Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Psalm 1 is one of my very favorite psalms. Listen to it again:

Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.
He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.
Not so the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes.

One interpretation of this Psalm is to look at it as a blueprint for blessedness. In Biblical terms, of course, blessedness equals happiness. So the person who doesn’t follow the counsel of the wicked or walk with sinners but instead meditates on the law of the LORD is happy, or blessed. This person is productive and vibrant, and all of his activities are prosperous. This person is contrasted to the wicked person who is anything but enduring. These are unhappy people who are driven away by the first storm who comes along.

On the other hand, the Church has also looked at the blessed one in this psalm as referring to Christ himself. None of us is able to steer clear of evil all the time, nor meditate on God’s law day and night. But Jesus is the One who is like us in all things but sin and who is the fulfilled promise of God’s law. Jesus definitely is like the tree planted near running water, which takes root strongly and shades us from the burning heat of evil under his never-fading leaves. Jesus is the one who can prosper any work that we do, if we just ask him to do so. If we want to know the person who really embodies the spirit of Psalm 1, then all we have to do is look to our Savior.

But that doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility to become holy enough to take up the spirit of this Psalm within ourselves. We certainly don’t want to be the chaff which is driven away by the wind. Joining ourselves to our Savior, meditating on him day and night, or at least whenever we can, we can be refreshed by those running waters and become the sturdy trees that shelter the Church in good times and in bad. Blessed indeed are all of us who hope in the Lord.

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

There are two things: the promise, and the response.

The promise has echoed down through the ages. God called Abraham and promised descendents as numerous as the sands on the sea shore or the stars in the sky. Through Moses, God made known his intent to bring his people out of slavery and into the promised land. Through Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, who speaks in today’s Psalm, God announces that he will make good on his promise to send a Messiah to his people. And through Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of all the promises, we have the promise of salvation and eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven. From Abraham to us today, the promises has echoed, and still echoes, in the Church and in the world, down through the ages. There is the promise.

The response has always taken many different forms. One would think the response would be complete adoration, obedience, and devotion to our God who keeps his promise. But sometimes the response has been arrogance, thinking that anything good that happens is the result of our own feeble efforts, like the foolish rich man in today’s Gospel. Sometimes the response has been entitlement, as if we were actually worthy of grace, and due the gifts that come our way. Sometimes the response has been apathy or disinterest, not even taking the time to notice the graces and blessings that come to us. Sometimes the response has been outright rejection – refusing the gift and ignoring the Giver. Sometimes we have been very unworthy and unappreciative of the promise.

But there is still the promise. And there is always time for a different, better, more appropriate response.

Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Project Gabriel

Today’s readings

Today’s Scriptures show us the importance of persistence in prayer. We all know that sometimes we come across issues in our own lives, or even in society, and when we pray, it takes a long time to see those prayers answered. We may well have experienced the exhaustion of Moses in our praying, and may have needed the help of others to stand next to us and support us in our prayer, praying with us and for us. For many of us, our prayer lists may well have grown exponentially as the years have worn on, and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.

Even the dishonest judge answers the request of the widow who keeps coming to him. And we know that our God is far greater than the dishonest judge. He doesn’t answer our prayers just to mollify us and send us on our way. He hears our prayers and answers them in his way, in his time, for our benefit and his glory. We know that God often answers our prayers in ways more magnificent than we could have imagined when we offered them. Like the Psalmist today, we know that our help truly comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.

Sometimes God uses us to answer the prayers of others. I am preaching at all the Masses this weekend to tell you about a way I think that is happening in our parish. As you know, October is Respect Life Month. Here in Naperville, this has been particularly important this year because of the opening of the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Aurora that provides abortions among its other services. It is the largest Planned Parenthood clinic in the nation and one of five abortion clinics in DuPage County. This year more than ever, we Catholics are called upon to witness to the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, to protect the lives of all of the most vulnerable members of our society, and particularly to advocate for those whose lives are ended by abortion.

