Sunday, December 24, 2017

God At Work

December 24, 2017 –– 4th Sunday of Advent
2 Samuel 7:1–5, 8b–12, 14a, 16 / Psalm 89 / Romans 16: 25–27 / Luke 1:26–38
God At Work

Today’s readings tell us that God has come into our world in some definite and incredible ways. The Creator God of all-that-is wants to be involved in our lives.

The Scriptures give us pictures through stories which show something of what that means. One of the extended Old Testament stories is about David, the boy-shepherd who became the model-king of Israel. King David is a wonderful example of great faith mixed with human weakness. There were times when the power of God working though him was nothing short of incredible; yet David was human enough that the power of sin sometimes clouded his faith so that he made some terrible decisions. But God gave David a huge promise: I will make your name great…. will establish a house for you…. will establish the throne of [your son’s] kingdom forever (2Sam 7: 9, 11, 13). It was one of the ways God himself was at work to come into our world.

When we come to the Gospel story we know the story end from the beginning. We can take it for granted: the angel Gabriel was sent from God… to a virgin… named Mary. The angel’s message was the fulfillment of God’s promise to David, but the glory of the kingdom was not visible. 
And for all the honor that Mary has since received from the Church, nothing would have seemed special about Mary at the time. If we could have looked in the window that day we would have seen what appeared to be a nobody––a poor young woman seemingly in the process of doing what most young women did: she was betrothed to a man named Joseph.

And it got worse: you will conceive in your womb and bear a son….  Not only is Mary seemingly a poor nobody, her life is about to marked with scandal. Mary was going to have a child and she was not yet married. These stories define who we are as Christians.

We need to take care with the story not to “put it on a shelf” ––something to be taken out once a year and allowed to take us to a nostalgic place of warm fuzzies about a baby surrounded by animals and shepherds and even angels. If we do that, we can miss two important things. First, we can think of this as a "once upon a time" story and lose the impact of what is true and real.

If that happens, we will miss an even more important thing (at least on a personal level): the story includes us! The God who entered our world in such a miraculous way wants to work supernaturally in each of us. That’s not to say that we are going to be as substantial in God’s work as David. Certainly none of us will have the stature in God’s plan as Mary.

But…. We are each invited to believe that just as God was at work personally in David and Mary (and many others in the ongoing biblical story), God wants to be at work in each of our lives to fulfill his purpose for coming into our world. The story that God is writing is not limited to the events we read in the Bible. Those long-ago stories happened so we can be part of what God is doing even today. God sent his Son to be the eternal King of the Kingdom prefigured by David because he wants us to be part of that Kingdom. God sent Jesus to be conceived in the womb of Mary and called holy, the Son of God, because he wants Jesus to be “conceived” in each one of us so that we can be HOLY.

What are you expecting God to do in your life because he sent his Son? It seems the world at large hardly expects to see Christians living from day to day any differently from anyone else.  Maybe we think our sins disqualify us from God using us. If that idea comes into your mind, think of David. Maybe we think we are too insignificant––as Mary would have appeared to be. But the story is true and our Faith is true: on this fourth Sunday of Advent we live our days in the presence of the God who, through the angel, told Mary: nothing will be impossible for God.

What does God want to do in you? One way to find out is to tell the Lord from your heart exactly what Mary said: May it be done to me according to your word. If we do that, we will discover God at work in each of our lives.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


Wednesday: December 13, 2017 –– 2nd Week in Advent
Isaiah 40: 25–31 / Psalm 103 / Matthew 11: 28–30

Except for people limited by an innocence of either age or mental capacity, I think it can be assumed that everyone is aware of some worry, threat, pain, or limitation that seems too big or unjust or hopeless. It is the nature of this world that things go wrong.

It is often wondered why, if God is all-powerful and all-loving, that he doesn’t “fix” everything and leave us all happy. Actually, God has promised to do just that––but not yet.

Why? I believe one reason is that God wants us to feel the effects of sin (disregard of his “Manufacturer’s Instructions”––a good way to understand his Commandments). The option of disregarding God is necessary for love. God wants us to love him, and love cannot be forced (or it’s not love). God could have made us as programmed robots, but there can be no relationship with a machine. Again, he wants us to love him as he loves us.

So God gives us the choice of disregarding and disobeying him. Yet, in love, he allows us to receive the repercussions of that disobedience. He allows us to hurt each other and to be hurt by a universe that was broken when we chose evil (disobedience). Why is disobedience evil? Because God is the epitome of goodness, and when we choose to turn from goodness the result is bad. Again, God lets us feel the bad in the hope that we will turn and run to him.

And this is what God wants (but remember, it’s our choice––the nature of love). Yet when we take the tiniest step toward God, we find that he has already taken incredible steps toward us. He comes to us. That is the message of Christmas. He takes our death and gives us his life. That is the message of the Cross and the Resurrection.

So every day, we have a choice. We can focus on hard circumstances and listen to the world’s (the devil’s) lie that mere nice circumstances will fix everything. We can think it’s up to us; that we humans can fix the world by ourselves (but we are too far too limited in perspective and ability). OR…. we can believe that God has promised to fix everything (in his time) and begin to live now as if God is truly real and here.

That is the invitation from Jesus in this Gospel. It’s not a promise to give an immediate fix to everything, but a promise that if we come to him he will be with us. The Psalm tells us how that can be: we can come to Jesus for rest because, even though he is God, he gives us forgiveness instead of judgment. And if we truly believe that, it changes how we live in this world. Instead of feeling beaten down, Isaiah says that God will lift us up even as we live in a hard world.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary,
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Let’s ask for the grace to believe that today…. and every day.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The King Whose Name Is Love

November 26, 2017 –– 34th (Last) Sunday in Ordinary Time / Solemnity of Christ the King (A)
Ezekiel 34:11–12, 15–17 / 1 Corinthians 15:20–26, 28 / Matthew 25:31–46
The King Whose Name Is Love

Imagine a world in which no one was put down, left out, or abused….

There would be no stories in the news with details we need to hide from our children.

We could trust people in authority to do the right thing––and certainly never to do anything atrocious.

Earlier in the chapter of the first reading, God lets the people know that he is quite aware of the inequity and injustice happening on earth: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! (34:2). It’s not only in our day that prominent––and not so prominent––people have abused others. But that is not the way it is supposed to be, and it’s not the total picture.

From each big politician, each pastor, and each individual parent, from those who are relatively good and strong to those terribly weak and bad––above and beyond every person on this earth who has the prerogative of any power over others, we have a Good Shepherd who has promised: I myself will look after and tend my sheep (Ez 34:11).

Today we celebrate in a focused way that this Good Shepherd is Jesus Christ the King. This Shepherd says:
I myself will pasture my sheep;
  I myself will give them rest.
The lost I will seek out,
  the strayed I will bring back,
  the injured I will bind up
  the sick I will heal….
This Shepherd is able to do what he says because the Shepherd is the King.

How many of us need rest? How many people close to us are straying or injured or sick? Our Shepherd-King says, I will pasture my sheep.

A mom was concerned about her kindergarten son walking to school. Johnny didn't want his mother to walk with him so she had an idea. She asked a neighbor to follow him to school in the mornings, staying at a distance, so he probably wouldn't notice her. The neighbor said that since she was up early with her young daughter anyway, it would be a good way to get a bit of exercise, so she agreed.

The next school day, the neighbor and her little girl set out following behind Johnny as he walked to school with another neighbor boy. She did this for the whole week. As the boys walked and chatted, Johnny’s little friend noticed the same lady was following them every day. Finally he said to Johnny, "Have you noticed that lady following us to school all week? Do you know her?"

Johnny nonchalantly replied, "Yeah, I know who she is."

The friend said, "Well, who is she?"

"That's just Shirley Goodnest," Timmy replied,"and her little girl, Marcy."

Who is that, and why is she always following us? "

"Well," Johnny explained, "every night my Mom makes me say the 23rd Psalm with my prayers, 'cuz she worries about me so much. And the Psalm says, 'Shirley Goodnest and Marcy shall follow me all the days of my life', so I guess I'll just have to get used to it!"

We have a King, and one of his names is Love. He is our Shepherd, and he promises to follow us all the days of our lives. All we need to do to truly profit from this is to believe it.

Sunday, November 5, 2017


November 5, 2017 –– 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Malachi 1:14b–2:2b, 8–10 / Psalm 131 / 1 Thessalonians 2:7b–9, 13 / Matthew 23:1–12

No one likes a hypocrite. Some of the strongest words in Scripture are directed toward religious people who say one thing and do another. The first reading and the Gospel are examples. Through Malachi, God warns priests who do not keep my ways. In the Gospel, Jesus describes some of the Pharisees by saying: they preach but they do not practice.

It’s likely that many of the Pharisees meant well. They understood that God had commanded his people to be holy. Have you ever thought about how hard it is to define the world holy? “Holy” can be threatening. It can seem unattainable. It can even project images of self-righteousness and judgmentalism. It seems easier to describe what holiness is not than to define what it is, but that can turn into a negative bunch of rules. Some perfectionists are rigid because they so deeply want everything to be right. Even beyond that, some people who want to emphasize holiness do so by exalting themselves––what they do and don’t do, and that is the essence of hypocrisy.

It’s not that boundaries and rules are bad (try to imagine football with no boundaries or rules!) but, again, no one likes a hypocrite. So the thing that puts the boundaries and rules in proper perspective is, using the football analogy, a love of the game and good sportsmanship.  A good word for those things is integrity. People respect integrity––in total contrast to hypocrisy––and especially in religion. It is refreshing to find a wonderful example of this in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.

There have always been so-called “spiritual leaders” who are charlatans. There are hucksters and hypocrites in our world, and in Paul's day there were many wandering teachers and magicians who made a living by fleecing other people and living wicked lives. Some of Paul's opponents in Thessalonica tried to put him in that category. They said: 
––he was in error (v3) 
––he had impure motives (v3) 
––he was trying to trick them (v3) 
––he was trying to impress them (v4) 
––he was a flatterer (v5) 
––he was greedy (v5)

Paul was not that kind of man. Later in this letter he urged his readers to embrace his own standard: to abstain from every form of evil (1Thess 5:22). He did not even take what he could have legitimately received for his ministry. It was his right to receive from the people his upkeep for the time he was with them. But no, he worked night and day in order not to burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God (v9). One loose translation says, "Day and night we worked so that our preaching of the gospel to you might not cost you a penny” (J.B.Phillips). Paul's way of living was so entwined with that of Christ that his very life was an expression of the gospel. That is integrity. 

The Thessalonians saw a picture of the heavenly Father through Paul. He says we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God (vs.11,12). Paul was able to affirm: in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe. It was out of this that the Thessalonian church was born. One goal of a Christian life is to model who God is; the Lord builds his Church on that.

The Psalmist describes integrity as someone who stands by his oath even to his hurt or to put it another way, makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise (15:4). Integrity is someone who is willing to say "I was wrong.” Integrity is helping others at a cost to ourselves. The test of integrity is when the heat is on––when we are under is pressure. Paul reminded the Thessalonian church: we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition (v2). Our integrity, or the lack of it, also shows when we think no one looking. Someone has said a man is what he does when he is alone.

Often the biggest impediment to integrity is trying to appear better than we are. This is why Jesus criticized the Pharisees. We are not here to impress each other. In the Gospel Jesus says the way to be great is to a servant, for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. And Jesus tells us why this is so important: you have but one Father in heaven and you are all brothers. We need to walk humbly before God (see Micah 6:8). When our thoughts turn to who might be looking at us, let’s remember that––first of all––we are living under the gaze of our Lord.

God is calling us to love him––each one of us with our personal gifts and weaknesses, and in our respective places. St Augustine said Love God and do what you will.  When we do that, through his grace and strength, our lives can model consistency and love and faithfulness. That is one of the best ways to evangelize. The world is hungry for people who live with integrity.

Hear again these words from St Paul: we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well.… That is the Christian character of integrity.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

God Calls Our Name

October 22, 2017 –– 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 45:1, 4–6 / Psalm 96 / 1 Thessalonians 1:1–5b / Matthew 22:15–21
God Calls Our Name

It’s so common that by now I should have adapted––but I haven’t. I make a phone call and a computer answers and I get annoyed. Even worse, I sometimes get a phone call, and it’s a machine. I always hang up (actually, I’ve stopped answering unless I recognize a name or number). There is something in us that wants personal contacts to be personal.

