Sunday, December 2, 2018

First Sunday of Advent


The Scriptures on this First Sunday of Advent offer wise advice for our season of waiting.  We need to remember God’s promises, ask the Lord for strength, and be vigilant concerning what is to come.

Jeremiah’s prophetic word assures us that God is about to fulfill His promise by raising up for David a just shoot.  The shoot is an heir, and the heir, of course, is Jesus, the Just One, or as today’s reading from Jeremiah concludes, “The Lord our justice.”  We often think of Jesus during this season as the promised Prince of Peace, but we remember Pope St Paul VI’s words, “If you want peace, work for justice.”  There will be no peace in the world until justice has been established.  Jesus’ mission to bring justice and peace is now the mission of the Church, of each of us, and we have to commit ourselves to both praying for and working for justice and peace. 

It is good to remember as well the other promises that Jesus has given us: He will be with us until the end of the age; the gates of hell will not prevail against us; anything we ask in His name will be given to us; the Holy Spirit will be our Advocate and Guide and will give us the words we need and will empower us to do the works that Jesus did.  God is faithful to His promises and it is good that we keep this close in our minds and hearts during these days of waiting upon the Lord.

In the second reading, Paul writes to the Thessalonians and prays that the Lord will strengthen their hearts.  This strength will make them holy and will enable them to conduct themselves in ways that are pleasing to God.  In the gospel, Jesus with His words to the disciples tells us of the need for strength in order to endure what will come upon the world.    We need strength, He says, to resist carousing and drunkenness and being overwhelmed by the anxieties of daily life.  The gospel passage finishes with Jesus exhorting the disciples, “Pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.  Are we doing this or do we give in to fear in the face of what is happening?

Jesus also tells the disciples, “Be vigilant at all times.”  The followers of Jesus need to watch what is happening, to read the signs that appear, to realize what needs to be done.  If they are not vigilant, Jesus says, they may not escape the tribulations that are coming and more importantly they may not be able to “stand before the Son of Man.”  If we had to stand before Jesus this day, would we be able to do so confidently?

Jesus was born on the first Christmas and as He ascended into heaven, He promised that He would come again in glory.  We remember the first coming as we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord and we profess our faith in the second coming each time we gather for the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day.  But we know too that Jesus comes to us often in our daily lives, in our prayer, in those who are in need, and in many other ways.  We pledge again during this season of waiting to be vigilant and to be on the lookout for the many ways Jesus comes to us each day.  Do we expect Jesus?  Do we see Jesus? 

Advent is the time when we remember God’s promises and ask for the strength to be faithful and persevering.  We need to watch and be ready for the coming of the Lord.  All that has been spoken will come to pass.  Do we believe that?  Do we ask for what we need each and every day?  Or are our anxieties or our carousing crowding out God’s place in our minds and hearts? 

This holy season of Advent reminds us that now is the time to put our hope and trust in the Lord so that we will not be put to shame at the hour of His coming.  We cannot delay, for we know not the day, nor the hour, when He will come. 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time




The disciples were surprised at Jesus’ response to the Pharisee’s question about divorce, which is why they waited until they were alone with him in the house before they asked him about it.  But Jesus made it clear to them what he was saying, namely that divorce was not permissible because it is not God’s plan. 

The Protestant churches allow for divorce and remarriage, as did the Jewish community of Jesus’ time, but the Catholic Church, as is stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2384 – 2385, remains faithful to the teaching of Jesus in today’s gospel.  This is a difficult teaching for today since divorce is so common in society today for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  But that does not change what Jesus says in Mark’s gospel as he speaks of God’s plan at creation as told in the book of Genesis, which is today’s first reading. 

At the time of Jesus, there were different views on divorce among leading Jewish rabbis and their followers.  Rabbi Shammi’s position was that a wife had to be guilty of some kind of sexual infidelity in order for a husband to divorce her.  Rabbi Himmel held that if a wife did something as relatively unimportant as overcooking dinner, her husband could divorce her or put her away.  With such differing views, it is no wonder that the Pharisees wanted to know where Jesus stood on the question. 

