Monday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

These parables that we have today regarding the nature of the Kingdom of God are head-scratchers for sure! I am sure we can all understand how the people were confused by Jesus’ description of the Kingdom, since it even
seems foreign to our ears. One might wish that he would just say: “Okay, look, here’s what the Kingdom is like.”

But as I read this last night getting ready for this homily, it struck me that no words would be adequate to express how wonderful is the kingdom. It’s big, like a mustard tree, and expansive, like rapidly-rising dough. But whatever we can say about the Kingdom of God, it’s going to be too little. It will never even come close to describing the Kingdom in its fullness.

My guess is, no matter how often we hear these wonderful parables, on that great day when we – please God! – get to the Kingdom of heaven, we will be amazed beyond our wildest dreams. God’s heavenly Kingdom is something we certainly don’t want to miss.

The only way to get to the Kingdom is to follow our Lord. As we come to him in prayer and follow him by living the Gospel, maybe we’ll get just a tiny clue of what heaven will be like. That way we’ll recognize it when we get there.

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!

The Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You’ve probably heard me say that these summer weeks of Ordinary Time give us a wonderful look at how to live the Christian Life.  I always say that the Scriptures give us a kind of “Discipleship Toolbox” that helps us to know what we are supposed to be about and how we are to live the Gospel.  The tool with which we are presented this week is pretty obviously the tool of wisdom.  It’s an important tool and it’s not all that easy to attain.  Wisdom is that wonderful virtue that is kind of like knowledge, but more about knowing what is right and wrong.

So think about it, God comes to you in a dream and says you can have anything you want; all you have to do is ask.  Ever since I can remember hearing that reading as a young boy, I have wondered how I would have answered if I had been in Solomon’s place.  It’s a question that I think is worthwhile for all of us to meditate on, because it says a lot about who we are and what is most important to us.

Clearly, Solomon already had what he was looking for, because he was wise enough to ask for it.  He was already wise enough to seek God and fear God and rely on God, and so God rewards him with so much wisdom, that his very name becomes synonymous with that great virtue.  And it’s wisdom that is in motion in today’s Gospel.

Over the past few Sundays, Jesus has taken time to tell us what the kingdom of God is like.  A couple of weeks ago, the kingdom was like seed that was scattered and sown.  Some fell on rocks, some among weeds, but some on the good soil that yielded more than anyone had a right to hope for.  The kingdom of God is something like that: the more we nurture and cultivate our life with God, the more we benefit ourselves and others.  Last Sunday, the kingdom was again like seed, which was carefully planted, but was interrupted by someone planting weeds too.  The landowner had the harvesters sort it all out at harvest time.  The kingdom of God is something like that: the good and the bad will all be sorted out in due time.

This week we have more images of what the kingdom is like.  It’s like the pearl of great price or the buried treasure.  In both cases, the one finding that pearl or treasure sell everything they have to obtain it.  In both cases, the treasure seeker is wise enough to see the value of what they are looking at, and they give everything to have it.  The kingdom of God is like that.  It’s worth giving everything to have.

But it does take some wisdom to recognize the pearl of great price.  Because lots of things out there are shiny and nice and tempting.  But they don’t lead to everlasting happiness.  And it takes wisdom to go for that pearl when you find it.  Because it costs something, well, everything really.  Just like the people in the Gospel sold everything they had to buy the field with the buried treasure and the pearl of great price, so we will be required to give everything to obtain the kingdom of God.

That might mean walking away from a business deal that is profitable but has bad consequences for other people.  Or perhaps it means giving up a relationship that is destructive.  We may have to give up a leisure pursuit that is enjoyable but 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 of ultimate importance: that pearl of great price which is the Kingdom of heaven itself.

So think about it.  God gives you the opportunity to obtain anything you want.  What do you ask for?  What is it that you’d give everything to have?

Thursday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Some people say all you need to do is make a one-time decision to accept Jesus as your personal Savior and you’re saved.   If salvation were something magical that came about as the result of just saying a simple prayer, once and for all, then why wouldn’t everyone pursue a relationship with Christ?  The fact is, salvation is hard work.  It was purchased at an incredible price by Jesus on the cross.  And for us to make it relevant in our lives, we have work to do too.  Not the kind of work that earns salvation, because salvation is not earned, but the kind of work that appropriates it into our lives.

People who are saved behave in a specific way.  They are people who take the Gospel seriously and live it every day.  They are people of integrity that stand up for what’s right in every situation, no matter what it personally costs.  They are people of justice who will not tolerate the sexist or racist joke, let alone tolerate a lack of concern for the poor and the oppressed.  They are people of deep prayer, whose lives are wrapped up in the Eucharist and the sacraments, people who confront their own sinfulness by examination of conscience and sacramental Penance.  They are people who live lightly in this world, not getting caught up in its excess and distraction, knowing they are citizens of a heaven where such things have no permanence.  Saved people live in a way that is often hard, but always joyful.

