Introduction: The common theme of today’s readings is God’s command concerning our spiritual responsibility and individual accountability for others in our families, parishes, and community. This accountability arises from our identity as God’s children. As brothers and sisters in Christ, then, we become each other’s “keepers,” and take on a painful, triple responsibility. We must lovingly and prudently correct each other when we err, forgive those who offend us, and ask forgiveness from those we have offended.
Scripture readings summarized: In the first reading, God tells Ezekiel that he is to be a “watchman for the house of Israel,” obliged to warn Israel of moral dangers. If Ezekiel should refrain from speaking God’s word given to convert the wicked, God will hold Ezekiel responsible for the death of the wicked.
In the second reading, St. Paul points out that the love we should have for one another should be our only reason for admonishing and correcting the sinner.Love seeks the good of the one who is loved. Therefore, we should admonish one another so that we all may repent and grow in holiness.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that true Christian charity obliges a Christian, not only to assist his neighbors in their temporal and spiritual needs with material help and prayer, but also to aid with correction those brothers and sisters who have damaged the community by public sin. If the erring one refuses a one-on-one, loving correction by the offended party, then the Christian is to try to involve more people: first, “one or two others,” and eventually “the Church.” Finally, Jesus mentions the efficacy of community prayer in solving such problems, for Christ is present in the praying Christian community.
Life messages: 1) We are our brother’s/sister’s keeper. Modern believers tend to think that they have no right to intervene in the private lives of their fellow believers. Others evade the issue saying, “As a sinner, I don’t have the moral courage or the right to correct anyone.” But Jesus emphatically affirms that we are our brothers’ keepers, and we have the serious obligation to correct others. We need to offer advice and encouragement to our friends, neighbors, and coworkers when it is needed, and loving correction, in private, for a personal offense where that is possible.
2) We need to gather in Jesus’ name and work miracles: Today’s Gospel reminds us of the good we can do together, and of how we can do it. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” If any group of us gather, work, and act with the Holy Spirit guiding us, we will become much more than simply the sum of our numbers. Today, Jesus makes it clear how important we are, one to another. One in Christ, our community can draw on God’s power to make His healing, life-giving love, more effective among His people.
OT XXIII [A] (Sept 10): Ez 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20
Homily starter anecdote#1: “Fraulein, will you forgive me?” Corrie ten Boom often thought back over the horrors of the Ravensbruck concentration camp. How could she ever forgive the former Nazis who had been her jailers? Where was love, acceptance, and forgiveness in a horror camp where more than 95,000 women died? How could she ever forget the horrible cruelty of the guards and the smoke constantly coming from the chimney of the crematorium? Then in 1947 Corrie was speaking in a Church in Munich, and when the meeting was over, she saw one of the most cruel male guards of Ravensbruck coming forward to speak to her. He had his hand outstretched. “I have become a Christian,” he explained. “I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?” A conflict raged in Corrie’s heart. The Spirit of God urged her to forgive. The spirit of bitterness and coldness urged her to turn away. “Jesus, help me,” she prayed. Then she knew what she must do. “I can lift my hand,” she thought to herself. “I can do that much.” As their hands met it was as if warmth and healing broke forth with tears and joy. “I forgive you, brother, with all my heart,” she said. Later Corrie testified, “it was the power of the Holy Spirit” Who had poured the love of God into her heart that day. (Garrie F. Williams, “Welcome, Holy Spirit.” Copyright (c) 1994) — I don’t know any other way true forgiveness can take place. We turn our hurt over to God. We ask God for the ability to forgive.
#2: “I must forgive”: Sister Helen Prejean, in her book Dead Man Walking, tells the real story of Lloyd LeBlanc, a Roman Catholic layman, whose son was murdered. When he arrived in the cane field with the sheriff’s deputies to identify his son David’s body, LeBlanc immediately knelt by his boy’s body and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. When he came to the words: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” he realized the depth of the commitment he was making. “Whoever did this, I must forgive them, I resolved,” he later told Sr. Prejean. LeBlanc confessed that it had been difficult not to be overcome by the bitterness and feelings of revenge that welled up from time to time, especially on David’s birthday. But for the rest of his life, forgiveness was prayed for and struggled for and won. He went to the execution of the culprit Patrick Sonnier, not for revenge but hoping for an apology. Before sitting in the electric chair Patrick Sonnier, the murderer said, “Mr. Le Blanc, I want to ask your forgiveness for what I did,” and Lloyd LeBlanc nodded his head, signaling forgiveness he had already given. — Today’s Gospel reminds us and challenges us to continue on the path to forgiveness and reconciliation.
# 3: Ancient Jewish rules on fraternal correction: Among the preserved writings of the ancient Essenes (a sect of Palestinian Judaism) is a Manual of Discipline, the rules of which governed and safeguarded the integrity and holiness of the community. One section of the manual, concerning communal correction, reads as follows: “They shall rebuke one another in truth, humility, and charity. Let no one address his companion with anger, or ill-temper, or obduracy, or with envy prompted by the spirit of wickedness. Let him not hate him but let him rebuke him on the very same day, lest he incur guilt because of him. And furthermore, let no one accuse his companion before the congregation without having first admonished him in the presence of witnesses” (1 QS 5:24-6:1). Similar guidelines regarding community discipline are found in the rabbinic writings. A consensus of scholars believes that the procedure outlined by the Matthean community in today’s Gospel may have been influenced by these earlier sources. –Today’s Gospel passage reflects the early Church’s concern for the spiritual well-being of each of its members and specifies that the responsibility for that well-being be shouldered by each believer. As with any important undertaking, the process of communal correction (vv. 15-17) will, no doubt, be exercised more justly and mercifully when it is permeated by prayer and the accompanying Divine presence. In fact, praying for those who have strayed from the truth should probably be the first (but not only) step in any spiritual rescue effort. (Sanchez Files).
Introduction: The common theme of today’s readings is the impact of our membership in the Church on our “private” lives. Being members of the Church means we belong to the single Body of Christ and form a community of brothers and sisters in Christ. We are, therefore, the “keepers” of our brothers and sisters, for each one of us is important to all the others in our Faith community. That is why we have to be meaningfully present to, and take responsibility for, other people. Inhuman behavior against defenseless people, like child-abuse, elder-abuse or spouse-abuse, is something about which we need to be really concerned, to the point of taking appropriate action to protect the victims. This individual responsibility in a Christian society includes, as today’s readings remind us, our responsibility for each other. Perhaps the most painful obligations of watchful love are fraternal correction and generosity in forgiving and forgetting injuries
Scripture readings summarized: In the first reading, God tells Ezekiel that he is to be a “watchman for the house of Israel,” obliged to warn Israel of moral dangers. If Ezekiel should refrain from speaking God’s word, intended to convert the wicked, God will hold Ezekiel responsible for the death of the wicked. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 95), urges sinners to hear God’s Voice, not to harden their hearts, and to remember that He is the One Who made us, and the Rock of our salvation. In the second reading, St. Paul points out that the love we should have for one another should be our only reason for admonishing the sinner.Love seeks the good of the one who is loved. Therefore, we should admonish one another so that we all may repent and grow in holiness. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that true Christian charity obliges a Christian not only to assist his neighbors in their temporal and spiritual needs with material help and prayer, but also with correction and counsel for an erring brother or sister who has damaged the community by his or her public sin. If the erring brother refuses a one-on-one loving correction by the offended party, then the Christian is to try to involve more people: first, “one or two others,” and eventually “the Church.” But harsh words and an aggressive attitude have no place in a Christian community. Finally, Jesus mentions the efficacy of community prayer in solving such problems, for Christ is present in the praying Christian community. The whole thrust of the passage is that we should all work towards reconciliation rather than punishment.
