Reflections

28th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME — REFLECTION

.Just a few notes on each reading:

Isaiah 25:6-10a
This prophesy announces what the Lord has planned for the faithful of Israel. It is that which the King has prepared in the Gospel. It is His feast as He has planned it for the faithful. In this final time, “on this mountain…” death will be swallowed up and the faithful will party like never before. This is what the Lord has planned for those who remain faith. In the Gospel, Jesus points what will come of those who do not remain faithful.

Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
This can be read in two ways — concerning human situations and concerning spiritual situations.
When we read it from a human, worldly perspective, the message from St. Paul can be speaking about food, clothing, financial security, power and position, and more. It almost reads as if a politician running for office wrote it as he thanked the Church in Philippi for contributing to his cause. In reality, he is thanking the Philippians for the sharing which supported his physical needs and those of others.

St. Paul persecuted the early Christian Church. He was well-off and went about with the support of the Jewish leaders of the time. He was on a high, we would say. Spiritually, he thought he was protecting God’s people, the house of Israel, and the faith they had as God’s chosen people. He had an obligation to do this.

But then there was a bolt of lightning — a flash of light that blinded him — which threw him for a loop, turning his life upside down. Jesus does this. That flash of light did more than blind him. It awakened him to the fullness of everything he knew from his people’s history. He thought he was well educated, but in reality he forgot to connect all the dots pointing to Jesus as the Messiah and the fulfillment narratives of the prophets from years ago.

Suddenly he was in need of assistance, humbled and poor, needing the support of others — beginning with Ananias who brought healing and then restored sight — physically and spiritually. Yes, he knew what it was like to live with abundance and to live in humble circumstances. During all of this, his wealth of the traditions of the Jewish faith was rich indeed. Yet it left him hungry once he met the Lord.

We have to examine our lives — humanly and spiritually. And we need to examine our attitudes concerning the needs of others. The Church in Philippi responded to Paul’s needs without being asked. Paul, in turn, rejoiced that his physical needs would be met, but also rejoiced because what he taught was being lived by the Philippians. The Gospel was heard.

The banquet will be shared by those who shared, not necessarily those living in abundance in the world, but for sure with those who recognized the true need and responded.

Matthew 22:1-14
We’ve all been invited to the banquet. We’re invited everyday to the table of grace. Our response to the Lord will be like those who responded to the invitation, those who ignored the invitation, those who persecuted those who served the King, those who knew and adhered to the banquet expectations, and those who thought they could slide in without proper preparation.

Those who refused to come can be seen as those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and King.
Those who tortured and killed can be seen as those who, tired of fulfilling God’s way, chose to eliminate His will from their lives. This is done by “believers” who want the Gospel written to fit their needs, who think they are exempt from what is required to live in the kingdom, making up their own rules for this life.
Those who came to the banquet had to rejoice, knowing that even though they were not perfect, they found what was necessary to be decked out in a wedding garment — except one.

This one man is like so many who say they are believers but ignore God and think they can write their own rules, wanting the banquet but not ready to conform to what is expected — not wanting to wear the wedding banquet where the groom (Christ) becomes one with the bride (the Church).. We know these people. They say one thing and then do something else. They want to live in an abundance in all aspects of life — as they deem life should be lived for their purposes..

The banquet is the eternal banquet shared even now. Without judging, we can readily see many who are not properly prepared to share the meal. They are outside the church and inside the church. They’ve ignored God’s call and invitation and remained outside, and they have thought themselves above the Lord’s expectations — and grace given at Baptism — and self-deemed themselves worthy.

But happy are those who, despite their failings, have been washed clean, robed in glory and ready to share in the great feast.

There’s an awful lot here to consider and reflect upon.

 

27th Sunday Reflection

No one will escape the chastisement, the purging; not priests nor lay men or women, religious or vowed.

Remember these words.

Today we have yet another “Vineyard Parable”. Jesus used the image of a vineyard often since it was what the people could relate to. They knew what it took — the amount of work and effort needed — to produce a rich harvest. Matthew’s design of the Gospel is done deliberately as the “Vineyard Parables” (Mt 20:1-16; 21:28-33; 21:33-43) are placed toward the end of the Gospel as Jesus is preparing His disciples for their taking greater responsibility of the Kingdom of God, knowing His own departure from the world was nearing. This is a responsibility that has been past on from the Apostles and disciples to us today.

The vineyard is God’s. Now we, having been made one in the Lord through His own giving over of life — His suffering and death, have become coheirs with Him to all that is the Father’s — the fullness not to be attained in this life but in the life to come. That’s great. We all love to be remembered in an inheritance. It says that we are in some way special or that we did something of value in another’s person’s life. So our baptism, freely given by our Lord, makes us coheirs of the Kingdom, not because we have done something deserving of it, but our of pure love.

In our human situation we all know that with an inheritance, there also comes a tax from the government, that nothing is totally free. In our spiritual life, the inheritance received comes freely, but with an addendum — it can also be lost, as if we forgot to do our part to cash in on it. Inheritance from our Lord brings a share in His life and in the kingdom — something we are to live, not squirrel away. It is also our entering into the very life of our God, ergo, the giving, the humbling of self for the sake of an eternal sharing in the kingdom and the making known of that kingdom now in our lives and in the lives of others. We have a responsibility to work the vineyard — to till the soil, to produce a rich harvest worthy of God’s love — as Jesus did.

When growing up we had a small grape arbor, big enough to provide grapes for the making of jelly that would feed seven of us and Grandma until the following year (although Grandma had her own cannery, making plum, elderberry, peach and a variety of other jams or jellies). We were neophytes, knowing little of what was needed to produce a bountiful supply. We did enough to get us through the year to come. We would have failed if we were in the wine-making business. If someone else had owned the vineyard he/she would not have received much in return. It probably would have been taken from us.

If we jump for just a minute to the Gospel of John, chapter 15, We recall that Jesus said He was the vine and we are the branches. The branches — you and I — are called to remain in the Lord and allow the Lord to remain in us. That means us taking in all that is of Jesus Christ — the producing of the fruit of faith that will nourish others. It is not good enough to be “attached to the Lord”. Producing big shiny leaves without fruit means nothing. You can’t sustain life on grape leaves! Fruit is what it is all about. Forget the glam! If we are using the grace which comes from the vine to make ourselves look good and not to feed others with the life of Christ, we are nothing and our actions are useless.

The same is true of the one — you and I — given a portion of the vineyard to make known to others the kingdom of God. If it is majestically seen from the outside, but rotten and empty on the inside, centered only on self — glam without substance, then we will find ourselves standing on the outside with our inheritance being given to others. And we’ll have no one to blame except ourselves as we have made the choice. Inheritance comes with responsibility. The fruit we will produce will be that which is going to spiritually feed others with the life of Christ. It is our choice — get down and get dirty and build the kingdom, or remain above the sweat and struggle and produce an empty, hollow vineyard, wild, untamed and unproductive.

The workers in the vineyard, the kingdom, work with gladness beyond measure, knowing they are fulfilling the mission and purpose of Christ coming as man — who got down and dirty! This is done knowing well that the truth of the Gospel will bring with it hardship and rejection. We can also remember the words of Jesus — “Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.” (see Mt 5:10-13) This should be our attitude even when chastised by others. Better this than the chastisement that can cause separation from the love of God due to our separation from the humbling life of our Lord and God.

My sisters and brothers, too many have walked away from the living of faith and a relationship with our Lord for lack of understanding of the purpose of our call as disciples, and of the Church in 2020. Too many have not learned forgiveness that comes to us free of charge through Christ, and thereby have not learned how to forgive in a very human Church. Too many simply want the glam and all that is associated with it, and miss the essence of their worthiness founded in their own working in the vineyard, of using their baptismal graces in a worthy way of life leading to an eternal inheritance.

The priest or deacon who fails to call people to their responsibility in building the kingdom, in producing a rich harvest, fails in his own responsibility of living the grace received at his ordination. The lay man or woman fails in living his or her baptismal grace in the call to be priest, prophet and king in oneness with Jesus Christ — an everlasting inheritance whether accepted or rejected. Each will be held accountable according to their work in the vineyard, in nurturing an abundant harvest of believers. We remember Jesus claiming for Himself, “I am the salt of the world…I am the light of the world” — and then later saying “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” We sometimes forget that He has given us His life to live and to awaken others in faith. He displayed what it would take as He reached out to the prostitute and the tax collector, the Pharisee and the leper, the Jew and Gentile. No one can be a foreigner to us.

Restricting our ministry to those we know doesn’t cut it. The vineyard is bigger than that. Our ministry must be to all in the vineyard so that the fruit of true faith may also be lived by them. It must speak the truth of the Gospel — of love of God, who got down and dirty for us in Jesus Christ, the giving of Himself for our sake. Nothing less can be expected of the one who also wants a share in the inheritance won for us through Christ. We better begin to see ourselves more than just human beings. Only then will we see others with a greater dignity no matter the status of their lives. We will want to evangelize others with the truth of the Gospel, not our preferences.

The sacredness of our lives is in the offering of our lives in oneness with Christ’s offering of His life — of becoming Eucharist to the world, feeding others with the very life of our Lord. It means accepting what God has done and does for us. Choosing not to call others to God’s love, of being satisfied in not being sources of hope for others, or relying on our past religious experiences can only lead to a lack of the fullness of the inheritance planned for us by God. God is not being harsh here. He is inviting us into a fuller life with Himself. He is also allowing our free will to dictate our future. If we only want the glam, if we are satisfied with living our faith in our own little world, if we’re not ready to be salt and light for the world, we’ll never experience the fullness of the Gospel of truth and the love of God, nor find the fullness of the person we are to be.

Love and prayers,

Fr. Tom

26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME REFLECTION

 Many a time growing up my brothers and I would be told to go out and work with dad in the yard (which happened to be three acres). Many a time we’d drag our feet until we heard a more stern voice when patience had run short. Dad was more like God the Father who just went about doing what he had planned to do. Mom was more like Jesus who sometimes had to be more forceful when instructing His disciples. We learned  through the years that our actions had consequences, as “special treats” weren’t received when work wasn’t reflective of what was expected. By our teen years we knew what to do, and in some cases looked forward to it. We were being taught as we joined in the work, had learned so much, and had become proud of what we could do without being told and without dad needing to be around (although it made mom nervous as we’d go about climbing a ladder two stories up to install a new roof while dad was at work).

 How much have we, individually, lived the reading from the prophet Ezekiel (18:25-28) and the Gospel from Matthew (21:28-32)? In one or more ways we’ve each lived as one who needed a change of heart and of living. Once my brothers and I realized how much we’d been taught and had grown in our abilities, we saw the light — not just “doing” as expected in obedience, not doing for a reward, but taking on the heart of our parents, growing as a family. Yes parents, if you work it right good things can happen. Our parents were always just in their decisions but held us responsible for the decisions we made.

