Gospel Reflections

 JULY 05, 2020

14TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

(SERMON)

St Paul’s message to the Romans addresses the mutual indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We are in the Spirit and the Spirit is within us. Each of us was sealed by the Holy Spirit and claimed as a child of God at Baptism. We were strengthened through Confirmation as the Holy Spirit descended upon us and infused us with His gifts.

Like any blessings that we receive it requires a mutual acceptance and willingness to live in accord with them. Obviously, we see in our world that this is not the case with many who have shut off the Spirit within their hearts. When we take on the desires of our mortal bodies, we become debtors to the flesh. St Paul tells us that if you live according to the flesh you will die. When we live by the Spirit, we put to death the deeds of the body

and are able to live eternally. Our world and many of its people have embraced the secular aspect of life and we are witnessing the carnage that it has brought to society. There lies in each of us an internal struggle between the spirit and the flesh. In today’s climate there is a mob mentality that attempts to intimidate those who stand in resistance to the secular culture. Anyone who stands up to this is immediately vilified and shouted

down. We must not let our lives be directed by those who live in the flesh but instead we need to engage the Holy Spirit that is present in each one of us. We must be the light on the hill for those who are lost.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus thanks his Father because he has "hidden these things from the wise and the

intelligent and revealed them to infants." The wise and intelligent may refer to any who reject Jesus and his message, but perhaps especially to the religious leaders whom Jesus often rebukes for their self-importance and hypocrisy. The scribes and Pharisees pride themselves on being learned in the law yet fail to understand

the basics of justice, mercy, and faith. They repeatedly reject Jesus and conspire against him, thus conspiring against the very nature of God. This same logic can be easily applied to today’s politicians who are also consumed with self-importance and hypocrisy! They are living lives of the flesh and will one day lose ever- lasting salvation because of it.

The infants, on the other hand, are not regarded as wise or important. They are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the persecuted, all whom Jesus calls blessed. They are the sick and the lame, the lepers and demon- possessed, the tax collectors and sinners, who come to Jesus for healing of body and spirit. It is God's

gracious will to act in ways that confound human wisdom, and so these infants see what the wise cannot -- that Jesus is sent by the Father and reveals the Father.

Jesus' prayer then turns to invitation: "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and

I will give you rest”. Who are the ones laboring wearily and heavily burdened? Again, it is the common people rather than their leaders. Later in Matthew, Jesus chastises the scribes and Pharisees because "they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift

a finger to move them". The heavy burden they lay on the people is not the law per se; it is rather their particular interpretation and practice of the law. Isn’t this what we see in our country today? Laws created that burden the people because of “misinterpretations” of God’s law. The religious leaders in Matthew's story are also complicit with the Roman rulers in maintaining the imperial system.

 

The common people labor wearily under Roman occupation, in which the ruling elite secure wealth, status, and power at the expense of the lowly. Jesus rejects this social order as contrary to God's will and states: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be

so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many".

To all those laboring under harsh religious and political systems, Jesus says, "Come to me... and I will give you rest." Rest also functions as an image of salvation, of what it will be when the world is finally ordered according to God's purposes and enjoys its full and complete Sabbath. In promising "rest," Jesus promises life under God's reign in the new world that he is bringing into being.

Jesus further invites the weary: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (11:29-30). The yoke was a familiar symbol of burden bearing, oppression, and subjugation. Yokes were laid on the necks and

shoulders of oxen and also on prisoners and slaves.

What is the yoke Jesus offers? We might infer that it is his teaching, his way of discipleship, which is not burdensome but life-giving. He invites the weary to learn from him, for he is not a tyrant who lords it over his

disciples but is "gentle and humble in heart." His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. To take his yoke upon oneself is to be yoked to the one in whom God's kingdom of justice, mercy, and compassion is breaking into this world, and to find the rest for which the soul longs.

It is not that Jesus invites us to a life of ease. Following him will be full of risks and challenges, as he has made abundantly clear. He calls us to a life of humble service, but it is a life of freedom and joy instead of slavery. It is a life yoked to Jesus under God's gracious and merciful reign, free from the burden of sin and the need to

prove oneself, free to rest deeply and securely in God's grace. Jewish tradition had 613 commandments, 248 positive ones and 365 negative ones. Living a life following all of these rules was the burden that the Jewish leaders had placed on the backs of the lowly. As Monsignor mentioned in his homily last week, Christ gave us the first and greatest commandment to live by. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your

soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

How much simpler a yoke could Christ lay before each of us? Now let us imagine a world that followed these

two commandments. It would be a world filled with love and kindness to one another because the Holy Spirit would be guiding us instead of letting the flesh lead us astray. We must be courageous and steadfast in our faith and take Christ’s yoke upon our shoulders. What good is it to gain the whole world and lose our eternal

souls? I trust in Jesus and I give him my sufferings and trials so that I may focus on loving God with all my

 

heart and with all my soul and with all my mind. This week, embrace the Spirit that is in each of you and I assure you that you will no longer fear the death of your body nor the trials of this world. May God bless and keep you safe!


 

 June 28, 2020

13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

(SERMON)

 

I have two books in my possession which have pretty much the same title. The books are called, The Case for Jesus. Two different authors attempt to argue that there are good reasons to believe in Jesus and all that the Church teaches about him. Looking at just one consideration, let us take the opening words of the Gospel of today and ponder their implications. The Lord said, “ Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”   What kind of person could ever demand such centrality in the lives and hearts of others by making such a demand? Imagine if you had a boss where you worked and the boss came and said to you, “ Unless you love me more than your mother and father, you will not be worthy of me,” or if a close friend said to you, “ Unless you love me more than your mother and father, you are not worthy of my  friendship”  you would undoubtedly think who is this person to ever assume that he or she should be more important in my life than my own parents? Or to transfer the other words of the gospel and put them in the mouth of the owner of the place where you work: “ Unless you love this company more than you love your son or daughter, you are not worthy of working here? “  You would rightly think, “ I certainly do not want to make this place of work more important to me than my own children; what an outlandish demand this company is making! “ You would immediately dismiss such a demand as totally out of line and excessive. Yet, Jesus made exactly those same demands of you and me: “ Unless you love me more than you love father or mother, son or daughter, you are not worthy of me.”  For any person to make such a demand he has to either be a total narcissist, or someone who has a right to demand such central allegiance of us. If Jesus made such a demand, he is either an outright fool, or He is someone who has every right to expect that He should have a central position in the hearts and lives of others. The point is:  no one could legitimately make such a demand unless He was a most important person. Jesus made that demand because He is God, and can exact a most prominent place in the lives of his followers, a place even greater than we give to our mothers and fathers, spouses, or children, or any of our possessions.  Looked at from that vantage point, it is a very legitimate demand. We owe God central allegiance because everything we have in life, including our first breaths of life and all the breaths thereafter come from Him. The very gift of life, every significant relationship we have, every moment we live, every breath breathe, every blessing we have been given ultimately comes to us because of God’s generosity and benevolence. It is true that we earn our livelihoods, work hard for all we receive, labor to get what we want, but the truth is, we could not even begin to do those things were it not for the the raw abilities we have been given by  God himself. One of the presented reasons to believe in the authenticity of Jesus is the fact that He made such demands of us. If He is not God, He could not legitimately demand such centrality in our lives. The fact is, and it is presented to us in this gospel of today, Jesus does make such demands, and He can do so because He is God.  I remember the words of a woman who belonged to a parish in which I once served.  She frequently reminded her children and grandchildren, “ I love you very much, but you have to realize something: there are people I love even more than you. The central love I have in my life, is my love for God; the next important love in my life is your father, and my love for you comes after that, but don’t feel cheated because there is a lot of love left over for you.”  This is what Jesus means by his words to us, when He summarized the entire Jewish Law by quoting its main pillar, “ You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” The second is like it, “ you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

It is my hope that if you assess your central loves in your lives, your assessment will reflect that hierarchy of those whom you most value.

 


 June 21, 2020

12TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

(SERMON)

 

Our first reading for today reflects the spirit of our times. We hear Jeremiah uttering, “ I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror, terror on every side.”  If we look at our nation and the world, we can easily identify with such an assessment today. The covid crisis, racial discord, disruptions of our ordinary lives, China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, vast divisions in the political fabric of our nation could all make us utter Jeremiah’s words.

Jeremiah is a major prophet of the Old Testament. A prophet was not so much a foreseer of the future, although they did that at times.  Their main purpose was to be a spokesman for God about the occurrences of the present, and the words they had to speak were often corrective and not well received. Hence, when God selected Jeremiah, he tried to talk his way out of such a summons. “ I am too young,” he said, hoping that the Lord would choose someone else for such a role. Jeremiah’s reluctance to serve as a prophet was quite well founded. The prophets selected to be mouthpieces for God’s messages often did not fare out well. Jeremiah, for instance, was eventually so hated that his hearers tried to kill him. As the Jewish people of his time faced a superior enemy, the message that the Lord gave Jeremiah to deliver was, “ Do not fight them; surrender to them.” Such a message was not at all popular with the populace who mistakenly believed that they could overcome the enemy. Often Jeremiah was dismissed, ridiculed, hated because of his messages; messages which he would not rather not have to deliver, but felt compelled to do so in his role as a prophet.  In spite of his reluctance to ever be a prophet, Jeremiah was faithful to his calling until his death. We hear that perseverance and hope in the midst of his troubles reflected in some of the words of our first reading, “ But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion; my persecutors will stumble, they  will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame.” 

This weekend we celebrate Father’s Day. A good father sometimes has to share in a prophetic role. Part of being a good father is to correct his children when he sees them erring in the ways of life. When children are small, it is an easier task to do so. When they are adolescents or young adults it is a much more formidable task. Not a pleasant one! Yet it is part of being a father. Fathers do not like to be in conflict with their children anymore than Jeremiah enjoyed being in conflict with his nation.  Whether we are a father or not, there are times in which we all will have to fulfill a prophetic role. Like Jeremiah we may not always be accepting of that role. When we were baptized, we shared in three roles which are part of Christ’s identity; the three roles are priest, prophet, and king. I will not go into the roles of priest or king at this time, but the role of prophet means that we have the responsibility of openly living the Christian life so that each of us is a witness to the truth of Christ by the very ways we live our lives. It also means that at times we will have try to admonish a friend, relative, or person if we find they are going off track. This is a difficult aspect of our calling. It the aspect of being a prophet which Jeremiah hated the most. If we have to speak a message of warning, admonishment or correction to another, we should not scream at a person who is under our influence if we find them going the wrong way; that approach will do little good,  but instead we should look for an educatable moment when perhaps we can speak to them and gently do our best to steer them in the right direction. The difficulty of being such a prophet is t    hat our culture lives by the adage that anything goes and no one should tell “me how to live my life.” So if we are to be a prophet to someone, we have to be very clever and diplomatic as to how this is done.

There is a cost to being a prophet as Jeremiah knew. While he was reluctant to be a prophet, he was willing to pay the price of his calling even though it cost him. Our Lord reminds us in the gospel that if we are living in the right way, we should let it be seen. And if we need to stand up for what is right,  we should have the courage to speak in the light and proclaim on the housetops. If we do so, there may well be negative criticisms of us.  If that ensues the Lord reminds us: :” Fear no one!”“ Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both should and body in Gehenna.  We usually will not be killed for living in the right way, but we may well have to face at times the rancor, anger, irritation of those who do not like the way we live or our role as a prophet among them. We have to be willing as Jeremiah was to pay the price to be a spokesman for right teaching or right living. If we do such,  we will be fulfilling the role of a prophet which at times is incumbent upon all of us who follow the supreme prophet, Jesus Christ.


 June 14, 2020

(FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI)

(SERMON)

 

       The Feast of Corpus Christi was begun though the inspiration of a woman,  St.Juliana of Liege who lived in the 12 hundreds. This woman wanted a special devotion to celebrate the Catholic Belief that Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist and that this special sacrament which He left us should be honored and recognized as such. The Eucharist contains the silent presence of the Lord. God is indeed present everywhere, but the Eucharist is a unique and special conveyance of the presence of the Lord . These are the things which Juliana wanted emphasized.   Also, in the 12 hundreds a theological giant, St. Thomas Aquinas, took this movement a  step forward; he used his influence to introduce a religious Feast day into the calendar of the Church which would celebrate the Lord’s sacramental presence in the Eucharist. He was prompted to do this because of a miracle associated with the Eucharist which Aquinas was convinced was authentic. “

 Corpus Christi” means the Body of Christ. They are the words which are announced and proclaimed to you when you are the recipient of Holy Communion. The proclamation, “ The Body of Christ, “ is an announcement to each recipient that the Holy Eucharist is indeed the crucified and resurrected Lord himself coming in a silent but very real way to each recipient. Each recipient affirms such an announcement when they utter the Hebrew word, “Amen ‘’ which means, “ I believe that this is so.” I certainly hope that when you say your “ Amen “ it is truly meant in the recesses of your being. St. Paul is very emphatic when he reminds us in 1st Corinthians of the seriousness that we should have as we approach the altar to receive the Holy Eucharist and say our “Amen”. He says, :                   “ Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks the cup without discerning the body eats and drinks a judgement upon himself.” That is food for thought each time we come forth to receive the Holy Eucharist.

 There is a frightening statistic which has emerged recently from a Pew Survey which says that 70 percent of Catholics do not believe that the Holy Eucharist is the crucified and resurrected Lord, body and blood, soul and divinity.  If true, what a departure from consistent Catholic teaching. One can go to any one of many Christian denominations and find a similar belief that apparently is held by the 70% in the survey.  That is one of the reasons why we do not have intercommunion, because many Christian denominations do not believe in the doctrine of the real presence. A belief about what a thing is, especially such a sacred sacrament, cannot be left to arbitrary opinions about what it is that the recipient is receiving. In the Catholic tradition we believe that the Eucharist has an objective meaning which should be believed by the recipient.

The Catholic Church in its teaching has always taught the very real presence of the crucified, sacrificed, resurrected Lord is present in the Holy Eucharist. We can go back to any century and we will find this to be a consistent belief of our Faith.  For instance, St. Ignatius of Antioch was a first century bishop who knew the Apostle John and is said to have perhaps been ordained a bishop by St. Peter. He died about 106 as a martyr. As a bishop he was combatting the Docetist heresy which among other things denied the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Listen to what he says in criticism of the Docetists “ They abstain from Eucharist and prayer because they refuse to acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father by his goodness raised up. “

About the year one fifty another Father of the Church, Justin wrote about the Eucharist a number of things. Here is one of them. “ And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things which we teach are true, and has received the washing that is for the remission of sins and for rebirth, and who so lives as Christ has handed down. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior having been incarnate by God’s logos took both flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food eucharistized through the word of prayer that is from Him, for which our blood and flesh are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who became incarnate. For the Apostles in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, thus handed down what was commanded them: that Jesus took bread and having given thanks, said:” Do this for my memorial, this is my body”’ and likewise He took the chalice and having given thanks said:  “This is my blood’” and gave it to them alone.

 I could go on and quote other Fathers of the Church about this teaching, but time will not permit. The gospels as well as the writings of St. Paul and the writings of the Church Fathers all show that from the very beginnings and throughout our history, there was a consistent belief that when we receive holy communion we are encountering the very real Lord, embodied, sacrificed, crucified, and resurrected who is human and divine and comes to us in the form of food….nourishment.

Our first reading takes us to Old Testament times. The Jewish people had been on an arduous journey from Egypt, where they were slaves, to the promised land where they would be free. It was a journey that lasted forty years. It was a journey through harsh lands, desert lands. Food and water were scarce, but God provided both, especially when were most needed. At times, he provided water, many times he provided a substance, perhaps a desert growth of some kind,  which looked like bread; they called  it manna. Manna was food for the journey which sustained them until they reached the Promised Land. When they reached the Promised Land,  they never ate nor needed the manna again.

We too are on an arduous journey. The journey of this life in which there are many sufferings, difficulties, hardships, puzzles we would like explained. The Lord has given us food for the journey. His sacramental very real presence in the Eucharist is given to us to hold-us-over until we reach our intended destiny, the heaven He wishes us to enter. Then, we will not need to eat the special food he has given us for our earthly journey. We will encounter God directly.

 The Lord is with us all the time, but He is with us in a special way when we hear the words proclaimed, “ The Body of Christ. “ May our “Amen” affirm our belief that He is truly present to us when we receive Him.


 

 June 07, 2020

(TRINITY SUNDAY)

(SERMON)

 

I remember my mom and dad teaching us as children how to make the sign of the cross reverently as it was a sign of our Catholic identity. It is a simple gesture with deep spiritual meaning. “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” We begin every prayer and every Mass with the sign of the cross. We bless ourselves as we enter and leave church. We sign it on the forehead of those being baptized and confirmed. It is a constant reminder of the three persons in the Holy Trinity who are God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The best place to start when trying to understand what the church teaches is to reference the Catechism of the Catholic Church. So, what does the Catechism say about the Trinity?

It says, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself revealed through each of these persons. God the Father as creator, Jesus, His son the word made flesh incarnate of the Virgin Mary and the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in the name of the Son and by the Son from the Father revealing that with them the Spirit is one and the same God. All one before the foundation of the world.”

I think one of the best ways to describe this mystery is the word “revelation”. If we look at the introduction of each person in the Holy Trinity to man, it shows God’s progressive revealing of Himself in a way that we can understand. It was gradual because man does not have the ability to fathom the greatness and power of God and the depth of His love.

As parents we teach our children progressively. It takes a long time to build a foundation of understanding so that the dots can start to be connected by the child. Kids do not come out walking and talking and cleaning up after themselves. It is a slow gentle loving process that requires great patience, constant forgiveness, and always great mercy to lift them up when life knocks them down. This is the parent’s role no matter the age of the child. Even when our children become adults, we still feel that desire to help and many times against our better judgement. God’s revelation to us was like that. He showed us gradually what we were capable of understanding and displayed patience and love when we had fallen. All through the Old Testament we see God making himself and His law known to Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. It was not God’s full revelation, but the progression of learning was beginning.

When God the Son was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, He was revealing a greater understanding of His person as well as His plan for the salvation of man. No better way to teach mankind than to take its form and guide them through the revelations revealed to them in the Old Testament. Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise and set a path for each of us to follow and emulate. He suffered and took on the sins of the world, so death would no longer have a hold on us. He emptied himself of His divinity to share in our humanity, so one day we would have a share of His divinity. God’s revelation is a discovery of truth and why the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity was to be our advocate on earth and guide us on our journey with extraordinary gifts that would provide clarity.

We see the Holy Trinity present in each of the sacraments left by Christ for His church. This is why they are considered Holy Sacraments and are not meant to be entered into lightly. In Baptism we utilize the Trinitarian format as we baptize a child in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Through Christ’s Pascal Mystery the child dies to sin and is born into new life with the risen Lord. In the sacrament of Holy Eucharist, we share the meal and sacrifice made by Christ through His suffering and death on the cross and celebrate His defeat of death through His resurrection. In the sacrament of Penance God’s mercy and forgiveness reconciles the sinner with God and his church. In Confirmation, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate gives us wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, piety and holy fear. The Sacrament of Holy Orders is the sacrament of Apostolic Ministry by which the mission entrusted by Christ to his Apostles continues to be exercised in the Church through the laying on of hands and confers a sacramental character on the soul of a deacon, priest and bishop. The final sacrament that most will receive is the anointing of the sick through prayer and the anointing with the oil of the sick they are given a special grace of healing and comfort and the forgiveness of sins. So, like the Trinity, we are progressively uncovering a greater understanding and comprehension of God’s love through the very sacraments Christ left us. The Holy Spirit is our guide and helper and the Father and Son’s Advocate sent to be with us until the end of time.

John 3:16 is one of he most widely recognized gospel passages. It tells of God’s great love for the world through the sending of his only son into our world. Christ did not come to condemn the world but instead provide an opportunity for eternal salvation. There is a critical message in this passage that we must all understand. St John tells us “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned.” The key word here is believe! When we believe in something, we trust it to be true. But if we say we believe and yet take a different path we are in fact non-believers and have condemned ourselves. Now more than ever we must represent the way truth and life to a darkened world. To do this we must live out our faith visibility for the world to see. We must show love and kindness even to our enemies. Our journey is not an easy one and many obstacles will be in our path. We must believe and trust in Jesus with all our heart. May God be with you.


 

 

 

 

                                                               

 

                                   

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