How Much Did You Care?

Once upon a time, God is sitting in Heaven when a scientist says to Him, “Lord, we don’t need you anymore. Science has finally figured out a way to create life out of nothing. In other words, we can now do what you did in the ‘beginning’.” “Oh, is that so? Tell me…” replies God. “Well,” says the scientist, “we can take dirt and form it into the likeness of You and breathe life into it, thus creating human beings.” “Well, that’s interesting!  Show Me!” So the scientist bends down to the earth and starts to mold the soil. “Oh, no, no, no…” interrupts God.  “Get your own dirt.”

We’ve got dirt on the rich man in the parable today. And, we might be tempted to think that today’s parable is about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.  The rich go to hell and the poor go to heaven.  But that is not the message St. Luke gives us today.

What is the sin of the rich man?  That he dressed in purple garments and fine linen, a sign of royalty and wealth?  That he dined sumptuously each day?  The rich man failed to recognize the poor person at his doorstep.  It would be as if I sat in an expensive restaurant window on Michigan Avenue dining on caviar and Dom Perignon only to have a homeless person stand and stare at me through the clear glass windowpane.  Not to recognize the poverty and the pain of our brothers and sisters is the sin of the rich.

Hence, the prophet Amos condemns the complacent rich.  Woe to those who dine sumptuously laying on their ivory couches listening to beautiful music while their poor neighbors lay on the ground picking up garbage scraps.

Today’s Gospel contains the only name of a character in a parable.  The poor person’s name is Lazarus.  It means “blessed of God.”  And every single one of us has a Lazarus in our lives.  Every one of us has someone else whom we consider below us.  We probably consider that person to be pathetic and tragic and we go out of our way to avoid them.  Sometimes we step over them.  Many times we gossip about them and we complain about them.  But, in reality, God has sent this person to us so that (in the words of St. Paul) we can lay hold of eternal life. God sends us Lazarus to keep us honest.  God sends us Lazarus to make us virtuous.  God sends us Lazarus so that we can run after love, patience and gentleness.

Here at this Eucharist God calls us all to the altar to be refreshed in Spirit.  You and I along with our Lazarus will receive communion at the hands of the Lord who died for us.  When we die, God will not ask us, “How much did you own?”  God will ask, “How much did you care?”  If we want to make sure that God does not have dirt on us when we die, we ought to embrace Lazarus- Blessed of God- while we have the chance!

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

Look in the Lost and Found!

The Lost and found: the place where we dump those lost items. Sometimes people reclaim their lost items and sometimes they don’t reclaim them. And most of the time when the lost items just sit around, either they are given away or people throw them out.

It is also the place where we can find God.

In the words of Milwaukee bishop, Richard Sklba, “parables tell us more about God than about ourselves.” Today, Jesus wants the scribes and the Pharisees, and, us, to learn something about God.                         In her commentary on today’s scriptures, Sister Verna speaks about the character of shepherds in first century Palestine. They were thieves, ritually unclean, rejected by the upper class and outcasts. So, since we can find God in the lost and found, Jesus uses the image of the shepherd as a model of God’s “inexhaustible mercy.” Sister Verna also tells us that shepherding is also a “communal event.” When a shepherd goes looking for the lost, he needs the assistance of the others to watch the ninety-nine. Not only do we find God in the lost and found, but also God needs you and me to assist.

“What [person] among you…?” Jesus asks. “What [shepherd] among you goes looking for the lost?” “What woman among you puts on an apron and picks up a broom?” That lost coin is important. It is probably one day’s wages. It could have fallen from her headdress as a dowry before her wedding. Wherever the coin was, Jesus makes a profound point by using the image of a woman sweeping and searching as a model of God’s “inexhaustible mercy.” Notice that her joy becomes a communal event: “…she calls together her friends and neighbors…” for a banquet. God’s compassion is not only inexhaustible. It is also extravagant.

