Buried Talent – Buried Treasure

God, the giver of all talent(s), expects something from us — God expects a return on the investment made in us.

Talents are given to us to be used — to be used not merely for our own benefit – but to be put into the hands of God to be used for the benefit of others.

The Gospel this weekend [Matthew 25:14-30] reminds us of the expression — use it or lose it!  In reality, it is not God who “takes it away”, it is I who squander it.

Most of us can think of talents we have developed through hard work — George Springer, outfielder for the Houston Astros, grew up with a very serious stuttering issue.  Through years of hard work, he has overcome the stuttering problem so as to not only speak clearly in press interviews —- but also to be a spokesperson for young people who battle a stuttering issue.

Every classroom teacher (and many parents) have witnessed students not living up to their potential.  Students who are not developing a God-given talent to learn as much as possible — instead, too many students want to know, “what grade do I need to pass?”

Coaches have seen star athletes not taking academics seriously enough — athletes who cannot accept a scholarship because their ACT score is too low — or they have failed to take the necessary classes to attend a major university on an athletic scholarship.

God does not want us to give the talent back — God wants us to use and develop the talent so that it becomes more than it was at the beginning.

Institutions as well as individuals can fail to meet God’s expectations:

A Church can squander [bury] its financial treasure by wasting money on unimportant things while neglecting its mission to feed, clothe, house, and educate those in need.  A Church can squander [bury] its moral authority by saying one thing and doing another — by failing to be an advocate for Gospel values while serving its selfish interests.

A school system can bury its talent by taking care of those who can care for themselves while neglecting the underserved and those having trouble achieving success.

What about us right here — today —

1.  For school students – especially those in high school and college — to what degree are you WORKING to enhance your knowledge, your critical thinking? 90%?   70%?  40%?

Is your goal to get a diploma/degree or to truly learn EVERYTHING possible?

Why might you not be living up to your FULL POTENTIAL?  Lack of interest?  No motivation?  Laziness?  Focused on something else — boy/girl friend?  Lack of belief in self?

2. For all of us —— what talent are we not sharing with the community?  the talent of music which could be used in the choir, as a cantor, by singing in the congregation?

the ability to drive a nail — which could be shared with Habitat for Humanity or home-repair projects?

3.  What about the talent of listening or compassion that could be shared with those in nursing/care facilities —- or the homebound?

4.  What about financial gifts that are being used only for our self-interest?  Are we faithful to sharing through tithing —- 5% with our Church and 5% with the needs of the world?

5.   What about the talent of courage?  Are we speaking “our truth” in a world that tends to be harsh and negative?  Do we point out the positive?  Do we speak the truth to power?

Today is a day for COUNTING BLESSINGS AND TALENTS.  Today is a day to say Thanks to God for what I have!  Today is also a day to ask forgiveness for our failures to use and develop what has been given to us.  Today is a day to think and to plan how we can use what we have for our good and the good of others —- before we lose it.

Looking back and saying, “I wish I had ….” is very sad and depressing.  Looking forward and saying, “What I have — will be used for others ….. by ____________.”

On the day of accounting [reckoning] let us not be afraid of God’s wrath when he asks “how we have used our talent” ——- but rather, let us be hopeful that God will be pleased that we have used — what little or great we have —- to yield a rich harvest.

No one has nothing —- everyone has something to share.

hjm

 

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Preparing for the un-thinkable

How do members of a Church prepare for a crazed gunman with an assault rifle to walk into their worship service and to kill 26 people?

How does a husband/wife prepare for the day when their spouse tells them that they “still love them, but they are no longer ‘in love with them’?”  And, they are moving in with their new partner.

How does a parent prepare for the news that their son has died as the result of a hazing incident while pledging a fraternity?

When we hear the Gospel story of the wise virgins v. the foolish virgins [Matthew 25:1-13] — we hear the challenge to be vigilant and to be prepared.

