Today’s readings

Wouldn’t we like to figure out what’s going on in God’s mind? Wouldn’t it be great to just be able to see the big picture as God sees it so that we can always do the right thing? But that’s just the point. The meaning of everything isn’t ours to know. God gives us what we need in order to follow him. If we would just open up our hearts and minds we could see what we need to see in order to be good disciples. But often we forget the grace we have been given and ignore what’s right in front of us in order to see what we want to see.

I often wonder, if we really could see the whole big picture, would we be more obedient to God’s will?  Maybe it’s our disobedience, and not God, that keeps us from seeing everything as it truly is.

When it comes down to it, though, God is God and we are not. That is what St. Paul has been trying to tell us these past couple of weeks as we’ve been reading from his letter to the Romans. We have been disobedient and cannot be obedient apart from God’s grace. Thanks be to God, he has poured out his grace and mercy upon us. We cannot see what God wants us to see apart from God’s grace. Thanks be to God, he gives us his vision when we ask for it and are disposed to receive it.

We cannot give anything to God that he has not already given us. Our desire to thank him is itself a gift from God. God made us for relationship with him. We are called to be obedient to God’s grace and mercy that we might be able to see ourselves, others, and the whole world as we really are, and to know God’s plan for our lives. The Psalmist certainly received what he asked for today, and we can too: Lord, in your great love, answer me.

 

The Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time [A]

Today’s readings

For each of the deadly sins, there is also a life-giving virtue.  Today, our readings focus on humility, which is the life-giving virtue that is the antidote to pride.  Of the seven deadly sins, pride is usually considered the original and the most serious of the sins.  Pride was the sin that caused the angel Lucifer to fall from grace to become the devil.  Pride was the sin that caused our first parents to reach for the forbidden fruit that was beyond them, all in an attempt to know everything God does.  A good examination of conscience would probably convince all of us that we suffer from pride from time to time, and sometimes even pervasively, in our own lives.  It’s what causes us to compare ourselves to others, to try to solve all our problems in ways that don’t include God, to be angry when everything does not go the way we would have it.  Pride, as the saying goes, and as Lucifer found out, doth indeed go before the fall, and when that happens in a person’s life, if it doesn’t break them in a way that  convinces them of their need for God, will very often send them into a tailspin of despair.  Pride is a particularly ugly thing.

Jesus tells us quite clearly today: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  But not many of us really seek to be humbled, do we?  When we think about humility, we might associate that with a kind of wimpiness.  As you think about humble people do you imagine breast-beating, pious souls who allow themselves to be the doormats for the more aggressive and ambitious? Humble people, we tend to think, don’t buck the system, they just say their prayers and, when they are inflicted with pain and suffering, they just “offer it up.”

But that’s not how Jesus sees it.  He doesn’t see humble people as wimpy or weak-minded.  He sees them as leaders: “The greatest among you,” he tells us, “must be your servant.”  So do you want to be a leader?  Do you want people to look up to you?  Well, if you do, you need to be a servant of others.  I talked in my homily last week about my friend Mike, who was the mechanic who humbly offered his service to those in need.  This weekend, we mourn the passing of our brother Marty Rock, a long time parishioner here at Notre Dame, who just this past summer, I clearly remember on his hands and knees repairing one of the pews in the church.  And he did that kind of thing all the time in his retirement years.  These were not wimpy men.  These were the kind of servant leaders that our Lord calls us all to be in today’s readings.

Today, we had our parish day of service.  The place was bustling with around 150 servant leaders who took time out of their day to help spruce up the church grounds and reach out to those in need.  They packed lunches for the homeless, made cookies for PADS, did yard work for some senior parishioners, washed the pews you’re sitting in right now, painted the rectory porch, collected food for the food pantry, and quite a bit more.

As we are in the middle of our stewardship campaign right now, this is a good time to reflect with humility on the many gifts that we have been given, both individually and as a community.  How can we make a return to God for all that he has given us?  How can we share the love that he pours out on us daily?  The best we can do is to look at our resources and realize, with humility, that they are all gifts from God.  And then pray to know how we can best return a portion of our time, talent, and treasure to God that he alone might be glorified in all things.

