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Feeling Powerless

Recently I was watching the news about the wildfires on the West Coast. They say that over 4 million acres have burned this year. California has already passed their record for the number of acres burned in a single year with fires still burning. Oregon has passed it average and fires burn in Washington state.

As I watched the news I had a feeling of powerlessness. I want to do something to help but what am I to do. I am not a firefighter nor am I about to become one. I don’t feel called to become a relief worker. These fires burn over 2,500 miles away. What can I do?

Of course, we can and should pray. Sometimes that doesn’t seem like much. Here we must remember that while we might feel powerless, God is not.

I want to do something to help. Yet, in not feeling called or gifted to help in this particular situation (wildfires), I need to remember that while one person can make a difference, one person does not have to do everything. We must remember that as Paul says that we are many parts but one body (see 1 Corinthians 12).

The body has many parts that are not all meant to do the same functions. The hand does not serve the same function as the foot. The eye does not serve the same function as the ear. The heart does not serve the same function as the stomach. Yet, all working together, they are one body.

So, none of us can or need to do everything on our own. We are not supposed to. We are to work together to build up the Kingdom of God and to perform works of mercy to help those in need.

What we have to take to God in prayer is to ask for the gift of good judgment to know what God is calling us to do and to have the courage to do it. Here the Serenity prayer comes to mind.

When we discern that we are not called to respond to a particular situation, our prayer is not done. We are always called to pray for those who are called to respond. This is true for the wildfires as well as the large numbers of tropical storms/hurricanes (also nearing record levels) this year. We can pray for emergency responders, the relief workers, and for the health and safety of all those affected.

There may be times when we feel called to help but we are not sure what to do. At other times we have an idea how to improve a situation but not have the means to execute the idea. Both workers and people with ideas are needed. We pray that God connect the ideas with the people who can put them into action.

Where do you feel powerless in your life? Is it with the wildfires or the storms? Perhaps the Coronavirus? What about violence acts such as mass shootings? How about the issue of racism?

For me, I would say powerlessness centers on two things. The first is things I can’t understand, like why valid protests turn into riots and looting. The second is when I have an idea but people don’t seem to either listen to or understand what I am trying to say. For the former (not understanding), I ask for the serenity to realize I am not going to understand everything. For the latter (others not listening or understanding), I ask for the words I need from God to do what He calls me to do.

Do you feel powerless? Let us pray that God shows each of us what He calls us to do so that together, we build up the Body of Christ.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Sirach 27:30-28:7
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12 (8)
Romans 14:7-9
Matthew 18:21-35
September 13, 2020

It can be hard to forgive.  It can be even harder to forgive the same person over and over for the same thing.  Peter knows this.  So, he asks Jesus, “How often must I forgive?  As many as seven times?”  To the Jews seven times would sound generous. 

Is Jesus pleased with the “seven” suggested by Peter?  No, He replies, “not seven times but seventy-seven times.”  Wow!  That’s a lot.  If you are thinking, okay, maybe 77 but that’s it, you are missing where Jesus is trying to lead us.

Another way of looking at it is to ask yourself how many times you want to be forgiven.  Would not your answer be to ask for forgiveness every time you sin, no matter how many times that is?

God wants to forgive us.  God could seek to destroy us for our sins but, as the psalm says, “Not according to our sins does he deal with us.”  It might be hard for us to imagine because we find it hard to forgive others but God “pardons all your iniquities.” 

God does this because He loves us.  Jesus dies for all our sins because He loves us.

We should be grateful for this.  In gratitude we should be inspired to forgive others.  Jesus tells the parable today to demonstrate this.  A debtor owes his master “a huge amount.”  When the master comes to collect, the debtor “fell down, and did him homage” asking for more time.  The master is so moved with compassion that he is generous and forgives the whole loan.

One might think the debtor would be inspired by the master’s generosity but he is not.  In fact, he goes and demands payment from someone who owes “him a much smaller amount.”  He has just been forgiven a huge debt.  He could afford to forgive but he does not.  The master hears of this and hands him over to the torturers.

If we want God to forgive us, we need to be willing to forgive others.  This is not new with Jesus.  We hear about forgiving our neighbors in our reading today from Sirach, “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice, then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.

Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  We are saying we will forgive others.  Why are we willing to forgive others?

The first answer comes from obligation, obedience to God.  God tells us to forgive.  We need to do as God says.

The second answer might be rooted in some selfishness.  We forgive only because we want to be forgiven our own sins.

