Empty Yourself

There is a word that I want you to remember.  That word is, “kenosis.” It means to empty yourself.  We hear it today in the second reading. “Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to lord it over someone else.  Instead, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave.”   In my opinion, it is among St. Paul’s best theology.

Kenosis goes like this:  Jesus, the Son of God, The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord, Kyrios, made a conscious decision:

-not to strike down a Pharisee who attached him verbally.
-not to punish an apostle who wanted first place in the kingdom.
-not to flee from Satan when he tempted him at his weakest moment.
(And the most important one)
-not to come down off the cross as he hangs there in physical torment with the crowds taunting him.

But the opposite is also true.  Jesus does not empty himself of his divinity:
-when a Samaritan leper cries out for mercy.
-when Bartimaeus pleads and asks for his sight.
-when Martha and Mary ask for their brother back from the tomb.
-when Mary Magdalene and some of the other women seek to be delivered from demons.  Here is an example of a Son who said, “Yes, I will go out into the vineyard to perform the works of ministry.” And he means every word.

So, what about the son in the parable who says no to his father but goes out to work? Ok, he does what the father asks. But, so what? Both are fickle. And, we humans can be very fickle. The word means to change frequently…our loyalties…our friendships…our commitments…our promises…our prayers…even to God? And when a fellow disciple confronts us about our fickle behavior, what happens? Sometimes it spills over into capriciousness, we get aggressive or verbally volatile. Or, we avoid them…This is the time we need a “kenosis check.” In the words of St. Paul, “Have in you the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus.”  When we say yes but quietly whisper, “I’ve got great intentions,” or, “I don’t have to go out of my way to spread the Gospel,” we need more than a kenosis check. In the words of the prophet Ezekiel, “God does not leave unpunished the unjust behavior of those who think they love God but act otherwise.”  Jesus empties himself of his divinity.  We need to empty ourselves of our sinful humanity.

Here at this sacred table, Jesus pours out his bottomless mercy at the Eucharist. When we Christians get the urge to let someone have it, when we say yes with good intentions but decide not to minister in the vineyard, quietly whisper, “empty yourself.”

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

26th Sunday

Ordinary Time

Cycle A

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God Does Not Play “Quid Pro Quo”

Once upon a time, a man was driving his Volkswagen when he pulls up next to a Rolls Royce at a stoplight. The driver of the Volkswagen rolls down his window and shouts to the driver of the Rolls, “Hey, that’s a nice car. Do you have a phone in your Rolls? I’ve got a phone in my Volkswagen!” The driver of the Rolls looks over and says simply, “Yes, I have a phone.” 
The driver of the Volkswagen says, “Wonderful! Say, do you have a refrigerator in there too? I’ve got a fridge in the back seat of my Volkswagen!” The driver of the Rolls, looking annoyed, says, “Yes, I have a refrigerator.” 
The driver of the Volkswagen says, “Do you have wet bar and a state-of-the-art microwave?” “No,” says the Rolls driver. So, the other driver moves on. Later that evening, the driver of the Rolls begins searching for the owner of the Volkswagen. After searching all day, late at night, he finally finds the Volkswagen parked, with all the windows fogged up from the inside. The driver of the Rolls gets out of his magnificent vehicle and knocks on the door of the Volkswagen. When there isn’t any answer, he knocks and knocks, and eventually the owner of the Volkswagen sticks his head out, soaking wet. “I now have everything in the back of my Rolls Royce,” the driver states condescendingly. 
The driver of the Volkswagen looks at him in disbelief and says, “You got me out of the shower for that?”

Quid pro quo. That is my favorite line from “Silence of the Lambs.” Hannibal is behind bars. Clarisse wants information. So, Hannibal says, “Quid pro quo, Clarisse, quid pro quo.”         It means, “this for that.” You give me this, and, I give you that. Today, we learn that God does not play that way. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “God does not think like us. God does not act like us.”

How the early day laborers in the vineyard are envious at 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 as he teaches us a lesson. Made up of Jews and Greeks, St. Matthew’s community members fight over who gets a higher place in the kingdom. Some say that since they are God’s chosen ones who now believe in Christ, they go first. But God is admirable and everyone is equal in the kingdom of heaven.   But this is not how we humans play. We demand quid pro quo. We say, “I was here first.” We say, “I worked the longest.” We say, “I studied the hardest.” And 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. When I taught at Benet Academy, when a wild child got of hand in the classroom, all it took for the student to be quiet was a long, disapproving look from “Father B.” Now, this kind of evil eye is more of an emotional reaction or a disapproving non-verbal communication that as soon as it is seen, another person knows how I feel. But there is another type of evil eye. 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 envy and when people are envious of me it is said that I am able to see it in their eyes.

We give the evil eye to the homeless…lazy louts. We give the evil eye to those on food stamps…lazy louts. We give the evil eye to those on death row…monster murderers. But we do not know their stories. And what if, WHAT IF, in God’s abundant generosity, a person on death row one hour before his or her execution, confesses their sin in the Sacrament of Penance? There is no Church Teaching that says they cannot be absolved if they are truly are repentant.

St. Gregory the Great names the evil eye as “murmuring.” And St. Benedict tells us that murmuring, a.k.a.; “grumbling” destroys the fabric of society. Isaiah tells us to give it up…give up those evil thoughts. Why are we so upset when God is so compassionate and merciful? It is good that you and I work hard with Christ to keep our salvation. But it is equally good that someone is saved at the last hour!

Whether we own a Volkswagen or a Rolls Royce, Christ is our protection against envy. The theory of the evil eye is ancient. Equally ancient is our Christian Faith. In the country of Turkey, we can find this amulet [I hold up the image of the amulet below] called the nazar boncugu. Literally, it means “evil eye bead.” Given to me by a Turkish friend, when I hang it in my room it will absorb all the evil people wish upon me. It will absorb all the evil in me. And when it is full up it will crack. Guess what?  It is not cracked yet.  [Laughter] Christ is our “evil eye bead” who protects his people.

~Fr. Becket

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Scorecard Day!

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 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 a brother/sister?  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.  While God is all merciful and forgiving, our own anger and resentment renders us unable to accept God’s love.

So today is scorecard day!  This is the day that the Lord has made.  Today is the day to find our resentment scorecards.  It is naïve and arrogant to tell you to erase those names.  But maybe today is the day to sit down with a name on the scorecard and pray.  I am going to look at the scorecard that I have been keeping.  There are a few new names on my scorecard: first cousins who never came to pay their respects at my dad’s wake or funeral…not even a card.  It is a healing and grace-filled moment to sit in silence with the Lord, knowing that we resent the person, and it is grace to begin to let it go.

We must resolve to forgive if we are going to receive the body and blood of Christ today.  We have lots of names on our scorecards.  Maybe today we ought to place an ad and let them know that this week, all is forgiven!

24th Sunday, cycle A,

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

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Catholic Christian Confrontation, Oh Yeah!

Once upon a time, two Americans are overseas driving through Wales. The Welsh speak English but the primary language of the street signs are in Welsh with English translations below them. So, the two tourists stop for a bite to eat in a town that has a name fifty-seven letters long. Since the name of the town is so long, they get a little irritated as ugly Americans get when they think that they own the world. So, when these ugly Americans enter the pub they yell out, “Hey, where are we? And, would you please tell me very slowly, ok?” One of the Welshmen in the pub ooks at the American tourist and says very slowly, “B-u-r-g-e-r K-i-n-g.”

Let’s talk about confrontation. There’s a lot of confrontation taking place in our country, our politics and in our Church.

I find nothing more uncomfortable than confrontation. When I need to confront someone, I revisit a script in my mind over and over again. If the person is bigger and stronger than me, I often avoid the person. If the person is smaller than me, then I explode. But is this Christian confrontation? Is there nothing more duplicitous than avoidance, face-saving lies and peace at all costs?

In ancient days, confrontation is the job of the prophet. It is the prophet’s task to call the nation to accountability. When God speaks the prophet confronts. And if the nation or persons do not turn from their wicked ways, then the prophet is not responsible.

In the time of Jesus, Middle Eastern culture is a very combative place to live. Every village has various levels of class and societal distinction. Every nation has an honor code that involved personal reputation. Even Jesus has to deal with an unruly group of fishermen, a bull-headed tax collector, an angry zealot and two young men called “Sons of Thunder.” No wonder the master rabbi sits his disciples down, maps out the steps of good Christian confrontation. Jesus has strict instructions. Number 1: Go to the person privately. Number 2: If that doesn’t work, bring two or three witnesses. Number 3: If that doesn’t work bring the matter to the Church. Number 4: If none of the above work, throw the person out.

Some of this sounds very difficult for a Church that teaches Jesus Christ whose very life was love. But how else do we handle the bullies in our community? Do we just accommodate disruptive and combative people in our congregations?

I am not sure how much news you follow lately, but there is a confrontation going on between two important groups in the political and theological world in this country over DACA, the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.” DACA is a program to protect those illegal immigrants who come here as children with their parents but as older people now work towards citizenship, living, working and serving our country. Mr. Steve Bannon, an “alt-right Catholic” says that the US Catholic Church only defends illegal aliens to fill the pews. He also says that the Catholic Church’s position is not doctrine. It is an “opinion” opposing the sovereignty of a nation. Guess who confronts him on this opinion? It is the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Dolan. He is hardly a radical, or, in some peoples’ popular jargon, “liberal.” Not only is it Catholic doctrine to protect the stranger and the immigrant, it is central to the scriptures. Some people need to get their eyes checked so that they can read their bibles better.

In the words of St. Augustine, “Love and do what you will.” Today, St. Paul says that love is central to Christianity. But what kind of love do you think that Jesus means when he teaches his disciples about confrontation? The Gospel and the cross are not mushy-gushy soap opera types of love. Love hurts. Love is tough. Love is not avoidance. Love is not a face-saving lie. Christian love is not peace at all costs!

At this the Eucharist, the only thing that we owe one another is love, even the child who came here with an illegal parent who is working like you and me to build up America. If you disagree with the Church, then I will say this very slowly,

y-o-u a-r-e d-o-c-t-r-i-n-a-l-l-y i-n-c-o-r-r-e-c-t!

 

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

The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle A

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A Thursday Weekday Homily

I am struck by the methods and metaphors Jesus wisely employs to call people to follow him in first century Palestine.  Boats and fishing, coins and taxing, shepherds and shepherding are among the many metaphors that become successful methods of calling people to discipleship.

Today many of us are cradle Catholic Christians who believe that remaining in the Church is the will of God.  In the words of Bishop Sklba, we learn from the Colossian community that “two elements mark the Christian life:  intellectual knowledge of God’s will and the capacity to walk and live ever worthy of our calling to comply with that will.”

Fr. Becket Franks, O.S.B.

 

Stretching is a Must!

The Jewish Theologian and Philosopher, Abraham Heschel once said, “A prophet is someone you would not invite to your home a second time.” 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 and stretches us over and over again.

Stretching takes its toll on the prophets. Look at 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, then they put him in stocks binding his arms and legs. People mock and deride in the town square. His prayer to the Lord is simply, “Well, Lord, thanks a lot. 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.

Stretching takes its toll on the apostles. Look at 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 his letter to the Romans, St. Paul has a suggestion to stretch better: renovate the mind. In the words of Jesus, we can have everything we want, but if we do not renovate the mind, what good is it to lose our souls? 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!”

Our task as Christians is to carry the cross: to stretch out our arms and hands and legs and feet everyday for one another. One such fine example of stretching is Jim McIngvale of Houston. He is known in the business community as Mattress Mack. At the end of the 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]

Do not worry, if we ask, God will stretch us. If we are willing God will stretch us! Maybe…we will return to the Church…mend a relationship…visit a sick friend…speak to an enemy…. pray for someone we do not like…. call a long lost family member…send a letter and ask for forgiveness…work for peace…and, stop being a gloomy saint.

Here at the Eucharist, God always tells us the Truth. God stretches us especially when we do not look forward inviting the prophet back into our homes.

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

22nd Sunday

Ordinary Time

Cycle A

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/furniture-stores-turned-into-shelters_us_59a57622e4b0446b3b867b49

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That’s What Disciples Do!

This is what happens when we do not understand the person or the message

Once upon a time, this new pastor stands at the church door greeting the parishioners as they leave Sunday morning Mass. Most of the people are very generous telling the new priest how much they like his message, except for one man who says, “That was a very dull and boring sermon, Father.” A few minutes later, the same man again appears in line and says, “I don’t think you did much preparation for your message.” The man appears again, this time muttering, “You really blew it. You didn’t have a thing to say, Father.” Finally, the priest cannot stand it any longer. He goes to one of the deacons and inquires about the man. “Oh, don’t let him bother you,” said the deacon. “All he does is go around repeating whatever he hears other people saying.”

Jesus wants to know what people say about him. If we believe St. Luke that as a child Jesus grows in wisdom and in years, then Jesus is coming to terms with his mission and ministry. So he asks his disciples about the town gossip. And they tell him— they list some pretty famous prophets. Who would not want to be following in the steps of Jeremiah, or Elijah or even his cousin, John the Baptist? But that is only the town buzz. Jesus wants to know what his closest friends think about him. It is Peter who tells him that he thinks that he is the Messiah, the one they have awaited for centuries. For his honesty Jesus gives him a new name. He calls him “Rock.” He is that strong, reliable and sturdy person that Jesus builds upon. Jesus gives Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven and steals the power of binding and loosing from the Sanhedrin and hands that power over to Peter and the Church.

But we must take caution here. The name Petros/Peter means “a rock,” “a stone,” “a cliff,” “a ledge.” Peter’s faith is that good strong edifice on which the disciples rely. However we know that a rock rolls, a stone chips and a ledge crumbles. Peter is a rock today but next Sunday when Jesus proclaims the doctrine of the cross, The Rock disagrees with The Christ.   And in an instant, the Rock crumbles and becomes a Satan.

What are we really saying here? Like Peter, we need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and people need to know about our relationship. Do people know that I am a Catholic Christian? In her book, Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell states that only 48% of American Catholics are certain that they have a relationship with a personal God. In the words of Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles, “Jesus Christ did not come to suffer and die so that he could make ‘cultural Catholics.’” The Catholic Christian Faith is not a passive sacramental event. It is not “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And it is certainly not, “Jesus and Me and to hell with Thee.” When we act like this we mismanage the faith. God does not call us to follow Shebna, the master of the palace in the time of the prophet Isaiah. His mismanagement and deceit causes his downfall. God calls us to imitate Peter and the others who begin their mission and ministry with a close personal relationship with Jesus- “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Intentional Disciples celebrate the Eucharist daily. But we also manage our faith by knowing and learning our faith. A number of years ago, I met one of our residents at the grave of her husband whom she buried in the NW Chicago area. When some members of her family asked why they had to travel so far for prayers at the grave, I remarked, “Because that is what Catholics do!” My Catholic faith begins with Jesus as Lord and it builds by interacting with you!

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

21st Sunday

Ordinary Time Cycle A

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We Got to Do What It It Takes

One week after the March and resulting violence at Charlottesville, VA, I could not have picked any better scriptures for our reflection today. The scriptural topic is about “foreigners,” foreign people needing the help of God. And, we Christians need to talk about it, because, sometimes, we got to do what it takes.

