Our Main Task

Whenever Jesus uses the word “hypocrite” he is usually addressing religious leaders.  It applies to those on stage who hide their true feelings.

If we apply this to the Church, we learn from St. Paul that our main task is to assist one another to grow our faith within our community and not in our private apartments.  In the words of Archbishop Tutu, “The totally self-sufficient person is sub-human.”  (Thank you, Bishop Sklba.)

Duke Divinity School Boat

Is the Door Ajar?

Once upon a time, there live two close friends who love terrible pun jokes. One of them thinks that she has the best pun. So she says to her friend, “When is a door not a door?” Her friend thinks and thinks and thinks and then he smiles. “When it is ajar,” he responds.  (sorry)

How does Jesus save us? It’s through the door.

Some five hundred years before Christ, some people believe that only those who intermarry with their own kind and only those who keep the purity of the Law would restore the homeland. But the prophet proclaims a different message. God call all sorts of people to salvation. God decides who reigns with him in glory.

Similarly, today, many religious people believe that they will get to heaven just because they are religious. But notice what St. Luke’s community believes about salvation. Just because we believe that we are buddies with Christ does not ensure us a reservation. Our Catholicity does not ensure us free rides into the kingdom. What is crucial is that God needs to recognize us first! And God will recognize us as we bend down to get through the narrow door.

In ancient times, large ornate doorways only exist in rich homes. Anyone who is anyone loves to be seen entering the doorway of the rich host. And then when they arrive they hope to be seated among the rich and the famous, the crème de la crème. No one wants to be seen sitting or speaking to the oi poloi, the “common folk.”

Be careful. God sees our religiosity. St. Luke describes “religiosity” as an arrogant buddy-buddy system that gets us a ticket to heaven. “Hey, Jesus, I take Holy Communion.” “Hey Jesus, I read my bible.” “Hey, Jesus, I’m the right religion, the right skin color, the right nationality.” What will we do when the Master says, “I do not know you?”

Bend down to enter through the narrow doorway, Jesus says, that small little doorway that makes us all equal, more humble, and more connected to God’s little ones. The letter to the Hebrews claims that if I want to part of the kingdom I need to heal the lame parts of myself. St. Benedict says that I need to humble myself. One of the steps of humility is what I call, “I am a human being who will die, so why do I always act like a god?” Though Jesus saves us all, salvation is also based on me cooperating with the Lord.

There is nothing confusing about the Word of God: the first shall be last and the last first. The door is ajar and it is narrow. Bend down and serve. Bend down and bless. Bend down and touch the earth. Bend down and be equal with another. That is how God will recognize us at this Eucharist.

The Rev. Fr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

21st Sunday

Ordinary Time

Abbey courtyard flagstone

 

 

 

 

Change.

Not a whole of people like “change.”  It means to “barter.” When I barter for an item, i can raise or lower the value.  Then, I get “change” back.  But the word has other meanings.  It means to be different, to do something different. In Gospel terms change is setting the world on fire. Fire destroys structures. Fire snuffs out lives. But many good things can rise from the ashes. Ever notice the seal of the archdiocese of Chicago? The symbol on the coat-of-arms of the archdiocese of Chicago is the phoenix rising from the ashes of the Chicago fire of 1871. Even J. R. Rowling (rhymes with “bowling”) uses the image of the phoenix in the Harry Potter series.

The ironic thing is that the more we become fire the more enemies we make in life. Someone is bound to hate us because of our zeal. Someone is bound to be jealous that they did not think of fire first. Someone is bound to gossip about us and unravel all the vision we built up from the ashes.

When we are on fire a great a cloud of witnesses surrounds us. Elijah was on fire for God and Queen Jezebel condemned him to death. Amos was on fire for God and Amaziah the priest mocked him and told him to go away. Hosea was on fire for God and everyone gossiped about him because his wife was a prostitute. Daniel was on fire for God and they tossed him into the lions’ den. Jeremiah was on fire for God and the princes of Jerusalem convinced King Zedekiah that the prophet demoralized the people with his preaching. So they tossed him into a deep water hole where they hoped he would starve to death. Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa were on fire for God and we ignored them. Jesus was divine fire incarnate and they crucified him.

Why do we think that the Gospel is always a Gospel of nice sayings or a Gospel of peace? “Sometimes,” Jesus says, “I’ve come to sow division.”  And the biggest divisions are those in our own households.

