Dampened, Autumn

rey-spadoni-0751-wm

There was a light mist, which dissipated for a few moments and allowed me to take a quick walk around my favorite local park.  Typically, I enjoy being there when the light is optimal.  It was anything but today.  Still, the moisture and foliage compensated.

rey-spadoni-0744-edit-wmrey-spadoni-0738-wmrey-spadoni-0760-edit-edit-edit-wmrey-spadoni-0734-edit-wm

Advertisements
Dampened, Autumn

The Lion and the Monkey (A Fairy Tale about Humility) – Homily, October 23, 2016

A children’s homily:

lion-and-monkey

Once upon a time, there was a mighty lion named Leroy who ruled over all in the jungle where he was king.  He was strong and all of the other animals there feared him for he had little patience and did not like to be bothered by others.

Now in that same jungle, there lived a small vervet monkey named Vernon.  Vernon didn’t have any family or many friends and he mostly just stayed to himself.

Leroy and Vernon had never met, until one day…

Vernon decided to go for a walk and as he approached a clearing in the road, he noticed that coming straight toward him was the mighty king Leroy.  Not knowing any better, Vernon kept on walking until he stood face to face with Leroy.  Leroy said, quite agitatedly: “What are you doing lowly monkey?  Do you know who I am?  Why do you stand there in the middle of the road in my way?”

Vernon was shocked.  He didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything.  He simply moved over to the side of the road so that the ferocious lion could pass him by.

Well… several days passed by and Vernon was again out walking through the jungle and happily minding his own business.  He grew a bit tired and decided that he would like to fall asleep, so he looked for a quiet place to rest.  He found a soft pile of leaves and settled in for a nice nap.  A few moments later, he was startled to look up see an angry Leroy staring down at him.  Leroy roared: “Get out of there little monkey.  I am the king of the jungle and I will sit myself down wherever I would like.  Move!”

Vernon jumped up and moved away.  As Leroy walked over to the spot where Vernon had laid down, he looked over at Vernon and thought he recognized him.  Then it struck him and he said: “I know you.  You are the monkey who stood in my way on the road.  I have had enough of you.  Leave the jungle or I shall eat you.”

Vernon was stunned.  Leave the jungle?  Where would he go?  Sadly, he walked away.

Later that evening, Leroy noticed a strange smell in the jungle.  He had never smelled it before.  In fact, all of the animals noticed it too.  They also saw what they thought was a low lying cloud all around them, like a type of mist.  But the mist never looked… or smelled… like this before.

All of the animals became nervous about this so they went to their king and asked what they should do.  Ronald the rhinoceros said: “King, the mist in the jungle is getting worse.  What is it?”  Hector the hippopotamus noted: “The smell is making it hard to breathe.  Tell us king, where should we go?”  And Wally the warthog added: “The other animals are saying that we can’t stay here any longer.  Maybe it’s time to leave the jungle.”

Leroy was stumped.  He had no idea what it was or what he should tell the animals.  And he didn’t much like the idea that the animals might leave.

Just then, he noticed a small monkey carrying a suitcase walking by where they all were standing.  It was Vernon and he was getting ready to leave.  Vernon looked up at Leroy, Ronald, Hector and Wally who all laughed at the strange sight of the small monkey moving away from the jungle.  It was then that Vernon noticed the mist and smelled the strange smell.  Instinctively, he immediately jumped up off the ground and climbed up upon the highest tree and went up to the very top.  Looking around, he noticed that there was a gigantic forest fire in the jungle and it was moving right to where they were.  As he scanned the tops of the trees, he saw that there was no fire where the lake was, so he climbed down and said to the king: “King Leroy, there is something moving in the forest.  Soon, it will be here.  You should tell all the animals to go over to the lake because I think it will be safe over there.”

Leroy thought about it.  Should I listed to this lowly monkey, I wonder?  Hmmm….

He decided to instruct all the animals to run (or fly) to the lake which is exactly what they did.  There, they waited until the fire passed them by.  Because they were in the water at the lake, none of them were hurt by the fire.  Vernon, the lowly vervet monkey had saved the day for everyone.

Later that night, Leroy the king apologized to Vernon and told him he could walk down the middle of any road he would like.  He could sleep on any pile of leaves in the jungle.  And he could make the jungle his home forever.

As a matter of fact, Vernon and Leroy became good friends…and they lived happily ever after.

***

In the Gospel today, Jesus told a story about a Pharisee, who was a lot like Leroy the lion, and a tax collector, who was a lot like Vernon the vervet monkey.  Jesus wanted to make sure that we all know that it is important to be humble.