The first reading (Ezekiel 33:7-9) explained: In today’s first reading, the Lord God defines the role of an Old Testament prophet. The prophet is Ezekiel who was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and brought from Jerusalem to Babylon in 597 B.C., together with King Jehoiachin of Judah (Ez 1:1-3), and most of the nobles of the country. “You, son of man,” Yahweh addresses His prophet, “I have appointed you watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear Me say anything, you shall warn them for Me.” Like a watchman, the prophet exists only for the good of others, in this case, those deported with him from Israel to Babylon. He is to give them God’s words, to challenge them, and to correct them from time to time, so that if they should go wrong, the responsibility would be theirs. Here, Ezekiel gets straightforward orders from Yahweh, assigning responsibility to him and to the people, with no ifs, ands, or buts tolerated. God charges Ezekiel with the responsibility of remaining faithful to his prophetic mission, confronting the wicked with their own wickedness as the Lord God instructs him. In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls the Church to the same responsibility for confronting the sinful. Very few people in the world today would consider themselves accountable and responsible for anything that happens in the society, but the truth is that we are. For, as Christians, we are all God’s prophets, God’s representatives, God’s watchmen, set on elevated places to give warning of approaching danger to our brothers and sisters. The prophets of all times have a grave responsibility for their people’s salvation. None of us can retire from the task of being watchmen. As Ezekiel is appointed watchman over the house of Israel in today’s first Reading, so Jesus in the Gospel today establishes His disciples as guardians of the new Israel of God, the Church (see Gal 6:16). They have the power to bind and loose, to forgive sins and to reconcile sinners in His name (see Jn 20:21-23). (Scott Hann).
The second reading, (Romans 13:8-10) explained: After finishing his treatment of doctrinal questions on Christ and our relationship with him, Paul used to write an application of the doctrine to the day-to-day behavior of the congregation receiving the letter. In today’s reading, after urging the Christian converts of Rome to obey their lawful civil authorities, and after discussing the inability of the Mosaic Law to save anyone, no matter how well he may keep it, Paul adds such an application. He seems to be saying, “You still want the Law? I’ll give you the real law! Love one another. That fulfills the law.” If God is not known and loved, there can be no basis or motive for true love of neighbor. It is only the Presence of God in each human being and the recognition of others as God’s children that can form a sound basis for the love of our neighbors. In short, love is the basis of the law, and we fulfill the law by loving our neighbor. Paul reminds us that love requires that we should watch out for one another’s souls, and love specifies the way our watchful care of one another should be exercised. Mutual and self-giving love is to be the motivation which guides all rescue efforts, whether physical or spiritual.
Gospel exegesis: Today’s Gospel deals with the relationship of members of the Church to each other and highlights one of the most painful responsibilities that we have towards others, namely fraternal correction. Matthew expands a saying of Jesus, originally concerned primarily with forgiveness (compare the shorter version in Lk 17:3-4), into a four-step procedure for disciplining members in the new eschatological Community of the Church. In the seventeenth century, the great Anglican priest and poet John Donne reminded us, “No man is an island, entire unto himself.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples about relationships among members of the Church, because through Baptism we assume a serious responsibility for our fellow-believers. Suppose a son or daughter, friend or acquaintance, relative, neighbor, even parent or teacher, does “something wrong” to us, whether the sin is of commission or omission. By outlining a four-step process of confrontation, negotiation, adjudication and excommunication, Jesus tells us how to deal with and finally mend a broken relationship within the Christian fellowship.
1) Confrontation: The worst thing that we can do about a wrong done to us is to brood about it. Brooding can poison our whole mind and life, until we can think of nothing else but our sense of personal injury. We mustn’t gossip either. Hence, the first step proposed by Jesus to the one who has been wronged is that he should go to meet the offender in person, and point out lovingly, but in all seriousness, the harm he has done. This first stage is designed to let the two people concerned solve the issue between them. If it works out at that level, that is the ideal situation. “You have won back your brother.” Abraham Lincoln said that only he has the right to criticize who has the heart to help.
2) Negotiation: Suppose the first step does not resolve the situation and the person refuses to admit wrongdoing and continues the bad behavior injuring both himself as well as the one he has injured. This creates a problem, for example, among young persons, where a friend steals or shoplifts, uses drugs or drinks excessively, hangs around with a bad crowd, plans to run away, contemplates suicide or abortion, or just “goofs off” in school. Here, the second step is to take one or two other members of the Church along with the wronged person to speak to the wrongdoer and to act as confirming witnesses. The taking of the witnesses is not meant to be a way of proving to a man that he has committed an offence. It is meant to assist the process of reconciliation by emphasizing and explaining calmly the gravity of the situation. Nowadays, we call that an “intervention” and the group may also include a qualified third party – counselor, teacher, priest or physician. The Rabbis had a wise saying, “Judge not alone, for none may judge alone except God.”
3) Adjudication: If the negotiation step does not resolve the situation either, the third step is to have the whole Church or community of believers confront the wrongdoer. The case is brought to the Christian fellowship because troubles are never amicably settled by going to a civil court of law. Further, the Church provides an atmosphere of Christian prayer, Christian love and Christian fellowship in which personal relationships may be righted in the light of love and of the Gospel. Finally, in matters of honor and shame, the community is the final arbiter, for the community suffers from the wrong.
4) Excommunication: If the offender chooses to disregard the believing community’s judgment, the consequence is “excommunication.” This means that if none of the three steps has brought a resolution of the situation, then the wrongdoer should be treated like “a Gentile or a tax collector.” That is, the wrongdoer should be put out of the Church with the hope that temporary alienation alone may bring the erring person to repentance and change. The sinner is expelled because every obvious case of unrepented sin denies the Gospel’s power and the Church’s mission of reconciling sinners to God and to the community. But the excommunication should be carried out with genuine grief (1 Cor 5:2), not with vindictive glee over another’s “fall” or self-righteous pride.
Many Scripture scholars think that Jesus would not have suggested this step, and that it is a personal addition by Mathew. They wonder how this type of expulsion can be squared with Jesus’ openness to sinners, including corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes, or with the story of the Prodigal Son. But let us remember that Jesus’ reception of these people depended on their change of heart and the abandonment of their sinful ways, for only these responses enabled them to be reconciled with, and able to receive and respond to the love of God and of the community. Jesus concludes the action plan by stating that all his disciples have authority to “bind or loose,” that is, to settle conflicts and legal cases between community members. In addition, Jesus gives the assurance that when the Church community gathers in Jesus’ name, in the spirit of prayer, to hear a legal case, Jesus is there to guide and ratify the procedure.
Four requisites for fraternal correction recommended by “Doctrinal Outlines.” Four things that can make the spiritual work of mercy of “admonishing the sinner” or fraternal correction effective rather than destructive are supernatural outlook, humility, consideration, and affection. Fraternal correction is only to be given because we are convinced God wants it for the sake of the person we are correcting and those affected by him. We pray about him and for him, asking the Holy Spirit if He wants this correction made and how it should be made. That is what a supernatural outlook enables us to do. Humility is necessary because we are sinners ourselves and fail in many ways. We could just as easily have the same fault, and we certainly have other imperfections. Nevertheless, God wants us to help each other. It is also necessary to be considerate, that is, to say what we have to say in the least hurtful way possible but without beating around the bush. It is so easy to humiliate another, and no one likes being corrected. Finally, the correction should be given out of love and concern. The motive for the correction is the true good of the others, not the corrector’s own benefit. That is true affection.
The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, conclude their remarks on today’s Gospel thus: “The perspective of evangelical discipline remains that of forgiveness. A community is Christian in the measure in which all know and want themselves to be responsible for the good of each member. This concern about others’ salvation must be at the heart of every cell of the Church, especially the heart of the family. This is why charitable correction is a duty that, although, difficult, devolves on everyone.”
