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We Need to be Thankful

Thanksgiving Day
Sirach 50:22-24
1 Corinthians 6:3-9
Luke 17:11-9
November 24, 2022

Today we celebrate Thanksgiving Day.  It is a national holiday for us.  It is a secular holiday but it is a day that we need to celebrate.

Why do we need Thanksgiving Day?  If you watch the news, you hear of a lot of bad things that happen.  It seems things are getting worse instead of better.  It can be depressing.

We need a day of thanksgiving to give us hope.  This day of thanksgiving is a call for us to think about we have that we are thankful for. 

We might lament a serious illness.  We can give thanks for the care and healing we receive.  We thank the medical workers for their efforts and we thank God for strength and healing.

We lament when we hear of another Mass shooting.  We can give thanks when the shooter is caught and people are safe.

We lament in drought conditions.  We can give thanks for the food and drink that we do have.

We lament Russia invading Ukraine bringing death and destruction.  The people of Ukraine can give thanks for the humanitarian assistance.

We lament a cold day.  We can give thanks for a warm place to gather inside. 

We lament big snowstorms.  We can give thanks for the water that we need in the snow.

I said we can give thanks for the various things.  We “can” but do we?  We ask God for help.  Do we remember to thank him?  Do we thank the people who help us?  There were ten lepers who were healed of their leprosy.  Only one recognized Jesus as the source of his healing and returned to give thanks.

When we recognize the good things that others have done for us, it can bring us happiness.  When we recognize the wonderous things God has done, our hearts are filled with joy. 

This joy gives us hope.  Hope that we need to make through difficult times.  God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  God sent many prophets to teach his people.  He sent David as a great king.  He brought the Jews home from exile in Babylon. 

In each of these things the people suffered in some way.  They cried to God for help and He answered when they truly turned their hearts to him.  This is not just their story of what God did for them.  It is our story of what God does for his people.

The story continues with Jesus.  What does He do for us?

He teaches us how to live well.

He reveals his power in the miracles He does.

He saves us from our sins, gives us his Body and Blood as bread from Heaven to nourish us.  He opens the door to eternal life.

It is your choice for how you look at things.  Do you see the cup as half-empty or half-full?  God gives us cup that filled with what we need.

The word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving.  Let us be thankful for all that God has done for us and will do for us in the future. 

Thanksgiving may be a secular holiday but it is a holiday that we need.  The Church gives us special prayers at Mass for Thanksgiving.  We have readings today specifically selected as expressing thanks.

Who has helped you this year?  Have you thanked them?

What blessings has God given you this year?  Have you thanked God?

Purification in the Devout Life

Last week I began a series of articles inspired by my present reading of St. Francis De Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life. The first article was “What Does It Mean to be Devout?”. I ended that article with a brief mention of “pruning and cutting” by St. Francis De Sales (8).

Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you” (John 15:1-3). We want to be branches on the vine that is Jesus. That means we need to be pruned so that we bear more fruit. We prune our lives by ceasing any activity that does not follow Jesus’ word that He spoke to us.

What about sin? What are we to do to cut away the sins that we have already committed? Of course, Jesus gives us the means to be purified of our past sins. St. Francis De Sales writes, “The first purification to be made is from sin – the means whereby to make it, the sacrament of penance.” (10). Jesus died on the Cross so that our sins will be forgiven. He gives us the Sacrament of Reconciliation to receive that forgiveness for sin. How do we prepare ourselves for this sacrament? We need to make an examination of our conscience.

St. Francis writes, “that by sin you have lost God’s grace, rejected your share in paradise, accepted the pains of hell, and renounced God’s eternal love” (10). Sin is a bad choice. The ramifications of it just described by St. Francis De Sales are huge. However, I don’t know if many people sin consciously choosing to reject paradise or to mean to accept hell. Sometimes we just don’t know better. We make bad choices. Thank God (literally) that Jesus has died for our sins so that we can be forgiven.

From there, St. Francis De Sales discusses the importance of making a “general confession” (10). A general confession is when one examines their entire life to confess all of their sins. Normally, when we make an ordinary confession, we only confess our sins since our last confession. That is all we normally need to confession. Everything that we have confessed before is already forgiven.