 As a hospital chaplain, I meet many people who state they are “Catholic” but haven’t lived their faith in a very long time. The sad reality is that they are quite comfortable with their situation. Their reasons are many, although as you and I know, invalid. As believers we profess to be members of “the family,” the  Body of Christ. Are we much different at times than those I meet when they are flat on their back in a hospital bed and at the mercy of medical teams? They do expect God to make them well and can be upset with God for “allowing them” to get sick. The passages from Ezekiel or Matthew provide the reader with a clear examination of our relationship with the Father as they display what an egotistical behavior and attitude can create.

 We often expect things from God but don’t necessarily want to do anything for what we want — and in some cases are not aware of what we really need. We may even think He is being unfair to us when we offer feeble efforts and not enter into the living of our faith with a heart as open as is His (living in the vineyard). The two sons were both in need of a lesson in “oneness” with their father. Both displayed concern for themselves. The heart wasn’t there in either one. Did the second son who did go to the vineyard do so out of love, or guilt, or a sense of pleasing the father? If the latter two were reasons, there wasn’t much more learned than what the first son learned — nothing.

 And what the sons really missed was that the vineyard was going to be theirs once they took on the father’s life and shared in a loving relationship. When we realize that we have been called into the vineyard, how do we enter it, remembering that the vineyard is wherever we are, in every moment? What is our response to what the Lord asks of us? Do we consider it a just expectation, go about it grudgingly, or ignore it, hoping it will just go away.

 I’ve learned not to ask some people if they could help in doing one thing or another. The standard answer from these people is “I need to check my calendar.” When I hear that anymore, I know what the answer will be — if I even get an answer. And later on they’ll act as if the conversation never happened. Fulfillment in the vineyard for these people is seen in what they want to do or if they are going to come out of it with some bonus points — how’s it going to enhance their life.

 Faith and life has to be as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians (2:1-11): Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus…” It’s difficult as Jesus’ attitude was fulfilling the will of the Father — in love — not in simple obedience, or doing so grudgingly, or living with an expectation. “He emptied himself…humbled himself…” These are the key elements for obedience becoming a relationship with the Father, which is what Jesus was all about.  A priest acts in obedience to the bishop in accepting an assignment, even an unwanted one. It can be done as an act of love for the people or done grudgingly. If the latter, it will be seen by the people; his ministry will be as cold as his heart; and he will never come to the ability to proclaim the Gospel properly to those in need. People in ministry in the Church can act the same way, very often wanting it on their terms, failing to see how the need extends beyond themselves. They forget that the vineyard has no boundaries!

 Jesus addresses two classes of people — those who profess faith but fail to live it (chief priests and elders in this parable), and those who profess having nothing to do with God and the Church, but live it (the sinners and tax collectors here). Both fail in one way or another. We all know those who do pietistic actions as did the Jewish leaders, but fail in extending themselves when asked to live the second of the two great commandments, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We all know those who have rejected God, His grace, and the Church with all its human frailties, those failing to live and understand the first of the great commandments, “Love your God with all your heart, soul and mind,” but live in a way the second great commandment. I say they lived it “in a way” as it is usually done with a human perspective, a sense of “joining the group” when it could have been a bonding with our Lord in a unique way. Jesus is saying that neither son lived in love. Both faltered in their oneness with the Father; failed in complete love as words and actions created voids.

 During this pandemic words and actions have faltered and failed. Relationships with God, for far too many, shut down with the restaurants and bars. Prayer stopped when churches were no longer opened. (Blessed are those who regularly found Mass via live-streaming or Google or some other way.) This shut down revealed where many hearts and lives were at — so many relating to God only as a requirement and other pietistic rituals which fell out of practice. The others who went about doing good because society was being kind and generous did so from a human perspective rather than a divine loving as the Church has lived for centuries, springing from the root of all good — the love of God. It continues today. People freely speak of going to the store, going out to eat, going on vacation, hitting the liquor store so the pain can be eased, wanting to attend sporting events with mass crowds and yet failing to tend to that which is most important — a relationship with God, at Mass, in prayer, and with a change of attitude, heart and mind. These attitudes are ours to change, for ourselves and for others.

 As I said above, obedience can be an expected response or can be an act of love, fueled by humility and the humbling of self. As St. Vincent de Paul said, “Charity (love) is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity.” Let us love — in all things — so as not to be trapped in a false fulfillment of our thinking of what should be and what should take place. Rather, let us love because it fulfills all else, all life, and binds us with the Father, the source of all love, our ultimate goal. In love, we will call others to conversion of heart and mind — not living an expectation but acting out of love — and, with enough witness, will encourage others to seek a greater relationship with our Lord — reaping a great harvest in the vineyard.

 Love and prayers,

Fr. Tom Galvin

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Reflection

 “Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ,” (Phil 1:27a) says St. Paul.

 Paul may as well have repeated the words we hear through the Prophet Isaiah:  Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near” (Is 55:6), since our conduct — in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ — is to seek our Lord each day, forgetting about our own desires, plans and dreams — other than desiring an eternal oneness with the Lord.  Now this, as we know, does not call us to forget about our daily needs. It’s just a reminder of our need to trust in the Lord’s providential care and to examine what our daily needs really are.

 One of the hardest parts of this current assignment is that of being scheduled for 7:00AM Mass. I am not a morning person to begin with. What is worse, approximately 20 people attend this Mass and choose to scatter themselves throughout the church, with very few positioned in front of the altar. They social distanced before COVID (as happened/happens in many parishes at weekday Masses) and do so even more now. There’s little connection with the majority of the people. So I sometimes have to check my attitude to avoid thinking I am an actor on a stage rather than part of a faith community engaging and supporting. These are times when I really need to seek our Lord for sustenance since their responses, quiet before COVID, are even more muffled now with masks — except at the end of Mass when they pray the prayer to St. Michael, said louder than any “Amen.” As it is with St. Paul, in this circumstance, I’d choose death if I had the option. But I submit to the will of the Father, praying that it is fruitful labor in some way.

 It would be easy if I simply said “I’m the Chaplain and my job description doesn’t include weekday Masses,” which I righty could do. But what would that prove? Would it benefit the other priests of the parish? Better yet, what would it be as a benefit for me spiritually since my job description as priest supersedes my pastoral assignment? I have to ask if I’m seeking the Lord or an easier out from having to put in longer days than I may want. The same is true of each of us since living our faith should be far more than a concern for the self, and instead lived more for Christ — the living of our personhood in Christ supersedes our worldly wants as St. Paul would say.  In the vineyard we carry with us a mentality that it is not about us, but all about our Lord and our oneness with Him.

 What are those times in life when we need to seek the Lord above all else? Are they when we need to shut up, that is, grin-and- bear-it when actions or words of others leave emptiness within ourselves? Or are they times when we need to open our mouths and speak of the goodness of God to those far from His presence? In every moment we need to seek the Lord! But that’s not always easy simply because we are human and our humanness often causes us to look for immediate gratification. In the situations above, with no one else in the sacristy after Mass, I can thank our Lord for His presence and Spirit that kept me focused and that joined me with His giving. And then I can go for that needed second cup of coffee.

 Reality Check: Working in the vineyard is full-time! If we accept God’s invitation into His vineyard, a full day’s work is expected. For those we bring to the vineyard, they also need to recognize that it is a life-long experience of seeking our Lord, growing and living in and for the Lord — 24/7/365. I can imagine the disgruntled workers in the Gospel planning their future — to do part-time employment expecting full benefits, choosing to make themselves available for our Lord’s work “later in the day” rather than early on. Grace doesn’t flow with that mentality! Grace flows greater, with more abundance in inconvenience, when we have to make a choice of being disgruntled or in turning to our Lord for sustaining grace and a greater awareness of our lives rooted in the kingdom of God, joined to the work and ministry of Jesus Christ.

 Our God knows — and provides ahead of time — all that we need to be aware of His presence and to seek Him more fully in what is done, in all that comes to us each day — even at 7:00AM. That’s why all the workers in the Gospel were all paid the same — the fullness of our Lord. There’s no more to give. We just need to see how God’s grace is meant for us individually as we go minute-by-minute through the day. Our human tendency will have us upset when we don’t get from God what we expect as we ask in prayer or from our thinking we are faithful members of the Body of Christ. You see, this too requires a giving over of the false self, ambitions and expectations placed on self by ourselves and others. Are our thoughts moving us into living the life God wants for us or are we content in thinking we’ve done enough and God will be pleased?

 Our Lord says through Isaiah, For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.” (55:8) With openness of mind and heart, our living in grace changes as our thoughts and actions respond to life situations with the greater awareness of God’s compassion, kindness, forgiveness and empathy. We become joyful as were those who only worked one hour and received a full day’s wage. How happy and grateful they had to be. Our God is gracing, gifting us not just for what we’ve done — but for who we are. And there is no amount of giving that we can do to repay His generosity — except by taking the true value of self that He gives and using it to lift up others — living the thoughts of our Lord as if they were our own. We should gladly get out of our old ways, our former thinking, and relish a call to enter more deeply into His sharing of life.

 The mindset which St. Paul wishes to get across to the believer is that of seeing our call to ministry, beginning with minds and hearts open to the invitation to work in the vineyard. That work requires prayer, a study of our environments and the gaining of understanding of our world and those in our lives, and then moving us to provide an invitation to others to enter into a deeper relationship with God, understanding His compassion, mercy and love always being offered. Those in Cursillo have been taught this. It is ours to have in thought and mind that Christ is counting on you!

 Knowing the thoughts of or Lord will require that our lives are strengthened in prayer — prayer that opens our words and actions to those of our Lord for the sake of others. It will also require a stepping out of self, of telling our own story, of witnessing of how we have experienced the generosity of God that has come to us — just as those workers who received a full day’s wage for an hour of work. It does not mean that we can back off from what we are called to be about as members of the Body of Christ. Isaiah warns of this as people of his time were lackadaisical concerning the living of their faith — a faith based on the love God has for each person.

 No, we are called to enter each day with gratitude that we have an opportunity to conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ — offering and calling others to His life full of compassion and concern. So if we’ve been lax in our spending time with our Lord during these days of pandemic; if we’ve found ourselves allowing the influences of the world to weigh us down; if we’ve minimized faith as a fulfillment of laws and not of their fulfillment in love, we can give over our thoughts and know that the Lord’s call into His vineyard still remains for us. Out Lord’s words ring clear for us: “the harvest is plenty but the laborers are few.” (Mt 9:37) There is a rich harvest we are called to participate in, each according to the abilities He has given us as we open ourselves to His grace — even at 7:00AM in the morning.

 Love and prayers,

Fr. Tom

24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME REFLECTION
So you’ve heard this Gospel (Mt 18:21-35) many times and understand it? You could write this reflection? We all think this way at times. But we need to dig deeper, looking also at the reading from Sirach (27:30-28:7) and that from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (14:7-9).
 
