Bible Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Responsorial: Psalm 96; II: I Thessalonians 1:1-5B; Gospel: Matthew 22:15-21
The Church year is drawing to a close. In just a few short weeks we will begin the season of Advent. The season of Ordinary Time in this most un-ordinary year will close with the Feast of Christ the King and our readings are preparing the stage for this great celebration. It is no coincidence that this celebration of the Lordship of Jesus Christ will come just days after the election here in the “United States”. With so many issues pressing upon the souls and well being of so many people around the world there is great tension for Christians, for Catholics to be found faithful. And the conflicted challenge to be faithful, in, but not of the world is what we read of on our Gospel.
Much like our present day the political parties in Israel in the time of Jesus (Pharisees, Sadducees and Romans) were a dark and deadly playground for the politicians and religious leaders seeking to entrap Jesus and His followers. Repeated attempts were made to catch Jesus, to test His followers of their proper credentials. While no election was underway in Palestine the parallels to our present drama of politicians seeking to control the faithful is significant. The conflicts and hatred, strife and discord of our present state of the the union are a tragic and sad witness of the work of what our Psalmist calls “…the gods of the nations…”. Sadly much of this worldly discord has infiltrated the church. Frequently one can hear or read that IF you are a faithful Catholic, a true Christian you MUST vote for this person. If you do otherwise you clearly do not truly worship God! The power of the Holy Spirit to guide and lead the faithful in discernment and exercise of conscience is denied. What is the answer for us in this intense time of a cacophony of voices assaulting our ears and souls?
The answer is in the Gospel. It is in the simple wisdom of Jesus as He responds to these same demonic forces. He asks that the source of the conflict be placed…In His Hands. Jesus takes the coin and provides the powerful wisdom we would do well to live today. “Give to Caeser what belongs to Caeser and to God what belongs to God.” We are called to place in the hands of our crucified Lord ALL that is in our lives. For Jesus is The King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Saint Paul in writing, by the Holy Spirit, to the faithful in Thessalonica commended them for their FAITH, LOVE and HOPE. Paul was not seeking any key topics of teaching or debate on which to consider or judge these early Christians. Paul was looking for a genuine and dynamic faith lived through the power of the Holy Spirit in their relationship with the risen Christ. The Apostle knew words alone or photo-ops of faith were not sufficient for the times and testings of these early believers. The faithful must learn to depend, not on politics (secular or religious) or their place in the world. The faithful must be skilled in placing all their cares and concerns in the hands of God.
It as we let go of the conflicts, cares and fears, as well as our ambitions, hopes and plans then in faith (not always feelings) place them into the hands of our Lord we are set free. We are freed from the burdens of the world to take the freedom of the Cross and follow in His steps. The way is not painless or easy. It is truly the way of faith, exercised in love but it has eternal contrasts to what the gods of this world would have us carry. For it takes a closeness with Jesus to place something in His hands. And it is in that same closeness He is able to give us His power, wisdom and peace. It is in that closeness that we take His hands and receive, Him.
Scripture Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 25:6-10A; Responsorial: Psalm 23; II: Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14
It is profoundly significant, and no accident, that as we face times of intense challenge and uncertainty that our Bible readings this Sunday focus upon a theme very close to the Heart of God. The theme of the Banquet of God, the abundance of our Lord, is enriched in each message from the Holy Spirit. That this abundance would be promised in times of strife and sickness, again is no accident. God calls us to be in this world but people of the eternal Kingdom of Heaven.
To explore, prayerfully to better realize, this great opportunity we will use a tool that you may remember from school. A tool that was always at hand as I worked in fire services responding to the media about a fire or some other disaster. As we look to this holy and awesome invitation from God let us explore five vital points to best respond to our Lord. The WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHO and WHY of this call are vital to our souls, and, to the heart of God who calls us to this Banquet of graces.
WHAT is this Banquet of the King about? The parable from the Gospel of Matthew uses the metaphor of a wedding feast for the son of the king. This actually foretells the wedding feast between Jesus and the Church, the Bride of Christ. This great feast emphasizes that this celebration is a banquet of love. The early Church, as a part of the Eucharistic meal would have their Agape Feasts. These “Love Feasts” brought together the faithful in what would perhaps later be known as the church potluck. But these ancient liturgies focused upon the love of God that brought the faithful together and the love of God they anticipated, in fullness, upon the return of Jesus. But this holy banquet is much more than just a wedding feast. It is a feast of celebration of the abundance of grace and love God has for ALL PEOPLES! All the faithful were welcome (and ALL were welcome to become a part of the faithful) and all brought, what they had as active participants in these prophetic meals. Our Old Testament reading from the prophet is extraordinary. Although given to the Jews this beautiful message of abundant grace is clearly proclaimed as being for everyone. This weaving of time in the Old Testament brings us to ask: When is this banquet?
WHEN is the time for this banquet of graces? If we are to respond, readily, faithfully to God’s invitation we must know the time, one would think. We need to realize this holy meal is a threshold of eternity. As we cannot confine or regulate the graces of God neither can we confine or regulate…eternity. Much as we try. This Banquet of God will be experienced in fullness at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb of God, of Christ and His Bride. But it is also experienced in many other times of our walk with God. In each sacramental moment, especially in the Eucharist, but also in our feasting upon the Bread Life, the Word of God. It is celebrated in the poorest of soup kitchens. It is found (perhaps unrealized) in the simplest family meal. The Gospels give numerous examples of when Jesus gathered people to His Presence…they feasted on His love and grace. Abundantly. To realize that the when of this Divine Meal transcends time brings us to better enter into the where of the Banquet of the Lord.
