Friday of the Twenty-first Week of Ordinary Time: Mass of the Holy Spirit

Today’s readings
This is the first school Mass of the year, so I celebrated a Mass of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience, when you’re talking to someone, that you feel like you’re not both having the same conversation. Or you feel like, even though you’re both speaking English, you’re not talking the same language. Sometimes that happens: you think you’re both talking about the same thing, but very clearly, one or both of you is missing the point.

I think Saint Paul’s message to the Corinthians today might be something like that. They think they know what wisdom is, and I believe they really do know how the world defines wisdom, but the thing is, God’s wisdom is very, very different from the world’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is way beyond anything anyone has ever thought. Because, for God, wisdom looks like that Cross up there. Because the Cross is what the world thinks of as the ultimate defeat. It was a death saved for the most horrible criminals. It was a very public way to put an end to someone’s criminal foolishness.

But God used that horrible thing to make the best thing ever happen. He used the Cross to overcome the worst death ever by raising Jesus up on the third day. The worst death ever became the best life ever, where there is no more pain or sadness or death. It turns out God’s wisdom is very, very wise indeed!

For Jesus in today’s Gospel the call to be truly wise was a bit more simple: be prepared. Just as the wise virgins who had taken the time to buy enough oil to last them through the night were rewarded by getting to join in the marriage feast, so all of us who are wise enough to be a light shining in a dark place will be rewarded with being able to join God’s feast and become one with him.

I think it makes a lot of sense that we talk about wisdom at the beginning of our school year. The whole point of this coming school year is for all of us to grow in wisdom. So we have to be ready to tackle subjects that maybe don’t make a lot of sense to us at first. We might think something new is just foolishness until we actually get it, and then we grow in our ability to learn. And we have to come prepared, knowing that sometimes it doesn’t seem like we’re going to understand what we’re being taught, but persevering, staying with it anyway until it actually makes sense.

For all of this, we have to rely on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s own spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us the grace and the gifts to do all the really good things that we want to accomplish and that God wants us to do. And so we begin our year by asking the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom, and the grace to hang in there when things get tough.

But the Spirit’s gifts are more than just wisdom. Saint Paul says to the Corinthians a little later on in his letter:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes. (1 Cor. 12: 4-11)

And so someone might be able to grasp wisdom or knowledge quickly. Another might be a person of great faith, helping others to trust God when things are tough. Another person might have the gift of healing, maybe helping people when they are hurting physically or emotionally. The point is the Holy Spirit moves us in many different ways, and all of us are given some of the gifts of the Spirit. And we are given those gifts so that we can give them to others.

So as we begin our school year together, we want to pray to the Holy Spirit so that he will give us whatever gifts we need to do whatever it is we are supposed to do. We want to thank the Holy Spirit for those gifts, and promise to use them for our good and the good of the other people he puts in our lives. And we should always thank God for those wonderful gifts, because they make us better, happier people and using them makes our world a better place.

I know a lot of you know the prayer to the Holy Spirit, so if you do, pray it along with me:

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.

The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Stop Hoarding!

Today’s readings

Once in a while in the news, you will hear a story of someone who has hoarded possessions so much as to put them in danger. A while ago, I remember hearing of someone who had passed away, and rescuers needed to cut a hole in the roof in order to remove the person from the home. People like this have an illness with regard to hoarding, of course. But today’s Liturgy of the Word seems to address the hoarder in all of us. We are people of means, maybe not the most well-off, but certainly better off than most of the world. When do we have enough? When does it all become too much?

Listen to the last line of this morning’s Gospel one more time: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” So right away the parable is turned around and directed at all of us. And it wouldn’t be so hard to put that parable in modern terms, would it? Think of winning the lottery, only to know that the day you receive the check is the day you go home to the Lord. Or think of spending your days and nights in the office, building wealth and prestige, only to be part of massive layoffs when the company is sold. Or, even worse, spending your days and nights at the office, only to miss the growing of your family. So, Jesus asks us, what treasures have we built up? With what have we filled our barns?