From the Gospel we receive the teaching that we must forgive as God forgives if we too are to be forgiven of our sins. It is a similar message found in the Book of Sirach. But St. Paul takes our forgiveness to another level simply because he calls us to find in our personhood a greater awareness of “self”. “For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s”. He has claimed us and taken us into Himself! In Cursillo, we speak of having human “ideals” and then move to understand how our lives are to live in the divine “ideal” in our oneness with the fullness of God, Father, Son and Spirit. Grace moves us into “not acting as Jesus” but “acting in Christ.”
 
To see ourselves as the Lord’s, we need to see ourselves in a way greater than as merely human beings (human ideal). We first need to think of Jesus as divine and not merely a as human speaking. He did not speak from a merely human perspective. As long as we remain thinking from a human perspective we will never be able to become one with our Lord as He so desires; we’ll continue to speak and act as those who do not know the Lord, living in ways espoused by society so often. These readings call us to not only act as God acts, but to have the mind and heart of God. That’s divine sharing as God so wills.
 
Let’s begin reflecting on when we need to forgive. So often we take another person’s words or actions as an affront to who we are, what we’re about, how we view issues, and the many disagreements which may come as a result of “differences.” So as someone speaks or acts against us, when someone will not budge from their way of thinking or acting, what are we to do? Is defense part of the human response we display? If so, then is it really grounded in the divine life shared with us? Does their actions have a negative effect or create pressure in a negative way? If so, then is it grounded in the divine life God shares with us and calls us to live?
 
You see, to forgive in the truest sense, we must live the mind and heart of God. On His part, God feels the pain from our sinfulness, but He does not change His loving approach to us, He does not ever stop loving. He always extends Himself to us, whether we are living His life or rejecting His love. He only loves even in our failures.
 
That said, to live these readings we must do what God does — love without restitution being sought from the offender, without forgiveness being asked for, without amendment and contrition being expected. We can only do as God does — be present for the other in love. That is difficult as it means rejecting all that may be considered “normal” in a human society. But that’s what our Lord did on the cross and does for us each and every day. Our “human ideal” is moved aside in favor of the “divine ideal” we’re called to be in the world — a revelation of God in the here-and-now.
 
My Spiritual Director in the seminary said to me, “Tom when you’re sitting in the confessional, on the other side of the screen, you are Christ and your thinking must become His. You’ll learn quickly that what you say will come from our Lord. You must live with His heart.” Each of us in everyday life must act in the exact same way — a manner which is counter-cultural to society’s thinking today where few people are wanting the spiritual ideal as their way of life. We must live a divine sharing that only comes about when we see our union with Father and Son happening through the gifting, living of their Holy Spirit.
 
“If we live, we live for the Lord…” is not an invitation. It is an expectation. Yes, we’re going to get upset, mad, angry over the words, actions, and beliefs of many people. But we can’t live their lives. Nor can we allow their lives to affect our living the Gospel of love or hinder our union with God. In these moments we are offered the opportunity to “…die for the Lord.” When we die to self, we die for the Lord and we are renewed in Christ, fulfilling our true call as members of  the Body of Christ — not symbolically, but in all divine reality.
 
As Sirach reminds us today, anger, wrath, and vengeance are going to enter our lives, the effects of being human — even from a personal perspective. But we’re also told “…remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.” This is God’s way of dealing with us — overlooking the times our “ideal” is a human display of frailty instead of divine gifting. It is the desire of God to move us into divine gifting meant to lift humanity to a higher plain, a greater sharing, and a true oneness not just with, but in our Lord.
 
Love and prayers,
Fr. Tom

23RD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME REFLECTION

St. Augustine said, “Truth is like a lion. It does not need protected. Let it loose!”

I thought of these words as I read the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (33:7-9) The Truth is the Word of God. It doesn’t need defended or protected. It only needs spoken. Now take notice, unlike other prophetic passages, this passage doesn’t say, “Thus says to the Lord to me…” It says “You, son of man…” Few scholars speak of this title when studied in Old Testament terminology other than it was pointing to the coming of the Messiah, thereby giving witness to the Messiah’s fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation for all people. Ezekiel was in oneness with the Lord, of his own choice, pointing to the Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s plan for His people. Ezekiel also knew that it would cost him.

 Ezekiel was a prophet during the time of Babylonian exile and the destruction of Jerusalem, hardly accepted among his own people until his prophecies came to fruition. Salvation was to come to the Israelites according to God’s way, not those of humans who had failed to learn the mind and the heart of God, failed to learn the fulfillment of the great commandments (see Lev. 19:18). In his living of these prophecies Ezekiel became one with the Lord, ergo “son of man.”

 In New Testament understanding, Jesus is the “Son of man,” the one who was to bring about salvation for all people, not in a way expected by the people, but in a dramatic giving of life which would lead to resurrected life and eternal sharing of life for believers. This dramatic giving of life continues today in and through believers connected completely to Jesus Christ, who live in unison with the will of the Father, the work of our Savior, and in the grace given by the Holy Spirit. Since you and I have been baptized into the very life of Christ and allow ourselves to be animated by the life of the Holy Spirit (hopefully), it is ours, as it was Ezekiel’s, to announce God’s plan of salvation for all people.

 Oh, how difficult this is! Where the prophet was told “You, son of man, I have appointed watchman…” it should read for us “You, son of man, I have anointed watchman…” Now the watchman has a responsibility. We, baptized into the prophetic ministry of Jesus, have a greater responsibility than Ezekiel since we have been given a share of Christ’s life to make known to the world. Oh, how so very difficult this is since the world does not wish to know Truth as it is meant to be. As we well know, truth in the eyes of many in the world is solely based on an individual’s wants with little regard for others.

 I think of the many issues we’re being bombarded with — and will be for the next two months — issues which stand against the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ pronounced by the Church: 1—abortion; 2—disrespect for any human life; 3—the efforts to destroy marriage as a Sacrament as well as the dissolving of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman;

4— ignorance concerning the refugee seeking asylum from a slavery state or being killed because of the faith professed; 5—the protection of the environment and 6—the protection for proper employment for all (an issue in our own area); 7—the inequalities of racism, bigotry and prejudice; 8—the anarchy calling for the removal of proper civil authority; 9—the continued division between the poor and the excessively rich. Need I continue?

 A lack of Truth fuels these. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” (Jn 14:6) The truth in the world is that dignity of life in all its forms is being ignored in favor of individual mentalities and lifestyles, or by the propaganda of a group of people leading the way for others, and being accepted by political leaders for the sake of a vote. These are destructive mentalities pervading the minds of those seeking Truth in every society AND in the Church. Conformity to the Truth, which is given for the lifting up of all, has given way to the abandonment of laws meant for justice and the living of Truth as announced in the Gospel through Jesus Christ, the concern each person must have for another. I find this lacking in many leaders who fail to allow for the spiritual welfare of our senior citizens.

 St. Paul calls the believer — you and me — to act in accordance with the law — the commandments as given in the Mosaic Law (see Ex 20:13-17; Lv 19:18; Dt 5:17-21), and their fulfillment through Jesus Christ’s own ministry and teaching (see Mt 5:43-44; 19:18-19, 22, 39; Mk 12:31; Lk 10:27; Gal 5:14; and Jas 2:8). “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Society is flunking this test! We may well be failing as well. Why? I have come to believe that most people do not know how to properly love themselves, thereby being incapable of loving others appropriately. They fail to accept the basic Truth of God as given by Jesus Christ — “God loves you” — meaning unconditionally. This said, those things outside the person are sought if favored, and ignored if it does not bring personal satisfaction.

 “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” We don’t need laws except for two — unconditional and unqualified love of God and love of neighbor.  If we truly lived these we’d cause our world to be different as we would be different in heart, mind, word and action; we’d find ourselves in a new society based on justice and equality. Society would not be on the self-destructive path which currently exists. We are called — anointed — to change the mentality of society rather than to join it. We are anointed to affect a change in heart and mind.

 When we look at the people in the world we’re going to experience most people living with resentment, anger, frustration, hurt, low-esteem and the like, simply because they do not know how to properly love themselves, and therefore incapable of loving others completely and freely. For a person to be happy and own a sense of fulfillment, he/she needs to look inside of self rather than becoming slaves to society’s expectations. A woman once confided in me that she couldn’t live her faith as freely as she desired because she would become an outcast of the group she was friends with. I asked her which was more important. She didn’t give over her “friends” and continued to live others’ expectations for her.

 The first part of today’s Gospel (Mt 18:15-20) is all about providing dignity to an individual even in correction. When two or more are called, they are not called as judge and jury, but as witnesses to the truth. If this testimony does not change the heart of the one who has committed a wrong, that person then should be avoided, cast out of the community — almost as a cancer needs to be removed — try everything before cutting away. But truth is at the core of this teaching. If not accepted, then rejection will follow by their own choice.

 The same is true concerning prayer. Yes, many people turn to God in prayer and have others pray for their cause as well. Do they first pray “Your will be done?” Probably not as it may lead to continued suffering and pain. But that’s what Jesus did. Our alignment of our sufferings for the sake of Truth with those sufferings of Christ are redemptive if properly offered. And God is continuing His plan for our salvation.

 Brothers and sisters, Satan is at work, and it is very evident in our society today. There are those who rightly call the Church to task, but do not stop at that. Theirs is to destroy the Church and the teachings of Jesus Christ, creating truth as they wish, ignoring God’s truth completely. There are those who create God as they wish God to be allowing for any and every disrespect of life. Satan is causing a division among believers — the surest way to break the Church apart, as well as societies in the secular world. In our worldly situation, the foundation of our society is being undermined by the failure to properly love, to know and pronounce the Truth, to correct and admonish, and to have a spiritual cornerstone to support it. The truth of Jesus Christ is ignored as seen in so many families, the building blocks of any society, as well as a pick-and-choose attitude concerning the essence of our faith — the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 I said to Fr. Carmen, “These readings are not easy to preach,” knowing well that we were to be Ezekiel, ready to preach them at all costs — for our own salvation and hopefully the salvation of many who will heed the message they invoke. He agreed. Sisters and brothers, you, like he and I, must get out of ourselves, stand against Satan, and let the lion loose. We were baptized for this — given a share in Christ’s mission and life. The Truth of the Gospel, lived and spoken, will either correct or destroy according to the choice of each person. What I have spoken about above concerning society can also be found in the Body of Christ, members who live their own lives while claiming membership to the Head, when in reality it’s all about themselves.

 There is hope. If we live in the promise of Jesus Christ and live His Truth, there is a fulfillment that awaits us. God will restore His Church as He did the Israelites following the exile as He promised through Ezekiel. Those who remained faithful may have been few in number, but they were faithful. Let us be faithful. Let the lion loose in our living of faith!

