Saturday, September 25, 2021

HOMILY– 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Human Politics


This week Jesus is critiquing our human politics. He’s calling us out for allowing politics to warp his message.

In this week’s Gospel, the apostles are getting all huffed up because others are curing people in the name of Jesus. These feelings of jealousy come from our human desire for power and control.

Jesus is commanding us to let go of these feelings. And follow him and his example.

This week Pope Francis created quite a stir in Catholic circles with comments about EWTN (the Eternal Word Television Network) based in Irondale, Alabama.

EWTN, especially its opinion hosts, and articles in its publication National Catholic Register and Catholic News Agency have been openly critical of the Holy Father.  

 For the most part, Pope Francis has ignored these U.S. critics. But this past week on a trip to Slovakia, in a meeting with fellow Jesuits, he reportedly said, “There is… a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope. I personally deserve the attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. (These attacks) are the work of the devil.”

EWTN caters to a traditional Catholic audience, some who view Pope Francis as heretical or at the least confusing in his teachings.

What Jesus did confused his followers, too. One disciple found Christ heretical enough to exchange him for 30 silver coins.

EWTN and its many holdings are supported financially by powerful, wealthy political operatives, people who do not see eye to eye with the Holy Father.

In fact, during the pontificate of Francis, the network has regularly become antagonistic to the message of a pope for the first time in its history. EWTN also articulates a partisan political focus in some of its opinion-based content that is reflective of its benefactors’ sentiments.

These wealthy financial backers of EWTN also exert a lot of influence over U.S. Bishops.

           Our second reading from St. James was an indictment of the rich and entitled. This reading resonates with the message of Pope Francis this week.

These wealthy benefactors of EWTN were first taken aback by Pope Francis when he declared the Catholic Church “a poor Church for the poor” at the beginning of his pontificate.

Their resistance and critiques increased in volume with the release of his encyclical Laudato Si on Care of Creation (or the environment). And his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia following the Synods on the Family in which a controversial footnote opened the door to divorced Catholics receiving communion.

In the Gospel, Jesus chastises the apostles for exhibiting the human tendency for power and control.

The critics of Francis’ are exhibiting the same tendency.

This is dangerous spiritual ground on which to trod.

Jesus reminds us today, “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”

           But with an ever-growing polarization in the Catholic Church, who is for us?  Who is against us?  Who is us?

           The managing editor of the website Where Peter Is shared a painful story about how polarization around the teachings of Pope Francis created a rift with his devout Catholic mother in the months before she died.

           Mike Lewis said his mother regularly watched EWTN and was a big fan of opinion host Raymond Arroyo who pulls no punches on Pope Francis. So was her circle of like-minded friends at Church.

Now to be honest, there are many good things about EWTN. Its daily Mass is watched by millions of Catholics in the U.S. and has been a comfort for many during the pandemic.

I don’t believe for a minute Pope Francis was condemning everything EWTN does as being “the work of the devil.” He was likely targeting shows such as this because they foment so much division in the Church.

Lewis said this about his personal journey with his mother: “I experienced this division in a personal way. The impact of public defiance against the pope is… doing real damage to the body of Christ.”

Lewis says, “Certainly, there are difficult disagreements to resolve, and not every division will be healed on this side of heaven. But we cannot lose sight of who we are as Catholic Christians. By our baptism, we are united as brothers and sisters with Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. Jesus entrusted the care of his sheep to Peter and his successors. The church teaches that Pope Francis is the visible foundation of communion for all the faithful, and the healing of these wound can only begin in unity with him.”

           Pope Francis has said in the past, “There are always those who destroy unity and stifle prophecy.”

As Catholics, we should welcome Pope Francis’ thoughtful insights into our human behavior and critiques of when we Catholics fall short or are not aligned with the mind of Christ.

This is how we grow in our faith.

As many of you may know, I just returned from a two-week vacation, the first real vacation since the pandemic hit. On it, I read Pope Francis’ latest book “Let Us Dream,” a book that will be the topic of an upcoming Deacon Convocation with its co-author.

           In it, the Holy Father said this, “In times of peace and prosperity, there is always a risk that people might dissolve into a mere mass, with no unifying principle to bind them.

           When this happens, the center lives at the expense of the margins, people divide into competing tribes… Indifference, egotism, a culture of complacent well-being, and deep divisions within society, spilling out into violence – all of these are signs that a people has … ceased to believe in itself.”

But Pope Francis says, this pandemic can be a wake-up call and  chance for us to make a new path, one forged by the Holy Spirit, to a place of peace and harmony.

          There is nothing confusing about what Pope Francis says or does. But his prophetic voice sometimes upsets our American sense of entitlement and exceptionalism.

Jesus cautions his disciples today to be aware of their unhealthy thirst for power and control.  Jesus is calling us all to turn away from this same impulse. When we do so we foster unity, not division. We prevent politics and polarization from infecting our lives and our Church. When we turn away from this impulse, we better live out the Gospel of Jesus to the world. 

