Thursday, October 30, 2014

I think today’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a good one for us to hear. How often are we beset by all the frustrations of the world, and all of the sadness that our own lives can sometimes bring? I’m not saying that every day is horrible, but we all go through times when it seems like it’s too much, like one more phone call and we’ll explode.

And to all of that today, St. Paul advises us to “put on the armor of God.” Because when things go wrong, we have two choices. We can go to pieces, wondering where is God when we really need him, getting angry with God, ourselves, and others, and lashing out at anyone and everyone in our lives. Or, we can realize that what God allows he doesn’t necessarily wish on us. We can join ourselves to him, and draw our strength and courage from the Lord himself, knowing that he walks with us in good times and in bad.

Because we know which one the devil himself would choose for us, right? That evil one wants to use the trying times to drive a wedge between God and us. And we need strength to guard against that “evil day.” And so, St. Paul tells us, “In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the Evil One.” And that shield, he says, is prayer: “With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.” Prayer and faith are the armor we need to get through the trying times of life without falling victim to the evil one.

Sometimes life can feel like a war, but as the Psalmist says today, “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.” Our stronghold is that whatever life brings us, we are never alone. Never.

Monday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

“Loose lips sink ships.” That’s a saying that I learned somewhere in my early elementary school life. I don’t think I fully understood what it meant at the time – all I appreciated was that it told me to keep my mouth shut. But as I’ve lived and matured, I know very well that frivolous talk can be hurtful and even dangerous. Our gift of speech is an important one: through it we communicate with each other and it is the basis of our being able to work and live in society. But using speech in the wrong way can cause a whole host of problems. We’ve all probably been in the midst of that in some way at some time in our lives.

And so Saint Paul’s words to the Ephesians are probably good ones for us to hear today:

Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you,
as is fitting among holy ones,
no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place…

All of us, who are called to be God’s holy ones, have a very important responsibility to use our gift of speech wisely. We must not engage in idle, frivolous, or even obscene speech, because this is out of place for those who follow the Lord. But what I think is so important is what Saint Paul says needs to be on the lips of God’s holy ones – and that is thanksgiving.

Big deal, right, of course we can speak about thanksgiving. But the Greek word that is translated “thanksgiving” here is eucharistia – and we all know what that means. The Eucharist – which is our thanksgiving – is always to be on our lips. So that’s the lens by which we ought always to view the words we say: are our words Eucharist? Are they thanksgiving? Because those are the only words we need to be saying.

The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Time/Talent/Treasure

Today’s readings

One of our parishioners showed me some pictures yesterday of the new chapel at my alma mater, Mundelein Seminary. The chapel has stained glass windows that depict various saints of the New Evangelization, and the one that stood out for me was that of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Maximilian is a modern saint, a Franciscan priest who was captured during the Nazi occupation of Poland, and eventually brought to Auschwitz. One day there, a prisoner escaped, and so in retribution, the commandant intended to execute ten men. He walked among them as they were lined up in the compound and randomly selected ten of them. One of them was a man who had a wife and children, so Maximilian volunteered to take his place. The commandant asked “what about you?” to which Maximilian replied, “I am a priest.” Because the regime at the time was striving to eliminate all the leaders of the people, Maximilian’s request was granted, and he died in the starvation chamber some three months later.

I thought about Saint Maximilian when I was reflecting on today’s Gospel reading, because it strikes me that Maximilian, like all the other saints really, knew how to live the commandments of Jesus in that reading. The Pharisees are testing Jesus again, asking him perhaps the most argued question in all of Jewish scholarship: which commandment of the Law is the greatest? Jesus’ response was hard to argue with: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Indeed that was a line, from the book of Deuteronomy, that every good Jew memorized and honored. But Jesus goes them one better: “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This command, from the book of Leviticus, is a reminder that genuine love of God is demonstrated by a genuine love of others. This is a love that Saint Maximilian had for God and the people he served, including his fellow prisoners at Auschwitz.

