The first reading for today sees the Jews under the occupation of Greece. Alexander, the Great forcibly annexes Israel as a Greek territory. Kings, sympathetic to Greece, are positioned to rule over the Jews. The Greeks bring along with them the language, traditions and religions of their culture. The seven brothers we read about today, lived under the reign of Antiochus IV, or as the Jews called him, Epimanes, the “mad one”. Antiochus ruthlessly imposes the Greek culture and religion upon his subjects. The Temple was defaced with statues of Greek gods and individuals where violently forced to abandon their practices for the sake of Greek ideals.
One man, Mattathias, led a revolt against the Greeks. Resistance grew and finally Mattathias’ son, Judas Maccabeus took up the task to lead what is known now as the Maccabean Revolt. Their stories are gathered together in the Book of Maccabees in the Bible. If you are just beginning to explore the Bible, the Book of Maccabees is a good starting point; exciting stories about the reclamation of Israel and purification of the Temple. This purification is recalled every year with the festival of Chanukah, coming up soon.
Today, in the first reading from the Book of Maccabees, we see seven brothers, and their mother brought before a Greek official and ordered to eat pork; an unclean meat as ascribed by Jewish law. The brothers would all rather die than break the law. As these martyrs are killed, their utterances reveal a belief in an afterlife. One brother states, "… you are depriving us of this present life,but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever.” And another brother, “It was from Heaven that I received these [hands]; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again." The seven brothers believed in Heaven. If nothing were beyond this life, they would have been mad to lay down their lives for nothing.
We hear the stories of the Bible and contextualize them as events that happened long ago, but not today. Not in our world; not in our lifetime. But martyrdom for the sake of religion is very active right now. People giving up their lives for the sake of Christ and the Church.
A few years back, in 2015, Egyptian Catholics were kidnapped in Libya, where they had gone to look for work, by ISIS forces. The kidnapped were held for many days and told to renounce their Christian Faith.
All of them refused. And so, they were taken to the Mediterranean beachfront, and dressed in orange jumpsuits (orange jumpsuits were the dress of Islamic prisoners held at Guantanamo). The setting was deliberate. Their blood would, by way of the water, mingle with the blood of their leader, Osama Bin Laden, reposed in that sea Once again, they asked their captives to renounce their faith. In refusing, their captors cut off their heads. We are told that many of these martyrs simply spoke the name, Jesus, as they died.
20 Christians were beheaded but 21 bodies were found. That 21st man was a co-worker of the martyrs. This man was not Christian himself, but by observing the conviction and courage of the other men, he proclaimed, “my God is their God” and for this, he was also killed. Martyrs of the present day.
Modern day Martyrs mirroring the seven brothers of the Old Testament with both stories holding in common the fact that each person expects a life after this. If there were no Heaven, nothing after this life, if this world ended with nothing ahead, then the martyrs would then, surely be crazy.
The psalmist professes the afterlife in the responsorial psalm we heard today “Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings. But I in justice shall behold your face; on waking I shall be content in your presence.” Remember the ISIS martyrs speaking the name of the one who promises a return to the Garden for those who Love him.
Seven brothers in the Old Testament; seven brothers now in the New Testament as husbands of one wife. After the death of each, another brother marries. A political and religious group, the Sadducees did not believe in life after death. They held only to the first five books of the Bible as the only valid scripture; the Books of Moses; the Pentateuch. Using scripture, they bring a puzzle to Christ. Deuteronomy 25:5-9 says, “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.” And so, one by one, the brothers die and the next brother marries the widow. “Teacher…. at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.” This is a mockery of the notion of a Heaven and a challenge to the Savior. If this passage is true, how can you grasp a practical understanding of an afterlife?
The Sadducees take scripture to disprove an afterlife so Jesus reaches into scripture to disprove them. “That the dead will riseeven Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out 'Lord, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; he is not a God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."
As to Heaven, Jesus says, “Those who are deemed worthy to attain …. the resurrection of the dead…. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God,” because they are the ones who will rise
Then there’s Jesus, who died for us. If there had been nothing past the grave, then he would surely have been mad.
“How does God see the world?
The Book of Wisdom tells us, “Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.” A crumb on the kitchen counter when we slice fresh bread. We sweep it away without thought. We wouldn’t pay any attention to a tiny drop of dew either. However, God, who sees the entire universe as a tiny crumb, as being that insignificant, has mercy on all.
Wisdom goes on to say, “For you [God] love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.” Now, dwell on that; God loves all things that are. God doesn’t make anything that he hates! Our understanding of and relationship with God is anchored by this one thought. God loves everything he makes; me, you, everyone, everything.
