Saturday of the 32nd Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Whenever the time grows short, it can be tempting to give up the mission. Especially if it seems like there is a lack of results. That’s where we find ourselves on the issue of prayer very often, I think. We may have prayed for a loved one or a situation until our knees are raw and our throats are parched. We may have prayed fervently, shedding tears. And now, maybe, with the time growing short, those tears may be tears of frustration, or anger, or abandonment.

But God is decidedly not an unjust judge, right? We know he loves us and cares for us. That’s why I think it can be so frustrating to have prayed and prayed and prayed, and never see anything happening. We get to this point in our spiritual lives all the time.

The Gospel today is calling us to be persistent. We know that God loves us and we know that he will act for our good. We probably don’t know what the answer to our prayer will look like, but rest assured, if we pray persistently and with openness to God’s will, we will know the answer when we see it. It can be hard to be that trusting and open when the life of someone we love is at stake. Whether it’s disease or addiction or a job situation or family problems or any one of thousands of afflictions, we just can’t bear to see our loved ones go through it. Especially when we’ve been praying.

But if our prayer means anything, then it’s got to be persistent. We have to trust that God will render a decision that is just and right. It may take time to see that happen, but we have to see it through in prayer.

The time is growing short. So when Christ returns, will he find faith on earth? May his return find us fervently and persistently in prayer.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Today’s readings | Today’s Saint

[Mass for the School Children]

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Elizabeth was the daughter of the king of Hungary, and she married Louis IV of Thuringia when she was fourteen years old. They were happily married and had three children together. Together, they tried to live the ideals of St. Francis who was all about living simply and helping the poor. So they sold their possessions and gave the money to the poor. This upset Elizabeth’s in-laws, who probably were hoping to inherit the things Louis and Elizabeth owned. When Louis was on the way to fight in a war, he was killed. Elizabeth’s in-laws forced her out of the palace, and she and her children went to live with her uncle who was a bishop. After Louis’s friends returned from the war, they restored Elizabeth to the palace and her rightful place. St. Elizabeth is a woman who lived a simple life and dedicated her life to loving others and helping the poor. She is the patron of Catholic Charities.

The story of St. Elizabeth and the story about the old man in the play our fifth graders acted out remind us about two things. First of all, they remind us that living a simple life brings us closer to God. The old man didn’t care about how rich he could become if he sold his land; he only wanted to live in the house he grew up in for the rest of his days. Elizabeth didn’t care about all the possessions and luxury she could have in the palace; she only wanted to live the Gospel and help the poor. By not surrounding themselves with money and luxury, they could see and appreciate all the things that really matter.

Second, these stories remind us that sometimes loving people is hard. The old man loved everyone in the town, but when they thought they could get rich, they turned on him. He loved them anyway. Elizabeth loved the poor. So when her in-laws threw her out of the palace, it would have been easier for her to stop helping the poor. But she didn’t. By choosing to love people even when it was hard to do that, both the old man and St. Elizabeth were models of God’s love for all of us.

Today’s Gospel calls us to do something that is hard for us to do: love our enemies and be good to them. Who wants to do that? It’s so much easier for us to love, and be kind to, people who love us back and who are also kind to us. But anyone can do that, Jesus tells us. All of us who want to follow Jesus have to go a little further and to love everyone, whether they love us or not. Yes, that’s hard to do. But if we could just trust Jesus enough to love and be kind to someone who isn’t kind to us, we could really change things. We could really see how God’s love changes everything if we would love everyone, no matter how hard that is to do. We have to treat others just as we want to be treated.

Thursday of the 32nd Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the things that has helped me in my spiritual life is the knowledge that “we’re not home yet.” We can list all kinds of things, I’m sure, that remind us that this life in this world is not perfect. But our hope is that we have the kingdom of God to look forward to. We Christians all long for the day when we will be part of the Kingdom in all its fullness. Today Jesus speaks to the Pharisees, and his disciples, about the Kingdom.

