22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Sirach 3:17-18,20,28-29    Hebrews 12:18-19,22-24    Luke 14:1,7-14
August 29, 2010

One of the most important—if challenging—lessons that Jesus teaches is that He gives His disciples unequal gifts.  Some are given tremendous talents and graces, while others seem to be given few.  All are equal, however, in that each is given the gift of free will, the freedom to choose how we will use the gifts God has given us.

In spiritual direction, Christians often struggle with a sense or feeling that, in a particular area or in general, God has not gifted them greatly.  In this case, the spiritual need is to shift one’s focus from the gifts given one by God, to the vocation given one by God.  All gifts are given, not for one’s own sake, but for the sake of putting his gifts at the service of others.  In other words, the spiritual need is to shift one’s focus from the gifts as given to oneself, to those same gifts as one is called to give them to others.

Our First Reading, from the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, views this spiritual need from the perspective of humility:  conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts (Sirach 3:17).  If we choose to conduct our affairs—that is, the duties of our vocations—with humility, then our gifts become a source of love in our lives.  It does not matter how much or how little God has gifted us.  What matters is how we give our gifts to others.  After all, a gift the size of a mustard seed—when shared with another out of love—bears abundant fruit.

The virtue of humility is a thread that runs through today’s Scriptures.  Jesus weaves this thread through the parable that He tells… after noticing that His fellow dinner guests were choosing the places of honor at the table (Luke 14:7).  They were not content to receive a sumptuous meal.  They wanted also to receive honor.

These dinner guests were looking only to receive gifts.  They were not thinking of giving.  This is natural, on the one hand, since when you accept a dinner invitation, you’re accepting a gift.  On the other hand, when you go to a dinner party, you might take a token gift such as a bottle of wine.  But your token gift would seem out of place if it were greater than the banquet itself.

But here is the metanoia—the change of heart and mind—which Jesus effects in His disciples through His saving words and deeds.  He wants His disciples—including us—to recognize every gift, every invitation to receive, as an opportunity to give.  To use the banquet as an example:  (1) the physical strength we receive from the food offers an opportunity to carry out the next days’ labors.  (2) The banquet’s social setting offers the opportunity for us to defer to others in standing, or even to serve them at table (can you imagine one of the leading Pharisees in the Gospel serving food and drink to his fellow Pharisees?).  (3)  The same social setting also gives the opportunity—to those so gifted—to use their wit and charm to bring joy and levity to others’ hearts (rather than merely to make themselves the center of attention).  (4) The invitation to another’s home is, as mentioned, an opportunity to offer a ‘housewarming gift’.

Through the metanoia that the Eucharist makes possible, we live more fully as members of Jesus’ Mystical Body, recognizing our daily opportunities to serve in the Name of Jesus.

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time  [C]
Isaiah 66:18-21  —  Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13  —  Luke 13:22-30
August 22, 2010

The holiness of saints is always specific.  Real saints are not “pie in the sky” figures, but rather persons who take concrete, heroic steps to allow God’s grace to be seen through them into this world.

St. Teresa of Avila was one of the great saints of the ‘Catholic Reformation’ during the sixteenth century.  Specifically, Saint Teresa reformed the Carmelite order within the convents of her native Spain.  She carried out her reform with a holy sense of humor.  This sense of humor was related to her willingness always to walk with Jesus, even if it meant walking the Way to Calvary, as her reform of the Carmelites must often have seemed to be.  One day in prayer, she asked, “Lord, why must I undergo such sufferings, when I’m so faithful to you?”  The Lord God answered, “My dear one, that’s how I treat all my friends.”  And St. Teresa drily replied, “Well, then, it’s no wonder you have so few of them.”  Only a saint could get away with saying something like that, because a saint can speak even difficult truths with sincerity of heart.

Even if we’re not as bold or sincere as she, it’s easy to understand St. Teresa’s point.  One of the most basic animal instincts we have is to avoid suffering.  Embracing suffering seems to make little sense.  However, when we use our human reason to transcend our animal instincts, we can perceive a reason to endure suffering:  that is, to bring about something that’s greater than the evil to be suffered.

This “something” may be “greater” only in the sense of importance:  for example, this “something” may be the achievement of revenge, which is morally evil, but subjectively good (at least, as seen by a poorly formed conscience).  On the other hand, this “something” may be both objectively and subjectively good, as when a mother suffers for the sake of her child.

However, many situations in life are not extremely clear cut.  Sometimes, we can vaguely “sense” that there’s a good reason to bear some particular suffering, but such a vague sense usually isn’t a strong motivation.  But today in the Gospel, our Lord and Savior Jesus says to you:  Strive to enter through the narrow gate....

