Saturday, October 20, 2018

10/21/18 -- 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

When James and John ask to be ranked first and second among the Apostles, we are told that the other disciples become indignant.

Indignance is the feeling or showing of anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment.

Why are they so upset? Each one, in his own thoughts, is probably saying to himself that he should be ranked first. In essence, the Apostles are competing for Jesus’ attention. 

They want to be loved more than the others. They want to be ranked higher than the others. 

You know we sometimes play that same scenario in our heads. My boss doesn’t realize my potential, and if she just paid more attention to me, she would certainly realize that I am more capable than the others.

Why does my brother constantly get treated better than me? I want to be my parents’ favorite. This spirit of competition certainly sets us up for trouble and jealousy and hurt feelings.

While the disciples get upset and allow indignation and jealousy to consume them, please note that Jesus does not get upset. 

He simply tells James and John that they are not really aware of the implications of their request. 

Jesus may be able to grant some of the request, but some of the request is simply not his to grant. To sit at my right and my left is not mine to give.

Then he challenges them to grow. You are not in a competition to see who is the greatest. It shall not be that way among my disciples.

Jesus wants them to understand that they are not competing for his attention. They are not competing for Jesus’ love. They are not competing so that they can be ranked from greatest to least.

Jesus loves them all the same. Jesus loved Peter and James and John even when they messed everything up. Jesus loved the rich young man who walked away sad. 

Jesus loves you and me even when our hearts are filled with jealousy and envy and pride. But Jesus also challenges us to grow.

Whoever wishes to be great must lead a life of service. Whoever wishes to be great must go about doing good for others. Service is absolutely necessary to be a disciple.

James and John asked for places of honor among the Apostles. They were told that the places of honor are reserved for those who serve.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

10/14/18 -- 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

I am not rich and I am not young. But my heart still goes out to the young man in today’s gospel. Jesus asks the impossible of him, his face falls and he walks away sad.

I think, at that moment, we close the door on the young man. We wash our hands of him and we write him off as lost forever. 

While very few of us are very wealthy, most of us have many possessions. Would we sell all our possessions to follow Jesus? Since we haven’t done it yet, the answer is probably not. 

Then we better not close the door on the rich young man just yet because we might be in the same boat as he is.

We are told that the young man went away sad for he had many possessions. But we are never told that he refused Jesus’ invitation to follow. 

I’m sure it was a long walk home. And on that walk home he had to struggle with the tug on his heart to follow Jesus. He also had to struggle with his ties to his family and his possessions.

Maybe he went back and forth about what he should do. Maybe he had to struggle with what to tell his parents, for surely the wealth was not his alone. It was also his family’s.

Maybe he struggled with putting the right words together to tell his parents that he had made a big decision.

Mom and dad, I’m renouncing all of my possessions and family inheritance to follow Jesus of Nazareth. I told him I’ve kept all the commandments from my youth and he said it wasn’t enough. He wanted more. 

He told me that I needed to sell all my possessions, give to the poor and then follow him. I believe with all my heart that he is the Christ. I love you but I need to do this. I hope you will understand and respect my decision. I have to follow him.

The young man knew that something was missing in his life. Otherwise, he would not have asked Jesus anything at all.

The young man may have gone away sad but there is hope that he will come back again happy to be following Jesus.

The implications for us are staggering. First, Jesus always looks upon us with love. Second, Jesus never closes the door on us. Third, Jesus always calls us to follow. And fourth, Jesus is always happy when we come back again.

The rich young man is faced with a decision of a lifetime. Can he make the difficult decision to renounce some worldly stuff in order to follow Jesus? 

The decision is ours as well. Can we let go of some of our ties to our worldly possessions to order to have treasures in heaven?

Saturday, October 6, 2018

10/7/18 -- 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

The Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like children. And those who are not like children will not enter the Kingdom of God.

For Jesus, entering into the Kingdom of God means entering the Kingdom here and now. Yes the Kingdom is also heaven and the afterlife. That’s why it’s sometimes called the Kingdom of Heaven. But it is also here and now. 

If children can enter the Kingdom of God before adults, we have to ask ourselves what do children have that adults don’t.

Children have the ability to trust. They haven’t yet discovered the world of lies and deceit and mistrust and betrayal. 

As adults we have been hurt by others who were trusted so we are slow to trust. That spills over into our relationship with God. Because we are slow to trust others, we also have difficulty trusting God. 

To be childlike, we once again have to place our trust in God and believe that God loves us and desires only what is best for us.

