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1st Sunday of Advent, Year B – Homily

1st Sunday of Advent, Year B
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19 (4)
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37
November 29, 2020

Our passage from Isaiah today comes from a time when the Babylonian Exile was ending and the Jews were returning to Jerusalem.  They found the Temple in ruins and their lands pillaged.  It was difficult to see.

Thus, they lament.  Yet, as they lament, they realize that Israel fell because they had ceased to follow the Lord’s ways.  They cry out, “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?  Return for the sake of your servants.” 

Why did God let them wander?  Why does He let us wander?  Can’t God stop us from wandering from his ways into sin?

Yes, He could stop us.  To do so God would have to take away our free will.  When we see evil in the world, it might seem like a good thing for God to take away our free will.  However, while taking away our free will could take away our ability to sin, it also takes away our ability to love.  To love requires free will so we are able to choose to love.

What are we to do? 

We can choose to surrender our free will to God, “Lord, make us turn to you, let us see your face and we shall be saved.”  We cannot save ourselves but God can save us.

When might we do this?  When might we change our ways and surrender our lives to God?

When some people decide to make changes in their lives, they choose to do it on January 1st as a new year’s resolution.  Many do not succeed because they lack commitment or the strength to carry out their resolutions.

Today we begin a new year in the church with our celebration of the First Sunday of Advent.  How about making a “new year’s resolution” now and asking God to be part of it?  God will help us as we seek to follow him.

What we want is to have God come more fully into our lives.  We call this season “advent.”  The word Advent means “coming.”  This season of Advent calls us to think about both the first coming of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas and the Second Coming at the end of the ages. 

Our readings this week point us to the Second Coming.  Are we ready?  If the Lord was to come today, would He “meet us doing right”?   Would the Lord find us mindful of his ways?

Or would He find us a sinful and unclean people, withering away in sin?

How are you doing in waiting for the Lord?  Are you keeping “firm to the end”?  Or are you dozing off? 

Jesus himself tells us to “Be watchful!  Be alert!”  Why?  Because, “You do not know when the time will come.”  In fact, while today’s gospel is just five verses, Jesus tells us twice to keep watch and that we do not know when the Second Coming will happen.

Jesus says, “May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”  “Sleeping” here is not a matter of physical sleep.  He is speaking of spiritual sleepiness, meaning we have grown lax in following the Lord’s way.  We have sinned.

How are we to change?

I go back to our psalm response, “Lord, make us turn to you:  let us see your face and we shall be saved.”  We need Jesus to save us.

Our passage today from Isaiah ends with the people saying to the Lord, “we are the clay and you the potter:  we are all the work of your hands.”

How much time do we spend trying to make ourselves be who we want to be?  We think we can and/or should do it on our own.  We cannot nor do we need to.  We are the clay.  We need to let God shape us into what we are meant to be.

Picture the clay.  It starts as a lump on the potter’s wheel.  If we try to shape ourselves, we work the clay but struggle to become something good.  When we sin, we lose the goodness that God has made us with.

How do we start over? 

We throw ourselves onto the true potter’s wheel and let God reshape us.  We confess our sins.  We turn our lives over to him so that He might save us.

The Lord is coming.  Let us turn to him and be saved.

Thanksgiving Day Homily

Thanksgiving Day
Sirach 50:22-24
Psalm 113:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Luke 17:11-19
November 26, 2020

Today is our national day of Thanksgiving.  The custom of this holiday dates back to the first pilgrims in Massachusetts.  They were thankful that God had blessed them with the harvest.  The trip across the ocean and the first year were not easy.  They knew God helped them through it.  So, it was only fitting for them to give thanks to God.

In the gospel ten lepers came to Jesus.  Leprosy was physically difficult but it was also emotionally difficult because it meant they were isolated from the community.  They came to Jesus asking, “Have pity on us!” 

Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priests.  This was something lepers would do after they were cured, not before.  They were not yet healed but they did as Jesus said.  They trusted Jesus.  On their way, they were healed.  However, only one returned to Jesus to give thanks.  We ask God for help when we are in trouble.  Do we thank God when our prayers are answered?

2020 has been a difficult year.  Of course, there is the Coronavirus.  As I think about the isolation of the ten lepers, I think about shutdown, quarantines, and social distancing.  All this can be stressful.  We find hope knowing that God is with us.  Let us give thanks, let us bless the Lord for his grace.