In our second reading, from chapter 12 of Hebrews, Saint Paul focuses our attention on the meaning of Jesus’ words.  He does this, in turn, by listening to the wisdom of the Old Testament:  My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges [Proverbs 3:11-12].

Each of us knows, from natural, ordinary life experience, how necessary discipline is.  Whether in rearing children, or long-term financial planning for children’s education or retirement, or in earning a degree, our effort is almost always proportional to our success.  And our effort is given form by discipline.  Today’s Scriptures, from Proverbs 3 to Hebrews 12 to Jesus’ words in Luke 13, help us see that the same is true in our supernatural, extraordinary lives as adopted sons and daughters of God.

Reflection Question:
Read one of the following chapters of Scripture—Proverbs 3, Hebrews 12, or Luke 13—and then answer this question:  When did God last “reprove” me, and was my initial response different than the response that emerged when I took God’s reproof to prayer?

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time  [C]
Jeremiah 38:4-6,8-10  +  Hebrews 12:1-4  +  Luke 12:49-53

It’s always a joy to visit the classrooms on the first day of school.  Even though you can tell that not ALL the students are eager to be back in the classroom, there’s always a lot of enthusiasm among the children.
I think that teachers find their own enthusiasm as much in learning from their students as they do in teaching them.  Because teachers know that children have a lot of insights into this world that we adults have somehow forgotten.  Sometimes little children even have insights into the next world.  I’m reminded of an example:  it seems that one day…
A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they drew.  She would occasionally walk around to see each child’s artwork.  As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was.
The girl replied, “I’m drawing God,” and she continued with her crayons.
The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.”
Without looking up from her drawing the girl replied, “They will in a minute.”
+   +   +
We all have our own portrait of God in our mind:  our own personal idea of what God “looks like”.  We paint this “portrait of God” from our own spiritual experiences growing up, from our personal devotions, and from our relationships with our parents, especially our father.
               For example, there are those who have a great personal devotion to the Stations of the Cross.  I know some who pray the Stations not just on Fridays of Lent, but 52 Fridays a year, as a way of expressing their thanks to God the Father for giving up His Son, and to Christ for handing over His life for us poor sinners.  For someone with a deep devotion like this, their portrait of God is one where you can see mercy in the lines of God’s face, love in His eyes, and compassion in His outstretched arms.
               Parents, in the eyes of a child, are the first images of God.  More often than not, it’s from a mother that a child has his first glimpse of God’s tenderness and softness.  More often than not, it’s from a father that a child has his first glimpse of God’s steadfastness through adversity.  When parents divorce, and a child sees his father running away from adversity instead of standing steadfast, and when a child sees his mother acting viciously towards his father instead of showing compassion, it’s no wonder that a child’s belief in God is shattered.  The percentage of children from broken homes who grow up and choose not to practice any sort of faith is a clear sign of how important the roles of mother and father are, and how big an influence—for good or ill—that parents have on their children’s practice of the Faith.
               Today’s Second Reading and Gospel passage seem—at first—to be talking about two opposite things.  The Letter to the Hebrews encourages us that, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, [we should] rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us, and persevere in running the race that lies before us….  Our Catholic Faith has another name for this great cloud of witnesses:  we call it the “communion of saints”.  This doesn’t just mean the saints who are already in heaven.  It includes also those who share our Faith here on earth.  After our participation in the Mass, and devotions of our Faith, and after the example of our parents, it is through our fellow Christians within this great cloud of witnesses that we are either strengthened in our Faith, or grow weaker in our Faith.
               This is part of the responsibility that each one of us has as a baptized Christian—as a member of the communion of saints—to be there for others, and to be an example for others.  On page 3 of the bulletin this week there are two news items about real people—Catholics with struggles just as each of us have—who have recognized themselves being called by their Faith to act contrary to the ways of the world.
               This is where our gospel comes in.  Although our second reading talks about the importance of our communion of saints, Jesus in our gospel passage says that he came into this world to bring division.  He did not come to establish peace on this earth.
               Now maybe this isn’t the picture of God that we like.  Maybe we want to think about God as a teddy bear.  But either Jesus is lying in the Gospel, or we have to accept the fact that following Jesus sometimes means causing division.  If we are not willing to stand for our Catholic Faith, and recognize it as a treasure from God to be shared with others because it has the power to strengthen and give eternal life, then there’s not much reason to be Catholic.
               What is our Faith worth?  Jesus answered this question in a very clear way, and to see His answer, all we have to do is look at the Crucifix.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6,10  ―  1 Corinthians 15:20-26  ―  Luke 1:39-56
August 15, 2010

The Church universal celebrates today the Assumption of our Blessed Mother Mary into heaven.  The Assumption was given as a gift to Mary at the end of her life.  We know that anyone who dies without sin and without attachment to sin is assumed into heaven when they die:  but only their soul.  Their body, of course, remains on earth until the Last Judgment.