Since God is all perfect, he does not need the world. God has everything needed within himself. Our world doesn’t add anything to God’s greatness. God is Love and out of love, God creates everything to be the recipient of his love which radiates out. You could say that everything has been loved into being. We are held in existence by God. We remain as long as God holds us in his thought. A song only lasts as long as the singer sings it. When the singer stops, the song stops. If God were to stop thinking about us, holding us in his love, we would be gone. We are literally held together by God’s love. God is continually creating us from second to second in his love. The Book of Wisdom tells us, “… how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?” Everything we see is being loved into existence by God.
Love is willing the good of the other. It is not willing our own good through the other, but for the other. Here is God’s relationship with the world. Because he doesn’t need the world, all God can do is to will the good of the other, of us, “ [because] you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.”
As humans, we often see love as seeking the good through the other.; if you do this for me, I’ll love you, if you are kind, smart pretty, funny…. I’ll love you) But God is different, only sending out love. He doesn’t need to be loved because he is love. So, we can say that God doesn’t love things because they have wonderful qualities but things have wonderful qualities because God loves what he makes. God does not love us because we do good; we do good because God loves us.
The Book of Wisdom begins looking at creation from God’s view and then brings us to a human perspective, “But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls!”
Rest here. Meditate on this.
God loves everything at once but God specifically loves my particular soul. Me. He knows everything about me, what I’m doing, done or fighting with. My soul would not exist if God did not love me; constantly, from moment to moment, loving me into existence.
Take all this out of the realm of theology, academia or philosophical debate. It is personal and real. God loves every soul in a personal and real way. God is constantly with us! I tell the students in Faith Formation that there are two things to know above everything else; Jesus in truly real in the Eucharist and Jesus, God is your best friend.
There are those, unfortunately who see God as “out to get us”; the angry, ever present eye. That’s how we, as humans, act. You hurt me, so I’ll hurt you. I’ll make you pay!
But God, who is love, “rebuke[s] offenders little by little, [to] warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe…” And although we do apologize for our sin because we are human and feel badly, all through the Gospels, the stories of Christ, we never hear an apology requested. Go and sin no more. No matter what we do, God never stops loving us.
Then we follow from being loved to accept the commandment to love others. When we look at God, or even another human, the first thing to come to mind, should always be love. Love (God) creates everything for, with, through love.
With all of this in mind, we look at Zacchaeus.
If a tax collector was bad, (in league with the occupying Romans, skimming money off the top, cheating), so then, Zacchaeus, a Chief Tax Collector would be very bad. Still God holds Zacchaeus’ existence in love. God loves Zacchaeus.
How does God deal with this child who doesn’t follow his laws?
Zacchaeus is straining to see God as we all do. And what does Jesus say? Does he say, “come down sinner”, or “you are a terrible person”? Rather, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house. “Stay at his house,” a reference that Jesus is moving into Zacchaeus’ heart and soul; “O LORD and lover of souls”.
Zacchaeus becomes repentant "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over."
Love first, repentance second. It was not because of his repentance that he was loved. Jesus showed his love and then repentance followed.
Place anyone in the sycamore tree, Your worst enemy, a thief, murderer, atheist, impoverished…. Or anyone you don’t agree with. Jesus shows us today that love comes first.
That’s our example: God does not love us because we do good; we do good because God loves us.
All Saints Homily - Deacon CJ
Blessed – Happy Feast of All Saints to each of you!
In June 2010 while speaking to priests, Pope Benedict XVI, said “There is no majority against the majority of the Saints. Saints are the true majority in the Church and we must orient ourselves by the Saints.”
The Church is not a democracy, a society of voters. The Church (“UR”) is the body of Christ. We are children of God and His Covenant with us. Saints are those who have come to grips with this reality and focused on living the covenant of Caritas, which IS Self-Donating Love. The Saints found God, even while HE was looking for them, calling them to Be Holy as He is Holy (Mt.5). The Saints are those who found what is essential, the Pearl of Great Price, the treasure in the field. They sold what they had and bought that pearl in the field. SAINTS ARE the corner stone of all mankind. The earth is reborn and renewed by the lives of the Saints and example of life devoted to Christ.
This means they cooperated with GRACE. No human effort can transform a soul and give it the life of Christ. Saints said to Jesus; to Jesus in the Eucharist, “I Love You more than Mother and Father, more than life itself. Only the GRACE and embracing the Cross of Christ can save and sanctify the soul and make the church grow. This is not a method or pray. Pray is a component, but it is growing in Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding in the reality of WHO Jesus IS.
Do you have struggles in your life; have aches and pains of body, mind and Soul?? The Saints ARE people who struggle with God like Jacob, wrestle with Him the whole night long until the rising of the SON - “S O N.” It is through the struggle that our understanding of what it means to be a “child of God” comes to each of us. Sometimes Saints act like Jesus and say, “Father let this cup pass, But not my will but yours be done . . . On Earth as it is in Heaven.” It is through the struggle that we come to say, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” It is a unique struggle.
