Our readings this weekend present prayer as a relationship with God. In the first reading, Abraham is in a close enough relationship with God that he can barter with Him. In an almost comical dialog, Abraham gets God to agree not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if there are 10 good people in them.
Our Gospel is Luke’s version of the Our Father, after which Jesus very clearly promises that God will hear our prayer. It is not uncommon for me to hear something like, “I thought God said He would hear our prayers. I prayed for my husband to get better but he died.” Or “why do bad things happen to good people?”
We need to be careful not to regard God as a genie (who will grant our every wish) or as a vending machine (put in my prayer and the chosen result will pop out). God is a loving parent who gives His
children what is best for them, not what they think is the best. He has a bigger picture and knows what is truly best for us. After all, in the Our Father, we do pray “thy will be done.” God’s will, not ours!
Then why should we bother praying? Because it reminds us that God is in control and it strengthens our relationship with God. As the theologian Kierkegaard put it, “Prayer does not change God but it changes the one who prays.” It opens us to God and His will as we share our needs and desires. Maybe it is more about us hearing God than God hearing our prayers.
In His statement about asking, seeking, and knocking, Jesus tells us we will receive, find, and have the door opened for us, but He doesn’t say it will be exactly what we are asking. In fact, He ends by saying that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask, seek, and knock. Could there be a better answer to our prayers?
Church sign of the week: When praying, don’t give God instructions. Just report for duty.
Our readings this weekend call us to Gospel hospitality. In our reading from Luke, Jesus goes to visit His friends Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to Him, while Martha is busy fixing the meal. We aren’t told where Lazarus was. Those of us who have felt frustrated by a family member or a coworker who, from our perspective, is not pulling their own weight can understand Martha’s complaint: tell her to get moving and help me; there is a meal to be prepared. But, surprisingly, Jesus seems to side with Mary. What is going on?
Our first reading might help us understand. Being hospitable and welcoming, even to strangers, was a serious obligation both at the time of Abraham and at the time of Jesus. Providing food and drink is an essential part of hospitality and so what Martha was doing was
necessary. But Abraham also paid attention to the strangers: he sat and listened to them, he thanked them for giving him the opportunity to fulfil an obligation. In other words, he made them the center of attention. And that is what Mary was doing. So, it is not an either/or, but rather a both/and. In other words, while taking care of the needs of someone, we also need to pay attention to the person. Some examples:
The bottom line is remembering that all of us need warm, welcoming interactions to feel cared for, not just “things.” That is Gospel hospitality. Very often our elderly and homebound don’t need “things”: they need us.
I invite us to reflect this week on how well we do at Gospel hospitality. The best “thing” we can give someone is ourselves. God bless.
Church sign of the week: The best things in life aren’t things.
Our Gospel today is the Good Samaritan parable. I would like to look at it from the perspective of law. The scholar of the law who asked Jesus “what must I do to inherit eternal life” and then “who is my neighbor” was viewing the law in a very narrow way, as something to keep him on the straight and narrow, to keep him from doing bad so he would get to heaven. He was being minimalistic (to whom do I have to be neighborly and whom can I ignore?). Jesus is calling him to expand, to open up, to see the law as something that calls him to grow and include all people.
An example of what I mean: the Church obliges us to attend Mass on Sunday. Someone thinking like the scholar would be going to Mass on Sundays to avoid committing a mortal sin, so as to get to heaven (or to avoid hell). Someone thinking like Jesus would go to Mass out of love of God and the community, knowing that the Word, the Eucharist, and the community will bring growth.
In other words, they would be following the law not because they were being forced to, but because it was nurturing and growth producing for them. The law would not be confining them, but rather helping them grow.
As I have gotten older, I have come to realize the wisdom of the Gospel message and the life it calls us to live. It is not restrictive or burdensome, but rather something that makes my life happier and more meaningful now. In other words, maybe I am growing from thinking like the scholar of the law to seeing things more like Jesus. One example: forgiving others and praying for someone who hurts me. When I carry anger around with me, I am not happy. In effect I am punishing myself, not the other person. When I can forgive and pray for the other person, I am happier now, not just securing a place for me in heaven.
