To Prepare the Way of the Lord begins with preparing the stillness within ourselves

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HOMILY FOR THE 2ND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

 

Readings:  Bar. 5:1-9/Phil. 1:4-6, 8-11

Psalm:  126:1-6

Gospel:  Lk. 3:1-6

 

In just a few short weeks, we will celebrate the Feast of Christmas.  Most assuredly, we will hear the timeless carol, “Silent Night” which this Christmas will mark 200 years since its debut. This classic song reflects the moment just after the birth of Jesus where the world was touched by the Divine and brought peace to the world.  As we hear the song sung, and when we join into its verses, we understand that when Christ is present in our world, we find ourselves in a place of grace and contentment.

This feeling is one that we all have had and always try to strive for each and every day.  It is the feeling that comes upon us whenever we have achieved a level of balance in our lives.  It is a feeling that can only be referred to as stillness.  It is a quality that tells us that what we are doing has a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives.  It is that sensation that everything we do and everyone we encounter is enhanced by the Grace of God so that anything we encounter that would normally cause us pain is inconsequential. So no matter what happens, our sense of stillness elevates our work, our homes and our lives into a place where everything becomes second nature.

I recently started reading a book called “Meditations Before Mass” by Msgr. Romano Guardini.  This book is a collection of essays that he gave to his congregation before each mass so they may gain a better understanding of the mystery that they were about to embark:  The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Of the many subjects that the good Msgr. embarks, the one that begins the book is the one on stillness.  He observed that when the Mass is celebrated properly, “there are moments in which the voices of both priest and faithful become silent.”  Every moment, proclamation and response that is made becomes a dance of “watchful, prayerful participation.”  Msgr. Guardini defined stillness as “the tranquility of the inner life, the quiet at the depths of its hidden stream…a collected, total presence, a being all there, receptive, alert, ready (with) nothing inert or oppressive about it.”[1] It is not just being silent, but having every part of your being becoming still; so still that we are able to hear, understand and obey the voice of God.

It is easy to be silent.  All it takes is to not talk.  But being silent is not being still.  Being silent cannot stop the noise inside your head and calm the anxiety within your body when you are in a place that you either do not want to be or in a situation that we wish would be over soon.  The things of this world have taken us over and has reduced our lives to just a grocery list of things that we need before we can be satisfied.

We see this sense of anxiety in the Scriptures being proclaimed during the Advent Season.  Whenever we tell a story, we generally have to set the scene for our listener.  We talk about when the story takes place, where it takes place and what was going on at the time the story began.  For example, each “Star Wars” movie begins with an introduction laying out the situation prior to the start of each film.  Shakespeare had a chorus introduce his plays to the audience with an introductory soliloquy, as in Romeo and Juliet, “Two Households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona where we lay our scene…”  These introductions help the listener understand the story being told by giving it context.

In the Gospel proclaimed today, Luke sets the stage for his story by setting the time period in which he begins this tale:  “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee…” and so forth.  Luke re-introduces John the Baptist to the listener.  This is in fact the third time John the Baptist is mentioned in Luke’s Gospel.  And each time, he is mentioned before Jesus, to foreshadow John’s place in salvation history. His ministry was not just to let the Jews know the Son of Man was coming, but also to be a reflection of what was going on in their world that brought them to this point.

John the Baptist spoke on the lack of stillness going on in the lives of the Jews and tried to help them find it. He preached in the wilderness and offered his followers baptism for the forgiveness of their sins.  When he was asked what can be done to be saved from the wrath that they feared was to come, John spoke to them to be generous in their abundance and not take from another’s prosperity. This was his way for them to be prepared for the coming of the Messiah; to show how stillness can be achieved in a world that many had been told was slowly dying and ready to be destroyed by outside invaders at any moment.

While “Silent Night” is a song about stillness in the presence of Christ, its origins tell a slightly different story.  When Fr. Joseph Mohr wrote the lyrics in 1816, the Napoleonic Wars had just concluded, which caused a major shift in the boundary lines of all European countries.  As a result, the Principality of Salzburg, which was under Church control, was divided between Austria and Bavaria.  No one knew at the time if these changes would enable the area to be successful, which enabled Fr. Mohr to pen those words that, two years later, he would give to Franz Gruber and set them to music.  And that evening, at Midnight Mass, the song was debuted and became the most popular Christmas song in the world.[2]

Fr. Mohr, like Msgr. Guardini, envisioned a kind of stillness in the world that can only happen when we have Christ in our lives.  In a world that we think is in chaos, we turn to Christ for calm.  It is in those times that when we find ourselves in times of distress, the words of Fr. Mohr, the music of Franz Gruber and the inspiration of the Incarnation will allow us to find the stillness we so desperately desire in our lives.  We can then understand the words of John the Baptist today, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  With that preparation, we embody the final stanza of “Silent Night”:  “Silent night, Holy night!  Son of God, love’s pure light.  Radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus Lord at thy birth, Jesus Lord at thy birth.”

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

[1] Guardini, Romano. Meditations Before Mass (Manchester, NH:  Sophia Institute Press, 1939), 3,5.

[2] http://www.christmassongs.net/silent-night

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The Feast of Christ the King is a reminder of who we are and what we believe

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HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING 2018

Readings:  Dn. 7:13-14/Rev. 1:5-8

Psalm:  93:1-2,5

Gospel:  Jn. 18:33-37

 

The question is asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  It is a question that goes beyond the obvious?  It was not just a question of power, but of authority.  Two men who had led thousands stand alone in a room trying to determine who had control over whom.  Pilate asks the question; Jesus asks him another-“do you say this on your own or has others told you about me?”  If Pilate said yes, then Pilate was lower than Jesus.  If Pilate said no, then he ran the risk of punishing an innocent man.  So Pilate answers the only way he can to maintain the status quo:  “I am not a Jew, am I?  Your own people sent you to me.”

As I was preparing for this weekend, I had realized that I had already talked on this question three years ago.  And yet it is just as relevant to us today as it was to Pilate back then.  To him and to us, the answer given is an answer of authority.   So, now we come to the next question to be asked:  “What have you done?”  Pilate wants Jesus to give testimony of what he has done on earth that had infuriated the chief priests.  The testimony Jesus gave was not what Pilate expected.  “My Kingdom does not belong to this world.  If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”  For Pilate, this was a confirmation of the first question.

Like a good statesman, Pilate rephrases the question: “Then you are a king?” Jesus replies to Pilate as if he was still trying to reach him as he would anyone he encountered in his ministry.  “You say I am a king.  For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

What is your image of a king?  Is it an exalted ruler sitting on a throne with a crown on his head?  Or is it someone riding on a horse leading troops into battle.  Could it be someone who commands his subjects to impossible tasks and punishes them for not reaching the goal?  Or could it be someone who is looking for those who will help one another and ease the king’s burden to provide for so many?

We have so many images of Jesus why do we place such emphasis of this title of Jesus as King?  The Feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 in his encyclical Quas Primas.  It was written in the aftermath of World War I, where many of the traditional governing bodies in Europe were left susceptible to the dangers of secularism and nationalism.  Pius wanted to assure those who were used to a monarch as head of state that there is still a King that oversaw their protection from their enemies.  However, like the Gospel proclaimed today, this King was not an earthly one, but a spiritual one.              The threats of those who strive for power and take the place of God in the eyes of others was moving across Europe, and Pius saw this happen. So he instituted this feast as a way to deter this.  In the encyclical, Pius said that:

“Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ; and that we promised to do as far as lay in our power. In the Kingdom of Christ, that is, it seemed to Us that peace could not be more effectually restored nor fixed upon a firmer basis than through the restoration of the Empire of Our Lord… It has long been a common custom to give to Christ the metaphorical title of ‘King,’ because of the high degree of perfection whereby he excels all creatures. So he is said to reign ‘in the hearts of men,’ both by reason of the keenness of his intellect and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all mankind.” [1]

 

While we honor Jesus today as Christ the King, we also must remember the means by which he came to earth. Jesus could have easily come into this world with a fanfare and a large procession proclaiming his arrival. Instead, he came to earth as a mortal. He could’ve been born to one of the noblest families in all of Israel. Instead, he was conceived to a virgin betrothed to a carpenter in the small town of Nazareth. His residence could have been in a fine home or palace that denoted his royalty. Instead, his birth came in a stable, being wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a humble manger.

Despite his lowly beginnings, his birth created much excitement and turmoil in all of Israel. Shepherds came down from their flocks to bid the child homage. Wiseman came from the East to worship the newborn King of the Jews and offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The King of Israel was so enraged of his birth that he gave an order to slaughter every child less than two years of age to protect his kingship. As he grew in wisdom and knowledge, great crowds came to him because of the ways he was able to bring the faithful closer to God.

