Our Gospel this week is one of the most challenging for us to wrap our minds around. It is the parable of the landowner who hires workers for his vineyard and pays them all the same daily wage, though some worked 1 hour and others worked 12. Naturally, those who worked 12 hours complained, as I am sure we would also: it is not FAIR that someone who worked 1 hour be paid the same as me. After all, I worked 12 hours in the sun!
The key to understanding this parable is stated in our first reading from Isaiah: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. God sees a bigger picture and He is a
merciful, loving God. Those who worked 1 hour needed the daily wage to be able to feed their families. The merciful God was concerned that each one be able to feed his family.
This parable challenges us to be merciful, also. Would we be resentful because we lived a good life for many years and are on an equal basis with one who repented and was saved at the last moment? Or would we rejoice, as God would, that the person was saved?
Are we thankful that there are programs to support the needy in our country? Or do we complain because “I worked hard for what I have; why should they get something for nothing?”
The challenge this week is for us to reflect balancing justice with mercy. Are we strict and unbending, avid that each one get what he deserves? Or are we like God, willing to be merciful and anxious that each one get the best possible? God is very merciful and forgiving to us: we need to be the same with others.
Church sign of the week: Some people are hanging by the thinnest of threads. You just might be that thread.
Our readings this week double down on the theme of forgiving others and working for good relationships, as we reflected on this past week.
The first reading is very strong, with phrases such as, “the vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance” and “could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?”
It makes no sense to hold on to wrath and anger, because it hurts us, both now and in the future. Let me explain:
NOW: when we “hug” wrath and anger, as Sirach says, we are the ones who are unhappy. We boil inside, we are not at peace. The one I am angry at is somewhere else, having a good time, but I am the one who is unhappy. It makes absolutely no sense. No one else makes us
unhappy: we do it to ourselves.
FUTURE: with the parable of the servant who is forgiven a big debt by the master but is unable to forgive a small debt of a fellow servant, Jesus is underscoring what we say every time we pray the Our Father: “forgive us our trespasses, AS WE FORGIVE those who trespass against us.” We are asking to be forgiven as we are able to forgive. If we cannot forgive, can we expect forgiveness for ourselves?
I invite us to continue reflecting this week on our ability to forgive. If there is a relationship that needs to be repaired, let us resolve to do the best we can to repair it, and then move on with peace in our hearts. God bless.
Church sign of the week: You can’t see the haters when you have the love glasses on.
Family reunions are always special so, on our Welcome Back weekend, we welcome all of you who have been part of our Pius family. Because of the community you built over the years, Pius continues as a vibrant faith community of worship and outreach.
Our readings this weekend remind us that we have a responsibility to each other in community, the responsibility to witness by the way we live our lives and to challenge each other to live the Gospel of Love.
One of the ways we live the Gospel of Love and witness to others is to be the first to work at repairing a relationship. We are all sinners, we all do things that hurt or annoy others: that is part of any relationship. An instinctual way to react is to lash out at the other person, to harbor resentment, and then bad mouth the person to others.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us to act differently. He tells us to go and talk about it, but directly with the other person and try to work it out. He tells us to take actions that will restore the relationship, not actions that widen the gap caused by the original offense. It means controlling anger, swallowing righteous indignation, etc., and approaching the other person in a way that invites peace, forgiveness, and unity. And when we can do that, we are inviting the other person to grow in forgiveness and love as well. It is a win-win: everyone is happier and at peace.
I invite us this week to reflect at how well we do at being the one to reach out and repair relationships. Can I do better? And let us always remember each other in prayer, as we struggle with the need to be forgiving.
Church sign of the week: The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.
Our Gospel this week is the second half of the interchange between Jesus and Peter at Caesarea Philippi. Last week Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah. In this week’s Gospel, Jesus is telling them what kind of Messiah he will be, one who suffers and dies, but Peter can’t accept it. Jesus gives three clear directions for being his disciple: deny self, take up your cross, and follow him.
Deny self: this simply means it is more than all about me. I have to be willing to go out of myself for others.
Take up your cross: being willing to put the needs of others before my own comfort; in other words, denying self is the cross that Jesus is offering to us. It is not looking for pain and suffering, but being willing to “deny self” for the sake of others.
Follow him: this means to follow Jesus’ example, to live as he did, especially in how we relate to other people. I would like to point out a couple ways I can emulate Jesus and, if I do, I will be denying self and taking up MY cross:
Be compassionate: I am willing to help those in need, visit the sick and the elderly, share time and talent with those in need. Jesus paid special attention to the outcasts of society.
Be humble: I recognize that all I am and all I have is a gift of God to be shared. I do not have to be right all the time and I can give way to the will of others. Jesus never put others down because he was better.