Interesting that the prophet Isaiah includes foreigners in his prophecy. If foreigners do what is right and just, if foreigners love the Lord and keep the Sabbath, and if foreigners keep the commandments, God will admit them to the temple. Could Jesus be thinking of these “scraps” of scripture as the Canaanite woman yells after him?

I think that there are two important things happening here: the very human Jesus is rethinking his mission and ministry and the Canaanite woman banters for a healing for her daughter. The two are intricately intertwined.

To begin to understand the importance of today’s encounter, realize that cultural taboos forbid Jesus and the Canaanite woman to speak to each other. All the odds are against her: her gender, her religion, her status, and especially her demon daughter. Jesus does not respond to her at first. Jesus as a Jew does not believe that his mission and ministry include her. But, I argue that the Canaanite woman’s faith-filled actions change the mind and ministry of Jesus. First, she keeps yelling after him calling him, “Lord, Son of David.” A double whammy for she acknowledges that he is the Messiah and the Christ!   Then she bows to the ground blocking his way. She does Jesus homage and calls him Lord again. But it is when she truly banters with Jesus and calls him Lord for the third time does Jesus recognize her faith that demands healing for her daughter. In the words of Sister Barbara Reid, O.P., there is no more audacity than a mother who asks for healing for a child.

The interchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman ought to teach us something about the problem of race in our country. Did you follow the news in the last eight days? Did you hear the vitriol that poured forth from the lips of white supremacist marchers? I will say this as an official leader of the Catholic Church and as a theologian. You cannot be a white supremacist and a Christian. You cannot in good faith, attend your church one-day, sing the songs, pray the prayers, receive communion, feel good inside and then march against African-American People and Jewish People the next day calling them names with derogatory comments.

Now, we may not be white supremacists, or even sympathizers, but we all have a prejudice or two. At first, Jesus tells the Canaanite woman, “No, I’m not going to heal your daughter. You’re not included in my ministry.” But listening to the Holy Spirit and admiring the persistence of faith, Jesus changes his mind. This week what if you and I listen to the Holy Spirit and pray that God helps us with one of our prejudices? Sometimes, we got to do what it takes.

At the Eucharist the Lord waits for our faith. Our

model is the Canaanite woman who discovers that dogged bantering over scraps wins her daughter’s healing. In the words of St. Paul, “the gifts of and the call of God are irrevocable.” Thank God that Jesus changed his mind.

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

20th Sunday A

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Waiting for the Vision

Once upon a time, Sal lives a good and long life. As it draws to a close he gathers his family around him. All of a sudden he asks to see his optometrist. “Optometrist?” they ask. “Why in the world do you want to see your optometrist?” “Please, just get him for me.” So they call for Dr. Kaplan, who, on seeing Sal about to depart this life, asks, “Sal, it pains me to see you like this. What can I possibly do for you?” Sal opens his eyes slightly and says, “Doc, before I go, there’s one thing I have to know. Which one was clearer – A or B?”

In the words of scripture scholar, Fr. Donald Senior, “Having a vision that guides our life is important.”

The prophet Daniel enters into visions granted him by God. He sees the Ancient One on a throne. And as the visions continue he sees one like a Son of man receive the kingdom from the Ancient One. We know this vision to be about the Lord Jesus Christ.

The apostle Peter speaks about his vision on Mt. Tabor. God the Father identifies Jesus as his Son and instructs the apostles to listen to the message of the Gospel. We know this vision to be a foreshadowing of the great event to come after the cross on Mt. Calvary.

Having a vision to guide our life is important.

But watch out for the shadows. Notice on Mt. Tabor in the Transfiguration Gospel that a bright cloud casts a shadow over Peter, James and John. Even though God speaks to them, to listen to his Son, they fall prostrate on the ground in fear. They are on the way to Jerusalem and God seeks to strengthen their faith with a vision. Often though we read that the apostles’ reactions to many things with Jesus are fear, wonder, amazement and competition. Not many times do we read that the apostles react in faith. This is why it is difficult to have a vision in life.

My vision of life must always be seen through the lenses of the Christian faith. Yet, I will admit in the last thirteen months with tragedies in the Franks Family, I wonder about God’s silence. I ask the Lord about the purpose of prayer and intercession. And, yes, I say “What if…? What if…?” Reflecting on that event on Mt. Tabor, I realize now that these questions are things I ask in the shadow. There is a vision taking place in the midst of our pain: my three brothers and I call each other every day and when it is time to make decisions, we make those decisions together. In the words of St. Peter, “You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place…”

So, my brothers and sisters, “…it is good for us to be here.” Until our time of metamorphosis, we continue to celebrate the Eucharist and transform the world with a vision that is centered on Christ.

Thank you, Dad, for bringing us closer together.

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

Transfiguration

2017

Dad lost at the lighthouse

In Loving Memory of Albin F. Franks

August 21, 1931 – July 26, 2017

Requiescat in Pace

 

The Good Ground for Hope

Once upon a time, a young man approaches a priest in the confessional with a smirk on his face.  “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  I’m going to tell you right now that I broke every single commandment.”  “Do not fret,” says the priest.  All you need to do is take seven lemons, squeeze them into a glass, and drink the lemon juice.”  “That will cleanse me from my sins?”  “No, but it will wipe that stupid smirk off your face.”

God wants us to cultivate a good ground for hope.

Growing up on the south side of Chicago, we called an empty lot between two houses a prairie, and, we considered much of the plants nothing more than weeds.  If I consulted Br. Guy, a botanist at the abbey, he would say that the plants in our prairie years ago were not weeds, but native Illinois plants. But who wants the beautiful colorful perennials growing up with the weeds, plants like the yellow dandelions, the white Queen Anne’s lace and the blue chicory?

In first century Palestine, the darnel plant resembles the wheat plant.  And when these plants are young they are difficult to tell what is wheat and what is weed.  Jesus uses this common known fact to teach us a lesson:  stop sending people to hell.  In the parable, the master’s slaves ask, “Do you want us to go and pull them (the weeds) up?”  And Jesus says, “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.  Let them grow together until harvest…”

Let the weeds and wheat grow up together.  Why?  In God’s kingdom, and in God’s time, and in God’s wisdom, and in God’s mercy, weeds have a chance to become wheat!  Evil people can be converted.  The heinous can become holy.  No person is entirely good, and neither is someone entirely evil.  God gives no one the divine right to condemn anyone to hell either because of a heinous crime or malicious gossip.  And for too long we even condemned other Christians.  In the middle ages, the medieval church took this parable literally and burned people at the stake for heresy or for even expressing different theological views.

You and I often think of burning people at the stake.  You and I are so good at classifications.  We label people.  We keep them in boxes and often we do not free them to grow and change.  Sometimes we expect them to fail.

This is not the Christian way.  According to the Book of Wisdom, God judges with clemency.  God is the master of might and always governs us with leniency.  And as a good gardener and a master teacher, God allows the wheat and the weeds to grow together.  God gives us good ground for hope because God always gives us room for repentance.  According to the pastoral theologian, Alice Camille, these scriptures are the biggest theological arguments against the death penalty.  In God’s justice, the wheat can teach the weeds how to change.

The best wheat here is the Eucharist.  We who often bear weeds in our lives are now invited to eat of the finest wheat, Jesus Christ.  He is our justice before God.  He is our good ground of hope.

I dislike dandelions.  Queen Anne’s lace makes me sneeze. Chicory looks ugly along the roadside.  The ironic thing is that young dandelion leaves are nourishing.  Chicory enlivens a salad.  And butterflies and bees love Queen Anne’s lace.  So, no smirking:  weeds can become wheat!

Fr. Becket

16th Sunday Ordinary Time

Setting sun on abbey hill