 Love and prayers,

Fr. Tom

 

22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 The reading from the Prophet Jeremiah (20:7-8) simply reveals the “tug-of-war” that has existed, exists today, and will exist as long as the earth remains as we know it. It’s one between a person and God. We have our ways, our dreams. And God has His way and dream. Crazy as it is, God allows us to stack the deck in our favor, gathering as many as we want to support our cause, some in prayer and some reaffirming our humanity. Ours usually is a want to make things easy. better for us here on earth, and put all things in proper order as we see it with our human mentality. God, while He does take into consideration our needs in this life, has a much loftier goal for us to seek and to live.  His way and dream for each of us, even in our human fraility, often times causes concern in heart and mind as it may also cause pain for us — that is until we allow ourselves to experience the depth of His way and desire.

 We are very much like Jeremiah. We’ll say “Yes, Lord” before we fully recognize the commitment that the “Yes” requires. We’ll say “Yes, Lord” and then realize that it is going to cause a change in us. We’ll say “Yes, Lord” and then come to realize that some people are going to turn against us and some are going to brush us off. You see, our “Yes” is meant for our benefit as well as the benefit of others. Yup! Our “Yes” is not a solitary action. This is what Jeremiah found out and what anyone who opens completely to the Lord finds out — including all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.

 You see, we can’t go into life thinking we’re following the Lord but holding Jeremiah’s words in our own thoughts — “You duped me, O Lord, and I allowed myself to be duped.” (Jer 20:7)  Others may dupe us in everyday life when we allow ourselves to be used for their plans and benefit. God doesn’t act this way. God calls us into the acceptance of His love and life so we can share it as He does with us. No duping! No conniving! No threats! It is lived without expectation and without concern for self. That’s tough, I know. But that’s God’s way. That’s why the tugging at the heart is always real for us.

 Peter didn’t want our Lord to go through His passion and death. It was his plan for greatness to happen in a far different way. Okay Lord, can’t you just zap them like you did with the loaves and fishes, or as you did with the little girl who had died, or the young son who was tormented by a demon, or the ten lepers, or even my  mother-in-law? Peter is us — going to the Lord with the solution formed in our weak humanity. (Mt 16:21-27) Peter is tugging for what he wants. Too often we’re the same way.

 At times I get into some lively discussions with the faithful who say they believe, but can’t see God wanting to live in them and work through them, as He desired to do with the Prophet Jeremiah ( 20:7-9) Abstinence from God and from what the Lord asks of believers is their defense mechanism. If God is to prevail, the mind and heart must be opened to God’s plan for us and others — never us alone. Jeremiah knew this. He also knew the fate of a prophet. The power of God’s call and presence won out. God’s tug opened vistas that were not seen by Jeremiah.

 When St. Paul speaks about being transformed by “the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2) he is calling for an openness to the will of God, which comes first in the conversion of the heart, which in turn, brings conformity of mind as God desires. Only in this way can a person know what is good and pleasing and perfect — attributes of God — shared even in our humanness when we choose to live the words of our Lord and deny ourselves. (Mt 16:25)

 Jeremiah found the word of God that he was to speak as a “burning in the heart”, causing a weariness which he could not endure. Many people have this same experience as they feel the burning to grow in relationship with God, finding that their own ways and desires as insufficient for fulfillment, as they fight from answering the call of ministry in their vocation as Christian. I’ve lived through this time and again, from the very tug-of-war I had with God concerning my call to the priesthood, through every call during my priesthood to open, give over, and accept what was being offered. Each time I found that God had more to offer than what I thought.  I also learned what I was to do with the grace and life He gave me.

 Jeremiah went on to become a great prophet and the influence of his teachings are heard in Ezekiel’s prophecies, in the psalms and the second part of Isaiah, well after his death. Paul was to become the Apostle to the Gentiles.

 So what are we to do, my brothers and sisters, in 2020? Can we become living sacrifices of praise as St. Paul calls for? Yes, but it will require us to change our mentalities of how we see God working in our lives and calling us to work in the lives of others. The removal of fear, and the acceptance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit are needed, first and foremost. Jesus, Jeremiah and St. Paul all resigned themselves to the call of our God and were led by the Spirit in a new way of life. Ours is not to look at the end result, but each moment lived in the grace and life of God. Without this we remain lost in ourselves.

 The Church today may well be like Jerusalem of Jeremiah’s time — dispersed, scattered, overcome by outside influences. The remnant of believers may be small. There are many looking for the day of the Church to be made new. There are many wishing the Church to be what it was — not just prior to COVID, but prior to Vatican II when thinking and conversion were words not mentioned in Catholic conversations. We do not live in a “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it Church or society.” People want to make their own choices, have their own ways with the ability to act as they choose. Well, individualism has never been part of the teachings of Christ and, hence, of the Church. Therefore, the tug-of-war continues in life. Some will hold onto the rope and struggle with God and His wants for  them. Others will let go and forget about God. Others, because of our their (our own) conversion of heart displayed for all to see, will be active members of the team God has formed, knowing that the inevitable is going to happen — God always wins.

 God is not going to dupe us, that is trick us into faith. It’s clear that His way and His desire are all about us, meant for our good and the good of others– for eternity. When Jeremiah and St. Paul recognized this, their lives changed and they were free to live their ministries, taking new-found joy, freedom and fulfillment to others. The conversion of their own hearts was to be preached for the conversion of the hearts of others. The same is true for us — to those who are in a tug-of-war with God, and to those who have given up the search for God in their lives. With our own conversion, we are to encourage a conversion which reveals a joyful oneness with our Lord and God.  We call it witnessing God’s love for all people and the reason we are ready to do whatever is necessary, like Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus, to make His love known.

 Love and prayers,

Fr. Tom

 

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection
 
             The question before us: “Who do you say that I am?” Anyone with any amount of religious instruction can answer that question — even confirmation students who remain silent when asked who Jesus is by a bishop. (They were saved that this year as pastors didn’t ask questions.) 
 
However, the real question for us in 2020, is “How did you come to know Jesus?”  And please don’t become like those confirmation students (those who do answer the bishop) by saying “In CCD.” Do that and you fail the course! Even when we say “By walking with Jesus,” we fall short as it may indicate that we are content to let Jesus do His thing and not become participants in His work now given us.
 
Jesus provided the disciples and us the answer: We learn who Jesus is through the power of the Holy Spirit who reveals the truth of the Father to the heart and mind. “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” (Mt. 16:17) In this, we learn that to know the fullness of God — Father, Son and Spirit, we must live in the Spirit. The disciples had the privilege of experiencing the Spirit emanating through and from our Lord, God-made-man, living in the Divine Spirit in the flesh. It is ours today to discern the Spirit active in our lives in a variety of ways to go beyond the limitations of the flesh. To do this, we must see the Spirit of God as the will, the love, the activity of God in our lives.
 
The first way is obviously through Scripture. But we cannot interpret the Word of God with a fundamentalist perspective. It must be done when all of Scripture is considered, following the Golden Thread of God’s love for His people which is the Spirit who runs through the whole of Scripture. The Incarnation is a prime example in the New Testament. No Spirit, no ‘yes’ from Mary, no Incarnation of our Savior. The Father’s will is being revealed through it all, most understandably through Jesus our Savior. As man, Jesus is the revelation of the activity of the Holy Spirit calling us into a participation of His life, in every aspect of life and not relegated to sacramental reception since sacraments are not meant to be defined by time and place, but carry with them prolonged effects..
 
The second way is that of clearing our minds from thinking “knowing about” God is equivalent to “knowing” God. Abandoning our own limited thoughts helps us to remain open to God revealing Himself to us in His fullness. You know as I do that so often people, ourselves included, make God as we think He is or should be (as can be seen in our prayers) and fail to allow Him to reveal Himself to us in His fullness. This is what St. Paul is writing to the Romans about (11:33-36). The Spirit helps to change this mentality, as it is the Spirit that fills our minds with the various gifts we have at our disposal to experience the fullness of Father and Son. In other words, as we open ourselves to the grace of the Holy Spirit, we begin to act in unison with God rather than expecting our Lord to act in unison with us. And, we begin to experience love for God rather than fear of a God. 
 
This brings us to “knowing Jesus” as the fulfillment of the Father’s will. And if we are to be aligned in oneness with Jesus, then we need to accept the will of the Father. How great is the hesitancy in us when we reach this level! Failing to trust in the providence, the grace, offered us with the call of the Father, we become like Sheba (Is 22:19) who is removed from his position as leader for his very failure to trust and properly lead. When we were baptized we were given a share of the life of Christ as priest, prophet and king — in short, to make known God’s love and life for others as Jesus did. We are to change and affect the environments in which we live — to bring holiness alive in the hearts and minds of others. Doing this, our we grow even more in our understanding of who Jesus is. And we see Him as life rather than a history lesson.
 
Jesus is the One who fulfilled completely the will of the Father, acknowledging that His life is one in Spirit with the Father. He is one in life and love with the Father, and with the Father has sent that same Spirit for us to live. This is how we come to “Know God” as we live in Jesus, sharing in His ministry, sharing the love He has from the Father. He has taken us to the Father so that we may do as He did, and He continues to do so for our sake and the souls of others through the Spirit’s many gifts. 
 
Today, in 2020, we live in the year of the pandemic, the closing of church buildings, the removal of the commandment to attend Mass on Sunday, and the turning in on ourselves like never before. I make this last statement simply because of the misuse of social media, the promulgation of false teachings, erroneous statements, lies, and the evident effort to please self by so many who admit having fallen away from prayer and the living of faith. We live in a world that does not know the Spirit of God. How then can God, Jesus be known? At the same time, our prayer must become more and more us listening in the heart to the Spirit rather than the pronouncement of rote words while the heart is dormant. 
 
Ours is to build the Church anew, as it is intended to be, as Jesus Christ created it — alive and on fire in the Spirit, sharing the grace — the life and love of God — which opens hearts and minds to a new proclamation of Jesus in the lives of all. We must trust that the will of the Father is what is best for us and others. It may not always be easy. It may create scorn from family members, friends and coworkers. Ours is not to judge by the acceptance or rejection of others. It didn’t stop our Lord. We simply can’t allow the thoughts or opinions of others to affect us and our ministry. They probably want to make God in their own image. Many “faithful” do so unknowingly. In turn, if shared in life, they lead others from knowing and pronouncing Jesus as Lord, failing in intimacy as called by the Spirit.
 
Ours is to ask for a portion of the depths and riches, the wisdom and knowledge of God. Old Testament writings reveal Wisdom as the fullness of God. As we grow in Wisdom, we see God as He is. As we move in knowledge, we begin to see ourselves as God sees us so that our understanding is that which joins us in the work of the Spirit for others in the world. And we know well that the world needs heralds unafraid, different, to speak the truth and to invite all people to His love as He intends — our oneness with Him through our Savior Jesus Christ.
 
The Spirit, who has moved us to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior in the heart and in life, one with the Father in all things, has provided the church with the truth to be proclaimed.  Let the Spirit of God be found filling every once of our being, infusing us in Divine proclamation and Divine sharing. In it we find our answer for we have grown into living the answer.
 
Love and prayers,
Fr. Tom

20th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME — REFLECTION

              This past week when in prayer, immediately the Lord showed me a bright light as if a golden sunrise filling the whole of the horizon. These words came to me also. “I am going to light the way to a new beginning.” “I am here to warm hearts that are distant from me.” “I am sending My Spirit to provide insight for many.” The light moved over me and then behind me. It came from the east and moved to the west until all was again dark. It never remained stagnant. “This message is meant for all people, from east to west, from every background and every history.”

 We’re told in John’s Gospel. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jn 8:12) While this was said in another time far removed from today, the message given then remains applicable for the world today. Society really hasn’t changed. The busyness of everyday life, the misdirection by some of authorities, the weaknesses of faith found in so many are all present to us today for numerous reasons.

 Yes, we have the coronavirus, a disease unlike anything experienced in a hundred years. But we also have a fragile world with social distancing for health reasons, but which is also found in a terribly opposite manner in the social distancing found between the “haves” and “have-nots,” the disparity of class in every culture, in our country and every nation throughout the world. We have racial injustice that darkens the landscape of society, and at the same time we share life with many found in the darkness of self-gratification, rejecting any concern for others or the full dignity of self.

 The word of the Lord given to Isaiah, “Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed.” (56:1), should be carefully heeded in our own hearing because, as we later hear in this passage, “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord (v. 6)…them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer…” (v. 7). It is a reminder to us that some who think they are among the chosen may not be, and some we may think are not chosen may well be. So how do we address this issue?

   We need to move as Jesus does in the Gospel (Mt 15:21-28), and as St. Paul does once he accepted his call — both met the faith of Gentiles and moved them to the goodness, the salvation being offered by God without distinction while recognizing the polarized faith of “the chosen ones”. In our time many are lax concerning the living of their faith; many are being called away by the untruths professed by an atheistic culture. The Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus in faith, and the many Gentiles Paul has encountered in Rome and elsewhere, have come to belief in Jesus Christ, have accepted the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and have opened their lives to the grace of God. They have come to know that the life of God is meant for all people. That God is a God of love. The exclusivity thought as a safety net by the “chosen ones” no longer carried any merit. The safety net is Jesus Christ alone — as He was, is and will be, rather than experienced by an individual’s creating and fulfilling expectations, rules, and/or regulations.

 This is not a modern issue. Cardinal Archbishop Montini, later to become Pope Paul VI, said in 1962, “Our society is becoming irreligious and atheistic.” We know that our society has become irreligious and atheistic. I see it on a regular basis when visiting “Catholics” in the hospital — name only but away from living true faith and connected to the Church. So the movement for all of us now is to accept the salvation won for us by Jesus Christ and make it known for others — Jesus’ purpose as well as Paul’s. Neither forgot “their people,” but they have brought an openness to sharing faith and divine life to others; they fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah.

 “The light came into the world for all mankind” (Jn 1:4). That’s a message we need to carry with us along with the compassion of God that we hear of in the Gospel and in Paul’s Letter to the Romans (11:13-15, 29-32). People today, as did the people of Tyre and Sidon and Rome years ago, need to hear and experience the compassion and love of God rather than find fear in it. For us, we can no longer live as the “Frozen Chosen,”  baptized and raised Catholic, confirmed, and who believe they’re saved because of these events. These same people can be massed with the disciples who wanted to reject the “outsider,” and the Jews of Paul’s time who rejected the Gentiles. Perhaps the future Paul VI spoke properly to his fellow bishops during the Vatican Council.

 “How empty the House of the Lord often is! If it were possible to shout loudly enough to reach you, sons who love us no longer, I would first ask your forgiveness. Yes, we ought to ask you to forgive us before you ask God to forgive you. For what has our brother separated himself from us? Because he was not loved enough. Because we have not watched over him enough, have not instructed him enough, have not initiated him into the joys of faith. Because he has judged faith on the basis of what we are, we who preach and represent it; because through our fault he is driven to boredom where it is a question of religion, to mistrust it, to hate it, because he has heard more reproaches than warnings and appeals. Since it is so, we ask you, our estranged brethren, to forgive us. If we have not understood you, if we have too easily rejected you, if we have been too little close to you, if we have not been adequate spiritual teachers, adequate doctors of souls, if we have been incapable of speaking to you of God as we should have done, if we have treated you with irony, with sarcasm, if we have indulged in polemics, today we implore your pardon. But at least hear us…” The then Cardinal Montini was speaking to his peers. Yet the words need to be addressed to all of us since we share, in one or more ways, the ministries of witnessing, teaching and living the faith before worrying about strictness of rituals and laws. Faith is founded on love. Laws are founded only on obedience and rarely touch the heart.

 Our willingness to live faith in a new light is necessary. We are not the light but are called to be the light of Christ in the world for others. We can only do this through an openness to the workings of the Spirit who joins us to Our Lord for the salvation of all people. We need to see as our Lord sees, without restrictions formed by human thinking or the enculturation of fallacies passed from generation to generation. We must act with the loving heart of our God.

 What the Lord said to me the other day — and says to each of us today — is that all things are in His control. We need to be open to see how the Lord is loving all people again, calling each and all of us to a newness — a oneness of heart that desires life in our Lord. Our Lord spoke these words to me 20-plus years ago: “Trust me. Allow me. Stay with me.” Back then I watched God work in ways I never thought possible. Hearts focused on our Lord’s plan will see the same results from trusting, allowing, and remaining in oneness happen in their lives and those of others.

 His light is shining on all people — those he wants to call to Himself and those who are called to make His goodness known. We need to remember that “my house” which we hear in Isaiah’s prophecy is the Body of Christ — “a house of prayer for all peoples”  — a house — you and me — of many in oneness according to His plans since He is the cornerstone (and the cap) of the house. Jesus invites us today, as he did St. Paul, to reach out to those needing loved; to embrace the loneliness they may feel due to lack of relationship with the Lord; to lift up by offering forgiveness for the faults of others; to offer them a new sense of dignity and value; to imitate Jesus as light shining in the darkness.

 Love and prayers,

Fr. Tom

 

NINETEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME — REFLECTION

Two ways of finding God in our lives — in the tiny whispering sound as with Elijah, and in the raging storm and sea as with Peter. These are interesting readings when we dare to get beyond the obvious, especially when we read all of 1 Kings and Elijah’s struggles and Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 14) and what Peter witnessed prior to being called out of the boat.  So where is God found by man, us? For the prophet Elijah it was after all the clamor and noise had settled down. For Peter it was in his suddenly sinking in the turmoil. However, the underlying concern we need to address is the fear exhibited by each man of God.
 
Let’s address Elijah. He was where he was, in a cave, out of fear. He had slain a dozen false prophets of Baal and now Jezebel was out for his head. He had gone into hiding on Mt. Carmel. What is shown is, first he acted on the Lord’s word and observed the natural disasters of earthquake, fire and storm as if they are daily occurrences. But fear seized him in a tiny whispering sound. The Lord is shown as coming in the quiet which touches the heart. And this is a good reminder for each of us. Despite the upheaval we find in our lives, the disappointments we may feel, or how we interpret what others may be saying, we are always invited by the Lord to “Come to the quiet” and meet Him where others may not dare to tread — in the heart.
 
Peter lived in a culture that feared the sea, as it was untamable. So when a storm came, most would not be on the water. Having been a fisherman, Peter had experienced this in the past, so his fear was probably tempered by experience. It shouldn’t surprise us that the ‘Macho-Man’ would so boldly hop out of the boat at the Lord’s words. That strength he thought he had didn’t last long. Jesus stretched out His hand, pulled him up and got him back into the boat. How true this is for us as well. We think we’re  strong in faith. And we may rightly, with all humility, think that. But what has and does happen to us when the storms of our lives batter our faith, cause us to question what we’ve done, become fearful of the future? We get caught up in the world and how others may respond to events. We usually will sink into the very quagmire that faith is meant to lift us from. But that’s also where God is found.
 
Both encounters speak to us of faith, and of doubt, lack of faith in uncertain times, despite our knowing that the power and strength of God can do so much more than we can imagine. Our times are not that much different than those of Elijah. Other gods have crept into the life of the people. Can we begin to name those gods in life today? Sure we can. During the past five months there has not been a connectedness with one another as in the past. This is true in the Church which has found itself, for various reasons, limited in communicating the truth. We, like the Israelites, are not getting the full picture and making decisions about the Church and about parishes on what is transmitted by others who may not provide the whole truth, or who cannot accept the limitations of our situation. So we need to remember that God changes those situations as He did Elijah following the experience at Mt. Carmel. Trust in God working is essential.
 
I think of Elijah’s predicament. He was the last remaining of the true prophets. His life was being sought. He had to have a sense of depression. His listening to the Lord doesn’t seem to have brought anything but strife. All this despite the many signs and miracles God had worked through him. He was tired. He is us. But yet (read further 1 Kings 19) he was fed and directed to further work, further speaking God’s plan, including the preparation of his successor, Elisha. I think of Peter and the other Apostles. They had just witnessed 10,000 or so people being fed with a few loaves of bread and some fish. Maybe that strengthened Peter enough for him to climb out of the boat. It didn’t last long. Experiencing the power and strength of the Lord in a personal way ultimately helped the unbelief of the 12 who came to see God present among them despite the upheaval of life.
 
So maybe we need to ask ourselves a few questions concerning our own fears and personal doubts of God with us —- and of how we need to see the power and strength of God in our lives so we are responding to Him rather than to others and what they may say or do.
 
· List, name those things in your life that are causing turmoil, fear — the things that distract you from God and from knowing His will, of how He wishes you to act in our chaotic world — government leaders, protests and the lack of respect for all human life, the person who refuses to wear a mask.
 
· List, name, those who, according to your own plan, display or have been blamed for moving you from the Lord, causing fire, storms, as it were, in the heart and mind. Why was this allowed? Why did trust in God disappear? We know many are acting due to the word of false prophets.
 
· List, name, the times when listening to others have caused reactions different from what God intends for all concerned, and from you knowing the full truth. Was understanding sought?
 
Often the Church has been referred to as a ship. This is also often reflected in the architecture of church buildings. Such is the case of Risen Lord Church (nee St. Francis Xavier Church), now the location of the Latin Community. In 1927 the ceiling was designed to represent the hull of a ship, inverted to rest on the walls. It was symbolic of the Church and of the work of St. Francis who spent much time travelling from island to island in the Far East. To minister. It does not represent the Church, the People of God, however.
 
