Gospel Reflections

 

 

 Weekly Gospel/Sermon


 

July 18, 2019 

(20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)

SERMON

Over the past few weeks, our readings have focused on the end of time and the need to be prepared for what is to come. Some biblical scholars often refer to this section of Luke’s gospel as “The Coming of the Sword”. This is a difficult gospel to digest since we often think of Jesus as the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. The Messiah was regarded as a conqueror and king to the Jewish people.In Jewish beliefs, fire is almost always the symbol of judgement. So, then, Jesus regarded the coming of his kingdom as a time of judgement. The Jews firmly believed that God would judge other nations by one standard and themselves by another; and that the very fact they were Jewish would be enough to absolve them. Many in our society today still feel that way even though they do not live as Christ commands us. Each of us will face judgment based on our individual circumstances. However, as much as we may wish to eliminate the element of judgement from the message of Jesus it remains stubbornly and unalterably there.When translating this verse, Jesus said “I have a baptism to be baptized with.” The Greek verb baptizein means to dip. In the passive it means to be submerged. Often it is used metaphorically. For instance, it is used when a person is submerged in some grim and terrible experience. That is the way in which Jesus uses it here. Jesus said, ‘There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished,’ He was referring to his suffering and death on Calvary. The cross was constantly before his eyes. Jesus came not with an avenging army and flying banners, but to give his life as ransom for many. How different from the Jewish idea of God’s King! His coming would inevitably mean division and in fact it did. That was one of the greatest reasons why the Romans hated Christianity – it tore families in two. Over and over again people had to decide whether they loved their families more than Christ. The essence of Christianity is that loyalty to Christ has to take precedence over the dearest loyalties of this earth. We must be prepared to place Christ above all else, including our loved ones. This is what causes division in families and in our world today. Many within our society hold on to the pleasures of this world at the expense of their personal relationship with God. How often in our lives do we choose something other than God and his commandments? How many times do we choose other activities over spending just one hour with our Lord at Mass on Sunday? Do we show up prior to Mass so that we can bring ourselves into the presence of the Lord in the Tabernacle? Are we living our lives in a manner that emulates Christ’s love for each of us? Life is filled with so many obligations and our time is often limited. What Jesus is reminding us is that everything else is second to God. When we allow other activities to take precedence over our duties to God, we are literally calling judgement upon ourselves. I know this is an uncomfortable topic for many but remember Christ came to set the world on fire and to cause divisions. Each of us has free will and can openly choose to place God first in all aspects of our life. We also have a choice to choose the pleasures and activities of the world before him. It is our choice and we will be judged accordingly. Just because we claim to be Catholics does not preclude us from judgement. It in fact places a heavier burden on us as we have been enlightened to the truth of Jesus’ message.
Our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews gives us the courage to follow the example of our Lord and not lose sight of our eternal reward. St Paul reminds us to rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. ‘For the sake of the joy that lay before him Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of God. Consider how Jesus endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.’ The sacrifices we make to resist sin pale in comparison to that of Christ’s.It is not easy to do what is right in the world according to God’s law when society has become so secular in its thoughts and actions. Our world is filled with so many wonderful things and it is easy to become wrapped up in them. Do we have the ability to persevere knowing what is right or do we give into the pressures of our world and the temptation of the evil one who seeks the ruin of souls? Life is a race that each of us must run. Even though the distance varies for each of us it is still one that requires patience and trust in our Lord. Every person in this world is only here for a short while and is judged on their actions and interactions with one another according to God’s commandments. We are called to love the Lord our God with every fiber of our being and to love one another. Our priorities are clear, and our eyes must be fixed on Jesus Christ before all else. Let us not lose sight of our calling and be distracted by the enticements of our world.Jenny Child, the author of Pray Without Ceasing wrote a beautiful prayer that fits today’s message‘Lord Jesus, you withdrew to quiet places to spend time alone with your Father. You saw the wildflowers in the fields and the birds in the air and knew that he cared for each one. May we make time in our busy lives to just be still and know that you are God. Help us to take time out to appreciate the beauty and diversity of your creation.’This is why it is so important to arrive at Mass a few minutes prior to its beginning so we have time to slow down and reflect. We need this time to quiet our minds and focus them on our Lord, who should be our first priority. We must make similar time available through the course of our week for prayer. God’s word and His Holy Spirit are supposed to guide us through the challenges of this life. It is only possible if we open ourselves up to them. We are in a race towards eternal life and Christ is the prize.This week let us reevaluate our priorities and make sure that God is always at the top of our list above all else. May we refocus our sights on our true goal which is eternal life with our Father in Heaven. May God bless each of you.

