Sunday, August 1, 2010

Grow rich in what matters to God

1. Jesus told the parable about the wealthy and successful businessman who built bigger barns to hold his abundant harvest. The man was pleased that his possessions were secure and that his future was bright because he had saved sufficiently for the future. But God calls him a fool. Not because he worked hard. Not because he had a harvest. But because he stored up treasure for himself instead of growing rich in what matters to God.
2. No doubt our Lord’s teaching shocked and amazed his listeners. Most of them believed that wealth was a sign that all was right with God. And poverty was a sign that one was in sin. Even if we do not have those thoughts, it seems shocking that God would criticize so strongly someone who had saved for their household’s future. Does that mean we are fools for having retirement accounts or investments for the future? Well no. In other places, Jesus uses investment as a sign of bearing fruit with the gifts we have received. Certainly the Lord wants us to care for our families. At the same time, Jesus taught many times that wealth posed a serious danger. If we grow rich in wealth that does not last but fail to grow rich in what matters to God, we are indeed foolish.
3. But what does matter to God? The man in the parable did not thank God for the abundance he had received, nor did he recognize that God was his primary treasure and the source of all good. Neither did he consult the Lord as to how to properly use what he had gained. He decided to build bigger barns and he congratulated himself on his glorious achievement. The enjoyment of what he thought was his own possessions was his only plan.
4. Many times in Scripture, Jesus grieved over those who did not realize that they needed God and that everything they had, material or spiritual, was a gift from God. Because of this failure to honor God as the source of all things, they actually missed out on receiving even more blessings from the Lord. Their possessions became false gods who cannot create and who cannot save.
5. How do we avoid falling into the same trap and being regarded as fools by God? One thing we must do is learn to thank God. Every time that we are tempted to say “this is my money, or my house, or my phone, or my television, or even my job” we should recall that God has given it to us and that we are stewards of these gifts. A most excellent practice outlined in the Old Testament was the giving of the tithe- that is the ten percent to the Temple. (I know that we are in an economic downturn so I hesitate to mention it, but I put it before you to bring to prayer and ask God about it yourself.) God gives us everything, we return a set percentage to serve Him.
6. Tithing in the Christian sense involves more than money, it includes time and prayer. For many of us, time is even more precious that our funds. Yet God has given time to us also. The man in the parable had no idea that he would die that night. If he had, he might have done something other than think of himself alone. God needs to use your hands to do good: maybe teaching, maybe sitting on a committee and planning, maybe serving in Mass.
7. Prayer time is also a way in which we can give thanks and seek God’s direction in our lives. Lifting our hearts to the Lord helps us to put in proper perspective the other things of life which clamor for our attention. Furthermore, we priests need your prayers so that we can be wise and holy in our ministry. Sometimes it is very difficult.
8. In addition to the tithe, another practice is almsgiving. That is, to share the abundance of what we have received with those in need. The failure to give alms and care for the poor was the principal reason God sent His people Israel into exile in Babylon. Jesus has indicated that caring for the needy will be the definitive test on the day of Judgement. On the other hand, Jesus Christ shares our nature and desires to share an eternity of joy in the home of His Father. Who knows, maybe sharing with others is the reason we have been blessed.
9. And everyone can practice almsgiving. There are children who give their favorite toys to those who have none. There are teenagers who use their own money to buy food for families at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Doctors who run a free clinic, businessmen and women who feed the hungry on their day off. Many of you responded to the call to help fund the Saint Vincent de Paul Society or the Food Pantry because they are in need. This sharing, even if it hurts a bit, especially if it hurts a bit, will serve as a sin offering and will build up treasure in heaven.
10. If we remember who gave us all we have, and use these gifts for the greater honor and glory of God and the service of the least ones out of love for Jesus. Then we will not be regarded as fools by God, but rather welcomed as His beloved into home of God the Father.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

July things

Well, a lot more time passed since the last post than I had intended it to be. Things at work got really busy and then I decided to have the gall bladder surgery. That went pretty well. I discovered that I was allergic to the adhesive on the bandages. But now I do not need any, so my skin is healing.

