St. Dorothy Catholic Community Orlando/Winter Park, Florida
Psalms 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 21, 2020
We enter this Gospel scene midstream. Christ is giving his Apostles instructions for their first missionary journey. The most striking thing about these instructions is the warning. In this passage, Jesus tells them three times not to be afraid - three times! He wouldn't say it if they didn't need to hear it.
But why would they need to hear it?
Because as they go out in Christ's name to spread the Gospel in word and deed, they are going to run into serious difficulties. Jesus is warning his Apostles that they will meet up with persecution and hardship, just as he will, in a dramatic way, during his Passion. He is warning them that their Christian mission will demand heroic courage, perseverance, and fidelity as they constantly face suffering, defamation, mockery, and opposition. They are going to run into people who will want to destroy them, humiliate them, and even kill them, just because they bear Christ's name and are trying to spread Christ's message.
In the verses immediately preceding the passage we just listened to, Jesus was explicit about this. He told them: "Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. "You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them.... "You will be hated by all men on account of my name."
Those same warnings apply to us too. Being a Christian is not like joining a tennis club. There is a spiritual battle going on in this fallen world. Whenever we are truly following Christ and building up his Kingdom, the powers of darkness, the evil and its minions, don't like it, and they try to make it hard for us, just as they made it hard for the Apostles.
We simply have to realize, once and for all, that the pattern of Christ's life is the pattern for every Christian life: suffering and death on the cross at the hands of evil, and then resurrection and eternal victory over evil.
There is a story about a truck driver named Darrell Loomis.
Darrell always stopped for meals at Joe's Diner in the middle of his route between Cincinnati and Atlanta. One day, he was sitting in his favorite counter-seat at Joe's Diner and eating his usual lunch - meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and iced tea. Suddenly he heard a roar outside and saw a cloud of dust, followed by the arrival of twelve members of a motorcycle gang, riding Harley-Davidsons with extended forks.
These were fine bikes, quite a sight to see as the gang parked them next to Darrell's huge Peterbilt truck. As the gang stomped into the diner, the leader spotted Darrell. "Well, who is this little wimp at the counter?" he sneered.
Forming a semicircle around Darrell, the gang members started snapping their fingers in rhythmic cadence. Unperturbed, Darrell just sat and ate his lunch. One of them poured Darrell's iced tea over his head. The others watched, still snapping their fingers in unison. With his napkin, Darrell quietly dried his face, but said nothing.
Another one stuck a finger full of the mashed potatoes into Darrell's ear, wiping his hand on Darrell's back. Darrell just calmly finished his lunch as they continued to taunt him, paid his bill and left the diner without saying a word. The gang leader laughed and said to Joe, "What a wimp! That guy sure ain't much of a man!" Joe, looking out the window said, "No, and he ain't much of a driver either. He just ran over twelve Harleys."
When Jesus came as the Messiah, he wasn't at all what people expected. And so the powers of evil arranged for him to be ridiculed, humiliated, spat upon, whipped, crowned with thorns, and hung on a cross. Jesus willingly accepted it, being faithful to his mission. He knew that in the end evil and all its demons would be crushed under the weight of his saving love. And the Resurrection proved that he was right. And that's the pattern for Christian living.
This may seem like a pessimistic approach to Christianity. But it's actually just the opposite, for two reasons.
First, pessimism distorts reality. But persecution and opposition are not distortions of reality, they are part of reality. Christians follow Christ's footsteps, and Christ walked the way of the cross. That's simple reality. Christians are realists, not pessimists.
Second, once we finally accept this truth, it's actually a huge relief. Tension, pressure and drama come when our expectations for life don't match up with the reality of life. If we are expecting everyone we meet to appreciate our Christian viewpoint, we are going to be constantly frustrated. And that frustration will eventually wear us down, until we just stop trying to bear witness to Christ at all, becoming undercover, cowardly Christians.
But Jesus has freed us from that.
He has told us ahead of time that by being friends with him we will automatically make enemies. And that's OK. He had enemies too. So we don't have to worry anymore about pleasing everyone, but just about pleasing him. And that takes the pressure off, because Jesus is the easiest person in the world to please, although he is very hard to satisfy.
We please him: when we follow the church’s teaching, even if it's countercultural; when we do good to others, without seeking anything in return; when we use our time well, instead of frittering it away in self-indulgence; when we pray, for ourselves and for others. when we are patient with those who bother us, just as he is patient with us.
So today, when he renews his commitment to us in the Eucharist, let's promise that, this week, we won't be shy about living out our commitment to him, no matter the consequences.
Second Kings 4:8-11, 14-16
Psalms 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19
Romans 6:3-4, 8-11
13th Sunday in OT – June 28, 2020
Today’s readings remind us that the new life we’ve received in Christ, a new life we live even now as Christians, is not only due to Our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross, but is also a pattern of life that we should be following to create new life. You will see a common thread of hospitality in my remarks this morning. It is very appropriate for us here at St. Dorothy’s to contemplate on this thread as: 1) we are in Orlando and hospitality is the largest industry for us here in central florida and one that was and is still being hardest hit by COVID-19. Even our return back to St. Matthew’s Tavern has been postponed as the State has shut down all bars/taverns. 2) as a Franciscan, our charism as an order and a follower of the principals set forth by St. Francis of Assisi is one of hospitality and I try to be an example of that in my daily life and lastly as a parish St. Dorothy Catholic Community has been and is still known for the hospitality they show to those who may come to liturgy for the first or hundredth time.
In today’s First Reading that John read, an influential woman receives the promise of a son after showing hospitality to the prophet Elisha because he was a man of God. This woman saw something of God in Elisha, and that something moved her to invite Elisha to dine. She extended her hospitality expecting nothing in return. However, she didn’t limit her hospitality to just a few meals: she prepared a place for Elisha to stay when he was in town. Her hospitality and generosity were a sacrifice of her time and treasure for the sake of the Lord’s mission. Serving Elisha was serving the Lord too. With no children on the horizon, she and her husband’s line were destined to come to an end. Through her selfless sacrifice, she and her family received new life with the promise of a son.
In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that it was sacrifice and death that brought us new life in Christ, and we must also sacrifice and die to ourselves so that Christ’s life may take hold of us and create a new life. We speak of the “old man,” condemned to death due to original sin, as dying in baptism so that the new man, born in Christ through Baptism, may begin a new life. It doesn’t matter how old or how young you were when you received baptism; you were an “old man” in sin and were born of water and the Spirit through Baptism, making the old man perish and its sins, original or otherwise, along with the old man. This death and new life take place spiritually and sacramentally through Baptism, but one day, just as it did for Christ, it will take place for real: death awaits us all someday, but if we believe in Christ, a new life awaits us too. Our lives will be changed and not ended. Sin/evil leads to death, so the more we deaden ourselves to evil, denying ourselves and sacrificing ourselves for others as Christ did, the more the new life in Christ can take hold of us and make our new lives flourish.
In today’s Gospel, we see that hospitality to others is hospitality to Jesus. The influential woman of today’s First Reading, by helping Elisha, helped Abba God and was blessed for her hospitality. Even today, as Jesus reminds us when we serve others, especially those who are serving Abba God, we are serving God himself. God is also very good at hiding in the people you’d least expect.
True hospitality is not stingy. A guest knows when the host is doing the minimum to satisfy some social obligation or curry favor: skimping on the food and drinks, keeping the event brief, etc. Jesus today invites the disciples to examine why they are serving others: are they serving themselves in some way, trying to gain something for their service, or are they truly serving them because they serve God? Jesus warns us that we must take up our cross in serving others, and even lose our lives, but also promises that in the end, he will take care of us too if we focus on caring for him through caring for others.
Hospitality is one of the cornerstones of Benedictine spirituality, and it is based on seeing Christ in the guest, just as he is seen in the monks. In the Rule of St. Benedict Chapter LIII is dedicated to the reception of guests. Christ told his disciples that their service and disservice to others would also be directed at him, and this teaching is the foundation for the Benedictine attitude on hospitality: “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: ‘I was a stranger and you took Me in’. And let due honor be shown to all, especially to those ‘of the household of the faith’ and to wayfarers.”
When a guest arrives the Rule of St. Benedict prescribes that the guest be greeted by the superior and the brothers, and they all pray together before anything else. The Abbot attends to the guest and teaches the guest about “divine law.”
Hospitality also involves flexibility: in the Rule, it prescribes a separate kitchen attended to by a couple of monks to attend to the guests’ needs even when they are not following the monastery’s schedule for meal times and other activities.
There are so many ways we can practice Christian hospitality especially in the present time which we are living, which in a way is synonymous with Christian charity. It’s not dinner parties (although it’s very gracious to organize them). It can be as simple as making a sandwich or some cookies for homeless people. It can be helping at a food kitchen, homeless shelter, clinic, or halfway house. It can be welcoming a scared young mother or foster child into your home who needs some stability and a safe place to stay.
Big or small, you are not just loving the persons involved; you are loving Christ.
Psalms 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-1
Romans 8:9, 11-13
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 5, 2020
Hidden inside this beautiful Gospel passage is a very serious warning. Jesus is speaking to a group of his followers returning from their first missionary journey, which had been wildly successful. They are full of joy and the satisfaction of victory: in Christ's name and with his grace they had finally been able to do something worthwhile, meaningful, and wonderful. Jesus rejoices with them.
