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.