The third answer is because we seek healing from the Lord.  Our hearts are hurting because of what has been done to us.  But, as Sirach says, “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD?

If we want to be healed of the hurt, we need to be willing to forgive. 

We cannot hold onto grudges.  We hurt ourselves when we hold onto our grudges for, as Sirach says, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.

Yet, we know it can be hard to forgive.

What does it even mean to forgive?

People tend to think forgiving requires forgetting.  I think with the little things this can be true.  Just let it go.

However, if someone commits a very serious sin like murder, I don’t think God expects us to just forget about it.  There is to be appropriate action but for our own good we need to let go of the hurt.

So, what does it mean to forgive?

I read a list of three things required in forgiveness a few months ago that help put forgiveness into perspective.

The first thing is we need to be willing to do is wish good for the person.  This can include their conversion from sin to God’s ways.  It includes wishing for only good things in the future to happen to them. 

The second thing is to be able to be polite to them if we see them.  This doesn’t mean that we have to be best friends with them.  It does mean that we need to take the high road.

The third thing is to pray for them.  Again, this can include praying for their conversion but not only their conversion.  Pray that God’s will be done in them.

I mentioned before how our motive in forgiving others might be entirely selfish, knowing at times, we need to be forgiven and that we need healing.

However, our motives to forgive others don’t have to have any selfish motive at all.

Why does God forgive us?  Could God be forgiving us for selfish reasons?  What would God have to gain by forgiving us?

No, God does not forgive us for selfish reasons.

God forgives because He loves us.

We can forgive others based on love.  How does one love someone who has hurt us?  Here, we need to realize there are different types of love.  There is romantic love between a man and a woman as husband and wife.  There is love within families.  There is love between families. 

There is love we are called to have for every single person.  We care for them.  We wish well for them.  We pray for them.  We forgive them.

We forgive them from our heart.

Forgiveness can be hard but it brings healing not just to the one forgiven but also to the one who has been hurt.  God, give us the grace to forgive.

Looking for Peaceful Existence

I remember back in my school days hearing about utopian societies. Such groups are the attempts of the members to form a perfect society. In my limited knowledge of them, they were small, insular societies. To me, the world didn’t seem like too bad a place so I did not grasp the point of trying to establish a utopian group. What were they trying to accomplish?

I want to offer two clarifications before continuing. First, when one thinks of small, insular groups, one might think of cults that are devoted to a person or particular movement, often professing a religious belief, that misuses it members. These are not utopias in the honorable sense that I mean.

One might also think of monasteries. They can be small, insular communities but their purpose is centered differently than the utopians I am talking about. One’s purpose in going a monastery should not be rooted in escaping society. The purpose of joining a monastery is to answer the call of God to live a particular lifestyle. Monastic life may share traits in common with utopian groups but it’s center is different.

That being said, in today’s society, the idea of a utopian society seems more attractive to me than in the past. I feel society is on the decline. We are losing a sense of morality. We hear about more violence and hatred. People are no longer listening to God. It seems our society is shaping our faith and beliefs when it should be that our faith shapes society. It can seem tempting to escape this by forming a utopian society.

Are utopias even possible or does their attractiveness fall under the saying that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence?

Why won’t they be possible? My first thought is that, as human beings, we are called to be holy and to strive for perfection, but we are not perfect. Is it possible to have a perfect society with imperfect people? This should not discourage us. It’s just a reality that needs to be considered.

My second thought about the possibility of utopias is how does one relate to rest of the world? Would the group need to cut off all contact with the outside world? That would mean no cell phones and no Internet. Honestly, some days this might seem attractive but would you really want to cut off all contact with your family and friends outside the group?

Another thought I have about utopians is the sustainability of the group. How does the group provide for all its needs. Where does one get their electricity and heating fuel from? Can the group grow all the food it needs? What about clothing needs? Would they have to go to the outside world for some of their needs?

What about freedom in a utopia? Is absolute freedom really possible? At times doesn’t the greater good of society mean we need to give up some things we want? We can’t have everything we want. Sometimes two people may have two different wants that can’t both happen.

I’m not saying utopias are not possible. After all, we are called to live in this world but we are not of this world (see my article, “In the World But Not of the World”).

So, rather than trying to form our own utopia, I think we need to continue to live in this world. We need to work to make the world a better place. How is this possible?

Through grace.

