Friday, July 28, 2017

What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world? - A Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
July 30, 2017

While he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in the year 1534, Sir Thomas More wrote a work called A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation. It’s a fictional dialogue set in the Kingdom of Hungary during the Ottoman invasions of that century and takes place between a man named Vincent and his uncle Anthony. Vincent finds himself frightened for his life due to the invasions and so he visits Anthony in the hope that he’ll be able to offer him some comfort and consolation. The dialogue centers on Anthony instilling within Vincent the sense that this world is passing and that the only true comfort we can receive comes from Jesus Christ and the hope of eternal life that he offers. One of my favorite parts of their conversation comes towards the end, when Anthony recalls for Vincent one of Aesop’s fables. He tells him the tale of Jupiter, who once threw a great feast and invited all of the small and poor worms to it. All of the worms heeded the invitation, except the snail who stayed at home. Afterwards, Jupiter approached the snail to ask her why she did not come to feast. He told her that she would have been “welcome and have fared well, and would have seen a goodly palace and been delighted with many goodly pleasures.” In response, the snail smugly replied that she loved no place so much as her own home. Angered by her answer, Jupiter decreed that since she loved her home so much, she would henceforth carry it on her back, condemned to bear its burden wherever she went for the rest of her days. Vincent is intrigued by this tale and asks his uncle to clarify what he means by sharing it. Anthony explains that, like the snail, so many people have their priorities skewed – they care only for their house on earth and “cannot, for the lothness of leaving that house, find it in their hearts to go with good will to the great feast that God has prepared in heaven.” And, in so doing, not only do they end up depriving themselves of ultimate goodness and happiness and bliss, they condemn themselves to the misery of carrying the weight of a passing world on their shoulders. This whole Dialogue, as telling as it is, takes on a whole new level of profundity when we consider that its author, less than a year later, would willingly forsake all of the profits of this world and surrender himself to the king’s order of execution, all for the gain of heaven.

In our Gospel today, Jesus places before us three small, but loaded parables…each of which is meant to help us see that the kingdom of heaven is worthy of our urgent and steadfast desire and pursuit. He likens the kingdom of heaven to an amazing treasure buried in a field, to a pearl of great price, and to a vast net that is cast into the sea and then filled with fish. But in each of these parables, He is quick to warn that we can only attain the richness of God’s kingdom if we renounce our own. Like the snail, we have been invited and called into absolute bliss, but unless we are willing to leave our own homes – our own kingdoms – behind, then we will shackle ourselves to this life and deprive ourselves of the bounty that God wants for us to have. Unless we sell all we have so that we can buy the field and its treasure, unless we sell all of our other goods to buy the priceless pearl, unless we leave the shore and cast our nets into the sea, we will never inherit the kingdom of God.

You and I are concerned with many things: our jobs, our wealth, our security, our families, our well-being, etc. We go to great lengths to secure temporal happiness for ourselves and our loved ones. We expend an incredible amount of energy ensuring that this life is everything that it possibly can be. But are we as concerned with and invested in the life of the world to come? Do we pursue the kingdom of heaven with same sense of urgency and abandon? Or do we simply presume that God – because He is good and merciful – will simply hand it over to us in the end? Jesus makes it pretty clear to us today that His kingdom is found without cost, but that it cannot be possessed without the loss of this world. In other words, if we do not desire and pursue His kingdom with reckless abandon, ordering and subjecting all of our other desires and pursuits in this life to the attainment of heaven, then it will never be ours.

So what does this actually mean? Does this mean living a life of meaningless misery, pain, and suffering? Does it mean depriving ourselves of good things in this life? Does it mean “Quaker’s meeting has begun, no more laughing and no more fun?” Not at all! Our Lord wants us to enjoy all that is good in this life, but He wants us to see it all in the light of eternity. He wants us to live in this world, but not to be of it…to live in the City of Man, but to not be consumed by it…to live for the City of God and to pursue it. This means that we subject all things to God’s will first and foremost, and that if it becomes at all apparent that something we desire or love is contrary to His will we are ready to drop it like a hot potato. It means pursuing virtue and eradicating vice; it means growing in holiness and avoiding sin; it means loving God and our neighbor before ourselves. It means being willing to suffer when it is necessary; it means taking up our crosses when we are asked; it means, ultimately, dying to ourselves so that we might rise to new life. We must have the awareness that we have, set before us, the greatest promise of happiness and we must have the focus to keep our eyes set on it over and above all else.

