Gospel Reflections

 

 

 Weekly Gospel/Sermon



 

July 08, 2018 

(14th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

SERMON

 

We hear today from a man named Ezekiel. I’m sure you don’t think of him often. He lived thousands of years ago, and his existence on this earth probably does not come into your consciousness very often, if at all. He was one of those people God signaled out to be a prophet. As I said in prior Hmes, we often think that a prophet’s main task was to foretell events of the future. Sometimes prophets did that, but their main task was to give God’s messages to people who lived in their own Hmes. Now the messages they gave were not their own opinions, nor their own concerns, but God’s concerns and teachings. They were called to be God’s mouthpieces, and they were selected by God to speak, urged on by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. As Ezekiel says in the opening words of our first reading, “ The Spirit entered into me.” Ezekiel was prompted to submit his message due to a conviction that the Holy Spirit of God was urging him to do so. Moreover, the audience he was to address were not strangers, outsiders, but his own people, the Israelites, and the message he was to deliver to them, was not a confirming or posiHve message, but a criHcism and a corrective word that would probably not be welcomed. It is always harder to deliver prophetic messages to those who know us well as we see evidenced when Jesus returned to his home town and the townspeople dismissed the value of his words thinking him to be just another hometown boy who was making too much out of himself. But to get back to Ezekiel, God’s message was issued through Ezekiel because the Israelites to whom he would deliver it, were a rebellious people in need of correcHon . “ Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you, “ the Lord tells Ezekiel. In listening to this, we might think, “ Poor Ezekiel, I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes...having to issue a message that wouldn’t likely be listened to.” But here is where our likeness to Ezekiel comes in. We, too, at Hmes are called to take on a prophetic role, and it’s never easy. When you were baptized you were reminded that in so far as Christ was a prophet, priest, and king, as a baptized person you also would share in his role as a prophet, priest, and king. I will not go into how you should fulfill the role of priest and king at this Hme but will elucidate a bit about our role as a prophet in so far as we are baptized into Christ.

To be a prophet we have to know what God’s values are, and we try to remind people as best we can to follow them. That is rarely an easy task.

As parents you play the prophetic role when you try to veer your children away from destructive actions or courses in life you see them entering. It might be the use of drugs, or alcohol, or pre-marital sexual acHvity, or smoking, or consorting with dangerous companions. The propheHc word, when it needs to be given, should not be issued in an obnoxious, angry, or harshly confrontive way, but in a studied way, as a suitable Hme when the hearer will be most receptive. And as Our Lord states in our gospel, it is especially hard to be a prophet to people we know well.

If the old Israel was described by God as a rebellious people, we should know that the Church is described by St. Paul as being the New Israel....a gratigratied onto the Old Israel. And as the Old Israelites were described by God as being rebellious, it can clearly be said that many who belong to the New Israel in our times are also rebellious. Take for instance, the percentage of people in our modern world who take their faith seriously versus those who are negligent in regard to it. When I was young about 85 % of American Catholics aYended Mass every week. The Church was so much stronger, then in comparison to now. Now if we are lucky less than thirty present attend Mass regularly. Perhaps some of those 70% are in your own family. Part of the prophetic role might be to invite them to come to Mass with you.

Rebellion is also reflected in those who have lost their faith entirely, or those who pick and choose the doctrines which are acceptable to them. A high percentage of Catholics go along with the trends of our Hmes, co-habitation before marriage, total sexual freedoms which our society promotes, the legitimacy of abortion, and the general disregard to Church teachings. Whenever our Catholic population becomes completely identified with the trends of the outside society, we lose our edge of being the “ salt of the earth.” Today is very fashionable people to atack our faith, and very often we as Catholic just remain silent either because we do not know enough to defend the faith or we just don’t want to appear that we are one of those who are being aYacked. Without be argumentaHve or obnoxious we can perhaps inject a prophetic word to elucidate understanding.

