Saturday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Because of your little faith.” If that was the allegation of Jesus’ disciples, those men and women walking with him in person day after day, how much more does it apply to us today? How many situations absolutely confound us? How many injustices seem chronically irreparable? How many emotional crises seem insurmountable? There are demons of all shapes and sizes and types. How effective are we at casting out those demons of addiction, ignorance, or apathy? Why can’t we drive them out? Because of our little faith.

I always bristled a bit at the instruction at the end of today’s Gospel about moving a great mountain. I was pretty sure I’d never have faith that big, and even if I did, why would I want to move a mountain?! But we get all this wrong. It’s as if it depends on us, and it certainly does not. Are we convinced that God can move mountains, that he can drive out demons, that he can respond to addiction, ignorance and apathy? Certainly. But that kind of believing has to get beyond just being in our heads and come out in our words and actions and living.

Because faith is useless if we never put it into practice. It might be tough to be in the midst of addiction, emotional crisis, or injustice, but that’s when we need to depend on our faith. What good is our faith unless it can lead us through hard times and accomplish great things in the midst of the messiness of life? Habakkuk tells us today that “the just man, because of his faith, shall live.” That might not seem possible when we are in the midst of crisis. But our faith tells us that whatever happens, God will never stop being with us.

Maybe we’ll never move a mountain. Who wants to anyway? But with faith we can certainly move from a dark place to light, from despair to peace, from sadness to joy.

Thursday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In the ancient Hebrew, the word we have for righteousness and justice is sedeq, which most literally means right order. The idea is that when things are as they were intended to be by God, then the poor will be taken care of, nobody’s rights will be trampled on, and God’s grace will be evident in every situation. So this idea of sedeq is of course a frequently-mentioned topic in the prophets’ preaching. Today we have the prophet Jeremiah pointing out the lack of sedeq in the community of the Israelites: “for they broke my covenant,” Jeremiah prophecies, “and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD.”

There is just one possible antidote to the infidelity of the people, and that is God’s loving-kindness. The Hebrew language has a word for this, too, and that is hesed. It is summed up in the way the Lord wishes to bring the people back into right relationship as Jeremiah says: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

The hesed that Jesus brings is still more radical, and that turns out to be a problem for Peter. He knows well enough who Jesus is: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus enthusiastically accepts his statement of faith and confers on him the ministry to direct the Church of the future: “And so I say to you, you are Peter,” Jesus proclaims, “and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” But when it turns out that the way for Jesus to make all that happen and unleash God’s ultimate loving-kindness is for Jesus to die, that doesn’t set well with Peter. “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”

The thing is, for hesed to happen in any situation, someone pretty much always has to lay down their life. It might be physically as Jesus did on the cross, but it could also be by letting a disagreement go, pursuing forgiveness even at the cost of being right about something on principle, or giving up one’s own desires so that others can be nourished. And Satan knows that hesed is the worst thing in the world that can happen for him. So he always wants us to say “God forbid, Lord! Why should you have to die? Why should I have to die?” But we have to put such thoughts aside. We have to think as God does, not as human beings do.

Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

As you may know, I kind of like to cook. I learned to cook back when I was about eleven or twelve, when my mom started a part time job working in the evenings. My Dad, God rest his soul, wasn’t much of a cook. We used to say he used the smoke alarm to time when things were done cooking. So, in defense of myself and my two sisters, I learned to cook. And Dad wasn’t real unhappy about that, as you might guess. Anyway, as I was learning to cook, sometimes I’d come across a recipe for which we didn’t have the exact right ingredients. Sometimes it was a spice we didn’t have, or maybe it called for butter and all we had was margarine. But whatever the case, there were a few times when I just adapted and took a chance. Sometimes it worked out okay, and sometimes not, but I always learned from the experience.

I was reminded about that experience when I was reading today’s Gospel. Jesus has been attracting people to come to him. They have heard his words and seen what he’s done and want to be around him. But the disciples have no idea what to do with these people now that it’s getting late and nobody’s eaten yet. If they could, they might provide a rich feast that the author of our first reading hints at. A buffet flowing with wine and milk and rich fare. But they have nothing like that to give all these people. So they approach Jesus with a different idea: “dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus won’t hear of such a thing: “Give them some food yourselves.”

And to the disciples ear, that’s easier said than done. “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” But for Jesus, that’s good enough. Those might not have been the exact ingredients for a rich banquet for well over five thousand people, but they’d be good enough in the hands of Jesus. The drama unfolds over four very specific verbs: take, bless, break, give. Jesus takes the bread, says the blessing, breaks the bread, and gives it to the disciples to give to the crowds. And everyone has more than enough to eat.

Jesus does that same thing for us today. He takes the meager gifts we bring: bread and wine, our underdeveloped talents, our tentative faith life. They might not be the ingredients one would hope for, but for Jesus they are plenty. Because he doesn’t just stand off at a distance and see what it is we’ll do with our lacking giftedness, instead he gets right in there with us and supplies everything that what we bring lacks.

Then he says the blessing. In that blessing he gives our meager gifts the power to be a scrumptious banquet. And so our bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ himself, a banquet that in itself gives eloquence to our underdeveloped talents and power to our tentative faith.

Then he breaks the bread. Our gifts taken and blessed are now divided up to provide for the need that is the experience of our world. Because it’s not just us who need to be fed, but it is a hungry, waiting world, that numbers far beyond the shocking five thousand men, to include the billions of men, women and children from every time and place. These are people who are perhaps physically hungry, lacking food and money and clothing and shelter. They are also people who are spiritually hungry, needing something they can believe in, something that can deliver them from the limits of their sadness and pain. This broken bread has to feed all of them, and it will.

Finally he gives the bread to the disciples to give to the people. The disciples are the Church, bringing that blessed bread to all the hungry people. The crowds eat and are satisfied, but more important than that, they are nourished and strengthened for the task that lies ahead. That task is bringing all those hungry people of every time and place to the Church so that they too can be fed, so that their broken lives can be bound up and healed, so that their sadness and pain can be transformed in the healing power of the Cross and Resurrection. The Church’s mission to feed the hungry will never end until that great day when Christ gathers us all to himself.

Just like my culinary experimentation most often led to an edible dish, so the disciples had to throw in whatever they had and came out with an amazing meal. We must continue to do that, continue bringing our bread and wine, our gifts and talents, our faith – such as it is, and giving them to our Lord who takes it all, blesses it and breaks it, giving it all for the life of the world. But it all starts with us. We have to take a chance and give whatever we have. Because if we don’t, dinner will never be served.

Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

Someone once told me about a movie called “Everest.”  I haven’t seen it, but I’m told it’s about a mountain climbing expedition that went horribly wrong. The climbers were making their way to Everest's summit when a storm came up and stranded them on the mountain. The storm was so severe that rescuers couldn't get to them and some of the climbers died. One man, whom they thought was dead, survived. He had some of his toes and fingers amputated because of frost bite.

In an interview the climber was asked, "Will you climb again?" And without hesitation he said, "Absolutely!"  "But why?" he was asked, "You almost died on the mountain!" His reply, "You just have to be there. Climbing makes this minute of life so alive, so precious. It's not just about your time on the mountain. Once you have been on the mountain you become more aware of everything. Nothing is ever the same in your life. If you have been there, all of your life is affected by your experience. Climbing alters the way you see your family, job…everything."

Now, I have to admit, I have a little bit of a hard time relating to that.  I’m obviously not a mountain-climber, and so I don’t think I’d be risking my life to do it.  But this story does beg the question in us: what is so important you’d give your life for it?

Because that’s the question that’s forming the heart of today’s Scripture readings.  Solomon could have wished for anything he wanted.  After all, the Lord simply said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”  How would you answer that question?  Well, Solomon didn’t wish for riches or political power, or fame or glory or anything at all like that.  He asks instead for wisdom, for “an understanding heart
to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”  In itself, this is a response that is laden with wisdom, and God is so pleased that the grants Solomon “a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.”

In the parables in today’s Gospel, two people are going about their daily work, searching for treasure, and for fine pearls.  They have probably done this day in and day out and occasionally find something fairly good that brings them some income.  But on these particular days, they find a treasure, and a pearl, that is more wonderful than anything they have ever seen.  They quickly give up everything they have in life so that they can purchase it.  Can you imagine their joy?  Well, Jesus tells us, finding the Kingdom of heaven is kind of like that.

But not just like that, right?  Because we know that worldly goods can never hold a candle to the riches of the Kingdom of heaven.  The success in our careers is nice, the nice things we have in our homes give us some pleasure, our accomplishments – like climbing Mt. Everest – may even give us some pride.  But all of these will pale in the face of the joy of the Kingdom. 