I wonder how many of us would look in the lost and found for God. The people of the Exodus story struggled so much with the image of God that they gave up and fashioned a golden calf. “Other people have molten images, why can’t we create our own gods?” That is probably why we will not find the presence of the Divine in the lost and found.

If you are old enough, you probably remember where you were fifteen years ago today, on 9-11. We cannot forget the images, the videos, the pictures, the pain and the horror of that time. And God? God was doing what God does best. We found the presence of the Divine in the responders, the helpers, those searching for loved ones, those who responded to the call of the Coast Guard to dock their boats at Manhattan to rescue hundred of thousands of people trapped at the southern end. We found God in churches, hospitals, in the streets and off the streets. And yes, the presence of God could be found in the hearts and lives of those who planned and carried out those horrible deeds. But the molten images they built for themselves muddled their minds, their hearts and their images of the One True God.

In the words of St. Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” He considered himself the greatest of sinners. We too join him as sinners. Yet, God still bids us to arise and approach the table of his Word and the table of his body and blood. That is what we call mercy because we will always find Jesus in the lost and found.

Ground Zero sign at Field Museum

 

 

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

24th Sunday Ordinary Time

 

Offer It Up!

 

Once upon a time, the pastor of this church stays just a little too long.  The congregation is eager for a new priest.  Well, one year he petitions the bishop for a transfer.  He waits until the last Sunday before leaves to announce his transfer.  As he walks into the pulpit, the outgoing pastor says, “This same Jesus that called me to be pastor here, now calls me to leave and serve another congregation.”  With that announcement, the choir stands and sings, “What a friend we have in Jesus!”

Our friend, Jesus, gets a little tough today.  He tells us to carry that cross.  A good way to describe carrying that cross is by “offering it up.”

Growing up on the Catholic south side of Chicago, my parents and grandparents always tell me, “Offer it up.”  Remember that?  “Mom, my arm hurts.”  “You’re alright, offer it up.”  “Grandma, I’m hungry.”  “It’s not time to eat yet.  Offer it up.”  Remember this?

“Follow me,” Jesus says.  And many things get in the way.  First there is family.  Sometimes it is the familiar ones who keep us from fully following Christ.  Then there are the friends.  If I really follow Jesus Christ, I may lose a friend or two.  Then there is the Cross itself.  Sometimes, it is self-imposed by our lack of happiness and our burdens of illness.  But the real Cross of Christ is always juxtaposed to our day-to-day lives.

Here is a real life example in the scriptures that means something for us today. One of the shortest letters in the Christian Scriptures is St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon.  St. Paul is an old man when he writes this letter.  He is in prison for preaching the Gospel.  He is writing to his friend Philemon because Philemon’s slave, Onesimus, runs away. Now, the penalty for a runaway slave is death.  The penalty for harboring a slave is death.  But Paul (who has nothing to lose anyway) asks that Philemon bear the weight of the Gospel and welcome back his slave with open arms as a loving friend.  Paul’s request is large.  Paul’s letter is important.  And it is still quite controversial today because some theologians remain disappointed that Paul does not condemn slavery.  In fact, for hundreds of years the church uses this letter to justify slavery.  In the end, the lesson is this for Philemon:  If he wants to truly follow Christ, he needs to change his attitude.  His intentions must change.  Onesimus runs away and is returning home.  Welcome him home and offer it up.

Here is a modern example.  Today the Church canonized Mother Teresa who died on September 5, 1997.  In the book, Come, Be My Light, we come to know the weight of the cross that St. Teresa of Kolkata carried.  Her cross was not the filthy smelly dying beggars in the streets of Calcutta.  The cross was the absence of Christ’s presence that she once felt and heard and saw in 1948.  As she lived the “Dark Night of the Soul,” St. Teresa continued to preach and live Christ Crucified, Christ Resurrected.  Cynics laughed.  Atheists yelled “hypocrite.” But WE know that in the end, there is only one thing that matters:  to be a Christian means to carry the cross with Christ.  To be a Christian means to learn how to “offer it up.”