I invite us to reflect this week on how we view the demands of the Gospel and our faith. Are they a burden that I fulfil because I have to or because I fear hell? Or do I see them as liberating me from my
human foibles and inviting me to grow to be what God wants me to be?
Our “Church sign of the week” is a cartoon:
For the next couple weeks, our readings will examine the role of “law” in our lives as followers of Jesus. A big issue for early Jewish Christians was whether or not to follow the Jewish Law, symbolized by circumcision. When Paul says, for neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, he is not advocating anarchy or everyone can do anything they want, but rather stating that, at the end of it all, how we followed the law is not the central issue: the central issue is our relationship with Christ and others.
To say it in another way, “righteousness” is a right relationship with God, shown through right relationships with others. Laws and rules and rituals are to help us to get there, to grow in this ability. But our tendency is to turn these guides or aides to loving relationships into an achievement test or grading system – which can lead us to be self-righteous and judgmental of others. Then the laws and guides have the opposite effect: instead of leading us to loving relationships with God and others, they divide us as we judge and dismiss others.
It is tricky to balance observing rules and laws without making them the be-all and end-all. One way to discern is to ask whether we are growing in compassion and love for others or if we are judgmental and self-righteous. Personally, when I find myself being judgmental, I ask if it is my responsibility to do so. As Director of Candidates for the Salvatorians, I need to be judging candidates. That is a responsibility. But often when I have judgmental thoughts, it is not my responsibility – or even my business!
I invite us to reflect this week on how we relate to rules and laws. Do we use them to help us grow in our love of God shown through love of neighbor? In what ways do I feelself-righteous and judgmental of others? Is there one specific situation in which I can change for the good and HOW can I do that? And let us support each other in prayer.
Church sign of the week:
No person’s life should be judged by their worst moment.
This weekend we celebrate the 13th Sunday of Ordinary time. We will keep counting up to 34, the feast of Christ the King, which ends Ordinary time and the Church year. Then Advent starts a new Church year. During Ordinary time, we are following Jesus and learning from His words and example how we are to live as disciples.
Our Gospel today gives us three points to remember, as we walk with Jesus. First, as disciples, we are to invite people to follow Christ, but not condemn or attack them if they decline. Jesus rebuked His disciples, who wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans who did not welcome them. We invite and do our best, but the rest is between God and the individual, not us.
Second, Jesus tells His disciples He has no place to rest His head and they can expect the same. In other words, personal security and advancement cannot be what we are looking for in being a disciple. We have to be ready to sacrifice.
Finally, by saying “let the dead bury their dead” and that the one who is plowing cannot look at what was left behind, Jesus is telling us that being a disciple needs to be a priority in our lives. For those who enter religious life or the priesthood, that looks one way. For those who raise a family, it looks another way, and so on. The point is that, in whatever we do, bringing Christ to others by our words and example needs to be a top priority. That is how disciples live.
Invite but not condemn, be willing to sacrifice, and make Gospel values a priority in everything we do. Three difficult challenges! But we are not alone. Three weeks ago we celebrated Pentecost: we have the Spirit to help us. Last week we celebrated the Body and Blood of Christ: we have the Eucharist to feed and strengthen us. And as we gather each week to celebrate the Mass, we listen to the Word and enjoy the support of the community, also the Body of Christ.
We have been given a big challenge in being called as disciples, but we have been given powerful aids. Are we using them? God bless.
Church sign of the week: Jesus is the light; we are the bulb!
This weekend we celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. John’s Gospel was the last one written, near the end of the 1st century and long after the other Gospels. While all the other Gospels relate the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, John doesn’t: he didn’t have to. Christians understood that
Jesus instituted the Eucharist and were celebrating it “in remembrance” of Him.
