Sunday, June 17, 2018

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Kingdom of God is a great mystery, but it is all important.  We profess to desire its coming each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus told us to seek first the Kingdom of God and all things then will be given to us.  The Kingdom is not a place.  Instead it is all about God’s will and the importance of God’s will being done not just in heaven, but everywhere, including within each and every one of us, since Jesus as told us that the Kingdom of God is within us.

In today’s gospel, Jesus likens the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed, something very small and seemingly unimportant.  But when the tiny mustard seed is planted and grows, it is transformed into a strong, sturdy mustard bush.   Compared to the majestic cedar, the central image of Ezekiel’s prophecy, a mustard bush is without much merit.  A mustard bush is not much to look at and since they were plentiful, mustard bushes were not worthy of note.  But God likes small and unimportant, and when given permission, the Lord can do great things from something and someone seemingly insignificant.

When we seek to do God’s will, we further the Kingdom of God in our world and in our lives, often in small matters.  But that is enough for God, who is able to do so much more than we could ever imagine, whenever we give God permission.  Perhaps in looking back, we can see the hand of God at work, but most times, as St Paul says in today’s second reading, we walk by faith and not by sight.  We have to trust that when we say yes to whatever God asks in any situation, the Lord will take it from there and further God’s Kingdom in ways that remain invisible to our eyes.

God can do anything.  Nothing is impossible for God.  Yet, the Lord needs the humble cooperation of people like Mary of Nazareth and Simon Peter, like Teresa of Calcutta and Maximilian Kolbe, and like you and me.  When we seek to say yes to God in small things, we grow in virtue, opening up the possibility of the Lord trusting us later with bigger things.  Regardless, we know that God needs our willingness to plant either mustard seeds or shoots of cedar.

St Paul reminds himself and all of us that we will give an accounting to the Lord, the Judge of all, at the end of our lives.  We will receive recompense for all that we have done.  At that time, it will be asked, did we seek God’s will?  Did we do all that the Lord asked of us?  Were we faithful, and when we were not, did we trust in God’s mercy and begin again? 

Each of us individually, and all of us together, have to seek the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness first in our lives.  That frees God to work and to accomplish all that God desires.  The Lord needs us.  May we seek the blessing of the Father, the mercy of Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit each day of our lives, so that the Kingdom of God may grow both in our world and within us.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

We have the good and the bad, the best and the worst, in today’s Scripture.  Fortunately, God is present in the best as we see in the story from Mark, as well as in the worst, as we see in the story from Genesis.

What a consolation it is to know that doing the will of God makes us brother, sister, or mother to Jesus.  The people surrounding Jesus must have grinned from ear to ear when they heard that, as undoubtedly Mary, His mother, did, as she humbly heard Him from outside.

Doing God’s will needs to be our one desire, at all times and in all things.  At times, we fail to do that, sometimes miserably, but “with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption,” and our God is always a God of second chances.

We learn that in the first reading from Genesis 3.  Adam and Eve have sinned.  They did the one thing that God told them not to do. We have done the same thing since we too share in the effects of original sin.  But God does not abandon them.  Instead, the Lord God calls to the man and the woman and asks some serious questions: Where are you? Who told you sinned? Why did you do such a thing? God wants to teach them, not shame them.  God knows that if they consider what they have done, they will realize that it was wrong, and as God continues to speak to them, they will grow in hope for the future, even as they feel the consequences of their sin.

God knew where Adam was, of course.  And Adam had been naked all along and never felt the need to hide before this, so there is obviously more going on here.  God wants Adam to think about where he is now that that has sinned.  God might as well have asked, “So what now?  What do you think?  Was that worth it?  What are you going to do next?”  We would do well to think of the Lord asking us the same questions after we have sinned.  The questions are meant to be helpful, to lead to repentance and to change.  Answering them honestly, we are ready to start over again, to do what God asks.

God’s second question points out to Adam that he has within him the ability to recognize when he has done something wrong.  God designed us with a conscience, the knowledge of right from wrong, and to have the experience of regret when we have disobeyed.  We need to pay attention to our conscience and then set about to make things right again, rather than try to avoid and forget.  God wants to speak to us when we have sinned, and when we are honest in response, we begin to let the Lord put us on higher ground.

The last question which the Lord God addresses to Eve is perhaps the one most needed, “Why did you do such a thing?” Again, when we are honest, instead of being blaming others, as Eve did, and Adam before her, we can grow in virtue.  Once we know our weaknesses, the holes that we can fall into, we are able to be on guard and to do what we can to avoid the possibilities of sinning again.  This is a life-long process, but God is always willing to offer us the grace we need to make progress. 

There are gifts, then, that we ought to ask the Lord to give us.  First, we need the desire to do God’s will more than anything else in our life.  Second, after we have sinned, we need to set aside fear and shame, and instead seek an honest conversation with the Lord, ideally one that leads to a celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Third, we need to ask for perseverance, for the willingness to get up every single time we fall.  We need to recognize the whisper of the evil one to give in, to not worry, to take a break from being good.  If we are to be like a brother, sister, or mother to Jesus, we cannot afford such temptations.  Instead, it has to be God’s will, no matter how many times it takes. What is better than being like a brother, sister, or mother to Jesus?