These disciples have believed in Christ, trusted him, and followed his teaching. Now they are reaping the benefits, experiencing the kind of interior peace and satisfaction that comes only to the humble, to the "childlike," the ones willing take Christ at his word. Those who are "wise and learned," on the other hand, arrogantly demand that God explain himself completely before they agree to trust in him. That's a reasonable expectation to have from a politician, but it's a diabolical attitude to take in relation to God.
The "wise and learned" are the Pharisees and Sadducees, the successful people and the intellectuals - the ones who will eventually nail Jesus to a cross instead of "taking his yoke upon them." They can't imagine that maybe, just maybe, God knows a little bit more than they do, and so they should accept his teaching with faith, the way children trust in their parents. And as a result, they cut themselves off from the joy, interior peace, and deep satisfaction that only Christ can bring. By refusing to take up Christ's yoke, they have refused to let him give them rest.
They are committing a sin we don't hear much about these days, maybe because it is so widespread: the sin of intellectual pride. Intellectual pride is diabolical because it tries to put the creature into the place of the Creator. After all, we were the ones created to reverence and obey God, not the other way around.
Through the ages, many of the people who have done the most damage to Christ's Church have been heresiarchs, a fancy word for people who starts new heresies. A heresy tears people away from the family of God by convincing them that Christ's Church is wrong about some important teaching.
Some heresies, for example, say that we don't need God's help to get to heaven, or that Jesus was just a good guy and not really divine, or that the Holy Eucharist is only a symbol and not the real presence of Jesus Christ.
Heresies have been used as an excuse to wage war, as in Europe during the 1600s. They have led to widespread immorality, abuse, social decadence, and civil strive, as in southern France in the 1200s. Some historians even say that the horrible crimes of twentieth-century Europe - the 13 million tragic deaths in Nazi concentration camps and the 20 million deaths under Stalinism - can be traced to the breakdown of Christian culture that occurred as a result of heresies that divided western civilization at the beginning of the modern period.
Heresies have caused literally incalculable damage, physically, socially, and spiritually. So heresies have caused all this damage, but what causes heresies? The sin of intellectual pride.
The most widespread, long-lasting and destructive heresies have almost all been produced by Catholic priests who gradually decided that they knew more about Christ than Christ's own Church. Arius, Pelagius, Nestorius, some include Martin Luther in this list but we now realize that he was correct for his day and time on what was going on in the church - even John Calvin began his career as a Catholic seminarian.
Instead of humbly following and building upon the ancient, unified, and unbroken teaching of the bishops of Rome and the councils, some of these and other so called heretics arrogantly defied the authority of the Church or called out the leaders of the church at a given time as they were going astray from the teachings of Jesus, or interpreted the Bible in some new and flashy way, and painfully tore flesh away from the Mystical Body of Christ. But today we see that some of these so called heretics were absolutely correct what they did at their given time in the history of the church.
Yet we are all vulnerable to the sin of intellectual pride. Arrogant judgmentalism is just as common at the barbershop and the truck stop as it is in the ivory tower of academia. And the older we get, the more likely we are to put everything the Church teaches, and everything everyone else says, on trial, with our limited and prejudiced intelligence as the sole judge. Sometimes done without due reason and at other times with due reason. In this most messed up world/society of today it is necessary, with due reason, to put various topics and decisions on trial if they are contrary to the teaching of Jesus and be afraid to call people/church or institutions to task.
But we have to walk a very slim tightrope whenever we do that, because we could be following in the footsteps of the Pharisees, cutting ourselves off from God's light and wisdom, turning off our "childlike" wonder.
So how can we avoid falling into this temptation?
Besides staying close to Christ through personal prayer and the sacraments, we need to adopt the Sherlock Holmes Policy.
Sherlock Holmes was a great detective because he never rested until he discovered the full meaning of every clue.
We should do the same with our faith.
The things God has revealed to us, that we profess in the creed and read in the various teaching venues, are not meant to be the end of our search for understanding; they are meant to be its beginning! The wonders and beauty of God are inexhaustible; there is always more to discover about God and his Creation.
And so, it's easy to keep our childlike wonder alive and well, if we just act like Sherlock Holmes, constantly, actively delving into all the truths of faith and nature. If you are quarantined at this time you may want to google the lives of various saints who were in such a predicament and how they sought for full understanding and yes, even had moments of doubt and rejection of their faith.
God is a mystery who wants to be solved, a lover who wants to be known. Starting today, let's stir up our sense of childlike wonder and curiosity, and commit ourselves anew to knowing God better every day, so we can love Abba God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Psalms 65:10, 11, 12-13, 14
Matthew 13:1-23 or 13:1-9
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 12, 2020
Christ's words have power. Immense crowds press upon him as he teaches.The crowd was so big, Jesus actually got into a fishing boat and used the lake as his speaking platform, so that he could address everyone gathered on the shore. Crowds like this hung on his every word wherever he went. He could easily have turned them into a revolutionary army and manipulated them for any number of purposes. But instead, he simply invites them to change their hearts.
Jesus truly is the Redeemer, but he refuses to bully us into following him. He is the "sower" of the parable, spreading God's Word and announcing God's invitation, but never forcing hearts to welcome it. This combination of eagerness to win over disciples, but respect for his listeners' freedom is especially evident in Jesus' use of parables.
A parable is a simple comparison between a hard-to-understand divine truth, a truth about God and God’s plan of salvation, and a well-known earthly reality. Some interpreters say that Jesus used these stories and comparisons to conceal his meaning from his opponents.
But there is also another way to look at it.
Sometimes people don't want to accept the plain truth, because it means they have to change. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the plain truth. But many didn't accept it. So now he takes a more roundabout way to convince them. The parables offer his listeners a chance to accept certain truths in the abstract, before seeing how they apply to them personally. It's a way of sneaking uncomfortable truths through his listener's mental defense mechanisms, penetrating indirectly the minds that have closed themselves to his direct proclamations.
Jesus always respects our freedom, but he never gives up on convincing us to use that freedom well.
In a Homily on the Feast of Christ the King in 2006, the Bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI said: "It is necessary that each person freely accept the truth of the love of God. God is Love and Truth, and love as well as truth never impose themselves: They knock on the door of the heart and mind and, where they enter, bring peace and joy. This is the way God reigns; this is God’s plan of salvation."
One important truth this parable teaches is that our freedom doesn't operate in a vacuum. We truly are free to choose to follow Christ or not follow Christ, but outside factors influence that freedom, trying to get us to choose a self-centered life over a Christ-centered life.
The first influence is evil, represented by the birds that eat the seed of the path. The evil is real. Evil and its army of fallen angels hate God and God's followers. They influenced our first parents, Adam and Eve, successfully tempting them to disobey God's commandments, thereby breaking off their friendship with God. As tradition tells us.
Evil wants to do the same thing to us. So evil is always planting half-truths in our minds: God won't mind if you have a little fun; God won't be able to forgive that sin; you don't really need the sacraments, you can just go to God directly, all by yourself... Evil uses subtle deceptions to uproot our friendship with God.
The second influence is our own tendency to laziness and comfort, what St Paul calls "the flesh." This is represented by the rocky soil. Many times, God's will demands self-sacrifice - we have to carry crosses, just as Jesus did, if we want to be faithful to our life's purpose. Our ingrained love for comfort resists self-sacrifice.
The third influence is the culture/society/ the world around us, which is a product of fallen the human condition/nature. This is represented by the thorns. This fallen world promises perfect happiness in money, achievements, popularity, or passing pleasures. That is a false promise, because God alone satisfies the human heart. When we follow God's will and stay true to our friendship with Christ even in the face of these contrary influences, then our lives bear the abundant fruit of wisdom, compassion, and lasting happiness.
God knows that using our freedom well is not easy. God knows better than we do the subtlety of evil's deceptions, the force of our selfish tendencies, the allure of the world's treasures and pleasures. And so God, because God loves us with a perfect parental love, has provided helps for our freedom.
God has given us the sacrament of confession, which is a healing sacrament as well as a sacrament of forgiveness. Whenever we give in to our selfish tendencies and sin, we damage our freedom, we put chains around it. The sacrament of confession breaks those chains and strengthens us against future temptations.
He has given us the sacrament of the Eucharist. Holy Communion is not just a symbol of the Last Supper. It is our reception of Christ's own body and blood, of Christ's very own strength. It bolsters everything that is good in us, strengthening us against all that is evil.
Finally, Jesus has given us the incredible gift of prayer. Whenever we feel our freedom under attack, we can pray. We have non-stop direct access to the all-powerful God, who will never fail to come to our aid.
The sacraments, church teaching, and prayer - these are our front-line defenses against the devil, the flesh, and the world. Today, as Jesus renews his commitment to us in this Mass, let's thank Jesus for these gifts, and promise that we will use them well.
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Psalms 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Matthew 13:24-43 or 13:24-30
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 19, 2020
Jesus was always talking about his Kingdom. He came precisely to establish a Kingdom. He will come again at the end of time to bring his Kingdom to fulfillment.
In the meantime, he taught us to pray every day for the coming of this Kingdom: "Thy Kingdom come..." What Kingdom is Jesus talking about and why is it so important?
Christ's Kingdom is life as God created it to be lived: life full of meaning, purpose, wisdom, and lasting happiness; life to the full, which we can only have through friendship with Christ, the one Savior, through knowing, loving, and following him more each day.
Jesus himself said this, in the Gospel of John, Chapter 10, verse 10: "I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full."
St Paul understood this. He defined Christ's Kingdom like this: "The kingdom of God [is] righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit". That's the goal of Christ's Kingdom: experiencing life to the full, experiencing righteousness, peace, and joy by letting God's grace rule our thoughts and actions.