And so we have the invitation today.  We have found the great treasure, the pearl of great price.  We have come here today to worship and to receive the Lord in the Eucharist.  We know where to find that which is ultimately valuable.  But the fact is that we can come and go from this holy place today and still not have what’s truly worthwhile.  Because in order to receive it, we have to give up everything.  We have to sell everything and buy the field or purchase that pearl of great price.

That might mean walking away from a business deal that is profitable but has consequences for the poor or the environment.  Or perhaps it means giving up a relationship that is destructive.  We may have to give up a leisure pursuit that separates us from family and friends.  We have to make choices, changes and decisions that amount to selling everything in order to make room for something that is more important in our lives – something that is ultimately important: that pearl of great price which is the Kingdom of heaven itself.

Today’s Liturgy of the Word leaves us with some very important questions.  What is the pearl of great price for us?  What is worth giving up everything?  How important is it for us to enter the Kingdom of heaven?  What is it that we must give up to get there?  Our prayer today is that we would be strengthened by the Word of God and nourished by the Eucharist so that we would have the courage to sell everything for the Kingdom of heaven, that pearl of ultimately great price.

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

We’ve just had this Gospel reading in the Sunday readings in the last couple of weeks, so I thought I’d touch on a few verses that I didn’t go into in that homily.  And these are some of the most powerful words in Scripture for me, and always a challenge for me:

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Sometimes we just overlook the blessing of every moment, don’t we?  We might be in the midst of a really good time in our lives.  We get to see new birth, restoration, healing, joy, laughter, and celebration.  But in the midst of all that, we can in fact become jaded to it.  Perhaps we even feel entitled to it and the blessing of it stops registering for us.

Or maybe we’re in the midst of a really lousy time.  Maybe we are seeing death, degradation, sickness, brokenness, pain, weeping and grief.  And we can be real angry about that, overlooking the care that is extended to us, from the kind words, to the thoughtful deeds, or even just the loving embrace.  We miss the blessings of those hard times a lot.

But regardless, in every moment of every day, we get to see things and hear things that others have not been privileged to see and hear.  We get to love and rejoice and persevere in whole new ways every single day.  Whether the times are good or bad, the moments are always blessed by our God who walks with us through every experience.  We have to take the time to see and hear those blessings, because the destruction of our soul that happens when we miss it is just irreparable.  So many have longed to see and hear what we have seen and heard.  Blessed are our eyes, blessed are our ears, blessed are we!

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

The job of a prophet is not an easy one.  And we should all know, because we are all in some ways the prophetic seeds the Lord is sowing in the world.  We might fall on good soil, or amongst rocks or thorns, but wherever we are, we are expected to bear fruit.  We are called upon to preach the Word in our actions and sometimes our words, no matter how difficult a job it can sometimes be.

The reading about the call of the prophet Jeremiah that we have in our first reading today was the first reading at my Deaconate ordination.  I picked it myself.  But like a lot of deacons at their ordinations, I cleverly didn’t pick the verses that follow in Jeremiah’s account, detailing all the bad news he would be called upon to preach to the people of Israel.  Sometimes what we prophets have to say is not politically correct, or suitable for polite company.  We might bear good news, but more than likely we’ll bear bad news, or at least warnings of bad news.  And sometimes that’s just hard for people to hear.

But whatever we have to say, and wherever our prophetic actions or words take us, the Lord makes it clear to Jeremiah – and us! – today that we will never be delivering that news alone:

To whomever I send you, you shall go;
whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Have no fear before them,
because I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.

So in our offering today, maybe we can renew our prophetic promise to God.  We can once again give him our lives and promise to follow where he takes us.  And whatever soil we land on, may we all bear “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

Sometimes, as St. Paul reminds the Romans today, we do not know how to pray as we ought.  In fact, learning how to pray as we ought is a discipline that takes a lifetime to perfect.  The saints have done it, and maybe you even know some living saints whose prayer is pretty close to the way we ought to do it.  But for the rest of us, prayer is a discipline that takes hard work and constant attention.  It’s a good thing then, that the work and attention it requires is so joy-filled and rewarding.

But no, we don’t know how to pray as we ought, do we?  I remember back when I was in college, all the way through probably my early thirties.  I thought I had the prayer thing all figured out.  When we’re young, sometimes we’re misled that way.  Of course, I was off the mark by a lot, but that’s to be expected.  So I have a confession to make, and it cannot leave this room, okay?  My confession is that I always thought I never had to go to confession because:

  • I never did anything all that bad … or
  • The stuff I did was so bad that the priest would be shocked … or
  • God already knows my sins, so why do I have to tell him and a priest about them? … or
  • God has long forgotten my sins, so why bring them up again?

