When Moses came down from the mountain he had with him the tablets with God’s ten major ordinances – the Ten Commandments. The most important, of course, was that God’s people were to worship Yahweh faithfully and honestly, but down the line a bit there was the one that we now call “VII” – Thou Shalt Not Steal. We all know that stealing is wrong. To intentionally take something that is the private property of another person, is almost in cases a moral evil. I say in almost all because there are certain circumstances which would allow a person to make quick decisions in order to survive; for example, food when faced with hunger. In general, it is always wrong to steal.
But some kinds of theft are worse than others. Walking into a liquor store with a handgun in order to empty the cash register is theft and if you don’t get killed, you certainly can go to jail for a long period of time. You may not understand this but there is a certain honesty in that kind of theft. You have money, I want it and if you don’t give it to me, you are going to get hurt!
However, let me tell you of a worse kind of theft. Put yourself in the executive offices of a fast food place. It doesn’t matter whether it is McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Burger King. You see the hourly charts coming in reflecting that Gene Jones or Raul Martinez worked 52 hours at the minimum wage. No one can actually survive on that in an urban setting. Why should those two guys who sweated for so many hours get so much money? We will just say that he worked 40 hours cutting him out of overtime. Stealing from the poor is, in my opinion, the very lowest form of theft!
A few weeks ago the United States Department of Labor announced the results of a survey indicating that the scope of wage theft in this country is stunning. The practice of stealing wages, commonly called “wage theft”, is a national epidemic. It eats away at the livelihood of already underpaid workers. Eighty percent of surveyed fast food workers experienced off the clock violations, meaning that they were required to work without pay before punching in and after punching out. Forty-eight percent who worked more than 40 hours in a week did not receive overtime pay. Wage theft has ramifications beyond the employees who are cheated. We suffer when wage theft becomes a way of doing business. Law abiding businesses can’t compete with wage cheats who shave their operating costs by breaking the law. The less money that wage earners bring home, the less money they have to spend on basics, such as food, clothing and household necessities depriving local businesses of much needed consumer dollars and hampering our economy. When that happens everyone loses.
The Department of Labor has studied and documented that this heinous crimes. Now let’s give them the charge of cleaning this utterly cruel form of theft up as quickly as possible.
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December 8th, Second Sunday of Advent
Every one of us has seen tree stumps in the ground many times. When we do, we ought to stop and think about the symbolism contained in a stump. At first, it looks very grim. Prior growth, foliage and life itself seems to have been cut away. A number of times in my life I have driven through areas where large forests of wonderful trees were being harvested for timber. It is a grim sight but do not be discouraged. We have learned to compensate for that by immediately moving into reforestation.
The importance of this idea comes before our eyes on this Second Sunday of Advent. Isaiah has been looking around and seeing the terrible destruction that has befallen Israel. The ordinary thoughtful person would not see much chance for hope or optimism. But Isaiah does. He looks into the future and sees a TREE STUMP! Guided by Yahweh Isaiah promises his people that
“a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse and
from his roots a bud will blossom.”
What a beautiful sentence. Isaiah is not devastated, he is not hopeless. He sees the stump but he also sees the shoot, the sign of new life and he tells us the wonderful things that will flow from this shoot because this shoot is a person, the awaited Messiah.
“The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of counsel and strength…
he will judge the poor with justice
and decide a right for the lands afflicted.”
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November 10th, Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Throughout human history, there have been countless cases where men and women have heroically suffered and/or given their lives for what they believed in terms of their religious faith. Today’s first reading provides us an agonizing but meaningful example of that reality.
The scene takes place in the 2nd century before our Lord was among us. The Jewish people have not enjoyed freedom for many years. They had been part of Alexander’s empire and when that collapsed they were under the Seleucides, the ruling family replacing Alexander in that part of the world. The Seleucides were Hellenists and despised the Jewish faith. They waged incessant war against Jewish belief and practices. This story was a teaching tool for the Jewish families giving a great example that if one was faithful to Yahweh, they would enjoy eternal life with God forever.
In the story, there is a heroic woman standing there with seven sons and one by one they are tortured in a really horrible manner. But without exception, they clung to their faith and gave up their lives.
You and I are blessed to live in a time when we have freedom of religion and no such challenge besets us. Or is that completely true? We are certainly not threatened with burning irons and having our hands cut off, but we do actually have small temptations that give us the opportunity to exercise discipline, fairness and justice.
I am almost embarrassed to use this as an example but there is truth to it. Do we not frequently find ourselves in conversations where third parties are being maliciously maligned, disparaged or ridiculed? The law of charity and natural truthfulness should motivate us to defend a person who is not able to be there for self-defense. But regretfully, we maintain our silence and even join in the ridicule. Not a great heroic act, is it? But if we cannot exercise courage and fairness in these simplest situations, we may not be able to do it when faced with really terrible persecution.
Martin Luther did not like the book of Maccabees because it shows such strong concern for the afterlife. These brave children and their heroic mother were willing to face evil here because they were so committed and joyful about their faith in eternal life. This book is not contained in the bible used by most Protestants, but we are blessed to have it still and to enjoy this powerful reminder of eternal life.
