffles the senses. They hear words which challenge their knowledge. They have known Him in one way and now they are being asked to give up that familiarity and move to an “out-of-sight” relationship involving not knowing, not seeing, but listening and walking back down the mountain in faith.

Abram left his familiar relationship with God through the land. The three apostles had to relate with Jesus by trusting in what happened when their friend was transfigured into their Lord.

Lent is calling each of us to embrace the familiar for what it is, a blessing. We are being called also to embrace the unfamiliar for what it is, a blessing as well. We love the security of the known and can hug it, possess it and make it our own, identity, our little god. We can relate habitually with the same ideas, friends, places, and no longer experience them as the blessing-gifts they  were meant always to be.

The Jesus of our younger days, as with the three mountain-climbers of today’s Gospel, changes. Maturity involves seeing former things, persons, ideas, differently as we advance.

Perhaps the three companions of Jesus could never explain what had happened “up there”. They were learning to walk with Jesus with their human doubts about Him and themselves. The big thing is they did walk into their futures less confined by the human demand to know and explain perfectly. The three transfixed-followers who witnessed the Transfiguration  hadn’t  seen perfectly, could not explain it perfectly, what they saw did not make them perfect, but they walked back down the mountain to continue their journey with Jesus more on the level of faith. We believe, because we kind of understand. Like love, we go deeper into it so we can find out our security is in the fact of Jesus more than the facts about Him.

The longest and hardest journey is not the journey without but the journey within.  Abraham’s journey becomes a metaphor for our spiritual journeys. The geography of Canaan pales in comparison to the complexity of the human heart.  It is far easier to leave Canaan than to leave greed and seek self-giving, to travel from envy, regret, apathy and bitterness and arrive at destinations such as gratitude, service and forgiveness.

You see, Lent is not about giving up chocolate, meat or alcohol. Those are only external reminders of an internal transformation that we seek.  Our ultimate journey is to move from a self-centered heart curved in on itself to an other-centered openness to the love of God, a love for others, and a love for all God’s world. That, of course, is a journey that lasts a lifetime.

The twin journeys of our outer choices and our inner hearts are closely intertwined.  Each one shapes the other. The outer choices we make, for example, about our time and how we use it, our money and how we spend it, our jobs and how well we do it, in some mysterious way, shape the person we are becoming, so that in a sense, we form ourselves by a lifetime of accumulated decisions. We decide our own journey. It’s destination is not as uncertain as it seems.

And so therefore, as we grow in the inner depths of our hearts, we learn to make choices that are wise and good for both us and for others.

Pastor Craig Barnes once wrote: The truly good news of Jesus is that “all of the roads belong to God”, and that “the Savior can use any road to bring us home.”  Quoting CS Lewis, he reminds us that God can even use the wrong roads to take us to the right places.

 

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies, 1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

“To Whom Shall We Listen? The Threshold of Truth”

Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7;    Romans 5:12, 17-19;    Matthew 4:1-11

Our First Reading today is quite a story. It’s a good story for us all, because it is a story of us all. We are Adam and Eve every day as we are so available to our wanting to be like God and even, our being God.

We hear, not the whole story, but selected verses about the disobedience of Adam and Eve. This story is about our tendency to disobedience, or sin, as we call it. It tells us how it began somehow; and the painful consequences pictured in these early chapters are a reminder and warning to us as it was to the Israelites of what will happen if they, too, disobey and refuse to listen and make their own fatal choices. It all began here, at the beginning of their and our religious history; and other stories in Genesis reemphasize the pattern.

The serpent speaks to the “woman” about what God had spoken to them and speaks now to us. There’s the tension, to whom shall we listen for life, its meaning and completion? To whom shall we listen for wisdom, for what is really good for us as humans?

The Gospel is also about the power and necessity of listening. Jesus has just heard of His true identity and relationship with His Father in the narrative of His baptism. “You are My Beloved Son” God said. He has been listening to the implications of this relationship and identity for forty days and nights of fasting and reflecting and is very vulnerable to being tempted. The devil approaches him with the scriptures in hand. He challenges Jesus’ identity and His relationship with His Father.

“If you are the Son of God” is the come-on through which the devil invites Jesus into the world of the ‘what-if”. Jesus replies with His scriptures handy too, and shifts the mood to the factual – to the ‘what is’.

Jesus lived that to which He listened in His desert experience. He took time to listen to the voice of God that spoke within Him and it profoundly changed His outlook. As Adam and Eve didn’t listen and so were disobedient, Jesus remained obedient and lived this reality even to His death.

