Thursday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Every now and then, in the Liturgy of the Word, we hear words that have directly influenced our prayers in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Today is such an occasion.  Just before we receive Holy Communion, I will elevate the host and the chalice and say: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.  Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”  These words are directly influenced by the last line of the first reading this morning.  Here John the Revelator is told to write down specific words:

Blessed are those who have been called
to the wedding feast of the Lamb.

And we all long to be on that invitation list, don’t we?  If not, we certainly should.  Here we will be brought in and given everything we need: at this banquet no one goes hungry, no one is left out, no one is unimportant.  At this banquet, Christ, the Lamb of God, is united most perfectly to his bride, the Church.  Here, all who have been called to the wedding feast are drawn up into the very life of God and are united with God in all perfection.

This is the goal of all our lives, and we get there by following the example of the saints, and by giving our life over to our Lord, the Lamb of God, who came that we might have eternal life in all its perfection and abundance.  In these last days of the Church year, Holy Mother Church reminds us where we’re going so that, should we have strayed from the path, we might make amends and correct our course.

Because not showing up at the wedding feast of the Lamb has eternal consequences.  And forfeiting eternal happiness with all the blessed ones is absolutely unthinkable.

Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.”

The Psalmist, as he often does, helps us to express what’s in our hearts in these closing days of the Church year.  All of our spiritual journeying through the year has been, or at least it should have been, with the goal of seeing God’s face one day in eternity.  That, says the Psalmist, is the reward of blessing for which the sinless, clean-hearted one waits.

John’s Revelation in the first reading is the vision that continues to promise this great reward.  Here John gets a peek at the heavenly glory, that glory at which the hundred and forty-four thousand stand in awe.  Not that God limits reward to a mere hundred and forty-four thousand souls, but it’s supposed to represent a huge number, and the number is symbolic.  Twelve was a number that represented the whole known world: twelve being all of the tribes of Israel, if you recall.  So it’s the number of tribes in the world, times twelve, times a thousand!  A huge number that almost no one can count.

As the spiritual song goes, we sure want to be in that number.  And so as the year comes to a close, we must take stock of how close we are to seeing God’s face.  If our longing for heavenly reward has not been our number one priority this year, then it’s time to get serious in the year ahead.  There are any number of earthly rewards that are nice to have.  But they will all pass away.  Only heavenly glory will give us eternal happiness, and we need to strive with all our heart and soul to get it.

The coming of Advent next week gives us the opportunity to repent of our sins, to work on our prayer and spiritual lives, to reach out to the needy, to do everything we can to seek God’s face, that is, to strengthen our relationship with him.  We need to be longing to put habits in place that will lead us to God’s grace.  We need to be longing to create a spirit in ourselves that leads us to peace with others.  We need to be longing to see God’s face.  Because no other reward is as wonderful as that!

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate the great feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe.  It’s one of those feasts that I think we can say, yeah, okay, I believe that.  But it really doesn’t affect me.  I mean, we don’t even have the political reference of being ruled by a king any more.  Not only that, I think we as a society have pretty much bracketed the whole idea of authority.  Basically if an authority gives us permission to do whatever we want, then fine, he or she can be in authority.  But the minute that authority tries to limit us in any way, then whoa: hang on a minute.

Yet there are times when we do want an authority.  Whenever we are wronged, we want an authority to give us justice.  Whenever we are in danger, we want an authority to bring us peace.  Whenever we are in need, we want an authority to bring us fulfillment.  But other than when we need something, we hardly ever seek any kind of authority.  Certainly not as a society, and if we’re being honest, not as individuals.  As an example, take the days after the tragedy of 9-11.  Our whole world was shattered.  I wasn’t here then, but I would be willing to bet the old church was filled to overflowing; I know my home parish was.  In those days, we wanted an authority to bring us peace and comfort and rest.  But now that we’re eleven years on the other side of it, look around.  Not so many people in the pews, right?  If Christ was the authority then, what makes him less of an authority now?  We certainly did not come through those harrowing days with our own feeble efforts, but when we don’t have buildings crashing down around us, we don’t seem to remember that.

