Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word speaks to us about being ready.  And now’s as good a time for that as any, especially since we are getting so close to the end of the liturgical year.  The liturgical year ends on the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe, which this year is celebrated on November 26th.  What we are going to start noticing in the readings from now until then is a decided interest in how all of time will be wrapping up.  Theologians call that “eschatology,” which is the theology about the end times.

Now, to be clear, we don’t know when the end of time will actually happen.  God in his providence keeps the big picture on that to himself, which I think is good, or we would be constantly worried about it.  But today’s Liturgy of the Word tells us that we can’t be complacent either.  We have to have our spiritual houses in order lest the master return and find us slacking off and give his blessings to more diligent servants.

It’s easy to slack off on our spiritual service when things are going well.  The urgency to our prayer wanes and we’re easily distracted.  But even when things aren’t going so well, we can be bogged down in the mire of whatever we’re dealing with and forget to attend to the faith that sees us through.  So the issue is being prepared: girding our loins and lighting our lamps, so that when the Master returns, we’re ready to go.

For us this might mean a return trip to the Sacrament of Penance if it’s been a while, or perhaps signing up for the Bible Study if we have been meaning to do that, or even just taking the Bible down off the shelf and reading a few verses each night before bed.  Whatever we haven’t been doing, whether it’s Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or a renewed dedication to the Holy Rosary, it’s time we got on it.  It might even mean taking time out of our busy schedules to be of service to those in need.

God wants to take us with him and he’s very patient, but we have to do our part.  We have to be diligent and ready.  We have to be eager to say with the Psalmist, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I love the little line in the gospel reading that says, “Take care, then, how you hear.”  It almost seems like a throw-away line, but really, I believe, it’s an essential instruction from Jesus.  We disciples are to take care how we hear.  Not what we hear, although that’s probably part of it, but how we hear.

So how do we hear the words of the gospel?  Do we hear them as something that seems nice but doesn’t really affect us?  Do those words fly over our heads or go in one ear and out the other?  Do we hear them at Mass, and then live however it is we want, leave the same way we came, ignoring what we’ve just heard?

Or, do we really hear the Word of the Lord?  Does the gospel get into our head and our heart and stir things up?  Do the words of Jesus get our blood flowing and our imaginations racing?  Does hearing the gospel make us long for a better place, a more peaceful kingdom, a just society?

We believe that the Word proclaimed is the actual presence of Christ.  We are not just hearing words about Jesus, we are hearing Jesus, we are experiencing the presence of God right here, right now, among us.  If we open the door of our ears and our hearts, we might just find God doing something amazing in us and through us.

Take care, then, how you hear.

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Sometimes it’s hard for things to get through to us, isn’t it? Well, it’s always been that way, apparently. One of my friends in seminary used to say that the Israelites had a pillar of cloud leading them by day, and a pillar of fire by night. So how come they couldn’t believe that God would take care of them? What more did they need?

Today’s readings speak of that dilemma. The people did not, in fact, believe Moses or they never would have made the golden idol. They didn’t believe Moses in his day, nor Jesus in his day. In the Gospel, Jesus indicts the Jews for their disbelief: They didn’t believe John the Baptist, they didn’t believe Moses, and he knew they definitely wouldn’t believe him. It’s hard to believe when you’re confronted with a truth that turns your world upside down. And they preferred the orderliness of their ignorance over the beautiful messiness of the Gospel.

Salvation isn’t supposed to be that hard. God reaches out to us in every moment; all we have to do is recognize that and respond to it. We don’t need glitzy human testimony – or we shouldn’t. We have the Lord poured out for us Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. How blessed we are to have such testimony to God’s love and mercy . May we accept that mercy today and always. May we turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel.

The Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So often, when someone thanks us for something, we might say, “It’s the least I could do.” As if it were some kind of badge of achievement to do the least thing possible. I think it’s human nature to try to do as little as possible, without being perceived as lazy or something. Sometimes we want to do as little as possible, and have others feeling good about it.

Well, I think it’s that kind of attitude that is behind today’s Liturgy of the Word. Certain things are expected of believers, and over the course of history, people have tried to get away with doing as few of those things as they absolutely need to do. The first reading sets the stage: Moses places the law before the people and tells them that they are a great nation, because they have a God so close to them, and who loves them enough to give them the whole law that they have received.

Now the whole law is more than we might think. Perhaps when we hear that, we think of the Ten Commandments, to which we also are bound in our discipleship. But for the Jewish community back then, there were a total of over six hundred laws and precepts that made up the law. Because of that, there was constant discussion over which of the laws was most important, and often people would be concerned more about a tiny little precept than about the whole big picture that God was trying to accomplish.

