Thursday of the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel is an impetus for the third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary: the proclamation of the Kingdom of God with its call to repentance.  Jesus charges his Apostles to go out and proclaim that the Kingdom is at hand, with all its accompanying signs and wonders.  We have to understand that this is the Church’s main job in every time and place.  We are now the ones who have to proclaim the Kingdom of God and call people to repentance by the witness of our lives.

We are now the ones called to drive out demons, cure the sick, and all the rest.  We do this by being Christ’s presence in a world that is sorely in need of it.  We drive out demons by casting the glorious light of Christ into every dark corner.  We cure the sick by reaching out to those who are ill, looking in on them, caring for them, bringing the Eucharist to them.

We also have to understand, though, that sometimes our efforts won’t prove fruitful.  Sometimes our peace won’t be received because the other person is not peaceful.  All we can do is do our best, offer Christ, and move on if that’s not accepted.  And we have to trust that God will give us everything we need on our journey.

Monday of the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I love the words of the Psalmist today: “The Lord is gracious and merciful.”

These are words that are easy for us to pray when things are going well, but maybe not so much when we’re going through rough times.  It seems like the psalmist is going through some very good times, but we have no way of knowing that.  The only key to the great hymn of praise the psalmist is singing is that he is reflecting on the wonder of creation and the mighty deeds God does in the world.  The psalmist sees wonders not just in his own place but everywhere.  He says, “The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.”  Every part of creation has been blessed by God’s goodness.  Because of this, God is to be praised not just now, but “forever and ever” and by “generation after generation.”

This fits in very nicely with Hosea’s prophecy in our first reading today.  Preaching to the Israelites in exile, he proclaims that God will change the relationship between Israel and the Lord.  That new relationship would be a spousal relationship between God and his people, in which the spouses are partners in the ongoing work of creation.  God will give Israel the ability to be faithful to God, and for His part, God will remember His faithfulness forever.  God’s great mercy and compassion are seen with abundance in the Gospel reading.  Jesus rewards the faithfulness of Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhage with miraculous healings.  Key to all of these wonderful events, in all three readings, is that God who has created us is committed to re-creating us in His love and faithfulness.

So as we approach the Eucharist today and reflect on all the mighty and wonderful things God does in our midst, may we too sing the Psalmist’s song.  May we all praise God’s name forever and ever, and proclaim his might to generation after generation.

The Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I often wonder how people get through the hard times of their lives if they don’t have faith.  We can all probably think of a time in our lives when we were sorely tested, when our lives were turned upside-down, and, looking back, we can’t figure out how we lived through it except for the grace of our faith.  During the course of my priesthood, I have been present to a lot of people who were going through times like that: whether it be illness or death of a loved one, relationship struggles, job issues, or financial struggles, or a host of other maladies.  Some of them had faith, and some who didn’t.  It was always inspirational to see how people with faith lived through their hard times, and very sad to see how many who didn’t have faith just broken when their lives stopped going well.

That’s the experience that today’s Liturgy of the Word puts before us, I think.  Let’s look at the context.  In last week’s Gospel, Jesus has cured two people miraculously.  He actually raised Jairus’s twelve-year-old daughter from the dead, and he cured the hemorrhagic woman, who had been suffering for twelve years.  So both stories had occurrences of the number twelve, reminiscent of the twelve tribes of Abraham, and later the Twelve Apostles, both of which signify the outreach of God’s presence into the whole world.  So those two miraculous healings last week reminded us that Jesus was healing the whole world.

But this week, we see the exception.  This week, Jesus is in his hometown, where he is unable to do much in the way of miracles except for a few minor healings.  Why?  Because the people lacked faith.  And this is in stark contrast to last week’s healings where Jairus handed his daughter over to Jesus in faith, and the hemorrhagic woman had faith that just grasping on to the garments of Jesus would give her healing.  Faith can be very healing, and a lack of it can be stifling, leading eventually to the destruction of life.

We see that clearly in the first two readings.  First Ezekiel is told that the people he would be ministering to would not change, because they were obstinate.  But at least they’d know a prophet had been among them.  Contrast that with Saint Paul’s unyielding faith in the second reading to the Corinthian Church.  Even though he begged the Lord three times to relieve him of whatever it was that was his thorn in the flesh, he would not stop believing in God’s goodness.  Much has been said about what Saint Paul could possibly mean by this “thorn.”  Was it an illness or infirmity?  Was it a pattern of sin or at least a temptation that would not leave him alone?  We don’t know for sure, but this “thorn” makes Saint Paul’s story all the more compelling for us who have to deal with our own “thorns” in our own lives.  Saint Paul’s faith led him to be content with whatever weakness or hardship befell him, and he came to know that in his weakness, God could do more and thus make him stronger than he could be on his own. That assurance gives us hope of the same grace in our own struggles.

