A Grateful People 10-9-2016

October 9th, 2016

There was once a stonecutter who was very happy with his life and work. He had a wonderful family whom he loved; he made a good living cutting and preparing stone for beautiful buildings.
Then one day he delivered a piece of stone to a merchant. The merchant owned many lavish possessions. The stonecutter began to feel he was missing out on something in his life. “I wish I were a merchant with such fine things,” the stonecutter thought to himself.
Amazingly, the stonecutter’s wish came to be. Suddenly he was a merchant who wore fancy clothes and lived in a beautiful home. His shop was filled with ornate trinkets and fine goods. The onetime stonecutter thought that life couldn’t get any better – until he saw the prince passing through town.
Then he began thinking that to be of noble birth would be much better than being a simple merchant. And so it came to be: He found himself dressed in royal garb, sitting atop a fine stallion, parading through the village. But under the hot sun and heavy clothing, he grew weary and cranky.
The stonecutter-merchant-prince thought that if he were the sun, he could have a profound effect on the entire universe. So he became the sun. And it was wonderful – until a cloud blocked his rays from getting to the land.
So he wished he could be a cloud to bring rain to water the earth. And so he became a cloud. He found himself looming over a desolate mountain valley. He showered the area day and night, creating lakes and rivers. In time, springs of life began to sprout up on the landscape. But the mountain itself remained immovable and unchanged. It was solid and more powerful than his cloud.
So the cloud wanted, instead to be the mountain. And so he became the mountain. For a while the mountain was happy to be such a powerful presence – until a young stonecutter came along and began to chisel away at him.
And the mountain wished to be a stonecutter again.
Some of us never know that moment of realization experienced by the grateful leper: we never realize how much we have received from God. Instead, we whine about what we do not have; we are mired in disappointment because they have more than me. We become cynical, distrustful, isolated and self-absorbed. As the Samaritan leper discovers, as the stonecutter eventually comes to understand, each one of us has been given much by God, and realizing those gifts, that spirit of gratitude, is the beginning of faith.
Rabbi Herald S. Kushner writing in his latest book, The Lord is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom of the 23rd Psalm, reminds us that gratitude is a conscious and intentional perspective of looking at our lives and our world.
“Each night as I prepare for bed, I put drops in my eyes to fend off the threat of glaucoma that would rob me of my sight and take from me the pleasure of reading. Each morning at breakfast, I take a pill to control by blood pressure, and each evening at dinner I take another to lower my cholesterol level. But instead of lamenting the ailments that come with growing older, instead of wishing that I were as young and fit as I once was, I take my medicine with a prayer of thanks that modern science has found ways to help me cope with these ailments. I think of all my ancestors who didn’t live long enough to develop the complications of old age, and did not have pills to take when they did.”
Gratitude is a conscious and intentional perspective of looking at our lives and our world. Gratitude is the beginning of faith. Let us be a grateful people.

Mustard Seed Faith 10-2-2016

October 2nd, 2016

Ben Durskin is nine years old. For almost four years, he has been treated for acute lympho | blastic leukemia. During a punishing protocol of chemotherapy, he passed the time with his Game Boy and Play Station. Last summer, Ben came up with his own videogame, designed especially for kids with cancer. In Ben’s Game, a boy (modeled after Ben) zooms around a screen on a skateboard, blasting cancer cells in order to collect “shields” that protect against the usual side effect of chemo: fever, chicken pox, colds, vomiting, hair loss. A player can’t lose – “you just keep fighting,” explains Ben.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation and software engineer Eric Johnston of LucasFilms worked with Ben to create the game. Ben’s Game has won raves from the 200,000 children who have found the game, available free on line. Not only is the game fun but children learn about the “monsters” attacking their bodies and how they can best beat them.
For eight years, 15-year-old Sasha Bowers and her family were homeless. Sasha, her little sister and her mother spent most nights in Columbus, Ohio, shelter, fighting hunger and bugs and kept awake by snores and screaming. Two years ago, Sasha’s mom landed a job with a cleaning company and the family was able to move into an apartment.
But Sasha hasn’t forgotten where she came from. She’s been the driving force behind a summer day-camp program for 175 homeless kids in Columbus. “When I was in shelters, there were no safe places to play,” Sasha explains. “I wanted to create a place that was fun, where kids could stay out of trouble while parents find jobs and housing.”
When Ryan Hreljac was in the first grade, he was shocked to learn about African children having to walk five miles to get a bucket of clean water. Ryan did odd jobs around the house and for neighbors for four months to raise $70, the cost of digging a well.
That was six years ago. Since then the Canadian teen’s foundation, Ryan’s Well, has raised $750,000 to build wells in seven African nations. Relief and development agencies in Canada say of Ryan: “He’s such a regular kid – that’s what makes him so powerful… He believes everyone should have water, and he’s not going to stop until they do.”
These remarkable young people, Ben, Sasha, and Ryan possess the faith of the mustard seed: they have taken their own “Mustard seeds” – seeds of creativity, empathy and dedication – and have done the hard work of planting and nurturing those seeds until each one has realized an enduring and rooted harvest of hope, of compassion, of life itself. Christ calls us to embrace “mustard seed” faith – to believe that even the slightest act of goodness, done in faith and trust in God’s presence, has meaning in the reign of God. The mustard seed challenges us to grab hold of the opportunities we have for planting and reaping a harvest of justice, compassion and reconciliation in our own piece of the earth.
Ben, Sasha and Ryan – remarkable young people – they planted their tiny mustard seed, worked hard, and God did the rest.
You, you, you, all of you, remarkable people. Plant your tiny mustard seeds wherever you find yourself in life, work hard and let God do the rest. Mustard seed faith – to believe that even the smallest act of goodness, kindness, done in faith and trust in God’s power, can have an unbelievable effect on many, many people. Please, don’t sell yourself short – don’t sell the power of God short!

The Rich Man and Lazarus 9-25-2016

September 25th, 2016

Our TV remote controls are very interesting contraptions. If you do not like something on TV, you just click it off. You might be tempted to click off this gospel and possibly my homily. Put the remote down for just a few minutes and please listen. In 1950, a committee representing 17 different nations voted Albert Schweitzer, “The Man of the Century.” Three years later, in 1953, Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Schweitzer has been acclaimed the world over as a genius. He was an outstanding philosopher, a theologian, a respected historian, a concert soloist, and a missionary doctor. But the most remarkable thing about him was his deep Christian faith. It was a faith that influenced even the smallest details of his life. At the age of 21, Schweitzer promised himself that he would enjoy art and science until he was 30. Then he would devote the rest of his life to working among the needy in some direct form of service.
And so on his 30th birthday, on October 13, 1905 Albert Schweitzer dropped several letters into a Paris mailbox. They were to his parents and closest friends, informing them that he was going to enroll in the university to get a degree in medicine. After that he was going to Africa to work among the poor as a missionary doctor. The letters created an immediate stir. He says in his book, Out Of My Life and Thought: “My relatives and friends all joined in to rebuke me on the folly of my enterprise. I was a man, they said, who was burying the talent entrusted to him. A lady who was filled with the modern spirit proved to me that I could do much more by lecturing on behalf of medical help for the natives, than I could by the action I contemplated.” Nevertheless, Schweitzer stuck to his guns. At the age of 38, he became a full fledged medical doctor. At the age of 43, he left for Africa where he opened a hospital on the edge of the jungle; he died there in 1965 at the age of 90. What motivated Albert Schweitzer to turn his back on worldly fame and wealth and work amongst the poorest of the poor in Africa? He said that one of the influences was his meditation on today’s Gospel about the rich man and Lazarus. Schweitzer said: “It struck me as incomprehensible that I should be allowed to live such a happy life, while so many people around me were wrestling with suffering.”
And that brings us to the Gospel story itself. The sin of the rich man was simply that he never noticed Lazarus. He accepted Lazarus as part of the landscape of life. The sin of the rich man was not a sin of commission, which is doing something he should not have done. The sin of the rich man was a sin of omission, which is not doing something he should have done. The sin of the rich man was basking in his own personal wealth and not lifting a finger to help Lazarus in his dire need. The sin of the rich man was the same sin that is being committed over and over today. And it is this sin that is beginning to cause grave concern not only because of what it is doing to the poor but also because of what it is doing to society. John F. Kennedy referred to this concern when he said, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” In other words, our lack of concern for the poor is destroying not only the poor but also the very moral fabric of our society.
The Gospel today is an invitation to us as individuals and as a parish, to meditate on the story of the rich man and Lazarus and to ask ourselves the same question that Schweitzer asked himself: How can we live a happy life while so many other people are suffering? As we reflect this week, let us close with these words of Pope John Paul II. He delivered them during his first visit to the United States in a homily at Yankee stadium in New York on October 2, 1979:
“In the light of the parable of Christ, riches and freedom mean a special responsibility. Riches and freedom create a special obligation. And so, in the name of the solidarity that binds us together in a common humanity, I again proclaim the dignity of every human person. The rich man and Lazarus are both human beings. Both of them equally created in the image and likeness of God. Both of them equally redeemed by Christ at a great price. The poor of the United States and of the world are your brothers and sisters in Christ. You must never be content to leave them just the crumbs of the feast. You must take of your substance, and not just of your abundance, in order to help them. And you must treat them like guests at your family table.”