The Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I’ve often heard stories of those who grew up in the great depression.  Many years later, they still had deeply engrained in them the scrupulous care for everything they have that was etched into their very being during that horrible time in our history.  They spent a lifetime wasting nothing, even hoarding things.  They would eat leftovers well past their freshness dates.  It was just their response to having nothing, completely understandable.

And that’s the lens through which I think we need to see this week’s Gospel parable.  Here Jesus presents the often quoted story of a rich man entrusting his slaves with a great deal of wealth before he sets off on a long journey.  The word “talents” here does not mean what we mean when we use that word: here we are not talking about gifts or abilities, but rather money, and a large sum of money at that.  Scholars suggest that a talent was equal to something like one thousand days’ wages, or what a poor person could have lived on for fifteen or twenty years.  So think about it, even the servant who only received one talent actually received quite a bit – he received what the average person would earn in a little over three years!  That’s a lot of money for anyone.

So who is it, then, that is receiving such a magnanimous gift?  On first glance, seeing what it is they have been given, we might think these are senior advisers to the master, people who would have been in charge of his estate and his business transactions.  But that’s not what it says.  It says he called in his “servants” – so we are talking here about slaves, slaves – not business advisers.  And so these slaves are getting ten talents, five talents, and one talent – all of them are getting a considerable amount of money!

And we know the story.  Two of them take what they have and very successfully invest it and when the master returns, are able to hand over the original sum with one hundred per cent interest.  Very impressive!  But the slave who received just a “little” (even though it was certainly still a lot of money), out of fear buries it in the ground and gives it back to the master untouched, with nothing to show for it.  It’s much like a person having gone through something like the great depression placing money under a mattress rather than trust the banks, which they saw fail miserably in their lifetimes.

It’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s see where we can go.  We’ve established that the gift they are receiving – even the slave who received little – is worth an incredible amount of money, especially to a slave who would never have the opportunity to see such wealth if not for the trust the master has placed in them.  So let’s be clear that this parable is not about us using our gifts properly; it’s about we slaves receiving something very great, some inestimable wealth.  What could that possibly be?  Well, of course, it’s God’s love, grace, and favor, which is undeservedly ours and given to us without merit.

So just for background, this is yet another indictment of the Pharisees and religious establishment of the time.  They were the ones who, because Christ was not yet present in the world, received just one talent.  But it was still a huge sum of grace!  Yet, their practice was to protect it so scrupulously by attending to the minutiae of the 613 laws of the Torah, that they missed the opportunity to really invest God’s love in the world and grow the faith to full stature.

So we can’t be like that.  We can’t have the faith taken away from us and be tossed out to wail and grind our teeth.  We have to take the faith we’ve been given, the grace we have received in baptism, and invest it mightily in the world, without fear, so that everyone will come to know the Lord and we would all go on to be put in charge of greater things, in the kingdom of heaven.  That is our vocation in the world, brothers and sisters in Christ.  We have to get that right.  We can’t cower in fear, or think our faith is too little, or we don’t know enough.  That was the cardinal sin for Matthew in his Gospel.  We have to be bold disciples and make sure that Christ is known everywhere we go, everywhere life takes us.  That is the only acceptable response to God’s love.

[[ Today we welcome our candidates for full Communion with the Church.  They have all been baptized in other Christian communities, and have come to us to become Catholic.  They have already been meeting with our RCIA program to grow in their knowledge of the faith and experience of God’s presence in their lives.  Welcoming them today, we have marked them with the sign of the Cross, helping them to remember the treasure of grace and love that God has already entrusted to them in baptism.  As we invest our faith in them today, we have hope that they will do the same for others, so that many more believers may be found for the kingdom of God.]]

We have come to the second-to-last Sunday of the Church year.  Next week, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe, and then look forward to a new year as we begin the season of Advent.  And so it is important that we take today’s Gospel parable seriously.  We need to spend some time reflecting on how well we have invested God’s grace and love in the world around us.  Have we been good examples to our family and others?  Have we been people of integrity in our workplaces, schools and community?  Have we served those who are in need out of love for Christ?  Have we been zealous to grow in our spiritual lives?  Have we taken time to root sin out of our life, and to receive the grace of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance?  Have we been unafraid to witness to our faith in every situation?

If we can’t answer all these questions affirmatively, we have some new-Church-year’s resolutions to make.  Because, and I can’t stress this strongly enough, brothers and sisters, the alternative is wailing and grinding of teeth.  And forever is a long time to be doing that!  No; God forbid.  Our desire is to hear those wonderful words from our Lord one day: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.  Come, share your master’s joy.”

The Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This week in my bulletin column, I have a reflection on the introductory rites of Mass.  But maybe in the homily, we can take a step back from that and think about what we’re supposed to do before Mass.  And what we do before Mass, and I mean before we even come to church, is live our life.  Because, as challenging as it is to worship when we’re here in church, it’s still way easier than worshipping out there in the world, isn’t it?

We may intend to work hard, and pray reflectively, but life sometimes – well, more than sometimes: often – throws us a curve ball and all our pious plans go out the window.  You know what I mean, right?  People at work don’t do what they’re supposed to.  Others in our family get into rough situations and test our patience.  Our commute is exacerbated by the pouring rain.  And it can go even deeper: news about a loved one’s illness, news about our own illness, and on and on.  And then we can slip up and fall into sin, that sin we have been praying hard to overcome and doing everything we can to avoid.  Our pious plans can turn into a very rough week indeed.  In among the blessings – and we have to admit, there are blessings – life can derail us and bring us to a frustrating place.

The good news is that our Liturgy of the Word speaks to that today, I think.  The wisdom writer in the first reading praises God who has the care of all, and who permits repentance for sins.  The Psalmist extols God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in kindness and fidelity.  Saint Paul tells the Romans, and us, that the Holy Spirit comes to our aid in our weakness, helping us to pray the right way, even praying in our stead when we cannot.  We need all that consolation when our week doesn’t go the way we hoped.

And we have the Gospel, which continues the theme of planting seeds that we heard last week.  Here we hear of the wisdom of God who allows the weeds to grow among the wheat and is wise enough to sort it all out at the harvest time.  This Gospel talks all about the Kingdom of God and what it will be like.  It will be like a tiny mustard seed that grows up to become a huge shrub.  It will be like a measure of yeast mixed with flour to become a loaf of bread.

Here are a couple of things I want us to take from this Gospel.  First, the Kingdom of God is now.  Jesus made it real, showing us that the kingdom is present in ordinary ways: a mustard seed, a measure of yeast.  He wants us to see that we don’t have to wait for a far-off distant Kingdom, but instead to live in the Kingdom now, where he is our King.

Second, the mustard seed, the yeast – that’s us.  We are the ones to make the Kingdom happen.  Jesus needs us to go out and proclaim the message, to witness to the presence of the Kingdom, to make people want to be part of it.  Our prayer, our love, our joy, all of that make it possible for people to come to know Christ.  The Kingdom of God is our true home; the rest of the world is just a travelling place.  When we live in the Kingdom here and now, we will be ready for the great coming of the Kingdom in heaven, where all will be made right and we will live forever with our God.

If we’ve had a less than stellar week, we need that good news, we need that Kingdom.   We need to know that God is patient, and forgiving, and allows us to come to maturity before there’s judgment.  We need to know there is mercy and forgiveness, and a Spirit that prays with us and for us in our weakness.  And we need to hear Jesus call us to be leaven in the world, even though we’re not perfect.  He needs us to work on changing sadness to hope, directing all eyes to the One who is our true King.

The Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings
For the Rite of  Acceptance Into the Order of Catechumens

Worry will absolutely kill us, if we let it.  As a pastor and confessor, I hear worry from people all the time.  Worry about job issues or money in general, worry about illnesses or the grieving of loved ones, worry about children and other family members, worry about relationships gone wrong.  Then you could also worry about crime and war and terrorism and the economy and just about our country or world in general.  There’s plenty to worry about, and most of us worry about something, sometime, maybe even all the time, in our lives.

But Jesus tells us today to cut that out.  Worrying does not solve our problems.  And what we worry about is so often not the most important thing in the vast scheme of things.  What I love in this passage is that Jesus provides us with the antidote to all that worry: We don’t need to waste time on worry because God’s providence is infinitely greater than our worry.  We are worth far more than the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.  God takes care of them, and he will take care of us.  Maybe not in the exact way we would pick, but always with love and his strong, abiding presence.  Even if a mother were to forget her child, as Isaiah reassures us today, God will never forget us.

So now that we have the worry out of the way, what do we do?  I think sometimes that’s why so many of us hang on to worry – because that’s the only thing we know.  But Jesus says that we should put an end to the worrying so that we’ll have time for the one thing that really matters: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”  Because when we possess the kingdom of God, brothers and sisters, we possess everything we could ever possibly need.  More than the birds of the air have, more than the lilies of the field possess; the kingdom of God is the pearl of great price.

Today we have the opportunity to focus on that.  Jordan and Clinton have come here seeking the kingdom.  In the midst of those things that are going on in their lives, they have realized that there was something they were lacking and that could only be filled up by the presence of God.  In our gathering today, we pledge to support them in prayer and to walk with them on the journey.  Even better, their journeys give us pause to look at our own journeys of faith and maybe give us the encouragement to take a step closer to the cross if we have be lax or have laid it down.