We come to church each time in order to recognize Christ by his many titles:  Savior, Redeemer, Healer, Shepherd, Teacher, Friend and, yes, King.  When we make the sign of the cross, when we recite the creed, when we come to receive the Body and Blood and participate in the Sacraments, we acknowledge that Jesus is who we say he is today:  Christ the King.  The question Pilate raised was one of identity.  The question Jesus says back is one of belief.  It is now up to us to answer them both.

In closing, I would like to offer this novena prayer in honor of Christ the King:

O Lord our God, You alone are the Most Holy King and Ruler of all nations.
We pray to You, Lord, in the great expectation of receiving from You, O Divine King, mercy, peace, justice and all good things.
Protect, O Lord our King, our families and the land of our birth.
Guard us we pray Most Faithful One.
Protect us from our enemies and from Your Just Judgment
Forgive us, O Sovereign King, our sins against you.
Jesus, You are a King of Mercy.
We have deserved Your Just Judgment
Have mercy on us, Lord, and forgive us.
We trust in Your Great Mercy.
O most awe-inspiring King, we bow before You and pray;
May Your Reign, Your Kingdom, be recognized on earth.

Amen.

 

Our Help Is In The Name Of The Lord

-Who Made Heaven And Earth!

 

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Pius XI. Quas Primas, 1,7.

In this age of Information Overload, We Continue to Listen to the Source

 

 

download 2HOMILY FOR THE 32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 

Readings:  1 Kings 17:10-16/Heb. 9:24-28

Psalm:  146: 7-10

Gospel:  Mk. 12:38-44

 

These past months we have been inundated with what can be nicely stated as “information overload.”  Many people and many groups have used the press, television, the internet and word-of-mouth to spread a message of who is good and who is bad.  Over and over again we heard these messages to the point that we could not tell what is true or what is false.  We just wanted them to stop so now we can fixate on the bombardment of Christmas commercials just before Thanksgiving.

When you saw those commercials, what did you think was the singular message?  When it comes down to it, the one message all of these commercials was is that everyone should stand with just the one candidate that is the best.  But all that it did was take a message of unity and divide us even more than when things began.  Just recently I have been seeing a meme on Facebook that treats those of us living in Illinois like we are survivors of some horrific massacre like Las Vegas or Charleston or Pittsburgh just because of the outcome of this election. It is as if no one wants to be courteous with someone who thinks a different way than you do.  The definition of compromise has changed from meeting someone halfway to agreeing with everything that I say.

It can be rather hard to find that voice of reason, especially in a group that seems determined to separate themselves from the masses and show themselves to be better than everyone else and have the authority to tell everyone else how to behave.  So when that voice is found, it can be confusing to distinguish one from the other.  So it might seem confusing to hear the Gospel proclaimed today compared to the one proclaimed previously.  Last week, Jesus confronted a Scribe who wanted Jesus to answer his question on which was the greatest commandment.  When the scribe agreed with the answer, Jesus told him he was not far from the Kingdom of God.  But yet this week, Jesus condemns the entire group for their actions.  He says that the Scribes wear long robes, take seats of honor at the synagogues and banquets, devour the houses of widows and recite lengthy prayers to make them look holier than thou.  It was really getting on his nerves, but why?

Mainly it was because the Scribes were the ones who were charged to interpret the Law of Moses and teach it to their Jewish brothers.  Scribes believed that the Law was the exact meaning of God’s will, which was expressed in harsh rituals that put an undue burden on others.  It got to the point that their actions became more of enforcement than one of education.  A prime example of that is a little snippet of Mark’s Gospel between last week and this week.  Jesus posed a question to the crowds that were listening to him in the Temple.  The question pertained to an interpretation of the phrase “Son of David” in regards to the identity of the Messiah.  It was stated in 2 Samuel that God would deliver a King from the line of David that would lead Israel for all time.  It was that thinking that many scribes took to mean that the Messiah would come from the line of David.  So, if that was the case, then why in Psalm 110, a poem that was understood to be written by David himself, would he call his son “Lord?” (Mk. 12: 35-37)  A father would not give his son a title superior to his own.  So, Jesus posed, why does everyone believe that the Messiah would come from an earthly kingdom and not a heavenly one?  And why should the scribes, who are supposed to know this, not understand the contradiction?  Jesus could only look at them and shake his head.