The building is a reminder that, like Francis Xavier (whose name was taken by our pope), we find our security among the People of God. That is why in Cursillo we have the support systems — the Ultreya and Group Reunions, the School for learning, so vital to maintaining a strong personal relationship with the Lord and His mission. You see, Jesus says to each of us “Get out of the boat,” meaning the mission of the Church and its many members is not locked in a building or simply among the faithful. The faithful gather together to gain strength to speak the truth and announce it to those struggling with a screwed up society, a fragile world, the many storms in life. The Church, and its support systems are to speak the truth to us so we find ourselves properly moving in the mission of Christ as we expand beyond the confines of a place.
 
So we go back to Elijah and Peter and ask ourselves, where is our faith and trust in God’s providential care? Are we facing the struggles of life, the decisions of others, with confidence that our Lord is stretching out His hand to us, especially in our weakness? Can we go beyond the false securities we live with which include our thinking we have faith because we’re Catholic, we read the Bible, we say a lot of words we deem as prayer. The Lord is asking us today, “Do you really trust me?” That’s a question that challenges us because it calls for honest humility and examination of purpose.
 
The Church is to be the action and ministry of Jesus Christ. Its purpose is to bring every person into the person of Jesus Christ. It is fueled by the Spirit of God that is “Being” as well as “Action.” Now is the time for each of us to get out ourselves and invite others to go beyond the struggles and storms to the security of Christ in all situations. But we need to do this first with ourselves. Our Lord has called us in love to love one another. To do this, we need to trust and to “Get out of the boat” we may have created and into His loving embrace

 Love and prayers,

Fr. Tom

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time Reflection

 I visited a homebound 91-year-old to provide the Sacraments of Anointing of the Sick and Eucharist to he and his wife. He took the Eucharist in his hands, consumed it, and then began a five minute prayer of praising and thanking God. It was as if he was paraphrasing Psalms 111, 118, 139, 145, 148 and 150. It was beautiful. He didn’t care who was in the room or who was waiting for him to finish. He was living in the freedom given each of us by God.

 So as I began to reflect on the readings for this Sunday (Is 55:1-3; Rom 8:35, 37-39; Mt 14:13-21), the passage from the Prophet Isaiah spoke of the beauty of this man. He was free enough not to be concerned with anything other than a communion with our Lord, allowing our Lord to draw him into Himself — a sort of beatific vision, gazing on the loveliness of God. The word God speaks to us through Isaiah is just that —  “I will renew with you the everlasting covenant (55:3), and affirmed through the words of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, not powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:39) The passage is a call for us to share in the beatific vision now, enabling us the grace to seek its fullness, the presence of God, in the eternal life to come.

 When our hearts are truly set on God, there is nothing on the face of the earth strong enough to keep us from growing in this communion of heart and mind. We are invited to see that what is being spoken here is a physical (human) and spiritual fulfillment — physical in our coming to see the sacredness of our entire being made in the image of God as we are also made in the spiritual oneness, a divine sharing. God is happening, as it were, in and through all that we are — mind, body, spirit and soul.

 As St. Pope John Paul II wrote in the Theology of the Body, we were created to freely come into communion with God and with one another — as it were, naked or without human sinfulness, made in His image. We are created to love, as God does, in the purest giving of self, honoring the whole person God created while also honoring each person in the same way.  We can only do this when we take it upon ourselves to be free from the false expectations of today’s society, rejecting the limitations society may create which inhibit our spiritual oneness. This doesn’t just happen in society. It is also happening among some in the Church who reject the sacredness of the body, even when receiving the Eucharist. It is for us to see that we are beautifully, wonderfully made — in mind, body, spirit and soul.

 This is good for us as too many view the body, or parts of the body as bad, sometimes even evil, when in fact God made the whole body good, just as He did the mind, spirit and soul — the whole person. Therein lies the issue of self-condemnation — the rejection of what God made in His own image and likeness. The God who is good created good, as we’re told in the creation accounts. (See Gn 2:27-31) This “goodness” allows us to see the treasure we are, in love for God, self and others — the manifestation of God’s promise through Jesus Christ. Our humanity is to be elevated by our call to divine sharing. It is to be seen as a gift to be given in and through the giving of our Lord.

 When we look at the Gospel, (Mt 14:13-21) John the Baptist had been martyred. Jesus, in His humanness, moved away to a deserted place so he could be affirmed in his personhood — in the joining of his humanity and his divine sharing — in the affirmation of His purpose. He did not hide out of fear. If he had, the remainder of the Gospel, as we’re told, would not have happened. Rather, having been affirmed in the wholeness of His person and mission, he saw a vast crowd, hungry and hurting. He gave of Himself in curing the sick. And when the disciples wanted to send them away without being fed, He became gift again — an action that would be repeated two more times in Matthew’s Gospel, the final being at the Last Supper. He taught His disciples the sacredness of each person. The same happens for us at every Mass.

 It is not bread alone with which Jesus fed them. It is the example of what God wished for them, us, in divine sharing, in growing in God’s faithful promise to always be with us, in His wanting to lift us up to see more than a physical being, and at the same time, to give credence to the goodness of each person. So He fed them, in their fullness— physically and spiritually. They took it, shared it, fed themselves with the life-sustaining action of Jesus —- His love. They took it in their hands and consumed it — just as did the shut-in I visited, mimicking the words of Psalm 139, “…I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made…” (v. 14). The whole person was being honored, and in turn, honoring others trough their sharing and concern. God had touched the entirety of their beings.

 By God’s will, the wholeness of the person is made good. Spiritual and physical sharing had occurred. Later, the early Church would recognize how this action, followed by the Last Supper experience, was to move them into a sanctity of life that was attainable. But it all began with believers accepting that the wholeness of the person — physical reality and divine reality — was being called into a oneness.  “Heed me, and you shall eat well.” (Is 55:3)

 When we come to the Eucharist, God honors the entirety of the person, seeing goodness and beauty in every aspect of the creature He has made in His image and likeness. Many do not see this and have been led astray in erroneous beliefs, similar to what St. Paul addresses in his Letter to the Colossians (2:20-23). No, we are not worthy of any gift from God because of our sinfulness, not even to come before Him in prayer. It is only by His grace that we can even think to do such a thing. But to say the body, or one part of the body is less worthy than another, is to reject the good that God created , thereby rejecting the Spirit’s gifts of wisdom, understanding and knowledge needed to live as God has made known in and through Jesus Christ.

 Our sin, therefore, is our inability to see and desire the good that God created and subsequently to reject His call in our fullness in holiness of mind, body, spirit and soul. It all starts in the mind and heart. St. Paul, again, addresses this in numerous letters when he speaks of our attaining wisdom, knowledge and understanding. These are gifts we need to open to the Lord’s goodness since they control how we see the goodness that we are and live it. The mind and heart too often listen, respond, and accept those things that St. Paul would say separate us from the love of God. “I urge you, therefore brothers [and sisters]…be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Rom 12:2)  As grandma, in her 80’s, used to say, “I sin more with my mouth than with my hands or any other part of my body,” as she held the precious Body of Christ for the first time more than 40 years ago. She knew all sin begins in the mind and the heart.

 Isaiah calls us to return — to change mind and heart — to see this goodness and how God wishes to honor and care for the entirety of His creatures. St. Paul reminds us of the power we have — through Jesus Christ who fed body and soul — to overcome the sins of mind and heart that have led us away from seeing the dignity given us, others, by God. Jesus demonstrates how our oneness in the Lord is to lead us to serving the whole person, caring for the goodness of body, mind, spirit and soul — our own and the many others we may affect.  We can only imitate Christ when we choose to enter into His relationship with the Father and see the good that He created.

 These times of the pandemic are times when love needs to direct our personal wishes from self to the well-being of every person, including the minister, when we choose to be present at Mass and receive the Eucharist. Some choose only in preference to themselves concerning the wearing of masks and the reception of the Eucharist. If we are receiving love, we must be ready to love in the exact same concern for others that Jesus has for us, removing our preferences to take on the mind and heart of our Lord who feeds us spiritually and physically.

 “Do you know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body. (1 Co 6:19)

 Love and prayers,

Fr. Tom.

 

17TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME REFLECTION

The Buried Treasure, the Pearl of Great Value, and the Good and the Bad

Before you get caught up in the treasure or pearl, think BIG!

The “treasure” and “the pearl of great value” are the reward of a person remaining diligent while going about everyday life. Sometimes that which is sought comes to a person easily, and sometimes only after much searching, with vigilance in the pursuit of something more than just good. Sometimes a person can stumble upon a treasure, and sometimes hard work is required. Jesus didn’t show these persons who found the treasure or the pearl of great value not doing their normal work, whatever that may have been. They are found in where we are as that is where we need to find God’s presence.

In our experience of faith, we all know that we live in the kingdom of God. We also know that we have yet to come to the fullness of the treasure we seek, the pearl of great value. The hidden treasure remains hidden until we choose to search, to grow in faith, for what God is offering us. It may be as simple as turning over a stone, or as difficult as digging deep. If we are content with our faith as it is, however, we will never find the treasure, no matter how much grace comes to us through the Holy Spirit. Our choice is ours to live.

The same is true of that pearl of great value. In Jesus’ time pearls were desired commodities, if for no other reason than to gaze upon their extreme beauty. A great pearl would have a person held in high esteem. Again, remember Jesus teaching, “Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before swine…” Mt. 7:6)  To forever gaze upon the loveliness of God is the ultimate goal of our faith, don’t diminish it by a devalued life. “The twelve gates [of the new Jerusalem] were twelve pearls, each of the gates made from a single pearl; and the street of the city was of pure gold, transparent as glass.”(Rev. 21:21) The pearl of great value should beckon us as it reaches out to us and invites us to enter into the kingdom — just as God beckons the soul.

The eternal kingdom of God is the buried treasure or pearl that we can only find through our piety, our study and our action. To know about God should never satisfy us. To know God requires our seeking Him in our own lives as He directs us to uncover His life by the grace provided through the Holy Spirit. Only then are we provided, by grace, the opportunity to truly study the value of this life, and to live it. Finally, we move in the power of God and commit ourselves to possess His life completely while making it known to others. St. Paul writes, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Jesus Christ. But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” (2Cor 4:6-7) We will not possess the gift unless we acknowledge the gift and the Giver.

The place where this treasure is found, where the pearl of great value is located, is within ourselves. We don’t have to search anywhere other than within self, in the mind and the heart. As Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” (Mt 6:21) If the treasure or great pearl is the kingdom of God which Jesus leads us to, then we’re moving in the right direction. It means we consider all else that the world offers as rubbish, garbage.

The third parable may challenge our thinking and our religious practices as Jesus did the people of His time. If our hearts are not growing in a oneness, in an understanding of the heart of Jesus, we’re plugging a quarter into the jukebox to play an old favorite song and dreaming of the past. We’re stagnant and not growing. There’s no treasure or pearl of great value at the end of the day, just immature faith. Hearts not moved to action, not bringing life to others, should be thrown away. There is no love in these. Remember, a small pearl has little value in comparison to one of great value. A god in this world has no comparison to the God who calls us to Himself in His fullness.