When Jesus asked the Pharisees what Moses had to say, they referred to the Law in Deuteronomy that allowed a husband to write a bill of divorce to dismiss his wife.  But Jesus then responds with a quote from another Book of the Torah, namely Genesis, saying that Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of hearts.  God, having created man and woman, joined them together, and what God has joined together, “no human being must separate.” 

When the disciples later question Jesus on it privately, Jesus does not back down at all, but rather adds that if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.  Scholars believe that Mark’s gospel has Jesus also mention women divorcing their husbands, because, unlike Matthew’s gospel, which only speaks of men, Mark’s gospel was written in Rome and addresses Gentile Christians as well as Jewish Christians.  Unlike Jewish society, where only men could initiate divorce, in the Greco-Roman world, women could initiate divorce as well.  

It is clear that Jesus took his disciples by surprise with the seriousness of his teaching and we are challenged today by Jesus’ teaching on the permanence of marriage and the prohibition of divorce and then remarriage after divorce, since it is so common. 

The teaching of the Church has a pastoral approach to all of this in paragraph 2386:

It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened the moral law.  There is a considerable difference between a spouse who has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is unjustly abandoned, and one who through his (or her) own grave fault destroys a canonically valid marriage.

There is tremendous need for pastoral sensitivity when a marriage ends in divorce.  The Church allows a couple to separate and divorce civilly.  People may still receive Communion in that situation.  It is remarriage that complicates matters and it is then those affected by divorce ought to turn to the Church to learn about annulments.  Divorce and remarriage are emotional and very sensitive issues and it is hoped the Church can help to bring healing and a peaceful resolution.  What is important, however, is not to deny or water down what Jesus taught as it continues to be the teaching of his Church today.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time


In today’s Scripture readings from Numbers and Mark, Joshua, Moses’ younger assistant, and John, the youngest of Jesus’ apostles, share an outlook toward others which is limiting and not helpful.  They know who are in their group and who aren’t and they are quick to judgement and action when they see others moving in who are not part of the group.


In both instances, the perceived outsiders are using gifts of God to do God’s work: Eldad and Medad are prophesying and the exorcists John saw were using the name of Jesus to set people free.  Joshua and John both wanted it stopped, while Moses and Jesus did not share their concern or their desire to bring it to an end. Being older and wiser, Moses and Jesus have a different mindset and understanding concerning the work of God.


These Scriptures present us with a question - Are we like Joshua and John or are we like Moses and Jesus? Do we approach life with an “us and them” attitude or are we open to others, especially those who are quite different from us, yet clearly close to God?  Do we have too narrow of an idea of who God works in and through or are we open to be surprised and grateful for what God can do in and through others?


Jesus’ words in the second half of today’s gospel pose an even more crucial question to us - Are we determined and decisive when it comes to fighting sin in our lives? Jesus mentions hands and feet and eyes. The hands and feet speak to our sinful physical activity. The eyes concern the ways we sin in our mind and in our heart. Needless to say, Jesus was not calling for His first followers or for us to hack off limbs or gouge out eyes.


Rather, Jesus is telling us that we need to do whatever it takes to keep ourselves from sin.  When we are honest with ourselves, and especially if we ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, we realize there are things in our lives that lead us to sin. Perhaps there are some relationships we have, or some places we go, or seemingly harmless things we do that we need to avoid. If we get angry often, we need to get help to understand the roots of the anger and how we can handle it better.  If alcohol poses a serious problem for us, then we shouldn’t drink. Jesus’ hyperbolic way of speaking shows us that we have to rid ourselves of anything and everything that keeps us from being the person God wants us to be, especially if not doing so could land us in hell.  


God is good and so we do not have to do this ourselves.  God is ready and waiting and eager to help us to grow in holiness. We can seek God’s help by turning to the Holy Spirit for guidance, praying over and studying the Scriptures to know Jesus more, and relying on the sacraments for the sanctifying grace that will bear fruit within us.  And all the while, we trust in God’s love and mercy every step of the way.


When we do all this, we will grow in holiness and be able to see God’s work in us and in others. Most importantly, at the end of our lives we will be welcomed into the joy of heaven. When we arrive there, perhaps we will be surprised to see who is there with us, for our God is a God of surprises.