Then to make matters worse for the Scribes, Jesus looks up and see a widow place two small coins in treasury, while many of the rich were putting in large sums.  While this passage has had many views, the point that this woman gave of her need rather than the rich who gave of their excess was only to put an exclamation point on his disdain of the Scribes.  They saw this as a matter of obedience.  She did it as a matter of devotion:  not to the Scribes view of the Law, but to God.  She was emulating the widow in the First Reading today from the First Book of Kings (17:10-16).  The widow was afraid that if she made a cake for Elijah, she would not have enough for her and her son to eat before they would starve to death.  But the prophet assured her that if she did what was asked of her, she and her son would not go hungry.  This simple act of devotion to God’s Prophet enabled the widow and her son to come closer to God, while the widow in the Gospel would only see her donation put a wedge between her and the Scribes for taking her money and using it on themselves and not for the work of God.

One cannot call themselves a Child of God and deny other Children their birthright.  We may not behave in the same way, nor do we have the same ideals as each other, but that does not mean that each path is less correct than any other.  This past week, Pope Francis, in speaking with a delegation of Jewish leaders, proclaimed that it is impossible for someone to call themselves a Christian and yet endorse anti-Semitism.  He said that “it would be a contradiction of faith and life” to be a Christian and an anti-Semite because of the shared roots each one has.[1]  One cannot proclaim the tenets of their faith at the same time deny others theirs because of who they are or how they believe.  That division can only come from a lack of knowledge or intellectual laziness.

We hear something or read something and think it is true, until we do some research and find out that we had been wrong the entire time.  When we hear someone, we expect that what they say is true, particularly if the information is of a relatively sensitive nature.  And yet rather than confirm it, we tend to pass it off as true and perhaps embellish a bit to make us seem important.  But Jesus is asking us to search for the truth, because unless we do that, our lives, the lives of others and of our society will fall apart.  We have to go to the source to find the truth so that the things we see or hear afterwards can be confirmed or denied.

Where do we find the truth?  We find it in Christ; the direct source.  It was he who said “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”  Everything else is a translation of that truth.  Christ is asking each one of us to look beyond the headlines and second-hand sources and locate that truth that allows us to live as he wants us so that our society can thrive as he wants.  It may take a little work on our part, but the knowledge that we gain will stay with us for a lifetime; and no commercial or speech or internet craze will deter us from searching for that truth.

Much like the two widows, we must be willing to give everything we have in order to gain the wealth of Heaven.  All it takes is to know, love and live the Greatest Commandment and base our lives upon its proper application.  It is then, when we love God with all our heart, mind and soul; and then love our neighbors as ourselves can we end the divisions we have with each other and again become one family in the eyes of God.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

[1] “Greeting of His Holiness Pope Francis to a Delegation of the World Congress of Mountain Jews.” Nov. 5, 2018.  http://www.vatican.va

Moving out of blindness into sight enables us to enter the Sacrament of Maturity

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HOMILY FOR THE 30TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings: Jer. 31:7-9/Heb. 5:1-6
Psalm: 126:1-6
Gospel: Mk. 10:46-52

How does a person gain the insight necessary to become a disciple of Christ? Sometimes it takes moving from the known into the unknown with the help of God. Each time we move from one level to another we need to first be completely comfortable at where we are before we can move forward. For example, one cannot understand the concept of Prayer until one understands the balance between Ritual and Relationship. If it is not, then their actions are not in prayer, but in wishful thinking. Each step forward must begin with full knowledge of where one is at the moment of decision. For when Ritual and Relationship come together, we are in Prayer. When those in Prayer come together, we enter into Sacrament. And when those in a Sacramental state use their position to welcome others, they become Church. This is the end by which we achieve the grace we need to become that Disciple of Christ. It is the means by which we make that decision that can elude us.

In the Gospel proclaimed today, a blind man was on the side of the road. He was begging for whatever he could so that he could live as much a normal life as he was able. He heard a commotion. It was a sound that he was familiar with. It was a sound that meant a lot of people were around. He heard more than people. He heard a payday.
Then he found out the reason for the noise. This was a crowd that was following Jesus of Nazareth. He had heard of him. This was a man who had explained the Scriptures in a way no one had heard before; and his followers were growing. More importantly, this Jesus had been known to have the power to heal anyone of any ailment that they might have; including blindness.

While he knew he could make a little money, he had wished for something more. He had prayed for a moment like this, and now it was the time. He cried out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” But the crowd shouted him down. Yet he cried out the louder, “Son of David, have pity on me.” The more and more he cried out, the louder and louder the crowd wanted him to be quiet. Finally, his voice reached the ears of Jesus. He stopped in his tracks and called for the man. Now the same crowd that shouted the man down is now picking him up and bringing him to Jesus. It would seem reasonable that Jesus would see that this man was blind. And it would seem reasonable for Jesus to ask for his name, which we knew at the start of the Gospel was Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Even though he knew these things, Jesus still asked the man, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus told him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus saw his desire to see and told him “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” At that moment, Bartimaeus received his sight. Even though Jesus told him to go his own way, Bartimaeus chose to follow Jesus and went with him. Jesus gave him the chance to do whatever he wanted, but with the grace of Christ, Bartimaeus chose to leave his old life for a new life in Christ.