To the Pharisees, Jesus issues a warning. He tells them they may as well stop looking for signs of the coming Kingdom, because the Kingdom is right under their noses! They have already missed the forest for the trees. The Kingdom of God is right here among them, ushered in by Jesus himself.

To his disciples, Jesus gives encouragement. He tells them that the days will come when they long for the Kingdom, but when that happens, they should not let themselves be easily led astray. They shouldn’t lose heart because they can’t see signs, and they should not be afraid when he himself has to suffer and die. The Kingdom of God, he tells them, does not come without a price, but it’s a price worth paying.

To all of us, also his disciples, I think he is saying both things. First of all, we cannot miss the Kingdom of God among us. We can’t be so wrapped up in ourselves and our concerns, or so focused on the Kingdom yet to come, that we miss God working and building his kingdom among us. The Kingdom is here, alive in the faithful, celebrated wherever God’s people live the Gospel. And second, we must not be tempted to look for signs of the end times. David Koresh and Jim Jones should not have any attraction for Christian believers. The end will come when the end comes, and if it happens while we are still here, may the end find us ready for the Kingdom.

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time: We never see the widow

Today’s readings

The thing is, we never see the widow.

There are widows in both the first reading and today’s Gospel and neither story describes the widow. We don’t know what she’s wearing, if she’s tall or short, nothing at all about how she looked or anything. That’s pretty typical of most Scripture passages; we don’t know much of that about many of the characters we come across in the readings. But somehow, in these readings, especially in the Gospel, the lack of notice seems a bit more culpable than typical Scripture glossing-over of details.

We just never see the widow.

In the Gospel story, if Jesus didn’t see the widow, well, nobody would have. They would certainly have noticed the rich people who put in large sums. The collection boxes were designed that way. As they dropped in their many large coins, the donation would have made quite a loud clanking as they worked their way to the bottom of the box. Many times, people would time their deposit so that they could get the most attention possible. But a poor widow dropping in two small coins would never have gotten anyone’s attention. Except that Jesus saw her.

Jesus saw the widow and noticed her meager contribution. But in seeing the widow, Jesus knew all about her. He saw the lack of status that she had as a widow. Women in that society had no status at all unless they had a male figure to take care of them. A father, brother or husband meant that a woman would be taken care of and protected. But a widow would have given up her father and male family members to get married. And, at the death of her husband, she would have lost that protection also. Widows in that society were in a very bad way.

Jesus also saw the widow’s contribution. It was a very small contribution, equivalent to about one sixty-fourth of a denarius. A denarius was a day’s wage. A contribution that small was so insignificant that it would hardly have been noticed among the large contributions made by the rich people. But Jesus knew that the two small coins were perhaps all the poor widow had in the world. Any status or protection she would have as a widow would have come through the money she had. In giving the two small coins, she was probably giving everything she had. Jesus knew that for her, giving those two small coins was a way of giving up any control she had, and now the only person she could rely on is God. We never hear what happens to her, but her act of faith does not go unnoticed.

The situation is much the same in today’s first reading. Elijah the prophet is fleeing from his enemy, King Ahab. Ahab wanted to take Elijah’s life, and he is on the run. Here we see the powerful prophet completely at the mercy of those who seek him, and he has no one to whom to turn. Except for a poor widow. In Elijah’s day, even a widow was expected to show hospitality to a guest, even at the cost of all she may have. That was the custom. So Elijah asks for a drink and receives one. Then he asks for a cake, and the widow protests that the little bit of flour and oil was all she had for herself and her son, and she was planning on the two of them dying after having consumed it that day. But, ever attentive to the demands of hospitality, she does indeed make him the cake. And the prophet’s promise that the flour would not run out nor the flask of oil run dry is beautifully fulfilled for a year. Unlike the widow in the Gospel, we see that this widow is taken care of by God, and perhaps we can assume that God took care of the Gospel widow as well.

Because God does see the widow.