How do we define what it means to make the world a better place? We should not look for the answer in purely human sources. To strive for perfection, we need to turn to the one who is perfect. We need to turn to God. God has the answers. This is why we pray, “thy kindgom come, thy will be done.”

God loves us. We are created to know his love. We move towards perfection when we strive to love God and love our neighbor. I think we are struggling to even know what it means to love in this way.

The task might seem impossible. That should not deter us for Jesus says, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26, cf Mark 10:27, Luke 1:37, and Luke 18:27).

I don’t have all the answers but I do have faith. We can change the world but to do so we need to hand it all over to God.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

The Liturgy of the Hours

One of the topics I have covered a few times during the Coronavirus is prayer (see http://blog.renewaloffaith.org/blog/?cat=12 for those articles & homilies). Today I would like to cover a particular form of prayer required of clergy and religious but an option for all, the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office.

We can pray in various ways (see “Prayer & Devotions” for some of the most common). Most of the ways are prayers we might do on our own. There are some, like the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross that are often prayed in groups as well as individually.

The Mass is the public prayer of the Church. It is done together with a congregation. We pray the Mass not as individual believers but as a community of believers. We are united not just with those in the same church building as us but with all Catholics for the Mass transcends time and space to unite all those who pray the same readings and prayers of the Mass.

The Liturgy of the Hours is also considered “public prayer.” The term “public prayer” does not mean it can only be prayed in groups. Even when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours alone, we pray the same psalms, readings, and prayers as others. Thus, even when we are alone, we still pray together.

As a member of the clergy, I am obligated to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. It is one of the things a clergy person obligates themselves to at their ordination.

After thirteen years of priesthood and seven years of seminary life before than, I will admit praying the Liturgy of the Hours has become routine for me. Thus, there can be days where I pray the Liturgy of the Hours more out of obligation than personal desire. This does not mean I don’t want to pray. It just means I need motivation. Are there not times when we might not feel like going to Mass but we do because we are obligated? We need to pray.

However, the obligation is not the only reason I pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I like knowing that when I pray the hours, I am not praying alone. I am part of something bigger than myself. This is part of what it means to be Catholic. There are times when a verse in one of the psalms, canticles, or readings really hit home with something I need to hear.

So, what is the Liturgy of the Hours? It calls the Liturgy of the Hours as it calls for prayers on a cycle throughout the hours of the day. Diocesan clergy pray five times a day (some religious, especially those in monasteries pray seven times a day). It keeps us in a spirit of prayer throughout the day, keeping with Paul’s words, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). This is not unique to Christians. It comes from our Jewish origins. Muslims also keep a similar pattern of prayer throughout the day.

The Liturgy of the Hours centers on the 150 psalms in the Book of Psalms. It also includes canticles from other books in both the Old and the New Testament. Two of the hours include intercessory prayer for the needs of the world. Hymns are also included.

So, what are the five times a day when the Liturgy of the Hours is prayed?

The first is the Office of Readings (aka Vigils). For monasteries, it is prayed in the very early hour of the day (hence, it’s name, vigils, keeping vigilant through the night into morning). For diocesan clergy and the laity, it can be prayed at any time of the day. It includes three psalms/canticles (Here, I note that religious orders, especially monasteries can have their own cycles for the Liturgy of the Hours that may include a different number of psalms – see the page from the website of the Abbey of the Genesee for their version.). It also includes a hymn, two extended readings, one from the Bible and one from the early church fathers or more recent church documents.

The second cycle is Morning Prayer (aka Lauds) at daybreak. It includes a hymn, three psalms/canticles, intercessory prayer, a scripture reading and response, the Canticle of Zechariah taken from Luke 1:68-79, and the Lord’s Prayer.

The third cycle is Midday Prayer (aka Sext). It includes a hymn, three psalms/canticles, and a short reading. As the name suggests, it is prayed in the middle of the day. (Monasteries add two other cycles, one mid-morning known as Terce and one mid-afternoon, known as None.)

The fourth cycle is Evening Prayer (aka Vespers). It mirrors Morning Prayer and is prayed as the day progresses into the darkness. It includes Mary’s Magnificat from Luke 1:46-55.

The fifth and final cycle is Night Prayer (aka Compline). It includes a hymn, a penitential rite calling us to reflect on our day as it concludes, a psalm, short reading and response, and the Canticle of Simeon, found in Luke 2:29-32. At its conclusion, a Marian prayer/hymn is offered.

