Monday, October 26, 2020

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time


In the Gospel according to Matthew, we can picture Jesus surrounded by Pharisees, who are hounding him, somewhat like aggressive reporters. 

A clever lawyer tries to stump Jesus: Which is the great commandment in the law? A tricky question. Why? Because the law had 613 do’s and don’ts. 

Jesus answers simply by reciting the daily Jewish prayer, the “Shema” (“Hear!”): You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Then Jesus startles his listeners by adding love of neighbor. We love God to the extent we love our fellow human beings. 

Yes, we often forget: behind “appearances” people reflect the image of God. A disciple of Jesus sees the likeness of God in our fellow human beings, no matter how challenging that might be.

 Matthew 25 connects love of God with love of our neighbor: “when I was hungry, when I was thirsty” you did something. We can’t say we love God and yet neglect our fellow human beings.

You may have seen the classic play or movie “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

 In younger days, wrote the author of Genesis, Joseph went through betrayal by his jealous brothers and then slavery in Egypt. Yet despite these misfortunes, Joseph was ever faithful to God, trusting in God's unconditional love.

 Eventually, the powerless slave became the powerful administrator in the court of the pharaoh of Egypt, who made Joseph master of his house, ruler over all he possessed.

 Not only did Joseph remain faithful to God, but he also forgave his brothers for what they did to him.

Ultimately, Joseph's faithfulness to God led to a life of great fruitfulness. Our life too should be immensely fruitful, because the Spirit of God lives within us. We are “temples of the living God,” writes Paul. Just as God dwelt in the Jerusalem temple, so now he dwells in us by his Spirit. The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

I close with a paraphrase of one of my favorite quotes:

 We shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that we can do or any kindness that we can show to any human being, let us do it now, let's not defer or neglect it for we shall not pass this way again. With this advice embedded into us, our love of God will shine through our love of our fellow human beings.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Twenty-Ninth Sunday In Ordinary Time (aka World Mission Sunday)

It’s World Mission Sunday with special bible readings. Saint Paul’s letter to the Christian community in Rome gives a call to action: How can people believe if they have not heard? People must be sent to preach the good news. 

In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples to be missionary: to “Go therefore and make disciples of all.” We are the hands and feet and eyes and ears and voice of the Living Christ until He comes again in glory.

So, who are we, this world-wide Catholic community of over 1.3 billion disciples of Jesus? 

First, we celebrate the awesome presence of Jesus Christ—our way into eternal life, our truth who scatters falsehood, and our life who overcomes death. We retell the stories of Jesus in the Gospels; and celebrate the presence of the living Christ: especially in our fellow
human beings, temples of God; in the Bible, a privileged form of conversation between God and us; and in liturgical signs like water in baptism, bread and wine in the Eucharist, and oil in confirmation and the anointing of the sick. The living Christ through the power of the Spirit lives within this Catholic community, within you and me, and the energy and vitality of the Spirit can fire us up to do wonders for God.
 

 Another thing I like about belonging to this world-wide community of disciples is that we are all family: sons and daughters of God our Father as Pope Francis highlighted in his latest letter “Brothers and Sisters All.” Oh yes, we debate this or that, but don’t all families. An argument can be a good sign that we care enough to disagree about something. We are a global family that stretches back to early Christianity: a family that will continue into this millennium and perhaps many more. This family lives under a huge tent or umbrella. Yes, some are good and others are downright dysfunctional. Yet we have to strive to do the right thing, despite lapses. We must continually forgive ourselves and one another, let go of burdens of guilt, let go of bitterness, and get our lives back on track. Every day is a fresh start into eternity.

And this Catholic family takes a stand on peace and justice. I think of the letters of recent popes, and shelters, hospices, soup kitchens, literacy programs, immigration services, hospitals and schools all over the world that our Catholic community sponsors.

Think of international efforts such as Catholic Relief Services, Caritas and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, to name but a few.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, we should be proud to belong to this world-wide Catholic community with a mission. It is indeed a community which remembers and celebrates the presence of the living Christ: a family that strives to do the right thing.

