St. Dorothy Catholic Community Orlando/Winter Park, Florida
Fr. Jim's Corner will consist of pictures, homilies and thoughts from Fr. James F. Profirio-Bond, OFJ, B.S.Ed, M.Ed, C.A.G.S., Pastor at St. Dorothy's. He was ordained to the transitional deaconate on January 23, 2010, by Most. Rev. Lionel J. White, OSB in Ft. Lauderdale, FL and ordained to the Priesthood on January 15, 2011 in Winter Park. Fr. Jim has been involed in Church life since the age of 7 as an altar boy; in 1969 he started his ministry as Director of Music & Liturgy for several parishes in New England,. He has conducted many choirs, bands and orchestras in the liturgical setting. He has also been Principal of several Catholic and public Schools across the country and was the founding Principal of Ave Maria Catholic School in Parker, Colorado. He was professed as a Third Order Franciscan in 1969 at St. Anthony's Shrine in Boston, MA. He began his journey to Priesthood in 1972 studying at St. John Seminary. He is also Vocation Director for the National Catholic Church of North America.
First Kings 19:16-21
Psalms 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
13th Sunday of OT/Stonewall Riot Memorial Mass
Along the way to Jerusalem, Jesus meets three men who have heard his call in their hearts. They want to join his group and become his followers. These encounters teach us three tough lessons about what it means to follow Christ. First, if we want to follow Christ, we have to expect difficulties. Second, following Christ means relocating the source of our security from ourselves to God (foxes have holes and birds have nests). And lastly, following Christ means actively taking risks (letting the dead bury the dead means leaving behind one's plans and comfort zones in order to put all our eggs in Christ's basket...).
Today I would like to focus on just one of them. If we want to follow Christ, we have to expect difficulties. It is popular nowadays to focus only on the benefits of being a Christian: the sense of mission and purpose, the blessings God wants to give us, the forgiveness and the peace of heart and mind that comes with it, the strength God's grace gives to live truly noble, virtuous lives. These are real benefits. They are not to be ignored. We should desire them and be grateful for them. But they are not the whole story. We live in a fallen world.
When we declare ourselves to be citizens of Christ's Kingdom, in a sense, we lose our citizenship in this world; we become aliens, refugees, immigrants waiting to return home to heaven, or, as sacred Scripture often affirms, pilgrims. This earth is no longer our home, and the closer we get to Christ, the more we realize it, the more we feel its sufferings and imperfections.
Christ only reached Easter Sunday by passing through Good Friday, and Christians can expect nothing less. This is the lesson Jesus teaches us with his comment about setting our hands to the plow. Once we decide to follow Christ, there will be times when we will feel like turning back, because it will be hard work. But if we do turn back, we may lose our place in the Kingdom - he loves us too much to force us to persevere.
Jesus wants us to know this. He gives no false expectations. But he doesn't tell us just by using words. He tells us with his own example as well.
St Luke begins this section of his Gospel with an interesting phrase. As Jesus begins his last journey to Jerusalem, where he knows that betrayal, condemnation, torture, and a painful, humiliating death are waiting for him, St Luke tells us that Jesus "resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem." The original Greek expression is even more poetic. It says that Jesus "steadfastly set (sterizo) his face (prosopon) to go to Jerusalem. The Greek verb "sterizo”, to set steadfastly, always involves making something firm and stable. When we give our face a firm and stable expression, it is a sign that we have made a firm decision. We are not going to change our minds. We are going to persevere to the very end, no matter how hard it may get.
St Luke's point is that Jesus knew beforehand that his mission would be painful and difficult - more than we can imagine, in fact. But at the same time, Jesus accepted and fulfilled it willingly. Jesus did it out of love for us, and also to set an example for us. To follow Christ's path in life will be painful and difficult for us too, at times.
And we, with God's grace to strengthen us, are called to "steadfastly set our faces" to go on our journey to Jerusalem, to persevere in our friendship and fidelity with Christ no matter what.
Jesus' admonition to keep our hands to the plow applies to the dramatic difficulties of life, the big tragedies. It also applies to the dramatic temptations that try to lure us away from our friendship with Christ. But it also applies to the normal, mundane difficulties of every day. Plowing fields is not very exciting or dramatic work. And yet, without it you can't bring in a harvest.
In the same way, unless we are faithful to Christ in the normal tasks of our daily lives, we cannot grow in Christian virtue, and we cannot bring in the harvest of joy, peace, wisdom, and fulfillment that Christ wants to give us. Keeping our hands to the plow in daily life means being faithful to our normal responsibilities. It means doing our jobs the way Christ would do them if he were in our position.
It means doing our chores the way Jesus, Mary, and Joseph did them in Nazareth - responsibly, thoroughly, and humbly. It means using our time well, not wasting it on habits of laziness and self-indulgence.
It means patiently putting up with the imperfections of those around us, day after day, just as God puts up with our own imperfections.
This is the bread-and-butter of Christian living. This is what it means to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This is keeping our hands to the plow. It's not always dramatic and exciting, but it's the only way to live a fruitful life.
This is exactly what happened on June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City. A group of what today we refer to as the LGBT community members and members of the drag queen were fed up of being mistreated by the police. They were used to the monthly raids on the bar. They were tipped off of the oncoming raids so that they would be prepared as the gay bars were operated by the Mafia at that time. They just had one on June 24. This one was totally unexpected. The community had enough of the beatings, harassment and being treated as disenfranchised members of society. SO they fought back. They fought back for several days following June 28. This gave birth to the fight for LGBT rights as regular people had and to have the ability to live their lives as productive members of the community. We are fortunate to have two of our parishioners, Phil and Stefan who were part of the founding of the Gay Liberation Front the day after the riot. They could not be with us today as they are up in New York for the commemorations there.
And we, acknowledge and thank those men and women and drag queens who were called to "steadfastly set their faces" to go on their journey to equality for the LGBT community to enable the community to enjoy the freedoms which we have today in 2019. There is still so much to do and with the help of Divine Providence future generations will fully benefit from those who went before them and fought the good fight.
