May 19, 2019
(5TH SUNDAY OF LENT)
Probably most of us have tried to imagine what heaven will be like. Because we like to eat especially sumptuous foods at restaurants and banquets, the scriptures often liken heaven to be like an endless banquet in which the choicest foods are served and enjoyed. Golfers picture heaven as a golf course in which they are always getting holes in one. Pet lovers think of heaven as a place in which they will see their dogs again. Others picture heaven as a place in which they will never need money, or have so much of it that they can buy everything they ever wanted. Most of us want a heaven in which we will be reunited with our loved ones who have gone before us. We could go on and on with different ideas people have about heaven; some of them, such as being united to those who are in heaven ,actually has been revealed to us as being part of what heaven will be like. The doctrine of the Communion of Saints, at least in part, tells us that part of the heavenly experience will be in sharing it with those who are there, and we certainly hope our loved ones are there. Most ideas about heaven extrapolate some pleasurable experience from this life and extend it into the next life. “ John is probably right now up there having a beer with Louie and Jim,“is something we might hear at John’s viewing if John liked beer and liked to share it in the company of his deceased buddies. Most of these attempts to picture the nature of heaven are inaccurate attempts to grasp a mystery: what heaven will be like. Even the biblical image of sharing in a sumptuous banquet is an inadequate attempt to grasp a promised mystery. If we had been endowed with full imaginative powers when we were developing within the bodies of our mothers, we would never have been able to accurately appreciate what life outside the womb would be like for us. In like manner, while we are living in this life, we have no real ability to imagine what heaven will be like. St. Paul tells us elsewhere in the scriptures that it is impossible for us to accurately imagine existence in heaven: ‘’ Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it even entered into the hearts of men what God has prepared for those who love him. “ Many people think, if they believe in an afterlife at all, that the attainment of heaven is automatic for every living human being. Almost everyone, according to this theory, except for a few extreme human reprobates, will have free entrée into the pearly gates. We are given an opposing message if we are attentive to the lessons of the scriptures. In the saying I just quoted, Paul says we cannot begin to imagine what God has prepared for those who love Him. So, loving God seems to be a condition to inherit what has been prepared. Our first reading for today also gives us a more realistic message in this regard; it tells us: “itis necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter into the kingdom of God.” So, those who enter that kingdom will have to be willing to undergo the hardships which the life of faith entails. We should never think that heaven is a shoe-in for any of us. Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity to the Lord, with all the hardships which a commitment to Him entails, is a component which will come into play if we are to be included with that group of saints who go marching into heaven and in our being one of their number. Each Sunday during this Easter Season we have been listening to portions of the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation is the last book of the New Testament ( the last book to be written and the book which is placed last in the New Testament listings) It was written, we believe by John the “ beloved disciple “ and Apostle of the Lord. John tells us something of heaven in our reading of today. Again, what he tells us is an incomplete picture of what heaven will be like, but he does give us some promising details about it. He tells us that the Lord will wipe every tear from the eyes of those who enter therein, and that there will be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, because the old order where those things existed has passed away.” Good writers of long books usually try to tie-in the earlier parts of their book with the final parts, and even through John is not the author of all the books of the bible, his conclusion to the book of Revelation completes, compliment and ties into what has been revealed in earlier books of the Scriptures, especially the book of Genesis. The first listed book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, speaks to us of the creation of our world and universe. The essence of the creation stories in Genesis is not so much to give us a scientific or strictly historical renderings of that creation. The essence is to tell us that everything which has come into being, has come forth from the creative hand of God…in whatever way or time-frame it took to bring those things into being. Just as the first book of the bible tells us of the creation of world and universe at the beginning of time, the last book of the bible, tells us of a new creation which will come forth from the hand of God. John tells us, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and earth has passed away. A new city of Jerusalem, will be formed and come down to those who belong to God in this new heaven and new earth.“ So in the first book of the Scriptures we have a story of creation on the part of God, and in the last book of the Scriptures we hear of another and new creation of the part of God. This new expression of God’s creative action, mentioned in the last book of the bible will be even greater than the first actions of God’s creative action cited in the book of Genesis. In the final words of our reading for today, we hear words which come forth from the lips of Jesus, who says, “ Behold, I make all things new.”This is the main message of the Easter Season: “ Jesus has made all things new for us by his life, death, and resurrection. He has opened up for us a whole new world. Because of him, we can enter this new act of creation, a new heaven and a new earth…a new and lasting Jerusalem. Although these images and words do not totally clarify for us, here and now, what every aspect of heaven will be like, they are the great Easter promise for those who walk with the Lord and hope to share in the “new life” created and prepared for us.