So now they have been admitted to the Order of Catechumens, and I’d like to say a word or two about what that means.  Catechumens are those who are preparing for baptism and are not infants.  Non-baptized people ordinarily do not have rights within the Church, but catechumens, even though they are not baptized, do.  Catechumens have the right to the Sacraments, particularly and firstly baptism, of course.  They also have the right, even before baptism, to be married in the Church if they are preparing for that.  And finally, they have the right, God forbid, to a Church funeral and Christian burial.

They won’t be catechumens long, however.  Because next week, they will go to the Cathedral in Joliet to be chosen for the Sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation by Bishop Conlon.  Then we will call them “the Elect.”  They have all the same rights, and election signals that they have entered into the final, more intensive, preparation for the Sacraments, which is called the period of “Purification and Enlightenment,” and focuses on their spiritual preparation for the Sacraments.

All of these leads to the Easter Vigil, in which they will enter the waters of Baptism for the cleansing of their sins and their joining to the Body of Christ and His Church.  I hope that you will continue to keep them in their prayers, along with Jett Davis and Sylvia Spangenberg, who are also catechumens at this time.  May God bring them closer to himself as they approach the Sacraments, and may God bring us all together one day to eternal life.

The Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So Jesus’ ministry is ramping up into full gear. In order to prepare the places he intends to visit, he sends out seventy-two disciples, in pairs, to prepare the way. They are going to do some of the same things he will do: curing the sick, healing the broken, and preaching the Kingdom of God, with its call to repentance. This is the third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary. They have great success because Jesus prepares them in advance and gives them advice about how to be good disciples.

And when we come to that advice, that should be a red flag. This story, nice as it is, is not about just those seventy-two. It is about all of us. Because, at our baptism, we too have been sent out on mission. We too are called to bring healing to a broken world, and to proclaim the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom is here and now, and it is urgent that people come to enter into it.

We might protest, I think, saying that we’re not ready, not equipped to be evangelizers and preachers and healers. Well, news flash: neither were those seventy-two. In fact, they came back amazed that they were able to accomplish the mighty deeds they did. And they were able to do those things because Jesus had prepared them in advance. He gave them several rules for mission, and of them, three really stand out. I think we are supposed to hear and appropriate these things as well.

So the first tool he gives us is the wisdom not to rely on ourselves. Listen to the instructions Jesus gives the seventy-two before they leave: “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals…” Now that all seems pretty impractical to those of us who have to travel in the twenty-first century, doesn’t it? We need a wallet or money bag to carry what we’d need to pay tolls and buy fuel and pay for what we need on the journey, and certainly we’d need a sack to carry identification as well as just basic things we’d need along the way. Here’s the point, though: If we were able to foresee every possibility and pack for every possible need, we would certainly not need Jesus, would we? Jesus is telling the seventy-two, and us as well, to stop worrying and start following. Rely on Jesus because he is trustworthy. Experience the joy of letting Jesus worry about the small stuff while he is doing big things in and through us.

The second discipleship tool is to “greet no one along the way.” That sounds pretty unfriendly, doesn’t it? We would think he’d want us to greet everyone we can, but that’s not what’s at stake here. The point is, along the way, we can easily be derailed from the mission. Other things can seem to be important, other people can try to get us off track, Satan can make so many other things seem important along the way. The point here is that there is urgency to the mission. People have to hear that Jesus is Lord and that God loves them now, not later, when it may be too late. We have to get the show on the road, and the time is now.

The final tool is this: do not move from one house to another, to eat and drink what is set before us. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want us to spread the Good News. The discipline Jesus is teaching here is that we have to be focused in our ministry. Once we have been given the mission, we have to stay with it, and not be blown about like the wind. Eating and drinking what is set before them meant that if they were to be given ministry that is difficult, they needed to stay with it, because that’s what was set before them. We are called to stay with a person or a situation until what God wants to happen happens. We too have to know that our mission may not be easy, but we have to accept the mission we have. We are called to accept people and situations as they are and trust God to perfect our efforts. When it’s time to move on, God will let us know, and we will come to know that time through prayer and discernment.

So we’ve received an awful lot as we come here for worship today. We will be fed on the most excellent Body and Blood of our Lord which will give us strength to tend to the piece of the Kingdom that God has entrusted to us. We have been instructed with some basic tools for doing the work of God. If we use these tools and are faithful to the mission, I think we’ll be as overjoyed as were those disciples. And then, we can rejoice with them that our names are written in heaven.

Tuesday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In these last couple of days, Jesus is taking the time to set things right about what it means to be rich and famous. Today’s Gospel reading comes right after yesterday’s report of the rich young man. As you remember, Jesus looked at the young man and loved him, and then challenged him to give up his possessions and follow him. But the young man went away sad, for he had many possessions. To this, Peter replies, “We have given up everything and followed you.” I don’t know if this is boasting, or frustration, or some mix of the two. But Jesus responds to his assertion by telling him that now, in the present age, those who give up everything will receive so much more.