Life messages: 1) We are keepers of our brothers and sisters: Modern believers tend to think that they have no right to intervene in the private lives of their fellow believers; so they pay no heed to the serious obligation of encouraging an erring brother or sister to give up his or her sinful ways. Others evade the issue saying, “As a sinner, I don’t have the moral courage or the right to correcsomeone else.” But Jesus emphatically affirms that we are our brothers’ keepers, and we have the serious obligation to correct one who has injured us in order to help our neighbors retain their Christian Faith and practice, especially through our model Christian lives. Have we offered advice and encouragement to our friends and neighbors and co-workers when it was needed, and loving correction in private where that was possible? Let us admit the fact that a great part of the indifference to religion shown by our young men and women is due to lack of parental control, training, and example. If the children of Christian families grow up as practical pagans, it is mainly because the Christian Faith has meant little or nothing to their parents. It is a well-known fact that when parents are loyal to their Faith in their daily lives, their children will, as a rule, be loyal to it.
2) Gather in Jesus’ name and work miracles: Today’s Gospel reminds us of the good we can do together, and of how we can do it. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” If any group of us will gather, work, and act with the Holy Spirit guiding us, we become much more than simply the sum of our numbers. Two becomes more than two, and three becomes more than three. The sum of our individual ideas, resources, and abilities becomes much more because of the synergy that God’s Presence provides. In our Faith community, we act together so that we may help one another in God’s Name, thereby multiplying our resources and ability to do what God calls us to do. Today, Jesus makes it clear how important we are, one to another. Through our links to one another in Christ, a capacity rises in our community, enabling us to draw on God’s power to make healing and life-giving love more effective among us, His people. We come together, we stay together, we work together –- in our Lord’s Name, bringing to focus the Presence of God and unleashing the power of the Spirit –- to transform our lives and the lives of all God’s children. When we gather in Jesus’ name, the action opens our hearts to allow Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, to be a part of us and of what we do. That is what we experience at each Eucharist—we in Him and He in us.
JOKES OF THE WEEK:
# 1: A pastor preached a wonderful sermon, saying we should love our enemies. And, when he got through he asked, “Is there anybody in the audience who can truthfully say that he or she has no enemies?” An old gentleman got up right underneath the pulpit, and he said, “Father, I ain’t got no enemies.” So, the Pastor tells the congregation, “Let’s listen. This man has the secret. He can teach us something. Go ahead, sir, now tell us how we do that.” “Oh,” he said, “it ain’t hard. You see, I’ve outlived all those rascals.”
# 2) Grandma’s list: There was the grandmother celebrating her golden wedding anniversary who told the secret of her long and happy marriage. “On my wedding day, I decided to make a list of ten of my husband’s faults which, for the sake of the marriage, I would overlook.” A guest asked the woman what some of the faults she had chosen to overlook were. The grandmother replied, “To tell you the truth, I never did get around to making that list. But whenever my husband did something that made me hopping mad, I would say to myself, “Lucky for him that’s one of the ten.”
# 3: Or would you be more like the woman who was bitten by a rabid dog, and it looked as if she was going to die from rabies. The doctor told her to put her final affairs in order. So the woman took pen and paper, and began writing furiously. In fact, she wrote and wrote and wrote. Finally, the doctor said, “That sure is a long will you’re making.” She snorted, “Will, nothing! I’m making a list of all the people I’m going to bite!”
# 4: One New Year’s Eve at London’s Garrick Club, British dramatist Frederick Lonsdale was asked by Seymour Hicks to reconcile with a fellow member. The two had quarreled in the past and never restored their friendship. “You must,” Hicks said to Lonsdale. “It is very unkind to be unfriendly at such a time. Go over now and wish him a happy New Year.” So Lonsdale crossed the room and spoke to his enemy. “I wish you a happy New Year,” he said, “but only one.”
USEFUL WEBSITES OF THE WEEK (For homilies & Bible study groups) (The easiest method to visit these websites is to copy and paste the web address or URL on the Address bar of any Internet website like Google or MSN and press the Enter button of your Keyboard).
1) Fr. Nick’s collection of Sunday homilies from 65 priests & weekday homilies: https://www.catholicsermons.com/homilies/sunday_homilies
2) Fr. Don’ collection of video homilies & blogs: https://sundayprep.org/featured-homilies/ (Copy it on the Address bar and press the Enter button)
3) Fr. Geoffrey Plant’s beautiful & scholarly video classes on Sunday gospel, Bible & RCIA topics: https://www.youtube.com/user/GeoffreyPlant20663)
4) Dr. Brant Pitre’s commentary on Cycle A Sunday Scripture for Bible Class: https://catholicproductions.com/blogs/mass-readings-explained-year-Biblical basis of Catholic doctrines: http://scripturecatholic.com/
5) Agape Catholic Bible Lessons: http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/
6) Official details of all U.S: dioceses& parishes: http://www.usccb.org/dioceses.shtml
7) The New American Bible on your “desk top” for ready reference& copying: http://www.nccbuscc.org/nab/bible/
8) http://thecatholicdefender.webs.com/ (Catholic apologetics)
40 additional anecdotes
(Why do we use anecdotes in homilies? )1) Because they tell us forcefully how today’s Gospel challenged and changed the lives of people. 2) Mt 13: 34: All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable)
1) “Don’t allow them to turn you again into their prisoner!’” When Bill Clinton met Nelson Mandela for the first time, he had a question on his mind: “When you were released from prison, Mr. Mandela,” the former President said, “I woke my daughter at three o’clock in the morning. I wanted her to see this historic event.” Then President Clinton zeroed in on his question: “As you marched from the cellblock across the yard to the gate of the prison, the camera focused in on your face. I have never seen such anger, and even hatred, in any man as was expressed on your face at that time. That’s not the Nelson Mandela I know today,” said Clinton. “What was that about?” Mandela answered, “I’m surprised that you saw that, and I regret that the cameras caught my anger. As I walked across the courtyard that day, I thought to myself, ‘They’ve taken everything from you that matters. Your cause is dead. Your family is gone. Your friends have been killed. Now they’re releasing you, but there’s nothing left for you out there.’ And I hated them for what they had taken from me. Then, I sensed an inner voice saying to me, ‘Nelson! For twenty-seven years you were their prisoner, but you were always a free man! Don’t allow them to make you into a free man, only to turn you into their prisoner!’” [Tony Campolo, Let Me Tell You a Story (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000).] — You can never be free to be a whole person if you are unable to forgive. You see that, don’t you? There are many people who are imprisoned by their own anger, their own hurt, their own inability to let go of the past and move on. Here’s the other thing we need to see about forgiveness: THERE IS ONLY ONE PLACE YOU CAN FIND THE ABILITY TO FORGIVE. It is at the throne of Christ.
2) Jackie Joyner-Kersee formula: Jackie Joyner-Kersee, one of the world’s best female athletes, who holds the world record in the heptathlon, and is a three-time Olympic gold medalist, and her husband, Bobby, have a unique solution for discussing problems. Off the side of their house is an office which they’ve designated the “Mad Room.” Whenever they have a serious disagreement, Bobby and Jackie go to the “Mad Room” to discuss it. Neither is allowed to leave that room until the matter is settled. — What a great idea! This couple is committed to making certain their conflicts do not smolder and get out of hand. They understand that Jesus was right in warning us that who is right is sometimes not as important as maintaining communication.