So, why make a general confession of one’s whole life? St. Francis De Sales suggests a general confession in the context of one who is making a new and significant effort to live a devout life. To do so, one needs to seriously examine one’s life to see what needs to be changed. In doing so, of course, past sins come to mind. We make the general confession to hand our past over to God as we make new to live the devout life.

Here, St. Francis De Sales writes about we might become lax in preparing ourselves for an ordinary confession, making little preparation (examining our conscience) or with little contrition for our sins. Some will come without a firm resolve to sin no more (10-11). Here I want to distinguish between a real desire to stop sinning and one who doesn’t really try to change. Often we do sin again but not because of a lack of desire to sin no more. Rather, we are weak and we don’t know how to change. That’s why we need to keep coming back to God with a real desire to change. We can’t fix ourselves. God can. It may take time. Be patient. Remember Jesus’ last words in Matthew’s Gospel, “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).

We can have a real desire to stop sinning yet struggle to do so. St. Francis De Sales writes, “Even so there are penitents who forsake sin, yet without forsaking their sinful affects; that is to say, they intend to sin no more, but it goes sorely against them to abstain from the pleasures of sin” (11). He continues, “They are like a sick man who abstains from eating melon when the doctor says it would kill him, but who all the while longs for it, talks about it, bargains when he may have it, would at least like just to sniff the perfume, and thinks those who are free to eat of it very fortunate” (11). As we say in the Act of Contrition, we need to avoid whatever leads us to sin. For example, if drinking alcohol leads you to sin (as it weakens your resistance to sin), than stop drinking.

St. Francis reminds us, “those wretched affections will perpetually enfeeble your mind, and clog it, so that you will be unable to be diligent, ready and frequent in good works, in which nevertheless lies the very essence of all true devotion” (12). We fool ourselves (prompted by the devil) that it won’t matter this one time or think that we haven’t crossed the line. This kind of attitude begins us down the slippery slope to sin.

When we find ourselves repeatedly sinning, especially committing the same sins over and over, we might be tempted to give up, thinking God won’t love us. St. Francis De Sales reminds us, “God brought you out of this nothingness, in order to make you what you are, not because he had any need of you, but solely out of his goodness” (my emphasis, 13). God always loves you. Jesus died for you because He loves you. God will keep forgiving.

How grateful are you for God’s forgiveness? If we are grateful, we will give all effort to change, to stop sinning (St. Francis De Sales, 17). However, as long as we are really trying, we should never despair when we sin. One challenge in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that the focus in what we have done wrong (as it should be). However, that doesn’t mean we don’t do good. It doesn’t mean that we haven’t made improvements. The first place to look might be to ask yourselves if you are sinning less often. If you are sinning less often, thank God for the progress. In this we find hope. The cup is half-full rather than half-empty. Yes, we need to stop all our sins but we rejoice in any progress.

We need to be sincere in examining our conscience with a contrite heart. Once we confess our sins, at the final judgment the devil cannot use any sins we have confessed against us. We do not want to spend eternity in Hell where we are eternally separated from God (St. Francis De Sales, the “loss of God’s glory”, 23). The fear of Hell can be a powerful motivator. Perhaps an even better motivator against sin is that when we are free from sin and do good works, we will spent eternity in paradise. We will be in Heaven. The eternal cup is not simply half-full. It is overflowing with the glory of God.

If we understand what God offers us in Heaven, the eternal happiness of being with him, we will seek to change. St. Francis De Sales writes, “Suppose the angel to set before you paradise, full of delights and joys; and on the other hand hell, with all its torments. Contemplate both, kneeling in imagination before your guardian angel. Consider that you are most truly standing between hell and paradise, and that both the one and the other are open to receive you, according to your own choice” (my emphasis, 26). The problem is that we don’t look at it this way. Rather than see the pains of hell, we seek the immediate earthly pleasure that comes from our action. We don’t see the eternal consequences. We tend to seek the immediate pleasure of this world rather than the eternal pleasure of Heaven. We are stuck in the here and now. We ask God to help us see what lies beyond the here and now. Then our choice will be clear. We will choose Heaven.