April 07, 2019
(4TH SUNDAY OF LENT)
This gospel story is a heartening one to hear. The Scribes and Pharisees used a woman, caught in adultery, as a pawn to entrap the Lord. They probably did not care as much about her sin as they did in wanting to use her failings to ensnare Christ. The mentality in those times was that an adulterer should be stoned to death. During this past week the Western world was horrified to hear that a strictly Muslim country was prescribing the same punishment for an adulterer as this woman could have been subjected in those ancient times. We can imagine the horror this woman must have felt when she was dragged from the place where she had been and taken by the religious leaders to an unknown place for an unknown result. She was liable to be stoned. We can ask the question why her partner was not with her since that punishment was to be meted out to both partners, but it was usually the woman who experienced the greatest blame for such actions. Enter, if you will, into her mind and try to experience the terror she must have felt in being caught doing an action which could have resulted in punishment and painful death. The Pharisees and scribes wanted to use her failing to disqualify Jesus. If he said that she should be exonerated, he would have gone against Mosaic Law; if he said she should be stoned, he would be suggesting something which was against Roman Law since the Romans insisted that only they could order an execution.
We can picture the scene in which Jesus was quietly speaking to people only to be interrupted by an unruly mob with the woman-in-tow. They stood her in the middle of the crowd before Jesus. The woman had to feel totally embarrassed, endangered, and completely insecure. The Pharisees presented their case: this woman was caught in adultery. The prescription for that failing was death; what did Jesus think? Picture, if you will, the sense of surety which the Pharisees must have felt at that moment in having so much evidence about this woman that it would pose a hopeless dilemma for Christ to even begin to answer. The Scribes and Pharisees presented their case; what should be done? Notice that the Lord did not answer the question with words. He remained silent, stooped over and began to sketch something in the sands of the earth. Then he finally addressed the accusers: “ Let he who has no sin among you be the first to cast a stone.” Again, he stooped downward and continued to sketch something in the earth. It is here that we see a dramatic change in the accusers. They had been so confident and self-assured that they had a case which would put Christ in a terrible position. They had been strong in verbally expressing their case. Now they are speechless. They issue no more words of accusation but silently walked away from the scene without another word of accusation. They apparently were totally disarmed. What could have transpired? One of the first Church historians by the name of Eusebius says that what Christ was sketching in the sand were the sins of the accusers. Whatever happened, the accusers silently walked away without another word and without the woman.
Finally, the Lord is left alone with this woman. Imagine the sense of relief and wonderment she must have felt in that moment. He gently said to her, “ Woman, where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you? “ She respectfully answered, “ No one sir. “Jesus very tenderly told her, “Neither will I condemn you, but from now on, avoid this sin.” Notice what the Lord did with her. He was most tender to her on a day in which she had experienced a whole gamut of revolving emotions, from fear, terror, helplessness, embarrassment, to relief, a sense of support and gratitude, feelings of deliverance and safety, an experience of compassion, and a sense of wonderment as to how all this happened. On the one hand Jesus did not condemn her to the harshness she might have experienced; he saved her from it. On the other, he did not exonerate her. She did commit a sin; she was guilty of wrongdoing. The Lord challenged her to emerge from her fault; to learn from it; to endeavor not to return to it; to turn a new page in her life; to begin anew. All of that is expressed in his words, “ Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”
The Lord will treat each of us in exactly the same way. In His presence we will experience that same expression of forgiveness especially when we recognize our own failings, resolve to overcome them, and approach his sacrament of forgiveness. As Lent draws to a culmination, I urge you to experience that same compassionate, forgiving Lord in the sacrament He left to his church as a means of receiving His forgiveness. As he was most gentle and forgiving to this errant woman, so he will be with us if we approach him seeking forgiveness.
March 31, 2019
(4TH SUNDAY OF LENT)
Jesus was a skillful storyteller, and perhaps His most masterful parable was that of the prodigal son. When He told this story, His audience was composed of tax collectors and sinners who were drawn to Jesus as well as self-righteous scribes and Pharisees who criticized Him for His association with sinners. Both these groups needed a lesson on the grace and mercy of God, and that’s exactly what the parable of the prodigal son delivers.
Today we are going to place ourselves in the shoes of the prodigal son. I am going to point out key emotions or actions of this prodigal son and see if they do not speak to our own human condition? I can sum up this person in 8 words beginning with the letter D.
Dissatisfaction.Thisyoungmanhadeverythingheneededathome,yetheyearnedfor more. Are we all not constantly in search of more in every aspect of our life?
Desire.Hewantedtoenjoythingshe’dneverexperienced,thinkingthatsatisfaction would come if he could indulge his cravings. Aww the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
Deception.Hewasdeceivedandbelievedhewasmissingsomethinginlife,anditcould only be found outside his father’s house. This is the greatest trick of the devil. It was also the first by the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
Decision.Hechosetoleavehomeanditsrestrictionsinordertoenjoythelifehe imagined awaited him. Free will allows us to either move closer to God or pull away from him. Our choices always have consequences.
Departure.Hetookhisfortuneandlefthisfamilytogotoafar-offcountry.Separating himself from a family that loved him to enter a world that cared only about money, pleasure and possessions.
Delight.Withplentyofmoneyathisdisposal,heenjoyedhimselfwithnewworldly pleasures. He tasted sin and believed these new experiences were the fulfillment of all his dreams. Is this not the allure of sin? If it feels good, then do it. Is this not prevalent in our world today?
Disillusionment.Sinonlysatisfiesforaseason.Whathehadthoughtwouldgivehim pleasure began to leave him empty. In Romans 6:23 states that Although sin may be enjoyable at first, the wages always result in death. With a sinful lifestyle, there is the death of happiness, peace, and security. This causes us to seek even greater sinfulness to appease our pleasures. It is a slippery slope.
Despair.Afterthemoneywasallspentandafaminecame,theProdigalSonendedupin a hog pen feeding pigs while he himself remained hungry. He’d begun life at home with everything he needed, and now he didn’t even have enough to eat. His expectations of great life had ended, and he’d lost everything. This is where we hit rock bottom and only with God’s grace, come to our senses and in repentance and humility head home to the father. Does this process sound familiar? We all fall in to this pattern at various times of our life. The problem is that what we are searching for is already present within us. We turn everywhere for the answer except to our Lord. He is the way, the truth and the life.
Now let us look at the Father with 6 words that begin with W.
Woundedheart.Theprodigal’sfatherwashurtbyhisson’sdesiretohavehis inheritance early and leave the home he’d given him. His value as a parent was now diminished to what he could give to his child. Do we see this in today’s society with the sense of entitlement?
Worried.Likeanyparentwhosechildisfarfromhome,thisdadwasconcernedforhis son—whether he was making good choices or was in need. How many parents can relate to this feeling when our child does not let us know where they are and when they will be home?
Waitedpatiently.Asparentstodaywaitforrenegadesonsanddaughterstoreturn,this father longed to see his son.
Watchedforhim.Hissonwasneverfarfromthisfather’sthoughtsashewatchedthe road to see if he was returning. Our children are always in our hearts, no matter their age. Many never know this until they have children.
Wanted his son to return soon. Whatever had happened in his son’s life would never cause this dad to reject him. His desire was to see him as soon as possible. As parents we unconditionally love our children no matter how badly they have hurt us.
Welcomedhimhome.Eventuallythedaycamewhenthefathersawhissonontheroad while he was still a long way off. He felt compassion and ran to meet him. Instead of greeting him with reproofs, he repeatedly embraced and kissed his son despite his filthy condition. The young man barely managed to get out his confession of sin and of unworthiness to be called his son before his father called the servants to bring out the best robe, a ring, and sandals to clothe him. Then he told them to kill the fattened calf and prepare a feast to celebrate his son’s return. The joy that comes from the return of a lost child is every parent’s dream.