3) “What a Friend We Have in Jesus!” There was a Church where the pastor and the minister of music were not getting along. As time went by, this began to spill over into the worship service. The first week the pastor preached on commitment and how we all should dedicate ourselves to the service of God. The music director led the song, “I Shall Not Be Moved.” The second week the pastor preached on tithing and how we all should gladly give to the work of the Lord. The director led the song, “Jesus Paid it All.” The third week the pastor preached on gossiping and how we should all watch our tongues. The music director led the song, “I Love to Tell the Story.” With all this going on, the pastor became very disgusted over the situation and the following Sunday told the congregation that he was considering resigning. The musician led the song, “O, Why Not Tonight?” As it came to pass, the pastor did indeed resign. The next week he informed the Church that it was Jesus who led him there and it was Jesus who was taking him away. The music leader led the song, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus!” — Is there anybody you have trouble getting along with? Today’s Gospel teaches how to proceed.
4) Marshall Tito and Bishop Sheen: In a little church in a small village, an altar boy serving the priest at Sunday Mass accidentally dropped the cruet of wine. The village priest struck the altar boy sharply on the cheek and in a gruff voice shouted, “Leave the altar and don’t come back.” That boy became Tito, the Communist leader. In the cathedral of a large city in another place, another altar boy serving the bishop at Sunday Mass also accidentally dropped the cruet of wine. With a warm twinkle in his eyes, the bishop gently whispered, “Someday you will be a priest.” Do you know who that boy was? Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen. — How do you deal with others who have caused problems for you? Jesus has the answer in today’s Gospel: with straight talk, due process, but most of all, with grace.
5) Childish stupidity: Here are some clippings from the national media: — In one of those good news/bad news things, school officials in Boston, mirroring a national trend, report that fighting by boys in school yards is down. Picking up the slack, unfortunately, are girls, who are resorting less to name-calling and more to punch-throwing. Equal opportunity stupidity, I guess. [The Old Farmer’s Almanac, 1998 (Dublin, NH: Yankee Publishing, Inc., 1997]. — Some years back there was a report in the press that Turkish Airlines had fired pilot Altan Tezcan and co-pilot Erdogan Gecim. It seems these two were flying 240 passengers from Bangkok to Istanbul when they got into a fist fight in the cockpit while arguing over the plane’s altitude. It’s important that we choose our battles. Endangering a plane-load of passengers by fighting over who’s right is irresponsible. — In September 1996, Mark E. Mire was convicted in Baton Rouge, La., for shooting to death a man in a bar in 1994 because the man had said Mire’s dog was ugly. My guess is that this was drunken stupidity. — A few years ago, at the Daytona 500, NASCAR legend Richard Petty was in third place going into the last lap. All at once the car in second place tried to pass the No. 1 car on the final stretch. This caused the first car to drift inside and forced the challenged driver onto the infield grass, and slightly out of control. What happened next was incredible. The offended driver pulled his car back onto the track, caught up with the leader, and forced him into the outside wall. Both vehicles came to a screeching halt. The two drivers jumped out and quickly got into an old-fashioned slugging match. In the meantime, third-place Petty cruised by for the win. [Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo, The Misfortune (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1988), pp. 125-126]. Good ol’ boy stupidity. — Wouldn’t it be great if we could take interpersonal hostility out of life? Wouldn’t it be great if we could live in peace and harmony with all people? Well, Jesus tried to help us out with this. “If your brother sins against you,” said Jesus, “Go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”
6) Why does the Church refuse to provide discipline for her members? When a sixteen-year-old stays out all night drinking, then drives home, a father disciplines him with grounding. When a student cuts class, is late with papers, and turns in inferior work, a college professor disciplines him with failing marks. When an employee is lazy and is caught pilfering company goods, his boss disciplines him by firing him. At the businessman’s club, a member who skips meetings and refuses to join in service projects is disciplined by dismissal from club membership. A Church member having an adulterous affair – what happens? Nothing. A Church member who has not attended worship in six months and has no legitimate excuse except a busy social schedule – what happens? Nothing. A pastor, hard-working and faithful, yet is being slandered by a mean-spirited and disgruntled Church member – what happens? Absolutely nothing. Indeed! The question is, why does the Church refuse to provide discipline for her members? — One reason is that we are ignorant of what the Scriptures say, verses like the text in Mt 18:15-20. We either do not know the verse, or we pass over it in disbelief. We also are afraid to discipline sin in the church because of popular verses that are taken out of context and improperly interpreted. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” “Judge not that you may not be judged.” Indeed, we surmise, how can a sinner correct a sinner? The result is, there is precious little discipline in the typical Church today. People do as they please. We forget the fact that before the Christian congregation can be salt and light, before it can reach out in service to a broken world, it needs to get its own act straightened out. That is why the bulk of Matthew’s code of discipline for Church life is packed into today’s Gospel text.
7) Albanian blood feuds: According to people who have been there, the country of Albania is one of the more challenged countries in the world. It is on the fringe of Europe, but it has none of the advantages enjoyed by Western nations. One of the reasons may be Albania’s culture of revenge. It is unlike anything seen elsewhere in the modern world. It’s common in Albania to have blood feuds which date back many generations. In each family, the men of the family bear a solemn obligation to avenge any harm done not only to their families, but also to their ancestors’ families, and this obligation is passed down to each son as soon as he reaches an age of responsibility. If one man kills another man, the family of the victim is required to seek vengeance on any male members of the killer’s family, even decades later if necessary. James Pettifer, author of the Blue Guide to Albania, reports that there are “some 2,000 blood feuds going on in Albania and that as many as 60,000 people are involved.” [Rourke, P.J. Eat the Rich (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998), p. 52]. — What a tragic loss of life! An integral part of the Christian ethic is forgiveness. Our Lord taught us that, before we can be forgiven, we must forgive others. This emphasis on forgiveness distinguishes us from every other religion on earth. Imagine how different our world would be today if, after the Second World War, people living in Allied countries had not forgiven the peoples of —
8) “He is a camel thief.” Many years ago, Colonel Jeff O’Leary served as part of the UN peacekeeping forces in the Sinai Peninsula region. While there, he encountered a number of Bedouins, a nomadic people who travel this desert region. One afternoon, Colonel O’Leary had tea with a group of Bedouin men. Colonel O’Leary couldn’t help but notice that his host kept staring at a man who was tending his camels. The host pointed out the man and hissed at Colonel O’Leary, “Do you see that man? He is a camel thief.” Colonel O’Leary wanted to know why his host would hire a camel thief to tend his camels, so he began asking questions. Turns out that, in his host’s eyes, this man was a camel thief because he came from a family of camel thieves. Why were they a family of camel thieves? Because one of their ancestors had once stolen some camels from this man’s family. “How long ago?” O’Leary asked. “Eight hundred years ago,” the Bedouin host replied. — For eight hundred years, the host’s family and this man’s family had hated each other, because one man had stolen the other man’s camels. For eight hundred years, the host’s family had passed down the story of the camel thief. Forgiveness was not an option for them. In the Bedouin host’s mind, the crime was just as horrible as if it had occurred yesterday, and this man was just as much a thief as his ancestor who had actually stolen the camels. [Colonel Jeff O’Leary, Taking the High Ground (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 2001), pp. 240-241] Imagine how difficult it would be to build a better world if all the peoples of the world operated on this same principle.
9) Born Again: Most of us are familiar with Chuck Colson’s role as hatchet man for Richard Nixon in the days before Watergate. A few of us have perhaps read his moving book, Born Again. In it, he tells of those days of pain and humiliation that have become a regrettable part of our national legacy. On the evening before Colson pleaded guilty to charges of obstructing justice, three men joined him at home, staying until well into the night: ex-Senator Harold Hughes; former Texas congressman Graham Purcell; and lay worker, Douglas Coe. They were not there to give Colson legal or professional support. They were there to pray with him and to give him the moral and spiritual strength to do what he knew was right. — Their prayers did not prevent Colson’s incarceration, but those prayers did enable him to come through his prison ordeal a wiser and better man and to touch many lives in a positive manner along the way. What a grand opportunity Christ has given us! That is why it is so important to maintain harmony among believers. There is much power in a Church that is united. That is the crowning conclusion to this passage. “For where two or more are gathered in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.”
