Monday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You know, every time we hear this story about the widow’s mite, the story is equated with the call to stewardship. That’s the classic explanation of the text. And there’s nothing wrong with that explanation. I might even go so far as to preach it that way myself on occasion. But honestly, I don’t think the story about the widow’s mite is about stewardship at all. Yes, it’s about treasure and giving and all of that. But what kind of treasure? Giving what?

I think to get the accurate picture of what’s going on here, we have to ask why the Church would give us this little vignette at the end of the Church year, in the very last week of Ordinary Time. That’s the question I found myself asking when I looked at today’s readings. Well, first of all, it’s near the end of Luke’s Gospel so that may have something to do with it. But I think there’s a reason Luke put it at the end also. I mean, in the very next chapter we are going to be led into Christ’s passion and death, so why pause this late in the game to talk about charitable giving?

I think the key here is to figure out why the woman would have done what she did.  Why would she, a poor widow without anyone to take care of her, why would she have tossed her last two coins into the treasury?  It’s totally irrational when you think about it.  But I think maybe, just maybe, she gave everything because she was used to sacrificing for the one she loved, which until recently would have been her husband.  Now she doesn’t have anyone left to give everything for, except for God alone.  The love she had for her husband has to go somewhere, it doesn’t just disappear, so now she can give everything for God.

In this last week of the Church year, we have to hear the widow telling us that there is something worth giving everything for, and that something is our relationship with Christ our God.  Here at the end of the Church year, we are being invited to look back on our lives this past year and see what we have given. How much of ourselves have we poured out for the life of faith? What have we given of ourselves in service? What has our prayer life been like? Have we trusted Jesus to forgive our sins by approaching the Sacrament of Penance? Have we resolved to walk with Christ in good times and in bad?

In short, have we poured out everything we have, every last cent, every widow’s mite, for our life with Christ? Have we given our whole livelihood?  Or have we held something back, giving merely of our surplus wealth?

Friday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It could have been jealousy.  Or maybe they just felt threatened.  Either way, the Pharisees had lost sight of the mission.

You could see how they would have been jealous: here they are working long and hard to take care of the many prescripts of their religion, attending with exacting detail to the commandments of God and the laws that governed their way of life.  But it is Jesus, this upstart, and not them, who is really moving the people and getting things done.  People were being healed – inside and out – and others were being moved to follow him on his way.  That had to make them green with envy.

And, yes, they probably felt threatened.  The way that he was preaching, the religion he was talking about – well, it was all new and seemed to fly in the face of what they had long believed and what they had worked so hard to preserve.

But how had they gotten here, how did they lose the way?  Because what Jesus advocated was really not a different message: it was all about how God loves his people and that we should love God and others with that same kind of love.  That message was there: buried deep in the laws and rules that they were so familiar with, but somehow, the laws and rules became more important than the love.

The Pharisees wanted to preserve their religion and the way of life they had lived for so long.  Jesus wanted to make manifest God’s love, forgiveness of sins, and true healing.  It’s not that the rules of religion are not important, but the underlying message and the greatness of God cannot be overshadowed by legalism.  That is the argument in today’s Gospel; that is the argument that ultimately brought Jesus to the cross.  He would rather die than live without us; he paid the price that we might be truly healed and might truly live.  As the Psalmist reminds us today: Praise the Lord!

Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The requirements of discipleship cannot be reduced to mere observance of law, and a checklist of things to do.  Paying tithes and keeping feast days are important, but eclipsing them in importance is loving others as Christ does.  We disciples are called to bear others’ burdens, loving God and neighbor, setting aside our own honor and glory for the honor and glory of God.  And we are called to do all this while not neglecting our duty to tithe and keep feast days, and all the other requirements of our religion.  The disciple who loves God considers none of this a burden, and would never consider not taking care of it all.

Memorial of 9-11-01

Today’s readings

I think many of us will never forget where we were eight years ago today.  People say that about the day that President Kennedy died, or the day when the space shuttle Challenger exploded.  But in a particular way, I think we will never forget September 11, 2001, because it was a day that changed our world in some very unpleasant ways and shattered whatever remained of our innocence.  Traveling and doing business has changed so much in these years.  So many of us have known people who have died in the twin towers, or in the war that has raged since.

I remember the weekend following that horrible day.  I came home from seminary to visit with my parents, and we came here to church to pray.  The church was packed, on a Friday night.  And I know that in every church in America, pews were full every day and every weekend for quite a while.  Look around now, though.  Where is everyone?  Now that the world isn’t going to end as fast as we thought, do we no longer need God?  Or have we grown weary of the war that has been fought since and the changes in our world and just given up on God?

I think that as the war continues, and the lack of peace seems to continue, and the somewhat subdued, now, but ever-present sense of terror continues, it might just be time for us to do some examination and to discern what has led to that sense of unrest.  Today’s Gospel gives us the examination of conscience that will help us to do that.  What precisely is the plank of wood in our own eyes that needs to be removed before we can concentrate on the splinter in the eye of another?  What is it that is un-peaceful in us that contributes, in some small but nonetheless very real measure to the lack of peace in the world?

We all have to do that on an individual basis to start with. St. Paul does it in our first reading today when he admits to his friend Timothy, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man…”  And he acknowledges with deep gratitude and profound humility how God changed his life, had mercy on him, forgave him his sins, and gave him charge over one of the most significant evangelical and missionary ministries in the history of the world.  We, too, are blasphemers, persecutors and arrogant men and women, and it is time for us to humbly acknowledge that and urgently beg from God the grace to turn it around, that all the world might be turned around with us.

But we also have to do this on a communal basis as well.  We don’t go to salvation alone; that’s why we Catholics don’t get overly excited about having a personal relationship with Jesus.  For us, a personal relationship with Christ, is like that first baby step; once we’re there, we know that we cannot rest and admire our work.  A personal relationship with Christ is certainly a good start for us, but we know that we have to be faithful in community or nothing truly great can ever happen.  So it’s up to all of us together to work for true peace, figuring out what in our society has led to unrest and mercilessly casting it out, opening ourselves to the peacemaking power of God that can transform the whole world.  Together, as the Mass for the Feast of Christ the King will tell us, we must work with Christ to present to God “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”

I get a little worked up when I think about this kind of thing, because I’ve come to realize this is the only way it’s all going to get wrapped up rightly.  Only when all the world has come to know the saving power of our God will we experience the return to grace that we lost in the Garden of Eden.  And that will never happen until all peoples have learned to love and respect one another, and have come to be open to the true peace that only God can give us.

It didn’t all go wrong on 9-11; if we are honest, that horrifying day was a long time coming.  But that day should have been a loud, blaring wake-up call to all of us that things have to change if we are ever going to experience the peace of Christ’s kingdom.  We are not going to get there without any one person or even any group of people; we need for all of us to repent if any of us will ever see that great day.  Today, brothers and sisters in Christ, absolutely must be a time when we all hear that wakeup call yet anew, and respond to it from the depths of our hearts, both as individuals, and as a society.

Truly we will never forget where we were on that horrible day of 9-11.  But wouldn’t it be great if we could all one day look back with fondness, remembering with great joy the day when we finally partnered with our God and turned it all around?

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.

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