The Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

As the current political season heats up in these late summer days, I find that it can be very easy to be dismayed. Every candidate, every bit of legislation, everything that comes at us is so disheartening. There is almost a complete rejection of the sanctity of life, there is very little concern for the poor and those in need, so much game playing and entitlement. And then add to that all the civil unrest in our society, the rampant crime, and constant threat of terror. This is most definitely a time of persecution. So it could well be that we are tempted to despair, to shake our heads and try to avoid hearing about it all.

But we are called to live differently as Christian disciples.  Despair is not an option for us; we have the hope of the Gospel, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the promise of eternity.  So the question that we have is, how do we live through all the sadness of the world around us, not to mention the sadness in our own lives, while we wait for all those promises to be fulfilled?  The virtue that gets us through that is called fortitude, something we don’t talk about often enough, but something that has real value for our spiritual lives.

The Church’s Catechism tells us that “Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.” (CCC, 1808) Jesus puts it even more succinctly in today’s Gospel: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” He wants us to be a people on fire, a people who will not waver in our pursuit of living the Gospel, a people who will not back down in the face of obstacles or even oppression, a people who live their faith joyfully and with firm conviction that our God is trustworthy and faithful. The Christian believer is called to exercise the virtue of fortitude because nothing else is worthy of our God.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of fortitude today.  Speaking of Jesus, “the leader and perfecter of our faith,” he says:

For the sake of the joy that lay before him

he endured the cross, despising its shame,

and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.

Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners,

in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. 

In your struggle against sin

you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.

Resisting the opposition in our society and in our lives to the point of shedding blood is the kind of fortitude that we as disciples need to live in our lives.  It’s a tall order!

Nobody says fortitude is easy. Jesus himself was very realistic about this, and warns us today that fortitude in living the Christian life can be a very divisive way of life. The disciple can and will run into all sorts of oppression, and can even lead to broken relationships with those who are close to us. If that Gospel calls upon us to take an unpopular position, and speak up on behalf of the poor, the alien, the prisoner, or a pro-life issue, we may find that even some of our friends or family cannot go there with us. Being a Christian can make us feel like foreigners in our own land. And we are foreigners, because for those of us who are first of all citizens of God’s kingdom, Jesus’ vision and values come first. All because Jesus has come to set a blazing fire on the earth and that fire, to some extent, already burns in us.

Today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews makes it clear that we aren’t running the race alone. We have at our disposal the support and encouragement of a “great cloud of witnesses” which the Church calls the Communion of Saints. They may be the official saints of the Church, or other saintly people we have known or do know who intercede for us in our struggle of faith.  These are men and women who have suffered much and overcome much in pursuit of the kingdom of God. This great cloud of witnesses cheers us on, is an example for us, and is part of God’s way of helping us to live lives marked by fortitude.  If we didn’t have the example of that great cloud of witnesses, the call to fortitude would surely be insurmountable.

Very often on the journey of discipleship, we may find that the oppression and division that the Gospel causes casts us down.  Think about the loved ones you have called to live the faith, come to Mass, make good decisions, and have rejected that call.  Like poor Jeremiah in today’s first reading, maybe we find that we have been thrown into a cistern of despair or hopelessness. All that sadness I mentioned in the beginning of my homily can be like that. Fortitude is the virtue that helps us in the midst of all that, to wait with faithfulness on someone like Ebed-melech the Cushite to come to our rescue and draw us up out of the pit.

The truth is, today’s Liturgy of the Word can come across as very negative. Who wants to hear about being cast into a cistern? Are we eager to find that we are going to be in angry division with people close to us? The temptation to let all of this go in one ear and out the other, remaining instead in the comfort of our luke-warmness is almost overwhelming. But that’s just not good enough. We can’t live that way and still call ourselves disciples. It is not enough to love God in our heads. We need to be on fire, actively living the graces of baptism that we have received – to live with fortitude, integrity, conviction, fervor, and burning zeal. We have to be willing to live in the shadow of the cross, where we resolve all our divisions and receive the baptism that promotes Gospel peace.

Friday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

God never forgets how much he loves us.  If this weren’t so, none of us would be in existence.  God loves us into life and loves us through our life and one day, if we let him, will love us into eternal life.  The people of Israel had to know this better than anyone.  In today’s first reading, Joshua gathers the people for a reminder.  God had called and given them the promise through Abraham.  Throughout the years, he dispelled all their enemies and especially the Egyptians who subjected them to abject slavery.  He also gave them a future and a city to dwell in: land they had not tilled and cities they had not built.  All of this because he loved them.

