July 23, 2017
(15th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
SERMONMany of you have planted gardens during the summer, whether the gardens are for vegetables, herbs, or flowers. Gardens used for consumption or for beauty. One of the constant chores if you have a garden is to rid it of the weeds which invariably and unintentionally seem to surface along with whatever has been intentionally planted. Our Lord used this kind of example to help us deal with our life in the world and within the church and even with ourselves. In Palestine there is a kind of weed called darnel. It is probably the kind of weed of which Our Lord was referring to in the parable. It is an insidious weed, as most weeds are in their own ways, especially if you are trying to plant a garden. In the first place, if it surfaces among planted wheat, in its first stages it is hard to distinguish from the wheat. As it grows, it is easier to distinguish, but not in the earlier stages. Secondly, if eaten, it can cause certain problems because of its toxicity. The wheat, on the one hand, is good for you; the darnel is not, so one has to careful when one is consuming wheat products that the darnel is not present. The separation is usually done at harvest time, since, as the parable tells us, it is harder to do once the darnel has established itself.
July 16, 2017
(15th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
During the springtime of the year many people plant plants or seeds in the earth. It is no secret that many of the seeds we put into the earth, say grass seeds, fail to germinate and become baby blades of grass or whatever else the seed was meant to be. By this time of the year we usually can tell which of our plantings has been successful, but even if they are successful, our work with them has not ended. We often need to water them and nourish them to keep them growing. We also need to protect them from diseases or animals which would eat them. All that being said, we only get a portion of return on the seeds or plants we have put into the earth no matter what we do. Some of what we put into the earth will not come to fruition.
Our Lord looked upon the planting of faith in the hearts of humanity as having the same kind of results of success or failure. He gives us today the parable of the farmer who sows seeds into the earth in hopes of retrieving a successful harvest. In this parable, the farmer is really the Lord, who hopes to implant the gift of faith in the hearts of many people. Unfortunately, like real planters of the earthly soil he will only be partially successful, not because he wants failure to happen, but because of other forces which prohibit the seeds of faith from ever coming to fruition. Like any farmer who only gains partial success, the Lord has to be disappointed in the results of his efforts.
Some of the people the Lord tries to reach will show little hunger for coming to know God. They may have heard the Word of God, but they have little desire to take it seriously or to grow in its understanding. Such people are highly vulnerable for the persuasions of the “evil one” whom St. Peter tells us “ goes about the earth as a prowling lion seeking someone to devour.” We should not forget that in these days in which we tend to deny that there is “ a evil one.” It has been a constant teaching of our faith, and of revelation( and remember that revelation discloses to us teachings which our minds could not know on their own) that there are fallen angels who are at war with their creator, and one of their strategies is to capture those who are very weak in their orientation to God, much as a pride of lionesses seeks out the animals of a herd which are most vulnerable. In this parable the Lord tells us that there are sadly people in this category who because of the weakness of their orientation to God succumb to the persuasions of the evil one.
Then there are those who want to grow in a relationship with God—at least initially or at some time. They hear the word of God and, at first, they are overwhelmed and totally dedicated to it, but as time goes on, their faith weakens and they fall away. I have seen a lot of people in this category. Some of them were in RCIA programs. They spend a lot of time and we give them a lot of time to prepare for the entrance into the faith, and at first, they are on fire in their new- found faith, but in time their interest wanes and they practice the faith no longer. Long standing cradle-born Catholics are in this category also. As a priest, I am well aware that many families, if not most, have members who have dropped out of the faith and belief, even if they grew up in a family which has practiced the faith in a healthy and integrated way. It saddens me! It saddens the Sower of the Seed even more! Did you know that the Catholic Church has the largest numbers of believers in comparison to any other domination in the United States? But did you also know that the second largest group from any of the dominations are former Catholics?
The third group of which Our Lord speaks are those who also initially accept the invitation of God to be a follower, but any one of numerous experiences dampen their commitment to the Lord. It could be the presence of a problem such as a sickness in themselves or in someone they love. It could be their desire to pursue their own fulfillment primarily be pursuing the pleasures of this world such has making sexual pleasure or the pleasure one derives from drugs or the pleasures which some hobby gives to them, or the pleasure of pursuing a career or the desire to pursue riches so much that their possessions become the very reason these people exist. All these objectives can become so enthroned in the heart to the point which there is no room for the Lord.
Finally, there are those who allow the seeds of faith grow in their hearts. They make the Lord the Lord of their lives, and put all other goals and objectives in proper perspective after that. Sadly, this group is not as large as the Sower of the Seed, the Lord, hopes for, but like any farmer he has to accept what he gets. He never intends that any of the seeds he has sown would fall into any of the first three categories, but he has made us free and He will not interfere with the choices of our fate. His choice is not to condemn our souls when we die; that is the choice we will make. He does not intend that any souls would be lost; He will provide the graces anyone needs to be saved if they only come to the font of grace, but he will not force anyone to do so. What category are you in right now? Let’s hope it is the last.
July 09, 2017
(14th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
We are all affected by people who are generally known and admired even if these people do not automatically deserve imitation. To the minds of many the financially successful, the well-known people, the people society most often mentions, whose names come to us through the media or by notoriety can automatically become the “wise and the learned” that Our Lord speaks about in our gospel. Those spoken of by Jesus as being wise and the learned need not be really very wise and learned at all in spite of their sometimes-brilliant minds, great talent, popular reputation. The implication of our Lord’s teaching in the gospel is that very often the people we tend to hold up as being immeasurably better than we are, and hence worthy of imitation and admiration, may not possess all the qualities of excellence we attribute to them. The Lord Jesus in the gospel tells us that God often by-passes such people in revealing himself probably because those construed to be wise and learned are too caught up in themselves and too proud to ever accept what the Lord has to teach them. God’s message is granted to those who are open to receive it, and refused to the arrogant. In the gospel of today, Jesus rejoices because His Father has deigned to keep hidden the truths of God from “the wise and the learned,” and yet revealed them to “the little ones.” Who are the wise and the learned of whom the Lord speaks? They are the people who too big in their own eyes to accept God’s wisdom. Who are his “little ones”? They may be very intelligent and sophisticated on the one hand or ordinary and unsophisticated on the other, but their main quality is their hearts are open to the special teachings which God wants to reveal to them, whether those teachings come through the doctrines of Church, the teachings of scriptures, or the special graces which are given to all true believers. The “little ones” are the ones “who walk by faith, not by sight.” Their ability to believe is generated primarily by the Lord Himself when, as he says in this gospel, he desires to reveal himself and his truths to certain people, and those certain people are not too proud to accept what is given to them. They are the little ones.
When we become one of the “little ones” our lives are significantly changed. St. Paul says it this way in our second reading. When you are a follower of Christ, “ you no longer live in the flesh, but in the spirit” . Lest any of us think that St. Paul is distaining the bodily nature of human beings, we have to realize that he is using a kind of figure of speech. When Paul uses the words, living in the flesh versus living in the Spirit, he is not saying our bodily natures and their needs are somehow inferior and abhorrent, and that only our spiritual natures have worth. The flesh of our bodies is temporary; we are told that every seven years almost every cell of our bodies is replaced by newer cells. Our flesh is constantly changing. In a real sense, you do not have the same body you had seven years ago. None of us looks exactly the way we looked ten or twenty years ago or how we looked when we were three; hence, in this sense, our flesh is temporary and not permanent. People who live in the flesh are those are who base their lives and their souls only on the passing, temporary world; they pay no heed to the eternal or to values which are godlike and permanent. By living in the flesh, Paul also means those who will not live under the Lordship of God but live only for themselves. Such people may appear to be “wise and learned” to some, but they are not really so. People who live “in the spirit” are those who are those who are really wise and learned. They are those who try to live with God as the center of their lives.
They are not too proud to do so, and hence, are those who can be said to be among “the little ones.” I hope all of us here are thought of by God as being one of the ́ little ones.”
July 02, 2017
(13th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
A man by the name of Bishop Barron, whose ministry has been communicating what our Catholic Faith is about, in one of his talks quotes the opening lines of today’s gospel. “Whoever loves his father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; whoever loves his son and daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” When we hear a saying many times, it tends to lose its meaning in the hearing; we have all heard these words a number of times, I am sure, and in their hearing we might say to ourselves if we are even paying half-hearted attention to them, “ Ho, hum, that’s meant only for people who take their religion super-seriously; I’m certainly not one of them.” In his talk on these opening words, Bishop Barron asks us to stop and consider what these words really mean. What a bold demand for anyone to make, the Bishop says. He said, ‘’ What if I said, (meaning Bishop Barron), to people who are close to me: “ If you love your parents, your children, your spouse more than you love me, you are not worthy of a relationship with me or worthy of having me in your life, “ people would gasp! Who is this guy who says if I don’t value him over the most intimate people in my life, I’m not worthy of him? Who does he think he is? The average person would never think so much of himself that they would demand supercedence over every significant relationship in the life of a person. Bishop Barron points out that the only way such a demand could have any semblance of reasonableness to it, is if that person is God. God alone can demand that kind of total allegiance; Jesus was and is God. The Lord once asked the Apostles, “Who do people say that I am? “The real answer was that he was God among us, God’s Messiah; that’s why Jesus could make such an outrageous demand. I remember a one-time parishioner of mine in another parish who often told her children when they were children and later on when they were fully grown: “ you have to realize something: in my life God comes first, your father is second, and you kids are third.” This is really the fulfillment of the demand we hear today in the opening words of the gospel.
Our second reading also contains words which we have all probably heard before. “ Are you not aware that we who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death. We were indeed buried with him through baptism into his death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead we too might live in newness of life. If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” This teaching has a lot to do with the first teaching that the Lord has to be first in our lives. The common interpretation might be that since Christ died and rose from the dead, we can hope for a similar cycle, death to life. Yes, we are all going to die, but because of Jesus our deaths can have the same outcome as his death: resurrection. That interpretation is accurate enough, but it goes much farther. The death Paul speaks of is not only physical death, but a kind of living-death which should be an expression of every Christian’s life. Being a serious follower of Christ will entail as, the gospel tells us, taking up our cross, and following after the Lord. When we truly do such a thing, there will be a cost to our lives. We lose our lives, as the gospel says, because we need to conform our lives and our wills to the values taught to us by God, himself, and confirmed by Christ. This is the main kind of dying entailed in the saying, “ if we have died with him, we will live with him. The death is not only the physical experience of dying, but the kind of death that is entailed in living a faithful Christian life on a consistent and daily basis.
Some of you may have heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was a Lutheran minister before and during the Second World War. He spent the last two years of his life in prison for opposing Hitler; he was eventually executed. Bonhoeffer wrote a lot about what he called “cheap grace” that is grace that didn’t cost us much. Cheap grace means hoping to gain eternal happiness while asking ourselves, “What is the least I can get by with to get to heaven.” One of Bonhoeffer’s most memorable lines is: “When Christ calls a person, he bids him to come and die.”
Many of us are looking for a faith that has no cost to it. If we are looking for that kind of faith, we are not looking for the kind of faith that Jesus taught us to follow.
June 25, 2017
(12th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Deacon Fred Wall
In this Gospel reading Jesus is preparing his disciples and us with instructions for our mission to go out and bring God’s word to the world. Jesus talks to his disciples and all who will follow him about fearing no one and of not being afraid. Jesus first tells his disciples not to fear, but they will be persecuted for his namesake. The disciples are then in fear of losing their life and Jesus tells them 'do not be afraid of those who kill the body...be afraid of the one who can destroy the soul'- because you need your soul to get to heaven. And in the last example Jesus tells them ‘do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’ Jesus is reassuring us of the value that God the Father has for everyone as he tells us that we can count on his father’s help and love. Fear and being afraid is something Jesus talked about many times. Jesus told the people to have courage because fear can hold people back from doing God's work. What brings about fear and being afraid? I think it is the unknown, anxiety, worrying, and being alone. In today’s society this is getting worse. I know several soldiers that have returned home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD and they may not know that they have it. We also have both young and old people that are struggling with anxiety and stress in their life. Jesus gave us several verses to help strengthen us: from Philippians “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. Or Timothy tells us "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." And one of my favorite verses from Mathew is “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” This reminds us that God loves us and gave us the Holy Spirit to help us each day to live how God wants us to and not to worry about tomorrow - the future-- but to trust in God’s plan.
I was traveling a couple of weeks ago visiting a church in California and part of the homily that week was on how our world is changing which is bringing more stress and distractions into our lives. Father said we do not talk to each other in person as much as we did in the past. One example was how many times have you gone out to eat and looked over to see a whole family all doing something with their phones instead of having a family conversation. God has a plan for each of us and he has given us help, like the Holy Spirit, but there are distractions along the way for example electronic devices that can take time away from us that we should spend with God, family and friends. Are we being distracted from what is important? Are we spending time with God at church and in prayer? Are we making time to talk and visit a neighbor, friend, or family member that is struggling or may be lonely and needs someone to hold their hand.
In the first reading Jeremiah a profit from God had been in prison, mistreated, and his friends had turned against him, but he did not give up on God. No, he looked at this as a test from God and praised God for rescuing him. Like Jeremiah was tested, all of us will also have our troubles. When we go to face them, will we prepared? Will we take the easy way out and blame God or give up on God, or will we praise and love God like Jeremiah did for all he has done for us.
This week try visiting that someone, a neighbor, or a friend that has been on your list to see, but you have not had time to visit; because it could be a healing moment from God. If you are afraid or the anxiety and stress is high, please get help, but be like Jeremiah was and praise God and do not give up, but know that God loves you and he is calling each one of us to follow him in a more loving and personal way, If we are listening? He knows where we are going, and is waiting to receive us with open arms. As Jesus tells us, Be not afraid!
May God be with you.
June 18, 2017
(The Body of Christ)
At a fiftieth wedding anniversary gathering, family and friends come together to celebrate the bond a husband and wife have had for a considerable part of their expected life-span. Assembled with the husband and wife are usually the children, grandchildren, and their relatives and friends. It is a wonderful thing to persevere in a marriage for a half of a century; the union between this husband and wife defines them as individuals. If they were asked the question: “Who are you?, one of the defining answers that probably would be given would be: “ I am the spouse of so and so. After so many years of a good marriage, a person’s very identity is significantly marked by the presence of their life-partner.
When Christians from the earliest centuries wanted to express the identity of who they were and unity they had with one another, they gathered on the day after the Jewish Sabbath, for “the Breaking of the Bread.” The expression, “the breaking of the Bread,” just did not mean having a meal together, but sharing in a special meal Jesus had commanded his followers to celebrate when he said, “ Do this in memory of me.” This coming together on Sunday to worship the Lord became a consistent practice each week. The day even got a special name, Dies Domini, the Day of the Lord. The Book of Revelation gives evidence of this practice by calling the first day of the week, “the Lord’s Day”.
What did they come to celebrate? Just like a golden jubilee married couple they came together to celebrate their very identity and unity, but for Christians it was an identity and unity which was rooted in a belief in Christ. They shared in a re- presentation of the once-and-done sacrifice of Christ. Why are we here today? To do the same thing! He as the Head of his Body of believers, becomes present with the assembled believers to, worship the Father with us by holding up to his Father the efficacy of his one sacrifice rendered on our behalf. We often times hear the word oblation during the Mass. The word means an offering. For instance, we will shortly hear the words, “ Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your church, and recognize the sacrificial Victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourselves.” May he make of us an eternal offering to You.” If oblation means an offering, what are we offering? I, as a ministerial priest, and you, as a member of the common priesthood of Christ join Christ by offering to the Father what he offered on the Cross —his very Body and Blood sacrificed for us. As we offer the sacrificed Body and Blood of Christ, we should concurrently offer our very selves through Jesus to the Father. As the priest holds up the bread and wine we should say: “Father, I join in the offering your Son Jesus made to you on our behalf and I join that offering with the very offering of myself to you.” We should link our lives to the sacrifice of Christ being offered to His Father. When we leave mass, we should try to live up to that offering—lest we offer anything unworthy to the Father. That should be our gift to the Father, through Jesus, in every Mass we offer. We offer that God to the Father, but the Lord returns an even greater gift to us. The Lord’s gift to us is his actual coming into our souls and bodies under the appearance of nourishing food. He really comes to reside in our souls each time we worthily receive him in Holy Communion. Our second reading for today says,” The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? “What is the cup of blessing? it was the third cup of the Passover meal which Christ took into his hands at the Last Supper when he said, “ This is my blood.” When you worship at Mass, you are present with Jesus back at the Last Supper/ Passover meal. When the priest says in the Eucharistic Prayer that Jesus “took the chalice”, he is placing you at the Last Supper with Christ, and placing Christ at this event with you. We do not simply recall that in the past Jesus took a “chalice into his hands”; rather, we acknowledge that right now he takes this chalice into his hands and we are present with him.
We should always be in as worthy a state as we can be to receive the gift of the Lord, the Eucharist. St. Paul speaks about the reception of Holy Communion in First Corinthians. He warns us to always be properly disposed. Here are his words: “ Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. ( he goes on) A person ought to examine himself first before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks a judgment onto himself. “
The ancient practice of celebrating our identity with Christ and with each other through the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day is, in a sense similar to the expression of unity and identity with each other that a jubilarian couple celebrates when they gather for their fiftieth wedding anniversary gathering. May we always celebrate our identity, and our unity with the Lord and with one another worthily.