This First Sunday of Lent we are encouraged to begin listening to what God speaks to us in our very being. We need to take time to find out who we really are, to discover our true identity and our sense of direction in life. We are invited to listen to the many voices telling us who we are, what is our meaning and value. We are urged during these days of Lent to face those things which tempt us to replace our solid relationships with God with illusions and pretenses. The reason for our prayer is to move through “what if” to “who am I”, from “maybe I could” to “thank You for who I am”.

It would be so much easier to be governed by laws and fears. But we as God’s children, must cross the threshold and be governed instead by love and hope.

We need to face our temptations joyfully, because they are a means of affirming how strong our relationship is with God. Our temptations are the very means by which we discover who we truly are, Because we, too, have been baptized into being God’s “Beloved”.

Yes, temptations should not be feared. Because they invite us to look at what is the good in ourselves that is being tempted to devalue, to under-use, or abuse or over-do. Temptations should set off our prayer-alarm, telling us that we should not be praying empty prayers. We don’t have to feel dirty or too human for prayer right now, because we’re being tempted. We need to pray about what is really happening to us right now, every moment of our lives. Temptations tell us about a most human condition.

They help us know our true holiness and help us to accept our true self.

Use this Lent as a time to explore what are the temptations of your own life. Are you tempted to live a life of selfish self-indulgence? Are you tempted to overlook the needs of your loved ones, of those closest to you? Are you tempted to patterns of laziness, underusing the wonderful gifts God has given you to make an impact in your world? Or is your temptation to live a life of empty pleasure and self-gratification. You may be tempted to ignore, even to be blind to the needs of those in the world who are starving, tortured or oppressed.

Find out what your own true temptation really is, and tailor your prayers and your whole prayer life around it. Listen to the voices of God within you, and cross that threshold that will take you to genuine, sincere, authentic truth about yourself. (Larry Gillick, S.J. Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality)

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Sirach 15: 15-20    1 Corinthians 2:6-10    Matthew 5:17-37

With A Loving  Heart

Monday is Valentine’s Day; and I want to again wish all of you a very Happy Valentine’s Day and let you know that I love all of you very much.  I will be keeping you and your special Valentines in my prayers at Mass all this weekend and at Mass on Monday.

I have a radio on which I often listen to the news and to sports events. It can pick up stations from a long distance away and the static and other stations crowding in can make it hard to hear. But, you know, I find that I hear what I want to hear.  Sometimes it seems I just make the effort to hear it … and I hear it.

When I am not interested in something, well, I don’t listen and so don’t tune in. What I want to hear, want to know, that I find the energy to hear. And often I think and I wonder what we as God’s People want to hear in the Scriptures and also what we do not want to hear. Where is our energy for listening?

As we move through this weekend’s liturgy, I suggest we pray with and reflect a bit upon what we want to hear from God, from the Church, from life. Our personal and family problems get our attention easily. We long to know more, to feel deeply, to understand mysterious things. But we need to listen to what The Book of Sirach, our first reading today, says to us, with all its wonderful images and wise sayings about most aspects of life. The whole book centers around the depth, presence and practicality of Wisdom.

Today it tells us that a great part of being Wise is knowing how to choose. God sets before us fire and water, life and death, good and evil. Whatever we choose will be given us. Wisdom is God’s way and we are choosers. We have been given the gift, or burden, of our freedom. Our wisdom is using our knowledge according to our faith in God’s ways. Wisdom gives us understanding, but it also allows us a freedom to exercise just how deeply or to what extent we will share it. And to what levels we do not want to hear as well. It’s all about listening and hearing. So, stay tuned!

Today’s continuation of the Sermon on the Mount contains twenty long verses about what has been heard in the past and what is to be listened to now. Jesus is not spinning the Law and the traditions passed on through the prophets. He is applying a proper spirit to what had become too legalistic. He is giving us a new way of living the Old Law as well.

Mark Twain, the great  American humorist, once wrote that the New Testament is one of those books you wish everybody else would read. This whole Sermon, at the beginning of Jesus’ preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, is not meant for exact execution, but for our interiorizing the heart and mind of Jesus. It is not about doing this or not doing that. It is about the ‘why’ of our doing anything.

For instance, we are encouraged not to lust sexually in our relationships with each other, but it is about reverence of the human body and the sacredness of love and life that is important. This sacredness of life extends to killing all forms of human life as well. Killing relationships with our brothers and sisters is a violation.

This is a long Gospel today and the whole Sermon takes much pondering. We here in the United States love the exactness of laws so we know what’s right and how we can get around or through or under or above what’s written. God so loved the world that God sent a Loving, Relational Person to share the sacredness of our lives and the sacredness of God’s relationship with us. The Wisdom of Jesus is not ‘how’ He lived, but the ‘why’. He came and continues coming, respectful of our freedom, to encourage us to reverence our lives, the time we have and the lives and times we have with others.

                            (Larry Gillick, S.J.  Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality  Creighton University)

  Life Implications

The ideal expressed in this gospel passage reminds us that external religious observance, though certainly important, will never suffice to make us authentic followers of Christ. It’s relatively easy to observe rituals and to affirm doctrines but, unfortunately, such observance can easily co-exist with an interior attitude that is judgmental and unforgiving. As the gospel reminds us, reconciliation with the alienated people in our lives (and often families) is more important than meticulous, or even scrupulous, religious observance.

In the case of murder, he points out that it is not just the act that is reprehensible but that the sin is present already in the hatred that often leads to murder. In a similar manner, viewing another person as a sexual object is so demeaning that it is already a serious sin, even if it does not actually lead to adultery.                (Demetrius Dumm O.S.B.)

 

The Need For Critical Self-Examination

There is a laundry list of justice issues that demand our energies and time to addressing, but they require that we engage in critical self-examination before we can lend ourselves to the task of bringing about equality. It is hard to overlook the many suffering people who have no place tosleep or food to eat and are left begging in the streets. Our nightly newscasts are filled with story after story of individuals who are dehumanized and rendered victims of a society that no longer values relationships and has ceased loving neighbor as self.

The primary importance of human relationships seems to be lost as individuals are rendered less-than because of race, gender, and sexual orientation. In the first-century church, would anyone dare admit that they were contributing to the problems Matthew wrote to address? It is easy to look at the problems and name them as the fault of others but the bigger challenge comes when we dare to find ourselves in the midst and ask how am I contributing to the problem? Or, how can I bring difference to what I observe around me?                          

(Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson U.C.C.)

What is required then is an interior conversion that recognizes one’s own shortcomings and is thus prepared to allow others to be imperfect also. What is most important, however, is an attitude of loving kindness that enables us to notice how others are hurting and which gladly reaches out to them, not because they deserve our help, but simply because they are in need and our hearts are sensitive to the fact. To love in this way is to be a child of that God who certainly loves us more than we deserve. As such, we will also be true followers of Jesus as we make his love present in our world.                                                  (Demetrius R. Dumm)

Seeing The World With A New Heart

This Gospel passage challenges us to see the world in a new way. In each of the scenarios Jesus is calling for an entirely new way of viewing human relationships, Behind the prohibitions lies the vision of a restored humanity. What is our view of humanity? Do we have a vision for justice that will bring about racial healing and equality? Do we have a vision for reconciliation that will provide a hope and a future for those who are marginalized and ostracized by society? The text takes us to hard places which involve looking at our hearts and creating newness within.  (Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson U.C.C.)

 

 

 

 

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

The Beatitudes

Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 Matthew: 5:1-12a

We in Pittsburgh are swept up in anticipation of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Super Bowl XLV. You see black and gold everywhere, rallies touting the invincibility of our much loved Steelers. They are the team no one can beat. We’re proud of them. And a great deal of Pittsburghers’ energies are devoted to looking forward to what we are sure will be their seventh Super Bowl win in Dallas next week.

But on the world stage, we hear of rallies by the poor and powerless in Tunisia, where they overthrew their dictator of 23 years to take control of their own destiny.  And in Egypt where the people rally to overthrown another dictator of 30 years, and how it’s outcome is not yet discernable.

Those who have no power and influence, crying out for freedom and a say in their own governance. We remember the peaceful rally in the Philippines in 1985, in which the people took to the streets and overthrew a cruel and corrupt dictator and became a free and self-governing nation.

We also remember Tiananmin Square and the peaceful rallies in China in 1989, so sadly unsuccessful in their own attempt at freedom.

Our readings today all speak of those same poor and lowly in the world, and how those who are faithful to the Lord have more power than the world can imagine. Our first reading speaks of a ‘remnant’, who will remain in the midst of God’s defeated people, and who shall be unmoved by those who overwhelm the poor in greed and corruption. St Paul tells us directly in our second reading: “Not many of us are wise by human standards, not many are powerful. But God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might blow their own  trumpet before God. And it is through Him that you are in Christ Jesus who became for us Wisdom from God.”