Still, the Church gives us this important feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe to remind us that there is an authority.  Christ is King in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.  Christ is king of the Universe and king of our own lives.  And if that’s true, we have to be ready to live that way.  So no, we can’t just do whatever we want.  And no, just because we believe something with all our hearts, that doesn’t make it truth.  And no, the idea of living according to our conscience doesn’t mean that it’s okay as long as it works for me.  The world would have us believe that, but the world will one day come to an end.  If we want the possibility of eternity, then we have to be open to the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe!

In today’s first reading, we have the promise of the king: one like a son of man with an everlasting dominion.  This part of the book of Daniel comes from a series of visions. In these visions, particularly the one we have today, Daniel gives the Jews hope in persecution.  This is a vision that is spoken to lift the people up and help them to know that their hope is in God.  The Jews of his day have been being persecuted by the Greek tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanes IV.  He and his henchmen were certainly persecuting the Jews who insisted on living the Jewish way of life.  But what is even more evil and more disastrous to the community, is that some of the Jews were starting to think that giving up their way of life and instead worshiping the gods of the Greeks was a good idea.  They figured if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  So, why not give up their own faith to follow one that seems to be working better?  The biggest danger they faced was losing their faith to the pagans by adopting pagan ways of life.

We clearly are not under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, but we are definitely in danger of losing our faith to the pagan forces of this world.  And there are so many seductive ways that pagan forces weasel their way into our lives and tempt us to give in to their power over us.  Relativism and intolerance for Catholic values seem to be winning more souls every day.  Everything that promises us power, success and wealth has the ability to take our hearts and souls with it.  Why not just give in?  Won’t paganism and evil win out in the end?

Well, Daniel sure didn’t think so. He prophesied that there would be one like a Son of Man who would triumph over Antiochus and others like him.  This One would deliver them from the persecution they suffered and from the seduction that confronted them.  This One would rule the world in justice and peace, and would lead the persecuted ones to a kingdom that would never pass away.

The early Church identified this Son of Man with Jesus Christ.  He is the One who has power to rule over all and he is the One whose kingdom is everlasting.  He even referred to himself as the Son of Man, and made it clear that he was the Son of Man who would suffer for the people.  He came to deliver those first Christians from persecution with the promise that he would indeed come again, and that same promise is made to us as well.

But the problem was, he didn’t return right away.  People lost faith, gave in to persecution, and just went with the powerful forces of the day.  The delay in his return led some to believe that he was not returning, and so they should just do what seemed expedient.  Why not go with the victorious pagan forces of the world? Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?

As we end this liturgical year and take a look back, maybe we can see some areas for improvement in our lives.  Much like the resolutions we may make January 1st, we may be able to make some resolutions for our spiritual lives in the coming liturgical year.  I don’t mean losing weight or getting more exercise: those you can make in the new calendar year.  But maybe in this liturgical year we could resolve to pray more or work for justice and peace, or reach out to the needy, or truly witness to the faith and live what we believe.  If we were to make some constructive resolutions for our spiritual lives, we could begin to take away the hold the pagan forces in our world have on us.  We could even proclaim with our lives that Christ is our King, personally, and also King of the Universe.

Jesus told Pilate in today’s Gospel that his Kingdom was not of this world.  That should be the red flag for us.  When we begin to worship and follow the forces of this world, we know that we are in the wrong place.  Christ is the King, the Son of Man, who will lead us to a kingdom not made by human hands, a kingdom that will not pass away, a kingdom of justice and peace, a kingdom of love and mercy, a kingdom of grace and comfort, a kingdom of eternal beauty and unfathomable joy.  The choice is ours, though.  Will we follow the pagan forces of this world, or will we follow Our Lord Jesus Christ the King to that perfect and everlasting kingdom, not of this world that will certainly pass away, but the kingdom of eternity and the live of heaven?

Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service

Readings: 1 Kings 8:55-61; Ephesians 1:3-14; Luke 17:11-19

Earlier this week, my sister emailed me pictures of a storybook that my niece, Molly, wrote for a second grade school project.  It was a story about an unnamed boy and girl – who were certainly the author and her older brother Danny!  The boy and the girl were having a discussion, and later an argument, about what they wanted to be when they grew up.  At some point, they were called to dinner, and the table was set with their favorite meal: pizza and fries.  I briefly wondered what my sister had been giving the kids for dinner, but since I’m not a parent, I let it pass.  They both enjoyed the meal and cleaned their plates and the boy said, “I want more.”  He didn’t get more, of course, but the girl did.  She asked nicely and thanked her mother, then she told her brother, “Use your manners.”  The really scandalous part of this exchange is that I’ve heard the real girl demand more at the table without using her manners on more than one occasion!

Molly’s story came to mind when I was mulling over the Gospel for this evening.  Because in some ways this story is deeply scandalous.  That nine believers – people who should have known how to use their manners – failed to express their gratitude over a miracle that literally gave them back the life that leprosy took away from them is unthinkable.  I’m almost willing to cut them a little slack, because when you look closely at the story, Jesus really didn’t say or do anything indicative of healing – all he did was say “Go show yourselves to the priests.  Now, it was the priests’ job to take care of ritual purity, but I’m guessing they had seen priests about their illness in the past and obviously had not been healed.  So I can see how they would have been confused, frustrated, and maybe even a little angry at Jesus’ response.  But they absolutely could not have been confused about the fact that they had been healed.  And yet the only one who thought to give thanks and praise to God was a Samaritan – a foreigner and a religious outcast who wasn’t expected to know the religious etiquette that one should follow.

What may in fact be most scandalous for us, of course, is that this story, like so many Gospel vignettes, can be a bit like looking into a mirror.  How often have we been oblivious to the grace that has taken us out of a bad situation?  How often have we forgotten to “use our manners” and give God the thanks and praise, which he is due? So the tug of the Gospel here is not just that we look at the story and give that Samaritan a pat on the back and a “shame on you” to the other nine.  The tug of the Gospel is that we would hear the message and use it as a lens to examine our lives, and a framework for reforming our lives.    Like the Samaritan, we are called to bring Jesus our need for healing, and to receive what’s given to us in the spirit in which it is offered.  Then, of course, we are called to give God thanks and praise, with all our heart and soul.

Bringing Jesus our need for healing may be the hardest part.  First off, we have to know that we need healing and we need to be ready to accept it the way we get it.  Then we have to trust God to do it.  God is not too small to deal with the issues that confront us, nor is he too big to care about them.  Too often, I think we really don’t ask for enough from God.  Not that we don’t come to him with countless petitions, some of which, quite frankly, it’s a good thing if we don’t get them.  God is not, after all, a genie in a bottle who goes about granting all of our wishes.  Contrary to what some may think, our prosperity in this life isn’t necessarily at the top of God’s priority list, especially if that’s not what he thinks would be helpful to our salvation.

But I think the problem can be that we don’t ask for enough: we don’t ask for grace to grow in holiness, motivation to eradicate patterns of sin, the courage to become saints, or the faith to move mountains.  I think we get too comfortable with life the way it is, and besides, those things scare us, and so we often don’t trust God enough to give us what he wants for us, to give us that which would make us really, truly happy.

But what if we had the courage of the ten lepers and were to name our need and cry out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” – what would happen then?  Maybe then, if we’re attentive enough, we might see spiritual growth, realize the Lord’s presence as we walk through life, and truly become a thankful people.  I guess I’m hoping that there’s somewhat better of a one-in-ten shot at it; that we as believers would be more willing to attribute the miracle to God rather than our own efforts or some kind of cosmic serendipity.  Because people in need of healing must always be ready to be grateful.  And it’s amazing what gratitude does for your spiritual life.

Grateful people live differently.  Grateful people look for the blessing in every moment, they hunt for the grace constantly at work in their lives.  They are like radios which are powered on so that they can receive the broadcast.  When you’re grateful, it’s amazing how much more you seem to be blessed.  Only it’s not necessarily that you’re blessed more; instead it’s that you’re more aware of the blessing.  Thankful people are happier with their lives, because they’re simply more aware of what God is doing, how God is leading them, and they feel the touch of God’s hand leading them through life.  Being grateful is a choice, but it’s a choice worth making, it’s a choice that makes our lives richer and more beautiful every day.

