Sunday, August 20, 2017

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus admonished Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Today’s gospel provides quite the contrast as we hear about the startling encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman. 

There is much that could be said about this story, but suffice it to say that Jews hated Canaanites and considered them the worst of their enemies.  But Jesus was in pagan territory so it is not surprising he would meet some pagans, even an unaccompanied woman who should not have been speaking to Jesus in the first place.  But this woman is determined to get the help her daughter needs and she knows Jesus can provide it.

Jesus seems to wants nothing to do with her. First, he ignores her, then he refuses her, and then he insults her.  But when it is all said and done, he tells her, “O woman, great is your faith!”  It’s a beautiful story that can show us how to pray, even when we believe we will receive a warmer welcome from the Lord than the Canaanite woman got.  Look at what she did and see how much she has to teach us.

First, we have to trust in the mercy of Jesus.  When we trust, we open ourselves up to all that God wants to give us, including the answer to our prayer.  Notice that the very first thing the woman calls out to Jesus is, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David.”  She is asking for mercy from the One she believes is Lord and Messiah.  We too ought to start our prayer by acknowledging Jesus as our Lord and then ask for His mercy and love. 

Second, we need to persevere and be patient.  The Canaanite woman certainly was both persevering and patient.  She wasn’t going anywhere and she was willing to wait.  The disciples knew that, which is why they asked Jesus to send her away.  We know from the Sermon on the Mount that we need to be persevering in our prayer.  We have to be like a man who goes to his friend at night clamoring for help.  We have to be like a woman who pesters a judge until she gets what she wants from him.  It was a mother’s love that drove the Canaanite woman.  She knew what she needed and she believed Jesus could do it for her.  When we approach our God of mercy in prayer, we too can’t give up and have to be willing to wait on God’s time.

Third, we need to be humble, as the Canaanite woman was. When Jesus called her a dog, she did not get angry and insulted and huff away.  Instead, she acknowledged it and had a wonderful, humorous come back for Jesus.  Her faith and her humility (and I like to think, her sense of humor) touched the Lord’s heart and won her what she wanted from him.  When we are humble and go to God acknowing we are totally helpless without Him and are willing to put everything into His hands, the Lord will hear our prayer.  Humility is crucial in our relationship with God and with each other.  The Lord will always be attentive and responsive to us when we approach Him with humility. 

The Canaanite woman surprised Jesus in several ways.  It would seem she got Him to look at things differently.  He marveled at her faith.  And as a result of all this, Jesus’ healing power set her daughter free. 

We too can surprise the Lord, but, first, we probably need to ask Him for greater trust, perseverance and patience, and humility.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the first reading, Elijah is running for his life.  The king and his evil queen want him dead, which is why the prophet is hiding out in a cave.  In the gospel, the apostles find themselves in the dark night on the sea in the middle of a storm fearing for their lives.  And then, to make things worse, what appears to be a ghost is coming toward them.

We have all had desperate times when we think it can’t get any worse.  Life can be do bad that, in a way, we think to die would be a relief.  The temptation when we are so low and scared is to think that God has abandoned us or, even worse, caused the situation to punish us.  When fear takes over, our minds run wild with thoughts that make us feel distant from God.

What Elijah and the apostles discovered is that God was very much with them, although in ways they would not have expected.  The Lord God is all-powerful and so Elijah, knowing that God approaches, expects him to come in a mighty way, either with the powerful winds or the earthquake.  Instead God’s presence is made known to the prophet in a tiny whispering sound, or as other translations put it, a still small voice. 

The apostles come to realize that Jesus is with them even in the midst of the storm.  It is not a ghost they see, but Jesus, walking on water.  When they needed him, he came to them.  So too, we can trust that the Lord will be with us, even in the most frightening and threatening times of our lives.

Peter wants to know for certain that it is Jesus and so asks that the Lord command that he come to him on the water.  And Jesus does exactly that, and at the word of the Lord, Peter does indeed step out of the boat and walk on the water toward Jesus.  It’s an amazing moment and the others in the boat must have marveled at what they saw. 

We know that Peter will in a few moments begin to sink and need to be rescued by Jesus.  But by leaving the boat and walking on water, Peter shows his brothers and us what can be done with a little faith and obedience to Jesus.  The man walks on water! 

When Peter begins to sink, Jesus takes the occasion to admonish him and call him to greater faith.  The storm dies and the disciples pay Jesus homage acknowledging that he is the Son of God.  All that had happened in a few short moments would stay with them for the rest of their lives.

These Scriptures teach us that when life threatens to overwhelm us, God is there.  But we need to be open to the ways that the Lord will come to us.  It is often not the way we would expect or even the way we would want.  But God will be there.

