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.

Monday of the First Week of Advent

Today’s readings

Could you do that? You have someone close to you at home, and you know Jesus is near and one visit could heal her or him. Yet, you realize the unworthiness that you have, that we all have, for him to come under your roof. Would you have faith enough to tell him not to come, but just say the word? Would you be confident enough that his word would heal your loved one? I think that’s an important question for us, because we are often completely solid in our faith until something happens, and then we tend to fall apart. But faith is so necessary, especially in those trying times.

We pray the centurion’s iconic words just before we all receive Holy Communion. We acknowledge our unworthiness, and we also express our desire that our Lord would say the word so that our souls would be healed. And then he does, by feeding us on the Eucharist, giving us grace and strength to live the Gospel and live our lives.

So that’s the faith we are called to have, and I wonder if we have that kind of faith when we pray. Do we trust God enough to let him “say the word” and then know that we don’t have to set “Plan B” in motion? Today’s Scriptures call us to greater trust as we begin this Advent journey to the house of the Lord. In what way do we need to trust God more today?

Monday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time: What Do You Want Me to Do for You?

Today’s readings

“What do you want me to do for you?”

I think that is perhaps the important question in the spiritual life. In fact, when I begin working with someone for spiritual direction, I usually have them spend some time reflecting on this Gospel reading. When I myself go on retreat, I reflect on it too. Because unless we’re clear about what we want God to do for us, we won’t ever see any change in our spiritual lives.

I think that question – “What do you want me to do for you?” – is especially important in our world today. Too many people don’t think God does do or can do very much in our world today. We in particular are from a society that prizes its independence and can-do spirit, and so that starts to seep into our spiritual lives. Or perhaps we don’t think we should bother God by asking for what we truly need, as if he had better things to do than deal with us. Let’s be clear: he made us in his image and likeness, breathed us into life, and so he certainly has concern for our welfare.

But maybe the most prevalent reason people don’t ask enough from God is that they don’t think about him very often. Maybe as a last resort, yes, but not so much that there is that ongoing conversation and relationship with God which enables us to ask whatever we need in his name and trust we can get it, as Jesus famously promised.

Honestly, I’ve struggled with this question at various times in my own life. Because to really answer that question, you have to get over the struggle of asking for what you think he wants to hear. You have to get past the embarrassment of asking for something you think you should be able to get all on your own. You have to truly acknowledge where you are in your relationship with him, and ask for what you need. It’s not easy, but it’s a question we should ask ourselves often.

We’re coming to the end of the Church year. We’ve lived another year in his grace. It’s time for us to reflect on where we are, how far we’ve come, and what we still need.

What do you want Jesus to do for you?

Thursday of the a Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time 

Today’s readings

You may have heard the saying, as I have, that “If you want to hear God laugh, just tell him your plans.” It’s so easy for us in our arrogance to think we have everything all figured out. And then maybe God taps us on the shoulder, or shouts into our ear, and sends us in another direction. We’ve all had that happen so many times in our lives, I am sure. And if we’re open to it, it can be a wonderful experience, but it can also be a wild ride at the least, and traumatic at the greatest. This is the experience Paul is getting at when he says in our first reading, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.”

Simon and his fellow fishermen must have been thinking that Jesus fell into the foolishness category when he hopped into their boat, after they had been working hard all night long (to no avail, mind you!), and said, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” What foolishness! But something about Jesus made them follow his instructions, he tapped on their shoulders, shouted into their ears, and they did what he said.
And not only were they rewarded with a great catch of fish, but they were also called to catch people for God’s reign. Talk about God laughing at your plans. They had only ever known fishing, and now they were evangelists, apostles and teachers. And we know how wild a ride it was for them. They never expected the danger that surrounded Jesus in his last days. They never expected to be holed up in an upper room trying to figure out what to do next. They never expected to be martyred, but all of that was what God had in mind for them. And all of it was filled with blessing.
So what foolishness does God have planned for us today? How will he tap us on the shoulder or shout into our ear? Whatever it is, may he find us all ready to leave everything behind and follow him.

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter 

Today’s readings

I don’t believe in coincidences. Being in the right place at the right time isn’t usually a coincidence. Far more often than we realize, it’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Certainly that is the case in today’s first reading. How else would we explain an angel directing Philip to be on a road at the very same time as the Ethiopian eunuch passed by, reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah that referred to Jesus? Seizing the moment, Philip proclaims Jesus to him in a way that was powerful enough and moving enough that, on seeing some water as they continued on the journey, the eunuch begged to be baptized.

The same is true for those who were fortunate enough to hear Jesus proclaim the Bread of Life discourse that we’ve been reading in our Gospel readings these past days. Having been fed by a few loaves and fishes when they were physically hungry, they now come to find Jesus who longs to fill them up not just physically but also, and more importantly, spiritually. Their hunger put them in the right place at the right time. 

What I think is important for us to get today is that we are always in the right place at the right time, spiritually speaking. Wherever we find ourselves is the place that we are directed by the Holy Spirit to find God. Wherever we are right now is the place where the Holy Spirit wants us to find God and to proclaim God. That might be in the midst of peace, or chaos, or any situation. We never know how God may feed us in those situations. Because we never know when there will be someone like an Ethiopian eunuch there, aching to be filled with Christ’s presence and called to a new life. 

It is no coincidence that we are where we are, when we are. The Spirit always calls on us to find our God and proclaim him as Lord in every moment and every situation. 

The Third Sunday of Lent: Trust in God’s Mercy

Today’s readings

God is extremely patient when it comes to extending mercy. That’s what Jesus is talking about in this rather odd parable. I have to admit that I’m no gardener: I’m just not patient enough for that! So I needed to do a little digging to get a real sense of where this parable is going. I discovered that there are a couple of things we should all know before we roll up our sleeves and dig in to this little story. First of all, fig trees actually did take three years to bear fruit. During those three years, of course, they would need to be nourished and watered and pruned and tended. It was a lot of work, so when those three years of hard work were up, you better believe the farmer certainly wanted fig newtons on his table! And the second piece of background is that, since the days of the prophet Micah, the fig tree has been a symbol for the nation of Israel, and Jesus’ hearers would have known that. So when they hear of a fruitless fig tree, it was a little bit of an accusation.

Conventional wisdom is that if the tree doesn’t bear fruit after three years of labor and throwing resources at it, you cut it down and plant a new one; why exhaust the nutrients of the soil? And if you’re an impatient gardener like me, why exhaust the gardener?! But this gardener is a patient one; he plans to give it another year and some extra TLC in hopes that it will bear fruit.

So here’s the important take-away: God is not like Father Pat; he’s the patient gardener! And we, the heirs to the promise to Israel, if we are found unfruitful, our Lord gives us extra time and TLC in order that we might have time to repent, take up the Gospel, and bear fruit for the kingdom of God. That’s kind of what Lent is all about.

But we have to remember: we don’t get forever; if we still don’t bear fruit when the end comes, then we will have lost the opportunity to be friends of God, and once cut down in death, we don’t have time to get serious about it. The time for repentance is now. The time for us to receive and share God’s grace is now. The time for us to live justly and work for the kingdom is now. Because we don’t know that there will be tomorrow; we can never be presumptuous of God’s mercy and grace.

The consolation, though is this: we don’t have to do it alone. The Psalmist today sings that our God is kind and merciful: We get the TLC that our Gardener offers; the grace of God and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We can trust in the Lord God, our great “I AM,” to come to us and lead us out of captivity to sin just as he was preparing to do for the Israelites in the first reading today. We can put our trust in God’s mercy. We are always offered the grace of exodus, all we have to do is get started on the journey and begin once again to bear the fruit of our relationship with Christ.

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time 

In this short reading from Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells us three things about our mission as disciples. First, we don’t do it alone. Ministry is never something that we do by ourselves. True ministry is never a matter of our personal preference or even of what we personally think should be done. True ministry is a calling, and that calling involves the whole Church. We can’t be disciples all by ourselves. That fact helps to keep us authentic, and it also gives us support. Jesus sent them out two by two for a reason.

Second, we can’t be too worried about what we take with us on the journey. Too much stuff just weighs us down and keeps us from doing what we are called to do. And if we make sure we have everything we’ll ever need for the journey, then we don’t have to rely on God. Which is totally backwards, because all we need for the journey is God anyway! With God’s presence on the journey, we will never be without anything we need.

Finally, the mission is about repentance and conversion. Now, just as it was back then, the need for conversion in our world is huge. We are the ones who need to call people to repentance by living authentic lives and by speaking the truth in love. It is our calling to be the voice calling people back to the Lord. 

Our mission is to call people to repentance by living authentic lives within the community of the Church, trusting in God for the words and the grace. If we would not be afraid to do that, we too could drive out many demons in Jesus’ name. 

Thursday of the Thirty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel calls us to examine our perspective. 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? It would probably have cost more to light the lamp and search all night than the coin was worth.

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. For some, their own self-image is so poor that they think they 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. Even if our own self-image is poor, we are a treasure in God’s eyes.

And that’s all well and good, but we always have to ask ourselves why the Church gives us this reading again in the closing days of the Church year. We hear these kinds of parables typically in the summer months, when the Church wants us to see that God loves us and wants us to be his disciples. But hearing the parables in these days, there’s a little more urgency. Time is running short, and it’s time for the lost ones to be found and gathered up and celebrated. These waning days of the Church year are a foreshadowing of the end of time, and so we need to cooperate with God in making the urgent message of God’s love known in every time and place.

And so that’s what the Kingdom of heaven is like. It’s a relentless pursuit and a flurry 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.

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The question that Saint Paul asks at the beginning of today’s first reading is one that we’ve all heard countless times: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  We might even be tempted to pass by that question and move on to something else in today’s Liturgy of the Word, but I don’t think that’s wise.  Because it’s an important question, and one that confronts us all, in some way, time and time again.

We might go through a rough patch in our lives: loss of a job, death of a loved one, a severe and trying illness, damage to a marriage or strain in any relationship.  These are the issues that try our souls and sorely test our faith.  We might even at times be tempted to give in to despair and lose our focus in such a way that it affects our health and well-being.  But we believers dare not do so, because God is for us.

We might hear news that is difficult to absorb.  Our society may be in a sad state of affairs; the political climate may be divisive and disheartening; we may be fatigued or even alarmed by the rise of terrorism and the proliferation of war; morality of our communities may be far off-base and all of this might cause us to question what is going on.  We might be tempted to throw up our hands and lose all hope.  But we believers dare not do so, because God is for us.

There is someone, certainly, who is against us, and that one is Satan, and yes he and his threat are real.  Even the celebration of this Halloween day might make us shake our heads.  But Saint Paul reminds us that even Satan cannot ultimately take us down, because God is for us.  Saint Paul quite rightly insists that “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That is the same consolation that comes from devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus or the Divine Mercy.  It is the consolation for which we gather this morning at the Table of the Lord.  It is the consolation that takes on every threat we encounter this day or ever in our lives: nothing and no one can separate us from God’s love.  Nothing.

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