It’s one thing to say you’re pro life, to pray for the protection of life, and to vote only for people who support life. Those are important things to do, but quite frankly, if that’s all we ever do, we aren’t doing even close to enough. Studies have shown that eight out of ten woman who have had an abortion would have chosen not to have the abortion if it had not been for the lack of material resources and pressure from families or fathers. In most cases, the decision to have an abortion isn’t a “pro choice” decision at all: it is rather a decision made because these women feel they have no freedom and no choice. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must make it very clear to all the world that no woman should ever have an abortion simply because she feels that is her only option.

And so today, our parish is launching its participation in Project Gabriel. Project Gabriel is a network of parishes standing together in their commitment to answer the prayers of pregnant mothers in crisis by offering them various forms of assistance. In this area, Project Gabriel is coordinated by Woman’s Choice Services, a pregnancy center network operated in the Catholic Christian tradition, in cooperation with the Respect Life Offices of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Diocese of Joliet and the Diocese of Rockford.

Women hear about Project Gabriel through signs of life in the community, especially bumper magnets which say “Pregnant? Need Help? Please call us.” When she calls, a trained volunteer consultant will help assess her needs. Then she may be referred to a church community, like St. Raphael’s, where trained representatives called “Angels” will meet with her. Angels are friends, whose job it is to walk alongside the mother-to accompany her, pray for her and with her, and encourage her on her journey. They may also help her to meet material needs by identifying resources within the community.

At St. Raphael, Project Gabriel will help mothers to make life-affirming choices for themselves and their babies by:

” Offering friendship, emotional support and prayer.
” Providing babysitting and offering rides to medical appointments.
” Giving pastoral care and counseling.
” Identifying resources for medical and prenatal care.
” Finding resources for financial assistance.
” And by uncovering resources for housing, education, adoption and employment.

But don’t let that task overwhelm you. It is not the task of the Gabriel Project Angel to be a psychiatrist, analyst or social worker. What you will do is much the same as you might do for a niece or a neighbor. Just be there for her: Take her to lunch, pray with her and for her baby, call her each week, drive her to a doctor’s appointment or offer to baby-sit. In short, be a sister, a helper, and a friend.

We need you to get involved to make Project Gabriel a success right out of the box. We need 40-50 volunteers minimally to get started, and you can help either as an angel or in a number of other ways. You can offer as much time as you wish, a little or a lot, depending on your availability and the ways you feel God is calling you. Today, we are asking you to do three things:

First, take a bumper magnet and put it on your car so that women with pregnancies at risk will know there is a life-affirming option. Second, visit the welcome center today for more information and to make a donation to offset the costs of the bumper magnets and provide for the material needs of the mothers and families we will be reaching. And finally, fill out the forms in your pews right now, getting involved as an angel, or on our prayer team, or communications team, or material resources team, or any of several other teams on the list. Your involvement might be as simple as knitting a baby blanket or driving a woman to the doctor or collecting personal care items for expectant mothers. But perhaps you are a good listener and someone who loves companioning others on the journey; then you’d make a great angel. You can leave that filled out form in your pew, drop it in the collection basket, or drop it off in the welcome center today. If you need to pray about your involvement, feel free to take a sheet with you. But please fill one out and get involved – if not today, then soon – so that we can start helping bring life to the culture of death in this particular way.

In his encyclical, The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II said, “Together we all sense our duty to preach the Gospel of life, to celebrate it in the Liturgy and in our whole existence, and to serve it with the various programs and structures which support and promote life.” Project Gabriel is a way for us to do just that. Please be sure to get involved, so that everyone will know that we are a community that supports life at every stage.

Sometimes people’s prayer needs can be overwhelming. But maybe you are being called upon today like Aaron and Hur to support the hands of a pregnant woman as she prays for the opportunity to give life to the baby she is carrying. Please be an angel, and support this parish project today.

Saturday of the Twenty-eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“The Lord remembers his covenant forever.”

That’s what the Psalmist tells us today. And the worst thing that we can do in our service of the Lord is to despair of that promise. Today’s Gospel speaks to us of the unforgivable sin: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. “Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven,” Jesus tells us, “but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” This sounds a little curious, I think. But the truth is that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is probably the root of all sin. When we leave behind the Spirit, we leave behind the possibility of any kind of forgiveness, redemption or salvation. It’s not something we do by accident.

