St. Pius X, pope

Today’s readings

In our first reading today, Ruth had already figured out the teaching that Jesus spoke about in our Gospel reading.  She refused to leave her mother-in-law alone, even though she herself was from a distant land and a different people.  She could have turned and gone back there, and her mother-in-law gave her leave to do so.  But Ruth knew her place was where she was and she cemented the friendship and love between them.

This is the love that Jesus speaks about in today’s Gospel.  Love God and neighbor – that is the call of our lives, and the project we live out every day that we have breath.  These two commandments are completely inseparable, because we love others as they are other christs in our lives.  We are called to pour out on one another the same great love that God has poured out on us.  This is how we in fact return that love to God and show our love for him.

Pius X was a good pastoral man who lived these words and taught them to others.  He was born Joseph Sarto, the second of ten children in a poor Italian family. He became pope at the age of 68, and he too wanted to open the banquet for all those who would come worthily. He encouraged frequent reception of Holy Communion, which was observed sparingly in his day, and especially encouraged children to come to the banquet. During his reign, he famously ended, and subsequently refused to reinstate, state interference in canonical affairs. He had foreseen World War I, but because he died just a few weeks after the war began, he was unable to speak much about it. On his deathbed, however, he said, “This is the last affliction the Lord will visit on me. I would gladly give my life to save my poor children from this ghastly scourge.”

Our God has blessed us with love beyond all imagining.  We have great teachers of that love today: Ruth, who refused to leave her mother-in-law alone in her grief, and Pius X who would give anything if the people he shepherded could avoid the scourge of war.  Each of us is called to pour out God’s love on one another too, and we will most likely have at least one opportunity to do that today.  The two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbor.  What will that look like for us today?

Friday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word asks us to ponder the question, “what do we have to do to remain in covenant with God?”  And the question, I think, is an important one.  We would want to respond to God’s gracious act of covenanting with us first.  We see in today’s readings that he chose us first, and calls us out of love for us.  Moses recites the mighty acts of God in which he remembered the promises made to the people’s ancestors and kept them, even though the people certainly didn’t deserve it.  Even though they often sought to break the covenant, God kept it anyway, loving the people even when they were unlovable.

But what should our response be?  For Moses and the people Israel, the response was to keep the law.  The law itself was a wonderful document, given to the people out of love, to help them walk the straight and narrow, and to remain in relationship with God and others.  Moses contends that no other nation had gods that were loving and wise enough to provide something like that for their people.

Jesus, of course, takes it several steps further.  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  Following the law was the first step, but it was pretty basic.  Even if the people obeyed it – which they often did not – it was still a matter of will mostly, and not heart.  Jesus calls us to make the same sacrifice he did: lay down our lives for one another out of love.

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  And isn’t that the truth, really?  When we get so caught up in ourselves and our own pettiness, how quickly life slips away and we wonder what it all meant.  But when we lose our lives following Christ and loving God and neighbor with reckless abandon, well, then we have really found something.

God loved us first and best, and always seeks covenant with us.  The law is still a good guide, but the cross is the best measure of the heart.  How willing are we this day to lose our lives relentlessly spending the love we have received from our God with others?

Friday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today, Jesus gives us what might be considered to be his mission statement: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  Or at least we might consider this to be his statement of what he wants from us, his people.  And we, like the Pharisees, might be tempted to make all sorts of sacrifices.  That might mean sacrificing our time to work long hours to attain our goals.  Or maybe we sacrifice to give to the poor, or spend more time at Church, or whatever.  None of those things is bad in and of themselves, in fact, depending on our intentions, they are probably good things.  But if we don’t have mercy in the mix, if we don’t then also extend God’s love to our family, coworkers, or whoever God puts in our presence today, then we’ve blown it.  It’s all for nothing.  But, if we put mercy first, if we forgive as we have been forgiven and love as we have been loved, then we’ve gotten our mission statement right, too.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Today’s readings

sacred-heart-of-jesusI remember when I was growing up, often visiting my dear grandmother.  She and I were best friends in so many ways.  I remember when we visited that she had a beautiful framed picture in the living room, given a spot of honor where everyone could see it, and that picture was of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Whenever I think of the Sacred Heart, I remember grandma, whose name was Margaret Mary, named after the saint who promoted veneration of the Sacred Heart in the first place.

