Saturday, February 22, 2020

Homily - Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Why so Outraged?

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
1st Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

Have you noticed how we’ve become outraged about everything?
We live in a 24/7/365 cable news and social media world where our outrage is fueled by our every “Like” or “Comment”, or every news show we watch, and, in these moments, we can sometimes lose touch with our better angels.

Jesus is talking about this abundant anger in today’s Gospel and calling us to turn the other cheek as we ready for Lent.

          I heard an interesting episode of a favorite podcast recently. It’s the NPR show Hidden Brain. Host Shankar Vedantam goes deep into subjects about how our brains work. It’s fascinating stuff.
The episode in question is entitled Screaming Into The Void: How Outrage Is Hijacking Our Culture, And Our Minds.” 

                                          (Listen to Hidden Brain Podcast HERE)

I touched upon one of his examples in my last homily. The story about the mom who misjudged the Covington Catholic High School story touched a nerve with some. 
 Experts say social media changed after the 2016 Presidential election. Yale psychologist Molly Crocket admitted, "I felt myself getting sucked into feedback loops where I would read something, I would feel outraged about it, [and] I would feel compelled to share it with my friends. I would then be sort of obsessively checking to see whether people had responded, how they had responded, you know, lather, rinse, repeat."
Dr. Crocket remembers being most outraged with the anti-immigration stance taken by the current Administration. 

She saw a friend post an article on Facebook about how farmers were not finding enough workers due to the crackdown on immigration and vegetables were rotting on the vine. After reading it, she decided to share it with her friends.
The post was quite popular with her Facebook community, but one person left a comment saying, “Check the date of the article.” She did and found it was published in 2011 -- during an administration she admired.
Dr. Crocket quietly deleted the post. And admits the incident served as a wake-up call. She realized her outrage was controlling her behavior in unhealthy ways.
Jesus wants us to experience this same wake-up call in hearing his Gospel message today.

He’s in the middle of his Sermon on the Mount and has just shared the Beatitudes. He then turns to all the ways we are called to be good disciples of his teachings. Today, he talks about the most difficult of his teachings: We must love our enemies. Pray for people who persecute us. Turn the other cheek. This is how we become perfect in the eyes of God.
Not by taking an eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth. But by letting love shine through the darkness of our human hearts and allowing the power of Jesus to transform ourselves and our world.
            Media today (social media and Cable news media) are wired to give people reasons to be angry. This is done to increase views or viewership. These media are literally peddling anger. The business model is to make you mad. And many of us are falling for it.
            The addictive power of outrage is spilling over into many other other human interactions.
Just think about an angry email or letter you may have sent recently. Upon reflection, perhaps the outrage expressed was excessive for the situation at hand?
This outrage comes from the same source.
Dr. Crocket says there’s a primitive aspect to our brain development in which we are hardwired to call out the bad behavior of others. And when we do it feels good.
She says outrage has been so valuable in our evolutionary history that it operates like other important biological functions. It gives us pleasure.
Social media companies and Cable News executives know this and are using our outrage to improve their bottom line.
Crocket says there’s a cautionary tale on all the outrage present in the world today. She says, “If you’re dialing up the volume on all outrage, then it may become more difficult to detect (an important) signal in an increasingly noisy public sphere. And this could increase errors that we make in deciding which issues we collectively think are most worthy of our attention and support.”
Powerful food for thought.
Maybe one of the things we give up this Lent is our outrage.
This is why Jesus’ message today about turning the other cheek is so important. It defuses this destructive impulse.
When we look at how this outrage impulse evolved it did so face-to-face, in small groups, and in situations where we interacted with the same people each and every day.
Today, most of our vitriol is anonymous, or done to total strangers, or done via an impersonal email or letter without a face-to-face interaction.  
Are we modeling Jesus when we go to these dark, primitive recesses of our brains?
Hidden Brain’s host summed it up this say, “Given that the psychological benefits are high, and the physical costs are low, there are few checks on outrage anymore. This is why many of us today feel surrounded by outrage. It’s impossible to escape.”
Just turn on Fox News, MSNBC or CNN and you know what I’m talking about. Just look at the comments sections of Facebook or a posted news website and you know what I’m talking about.

