Oct 21, 2016

A look to the Sunday Gospel:

Luke 18: 9-14

Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else
"Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity - 
greedy, dishonest, adulterous - or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week and I pay tithes on my whole income.'
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
'O God be merciful to me a sinner.'
I tell you the latter went home justified, but not the former;
for whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself 
will be exalted."

This Sunday Jesus' teaching on prayer continues.  The two characters of the Pharisee and the tax collector in this Sunday's Gospel are very similar to the two last week, the cold hearted Judge and the persistent poor widow. (Lk 18: 1-8).

Like the Judge "who neither feared God nor respected any human being", we have a Pharisee this Sunday who prays to himself and not to God and who was so impressed with himself, that he was not like the rest of the despicable human race.  It's like the song: "It's hard to be humble when you're perfect in every way." 

Last Sunday we had a poor, desperate and determined widow who persistently demanded (prayed) for her just rights.  Her persistence payed off. Not that we demand things from God but that we plead persistently for what God knows is best for us.  As Jesus said: "Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones?"  

But, this Sunday, it's a profound sense of sorrow and repentance that comes from a tax collector, within hearing and sight of the Pharisee, He simply approaches God with nothing more than a plead for his mercy.  He recognizes his sinfulness and brings his brokenness humbly before God with a plea for forgiveness. Like the widow who had nothing to loose because she had nothing, the tax collector bows before God in sincere contrition and throws himself on the belief that God is merciful to the humble.  Even their posture is revealing: the Pharisee arrogantly stands before God as if they were equals while the tax collector bows his head in respect.

While the Pharisee thought he would be rewarded or pat on the back by God for his faithfulness -"You're a good boy," so the tax collector was looking for no reward other than reconciliation with God.

So, we are reminded that God hears the prayers of the persistent and trusting.  Yet all prayer must begin with both humility and gratitude.  God knows us better than we know ourselves.  Prayer changes us if we open to the grace of his mercy.  It seems so often when we pray its about what I want and need - so its the "give me this . . ."  We approach God like a child who deeply loves his parents and is grateful for all that they do. He asks for nothing other than their love. And once we establish that as a firm truth, then we humbly can request what we need and God hears us immensely.

As we approach this weekend, let's think about what we have rather than what we want.  With a grateful and humble heart express your thanks to God who is the source of all good things.  Most of us, myself included, need more of Him and much less of me.

Peace and more will come  . . .   

Oct 15, 2016

29th Sunday: Persist in Faith

"Will not God secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him?"

Ex 17: 8-13
2 Tm 3: 14 – 4:2
Lk 18: 1-8

If ever Jesus told a parable with a smile our familiar Gospel story this Sunday from Luke would have been it.  Picture the scene he paints.  A judge sits arrogantly at his bench and openly admits his dismissiveness towards God and people: “. . . who neither feared God nor respected any human being.” There isn’t much good or trustworthy about someone like that.

And persistently pounding at his desk and entering his courtroom over and over again is a widow, dressed in dark shabby clothes but undeterred in her demands for justice: “Render a just decision for me against my adversary,” she demands with bold courage.  Now that’s chutzpah!  This judge, proudly in control of his courtroom, except for this strange widow, is unrelentingly annoyed by what he must have imagined was an obnoxious woman who raises her fists and threatens to inflict physical harm on him.  He says: “I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.” - Before she punches me in the eye if I don’t give in to her demands.  You can see Jesus smile at thought of the scene he describes and likely his audience as well as they considered the judge and who threatened him.

So, in order to once and for all remove her from his courtroom, in spite of his cold heart, the judge grants the justice the widow demands, which was certainly her right. He acted with really no best interest for her at all, something he admittedly was not even capable of giving, but due to her unrelenting plea, prayer we may say, he granted her constant request. 

As odd as this story seems, it holds a valuable lesson for us.  As Jesus finishes, he adds a twist: “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.  Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?” And then ends: “. . . when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

So we are given a lesson on how we should pray and who we should pray for.  We must pray with trust and persistence that God indeed cares for us, unlike the uncaring judge, and will indeed bestow good things, justice, upon us.  Faith means that we must be undeterred in constantly going to the right source; to the one who looks upon us with mercy and love, rather than seek for our true needs elsewhere. 

