Gospel Reflections

 

 

 Weekly Gospel/Sermon



 

 September 24, 2017 

(25th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

SERMON

 

On a flight from Johannesburg a middle aged, well-off white South African Lady had found herself sitting next to a black man. She called the cabin crew to complain about her seating. “What seems to be the problem, Madam? ” asked the attendant. “Can’t you see? The lady said. “ You sat me next to what she called a “ kaffir’’ (which has to be a derogatory term.) I can’t possibly endure this trip sitting next to him.” Please calm down, Madam, “the attendant replied. “This flight is very full today, but I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll go and check to see if we have any seats available in club or first class.” The woman’s expression seemed to suggest a victory and momentary appeasement. The black man appeared to be personally offended as were the people who could not help but hear the dialogue between the woman and the attendant. A few minutes later the attendant retuned with the good news, which she delivered to the lady who could not help but look at the people around her with a self-satisfied smirk.The stewardess looked at the woman and said, “Madam, unfortunately, as I suspected, the economy section is full. I spoke to the cabin services director, and club is also full. However, we do have one seat in first class. It is unusual to make this kind of up-grade in flight, however, at your request I did get permission from the captain for a change. The captain said that it was outrageous that someone be forced to sit next to such an obnoxious person, “ So,” she continued turning to the black man, “ If you would like to get your things together, Sir, I have a seat ready for you in the first class section. Kindly, follow me.” At which point those within ear shot who had heard this exchange, applauded.This woman had expectations based upon her ideas of personal superiority, but did not get what she hoped for; the outcome was well deserved in her case.

However, there are many times we expect things from life and from the Lord which we think we deserve, but do not get. We may be much more deserving of happy outcomes to our dilemmas than was this woman in the story just related, yet, deserved or undeserved we do not get what we expect nor want.The men working in the vineyard, especially those who had been laboring all day expected that when the late-comers were paid a full day’s wage after working only an hour, they would automatically get more than they agreed to work for. They simply got the agreed-upon amount, not a cent more, although it was a fair amount. From their perspective, this seemed to be unfair; yet, they did get what they contracted for. The Master’s generosity to the late-comers did not do an injustice to the early comers, since they got what they bargained for, but it was easy for the early-workers to look at what had happened as being unfair
 
When we are not given things by the Lord, it is easy for us to think that God is being unfair to us; yet, God really owes us nothing, and already has given each of us more than we deserve.There are times in which we can have the same attitudes as the early workers. As we live life we may trying to do our best towards God, nation, family or others. Perhaps we pray regularly, worship regularly, try not to harm others, share our resources with charities and yet we wind up with a problem or set of problems which seem to be totally undeserved. These bad turns in our lives are so much more unbearable when we see others who don’t seem to be concerned about living in the right way, yet seem to be prospering. Why is God allowing this to happen to me?, we ask, “ I deserve better.” Maybe you do, but part of the explanation may be because, as our first reading says, “ God’s ways are not always our ways.” God may have a purpose in not granting you something you think you deserve, even if you do deserve it. If you at this moment are in such a frame of mind, pitying yourself because of a self-assessed un-deserved problem currently visiting you, I would ask you first of all to compare your problem or problems with the problems of those who are the victims of the three hurricanes which recently visited Texas and Florida, or Puerto Rico. Whatever problems you have, in all likelihood, they are minor in comparison to the problems those people are facing. Or compare your problems to those who are forced to live in places like North Korea or Syria at this time in history. If we compare out problems with theirs, our problems are likely to seem minor.Life for all of us can seem to be unfair, and when we don’t get what we want, we can conclude that God is being unfair with us. Yet, God has given each of us multiple blessings. When we don’t get what we want, think not of the depravations but of the blessings and cherish them. There is a section in the book of Corinthians in which St.Paul asks the question: “ What do you have that you have not received? And if you have received it, why do boast as if it is yours?” Actually, everything we have, we have ultimately received by the good God who has bestowed upon us each and every one of our blessings. Let us be very grateful for all that we have, and not think like the early workers in the parable that we have been cheated because others have been given something different or something more. Appreciate what you have rather than fretting about what you want and do not have!