I am convinced that if everyone likes us we may not be preaching the Gospel. Truth hurts and when we speak the truth to power people get burned. Most often the burnt people will be us who speak out. This is what it truly means to carry the cross. As you and I speak the Gospel truth, people begin to look at us with strange eyes. And as we live the Gospel, as we preach the Gospel, slowly they get out the nails, and the crown of thorns, and the ropes, and the wood. This is what it means to be a witness to Christ- ready to hang from the cross as we remind our fellow Christians that bombing, taxing, lethal injecting, dining, aborting, voting, driving and praying are all moral acts.

You and I have a great cloud of witnesses who remained on fire for God. They surround us. According to the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is the author and end result of our faith. Those saints who go before us believe it. The Eucharist strengthened them and it will strengthen us also.

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

The 20th Sunday

Ordinary Time

Duke Divinity School Boat

God has three expectations for us

God has three expectations for us:

Practice justice.

Practice loving mercy.

Practice humility.

We do not need signs if we practice these things, and, they protect us from God’s legal lawsuit.  (Micah 6).

Steps of humility and pride (2)

 

The Quality of My Hospitality

Alice Camille tells us there is a great expression in Polish that says, “When a guest is in the house, God is in the house.”

Everything depends upon the quality of my hospitality!

Do Abraham and Sarah really know who comes to visit them?  These three angels:  are they really the presence of God, or, for Christians, the presence of the Trinity?  Abraham and Sarah perform true justice:  giving food, drink and lodging to their sacred guests.  Because of the quality of their hospitality, great things happen- they have a son.

When a guest is in the house, God is in the house.

Do Martha and Mary realize how brave they are to even speak with a man in their home?  Where is their brother, Lazarus?  Isn’t the patriarch of the family welcoming the Lord?  Martha not only welcomes Jesus herself in her home, but Mary decides that it is better to sit as a disciple at his feet.  Some scholars believe that by the time Luke writes, Martha is the head of a house church.  There at her home Christians gather for the Eucharist.  She is a leader in the early Christian community and she and her sister learn lots of lessons from Jesus.  One lesson Martha learns is that while leadership is about serving and feeding the many, her sister Mary often chooses a good part.  That good part is listening to the Word Himself.

To choose that good part of the kingdom of God means that one-day Mary has to be a little rebellious.  That one fateful day when Jesus comes to their home in Bethany, Mary decides not to help her sister Martha.  She knows that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem…where…they would persecute him…laugh at him…scorn him…and…?  Would eating anything at this juncture matter?  Is running around serving more important than listening to the Lord’s fears and hopes and dreams for the kingdom?  So when Martha expresses her irritation at her sister’s indolence, Jesus shocks his followers.  People expect Jesus to tell Mary, “Ok, your place is in the kitchen with your sister.”  Instead, he says, “Martha, I know that you are busy about leading this Christian community and about serving the many, but right now listening to the Word is the better part.”  Serving the Lord in my home depends upon the quality of my hospitality.

People know us Benedictines by our hospitality.  St. Benedict instructs us to demonstrate great care for the guest for this person is the person of Christ.  But what is the quality of my hospitality?  If I struggle with this virtue know that the synonyms for hospitality may betray a lack of it in my life.  Do I welcome well?  How warm and friendly am I towards the other person?  The late Fr. Henri Nouwen claimed that true hospitality begins when we see the other not as an enemy but as a friend.  Finally, we may want to ask ourselves, how generous am I with my time and talents in the Christian Community?

Here in this sacred space, the Lord Jesus welcomes us to sit around the table of his Word and the table of his Body.  He is our model of hospitality par excellence.  May we work at improving the quality of hospitality for one another.

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

16th Sunday

Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Image

 

“Won’t You Please?”

When I think of neighbor, I think of Mr. Fred Rogers and the opening song of his show, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” “Won’t you please? Won’t you please? Please won’t you be my neighbor?”

Mr. Rogers did a great job, teaching children about relationships and neighbors. But we do not live in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. We live in a world that is very similar to the world of Jesus. Jews hated Samaritans and looked down upon them. They were racially mixed people, having intermarried with pagan religions. Jews considered them imperfect. Thus, contact with a Samaritan would make you unclean, unfit for temple worship and interaction with regular Jewish society.

Then, Jesus enters into the scene. In the words of Fr. Donald Senior, Jesus is that boundary breaker who afflicts the comfortable. He travels through Samaritan territory. He speaks with a Samaritan woman at a well. He defines merciful love by using the example of a Samaritan coming to the physical, medical and financial aid of a Jew. The scholar of the law and everyone listening would be aghast at his words since Jesus ends with the famous line, “Go and do likewise.”

