About 10 years ago, the Washington Post newspaper conducted an experiment. It involved Joshua Bell, one of the world’s premier violinist – who has made several guest appearances with our own Kansas City Symphony.
Joshua was commissioned by the Post to play his Stradivarius violin, valued at more than four million dollars – at the Metro Center subway stop – one of the busiest stops in the Washington D.C. subway system.
So he dressed like a homeless person, in very worn and dirty clothes, sat on the station floor – and played for 45 minutes with his violin case open to accept donations.
The Washington Post had a hidden camera to video the entire event – watching how people interacted – or more accurately – did not interact with Mr. Bell.
Out of the 1,197 people who passed him, only seven stopped to listen – instead of just rushing by — and no one tried to interact with him.—either to give him a compliment or ask how he was doing. He did receive a whopping $12.17 in tips.
Now remember this is a man who would have earned probably 1,000 times that amount had he been in a tuxedo playing at the Kennedy Center for 45 minutes — rather than rags in the subway.
The story would be an excellent illustration of what St. James tells us in the second reading – about giving preference to the well dressed and the well to do. But I prefer to use the story to bring some understanding to the Gospel.
I presume those 1,197 people who passed by Joshua Bell had good hearing – but their ability to listen wasn’t very well developed – at least not in the area of music. . .
Jesus healed a man in today’s gospel who was deaf. What a gift Jesus gave him. This man could now suddenly hear – how amazing that must have been for him!
But he had some catching up to do when it came to knowing how to listen – how to recognize, for example, sounds that warned of danger, or how to recognize not only words – but also nuances in the tone of a person’s voice. He had to learn how to recognize the sounds in nature, and how to learn what certain phrases that are not to be taken literally mean – like, “ I am so hungry I could eat a one-humped camel” – remember he lived in Galilee!
We who have always had our hearing – sometimes aren’t very good listeners. . . This happens in families a lot: husbands not listening to wives, and parents not listening to children –
and wives who don’t listen to their husbands and children who aren’t listening to their parents. We hear – but we don’t listen. . . and that causes a few problems.
Not being a good listener happens in the Church – which is one way to explain the whole abuse crisis – people told the truth but they weren’t listened to, or no one wanted to act on the truth and chose, instead, to ignore it. And this took place in the Church because it also takes place in families —- And that, of course, causes a few problems.
And not being a good listener happens in our relationship with God. God always hears us — but we do not always hear God. And that causes a few problems.
That’s why we need to keep reading the Scriptures over and over and over again – because we can always hear something new or something different – or even hear something for the first time – and then, as St. James reminded us last week – we have to be doers of the word and not just hearers of the word.
That’s why we need to get away from all the noise in our lives from time to time – because there is always so much noise around us –
that it drowns out the still quiet voice of God. . . When our thoughts and attention is always being pushed and pulled by all the noise around us – those words of God can never break through – and that causes problems.
Notice two details of this healing story told to us by St. Mark. . .
FIRST – the deaf man’s friends brought him to Jesus and begged Jesus to lay his hands on him. WE NEED friends and people in our lives who can lead us to Jesus by their faith — and sometimes we have to be the person who leads others to Jesus.
And SECOND – notice when Jesus healed the man he took him aside – away from the crowd. We need to get away from the crowd, off by ourselves, a little each day just to spend some quiet time with the Lord.
Quiet time has always been so important to me – in and out of the monastery. . . It helps me keep going through difficult times. It helps in giving me ideas when I have an issue I can’t figure out, inspiration week after week to preach, helping me with what I need to say to a person needing help – and allowing me to experience God’s loving presence.
Jesus worked many miracles of healing and he still does. In the gospels we read he healed people because of his compassion, or in response to a request, or in response to faith – all to demonstrate that the Kingdom of God is present and in our midst. Jesus healed people to show in a visible way the blessing he wants to give to us.
Today, Jesus helped this man to hear – and in doing so he shows us his primary mission was – to teach us how to hear and listen to God. Let us ask God to open the ears of our hearts to his word and to his love — so that we can be doers of the word: making God’s kingdom presence and in our midst by our words and actions.