God sees the widow for the creation that she is. God knows her plight and hears her cry. Through the ministry and generosity of widows, God cares for prophets on the run and provides for the upkeep of a Temple. Through that same generosity, God provides a rich example not just of generous giving – although that’s there too – but of giving up control in order to experience the life, and care, and salvation that comes from God. The widow gives up what she has and she is cared for. When she is oppressed by unscrupulous Scribes who take her house for their own benefit, her cries are heard. God sees the widow.

And if God sees the widow, then we had better see her too.

But, we don’t. We miss the widow in our midst time and time again.

There are many people represented by the widow in these stories. The Psalmist gives us a look at all those who went unnoticed in his time. He sings that God secures justice for the oppressed, feeds the hungry, sets captives free, gives sight to the blind, raises up those bowed down, loves the just, protects strangers, and sustains the fatherless and the widow. God sees all of these people.

The widows in our time are all those who society forgets. The single mother. The homeless man. The forgotten elderly in nursing homes. The children of the poor. The unborn who are aborted every day. The terminally ill. The immigrant woman who comes in to clean the office when you’re headed home for the day. The mentally ill. Those on death row. Members of our armed forces fighting in far-away lands.

We never see any of these people. But God does.

Once again, we are coming to the end of our liturgical year. And so we must continue the kind of liturgical soul-searching that I’ve encouraged us to engage in these last few weeks. We need to take a look back at our lives this year and identify those we may not have seen the way God does. Maybe they are some of the strangers that I mentioned already. But maybe there are people closer to us that we have not noticed. Members of our family, neighbors, co-workers. Who are the people we have not noticed because we have been so wrapped up in ourselves? Who are the people we have forgotten because we are afraid that stopping to help them will leave us poorer? Who are those we have neglected because of selfishness or lack of concern? Who are the ones we have not seen?

What about our relationship with God? Has it reflected the action of the widows in today’s Liturgy of the Word which showed that letting go of everything we have gives us the opportunity to let God care for us and give us what we truly need? Or has our selfishness kept us bound up and attached to the things in our lives and in our world which have no permanence? Have we given up the Kingdom of God only to purchase a way of life that does not lead us to our Creator? Have we desperately held on to status, wealth and passing pleasures or have we let go and experienced the freedom that gives us the true security of God’s love and care for us?

There is a paradox in today’s readings, brothers and sisters. We are definitely called to start seeing the widows and all those who are forgotten among us. We are certainly called to care for them, because we are the instruments God uses to take care of those who need his protection. But, we are also called to be more like the widow. We are called to give from our need and not from our abundance. We are called to let go of everything we think we have in order to catch hold of the One who longs to gather us back to himself. The only real freedom we will ever have is when we give up every security we think we have in order to gain the care of our God who is always faithful.

Our hope has to be that our participation in the Eucharist this year has led us to a place where we are close enough to our God that we would see the widow. May we see the widow, and all the forgotten among us, and respond to their needs. May we see the widow’s example and give out of our comfort level in order that God, who is never outdone in generosity, can work his grace in our lives. May we see the widow because God does, and may we know the grace that was poured out on the widow in Elijah’s story, whose flour jar did not go empty and whose flask of oil did not run dry.

St. Martin of Tours and Veterans Day

Today’s readings | Today’s feast

“Blessed is the one who fears the Lord.”

St. Martin of Tours is a fitting saint to intercede for veterans today. He himself was a soldier and served his country faithfully. After a time, he asked for and received release from military service. He had become a catechumen, and said to his superiors, “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ. Give the bounty to those who are going to fight. But I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight.” Having received his release, he became a monk and served God faithfully. As a soldier of Christianity now, he fought valiantly against paganism and appealed for mercy to those accused of heresy. He was made a bishop, albeit reluctantly, and served faithfully in that post. He was a man of whom the psalmist says today, “Blessed is the one who fears the Lord.”

On this Veterans Day, we honor and pray for veterans of our armed forces who have given of themselves in order to protect our country and its freedoms. We pray especially for those who have died in battle, as well as for those who have been injured physically or mentally during their military service. We pray in thanksgiving for all of our freedoms, gained at a price, and pray that those freedoms will always be part of our way of life.

I received this prayer for Veterans Day. As I pray it, think of someone you know who may be a veteran, or perhaps is currently serving in the armed forces. Maybe that veteran is even you. If you don’t have anyone particular to pray for, ask God to hear this prayer on behalf of a veteran who has no one to pray for them. So let us pray:

We ask for blessings on all those who have served their country in the armed forces.
We ask for healing for the veterans who have been wounded, in body and soul, in conflicts around the globe.
We pray especially for the young men and women, in the thousands,
Who are coming home from Iraq with injured bodies and traumatized spirits.
Bring solace to them, O Lord; may we pray for them when they cannot pray.

Have mercy on all our veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq,
Bring peace to their hearts and peace to the regions they fought in.
Bless all the soldiers who served in non-combative posts;
May their calling to service continue in their lives in many positive ways.

Give us all the creative vision to see a world which, grown weary with fighting,
Moves to affirming the life of every human being and so moves beyond war.
Hear our prayer, O Prince of Peace, hear our prayer.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

St. Martin of Tours, pray for us.

The Dedication of St. John Lateran

Today's readings | Today's feast

stjohnlateranThe Church is a reality that is at the same time concrete and experiential and heavenly and eternal. The concrete structures of it are the nuts and bolts that make it work. The building itself, the parish staff, the rubrics of liturgy and the holy books, as well as teachings and dogma and sacraments – all of these are things we can touch, or learn or work with. But there is another layer, one more experiential. These include the people as a whole, on the way to holiness; the Word at work in believers; the effects of grace mediated through the sacraments; the Gospel lived out day by day and the love of God shown through Charity. And in yet another layer, the Church is not just here on earth. It's in heaven, celebrated among the Communion of Saints and sung by the choirs of angels. And finally it is eternal, not just limited to our own puny ideas of time and space, but all wrapped up in the Mind of God who is ever-present, all-powerful and all-knowing. The Church is an incredible reality that has been pondered by people much more saintly and learned than I, and a reality that will be advanced and celebrated for ages yet to come.

Today we celebrate the feast of the dedication of a certain church building, the Lateran Cathedral in Rome. Most people think of St. Peter's Basilica as the pope's church, but that's not true. As the Bishop of Rome, his Cathedral Church is the Lateran Cathedral, once dedicated to our Savior, but now named for St. John the Baptist. This site has served as the Cathedral church for the pope ever since the first structure was built in the late 300s. It served until the pope was moved to Avignon, and upon returning, it was found to have been destroyed. The present structure was commissioned in the 1600s and is one of the most massive churches in Rome. Because it is the parish church of the pope, it is in some ways considered to be the parish church for all Catholics. Today we celebrate the feast of its dedication on November 9, 324 by Pope St. Sylvester I.

Any feast like this is an opportunity for us to take a step back and look at this thing we call Church. The misunderstanding in the Gospel between Jesus and the Jews tells us that we cannot view Church as just a building. The reality of Church is brought to great perfection in the Body of Christ, and we see that because of Christ, the Church is a living, breathing thing that takes us in and out of time and space to be the body we were created to be. So today we celebrate Church; we peel back the Church's many layers, touching and learning the concrete, living the experiential, asking for the intercession of the heavenly, and yearning to be caught up in the eternal. The Church is our Mother who has given us birth in the Spirit and who nurtures us toward eternal life.

The river of God's life flows forth from the Church to baptize and sanctify the whole world unto the One who created it all. The Church has its foundation in Christ, who also raises it up to eternity. Blessed are all those who find their life in its sanctuary.

Tuesday of the 31st Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Back in the days of Jesus, if someone was going to give a big party, preparations needed to be made a very long time in advance. Invitations could not just be photocopied and mailed, or even emailed; no, they had to be hand written, and taken personally to each person’s home. Enough time had to be given for the invitees to respond so that a count of the guests could be made and refreshments prepared. Once one responded that they were coming, often the host would send out servants or family to collect the guests when the preparations were made and the festivities were to begin. This is the setting for the parable in today’s Gospel.

