25th Sunday in Ordinary Time


25th Sunday Ordinary Time, Sept. 18, 2016

Last week from the gospel of Luke we heard three popular and joyful parables: the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. Jesus set about the challenge the Scribes and Pharisees, many of whom were not pleased by them. For whatever reasons, they were not inclined to want to welcome back a lost sinner. Instead they were more inclined to fine joy in the sinner’s destruction, presuming themselves to be favored by God and without sin.

It might be a safe thing to say that any one of us who presumes himself to be without sin is really the lost one. C.S. Lewis wrote that a good person knows how bad they really are, and a truly bad person is blind to their own sin. A saint may struggle over a small sin because they know that it puts distance between themselves and God, while a truly bad person may not even think of God at all.

That’s the situation in our first reading from the prophet Amos. Amos prophesied during the 7th century B.C. at a time of relative peace in Israel. And it happens often in times of peace and prosperity that people become desensitized to the needs of others.

This is what Amos witnessed in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and he challenged the people over it.nHe challenged them about ignoring the widows and orphans and forgetting the poor. This didn’t make him popular of course. No one wants to hear that they are wrong in their actions or be challenged on moral grounds.

But Amos’ prophecies are for us too. How are we doing with our treatment of the poor, the homeless, the struggling? How often do we think of the poor and actually reach out to help?

The gospel today is an unsettling one. In it a dishonest steward is praised by his master. The master praises the dishonest steward for his shrewdness. He praises his shrewdness, Not his evil deeds. After all, the master had been stolen from, but yet he recognized the steward’s ingenuity.

The lesson isn’t meant to encourage us to embezzle money like he did, or to cook the books. Of course not, and yet the master praises him.

Here are what I think are four lessons  we can learn from this parable:

First, as Christians, we can learn a lot from the dishonest steward. In fact, if we put as much energy and eagerness into our attempt to attain goodness as the dishonest steward did in his attempt to gain wealth and cover up his misdeeds, then we would all be much better off than we currently are. They say that about lies too, don’t they? It takes more energy and effort to cover up and maintain a lie than it does to tell the truth. If we converted that energy into the pursuit of faith and goodness, then what a different world this would be.

The dishonest steward used his master’s money to win friends for himself. A second lesson here is that whatever we have–money or possessions–we should always put them to use in a way that leads to things with permanent value. Like friendship, or especially things of eternal value–like heaven.

For the third lesson, I quote William Barclay, a famed Protestant scripture scholar and preacher.

“A man’s way of fulfilling a small task is the best proof of his fitness or unfitness to be entrusted with a bigger task. That is clearly true of earthly things. No man will be advanced to a higher office until he has given proof of his honesty and ability in a smaller position. But Jesus extends this principle to eternity. Jesus says, ‘Upon earth you are in charge of things which are not really yours. You cannot take them with you when you die. They are only lent to you. You are only a steward over them. They cannot be permanently yours. On the other hand, in heaven you will get what is really and permanently yours. And what you get in heaven depends on how you use the things of earth.'”

Quite the challenge when it comes to meeting the needs of the poor, the homeless, the disenfranchised, the refugee, the victim of violence! Quite the obligation we have as Christians!

And finally, the fourth lesson. No slave can serve two masters.  If we’re going to belong to God, then we have to belong to him fully, totally and completely. Not just on Sunday mornings or at times when it’s convenient. Not only at times of emergency or tragedy when we need God most, but also at inconvenient times. At times when we are tempted most by sin and selfishness. At times when we are most caught up in this world and getting ahead. We have to be shrewd, yes, like the dishonest steward, but shrewd in fully belonging to God even as we live in this world.

Amos reminds us of our obligations to the poor and needy. That is a non-negotiable of our Christian Faith. Jesus reminds the Pharisees, and all of us, that faith is best shown in our actions. In telling the Scribes and Pharisees this parable, Jesus indicts them and challenges them to reach out to the sinners and glory in their salvation rather than in their destruction.

And in the same way he reaches out to us here in he 21st century to store up treasure in heaven where it matters most.