 

July 07, 2019 

(14TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)

SERMON

 

 I recently read the story of a man, probably now in his forties, who said that when he was a child his parents were faith-filled parents, and every week it was just the expected thing to do to go to Mass every Sunday. He never really resented having to go to church each week, but he found it to be much more enjoyable when he became an altar-server. That family custom continued until he went to college; then, he stopped going. In trying to figure out why that happened, he said that perhaps it was due to the fact that he was no longer living at home. He no longer had the active influence of family life, and he felt good about making his own decisions about almost everything.  During his second or third year of college, his roommate said to him, “ It’s Sunday and I’m going to go to church at the Newman Center;  do you want to come? “ The young man said, “ I guess I’ll go,” and he accompanied his friend   After he went to Mass, he began to accompany his room-mate frequently to the Newman Center for Sunday worship.  Soon after that, he became a volunteer at the Newman Center. Then, he went on a Newman Center college retreat, and after that was asked to be a team-leader for the next planned retreat for college students.  He became close to the campus chaplain and to the regular team leaders at the Newman Center. The influence of those people got the young man to start thinking about his future. Should he become a priest?   He pursued that idea, and decided to give the seminary a try. Today he is the pastor of a thriving parish in the state of Washington. Upon reflecting about the evolution of his whole life he says, “ What I have become all started with the influence of my family and,  down the road,  with my roommates’ casual invitation to accompany him to Mass. That was the beginning of my journey back. God did the rest, but he had the help of those human beings who stepped out to help me.” 

Our gospel of today tells us of the Lord’s commissioning of seventy-two disciples whose task it was to bring the message of Christ to those whom they would encounter on their prescribed mission. The Lord indicated that some would be receptive to his message; others would mightily resist it. To those who accepted the message, a blessing would come upon them; on those who resisted,  the judgement of God would befall them. The task of the seventy-two was to make the invitation, whether it was accepted or not. If they did that, they would be fulfilling their mission. The task at-hand would be challenging. The multitudes to be approached were great and the active laborers to approach them were too few in number . “ The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few,” the Lord told them. “ Ask the master of the harvest to send  laborers for the harvest.”  When we Catholics hear these words, we probably automatically think of priests, clergy and sisters and the need for them in the structure of the Church. The Lord knows, we do need priests, clergy and sisters to do the work of the Lord by inviting souls to become followers of Christ. The worship of our Church depends on the presence of the ordained priest to confect the Eucharist. We have never believed that just anybody can confect the Eucharist, but the confection can only be done by one whose priesthood can be traced right back to the Apostles. The danger is that we are clearly experiencing a shortage of ordained priests in this present age, and that shortage is only worsened by the publicized scandals of our times, even though it is only a small percentage of priests who were so accused.  We have to hope there will be an awakening in the hearts of those whom the Lord might be calling, just as there was in the heart of the young man of whom I spoke earlier. 

But did you ever stop to think that the call to bring Christ to others is not only reserved for ordained priests, clergy, and vowed religious? Our Catholic theology tells us that every baptized person should be doing what they can do to further the cause of Christ.  Start with your own families. Christian husbands and wives, in the Christian scheme of things, are called to do more than just live out their years together. The sacrament of Marriage has incumbent within it, the duty of helping one’s spouse become closer to God. Of helping one’s spouse to save their souls?  Parents, like the parents of the young man of whom I spoke earlier, are called upon to participate in giving a second birth to each of their children. They participated with God in generating the physical birth of each of their children. As Christian parents they are asked also to help generate a spiritual birth of their children. They do that by fostering the faith in their family members, not just by their words, but by their actions. As St. Francis said, “ Preach always, and sometime use words.”  Our families learn more about God when they see Him emanating from the entire value system and life style of the members of the family.  Try to make your household a Christ-Centered household.

We are all called upon to generate a relationship with God through Christ. That calling flows from the very nature of our baptism. The Lord called many more than 72 disciples to prepare hearts for his presence. He is calling all of us to generate his presence in our households, families, our parishes, our places of employment, our nation and in the world. May we all do our part as laborers for the Lord’s harvest. 

 


 

 

 June 30, 2019 

(13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME)

SERMON

 

Our readings are relevant to the culture that we live in today. It is a culture especially in this country of great freedoms. We can pursue any passion we desire. We can live anywhere we like. If we do not like a job or a store, we shop at, we just change them. We can love whomever we choose and for however long. We have become a society focused on our own pleasures. We are intimately tied to our material possessions and focus much of our time and resources towards them. It seems the more we acquire, the more we desire. There is an insatiable thirst for the pleasures of our world. So how does this mindset define our spiritual future?

In St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians he states that Christ set us free from the yoke of slavery to this world and its many trappings. He warns us not to use this freedom as an opportunity for the pleasures of the flesh! Rather we are called to serve one another through love. We are called to live in the Spirit and not to gratify the desires of the flesh. I think when many of us hear this we realize how far we have strayed. Freedom is a wonderful gift to experience, but it comes with great responsibility. We must always use our freedom to choose what is right in the eyes of God. Often, we use it for self-gratification which can alienate us from God and others. Life in all its beauty can only be enjoyed when we share prosperity and freedom with others. Life is a team sport and our reactions and interactions set many things in motion that have long-term ramifications for all of us and the world. Each of us will meet thousands of people in our lifetimes some for only a moment. Each of these encounters can be positive or negative, it is our freedom to choose. Life is imperfect, and at times we are faced with many challenges up to and including the death of a loved one. When someone we love dies many emotions overwhelm our senses. Our world as we know it has changed forever. All of our hopes, dreams and plans have been altered. The death of a loved one produces emotions that can best be described as the feeling of reaching out for someone who has always been there, only to find that when we need them one more time, they are no longer there. Some common responses are reduced concentration, a sense of numbness, unable to sleep or sleeping too much. Eating habits are altered and we experience a rollercoaster of emotions! Life as we know it has changed dramatically and permanently. We are now faced with an unfamiliar new reality. There is an old saying, that there are only two sure things in the world, death and taxes! I will let you in on a secret, none of us are getting out of this world alive. That is a reality that our Lord knew quite well. He had to suffer and die on the cross for the glory of the Resurrection to occur. Our Lord went to Calvary not because he wanted to, but it was what was required by God, his Father. Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane asked “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” That is the key to everything! Accepting the Father’s will above our own! Are we capable of doing just that when it comes to our own earthly existence? In our Gospel we hear of those being asked to follow Christ, but each asks for more time to take care of earthly concerns. Are we prepared for the momentwhen our Lord taps us on the shoulder? Will we willingly go or ask for more time? Each of us is allotted only a certain amount of time on this earth and we cannot extend it by one second longer then what was established at the foundation of the world. No matter how long we are given to live it never seems to be enough and we always desire more time. Why is that? Is it because we have centered our life around the pleasures of this world with little forethought concerning the next one? Is there an expectation that each of us is guaranteed a long, happy life so there is always tomorrow? Remember, St Paul told us that death will come like a thief in the night. There is no guarantee of a tomorrow so today is increasingly important. It is part of our human condition to hope for another moment, but our moments are limited. But it is also our freedom to view these moments in the light of our divinity. It is our own divine nature granted to each of us by the Holy Spirit that should guide us on our journey. Each of us is only here for a short while and it is imperative that we use our time wisely in service to one another. We as a community have the responsibility to get one another to Heaven. Life is not intended to be a journey by ourselves. God understands our journey home is arduous and filled with trials. He gives us our family and community as gifts to assist us. They, however, are not our possessions as they are all God’s children, and each must one day return to the Father. He brings each of us home in His time, not ours. Once we come to terms with our own mortality we can then and only then focus on the life we should be living in service to others. We must love one another as God loves us and be willing to leave it all behind when he calls our name. I like most of you have experienced great loss over the years and have faced my own mortality. It is in these moments where God is reminding us that our time here is limited, and we must use it wisely. Do we have people in our families that have become estranged? Reach out to them and repair the relationship. Are there things that we want to tell our loved ones about how much they mean to us? Do we live our Catholic values and follow the commandments, or do we need to make ourselves right before God through the sacrament of reconciliation? Our focus now must be on what is in front of us. Our loved ones who have died are not left in the past but await each of us in the future. Each day we must wake up with a renewed desire to do better. We must ask ourselves what do I need to do to get to Heaven and be reunited with those God had blessed me with in this life? Our journey and destination are not of this world so let us place priority on the will of the Father and not our own. I leave you with Christ’s own words in today’s Gospel. “No one who sets his hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God”. Let us look to one another in love and service so that one day we are all reunited in our Heavenly home. Remember, all things of this world will remain here when we die and have no value in the next world. Make sure you are investing wisely. May God bless you.

 


 

May 26, 2019 

(6TH SUNDAY OF LENT)

SERMON

 

When we come to Mass, we hear the word of God proclaimed. Each of the readings has a message and at times there is a common theme throughout them. The Entrance Antiphon, which we seldom hear at Sunday Mass since we utilize an opening hymn is really the theme for this Sunday's Readings. It is taken loosely from Isaiah 48 and says: "Proclaim a joyful sound; let it be heard to the ends of the earth. The Lord has set His people free. Alleluia!" It is about our spiritual freedom granted to us by God and it is a part of each of the readings.

Our First Reading is from the Acts of the Apostles. This passage refers to the first known meeting of all the leaders of the Church at that time. They came together to discuss and resolve the question: "Do new Gentile converts to the faith need to abide by the Jewish rituals of initiation?" Such a requirement would have caused unnecessary hardships that would have no meaning to non-Jewish converts. After much discussion and prayer to the Holy Spirit for guidance, it was decided that Gentile converts did not have to endure certain Jewish customs. This was a great gift of freedom for these new and enthusiastic people who embraced the faith with such vigor. It gave the whole Church reason to rejoice.

