From the Archives: Fr. Metzler’s Homilies

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.”

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler: Feast of Christ the King, Cycle C

“Right Here, Right Now”

2 Samuel 5:1-3   Colossians 1:12-20   Luke 23:35-43

Today we celebrate the end of the Church year. The church entitles it the Feast of Christ the King. Our readings compare Him to David the King, they tell us in the beautiful passage from St Paul that with a gentle touch He rules over all. And then it portrays Him on the cross, the King of the Jews, and promising the Kingdom to the Good Thief.

The Kingdom of God, for all the hoopla, never seems to have become, except for the pageantry of the Church, which has both its proponents and detractors, never has seemed to be greater than the simple message of the Gospel. And that is one of the major reasons becoming part of the Church is such a ‘hard sell’. The Kingdom doesn’t promise you anything concrete, except Jesus as your Ruler and Lord.

  We in this country seem to be obsessed with big things. In recent years people have made what could be described as pilgrimages to the Mall of America in Minnesota. Why? Is it because there is merchandise available there that can’t be found anywhere else? Is stuff cheaper there? No,  but the Mall of America is the ‘biggest’ mall in the country; over 520 stores, employing over 12,000 people and attracting upwards of 42 million shoppers per year. This makes the Mall of America one of the most popular destinations in the country, receiving more visitors every year than Disney World, Graceland, and the Grand Canyon combined.

  McDonalds and other fast food chains draw people in with the promise of being able to “Super Size” your meal. Seven-Eleven gives not just Slurpees but what they call “the Big Gulp,” one of the largest fountain drinks anywhere. Better yet, there is now a Super Big Gulp and most recently the Extreme Big Gulp served in a cup that looks like a NASA rocket booster and containing 54 ounces of soda and about 700 calories a cup.

 SUVs keep getting bigger, and people assume (wrongly) that bigger means not just better but safer. Arnold Swartzenegger, the former governor of California, the state with the biggest pollution problem, drove a massive Hummer that got about 11 MPG and looked like an armored personnel carrier barreling down the highway. Meanwhile “bigger is better” is the slogan behind satellite networks as well. Buy the premium package with some satellite-TV networks and you can receive no less than 500 channels. Who cares if nothing is on any of those channels, you’ll never be bored again because it takes the entire evening just to surf through them all.

  If you can put the prefix “mega-” in front of something, it is a good bet it will become hot. Megastore, Mega-plex, Megamall, Mega-channels, and yes, Mega-church – a nickname that  identifies places that people assume they should check out because, if they’re that big, they must be successful and if they’re successful, they must be the best at whatever it is they do. This mentality infects our thinking so much that we end up feeling sorry for small businesses, for the tiny struggling church, for those who can afford only the modest-sized vehicle, the cracker box little house, the one-quarter carat diamond engagement ring.

  And so, the focus of business, and also of churches, is growth. But you don’t grow things simply by hoping for the best. To grow the economy, to grow a business, to grow your ministry requires due diligence, savvy marketing, the investment of a lot of time and energy and capital. Success comes from hard work alone, failure from doing nothing. Or as one old adage has it, “People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.”

  All of which makes Christianity a tough sell. At least that’s what the gospels tell us. If you gather together all of the parables of Jesus that had to do with the kingdom of God, generally speaking what you will discover are words to the effect that the kingdom, though the grandest, boldest,  brightest reality of them all, will, nine times out of ten, look small.

 The kingdom of God is over and again that small thing that all-but gets lost in the hubbub of the wider world. The kingdom isn’t advertised on some glitzy neon sign towering over Times Square but rather it’s the treasure buried in a field. It’s not an expensive jewel displayed under plate glass and bright lights at Saks Fifth Avenue but it is the pearl of great price that someone just happens to stumble upon in an unlikely place. The kingdom doesn’t call attention to itself like a marching band coming down the street with brass and drums blaring but is instead the yeast that disappears into the larger lump of dough, the tiniest of all seeds that vanishes almost the very moment it hits the soil.

  The kingdom of God and the One who rules over it as the King of Kings really is the greatest thing ever.   Jeremiah predicted it.  We now live it.   But as it was for the Israelites long ago, so for us: we sometimes feel underwhelmed unless we can have the Holy Spirit keep our spiritual vision sharp and clear.