The eight Beatitudes open chapters five though eight of Matthew’s gospel and Jesus’ lengthy Sermon on the Mount. They are especially noteworthy because they strike the keynote for all that follows in that powerful presentation of God’s expectations of us His people.

The Beatitudes are the ten Commandments of the New Covenant, which opened the five chapters we call the Book of the Covenant in Exodus. It is no accident that Jesus delivered them on ‘the Mount’. They are the new Commandments of the New Covenant not from Mount Sinai any longer. The Beatitudes do not speak, as did the Commandments, of what we should ‘not’ do; they speak instead that we who accept and follow Jesus faithfully are ‘blessed’.

The decisive word in this first Beatitude is the word, ‘poor’. It means one who is afflicted by life, who’s ‘at the end of their rope’. It was talking about those who are economically and politically powerless but who continue to hope in God even though God seemed to have abandoned them. They were often poor in an economic sense but their more basic poverty was in terms of power and control over the most basic elements of life. How many today; victims of war and violence in Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq, throughout Africa, victims of floods and terrible winter weather everywhere, certainly those throughout the nation and the world who are casualties of the economic disasters of the past three, almost four years, are the ‘new poor’ that Matthew speaks of.

Jesus makes the daring statement that these downtrodden ones should in fact be declared blessed, or fortunate. What could possibly justify such a radical and nonsensical conclusion? Jesus certainly isn’t blessing powerlessness as such. No, He is affirming the blessedness of those who, because they are powerless, are saved from the illusion that worldly power alone can give us the truly important and lasting gifts, like love, happiness and life itself.

Being delivered from that disastrous illusion, they are blessed or fortunate because they are then free to turn to God, who is ready and willing to give them the Kingdom.  There are so many who feel powerless in their own situation. They can then turn to the true ‘power’ – God’s love – and be freed. Matthew specifies this as poverty “in spirit” because it is essentially an attitude of humility and trust in the presence of God.

Life Implications

This ‘attitude of humility’ presented here must not be mistaken for an unhappy passiveness or a kind of  timidity in the presence of the challenges of this life. On the contrary, when one talks of freedom and liberty, it liberates us from being self-centered and self-serving.  That can only be unproductive.  The only fulfilling freedom comes from being present to others in a loving, caring and helpful way. What is the old saying? “The only gift we can keep is the one we give away!” Or, in gospel language, “What does it profit someone, to gain the whole world and forfeit their immortal soul!

The first Beatitude strikes the keynote for all seven Beatitudes that follow. The remaining seven Beatitudes are really echoes of the first one, the poor.

Those who ‘mourn’ are those who feel they’ve lost what is most dear to them. They dared to become vulnerable through loving; and thereby they find the secret of happiness.

The ’meek’ are those who are content with just who they are –- no more, no less. They renounce power and violence as a means of acquiring happiness and thus they find the true gift of happiness.

Those who ‘hunger for justice’ — who have works up a good appetite for God, who have a passion for the reforms that will enable everyone to live and dream.

Those who are ‘merciful’, who care. At the moment of being ‘care-full’, you find yourself ‘cared for’ and you can let go of your anger and vengeance and can offer forgiveness.

The ‘clean of heart’ are those who are sincere and truthful and who reject all that is sham and pretense in life. It means you‘ve got your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

The ‘peacemakers’ promote forgiveness and reconciliation as the only sure way to peace. They can show people how to cooperate instead of fighting or competing.  That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

And those who are ‘persecuted’ are those whose commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Then you persevere in the pursuit of those ideals, in spite of ridicule from others who are considered the wise and prudent ones.

And so the Beatitudes represent a program for true holiness and happiness.  It tells us it can only be found through the wisdom of the gospel.  Only the fool  would seek it through the misguided wisdom of the world.

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: Christmas, Cycle A

“When the song of angels is stilled, the work of Christmas begins.”

Isaiah 9:1-6;  Titus 2:11-14;  Luke 2:1-14

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a child. As such it is a celebration of joy. Our message for all is about joy and life. We affirm the value of all human life. We work to put an end to all those things which destroy life and the quality of life for all.

As we celebrate Christmas 2013, it is helpful to our spiritual life to spend more than a glancing-moment in our reading of Christmas Cards with their notes of good wishes both printed and hand-written. It is good for our souls also to  spend time with the pictures or drawings on those cards and notes. We look too quickly at the signature. Do that first, as is natural, and then again after spending time with the card. It will become a prayer and a preparation for the Christmas Liturgy.