When we talk about Sacraments, those seven “outward signs, instituted by Christ, to give grace,” we can divide those into three segments, each segment just as important as the other for our salvation in this exile from Paradise. The first segment includes the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. While these three are commonly referred to as the Sacraments on Initiation, I like to look at these three as Sacraments of Welcome. It eliminates the mistake of confusing the word “initiation”-a formal admission or acceptance- with the word “indoctrination”-the teaching of a doctrine with a specific point of view, generally one that promotes a hatred against a person or group. The next group, Reconciliation and Anointing, can be considered the “Sacraments of Renewal” for their ability to bring us closer to God during our times of distress and despair.
The third group of Sacraments-Matrimony and Holy Orders-are referred to by one theologian as the “Sacraments of Maturity.” When we were young, we were guided by one of our elders in doing what was right, including taking part in these Sacraments, especially the ones that are part of the Sacraments of Welcome and Renewal. But it is the Sacraments of Maturity that we choose to take part by choice.

So when we begin to explore the possibilities of entering into either state of life, we first must understand that when we do, we risk leaving a life that we had known for most of our lives. We go about our routines as if this is what our lives were supposed to be doing what we are doing. Over time, we stopped looking for what we desired to be because we had gotten blinded by the things that we had to do in order to live in society. But then there are those moments in our lives that will take us out of our malaise of societal conformity and give us a chance to reach out for that one thing that would place us on the path that we need to take that will bring us closer to happiness. Like Bartimaeus, we are crying to Jesus so that we are able to see that path. And he will show it to us. But like all of Christ’s invitations to be with him, it is still our choice to take it. He does not command; he only offers and asks. We have the choice to say “yes” or “no.” And when we do, that is the first step of starting down the road to paradise. That is the true measure of maturity. That is the true measure of being a Disciple of Christ. That is the true measure of being a Child of God.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

To inherit Eternal Life starts with bringing Ritual and Relationship together

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HOMILY FOR THE 28TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings:  Wis. 7:7-11/Heb. 4:12-13

Psalm:  90:12-17

Gospel:  Mk. 10:17-30

 

There is a popular meme going around Facebook.  It is an image of someone holding a lightbulb with a question above it that says “How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?”  Then it meme goes through the various denominations.  For example, for the Charismatics, they need only one.  The hands are already in the air.  For the Pentecostals, they need ten:  One to change the bulb and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.  Baptists need at least 15:  One to change the bulb and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad and fried chicken.  The Episcopalians need three: One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks and one to talk about how much better the old one was.  For the Lutherans and Catholics, they do not need anyone.  The Lutherans don’t believe in change and the Catholics are candles only.  And when you ask the Amish that question, they would ask “What’s a light bulb?”

I started with this bit of levity to highlight a certain consequence of being part of a group, whether it is religious, social, philosophical or political.  The consequence is that when one becomes part of a group, we have a tendency to follow two paths, either intentionally or accidentally.  The first one is to follow the path of ritual, the strict patterns and mannerisms that are prevalent in every organization.  They could be a certain handshake, a wardrobe, memorizing certain phrases and other things that show our allegiance to this group. In fact, a ritualist will based their entire lives upon the rituals set forth by this group. The other path to follow is the one of relationship.  This path is for those who join just for the sake of comradery or, in some cases, a hero worship of one person or the group for their actions with themselves and those around them.  A person would join the group for some personal gain, like if the group has a clubhouse he would join it just to get discounts on the banquet hall.  We want to be part of the group; we just know which group is best or how to join.  Each path has its positives, but the more we go down those paths in search for personal perfection, the longer and longer the path becomes to get to the end.

Why is that?  Mainly it has to do not so much with being part of a group, but to be a group by ourselves.  We think our way is the best (and only) way and that no one on the path we take or the other path can convince us otherwise.  Even when we reach out for advice, it is not so much that we need guidance but that we are looking for affirmation of the choices we have made.   In the Gospel proclaimed today, we hear about a man facing that dilemma in his life.  As Jesus was leaving to go on another journey, the man comes up to him to ask him what he must do to inherit eternal life.  He referred to Jesus as “Good Teacher;” and that sort of set Jesus off.  “Why do you call me good?  No one is good but God alone,” Jesus told him.  Then he went to remind him-and those who were listening-that by observing the commandments is how one inherits eternal life.