WHERE? For Catholic Christians the most familiar understanding of the Banquet of God would be, of course, The Eucharist. To truly receive the Real Presence, The actual Body and Blood of Jesus is the feast of feasts that both transcends but also prepares for eternity. It is, perhaps, a hidden grace that in this past year with the ability to participate in Mass severely limited for so many that we may better cherish this great holy gift. But, prayerfully, hopefully, we are allowing the Holy Spirit to show us also the essential Eucharistic Presence of Jesus is not found in quantity but the quality of our encounter. Might not the Holy Spirit be preparing us for times ahead of greater challenges and graces as we prepare for our King and His return? In preparing us God would remind us, as mentioned above, Jesus will meet and nourish us in banquets not always anticipated. David, in the 23rd Psalm speaks of the banquet God prepares in the presence of his enemies. Paul the Apostle speaks of the abundance of God provided as the faithful shared, from their need. To more fully enjoy the times of these holy sharings we need to look to who is invited. This is often the most difficult part of God’s banquet.
WHO? Or maybe, more honestly WHO?? God, you can’t mean THEY are coming!!!! I truly believe that many will be surprised by who specifically and collectively may be seated next to or across from them at this meal of mercy. Just as many may be very surprised to see some of us there as well. Although Scripture, both Old and New Testament clearly teach that God’s Banquet of Grace is open to all we often have difficulty with others at the table of God. I hope everyone read the full Gospel for today. If you did what portion did you focus upon? For many Christians (and unbelievers) the focus is at the end. Not about the great celebration. Not about all those called. Not about the abundant feast. But that one part..”many are called but few are chosen.” Some focus on this in fear…”what if I am not chosen?” This fear is often fueled by others who assign clear and often rigid rules and expectation as to what is required and expected. Theses judgments are tied in with the preceding portion about the man who was at the banquet. But NOT in wedding attire! Whenever we are invited to a special event we, as courtesy, need to know, what should I wear? Is it formal or casual? In the lesson of the wedding feast we would ask..”What is my wedding garment? What God wants us for us to be changed. It isn’t about a type of clothes but a type of life. We, generally would not think of going to a wedding in the same clothes we wear when doing grubby chores. We would clean-up and change to OUR best. What Jesus wants to see us in is our on-GROWING change, our conversion. He longs that, as Paul wrote elsewhere, for us to be enjoying the graces of that from “glory to glory God changes us.” And it is the best from each of our individual hearts. The heart of someone born into the gifts of the faith will have journey, a path different from a convert of later years. The point is God want us changed into our best for Him. An important point we need to realize about this banquet. Scripture is clear. ALL are invited. Yes it is also very clear that some will not be chosen to participate, without their garment. But we must allow and recognize it is the King who decides who will share. Not those invited.
WHY? All of these points of learning of the Banquet of God are encompassed in the final point. Why does God want us in this glorious feast? The answer is given, again, from the prophet Isaiah. The Holy Spirit, speaking through the prophet, tells of this abundant rich banquet, for ALL people upon His holy mountain. This would be, of course Calvary, at the Cross, we are all brought to know this holy meal of God’s grace. For it is at the Cross we have the reason WHY we are invited. God loves us. It is that simple. In the Song of Solomon it is proclaimed”. “He brought me to His banqueting table and His banner over me is love.”
As we journey into the days ahead, days perhaps of uncertainty and many challenges or perhaps in the peace and joys of life from blessings unexpected, may we know that we are called to share in the Banquet of the King. Now and for all eternity. May we be ready and may we share in welcoming others into His Presence.
Mass Readings: I. Isaiah 5:1-7; Responsorial: Psalm 80; II: Philippians 4:6-9; Gospel: Matthew 21:33-43
Anyone who lives in wine country in any part of the world is blessed in a very special way. The beauty cannot be denied. The weather is (usually) mild and enjoyable. And the fruit of the harvest is a source of great joy and pleasure. However there is one blessing that is often overlooked. We are able to see, to live amongst what is one of the most popular metaphors Jesus used in the Gospels and that is used throughout Scripture.
This Sunday we read lessons of the great and holy call God’s people share as a part of God’s vineyard. From the first reading from the prophet Isaiah to the Gospel this theme is expressed with clarity and warnings. For both the prophet and Jesus in the Gospel state that the holy privilege to be a part of God’s vineyard comes with expectations from God. God’s love for the world is unconditional. As the Father gave His Son to die on the cross it was freely given to free us all to be a part of God’s Kingdom, God’s vineyard. While this great gift is unconditional it is a gift of LIFE. It is a gift meant to be..LIVED, faithfully, fruitfully in the same love in which it is given. To deny that life, that holy, joyful impulse to be fruitful for God is to essentially deny our place in the vineyard. It would be the same as if a healthy beautiful rose did not bloom. Or a healthy robust grapevine that would not bear grapes. But what does it mean to be fruitful, growing abundantly in God’s vineyard?
The Holy Spirit, in our second reading gives us insight. To be growing in the vineyard of our Lord does not mean a physical or temporal place or entity. While a metaphor is used in our readings it expresses a very important reality. God’s vineyard is very real. Spiritually. It is in the second reading we understand this. It is a place of faith, growing in prayer. It is a place of deep peace, that surpasses all physical, earthly understanding (and turmoil). It is a place of growing in God, even in times of great testing or sadness. It is vital to remember that these words of St. Paul, shared first with the faithful in Philippi were written from a place where Paul experienced great persecution, beating, jailing and an earthquake. The church in that Greek city would also know major trials for their faith. But is in the Vineyard of God, amidst those trials, that God’s peace, power, God’s Presence grew.
This Sunday is also October 4th. It is the Solemnity of St. Francis of Assisi. And it is in the life of this intensely humble saint who grew up among the vineyards of Assisi that we see a very powerful example of someone fruitful for God working in the vineyard of our Lord. Francis, once the grace of God came alive in his awakening to Jesus never stopped growing in love with His Savior. This love grew to embrace poverty so that nothing would come between him and Jesus. This love grew to see Jesus not just in those understood to be holy but in the poor, the unwell. It was this love for God that grew to see that all creation, all creatures, were a part of this holy vineyard to which Francis had been brought. And it was among the holy vines of the Gospel that Francis shared a simplicity of fervent faith that inspires to this day. He once said:
“Lord, help me to live this day, quietly, easily. To lean upon Thy great strength, trustfully, restfully. To wait for the unfolding of Thy will, patiently, serenely. To meet others, peacefully, joyously. To face tomorrow, confidently, courageously.”…..“We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”
And it was Francis who would remind us of one of the most crucial truths of the holy beautiful vineyard. It is eternal. What we do, the fruit we bring is meant for God, for each other, for eternity. Again the words of Francis help us: “Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What you are in His sight is what you are and nothing more. Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing you have received, but only what you have given; a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.”