  Some while back I was in the school playground at recess and I witnessed something that we’ve all seen and even participated in at one time or another.  In one corner four children between the ages of 6 and 8 were playing.  And in the 45 seconds or so during which I could observe them, it was clear that one little girl was calling the shots.  “OK, Billy, you stand over there and you have to watch for wild animals.  Jill, you have to sit behind me and get me things when I need them.  Eric, your job is to . . .” whatever. Again, we’ve seen this scene before.  And we know what it means.  In that little corner of that playground, this little girl was establishing her kingdom.  And she was the kingdom’s Sovereign.

  In his fine book ‘The Divine Conspiracy’, Dallas Willard claims that we all have our little kingdoms in life.  A kingdom, Willard says, is any area of life where my will and my desires determine what happens and what does not happen.  “A man’s house is his castle,” the old, rather sexist, adage says.  And indeed, in our homes, at our places of work, we all have little spheres of influence, little patches of this earth where we make a kingdom for ourselves, where we try to arrange things so that what we say, what we think, what we believe determines the shape of life.

 The kingdom of God is wherever we acknowledge God’s desires and God’s dreams for creation, and it is where we let God’s will and God’s intentions rule.  The kingdom of God is where the shape of life is allowed to mirror God’s design for life.

 You see, the Kingdom is real and it is real now.   We can see it, right now, today. The kingdom is present wherever people pray the way Jesus taught us to pray. The kingdom is present wherever people allow Jesus to nurture their behaviors and lifestyles in ways that we would call the fruit of the Spirit. The kingdom is present wherever people pour water over the heads of babies or take bread and wine to their lips all simply because Jesus told us that this is the way we are to act in remembrance of Him. And by doing so, we accept the marvelous Kingdom of Peace and of Love that He tells us His reign can bring.

  The kingdom is present wherever a believer somewhere refuses to go along with some scheme because they believe it is destructive or untruthful and because going along with it would make them less open to the Spirit of Jesus. Whenever and wherever a woman says no to abortion, whenever and wherever a college student refuses to participate in some binge-drinking party, whenever and wherever someone refuses to cut corners on their taxes, whenever and wherever a kindly old woman brings light into a neighbor’s darkness by speaking a word of peace, whenever and wherever a man sits down to tutor a homeless child, whenever and wherever a person says, “I will no longer accept war as the instrument of choice to solve human differences and to end human hatred, whenever and wherever a congressman stands up for right despite the pressures of his party to simply vote the party line, and whenever and wherever all such things are done because all these people believe there is a cosmic Lord named Jesus, then  — there –  right there and right here and right now–the kingdom of God is present because the effective will of Jesus is calling the shots.

   When the Son of God came to this earth, he announced the arrival of the kingdom.  It’s not pie-in-the-sky and far off in the future.  It is now.

 “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”   Thanks be to God, He has remembered each one of us as we are called to be his kingdom. Right now.

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

“Lo, The Day Is Coming”

Malachi 3:19-20a; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-

Gospel Summary

The Church has traditionally and pointedly directed us to reflect on an end-of-the-world gospel passage as we approach the end of the liturgical year. It also offers a similar gospel passage on the First Sunday of Advent. It is important to note this because, from a biblical perspective, the end of one world is not such a tragic event since it also announces the beginning of a new one. A sorrowful Goodbye must sometimes be accepted before there can be a joyous Hello!

We should note that in today’s gospel the end of the world is presented on various levels. The immediate end is the chaotic and painful experience that came when the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple in the year 70 AD, less than forty years after the Resurrection.  For Christians at least, this represented the end of the Old Testament era.  There are hints in this Gospel also of the final, cosmic end of our world with falling stars and dimming of the sun and moon. And, in both of these endings we see the elements of the end of our own earthly world in the event we call death. As the coming of Winter prefigures the inevitable arrival of death, so the anticipation of Spring is the reminder that New Life is not far behind.

The phenomena that accompany the final, cosmic end are surprisingly similar to the experiences that often come with our own last days. The failure of the sun and moon and the erratic behavior of the stars are replicated among us when we lose the security represented by these usually reliable heavenly bodies. For instance, when we grow old we sometimes find it hard to remember what time of the day it is. But this is only the end of a world that was never meant to last. We hate to see it go, but God knows what is best for us.

 Life Implications

The gospel passages about the end of the world, are reminiscent of the birth of an infant.  For the infant being born it is a completely traumatic experience. In fact, if the baby were able to choose, I suspect that it would opt for a continued existence in the warm, safe womb of its mother. The infant does not yet know how tragic it would be to miss all the possibilities of independent human life.

