November 18, 2017
(33th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
In our fast-paced world we are always experiencing change whether it be environmental or technological. We are constantly evolving and attempting to reach higher. Our thirst for the material gains of this world are insatiable. Once we attain something we immediately set our sights on something bigger and better. Life can be a fool’s journey if we do not focus on what is truly important. One of the greatest joys of Holy Scripture is that the message is timeless and applicable to all of us in any generation. Today’s gospel reading by Matthew is one of those timeless messages. This parable which is often known as the parable of the talents provides a whole series of permanent lessons for us today. I always find it helpful to understand the context of the parable. The talent was not a coin but a weight. Its value depended on what it was made of such as gold, silver copper and so on. The most common metal in that time was silver and the value was quite considerable. One talent was about 15 years wages for a working man.
There can be no doubt that originally in this parable the focus is placed on the useless servant. There is also little doubt that it represents the scribes and Pharisees, and for their attitude to the law and the truth of God. The useless servant buried his talent in the ground so that he could hand it back to his master exactly as it was. The whole aim of the scribes and Pharisees was to keep the law exactly as it was. Their method involved the paralysis of religious truth. Like the useless servant they wanted to keep everything as it was, and it is for that reason that they are condemned.
God gives all of us differing gifts. One person received five talents, another two and another one. It is not our talent which matters. What matters is how we use them. God will never demand from us abilities that we do not possess. But he does demand that we should use to its fullest, the talents which we do possess. Human beings are not equal in talent, but they can be equal in effort. The parable tells us that whatever the talent we have, whether it is little or great, must be used in service to God.
It reminds us that our reward for a job well done is still more work! The two servants who had done well are given even greater tasks and responsibilities in the work of the master. The ones who will face condemnation and punishment are the ones who do not try. The man with only one talent did not lose his talent but instead did nothing with it. Even if he had adventured with it and lost it, it would have been better than to do nothing at all. It is always a temptation for the one talent person to say: “I have so small a talent and I can do so little with it. It is not worthwhile to try since I have so little to contribute.” Condemnation is for anyone who in having even one talent, will not try to use it, and will not risk it for the common good. Ironically, even in our time, we see this thought process at work. The fear of losing what we have hinders us from sharing our talents and investing them in God’s plan. What we have been given was never intended to be stored up but instead to be nurtured and grown into an abundant harvest. The more we plant the greater the harvest for each of us. There is a rule of life that is universally true. It tells us that to those who have, more will be given, and those who have not, will lose even what they have. Talents, treasure and time are to be invested for the good of others. What you give freely for the sake of others will be given back ten-fold by our Lord.
I see this principle of life in action with all the special children I work with in Amber’s foundation. Many are born with life-threatening illnesses and poor life expectancy. Some cannot enjoy the beauty of our world or enjoy the fun things we often take for granted. When others are going on vacation these families are preparing for medical treatments or surgeries. They have been given so little by our standards, but God has given them graces beyond our imagination. They truly are the ones with one talent, but they do not bury it. They embrace it and share it with others who have the privilege of crossing their paths. I like most of you never fully understood this principle. We tend to live our lives accumulating belongings and entertaining ourselves with all the talents we have been so richly blessed with by God. It was not until I was faced with my daughter’s mortality that I truly understood the purpose of my talents and how they needed to be multiplied for the sake of others. For 22 years she taught me how to use my talents effectively in service to others. It was a stark reminder that my talents were gifts from God to be used in his service and not for my own good. She could have easily buried her talent, but instead used it to inspire and help others even four years after her passing. So many children I visit especially heart kids tell me how her story gives them hope for a better tomorrow. Her wish to help others has spread a message of empathy and love. Each child I visit or send an Amber’s Package of Love to receives the same love I shared with her. It was her wish that our love be given freely to all who need it.
The meaning is this, if we have a talent and exercise it, we are progressively able to do more with it. But, if we have a talent and fail to exercise it, we will inevitably lose it. It is the lesson of life, that the only way to keep a gift is to use it in the service of God and in the service of his people. Let us take time to examine our talents that God has so graciously blessed us with and use them for the good of our brothers and sisters. I was extremely blessed to have Amber teach me so much through the course of her life and I promised her that I would share it with all of you. May God give us the courage to use our talents wisely and for the good of all. May our Lord always be praised.