Traditionally, there are set books with all the palms, hymns, readings, and prayers properly laid out that you can purchase. I prefer to pray from a book but you can also find the Liturgy of the Hours online on websites/apps like ibreviary.org.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Ezekiel 33:7-9
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 (8)
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20
September 6, 2020

Today we hear about how God calls us to respond to sin. 

The first reading is sometimes known as the Parable of the Watchman.  A watchman was assigned as a lookout to watch for danger.  If he saw danger coming, the watchman was to alert the people to the coming danger. 

The Lord speaks of how He appointed Ezekiel as a watchman for the house of Israel to warn them of their sins.  Unfortunately, not everyone would listen.  Some will harden their hearts against the Lord’s voice.  That is their choice.  The Lord says such people will die for their guilt.  What He says to Ezekiel as watchman, and what we need to think about, is that we do not speak up for what is right, we will be held responsible for our omission.  However, as long as we speak up for what is right, even if the person refuses to listen, we will be saved. 

It is their choice to sin or not.  What we do when we speak up is to help them know what their choices are.  If they don’t know God’s way, they are not free to make a choice.

We seek to trust in God.  We kneel before him who made us.

Yet, at times we do sin.  How are we to respond when someone does sin?

Jesus gives us the answer in today’s gospel.  He describes the first step, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.

We are to start one-on-one.  It is sometimes the case that the person doesn’t realize what they have done or how it may have hurt us.  As soon as they do, they are sorry, and we can forgive them.  There is always the possibility we misinterpreted their actions.  In either case, there is no need to involve other people. 

If they do not listen, then Jesus says, “take one or two others along with you, so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  We still keep it small.  Here, I think we need to reflect on what our goal is.

Do we see the point of two or three witnesses as to prove we are “in the right”?  As Jesus says, it is important to establish the facts but with what goal?  We need to make sure we are right but the goal is not to prove ourselves right. 

The goal that Jesus is guiding us towards is the conversion of the person who has sinned.  Our goal is to help them see the error of ways so that they will change.  Our motivation is not to be right ourselves.  Our motivation is love.

If the person does not listen, step three is to tell the church.  This is again rooted in the conversion of the sinner, to help them realize this is not just the opinion of one individual with two or three witnesses.  It is what God teaches through his church.

If the person still does not listen, step four is to “treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector.”  What does that mean?  Many of the Jews would have taken this to mean to shun them, to not eat or drink with them.  That’s how the Jews treated sinners.  However, what did Jesus do with sinners? 

He ate with them.

He did not ignore their sins.  What did He say to the woman caught in adultery?  “Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (John 8:11).  He does not condemn her but he does call her to change her ways.  Why?  Because He loved her.

Today we hear people speak of “tolerance” and not judging.  Jesus tells us to stop judging.  However, when done out of love, pointing out one’s sins doesn’t have to mean we are judging them.  We hate the sin but we love the sinner.  We speak out of mercy.

We learn of the Corporal Works of Mercy from Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46.  We are to feed the hungry and clothe the sick as some of these corporal acts.

Are you aware that there are also Spiritual Works of Mercy? 

The third spiritual work of mercy is to admonish the sinner.  One might see the word “admonish” as harsh but it should not be.  It is an act of mercy because we care about the person.  We want them to see the error of their ways so they too can be welcomed into the heavenly kingdom. 

To help put it into perspective, as much as admonishing the sinner is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, so too is “forgiving injuries.”  Before we admonish one who has wronged us, we need to be willing to forgive them.

We do all this in love for, as Paul says, “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Has someone wronged you?  Before you rush to judge, ask yourself what Jesus wants you to do.  Is He calling you to speak up?  If so, ask the Holy Spirit for the right words so your words and actions are rooted in God’s love.

Keeping Our Baptismal Promises

At Baptism, we are asked six questions as our “baptismal promises.” (When we are baptized as infants, our parents answer for us.) At Confirmation we renew our baptismal promises ourselves. Each year at Easter time, we renew them.

We respond, “I do,” to each question. How much do we think about what we are saying “I do” to? Let’s take a look at the questions.

They come in two groups of three. For the first three there are two options. For reflection purposes I will focus on the first option. (In option B, the questions are “Do you renounce sin, so as to live in the freedom of the children of God? Do you renounce the lure of evil, so that sin may have no mastery over you? Do you renounce Satan, the author and prince of sin?)