10) “‘My goodness, God has a long reach.’ I mean, in the Lucky’s Supermarket on a Sunday morning.” The Washington Times carried a story not long ago about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. According to this newspaper article, Dr. Rice once described to a Sunday school class at National Presbyterian Church in Washington, how she had drifted from her Christian Faith and how God reached out and brought her back: “I was a preacher’s kid,” says Dr. Rice, “so Sundays were Church, no doubt about that. The Church was the center of our lives.” In segregated black Birmingham of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Church was not just a place of worship. It was the place where families gathered; it was the social center of the community, too. “Although I never doubted the existence of God,” Dr. Rice continues, “I think, like all people, I’ve had some ups and downs in my Faith. When I first moved to California in 1981 to join the faculty at Stanford, there were a lot of years when I was not attending Church regularly. I was traveling a lot. I was a specialist in international politics, so I was always traveling abroad. I was always in another time zone. One Sunday I was in the Lucky’s Supermarket not very far from my house, I will never forget, among the spices, and an African-American man walked up to me and said he was buying some things for his Church picnic. And he said, ‘Do you play the piano by any chance?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ They said they were looking for someone to play the piano at Church. It was a little African-American church right in the center of Palo Alto. A Baptist church. So I started playing for that Church. That got me regularly back into Churchgoing. I don’t play Gospel very well; I play Brahms. And you know how black ministers will start a song and the musicians will pick it up? I had no idea what I was doing, and so I called my mother, who had played for Baptist churches. ‘’Mother,’ I said, ‘they just start. How am I supposed to do this?’ She said, ‘Honey, play in C and they’ll come back to you.’ And that’s true,” says Dr. Rice, “If you play in C, people will come back. I tell that story,” she goes on, “because I thought to myself, ‘My goodness, God has a long reach!’ I mean, in the Lucky’s Supermarket on a Sunday morning.!” (http://www.ehpchurch.org/folder/070404.html.) — You see, a black pastor had approached someone else in Jesus’ name, and Christ was there in Lucky’s Supermarket. We are not alone. This is where we find strength for the journey. Our Lord has given us an incredible promise: “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” He’s been here today. Now take Him to everyone you meet.
11) “When did this happen?” Christian author Jill Briscoe was counseling a woman who also was dealing with a great load of emotional pain. In the course of their conversation, the woman blurted out, “My husband abused me.” Slowly, she shared the painful details of her suffering. Yet as Jill listened, she noticed no marks on the woman that would indicate the horrible abuse she had endured. Finally, she asked the woman, “When did this happen?” And the woman replied, “Twenty years ago.” — Twenty years ago! I don’t want to seem insensitive, but friends, it is time for that woman to let go and move on. Because she had never healed emotionally from the abusive relationship, the pain was still just as intense in her mind as on the day he first hit her. Until she could work through her pain and forgive her ex-husband, this woman would continue to relive her pain and fear. [Jill Briscoe, Heartstrings (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1997), pp.45-46]. Dr. Michael Brickley, a psychologist who studies successful aging in our culture, claims that most centenarians (people who make it to 100 years old), or more, have learned to get rid of “emotional baggage” from the past. Old hurts, past failures, unfinished business, unresolved relationships, regret — centenarians learn how to process these issues in a healthy manner and let them go. [Michael Brickley, “The Extended Life: Four Strategies for Healthy Longevity,” The Futurist (Sept.-Oct. 2001), p. 55.]
12) “There are no fish under the ice.” A drunk decides to go ice fishing, so he gathers his gear and goes walking around until he finds a big patch of ice. He heads into the center of the ice and begins to saw a hole. All of sudden, a loud booming voice comes out of the sky. “You will find no fish under that ice.” The drunk looks around, but sees no one. He starts sawing again. Once more, the voice speaks. “As I said before, there are no fish under the ice.” The drunk looks all around, high and low, but can’t see a single soul. He picks up the saw and tries one more time to finish. Before he can even start cutting, the huge voice interrupts. “I have warned you three times now. This is not a lake and there are no fish!” The drunk is now flustered and somewhat scared, so he asks the voice, “How do you know there are no fish? Are you God trying to warn me?” “No,” the voice replied. “I am the manager of this ice hockey rink!” — Today’s readings are about correcting our brothers and sisters with loving concern for the temporal and spiritual welfare of the community.
13)“Let us have harmony!” More than thirty years ago, a brief story appeared in Reader’s Digest about a town in Minnesota that got its name in a strange way. When the community was first settled, it had no name. People began to move to the area, and soon the townspeople called a meeting to choose a name for their town. Many suggestions were made, but they couldn’t agree on the name. The discussion soon became heated and quarrelsome. One man in attendance that night became so disgusted by the way things were going that he jumped up, pounded on the table with his fist, and shouted, “Let us have harmony!” Someone present suddenly seized the idea and shouted back, “Yes! Let’s have harmony!” And the town got its name: Harmony, Minnesota. —
Harmony is a wonderful thing to have in a community, a family or a church. If harmony is going to take place, someone has to heed Jesus’ advice for reconciliation as given in today’s Gospel.
14) No Yankee, nor Sherman: Just a few years back, a man in Hardeeville, South Carolina went down to the Jasper County Courthouse. There he filed a deed restriction. The restriction barred the sale of any part of his 1,688-acre plantation to anyone north of the Mason-Dixon Line or anyone named Sherman. It seems that more than a century before, General William T. Sherman’s troops burned every building on this man’s property and Mr. Ingram vowed never to let his plantation fall into Yankee hands again. (Great Stories, Oct.-Dec., 1998, p. 6). — Now there’s a man who knows how to hold a grudge! Unfortunately, he’s not alone.
15) “Dad, I just came over to tell you that I love you.” In one of the popular Chicken Soup volumes, Dennis E. Mannering tells about an assignment he once gave to a class he teaches for adults. He told them, “Go to someone you love, and tell them that you love them.” At the beginning of the next class, one of the students began by saying, “I was angry with you last week when you gave us this assignment. I didn’t feel I had anyone to say those words to. But as I began driving home my conscience started talking. Then I knew exactly who I needed to say ‘I love you’ to. Five years ago, my father and I had a vicious disagreement and never really resolved it. We avoided seeing each other unless we absolutely had to at family gatherings. We hardly spoke. So, by the time I got home, I had convinced myself I was going to tell my father I loved him. Just making that decision seemed to lift a heavy load off my chest. At 5:30, I was at my parents’ house ringing the doorbell, praying that Dad would answer the door. I was afraid if Mom answered, I would chicken out and tell her instead. But as luck would have it, Dad did answer the door. I didn’t waste any time. I took one step in the door and said, ‘Dad, I just came over to tell you that I love you.’ It was as if a transformation came over my dad. Before my eyes his face softened, the wrinkles seemed to disappear and he began to cry. He reached out. But that’s not even my point. Two days after that visit, my dad had a heart attack. So my message to all of you is this: Don’t wait to do the things you know need to be done. What if I had waited to tell my dad? Take the time to do what you need to do and do it now!” (“Do It Now!” Condensed Chicken Soup for Souls, Copyright 1996 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen & Patty Hansen.). — That’s the advice that Jesus would give us. People hurt us, sometimes intentionally, sometimes without meaning to. But sometimes who is in the right and who is in the wrong is not as important as finding a common ground where the relationship can be maintained. Sometimes that means that we have to take the first step, even though we know that the other person is in the wrong. And the best time to take that step is today!
16) “I have no enemies. I shot them all.” When the great nineteenth-century Spanish General, Ramon Narvaez, lay dying in Madrid, a priest was called in to give him last rites. “Have you forgiven your enemies?” the padre asked. “Father,” confessed Narvaez, “I have no enemies. I shot them all.” — Too often that is the story of our lives, and Jesus knows it. It was General Philip Sheridan who gave us the striking reflection in 1869, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Post-9/11 there were many voices that seemed to echo his advice in the new and painful context.
17) We’ve all heard of Gilbert and Sullivan, the dynamic duo of the stage. They created fun-filled musicals and light operas a generation ago, giving high school drama departments and community theaters plenty of material to dazzle and delight. Their names always appeared in tandem on the programs: Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore; Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience; Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado; Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. It was as if they were a married couple. Indeed, much of their career felt like that. It was only right that their names be wedded together in common speech. At the height of their success, they even purchased a theater together so that they could exert full creative control over their new works. Then came the nasty disagreement. Sullivan ordered the installation of new carpets. But when the bill arrived, Gilbert hit the roof at the cost and refused to share in payment. They argued and fought about it, and finally took the case to court. A legal judgment settled the claim, but it did nothing to heal the breach between them. These grown men never spoke to one another again as long as they lived. When Sullivan wrote the music for a new production he would mail it to Gilbert. Then, when Gilbert finished the libretto, he would post it back to Sullivan again. Gilbert quarantined Sullivan in the prison of his mind, and Sullivan banished Gilbert from his social continent. Eventually, they each became warders for the prison of the other. — Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are very pertinent. We are social creatures who cannot live in isolation. Yet, because of the sin and stupidity that trouble our human condition, we do not live well with those around us. That is why the German philosopher, Schopenhauer, compared us to porcupines trying to nest together on a cold winter’s night.
18) “Not bad for a small Church like ours. Not bad.” Our text for the morning reminds me of a story of a pastor in a drought-stricken part of the South who implored his people to begin praying for rain. In fact, he asked each member of the Church to join in a prayer vigil that would continue day and night until God granted their request. Never had there been a greater sense of urgency in that Church than was revealed over the next few days. At any hour, one might pass that small rural church and find the lights on and someone at the altar praying. Finally, late Wednesday evening, some dark clouds began to roll in. Soon rain began falling in torrents. For four straight days it rained without ceasing. The creeks began overflowing their banks. It became necessary to evacuate persons from their homes. Still the water kept rising. The entire community was now under water. As rescue workers made their way in a boat through the perilous floodwater evacuating the last reluctant stragglers, one of the boats passed that little country Church, now almost completely submerged. Here sat the pastor on the roof of the Church with a look of grand satisfaction on his face. He could be heard saying to himself as he surveyed the flood waters around him, “Not bad for a small Church like ours! Not bad!” — Jesus said, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in Heaven.” That is a stunning endorsement of corporate prayer. It is important that we pray, but it is even more important that we pray together. We are a community. Better yet, we are a family.
20) ‘Then I can live without my legs.” Roy A. Burkhart told this story. Once a boy went out of his home to do something that his parents felt was wrong. He was involved in an accident and lost both legs. It was a terrible blow, but the father told me one of the most beautiful stories I have ever heard. He said, “When his mother and I saw him in the hospital cot lying there aware that he had lost both legs, he said, ‘Will you forgive me?’ We both ran up and hugged him and said, ‘Of course; we have already forgiven you.’ And he answered, ‘Then I can live without my legs.’ ”
21) “Won’t you tell him so yourself?“ Wilhelmina Schroder, a famous actress and singer, was already past her prime. One day she was traveling from Hamburg to Frankfurt in a first-class carriage. The conversation turned on herself. A lady declared that Ms. Schroder’s voice had much gone off, her future as a star was over. She had gone as podgy as a fatted goose. A gentleman beside her, overhearing this criticism, suggested with a smile: “You can say that to the singer herself because she happens to be sitting opposite to you.” The lady paled and stammered a string of apologies. At last, she came upon a saving excuse. “My stupid remarks madam”, she said to the actress, “are certainly the fault of the journalist in the evening paper. One can never trust in his poisonous theatre reviews. A dreadful man that journalist!” The actress replied sweetly: “Won’t you tell him so yourself? He is sitting right beside you.” — Jesus advises us in today’s Gospel to correct our erring brother or sister with forging love. (Pierre Lefevre –One Hundred Stories to Change your Life; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
22) Praying together: In 1868, Susan B. Anthony and her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton persuaded a Congressman to introduce an amendment to grant voting rights to American Women. Although their efforts failed at the time, they began the Women’s Suffrage Movement, which gradually gained momentum until the 19th Amendment was finally passed in 1920. Today we see the results of the revolution Susan and Elizabeth began as more and more women not only decide political elections with their votes, but also participate in them as candidates themselves. Other examples of two or three people getting together to initiate significant change include: Ralph Nader and consumer advocate groups, and MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers). — Jesus presents his own pressure group version in today’s Gospel and he does it in the context of prayer. “If two or three of you join your voices on earth to pray for anything whatever, it shall be granted you by my Father in Heaven. Where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I in their midst.” (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
23) Long Walk to Freedom: In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela describes his long years of imprisonment on Robben Island. He tells how one day he was called to the main office. General Steyn was visiting the Islands and wanted to know from Mandela if the other prisoners had any complaints. Badenhorst, the officer in command of the island, was also present. Now Badenhorst was feared and hated by the prisoners. In a calm, but forceful and truthful manner, Mandela informed the visitor about the chief complaints of the prisoners. But he did so without bitterness or recriminations. The general duly took notice of what he had to say, which amounted to a damning indictment of Badenhorst’s regime. The following day Badenhorst went to Mandela and said, “I’m leaving the Island. I just want to wish you people good luck.” The remark left Mandela dumbfounded. — Mandela says that he thought of the incident for a long time afterwards. Badenhorst was perhaps the most callous and barbaric commanding officer they had had on the Island. But that incident revealed that there was another side to his nature, a side that had been obscured but that still existed. And Mandela concludes, “It is a useful reminder that all men, even the seemingly cold-blooded, have a core of decency, and that if their hearts are touched, they are capable of changing. (Flor McCarthy in New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
24) Two or three, bound or free! A couple was constantly quarrelling for the flimsiest of reasons. Once, after a heated argument with his wife, the man shouted, “Why can’t we live peacefully like our two dogs who never fight?” “No, they don’t,” agreed his wife; and added, “but bind them together as we’re bound, and see what happens!” — When two or three individuals are bound – as in matrimony or in family – conflicts inevitably arise. Today’s readings instruct us about conflict-resolution. Like the husband and wife perpetually on the warpath, it’s not easy to live in family and community. A bachelor friend once remarked, “It’s better to be alone than in the best of company!” But, Jesus says, “If two of you agree about anything they ask, it will be done by my Father in Heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.” Jesus stresses community indicated by the use of two or three. (Francis Gonsalves in Sunday Seeds for Gospel Deeds; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
25) Mrs. O’Neil’s Test: Jerome Weidman, author of the book Hand of the Hunter, was involved in such a situation as a boy. He said that about 30 years ago he was attending a public school on New York’s lower East Side. He had a third-grade arithmetic teacher named Mrs. O’Neill. One day she gave her class a test. When she was grading the papers, she noticed that 12 boys had given the same unusual wrong answer to the same question. The next day she asked the 12 boys to remain after the dismissal bell. Then, without accusing any of them, she wrote 21 words on the board. They read: “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.” Then she wrote the name of the man who said them: Thomas Babington Macaulay. — Weidman wrote: “I don’t know about the other 11 boys. Speaking for the only one of the dozen with whom I am on intimate terms, I can say this: it was the most important single lesson of my life.” (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
26) Putting Despair on Film: In Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, one of the most haunting scenes shows Judas as he gives into despair. It is the morning of Good Friday, and Judas has spent the night being tortured with regret for his betrayal. His years of hidden sins have finally led him down a path of hopelessness and despair. Of course, even then Jesus would have forgiven him, if he had just asked for forgiveness. But his deep selfish habits have put him under the devil’s power, and he can’t seem to shake himself loose. He finds himself outside the walls of Jerusalem, alone with his anguish. Then he notices something on the ground nearby and turns towards it. It is a dead donkey. The carcass is rotting, foul, and crawling with worms and maggots. At that point, in the film, Judas begins to weep, and then he hangs himself from a nearby tree. It was a difficult scene to film, because showing utter despair is not an easy thing to do. They did a lot of takes, but couldn’t get it quite right. Then Mel Gibson gave the following instruction to the actor playing Judas: “When you see that rotting donkey carcass, you have to think to yourself: ‘My soul is in worse condition than that.’” The very next take was perfect: the look of despair and hopelessness, the tears – it all flowed just right. — That’s a perfect image for sin. Sin causes death in the soul. It corrodes the human heart, poisons relationships – especially our relationship with God – and distorts our true self. That’s why Jesus is so insistent about not ignoring it. (E- Priest).
27) “Your color like mine is green.” On a busy corner in New York City a burly, Irish cop is directing traffic. He notices that a fellow crosses the street at the orange caution light. The traffic cop stops him. He discovers he is a fellow Irishman. Gently he says, “Your color like mine is green.” The perp gets back on the curb. The light turns green. The man walks across. As he passes him, the cop says with a smile, “We don’t give an Orangeman a chance around here.” (Arthur Tonne). — The cop has much to teach us. He was not humiliating the pedestrian. Rather, he was emphasizing gently but firmly that he must cross on the green and not in between. He did not make a Federal case out of the incident. He surrounded his reprimand with such good humor the guilty party could not fault it. The cop didn’t find a fault; he found a remedy. His intent was not to win a battle but to win over the offender. The cop believed that society is improved one life at a time. (Homilies.net). Today’s Gospel teaches us how to make fraternal correction.
28) Film –The Devil’s Advocate: When a talented small-town Southern lawyer, Kevin Lomax, discovers his client is guilty, he goes to the restroom to compose himself. He returns to the courtroom, humiliates the prosecution’s young witness and emerges victorious. Soon after, he is offered an opportunity to join a prestigious firm in New York. His wife is uncertain about the move and his very religious mother is against it, but he joins and strange things happen in New York. Kevin’s wife is lonely and hallucinates, Kevin’s confidence in his work begins to falter, he is attracted to a female lawyer, and his relation with his wife suffers. He gets a wealthy but guilty businessman acquitted of murder charges. Kevin’s wife claims that she has been assaulted by John Milton the company’s head. When Kevin confronts Milton, he discovers that Milton is the devil incarnate who offers Kevin the world and the opportunity to sire an Antichrist. Milton reveals that Kevin is actually his son, and Kevin puts a gun to his head and pulls the trigger. … Suddenly, Kevin is back in the restroom where he had gone to plan the next move for his guilty client. He decides to do the right and noble thing – to discontinue defending the client, knowing that he will be disbarred. But as he leaves the courtroom, a journalist asks Kevin for an interview that will make him a celebrity. — The Devil’s Advocate deals explicitly with sin, and the screenplay raises themes of God, the devil, salvation, damnation, and free-will. The film is about choices people have to make to live an upright life with all its challenges, or to live an easy life that leads to doom. Jesus, in today’s Gospel, reminds us that we have to make a choice for God or for the Satan. The way of the devil is attractive and comfortable. The way of the Messiah is the way of the Cross, hard, challenging but in the end fulfilling.
(Peter Malone in Lights Camera…Faith! Quoted by Fr. Botelho)
29) It wasn’t easy…To play the role of a leader, a prophet, is never easy and entails readiness to face hardship and suffering. Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison or ten thousand days approximately. Before that he was on the run for a couple of years. Of the years he was on the run, he wrote later in the Long Walk to Freedom: “It wasn’t easy for me to separate myself from my wife and children, to say good-bye to the good old days when, at the end of a strenuous day at the office, I could look forward to joining my family at the dinner table, and instead take up the life of a man hunted continuously by the police, living separated from those who are closest to me, facing continually the hazards of detention and arrest. This was a life infinitely more difficult than serving a prison sentence.”
(Flor McCarthy in New Sunday and Holy Day Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
30) Losing to gain: In the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, 16-year-old Mary Lou Retton became the first American girl to win a gold medal in gymnastics. To accomplish this extraordinary feat, she had to make many sacrifices during her two-year period of intense training prior to the Olympics. While other teenagers were enjoying themselves with a full schedule of dating and dancing, Mary Lou Retton could only participate on a very limited basis. To improve her skills she had to practice long hours in the gym; to nourish her body properly she had to follow a strict diet, and to increase her confidence she had to compete frequently in meets. But what Mary Lou Retton gave up in terms of good times and junk food was little compared to what she gained in self-satisfaction and public acclaim when she won her Olympic gold medal. What she lost in the usual social life of a teenager she found in the special setting of becoming a champion gymnast -acceptance, camaraderie and respect.– Mary Lou Retton’s Olympic experience illustrates Christ’s paradox in today’s Scriptures. (Quoted by Fr. Botelho).
31) Heroes who realized the responsibility each one of us has regarding the spiritual welfare and salvation of others: Every once in a while, the daily gloomy reporting of the world’s violence, wars, hatred and inhumanity is pierced by an account of selfless courage and altruism. One such account featured the heroism of Lenny Skutnik, an erstwhile meat-packer, house painter, factory worker and short-order cook. A heavy storm had blanketed Washington D.C. on the afternoon of January 13, 1982. Skutnik was making his evening commute to his home in Virginia when Air Florida, Flight 90 struck the 14th Street Bridge and plunged into the Potomac River shortly after taking off from National Airport. Hundreds of horrified commuters stood on the river’s banks while rescue efforts were attempted by helicopter. When Skutnik made his way to the shore, he found the plane, partially submerged with several passengers clinging to the wreckage. Without hesitation, he jumped into the icy waters and managed to save one of the passengers, a woman. Seventy-eight other passengers perished. Later, when interviewed about his heroic efforts, Skutnik said simply, “Nobody else was doing anything. It was the only way.” Similar accounts of heroism tell of people rushing into buildings, engulfed in fire, in order to save the life of another. One report told of a mother who repeatedly returned to her burning home, and although her injuries soon proved to be fatal ones, she succeeded in saving all six of her children. Soldiers can recount comparable incidents of bravery. The Portland Oregonian newspaper carried this story from the Vietnam War. Several soldiers were together in a trench when a live grenade was thrown in among them. Within an instant, one soldier threw his body on the grenade and muffled the explosion which took his life, but saved all of the others with him. Even as I write these words, there are people risking their lives for others; rescuers are wading chest-deep in the alligator and snake infested muck of the Florida Everglades, searching for possible survivors of a recent plane crash. In each of these reports of courage and selflessness, the heroes and/or heroines have chosen to put themselves at risk for the well-being and safety of another. — In a sense, believers are proffered a similar challenge in today’s readings. Both the first reading (Ezekiel) and the Gospel (Matthew) are concerned with the responsibility each one of us has regarding the spiritual welfare and salvation of others. (Patricia Datchuck Sánchez).