Each of us has a unique finger print. Saints have a unique finger print. They are the spice of life of Christ as Children of God. Saints recognize that God looks “Beholds You.” Saints are filled with gratitude for the Friend who LISTENS to them. They share an intimacy with God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Any relationship requires the investment of time. A young man sees a young lady and she responds to his attempt at a conversation. Their relationship grows when the two share the thoughts of their minds and hearts. They see each other, they Listen to each other, and then respond to one another. By word and action their relationship grows to the point that where they want to spend the rest of their lives with the other person. Such is the case with souls in love with Jesus. They stop what they are doing, Look at Him Listen to Him and make a greater and greater decision to spend their lives with Him. We might call this a Life of Prayer.
It IS the Saints who demonstrate to us and ask us to Love God, Love Others, and Make Disciples.
Sunday, October 27
As the story goes, a rich and proper Englishman comes into the church. “O Lord, I am nothing.” A second proper Englishman comes into the Church, “O lord, I am nothing.” A poor, old, rough, and dirty Irish farmer comes into church and slurs, “O God, I’m nothin’.” One Englishman turns to the other and says, “look who is calling himself nothing.”
In the gospel message for today, we hear about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Now, in our mind, since we have heard this Gospel passage so many times, we reverse the situation. We see the Pharisee as the bad guy. Actually, the Pharisee is portrayed as a stereotype, a stereotypical “good guy”. The Tax Collector is the stereotypical “bad guy.” In Jesus’ time, the Pharisee was spiritual. He said his prayers and followed the beliefs and teachings of his faith. The Tax Collector? A thief.
The Pharisee is at home in the Temple. He’s confident; comfortable being in the presence of God. He is doing all the right things. Then we hear “The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,” He thinks he is directing his prayer outward towards God, but it is absorbed by his pride. The prayer is to confirm himself, not praise God. “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity --greedy, dishonest, adulterous …. The Pharisee knows his faith, he knows what he supposed to do and not do; the precepts of a Good Jew. He KNOWS but is not applying wisdom. He wants good, but the rules only bring him harm. The rules of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are designed to awaken humility. Its humility that opens us to love God. and neighbor. For the Pharisee, the best thing, prayer; communicating with God, becomes the worst thing. Prayer doesn’t bring him closer to God, but self-pride removes him from God.
The stereotypical bad man is the Tax Collector; a hated thief. He is not in his usual surroundings. It has probably taken a lot of effort for him to walk into the Temple. Prayer is uncomfortable. The Tax Collector walks in and stands “…off at a distance.” He can only dredge up, “'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'” God is open to the humble heart.
The “bad man” in the story, went home justified; set right. Here, prayer accomplished what it was designed for. The “good man” feel way short. The Pharisee is not set right. The Pharisee has focused on others while the Tax Collector focuses on himself. Pride is a dis-order. We see ourselves as good, or even ourselves as god. The Tax Collectors sees that God is God and he is not.
Spiritually Prideful? Or Spiritually Humble? How does this relate to me? How do I enter into church? How do I come in to the Real Presence of Christ? Non-chalantly? Like I own the place? Jesus is truly here. Do I use my knowledge of the faith to put another person down? Do I see myself as better than? The parable sees good and bad, BOTH coming to God; everyone welcome, a place for everyone. No one is better than me; I’m not better than anyone else. In prayer, do I focus on myself or God?
You know, that prayer of the Tax Collector is a wonderful prayer. My mother taught me a version of this prayer, a prayer known as the Jesus Prayer: Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on me. She prayed this often. Frustrated, angry, fed up, the last antique in the house destroyed by a ball, Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner. Quietly, under her voice or when she said it out loud, we knew mom was made enough to pray. A prayer to set her feet, and ours straight…. and our minds back on the right track: justified.
Doesn’t it sound silly to say, “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on those other people who sin?” Doesn’t it sound silly to say, “O Lord, I am nothing, but at least, I’m better than someone else.”
Sunday, October 13
The first reading for today is about Naaman’s cure from leprosy. We have a short selection from the reading form Second Kings, but there is more going on. Let’s look at the back story of today’s reading:
Naaman is a powerful warrior, the commander of his country’s army. Through his abilities, he brought victory to Aram, a country located in present day Syria. But as powerful as he was, Naaman suffered from leprosy. In one of the army’s raids, a little girl was captured. She was made a slave serving Naaman’s wife. Of all the powerful physicians and healers of Aram, the powerful warrior humbled himself to listen to this little girl. “If only my master would present himself to the prophet in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
Naaman relayed the girl’s message to the King of Aram and the king said, “Go. I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” With a letter of introduction in hand, a sizeable retinue and gifts, Naaman sets out to see the King of the Israelites.
The Jewish king was skeptical. A great warrior from another country enters? Leprosy? Yeah, right. He is probably here to gather strategic information; to ultimately cause trouble. He is a spy for his own devious purposes. Naaman is sent away.
Elisha hears about the issue and sends word for Naaman to come to see him. Naaman, gears off towards the great prophet. However, the prophet does not talk directly to Naaman, he sends a servant. The powerful Naaman surely should have been seen directly. “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand there to call on the name of the LORD his God, and would move his hand over the place, and thus cure the leprous spot.” But the instructions are simply “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan…” “‘…are not the rivers of Damascus …. better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?’ With this, he turned about in anger and left.”
Then again, not the powerful, but his servants reason with Naaman, “My father, if the prophet told you to do something extraordinary, would you not do it? All the more since he told you, ‘Wash, and be clean.”
Now, we come to today’s reading, “So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times, according to the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.,”
Then Naaman is convinced. “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”
A nice story, but there’s more. Scripture always lends itself to our benefit.
There are several lessons for us to learn from Mighty Naaman.
Lesson 1: We come to God through our weaknesses, not our power, wealth or pride. We all have some blemish, something that humbles us, something that holds us back; addiction, pornography, even physical pain, something we seek to “get rid of”. Doctors and medicine have been tried so we finally come to God for help. Naaman came to God because of his affliction.
Lesson 2: We must all slow down and allow ourselves to be open to the voice of God. Naaman had probably consulted his own authorities of medicine, and healers; those who were powerful and learned. However, the true remedy game by way of a slave girl. The lowest on the social ladder, containing no power. Naaman took that “still, small voice” that we must listen to for true healing.
Lesson 3: You will always be blocked when we seek healing.Naaman enters a foreign land and is met with judgement and suspicion of others. But this doesn’t stop him. He endures to find a cure for his ailment. We must persevere and never give up.
Lesson 4: Pride blocks us. Humility compels us to obey. Elisha doesn’t bother to come out and speak to Naaman. A servant relays the message. Naaman sees this as a moment of indignation. Naaman must overcome his pride to pursue his cure. St. Bernard tells us that the three most powerful virtues are: humility, humility, humility. Pride is what led Adam and Eve into the Fall. The source of most of our spiritual problems is pride. Wash in your muddy river? The rivers of my homeland are just as good if not better. It can’t be that simple. The great prophet surely should come out. “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand there to call on the name of the LORD his God, …Again, servants, not the powerful, tell him to obey. Pride is set aside. Humility compels him to obey.
Lesson 5:All of us are called to right worship, worshiping the right God. Naaman ends up worshiping the true God. When we sin, we fall away from right worship. Pride drives us away from God.
So, Adversity and weakness often bring us to God. Who do I listen to? How does God speak to me? What do I do when healing is blocked? Do I persevere or quit? Am I humble enough to do what God wants me to do and let healing bring me to Right worship?
What does all of this sound like to you? It sounds to me exactly like the Sacrament of Confession: be humble enough to realize we sin, bring your failures to God, name them, claim them, let God handle them, then throw them away (because the sacraments do what they say they do, sin is gone…. God forgives and forgets.) Then, listen to what God is telling you to do. Persevere to do penance and participate in worshiping the true God.
The Sacrament of Penance exists for two reasons. To rid of sin and to provide us with the Sanctifying Grace to endure in doing the good. God forgives our sins. I have never forgiven a sin. God does that. But naming your issues to another person who is trained to offer spiritual advice, gets everything out. You hear the words, “you’re forgiven”. Yes, you can go directly to God for forgiveness and if Heaven opens up and God says, “you’re forgiven”, that’s great. If that happens, please let me know.
Can’t remember the prayers? That’s what a priest is for, to help you. I’ll remind and get you through the sacrament. Embarrassing? Too difficult? People will pay professional counselor hundreds of dollars to list their most intimate details in order to get things off their chest, out into the open and figure out how to go forward. Confession is free. We change the oil in our cars, change the filters in our furnaces, and check the batteries in our smoke detectors. Confession is a time to check yourself. Naaman’s leprosy was cured by a very simple activity of washing away the disease in the Jordan river. Confession: a simple way to washed away sins, cure us and strengthens us to stay close to Christ; to Love God, Love Others and Make Disciples!
Sunday, October 6
Jesus talks about faith today. Faith is a complete trust in something or someone; believing in something you cannot see. There are many things we all have faith in: I believe in the sun when I don’t see it; every day another sunrise. I have the faith that the plane I am flying in will not fall, even though I don’t know or see the pilots and I have the faith that when I go to sleep, I’ll wake up.
All of us gathered here, in this building have faith in a God whom we cannot see. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here. We have the faith that God is always with us. We also share the faith that, through the gift of the Mass, Jesus is not only spiritually present, but also physically real in our midst; body, blood, soul and divinity. The Mass brings the Divine among us with the word, and communion; being in union with Christ in a real and true way.
Near the end of his mission, Jesus gathered His followers in an upper room. He took bread and wine, blessed them and gave them to His disciples: “this IS my Body”, “this IS my Blood”. Continue to do this.