It's a Kingdom that begins here on earth, in the church, and will last through all eternity. But how do we get there? How do we let Christ build up his Kingdom in our individual lives, our family's lives, and in our communities? One necessary step is to understand God's plan, to understand what following Christ involves, what life in his Kingdom is like.
In today's Gospel, Jesus teaches us three key characteristics of his Kingdom.
First, the Kingdom is always growing. It started small when Christ established it - just a few disciples gathered in a room on the first Easter Sunday. And it starts small wherever it goes. St Augustine of Canterbury had only a handful of monks when he crossed the English Channel around the year 600 to evangelize the barbaric Anglo-Saxons. Just over a century earlier, St Patrick had gone to the even more barbaric land of Ireland, which even the Roman Empire had never conquered, all by himself.
It starts small inside our souls as well. The voice of conscience, God's voice within us, is often only just a whisper, like a tiny breeze. Christ's Kingdom starts small, like a mustard seed, like a little bit of yeast in a huge batch of flour - but it's alive, and so it is always growing.
And so, 100 years after St Augustine and a couple buddies arrived in England, the English Church was exporting hundreds of saints and missionaries back to continental Europe to evangelize the new waves of barbarian invaders. And so, by the time of St Patrick's death, an entire nation of primitive tribes had begun to be civilized and united under the Christian faith. And so, even if God's voice is only a whisper in our conscience, when we follow it, he works wonders.
Some critics of the church say that today's church is too big and developed to be the descendent of that small group of fishermen that Jesus started with.
But when you plant a mustard seed, you expect something to happen. You expect to go back and find a vibrant bush (mustard shrubs grow to about 10 feet in height) which doesn't look anything like the seed.
Christ's Kingdom is always alive, dynamic, always growing. And so, if we ever find ourselves bored with our Christian faith, it's simply because we have wandered away from Jesus.
The second characteristic of Christ's Kingdom is that it will always have to face opposition and contradiction. The weeds and the wheat grow up together, side by side. Wherever there are saints, there are sinners to make them suffer. Wherever there are missionaries, there are always martyrs. Wherever Christ begins to change lives, scandal, mockery, persecution, and division break out like fires.
Earth is not heaven. The enemy of Christ, evil, is hard at work here in this fallen world, resisting the advance of Christ's Kingdom. The institutional church itself never lacks problems and wounds caused by the sins of her ministers and the attacks of her enemies. Critics often point to sins committed by Catholics as a sign that the Catholic Church is not Christ's true Church.
But did Judas' betrayal invalidate Peter's repentant perseverance?
Even within our own hearts, evil, sinful tendencies do not disappear as our Christian identity matures. Sometimes we think that if we are following Christ everything should go smoothly. But that's not what this parable teaches us. That's not what Christ's Kingdom is like - not even for the saints.
St Faustina Kowalska, the Polish nun chosen by Jesus to begin the Divine Mercy devotion in the Church, described how her own prayer life was plagued by weeds among the wheat. She wrote in her diary: "In prayer I always find light and strength of spirit, although there are moments so trying and hurtful that it is sometimes difficult to imagine that these things can happen in a convent. "Strangely, God sometimes allows them, but always in order to manifest or develop virtue in a soul. That is the reason for trials."
Learning this lesson is a great way to reduce spiritual stress, because it gives us realistic expectations in life.
The third characteristic of Christ's Kingdom is that its impact will always be out of proportion to its size. A little leaven makes the whole loaf rise. As if to make this point abundantly clear, Jesus specifies the amount of flour being used in the parable: three measures. That would make a colossal amount of bread - enough to feed 100 people. And that huge lump of dough is penetrated and transformed by a pinch of yeast.
Just so, a little bit of Christian courage sends ripples far and wide.
One act of forgiveness of mercy can put an end to decades of bitterness, hatred, and resentment. A person saying yes to God's call to the priesthood can send tidal waves of truth reverberating throughout the world - as it did with past Bishops of Rome, John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and presently with Francis. And within our own parish with Jane and Matthew.
How odd, for example, that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was as famous as the world's great kings and queens, business tycoons and movie stars. A tiny nun from Albania, working with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta was the commencement speaker at Harvard University's graduation. She was the keynote speaker at the United States' National Prayer Breakfast.
This is way out of proportion.
Just so, the faithful mom and dad, lawyer, business person, and teacher who let Christ reign in their hearts and actions are spreading God's saving grace far and wide. Just how far-and-wide will only be known at the end of the age, when everything is revealed. The impact of saying yes to Christ can never be exaggerated.
Jesus Christ came to establish a Kingdom. We are members of that Kingdom, through being members of his Church. And we are beneficiaries of that Kingdom, through the grace that is growing in our hearts like a mustard seed, making us, little by little, more like Christ.
Today Jesus wants us to renew our confidence in his Kingdom - its power for growth, its ability to withstand the attacks of enemies, and its capacity to transform lives, families, and communities. How many earthly kingdoms and empires has the Church witnessed come and go, like so many arrows whizzing through the air or so many pebbles tossed into the sea?
They are innumerable! But Christ's Kingdom remains, and grows, and spreads.
As the Bishop Emeritus of Rome Benedict XVI told us during his trip to New York City, at the Mass in Yankee Stadium, "Each day, you and so many of your neighbors pray to the Father in the Lord's own words: ‘Thy Kingdom come.' "This prayer needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian. "It needs to bear fruit in the way you lead your lives and in the way you build up your families and your communities."
When we pray those words today, in just a few minutes, let's mean them more than we ever have before.
And when we receive the Eucharist today, let's ask Jesus to "shape our minds hearts" with his grace, so that we can say those same words throughout this coming week, not only with our mouth, but with the example of our lives: Thy Kingdom come!
First Kings 3:5, 7-12
Psalms 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-12
Matthew 13:44-52 or 13:44-46
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 26, 2020
Modern society often seeks solutions, but in many times it has stopped seeking wisdom. Today’s readings remind us that the just and wise society we seek will take shape to the degree in which we strive for and seek the Kingdom of heaven.
Today’s First Reading recalls why King Solomon was considered one of the wisest kings of Israel, so much so that almost all the wisdom literature in the Old Testament was believed to have been written by him. His father David had established a united and prosperous kingdom. It was a tough act to follow. When the Lord offered Solomon help as he began to reign, he didn’t jump straight to specific needs for addressing specific problems: wealth, power, military strength. He knew something would help him address them all: an understanding heart that could distinguish right from wrong. Moral wisdom would not only ensure that he was a good king, but that the good of his subjects under his leadership would endure as well because the common good is just as important as the good of the individual.
In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that if we want things to work out, we must love God in all things. Love for God is the wisest course of action. Complex situations, difficulties, and trials all bear the risk of separating us from God, but only if we distance ourselves from him in those moments. Throughout salvation history, God has taught us how to face all these things, until finally the Son came and showed us how to face them, all the way to Calvary.
In God, we find embodied all the moral wisdom for which Solomon could have hoped, but something even more: the spiritual wisdom and power to be holy. God calls everyone to holiness, and those who respond to the call are put back on track through the grace of justification and, if they persevere in holiness, aided by grace, they will one day be glorified.
The three parables in today’s Gospel teach us about what summarizes, epitomizes, and reflects the moral and spiritual wisdom that God has not only woven into creation but revealed and announced: the Kingdom of heaven.
First, like a hidden treasure, its worth is something that takes us by surprise and is found in the most unexpected of places. In finding it, you don’t just feel smart; you feel fortunate. It doesn’t come free, and it doesn’t come cheap: if you’re willing to spend everything on obtaining it, it must be of more value that what you already have. The Kingdom of heaven should put everything we have, everything we are, into perspective. When we invest ourselves completely the returns will be unimaginable.
Second, the Kingdom of heaven, like finding a great pearl after a lifetime of smaller ones, is something comparable to all the things we value in this world, but much greater in comparison. The Kingdom of heaven is not going to be something totally different from the “treasures” we hold and experience in this life. When we seek the true, the good, and the beautiful in this life, we are paving the way for the Kingdom, already present in those things, to come to full fruition.
The final parable reminds us that the Kingdom of heaven will come one day fully for everyone.
If we understand the Kingdom as not only the work of salvation, but all the other natural goods that in some way result from that work–a healthy society, solid families, true concern for the spiritual and material needs of others, etc.–we can understand how it is not just identified with the people who are actively working to be a part of it and to extend it. All kinds of “fish” end up in the “net.”
Like any society there are good members and bad members, and part of society’s duty is to help all its members be good members of society, even, when necessary, through penal measures applied to those who are bad with the hope of helping them to reform themselves and to not present a danger to themselves or society.
At the end of history, when the work of the Kingdom has definitively run its course and reached everywhere God wants it to be (and that, in the end, is everywhere and everyone), no one will remain unaffected or beyond its reach. That could be a chilling thought if we didn’t remember that the Kingdom equates to salvation and a good and just order of things that spreads and takes hold forever.
Each person, in the end, chooses how they’ll end up in the Kingdom, in that “net”: the bad will have squandered all their opportunities to be good and will be cut off from the goods of the Kingdom forever.
The good, through their efforts and God’s aid and mercy, will enjoy a beatific life: they will possess God and receive all the promises Jesus made on the Sermon on the Mount in full. We must work for the good of others, not just our good, but in the end, each person will stand or fall on his or her own merits, and no one will be able to ride on another’s coattails on Judgement Day.
