Helping You Helps Me

More excellent scriptural readings just one week before the election!  (Exodus 22:20-26, 1Thessalonians 1;5c-10, Matthew 22:34-40)

         Once upon a time, a priest walks down a country lane.  He sees a young farmer struggling to load hay back onto a cart after it had falls off. 
 ”It looks as if you are struggling there,” says the priest. “Why don’t you rest a moment, and I’ll give you a hand.”
  ”No thanks,” says the young man, my father wouldn’t like it.”

 ”Don’t be silly,” the priest says. 
 ”Everyone is entitled to a little help.  I have some water here, come have a drink.”

 Again, the young man protests that his father would be upset. Losing his patience, the priest says, “Your father must be a real slave driver. Where is he by the way?”  ”Well,” replies the young farmer, “he’s under the load of hay.”

         In these days of COVID-19 and unemployment, many people have a load of hay weighing them down.  

         A number of years ago in America magazine, Jesuit Father Francis Clooney asks the question, “Why should I help you?”  You vote Democrat, why should I help you?  You vote Republican, why should I help you?  You’re black, white, immigrant, poor, homeless, in prison…why should I help you?

         Keep in mind the two greatest commandments are the love of God and the love of neighbor.  Jesus does not use words like “hug,” or “be affectionate towards,” or “have a good warm feeling for God and neighbor.”  Jesus actually says, “be of good-will without cost” towards God and neighbor.  When do I possess good will without cost towards God?  It is when I remain faithful to prayer.  When do I possess good will without cost towards my neighbor?  It is when I practice justice!  We are speaking here about God’s justice, not “American justice.”  God’s justice is mercy, upon mercy, upon mercy. In my opinion, the true American test of love of God and neighbor lies in our approach to immigration and poverty.  

         The Book of Exodus explains it in black and white letters:  do not oppress or molest the alien because you were once aliens yourselves.  We were once aliens from Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia. The United States Catholic Bishops are explicit in their teaching on our problems with immigration.  According to the bishops, if the immigrant is not a drug dealer, trafficker, or terrorist, why not let them earn legalization that does not drag on for years?  Why separate parents from their native born children?  And why are we not asking the important question: “What are the causes of migration?”  Remember, most of us would not be here today if our ancestors did not migrate from other countries.  

         So, why should I help you with that heavy load of hay? How appropriate, one week before the election, when I fear we allow others to influence our feelings towards one another.  I should help you because you are right next to me.  You help me love God.  In the words of St. Paul, helping you help others is a loving model for other believers.  Helping youhelps me to focus on the common good.  Helping you helps me to improve and advance our society.  Helping you helps me to enter into the rich meaning of Christianity!

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

The 30th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A

“Gotta Choose a Side”

What an appropriate Gospel two weeks before the American elections.  We begin with what the Gospel is not.  The Gospel is not a statement by Jesus supporting taxes.  The Gospel is not St. Matthew’s statement on the “separation of Church and State.”  The Gospel of “Show me the coin,” is really Jesus’ method of getting out of entrapment. 

         When we dislike people why do we set snares and traps for them?  The Pharisees oppose taxes to Caesar.  The Herodians support the tax system.  Together they plot to catch Jesus in a misstep.  However, throughout the Gospels, when Jesus is caught between a rock and a hard place, he never answers the question.  In the words of St. Matthew, Jesus knows their malice and hypocrisy and asks to see the coin.  Why see the coin?  Everyone knows whose image and inscription are on the coin:  “Tiberius, son of the divine Augustus.”  “Great High Priest.”  Possessing this coin is a violation of the first commandment of the Torah.  When they hand him the coin the tables are turned.  Jesus catches them red-handed.  When Jesus pronounces the famous line, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” Jesus tells the two groups to choose sides.  Jesus is basically saying that the claims of God and the claims of Caesar are mutually exclusive.  So, choose sides.[1]And when we choose sides, what happens?

         In the words of The Servant of God, and, Oblate of St. Benedict, Dorothy Day: “If you render to God the things that are God’s, there’s nothing left for Caesar.”  From the beginnings of Genesis, down to the last words of the Book of Revelation, everything belongs to the Lord, even our land and our economy belongs to God.  When we find a vaccine for COVID-19 and appropriate enough money for proper PPE for health care workers, when we find secure employment for all those affected by the pandemic, then there is nothing left for Caesar.  When we work for a just economy and a just wage, when we work to end abortion and racism, there is nothing left for Caesar.  When we stop robbing our economy to sell weapons instead of establishing healthcare for all, then there is nothing left for Caesar.  

In the words of St. Paul, when we perform the work of faith and the labor of love then the Gospel appears in power and in the Holy Spirit.  If God can use a Persian king, Cyrus, to do his will by allowing the Jewish people to return to the Promised Land, then God can use you and me to bring our brothers and sisters into the Promised Land where we all love God and where we all care lovingly for our neighbor.   Amen!

[1] https://mises.org/wire/render-unto-caesar-most-misunderstood-new-testament-passage

The Sins of the Saints- We’d be Shocked!

Heaven is like one big banquet where we dine on fine wines, good drink, elegant gourmet food, and enjoy fine friendship.  It is a metaphor that begins with the prophets.  It is an image that continues with St. Matthew for the host of the banquet is Jesus Christ, the Messiah. 

         In the days of the prophets, people believe that God invites only Jewish people.  They are the chosen.  They are the true believers in the one true God.  However, something changes when Jesus begins his ministry.  As Jesus encounters non-believers who need healing, or who need a good word, or, those who need hope, the ministry of the Messiah becomes the ministry of the Savior.  Now, everyone is invited to the Messianic Banquet: Women and men, rich and poor, tall and short, gay and straight, Jew, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, American, Iranian, North Korean, Russian, Trump voters, Biden voters, saints and sinners.  Must I continue?  The list is endless. According to St. Alphonsus Ligouri, if we knew all the sins of the saints, we would be shocked that they entered the banquet hall of the kingdom.

         In the words of the prophet Isaiah, on God’s mountain the Lord will provide for all peoples, rich food and sweet drinks.  We only have to do one thing to get into the banquet:  say yes to the invitation.  In the words of St. Matthew, those worthy are those who accept the invitation.  We do not have to be good to get in but we have to work on good to stay in.

         This is what St. Matthew calls the “wedding garment.”  In the words of Pope Francis today, “It is not enough to accept the invitation to follow the Lord; one must be open to a journey of conversion, which changes the heart.  The garment of mercy, which God offers us unceasingly, is the free gift of his love; it is grace.”

         St. Paul says that when we wear the wedding garment correctly, we learn how to be patient and merciful.  Those of us who have not been ravaged by COVID-19, what do we do to assist those struggling and sick right now?  Those of us who are tired and sick of political vitriol, what do we do to repel spiteful speech and actions?  Those of us who belong to the banquet hall of the Lamb, we begin with ourselves.  Since I am responsible for my own wedding garment, I donate my time and money for personal protective equipment (PPE) especially to the doctors and nurses.  Since I am responsible for my own wedding garment, I keep my tongue from speaking deceit and I prevent my feet from walking into deceptions.  And, I vote.

         At the Banquet of the Lamb, all are invited, the good and the bad.  It is my task to “work on good,” with God’s grace.

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

28th Sunday Ordinary Time

Cycle A

Christ, Pick Me, Please!

In the beginning was the vine! Every good wine, every good grape juice, begins with the vineyard. The term for the care of grapevines is “viticulture,” from the Latin word, vitis. As Christians, not only do we work in the vineyards of the Lord, we are the grapevines of the Lord.  Some days there are sun.  Other days the sky is hazy.  Some of us produce a good crop of grapes.  Some of us hang on the vine hoping not to whither or have someone dig up our roots.  Our purpose though is to allow Christ to pick us, to pick us as choice fruit of the vine.  The problem is that often marauders break into the vineyard.  We allow them to destroy our good fruit.

         Have you ever noticed how much violence is in today’s parables?  Isaiah prophesies that God seeks to protect his vineyard, his chosen people.  God wants to pick choice grapes, people faithful to him.  But they prefer to be wild grapes.  They refuse to listen and obey.  Thus, in the end there is much bloodshed.  St. Matthew proclaims the Church as the vineyard of the Lord.  The ultimate manager is God’s Son, Jesus, but his fellow country folk put him to death.  So, now the Church will include everyone who is baptized.  And those who ended the life of God’s manager? They will be put to death also.  Now, we do not interpret this parable as God’s support for violence.  However, Jesus uses first century cultural images in his parables.  In his society, and in our society, violence begets violence.  If I live by the sword, ultimately I will die by the sword.  

