Sep 28, 2019

Name Calling

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lk 16:19-31
Although the Lord identifies the poor man who goes to heaven by the name of Lazarus, the rich man will forever be nameless and forgotten. During his life, the rich man did nothing great or worthy of heaven's praise. The rich man is really a “nobody” in hell, while the poor man is identified as “Lazarus”, a name honored in heaven among the saints of God.

Your name, my name, is not simple letters sewn together and registered on our birth certificate and then paired with a social security number and then, later on in life, matched with a photograph on a driver's license or passport for identification purposes.

Unfortunately, identity theft exists too often in our world. And we easily associate a thief as someone who goes to great lengths to keep their real identity a secret. At the other extreme, someone who has an inflated ego might want to make a name for themselves, so that the world will take notice of them and their name will be remembered in history, or at least significant enough to be mentioned in wikipedia!

But before the universe came into existence, God had already given each one of us a unique name, known to him, a name that he has carefully sequenced into the unique pattern of our DNA and threaded through the fabric of our soul. God calls us out of the crowd by that name.

By careful reflection and discernment, through testing and through trial, cooperating with the grace of God, our whole life's journey is marked responding to that eternal calling out to God.  This way, we can know who we truly are and how our individual lives might reflect our God-given identity.

This is what we do when we respond to our unique God-given vocation in life. Many will find their God-given identity through the vocation of marriage and family life, some as virtuous single men and women, and others as priests, nuns and monks. Christ knows each of our names, he knows what he wants of us and gives us the appropriate time to find our way to him. 

To gently help us towards this goal, God often disguises himself as the vulnerable one, the unloved, the sick and the forgotten of our throwaway culture. He does so, not to make us feel guilty. Rather, there are many around us God calls Lazarus. God sends them to save us,  and as a forceful reminder we all share a common home, common dignity and everyone’s life and intrinsically weaved together. 

Refreshed by the Bread of Life, may Christ's words and presence reignite our common vocation to help each other to taste a bit of heaven here on earth, so that one day we might all enjoy it eternally with Abraham and all the saints forever.

Sep 21, 2019

Following your Investments

Lk 16:1-13

Luke 16:1-13

  How do we interpret this unusual parable? Rather than focusing on the particular parts or the peculiarities of the players within the story, the larger picture might be easier to appreciate.

Consider what the word economy means. From the Greek, oikonomia - it points to the good management of a household or a family, to be able to look after everyone's needs, to be responsible making wise investments which will ultimately benefit and build up the community.

But if one's ultimate aim is to make money, and one's life is driven by the end goal of making financial profit, consider the effects. Employers, employees, workers, customers and clients are not valued on their worth as human beings, but only on their usefulness, their productivity. When we reduce a person to nothing more than a means of profit, a free man becomes a slave; it leads to idolizing money, and contributes to the spread of atheistic thinking. (CCC 2424)

In this line of thought, is it any wonder that future children are put on hold or thrown away before they are born because of the fear of financial burden of God's beautiful gift of life and parenthood. How many of the sick and elderly are quickly wheeled away when no longer seen as an asset? For this reason the Lord warns us in the Gospel, "You cannot serve both God and mammon" that is, both God and money. Choose one or the other, but not both. There is only one God.

The Gospel parable should be an encouragement to every one of us to take following Christ as seriously as we follow sports, blogs, and even the work we undertake Monday to Friday. Consider the amount of energy each person invests in their regular job, the planning, preparation, accountability, mileage, long hours, the investment opportunities, the paperwork, the financial planning - all for the future! But what if we would harness and ride on the wave of that energy and instinct to "succeed" and use it to the same measure but for our catholic Faith, then, maybe, instead of the fear, anxiety, anger and panic, we would instead witness a faith made stronger in times of trial, hope when tomorrow seems uncertain and charity in our love when instinct tells us to hold back. Out of our ingenuity can come forth compassion for our neighbors needs above our own. Greed gives way to generosity by the same measure.

This is why the practice of almsgiving is so important in the discipline of the Catholic and Christian character (Comp. CCC 301). Any economic favor given those in need, and prompted by charity, is almsgiving. It is not prompted by judging the person worthy or even trusting they will put it to good use. Nor does almsgiving come from giving something so that you can feel good about it, or because the recipient is judged worthy. No! If you can justify why you should not be generous or charitable, then that it more the reason why you should. St. Augustine recommends "give alms to all different types of people, then you will reach a few who will deserve it... let in the unworthy, in case the worthy are excluded." (Sermon 359A)

We came into this life vulnerable and with nothing, dependent on the strength and generosity of others. In the evening of our lives we will also be vulnerable with nothing to take with us. But in the economy of salvation we have undeservedly benefited from Christ's generous sacrifice. We have no excuse not to make the effort to repay even in small measure the blessings we have received in great abundance.

Sep 15, 2019

Brothers in Arms

(Luke 15: 11-24. 24th Sunday)

Many commentators on this parable tried to speculate about who the younger son and the older son where. Different scenarios are often proposed. The older son could have represented the chosen people -the younger son, the Gentiles. Others might see in the parable some resemblance of old family feuds, such as between Cain and Abel, or Isaac and Ishmael. Even in today's heated political climate, some might be tempted to interpret this parable about two opposing political and sociological ideologies! However, the more we reflect on this parable we will come to recognize that Jesus is speaking to us directly, to you and to me.