I had a professor in seminary who used to say, “Brothers, you don’t want to tick off the Holy Spirit!” And he is right. We are a people gifted by the Holy Spirit who inspires our relationships with God, breathes the life of God into our relationships and endeavors, and guides us sinful people to salvation through the many gifts and fruits that he brings. The truth is, we can do nothing good, we cannot be holy people, we cannot live decent lives without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was Jesus’ first gift sent to those who believe just after his ascension into heaven. The reason for that gift was that we can’t possibly live without it.

So, if we cannot live without the gift of the Spirit, it makes sense that that sin is unforgivable. Not because God doesn’t want to forgive it, but more because we have cut short the dialogue and have walked away from the very gift that reconciles us sinful people to God in the first place. All of our repentance, penitence, and reconciliation comes by the power of the Holy Spirit. If we deny the Spirit then, we have denied all possibility of forgiveness, and we don’t want to be doing that. It’s not a sin we should worry about if we are faithful. But when we begin to despair or think ourselves unworthy of God, we need to be careful. Got never thinks that way of us, and as the Psalmist says, he remembers his covenant forever.

Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time: A People of Gratitude

Today’s readings

“Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”

Today’s Gospel is a reflection on our need for healing, our need for God’s presence in our lives, and perhaps most especially, our need for gratitude. Not gratitude for what we have done; rather, gratitude for what we have received, for what has been done for us, and for the many graces and blessings that we have in Christ Jesus. The Christian disciple is called to be a person of gratitude.

Jesus is on a journey, and he enters a town where he is met by a group of wandering lepers. It’s important to know why they would be out wandering around. As you may know, leprosy was thought to be a horribly contagious disease which made the person with the disease completely unclean. That person could no longer remain with his or her family nor worship in the Temple. So this was a disease that not only made the person suffer physically, but also cut them off from the community and left them with no means of support, nor a place to stay. They had to be out wandering around.

A Maryknoll priest who was in Korea about 40 years ago tells the story of lepers who were in the area where he lived. They were not allowed to be with their communities or families. Once a year they went to a playing field. Two ropes were stretched across the field about 50 yards apart. The lepers stood at one rope and their families at another and they called out to each other-across the erected chasm that separated them-it was their annual “family visit.” So you can see that being healed from leprosy was no small salvation.

But we are not so different from this group of lepers, I think. The lepers in today’s gospel story are an unusual group. They consist of Jews and Samaritans, two groups that didn’t mix in usual society. But misery and affliction had united them. As someone once said, “Whatever our social ranking, we all shed the same tears.” We too are aware of our need for God, who alone can help us. We all have had our missteps and regrets and can feel separated from others. Our presence at Eucharist today says that we want Jesus’ company with us on this stage of our journey. We want him to show us the next steps and we want to stay close to him and one another as we travel through life’s journey.

What’s very important for us to get, then, is that our gratitude must be the natural reaction that we have to that presence of God as we travel the journey. As we gather here for the Eucharist, we know that the word “eucharist” is Greek for “thanksgiving.” Our very gathering every Sunday is a celebration of thanks to our God who walks with us through the good times and the bad and sees us through the perils of this world to the joy of everlasting life. Our celebration must always overflow with gratitude for the salvation we have in Christ.

But when we stop to think about it, how often are we really grateful for our gifts? Do we sometimes miss noticing the good things God has given us, simply because we forget to take the time to be grateful? What are the joys that God intended for us that we never had the opportunity to know because we did not have an attitude of gratitude? Are there times when we have not seen God’s hand at work in the hard times of our lives because we are not a basically grateful people?

Like the lepers in today’s Gospel, we have been healed of lots of things. We have found ourselves healed when:

  • A person who loves us tells us a hard truth we need to hear about ourselves.
  • We experience, in a long relationship, opportunities for growth in generosity, forgiveness, patience and humor.
  • Parenting teaches us to give our lives for another in frequent doses of our time, energies, hopes and tears.
  • We suffer a broken relationship, go for counsel and the guidance we receive gives us hope for our future.
  • We seek help for an addiction and the group members offer us wisdom, support and helping hands when we fall and support us “one day at a time.”
  • We suffer the death of a loved one and family and friends are there to grieve with us and eventually there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Not every gift of our lives is something that at first glance seems like a good thing. Sometimes the fact that God has helped us through a bad situation is grace enough to celebrate. Back when I was in my second year of seminary, just before Christmas, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. We got her through the surgery and started on chemotherapy and eventually managed so celebrate Christmas. Just after I returned to the seminary in January, my father was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I have to tell you, I didn’t know how to pray any more at that point. I didn’t have words to say to God. But some of my brother seminarians came to my room one night and sheepishly offered to pray over me. They had no idea how important that offer was to me. I invited them in and we talked, and they prayed over me. From that point on, I was able to pray again, for my parents and for myself, because they had been God’s grace to me. I’ve never stopped being thankful for that – not for the situation, but for the grace and for my friends, both of which were a gift from God.

I want to offer you two gratitude tools, and I hope that you’ll use one of them in your prayer life. The first is the idea of a “gratitude journal.” Some of you may already be doing this. Basically, every time you find something to be grateful for, you make a note of it in a journal. It doesn’t have to be a long story, just a few notes about what you’re grateful for. And the idea is that you go back every so often and look at the entries to see how you have been blessed, and the many ways that God has been working in your life. There’s no way you can not be more grateful and more joyful when you do that.

The second tool is a tool that I am borrowing and slightly modifying from St. Ignatius of Loyola. It’s called the “Evening Examen,” and St. Ignatius has required all of his Jesuit and Jesuit-influenced followers to pray it every evening. The way I do it is to ask myself three questions at the end of every day. It takes maybe five minutes, maybe an hour, it depends on the day. But If you do it every day faithfully, you will again see the grace of God at work in you and I believe you’ll find more joy in your relationship with God. Those three questions are:

1. What are the blessings and graces I have received today? (Then give thanks for them.)
2. What are the things I have said or done today that have not been a source of grace to others or to myself? (Then ask God’s forgiveness.)
3. In what way or ways has God been trying to get me to move, or what has God been trying to do in me these days? (Then ask for whatever grace you need to move in that direction.)

So just three things: How have I been blessed? How have I sinned? What has God been trying to do in me? That prayer has been a source of growth for me as a disciple, and I hope you’ll try it and keep it in your prayer toolbox for the future.

Let us not be a people who leave the giving of thanks to others, like the Jewish lepers left the Samaritan to do in today’s Gospel. May we instead be a people marked by an attitude of gratitude, giving thanks for the many ways that God sustains us and blesses us. Then we can be a people, when asked, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God” can truly respond…

“It is right to give him thanks and praise!”

Saturday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

Ouch. Jesus has just been given a great complement and he responds to it kind of brusquely. Earlier in this eleventh chapter of Luke, Jesus has taught the disciples to pray, teaching them what has become known as the Lord’s prayer. Then there is the discourse on the need for persistence in prayer that we heard on Thursday. Then a teaching on demons. And now this. From this point on in the chapter, Jesus will turn up the heat on the people’s prayer life. Nothing less is effective. Nothing else is acceptable.

And so we hear the same invitation: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” We have been taught how to pray. We have been given tools in Scripture and in the Church. So the question is, have we observed that teaching? Has our prayer become persistent? Is it the life blood of our relationships with God and others? Does prayer sustain us in bad times and give us joy in good times?

Observing the word of God takes many forms. Most likely, we think of the service we are called upon to help bring about a Godly kingdom on earth. And that is important, make no mistake about it. But that same word calls us to a vital relationship with our God, a relationship that raises the bar for all of our other relationships. That relationship with God can be a blessing to us and to our world. But we can only get there by prayer. We have to make time for the one who made time for us.

“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

Listen to the voices of hope in today's Liturgy:

"But for you who fear my name, there will arise
the sun of justice with its healing rays."

"For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."