Instead, John’s Last Supper concentrates on the washing of feet. He was reminding Christians that the Eucharist was not instituted for us to worship it, but as food and drink to strengthen us so that we can wash the feet of each other. In other words, the central point is service to others; the Body and Blood is given to us to strengthen us to live the great commandment of love.
We would expect the Gospel on this feast to be an account of the institution of the Eucharist, but it is not. It is Luke’s version of the multiplication of the loaves. Why? It is reminding us, as does the washing of the feet, that the Eucharist is given to strengthen us, so that we can go forth and share what we have with those in need.
The Eucharist is a wonderful gift, presented to us to help us live lives of love, service, forgiveness, and generosity. It certainly deserves our respect and our love. But if we stop there, we are missing the point. Jesus didn’t give us His Body and Blood simply to worship it, but rather to feed us and strengthen us in our journey as disciples.
As we celebrate this feast, let us thank God for this wonderful gift and make sure we are using it to grow in love expressed in service. May the Body and Blood of Christ help us to share His love with others. Amen.
Church sign of the week:
Jesus is better than pizza because he can’t be topped!
With Pentecost last weekend, the Easter season ended and we return to “Ordinary” time, beginning with two special feasts: this weekend the Holy Trinity and next weekend the Body and Blood of Christ.
Three persons, one God: that is our belief in the Holy Trinity. It is a mystery we cannot understand rationally, but we can clearly see the effects of it. God the Father creates and provides for His creatures. God the Son redeems us and reconciles us with God. God the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, strengthens us, teaches us, and guides us to God. As I am one person with three different roles or functions (a community member to those I live with, a mentor to those I am responsible for in formation for religious life, and pastor to the community at St. Pius X), our God is one with three different roles or functions.
What does this say to us about our lives as disciples? Maybe if we integrate those three roles into our lives as best we can, we will be living more like Jesus:
God the Father creates and provides for His creatures: while we can’t create, we certainly can participate in providing for God’s creatures, not only those for whom we are responsible (like our children), but for the most needy around us.
God the Son redeems us and reconciles us with God: while we cannot redeem others, we can be a force for reconciliation in a world that is so divided and in conflict.
God the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, strengthens us, teaches us, and guides us to God: while we cannot sanctify others, we can certainly be a good example to others, we can strengthen others in their struggle to live the Gospel, we can be a source of encouragement to others.
In short, we are not able to create or redeem or sanctify, but in our own way and with our limited abilities, we can magnify the effects of these actions to the world around us. Then we are living as Jesus did.
As we celebrate the feast of the most Holy Trinity, let us thank God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – for our creation, our redemption, and our sanctification, resolving to do our best to magnify those gifts in the world by the way we live. God bless.
Church sign of the week:
What you are is God’s gift to you.
What you do with yourself is your gift to God.
As I reflected on our readings for Pentecost in preparation for writing this letter and the homily for Mass, a clear theme jumped out at me: unity in diversity.
In our first reading, the account of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the immediate effects on the disciples, we are told that “all languages and cultures” understood what the disciples were saying. This is a direct undoing of the consequences of the Tower of Babel: as pride and competition brought about disunity, misunderstanding, and conflict, the Holy Spirit brings unity in our diversity.
Paul reinforces this in his letter to the Corinthians, using the analogy of our physical body. While we are all unique and have different gifts and functions, we are all one body and each part is necessary for the body to work properly. The brain and the heart might seem to be the most important, but if one of the organs deemed less important stops functioning, the whole body is doomed. We are different and have different functions, but all are important for the Body of Christ.
Finally, our Gospel gives us the key to bringing about this “unity in diversity”: forgiveness. John’s short account of the appearance of Jesus on Easter evening has him talking about two things: peace and forgiveness. Forgiveness is the key to unity in diversity. Each person sees things differently. We will annoy one another. But, when we can forgive one another, we will have unity and peace, despite our diversity.
