Skip to content

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Isaiah 55:10-11
Psalm 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14 (Luke 8:8)
Romans 8:18-23
Matthew 13:1-23
July 12, 2020

Word of what Jesus is doing and saying had spread such that large crowds were coming to him.  So, He got into a boat and spoke to the people on shore.

Jesus was practicing good social distancing from the crowd.

As He preached to them, He spoke in parables.  Why?  Because “They look but do not see, and hear but do not listen.”  The parables were an instructional tool to draw people to listen. 

God’s word is not to return to him void, instead “achieving the end for which” He sent it.  God wants us to listen.

Today, it is the Parable of the Sower that Jesus tells to his disciples.  He then explains the parable to his disciples.

The seed is sown on four types of soil.

The first is the “path,” meaning a path where the ground is packed from so many people walking on it that the surface has become hard and impervious so nothing can grow on it.

In terms of faith, here I might consider the example of a person who is against the faith but comes for a funeral.  They come because they cared about the person the funeral is for but they refuse to be open to what they hear at the funeral.  So, the seed of faith offered to them cannot grow. 

Why offer them the seed of faith?  Because we don’t know if they are open or not.  We welcome them, offer them hope of new life, and leave it to them.

The second type of soil is the rocky ground.  Again, I use the example of someone who comes to church for a funeral.  However, this type, the person is at least open to the possibility of faith.  Their openness might be based on their trust in the person who the funeral is for as a good person.  They know faith was important to the person, so they are at least willing to listen.  Yet, they don’t take what they hear to heart.

The third type of soil is that among thorns.  Again, think of the visitor at a funeral.  In this case, they are not just open.  They are “curious”.  They want to hear more.  Maybe they start coming to church regularly but then earthly things pull them away.  Faith means something to them but they are not ready to make a real commitment to put God first. 

Here I think of the line from Paul today, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed to us.”  The person where the seed is sown among thorns might be more concerned with avoiding suffering in this world and finding pleasure than they are in knowing God.  Paul reminds us that the sufferings we endure from this world are nothing to the glory we will know in Heaven.

That brings us to the fourth type of soil.  The seed flourishes and bears fruit “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”  They have embraced the faith and have been transformed by it.

You have come here today for Mass.  I hope most of you have come willingly, even if “encouraged” by a spouse or a parent.  Are you open to being transformed by what is offered to you today? 

You see, you can come but not be transformed.

Are you open to being transformed by the Word of God that is offered to us in the readings and broken open now in the homily?

Are you open to being transformed in receiving the Body and Blood of Christ to become the Body of Christ ourselves?

Where are you in your faith journey?  I offer five categories that Sherry Weddell offers in her book, Forming Intentional Disciples (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, Huntington, IN, 2012.

  1.  Initial Trust – someone you trust has pointed you to Jesus
  2. Spiritual Curiosity – you might have questions but aren’t looking to change
  3. Spiritual Openness – you are considering what faith really offers
  4. Spiritual Seeking – you are open to being transformed by faith
  5. Intentional Discipleship – you are committed to being transformed and living as Jesus teaches.

We Need Heroes

We need heroes. Where we do we find them?

The first question really is what is a hero? A hero as I see it is someone who does good deeds that we can look to as a role model.

When I think of heroes, I can’t help but think of superheroes with superpowers. When I was a kid in the 1970’s and 1980’s, superheroes were someone we could look up to. Yes, they had superpowers and that seemed awesome. They were also good people. Superman stood for truth, justice, and the American way. They were motivated by justice. They sought to do good. They were role models that we needed.

Yes, we couldn’t be exactly like them. We don’t have superpowers and we aren’t perfect but superheroes when I was a kid were an ideal to shoot for. Now, when I look at superheroes today, they still have superpowers but they aren’t role models. There may have been good intent to make they more like us but they no longer provide us with an ideal to shoot for.

Stepping away from the idea of heroes for a moment, I think some family shows on television have changed in similar ways. I don’t think families on television were ever perfect but they were good examples. The Brady kids and Beaver (Leave It to Beaver) got into trouble but they gave us a good example to shoot for. They were there for each other. Now, it seems some shows focus on negative families. This might seem more real to many people, but it doesn’t give us something to shoot for.