The Second Reading from Revelations is a continuation of the thought from last week of the New Jerusalem, the City of God, or Heaven. There we will be free of all “needs” because the presence of God will be enough and will fulfill all our needs. This includes the earthly need sun, moon, or any other created light. God in our midst, along with Jesus the Lamb that was slain, will be enough for all. What a great “freedom” this really will be for all who are faithful.

The Gospel reading from St John is packed with truth. Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit which he refers to as the Advocate who comes from the Father in Jesus’ name. The Holy Spirit will teach us all things. Christians must be learners, as the Holy Spirit leads them deeper into the truth of God. Christians who feel that they have nothing more to learn are those who have not even begun to understand what the doctrine of the Holy Spirit means. In matters of belief, the Holy Spirit is constantly bringing us back to the things that Jesus said. We have a freedom to think on our own, but all our conclusions must be tested against the words of Jesus. We do not have to discover the truth as Jesus has given us the truth. What we must discover is the meaning of the truth. The Holy Spirit saves us from arrogance and error of thought. The Holy Spirit will keep us right in matters of conduct. Nearly all of us have had that sort of experience in life. When we are tempted to do something wrong and on the brink of doing it, an inner voice speaks to us that what we are doing is not right. That is the Holy Spirit at work reminding us of Jesus’ teachings.

He speaks of His gift of peace. The peace which the world offers us is the peace of escape, the peace which comes from the avoidance of trouble and from refusing to face things. The peace which Jesus offers us is the peace of conquest. No experience of life can ever take it from us, and no sorrow, no danger, no suffering can ever make it less. It is independent of external circumstances.

Jesus speaks of His destination. He is going back to His Father; and he says that if his disciples really loved him, they would be glad that it was so. If we really grasped the truth of the Christian faith, we would always be glad when those whom we love, go to be with God. That is not to say that we would not feel the sting of sorrow and the sharpness of loss; but even in our sorrow and our loneliness, we would be glad that after the troubles and the trials of this world, those whom we loved have gone to something better.

This past week I was in Pittsburgh going through training and certification on grief recovery. When I deal with people of all faiths who have experienced a loss, each one grieves differently. There is a uniqueness in each of our relationships and the depth of grief is often proportionate to the depth of our love. Grief is the price we must pay for loving someone. There is no time limit on the length of grief and there is no quick fix. Many times, our grief can be the feeling of incompleteness as there may be undelivered communications of an emotional nature to our deceased loved ones. There are some absolutes in our world, one is that nobody gets out of here alive. We are all going back to the Father one day. Therefore, it is so critical that we act and interact with others as Jesus teaches us. Love one another, care for the least of our brothers and sisters. Say I love you often and make sure that your communications with one another are complete. Life for so many of us is filled with loose ends. There are things undone and things half-done, things put off and things not even attempted. There are relationships that need to be mended and forgiveness granted. Are we holding on to something that is keeping us away from God’s love and mercy? Are we living our lives in a manner so that if the Father calls us home, we can say, we are ready? Do we have a relationship with God or is He merely a passing thought when we require something? Death of a loved one is a stark reminder of our own mortality. The things we consider important today in our everyday lives will have little value in eternal life. Are we focused on the right goals? All the trappings of our world such as money, houses and careers remain here when we die. They contain no value on judgement day when we will stand before the throne of God to give account of our lives. Each of us is only here for a short period of time and we must rely on the Holy Spirit to reinforce the gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Fortitude. Piety, Counsel and Fear of the Lord, given to each of us on our Confirmation day and always available to us. We must, however, choose to use them. God’s grace is always present, and we have the freedom to either use it or not. He will not force it upon us, so we must open ourselves to Him. Nothing in this world is more powerful than the love that God has for each of us. Jesus reminds us that he will return for each of us one day. Let us pray that he finds us in the peace of the Holy Spirit, confident in the destiny he has prepared for us since the beginning of time. Let us freely say, Come Holy Spirit be our Advocate! May God be with you.

 


 

 

May 19, 2019 

(5TH SUNDAY OF LENT)

SERMON

 

                                                                    

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)

SERMON

 

   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)

SERMON

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.

  1. Dissatisfaction.Thisyoungmanhadeverythingheneededathome,yetheyearnedfor more. Are we all not constantly in search of more in every aspect of our life?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Departure.Hetookhisfortuneandlefthisfamilytogotoafar-offcountry.Separating himself from a family that loved him to enter a world that cared only about money, pleasure and possessions.

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  1. 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?

  2. 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?

  3. Waitedpatiently.Asparentstodaywaitforrenegadesonsanddaughterstoreturn,this father longed to see his son.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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)

SERMON

 

             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)

SERMON

 

          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.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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