We too live in this world in a kind of womb that is meant to prepare us for birth into a new and better existence. Unlike the infant, however, we can resist that birth and we may even see it as a kind of personal tragedy. If our faith were as strong and vital as it should be it would be a very different experience.  Instead, we would embrace our present life with gratitude and still be ready to leave it with grace and peace, as we welcome the homecoming that God keeps in store for his beloved children.

But we don’t have to wait until death to begin living by the wisdom of the Bible. In our lives there are little worlds ending all the time—little deaths, – not so little to us, of course, but smaller in comparison to the grand event of human death. The end of childhood, of education, of employment, of strength. And there are the more painful deaths – of illness, of our own and of those we love; of broken relationships; of financial disasters. The courage and generosity and trust with which we deal with these endings will prepare us for the final ending. And our faith in resurrection, gleaned from the Resurrection of Jesus, will bring us the strength of knowing that Life always goes on, changed, but not ended.

It is also true that every time we love unselfishly we die a little bit to our own precious plans and preferences. If we die daily in these small ways of unselfish living, we will have little difficulty with the final dying as our plans are once again revised and we offer our lives, once and for all, to a merciful and loving God.

A very intelligent friend once confided in me that he felt that it didn’t seem fair for God to give him life without consulting him about that decision and then have God allow him to make a mess of it. I found that very profound and I thought about that a lot. I finally decided that we always have a say – not in the beginning of our life, but in the living out of it, if not always to keep from making a mess of it, then to share in the decision to change it. As you begin to see the implications of where your life is going and has gone, there is always that incredible opportunity to agree with your Creator-God, that life is always a wonderful gift and we should be saying continuously: “Thank you, dear Lord! I will live it generously, and, by continually dying a little to myself, prepare myself each day for the great event of death into New Life.”    (Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.)

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Hold on to Faith

2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5 Luke 20:27-38

November is a month for the Church with so very many special days and feasts. From All Saints day and veterans day and the celebration of extraordinary heroism, to All Souls Day and the end of the Church Year, and even changing the clocks with their reminders that all good things come to an end, and certainly Christ the King and Thanksgiving reminding us that our Creator God is the source of abundant blessings. In this season of thanksgiving and generosity, especially we hear again and again of God’s goodness and tender care for God’s creation, and each one of us gets carried away by how great God is, and these holidays and feasts become our chance to tell everyone about it.

All the feasts and activities of our November harvest time remind us of God’s abundance and how things are supposed to be: it’s a time to reflect on the free gift of food: the earth germinates, the seasons work, water, sunshine, breeding, production, nurture, availability. It’s a guaranteed system culminating in the food chain for those in God’s image, all designed just for us. There’s fundamental generosity at the root of our human life in God’s world. There is enough.

At the heart of  our vision is the conviction that God has created us in love, that God remembers us, and that we need God and are expected to respond to God. There’s also a hint of the reverse of that; our first Reading today reminds us all too graphically of how torture of good and innocent people somehow has destroyed the fabric of God’s beautiful creation since time immemorial. Changing a world of Evil and pain is also part of that vision.

The person or nation or parish that understands God’s world doesn’t look around at what it has, and take credit for the beauty and wonder of creation. We look at creation and our own lives, and give God the glory. We understand that God is the source of life, the life of our community and we proclaim thanks to the God who has provided so richly for humankind.

When the priests of the diocese were at Oglebay Center in West Virginia last time, we were exposed to a speaker that excited and inspired me about how we need to look at ourselves and the work of our parish if we really wanted to the instruments of God’s work.

The speaker was Kerry Robinson, a granddaughter and board member of the Rastub Foundation, a family foundation which gives millions of dollars to Catholic needs throughout the world.

She is also executive director of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, which has established Standards for Excellence – An Ethics and Accountability Code for Catholic Dioceses, Parishes and Nonprofits.   She has been dedicated, with the Catholic Chaplain for Yale University, to a campaign to raise five million dollars from Catholic alumni there to create a dynamic program to encourage Catholic Yale students (25% of Yale students are Catholic) to understand and practice their Catholic faith. Were they successful?

Yes, and then some. So far, they have raised seventy-two million dollars to have their Catholic beliefs effuse these future very influential members of American society.

But Kerry didn’t use her time with us to talk about finances or accountability. Her very uplifting talk dwelt instead on the ten positive attitudes and principles that she feels must be the foundation of any work a Christian believer hopes and expects to be productive and fulfilling, especially in the name of the Church.