 


 September 17, 2017 

(24th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

SERMON

 The point of this parable is, I believe, apparent to all of us. We all have made mistakes in our lives, perhaps some of them large ones. We have the great solace through our faith to know that no matter the greatness of our faults, God is ever willing to forgive us if we but recognize our errors, ask his forgiveness ( especially through the sacrament of reconciliation) and make a sincere and solid intention not to repeat our errors. The greatest sinner can be forgiven by the Lord if he or she has those components in dealing with their sins, mistakes, failures. What a consolation that is! God’s mercy is ever there if we are big enough to admit to ourselves and to Him the failings we have, and if we make every effort not to repeat the wrongs we have done. If God can be so generous to us, can we not try to do the same to those who have wronged us? That is the whole point of the parable. We pray in the Our Father, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The Lord connected in that prayer as well as in this parable our forgiveness from Him with our endeavors to apply forgiveness to others. The king in the parable forgave the debtor a huge debt; yet, the debtor had no semblance of forgiveness for another who owed him only a fraction of what he owed the king. God message to us: if He can forgive us of even our greatest faults, we should make solid efforts to forgive others.

Yet, forgiveness is not easy for us. Furthermore, it often is misunderstood. We usually think that forgiveness is having total control of harsh feelings we might have for someone who has really harmed us. If someone has really hurt you, you are going to be hurt, and it may not be easy to eradicate the harsh emotions you feel about a hurt you received from another. Forgiveness is not essentially about our efforts to “ push some button inside of us “ and make those emotions and feelings simply disappear, but forgiveness is about what we do with those feelings. If someone has hurt me, it may be natural for me to want to strike out at him blindly and get back, but Christ’s message to us is to deliberately refrain from that kind of blind retaliation. Forgiveness is not defined by the fact that I have harsh feelings about another, and should get immediate control over those harsh feelings and eliminate them. That may not be possible. True forgiveness is constituted by not allowing ourselves to indulge in destructive actions which would give blind expression to our interior sense of outrage. It is about our efforts to do our best not to let a growing hated fester within us. A solid spiritual indicator of trying to implement the kind of forgiveness which Christ asks is if we can pray for the culprit who hurt us. That is a hard thing to do in and of itself, because our natural inclination is not to pray for him at all. If we can at least pray to God and ask Him to help that person become transformed so that he sees his errors and changes his ways, we are striving to be forgiving in the ways in which God wants us to forgive. We should pray also that we can “let go “of the toxic feelings we have towards those who have grieved us, even if we cannot do so immediately. And sometimes we can’t. These efforts to forgive are , at best, difficult for us to achieve. Furthermore, each act of forgiveness comes with its own set of complexities. Sometimes, we can forgive a person in the ways I described, but know that it is best if we no longer allow them into our lives because their presence will be noxious to us. We can forgive a person, but still defend ourselves from further wounds that they might inflict if we know that they are incorrigible. We do this, not out of retaliation, but out of necessity. Or we may forgive a person for wrongs committed, but also realize that we should point out to them the errors of their ways for their good as well as ours. Admonish them, as we heard last week from our scriptural lessons if that is possible.