The younger son we can identify with. It is when we think that the grass is always greener on the other side -- that in order to experience life we have to get away from it all, to enjoy the world. The younger son represents times in our lives when we have been reckless, impulsive with our sights set on unrealistic expectations and without reflection or appreciation for the blessings, gifts and even the securities that we already have, we have often taken for granted.

We can also identify with the older son. He is the one who is loyal, dependable and who carries out his duty. At first glance these seem to be commendable qualities. But then we discover that there is no love or affection in him for his younger brother. He shows himself to be resentful and angry. Even his relationship with his father seems lacking in warmth or affection.

As reckless as the younger son is by leaving the security of his home and family, he still remembers the love of his father. In getting ready to return he makes an examination of conscience which is born, not from a feeling of guilt, but by “coming to his senses”. Finally he can see his life and his relationships as they truly are. In this light he truly knows what he is lacking and in his moment of isolation and darkness, he is resolved to return home and work on his relationship with his father which he has in the past taken so much for granted.

Of course, this is a parable about you and me and our relationship with God, our heavenly Father. It tells our story of all the times we have been foolish and turned our back on the God who loves us. It demonstrates that we have so often sought the things of this world as a type of food to nourish our soul instead of the things of heaven. And even from the perspective of the older brother, we must reflect on how often we have hid behind the walls of duty and self-righteousness as a way to excuse arrogance, anger and pride.

Whether we identify with the younger son or the older son or both, what unites us is our common Father. Remarkably he welcomes back to one who wasted the gifts he was given. He also pleads for reconciliation between the siblings. But most importantly this loving father gives both his children the opportunity to join in a feast, a banquet in which the fattened calf, which represents Christ himself, has been sacrificed as the true food which alone can provide the people of God the true source of reconciliation and family unity.

We are not told if the two brothers ever reconciled, embraced and celebrated together the banquet meal prepared for them by their father. How the story will ultimately conclude could depend on each one of us.

This holy banquet is now prepared. Before approaching this sacrificial meal, our blessed Lord reminds us that we must be first reconciled with God from our sins and with each other of our offenses.

Even though we are leaving summer behind, there are countless opportunities to confess our sins, and be reconciled with our heavenly Father and through Him to each other, if we respond to our father's plea to share our table with all our family of saints and sinners. This way we know that we have a place at the wedding banquet of the Son of God who continues to search out for and find the lost, the neglected, the reckless and the angry, and bring them home to safety.

Sep 7, 2019

Disputed Family

“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.” These words of the Lord spoken through the Gospel might seem harsh. But simply said, from the perspective of someone who dares give their life, their whole life to Christ it makes perfect but painful sense. Lk 14:25-33

How? The ultimate reality each of us will face is that we can not sustain or hold onto earthly relationships as they are now, forever. Our relationships with family, friends and even with this world as we know it will come to pass. And in the world to come, we hope that all our necessary relationships, especially with God, will not only be in place but will be life giving. 

To illustrate this point, look to Christ. Yes, he was born into a human family with natural relationships. But the relationship he had with Mary and Joseph and even his natural extended family never took precedence over the relationship with his Heavenly Father and his adopted brothers and sisters that we have become and to whom he sacrificed his life. 

Just some examples.  

He went missing for a few days as a young boy. His disappearance put anguish and fear into the hearts and minds of Mary and Joseph frantically searching for him. When they did find him, from our perspective he didn’t even seem concerned about them. And as if to add insult to injury, scolded them for not knowing that his Heavenly Father took precedence. 

During his public ministry, many of Jesus’s extended family, feared he was “going off the deep end” (Mark 3:31-35) and tried to intervene, probably in an attempt to take him home. When someone in the crowd told him that his mother and family were here, he replied, "Who are my mother and my brethren?" And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brethren! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother."

Even when Christ was dying on the cross, when Mary was nearby he told her to stop mothering him. Instead be a mother to my disciples. 

Yes, natural family relationships are important and they have great influence upon us for good and for bad, for they affect our minds and our hearts. But as Christ showed us by his life, the supernatural relationships we have with God and with the family of the Church are much, much more important, because they affect our souls, which are eternal. 

Sometimes we can’t have it both ways. And that will often involve a painful choice and a sacrifice. Even in that very touching letter from St. Paul we heard in the second reading, Paul looks upon a runaway slave as his son in Christ. He appeals to the slave’s master to see the young man as his brother in the Lord. 

And that’s what being in a real relationship with Jesus Christ does. It messes up all our natural family relationships and puts us all in one common family of adopted sons and daughters, with a common Father and a spiritual mother in Mary. 

If I call myself a disciple of Christ, my obligations to him and to his family of which I am now a part, take precedence over my own family business and affairs. It is the reason, I hope each one of us, brothers and sisters, are gathered here every Sunday, to support and encourage each other as family should, and to pray also for our absent sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. But there is enough of us here, with God’s grace, to fulfill those roles as needed spiritually. 

May the family sacrifices we all have to make, now find meaning, by offering and joining them to the one eternal sacrifice of Christ we encounter in this Holy Eucharist. 

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gardening Kingdom

  We often hear this phrase, “The Kingdom of God ''.  We even pray, “Thy Kingdom Come”.  This “Kingdom” was the hallmark of Our Lord...