Be patient: I am willing to accept the mistakes of others, give them room to be themselves and grow, even those who are difficult. Jesus modeled patience for us in his relationship with Peter and the other disciples, who were slow to catch on to what his mission truly was.
Be forgiving: I am willing to forgive, and more than once, because I know God forgives me over and over. On the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them.”
Be faithful: to the commitments I have made, to a trusting relationship with the God who made me. Jesus often went off by himself to a deserted place to gain strength and direction in life from his relationship with his Father.
The list could go on and on, but you get the idea. All we have to do is deny self, take up the cross of doing so, and include the needs of others in our priorities. How am I doing?
Church sign of the week: The devil doesn’t care if you go to church or read the bible, as long as you don’t apply it to your life.
“What’s in a name?” Juliet asks Romeo. In the scriptures, there is a lot of importance in a name, because often when God gives a special mission to someone, he changes their name. For example, Abram became Abraham, Sari became Sarah, Jacob became Israel, Saul became Paul, and, in our reading today, Simon becomes Peter.
Jesus asks who the disciples think that he is and Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He is rewarded with the name “Peter,” which means “rock,” and is given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, a sign of power. He now has a special mission and a name to go with it.
My friends, the same thing happened to us at baptism. The ceremony starts out with the question, “What name do you give this child?” And with that name comes a special commission to live as Christ did, showing love of God through love of neighbor. Each of us has a special mission. There are people we will meet and have the
opportunity to influence in a way that no one else can. Christ has entrusted to me, with my name, the responsibility to live out that commitment.
Jesus says to each of us, “who do you say that I am?” Intellectually we will say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But what do we say with how we live our lives? Am I living in such a way that I am fulfilling my baptismal promise? Am I living a life of love of God, shown through love of neighbor?
Church sign of the week: Let all that you do be done in love.
One day a teacher held up a jar of mayonnaise and asked the students what was in it. “Mayonnaise,” they said. The teacher then taped a label on it and held it up again. “Mayonnaise,” the students said. “But the label says mustard,” the teacher complained. “It is still mayonnaise,” the students answered.
My friends, one of our human foibles is to be putting labels on people all the time. Race, income, ethnicity, religion, culture, lazy, good looking, sleezy, and so on. And then we relate to them in light of the label we have placed. But often the real person below the labels is much different than the meaning we attach to the labels.
As a human being, Jesus also put labels on people. In our Gospel, a Canaanite woman, a pagan, approaches Jesus, asking for a cure for her daughter. In his mind, Jesus had her labeled and in a box: pagan, unclean, not worth bothering about. But she surprised him with her strong faith and his mind was opened: his mission was to more than the lost sheep of Israel.
There is a strong message for us in this story. We all have cultural viewpoints and biases. It is part of being human. But Jesus was open to having his mind and opinions changed. Because of that, he was able to grow into a better understanding of his mission. We need to be open minded, also, realizing that we carry the biases of our past, but they are not always the full answer. We need to be able to grow.
I invite us today to reflect on the interaction between Jesus and the Canaanite woman. Am I open to hearing the other person and letting go of my biases? Am I growing, as Jesus did? Can I see that it is mayonnaise and not mustard, as the label claims?
Church sign of the week: Everyone smiles in the same language.
Our selection from 1st Kings this weekend about the prophet Elijah is a favorite of mine. The Jewish king had married a pagan, Jezebel. Elijah was fighting her efforts to get the Jews to worship her god, Baal, so Jezebel was searching for him to have him killed. Elijah escaped and was hiding in a cave on the mountain where Moses had received the 10 commandments. He was told to go outside the cave to meet the Lord, who would be passing by. Elijah thought he would find the Lord in a strong wind that was crushing rocks, but the Lord was not there. Neither was the Lord in an earthquake nor a raging fire. Where did he find the Lord? “In a tiny whispering sound.”
My friends, it is our human nature to be drawn to big, unusual, exciting things, and so, like Elijah, we can presume that that is where we will find God. And maybe sometimes we will, like in a powerful storm or an extraordinarily kind deed that someone does. But
normally, God comes to us in the tiny whispering sounds of daily life: in the quiet time we spend sharing coffee with God in the morning; in the few moments we stop to talk with a beggar on the street, reaffirming their dignity; in our patience with a cranky family member or a difficult coworker; in the 2 minutes of silence we observe at Pius after communion to reflect on the question, “What is God calling me to today?” These are the kinds of times when God comes to us most often.
But, that means we need to be paying attention, listening, looking for God’s presence in the “quiet, whispering sound,” since there will not be a loud, clashing symbol to get our attention! There are two specifics that will help us: the first is spending quiet time each day, speaking with the Lord and then being quiet and listening. This is crucial. The second is to be attuned to what is happening around us, how it is moving or affecting us, asking ourselves what God might be saying to us.