There is a very moving story of forgiveness which was related yesterday in the two Leigh Valley newspapers. If a disaster happens to us through the deliberate or imperfect actions of another, or through construed negligence or because of mistake, most of us would harbor great natural resentment, anger, and even hatred towards the perpetrator of that action. Yesterday’s papers related the story of an infant who died in 2016 on her first day at a day- care facility in the Lehigh Valley. The child was placed in a back room where she had been left unsupervised and without a monitor. The child died! Few would deny the mother’s right to be angry at the day-care operator who admitted that she failed to be sufficiently attentive to the little child. The mother said in court: The day McKenna died I became a different person. I can no longer smile without feeling guilt-ridden, because why should I smile when my child is dead. After her baby died she wanted to see the operator in jail. The 60 year-old operator had been so distraught since the death of this child that she has suffered a heart attack, and has been suffering in great sorrow and remorse ever since. The mother realizing that the operator was also broken because of the death and that she never intended such a thing to happen asked the judge not to send the woman to jail.

The mother said in court, “ I know that you are suffering from her death as well. While your suffering is much different than mine, I know her death will affect you for the rest of your life. Besides that, what would jail solve? Nothing will bring my daughter back and recommending jail time will only add more suffering to an already tragic situation.” The judge said she had never seen such charity rendered to a victim and acceded to the mother’s wishes . She placed the operator on seven years of probation due to the mother’s wish for clemency. This is a story of admirable forgiveness.

 


  September 10, 2017 

(23nd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

SERMON

 Our readings this Sunday poses a most challenging task for each of us, correcting our brother and sister. The focus is not on the training of children or adolescents. It is referring to adults correcting adults! To make matters still more contentious, the adults are members of our family, relationship and neighborhood. In today’s culture, most of our communications are not face to face but instead are transmitted with various technologies. If we look at the proliferation of social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter as well as the use of text messaging and emailing, it is anything but personal. In our first reading, Ezekiel emphasizes the serious obligation of this law of correcting one’s neighbor. We all know what happens on social media when someone attempts to correct another or has a conflicting view. Many are ganged up on and harassed for their beliefs from people they have never actually met before. Everyone is brave when sitting in a room at a keyboard typing a malicious response. That does not take courage it is the definition of a coward. Paul in writing to the Romans shows us how to go about it. If we proceed with genuine love, then we are not setting out to win an argument and to prove the other person wrong. Love is a virtue of the will, not of the intellect. “Love,” St Paul insists, “never does any wrong to the neighbor.” And it is wrong to humiliate the other, to shame the other person. It is wrong to shout down and to cleverly manipulate the language. Sarcasm is wrong, half-truths are wrong! In correcting the neighbor, love never does any wrong to them.

Because love unites, then in the difficult matter of correcting another person, love is as much concerned with how we are heard as with how we are speaking. According to the commandment to love we hear with the ears of the other person while admonishing them. Would we like to be corrected in the way we correct others? What we speak must make sense to them and therefore be in tune with their values and hopes. If we correct others with love, then we are enhancing and affirming what is valuable in them.

To correct with love means that we must share in the pain of their mistakes. Love unites especially in discussion and action. If we are discussing sins and failures then we are bonded in suffering together. We weep with those who are weeping, we are shamed with those who are ashamed and we rejoice in shared joyous moments. The singular body of Christ binds all of us to each other by our nature.

Generally, everyone agrees that wrong is wrong. Correction, therefore is not about proving the wrong to be wrong and the right to be right. It is understood by all of us in moments of clarity that adultery, murder, stealing and coveting are wrong. Correction, therefore, seeks to counteract what is working against the hidden yet real goodness in the other person. Correction seeks to motivate, to reveal sources of strength, revitalize ideals and to find and encourage what seems to be lost.

Even with the best of advice motivated by love is not easy. In fact, it is always difficult and awkward. Despite all this perhaps Ezekiel’s words are necessary. Correction of a brother or sister is at times not an option. Correction can be so obligatory that our own salvation depends upon it. Ezekiel tells us, “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from their way, they shall die for their guilt, but God will hold you responsible for their spiritual death.”

To understand and accept Ezekiel’s stern warning it is helpful to return to Paul’s reading about the commandment of love. Love unites in family and community. Love means that we are all in it together. We sink or swim together. In fact, we never save our own soul without sharing in the salvation of all souls. The responsibility is on both sides, the one who corrects and the one who is corrected. Ezekiel declares, “If you warn the wicked and they refuse to turn from their way, they shall die for their guilt but you shall save yourself.”