I don’t think Jesus was trying to put forth a prosperity gospel here, though. I really don’t think he was saying they’d be rich and famous in the present age. What he was saying is that they would be rich in what matters to God, rich in the Holy Spirit, rich in love and mercy. And it’s that last line that brings it all into focus: “many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.” By being the least, giving up everything, they will be first in the Kingdom of God, which was and is here among God’s people.

So for all of us, rich young men, or overzealous disciples, or just plain folks who want to inherit eternal life, Jesus looks at us and loves us, and calls us to give up everything that’s in the way, so that we can be the last who will be first. What is it that we have to let go of today so that we can be first in the Kingdom of God?

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our worshipping in these last days of the Church year is often difficult, I think, because these readings are just hard to hear. The readings from Revelation this week have been confusing, to say the least, and maybe even a little frightening. And even if we could ignore the fright of the Revelation, well the Gospel is a bit more violent this morning than we’d like to experience at 7:00 in the morning, I think.

But there is a spiritual principle at work here. We are being called to mindfulness. If during this liturgical year we’ve been a little lax, or even have become complacent, these readings are calling us to wake up lest we miss what God is doing. God is bringing the whole of creation to its fulfillment, and we are called to be witnesses of it. We dare not be like those who missed the time of their visitation. We have been given the wonderful gift of Christ’s presence in our lives all year long, and we are asked to look back at where that wonderful gift has taken us.

And if we haven’t come as far as we should, then we are called to wake up and realize what’s slipping away from us. We must not be left out of the kingdom, all our hopes smashed to the ground, all because we didn’t recognize that our greatest hope was right in front of us all the time. We know the time is running short. The days are shorter, and night approaches more quickly than we’d like. The leaves have gone from the trees. The nip in the air has turned to cold and even frost; and we’ve even seen more than a few snowflakes. These are the physical manifestations of creation groaning to come to its fulfillment, at least for the meteorological year.

But if the encroaching winter leaves us empty and aching for warmth, then these final days of the Church year might find us also aching for the warmth of the kingdom, that kingdom we were created to live in all our days. Let us not be like Jerusalem; we dare not miss the time of our visitation!

All Saints & All Souls

Readings: All Saints | All Souls

“Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.”

“The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.”

This weekend we celebrate two closely-related feasts: The Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, which we commonly call All Souls Day. I say they are closely-related feasts because they show the journey we are on to our salvation. We know that we are not at home in this world: our true citizenship is in heaven, and we are but travellers through this world, hoping to come at last to the Kingdom of Heaven. The people that we know for sure are in heaven are saints, and so it is our quest in this world to become saints. Our goal is to come to perfection and get caught up in the life of God, so that we can live forever with him one day.

The Solemnity of All Saints celebrates all those men and women who have lived heroic lives and have attained the goal of perfection in holiness and complete unity with God. We know they are in heaven either because they died a martyr’s death, giving their lives for Christ and pouring out their blood just like he did, or we know of miracles that have been attributed to their intercession that occurred after their death, indicating they are with God in heaven. These saints may already be canonized saints, or perhaps they are people we don’t even know about who have attained that perfection. It is conceivable that we don’t know every saint, because ultimately God knows whether one has attained perfection or not. All Saints Day allows us to celebrate all those saints we don’t know about in addition to the ones we do know.

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, or All Souls Day, is an opportunity to pray for all those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, as well as those whose faith God alone knows. On this day, we especially pray for those who have not attained full perfection in this life, either because of venial sins or attachment to mortal sins, and we endeavor to help them through prayer and through the Sacrifice of the Mass. This is what Purgatory is about, and far from being a punishment, Purgatory is understood to be a gift through which a soul is cleansed through the sanctifying action of our Lord so that they can fully enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

As I said, these feasts are closely related, and during their observance we as a church remember three ranks of saints. There are the saints associated with the Church Triumphant, and these would be the saints in heaven, those who have overcome the power of the evil one and have been perfectly united with God. There are the saints associated with the Church Suffering, those who are in purgatory and especially those who have no one to pray for them, for whom we pray that our Lord would give them the salvation and rest they long for. And there are the rest of us, the saints associated with the Church Militant, including you and me, who are doing our best to overcome evil in this world, and to unite ourselves with our God so that we may come to everlasting life.

What we really celebrate in these days is the joy of salvation. God made us all for himself, and he wills that every single one of us would be saved. He will not rest until all of this is made right, and all have had a chance to enter into eternal life. This journey of salvation, the quest to become saints, is what our faith life is all about. The goal is not so much to “graduate” from faith formation by receiving all the sacraments. The goal is not to jump through hoops and check off the requirements of the Church. The goal is to become saints, because as far as we know, there are only saints in the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Kingdom of Heaven is where we long to take our rest.

This journey of salvation is wonderfully expressed in one of my favorite hymns, “For All the Saints.” Here is one of the verses:

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!