The reality is before us. God loves us and wants us to find the kingdom!

Like Solomon, we must know what to ask for and then ask for it without reservation and without fear. Then the same wisdom and understanding as that given Solomon  is given to us. We come to know God as God desires to be known. Solomon asked nothing for himself but only for the will of God. It is up to us to uncover the gift of uncluttered faith and to nurture it in the heart, to allow the love of God to be experienced in our lives, to dig deep if necessary to remove the dirt that covers the heart and soul. It calls for a conversion to a new way of thinking, a greater diligence in seeking that treasure of oneness for all eternity. We’re told in St. Pau’s Letter to the Romans (8:28-30) that we are called according to His purpose. This was from the beginning of time, and is now God’s plan so that He may justify and glorify us in Him — not us justify and glorify by our own plans. These fail.

So where are we left? Read St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy 6:17-19

“Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.” In other words, let others gaze on your happiness in the Lord and invite them to know the true riches God wishes to bestow on us and them — the only thing that matters — eternal love.

Love and prayers,

Fr. Tom

SIXTEENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME REFLECTION

 Let’s think back a number of years. Producers of movies have had the world being overrun by ravens, zombies, apes, and more recently, transformers, creations of man gone wrong. All of them were meant to create fear and panic in those who chose to allow someone else (the producers) to affect their minds, and perhaps their lives.

 So when we think of ourselves as “children of the kingdom” (Mt 13:37), we also need to examine our lives and what has and what is affecting us today. Of course, we’re all going to say that we’ve been sown as “children of the kingdom.” Face it, we’ve been baptized. We celebrate the Sacraments — at least the Eucharist. We believe we have a personal relationship with our Lord. We believe He is always with us. So we’re good. Right? Well, the grace was given by God. Our baptism was because of what our Lord Jesus did. The Eucharist is again a gift freely given. So what have we really done to live as “children of the kingdom?” Are we living according to our parameters of what is “good”, remembering that Jesus taught that only God is good? (Mk. 10:17-19; Lk 18:18-19)

 We’re invited to look at the other side of this parable. First, the weed referred to in the parable grows similar to wheat in every way but its color, which could not be fully determined until mature. It was toxic, a killer of anyone who ate it. In looking at the weeds in our lives, those things sown by the evil one, those things that are choking off the grace given by our God —  what are they that limit or minimize us living in and as Eucharist, allowing the fullness of the life of Christ to sanctify us and move within us — and also affect in the world? Are they controlling a personal relationship with our Lord? Have the weeds of the world killed my relationship, and therefore my ability to produce a rich harvest in the lives of others? Sorry, these weeds may be our reliance on mere words daily repeated with no conversion of heart. Satan can move us into a complacency by making routine a false accepted norm.

 We need to be reminded that perhaps the greatest “weed” in our lives is something within — the same fear that those movie producers tried to create within us. Except these weeds, the “children of the evil one,” affect us, and in some cases, change and limit our living as “children of the kingdom” especially when we fail to see the kingdom of God in our midst every minute of every day. How often are “believers” seen backing off when confronted by one living as a “child of the evil one?”  Also, there are other weeds we’ve allowed to control us, or that we’ve seen controlling loved ones or coworkers. List them: pornography, drugs, alcohol, prejudice, bigotry, gluttony, complacency, laziness; political agendas, lack of compassion, insensitivity toward the lowly, movies, television and social media to name a few more. And then, there’s always the biggest — us believing that we can dictate and create God as we wish God to be — as we see those living as weeds of the world desiring to do. When we allow the weeds around us to overcome us or affect us in some way, our 100, 60 or 30-fold harvest is drastically reduced.

 And that second parable? How do we see ourselves growing into that person God intended for the caring of the Kingdom, especially those in need of knowing the love of God? Growing in the grace and life of God, as God intends, we become the very source of blessing for others. The smallest seed of faith at baptism becomes the tree extending its branches to those who seek refuge from the world.

 In the same way, our “leaven” is God acting — powerfully acting. Three measures of wheat is a lot of wheat. A small portion of yeast can transform it all and give it purpose. It is not us doing anything aside from allowing the grace of God to move in and through us. It is our “yes” to bring others into the leavened word of hope and fulfillment as God deigns. Remember, yeast reproduces itself. A life directed by the grace of God continues to grow, by the very grace of God, even as a portion of it is given away for the sake of others. So we never have to fear losing our oneness with the Lord in sharing it with others. It carries with it great power! A little time away from what we want, a little courage to speak justice and truth, a moment to awaken the love and life of God, as it should be known, are prime opportunities for our fulfillment of the parables.

 There’s that catch phrase in Cursillo, “Bloom where you’re planted.” We’re planted in the grace of God, and therefore, should bloom wherever we are, benefitting whomever God desires to touch. These parables are critical for our sake and for those we are called to evangelize. Our evangelization efforts can never remain isolated from all of life. The mustard seed grown into a tree does not pick and choose the creatures resting in it. It produces food for the birds of the air to feast upon. Our faith and oneness in Christ is to do the same.

 Also, the yeast is not selective in the wheat it is to leaven. We know that as Jesus was to be leaven for the world, many chose to remain unleavened as it called for a drastic change within themselves. The same happens in our lives today. Face it, our faith is transfigurative. It stands against the world and its varied views. It is anti-cultural, but only because the world has developed a deadly culture through the seeds of the evil one.

 Our work is before us. We have an uphill battle. We can see it in the small number of “Catholics” who seek a growing oneness with our Lord in the Eucharist at Sunday Mass. There is no obligation, therefore there is no growing desire to allow the Lord to transform lives. The “want” to be one in the Lord has been missing. It is being magnified now in this time of pandemic. If the law remained, more would be present out of guilt. Hard truth to swallow. Ours is to bring life in and with our God to these people, lost children of the kingdom, before they truly become children of the evil one and sow their seeds among their families, friends and environments.

 St. Paul tells us, “The Spirit comes to  the aid of our weakness…and the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.” (Rom 8:26-27) We possess the power of the Spirit of God who was given for our oneness with the Father and for us to continue the work of our Lord. In our evangelizing efforts, we are to remind others that the all-powerful God is also a God of great leniency and compassion (Wis 12:16-19) Kindness and mercy are ours to make known. 

 My brothers and sisters, our environments are small, only a couple square meters — wherever we are. God has planted us in our location for an express purpose. Let us be mindful of the grace, the power and strength we daily receive to make known the message that God loves us — always. In this is forgiveness, kindness and hope.

 And to rid our lives of the weeds society has sown and will sow, let us always be thinking: “God First!”

 Love and prayers,

Fr. Tom

 

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Reflection

“We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now.” (Romans (8:22)

Oh, how we groan to have life back to normal, to socialize without fear of contracting disease, of being able to have physical contact minus any anxiety, of not worrying about who a person may have been in contact with prior to meeting them. Oh, how we groan for the day that the virus is not the major headline of the news, that restrictions are permanently removed from life. We’ll be able to go back to living as we were accustomed without repercussions. We dream! And do we really wish to do that again?

There will always be groaning. Get used to it. There will always be those who disregard the welfare of others. Get used to it! There will always be restrictions in our lives. If you haven’t realized this you’ve been living in a cave and out of contact with life. The harsh reality is that people have become so accustomed to having it their way that any inconvenience from the routine can become a cause for groaning. I drive I-79 an awful lot. I should own a part of it and assess a toll. I’d be rich. There’s major construction happening between Bridgeville and Canonsburg. “Slow down” are the words flashed on the signs. I don’t want to. Get used to it. It will be around probably until I retire. Thanks!

All of the above is superficial. It has absolutely nothing to do with who I am and what I’m about when I really consider it. It’s this world and it is always going to exist. So groan if you wish, but it’s human life.

I read through the entirety of Matthew’s Gospel with the thought of St. Paul’s “groaning” in mind. I dare you to do the same. I was awakened to the reality that everything that is written is meant to show how Jesus “groaned” for what was important: the awakening of minds and hearts to the will of God; for all people to groan with “eager expectations” for a oneness for all eternity with the Father; for the “glory to be revealed” now and in the life to come — the redemption of life. His anguish (groaning) for his disciples, for the people, even for those who opposed Him, reveals His desire for the Word to be fulfilled, for His life to bring about His purpose in becoming man.

Now don’t get thinking too far about eternity as Matthew’s Gospel is meant to reveal the Kingdom of God “already and not yet.” In other words, we need to be able to apply what Jesus shows and teaches into our own lives for our good and the good of every person we meet. We already live in the Kingdom; we just don’t realize its fullness yet. Read the whole Gospel with that in mind. And do so as you “groan” as He did for faith to be accepted and lived in the lives of others as well.

It all depends on how we, the seeds, position ourselves in the world to most fully receive “The Word” — far different than the words signs flashing along I-79 or the groaning we find so often in our lives. You see, if our groaning is about our current life situation, then we’re not “sown in rich soil. hearing and understanding “The Word.”  Nor will we be disciples capable of helping those who have planted themselves on the path or on rocky soil or among the thorns. All these will probably be found living without an awareness of the fullness of God’s power to do and His love meant for each of us.

If we are to groan it should be done joyfully, first in making “The Word” as our own, and then in our call to fulfill “The Word”, the mission of Jesus Christ, in bringing all people to salvation. But we won’t have cause for joyful groaning until we place ourselves on the front line, announcing God’s love and jeopardizing friendships due to the risk of ridicule or rejection, and us growing in unity with Father, Son and Spirit. It will give witness through the calmness of heart and mind and in our own desire to grasp and grow that personal relationship with Jesus Christ, “the Word made flesh.”

However, if we groan in anguish and disappointment, let it not be for our lack of trying to move others to Jesus, to plant them in rich soil, but for their lack of seeing how they have planted themselves in lives that will always be a struggle. We must admit that every person needs to change his/her life, choose those they share life with, and be willing to see the freedom our Lord really offers.

True discipleship causes this. It also causes rejection or avoidance by and from others. That’s okay. Many recognize good which they are not ready to have as their own. They are content living among the weeds or struggling in the rocky soil, of living in this world with a focus not on their life in and with our Lord now and in the life to come. They well may be the ones who think they can control God and God’s decisions when the end time comes. There are no honest “eager expectations.”

Many of the emergency calls I receive from the hospital are calls from individuals or family members who decide that now is the time to get straight with the Lord, to get their ignorance of God through many years wiped from their souls so they are ready to “get into heaven.” This is the religious culture we live in. It is not a spiritual culture that moves us from mere existence and sustainability in this life to happily becoming one with our Lord for all eternity. God remains on the periphery until there is nothing else to grasp as they suddenly find they have little control of their life situation. Their reasons of separation from God and the Church are many and varied. The one constant is a lack of understanding that all people need God all the time, that we need unconditional love always.

That so many Catholics fear the term “evangelization” is not surprising since most do not understand the simple message we are to relay to others — that God loves them. Nor is “The Word” something many have made their own, failing to live in the sufficient grace God provides through the Holy Spirit in order to continue the mission of Jesus Christ in whom we have oneness.

Brothers and sisters, when we “Make a friend, be a friend, and bring a friend to Christ” as we learn in Cursillo, we are living in joyful groaning, longing for our own growth in Christ while longing for others to have the same. So if we are in oneness with our Lord, living the gifts of the Spirit, we are called to lives that dispense the grace of God so others find themselves living in “rich soil.”  Our joyful groaning does require action. It requires that we assimilate our lives into “The Word” revealed in the fullness of His ministry — the fullness shown in Matthew’s Gospel.

Love and prayers,

Fr. Tom

 

14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME  REFLECTION

 Friday was the Feast of the Apostle Thomas, who everyone knows questioned Jesus’ appearance to the disciples following His resurrection. And when Thomas came face-to-face with the Risen Lord, the disciple was invited to put his hand into the side of Jesus. We always think of the doubting Thomas! Bad rap! Think of it — who among the disciples was invited to enter into the life of Jesus so deeply? 

 I often contemplate this same offering of Jesus in my own life. I’m always shown that all of us are invited to enter into the Risen Lord’s life. Most of the time we stand in awe and fear, however. You see, to enter into the life of our Lord is to be convicted of His presence and His call. It is to accept the unknown in many cases because we don’t know where it is going to lead us. It is for us to place our hand into His side and accept oneness in His mission, which is now the responsibility of believers.

 Every time I’ve been transferred it’s been a call to place my hand in the side of Jesus, to accept whatever comes, and to have the confidence that God’s Spirit will provide what is needed to do what He asks. That’s today’s Gospel (Mt 11:25-30). This is the only way in which we are going to come to know the Father and His will for us. This is not a hidden mystery when we open ourselves to a relationship with Him through Jesus. To place our hand into Jesus’ side is to take His yoke upon our shoulders and to learn; to be meek and humble of heart; to know the strength of the Spirit of God — the same Spirit who moved Thomas to India and Pakistan, and ultimately martyrdom.  If I had not placed my hand into His side with my current assignment, I would not have entered the unexpected beautiful work of spiritually caring for residents of nursing homes, or of touching lives of many in the hospital who suddenly find a need for God after years of separation — or to touch the lives of their children and families who may well be living in the world apart from God.

 This is what St. Paul is speaking about in his Letter to the Romans (8:9, 11-13) To live in the Spirit is to place our hand into the side of Jesus and accept a sharing of His life, revealing it to the world, always knowing that we are pointed to a greater oneness in the life to come. It is an awakening of our union with the fullness of God that is promised us — not in the flesh, but in Spirit (since God is Spirit). As Paul says, …If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through His Spirit that dwells in you.” We also need to remember that we need to live in Christ, the source of all life (see John 15) and not just believe that the fullness of God is within us.

 When we look at those who live in the world, we can easily see that many want an easy yoke and a light burden — makes sense since life can be tough. Spiritually, however, these want the glory found in the resurrection without the offering up of self for the sake of God’s will being lived in their lives. Many of these people will remain in the world as they believe the Spirit can be lived in a minimal existence without entering into the work of the Spirit. They maintain a “me-and-God” relationship, failing to experience what occurs when believers place their hand in the side of Jesus. Instead, they seek God only for self. It’s a sad reality, but something that has been fostered for a long, long time. Us older folks can remember the saying concerning what it meant years ago to be a “good Catholic” — the three commandments of “pray, pay, and obey” which allowed us to forget about the two great commandments of loving God and loving neighbor.

 The Church has changed, and our understanding of faith being lived has drastically changed. Unfortunately, too many live a spiritual mentality that predates Vatican Council II and the call for the universal Church to place its hand in the side of Jesus, for every individual to step out of self and into the life we share in, with and through Jesus Christ. This requires an understanding of solid Church teaching and of a life in the Spirit, of living and giving as God has always given. *See the list of teachings below. This is why in Cursillo we have ongoing study/formation that lets us know God’s will and Spirit.

 Today, we can see that it is only through the Spirit of God that we can know that our faith is not a task; that living the life of our Lord and Savior is not a burden, but rather a joy offering hope and fulfillment, pointing to an eternity rather than a temporary satisfaction. It is not good enough to simply say “Lord, Lord,” ( Mt 7:21) and not act upon the faith that moves us to the Lord and the will of the Father. This is the very reason we have this Gospel today, Jesus has been in conflict with the Jewish leaders who did nothing to help the common folk. Jesus elevates the common folk — the disciples then and now — who listen and trust in His word. It is a message of loving as God loves rather than fulfilling a loveless law. What is amazing is that, while prayer is important to grow in our oneness with God, it really becomes known when we live it, becoming as it were the answer to the prayers of others looking for God.

 We have an invitation from our Lord to enter into His life, “…to complete His work on earth and bring it to the fullness of grace.” (Taken from Eucharistic Prayer IV.) When we are in oneness with our Lord, we can easily recognize those struggling in faith, often times trying to fulfill laws instead of coming to the love of God that transfigures all people. Our load can be easy as Christ, who was led by the Spirit of love, continues to bolster our efforts of proclaiming a kingdom of love and a life of hope and fulfillment. This is evangelization, which is, unfortunately, a word not accepted by many Catholics, and a way of life accepted by fewer. It is introducing others to the gentleness of Jesus and a God who is Spirit and love. It was the mission of Jesus while on earth and our mission today.

 We live in the flesh but are called to live in the Spirit, meaning while we exist at this time in an earthly body, our minds, hearts and souls are meant to be growing in the Spirit that is God. In this we are enabled to see and accept the gifts we are to use (the light burden) in bringing the world — society and every person — into the kingdom of God. Let us not fear but find courage, strength and Christ with us always. Put your hand into My side, says the Lord.

 Love and prayers,

Fr. Tom

*STRONGLY SUGGESTED READING

Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), Pope Paul VI, December 7, 1965

Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church (Ad Gentes), Pope Paul VI, December 7, 1965

On Evangelization in the Modern World, (Enagelii Nuntiandi) Pope Paul VI, December 8, 1978

The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World (Dominum et Vivificabtem), Pope John Paul II, May 18, 1986

The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People (Christifideles Laici), Pope John Paul II, December 30, 1988

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME REFLECTION

 As we slowly open our church doors for people to attend Mass and celebrate the sacraments, I’m finding that what I feared has happened. Many people simply lived without God as an integral part of their lives during the past months when indeed, we were all called to meet the Lord in greater prayer lives and more intimate relationships with the Lord. And I say “the Lord” instead of “our Lord” because that reveals the relationship many have expressed concerning our Lord and God — almost from a distance. And the Corona Virus unfortunately has shown us what we suspected.

Many, many people are being found having relied on “coming to Mass and receiving the Eucharist” as the fullness of their spiritual life for the week. Period. Done! They admit that there is not a personal relationship with our Lord that is transfigurative in nature. Coming to Mass and receiving Communion is a ritual and not a life-changing event for too many. Communion with our Lord isn’t thought of during the week when we are engaging others, when we are called to be in communion with others through and with our Lord.

Now, if we are called disciples of our Lord, then, according to Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel (Mt 10:37-42) , it is ours to put ourselves out there — in the world — to change what is happening. Again, first and foremost, it calls for us to take what we have received from God and offer it to others, telling them of our own growing personal relationship with Christ where we grow in His life.

It is because of Jesus Christ that we, unlike the Jewish people of His time who had family first, are called to love God first and foremost. This is done, as Jesus points out, by being disciples who are ready to take on His very giving, His teaching, and making it their own. St. Paul affirms this in his Letter to the Romans (6:3-4, 8-11) who obviously are not remembering the fullness of their baptism which joins them in the very sharing of divine life. Our death in Christ must move us from our personal wants and preferences to the surety of what God the Father wishes to give us in return. If we’re content on worldly satisfaction, then discipleships is not for us. The story from the Second Book of Kings (4:8-11, 14-16a) gives witness to the blessings God has in store for us when we die to self and live for Him. The woman, because of her generosity, is blessed by God.

As more activities of life open to us, we will again move to be directed by penned-in activities on a refrigerator calendar. Let us not forget that everyone of these “activities” is a moment of evangelization, of telling our stories of personal relationship with our Lord, of God’s goodness to us, of His promise to increase His presence within us as we join more fully in the call of Jesus into discipleship. Perhaps we need to take those calendars, and using a red pen, write GOD in each daily block. It sure would remind us of our baptismal calling to share in the divine ministries of Jesus Christ — Priest (bring holiness alive by our words and actions), Prophet (announcing the Good News to others, and by giving proper understand of the Word of God), and King (sharing in the reign of Christ who brings all good things from the Father).

Folks, discipleship is evangelization — the announcement of God’s love for all people, and the invitation to be restored in that love. Have you noticed that, as good as it is, the “Black Lives Matter” cause has almost become a cause for anarchists who wish to break down the system instead of correcting it? It is evident that they do not know history or have failed to understand it properly. But its attacks haven’t been restricted to society. The Church has, and will even more so in the future, be attacked simply because it is an institution set on a moral code and teachings of a God rejected by so many.

Is Satan at work in the world? You better believe it. If we don’t see this, we’re blinded by the same smoke that is leading rebellious reactions that could well destroy the fiber of civilization. Think of one civilization that has not had one or many gods as its defining way of life. You won’t find one. Communism tried it and failed. Yet today our own societies are moving in that direction by those who have no use for God in their lives, who live only for this moment. I’m sorry to say it, but we have government leaders who profess atheism; who profess a faith but do not live it; and who profess a faith but also attempt to make it work for their own or their party’s agenda.

Discipleship points to an eternity even as it forms us now. We’re on the transformative journey and we know the journey’s end result. It is ours, disciples of Jesus Christ to evangelize, to tell others of God’s plan for us and get them out of their self-absorption of “be happy today” since there is no belief or idea of an afterlife, or accountability as that which comes from our baptism.

But let’s do one step at a time. Make a friend and bring that friend to Jesus Christ. Let’s walk with that person on the journey and not fear what may be met along the way. We have to affect our environments unlike ever before — as Bishop Waltersheid said during his Thursday meeting concerning evangelization, and as we say all the time in Cursillo. Jesus is saying the role of the disciple is to change mentalities of others by what we say and what we do. It is through these that others will see us blessed by the Father with joy and peace, with courage and fortitude, with goodness and gentleness — all rooted in “God with us.”

What promise we have from our good and gracious God if we only find our life in Christ.  Who are those people you know — practicing and not practicing their faith, who only know “the Lord?” Don’t you want them to know “our Lord?” I hope you’ll begin to do something about it so blessings can be lavishly poured out upon you and them. Pray to the Holy Spirit to move you to them.

Love and prayers,

Fr. Tom

 

Christ is Counting on You!