Homily – 16th Sunday Ordinary Time

Well, good morning, everyone.

We are really blessed today to have a holy trinity of baptisms today, three in a row.

And first off, it’s great to see so many people sitting in the first pews of a Catholic Church, and not to make people sit up here, so it’s great to see it up here. But for those of you who are joining from wherever you come from, you’re most welcome here.

I’m very excited about what we’re doing here today because whenever we see children, it gets us right to the heart of the gospel.

Jesus says, we have to become childlike. Yes, that means sometimes we’ve got to scream for help.

That means sometimes we have to depend on people around us. Yes, sometimes that means that we just have to cry it out.

Right? To be childlike. It’s not necessary to be childish, but to know that we really need each other.

That’s why we are gathered together in a space, looking around in this space, not knowing the people that may be around us, but know that we come here with burdens.

Hurts, wounds, pains. And we’re all in this together.

Amen. Amen. You know, at the last mass someone reminded me that there’s somehow that years ago, when I first came here, I always bring in my homily by saying “God is good.”

And everyone was saying “all the time”, I kind of got out of that practice here.

But when I’m with my high school students in San Francisco, I do it all the time.

We have a great time with this. But let’s just try right here to wake everyone up. And I say, “God is good”..

You say “all the time”. God is good. [All: “All the Time!]. And then I say, “all the time

You say:  {All: “God is good!”}.  

Not too bad. Brooklyn Heights making me proud.

All right. You know this.

Whenever I’m back in town, it’s always a great opportunity to reconnect with people I haven’t seen in a while and go to different places I haven’t seen in some time.

And this past week was no exception. I had someone when my colleagues, actually a very good friend of mine in town with me earlier in the week, we were actually leading a retreat and she went to see some of the areas that I grew up in and I grew up in Pennsylvania, and I also had grandparents who live in Trenton, New Jersey, so not too far away.

And my summers were spent with my grandparents in Trenton, New Jersey, because both my parents work.

So this was a way to make sure that I didn’t get in trouble over the summer. Right.

Now, when I went to hang out with my grandfather especially, he was a person who had lots of interests.

And I have to say, handed on to me a lot of those interests. Namely, he was a great lover of music.

He had a really big record collection.

Some of those records I still have to this day and with all different types of music going back to the 1930s to probably the 1980s, at that point, I was just really exposed to a whole gamut of different types of music.

And being a musician myself, of course, it’s very exciting to always be able to have music as a soundtrack to life, right?

I’m going to be baptizing Quinn today, and I the first thing I said was, This is the Mighty Quinn, because, you know, it’s the Bob Dylan song, “The Mighty Quinn.”

If you don’t know that song, please look at it today and enjoy a little Bob in your life, right?

But my grandfather also taught me something else. He also taught me about how to do gardening.

Now, he lived in a row home in Trenton, New Jersey.

And if you know anything about row homes, sometimes they have like these postage stamp size gardens in the back.

And he had every little part of that yard, very highly curated with flowers, vegetables, mostly tomatoes and peppers.

And it was all very nice and neat with bricks outlining different flower beds and all that kind of stuff.

And he taught me the art of good weeding. You want things to look nice.

You got to get rid of the stuff that doesn’t make it look nice. Namely, weeds.

You got to pull out the weeds. If I learned early in life that weeds you don’t want in your garden.

Now there’s a reason for that. Especially around vegetables.

They pull out different nutrients from the ground that really ought to go to the vegetable plants to make them more healthy and more fruitful.

Right. And it was a few days later this past week after kind of going to Trenton, New Jersey, with this friend of mine to actually see the house I grew up in.

It was a few days later that I went to a farm out in in Pennsylvania, and it’s a Catholic worker farm.

And that’s the type of farm that tries to grow food and to give to people who are in need.

And I went to the farm and I saw all these trailer plants, pepper plants, potatoes.

And guess what was around all of them? Tons of weeds. Right.

And why weren’t those weeds pulled? Well. Because, you know, it takes time to pull weeds.

It’s hot out. You need people to do it.

Things that, you know, Catholic worker farms don’t necessarily always have: time and people.

But once again reminded about the plague of weeds, how they get in the way.

It’s interesting because when we think about weeds, I think we have a negative connotation about it.

These are things that we’ve got to get rid of. And clearly from the way I was raised, I was thought that.

But then we hear a gospel today where Jesus talks about the weeds and the wheat.

And he offers to us in this parable, this story, saying that rather than rip up the weeds, keep the weeds in the ground.

And wait at the very end of the harvest when everything has kind of run its course.

Then you can pull things up and separate things. Now, it’s interesting that Jesus kind of offers this to us.

Because anything that’s really true and good can be echoed in pretty much any type of spiritual tradition.

Some of you may know that I live in San Francisco. I teach high school out there.

And one of the things I like to do as part of my practice, and I like to use that word a lot: practice.

Is that I visit the Zen Center. San Francisco has a historic Zen center.

And for those you may know a little bit about Buddhism and especially Zen.

Zen is not something that’s in competition with Christianity in any way.

Zen offers a way to practice better.