After His death and resurrection, the followers gathered to re-enact the Last Supper. Gathering in their homes, they prayed, sang, and consecrated bread and wine. “This IS my Body” “This IS my Blood”. These Agape meals or Love Meals, were celebrated in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, the languages of the people gathered.
St. Peter travels to Rome, then the center of the world. The Church is centralized, now headquartered in the Eternal City and utilizes the Roman’s structure of communication and roads to spread the faith. The meals of the Holy Land translate into the language of the people in Rome, Latin. At the end of the meals, the minister tells the people to go and live the life of Christ, in Latin, Ita Missa est. It is finished, go and live the faith in the world. Missa: mission. We spend ourselves throughout the week and come to the Mass to re-charge for the next week. We re-fuel as we nourish ourselves with the Word of God and consume Jesus making ourselves living tabernacles to “go” and take Christ out to the world. “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.”
Here, at Mass, we start off with a procession. We love Jesus so much, we begin with a parade to symbolize that all of us come to the Supper of the Lamb, That’s our life’s work, to come to Christ, to rest with Him in eternity, to return to the Garden.
We begin the Mass with the sign of the cross. We bless ourselves. We ask God to be with us as we trace the sign of Christianity. We also remind ourselves of the reason we are here. To know, love and serve God in this world so as to be happy with him in the next. We touch our heads to remind us to know, our hearts to love, our shoulders to carry the cross and serve Jesus in the world.
Then we call to mind our sins, and as the priest says the words of absolution; May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins……all our venial sins are dispensed to prepare us to hear God and then to consume our Savior.
We praise the Trinity with the Gloria, beginning with the words the angels proclaimed at Jesus’ birth. Glory to God in the Highest!
Then the opening prayer, called the Collect is said. All of our prayers are collected and we center ourselves on the specific theme of the Mass. The priest extends his hands, who within the context of the Mass is acting in persona Christe; in the person of Christ. The priest raises his hands to place himself on the cross. The Lord is with you, but he is with my spirit, since the spirit of Christ is in our midst.
We sit to listen to God’s word. As proclaimed by the lector, when read within the context of the Mass, the voice of God is speaking to us. The Gospel is the voice of Jesus as his words and life are acclaimed. The homily, the words of the priest or deacon, spoken within the context of the Mass are guided by the Holy Spirit to speak to each individual as the Spirit sees fit. Often, words not spoken by the homilist, but rather words the Spirit wants you to hear.
We gather our gifts. Not only financial gifts, but the intentions of each one of us. The intentions, laid on the altar, offered to God as the priest offers the bread and the wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ. The priest says a blessing over the bread; then the wine. The words are translated from the Jewish blessing of bread and wine: Blessed are you Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread, the wine we offer you. Then the priest washes his hands as the priests of Israel did to be cleansed to offer the sacrifice.
Next we proclaim the words of the angels in heaven. We join our voices to Thiers. Heaven opens up, and though we do not see, our faith tells us that we unite with everyone in Heaven. The entire Church is present as we sing the same words echoed before the throne of God: Holy, Holy, Holy.
Now, the pinnacle of our faith, the first and foremost article of our faith comes about. We watch as the bread becomes the Body of Jesus, the wine becomes the Blood of Christ. Jesus is in our midst. We affirm our belief as we proclaim the Mystery of Faith. The Mass brings forth, in time, the moment of Christ’s suffering on the cross as he offers himself to the Father. This is not Jesus’ Second coming, but it first coming brought forward in time for us. As the bread and wine are elevated and consecrated, the true presence of Jesus once again offers himself to the Father. God, receive your Son as he once again offers himself to you for us. God, the Father sees, over and over, his Son offering himself as the sacrifice for us. That’s why God is patient with us. Jesus once again pleads our case.
The entire mystery is affirmed by our great Amen and we reverence Christ, now present, as we pray the prayer he taught us.
We share the peace of Christ, who is actually with us, to forgive those who have hurt us and to demonstrate our love for one another.
As Christ was broken for us, we break the Eucharist as we proclaim that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Here at Nativity, I arrange the Eucharist in the shape of a fish, the ancient symbol of the Christian and a symbol of food and nourishment. Then, the words of the Baptist which originally announced the Savior are echoed as we actually “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. ‘
Them we take Christ. His presence mingles with our humanity, His blood is in our veins as we once again seal the covenant between God and Man. We seal our agreement to be part of the family of God as we become “blood brothers and sisters”. We are living tabernacles taking Christ out into the world.
This is the Bread of Life. If someone provided a fine steak dinner for you, would you eat with gum in your mouth? This is the bread of life. Would you eat a fine steak dinner as you walked to your car, without thanking anyone? Would we be sure to comment on the fine meal we just ate, and tell others? This is Jesus. How should we prepare, approach, receive and meditate on the fact that Jesus is with us; really, truly,
We close Mass with a prayer to ask for mercy, embolden us to live the faith, remind us of the great gift given to us. Then, Go! Enriched by the Food of the Angels, live the life Christ gives you.
