Amos 6:1, 4-7
Psalms 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
First Timothy 6:11-16
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 29, 2019
We often hear people say that they will get to heaven because they haven't committed any really, really heinous crimes. "I'm a good guy," they say, "I haven't murdered anyone or sold weapons to terrorists." This attitude is not a Christian attitude.
As Jesus teaches us in this story of Lazarus and the rich man, salvation and eternal life are not just about avoiding so-called "big" sins. That's a negative, passive approach to life.
But Christ is not passive. Christ is active. He came to earth to save us. He took the initiative. He came to seek out the lost sheep. He came to light the fire of faith in a dark world. Being a Christian means following in those footsteps. It means much more than simply avoiding gruesome crimes. Being a Christian means living like Christ, living for his Kingdom, living for others.
Isn't it interesting that when Jesus was asked which were the most important commandments, he didn't choose the negative ones, the "thou shalt not" ones. Instead he listed two active, positive, creative commandments: love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. The rich man in this parable was not an axe-murderer, mafia boss, or the head of a human trafficking ring. He had no particularly damaging "sins of commission" on his résumé. He was a pretty good guy.
And yet, he failed to enter into eternal life.
Why? Because of his "sins of omission". Day after day, he closed his heart to a neighbor who was in dire need of help. He spent his life becoming an expert in self-centeredness. And since the law of heaven is self-giving, he found that he was simply unfit to spend eternity there. Sins of omission come from a habitual attitude of self-centeredness.
The story of a missionary named Marcela still living today, is a perfect example of the exact opposite attitude.
At a young age, Marcela consecrated her life to Christ and became a full-time lay missionary. Soon thereafter, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a degenerative and incurable disease that saps your life away painfully and relentlessly. Marcela had always been afraid of suffering. Now she had to suffer. She did so physically, giving herself shots every day, and literally feeling her strength, energy, and coordination drain away.
She also suffered spiritually - her dreams of a long life of active missionary service were gone. Marcela asked God to show her his will in this trial. He reminded her that her sufferings, united out of love to Christ's sufferings, can have a purpose. They can be offered to God as sacrifices to win graces for other members of Christ's mystical body, others who are in need. She realized that her suffering could become her missionary activity.
So Marcela began to offer every shot, every new manifestation of her disease, for someone who needed help: a young man struggling with his call to the priesthood, an elderly woman dying of cancer, a friend who had turned away from God. Soon others heard of what she was doing, and a flood of requests began pouring in. "Please offer your shot today for my uncle who is near death and has not yet gone to confession." "Pray for my brother who is starting to do drugs, and please offer some of your sufferings for him...."
It was the beginning of a new ministry.
Within a year Marcela had gathered a small army of two hundred fellow-sufferers who were doing what she was doing, and who were now suffering with purpose. It's that habitual attitude of self-giving, that missionary attitude that is always on the lookout for opportunities to build Christ's Kingdom, which will defend us from the dangers of the sin-of-omission mentality that was so deadly for the rich man in the parable.
One way to avoid falling into the sin of omission is simply to purposely keep our eyes open for opportunities to serve those around us. Even making the commitment to perform at least one voluntary, selfless, Christ-like act of service every day can help keep the passive, sin-of-omission mentality at bay.
If the rich man in the parable had made that commitment, he would not have ignored Lazarus day after day, and that would have made all the difference.
But we can also take another step. Imagine if the rich man had been granted another chance, if God had sent him back to earth for another 10 years of life. How would he have changed? Would he have simply added one selfless act of service to his daily agenda?
Would he have just started to get a little more involved in his parish as a lector, usher or parish council member? No. His new perspective would change the whole direction of his life. He would have started using all his resources - money, connections, relationships, intelligence, experience - to serve his neighbor and to spread the truth about life's meaning. It wouldn't be easy, but gossip, criticism, and misunderstanding wouldn't stop him, now that he understood God's perspective. He would ignore the obstacles and seize every opportunity to build up Christ's Kingdom.
You and I have been given the second chance that this rich man in the parable never had, because Christ has revealed to us the whole story - we know how life ends and what it's all about. Today, God is asking us to make good use of this knowledge, to avoid the deadly sin-of-omission mentality, to use every ounce of our lives on earth to build up the Kingdom of Heaven - not just to avoid inconveniences and seek comfort.
Today, Jesus will give himself entirely to us in Holy Communion.
If we respond by giving ourselves entirely to him, by promising to put all we have and all we are at his service, there's one thing we can know for sure:
when eternity rolls around, we will have absolutely no regrets.
Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4
Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Second Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 6, 2019
Isn't Jesus being a bit harsh with the servant in this parable? The servant works hard and humbly submits to his boss, day after day. And then Jesus says he should look for nothing in return, no rest, no reward or recognition, no special treatment: he's just doing his duty, after all. It seems rather cold. We kind of feel sorry for the servant. And yet, we shouldn't.
Christ's point is that his love for us doesn't depend on our "performance". God's love for each of us is already so total, personal, unconditional, and untiring that nothing we do can increase or decrease it. We don't have to achieve great things in order to win God's love for us. We should strive to use our talents to serve God and neighbor, because that's what we were created for. And it's fine to take pleasure in a job well done when we experience a little bit of success. But the meaning of our lives doesn't come from our achievements.
The meaning of life comes from the fact that God created us out of love, redeemed us out of love, and guides us towards heaven purely out of unconditional, overflowing love. And so the servant in God's Kingdom works energetically, joyfully, and peacefully as a response to that gratuitous love of God, in gratitude for God's gifts - not worrying about what he's going to get in return. God's love doesn't depend on our achievements; our achievements flow from knowing how much God loves us and from wanting to thank him.
This is true humility.
It takes the pressure off of our relationship with God and allows us to experience true freedom, the freedom that comes from being God's children. This is what the Lord wants us to learn. Instead of letting our achievements go to our heads, Jesus wants to teach us how to make them flow from our hearts.
This is the secret to overcoming a very dangerous fear: the fear of failure. Fear of failure is at the root of countless tragedies and sins.
The student who cheats and gets expelled, losing his chance for a great education, did so because he was afraid of letting down his parents - afraid of failing. The girl whose entire life is turned upside down because of an unwanted pregnancy, didn't have the courage to say no to her selfish boyfriend because she was afraid of losing his affection and attention - afraid of failing to attract him. The business executive who goes to jail after falsifying his records for decades did it because he was afraid of losing his advantage and looking like a failure to his friends and competitors. The politician who caves into special interest groups and takes bribes does so because he is afraid of losing the next election - of failing to win the next race. The athlete who uses illegal
performance-enhancing drugs, knowing that they will shorten his career and endanger his health, makes that decision because he is afraid of coming in second and losing his reputation for being the best.
The same thing happens in day-to-day life too:
We tell lies or hide things because we are afraid of losing someone's esteem. We don't say grace before meals at the restaurant because we are afraid of being looked down on by strangers. We go along with what our peers are doing even when it's against Church teaching, because we are afraid of being ostracized.
Jesus wants to free us from those fears.
The love, esteem, and acceptance we are looking for from other people will always be unstable, no matter how many compromises we make. But if we look for it from Christ, whose love is unconditional, we'll be free from all that unnecessary and destructive pressure, free to live life to the full.
There is simply no way we can grow in true humility, and experience the true freedom that comes from it, unless we have a decent prayer life. Prayer is the only place that we really discover how much God cares about us. Only in prayer can God's grace penetrate our emotional and psychological defenses, so we can be freed from our anxious pursuit of recognition. Why not make a commitment to grow in our prayer life this year?
It's not a question of spending hours and hours in the Church - for most of us, that is not our vocation; that is not what God wants from us. Rather, it's a question of taking little chunks of time each day to spend with Christ, in order to give him a chance to win us over, to teach us wisdom, to heal our interior wounds, and to break through our walls of mistrust and self-sufficiency.
In addition to being the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, today also happens to be the liturgical memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. October is dedicated to the Rosary. How appropriate that we will be giving out rosaries at the Come out With Pride Parade.
This memorial was established in 1571, when all the Catholics in Europe dedicated the entire day to praying for victory at the Battle of Lepanto, a naval battle in which the Christian fleet was defending Europe from a pending invasion by the Muslim Turkish Empire. Their prayers were answered, and the Bishop of Rome at that time, St Pius V gave thanks to God and the Blessed Virgin Mary for the victory by instituting this liturgical celebration.
We all have battles to face in life, and a decent life of prayer can give us the victory - because nothing teaches us true humility better than heartfelt prayer.
Second Kings 5:14-17
Psalms 98:1, 2-3, 3-4
Second Timothy 2:8-13
28th Sunday of Ordinary Time - October 13, 2019
At the end of the fourth Gospel, St John's Gospel, we are told that if everything Christ did during his brief earthly life were written down, the entire world would not contain the books. We can infer, therefore, that many - maybe even the majority - of Christ's miracles and encounters were not recorded in the New Testament. So why did St Luke include this one? Clearly because of the lesson that Christ teaches us by it: the beauty of gratitude. The one leper who came back to thank Jesus is praised for this gratitude.
We can almost hear the sadness in Christ's heart at the lack of gratitude in the other nine who were healed. Why does Christ value gratitude so much? Is he vain? Is his self-esteem so weak that he gets depressed if we don't praise and thank him? No. He values gratitude because gratitude is valuable - it's valuable for us, for the health of our souls. In the first place, gratitude keeps us grounded in the truth, which is key for our ongoing relationship with God. To be ungrateful to God is not only unjust, but it's also living an illusion.
The simple fact is that everything we have is a gift from God: creation, life, talents, opportunities, hope in heaven, the grace that helps us persevere in doing what is right - these are all God's gifts. We don't create ourselves!
In the second place, gratitude is the perfect antidote to sin. Sin turns us in on our selves, like an ingrown toenail; gratitude opens us up to God and neighbor. It directly contradicts self-centeredness, self-indulgence, and self-absorption. It builds bridges, unitecommunities, and softens hearts. It counteracts depression and releases anxiety. Gratitude is one of the most beautiful flowers in the garden of virtue - what a pity that it's so rare!
Christ's encounter with these lepers is so powerful partly because leprosy itself was so terrible. Leprosy was and still is an incurable and deadly disease. Leprosy is a bacterial infection that causes the extremities of the body - fingers and toes, hands and feet, nose, ears, and mouth - to die and slowly rot away, even while the person remains alive. It was so contagious that even the lepers' closest relatives did not dare to come near them. In ancient times, lepers were required to live in isolated colonies.
If they had to travel, the law required them to ring a bell wherever they went, shouting out, "Unclean! Unclean!" This explains why these ten lepers addressed Christ "from a distance", as St Luke points out. On top of the isolation, lepers had to live with the almost unbearable pain and stench of their own decaying bodies. Leprosy was a long, humiliating, and dismal agony, the most horrible of ancient diseases. Jesus frees these ten lepers entirely from their agony, giving them a brand new life. And yet, only one of them takes the trouble to thank him for it - and that one happens to be a Samaritan, the one least likely to respect a Jewish rabbi.
We are all moral lepers.
The whole human race was infected with mortal selfishness by original sin, a selfishness that rots our souls and societies just as leprosy rots the body. Christ saved us. He opened the floodgates of God's grace through his incarnation, passion, and resurrection. And then he gave us constant access to that grace through the Church, the sacraments, and his many other gifts. We all recognize what Christ has done for us - that's why we are here today. Christ's message today is that he wants our recognition to go deeper, to become an attitude of gratitude.
The virtue of gratitude helps us experience the interior joy that comes from knowing we are loved by God, without limits or conditions. It is such an important virtue, that God put it at the very center of Christian worship: the celebration of the Eucharist. This is why we don't just to stay home and say some prayers, or to go to the mountains and enjoy the view. Those are good things to do. But what happens here, in this community and on this altar, goes much, much deeper.
Gratitude is an affectionate response to a favor.
Since every favor is done not out of obligation, but freely, our response should also be free. But that means that our act of gratitude should be, in some way, even bigger than the favor we have received. Otherwise it would seem just like a repayment of a legal debt. Now, in creating and redeeming us, God has done us a favor much bigger than anything we could ever do for him. But God didn't want us to live in frustration, unable to return his love. So he himself provided a way for us to offer him a perfect thanksgiving, an infinite act of gratitude: through the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is Christ himself, truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine. And since Christ is present in this sacrament, so are all of Christ's actions and prayers, most especially, his self-sacrifice on the cross. By uniting our minds and hearts - and even our bodies, through Holy Communion - to Christ's own self-offering in the Eucharist, our human prayer of thanksgiving becomes divine. And so, we are able to say thank you to God as we ought to, as we want to, and as God truly deserves.
That's what we have come together to do today. And we can only do it here, at Mass. Today, and every Sunday, let's be like the grateful Samaritan: let's do it with all our hearts.
Psalms 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Second Timothy 3:14--4:2
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 20, 2019
We hear a lot about “rights.” And Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that in our prayer we should ask for our rights. What are these rights that Jesus talks about? He says: “Will not God secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?” What are my rights? In other words, what should I ask for from God? It’s common for us to think of our rights as practical items: I have a right to food, I have a right to water, I have a right to shelter. And these are important – without them we will end up in heaven sooner than God intended… And there are other rights that are not so essential, perhaps, but we still want them: we want to be understood, we want to be listened to, we want to be respected, we want to be successful. These are also good – although sometimes we may not have them. But our greatest right is something far more amazing.
In Jesus, we are sons and daughters of God. By Christ’s death on the Cross we have been saved from our sins. In Jesus, we see the thirst of God made visible; we see how God thirsts for our love – for the love of each person. So our greatest “right” is actually a gift. Our greatest right, our greatest privilege, is to be with Jesus. To be with Jesus in his suffering and to be with Jesus in his triumph. To belong completely to Jesus, and to possess him as the great love of our souls. Our greatest right is not success or perfection; our greatest right is not a life without suffering or difficulty. Our greatest right is to be able to say with St Paul that the life I live now is not my own, but it is Christ living in me. Our greatest right, our greatest privilege, is to be with Jesus. To let his love for us fill our entire being, and to love him in return.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan tells this story about when, as a young priest, he prepared a man for baptism. The man was extremely intelligent and had numerous questions about the teachings of the Church. But after a year, he said he was ready to be baptized. He had, however, one last doubt. Cardinal Dolan said he figured it was about the divinity of Christ or the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The man said those weren’t issues for him anymore. “But,” he said, “Do you remember the first time we spoke? You told me that when I’m baptized I receive a new relationship with Christ and I become a child of God. Did you mean that?” “Yes,” Dolan replied, “I did.” The man answered, “Then that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard!” Cardinal Dolan said that he, at that moment, was struck by the incredible reality we so easily take for granted.
Can we say that Jesus is the great love of our lives?
Most of us would probably have to give a “sort of” answer. And Christ can work with that to help us to grow. The most powerful way that we grow in our relationship with Christ happens right here in the Mass.
We receive Christ in person in the Eucharist. We receive the presence and the power of God! Let’s resolve to meet him differently today than we ever have before. Let’s ask him to prepare our hearts for this encounter with him. Let’s beg him to change us so that we can know his love more fully, and respond with our own.