May Christ inspire us today to continue to be energetic missionary disciples of good news, co-workers with God in this world, doing all the good we can. In all the ways we can. In all the places we can. To all the people we can. Whenever we can. As long as ever we can.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time


In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus tells a story about a king who invites his so-called friends to a banquet. But they decline for one reason or another. So, the king says: forget these fair-weather friends, and
go out and invite whom you find

 Yes, God invites to the banquet of eternal life all people. Still they have to be "clothed" in a right relationship with God. As Pope Francis writes in his new letter “Fratelli Tutti” (brothers and sisters all), Jesus asks us that we “become neighbors to all,” and not simply decide who is our neighbor.

“Food for thought.” It's amazing how a meal can bring people together. Think of the wonderful things that often take place at our tables. Families celebrate important transitions—birthdays, graduations, etc.—around a table.

Some of you may have seen the classic movie “Babette's Feast.” It was an academy award winner. It's also a favorite film of Pope Francis.

Babette, a French chef, finds herself in a small town where its strict and puritanical religiosity makes people hard and  judgmental, afraid to enjoy anything or anyone. Babette unexpectedly wins a lottery and spends all her winnings to prepare a huge, delectable feast for the townspeople. As they begin to taste and enjoy the meal, they start to communicate good-naturedly. They even dance! The meal transforms them into warm-hearted human beings.

 

Babette models self-giving, and elicits joy in people, a foretaste of heaven. The toast at the end captures why, I think, Pope Francis likes the movie. Here's a paraphrase of the toast:

“There comes a time when your eyes are opened. And we come to realize…that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence…and receive it with gratitude.”   

As I reflected I thought of family relationships. 

Happy families have a good, solid sense of togetherness. They care about one another. They keep in touch; they’re hospitable, concerned about elderly relatives and youngsters. 

 They celebrate milestones together like baptisms, birthdays, confirmations, graduations, marriages and anniversaries. They take responsibility for chores; they set times for meals where they share good news as well as not so good. They keep their word, and thereby build up trust in their relationships.

Notably, they know how to distinguish behavior from judgments about a person. Avoid negative name-calling that undermines a relationship. In the end, we may agree to disagree. That's okay.

The following recipe will help sustain relationships:

 Take time to think…it's the source of power. Read…it's the fountain of wisdom. Pray…it's the greatest power on earth. Love and be loved…it's a God-given privilege. Laugh…it’s the muse of the soul. Work...it's the price of success. 

And do good things for others…it's the road to happiness and the key to the heavenly banquet.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Who are the Disciples of Jesus?

                                                             Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

 In Sunday's Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about two sons. One is smooth-talking but doesn’t do what he’s asked. The other may argue but eventually does what he’s asked. 

Jesus makes his point: sinners initially said no but then had a change of heart and pursued a God-like life. But the religious leaders, Jesus noted, say yes to God but continue unrepentant in self-centered attitudes and behaviors.

So, who are the disciples of Jesus? Those who ask forgiveness, have a “change of heart” and do the will of God as best they can in their daily routine. Think about it.      

If you’re working to pay the bills, but making time to be with your family when they need you, blessed are you. You may never own much, but heaven will be yours.

If you are overwhelmed caring for a sick or frail loved one but you try your best to make a loving home, blessed are you. One day your sorrow will be transformed into joy.

 If you happily serve at a soup kitchen, shop for the housebound, help a youngster with a school assignment; if you befriend the uncool, the unpopular, the lost, blessed are you. Count God among your friends.

If you refuse to take shortcuts when it comes to doing what is right, if you refuse to compromise your integrity and ethics, refuse to rationalize that ‘everyone does it,’ blessed are you – you will triumph.

 If you try to understand the perspective of the other person and find a way to make things work for the good; if you’re frustrated because you are loving the unlovable and forgiving the undeserving, blessed are you. God loves and forgives you.

 If you spend time listening and consoling; if you manage to heal wounds and build bridges; if others see in you goodness, graciousness, joy and serenity; if you can see the good in everyone and seek good for everyone, blessed are you. You are the face of God in our midst.

My friends, Jesus exhorts us to be like the son who eventually does what’s he’s asked. Yes we may complain now and then, but do the will of God, as best we can figure it out, as we go about our daily activities.

 Remember: today is the only day we can count on to do the right thing.

 Rejoice and be glad, Jesus says. In the end, heaven is yours.