Through this story, Jesus was using an earthly father to depict the readiness of the heavenly Father to forgive those who come to Him in humble repentance, no matter how far they have strayed from Him in the past. He was showing the scribes and Pharisees God’s attitude toward repentant sinners and conveying to the tax collectors and sinners that His Father was willing to
forgive and welcome them if they’d confess and return to Him.
We can each see ourselves in one of the characters in this parable—the rebellious son who’s far away from God, the forgiving father who welcomes him home, or the bitter brother who doesn’t think the prodigal deserves to be welcomed.
Running away from the Lord and living in sin is never the way to find happiness. Like the prodigal, we’ll eventually find ourselves disillusioned and despairing. Yet the heavenly Father forgives and welcomes us home when we forsake our sin and return to him. He’ll give us a new beginning, and there will be a great celebration in heaven.
The only hope for all of us is the grace, love, and forgiveness of almighty God. Since mankind is appointed for death and then judgment, we must not put off the decision to repent and trust Christ as our Savior (Heb. 9:27). He died on the cross to pay the penalty we all deserve for our sin. Through faith in Him and His sacrifice for us, we can be saved.
This parable is about a son who asked his father for his share of the estate, left home, and squandered his inheritance. But perhaps the most amazing character in this story is the forgiving father. Jesus was teaching that no one has sinned to such a degree that it’s impossible to turn back to God in repentance and receive forgiveness.
During this season of repentance let us return to the Father who loves us so dearly and ask for His forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation. I assure you that though His heart is wounded by our sinfulness He worries about us, waits patiently for our return and is always watching and wanting us to return so that he may welcome us home. May we always focus our lives on the Father and not on material things of this world. May God bless each of you.
March 10, 2019
(1ST SUNDAY OF LENT)
On this first Sunday of Lent our Gospel tells us that after the Baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit led him into the desert. It was in the desert that Our Lord underwent a kind of retreat to fortify himself for the unique ministry to which he was called. The “retreat” he experienced was very severe in comparison to the retreats I go on every year to renew and review my vocation or the retreats some of you might have gone on to fortify your faith. The Lord’s retreat took him into the loneliness and the severity of the desert for forty days. Can you imagine being alone in a desert for that period of time? The loneliness and the harshness of the environment would be difficult enough to deal with, but our gospel adds that those difficulties were augmented by a fast from nourishment for that extended period of time. Our Lord had to be quite a man to endure such an experience! St. Luke remarks that at the end of that time, he was hungry; that has to be the greatest understatement in this gospel. To be in such a state, in such a place, for such a long period of time would make anyone weak and vulnerable. Our faith teaches us that Christ is truly God, but also truly human, and among other places in the gospel where the real humanity of Christ is truly manifested, we see it indeed manifested at the conclusion of this desert experience.
Today, we have a tendency to dismiss the concepts or realities of demonic spirits. We think of the fallen angels and their attempts to influence us and our world as fairytales, but our Church has always taught that they are a reality. If I look at the state of the world today or during the years of the last century just in the times in which I have lived ( apart from even considering the centuries of history which went before) I stand aghast at the horrible manifestations of evil perpetrated by human beings just within my life-time. I am convinced that many of those occurrences would never have happened unless they were aided and abetted by additional forces of evil, apart from the human evil forces which made these things happen. I read that there were over thirty attempts of to assinate Hitler, many of them diverted by last-minute flukes of activity. In many of these attempts some strangely-introduced little glitch altered the intended outcome. I don’t personally believe in assassinations, but to my mind, Hitler was being protected by forces which went well beyond human powers so that he could complete the plans of evil he was being used to fulfill.