At the beginning of July, our parish received a new priest to be Parochial Vicar (assistant parish priest) and a seminarian. They are both doing very well. The priest is an excellent preacher and is fitting into the parish quickly.

If his teaching style and ability are any indication, the seminarian will likewise be a very good preacher. God has been good to us.

This coming week I will be taking a few days off to rest and travel. I will be back for Thursday night Mass and Confessions on 12 August. In the meantime, I will remember everyone in my prayers.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What's New

Sorry folks for not updating with homilies and stuff. I have been preaching almost every Sunday. I have just been too lazy to upload the homilies to the blog. Maybe I will get back to it soon. If you want the short version of today's homily, here it is:
1] God really really loves you, more than you can imagine.
2] You cannot forgive your own sins - forgiveness is a grace received from God (see number 1)
3] Show your love back to God by loving Jesus with all your heart.
4] Do that by loving others
5] Go to confession every month- admit your sins and experience God's love
6] Do not wait until you have conquered whatever sin or weakness you have. You will not succeed (see number 2)
7] Do not worry about whether you might sin again, you probably will. (see number 1)

In other news, Father Marcus will be returning to his home diocese in Nigeria soon. It is a sad time for us. Father Marcus has given our parish many years of faithful and loving service. He is a excellent priest and has been a good friend also. May God bless him in his ministry back home. Another priest from Nigeria (Father Jacob) is being assigned as my Parochial Vicar, for which I am very grateful to both his bishop and mine. Father Marcus cannot be replaced, but I look forward to working with Father Jacob. The parish will benefit from his service.

One of the parishes near us lost their priest. As a result, I have been going there on many Sundays to celebrate their Spanish Mass. Thanks God that other priests have been taking care of the English liturgies. The people are very accomodating and friendly. But I am sure that they are hoping for their own parish priest soon. We must pray that our bishop can find someone to come and serve them.

Sometime this summer I plan to have my gall bladder removed. There has been increasing discomfort. And a loss of power on my bike. Furthermore, I have been very tired. Your prayers are deeply appreciated.

Have a blessed week.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jesus is the Light of the World

Fourth Sunday in Lent - Scrutiny (Year A)
1. I am the light of the World (John 9:5), says the Lord. Like any physical problem, people want to understand why it happened - what was the cause of this form of suffering. Sometimes, the cause of blindness was easier to determine- an accident, illness, or battle injury. But when someone was born blind, it was more difficult. In the time in which Jesus lived, many people considered blindness and other physical defects to be a sign of sin. That is, if someone or their parents did not live right before God, their sin might result in a physical affliction. For this reason, they are speculating as to the cause of the man’s blindness (which further caused him to have to beg instead of work).
2. Before we judge those people as primitive of superstitious, we have to consider that we ourselves often have the same kind of speculation. When we get ill or injured, or there is a great disaster, such as the earthquakes in Haiti or Chile, many people speculate as to why God would permit such a thing. We might even ask God what did I do to deserve this? Be honest, some people even wonder what sin God must be punishing. Some sins do result in a consequence of personal suffering. For example, if you kill someone, that other person is dead, and sooner or later you will have to grieve. If a couple uses contraceptives, they can become sterile. If you cause scandal, you can lose your good name or significant income- just ask Tiger Woods.
3. Anyway in this particular situation, Jesus responded by saying that it was not sin that caused this man’s blindness. Rather, God permitted it in order to show His glory. That is, Jesus intended to heal the man all along. Healing someone born blind was not just a great miracle for the benefit of the recipient- it was a sign of who Jesus is. Only God could restore the sight of someone born blind (without use of surgery or lasers or microscopes etc).
4. The healing is also a symbol for Baptism. In the physical world, light is necessary to see anything. But even if there is light all around us, we will only see to the extent that the light can reach inside of us. Furthermore, the light has to be focused or likewise we will not see clearly. To be able to see is to receive light- illumination within us. When we were baptized, either we or our parents and godparents received a lighted candle with this command to receive the light of Christ. That is, we received illumination from Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world. At baptism, His light began to shine in us. Of course, our parents and godparents were admonished to keep the flame of faith alive- that is, to keep the light of Jesus Christ burning inside, growing stronger, shining the light of Christ to guide us on our pilgrimage through life.
5. Being able to see the world, however, is not enough- our minds must be able to interpret the images. So sight is also a metaphor for understanding. When we explain, we say do you see what I am saying? And when we understand, we say yes, I see it now. It is not unusual then, that the man born blind begins to see, not only the physical world around him, but who and what Jesus is. That is what the illumination of Baptism is for- to help us see things as God sees them.
6. Through the story of the Gospel we heard today, the man born blind grows in this understanding of Jesus. He first calls Jesus, “a man,” then “a prophet,” then “from God,” then “Lord,” and finally he bows down an worships Jesus.
7. Sin has the opposite effect, however. Those who oppose Jesus and His words cannot understand the sign of His divinity. They are blinded by their own opinions. In First Samuel, Samuel at first is sure of who should be anointed king based on the human judgement. But God teaches him to wait because God sees things differently. What is really sad is that many of those who rejected Jesus had the benefit of being able to study the Bible. They should have recognized the signs. In any event they should have turned to God in humility for help in determining what should be done. But they did not. Even some of the people who followed Jesus and listened to Him were more concerned about what they believed to be an insult than in learning the truth. That is, if we recognize our sins, our weaknesses, our ignorance, our need for God, then the Lord can and will work to heal us and give us understanding hearts. But if in our pride we will not see our need for healing, then we will stumble about in blindness.
8. If we do not want to be like those who rejected Jesus, we had better face the facts. We need Jesus- not just to heal us from sin, but for every aspect of our lives. Only by exposing our own sinfulness and letting the light of Christ shine even in the hidden recesses of our souls, can we hope to see and reflect that light in the Glory of Heaven.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Living Water

Third Sunday in Lent Scrutiny (Year A) - The Woman at the Well
1. If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘you would have asked him and he would have given you living water (John 4:10). It would seem that going to the well to draw water for the day was an activity that would be best done in the cool of the morning. Such an activity would also have been a chance for social interaction with the other women of the village. So why did the woman come at noontime? Maybe there was an emergency in the house and she was delayed. Most likely she deliberately came to the well when she thought no one else would be there. Her multiple marriages and living with a man without being married to him would have met with disapproval in the community. To permit a man to treat her in such a way endangered all the women in the town, as well as the rest of society. So the woman came to draw her water in the heat of the day.
2. Little did she know that Jesus would be waiting for her. I do not think it was accidental that Jesus was waiting for her. If Jesus had gone into the town with the others, he would have missed her. Even if she had stayed in town, she would have never heard Him speak. But our Lord wanted to have an encounter with her, so that she could be healed. He did not approve of her sins, that was clear from His many teachings on the permanence of marriage and the evil of divorce. But Jesus did love her, as He loves all sinners. So in spite of the cultural custom of men not talking to women who were not their relatives and of Jews and Samaritans ignoring each other in most circumstances, Jesus asked her for a drink of water.
3. Really His plan all along was to give her the Living Water which He spoke of- the Water which would be a fountain within her always springing up to refresh her from inside. Such a fountain would have sounded very good to someone who lived in a time and place in which no one had running water. But we know that Jesus is not talking about regular water. And soon the woman would realize that also.
4. The Water which Jesus speaks of is the gift of the Holy Spirit which we receive in Holy Baptism. To receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit refreshes the individual so gifted because it is the Spirit of God who created us out of love and who has saved us from our sins. God alone can fulfill the deepest longings of the human heart. Other things, whether they are food or drink or clothes or sex or money or power or human comforts or even scientific knowledge and understanding, will not be able to fill our desires because we have been made for eternity with God. The woman at the well herself stated that they were looking forward to the Messiah who would guide them in the ways of God.
5. When the Samaritan woman expressed the desire to receive the living water, Jesus asked her to bring her husband. Jesus already knew that the woman was in an adulterous relationship, He knew everything about her. And yet He offered the gift of the Living Water. Of course, a gift is only ours to the extent that we are open to receiving it. The Holy Spirit is not going to dwell somewhere unwelcoming. Sin is incompatible with the presence of God. As Jesus has said you cannot serve two masters. You will end up hating one and loving the other. God will always love us, but He will not stay where He is not wanted. So although Jesus did not condemn her, His bringing up the problem with her life was a way of letting her know that it was time to change.
6. She brought up the differences between Jews and Samaritans- which among other things were the modes of worship. The Samaritans accepted the first five books of the Bible and they too were awaiting the Messiah. And Jesus told her that He is the one. He used the phrase I am he... That is, Jesus used the Divine Name to identify Himself as not only the Messiah, but God Himself.
7. Because of her encounter with Jesus, the woman’s heart was changed. She lost her fear of the other townspeople, proclaimed what He did for her, and invited them to meet Jesus aslo. They would have never listened if she had not changed her life. But they could see that she had been transformed and left sin behind.
8. This event in Jesus’ life is meant to instruct us in the reality of Baptism. In the living waters, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which is God Himself. The Spirit will transform us. It will destroy sin and enable us to live in accord with the will of God, if our hearts are committed to the Lord.
9. Someone who really encounters Jesus in this personal way in which He gives His Spirit as a gift will not be able to keep it to themselves. If God shows such love and mercy to you, you just have to tell others about it. But to bring them to the Lord also requires a radical change of heart away from sin and toward Jesus as Lord. Otherwise it will simply not convince. Of course, what really convinces is not our words, or even our actions, as holy as they may be. The convincing power is the Lord Himself. To know God, to Love God, to receive God’s Spirit within us is the way to fulfillment. And it comes from Jesus. If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘you would have asked him and he would have given you living water (John 4:10).

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Transfiguration and the Exodus of Jesus

Second Sunday of Lent, Year C
1. August the 6th we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. Yet every year on the Second Sunday of Lent, we proclaim one of the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration as part of our Lenten journey towards Easter. I have often wondered why Jesus only took Peter, James and John upon the Mountain to reveal His glory. Why did not Jesus take all the Apostles, or for that matter, all of the disciples, or everyone in those crowds which were constantly following Him? Maybe if all those people would have seen Jesus transfigured in glory, they would have put their faith in Him. But then again, the whole event might have led to great confusion. That is, the salvation Jesus won for us was not obtained on Mount Tabor when His radiant glory was displayed and He spoke to Moses and Elijah. No. Jesus won salvation by ascending the Mount of Calvary and dying on the Cross.
2. The Transfiguration itself is an event filled with signs meant to draw us to faith. Even though the apostles did not know how to handle it at the time, these signs would surely not be lost on them after they had received the Holy Spirit. For example, when Moses would come down from the mountain after speaking with God, his face would be radiant with reflected glory, so much so that he had to veil his face because it would freak people out. On the other hand, Jesus’ glory was not a reflected glory- it came from within His person.
3. Then there were the words which were heard from Heaven: This is my chosen Son; listen to him (Luke 9:35) remind us of Jesus’ Baptism. They are meant to evoke our trust in Jesus as the Lord. Moses was an instrument of God to bring His law to the People. But Jesus is the Son of God who is God’s Word. That same Word, given through Moses as Law, spoken by the prophets such as Elijah, is made flesh in Jesus the Living Word. Jesus is not one prophet among others, nor is He one lawgiver among many, nor is He one son of God among many sons of God. Jesus is the Word spoken, the Law given, the Son of God who gives us the power to be the adopted sons and daughter of the Most High God.
4. But the sign which interests me today is that Moses and Elijah spoke of the exodus which Jesus was going to accomplish in Jerusalem (see Luke 9:31). Exodus might be a curious choice of words in reference to the Passion of the Lord. But it would be good if we were to meditate on it. The Exodus event was when the Lord rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The Israelites could not rescue themselves, it was God who did it. The last plague, which would motivate Pharaoh to let the People go, was when all the firstborn sons of every person and animal in Egypt were killed in a single night. The sons of the Israelites, however, were preserved by the blood of the sacrificial Lambs which they put upon their door. In the Exodus event of Jesus, He, the Son of God, is sacrificed to bring freedom and life to all. Jesus becomes the sacrificial lamb whose blood gives us new life. Instead of putting to death the first born sons of the enemies of His people, God offers the life of His only Begotten Son so that even His enemies can become His children.
5. Maybe the Apostles meditated on the word Exodus. Maybe hope arose in their hearts as they approached Jerusalem in those final days before Jesus’ Crucifixion. It is certainly a word which we should ponder. What are those things which enslave us? How do we need to be liberated? What do we have that needs to be sacrificed so that we can enter the True Promised Land of Heaven? The Jews did not consider the Exodus from Egypt as an event merely of the past. It was and is an event which resonated throughout history. All the Chosen People are connected to that event as a direct and effective reality in their lives through the Passover Supper. So much more for us and the Exodus which our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished in Jerusalem through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. We are connected to this event through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the Mass. We are supposed to live Jesus’ Death and Rising, His Cross and His Glory. In fact there is no Glory without the Cross.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?

