November 11, 2018
(32th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Two of our readings for today feature widows. Both are poor, but that was a common plight for widows of Biblical times. Women in those days got their sustenance and protection from a man. When a woman’s husband died, she was fortunate if she had a son who could take her in. If the first son died, then the responsibility would go to the second son, and so forth. We notice how Our Lord handed the care of his mother not to a brother, but to St. John, who was not even a relative. If there were no sons and her father was living, he should take her into the family to provide for her or a brother or an uncle might fulfill that role. If she had no man to protect her and provide for her care, she would become a very vulnerable figure. There was no welfare system, no pension fund she could draw from, no place to get an honorable job, no way to forge a career of her own. By and large, women did not have jobs outside the home, except scandalous ones. A woman without male protection would be in desperate straits. That is why we hear so often in the scriptures about the need to protect and provide for the widows. The Church at the time of the Apostles actually ordained the first deacons so that they might participate in the distribution of food and aid to the widows of the Christian community. The first widow we hear of in our Scriptures of today is a widow at the time of the prophet Elijah. Her plight was especially desperate because she and her son were down to their last meal. The prophet Elijah seemed to be heartless when he asked this woman, a stranger to him, to share her remaining meager resources with him, but then, it was a most honored custom in the Middle-East in those times and up to present times to be hospitable to a stranger who came into your midst and was in need, even to the point of serving the guest before satisfying one’s own needs. The woman generously took the little she had and shared it with the prophet and she was rewarded with a constant supply of food until the time of the famine was over. Her giving yielded a most generous reward. The second widow in the gospel was in the process of donating money to the Temple in Jerusalem. Others were donating much more than she, but then, they were donating from their surplus while she, like the widow in our first reading, was giving just about all she had to live on. We find in both widows supreme examples of generosity in giving. Their giving was at great costs to themselves, but at the time of giving they imparted the little they had with no expectation of a reward.
We can learn a lot from these two women. We should all be generous givers. I am not speaking here about donating to the Church, although I am most grateful for the donations we receive to keep this parish going, especially in these times of vast criticism of the church. It can be substantiated through evidence, infrequently cited, that the Catholic Church has been a most charitable agent to those in need and has done so consistently down through the centuries including our own. This good work of the Church must continue in spite of failures we have become aware of during these recent years, and the central work of the parish must also continue in spite of this crisis.
Generosity comes in many different forms and for many different worthwhile purposes. The dedicated generosity of the two needy widows impels us to review our own generosity in certain areas of our lives. Are we sufficiently generous towards God? Everything we have ultimately comes from Him. We will be especially reminded of that in a few days when we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Do we give God his due in our lives? Do we only give him our attention and affection when we feel like it? When some hobby or interest beckons us elsewhere on Sundays, do we easily abandon our obligation to worship the Lord through his great gift of the Eucharist? God wants to be central in our hearts; do we give Him the generous portion of our lives and selves, or only a non-committed sliver? We might ask ourselves if we are giving to the health of our marriages the same spirit of generosity we see in the two widows. It can be easy to just coast along in a marriage without sacrificing for it…. without paying a necessary price of self-surrender to make our significant relationships stronger. Are we giving a generous portion of ourselves to keep our marriages happy? Or are we holding back much of ourselves for lesser purposes? Do we have that same spirit of generosity towards the children in our family which the two widows displayed in their lives? Can we be better parents? Should we surrender more of our time to spend quality-time with our children? If we have aging parents, are we willing to surrender our own conveniences, for the time being, to be of service to them in their declining years? Do we find that we resent the time we have to spend on them? Or are we willing to fore-go our immediate pleasures to serve them while they are still on this earth? Do we give of ourselves generously to our jobs? We expect to make a living from our jobs, but are we diligent in rendering an honest day’s efforts for an honest day’s wages? Should we be giving more of ourselves to our extended family? To our friends? To people in need and to charities? Are we sufficiently generous in the giving of ourselves in all these areas?
The two widows, presented to us in the scriptures today, are reminders to all of us to be generous givers, to people or worthwhile endeavors beyond us and beyond our own immediate personal needs. Our gifts of generosity can be expressed in the giving of our time, efforts, energies, talents, or treasures. The Lord loves the cheerful giver and often rewards them in the way He rewarded the widow and her son for their generosity to the prophet Elijah in our first reading of today.