There are those easy challenges —

make sure that money is set aside in savings for those rainy day emergencies — when the refrigerator needs to be replaced or there is an unexpected medical need;

stay a step ahead at work so that when an opening arises you are ready to apply;

see your doctor on a regular basis to make sure all things are in order;

keep your car maintenance up to date to prevent major problems later.

Yes, better to be prepared than unprepared.  There comes a point when it is too late to prepare —- water is rising and you have no flood insurance —- too late.

But, how does one prepare for the unthinkable — the unimaginable?

How could the congregants of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas possibly be prepared for the worst mass shooting in a place of worship in US history?

How can one prepare for the news that their child has a rare form of cancer?

How can the wife of baseball-pitcher Roy Halladay really be prepared for the death of her husband — at age 40 — in a plane crash?

There are many things that happen in life that we can do our best to be prepared for — but our world will still be rocked.  We understand that if anything can happen — then anything CAN happen.  We prepare as well as we can —-knowing that there is NO WAY to be completely prepared.

To survive the unimaginable — the unthinkable — we are called to

1. Believe that God is good — and God does not cause bad things to happen.  It was not God’s WILL that the crazed gunman would enter into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX and to take so many lives.  God’s WILL was for only good to happen — for each of those killed to go home for lunch with their families.

God does not WILL that a child be hit by a car — he WILLS  that a child be kept safe.

AND, bad things happen — evil people mess up the good God has willed.  Illness creeps into the life of every family.

2.  God is with us on our journey — and will lead us to a better day.  God did not cause or will for a spouse to be unfaithful — that was NOT in God’s plan — but God IS HERE today to walk into the future.  God will help us to create a new path.

3.  Rely on the support of friends and family —- the relationships we have built through the years are an embodiment of God’s love and support for us.  We need to let others help us — we are fragile — and we will be stronger one day — but today, we need to lean on those around us.

4. Remember, we do not deserve this — but, it is happening — there is no answer to the question of ‘WHY’ —

Through prayer, through worship, through human relationships we make ourselves strong.  By celebrating the good and being grateful for our blessings — we help ourselves understand that everyday is not a good day and there are bad things going on in the world.

Death and resurrection are real —- part of everyday life — not just Easter.

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin, reflecting on the shooting in Sutherland Springs, proposes that we hold on to the Jewish expression, “from generation to generation.”  Life endures forever—and all is about heaven.  For me, his reflection means that we enjoy life here on earth and we work to make the world a better place —– but our hope is beyond us, our life is bigger than what we are doing.

This means —- there is no way to be totally prepared for the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the catastrophic.  And, it is possible to be better prepared than unprepared.  It is better to be “at 6 on the prepared scale than to be at 2.”  Hopefully the 4 steps above will help us all to be better prepared than unprepared.

Let us not be arrogant or careless.  Let us believe that with the help of God and the support of others we will survive anything that comes our way.  We will be wise to understand that life is good —- and we will go forward in life — with preparation.

hjm

 

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“Mama Cat” & Saints of Civility

“Mama Cat” is a 55-year-old woman who lives in Ferguson, Missouri.  Following the shooting-death of Michael Brown, she went to the protest lines — not to protest, but to feed those who were protesting.  As the protests ended, she realized that she was still needed to feed those who were homeless and hungry.  So, until this day, with her own resources, with donations, and with grants — she does what SHE CAN DO to feed those in need.  Sometimes it is a sandwich with macaroni salad — sometimes it is spaghetti with a meat sauce and fruit.  She does what she can to show people SOMEONE CARES.

We have always said that saints come in all “shapes and sizes” — men and women — of all ages, races, colors, languages, ways of life, and parts of the world.  Saints came with the wide range of temperaments that we see in the world today.

Some Saints were people of outstanding courage who literally had to fight evil.  Some Saints suffered the bloody death of martyrdom.  Some saints lived modest and simple lives, dedicated to QUIETLY living their faith and serving others.  Some Saints were learned people, recognized as DOCTORS of the Faith.  Many saints lacked formal education, but knew God through faith and through experience.