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September 15th, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s first reading describes a dramatic scene, an important event. God is angry, very angry. His people are journeying slowly and with great difficulty towards the Promised Land and time after time in moments of fear or discouragement they fall back into the pagan idolatry of their neighbors. At the moment Moses is up on the mountaintop negotiating with God. Yahweh informs him that he ought to immediately go right down into the valley because his people are about to be destroyed.
We see the awesome reality of Moses dealing directly with God but he is not afraid. He argues, he prays, he implores and his expectations produce results. He reminds Yahweh of how He has helped these people again and again on their painful journey through the desert. Will He now wipe them out and erase the great work of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? He reminds Yahweh that Yahweh, Himself, had promised to make of them a great nation. Won’t he be going back on his word if he destroys them now?
“So the Lord relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on Israel and his people.”
Remember, Abraham prayed in the same way when Sodom and Gomorrah were about to be destroyed. In the Old Testament, God’s people are conscious of his great love for them but frequently see him as awesome and terrifying. It was not until the coming of Jesus that we are able to experience the infinite gentleness and love that is manifested through His human nature. God is pleased with us when we express our dependence on him and when we intercede for our needs. When we do so we are expressing both dependence and faith simultaneously. Both are good qualities and necessary for prayer.
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August 25, 21st Sunday of the Year
Jesus Christ came among us with a message of joy, hope and salvation. These are tremendous gifts and we should be forever thankful but to receive them we must cooperate with our Lord.
In today’s Gospel, we see St. Luke continuing to describe the long journey that Jesus is taking towards Jerusalem. Physically and physiologically, it is an uphill climb as he walks up from the mountains as followers peppered him with questions. Needless to say, many of these so-called followers have clearly expressed their rejection of his message. The response from our Lord is really challenging all of us. If we don’t accept the invitation, we may find the door locked. If we don’t appreciate his generosity, he may not hear our cries of complaint.
That is serious enough but let’s take a quick switch back to the first reading from Isaiah. Isaiah is preaching to God’s people at a time of great trial and suffering. But he sees through all that to the time when Yahweh will gather nations of every language and they will all become one enormous family of faith. It is a magnificent view of the ultimate triumph of God’s plan. We all have a part in it but it takes work.
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July 28th, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
It is hard to count all the good outcomes flowing from the Second Vatican Council but as the Council recedes into our past and our memories fade, many of us tend to be less clearly aware of those gifts. If you are 70 or 80 years old, you remember that when we came to Sunday Mass there were only two Scriptural readings, one of which was always from the Gospel. Those readings would be repeated every year so people who would come to Mass every Sunday and listen attentively would be exposed to a very small smattering of God’s word. What a tragedy. What a lost opportunity! With the Council, we moved to three separate readings and they are on a three year cycle. This is a much improved situation but only a start in the right direction.
Not only is much more of Sacred Scripture presented to the faithful on Sunday, but their arrangement reflects an enormous amount of work by the editors who put together what we call the Lectionary, the book of readings of the Roman Catholic Church. They did a good job!
Today is a marvelous example of these readings flowing into each other and forming a collage of grace and inspiration. In the first reading from the Book of Genesis, there is an absolutely delightful story about the power of prayer and how we ought to approach our Heavenly Father. The answer is simple. Pound on the door!
The text describes a scene where Abraham, because of his persistence and ultimate confidence in the goodness of Yahweh, would generously try to save the sinful city of Sodom. Abraham negotiates and you know the rest of the story. Despite the effectiveness of Abraham, it is not a successful ending because 10 good people were not to be found in that sinful city.
The Gospel strengthens today’s theme with the teachings of Christ where our Divine Lord provides us with the essence of the prayer that we all know as the “Our Father.” Jesus stresses that we should be confident in our prayers because we need to know how much God loves us. Frail human beings will try very hard to provide for our children. Don’t you think that an infinite loving God would as well?
As is almost always the case, the second reading brings concrete application of the other two excerpts which reflect the importance and the power of prayer.
“God gave you new life in company with Christ!
He pardoned all of our sins. He canceled a bond that stood against us with all of its claim, snatching it up and nailing it to the cross.”
In my opinion, that is one of the most encouraging sentences in the bible and it is a joy to read it.
Onward through the fog but with ever-deeper faith.
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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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The Lenten scripture readings are really wonderful. Oh, how these excerpts of God’s Word jump at us on the weekdays of Lent!
Today’s first reading is from the book of Leviticus. In it, Yahweh gives us Moses, and through Moses, his word is passed to God’s people. First of all, he presents a summary of the basic commandments, the dos and don’ts of how to live, and then he gets a little more detailed.
“You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind but you shall fear your God. Do not act dishonestly in rendering judgment. You shall not go about spreading slander nor shall you stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake. You may have to reprove your fellowman. Do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge, cherish no grudges. You shall love your neighbor as yourself for I am the Lord.”
All of us have work to do in Lent and thankfully we have the opportunity to carry out that work.
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