Everyone has been invited to the feast, and – this is the important part – they have all accepted the invitation. They have said they will come, but when the preparations have been made and they are called to the feast, they all have excuses about why they cannot come. And notice the kinds of things that are keeping them from the feast. One has bought land, another purchased a flock of oxen, another has been married. I am guessing that none of these things came up at the last minute. Plans have to be made for purchasing land, oxen, and certainly for getting married. So one wonders if they ever had any intention of coming to the feast in the first place.

The parable was addressed, of course, to the Jews. They were the chosen people and had been invited to the feast from the creation of the world, for heaven’s sake! Yet, now that Jesus is here, and the feast is ready, they have all kinds of excuses as to why they cannot come. Jesus is not the kind of Messiah they expected. So, they won’t be coming to the Kingdom.

What about us? We have certainly been invited, from the moment of our baptism. When the feast is prepared and we are called to come to the heavenly banquet, how will we respond? Will we find some excuse as to why we cannot come right now, or will we joyfully make haste to our Lord? God forbid that we should hear the ominous and deadly words that the host speaks at the end of today’s parable: “I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.”

31st Sunday of Ordinary Time: You are God; I am not

Today's Readings

You are God; I am not.

I was once told that those six words are perhaps the most important prayer a person could ever have. You are God; I am not. The whole point of any prayer in the first place is putting God and ourselves in proper order. We need to know what we must do, and what we can depend on God to do. We need to be able to respond to God's activity in our lives in order to be the people he has created us to be. We need to know that He is God and we are not.

The Jewish prayer that we hear in the first reading is quite similar to this prayer. That prayer is known as the Shema, and it is a prayer that the Jewish people have said every day since it was given to them by Moses in this story. There were just four Hebrew words to that prayer and they translate roughly to "LORD God; LORD one." Or, more readably: "The LORD our God is LORD alone." We hear Moses giving the Israelites this prayer today as they stood on the banks of the River, waiting to cross over into the Promised Land. You may remember that Moses was not to enter into the Land with them, and he knew that his time was drawing to a close. So in this speech, he is giving them a final bit of teaching and summing up all that he has said to them.

He teaches them, too, that it is love for God that is of primary importance. Knowing God is nice. Hearing God is nice. Obeying God is a good thing. But the final commandment he gives them is that they are to love the LORD God, and to love God with everything that makes them human: their heart, their soul, and their strength. Moses knew that love for God was what constituted a real relationship with God who longs to be in relationship with his people. Knowledge of God and obedience of God could never take them that far. And they are to love God completely because that is how God loves them: with God's whole heart, soul and strength. God continues to love his people, even when they have strayed, because that's just God's nature.

Fast forward now to Jesus' time and we hear the same teaching this time coming from the mouth of Jesus. In that time, the Scribes would often argue among themselves as to which of the 613 laws were of primary importance. They would classify some as "heavy" and others as "less weighty." So when the Scribe in today's Gospel reading asks Jesus which of the laws is the first of all the commandments, it is in that spirit that he asks. He is asking, teacher to teacher, which of the laws is the greatest.

But Jesus can't pick just one law. He has two favorites. The first of these is the law we heard Moses speaking in the first reading, although Jesus adds to it. For Jesus, we should love God not just with all our hearts, souls, and strength, but also with our minds. This completes for him the range of human faculties with which we must love God. If we do not love God with our hearts, those hearts become hardened and the source of all kinds of evil. If we do not love God with our soul, then we cannot count on the soul to see us through our trials and toward eternal life. If we do not love God with our minds then we may consider those who do so to be out of their minds. And if we do not love God with all our strength, then that strength will be used for all kinds of self-serving distraction that takes us out of relationship with God. Love of God is the first and greatest commandment.

But the second is much like it. Taking a quotation from the book of Leviticus (Leviticus 19:18), Jesus says that we must love our neighbors as ourselves. Just as we love our own bodies and our own lives, we are to love our neighbor. We are to love our neighbor because it is the physical manifestation of our love for God. If God, who is love itself, pours out that love on us, then we too must pour out that love on one another. As St. John says in his first letter, we cannot love God whom we have not seen if we do not love our brothers and sisters, whom we do see every day. Love of God, neighbor and self are all one package, all bound up together and made possible because of the love God has poured out on us.

As I said, the scribe asked the question about which law was the greatest for pretty much academic reasons. Most people when asked that question would have stopped at Jesus first response, since the command to love God with all one's heart, soul and strength was so well known. That said, and having heard Jesus' response, he is clearly impressed with Jesus answer, having seen it as creative and an improvement on what he may have heard thousands of times before. He is so impressed with Jesus' response, in fact, that it leads him to reiterate it in a kind of profession of faith. He sees that God's love is the center of everything we do and are. God is the love that fills our heart. God is the beauty that enlivens our mind. God is the life that animates our soul. God is the way that leads to our strength. The Lord our God is Lord alone. He is God; we are not.

And now it is Jesus who is impressed with the answer of the Scribe. Having heard his profession of faith, spontaneously pronounced by this man who knew the whole of the law, he tells the Scribe that he is not far from the Kingdom of God. The Scribe has moved beyond mere knowledge and understanding to faith. This is no longer a mere academic exercise for him; it is a statement of belief and a response to God's love. The love of God has transformed him and his theology has moved from his head to his heart.

He is not far from the kingdom of God, but he's not there yet. As consoling as Jesus' congratulatory statement was for him, there was still an element of challenge in it. The Scribe is still on the way to the Kingdom. What he lacks is what Jesus has been saying throughout the Gospel all this liturgical year. He has to sell his possessions and give to the poor, then come follow Jesus. He has to accept the Kingdom like a little child. He has to take up his cross and follow the Lord.

We too are still on the way, aren't we? As we approach the end of this liturgical year, it is time for us to look back and see how far we are from the Kingdom of God. Have we come to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength? Or do we still love distractions more than we love the One who made us for himself? Have we let go of the things we possess too tightly and followed Christ, or is letting go something we have not yet accomplished? Have we accepted the Kingdom of God like a little child; unquestioningly, and with total dependence on God, or do we still think we're God in some ways? Have we taken up our crosses, or are they still there waiting for us? How near are we to the Kingdom of God?

Because the Kingdom of God is our greatest goal, brothers and sisters in Christ. And that has been on our liturgical minds a lot in these past days. On Wednesday, we celebrated the solemnity of all the saints, who through faithfulness to God and total dependence on Him have already entered into the heavenly reward. On Thursday, we remembered the souls of all the faithful departed; those who are still on the journey but have passed from this life. These still are working out their salvation in what we call Purgatory. But all of us are members of the Communion of Saints. The Church teaches that the Communion of Saints is made up of all of the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven. We are all united by our common goal: the Kingdom of God.

And the way to reach our goal sounds so very simple. We must let go of this life and cling to the love of God. We must remember that He is God and we are not. But that's hard for us, isn't it? The process of entering the Kingdom of God is really a process of dying, which can be quit
e painful. It is a process of dying to self that begins at baptism, and ends when we get there, a process that takes us through life and death, and perhaps Purgatory, but which always ends in the Kingdom because that is the promise that God makes to all of those who believe in Him.

The best way to get started, or re-started on that journey is to pray every day as you leave your house: You are God; I am not.

Diakonia: An anniversary

Before this day is over, I just wanted to reflect that today is the one-year anniversary of my ordination as a transitional deacon. I was ordained to that order on November 4, 2005, on the feast of St. Charles Borromeo at the St. Charles Borromeo Pastoral Center.

The call to diakonia is a serious one for me. I'm not always perfect at it, and this anniversary really calls me to renew myself in that charism. As the Rite of Ordination says, "May God, who has begun this good work in you, bring it to fulfillment."


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