Here, I wish to offer a caution against scrupulosity. Do not live thinking you are no good. Do not let your life be consumed by constantly examining your past. General confession is a rare thing. As long as you sincerely examine your conscience, even if you forget a sin, God will and does forgive you. Have no doubt that God loves you. His love for you is absolute. Once you have confessed your sins and done your penance, know for certain that God has forgiven you.

Will you change immediately? Maybe not. Don’t try to fix everything yourself. Living the devout life comes with time. Sometimes we have to unpeel layers of sin, handing each layer over to God. We may not understand why we sin. Venial sin clouds what we see. Mortal sin can blind us to what is really going on. We ask God to help us see why we sin and for the grace to change (see St. Francis De Sales, 32-33).

Sometimes the things that lead us to sin, are neither good or bad in their own. St. Francis De Sales writes, “Sports, balls, plays, festivities, pomps, are not in themselves evil, but rather indifferent matters, capable of being used for good or ill; but nevertheless they are dangerous, and it is still more dangerous to take great delight in them…if you are addicted to these things, they will hinder your devotion, and become extremely hurtful and dangerous to you. The harm lies, not in doing them, but in the degree to which you care for them” (my emphasis, 34). For example, there is nothing wrong in playing football or going fishing. There is something terribly lacking when we choose to play football or go finishing instead of spending the time with God.

No matter what sins you have committed, no matter how much you continue to struggle with sin, know that God loves you.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, Year C
2 Samuel 5:1-3
Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5 (see 1)
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-53
November 20, 2022

Today we celebrate our Lord Jesus Christ as King of the Universe. 

The Jews had been waiting for a new messiah king for a long time.  Some embraced Jesus.  Some rejected him.  Some of the “rulers sneered at Jesus.”  They cried out, “He saved others, let him save himself, if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”  They say “if” but they had already rejected him.

Likewise, “the soldiers jeered at him.”  Of course, as soldiers they would expect a king to be a mighty king, one that could not be arrested and crucified by his enemies.  ‘They called out, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.”’  For them, saving himself meant escaping crucifixion.  For us, it means so much more.

What does it mean to be “king”?

After Saul’s death, “the tribes of Israel came to David in Hebron.”  They would anoint him king of Israel.  Why?  They recognize him as one of them, sharing bone and flesh as part of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.  They said to David, “In days past, when Saul was our king, it was you who led the Israelites out and brought them back.”  They recognized David as a great soldier and leader.  They acknowledge that the Lord said to him, “You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.”  A good king is not just a commander.  A good king shepherds his people.  He cares for his people as a shepherd cares for a flock.  Jesus does not come to be a political king.  He comes to be the Good Shepherd.

The Lord had already had Samuel anoint Jesus as King (1 Samuel 16:1-13).  Now, the people do the same.  Perhaps a lesson there, when we elect officials do we pick who we want and then pray for them or do we pray that God leads us to vote for the person He has already chosen?

Jesus is our king.  As Paul writes, “He is the head of the body, the church.”  We are the Body of Christ.  Christ is our head.

Returning to our gospel passage, the rulers and the soldiers were not the only ones to mock Jesus.  Jesus was crucified alongside criminals.  One of them, truly guilty of crime, joins in mocking him.

Does everyone mock him?  No!  There is another criminal, crucified alongside Jesus who admits the first criminal and him “have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes.”  However, he goes on to say about Jesus, “but this man has done nothing criminal.”  He rightly professes Jesus is innocent.

He then turns to Jesus and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”   He knows Jesus to be a king.  However, we should recognize the significance of him saying, “when you come into your kingdom.

Where is Jesus’ kingdom?  The Jews expected a messiah king.  Many of them saw this centered on a political king, king of an earthly kingdom. 

Jesus’ kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. 

We call him “King of the Universe.”  Indeed, as Paul writes, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Jesus’ kingship is greater than anything we could imagine.

When the repentant criminal asks Jesus to remember him, Jesus replies, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with in Paradise.

Paradise…Jesus is king of Heaven.  He tells the repentant criminal he will be with him in Heaven.  Jesus saves him from his sins.