As I said, this attitude is counter-cultural.  We want the places of honor at banquets and wherever we go; that’s just human nature.  We may not wear phylacteries or tassels when we come in to worship, but we are pleased when someone notices how wonderful is something that we have done.  And Jesus would have nothing of all this.

I don’t really think that Jesus was saying there shouldn’t be people we call “father” or “teacher” or “master.”  I think Jesus knew well that the world needs leaders.  But the message here is that those leaders must be the servants of all.  And so we need to reflect on how willing we have been to be servants.  Have we reached out to the poor in some way?  Have we given adequately of our time, talent and treasure for the mission of the Church?

We can see how Jesus modeled leadership in his own life.  Indeed, he is not asking us to do something he was unwilling to do himself.  When he said, “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” he was in a way foreshadowing what would happen to him.  Humbling himself to take up our cross – our cross – he would be exalted in the glory of the resurrection.

The good news is that glory can be ours too, if we would humble ourselves and lay down our lives for others.  If we stop treating the people in our lives as stepping stones to something better, we might reach something better than we can find on our own.  If we humble ourselves to feed the poor and needy, to reach out to the marginalized and forgotten, we might be more open to the grace our Lord has in store for us in the kingdom of heaven.

At this Mass, we have been invited to a very important banquet, and we ourselves are completely unworthy of being here.  And I include myself in that statement.  Yet, through grace, through the love of our God, we have been given an exalted place at the banquet table.  Realizing how great the gift is and how unworthy of it we are is a very humbling experience.  In that humility, we are called to go out and feed those who need to know how much God loves them.

For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

Monday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The leader of the synagogue had it all wrong, and he of all people should have known what was right.  God always intended the Sabbath day to be a day of rest, yes, but also of healing.  There is no way that we can rest if we are in need of healing.  The woman in the story was plagued by a demon that kept her bent over for eighteen years.  Some translations of this passage say that she was “bent double.”  So she wasn’t just slouched over or bent part way, but more like this, bent in half, for eighteen years!  For eighteen years she never had a moment’s rest from this demon.

We find great healing when we rest, and so the healing of a person who had been plagued for so long by a demon that she was bent over double from the weight of it, that healing had every right to take place on the Lord’s Day, the Sabbath Day of rest.  Who are we to decide when someone should be healed?  That grace comes from God, and the healing comes on his timetable, not ours.  The Sabbath has come and gone for us this week, but as we head into the workweek this day, it would be wonderful if we could take a moment to plan for the coming Sabbath day of rest.  We too are offered healing if we would rest in the Lord.

The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Time, Talent and Treasure

Today’s readings

Mike was one of my favorite people in the world.  He owned the service station where my family had, and still has, our cars repaired and maintained ever since we first moved out to the suburbs, almost forty years ago now.  Dad used to joke that with all the cars we brought in there over the years, we probably had ownership in at least the driveway by now.  Mike was the kind of guy who, if you brought your car in for a tune-up, would call you and say, “your car doesn’t really need a tune-up yet, so I’ll just change the oil and a couple of the spark plugs and you’ll be fine.”  He was honest and did great work, and it seemed like everyone knew him.  He taught that to a kid who came to work for him when he was just sixteen.  When Mike retired five years or so ago, Ted took over for him and runs the business just the way Mike taught him.

Mike was a regular at the 7am Mass on Sunday, and after his retirement was a pretty regular daily Mass-goer.  The church would sometimes ask him to help a person in need with car repairs.  This he did gladly; he was always ready to serve.  A couple of years ago, when Mike died, I took Mom to his wake.  It took us an hour and a half to get in to see him and his family, and it was like that all night long.  His funeral packed the parish church, and eight of us priests concelebrated the Mass.  Mike left his mark on our community in incredible ways, and nobody ever forgot it.

Today’s gospel reading speaks to us about what may be the hallmark of Christian life: love of God and love of neighbor.  This two-pronged approach to loving is what life is all about for us, it is, in fact, the way we are all called to live the Gospel.  The scholar of the law is testing Jesus to see if he can come up with a way to discredit him.  But Jesus’ answer is one that the scholar can’t take issue with.  There were over six hundred major and minor precepts in the Jewish law, but any scholar worth his salt knew that they all boiled down to love.  In fact, the first of the laws that Jesus quoted, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, mind and soul…” was once that so many students of the law had memorized, so this was not new ground for them.  What was new was putting the love of neighbor parallel to that law.

Today we begin our parish’s annual time, talent and treasure campaign for the strength of our parish.  This is the time when we parishioners of Notre Dame renew in our minds and in our hearts that love of God and love of neighbor are the first priority in our lives.  God is the One who gives us everything that we have and makes us everything that we are.  It is our special task in this life to use what we have been given and who we are and have become to give honor and glory to God.  Worship and prayer is the way that we come to love God.  Service and generosity are the ways that we show it.  That is the way of stewardship; that is the way of the Christian life.

In a couple of weeks, our Finance Council will give you details about our parish’s financial condition; you can also read about that in this week’s parish bulletin.  So today, I would just like to give some highlights.  We all understand that it takes money to run an organization.  Gifts received through the Sunday collection not only help with the utilities and day-to-day operations of the parish, but they also provide resources to continue to build and strengthen our many parish ministries and programs.

The budget for the fiscal year that will end on June 30, 2012 is $1.46 million.  This is a four percent decrease from the prior fiscal year.  What I hope you take away from this news is the following:  First, we are working hard to be financially sound and making decisions that make the best use of the dollars entrusted to the parish.  Second, we are forced to make cuts in our budget because we had a shortfall last year of about $91,000.  The only way we can fulfill our parish financial needs is with a commitment from everyone.  If we all do our part, we will be successful.

Some ask how much they should give.  The truth is that only you and your family can decide that; it looks different for every household.  I just ask that you prayerfully reflect on the blessings you have received and consider a meaningful increase.  If you have not participated in offertory giving, I ask you to prayerfully consider an investment of the salary you earn during the first hour of your work week.  Some people find that first hour on Monday morning to be challenging and difficult; wouldn’t it be great to have the motivation of offering that time to the Lord in gratitude for your many blessings?  Whatever you decide, I will not be asking you to return a commitment form this year.  We want to make things easier and trust that you will respond with great love.  So I just ask that you simply increase your offering as soon as you are able.

I also ask that all of you: adults, seniors, children, youth and young adults, all of you consider a meaningful contribution of your time and talent.  There are many wonderful ministries in our parish, and all of them would welcome some fresh blood and new energy.  We are in need of people to greet other people as they come in to Mass.  We can always use help with our religious education and youth ministry programs.  We are trying to revitalize our parish council and worship commission, and we could use people who love the Church to be part of those groups.  Our music ministry could always use more voices and instruments to glorify God in song.  If you are a couple who loves your marriage, we could use your passion to mentor engaged couples.  I’d like to start a health care ministry to help people monitor their blood pressure and learn how to take care of themselves, and occasionally look in on a sick parishioner to make sure their needs are being met.  And that’s just to name a few.

Our parish day of service is next Saturday.  This is a wonderful way to try some service with a limited time commitment, especially if you are not sure how God is calling you to serve.  Please stop in the narthex after Mass to sign up for one or more activities, and don’t forget to sign up to come to the dinner after the 5:00 Mass.  Tomorrow/today we’ll also hear from the Invisible Children and learn how we can reach out to those hurting across the globe.  Our love for God and neighbor can make a difference right here in Clarendon Hills and half way around the world.  Love has no limits!

I think that my friend Mike understood quite well why Jesus put love of God and love of neighbor at the top of those six hundred or so Jewish laws.  He knew the joy that came from being connected to a loving God, and made it his top priority to share that love with others any way he could.  Small acts, great faith, awesome generosity.  This is what it takes for the Church to continue to show God’s love to others.  My prayer is that we will all take time to reflect this week on how we can love God and our neighbor by generously returning a portion of our time, talent and treasure that God might be glorified in all things.  Thank you all for all that you do to make our parish as great as it is.  God bless you.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr

St. Ignatius was a convert to Christianity who eventually became the bishop of Antioch. During his time in Antioch, the Emperor Trajan began persecuting the Church there and forced people to choose between death and denying the faith. Ignatius would have none of that, so he was placed in chains and brought to Rome for execution. During the long journey, he wrote to many of the churches. These letters famously encouraged the Christians there to remain faithful and to obey their superiors.

Obedience was a strong theme for Ignatius, who was very concerned about Church unity. He felt that unity could best be achieved by all being obedient to the bishop and acting in harmony with one another, living the Gospel that had been proclaimed to them. Perhaps the most famous of his letters, though, was the final one in which he exhorted the Christians in Rome not to try to stop his execution. He said to them, “The only thing I ask of you is to allow me to offer the libation of my blood to God. I am the wheat of the Lord; may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ.”

Ignatius was that grain of wheat that fell to the ground and died, only to become a stalk that bore much fruit. We too must be willing to die to ourselves, letting go of hurts and the pains this life can bring us, so that we might merit the everlasting crown of heaven. Our martyrdom may not be bloody, but it is no less real, and we must be willing to suffer it in order to be with Christ. In today’s Eucharist, may we too be ready to offer the libation of pouring out our lives and being ground into the great wheat of the Body of Christ.

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We just finished hearing about the challenges and ministry of Jonah this past week.  Jonah, called to preach repentance to the Ninevites, finds that he would rather not, and so attempts to get away from God.  That, of course, doesn’t work because there is no where that God is not, so he ends up in the belly of a big fish for three days and nights, and is eventually disgorged in Nineveh to do the work he was called to do.  This he does, begrudgingly, and the people of Nineveh repent, to the praise and glory of God.

And today we hear that no sign will be given to the people of Jesus’ time except this sign of Jonah.  And that is true.  Jesus is called to preach repentance just like Jonah was, although, praise God, he does it willingly.  Jesus too will be covered over for three days and three nights, but this time in the tomb and not a fish.  He then is disgorged in the glory of the Resurrection to give the way to repentance, which some have done, to the praise and glory of God.  This is the only sign we need.

But Jesus berates the people because while the evil people of Nineveh repented, the Jews of Jesus’ day not so much.  The people of Nineveh didn’t have anything near as  great a prophet as Jesus is, and they repented, but the people of Jesus’ time did not.  And so history and eternity will be kinder to the Ninevites than to these people.

The Psalmist today sings that the Lord has made known his salvation.  This he has done, to the Ninevites, to the people of Jesus’ time, and to us.  Today we pray for the softening of our hearts so that we might repent of our wickedness in the way that the Ninevites did, and so have eternal life.

The Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I love it when the Gospel has a curious story in it because it’s fun then to peel back the layers of the story, kind of like an onion, and get at what’s inside.  Today’s Gospel story is just like that.

When our modern ears hear this parable, there are surely things that seem odd about it, aren’t there?  First of all, as the wedding banquet is finished, the guests have to be summoned to the feast.  But in those days, they probably had received a formal invitation previously, and then had to be let know when the feast was ready.  But then we come to this very curious issue of the invited guests not wishing to attend.  What could possibly be keeping them away.  Even if they weren’t thrilled by the invitation and honored to attend, you’d think they would show up anyway because of who it is that is inviting them.  You would think they would want to keep the king happy.

But they don’t respond that way, and so now the banquet is ready and the guests are well, unavailable shall we say…  So the king sends the messengers out to all the public places in order to invite whomever they find.  And who are they going to find?  Well, probably pretty much what you’d expect: peddlers, butchers, beggars, prostitutes, tax collectors, shop owners and shop lifters, the physically impaired and sick … in short, not the sort of people you’d expect to find at a king’s wedding banquet.