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

The first reading from Exodus recounts the story of God’s covenant with the Chosen People which was sealed in blood.  Moses takes the blood of sacrificed bulls and pours half of the blood on the altar, offering it to the Lord God, and then sprinkles the people with the other half of the blood.  God and God’s people are joined together in blood as the people promise to obey all that the Lord God had commanded.

In the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is the high priest who enters into the sanctuary and pours out His Blood in the perfect and never ending covenant.  Jesus, through the power of the Spirit, offers Himself as the sacrifice that wins for us our redemption, for He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. 

In Mark’s gospel, at the Last Supper, Jesus gives the cup to His disciples, saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” His Body and His Blood, which will be offered up as He dies on the cross, are given to them on the night before He died, and are given to us, each time we celebrate the Eucharist as He commanded to do in His memory.

The Most Holy Body and Blood unites us to the Lord and to one another. The Eucharist is a foreshadowing of our sharing in His divine life in heaven.  As we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we are made strong and we are washed clean.  United intimately to the One who loves us, we love Him in return, by loving and serving each other and all those in need. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

We know the Trinity because God has revealed the mystery of who God is over time, first to the Jewish people, His chosen people, and then through Jesus, who came to save all those who believe in Him. After the Resurrection and Ascension and Pentecost, the Holy Spirit then taught the believers more about who God is and what God desires for us. And today the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church so that we remain united to the Lord and to one another.

God created us for one reason: so that we might know, love and serve God in this life so as to be happy with him forever in the next. God wants us in heaven, and God has given us everything we need to get there, but because of free will, it is ultimately up to us whether we get there or not. Life with God forever is heaven, life without God forever is hell, and both are possibilities for each of us.

Since God is a mystery of Three Persons that is better pondered than preached, let me instead offer three things that are needed to put us on the path to heaven.

1. We need to obey God. As the saying goes, there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. We owe everything to God and the one thing God asks in response is obedience. Moses told the people in the first reading, “You must keep God’s statutes and commandments” and that is true for us. All that the Lord has told us and that the Church teaches has to be listened to and obeyed. Why? Because God said so and God knows what is good for us and God loves us. It is similar to a 5 year old (or even a 15 year old) arguing with their mother or father. In the end, there has to be obedience. And when there isn’t, there has to be repentance and sincere desire to change, not to mention confession.

2. We need to trust Jesus. He is like the best big brother any of us could imagine, or the best friend or the best mentor. Jesus also knows what is best for us and wants nothing but to help us, especially when we are suffering. Jesus knows what it is like to be human, and when we trust him, He is able to make us the best person we can be.

3. We need to listen to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit wants to direct us in our lives and show us the way to holiness. The Spirit wants to remind us about Jesus’ words and actions and the Spirit can give us the grace we need to imitate Jesus. And that is what life is all about for us – to imitate Jesus.

We will not get to heaven unless we obey, trust and listen to God. We have to live according to God’s will for us; living as we want, doing what we want, when we want, rather than what God wants will lead us to hell.

We will not get to heaven unless we seek to know our Triune God: the Father, the Son, Jesus, our Brother, and the Holy Spirit, our Helper and Guide.

God has to come first in our lives. There is nothing mysterious about that. We need to pray and ask the Lord what we need to change in our lives. We should ask Him how we are sinning or offending Him. God will show us and will let us know what needs to be done. And the Lord will offer grace so that we can do what is needed.

God wants nothing more than to have us in heaven. But because of the gift of free will and God's desire to have us love Him freely, we have to do our part.  Living for God now is necessary for living with God in eternity. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pentecost Sunday

When my students don’t know where to start a discussion or a piece of writing, I suggest that it can be helpful to ask the basic questions: Who? What? When? Where? How? and Why?  Faced with the awesome mystery of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost, that seems a good way to begin to ponder and pray today.

Where is the Holy Spirit?  Today we celebrate that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church, the community of believers.  When the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the apostles, and the preaching and praising of God began, the Church was born and immediately began to grow.  The Holy Spirit was like a powerful wind, blowing life into people.  The Spirit was also like a fire bringing brilliant light and comforting warmth into the hearts of the believers.  They knew Jesus had been raised from the dead, but now they were given even more. The Spirit is still at work in the Church and within each one of us as well, especially through the sacraments. The Holy Spirit was poured into our hearts at baptism.  At confirmation, we were sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Whenever we are absolved in confession, it is the work of the Holy Spirit, who was sent among us for the forgiveness of sins. When the sick are anointed, the Spirit brings strength and healing. For generations, Christians have prayed, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.  Enkindle in them the fire of your love.”  And the Holy Spirit always comes to our aid.