This is the attitude Jesus came to address with the Gospel. He wanted the people to get it right. He wanted them to have concern for people more than for semantics in the law. He wanted them to love as God loves, because if you do that, you’ll be keeping the law anyway. But people didn’t always accept that teaching. If they did, Jesus wouldn’t have had to go to the Cross, and there would have been no need to preach the Gospel.

So in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus makes a major correction. There was a law of purifying vessels before festivals, which is not unlike the way the priest washes his hands before the Eucharistic Prayer or the way that the vessels for Mass are purified after Communion. But somewhere along the way, the precept got mangled, and everyone was bound to scrupulously wash themselves and every vessel they owned before a feast. And Jesus chastises them for having more concern about a human tradition than about the real intent of the law.

The real intent of the law was obviously something way more important, way more personal. The real intent of that purification was the purification of our hearts. Jesus gives a rather horrifying list of sins at the end of the Gospel reading and notes that these are the things that defile; not some dirt on the outside of a cup or hands that had not been scrupulously cleaned. If we want to really purify ourselves for the festival, which is to say the Eucharist, then we have to be cleansed of our sins. That’s why we have the Sacrament of Penance, right?

James, in the second reading, picks up on the theme. If we really want to be thought to be wise in regard to keeping the law, then we have to keep ourselves unstained by the world, which would be the same thing as Jesus was saying, but also to care for those in need, with which Jesus would certainly not disagree!

The thing is, we are hearers of the Word. We have experienced the love of our Lord in so many ways. Everything that we have is a gift to us. We have to be wise in regard to all that, and to be certain that we keep the whole of the law. Not just those little minutiae, but the very spirit of the law, the law of love which binds all disciples and all people of good will.

Because, as the Psalmist says today, it is they who do justice who will live in the presence of the Lord. And that’s just where we all want to be.

Friday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It amazes me when I think about all that the early Church had to go through and put up with. Saint Paul writes that he put up with persecution from all sides: from his own people as well as the Gentiles. He was beaten often, endured hazardous journeys and perilous weather, as well as every kind of deprivation. His experience was definitely extreme, but others who lived the faith in those days were also subject to persecution, torture and death. Our experience isn’t like that, is it? I mean, here we sit in this air-conditioned church and relatively comfortable surroundings. We came here freely to Mass this morning and it is unlikely that anyone will openly persecute us or torture us or put us to death for worshipping our God, although as we saw in the news yesterday, it does happen.

But there is a subtle kind of persecution that we must endure. We know that even if our society is not openly hostile to living the Gospel, it is certainly just one step short of that. Life is not respected in our society: babies are aborted, the elderly are not respected or given adequate care, children are not raised in nurturing families, people are hated because of their race, color or creed. Faith is ridiculed as the crutch of the weak. Hope is crushed by those who abuse power. Love is overshadowed by sexual perversion and self-interest. Living the Gospel is dangerous to anyone who would want to be taken seriously in our culture.

To all of us who come to this holy place to worship this morning and who hope to work out our salvation by living the Gospel, Saint Paul speaks eloquently. We know that he, as well as all of the communion of saints, is there to intercede for us and show us the way. He says to us today, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?” He points us to our Lord Jesus who paid the ultimate price for the Gospel, and reminds us that in living that Gospel, regardless of its cost, we store up for ourselves incredible treasures in heaven, because it is in heaven that our heart resides.

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

What a wonderful instruction for Jesus to give us this morning.  “Go and do likewise.” Jesus is telling us that those who hear the Gospel must also live it, or it is useless.  Those who do not go out and do likewise are like the foolish Galatians in today’s first reading who seem to be abandoning the Gospel and replacing it with all kinds of other rules, including circumcision, that are mere appearances of holiness.  Those of us who would call ourselves disciples of the Lord must do better than that.  We must indeed “go and do likewise.”

We’ve all heard the story of the Good Samaritan umpteen times so it may all too easily go in one ear and out the other.  But we really must hear what Jesus is saying in this parable if we are to get what living the Christian life is all about.  The good person in the story is one that Jesus’ hearers would have expected to be anything but good: the very name “Samaritan” was synonymous with being bad.  So for the Samaritan to come out as the good guy was something that made his hearers stand up and take notice.

Yet it was this person, who was considered to be less-than-good, that knew instinctively the right thing to do.  Compassion for others is part of the natural law, something that every person should possess, Christian or not, and for Christians it is certainly foundational to living the Gospel.  Turning one’s back on those in need is reprehensible and any who do that are not hearing what the Gospel is teaching us.

The Gospel is not merely for our edification; it is for our instruction.  Those of us who would dare to hear it must be willing to go and do likewise.

Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time/Diocesan Appeal Announcement

Today’s readings

Our readings today pick up the sermon that Jesus was giving in last week’s gospel.  Last week, he used the formula: “You have heard that it was said…  But I say to you…” to raise the bar on living the fifth, sixth and eighth commandments.  Merely refraining from actual murder no longer means that we have not murdered in our heart.  Never having had an extra-marital affair doesn’t any longer mean that we haven’t committed sexual sin.  And never having lied under oath doesn’t mean we haven’t stretched the truth in ways that are sinful.  Disciples, people who believe in Christ, are expected to live differently: our faith looks like something, and that something is radical lives of integrity that set out to witness to God’s love in the world.

This week we have a bit more of the same, but this time expressed in terms of positive behavior.  Christian disciples, he tells us, are not just to refrain from anything that would tear down another’s life, they are not just to refrain from seeing people as objects, nor are they just to refrain from lying.  They are to go beyond all that and give of themselves, even when it doesn’t seem like they would strictly be required to do so.  Disciples are to give of themselves even when they themselves have been wronged.  They are to do more than the law requires and offer no resistance to evil.  Disciples are even to love their enemies, for heaven’s sake!

So what we are seeing over these two weekends’ Scriptures are a completely new message for the people of Israel.  Hopefully the message is not a new one for us, but it is, we have to admit, one of which we need to be reminded from time to time.  Because it’s really easy to get caught up in our own entitlement, and looking out for number one, and doing what seems best for us.  But disciples are called to a different kind of life, one that leads ultimately to the kingdom of heaven.  If we’re ever going to attain that eternal reward, we have to bring everyone with us that we can.  And to do that, sometimes we’re going to have to let someone else win the argument, or see the good in someone who isn’t presenting a real good side right now.  We might even have to go so far as to love and pray for those who are working against us, and trust God to work it all out.

And the thing is, God is that trustworthy, but sometimes we don’t have faith enough to do that.  That’s something we have to work on every day.  Because if the only one we ever trust in is ourselves, we are destined for a pretty bad end.  Even the brightest and best of us have limited ability, and none of us can ever make up to God for the offenses of our sins.  So our ability to be okay in bad times goes only as far as we can manage, unless we trust in the Father’s care.

Today I am speaking at all the Masses about the Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal.  As you are aware, the appeal funds the various ministries of the Diocese of Joliet and is integral to providing funding for so many activities that support our work at the parish level, and also reach out to those in need.  You probably already received a mailing from the diocese asking for your contribution; I know I did.  If, like me, you have already made your pledge, I want to thank you for your participation.  Your generosity makes a huge difference to those who depend on these funds.

In today’s bulletin, you’ll find this tabloid about the appeal.  My favorite part is on the inside where it talks about how our money is being used.  I wanted to briefly point out a few of those.  One of the best, I think, is the education of seminarians, of which our own Chris Lankford is a beneficiary.  We also have another young man who has been accepted from our parish, and he will benefit for that too.  I know that during my time in seminary, I estimated that my education cost the diocese over $100,000, and the costs have certainly gone up in the years since.  We need priests, and so we need to have the funds to educate them.

The diocese serves over 660,000 Catholics in our seven-county area.  Some of the other ways the appeal helps us is by funding Young Adult and Youth Ministry programs that serve over 25,000 young people.  More than 155,000 nights of shelter and housing were provided to the homeless.  The Catholic Schools Office assists and gives direction to our own school and others, serving over 20,000 elementary and high school students, and the Religious Education Office helps train and direct catechists who reach almost 50,000 students a year.

Our parish has always been very generous in so many ways, including to the Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal.  Last year we exceeded our goal and received a rebate from the diocese that helps us to balance our own budget and provide for unforeseen needs, like the greater need for snow removal and salting this year.  I am grateful for all that you have done to accomplish this, and as your pastor, I am proud of the way that we come together to help those who need us.

Our Psalmist today reminds us that “The Lord is kind and merciful.”  God is never outdone in generosity, and so when we extend ourselves to those in need, when we give above and beyond what is strictly required, when we love those who maybe don’t love us, and even pray for our enemies, we can trust that God will give us all that we need and bless us in ways that we may never have expected.  Trust in the Father’s care: that’s what our Scriptures and this year’s appeal ask us to do.  It’s sound advice, and I pray that we would all take note of it!