Jesus is our king.  When we come to him with repentant hearts, He will save us.  Our Father wants us to be in Heaven.  As Paul writes of our Father, “He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”  Through Jesus, we are saved from our sins.

Jesus is the King of the Universe.  The question I ask you is Jesus king of your heart and soul?

Video – Third Presentation in series “Being Church in Today’s World”

Last night I offered the third (and final) presentation in my series, Being Church in Today’s World. The video and slides for Part III are now available on my website at http://www.renewaloffaith.org/beingchurch2022part3.

If you watch the video in the next few days, you can complete an online evaluation at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScYM9DYs8ti-tafwjprw09N_b1FFXR8e64_PW7HYcnPGmf07g/viewform?usp=sf_link . My next series will be on the Eucharist. One of the questions in the evaluation gives you a chance to tell me what questions you would like answered about the Eucharist. I welcome your thoughts.

Please feel free to share this link with anyone you know who might be interested. I encourage you to do it to help others grow in faith.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

What Does It Mean to be “Devout”?

Last month I began reading St. Francis De Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life. Written 400 years ago, it is available in various translations. I am reading the 2015 version published by Ignatius Press (San Francisco) and the Augustine Institute (Greenwood Village, CO). My quotations will be from this edition.

Normally I do not write about a book until I finish it. However, in this case, I am only about two-thirds of the way through the book. It is not a book that you read through in a couple of sittings. It is not meant to be. In fact, it was not originally written to be a book. As St. Francis De Sales tells us in the preface, the content was originally written to guide “a certain soul” (xi) in her seeking “earnestly after a devout life” (xi). It was not written as one work but rather ongoing correspondence. When others learned of the work, they encouraged that it be published for a wide audience. St. Francis De Sales did some editing, adapting it for “the common good of souls” (xi). It remains in the form of correspondence, addressed to a fictitious person.

Written as a series of correspondence, it is not designed to be read like a book. One should read it piece by piece, pausing to reflect upon each chapter. It is suggested to read only one chapter a day.

With this in my mind, along with a busy schedule, it is taking me a while to read the “book.” So, I have decided to begin writing about what is in the beginning of the book without having finished the whole book.

In writing the book, St. Francis De Sales speaks of his role as a bishop to help his people grow in faith. He made this work available for this very purpose. However, he does not profess to be a perfect expert on the devout life. He writes, “One thing more, dear reader. It is too true that I who write about the devout life am not myself devout, but most certainly I am not without the wish to become so, and it is this wish that encourages me to teach you. A notable literary man has said that a good way to learn is to study, a better to listen, and the best to teach. And Saint Augustine, writing to the devout Flora, says, that giving is a claim to receive, and teaching a way to learn” (xiii). This is not to say that if you want to learn, the first thing you should do is get a job teaching. We need to study to establish a foundation. However, we grow in faith by learning to share it with others. Do not be afraid to talk to others about your faith.

So, what does it mean to be devout? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary Android App (accessed 11/15/22) defines “devout” as “committed or devoted to religion or to religious duties or exercises.” Are you “devout” are you? How committed are you to living your faith?

St. Francis De Sales speaks of the man who puts great value in fasting while “his heart is full of bitterness” (1). What good is his fasting if he remains bitter? St Francis De Sales continues, speaking of the man who “repeats many prayers daily” but is “angry, irritating, conceited or insulting” (1). If we are to be devout, we need to allow ourselves to be transformed by our faith. As today’s first reading (Tuesday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time Year II) from Revelation says, it is not enough to be lukewarm in our faith. If we are to be faithful, we must strive to be fully transformed by our faith.

St. Francis De Sales then speaks of “love” and “devotion.” We know that Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to “love our neighbor.” St. Francis De Sales speaks of first love and then growing to devotion. This is new to me. He writes, “And therefore we cannot call him who neglects to observe all God’s Commandments either good or devout, because in order to be good, a man must be filled with love, and to be devout, he must further be very ready and apt to performs the deeds of love” (2). I think what he is telling us in the first chapter is that to fully live out our faith, it begins in receiving the love of God and becomes devout when we truly live our faith and share that love with others (see 2-3).

