In Scripture, water symbolizes many different things, purification, cleansing, washing away sin. But it also has a negative connotation. Water can symbolize chaos, sin, danger, or something that can harm us or block our path.
In the very beginning, in Genesis, we first read of the great void of chaos and the breath of God moves over that chaos: water. Also in Genesis, we hear that mankind had become so corrupt that God sent a great flood to destroy and restart. Only Noah and his family survive in the Ark which “hovered” on the water; the disorder being washed away. In Exodus, the Egyptians have driven the Israelites out because of the plagues God wrought. But Pharaoh changes his mind to track down and eliminate his enemy. Blocking the way for the Israelites is……water; the Red Sea. Moses strikes the water with the staff and a way opens up. God allows the Israelites to pass through the chaos facing them. God, the Lord of all things demonstrates His power over evil and all that blocks our way. Moses passes on his power to Joshua who leads Israel into the promised land. Their way blocked by the river Jordan. God reveals his strength and power over the chaos, the roadblock; ant the river Jordan stops to allow passage into the Promised Land.
Generally, the Ancients were afraid of the water. Their transports of ships hugged the coast. They were afraid of the deep, its unknown creatures and lack of landmarks to guide them. Water equaled danger; a mindset of mariners for a good reason.
In every Gospel, there is some account of Christ’s control; His mastering of the water. In today’s Gospel, the boat containing the Apostles is being tossed by waves and in the 4th watch, Jesus comes to them.
Whenever there is a boat mentioned in scripture, it is the symbol of the Church. The area where the laity set even called the Nave, from navis; you sit in the “boat”. Jesus masters the chaos of the sea and walks on the water. He comes to them in the 4th watch; the darkest part of the night; in the darkness. The Apostles are terrified but Jesus says, “it is I” ego emi relatable to the words God spoke to Moses: I am Who am. I am here; God is here, do not be afraid. The Spirit, God now among us Human and Divine is hovering over the water, the chaos that strikes at the Apostles; at us, at the boat; at the Church.
Then those famous words of Peter, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” With his eyes, his mind, his heart set on Christ, his faith gives him access to Jesus’ power. But when Peter looks around, taking his attention off Christ, in weak faith, he sinks.
Faith gives us a participation in the Divine life. God has Lordship over the chaos and so can we if we make him the center of our lives. With our hearts, eyes and minds centered on, focused on God, we can overcome sin, overcome the chaos.
Actual story: I’ve been meeting with a man recently. He has many issues. “Father, my life is falling apart, my marriage is falling apart, my relationship with my children is breaking.” “Are you a Catholic?” I asked. “Yes.” “Do you go to Mass?” No. Although many think that it’s in the Bible, Benjamin Franklin actually gave us the saying, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”
A Saint is someone who is totally fixed on Christ. If you want real power, don’t look at the world; look at Him. Walk in His power. Little Faith? Why do you doubt. Faith gives us access to God’s power. And the most overwhelmed saints are the martyrs. But by keeping their hearts, minds and eyes on Christ, they had the ability to overcome fear and witness for the Faith, the Church, for Christ. And whenever the church is persecuted, the faithful come alive; the Church grows. The 20th century brought forth more martyrs for the faith than any other time in history, even the great persecutions of the early Christians.
There are many Martyr stories, Edith Stein, Maximillian Colby, the martyrs of Korea and Uganda, but let me share a particular instance you may not be aware of. In 1934, a group of Trappist monks formed the Monastery of Our Lady of Atlas, named so because of its location in the Atlas Mountains at Tibhirine Algeria. Algeria was a French colony until the 1960’s when the Algerian people moved to throw off the French yoke and establish their own governance. During the process, very radical Islamic groups began to assert themselves. Towards the monks, threats were made. Eventually groups arrived at the monastery. The threats grew to higher and higher levels. At the point that the monks saw that their lives were in immediate danger, they held a vote. In the midst of warnings to leave, return to France, they voted to stay to be a witness for Christ, the Prince of Peace.
On the evening of March 26th, 1996 a band of these Islamic militants came and kidnapped the monks. They were taken off into the mountains. Later, the headless bodies of the men were found. Among the possessions left behind was a letter written by the Abbott. Written in advance of their demise, the Abbott stated their reasons for staying and also anticipated his own death. He referred to his killer as a friend and, in prayer, hoped for the two to meet in Heaven.
Keep your eyes, your heart, your mind on Christ; fixed on Jesus. Stay in the “boat of the Church” and you too will be able to hover over chaos, sin, proclaim Christ as your Prince of Peace and perhaps, “walk on water”.
The Gospel for today is a very important story for Christians. It is one of the few accounts that is mentioned in every Gospel. Today, Jesus has moved to a deserted place. The Greek used here is Eremos which means a deserted place, but also a desert. Bo back to the Book of Exodus. Remember the Israelites are in an Eremos, a desert. There, God provides manna; bread from heaven to feed the Jews on their journey to the Promised land. The Manna is a limitless source, abundant. No one goes hungry and there is no charge; freely given; freely received. Today’s Gospel has Jesus in a desert; a deserted place, and the multitudes are fed. No one goes hungry. Freely given; freely received.
Jesus is demonstrating several truths in parallel to the Old Testament. Moses is rejected and faces many hardships. He is driven into the wilderness and God provides for sustenance along the way. Jesus is proclaiming himself as the new Moses, He is also rejected, in the wilderness, and now He himself; God provides food; sustenance along the way. In both the Exodus account and our Gospel account, food is abundant. Jesus provides enough for everyone to eat and there is an abundance left over. At the Last Supper, we are given the Eucharist; the new food given to us in our wilderness, our desert away from Heaven and it is abundant; overflowing; freely given; freely accepted.