Do you renounce Satan?
This should be an easy question. Who would choose evil? We do not want to do evil. However, Genesis 3:1 says, “Now the snake was the most cunning of the wild animals.” Satan is cunning. As he did with Eve in the Garden, (Genesis 3), he will twist God’s words and our own words to his advantage. Jesus himself refers to the devil as a “liar” (John 8:44). We need to be careful. Lord, help us resist the cunning snares of the devil.

And all his works?
If we recognize something as a work of the devil, we would try to resist it. The question is do we recognize it as a work of the devil? In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “lead us not into temptation.” What makes it tempting? Generally, it is because there is some pleasure. We want that pleasure. Hedonism is a way of life that puts pleasure as the supreme goal. We are called to put what is good ahead of pleasure. One way to look at it is to ask yourself how much you seek to accumulate money to use for pleasure while not caring who you hurt in the process. Power and greed are things of Satan.

And all his empty show?
Satan tries to make his way look attractive and even good. In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus faces repeated temptations by the devil. First, Jesus has been fasting for forty days. Knowing this, the devil tries to tempt Jesus to use his power to become bread. He tries to tempt Jesus to use that power to satisfy his own hunger. Would it be that bad? It may not seem bad but it is not the Father’s will. Then, the devil uses scripture (where it says the angels would support you) to tempt Jesus to sin, going against the Father’s Will. Remember what I say about Satan being cunning? Lastly, the devil tries to tempt Jesus by offering him the whole world. Jesus refuses. Are you tempted by the offer of power?

Now, the three remaining questions shift specifically to our belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?
First, I note, as I often do, that “believe” is a verb. That requires action. Do you just say you believe or do you live like you believe? Do you believe in God as “almighty,” the one who is all-powerful and all-knowing? If you believe in him as “all-knowing,” then you should count on him for the truth of what is right and wrong. Do you see him not just as a distant being but as your Father, meaning do you have a relationship with him? Do you see God as the Creator of all things and, thus, respect what He has created?

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered death and was buried, rose again from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father?
The name “Jesus” means “God saves.” Do you believe in Jesus as your savior? “Christ” is a title meaning “messiah” and “chosen one.” Do you believe that Jesus is the long-awaited messiah? In calling Jesus “Lord” do you believe him to be your Lord, your ‘ruler” to whom obedience is due? He was born of the Virgin Mary, meaning He willing gave up his divinity to come to save us (see Philippians 2:5-11). He willingly suffered because He loves us absolutely. He appeared in the Resurrection to his disciples so that we might have the hope of eternal life. Do you?

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
Do you know that in Baptism you received the Holy Spirit and were sealed with it at Confirmation? The Holy Spirit gives us gifts of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, courage, counsel, piety, and fear of the Lord. Do we accept these gifts and use them to make the world a better place, for the building up of God’s Kingdom? Do you believe that our Catholic Church is founded upon Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit? Do you believe that God wants to forgive you (because He does!)? Do you seek your place in Heaven by following the truth that Jesus offers?

If you find yourself lacking in living up to these baptismal promises, do not be afraid. Jesus willing gave his life for the forgiveness of our sins. If you have fallen into sin, ask God for forgiveness with a contrite heart and He will.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Receiving a Penance

After we have confessed our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we receive a “penance.” We are not just “given” or “assigned” a penance as punishment for our sins. We must receive the penance. By “receive” I mean we willing accept the penance as an admission of our sins and our desire to change.

If we think of the “penance” as something we are “given” or “assigned,” it might go with an attitude that the penance is “punishment” for our sins. It does serve as punishment but it is more than that. I already mentioned that the penance serves, in part, as a sign of our desire to change.

The word in Greek from which our understanding of “penance” comes is “metanoia.” It is seen as a “shifting of the mind,” a “conversion.” In the case of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, it is our desire for conversion from sin to the Father’s Will. It is this desire that God seeks when we come to him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Now, I would like to broaden our discussion of the purpose of “punishment” to include our judicial and prison systems and what we look for when we have been wronged by others.

In her book, The Moral of the Story: An Introduction to Ethics, Nina Rosenstand refers to five purposes or approaches to “punishment” (277-279. Third Edition, Mountainview, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company. 2000. Please note I am citing the third edition as that is the one I have as a textbook from seminary. There are newer editions). They are deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation, retribution, and vengeance.

Deterrence seeks to motivate people to not commit crimes out of the fear of stiff punishment. At times, parents use this to discipline their children. However, it only works when the punishment is feared. (See my recent article “More Shootings, More Stress” as it relates to people who don’t value their own lives.)