And when God is present and we have even the smallest amount of faith, God can do great things for us and within us.  Faith, like so many other things, grows as we use it.  Consider Peter.  He went from being an impetuous fisherman who wavered between bravery and fear to become a strong leader of the first Christians who followed Christ being crucified himself.  His faith grew tremendously over the years.  His stepping out of the boat on the stormy sea was but the first time he trusted Jesus and obeyed the Lord’s word.  With God’s help Peter became stronger and he always persevered, trusting God was with him no matter what he was facing. 

What the Holy Spirit did for Peter throughout his life is possible for us also.  All we need to do is trust that God is with us, and then step out in faith, keeping our eyes on Jesus the whole time so that we do not falter.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Feast of the Transfiguration

Peter, James, and John had an amazing, awesome experience as they witnessed the Transfiguration.  They had a glimpse of the glory of heaven.  They heard the voice of God the Father and received a very direct instruction from Him.  And it was meant to prepare them, although they didn’t realize it, for the way of the cross that would eventually lead to the glory of Jesus that they witnessed.

As disciples of Jesus today, the story of the Transfiguration offers us three important reminders of what we need to do, namely: hope for heaven, listen to Jesus, and embrace the cross.

As Christians, we have a hope for heaven.  We know that we are only passing through this life, which will come to an end.  Our goal is to make it to heaven, to be with Christ in glory forever.  That is our hope and it is the hope of God for us as well.  It is good for us to keep this in mind, for although the Lord gives us grace to help us to make it to heaven, we still have to strive to live good and holy lives. 

When we remember that death can come for us at any moment, and with it, judgment, we will want to do everything we can to make sure that we are living in God’s grace each and every day. That happens when we keep heaven in mind, even as we go about our busy lives here in this world.

God the Father tells us to listen to Jesus, His Beloved Son.  That’s our Father’s one desire and He expressed it powerfully and clearly at the Transfiguration.  We listen to Jesus when we pray and when we read the Scriptures, and we should do both of those things every day.  Listening to Jesus is essential for eternal life.  It also helps us to know how to go about our days and how to relate to others.  When we get to heaven, it will be because we listened to Jesus and were obedient to what we heard.

Finally, we need to embrace suffering in our lives.  We need to take up our cross each day.  We need to remember that the way to glory for Jesus was through suffering, and so it is for us as well.  Suffering does not mean we are being punished or that we are not loved.  Rather, suffering is a path that leads to wisdom and holiness and, ultimately, to heaven. 

The Transfiguration was undoubtedly transforming for the disciples who were there with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, listening to the voice of God.  May it be for us as well. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

In the parables of today’s gospel, Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom of Heaven is hidden and valuable.  It is a tremendous treasure that brings us many blessings, including eternal life.  Like the one who discovered the buried riches and the other who found the pearl of great price, we are to do whatever it takes in order to share in the Kingdom.  And then we are to be faithful to life in the Kingdom so that at the final judgment we are not cast aside, but instead found to be worthy of a place for all time in the fullness of the Kingdom.

We enter into the Kingdom through our baptism.  We become adopted sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus.  We are filled with the Holy Spirit, who gives us what we need to fulfill God’s will for our lives.  In the first reading, God is pleased with young Solomon who knew what he needed to be a strong king.  Solomon asked for wisdom and for a discerning heart and was given what he asked for from the Lord.

And yet, when we recall our place in the Kingdom, and the love of God that was poured into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit, we know that we too have been given all we need.  Solomon was given wisdom, and we too have been given wisdom, the first of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  And we have been given understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, as well. 

Solomon used the gifts he was given, but we, unfortunately, at times forget that God has given so much to us and don’t put His gifts to use as often as we should.  There is much the Holy Spirit desires to do within and for us, as individuals and as communities, but we fail to give Him permission.  God has work for us to do and already has equipped us for that work, but we hesitate to act. 

We need to trust God more.  We need to treasure our place in the Kingdom of Heaven more.  We need to make everything else in our life secondary to seeking the Kingdom of God, believing that all else will be given to us.

The second reading from Romans 8 tells us too that we need to trust that “all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  We love God.  We are called according to God’s purpose.  Therefore, all things – everything – that happens to us – will work for God.  It’s amazing what Paul is saying here and most of the time we don’t even hear it.  No matter what we are up against or struggle with or have to endure, God will make sure that it will work for our good.  God is good, all the time and, therefore, we can trust the Lord to be there for us at every moment of our lives.

God’s love has given us a place in the Kingdom as well as many magnificent gifts.  God’s love will be with us every step of the way, working everything for good.  And how should we respond?  First, of course, with gratitude, but then quickly followed by generosity. 

St. Ignatius Loyola, whose feast we celebrate tomorrow, said that love is a mutual exchange of gifts.  And since God has given us everything, we ought to make an offering to God of all that we have.   Each day with a simple Morning Offering, we sanctify our day and glorify God with such a gift.

Our relationship with the Lord in the Kingdom of Heaven is a treasure, a pearl of great price, that we need to put above all else in our life.  God has and will continue to give us gifts with an assurance that everything in our life will work together for good.  May our generosity to God always seek to match His generosity to us.