Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, Sept 8, 2013,"Traveling with Jesus", Fr. Ken Hughes, SJ


St. Mary of the Angels   Sunday OT 23 C  9/8/13

Wisdom 9:13-18b; Philemon 9-10,12-17; Luke 14:25-33


My Brothers and Sisters,


Today’s gospel begins with the words: “Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and He turned and addressed them…”  I wonder just how many people were still traveling Him when He finished talking!


He used some pretty harsh words to describe what traveling with Him really meant:

   hating one’s father and mother,

   hating one’s own life,

   carrying one’s cross,

   renouncing all possessions.


Who would want to travel with Jesus after hearing those words?

For that matter, where are we?  Do we still want to travel with Him?


Perhaps some clarification might help.  Jesus was not really talking about hating anyone, including oneself.  He was saying that discipleship means putting God first in my life.  Is God and the reign of God foremost in my thinking and acting?


As for the cross:  am I willing to pick up the crosses which are placed in my path?  Crosses come in many shapes and sizes: 

   the cross of being an illegal,

   the cross of not having a satisfying job,

   the cross of family tensions,

   the cross of chronic illness,

   the cross of caring for sick family members,

   the cross of threatening division in our own church community.

Are we willing to carry these crosses or are we avoiding them?


Renouncing possessions?  We are called to use what we have, whether as inner or outer resources, for God’s work in our church and in our neighborhood.


There is a story which I told in Denmark on the feast of the Birth of John the Baptist.  I told the same story again in Norway on the feast of the Passion of John the Baptist, and told it a third time in Lithuania on the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. But the story is very appropriate for illustrating today’s gospel and very appropriate for our community here at St. Mary of the Angels.  Perhaps you have heard it before, perhaps not.  But it goes like this:


Imagine that you have three pots of water and you set a fire under them so that the water in each begins to boil.


In the first pot you put some carrots; in the second, some eggs; in the third, some coffee beans.


What happens? 


The carrots become soft, the eggs become hard, but the coffee beans change the water into delicious coffee and send forth a wonderful aroma.


This is a parable about crisis. The boiling water represents a time of hardship, a time of struggle.


In such times, some people who are hard become soft with care and compassion.  In such times, some people who are soft find their inner strength and faith and become courageous.  But, then there are others, like the coffee beans, who transform their environment and change the atmosphere.


St. John the Baptist was such a transformer.  He transformed Israel’s environment of oppression and atmosphere of despair into one of hope, and excitement.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, too, was such a transformer.  The 11th century was an era of war, poverty and disease.      St. Bernard was sent by his abbot to a dismal valley called “The Valley of Bitterness” and he transformed it into “Clairvaux,” – “The Valley of Light.”  More than that: by the time he died he had transformed all of Europe by his inspiring spiritual writings and by establishing 162 more monasteries.  With these monasteries came education, farming skills, and medicine – all transforming lights in the dark middle ages.


But now, we look at St. Mary of the Angels.  We are struggling. Who are we?  What is our identity and mission?  We are not here just to change ourselves; we are here to transform our society, our neighborhood.  We are not here to save ourselves; we are here to spend ourselves.  Yes, there is a cost!  Coffee beans transform water into coffee by losing themselves.   St. John the Baptist gave up his life.  St. Bernard so gave  his time and energy to renewal that he wore himself out. Jesus spells out the cost for us in today’s gospel.   There are priorities to be lived, sacrifices to be made, risks to be taken. Jesus needs our hearts and our hands to carry on his work.  He needs us to be generous in spirit.


Right now, we are blessed in having a “coffee bean” pope who is transforming our church and calling us to transform it with him.  Out of the transforming spiritualities of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Ignatius of Loyola, he is calling us to be “a poor church for the poor.”  That’s who we are here at St. Mary of the Angels! And he himself has been setting an example for us to follow.  Already, we can taste the change and smell the refreshing aroma.  And, like the coffee beans, he is giving and losing himself in this transforming work for justice and peace everywhere.


Are we, too, coffee beans of transformation, changing our environment and refreshing the atmosphere through our goodness, cheerfulness, generosity?


Carrots are good.  Eggs are good.  We need them. But coffee beans are better!  Are we willing to lose ourselves a little more for a new taste and a new aroma in our church and community this year?



                                                             Kenneth J. Hughes, SJ

                                                             Brighton, Mass. 9/8/13

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