Today’s first reading is from the book of Ecclesiastes, which in Hebrew is Qoheleth, who is the teacher in the book. Among the Wisdom books in the Scriptures, Ecclesiastes can be the hardest to read because it is almost prophetic in content. Qoheleth is the main character in the book, a man who is considered wise among his contemporaries, much like many of the popular wisdom teachers of his day. While we don’t know who Qoheleth was, the book is attributed to Solomon, the wise king. Solomon often wrote of the prizes that lay in store for those who were successful. But this book is a little different. Here he questions if it is all worth it, and challenges the complacence and dishonesty that run rampant in that society. If we didn’t know any better, he could well have been writing his words today, couldn’t he? In the end, though, Qoheleth’s message is basically encouraging, and brings us back to the God who made us. At the end of his book, which is not part of today’s reading, he says: “The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all; because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.” (Ecc. 12:13-14) Which is exactly what Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel.

St. Paul has a little bit of Qoheleth in him too, today. In the letter to the Colossians, which we have been hearing these past few weeks, he is trying to get that community to lay aside earthly things and seek God. Sounds like the message of Qoheleth, doesn’t it? “If you were raised with Christ,” he tells them, “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” In other words, stop filling your barns with the stuff that you accumulate on this earth, and be rich in what matters to God. Qoheleth, St. Paul, and Jesus are in complete concert today, and we must be careful to hear their message. St. Paul, typical for him, is very blunt about what he is asking us to lay aside: “Put to death then,” he tells us, “the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” And, “stop lying to one another.” We are called to be disciples who are pure, compassionate and truthful, because absolutely nothing else will lead us to the kingdom of God!

So, let’s look at Jesus’ instruction at the end of today’s Gospel parable: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” We have to ask ourselves, then, the very important question: “what is it that matters to God?” I think we know what doesn’t qualify – St. Paul made that very clear. I think the things that matter to God are those things we might count among our blessings: namely our family and friends. Those things that matter to God might also be the things that make us disciples who are pure, compassionate and truthful. So we might seek to be rich in prayer, rich in reaching out to the poor and needy, rich in standing up for truth and justice.

Today God is tugging at the heart-strings of the hoarder in all of us. What are we stockpiling? Maybe we need a look at our checkbooks, our calendars, and our to-do lists to see where our money, time and resources have gone. Can we take any of that with us if we are called home to God tonight? If those things are all we have, we could find ourselves in real poverty when we arrive at the pearly gates. This week’s to-do list might find us letting go of some of what we thought was important, so that we can be rich in what matters to God. These, brothers and sisters in Christ, are the riches that will not spoil and can never be taken away from us.

The Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So often, when someone thanks us for something, we might say, “It’s the least I could do.” As if it were some kind of badge of achievement to do the least thing possible. I think it’s human nature to try to do as little as possible, without being perceived as lazy or something. Sometimes we want to do as little as possible, and have others feeling good about it.

Well, I think it’s that kind of attitude that is behind today’s Liturgy of the Word. Certain things are expected of believers, and over the course of history, people have tried to get away with doing as few of those things as they absolutely need to do. The first reading sets the stage: Moses places the law before the people and tells them that they are a great nation, because they have a God so close to them, and who loves them enough to give them the whole law that they have received.

Now the whole law is more than we might think. Perhaps when we hear that, we think of the Ten Commandments, to which we also are bound in our discipleship. But for the Jewish community back then, there were a total of over six hundred laws and precepts that made up the law. Because of that, there was constant discussion over which of the laws was most important, and often people would be concerned more about a tiny little precept than about the whole big picture that God was trying to accomplish.

This is the attitude Jesus came to address with the Gospel. He wanted the people to get it right. He wanted them to have concern for people more than for semantics in the law. He wanted them to love as God loves, because if you do that, you’ll be keeping the law anyway. But people didn’t always accept that teaching. If they did, Jesus wouldn’t have had to go to the Cross, and there would have been no need to preach the Gospel.

So in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus makes a major correction. There was a law of purifying vessels before festivals, which is not unlike the way the priest washes his hands before the Eucharistic Prayer or the way that the vessels for Mass are purified after Communion. But somewhere along the way, the precept got mangled, and everyone was bound to scrupulously wash themselves and every vessel they owned before a feast. And Jesus chastises them for having more concern about a human tradition than about the real intent of the law.

The real intent of the law was obviously something way more important, way more personal. The real intent of that purification was the purification of our hearts. Jesus gives a rather horrifying list of sins at the end of the Gospel reading and notes that these are the things that defile; not some dirt on the outside of a cup or hands that had not been scrupulously cleaned. If we want to really purify ourselves for the festival, which is to say the Eucharist, then we have to be cleansed of our sins. That’s why we have the Sacrament of Penance, right?

James, in the second reading, picks up on the theme. If we really want to be thought to be wise in regard to keeping the law, then we have to keep ourselves unstained by the world, which would be the same thing as Jesus was saying, but also to care for those in need, with which Jesus would certainly not disagree!

The thing is, we are hearers of the Word. We have experienced the love of our Lord in so many ways. Everything that we have is a gift to us. We have to be wise in regard to all that, and to be certain that we keep the whole of the law. Not just those little minutiae, but the very spirit of the law, the law of love which binds all disciples and all people of good will.

Because, as the Psalmist says today, it is they who do justice who will live in the presence of the Lord. And that’s just where we all want to be.

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It has often struck me that, the economy of our nation and the world being as precarious as it is, that being rich in what matters to God is more important than ever. With all the bad news out there – financial news, political news, news of epidemic diseases, war and terrorism, who among us hasn’t had the sinking feeling that this world’s riches are nothing at time but straw?

So you’d think that these times of uncertainty, people would be coming to Church, reconnecting with their God, and drawing strength from their faith, building up those riches that are from God. But you’d be wrong. All you have to do is look around and see that Mass attendance is nothing like it was in the past, that there are too many empty spaces in the pews.

In some ways it strikes me that we are quickly losing our faith, or even worse, that we as a society are becoming indifferent to faith, seeing it as irrelevant or ultimately meaningless. At a time in our history when we should be returning to God in droves, people instead are staying away in droves.

And it’s hard to live through uncertain times without faith. How can we ride the ups and downs of life with anything close to tranquility without the rock that is our faith? Instead we as a society seem content to look to the government to save us, while we continue to practice unprecedented greed. And to all of that, God warns us: we may just find ourselves wanting in what matters to God. If our lives were demanded of us this day, would we find ourselves rich or poor?

The Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You’ve probably heard me say that these summer weeks of Ordinary Time give us a wonderful look at how to live the Christian Life.  I always say that the Scriptures give us a kind of “Discipleship Toolbox” that helps us to know what we are supposed to be about and how we are to live the Gospel.  The tool with which we are presented this week is pretty obviously the tool of wisdom.  It’s an important tool and it’s not all that easy to attain.  Wisdom is that wonderful virtue that is kind of like knowledge, but more about knowing what is right and wrong.

So think about it, God comes to you in a dream and says you can have anything you want; all you have to do is ask.  Ever since I can remember hearing that reading as a young boy, I have wondered how I would have answered if I had been in Solomon’s place.  It’s a question that I think is worthwhile for all of us to meditate on, because it says a lot about who we are and what is most important to us.

Clearly, Solomon already had what he was looking for, because he was wise enough to ask for it.  He was already wise enough to seek God and fear God and rely on God, and so God rewards him with so much wisdom, that his very name becomes synonymous with that great virtue.  And it’s wisdom that is in motion in today’s Gospel.

Over the past few Sundays, Jesus has taken time to tell us what the kingdom of God is like.  A couple of weeks ago, the kingdom was like seed that was scattered and sown.  Some fell on rocks, some among weeds, but some on the good soil that yielded more than anyone had a right to hope for.  The kingdom of God is something like that: the more we nurture and cultivate our life with God, the more we benefit ourselves and others.  Last Sunday, the kingdom was again like seed, which was carefully planted, but was interrupted by someone planting weeds too.  The landowner had the harvesters sort it all out at harvest time.  The kingdom of God is something like that: the good and the bad will all be sorted out in due time.

This week we have more images of what the kingdom is like.  It’s like the pearl of great price or the buried treasure.  In both cases, the one finding that pearl or treasure sell everything they have to obtain it.  In both cases, the treasure seeker is wise enough to see the value of what they are looking at, and they give everything to have it.  The kingdom of God is like that.  It’s worth giving everything to have.

But it does take some wisdom to recognize the pearl of great price.  Because lots of things out there are shiny and nice and tempting.  But they don’t lead to everlasting happiness.  And it takes wisdom to go for that pearl when you find it.  Because it costs something, well, everything really.  Just like the people in the Gospel sold everything they had to buy the field with the buried treasure and the pearl of great price, so we will be required to give everything to obtain the kingdom of God.

That might mean walking away from a business deal that is profitable but has bad consequences for other people.  Or perhaps it means giving up a relationship that is destructive.  We may have to give up a leisure pursuit that is enjoyable but separates us from family and friends.  We have to make choices, changes and decisions that amount to selling everything in order to make room for something that is of ultimate importance: that pearl of great price which is the Kingdom of heaven itself.

So think about it.  God gives you the opportunity to obtain anything you want.  What do you ask for?  What is it that you’d give everything to have?

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s first reading, King Solomon is asked a question that seems to me something like the fabled question that people get asked when they find a genie in a bottle.  Make a wish, and it’s yours.  Solomon has a relationship with the Lord, and so he treats the opportunity as something quite more than a chance to get rich quick.  Instead, he asks for the spiritual gift of understanding, which he knows that he will need in his ministry of governing the people Israel.  He gets that, and much more besides.

Jesus offers the Apostles an opportunity, too.  They were so busy, they had no opportunity to eat, let alone rest.  So he invites them on retreat: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”  He gives them a chance to recharge, to rest and grow.  Meanwhile, Jesus continued the ministry of preaching and teaching.

So we too, have opportunities today.  Those of us gathered for the Liturgical Minister Day of Renewal have the opportunity to come away and rest a while, to reflect on what we do and why we do it, and why it’s important that we do it well.  We come to be fed by the Eucharist and nourished in prayer, we come to receive the gifts that we need to do our ministries well.

Opening ourselves up to our Lord today, we are asked what it is that we need.  For each of us the answer is probably quite different.  We may need to go deeper in the spiritual life, or we may need to learn more about the Liturgy and our faith.  We may need more time for prayer.  Whatever it is, our God presents us with the opportunity today.  Sometimes I think we underestimate God or don’t want to bother him, or we may even think we can do our ministry or handle whatever life throws at us alone.  But we can’t and we don’t have to.

God speaks to us today: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”  How do you answer?  Choose wisely.

Saturday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s reading from the book of Sirach lays down the basis of all biblical wisdom literature.  The basic premise is that we have been created good by God, who gave humanity everything necessary for survival, created and shared the wisdom to know and love God, and opened up the nations for their inheritance.  Humanity was given every possible advantage and blessing.  And so it is wisdom to cooperate with all of this grace, and to remain connected to God.  This God notices everything, “their ways are ever known to him.”

When you think about it, this is an incredible honor for us profane creatures.  We have been created in the wisdom of God, whose foolishness, we are told, exceeds our human wisdom.  So even on our worst days, we are still part of God’s wonderful creation, and we are always called to relationship with God who gives us everything we need.

Everything we need includes salvation, paid for at the price of the life of his only begotten Son, on whose body, blood, soul and divinity we are fed.  The strength of this heavenly food draws us more deeply into Christ who keeps us close to him.  The Psalmist sings of this wisdom: “The Lord’s kindness is everlasting to those who fear him.”  How blest are we who fear and love our God who made us to participate in his divine wisdom!