St. Francis De Sales writes in chapter 2, “It is just so, my child, that the world runs down true devotion, painting devote people with gloomy, melancholy aspect, and affirming that religion makes them dismal and unpleasant” (3). We live in a superficial world that focuses on what brings instantaneous pleasure. It fails to look for any depth. He continues, “But the word sees nothing of that inward, heartfelt devotion that makes all these actions pleasant and easy” (3). The world sees the devout as gloomy because in its superficial nature, the world does not see beyond the moment. The devout life involves depth, depth that we can only have with faith in God. Devout people seek “happiness”. However, it is not a superficial human happiness. The devout seek the joy that God offers.

St. Francis De Sales writes, “So devotion is the real spiritual sweetness that takes away all bitterness from mortifications, and prevents consolations from disagreeing with the soul: it cures the poor of sadness, and the rich of resumption; it keeps the oppressed from feeling desolate, and the prosperous from insolence; it averts sadness from the lonely, and dissipation from social life; it is as warmth and refreshing dew in summer; it knows how to abound and how to suffer want” (4). True devotion leads us to change the way we see things, to change our priorities and where we look for happiness.

Some think the devout life is not for everyone, that it “is specially proper to the religious and monastic life” (6). While lived differently in the secular world than in monasteries, the devout life is for everyone. There remains a tendency to think of saints as always being clergy, religious, on in monastic life. Here St. Francis De Sales provides lists of very holy people who were members of the laity. In the Old Testament he speaks of figures like Abraham David, and Job. In the New Testament there is St. Joseph, who raised Jesus as his own son. St. Francis lists saints like Anne, Martha, Louis (6). God invites everyone, including you to the devout life.

Where are we to begin, with “pruning and cutting” (8). In the pages that follow, St. Francis De Sales will speak of purifying our souls. That is where my next article on the Introduction to the Devout Life will begin.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

The Time to Get Ready is now.

In two weeks our current liturgical year will draw to a close. Our gospel comes from a time shortly before Jesus’ Passion. He knows his time on earth will be coming to end soon. He wants to prepare his disciples. He speaks to them of “the end.”

The opportunity comes when the people ask him questions. “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen

He warns them that before the end many will come in his name and offer false teaching. There are people today who, though Christian, offer teaching contrary to what Jesus teaches. Do not follow them.

They asked Jesus what signs there will be. Jesus replies by speaking of wars and insurrections that must happen first. That “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” He speaks of earthquakes, famines, and plagues that will all happen first. These things have happened.

People have used these signs as well as other verses in the Bible that speak of the end times to try and predict when the end will happen. Some have predicted a specific date. None of them have been correct.

We might like to know when the end will come. Why? Because we want to be ready. However, if we are good Christians, it doesn’t matter when the end (Second Coming) will happen? Why doesn’t it matter?

Because if we are good Christians, we will live each and every day as Christ teaches us. If we do that, we will be ready. Of course, we are not perfect. There we give thanks that we can confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and receive God’s forgiveness.

It will not be easy. Jesus goes on to speak of those who will “seize and persecute” us for our faith. They will hand us over to “kings and governors.” When we offer others the Truth that God offers, many don’t want to listen. They call us intolerant and accuse of hate speech. As Christians, we are not to speak of hate. We speak in love, offering truth. They speak of tolerance but they want to force us to go against our faith, like forcing bakeries to make cakes celebrating events that go against our faith. We pray for the gift of courage from the Holy Spirit that we persevere in living our faith. Only when we persevere in our faith are we ready for the Second Coming.

It is in our perseverance that we give testimony. Our first reading from Malachi is just two verses. The context is a time when the people are wondering if it is useless to serve God. Why? Because they see how evildoers are prospering. In today’s passage, the Lord assures them, “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire.” The evildoers will receive their punishment in Hell while those who fear the Lord will see the sun of justice arise with its healing rays. In persevering in our faith, we give testimony that we believe in what God has done for us and promises us in the future.

Trust in what the Lord offers in eternal life.