If there was one human person the demonic powers would want to divert from his destiny, it was Jesus and we hear of a series of attempts to do so in our gospel of this first Sunday of Lent. The first temptation to this famished Lord is that he use his powers, not to achieve his calling, but to supply man, not with eternal food, but temporary food. He was told, ’Turn these stones into food….food for yourself….food for all so that all will be satisfied. If you want to make yourself fulfilled for the moment and win over people, supply yourself and them with temporary satiation and they will follow you.” Now there is nothing wrong with enjoying food; we are not puritanical, but if we extract just one of the meanings out of this temptation of our Lord and apply it to ourselves, we can see that it is really an appeal to make people satisfied with just the sensual pleasures of life, and nothing beyond that. There is noting wrong with the sensual pleasures of life as long as they are experienced in the way intended by our Creator, who gave them to us in the first place, but the appeal here is to make food, pleasure, sex, temporal success, sensual indulgence of all different kinds, the use of drugs included, to become the very purpose of one’s life. The Lord’s answer to the tempting Spirit was that man does not live by bread alone, that is, we cannot base our lives merely on the temporal pleasures which are available to us.
The next temptation has the Spirit of Evil showing Jesus all the kingdoms under his domain, and believe me, he has many. The spirit of the world belongs to him. “ I will give you all this if you in your humanity worship me instead of your Father,” he says to the Lord. This is an appeal to giving Jesus power, not only over the universe, which he already has, but even over the domain of Satan. Jesus answer to him is that as a human being he worships only His Father, and so should we. We can extract an application from this temptation of Jesus and apply the meaning to our own lives. This was an appeal to make the experience of raw power over others a predominant end in itself. I do not have any need for great power over others in my own life, and maybe you don’t either, but there are plenty of people who do. They thrive on the fulfillment of this need. Power, for powers sake, can be an end in itself, the main purpose of one’s life. There was a saying back in the seventies which says it all, “ Power is the ultimateaphrodisiac “ and for many people it is. I mentioned Hitler before but we have many power-mongers in the world whether in governments, nations, businesses, communities, groups, or families whose main value in life is having power over life or others. It is their greatest thrill; they worship it. While we have a legitimate need for those who exercise power wisely, benignly, and in service to others, we do not need selfish despots who revel in the pleasure they feel by exercising raw power as an end in itself. For some, the unbridled need to have such power is a central need and a temptation, and when yield to, a sin which does great damage.
The last temptation has the Spirit of Evil taking Jesus to the summit of the Temple in Jerusalem, called the parapet. This is a very significant location for such a temptation, whether Jesus was actually taken there or just virtually saw it. The Temple was where the Father was worshipped and adored. This temptation has the devil taking Jesus to the heights of the temple. In essence he is telling Jesus: “ In your humanity make yourself equal to your Father who is worshipped here; be higher than God who lives here. .“ In his humanity, Jesus was called by his Father to be the obedient human servant of the Father, submitting his human will to the Divine Will of the Father. Jesus’ answer to him was, “ You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” We can extract the meaning of this temptation of Jesus and apply it to our own lives. The essence of sin is choosing to make ourselves for a moment or for many moments of our lives more important than God. We disregard what God wants of us and choose to live the way we want to live. We take ourselves, so to speak, to the parapet which is God’s place, and place ourselves there instead. That was the essence of the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden. By eating the forbidden fruit, they believed they would become equal to God, no longer needing to be under His leadership. In one way or other, all human sins involve this kind of intention.
The final words of the gospel tell us that the Spirit of Evil then gave up on that attempt to dissuade Jesus from fulfilling His calling, but as the reading tells us that he merely departed from Jesus for the time being. The inference being that he would return at other times, and he did, and he will with us also as long as we live. The purposes of the demonic are to thwart the plans of the Lord to bring us to our intended, exalted destination.
March 03, 2019
(6TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)
A number of our Old Testament readings these past months take us back to painful experiences in the lives of the Jewish people: their years of defeat by foreign nations and the subsequent enslavement of a portion of their population to foreign lands. Today’s reading takes us back to those times. In such times and experiences people tend to lose hope, fall into despair, and perhaps give up on the realities upon which they based their psychological and spiritual securities. Perhaps we have all experienced passages of life when all seemed bleak, and our hope for security waned into nothingness. In the midst of such a period in Jewish history our reading today recounts the message of the prophet Jeramiah to the discouraged chosen people. Jeramiah urges his people not to succumb to despair, but to invest their hope in God. He points out how natural it is for us in such times to grasp at created things and try to stabilize our lives by totally relying on them. They may help us partially and temporarily to gain security in the face of trials, but Jeremiah reminds his people (and also us who hear his message) that our greatest strength in the face of grave problems is to place hope in the Lord. Yes, we can use created things to bring us a certain amount of security in life, but our bedrock of security in life should be our hope and trust in the Lord. “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, but whose heart turns away from the Lord, “ are the words he uses to dissuade his hearers from merely basing their main securities on passing things and failing to put our trust in the Lord.
The virtues of hope and trust are different, but interrelated virtues; they are sister -virtues. The Divine Mercy painting close to the tabernacle in our church has the words and the prayer, “ Jesus, I trust in you.” You will see those words inscribed in every Divine Mercy painting; it is basic to the Divine Mercy devotion. Indeed, those words are prayers we should pray often in the midst of whatever troubles we are undergoing, but I will grant you that trusting in God while we are undergoing hard passages in life is a challenging virtue to attain. Perhaps, it is because we want to be in control of our lives totally, and it is difficult to “ let goand let God,” as the saying goes. There is an old joke about a man who fell over a precipice and was holding onto a branch of a tree. To his mind, his grasp of the branch was the only thing from keeping him from falling to sudden death. As he held onto the tree, he prayed to God to help him. “ Lord, help me, “ he cried out. He heard a voice a come back to him saying, “ Let go of the tree.” That did not seem to be a suitable solution for a man in such desperate straits, “ So, he uttered another hasty prayer: “Lord, please help me! Don’t you see that this tree ismy only hope unless someone comes to save me.” Again, he heard a voice coming from the sky,” Let go of thetree.” A third time he cried out to the heavens, “ Is any body else up there? “ Little did he know that he was only six feet from firm ground, and if he let go of the tree, he would have landed safely on the ground. The joke reminds us that it is very difficult to rely on the Lord when our situations seem frightening. May we grow in the virtues of trust and hope in the Lord when we face difficult situations.
Many people place their trust in their riches to save them, and while riches can be a big help in times of trouble, they are no guarantee of total security. In the economic crash in 1929 it was not the poor people who jumped off sky-scrapers to their deaths, but the rich who lost their source of security. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, “ Blessed are the poor for the kingdom of God is yours.” That is St. Luke’s accounting of the beatitudes. St. Matthew says it this way, “ Blessed are the poorin spirit.“ The poor-in-spirit may have wealth, but they are poor-in-spirit because their wealth does not own them. They don’t rely on their wealth for their ultimate security. Their ultimate hope and trust is in God. Perhaps, those who jumped off sky-scrapers based their total security on their wealth and when that was gone, they were left hopeless. The rich whom the Lord condemns in today’s gospel are not condemned because they are rich, but because they base their entire lives on their wealth; they are not poor-in-spirit.
Other people rely on the workings of politics and government as their saving security in life. Especially in our times we can understand why people who vest all their confidence in the government are feeling insecure. Our government today seems to be in operational paralysis in getting anything really accomplished. In the past, part of our sense-of-security in being Americans was the belief that there was an American unity among us in spite of our differences. That hope, in our times, is marred by probably the greatest experiences of disunity and divergence most of us have experienced in our lifetimes, so much so that people who put so much stock in government are disillusioned and feeling very insecure.
As much as I love the institutional aspects of the Catholic Church, I can understand how people who loved the Church in its institutional form as well as in its more essential aspects could feel left-down. The Church in all its levels is a supposed to portray and convey Christ’s presence to us. The portrayal of Christ’s face has been blocked from our vision because of instances of institutional maleficence.
There are many other created realities upon which we can invest our hopes for survival and continued life. All of them are passing and will only render limited security to our lives. Our youth, our health, our resources, our time on this earth will not last forever, and while we can take a certain about on solace in them while they last, they are only temporary in our lives. The refrain of our responsorial psalm tells us of the greatest security we can posses in this passing world. “ Blessed are they who hope in the Lord, “ is the refrain we used for todays Mass. If we hope and trust in the Lord as our bedrock security in all passing phases of life, we are making a wise investment, indeed.