         As Christians, our task is not recourse or even support of violence.  As Church, God builds a wall of mercy around us.  God tends to our hearts and wants us to bear excellent fruit. Our task is the ministry of the vineyard so that God will pick you and me as the choicest fruit. But if we do not bear fruits of justice and right action, can we lose the kingdom also?  Can we also lose the kingdom if we fail to confront the senseless violence in our hearts?

         The late M. Scott Peck says in his book, The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult.”  Bearing fruit in the kingdom of God is difficult.  It is not easy to keep our vows.  It is not easy growing older.  It is not easy facing changes. St. Paul says that we are to keep on doing what we learned from him in the scriptures! 

         In the beginning was the vine!  Christ expects a good crop of grapes from us. Hopefully, when it comes time for harvest we can say to the Lord:  pick me, please!

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

27th Sunday 

Ordinary Time

Cycle A

Stop Walking Backwards, Please

Did I hear Jesus correctly?  Did he really say that scandalous people like cheats and prostitutes might get into the kingdom of heaven before me, and before you?  The problem with us…is that we often tell the Lord, “Yes,” and then we do not do what we are suppose to do as Christians.

         The missionary, Elizabeth Elliott says, “The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep creeping off the altar.”  Good intentions do not grant us membership in the kingdom. Soren Kierkegaard says, piling up good intentions as Christians is like walking backwards.  The reason that the horrible sinners in society may get into the kingdom of heaven before us is because they have more to gain and nothing more to lose.  Morally at rock bottom, when caught and confronted with their sin, most people repent. The problem is that sometimes we Christians, we Catholics, think we are better than others.

         To illustrate, there are thirty-seven days till Election Day. It is not uncommon for politicians to accuse other politicians of not being religious enough.  In 1800, the Federalist Party accused Thomas Jefferson of being an “infidel.”   Two hundred twenty years later, American Catholics are accusing fellow Catholics of being infidels.  We are allowing the culture wars of our society to creep into our Church.  Some days, it is so bad that one side accuses the other side of being “Catholic” in name only. This behavior is a shame.  This is how our sacred sacrifice creeps off the altar. 

         According to St. Paul, if we want to prevent our living sacrifices from creeping off the altar we need the humility of Christ.  Though he was God, Jesus did not lord it over others.  He emptied himself.  When angry with Pharisees, he does not strike out.  When irritated with the apostles, he does not abandon them.   When on the cross, he dies for us instead of saving himself.  

         You and I need to empty ourselves of pride, that pride that says I am a better Catholic, or, I am a better Christian than you.   This is how we stop our sacrifices creeping off the altar.  Wherever we find ourselves as Christians, there we find the vineyard of the Lord, especially in an election year.

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

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Are We Scoundrels?

It is easy to spot the scoundrel in a cartoon.  He or she is usually dressed in dark or outlandish clothing and looks like a villain.  Scrooge in The Christmas Carol is a scoundrel.  Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians is a scoundrel.  

         Am I a scoundrel? Are you a scoundrel? 

         How the early day laborers in the vineyard envy the end of the day laborers.  The last ones only work an hour, and the owner makes them equal to those who work all day.  St. Matthew teaches his own community a lesson about the generosity of salvation.  Made up of Jews and Greeks, St. Matthew’s community members fight over who gets a higher place in the kingdom.  One side says we are God’s chosen ones who believe in Christ, we go first.  The other side says, we are the new chosen ones and we go first. 

         In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “God does not think like us.  God does not act like us.”  God is admirable.  Everyone is equal in the kingdom of heaven.   If we think differently, Isaiah says, we are scoundrels.

         The word, “equality” is difficult to find in our vocabulary these days in the United States. It means, “equal opportunity,” and “impartiality.”  It implies that you and I are on the same level of relationship.  This is how God works.  But we humans demand quid pro quo.  We say, “I was here first.”  We say, “I worked the longest.”  We say, “I studied the hardest.”  We say, “I am the better Catholic, the better Christian, the better American.”  When someone does better than me, or gets paid more than me, I give them the evil eye.