Again in the words of St. Francis; Pax et bonum. Peace and all good. Together, with all the saints, let us grow in God’s vineyard.
Mass Readings: I: Ezekiel 18:25-28; Responsorial: Psalm 25; II: Philippians 2: 1- 5; Gospel: Matthew 21:28-32
TESTS! Most of us generally would not be excited or happy if told we needed to be tested. Whether it were a test of knowledge (say Algebra..No Thank you!). Or a test for skill, perhaps for your drivers license renewal, these would not be something most people would rush in which to participate. If the subject was one in which you were comfortable and skilled then it could be a welcomed experience. It could offer an opportunity to show your talents. But generally tests are not something for us.
Jesus, ever the Master Teacher, had no problem testing His followers or those who opposed Him. Our Gospel today begins with Jesus asking: “What is your opinion?” Jesus did not hesitate to test. But our Lord also was willing to be tested. In the wilderness, with His disciples, the hungry multitudes or those who opposed Him, Jesus took His test with courage and grace.
For us taking tests is not usually seen as an opportunity of courage and grace. They are more something we would prefer to avoid. OR.. give to others.
It is far easier to apply our favorite tests to others. Especially if it concerns matter in which our convictions are strong. Matters of faith and religious practices (or lack there of). Family…many family members have clear tests of how other members of the clan should behave and act. Work… supervisors, co-workers, customers or clients all are worthy of being evaluated. And, of course POLITICS! Is this person conservative or liberal? Are they credible? Indeed applying these litmus tests of life TO OTHERS is usually a matter of ease and readiness.
It is necessary is that we be ready to test, in the love of God, others AND ourselves in honest courageous discernment. TESTS, the Taking and Giving are a part of life. [Note: tests, discernment are not the same as judging].
The Bible readings we share today give us a powerful lesson on the choices, the tests, the discernments of life. Ezekiel, the prophet and Jesus, in the Gospel speak of this reality. We make choices, discern to do what is right or wrong. We also, by God’s grace, recognize the need of “changing the answer”, i.e., repenting when we realize a wrong choice has been made.
But the facing of these tests, these discernments is not as easy as we may like. In the realm of politics, for example, these litmus tests, these discernments are, by many, boiled down to one subject. The crucial matter of abortion is, for many THE ONLY litmus test of support or opposition. IF a candidate says the right words to their hoped for supporters about the subject then many will not bother with any further consideration, even if the practices and answers defy the truth.
Whatever the test subject, whether it be for others or ourself, the Word of God provides abundant guidance to faithfully grow through the tests and discernments of life. In the Psalm for today we find the first essential step:
PRAY: ” YOUR ways, O Lord, make known to me, teach me YOUR paths.” From Psalm 25, our responsorial for today. The emphasis are mine.
LISTEN: And from the Epistle the Holy Spirit directs us to look for:
Encouragement in Christ ~ Does this decision, this person, action bring encouragement, a clearer relationship IN CHRIST?
Solace in Love ~ Is there the compassion, a greater strength of GOD’s love?
Participation in the Spirit ~ Does this action, answer, person bring greater participation in the Spirit of God? Or of self? Ego? Who is glorified?
Compassion and mercy ~ Does the answer, discernment I am following build compassion and mercy? Or does it foster division and judgment?
Being of the same mind, having the same love; In full accord, of the same mind ~ Is there a growing unity of faith and understanding or an increase of the “them vs. us” strife so popular today?
NOTHING from selfishness or conceit ~ Is there an attitude of ego and “I am the only one who can do this? Or is there the building of…community?
In humility consider others better ~ Does the answer I see nurture humility and a respect for the worth of others or does it lead further up onto a pedestal of exclusiveness reeking of arrogance?
HAVE THIS MIND IN YOU WHICH WAS IN CHRIST JESUS. Will the answers I choose help myself and others better grow in the self-giving love of Jesus? Will God be glorified?
These holy litmus papers will enable us to honestly discern in ourselves whether or not we are faithfully growing in Christ. These holy litmus tests will enable us to take the challenges we face in the church and discern, as the people of God, the graces of the Holy Spirit in which we are in need. And as we face the extraordinary tests of this election season we can prayerfully, hopefully realize that we need to grow beyond a single litmus test that we may better understand the fuller, more honest character of a candidate or an issue.
We are facing many tests, many discernments in this season of life. May we, together, allow the mind of Christ to show us the truth that will make us free to be of one heart in Christ. May we realize we are being called beyond the divisions and destructions and egos of the devil and that we are being called to be one people in God through Christ. We are people in the world, but not of it. The Kingdom of God can never be confined to a political, religious or idealogical group or label. The tests we SHARE are calling us to seek first…CHRIST.
Scripture Readings for Mass: I: Isaiah 55:6-9; Responsorial: Psalm 145; II: Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a; Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16a
As the season of Autumn approaches the weather changes and the winds start to bring the hope of rain and cooler weather. So it is in the Church. As we seek to listen to the Holy Spirit this 25th Sunday of Ordinary the Scriptures would sharpen our focus upon the Kingdom of God, upon Christ the King. Through the parables Jesus powerfully shared He would often begin as He does in our Gospel today: “The Kingdom of God is…”
The other readings we share today speak to this promise and challenge with the emphasis begun by Isaiah the prophet: “Seek the Lord, while He is near…turn to the Lord for mercy…who is generous and forgiving. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”
In the Gospel, Jesus shares a parable that could seem to challenge our very basic understanding of fairness and justice. In the story of the landowner and the vineyard workers the story of their respective work and wages concludes with Jesus repeating a message threaded throughout His ministry: “Thus, the last will be first and the first will be last.” Is the Kingdom of God unfair? Is our service for God fraught with uncertain benefits? Or is this another eloquent lesson of how majestically different are the ways of God from our ways?
One of the most dangerous and poisonous vipers of deception in the world today is that of entitlement. The concept of believing not in God and God’s Kingdom but in self and ALL to which one may THINK one is entitled has spread to people of all ages and backgrounds. Politicians, media, entertainment and even some Christians play the hymns of self fulfillment with great passion and faith. But the false gospels never match the Gospel of Jesus.
So how do we realize and enter into the way of the Kingdom of God, the ways of Jesus? How do we understand this journey and how the last shall be first? A story from Calvary can help us.
The Last Shall Be First
The heavy beam crushed
the body, the soul of Dismas.
Hope was gone.
His journey to this hill was finished.
The heavy beam,
the most that
was ever truly his,
to the rocky, barren dirt.
Hope was gone.
Soon the nails pierced,
His hands, his feet,
that he had used
for stealing, for sin, for self.
The heavy beams
Dismas and the other thief
had carried now
carried them to justice.
But the third man,
He was different.
The crowds, the soldiers,
The priests and scribes
All crowded to be first.
To mock and taunt,
with their hate, their fear.
Even his fellow thief joined
the chorus of darkness
sung by so many
that were there.
But Dismas could not
the mocking join.
He knew what he deserved,
to what he was entitled.
But the other man,
a few called Him Lord
a few called Him Jesus.
He was different.
Dismas could see.
Jesus would soon die.
The beatings, the cruelty, the hate,
The growing darkness he crushing, felt.
Jesus would soon die.
The pain, the fear of Dismas
pierced and crushed
his broken soul.
But something else was now his,
An heartbreaking sadness,
for his suffering.
To his fading senses Dismis heard
His own voice gasping for Jesus,
when you come into your kingdom.”
In words he never thought possible
the first true words of hope
Dismas had ever heard,
Jesus quietly gasped in return:
“Today you will be with me in paradise.”
And through the crown of thorns,
and His bloody tears,
Jesus looked to him.
And Dismas knew
forgiveness, mercy, hope had found him.
Dismas knew Jesus.
by H. Martin
[Tradition is that the name of the penitent thief who was crucified with Jesus was called Dismas]
Mass Readings: I: Sirach 27:30-28-28:7; Responsorial: Psalm 103; II: Romans 14:7-9; Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
The year of 2020 is clearly a year of intense trials and challenges. The Covid 19 pandemic continues unabated. The political strife also increases as election day draws closer. And the past few weeks has seen the entire west coast besieged with wildfires of which even some secular reporters and politicians are referring to now as “Apocalyptic”. Even at midday the skies have been orange and yellow and so dark that lights have needed to be turned on as we seek to navigate these times.
Golden Gate Bridge ~ Week of September 6 at Midday
The longing of many is for the fires, the smoke, the ash to end. Most everyone is deeply weary of these…tribulations. And while we are weary most everyone finds the need to talk of all that is happening. As the discussions flourish many seek to point blame in our need to understand WHY? Depending on the beliefs and the political correctness of the person the blame may go towards poor forest management, climate change or political ineptness. Some are even starting to say this is a judgement for as one Washington politician stated “Mother Earth is Mad”! That statement, in many ways, is an affirmation of Romans 8:22: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now…“.
How serious is all this? To the thousands evacuated, often with no home to which to return, it is deadly serious. For those who have fallen sick or lost loved ones the Covid 19 plague is unspeakably painful. To the first responders struggling to save lives and property or the medical workers battling to bring healing to the sick it is, again deadly serious. To the thousands who have lost jobs or are trying to simply learn it is exhausting in the stress that has resulted. Yet, amazingly there are many who seek to either ignore, downplay or deny any of this is occurring.
There are those who believe climate change is a hoax foisted by liberals. Or perhaps it may have some truth but it is simply an end-time reality and nothing can or should be done. Speaking as a retired firefighter who has responded to a few fires I have to say wildfires now are far more intense and destructive on a consistently larger scale than what once was the norm. And they carry a clear message from “Mother Nature”. Or, more accurately, creation and our Creator. The environment is suffering on a global scale from greed and waste. The cult of SELF has resulted in the massive destruction and poverty as individuals have focused ever increasingly on themselves rather than on the common good or the even more rare value of one’s duty to God and others.
The pandemic is still doubted by many of both liberal and conservative values. Open-minded college students robed in the fine and very expensive fabrics of denial continue to gather for parties flaunting any health protocols. Conservative stalwarts who refuse to allow their selective choices in government tell them what to do or rob them of “their rights” imperil many in their mirror-focused love affairs. And, sadly politicians are embracing their respective chosen to ever build upon their empty empires of..self.
All this could be as oppressive and polluting as the smoke filled skies. It could be easy to say..What is the point? If it is so dismal why should we even try to hope?
But as intense, fierce or widespread as the fires and smoke may be or as prolonged and tragic as this plague may be there is even greater hope. Through all this God would make crystal clear His call, His plan for His Creation and all who will listen. We are to be A People of mercy and Faith.
The Place of Hope ~ The place of Mercy and Faith
The Bible readings this 24th Sunday of Extra-Ordinary times bring us the message of our Redeemer that will lead us through any trials. But it is in the opening prayer, The Collect, we find prayerful help:
“Look upon us, O God, Creator and ruler of all things, and, that we may feel the working of your mercy, grant that we may serve you with all our heart. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen”.
We must trust and remember that even through the thick clouds of smoke and fire, God is looking upon us. God may allow these tragedies. But God does not smile upon them. God recognizes that if love is to be real people must be able to choose. Right from wrong. Good from evil. Love from hate. Others before self. God also seeks to help us understand that these great sorrows are not necessarily caused just by the sins of those suffering. God would rather help us to admit our sins can cause great suffering for others. It is a very sad illustration of this truth that one of the most destructive and deadly of the California wildfires was caused by a group of people having a “gender reveal” party. with fireworks…. in the dry brush.
God indeed is looking upon us and calling to everyone through the smoke and flames, to be a people, not of selfishness and ego, but of mercy and faith. The first reading from the Wisdom book of Sirach reminds of this ancient call. It acknowledges the false pleasure we find in clinging to wrath and anger. It clearly proclaims the better way, the way of God…to forgive. To be a person both realizing their need of God’s mercy and a person freely sharing mercy.
St. Paul in the second Bible reading from Romans begins with: “None of lives for oneself and no one dies for oneself…”. The distance our world has traveled from this truth is immense. But it is only in one simple step, to God, that distance is conquered. The distance our self and sins bring between us and God is immense. But as the Responsorial Psalm proclaims the dimensions of God’s mercy are infinitely greater! “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He put our transgressions from us.”
These great and imperative lessons from God are so beautiful and simple to…hear. But they are far more difficult to embrace and live through our lives. St. Peter understands this battle when, in the Gospel he asks Jesus “…how often must I forgive…”? And to this day we continue to seek to quantify and confine the mercy and forgiveness of God. As it applies especially to others. We seem to want a line in the sand that if someone crosses we are free to..deny mercy…to deny forgiveness. This is sought for how often someone sins. It is sought for types of sin (usually that afflict others….not us). If someone sins this many times! I am done! If someone commits THAT sin! THEY are DONE! But this quantifying of God’s mercy denies The Spirit and power, the purpose of God, Who is Mercy, of God who is Forgiveness.
It was very soon after this conversation with Jesus that Peter told Jesus “help my unbelief!. To truly receive and share this mercy, this forgiveness Who is God takes faith. Faith from a heart, perhaps not wholly and holy perfect but wholly yielded to God. Jesus calls us to mercy, as we are, to become whom we are called to be.
The fires, the pandemic, the political and racial strife are brutally real. But the promises and call of God are an even greater reality. All people, men and women, young and old are fully equipped and able to live the lives of joy-filled faith and mercy, of selfLESSness as opposed to selfishness. Look to the examples of first responders, medical professionals and so many others to see the TRUTH of who we are called to be. Look to the Church, the faithful religious, clergy and especially the individuals and families who daily strive to live for Jesus and others as our example.
Sometimes God allows great flames of affliction to free us from what holds us back from being all He has created and called us to be. Let us listen and follow Him, together in the peace and life found in His mercy.
Mass Readings: I: Ezekiel. 33:7-9; Responsorial: Psalm 95; II: Romans. 13:8-10; Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
Today, Saturday, September 5th, is the 23rd anniversary of the passing into eternity of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. This little woman of immense faith has left us a witness and legacy of eternal riches. An objective study of her life would see a woman of intense, devout faith, courage and love. In recent years some have been surprised to learn she wrestled much with deep weariness and even depression. As with all the saints, with all of our family in Christ, it is imperative to recognize that St. Mother Teresa was…human. As we all are. We need to allow that with her deep and genuine faith she knew discouragement, doubts, weariness of soul. I would expect that with so much expected of her, for so long, that her humanity might well have been expressed in impatience or irritability with others. Any mother would quickly agree that it is a work of draining demand and challenges along with rich blessings and rewards. St. Mother Teresa provides us a very honest and realistic lesson on the Bible readings for this weekend, the lesson that we all, as followers of Christ are called to live our faith responding to our Debt of Love.
Storms of life happen. The basic desire of our human nature is for peace, security, a sense that all is and will be well. It is the ideal often pictured that the family, the church are to be places of such peace and safety. It is also, often the unrealistic ideal that struggles of financial needs, health, relationship conflicts or strife should not be found in our family, in our church. But…storms happen in life. Including in the life of our families and churches. Whether we are facing financial pressures, failures of health or the reality of sin struggles this is the environment of God’s Word for today and the place of our families and churches at least at times, on our journey toward eternity. It is also the setting of the work of St. Mother Teresa.
There is an immense degree of poverty in our world. Certainly of basic human needs of food, clothing, housing or water. Yet the poverty of soul is growing even greater. The loneliness and sense of isolation of so many in this hyper-cyber-connected society is of immense waves that batter human life. And we see the resulting human conditions that result. No one would knowingly, willingly seek to live and scrounge for sustenance in a garbage dump. Yet so many do. Rare would be the soul that would knowingly seek to live the life of a drug addict, or have a home filled with abuse of bodies and souls. I have never met anyone who purposefully chose to live a life. of wanton sexual promiscuity. Unless…. that is the only place they think they may find some expression of love or acceptance. It may be that is the only place they can pretend, for a few moments, that they are desirable..wanted. These great struggles are what God’s Word recognize and provide true hope with which to respond.
The Prophet Ezekiel, in our first reading, speaks of his being called to proclaim God’s Kingdom. He shares the eternal responsibility and consequences of his message. Or lack thereof. The prophet specifically addresses the difficult challenge of responding to the sins of the people. Ezekiel is called to speak honestly of sin and God’s call to repentance. Now we could easily excuse ourselves and say ‘well….that was for A Prophet!! It was for Ezekiel!! I am not Ezekiel, nor am I a prophet. So it doesn’t apply!! Does it?’ Indeed none of us are Ezekiels. None of us are prophets of the Old Testament make and model. But, the same Spirit that worked and spoke through Ezekiel is given us as followers of Christ. The same work of proclaiming God’s Kingdom is given us, the Body of Christ. We are not exempt. We all share this same debt of love.
In the Gospel for today we have a powerful message from Jesus that, in so many genuine ways was lived out by St. Mother Teresa. It is, in a way, illustrated by the tree above. The Kingdom of God, the Church, here on earth is a place and person of great beauty and strength. It is also a person and place of long and deep struggles and storms. For thousands of years now the doubters and haters have said the church is dead. They have gloated it is teetering ready to fall. What is not seen or understood, except with the graces of faith, is that those storms, the wounds, the battles are a part of the strength and beauty of God’s grace at work.
Jesus, in the Gospel talks of what we must do if a brother or sister, in Christ, has sinned against us. There are the three clear, simple steps in which the offense is stated to the person at fault with opportunity of repentance. If the individual fails to repent then they are to be considered as an outsider. Much is often focused upon the process or the punitive results if contrition is not found. And we must recognize immense, cruel abuses of these words have been twisted and applied in the name of church discipline. What is often minimized, or ignored altogether, is the purpose and intent of Jesus in these actions and His Words. We often neglect the redemptive holy healing of God seeking to be applied. It is often so easy to focus on the sin or the strife, especially if the sin or strife is not of our style as opposed to seeing the person. First. Foremost. Seeing the soul above the sin, the sickness or poverty of spirit. St. Mother Teresa saw Jesus in ALL she met. In all to whom she sought to minister. In Calcutta the number of, faithful Catholics and Christians that she might have helped would have been very small. Calcutta is a veritable populace of mostly Eastern beliefs. It did not matter to this saint. The purpose of St. Teresa was to see and care for Jesus in the poorest, sickest, the most fallen. The purpose of St. Teresa was, simply that of her Master to love redemptively. Did she preach against sin? Sometimes very powerfully and clearly. Sins such as greed, abortion, the neglect of the the poor she spoke against with courage and grace. But all sin she preached against by her actions first and then words. Always. In the Body of Christ, the Church, there are, always have been battles of sin, temptation and of the world. These battles have seen souls fall away and souls wounded. As Pope Francis has said, “the Church is a field hospital.” It is to these conditions, these realities that Jesus speaks today. Sin happens. Storms happen. but the redemptive, holy, healing love of God prevails.
St. Mother Teresa lived a life of intense simplicity. While clearly well taught and knowledgeable in her faith her life proclaimed, not a complex theology and moral system but a genuine and deeply rooted love for her Lord and Savior that grew to be expressed in her works of love for the needy, for all people. But what is often overlooked is that these works of love were intrinsically rooted in her love for God expressed in another outreach responding to her debt of love. The prayer life of St. Teresa was shared in her very works. It was also powerfully, devoutly shared in her prayer life with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, with Mary in the rosary and with her Sisters of Charity and the Church.
Jesus in the Gospel concludes this segment addressing the difficult realities of human relations with one of the most beautiful and extraordinary promises of Christ, the Living Word. He states that if two or more are gathered in His Name and agree in prayer IT SHALL BE GIVEN THEM! This consecrates, especially the prayers of the Mass the power of Christian prayer. But it also consecrates whenever two or more are gathered, in His Name. Jesus also makes another extraordinary promise. That whenever we are so gathered. He is in our midst. It is within the infinite holy confines of these promises that followers of Jesus can then gain clear direction and empowering to live out our holy legacy as God’s redeemed, to respond with St. Mother Teresa, all the saints and angels and each other in caring for our debt of love.
The message of Mother Teresa, of the Scriptures of today, of Jesus in our lives is not restricted by circumstances of pandemic, volatile ungodly politics and strife or economic upheaval. They are only affected by our willingness to see the boundless love God has given us and our responsibility and privilege to trust and share Him…to pay forward on our debt of love.
Compromise. Does this word cause a positive or negative reaction? If one were being asked to seek a compromise in their political views it would often be seen as a positive for an opponent to do and a negative if oneself were expected to share in this difficult verb. Our modern world is so filled with intense differing ideologies, beliefs and opinions. And in this world to compromise is usually seen as a sign of failure or weakness.
Prayer: The readings from Scripture today contain powerful promises and lessons about prayer. So would it not be best if the same question were asked as was above. Does the word prayer cause a negative or positive reaction? As most readers of this message have faith as a part of their life it could be assumed that it would be a positive reaction. Unless we are completely honest. Prayer tends, for many people of faith, to be something we know is good, necessary and…positive. Although, it is far easier to talk or read about prayer than to…pray. Prayer is hard work. It often involves us in facing our conflicts, failures or weakness. True prayer also means that our soul is communicating with God. Not just talking at God, but with God and with listening.
We sometimes are tempted to think that our language, the words we use, are a stable unchanging part of life. But both life and common sense, woven with history clearly shows that language is a very dynamic and changing force. It is probably no accident that Scripture (which contains extraordinary amounts of language challenges) is expressed as the “Living Word of God”. As we accept that language can have many chapters and meanings it invites us to look to what words mean now and what they have meant in times past.
Compromise is just such a word. Now it is commonly defined as a settlement of differences…through mutual concessions. It is thus stained with the concept that to compromise means to reduce the quality or value of something. Therefore for someone to compromise their politics or their faith is seen as a danger to be avoided at all costs. But what did compromise mean in other times and places? When Latin (from which this word comes) was the language of the educated Western world it was expressed as: “comprissum”. It meant: Mutual promise, to promise mutually. It is in this ancient understanding of compromise we can see a powerful lesson from the Living Word of God today. We can realize the gift of Compromising Prayer. We can learn the gifts and graces of building bridges, instead of barriers, with God and each other.
The prophet Isaiah, in our first reading speaks of a vital element of design for the House of God, the Church. It is to be a house of prayer, a place of joy.
And such is the powerful, blessedly joyful reality when we enter into our place of worship and simply pray. The quiet prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament during Adoration is such a gateway into a secret garden of peace and hope as we wait in His Presence.
And although this image shows a time when social distancing was unheard of, or, for some. intense challenges to their understanding of liturgy it does illustrate some very important truths. The Church, the people of God, IF we are to believe our Scriptures today, is a place for ALL people. It is also a place of letting go of our selfishness and taking the hands of our neighbor, As we become a people and and place of prayer. Perhaps this holy posture of prayer may involve taking the hand of a parishioner with whom you have painful disagreements. Perhaps it may mean taking the hand of someone in your domestic church, your family, who has not been cooperating with your point of view. The Church, the House and People of God needs to grow as a place of prayer, a place of compromising prayer. A place of bridges being built.