That is what Jesus wants for us and He has given us lots of help in His Word, His Body and Blood, our Community, and the Holy Spirit. As we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of our Community, let us thank God for His many gifts with a joyful heart, resolving to continue to grow in our ability to be forgiving and compassionate.
Church sign of the week: The Holy Spirit has better directions than your GPS.
This weekend we celebrate the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. Luke’s Gospel ends with one version of the Ascension and his second book, the Acts of the Apostles, begins with another version; we hear both of them today. That gives us a clue as to how we should understand this feast.
Luke’s Gospel is about the life of Christ and His physical presence on earth, beginning with stories of his birth and continuing through His life until His death, resurrection, and ascension: “he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.”
Luke’s Acts of the Apostles is about the early Church and how the disciples, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, were able to take up the great mission Jesus had given them to go out into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. It starts with the Ascension, because it was necessary for Jesus to leave so that the focus could be on the mission and not on Him. We can see that in the question the disciples ask Jesus in today’s reading: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were still focused on Him, hoping that He would become an earthly power. He had to get out of the way, so that the Spirit could come to them and they could begin their missionary work, the wonderful missionary work that is chronicled for us in the Acts of the Apostles.
We have been given the same mandate in baptism: to preach the Gospel to every creature through our words and actions. It is a struggle for us, as it was for the first disciples. But, we have been given many gifts to help us: the Scriptures, the Body and Blood of Christ, the Community, and the Holy Spirit.
The temptation for the first disciples was to focus on Jesus and not the mission. It can be the same for us, if our focus is only on fulfilling religious duties and not on how we are bringing the Good News to the world. All our religious duties are crucial, but not as ends in themselves: they are to strengthen us so that we can be better disciples, bringing Christ’s love and light to a world so desperately in need of them.
As we celebrate the feast of the Ascension and prepare to celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, let us renew our commitment to grow in our ability to live the great mandate of bringing the Good News to the world around us. God bless.
Church sign of the week: Don’t wish for it, work for it.
"It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and us…” With these words, the Church in Jerusalem sent the result of the first Council of the Church back to the faithful in Antioch. There is a message for us that is crucial for our country today: we cannot stay divided; we need to dialog and come to a consensus so we can move forward together.
The first Christians were Jews and they continued following the Mosaic law, including circumcision and dietary restrictions. As Paul moved through the Gentile world and made converts, tension arose between the Jewish Christians in these areas and the Gentile converts.
How was it resolved? Paul and other delegates went to Jerusalem, the center of the Church and the place where the Church was most Jewish. They met with Peter and the other leaders; each side listened to the other; all of them invoked the Holy Spirit and they came to a consensus. They sent Jewish representatives back with Paul, so that it would be clear to the Jewish Christians in the outlying areas that it truly was a decision accepted by the Church in Jerusalem.
What a wonderful example of how we can come to decisions that benefit the whole community, promoting unity and peace. In addition to looking at what they did, it is important to look at what they did NOT do: they did not call each other names or put each other down, they did not close their minds to other ideas, and they did not insist on their own way. They listened to each other and allowed the Spirit to speak to and through them.
There is no doubt we need this kind of dialog and consensus building in our country. The divisions we are experiencing harm everyone, because we are not moving forward for the common good. Ultimately, no one benefits.
This kind of communication is also needed in our Church, our workplaces, and our families. No one has all the answers, no one has the absolute truth, and no one can find their way alone. We need the Holy Spirit, as did the first disciples in the Council of Jerusalem, but most often the Spirit speaks through other people. When we can
listen to each other, discern what is best for the whole, and move forward, the Spirit is able to work through us.
How am I at listening and moving forward toward consensus? Do I allow the Holy Spirit to speak to me through others? How do I need to improve? Come, Holy Spirit, make us a listening people, who cooperate to do Your will. Amen.
Church sign of the week:
Before you speak, THINK.
Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Inspiring?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?