This was the ritualistic answer.  In order to enter paradise, one must obey the rules set forth by God and handed down from generation to generation.  This is the way it has always been and it is the way it should be.  So it is written; so let it be done.  And nothing or no one can change any line or stroke of the written law.  Following the rules is easy, clean-cut and simple.  No muss, no fuss; and no thinking.

But this man wanted more.  He was someone who was better off than most.  He wore the finer clothes and had the finer things and had the finer friends.  So he wanted a finer way to eternal life.  Like his life, he wanted more.  He wanted his inheritance to be more.  He wanted a relationship with God.  But he wanted it on his terms.  He had the best.  God was the best.  Therefore, he wanted the best way to God.  It was an inheritance:   part of a fortune to be a member of God’s family.

So Jesus, in his desire to see this man receive this inheritance from God, told him what he must do. “You are lacking one thing” he says. “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  The man was perplexed.  This was a man that wanted to add to his treasure; not to give up anything.  On top of that, Jesus wanted to follow him.  That would mean to him that he had to leave his friends and family-his entire lifestyle.  The man could not take any more of this.  He put his head down, turned around and walked away.

Jesus felt for the man.  He wanted this man to join them.  But the things of this world were keeping him away from obtaining the things that will let him achieve eternal life.  Jesus looked at those around him and stated the difficulties to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  He told them that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter Heaven.  Someone from the crowd cried out “Then who can be saved?”  Jesus said “for human beings it is impossible, but not for God.  All things are possible for God.”  It was more than a message; it was the key that we all need to be able to inherit eternal life.

When we focus too much on ritual or too much on relationship, we add too many burdens that we don’t need or cannot afford.  And the more we cling to one or the other, the more those burdens are set on our backs until when the time comes for us to enter the narrow gate, we are unable to pass through.  For human beings it is impossible.  What Christ is asking us to do-now, today-is to take away some of the burdens that we have taken on the one path (the burdens we thought we needed to enter paradise), add a few of the burdens from the other path and the burden we carry is lighter than we thought, the road taken is much more enjoyable and the gate for us to enter is not only closer, but much easier to enter.

What happens to us human beings when we take ritual and join it with relationship?  We enter into prayer.  It is a prayer that is spoken in the First Reading today from the Book of Wisdom.  “I prayed, and prudence was given me.”  When we who are in prayer join others in prayer, it becomes a sacrament. Sacraments give us the knowledge to live in this world the best way possible.  “I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.”  When the sacraments are used as an invitation, it becomes a church; a church of those who would forsake the things of earth in order to receive the gift of heaven. “I preferred (wisdom and prudence) to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her.”  So, when a church is in total harmony, when ritual and relationship are together as one, it is then that we obtain our inheritance of eternal life. It is then that we can hear the words of Christ that he gave to the man when he said “come, follow me.”

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

 

The First Step to Understand is to Listen

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HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Readings:  Is. 50:4-9/Jas. 2:14-18

Psalm:  116:1-6, 8-9

Gospel:  Mk. 8:27-35

 

Over the past several weeks, I have been doing the same thing that everyone else has been doing:  hearing about the mess that the Church has been getting itself into for the past several decades.  Since the start of the summer season, there has been report after report of cover-ups by Church officials of misconduct starting in Chile, then Australia then Ireland and then back to the United States.  Each and every time a report comes out, dozens of voices cry out with their version of how to solve the crisis and bring a new age within the Church.  Each voice that cries out is louder than the next, pointing fingers at everything and everyone.  And the one who shouts the loudest becomes the victor.  All the while, the ones who long to be heard are pushed back into the shadows or placed in the hot spotlight of public opinion.  But that opinion is not their own, but it is the ones that use them for their own cause.  It made me stop and wonder that when the time came to add my voice, what would the people hear me say.

Apparently, I am not the only one. Last weekend I went to Mass at Notre Dame.  The celebrant during his homily spoke that lately when he goes on the internet, he is spending less time on the news sites looking at the troubles going on in the Church and more time on You Tube watching cat videos. (Can’t say that I blame him.)  One of the things that was concerning him was the Gospel proclaimed last week in light of these current events.  His focus was on the moment when Jesus gave the mute man the power to speak.  He said that when he began to prepare, his mind was not so much on the miracle itself, but what would become after the miracle.  The question that kept running through his head was “What happens if the mute begin to speak, and we don’t like what they have to say?”  That made me think of what is going on in the Church.  And the thought that came into my mind is what would happen if not just the power of speech was restored, but if all of the senses were opened, would they be pleased at what they encountered?

Whenever God reveals himself to us, there is a sense of awe and exhilaration.  But there can also be a risk of disappointment and denial.  Where those two points show up is all a matter of how much or how little faith we have in our relationship with God.  Remember a few weeks ago when Jesus fed the crowds with just five loaves of bread and two fish?  The crowd was ready to make him their king ready to do battle with their human oppressors.  When Jesus proclaimed that he was the Bread of Life, the crowds could not listen to what was said.  They only heard his words of hope and tasted his food; but they did not listen to his message nor savored the meal that he wanted to give them.

In the Gospel proclaimed today, Jesus asks his disciples who the people think he is?  They said he was John the Baptist or Elijah or another prophet.  But when he asked them who he was, it was Peter who said he was the Christ.  Jesus thought that they were ready, more than the crowd was anyway.  The crowds left, but the disciples stayed.  Jesus told them that the Son of Man must suffer and be rejected by the Scribes and Pharisees, be killed and rise after three days.  When Peter takes him aside to tell him that he should not be saying such things, Jesus then knew that they were back on that hillside getting ready to make him a King on earth rather than a King in Heaven.

Those who see the world while their senses are blocked are no more aware than the Mute man we heard about last week.  The crowd on the hill could only hear the words of Jesus through the gray noise of the world they lived.  Their culture could not allow them.  Peter tried to stop Jesus from sharing his destiny, which showed that Peter’s eyes could only look at Jesus but did not see of the Son of God that he would give up his life later on.

Those who were with Jesus were able to have their senses awakened through him so they can understand fully God’s creation.  Yet there are still those whose ability to “be opened” is not yet available to them.  They could be prevented by some trauma in their lives or some issue with a person or group that is telling them they are not welcome anymore.  Anytime they desired to hear the Good News, it would come from those same sources.  But instead of joy and gladness, those words would be thought of untrustworthy.  So it takes all or our senses, opened by God, for us to find His message to come back home.

In my own case, in order for me to allow my senses to open is to start at one of them and move forward.  So I started with the one that sent me on this path at the beginning:  listening.  I started to talk less and listen more so I would be able to find that voice in all this noise.  Then I found it.  It was something that has been proclaimed to us this month.  The Second Readings this month have been coming from the Letter of James.  This Letter was written sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion for the Jews who proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah.  This was a letter of encouragement after the catastrophe they just went through.  The letter starts out “whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance…”  These are not words of instruction but words of hope.  More often than not, the Letter of James is pulled out with the reading we heard today:  The Faith versus Works debate.  But if we just listen to this letter in its entirety, we can begin to find the solace that we are looking for and guidance to help those who are suffering the most.  “You must understand this,” says James, “let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”

I encourage everyone to use this letter as a starting point for allowing God to enter into our lives, open our senses and enable us to listen to the cries of those who were once mute because of this crisis and now have the ability to speak.  To help them requires that we rid ourselves of those things that would cause more pain than that was there.  “Rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.”  Let us pray that these words not only come into our hearts, but also the ones who wish to take revenge on those who have committed these acts on the littlest of God’s creation.  Let our senses come in tune with the Voice of God so we can bring back those that have been in the dark and into the light of Christ.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

How we see the Bread of Life is the key toward true discipleship

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HOMILY FOR THE 18TH and 19TH SUNDAY’S IN ORDINARY TIME

            There are those who insist that we should never question our beliefs no matter what.  The theory goes that when one becomes part of a movement, whether it is political, philosophical, social or theological, it becomes one’s duty to persevere, protect and defend the ideals that one was taught from the beginning.  Pick any topic and you will find those who take an orthodox approach to the practice of their belief, either pro or con.  Any deviation from this reality and one would be labeled a heretic.  What was taught from the beginning of one’s education is all that they need to know. 

            The beliefs that they have held for so long get challenged whenever someone else questions them. When they are challenged, the person would be testy, even angry that their beliefs are questioned.  They may even claim that the tenets of their beliefs are considered “non-negotiables” in order for them to be considered the “perfect disciple” and they will do whatever it will take to attain this level. Their beliefs become more important than any truths that they are shown. 