Jesus assures us, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.” Love which unites includes the bonding love of Jesus. Like Jesus, we must continue to look for the lost sheep. Then each one of us, in that part of ourselves where we too are wrong, sinful and lost will not be endangered of being lost forever.

As we begin our week let us look at how we communicate with one another. When loving correction is required let us have the courage to do it face to face rather than the use of social media. Do not be a follower of the masses but instead be a follower of Christ. Love one another as God loves you. We are a community of believers and as such are accountable to each other. Let us pray for the humility to know when we are wrong and willingly come back to ask for forgiveness from a merciful and loving God.

Let us ask our Lord that as we hear his voice of correction, we do not let our hearts be hardened. Let us overcome our stubbornness, cure our blindness, soften our prejudice, so that together we may sing his praises and experience the joy of his love and forgiveness.

 


  August 28, 2017 

(22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

SERMON

 

There have been times in all of our lives in which we have wondered whether an important decision we have made about our lives was the right one. Take, for instance your career. You might have questioned at times whether you made the correct career choice. Should you have taken another career direction? Or even your marriage; there might be times in which you think that maybe you made a mistake in getting married when you did or to the person you married. When we make a life-defining decision about where our lives are going, there could be times later in which we “second guess “that decision, and wish we never made it in the first place. That “second-guessing” period may be only a temporary phase that one goes through, or it may be a serious crisis that emerges in our souls demanding that we change directions. Such periods can be very stressful. They can lead us to some wiser decisions and directions, or some foolish and destructive decisions. Such periods of life are not pleasant.We hear of such a critical time of crisis in the life of Jeramiah in our first reading. Jeramiah had been selected by God to be a prophet. A Jewish prophet, especially one of the eventual stature of Jeramiah, was called to proclaim God’s message to the Jewish people. As important as God’s message was, it was not always popular with the hearers. Often a prophet had to admonish people, criticize them for things they were doing, correct them. It usually was not the kind of role which made you a popular and admired figure. Hence, many of the true prophets were despised, even killed. When Jeramiah first realized that God was calling him to be a prophet, he resisted that calling. He did not want to be a prophet; he tried to argue his way out of the proposed role, yet, eventually, out of a sense of duty, he accepted the role. As time went on, his worst fears became realized. He became a despised man, even to the point that his life was seriously endangered. Our reading of today presents to us a very low point in the career of Jeramiah. He is complaining to God that the Lord had set him up for the terrible experiences he was facing. “You duped me, O Lord,” he says, “ and I let myself be duped.” He was blaming the Lord for his plight; he is also blaming himself for ever listening to God in the first place. He then asserted that he was trying to extricate himself from ever being a prophet for God again. He says, “I say to myself that I will not mention him. I will speak his name no more. “ But he found much to his chagrin, that he can no more escape his calling than Jonah did when he resisted God’s intentions for him. He says that his resistance becomes “ like a fire burning in his heart. I cannot hold it in; I cannot endure it,” he says.
The reality was that in spite of all the difficulties in Jeramiah’s calling, in spite of all of his resistance, the Lord wanted Jeramiah to be a prophet, and Jeramiah was rebelling. In our gospel reading when Peter heard that Jesus’ calling would entail suffering and death, he could not accept that such should happen to the Christ. He basically was telling the Lord, “Don’t let such things ever happen to you.” The Lord then chides Peter in some of the strongest words he addresses to anyone. He says, “ Get behind me, Satan; you are an obstacle to me. You are not thinking as God does, but as humans do.” As a matter of fact, that is exactly the same way Jeramiah was thinking, not as God thought, but as Jeramiah, a human, would think. In his human way of thinking, he did not want the troubles that were entailed in his calling. In contrast, Jesus, unlike Jeramiah, was willing to accept the great suffering that his vocation would entail.There are times in which our Christian calling will bring us suffering. There are times doing the right thing will cost us. Perhaps people will ridicule us; perhaps we will lose money because of our right choices; perhaps we will even lose advancements in our careers. There may be times in which doing what God wants us to do will have some unpleasant consequences. That’s what the Lord means about taking up the cross in the gospel. That’s what he means when he tells us that even if we gained the whole world by doing the wrong things, it is not worth what we can lose, our very souls.There is a sacrifice in being a true disciple of the Lord. St. Paul says it so beautifully in our second reading: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. Do not conform yourselves to this age. Discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing. “ Inferred in his words is the message: Be faithful to God’s ways in your life, put up with the sufferings entailed. Discern God’s will and follow it in spite of the cost; you may ‘lose your life,” so to speak, but you will ultimately find it in a way which surpasses your greatest expectations
 