So, to me, it’s not all that shocking that one of them is not appropriately dressed for the banquet.  What is shocking is that the rest of them are, right?  Some biblical scholars have suggested that perhaps the king, knowing who was going to show up, may have provided appropriate attire, and that one person refused to put it on.  We don’t know if that’s the case but if it were true, we could all understand the king throwing that person out.

So what is this story really about?  Putting the parable in context, the banquet is the kingdom of God.  The distinguished invited guests are the people to whom Jesus addressed the parable: the chief priests and the elders of the people.  These have all rejected the invitation numerous times, and would now make that rejection complete by murdering the messenger, the king’s son, Christ Jesus.  Because of this, God would take the kingdom from them, letting them go on to their destruction, and offer the kingdom to everyone that would come, possibly indicating the Gentiles, but certainly including everyone whose way of life would have been looked down upon by the chief priests and elders: prostitutes, criminals, beggars, the blind and lame.  All of these would be ushered in to the banquet, being given the new beautiful wedding garment which is baptism, of course, and treated to a wonderful banquet, which is the Eucharist.  Those who further reject the king by refusing to don that pristine garment may indeed be cast out, but to everyone who accepts the grace given them, a sumptuous banquet awaits.

So guess who are the beggars, prostitutes, criminals, blind and lame?  If you’re thinking they are you and me, well, now you’re beginning to understand what Jesus is getting at.  Our sinfulness leaves us impoverished, and hardly worthy to attend the Banquet of the Lord.  It would only be just for our God to leave us off the invitation list.  But our God will do no such thing.  He washes us in the waters of baptism, brings us to the Banquet, and feeds us beyond our wildest imaginings

Today, Father Steve and I are continuing to unpack the new translation of the Mass which I think by now you probably know we are going to begin using on the first Sunday of Advent, which is November 27.  We were going to talk about the preface dialogue and the preface, but today’s readings are going to take us to a slightly different place.  So I have written about the preface dialogue in today’s bulletin.  If you want to know why we will be saying “and with your spirit” instead of “and also with you,” then be sure to check that column out.

Today we’ll talk about some of the prayers that come just before the preface, and some of these are prayers you don’t ever get to hear, because the priest is to say them in a low voice, and they are usually covered by the Offertory hymn.  These prayers are changing, too, and so you may notice, for a while, that we have to look at the book to say them, rather than by memory as we are able right now.

After the priest receives the bread and wine from those bringing forward the gifts, he offers them at the altar.  The prayers after that are the ones you hardly get to hear.  Having finished the offering, the priest bows profoundly, that is, from the waist, and prays:

With humble spirit and contrite heart
may we be accepted by you, O Lord,
and may our sacrifice in your sight this day
be pleasing to you, Lord God.

Which is a quote from the book of the prophet Daniel.  The priest then turns to the servers and they wash his hands as he prays:

Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

I thought about these two brief prayers in connection with today’s Gospel reading.  We approach the Lord with “humble spirit and contrite heart” which is exactly what the chief priests and elders did not do in the Gospel.  They thought that they had heaven in their grasp and that no one else did.  They felt like they had no need of repentance, no sins for which to be sorry.

We can’t be like them, or we’ll never be able to come to the banquet.  The prayers of the Church should always serve to remind us of who we are and why we are here.  We were meant for the banquet, but we weren’t dressed for it.  We have been given that beautiful garment at baptism, which gives us the right to sit at the table.  We just have to be open to receiving it.  We receive it knowing full well that we are in need of forgiveness and mercy.  The most important sacrifice we offer at Mass is always the sacrifice of our lives, of our hearts, giving ourselves completely to our God who gives us everything.  And in return, he gives us everything back.

We are blessed to be able to come to the Supper of the Lamb.  And in the moments during the offering of the gifts, maybe we can take time to be aware of offering ourselves and our hearts, coming before the Lord with humble spirits and contrite hearts.