The Coronavirus isn’t the only struggle people have faced this year.  Records were shattered for number of acres burned in wildfires.  There were a record number of tropical storms/hurricanes. 

It would be easy to get discouraged.  Actually, I have been discouraged.  Where do I find hope?  In Jesus Christ.  Jesus willingly died for us.  He isn’t going to abandon us now.

We can renew our hope in thinking about how God has helped in the past.

We can renew our hope in the way we look at things.  Is the cup half-full or half-empty?  It’s a matter of perspective.  Do we live with an “attitude of gratitude?”

For instance, during this Coronavirus, at times we have gone to the grocery store to find some shelves empty.  We may have been discouraged by this, maybe even worrying about having enough food, but did you ever go without?  Maybe you couldn’t get your favorite food but did you go hungry?  Let us give thanks to God for the food we do have and pray for those who do go hungry.

When we were in complete shutdown, did you lament being stuck at home?  Be thankful that you have a home and pray for those who don’t have a home.

Are there people you find it difficult to be with?  Be thankful for the people you have in your life that you do enjoy being with and pray for those who are alone or difficult to be with.

When we see and appreciate what God has already done for us, we cultivate an attitude of gratitude within us.  This in turn strengthens us for the future.  Know that, as Paul says, God “will keep your firm to the end.

We come to Mass this morning as we celebrate thanksgiving.  We thank God for the words He gives us in the scriptures.  We come to celebrate the Eucharist.  It is the sacrifice of Jesus that we celebrate.  We thank Jesus for giving his life for us. 

The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus that we receive and are strengthened by it.  Our thanksgiving to the Lord is expressed in the preface that begins the Eucharistic Prayer.

The word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.”  Let us be thankful for all that God has given us.  Let us praise the name of the Lord forever.

Pray, Pay, and Obey

In the past, the understanding by many was that Catholics were supposed to “pray, pay, and obey” to be good Catholics. (A search on the Internet shows the order of the first two, pray and pay, are sometimes switched). The saying articulated that Catholics are supposed to pray (centering on coming to Mass and devotions like the Rosary), pay (meaning to give financially to your parish), and obey (meaning to follow church teaching because the church said so).

Today I would like to reflect how I see this phrase applying today.

Pray
Prayer is important. Prayer has its own category on my blog. Likewise, my website has pages dedicated to the topic of prayer. Our communal prayer centers on coming together to celebrate Mass. The Eucharist is source and summit of who we are as Catholics (Lumen Gentium, 11). Our prayer at Mass is not limited to just the Prayers of the Faithful (General Intercessions) and the Eucharistic Prayer. The entire Mass is a prayer. It is a dialogue with God.

Prayer also includes devotions like the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. It includes the Liturgy of the Hours. It also includes the prayers we offer for other people and ourselves.

The prayers I have described so far all follow a set form. There is a specific way Mass is celebrated. There are specific prayers said in the Rosary. There are prescribed psalms and readings for the Liturgy of the Hours. While the form and/or words are repetitious, they all involved dialogue with God. Remember “dialogue” flows both ways. We say prayers and readings to converse with God. That means listening. Prayer involves talking with God (See my video presentation, Talking to God: A Conversation About Prayer). We tell God what is going in our lives, seeking his help. We need to listen to what He has to say in response.

We need to pray. We need to be in relationship with God.

Pay
All were expected to pay. It was seen as an obligation. All who were able put their contribution in the weekly collection. Even today, the church counts on the contributions of parishioners. The church has bills to pay. That has not changed. What I hope has changed is an understanding of why parishioners are expected to “pay.”

It is not simply a “tax.” It is a call to contribute the mission of our church from the depths of our heart. Luke 21:1-4 tells the story of the poor widow’s contribution. Jesus sees both the rich and the poor widow “putting their offerings into the treasury.” The rich put in more money but it is the widow who Jesus praises for she “has offered her whole livelihood.” It required no effort for the rich to contribute for they had plenty of money. The poor widow gave from her heart.

We should not see our financial contributions as just helping to pay the parish bills. Yes, the church has bills to pay, but we ask parishioners to contribute not just to pay bills. Rather, we ask parishioners to contribute to help fulfill our call to proclaim the gospel. Your financial giving is part of how you can contribute to the ministry of the church. We call the contributions of parishioners “stewardship.” However, stewardship is not only financial giving (treasure). Parishioners can also give of their time and talents to help minister.

To “pay” is not your admission fee to Heaven. It is part of your contribution to fulfill what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come.”