 

 

August 21, 2017 

(21st Sunday in Ordinary Time)

SERMON

I am sure that few here know much about Shebna or Eliakim, two people mentioned in the Old Testament reading. Shebna had a prominent role in the administration of the Jewish King Hezekiah, he was the master of the King’s palace, but apparently did something so wrong that he was demoted from his prominent position. He was replaced by a man by the name Eliakim. Eliakim was to assume the authority which had once been held by Shebna. If you were given the keys of the palace, you had considerable authority in that realm. Keys of such authorities were worn in a sash which was placed over the shoulder. Eliakim would henceforth wear the key of the palace in his shoulder sash, and have authority to open and close the entrances of the palace. The importance of his authority are expressed in the words, “ when he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one should open. “In the gospel we hear of the bestowal of authority onto Peter, by Jesus himself.
“ You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. “ Then, Jesus also uses the image of keys as symbolic of having authority. Jesus said to Peter, “ I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This is a very clear bestowal of authority.We of the Catholic Faith believe that that special authority given to Peter has been passed down to the bishops who have succeeded Peter, in the city of Rome where Peter died. We find, for instance, that when a dispute arose among the community of Corinth, a city far from Rome, in the second century, Clement, Bishop of Rome intervened in the dispute in an attempt to diffuse the problem. If he had no authority to enter such a dispute in a city so far from Rome, he never would have tried to bring calm to the crisis. But he very emphatically entered the fray as one who had authority in communities which were far from Rome. St. Augustine in the four hundreds proclaimed: Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia, that is , “ where Peter is, there is the Church,” showing that Augustine himself, a Bishop of Hippo, looked upon the Bishop of Rome as fulfilling Peter’s role in subsequent ages of the Church.

Christ proclaimed that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church, and if we look at the two thousand years of the church’s history, it has continued in spite of many obstacles and problems. Most of the Popes have been holy men. Until the time of Constantine almost all of them died as martyrs for the Christian faith. Down through the centuries there have been some who were bad Pope’s , but in spite of their presence, they never taught anything which was diametrically opposed to the teachings of the Lord.The role of Peter is not only a sign of the Unity of our Church, but of the authority of Christ given to Peter. We live in a world which distains authority, especially religious authority. We of the Catholic Faith are indeed fortunate that we have a unifier of our Faith as well as a teacher of the Faith whose presence is instrumental in keeping the church on course, and who has the power of the keys to bind and to loose in the name of Christ and His Church.We pray for the Pope in every Mass; add your prayers daily for him.

 

 


 August 20, 2017 

(20th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

SERMON

 As you listened to this gospel, you may have been surprised at the way Jesus spoke to this woman who came to him requesting a healing for her daughter who, as she said, was tormented by a demon. People in those times characterized every problem as being the product of a demon. The girl’s problem might have been a medical problem, a psychological problem, a behavioral problem ( I am sure that, at times, parents today may sometimes wonder if a demon has taken over their child when behaviors of a child become highly unexplainable and erratic. Much more so in those times) Perhaps, the girl’s problem really was that the Spirit of Evil took possession of this girl, causing her to act in ways which were beyond her mother’s ability to cope. Even in our age of sophistication we should never dismiss the fact that fallen angels, as the Scriptures tell us, are roaring about the earth promoting all kinds of obstacles and havoc against the progress of the development of the Kingdom of God. They do so in our world; they certainly do it in people by using them as their instruments. So, this mother may have been right in her face-value assessment. She was probably of Greek extraction, coming from a region close to, but outside of the land of Israel; she was not a Jew, but she was a very concerned mother.

It was said by Eric Fromm, a psychological writer of the last century, that a mother’s love, more than other kinds of love, is unconditional. A mother may not approve of the behaviors of, say, one of her children, but she still can appreciate the inherent value of that child even when the child is behaving in a way which disappoints her maternal heart. Even if everyone else despises her child because of things the child has done, a mother can often see through the failures of the child and believe that the child has inherent worth that somehow has yet to be realized.

This nameless woman in the gospel came forth with a maternal concern. She undoubtedly did not know Jesus, but had heard that he was a healer of illnesses. She approached him with all the persistence of a mother who has done all she could do to alleviate a problem her child had, but was unsuccessful in helping her to overcome whatever problem she was facing. The mother’s recourse was so desperate that she summoned the courage to approach this prophet who was passing through the area in which she lived. She blurted out her maternal request:” Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” The reading indicates that Jesus did not say a word to her, seeming to ignore her. That was an insult from the start. When someone is in desperate straits and is pleading for help; yet, not even listened to, that is an insult. This frustrating rebuff did not stop this desperate mother. Her persistence in calling out after Jesus became so annoying that the Apostles said to him, “Send this annoying woman away; she keeps bothering us.” The Lord then spoke to the woman, pointing out that his ministry at this time was to serve the needs of the Jewish people. That was basically true at that time of his ministry. Our first and second reading tell us that eventually Christ’s focus will encompass every race and nation, but that did not happen until the Ascension of the Lord when he told to Apostles to go into the whole world and make all disciples of all nations. However, the woman continued to persist and plead: “ Lord, help me!” Then Jesus said something that must have stung the woman in her desperate state of mind. He said, “It is not right to take the food of the children and give it to the dogs.” The woman, in her maternal need” swallowed this insult, and humbly returned to her request, by responding, “ But even the dogs eat the scraps which fall from the master’s table.” The Lord then commended the woman for her faith and persistence and healed her daughter.

What can we learn from this exchange? The Lord was testing this woman. He wanted her faith and love, and she certifiably displayed those qualities in spite of all opposition. God wants the same from us. How many times have we prayed earnestly for something, something very dear to us, and God seems to have ignored us or rebuffed us. We turn on our heels and walk away, angry, promising that we will stop praying or going to church or we conclude God isn’t there or just doesn’t care. Jesus has on other occasions in the gospels insisted on the importance of perseverance in prayer and not giving up.... giving up in prayer or giving up on him. The woman in the gospel had that kind of perseverance. The Lord gives her to us as an example to persevere just as she did....to not give up but to hope in Him when we ask him for something and that something does not immediately take place in the way or the time in which we want it to take place. May we have her kind of perseverance.