What is the Holy Spirit?  We profess each Sunday that the Holy Spirit is the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. We know from Jesus’ words at the Last Supper that the Holy Spirit is our Advocate who will defend us and speak for us. The Spirit is the Paraclete, our Helper and Guide. The Spirit reminds us of all that Jesus said and taught.  Through the power of the Spirit, we continue to do the work of Jesus, building up God’s Kingdom.  

Who is the Holy Spirit is perhaps the most comforting question to ask.  The Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son. God the Father created us out of love; Jesus redeemed us and saved us out of love; and the Holy Spirit has been given to us to sanctify us, to make us holy.  The Spirit is the source of the union that God desires to have with each of us as individuals and with all of us as the Body of Christ, the Church in the world today. In seeking to make us holy, the Spirit wants to unite us, to bring us together as those at Pentecost were united by hearing the gospel, each in their own language.  At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed that we might be one in Him and in the Father and that we be united with each other.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit. 

Finally, not only does the Spirit unite us, but the Spirit brings us God’s forgiveness and mercy, and empowers us to become a community and persons of mercy and forgiveness as well. 

Words only go so far when we attempt to know God, perhaps especially the Holy Spirit.  Instead, we have to let the questions go and pray with the psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God.”  It is then the Spirit will speak to our hearts.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Feast of the Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension is a day to ponder the promise Jesus made at the Last Supper to the disciples.  He said that He would be going to a place they could not go, but that He would prepare a place for them and come back for them, so that they would be where He is.  That place is heaven.

St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians tells them that he prays that the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened so that they would know the hope of God's call.  He too is speaking about heaven, where we all hope to be one day sharing in the glory and life of God.  We will know a peace and a joy and fulfillment that we can't even begin to imagine. 

We know from the Lord's Prayer that heaven is the place where God's will is done - always and in every way. In heaven God is present in all God's glory and the angels and the saints who are there share in that glory.  It must be awesome, in the truest sense of that word.  When we make it to heaven, St. John tells us that we will be like God, for we shall see God as God is.  Jesus came and shared in our humanity, so that we might share in His divinity.  That's what heaven is all about.

In the meantime, as we Pentecost celebrate next week, we are reminded that God sends us the Holy Spirit, to make us holy and to empower us to continue the work of Jesus.  As He did, so now we strive to build up the Kingdom of God in our world today.  We won't be perfect in doing that because we are weak and sinful at times.  But if we trust in God's mercy and are faithful to our call, we will make it to heaven. 

It won't be easy, but once we are in heaven, we will realize with a joy beyond all telling that it was all worth it.  

Sunday, May 6, 2018

6th Sunday of Easter

The students at Yap Catholic High School, where I work, remind me of God’s love and Jesus’ friendship each day.  Sometimes it’s the younger students who are in love for the first time, as evidenced by their constant smiles and their overall good moods, no matter what else is going on around them.  After a while, especially when things don’t work out with the one with whom they were smitten, things go back to normal.  By in the meantime, I am reminded that God loves me and as a result smiles when He sees me.  As one prayer meditation suggests, “Behold God beholding you and smiling.”

That reality of who God is and what God does is at the heart of today’s Scripture readings: God loves us and, more importantly, God loved us first. We didn’t do anything to earn it.  We certainly don’t deserve it.  And, perhaps best of all, we never have to worry about God deciding that God doesn’t love us after all. God cannot not love us.  God is love and God can’t love us more and God can’t love us less because God’s love for us is infinite.

It’s amazing and it’s simple, but it changes everything.  And as we grow in greater realization of this love, as we know it, not just in our heads, but in our hearts as well, we are grateful and we have peace, no matter what else we are up against.  Again, I see something similar when students are in love.  It changes everything for them and they can’t keep from smiling.  I’ve seen people who first realize that God loves them have the same reaction, a smile and a peace that doesn’t quit.

Our students are also tremendous friends to each other.  They look out for one another.  They include everyone, in everything, whether it is volleyball or basketball or just sitting on the veranda sharing the food.  They are quick to laugh and enjoy being together, even it if it is just to read quietly as they spread out on the floor. 

All this has helped me to see Jesus, who calls his disciples His friends, in a new light.  He too would have been quick to smile and laugh, whether He was talking quietly to one of them or listening to a group of them.  Jesus really was the best of friends with the Twelve. And He offers each of us that same intimacy and warmth in our relationship with Him. 

We know too during this Easter season that with the coming of the Holy Spirit that same love and friendship bound the early Church community together.  Jesus had shared everything He had heard from His Father with the disciples and now the Holy Spirit has reminded them of all that Jesus said and the Spirit has empowered them to do the same works that Jesus had done. 

These same Easter gifts are offered to the Church today.  God loves us.  Jesus calls us friends. The Holy Spirit is being poured out in response to our prayers.  We are changed by the love of God and we are freed and empowered to share that love with others.  God behold us and loves us and smiles.  We see that and smile back at God and at each other. 

St. Teresa of Calcutta knew what power there was there in that, for she said, “Peace begins with a smile.”  As a Church, and as individuals, we have a mission to do as our friend Jesus did, bearing fruit that will last, by sharing the love with which He first loved us.  Alleluia!