Our souls in Heaven! That’s the only thing with eternal value.

Reflections on My Mother, Part II

My mother always had a regular presence in my life. Growing up, she was constantly available. She didn’t work outside the home, but yet her work was time-consuming and substantial as she managed the home with all of its various obligations. She was exemplary in everything, and she did it with joy and happiness, even if occasionally with frustration at our lack of cooperation.

So, despite a happy childhood, I found the most endearing portion of her life to be her later years. I think this was the period in her life when I willingly spent the most quality time with her and listened to her. I should be ashamed that I didn’t listen to her more when I was younger. But such is the stupidity and “taking for grantedness” of youth. After my father’s passing, my mother needed our help a lot more. She never had a driver’s license, so she depended on us for rides to Church, the grocery, errands, the beauty shop, etc. She also required our assistance with the yard, trimming bushes and cutting the grass.

But as she grew older, it was in her frailty that I most witnessed her courage and faith and quality of person. I saw her joy when I would bring her the Holy Eucharist when she couldn’t make it to Mass. She would whisper the words, “Thank you Jesus for coming into my heart” after receiving the Blessed Sacrament. She would pray quietly and reverently. She knew that Jesus had come to visit her and she gave him all of herself at those times. As a son witnessing this, it was transformative for me. I’ve never really questioned the Real Presence, but her faith affirmed even more for me what I have always believed. She prayed the rosary religiously (pardon the pun). She was never showy about it or “holier than thou.” It was in great simplicity and in earnestness of heart that she prayed for the well-being of others.

And maybe it was in my mother’s growing dementia that I also witnessed her quality of person and depth of faith. When many people grow bitter and frustrated and angry, my mother somehow maintained her sweet disposition. O, I guess there were a few occasions when in her confusion she got upset, insisting for example that she didn’t live in that building (the nursing home) when we would bring her back after an outing, or having no idea where she was and that she wanted to go home. But most days she was able to manage. On so many visits she would point at the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at her bedside (I keep it in my office at work now) and say, “Isn’t the Blessed Virgin beautiful?” Or she would point at her parents’ wedding picture which hung on the wall and tell me about them. This was a ritual that repeated itself every visit, maybe hundreds of times. I was able to be much more accepting of this ritual when I realized the severity of her dementia. This was my mother’s situation, and I couldn’t change it. And the only thing I could really do was listen and support her and love her.

In the last year, she often didn’t know who I was. She didn’t remember ever being married or having children. I would tell her she was my mother, that I was her son, Brian. She would then either recognize me or trust me and play along. One time I remember visiting her and admiring her during a quiet moment. She looked at me and said, “Is there something between us?” She believed that I was a suitor giving her my romantic attention. She didn’t realize I was her son. Strange as it may seem, I treasure that exchange. I was coming to know my mother in her rawest form, and it continued to be sweet and honest and endearing. She thought once that she was maybe 40 years old but couldn’t explain being in her nursing home bed. She assumed she could walk, but hadn’t walked in more than a year.

When she passed away, I was with a daughter and niece in my mother’s nursing home room. I remember hugging her still warm body and being so incredibly thankful for her and for her life and for her legacy. Sad as it was to lose my mother, I was also very happy for her and knew that I could trust God with her eternal destiny. United with my father and the Blessed Trinity, there is no better place she could be. God bless my Mama!


Now, Reflections on My Mother, Part I

Eddi & Lucille Edwards wedding 1954
Arthur & Lucina Lebrun (to the left) and Lucille Lebrun and Eddie Edwards on their wedding day, May 15, 1954

I spent my last two blogs writing about my father, but what about my mother? Some of you knew my mother – and of course I’m biased. She was my Mom. She was the best. My Dad and Mom belonged together despite their very different backgrounds.  Dad was a native of Tennessee and grew up in Nashville. Mom was a native of Maine and grew up in the small town of Sanford but with a family rooted in French Quebec. Mom grew up speaking French as her primary language and only became fluent in English in her teen years. She told me that once she was able to dream in English, she knew she would be okay. One of the big my parents had in common was their strong Catholic faith and family values.