Secondly, we must pray for our enemies.  The judge was no friend of the woman, that’s for sure, and she knew that.  Yet, she consistently badgered him and finally wore him down with her unfailing desire to receive what is right and good.  Even, through her cries, he suddenly had care for another, albiet for not the purest reasons, but he responded to someone in need.  She appealed, we might say, through his gruffness, to his better nature.  Can we do so much more with God in our prayer who cares about us with never failing love?  This divine Judge wants what is best for us and as we plead, we grow in both faith and trust.

Our first reading from Exodus offers a similar scene of persistence, that of Moses at prayer as he stands watching the battle between Amalek and Israel.  Moses stands at the top of the hill as Joshua engages the enemy in battle.  With hands constantly raised in prayer to God, Israel would win.  The battle lasted all day, Moses’ arms grew tired, so Aaron (his brother) and Hur prop his arms on two rocks so they would remain raised in constant prayer – Israel won the battle and justice was won.  Like the widow, he never gives up, he pleads persistently to God for what was good and right.

So, it provides a clear lesson for us in both our spiritual life and I believe in our day to day journey through this world.  One thing we can never forget both about our lives here and about the way we pray.  We are not God!  We are not in control of our lives ultimately. 

What does the posture of Moses teach us about prayer?  He knew who God was so he raised his hands wide and tall in a kind of reaching out.  Like a child that is asking to be picked up by his/her Mommy or Daddy.  As long as we see God in that light, we can pray effectively.  That’s why the priest offers Mass in the same gesture – with hands raised in prayer not to be noticed by the congregation but to cry out and plead God who is totally above and beyond us. 

What does the posture of the widow tell us about prayer?  That before God we are bent over and pleading, like a poor beggar who knows that she was powerless before the judge but that he held the power that could change her life.  So, she persists with courage and faith knowing that despite his uncaring attitude, she would eventually find relief.

In other words, God is big, wide and open and we are small and always needy.  If we can see ourselves and God in that light when we pray, we have a prayer that is always heard. Even when the odds seem to be starkly against us, even in the face of great injustice and drifting with no clear answers, we can learn to be like the widow in our prayer. 

I think a very obvious and present day example is the present state of our nation and our political process that has disappointed and frustrated all of us in some way. This is a call for sincere and persistent prayer on our part. To think and act beyond politics and consider the common good of all.     

Our society today feels like a ship without a rudder, drifting from port to port, always seeking some place to dock but never settling on a final destination. Our culture is at the very least one of chronic moral confusion.  We don't know what moral pier we're going to drop anchor so we continue to drift aimlessly from port to port with no direction or certainty.  Why are so many people angry these days?  Because we're all on that same ship and don't really know where to go as we have rejected a clear direction in favor of low moral choices. The port we have passed by time and again is that of any anchored moral certitude. People are scared and angry because we're tired of the cruise so it's far time to drop anchor lest we drift aimlessly to whom knows where, far out to sea.  

What is at stake is the common good of human society.  As Christians and Catholics in particular, we continue to preach that God’s desire for us is to look to him and to begin with the human person. The superior right to life is at stake and how we as human beings will protect and defend this right in particular for those who are defenseless and innocent: the unborn human being, the frail elderly, the lost, forgotten, those pushed out from their beloved country against their will, or any human being who is innocent and defenseless in this country and everywhere. The universal right to life is a port we have sailed past. So the lighting rod social issues of abortion, euthanasia and the continuing enforcement of the death penalty all threaten to deny the fundamental right to live of the defenseless and frail and albiet guilty, perhaps, of the incarcerated.  Although we haven't heard a great deal about these issues in this political year we have heard enough to know what the future will likely be depending on the choice we make. 

So, we are not faced with a hopeless or impossible problem but its solution will demand courage, wisdom, compassion, and great faith. We have to defend the right to life of the unborn child because if we don’t, we are saying that human life is expendable; that my right to choose is a greater right than your right to live.  Supporting the right to life is not a one issue only choice.  It touches everything we do and think about one another.   