Humble means… not feeling or acting as though you are better than others.

Humble means… not believing you are more special than others.

Humble means… acting exactly the way Jesus did.

Jesus was a king, the son of God.  But he came here in the form of a small baby, who was helpless.  He was born to modest, peasant parents.  He was a carpenter.  He lived simply.  And he sacrificed for all of us.

Jesus was humble… and so should all of us be as well.

The Lion and the Monkey (A Fairy Tale about Humility) – Homily, October 23, 2016

The Princess Twins (A Fairy Tale about Gratitude) – Homily, October 9, 2016

A children’s homily:

Once upon a time, there were two twin sisters named Dara and Clara.  Dara and Clara were the princess twins of a fairy tale kingdom from long ago.  And on this particular day, it was their birthday.

When they awoke that morning, they were excited to go to the playground to play with their friends.  But, they were saddened to see that it was a blustery, cold and rainy morning.  Dara ran into her room, upset that she would not be able to go outside, and stayed there all morning.  Clara was disappointed, at first, but then she realized that it would be fun to go into her room and play with her toys.  She was thankful for the playtime… and felt happy.

At lunchtime and because the King and Queen had told them that they could have lunch at their favorite restaurant, Tony’s, they were excited when the clock in the high tower struck noon.  Off to Tony’s they rode in their horse drawn coach.  But… Tony’s was closed because their oven was broken.  Instead, they went for spaghetti and meatballs at Mario’s.  Dara was upset that Tony’s was closed and so she did not eat anything for lunch.  Clara was glad to be able to eat out at a nice restaurant and she was thankful.  She ate up all of her spaghetti and meatballs and was happy.

Then, the best part of the day came… their birthday party.  All of the children from throughout the kingdom came and they had great fun.  Even Dara.

When the time for gifts came, they both knew they wanted a Silly McGilly doll.  As they opened the presents and received many great gifts, they both started to get a little anxious — no one had yet given them a Silly McGilly doll.  Finally, when the last gift was opened and it was not a Silly McGilly,  Dara because upset and ran off to her room crying.  Clara looked over at all the awesome gifts she had received and was thankful for every one of them.  And she was happy.

That night, both Dara and Clara kneeled down to pray.

This was Dara’s prayer: “Dear God, what a disappointing birthday.  First, it rained and I could not go to the playground to play.  Then Tony’s was closed and I couldn’t have lunch.  And then I never got the only thing I really wanted… a Silly McGilly doll.  This was my worst birthday ever.”

And this was Clara’s prayer: “Dear God, thank you for the playtime this morning.  Thank you for the delicious spaghetti and meatballs at Mario’s and thank you for all the great birthday gifts I received.  What a great day.  This was my best birthday ever.”

That night, Dara went to bed very sad.  And Clara went to bed very happy.

The end…

What was the difference between the two princesses?

In the story from today’s Gospel, Jesus healed ten people who were very sick.  But only one of them came back to say thank you.  That person was like Clara… and was thankful.  Jesus said to that person: “Your faith has saved you.”

Jesus is saying that it is very important to be thankful.  To be grateful.  Why don’t you go back now to your seats and thank whomever brought you here today.  Just simply say: thank you.

To the adults:

Much has been said about the value of gratitude.  Social scientists are proving that those who are the most grateful are also the happiest.  Great work has been done at the University of California, Davis in this regard.  In one experiment, 300 people were asked to keep a regular journal.  The first 100 were told to write down those things every day they were most grateful for, another 100 were instructed to jot down all of the things that annoyed them, and then 100 were told to write down whatever they wanted.

The first group, over time, reported higher levels of happiness.  They slept better, ate better, and exercised more too.

Coincidence?  The scientific community would say not as this has been verified many times over.

Oftentimes, we are asked the question: “How should I pray?”  It is frequently stated that prayer should help form the basis of a personal relationship with God, that it is a two way communication connection between us and Him.

Imagine if you were trying to form a relationship with someone and this is how your ‘communication connection’ with them went: “You don’t call, you don’t write.  Do you have any money I could have?  Will you come to my home this weekend and help me move a piano?”

Now imagine if this is how it went: “Thank you for coming here today.  Thank you for your beautiful smile.  Thank you for being my friend.”

Does one of those styles sound more like the way you pray?  Would you say you are more Dara or more Clara in your approach?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching us an important lesson about gratitude.  It’s one we’d do well to heed.

Oh… and thank you.

The Princess Twins (A Fairy Tale about Gratitude) – Homily, October 9, 2016

Roy Miller’s Wall – Homily, September 18, 2016

Have you ever built a wall?

I have always had a weird interest in walls, a fascination really.  Sometimes when I see one, I wonder who built it and why.  I especially think this as I’m walking on the trails in the nearby woodlands of my hometown.  There are numerous ancient and overgrown stone walls that once marked the edge of a property or were constructed probably with great effort to keep something in.  Or out.  To separate.

I remember as a child growing up having as neighbors, Roy and Camille Miller.  They were older and didn’t have any children themselves.  When I was a kid, I didn’t know what a hobbit was otherwise I would have likened the Millers to the small creatures in Tolkien’s world as they seemed quite small and jolly to me.  Once, they invited my family to their cottage by lake.  I don’t remember the experience very much, but there is one thing that stands out in my memory.  It was Roy Miller’s wall.  He pointed out to us that he was building a stone wall around his property.  He showed us the one side he had nearly finished and then pointed to the others still to be built.  Roy said he hoped to finish those off in the next year or two.  I remember later in the day observing Roy walking off into the woods with an old rusted wheelbarrow and then returning some time later with one large rock.  He carefully tipped the rock down onto the ground and then shoved it into place into his growing wall.  Camille approached me as I was watching her husband and asked: “Did he tell you about the wall?”  When I said he had, she proceeded to say: “Yeah, he loves that thing.  He’s been working on it for the forty years we’ve had this place.”

Roy and Camille are now long gone but in my imagination, I see Roy’s wall still standing there, still partially built.  I suspect it’s overgrown now and maybe it’s just a curiosity to whomever sees it.

Have you ever built a wall?

I suspect you have.  I know that I have.

Let me explain.  Some walls consist of matter, exist here in the physical world.  Some exist only in our minds.  Psychologists call the latter “compartmentalization”, whereby we construct separations in order to deal with some dissonance or conflict in our lives.  Our values may be at odds with our actions for example and so we construct a wall of sorts to keep one separated from the other.

That is precisely what today’s first reading is about.  Amos is addressing a group of merchants who are observing the sabbath saying that as soon as it is over, they will go back to cheating, trampling upon the needy and destroying the poor.  He was calling them out.  For the walls they had built.

Talk about a calling out…

In our Gospel today, Jesus is telling his followers that they cannot serve both God and mammon, the expression for wealth or riches.  There are no shades or gray here for Jesus – it’s hate one and love the other, for “no servant can serve two masters.”

I would love to think that I can serve two masters.  Live my life the way I would like to… while also being devoted to Christ.  But Jesus is saying here that that cannot be.  It’s one or the other.

Today’s Gospel asks us to consider our primary pursuits and then to ponder whether we are pursing Christ as vigorously and as ingeniously as those things.  What might those pursuits be?  What could be our own personal mammon?

It could be wealth.

It could be influence.

It could be comfort.

It could be certainty.

It could be intelligence.

It could be stature.

It could be fitness.

It could be possessions…

In truth, it could anything that is not Christ.

In the stark contrast between one side of a wall and the other laid down by Christ, we must choose which side we want to be on.

Christ will prevail.  Investments in him last forever.  They yield peace, consolation, joy, eternity.

Everything else will not.

Most of the walls we build will end up like Roy Miller’s.  Pursuits that in the end don’t amount to much, don’t get completed, lay overgrown, unused, without meaning or purpose.

There is one wall that stands, however, and it is the one that Jesus has constructed between eternity and everything that in the end won’t last and won’t matter.

Have you ever built a wall?

I suspect you have.  I know that I have.

What is your priority?  What are you pursing?  And will it last?

Roy Miller’s Wall – Homily, September 18, 2016

Tough Love and Two of My Favorite Movies – Homily, August 14, 2016

This gospel is Tough Love.

Typically, Jesus is consolation, hope, love.  This week, it’s anguish, sacrifice, division.

In a nutshell, last week’s gospel was about vigilance and an invitation to discipleship.  This week, it’s about commitment and the cost of discipleship…

***

Groundhog Day and It’s a Wonderful Life are two of my favorite movies.  In Groundhog Day, Phil Connors, the character played by Bill Murray, is a self-oriented man who is seeking advancement and personal gain, regardless of the impact on his relationships and the cost to others.  There are clues of this everywhere but he doesn’t see them or doesn’t care.  Phil is destined to re-live the same day over and over again… to the point of misery, desolation.  The way forward?  The salvation?  He breaks free from this sentence when he becomes oriented toward others, when he sacrifices, when he serves.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey, played so memorably by Jimmy Stewart, is actually a very other oriented person… to a fault.  Over time, he grows resentful and bitter, feeling as though life has passed him by.  He is destined to see what the world would have been like had he never been born at all.  This leads to despair.  His salvation?  Understanding the value of his impact on others and realizing that his wealth, though not monetary, was limitless.

Phil Connors and George Bailey perhaps could have seen it coming — there were warning signs all along.  But instead they had to go through their trials, which of course ended up becoming their blessings.  Anyone who is a parent knows that some children can simply be told not to touch the stove.  Others will only learn once they have touched it.  You could say that Phil and George had to touch it in order to get it.

We don’t know exactly what prompted Jesus to make the very unsettling statements that we heard in today’s gospel reading.  Statements about setting the earth on fire, about the anguish of his own coming trials, and about setting members of families against each other.  We don’t know what prompted it; we can only surmise that the disciples must have needed to hear it.  Maybe Jesus felt as though they needed to touch the stove.

Discipleship has a cost.  Setting families against each other?  Well, that is exactly what would happen in the early church.  Back then, there were no social programs, no societal safety nets.  Family was everything and to be set against your own was a harsh and potentially dangerous circumstance.  Yet that is what would happen as some chose to follow Jesus, while others did not.  Early members of our church faced this kind of extreme hardship.

Contrast that to today.

I am reminded of a post that someone had in their Facebook feed a few weeks ago.  An analyst was stating that Pope Francis needed to “modernize” his view on abortion in order to remain relevant, to stay popular.  Modernize?

Listen to Jesus’ words in today’s gospel.  Could you image if that analyst had lived back then and said to Jesus… “you know… with that harsh tone, there are people who might decide not to follow you…”?  What do you think Jesus would have said at that point?

Jesus’ words to the disciples were the equivalent of grabbing them by the shoulder and shaking them.  They should do the same to us.  They should be our touch the stove moment.  They should make us wonder about our own commitment level.  Are we willing to follow Jesus?  Are we willing to do what it takes?

The prize is eternity.  It is forever consolation, forever hope.

The message is Tough.  But make no mistake about it: it is also Love.

Tough Love and Two of My Favorite Movies – Homily, August 14, 2016

Catholics and the Get Out of Jail Card – Homily, August 7, 2016

Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. (Lk 12:37)

I once had a conversation with a friend, named Ajay, who is not Christian and who told me that he never quite understood the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation.  His line of thinking was that the mere notion of a “forgiveness on demand” (his term, not mine) could have the exact opposite effect than intended.  He went on to say: “If I knew I could do basically anything I wanted to do, profess my guilt to a priest and then get forgiven just like that… clean slate… I think I would go out and do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.”  He then proceeded to tell me some of those things he would do but you get the point.

The classic counterargument to this line of thinking is contained in today’s Gospel whereby Christ tells his followers about the importance of vigilance.  He also notes that we don’t know when the Son of Man will return and so we best be ready.  Some have interpreted this to mean the actual Second Coming of Christ which of course could come in 1,000 years… or tonight.  At a bare minimum, we should recognize that we will all have an opportunity to encounter Christ at the moment of our passing from this life to the next, at our death.  And that could come in 10, 40 or 80 years.  Or tonight.  It’s a good idea to be ready, to be vigilant.

Ajay’s logic is tragically flawed not only for the obvious reason that we don’t want to be caught off the sacramental Reconciliation cycle.  Let’s say we go out and do all those things Ajay wanted to do and then be forgiven.  What if you die after the sin but before the forgiveness?  Ouch.

But there’s a much bigger point here.  Reconciliation is not a Get Out of Jail Free card.  It signifies a commitment to a better way.  To living freely.  To experiencing the peace of Jesus now, not according to some cycle of our own making.  It’s not a card to throw down on the table when you get in trouble.  It’s a life worth living.

Vigilance is much more than having the good fortune of timing it just right.  It is knowing that there will be an encounter with Christ.  An encounter we all will someday face.  And as we come to it, we bring everything with us.  That includes:

Every time we resisted that burning temptation.

Each encounter with someone who was vulnerable, afraid, without hope… and then we represented the eyes and ears and hands of Christ.

The moments when we defended the weak.  When we were courageous and even unpopular in doing so.

The times when instead of saying what we really felt about somebody… we offered love and compassion and a gentle word instead.

Every time when we did not judge but could have done so easily.

… we bring all this with us.  In that moment… this is all that will matter.  And I’m sorry Ajay, but in that moment… there will be no Get Out of Jail Free card that will do us any good.

Catholics and the Get Out of Jail Card – Homily, August 7, 2016