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.