When we live our faith in this world, we may be hated for our faith. It may not be just strangers who had us over. It might be our own parents, children, siblings, relatives, or friends that hand us over. This makes it all the harder. Do you have family or friends who tell you to keep silent about your faith? Do you feel rejected for your faith? Don’t take it personally! Hand it over to Jesus for it is him who they are really rejecting.

Ask God to help you persevere.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Can’t We All Get Along?

I’ve been hearing in the news lately about anti-Semitic comments. I do not know why there is a rise in these comments. The Jews as a group were stereotyped by Catholics as bad for a long time. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke it is the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes who get the blame for persecuting Jesus. However, it is important for us to realize that not all the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes were against Jesus. There were those who came to follow Jesus. In the Gospel of John it is the Jews as a whole who get the blame for persecuting Jesus. From this, Jews have been despised. Yet, we must realize, just as with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes in the other gospels, it was not all the Jews who despised Jesus.

The Catholic Church has come to realize this. I think of Jesus’ words, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). When we pray for our enemies and those who persecute us, we ask God to change their hearts. We also ask God to change our hearts. Now, we pray for the Jews as sharers in a common ancestry. On Good Friday every Catholic Church in the world shares in praying the same ten solemn intercessions. One of these is for the Jews. It reads:

“VI. For the Jewish people

Let us pray also for the Jewish people,
to whom the Lord our God spoke first,
that he may grant them to advance in love of his name
and in faithfulness to his covenant.

Almighty ever-living God,
who bestowed your promises on Abraham and his descendants,
hear graciously the prayers of your Church,
that the people you first made your own
may attain the fullness of redemption.
Through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.

Every single person is a child of God. As we heard in the first reading (Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14) on All Saints Day, “After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” God offers a place in Heaven to everyone.

This includes the Jews. It includes everyone. This is reflected in several of the other Good Friday Solemn Intercessions (for the complete text of the Good Friday Solemn Intercessions see http://www.ibreviary.com/m/preghiere.php?tipo=Rito&id=541. You will need to scroll down past the readings).

As we come to see all as God’s children, we must be careful of stereotyping and assuming people of any given group are all alike. For example, we live in a world where we fear terrorist attacks from Islamic extremists. The concern is based on real experience. However, that does not make all Islamic people terrorists. We pray for the extremists to have a change of heart. We pray for all to come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Redeemer.

We face other nations engaging in attacks that we may not understand. For example, after several months of watching Russia attack the Ukraine, I still don’t know why they are doing it. What do we do? We pray. We pray for the safety and needs of the Ukrainians. We also pray for the Russians to end the attacks.

Likewise, I don’t understand what is going on in North Korea. They have been testing missiles. Are they preparing to begin military attacks against South Korea or other countries? I don’t know. I don’t understand why they would. What must we do? Pray for the North Koreans, for their leaders to stand down and for the people to seek peaceful resolutions to whatever the issues are.

When we hear of shootings in our own country, we often ask why? We don’t understand. It sometimes involves hatred towards a particular group such as African-Americans or people who identify as LGBT. For the African-Americans, I point back to the passage from Revelation I mentioned above. All are God’s children, regardless of race. Do you realize that while we depict Jesus in paintings and statues as looking like a person of white European descent, He was not. He was from the middle-east. As to members of the LGBT community, we do not judge them for their attractions and we do not condemn them for their actions. Yes, it is not what the Bible teaches but we leave the judging to God. These attacks are not warranted. We must pray for an end to the attacks and for the people who are attacked. (For more on how we interact with those who choose “alternative lifestyles”, see my article “Towards Dignity and Truth: Compassionate Dialogue on Homosexuality”.

Hate is not God’s way. Hate leads to more hate. It is time to love as Christ calls us to love. It does not mean saying what others do is always okay. It does mean we must pray for them and treat them as God’s children. God loves them (and us) enough to meet them where they are. He loves them too much to leave them there.

We need to pray and work for unity. I write this on election day 2022 in the United States. In election campaigning we see much division and polarization. There doesn’t seem to be possibility for true dialogue because each side is so sure they are right that no one seems to really listen. When things seem impossible, remember Nothing is impossible for God. We pray for unity. We pray for real dialogue (see my article, “Seeking Real Dialogue” based on Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti). We pray that people realize there is Truth. It is the Truth that comes from God.

