Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Have you ever thought how depressing life would be if this is all there was? Do you know people who would say that they believe there is nothing else after this life? Do you feel sorry for them? These questions of life and death and last things and life after the last things are what’s going on in the Church’s mind and imagination in these last days of the Church year. Last week, we celebrated our saints, those people who have fought the good fight and who have joined themselves to Christ in his overcoming of sin and death. And we mourned our dead, those souls who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and whose absence in our lives leaves a great hole that cannot seem to be filled up.

And it’s no wonder these questions grab us in these waning days of the year. The trees are losing their foliage. The daylight hours are getting shorter. The air is a bit colder. We can sense there is a change approaching, and perhaps it isn’t one that we look forward to. Even with the festive atmosphere of the upcoming Christmas holidays, or perhaps even because of that, many of us feel depressed or blasé, and the festivity of the holiday season only serves to highlight it for us. Please God, let there be something more.

Fundamentally, we human beings need to make connections. We want life, we want light, we want peace, we want love. And because we want all these things, we know we are alive. We attempt, don’t we, to fill them up as best we can. We hope that our attempts are healthy, but sometimes we find ourselves stuck and attempt to fill our desires with things that are well, just shoddy. We anesthetize ourselves with drugs or alcohol. We enter into relationships that are unhealthy. We work ourselves to death. We distance ourselves from loved ones. We sin.

And it’s easy for us to console ourselves when we accept these shoddy ways of filling our desires. Hey, we’re only human, right? Well, that’s what we tell ourselves. And that would be helpful except for the fact that sin isn’t human at all. Filling our desires so poorly is the very least human thing we can do. Our desires aren’t wrong; it is not wrong to want something more. Filling that up with something less is the problem.

The Sadducees had no idea, but that’s exactly what they were doing. The Sadducees, we are told, were a group of religious authorities that taught there was no resurrection. I had a professor in seminary that told us that that is why they were sad, you see. It’s a bad joke but I never forgot what the Sadducees were about! So these Sadducees come to Jesus and seem to have an earnest question. They speak of a woman seven times widowed and wonder whose wife she will be in the resurrection of the dead. Except that their question wasn’t earnest at all. Clearly they were out to discredit Jesus, even embarrass him. So you think there will be a resurrection, they say, well then, what about this?

The Sadducees didn’t get it when it came to the resurrection, and they weren’t willing to open their minds to any kind of new possibility. If what Jesus said didn’t fit what they believed, then it absolutely must be wrong. They were filling their desires with the sin of pride instead of the possibility of eternal life. What a horrible, shoddy way to fill up their desires!

But swing that around and look at the seven brothers in the first reading. All they would have to do was eat a little pork and they could have lived. Yet they patently refused to do so. One by one, they are tortured and killed. Why would they have let themselves be treated that way? All they had to do was eat some pork, for heaven’s sake; surely God would forgive them, right? But listen to what the first brother says: “You are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.” These brothers and their mother realized that there was something greater, something more. They knew their desire could never be filled up with a little pork, or the shoddy life that would come about as a result of giving up their beliefs. What a stark contrast they are to the prideful Sadducees!

St. Paul underscores this today in his letter to the Thessalonians. Listen to his opening instruction again:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,
who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement
and good hope through his grace,
encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.

There is something more, St. Paul tells us. There is something that will fill up our desires once and for all, and that something is Jesus Christ. It’s not going to be our pride, boasting of our elaborate wisdom or ability to take care of ourselves. It’s not going to be a little pork, or giving in to whatever temptation comes our way to take us off the path. It’s not going to be alcohol, or drugs, or unhealthy relationships or Dr. Phil or Oprah or anyone else. It’s only going to be Jesus, only Jesus who will fill up the desires that touch us to the core of who we are.

The Church in these waning days of the Church year would never deny that there is suffering in the world. She will not even allow us to tie up all the loose ends neatly so that we can march our way into the kingdom. But she will encourage us to open up our desires to be filled with our Savior who comes not to make our suffering go away, but instead to fill it up with his presence. Jesus tells us as much in another place: “In this world you will have suffering.” But suffering isn’t all there is. There is something more, and we can expect to be filled up with it when we realize that the fit for the hole we have in our hearts is Jesus Christ.

Our God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. To him all are alive. So in these last days of the year, if we find ourselves desiring peace, desiring wholeness, desiring comfort, desiring love, desiring fulfillment, or desiring anything else, that’s okay. Because what we’re really desiring is Christ, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Monday of the Thrity-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!

