In our Gospel today, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith (Jesus had just told them that they had to forgive someone seven times in one day and they knew how hard that would be). Jesus’ response about faith the size of a mustard seed was basically saying to them that they HAD faith, they just needed to use it. Another way to say it is this: the disciples asked Jesus to do something for them and Jesus answered, “you have to do it. I can’t do it for you.”
Jesus is presenting faith to us as a verb, not a noun. We do not have faith; we have to practice this kind of faith. Putting faith into action is the way to strengthen it, make it grow, just as exercising a muscle makes it stronger. Jesus is not talking about dogma or theology or what we believe; he is talking about faith that becomes visible and grows stronger when expressed through acts of charity, through forgiveness to those who have wronged us, through paying attention to the forgotten, etc.
Paul was basically saying the same thing in our second reading, when he said to Timothy: “stir into flame the gift of God you have received.” We received that gift of faith in baptism. Paul further identifies it as a spirit of “power and love and self-control.” In other words, we have what we need to be generous, forgiving, and loving to others; we just need to use the gifts God has given us. The more we do that, the “stronger” our faith will be.
Hopefully, as people look at us, they see a faith-filled person showing love of God by love of others, especially those in need. We can ask God to increase our faith, and he WILL accompany us, but we need to do it ourselves by putting the faith we have in practice. Let’s make sure we are doing it!.
Church sign of the week: A calm sea does not make a skilled sailor.
Our Gospel reading today, the rich man who is dining sumptuously while the beggar Lazarus lies unnoticed at his door, is a very challenging one for those of us who have been blessed with so much. We can focus almost entirely on not doing anything wrong and going to church, missing the beggars at our doors.
There is no indication that the rich man did anything wrong to acquire his wealth. He was not rude to Lazarus. On the positive side, he was concerned for his brothers. His fault was that he ignored Lazarus at his door. Perhaps we can say that his glass was so full of himself, that there was no room for anything else. As a result, a big chasm opened up between the rich man and Lazarus, a chasm that couldn’t be breached even after death, because the rich man CONTINUED to think only of himself and his family, viewing Lazarus as an “errand boy” to bring him water and take messages to his brothers.
The message to us is to watch for “Lazarus,” who could be at our door. There are the obvious needs of food and drink. But could there be some people at our door who need attention? Visits? Understanding? Forgiveness? If we continually ignore those at our doors, those doors turn into chasms, chasms that can’t be breached.
I invite us to reflect this week on how good we do at recognizing and responding to any Lazarus at our door. We will never be perfect, but we need to be growing, making sure there is no wide, unbreachable chasm. In other words, how generous, loving, and kind are we to those at our door, those whose life situation makes demands on us?
Church sign of the week:
Good preparation for tomorrow includes good use of today.
God has given us many gifts. Our readings this week remind us that these are GIFTS, not something we have earned, and they are given to us, not just for our own good, but to be used for others and to build up the Kingdom.
I see two steps that are necessary to be “good stewards” of the gifts God has given me. First of all, I have to realize that all I am and have are free gifts of God, not something that I have earned. When someone gives me a gift, I am grateful and I always say thank you. When I am cognizant that all I am and have are gifts from God, I will be thankful and express that thanks.
Second, one of the ways I show appreciation for a gift is to use it well. If someone gives me a watch but I never use it, my words of thanks will appear shallow. But if the person sees it on my wrist day after day, my words of thanks and appreciation will have meaning.
Our readings this weekend tell us how we are to use the gifts that God gave us: we are to share them generously for the good of others, reflecting God’s generosity to us. This is a win-win, because others need our support and we will ultimately be happier if we are generous with what God has given us. What I mean is shown in the character of Scrooge in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. At the beginning of the story, Scrooge is “serving mammon,” that is, his wealth was possessing him. And he was an unhappy, grumpy man. But when he opened his heart and shared his wealth with others, he became happy and content.
How aware am I of God’s generosity to me? Does that awareness help me to be generous to others in sharing my time, talent and treasure? This weekend we are having a ministry fair after Masses. Am I sharing some of my time and talent with my community? There are lots of different opportunities. I hope each of you is involved in at least one way. God bless.
Church sign of the week: A large heart can be filled with very little.
What happens when something is lost? How do we react? If it is something that we value, we will search diligently for it, not giving up until we find it. If it is something we don’t really care about, we won’t put much energy into finding it. How valuable are we to God? Our Gospel answers that question with three parables.
The first two parables emphasize that we are so valuable to God that He searches for us as a shepherd would for a lost sheep or a woman for a lost coin. The implication is that the search would not stop until successful and there would be great joy when the sheep or coin is found. Wow! We are that valuable and God searches for us, sending us nudges and opportunities to give up sinful ways and return to Gospel living. Often God uses other people to help us. Our good example of living Gospel values like generosity, kindness, and forgiveness can be a big help to someone who is struggling with faith. An invitation to come to Mass or a meal prayer could be what God uses. We don’t live in a vacuum: every single thing we do or say could be used by God to find a lost sheep.