Joshua and John learned from Moses and Jesus how God works in others in unexpected ways, and if we don’t learn that for ourselves here, in heaven we will see it in those there with us.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time



A crisis often forces a decision.  The more upsetting the crisis, the more urgent is the decision.  Yet, St. Ignatius of Loyola counseled that a decision ought not be made when one is not at peace.  It would be similar to trying to turn a ship around in a storm.  There is too much danger that the ship could go down.  One would do better to wait out the storm and then change course, if need be.


Joshua is calling on the people of Israel to decide again to serve the Lord in the first reading.  Paul, in the second reading, exhorts couples in marriage to decide to love each other as Christ loves the Church.  And some followers of Jesus decide to leave him because what he has said is too hard for them to accept.  It is decision making time in all three readings.  Coincidentally, for many of us, the recent reports of sexual abuse by priests and consequent cover-ups and lies by bishops, have created a painful crisis that forces us to consider whether we can still choose to be members of the Church. 


As a priest who has seen all of this from a front row seat, I judge no one for leaving the Church.  Some young people took their lives as a result of what they suffered at the hands of some sick priests.  Some priests have taken their lives, unable to face the future after what they had done. Some bishops have considered the reputation of the Church to be a higher priority than the health and happiness of young people and have lied and misled others as a result.  The enormity of the evil that has surrounded us for many years now has caused unspeakable sadness.  When faced with all of this, some will be unable to walk into a Church again.


Now is the time for decisions in the Church.  It is a time for action for all of us.  The pope has to act.  The bishops have to act.  It is a time to repent, to turn back to the Lord, and to rid the Church of the sinfulness that has so devastatingly damaged the Church.  It is a time to bring things into the light and to speak the truth.  There are more dark days ahead.  Things will get worse before they get better.  We walk the way of the cross again, but there is no other way to new life on the other side.


As a son of St. Ignatius, I trust his advice to wait out the storm.  As a priest whose life is centered in the Eucharist, I cannot walk away from the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present with us in the Church.  Like Peter, hot-headed, fearful and sinful at times, I have no other place to go.  I have decided to stay with Jesus, which means, for me, staying in the Church.


All of us have decisions to make.  And while we consider where we should go, we also think about what we should do.  God will guide us, in different ways, no doubt.  What is important is that we seek God’s will and once we are sure we know what that is, we carry it out.  In the meantime, we wait and pray and cling to the Lord, who alone can bring us peace.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time



“Watch carefully how you live … because the days are evil” writes St Paul to the Ephesians in today’s second reading.  Given what we have heard and read of the abuse that some priests, bishops, and even cardinals have done to children, young people, and even their younger brother priests, we agree with St Paul and say that these days, our days, are evil too. 


 We struggle with feelings of anger, betrayal, confusion, and disgust.  We don’t hear enough words of outrage or promises of change, justice and repentance from our bishops.  Instead we are chastised because some chose to withhold financial support from the church.  And saddest of all, some of us have decided already that they have had enough and will not be back to church, perhaps ever again.  These are indeed evil days and, as St Paul said, we have to be careful then how we live.


In today’s first reading, wisdom is personified as a lovely Lady who has prepared a meal, compete with choice meat and wine.  She has sent out her maidens inviting all to the feast, especially those who are simple and lack understanding.  She asks us to “forsake foolishness” that we may live and “advance in the way of understanding.”


This is a poetic representation of the Lord God as a beautiful woman who has only good things to offer us to eat and drink, as well as the most helpful gifts of wisdom and understanding.  Perhaps we might hear in it a call to seek a sense of tranquility and being cared for in the middle of the painful and pitiful situation that threatens to overwhelm us. God’s word reminds us that God is still very much with us, even in all of this, and God offers us what we most need.


Likewise, in today’s gospel,  as we continue to hear Jesus in the Bread of Life discourse from John 6, the Lord promises us himself, his flesh and blood, that is given for the life of the world. When we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we remain in him and he remains in us.  We will have life and will live forever.


It is times like this when we need to hold on and believe that God is with us and that evil will not be the final word.  No doubt there are still more painful days ahead as yet more deeds of darkness are brought into the light. But with God’s help and presence, we will still be standing when the storm of sin is through.  