Maybe you’ve heard these arguments, or others like them before.  Maybe those arguments have even come from your own lips.  But sticking to my own confession here, I made all of these arguments myself at one time or another.  And like a lot of people who grew up in my day, I didn’t go to confession hardly ever at all.  But then, fast forward to about my mid-thirties, during a time when I was having a crisis of faith.  I was trying to figure out at the time if I would stay in the Catholic Church, or whether I’d go join Willow Creek along with some of my friends.  I had gone to a few of their services and found them inspiring, and was seriously giving thought to joining that church.

I prayed about it and really felt that God told me that he didn’t care which Church I was in, as long as I was committed to it.  But there were some obstacles to my joining Willow Creek.  One of them is that I would have to be rebaptized, which I think the Scriptures tell us is totally off-base.  The other is that they only had communion once a month, and it wasn’t actually Jesus but only a symbol, and that didn’t work for me.  But we’ll bracket those two obstacles for now – they are the stuff of other homilies.  The issue that finally settled it for me was my long-neglected friend Confession.

During a sermon on one of the nights, one of the elders of the Church, who apparently was an ex-Catholic, talked about his experience of Confession as a child.  He talked about the terrifying dark box he had to go into, and how he had to tell all his sins to someone who didn’t really have any authority (apparently he missed Jesus’ the passing on of the keys to the kingdom to St. Peter in Scripture, but we’ll leave that alone).  And finally he said something like “after that, I got a penance and the priest said something that I guess was supposed to wipe my sins away.”  It was very condescending and really flew in the face of what I believed about the Sacrament of Penance, even though I had not gone to confession in years.

To make a long story short, that really tugged on me, and I finally decided to stay in the Catholic Church (well, obviously, right?).  But God’s call to make sure I committed to the Church I chose stayed with me, and I knew that meant I had to go to Confession.  So I went to a Penance Service at my church and went to a priest that I knew there.  I confessed I hadn’t been to Confession in years, and I’ll never forget what he said: “Welcome back.”  That confirmed for me that the Sacrament of Penance was incredibly important to my prayer life – to any prayer life, and it’s been part of me ever since.

Why is it so important?  Well yes, it’s because we all mess up here and there in little and big ways every day.  By doing that, we separate ourselves from God and the Church and we need to be brought back.  But more than that, the Sacrament of Penance puts us close to God in the most intimate way possible: by experiencing his mercy.  The Wisdom writer in our first reading today makes this clear: “you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”  And it is that hope that we so much need, isn’t it?  Because we are in a world that sometimes causes us to let go of hope, to lose sight of hope, and finally to give up on hope.  The joy-filled Sacrament of Penance gives us that sacramental encounter with God’s hope which is a hope that nothing can destroy.

So what about you?  How long has it been since your last Confession?  If it’s been a long time, what is it that is keeping you away?  I encourage you to go back soon, and in order to make that easier, here is Fr. Pat’s consumer’s guide to the Sacrament of Penance:

  1. If you have been away a long time, say that to the priest when you go in.  Tell him, “Father it’s been years since my last confession, and I might need some help to do this right.”  If he doesn’t welcome you back and fall all over himself trying to help you make a good confession, you have my permission to get up and leave and go find a priest who is more welcoming.  Because it is my job to help you make a good confession, it is my job to make sure the experience is meaningful for you, it is my job to make you want to come back, and I take that very seriously.
  2. Tell the priest whatever sins you can remember.  Don’t worry if you forget one or two, you can always confess them later if they still bother you.  If there’s something that you think there’s no way you can say, say it anyway.  We have heard just about everything, and we are not there to judge you.  Our presence in the Sacrament is to help you find the way to God’s mercy, nothing more than that.
  3. Sometimes people feel like they can’t go to a priest they know because maybe the priest will think less of them after it’s over.  Well, that would be true if I had never sinned, but let me tell you, I have plenty of my own sins, and I am humbled whenever I hear another person’s confession.  Because I am a sinner too, I am more motivated than you could possibly imagine to help you find God’s mercy.  I am always so humbled that people come to me and unburden themselves to find God’s mercy.  I couldn’t possibly think poorly of you for confessing whatever was on your heart.  If anything, I would think more of you.
  4. People sometimes worry that a priest will remember their sins.  As you know, we are not permitted, under penalty of excommunication, to reveal anything you say in Confession, or even to confirm or deny that you have spoken with us in Confession.   But we also pray for the grace of forgetfulness.  This is a grace that God grants us: because God has forgotten your sins, we do too.  The last time I told a group of people this, someone came to me afterward and said, “Father, I’m so relieved to hear that forgetfulness is a grace – I thought I was losing my mind!”  But seriously, God forgets your sins, and we do too.

The Psalmist has the right words for us today: “You, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger,
abounding in kindness and fidelity.”  If you haven’t had a sacramental experience of that in a while, I urge you to do it soon.  We’re here every Saturday from 4-4:45pm.  If you need to see us at another time, you can always make an appointment with me or Fr. Ted.  We are here to put you in touch with God’s mercy, and, as Jesus says in the long form of today’s Gospel, to help you become one of t hose who “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
 

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

There is a wonderful, comforting message in today’s readings, and it’s a message that speaks to all of us when we’re at the end of the rope in our faith life.  That message is that God hears the cries of all of us who are poor in one way or another.  Whether we’re actually poor, or whether we’re oppressed, or are spiritually poor and struggling, or our relationships are poor, or we’re just feeling impoverished by a life that is one struggle after another: God hears us.  He can’t help but hear us. 

The Psalmist echoes the cry that goes on in all of us when we are in the midst of hard times: “Do not forget the poor, O Lord!”  How often when we are being tested, do we wonder where God is and demand that he do something right now?  It might even feel like we’ve been forgotten.  But today’s readings say that isn’t so.  God is with us, God hears us, and will always be with us in our need.

That’s what Micah is reminding Israel of in today’s first reading.  They can’t be ignoring the poor, because God doesn’t.  They can’t be oppressing the innocent, because God doesn’t.  They can’t be living evil lives, can’t be cheating people out of their inheritance, can’t be taking what is not theirs, because God does notice, and God will not ignore the evil deeds of this sinful people.  There will be justice for the poor, God will reach out to them in their need. 

Jesus, in the Gospel, was almost running for his life.  He knows that the Pharisees are turning up the heat and trying to kill him.  But he will not miss healing the sick and broken along the way.  He warns them not to make him known, but he does heal them.  Because he cannot be deaf to their cries for wholeness and healing.

That message of comfort comes to us this day.  Wherever we find ourselves this morning, whatever need we may have, whatever brokenness in us needs to be bound up and healed, we can know that God is aware of our needs, and will be with us in good times and bad.  No matter what.

Friday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

“There is something greater than the temple here.”

Jesus uses this kind of argument with the Pharisees very often, because they are always missing the significance of what Jesus is doing.  They are among those who refuse to see that a man like him could possibly be the Messiah, God’s anointed one, the One who is to come.  And so they instead continue to ponder all the tiniest implications of the Law and look out for anyone who might be living contrary to their interpretation of what the Law meant.  And since Jesus had a very different idea of the meaning of the Law, that meant he and his disciples were always running afoul of the Pharisees.

“There is something greater than the temple here.”

In today’s Gospel story, the Pharisees are supposedly defending the law that the Sabbath was a day of rest, in accordance with the Third Commandment.  What the disciples were doing though, was to provide food for their own hunger.  The disciples weren’t rich men, and so we can probably surmise that they depended on the generosity of those with means who had been touched by Jesus’ message or ministry.  The Law itself provided that grain in the fields that was not taken up by the first pass of the harvest was to be left in the field for the poor.  But the Pharisees mostly didn’t care about the poor, so they wouldn’t have seen that application.  But even worse than that, they didn’t see that Jesus was inaugurating a whole new Law – one that God always intended – one that provided for the needs of people rather than just the minutiae of the law.

“There is something greater than the temple here.”

So we have to hear this too.  Because there is always the temptation to defend the rules instead of seeing how the rules apply to people.  Even our own Canon law, with its many rules and regulations, provides that the most important part of the law is that it is to assist in the salvation of God’s people.  The law is meaningless in and of itself.  Law is there to help people on the way to salvation, to help people to know Christ, who is certainly greater than the temple, greater than the law.  And so, whenever we’re tempted to bind ourselves with our own interpretation of the law or rules of the Church, we should instead submit ourselves to the Gospel, which is the only authentic interpreter of the Law.  There is always something greater than the temple here.

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