How often would we like to figure out what’s going on in God’s mind? Wouldn’t it be great to just be able to see the big picture as God sees it so that we can always do the right thing? But that’s just the point. The meaning of everything isn’t ours to know. God gives us what we need in order to follow him. If we would just open up our hearts and minds we could see what we need to see in order to be good disciples. But often we forget the grace we have been given and ignore what’s right in front of us in order to see what we want to see.

For who has known the mind of the Lord
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given him anything
that he may be repaid?

I often wonder if we really could see the whole big picture if we were more obedient to God’s will. Maybe it’s our disobedience, and not God, that keeps us from seeing everything as it truly is.

When it comes down to it, though, God is God and we are not. That is what St. Paul has been trying to tell us these past couple of weeks as we’ve been reading from his letter to the Romans. We have been disobedient and cannot be obedient apart from God’s grace. Thanks be to God, he has poured out his grace and mercy upon us. We cannot see what God wants us to see apart from God’s grace. Thanks be to God, he gives us his vision when we ask for it and are disposed to receive it.

We cannot give anything to God that he has not already given us. Our desire to thank him is itself a gift from God – it says that in today’s preface to the Eucharistic Prayer. God made us for relationship with him. We are called to be obedient to God’s grace and mercy that we might be able to see ourselves, others, and the whole world as it really is, and to know God’s plan for our lives. The Psalmist certainly received what he asked for today, and we can too: Lord, in your great love, answer me.

Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The thing is, you know, the Pharisee was quite right. His righteousness was beyond reproach. He has been innocent of greed, dishonesty and adultery. He has been more pious than even the law requires. Fasting was only required once a year, on the Day of Atonement, but he fasts twice a week. Tithes were only required to be paid on one’s earnings, but he pays them not only on his earnings, but also on all of his possessions, basically, he paid the tithe on his total net worth. He was probably quite right about his own righteousness, and he may well have been right about the failures of righteousness in the tax collector as well.

Because tax collectors were despicable human beings. They worked for the Romans, were in league with the foreign occupation. They were not paid by the Romans for their work. They were told what they had to collect, and whatever the collected over and above that was theirs to keep. Now certainly, they were entitled to some income, so a modest markup would have been understandable. But mostly the modest markup was far from modest, and bordered on extortion. Often, the border was crossed. The tax collector in our parable today does not deny that he has participated in those activities. He does not even pray about anything he has done except for one thing: he has sinned. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” he says.

Both of these men were right in what they said about themselves. From an objective point of view, they have presented themselves honestly before God and everyone. So what is the problem? Where has the Pharisee gone wrong and how did the tax collector end up justified?

It’s pretty easy to see what went wrong when we step back and look at the nature of their prayers. The Pharisee uses the word “I” four times. It’s all about him. The tax collector does not use the word “I” at all; he uses the word “me.” What’s the difference? Grammar lesson here: “I” is the subject, “me” is the object. So, for the Pharisee, it was all about what he had done through his own righteousness, and not about what God had done or could do. For the tax collector, it wasn’t about him at all. He acknowledges his sinfulness and asked God to have mercy. And that’s the second difference. The tax collector asks for something, namely mercy, and receives it: he goes home justified. The Pharisee asks for nothing, and that’s just what he gets: nothing.

The trouble here is that the Pharisee doesn’t need God; he can do the whole righteousness thing all by himself, thank you very much. This is known in theology as the heresy of Pelagianism: a belief that we are responsible for our own salvation, and that salvation is achievable through our own efforts. The tax collector knows this is false, and is quite convinced that he needs God and needs God’s mercy. He is also quite convinced that God can be trusted to come to his aid. The bottom line on this parable is that we are all sinners, we are all incapable of any kind of real righteousness on our own efforts, and we all need a Savior.

Someone once told me that it must be so hard for me to listen to all those confessions; that it must be discouraging to hear about all that sin. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Because the truth is, I am quite aware of my own sinfulness, and am encouraged by those who come to the Sacrament to receive God’s mercy. I don’t worry so much about those who confess their sins, because I trust in the grace of the Sacrament of Penance and I trust in the God who is mercy itself. I worry more about those who have not confessed or will not confess, or are too embarrassed to confess. I worry about those who think they can fix their problems all by themselves. I worry about those who don’t think they need a Savior.

