Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 5th
Joy and happiness of the Easter season continues with the Church’s liturgy and each Sunday that joy is reflected in the three scriptural excerpts that are placed before us. If we mediate on this reality, we should have a great sense of unity with our fellow Christians because these texts are being read simultaneously all over the world. Not only are we united East and West but we are dramatically united in terms of today and yesterday. I am referring to the fact that each week we get a scene from Acts of Apostles and if we look carefully at the texts, we will see something that is very important and something that is very much with us today.
And on this Sunday we view from 2,000 years later a dramatic and important new insight that the apostles gain after being guided by the Holy Spirit. Up until this point, every member of this tiny community of faith has been Jewish and comes straight out of the rich Jewish tradition. In today’s reading, we see the leaders of the Church realizing that faith in Jesus Christ is for all people. Peter is the leader in grasping this all important reality. When he meets Cornelius, a Roman military officer, he instructs him in the message of Jesus and while that was happening the Holy Spirit descended upon all those who were listening.
They were all GENTILES and Peter asks and implicitly answers an awesome question. What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit from being baptized with water? And so they were. A new missionary thrust of the Church was underway.
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February 10th, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s readings present us with a scriptural foundation for the natural missionary thrust of the Church. The Church was brought into existence as a community of faith by the will of Jesus Christ. The Church holds tightly and courageously to that faith. From the very beginning our Lord made it known that it was not a treasure that was to be kept safely in a box. It was to be spread out into the world. “Go ye therefore into the whole world teaching them…”.
Who was to do that? Well, those who had been blessed with the faith, they have a responsibility having received that gift to attempt to share it. For this, let’s go back to today’s reading from the 6th chapter of Isaiah. Here we see Isaiah living through a dramatic vision, a scene in which he himself sees Yahweh, the Lord, and Isaiah is terrified. Isaiah admits his own unworthiness. Why should he receive such a gift? He cries out that he is unclean and he has unclean lips. Suddenly, an angel comes from Yahweh with a burning ember and touches the mouth of Isaiah and announces that this suffering has cleansed him of all guilt. Then the voice of the Lord says, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah answers, “Here I am Lord. Send me.”
If you hold on to our holy Christian faith, have been baptized and formed in that faith, you have weaknesses that may block you from effectively transferring it to your brothers and sisters. However, don’t worry. You have been purified by the death and resurrection of the Lord. When you hear the voice of the Lord asking, “Whom shall I send?” you should consider answering with Isaiah. “Here I am Lord. Send me.”
If one of us worked for the president or for the governor, or I guess for that matter, even the mayor, one would ordinarily be very proud of that fact. How proud we should be and how enthusiastic we should be when we realize that when we are working for Jesus of Nazareth we are working for the Lord of the universe. It is not sinful pride. It is very reasonable and logical.
Let’s go to work!
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February 3rd, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Thanks be to God for the Lectionary. I have been a Catholic priest for approximately 57 years and if you allowed for a couple of weeks of vacation or times on Sundays when I was not preaching, I probably averaged Sunday sermons 40 times a year. That is roughly 2,200 times to stand in a pulpit and try to present the message of Jesus Christ to a congregation. That is a lot of preaching but it is really not difficult at all. The Church’s wonderful system of a liturgical year, rotating seasons on a three year cycle with three texts for every Mass, gives us more than ample material. On occasions over the years I have had clergy complain that they didn’t know what to preach about on a particular Sunday or at a particular place. To me that is a mystery.
Today is a perfect example. We have two marvelous concepts placed before us by the Church in its liturgy. The first is St. Paul’s magnificent letter from I Corinthians about the nature of love and that while all virtues are good, love surpasses them all.
The Gospel except is from that dramatic scene in the 4th chapter of Luke where Jesus says to the congregation in his hometown synagogue after reading an Isaiah text announcing the coming of the Messiah, “Today the scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” There you have it! The first statement by our Lord himself that he is the Messiah. Jesus’ listeners took him very seriously and so accused him of claiming to be divine and then attempted to kill him. Read those two texts together. Everything to be said about love in human relations and about the mystery of the incarnation that God so loved the human family that he came among us and assumed a human nature.
There is always plenty to think about, talk about and pray about when it comes to our faith!
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For most of the last century, the American people and its government have been struggling to resolve a pressing need and an apparent conflict. The need is a very real one and it casts a shadow over life in the United States. The conflict flow from the natural responsibility of a people, whether it be family, tribe or nation, to convey its value system to each new generation and our current inability to do that. Throughout history, all groups have learned to do this and thus preserve their values, traditions and mode of living. The United States does not know how to do that.
All true values are ultimately based on a moral foundation. On reviewing the relationship between religion and public education, the Supreme Court has slipped back and forth several times occasionally creating a small opening for more action, but usually making it ever more difficult. Back in 2007, Texas attempted to deal with this issue by enacting a law allowing public schools to teach bible courses as a separate elective but the law demanded that the courses are required to be fair and unbiased. This is not an impossible goal. The bible is the most important book in the history of much of the world. The bible has had tremendous influence not only in millions and billions of individual lives, but in the flow of history in the public area. The bible has been powerful and often involved conflict and even hatred. This means that since it is such an important book, it would be possible to teach where it came from, what culture influences affected the bible and, in reverse order, what the bible has affected in the flow of history.
The educators had good intensions but their efforts have not been completely successful as yet. Last week, the Texas Freedom Network released a study showing that among the 60 school districts that have taken advantage of this new state law there was widespread failure to comply with the law requiring courses to be fair and unbiased. I am not surprised. It would take a very disciplined teacher to utilize a book that primarily reflects God’s activity in history and not let his or her faith show through in the classroom. In other words, the professor is not to reveal that he or she actually believes the bible, actually holds to the idea that the events recorded in it are really true. I understand that the State of Texas doesn’t want Baptist teachers clearly teaching the Baptist faith or Roman Catholic teachers endeavoring to instruct their public school students in Catholicism. However, I don’t think that the personal faith of the teacher should be a reason for making that person ineligible as a teacher or professor.
Much has been written over the last two generations about the fact that the state cannot endorse teachers supporting one particular faith and I think that most Americans solidly agree with that. On the other hand, is there not a valid question as to whether or not atheism or at least agnosticism have become the established religion of the United States of America. I wonder.
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I don’t know if you noticed it or not but last Sunday’s readings had us back in the mountains again. The Prophet Baruch was challenging God’s people to put aside mourning, worry and misery and exalt in the power of God which surrounds all of us.
“Put on the splendor of glory from God forever…Up Jerusalem, stand upon the heights. God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low and that the age old depths and gorges be filled to level ground that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.”
Remember that the prophet was making these encouraging announcements while God’s chosen people were suffering in terrible straits. His point then, and it is true today, is that God is in charge. Ultimately, God’s will will prevail and those who have placed their faith in him and lived according to his message will enjoy an infinitely perfect life beyond the mountains – beyond the mountains!
Many of us currently find ourselves in the valley but we can see the top and when we arrive there we will be able to see forever.
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December 9th, Second Sunday of Advent
We are moving forward during this very holy and thoughtful season of Advent. This is the time of preparation, the time of getting ready to receive and celebrate the birth of Jesus. But often proper preparation is difficult.
On November 30th, I was some distance out of Austin and pulled over into one of those highway filling stations and coffee shops. When I sat down guess what I heard? “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.” Ugh. The secular world certainly loves Christmas because it represents an enormous percentage of the gross income for the whole year. All they hear is the ring of the cash register. It is not the gentle voices of angels heard on high.
We can’t win the battle with the secular world as far as the music on the radio or television set is concerned. However, we can build within the context of our own families an Advent attitude, an Advent atmosphere, an Advent with determination to properly prepare and celebrate the great feast of our Lord’s birth.
Today’s first reading is one of joy and triumph even in the midst of difficulties. Jerusalem is seen as a city on the mountain and God is using Jerusalem to call his people together from around the world. The Gospel provides us the example of John the Baptist, “Make ready the way of the Lord. Clear him a straight path.” Maybe our Christmas list and our to-do list create hills and valleys that block our journey to the Lord. There is nothing wrong with a dominant celebration of Christmas as long as it doesn’t block our vision of what we are really gathering for, what we are really singing about, what really is the cause of our happiness and joy.
Joy to the world indeed, but principally it is the joy that comes with deep, solid, committed faith. God loves us.
Jesus is about to appear!
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November 11th, Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Once again, we have a lovely set of readings that dovetail very neatly around a particular theme and today that theme is generosity. The authors who pulled the lectionary together after the Second Vatican Council toss over the entire bible turning to find excerpts or selections that tied together to convey a particular message. The usual method is that the first reading would contain a basic idea that is being developed in today’s liturgy and the 3rd reading of the Gospel would amplify it from the teachings or actions of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Today’s first reading relates a wonderful story of the prophet Elijah. He points out that she has nothing, virtually nothing except the makings of one tiny meal for herself. Nevertheless, she makes that meal and Elijah blesses her with an unlimited food supply far into the future. The message is plain and simple. God rewards generosity.
The Gospel builds on the concept of generosity with Jesus directing his apostles to gaze at the awesome response of a destitute woman to the needs of the temple upkeep. The heavies of the synagogue were making sizable gifts but this gray headed old lady drops in two copper coins. Jesus immediately points out to the apostles that her tiny gift is greater than that of those who sit at the head table during a building fund drive. They gave from their surplus wealth which is also a tax deduction. She gave when she had nothing.
Charitable giving in our modern world is somewhat convoluted. Most people don’t really believe that they have ENOUGH money so any time they throw in a $50 or write a check they consider themselves as being generous. Maybe they are but that generosity is offset by the tax deduction. Giving today is also complicated because there is an endless series of needs and demands and prudent people have to divide gifts on the basis of their own priorities and the needs that are present in the world around them. I think the criteria should be that does it hurt a little? When you review your own family finances and look at everything you have given away, all the causes to which you have given, did they total out to being hurt a little bit? If the answer is no, then I think that you and I should begin with those who get the buildings named after them. On Judgment Day we are going to be a lot safer with the little old widow.
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All of my adult life I have been impressed with the practicality of God’s word in the bible. Coming from a priest, that may not be a very surprising statement because after all it is GOD’S WORD. However, I mean something else. I have always found that the sacred texts have an unbelievably easy applicability in concrete situations around us. A good example of this will be seen in the next few weeks where we will see St. James speaking words that the whole world needs to hear. However, the citizens of the United States need to hear James’ words in a very special way as our nation struggles to choose a president for the next four years.
Yesterday’s text dramatically points out that we are all God’s children, everybody is important, but the poor are especially important because they have been especially loved by God. James blasts the hypocritical tendency of his age to consider wealthy people to be more important than the poor. Such discrimination flies in the face of the Church’s 2,000-year-old tradition.
The Church has made many mistakes through the centuries. All of us are sinful and some of our leaders have at times seemed to be at total variance with the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, one thing the Church has never lost sight of and that is its concern for the poor, the sick, the vulnerable. They are a very special people. They do not need to be treated merely equally but to be treated evermore sensitively than those who have the resources to provide for themselves.
In the near future, our country will be struggling with a new national budget and there are two very different approaches on how to use the nation’s resources. I would suggest that we go back to St. James. The second chapter provides a marvelous guide of how our country is to allocate its resources. St. James tells us that 1% and 99% is not the proper formula.
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August 5th, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today is one of those Sundays where the sacred texts come together to form an almost perfect collage. We begin with the book of Exodus about eleven or twelve hundred years before the birth of Jesus. The chosen people have been wandering in the desert slowly making their way towards the land that had been promised them by Yahweh. The people are complaining about inadequate food supplies and the Lord directs Moses to tell them that He will now feed them with bread from heaven and a miraculous form of bread will descend from the skies.
Over a thousand years later, Jesus finds himself in a similar situation. He is confronted by many critics demanding a sign as to who he was. Jesus makes an awesome promise; namely, that their forefathers had consumed bread from heaven while starving in the desert, but that source of food satisfied only for a few hours. Hunger returned quickly. Jesus then said an amazing thing.
“It is my father who gives you the real heavenly bread. God’s bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
He then goes on to say,
“I, myself, am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry. No one who believes in me shall thirst again.”
Baptism gave us a sharing in the life of Jesus Christ. The Eucharist nourishes that life as we journey towards our eternal destiny.
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I have great love for the Catholic Church but because so many of its members are human beings, there are always signs of blemish and failure within the community and in the relationship between the community and the larger society. Any reasonable person takes that fact for granted. However, there are so many wonderful aspects of the Church that I like to periodically sit down and discuss one or the other of them. Today, I would like to mention the fact that concern for others, especially the weaker and most vulnerable members of our society, is a paramount obligation of the followers of Jesus.
The Good Samaritan is not a cute story from the New Testament. It is a job description for people who are baptized into the Church and want to know and practice their faith. Prayer is tremendously important. One of the reasons that God brought us into existence is to worship Him, to reflect His infinite glory. Knowledge of the faith is a great gift and everyone should pursue that knowledge to the extent that they are able. However, those two realities are not enough to be a truly faithful follower of Jesus.
After Jesus finished the parable of the Good Samaritan, it was a simple and direct command that reaches across the centuries and touches each and every one of us.
“Go thou and do likewise!”
That is an order, my friends. We are to pick up the people who are beaten by life, people who have been robbed by injustice, people who are weak and unable to take care of themselves. I am so proud of the fact that the Church does an extraordinarily good job in this area. I realize, of course, that every Christian church, in fact all good humans, share in this responsibility, but I do think that it is possible that the Catholic Church has capitalized on the concept to a greater extent than others. We have covered the world with clinics, hospitals, schools for the poor, educational programs and struggles on behalf of freedom. It is a beautiful sight and I am proud. I only wish that the wonderful efforts that we have undertaken in these areas could be expanded evermore.
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