Rehabilitation seeks to help the person to change for the better. This is the point of the penance we receive in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is why I do not assign lengthy penances. I look for penances that help the person think about how to do better. Turning to our prison system, I believe rehabilitation must be a key component of prison life. If we expect the person to commit no future crimes, we must give them the tools they need to change. Yes, they deserve punishment for the crime they committed but we need to help them change for the better.

Incapacitation is a form of punishment that seeks to protect others by taking away the ability for the criminal to continue committing crimes. For example, we incarcerate a serial killer to stop (incapacitate) them from being able to continue to murder. This is a necessary action when the criminal refuses to change but it should not be the only element.

Retribution is seen as paying for one’s sins. People cite Leviticus 24:20, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” to justify retribution (cf. “Does God Change?”). People need to make amends for their sins and crimes. However, if amends is all we seek, does that do anything to help the person change for the better to follow Jesus as the way and the truth and the life? Retribution is logical but more is needed for conversion than logic.

Lastly, I see vengeance as the emotional desire behind seeking retribution. Unchecked, it moves one from seeking fair retribution to revenge. (For more on vengeance, see my recent article “Does God Change?”.)

Rosenstand speaks of the first three (deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation) as forward-thinking while retribution and vengeance are backward thinking. While seeking retribution can be appropriate, it only seeks to address the past. It does not, along with vengeance, do anything to make the future better.

Incapacitation is forward-thinking in that it seeks to protect the innocent in the future. Deterrence is forward-thinking in that it seeks to prevent future crimes. Both incapacitation and deterrence focus on the external actions (crimes and sins). They do not have as their primary goal to change the heart of the person. This is where rehabilitation comes in. Rehabilitation seeks to help the person change what is in their heart, removing evil desires. For those who steal or commit crimes or sins out of basic needs, rehabilitation in the form of education also helps the person become better in giving them skills so they can have what they need without resorted to theft or violence.

God is motivated in the way He punishes us out of his love for us. A good parent disciplines their child out of love. Let us pray that the way we treat others when we have been wronged always be rooted in love. Let us pray for the same for our judicial and prison system.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Homily

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Jeremiah 20:7-9
Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9 (2b)
Romans 12:1-2
Matthew 16:21-27
August 30, 2020

Last week Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”.

Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Peter gave a great answer.  He gave the right answer.  Good for him.  It would seem Peter has gotten it.  He understands who Jesus is.

Or does he?

Today’s gospel passage picks up where we left off last week after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ and Jesus giving Peter “the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus then “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”  This is the first time Jesus tells his disciples about his coming Passion and that these things must happen.

Peter, who had just professed Jesus to be the Christ, takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. 

Really?  He’s just (correctly) identified Jesus as the Christ and now he is rebuking him.  How does one rebuke someone you profess to be the Christ?  Why would Peter do this?

For one, Peter has been attached to Jesus, he cares about Jesus, he won’t want anything bad to happen to Jesus. 

Secondly, the Jews, including Peter, expected the Christ to become a great earthly king.  Taken at face value, what Jesus says must happen, his suffering and death, would go against the Jewish expectation.    

Thus, we see Peter doesn’t fully understand.  It was not what he wanted to hear.  Prophets like Jeremiah had been delivering unpopular messages for centuries.  The messages weren’t popular because it wasn’t what the people wanted to hear. 

What does preaching an unpopular message get a prophet?  For Jeremiah, he became “an object of laughter” and he is mocked.  It brings him “derision and reproach.”  So much so that Jeremiah wants to quit being a prophet. 

What happens when you speak about your faith?  Do you ever feel like “an object of laughter” and mocked for your faith?

We should not give up.  Jeremiah tried to stop prophesizing but found he couldn’t.  Jeremiah found the fire for the Lord continued to burn in his heart.  He had to continue.  Do you keep your faith?

Returning to Peter’s rebuke of Jesus, I don’t think Peter intended to reject what Jesus said.  Rather, it is an emotional reaction to news he didn’t want to hear.  A less emotional reaction might have been to say to Jesus, “I don’t understand this.  How can it be?”  Instead, Peter thinks “not as God does, but as human beings do.

Do you attempt to think as God does or do you think only in human terms?

When you see or hear something you don’t like, what is at the core of your response?  Is your response purely emotional?  Is it logical, does it make use of reason?  Is your response spiritual?

If we wish to come after Jesus, we must be willing to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him.  We must be willing to lose our life in this world to gain eternal life.

Let’s think about how we respond to a common “cross” that we all must face, the Coronavirus.