And so, today we celebrate, with incredible gratitude, the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Through his most Sacred Heart, the love of God is made manifest among us.  This love is a pervasive love that burns in our hearts and changes our lives and leads us back to the God who made us for himself.  This love is irresistible if we give ourselves over to it.  It is a love that pursues us and a love that can go far beyond whatever distance we have fallen from grace.  It is a love that, as Hosea tells us in the first reading, is rich in mercy, and, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, dwells in our hearts through faith.  The love of God pours forth from the heart of Christ just as the water and blood poured forth from his side as he hung dead on the cross.  Death could not stop the outpouring of grace that he came to bring.

God, of course is love, and because we were made to love him, we have some of that love that is God within our own imperfect, sometimes stony hearts, that love that helps us to reach beyond ourselves and reach out in our need.

Three years ago, when I first came to St. Raphael, the first daily Mass that I celebrated with you was the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  And so it only seems appropriate, and yes, a little sad, that my last daily Mass with you is this same feast day.  It’s appropriate because all of you have helped me to come to know Christ’s love in so many beautiful ways.  In our worshipping together, and also in our serving together, we have loved one another and loved others in Christ’s name.  Celebrating Mass with you on these weekdays has been a labor of love for me, because you all come every day ready to celebrate and listen and pray and take the grace with you into your service in the day ahead.  What a great gift you have been to me; I will never forget that.

St. Paul prays that we would be filled with the fullness of God.  May we all be filled to overflowing with the love of Christ, so that we can pour that love forth onto a world which longs to be soaked in that love.  May the Sacred Heart of Jesus have mercy on all of us.

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel is one that’s certainly very familiar to us.  But if we’re honest, every time we hear it, it must give us a little bit of uneasiness, right?  Because, yes, it is very easy to love those who love us, to do good to those who do good to us, to greet those who greet us.  When it comes right down to it, Jesus is right.  There is nothing special about loving those we know well, and we certainly look forward to greeting our friends and close family.

But that’s not what the Christian life is about.  We know that, but when we get a challenge like today’s Gospel, it hits a little close to home.  Because we all know people we’d rather not show kindness to, don’t we.  We all have that mental list of people who are annoying or who have wronged us or caused us pain.  And to have to greet them, do good to them, even love them, well that all seems too much some days.

And yet that is our call.  We’re held to a higher standard than those proverbial tax collectors and pagans that Jesus refers to.  We are people of the new covenant, people redeemed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  And so we have to live as if we have been freed from our pettiness, because, in fact, we have.  Our parish theme this year is welcoming, and, in the light of today’s Gospel, that means welcoming whether it’s convenient or inconvenient, welcoming all those who are in our path, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.  And we welcome that way because that is how Jesus has welcomed us.

We are told to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.  That’s a tall order, but a simple kindness to one person we’d rather not be kind to is all it takes to make a step closer.

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

I think we get the point here, don’t we? The second reading and the Gospel tell us what John wants us to know about the Gospel: God is love. That’s a wonderful theme that runs all through John’s Gospel and the Letters of John. And today, deep into the Easter season, we have a beautiful presentation of what that love should look like, what it should accomplish, and where it should lead us.

And it’s an important road map for us, I think. We get all kinds of notions about what love is and what it’s not. But mostly these are pretty erroneous. Even our own language has a paltry expression of love, because for us love can mean so many different things. I can say, “cookies are my favorite food – I love cookies!” and that’s not the kind of love Jesus wants us to know about today. When we say “love” in our language, we could mean an attraction, like puppy love, or we could mean that we like something a lot, or we might even be referring to sex. And none of that is adequate to convey the kind of love that is the hallmark of Jesus’ disciples.