In St. Luke’s account of the feeding of the multitudes, Jesus has the people set down in groups of 50. It would be very difficult and timely to divide 5000 into groups of 50. As a teacher, it was sometimes difficult to quiet down and organize a class of 30. This is an intentional move on Jesus’ part. Return to the Book of Exodus 18:25. Moses chose able men out of all Israel to rule over groups of a 1000, 100, and 50. These leaders, 12 in all, were from the 12 tribes of Israel demonstrating an image of a hierarchy of the Church. 12 judges ruling over Israel. Today’s Gospel show another 12, the Apostles, arranging groups. The symbolism is the same: 12 judges ruling over groups of people who are now the new Israel. Jesus is proclaiming himself as the Messiah; the new Moses leading his people to the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, setting up a hierarchy of the Church. Even in Heaven, the Book of Revelation tells us that the Temple in Heaven is built on 12 levels of precious stone.
None of the actions of manna in the desert, feeding the multitude, or even the Eucharist are not about sharing. The Israelites, the first Christians, and we are being fed for our work we have to do.
Before all this starts, Jesus’ followers tell Jesus to dismiss the crowd so that they can go and fend for themselves to gather food. Disperse the crowd. Every one for themselves; the language of sin. Sin is a division of us from God. The Greek: diaskorpisi meaning to scatter from which we get the word diabolos; another name for Satan. Satan divides us. We are weaker, running away from God. Jesus says, “no.” Keep together, even in the most difficult situation, we will work this out together.
Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “give them some food yourselves.” What are they to do, where are they going to get food? How are they supposed to feed the multitudes? They ask around and find what they do have: 5 loaves and 2 fish. Jesus takes the little. He blesses and gives it to the hungry and there is more than enough. 12 baskets of food are left over; 12 being the Jewish number for completeness as well as a symbol for a perfect governmental foundation.
What does this mean to us today? Do you see something that needs to be done? What do I do about it? This needs to be corrected. That needs to be corrected. That’s wrong; this is wrong. What do I do about it? Jesus told the Apostles. You give them something to eat. But what can I do?
Every major movement in the Church begins small before it grows big. St. Francis. He divests himself of all his wealth, even his clothes, and is told to “rebuild my Church”. He goes to a neighboring church and, by himself, begins to repair the building. Because of his sincerity, his work, his call to action, others join. Today, the Franciscans cover the world doing works of mercy and continuing to rebuild the Church.
Mother Teresa. A high school teacher, sees the need in the slums of Calcutta. She goes there, alone, and cares for the sick. Her students join her, others join due to her work and testimony. Today, the order she founded, the Sisters of Charity, cover the world conquering evil by upholding the dignity of every person.
St. Francis Xavier. A student in France is called to proclaim the word of God to foreign lands. He gathers followers. Today, the Jesuits cover the world doing the work of Christ; teaching, upholding the Faith.
The Church itself. 12 then 12, 000, then millions, now numbering over 1.2 billion.
The Church, the Pope, the Cardinals, the Bishops, the priests should do something. NO, you feed them.
We need a program for this group; that group, that issue, that problem. You feed them. Vatican II calls for not only the ordained, but the entire lay apostolate to work for and spread the love of Christ. Spend your life for what satisfies. Nourishment from God via Lay Apostolate and Ordained ministry.
5 loaves and 2 fish feed thousands. Give what you can to God and it will be multiplied. Now, I am not talking about the Gospel of Prosperity you hear about. Plant your seed money and see a financial return. No! But what little you have will be enhanced by God. Give him your will, your compassion, your labor. But don’t think, I have so little that I should hold onto it. Give it freely for Christ. The Bread of life? Free and abundant. Water for Baptism? Free and abundant. God can take little and make it big. You feed them.
I’ve mentioned before the fact that Jesus uses parables to expand or greater express some deep reality in our lives. Prose/ straight language is good for unemotional topics: math, science, computers. But the parable is a poetic expression of those things we ponder in a deeper way: religion, spirituality, love. There is always an unexpected element to a parable, a non-sequituror a puzzle. When we find that element, that puzzle, we can see deeper, what Jesus is trying to tell us.
First, we have the parable of the buried treasure. Jesus always speaks of elements of life in his time: sheep, shepherds, kings, authorities. In this parable, buried treasure would catch the interest of the listener because buried treasures were real. Invading armies, packs of marauding thieves; when you heard they were coming, the obvious thing to do to protect your wealth was to bury it. Difficult to find. Difficult for the enemy to take your money. There were no banks or impenetrable vaults. However, often, people could not return to the treasure. Their land was taken over and controlled by the invader. People died; treasures were forgotten, until someone in the future bought the property and perhaps started tilling the ground. A treasure was found. Immediately follows the parable of the precious pearl. Pearls were very expensive at the time of Jesus, everyone knew this. They were difficult to obtain.
What would you do if you found a buried treasure or that precious pearl? There’s the twist. I’d keep it to sell and advance my wealth. I wouldn’t sell everything I had to buy one other single item. So you see a man on the street with tattered clothes and apparently homeless; you ask how he’s doing, and says,” I’m fine; I’ve got my pearl.” But that’s really what Jesus is saying, Jesus, “be foolish in the eyes of the world. Nothing matters but the one thing: The Kingdom of Heaven.”; the relationship with Jesus.’ That’s the treasure. That’s the pearl.
Jesus is telling us that we can’t just take the Kingdom; you can’t steal the Kingdom or just buy the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is offered to us, never imposed, but offered. And it’s often presented in a surprising way; like a treasure you stumble onto. Sometimes, God’s great “Treasure” comes to us in some unexpected way: God breaks into our lives and experiences when perhaps, we don’t expect, or perhaps when we most are in need. Maybe a great tragedy pulls us to the love of God or we’re smacked in the face with God’s plan for us that we never saw coming. The most striking example may be Saul on the way to Tarsus. Struck off his horse and wrenched into the Kingdom of God. We may find God on the way; some at the moment of death. But when we have that treasure, nothing should take it away from us. Wealth, power, pleasure. Nothing keeps us from the treasure or relinquishing the precious pearl. We should give up everything to hold on to the great “Treasure”. What would it profit us to gain the world and loose our soul?
Now, after all I’ve said, there is another way to see that great treasure/the precious pearl. Think about this: we are the pearl/the treasure; you are that treasure. Jesus is always searching for us, seeking us, inviting us and calling us to himself. We are hidden in the dirt; our sin. Jesus finds us and what price does he pay for us? He gave everything for us, even his life.