In his 1960 play A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt theatricized the heroic and saintly witness of St. Thomas More as he faced persecution for denying the legitimacy of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. In one scene, we find that the prosecutors at his trial are at a loss to find any hard evidence on which to convict Thomas More for treason, and so they resort to manufacturing false evidence. Sir Richard Rich, a longtime friend and mentee of More, is the chosen vehicle for this act of perjury; he is bribed with power and appointed the attorney general for Wales in exchange for testifying against More. The coward that he is, he takes the stand and offers the false testimony that will ultimately condemn More to death. Recognizing that he is doomed, Thomas More asks only one question of Sir Richard Rich. Noticing that he is now wearing a medal of office, he asks what it signifies. When he learns of Rich’s appointment, he turns to his old friend and asks him the most haunting of questions: “Why Richard, it profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world…but for Wales?”

St. Thomas More understood the value of heaven and he understood that all the riches of this world are as nothing compared to it. Will we be like him or will we sell ourselves out for the lesser pleasures of this world? Will we run, no matter the cost, to be at home with God, or will we shackle ourselves to the homes we have built? Today we pray that we will be given the strength, the courage, and the grace to leave all else behind, to leave our homes and the comforts of this earthly city, and to find it in our hearts, unlike Aesop’s snail, to “go with good will to the great feast that God has prepared in heaven.”

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Separating the Wheat from the Weeds - A Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
July 23, 2017

Have you ever formed a poor opinion of someone only to later discover that you were dead wrong? Have you ever judged someone harshly only to later find out that your judgment was way off? Have you ever jumped to a conclusion about a person or a situation only to fall flat on your face? The answer, of course, is yes...we have all done these things. It’s easy for us to see and focus on the imperfections of others, to zero in on their misdeeds, and to presume that we, in our own “perfection” have all the answers. And so we judge, we nitpick, we come to rash conclusions, all based usually on a mere impression or appearance. Let’s be honest with ourselves...we can be pretty terrible with our thoughts sometimes: what we think about the young mother at the grocery store buying ‘non-essentials’ with food stamps, or the over-weight man in line for ice cream, or the beggar on the street who reeks of alcohol, or our grumpy and red-faced Republican neighbor, or our open-minded but empty-headed and liberal aunt, and on and on. How we just love to point out what we think is ridiculous, unjust, or we love to malign each other and gossip about each other. How we love to cut each other down if only for a brief moment of pleasure that allows us to feel that we’re somehow better or more put together than someone else. But the sad reality is, at any given moment, we more often than not lack the full spectrum...we lack the facts...and we know it, and yet we still push forward, presuming the worst of others.

In our Gospel today, our Lord gives us a stern warning about this entire enterprise...and He does so by means of another parable. He invites us to consider a vast field of wheat in which the master has planted much good grain that is bearing good fruit. But after some time his servants notice that, alongside all this good wheat, there are many weeds...weeds that had been sown by the enemy while everyone was asleep. In their zeal and their enthusiasm, the servants ran to their master to report the problem and to ask if he’d like them to start pulling the weeds up. The master gave a quick and stern response: he warned them not to pull the weeds up because, if they did, they might uproot the wheat along with them.

For those of us who know a little bit about gardening and farming, we know that weeding – while necessary – is a delicate work. If we’re too quick and not careful, we can start pulling out or damaging our good plants. That’s why a good gardener knows his garden well...he knows what he planted and what he did not plant, he knows where he planted what he planted, and he knows when is the best time to weed and when it’s better to wait. And if this is true in a small garden, you better believe it’s even truer in a big wheat field. In a wheat field, not only is the task of weeding more daunting, it’s much more difficult because the weed that typically grows alongside wheat – called darnel or cockle – looks incredibly similar to fact, the wheat and the weeds are almost indiscernible from each other until right around harvest time, when the ripe wheat will appear brown and the darnel will appear black. Now it’s true, darnel is poisonous and can even kill you if you eat it, but if someone starts to zealously weed out the darnel before harvest time, before seeing the big picture, he runs the risk of doing huge damage to the field...he risks, because of his own ignorance and carelessness, destroying what’s good in an effort to eliminate what’s bad.

This is precisely what Jesus is warning us against. He wants us to stop ignorantly and carelessly judging the hearts of others because, without the full picture that He has, we run the risk of doing tremendous damage to them, to others, and to ourselves. Sometimes we’re so bent on the noble task of rooting out evil wherever it may be that we can start seeing it where it’s not. We presume it’s where it’s not and then we miss seeing it where it actually is. Our Lord has not recruited us to be weed-pullers...He has called us to work with Him to sow the grain and to harvest the wheat, but the weeding belongs to Him. Our lives must be spent cultivating and sowing and fertilizing and watering, but to trust that He alone is the master of the field. He is the Just Judge, Who in the end will separate the wheat from the weeds and the sheep from the goats. Our task is to make sure, in our own lives, that we are living as wheat and that we are inspiring others to do so by our witness.

So if you’re ever in the mood to start being a weed-puller, if you’ve got the urge to start pulling up weeds and eliminating evil, don’t go into town looking for your opportunity...look into the mirror, look into your own heart. What are we doing to remove the weeds, the darnel, the evil, from our own lives? And are we spending so much time looking for weeds ad extra that we are oblivious to the weeds ad intra? We have to spend more time – in God’s grace – examining our own consciences, taking our own spiritual inventories, and getting to know our own spiritual gardens well enough to know the wheat from weeds. One of the most tragic things in our world today is that so many people live unexamined lives...they don’t really think about their own thoughts, actions, and failings...and this is precisely what allows darnel to spread from our own hearts and lives into the hearts and lives of those around us. Confession lines are short...way too short...but there is no shortage of sin in each of our lives. This should tell us that we need to spend more time examining our own lives and less time examining the lives of others.

And so my friends, let us recommit ourselves to the robust living of the Christian life. Let each of us, today, here and now, make the graced-choice to be sowers of good seed. Let us rededicate ourselves to fruitful and examined living. Let us commit ourselves to going to the Sacrament of Confession regularly, to going to Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Day, to praying fervently in both thanksgiving and supplication, and to reaching out in mercy and service to those in need. We can never deny evil and we can never encourage another to pursue it, but we must know that the time and method of weeding it out is known only to the Lord of the harvest. Today we pray that He, our Christ and God, Who alone sees the field for what is truly is, will deem us worthy to be counted among his faithful stewards and among His good wheat.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Our Hearts are...Gross? A Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time?

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Fifteenth Sunday of the Year
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
July 16, 2017

For a long time now, heart disease has been the leading cause of death worldwide. Coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, hypertension…these and other ailments of the heart are quickly and steadily claiming more and more victims each and every year. As a result of this, doctors and healthcare workers are constantly reminding us about the need for preventative care…we’re told constantly to watch our diets, exercise, and visit the doctor’s office yearly. The heart is such an important organ that we really can’t be too careful…and if we’re not careful, sooner or later it’s going to catch up with us and the consequences could be dire.

But you know, there’s another kind of disease of the heart that’s even more common and more deadly than anything you’ll hear about from your cardiologist. It’s a disease that doesn’t affect our physical hearts, but rather our spiritual hearts. And this is a major theme in the Gospels…Jesus is constantly speaking about the health and well-being of our spiritual hearts.

For example, in Matthew 15:8, Jesus speaks about spiritual hearts that have stopped beating and are inoperative when He says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Just a few verses later, in Matthew 15:19, he goes on to speak about hearts that are diseased…that are filled with sickness and sin; He says, “For from your heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, and blasphemy.” And in Matthew 22:37, Jesus reminds us what our hearts are for…not for apathy or for harboring evil, but for love. He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” No fewer than 60 times throughout all four Gospels do we hear references to our spiritual hearts…clearly this is important to the Lord.

And today we find out exactly why the Lord is so concerned with our hearts. In our Gospel, Jesus Christ the Divine Physician examines the human heart and offers us His disturbing diagnosis…echoing the words of the Prophet Isaiah, He says, “Gross is the heart of this people…they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes.” The Greek word used here for “gross” is epachynthÄ“ – it literally refers to fat that has congealed and become dull and hard,  like wax. “Calloused” and “hardened” don’t quite convey the same message…Jesus is telling us that our hearts are gross, they are clogged and congested with a waxen fat that prevents them from doing what they were meant to do. It doesn’t really require a whole lot of debate to see that Jesus is spot on here…turn on the news or read the paper and you’ll see story after story of people committing horrible actions and terrible deeds. Sickness and sin plague the hearts of so many of us…gross indeed is the heart of God’s people!

So that’s the diagnosis. What about the prognosis? It’s not good…not good at all. Just as a diseased physical heart leads to physical death, you better believe that a diseased spiritual heart leads to spiritual death. Now it’s easy and tempting for us to ignore this in ourselves and to point it out in others, but the reality is…we’re all sick and we’re all dealing with some pretty severe blockage in our hearts. My heart disease might not be the same as yours, and yours might not be the same as the guy next door, and his might not be the same as Hitler’s, but folks…none of us are as heart healthy as we need to be. And just like physical heart disease, spiritual heart disease can go unnoticed for a long time, slowly and subtly killing us without our being much aware of it. Deliberate sin, however small or insignificant we might think it is, is still terribly taxing on our hearts. Our selfishness and bitterness and sinfulness build up like plaque over time in our spiritual arteries, preventing our hearts from pumping, from loving the way they were meant to. And if this goes untreated over time, this little bit of plaque can develop into an awful lot, and the danger becomes grave. 

But, of course, not all is lost. Christ is indeed our good physician…and while He offers us a hard diagnosis and a tough prognosis, He also offers us an infallible treatment if we’re open to receiving it. He is ready to tear open our hearts and to make them like new. He’s ready to fill our disease-stricken hearts with His love, His mercy, and His grace. But like any good surgeon, He’s not going in without our permission. The choice is ours.

The parable of the sower and the seeds that we hear today reminds us that God is so generous with His grace, but we have to be prepared to receive it. We have to ensure that our soil on which the seeds of His grace fall is tilled and rich and ready for planting. We have to be honest with ourselves about the rockiness, and the weeds, and the thorns in our lives that will prevent His grace from taking root…we have to get rid of them and open ourselves up. So ask yourself today…what do you need to do this? A good confession? More prayer? More service? More sacrifice? The answer is all of the above. We need now to ask for the strength to engage in this holy work…and our answer comes from this altar.

Through the abundance of His goodness that we receive at this Holy Mass today, may we continue to respond to the Lord’s offer of grace so that we can truly converts our hearts over to Him, to be made into people with hearts changed and made anew. 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Rest from the Burden of Sin - A Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
July 9, 2017

Have you ever been so incredibly tired that all you wanted to do was just collapse in utter exhaustion? Have you ever been really and completely tired…I mean drained and worn out? I think we’ve all been there, whether it was because of work, or school, or family obligations, or sports, or what have you. I think we’ve all had times when, physically, our bodies just can’t take it anymore and we’re done. Luckily we have this little thing known as sleep that amazingly helps to refresh and renew our tired bodies. There’s nothing like a nice shower, a hearty meal, and a solid eight hours of good sleep to get us back on track and ready to jump back into gear. But isn’t it true that there’s another kind of tiredness that sleep cannot take care of? A fatigue that extends way beyond heavy eyes and sore muscles…that lingers and stays with us despite all of our efforts…a weariness that cuts to our core, dampens our spirit, and weighs us down. It’s the kind of tiredness that affects our whole person and makes the whole of life seem burdensome. Each one of us, myself included, at any given moment suffers more or less from this existential fatigue. Sometimes it is brought about because something horrible and tragic has happened…other times it is brought about because our dreams and expectations were not fulfilled…but more often than not, this weariness is brought about as the direct or indirect effect of the poor choices we human beings so often and easily make. In our Christian tradition we call this “sin” and we know, from our own experience, that sin has a trickle-down makes us miserable, tired, worn out, anxious, weary, and burdened.

When God created the whole world, He created it good. When He created man and woman, He didn’t just create them good, but very good. After the Fall, man and woman did not lose their fundamental goodness, but they did lose the ability to act in accordance with this goodness. This is why sin makes us miserable…sin is not something that simply offends God, a breaking of God’s rules and laws, sin is something that is completely and utterly opposed to everything we are. God created us beautiful, He created us true, and He created us good…this is who we are and nothing can change that…but sin is ugly, sin is false, sin is not good. We were not made for sin, we were not made to sin, and so when we do sin things go poorly for us. We get bogged down by it, and the more we sin and the greater we sin the more miserable we become.

When I was a little boy I was constantly getting into trouble…and often times it was because my ingenuity was getting the best of me: I would often take things from around the house and re-appropriate them for my own purposes. Sometimes this was harmless, like when I’d use the couch cushion to makes forts…but other times I went too far. I remember one time taking the garden hose and using it as a rope to climb the tree in our back yard. There’s a reason hoses don’t make good ropes…they’re slippery and they have no traction. Of course this thought didn’t occur to me until after the hose lost its grip, and I fell and broke my arm. When my mother heard my screaming she came running out of the house and after she determined that I would live to see to tomorrow she didn’t hesitate to scold me…referring to my make-shift rope she shook her head and said, “That’s not what that’s for!” If I had a dollar for every time my mother said, “That’s not what that’s for” I’d be a rich man…but there’s a lot of wisdom behind it, isn’t there? Hoses were not made to be used as ropes for climbing…they were made for something completely different. By misusing the hose I was asking for trouble…and I got it…about six weeks in a cast worth of trouble.

Sin is like this…just on a much greater scale. We’re not made to sin, we’re made for something completely different…something much better. But sin is alluring and it calls out to us, convincing us that everything will be okay if we just give in…and when we do, we see the lie for what it is. We don’t feel okay, we don’t feel good…we feel miserable. Just like the hose slipped and sent me falling to the ground, sin causes us to slip and fall from God, from each other, and even from our own selves. Luckily for me I had my mother who, despite her rightful scolding, lovingly brushed me off and took me to the emergency room so that I could begin the process of healing. I fell, she picked me up, and before the end of the day my arm was in a cast and on the road to health. But isn’t it the case that with sin we tend to stay on the ground? Our embarrassment, our fear, or even our apathy causes us to wallow…we long for wholeness, but we’re not sure how to get it. We might try to find it ourselves or turn to other means for healing, but this never works, at least not for long. I think about the day-time talk shows where we see people from all over the world getting on national television to talk about some pretty serious things: that their marriages failed, that they don’t know who the father of their children is, that they’re cheating on their spouse, that they’ve gambled away their savings, that they’re horribly addicted to drugs and alcohol…they’re bogged down by the effects of sin in their lives and they’re yearning for healing…they’re yearning for someone to pick them up, brush them off, love them, and make them whole once again. The problem is, we can’t just turn to each other, we can’t just turn to other people who themselves are struggling with their own sin…and we certainly can’t turn to ourselves. So where do we go? How do we get out of the cesspool of sin and misery? Who can relieve us of our weariness? The answer is plain as day: Jesus Christ.

In our gospel today from St. Matthew, we hear Jesus tell us, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are burdened…and I will give you rest.” Jesus Christ, Who is both God and Man, Himself without sin, took on the burden of our sin at Calvary and poured out His innocent and holy blood for the forgiveness of our sins. But the effects of this great act of love are not automatic…they have to be willingly and actively received by us. He tells us that we have to come to Him…that we have to take His yoke upon us and learn from Him. He has power over the sin that infects our lives and makes us miserable…but He can’t heal us and make us whole again unless we want Him to. We must invite Him daily into our hearts and into our lives, so that the saving power of His Cross can destroy our weariness and our fatigue.

One of the ways in which the Lord makes present to us the salvific effects and power of His gift of love on Calvary is through the Sacrament of Penance, of Confession. This Sacrament is the ordinary way in which sins are forgiven and we are restored to wholeness. I go to confession once every two weeks…I have for years and I hope I always will. I know that Christ is present, in a unique and wonderful way through His priest in the confessional…and when I’m bogged down by sin, when I’m weary and disheartened, those beautiful words of absolution lift my soul and restore me to the abundant life. I would encourage all of us to make greater use of this holy Sacrament…and to do so regularly: once a month is an excellent practice. We have scheduled confession times, as you know, but don’t feel limited by them. If you need to go to confession, Father Greg, Father Rick, and myself…we’re here for you. I can only speak for myself, but feel free to call the parish office at any time to come see me. Or if you see me out and about, in between Masses, at the grocery store, at the coffee shop, whether I’m in a collar or whether I’m in a tee-shirt, stop me and ask. Nothing would give me greater joy. I’m here for you, day and night, 24/7, 365 days a year. I may not be able to drop everything immediately, but you are my greatest priority and I will always make time for you.

And so, in this spirit, in the desire to be whole, in the desire to be restored to fullness and goodness and glory, in the desire to be unburdened, we flock to our Lord Jesus Christ and come unto Him, laying before Him all we are, all that we have done and failed to do, and we hear gently whispered to us, “Yes, come to me…come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”