The third parable, the Prodigal Son, tells us how God is anxiously waiting for us, watching for our return. Notice how forgiving the father is: he cuts off the son’s canned speech, gives every indication that he is fully restored into the family, and sets up a joyful banquet and celebration.
God is both actively seeking us and patiently waiting for us to return, as was the prodigal father. That is the kind of Father we pray to when we say, Our Father, Who art in heaven…
I invite us this week to be thankful for a loving Father who is always seeking our love and patiently waiting for us. Let us renew our resolve to live in such a way that God can use us to bring others back to Him. God bless.
Church sign of the week: God doesn’t ask your ability or your inability. He asks only your availability.
Our Gospel this weekend can seem very heavy and depressing. Jesus says that “whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me, cannot be my disciple.” Doesn’t sound very inviting, does it?
But there is a lot of wisdom in it. Every life has its burdens, problems, and trials: we can’t avoid them. We all will have illnesses, we all will have setbacks and the death of loved ones, we all will die. But we can CHOOSE how to handle them: if I choose to take up my cross, I can be joyful or at least stay positive, as I carry it. If I fight it, the burden will double and I will become more and more unhappy.
For example, let’s say I develop a painful, debilitating form of arthritis. There are two ways I can react: I can be resentful and angry, allowing it to pull me down and making me a miserable person to be around or I can accept it, pick up the cross, and go forward being as happy and productive as possible.
In other words, I choose HOW I will go through life. I can let my problems absorb all of my energy and joy or I can carry them, but be open to life.
One thing that is helpful when feeling sorry for oneself is to think of others, to make the effort to visit someone who is homebound, to concentrate one’s energy out toward others, instead of towards self. And if someone is thinking of others, is that not “following Jesus,” being his disciple?
Our first reading reminds us that we don’t have the “wisdom” that God does, the wisdom that Jesus preaches and lives out in His actions. And one wisdom we can learn from Jesus is to pick up our cross (it is going to be there anyway) and follow Christ by concentrating on others, not just our own problems and pains. And we WILL be happier. What wisdom!
Church sign of the week: Happily ever after starts here.
Our lesson this weekend, as we continue to journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, is how to be humble. Our first reading tells us “to conduct our affairs with humility” and that we find favor with God when we humble ourselves. In the Gospel, Jesus uses two parables to underscore that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
These passages are not talking about “being humble” as we commonly use it in the sense of being put down or embarrassed. HUMILITY comes from the Latin word humus which means EARTH. Humility means to have your feet on the ground, to be in touch with reality. Being humble, in the biblical sense, means recognizing the gifts you have, but knowing that they came from God.
Once we truly recognize that all we are and have are gifts from God, two things flow from this realization: first, I have no right to elevate myself over others, to feel superior to others, just because God chose to give me more. Second, these gifts are given to me to be used for others. Remember the rich man and Lazarus? The rich man did nothing wrong like fraud, cheating, etc., as far as we know; his failure was using God’s gifts only for himself, ignoring those in need. Jesus emphasizes this in our Gospel this weekend by telling us to invite those to our table who cannot repay us. We need to use the gifts of time, talent, and treasure that we have been given in a generous way, especially to help the needy, who cannot repay us.
I invite us to reflect this weekend on the many gifts that God has given us, asking ourselves how well we do at using these gifts, not only for ourselves and our loved ones, but also to help others. God has been very generous with us; how generous are we with others?
Church sign of the week: The reason you have two hands: one to help yourself, one to help others.
Our Gospel reading this weekend has two warnings for those of us who consider ourselves religious, that is, practicing our religion.
The first warning is that we must “strive to enter by the narrow gate.” The word used for “strive” means “struggle with all your strength.” To make sure that we understand that He means we must be struggling with all our strength to truly live Gospel values, Jesus adds the story of those who are locked outside complaining that they ate and drank with the master, but the master declares “I do not know you.” In other words, going to Mass (eating and drinking) and performing religious rituals will not get us through the narrow gate. They are critical supports, but we must be living a life of love of God shown through love of neighbor. Otherwise, we are deluding ourselves.
Second, we can feel “holier than thou,” believing we are better than others, that we will be saved and they will not. Jesus warns about this by saying people will come from all directions to sit at the table in the Kingdom of God, while those locked out, mentioned above, are wailing and grinding their teeth. We need to be careful not to put
ourselves in and others out.
The bottom line is that we have to focus on our lives and not be judging and excluding others. And we have to make sure that we have the same focus that God has: showing our true love of God through love of neighbor. We need to share the time, talent, and treasure that God has freely blessed us with. We need to be compassionate and forgiving to those who have harmed us. We need to ask pardon when we have harmed others. We don’t need to be first. We don’t need to judge others. And so on.
It is a struggle to enter by the narrow gate, to live Gospel values. But we have been given Jesus as an example, we have been given the scriptures, we have been given the Eucharist as food to strengthen us, we have been given the other sacraments, we have been given the community to support us. It is important to use all these gifts, but not as ends in themselves. The ultimate question is how we lived the law of LOVE. How am I doing? God bless.
Church sign of the week: God’s way is the high way.
It is not easy to live our faith. There are a number of challenges, both from within and from without.
From within: we are wired to think of ourselves, to provide for ourselves and for those we love. It is a challenge for us to be aware of and help those in need. Also, we want to be comfortable, we want to feel pleasure, we want everything to be easy. It is a challenge to control these drives.
From without: our culture encourages us to get more and more. We are told our self-worth is measured by what we have. Often we can be made fun of or ostracized when we try to live Gospel values, because we are making others uncomfortable. It is not easy.
In our first reading, Jeremiah suffers for repeating what the Lord told him to say. In the reading from Hebrews, the early Jewish Christians, who were ostracized (cut off from family, friends, and not allowed in the synagogue), are told their sufferings are nothing compared to what Jesus endured for them. And in the Gospel, Jesus warns that living Gospel values will bring stark divisions, even in families.
Following the example of Jesus and living Gospel values is not easy. James and John wanted to be first in the kingdom, but they didn’t realize what would be involved. We probably will not be called to suffer as did James and John, but there certainly are challenges to living as a disciple, challenges from within and without.
How strong is my commitment? Am I willing to go out of myself to serve others? We can get all the support we need to do so by taking quiet time with the Lord each day, as well as by making use of His Word, the Eucharist, and the community. We get all three at once when we come to Mass: that is why it is so important to make weekend Mass attendance a high priority, both for ourselves and for those we will support by our presence. I urge you to do so.
May God bless us as we strive to be active disciples.
Church sign of the week: Christianity doesn’t guarantee a smooth flight, but it does provide a safe landing.
There is no doubt that there are a number of serious problems facing us: mass killings, climate change, inflation, illnesses, war in Ukraine, etc. Most disturbing is the animosity between the political parties that makes it very difficult to address any issues. It is easy to feel very discouraged and pessimistic, concluding that there is nothing we can do.
All three of our readings this weekend remind us that God is in control, that God loves and cares for us, and that, ultimately, all will be OK. We just have to do our part to bring about His Kingdom, as we wait for its fullness.
Our first reading tells us that the Israelites had faith in the Lord and thus had the courage to escape Egypt and head out into the desert. Our second reading extolls the faith of Abraham, a faith that enabled him to take incredible risks because he trusted that God would be true to His word.
Jesus says it clearly in our Gospel reading: Do not be afraid any longer, little flock. But he then says that we must be acting in such a way that we are helping to bring about the Kingdom by the way we live. He sums it up as “selling what you have and giving alms” so as to “build up inexhaustible treasure in heaven.” In other words, we have to be actively involved in bringing about the kind of world that God wants. We need to do our best to help others in need, to bring peace and unity where there is division, to comfort those who are suffering, and so on. As we do these things, we are helping to bring about the Kingdom we are waiting for. We have to be involved, allowing the Lord to use us as His instrument. How am I doing?
Church sign of the week: When we have nothing left but God, we discover God is enough.
During Ordinary time, the first reading is chosen to reinforce the theme of the Gospel. Normally, with the second reading, the Church is taking us through various books of the New Testament, with no deliberate reference to the theme of the day. This weekend, however, all three readings fit together perfectly to remind us that acquiring things is not what is important in life.
In the first reading from Ecclesiastes, we are told that “all things are vanity.” Everything that we acquire we leave behind when we die and, if a person is fixated on getting more and more things, anxiety to do so will possess him and “even at night his mind is not at rest.” In his letter to the Colossians, Paul tells them (and us) to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth” and to “put to death…the greed that is idolatry.” Finally, in the Gospel parable, God calls the man who built a bigger barn to store his things “a fool,” because it did not bring him the security he was looking for: he died that very night.
There are two points I would like to make. Perhaps one of the drives behind greed is the need or desire for security. Like the man in the Gospel parable, we can be trying to store up things “for many years.” But the problem is we are relying on ourselves, not on God. And we are not in control: anything can happen to wipe away our security. We need to learn to trust and rely on God, not ourselves.
Second, when we are trying to be in control and take care of ourselves, we become more and more self-centered, as did the man in the parable. In his little dialog with himself, he uses “I” 6 times and “my” 3 times. He never references anyone but himself. So, not only is he isolating himself from God by relying on himself, he is isolating from others. And, sadly, it is a house built on sand, because we are
definitely not in control.
The last line of the Gospel sums it up: they are fools “who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” Am I relying on God or myself? Am I sharing what God has given me with others? That is what matters to God!
Church sign of the week: Disciples don’t build bigger barns. They build longer tables.