Here’s the sad truth. Many of us don’t want to escape this vitriol. People on both sides of the political aisle are reveling in it these days.
But Jesus is calling us to walk away from these primitive impulses in our daily interactions. To turn the other cheek and model love to a broken world.
In today’s reading from St. Paul to the Corinthians, we hear that we are a temple of God.
Lent is a time to examine our holiness and turn away from things that compromise it. Clean up our temples, so to speak.

In our first reading from Leviticus we hear what is called the Holiness Code: “You shall bear no hatred for your brother and sister in your heart… Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.”  

My sisters and brothers, this is how we live the message of Jesus. This is how we bring Jesus’ love to an angry and divided world.

Homilia - VII Domingo Ordinario - La Cuaresma

La Cuaresma está aquí. Es hora de limpiar el alma.
Al entrar en la temporada sagrada, nuestra Iglesia nos alienta a centrarnos en la superación personal.
Esta superación personal es la perfección de la que Jesús habla en el Evangelio de Mateo este fin de semana y no debe confundirse con el perfeccionismo tal como lo conoce nuestro mundo.
Jesús es explícito al explicar cómo se llega a ser perfecto: el perdón sobre la venganza, la generosidad sobre la avaricia, desear el bien a los enemigos sobre desear el mal a los enemigos.
En Levítico escuchamos algo similar en el Código de Santidad: no guardemos odio en el corazón hacia nuestras hermanas y hermanos, ni venganza, ni rencor, amemos a nuestros vecinos como a nosotros mismos. Estas palabras son por las que la enseñanza de Jesús en el Sermón del Monte resonó tan profundamente en sus  conciudadanos israelitas.
San Pablo también está instando a los Corintios (y a nosotros) a verse a sí mismos (y a nosotros mismos) como templos de Dios. Pero vivir esta realidad comienza por no creer en la sabiduría de este mundo, sino vivir la sabiduría de lo divino.
Al iniciar los 40 días de Cuaresma, aquí hay cinco maneras de avanzar hacia la perfección:

1) Concéntrese en una persona en su vida con la que lucha y trabaje en mejorar esa relación

2) En lugar de simplemente renunciar a algo esta Cuaresma, también elija algo adicional que hacer para mejorar así mismo  

3) Ayunar un día (o una comida) a la semana para recordar a aquellos que se quedan sin comida todos los días, en todo el mundo

4) Encuentre una causa benéfica en la que crea y done a su misión

5) Ore un Padre Nuestro a primera hora al despertar cada mañana y un Ave María como lo último antes de dormirse cada noche

Que nuestra Cuaresma esté llena de crecimiento y superación personal y bendiciones mientras estamos listos juntos para la Resurrección en Pascua. 

Lent is here. Time for a soul cleanse.
As we enter the sacred season, we’re encouraged by our Church to focus on self-improvement.
This self-improvement is the perfection Jesus is talking about in Matthew’s Gospel this weekend and should not be confused with perfectionism as our world knows it.
Jesus is explicit in spelling out what being perfect looks like: forgiveness vs. revenge, generosity vs. stinginess, wishing good on enemies vs. wishing ill on enemies.
In Leviticus, we hear something similar in the Holiness Code: bear no hatred in our hearts for our sisters and brothers, no revenge, no grudges, love our neighbors as ourselves. These words are why Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount resonated so deeply with his fellow Israelites.
 St. Paul also is urging the Corinthians (and us) to see themselves (and ourselves) as temples of God. But living this reality starts with not buying into the wisdom of this world but living the wisdom of the divine. 
As we kickoff the 40 days of Lent, here of five ways to move toward perfection:

1. Focus on one person in your life who you struggle with and work on improving this relationship

2. Instead of just giving up something this Lent, also pick something extra to do to improve yourself

3. Fast one day a week to remember those who go without food daily around the world 

4. Find a charitable cause you believe in and give to its mission

5. Pray an Our Father first thing when waking up each morning and a Hail Mary as the last thing before falling asleep each night

May your Lent be filled with personal growth, self-improvement and blessings as we together ready for the Resurrection at Easter.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Homily - Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - What is Truth?

Isaiah 58:7-10
1st Corinthians 2:1-5
Matthew 5:13-16
Have you noticed a rising tension in our culture?  How angry we’ve become? How intolerant we are of the views of others? How divided we are as a nation? How outraged we are about everything?
Our battle lines are drawn around “the truth” as we see it.  
The truth Jesus is calling us all to live in today’s Gospel made a lot of people angry in His day. The truth can do that sometimes.
We continue to live in a world where the truth has been turned upside down, twisted and distorted – many times for personal or political reasons, not Gospel reasons.  
The plague of relativism is tearing at the fabric of society. It’s a cancer eating away at the soul of our nation.
The best way to understand the concept of relativism is to remember that famous conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate found in John’s Gospel:
So Pilate said to him, ‘Then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say I am a king.  For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’”
In a nutshell, this conversation is Exhibit A of the concept of relativism: “What is truth?” 
The danger in our world today is this:  “I have my truth. You have your truth. Everyone has their own truth.”
So, we can see why Pontius Pilate was tempted to throw up his hands and say, “What is truth?” 
Jesus is challenging us all to go even deeper – and to live his truth by the actions of our lives.  
He‘s just finished sharing his Beatitudes during the Sermon on the Mount, helping us to understand who is blessed in the world: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. He then turns to the metaphors of salt and light to encourage us to live these beatitudes (these truths) for all to see.
Truth is we sometimes carry God’s law in hearts filled with our personal angers, our personal prejudices, our personal justifications, our personal fears.
These deep-down truths are bubbling to the surface in today’s divided culture, causing much anger, hatred and division.
I’m reminded of something that happened about a year ago. On a January Saturday, a story popped up in social media showing high school students taunting a Native American man at the annual March for Life in Washington DC. Some of them wore Make America Great hats.
Many became outraged. The news media jumped all over the story. Soon, the young men from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky were being vilified on the internet and in news stories.
The outrage was felt by many. Maybe even some us here -- yours truly included.
One mom became so outraged she tried to use the story to talk to her teenage son about racism. She wanted it to be a teaching moment. But her son told his mom she needed to watch the whole video of the encounter. Not just the short clip making its way around the internet.
She did and saw something completely different. The young men were not the aggressors. They did not surround the Native American man. He walked up to them.
At the time of this encounter, these high school students were being verbally taunted by a group called the Black Hebrew Israelites who were calling the teens all sorts of vile things.
Yes, some students were acting like teenagers and doing stupid stuff, but the full context of the situation changed the narrative she believed to be the truth.
This woman wrote an essay for The Atlantic magazine, entitled: I Failed The Covington Catholic Test. (READ the Atlantic article here)
Perhaps in our rush to judgment we, too, failed the Covington Catholic Test.
We are not salt of the earth or light of the world when we lower ourselves to live into anger and intolerance. Especially when we don’t have all the facts or twist the facts to fit our own personal truth.
This is what Jesus is talking about today: how we live our lives of faith in the light of his truth.
Are we people of integrity? Or are we hypocrites?
In his series of Screwtape Letters, noted Christian author C.S. Lewis foretold our democratic society’s penchant to be led down the primrose path of polarization, and the anger that would follow. 
Reviewing this 75-year-old letter, one contemporary author says it perfectly reflects what’s happening in present day America.
C.S. Lewis was asking this important question many years ago, “Are we becoming the democracy Hell wishes us to be?” 
Is this how Jesus is calling us to live the truths of our faith?
As we heard from the Prophet Isaiah, If you remove from your midst … false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness.”
This is how we are a light of the world and salt of the earth: by our actions. 
My sisters and brothers, it’s our actions more than our words that preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There’s an old saying, “preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” This quote has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, as is this prayer. I think it perfectly reflects the truth Jesus encourages us to live:

Lord, make me an channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is injury, let me bring pardon.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Creator, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

May we all have ears to hear and hearts to act.