Friday, September 3, 2021

HOMILY– 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Be Released


Today, Jesus is performing a miracle.

In Mark's Gospel, Jesus uses the Aramaic word "Ephphatha" when curing a deaf man. We are told the word means, "be opened." Scholars say it also means "be released." 

In less than a week, we commemorate the 20th Anniversary of one of the most traumatic days in U.S. history: 9/11.

National Geographic has a new documentary about that terrible day (9/11: One Day in America). It takes us back to the pain and trauma we all felt on September 11th, 2001, using eyewitness accounts from the many survivors.

But in the midst of the horror, miracles did happen on 9/11.

Jesus worked through self-sacrificing FDNY, NYPD and Port Authority Police rescuers and others who evacuated thousands of people from the Twin Towers before perishing themselves in the collapse.

But not all were lost.

In our first reading from Isaiah, we hear the words, “Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong. Fear not!”

           Many heard the voice of God that day – men and women who rushed in while others were rushing out of the burning buildings.

Port Authority Sergeant John McLoughlin and officer Will Jimeno heard that voice, too. They were just entering the concourse between the two towers when Tower One collapsed trapping them in the rubble of a stairwell.

Miraculously McLoughlin and Jimeno were alive under tons of twisted metal and concrete debris.

Jimeno’s legs were pinned under a heavy piece of concrete and rebar. McLoughlin was crushed under a large piece of the  debris.

As Jimeno lay in the silence for hours, he had only thought: “I’m going to die.”

So, he made a sign with his hands, sign language for “I love you” something he used often with his wife and four-year-old daughter. He knew if he was found this way, his pregnant wife and daughter would know his last thought on earth was to send them a sign of his love. 

Retired Marine David Karnes also heard God’s voice telling him to, “Be strong. Fear not!” that day. Karnes was a senior accountant working at Deloitte Touche in Connecticut on September 11th, 2001. 

When the second plane hit the World Trade Center, Karnes looked at his boss and said, “We’re at war.” He was not deaf to what was happening. 

David had spent over 20 years in the Marine Corps and felt it was his duty to help out that day.  

David grabbed one of his old uniforms kept hanging neatly pressed in a home closet and gathered all his infantry gear (including ropes and repelling implements) from a storage unit before heading to New York City.

Karnes also stopped by his church and met with his pastor, telling him he felt called by God to go to Ground Zero. They prayed together that he would be led to survivors.

Once he got to New York City he tried to talk others at the command center into venturing to the center of the destruction to search for survivors. Most said it was too late. There was only one taker in the crowd. A fellow Marine.

For hours, former Marine Staff Sergeant David Karnes and former Marine Sergeant Jason Thomas searched through the rubble looking for signs of life, walking through ragged, unstable, and dangerous wreckage of the collapsed 100-story Twin Towers, through fire and smoke and shifting debris. It was so hot their boots were melting into the rebar.

Karnes and Thomas kept screaming, “United States Marines.  If you can hear my voice yell or tap.”  This went on for hours.

Eventually, they heard something.  As they stood quietly, a weak voice emerged from the wreckage, “We’re over here.”

After seeing the men trapped under tons of concrete and steel, 50 feet below from where their rescuers stood, Karnes pulled out his cell phone to call his wife in Connecticut and sister in Pennsylvania to ask them to contact authorities.  Have them send rescue workers immediately to the center of the South Tower wreckage.

Help would finally arrive. First on the scene was a recovering drug addict and former paramedic who heard a voice calling him to Ground Zero that day.

Chuck Sereika was struggling with his recovery. He felt lost and all alone but gathered enough strength to head down to the scene of the carnage to see if he could help.

He was the first to arrive where the two Marines had found the pair of survivors: Sgt. McLoughlin and officer Jimeno.     

Sereika said he was terrified. But found the courage to crawl down the hole where the two men were trapped. As he reflects on the experience now, he says God used the weak to humble the strong, almost the exact point of today's second reading from St. James. 

Hours would pass before both men were pulled safely from the ruble.

The Jaws of Life were even needed to release Jimeno and McLoughlin from their fiery tomb.

“Ephphatha. Be released.”

           Only 18 people were rescued from the debris of the World Trade Center that day. New York Port Authority officer Will Jimeno and Sergeant John McLoughlin were two of the last three people to be extracted from the wreckage.

The miracles of Jesus were made manifest that fateful day because people heard the voice of God and were released from their fear. They were not deaf to the voice of Jesus.

Today, the Twin Towers are replaced with two shining beacons of light at night.

As we see these lights, we think of those 412 first responders who saved lives, then lost their lives in the chaos and catastrophe that day. 

As we see these lights, we think of the 2977 victims of 9/11.

The National September 11th Memorial and Museum now features two giant pools of water where the towers used to be with the names of all the victims embossed in the granite surrounding the flowing waters.

As Isaiah reminds us, “The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.”