Our Gospel today shares the account of Jesus and the Canaanite woman who comes to Him desperately seeking deliverance for her demon tormented daughter. To realize the immense lesson of Compromising Prayer this is we need to look at the spiritual geography behind the story.
Jesus has traveled to the region of Tyre and Sidon in what is present day Lebanon. He has traveled far from the Roman Province of Judea, over 100 miles, as a crow could fly. Although He knows there are Jews in this ancient Canaanite land it is still, without any doubt, a land, a place, of the Gentiles. It was a place that the disciples of Jesus would not have expected Jesus to take such a journey. For He had come as the Messiah of the Jews. And even though it was a part of what had been the promised land shared through Moses and Joshua it was a land never fully conquered or claimed by the Jews. It was also, sadly and historically, a place of very negative compromises between the Jews and their pagan, idolatrous neighbors.
But with Jesus we see it become a place of Compromising Prayer. The Canaanite woman came to Jesus prayerfully. She does it right. She acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of David. This praise for God is then followed by her very simple, heartfelt petition. And Jesus ignores her. One of the most difficult places of prayer is when God seems silent. And the disciples weren’t helpful. They complained (now there’s a sad Christian/Catholic tradition). They wanted to send her away. After all, she wasn’t of the right pedigree. But the cruel sins of prejudice cannot abide in God’s Presence, in His place of prayer! Jesus then seems to answer, yet very unfavorably. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This apparent rejection, by Jesus could seem to seal the fate of this woman and her daughter. But what may seem denial or rejection by God can often be a quiet test and invitation to join Him in building a bridge, to work with God in compromising prayer. The woman draws closer to Jesus, gives Him her worship and asks, simply, “Lord, please help me.” Four words of intercession. Jesus then does what seems horridly cruel. He states that it isn’t right to take the food of children and toss it to dogs. He is using both the prejudice and words of the Jews who embraced their assumed superiority. But what Jesus does in seeming meanness is actually a recognition of an immense barrier, a chasm between two peoples. And He is sharing the plans for a bridge. The Jews referred to Gentiles as dogs, specifically the street dogs that were mean, often sick and eating whatever garbage they could scavenge. The Canaanite woman takes the hidden hope. She replies… but Lord even the dogs eat the scraps the children drop on the floor. But she uses another word. She uses the Aramaic word for dog as a household pet, companion. This heroine of faith persists in prayer and does not quit until she knows she has reached Jesus. Jesus then commends her for her faith and affirms her prayers. Her daughter is healed. The mutual promise is shared. True compromise is reached. A bridge is built.
But why is Jesus so seemingly mean about it? If He wanted His house to be for all people why deal the prejudice card? The ways and plans of God are not always easy. Jesus knew the sins of prejudice had to be confronted. He also knew that His Kingdom, needing many bridges and facing many barriers would have to have deep foundations on the bedrock of a relationship of faith and love, Between God and His people. Feelings, passing politics or moods would collapse at the first quake or flood. This lesson about compromising prayer was for the woman and her daughter. It was for the disciples who first thought her unworthy.
And this call to compromising prayer, built upon the promises and designs of God is for us today. Let us build these bridges of healing, hope and faith filled prayer that knows the power of promises shared.
Mass Readings: I Kings 19:9a, 11-13a; Responsorial: Psalm: 85; II: Romans 9:1-5; Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33
Sometime, probably in the early 6th century, a young Irish monk of reputable faith and holiness sought to find a place where he could seek and attend to God in prayer, penance and listening. St Kevin of Glendalough would establish strong monastic communities as well as minister to the souls living in the region. His preeminent purpose was always to seek God, to pray, to listen, to follow his Savior and Lord.
This was a time of extraordinary and bold faith in Ireland. Great monastic communities of prayer, study and formation were being established. The expectation and longing of so many of the Irish faithful was that in their hard lives God was with them and would lead them ever closer to His Presence.
Today our world of science and technology is engineered together with devout trust in reason, intellect and humanistic capabilities. The concept of someone listening for and hearing God is met with often mocking skepticism. Even among Catholics and other Christians there is a subtle fear of expecting or claiming to hear God speak. If not for concerns of seeming mentally unstable, then sins of pride and fear of ridicule all mix to make the stories of the early saints and the readings from our Scriptures today seem unreal, if not unreliable.
Was St. Kevin a crazy monk hearing voices as he built his hermitage and church in Glendalough? Was St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta walking a path of faith or of some vision of her imagination as she built her works of mercy? And in our Gospel with the account of Peter walking on the water to Jesus, is that a fanciful story of purely spiritual metaphor or a practical lesson in…listening to God?
There can be no question that the human soul is indeed able to suffer from afflictions of the mind that can cause one to seemingly “hear voices”. There are also very real perils of ego presuming to speak for God and uniting with the subtle temptations of pride that can lead to experiences of ungodly suffering and sorrow. To recognize and dread those afflictions and temptations is part of the God given grace to fear that which can be so destructive. But as is so often the case in life, such afflictions and temptations resulting from our fallen nature or the tempter, are but sad counterfeits of the designs and plans of God.
A greatest of realities is that God is indeed Love. [I John 4:8 & 16]. And our loving God, Creator, Savior and King longs to share a dynamic and very real relationship with each human soul. Scripture and sacred history clearly teach the longing of God to walk closely with us, to hear our cares, love, trust and needs and to speak to our hearts. God will do so if we but trust and grow in the gifts of listening to God. Listening especially to God’s whispers.
In our first reading from I Kings we read of the fascinating account of Elijah seeking God’s help and direction. The back story here is very important. Elijah has been faithfully and with courage, proclaiming the message of God to the people of Israel. At this sad time they were mostly a people immersed in idolatry and whims of popular politics and causes. Their relationships with God had weakened into intense and deadly practices and strife. YET God still loved and sought them, especially through His prophet Elijah. But then as now, living for God was not usually easy or popular. Elijah had been faithful. But he was now very weary and discouraged and had run off to the wilderness to hide but also seek his Lord. Elijah’s experience is a lesson for all of us. So often we long for God to come and in great power make clear His will but also His power to deal with the afflictions and our afflicters in life. Elijah needed to hear from God. But God spoke not in a great wind. God spoke not through the fire or even a great earthquake. Elijah wanted….. a clear message and sign from God that would tell him and show others God was on his side. But God was closer than an earthquake, fire or mighty wind. God whispered. In a tiny sound Elijah heard God’s voice. He hid his face in humility and went to the entrance of the cave where he was.
Just as with Elijah, with Peter in the boat, and with us in this post modern era, God uses His creation to get our attention. Often we simply need the life-shaking events to bring us to…pay attention to God. Sadly we often need reminding that it isn’t about our stuff, our work or our status. It isn’t about us. It is about us with God and with each other. Returning to our Gospel for today we see a clear message from God that if we but trust we will hear and know God’s whispers.
Matthew’s account of Peter walking on the water, however imperfectly, is rich in the whispers of God that would teach and guide us to Him. First we see that after Jesus has fed the multitudes He sends the disciples ahead of Him by boat to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He did so that He could have time alone to pray. Jesus, God come in the flesh, so needed the quiet time alone with His Father in the Presence of the Holy Spirit to renew His own soul. How much more have we this same need?
The disciples hear the simple Word of God, the words of Jesus, and in obedience get into the boat that evening and head across the waters of Galilee. God’s whispers often come through the simple needs and works of the day. We must go there. We must do that. We need not go over there. It is in our everyday journey God is often leading us closer to Him. But it is also in our life experiences we may be prepared by God. Several of the disciples were fisherman. They knew the Sea of Galilee. They also knew, very intently, to pay attention to the weather to what was on the horizon. The disciples, as they got in the boat that evening, took notice of the skies, the winds, and sensed this may not be the best time to set out.
God often prepares us for storms we may need to face. In our hearts, our instincts, in “our gut” God may well whisper that we need to prepare for some rough sailing. It may be that God is leading us into a storm. Truly there are storms of life that must be encountered. While we will not know what can or will happen, God does. The storms of a pandemic in the world, the economic suffering, the political chaos in our country or of racial strife that is occurring, none catches God by surprise. Some may ask, “IF God is Love why does HE allow such suffering?” It is because God is Love that he allows us to encounter these storms because of our free will. God does not approve or smile at the immense suffering caused by ego bound politicians (of all parties) or greedy medical, economic practices that neglect and abuse vast groups of people. God may allow such suffering in allowing us the freedom to love…(or not love) as we are created and commanded to do. His allowing such freedom neither separates Him from those who seek Him, nor does it eliminate the ultimate consequences of the selfish, sinful choices that are made that hinder His love and cause so many to suffer. God will use the storms of life to bring all who will closer to Him.
The disciples got into the boat in faith and obedience, and love for Jesus. Yet all too soon, as darkness had set upon them the winds arose and the waves beat upon their boat. As they labored against the forces of the world they were terrified to see…Jesus. For walking on the stormy waters they saw Jesus in a way they never planned or anticipated. So it is with us. When Jesus leads to a time and place where we encounter Him in ways not meeting our expectations, experience or understanding, we can become very upset. If the encounter is intense enough we may, like the disciples get..scared. Jesus can’t walk on the water!!!! That isn’t natural!! God can’t be encountered in that place, with that type of music!! With those people!!! It isn’t the way I believe or with which I am comfortable!!! But we all will be much better able to better hear the whispers of God if we accept that God rather enjoys leading us out of our comfort zones. While Jesus has brought them to this difficult place He reassures them: “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.” God leads us to face our fears and conquer them with courage rooted in His love.
As the disciples see Jesus, and listen, Peter is moved, beyond his fears, to be closer to Jesus. Peter says..Lord, if it is you command me to come to you on the water.” One of the most important ways to discern God’s whisper is to, like Peter, ask: God, if this is you call me closer to You.” What do the many voices we hear bring to our relationship with God? Closer? Or distance? We must remember this whole experience is while the winds and waves were roaring. When God whispers, to the seeking heart, His voice will be heard, even amidst the storms of life.
Jesus says to Peter one word. “Come.” Spoken in the quiet of God’s peace, even with the winds howling, God’s whisper is heard and Peter steps out onto the water. So often we expect God to give us a full detailed itinerary of life. We want all the rules of life, family, church, liturgy, vocations, everything spelled out. IF, God forbid, something occurs outside the expectations we have we cry out: Where is God? Indeed God gives a great treasure of His commandments, His Word, of Holy Tradition that provide us an eternally powerful framework for life. But one of the unchanging graces God gives is the Truth that His followers must actively trust and follow the Holy Spirit to lead and empower us to walk through our own storms, dark nights and overcast to hear His whisper and draw ever closer to Him.
Peter did step out from the boat onto the stormy waves. But very soon common sense and experience got the better of him. He knew..this can’t work. This can’t be right. FEELING the sinking reality of his failure he starts to plunge ever deeper into the deadly waters. But he calls out to Jesus three words: “Lord, save me!” So often we, in our struggle would think I must save myself. I have to come up with my lifeboat, my floatation vest. This applies to us as individuals but also as families, as community. The “committee to design the lifeboat” will have to bring to the task force to build the boat approved plans for review after careful examination of costs, risks factors, and God knows what else, before we may start to build our life boats. So often what is simply needed is first, and foremost, individually or as a group a simple praying from our hearts: “Lord, save us”! Then as we reach out to God, or perhaps for God, we will find ourselves back in the boat and…the waters and winds calmed. And we will also hear Jesus whisper in our ear: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt.”
The Whisper of God is calling us as He called St. Kevin of Glendalough, Elijah the prophet, St. Peter and each of us. God calls us to His place of love, peace and power. He beckons us to the place beautiful in holiness. The whisper of God is calling us to Him.