            When those internal beliefs are turned outward, they are used in finding someone in which they can give their support.  They want someone who will support their views no matter what.  To them, it is not so much that they believe it; they just want them to support it.  What happens, then, when the person who they think will be the one who will champion their beliefs tells you that they are not what they thought they were?  When those living in the time of the Gospels were looking for their next great leader, they thought they had found them in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  He appeared to have all the qualities that they were looking for.  He was from the House of David, the great King of Israel.  He came from Nazareth, where scriptures said the Messiah would come.  He spoke with an authority that they had not heard from the Chief Priests and Scribes.  For many of them, the fact that he would stand up to the “powers that be” -either in the Temple or in the Praetorium-was just the person that they wanted.  He was an outsider; someone who was not corrupted by the system. 

            He was perfect: Or, at least the best for their needs at the time.  So they began to follow him, listen to his speeches and observed his actions, particularly his healing the sick.  His manner evoked images of David.  He spoke of being the Good Shepherd, gathering the lost flocks back into the fold.  Like David, Jesus was blessed by God to bring Israel to glory. So it seemed the perfect time for the crowds who were fed in the field with just five loaves of bread and two fish to anoint him their king just before the Feast of Passover. 

            So it must have been odd for them to discover that Jesus, along with his apostles, had left the area, got in a boat, and travelled across the sea to Capernaum. He was to be their leader, and now he was not there.  When they did find him on the other side, they were hungry for more of what they were given.  But Jesus was ready to give them something more:  more lasting, more satisfying, more enriching than anything that they had ever imagined.  Jesus was giving himself.  “I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.  I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 

            The crowds could not understand this. How could he say that he came down from heaven?  Many knew him personally; saw him grow up. They knew his parents.  He wasn’t from Heaven, he was from Nazareth. But Jesus was adamant. The food the crowd was looking for was no more satisfying than what their ancestors ate in the desert.  He was giving them more.  It was up to them to believe that he was who he said he was.  They first saw him as a shepherd bringing the sheep to the pasture.  They saw him as a leader, one who would feed them just by his say so.  They wanted him to be King, someone to inspire them to act upon their most vicious and basest natures all in the name of restoring Israel to its former glory. But what Jesus gave them was not for the glory of Man, but for the glory of God.

            To recognize Jesus as the Bread of Life is to see a world that is beyond all human constraints.  No human philosophy or edict can take the place of the guidelines set forth by God.  Yet we always seem to try.  Our own orthodox beliefs and views of the world tend to serve our own purposes.  We become more important than God and His Creation.  When there is a conflict, we will push aside the boundaries of others because they are in the way of our own.  We become the most important thing in our lives while everyone and everything is for our own use.  The world-God’s creation-is now subservient to us.  To prove our importance, we will go so far as to quote certain phrases from Scripture or other important documents to prove we are right they are wrong.  Yet when the time comes when those same words are spoken back to us-but not by Man, but by God-can we say that we will see the error of our ways?

            Can we see that the Word of God is for wisdom and not for war?  Do we notice that our churches are hospitals for wounded souls rather than training grounds for Christian soldiers?  And do we see the simple elements of flour, water and fermented grapes that become the Body and Blood of Christ as nourishment and medicine for our journey of faith rather than a treat given to us for good behavior?  When we hear Jesus tell the crowds that he is the “Bread of Life, the living bread come down from Heaven,” do we think that he is all God and all Man, or do we just see a great ancient prophet or philosopher?

            Yet despite all of our apprehensiveness and biases and prejudices, it is for these reasons that we must see Jesus as not only the Living Water he gave the Samaritan woman at the well, more than the Good Shepherd that brings his flock together and protects it from harm, but to see him as the “Bread of Life come down from Heaven.”  Only then can we look past our problems and see the solutions that God has given us.  All we have to do is to look past our nose, take off the blinders, and view the world as God created, not how Man has altered it. 

            If one needs a current example of this, we only have to look at Pope Francis’ updating of the Catechism stating that the death penalty is incompatible with the Gospel.  While other Popes have written about it, it still took a formal proclamation such as this to get the point across.  Similarly, Jesus had let those around him in one way or another know who he was, but it took this moment on the seashore and his pronouncement to the crowd to finally get the point across. 

            The Bread of Life not only satisfies our bodies but enriches our souls.  For this bread to be true nourishment, our body, soul, heart and mind must be open in receiving Him.  Once we can do that, then we can do more than just be a follower of Jesus, an itinerant preacher.  By our acceptance in declaring Jesus as the Bread of Life, the bread come down from Heaven, we can honestly and sincerely proclaim ourselves to be a Disciple of Christ.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK