Tuesday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Listen to those words of Jesus again:

“Enter through the narrow gate;

for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction,

and those who enter through it are many.

How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.

And those who find it are few.”

Those are pretty challenging thoughts, I think. But they are thoughts we can resonate with. Certainly Lot fell into the trap of going through the wide gate into the land of Sodom, the residents of which our first reading says “were very wicked in the sins they committed against the LORD.” And how true for us as well. Isn’t it always easier to take the road more traveled, despite the fact that that road doesn’t take you anywhere you want to go? We might very well take that easy road time and again, and end up, with Lot, well, in a place like Sodom.

Because the narrow gate isn’t easy to find and is harder still to travel. Living the Gospel and laying down our lives for others is hard work, and may often seem unrewarding. We may have to set aside our desires for the pleasures and rewards of this life. And we may even fail to get through that gate by our own efforts, due to the brokenness of our lives and the sinfulness of our living. We may find it next to impossible to travel through that narrow gate by ourselves.

But we don’t have to. The one who is our teacher in this constricted way is also the way through it. Our Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and through him we can all find our way to the Father. He even gives us the key to that narrow gate: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the Law and the Prophets.” As we pledge to live our lives by considering the needs of others just as we would consider our own needs, we will indeed find that traveling that narrow road is the way that gives most joy to our lives. As the Psalmist reminds us today, “He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.”

The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

An often told, and completely correct, preaching of today’s Gospel reading about the healing of Bartimeus’s blindness would say that this story isn’t about hisblindness at all.  Yes, it tells of his physical blindness and healing by Jesus, but the reason we have this story today isn’t just to make us feel happy for the blind man; instead it is to point out some kind of pervasive blindness that the man had, and truly, we all have, and the real miracle is that he was healed of that, and that we should reflect on what blindness we have and pray to be healed of that. That would be a perfectly acceptable reading of this Gospel story, except that there’s this really interesting detail right at the end of the story.

It’s a throw-away detail, almost, but it changed what the message was for me.  It comes when Jesus tells the man, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” And then it says that it the man received his sight and followed him on the way.  So notice the difference: “Go your way” versus “followed him on the way.”

If Bartimaeus had gone his way, as Jesus suggested, he would probably have returned to sitting on his cloak begging for alms.  After all, that was all he knew, having done it his whole life.  But he had cast that aside in the pursuit of Jesus, and having received sight, he clearly saw that that was the wrong way, and instead follows Jesus on “the way.”  Now, it’s important to note here that “The Way” (capital “W”) was an early way that Christians, before they were called Christians, referred to themselves.  They would be known as members of “The Way.”  So here we see that the real miracle is that Bartimaeus clearly saw that his life lacked the meaning he needed and that the only cure was following Jesus.

That jibes well with the first reading today.  The Israelites were in a bad situation: they had ignored God enough that he allowed their whole nation to fall and be taken into exile.  Jeremiah’s message was that they had no one to blame but themselves; that God had punished them for turning aside from the faith, following false gods, ignoring the poor and the needy and the stranger in their midst, and allowing every kind of depravity in their lives.  It’s not a very encouraging message, and one can see why Jeremiah was treated so poorly.  In this reading, though, Jeremiah relates God’s that he would bring them back: back to Israel, back to the Temple, back to himself.  Then, even though they departed in tears – as indeed they did – they would return shouting for joy.

So the real miracle here is not one of blindness and seeing, but one of metanoia, which is the Greek word meaning a change in ones life – really a complete reversal – based on a spiritual interior conversion.  The Israelites had been going the wrong way, so God gave them over to their persecutors, but because that penance produced conversion, he would bring them back.  Bartimeus had been going the wrong way living a perhaps-pointless life, but through giving himself over to Jesus and trusting in him, he found purpose in following him on The Way.

nd we have to see what’s going on in our own lives.  Have we been going the wrong way?  Have we paid little attention to our spiritual life?  Have we chosen to live as though our spiritual lives didn’t matter?  For me, it can be frighteningly easy to do that.  It can be very easy to be so busy about the stuff of running a parish that I don’t see what God is doing in my life and in the life of this community. It was good for me to be on retreat this past week; in that precious time, I found much grace and heard God’s call to make things new in me and in my ministry here.  What is he doing in you right now?  Have you been coasting in your spiritual life?  Have you paid it little attention?  If so, maybe God is calling you to forsake your own way, and give yourself over to The Way.

The Fifth Sunday of Easter [A]

Today’s readings

I can see by your attendance here today that you were not caught up in the rapture last night.

I bring this up not so much to poke fun at those who mistakenly predict the end of days, but rather to use this occasion to talk about exactly what we Catholics believe about the end times.  I think at some level all of us want to know when the end is coming and what it will look like.  We don’t get a clear roadmap of that, for reasons I’ll discuss later, but we do have some theology around the issue.

Whenever we want to know what we believe about something, the first places we should look are in the scriptures and in the Liturgy.  So I’ll start with the Liturgy, and point out the scriptures along the way.  The Nicene-Constantinople Creed, which we pray each Sunday and Solemnity, includes two statements of belief about the end of time.  The first comes at the end of what we believe about Jesus Christ.  It says:

He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

The second statement comes at the very end of the Creed, in the part that summarizes our belief about the Church, the sacraments and eternal life:

… and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.

So the Creed gives us five pieces of information about the end times.  First, Jesus will come again in glory.  In our Gospel today, Jesus tells us: “I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be…”  In his glorious return, Jesus will make manifest his kingdom in heaven and on earth, and all those who have believed in him will be taken to himself.