I share them with you again at a time when we are about to begin a diocesan-wide campaign  focusing not just on paying our bills, but on carrying out our mission. I share them because it had such a profound effect on me and many of my priest colleagues, who often find ourselves discouraged in the work of the parish. Her positive attitude in every effort she undertook seems to be the main factor in her success.  These were her points:

GRATITUDE –   be truly grateful for all God has given you

BE FRUITFUL WITH YOUR LIVES – Have an attitude of sharing what God has given you

BE A PERSON STEEPED IN GENEROSITY – Always be looking for opportunities to share and to practice Random Acts of Kindness

BE COMMITTED TO MISSION  –  Begin before You Get;  Funding Money  will follow Mission

SUPPORT THAT WHICH WILL LONG OUTLAST OURSELVES

LIVE AND ACT IN A SPIRIT OF JOY  –  It Can Be Done     It Can Be Fun

REMEMBER THAT GOD’S VOICE IS ALWAYS THE VOICE OF ENCOURAGEMENT

IF YOUR INTENTIONS ARE SOUND, SOME GOOD WILL ALWAYS COME

EVEN IN DISCOURAGING TIMES, REMEMBER WHAT YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT THE CHURCH

FIND WHAT YOU HAVE A COMPETENCY IN AND OFFER IT TO THE SERVICE OF YOUR CHURCH

(And her one side comment: “A cynic is someone who has given up but has not yet shut up.”)

Long ago, in a land and culture with far less in terms of material possessions but perhaps far more in terms of spiritual wisdom, the people of Israel with exuberant trust’ praised the way God set things up, the way God established a coherent, viable, life-giving, life-permitted order…a place for life.  A place for life. Is where you live and move ‘a place for life’?  Is our parish and the church itself ‘a place for life’? What’s keeping us back from making it so? What has damaged God’s plan, and subverted God’s intent for the world?

The question then is whether we are willing to hear God calling us to care lovingly for the abundance we’ve received, to appreciate this parish we have been given and to share it with one another and with others.  And to do it all with a sense of gratitude and generosity.

We are all here because of our yearning to get to Heaven. But we live here, we live now, we live in this place and time. And, as Jesus says to those who question Him today in our Gospel, “Our God is a God of the Living, not of the Dead.”

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Life is Short

Wisdom 11:22-12:2 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2 Luke 19:1-10

You know, the size of the universe is astounding. One of the nearest stars, called Alpha Centauri, is more than four light-years away from us. That means it is as far away as a beam of light can travel in over four years time. Even the moon, on autumn nights so close it seems we can almost touch it, is well over 200 thousand miles away. That is more than eight times around our earth!

So how does the first reading describe the whole universe? Before God, according to the Book of Wisdom, the whole universe is just a speck of grain or a drop of morning dew. Certainly God’s view of things is way different from ours!

But the real surprising thing is that even though the universe is so small in God’s eyes, we count for a lot. To express this he author of Wisdom has a brand new title for God: lover of souls. It is the kind of love that never lets us go but keeps working on us to steer us on the road to eternal life.

The gospel for this Sunday gives us a fine example of God’s love at work in someone’s heart. Luke begins the account by telling us that Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. So Jericho might have been just one more spot on the Lord’s itinerary as he made his way to Jerusalem. But then Luke directs our attention to a man named Zacchaeus.

Our first impression of this Zacchaeus is less than favorable. We are told that he’s a tax collector and also a wealthy man. It appears he has these two strikes again him right from the start. After all Luke has already told us about another rich man who could not look up form his possessions long enough to notice poor old Lazarus sitting outside on the road. (Luke 16:19-31).

But then comes a surprise. This Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus and he goes to quite a bit of trouble to do it. He can’t see over the heads of the crowd in front of him so he runs ahead and climbs a tree. Luke even notes that it was a sycamore tree. You see this tree lining many of the streets in Wilkinsburg and Edgewood. They are those large trees with the greenish looking bark and the big bumps all over them. They’re used all the time for street decoration. Did this tree become famous because of what happened that day?

Imagine the look on this man’s face when Jesus stops to look up at him! Then he hears Jesus inviting him to come down from that tree as fast as he can. Jesus wants to stay at his house. All the people standing around seem to have missed an opportunity here. They grumble that Jesus goes to stay at the house of a sinner. What if they had asked Jesus to come to their houses too? Then all of them might have changed as much as Zacchaeus did.