In the meantime, we need to “advance in the way of understanding” as the book of Proverbs promise.  We need also, to try to understand God’s will in all of this, as St. Paul exhorts us.  But most importantly, we need to cling to the Lord in the Eucharist, for Jesus with his flesh and blood can care for us there in ways that will sustain us from now into eternal life. 

 

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promised that the powers of death will not prevail against the church. In these evil days, we need to remember that and cling to those words as well.  God is with us.  Jesus remains the center of the church and he and those of us who remain with him will prevail, despite the sins and sufferings that surround us.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time



Our goal in life, the reason God created us, is to know, love, and serve God in this life, so as to be happy with God forever in the next.

The Scripture readings today offer three things we need to do that will help us to get to heaven.

In the first reading the prophet Elijah is fleeing for his life. He is exhausted, and unable to keep going. But God provides for him. An angel gives him bread from made flesh who has become one of herheaven and something to drink and enables him to travel for 40 days to the place where he will be safe with God. Like Elijah, we need to trust God to help us, to give us what we need to keep going, particularly when life is difficult.

in today’s gospel, a continuation of John 6, the Bread of Life discourse,Jesus tells those listening to him that he is from heaven. Jesus is telling them that he is divine and they need to believe in him in order to have eternal life. We too need to believe that Jesus is God, the Word of God made flesh, who has become one of us, so that just as he shares in our humanity, we will be able to share in his divinity.  

As the Bread of Life, Jesus offers himself to us - body, blood, soul, and divinity -  so in the Eucharist. Through the Eucharist, Jesus is our food for the journey and enables us to live forever.

In the second reading, Paul tells the Christian community in Ephesus that they need to be imitators of God. There is no place for hatred or any ungodly behavior in their lives. Rather, to be a Christian is to be like Jesus: merciful and loving, and willing to offer oneself as a sacrifice to God.

Having heard God’s word, we ask the Lord to help us to trust God for all we need.  We ask for the grace to believe in Jesus, the Bread of Life, so that he might show us the depth of the Father's love for us. And we need to imitate God, to be like Jesus, in order that we might live with him forever. Trust, belief, and imitation of the Lord will set us firmly on the path to heaven. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time



Grumbling and believing are two things most of us do well, but not, of course, at the same time.  Speaking for myself, thanks to the grace of God, I do not grumble as much as I used to, and again with the help of God’s grace, I have grown in faith and belief, even when everything in me wants to grumble. There are times when I battle within myself not to grumble, but instead to put my faith and trust in the Lord. What makes the difference is remembering to keep my eyes on Jesus.

In today’s first reading from Exodus, the Israelite community is in the desert, grumbling against Moses and Aaron, and not without reason.  They were in a tough spot and things were not going the way they had expected them to go.  Nothing good happens when people are “hangry” and that they were. And, as we all know, once a few good grumblers get going, others join in, and rather quickly, everyone is drawn into giving voice to their unhappiness. God’s people were complaining, demanding, and fearful, and were not believing that God cared for them and was with them.

But the Lord God heard their grumbling and gave them bread from heaven, proving that God would provide for them.  However, the Lord was testing them as well, to see if they would follow God’s instructions. God gives us what we need, but it seems there is always a catch. God always call us to go beyond ourselves, not to be content with where we are, but to keep growing. 

In today’s gospel, the crowds were looking for Jesus.  They were hungry for more of God’s word and for signs, and for anything else that Jesus could give them.  When they found him, what Jesus did give them was an invitation to believe in him, to trust him, to come to him.  He told them he was the bread of life and he alone could satisfy their every hunger and thirst.

Do we believe that today?  Do we believe that Jesus offers us the same invitation and the same assurances? There is much in our world, our Church, and our personal lives that might cause us to grumble and to lose faith.  Yet, in the midst of all of it, Jesus is with us and asks for our faith and trust. 

Even with Jesus with us, we will still be tested.  There will be more suffering and confusion to come, but we trust that Jesus will remain with us through it all. With God’s grace, we can resist the temptation to grumble and despair.  Instead, again with God’s help, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, listen to his words, and put our faith, weak as it might be, in him and him alone, for he is the bread of life.