ALL SAINTS had a love of God and a love of neighbor.  ALL SAINTS put others above self.

What “kind” of Saints do we need today?

In a world that seems to get uglier and uglier everyday, I think we need saints of CIVILITY.   A civil person is someone who is polite and courteous in behavior or speech.

A civil person would not call someone with whom they disagree — an SOB!

A civil person would not use words to divide and conquer.

A civil person would speak up for people in need and be concerned about those not in need.

A civil person would not destroy someone’s good name or reputation by spreading false information or offering a glance of innuendo.

I am returning home to the US after a 3 week experience in Florence, Italy. ONE TIME in those three weeks I listened to about 10 minutes of BBC news.  I watched no cable news, I listened to no talking heads, I heard no insulting interviews —– things that repeat the same thing over and over.  And, I still feel informed —- but less stirred up.

Like “Mama Cat”, we may not be able to do everything — but, we can do something.

As a visitor in a foreign land, I have seen over and over how a kind greeting — an attempt to speak another’s language, an undemanding attitude — has brought forth kindness and help.  [I have also seen the opposite — an expectation that someone is there to serve, demanding-impatience — brings forth a cold-formalness.]

I believe something is needed to restore civility to our world.  When national leaders and public commentators are mean, ugly, rude and shrill —-we need to see and experience kindness, ‘niceness’, polite, calm people.

Religious leaders who demean and castigate others are no better than our political leaders.  Preachers preach from the perch of perfection without kindness toward all, won’t lead others to the true love of God they talk about.

An Hispanic major league baseball player makes a racist gesture to another player who is Japanese-Iranian [born in Japan] —- reminds us that racism comes in all flavors.

Saints embody love and faith.  Saints give hope.  Saints show respect and act with dignity.

If Huffington Post had not run an article on Mama Cat, I would have never heard of her.  But that does not matter —- she isn’t serving to be known.  She is serving so that others know that goodness and kindness are real.

hjm

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What is FAIR?

Few — if any of us — can read Mt. 20:1-16 without feeling – “well that isn’t fair!”

Those who worked for one hour in the vineyard were paid the same wage as those who worked all day long.  Those who labored and sweated through the heat of the day were going to be paid the same thing as those who had — done what all day long? — come in as the day was winding down!!

But — just what is fair?  What does it mean to be fair?  Was does to be “treated fairly” actually mean?

Is it fair that I was born into a hard-working, middle-class family with parents who valued education and sacrificed greatly so that I and my siblings would get a quality, Catholic education ———- while others were born into a family who struggled to eat — or where there were problems with alcoholism — and no value of education?

Is it fair that I got a student deferment while in college & then seminary — while others were drafted and went to war in Vietnam?

Is it fair that Puerto Rico got wracked by Hurricane Irma and then hit-directly by Hurricane Maria?

Is it fair that I have an incurable neuro-muscular disease —- and GREAT INSURANCE — while there are others with the same disease who have NO INSURANCE?

Is it fair that some couples cannot get pregnant while many babies are born into poverty with only a mother to raise them?

Is it fair when a mother in her 40’s dies of cancer — leaving two young children and a grieving husband —– while a “scoundrel” lives into his 80’s with few health needs?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines fair as: marked by impartiality and honesty; free from self-interest, prejudice or favoritism; conforming to the rules.

LIFE is not impartial.  LIFE does not seem to follow rules.  LIFE is not free of prejudice.  AND, GOD IS GOOD.

YET, THE MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW and the workers in the vineyard is not about fairness —- it is about the generosity of God — a God who sends rain on the good and the bad; a God who allows the sun to shine on the good and the bad.

We worship a God who love all equally —- the unknown woman in the mountains of Peru and the Pope — a God who offers the same mercy to a homeless man in Lake Charles, LA and the Queen of England.

We worry about what we have — self-interest — compared to others.  We establish — literally or figuratively — rules that should be followed because we see the immediate.

We celebrate when a friend or family member “comes to Jesus or back to Church” right before they die — and that is great.  Because we KNOW THEM — WE LOVE THEM — WE WERE WORRIED ABOUT THEM …. but when we do not know someone — it is not easy to see the fairness of a God who welcomes someone at the last moment.

As Isaiah 55: 6-9 reminds us — our thoughts are not God’s thoughts — and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.

God is so much bigger and magnificent that any government or Church or club.  God is more benevolent than the most generous and patient parent on earth.  God sees possibility and potential.

Thank goodness God did not allow us to write the rules — and to define what it means to be fair and just — kind and forgiving.

hjm

 

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Keys given can be taken away

Earlier this week I joined two members of our Charter School Board to be interviewed by a member of the State Legislature about our views on education in the State of Louisiana. One of the questions asked was, “What role can preachers play in improving the plight of education?”

I was the first to respond.  I answered: Ministers can play a huge role.  But they don’t.  The legislator asked, “why not?”  My answer — They are too busy building their churches instead of building the kingdom.  In other words, they stay in the sanctuary rather than going into the street.

One of the Board Members pointed out that in the 60’s and 70’s, the CHURCH was on the front line in the civil rights struggle.  Ministers of all races and religions walked arm in arm in the streets.  Priests in collars and nuns in habits joined Protestant ministers and Rabbis standing up for those in need.

A blog in the National Catholic Reporter this week by Pat Perrelieo bemoaned the lack of a visible Catholic presence  the anti-violence rallies following the violent rally in Charlottesville, VA.  He in a sense said that priests were hanging out in sacristies instead of walking in the streets.

We have REAL  issues affecting the lives of people — health care, immigration, and the rise of racism.  To make people jump through hoops to have a child baptized or a family member buried is of no matter to the majority of people today.

In the Gospel [Mt. 16:13-20], many clergy will find reason to preach on the “giving of the keys” and a mandate to Peter as the first “pope”. They will emphasize the teaching authority of the magisterium.

In Is. 22-19-23,  though, is the reminder that with privileges, or with a mandate, comes responsibility.  If a person, a group, or a Church does not live up to the responsibility given, then the mantle will be taken away —- given up —-and given to another.

I believe God has passed on to men and women a teaching and leadership role.  However, I have witnessed with my own eyes those who “thought they were in charge” teaching and preaching with hollow words to smaller and smaller followings.  Such is the case in all of life.

How often do we see a starting quarterback lose his role as a starter, because he does not perform up to expectations?

How many times does a parent remind a child that driving is a privilege and that if it is determined that the privilege is misused, then the keys of the car [the cell phone, the computer, etc.] will be taken away?

It is wonderful to see that Cardinal Daniel Dinardo [Archbishop of Houston and President of the National Conference of Bishops] has appointed an ad hoc Committee to work against racism — and to work for equality.

How great is was to hear the words of Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago directing the priests of the Archdiocese to preach against racism last weekend —- with a specific charge that “Racism is a sin.  White Supremacy is a sin.  Neo-Nazism is a sin.”

And now —as the African proverb states, “Those who pray need to move their feet.”

Begin locally — and move out —

  1.  Parents — if you do not parent a child — someone else will:  television, video games, a peer group, a gang leader — parents have been given charge over children — those who abuse the privilege will lose it.

2.  Pastors — if you do not feed the flock, some other pastor will — if you do not create a welcoming community and life-giving worship — someone else will.  Who attends public-school board meetings?  Who attends city council meetings?

Don’t get upset when some young, hot-shot preacher starts getting attention for his social activism.  Seize the moment and lead.

3.  Voters — let’s hold those we elect, accountable.  If our leaders are not making the world a better place, let’s get someone who will.

4.  Each of us has a share in God’s call to lock and unlock — to bind and loose — if we neglect our responsibility given in Baptism, the work will not get done —- and we will see “evil” prevail.