The Lord indicates to Ezekiel that his message might not be received well. He says

“ Whether they take heed or resist---for they are a rebellious lot---they will at least know that there has been a prophet among them.” St. Theresa of Calcutia says that in fulfilling the prophetic role we may not always be successful, but we are

called to be faithful. Perhaps in issuing a prophetic word we might not be successful, but the word might plant seeds which later are fruitiul, and perhaps on later reflecHon, those who heard our words might realize that there had indeed been a prophet among them.

 


 

July 01, 2018 

(13th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

SERMON

 

All our readings today focus on our human condition. They are steeped in guidance from God, so I want to touch on each of them. In our first reading from the Book of Wisdom It tells us that God does not rejoice in the destruction of the living. He made each of us to be imperishable and if we follow the teachings of God we will live forever. I often hear this question when someone is facing a crisis. Why does a loving God allow people to die or sad things to happen? In this first reading God tells us that through envy of the devil, death entered our world. God creates nothing that is flawed or imperfect. Once sin entered our world we all became vulnerable to corruption. Therefore, God sent His only begotten son, so that we could have eternal life through Him. Does this mean that we will not face tough times? Absolutely not, but it does mean that Christ has given us adequate grace to pick up our crosses and follow Him. Remember that we are imperishable, and death has no hold on us unless we give in to despair.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians focuses on the need for charity. He points out the generosity of Christ’s love by making himself poor so that we may be enriched. This is a hard lesson to learn in this world. Jesus asks each of us to share with those in need. It is truly hard to fathom what it must be like to be so poor that you must beg others for help. Many will suffer in silence to avoid judgment. How many times do we allow our skepticism to keep us from helping? I was in Vegas for business a few years ago and was walking down the strip and noticed so many poor people on the bridges that cross the strip. I mentioned it to a colleague who said they will only spend the money on booze and drugs and walked away. But their signs said they were hungry. I decided to buy a bunch of sandwiches and pass them out to the homeless on that bridge. I could see our Lord in each of their eyes and it broke my heart. I carry a prayer for the homeless with me to remind me of my obligation to care for others. (Read Prayer)

God provided a bounty of everything in our world. Our blessings are not intended to be stored up but shared with others. We are the distribution channel of God’s love!

 

In Mark’s Gospel, Jairus is identified as a “leader of the synagogue,” who comes to Jesus asking him to heal his daughter; here the request is not made by a suffering person for himself but is made on behalf of another. Jesus went off to heal this child when a crowd began to form around him. A woman who has (merely) heard of Jesus comes and does not so much as ask to be healed, but simply touches his cloak and is healed. Only in the exchange which follows does Jesus name her actions as faith. He says, “Daughter, your faith has saved you! Finally, after the interruption to his accompanying Jairus, the report comes that Jairus’ daughter has died. The synagogue officials tell Jairus not to bother the teacher now as it is too late. Jesus tells Jairus, “Do not be afraid, just have faith”.

And here during the intertwining of these two stories there is a two-part piece of faith which centers these stories. First, the woman is declared faithful by Jesus, “your faith has made you well.” Second, Jairus is encouraged to retain his faith, even in the face of death, “Do not fear, only believe.” The first is descriptive, the second prescriptive. This is the tension around the person of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel: the proclamation of God’s Son that the kingdom of God is at hand. Will the kingdom of God that comes to us be welcomed by faith, or will it be doubted and denied?” The story of Jairus’ daughter contains the first instance of flat-out disbelief in what Jesus promises.

When we experience the abundance of God’s grace, we can’t help but take Jesus seriously. In Jesus, God has a way of transforming our dismissive laugher into tears of joy, our skepticism into speechless amazement.

The New Testament is full of promises that become our own when we take Jesus seriously:

“Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

“If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14)

“Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14: 27)

“Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

“Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

“I will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more.” (Revelation 21:4)

Christ calls each of us to love one another. He calls us to feed and care for one another. He calls us to have faith in challenging times. In our world it is not easy to be a follower of Christ. Look for him in every person you encounter. Open your hearts to all who ask and do not be skeptics. You are the face of God to so many. Make it a face of love, compassion and mercy. Jesus reminds us, “Truly I tell you, whatever you do for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me”.