Not everyone who claims Jesus as a personal Savior, not everyone who cries out “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven.  That’s what Jesus tells us today.  We have to build our spiritual houses on the solid rock of Jesus Christ, living as he lived, following his commandments, and clinging to him in prayer and sacrament as if our very life depended on it.  Because it does.  It does.

Monday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Perhaps our devotion for this Epiphany week should be to pray the Mysteries of Light of the Rosary.  Epiphany is a time of manifestation, of light coming into the dark place that our world can be at times.  We long to see, and more than that we long to see Christ, the one who comes with peace and justice to make all things right.

Today’s Mystery of Light, then would be “Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God with its call to repentance,” the third Mystery of Light.  Those, in fact, are his very words this morning.  This preaching is accompanied by the great and mighty acts of healing, which have the crowds flocking to him in droves.  They definitely see in Jesus a light that shines into the darkness of their lives, marked as they are by illness both physical and mental, but also perhaps overwhelmingly spiritual.

But there were all sorts of people who didn’t flock to Jesus.  Many saw him as a charlatan and thought his healings were smoke and mirrors.  They preferred the darkness.  The same is true today.  Many hear the word and turn away from it.  Many hear of the kingdom with its call to repentance and choose to reject it.  But we cannot be that way.  We have the Light, and we are called to live in the Light.  Living in that Light, as the Psalmist tells us, gives us the nations for our inheritance.

The Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time [A]

Today’s readings

Think about it.  God comes to you in a dream and says that you can have anything you want.  It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  What would you ask for?  What is the one thing you’d give anything to have?

I think the reason Solomon was even asked that question was because God already knew the answer.  God already knew that what Solomon wanted was something that would be good for Solomon to have.  Solomon asks for a wise and understanding heart so that he could more readily lead the people God had called him to lead.  And so God grants his servant’s request: he gives him so wise and understanding a heart that there was never anyone like Solomon and no one will ever be as wise and wonderful as he was.

Solomon’s answer to God’s question told us what was of most importance to Solomon.  In today’s Gospel, we are asked to answer that same question.  Jesus speaks, as he has been for a few Sunday’s now, of what the kingdom of heaven is like.  A couple of weeks ago, the kingdom was like seed that was scattered and sown.  Some fell on rocks, some among weeds, but some on the good soil that yielded more than anyone had a right to hope for.  The kingdom of God is something like that: the more we nurture and cultivate our life with God, the more we benefit ourselves and others.  Last Sunday, the kingdom was again like seed, which was carefully planted, but was interrupted by someone planting weeds too.  The landowner had the harvesters sort it all out at harvest time.  The kingdom of God is something like that: the good and the bad will all be sorted out in due time.

Today the kingdom is like buried treasure or the pearl of great price.  The treasure is so great that when it is found, the treasure-hunter sells everything he has to buy the field.  The pearl is so wonderful that the merchant gives everything he has to buy it.  Can you imagine their joy?  What they have found is so wonderful that they give up everything to possess it.  Well, Jesus says, the kingdom of heaven is 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 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 don’t have to look, because 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.  There is nothing better on the face of the whole earth.  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 is enjoyable but 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 of ultimate importance: 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 Thirty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It’s all a matter of perspective – that’s true in most things, but most especially true in our relationship with God.  Today’s Gospel gives us a glimpse at that.  Jesus asks, ““What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?”  Well, those men he talked to were shepherds, or had shepherds in their family, so they would have responded “nobody would do that!”  Why on earth would they risk losing the other ninety-nine sheep to find the lost one?

And as far as the coin goes, I guess it depends on what the coin is worth.  If it’s a denarius – a day’s wage – then yes, it would be worth staying up all night and searching carefully.  But if it’s just a small coin, why bother?  Who of us doesn’t have a junk drawer with a small collection of pennies in it?  If we lost one of them, we’d hardly even notice, let alone give up a night’s sleep to find it.

But here’s the perspective part: God is not like us.  Every sheep among us is important, and he will relentlessly pursue us individually until he has us all in the sheepfold.  And there are those among us who don’t see themselves as worth much.  Maybe we’re just simple laborers and not an influential businessperson, or maybe our own self-image is so poor that we think we are dirt.  But God does not; and if we’re lost, he’s going to light a lamp and stay up all night until he has us back.  For him, one of us is every bit as important as the other ninety-nine.  Every simple laborer is as important as the influential ones among us.  Even if our own self-image is poor, we are a treasure in God’s eyes.

And so that’s what the Kingdom of heaven is like.  It’s a relentless pursuit and a fury of activity until we are all back where we belong.  Once we are all with God, the joyful celebration can continue, knowing that we are all back where we were always meant to be.