Thursday, November 10, 2022

Tuesday, November 8, 2022


Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’ And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than the children of light.”

Luke 16:1-8

I guess the bottom line of this strange parable about a bunch of crooks is that we can learn something - even from them!

First of all, the steward was a crook! He was a slave who nonetheless was in charge of running his master’s estate. His master was probably an absentee landlord which was common in those days. His master, being away most of the time, gave his steward a clear path to a career of embezzlement.

Second, the debtors were cooks as well. When they heard that the steward had been fired, they collaborated with him in his scheme to falsify the books. With his days numbered, the steward decided to lower the debts of all his maser’s debtors. That way, they would be grateful for lowing their debts and if they reported him, they could be blackmailed as collaborators in that very same scheme.

Third, the master himself was probably a crook too. Instead of condemning his scheming steward, he praises him for being so slick and cunning in his crookedness. He actually admired the trick that his steward played on him to save himself once he was fired!

In this strange parable, Jesus is not suggesting we all become slick and crooked. He is simply saying that “the children of this world are much more creative in dealing with their own kind than the children of the next world are in dealing with their own kind.” It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Would that Christians were as eager and ingenious in their attempt to attain goodness as the people of this world are in their attempts to attain money and comfort!” It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Would that Christians were half as hungry for righteousness as the people of this world are for material wealth! Would that Christians would be as clever about reaching holiness as the people of this world are about making money!”

Yes, the bottom line about this strange parable is that we can learn something even from crooks!

Sunday, November 6, 2022



We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.
II Maccabees

The trouble with having been a priest as long as I have been is that I am now beginning to hear stories about myself from people I worked with a long time ago. The stories usually begin with words like, “I will never forget the time you said, such and such!” I cringe as I wait to see just how bad it is! Sometimes it is funny, sometimes insightful and sometimes a little embarrassing. Recently, a former staff member told me about a baptism I was about to do for several babies. I read down the list of their names and shouted, “Movie stars! Athletes! Rock stars! For God's sake, whatever ever happened to saints’ names?”

Unlike today, when people choose the names of drug addicted, multiple-divorced and foul-mouthed TV and sports personalities for their children, not too many years ago it was a practice for parents to choose at least one name of a saint-hero in naming their children. The purpose was to choose a model of courage and holiness to inspire the young boy or girl in living his or her life - someone who had laid down his or her life for Christ in some heroic way. I was named after St. James, the apostle, who was a preacher and bishop of Jerusalem, a relative of Jesus who was the first of the apostles to die a martyr’s death by being beheaded. 

While parents usually chose a saint’s name for baptism, at Confirmation it was the practice to let us choose our own hero. I chose “Anthony,” the 13th century Franciscan who was famous for his holiness and who, also like St. James, was famous for his preaching.

Today we are presented with a condensed version of one of my favorite Jewish hero stories of the Bible, the seven Maccabean brothers and their mother, who were cruelly tortured, mutilated and killed because they refused to compromise their religious principles. (it's too bad we did not get to hear the complete story, only a condensed version.) In the complete story, all seven brothers, one by one, were whipped, scourged, had their tongues cut out. They were skinned and scalped, had their hands and feet amputated, and were cooked alive in a huge frying pan. Their mother, who was forced to watch, cheered her sons on in their heroic fidelity to the faith. After she had witnessed the death of all seven of her sons, she too was put to death.

Fidelity! We have a whole lot of names for it: keeping a promise, carry through, doing what you said you'd do, keeping your word, putting your money where your mouth is, putting up and shutting up, being faithful, to name a few.

I know of no one personally who has had to die for the faith. Maybe it exists in some places in the world, but it seems to be rare today especially in this country. In fact, I don’t know a whole lot of people who would die for their faith, even if called on to do so! I always wonder if I could lay down my life if I had to! I do, however, know a whole lot of people who have given up the faith because someone said or did something they didn’t like. I know people who have left the church and given up their Catholicism because a church was renovated; they were refused a church wedding, even though they never went to church and had no plans to start; their child was thrown off the parish softball team; their child’s baptism was postponed because the parents did not practice the faith, refused to set an example and bring the child up in the practice of the faith; because the priest made some kind of critical remark in a homily or even because the church was painted a color they hated.

Fellow Catholics, here is the question I think this reading raises. Do you make decisions about how to live your life against a set of unchanging principles or do you make decisions about how to live your life as you go along, deciding what to do, depending what will get you ahead in a given moment?

Do people around you know that you will always operate out of your principles no matter what or do they know that you will always operate out of expediency, doing whatever it takes to get what you want, even if it hurts you and the people around them? Can you stand up to your own addictions, compulsions and cravings or are you a victim of your own addictions, compulsions and cravings? Are you a person who people can always depend on because you are a person of his or her words or are you a person who always goes for the latest best offer, regardless of what you promised yesterday? Is there anything you would die for or is everything negotiable?

Do people know that you mean “yes” when you say “yes’ and “no’ when you say “no” or do they know that, for you, “yes” and “no” may mean “maybe.” In other words, are you a person of principle or a person of expediency? Are you guided by a set of non-negotiable principles that you will not sell-out on or is anything you say or do, or promise to do, “up for grabs?”

No one is usually able to get to the point of being able to lay down his or her life for their faith, all at once! It is sort of like lifting weights, you build yourself up to that point! You usually build yourself up to that point by making principled decisions, one baby step at a time. If you can’t keep a simple promise, can’t show up when you said you would, can’t be where you said you’d be and can’t be loyal to your friends, how can you ever hope to be principled in the big things, the things that really hurt, the things that exact a great price, like keeping your marriage or ordination vows, much less being beheaded for the faith?

A principled life takes concentration, courage and practice. A principled life is the “road less traveled,” but this road leads to life. The alternative is a life ruled by “if it feels good, do it!” This is the “road most traveled” and this is the road that leads to disaster and death.-- and sadly many take it!