The question the Pharisees asked Jesus in the Gospel today had nothing to do with love, which is odd because it was a question about marriage.  Or, actually, the converse of marriage: divorce.  They were asking not because they wanted to know about how to love better in their relationships, but rather because they were trying to trick Jesus into some Moses-bashing.  But Jesus has none of that, reminding them of the indissolubility of love.

Many things can be forgotten.  God forgets things all the time – namely, our sins when we confess them.  But love can never be forgotten.  God never forgets how much he loves us because God is love itself, and we dare not forget how much we love him, and because we love him, how much we love one another.  That love may require all kinds of forgetting: forgetting past hurts, forgetting resentments, forgetting what we think we deserve.  

May we all forget what we have to so that love is the only thing we can remember, and may we all go together, one day, to eternal life.

Tuesday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I once heard it said that you’re only a child once, but you can be childish your whole life long!  I don’t think that Jesus wants us to be childish today, but certainly he is calling us to be more child-like.

Jesus tells us today that we must become like children if we wish to enter the kingdom of heaven. Now when I stop to think about that, I wonder what it is about children that makes them so eligible for the kingdom. Anyone who’s spent quality time with a bunch of three year olds, or has been a substitute teacher for some sixth graders, knows that children aren’t righteous in and of themselves. So if it’s not that they are so pure, what is it that makes them heirs of the kingdom?

One thing about children – at least before they become teenagers – is that they are absolutely dependent on their parents or guardians. They can’t do much of their own power, so they depend on adults to give them what they need. I think this is the crux of what Jesus is getting at today.

Because so often we adults feel like we are supposed to handle everything ourselves. And we need to come to two very important realizations. The first is that we can’t do everything ourselves, and the second is that we’re not supposed to. We can’t because we simply don’t have the power. And that’s not a defect, it’s by design, and that’s why it’s important to realize that we’re not supposed to do everything ourselves. Only when we come to this point can we then turn and become like little children before our God who longs to nurture us into the kingdom of heaven.

God refuses to let any of his little ones to be lost. No shepherd worth his salt would leave 99 sheep alone to go out in search of one. But God does, because every single one of his little ones is important, every one of them was created for the kingdom of heaven. He goes out to look for those who are lost, and when they are lost they are most like children, needing God to show them the way. And he does show them the way. What is it in us that needs to change so that we can become more like children before our loving God?

The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Wow.  If ever there was a frightening Gospel reading, I think we just heard it!  All this talk about beating the menservants and the maidservants, and the hope of being beaten “only lightly.”  Yikes.  Even the whole notion of the Son of Man coming at an hour we do not expect is pretty concerning.  We almost want to close the cover of the book, back away slowly, and say, “then who can be saved?”  But I promise this reading is really good news.

I think we need the good news that this Gospel reading brings us these days.  With major mass shootings happening so very often – two of them last weekend, with families ripped apart as we struggle as a nation with defense of our borders versus welcoming those in need, with politicians vying with each other to see who is the most pro-choice, pro-abortion candidate, with the very dire effects of climate change that we are seeing lately, well, again, we almost want to turn off the television, close the newspaper, back away slowly and say, “then who can be saved?”  In these days we need the good news that there is something eternal and awesome and worth living for.

Listen to the opening line of the Gospel again: Jesus says to his disciples, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”  That is a revelation so glorious that it should have us up dancing in the aisles, praising God, and throwing a huge party.  Think about it: the Father is pleased to give us the kingdom.  The whole thing.  Doesn’t cost us a cent.  All of it is ours!  If there was ever any good news to share, this is it.  It’s better than a huge promotion at work, it’s even better than winning the lottery.  All those things last but a moment, but the kingdom, well that’s for eternity.

And it’s an eternity that we need to keep in mind these days.  Life on this earth is hard, so what is there to live for?  Well, we know it: we have the promise of the kingdom, and our Father is pleased to give it to us!  So now that we know that the Father is pleased to give us the kingdom, I’d like to explore two questions. First, are we pleased to receive the kingdom? And second, what on earth do we do with it?