Second, Jesus will judge the living and the dead.  Recall the scripture about the sheep and the goats, Matthew 25:31-46, in which those who have ministered to Christ made manifest in the poor and lowly of the world will inherit eternal life, and those who have failed to do so inherit eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  We believe that it is our responsibility to live the Gospel and a failure to do so manifests a rejection of Christ that is a choice to live in torment, distanced from God in eternity just as was done in life.

Third, we believe that when Christ returns, his kingdom will be everlasting.  The devil may well appear to hold sway in our own time, and all it takes is a glance at the news to confirm this.  But when Christ returns, all will be made new, as we read in the book of Revelation, chapter 21 (1-4): “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…”

Fourth, there will be a resurrection of the dead.  We believe that because of the death and resurrection of Christ, death is not the end for us.  Those who die before Christ returns will be raised up to participate in the new, everlasting kingdom.  Saint Paul tells us in his first letter to the Thessalonians (4:13-14), “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

And finally, we believe in eternal life.  In today’s gospel, Jesus says: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”  So we know that heaven is a place where we are to go, once we have been purified by death, and possibly purgatory (but that’s another whole homily!).  Eternal life is a life of joy in heaven forever.

Getting back to the news of the last few days, in which Harold Camping of FamilyRadio.com predicted a rapture and the beginning of the end yesterday at 6pm local time, I would like to say two things.  First, you’ll notice that I didn’t discuss in the five points I just made a belief in the rapture.  That’s because there isn’t such a thing.  Those who believe in a rapture claim that prior to the great tribulations which will precede the end times, those who have believed in Christ will be taken up, leaving everyone else “left behind.”  That belief led to a whole series of popular books in the last decade.  While the tribulations that precede the end were foretold by Jesus, a rapture was not.  It wasn’t until the 1800s that some American fundamentalists really defined and pushed that belief.  The Catholic Church has never acknowledged a rapture, it has never been revealed in Scripture or authentic Tradition, so we can dismiss it.

Second, a lot of people waste a lot of time trying to calculate the end of it all.  Mr. Camping calculated that May 21st would be the end.  I won’t get into how he got there, because I think the failure of it dictates that it not be given much attention, and if you really want to know, there’s a lot on the internet you can find about that.  I will say that he previously predicted that the end would come in 1994, based on the same information, and claimed it didn’t come to pass due to a mathematical error on his part.

What I have to say about this is based on what Jesus tells us in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24, verse 36: “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”  I think that’s pretty clear: nobody gets that big picture except God the Father, so it’s extremely presumptuous to think we could ever figure it out.  Shame on us if we waste our time trying.

So what do we do with all this?  Should we be prepared for the end of the world?  I would say absolutely yes, and always.  Going back to First Thessalonians (5:2), Saint Paul tells us, “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.”  Since we don’t know when the end will come, but are positive that there will indeed be an end, we need to be always prepared.  That preparation should be that we continue to nurture our relationship with God by participating regularly in the sacraments, and immersing ourselves in prayer and reading of the sacred scriptures.  It also includes living the Gospel: finding Christ in the poor and needy and extending ourselves to lighten their load.  It means proclaiming the word by the lives that we lead and the words that we speak.  It means bringing everyone we can find with us to the kingdom.

There’s a lot at stake in our Scriptures today.  There is a world that needs to know Jesus so that they too can know the Father and experience the joy of a real home.  There is a world that needs to know the touch of Jesus so that they can be healed and strengthened for life’s journey.  There is a world that needs to hear the Word of Jesus so that they can come to the way, the truth and the life.  It’s on us now, none of us can be passive observers or consumers only.  As St. Peter says today, we “are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that [we] may announce the praises’ of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  We are not home yet, but we can get there through our Jesus, our way, our truth, and our life.

As Saint Benedict says, “And may He bring us all together to life everlasting.” (Rule of St. Benedict, 72)


Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Mass for the school children:

One of the most important things we can ever learn is that God loves us very much.  God created us because of love: if he didn’t love us, he never would have made us, because God never makes anything that he doesn’t love.  God is love, and so God can’t do anything other than love us.

Unfortunately, we can sometimes do something other than love God.  He gave us free will, and sometimes that’s a problem.  Sometimes that’s a challenge.  God freely chose to love us, and so he wants us to freely choose to love him.  But, because we have free will, sometimes we don’t do that.  There are lots of things out there that we often choose to love instead: we might love things, choosing to care about the nice things we own rather than about other people or about our relationship with God.  We might even choose to do things that turn us away from God, like following the crowd and doing things we shouldn’t, like bullying others, that kind of thing.

And the problem is, it’s easy to get distracted from God’s love.  There are lots of people that try to get us to go the wrong way.  It might be a commercial that convinces us that we have to have something we really don’t need.  It could be someone who is trying to get us to try drugs or alcohol.  It could be a person who tells us we’re ugly, or dumb, or just not a good person.  All these voices are wrong, but we hear them so often, it’s hard sometimes to find God in all the confusion.

But there is a way.  And that’s what today’s Gospel is all about.  Because God loves us, he wants us to find our way back to him.  He wants us to hear that he is still there, that he still loves us, even among all those voices who confuse us sometimes.  He made us out of love, and he wants us to return to him one day and share eternal life with him.  And when life confuses us and tries to convince us that we aren’t worthy of God’s love, he gives us Jesus.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  He is the one way back to the Father.

And that’s good news, because we know Jesus, don’t we?  We know that we can find him in our lives and especially here at Mass.  We can be with Jesus as we hear the words of the readings, and as we come to receive him in Holy Communion.  We don’t need all kinds of useless “stuff.”  We don’t need drugs or alcohol or anything else.  We are not ugly or dumb or unlovable.  We are made by God who makes all things good and makes all of us out of love.  All we need is Jesus who wants more than anything for us to know that God loves us.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  Don’t ever forget that.  Don’t ever take your eyes off Jesus.


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