I know that what helps me greatly to carry the cross with Christ is the Eucharist.  Here God is our partner in lifting up that heavy wood of the cross.  Here is where we gain wisdom when things seem down and out and we desire to give up.  Here is where God and the communion of saints inspire us. To paraphrase the words of St. Teresa, God does not call us to be successful.  God calls us to remain faithful as we offer it up in the name of our friend, Jesus.

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

Twenty-third Sunday

Ordinary Time

Cycle C

Mother Teresa

St. Teresa of Kolkata

Copyright St.Procopius Abbey

Picture by +Fr. Robert Buday, O.S.B.

1986

Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner?

We would not want to invite Jesus to dinner!

First century dining in an upper class Jewish home consists of rituals.  First there is the washing of the hands and arms up to the elbows.  Then there is the jockeying for the best seat in the house…next to the host.  And if a person-who-wanted-to-be-seen does not get the best seat in the house he always tries to recline as close as possible to the host because proximity means status.  Jesus watches all of this nonsense and has lots to say about humility.  In fact, his words are uncomfortable.

Since I am director of development at the abbey I am responsible for inviting major donors to the abbey for dinner to thank them for their generosity.  No blind, lame, crippled or poor person’s name can be found on the guest list. And if I do invite some of the poor or homeless or societal outcasts, can you imagine the spicy conversation at the table?  Would we all be willing to pose for photographs afterwards?

No, Jesus would not make a good guest at our dinner parties.  Yes, he would be glad to come.  Yes, he would drink wine and finger the appetizers.  Yes, he would regale us with stories and even maybe even heal a few of us.  But he would challenge you and me as his disciples.  And that challenge would be plain and simple and almost embarrassing.

Societal status has been a human plight for along time.  The only difference between status in Jerusalem, 1st century, and status in Du Page County, 21st century is the clothing.  Nothing is new and you and I still compete for the top.   If Jesus showed up at our Labor Day dinner parties he may say, “Just who do we think we are?”  We are only human beings.  And in the end we will all be the same- dead!  That is the one thing that we have in common, all of us will die!  We cannot take the money with us.  And we certainly do not take status with us.  This is why Sirach tells us wisely that we need to humble ourselves.  Humility come from the Latin, meaning, “lowly.”  And the root word means, “dirt.”  We who are no more than dust need to remember who we really are and act accordingly.  Sirach says, “…conduct your affairs with lowliness and then we will be richer than people who give gifts.”  “Remember who we really are and God will really notice us.”  Stop climbing over the chairs to get to the head table.  Stop the name dropping.  Instead, if you really want to be great, plan a dinner party and invite the homeless woman who pushes her cart through the neighborhood; invite the blind army sergeant who returned from Iraq; invite the alcoholic and drug addicted young adult who was abandoned by the family.  All of them cannot repay you but in the end the one who matters will repay us at the Resurrection!

The Jesuit scripture scholar, Fr. John Donahue, is correct- “Today no Christian Church follows literally the advice of Jesus.”  Eating with Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is filled with Eucharistic overtones.  How ironic that the ones who literally follow today’s advice from Jesus are found on the fringes of Christianity- P.A.D.S., Catholic Worker House, Hesed House and the Aurora Soup Kitchen, Wheaton Interfaith Food Pantry, etc…

No, Jesus would not be a good guest at dinner at Villa St. Benedict, Sacred Heart Monastery or St. Procopius Abbey.  It is not that he would eat or drink too much.  It is not that he would wear out the welcome mat.  Jesus would not make a good guest at dinner because quietly he would point out our lack of humility.  Then, he will ask about our ministry to the poor.  Now, that is certainly a challenge.

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

The 22nd Sunday

Ordinary Time

Cycle C

Ravenna-Last-Supper-2

 

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.