Obey
“Obey” signified that parishioners are expected to do what the church says just because it says so. Many people did (and still do) because they trust the church. However, today many people have lost their trust in institutions. This is not just the church. People’s trust in government has also decreased. Politicians contradict one another so they can’t all be right. Within the church, some people (among other reasons) have lost trust because of the coverup of abuse by the clergy.

Humans are imperfect. However, our trust in the Church is not rooted in humanity. Our trust in the Church is rooted in our trust in God who leads the church through the Holy Spirit. (You may notice I am switching back and forth between a capital “C” and a lower case “c”. I do this trying to signify “church” merely as a human institution compared to “Church” as something that transcends humanity because it is God’s Church. We pray that the “church” always be what God intends as “Church.” What It Means to be a Church).

Obedience is something good. Jesus was “obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). His obedience brings us salvation. God gives us commandments that are good for us. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray “thy will be done.” We trust God. We seek to do his will. We pray that God leads his Church through the Holy Spirit. We pray for our church leaders to listen to the Holy Spirit. We pray for the grace we need to obey what God teaches.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year A – Homily

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year A
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Psalm 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6 (1)
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Matthew 25:31-46
November 22, 2020

Ezekiel opens today with the Lord assuring his people, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.”  We find comfort in these words.  We find hope in knowing that the Lord is watching over us.

Yet, we might ask why God is saying He will tend his sheep in this particular passage.  Ezekiel became a prophet of the Lord as the Babylonian Exile began.  The people in Israel find themselves in stressful times. 

The Lord had appointed people to shepherd his people.  This would include both religious leaders and government leaders, including the king.  The Lord appointed them to look after and tend his sheep.  They failed to do so.

Thus, the Israelites are defeated by the Babylonians.  It is in this time that the Lord says to them, “I myself will look after and tend my sheep.

He goes on to assure them that He “will rescue them…I myself will pasture my sheep.”  He will seek out the lost, strayed, injured, and sick.  Why?  Because He loves them. 

The 23rd Psalm is the most well-known psalm.  I think this is because it assures us of the Lord’s help.  This hope is summed up in the first line, “The Lord is my shepherd.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.  Jesus is indeed our king and not just our king, but the king of all, the king of the universe.

David was the king of Israel.  As king, he held great power.  Yet, he realized that his rule was not absolute.  He knew that his authority as king came from God who is the true shepherd.  David put faith before politics.  Remembering that we pray for religious freedom.

King David is seen as the author of the 23rd Psalm.  Remember that David was literally tending sheep when God sent Samuel to anoint David king (1 Samuel 16:11).  David knew what it meant to be a shepherd.

In the beginning of the 23rd Psalm, David said, “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”  There are people who think that the latter part means that if they follow Jesus, they will have everything they want. 

I offer a different possibility.  When we follow the Lord as our shepherd, we do not want as much.  When we let the Lord lead and guide us to right paths, we realize some of the things we wanted aren’t important.  So, we stop wanting them.

Returning to our passage from Ezekiel, the Lord also says, “I will judge between one sheep and another.”  There will be a judgment.  Have we followed the Lord?

Today, Jesus gives us more information about the judgment that will occur “when the Son of Man comes in his glory” and sits “upon his glorious throne.”  Jesus speaks of the criteria for how “he will separate them one from another.”

How will we be judged?  By what we have done for others.  Have we fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the ill, and visited the imprisoned? 

These are the Corporal Works of Mercy.  I have a video presentation on my website (The Journey to Jesus: Acts of Mercy) where I talk about the Corporal Works of Mercy as well as the Spiritual Works of Mercy.  That video is 1 ½ hours so I won’t repeat it all here.

Suffice it to say here that the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is love our neighbor.  We do both when we care for those in need because, as Jesus said, “whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.

We care for those in need as individuals and as a church.  An example of this is our Giving Trees.  With the Coronavirus around, we are having to modify how we do the Giving Tree, but we are still doing it to care for our neighbors. 

Our church has a long history of helping others.  Catholics established many hospitals.  Catholic Charities helps feed the poor in many places.  Catholics started the university system to help educate people to have better lives.  Religious freedom issues today can make it difficult for our Catholic institutions to continue but we do what we can to care for our brothers and sisters.  We do this to follow Jesus as our king.

We do so seeking eternal life for ourselves and our brothers and sisters.  We love God and we love our neighbor.

My Fourth and Final Article on “Fratelli Tutti”

I have finished my fourth and final article in my series, Our Relationships With Others, reflecting on Pope Francis’ encyclical, Fratelli Tutti.  As I complete this series, please note that the four articles do not cover the entirety of the encyclical. 

I selected the four topics for my articles based questions people have asked me in the past or things I know they struggle with.  I hope this helps demonstrate that what the Church says is relevant to what is going on in the world.  I hope these articles have been a good balance of instruction and a call to action in the way we live our lives.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Uncovering the Treasures of the Mass Series

I just uploaded the video and slides from the third and final video in my series, Uncovering the Treasures of the Mass.

You can view this third video at www.renewaloffaith.org/masspart3.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Our Story

In Matthew 28:19-20a, Jesus says to his disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This mission was not limited to the first disciples. It is a mission that continues today. It is mission not just for clergy and parish staff. It is a mission we all share in.

The mission is not solely about academic theology. It is about sharing what the gospel means to us. As Fr. John Riccardo writes in his book, Rescued: The Unexpected and Extraordinary News of the Gospel, (The Word Among Us Press, Frederick MD. 2020), “As we dive into the gospel together, our goal is not merely to learn something, but to experience something” (27).

As we read the Bible we must realize that the stories we read are not simply the stories of the people within those stories. What we read is our story, the story of God’s love for his people.

In this sense, Fr. John Riccardo writes, “Scripture doesn’t simply tell us what happened once, long ago, in a biblical era far, far away. Scripture tells us what always happens. Because what the devil did to Adam and Eve, he’s still trying to do to us today” (62).

The stories found in the Bible are from 2,000 year ago (New Testament) or more (Old Testament) ago. The world has changed drastically. For some this mistakenly means that the Bible is no longer relevant. The fact is the Bible is still relevant today. Fr. John Riccardo speaks of why it is still relevant, “This is why the message of the gospel is perpetually relevant: because we all have the same desires; we want infinite love. We want to have a sense of identity and to be accepted. We want to know that our lives have meaning” (19).

It is God who provides meaning to our lives.

We need to share our story with others. This is what it means for us to proclaim the gospel in everyday life. One word often used to describe this in theology books is “kerygma”. The word is a Greek word meaning “proclamation.” However, I have to admit that how this word is used in theology books has been difficult for me to grasp.

Thus, I am grateful for Fr. John Riccardo’s explanation in his book, Rescued. He articulates the four components of kerygma as “the goodness of creation, sin and its consequences, God’s response to our sin, and our response to what God has done for us.” More succinctly, he describes kerygma as “Created, Captured, Rescued, Response.” Let’s take a moment to look at each of these four components.

“The goodness of creation(Created)
This is where we find meaning. The existence of the world we live in is not simply a matter of a physical creation as explained in the Big Bang Theory. There is a God. “He’s good. He is complete. He needs nothing outside himself” (Riccardo, 42). Yet God choses to create “out of nothing…out of love” (Riccardo, 42). God made male and female in his image. We see God in all that He has created.

“Sin and its consequences” (Captured)
All that God created is good. In his love, God gives us free will. If we are not free to choose, we are not free to love. Unfortunately, we do not always choose wisely. We sin, such has it been since the beginning with Adam and Eve. We face temptation from the devil. If we are win against temptation, we must admit that the devil is the great tempter. The devil likes it when we think he does not exist because then we let our guard down (Riccardo, 66). We are in battle against evil. Sin captures us and makes us slaves to our sins. We cannot win the battle on our own. Fortunately, we do not have to.

“God’s Response to Our Sin” (Rescued)
The good news is that God has a rescue plan. “God became man to fight, to go to war, to liberate an oppressed race, and to free prisoners” (Riccardo, 98). Jesus comes to rescue us from our sins. The instrument Jesus uses for our rescue is the Cross. We might feel stuck in our sins. We might feel that we cannot change. This is not true! As Fr. John Riccardo writes, “The whole principle of the Christian life is that you can change” (131). However, we cannot change on our own. We need God to recreate us (Riccardo, 132)

“Our Response to what God has done for us” (Response)
What is our response to God rescuing us? It begins with gratitude. Jesus did something wonderful when He gave his life for us. We need to be thankful. We need to live with gratitude. We give our lives to Jesus. We share the gospel, meaning we share our experience of God, his rescue of us (see Riccardo, 171).

I will end with one final quote from Fr. John Riccardo, “But remember Pope St. John Paul II and his statement that the kerygma is “the initial ardent proclamation by which a person is one day overwhelmed and brought to the decision to entrust himself to Jesus Christ by faith.” Surrender is simply another word for “entrust,” and both words are another way to say “faith” (Riccardo, 153, quote from Pope St. John Paul II is from Catechesi Tradendae, 25).

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Seeking Real Dialogue

I just completed the third article, “Seeking Real Dialogue”, in my series, “Our Relationships With Others”. In the first two articles I took an instructive approach.

In this third article, I continue to seek to help readers understand what Pope Francis wrote while encouraging us to think about it in our own actions.

Once again, I hope this helps you in understanding the encyclical and helps you live our faith in your daily lives.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 (1a)
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Matthew 25:14-30
November 15, 2020

Proverbs speaks of the “worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls.”  She is praised for the good she does as a God-fearing woman.  What we hear today is the short version.  If you read the whole passage, there is far more praise.

Proverbs says, “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting.”  There is nothing wrong with being beautiful on the outside.  However, what the worthy wife is praised for is based on her inner beauty, the goodness she shows in using what God has given her to care for others with love.

What do you do with what God has given you?

Jesus tells a parable where the master “entrusted his possessions” to three servants, giving them different number of talents (coins), “each according to his ability.

What do they do with the talents they have been given?

The first one received five talents.  He took what he had given and put them to work, making five more talents.  He did good.

The second received two talents.  He too put them to good use and made two more.

The third…the third buried his.  He received one talent and made no more (more on why later).

What was the master’s response to what each servant had done?

He is pleased with what the first two did.  They did what they were supposed to.  They put the talents to good use.  Do we put what God has given us to good use?

While the master was pleased with the first two, he was not pleased with the third, even calling him a “wicked, lazy servant!”  The master tells the third servant he should have at least put the money in the bank to make interest. 

Why didn’t the third servant do something with the talent?

Because he was afraid.

Here is his explanation, “Master, I knew you were a demanding person…so out of fear, I went off and buried your talent in the ground.

Fear can be a powerful thing.  It could be good and it can be bad.  When it is good, it may motivate us to do something good or it may keep us from doing something stupid and dangerous. 

When fear is bad, it can be crippling.  It can keep us from acting.  In this case, the third servant’s fear kept him from taking any risk with the master’s money.  He was afraid of losing the money.  He was afraid of disappointing his master when, in fact, his lack of action was the very thing that disappointed the master.

God is powerful.  That might cause us to fear.  If our fear keeps us from sinning, it can be a good fear.  If our fear of God keeps us from doing good works, that is not good.

Our psalm response today is “Blessed are those who fear the Lord.”  The notion of fearing God is a challenging one for me.  When I think of God, I think of love.  God loves us so much that He sends Jesus to die for us on the Cross.  How can we fear God when He shows us that much love? 

On the other hand, what I do fear is the consequences of sin.  I know if I sin, Hell is real.  So, I repent, confessing my sins (yes, I a priest go to confession).  I thank God for his forgiveness.

When I think of “fearing” God, I think in terms of “awe.”  God is all-powerful.  God is all-knowing.  God is all-loving.  God is magnificent.  This motivates me to do good.  This is good fear.

Bad fear, as I said before, can be crippling.  Bad fear can leave us feeling powerless and without hope, living in darkness.

Disappointing news can also leave us in darkness.  You may have heard about the report issued this week following the investigation of Theodore McCarrick.  It was disappointing to hear the prior failures to deal with it.  Sexual abuse should never happen.  I pray for all victims of abuse.  If you, or someone you know, has been the victim of abuse by clergy, I am deeply sorry.

Do we give up? 

No!

Why?  Because God is with us.  There has been scandals before in the church because of human weakness.  God has always rescued his people. Last year, Bishop Robert Barron published a short book called, A Letter to a Suffering Church where he talks about the abuse scandal.  He also does an excellent job talking about how God has gotten the church through past scandals.  There is hope.

The Holy Spirit will lead us through this.  The Bible is full of numerous stories of God rescuing his people.   Praise be to God.

With faith, we will get through this.  This is what Jesus means when He says, “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich.” 

Our faith may seem small but when we embrace that faith, God will be with us, we will be given more faith, we will become rich in the graces of God.

Amen!

Second Article Reflecting on Pope Francis’ Encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti”

I just posted to my website the second article, “The Right to Private Property and Loving Our Neighbor” in my series, “Our Relationships With Others” reflecting on Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti.

I hope it is helpful for you.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff