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Third Sunday of Advent- December 17, 2017 Third Sunday of Advent- December 17, 2017
Saint Paul seems to be throwing out a handful of sayings that may sound overly optimistic, but are actually very practical. "Rejoice always? Who can do that?" It sounds absurd, but the next two lines give it context: If we pray constantly and thank God for all that happens to us, we have reason to rejoice. Whatever happens is the will of God for us. Even the bad things, things we don't like, can be allowed by God, so that God can bring good out of them. God allows sin because it leads to forgiveness, an experience of God's love for us. And God allows even death, because God can bring us to eternal life.
The next two sayings may be a little obscure. When Paul tells us not to quench the Spirit, he means we should be open to what the Holy Spirit moves us to do. "Prophetic utterances" refer to things that other people were inspired to proclaim. If we pray constantly (1 Thessalonians 5:17) we won't be so distracted by the things of this world that we cannot hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit in us. We won't be so critical of others that we miss what the Spirit is telling us through them.
How do we know if something really is from the Spirit? The next phrase helps with that: Test everything. Retain what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Use the scriptures, the teachings of the Church, and your conscience to decide whether the Spirit is moving you, or if advice you hear is worthwhile. And most of all trust God to help with all this because God wants us to be holy. God will make us holy if we only allow it. Then we will be ready for the coming of the Lord, whether through the sacraments, the celebration of Christmas, or God's final coming in glory. I'd say that's a reason to rejoice.  Read more...
Second Sunday of Advent- December 10, 2017 Second Sunday of Advent- December 10, 2017
Saint Peter shows us a characteristic of God that we normally do not think about. He tells us that for God, "a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day" (1 Peter 3:8). Because early Christians sometimes complained that Jesus' second coming had been delayed, Peter is trying to tell us that what seems like a long time to us is nothing to God.
Like the early Christians, we may wonder how long it will take for God to answer our prayers. We may be praying for someone who is looking for a job, a sick relative, an end to abortion, or world peace. Some prayers require us to change, and we may not be ready.
What Peter means is that a thousand years is not too long for God if someone needs that long to repent. God is far more patient than we are. God has been "waiting" over two thousand years for us to preach the gospel to all nations. God has been waiting for millennia for people to give up war as a means for solving our problems. God has been waiting since the beginning of the human race for us to learn how to love our neighbor.
We might not be as patient as God, but we can help. Saint Peter says that we are not just waiting for the Lord's return, we are hastening it. When we make a choice that is based on faith rather than selfishness, we make it a little easier for people to believe in God. Jesus is the light of the world; he asks us to let our light shine, so that people can see Jesus in us. May our light "prepare the way of the Lord" (Mark 1:3).  Read more...
First Sunday of Advent- December 3, 2017 First Sunday of Advent- December 3, 2017
In Advent, we celebrate our hope that the Lord might come more fully into our lives. The first reading from Isaiah voices the hope of sinners for a redeemer. Unlike Isaiah, we know that God has come to bring us back, when the Father sent his Son, Jesus, to save us. Our faith in Jesus leads us to a new way of looking at the world. We can see what God is doing as well as remembering what God has done.
Like the gatekeepers in Jesus' Gospel parable, we need to keep our eyes open for him. When we only look out for ourselves, we may miss the signs of God's presence around us. Instead of looking at the difficulties of life as obstacles, we can watch for them as opportunities to stretch our faith, to rely on God, or to show God's love to a friend. The recent re-translation of the prayers of the Mass can be an opportunity to stretch our faith and our understanding of the Eucharist.
The Corinthians were also watching for the Lord to come. They were thinking of Jesus as coming in glory. Though we don't see the full glory of the Lord, part of that glory is his presence in the sacraments. In them we celebrate not just the coming of the Lord, but his working in the world. He shares his life with us in baptism, gives us his Spirit in confirmation and himself in the Eucharist, heals us in reconciliation and the anointing of the sick, and calls us to make him present to others in holy orders and matrimony. You could almost say his second coming is taking place now. Watch for it.  Read more...
Solemnity of Christ the King- November 26, 2017 Solemnity of Christ the King- November 26, 2017
Today's Gospel could be seen as an example of what St. Paul is explaining in the second reading. First, he tells us that the resurrection of Christ is not the end of God's reign, but the beginning. Since death came into the world with the sin of Adam, Christ's death saved us from sin and his resurrection saves us from death. Now that he is risen, he will complete his reign over all creation, meaning that everything in creation that turned away from God will now be subject to God. Since Christ had to die before he could rise, the last enemy to be subjected is death; so too do we have to die before we can rise.
When all this happens, everything will show God's glory. God will be seen in all of creation. Jesus will be seen as equal to the Father, not just a man, but the Son of God. The Gospel gives us the image of a king on his throne, surrounded by his subjects. And then comes the final judgment.
The rest of the Gospel is symbolic description of that judgment. I always thought the point of this parable was that we recognize God in the poor, the sick, the homeless, prisoners, etc. But the people in the parable who helped all those in need did not recognize Christ in the needy. That's why he tells them that whatever we do for "these least ones," we do for Christ.
That is actually good news, because it is not always easy to recognize Christ in others. I used to think that once I start seeing Christ in all people, I'll be more willing to help them. But it also works the other way. When you help someone in need, you begin to see Christ there, too. This means that we cannot use not seeing Christ in others as an excuse to put off helping them. ("Sure, I'll help those drug addicts--as soon as I see Jesus in them.") Whether it is a death-row prisoner or a homeless family, we need to take that leap of faith to help, not knowing if we will ever see Christ in them. Remember, God forgives and saves us because we need God, not because we deserve it.  Read more...
The Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time- November 19, 2017 The Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time- November 19, 2017
When I hear the Gospel reading for this Sunday, I wonder what that third servant was doing all that time, after he buried the talent he was given. Probably nothing. What strikes me is that the word for money in this reading is "talent," which in our language is an ability or skill. So maybe this parable can remind us to use our abilities and not let them go to waste.
It is sad to see someone who is not very good at his job just because he never developed his inborn talents. But if you know what gifts or abilities God gave you, you can develop them to be much more than you expected. A person might be strong and fast, but if she exercises and practices, she could be a great athlete. The same with a spiritual gift. Just having one doesn't make you a saint. So how do you know what gifts you have?
First, ask God in your prayers to show you what gifts you have been given. Find a spiritual director, or even your parish priest, and talk about your life, your strengths and weaknesses. Read about saints and how they used their gifts to serve the Lord. Read the scriptures, especially the Acts of the Apostles or the Letters of Paul (e.g., 1 Corinthians 12:1-11). Listen humbly to friends or loved ones who can tell you what strengths they see in you.
Second, look for ways to use your gifts. Check the parish bulletin or website or your diocesan newspaper for activities and organizations that you could take part in. Hospitals, schools, shelters, and nursing homes frequently offer opportunities for volunteers. If one kind of service seems attractive to you, that could be God's way of telling you to try it. On the other hand, a job that seems very challenging could be what you need to stretch your spiritual muscles. Or you may see a need for some service that you can get started in the parish or community.
Just remember that you are called to service by your baptism and confirmation. Don't bury that calling by procrastinating or being afraid to try. Remember the "useless servant" with the one talent who was fearful and lazy (Matthew 25:25-26). At least he can remind us to use it or lose it.  Read more...
Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time- November 12, 2017 Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time- November 12, 2017
At the end of today's Gospel, the groom answers the pleas of the foolish virgins not with a question, "Why weren't you ready?" but with the statement, "I don't know you" (Mt 25:12). Now that sounds kind of odd, if the bridegroom represents the LORD, because God knows everything and everybody. But here in Matthew's Gospel, this phrase seems to imply that "because you made no effort to know me, I don't know you."
So what am I doing to get to know Jesus? One way to know someone is to act like them. Actors who portray a real person try to watch videos of that person to see how they talk, walk, relate to people, etc. We can act like Jesus by following his example of care for the poor and the sick, forgiving people who have done wrong, feeding the hungry, and giving God the credit for what we do.
Another way to get to know someone is to talk to them. The more we pray, the more we get close to Jesus. We can praise God for Creation, we can thank God for all the giving (and forgiving!) We can ask for help for those we love and for God's strength in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9). But we don't get to know someone if we do all the talking. Our prayer can include time to be quiet and listen to the LORD. We also listen to God by reading God's words in the Bible. Hopefully, we can all find ways of getting to know the Lord, so that God can "recognize" us as friends.  Read more...
Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time- November 5, 2017 Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time- November 5, 2017
Paul was not bragging when he talked about the toil and drudgery he endured while proclaiming the gospel. He makes a point of his working so as not to burden anyone. He worked to support himself, rather than asking the new Christians to support him--just the opposite of what the scribes and Pharisees were doing, according to the gospel. Jesus accused them of laying heavy burdens on people, without helping them to bear those burdens. So what kind of burdens did the Pharisees impose?
The Pharisees and scribes were very familiar with the laws of their Jewish religion. Almost every detail of daily life was covered by some law. Originally those laws and regulations were meant to set the Hebrews apart from other peoples, to be a sign of holiness. But over the years, rabbis added more and more details to the laws, until it was almost impossible to keep them all straight.
But what if someone needed help on a Sabbath? If you broke a Sabbath rule, even for a good reason, you could not go to the Pharisees to get an exemption. They would say, "Not my problem."
Jesus, however, came to remind us that holiness is more important than scrupulosity. If we truly live the ideal of loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbor, we will find that love is much easier to bear than the fear of doing something wrong. Jesus also gave us his Holy Spirit to help guide us in the path of holiness. And through his death on the cross, Jesus gave us forgiveness if we do commit a sin. So keeping the law of love is no problem.  Read more...
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time- October 29, 2017 Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time- October 29, 2017
What the first reading calls aliens are immigrants or newcomers. They lived among the Hebrews, but were not Jews themselves. The Lord reminds the people that they were once aliens themselves. The They should not make the same mistake the Egyptians did when they mistreated the Israelites. God uses the same logic in commanding them to take care of widows and orphans. Treat them like family, or else your own wives and children will be in the same situation.
The reason for such compassion should be deeper than just fear of punishment. Jesus said, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). He called this the second commandment. The first is to love God wholly and completely, heart, mind, and soul. If the second commandment is the Golden Rule, the first might be called the Diamond Rule. If you think about it, in order to keep the first commandment, you have to be keeping the second as well.
Jesus said that whatever you do for the poor, the homeless, the sick, or prisoners, you do for him (Matthew 25:31-46). We can't really say we love God if we don't love the people God created.
So that gives us two reasons to love our neighbor. First, because God lives in other people, so loving God means loving God wherever God is found. Second, God loves them, so if we are to be holy, we must be like God. What does that mean? Remember the saying that "charity begins at home"? It doesn't end there. If we truly love God, we will extend our charity to those outside our homes. People are probably still rebuilding after earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, and other disasters, and every city has some kind of homeless shelters. You say you love God? Let's see you love your neighbor.  Read more...
Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time- October 22, 2017 Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time- October 22, 2017
In the scriptures, being anointed usually meant you were a prophet or king of Israel. So why is Cyrus given that title? Cyrus was king of Persia when the Babylonians held the people of Israel captive. God used him to defeat the Babylonians and eventually bring the Israelites back to their homes.
One thing this tells us is that God can work through anyone, not just saints and religious. Any time someone does a good deed, God is behind it. Just as God used Cyrus to free the Israelites from their Babylonian captivity, God can use governments to protect the poor, to help rebuild after disasters, or to defend freedom.
In that sense, we can understand what Jesus says about payment to Caesar and to God. Since everything belongs to God, that should be our first allegiance. But when God works through governments, we can give some support to them, by such activities as voting or paying taxes. Let us ask God to work through us also, helping us to proclaim that God alone is LORD.  Read more...
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time- October 15, 2017 Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time- October 15, 2017
Why would invited guests refuse to come to a wedding? Free food and drink, music and dancing--what's not to like? By this time, Jesus knew that many of the Jewish leaders would not accept the invitation to follow him. As we know, after the Resurrection the disciples began to spread the good news not only to other Jews, but to anyone who would listen.
One reason the leaders in Israel did not accept Jesus was his association with sinners. They did not understand that God calls sinners to repent and be forgiven. Ordinary people, who knew they were sinners, were attracted by the offer of forgiveness. Many of them repented and came to be baptized. As the parable says, they filled the banquet hall.
So what about the man in the parable who came in street clothes? The wedding garment was a symbol of the baptismal gown, the sign of new life in Christ. So this man symbolizes those who "come to the feast" without repenting of their sins.
We can be like that man sometimes. We come to church, arguing with our spouse on the way. We bring our prejudices, lies, anger, and selfishness--with no intention of doing anything about them. We come with the attitude that says, "I'm here, aren't I? That should be good enough." But it's not. By dying for our sins, Jesus calls us to come back to God. So repentance is not just a change of clothing, it is a change of heart. It is our ticket to the banquet, our way of saying, "I know I don't deserve this, but thanks for letting me share the feast."  Read more...
Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time- October 8, 2017 Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time- October 8, 2017
Jesus' parable is a little different from the one in the first reading. Isaiah has the vineyard under good and faithful care, but still it produces wild grapes. In the Gospel, the vineyard presumably had a good harvest, but the workers refuse to give any of the grapes to the landowner. Where do I fit in?
Do I ignore all that God does to help me be a good disciple? Am I too busy to take time to pray or read the Bible? Do I hold onto grudges instead of forgiving and releasing them? Do I decline the invitations to go on a retreat? If any of these are true, I might be like the vineyard in the first reading, producing no fruit despite all the opportunities God has given me.
Or we may be the other side of the coin. We had our children baptized when they were babies. We gave them as good an example as we could, teaching them to love others and be generous with what they have. Yet they grew up and drifted away from the faith. Then we have to remember how patient God is with us, God's people who don't always produce the fruits of faith.
The tenants in the parable refer to those who would have Jesus crucified. God is patient with them. Look what happened to Saul, who persecuted many Christians before he became one himself. In our second reading he tells us to follow his example as he follows Christ. Then, he says, the peace of God will be with us, too (Philippians 4:6-9).  Read more...
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time- October 1, 2017 Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time- October 1, 2017
Jesus must have shocked the priests and elders when he said that prostitutes and tax collectors would enter the kingdom of God before them. After all, his listeners had spent their whole lives being faithful to the Law. But Jesus' point was not so much about final salvation as about our daily choices.
Remember the parable about the two sons. The second son said what his father wanted to hear, with no intention of doing it. The first was honest about not wanting to go to the vineyard, but then decided to do it anyway. I suspect the father of those men knew what each would or would not do.
And whom do we want to imitate? Are we honest enough to look at our lives and repent of our hatred, our selfishness, or whatever keeps us in sin, and then to follow Jesus with our whole heart? We may not always like doing what God asks of us, but God is an understanding Father who can accept our weaknesses and forgive them when we are ready to return to him.  Read more...
Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time- September 24, 2017 Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time- September 24, 2017
Notice any difference between the attitude of Paul in the second reading and that of the workers in the Matthew's Gospel? The workers grumble because the latecomers got the same pay as those who worked all day. Paul has worked for the Lord for years, yet he thinks it is better to keep working than to claim his reward of eternal life.
The workers grumbled because the landowner gave the same wages to the ones who only worked for an hour. (You can imagine the picket signs: Vinedressers Local on Strike: Management Unfair!) Matthew was referring to the Jews who had served God for centuries and now see newcomer Gentiles claiming equality in the church. They were complaining about God's generosity in reaching out to all peoples, not just the chosen few. God's generosity is the real point. Contrast that with Paul, who loves the Philippians so much that he is willing to put off his heavenly reward if he can help any more people come to Christ. That is the attitude that Jesus hopes for in all his disciples. We can care more about bringing Jesus to others than we do about our own comfort or even our lives. We can do this because we know the Lord's ways are not fair--they are more generous than we can imagine!  Read more...
Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time- September 17, 2017 Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time- September 17, 2017
Why should we forgive those who hurt us? The gospel this Sunday gives three reasons: First, because Jesus commands it. Second, because forgiveness is part of loving one another. And third, because we want to be forgiven for our sins.
Here Jesus commands us to forgive unceasingly, without limit. Now that could be a challenge for even the most patient person. Does it mean we have to let someone hurt us over and over? No, it is possible to forgive someone and also prevent them from hurting us, if we do it with love (the second reason.) For instance, we might forgive an alcoholic family member, but still insist that they get help. Since forgiveness is part of love, it is also part of tough love.
That leads to the third reason: We forgive because we have been forgiven. Jesus has already died for our sins. If we truly believe that Jesus is risen and that we will rise to eternal life with him in spite of our sins, how can we refuse to forgive someone who hurts us?  Read more...
Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time- September 10, 2017 Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time- September 10, 2017
Ever notice how people today like to ignore the evil in the world? People will witness a mugging and not bother to call the police. We see television stories of children starving in poor countries and say, "Not my problem." The readings for this Sunday challenge this attitude.

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time- September 3, 2017 Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time- September 3, 2017
I frequently see signs on churches inviting everyone to come. Often they advertise that they are a contemporary, casual church. One thing that concerns me is that they do not add "challenging" to that description. Some people try to teach that since Jesus is risen from the dead, we should also be able to live that way: Rejoicing, but never sorrowing. But if we preach resurrection without the cross, we are acting like Peter in the Gospel.  Read more...
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time- August 27, 2017 Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time- August 27, 2017
I wonder how many men named Peter know that originally it was a nickname. Jesus gave Simon a name based on the word for "rock." Like any good nickname, Jesus had a reason to give this one. Peter had just acknowledged Jesus to be the Son of God and the Messiah (Christ). Jesus used that as an opportunity to teach us about the importance of faith as the foundation of the church.  Read more...
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time- August 20, 2017 Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time- August 20, 2017
The first reading reminds us that even though the Jews are God's chosen people, foreigners who love the Lord will be accepted into God's house. So why is Jesus being so difficult with the Canaanite woman?
At first he seems to be putting her off. He doesn't answer her, but tells the disciples that he came only for lost sheep of Israel, adding the remark about food going to the dogs. He does this not to discourage her, but to draw a response of faith. He wants to see how persistent she is in her request.
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time- August 13, 2017 Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time- August 13, 2017
Why did Jesus walk on water to the disciples in the boat? Did he want to scare them? No, his first words to them were "Do not be afraid." While they were being tossed by wind and waves, he showed them that he was not affected by the storm. If they had had faith, they might have realized that if Jesus was safe, they would be, too. We too must make that leap of faith, especially when we are afraid.
The Transfiguration of the Lord- August 6, 2017 The Transfiguration of the Lord- August 6, 2017
It is good that we are here. (Luke 9:33)
Put yourself in Peter’s place. God had already revealed to him that Jesus was the Messiah (Luke 9:20). And now he is standing with James and John, watching Jesus’ appearance change before his eyes.
Even though he knew in his heart who Jesus is, he must have been stunned to see this transformation. It surely renewed his determination to follow Jesus. Coming down the mountain, he undoubtedly felt that nothing could shake his resolve.
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time- July 30, 2017 Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time- July 30, 2017
The ending of today's Gospel speaks about "the new and the old." Jesus is saying that a person "instructed in the kingdom" has wisdom both old and new; in other words, that person learns from the past as well as from the present. Let's look at each of those.
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time- July 23, 2017 Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time- July 23, 2017
The first reading says that God's might is the basis for divine justice. We might take this to mean that God uses mighty power to punish sinners, in the legal sense of justice. But the reading also talks about God's lenience and clemency. So maybe God's power is so great that punishment is not necessary. Sinners can be forgiven. After all, we usually punish those we fear will hurt us again. But God is too powerful to be injured by our sins. God can afford to wait for us to repent. That is the point of the parable of the wheat and the weeds.
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time- July 16, 2017 Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time- July 16, 2017
When Jesus answers the apostles' question about why he speaks in parables, it may seem as if he is using them to confuse people. We know he is trying to spread the good news of God's kingdom. So he talks to the crowds in parables, easily understood stories that usually have a moral or that end with a question for the hearers. He uses these stories to teach the crowd.
Jesus threw out parables like a farmer sowing seeds. Some of them fell on the ears of those who would be disciples. But most fell on the ears of people not ready to understand. So how do we receive his word? Do we hear it without understanding, letting it go in one ear and out the other? Do we hear it joyfully, but then forget it when troubles or difficulties come along? Do we listen to the word but ignore it in the face of some later temptation?  Read more...
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time- July 9, 2017 Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time- July 9, 2017
Jesus tells us in today's Gospel that he is "meek and humble of heart." Yet just a few lines before this, he says that he is equal to his Father, the almighty God. So how can the Son of God be both meek and mighty?
For Jesus, being meek does not mean letting people push him around. If he were meek in that sense, he could not have thrown the moneychangers out of the temple. Jesus' meekness meant doing the will of God completely. The challenge for us comes in his words "learn from me." We must learn to do God's will as completely as Jesus did.  Read more...
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time- July 2, 2017 Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time- July 2, 2017
Jesus asks his disciples to have total dedication to following him. As an example, he tells us that to be worthy we must love him more than we love our parents or children. He does not expect us to abandon them, just to have so much love for Jesus that it spills over to our family, allowing us to love them more deeply. But we can be so dedicated to Jesus that he comes first. That means that if we lose a family member through death or divorce, we still keep our faith in the Lord. If we see someone in our family stray from the faith, we try to bring them back through our prayers, example, and encouragement.  Read more...
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time- June 25, 2017 Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time- June 25, 2017
“Fear no one,” Jesus says. He is talking about fearing those who persecute you for your faith. In the verses before this Gospel passage, he tries to prepare us for that persecution and says that since it was done to him (Jesus), it would be done to his followers.
But what happened to Jesus? He was crucified, but rose from the dead. So he triumphed over his persecutors; they could not stop him. And that is what he promises us. Whatever persecution, ridicule, or discrimination we suffer for our faith, we cannot be destroyed as long as we keep that faith.
The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ- June 18, 2017 The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ- June 18, 2017
In John's Gospel, Jesus gives a long discourse on the Bread of Life. The first part talks of bread as a sign of God's loving care for the people. Like the manna in the desert, Jesus represents God caring for the people in a new way. But the part we hear in today's Gospel is more specific. He says the bread he will give is his flesh. The leaders of the Jews don't understand. Hopefully, we can do better.  Read more...