 


 

August 06, 2017 

(The Transfiguration Of the Lord)

SERMON

 From the day Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Peter and the apostles scorned this idea and did not understand why it had to happen. It is in this context that Jesus selects Peter, James and John to accompany him up the mountain. During the Transfiguration, the three apostles are given a rare foretaste of the kingdom that awaits them! Jesus’ face and clothes become dazzling with light and Moses and Elijah appear speaking of his departure, which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem. It is in this moment of Transfiguration that Jesus discloses his divine glory confirming Peter’s assumption that he was the son of the living God. He also reveals that he will have to go by the way of the cross to “enter into his glory”. This statement is critical in our understanding of our own faith journey. It is important for each of us to witness that same experience over the course of our lives. Jesus came to show us the way to the Father. His life is a depiction of how we are to face adversity and trials knowing full well that in the end there will be a human death to our physical bodies. This is a difficult premise for many Christians to grasp. So, if I am truly a follower of Christ I must pick up and carry my cross and endure the trials of life including the moment of death! We must not forget that death has no hold on those who follow Christ! It is merely a transition from our earthly bodies to be joined with the glorified and resurrected Christ.

In my ministry and through my foundation I meet people who are on difficult journeys. Children who face terminal illnesses or are critically ill. Parents dealing with the trials of a sick or dying child while balancing the challenges of life, work and family. The grieving, who have lost a child or loved one and cannot face the new reality that lies ahead. Some who feel disenfranchised from God’s love due to the circumstances of their life. Our human condition makes each of us vulnerable to the pain of this life physically, emotionally and spiritually. Many times, they ask why me? Why did their child have to die? Why must they suffer? I have found that in great moments of difficulty and tragedy, Our Lord is by our side and weeps with us. His love for us is always present in the tabernacle and through the sacraments. We must trust in his mercy and willingly lay our concerns at the foot of the cross. It is never easy to handle adversity, especially when it concerns someone you love. But if we are true followers of Christ, we must trust in his divine plan! Trusting in the Lord no matter the outcome is the single most crucial factor to getting through this broken world. Once we do that, then fear has no hold on us. This gospel reveals through Christ’s life and example, that we must go by way of the cross to enter eternal glory. He was letting his disciples know that the path that lay ahead for them would be filled with trials and suffering and the shedding of our human nature is required to be one with God forever. We are not meant to live forever in our broken world, and in its brokenness, there is sadness, pain and suffering. It is through this divine glimpse into the Transfiguration that shows us our glorified nature! A nature that has no pain, tears or suffering.

When Christ entered his public life, he did it through his Baptism. When he was on the threshold of the Passover it was through the Transfiguration. From now on we share in our Lord’s Resurrection through the Spirit who is present in the sacraments of the Church. The Transfiguration gives us a foretaste of Christ’s glorious coming, when he will change our human body to be like his glorious body. But it also recalls that it is through our sufferings that guides us to the kingdom of God. Both Moses and Elijah had seen God’s glory on the Mountain. The law and the prophets had announced the Messiah’s sufferings. On the mountain, the disciples witnessed more than just the Transfiguration and the vision of Moses and Elijah! The Holy Trinity was revealed to them! The Father in the voice, stated that “This is my beloved Son, with who I am well pleased; listen to him” the Son in the man of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit in the shining cloud. Christ’s Passion was the will of the Father: the son acted as God’s servant in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s willingness to accept his passion in obedience to his Father was the eternal and perfect sacrifice!

So how do we as followers of Christ cooperate with God’s plan as we struggle through our earthly existence? Look all around you, Christ has left us each other within this community of faith. It is why we are called to help the least of our brothers. Our journey to eternal life is predicated on our willingness to love one another! Christ’s church is a beacon of hope and strength that will sustain us on our journey. The purpose of the sacraments is to make people holy, to build up the body of Christ, and finally, to give worship to God; but being signs, they also have a teaching function. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and object, they also nourish, strengthen, and express it; that is why they are called "sacraments of faith." Baptism allows us to die to original sin and become a member of the body of Christ. His word strengthens our hearts so we do not despair. His flesh and blood sacrificed on the cross nourishes us in the Eucharist and allows us to be one with his sacrifice. The sacrament of reconciliation is our compass to always keep us heading for eternal life. Confirmation empowers us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit that will shield us from the enemy. Matrimony allows for the building up of the body of Christ by the sharing of God’s creative nature. Holy Orders passes on the apostolic tradition and delivers the sacraments until the end of time. And the anointing of the sick is medicine from the divine physician to heal our body and soul and perfect us in his love.