We people of faith will be tested sometimes; that’s when the rubber hits the road for our faith.  Knowing of God’s providence, we can be sure that he will lead us to whatever is best.  And our faith can help us to make sense of the struggles and know God’s presence in the dark places of our lives.  People of faith are tested by the storms and tempests of the world, but are never abandoned by our God.  Never abandoned.

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings Amos and Jesus are prophetic voices that we hear in our Scriptures this morning.  Unfortunately, as is often the case with prophets, neither is a welcome voice.  Amos makes it clear that he is not speaking on his own, or even because he wanted to. If it were up to him, he’d go back to being a simple shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees. But he knows that the Lord was using him to speak to Amaziah, and he had no intention of backing down. In today’s Gospel, Jesus could have cured the paralytic with one touch and without much fanfare. But that wasn’t what he was there to do. He was there to preach forgiveness of sins by the way he healed the paralyzed person. Jesus used that simple situation of healing to be a prophetic voice in the world, saying to everyone present that real healing only comes about through the forgiveness of sins.That unnamed, gender-unspecified paralyzed person could be you or me today, or someone we’ll meet during this day. Who among us is not paralyzed by sin in some way? To whatever extent we are the ones in need of healing, may we all hear the prophetic voice of Jesus saying to us: “Your sins are forgiven. Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”

The Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our readings today, I think, are very poignant and to the point.  As a pastor, I see a lot of suffering, and it breaks my heart when my parishioners are going through hard times.  Whether those hard times are brought about by death or sickness, or by relationship problems, or by poverty or job circumstances, or whatever it is, those hard times can be a real test of faith. The very first words of today’s Liturgy of the Word reach out and grab us: “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.”  And perhaps we already knew that.  Perhaps we know that God does not intend our death or our suffering, but the really hard thing for us is that he permits it.  Why is that?  Why would God permit his beloved ones to suffer so much here on earth? This is one of those sticky questions that sometimes make people doubt their faith.

When I was in seminary, I worked as a fire chaplain the last couple of years.  We were called out one wintry night, just before Christmas break, to speak to some medics who had extracted a nine-year old child from a badly mangled car, only to have the child die on the way to the hospital.  These medics were from a neighboring fire department, so we didn’t know them, and I didn’t have too much hope that the conversation would go well. But, to my surprise, these men did open up and expressed the frustration they felt.  One of the men was Catholic and he was the one who had the task of extracting the child from the car.  His enduring question was, why did this innocent child have to suffer and die?  It was a long evening of conversation that really centered around faith that provided some consolation, although it could never really erase their sadness.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.  Two people reach out in very different ways to end suffering and provide healing.  One is a man, who approaches Jesus and falls at his feet, begging the teacher to heal his daughter.  The other is a woman, who dares not make herself known, who sneaks up behind Jesus to touch his clothing.  The situations were different, but what unites them is their faith.  They have faith that reaching out to Jesus in their own way will bring them the healing they desire.

And there was a pretty serious leap of faith involved for the hemorrhaging woman.  Touch was her enemy.  She had suffered much at the hands of many doctors.  Not only have their ministrations failed to heal her, but they have also left her penniless.  And to touch anyone in her state of ritual impurity makes them ritually unclean too.  So she is totally marginalized: she is a woman in a patriarchal society, afflicted by an enduring and debilitating illness, she has no money to take care of herself, and she is unable to be part of the community or participate in worship.  Things could not have been worse.  Finding the courage to reach out to Jesus, even in her impure state, she is healed by her faith.

Now please note that that same faith was lacking in the people who were attending to Jairus’s daughter.  Even if they believed that Jesus could cure her illness, she is now dead, and so his assertion that she is merely “sleeping” meets with ridicule and scorn.  So Jesus has to throw out the faithless ones so that they would no longer be an obstacle.  The child cannot reach out to Jesus so he reaches out to her, taking her hand, and raising her up.

So it’s as simple as that.  An act of faith on the part of the hemorrhaging woman and the synagogue official provide healing and restore life. But how realistically does that match our experience?  I am guessing that those medics threw up a prayer or two in addition to all of the life-saving actions they performed on that nine-year old when he was in the ambulance with them, but the boy still died.  How many of us have prayed faithfully, constantly, only to be met by seemingly deaf ears?  We don’t even have the same opportunity as Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman.  We can’t reach out and touch Jesus in the flesh.  So I would never stand here and tell you that one simple act of faith is all it takes to make all your problems go away.  I always say that faith is not a magic wand.

But I will also say this: as I have walked with people who have suffered, those who have reached out to Jesus in faith have not gone unrewarded.  Maybe their suffering continued in some way, or even in some cases got worse, but in Christ they found the strength to walk through it with dignity and find peace.  Maybe Jesus won’t always stop the bleeding of our hurts and inadequacies and woundedness.  But through his own blood, he will always redeem us.  We who are disciples need to make those acts of faith if we are to live what we believe.  For those medics I spent the evening with, the conversation of faith didn’t bring the boy back, but it did provide them with healing and peace and a sense that in God’s time, all would be made right.

I am struck by the Eucharistic imagery at the end of today’s Gospel.  Jesus comes to the home of Jairus and finds his daughter asleep in death.  He reaches out to her, touches her, and raises her up.  Then he instructs those around her to give her something to eat.  We gather for this Eucharistic banquet today and Jesus comes to us, finding us asleep in the death of our sins.  Because we are dead in our sins, we can hardly reach out to touch our Lord, but he reaches out to us.  He takes our hands, raises us up, and gives us something to eat.

We come to the Eucharist today with our lives in various stages of grace and various stages of disrepair.  At the Table of the Lord, we offer our lives and our suffering and our pain.  We bring our faith, wherever we are on the journey, and reach out in that faith to touch the body of our Lord.  We approach the Cup of Life, and whatever emptiness is in us is filled up with grace and healing love, poured out in the blood of Christ.  As we go forth, glorifying the Lord by our lives this day, all of our problems may very well stay with us, remaining unresolved at least to our satisfaction.  Our suffering and pain may very well be with us still.  But in our faith, perhaps they can be transformed, or at least maybe we can be transformed so that we can move through that suffering and pain with dignity and find peace.  And as we go forth, perhaps we can hear our Lord saying to us the same words he said to the woman with the hemorrhage: go in peace, your faith has saved you.

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

When I hear that the road that leads to life is narrow and constricted, that makes me a bit uneasy.  The reason for that is I am a lousy packer.  I pretty much always over-pack, not being able to shake the worry of not having something I might need.  What if the weather is cold?  I’ll need some warm clothes.  If it’s hot, I sure won’t want those warm clothes then, so I’ll need something light.  Better take along some Advil in case I get a headache, and well, the list goes on and on.  I just hate packing to go on a trip, because I always imagine what I pack will take up less space than it does.

I think that can be true of us on our spiritual journeys as well.  We want to fill up every silence we have.  Better take our mobile phones, a book in case we’re bored, the tablet so we’ll be able to get our email, and who knows what else.  Heaven forbid we should let the silence be silent so that our God can speak to us.  I’m every bit as guilty of over-packing in that way too.

But God doesn’t want our tablets or cell phones.  God just wants us.  He wants us to give him ourselves completely.  Sure, there’s an easier way to go, unfortunately that particular way leads to destruction.  But if we give up what holds us back, then travelling that narrow road to life won’t be so hard.

What do we need to unpack from our lives today?

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel is one that’s certainly very familiar to us.  But if we’re honest, every time we hear it, it must give us a little bit of uneasiness, right?  Because, yes, it is very easy to love those who love us, to do good to those who do good to us, to greet those who greet us.  And we know that Jesus is right – he always is! – there is nothing special about loving those we know well, and we certainly look forward to greeting our friends and close family.

But that’s not what the Christian life is about.  We know that, but when we get a challenge like today’s Gospel, it hits a little close to home.  Because we all know people we’d rather not show kindness to, don’t we?  We all have that mental list of people who are annoying or who have wronged us or caused us pain.  And to have to greet them, do good to them, even love them, well that all seems too much some days.

And yet that is our call.  We’re held to a higher standard than those proverbial tax collectors and pagans that Jesus refers to.  We are people of the new covenant, people redeemed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  And so we have to live as if we have been freed from our pettiness, because, in fact, we have.  We are told to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.  That’s a tall order, but a simple kindness to one person we’d rather not be kind to is all it takes to make a step closer.

The Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I really don’t have a green thumb, but for a while when I was young, I was very interested in growing things. My grandmother on my dad’s side had quite the green thumb: anything she planted grew to be quite prolific.  I have whatever the opposite of that is! But still, I have always been fascinated by things growing from tiny little seeds to become large plants; no matter if they become beautiful flowers to decorate the landscape, or delicious vegetables to bring to the table.

It’s really a miracle when you think about it.  This tiny little dried-up thing looks for all the world to be useless and dead.  But when it gets planted in the earth, and watered by the rains, new life springs forth from it, and a tiny sprout appears, which grows day by day to become a fully mature plant by the summertime. Sure, we or the farmers might do a little work to nurture it and water it and keep the weeds and rabbits away, but we don’t make the plant grow: day by day, almost imperceptibly, growth happens.