Children have the ability to hope. Sometimes we have so many difficulties in life that we lose hope and we begin to despair. 

We come to believe that we are no good or that people are against us or that we will never measure up. When this happens, we lose hope and often sink into depression and despair.

We have to believe again that we can do better and that tomorrow can be better. So we ask Jesus to restore our hope that things can get better. 

Children have the ability to live in the present. We adults worry about everything and so we either live in the past worrying that the past will eventually catch up with us or we live in the future dreading what will become of us.

Children seldom worry about their future. They live for today. Children forgive easily and move on. They don’t cling to old grudges. They don’t get bogged down. They live here and now.

This one is a tough one for us so we have to ask for the grace to live in the present. And as we begin to live in the present we begin to discover the Kingdom of God all around us.

Children are amazed at the world around them. They are curious. They ask questions. They are filled with awe and wonder.

Life sometimes beats us up in such a way that everything seems ordinary. We fail to see the wonder of God’s Kingdom all around us, the beauty of others and the beauty of God’s creation.

We need to recapture our sense of wonder and awe and see the beauty of the Kingdom all around us.

Children are completely dependent on others for almost everything.

On the other hand, we pride ourselves in being self-sufficient. We want to be in charge. We want to call the shots. We try to do it alone. We forget that we need God in our lives. 

We forget that we are dependent upon God for everything. And so the Kingdom of God remains hidden from our eyes.

But we want to enter into the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom is open to us here and now. When we turn and become like little children we enter into the Kingdom.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

9/30/18 -- 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

The Book of Numbers and the Gospel both have people who are preoccupied with what others are doing. Joshua, Moses’ aide, is upset because two people are prophesying in the camp. And the disciples are upset because they see someone they don’t know driving out demons in Jesus’ name.

They are preoccupied with whether or not it’s ok for other people to be acting a certain way or doing certain things. Now what’s disappointing about this preoccupation is that, in both cases, the outsiders weren’t even doing anything harmful.

Jesus and Moses both give a similar response. Do not prevent them. For whoever is not against us is with us. 

Then Jesus goes on to drive the point home. If you are so concerned, then be concerned about the right thing. Be concerned about what is causing you to sin.

Stop focusing on what others are up to and worry about what’s going on in your own life, in your own heart, in your own home.

In other words, creating a better world doesn’t start by pointing out the faults of others.

Rather, creating a better world starts by examining our own lives to find our own faults and failings and sins.

Once I’m aware of my own faults and failings and sins, then I can begin to walk the difficult road to change. Change should always start with me. Change starts with the recognition that I need to grow. Change starts with the realization that I can do better.

Jesus says no to being overly focused on the behaviors of others and yes to being focused on ourselves. 

As we focus on ourselves, we are able to begin to turn from sin and choose to do good. We are able to begin to do what Jesus asks. We are able to root out and cut away those parts of ourselves and those behaviors of ours that are undesirable.

As this happens, we also begin, quite naturally, to do good. And Jesus says our good deeds have good rewards.

Anyone who gives a cup of water to drink will surely not lose the reward. Giving a cup of cold water to one who is thirsty is such a simple task.

But it comes from a heart that is determined to pluck out sin. It comes from a heart that is set on Jesus and the Kingdom. It come from a heart that desires to do good.

Joshua and the disciples are preoccupied with others. As a result they were unable to see their own need to change. Let us focus, not on others, but on ourselves, so that we might see our need to grow and to change. And seeing this, begin to work to do good and so earn our heavenly reward. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

9/23/18 -- 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

The Book of Wisdom describes how the wicked set themselves in opposition to the just. The just one is obnoxious to us. Let us set ourselves against those who are good, those who are just.

And let us see if God will come to their rescue. Will God defend the just one? 

Let us torture and bully and make fun of the just. Let us speak ill of the just. Let us put the just to death. Let God take care of them. Let God save them.

Saint Paul takes up where the Book of Wisdom leaves off. He tells us that the wicked are jealous, selfish, ambitious, envious. The wicked are sarcastic. The wicked ridicule the just. The wicked bring about violence and conflict and murder.

In the gospel will see the disciples acting much like the wicked. They are arguing with each other for ranking. I’m more important than you. The disciples are seeking position, power and wealth.

Sometimes those descriptions of the wicked can be applied to us. Sometimes we act in ways that are not good. 

When Jesus challenges the disciples to change and to grow, Jesus is also challenging us.