May God be merciful.

 


 

June 24, 2018 

(John the Baptist)

SERMON

 

Only once every seven years the feast of the Birth of John the Bap0st falls on a Sunday. When it does, it takes precedence over the regular Sunday readings of the year. This is occurring this year. This shows the importance that John the Baptist has had and has in the celebration of our Faith. Our Church has always valued St. John as being a pivotal figure in the history of salva0on. One of the little pieces of trivia showing the consistent Dention given to John I learned way back when I was beginning my years as a student in the seminary. I was told that when they were compiling the music scale ( I don’t know whether it was the modern scale or the Gregorian Chant scale) and appending names to each of the notes ( Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do ) that they took the first words of the Mass of the Birth of John the Baptist ( of course, in Latin) and used the first syllable of each word to name the notes.

John the Baptist was a relative of the Lord and was one of the very first to recognize his presence as he was coming into the world. We are told that when Mary, after hearing that she was to bear the Christ-Child and being told that her cousin Elizabeth was also the bearer of an important person in the plan of God, journeyed to the home of Elizabeth to ponder these reali0es with her cousin. Upon entry into the dwelling, John the Baptist made quite a s0rring in the body of his mother so much so that Elizabeth interpreted this s0rring to be an expression of recognition on the part of John to the presence of the Christ-Child entering the home.

The Jewish Historian Josephus, whose writings tell us a lot about the history of the first century since he was contemporaneous to that time, wrote about the importance of John the Baptist during his times. He wrote about the popularity of John the Baptist and the fears Herod had about such popularity. He wrote the Herod had John imprisoned and put to death. He reported that many people thought that some of the misfortunes which had befallen their society at the time had happened as a punishment for this execution. (Incidentally, Josephus also mentions Jesus in his writings). We know from other sources that John wielded considerable popularity in his own right during his own times, which he could have capitalized on for his own advancement if he wanted to, much as a celebrity who is already well known might use his notoriety as a stepping-stone to enhance his advancement in career or popularity, or position in the society in which he lived.

John did not do that! There are a lot of things I could say about John the Baptist today, but 0me will not permit such lengthy explanations. I will leave you with only three points we can draw on from the life of John, and apply to ourselves.

First of all, apart from Mary, John was apparently the first human being to recognize the presence and reality of the coming Messiah. He apparently did so when Mary entered the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Later on, John would recognize Jesus as he saw him from a distance and would cite him as the Lamb of God, a reference to the upcoming sacrifice of the Lord on the Cross whose sacrificial death would be eclipse the value of the Passover Lambs who were sacrificed each year for the celebra0on of Passover. Lesson to be learned: May we too have the graces to recognize Jesus as our Messiah and Lord who has come among us to pay for our sins and lead us to heaven, just as John did.

Secondly, John could have capitalized on his considerable notoriety and popularity and used it to enhance his own life. Instead of doing that, in speaking of Jesus, John said, “He must increase; I must decrease. “ I baptize with water; he will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” What lesson can we learn from John from those words? If we really believe that Jesus is Lord, then everything about our lives, our ambi0ons, our desires, our own fulfillment should be subsumed by the belief that Jesus is Lord...the Lord of our lives. We will no longer simply seek our own fulfillment, our own desires, our own purposes unless they fit into our asser0on that Jesus is Our Lord. All of our ambi0ons and the very life style we develop will be subservient to the Lordship of Christ over our lives.

Thirdly, John suffered and died because he was willing to make an effort to correct things which were wrong. He was bold enough to tell Herod that his marriage was invalid and an affront to God. He paid for it with his life. We too will some0mes have to give a corrective word whether it be to our friends, family, or society. We too, at times, will have to stand up for principles which are not being observed. We too, may have to do the right thing when everyone else is doing the wrong thing. In doing so, we may have to suffer as John did.

So, as we celebrate the feast of this great saint let us learn to imitate him in his recognition of the Lord, our subservience to Him as the Lord of our lives, and our

willingness to do the right thing and stand up for the right thing in spite of what it might cost us.

 


 

June 17, 2018 

(11th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)

SERMON

 

We are impressed by large or longstanding realities. A towering oak tree which soars into the heavens over a hundred feet, the Empire State Building which also reaches far into the sky, a marriage which has the longevity of 50 years or more, a person who lives over a hundred years and still possesses sufficient physical and mental faculties; yet, do we ever stop to think that these impressive realities began as very small realities. The towering oak tree was once anacorn, the sky-scrapers of New York began with the first bricks of their foundations. A long-standing marriage began in its beginnings with an introduction of two people who did not know each other. A very old personstarted as an embryo the body of its mother. So many great things start off being small, and from those small foundations, little by little, a great thing is made. We can apply that to our ideals, ambitions, and plans. If we want to have a graduate degree, we first have to have a grade school education, a high school education and a Bachelors’ Degree. If we wish to be a decent person, we have to have many specific good inten>ons and perform many small consistent good actions. If we wish to have a good marriage it entails many small acts of kindness and love and self-sacrifice on the part of both partners over a long period of time. What begins with one good action can eventually become a trend of good actions, and a trend of good actions becomes a good habit, a good habit eventually becomes part of our character, and our character tells people what and who we are because it manifests our developed idenity; the same progression towards developing a bad character unfolds but in the opposite direction with the consistent occurrence of bad actions, trends, and habits until the person is defined by the accumulation of many actions, habits, and trends of the past. So many things which become large developments start with small beginnings.

Jesus used the image of a small seed sown in the ground which can bring forth a large plant. The mustard plant starts as the smallest of seeds, but can develop into a plant so formidable that the birds of the air can come and nest on it. One of the personal lessons we can learn from this is that if we have a goal of becoming something , we have to start with the smallest of steps, be consistent those steps, and our goal will eventually be reached, but we have to start small in the first stages of development. So if there is something which we want to do, or goals we’d like to achieve, let us not sit around dreaming about them. Let us do something about them, even if it’s something very small. Let us take that first step. Let us plant the first seeds.

But in giving us these analogies, Our Lord was not so much speaking about the a attainment of our personal goals, although we can make applications to the aPaining of such goals by pondering the lessons of these parables. He was really speaking about His own goals of bringing to maturity the Kingdom of God. He was basically saying that God has a plan of bringing triumph over evil. That plan will surely be fulfilled, even though it started off two thousand years ago as a liPle seed with the coming of Christ. Christ came not as a powerful emperor or king, or wealthy person, but as a tiny baby so poor that he was born in a shelter for animals, yet today he is perhaps the most widely known person from in history. Our Catholic Church began two thousand years ago led by a small band of raggedy Apostles. Today it is the largest Christian body in the worldencompassing well over a billion people and lest we think its growth is stagnant,judging by our current experiences in the United States and Western affluent societies in places like Africa the growth is moving ahead at a stimulating pace and producing solid followers of Christ whose caliber of faith would be an example for all of us if we had the good fortune to see it in action. As we look at our world, it may sometimes appear that evil is triumphing over good, but we should not succumb to despair. God is working in often imperceptible ways, step by step to bring about the full kingdom of God, and the progression to that end will not be stopped. That is the main lesson in these parables presented to us today. Our Old Testament reading has the same meaning in giving us the image of tearing of a tender shoot from a mighty cedar tree, planting it and waiting until it become as colossal as the mother-tree from which it came.

We have now returned to what is called ordinary time in our church year. The color of this season is green. Green symbolizes hope. We live in a >me of hope that the things promised by God will take place. As St. Paul reminds us in our second reading: “ we live by Faith, not by sight.” By our Faith and by our hope let  us realize that the Lord will bring about the fullness of the Kingdom of God even if it happens , as so many thing do, by small step followed by a small step.