My mother would occasionally grow frustrated with us children. Imagine that!  As a child, I remember that she would say, “Misere coeur” or “misericorde” in exasperation. I asked her what it meant, and she said, “O the misery of the heart”. I guess we caused Mom a lot of pain and misery since we were six kids (five boys and a girl) to deal with, six mouths to feed, six children to wash laundry for, keep the floors clean, etc. I didn’t have mercy upon my mother like I should have, even though she asked for it.

Dad worked at night. He was a postal worker, but he had the 11:00pm – 7:00am shift at the main post office where they worked around the clock.  He slept during the day, and my mother worked very hard to keep us kids quiet so that he could sleep. That was quite the task, especially on breaks and in the summer time.  She would call up the stairs for us to be quiet if we were wrestling or creating havoc. She would regularly send us outside to play. She didn’t usually mind what we did as long as we did it outside. I’m sure that Dad never got the sleep he needed. He would always take an hour nap before leaving for work, even though he usually slept in the morning and early afternoon while we were away at school.

Dad was a bit of a softy and tried t turn my mother into the disciplinarian. That didn’t work too well since Mom wasn’t a disciplinarian either. She did her best though and would occasionally spank us, but when Dad put her to the task, you could hear Mom complaining to him that he should be doing it. All in all we turned out fairly good considering their weakness for discipline, but they more than made up for it by their quality of person and faithful and loving demeanor.

When I was about nine years old my paternal grandmother passed away. She was about 79 years old. My mother’s first thought was to gather us on our knees around her bed to pray the rosary. My mother loved the rosary and my mother loved the Blessed Virgin. She was devoted to her in prayer. As my mother got older I recognized much more clearly how truly holy she was, and I am still in awe. She taught me so much by example. Just as Dad was never loud or boisterous, neither was my Mom. She was much more of a talker than Dad ever was though. She would sometimes tell you more than you really wanted to hear, but it was always genuine and from the heart and always because she desired a relationship with us. It was true especially after my father died. She just plain needed someone to talk to. You don’t always realize such things without hindsight.

Mom really missed Dad after he passed away. Dad died within a few days of falling and hitting his head against the wall in the bathroom during the night. He had a subdural hematoma, fell into a coma, and died three days later. At the time it was quite the family debate. What should we do? Should we pursue extraordinary means to keep him alive? Would he want to be on machines? It was a fairly easy decision for us children, but not for my mother who was facing life without the love of her life. She wondered for years later if she had done the right thing and whether he would have recovered if he had had surgery. She loved my Dad. And she missed him terribly. She survived my Dad’s passing by 12 years. At the end she didn’t remember that she had ever been married. Maybe that was a blessing? A strange blessing. Even though Mom lived for another 12 years before her passing, it’s hard to imagine my mother without my father.

Mom loved the Lord, loved my Dad and loved us beyond words. What a beautifully humble and quiet life she lived and what an incredible example of love and faith and commitment.

Stay tuned for Part II if you’re interested.


100 Years of Influence, Part II

Edwards family January 1970 copyYou can’t sum up a man’s life in a few hundred words, or even in a hundred years. In fact, you can’t sum up a man’s life at all since a person’s isn’t quite quantifiable. You can list facts, but nothing captures the personality, the passion, or the essence of a unique human being. That’s true for all of us. Duh! Right? But as I continue to reflect on my father’s life, I find that I want to commit more and more of my memories about him  to paper (or at least digital paper). My Dad was born 100 years ago last week. He left this world on Jan. 10, 2000.

My children barely knew my father, and I find that unfortunate. Yes, Dad was a quiet man, but that was part of his charm. He wasn’t boisterous or rude or petty. He was a good solid man of Catholic faith and values and with great love for his children and his wife of many years.