So how do we become thankful people.  As I mentioned, gratitude is a choice, so I think it’s something we have to do intentionally.  A good spiritual practice is to spend some time at the end of every day reflecting on the day gone by.  Think about all the events and encounters of the day, and particularly note the ones that have been blessed in some way.  When have you experienced an interaction that was far more pleasant than you’d expected?  Or when did someone say just the thing you needed to hear?  When were you able to accomplish something that you never thought you could or be in the right place to help someone at the right time?  Then, like the Samaritan, fall at the feet of Jesus and thank him.

Thanksgiving should not simply be a one-day-a-year event for us.  The believer’s life should be regularly marked by thanksgiving.  We, after all, worship a God who, as Solomon says in our first reading, keeps his promises.  We are the ones, as Saint Paul reminds us, have been consecrated, set aside for redemption by the Blood of our Lord.  We have every reason to be thankful, and we know how to “use our manners.”  May the grace of giving thanks find us growing in blessing every day of our lives.

Friday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We sure have some scary readings today, don’t we?  They’re talking about floods, and fire and brimstone raining from the sky, and someone taken and another left behind.  That’s pretty scary stuff when you stop to think about it.  But I want you to remember this: we don’t ever have to be afraid, because we always have Jesus.  And that’s a huge point.  If you read readings like this and you don’t know the rest of the story of the Gospel, it would be scary.  But we know that Jesus loved us enough to come and save us from our sins, and so floods and fire and brimstone might be scary, but we know that we can be spared all things like that if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  Do we have to be afraid?  No.  Why?  Because we always have Jesus.

The readings that we get toward the end of the year like this are wrapping up the story.  We are also wrapping up the Church’s liturgical year and in a couple of weeks we’ll start a new liturgical year, so the Church wants us to hear some of the readings that talk about the end of time.  Readings like this can be scary because they talk about how people were persecuted over time, or about how God wants sin to come to an end.  Or like in the Gospel today, it talks about how people might miss the second coming of Jesus because they’re so wrapped up in themselves.  But if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we don’t have to worry about missing his second coming, because we’ll be right there to see it.  Do we have to be afraid?  No.  Why?  Because we always have Jesus.

You may also have heard some people talk about the ancient calendar developed by the Mayan people centuries ago.  If you have, then you know that calendar stops on December 23rd of this year, and so many people are thinking that means this is the end of time.  Is that true?  Probably not.  Jesus always told us that there’s no way we’d ever know the exact time that he would return; that the only one who knows is God the Father.  So the Mayans aren’t so special that they would know something only God the Father knows.  People are afraid of this, but we don’t have to be.  We’ll never miss the coming of the Lord if we’re always keeping our eyes fixed on him.  Do we have to be afraid?  No.  Why?  Because we always have Jesus.

The point is that God is good.  He made us so that we could be with him forever.  He is not going to abandon us.  The only way we’ll get left out of a relationship with him is if we choose to walk away.  But if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we’ll always be able to rely on God’s goodness.  Do we have to be afraid?  No.  Why?  Because we always have Jesus.

Thursday of the Twenty-second 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 must not miss the Kingdom of God among us.  We have to stop being so wrapped up in ourselves and our concerns 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.  They Mayan calendar and its lack of dates beyond December 23rd of this year are not meaningful prophetic signs for us.  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.  And found ready, may we all go together to eternal life.

Saint Josaphat, bishop and martyr

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Josaphat, who was born in what is now Poland to Orthodox parents.  He later became a Basilian monk, and was chosen bishop of Vitebsk, in what is now Russia.  His task was to bridge the divide between the Roman and Orthodox Church, but this was not easy, because the Orthodox monks did not want union with Rome; they feared interference in liturgy and customs.  But over time, using synods and other instruction, he was able to win many of the Orthodox in that area to the union.

But the fight was far from over.  A dissident faction of the church was formed, and they fomented opposition to Josaphat.  Eventually the mob murdered him and threw his body into a river.  The body was recovered and is now buried in St. Peter’s basilica.  Josaphat is the first saint of the Eastern Church to be canonized by Rome.

Josaphat had an insurmountable task to accomplish.  But he had faith that God would give him what he needed to accomplish the mission.  Jesus calls us to have faith even the size of a mustard seed, in order that we might accomplish insurmountable tasks in his name.  We may have to give more than we know in order to accomplish our calling.  But by faith, God can use us to do mighty deeds.   Through the intercession of St. Josaphat, let us face the impossible.