 


 

June 10, 2018 

(10th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)

SERMON

 

We hear in our first reading a portion of what is known as “ the Creation Stories” from the book of Genesis. They are filled with rich religious truths that God wanted the human race to know. Some Christian fundamentalists think that because the creation stories tell us specific details about the beginnings of our universe, world, and the first human beings each detail must be accepted exactly as they are written. We of the Catholic Faith believe that these stories are filled with truths which God wants us to know, but they are veiled within story-lines which need to be properly interpreted and which were never written nor intended to be exact historical unfoldings or scientific accountings in every detail of the beginnings of the universe, world, or ourselves. For instance, God seems not to be sure where Adam is when he asks the question, “ Where are you? “ In reality, God would never have to ask such a question, since God is omniscient; He knows everything. Nor would he have to conclude that Adam had eaten the forbidden fruit, by the fact that Adam had become aware of his nakedness. The real God does not have to conclude anything, but instantly knows everything. I point these two parts of the portion of the creation stories , which are presented to us today, to illustrate that these lines from the Book of Genesis are filled with story-lines which need proper interpretation and cannot always be taken at face-value. Adam’s awareness of his nakedness in the story is an indicator that Adam had voluntarily chosen to experience evil and had imbibed in it; hence, for the first 7me he knows shame and guilt; he knows the difference between good and bad. Adam and Eve had chosen to defy God and to experience doing evil, and the awareness that they were naked is literary device to indicate that they were suddenly aware of what it means to do evil, and they were embarrassed by it, especially when they had been caught. The question to Adam, “Where are you? “is really a question which God asks each one of us many times over during our life-times: “ Where are you? “God knows where we are, but he sometimes knows that we are not where we are supposed to be: with Him. That question is placed here, in part, to let us know that God seeks us out throughout our lives, hoping we will hear his question, “Where are you?”, and get back to where we belong.

You know the story of Adam and Eve. They were created by God to live a life of harmony. That was God’s intention, but on their own Adam and Eve destroyed that possibility. The only prohibition that they had been given in the harmonious garden was that they should not eat of the fruit of the tree which would give them a knowledge and, we might add, a sharing in experience of the difference between good and evil. They knew what good well was in the garden, but they never experienced nor had they chosen to do evil while living in the garden. Then they finally succumbed to that temptation. The serpent convinced Eve that God was lying when he told Adam and Eve that eating the fruit would be detrimental to them. The reason why God forbad the eating of the fruit, the serpent told Eve, was that by eating of the fruit, they would become equal to God; they would no longer need Him. Eve liked that idea so Eve ate the fruit and induced her husband to do the same. This part of the story is to indicate that each of us as descendants of Adam and Eve has a rebellious streak within us which tends to veer us away from God and for what God wants of us. We hope to be independent of God and be our own boss, just as Adam and Eve did. Even eating the forbidden fruit of the tree, instead of becoming equal to God, the whole world of Adam and Eve fell apart. The harmony which Adam and Eve knew within the garden, and with each other, and with nature itself was now broken. Adam did not own up to his own wrong-doing, but blamed Eve, even being so bold to include God in some of the blame. “The woman you put here with me—she gave me the fruit from the tree--- so I ate it.” Eve did not own up to her own wrong doing but blamed the serpent. So we see a sudden division between Adam and Eve, and a division between Adam and Eve and the world around them as indicated by Eve blaming the serpent. Instead of independent power and fulfillment, Adam and Eve experience division and chaos.

We could go off on a lot of directions with the learning-gems buried in just this portion of the Genesis story we are presented with today, but to simplify its application we can say that a lot of the misery we see in our world and in our own lives is caused because just like Adam and Eve we defy God. Like Adam and Eve we want to be our own God, and not have to answer to anyone. Like Adam and Eve we want to follow our own commandments, not the Lord’s. Like Adam and Eve we oftentimes put the blame on someone else or even on God when we experience some of the miseries we introduce into our lives or into the lives of those around us. Like Adam and Eve we refuse to recognize and admit our own complicity in bringing about the dis-harmony which oVen7mes marks our environment. We are, as St. John tells us, children of God now, but we should never forget that we are also children of Adam and Eve and it is oftentimes easier

to follow their example than the example we should be following as children of God.