Whatever you believe. It’s not about doctrine.

It’s about discipline. And one of the founders of  the San Francisco Zen Center was a Japanese monk named Suzuki Roshi.

And Suzuki Roshi gave a whole lot of talks at the Zen Center.

Over the years – he died in the 1970s – some of them were published, and this monk’s most famous books was this one called Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

And it’s interesting that in this book he talks about weeds.

And he writes this: You should rather be grateful for the weeds you have in your mind, because eventually they will enrich your practice.

So here he is talking about weeds, not in some garden or in some big farm field, but the weeds in your mind.

And what are those weeds in your mind? Well, there are all the thoughts, anxieties, worries, concerns.

They’re running a mile a minute in your mind.  Probably at any moment in time.

A mind. We all have it. Our minds are, we can’t just flip the switch.

And even more trying not to think about something that makes us think about it more.

This is what the Buddhists will call the monkey mind: things just going from limb to limb, jumping all over the place.

Right. We all have a monkey mind.

And we can treat those things the same way. We want to treat weeds in a garden.

Can’t we just rip them out? Can we just stop it? But Suzuki Roshi says, no, the weeds are good.

And what is he getting at? What he’s getting at. The same thing that really Jesus is offering in the parable.

Because if we take the parable to the full completion, if we think about the end of the harvest, when everything is done and run its course, what role have the weeds done ultimately for the soil and for the plants?

They’ve actually nurtured them. They’ve actually given them nutrients.

You know, sometimes we feel as if God is only in certain parts of the world, in other parts God is just completely absent. Like God only created flowers and plants and trees and everything good.

And the weeds, well, they just showed up and God’s like, What the heck is that?

Everything in the cosmos, in the created world.

Is held in the hand of God, a loving God.

God wants the weeds. Allows the weeds.

They have some type of role. The same thing goes in our heads.

Sometimes we think, like when I show up and I have to pray or I got it.

Like, you know, I’m only thinking good thoughts to God, and I’m just going to pretend that I’m not thinking bad thoughts.

Well, guess what? God knows what you’re thinking.

Not only does he know what you’re thinking, he knows why you’re thinking it, which is pretty remarkable.

So God allows evil, bad thoughts, annoying thoughts to come in our mind for some purpose.

They’re not in conflict with God for some strange reason.

We’re given permission by a loving God to think them.

So what do we do? But we have to ask ourselves, how do we allow these weeds, these mind weeds to affect our day to day life?

Are they an opportunity for growth? Or are they an opportunity for us to wallow in the fact that we have them.

Once again, Suzuki Roshi offers this. Bring the weeds into your practice.

What is practice?

Practice, for the Zen practice, for anyone who is just a practitioner of any type of religious tradition, is all about meditation in silence.

And I know that we’re sometimes we feel like we’re too busy to meditate, but guess what?

It’s not about sitting on the cushion for a half hour.

Sometimes it’s about finding 3 minutes of your day to do nothing but allow yourself to think.

Think about whatever is in your mind.

Not an agenda, not contrived thoughts, not intentional, but just allow yourself to be okay with your monkey minds.

And what do you do? As the thoughts come, you simply realize like, is this thought making me better right now at this moment in time?

I need to let go of it. Is this thought here helping me to be the best version of myself right now.

If not, I need to let go of it. There’s constant discernment with thoughts.

Are they helping me or are they hurting me or they’re making me more angry?

Or are they bringing me peace? Constant discernment.

Make it even more tangible. I was doing a meditation this morning and I’ve got to a practice where I’m able to meditate for 20 minutes every morning.

And yes, I have to do it very early in the day because my life is very busy like everyone else’s, so I have to make time to meditate.

And I can tell you what was going through my mind today. I was getting upset about someone who I work with, and I was just constantly thinking in my mind how I was going to better make an argument supporting what I want to support my position for this person to try to convince this person to think the way I’m thinking.

It was just. It was like on a loop. Just keep on going around.

Like, I’m going to say this. I’m going to say this way, I’m going to do that. And it’s on a loop here.

I’m like, you know, prayer. But what started to come to me? What started coming in was like an amazing opportunity to think. Wait a minute. How do I know I’m right? Maybe I need to be more open minded.

Maybe I need to be less judgmental. Maybe I need to be less angry.

Maybe I need to just allow things to be. Maybe it’s not all about me.

How could I get to that unless I allowed the weeds to fester?

These mind weeds are a gift from us to allow us to purify ourselves so that we can grow into the wheat that all of us are meant to be.

So we can shine like the sun, as the gospel says.

So when people see us, they see light, not darkness.

But it can only be done. Through practice.

3 minutes a day.

But today, as you’re baptizing, as we are baptizing your children, what a beautiful thing to impart to these newly baptized Christians.

The gift of silence, solitude and 3 minutes.

You could do more with 3 minutes than all the masses and all the rosaries and all the devotions and all the other stuff that we always associate with theology.

3 minutes could be a transformative moment in time.

To allow your wheat weeds to become a man.

And that’s why God is good and all the time.

God is the way to go. So let’s get these kids baptized!