See the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
1. I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Here I am,” I said; “send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). The calling which each Baptized person receives is marked by several characteristics. Maybe the most notable of these characteristics is its personal nature. We could look at the call of Isaiah the prophet which took place within a vision he had of heaven. Although the Lord seemed to ask the question of the whole Heavenly host who should be sent, Isaiah knew upon hearing that the Lord was speaking to him personally and that he had to respond.
2. Saint Paul too was spoken to in a personal manner. Jesus asked Paul why are you persecuting me? And then instructed Paul to go to Damascus where he would be instructed what to do. Saint Paul’s experience of Jesus was intensely personal and he received the Gospel directly from the Lord.
3. In the Gospel we observe the call of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. Jesus spoke to them personally and invited them first to listen to His teaching, second to trust Him in casting their nets, and third to leave everything behind to follow Him. I cannot compare myself to these great prophets and apostles, but I would be lying if I did not admit that the Lord spoke to me in my heart to become a priest. Likewise throughout the seminary He confirmed my vocation- through the same voice which I heard not in my ears but in my heart. He also confirmed my calling through others whose task it was to help me on my path.
4. Although most people may not believe that God can or would speak to them in a personal manner, I believe He does just that. Of course, most of the time, Jesus uses the voices of others to speak to us. But the call to follow Him is no less personal. And if we get used to hearing His voice and not just our own, we will experience it.
5. Another characteristic of the call is that it is a call to holiness- to be like God Himself in whose image and likeness we were made. In other words, it is to be who and what we really are- the children of the Most High God. In receiving this call it is common to be made aware of our own unworthiness. Isaiah lamented his unclean lips, Saint Paul remembered that he was a persecutor of Jesus, Saint Peter fell to his knees and begged our Lord to depart for he was a sinner. The awareness of unworthiness may hit those who have discovered the one whom they should marry, I do not know. I do know that when I first accepted that the call to be a priest came from God, I was immediately filled with fear regarding my unworthiness. Time and time again the Lord had to reassure me. That is why the sacrament of Penance is so important. In any event, there was a saying in the seminary which fits all of us- God does not choose the worthy, He makes worthy those whom He has chosen.
6. God calls us not just from sin to be holy, but He also calls us from good things to better. Once Saint Paul became an apostle, his previous life as a rabbi was over. Saint Peter and his partners had to walk away from the greatest catch of fish in their career. God continues to call us to a deeper conversion and to make sacrifices. For example from the enjoyment of material goods to the giving of them for the sake of His kingdom. Or in the case of a married couple to commit to one another forsaking all others. Or in my case having to leave one parish family to love and to serve another.
7. The sacrificial part of the call might not even seem all that momentous. It might be returning a kind word instead of an insult, letting someone cut in front of us on the road, or listening to an elderly friend or relative tell a story we have heard many times before.
8. Although God’s call is intensely personal, it is not private. It is always for our good and the good of the whole Body of Christ which is the Church. When God calls, He does not force us. He did not force Isaiah, or Paul, or Simon Peter. Rather, the Lord desires the free gift of ourselves. The question we must reflect on is what we are going to do when we get it. I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8).