         We all know about the evil eye.  It is that look, that gaze and that unforgiveable appearance on someone’s face when a person is very displeased with us.  Historically, the evil eye can be traced back to antiquity.  Basically, it is an ancient belief that people can fall under a spell or be affected by the malevolent gaze of the person who possesses the “evil eye.”  People say the person is “cursed.”  Bad health or bad luck may result of this “evil eye.”  The evil eye comes from avarice and envy and when people are envious we can see it in their eyes.

         St. Gregory the Great names the evil eye as “murmuring.”  St. Benedict tells us that murmuring, a.k.a.; “grumbling” destroys the fabric of society.  Much of the political climate of the United States today is filled with grumbling.  It is the work of scoundrels; it is not the work of Christians.

         God’s grace is generous, so must we be generous.  God’s grace is equally poured out, so must we be poured out.  At the moment of our dying breaths, when we wait in line to join the Communion of Saints, even if we still have questions or doubts, God will surprise us even at the last hour.  

         So, scoundrels, forsake your ways! 

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

25th Sunday Ordinary Time

Set It Aside!

Ernest Hemingway tells the story of a Spanish father who wants to reconcile with his son who runs away from home to the city of Madrid. The father misses the son and puts an advertisement in the local newspaper, El Liberal. The advertisement reads, “Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven! Love, Papa.” Paco is a common name in Spain.  It is so common that when the father arrives at the hotel the next day at noon there are 800 young men named Paco waiting for their fathers!  

How desperate all of us are for forgiveness but are we ever desperate to grant forgiveness?  

Author Frederick Buechner warns us about the dangers of reliving past hurts.  He says, “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds…to smack your lips…to roll your tongue over the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last tooth some morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a [monarch]. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”

Sirach would agree with this!  How can we expect healing from the Lord?  How can we sit here and want our prayers answered by God when we harbor bitterness towards another?  Can God really forgive us when we are so merciless towards another human being?  Even St. Matthew raises this question among his own fellow Christians. 

When we hang onto the anger and resentment, we become the wicked servant.  What then is our lot?  It is prison.  Interesting that the very torment the wicked servant asks to be freed from, ends up being his punishment.  The lack of forgiveness, the absence of kindness, the explosion of anger, and the refusal of mercy becomes the wicked servant’s prison where he remains tortured by his conscience.

To quote modern psychology, the anger we hold tightly to our chests is basically a cover for fear and anxiety.  To illustrate, After the horrible events of 9-11, it was right and just to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.  However, because of our fear and anxiety, we also invaded Iraq.  After the deaths of black men and women at the hands of white police officers, it was right and just to protest racial inequality in out streets.  Our fear and anxiety, however, led us to destroy storefronts and small businesses in our cities.  Now, two months away from a presidential election, it is right and just to discuss the issues affecting our country.  But because of fear and anxiety we Catholics have allowed the culture wars to seep into the US Church.  We now have one side calling the other side, “Catholics in name only.” (This is my homily two weeks from today!) If we possess that much enmity, we need some Confession.  We need the Sacraments.  We need prayer.  We need professional help.

We have lots of names on our scorching score cards.  In the words of St. Paul, we do not live for ourselves.  We do not live for anger or revenge.  We live for the Lord!  As Jesus tells us today that all is forgiven, maybe today we can place an ad in the paper and let someone know that all is forgiven! 

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

24th Sunday

Cycle A

Love Does No Evil

A disagreement with a fellow disciple is not to become a public spectacle.

In Judaism, specific numbers defined worship gatherings and trials. For a trial, one needed anywhere from 23-71 people.  It is still mandatory for a Jewish service to have at least 10 people in the congregation otherwise there is no worship.

Jesus breaks this boundary again, and adds that any disagreement with a fellow disciple begins with a private encounter.  We do not need a crowd to settle a disagreement.  Two or three people can settle differences.  Two or three people can enter into prayer and worship before the Lord.

