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This Week's Homily Fr. Joseph Norris

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19th Sunday in Ordered Time (Cycle C - The Gospel)

August 5, 2004

Are you a fool? Let me repeat that statement. Are you a fool? Listen to the following story, then decide if you are a fool or not.

"A certain king kept a fool or jester in his house as  great men did in olden times for their amusement. This king gave a staff to his fool and told him to keep it until he met a greater fool than himself; and if he met such a person, a greater fool, he should give him the staff.

Not many years after, the king fell sick. His jester came to see him and was told of the illness of his master. The fool asked, "And where will you go?"

"On a Long journey," said the king.

"And when will you come back again," asked the fool, "within a month?"

"No," said the master.

"Within a year?" asked the fool.

"No, never ," responded the master.

"And what provisions have you made for your long journey?" asked the fool.

"None at all," replied the master.

"You mean you are dying, going away forever," said the fool, "and you have made no provisions before your departure? No plans, no nothing? Here, take my staff for I am not guilty of any such folly as that. You are a greater fool than I am."
Are you like the master, a fool, because you have not planned for your last journey? That is a harsh statement, but such a statement is called for as our gospel today speaks about being ready for the coming of Christ.

"Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like people waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master find them watching when he comes. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."

Jesus is reminding us that we are accountable to Him for the faith lives which we live. Our Lord challenges us to be faithful at all times as we walk our journey of trusting in Him. Our faith is not something which we turn on and off, but something which is always prevalent in our lives. Jesus wants us to be accountable in our faithfulness.
For example, A friend of mine most summers worked for his father in the factory he managed. The plant made a quick drying cement, and his job was to fold the boxes that they put the cement in. These boxes would come from the box factory folded up, and he would have to unfold them, put in the bottoms and the fold the tops together, and then insert a plastic liner in the box. His father wanted him to do the boxes, because he hoped he would be able to keep at that tedious job.

His father would pop in several times during the day to see how he was doing. He was in a big room and had to fill a large bin with these boxes and it was very easy to become bored. It was easy to look out the window, or watch what the other men were doing, but he also knew that his father would come and he needed to be folding those boxes. With his father periodically dropping in kept him accountable. By the end of the summer, he told me he could fold those boxes in his sleep.

He was faithful to his task and in the same way, Jesusí unanticipated and sudden coming keeps us motivated or conscientious. We do not see this coming so much as a threat, and yet because it is sudden it motivates us to be ready for Him inasmuch as we want our faithfulness to please him.

This faithfulness is based on the promises of God as we find them in Sacred Scriptures, as seen in the Old Testament lesson where God promised Abraham that he would have a descendant and through that descendant, his offspring would be as numerous as the sands on the seashore or the stars in the sky. Abraham trusted in the promise of God even though at the age of 100 he had no son, no offspring, but he had confidence in Godís word.

Abraham believed in the very promises of God and they came true. This is no easy circumstance having reliance in something as intangible as a promise . But Abraham did and we are asked to have the same kind of reliance in the promises as we see in the Sacred Scriptures and the teachings of the Church. The gospel is indeed a promise for our lives in which we are asked to believe. 

Far away in a lonely desert stands a water pump in the sand. You are a solitary traveler, and your canteen is empty and you come upon that pump. Tied to it is a hand written sign put there by some pilgrim before you. 

The sign reads "I have buried a bottle of water to prime the pump. donít drink any of it.

Pour in half of it to wet the leather. Wait, and then pour in the rest. Then pump. The well has never gone dry, but the pump must be primed to bring the water up. Have faith, believe. When you are through drawing water, fill the bottle and bury it in the sand for the next traveler."
Having come upon this pump in the desert with this sign and being out of water, what would you do???

Will you dig the water bottle from the sand and drink from it? Or, will you believe and by believing, dare to pour that water -- every drop of it  -- down into the old trusty pump??
Because you trust, you take a risk, both for yourself and for the next person who will pass that way. What will you do?

Will you be faithful to promises of God? God has promised through Christ to care for us, to redeem us, to provide for us in His unique way. And yet you and I want to rely on ourselves as did Abraham and Sarah in that Genesis lesson. Sarah had a slave girl bear a child just in case God would not come through and provide, but God continues to promise Abraham that he will have a son. God will provide in His way, just not in the way Abraham and Sarah have concocted. That is most of us in a nutshell:  "not just in the way WE THINK HE SHOULD!"  Faithfulness calls us to rely on Godís promises for our lives.

