God Relentlessly Invites us

Next weekend my older sister Erin is getting married.  It is an exciting time for my family. In light of this, I find our Gospel this weekend humorous.  Can you imagine if my parents acted the same way as the king?  What if my Dad were to say to my brother and me, “Ok, all of those people who RSVP’d no, go burn their houses down!” Holy cow!  That seems a little extreme… It seems strange that the King would burn the cities of those people who had rejected his invitation. 

But, I think if we focus too much on the strange actions of the king, then we run the risk of missing the point.  Instead, I think we are supposed to be more shocked by the strange reactions of the invited guests.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  The King has invited his people to join him for a wedding feast.  And it’s not just any wedding feast, its the wedding feast for his son.  And as our first reading illustrates, this feast will be a feast with great food and good wine! 

I think to really grasp how strange it would be to say no to such an invitation it is helpful to put it into our own context.  Imagine that we were all invited to a dinner reception with either the Pope or the President.  Who would say no to that?  And even if the company wasn’t that desirable, the promise of good food alone is enough to make one want to go.  I mean, how many of us here would go to a party just because we knew that there would be good food? I certainly would…

Jesus’ point in the parable is to shock us.  Flannery O’Connor once was asked why her short stories were shockingly violent. Her response: in a deaf society, one needs to shout!  This is why our parable today from Christ is so shocking.  It’s meant to move us.  It’s meant to shake us up and to cause a change within each one of us.

Who in their right mind would say no to such an invitation?  We are supposed to notice how ridiculous it would be to say no to the King’s invitation.  Well, the same is true for each one of us.  The Heavenly Father has invited us to the Wedding Feast.  A feast given to us through a New Covenant, where God gives us His son as bread and wine.   “We believe that our participation in the Holy Eucharist isn’t merely a foreshadowing but a real participation in that marriage banquet in which our God takes all nations to himself in the eternal covenant of love in Christ.”  This is emphasized by our first reading, where God will bring all peoples together, to enjoy rich food and choice wine!

I think in a beautiful way we are called to reflect on the gift that we have received.  The gift of being invited to the feast each and every Sunday. God desires so much to be in a relationship with us that he gave us His Son.  So much so, that we receive a foretaste of the heavenly banquet each and every Sunday.  This is why Eucharistic liturgy, each week, is essential in the Christian life. 

But Christ warns us through the parable, that it is not enough just to accept the invitation in a willy-nilly way. We also need to prepare ourselves.  The King seems rather harsh to the man that shows up to the wedding feast without a garment.  But for us, in a Christian context, it means so much more.  When we are baptized, we literally put on Christ and we are clothed in a white garment.  In other words, when we come to the feast, we are called to both accept the invitation to the feast and to conform our lives to Christ.  At our baptism, the priest says that parents are called to help their children bring the white garment they have received, unstained into heaven.  In other words, we are called to grow in moral and spiritual excellence.  As we conform our lives to Christ, we grow in our capacity to love; to love God our Father, and to love our neighbor as well.

In Christ’s Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

The Parable of the Two Sons

This weekend, we are being invited to meditate on which son we are most like in the parable.  Are we the son that says, No, I will not go… But then do in fact go? Or, are we the son that says, Yes Father, I will go. But then do not go?

Some of us might be thinking that we want to be a different son.  A son that is not even an option in this parable.  Intuitively, I think we all want to be that son that says, Yes Father, I will go!  But Jesus does not give us this option… But, I think we actually are both sons…

The first son, responds with a No,  but then does go into the vineyard.  I think many of us can relate to this son.  The initial “No” is that tendency in each of us to sin.  One of the most basic definitions of sin is when our will does not line up with God’s will.  So, if all of us are honest with ourselves, I think most of us would admit that sometimes we struggle with anger, jealousy, gossip, and unforgiveness.  Sometimes we struggle to live the life that God has called us to live. Any struggle with sin in our lives is a “No” to God. But, I am also confident that for most of us here, we are striving for conversion.  We are striving to live the way that God has called us to live.  And so, after our initial “No”, we have a change of heart.  And we go back to God in attempt to be more obedient to his plan for each of us.  This is why we go to confession because we recognize the No’s and desire to say Yes more often. This is how we are the first son.

But we could also be the second son.  The second son is the one that says yes but does not Go… Here is the point for Jesus in this parable.  He is speaking to the Pharisees.  And, Jesus is frustrated that the Pharisees have witnessed the conversion of sinners.  Instead of having hearts moved by the conversion of sinners, they scoff at them. How could God save those people?  The hearts of the Pharisees are hardened.  They are like the second son.  They have said “Yes” to God, but they have failed to seek a deeper conversion in their own lives.  They have failed to allow the conversion of others move them to conversion.

So why did Jesus not give us a third option? I think the answer is that Jesus wants us to be the first son. Jesus knows that conversion is a lifelong task.  It is not something accomplished right away. We are living in the moment of transformation.  That is, the struggle, or temptation, to say “no” will persist until the day God calls us home. 

Our first reading gives us greater insight into God’s patience with us. “God does not take pleasure in the death of a sinner; he desires rather that the sinner should live, but this means that the sinner must change his ways”. When we turn away from our sins, then [we] shall surely live, [we] shall not die. Here’s how the first reading is connected to the Gospel: the wicked one who turns from his ways is like the first son, the person who initially says no to the Lord, but then has a change of heart. 

So, Jesus is highlighting the quality in the first son that is of great value. This was willing to be converted, and to change his mind.  He recognized his need for God.  This is what Jesus is trying to convince the Pharisees.  He wants them to recognize that their hearts need to be converted, that they need God!

My friends, this week, may we take time to meditate on the ways that we have said “no” to God and to consider how God is challenging us to change our lives. God desires for us to live lives of integrity.  That does not mean we are perfect.  But rather, if we are Jesus’ disciples, the life of a Christian has integrity when it is open to conversion, open to allowing his heart to be expanded, and opened to turning away from sin.  May the Eucharist we receive today to strengthen our resolve to turn from sin and remind us of our great need for God.

 

In Christ’s Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Like Fire Burning in our Hearts

Listen to these words from the prophet Jeremiah:  You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.  All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. Jeremiah has been obedient to his call.  He has prophesied, he has spoken on behalf of God to God’s people.  Why is he the object of laughter? 

The Israelite people have turned away from God and are now worshipping strange gods, the gods of Ba’al.  They have turned away from the God who has blessed them abundantly to worship false gods.  So, Jeremiah prophesies in their midst.  He is warning them, come back to the Lord.  If you do not he will not protect you from the enemies rising up in the north. 

The people’s response to him is mockery and laughter.  And so Jeremiah cries out,  I will not mention [God], I will speak in his name no more. Jeremiah is so sick of the abuse he has taken after giving his life to God that he doesn’t want to speak anymore. But listen to how this reading ends: But then [God’s Word] becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it. I believe we are being challenged to consider when  are we called to speak up and witness for God.

Speaking up is not easy.  I think of a parent who is worried about the direction of their child’s life and eventually feels the burning fire to speak up and help their child. It’s not easy to correct your child because it will temporarily put strain on the relationship.  It would be easier to ignore the issue rather than speak up.  Or I think about those times when we are in conversation and it turns into Gossip.  And sometimes we begin to feel that burning fire within us to end the gossip, but its difficult and easier to say nothing…

And as a Christians our beliefs are not very popular today.  Consider our belief that life needs to be protected from conception to natural death.  Or our beliefs on marriage, sexuality, and immigration.  All of these are unpopular in our society.  All of these are scary topics to bring up in a world where so many strongly disagree.

And finally, its not easy just to speak about our faith but even at times to live it.  I think about Mass on Sundays and sports.  Now all of you know how much I love sports.  But it saddens me when families miss Mass because of these sporting events.  Why? Because often times these families wanted to go to Mass but it seemed that no other family on the team was going to Church that weekend, and so they chose not to go either. 

Friends, Jesus informs his disciples this weekend that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly … and be killed.  Not only that but he also tells his disciples that whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow [him].  In other words, we are called to speak up even if it is not easy.  All of us are called to be prophets today just like Jeremiah.  This is a call that we have all received from our Lord.  We have heard it in our Gospel, yes, but we have also been given this call at our baptism.  We are prophets in this world. 

We are called to give witness to God’s saving love.  That’s the point.  Think again of Jeremiah.  He has been the object of laughter and no longer wants to speak of God,  but then says, I cannot endure this fire burning within me so I must speak.  Friends, Jeremiah spoke because he believed God was trying to save the Israelite people through the words God had given him.  We speak today, because we desire to bring the Good News of salvation to our friends and families.  We speak, not because its easy, but because we love.  May the Eucharist we receive today give us the strength to be witnesses of God’s love in this world.  May we be willing to speak.

In Christ’s Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Who Do You Say that I Am?

In high school, I had a friend that was very suspicious of organized religion, and specifically, Christianity.  What was his problem?  He saw too many Christians not living up to the faith.  And so, he said to me, “I respect the person Jesus Christ.  But I do not believe he was God – just an outstanding moral/social teacher.” Gandhi had a similar issue.  After reading the Gospels he famously said that if he ever met a Christian who actually lived out the Christian life, he would become a follower of Jesus Christ.  Wow…

This view, that Jesus was merely a good moral teacher, never sat well with me.  Intuitively, even though this young man is very smart, it seemed odd to say, “Jesus was a good man, but he wasn’t who he says he was!” How can someone be such an outstanding moral teacher and lie about who he is at the same time?

Jesus asks us this weekend, Who do you say that I am? And the disciples respond: Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Then Peter speaks,  Jesus, you are the Christ the Son of the living God.  Peter gets it right.  He recognizes that the person Jesus Christ is someone greater than the prophets – he is God among us!  And Jesus blesses Peter and says, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 

So what we have here is that knowledge of who Christ is – or rather – the process of coming to know the Divine Person Jesus Christ, happens through the Church. Upon Peter, says Christ, will I build my Church, because Peter knows that Christ is the Son of the living God. The purpose of the Church is to bring all of us into an encounter with Christ.

Here’s the question I have been reflecting on… why is it difficult for good people like my friend and Gandhi to see who Christ is?  I think the answer is humbling. The answer lies in the recent events of our country.  I find the increased racial tension in our country very disheartening.  The challenge in following Jesus Christ is that he has called us to be “One Body”, members of His Church, where race no longer divides us.  The unfortunate reality today is that there are many Christians who perpetuate the sin of racism.  The sins of many Christians has caused great evil in the world.  Therefore, they do not want to belong to “a church” but will respect the moral and social teachings of Jesus Christ as a good man.

If Jesus were to ask each of us today, Who do you say that I am, What would we say?  My friends, this is the challenge for all of us this weekend. We are called to know who Christ is. This is why we have the Church.  This is why we come every Sunday because we need to learn who Christ is in the Scriptures.  We need to be fed and nourished by Christ in the Eucharist.  And finally, we truly need the love and support of each other as a faith community.  And My friends, this is the challenged, all of us here are called to actually live out the Christian life, and to do that we must imitate Christ.  Friends, Gandhi once said that we must be the change that we wish to see in the world.  If we truly want racism to end in this country.  If we truly want others to know just how much Christ loves them.  Then we have to know who Christ is, become more like him, and live like Christ in the world.

In Christ,

Fr. Stephen

Prayer – Keeping our Eyes Fixed on Jesus

“One can only admire [Peter’s] faith.  Despite what follows, Peter shows himself courageous and trusting in a way that the other disciples do not”.  Peter goes out to the stormy sea so that he can join Jesus.  Everything is fine at first because Peter’s eyes are fixed on the Lord.  But suddenly it changes.  Peter sees the severity of the weather.  “To say that he ‘saw’ the severity of the weather implies that he took his eyes off Jesus… Having turned his attention away from the Lord, who enabled him to do by grace what he could never do by nature, Peter is left to rely on his own feeble power.” And so, he falls into the sea, and cries out “Lord, Save me!”

Our readings this weekend remind us how important it is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  During my time in the seminary, Bishop Barron reminded us, seminarians, that our lives had to be centered on our Lord Jesus.  This, he emphasized, was essential for any parish priest, because if we are to share with others the good news of Jesus Christ, we have to know him.  The same is true for all of us here.  Christ has to be the center of our lives.

How do we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus?  The answer is simple: it’s by cultivating an intimate prayer life with Jesus.  I find it sort of humorous that at the beginning of our Gospel this weekend, Matthew writes, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side.  Jesus needed some space.  So he sent his disciples on ahead of him so that he could have some quiet time for prayer so that he could talk with His Father.  Prayer was a central element of Jesus’ life.  And so our prayer life with God, really ought to be the central element of our lives.

In our first reading, Elijah is told to Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by… [and] After the fire, Elijah finds God, in a tiny whispering sound.  This is prayer.  Jesus teaches us this weekend that we find God in the quiet of our hearts.  Intimate prayer happens when we find solitude with God.  Another way to express it is that prayer is when our hearts speak to the heart of Christ.

In today’s busy world, we have every distraction available, and these can make prayer difficult.  But our challenge this weekend is to seek solitude.  Our challenge is to imitate Jesus, who sought time to pray and talk with His Father in heaven. 

Prayer will not take our storms in life away.  But, prayer, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, will give us the grace to persevere through any storms we may experience.  But Prayer is much more than God rescuing us in a time of need.  Prayer is a relationship, where God constantly fills us with his love, gives us purpose and identity.  Prayer is communion and friendship with God.  May the Eucharist we receive this weekend strengthen our fidelity to prayer.

In Christ’s Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

The Feast of the Transfiguration

“Peter volunteers to house Jesus and his heavenly guess; but what he is really trying to do is catch the ecstasy, house the glory and beauty of God that are pouring down over them, capture the experience of transcendental joy and communication so as to make it a permanent possession of man.  Who could blame him? Peter indeed senses that heaven and earth have come together… [which] unaccountably satisfies the deepest longings of our nature.”

Peter gives us great hope.  Just before our Gospel scene today Peter has an interesting exchange with our Lord.  We know it well.  Jesus asks the Apostles, Who do people say that I am? (Mt 16:13). And Peter confesses You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Mt 16:16).  And Jesus blesses Peter for understanding this.  But then, Jesus begins to tell his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly… and be killed and on the third day be raised (Mt 16: 21).  Peter, confused, looks at Jesus, no way man, No such thing shall ever happen to you! (Mt 16:22). Now frustrated Jesus says to Peter, Get behind me, Satan! (Mt 16:23).

Immediately after this scene, we have our Gospel today.  Jesus brings Peter, James, and John up the mountain and he is transfigured before them.  And Peter speaks again.  By this time, we are hoping that Peter says the right thing. He looks at Jesus and says: Lord it is good that we are here… If you wish, I will make three tents (Mt 17:4).

I think Peter responds like all of us would, which Jesus even says: [Peter], you are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do (Mt 16: 23). Peter sees the glorified Jesus.  It’s a glimpse at what the resurrected Jesus will look like.  Where the divinity of Jesus shines through his humanity, and he shines like the sun. This moment, the transfiguration on the Mount, is so beautiful, that Peter wants it to last. It’s a moment where he senses that heaven and earth have come together and Peter wants to cling to it. But the problem is that Peter is thinking as a human being does. Peter does not want to go to Jerusalem.  He certainly doesn’t want to see Jesus die.  He wants to hold on to this moment of the transfiguration. In short, Peter wants the fruit of the Resurrection, with out the crucifixion…

Jesus’ transfiguration, is an experience that is supposed to give Peter, James and John hope to go on the mission with Jesus.  This is the turning point in Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus’ identity has been established:  He is the Messiah, the son of the living God (Mt 16:16).  But now he is to go to Jerusalem so that he can finish his work.  So that he can accomplish his Mission.  And he wants his disciples to trust him and to go with him.

It can be easy for us to fall into the mindset of Peter… We want certain graces from God now without the journey that goes with it.

If we are struggling with sin in our lives, then we might be impatient with ourselves and beg God to take it away now.  But the journey towards freedom can teach us about our need for God. Or, maybe someone close to us is struggling in their faith.  A good friend of mine called me this week to ask prayers for her son.  Her son is struggling in his faith and isn’t sure of God’s love in his life.  It broke this mother’s heart.  The temptation for her is to be like Peter. But the son needs his journey so that he can have an experience of God in his life.  And so, for those of us accompanying others in situations like this, the journey itself can strengthen our bond, intimacy, and trust in God.

Fr.  Tony, myself, can also be like Peter. Fr. Tony and I, and I’m sure many of you also, have dreams for this parish. We have dreams about it being the Catholic hub, a parish completely on fire.  A parish where people come here because they know that they will encounter the Lord here.  And even for our desire to have a rockin parish, we have to remember that we are blessed, and have been blessed in many ways.  That our journey as people of God will bring more people to Christ.

But here’s the point my friends. The inevitable journey should not paralyze us in fear.  It should not prevent us from moving, growing, and being open to be transfigured.  Instead, the journey should inspire us!

My friends, the transfiguration today gives us hope for the end of the journey.  It gives us a glimpse at what resurrected life will be like.  But there is a journey we need to take.  Just as Jesus needed to go to Jerusalem, each of us has a special journey.  May the Eucharist we receive today strengthen us for this journey so that we too can be transfigured.

In Christ’s Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Our Pearl of Great Price

Jesus continues to speak to the disciples about what the kingdom of heaven will be like.  This time, he likens it to someone who finds a treasure or one who finds a pearl.  My friends, we are called to pray for the ability to recognize the gift.  Are we able to recognize our gifts?

All of us, I’m sure, can think of examples where gifts seem to be wasted or unappreciated.  I think of an athlete, who is so talented and for whatever reason has gotten into trouble.  And now, no longer is able to participate in his sport.

Friends, we are called to be aware of the gifts we have received from God so that we do not let them go to waste.  In the first letter of Peter, we read, As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. The gifts we have received are not meant for ourselves, they are meant to be shared with others, and with God too!

What is the greatest gift that we have received?  The greatest gift that each of us has received is the gift of our salvation.  John writes beautifully in his Gospel, that Jesus loved his own and he loved them to the end.  This is our pearl of great price because there was a great cost

One way that we honor our Lord, is that we recognize both the gift of our salvation and that this gift was bought with a great price.  As saint Peter reminded us, the gifts we have been given are meant to be shared.  This is why Christ is speaking these parables to the His disciples because he wants to increase their urgency/desire to evangelize the world.  Fr.  Arrupe, a Jesuit priest, writes about how we respond to this gift:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.

May the Eucharist we receive today remind us of the gift of God’s love in our lives, and inspire us to make others aware of this precious gift.

In Christ’s Friendship,

Fr. Stephen