However the fight is not over yet. We must still steadfastly set our faces to continue the fight for full equality for all members of the GLBT+ community. As I am speaking to you today, in 30 states GLBT+ Americans are not fully protected from discrimination. My statistics come from freedomforallamericans.org.
In these 30 states you can still legally be: refused housing, dismissed from a job, as Graham was here in Florida from the job he had in Clermont, denied transportation, dismissed from jury selection, denied a bank loan, refused medical treatment, rejected from college. I encourage you to check out the website (www.freedomforallamericans.org)
So we as Christians must fight for the rights of all. Today we are focusing on the GLBT+ community. We cannot be silent when we see injustice, hatred, using scripture to enhance and justify hatred, discrimination in any form. We must steadfastly set our faces forward and being the ambassadors of Jesus spreading His unconditional love and forgiveness.
In about 10 minutes Jesus will give us the greatest of all gifts. The gift of himself through the simple items of bread and wine. Jesus comes in the Eucharist to strengthen us for the difficulties he knows we will face. When he does come to us, let's renew our promise to trust him, and to keep our hands to the plow in spite of all the difficulties and opposition we may encounter until the very end.
Psalms 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
Luke 10:1-12, 17-20 or 10:1-9
July 7, 2019 – 14th Sunday in OT
Jesus sends his 72 disciples out to preach the Gospel, and they come back rejoicing at the success of their mission. And then Jesus says something rather strange. He tells them, "I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven." Biblical commentators differ on their interpretation of this sentence.
Some read it as if Jesus were simply affirming the reports from the disciples. It would be like Jesus saying, "Yes, while you were preaching and healing, I was here and I saw Satan's influence rolling back wherever you spread the Good News." Others read the saying as an introduction to the rest of his speech, as a warning against unhealthy pride, the cause of Satan's original fall from grace.
In this case, the phrase would mean, "Well, it's good that you have experienced the power of my salvation, but be careful. If you forget that this power comes not from yourselves but from on high, you may fall into the tragic trap that the devil fell into, thinking that you are on par with God." In either case, the lesson remains the same.
Those who trust in God and obey his call in their lives, as did the seventy-two, will experience God's power acting in and through their lives, which is exactly what Christ wants. That experience will then open the door to the stable kind of happiness that only God can give, because it teaches us to depend on God, who is all-powerful, and not on ourselves, who are far from being all-powerful...
A Christian's happiness doesn't arise from how great we are or how great our achievements have been. It comes from knowing that we matter to God, that God is our Creator, Savior and Friend. It comes, as Jesus tells us, from having our "names written in heaven."
This is kind of a strange phrase to our ears: "rejoice because your names are written in heaven." What does it mean? Citizenship was an important concept in the ancient world, at the time of Christ. In a Greek city-state or colony, every recognized citizen could not only vote, but could also make their voice heard in the governmental assembly.
It was as if each of us would be able to go to Washington, walk into the Capitol Building pick up a microphone, and just start addressing Congress - and they would have to stay there and listen. Greek democracy was very participative, and citizens had notable and valued privileges. But there was also a problem: citizenship could easily come and go. It was a slave-based economy, and a war-torn international stage. Slaves could be freed, and granted citizenship. Free citizens could be also be enslaved, if their city-state was conquered. As a result, the list of citizens in any particular city was constantly changing. If you wanted to be sure you had all the rights and privileges that belonged to you as a citizen, you had to make sure that your name was on the citizen roll-call list.
When Jesus tells us to rejoice because our names are written in heaven, this is the context he had in mind. Through baptism, God has made us citizens of the heavenly city, of his Kingdom. Our names are on the list. We share in heaven's blessings now, and can look forward to their fullness later - just like all the saints. This is God's gift to us. No earthly power can take it away. And so it is a stable source of rejoicing.
It is not easy for us to live in accordance with this truth. We have a strong tendency to base our satisfaction on successes and pleasures that we can see and touch. In fact, however, those are only pointers, beautiful invitations, but the real celebration, the real meaning of life is God. Only by maintaining a vivid awareness of God's interest in and love for us, will we be able to experience the deeper, more stable happiness that can bring meaning and satisfaction even in the middle of hardship and suffering. This is what "rejoicing because our names are written in heaven" is all about.
It's an application of the virtue of hope. Like every virtue, hope can grow if we exercise it. That requires the daily mental discipline of directing our thoughts again and again to God's goodness. The easiest and most effective way to do that is by cultivating an attitude of gratitude. When we stop to think about the good things we have received from God, it puts the tough things in perspective. It reminds us that God hasn't forgotten about us, and never will forget about us. It reminds us that we are loved by the Creator of the universe. And when that knowledge is fresh in our minds, we become fountains of joy, wisdom, and strength.
This week, let's stir up an attitude of gratitude, so that God can stabilize our interior joy. Let's take a few minutes every day - maybe on the way to work, maybe before dinner, maybe before we go to sleep - let's take a few minutes to do what the wise old proverb encourages us to do: count our blessings.
And let's start right now, with the blessing of the Eucharist.
Psalms 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34,
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Jul 14, 2019
Christ's lesson is so simple! "Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself, and you will live." It is within everyone's reach to live out this simple lesson. It was even within the reach of a Samaritan, and Samaritans were considered very low class by Jews at the time of Jesus. It summarizes the entire gospel, the entire meaning of life, with such eloquent simplicity!
But we are not satisfied with simplicity.
We, like the scholar in the Gospel passage, pester him for clarifications, "Yes, but who actually is my neighbor? ..." Jesus didn't lose patience with the questioning scholar, and he doesn't lose patience with us. He gives us the parable to explain what he means. And through the centuries, he has generously given further explanations: the words and examples of thousands of saints, the teaching of the Church in every age, the nudges of our conscience... But we still complicate our lives; we still find it hard to learn the lesson. It's almost as if part of us doesn't really want to learn it.
Why? What holds us back from deciding once and for all to make Christ's standard our own? Each of us has our own brand of selfishness, and selfishness creates comfortable shadows in our lives. When we get too used to them, the simple, bright light of Christ's truth hurts our eyes. But in our hearts, that simplicity rings true. We see the brilliant, clear portrait of the Good Samaritan, and we understand it perfectly. Then we hear Jesus summarize the whole meaning of life by saying: "Go and do likewise."
The Christian life has to be simple, because we are all called to be saints. If it were complicated, only the more intelligent of us would even have a chance to become a saint. But the facts show that even children, even the uneducated and unintelligent, can reach the very heights of sanctity and lasting happiness.
St Dominic Savio is a perfect example. He lived a simple Christian life, but he lived it so energetically that soon after he died at the young age of 15, he was canonized a saint. Dominic heard the call to the priesthood while just a boy, living in northern Italy in the 1800s. He was encouraged to join a Catholic boys' school (called an oratory), which was being run by St John Bosco. There he lived a simple boarding school life, but he filled it to the brim with love for God and neighbor. He started a club called The Company of the Immaculate Conception, dedicated to daily prayers and to helping the oratory run smoothly.
Club members volunteered to wash floors, to take care of classmates who were sick or had special needs, and to put up with the discomforts of boarding school life (heat in the summer, cold in the winter, sickness, the bothersome ways of other people) with a spirit of humility and faith - seeing in those discomforts a chance to share in the cross of Christ. St Dominic used to say, "I can't do big things. But I want all I do, even the smallest thing, to be for the greater glory of God."
His personal motto, from the time he received his First Communion at nine-years-old, was equally simple - just three words: "Death before sin!"
That's the kind of simplicity we can all learn from.
Our culture has erected many obstacles to living this simple formula for a meaningful life. One of the biggest is consumerism. It is good that modern civilization has been able to produce an abundance of material goods. But this abundance has its dangers. It has created a culture in which we think we need new products in order to live a fulfilling life. Without even realizing it, our consumer society is always trying to turn us into consumer addicts. Whether it's the latest computer, the latest cell phone, the latest video game, the latest movie, or the latest appliance, we are constantly surrounded by seductive messages trying energetically to convince us that we if we get it, we will really begin to live.
But true life doesn't come from having more stuff. Stuff isn't bad in itself. It is meant to help us follow Christ and glorify God. But the advertisers tell us that, so we have to remind ourselves. True life comes from following Christ, from living like Christ.
Jesus promises his questioner that if he follows Christ's simple formula, if he will simply "go and do likewise", he "will live." That's what we all want: to follow Christ, to live life as God designed it to be lived. The less we are addicted to consumerism, the freer we will be to follow Christ's simple formula.
During this Mass, let's ask the Lord to show us how to simplify our lives. When we receive him in Holy Communion, let's ask him for strength to battle consumerism. Let's ask him to give us courage to budget our money and our time - both as families and as individuals - so that all our resources help us to "go and do likewise."
If we do, Jesus assures us, we will live.
Psalms 15:2-3, 3-4, 5
16th Sunday in Ordinary - Jul 21, 2019
Today’s readings remind us that contemplation and hospitality are like love and service: they go together and enrich one another. In today’s readings it seems one person might be getting the brunt of the grunt work (Sarah and Martha), but when it is understood from the perspective of communion, a perspective Paul reminds us of in today’s Second Reading, we know that whether we are in a moment of contemplation or hospitality, love or service, we are benefiting the whole Mystical Body of Christ.
Abraham, in today’s First Reading, had a unique encounter with the Lord through three visitors.
He’d been told to wander to new lands as a nomad with the promise of a land and children of his own.
Sarah had been there every step of the way for years, just as she was now by preparing food for unexpected visitors.
Now the Lord, in the three mysterious visitors, promises that Sarah will bear a son.
Sarah receives the blessing, a blessing for her and her husband, that both had been striving for in different ways. Sarah let Abraham take the lead, but both reaped the benefits.
Paul, in today’s Second Reading, speaks of making up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his Body, the Church.
Greco-Roman philosophers spoke of society as being like a body, with its members doing things, glamorous and unglamorous, for the good of society.
St. Paul may have been inspired, in part, by this understanding of a society as like a body, but the Body of Christ for him was something much more profound, perhaps from the moment the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus (when he was still Saul, the persecutor of Christians) and said “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5). As Saul persecuted Christians he was persecuting Jesus himself.
As members of the Body of Christ, we can benefit our brothers and sisters in the faith, and they can benefit us, just as our sins can adversely impact the whole Body. Our Lord took upon himself the toughest part, on the Cross, to teach us that we too can take on the hard things for the spiritual benefit of others.
Some always have the tougher part; as believers, they can be consoled by knowing that doing their part, easy or hard, will result in blessings for them and the entire Body.
Mary, in today’s Gospel, seems to have left her sister Martha in the lurch, sitting at Our Lord’s feet, and Martha is not shy about bringing that up to Our Lord.
We all are tempted from time to time of being envious of what others are doing when our part seems burdensome or unfair.
Our Lord reminds Martha that everyone has a part to play, be it love and contemplation or hospitality and service.
Mary may have had the “better” part, but Martha had an important part to play as well.
In the end, both Mary and Martha would be blessed when Our Lord raises their brother Lazarus from the dead thanks to their love and faith.
The story of Martha and Mary in today’s Gospel also helps us take stock of our prayer life.
Martha, through serving the Lord, is making her life a prayer; she’s busy, but she is doing it for him. The first step in any prayer life is the desire to know and to serve the Lord.
At the same time, Martha’s prayer life is tainted with activism: focusing on doing so much that she loses sight of why she is doing it. This is proved when she comes to Our Lord to complain and judge her sister: a lack of charity is a symptom of a lack of prayer life.
Our Lord is well aware of this, which is why he presents Martha’s sister Mary as an example of contemplative prayer: Mary just sits at the Lord’s feet, apparently “doing” nothing, but she is loving the Lord.