November 04, 2018
(31th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Probably all of you have heard the Mass described as a sacrifice. Some of the language buried right into the prayers of the Mass refer to the Eucharist as an “oblation.” You may wonder what an oblation is since it is not a word we commonly use in English. An oblation is a sacrifice. Many religions, unrelated to one another, had the practice of offering sacrifices to their gods or God. Some religions offered human sacrifices. The Jewish religion never had such a practice, but they did sacrifice animals to the Lord. This usually took place in the place of sacrifice, the Temple in Jerusalem; but there were other forms of animal-sacrifice which the ancient Jews practiced. You have all probably heard of the word scapegoat. We use the word to indicate a person who is getting the blame and punishment for things someone else did, but the definition originally went back to a practice in the Jewish religion in which an innocent goat was sent into the desert to die after the Jewish priest placed upon it the sins of the people. The scapegoat was sent to die for the failings and sins of the people. Its innocent life was substituted for the guilty. Now all of this might sound very primitive to us, and there are parts of the scripture in which the Lord even says such sacrifices are not efficacious or pleasing to Him, but we can not get away from the fact that many religions, un-related to each other, for better or for worse, had this practice. There must be something in the collective-religious-consciousness of human beings which account for this practice of sacrifice or it would not be so omni-present. A common reason why so many religions practiced sacrifice was the concept that the sacrificed victims took on the faults of those who were performing the sacrifices and in whose name the sacrifices were being offered. In other words, the victims were thought to be substitutes, scapegoats, if you will, for the guilty.
All of this is a preface for speaking for a short while about our second reading. It speaks first of the Levitical priests, the Jewish priests. A priest is one who is a conduit between the people and God. One of his central roles is to offer sacrifices. Our second reading refers to Jesus as being, not just an ordinary priest, but the High Priest. Unlike the Jewish High Priests who offered inefficacious sacrifices day after day, Jesus is the perfect High Priest. He offered Himself one time; his sacrifice took place only one time….on the Cross. It was totally effective in connecting those for whom his was dying with His Father. Considering that, Jesus was the priest, that is, the one offering the sacrifice, and the Victim in so far as He offered His very life as a sacrifice for others, we can say that Jesus was both the priest and victim. Other priests would offer victims other than themselves on behalf of themselves and their people. Jesus, as the High Priest, offered himself as a sacrifice to His Father on our behalf. Unlike the other Levitical priests who offered sacrifices for their own sins, Jesus the High Priest, was as our reading says, a holy, undefiled, innocent Priest and Victim in his offering.
On the night before this High-priest died on our behalf, he tied his about-to-take place sacrifice to an action that he ordered should take place often once his sacrifice would be completed. The bread of the meal was from that time on to be connected to the sacrifice of His body which was about to take place within hours on the Cross. The wine of the meal was from that time on to be connected with his blood which was soon to be shed, not for His Sins, but for ours. He was substituting his life for us so that our sins might be forgiven; he was taking on the role of a scape goat for us. Then, he said, “ Do this in memory of me.” The word memory in this context means more than simply remembering Jesus’ death. In the context of a “covenant memorial meal “ it meant bringing into the present moment the entire reality of what happened when Jesus died. We share in that moment as if we were there. Jesus comes among us as our High Priest and Victim to hold up to the Father the power and reality of his once-and-done sacrifice on the cross. This is what we mean when we call the Eucharist a sacrifice. In keeping with the meaning of our second reading: this is not a new sacrifice each time we share in the Eucharist. There was only one Sacrifice. In the sacrifice of the Eucharist, Christ, as High-priest and victim does not die again; it is not a new sacrifice. He holds up to His Father the one sacrifice he rendered to His Father on our behalf. Each Mass is a re-presentation of the power and reality of his suffering and death on the Cross which took place only once. Christ comes among us as our Priest and Victim to worship with us as our priest and for us as his people and to attach us to the supreme act of worship he rendered to the Father on our behalf when he died on the cross.
The Eucharist is much more than us saying a few prayers together. It is our High Priest becoming present among us as the head of his body, the Church, and re-presenting his supreme sacrifice on our behalf to his Father. That is why it is very important that in each Mass we make two offerings: the first offering is that we should share in Christ’s offering by saying such words as “ I offer you Father, the body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ re-presented to you on our behalf in this Mass, and I join that offering with the offering of myself, my life, all that I am, and all that I do, for your glory through Christ Our Priest, Victim, and Lord.
October 28, 2018
(30th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
When we think back on our lives, we could probably pick out a number of important experiences which seemed to affect our lives profoundly, helping to mold us into the person we are today. Maybe it was meeting your spouse, or being born into the family in which you were born, or the college you chose or the career choice you made. Whatever these experiences were, they affected you in defining ways. You are forever changed because those people, occurrences, or choices became part of your life.
Well, if we study the Old Testament, which is a history of God’s Chosen People, a People especially created and nurtured by Him to prepare the Way of the Coming Lord, we will find a number of defining experiences which shaped this ancient People of God into becoming what they were called to be. A number of these kinds of defining experiences are what we might call “ Returning Home Experiences.” The first experience was the Exodus Event, an event which is remembered and celebrated by the Jewish People to this very day at Passover Time. Four generations after their very beginnings, the Patriarch Joseph, a powerful man in Egypt at that time, brought his entire family, consisting of his father, 11 brothers and their families to live with him In Egypt. They stayed there for four hundred years. Their very identity was their belief in their God as well as their common ancestry. As the centuries unfolded, they multiplied in great numbers, and eventually were made slaves in this foreign land. The God of their Fathers intervened and through Moses led them out of slavery and eventually into the Promised Land. This was the first “ Returning Home Experience.” As their history unfolded there were times of fidelity to their God, but other times of infidelity. When they became deeply unfaithful, the Lord allowed them to be defeated by their enemies, and a significant portion of their population was carted away to foreign lands to become slaves again to their overlords. At one point, a large segment of them was taken to the lands of the conquering Assyrians; at another time to the Land of the Babylonians. After a period of time, God intervened again, freeing them from slavery and returning them to their home land now that they had been chastised, they were called to practice their faith anew. Each of these times away from their homeland were harsh experiences, but defining experiences which sharpened their identity with their Lord and strengthened the practice of their faith. Our first reading of today, taken from the Book of Jeremiah, marks one of those jubilant times in which the captive Hebrews were returning home to resume their lives and the practice of their faith in the homeland. We hear this expressed in our reading with these words: “Shout with Joy; proclaim your praise and say. The Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel. Behold I will bring them back from the land of the north. They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them and lead them to brooks of water on a level road. For I am a father to Israel.” These experiences of returning home, which really was a full returning to the Lord, were pivotal, defining experiences in the history of the Hebrew people, and were etched in their memory forever.
In our own lives there may have been times in which we have left the Lord. Our leaving the Lord was not one contrived by Him as the various exile-experiences were for the Israelites. God allowed those defining experiences to occur to purify the Hebrew people and have them restored to their faith, although I will say that sometimes the Lord allows certain challenging and difficult experiences to enter our lives to bring us back to Him. Most often today, we are the ones who depart from the Lord and walk away from our intended homeland which he wants us to share with him. If we look within our own selves today in this Mass, perhaps we can ask ourselves if we need to return home to the Lord from a self-imposed exile, an exile which keep us from a fuller life with Him or impedes our intimacy with Him. Perhaps there is someone here who has walked away from the Lord, and He has called that person here today to hear this message and fully return. I have known people who have walked away from the Lord, sometimes for a long time and later come back, impelled by grace I believe, and when they returned, they discovered that such a coming home was one a significant event in their lives giving them a new-found peace and direction. The ancient Hebrews, as our first reading reflects, were highly jubilant when they returned not only to their homeland but to the God of their homeland. We, too, can expect to experience jubilation if we relinquish our resistance to God and fully return to Him.
October 21, 2018
(29th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
As we enter into the last days of October we are reminded that Christmas is not so far away. Perhaps because of its encroaching proximity, you may well have begun thinking about what you will purchase for loved ones. As the days get shorter between now and Christmas, imagine if someone in your household said to you: “ I would like you to do me a favor for Christmas; get me whatever I ask for and I want it to be a better gift than the gifts you give to anyone else on your list.”You would probably be taken-back at the brashness of such a request because it does not consider your financial ability to meet such a request, and is taking-for-granted your generosity or your desire to give a gift in the first place. We hear this same kind of brashness on the part of James and John in our gospel. They approach the Lord with almost-a-demand that he gives to them whatever they asked for. “ Teacher, we want you to do whatever we ask of you.” Instead of being taken back, as we might be if someone made such a demanding request, the Lord answered them in a gentle way with the response, “ What do you want me to do for you?” They blurted out the request they that they be given the most prominent places when the kingdom of God would be established. This, over and above, the expected positions which other ten or anyone else would be given. The additional reply of the Lord was, “ You do not know for what you are asking.”Can you drink of the cup of which I will drink? Or be baptized with the baptism of which I will be baptized?They readily replied without knowing what they were talking about, “ We can! “ He, of course, was speaking of his suffering and death, which they eventually would share in at a later time of their spiritual development, but at that stage of their development they were thinking that to be aligned with Jesus meant fame, fortune, importance and significance---rather selfish ambitions-- and they did not yet understand that the Messiah, to reach his glory, would first have to drink the cup of suffering on behalf of mankind. They also did not understand that before they reached their heavenly reward, they too would be called upon to suffer persecution, danger and death.Many times, we ask the Lord for things, perhaps in a way which approximates the audacity of James and John. “ Lord, I am asking you to give me whatever I ask ofyou”, and when it is not granted to us in the way we want, or in the time-frame we expect, it could be a challenge to our faith. We should indeed ask the Lord for the fulfillment of our perceived needs, but it should always be followed up with an attitude of surrender to what the will of God is for our lives. Every time we say the Our Father, we pray, “ thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, and each request that we make in prayer should have that same sense of surrender attached to it as we express in the Lord’s prayer. Instead, we often face a situation in which our prayers are not answered in the ways we expected and we develop an attitude. “ Hey Lord, this was not what I expected. I was always faithful to you and look what happened to me. I never expected that I would suffer sickness, lose a spouse, or experience the death of someone I loved! And all this, after I tried to follow the commandments, worship you regularly, and be the person I thought you wanted me to be; I deserve more! “Like James and John sometimes our prayers are not answered in the ways we wish because we do not know what we are asking for. The Lord who knows what is best for us does know the ramifications of those things we request of Him, and at times does not answer those requests, because in spite of our desire for them, they will not be good for us. A young man was deeply in love with a young woman and wanted her to be his wife in the strongest possible way. He prayed that God would make this marriage happen, but there were many unsurmount- able obstacles in their relationship. Among them, she came from high-society; he was an ordinary young man who could never provide for her the things she expected and was used to. He was crushed when the relationship fell apart, and was disappointed with God because his ardent request had not been answered in the ways for which he had hoped. As the years unfolded he found someone else who was more compatible with who he was as a person and the levels of accomplishment he could reach in life. He could then see that had he married his first love, that it never would have worked. It was only later that he could see the hand of God at work in not having his original prayers answered in the way he expected. Like James and John, and all of us, at times, he did not originally understand what he was asking for, but later, at a more developed stage of his life, he gained that understanding. To quote the wisdom of Garth Brooks, “ Some of life’s greatest gifts can be unanswered prayers.”As people of faith, we have to realize that the Father knows what is best for us, and that even if our earthly prayers are not always fulfilled in the ways we wish, He sent his Son among us, as all our readings of today remind us, so that we might have eternal life through the sacrifice of Jesus, the High Priest. if eternal life is attained by us, it will fulfill us in ways in which our most ardent, unfulfilled prayers in this life could never do.
October 14, 2018
(28th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Did you ever know someone who was very intelligent but when it came to having what we might call common-sense, they seem to be totally devoid of it? They might be brilliant, but when it comes to solving and grappling with ordinary issues and problems, they don’t seem to have a clue. I used to have a professor who said, “ I can teach students how to solve complicated mathematical equations; but there is no way I can teach a student who does not have common sense how to acquire it; you either have it or you don’t; I can’t teach you to have it.” Common-sense is that intuition which enables us to deal aptly with ordinary dilemmas and problems with which life presents to us. The high-test variety of common-sense is called wisdom. A commonly used prayer for wisdom is called the serenity prayer and you are probably all familiar with it: “ God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the WISDOM to change the things I can, and the WISDOM to know the difference.” Our first reading of today is taken from the Book of Wisdom, and is attributed to King Solomon who, when he was young and knew that he would probably be king, prayed to God not for riches, or military might, or fame, but for the gift of wisdom. Of all the attributes for which King Solomon is known, he is most known for possessing the gift of wisdom. We hear King Solomon write in our reading of today,“ I prayed and prudence was given to me. I pleaded and the spirit of wisdom came to me; I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her. “ There are a number of Old Testament books, the Book of Wisdom included, which are known as Wisdom Literature of the Sacred Scriptures. Wisdom was highly valued in the Old Testament times, and when the ancient biblical writers would speak of Wisdom, they would personify that virtue by speaking of it as “she” or “her”. True Wisdom, to them, was more than having common-sense, which comes to us on a natural level, but in delving into the mind of God and coming back from that endeavor with insights that came from the Divine-mind. Hence, Wisdom in its deepest biblical sense was sharing, to some minimal degree, in the insights of God and knowing how to apply them to life and to earthly situations. The essence of Divine Wisdom was to be of one mind with God pertaining to judgments about life and the values of life. To have true Wisdom was, in its deepest levels, to value and to cherish the Lord as the center of all other considerations. That was the most profound experience of having obtained the wisdom of God in a human being. If one attained that deepest level of Wisdom, one’s entire life would be appropriately prioritized. One could then value riches, and possessions, and pleasures in an appropriate way as long as they were subordinated to this one central value. Hence, Solomon tells us in our reading, “ All good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands.” In other words, having God as the very central value of his life, he need not exclude all the other blessings which life has to offer, but can enjoy them because they are appropriately prioritized in his life. Conversely, if he abandons his valuing of God and chooses to make a created pleasure the center of his life, he digresses from Wisdom and it will not bring total fulfillment, and may bring him to chaos.
This consideration of Biblical Wisdom has to be read in tandem with the meaning of the gospel. We hear in the gospel of a rich young man who came to the Lord seeking to acquire a lesson in wisdom from him. Being rich he was accustomed to many more blessings in life than almost all of his contemporaries; yet, he was in search for something more. He apparently realized that while it was nice to have money and possessions, life had to have a higher meaning. In that realization, he already had God’s Wisdom implanted in him. He had wisdom enough to realize that his wealth and possessions were not totally satisfying to him, and that the emphasis of his life should be in acquiring not just temporary satisfactions, but everlasting goals. In his quest for deeper wisdom, he asked the Supreme Source of Wisdom, “ What must I do to inherit eternal life? The Lord’s answer to him was simple: “ Live according to the teachings of the commandments.” The young man was already doing that; but his question to the Christ was should he do more? Was God asking more of him than simply observing the commandments? ” Jesus looked into his soul and we are told that he saw much to love about this young man. Peering inside of him, the Lord knew that this particular person had a unique and deeper calling which was more intense than the calling to which God usually beckons people. This particular young man would really fulfill his calling and find greater fulfillment if he did something that would make no sense to most people, and which countered the wisdom of this world. “ One thing in you is lacking,’’ the Lord said to him, “Go sell what you have, give to the poor, and come and follow me. ” This was the message of wisdom –God’s Special Wisdom—imparted uniquely to this searching young man. Here is where we see the words of our second reading ring true as applied to the life of this young man. Our second reading tells us, “TheWord of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating between the soul and spirit, joints and marrow. “ The Word of the Lord rendered to this young man was like a two-edged sword cutting into the joints and marrow of what he was not willing to surrender to attain this higher calling given uniquely to him. Upon hearing God’s word given to him, he sadly walked away. The Lord had given him a Wisdom which was especially pertinent for him, and would have made him happier had he accepted it, but it was a two-edged sword cutting into the very joints and marrows of his securities and he sadly departed.
We should all pray to the Holy Spirit for God’s Wisdom as we make the turns in life. May the Lord make clear to us what is uniquely best for us, and may we have the courage and generosity to follow God’s Wisdom as He imparts it to each of us as we make our way through life. Holy Spirit, impart upon each of us your gifts of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge as we make our way toward you, and give us the courage to embrace your teachings and live by them.