Still, we are sometimes faced with agonizing decisions about life and we as Christians must walk the way of Jesus with empathy and compassion.  Think of the frightened pregnant teenage girl, a woman with a high-risk pregnancy or a single woman faced with raising a child without the support of family or spouse. God's mercy and forgiveness have no bounds but we must always uphold life and yet show patience and compassion. What would Jesus do?  He would love and share in the pain of another (empathy) while always inviting the other to walk the higher moral road.

Formed by our faith we should persist in doing the right thing according to what we know is God’s law.  The power of our prayer in a posture like Moses knowing who God is and who I am and the lowly widow who persisted in the belief that her life can change and be better, is our greatest reason to be grateful that God has not walked away from us. 

If we only knew the future result of any vote we might either coil back in fear and regret or rejoice that the God given right to live was respected for everyone and human society remained intact for all. We have two choices this November.  Neither one is stellar but we must look beyond politics and think of the bigger human picture.

As we gather for our Eucharist, let’s take note of how we pray.  Am I here begging before God in humility with a grateful heart for all he has given us, primarily his own Son?  Let’s believe that if we are upset by what seems to be a ship drifting with no port to dock, by our prayer and faith we can bring that ship safely in.  

Almighty ever-living God, 
grant that we may always conform our will to yours
and serve your majesty in sincerity of heart.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Sunday)

Oct 8, 2016

28th Sunday - A heart of Gratitude

Jesus, Master, have pity on us!

In this age of medical miracles, vaccinations, antibiotics, aspirin, x-rays, cancer treatment, open heart surgeries, organ donors, vitamins and cures and potential cures for just about everything that infects us, it may be very difficult to imagine a society with none of those medical advancements. We would be helpless victims of just about everything that would threaten us. With a primitive understanding of bacteria, infection, and how the human body works, we might well become fatalistic. If you’re terminally ill, that’s it. Your time is up.  No hope for a cure, short of a miracle.
Life might become a day by day existence with no expectation of living much beyond the age of 30 – 40, if you are lucky enough to survive childhood. Those who are healthy would keep well away from those who appear sick. Those afflicted with physical or mental disabilities, would be labeled as punished for some wrong they must have done. For a moment, imagine such a society.

If we can, we would walk in the world of Jesus’ time. The familiar story in our Gospel this Sunday reveals both cultural prejudice and the outward boundaries which Jesus’ challenged the society of his time.  Yet, not only his own time but the new vision he came to bring about God’s mercy, forgiveness and hope, not just for the healthy and strong but for all.

The story names leprosy as the disease these unfortunate souls, these “ten lepers” suffered with. Would you like to be identified by the condition you suffer rather than by your name or your humanity?  No longer would you be John or Mary being treated for cancer. Now you would be “those cancerous ones” or “those cancerites” or some such dehumanizing identity.  Such a label would cause more pain than the disease itself. These unclean ones must be kept far away from the community of the healthy and their humanity was diminished in kind. Such was true in the time of our Lord.

It’s interesting to note that the affliction of leprosy as we imagine with the lepers of Molokai and St. Fr. Damian was apparently non-existent in the middle east in the time of Jesus. That condition, or Hansen's disease as it is known, has been discovered by anthropologists as a later import from India.  At the time of Jesus any condition of the skin which appeared “unclean” automatically separated the clean from the seriously sick or deformed.

So, whatever was their physical appearance, it was enough to have thrown these ten individuals far away from the community.  The physical separation and the boundaries established were clear.  Yet, in reaching out, in pushing those limits farther apart, the story this Sunday is far more than a miracle event. It is more than just a physical cure.

What Jesus has done for those on the fringe is welcome them into his family. The new challenge of community centered in Christ is to look beyond prejudice, fear, pride, selfishness and gossip to a family of brothers and sisters.  We are united in our diversity because of Jesus Christ.  And this should lead us to gratitude of the deepest kind.