My name is – James. And you just heard part of my letter proclaimed as your second reading — and you will be reading parts of the short letter I wrote for the next four weeks. So, just think of this September as the month of James!
For those of you who know your Apostles – let me just say I am not James the Greater, nor am I James the Lesser — rather, as the Acts of the Apostles refers to me — I am the James known as the “brother of the Lord” – which just means I was a relative of Jesus – as in our day almost any male relative was known as someone’s brother. As in, “hey, bro – how’s it going??”
I was in charge of the Jewish-Christian community in Jerusalem – and I end up writing this letter because so many in my congregation left Jerusalem after the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. So I am writing to those I describe at the very beginning of my letter as the “12 tribes in the dispersion” – that is Jews who are away from their home: especially those now living throughout Palestine and in Syria.
So, I am writing them because they are now out on their own – but they are far from mature disciples – so they are still struggling with the issue of how to live as a faithful Christian in the midst of a very secular Roman empire. . .
Sound familiar?? I’m just saying you might be able to make a connection as YOU struggle with the issue of how to live as a faithful Christian in the midst of a very secular American society. Never think the Scriptures are just about someone else – and don’t have anything to do with you!
I mean that’s why you have the Scriptures read to you in your liturgy – to give you some insight – some guidance and direction – in how to live your life now that you are Baptized – or as your man at the ambo has recently been saying: once you receive the Eucharist – and carry Christ within you – you have to live differently than before — but how is that done?
That’s what his preaching should be about Sunday after Sunday – helping you figure out the HOW of living the Christian life – but I digress.
So what insights and guidance and direction was I trying to give my posse as they struggled to live as Christians?
Well in what you heard today – I was simply telling them, asking them really – to be constantly open to the “gift” of God’s word that has been “planted” within them – and to ACT upon that word by works of generosity and compassion. “Be doers of the word – and not just hearers” as I bluntly tell them.
Does that sound like something you can do also? Let me just say, it is a little more difficult than what it sounds like: be doers of the word and not just hearers. . .
Next week, builds on this principle. If you are doers of the word – than one thing you have to do is not show favoritism to those who try to impress you with their wealth or status. The gospel of Christ calls us to see all men and women as equal sons and daughters of God – with a clear preference given to “those who are poor in the world” which God has made “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.”
Then after that — really comes the heart of my message: the relationship of faith to good works. Faith that is alive naturally shows itself in action. Dead faith produces no good works, inspires no loving response to the Word we hear – and possesses no power to save. It is not faith at all. It is dead. Living faith, on the other hand –
rejoices in God’s word and celebrates that presence in acts of compassion and reconciliation. Now a little advice – use this to judge only yourself – not others — is your faith dead or alive?
You obviously should recognize a theme building from one week to the next – as I then exhort my dispersed Christian community – which would include all of you – to put ones’ own individual passions and interests aside –
for that which is good for the whole community. Conflicts and disagreements and arguments all tear down the body of Christ rather than build it up – our Christian faith calls us to “cultivate peace & unity” – first among ourselves – but then radiating out to the world.
In my final words to the twelve tribes in dispersion that you will hear read —
I give harsh criticism to the rich – those same people I talked about earlier who may try to impress you with their wealth of status – but those who have defrauded workers of a just wage, who live lives of luxury at the expense of the poor – don’t know anybody like this – do you?
My intent was to echo many of the prophets – who my Jewish audience would know so well – warning them that riches will one day decay into nothing and that God will judge us all on our exploitation of the poor. . .
So my time is running out – let me just say a few more things: 1st your faith and mine is all about relationships – our relationship with God and our relationship with those around us —-
it is NOT about rules and regulations as Jesus tries to point out to the Pharisees today. Rules and regulations are a means to an end –
they are meant to guide us in our relationships – not determine them. My letter is meant to also guide you, my dear friends, in your relationships.