At Christmas, 2001, Pope John Paul II said: “Our hearts this Christmas are anxious and distressed because of the continuation in various parts of the world of war, social tensions, and the painful hardships in which so many people find themselves. We are all seeking an answer that will reassure us.

In the words of Howard Thurman, African-American mystic:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among others,

To make music in the heart.

The Christmas story lends itself to reflection on many issues of the human condition today. The experience of Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus parallels the experience of many people who are poor and powerless even as we speak.

(1) Mary and Joseph are subject to the whims of the powerful as they have  to travel to Bethlehem for the census.

(2) The Holy Family is  homeless when they arrive in Bethlehem.

(3) They become refugees in Egypt to escape the danger of death in Israel.

(4) As the child is born, most people are going on with their daily lives and  do not recognize the presence of God.

(5) Only the shepherds are able to detect the presence of God in the child that is born to a homeless family in a stable.

At Christmas time we encounter many temptations. There is the temptation to be sentimental. There is the temptation to get too involved in elaborate gift giving.

There is the temptation to focus just on our small circle of family and friends and the temptation to make Christmas into a celebration of our prosperity.  There is also the temptation to impose too many expectations on this holiday and forget what we are celebrating.

The details of Jesus’ birth challenges us to be engaged with those who are poor and powerless today. The experience of those in the Christmas story is not unlike the experience of millions of refugees and displaced people in our world today, of children born into poverty, of agricultural workers, called illegal, who have no land of their own, of the poor and the underemployed in the US who are losing their benefits, of the many being given the chance to receive health care but are confused, of those who are homeless, of those who are caught up in the terrible experiences of war and terrorist acts, of those whose lives are controlled by the power of large corporations and impersonal governments, of those who go on with their busy lives without any significant awareness of the presence and goodness of God in the ordinary things of life.

As Pope John XXIII said in his great encyclical “Peace on Earth” May Christ banish from the hearts of all people whatever might endanger peace, may Christ transform us into witnesses of truth, justice and love. May Christ enlighten the rulers of peoples so that in addition to their solicitude for the proper welfare of their citizens, they may guarantee and defend the great gift of peace; may Christ enkindle the wills of all, so that we may overcome the barriers that divide, cherish the bonds of mutual charity, understand others, and pardon those who have done us wrong. And may all peoples of the earth become as brothers and sisters, and may the most longed-for peace blossom forth and reign always among us.

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

“The Guiding Hand of God”

Gospel Summary

This week as we arrive so near to Christmas, Matthew presents his account of Jesus’ divine origins. Unlike Luke, who tells Mary’s story, Matthew tells the story from the perspective of Joseph. It’s Joseph who’s distressed over Mary’s pregnancy and it is he who has a dream, which resolves the matter. As one who hears God’s message in a dream, Joseph is connected with the patriarch Joseph of the Old Testament, Joseph of the many-colored coat, who communicated with God in dreams (Gen 37:1ff), because Matthew is intent on showing how the Hebrew Scriptures were fulfilled in the story of Jesus.

Joseph’s inept attempt to resolve his dilemma is cut short by a message from God in a dream. Matthew’s primary point in this passage is revealed here, you see, that God controls all the critical moments in real human history, which involves God’s gracious plan for human salvation. Virgin birth is an obviously divine act. God’s intervention cancels human attempts to control everything. It also puts Mary in touch with the unnamed virgin in our first reading from Isaiah (7:14) whose childbearing re-asserted God’s intention of being with his people, no matter what.

Life Implications

We are constantly being urged to take charge of our lives and to make things happen according to our wishes. If we fail, it is usually assumed that we just didn’t try hard enough. In a word, our secular culture prizes control almost as much as it prizes money.

In this gospel, we learn that God takes charge in really critical situations and that we are asked to accept this assertion of divine control. For the person totally immersed in this world, this is really bad news. But for those of us who believe in the goodness and wisdom of God it is truly gospel, that is, the ultimate good news. Because it demonstrates that our history is an arena, not just for our exploits, but also for the display of God’s love. It is also a reminder that there can never really be any doubt about the ultimate victory of God’s goodness. It’s incredibly consoling to know that a good and loving God is in charge of history.

Our challenge now is to trust the goodness in life so that we may be part of that victory. Joseph was confused, as we often are, but he trusted God’s mysterious ways and found incredible blessing in what he had not planned. Christmas is the feast that celebrates God’s love and goodness. There could hardly be a better way to prepare for Christmas on this last Sunday of Advent than to imitate Joseph in his willingness to be positive and hopeful at those times when life does not seem to make sense.                 © Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 1st Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

“The World Is Waiting”

Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44

   Our Advent theme for this year is “The World Awaits – Peace”. And our Gospel today with all those surprising “end times” texts makes this all very ‘real’.. Here we are, ready to sing Christmas carols, and our scriptures tell us about the world turning topsy-turvy when Jesus comes. How do we find our focus?

   Well, we need to see that this text is about time, and expectations and waiting.  And so is Advent. We are not only waiting to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus two thousand years ago. We are also waiting for his coming again in Glory. What we do while we wait is important, because He is also coming to us today, every time we let Him.

        “Be on guard” – I think in the world today we’re often told to be on guard – we’re to be on guard against terrorists, enemies like Iran, insidious health care programs, unexpected violence, catching the flu. They warn us not to be stingy, and to spend a lot for Christmas, because that will fix our troubled economy. And nations continue to claim the best way to be on guard is to settle their disputes by killing each other’s young (and any civilians who happen to get in the way.)

    Is this what Jesus means? We know that is just not true. In fact, he says just the opposite. He says we’re to be on guard against being weighed down with the “worries of this life” so that His coming doesn’t catch us unprepared. I think God often tries to enter into our lives and hearts but finds us not ready. This is what Jesus wants us to live as being ready for, so that he can truly create in us a still heart.       (Rev. Beth Quick)

    But we are called to do more than just be open to His Coming. One of the most exacting challenges from the Second Vatican  Council was its summons to read  the “signs of the times.”

    When we look to see these signs, the decisions of some of our leaders have left many of us frustrated. Our inability to change the system has turned some away from any kind of involvement.

   There is disappointment and sinfulness even within our Church. The beauty of the body of Christ has been marred by scandal, financial irresponsibility, abuse of innocent little ones and the rash comments and actions of those in positions of authority in the church. Its confusion and shame is there for all to see.

   If these are the signs of our times, how can we say that our redemption is at hand? How? Because these are not the only signs. In the face of all this dismay, we see heroism and patience and understanding; we see honesty and the unselfish service of others; we see genuine holiness and fidelity; we see the emergence of good Pope Francis. There are people in the world, in government, in the church, in our neighborhoods, our parish  and in our families who are committed to justice and to peace and to personal integrity.

   Their lives testify that the reign of God has indeed taken hold. Advent reminds us that we too can be transformed into it, and so it calls to us all: “Stand erect and raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand.”   (Dianne Bergant)

   Another passage says: “this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.” It’s more understandable if you think of it this way: so often in my life I am putting things off – procrastinating – not so much about day to day things, like getting the house straightened up, or getting the oil changed in my car, but about big things, like: I’ll start giving more to God and to worthwhile charities . . .when I have more money. I’ll work to understand better important issues like war and abortion and health care …. after I get more free time. I’ll speak out about what I really believe …. after I get more time to research my position.

   But God arrives unexpectedly. I just have to stop acting like I have something to wait for before I get to work the way God wants me to. The time is NOW.  (Rev Beth Quick; Bible Study of St Paul’s UMC, Oneida, NY)

                  The sign of the fig tree

   But there is a different, more personal way to approach focusing on things more here and now, as close at hand as the fig tree Jesus wants us to observe. You know, there’s a distress that accompanies any major change in our lives – getting sick and better again, losing a dearly loved one and having to go on, losing a job or moving to a new location.. At such times we may be shaken to our foundations; we are dismayed, frightened to death. We know that even good change brings a kind of stress and instability, and we humans prefer things to be calm, predictable, and comfortable.

   You see, there’s a kind of in-between time we experience in any transition. There is a point, or a period of time, that we spend in between one time or place and another time and place. In that in-between time, we have to live with things being not so clear or comfortable, and not being yet what they will be one day. That seems to be what Advent living is about.

   The Advent way of life does not necessarily require unusual behavior on our part, but it calls us to live the usual unusually well. It affects the everyday events of life; it directs the way we interact with people; it informs the attitudes that color our judgments and motivations. It is as ordinary as the birth of a child; it is as extraordinary as the revelation of a New World.  (Dianne Bergant)

“Rejoice, for the Kingdom of God is near.”