The Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings
For the Rite of  Acceptance Into the Order of Catechumens

Worry will absolutely kill us, if we let it.  As a pastor and confessor, I hear worry from people all the time.  Worry about job issues or money in general, worry about illnesses or the grieving of loved ones, worry about children and other family members, worry about relationships gone wrong.  Then you could also worry about crime and war and terrorism and the economy and just about our country or world in general.  There’s plenty to worry about, and most of us worry about something, sometime, maybe even all the time, in our lives.

But Jesus tells us today to cut that out.  Worrying does not solve our problems.  And what we worry about is so often not the most important thing in the vast scheme of things.  What I love in this passage is that Jesus provides us with the antidote to all that worry: We don’t need to waste time on worry because God’s providence is infinitely greater than our worry.  We are worth far more than the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.  God takes care of them, and he will take care of us.  Maybe not in the exact way we would pick, but always with love and his strong, abiding presence.  Even if a mother were to forget her child, as Isaiah reassures us today, God will never forget us.

So now that we have the worry out of the way, what do we do?  I think sometimes that’s why so many of us hang on to worry – because that’s the only thing we know.  But Jesus says that we should put an end to the worrying so that we’ll have time for the one thing that really matters: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”  Because when we possess the kingdom of God, brothers and sisters, we possess everything we could ever possibly need.  More than the birds of the air have, more than the lilies of the field possess; the kingdom of God is the pearl of great price.

Today we have the opportunity to focus on that.  Jordan and Clinton have come here seeking the kingdom.  In the midst of those things that are going on in their lives, they have realized that there was something they were lacking and that could only be filled up by the presence of God.  In our gathering today, we pledge to support them in prayer and to walk with them on the journey.  Even better, their journeys give us pause to look at our own journeys of faith and maybe give us the encouragement to take a step closer to the cross if we have be lax or have laid it down.

So now they have been admitted to the Order of Catechumens, and I’d like to say a word or two about what that means.  Catechumens are those who are preparing for baptism and are not infants.  Non-baptized people ordinarily do not have rights within the Church, but catechumens, even though they are not baptized, do.  Catechumens have the right to the Sacraments, particularly and firstly baptism, of course.  They also have the right, even before baptism, to be married in the Church if they are preparing for that.  And finally, they have the right, God forbid, to a Church funeral and Christian burial.

They won’t be catechumens long, however.  Because next week, they will go to the Cathedral in Joliet to be chosen for the Sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation by Bishop Conlon.  Then we will call them “the Elect.”  They have all the same rights, and election signals that they have entered into the final, more intensive, preparation for the Sacraments, which is called the period of “Purification and Enlightenment,” and focuses on their spiritual preparation for the Sacraments.

All of these leads to the Easter Vigil, in which they will enter the waters of Baptism for the cleansing of their sins and their joining to the Body of Christ and His Church.  I hope that you will continue to keep them in their prayers, along with Jett Davis and Sylvia Spangenberg, who are also catechumens at this time.  May God bring them closer to himself as they approach the Sacraments, and may God bring us all together one day to eternal life.

Tuesday of the Twenty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today we have readings urging us to pay attention. Paul tells the Thessalonians in our first reading today not to freak out if they hear about the second coming of Christ. Rather, they should be in the moment and live as they have been taught and formed in the Gospel that Paul preached to them. They need to pay attention to what is going on in front of them, to be attentive to what the Gospel calls them to do, and trust that if the Lord comes in glory, he will find them doing his will and gather them to himself. No need to scramble around in fear of what is to come.

Jesus today scolds the scribes and Pharisees, as he often does, about paying more attention to the minute bits of the law than they do to really doing God’s will. They are so caught up in the ritual cleansing of bowls and cups that they cannot attend to the purification of their own hearts. And that, Jesus tells them, is a complete disaster. Their blindness will eventually leave them out of salvation’s reach.

And so we too are called today to pay attention. We need to be attentive to the needs of those around us, to reach out to the oppressed and forgotten, to always be mindful of the poor – in short, we are to live the Gospel faithfully. We shouldn’t be caught up in details, nor should we be overly concerned about the Lord’s return. We can’t have our head in the clouds nor in the sand. We must be attentive to what’s in front of us, the opportunity to live the Gospel faithfully.

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

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

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

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

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

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

St. Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

[Mass for the junior high school children.]

Of all birds, sparrows are probably the most insignificant.  They are small in size and dull in color.  They undertake no great flights.  They live in bushes rather than in trees.  Though they are found in vast numbers all over the world, we take them completely for granted.  They so blend in with the earth and their surroundings that we hardly ever notice them.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus wants us to know how far God’s love for us and care for us and knowledge of us goes.  In doing that, he didn’t talk about swans or eagles, even though these birds make a much more splendid appearance as opposed to the humble sparrow.  But listen again to what he says about them: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing.”

By this he means that everything that happens to any of his creatures, whether they are roaring lions or tiny sparrows, whether they are world leaders, or little children, whether they are great or insignificant, God still cares for them – they are still important to God.  He notices what happens to us, no matter who we are, he cares for us and wants us to be with him forever.

In our day, there are lots of things to worry about.  Many people right now are worrying about the economy.  Will we be able to stay in our homes or will we lose them?  Will we be able to pay our bills?  Can we still afford to live in a safe place?  And there are lots of other things we worry about too.  We worry about people we love when they are sick.  We worry about passing tests, whether they are tests in school or medical tests.  We worry about our family and friends who are off in foreign lands fighting difficult wars.  There is no shortage of things to worry about.

But Jesus reminds us today that we are in God’s hands.  The hairs of our head have been counted.  We are worth more than millions of sparrows, and God notices every single one of them.

St. Ignatius of Antioch was a bishop at the end of the first and beginning of the second century.  At that time, Christians were often persecuted, this time under the Emperor Trajan.  Christians were being forced to deny Christ or lose their lives.  Many of them chose to give their lives for Christ, and Ignatius was one of them.

When he was in prison, Ignatius wrote to the people in the churches he led.  He told them not to worry about him.  In fact, he told them not to try to intervene for him, not to try to stop what was going to happen.  He knew he would die for his faith, but he didn’t want them to try and stop it.  He was not worried about his life, because he knew that God would take care of him.  He wrote:  “No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire.”

He was killed for his faith and became a martyr.  We celebrate his courage on this feast day for him.  We celebrate his faith in Jesus, that faith that told him there was nothing to worry about because God loved him and valued him more than many sparrows.

What we need to do today is to give our worries back to Jesus, to remember that we are in his hands, and to tell him that we trust in him.  After our prayers of the faithful, we are all going to come forward and offer our worries back to Jesus so that we can put them in his hands as we celebrate the Eucharist today.  After you come forward to give your worries to one of our students who will place them before the altar, I want you to return to your seat and imagine yourself giving that worry to Jesus.  Imagine him taking it from you, reassuring you that you are worth more than many sparrows, and imagine him embracing you and reassuring you that you will be cared for.