And Zacchaeus really does change! Whatever his physical stature, he now stands spiritually tall. He announces that he is giving half his belongings to the poor and is prepared to repay “four times over” anyone he cheated in the past. It’s clear that wealth and possessions can’t stand in the way of the spiritual progress of this Zacchaeus. He climbed up that tree wealthy in the things of this world; he came down from that tree wealthy in the things of heaven. For Zacchaeus that tree became a tree of life.

If the author of Wisdom, our first reading today, had been in Jericho that day he would have said the transformation in Zacchaeus was just the sort of thing he was talking about when he called God “lover of souls.” And Paul might have remarked that it was just the sort of thing he meant when he told the people in Thessalonica he was always praying that God may “bring to fulfillment every good purpose.” (Timothy Schehr, Atheneaum of Ohio, Cincinnati, OH)

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus long journey to Jerusalem is almost over when He enters Jericho. He’s been modeling for us our own journey of faith, When he meets Zachaeus he reminds us that it will not be possible to go with Jesus all the way to cross and to resurrection without total generosity.

In the previous chapter of Luke, the rich ruler couldn’t abandon his wealth in order to follow Jesus (18:18). By contrast, Zachaeus is happy to share half of his possessions with the poor. The wealthy ruler appears to be religious and observant, whereas Zachaeus has been collecting taxes for the hated Roman occupiers of his country. Nevertheless, he is the one who is looking for Jesus and he is the one with whom Jesus wishes to be associated.

Much has been made of the fact that Zachaeus was “short of stature,” so that he had to climb a sycamore tree in order to see and be seen by Jesus. Today we would say that he was a little man with a big heart!

Life Implications

The gospel tells us that Zachaeus was a rich man. We assume, therefore, that he was not like most of us. We would be very surprised if someone would call us rich. But we are indeed wealthy in many significant ways–in talent, in opportunities, in friendships. And, as I pointed out a few weeks ago, we are supremely wealthy in comparison with most of the people in the rest of the world.

So we need to ask ourselves whether we are as generous in using our own gifts as Zachaeus was. Do we think that much about the poor? Do we realize that the “poor” are often people who need a kind word or a friendly smile?

This gospel story reminds us also that we must be very careful not to judge others because of their appearance. We are told that those who accompanied Jesus began to grumble when he chose to be a guest of this marginal Jew, who seemed to be collaborating with the Romans. As a matter of fact, however, this was one of those jobs that someone had to do. The real world is not as neat as we might like it to be. The point is that Zachaeus ‘redeemed’ his unsavory work by the generosity that he brought to it.

It should also be noted that Zachaeus did not live in the world with world the false sense that he didn’t need anybody else to make his life meaningful. He knew that somehow his life was incomplete without Jesus. And he did not allow his short stature to become an excuse for not seeking Jesus.

Nor did Jesus consider his ‘inadequacy’ to be an obstacle. Jesus wants to be a guest in all our houses. Our desire to welcome him will easily cancel any feelings of unworthiness that may hold us back.

Zachaeus had to make a conscious effort to climb that sycamore tree and he may even have exposed himself to ridicule. We too must actually seek out Jesus and not be afraid to be laughed at by those who do not think that seeking God is important. Our faith tells us that this is the way of wisdom and therefore the proverbial ‘last laugh’ will be ours in the happiness of final union with our loving God. (Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.)

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

The Social Gospel of Luke

In today’s Gospel story St. Luke tells of a Pharisee and a tax collector each praying in the temple and he reverses our expectation of the outcome of the story.

Normal understanding that would have been understood of each. The one who would have been seen as the person of significance and of respect — the Pharisee — he shows an egotistical self-centered braggart who, when he talks to God, is talking only to himself. The hated tax collector, on the other hand, he portrays as a man of little considered self-worth. And yet Luke tells us he went home justified before God and not the other way around.

Luke’s gospel has many insights to reveal, especially to the believer who is seeking an understanding of the social Gospel of Jesus.

No other New Testament writer except the author of the Epistle of St. James emphasizes the social justice aspect of Christian living to the depth that Luke does. He preserves the many sayings of Jesus warning that those with material possessions have a responsibility to the poor and disadvantaged. He attacks the racism and discrimination against the untouchables that existed. They were the lepers, Samaritans, gentiles, tax collectors, women, and the poor who had no voice. It is a reminder to us that as the Brazilian Archbishop Dom Helder Camera pointed out, “The words ‘violence’ and ‘violate’ come from the same root. And much of the world’s violence is carried out, not with an ax, but with a scalpel.  And both must be recognized, called out, and eliminated from our violent world.

