The Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

At the heart of today’s Gospel reading is the question of whether or not we as disciples of Jesus are willing to go where he’s leading us. Much could be said about the posturing of James and John to get the good seats in the kingdom. But their ambition is not the point here. The point, as Jesus illustrates, is that his kingdom is not one of honor and glory. His kingdom is about suffering and redemption, and then honor and glory. To get to the resurrection, you have to go through the cross. And the most honored one is the one who serves everyone else along the way. Let me illustrate with an admittedly somewhat unflattering story about yours truly.

When I was in seminary, there were a number of nice, fancy dinners that would follow important events in the school year. So we would have them after a class received ministries like Lector or Acolyte, or after Mass for a reunion of 25-year or 50-year jubilarians. At each of these dinners, the table would be set up very fancy, and there would be an apron draped over the back of one of the chairs at the table. The idea was, the person sitting in that seat would be expected to put on the apron and serve the others at the table.

When I first got to seminary, when it came time for these dinners, I would rush to get to the refectory so that I didn’t have to sit in that spot and serve the others. I know, not very pastor-like, was it? But one day, I reflected on those last two lines of today’s Gospel: For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. And in that moment, I realized that it was indeed service that I was called to do, and so maybe I could get started by serving my brothers at table.

From that day forward, things changed for me. I would still rush to get over to the refectory as soon as I could, but that was so that I could sit in that seat and serve the others. Not only did I take on the server role, but I actually found joy in it. When you let go of thinking only about yourself, you find that you can actually receive many blessings. The blessings I found were that those dinners were a lot more fun; I had some wonderful conversations not only with the people at my table, but also with the kitchen staff.

Jesus in our Gospel reading today is calling us all to sit in that seat at the table, to put on our aprons, and help serve everyone else. That flies in the face of our entitlement, it tears down the notion of looking out for number one, it means that inconvenience for the sake of others has to become a real option in our daily lives.

Jesus told us that whoever wishes to be great among us must be the servant of all. He washed the feet of his disciples on his last night on this earth; he died on that cross for all of us. We are called to follow his ways if we want to follow him to the kingdom. Let’s none of us be afraid of taking that seat at the table and putting on the apron.

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

Today’s Readings

Anything worthwhile costs us something, most especially our faith.  If we are serious about it, if we love God and want to be caught up in his life, we’re going to have to pay for it in some way.  Jesus speaks to that in today’s Gospel.  One of the biggest costs to us, I think, is our comfort zone.  To really live the faith, we have to get out of that comfort and do what God wants of us.  In the Gospel, Jesus was telling his disciples that they would have to give witness to him.  And they understood that that would cost them something – perhaps cost them their lives.

We disciples are also going to have to pay some price for living our faith.  Probably not something as drastic as getting dragged before synagogues, rulers and authorities, but something fairly costly for us.  For us today, perhaps that cost is giving up a Saturday to clean church pews, or trim a neighbor’s hedges, or sing songs 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, spend time in adoration praying for our community, or clean up our parish grounds, our presence and concern may be the way God is using us to get someone’s attention and see his presence in her or his life.  As Saint Therese of Liseaux used to encourage her sisters, we can make a big difference by doing little things with great love.

Jesus tells us that we will receive gifts of the Holy Spirit that enable us to speak on behalf of our faith. As we engage in whatever we have signed up to do today, that same Spirit 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 could well 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 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.