We live in a culture that reduces persons to numbers and bar codes and strange inscriptions imbedded in magnetic stripes on plastic cards we carry. So it’s wonderful when we can be part of something where other people know our name. I have a fairly decent memory for names (once I’ve truly learned to know someone). I frequently run into people from my pastoral days of 35 years ago, and I usually call them by name. Relationships are so important in the church.

When we know each other by name there is so much more that can open up. We begin to truly know each other, and with that comes the incredible act of praying for each other. In today’s second reading Paul told the Thessalonians: We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers…. Christian faith is personal, not only with one another, but with God.

The incredible thing is that God knows us by name! Jesus gave this wonderful contrast: Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Matt 10:29–31). If God knows the hairs of our head, he knows our name!

The first reading explicitly affirms this. God chose to use the Persian king, Cyrus, to open the way for the Jews to return to their land from captivity. Through the prophet Isaiah, God singles Cyrus out––even before he was born––and says: Thus says the Lord to his anointed, Cyrus…. I have called you by your name…. Cyrus was not an Israelite; God says though you knew me not. Cyrus did not know God, but God knew him––and God called Cyrus, in turn, to know him.

That is the story of salvation. John writes in his first letter: In this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice for our sins…. We love because he first loved us (1Jn 4:10, 19). The Good News is that God loves us and calls us by name.

The Psalmist meditated on the intimacy we can have with God:
Lord, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest;
with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
Lord, you know it all.
Behind and before you encircle me
and rest your hand upon me (Psa 139: 1–5).

God knows us so totally…. and he loves us.

In 2005 I was diagnosed with cancer. I grew up in a time when the “C” word usually meant death was on the immediate horizon. I’m thankful that has changed in the past 50-60 years, but the emotional threat in my mind was all too real. Now, I had a committed Christian faith. I’d been in pastoral ministry at that time for around thirty years. But when a real threat is suddenly right in front of you, “faith” takes on a new perspective. Then I read (again, but as if for the first time) some later verses in that same psalm:
When I was being made in secret,
fashioned in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw me unformed;
in your book all are written down.
My days were shaped, before one came to be (Psa 139:15,16).

Before we were born, God knew every one of us. He knows our name. He knows what our days hold. He knows when the last chapter of our life on earth will end. Most of my life has been given to telling of God’s invitation to trust him for eternity. In the face of my cancer and the reality of these verses, it hit me: If I can trust God for my eternity, I can certainly trust him for my time in this life. Why? God loves me. He knows my name and everything about me. That is true for every one of us.

Early on Easter morning, before the glorious reality of the Lord’s resurrection had been realized by even his closest followers, Mary Magdalene was near the tomb and weeping because, as she said, they have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him (Jn 20:13). The story continues: When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”* which means Teacher (Jn 20:14–16). Jesus called her name. Then she knew Jesus was there.

God called Cyrus by name. Jesus called Mary by name. The Lord is calling each one of us by our name today. Listen, and you will know he is near.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Look At God’s Mercy

September 24, 2017 –– 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 55:6–9 / Psalm 145 / Philippians 1:20c–24,27a / Matthew20:1–16a
A Look At God’s Mercy

Each week we hear three Scripture readings, usually from the Old Testament, an Epistle, and always a Gospel. This is a primary way that God speaks to us. The lector says “the Word of the Lord” and we reply “Amen.” The  opening of the letter to the Hebrews affirms this: In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son….

Why has God spoken as he has? Why did God speak through other people (the prophets) instead of directly to all of us? (Haven’t you ever wanted a clear,  unmistakable “direct word” from the Lord?). Why the progressive revelation? Maybe the most succinct answer comes through Isaiah:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts…. (55:8,9).

God doesn’t tell some things because we couldn’t understand even if he told us. We are too small and limited. He doesn’t tell us other things because, even understanding, we couldn’t handle it (we have a hard time handling much of what he has told us––just think of the incredible implications of the last sentence in the second reading: Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ). We have to work at that every day: living in a way worthy of the Gospel.

The more we understand what God has revealed in the Scriptures, the more complete our understanding and the more our lives will be be aligned to the what God desires (and what is truly good). In today’s Gospel we have the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. Some get confused and think this is about justice or “fairness”, when it’s really about God’s mercy and his purposes. There are at least two “levels” of meaning in this parable. Most readers do not recognize the first, but it’s actually basic to the second meaning we instinctively want.

Scott Hahn gave this summary: The landowner is God. The vineyard is the kingdom. The workers hired at dawn are the Israelites, to whom he first offered his covenant. Those hired later in the day are the Gentiles, the non-Israelites, who, until the coming of Christ, were strangers to the covenants of promise (see Ephesians 2:11-13). In the Lord’s great generosity, the same wages, the same blessings promised to the first-called, the Israelites, will be paid to those called last, the rest of the nations. This provokes grumbling. The complaint of the first laborers sounds like that of the older brother in Jesus’ prodigal son parable (see Luke 15:29-30). God’s ways, however, are far from our ways, as we hear in today’s First Reading.

Alongside the the huge truth of God’s extravagant mercy that we find here  is a caution against a temptation to resent God’s lavish mercy. Why? We so quickly and easily want to be forgiven (or even excused), but there is a desire for the other guy to “get what he deserves.”

The Gospel is the wonderful realization that God is not like that. Isaiah says that God is generous in forgiving. Then he gives the great contrast: my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts….

It is very human to keep score. It is godly to want love and mercy to win over pay-back and vengeance. It is human to want others to get what they deserve. It is godly to want the best for others.

God is always ready to extend mercy. Yet many will not receive God’s mercy because they will not open themselves to it. How do we open ourselves to mercy? Isaiah tells us:
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
   call upon him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
   and the wicked his thoughts;
Let him turn to the Lord for mercy….

Think of that in the context of the parable. Those who started to work early and worked all day were paid the promised day’s wage. Those who worked half a day were paid a day’s wage. Those who worked the last hour of the day were paid a day’s wage. That is the mercy of God. No matter when we turn to him––as a child or as an older adult––there is full forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.

There is another class of people, though, who are not explicitly mentioned in the parable, but we can assume they were there: it’s the people who decided not to work at all. Maybe it was “too hot” (the all-day workers complained about the day’s burden and heat), and they wanted to be comfortable. Maybe they didn’t like the landowner and decided they would make no contribution to his harvest. Maybe they just had something else to do and assumed there would always be another day. Whatever their reasons, the ones who didn’t work did not get paid.

God is inviting every one of us today: Come to me…. come into my vineyard––my Kingdom––and work for me…. lay aside your own desires and conditions. Isaiah’s words give another expression of how to do that very thing: We’re to forsake––turn away from––the things that not like God. We turn to Jesus by turning away from the things that keep him away. Actually, God is always coming to us––we just need to be open to him.

When we are open to God, he is rich in mercy and wants to give each of us far beyond what we would have thought possible. All we have to is lay aside our own ways and thoughts and let God do whatever he wants to do. What he wants to do is lavish us with his generous mercy.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

People of the Cross

September 3, 2017 –– 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 20:7–9 / Psalm 63 / Romans 12:1–2 / Matthew 16:21–27
People of the Cross

It’s as American as the Declaration of Independence. It’s also innate to human nature. It’s “the pursuit of happiness.” Who doesn’t want to be happy? Yet how do we know what real happiness is? Many things which give immediate pleasure result in awful repercussions. True happiness is not mere emotional or physical euphoria. Our desire for happiness is ultimately an intense longing for God.

We live in a time and culture that has a hard time realizing this. Like millions of others, I am on Facebook. I try to use it judiciously, especially for posting articles I find significant for Christian reflection. I also see how easily emotions are manipulated and too quickly expressed, but sometimes Facebook gives a genuine funny. I saw this cartoon a couple of weeks ago….

Two people are in conversation. The first one says, “I feel like Jesus’ teachings can be summed up like this: DON’T HURT ANYBODY’S FEELINGS. ‘Cuz if something hurts someone’s feelings, it can’t be Christlike.”

The other person responds, “I see that sentiment everywhere. How on earth do you reconcile that with the Bible as the source of Truth? I mean, the truth hurts…. It’s objective and exclusive and the truth is true no matter how we feel about it.”

So the first person responds, “Wanna know how I know you’re wrong? ‘Cuz that hurts my feelings!” 

This sentiment is all around us.

Today’s readings take us into the heart of our struggle when we don’t like what God says. Jeremiah cried out to God because of the derision and reproach that he received simply because he proclaimed God’s truth. The rejection was so bad that he tried to promise himself: I will not mention him; I will speak in his name no more. And yet his commitment to God and truth was so intense that he said: it becomes like fire burning in my heart. This is how the Holy Spirit works in our lives when we are committed to be faithful.

But what are we to do with that yearning we all have to be happy? Every day we have a choice to make; it’s the nitty-gritty process of Christian conversion: Do we trust our feelings or do we put our faith in the claim of what God has said? A moment’s thought should show the conflict and bedlam that happens when each person tries to follow his own feelings. On the other hand, if we follow St Augustine in his classic observation, we will find a unifying center that indeed leads to true happiness: You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. This is what the Psalmist says in the responsorial: O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts… 

What are we to expect when we seek God? Too often we make the mistake of the first person in the cartoon. We’d like to believe God will never ask of us anything that is unpleasant. The witness of the Scriptures and the Faith proclaimed by the Church tell us that is not true. Paul gives the contrast in his letter to the Romans: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…. Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed…. Jesus tells us that true life comes through dying to the old life. It’s the message of the cross.

This choice is as old as humanity. It was Jeremiah’s choice when he couldn’t hold back what he knew to be God’s truth. Last week was the Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist; he chose to speak truth to Herod and paid for it with his life. This is what Jesus was saying to the Twelve, and it is what the human-weakness part of Peter did not want to hear.

It takes faith to see this––and Christian Faith is God’s invitation to dare to believe. Pope Benedict XVI said, “When Peter recoiled from the cross he was denying the very possibility of happiness…..” When Jesus calls us to the cross, he is calling us to ultimate happiness because he is calling us to himself. We may not be able to sense it right away, and there will be painful obstacles, but as Christians we are people of the cross. It is more than a gesture we make.

The cross comes to each of us according to our time and place and measure of faith. It could be sacrificing screen time each day or a bit of sleep in order to spend dedicated time with the Lord. It can be the simple embarrassment of being different for Jesus’ sake when others around us are doing whatever is popular. It can be a willingness to sacrifice financially when we’d rather spend “our” money for our own enjoyment. It can be the pain of rejection in a relationship when we have to choose between obedience and convenience. It can be the ultimate price of physical life.

Our Lord speaks to us in the Gospel. Do we believe him? Bishop Robert Barron, introducing today’s reading, made this observation: “Disciples listen to Jesus; sinners tell him what to do. Disciples obey the Master; sinners correct him….”

What are we trusting to make us happy? Jesus tells us to embrace the cross. As we live in a world that hungers for happiness, let’s be people of the cross. It’s the way we are connected to Jesus. Offer [yourselves] as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Let’s pray:

Father, we are surrounded with voices that tell us we can choose our own truth. We feel the pull to do whatever is convenient and comfortable. We also know that embracing the cross hurts.
Help us to love you so much that we can be faithful even when it’s hard…. even when it hurts. Hear the cry of our hearts through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

a sermon by Saint Augustine

Perhaps I've posted this before. If so, it is worth repetition(s)....

From a sermon by Saint Augustine
A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit

I acknowledge my transgression, says David. If I admit my fault, then you will pardon it. Let us never assume that if we live good lives we will be without sin; our lives should be praised only when we continue to beg for pardon. But men are hopeless creatures, and the less they concentrate on their own sins, the more interested they become in the sins of others. They seek to criticise, not to correct. Unable to excuse themselves, they are ready to accuse others. This was not the way that David showed us how to pray and make amends to God, when he said: I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me. He did not concentrate on others’ sins; he turned his thoughts on himself. He did not merely stroke the surface, but he plunged inside and went deep down within himself. He did not spare himself, and therefore was not impudent in asking to be spared.
   Do you want God to be appeased? Learn what you are to do that God may be pleased with you. Consider the psalm again: If you wanted sacrifice, I would indeed have given it; in burnt offerings you will take no delight. Are you then to be without sacrifice? Are you to offer nothing? Will you please God without an offering? Consider what you read in the same psalm: If you wanted sacrifice, I would indeed have given it; in burnt offerings you will take no delight. But continue to listen, and say with David: A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God does not despise a contrite and humble heart. Cast aside your former offerings, for now you have found out what you are to offer. In the days of your fathers you would have made offerings of cattle – these were the sacrifices. If you wanted sacrifice, I would indeed have given it. These then, Lord, you do not want, and yet you do want sacrifice.
   You will take no delight in burnt offerings, David says. If you will not take delight in burnt offerings, will you remain without sacrifice? Not at all. A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God does not despise a contrite and humble heart.
   You now have the offering you are to make. No need to examine the herd, no need to outfit ships and travel to the most remote provinces in search of incense. Search within your heart for what is pleasing to God. Your heart must be crushed. Are you afraid that it might perish so? You have the reply: Create a clean heart in me, O God. For a clean heart to be created, the unclean one must be crushed.

   We should be displeased with ourselves when we commit sin, for sin is displeasing to God. Sinful though we are, let us at least be like God in this, that we are displeased at what displeases him. In some measure then you will be in harmony with God’s will, because you find displeasing in yourself what is abhorrent to your Creator.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Great Exchange

June 25, 2017 –– 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 20:10–13 / Psalm 69 / Romans 5:12–15 / Matthew 10:26–33
The Great Exchange

Over a forty year span I can still hear many different people who have said to me: “The Apostle Paul is so hard to understand!” Yet we believe the Holy Spirit inspired his words, and the Church affirms our need to hear them. This Romans text is one biblical passage where many would read it and say “Huh?” One of my passions for pastoral ministry is helping people better understand what God has chosen to give us in Scripture. It means we need to focus and think, but good things usually require a bit of work.

Paul is giving the foundation for God’s act of justifying sinners. The whole story of the human race can be summed up in terms of what happened because of Adam, and what has happened and will yet happen because of Christ. In these verses there are both commonalities and contrasts between Adam and Christ. Christian faith is grounded in something that, having a humanity in common with Adam, Jesus did in specific contrast to something Adam did.

Every person born into this world comes with an identity in Adam. It is an identity that brings with it alienation from God (guilt), a tendency to live for one’s self (commit sin), an inevitable curse (death) and a threat of God’s future wrath (eternal punishment). This identity makes us helpless and hopeless. But (3:21) God has chosen to provide another identity, in Christ––who is another, and last, Adam (1Cor 15:45)––so that all the hard things that we received from the first Adam can be undone and reversed in the last Adam: Jesus Christ.

How did the sin of Adam effect everyone? Paul says that the trespass―the disobedience―of one man (Adam) brought God’s judgment (physical death and spiritual condemnation) to all Mankind. Somehow, all of humanity participated in what Adam did. St Augustine, the great theologian from the turn of the fifth century said that when Adam acted the whole race acted and when he was judged, the whole race was judged.

This is the reason the Gospel is truly Good News. Something has been accomplished by Christ which is as universal in its effectiveness as was the sin of the first man. So, even as we are condemned on account of what Adam did, we can be justified because of what Christ did. Christ’s part is already done––he was sacrificed once for all (Heb 9:12). It’s like a free meal––the meal is already paid for, but (and this takes us to the aspect of our faith) unless a person goes and eats the benefit is lost.

The point here is the union of the race with Adam and the further union of the race with Christ and ratified in those who believe. It is like the law of gravity and the law of aerodynamics. Both are true all the time, with the law of gravity being the normative default (as is the law of sin), but able to be superseded by the law of aerodynamics. The law of gravity applies to all; the law of aerodynamics applies to those who are in aircraft. The disobedience of Adam marks all people; the obedience of Christ marks those who embrace the Second Adam. When we follow Jesus Christ we are lifted up from the bondage of sin so we can wing our way to heaven. And so, as Paul opens his letter to the Romans, the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes... (1:16).

We do not have a choice not to be born in solidarity with Adam; we do have a choice to live in solidarity with Jesus Christ. When God first created Man, he wanted Adam’s “yes.” Instead he received Adam’s “no.” Now God offers a second chance through his Son, the second Adam, in order to remake us into a new creation. We do not have to keep our identity in Adam. Saying “yes” to God’s life in Christ is saying “no” to the legacy of sin in Adam, and in that “yes” there is the great exchange.

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