I think it is safe to say nobody wants what is going on with the Coronavirus.  It might affect some more than others but it is a Cross to each of us in some way. 

Certainly, those who get the Coronavirus and become sick face a cross.

During the shutdown, most people were stuck home (a cross to bear).  Even those who had to work bore a Cross in risking exposure.  We are grateful for what they do.

Even now, the Coronavirus continues to be a cross to bear.  The virus is still out there.  So, some must still remain home for the safety of their health.  For those of us who can gather together, we must wear face masks, social distancing, and not sing together.  It remains a challenge, a cross to bear.

There are those who think all the precautions are absolutely necessary.  On the other extreme think none of it is necessary. 

What does God think about the precautions? 

I think God wants to us to use our reason but to trust in him.  We need to be willing to make sacrifices for a greater good.  Yes, the face masks and social distancing are annoying but they must work some because states they didn’t require them are in far worse shape right now than New York. 

How long all the precautions will be necessary I don’t know.  I pray for both our secular and religious leaders to be guided by God in making good choices. 

I pray that it be over soon.  I pray that the day come soon when we can shake hands, exchange the Sign of Peace, and sing from the hymnals.  Until then I am willing to “deny” my desire for these things, a small cross for the greater good of public health.  I don’t want to, but I will.  It seems to be the fastest way through the pandemic.  I pray that God brings some good of this.

Jesus didn’t want to suffer on the Cross.  He prayed in agony in the garden.  But He willingly sacrificed himself on the Cross for us.  We need to be willing to sacrifice for a greater good.

Seeking the Lord’s Help in Suffering

I recently read a book about Franciscan Spirituality relating to our care for the environment. I am not going to focus on that topic today but I mention the book (Care for Creation by Delio, Warner, and Word, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press. 2008) because it included a particular quote from St. Francis that I want to use to reflect on suffering. St. Francis prayed,

“Lord…make haste to help me in my illnesses, so that I may be able to bear them patiently” (81 – they cite the quote as from “The Asissi Compilation,” 83, in FA:ED, vol. 2, p.185).

I was immediately struck by what was not in the quote. St. Francis did not ask for his illnesses to be taken away. Isn’t that the way we generally start our prayers when we face suffering? Even Jesus prayed in the garden, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39a). Yet, Jesus did not end the sentence there. He concluded, “yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Following Jesus’ example, I think is good for us when facing a new suffering that we begin our prayer by asking God to take away the suffering if it is not meant to be. Then, we submit to God’s Will.

I emphasized “new” because, in providing this quote, the book says Francis offered this prayer about year before his death. At that time, he was facing illnesses that made him intolerant to daylight so he had to stay inside (81). It seems these illnesses had been ongoing so maybe St. Francis had already come to accept them as God’s Will. Does that mean he had given up on God’s help? No, he still asks for God’s help. What we need to think about is the type of help he prayed for. He prayed for God to help him “bear them patiently.” What help do you need to face any suffering in your life? I know I need help to bear sufferings patiently.

Right now, an example of suffering where I need help with is the Coronavirus. From the beginning I had concerns about the Coronavirus. I certainly didn’t want to get it myself but I also didn’t want it to become a pandemic. However, “patience” about the Coronavirus wasn’t a problem for me at that time.

Even when we started precautions like suspending distribution of the Precious Blood and the Sign of Peace at Mass, I was not happy but I was patient. Even when Masses were first suspended, patience wasn’t my problem. I figured it would be over relatively quickly.

It wasn’t over quickly. It did begin to try my patience as time went on with Masses being suspended in my diocese for three months. It was a good day when we resumed public Masses with precautions in place.

Was that the end to my problem with being patient about the Coronavirus? My patience did get a little better but, now two months later, we remain under the same precautions. Our attendance at Sunday Mass is ranges between 30 to 50% of normal. I long for the day when everyone will be able to come to Mass without fear of the Coronavirus. Lord, make haste to help me bear this waiting during the Coronavirus patiently.

Going back to what I said about asking God to take away our sufferings, why is it that we are reluctant to face sufferings?

The obvious, and understandable, answer is that we don’t like anything that hurts or keeps us from living the way we want. For those who do not get the virus, suffering from the Coronavirus comes more in the latter part. We can’t live the way we want.

Suffering can be good. The suffering of Jesus on the Cross certainly is good because it saves us from our sins. In fact, Jesus’ suffering is not just “good.” It is redemptive.

