Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, September 22, 2013, "Unexpected Stories " Fr. Ken Hughes, SJ

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St. Mary of the Angels Sunday 25 OT C 9/22/13

Amos 8:4-7; I Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13

My Brothers and Sisters,

We have had our usual bad news this week from daily bombings in Iraq to violent shooting rampages both in Washington, D.C. and now in Nairobi, Kenya.

But we have also had some startling good news in the 12,000 word interview with Pope Francis and the unfolding story of Boston’s Mr. Glen Evans.

Pope Francis with honest frankness has challenged the misplaced focus and direction of our Church by stressing the primacy of love over dogma, the primacy of compassion over morality, the primacy of the Church as a home for all rather than a small chapel for the select few. Though a private interview, Pope Francis was speaking to the vast audience of Church and world.

Meanwhile this week, the hidden story of Mr. Glen James began to unfold in The Boston Globe. 50 year old Mr. Evans has been homeless for five years now. Suffering from Meniere’s disease with its prolonged spells of vertigo and embarrassed by bad stutter, and not wanting to be a burden to his family, he chose homelessness, spending his nights in shelters. As you know, he recently discovered a backpack with $42,000 in cash and traveler’s checks. Immediately he sought the police who were able to get the money back to its owner, a student recently arrived from China. If the commissioner of police had not honored Mr. James publicly this week, would we know the story?

Wasn’t it refreshing to hear Pope Francis describe the Church as a hospital in the middle of a battlefield and assert: "It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else."

Wasn’t it also refreshing to hear Mr. James, when asked if he were tempted to keep the money, reply: "Even if I were desperate for money, I would not have kept even a penny of the money found. God has always very well looked after me."

We have since read that a 27 year old Virginia man, Mr. Ethan Whittington, has begun a fund for him to which hundreds of people have already contributed some $85,000.

Compassion begets compassion. Goodness begets goodness.

But, what do these two stories have in common with today’s gospel parable of "The Unjust Steward?"

First, all three stories are startling, unexpected stories. Just think: a pope speaks against the Church’s direction of the past 35 years. A homeless man turns in $42,000 . And Jesus praises out-and-out criminal behavior. These are all certainly unexpected stories!

And secondly, they are all stories about life. Pope Francis is claiming, as he phrased it, "the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel." Mr. James, in his homelessness, lives a life of far greater freedom and integrity than many people, from the rich whom the prophet Amos today chastises to the unscrupulous wealthy of Wall St. And Jesus asks us: do you have a passion for life? What is its source: God or material possessions?

As so often in his parables, Jesus instantly gets our attention and jolts our thinking by saying something outrageous.

There is no getting around it: the steward of this parable is a crook. He squandered what did not belong to him. And, once caught, he then deliberately cheated his master again.

But, he is a clever crook! He evaluates his situation very realistically. No begging for him. No hard work for him. No homeless shelter for him. You can be sure that if he ever found $42,000, it would end up in his pocket. What must he do for a home and welcome? So, he plans oh so carefully! Note that he calls the debtors in one by one. One by one --he can’t allow them to discover what he is doing for others. They might get together and blackmail him for more. And he leaves no paper trail! He gets them to rewrite the bills. No one will be able to point to his handwriting and accuse him of fraud. Where is no proof?

Jesus praises this crook-steward not for being a crook, nor for being clever. What He praises him for is his single focus toward a goal and his total commitment to get there. The steward needed to survive and he took every step he needed for that survival, both for physical survival and social survival.

Jesus might say to us: You, too, know how to survive physically and socially.

But are you really surviving spiritually? Are you alive? Are you as focused on spiritual matters as you are on physical and social well-being? Are you intentional about the primacy of God in your life? Are you totally committed to that primacy by setting aside time for prayer, by reflecting on the gospel message for guidance, and by living passionately what Jesus and his message say to you?

Pope Francis is putting his focus on compassion and is calling for a commitment of energy for himself and for the Church. Mr. James proved absolutely the focus and commitment of his life, namely, the goodness of integrity. Are we as passionate about the focus and direction of our life? Have we named that focus and claimed it wholeheartedly?

Teilhard de Chardin long ago wrote: "Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, mankind will have discovered fire."

Today’s stories and gospel parable are about harnessing these energies of love for God and neighbor, and discovering that there is already a fire burning among us in the words of Pope Francis and in the example of Mr. James. It is for us to keep adding to that fire of love and keep it expanding throughout our church and city.

 

Kenneth J. Hughes, SJ.

Brighton, Mass. 9/22/13

 

 

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