Skip to content

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Homily

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Exodus 17:8-13
Psalm 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 (see 2)
2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
Luke 18:1-8
October 20, 2019

Jesus tells us to “pray always”.  Really?  How can anyone pray “always”?  We have to sleep or we will become “weary”.  We have to work.  We have to eat.  How can we “pray always”?

The fact that what Jesus says might seem impossible should tell us that He is trying to get us to think differently about what it means to pray, let alone “pray always.

Jesus continues with a parable about the woman who asked the judge to “Render a just decision for me against my adversary.”  We are told that the judge doesn’t care what others think and does what he wants.  The woman continually asks him for a “just decision”.  Eventually, because of her persistence, the judge finally gives her what she wants. 

Hearing this as a parable from Jesus, it might seem the lesson is that all we have to do to get what we want in prayer is to keep asking.  If we bother God long enough, He will give us what we want.

Wrong!

First of all, we need to consider what the woman was asking for.  She doesn’t tell the judge what decision to make.  In our prayers we might often tell God how we want him to fix our problems.  What the woman asks for is for the judge to “Render a just decision.

God wants us to bring our problems and sufferings to him in prayer.  However, the thing to think about is your goal in bringing your problems to God in prayer.  Do you want to change God to get him to do what you want or are you willing to allow God to change you through prayer?  For instance, maybe God wants to help you redirect your life around your problems.  God doesn’t change us all at once, or at least we generally don’t let him.  We need to be persistent in prayer to keep coming back to God.

So, there is a little lesson about persistence and openness in prayer.  However, so far we haven’t addressed how it might seem impossible to “pray always”. 

Our first reading speaks of praying always. 

God had led the Israelites out from Egypt into the desert.  They are freed from slavery but life still has its battles.  They are under attack.  Joshua leads the physical battle but the point today is not the physical battle itself.  They will win the physical battle but how?

Through prayer.

Joshua leads the physical battle but victory comes through God and the power of prayer

While the battle goes on, Moses is on the hill.  However, he is not just a spectator, he plays a vital role.  He is praying.  We are not told what words he says in prayer.  We are told his posture in prayer.  He stands with his hands raised up, the same posture the priest takes at Mass for some of the prayers, including the Eucharistic Prayer.

Yet, as the battle continues, Moses becomes “tired”, so he lets his arms down.  When he does, the battle shifts and the Israelites begin to lose.  Now, the lesson here is perseverance in prayer.  However, that doesn’t mean that we need to keep our hands raised up all the time like Moses did during the battle but we are called to keep turning our hearts and soul to God.

Sometimes, like Moses, it might be difficult to keep praying on our own.  Moses needed Aaron and Hur to support him in prayer.  Sometimes we need the support on others in prayer.  Sometimes we are to be the ones supporting others with prayer.

God “neither slumbers nor sleeps.  God is available 24/7 to listen and respond to our prayers.  Still, what does it mean to pray?

Prayer involves our posture, whether it be holding our hands up like Moses, lifting up our eyes to God as we heard in the psalm, or kneeling in humble surrender.

Prayer can include reading the Bible, the “sacred Scriptures” that Paul reminds us is “inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction and for training in righteousness.”

Prayer involves words.  It might be memorized prayer like the Our Father, the Rosary, The Liturgy of the Hours, or whatever our favorite devotion is. 

The words can also be us telling God what our battles are, what we are struggling with.  However, this shouldn’t be just a list of our demands.

However, we pray in words and gestures, prayer is rooted in our hearts and soul.  Prayer is ultimately rooted in our relationship with God.  To “pray always” is just that, to keep ourselves always rooted in God.

What does it take to keep us rooted in God?  One hour a week at Mass is essential but how do we keep ourselves in an attitude of prayer throughout the week.