All throughout the Bible, it’s not so much us seeking God as it is God running after us. And all of us will be caught eventually; He will eventually find us. And all of us are given time. Time to adjust ourselves to the Kingdom. Then all of us will be gathered in.
All of us are precious in the eyes of God. Made in his image and likeness, we are each a great treasure. If we see the treasure as something we find, don’t let it go. If we see ourselves as the great treasure, remember that we deposit our true wealth into the hands of God.
Dc. C.J. Donarsky’s Homily: 16th Sun Ord. Cycle A
Today we continue the parable about the Sower that Jesus presented to us last Sunday. I grew up on a farm in N.W. Minnesota. My Dad planted wheat, oats, barley, corn, and alfalfa in a crop rotation program so that the soil would produce a good harvest. One of my favorite childhood memories is of my dad walking through the fields with his rosary behind his back, praying to God for a good harvest, so he and mom could feed and clothe us kids.
The Parable about the wheat and the tares is filled with spiritual meaning about the Word of God; that Word is Jesus. The world spoken into being by the Word of God has weeds in it. The tares are the weeds that when they sprout, grow tall and look like wheat; that is, until they mature. The wheat is golden when it is ready for harvest, while the heads of the tares are thin and turn a dark brown or rusty black color. Additionally, the roots of the tares intertwine with those of the wheat, so when you pull the weed, you end up also pulling the wheat out of the ground. With modern chemicals and fertilizers, the weeds can be destroyed and harvesting equipment these days sifts out the thin seeds and keeps the healthy grain/wheat.
So what does this parable have to do with us today? All we have to do is look at the world around us and see the false prophets – the tares/weeds of our time that tickle our ears. They tell us that we only need to believe in God and we will go to heaven. We don’t need to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, or even give a cup of water to a thirsty person. We believe and therefore go straight to heaven. St. James in chapter 2, tells us that faith without works is dead. We must do something. Jesus has already told us in Mathew 7 that Not All Who Call Lord, Lord will be saved. He in fact will say, “Go Away. I Don’t Know You!”
What are some of the tares – false prophets or ideas that our world faces today? How about the attitude of the “participation trophy”? Everyone is entitled to have a trophy. There are no winners or losers. What about the secular attitude that redefines human nature, human dignity by redefining gender and lack of commitment in Holy Matrimony between one man and one woman? What about the attitude of keeping up with the Kardasians? Let’s spend money on things. I want it and I want it NOW. Besides, we have an unlimited amount on the credit card(s) and someone else will pay for my college tuition. I’m not responsible. Its someone else’s fault that I don’t have all these things I want.
A week or so ago, Lady Alice and I went to Bardstown, KY for some quiet time together. We stayed in an Air B&B house built during the early 1960s. The lady who owns the home, told us she and two other siblings grew up in this small home with their parents. She can’t come to part with it because of the wonderful memories she has. This home is more than four walls. It is part of where she learned to pray and care for others less fortunate than she was. Alice and I enjoyed that mini retreat, that quiet time. The house of maybe 1500 square feet, invited us to pray and share our take-out meals together. We both noticed how the world around has sold us the attitude that we need, “you must have” a larger and larger house for all the stuff you acquire. But what about building a home with love that reinforces your relationship with God and others? I think that is the harvest of wheat, our world needs to focus upon.
I want to look at one other weed in our culture, in our world; The Weed of pornography. I’m asking you all to pray for a friend of mine. I have known him since 1985. A few months ago I found out that he is addicted to porn. He does not see that it is tearing his family apart. He does not see that it has wrapped its tentacles around his heart, mind, and soul. He says, yes, I have a problem. But I’m not harming anyone. It’s me and the computer screen, nothing else.
Besides, I’ve talked with other guys who have told me NOT to worry about it; “That every man has an itch that needs to be scratched.” So let’s talk about something else.” Well excuse me, but what is more important than one’s immortal soul? And if what this gentleman is telling me is true; what kind of fraternal correction, what kind of accountability are his other male friends giving to this husband and father? Apparently, they do not see this as human trafficking; a form of slavery. Something the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has written about this scourge on the Dignity of Human Beings. The document is titled Create in Me a Clean Heart - A Pastoral Response to Pornography and well worth the read.
We all are damaged goods, because of Original sin. But we are also redeemed by the blood of Christ (1Peter 1:19) and called to be “Good Samaritans” (Lk.10:25-37) to help each other on the journey of life. Proverbs 27:17 tells us we are to be “Iron sharpening iron,” holding each other accountable for our actions, via fraternal correction. We don’t pull out the weeds, nor do we cross to the other side of the road and leave the wounded soul in the ditch, because he/she is bleeding and may cause us to adjust our daily calendar. When we know that a particular behavior is not consistent with the commandments we work to take the plank out of our own eye and help the wounded soul. (see Mt.7:5) We are called to “Love one Another” (Jn.13:34) as Jesus has loved us. Just look to the wounded pierced heart of Jesus as our guide. The book of Wisdom reminds us of our on-going need for repentance and seeking to be holy because God has sovereignty over all of us. We have been given the gift of physical and spiritual life and therefore have a responsibility to apply these gifts for His honor and glory. After all, to whom much is given, much is required. (Lk. 12:48) As baptized members of the Body of Christ, we are called to be productive stewards in His vineyard, (Mt.20:1-16) yielding a harvest of 30, 60, and 90 fold (Mt.13:23). It is our high calling so that we can all give glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…
Dc. Philip Moore’s Homily: 16th Sunday Ord. Cycle A
Last week Jesus told a parable about a sower who went out and sowed seed, some fell on rocky ground, some fell among thorns, and some on good soil. Now this week, Jesus is telling us another parable and uses wheat.
A man sowed good seed (good wheat) but an enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat. After two weeks of parables about seeds do you get the feeling Jesus is asking us the question, are we wheat or weeds?
Everyone starts out as wheat, when we are born we only know love. The love a child has for their mother and father, the love we have for grandparents, for our relatives and friends. As we grow however; weeds begin to creep into our lives making it difficult for us to know that pure love; that love that we were born with. Does that make us bad people? The answer is, no! We might say, misguided or off track, but not bad. We always have the ability to turn away from wrong choices but that takes prayer and the grace of God to get us back on the right track.
Let me tell you a story about a teenager who was smart but very rebellious, he didn’t listen to his mother. In fact, would make fun of her because she was so good. He moved in with a girl as a teenager and had a baby all the while seeking popularity and recognition. After living with her for a while he dumped her and moved in with another. He was engaged to a second woman, thinking it would advance his career. The engagement was a long one, two years, and during the engagement he started dating a 3rd woman. In the midst of all this, the young man left the church he was brought up in. He joined a cult and eventually became bored with the cult and he became a skeptic.
This paints a picture of a pretty bad, misguided person. Was he a wheat or a weed? It seems to me, he was a major weed, but is there any hope for someone like that? I’m here to tell you emphatically, yes! There is hope for someone like this. Now, this story is not made up to illustrate a point. This is a true story and it may surprise you when I tell you his name. This was Augustine of Hippo, named after a place in North Africa. Augustine of Hippo would later be called Saint Augustine, one of the most important theologians (teachers) and church leaders of the first 500 years of church history. His mother is Saint Monica. Saint Augustine wrote a tell-all autobiography called “Confessions”. Very appropriate name for his autobiography.
I told you this story, to show you there is always hope. The rest of the story is Saint Monica. Augustine’s mother had prayed for 17 years for her son to come back to the church. You see, God always answers our prayer, but in his time. Saint Monica, never doubted that her prayer would be answered, so she prayed and prayed and prayed. This is a good example of not ever giving up on prayer.
The parable this morning doesn’t mean that we tolerate all sorts of bad behavior. Jesus doesn’t condone weeds growing in with the wheat. The weeds are toxic. These are the type of weeds that Jesus talked about in our Gospel a few weeks ago, they are the type weeds that can kill the soul. Of course the weeds represent the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows the weeds is the devil, the evil one himself, the one who can kill the soul; separating us from the love of God. Jesus told us not to be concerned about the one who can destroy the body, but the one who can destroy the soul is the one to resist. To be able to resist temptation and the evil one comes through prayer and lots of it. There are people in the world that can sway us to make bad decisions, those are the ones Jesus is talking about. Those are the ones to avoid.
God is so loving and forgiving, he is giving us time to change from weeds to wheat. In other words, to weed out sinful tendencies, to change our habits. to look for good and not evil, and to pray. God is a God of mercy and forgiveness, he is not a God of vengeance and anger.
Jesus knew we would struggle with good and evil, that is why he gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. This is the grace that we need to continue our journey and avoid evil.
Jesus tells us the harvest is the end of the age, the end of our time here on this earth. He will send his angels to collect out of his kingdom; all those who cause sin and all evildoers. They will be thrown into the fiery furnace, then the righteous will enter the kingdom prepared for them since the beginning of time. They will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. They will be gathered into his barn.
Right now, today, we have a decision to make. Do we follow the path of those who can do us harm, who can kill the soul? Or, do we follow the path of righteousness and avoid those who can separate us from God? In other words, are we wheat or weeds?
A great crowd gathers around Jesus. There is a great thirst, even today for God. Even those who do not believe come back again and again to bring up the faith. We just can’t leave it alone. Humans are wired for God. Even when we don’t know, we are created by a God who is love, creates us in love to be loved and to love. That overwhelming thirst is inside every human although sometimes, in our confusion we don’t know exactly what it is we thirst for. Exitus Reditus, says St. Thomas Aquinas, we exit from God; from Paradise, and our rest is in returning to our home in God.
Then Jesus tells them a parable. Why does he speak in parables and not just come out and state the issue? Strait speech is good for certain things: technology, science, and math. But for the topics that rest in our hearts and our psyches, in deeper truths, deeper words are needed. Love, faith, spirituality; a richer deeper language is needed, the poetic speech that expands our understanding and thought. The expanse of poetry expresses greater thoughts which we are called to ponder. In Jesus’ case, the deep and pondering notions of God, his love and our relationship with God. The poetics of parables speak more eloquently, more expansively.
In today’s parable, the sower casts out seed. The soil in the land of Jesus is not that great. It’s not like sowing seed on the rich, black soil of the prairies of our great plains. The land is rocky, and questionable. Today we use machines to plant a single seed at the correct depth, in perfect rows to create the best yield. The certainty of precise planting guarantees a better yield. At the time of Christ, the most effective planting measure was to hand broadcast seed. What fell on good land grew. What fell on bad soil or rocks withered unproductively scorched by the sun, lacking roots or nutrients from good dirt. In the poetic language of Christ’s parables, the seed is the word of God. And like plants, God makes the rain to fall on the good and the bad; on everyone. God makes the sun to shine on the good and bad; on everyone.
We are all called to be sowers of God’s word. How do I sow the seed of God’s word? Do I plant that seed only on the rich soil of those whom I know will receive the word and grow in faith? Do I hold back planting on those whom I dislike, I don’t trust, whom I know in my mind, they will not benefit from the seed of faith that I want to sow? Deciding on who receives the word sown is not my job. My job is to throw out the seeds of faith; to my closest friend; to the stranger on the street. And you never know when that seed of faith will take off. At the moment of sowing or even at a time near death.
God does not love in a discriminating manner. His love shines on the good and the bad. Love everyone, show everyone faith in Christ by the way you live. Treat everyone with the same dignity. Thank you God for not loving us In that calculating fashion. God loves everyone. That’s who he is. That’s all he can do. He is love and his love radiates outward to the good and the bad.
I think we all get to love others and live Christian lives to portray our faith to others. But there is a bigger issue at hand. I don’t think we know what we are sowing. When you plant a garden, this seed becomes a flower; this one a vegetable; different seeds; different results, different plants.
We are in the midst of St. John Paul II’s call to re-evangelize. Not just to spread the seeds of faith to those who have never heard, but to reclaim those who have lost the faith. Recent numbers indicate approx. 80% of Catholics do not participate in the Church.
What’s happening? The seeds we sow are the greatest and most joyful message of the world. God made us. God loves us. God is our biggest “cheer leader”. God wants us to get to Heaven and be happy for all eternity. We lost paradise by sin and Jesus was sent to reopen the gates. Our lives have deep meaning and our end is happiness; not despair. As St Matthew tells us in his Gospel, “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”
We’re not yelling this from the rooftops. There is no real urgency in us to get this news out; to broadcast the seed of faith which is specifically designed to offer hope and joy to everyone.
Why? Well I believe there are three reasons.
- In our part of the world, religion is private. You do your thing and I’ll leave you alone.
- We don’t know what we are proclaiming. This is partly due to a crisis of faith in the Church. After Vatican II, emphasis shifted away from what to know versus how we feel. Entire RCIA education was often reduced to simply discussing the Sunday readings. Period. Bad teaching, bad homilies, teaching of doctrine and history left aside.
- And finally, families are entrusting their children to the Church in an assumption that the Church will form their children adequately in the faith. Wrong assumption. Even in the best religious education classes, one hour a week will not cut it. I just spent time dealing with 2 young people who had not received their First Communion. In the Fifth and Sixth grades, they spent the entire year not studying to prepare for the sacrament but studying the books of those particular grades which dealt with the students who already had received, and knew about the Eucharist. At the end of the year, the parents wanted to know why their children had not received their First Holy Communion. Was it an entire year that parents didn’t ask the questions of what they were studying in religion class? As it says in the Sacrament of Baptism, parents are the first and best teachers of their children within the Domestic Church. Faith has to be a part of the family, not a one-hour application from someone else.
This leaves us with entire communities that can’t proclaim the faith because they don’t know what the faith is themselves. But, it is not hopeless. We live in the internet age. Knowledge of the teachings of the church are a click away. DVD’s available in the narthex. I have people who email me questions. RCIA is open to anyone who wants to re-learn or learn the faith; it’s not just for those coming into the church. We teach a class on the catechism, adult bible studies.
We are strengthening our Faith Formation, RCIA and Teen Education this year. But what we do at church is the tip of the iceberg.
What are you most excited about? Baseball? Movies? Books? We run to share the good news of the outcome of a game. This is a great book. What a wonderful movie.
Think of this: God made me, God loves me, God wants me to be happy; no one cares for me like he does. We lost our way in sin and he sent his own son to die in my place. Paradise is opened up and not just for 60, 70, 80 years or more, eternity is promised where we will NEVER suffer heat, cold, hunger, pain, disappointment, frustration or loss ever again. EVERY tear will be wiped away.
There is still a great thirst for God, but many of us don’t know how to quench that thirst.
The end of life is not a diploma or a trophy, although we make sure our children get to school whether they want to go or not. We get them to sports, often making it more important than Mass. The end of life is an eternity of bliss with God. Life is hard. Work at it. Eternity is forever. Prepare for it!
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.”
When I was a lot younger, I was sweeping up the house one day with the helpful assistance of my daughter. I like a tidy space. However, sometimes I can be guilty of overlooking some issue of home care if I don’t have to look at it. I had finished sweeping and Katherine was running off to get the dust pan, when I said, “wait. I’ve got a quicker idea.” Katherine, pull back the edge of that carpet for me. In went the dirt and the carpet came down to hide it. Out of sight; everything “looked” clean. Everything was great for about two weeks. Kate’s mom was sweeping the same room. “Go get the dust pan for mom, Katherine.” To which Kate responded, “why don’t you do what dad does with the dirt.”
Have you ever been corrected by a child? You KNOW they’re right, they’re doing what you taught them to do and you’re dead wrong. How did that make you feel? Did you try to cover up; did you feel stupid?
Today’s Gospel passage is directed towards the leaders of the Jews in religious matters: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They were scholars of the law they KNEW it all. The Pharisees had studied all of the prophets. They KNEW everything about the Messiah: where he would come from, what he would be like, what he was going to do. The Sadducees? Well they kept the Temple running. But they only believed in the Pentateuch; the first five books of the Bible; the Law. Anything after that, the Wisdom books, the prophets, meant next to nothing to them. They had adopted the Greek’s philosophy. This world is all there is; no after life. We still had to obey the law, but what we reaped from this world was all there was.
But with all this Greek philosophy, study of the Law, and the Pharisee’s combing constantly through the prophets and the other writings, they had missed it. The Messiah was right in front of them and they couldn’t see it. And, this simple man, from a simple place with no expanse of education was correcting them.
Education is not a certainty for doing the right thing. With 8 and ½ years of college under my belt, I KNEW dirt goes in the waist bin, not under the carpet.
But the simple message of love presented by Jesus is picked up by children. You don’t need any education to love someone. We immediately cling to our mothers when we’re born. We love them and they love us. No one has to tell us.
Now, Jesus is not telling us that education is bad. At 12, Jesus is found in the Temple conversing with the elders. He is constantly teaching. He is constantly demonstrating and educating us to receive the Kingdom of Heaven; the blessings of the Father and the fulfillment of the Spirit.
The Church has always been a proponent of education and the furthering of knowledge. Think of the great minds of Christian thought putting forth new truths. From Ignatius of Antioch and the Fathers of the Church through St. Anselm, William of Ockham, Aquinas, Bellarmine, Descartes, Edith Stein, right through to Pope John Paul II and Benedict. Knowledge has flourished from and by the Church. The Big Bang theory of Fr. Georges-Henri Lemaître, the study of genetics by Fr. Gregor Mendel.
In the United States, the first 123 institutions of higher learning, colleges and universities were founded, funded and flourished as ministries of Christian churches.
Yes, there are the issues of the Church refusing Galileo and Copernicus, but maturation and time corrected what at that time, was too difficult to understand and comprehend. After all, everyone thought the world was flat at one time.
No, knowledge isn’t bad. And as in so many cases, it is not what we know or even how much we have, but rather how we use things; how we use knowledge that can be bad.
Most of us don’t experience physical violence all that often, but the violence brought about by educated people who utilize their knowledge to put others down or subordinate others is a violence used all too often. We labor with knowledge in connection with our egos. The Pharisees and Sadducees had knowledge, but was it utilized for benefit or good? Do we utilize knowledge to demonstrate the power of egos over others? Knowledge can be utilized to help others, lift them out of poverty, cure the sick, teach the ignorant. But when it is utilized to control, put down, destroy others, that’s a type of violence. It’s sort of that Francis Bacon thought of “knowledge is power” in a bad way. We have the power now to destroy our world with nuclear weapons due to knowledge. However well used knowledge prevents us from that use.
Children do not carry around the expectations and the burden of the ego. At play, no concern for time, status, the future. Will you be my friend? Can we be happy? Jesus loves me.
When we were children, remember climbing into the back of the car and falling asleep? You might know where you’re going, but not how to get there. Think of the blind trust that someone was taking you someplace, they knew how to get you there and they’d get you there safe.
That’s the child-like love Jesus is looking for. Not childish; wasteful or silly, but child-like; trusting. Knowledge is a wonderful thing, but the necessary thing for us is to love God; love others and it doesn’t take a college degree for that.
So don’t labor under that ego. Even a child knows that the person who loves them and is in charge will get them to the right place if we allow them to take over. Bring the labor of life; of living to Christ. Not putting forth your ego; your will, but resting in Jesus’ will for us.
Today we continue in the 10th chapter of St. John. In last week’s passage and today’s, we hear the demands, not the suggestions but demands Jesus gives his Apostles before he sends them out to spread the Good news.
Last week? Don’t fear those who can kill the body. Fear what kills the soul. Jesus knows that they will be hurt spreading his message which is counter cultural, inflammatory and even repugnant to many since it is a message condemning what the world and mankind offer. Don’t be afraid. They are going to crucify me and persecute all of you. You will have to drink from the same cup I will drink from.
This week Jesus keeps pushing; he keeps proposing the demands of a follower. And it doesn’t get any easier. Unless you love me more than your own mother and father; more than your own children, you cannot be worthy of me!
The love between a parent and a child; the love of a child for a parent. Is there anything that is more consuming than that? Is there any love that is even greater than that? Many of us were great examples of “happy-go-lucky” people. Even in the early stages of our marriage, many continue on in that nonchalant manner. But when that baby came along. Finally, you truly understand what it means to say “I would die for another person; for that child; there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect this child”. It’s no longer all about me, but this child is the focus of my love.
But there is a greater love. God, is the fulfillment of every virtue. God is the fulfillment of love; God IS love itself. Because God loved me into existence, I was able to participate in loving my child into existence. Jesus is telling us that unless our love for him is more; more than a parent for a child, you’re not worthy of me. We owe him everything. For a child, we provide education, support, food, clothing. But God provides us air, life, existence.
The parent/child love brings with it obligations. Obligations of a parent to the child and obligations of children for their parents. Jesus says, unless your obligation to me is greater, you’re not worthy of me. How can I love that much? More than I love my child, my spouse, myself?
God is, after all, God. God is Truth itself. God is the Good, itself. God is Justice. God is Being. The one thing God cannot be, since he is God, is secondary to anything else. He cannot be peripheral; on the edges of our lives. St. Anselm’s definition of God? “That of which nothing greater can be thought. “He must be central to me, central to everything I have, central to everything I am. If I love something more than God, then it is not God; it is an idol. If anything is more important than God, then God is not God. The ultimate being, the One, the” Unmoved Mover” is less than. We can never set God aside. He is primary. A child can live without a parent. A parent can live without a child. No one lives if there is no God.
OK, how do we approach this in real life? I can’t quit everything and become a monk. Someone who prays, witnesses, adores God constantly. St. Augustine has a sermon on love based on the Gospel of John. Augustine tells us he loves others more truly, when he loves them for the sake of God. Other people and things can be loved more completely, more fully when they are loved for the sake of God. We do not abandon our love for our children or parents. We situate that love within the context of our greatest love: God.
If I do not situate that love correctly, our personal love relationships can become skewed. I love because of something I get. I love because I get something out of the person or thing I love. I love you for what you can do for me. That sort of secondary love of people and things can become twisted into dominance of the other, selfishness, jealousy. I want my child to be like me, or I’ll be upset. I want my spouse to behave this way or that way, or it upsets me. Or, perhaps someone I love disappoints me and I turn away in hurt. There is no room for any of this in the love of God for us and we love others for his sake. We love deeper, stronger, more fulfilled. My love is without reservation for others when I love others for the sake of God. I love them so much as to let them go and be free for their call of discipleship. I don’t cling to them. Love is to set free and not for my selfish purposes.
My vocation, my work, whatever that work is, grows in dignity if we work for the sake of God.
I love my priesthood. But when I love it for its own sake, I can mess it up completely. Case in point: over the last couple of weeks, our attendance has been down. My reaction? Initially; what am I doing wrong? Why is this happening to MY church, MY vocation? But place God at the center and it realigns itself.
In my daily prayers, several times, I have been presented with words telling me to not be discouraged because of lack of results; God is in charge. And conversely, don’t rejoice in results of my ministry. God is the one in charge. God brings people. Not me. God changes hearts. Not me. I will be a better priest, a better Christian, a better person if I situate my love for everyone and everything else in the context of loving God first; loving God more.
That’s why we say Love God first, then Love Others and then Make Disciples.
June 21 - Deacon Homilies
Happy Father’s Day
Jer. 20:10-13 The Lord is with me
Ps. 69 I pray to you, Oh Lord.
Rom. 5:12-15 The gift. the Grace of God
Mt.10:26-33 You are worth more than many sparrows - Fear not
Today’s Gospel is a commissioning of the apostles to not be afraid. In so many ways this is also a reflection on the Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon, Jesus says that we are blessed when we are poor in spirit; when we seek righteousness, and not to fear those who will in fact persecute us because of our faith in Him.
At the heart of our faith is the beating heart of the Risen Jesus. A religion without a heart is cold. It may have rules, but without love rings hollow. Jesus became a man like us, in all things but sin. It is this heart of Mercy that intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father.
As St. Paul says, it is sin and death can NOT separate us from God. (Rom.8:38) Physical death is a natural reality. Death is a doorway into eternal life; either with God or away from Him. The destination depends on how we respond and cooperate with God’s Grace. As Jeremiah says, “The Lord IS with me”. That means God, the Holy Trinity is with us in all our circumstances. How do I respond to His gift?
Over the past 100 days, the Covid – 19 virus and the riots around the world, have given each of us cause to reflect and pray about how we treat one another. We may ask why this is happening. David in the Psalms 10 and 22 asks “why”, but also asks, “What am I to do? (see Psalms 23:4, 27:1, 56:4, 118:6) What is God calling me to do to bring His peace to the world?” This is not easy to answer. Jesus says not to be afraid, because we are worth more than many sparrows. Yet, that may not be comforting words to some people, because they are only words.
Jesus, the fruit of the womb of the Blessed Virgin May is fully man and knows our human experiences, except sin. (CCC 239) He knows pain and suffering. I’m willing to bet, He has hit is thumb in the carpenters’ shop, at least once. He knows what death is about through the passing of Joseph, his foster father. He knows death even more fully, because he accepted it and entered into the tomb and rose from it. He knows everything and tells us 16 times in the Gospels, to” Not Be Afraid”. “Be Not Afraid” was the call sign at the beginning of the pontificate of now St. John Paul II. Those words call us to look at our fears and allow the Grace of God to take those fears away so that we can fully be his missionary disciples.
We are all baptized and many of us are confirmed into the life of Christ Jesus who says we are to take up our cross and follow. Many of us may see this as dealing with physical or emotional pain, and not consider the pain of omission – What we fail to do. As baptized Christians we are called to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s redemption and salvation for all the world. This means putting our belief, our faith into action. St. James tells us that faith without good works is dead. Again, I go to the commissioning given at the Sermon of the Mount, wherein Jesus says, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” Being a peace maker is not always easy, even within the bonds of family members. People don’t want to know what you know, until they see that you CARE. People need to see that you are Committed to a life with integrity. That you Advocate, that is, speak-up for life and those unable to defend themselves. That you Respect people whether rich or poor, from another nation and culture with kindness and courtesy. And the “E” of CARE stands for a life lived seeking Excellence, seeking a virtue driven life.
One of my favorite poems from Ralph Waldo Emerson about life says,
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
We can proclaim and build the kingdom of God when we cooperate with the Grace of God, because Christ has by the gracious gift of God the Father taken away our sin, conquered death, and stands as advocate at the right hand of the Father.
Therefore, as St. Augustine said in his book, City of God, (pg.690-691) “as children of God, we are responsible for promoting the Tranquility of God.” We have after all, been given much and much is required of us who seek the righteousness of God as His kingdom.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit . . .
Somebody said: “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re NOT out to get you!”
In Jeremiah’s case, as we hear in our 1st reading, he wasn’t being paranoid, his fears were well founded. He said:” I hear the whisperings of many, there is terror on every side!”. The truth was that people really were talking behind his back.
Jeremiah payed a price for going against the culture! He unapologetically pointed out that Israel was guilty of gross sin. The problem was the Israel would not admit that, even though they had been worshiping idols. Things got so bad, they were sacrificing their children, placing babies into the red-hot arms of the metal statue of Baal. In our “anything goes” culture today, people greatly resent the very idea of “sin”. The ONLY sin, is to say that something is a sin!
In the gospel, Jesus has some advice for us: “Fear NO one.”. You don’t have to worry about winning any arguments. You don’t need to concern yourself about being right. At the end of the day, the truth will come out. Every man and woman will know for themselves where they stand with God.
If you’re going to fear something, get it right! Don’t fear what other people think of you. Don’t fear not getting all the “gusto” out of this life. The only thing to rightly fear is spiritual death. To be cut off from God, with no hope of ever entering into his love, is worse than anything this life can dish up! At our death, all of our sufferings are done. For those without Christ, their suffering has just begun.
Today, may we appreciate the gift of being invited into God’s fellowship. Today, may we say: “Lord, forgive me for those areas in my life where I have sinned. Let me enter into fellowship with you and keep me there.”
Everyone loves going to the zoo and I bet the first thing you want to see when you go to the zoo - -are the sparrows! No? Probably not. Maybe the owls or parrots or eagles or even the peacocks are much higher on your list. They are certainly more entertaining and beautiful. These are birds that, when you look at them you say, how majestic! How beautiful are the colors and impressive the wing span!
So why did Jesus talk about sparrows? After all, they are pretty ordinary birds, a little gray and brown in color, they really don't do anything special. They are very plentiful, even in Jesus' day, they were just ordinary birds. You could purchase two of them for just a small coin. So, why in the world would someone want to purchase them? You see in Jesus' day; people would offer a sacrifice of a lamb or goat but only if they had money. If you could come up with just a little money maybe you could afford a dove. Yet, as a last resort, you would purchase a sparrow.
Jesus is telling us, that we don't have to be colorful or majestic followers. It's ok if we are just ordinary people - - living ordinary lives! We can go about our routine day, going to work, going to school or shopping at Kroger. Yet in this ordinary life we are loved by Jesus! And the important thing is, we can do little things every day to show Jesus how much we love him.
This is why Jesus tells us to not be afraid, that we are worth much more than many sparrows. To put this in prospective. A mom's and dad's love for their children exceed love for anything else. And a grandmother’s and grandfather's love for their grandchildren exceed even that love. Yet - - how many of us know how many hairs are on our child's head. But, Jesus knows! In the scripture we are told, Jesus knew us before we were formed, and now we hear he knows every hair on our head. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves, and even with this knowledge he still loves us. No matter what we do Jesus is there, ready to forgive and to love us.
When I was little there were things I was afraid of one thing I remember was being afraid of the dark. I bet some of you remember this also. Yet, once the light came on the fear left and I felt relieved. Now, as adults we also have fears. Perhaps our darkness, our fear may be, the fear of having nothing, the fear of losing our job or the fear of being lonely or the fear of not being accepted by others. We could have a fear of Covid 19. But, Jesus tells us, these are not the things to be afraid of. These are things that may hurt the body but they cannot hurt the soul. He actually uses stronger language, instead of hurt he says only be afraid of things that can kill the soul. The one who can destroy the soul, Satan himself. The deceitful one. The one who can make sin look attractive. Don't be fooled!
Just as Jesus sees when a sparrow falls to the ground, he sees us when we are brought low. When we allow ourselves to be manipulated by the world. When we allow bigotry, hate, and racism control our lives. We must stay strong; and with the grace of God resist those things or persons who can kill our soul.
We just celebrated Pentecost, when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit; the Spirit of Truth. And with this truth he sent us peace; peace that only Jesus can give. Allow the gifts of the Holy Spirit to guide our lives.
Than we celebrated The Most Holy Trinity, and we were told that God sent us his Son, and that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. And last Sunday, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. He gave us himself, the Eucharist to sustain us, and to provide the grace to resist everything of the world. And what does he want in return? For us to love him and proclaim his word from the housetops. The second great commandment is to love our neighbor as our self. To tell everyone we meet that Jesus loves us and we love him. We should never tire of telling Jesus how much we love him. Our actions speak to others before our words are even used. I want to leave you with a quote from Saint Therese of Calcutta:
“Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.” Mother Teresa.
June 14 - Corpus Christi
Throughout salvation history, a blood sacrifice has been offered to “seal the deal” of covenants made between God and His people.
The covenant of Noah is formalized by the slaughter of clean animals and birds.
The covenant of Abraham was sealed by animals divided in two and the fire of God passing between the halves.
The covenant of David which promised an heir of the Davidic Kingdom to perpetually set upon the throne inaugurated many years of animal blood sacrifices in the Temple.
God unites Himself to His people through blood offerings.
And so it went for centuries. But there was always something lacking; something missing.
The missing part was the ascent of the people to honor the contracts; the covenants made. Although God was faithful, His people wandered away from the agreements.
Finally, God is determined to make a lasting covenant; an eternal agreement with His people as He tells us in Jeremiah:
This new and lasting covenant is sealed with the blood of His only begotten Son, Jesus.
And the way that God places Himself within us; not just in our hearts, but in all of our being, is to offer us, through the Eucharist, the body, blood soul, and divinity of Christ.
We partake of the reality of God within our very beings and God dwells in us. Just as God dwelt in the Temple of David, He now dwells in each one of us. We each become temples of God and we carry Christ out into the world, each one of us a living Tabernacle.
And we partake of Jesus at a meal; the Eucharistic meal here at Mass.
When God created Adam and Eve, they dwelled in a state of “natural grace”. God desired to feed them with His love. Just as we feed our mortal bodies with food to grow and mature, the soul, the image and likeness of God is fed with the spiritual love of God.
But then, in a bad meal, we fell from Grace. Our first parents grabbed at the offerings God provided for them. They attempted to appropriate; to make their own, that which was God’s; to become like God themselves. The offense, the Original sin separates man from God.
God immediately sets out on a great rescue mission. Through Noah, He starts again. Through Abraham, our father in faith, He calls a people unto Himself. He delivers Israel out of Egypt and offers them a meal of human food; the Passover meal which calls for His people to remember the great works God had provided. In the desert, manna, bread from Heaven fed Israel, water from the Rock quenched their thirst.
Then, finally, we are called to the Heavenly banquet, the Eucharist, established by Christ. “This is my body, take and eat.” “This is my blood, take and drink.”
Jesus takes the Passover meal which recalls God’s deliverance of His people from the slavery of Egypt and transforms it into a deliverance from our slavery to sin.
The Eucharistic feast is given to us by God Himself and then it is sealed; ratified by the blood of Jesus on the cross. The feast offered at the Last Supper; confirmed by blood shed on the cross.
And for all times forward, we partake of God Himself, body, blood, soul and divinity. Blood is not splattered on us as Moses did when the covenant was made with the tribes of Israel. Blood is not offered to God as on the altar of the Temple when countless numbers of lambs were slaughtered and their blood poured out for sin. Now, God’s blood is made part of us. We participate in the very life-force of God. We are united to God by blood. We become blood brothers and sisters in the most literal sense of the word.
In the earliest dietary Kosher laws, blood is never taken by a Jew. No wonder this was a hard saying and many walked away. But Jesus does not back down and say, I’m just being figurative. No, he reinforces his message, “drink my Blood; eat my flesh or you will not have life within you”.
However, later in the Bread of Life discourse in chapter 6 of St. John’s gospel, Jesus says, “Since [he] knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, ‘Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.’”
We are not to be cannibals chewing on the fingers and toes of our Lord. His body will ascend to the Father. So how do we “eat his body and drink his blood? The action is called transubstantiation. Trans, meaning across; then substances: across substances. Everything has substance.
Every chair shares in the substance of “chairness”. Every human holds the substance of humanness. But each individual chair; each individual human’s substance is presented with accidents. This chair is accidently brown, white, recliner, etc…. I am accidently 5’8” tall. I accidentally have blue eyes. These accidents do not change the substance but identify each as an individual.
All bread has the substance of bread. But different breads have different accidents; Some is accidentally white, brown, flat, round. The bread we use at Mass is accidentally round with the stamp of a cross.
Through the actions of the priest, when the bread used at Mass is elevated, at that moment, the substance of the bread is pushed out and the substance of God moves in. The accidents remain. It still looks, smells, and tastes, like bread, but we consume the substance of God.
And that’s a good thing. If the accidents of Jesus took over the accidents of the bread, we would have a life sized Christ standing on the altar and we would really be cannibals, consuming Christ’s humanity. Soon, there wouldn’t be any physical body left.
The reality of bringing the substance of God into our beings is often overlooked because we have become so use to this miracle. We must focus each and every time we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, that Jesus, himself becomes a physical part of us. In him, we live and move and have our being.