Luke’s  emphasis on the social justice aspect of God’s message  is established beginning with Mary’s Magnificat prayer: “He has deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places. The hungry he has given every good thing and the rich he has sent empty away” (1:52).

Only Luke reports what John the Baptizer’s reply was to the crowds who asked what must we do? “He who has two coats let him share with him who has none, and he who has food let him do likewise”(3:11). When Levi the tax collector was called to follow Jesus he “left everything behind” (5:28). In Luke’s sermon on the plain a special blessing is given to the poor, the hungry, and those who mourn. In contrast he warns the rich, the well fed, and happy that their day is coming (6: 20-26)

He eats with Simon the Pharisee but also permits a woman known as a sinner to wash his feet. Then forgives her sins (7:36-50). A group of women including Mary Magdalene served him out of their means (8:1-3). Of all the synoptic gospels, Luke is the only one who places the Samaritans in a favorable light. The good Samaritan stopped and ministered to a man who had been beaten by robbers. Whereas a priest and a Levite passed him by (10:35-37). He cured ten lepers and the only one came back to thank him and he was a Samaritan (17:11-19).

Jesus’ last acts before entering Jerusalem were to heal a blind man begging along the roadside in Jericho (18:35-43) and dining with Zacchaeus the tax collector (19:1-10). These two stories are very symbolic; they summarize all of Jesus’ ministry. He came to bring hope to society’s unfortunate ones. In the case of Zacchaeus a tax collector and rich, he was able to get through the “eye of a needle” by giving half of his fortune to the poor.

The message of justice and peace continues to be proclaimed as an integral part of the Catholic Message. Pope Francis said this past June (2013), “Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor.” The United State Conference of Catholic Bishops through its Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development works to increase awareness of Catholic social teaching and to promote opportunities to concretely live our Baptismal call to love God and neighbor. Besides working to overcome poverty through programs such as the Campaign for Human Development, it also includes advocacy with congress and the president on domestic issues such as food security, housing and employment and international issues such as peace, foreign assistance and religious freedom. It calls to all people who desire to live the Gospel in solidarity with neighbors who are across the street and around the world.  The human life and dignity focus of the Gospels is highlighted and promoted.

Major themes of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict 16th and Pope Francis have included  statements against oppression, denouncing war and condemning torture.

Closer to home, our American bishops have released statements such as the one on Punishment and Poverty, the Relationship between Incarceration and Addiction, and have written letters to House and Senate leaders on government shutdown and responsible federal budget choices.

It is not a complicated massage; but is a consistent one. Those who live in Jesus are constantly aware of those who are in need, are oppressed, and treated unfairly. On the global scale, they are aware that, as Pope Paul 6th said: “Another word for peace is development.” The true believer is n­­­ot caught up in themselves like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel. And they are caught up in their own sinfulness; and through that, they can see their solidarity with every living being; and are called to act against injustice and, without fanfare, reach out in the love of Christ to meet the needs of all God’s creatures.

From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

“The 10th Leper The Double Outcast”

2 Kings 5:14-18; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19

In this week’s gospel, Jesus heals ten lepers. Jesus instructs them to go to the Temple in Jerusalem, as the Law requires. Nine of them obey Jesus, and head off for Jerusalem. But one of the cleansed lepers disobeys Jesus, and instead returns to thank him.

All ten lepers were healed, and that did not change because only one came back to say thanks. We don’t know what the other nine did. Perhaps they were so thrilled by their healing that they raced to their families to announce the great news to them. Their exile into uncleanness was over. Perhaps they followed Jesus’ instructions and headed immediately to the priests to have their clean state confirmed. We simply don’t know.

Giving thanks doesn’t come naturally for most of us. The pace of life can cause us to move quickly to the next important thing/appointment/activity, and we never stop to thank those who by their very presence have made the last encounter a significant event.