To really see what Jesus meant by love in today’s Gospel, we have to see what he was doing. Today’s Gospel has him readying the disciples for the mission. He has them gathered together and reassures them that whatever their personal gifts or failings, they have been chosen for the mission. And it was just that – he chose them, they didn’t choose him. And they had been chosen to do something very important for the kingdom of God. They have been chosen to create a legacy – to bear fruit that will remain. He could have given them all sorts of detailed instructions on how to go about doing this, but that’s not what he did. He gave them just one instruction: “This is my commandment: love one another.” It is that love that will bring lasting joy to his disciples.

But he does get more detailed in his description of what it means to love one another. “Love one another as I have loved you,” he says to them. And that’s an important point, I think: “as I have loved you.” In the same way I have loved you. And we can see how far Jesus took that – all the way to the cross. He loved us enough to take our sins upon himself and nail them to the cross, dying to pay the price for those sins, and being raised from the dead to smash the power of those sins to control our eternity. So the love that Jesus is talking about here is sacrificial. And he says it rather plainly in one of my favorite pieces of Holy Scripture: “No one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

And the disciples clearly were called to that kind of sacrificial love. The Twelve all experienced martyrdom, except for John. They literally died so that people would come to know about Jesus, the Gospel, and God’s love. Their love did indeed bear fruit that would remain – it remained to found a Church, to spread the Gospel to many lands, to bring the message to us even in our own day.

And the disciples were men and women who experienced joy. Which isn’t the same thing as saying they were always happy. They experienced a lot of opposition along the way to founding the Church. They were persecuted, thrown out of the synagogues, beaten for stirring up trouble, put to death for their faith in Christ. But they were still people of joy. Because in their love, the sacrificial love that they received from Christ who chose them and gave them the love to start with, they had found a source of joy that could not be controlled by external circumstances.

So that’s what Jesus meant by love in today’s Gospel. It was a sacrificial love that was contagious, joyfully bringing the Good News to the world, bearing fruit that would remain for eternity. True love gives without counting the cost. True love brings others to heaven.

And the thing is, the instruction to love wasn’t meant just for those first disciples. We know that it was meant for us too. Interestingly enough, this Gospel was also the Gospel for Mass this past Friday, and I celebrated with the third, fourth, and fifth graders from our school. I asked the fourth graders to make posters of what this kind of sacrificial love might mean for them. I thought I might show you what they came up with…

So I think the fourth graders got it. On their level, they knew they could do little things with great love that would bear fruit that would remain and bring joy to themselves and others. It’s a lesson we could all use to hear now and then.

We may never be asked to literally lay down our lives for those we love, although that kind of thing does happen all the time. People who give a kidney or bone marrow for another literally lay down their lives in love, maybe even for someone they don’t know very well. People who take a risk to pull someone out of the path of an oncoming vehicle on the street – those are the kinds of ways that people might live this Gospel message quite literally. But for most of us, the call to sacrificial love might be more along the lines of what our fourth graders had in mind.

So we’re going to look for opportunities this week to love sacrificially. Doing a chore that’s not our job and not making a big thing of it. Finding an opportunity to encourage a spouse or child with a kind word that we haven’t offered in a long time. Picking the neighbor’s trash can up out of the street when it’s been a windy day. It doesn’t matter how big or small the thing is we do, what matters is the love we put into it. Mother Theresa once said, “I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I do know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will NOT ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’, rather he will ask, ‘How much LOVE did you put into what you did?’”

When we are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to love, there is no way we can miss the joy that Jesus wants us to have today. “Love one another as I have loved you” might be a big challenge, but it might just be the greatest joy of our lives.

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus is a perplexing one, to be sure. But in the light of Easter, we can see that Jesus was proclaiming that God is doing something new. Not only that, but God wants us all to be part of that new thing. For Nicodemus, that meant the old ways of worshipping and living were no longer sufficient, and really no longer needed. God was looking not just for people’s obedience, but also their hearts.

We see those hearts at work in the early Christian community. The reading from Acts this morning tells us that the believers cared for one another deeply, and were generous in that care. “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” They were even selling their possessions to give to those who were in need. Nobody felt needy, nobody felt cheated, nobody felt like they were doing more than their share. People were worshipping not just with their minds, but also with their hearts, and their worshipping didn’t stop when they left the worship place.

So the same has to be true for us, really. We have to be willing to give of our hearts, to believe not just when we’re in church, but also when we are in the rest of our life. We have to trust God to take care of us when we stick our neck out to help someone else. We have to worship not just with our minds but also with our hearts.

Friday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings: 2 John 4-9; John 13:34-35

[This was Mass for the Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade school children.]

Today we celebrate a Mass in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  We celebrate Jesus’ Sacred Heard because we always think of love as coming from the heart, and we know that Jesus, our God, is love.

Last week, I read our Kindergarteners a story about how God loves us.  The Wemmicks were a little village of wooden people, kind of like puppets.  They used to give each other stickers.  The really talented, beautiful, special people used to get pretty star stickers.  The ones who had trouble doing anything good, or who weren’t so nice to look at, they got gray dot stickers.

Punchinello used to get lots of gray dots because he was really clumsy, and his paint was chipped and scratched.  He would often say silly things or make mistakes, and so he got lots and lots of gray dots.  He was very sad about that until he met a wooden girl who didn’t have any stickers at all.  She didn’t have stickers because the stickers wouldn’t stick to her.  Punchinello asked her about that, and she said she used to get a lot of stickers until she met the puppet maker.

Punchinello went to meet the puppet maker too.  He explained to Punchinello that the stickers only stick if you let them.  The puppet maker didn’t care what other people thought about Punchinello because he loved him no matter what he looked like, or what he said, or what he did.  When Punchinello started to understand that, one of his dot stickers fell off.

The Church teaches us that God loves us very much, just like the puppet maker.  He loves us because he made us.  So when he looks at us, he doesn’t see if we’re beautiful or not.  He doesn’t see how high we can jump, or how nicely we dance, or how beautiful our clothes are or how smart we are.  He sees us for what we are: wonderful people who were made by God, and are special just because God made us.

That kind of love is really wonderful.  It’s the kind of love that lets us know that we can live our lives in happiness because God loves us.  It lets us know that we can do anything God calls us to do.  It lets us know that no matter what other people think of us, we are wonderful in God’s eyes.

But love like that can’t be kept.  Just like the wooden girl who told Punchinello about the puppet maker, we have to tell other people how much God loves them.  We have to take God’s love and spread it around.  The really wonderful thing is that no matter how much we share God’s love, we’ll never run out of it.

So today we’re going to ask all of you children to spread that love around.  After Communion, you are all going to come forward to receive a blessing.  We’ll say “God loves you.”  And you’ll say, “Amen.”  Then we will give you the name of someone in your class.  You then have to find a way to spread God’s love to that person.  Maybe you can help that person if they’re having trouble one day.  Maybe you can sit next to them at lunch.  Maybe you can invite them to play with you and your friends at recess.  Maybe you can just tell them they are wonderful and that you love them just like God loves them.

I know that you will find a way to spread that love around.  We don’t need to be giving people gray dots or shiny stars.  We don’t need to say bad things about people.  We just need to let them know God loves them.  And we can do that, because God loves us first and best.

Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.”

That certainly seems simple enough.  But we miss the mark on it all the time, don’t we?  The idea is to put God first, which of course, is the first of the ten commandments:  “I am the LORD your God; you shall not have strange gods before me.”  But we have all sorts of strange gods that vie for our attention every day, and way too often, we give in to them, and put something less than god ahead of the God who made us.