Everyone needs this kind of prayer too: prayer not so much of reciting words or doing things as simply “sitting” in the Lord’s presence and listening to whatever he has to say, or simply just being there and loving him while he loves us.
U.S Army or Marine foot soldiers, especially during the Vietnam War, were known as “grunts.”
The jobs that officers and specialists do would be fruitless if it was not backed up by the grunts.
“Grunt” in general also refers to someone who does routine, unglamorous work, from which the expression “grunt work” comes.
Martha resented the grunt work she had to do in today’s Gospel, but it was no less important than Mary spending time with Our Lord.
Martha wanted to serve the Lord, but when she got cranky about how she served him, she had taken her eyes off what was the most important in her life. The Lord had to remind her.
Activism is when we keep doing things but lose sight of why we are doing them, eventually crowding out the people for whom we’re doing them.
If you’re in a position of service, whether work, parish, or family, take a moment to remember who you are serving and why.
Psalms 138:1-2, 2-3, 6-7, 7-8
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 28, 2019
Today’s readings remind us that the reason we pray is that we expect good things from God, although sometimes we pray because we expect bad things to come from him instead. Throughout salvation history, God has shown us that we should expect good from him, not evil.
In the First Reading, the Abba God sends angels to confirm that Sodom and Gomorrah are as bad as reports say, and Abraham knows what that means: annihilation.
God speaks of hearing an outcry over Sodom and Gomorrah. What just souls had already clamored in prayer for the evil taking place there to be ended?
Abraham’s cousin Lot lived there, and Abraham knew his cousin was a good man, so he feared the Lord would wipe him and his family out along with the wicked.
It’s almost comical that in his prayer Abraham is trying to give the God an ethics lesson: he doesn’t speak specifically of Lot, just the apparent injustice of good men being struck down with wicked ones.
Abraham questions whether the Lord will do the just thing or not, which is why he couches his potentially insulting questions with such humility and self-deprecation.
The Creator humors Abraham in his discourse, but also says he will spare the city if good people are still there.
God is as good as his word, but he doesn’t spare the city as we see in Genesis Chapter 19. He rescues Lot’s family before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and Sodom and Gomorrah fail their last chance to do the right thing.
Abraham had already dealt with God for years when this incident takes place, but he shows his faith and trust in the Lord is still a little weak.
In contrast to the First Reading, where wicked folks are about to be destroyed, in today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that Jesus took all the wickedness upon himself, wickedness for which he was not responsible, and surrendered himself to destruction on the Cross to destroy that sin as well and any debt owed to God for it. How would Abraham have responded to a good man being struck down for the wickedness of others? That is precisely what Jesus underwent on the Cross.
Spiritually we face a death sentence for our sins, just as physical death awaits us one day as the consequence of our sins and the sin of Adam and Eve.
In some forms of Baptism and the way used by John the Baptist we go down into the depths of death, symbolized by going under the water, but our brother Jesus leads the way, just as he leads the way for us to arise from the waters into new life.
For us, this involves a sacramental and spiritual death; for Jesus, it meant a physical one, which he undertook to destroy our sins and to free us from sin’s bondage.
Jesus, especially on the Cross, continues that conversation with God that Abraham had so long ago by showing us how far God in his justice and mercy is willing to go for us.
As we go deeper in prayer, we come to understand that God is a God of justice, but one of love and mercy as well.
In today’s Gospel Jesus explains the willingness and commitment of God toward us using the examples of friendship, persistence, and parentall love.
A good friend knows that if he is in a fix, he can count on his friends to help him out.
The friend asking for bread today is passing along the opportunity to be a good friend: he welcomed a guest into his home in the middle of the night, and he needs help to provide for that guest.
Yet even if his friend refused at first, his persistence would pay off: that shows the friend, even if inconvenienced, is a friend who’ll come through.
It is the friendship that gives the confidence to ask, repeatedly if necessary. God is our friend; we can ask him for whatever we need, and he’ll respond as a friend should.
However, the Creator reminds us today that our relationship with the Creator goes even farther: he is Our Father/Mother, and no parent would give his child misfortune instead of a blessing.
Ask today and you will receive; maybe not on your timetable, maybe not as you’d have expected, but God as friend and Parent will provide for you what you truly need. He showed that to Abraham in today’s First Reading, and he showed it dying on the Cross for us.
In a world of convenience stores, we may lose sight of the difficulty the friend had in today’s Gospel of giving his friend some bread.
It wasn’t just a question of going to the kitchen and grabbing some bread. The bread was usually made fresh for the meal itself. The wife probably did it usually, so the man of the house was already either charting unexplored territory or facing the need to wake up his wife to prepare the bread.
If the family had any animals, they would be making a racket at the arrival of the unexpected night visitor. Some of them might even sleep in the home with the family.
We shouldn’t imagine an ample home with rooms and appliances: the only fire, if it was a cold night, was surrounded by his sleeping family.
If the noise didn’t wake them up, stepping among and around them would as he got up to let in his friend and prepare bread.
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify the one intention that is nearest and dearest to your heart right now.
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you explore your motivations for asking for that intention, and don’t be afraid to change it if that is what God is calling you to do and you know it will benefit others.
Remember that Jesus teaches us that everyone who asks will receive, and everyone who seeks will find.
When we keep that in mind, we will always persevere in our prayer.
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
Psalms 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14,
Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Aug 4, 2019
We don't know anything about this man who came asking Christ to settle his dispute. Maybe he was sincerely interested in justice. Maybe he was just being greedy. In either case, Jesus makes the most of the encounter to teach one of the most basic, though not the most popular Christian lessons: the meaning of life does not consist in getting rich; our lives do not consist of having possessions; or, to correct a popular bumper sticker - whoever dies with the most toys does not win anything at all.
This is the same lesson that we heard in the First Reading.
Its emphasis on the vanity and meaninglessness of things sounds harsh, but it's really just reminding us an obvious truth: our life on earth is passing. It will come to an end. Therefore, we shouldn't pretend that it won't. We shouldn't treat the things of this earth, as wonderful and beautiful and useful as they are, as if they were ends in themselves. They aren't. They are means to an end, instruments to help us fulfill a much higher purpose, that of knowing and loving God.
We need money and possessions in order to live dignified lives, and it is certainly no sin to enjoy them. But if striving after them makes us neglect a healthy relationship with God, the Church, and our neighbors, we will come to a tragic end, just like the rich man in the parable.
Jesus knows how easily we are tempted by money and possessions - they seem to promise so much!
That's why he makes this lesson so clear.
"Take care to guard against all greed," he warns.
Instead, if we want a truly fulfilling life, we should strive to be "rich in what matters to God."
As Pius the 11th stated: "All Christians, rich or poor, must keep their eye fixed on heaven, remembering that ‘we have not here a lasting city, but we seek one that is to come'.
We are all familiar with the famous eruption of Mt Vesuvius in ancient times, which buried the city of Pompeii in lava in a matter of minutes. The lava and ash came quickly and in huge quantities, preserving a snapshot of life in that ancient city, as if freezing a moment from the past.
When archeologists uncovered the lava-caked city, they found entire families gathered around a meal - buried in lava before they even knew the volcano had erupted; they found beasts of burden standing in their stables; they also found some people who had seen or heard the eruption and were trying, in vain, to run away when the eruption caught up with them.
But according to some records, the very first human remains that the archeologists found were the skeletons of a man and a woman, preserved in their lava shell. When they broke through that shell, they found the skeletons' bony fingers clutching handfuls of gold coins. The temptation to trust too much in money is an old one - as old as money itself. Today Jesus is encouraging us once again not to fall into it.
One very practical way to keep money in its place is to sponsor an evangelization project as an individual or family.
If the whole family or an individual is involved in saving and sacrificing in order to reach a goal of this kind, it constantly reminds everyone in the family or the individual that money is meant to be a means to a higher end, not an end itself.
For example, an individual or family could commit to save enough money each year to sponsor a missionary priest, or a child in an orphanage run by missionaries, or a school names Holy Angels in Sierra Leone or the ASPCA or any charitable organization.
As a family or individual, you decide your goal, and then you make a plan on how you will be able to meet it. You could make a poster with a chart on it, so you can track your progress during the year. You have regular updates and reports and evaluation sessions.
And at the end of the year, when you make your goal, you celebrate with a ceremony in which the money is given to its destination.
Another way to do it is to set a more challenging goal and join forces with another individual or family or two in order to achieve it. Besides furthering the mission of the Church, having a family evangelization sponsorship project creates an awareness of how money can be used well. It also contributes to family unity and growth in faith.
Jesus doesn't want us to spend our lives building barns that we will never use. He wants us to spend our lives building his everlasting kingdom in our hearts and in the world.
When he comes to renew his friendship with us in Holy Communion, let's renew our commitment to following him, and leaving slavery-to-money behind.
Psalms 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 or 11:1-2,
Luke 12:32-48 or 12:35-40
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time - August 11, 2019
In the verses of today’s Gospel, Jesus instructed his listeners not to fret about worldly concerns, but to trust in God's Providence. But he knows that some people will tend to turn that invitation into an excuse for laziness, irresponsibility, and hedonism, so now he shows the other side of the coin.
"You also must be prepared," he tells his followers, like servants standing ready for the return of their master any minute. We can't cram for life's final exam.
If we want to live in communion with God forever, to experience the fulfillment he promises in this life and the next, we need to make friendship with God the number one priority of our lives. The good things of this earthly life, its pleasures, challenges, and occupations, will come to an end when the Master returns. To live as if they were going to last forever, therefore, is foolish.
Christ wants to make sure we don't act like fools.
Jesus finishes his parable by telling us that, "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more". With this, he teaches us that every human life is a task, a mission to know, love, and serve God in a unique way.
Our lives will take on their true meaning to the extent that we carry out that task and fulfill that mission, to the extent that our "treasure" (what we most value and desire) consists not in the passing pleasures of this life, but in discovering and fulfilling that supernatural task and mission. As St Jerome is created with stating: "To become what the martyrs, the apostles, what even Christ himself was, means immense labor - but what a reward!"
This is an essential part of our faith, and it's an essential part of our lives as human beings. We were made for mission, for adventure. When we reduce Christianity to fuzzy feelings or to a few dos and don'ts, our natural yearning for purpose and adventure is frustrated.
This is one of the reasons behind our society's addiction to senseless and destructive thrills. Extreme sports, cutting, raves, drugs - these kinds of excessive behaviors are often turned to as substitutes for authentic excitement, the excitement that comes from doing great things for Christ and his Kingdom.
A man named Larry Walters, for instance, took flight in a lawn chair suspended by forty-two large helium-filled balloons. Upon reaching an altitude of 16,000 feet, he began popping the balloons with a pellet gun, descending to the ground safely.
Frenchman Jean Luc Antoni skis down rocks. He set a world record of sixty-one miles per hour riding a mono-ski down a rocky slope in France. Because braking is impossible, he erected a cardboard retaining wall at the bottom of the run and smashed into it. He survived.
This is a very weird example I need to preface it. Reg Mellor set the world record in "ferret-legging." Ferret-legging is a contest where you tie ferrets inside your pant legs and stand in front of the judges to see how long you can endure their vicious clawing and biting as they struggle to get out. Reg Mellor endured it for five hours, twenty-six minutes.
Imagine if he had applied that kind of determination and courage towards the mission he was really created for - building up Christ's Kingdom. Not all of us are attracted to extreme activities, but we all have a built-in need for adventure, and only following Christ will truly satisfy it.
When we realize that our life is a mission, it changes our outlook on life. One aspect that is especially affected is how we use our time. In the business world, they say "time is money", because they know that time is a limited resource.
As Christians, we also understand that time is a limited resource. We don't have an unlimited amount of time in which we can fulfill the mission God has given us. For us, then, "time is Kingdom".
One thing that will help us to use our time well, to be responsible and not lazy servants of our King, is budgeting the amount of time we spend entertaining ourselves. We need a certain amount of
relaxation and recreation in order to keep balance in life.
They are a means to an end.
But our society tends to treat pleasure, fun, and entertainment not as a mean, but as the goal of life. That attitude opens the door to over-indulgence in entertainment - to wasting this precious resource of time. Since we live in this society, we are vulnerable to that temptation.
We can keep the proper balance by having enough self-discipline to budget how much time we spend on entertainment. Whether it's TV, cell phones, music, video games, movies, web surfing, jogging, or whatever - we all need to find a healthy way to relax. But as Christians, our mission comes first. It's up to us to be responsible stewards of our time, and plan ahead.
Today, when we receive the Lord in Holy Communion, let's each speak to him about this aspect of our lives. Let's renew our commitment to the mission he has given us, and ask him to help us keep first things first, this week, and every week.
Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10
Psalms 40:2, 3, 4, 18
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 18, 2019
What does Jesus mean by saying that he came "to set the earth on fire"? He is speaking about the fire of Christian virtue, of the Christian way of life that makes power struggles, prejudice, and oppression obsolete. He is speaking of the fire of faith and hope that will bring countless human lives back onto the path of a meaningful and fulfilling life. He is speaking of the love for one's neighbor that will take root and gradually build up a civilization of justice and love.
Twenty centuries later, we know that this is what Christ meant. But when he said it, the Church didn't yet exist. It hadn't converted emperors and kings. It was just an embryo, just a tiny community of ordinary fisherman from the boondocks.
Jesus successfully communicated that mission statement. His Apostles got the message and made it their own. They let Jesus set their hearts on fire first. And then they went on to do their job. They started spreading that fire. They spread it with words and deeds. They even sealed their work with the sacrifice of their lives. All but one of the Apostles died a martyr's death. And the next generation of Christians continued carrying the torch. And the next...
But even so, the world is not yet all ablaze. Many pockets are still cold and dark. Many places that used to be blazing are now only smoldering. Many hearts still haven't been renewed by the fire of Christ's love and wisdom.
And so Jesus repeats the lesson today, to us.
He gives us his mission statement, and invites us to make it our own, to take up the baton, to put our lives on the line to spread the saving fire of Christian virtue and truth. It is fruitful to contemplate how Christ's Apostles might have reacted to this mission statement of their Lord.
The Bible doesn't describe this reaction in detail, but there is one thing we know for sure. It impressed them deeply. Maybe it confused them, maybe it energized them, maybe they understood it, maybe they didn't, but there is no doubt that it impressed and moved them. Otherwise, it wouldn't have been recorded in the Gospels.
Christ spent most of the three years of his public ministry teaching his Apostles. And this was clearly one of the more important lessons. That's why he stresses it so much when he says: "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were blazing already!" There's an exclamation mark at the end of that sentence! And then, just to drive the lesson home, he adds that enigmatic phrase about how eager he is to undergo his "baptism", by which he is referring to his passion.
He says he is filled with anguish to accomplish it. It's as if he is saying, "How great is my anguish until I have started that fire by suffering my passion and triumphing with my resurrection." We can picture the glow of determination and zeal in his eyes. We can still hear, twenty centuries later, the forcefulness in his voice.
This was his mission statement, his vision: to set the world on fire with a new way of life, a way of life that makes love for God and love for neighbor into a revolutionary reality. This mission in turn inspired his Apostles, it has inspired the Church for twenty centuries, and it is meant to inspire us as well. Jesus knew he had a mission: to lay the foundation of an everlasting Kingdom by teaching his Apostles and by offering himself as mankind's redeeming sacrifice.
This mission filled him with enthusiasm and purpose. He yearned to get that fire started and to see it spread! We are Christians, his followers. He is our General; we are his soldiers. He is our King; we are his ambassadors. His mission is our mission. It became ours at baptism, and we took personal responsibility for it at confirmation.
Today the Holy Spirit is inviting us to renew our commitment to that mission. She knows that the more energetically we strive to carry it out, the more fruitful and meaningful our lives will become.
We all already believe in Christ and his mission - that's why we're here. But we can all live the mission better - that's why the Holy Spirit is giving us this invitation. Is there someone in our life, someone we work with, someone we just met, someone we haven't spoken to for a long time - is there someone who doesn't have the fire of Christ's wisdom and love in their hearts? Maybe this week is the time to break the ice and present our ambassador credentials, and get that fire burning.
Or is the fire dying in our own hearts?
Maybe some secret sin of dishonesty, lust, greed, laziness or irresponsibility is slowly suffocating the flame of Christ's love. Maybe a self-centered habit or an unhealthy relationship is siphoning off all the oxygen and starving our friendship with Christ. Today our Lord is inviting us to stir up the flames, in ourselves and in others.
And he is eager to help. Let's give him the chance.
Psalms 117:1, 2
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 25, 2019
Many Jews at the time of Jesus thought that salvation was based on external factors, like race and ritual. Many Jews, in fact, believed that only Jews could actually live in communion with God. The non-Jewish peoples, so they thought, were destined to be second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God.
Others believed that you not only needed to be of the Jewish race to win God's favor, but you also had to follow even the most minute details of the Law of Moses, as well as the many ritual practices that had grown up around that Law.
Jesus takes the opportunity of this question, about whether or not many people will be saved, to correct those wrong ideas. He explains that in God's Kingdom there will be people from all four corners of the earth - just as Isaiah had prophesied, and as we heard in the First Reading. So race had nothing to do with it.
He also explains that many who "ate and drank" with the Lord - in other words, many who followed all the many external rituals that governed Jewish eating and drinking at the time - will be excluded from God's Kingdom. So exterior rituals aren't the ticket either. But if race and ritual aren't the keys to salvation, what is?
It's the heart.
Salvation doesn't depend primarily on external appearances, but on friendship with Christ, and that's rooted in our hearts. The people in his parable who were excluded from the heavenly banquet complained that the Lord had actually taught in their streets. But the Lord answers by telling them, "I do not know where you are from." In other words, they are strangers to him. Maybe they did let him into their streets, but they never let him into their hearts.
This is why it is not unreasonable for God to want all of us to become saints - which he does. If being a saint required some special talent, like extraordinary intelligence or athletic ability, it would not be fair to call all of us to holiness. But it doesn't. Holiness comes from living our friendship with Christ, from the heart, more deeply every day.
St Anna Pak A-gi is a case in point.
She was one of the 103 Korean Martyrs that St. John Paul II canonized in 1984. These martyrs represented the more than 10,000 Korean Christians who had been executed for their faith between 1785, when Christianity first entered Korea, and 1886. As the Church slowly took root on the Korean peninsula, periodic waves of persecution tried to stamp it out.
St Anna was uneducated and had a dismal memory. She couldn't memorize the catechism that the missionaries tried to teach her, and she could barely even memorize the prayers. She hardly seemed like a stellar candidate for holiness. But she used to say, "Although I don't know as much about God as I want to, I will try my best to love him." And that she did, through humble prayer and untiring service to those around her.
She was arrested during a wave of persecution when she was 57 years old. Her family repeatedly begged her to renounce her faith so she could be released from prison. She would just answer, "Why should I risk my eternal life in order to live here for just a few more days?" In 1839 she was beheaded for being a Christian.
It wasn't her intelligence, good looks, or winning personality that gave her the strength and wisdom to stand up to evil and bear heroic witness to Christ, it was a heart full of love for her Lord that led her through the "narrow gate".
Jesus looks beyond appearances and into the heart. This has two practical applications for us.
First of all, it teaches us never to judge others by appearances.
Many times, those who seem great or holy on the outside are actually filled with selfishness and arrogance on the inside. And many times those who seem petty and despicable on the outside are actually filled with humility and wisdom on the inside. That's why Jesus says, "some are last, in the world's eyes, who will be first, in God's Kingdom, and some are first, in the world's eyes, who will be last in God's Kingdom."
As a result, if we just go by appearances, we will make rash and maybe even unfair judgments. Instead, we should follow Christ's lead and give all of our neighbors the same benefit of the doubt that we give to ourselves. We're always making excuses for ourselves; let's be equally quick to make excuses for others. That's part of what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves.
That's the first practical application. Here's the second.
Since Jesus looks to the heart, if we want to please him, we should take care of our hearts. That means encouraging good desires and starving bad desires. Desires pop up inside of us without being invited. We should dwell on the ones that go together well with our friendship with Christ, since they will help us live life to the full. We should turn away from the ones that are self-centered and destructive, since they will interfere with our friendship with Christ.
Today Jesus is going to renew this friendship by giving us his own Sacred Heart in the Eucharist. Let's ask him to make our hearts more like his.
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Psalms 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24
Luke 14:1, 7-14
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 1, 2019
What is the major difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament? The two pictures painted for us today by the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews tell us. One picture is of Mt Sinai, where God gave his Law to the People of Israel through Moses. Mt Sinai is a symbol of the entire Old Testament. The other picture is of Mt Zion, where Jerusalem was located.
This was a symbol of heaven, of the city of believers that have entered into communion with God - not through fearful obedience to God's strict laws, but through loving obedience to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. These are the members of the New Testament. The Old and New Testaments are both covenants - solemn, committed relationships freely entered into.
The relationship in both cases is between God and his chosen people, between God and those who believe in him. This relationship gradually matured as God revealed himself more and more, from the beginning of the Old Testament until the establishment of the New. These two pictures, therefore, can give us a good idea of the difference between an immature and a mature relationship with God.
In the Old Covenant, people had an incomplete notion of who God is, and as a result, their relationship with him was immature - not wrong, just immature. The predominant characteristic of the relationship was fear. In those times, people were much more aware than they are today of the severity and seriousness of sin, and the punishment that sin - rebellion against God - truly deserved. They were also more aware of their own sinfulness. This double awareness inspired fear, since God hated sin and they knew they were sinners.
This is the attitude the Letter to the Hebrews calls to mind when it describes the experience that the ancient Israelites had of receiving God's Law on Mt Sinai. They were so intimidated by God's holiness that they "begged that no message be further addressed to them." The book of Exodus even tells us that if an animal, like a cow or a sheep, touched the mountainside while God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments, it had to be stoned. Moses himself described his experience of being in God's presence by saying that he was "utterly terrified and trembling." God was holy. Mankind was sinful. And that created tension - to say the least. As you can see, this was long before pseudo-psychology had convinced us that sin is just an emotional malfunction, that we are not really responsible for our self-centered and destructive actions.
But fear was not the only characteristic of the Chosen People's relationship with God in the Old Testament. In those times, people were also keenly aware of God's majesty, much more than we tend to be today. They still saw wonder and magnificence in the world around them. And they knew clearly that the Creator of such a world had to be even more wonderful and magnificent. This is evident from the description of Mt Sinai as cloaked in "blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast". Here is a God who is not only holy, but mysterious and transcendent and immensely powerful. And so, they were full of awe when they thought of God and when they entered into his presence through prayer and worship.
This was long before our modern technological revolution had created the comfortable illusion that the physical universe is just a toy that man can use or abuse, casting awe aside as a relic of the unenlightened past. It was long before the modern world started putting religious faith in human science, all the while laughing at those who kept having religious faith in God. The fear and awe that characterized the Old Testament view of God was not wrong, but it was incomplete. God still seemed so far away from man that man was suspicious of God.
But God didn't want to keep us at a distance. When in his wisdom he saw that the time was right, he threw a bridge over the abyss that kept man and God so far apart. That bridge was God becoming man in Jesus Christ. Christ is the bridge that draws sinful man back into intimacy with God. He shed his blood to atone for our sins, showing that God's mercy can release us from fear. And he rose from the dead to prove that in him we don't have to just admire God's majesty from far away, but we can actually enter into it through our friendship with Christ and enjoy it from the inside.
This is what we see in the picture of Mt Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem. It shows us a city where God is present and surrounded by immense crowds. His angels are at his side. And all the men and women who have been faithful to him make up "the assembly of the firstborn". In other words, each has been welcomed and honored by God as his very own child.
The Greek word used to describe the scene is "panegyris”, translated as "festal gathering". It's the word the Greeks used for civic holidays and festivals, when everyone gathered to celebrate in the town square.
This is what Christ has won for us: closeness to God, joyful intimacy with the Creator of the universe, healthy fear turned into confident love, and frightening awe transformed into indescribable delight.
This is the picture being painted for us today in the Letter to the Hebrews: the stark contrast between a mature and an immature relationship with God. As Christians, each one of us, no matter our age, is called to live in a mature relationship with God. We are not strangers to God, as at Mt Sinai, but members of his household, called to live in a relationship of closeness and confidence with God, as on Mt Zion.
Is that how we are living?
Let's do a check-up. Let's measure our spiritual maturity by looking at some of our Christian vital signs. First, there's confession our sins/errors/transgressions to God through our prayer asking for forgiveness. The immature Christian stays far away from confession; for them, confession is like the thunderous mountaintop. It only inspires fear. For the mature Christian, confession is an intimate conversation with the Lord who never gets tired of forgiving; it is a joyful embrace; a coming home again, like the Prodigal Son.
Second, there's morality. The immature Christian sees following the moral teachings of Christ and the church as a burden; it's like following a list of random and inconvenient rules. For the mature Christian, following Christ is a meaningful, joyful mission; it can be hard, but so can many other things in life that are worthwhile.
Finally, there's the virtue of mercy. The immature Christian takes pleasure in criticizing less faithful people and talking about their faults. The mature Christian sees every person as a brother or sister, and treats them with unconditional respect and love, always giving them the benefit of the doubt, whether present or absent.
If this check-up has shown that there's room for improvement in our Christian maturity, let's ask God in this Eucharist to help it happen by opening our minds and hearts to see him as he really is: our loving Creator and our faithful Friend.
We'll never grow up until we do.
Psalms 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17
Philemon 1:9-10, 12-17
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 8, 2019
Jesus is making two things clear to us today. First, he wants us to have no illusions about following him. His path is a hard path. Our nature is fallen, and to get back up again, even with his grace helping us, is going to be hard. It will involve self-sacrifice and suffering: "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot by my disciple." That is the obvious lesson in this Gospel passage. We can never let ourselves forget it. But there is another lesson too, equally worth our attention.
Jesus is teaching us that following him involves more than feelings and vague inspirations. We are supposed to use our minds, to put our creativity and intelligence to work in the adventure of following Christ. This is clear from the examples Jesus uses. The builder and the warring king had to channel their enthusiasm through the cool filter of reason. Christians must do the same. The emotional excitement that comes from a retreat or a pilgrimage or a special grace-filled encounter with the Lord is like the blossoms on a cherry tree.
They bloom quickly and fill our souls with a sweet aroma, but then the long summer comes, and we have to persevere patiently, following an intelligent plan of spiritual and apostolic work, before the fruit matures. Love, even the lasting love that comes from friendship with Christ, is often born amidst intense emotions, but it matures through sweat and suffering, and those can only be endured with the aid of reason and conviction - both of which go deeper than mere passing emotions. Following Christ is more than following a whim; it is a long-term project that deserves and engages the whole person.
It is perplexing that so many of us accept the fact that success in other walks of life takes hard work, but we think being a faithful Christian comes without effort. George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars movies, described the kind of work ethic that went into writing the screenplay for the original Star Wars: "I grew up in a middle-class Midwestern-style American town with the corresponding work ethic. "So I sit at my desk for eight hours a day no matter what happens, even if I don't write anything. "It's a terrible way to live, but I do it; I sit down and I do it. "I can't get out of my chair until five o'clock or five-thirty or whenever the news comes on... It's the only way I can force myself to write. "I work with a hard pencil and regular lined paper. "I put a big calendar on my wall. Tuesday I have to be on page twenty-five, Wednesday on page thirty, and so on. And every day I 'X' it off - I did those five pages. "And if I do my five pages early, I get to quit. Never happens. I've always got about one page done by four o'clock in the afternoon, and during that next hour I usually write the rest."
When Jesus told his disciples that they have to be like a king planning to go to war, or a builder planning to construct a palace, this is what he was talking about: we need to decide to take our Christianity seriously enough that we are willing to work at it, to put our whole selves into it.
Is there anything practical we can do to help our spiritual lives become more stable and robust? There is much we can do, but there are no shortcuts.
Rocky Balboa was able to go from a washed out, mediocre boxer to world champion in two hours, but real life takes a more sustained effort than movie life.
One simple thing we can do to grow in our spiritual maturity is to follow through on our spiritual commitments. At some point or another, we have all made some of these. Maybe it was a New Year's resolution to pray the Rosary. Maybe it was a commitment that came at the end of a retreat. Maybe in a time of crisis we promised God that we would not let ourselves get caught up again in the superficial rat race. But then the hustle and bustle of life, or some other distraction, or our tendency to laziness gradually crowded out our enthusiasm, and the commitment faded away.
It's not too late to start again. In fact, it's probably a very good idea to start again. It's a way to move beyond the fuzzy feeling spirituality so popular on TV talk shows. And it's also a way to tell Christ how grateful we are for all he has done in our lives, and how eager we are for him to do more. And if you can't remember a past commitment or need a fresh one, maybe you could start by renewing your confidence in Christ's love through the First Friday devotion.
It was suggested by our Lord himself to St Margaret Mary and consists of receiving Holy Communion in a spirit of gratitude on nine consecutive First Fridays of the month. It's small, but substantial, and it's a sure way to move beyond fuzzy feelings, since fuzzy feelings rarely last for nine straight months.
Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
Psalms 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
First Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-32 or 15:1-10