November 12, 2017
(32th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
I have a book which cites the last words of famous people, moments or hours before their deaths. Did you ever wonder what your last words will be, what your last thoughts will be, what your last feelings will be, especially if you are aware that your death is very imminent. The last words of Our Lord as he hung on the cross were, “Into your hands, Father, I commit my spirit.” I have often hoped that if I am aware enough to say those words or at least to repeat them inwardly, that my last words will be the same words He uttered. A famous movie star of yesteryear when he realized that his final time was near expressed fear of having to slip into the darkness of death. During his lifetime he had known fortune, fame, multiple blessings of all kinds, and he felt a horror to think that all that he knew and experienced would soon pass into nothingness, including his very self. Apparently, he did not believe in an afterlife or have any hope in that regard. It may seem morbid speaking about such matters, but we all know that it is a reality we shall all share in at some future time.
Our first reading of today tells us of the value of wisdom. When Wisdom is spoken about in the Old Testament, it does not merely reference the kind of wisdom we can acquire by having natural human common sense. The Old Testament understanding of Wisdom is that it is sharing in the very wisdom of God. To receive such wisdom of God is a gift, and one of the very important messages of God’s wisdom is given to us today by St. Paul. St. Paul in our second reading heralds wonderful news to us about this very bleak subject: death. “ We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” This is really one of the central aspects of the good news of our Christian Faith: Because of Jesus and our linkage to him, death need not be believed to be a final end. This is a bit of God’s wisdom, not something our natural human wisdom could deduce on its own, but a wisdom which comes from another source, the Lord Himself.
This month of November is the month of Holy Souls. It is a chance for us to pray for the souls of our loved ones who have already passed through the doors of physical death. We do not know whether they need our prayers or not, but if they do, our prayers for them are there. Why does this work: that we can actually benefit those who are on route to God, but not yet fully there? Because of the unity of the Body of Christ, a unity which is similar to the unity of our own physical bodies whose stronger parts can aid the weaker parts when they are impaired. If your right hand is broken, you will use your left hand more than you usually do so that you do not make your impaired hand worse. When one part of our human bodies is wounded, injured, infected, or diseased, other parts of our bodies rally to help undo the imbalance. If we are infected by germs of some kind, the body marshals good germs to fight the bad germs. So, it is in the “Body of Christ” the different parts are linked to and can aid one another. We can pray for one another as we live life here, as well as pray to the Saints in heaven to pray for us, and we can pray and aid those who are on route to the fullness of heaven, and they can pray for us, and these prayers for one another can be very effective in accomplishing their purposes. Why? Because we are all part of the “Body of Christ”, the communion of Saints. In the history of our Church the faithful on this side of life have always prayed for those who have passed on; we have done this since from earliest centuries. For example, in the four hundreds, St. Monica in her final wish to her son who would become St. Augustine asked nothing more of him and his brother as she lay dying than that they would remember her at the altar of the Lord when she was gone. It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, as the saying goes. But I think it is an additional wonderful aspect of our Catholic Faith in that we remember the dead by name as we do when we have a Mass offered for them. It is so easy for us to forget the many people we once knew who are now dead, especially if we were not real close to them when they lived. The practice of praying publicly for a deceased person keeps the life of someone who once lived before our eyes; it helps us not to forget those who have gone before us, and to celebrate the fact that they once walked the earth.
Our gospel read imparts another bit of God’s wisdom to us on this topic; it reminds us to always be ready for our death. The five foolish bridesmaids were not prepared when the wedding was about to begin to fulfill the tasks of bridesmaids in the marriage ritual of that time; the five wise bridesmaids were. The gem of God’s wisdom implanted in the parable is that we should live each day as if it were our last day so that when our last day comes, we will be like the wise bridesmaids and be prepared for the time when the Lord calls.
If we so live, we will be living according to the teachings of God’s wisdom imparted to us in today’s scriptures.
November 05, 2017
(31th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
The Scribes and the Pharisees have taken the seat on the chair of Moses, therefore do and observe the things they tell you to do, but do not observe their example.” These words are taken directly from the gospel of today. This is about the worst kind of statement that could be made about persons in authority. It is a recognition of the authority of the Pharisees and Scribes, but indicates that they do not apply the directives they give to others in their own lives. It is tantamount to telling a young child, follow the directives your mother, father, or teachers give you, because they have authority over you, but don’t imitate them in the ways they live life, because while they might be telling you some good things to do and bad things to avoid, they are not good examples of their own directives. They are hypocrites!