Back in my pre-seminary days, I used to work for a print company.  I had to manage multiple print projects for a few different customers, and so it was my job to schedule the print time in the plant, get proofs to customers, proofread projects, and a whole bunch of other stuff.  It could get very mind-boggling, so I took to writing very detailed to-do lists for myself so that I’d be sure to get everything done in the course of a day.

You probably do something like that too.  Whether you are managing a consulting firm or simply trying to get the kids to soccer and choir and reading club at the right times, you probably keep lists to make it easier.  I still do it today, and it’s the only way I can keep things going without forgetting something major.  These days, I use a computer version, but the idea is the same.

But one of the things I used to do when I worked at the print company was to include a one-word task every single day: “pray.”  I found, after I had been working there for a while, that I needed to do that to keep my faith life integrated with my work life.  The Scriptures teach us to pray always, and I found that unless I put that on my to-do list every day, there was precious little chance of my stopping to remember God, the One who created me and sustained me and loved me always.  Taking five minutes to pray was the least I could do.  I kept a Bible and a devotional in one of my desk drawers all the time, and I would take a five-minute break to use them.  That kept me a lot more focused during the day, and kept me from getting so full of myself that I made life intolerable for my coworkers.  Praying had a lot of benefits in the workplace.  And when I got to that one task – “pray” – I would remember to take time to do just that.

One day, I was very sick and couldn’t come in to work.  So my friend Joyce, who was my backup partner, filled in for me.  The next day, when I came in, I found she had left notes on my to-do list about what she was able to get done, and what happened on some of my projects.  Joyce is a woman of faith, so when she got to that “pray” task, I’m sure she smiled, and probably did just that.  But she left me a note next to that task that said something like: “Done.  But I probably should have made it a novena!”  Apparently it had been a hard day!

The point of all this is that we have to make a way to put God first in our lives.  Otherwise, if it’s not the busy-ness of the day, then it’s something else that comes first, and it’s almost never God.  It could be our status or ego that comes first, it could be money, it could be the latest gadgets or all the luxury comforts that we crave.  It could be sports, or it could be family activities, or even laziness that becomes a god for us.  And that’s all really sinful.  It’s a violation of the first commandment.  And it’s the first commandment for a very good reason: because it’s the most basic thing.  If we can’t hope to get this one right, we’ll never be very good at all the rest.

These days in our society, I have been wondering what is really first for us.  I’m thinking we may have made gods of government bailouts.  You’d think that in this time of uncertainty, and on the brink of a pivotal election, people would be coming to Church, reconnecting with their God, and drawing strength from their faith, putting God first even if they haven’t been doing that very well in the recent past.  But you’d be wrong.  Right now, we’re taking the annual “October Count” – a yearly mass-by-mass attendance count.  The attendance counts as compared to registered parishioners this year are running 2-3% lower than last year, and 6-7% lower than this time in 2004.  We are hearing that is true from other churches in our area too.

Even for those of us who manage to make the time to come to Mass on Saturday evening or Sunday morning, that still doesn’t necessarily mean that we are putting God first all the time.  We have to find ways to put God first, adding time with him to our to-do lists, making prayer and reflection a part of our daily routine.  Because it’s only by doing this that we can nurture a friendship with our God, a friendship that sustains us in bad times and in good, a friendship that ultimately leads us to heaven, that place we were created for by the One who created us.

Jesus makes it plain enough for us in today’s Gospel.  Love God and love your neighbor; these are the hallmarks of a Christian’s life, the hallmarks of life for all of us who were created by God and are called to return to God one day.  And so it is imperative that we get love of God and love of neighbor right.  To neglect these two commandments, which Jesus says today are the basis of the whole law and the prophets, is seriously sinful.

But the good news is that we have the chance, having heard the Word of God, to return and to re-prioritize our to-do lists, putting God first, loving God and neighbor, and coming at last into the presence of our God who loves us first and always.  The Psalmist, as always, helps us to make our prayer today: “I love you, LORD, my strength, LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold!”  He is the LORD and there is no other!

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: