Saturday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the most vivid Church memories I have was of a friend who was making final vows as a Benedictine many years ago now. It was a very beautiful Mass, but what really stood out so vividly to me was that, while the assembly sang the Litany of the Saints and my friend lie prostrate before the altar, the abbot and some other monks placed the funeral pall over him.  This symbolized that he had “died” to his former life, in order to take up his new life in service to Christ.

So when we hear today’s first reading about Elijah placing his cloak over Elisha, it calls that memory to mind.  Elisha knew immediately what the action meant: he had been called to serve as prophet to succeed Elijah.  So after protesting he was not ready, he immediately set out to put to death everything in his life that held him back: he slaughtered his oxen and burned the plowing equipment to cook their flesh to feed his people. Then he freely left it all behind to serve God.

We too have, at some point, the mantle placed upon us.  Whatever our calling is, it involves a death to whatever has come before so that we can freely serve in whatever way God is calling us.  For most, it won’t be quite so dramatic, but there is that death. For example, for those getting married, it’s a death to the single life so that they can serve their spouse in love and fidelity.  We have to be ready to die to whatever holds us back from fulfilling God’s call, so that we can pray with the Psalmist today, “You are my inheritance, O Lord.”

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel, we have the disciples arguing among themselves because they find they don’t understand Jesus’ message. And then that degenerates into a further argument about which one of them was the greatest.  They’re doing an awful lot of arguing, and not nearly enough listening.

All of this arguing betrays a real lack of growth in faith among those disciples.  They probably felt like, since they were in Jesus’ inner-circle, they should have all the answers.  And perhaps they should, but to their defense, they hadn’t received the Holy Spirit yet.  In a real sense, they were still in formation, and they shouldn’t have been so afraid to ask Jesus for clarification, rather than start petty arguments.

Jesus’ lesson to them then comes from him putting a little child in their midst.  Receive a child like this in my name, he tells them, and you receive me.  What’s the point of that?  Well, receiving a child in Jesus’ name is an act of service, because a child can do nothing but receive at that point in their life.  So serving others in Jesus’ name, serving those who cannot serve you back, or at least in a way that they can’t return the favor, is what brings us to the Father.

I think the take-away for us is that trying to be smarter than everyone else isn’t what shows that we are faithful people.  Instead of arguing our point, we need to ask God to help us get the point.  And we have to be ready to act on our faith, serving others out of love for God, instead of arguing or debating what Jesus is making plain as day.

Tuesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.’

Those words are the epitome of humility.  They recognize that our life and our calling are at the service of our God, who gives us everything we have and everything we are.  And so when we do something wonderful, it’s because God has given us the ability to be wonderful.  When we say the right things to someone who needs to hear wisdom or compassion or even rebuke or challenge, it’s because those words come from God.  When we are in the right place at the right time to be able to be present to someone who needs a friend or a parent or a teacher or a coach, it’s because God is asking us to be his presence to that person.  We are just doing what we are obliged to do.

But it’s not like there isn’t reward for being the unprofitable servant.  If we are servants without agenda, serving in humility and gratitude, we have hope of the promise of eternity.  The wisdom writer in our first reading says:

But the souls of the just are in the hand of God,
a
nd no torment shall touch them.

And being servants in God’s hands is the best place we can be – no torment can reach us there.  But if we refuse to serve, or if we insist on having all the profit credited to us, then we are outside the hand of God, and God forbid what awaits us there.  Serving our God in humility is indeed the task of all our lives; it is what gets us to the reward of being united with God for eternity.

When we embrace the reality of service with humility, we can sing with the Psalmist today and every day, “I will bless the Lord at all times!”

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Liturgy of the Word speaks to us about being ready.  And now’s as good a time for that as any, especially since we are getting so close to the end of the liturgical year.  The liturgical year ends on the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe, which this year is celebrated on November 26th.  What we are going to start noticing in the readings from now until then is a decided interest in how all of time will be wrapping up.  Theologians call that “eschatology,” which is the theology about the end times.

Now, to be clear, we don’t know when the end of time will actually happen.  God in his providence keeps the big picture on that to himself, which I think is good, or we would be constantly worried about it.  But today’s Liturgy of the Word tells us that we can’t be complacent either.  We have to have our spiritual houses in order lest the master return and find us slacking off and give his blessings to more diligent servants.

It’s easy to slack off on our spiritual service when things are going well.  The urgency to our prayer wanes and we’re easily distracted.  But even when things aren’t going so well, we can be bogged down in the mire of whatever we’re dealing with and forget to attend to the faith that sees us through.  So the issue is being prepared: girding our loins and lighting our lamps, so that when the Master returns, we’re ready to go.

For us this might mean a return trip to the Sacrament of Penance if it’s been a while, or perhaps signing up for the Bible Study if we have been meaning to do that, or even just taking the Bible down off the shelf and reading a few verses each night before bed.  Whatever we haven’t been doing, whether it’s Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or a renewed dedication to the Holy Rosary, it’s time we got on it.  It might even mean taking time out of our busy schedules to be of service to those in need.

God wants to take us with him and he’s very patient, but we have to do our part.  We have to be diligent and ready.  We have to be eager to say with the Psalmist, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”

The Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Stewardship Sunday

Today’s readings

This is indeed our home.  It can be easy to come to think of this place as a school, or an auditorium, or even as a worship space and fills a function and other than that, doesn’t mean anything different.  But as I said in the video this is our home: this is where we come to find peace when we’re struggling; this is where we go to make a difference as we did (earlier today/yesterday) and witness to our faith; this is where we gather to celebrate our faith in God and receive the grace he pours out on us through the sacraments of the church.  This isn’t just any old building, it’s a community, it’s a family, and it is us.

And because this is our home, we have to attend to it.  We have to fix what’s broken, we have to strengthen what’s weak, we have to invest in a community so it will be here for our children and grandchildren.  And so this is one of the very few times that I will come to you and give the “money” talk.  Because I get it: I know that everyone has demands on their finances, sometimes very significant ones.  But if this is our home, then we are called to make an investment in its present and future, just as previous generations have done for us.

Our Gospel reading today calls us to give to God what belongs to God.  This then becomes a reflection on the first commandment of the Decalogue: “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me.” This is echoed by the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading: “I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is no other.”

Giving to God what belongs to God is foundational. Failure to do that leads to all other kinds of sin. Today, we have in our Scriptures an examination of conscience. Have we been zealous to give to God what belongs to God? Have we taken time for prayer? Have we been of service to our brothers and sisters in need? Have we made teaching the faith to our children our primary priority? Have we been vigilant to prevent anything from getting in the way of celebrating Mass as a family? If we have fallen short in any of those ways, this is the time to reverse the course and get it right. Caesar gets what’s his one way or the other. We have to be the ones who are on fire to give to God what belongs to God.

We’ve accomplished a lot as a parish in the last year.  I hope you saw that wonderful list in the bulletin a few weeks ago when we presented the parish financial report.  It was a full and engaging year, and we should take pride that we as a parish could do so much together.  I am grateful for the way the parish came together to provide a beautiful sign out on Route 59, that we found a way to repair many of the sidewalks and other concrete around the facility, and to revamp our parish gym.  What a blessing that we could get those things done!  But, just like any home, there’s a lot to be done.  We need to repair the parking lot, the floor in Cana Hall, and the windows in the Commons, to name but a few.  We need to take care of those things and provide space in our budget for when stuff happens, like the air conditioning going out in the school office, or a leaking pipe in the narthex.

One of the very first things I did when I found out I was coming here was to sign up for online giving.  I wanted to make sure that I was giving expression to my gratitude for all that God does in my life.  And so it is in that spirit that I ask that each of you discern how you can help us to meet our increased budget needs through your offertory support.  While we all have different resources to draw from and commitments to fulfill, we can each give something in support of our parish family.  We are doing our best to use modern conveniences to assist parishioners in their giving.  We have electronic giving options to help meet the demands presented by the fast pace of our lives.

In the past week or so, you probably received a letter from me asking for your support.  After you have prayed about your response, I would ask that you fill out the enclosed letter of support and send it back to us.  You can mail it to the parish office, to my attention, or you can drop it in the collection basket this week or next.  Please know how very much I appreciate the support you give to our parish.  It helps me accomplish the mission we have as a parish to worship, teach the faith to people of all ages and to reach out to others in acts of service and charity.  Please know of my prayers for you every single day, and how much I love being your pastor.  May God bless us all as we continue to Make Christ Known together!

Saturday of the Twenty-eighth Week of Ordinary Time: Make a Difference Day

Today’s readings

Our Gospel today warns us of coming persecutions.  At some point, we will all be dragged before synagogues and rulers and authorities of some sort, and we will have to give an account of what we believe.  Now for us, it’s not going to be so literal, obviously.  But we may have to give an account of why we believe in Christ or why we follow a religion that inconveniently speaks out against threats to life and family.  We may have to tell others why it is that we would give up such a beautiful Saturday to clean church pews, or trim a neighbor’s hedges, or play bingo at a nursing home.

Today, on our Make a Difference Day, we take our give strong witness to our faith in our work. As we come together to pack meals at Feed My Starving Children, make blankets for Linden Oaks, or clean up our parish grounds, our presence and concern may be the way God is using to get someone’s attention and see his presence in her or his life. As we engage in whatever we have signed up to do today, God may give us gifts that answer prayers we didn’t even know we had in our hearts, and definitely answer the prayers of others. Our work gives witness to who Christ is in our lives; Christ who loves us first and loves us best.  Sharing that love in the work we do today is a powerful way to help others know the presence of Christ in their lives.

Living our faith is always going to cost us something and that something is likely to be status or popularity, or at least the wondering glance from people who aren’t ready to accept the faith.  But the volumes that we speak by living our faith anyway might just lay the groundwork for conversion and become a conduit of grace.  We are told that we don’t have to hammer out all the words we want to say; that the Holy Spirit will give us eloquence that we can only dream of.  And it’s true, if we trust God, if we live our faith when it’s popular or unpopular, we will have the Spirit and the words.  God only knows what can be accomplished in those grace-filled moments!  I pray that you see Christ everywhere as you witness today.

Saturday of the Twenty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The Gospel readings these past few days have warned of rather dire consequences for those who don’t live the Gospel message.  This section of Matthew’s Gospel spells out the urgency of the call to discipleship and the nearness of the Kingdom of God.  Yesterday, the foolish virgins were left out of the kingdom, with their Lord telling them he did not know them.  Today, those who would bury the talent get cast out of the kingdom, to wail and grind their teeth.  These consequences aren’t imaginary inconveniences.  Think of the pain and anguish that would cause one to wail and grind their teeth; imagine the heartbreak of our Lord telling us that he does not know us.

When some people have been encouraged to take on a new ministry or share their gifts in some way, very often they will say, “Oh, I could never do that.”  Today Jesus says that kind of thinking isn’t kingdom thinking.  What today’s reading tells us is that there is no such thing as a “little gift.”  We are all called and gifted in some unique way, and we must praise God with that gift no matter what the gift is and no matter how insignificant it may seem.  We aren’t just encouraged to use our gifts when it would be nice, but warned that our gifts are essential to the kingdom, and that those who don’t use them aren’t part of that kingdom.

So whether we have a gift that looks like ten talents, or five, or even one, the call is still the same.  No matter how awesome the giver may be, fear of failure can never be an excuse to bury our talent in a hole in the ground.  Every single talent must be reinvested in the kingdom, so that we can come together and bring forth a harvest of justice and peace and life and beauty.  Because, who wants to spend their eternity wailing and grinding their teeth?

Saturday of the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the spiritual principles that often speaks to me is: “it’s not about me.”  It’s a spiritual principle I have to remind myself of often, because in our human weakness, we’re always thinking about ourselves first.  But here today, we have two wonderful Scriptural examples of this beautiful spiritual principle.  First we have Ruth, a foreigner, who came to the aid of her mother-in-law Naomi in her time of need.  Naomi had no heir, and her son, Ruth’s husband, had died. This left both of them in a very precarious position.  Neither of them had a male figure in their lives to afford them any legal status in that society, so that was very dangerous for them in that day and age.  And they were in the middle of a famine, which made things all the more frightening.  So Ruth could have gone her own way, returned to her land, and been safe, but she doesn’t: she takes care of Naomi anyway, offering to glean ears of grain so that they’ll have something to eat.  She didn’t have to do that, she could have left her mother-in-law high and dry, but she didn’t.

Boaz, too, didn’t have to be so welcoming to Ruth.  It was expected in Jewish law that after the harvest, whatever was left on the stalks was to be left for the poor.  But he didn’t have to provide her with water, and see that the men didn’t take advantage of her.  But he did.

All of this prefigures what Jesus was telling the people about the Pharisees in today’s Gospel.  These Pharisees did everything to be seen, because it was all about them.  They had the law, so they were teaching the right things, but not for the right reasons.  Do what they say, Jesus tells them, and not what they do.  Because it’s not about us.

The Ascension of the Lord

Today’s readings 

Have you ever been at a loss for words? Have you been in a situation that was so astounding that you were just … speechless? Hopefully it was for something astoundingly wonderful, as for the apostles as their Lord ascended to heaven. Can you imagine what was going through the disciples’ minds as they stood there watching the Ascension of the Lord? Think about all that they’ve been through. Three years following this Jesus whose words were compelling and whose miracles were amazing and whose way of life was uplifting. But still, there was something about him that they just never seemed to get. He said he was the Christ, the Anointed One, and so their strong cultural definition of the Messiah was something they projected onto Jesus, but time after time it just never fit. Then he gets arrested, tried in a farce of a proceeding, put to death like a common criminal and buried for three days. After that, he is no longer in the tomb, but has risen from the dead and appeared to them many times. Now they’re gathered forty days later, and he promises the gift of the Holy Spirit. They breathlessly ask the question that has always been on their minds, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They still don’t get it.

And so Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit again, and ascends into the sky. Can you imagine it? It’s like a roller coaster of emotions for them. Their heads had to be spinning, they had to be completely lost as to what to do now. First he was dead and buried, then he came back, and now he’s gone again. What on earth are they to do now? Well, the two mysterious men dressed in white garments have all the advice they’re going to get: “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” It’s almost as if God is telling them, “You’ll see what comes next, just get on with it.” And so they do, and they’ll get more help next week on Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit. But until then, it’s enough for them and us to be a bit speechless.

We should be a little speechless too. Honestly, I think these stories have become so engrained in our cultural experience of our religion that we just tend to treat them as nothing special. But we should be speechless, because the Ascension, as well as the Resurrection, are game-changers for us. Nothing like that ever happened before, and it made possible our eternity; the greatest gift we’ll ever have. We should be astounded!

And then, like the apostles, we need to get on with it. Because the Ascension has very specific meaning for our mission. I think we get three directions in today’s feast. First, Christ promises us that he will be with us always. That’s what Jesus says to the disciples – and to us! – in the very last words of the very last verse of the very last chapter of Matthew’s Gospel: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” This is such an essential point of faith for us to get: Jesus our Lord will be with us every day, every moment, right up to the end of the age. And he is present in our Church today. His abiding presence is with us when we gather in his name, when we worship, hear the Word proclaimed and celebrate the sacraments. And he is with us, too, when we serve others, being those hands and feet of Jesus in a tangible way.

The second direction that the Ascension gives us is that Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a place for us. He goes to heaven to pave the way, because we had lost the way, affected as we all are by original sin and by the sins of our life. Since we did not know the way, he prepares it for us: opening the door, so to speak, and greeting us. So we believers who have forged a relationship with our Lord can now look to him to see how to get to that heavenly reward. All we have to do is follow, and we will find ourselves in that place God intended for us from the beginning.

And finally, the Ascension reminds us that the Christian Mission has been entrusted to our hands. Christ has ascended into heaven, he has returned to the Father. So, yes, on this feast of the Ascension of the Lord, we are rightly struck speechless, but now it’s time for us to take up the Cross, to preach the Word in our words and actions, and to witness to the joy of Christ’s presence among us. If people are ever going to come to know Christ, if they are ever going to be challenged to grow in their faith, if they are ever going to know that there is something greater than themselves, they’re going to have to see that witness in other people, and it needs to be us. We have to be transparent in our living so that people won’t be caught up on us, but will come through us to see Jesus, to see the Father, to experience the Spirit. We are the ones commanded to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” The mission is entrusted to us now.

The speechlessness has to be over. The Psalmist tells us that God mounts his throne to shouts of joy. We must be joyous in living our life as Christians, assured of God’s abiding presence until the end of time, looking forward to our heavenly reward, and living the mission for all to see. We must no longer be speechless, but instead be a blare of trumpets for the Lord!

Holy Thursday: Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel gives us a very interesting start to the Sacred Paschal Triduum.  This three-day-long-feast begins with a meal, which makes sense.  But it’s a meal interrupted by a very important teaching.  I think it’s fair to say that Jesus never did anything without also trying to teach something important in the process.  When he healed on the Sabbath, he was teaching that the Sabbath was not something to be observed for its own sake, but was for the glory of God and the recharging of people.  When he fed the thousands, he was teaching that there was nothing so impossible that God could not make it happen.  Even when he chose his disciples, he was teaching that people’s worth was defined by God and not by the things they have accomplished on their own.