One of my favorite and most touching memories of my father was when I asked my wife to marry me. Cathye and I took a walk at Radnor Lake one Saturday morning. I proposed to her when we stopped at the end walking path while sitting on a bench. By the way, saying yes was probably the only dumb decision my wife has ever made. Anyway, afterwards we both drove over to the house to announce our exciting news. I jokingly quipped that Cathye had asked me to marry her on our hike. Cathye got mad at me, and my Dad  left the room without saying a word. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I followed him into the kitchen and found him with his head down and tears in his eyes. Dad was happy for me, but his first thought was that he was losing me. I knew my Dad loved me. I never had any doubts, but his reaction reinforced it many times over.

I would often ask him, “Dad, do you love me?” He would always answer, “Feed my lambs.” I would ask him again, “Dad, do you love me?” He would answer, “Feed my sheep.” Finally, I would ask a third time, “Dad, do you love me?” And he would answer, “Feed my lambs.” Small little ritual act, but I loved it. Dad was a man of faith and a man who cared about and loved his family.

In his older years, he couldn’t turn his garden by himself anymore. He also couldn’t manage the trimming of the hedge that encircled his back yard.  The hedge would become a monster if not tamed by my electric shears. I can’t say I ever liked cutting his hedge or digging his garden, but that’s the nature of relationships. But you could say I loved doing it because I loved my Dad. So strange as it may seem, I have very fond memories of sweat and filth and teamwork at those times. Either my kids joined in to help (what little they could at their age) or my wife; and often my Mom and Dad who would drag the branches and other cuttings to the street to be picked up by Metro Public Works. These physical labors of cutting or painting or digging were ways that I showed my affection for my parents. Dad wasn’t a big talker. Mom was much more of a talker, but Dad wasn’t big on sharing feelings or stories. But his presence meant everything t0 me.

Presence – that’s my greatest memory of my Dad. Presence – that’s what he always was to me. He was present in my life, at my ballgames, at Church, at home in the simple chatter of everyday existence. He was present even as we watched television together and through camping trips to Fall Creek Falls or Mammoth Cave, trips to the Chattanooga Choo Choo and the Incline Railway, trips to the beach in Florida or to the Smoky Mountains. Back when no one had a cell phone, someone was always at home to answer our calls for help and assistance, so when I dialed 832-8138 it was always Mom or Dad who answered the phone. Rarely was a call never answered.

Our world has become very busy, and our lives can become quite scattered. We allow money to make too many of our decisions. Mom and Dad sacrificed to send us to Catholic Schools when they only had one income and six kids and my mother worked as a stay at home Mom. They knew it was worth it. And yet they were still always present to us. I fear that’s being lost in our world today, and this is something we must reclaim for the sake of our society’s health and well-being and to safeguard the human family.

I hope that I am present to whomever I encounter, but especially to my family. That’s the legacy that I would always want my father to have successfully left to me.



100 Years of Influence, Part I

(My Dad in his older years, when he married in 1954, and as a baby)

My Dad, were he alive, would have celebrated his 100th birthday this past Monday, August 15th.  He never became famous and didn’t command an audience, but he had a great influence on his children, and me for sure. Joseph Edwin Edwards was born in Nashville to Joseph Edward Edwards and Nora Margaret (Britton) Edwards. I am grateful for his love and his life.

This week brought back a flood of memories. Several of my siblings and I gathered to celebrate his birth at a local restaurant with our families on Sunday after Mass offered on his behalf. He was quite a formative person in my life, and I wouldn’t trade that influence for anything. I suppose many of us would say the same things of our own fathers. We are biased, and we should be! Family ties and loyalty should bind us. I remember silly childhood arguments with classmates over who had the smartest Dad or the most beautiful mother. We are beholdin’ to our own.

My Dad was a bit older than the average father. While many had Dads in their twenties or thirties, my Dad was 47 when I was born and well into his 50’s when I was old enough to remember and be particularly active.  I understand that he used to wrestle on the floor with my older siblings on Saturday nights, but when I came along, those wrestling days were behind him. I am 53 now, and the idea of having a five year old is hard to grasp. Nonetheless, that was the norm in my household, and I still had a younger brother who was born when Dad was 52. Dad gave us his all; and in a certain way, I think it helped to keep him young.

I didn’t like it at the time, but the chores assigned to me were also formative. I mainly remember the chores my father created–cutting the grass with a push mower, digging the garden with a spade, shoveling out the chicken house of manure and such, and pulling Johnson grass for the Guinea pigs of which Dad owned dozens. We’d sometimes have to go to the chicken house to gather eggs too. Some of those chores were quite fun, but I never liked going out to pull grass. Don’t know why. Maybe it was too frequent a job. We had to stuff a paper grocery sack full so that the Guinea pigs could eat fresh grass. I know they deserved fresh grass, but I didn’t want to be the one to have to gather it. These particular chores are quite memorable. Maybe it’s because they taught me so much about basic survival, growing food, where food itself comes from, but they were also jobs that reinforced humility, like shoveling poop. You can’t get too high on your horse while shoveling chicken and Guinea pig poop.

While I wouldn’t trade where I am today for anything, I do miss those days. I miss seeing my Dad in the chicken house feeding the chickens and Guinea pigs and he and I working together to build chicken coops and runs. I miss pleasing my Dad by clearing brush and cutting the grass all the way down to the creek. I miss my Dad pointing out the beauty of the flowers I only took for granted at the time, and Dad trying to get me to eat fresh produce from the garden when I was too young to appreciate it. I also miss all the things I should’ve and could’ve learned from my Dad if I had just paid more attention and given his ideas and experience more credence. I finally started paying more attention when I got older and entered into my own marriage, but if only I had paid attention sooner. Ah, well!

There may be very few of you that are at all interested in these recollections but it’s on my mind and this week marks one hundred years of Eddie Edwards’ influence.  Between he and my mother, there are at least 24 lives that now exist but which would never have existed were it not for him. Not a massive number but respectable. Thank you Dad!  I love you!

Not such a new Nemesis?

Who is my nemesis? And why would I even want one?

The idea of having a nemesis sounds exciting and cool, even fashionable. It’s attractive sounding probably because it makes us feel important. Am I important enough that someone else would desire my downfall? Am I important enough to have a nemesis? – someone who is dead-set against me and who desires my pain and discomfort and is opposed to me as a person and my way of life. Doesn’t sound so pleasant to me, but I assure you that we all have one, individually and collectively.

In a previous post, I wrote about my nemesis the mole, a varmint which has been eating away at my sweet potato plants and onion sets from the underside of my garden. This is a sneaky little creature who tunnels and destroys without regard for my work of planting and my cost of purchasing said plants. I found it a frustrating experience, not a cool or pleasant one.

Harry Potter had a nemesis – Voldemort! That’s sounds cool, even if a bit frightening to young readers. Batman’s nemesis, among many others , was the Joker. Superman’s was Lex Luthor . These adversarial pairings garner excitement and intrigue. My mole nemesis is nothing like this. Nor is my squirrel nemesis. My garden is overrun with them. It’s hard to control the little tree rats! They are numerous, too numerous to count. They eat my corn and my tomatoes, but are they really my nemesis?

I realize that they are not hell bent on my destruction like a true nemesis would be, nor are they my equal. Therefore, perhaps they aren’t a nemesis at all. Despite feelings of frustration and anger, the squirrel and the mole are, after all, just doing what squirrels and moles do.

And while Satan is not my equal – he was created by God as a great creature of enormous potential and intellect and power – Satan is definitely a true nemesis, the great adversary. He is hell bent on my destruction. He desires my downfall. He wants me to give in to his selfish desires and agenda and to rebel against God. And he is very sneaky.

Satan has done an incredible job of making anything said about him seem ridiculous and trite. As  you read this, many of you are already mocking me and reducing anything I write to a bunch of outdated ideas and silly religious fantasy. When we hear “Satan” or “the devil” and imagine a funny looking red suited horned fellow with a pitchfork, then he is well on his way to success. Indeed Satan is a master of cloaking his existence but broadcasting his influence.