Jesus always takes the side of the just because Jesus is the perfect Just One. Jesus always welcomes the lowest and the least. Jesus is not concerned with one’s position or power or wealth. Those mean nothing to Jesus.

Jesus gives his very life for the wicked so that the wicked can be saved. Jesus gives his very life for the wicked so that the wicked can be transformed. Jesus gives his very life for the wicked in the hopes that the wicked would turn from doing bad and seek to do the good.

The Book of Wisdom and Saint Paul and Jesus all tell us what the characteristics of the just are. The just are peaceful. The just are gentle. The just are compliant. The just are full of mercy. The just are warm and welcoming. The just go about doing good. 

Jesus wants the disciples to be great, but Jesus wants them to be great in the right way. To be great in the right way is to be good and just. To be great in the right way is to be loving and forgiving.

To be great in the right way is to be warm and welcoming. To be great in the right way is to be of service to the lowly and the least.

The Book of Wisdom describes the way of the wicked. Let us live our lives in such a way that we never behave as the wicked do. Why? Because the Lord loves the just and foils the ways of the wicked. 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

9/9/18 -- 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Ephphatha is the Greek form of the Aramaic word meaning “be opened.” In English, it is an imperative.

An imperative gives a command: sit down, stand up.
Issues an invitation: come to the party.
Expresses a wish: have a nice day.
Makes an apology: pardon me.
Or gives a general prohibition: no smoking.

In the gospel, Jesus is giving a command: be opened. In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah is also giving a command: be strong, fear not.

If Jesus is commanding us to be opened, then we could look at examples of being closed and understand that Jesus is calling us to change those things about ourselves.

We can set examples of being closed and being open side by side to see how Jesus is commanding us to grow.

Close minded people are stubborn. They are not willing or eager to try anything new.

Open minded people embrace change. They are willing to try new things.

Close minded people are often judgmental. They focus on differences. They are obsessed with the things that divide us.

Open minded people are not judgmental. They respect people’s differences. Open minded people are willing to accept others as they are. They focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.

Close minded people lack humility. They have to be right all the time. And they don’t like being challenged.

Open minded people are willing to listen to others. They are humble and open to the possibility of being wrong. 

Open minded people see opportunities and possibilities. Open minded people are willing to listen to others. They are curious. They live in the present and don’t mind being different. Open minded people are comfortable in their own skin.

If we are strong like Isaiah commands and open like Jesus commands, then the prophecy of Isaiah comes true and the healing Jesus brings is ours.

The eyes of the blind are opened. The ears of the deaf are cleared. The lame leap like stags and the tongues of the mute sing for joy.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

9/2/18 -- 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Our traditions are important to us. We Catholics understand this really. We have a rich treasury of religious traditions and practices.

Everybody knows Catholics do things a certain way. We worship in a particular way. We have certain readings and prayers for certain days.

We light candles. We bless crucifixes and other religious articles. We pray novenas and rosaries. We canonize saints. We use incense and holy oil.

We sometimes sing songs and say prayers in ancient languages. Priests wear different colored vestments for different celebrations. And we share a sacred meal when we gather around the Lord’s table.

These are our traditions and there is a purpose behind these holy actions. They are not ends in themselves. They are meant to lead us to holiness.

If we lose sight of this, our religious practices and traditions can become empty, They lose their meaning.

This is what has happened to the scribes and pharisees in the gospel. They are so concerned about keeping all of their religious traditions and practices, and enforcing those traditions on others that they have forgotten that the traditions are supposed to lead them to holiness.

Jesus calls them out by naming all theirs sins: theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, unruliness, arrogance.

Their traditions have become empty practices. Their hearts have become hardened. They have turned to sin.

Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to change, they retreat farther into their sinfulness. They become angry with Jesus and begin to look for a way to put him to death.

From time to time we really have to look at our lives and our religious practices to make sure they aren’t empty, to make sure they haven’t lost their meaning, to make sure that they are helping us grow in holiness.

That’s why we are having a revival this fall, to help us grow in holiness. I think these five Wednesday evenings of renewal are going to be vital to us. I really want to encourage all of you to prayerfully consider attending this special event. It will help us renew ourselves and our church community.

This is so important so that our rich Catholic heritage is not just empty religious practice. 

This is our call to holiness so that our hearts are drawn closer to the Lord. This is our call to holiness to that we are purified from the inside out. 

Our religious traditions and practices are important to us. We must ensure that they don’t become empty. We must ensure that they are leading us to holiness.