The sufferings we face as individuals can have value. For instance, when one faces a terminal illness, choosing to put the time of our death in God’s hands can be a powerful witness to our faith in God while choosing assisted suicide says we think we know better than God.

Suffering can actually make us stronger. Paul writes, “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Does the Coronavirus make us stronger? It can in the sense that it can help us realize that things we thought were important we don’t really miss. It can free us up to give more to God.

It can also teach us about the value of sacrifice. During the shutdown, we gave up things we enjoy. Even now, with precautions still in place, we can’t do all the things we enjoy. This can mean suffering. Does this suffering have value when we accept it in faith?

Yes, by our willingness to wear a face mask, practice social distancing, and refrain from activities we enjoy to practice social distance, we have flattened the curve. States with these requirements in place have fewer cases now. How many more would have gotten sick without the precautions?

The Coronavirus is a cross that we each must bear in our own way. Let us take up our Cross and follow Jesus (cf. Matthew 16:24).

So we pray, “Lord, help all of us to accept our sufferings, to bear them patiently, trusting that you are with us.”

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

How Well Do You Know God?

How Well Do You Know God?

What does it even mean to know God?

Is it a matter of how much we know about God? We need to learn about God but knowing God is not just a matter of the quantity of information we know. To know God involves finding meaning to go with what we know about God.

This past Sunday (8/23/20 – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A), we heard Jesus ask his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” In my homily, I began by talking about why Jesus asked this question. He knew people were talking about what He did (miracles) because as the word spread, great crowds came to see him. What He wants to do is to lead them to recognize the significance of the miracles in terms of recognizing who He is.

To know who Jesus truly is leads us into relationship with him. How would you respond to Jesus’ question, “But who do you say that I am?” Would you share in Peter’s response, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”? What other words might you use to describe Jesus? Savior? Redeemer? King? Friend? Brother? Or is He your safety net when you fall into sin?

Now, I would like to move from the question, “How well do you know God” to what does it mean to “know”, whether it is God, other people, or things.

To do so I will use definitions as found in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary app (Android version). I will offer five definitions and some discussion about them in terms of what it means to know God.

“To be acquainted or familiar with”
“Acquainted” may be as simple as overhearing someone include reference to “god” in a conversation with. “Familiar with” would suggest some notion of who “god” is without necessarily having “faith in God.” God might simply be seen as a being who exists on a different level than us. It might also be a god who created but then walked away.

“To have a practical understanding of
What is the significance of God? Do you see him as creator? Do you see him as a source of “Truth”, what is right and wrong? Do you see God as active in your life? Do you know that God loves you? Knowing God as Christians, a practical understanding would include knowing common prayers, knowing what to do at Mass, and knowing his Commandments.

“To have experience of”
How have you experienced God? What does it mean to “experience God”? Certainly God comes to us in the Sacraments but are we always aware of his presence as we receive the Sacraments? What about experiencing God in ordinary moments of life? It might be a sense of divine peace when we face a difficult situation. Sometimes we recognize something as an experience of God only after the fact. For example, when we realize something turned out better than we could have expected from human involvement. Experiencing God doesn’t mean all our problems go away but we do see our problems in a different way. When we experience God in our sufferings, it puts them in a new light.

“To have understanding of” and “To recognize the nature of”
I put these two together as I seem them both as expressing our moving from simple practical understanding of God, from just knowing our prayers, knowing what to do at Mass, and knowing God’s Commandments to understanding what they mean for us. To recognize the nature of God and have real understanding of who God is takes us to another level. We begin to transcend earthly things to enter into a deeper relationship with God.

For instance, at Mass we kneel at the proper times. Early in our faith lives we are taught when to kneel. Over time it becomes habit and we do it without needing to think about it. However, how often do you think about why we kneel? It is not simply something we do because God says so. We kneel in humility, recognizing God is greater than us. Thus, we kneel before him, surrendering ourselves to him. (I’ll be taking more about the meaning of what we do at Mass in my upcoming three part series Uncovering the Treasures of Mass” with a webinar starting on September 23rd.)

In proclaiming, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter shows that he has begun to move from merely a practical understanding of who Jesus is to a deeper understanding of who Jesus is, to a deeper relationship with him. How does this happen? Jesus provides that answer, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”

God offers us the same thing. Are you open to it? Do you seek to know God more fully in your life? Do you seek a deeper relationship with him? This is what it really means to know God. It is not simply a matter of knowledge. It is to be in relationship with him.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff