We Will Shine Like the Sun

Notes: “However, if we exclude the possibility of conversion by too literal an interpretation of the text, we face the theological absurdity of a parable within the Gospel that presents a Christian view of the world in which the very essence of the Gospel, metanoia (conversion)… is an impossibility.”

“The whole Gospel consists in God’s invitation for us to join in this exodus from demonic darkness into divine light, which is … God’s most passionate desire for us”.

“God’s Being can embrace for all eternity only what has become like himself, that is, what has come to share in His own nature as fiery love”.

A couple of months ago I saw Beauty and the Beast.  I loved it, but I was surprised that it included some new songs.  One of those songs was entitled “Days in the Sun”.  I was captured by this songs depth. It allowed those watching the movie to experience what the servants of the castle were experiencing.  They longed for transformation.  They longed to be transformed back into human beings; as most of you know, the servants of the Castle had become material items (clocks, candlesticks, wardrobes etc.) they were no longer human.  Why?  Because they were included in on the curse that turned the young prince into a beast. This may seem unfair to us, but Mrs. Potts explains that they were all responsible for the man that the prince had become, and as a consequence, they too were ‘punished’ for their sins… So this song, Days in the Sun, expresses their hope that one day they will be human again: Days in the sun will return, we must believe, as [people who love] do, That days in the sun will come shining through

This weekend, we too, are called to long for our own transformation.  In our first parable, the servants come back to the Master, the sower of the field, and ask:  Master, should we remove the weeds that the evil one has planted? He says emphatically, No!  Why?  One reason could be that the servants were unable to distinguish from the weeds and the wheat.  The particular weed mentioned would resemble wheat in its early stages of growth. So, the master sends back the servants to the fields not to purge it, but so that the servants themselves will grow and mature in the process.

Jesus, this weekend, is asking us to listen carefully to the words of the parable: He who has ears, let him hear — In other words, Jesus is warning us “against understanding” this parable “as clearly defining ‘us the saved’ (wheat) over ‘them the damned’” (weeds).  This parable can lead us to categorize ourselves too quickly.  Some of us hearing it immediately might think, “well, of course, I am one of the good ones, I am among the wheat!” Those in this situation, believe they have already become saints, that they are no longer in need of conversion.  Conversely, some of us hearing this Gospel might think, “well, of course, I am one of the evil ones, I am among the weeds.”  Those in this situation, usually are despairing of God’s love, and sadly, view themselves as lost already…

But here’s the reality check, we are all in fact still in the process of maturation.  We are the servants sent back into the fields called to be transformed. For the servants in the Gospel, it was too early for them to tell which of the crop was weeds and which was wheat.  The same is true for us.  But! The purpose of the Gospel, we hear from Jesus over and over again, is to Repent and believe in the Good News – to be transformed! Jesus is serious in his challenge! He wants us to seek transformation.  This means actively responding to God’s grace in overcoming the sins in our lives.

We hear in our first reading that God is patient.  We hear also that God judges with mercy.  We also hear that God gives His children good ground for hope that He would permit repentance for their sins. Yes, God is serious about repentance.  Yes, God is serious about us turning away from our sinful lives.  But God is also patient.  I am reminded of one of Pope Francis’ most beautiful comments regarding God’s mercy:  God never tires of forgiving us; we tire of forgiving ourselves.   Whenever we recognize that we have fallen off track, and are in need of God’s mercy, we have the beautiful gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to put us back on track.

Friends in Christ, if we want to join the kingdom of heaven, the place that our parables speak about today, the place that God desires for all of us, then let us have hope.  Let us have hope that the God who has become man, can surely change each us.  Christ indeed has the power to change each of us from weeds and the power of the evil one, into wheat as children beloved by God.  For Christ assures us in the Gospel that one day we will shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father.

May the Eucharist we receive today, transform us and make us more like Christ, so that when the day of God’s kingdom arrives, God will recognize us as one of His own.

In Christ’s Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

The King of Peace

Is anyone here searching for peace in their lives?

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  These are very comforting words for all of us to hear.  But what kind of burdens are we carrying?  In what way is the Lord going to give us rest?

The Lord gives us rest by offering us peace.  In our first reading from Zechariah, we hear about how the future King who will come to us by riding on a Donkey.  Many scripture commentators point out that the king who comes riding on a donkey is a sign of humility.  And that certainly is true, but it also has another deeper meaning.  Bishop Barron explains, in ancient times, the way Kings would enter into their cities depended on the situation.  If it was a time of war, the king would enter in a grand way, on a great battle horse. But when a king would come in peace, he would come on a colt, or a donkey. He would come to establish peace.

And so Jesus says to us today, come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. If I were to take a poll right now I’m sure these would be some of the burdens each of us carry:  frustration over the never-ending violence in the world and especially frustration over the violence in our own country, sadness due to broken relationships in our families, exhaustion due to the busy-ness of our lives, and finally, we are burdened by the reality of our own struggles with sin.  I’m sure there are more examples, these are just some of the common ones we all experience.  But Jesus wants us this weekend to know of His peace. 

How do we obtain this peace?  Jesus invites us to take on his yoke, to learn from him who is meek and humble of heart.  It’s a strange image, isn’t it? Putting on a yoke evokes the image that we are servants or slaves.  And in a sense that is true, we are to be servants of Christ.  But here lies the paradox, we become servants in order to obtain freedom.  We are christ’s slaves because he wants to break us free of from our chains and to take away our burdens.  Putting on the yoke of Christ means putting on the yoke of freedom. 

And it is through the yoke of freedom that Christ gives us peace.  And so how do we experience this peace?  First, we experience it here, together as a Christian community united by the bond of peace in the Eucharist.  So, when we become frustrated with the violence in the world, we bring our prayers to the Lord in the Eucharist for peace in our world.  When we experience division in our own families, we hand over our loved ones to God in prayer and trust that he will take care of them.  And when we face the reality of sin in our own lives, we remember that Jesus heals us with these words, Peace be with you. As followers of Christ, we will continue to experience frustration, trials and suffering, but these burdens become lighter and more bearable with the Lord’s help.

The Lord truly does help us.  I think of that beautiful scene in the Gospels, when Jesus is tired an carrying His cross.  Eventually, he needs some help, and along comes Simone of Cyrene.  This cross is not unlike the yoke we are called to wear.  Christ’s message to us this weekend is that his yoke that we put on, means that he is with us to carry us through our trials, anxieties, and suffering to give us peace.

We hold on to the peace of Christ by staying close to Jesus in both prayers and in the Eucharist. May the Eucharist we receive today give us the spiritual peace we all seek.

 

Pax,

Fr. Stephen

 

Whoever Receives you, Receives me

Notes: “Our love for Jesus is to be as spontaneous, unconditional, and inevitable as our love for father, mother, or child, only infinitely more absolute”.

“Once again Jesus reveals his divine origin, his divine nature as Son of God, not conceptually, through abstract definition, but dynamically, by proclaiming himself more worthy of any man’s love than the very beings to whom that man owes his physical life.”

The words of our Gospel this morning I find very moving.  They are a great encouragement for me as I begin my time here at Our Lady of Consolation.  Jesus says, Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.  Friends, I have been sent here by Bishop Walkowiak, to serve you as your parochial vicar.  His hope is that I, along with Fr. Tony, are able to bring each of you into a deeper relationship with God.  It is a hope, most likely, shared by each of you.  And so, you expect, and hope, that as you receive me here at this parish, you will encounter God in a deeper way.  These words for me have been an encouragement and a challenge: How will I represent Christ’s love to this community? We’ll pray for one another as we begin our time together at OLC.  And, I’m excited to be here. 

But our Gospel has a strange message… Jesus says, Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.  Why would he say this? Further, why does it seem like we have two separate messages for us in our Gospel today? The truth is that these two statements, 1) whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and, 2) whoever receive you receives me and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me are very intentional statements said together by Christ to emphasize something. They are together a profound Christological statement.  They teach us about who Christ is.

Is Jesus saying that we should not have a deep love for our parents? For our sisters and brothers? And for our close friends?  Of course not.  But what is he saying?  The verb that Christ uses for love in this statement is Phileo – it evokes a tender love for another person.  In other words, it evokes that same kind of love we exhibit with our family.   The bond and connection between the family, for us, can be the highest kind of love we experience on earth.  The closeness and tenderness that can exist amongst family members is unconditional.  We love our family simply because they are family. 

So when Jesus says you must love me more than your father and mother, he is asking for us to give our hearts to him totally.  Christ wants a close and tender relationship with all of us.  But here is why the call to love him more than members of our family is a profound statement about who Christ is.  For the Jews, something that was already expected was to love God with one’s whole heart, mind, and soul.  They would not have been scandalized at all if Jesus had said, whoever loves father or mother more than God is not worthy of Him.  But instead, he referred to himself.  But, “Only God can deserve such absolute love from each person individually and from humankind collectively”.  Jesus asks for us to love Him with all our being; as if he is God, and it is because he is God.

Jesus has revealed his divine origin.  Whoever receives one of his disciples, receives the one who sent him.  Jesus’ mission is to proclaim the Heavenly Father to the world.  So, if we receive Jesus, and seek to love him, the kind of love experienced between close friends, then we, in fact, come to know God in a more intimate way.

And this reality that Christ comes from God – that Christ is God – changes us!  Saint Paul reminds us of the beautiful gift that we have received from Christ by being baptized.  He says, Brothers and Sisters, Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?… so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.  One of the most amazing truths about our Christian faith is how we come to know God.  In other religions, finding God is our task, our search for God.  But what separates Christianity is God’s search for us.  God sent his son Jesus, into our lives to reveal himself to us and his profound love for us.  Our challenge is to take the call of our baptism seriously.  To turn away from our old selves, our bad habits, vices, and struggles with sin.  Now we are defined by who we are in Christ.  Each of us a son and daughter of God. 

So today, as we receive the Eucharist, we come before Jesus with gratitude, that it is truly God that we approach.  May the Eucharist we receive strengthen us to turn away from our old lives and live in the newness of life that Christ has given us.

Corpus Christi: the Heart of the Christian Life

Some years ago, I spent a summer teaching in a program called Totus Tuus.  This was a program like VBS that taught children about the beauty of their Catholic faith.  One day, I was talking about the Eucharist to the third graders, and a young girl raised her hand.  She asked: If the Eucharist is truly Jesus, then why aren’t we called to worship, or love Jesus, in the chapel all the time?  Why would we ever leave? Now it’s a funny question, true, but also very profound.  Why do we leave? Why is it, that right after we receive the Eucharist today, we will all leave this church?  Why don’t we just stay and adore our Lord…?

To answer this question, it is important for us to reflect on the experience of receiving Jesus’ precious body and blood in the Holy Eucharist.  Jesus says to us today:  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. This language, “remain in me” is an important theme throughout the Gospel of John.  It points to the closeness, or the intimacy, that Christ desires to have with his disciples; that is, all of us here! So, the Eucharist is truly an encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is pointing out to us that the Eucharist, is in fact, his presence among us.  He says, he is the bread come down from heaven, the one who has come to give us life.  When the Jewish crowds hear Jesus say this, they grumble and argue.  But then Jesus says those words.. those trigger words that inform us that what he is about to say is really really important.  He says to the crowds with emphasis:  Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life.

All of us can understand that the presence of a friend nourishes us and gives life.” This, my friends in Christ, is what Jesus is accomplishing with us by making himself present to us through the Eucharist.  Think, for example of a close friend who, perhaps you haven’t seen in awhile.  Often times to catch up with this friend it will be over a shared meal together.  And what we realize later, is that it’s our friend’s love and presence in our lives that is real food for us. It’s the experience of friendship that gives us life.  How fitting then it is, then, that the Eucharist is given to us in the context of a meal, truly is an encounter with our Lord. It is a true experience of a friendship that is life-giving. It’s the place where Christ loves us, nourishes our lives, and hears our prayers.  It is an intimate friendship; one not void of reciprocity. Because he is present!

And so, why do we leave after this Mass is over?  Because, as we grow in our relationship with Christ, the Eucharist we receive actually changes us.  “If Jesus is our beloved friend, then we will want to do what he wants and live for him and for his works and promises.  And what does Jesus want? That we conform our lives to Christ by turning away from sin.  That we love people, even our enemies, and do not judge or condemn people, but forgive them.” Jesus wants us to love others as he has loved us. In other words, the love of Jesus that we encounter through the Eucharist moves us outward.  It directs us back out into the world, to those we meet every day in our lives, so that we can share, strengthened by Christ in the Holy Eucharist, God’s love to others. This is why we leave.  Because we experience a love that we must share! And so we hear those words at the end of Mass: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, this is why coming together every Sunday is the heart of the Christian life. The Eucharist we celebrate together each week is where our hearts encounter the heart of Jesus Christ.  But then, just like the heartbeat sends blood throughout the body, so does the Eucharist send us out to bring Jesus, the one we have received, into the world. 

May the Eucharist we receive today, be a true encounter of Christ in our lives, and strengthen us to bring him out into the world.

 

In Christ’s Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Fidget Spinner? How do we balance our relationship with the Holy Trinity?

“The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself. to men and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin” (CCC 234).

Does anyone have a fidget spinner? or, Who knows what this is?   

(Take out fidget spinner and spin it for a moment… explain how much you love these things and how big they became even at the seminary). 

But the fidget spinner, I think can also serve as a metaphor for our own relationship with God.  Because, with this fidget spinner, it is clearly one, but it has three distinct parts, and, when it spins, those three parts need to balance just right so that the spinner can continue to spin.

The same is true for our relationship with God.  We are called to have a balanced relationship with God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  And as we grow in our relationship with each Person of the Trinity, we become more fully aware of God’s ongoing presence in our life.   So, a good question for all of us to reflect on this weekend is this: how is my relationship with God?  More specifically, how is my relationship with the Heavenly Father?  With Jesus Christ?  And, with the Holy Spirit? Is it a balanced relationship, or,  is our relationship with one Person of the Trinity lacking?

When a relationship with one person of the Holy Trinity is lacking, things can fall off the rails; just as the fidget spinner falls off the finger as it loses balance. From the Heavenly Father –  we receive our identity – as his sons and daughters. If our relationship with the Father is lacking then we might forget that we are his beloved children.  (Give ex. of young man and father experiencing a difficult relationship, young man tries to prove his worth to his Father).  Friends we never have to prove ourselves to God.  There is nothing we can do to make Him love us less! We are his sons and daughters.

Through Jesus –  we are justified, saved and given the gift of being called children of God. Jesus is our closest friend. I have called you friends, he says, so that your joy may be complete! If our relationship with Christ is lacking then we might lose sight on what Christ has done for us – that he has saved us.  We might begin to presume God’s love. Salvation came with a price (Jesus’ death) and it calls us to conversion. When we look at that cross, we see the most powerful sign of God’s love for us.  A healthy relationship with Christ, remembers the love freely given on the cross, and the call to allow that love to change our lives – to put on the new self in Christ.

The Holy Spirit – the one who fills us with his love, binds us together in peace and love as God’s holy people… The Spiritual life that lacks a relationship with the Holy Spirit is, I think, that today, we forget about the Holy Spirit presence in our lives. This is a very real struggle for all of us today. Whenever we are experiencing a lack of hope or lack of trust in God, God wants us to know that he is present to us with the Holy Spirit.  We may be afraid, but we always have hope and the love of the Holy Spirit to take us through any struggle (think of the Acts of the Apostles!)

My friends in Christ, this is why we celebrate Trinity Sunday when we do.  We have just completed celebrating the Easter Season, and during that time we commemorate how God has revealed himself to us throughout the ages (CCC 234).  It started way back when, when the Father revealed Himself to the Israelite people.  It continued when Christ was sent to proclaim the Father to the world.  The revelation of God was completed for us when the Holy Spirit was sent among us, to be the very presence of God living in us. God wants to reveal the fullness of himself to each of us.  Today we are invited to pray to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit constantly.

This is Paul’s teaching in his second letter to the Corinthians: The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  When we consider what we do at Mass, all of our prayers are Trinitarian.  Every prayer is addressed to the Father, through the Son and in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

So, this weekend we have been called to reflect on our relationship with the Holy Trinity.  May we seek a balanced relationship with the God.  One where we know that we are all the Heavenly Father’s beloved Children.  One where we know that Christ is both our Savior and Friend.  One where we know that the holy spirit dwells among us to encourage and strengthen us to live in peace, and the love of God.

May the Eucharist we receive today, remind us how precious each of us is to God.

Pax,

Fr. Stephen

May We Entrust Our Worries to God

Why do we worry? To answer this question we should go back to our first reading. The prophet Isaiah expresses how the people of Zion are feeling, “The LORD has forsaken me; my LORD has forgotten me!” It is important for us to remember that the Israelite people feel forgotten because of what has happened to them. They have been kicked out of the promised land by the Babylonians, many loved ones were killed in the process, and now life was not flourishing for them as it was before. So, they question God. Where are you? Why didn’t you protect us? Why didn’t you prevent these evils from happening to us!?

 I think all of us can relate to the Israelites. When we experience suffering, evil, or any kind of bad news in our lives, we commonly respond, but God where were you!? These experiences of suffering in our lives can lead us to believe that we are alone. As a result we begin to believe “I alone will provide for my needs, and that I can trust myself only.” Our worries can lead us to become totally and completely self-reliant. 

 How can this worry that dominates the hearts of many Christians lead to self-reliance today? It is normal for us to worry about the future, our job, our finances, our families, or our reputation. To have a concern for these human matters is important, but we can become preoccupied with them in a way that is unhealthy for our spiritual lives. How can this be? Surely it is important for one to have a job and earn money so as to provide for themselves and others. But the temptation can be to let this desire of being “comfortable” and “secure” become the main focus of our lives. This can be the case in such a way that the only thing that matters are the earthly goods we need so that we can take care of ourselves. In other words, we lose the need for one another, and more alarming, we lose our need for God and our trust in God.  

This type of self-reliance, or trust in oneself, as a response to our worrying is what Jesus is speaking to us about today. Jesus says that we cannot serve both God and mammon. What he means is this: if we allow ourselves to be weighed down by worry, and to solely trust in our selves, we begin to pursue only earthly goods. This is what it means to serve mammon. The problem is that we forget about the highest good. Our pursuit of earthly wealth and comfort can lead us to neglect our “wholehearted service and love for God.”

 The question for all of us to reflect on this weekend is where do we place our trust? Do we place our trust in our Heavenly Father or do we place our trust in our selves by becoming totally self-reliant. Jesus calls us to remember that those “who seek first the kingdom have a peaceful confidence in the Father to provide for their lives.” This is the hope offered to all of us this weekend.  

 If we doubt this hope let us go back to our first reading where we heard about how the Israelites had lost their trust in God. The prophet Isaiah compares God’s fidelity and love for each of us using the image of a Mother and the tender care she has for her child. “Can a mother forget her infant?”, he says. We would consider it alarming if a mother forgot her child. The same is true for us with God! And then Isaiah beautifully reaffirms God’s fidelity and love for us, “Even should the mother forget, [God] will never forget you!”    

 My friends, if we find ourselves worrying may we turn to the Heavenly Father for confidence. He is our source of great peace and joy. God is the one who liberates us from the worry that might plague our lives. Our lives will never be completely free from worry. But, I encourage all of us here to reflect on those worries we carry in our lives and to hand them over to God in prayer. Let God know what we are worried about, and we will hear these reassuring words from him, “I will never forget you, and I am with you.” May this Eucharist we receive today be a reminder of God’s covenant fidelity to us: like a good mother, he never forgets us and always provides for us the tender love that we need.
 

Pax, 

SJD

Prepare the way of the Lord

Next month many of us will make New Year’s resolutions.  Some of us, looking to drop a couple of pounds after the Christmas holidays, will attempt to commit to a routine of working out more regularly.  Some of us may try to go to bed earlier so that we can wake up in the morning at the same time every day.  Whatever it is, many, myself included, will make New Year’s resolutions regarding our health; I fall into the “working out more” category of new year’s resolutions. 😉

But, we just began our season of Advent, which marks the beginning of our liturgical year.  How appropriate it is that the beginning of our liturgical year is our time to prepare and welcome the Christ-Child at his birth.  In these weeks to come we are called to be ready for Christ to come into our lives.  Specifically, this week, in the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist encourages us to Prepare the way of the Lord. In other words, make yourselves ready to receive Jesus Christ into your lives. 

How do we prepare the way of the Lord? Well, I think, it looks similar to our practice of New Year’s resolutions.  New Year’s resolutions tend to be those things in our lives that we want to improve on just a bit.  Rather, these resolutions are changes we wish to make to promote healthy living. So in our new liturgical year, as we prepare the way of the Lord, maybe this is a chance to reflect on some spiritual resolutions we can make so that we can welcome Jesus into our lives through ongoing conversion.

John the Baptist gives us the first concrete step of preparing the way of the Lord. Repent, he says, for the kingdom of heaven, Our Lord, is at hand.  John is encouraging us to take an honest look at our lives.  What are the ways in which we can turn more to Christ?  What are those sins that prevent me from loving our Lord and our Neighbor?  How is Christ calling me to conversion?

In our Catholic faith we have a beautiful practice that encourages ongoing conversion, that is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Confession is offered every Saturday here at Saint Emily’s from 3:45pm until about 4:45pm.  But, this Monday, December 5th at 7 p.m. there will be a number of priests available to hear confessions.  Listen to these words from our Pastor, Fr. Presta, who encourages the practice of the Sacrament: “If you haven’t been to confession in a while” he says, “now is the time to do it! It’s a great way ‘to clean out the cobwebs of your soul’ and experience the healing forgiveness of the Lord in the graces offered in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”  Confession is that moment where we can name those areas in our lives that need to be converted.  The first spiritual resolution for us to make this year can be a commitment to going to confession more; maybe once a month. Ongoing conversion can happen by naming our sins and struggles in reconciliation.  This practice can enable God to bring us healing in these areas of our lives.

In the letter to the Romans, Saint Paul gives us another spiritual resolution.  He says, May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another.  Paul is challenging us to take the words we pray in the Our Father seriously, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. The love that we experience from Christ, in the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, should inspire us to love others as Christ loves us.  Just as we have been accepted by Christ, we ought to accept one another. 

In my family, the Christmas season can be a challenge because our family experiences the tensions that come with divorce.  So every year, my siblings and I have to discuss how we will celebrate the holidays with both parents in a way that communicates to both of them that we love them and that both of them are important to us. Divorce is never easy and every person in the family is hurt by it in some way.  But, Christmas is that check for me, am I doing what I pray for?  Am I forgiving others as Christ forgives me? A second resolution for all of us can be to strive to bring peace and the love Christ into relationships that need healing.

Conversion is not a one time event.  In a sense, conversion will always be necessary, and the work of conversion will never be finished in our lives. But if we take the time to intentionally prepare well as John the Baptist encourages us, maybe when Christ arrives this year at Christmas we will come to know more fully just how much Christ’s love changes our lives; both in the healing of our sins and in the reconciliation of broken relationships between family and friends.  As we continue our journey through advent, may this be a time where we reflect on where Christ is calling us to make a change, and therefore make a spiritual resolution. May this Eucharist we receive today, give us the strength and encouragement we need to seek ongoing conversion in our lives.

Pax,

SJD