I think if we wanted to boil down the mandate of the Gospel, and really all of the Scriptures, we would be pretty safe to focus on loving God and loving our neighbor. We love because God has loved us first; his love shows us how to love him and love others, and even how to love ourselves. When we have been loved so greatly, the only appropriate response is love in return. That’s the whole attitude of stewardship, and stewardship of our time, talent and treasure is what I’m here to discuss today.

This year, as we renew our stewardship of time, talent and treasure, I have two asks of you. The first is that of time and talent. Giving of our time and talent is an important way to show our love of God and neighbor. This is where we walk the talk of the Gospel. And giving of our time and talent is a true sacrifice. We are all busy people, and our families are busy. But setting aside just a little time to give to others helps us not only to show God’s love but also to receive God’s love. And you probably know what I mean: whenever we take time to be with others, we are often rewarded far beyond what we feel like we’ve given.

This year, we have a couple of opportunities to give of our time and talent. The first is on our weekend of service, which is the 15th and 16th of November this year. We have little acts of service around the parish campus, but also some great new projects this year. We have some outreach opportunities to help the Little Sisters of the Poor at their home for the elderly poor in Palatine, and also to help feed the families at the Ronald McDonald house at Loyola. We are scheduling activities through the weekend, in the hope that everyone can find something that fits their schedule. Sign up sheets are in the narthex today, and will be there for the next couple of weeks.

Another opportunity is for some ongoing needs here at the parish. In the letter you received from me this past week, there was a little flier with a few of the most needed volunteer positions here. They include sacristans, who take time to clean the church and the linens and liturgical vessels, staffing the information desk, helping with PADs and some others. Most of these opportunities require only occasional service – the more hands, the easier the overall effort. As Scott Marshall said a couple of weeks ago here, we’re not looking for one person to put in 80 hours, but more like 80 people to put in an hour or so to build up our community and reach out to others. Please reflect on how you can set aside a few hours of your time now and then to build up the body of Christ.

The second ask I have is for support of the Sunday collection. The letter you received this past week asked for your increased financial support. The Sunday collection is the sole source of funding for all the daily operations of our parish: everything from keeping the lights on, to having staff here to serve our parishioners and the community, to educating the next generation of Catholics in our School and Religious Education programs. A couple of weeks ago Scott Marshall or Tim French – depending on which Mass you attended – spoke about our financial situation. That report was made available in our bulletin and can be found in the archived bulletins on our website. This year we are focusing on doing everything possible to use our parish funds wisely to support the daily operations of the parish and school, and also to keep the parish and school facilities in good order to serve our community’s needs in the future.

Once again, I’m not asking one or a few people to give a lot more money, but more that I am asking everyone, especially those who have not given regularly, to give a little something more. Every family’s situation is different – I know that. And I respect where you are and appreciate what you can do. I’ve received a few notes just this past week from faithful parishioners who are doing what they can and can’t do more for various reasons. I want you to know that I read every one of those letters, and that I appreciate them. I keep all of you in my prayers every day and if there’s something I can pray for to help you or your family, I appreciate knowing about it.

Saint Maximilian’s love for God and neighbor, very much like Jesus’ love for his Father and for all of us, was radical. They literally gave their lives for us. We are called to that same kind of holy love, we are called to give of ourselves and lay down our lives for love of God and neighbor. Stewardship of our time, talent and treasure is an important way to live that kind of love. God bless you all for all that you do for our parish and our community!

Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Have you ever seen a fig tree? I haven’t. But I can tell you I’d be pretty frustrated if I had cared for a fig tree for three years and never saw one bit of fruit. I think we could all understand the man wanting his gardener to cut the tree down and give the good soil to some other plant. Having nourished the plant and watered it and put in hours pruning it and doing all the things it takes to care for a tree, nothing has come of it. Time to get rid of it and move on.

And so, one could certainly understand if God would turn out to be just like that frustrated man. Having cared for, fed, nurtured, guided and corrected us sinners, when we don’t bear fruit, certainly in his frustration, God would be justified in blotting us out and never giving us a second thought.