If we analyze the way the Lord treats erring people in the gospels, he seems to correct people who are victims of what we might call human weakness in ways which are different from the way he condemns those who are hypocrites. He calls those who fail out of human weakness to pick themselves up, and begin anew. He gently encourages them to avoid what they had been doing in the past, but he does not blast them with harsh words of condemnation. For example, look at the woman who was caught committing adultery. This humiliated and guilty woman was thrown before Christ in an effort not only to punish her, but to ensnare Christ. Whatever the Lord wrote as he etched in the sand completely disarmed the accusers. They left, one by one. The Lord was left alone with this accused woman standing before him, and how did he treat this woman? With great compassion! What did he say to her? “Woman, where have they gone? Is there one left to condemned you? “ “No one, Sir, “ the woman replied. “ Then neither do I condemn you, the Lord said, “ Go, and from now on, do not commit this sin again.” On the one hand, he recognized her sin as sin, but then called her to repentance. I think he saw her sin as a sin of human weakness, rather than outright malice; I do not think he saw her as an evil person, just a weak one. He treated morally weak human beings differently than the way in which he treated people in whom he saw direct evil.
We can contrast that mode of the Lord’s dealing with human weakness with the way he deals with those whose base fault is human pride and hypocrisy. He condemns them with harsh words. People filled with pride do not even recognize their own faults; they block them out, and they often present themselves as almost perfect human beings. This blindness of their own faults is their greatest stumbling block in even beginning to deal with their darker side, and the Lord is harsh in his words in dealing with that kind of sin. We human beings can sometimes not see the glaring faults, inconsistencies, and sins within ourselves, and can parade ourselves as being someone without faults. A number of decades ago a noted psychiatrist, Scott Peck, wrote a book about this tendency to hypocrisy in human beings in a book called, The People of the Lie. The essence of his message was that all too often we human beings tend to block out the wrong things we have become or the things we are doing; it is then easy to lie to even to ourselves about the gravity of what it is that we are doing, or to see and own all the destructive effects that flow from ourselves and our actions. I would imagine that this powerful movie figure who has been so much in the news these past two weeks cannot even acknowledge to himself the great harm he has done to so many vulnerable women. People of the Lie, never own the evil they perpetrate. That makes them more reprobate.... especially before God. The Scribes and the Pharisees are so often condemned by the Lord because they would not look at themselves as they really were; they, too, were People of the Lie. We can never begin to emerge from our faults if do not even acknowledge to ourselves that those faults are there.... If we view ourselves as being better than we are....if we refuse to recognize our own faults and own the consequences of our actions...we can never aptly deal with ourselves if we have become “ People of the Lie.”
The ancient Greeks gave succinct words of counsel to everyone seeking honest wisdom; these words which were reportedly inscribed at the Oracle of Delphi. The words were: “Know Thy Self.”
Lord, give each of us the ability to see ourselves as we really are, to see ourselves as others see us.. and to resolve to move beyond our failings which keep us from being the kind of persons you want us to be.
October 29, 2017
(30th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Sometimes, as Christians, we come to believe that love of self is always wrong. Because of the remnants of Original Sin, self-love can easily go awry. All of us tend to think of ourselves first, our needs, our desires, our wants. That kind of inclination can easily multiply in its intensity. When it becomes extreme, it is called narcissism. I think the recent revelations of powerful men in Hollywood harassing and sometimes threatening young women to conform to satisfying their every need is really an expression of extreme self-love, and can be characterized as narcissism. Narcissism as extreme self-love is only concerned with the desires of the narcissist. The dignity of others, the value of others, the effects of narcissistic behaviors perpetrated on the victims are never considered by the narcissist. They think only of their own needs first, in spite of the cost to those who are manipulated by them. Whenever love of self becomes that extreme, it is morally wrong. Unfortunately, the narcissist is usually so concerned about his own desires and needs, that he never sees nor cares about the harm to others which he has caused. Hence, we as Christians, can come to believe that when we are talking about love-of-self we are always thinking about this extreme form of self-love, but there is a necessary and legitimate form of self-love which should be part of every healthy psychological person, and to which God calls us to develop. The Philosopher, Aristotle, maintained that virtue, (that is a good quality,) is never found in the extremes....either too much of that quality or too little of it. He said, virtue stands in the middle between two extremes. On the on hand, in terms of self-love we can be on the extreme position of narcissism; on the other we can be on the opposite extreme of self-loathing wherein we find no worth to ourselves. Virtue stands in the middle, between both of these extremes. In terms of self-love, Our Lord recognized this: One of his teachings to us today is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. A legitimate form of self-love is a most heathy component in the life of every person, so healthy that Our Lord spoke of healthy self-love( that is a self-love which exists between the extremes of narcissism and self-loathing) as a norm for us to use in our treatment of others. If we legitimately and wholesomely love ourselves, it is easy for us to conclude that each human being has their own sense of dignity, needs, value, as we do(and hopefully, they realize that). Because we love and value ourselves legitimately, we can and should treat others with the same dignity, value and worth as we ascribe to ourselves. “ Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, “ is a maxim that summarizes “ love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Unfortunately during my years of the priesthood, I have found people who were in either of the two extremes of self-love. Either they tended towards narcissism or the opposite extreme of self-loathing, and the self-loathing extreme is all too common. A question we might ask ourselves this weekend is, “ Do I legitimately love myself? Am I happy being the person I am? Have I come to an acceptance of my shortcomings and my talents? Do I accept the fact that even if I am not perfect, God does not make junk. The Lord loves me as the unique person He called into being. Have I come to love myself for being the unique person that God made me to be? Am I glad that I am me? Too many people say no to these questions.
The Old Testament reading of today’s Mass calls us to love others as we love ourselves, ( or should love ourselves.) It tells us that we should never oppress and alien, or a widow, or an orphan, that is, the helpless. Why? Because if we love ourselves legitimately we should be able to see, as followers of God, the value of each and every human being. Just as we bleed, if we are cut, so do they. When we find people who are oppressed in any way, we should not add to their oppression because we are trying to give to them the legitimate dignity that they have and we have through God. In short, we start off with a legitimate love of ourselves, and treat other people because of their inherent worth. We live in this way, and by so doing, we are not only loving our neighbor, but we are fulfilling the first teaching Jesus mentioned in the Gospel: by such a way of treating people we are actually also loving God to whom we are most beholden.
October 22, 2017
(29th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
In the second reading Paul is writing to the church of Thessalonians whose lives were not easy because they were looked down upon and treated poorly by their community. Paul is reminding the people and us that we were chosen and loved by God. This Thessalonians' community is an example of how God worked to build up his church by giving them the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. Today we receive the Holy Spirit at our Baptism and God has given us the Gospel or Bible, but are we are taken time to read it. Are we giving God the priority he should have? Are we sharing God's message with our family and friends? For example on Sunday's do you discuss what the readings or homily was about?
In the first reading, God chose Cyrus the king of Persia like he did the Thessalonians. King Cyrus became ruler over Babylonia where the Israelites had been in exiled. Cyrus was the only Gentile king that God anointed and God worked through him to allow the Israelites to return to their home country and rebuild their temple. This is an example of how God can choose anyone and have them carry out God's work.
In the Gospel the Pharisees were plotting to entrap Jesus and they asked him is it lawful to pay census tax to Caesar. The Pharisees were trying to catch Jesus between man's laws and God's teaching, but Jesus said to pay Caesar what is Caesars' and give to God what is God's. I think we would agree that it was God who choose us, like he did the Thessalonians and Cyrus, and made us in his own image and we belong to God. Putting God first, can be a struggle for many of us because we let him compete with many things going on in our lives today, such as: work, sports, or family activities. So what does this parable mean in our lives? I think it goes along with Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."
I think this means that we are too concerned about materialistic things and we let them get in the way of how we spend our time, talents and treasures for God or helping God's mission. One example of how we can help with our treasures is the upcoming collection next week for World Mission Sunday. Material things for ourselves are good and we need them, but we can get overwhelmed with them or maybe we think that we need the next new best gadget when the one we have works ok, or maybe we may want more even if we do not really need it. Work can also become so overwhelming that it turns into something where it seems like you have to work all of the time. I know that many years ago when my kids were little there were a couple of years where I was doing a lot of traveling to China and Australia and missed out on some of my kids growing up. Now, I try to remind other working parents that they need to have a balance between work and family life. So now I try to spoil my grandkids, when I can, but not with material things, but with time, because their parents may not have the time to do so. Excessive material things or being a workaholic and other distraction are examples of things that can shift our priorities away from God's work. We also need to watch out for the Pharisees of our time that may try to entrap us like they did with Jesus, but now some of these examples could be abortion or the right to freedom of religion.
This week remember that we were all chosen like Cyrus and the Thessalonians were, by God to fulfill his plan. Sometimes we may need to seek God's wisdom and some ways to do this would be through prayer, reading the Gospels, or adoration, to figure out the role he has planned for us. While material things that money can buy are good, we need to check from time to time that they are not interfering with God's plan and that God's plan has a higher priority than collecting material things like Caesar's coins.
May God bless you.