32) Correct with your life! A man approached St. Francis of Assisi and asked him, “Brother Francis, I am in a quandary. In the Bible, it says we should rebuke sinners, but I see people sinning all the time. I don’t feel like I should go around rebuking everybody.” St. Francis then said, “What you must do is to live in such a way that your life rebukes the sinner– How you act will call others to repentance.” (Johnson V. in The Sunday Liturgy)
33) “Don’t you know there is a smoking car up ahead?” The story is told of a lady who was having a pleasant journey travelling by train from New York to Philadelphia as there was only one more passenger besides her. But her joy was short-lived when the man lit a cigar and started smoking. The lady deliberately coughed and made an unpleasant face. Nothing worked. He continued to smoke. Then she blurted out: “You might be a foreigner. Don’t you know there is a smoking car up ahead? Smoking is prohibited here.” The man quietly put out the cigar and maintained his equanimity. When the conductor came to check the tickets, the lady realized with horror that her co-passenger was the famous General Ulysses Grant. She had boarded his private car by mistake. — As the lady made a hasty exit, the General did not even look her way so as not to embarrass her. He turned his head and smiled only after the lady was out of sight. (Anonymous)
34) Moving beyond the argument: Having an argument with someone we love is not unusual. We all experience rifts of various degrees with family and friends. There are times when we all act insensitively and say hurtful things. The question is how we deal with those arguments and heal those rifts.
In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal (July 15, 2014), reporter Elizabeth Bernstein spoke with psychologists, therapists and counselors about how to best make up after an argument. One psychologist summarized the process this way: “You don’t want to avoid [conflict]. You want to manage it.” How? The Journal article outlines five steps: First: Wait to talk. Give time for both of you to calm down. If one side is still “hot,” the other’s apology will only escalate the argument. Second: Give up the idea of being right. Remember that each of you believes that you are right and the other is in the wrong. Focus instead on each other’s feelings. Third: Verbalize your understanding of how the other person feels: “I understand that you are hurt because . . . “ And ask if you are correct. Fourth: Quash the impulse to defend yourself. If you apologize and the other person says, “Yes, you behaved badly,” just nod your head. Explain to the other that you really care about him or her and that you are willing to modify your behavior. Fifth: Accept the fact that it will take a while to feel better. Care enough to check in later. If each of you shows the other that you really care, the larger issues will resolve themselves. And never use the word “but” in an apology. “I’m sorry, but . . . ” undermines the entire purpose of apologizing. — The point of both The Wall Street Journal article and today’s Gospel is that reconciliation takes determined and focused work. Elizabeth Bernstein offers several insights into healing a rift between family members and friends; Jesus outlines a process for reconciling a conflict within a community. (Connections).
35) Tribal reconciliation: One summer evening after a festal hour of singing and dancing the whole tribe sat around the chieftain. He began to speak to them: “If you have quarreled with a brother and you have decided to kill him,” as he spoke he looked directly at the one of the group, “first sit down, fill your pipe and smoke it. When you have finished smoking you will realize that death is too severe a punishment for your enemy for the fault he has committed, and you decide to give a good whipping instead. Then you fill your pipe a second time and smoke it to the bottom. By then you feel that the lashes will be too much and instead some simple words of reproof would be sufficient. Then when the third time you have filled your pipe and smoked it to the finish, you will be better convinced that the better thing to do is going to that brother and embrace him.” (Fr. Lakra)
36) Sisterly correction from the best friend: I love Margot Fonteyn’s autobiography, written with the fluency that distinguishes her dancing. The famous English ballerina narrates an incident in which she experienced a sisterly correction from her best friend, Pamela May (cf. Margot Fonteyn: Her Own Best Selling Autobiography, London: Wyndham Publications Ltd., 1976, p. 98-99). Pamela May was away from the ballet for quite a while having a baby. June Brae, the other member of our ‘triptych’, had met David Breeden at Cambridge at the same time that I met Tito and Pamela met Painton. June and David married early in the war, and their daughter was born soon after Pamela’s son. I seemed to be the odd girl out. Alone in No. 1 dressing room, without my closest friends, I developed a star complex, and for a time I was really impossible, imagining that I was different from, and superior to, those around me. Then Pamela came to see us. It was soon after she had been widowed. Completely broken up by her loss and living as she did facing up to stark reality, she was in no mood to put up with my fanciful airs. She told me outright that I had become a bore. Thinking it over, I decided that I far preferred the company of my friends to the isolated pinnacle implied by the title “Prima Ballerina Assoluta,” which I had been trying to reach, so I climbed down. As a matter of fact, it had been partly the fault of what I call false friends – those who, with the best will, and believing themselves your warmest admirers, unwittingly destroy you with such talk as: “People didn’t realize how great you are”; “You are the greatest ballerina alive; people should fall back in awe when you leave the stage door”; “You should be treated like a queen.” All of which is, of course, rubbish. (Lectio Divina).
37) U. S. Catholics must be sentinel prophets: The following excerpt from the document, “The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”, issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 2007, illustrates what it means to be a “sentinel prophet” in the world today. The Bishops speak out against the sinful situations of the society and at the same time offer guidelines toward a well-formed conscience that is in consonance with truth. “Our nation faces political challenges that demand urgent moral choices. We are a nation at war, with all of its human costs; a country often divided by race and ethnicity; a nation of immigrants struggling with immigration. We are an affluent society where too many live in poverty; part of a global community confronting terrorism and facing urgent threats to our environment; a culture built on families, where some now question the value of marriage and family life. We pride ourselves on supporting human rights, but we fail even to protect the fundamental right to life, especially for unborn children. We bishops seek to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with the truth, so they can make sound moral choices in addressing these challenges. We do not tell Catholics how to vote. The responsibility to make political choices rests in each person and his or her properly formed conscience.”…” In light of Catholic teaching, as bishops we rigorously repeat our call for a renewed politics that focuses on moral principles, the defense of life, the needs of the weak, and the pursuit of the common good. This kind of political participation reflects the social teachings of our Church and the best traditions of our nation.”
38) “But I have many more bridges to build.” The following beautiful story, “The Carpenter”, circulated through the internet, gives a glimpse on how to promote mutual and forgiving love in our community. Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side-by-side, sharing machinery and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.
Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference and finally, it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence. One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days’ work”, he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help with? Could I help you? “Yes”, said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor. In fact, it’s my younger brother! Last week there was meadow between us. He recently took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll do him one better. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence, an 8-foot fence – so I won’t need to see his place or his face anymore.” The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.” The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day – measuring, sawing and nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide; his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge! A bridge that stretched from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, handrails and all! And the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming toward him, his hand outstretched. “You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.” The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox onto his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you”, said the older brother. “I’d love to stay on”, the carpenter said, “but I have many more bridges to build.”(Lectio Divina).
39) Public Wants or Public Needs? Playwrights for stage, screen and television can’t people their dramas with saints only. Human beings are sinners as well as saints or a mixture of both. Trouble is the professional theater is a business as well as an art; so when show business is slow, producers are always tempted to “give the public what it wants”: to glamorize sin. This, of course, is irresponsible. It is cashing in on the weaknesses of one’s neighbor. Some theatrical people go along with such trends, but the really great actors and actresses will usually refuse. They have too much respect for their art to allow it to become an agent of human corruption. Take, for instance, one of America’s theatrical “greats,” our original “Peter Pan” – Maude Adams (1872-1953). Here is what she said: “If a play and the acting call out unhealthy emotions and lead us to believe they are normal or customary, the theater serves no good purpose.” Aristotle, the famous philosopher of ancient Greece, who wrote a whole book on the aims of drama, would have agreed. So does today’s second reading: “…Love never does any wrong to the neighbor”. (Rom 13:10) (Father Robert F. McNamara).
40) I heard a country song the other day entitled, “Anyway.” It reminded me of something I’ve used for years. It goes like this:
People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered,
Love them anyway.
If you are good, people will accuse you of ulterior motives,
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable,
Be honest and frank anyway.
People really need help, but may attack you if you help them,
Help them anyway.
In the final analysis, it’s between you and God,
It was never between you and them anyway.(Rev. Dr. J. Howard Olds) L/23
“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle A (No. 50) by Fr. Tony: firstname.lastname@example.org