Pearls actually get their start in oysters because something is irritating the oyster. When sand, for example, gets into the oyster, it starts secreting a substance called nacre, the same substance that lines the inside of its shell, in order to cover the sand and eliminate the irritation. This process can take as little as sixth months or for years if the oyster is not harvested. Layer after layer of nacre slowly form a pearl. “Pearls of wisdom” is a well-worn expression: we can learn so much from our difficulties and trials, and when we face them with wisdom we grow in wisdom from them as well. Not all pearls come out perfectly round: applying wisdom to our lives can be messy, but it is always fruitful.
The Internet is a tremendous accumulation of information, some of it good, some of it dubious, and some of it contradictory. It’s also a virtual community where people exchange information, help others, and harm others. While it can be useful for keeping in touch with distant friends and finding solutions to practical problems, accumulating information is not often the path to wisdom, which consists of connecting the dots and seeking out the bigger picture in life. Sometimes the more we learn, the more confused we become. We must train ourselves to discover the treasure hidden in a lot of life’s noise or we’ll just bury it deeper. Like the last comment in today’s Gospel (“every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”) we must sort this information, without discarding tradition or innovation, to see how it truly benefits us and those whom we love.Like a storeroom, there isn’t room for everything.
Use the Gospel to help you sort out the useful and discard the junk.
Psalms 145:8-9, 15-16, 17-18
Romans 8:35, 37-39
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 2, 2020
Let's put ourselves in this scene. After a long day, the exhausted and exasperated disciples try to get Jesus to send away the hungry throng. But Jesus looks at them, so preoccupied with their own selfish concerns, and says, "Feed them yourselves."
Imagine their shock.
Five thousand men, with another few thousand women and children, and the Master wants the apostles to give them a meal. They look at each other in confusion and apprehension. They point out that they have barely enough food even for themselves, let alone to feed thousands of hungry hangers-on. But Jesus insists, and finally they hand over their little stash, and Jesus works wonders. The most obvious lesson hidden in this scene is about Christ's heart.
Jesus' compassion leads him to put aside his own plans for the sake of the needy crowds. And then it overflows in a miracle so awe-inspiring that it is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels.
This is our God! He is always thinking of us! He fills us with good things and is preparing even better things for us in heaven. But there are other lessons here too - like the lesson about how Jesus works. After blessing and breaking the bread, he gave it to his apostles and told them to distribute it, and the miracle only occurred when they obeyed him.
This is still how Jesus works today. He's a team player, not a solo act. He feeds each one of us with his Word and his sacraments through the Church. And he feeds those outside the Church with the light of his truth through each one of us. At least, he wants to - but it's up to us to let him.
We all remember the story of Doubting Thomas, which is recorded in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John. On that very first Easter Sunday all the Apostles were gathered together in the Upper Room, behind locked doors, wondering what they were going to do now that Jesus had been crucified. They were afraid that they might be arrested for having been followers of Jesus. And in any case, their faith had been seriously damaged by the apparent victory of Christ's enemies.
But at least they were all still together - all except one of them, that is. Thomas wasn't with them on that day. Why not? We can only guess. We know from other passages in the Bible that Thomas was moody and stubborn. He had probably gone off to be alone, to indulge in his anger and disappointment, to work through his problems all by himself, just him and God.
But it turns out that that was a bad decision.
Because that evening, while the other Apostles were gathered together, full of doubts and fears, Jesus himself, resurrected, appeared to them. At the sight of the Lord their hearts were filled with new strength, their minds were filled with supernatural light, and their hope, purpose, and confidence were renewed. But since Thomas had wandered off on his own he didn't get any of that light, strength, hope, and confidence. He stayed stuck in his self-pity, confusion, and darkness.
Only after he returned to the group, after he came back into the fold of the Church, was he able to experience the transforming presence of Christ, who appeared to the apostles once again, and allowed Thomas to touch his wounds, so that he would finally believe. Jesus works through his Church, that is you and me; he is a team player.
Jesus is a team player, and we are on his team. The goal of Christ's team is nothing less than eternal life and everlasting happiness. To achieve that goal, each of us needs to fulfill three basic team responsibilities.
First, we need to keep our eye on the ball - on Christ, that is. We need to stay close to our team leader, getting to know him better every day, learning to see all things as he sees them. This we do by prayer, by reading and studying Church teaching, and by conversations with other people who know Christ well.
Second, we need to play good defense. Good defense means avoiding unnecessary temptations. We are all vulnerable to temptations that come from our own selfish tendencies, from evil, and from the self-centered world around us. God gives us enough grace to resist temptations, but we cut ourselves off from that grace when we purposely put ourselves in dangerous situations, like wasting time surfing the Internet, going to parties centered on destructive behavior, distancing ourselves from family relationships and healthy friendships,or even just being lazy.
Third, we need to play good offense. Good offense is simply doing God's will. 90% of the time, God's will is easy to identify. It means following the commandments, obeying our conscience, fulfilling well our normal responsibilities, and striving to love our neighbor as ourselves.
10% of the time, God's will is hard to see - then we need extra prayer, patience, and the advice of a priest or other wise person. Jesus is eager for us to discover the joy and satisfaction that comes from being more active members of his team. If we keep our eye on the ball, play good defense, and play good offense, we won't let him down.
First Kings 19:9, 11-13
Psalms 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
19th Sunday in OT – August 9, 2020
In today's Gospel, Peter shows both his impulsiveness and his inconstancy - two characteristics that make him easy to relate to. It's around 3 o'clock in the morning as the Apostles battle against a stormy sea, and Jesus comes walking across the lake towards the boat. The Apostles are scared stiff - they think they are seeing a ghost. Even Jesus' reassurance doesn't allay their fears.
So Peter takes the matter into his own hands and challenges the ghost to do something that only Christ could do - enable him to walk on the stormy water. And he does - for a few steps. But then Peter takes his eyes off Christ; he looks around at the waves and the storm, and he starts to sink. As long as Peter kept his eyes on Christ he was able to walk unhindered through the stormy sea. As soon as he let his eyes wander away from Christ to examine the intimidating waves, he began to sink.
Just so, as we strive to make our way through the stormy temptations and challenges of life in a fallen world, only focusing on Christ can keep us afloat. Christ is always close to us in our storms, asking us to believe in him. In his words to Peter, tinged with disappointment, we see how much he longs for us to trust him: "Why did you doubt?" As soon as Jesus steps into the boat, the storm gives way to peace and calm. Christ wants to be our peace, our strength, and the solution to life's troubles. St Peter didn't learn this lesson right away, but he learned it well; in his First Letter he put it like this: "cast all your anxieties on Christ, for he cares about you".
St. Augustine is attributed on saying: "If I try by myself to swim across the ocean of this world, the waves will certainly engulf me. In order to survive I must climb aboard a ship made of wood; this wood is the Cross of Christ. Of course, even on board ship there will be dangerous tempests and perils from the sea of this world. But God will help me remain on board the ship and arrive safely at the harbor of eternal life."
Like St Peter, we all need to learn that there is a limit to what we can do by means of our natural abilities, but there is no limit to what God can do in us and through us if we truly trust him and abandon ourselves to his will.
The great spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, wrote a little story describing this truth. Once upon a time there was a little river that said, "I can become a big river." It worked hard to get big, but in the process, encountered a huge rock. "I won't let this rock stop me," the river said. And the little river pushed and pushed until it finally made its way around the rock.
Next the river encountered a mountain. "I won't let this mountain stop me," the river said. And the little river pushed and pushed until it finally carved a canyon through the mountain.
The river, now large and powerful, finally arrived at the edge of a vast desert. "I won't let this desert stop me," the river said. But as the river pushed and pushed its way across the desert, the hot sand began soaking up its water until only a few puddles remained.
The river was quiet.
Then the river heard a voice from above: "My child, stop pushing. It's time to surrender. Let me lift you up. Let me take over." The river said, "Here I am." The sun then lifted the river up and turned it into a huge cloud. And the wind carried the river across the desert and let it rain down on the hills and valleys of the faraway fields, making them fruitful and rich.
If we stay focused on Christ, having more faith in him than in ourselves, obeying his will even when it's hard, no obstacle will be too much for us, and he will make our lives more fruitful than we could ever imagine.
But how can we in this day and age keep focused on Christ? Peter could look into Christ's physical eyes, as easily as you can look into mine right now. We won't be able to do that until Judgment Day, when we hope to see him smiling and welcoming us home after our cross-filled journey here on earth. But in the meantime, we can still keep our eyes fixed on Christ - and not just symbolically.
Jesus himself has provided us a real focal point for life; he has made himself really present; body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the sacrament of the Eucharist - the ever-present safe harbor for our souls.
When we receive Holy Communion, when we gaze upon the Host at Mass, when we come and kneel before the Tabernacle containing the Sacred species, or when we pray in adoration before the Eucharist solemnly exposed, we are doing what Peter did as he stepped out of that fishing boat: fixing our gaze on Christ whose love and grace can give us stability among life's storms.
This miracle of Jesus walking on the water and calming the storm takes place right after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. The two miracles have to do with bread and with Christ's body. And what is the Eucharist if not an ongoing miracle in which Christ's body is truly present under the appearance of bread?
Today, as Christ, through this Mass, comes to us once again across in the stormy seas of our concerns, worries, and weaknesses, let us welcome him with strong faith. And let us promise him that we will never let a day go by without coming to visit him, to fix our gaze on him in the Eucharist even if only for a minute, so that he can keep guiding us through life's stormy seas.