These boundary-breaking statements from Jesus would have surprised his hearers.  This is why Jesus steals from the Sanhedrin the adage:  “Whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven.  Whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.”  Jesus teaches us that prayer and disagreements begin with a one on one relationship, not with a spectacle in the media.

Today’s Gospel of going to a brother or sister first to iron things out is the best remedy for the “Drama Triangle,” a passive-aggressive interpersonal game we all play when we are angry with someone. It goes like this:  I am livid at Lucy.  Lucy sinned against me and I am very angry.  Instead of confronting her, I will go to my own friends and tell them what she did to me.  I will get them to agree with me that she is a bad person.  Now, I feel victorious.  Now I have a drama triangle, a despicable game that violates the Gospel.  For Christians this is a dangerous way to live because in the words of St. Paul, “Love does no evil to the neighbor.”

Jesus wishes us to work things out peacefully with another.  Confrontation is part of life.  Confronting feelings is part of faith.  God wants every good thing for you and for me, because, in the words of St. Paul, “…love is the fulfillment of the law.”

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

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

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Bishops and Priests: Please Stop with the Petty, Selective Attacks on Joe Biden — Millennial

There has been a growing chorus of Catholic priests and bishops who have become outspoken in their disdain for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, despite their shared Catholic faith. Some are blatantly partisan, while others are clearly incensed by his position on abortion and willing to set aside the basic civility applied to politicians who […]

via Bishops and Priests: Please Stop with the Petty, Selective Attacks on Joe Biden — Millennial

God Seeking to Stretch Us

Abraham Heschel was a Jewish Theologian and Philosopher.  Speaking about prophets, he once said, “A prophet is someone you would not invite to your home a second time.”  Now, no one enjoys a negative person.  But there is a difference between a negative person who always sees the dark side of life and the truthful person who tells us tough truths.  That person who speaks TRUTH we call a prophet.  And, the main task of the prophet is to allow God to stretch us.

God stretches Jeremiah.  God tells him to tell the TRUTH even though it is doom and gloom.  The people respond by locking him up.  The government scourges him.  People mock him.  Jeremiah allows God to stretch him, but stretching takes it toll on him. “Well, Lord, thanks a lot, he prays. “You duped me…and you know what?  I allowed myself to be duped.”  Even his friends mock him.  In his prayer, Jeremiah tells the Lord that he is not going to play the prophet anymore, no more words and no more messages.  But the Word of the Lord continues to well up inside him.  It is like a fire imprisoned in his bones and this divine message stretches him over and over again.

God stretches Peter.  Last week, Jesus entrusts Peter with the leadership of the Church.  Last week he is Rock.  Today he is Satan.  Peter is only trying to talk Jesus out of crucifixion…is that so bad?  Yes, it is…because Jesus believes that he is “morally obligated” to go to Jerusalem to carry the Cross.

Jesus uses words like “must go” when we speaks of his crucifixion.  He uses words like “must deny” when he speaks of our egos.  Often we are full of ourselves and we need to empty our “ego tanks” of apathy, gossip, negativity, and, the thinking that stretching out for you is not my job.

In the words of St. Paul has a suggestion we stretch better when we renovate the mind.  Life today demands that we approach the issues of the day with renovated minds.  For example, as St. Teresa of Avila renovated her monasteries, she was struck by how many of her sisters appeared dull and boring.  One day she prayed out loud, “God, protect me from gloomy saints!”

In the words of Jesus, God stretches us when we carry the cross. Our task is to stretch out for one another.  One such fine example of stretching is Jim McIngvale of Houston.  He is known in the business community as Mattress Mack.  A few years ago, at the end of Hurricane Harvey, he turned two of his stores into shelters for 400 people.  He even sent out some of his furniture trucks to go out into the city and pick up stranded and homeless people.  AND, he provides them with breakfast, lunch and dinner at his stores.  In his own words: “I was raised as a Catholic. I continued my Catholic faith throughout my life, trying to do the right thing and hopefully, you do the right thing and help people along the way.”[1]

When we are wrong, we do not like to hear the TRUTH.  When we are right, we fear telling the TRUTH.  The secret is:  God seeks to stretch us.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/furniture-stores-turned-into-shelters_us_59a57622e4b0446b3b867b4

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

22nd Sunday

Ordinary Time

Cycle A

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