I think there are even people who see only the human side of Jesus and forget his divinity. Even his humanity as portrayed in the Bible gives us a great role model but people deny his good works and his teaching to be able to live the way they want. Remember the first reading on June 21, 2020 where Jeremiah’s former friends denounce him. I spoke in my homily that Sunday of how they tried to denounce him because he told them they were not living well in God’s eyes.

Jesus is the Son of God. He is both human and divine. In my Christmas homily in 2018, I spoke of his “superpower” to turn bread and wine into his Body and Blood to feed our souls. I spoke of how “super” it is that He died on the Cross so that our sins can be forgiven. I spoke of his love for us as “super” and said He is my hero. Jesus is my hero.

Jesus is awesome but where might we go for human heroes? Superheroes, even the ones who were good role models were fictional. The Brady family and Beaver on “Leave It to Beaver” were fictional characters. Where do we find real heroes for our faith?

The saints.

The saints didn’t always live perfect lives but they turned to Jesus.

St. Augustine of Hippo was a sinner until his conversion in the late fourth century that came after his mother, St. Monica, had prayed for years for him to become Christian. After his conversion, he became a bishop and doctor of the church.

St. Francis of Assisi, perhaps one of the most popular saints, sought pride and prestige in earthly endeavors before his conversion. St. Ignatius of Loyola sought prestige in the military before his conversion after which he became the founder of the Jesuits.

What about married saints? There is Sts. Isidore (patron saint of farmers) and Maria Torribia. There are Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of St. Therese.

Looking for twentieth century saints we can learn about St. Oscar Romero who was martyred in 1980 in San Salvador, St. “Mother Teresa” who leaved her own country and served the poor, founding the Missionaries of Charity, and St. John Paul II, who lived through World War II and communist times. These are our role models of what it means to follow Jesus.

Who is your hero as you strive to follow Jesus?

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Seeking Success

We look for success but how do we know when we have succeeded? What is our measure of success? What does it even mean to succeed?

Success is to achieve a goal. What is our goal? What is it that we are really trying to achieve?

Ultimately, I think we are looking for fulfillment. The way one might think they have found fulfillment is to be happy.

What fulfills us? What makes us happy?

Some think it comes with money. Then, how much money is enough? Is a salary of $50,000/year enough to be happy? How about $100,000/year? When we get to the salary we thought would make us happy, are we? If not, do we think we just need more money or do we look to something other than money for fulfillment and happiness?

How about having a good home? Is 1,500 square feet enough? 2,000 square feet? Having a good home can be important for happiness but a good home isn’t so much about the building as who lives with us in the house. The building is a house. It’s our family that makes it a home.

We might also seek happiness in jobs, sports, vacations, among other things. However, while these things can bring short-term happiness, they are not what we are created for. Thus, they will not truly fulfill us.

We are created to know God. It is in God that we find fulfillment.

Thus, our first goal should be to know God. As we come to know God, another goal should be to lead others to God. How do we know when we have done this?

One measure of bringing someone to God, is to see them to come to church each Sunday. Another is to see them change their lives to live keeping God’s ways, living chaste lives, loving God and loving their neighbors.

Seeing the change in their lives is a good way for us to see success in trying to bring them to Christ. This is fine for someone we see often. What about someone we don’t see much? We may never know if we have led them to Christ but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.

For instance, I see people at funerals that are not from the parish I serve. Does that mean I can’t help them know Jesus? Of course not. I can tell them that Jesus died for their loved one whose funeral we are celebrated. I can tell them about the Resurrection. I can tell them that Jesus died not just for their loved one but also for them. I may never know how it impacted them. I don’t need to. I might like to but it is not for me to know. I place it in God’s hands.

You may never know the real impact of a kind deed, a work of mercy you do in Jesus’ name. Don’t let that stop you from doing acts of mercy.

You see it isn’t for us to save the person ourselves. In fact, just as we cannot save ourselves on our own, we cannot save the other person. It is Jesus who saves us. We just need to show people the way to Jesus. Jesus will then take over and lead them home.

The person may come to know Jesus immediately. It may not happen for years. All we can do is plant seeds.

Not only may we never know if our acts of mercy lead someone to Jesus, we may never know who is lead to Jesus by our example. I may never meet most of the people who read this. That shouldn’t stop me from writing. Likewise, your act of mercy may lead someone to Christ that you will never meet in this world. Do good!

You might wonder how I got from “success” to our impact on strangers (I’m kind of wondering that myself), but it is related. In our individual lives, success is not about money. It is not about the size of our home, or how high up the corporate ladder we climb.

Then, what is success? Here I think about the words of the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in Heaven – Have we come to know God as our Father? Have we led others to know God as their father? (The latter we may never know)

Hallowed be thy name – Do we make God’s name “hallow” by speaking of the great things He has done for us?

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven – Do we work for the building of God’s kingdom? Do we strive to do God’s Will?

Give us this day, our daily bread – Do we turn to God each day for what we need to be good Christians?

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those trespass against us – Do we even realize our sins? When we do sin, do we confess them to God, seeking his forgiveness? Do we forgive others?

And let us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil – Do we realize we cannot beat temptation on our own? Do we surrender ourselves to God who can?

Success? Success is giving our lives to Christ.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Zechariah 9:9-10
Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14 (1)
Romans 8:9, 11-13
Matthew 11:25-30
July 5, 2020

Jesus gives praise to the Father. 

The psalmist speaks of praising, extoling, and blessing our God and King.

Jesus praises God for, while He had “hidden these things from the wise and the learned,” He “revealed them to little ones.

The psalmist praises and gives thanks to God because “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.”  “The LORD lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.

We do well to thank God for what He has done for us and we speak of his might, sharing with others the blessings God has bestowed on us.

I’d like to talk about six words in today’s gospel.  They are spread throughout the passage.  The words are reveal, knows, yoke, easy and light, and rest.

Reveal – Jesus speaks of what the Father has hidden from the “wise and the learned” yet revealed to the “little ones.”  The wise and learned may think they know God.  They think they know all they need to.  They are not open to God teaching them.  The little ones are open.  So, God “reveals” these things to help the little ones know him.

Know – That brings us to the second word, “know”.  We can “know” facts and figures.  We can “know” rules in the sense that we memorize them but this is not the sense of the word “know” that Jesus uses the word in today’s readings.  Jesus speaks of how He “knows” the Father and the Father “knows” him.  Here, knowing goes far beyond human knowledge of facts, figures, and rules.  It is to know each other of a far deeper level.  When we know God in this way, we know how much He loves us and we praise him.

Yoke – a yoke is used by farmers who use animals to pull the plow.  We might then associate it with work.  It might seem like a burden.  However, the yoke is not designed to add burden (work) to the farm animal.  It actually makes their job easier.  In fact, that is the very purpose of a “yoke”, to help do the work.

The Pharisees (aka “the wise and the learned”) had made the Law a burden and never lifted a finger to help the people in their burden.  They found great difficulty in living out the Lord.  What the Father reveals to the little ones is how the yoke of his commandments actually help us through life.  Taking God’s yoke upon us helps us endure the suffering of this world.

Rest, easy, & light – I think people tend to look at these words and think it means they will have no burden but it doesn’t say that.  Yes, Jesus tells us to come to him and He give us rest.  However, “easy” and “light” do not equate to no burden.  What they do indicate is that life is far easier with Jesus in it than without.  Jesus helps us carry our burdens, He lightens our load.

What do you need “rest” from?  Where do you need Jesus to help carry your load?

How are you doing with the Coronavirus?  We pray for an end to the pandemic and for God’s guidance for our secular and religious leaders in dealing with it.  We pray for all the front-line and essential workers.

What else?  Are you struggling with work?  Finding your present job too difficult?  Do you have a job?  Do you have enough to provide for your family?

Are you burdened by racist discrimination?  Or maybe you want to help fight against racism but don’t know how and feel burdened?  Ask God to help.

Are you burdened by illness? 

Are you burdened by earthly attachment?  Have the very things that you thought should make things easier become a burden in themselves?

Are you burdened by war and violence in the world?

Are you burdened by sin? (Bring it to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.)

God wants to help.  God is eager to help.  Jesus extends us his invitation, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” 

We need to let go of the flesh to live in the spirit.  God gives us the Law and the Spirit as yokes to help us.  Do we open our whole lives to him, or do we hinder God’s aid by only allowing him into the parts of our life that we want changed?  Let go of things to live in the Spirit.

God blesses us and we praise his name for ever.  We praise him as our king and our God. 

I am Not My Own Potter

Today we celebrate our United States holiday celebrating our independence on the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. As we celebrate our independence, “freedom” is very important to us.

People take freedom to mean we can do anything we want (most people do acknowledge one limit to our freedom, that we cannot harm another person through our actions). God does give us freedom to do whatever we want. However, that does not mean we should do whatever we want. The best way we can exercise our freedom is to choose to do good. (For more on freedom, see Gaudium et Spes, a document from the Second Vatican Council that discusses authentic freedom in several places.)

When someone is successful in earthly endeavors, sometimes they describe themselves as “self-made”, taking all the credit for what they have become for themselves. We must strive to do our best but to think we have done it all ourselves is to fail to realize the gifts that God has given us. There lies the sin of “pride“.

There are people today who say you can become whatever you want. Our hard work is important. God wants to work hard. However, we cannot become something we are not meant to be. In terms of career choices, I am not been to be a rocket scientist or a banker. This doesn’t mean one can’t change careers. Remember, I was an engineer before I was ordained a priest. I no longer work as an engineer but it is still part of who I am as a person.

I am white American male. I can’t change this. Maybe there is something I could do to color my skin but inside my heritage would still be white (that doesn’t make any better or less than a person of a different color, all are children of God).

I am an American. My family has been in America for multiple generations. I can choose to move to another country and change my citizenship but being American would still be part of my heritage.

I am a male. This is the way I was conceived by God. It is part of the identity that God gave me when He breathed life into me (Genesis 2:7).

I titled this article, “I am Not My Own Potter.” In biological terms, life begins when we are conceived in our mother’s womb from the joining of her egg cell with a sperm cell from our father. In Jeremiah 1:5, God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.

God is the potter, we are the clay. We find this in scripture:

Isaiah 64:7 – “Yet, Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you our potter: we are all the work of your hand.

Sirach 33:13 – “Like clay in the hands of a potter, to be molded according to his pleasure, So are people in the hands of their Maker, to be dealt with as he decides.

(cf. Jeremiah 18:1-12)

We are free to choose to try to do whatever we want but we find true joy and lasting happiness when we discern who God has called us to be and choose to be that.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Coronavirus Check-in

After the Coronavirus first became present in the United States in March and April of this year, I posted some articles here about how we were responding in terms of our stress and adjustments in our lives. (For some of those articles, see “Seeing the Best and/or Worst in Us”, “What Will Your Life be Like After the Coronavirus?”. For all articles I placed under a Coronavirus category, click here – this includes articles not directly about the virus response).

The Coronavirus continues to affect our lives but we are thankful that, with restrictions, we can gather for Mass and restaurants and some businesses are open. However, we acknowledge that some businesses are still not allowed to open and that some states are seeing their worst number of cases. So, we continue our prayers for God’s assistance in ending the Coronavirus pandemic.

How are you doing with the current status of restrictions where you live? Are you happier now than two months ago or are you more frustrated? Are you ambivalent about the current status? I will admit that some days are a challenge for me. When the shutdown first began, I was very stressed at how the restrictions were changing everyday. Then, things stabilized and I had some peace. Then, it seemed to go on and on, leaving me to wonder when things would get better. Then, things began to reopen in phases. I was glad to see things reopening but I have to admit I had some very stressful days as we worked to deal with all the restrictions.

How has your prayer life changed during this time? Did you pray more when you were stuck at home and stressed out? Maybe you don’t have as much time to pray now if you are back to work but how much are you praying? Are you praying differently? Through this time of the virus, my own prayer routine has been different. It might be best described as more spread out throughout the day. As things begin to return back to normal, I am trying to find a new prayer routine. It seems like it should be simple, especially since I am a priest, but we get distracted. We need God’s help to keep us on track in our prayer.

How are you doing with your personal relationships? Are you able to see your loved ones now or do you still need to isolate for the protection of those vulnerable to health issues? Who have you missed?

Thinking especially of those with underlying health issues, but for all of us, do you feel safe with your health right now? I know a lot of people aren’t coming to Mass yet. If you need to stay home to be safe, that’s okay. That is why bishops are leaving the dispensations from Sunday Mass in place right now. You know your health history and God wants you to make wise choices. That’s why we are working to continue our livestreaming of our 10:15 am Mass on Sunday (We are sorry for the problems last Sunday. We plan to try again this Sunday).

For those who are able to safely come to Mass, how have you felt at Mass? I thought the face masks would make it seem odd. It is different, but I find myself not looking at the face masks because I am so happy that we can gather together, that I “look past” the face masks to see the person, even if I can’t recognize them behind the mask (smile).

Do you find yourself with a greater appreciation of the Mass? (I am working on a series of presentations to help us uncover the meaning of what we do at Mass).

I ask these questions about how prayer life, stress, etc. are now. We are still dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic now. Have you made changes in what your life will be like when the pandemic is completely over with? If you were very busy before, are you going back to that busyness, or do you plan to let some things go to focus on more important things? Have your discovered that you haven’t missed some things you thought would?

Where did God rank in your life before the Coronavirus?
Where does God rank in your life right now?
Where will God rank in your life when the Coronavirus is gone?

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Being a Disciple of Christ

We call ourselves disciples of Christ but what does this really mean?

Let’s start with asking what it means to call ourselves “Christian.” The term is generally applied to anyone who is baptized and/or says they believe in Christ. Yes, a Christian is one who believes in Christ. It is rooted in the Sacrament of Baptism. We must pay attention to the fact that “believe” is a verb. That requires action. To be a Christian is to strive to live as Jesus calls us to live.

This leads us to being a “disciple.” To be a Christian disciple is more than just saying we believe. The word “disciple” refers to being a student. It requires learning. Are you learning what it means to follow Jesus?

The most typical way we learn about Jesus is as children in Sunday morning catechism classes. This generally starts in Kindergarten or first-grade and ends anywhere from eighth through twelve-grade, typically on the younger side of that.

That’s unfortunate because that’s when we really start to learn. As young children, we learn facts, numbers, and rules. It is as we grow older that we begin to find real meaning and application in what we learn.

Classroom learning ends but does real learning ever stop? Life is the real place of learning. We need to have Jesus part of this so that we might always live as He teaches.

To be a “Christian disciple” is to be a lifelong learner. There is a saying expressed in various forms, “if you aren’t growing, you are dying.” Learning is part of growing. If we aren’t learning, we become stagnant. We become complacent and we may cease to thrive.

Many crowds came to see Jesus. They heard what He had say but not all became his disciples. They listened to him talk for a while, perhaps even witnessed a miracle, but then went back to their old lives without being changed by what they experienced with Jesus.

Are you changed by what you have learned from Jesus?

What do you still need Jesus’ help with?

We learn throughout our lives. We are influenced and shaped by what we experience. We can also shape the world by the way we live. Here the question we need to ask ourselves is does the world shape our faith or do we rely on our faith to shape the world? If the former, we “learn” the ways of the world and expect our faith to conform to it. The world says abortion is okay so we think our faith should too. The world says same-sex relationships are okay we we think our faith should too.

That is not what our faith teaches us. As disciples, we need to learn what God teaches us, live it, and use our faith to shape the world.

This might not be easy. Jesus told us we must take up our cross and follow him.

We might face rejection for our faith. We would not be the first. Jesus himself was rejected. Many prophets in the Old Testament were rejected and persecuted. Today (June 30th) is the Memorial of the First Roman Martyrs. Many since then have been martyred. Even today people are martyred for being disciples of Jesus.

Today the word “martyr” means someone who is killed for their faith. The root of the word “martyr” lies in one who gives testimony, who witnesses. Do you witness to your faith in Jesus, inspired by the example of the martyrs?

We need to listen to Jesus to be lifelong learners. This doesn’t have to be classroom learning. It is rooted in God’s Word. Do you pay attention when the Bible is read at Mass? Do you listen to the homily? It is important for us to know God’s Word and have it broken open (see Luke 24:13-35, especially 24:27). Do you read the Bible on your own? Do you participate in any learning opportunities for adults offered by your parish? Do you look at good Catholic websites? Do you read about about faith? A place to start reading might be the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. All of these things are part of being a disciple of Jesus.

As I conclude, I feel like I might be preaching to the choir because, if you are reading this, you are trying to learn more about our faith. I hope this encourages you in your efforts and perhaps gives you something to share with others to help them to do the same.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a
Psalm 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19 (2a)
Romans 6:3-4, 8-11
Matthew 10:37-42
June 28, 2020

We are Christians.  We believe in Jesus.  We need to take this seriously.  Jesus himself tells us the we must love him more than our fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters.  Remember Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God.  The second is to love our neighbor.

This might seem troubling.  The fourth Commandment tells us to honor our parents.  Jesus isn’t contradicting this commandment.  He wants us to love our families.  Jesus wants us to love everyone.  Today He just reminds us that we must love him more than others. 

He also tells us that we must take up our cross and follow him.  If we wish to follow Jesus, we need to take it seriously.  We need to be willing to suffer for the glory of God as Jesus suffered for us on the Cross.

Baptism is the first of the Sacraments we receive.  It is in Baptism that we receive the “grace of adoption”, that we become “children of light” “that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error” (quotes from today’s Collect/Opening Prayer).

Paul writes to the Romans to help them realize that Baptism is a life-changing event.  Do we see the effect that Baptism has on us? 

Changed by Baptism, by faith in God, do we “sing the goodness of the Lord?”  Do we speak of the good things the Lord has done for us?  Do we share the gospel message?

In Baptism we use water as a sign of the new life we receive.  We are anointed with the Sacred Chrism oil as we receive the Holy Spirit.  We are dressed in white, symbolizing God cleansing us of sin, and we receive the Light of Christ through our baptismal candle. 

In the rite of Baptism for children, there is an optional prayer called the Ephphatha prayer that says, “May the Lord Jesus, who made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak, grant you may soon receive his word with your ear and profess the faith with your lips, to the glory and praise of God the Father.” 

These symbols help us know what is going on in Baptism but do we see how we are changed by Baptism.

It might be hard to realize that we are changed.  As Catholics, most of us were baptized as infants.  So, we don’t even remember our own baptism.  Our parents were at our baptism but I doubt they would speak of seeing an immediate change in us.  Depending on how young we were, we couldn’t even walk or talk. 

That doesn’t mean we weren’t changed.  Already born in flesh, at Baptism we are born of Spirit.  The change happens not on the outside of our body but in our soul.

For those baptized as adults, it can be a powerful moment but we might still struggle to see how we are changed in that single moment.  God has already been at work in us.  God has begun the gift of faith in you as He called you to our Church.  So, we may not perceive the change but think of the grace of the moment.

For any of us, regardless of the age when we were baptized, when you see another person baptized, does it not bring a warmness to your heart?  I see that as joy we have for the one being baptized but also because our soul reflects on the grace of our own baptism.

We generally speak of Baptism as entry into new life.  It is. 

Yet, today Paul speaks of Baptism in terms of death.  He says, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Jesus died on the Cross so that “we too might live in newness of life.” 

How do we die in Baptism? 

We obviously don’t die physically. 

We need to look at “death” and “life” as more than just terms expressing the state of our physical life. 

“Death” is to be separated from something (loss).

“Life” is to be joined to that we are created for.

Sin is death because it separates us from God.  The new life we receive in Baptism is the life we are created for, to spend eternity with God.

So, when Paul speaks of “death”, he speaks of the removal of sin and to die to our attachments to things in this world.  It isn’t physical death in this world.  It is letting go of our attachment to the earthly pleasures to put God first. 

Of course, we continue to struggle with sin.  When we fall short, we seek reconciliation with God by confessing our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  In doing so, we ask God to restore what He began in us at Baptism.  In the Eucharist, we are strengthened to live what we began in Baptism. 

We thank God for grace He gives us in the Sacraments.  We thank God for the blessings He bestows on us.  We sing forever “the goodness of the Lord.” 

Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura

Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura are two Latin terms that became popular among the Protestant Reformers.

“Sola Fide” means “by faith alone.” Ultimately, we cannot save ourselves. It is God who saves us through Jesus sacrificing his life for us on the Cross. The Protestant reformers misunderstood Catholic teaching to think that Catholics believe we are saved by our works. A proper understanding of what our Catholic faith says about faith and works is rooted in James 2:14-26.

James 2:14 says, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” If we have faith, we will do good works. It is faith that saves us but our works demonstrate our faith (cf. James 2:18).

Note, I showed how this understanding is rooted in the Bible. That leads us to the second term, “sola scriptura”, which means “by scripture alone.” Protestants felt that Catholic teaching had incorrectly added to what God had revealed in the Bible. This would go against Deuteronomy 4:2, “In your observance of the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I am commanding you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.” (see Deuteronomy 4:1-8).

However, it is never the intention of our Catholic Church to add or subtract to what God has taught and revealed. Yes, we have the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that explains what our faith teaches. However, this catechism was not written to add to what God has taught. The goal of the catechism, the goal of all Catholic teaching, is to help us understand how God calls us to apply what was written in the Bible 2,000 years ago to life today. When the human authors wrote the Bible, they were inspired by God to know what to write about. Through the Holy Spirit, God continues to guide the Church. We need to pray for the Spirit to continue to always inspire the Church and each of us as individuals to listen with our heart and soul to what God is saying to us.

The Bible is important. What is revealed in the Bible is crucial to us knowing how God calls us to life. For instance, our belief that the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Jesus comes from Jesus’ own words, this is my body, this is the chalice of my blood, in Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:14-20 (Cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25). Our call to celebrate Mass comes from Jesus’ words, “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19, cf. 1 Corinthians 11:25). Our need for the Eucharist comes from Jesus’ words in the Bread of Life Discourse, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:53-55). 

Everything we believe about the Eucharist is rooted in Jesus’ words as found in the Bible.

Then why doesn’t everyone who believes in the Bible believe in the Real Presence of Jesus? Honestly, I don’t know.

Today there are people who say they are spiritual but not religious, meaning they do not follow formalized religion. They may pray on their own. They may even read the Bible but on what basis do they interpret the Bible? Now, of course, everyone who is baptized has received the Holy Spirit with the gifts of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Still, one must have the background to understand what is written in the Bible. We rely on the magisterium of the Church as guided by the Holy Spirit.

The word “magisterium” refers to the teaching authority of the Church. However, one should realize that “teaching authority” here does not refer to theologians who are college teachers. The magisterium lies in the pope and bishops as successors to the Apostles” (see definition of magisterium in the Catechism).

One final comment on “sola scriptura”. If you believe only in what is found in the Bible, who determines what is in the Bible? In my previous article, “Are All Bibles the Same?”, I addressed the question of different translations of the Bible as well as why the Catholic Bible has seven more books in it than Protestant Bibles. Here I will simply that it is the magisterium of the Catholic Church, depending absolutely on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, set which books are in the Catholic Bible. Protestant scholars may provide an explanation for why the seven books are not in Protestant Bibles but on what authority? The Bible did not magically appear from Heaven. The writing of the Bible is inspired by God and the books contained within it i the Catholic understanding come from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through the magisterium.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Being Civilized in the Midst of Challenges

We face challenges in our world today.  Of course, there has been challenges as long as there has been people making bad choices with their free will.  There has also being illnesses that challenge us but do not know why they exist. 

The challenges come in various forms.  We are becoming more and more a divided people, a polarized people.  We are polarized by differing ideas.  We can see this in how people of different political parties act towards one another but it is not limited to political parties.  We see people polarized over various issues.  If we could only learn to dialogue well.

We hear more and more about shootings and terrorism in schools, malls, and other public spaces.  Some stem from mental health issues by the perpetrator while others stem from hating people of a certain belief, race, or lifestyle.  Is there more hatred today?  Are we growing apart instead of together?

Right now, we continue under partial shutdown from the Coronavirus pandemic.  In some ways the pandemic has drawn people together as seen by people who are donating to help those out of work because of the Coronavirus shutdown.  Unfortunately, there are also people who are divided over how to respond (what to shutdown, when to reopen, etc.).  If we could learn to dialogue better, perhaps we could find a balanced response.

In the midst of the pandemic we find ourselves also dealing with the issues of racism, specifically how minorities are treated by the police.  However, racism is not simply a police issue.  It is a societal issue.  It is an issue that involves faith.  God calls us to love our neighbor.  It doesn’t matter where they are from, the color of their skin, or what language they speak.  We learn to look at people as God looks at them (1 Samuel 16:1-13, especially verse 7).  All are children of God and all deserve to be treated with the dignity they deserve.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen (cf. “How Do We Look at the World?”). 

So, we have the protests where people legitimately call for an end to racism, recognizing the dignity of all life.  Life and dignity are worth standing up for.  Unfortunately, some of the protests have been hijacked and turned into riots with destruction.

At the same time society faces these challenges, at a time when we need our faith, many people have left their faith.  Some have made a deliberate choice to abandon their faith, often becoming atheists while others have simply drifted away, not seeing the relevance of faith in their lives.  Some of these people may be good people.  Some have made earthly things to be their “god”.  Their desire for money, power, and sex become the driving force, i.e. their “god,” in their lives (remember Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:10 that “love of money is the root of our evils.”).  I actually read an article, “Sin City: NYC has rules for pandemic sex but no Mass”, for people looking to engage in promiscuous activity at the same time churches were closed. 

Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

So, what are we to do?

As individuals, we need to think about how we treat others.  Do we treat them with dignity?  Do we treat them with love?  Are there ways God wants us to stand up for others?  Do we do so peacefully and kindly or do we contribute to the violence and the hatred?

What about the news media?  The role of the news media is to present the facts in an unbiased way without promoting one’s own agenda.  Of course, we all have our own perspective but we need to listen to all sides and rely on the Holy Spirit to help know what is right and just in God’s eyes.  The news media should not be promoting their own agenda.  In the selection of stories, they need to be open.  If they are biased in their reporting, it affects our ability to make good decisions in our own lives.  Sometimes I wonder how much the world is changing vs. how much what the news covers is changing.  In a world of high speed communication we hear about things in an instant that we would have never heard of a hundred years ago.  The news media should also report the good as well as the bad.  We need encouragement. 

The news media should also not be judgmental of others.  Nobody should be.  Here I turn to how people of different views interact.  Even in the way the government responds to the Coronavirus, the differences drive how officials want to respond.  Some bash each other over their responses to the Coronavirus.  Others use it to pass new laws largely unrelated to the virus but have been on their agenda for a while.  Some want the government to do little while others think the government is to be the savior of the world (see my article “Who is Our Savior?”).  The government has a role to play in helping those in need.  That doesn’t make them the source of all truth.  God is the source of “Truth” (cf. my video presentation, Where Do We Go for Truth?)

Here, I think of the example of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More who I wrote about yesterday (“St. John Fisher, an Example of faith”).  They serve as an example of choosing God over appeasing government officials.

We pray for all to know what they should do as individuals, as community groups, and as government officials to make the world a better place. In praying, we must realize God has a place in all of this.  God determines what is good and just, not us, not the government.  Remember the words we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”  The “thy” is God.

I have spoken today about division.  We need to learn to respond in a way that does not build division.  We are going to have different opinions.  However, a response that involves negative words or actions to people of different opinions is likely not to help much.

We need a civilized response.  My use of the word “civilized” is not my own idea.  I saw it this past week in a new initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (www.usccb.org) called “Civilize It” (www.civilizeit.org).  It reminds us to treat others with dignity.  It reminds us that our response must be rooted in the gospel and a well-formed conscience.  Our response must be rooted in love.  We must make room in our hearts for those we disagree with.

Jesus told us the greatest commandment is to love God.  The second is to love our neighbor.  In the story of the Good Samaritan, He teaches that everyone, every those we don’t get along with are our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).

Let us civilize our dialogue by rooting in love, in God who is love (cf. 1 John 4:7-9, especially verse 8)

Peace,

Fr. Jeff