Okay, so are we pleased to receive the kingdom?  Well, the obvious answer is “yes!” I mean, the kingdom is the great promise that brings us here to church today.  Inheriting the kingdom means we are not going to hell; indeed, we will have everlasting happiness.  But I wonder how readily we receive this gift of all gifts – and let’s be clear: this is the best gift we’re ever going to get.  But there are so many other things out there, and we want to keep our options open.  We’d rather pursue the big promotion, the latest and greatest shiny gadget, and so much more.  Lots of things tempt us and look better than the gift the Father is pleased to give us.

Another obstacle to receiving the kingdom is maybe we feel like there’s always time to receive that gift.  We’re going to live a long time, right?  So why deny ourselves so many passing things in favor of receiving the kingdom?  We can always receive the Father’s gift later. Except for the fact that none of us knows how much time we have in this life.  Procrastination is our enemy, because some day could well turn into never.  Not only that, but Jesus came to clearly proclaim that the kingdom is now, and why would we deny ourselves the pleasure of receiving the kingdom now and latch on to so many easily-tarnished things?  Now is the time, and there’s no gift greater.

And that’s what I think Jesus is addressing in the scary-sounding parables that follow.  We don’t know when our Master will return, so best to be always ready. It’s not that we should fear being beaten – severely or “only lightly” – we should fear something far worse, which would be missing out on life in the kingdom of God.  Jesus came to proclaim very loudly that the kingdom of God is at had – he says those exact words all through the Gospels.  Friends, the kingdom is what happens while we’re busy with all the things that consume us day and night.  If we don’t live like we’ve inherited the kingdom now, we’ll never get it, because we will have lived somewhere else all our lives.

So if we receive the kingdom, what are we supposed to do with it?  Well, just like all of God’s gifts, it’s not just for us.  We’re supposed to share it.  We’re supposed to live like we are part of it.  We’re supposed to live in the kingdom so that others will want to join us.  So this gift of the kingdom calls us to greater integrity, greater love, greater mercy, greater holiness.  This may well seem like hard work, and that’s because it is.  Jesus made it clear at the end of today’s Gospel: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

So does that make the gift of the kingdom seem like a burden?  Well, maybe.  But it’s a happy burden, a glorious burden, a sweet burden.  All the saints tell us as much.  Even Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)  But we’ll never realize that until we go all in and receive the gift the Father is pleased to give us today.  It’s kind of like that project that seems daunting, but once we get into it, is actually kind of fun.  That’s the burden of the kingdom.

Jesus brings us the best of all Good News today: the Father is pleased to give us the kingdom.  So what do we have to do, what do we have to let go of, in order to receive it?  How do we live with to greater integrity, greater love, greater mercy, greater holiness, so that when people see it in us, they will want what we have more than anything?  That’s what should be our to-do list this week.  Put aside the despair of the daily news, receive the Father’s gift of the kingdom, then live in such a way that we share that gift with everyone and brighten our own corner of the world.  We have to live like that’s our job.  Because it is.

The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You know, it doesn’t take too much thinking to see that our culture is way off base.  I saw a post on social media this week about the “do what makes you happy” aspect of our culture, and how toxic that is for us Christians. Our God does will our happiness.  But he directs that happiness to the afterlife, when all is perfected.  We are called to reasonable happiness in this life, but in this life we are called to glorify God in all of our thoughts, words and deeds, and depend on God to be the source of our joy.

But our culture is all about selfishness being the source of our joy, which is completely disordered. Our attachment to stuff borders on hoarding.  Recently I noticed the proliferation of “you store it” businesses in our area.  Stuff does not make us happy; in many ways it almost makes us less happy because we have to figure out what to do with the stuff. We can be very rich in what matters to us, but the question is, when does it all become too much?

Listen to the last line of this morning’s Gospel one more time: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” So right away the parable is turned around and directed at all of us. And it wouldn’t be so hard to put that parable in modern terms, would it? Think of winning the lottery, only to know that the day you receive the check is the day you go home to the Lord. Or think of spending your days and nights in the office, building wealth and prestige, only to be part of massive layoffs when the company is sold. Or, even worse, spending your days and nights at the office, only to miss the growing of your family. So, Jesus asks us, what treasures have we built up? With what have we filled our barns?

Today’s first reading is from the book of Ecclesiastes, which in Hebrew is Qoheleth, who is the teacher in the book. Among the Wisdom books in the Scriptures, Ecclesiastes can be the hardest to read because it is almost prophetic in content. Qoheleth is the main character in the book, a man who is considered wise among his contemporaries, much like many of the popular wisdom teachers of his day. While we don’t know who Qoheleth was, the book is attributed to Solomon, the wise king. Solomon often wrote of the prizes that lay in store for those who were successful. But this book is a little different. Here he questions if it is all worth it, and challenges the complacency and dishonesty that run rampant in that society. If we didn’t know any better, he could well have been writing his words today, couldn’t he? In the end, though, Qoheleth’s message is basically encouraging, and brings us back to the God who made us. At the end of his book, which is not part of today’s reading, he says: “The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all; because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.” (Ecc. 12:13-14) Which is exactly what I found in that social media post: we need to concern ourselves with glorifying God.  That’s what Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel, too.

St. Paul has a little bit of Qoheleth in him too, today. In the letter to the Colossians, which we have been hearing these past few weeks, he is trying to get that community to lay aside earthly things and seek God. Sounds like the message of Qoheleth, doesn’t it? “If you were raised with Christ,” he tells them, “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” In other words, stop thinking about what makes you happy and do what glorifies God; stop filling your barns with the stuff that you accumulate on this earth, and be rich in what matters to God. Qoheleth, St. Paul, and Jesus are in complete concert today, and we must be careful to hear their message. St. Paul, typical for him, is very blunt about what he is asking us to lay aside: “Put to death then,” he tells us, “the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” And, “stop lying to one another.” We are called to be disciples who are pure, compassionate and truthful, because absolutely nothing else will lead us to the kingdom of God!

So, let’s look at Jesus’ instruction at the end of today’s Gospel parable: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” We have to ask ourselves, then, the very important question: “what is it that matters to God?” I think we know what doesn’t qualify – St. Paul made that very clear. I think the things that matter to God are those things we might count among our blessings: namely our family and friends. Those things that matter to God might also be the things that make us disciples who are pure, compassionate and truthful. So we might seek to be rich in prayer, rich in reaching out to the poor and needy, rich in standing up for truth and justice.

Today God is tugging at the heart-strings of the hoarder in all of us. What are we stockpiling? Maybe we need a look at our checkbooks, our calendars, and our to-do lists to see where our money, time and resources have gone. Can we take any of that with us if we are called home to God tonight? If those things are all we have, we could find ourselves in real poverty when we arrive at the pearly gates. This week’s to-do list might find us letting go of some of what we thought was important, so that we can be rich in what matters to God. These, brothers and sisters in Christ, are the riches that will not spoil and can never be taken away from us.

Friday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

What kinds of mighty deeds is the Lord Jesus trying to do in our own lives? Is he finding success there, or have we put up obstacles through our own lack of faith?

Today we celebrate a Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for this First Friday. In this celebration, we realize that the “native place” of our Lord is in our own hearts. As he pours out the love of his Sacred Heart on us, he takes up residence in our own hearts in order to guide us and bring us to salvation. And so we cannot be like those in Jesus’ hometown who would give him no honor in his native place. We must joyfully give Christ honor in our hearts and let his love pour forth in all that we do and say this day and every day.

And just as Moses taught the people to observe the Lord’s commands for worship and rest on the Sabbath and the festivals, so we too must carefully observe time for worship and rest in our own hearts, communing with our God who longs to warm us with his presence as the very blood flows through our bodies and who longs to guide the rhythm of our days just like the beating of our own hearts. May we all find a moment of our day today for contemplation to appreciate the presence of the Lord in our hearts and in our lives. May the mighty deeds the Lord longs to do in us pour forth from his Sacred Heart, which resides in the hearts of all of us.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I think we get a more vivid picture of today’s Gospel if we’ve ever had the task of weeding a good-sized garden. I’ve done it plenty of times.  It’s not a task I really enjoy, but it is kind of good in that when you finish a job like that, you can look at it and see something good happened. There’s a sense of accomplishment. But discerning what is a weed and what is a plant is sometimes a difficult task.

That’s the kind of question the disciples had for Jesus today.  Jesus had just told them several parables about the kingdom of God, and this one was all the way back on Saturday of last week in the liturgy.  To refresh our memories, the story basically went that the landowner sowed good seed in the field, but when it started to grow, weeds came up too.  His laborers asked him about it and he said, “An enemy has done this.” So they wanted to pull up the weeds, but the master said to let them grow together until harvest time, lest in pulling them up they also accidentally pull up the good plants. They could then be pulled up and burnt at harvest time.

Now I think a good gardener might quibble with the analogy.  But that’s not the point.  The point is good news, and the good news is this: however much we may resemble the weeds from day to day, Jesus gives us the time to grow into much lovelier plants during our lives.  He doesn’t blot us out of the book of life for one transgression.  But the warning is that we only have so much time until the harvest.  If we are going to turn to the God who sowed us and provide good fruit, we need to do it now.  If we wait until the harvest, it may well be too late.  Our God gives us the freedom to choose to be the good seeds in the field of the world, blessed are we who choose to grow that way.

The Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Teach Us to Pray

Today’s readings

Today’s liturgy is a call to persistent prayer.  Prayer is a tool that we must hone and use and perfect over a lifetime of discipleship. Sometimes our prayer life may be rich: we hear what God wants for us and we find ourselves connected to God throughout the day.  Sometimes our prayer life may seem to be dead, or at least dormant, or even kind of stagnant: we don’t seem to hear from God, our prayers seem to be rote repetitions of useless words, we seem to just be going through the motions.  What is important for the Christian disciple to know though is this: however our prayer life may be unfolding: it is important to pray, no matter what, no matter how it seems to be going.

There are three things at stake in our prayer lives which I’d like to focus on today.  First, prayer must be persistent.  Second, prayer must be part of a relationship with God. And third, does God really answer our prayers?  The first two issues are issues that every disciple, every pray-er, must learn on their spiritual journey.  And that last question is one that every disciple, if he or she is honest, probably has to answer or struggle with this question at some point in their lives.

So, first, prayer must be persistent.  Jesus presents this concept in the parable he tells about prayer.  Even if friendship does not get the neighbor what he wants, persistent knocking on the door will certainly help.  Nothing illustrates this better, though, than the very astonishing story we have in our first reading.  This reading has always intrigued me, ever since I can remember hearing it as a child. God intends to destroy the city of Sodom because of its pervasive wickedness. Abraham, newly in relationship with God, stands up for the innocent of the city, largely because that was where his nephew, Lot, had taken up residence. In what seems to be a case of cosmic “Let’s Make a Deal,” Abraham pleads with God to spare the city if just fifty innocent people could be found there. God agrees and Abraham persists. Eventually God agrees to spare the city if just ten righteous people could be found in the city of Sodom.

It is important, I think, to know that Abraham’s prayer does not really change his unchangeable God. Instead, God always intended to spare the city if there were just people in it. What I love about this reading is Abraham’s line, “See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!” Here he prefigures the kind of prayer Jesus has in mind for us, we who also are but dust and ashes. The prayer Jesus teaches us is amazingly familiar, and I mean “familiar” in the sense of being close to God. Our God is not a distant potentate who has set the world in motion and then stepped back to observe events as they unfold. No, instead our God can be called “Abba, Father” and we can approach God as we would a loving parent. Because of this, we can pray, “Father, hallowed be your name…”

And this leads us to the second issue at stake for the praying disciple: prayer must come out of a relationship with God.  Abraham may have been somewhat presumptuous to speak to God the way that he did.  But if he didn’t know God, if he didn’t have a relationship with God, well, then his conversation would have been completely offensive, wouldn’t it?  And everything that Jesus teaches us about prayer in this Gospel presumes relationship. The prayer he gives is that of a community praying to its Father God.  The parable that he gives following that prayer tells of one neighbor begging another to help him provide for and unexpected, but not unwanted, guest.  All that we are taught about prayer is that prayer is to be an expression of our relationship with God, or else it’s a useless exercise.

I once heard an apocryphal story of a woman who was not religious, never prayed, never worshipped. At one point in her life, she was going through some very hard times, and decided that she should pray.  Not really knowing how to pray, she reached for the dusty old Bible on her shelf that someone had given her years ago but she never really opened.  She decided to open it up, point to a passage, and hope it spoke to her.  So that’s what she did.  Opening the Bible, she pointed to a passage and read: “And Judas went out and hanged himself.”  She thought that was frightening, so she decided to try again. This time she opened it up, pointed to a passage, and read: “Go, and do likewise.”

Now obviously, the woman was reading these passages out of context.  Had she read the whole story around each of these quotes, she would have been clear that neither of these brief sentences spoke to her situation. But more than that, she was praying without the context of a relationship with God.  Prayer can be very effective in times of crisis.  But a time of crisis is not the time to learn how to pray.  It is our relationship with God as disciples of the Lord that makes sense of our praying and teaches us how to speak to God.  Abraham learned that, and Jesus knew it well.