But at the end of her earthly life, Mary rose to heaven both in body and soul:  this gift was a consequence of the fact that sin never touched her life:  Mary never committed any sins personally, and she was never tainted by Original Sin.  God kept Original Sin from affecting Mary in virtue of the role He wanted her to accept:  to be the Mother of Jesus Christ.

Now, admittedly, there might be some who consider this vocation of Mary’s and scoff, saying, “How hard could it be to be the mother of God?  It sounds pretty cushy to me.”  From one perspective, it’s true that if your son was like Jesus, who never sinned—who in fact was God—you would experience a great peace as did Mary.  But this is only one side of motherhood:  it is, of course, important for a mother to keep children out of trouble.  But mothers are not to keep their children out of all trouble, or even the most serious.

Motherhood is defined not by keeping child away from all evil, but in steering the child towards what is the greatest Good.  Mothers give their children what is best for them:  how many mothers have to put up with whining because children don’t want to eat what is good for them.  When my brothers and sisters and I were growing up, our Mother wouldn’t keep pop in the kitchen pantry.  If our parents had a quarter for every time we complained, they’d be living their retirement in the Bahamas.

As we honor our Blessed Mother today, recognize that there are many “good things” that mothers have, that they give to their skeptical children.  But with the eyes of Faith, we see that there’s something even more difficult that a mother has to give.  A mother has to teach her child what it means to embrace the Cross.  In fact, of all the “good things” a mother has to give her children, a love of the Cross is the “best thing”.  In this Mary was given the fullness of grace, to lead her Son to accept His Cross.

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time  [C]
Wisdom 18:6-9    Hebrews 11:1-2,8-19    Luke 12:32-48
August 8, 2010

In our lives as Christians, one of the most important challenges we face is to realize how—both for good and evil—our lives are connected to the lives of others.

Sin, besides being evil in and of itself, has negative consequences which stretch far into the future.  This fact is easy to understand and believe in regard to what is physical, but less so in regard to what is moral.  For example, we know that if a woman drinks during a pregnancy, her actions CAN have negative consequences on the physical health of her child.  Of if a father smokes around the home as his child grows up, his actions CAN have negative consequences on the physical health of his child.  These sorts of facts which demonstrate negative physical consequences are easy for us to understand, but for some reason, it’s hard for people to understand and believe that our actions can have negative moral consequences, also.

There is a story which illustrates this point.  Once there was a little boy with a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he was to hammer a nail in the back fence.  The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence.  Then it gradually dwindled down.  He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all.  He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.  The days passed and the young boy was one day finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.

The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same.  When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one.  You can put a knife in a man and draw it out.  It won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound is still there.”

It can seem easy at times to dismiss the consequences of our actions, but it’s important for us to remember the truth that sin is something which has far-reaching consequences.  When the Sacrament of Reconciliation is celebrated, a person is absolved of the moral guilt for his sins.  But that doesn’t mean that the matter is entirely closed.  Such a person still bears responsibility for what he’s done, precisely because of how far-reaching the consequences of sin are.

To use an example, if I were playing golf and hit a golf ball through the window of someone’s home, there would be two things that I would be concerned about.  One concern would be the personal offense that I would have given to the owner:  if he were a gracious person, he might truly forgive me for what I had done.  But that wouldn’t mean that the matter is entirely closed.  Besides the moral forgiveness, which is an important thing, there would still be a broken window that someone would have to pay for.

God is always willing to forgive us our sins if we have sorrow in our hearts for our sins.  But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t still responsible also for the other consequences that continue to unfold from our sins.  This is why there is a place called purgatory:  when we sin, we damage our own souls.  And even though God is always willing to forgive us our sins, our hearts still have to be mended of the damage left behind by our sins, and if that mending is not completed during our time on earth, it finds its completion in purgatory before the person can enter into heaven.

Besides the ways in which our sins damage our souls, however, we have to realize also that our actions also have effects in the world around us.  When we are weakened by our actions, the whole human family suffers.  There’s a great concern today about the environment.  For the most part, though, the discussion that’s carried out about the environment has to do with the generations who are to come.  The question is asked, “Do we want to leave behind us a polluted world for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to grow up in?”  How much more, though, should we be asking, “Do we want to leave behind us a polluted moral atmosphere for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to grow up in?”

Today in our gospel passage Jesus tells his disciples that more will be expected of those who have been given more.  We who are Christians are held up to a higher measure than those who have not heard the Gospel.  When we have been shown the way to everlasting life, and refuse to walk that path and choose instead to go our own way, we will be held much more liable, as will all those who live around us, now and in the future.

The parish I serve

<b>The parish I serve</b>
St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Colwich, Kansas (Diocese of Wichita)