This week I noticed how beautiful some of the trees are becoming. I felt the nip in the air and have noticed the shortness of the daylight. It all reminded me that our year is coming to a close. And our Church year is coming to a close even sooner than that: in just four weeks we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, the last day of our Church year, and the following week we will begin a new Church year with the season of Advent. Where has the time gone? These are the days that have me thinking about my life this past year. Maybe you are too. How have we grown this year, especially in our faith? Have we made progress in Christian life, attacked sin and vice, and grown in virtue? These are the questions we need to put up at the front of our prayer in these weeks.

The Liturgy today is framing all that around one question: have you been more aware this year of your need for a Savior? Because sin is exhausting. Anyone who has struggled with sin, or a pattern of sin, in their lives can tell you that. Those who have been dragged down by any kind of addiction or who have tried to work on a character flaw or striven to expel any kind of vice from their lives often relate how exhausting the sin can be. Sin saps our spiritual energy, weakens our resolve to do good, and causes us to turn away in shame from family, friends, and all those whose spiritual companionship we need in order to grow as Christian men and women and flourish in the world. That goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, who suddenly became aware of and ashamed of their nakedness in the Garden of Eden, and to St. Paul who prayed over and over to get rid of his “thorn in the flesh.” So when we are exhausted by sin, we should not be surprised. That’s just the way sin works.

But today’s Liturgy gives us very good news indeed. Sirach says in today’s first reading that “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay.” We see that very clearly in the parable in today’s Gospel. The lowly tax collector can not even bring himself to raise his eyes to heaven. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” he says. It is the perfect Act of Contrition. He acknowledges his sin, he prays for God’s mercy. And God responds. He can go home justified.

Just like the Pharisee and the tax collector, we have come to this temple, this church, to pray today. What is our prayer like? What is it that we have been trying to work on this year? What sins have become a pattern for us? Do we have addictions that need to be worked out? Have we failed in some way in our daily life? What dark corners of our lives desperately need God’s light and God’s mercy? In what ways do we need a Savior? Have we asked for God’s mercy, or have we been like the Pharisee, asking for nothing and receiving exactly that?

Our Psalmist is clear today: The Lord hears the cry of the poor. He’s not talking about simple poverty of riches. He’s talking more about the more complex poverty of spirit that we must all work toward. “God is close to the brokenhearted,” he says, and “those who are crushed in spirit, he saves. The Lord redeems the lives of his servants; no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him.” We don’t have to work hard to achieve our own righteousness. But we may have to work hard to achieve our own poverty of spirit.

God is God, and we are not. Pray it after me: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Sin is exhausting. Anyone who has struggled with sin, or a pattern of sin, in their lives can tell you that. Those who have been dragged down by any kind of addiction or who have tried to work on a character flaw or striven to expel any kind of vice from their lives often relate how exhausting the sin can be. Sin saps our spiritual energy, weakens our resolve to do good, and causes us to turn away in shame from family, friends, and all those whose spiritual companionship we need in order to grow as Christian men and women and flourish in the world. That goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, who suddenly became aware of and ashamed of their nakedness in the Garden of Eden, and to St. Paul who prayed over and over to get rid of his “thorn in the flesh.” So when we are exhausted by sin, we should not be surprised. That’s just the way sin works.

But we don’t have to be content with that either. The good news that St. Paul brings us in the first reading today from his letter to the Romans is that sin doesn’t get the last word. Those who did not know Christ had to live according to the law, with all of its precepts and principles and technicalities. But the law doesn’t sanctify a person, it only makes them more aware of their guilt and unworthiness. That’s why God sent his only Son into our world. It is only through our relationship with Jesus Christ that we can ever be cleansed, only through his sacrifice on the Cross that we can ever be reunited with our God.

As the Psalmist says today, we are the people who long to see God’s face. Because nothing else will heal us. Even if our sin makes us want to turn away and hide, we cannot hide from our God – indeed we dare not hide from our God if we ever want to be unburdened of the exhausting weight of our sinfulness. At this Eucharist, we celebrate our Lord who cares enough about us to bring us back unstained to the banquet of the Kingdom. We open ourselves to his mercy, revealing our brokenness, our sinfulness, our shame and our unworthiness. He opens himself to us in love, binding up that brokenness, erasing the sinfulness, healing our shame and lifting up whatever in us is unworthy. Jesus Christ is our salvation and our redemption. Our sins do not have to weigh us down, and we who receive him in the Eucharist today do not ever have to settle for being exhausted by our sins.

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.”