The final issue is a sensitive one.  So often, parishioners will tell me, “Father, I’ve prayed and prayed for (whatever the issue is) and I don’t seem to be getting any answer from God.”  Whether you have a sick loved one, or a child who’s gone the wrong way, or a marriage that is troubled, or a job situation that is unhappy, or any one of thousands of other problems, you may have asked something like, “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” Today we’re hearing that we should be persistent in our prayer and that God will answer the prayers of those he loves, and so you may well be asking yourself, “What good does that do?” These are questions I get all the time, and I can understand them, having asked them a time or two myself. So let me give you my take on it with a parable out of my own life.

When my dad was dying a few years ago, I was absolutely positive that he was going to be okay. If I had my own way, of course, I would have prayed that he would live many more years, but I knew that was selfish. God had made Dad for himself, and I knew that he was going back to be with God. I wanted nothing else for him than that he would be free of pain and happy forever. I was positive that was what was going to happen. So was Dad. Just before he died, he looked up at the nurse who was attending him and said, “It’s going to be okay.” And of course that was true.

How did he know it was going to be okay? Well, he knew he’d be okay because Dad was a man of prayer. He went to Mass with my mom every Sunday and very often went to weekday Mass after he retired. He prayed his rosary and daily prayers every day. He and I used to go every Holy Thursday to pray before the Blessed Sacrament together. His wonderful life was immersed in prayer and he had no regrets. Everything was going to be okay. And because he was a man of prayer, I knew that I could let him go and that God would take care of him. Prayer is like that; it’s contagious. His example of persistent prayer was one that led me to my vocation.

The point is this: praying persistently doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is going to come out the way we want it to, but it does mean that everything is going to come out the way God intended it, which is so much better than our little plans. If we are people of prayer, if we pray persistently, we will be able to see the blessings in the midst of sorrow and to have confidence when everything seems to be falling apart.  Sometimes, even when the circumstances don’t seem to change, the praying changes us, and makes us more open to the blessings God wants to give us in the midst of the pain.

One final note: praying persistently, as we care called to do, does not mean praying constantly for just one thing. It means praying in all ways: praying in adoration before our beautiful Savior, praying in contrition and repentance for our sinfulness, praying in thanksgiving for our many blessings, praying in supplication for our needs and the needs of all the world. It means praying, above all, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”The psalmist today says, “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.” God intends the very best for us, we may be certain of that. And if we are people of persistent prayer, then we will indeed see blessing all around us. My prayer today is that we would all be persistent in prayer, that we would become people of prayer, and that we would never, ever, ever lose heart.

Saturday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

There are a lot of pitfalls on the road through our spiritual lives.  We ourselves experience that all the time.  Making our confessions, we have a firm purpose of amendment, but it seems like the devil knows that, and so we barely make it to the parking lot and there’s a new temptation or frustration.  Those pitfalls in the spiritual life are many, and frequent, and exasperating at times.

Jesus said it would be so. Listen to what he says in the Gospel reading again:

The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man
who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.

Did you catch that? The Kingdom of heaven will be like that. It will be planted with good seed, but the enemy will sow weeds.  That’s still the Kingdom of heaven.  So when we are frustrated by the pitfalls we encounter, we can at least take some relative comfort in that our Savior said it would be like that, and we’re still in the Kingdom of heaven.

But what we can’t do is accept that to the point that we decide we can participate in it and still be forgiven.  We can’t love our sins and expect God to save us.  That’s called presumption, and it too is a sin, and a pitfall in the spiritual life.  God is a God of justice; he sees that kind of nonsense and calls it what it is.

So here’s the take away. Yes, there will be pitfalls in the spiritual life.  But when we run into them, it doesn’t mean we’re not still in the Kingdom of heaven. What we have to do is call them what they are, repent, reform our lives, and call on God’s mercy.  But we can’t presume God’s mercy so that we give ourselves permission to sin.  We have to love God more than our sins; love eternity more than today’s passing pleasures. We have to be like the Psalmist today who prophesies that God will take care of the things we worry about if we place our worship in the right place:

“Offer to God praise as your sacrifice
and fulfill your vows to the Most High;
Then call upon me in time of distress;
I will rescue you, and you shall glorify me.”

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