Satan knows how to elicit the worst in us and encourages judgment of others. He delights in our weaknesses and works to exploit all of our imperfections. He manipulates by persuasive arguments which berate others and encourage selfish pleasures rather than loving sacrifice. He desires our destruction, not our well-being. Sacrifice is verboten to Satan. Satan knows no sacrifice and has no love. He wants us to think only about ourselves and gratifying ourselves in the here and now. He seeks to normalize every kind of offense against God and has even figured out how to frame the Christian – the true Christian – into the bad guy who is intolerant and judgmental and bigoted.

A squirrel is no nemesis. A mole is no nemesis. But Satan surely is! Evil of every kind is our enemy, so don’t embrace it. Evil is a worthy adversary. Oppose it at every turn. Always stand against it. 

Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here. Ever this day be at my side, to light to guard to rule to guide. Amen.

This is a prayer often un-prayed. It’s a simple prayer that is often misunderstood, especially by children. But it’s a prayer which upsets Satan to no end. We must believe in the existence of Satan and his desire to corrupt God’s beautiful creation, including the human person created in the image and likeness of God, or we will forever be subject to Satan’s influence.

Satan is nothing new! Not a new nemesis either! But his methods are constantly adjusting to the times in which we live. Pray for protection. Pray for peace.

Is a Church Marriage Antiquated? Surely Not.

I’ve performed enough weddings through the years to notice patterns, and I’ve been asked enough questions about weddings to realize that the focus for many is not on “Church” but on “wedding”, my wedding to be exact. To many couples, the setting of the wedding is more important than the sacrament.  The dream wedding in this 2nd millennium has become a primarily secular event. Not that many years ago, few Catholic couples would have ever considered a marriage outside of the Church.

Citizenship in the United States affords Americans both privileges and responsibilities, and sometimes restrictions. For example, a marriage is not regarded as valid if not conducted by a valid official deputed by the state. There are many laws which govern human behavior, define illegal activities, set speed limits, etc. Violation of state laws limits certain freedoms, even to the point of imprisonment, loss of voting privileges, holding public office, etc. Such is the case also within the Catholic Church. A citizen (member) of the Catholic Church is also afforded both privileges and responsibilities, and sometimes restrictions. If a Catholic marries without the presence of a valid Catholic Church deputed minister, then the marriage is not recognized. Loss of the privilege of receiving Holy Communion would be common in such circumstances.

Some might see such Church laws as controlling or antiquated, but that’s where responsibility comes in. By virtue of Baptism and Confirmation, by virtue of the privilege of receiving the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Catholics have committed themselves through Church membership to abide by Church laws.

For some, I will seem too rigid and rule oriented. But I truly love the Church! You can’t really belong to something without obligations. The Church is critical to our life with Christ and in Christ. The Church has given us the Scriptures, the testimony of the apostles, and the structure through which we receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit. By virtue of our membership, we are incorporated into the body of Christ. Unfortunately some will pay lip service to membership in the Church and pick and choose what they want to believe or feel bound by. Can you imagine that happening in a marriage between husband and wife? In marriage, you marry the whole person and are obligated to faithfulness to the whole person. Should it be any different with our obligations to the body of Christ?

Marriage is much more than a piece of paper, and much more than a civil contract. It is the uniting of man and woman in the matrimonial sacrament which is a holy and powerful event. Sacraments are mediated by the Church, not by civil authorities. We are bound by a holy covenant overseen by Christ himself. With our Christian understanding, there is no marriage if it is not bound together in Christ.

To belong to Christ is to belong to his Church. To belong to a spouse is to belong to Christ. Christ and the Church are intimately bound up in each other. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians writes, Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians, 5:25-27)

This is the spousal analogy. Christ by his death and resurrection has married the Church, and the two are one just as a husband and wife were once two but are now one. This spousal analogy is especially instructional. Jesus is the body of which we are all a part, and to marry outside that body is like trying to breathe without air or stay alive without water. Christ is the breath that sustains us and the living water who gives eternal life.

So what do I suggest?  Think about the sacramental bond. Be a little old-fashioned because not everything old-fashioned is antiquated and out of date. Christ revealed himself two thousand years ago, so he might be considered old-fashioned too but necessary to making a marriage that will last.