Jesus promised that he would always be with us, that he would not leave us orphans. God will speak to us, if we are attuned and listening, but it will be with a quiet, whispering sound, not a clashing symbol.
Church sign of the week: Change your perception of what a miracle is and you’ll see them all around you.
This weekend we are remembering the Transfiguration of our Lord: He took Peter, James, and John up to the mountaintop and was changed in front of them, his divinity shining through his humanity. Most importantly, his Father identified Jesus as His Son with the same words that were spoken at his baptism in the Jordan: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. But this time, the
Father adds something: LISTEN TO HIM.
LISTEN TO HIM: that is crucial advice for all of us. But we need to remember there are two distinct steps or parts to “listening,” both of which are very important.
LISTEN to him: the first step in listening is to hear what someone is saying. If I always have music or noise around me or if I am always busy doing something, I will not be able to hear Jesus or his Spirit talking to me. I have to take quiet time each day, shut my mouth, and LISTEN. Then Jesus has the chance to speak to me.
LISTEN to him. But just HEARING is not enough: I also have to obey. When my mother asked me, “Did you listen to me?”, she wanted to know if I actually did what I heard her saying to me. That is the second, and most important, step in listening to Jesus.
It is easy to come to Mass and “listen” to the scriptures and the homilies, but let them (to use a trite expression) “go in one ear and out the other.” That is not “listening” to Jesus in the sense the Father was calling us to. We need to obey, making his words come alive in our hearts and how we live.
I invite us this week to reflect on the two steps of “listening,” asking ourselves if we are taking the quiet time to listen to what the Lord says, but, more importantly, if we are then obeying by the way we live our lives. The Father says to each one of us: This is my beloved Son…LISTEN TO HIM. Let’s make sure we are taking both steps of
listening. God bless.
Church sign of the week: When God calls you, do you pick up?
An obvious theme of the parables of the treasure buried in a field and the pearl of great price, which we hear in our Gospel this weekend, is that we will go after something that we value. The Kingdom of God is something that, as Christians, we would obviously say is valuable and we would “sell everything we have” to get it.
But while these two parables have the same basic message, there is a big difference between them. In the one parable, the person “searches” for the pearl. He knows what he wants and he is going after it. In terms of my relationship with God and His Kingdom, this would be when I am praying, reading the bible, attending Mass,
receiving the sacraments, using a significant portion of my resources for charitable causes, etc. I know what I am after and I am doing my best to obtain it. I am “searching” for what I value and want.
In the other parable, the person “finds” the treasure hidden in the field. There is no indication that he was “searching” for it: he came upon it by chance. In terms of my relationship with God and His Kingdom, this would be similar to serendipitous experiences that bring me closer to God or help me to feel God’s presence in my life, like a beautiful sunset or an unexpected call from an old friend or a thank you note that shares a life-changing effect I had on someone’s life. I am “finding” or “coming across” God in my life.
The bottom line is that we can be confident because God is in charge. Whether or not we are actively looking for Him in a particular moment or not, God is always looking for us. For God, we are a pearl of great price. Let’s do our best to make Him a pearl of great price as well.
Church sign of the week: In high tide or low tide, God is always by your side.
The consistent message in our readings this weekend is that we need to be patient and kind to ourselves and others, as God is with us.
In our reading from the book of Wisdom, we hear that God is “lenient to all,” “judges with clemency,” and “permits repentance.” In our reading from the letter to the Romans, we hear, “the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness” and the Spirit “intercedes” for us. Finally, in the Gospel parable of the enemy who sows weeds among the wheat, we are told to let things mature and all will be sorted out at the end.
The bottom line is that each one of us is a mixture of weeds and wheat, good and bad. Our task in life is to work on ourselves, making sure that the good is growing and the bad decreasing. God gives us time to grow: we need to use it.
Too often, though, we concentrate on the weeds in others, criticizing and condemning them, rather than paying attention to our own failings and weaknesses. The result is that we are bringing more and more negativity into the world, while not improving ourselves.
We cannot change anyone but ourselves and changing ourselves for the better needs to be a primary goal of our spiritual life. It is easier to criticize others than to change ourselves, but growing in our ability to live Gospel values is what we have to do. God is patient, God is giving us the time we need, but we need to take advantage of it.
I invite us to reflect this week on how judgmental we might be, resolving to let others in the hands of God, while we work to improve ourselves. God is there to help us, but our attention needs to be on ourselves, not others. Lord, help me not to judge, that I may not be judged. God bless.
Church sign of the week: Just accept and love everyone; I’ll sort them out later. - God