Faith is trusting in the promises of God  each day because we are accountable for our faithfulness at all times when we need it and when we do not. Confidence in his promises is a way of live. We are held accountable for that way of live and because we believe and trust we will want to live a faithful life.

Trust God?  Think about this true story.

"A man owned a little grocery store. It was the week before Christmas, when a tired-looking woman came in and asked for enough food to make a Christmas dinner for her small family. The grocer asked her how much she could spend. "My husband did not come back; he was killed in the War and I have nothing to offer but a little prayer," she answered.

The storekeeper was not very sentimental nor religious, so he said, half mockingly, "Write it on paper,and I will weigh it."

To his surprise, the woman took a piece of paper from the pocket of her dress and handed it to the man saying, "I wrote it during the night while watching over my sick baby."

The grocer took the paper before he could recover from his surprise and, because other customers were watching and had heard his remarks, he placed the unread prayer on the weight side of his old-fashioned scales. Then he began to pile food on the other side; but to his amazement, the scale would not go down.

He became angry and flustered and finally said, "Well, that is all the scale will hold. Here is a bag; you will have to put it in yourself. I am much too busy."

With trembling hands the woman filled the bag and through moist eyes expressed her gratitude and departed.

Now that the store was empty of customers, the grocer examined the scales. Yes, they were broken and they had become broken just in time for God to answer the prayer of the woman.
But as the years passed, the grocer often wondered about the incident. Why did the woman come at just the right time? Why had she already written the prayer in such a way as to confuse the grocer so that he did not examine the scales?

The grocer grew older but never saw the woman again. Yet he remembered her more than any of his customers. He came to treasure the slip of paper upon which the prayer of trust had been written --simple words, but from a heart of faith, they said, "Please, Lord, give us this day our daily bread."

The written prayer of the destitute woman was a great act of faithfulness. She believed God would provide and He was true. She did not know exactly how God would do it; however, the unique circumstances of the story with the scales being broken, people in the store, and the frustration of the grocer all lead to the way God provided for this young mother.

Think about that miracle and then recall words of Christ to each of us this very day: "You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."

18th Sunday in Ordered Time (Cycle C - The Gospel)

July 27, 2004

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray my Cuisinart to keep. I pray my stocks are on the rise, and that my analyst is wise. That all the wine I sip is white, and that my hot tubís watertight.

That racquetball wonít get too tough, that all my sushiís fresh enough. I pray my cordless phone still works, that my career wonít lose its perks. My microwave wonít radiate, my condo wonít depreciate.
I pray my health club doesnít close, and that my money market grows. If I go broke before I wake, I pray my Volvo they wonít take.
Quite a revision on a prayer most of us learned in our childhood.  It reflects the state of mind most Americans are experiencing today.  This mindset of greed and worry is what leads Jesus to preach the parable we hear proclaimed in Gospel for today.
For those whose minds wander during homilies and who would like to challenge something the preacher is saying, take note.  You are in good company. Even Jesus had the same problem.
He had been preaching on hypocrisy, hell and the unforgivable sin. But suddenly a man in the crowd did not hear a word of it. He had a problem that so distracted him that he could think of nothing else. He shouts  "Teacher, make my brother divide my inheritance with me."
This was not the first time for this sort of thing. For the second time in just a little while Jesus is asked to step into a family disagreement. Remember last week:  it was Martha and Mary. Now it was a brother against his brother over settling an inheritance. According to the law of Moses, the elder brother would receive two-thirds of the inheritance and the younger brother would receive one-third.
But this man is not asking Jesus to listen to both sides and make a righteous judgment; he is asking Jesus to take sides with him against his brother. People have a way of wanting to use Jesus to put their relatives in line. Jesus did not come to run everybodyís business.  He came to redeem us.