In John 17, Jesus prayed that we may be one. Let us join him daily in praying that we all be one with God and each other.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Homily

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
Psalm 17:1, 5-6, 8, 15 (15b)
2 Thessalonians 2:16-3-5
Luke 20:27-38
November 6, 2022

The Sadducees come to Jesus with a question.  Given that this passage starts by saying the Sadducees “deny that there is a resurrection,” we realize they aren’t asking with the best intent.  They want to discredit Jesus.

They call Jesus “Teacher” but they don’t believe what He says.  As educated religious people, they start from what Moses said.  That’s a good thing. 

They speak of what was known as the “levirate law” (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) regarding children of a deceased brother.  They speak of the situation of seven brothers who, following the levirate law, die one after another without children, each marrying the same woman.

Because the woman has been married seven times, the Sadducees ask Jesus, “Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be.”  If one only sees the resurrection as an extension of life in this world, the question may have value.  Thinking along this line, they want to show that the idea of resurrection is absurd. 

However, the resurrection is not simply an extension of earthly life.  It is something more that we don’t fully understand.  Jesus says that those who attain the resurrection “neither marry nor are given in marriage.  They can no longer die.”  The resurrection is not just resuscitation.  It is being raised to new life with God.

 The Sadducees saw the resurrection as new teaching.  As new and not consistent with the old (we should be weary of “new” teaching), they rejected it. 

However, the resurrection was not new teaching.  Our first reading from Maccabees in the Old Testament today shows a clear belief in the resurrection. 

The Jews had been taken over by the Greeks.  The Greeks were trying to force all the Jews to abandon their own faith and practice the Greek religious customs.

This passage tells of seven brothers with their mother who will not abandon their Jewish faith.  They “were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law.” 

They are courageous, saying, “We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”  Why do they have this courage?  Why will they not abandon their ancestral practices to save their earthly lives?  Because they believe in the resurrection where they will be raised up “to live again forever” if they keep the Lord’s ways.  This present life means nothing compared to the life to come.

From their witness, we hear “Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s courage, because he regarded his sufferings as nothing.

Does your belief in the Resurrection affect how you live in this world?  It should.  You are free to choose to follow the ways of this world but know if you do you will not share in eternal life with God. 

God, please give us courage and a strong belief in the Resurrection so that we may follow you in all things, that we be willing to “die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him.

The Sadducees did not accept this.  They accepted only what could be found in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.  They claimed there was no mention of the Resurrection in the Torah.

Jesus knows otherwise.  He points them to the story of the burning bush where God is identified as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.

It is not easy to live a Christian life today.  There are those who think our Catholic teaching is out of touch with reality.  They do what they want and ridicule Catholic teaching.  Catholic teaching is not human teaching.  It comes from God. 

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father…encourage your hearts and strengthen them” to live in accord with his will.

Annual Mass of Remembrance – Homily

It is our tradition, as it is in many parishes, to offer an annual Mass of Remembrance for those who died in the last year. Here is my homily for our Mass of Remembrance this year.

All Souls’ Day – Annual Mass of Remembrance
Wisdom 3:1-9
Psalm 23
Philippians 3:20-21
John 11:17-27
November 2, 2022

Losing a loved one is often a difficult time.  If they suffer a serious illness or weak from aging, it can seem like a great affliction “and their going forth from us, utter destruction.”  That is, unless we have faith.

If we have faith in God, if we have faith in Jesus, then we know that there is eternal life.  Jesus told Martha that Lazarus would rise.  All who believe in Jesus as “the way and the truth and the life” can share in the Resurrection.  Knowing this, we have “hope full of immortality.”

Yesterday we celebrated All Saints’ Day.  We ask the saints to pray for us in Heaven.  Today we celebrate All Souls’ Day.  We can pray for our deceased loved ones at anytime but today is a special day to pray for them.  We come together to pray in sorrow.

When your loved one died, just as “many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother” people offered you words of comfort.

When your loved one died, we celebrated a funeral.  In celebrating a funeral, we certainly pray for the family who is mourning.  We must not forget that at a funeral we pray for our deceased loved one.

Why pray for them?  We pray that they be cleansed in Purgatory of the remnant of their sins.  Purgatory does not change their sins.  God’s forgiveness comes in the Sacrament of Reconciliation before we die.  Yet, sin has an effect on us.  To be welcomed into Heaven, we must be healed of that effect.  As Paul writes to the Philippians, Jesus “will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.” 

When we pray for the dead, we are praying that God remove the remnant of their sins quickly and welcome them into Heaven.  When we have Masses said for our deceased loved ones, we are placing the souls of the just in the hand of God, offering the sacrifice of Jesus for them.

Heaven is what we are created for.  As Paul writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven.”  There lies our hope.

Still, the passing of a loved one is not easy.  For some here tonight, it has been a year since your loved one passed.  For others only a month.  We all grieve differently.  Even two people who are sitting right next to each other grieving for the same person may be at different points in their grieving.  That’s okay.  There is not one set way to grieve as we walk in the “dark valley” of death.

We do not grieve alone.  First and foremost, the Lord is at our side.  Remember, Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus.  In our grief we count on the Lord as our shepherd to refresh our soul. 

The Lord comforts us with words of hope. 

After Lazarus had died, Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” 

When we bury our loved one, these words of Jesus are used to introduce the prayers of intercessions at the burial.  These are not random words.  These are words of hope.  Our loved one has passed but their life is not over.

These are words we needed to hear when our loved one passed.  They are words we need to hear whenever we find ourselves lamenting the loss of our loved one.

In your grieving know that the Lord is with you.  As fellow Christians, we do not want you to feel alone.  We send out grief support materials.  Tonight, in our support for you we come together as we offer this Mass for all who have died in the last year.  As we pray for them, we also pray for you.

All Saints Day – Homily

All Saints Day
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6 (see 6)
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12a
November 1, 2022

There are numerous people who have been canonized as saints in our Catholic Church.  Each of them has their own feastday. 

For example. St. John Fisher, who is the patron saint of our diocese shares June 22nd with St. Thomas More for his feastday.  St. Benedict, namesake of our church in Odessa, has his feastday on July 11th.  The archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael share a feastday on September 29th.  St. Francis of Assisi’s is October 4th.  St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, who was the first American citizen to be canonized, feastday is November 13th.

With so many saints canonized, on each day of the year there are numerous saints’ feastday. 

Yet, for all the saints that are canonized, there are many more.  Canonization does not make one a saint.  Canonization recognizes that the person is already a saint.  A saint is one who is in Heaven.

We celebrate All Saints’ Day mindful of the saints not known by name.

If being a saint isn’t dependent on canonization, what determines a saint?

Saints are those who have the seal on the forehead.  We enter the Communion of Saints in Baptism.  During the Rite of Baptism, we are marked with the Sign of the Cross on our foreheads.  We are made children of God.

That alone does not make us saints.  The Beatitudes speak of what must be in our hearts if we are saints.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the Kingdom of heaven…Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied…Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.

Clean of heart?  We dirty our hearts when we sin.  How are we to be clean of heart?  Revelation describes the saints as those wearing white robes.  White is a sign of purity but how are we to be pure, to be clean if we have sins.  Revelation also says, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” 

Yes, we have sinned but we allow Jesus to make us clean when we confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Then our robes are made “white in the Blood of the Lamb.” 

Who can be saints?  Revelation tells of “the vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue

Everyone can be a saint.  Everyone can be in Heaven.  It is not dependent on our nation, race, people, or tongue.  It is dependent on us giving our hearts to God.  This is what it means to be “poor in spirit.”  It is when we are “poor in spirit” that God welcomes us to the “Kingdom of heaven.”

We are created to know God.  We look for happiness in this world but we can only find true joy with God.  It is when we realize this, we become the people who long to see God’s face.

The Bible contains images of Heaven.  Yet, we don’t know exactly what Heaven will be like.  What we do know is that when we are saints in Heaven we will be with God.  What more do you want?