As the one who was cured, like Naaman in our first reading who insisted that Elisha receive a gift of thanksgiving for his cure, this one man returned to Jesus not offering any specific gift other than his overwhelming thanks.  He did far more than just come up to Jesus and shake his hand.  Luke tells us he, “ . . . fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him . . .” He returned “glorifying God in a loud voice.” He knew the source of his healing and was deeply humbled by it.  He recognized Jesus as one of God; as one who healed not just his body but his entire person; as one who treated him not as a “leper” but as a person deserving of value.

The celebration of our Holy Eucharist is a moment to bring our limitations, our sin, our own “leprosy” if need be to this same God in the person of Jesus to be healed and even more to receive not just hope but Christ himself in the Eucharist. 

When is the last time you felt truly grateful for the Mass?  To know that we too are members of Christ’s family called the Church is a fact that bears much reflection.  Is our prejudice, laziness, or “same old, same old” attitude keeping us from truly grasping what God has done for us in the Eucharist? Much to ponder I think.
May your grace, O Lord, we pray,
at all times go before us and follow after
and make us always determined
to carry out good works. 

(Collect of Mass)

Sep 30, 2016

27th Sunday - Faith that changes us

"If you have faith the size of a mustard seed . . . "

Habakkuk 1: 2-3, 2: 2-4
Tm 1: 6-8, 13-14
Lk 17: 5-10

Some people love details. They tend to focus on what may seem the smallest minutia in order to accomplish a task. Thank God for architects and engineers whose drawings and design must be exact down to the finest lines and measurements.

On this Respect Life Sunday and the beginning of October in which we are asked to honor the sanctity of human life, we must not forget that God’s infinite creation involves the tinniest of details. Designed with mind boggling complexity of living organisms composed of intricate DNA, cells, atoms, in a fragile balance of life, in an ordered universe that may appear random and at times violent to us, God has created beauty and mystery. We believe that among all that has come into existence, the human being is at the top of it all. In the story of creation from the Book of Genesis God saved the best for the last – human life created on the sixth day, in the “image of God he created them; male and female.”

Today’s readings both from Paul to Timothy and the Gospel of Luke, we hear of details, growth and reverence. Paul writes to Timothy, “I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give you a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” (2 Tim. 1: 6-7). The young Bishop, ordained by Paul, is encouraged to recognize the seed of the gift given to him and is reminded to care for it; to allow its growth and to use it for the good of the Church.

The Apostles ask Jesus, “. . . Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ The Lord replied, ‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’” (Lk 17: 5-6). Who wouldn’t want a stronger faith? Is the tiny size of a mustard seed all we need or is God asking for more? Certainly the Apostles better than anyone knew that following Jesus was becoming increasingly more of a challenge. They witnessed his miracles, they heard his teaching about “love your enemies and do good to those who hate you,” and they knew that despite the overwhelming admiring crowds, there were enough in power who were threatened and determined to stop him. Only with stronger faith could they maintain their loyalty to Jesus. Isn’t the same true for us?

We find ourselves planted firmly in a society that is enamored by everything new. Technology, for all of its benefits, is exponential. There is no end to the possibilities and it has created a society of artificial communication. We treasure (worship?) what we want, we will stand in line for hours to get it, and we will obsess over the latest gadget. But life, in all of its stages from conception to natural death, sometimes seems less gratifying, efficient or instantaneous. We treasure our cell phones, I-pods, computers, I-pads, social networks why? Because they give us instant pleasure, immediate communication, and let’s face it, look pretty cool!

Yet, among all that we hold dear, the gift of human life is a treasure that cannot be replaced.

Whether it be the unborn child, the infant in the arms of its mother, the disabled, the poor, the immigrant without a home, the imprisoned, the elderly or dying, there is no form of technology that could surpass human life in value or importance.

Faith like that of a mustard seed is not where we stop. Faith that grows, is watered, nurtured, and tended carefully is the only way that we will come to see the treasure that is in each of us, made in the image and likeness of God.

Almighty ever-living God, 
who in the abundance of your kindness
surpass the merits and the desires of those who entreat you, 
pour out your mercy upon us
to pardon what conscience dreads 
and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, you Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Sunday)