And even after all of that there will be those who doubt God’s love. Christ’s Transfiguration is a glance into our future when one day we will shed our human body and be like our Lord in a glorified state. Today’s gospel message is to give us great hope for our journey. An assurance that all things will be made new again because of the sacrifice of Jesus once for all. Let us be willing to pick up our cross and endure the valleys of our life knowing that we are never alone. Remember the words spoken by God, “This is my beloved Son, with who I am well pleased; listen to him”. Now let us listen to Jesus and not be afraid, He has gone before us to show us the way to the Father. May God bless each of you.

 Deacon Frank Elchert

 


 July 30, 2017 

(17th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

SERMON

 A young man by the name of James, always aspired to greatness. He went to college and did well, always with his career in mind. Following college, he immediately got a good job in a firm. His aim was to climb up the ladder of success in any company he worked for, and if the ladder was not high enough in the company for which he worked, he would switch to companies which had higher ladders. He was rather ruthless with anyone who stood in his way, and was not beyond betraying even friendships, if they that’s what it took for him to get ahead. He married and had children, but he was rarely at home. His wife and children were lower on the totem pole than his career. His wife came to realize this early on in their marriage. Although he was a good provider, he was hardly a father; he gave little quality time to his kids, and his wife came to realize that their marriage was a bit of a sham, and had an emptiness to it, even though she was surrounded by the things money could buy. When James was in his forties, he had an unexpected heart attack. He was taken to a hospital where he lay for days, drifting in and out of consciousness, not knowing whether he would live for die. During the moments of lucidity he saw those shadowing figures by his bedside. One day those figures came into focus and he recognized them. They were his wife and children who visited him faithfully every day and had spent hours by his bedside. In those days it became clear to him where his treasure lay---it was in his family, his home, in the very gift of life, and God whom he had long ago abandoned. He prayed to God for recovery, and he promised that if he did recover, he would make up for the time spent on his twisted prior priorities. He would arrange his totem pole differently. He made a complete recovery, and kept his promises, and came to know greater happiness than he had ever known.We hear of the great King Solomon in our first reading. Being asked by God in a dream, what he might wish. Solomon asked for the gift of Wisdom. Because he asked for this great gift as a means to serve his people, and did not ask selfishly for personal gifts to add to his own pleasures, God richly rewarded him. To this day, Solomon is known as a man of great wisdom.Through his sickness, James, acquired Wisdom. He had always had intelligence, excelling in his classes in the university and in his ability to manipulate anything or anyone for his career advancement. After his illness, he acquired Wisdom, which is , in part, a gift whereby we can see how to prioritize realities in our lives...what is important; what isn’t; what we should hold onto; what we should discard.

Jesus teaches us in the Gospel parables which are the essence of Wisdom. The attainment of the Kingdom of heaven is so worthwhile that it should eclipse any of our other priorities. The person who found the treasure in the field, went out and sold all that he had to buy the field and, hence, get the treasure. The pearl merchant sells all he has to acquire a pearl of unprecedented worth. What Our Lord is teaching us in these two parables is that the attainment of the Kingdom of heaven is of such value that it should be our prime priority. We should not risk losing it by making present moment with all of its delights more important.The third parable reminds us that it is the greatest wisdom to live within the Kingdom during our lifetimes so that when the time of judgment comes, we will not be like the worthless items found in the net which are good for nothing and will be discarded.Let us ask the Lord for wisdom, especially the wisdom to know what is important and what is not; what is of greater importance, and what should be of lesser. The greatest Wisdom, according to the parables, is to center our lives on the Kingdom of heaven and its acquisition. All other priorities fall beneath that.Give us the courage, O Lord, to make your priorities ours.

 


 

 

 July 16, 2017 

(15th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

SERMON

 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.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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