So when he interrupts this Passover supper to wash the disciples’ feet, he was trying to teach them something, and to put the meal and the teaching together in context.  Washing the feet of guests was a common practice in Jesus’ time.  In those days, people often had to travel quite a distance to accept an invitation to a feast or celebration.  And they would travel that distance, not by car or train or even by beast of burden, but most often on foot.  The travelers’ feet would then become not only dirty from the dusty roads, but also hot and tired from the long journey.  It was a gesture of hospitality to wash the guests’ feet, but it was a gesture that was not usually supplied by the host of the gathering, but instead by someone much lower in stature, like a servant or slave.  But at the Last Supper, it is Jesus himself who wraps a towel around his waist, picks up the bowl and pitcher, and washes the feet of his friends.  So we are about to see that he wasn’t just washing their feet to get a job done or even to provide hospitality; he was dong this to give them an example of what Scripture scholars call kenosis.

I had a Scripture teacher who always used to talk about kenosis.  During my seminary days, we went through some pretty rough times with the Church.  Just two weeks after we started, we had the tragedy of 9/11.  Along with the rest of the country, we all felt like the bottom had dropped out and nothing was really certain any more.  Then, the following spring, the sexual abuse scandal broke wide open, and so many of us wondered what we were getting ourselves into.  Many of us had personal tragedies as well, me included when both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer just one month apart from each other.  We ended our time in seminary with the tragic death of two of our brother seminarians in a car crash on the school grounds.  Life is like that, we all have things that we go through and we wonder why we go on, why we even try to live as disciples.  And I remember whenever we would express that, one of my Scripture teachers would always look at us and say, “It’s all about kenosis.”

At first when we heard that we looked at him like most of you are looking at me right now.  But we came to know what kenosis meant.  It is a New Testament Greek word that basically means “self-emptying.”  It comes from the root word kenos which is used to describe places or vessels that are empty, or to describe people who are empty handed or arrive without a gift.  Kenosis in the New Testament sense is used to describe Jesus Christ, who as St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”  Christ emptied himself of the honor that was rightfully his as our God and took our own human form.  That’s kenosis.

And he drove the point home as he finished this great act of service.  He says, “Do you realize what I have done for you?  You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.  If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet.  I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”  If even our Lord who had the right to demand anything from us, to whom he gave everything, if even he would tie a towel around his waist and wash people’s feet, then we disciples, we followers of the Lord, we who would look for our reward with him, we must also be willing to do whatever it takes to bring people to salvation.  We’re not supposed to just watch the Mass be performed for us, we’re supposed to live the Mass every day of our lives in any place the Lord puts us, knowing that he walked that way before us, and that our reward will be great.  We, brothers and sisters, are called to kenosis in our own lives.

But here’s the kicker: another aspect of our own call to kenosis is that sometimes we have to empty out the part of us that desperately wants to do everything for ourselves, and to let someone else minister to us in our need.  I told you about my parents both being sick when I was in seminary.  That was such a hard time for me, mostly because I was still really convinced that I could get through anything life threw at me on my own.  But I had to learn that sometimes I need to let my friends pick me up and carry me to Jesus when I couldn’t get there on my own.  I’m bad at that.  I’m like Peter – no one’s going to wash my feet.  But I learned that I have to get over that if I’m ever going to be empty enough for Christ to fill me up.  It’s not about me – and it can’t be about any of us, we who would take up our crosses to follow our Lord.

There’s another part of this Gospel that really strikes me.  You heard me tell you about the practice of washing the feet of guests in Jesus’ day.  So when do you think their feet would be washed?  Immediately upon arriving, of course: their feet were dusty and tired from the journey.  But that’s not what happens here, is it?  The Gospel reading says that during the supper, Jesus rose, changed his clothes, and washed their feet.  That’s a detail that would really stick out to those hearing the story in that day, because they understood the practice.  Now Jesus didn’t wash their feet at that time because he forgot to do it when they arrived, or because he had just now noticed how filthy their feet were.  He had a very specific reason for washing their feet during the meal.  Because now that great act of kenosis would be forever intimately tied to the celebration of the Eucharist.  Because of the very precise timing of this act of service, we who receive the Eucharist now know that we are called to follow Jesus’ example and to pour ourselves out in service to our brothers and sisters.  Every time we are fed by our Lord, we must always remember that we are called by our Lord to empty ourselves and become the presence of Christ for those who share life with us.

On this great night, as we begin the great three-day feast of our Savior’s triumph over sin and death, we come together to share a meal – the same meal he shared with his friends on that night so long ago.  And because we Catholics don’t simply remember this night with mere fond recollections of an ancient historical event, but instead by entering into the experience in all its fullness yet again, then we have to hear the same commandment Jesus gave his disciples: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”  As we gather and come forward to do this in remembrance of Christ, may we also pour ourselves out each day for our brothers and sisters, lovingly washing their feet just as ours have been washed by our Saving Lord.