Here, I want to turn to the life of the monks at the Abbey of the Genesee.  They pray a lot.  How do they pray?  I mentioned before the Liturgy of the Hours.  It has up to seven times each day praying the psalms and listening to scripture.  The monks at the Abbey pray all seven.  Five of the times are open to the public, beginning with Vigils at 3:30 a.m. and ending with Compline at 7:30 p.m.  They also have times in the day set aside for Lectio Divina, a form of prayer based on reading Scripture. 

Even the monks at the Abbey do not pray in words and gestures all the time.  They all have assigned work each morning and afternoon to support the life on the monastery.

Still, one might want to say prayer is easy for the monks since they don’t have all the commitments you do for work and family.  I don’t expect everyone here to pray all seven cycles of the Liturgy of the Hours but maybe you could pray one.  Maybe you could spend a few minutes reading the Bible in a prayerful way.  Maybe it’s praying the Rosary.  Maybe it is just stopping occasionally throughout the day to ask God with just a few words to be with you.

I encourage you to “be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient” in prayer and God will let you know He is with you always.

P. S. We read primarily from the Gospel of Luke this year where prayer is a major theme. If you would like to hear more about prayer, check out this video presentation, “Talking to God: A Conversation About Prayer,” Fr. Jeff did when he was at Immaculate Conception Church. On the web page, you will also find links to information about some forms of prayer and devotions.

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
2 Kings 5:14-17
Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4 (see 2b)
2 Timothy 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19
October 13, 2019

As our first reading begins today, Naaman is “plunged into the Jordan seven times.”  This might remind us of how Jesus was baptized in the Jordan river.  Following the plunging, we are told that Naaman was cleaned of his leprosy.

Naaman was not a Jew.  He was the commander of the army of Aram.  He was highly respected.  Yet, he was a leper.  He went to great lengths to be cured but had been unsuccessful.  When he heard of a prophet in Israel (Elisha) who could do miracles, he went to him.  Elisha told him to wash in the Jordan river seven times.  At first Naaman refused thinking the waters of the Jordan were no better than the waters of his own country but, at the urging of his servants, he did as Elisha directed.

When he obeyed, he was cleansed of his leprosy.

We should not see this as simply a physical cure.  Yes, the leprosy was gone but not only was Naaman physically cured, he was spiritually transformed.  His own words, “Now I know there is no God in all the earth except in Israel” show this.  His commitment to the one true God is pledged when he says, “I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god except to the Lord.

Thus, Naaman begins a new life in true faith from being plunged in the waters of the Jordan just as we begin new life in the waters of baptism.

Naaman experienced a profound spiritual transformation at the Jordan but it was only a beginning.  It began a spiritual journey for him that would continue until he passed from this world to the next.

Back at the end of June, we heard from the ninth chapter of Luke’s Gospel (13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C) how Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem.  He literally began a physical journey to Jerusalem but it serves as a metaphor for the spiritual journey we begin in baptism.

Today’s gospel starts with the words, “As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem.”  I want to emphasis “continued” because that is exactly we what we are all called to do.  To follow Jesus is not simply a matter of baptism.  It is a spiritual journey that continues in the Sacrament of Confirmation as the second Sacrament of Initiation.  We are continually strengthened in the third Sacrament of Initiation, the Eucharist.  Baptism and Confirmation are received only once in a lifetime for they leave an inedible mark on us, forever marking us as children of God. 

The Eucharist, the very Body and Blood of Christ, can be received over and over as we come humbly to God, professing that we need Jesus.

Think of the ten lepers who come to Jesus and call out, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us.”  They call him “master” but this should not be seen simply as a master who is in charge in earthly terms.  They have heard of the miracles He has done and see him as having mastery in healing.  They believe that Jesus can heal them so they call out for help, “Have pity of us!

Without first healing them, He tells them, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”  That was what lepers did after they were healed but these lepers were not yet healed.  Yet, they went as Jesus directed.  They must have done this in faith.  In faith, they were healed.

In healing Naaman, in healing the ten lepers, “The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.”   How God healed them, we do not know.  That’s what makes it “revelation.”  If we knew how God did this in medical terms, it would be “knowledge.”  But these healings went beyond human knowledge.  God used these healings to reveal himself, to reveal how He can help us when we surrender ourselves to him.

I would imagine that most, if not all of us, have asked God for healing either for ourselves or for others.  I suspect most of our prayers for healing are for physical healing.  Is that the healing we most need?

What about what is in our hearts?

Naaman was cleaned of his leprosy and became a believer.  Ten lepers were cleansed.  One returned, “realizing he had been healed,” glorified God, and “fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.”  He realized the significance of his healing.  He realized Jesus as the source of his healing and gave thanks with an “attitude of gratitude.”

I have been a priest for a little over twelve years now.  I won’t begin to know how many people I have anointed in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.  It would be many.  Of course, some of them were expected to die and did.  Of those who lived, I never saw anyone receive an immediate physical healing.  Conversing with them, what I have heard is them speak of receiving a sense of peace in the anointing, a sense of knowing God is with them.  There is the grace of the Sacrament.  There is spiritually healing.

The same is true for Baptism and Confirmation.  We don’t see a physical change but the Holy Spirit is upon them.  Likewise, in receiving the Eucharist, the very Body and Blood of Jesus, we are transformed not physically but spiritually when we open ourselves to what we receive.

May we always live in gratitude for what God gives us in the sacraments.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Homily

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 (8)
2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
Luke 17:5-10
October 6, 2019

Habakkuk the prophet cried out, “How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen!

Have you ever felt the same way?  Have you asked God for help but feel like you don’t get an answer?

We see violence and pray that it end but it seems that the Lord does not intervene.  We see ruin and destruction.  What is the Lord doing about it?

There are the standard answers that people might give when prayers aren’t answered like, “You aren’t asking for the right thing or God will answer at the right time.” 

I believe these might be the correct answers sometimes.  Then I say if I am not asking for the right thing, let me know what the right thing is.  If it isn’t the right time now, then I ask the Lord to give me patience (which I need more of anyway) to wait.  In either case, I think of what “the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”  Yes, Lord give me more faith.  Help me to trust in you.

How did the Lord answer Habakkuk’s lament?  He told him to write down what he saw so that when it came to fulfillment, Habakkuk would know that he could count on the Lord to fulfill his promises in the right way at the right time.

Here I might encourage you to keep a spiritual journal.  When things are going well, you write down what you are thankful for and what the Lord has done to help you.  Then, you can use that as a source of hope when things aren’t going well.  When things don’t go the way you want, write down what the struggles are.  Then, when the Lord changes things, you can refer to the struggles that you wrote down to see how the Lord answered your prayers in his way and on his time.

Getting back to the apostles’ plea, “Increase our faith,” how did the Lord answer?  By saying, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

I don’t know about you but I haven’t moved any trees through my words but on a literal level I have never tried and I don’t expect to.  What I do seek is help with the struggles of my life.

What are the struggles you ask the Lord for help with?

Is it sin?  What temptations do you struggle with?

Is it an illness?  The loss of a job?

What about struggles with decisions about life itself? 

October is Respect Life Month.  This year the theme is “Christ Our Hope in Every Season of Life.”  When one hears the term “respect life”, one might immediately think of life in the womb.  When we think of struggles in the womb, we might think of an unplanned pregnancy or a child in the womb facing lifelong health issues.  This can be real struggles in which we ask the Lord to “increase our faith” so that we might always choose life.

These can be real struggles of faith.  It can be hard to do the right thing.  Sometimes we fall short.  There is always hope because God is always merciful when we confess our sins with a contrite heart.  God wants to forgive us.

Such struggles of life in the womb are a critical part of respecting life but respecting life is about more than just life in the womb.  That’s why this year’s theme is “Christ Our Hope in Every Season of Life.” 

The end of life often comes with struggles.  Do we rely on our faith when making decisions about end of life issues?  Again, we ask the Lord to “increase our faith.

Still, respecting life isn’t just about life in the womb and at the end.  We need to respect life all the way in between, from womb to tomb.  Do we treat people with dignity, respecting them, in our daily lives?  Do you treat others with love and compassion or do you see them simply as a means to get what you what?

Here I turn to the words of our psalm response, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”  When I hear this verse, I often wonder why someone would harden their heart when they hear God’s voice.  Hearing this verse in the context of life decisions, I wonder if it means that we need to listen with an open heart when the Lord might give us an answer that we don’t want to hear.  When we don’t like the answer we receive, we might harden our hearts to say that isn’t from God.

Are you ready to “bow down” and “kneel before the LORD” to hear what God has to say and to trust him to “with the strength that comes from God”?

What are we really asking for when we say, “increase our faith”?  How much do we want to increase and in what way?  Do we want just enough faith to get through the struggle we face but little enough that we don’t have to change how we live our lives?

Here I recall Paul’s words to Timothy, “stir into flame the gift of God.”  When Paul writes this to Timothy, he is speaking of what Timothy received “through the imposition” of hands in what we call ordination but that doesn’t mean that Paul’s words aren’t relevant to us.

We all receive the gift of faith in our baptism.  We need to ask to take the gift of faith that we already have within us and stir it into flame.  And I mean “flame,” not just some smoldering coals to get us through life.  No, we need to ask God to “stir into flame” the gift of the Holy Spirit within us to shape our whole life.

Newest Presentation on Video

I just posted the video and handout from my latest presentation on my website. You can see them at www.renewaloffaith.org/saints2.

Here’s a short description – In Part I of this series Fr. Jeff began by talking about the saints in general and then Mary and the Holy Angels. Now, in Part II, he talks about St. Lucy and St. Patrick. This is includes biographical information about Lucy and Patrick but Fr. Jeff also uses it to talk about how we relate to them as examples for us, sources of hope, and intercessors..

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Homily

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Psalm 146:7, 8-9, 9-10 (1b)
1 Timothy 6:11-16
Luke 16:19-31
September 29, 2019

Amos speaks of those who have “beds of ivory”, “eat lambs… and calves from the stall.”  They have the “best oils.” 

All of these point to people with wealth as they are expensive items.  Thus, they had become images of high status for those focused on material wealth. 

As I have said on other occasions, the things are not the problem.  It is the desire for the status people seek that is the problem.  They make that their only concern.  They have become complacent about others.

That’s why Amos opens this passage delivering the words of the Lord, “Woe to the complacent in Zion.”  The people to whom Amos writes have failed to see the “collapse of Joseph” around them.  They failed to love their neighbor.

For this they will be “the first to go into exile” and “their wanton revelry shall be done away with.”  They will face the consequences of their complacency.

Exile to Babylon came in the 6th century BC but not all learned their lesson.  600 years later Jesus tells the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

The rich man enjoyed things that he thinks give him status, “purple garments, and fine linen” as well as dining “sumptuously each day.”

Focused on his status and wealth, he is complacent to the needs of others.  He is so complacent that he doesn’t notice Lazarus “lying at his door.”  He does nothing to help Lazarus who is so poor that he is “covered with sores” and would have been happy just to have some table scraps.

Then, they both die.  Lazarus is taken “to the bosom of Abraham.”  This signifies that he goes to paradise with God.  He goes to Heaven.  Lazarus may have been poor in this world but he receives the treasure of Heaven.

Conversely, the rich man had wealth in this world and made that his focus in this life.  He had received the treasure he wanted.  So, instead of receiving the treasure of Heaven, he suffered torment in the flames of Hell.

He acknowledges he is suffering but he still hasn’t gotten why.  Still thinking as a rich man used to servants doing things for him, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to him with water to cool his tongue.

Abraham speaks of the “great chasm” that separates them.  We speak of Heaven and Hell as physical places.  As such, we might think of the “great chasm” as nothing more than a large gorge separating Heaven and Hell to “prevent anyone from crossing” in either direction.

Of course, I don’t think anyone in Heaven would want to cross over to Hell.  On the other hand, once one arrives in Hell, they might see the error of their ways and want to cross over to Heaven.

Or would they?

At least would they want to cross over for the right reason?

I can’t imagine anyone wanting to suffer the torment of the flames of Hell.  I stress “wanting” to think about their attitude.  I doubt their goal was ever to end up in Hell.  No, their goal was simply to enjoy life and seek “status” in this world.  They failed to see the bigger picture that there would be consequences to their actions.  They failed to see their faith as a way of life.  I see in that failure a “great chasm” that prevents them from turning to God’s ways.

Do you see our faith as just one component of your life that is just about spending one hour on Sunday in church or do you make faith part of your whole life?

I turn to the beginning of our second reading.  It comes from Paul’s first letter to Timothy.  Timothy had been a disciple of Paul.  Paul appointed him as leader of the new Christian Community in Ephesus.  Paul writes to guide Timothy in his role as shepherd. 

In this passage, Paul did not write about administration or specific leadership skills.  Those certainly would be important but Paul goes back to basics.  He tells Timothy, “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness.”  Paul writes about virtue.  Paul writes to encourage Timothy to live out the faith. 

We too are called to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness.

Paul writes of the “noble confession” Timothy had made, committing himself to Christ.  This began in his Baptism. 

When we were baptized, a commitment was made to follow Christ.  Most of us were baptized as babies so we don’t remember it.  We renew the baptismal promises when we are confirmed.  We renew them each year at Easter. 

I will end with a question.  Are you a fan of Jesus or are you a disciple of Jesus?

A fan is one who admires someone like a sports star but doesn’t try to be like them in their whole life.  A disciple is a student to strives to learn and live as the master teaches.

So, again, “Are you a fan of Jesus or are you a disciple of Jesus?”

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Homily

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8 (see 1a, 7b)
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Luke 16:1-3
September 22, 2019

Our readings start today with the prophet Amos speaking to those “who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!

 The people to whom he is speaking would say they keep the Sabbath holy.  However, they do not let themselves be transformed by what the Sabbath offers.  They can’t wait for the Sabbath to be over so they can get back to what they really want to do, making more money.

They will do anything to make more money.  They are not honest in their business dealings, cheating on the scales and adding to the shekel.  They are even willing to “buy the lowly” and “the poor.” 

In their dishonest business dealings, they are, in a sense, breaking the commandment against stealing and failing to love their neighbor (not treating them with dignity).

This all goes back to them not keeping the Sabbath holy.  If they allowed themselves to be transformed by what happens on the Sabbath, they would not conduct their business dealings with such dishonesty, motivated by greed.

If we allow ourselves to be transformed by our Sabbath celebration, instead of taking advantage of the poor, we will seek to be like the Lord “who lifts up the poor.”

The people that Amos spoke about were clearly being, at the very least, dishonest in their dealings.  Turning to the parable Jesus tells today, we hear about the rich man’s steward. 

The steward is reported to the rich man for “squandering his property.”  This doesn’t necessarily mean the steward is stealing.  The job of a steward was to manage the master’s resources well.  To squander is to use wastefully.  Thus, the steward is not doing what he was hired to do.  Thus, for his failure, he is fired.  Before firing him, the rich man tells him to “prepare a full account” of his stewardship.  The rich man needs to know what his assets are.

The steward knows he is in trouble, not just in losing his job, but that he has no means to provide for his future.  He knows he is “not strong enough to dig” and he is “ashamed to beg.

What does he do? 

He starts reducing the debt due from his master’s borrowers.  This might seem like stealing.  However, the scholars say that, in those days, the way the steward made a living was that when they lend out their master’s money, they would properly increase the debt to cover their commission. 

Thus, in reducing what they owe, this steward is foregoing his commission.  Under other circumstances, this would be generous.  Here, the steward does it hoping that they in turn will be kind to him in the future.  His motives are not great but at least he realizes that if he wants others to treat him with generosity, he needs to do the same.

He is beginning to change.  Change is possible.  There is a saying that “every saint has a past and every sinner a future.  What do you need to change in your life to allow yourself to be converted from a sinner to a saint?

Another way of thinking of it is to imagine it is your time of judgment.  You are told to “prepare a full account of your stewardship.”  What have you done with the gifts God has given you?

Have you made yourself a slave to “mammon” (material wealth) or do you use what you have been given to serve God, to make his kingdom known in this world?

Do we need money?  Yes.  Money is the means by which we receive payment for the work we have done and that we buy what we need for food, clothing, and shelter.  Money is not the problem.  It is when we let the money control what we do that we become a slave to it.

Jesus tells us, “no servant can serve two masters… You cannot serve both God and mammon.

If you find that you have let money become what dictates what you do, then it is time to change.  How does one do that?  We have debts.  We have bills we are committed to.  God doesn’t want use to default on our financial promises.

If you have been too focused on money and can change to put the focus on God all at once, then do it.  If not, at least identify small steps you can begin to take.

This isn’t just a matter of money.  What else can you do to put God first?

How about service to others?  Do you volunteer at all?  If you are busy, start with just an hour or two.  You can increase how much time you volunteer over time.

How about prayer?

If you haven’t prayed on your own in a while, one might make a long-term goal of spending an hour in prayer each day but that is probably too big a change for anyone to make all at once.  You might not have the hour to give.  Others might find the hour but what do you do with the hour?

Start with 3-5 minutes, trying different ways of praying and build up.  The same can be true for adoration.  You know we have weekly adoration at St. Mary’s from 5 to 7 pm every Thursday.  It is offered for two hours but we don’t expect anyone to stay for the whole two hours.  Most people I have seen come and pray quietly for anywhere from five minutes to thirty minutes, with some staying longer.  Start small and increase.  The point is to open yourself to Jesus and put him first in your life.

So, what do you need to do to put God first to grow closer to God?

A Word on the Saints

For those who follow St. Luke’s on Facebook (the parish where I currently serve), we began posting images or quotes associated with particular saints this summer.  We do this to help us better know the saints.  This is also part of the reason that led to the series, Our Saints and Intercessors, that Fr. Jeff is doing.

One might wonder how we choose the saints that are posted on our parish Facebook page.  The simple answer is that we do not choose which saints are reflected in the posts.  We are following the church’s daily calendar.  When we post an image or a quote from a particular saint, it is their day on the liturgical calendar. 

In general terms, we call the day assigned to a particular saint their “feast day.”  However, there are different levels of “feast days.”  There are feasts (all of which are obligatory), obligatory memorials, and optional memorials. 

When it is the feast day of a saint, there are special prayers that can be used at Mass for the Collect (opening prayer), Offertory Prayer (prayer over the gifts), and the Prayer After Communion.  There can also be special readings associated with a saint’s feast day.

With rare exception, when a feast day is celebrated on Sunday, the saint prayers and readings are NOT used as the Sunday readings and prayers take precedence.  During the week, when a saint day is a feast, the readings and prayers must be used for daily Mass.  When it is an obligatory memorial, the prayers must be used while the readings may or may not change.  For optional memorials, it is the discretion of the priest who is presiding at Mass whether or not to use the prayers or readings associated with the saints.

You might wonder what determines whether a saint’s feast day is a feast, obligatory memorial, or an optional memorial.  It is not a matter of how “powerful” the saint is.  Rather, it is based on how well they are known, locally or worldwide.  For instance, on the universal calendar, October 19th, is an optional memorial for St. Isaac Jogues and his companions, known as the North American martyrs.  For us in the United States, since they were martyred between Albany and Canada in the 17th century, their feast day is an obligatory memorial.  Our own parish saint, St. Luke is a feast as he is known to all as the writer of the gospel that bears his name and the Acts of the Apostles.

If you would like to learn more about saints on their feast day, a great resource is saintoftheday.org.

Peace,


Fr. Jeff

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Homily

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19 (Luke 15:18)
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-32
September 15, 2019

Today’s readings should be familiar to us.  Our Sunday readings are on a three-year cycle so if you have been coming to church all your life, you have heard these several times.

Add to that some of these readings are popular biblical stories, the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the story of the “molten calf” from the Exodus.

Thus, thinking we have heard it all before, it would be easy enough to not pay much attention to these readings.  To do that would not do the readings justice.

Yes, we hear the same readings every three years but are you the same person as three years ago.  What has happened in your life?  What have your learned about our faith since then? 

Even if you think you are the same, it is still important to give the readings serious attention.  Sometimes we notice something we didn’t before.  It might be because of something that has happened to us, something we learned or the Spirit might prompt us to hear something different.

Today we resume our catechesis classes for our children and youth.  “Catechesis” might seem like a big church word.  It means to teach.  Our catechetical programs are meant to help our children have a solid foundation in our faith.

We are grateful to our catechists (meaning our children’s teachers) who volunteer to help our children know our faith.

I said before that we “resume” our classes.  As we begin a new school year, many might say we “start” our classes.  I used the word “resume” deliberately to remind us that learning about our faith is an ongoing process. 

It starts in listening to the readings and homily every Sunday but it can be more than that with spiritual reading and/or attending activities designed to deepen our faith.

The Israelites in the Exodus probably thought they had a strong faith when God freed them from slavery in Egypt.  God presented them with the Commandments and they agreed to follow the Commandments.  One might have thought they were all set, knowing what they needed to know but their faith was imperfect.

Moses then went up on the mountain to converse with God.  When the Israelites saw that Moses was delayed in returning, they became “depraved”, “turned aside” from the way the Lord had shown them, and made a “molten calf.

If their faith had been stronger, if they knew everything, this would not have happened.  They needed to grow more in their faith and we should seek the same.  Learning about our faith does not end in Confirmation.  It is a lifelong process if we truly want to be good disciples.

It is in this same desire to grow in our faith that we need to open ourselves to new insights each time we hear the same readings at Mass.  What is God saying to us today?  The Bible is a living document, still relevant today.

For instance, the first time a person hears the Parable of the Prodigal Son, one probably focuses on the fact that the younger son sinned, hit bottom, and returned to his father who eagerly welcomed him back.  We see this as a sign of how God is willing to forgive us when we repent.  This is a very important point and to know this gives us hope.

Yet, we can find more in the readings.

For instance, the story is not just about the younger son.  We might relate to the younger son as sinners but have you ever asked yourself if you are more like the older son, always doing what the father asked but resenting those who have turned away and refusing to welcome them back?  In short, are you willing to forgive others? 

The older son was not.  The father was.

Are you like the father, willing to forgive?

Not only was the father willing to forgive, he was eager to do so.  The culture of the time would have said then when the younger son left with his inheritance before the father died, he would be considered dead to the family.  The culture would have said the father would refuse to ever talk to the son again.

However, this father was not like that.  He was so eager to forgive, to reconcile, that when he saw his younger son approaching, he ran out to greet him and threw a celebration.

What is your reaction when you see someone in church that hasn’t been here in a while and has sinned?  Do you think, “what are they doing here?” or do you rejoice that they have returned?  Maybe they still need conversion but how do you expect them to change if they don’t come to church?

Finally, going back to seeing ourselves as the younger son, what sins have you committed?  Have you confessed them to God? 

Sometimes people say they need to get their sins under control and then they will come to confess them in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  To think that way is to think we can do it all on our own.  We can’t.  We need God’s help.

In the story, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, part of the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, Eustace sees the dragon’s treasure and becomes greedy.  Because of his greed, he is transformed into a dragon himself.  He cannot change himself back.  He needs Aslan to do this for him.

We cannot reconcile ourselves to God.  We need God to do this.  We need God to wipe out our offenses, to wash us from our guilt, and to create a clean heart in us.  God does this in the Sacrament of Reconciliation when we confess our sins with a contrite heart.

My Latest Presentation, “Our Saints and Intercessors”

I started a new presentation series this week. In Part I, I begin with a general introduction to our Catholic understanding of the saints. Then, I discuss Mary and the Holy Angels (from two of our churches, St. Mary’s and Holy Angels). In a few weeks, Part II will examine the lives of St. Lucy and St. Patrick. Part III will continue with St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Luke, completing all the saints of our current churches in our parish.

You can view the video and handouts on my website at www.renewaloffaith.org/saints1.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Homily

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Wisdom 9:13-18b
Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17 (1)
Philemon 9-10, 12-17
Luke 14:25-33
September 8, 2019

Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends?  For the deliberations of mortals are timid.”  These are the words that began our first reading from Wisdom today. 

As human knowledge has grown over the millennia, many think it is only a matter of time before we have an explanation for everything.

Do we really think we can ever comprehend everything?  We cannot and nor are we meant to comprehend everything.  We do not know everything and we do not have the perspective to understand everything.  Our perspective is limited by our experiences and by our humanity.

Wisdom goes onto say, “And scarce do we guess the things of earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out.”  We are not meant to know everything in this world but that does not mean we are not to know “a lot.” 

When we live in “humility,” recognizing that while we may know much from reason, we do not know everything, what reason does not teach us, God will reveal to us when needed.  Through the Holy Spirit, God gives us the gifts of knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and counsel. 

In his days here on earth, Jesus preached often to teach us what it means to be his disciples.  Some of his teachings be easy to understand while others are difficult to grasp.

Today’s gospel contains some teaching that might be difficult to understand.  This might be troubling in light of the fact that Jesus says three times in this one passage that we cannot be his disciple if we do not do these three things.

Let me turn first to the last of the three directions Jesus offers today.  He says, “anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.

Possessions are generally not good or bad in and of themselves.  The problem is when our possessions begin to dictate our lives.  It’s the attachment to the possession that is the problem.  When we love the possession more than we love God and our neighbor, we hurt or break our relationship with God and neighbor.

This may not be too difficult to begin to understand.  It can be much harder to live out.  Earthly things come and go but while we have them, we find pleasure in them.

Jesus also says, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  For the Jews this would have been inconceivable.  The Cross (crucifixion) was used only for the worst of criminals.  For the Gentiles, Jesus’ death on the Cross seems foolish, a defeat. 

For us the Cross brings hope when we think of Jesus giving his life for us on the Cross.  We know that He does this so that our sins will be forgiven when we confess them.  Still, while we understand the value of Jesus taking up his Cross, we might struggle to understand the value of our own suffering.  I can say it is often in our own suffering we discover who we really are and what our faith means to us.  Yet, that still doesn’t always make it easy to bear our crosses.

That’s why we need to come to Mass regularly, to receive the grace we need to bear our crosses and to have an active relationship with Jesus, so we know He is always with us.

Now, I turn to the first thing Jesus tells us in this gospel passage that we must do to be his disciple.  I saved it for last because, taken literally, it might be the most difficult to understand.

If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Wow!  Is Jesus really telling us to hate people, even ourselves?  What happened to love your neighbor?

One commentary I looked at described this as a “Semitic idiom.”  Another referred to it as a “rhetorical hyperbole.”  I have a vague reconciliation from English class 35 years ago of these terms. 

The bottom line is Jesus uses this expression of hating to get us to think.  What He is trying to get us to understand is that we must put God first.

Are we to honor and love our father and mother?  Yes, but not more than God.

Are we to love our spouses and children, as well as brothers and sisters?  Yes, but not more than God.

What does it take to pull you away from God?  Being faithful to God might be challenging when we have family and friends who do not practice our faith.  Work might make it difficult to attend Mass.  Sports, music, and other things we enjoy might conflict with Mass.  It isn’t always easy but we are called to put God first.

What God asks for is “total dedication.”

What does “total dedication” to God get us? 

Salvation.

It also gets us the grace we need as we bear the crosses that come before us.  We need an ongoing relationship with God to know He is with us in the difficult times. 

It is in a life of faith that we know that the Lord has been our refuge and that we can trust that He is always with us.