Most of us have literally lost [misplaced] our car keys at times.  It is frustrating to try and remember where we set them down.  It is much more serious to lose or misplace our duties that come with faith.

hjm

 

 

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The Church MUST Speak LOUDLY

No ONE is superior to anyone else.  There is no such thing as a being SUPREME to anyone else.  One only “thinks” s/he is a SUPREMACIST.

We are all equal in God’s eyes —- there is not black or white, American, European, or Asian — there is not Catholic, Jew, Muslim — when it comes to who is # 1.  We are all equal.

Last weekend’s horror in Charlottesville, VA unfolded as most preachers prepared for weekend worship — in most churches and places of worship there may have been a moment of prayer and an expression of disbelief — but, in most places, weekend worship was planned.

NOT SO THIS WEEKEND …. the horror of last weekend has been followed by statements from political leaders that have added fuel to the fire and only made things worse.  This weekend, I CANNOT IMAGINE A TRUE RELIGIOUS LEADER who will not speak to what is happening in our country!!!  The WORD OF GOD must come to bear on the events of the world.  Our faith cannot be expressed or lived in a vacuum.  We cannot pray unaware of what is happening around us.

In Isaiah [56:1, 6-7] God tells us that his house is to be called a house of prayer for all peoples.  God tells us that the “foreigners” who come to him … will be brought to the mountain of the Lord.”

Paul speaking to the Romans — speaks to the GENTILES as apostles to the Gentiles.

In Matthew [15:21-28] Jesus speaks to the CANAANITE WOMAN — responding to her plea for pity — rewarded her faith — and said that he was sent for all the [lost] sheep.

This is not a weekend to think about monuments and the removal of monuments — this is not a weekend to balance history —- these days are to come.  But, we can have NO FUTURE discussion without believing …..

I am no better — and no less than — any other person.

My faith and my Church are no better — and no less than — any other faith or Church or mosque or synagogue.

We are all equal in God’s eyes.

AND, anyone who tries to put another down — to say that they are inferior to me or my group or my beliefs is WRONG.

Black, white, Hispanic, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Democrat, Republican, Independent, recent immigrant or long-standing family — we are all equal.

I believe we are at a unique time in our nation’s history.  Our President speaks bizarre words that are dividing us — fanning the flames.  Nazis and Neo-Nazis do not stand for anything that will make us a BETTER nation.  WHITE — OR BLACK — Supremacists do not live as if we are all equal.  Anyone who incites violence — anyone who pokes the bear — is not of God.

Villages and towns with centuries of history were built around a city square with a church in a prime place — the church was the center of town — not literally and symbolically.  The Church must claim that space again — by speaking and living with moral authority.

As Roman Catholics, we must admit that at times we have added to this sense of “me better than you.”  We taught that there was no salvation outside the ROMAN Catholic Church.  Any other “church communion” was a Church only in a sense that it shared in the apostolic nature of the ROMAN Catholic Church.  We had a special road to heaven — as the ONE HOLY, CATHOLIC, AND APOSTOLIC CHURCH.

Yes, the President, the Pope, the Governor — they have special privileges due to their role in society — they have special claims to respect.  BUT, as MEN AND WOMEN — they are no better than me or you.  PRIVILEGE DOES NOT COME FROM THE ACCIDENTS OF BIRTH. 

Fear of losing what someone thought they had — privilege, special rights — is driving people to do violent things.  Losing a sense of being in the majority, is causing some people to try to protect something they never had.

Finding someone to BLAME for my problems and misfortunes is another explanation as to why people do unreasonable things.

Why would God make me — or you — better than someone else?  Why would God make me less than you?

If the Church — people of faith — do not lead, who will?  Will it be the men and women with the Confederate or Nazi flags?  Will it be those who yell, “The Jews will not replace us!” or “Blood and Soil, Blood and Soil.”  Will it be the PRESIDENT who tries to assign blame equally to everyone?

It MUST BE US.

As we pray for a cessation of violence — as we pray for calm in our streets — our hearts must be set on the truth.  NO ONE is superior to another.  Race, Creed, gender, nation of origin, sexual orientation, skin color —— mean nothing to God.  Why should they matter to us?

HJM

 

 

 

 

 

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When a Church does not embody Jesus

It is often said that “children are a reflection of their parents.”  And, sometimes this is true.  BUT, we all know that — for some reason — it is not always true.  Despite the best efforts of parents — some children [us???]  don’t follow the example, the teaching, or the sacrifice of their parents.

The same can be said of Jesus —- despite his best efforts, a whole book of this teachings, and his example — not all of his disciples follow the path he walked.

In the Gospel of Matthew [10:37-42] Jesus says to his apostles:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for MY [emphasis added] will find it.

I believe this strongly.  We cannot allow anyone or anything come between us and our commitment to Jesus.

Our commitment is to Jesus.  Our commitment is to the KINGDOM OF GOD.  And, there will be times when our commitment to Jesus may cause a strain in a human relationship, even within our family.

But, is it NOT TRUE always that the same can be said about our commitment to a church?  There will be preachers, no doubt, who will use this scripture text to call for a commitment to “THE” Church — even if causes problems within the family.  Just because husband/wife or dear friends do not go to Church — does not mean we should not go to Church.  And this is true, if the Church and the preacher embody Jesus.

In addressing the new Cardinals this week — and all the Church — Pope Francis said there were times when there was a great distance between the heart of Jesus and the hearts of his disciples.

In the scriptural text that follows the above cited text, Jesus speaks about what it means to be a disciple: And whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple — amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.

A 63 year old friend and co-worker recently died following an on again-off again, 8 year battle with cancer.  She was not a church-goer.  Something(s) happened along the years that created hard-feelings.  I tried to offer hope and consolation in the fact that she had faith in God — and always said, “it’s in God’s hands.” She never complained about her “fate” or asked the question, “why?”  I pointed out that John 3:16 tells us that those who have faith IN JESUS will have life eternal.  The Scripture does not say, s/he who has faith in the Church will never die — it says FAITH IN JESUS.

Yes, I believe in the goodness of Church, worship, community worship v. personal prayer, etc.

But it is not true, it is not right — in my opinion — to say that decreased church attendance reflects a loss in faith.  In fact, I know many people who live a battle — KEEPING THE FAITH when the Church does not seem to embody JESUS in whom we have faith.

A speaker at a recent gathering of priests in Atlanta, said that our nation — our Church — are in a fight for its soul.  When health care for the poorest of our people is in jeopardy — when Catechesis and canon law seem to be of greater concern than service and community — we are losing our way.  We must “catechize to energize” — preach a living message that burns the hearts of those who hear it.

So what do we do?

  1.  Re-affirm our faith in Jesus as Lord.  Reaffirm our commitment to Jesus as the one who has and will continue to save me.
  2. Listen to the voice within that will guide me, lead me to what is true.
  3. Use our God given brains to THINK — does this make sense?  does this seem reasonable?  is this what Jesus really wants in this time, in this place, and for me.
  4. Spend our financial resources on things that support the mission of Jesus — give that cup of cold water through local institutions providing the presence of Jesus.
  5. Gather with like minded people — not to be critical or cynical — but to be supportive and proud that the work of Jesus is not being diminished in our midst.

In the mid 1980’s I remember a discussion with a Bishop [now deceased] concerning the vocation situation in the US.  The bishop told me that I was “attempting to write theology pro ecclesia when in truth, theology was to be written pro Christus”.  My only problem with that thought — was an apparent sense that Christ could not speak through the “Church as a people” and that theology was to be written as Christ spoke though the Church leadership.

The PEOPLE OF GOD are a source of the voice of God — the embodiment of God.  I believe in authority and I believe in structure —– otherwise, we would and will have chaos and everyone merely following feelings.

But the words of Pope Francis this week —- the heart of Jesus was often far from the heart of the disciples are powerful.  Just maybe the disciples do not always realize who is in their midst —- just like the guys on the road to Emmaus.

Let us listen — and let no one come between us and Jesus.

 

hjm

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