We have these same relational problems here in our world. The “Brexit” vote in Britain is the result of a lack of healthy discussion about immigration. In the town of Boston, England, 76% of people voted to leave the European Union. Now, of course it is their right to determine their future. But look at what follows the vote. Gregory Pacho runs a thriving taxi company in town for sixteen years. But soon after the vote, he finds a leaflet on his car window that reads, “Did you pack your bags yet?” Mr. Pacho is Polish-Italian. And there are many other Poles who have been verbally attacked by the townsfolk. With the rise of riots and shootings in the United States, we do not have to look to Europe for problems. They are right here too.

In the words of St. Paul, “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God…” That is, when Jesus speaks, God speaks. When Jesus describes the greatest commandment to consist of merciful love, then God is really describing to us merciful love and says to us, “go and do likewise.” Or, better put, “While you journey through life, do the same thing.”

So, what if you and I imagine for a moment that we are those scholars of the law who ask Jesus about the greatest commandment. As Jesus defines the commandment for us, Jesus will name our “Good Samaritans.” They are the people we despise or argue over dinner with friends. Do we despise black people, white people? Jesus names them as our Samaritans. Men, women, gay people? They are our Samaritans. Those immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and “others?” Jesus names them as our Samaritans. These are the people whom Jesus uses to describe the greatest commandment. These are the people we Christians are to imitate as models of God’s loving mercy. And then, we are to pay it forward.

In the words of the psalmist, Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life; you have the words of everlasting life. In my opinion, these remain to be seen.

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

The Fifteenth Sunday, Ordinary Time, Cycle C

A Picture of Mother Teresa, 1986, taken by an abbey monk.

A Picture of Mother Teresa, 1986, taken by an abbey monk.

No Excuses!

There is nothing better than true stories of peoples’ excuses. Remember the notes our mothers wrote to excuse us from school? This is a true note sent to school: “Dear Teacher, Please excuse Suzie. She has the flu and I had her shot.” Also, there are funny extracts from insurance claim forms, like these: “I had been shopping for plants all day and was on my way home. As I reached an intersection a hedge sprang up obscuring my vision and I did not see the other car.” How about this one? “An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my car and vanished.” Here is my all time favorite~ “I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law and headed over the embankment.”

Excuses. Jesus does not want excuses. He wants disciples.

Elisha is the first to express an excuse. Since he is the provider for his parents, he wants to go back and kiss them goodbye. However, when the prophet calls, the prophet calls. Elisha offends his mentor Elijah by asking for more time. The prophetic mantel deserves an immediate response, not an excuse.

On his way to Jerusalem to carry the cross, Jesus calls people to follow him as disciples. One responds piously. The person has no idea that Jesus is an itinerant preacher, i.e., if no one invites him to a meal that day, Jesus goes hungry and sleeps out in the open. The others have excuses. They occupy themselves with family business affairs instead of the kingdom of God.

This may seem harsh but what blocks us from walking with Christ is we think that we are the center of the world. Jesus tells us that family is not more important than walking with him on the road to proclaim the kingdom. And, the problem is, we know the loopholes!

When the Samaritans refuse hospitality to the Lord and his disciples, James and John want to call down fire on them. Every so many years I like to remind us that James and John are a lot like our modern day Lucy in Peanuts. One day, Lucy tells Charlie Brown that she would make a good evangelist. “And why do you think that?” Charlie Brown asks. “Well,” responds Lucy, “I convinced the boy who sits behind me in school that my religion is better than his religion.” Now, Charlie Brown really wants to know more. “How did you do that?” To which Lucy quickly adds, “I hit him over the head with my lunch box.” Jesus rebukes James and John for thinking that Samaritans deserve God’s wrath. The word Luke uses for rebuke means “to exorcise a demon.” Jesus turns to them and exorcises their frames of mind. Consuming anyone with heavenly fire or even knocking a person over the head with a lunchbox is reserved for God alone, if God ever intends those things to happen anyway.

I bet that there are a lot of “Christians” who would love to hit people over their heads with their lunch boxes. We think we walk with Christ but when we boast of building a wall to keep out the Mexicans, we need an exorcism. We think we walk with Christ but when we complain about the Muslim woman at the check out counter who wears a headscarf, we need an exorcism. We think we walk with Christ but when we condemn people because of the color of their skin or their sexuality we need an exorcism. In the words of St. Paul, Christ brings us liberty not the law of the flesh.

Love brought us here today without us knowing it. And love keeps us coming back. Here at the Eucharist God loves us unconditionally. All is forgiven. All is let go. So, no more excuses. Jesus wants disciples.