"Blessed are they who hope in the Lord."

"Give us this day our daily bread."

The Divine Liturgist today is inviting us to find our hope in God, and inviting us to turn over our lives to God in hopeful anticipation that God will answer our needs. Sometimes I wonder how willing I am to actually do that. It's almost like I want to pray to God just in case I can't fix things on my own or work out my needs by myself. Kind of like a divine insurance policy. Maybe your prayer is like that too.

But that can't be the way that the Christian disciple prays. We have to trust that God will give us what we really need. He certainly won't be giving us everything we really want . And he probably won't be answering our prayers in exactly the way we'd like him to. And we will certainly find out that he will answer the prayers of our heart in his own time. But he will answer. He will give to the one who asks. He will be present to the one who seeks. And he will open the door to the one who knocks.

The Christian disciple must be willing to accept God's answer in God's time on God's terms. When we do that we might even find that when God gives us what we really need, instead of what we really want, our lives are so much more blessed than we could ever have imagined. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This homily is for those of us who sometimes have trouble on our spiritual journeys. All those who have achieved perfection and glory are excused. … It’s interesting that none of us left, isn’t it? If you’ve been attending our Amazing Gifts program here on the weekends, you heard this week that the spiritual life is a process and sometimes we fall, and sometimes we fly. Today’s Liturgy of the Word gives us the stories of some great saints who have those same trials.

The story of Jonah that began yesterday and will continue for a few days is not at all about the great things Jonah did. It is more about the journey of discipleship that was Jonah’s life, and about the wonderful things that God did in and through the very unwilling disciple who was Jonah. Today’s reading has Jonah finally doing what God asked him to do yesterday. Fresh out of the belly of that big fish, Jonah finally realizes that God’s call in his life is not optional. So he does what he is told to do, and affects the conversion of the evil city Nineveh. But Jonah’s story is not done yet, and we’ll see this week the ups and downs he still has to endure.

And then we have the story of poor Martha in today’s Gospel. I often think that Martha, as Luanne Roth said at last week’s Amazing Gifts, gets a raw deal in this story. Someone had to make the food! But I think the real message of this Gospel story is that neither Martha nor Mary had it all wrapped up. Because there are times when we definitely have to be Mary, sitting at the Lord’s feet in adoration, prayer and praise. But if we are never Martha, our faith is useless, as St. James says in his letter. There has to be a balance between our spiritual life and our service, or, in the words of St. Benedict, between our prayer and our work.

So for those of us who haven’t yet achieved spiritual perfection, the message is that we have lots of saints in Scripture who are on the journey with us. The point is to keep moving on the journey, so that we will one day reach perfection in that kingdom that knows no end. And may God be glorified in the belly of the big fish or in Nineveh; in our Martha days and our Mary days, in our prayer and our work.

Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reminds me of a sound bite for the evening news. Taken out of context, Jesus is denying his family. And not only that, but Jesus now has “brothers,” so what happened to the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary? Sound bites cause nothing but trouble because you don’t have the context to know what’s really being said. These sound bites take a whole lot of explanation, and the ones we have in today’s Gospel are certainly no exception.

First of all, let’s tackle the idea of Jesus having brothers. Many ideas surround that issue and have developed over time, as I am sure you can appreciate. One idea says that St. Joseph was an older man, and had sons by a previous wife, now dead. These would be Jesus’ half-brothers. Another idea comes from the fact that the Greek word translated “brothers” here is general enough that it might also refer to cousins or some other close kindred. So the brothers here would be close family members, not necessarily brothers. In either case, the Church affirms the perpetual virginity of Mary and this Gospel is making a different point.

The second sound bite is that Jesus seems to turn away from his mother and his relatives and claims that his family is those who hear the word of God and act on it. Well, Jesus certainly wasn’t turning away from his beloved mother or any of his close relatives. We know for a fact that Mary was the first of the disciples. Jesus seems to be more widening his family relationships than restricting them to just those related by blood. Which is good news for all of us who are now included in that family. Giving ourselves to the word of God, hearing it and living it, we are mother and brother and sister to Christ.