Also the words in your celebration of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the sick come directly from my letter: “If there are any sick among you, then let them send for the priests of the Church. The priests will pray over them and the prayer of faith will raise them up. If they have committed any sins their sins will be forgiven them.”
Be sure to take advantage of this sacrament when it is offered again. . . It simply calls the grace of God into your life during a time of hardship or affliction.
So, just remember that being a Christian isn’t all that complicated: do your best in loving God and loving your neighbor. Strengthen yourself through the Eucharist, read and meditate on the words of Scripture so that you can be doers of the word and not just hearers — and then remember one of my great one-liners:
“Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.”
Oh, you will have trials as a Christian – but you will also know great joy!
Storyteller Fr. John Shea – tells of a father who brought his four kids to an ice-cream parlor. Only three of them came inside. The teenage girl remained in the car sulking – because she was at the age of life at which teenage girls like to sulk.
Meanwhile, the two boys in the group fought over which one of them could choose first: because they both wanted garlic-chocolate-fudge-with-cookie-crumbles – and one of course could not order what the other already had – that would just be unthinkable. . .
So the two of them almost came to blows when the older boy ordered the favored ice cream — and the younger one was reduced to settle for orange-ripple-pizza-flavored ice cream. . .
Meanwhile, the little girl of the family who couldn’t have been more than four — wept because all of the chocolate-chocolate-chocolate-chip was gone – and nothing could console her – not even a triple scoop of peppermint-fudge-raspberry-mango. She sobbed all the way through her destruction of the cone!
Finally, the teenager in the car came in and sulked because they did not have “anything” – though actually there was more than 80 flavors –
all except, of course, chocolate-chocolate-chocolate-chip. She finally settled on a single scoop of vanilla yogurt “in a dish” as a protest against the injustices of the human condition – especially teenaged girls who had to go out with her younger siblings AND her father – all the while hoping she would not be seen.
When they got home, however, the father told his wife how much fun he had on the outing, and he was speaking the truth. . .
For you see – they were his children – and he loved them — and he delighted in feeding them. In spite of the sulking, fighting, and crying. . .
[The Book of Love: Andrew Greely & Mary Durkin, pg 183]
Are we hungry people??? Because, you see, we are God’s children – and he loves us – and he delights in feeding us. . . even though we certainly can be a bit like the kids in the story: sulking, fighting, and crying.
Taking our cue from the second reading: Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – God knows that sometimes we do watch carefully how we live – not as foolish persons but as wise ———– but there are also times we do NOT carefully watch how we live — and we are foolish persons rather than wise: BUT GOD STILL LOVES US!
God knows, and we do to – that at times we do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord —
but many times we choose ignorance so we can do what we want to do – rather than the will of the Lord: BUT EVEN THEN: WE ARE GOD’S CHILDREN AND GOD STILL LOVES US.
God knows, and we do to – and so do others around us – that sometimes we get drunk on wine (or whatever our alcohol of choice is), and we lie in debauchery and fail to fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit. And sometimes we don’t make those unwise choices — -and do fill ourselves with the Spirit: BUT GOD STILL LOVES US.
Sometimes we do sing and play to the Lord in our hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father — and sometimes our hearts are far from the Lord: BUT EVEN THEN: WE ARE GOD’S CHILDREN. AND GOD STILL LOVES US. AND HE DELIGHTS IN FEEDING US!
“I am the bread of life — and my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.”
Hopefully we have come here hungry – even though we may be sulking, fighting, and crying. . . But still hungry enough to fill ourselves with Christ today in this Eucharist – and come to believe in him — and be convinced that he is the holy one of God
Remarks made after Communion:
The second collection today is the annual diocesan collection for Life and Justice issues. . .
As we found out again this week – an area the Church still needs much improvement on in the life and justice department — is the protection of youth from the sexual abuse of clergy. . .
St. Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians: “watch carefully how you live – not as foolish persons – but as wise.”
Our church in its leadership is still filled with too many foolish people – set on protecting abusers— rather than protecting and helping the abused.
You and I are no doubt deeply hurt and disturbed by such horrific crimes done by clergy – and covered up by Bishops —- and must continue to assure that in our parish – our youth feel safe, protected, and cared for.
I certainly agree with the statements of Bishop Johnson – the time for words is over – it’s time to see action.
May we continue to pray – AND WORK HARD – so that these evil actions of the past – don’t happen again.
I don’t know about you – but I need Mary!
Because sometimes I have a tendency to look at my life and my accomplishments and want to proclaim: What a great job I’ve done!
Like most Americans these days – I tend to validate my life by pointing to what I have done – and this validation leads to self-affirmation and sometimes even boastfulness and pride.
Influenced by American secularism and individualism – I sometimes even view my existence as independent from God. And when that happens – my tendency is to ignore God’s role in my life, and see myself as a self-actualizing individual – putting myself – not God – at the center of the universe.
And then I really become self-inflated – and then am tempted to look at others as less successful than myself. . .
Yes, influenced by an ever more dominant secular culture, I am tempted to ignore God’s role in my life. I ignore the God who knit me together in my mother’s womb, who gave me my gifts and talents, who sustains me in my existence, and who showers me with the Holy Spirit enabling me to use those God-given gifts and talents.
And that’s why I need Mary – to remind me that this woman God blessed above all other human beings –
whom God chose to be at the center of salvation history and who was faithful to Jesus from Bethlehem to Calvary – always kept things in perspective.
That Mary, at all times, realized that the source of her blessings was the Almighty and not herself and whose blessings made her not proud – but humble and grateful.
On this feast of the Assumption – when we believe Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life — I pray for Mary’s intercession that I may become more aware of the source of all my blessings –
That I may join her in her humility, praise, and gratitude to our God: “The almighty had done great things for me and holy is her name.”
Yes, I need Mary – and perhaps you do also – to keep me grounded. To keep me humble. To keep me focused on God. So that I can as readily as Mary – to God’s will in my life.
I began with the children’s book: The Brand New Kid by Katie Couric. (Scholastic Inc.)
After the book: I think the message of the book is that there are just a few words between encountering a stranger – and having a new friend. The kingdom of God is built one person at a time – one kind word at a time. . .
St. Paul in our second reading from the Ephesians said:
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [Now this doesn’t sound like any family or parish we know of – does it?]
Paul continues by saying:
And be kind to one another: compassionate and forgiving.
This is how we are to treat one another in the Body of Christ – and it begins one person at a time.
It’s not always easy – and we are able to do it only because we have received and have been strengthened by the Bread of Life – that Jesus gives us in the Eucharist.
And incidentally, that’s why we treat each other with respect – because we are all little tabernacles carrying the presence of Christ within us. . .
Another Matthew Moment:
If it is true that good things come in twos – then I have some things going for me:
-when was asked by Bishop Johnston to come to St. Patrick – it was the second time a bishop asked me to move when I wasn’t quite ready to move: 1st time when Bishop Finn asked me to move from Holy Family to Odessa & Oak Grove
-My second time, then, in the Northland – as Holy Family is just up the street a bit.
-The second time I have followed Robert Stewart as pastor – the first time was when I followed him at Holy Family.
-the second time I’ve had a connection with St. Patrick school. I’m sure it isn’t often when a former teacher comes back 25 years later to be the pastor. . .
-my second time at a parish which had St. Patrick as its patron – 1st time was St. Patrick in St. Joseph.
- 2nd time with a school – as St. Patrick in St. Joseph had a school.
And just incidentally – some of my closest friends today I first met at St. Patrick –
Fr. Mike Roach, of course – but he had his priest support group over once while I was teaching – and so I met Fr. Rick Dierkes, who is now deceased, here at St. Pat’s — and Fr. Lloyd Opoka.
I certainly want to thank you for welcoming me to St.
Patrick in a much better way than Lazlo was first greeted
at his new school. You have been very welcoming, very
understanding and patient as I’ve gotten settled in – and
I just look forward to spending some great quality time
with you as we continue to build the Kingdom of God
here at St. Patrick. . . .