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

13th Sunday

Cycle C

Abbey courtyard flagstone

 

Bearing the Burden of Humanness

Why did Jesus scold the disciples? He asks them about his identity. And Peter gets really honest and says that he is the Anointed One of God. And they all get scolded for speaking up. Why? I wonder if it is because Peter uses the term “Christ?” It is a Greek word. The Hebrew word is “Messiah.” So, basically Peter says, “Lord, you are the Messiah who is finally here. You will be a great political leader who will lead us all into battle against our enemies, esp., the Romans. Then, when victory is ours’ we will seat you upon a throne and crown you King of Israel. You will reign forever.” That is probably why Jesus scolds the disciples and tells them never to use that term again.

Instead, Jesus calls himself the suffering servant. Using the words of the poet, Denise Levertov, Jesus is the one who bears the burden of humanness. I think that this model of denial and “servant-hood” makes us a little uncomfortable. We think it naïve, or, better, stupid. My theory is that you and I often struggle with that “denial” part of the Gospel because we want Jesus Christ to be a royal image and a “gimme god.”

For example, if we look behind us we see the statue of the Good Shepherd. Here is Jesus calling us to give him our burdens. Here is the Good Shepherd protecting us and asking us to come to him with all of our prayers. But what about the statue of the Jesus who lies on a park bench, homeless, cold and afraid? This Jesus sleeps on the park bench and this statue could be anywhere. We know it is Jesus because there are holes in his feet.

What statue would we Americans prefer? Hmm, interesting call. We would probably choose the statue of the Sacred Heart. And we will not place votive lamps in front of the Jesus who lies on the park bench.

Christ denied even his own divinity and we struggle with denying our own humanity because we think we are divine. In the words of our late Fr. Chrysostom, “When they ask, I always give to them.” He made these words famous one day when he was stopped on the streets of Chicago and a robber wanted money. He had no money, so he gave them his watch. As we follow Christ, we deny that temptation to snap at others. We deny that urge to bark at a sister. We deny that dirty deed to plot the downfall of an enemy. We deny our busy schedule to stop and visit with a resident.  We deny that sloth inside of us and act justly with one another. In other words, we carry the cross and bear the burden of humanness with Christ.

Every time we come to this church, Christ bears the burden of our humanness. Here at this altar, there is no male or female, young or old, well or sick, we are all one in Christ Jesus.

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

The 12th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle C

Ordination book cover

 

 

 

Falling Asleep in Friendship

The Book of Sirach is profound when it says, “Blessed is the [one] who shall have seen you [Elijah], and who falls asleep in your friendship.”

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer with confidence and faith, it is like falling asleep in the Lord’s friendship.

Morning at the Abbey: Casting a Monk Shadow

Do YOU See Her?

Did they not get the memo?

The fifth commandment states clearly: “Thou shall not kill.” The sixth commandment follows it: “Thou shall not commit adultery.” Tell me where in those commandments are the loopholes? Where does it say that King David, or for that matter, any head of state, has permission from God to act otherwise?

Then there is Simon, a Pharisee and a disciple of Jesus. What part of the Gospel is he missing? Does he forget that Jesus teaches compassion, and mercy, and love, and kindness? Oh, he sees the woman at the feet of Jesus but he fails to take notice. He fails to understand her as a human being, a child of God.

There is a fascinating book entitled, What did Jesus ask? It is a collection of writings from over seventy spiritual writers, poets, and artists who address themselves to the questions Jesus asks in the Gospels. The senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Otis Moss III, focuses our attention on the question, “Do you see this woman?” Jesus addresses the question to Simon, a Pharisee and a disciple. And today, Jesus addresses the question to us.

“Do you see this woman who has been dismissed by Rome and your theological doctrine as a nonentity? Do you see this woman, nameless to all the men, defined as a sinner, rebellious, unclean, of low moral wattage because men who idolize their gender have scandalized her humanity? Look…she is impoverished, oppressed, and wounded, yet she has given great service to God.”

In the words of Otis Moss, “Jesus forces us to look where we do not want to look.” “Do you see this woman?” “Do you see her standing on corners in cities holding a sign soliciting kindness? Do you see her crossing the southern border with children in tow, running from danger and hoping for a new future? Do you see this woman, not yet an adult, walking streets late at night flagging down cars looking for men who cruise the city to support the oldest profession?” Do you see this woman in line behind you at the Jewel-Osco “making choices between food or rent, education or employment, health, or safety, love or security?” Do-you-see-this-woman?

In the words of St. Paul, we all live for God. We all live for God in Christ Jesus. Why do you think all those women follow Jesus and take care of the apostles out of their resources? It is because Jesus treats the women like human beings with respect, care, love and forgiveness. Jesus forgives the woman her many sins because she shows him great love.

There is no greater love than the Eucharist. When we leave our churches today we need to make sure we read the memo. Jesus wants us to see and understand that person we’ve judged harshly.

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

11th Sunday

Ordinary Time

Cycle C

Charles Wells drawing