Faith is a complete trust in something or someone; believing in something you cannot see.
Sunday, September 29
Go into Nashville. Take any exit and come up to a red light. There you will find someone begging for money. I have helped some of them in the past, but most of the time, I just sit with my window rolled up. I go through all of the excuses in my head. “Why don’t they get a job like everyone else?” “They’ll probably use the money for drugs or alcohol.” How does this scenario make you feel? It makes me feel uncomfortable. Add on my Roman collar and it gets worse.
The Gospel for today is meant to do the same thing; make us feel uncomfortable. It is an irritant, but an irritant designed to lead us toward doing the right thing; like the irritant that enters an oyster. That irritant forces the oyster to produce a pearl.
The rich man is described as wearing purple and feasting on fine foods. For us, that’s like saying he wears expensive Armani suits and eats only at the finest restaurants. He is wealthy. He has everything he needs... he also has everything he wants. The rich man is not given a name. Sometimes the story is referred to as the story of Lazarus and Dives, but Divesis just Latin for” Rich Man.” A name would indicate a point of connection to others but as wealth often does, the rich man is closed in on himself. He is unaware of the suffering around him. He has closed himself from God; off from others and only interested in his own desires.
While the Rich Man is clothed in purple; Lazarus is clothed in sores. And Lazarus is not some beggar at a stop sign, Lazarus is positioned on the front steps of the Rich Man’s house. Whenever the Rich Man leaves or comes into his house, he literally has to step over Lazarus.
Lazarus dies and is accepted into that great open space we call Heaven, the open arms of Abraham. The Rich Man ends up in what we call Hell. The Rich Man cries out for help, but it’s too late. “Abraham, send Lazarus to warn my brothers.” “Lord, if only they would know!”
They have Moses and the prophets. They have the ability to know what they should do. They won’t listen. Even if they see Lazarus back from the dead, they wouldn’t listen to him.
We too, have the same knowledge of Moses and the prophets with the added statement by Jesus, who has indeed come back from the dead. Love one another as I have loved you. No exceptions; love one another… a drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, and food for the hungry.
The first reading today is from one of those prophets; Amos. “Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory,stretched comfortably on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall!” Amos, who rails against the indifference to the needs of the poor. Woe to us who have more than we need while some have nothing. Jeremiah, Isaiah, and all the great prophets call us to be attentive to the poor. They remind us of the danger of isolating ourselves in our wealth.
The Social Teachings of the Church are rooted in the traditions of the Rich Man and Lazarus and the prophets’ cry for the poor. God is the Creator of all things, and as such, He owns all things. We are entrusted to the things we have …entrusted to care for and use wisely the things we have. Everything we have is given to us to use but they ultimately belong to God. We don’t control; God does. We are merely caretakers of what we have. Stewards of creation. But the purpose is to use what we have in cooperation with God’s plan. Whatever we have been given, is finally given back when we are through with them only to hope that we hear, “Well done good and faithful servant!” Thomas Aquinas states that we have a right to the ownership of our private property, but in regards to our use of our private property, the Common Good must always be paramount.
So, how do we use our gifts, our blessings, our wealth, how should we handle what we have beyond what we need. Our gifts from God are a blessing to provide for ourselves, but we cannot isolate ourselves and be unaware of those who are Lazarus in our lives.
Now money isn’t bad and no one is evil because they have money. The poor do not achieve Heaven simply because they are poor. Nor do the rich see condemnation simply because they are wealthy.
Why has God permitted me to have this my gifts, my wealth? There it is. That’s the question to ask. How do I use the gifts that God has given me?
But there are so many Lazarus figures we meet in our lives? If we know that individual, it can be a personal encounter, but again, there are so many. The seminary taught me to never give money to someone I don’t know, but rather give to the agencies that care for the poor and there are several: Catholic Charities, Nashville Mission, Room at the Inn.
Lord, if only I had known….... We all have the capacity to know.
Sunday, September 22
The dishonest steward today is the CFO of his master’s accounts. When we trust someone with our money, we have to have complete confidence with that person. We work hard for our incomes and to have someone misuse or misappropriate those funds is a very grievous matter.
The steward today has squandered funds and he has been caught with his “hand in the till”.
Make and accounting for yourself, gather up you loose ends and leave! But where can he go; what can he do?
At this time in history, there were no social safety nets. He would have to find work… someplace somewhere. Now, who is going to hire him? I wouldn’t let him manage my money. He tells us that he is too old to dig ditches and too proud to beg. So he “cooks the books”. This one owed 100, make it 50. That one owed 500, make it 250. And so he sets up a sort of “good ol’ boy” system to be rewarded by the additional folk who are also cheaters.
His previous boss likes this. Not that he is being cheated out of money but rather, he appreciates his cunning and resourcefulness. Jesus commends his example, not that he appreciates his immorality, but rather his shrewd business dealings.
Whenever our money is endangered, we seem to hop into action. What else can I do to raise funds? Where else can I find the financial resources for my welfare and my family? How can I fix my financial issues? There is an immediacy about this. It has to be done now. It has to be done quickly.
Do we have the same immediacy in regards to our faith?
Imagine that I am a dishonest steward of my faith. That shouldn’t be too difficult. I’ve been found out by God, the Master, that I’ve squandered by faith.
Do I jump up immediately to fix this issue, to procure a good outcome, to be certain of the future?
Do I stress out about it? Look for remedies?
Money is important to me. Is my faith?
If I lose my money, what will I do?
If I lose my salvation, what will I do?
Sunday, September 15
Deacon CJ's Homily
In all the readings this weekend we hear about things that are lost and found. What happened to Israel in the desert? They took their eyes off God. They quickly forgot the abundance God demonstrated to them, by bringing them out of slavery in Egypt.
When they took their eyes off God, they needed to fill the void they’d created. We are no different. When we take our eyes off the Father, we like the prodigal son look to fill life with wealth, pleasure, power, or honor, or a combination thereof.
Our society is no different. I believe we each go through this wandering in the desert of life seeking something to fill it. In some ways our society today is in a state of perpetual adolescence - seeking a place or a thing to fill us. The Israelites in the desert were going through a RITE OF PASSAGE. They rebelled against it. They did not want to WORK their way through the trials with God’s Grace, but rather wanted a quick fix to happiness.
Our society - American Society does NOT have a RITE OF PASSAGE. The closest Rite of Passage we have is going through military boot camp for 3 months of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual trial, in order to form a good functioning society that has a goal. It costs. There is a death of the self and the life of the community; a NEW FAMILY – if you will.
Nativity Parish has taste of a Sacramental RITE OF PASSAGE. The next generation, raised by you – Parents and Grandparents - know their prayers so they can participate in the Liturgy and thereby keep their eyes on the Father. Within this family of Nativity we see some of the Abundance of God in the hands and hearts of our religious education teachers. To a certain degree they share the knowledge and wisdom of the Faith and more importantly of their Relationship with God with the next generation. It is a high calling and I applaud those who provide this witness.
Please know, that because of the love YOU demonstrate in this family, by the handshake of welcome before Holy Mass and the offering of the Kiss of Peace, others want to join Nativity and be part of the body of Christ. This year we have over 20 adults and 6 Juniors/seniors in high school in Nativity’s RCIA program. Some of them are sitting with us today.
Please, those in RCIA, please stand. Please share the BEAUTY of your faces with those in the back of the church. Thank You.
Last week, Fr. Jerry was installed as Our Pastor - Our Shepherd. As he said, “We have a contract: I pray for you and you pray for me.” That also means, that WE Pray for each other. The reason I asked the RCIA members to stand was so you all will not only greet them, but pray for them and welcome them into a deeper relationship with Nativity and therefore with Christ Jesus. Nature hates voids. If and when we have one, we look to fill it with something.
It is a sad known fact, that within two years after being initiated in Holy Mother Church, nearly half of those CONFIRMED, no longer attend Sunday Mass. Why??? Because they were not welcomed; They were not integrated into the LIFE of the Parish. They like the Prodigal SONS, Yes, Both of them are prodigal, took their eyes off the Father who gave abundantly to both of them. But when they turned back and looked upon the Father, they no longer felt the void in their hearts.
Recently Archbishop Aquila from Denver said
"The invitation to lift up our hearts at the most important part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is an invitation by Jesus through the voice of the priest to give our hearts to the Father, as He gave His life for us. We prepare to make our hearts and lives a total self-gift to the Father as Jesus made Himself a total gift to the Father for us on the Cross."
For the past month or so, Mr. Greg and the Choir have been singing a post communion song, telling us to Keep our Eyes on the Cross. I think that theme is throughout the readings this weekend - Keep our eyes on the Lord. When we do, God will create a clean heart for us, because His Grace is Abundant.
When we keep our eyes on the Cross of our Salvation, then we will all proclaim,
Glory be to The Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit . . . . . . . . . +
Sunday, September 8, 2019
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,wife and children, brothers and sisters,and even his own life,he cannot be my disciple. Boy, that’s pretty harsh. Jesus told me to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Think of those who had heard Jesus, those who were follow Him. Then you hear you’re supposed to hate those closest to you? What is Jesus trying to say here?
My first reaction would be, “just who do you think you are, Jesus”
Can you imagine anyone else saying this to you? Think of other spiritual leaders. Mohammed, unless you hate your mother and father? Perhaps love the Koran and its teachings more than anything else…
Buddha; Unless you hate your mother and father? Perhaps love the 8-fold path more than anything else….
Or in recent times, the late Billy Graham; hate your mother and father to be my disciple?
But Jesus does say this. Another way to say what Jesus said is; “love Me, your God, more than anything or anyone else.
Now Jesus was either right or He was a lunatic. He is either who he says he is or an imposter. But we believe, by faith that He is God and as such is worthy to be loved above all else. “Jesus answered them, ‘Even if you do not believe my words, believe in the works I do.” Was there ever another who raised himself from the dead, turned water into wine, and who rose up to Heaven before witnesses?
Let’s go at this statement another way. Are you happy? Do you know other people who are happy? Not just with outward appearances, all of us are good at putting on a happy face for others, but are you content? Are you at peace? Do you know many people who are at total peace and contentment?
Most of us, myself included, say I will be happy when… When my promotion comes through and I don’t have to deal with these people; when I’ll have power and be in charge. When, I accumulate enough money, buy a house, a new car. When, I locate someone who will be my girlfriend/boyfriend. When I secure companionship. When….
What is the focus of my life? Is it something other than God? Is it power, sex, money, pleasure….? What makes us happy?
Victor Frankl survived Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering and Türkheim concentration camps. When he was released, he wrote a book, Man’s Search for Meaning. He noted that there were happy people in the camps. Stripped of all rank, status, money, pleasure…. there were people who were happy! Their focus was on God and hope, not on the things of this world.
True happiness is aligning yourself with God. God is the focus of our lives. Hope in other things will drive you from that happiness and leave you miserable. If there is ANYTHING…. ANYTHING that you hold more important than God, you will not be happy.
Sunday, August 25, 2019
Someone comes up to you at the mall, or knocks on your door with the question, “are you saved?” What is your answer?
God, who is Love, creates us, out of love. We were created by Love, to love and be loved by the One Who is Love; God. We are placed in a garden. Everything we need is provided for us. We are meant to live in a sort of “Original Grace”; friends with God. We are even given the dignity of “Free will”. Because Love is a decision. True love can never be commanded, that would make us slaves. We have to choose to love and Free will allows us to choose. But also, in Free will, the decision is made to disobey.
The penalty? Leave the garden, work for food and housing. By our Free will, the relationship between God and us is fractured. The way back to the Garden is forbidden. An angel is placed to guard against our return. Original Grace is replaced by Original Sin. All of us inherit this fault. We live in a damaged world. We suffer. The transgression against God is rectified by Jesus; true Man/true God. Since man disobeyed, only a man can pay the price due. Only a God can ascend to the Father and plead our case for forgiveness.
Rather than everyone of us paying the price for sin, Jesus, in His Humanity assumes the punishment delegated to us. Jesus suffers death. The original sin which every human inherits is paid for by the perfect Man; Jesus. Then, in His Divinity, Jesus ascends to the Father. “Father, forgive them.” And there it is, Salvation. No one could enter the Garden until now. Jesus’ work unlocks the gates back to the Garden. We can be saved from sin.
“He descended into Hell?” Not the Hell of damnation, but the place all good souls went to wait for salvation. The Jews call it Sheol(Shadowlands). He delivers salvation to all the good people and they can now go home, back to the Garden.
We did nothing to earn this salvation. It is offered to us free of charge. We can’t purchase salvation and we don’t “earn” salvation. We our granted salvation, this freedom from Original Sin, by way of the Sacrament of Baptism. A sacrament is an outward sign of Jesus doing something on the inside. The sacraments do what they say they do. In this case Original Sin is washed away and we are given that free gift of salvation.
The Old Testament hides the New Testament and the New Testament reveals the Old. In Genesis, the waters are tamed by the breath of God, bringing order from chaos. God begins again as the Great Flood washes the earth. Israel is delivered from slavery through the waters of the Red Sea. In the Temple, the priests wash before offering sacrifice. The prophet Elisha tells Naaman to wash away his leprosy in the waters of the Jordan. Ezekiel tells us that water will cleanse God’s people. In the New Testament, John calls sinners to repent and wash themselves clean with the waters of the Jordan river. Then, Jesus was baptized. Not that He needed to be washed clean of Original Sin, but that the waters are blessed by His Divinity.
But we baptize as infants, as children, who don’t know what they are doing. Shouldn’t we wait to let each decide for themselves? Do we let infants decide if they want to have a needed surgery or not? Do we let children decide if they should see a doctor when they are sick? We want our children to be Christians. We want our children to be healthy.
Salvation stays with us once it is given. It is never taken away. So, the idea of once saved always saved is correct. However, in our Free will, we can turn away from our salvation. Sin can deny us of our salvation. But how do we regain that salvation? Say you’re sorry. Just turn around.
Am I saved? Yes, I am.