Their lack of choosing the best option after their healing by the nine didn’t nullify God’s goodness to them. Thank God that our bad choices don’t negate God’s goodness. The central point of this story from Luke is the goodness of God – all ten were healed, and their varied responses to the healing did not change that fact.  (© Rev. Charles Lane, Evang. Lutheran Church in America)

Gratitude is an emotion, like happiness, sadness, anger, fear, jealousy.  A feeling is a feeling—it is what it is and we really can’t control it. But we know from experience that we can often guide ourselves through our emotions, sometimes having less to do with the ones we’d like to avoid, and spending time with the ones that are helpful and enjoyable.  We have all done it.  We can nourish our negative feelings—let the anger or hurt feelings simmer, or we can decide that’s really not where we want to be, and teach ourselves ways of moving on.

There are those positive emotions we hope to encourage. Gratitude is one of those emotions that feels good, and that helps our frame of mind. Studies have shown that actually a developed sense of gratitude affects our health and our general attitude toward life.

Gratitude is unlike other emotions.  You can tell when someone you love is angry, happy, afraid.  You can read it in body language and facial expressions.  The only way we can tell people are grateful is when they say something, or do something.

I have to believe that all of those other 9 lepers were just as happy for their healing, just as glad to imagine they might be able to go home to their towns and families—perhaps for the first time in years.  They were so thrilled, they may have been thanking God the whole way, and I have to say I sympathize with them.  I’m not sure I’d be the one turning back.  I’d want to get to that priest before the Jesus miracle wore off so my life to get back to normal.  I’d be running toward my restored life, not turning around toward Jesus.

Only the Samaritan returned to thank Jesus. For this he was praised as an example of gratitude in motion.  We do the same when we return, sharing something we’re grateful for.  Having something for which to be grateful is a wonderful gift.  When we turn back to share it with others, our gift expands to include those around us.  (© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2010)

You have to keep in mind that the one who returned was a Samaritan. That presumes the other nine were Jews. They could go to the temple freely, travel freely in and out to ask for thanks from the priests.

But the Samaratan was a double outcast. As healed leper, he has an obligation to go to the temple to show himself to the priests. But as a Samaritan, he cannot obey Jesus’ instructions. Samaritans, weren’t welcome in the Temple in Jerusalem, and he had good reason in any case to expect ill treatment from those who saw the Temple in Jerusalem as being the only true one and him as a Samaritan who did not reverence the Jerusalem temple.

Perhaps we would understand better if we called him, not a Samaritan, but a Palestinian.

Can who imagine what courage it must have taken for this man to call out to Jesus in the first place? The text points out that as they cried out, the whole group kept their distance, as they would have been expected to do as lepers. Even so, the trust of every one of them in Jesus, even the Samaritan, is clear from their crying out to him. Imagine the joy this group must have felt when they realized that they were cleansed, that their status as outsiders had ended!

Well, all but one of them. As the other nine headed off toward Jerusalem, the tenth realizes that even if he isn’t a leper, he’s still a Samaritan, set apart even from the nine people he was with when they were all lepers. As the others head off for the Temple, wondering what they can offer Jesus in return, the tenth returns, “praising God with a loud voice.” And Jesus in turn praises the Samaritan — not for giving thanks to him, but for giving praise to God.

As Samaritan and leper, the tenth person healed knew doubly well what it’s like to be an outsider. And this is the person who saw and acknowledged God’s hand in his healing, in Jesus’ ministry.

What grieves me in this culture of ours is the way in which those who are privileged, no matter how limited that privilege is,  seem increasingly to use their privilege to isolate themselves from others they fear as not being, well, ‘people like us’.  Crime and poverty go together, so they object when housing that’s affordable to the poor is proposed for their neighborhood. They build gated communities. They fuel “white flight” to the suburbs, even when that gives them long, miserable commutes.

Even our churches are often structured to divide rich from poor.  The wealthy are “members” who are welcomed warmly to participate fully in worship and leadership, while the poor are targets of ‘outreach ministry’ that assumes those served have no spiritual gifts to offer the community except the chance to make us feel generous and to stay out of sight and preferably somewhere else the rest of the time.

We’re missing out in a big way, though, when, we exclude outsiders, when we don’t listen deeply and look them in the eye. We’re missing out on their spiritual gifts, their vision; we head off for a temple humming happily and we miss the chance to see God in human flesh before us.

But we have another choice. We can turn to face “outsiders” as neighbors, beloved children of God, sisters and brothers in Christ. We can turn to face Jesus, and when we do, we just might find ourselves identifying and crying out with Samaritans and outsiders everywhere, objecting to the circumstances of all who the church and society makes ‘outsiders’, and giving thanks to God who is healing and reconciling, not only the saved, but the whole world.  (© Sarah Dylan Breuer)