This man did not want what was fair.  He did not want what was right. He was GREEDY! His share was not enough. What he was entitled to was not enough.
There are two ways to get enough: One is to accumulate more and more, the other is to desire less. But we are greedy. We can not pass up a deal. The only reason a great many American families do not own an elephant is that they have never been offered an elephant for a dollar down and easy weekly payments.
So Jesus tells him a story. We think it is about rich people.
Jesus never condemns wealth; only if wealth owns you and me.The man in Jesusí parable was not a fool because he was rich. He had gotten what he had honestly  --through the productiveness of his land. He was a fool because he forgot what was really important. He was a fool because he decided for himself what was really important. He was a
fool because he thought: "I have done all this! I will pull down these warehouses, and build bigger ones!"   My crops . . . my barns . . . my goods . . . my soul; everything is about him, and nothing is God.
He went wrong in the things he remembered. He remembered himself. The words "I" and "my" are used 9 times in this parable.. Conversations reveal what people are like.

Mine. Mine. Gimme. Gimme. We want more and more, all the time thinking it is ours. We do not own anything. Whatever we have is lent to us by God; we are the stewards for property of God. He forgot, as do we sometimes.

Notice that Jesus did not condemn the man for eating, drinking and being merry, nor even for being rich.  Rather the man was called foolish for building bigger barns. The point of the story is that the farmer was planning to store more of his wealth than he needed to eat, drink and be merry. Look again
at the words of the story. The man says, "What should I do for I have no place to store my crops?"
Wait a minute! He has barns. His problem is that his harvest has been so great that his present storage facilities will not hold all of the grain. So he decides, I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain.
But wait, his ground produced more than usual, so he thought he needed bigger barns. But next year the barns might be too big as this year the barns were too little. Years of famine commonly followed years of plenty.
He forgot about his neighbors. If his barns were too small to hold his surplus, there must have been others more than willing to share it. Instead, he was greedy. He wanted it all for himself. Jesus teaches that what we have, we have to share. Produce, and share with those in need.
The farmer forgot time. His whole attitude was that he had unlimited time. He was foolish to think that his goods were laid up for many years, as if his bigger barns would be safer than those he had; In just an hour those bigger barns and everything in them could burn to the ground maybe because
of lightning, against which there is no defense. A few years may make a great change; moth and rust may corrupt, or thieves break through and steal.
The most dangerous word in the English language is tomorrow . No one knows if tomorrow will ever come for us.
There is an old story of 3 apprentice demons who were to be sent to earth on a mission. They were telling Satan what they proposed to do. One said, "I will tell everyone there is no God." "It will not work," Satan said. "In their hearts they know there is. The second one said, "I will tell them there is no hell." "That will not work, either," Satan said. "Even in
this life they have tasted the agony and sorrow of hell." The third one said, "I will tell them there is no hurry." "Go," said Satan. "Tell them that and you will ruin them by the millions."

The rich man already has plenty of grain and goods. He does not have to live in the moment . He has barns for his future. They may not be as big as he would like, but he has plenty to eat, drink and be merry. The man already has enough wealth to enjoy life. But his greed has clouded his vision. He wants more ....of the wrong things .

Some people make some big mistakes in life: In planning for themselves, they forget others. In considering their material goodies, they forget the Giver.  In providing for their bodies, they forget their soul. Listen to this true story:

Three men perished in the summer heat of Death Valley. Deputies found their bodies 7 miles, 14 miles and 17 miles from their abandoned car. In leaving their car to seek help, the three had tragically headed in the wrong direction , going toward a ranch house they had passed 30 miles
back. But just a mile in the other direction was a grove of trees and a spring of water!

Jesus is the water of life!  The waters of this life do not satisfy and they do not last! Jesus satisfies our thirst for things and gives us gifts that will last forever.

So many people are heading in the wrong direction in life. They keep on looking for pleasure from this world and they will eventually end up dead. But if they would just turn and head that other direction , where the living water can be found, they would find true satisfaction and eternal
Our life is not our own. Our life is a loan which must be returned to God. Our attitude toward this life shows our commitment to God. Do possessions have a stranglehold on you? Are you headed in the direction of the living water?
If, in the future you say ďNow I lay me down to sleepĒ, what is the next line you will use?

17th Sunday in Ordered Time

July 20, 2004

Have you ever thought about your prayer life?

Have you ever examined it and wished that you could be better at communicating with God?

Have you ever just felt like there were times when your prayers were just hitting the ceiling and bouncing right back down?

Have you ever stopped to consider whether there is any power in your prayers?

There was a small Oklahoma town that had two fundamentalist churches and one distillery.

Members of both churches complained that the distillery was giving the community a bad image.

And to make matters worse the owner of the distillery was an outspoken atheist.

He didn't believe in God one bit.

The church people had tried unsuccessfully for years to shut down the distillery.

So finally they decided to hold a joint Saturday night of prayer.

They were going to ask God to intervene and settle the matter.

The church folks gathered on Saturday night and there was a horrible thunderstorm raging outside and to the delight of the church members lightening hit that old brewery and it burned to the ground.

The next morning the sermons that were preached in both churches were on the power of prayer.

But the insurance adjusters promptly notified the distillery owner that they were not going to pay for the damages because the fire was an act of God and that was an exclusion in the policy.

The distillery owner was furious and he sued both churches claiming that they had conspired with God to destroy his business.

But the churches denied that they had anything to do with the cause of the fire.

The presiding judge opened the trial with theses words:

I find one thing in this case most perplexing.

We have a situation here where the plaintiff, an atheist is professing his belief in the power of prayer.

And the defendants all faithful church members are denying the very same power!

It seems that sometimes as Christians we pray asking God to do certain things, either in our life or the lives of others, only to be totally surprised when God answers our prayers.

So where do we start if it is our goal to establish a legitimate communication with God?

Too many people out there today treat prayer like it is a spiritual smorgasbord.

They take a little of this authors' ideas, another bit of advice from some sermon, then they apply a few miscellaneous Bible verses, and mix it with the counsel of well meaning friends.

The result: an imbalanced and half-baked prayer life that leaves them starving for something more satisfying.

We can find all too many sources that would endeavor to lead us into an intimate prayer life with God!

But who can best describe to us the principles of proper prayer better than the master communicator Himself, Jesus, the Son of God.

He spent more time in successful, active communication with the Father than anyone else.

If we will listen to Him, the pathway to powerful prayer will be revealed to us.

We first need to learn the basic principles of prayer!

There must first be a desire to learn what you think you already know.

The disciples had prayed prior to asking Jesus to teach them the power and serenity of prayer.

But as they circled around Jesus that day, they realized that there was something different about the way He prayed.

He would not give them that day a sacred formula to be repeated over and over but He would give them a consistent pattern for prayer.

I am convinced that most Catholic Christians learn to pray in one of the following ways:

First, by some other personís example.

Or Second, by their own definition.

But look at the principles Jesus laid out for powerful prayer.

Our Father:   Jesus is heard referring to God as, The Father, My Father, or Your Father because He is the true Son of God!

But you and I are to refer to Him as Father and at best as Our Father since we are adopted into that royal, priestly and prophetic family. He calls God our Abba. It is a term likened to daddy or poppa. We are instructed to approach Him with tenderness.

In heaven, Jesus reminds us here that we are not approaching an earthly father that is limited in his capabilities or his presence. We are approaching the very Father of all creation!

He is our heavenly Father and because of that we are created in His image (Gen 1:26).

Hallowed be Your name: We are instructed to approach Him with reverence. Jesus is certain to remind us that our Father is free from all wickedness. He is totally separated from all evil.
Your Kingdom come: It is a difficult thing to go to God in prayer knowing that you are at odds with the work of the kingdom. We are then simply laying before Him a monstrous hypocrisy if every day of our lives we are hindering and thwarting the advance of His kingdom!

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven: In one sense the Will of God is done whether we like it or not. Yet in another real sense, all believers do not always carry out the Will of God.

The interesting fact is that we cannot see His Will done without first letting Him rule in our day-to-day lives! He must be Lord and King and we must seek to enlarge His kingdom.

The whole concept then, seems to be one that is quite foreign to us. It is an appeal for us to voluntarily give up our wills here on earth so that His heavenly Will might be accomplished.

We are instructed to approach Him with humbleness. Everything up to this point deals with the ATTITUDE of prayer.

The following deals with the RELATION of prayer!

Give us today our daily bread : If we are in the right attitude for prayer then this next petition sets us in the right relation towards Godís gifts! God is not a God that wants His followers to be in want but notice that our needs are only addressed after we have given our wills over To the Father!

A most interesting thing happens when we surrender our wills to God.  We will find that our desires dwindle, as the Will of the Father is believed, practiced and owned.

It is then that we can ask God to provide for our needs and be totally assured that He will do so.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who do us wrong:
This petition carries with it some baggage. Sin is a debt that causes a heavy burden.

If not dealt with, it can totally weigh a person down until they become totally ineffective as a Christian. We are actually instructed and encouraged to pray for those that have sinned against us. For some that can be really a hard thing to do!

In this prayer Jesus tells us that if we are unwilling to relinquish our grudges and hatreds towards those that have wronged us, we might not ought to be so pious as to expect God to lighten the burden we carry!

Lead us not into temptation: Is there a sense here that God would actually lead us into temptation?

To understand this you have to understand that the word carries a dual meaning. A more accurate translation for it says, "bring us not into temptation" The first meaning is trial, sometimes we are given trials that are meant to test our faithfulness.

The second meaning is actual incitement, inducement, seducement, and allurement in the direction of causing one to commit an actual sin.

In the first case God does not tempt us He tries us!

Understand this, God will never lead you into anything that He does not plan to lead you out of!

In the second case we are subjected directly to the source of temptation, usually the allurements of Satan and we must cling then to the truths of Godís word.

Deliver us from the evil one: It is interesting that many of the things we consider to be evil, are not.

It has been said that poverty is not evil; Suffering is not evil.

The only real evil is sin.

It is the Evil One who pushes us toward this sin.

Iím reminded of a story:

Someone told of a protestant church that believed in sinless perfection once you trusted Jesus Christ, accepted Him into your life and were baptized.

A visitor to that church heard this teaching and asked to be baptized.

He was tired of dealing with his habitual sin without any success.

Unfortunately, it was in the middle of winter and the river was near frozen.

The man with much persistence got the Elders to baptize him in the river.

After the man and two Elders came out of the freezing cold water, the man was so excited, he said, "I feel so good, Iím not even cold."

One Elder turned to the other and said, "He is lying, we have to do it again."

Until we recognize that God is our Father and we are His children we will never understand just how evil sin is.

Without a proper prayer relationship with our Father we are doomed to fall prey to the Evil One.

We are instructed to approach Him with helplessness.

What do you seek God to do in your prayer?

So many times we are guilty of saying, "God supply my needs", "God supply my wants", "God make things turn out the way I want them to".

Have we forgotten that the great God of heaven and earth has needs also?

He needs to know that you love Him!

He not only wants you to tell Him this, He wants you to prove it by serving Him faithfully!

He needs to know that you desire to be with Him!

This involves spending time with God!

Itís more than just a passing comment.

Sometimes it means spending time in prayer talking to Him and sometimes it means being quiet and listening to what He has to say!

He needs to know that you are devoted to Him!
That means choosing Him when you have a choice.

Itís amazing just to think that God wants to answer your prayers but He desires for you and me to be in the proper attitude for prayer!

In the coming months and years ahead you will pray for specific things or be asked to pray for specific things.

Do it with the right attitude do it with all expectancy and God will answer.

Think about this....

The daughter of a sick father had asked the priest to come and pray with her father.

When the pastor arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed.

The pastor assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit.

"I guess you were expecting me," he said.

"No, who are you?"

"Iím the new priest at your parish," the young priest replied.
"When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up."

"Oh yeah, the chair," said the bedridden man.

"Would you mind closing the door?" 

Thinking the man wanted to make his confession, the priest shut the door.

"I have never told anyone this, not even my daughter," said the man.

"But all of my life I have never known how to pray.

At religious education, I used to hear the priest and sisters talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head.."

I abandoned any attempt at prayer," the old man continued, "until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, "Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus.

Hereís what I suggest.
Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair.

Itís not spooky because he promised, "I will be with you always."

Then just speak to him and listen in the same way youíre doing with me right now."

"So, I tried it and I liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I am careful, though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she would either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm."

The priest was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue on the journey.

Then he prayed with him, and returned to the church.

Two nights later the daughter called to tell the pastor that her daddy had died that afternoon.

"Did he seem to die in peace?" he asked.

"Yes, when I left the house around two oíclock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek.

When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead.

But there was something fact, beyond strange--kind of weird.

Apparently, just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside the bed."

If you are going to pray, pray to make it count! Let Him know that you love and care for Him! Quit playing games with Him! God knows who is playing with Him and who is sincere.
So, by all means if we are going to take time to pray then pray with power and believe.