And this is the image that Jesus uses today to describe the Kingdom of God.  These parables are a lens through which we are to see life: the life of God, and our life, and how they all come together.  And it’s – I think – an encouraging message that we hear today. Today, our Lord assures us that the Kingdom of God doesn’t come about all at once, in great power and glory, or in some kind of dramatic explosion.  The Kingdom is like those crops that grow to be fully mature plants and yield a harvest, but it happens little by little, almost imperceptibly, always growing, but we know not how.  And the Kingdom is miraculous like a mustard seed which one day is the tiniest of all seeds and eventually becomes a large plant that gives shelter to the birds of the air.

Here’s why I think these parables are so encouraging.  Because we all want to be part of the Kingdom of God.  We all want to grow in our faith.  We all want that faith to sustain us in good times and bad, and eventually lead us to heaven.  That’s why we’re here today.  But the truth is, if you’re like me, you get frustrated sometimes because it doesn’t seem like there’s any real growth going on.  We commit the same sins despite our firmest resolve.  We take one step forward and two steps back.  But still, like the seed scattered on the land, being here in church today isn’t nothing.  Our prayers, however lacking they may seem to be, are still a manifestation of our desire to be in relationship with God.  And God takes those tiny seeds of faith and waters them with grace and the sacraments and the life of the Church, until one day, please God, our faith makes a difference in our lives and the lives of those around us.  And whatever we start with in the life of faith may be as tiny as a mustard seed, but in God’s hands, it can become that shrub that is a shelter for those who are flying around in life from one thing to the next, without any real hope except for Christ in us.

We may not be perfect yet, friends, but we’re graced.  And grace will perfect whatever we sow and make our tiny little beginnings into great things, all for the Kingdom of God.

Saturday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the most vivid Church memories I have was of a friend who was making final vows as a Benedictine many years ago now. It was a very beautiful Mass, but what really stood out so vividly to me was that, while the assembly sang the Litany of the Saints and my friend lie prostrate before the altar, the abbot and some other monks placed the funeral pall over him.  This symbolized that he had “died” to his former life, in order to take up his new life in service to Christ.

So when we hear today’s first reading about Elijah placing his cloak over Elisha, it calls that memory to mind.  Elisha knew immediately what the action meant: he had been called to serve as prophet to succeed Elijah.  So after protesting he was not ready, he immediately set out to put to death everything in his life that held him back: he slaughtered his oxen and burned the plowing equipment to cook their flesh to feed his people. Then he freely left it all behind to serve God.

We too have, at some point, the mantle placed upon us.  Whatever our calling is, it involves a death to whatever has come before so that we can freely serve in whatever way God is calling us.  For most, it won’t be quite so dramatic, but there is that death. For example, for those getting married, it’s a death to the single life so that they can serve their spouse in love and fidelity.  We have to be ready to die to whatever holds us back from fulfilling God’s call, so that we can pray with the Psalmist today, “You are my inheritance, O Lord.”

Friday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We know a little of the back story on our first reading, because we’ve been hearing it this week. You recall that Elijah has just come from soundly defeating all of the pagan “prophets” of Baal, which was very embarrassing to King Ahab and especially to Queen Jezebel, who vowed to take Elijah’s life in retaliation. So he has been hiding out in a cave, not for protection from inclement weather, but for protection from those who sought his life. In the midst of this, God asks Elijah why he is here. Elijah explains that the people of Israel have been unfaithful and have turned away from God, not listening to Elijah’s preaching, and they have put all the other legitimate prophets to death. Elijah alone is left.

So God says that he will be “passing by” which in biblical language means that God will be doing a “God thing.” God will be revealing his presence. And so we have the story: there is a mighty wind, an earthquake and even fire. But Elijah only recognizes the Lord’s presence in the tiny whispering sound. After everything that had happened to him, mighty wind, an earthquake and a fire were just more of the same. But when there was that tiny whispering sound, Elijah heard the Lord speaking to him loud and clear. Then and there he receives instruction on how to move forward.

In our own prayer lives, it’s good to be attentive to the tiny whispering sound. We too have a noisy life – not because we are running from our enemies like Elijah, but more because we have created enemies to a recollected life. The television, the phone, the tablet, the computer, all of that and more vie for our attention in every moment. And then we lament that we can’t hear God’s direction, can’t figure out what it is we’re supposed to do in this situation or that.

In my own life, I have created a little space in my room for a prayer altar. It has my bible, a Crucifix, an icon of Jesus the Teacher, a statue of Saint Patrick, one of the Blessed Virgin one of Saint Joseph, one of Saint Michael the Archangel, and a candle. Now, when I want to hear the Lord, I can turn off everything, settle into a chair, and reflect. And the Lord has been speaking, was all along to be honest. Just now I’ve created a space, like Elijah’s cave, where I can hear him. God is always doing a “God thing” among us. We just have to make it our care to notice.