But God is not the frustrated man in the parable, is he? No, God is the gardener, the one who has really done all the work of nurturing, and he is amazingly patient. The gardener says of the tree, “leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.” And so God is with all of us. God gives us another chance, even when we’ve had so many chances before, even when it seems like we just aren’t worth the trouble. But God is patient.

And we are better than fig trees. We know enough to respond to the nurturing of our God. Our prayer today leads us to reflect on those ways in which we have borne fruit, and those times that we have been fruitless. We are being cultivated and fertilized yet again at this Mass, so may we be fruitful in the days and years to come.

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In our overly-litigious society, Jesus’ words that we are to make an effort to settle the matter on the way are a good call to refocus.  This call shifts the emphasis from winning to healing, and it calls us to do some hard things.  In order to settle the matter, we will have to communicate and be open to the fact that we may be in the wrong.  If we are open to settling things the way Jesus would have us do it, we might find ourselves growing in maturity and faith, and becoming better people in the process.

But even that is not the primary focus of today’s Gospel reading. Jesus begins by chiding the crowds for failing to interpret the signs of the times. Time is short, he says, and we don’t have forever to come to repentance, we don’t have forever to fix our broken relationships, we don’t have forever to set wrong things right. Now is the time, because the time for salvation is nearer now than it ever was.

We would do well to hear this same message. We need to be about the business of setting things right, fixing relationships, settling long-standing arguments, because the time for salvation is near. What if the return of our Lord finds us mired deep in age-old hurts, resentments, and feuds. God forbid.

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Some people would say that Jesus was a peaceful man. Saying that is really misunderstanding Jesus and who he was. Because peace wasn’t necessarily his primary interest, at least not peace in the way that we would probably define it.

Because sometimes I think we misread what peace is supposed to be. We might sell peace short and settle for the absence of conflict. Or even worse, we may settle for peace at any price, swallowing our disagreements and never coming close to true healing in our relationships. There are families in which never a harsh word would be said, but the underlying hostility is palpable. There are workplaces in which there are never any arguments, but there is also never any cooperative work done. Sometimes there are relationships where fear replaces love and respect.

And this is not the kind of peace that Jesus would bring us today. This is the One who came to set the earth on fire, and his methods for bringing us to peace might well cause division in the here and now. But there is never any resurrection if we don’t have the cross. And so there will never be any peace if we don’t confront what’s really happening. The fire may need to be red hot and blazing if there is ever to be any regrowth.

And so today we have to stop settling for a peace that really isn’t so peaceful. We may just have to have that hard conversation we’ve been trying to avoid. Of course, we do it with love for our brothers and sisters, but out of love we also don’t avoid it. We have to work for true healing in all of our relationships. May all of our divisions lead to real peace!

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It has often struck me that, the economy of our nation and the world being as precarious as it is, that being rich in what matters to God is more important than ever. With all the bad news out there – financial news, political news, news of epidemic diseases, war and terrorism, who among us hasn’t had the sinking feeling that this world’s riches are nothing at time but straw?

So you’d think that these times of uncertainty, people would be coming to Church, reconnecting with their God, and drawing strength from their faith, building up those riches that are from God. But you’d be wrong. All you have to do is look around and see that Mass attendance is nothing like it was in the past, that there are too many empty spaces in the pews.

In some ways it strikes me that we are quickly losing our faith, or even worse, that we as a society are becoming indifferent to faith, seeing it as irrelevant or ultimately meaningless. At a time in our history when we should be returning to God in droves, people instead are staying away in droves.

And it’s hard to live through uncertain times without faith. How can we ride the ups and downs of life with anything close to tranquility without the rock that is our faith? Instead we as a society seem content to look to the government to save us, while we continue to practice unprecedented greed. And to all of that, God warns us: we may just find ourselves wanting in what matters to God. If our lives were demanded of us this day, would we find ourselves rich or poor?