Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (December 31, 2017)

As we reflect on the Holy Family today, the Church offers us Scripture readings that emphasize faithfulness, trust in the promises of God, and loving obedience.

All of the people involved in today’s readings are faith-filled:

- Abraham who is our father in faith
- Sarah, a woman beyond child-bearing age, who believes what God has told her husband
- Mary and Joseph who come to the Temple to fulfill the requirements of God’s Law
- Simeon who has been waiting long years to see the Christ
- And Anna, a widow who has spend many hours in the Temple fasting and praying

Each of them has put his/her trust in the promise of God:

- Abraham and Sarah in God’s promise that their descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the sky
- Mary and Joseph in the promise of the angel, the messenger of God
- Simeon, in the promise that he would see the Messiah
- And Anna who was waiting for the redemption of Israel.

And all of them lived their lives in loving obedience to the God who loved them.

All of these women and men offer us an example about living, especially family living. Their example of faithfulness, trust and loving obedience gives us a pattern for living together each day. Our Holy Father has encouraged all of us to be eager about living our faith and sharing it with others around us. We do this best within our own family, encouraging each other to be faith-filled, just and peaceable each day.

After the example of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, and Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, may we embrace the challenge they offer us. May we live a holier life within our own family, and in our wider family of faith, the Church. Through us, may the world around us come to know in a deeper way that we have a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

May our God be praised!

Nativity of the Lord (December 25, 2017)

Today we celebrate the wondrous love of God for us: the Word made flesh, dwelling among us. St. Francis de Sales offers us some reflections as we stand in adoration before the Infant in the manger.

“We are always wanting this and that, and although we have our sweet Jesus resting on our heart we are not satisfied; and yet this is all we can possibly need and desire. One thing alone is necessary—to be near him.  

Now tell me, my dear friend, you know, don't you, that at the birth of Our Lord the shepherds heard the angelic and divine songs of heavenly be­ings; this is what the scriptures tell us.  

But nowhere does it say that Our Lady and St. Joseph, who were closest to the child, heard the angels' voices or saw the marvelous radiance; on the contrary, instead of hearing the angels sing, they heard the child crying, and by the wretched light of some poor lantern they saw the eyes of this divine boy full of tears and saw him chilled by the cold.  

Now tell me frankly, would you not rather have been in the dark stable which was full of the baby's crying, rather than with the shepherds, ravished with joy and gladness by sweet heavenly music and the beauty of this marvelous light?” (Letter to St. Jane #23)

In another letter, he writes:

“It is good for you to be close to the manger where the Savior of our soul teaches us so many virtues by his silence. How much he tells us by saying nothing! Our own hearts should be kindled by his little heart panting with love for us. See how lovingly he has written your name in the depths of his divine heart as he lies on the straw for your sake, longing lovingly for your pro­gress; no sigh goes up to his Father in which you do not share, no thought that does not include your happiness. Indeed, my friend, let us not return whence we came; let us stay at our Savior's feet, saying with the heavenly Bride: 'I have found him whom my soul loves, I hold him and I will not let him go.’” (Letter to a Nun #103)

As we make our way to the manger today, let us hold our heart in our hands as a gift to the Word made flesh. He will take it and fill it with the fullness of his love. Then he will return it to us as his gift, and ask us to share his love with each person around us.

May our God be praised this Christmas day!

Fouth Sunday of Advent (December 24, 2017)

We have just heard the angel Gabriel announce God’s plan for the salvation of his people. It’s a story that is very familiar to all of us. Sometimes that makes it difficult to hear the wonder of it. Through Gabriel, God is asking a young woman to consent to be the mother of the Son of God who wanted to come among us and share our human nature.

The fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation hangs on her response. With great humility, Mary says “May it be done to me according to your word.” Now the history of God’s love for his people can culminate in the Incarnation – Jesus becomes human like us.

The story in today’s gospel also offers us an opportunity to reflect on how we choose to respond to the unexpected happenings in our life. Some of us find ourselves carrying a burden of suffering that isn’t light, or we must look on helplessly while someone we love suffers, or we have become very dependent on others for things we want to do. Some of us may find ourselves saying: “Lord, why me? What did I do to deserve this?”

Perhaps we can learn something from Mary’s response to the angel’s unexpected message. She asked a humble and honest question. She asked Gabriel to help her to understand what God was doing. “Lord, help me to understand what you want of me right now.”

It’s interesting to note that Gabriel’s response didn’t really give her a clear and detailed answer to her question. Gabriel’s response called Mary to have faith in God and trust in God’s provident goodness. Because Mary trusted God’s love for his people and for her, she was able to trust Gabriel’s words to her in humble faith. She offered herself in humble obedience to all that God would choose to do with her: “May it be done to me according to your word.”

Even if we humbly ask God to help us understand how he is working in us,

we may not get a clear and detailed answer to our question. Whatever answer we do get will call us to trust in God’s love for us. We will hear God tell us:“I have loved you with an everlasting love; trust me.”

May each of us have the faith and courage to respond to God as Mary did:

“May it be done to me according to your word.”

Third Sunday of Advent (December 17, 2017)

Our waiting during this Advent season quickens with the appearance of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel.

John was obviously a very charismatic person whose personality and message seem to have caught the attention of many. We’re told that many people came to him to repent of their sins and be baptized. Some must have believed that he was the promised Messiah, even though we hear him deny it very clearly.

John could have become impressed with his own popularity, but he understood from the beginning that he had another mission. He was to testify to the Light who would come after him. With great simplicity and humility, he calls himself “a voice in the desert.” His message has an urgency about it: “Make straight the way of the Lord!” God is coming to his people, so make your hearts ready. What a wonderful example for anyone who ministers in the Church!

You and I carry on John’s mission, and our message is the same: “Make straight the way of the Lord!” We are not preparing for Jesus’ coming as Redeemer as John was. Redemption has been accomplished once for all when Jesus died for our sins and rose to share with us his new life. We are preparing ourselves and our world to receive Jesus when he comes again in glory with salvation for his people.

St. Paul tells us how we are to live as we deliver our message: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in all circumstances give thanks.” Our message and the way we live become the same. Our role is to become more and more open to God’s working holiness in us and through us to others. God. who has called us to be holy, is trustworthy, as Paul tells us; therefore he will do this great work in us.

As we continue our Advent waiting, may we listen carefully to John’s message and make straight the way of the Lord through our daily efforts to rejoice, pray, and give thanks.

“Come, Lord Jesus; do not delay!”

Second Sunday of Advent (December 10, 2017)

Today’s Scripture readings give us all the messages of Advent. Our God is coming! Get ready! Rejoice!

We heard our God speak words of comfort to us in today’s first reading. Like a shepherd, he feeds us and gathers us into his arms. While our God comes among us with power and majesty, he also comes with great tenderness and compassion.

Mark reminds us that God has come to live among us in Jesus. And Jesus will come again in glory to bring us to the banquet which God has prepared for those who love him.

As we wait eagerly for the coming of Jesus and the completion of the kingdom, we are invited to join John the Baptist in preparing the way of the Lord. We are to prepare our own hearts and our world for the return of Jesus.

John reminds us that preparing is repentance, making the road to our heart level and cleared of the stones of selfishness and sin.

That is our daily task as we wait. The eagerness of our longing for Jesus’ return ought to manifest itself in our loving concern to the needs of one another. How we live and love each day announces the good news of God’s continuing love for his people. The comfort we offer to each other reflect the comfort that God has offered to us.

St. Paul reminds us that our concern is to be ready every day for the coming of the Lord. Our consciousness of God’s love for us allows us to wait joyfully, expectantly, ready and eager to use each day well. We have nothing to fear. Our God will come when he chooses to come. Right now, we can be thankful for the patience of our God. He is giving us time to prepare well for his coming.

As we continue to wait eagerly in prayer during this Advent season, let us use this time well to prepare our hearts and our world for the coming of Jesus among us once again. Rejoice, my brother and sisters! Our God is coming! Let’s continue to get ready!

First Sunday of Advent (December 3, 2017)

Today we begin the new Church year and the season of Advent - a time of devout and joyful expectation.

During these four weeks, we will prepare ourselves to celebrate the remembrance of Jesus’ first coming among us - when the Word took on human flesh in order to reconcile us to our Father. This remembrance will help us direct our minds and hearts as we await Jesus’ coming again as King, Judge and Savior.

This morning, the prophet Isaiah helps connect us to the longing of God’s people, Israel, who are in exile. Their prayer is a plea for God’s mercy, asking him to come again, as he had done in days gone by, and redeem his people with a display of his power and majesty. It’s easy for us to join the Israelites as they confess their sins and plead for salvation. Like them, we can acknowledge God as our Father; and, in great humility, open ourselves to be clay in the hands of the divine potter.

In this way, we can become more and more the “work of his hands.”

Paul encourages us to focus our attention on the favor that God has bestowed on us in Christ Jesus. We have been called to fellowship Jesus, and he will strengthen us to the end.

The constant call of Advent is heard in today’s Gospel. If we are really aware of the favor of grace that God has given us in Jesus, then we want to “be constantly on the watch.” We need to “stay awake!” for Jesus is coming again at a time no one knows. And when he comes, we want to be found living faithfully the way that he has taught us and graced us to live.

Our longing for his coming is best shown in our willingness to be fresh clay in the hands of God, asking him to mold us more and more in the image of Jesus during this Advent season. Then we can say with devout and joyful expectation each day:

“Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

May God be praised!

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (November 26, 2017)

The Scriptures today remind us that God has fulfilled his word to Ezekiel.

God himself is now tending his sheep in Jesus. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is seeking out the lost and strayed, and healing the injured and sick. He is looking after each of us.

The Scriptures also remind us that there will be a day of reckoning, of mercy and judgment. Jesus will come again in glory and will separate those who have heard his voice and lived by it from those who have chosen to ignore what they have heard.

Those who have listened - who have chosen to serve Jesus in the hungry and the sick, have welcomed him in the stranger and clothed him in the poor - these will be welcomed into the kingdom that has been prepared for them from the creation of the world. Those who have chosen not to see and serve Jesus in their less fortunate brothers and sisters have condemned themselves already.

As we close the Church year and prepare to begin a new season of discernment, the Church encourages us to sharpen our focus as we go about our daily living. How we live today and tomorrow - whether or not we choose to see Jesus in one another and take care of one another’s needs in Jesus’ name - has eternal implications for each of us.

Jesus, our King and Shepherd, loves us and calls us by name each day. May our experience of his love send us to our knees in worship, and send us out into the world, eager to share his love with each person we meet.

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 19, 2017)

Judgment Day - has a sense of finality to it, doesn’t it?

Well, it should. St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Consider the majesty with which the sovereign Judge will appear, surrounded by all the angels and saints. Before him will be borne his cross, shining more brilliantly than the sun, the standard of mercy to the good and of punishment to the wicked. By his awful command, which will be swiftly carried out, this sovereign Judge will separate the good from the bad, placing the one at his right hand and the other at his left. It will be an everlasting separation and after it these two groups will never again be together. When this separation has been made and all consciences laid bare we will clearly see the malice of the wicked and the contempt they have shown for God, and we will also see the repentance of the good and the effect of the graces they received from God. Nothing will lie hidden.” ( Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter 14)

In the next life, nothing will be hidden. In this life, one thing in particular should never be hidden: our God-given gifts, abilities, talents, skills and graces.

Today's Gospel issues a stern and stark warning: we must not return unused the gifts (no matter how great or small) that God gives us.

To be sure, to invest these gifts in the lives of others requires our willingness to take risks. There are few guarantees in life. We cannot be certain on any given day how well we will use our gifts, to say nothing of whether or not our gifts will be appreciated, honored, accepted or welcomed by others. Still, we must endeavor to take prudent care of and make good use of our God-given time, talents and treasure in this effort: the risks that we take in generously share ourselves with others should not be rash or reckless.

But as risky as naming, embracing and investing our gifts might be, we must never allow the anxieties of an uncertain world to tempt us to do the unthinkable: to bury our talents. To act as if we possessed nothing with which to give honor to God or to meet the needs of others is far worse than any mistake we might generally make on any given day in using our abilities.

To be sure, we will make mistakes in our attempts to make good use of our God-given graces. But there is no greater mistake than to live our lives as if we had no gifts to use in the service of God or others by burying them: obscuring them from the light of day.

When in doubt, keep them out: for you – for God, and for others – to see. And, in the process, share your Master’s joy…today!

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 12, 2017)

As the Church year draws to a close, our attention is once again drawn to the “end times.”

There will come a day for each of us and all of us when earthly life will end and the fullness of the kingdom of God will be present in all its glory. St. Paul reminds us that God’s promise of resurrection with Jesus is the source of our hope - and it’s our consolation when we experience the death of a loved one. “We will be with the Lord unceasingly.”

That promise brings us joy even now as we await his coming.

But the Gospel parable brings us back to the reality of living - while we’re here, we have work to do. The wise person listens with careful attention to the word of God and puts it into practice each day with prudence and foresight. Preparing our day well each morning gives us the preparedness and foresight we need to let Jesus live in us more fully this day.

We hear Jesus tell us: “keep your eyes open, for you know not the day or the hour.” Some people hear his words and feel great fear and anxiety stir within them. Those who are in tune with the wisdom God has given us welcome Jesus’ words and understand that he is encouraging us to live lives of watchfulness and prudent preparedness.

There’s nothing to fear! But there’s good reason to keep ourselves attentive to living faithful and loving lives. God is loving us right now, and wants us to share his life and love with one another today and every day. That’s the best way we can prepare for the “end time.”

Let’s console and encourage one another with this message.

Dedication of the Latern Basilica (November 9, 2017)

Today the Church marks the anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral church of Rome by Pope Sylvester I, on November 9, 324 AD. As long ago as this was, the truth is that human beings have been building one thing or another since the beginning of time: the Tower of Babel; the Ark; the pyramids; the coliseum; the Great Wall of China; The Eiffel Tower; the Statue of Liberty; the World Trade Center…

As co-creators with God, we are charged with making something good out of all that God has entrusted to us. We are charged with building a world marked by liberty, justice, freedom, peace, reconciliation, truth, honest, kindness and care. In short, we are called to build up the Kingdom of God here on earth, laying the ground work for that great and mysterious day when the ongoing creative, redeeming and inspiring work of God will reach its fulfillment: life on high with Jesus Christ.

Closer to home, there’s lots of work to be done. Building upon the foundation of Christ, Paul, Sylvester and countless others, we must build things that give glory to God and which serve the needs of one another. However, the most important things that we build aren’t things at all: they are our relationships with each other: husband, wife, mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, friend, neighbor, and co-worker.

Look at Jesus himself. He never helped to break ground for a new school. He never laid a cornerstone for a new synagogue. He never constructed a monument. He never attended the ribbon-cutting for a new store. What he built was much more important and powerful: a web of relationships in which men, women and children personally experienced God’s love for them; a web of life and love meant to be shared and expanded with future generations.

Here we stand, countless centuries since the dawn of creation. So much has been built, but so much more, with God’s help, remains to be constructed and strengthened…especially honest, just, peaceable, freeing, life-giving relationships with one another.

  • Are we careful to learn from out experiences of the past?

  • Are we up to the task today?

  • Are we clear about the kind of foundation are we laying for tomorrow?

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 5, 2017)

As I read today’s Scriptures, I was very conscious that God’s word was making me feeling a little uncomfortable.

I have often found that a feeling of uncomfortableness with God’s word may indicate that God’s grace is calling me to be more open to growing as a person and as a priest. God’s love for me is inviting me to become more fully the person God has made me to be.

As I read the Gospel, I heard Jesus speak about the Pharisees: “They preach but they do not practice.” I used to hear these words as condemning me. I haven’t always practiced what I was preaching so well. In the last two years, I have experienced in a very personal way that God has always loved me just as I am.

Now I can hear Jesus’ words as encouraging me each day to live more fully what I encourage others to be in my preaching.

I also heard Jesus say: “All their works are performed to be seen.” I know how easy it is for me to use my gifts and talents for my own benefit. Grace is speaking to me, reminding me that whatever talents I have are given by the God who loves me.

I hear St. Paul’s admonition: “What do you have that you did not receive?” When I’m honest with myself before my God, I can only answer: “Nothing.” That realization is my foundation for growing in humility. I want to use my gifts and talents in a way that reflects my thanks to the Giver of all good gifts. Each day I want to follow the advice of St. Francis de Sales: “Be who you are and be that well to give honor to the Creator who made you.”

The Church believes that the Scriptures are God’s living word, speaking to us about our daily living. I have offered some examples of my own trying to listen to God speaking to me. I encourage you to listen carefully for God’s word to you.

Our God loves each of us with an everlasting love and wants to speak to our hearts and encourage us to grow each day. Listen carefully and you will experience the nudge of God’s grace in your life.

Commemoration of All Souls (November 2, 2017)

On the subject of praying for the dead, St. Francis de Sales wrote: “We believe that we may pray for the faithful departed, and that the prayers and good works of the living greatly relieve them and are profitable to them, for this reason: that all those who die in the grace of God, and consequently counted among the saints, do not go to paradise at the very first moment, but many go to Purgatory, where they suffer a temporal punishment, from which our prayers and good works can help and serve to deliver them.” (The Catholic Controversy, 3, pages 353- 354)

We pray for our departed brothers and sisters. We pray that they may be at rest. We pray that they may be experiencing the fullness of peace. We pray that they may no longer want for anything. We pray that they may take their place at the eternal banquet of love, a place prepared for them by God before the beginning of time.

On this feast of All Souls, we pray for all the dead whom we have loved and lost.

But prayer is a conversation. Prayer is an experience of mutuality. Prayer is never a one-way street. Therefore, we not only pray for the dead: we also pray to them, for they are not merely “the dead” but are now counted among the saints.

We pray to them for their assistance and support. We pray to them for guidance and strength. We pray to them for patience and forbearance. We pray to them for reconciliation and healing. Someday, we may pray to them for the ability to simply put one foot in front of the other.

Here is a simple example of this subject. Francis de Sales had occasion to write a letter of encouragement to a married woman. In it he recommended: “I should like you to consider how many saints, both men and women, have lived in the married state like you, and that they all accepted this vocation readily and gladly: Sara, Rebecca, Anne, Monica, Paula and a host of others. Let that encourage you and ask them to pray for you.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 61)

So, we not only pray for the dead, we pray to the dead. We ask them to pray for us. Just as death no longer has power over them, so too we pray that the effects of sin and death will not have power over us during what remains of our journey on earth. We ask them to pray that when we likewise pass from this world to the next, we shall join them at that eternal banquet of love.

All Saints (November 1, 2017)

“Let us join our hearts to these heavenly spirits and blessed souls. Just as young nightingales learn to sing in company with the old, so also by our holy associations with the saints let us learn the best way to pray and sing God’s praise.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II, Chapter 16)

We stand on the shoulders of giants. Over the last two thousand years countless men, women and children of many eras, places and cultures have spent their lives in the service of the Good News of Jesus Christ. From among these many, a smaller group of individuals have earned the distinction of being known as “saints.”

These are real people to whom we look for example. These are real people to whom we look for inspiration. These are real people to whom we look for encouragement and grace.

These saints – these real people - have blazed a trail in living and proclaiming the Gospel. The challenge to us is to follow their example in ways that fit the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves.

In case you haven’t yet figured it out, you, too, are called to live a saintly – a God-centered, self-giving - way of life in the very places in which you live, love, work and play every day. Francis de Sales wrote: “Look at the example given by the saints in every walk of life. There is nothing that they have not done in order to love God and to be God’s devoted followers…Why then should we not do as much according to our position and vocation in life to keep the cherished resolution and holy protestations that we have made?” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part V, Chapter 12)

What does it mean to be a saint? Surprisingly, it is much more down-to-earth and obtainable than we might think. Francis de Sales observed: “We must love all that God loves, and God loves our vocation; so let us love our vocation, too, and not waste our energy hankering after a different sort of life, but get on with your own job. Be Martha as well as Mary, and be both gladly, faithfully doing what you are called to do…” (Stopp, Selected Letters, Page 61)

In the view of St. Francis de Sales, sanctity – sainthood – is measured by our willingness and ability to embrace the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Saints are people who deeply embraced their lives as they found them, rather than wasting time wishing or waiting for an opportunity to live someone else’s life. Sainthood – sanctity – holiness – is marked by the willingness to embrace God’s will as it is manifested in the ups and downs of everyday life.

How are you being called to be a saint today?

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 29, 2017)

In his Treatise On the Love of God, Francis offers his reflection on the great commandments:

"Just as God created man in his image and likeness, so also God has ordained for us a love in the image and likeness of the love due to God's divinity. Why do we love God? The reason we love God is God himself. Why do we love ourselves in charity? Surely, it is because we are God's image and likeness. Since all people have this same dignity, we also love them as ourselves, that is, in their character as most holy and living images of the divinity. The same charity that produces acts of love of God produces at the same time those of love of neighbor. To love our neighbor in charity is to love God in others and others in God." (Book 10, Chapter 11)

For St. Francis de Sales, the love of God and the love of neighbor are not two distinct experiences as much as they are two expressions of the same reality.

Today’s first reading focuses our attention on an important aspect of God’s love - his compassionate love for the alien, the widow and the orphan - the helpless in society. God told the Israelites of old, and we can use the reminder today: “Remember that your ancestors were aliens once; I heard their cries and I answered them.” New aliens and widows and orphans are crying out to the Lord in their need. He wants us to be his compassionate presence to them today. It’s clear from today’s reading that the Lord is outraged at those who harm the helpless and those who choose to ignore their needs.

Today’s Scriptures encourage us to keep in mind the least among us:

  • the millions of fellow citizens who live below the poverty line

  • the one out of four children among us who goes to bed hungry each night

  • the million or more pregnant women who have poor or no pre-natal care

  • the millions of aliens among us seeking a better life for their families.

    These are our brothers and sisters, “the aliens, widows and orphans” of our day. As disciples and citizens, we should want our nation’s leaders to help us be compassionate to the least among us.

    My brothers and sisters, let us be sure to keep the voices of the least among us in our hearts as we prepare to discern new leaders.

Hello, World!

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Times (October 22, 2017)

As the Church reminds us in the new Catechism, the Scriptures are the living Word of God meant to speak God’s word for our living today. Today’s second reading is a good example.

God wants you to know that he is aware of how you are working each day to live your faith. He wants to encourage you to continue the good work you are doing, allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to guide your living.

Today’s other two readings remind us that we live our faith in a real world and we are to take an active role in our world. As disciples of Jesus, we are members of his body, the Church. As citizens of the United States, we must be involved citizens who show our concern and care for our country and our fellow citizens, especially the least powerful among us.

Jesus tells us in the Gospel that we have rightful duties as good citizens, but the state cannot lay claim to what belongs to God. As the prophet Isaiah reminded Cyrus, the pagan ruler of Persia, it is God who is the source of any power he has as ruler. As disciples of Jesus, we may well have to remind our elected officials that any power they have comes from God and ought to be used for the good and well being of the people they serve. Our reminders must always be given in a caring way with a concern for the truth, and not be given in self-righteous judgment.

In the gospel incident, Jesus didn’t allow himself to be drawn into the deceptions of those who questioned him about paying the tax. He answers with the truth: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but remember to give to God what is God’s.”

Reminding our fellow citizens that there is a higher good (a good which comes from God) is an important part of living our faith in a real world.

May the Lord continue to strengthen us to be faithful disciples of Jesus and concerned citizens of our country. May his Spirit within us guide us to speak the truth in the most loving way we can.

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 15, 2017)

The prophet Isaiah chose the imagery of a sumptuous banquet provided by the Lord as a way to offer hope to the Israelites during their period of exile in Babylon.

There will come a day when the God whom they look for to save them will come among them and bring them back to the holy mountain, Jerusalem. There he will provide a sumptuous feast for them. The veil that has separated them from him will be lifted and death will be destroyed. God himself will wipe their tears from their eyes and they will see him face to face.

Jesus uses the same banquet image in the Gospels when he speaks about the kingdom of God. All are invited to share in the banquet of the kingdom. Sadly some will choose not to attend, and a few will even abuse and kill those sent to invite them. Jesus came among us with the invitation to share in his Father’s banquet, and some in their foolishness put him to death.

The Eucharist we share in today is the banquet of the Lord, and a sign of the eternal banquet to come. Jesus is the shepherd leading his flock to the holy mountain. He is also the host of the banquet, and most amazing of all, he is the Food we are given to eat at the banquet. His Body and Blood are certainly the richest of food and the choicest of wines.

Knowing the magnificent riches of this Eucharistic feast made it possible for St. Paul to learn to cope with the times of plenty and the times of little that he experiences on his earthly journey. The God who feeds him is the source of his strength to face anything that comes his way. God is also the basis for his gratitude

for the gifts that the Philippians have sent him while he’s in prison. Paul reminds them, as Isaiah did long ago: God will supply their needs fully, in a way worthy of his magnificent riches in Jesus.

Today’s readings give us more than a little food for thought:

  • God is providing a banquet that will fulfill our needs, both here and hereafter.

  • We must be wise and choose to share in the banquet he is providing.

  • The banquet of Eucharist gives us the nourishment we will need to handle anything that comes our way in this life.

  • When God is the only source of our strength, then we will be generous in sharing all that we have.

May Jesus, our shepherd, our host, and our banquet food, give us the courage to live each day with the strength he provides.

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 8, 2017)

The image of the vineyard is the focus of two of today's readings. In both cases, things in the vineyard happen not to turn out the way the owner had planned. It seems that the people responsible for caring for the vineyard haven't held up to the owner's expectation.

As we consider these two passages, Jesus wants us to understand that God is the owner of the vineyard of life. We are responsible for the upkeep of God's vineyard. We collaborate in God's ongoing plan of creation, redemption, inspiration and salvation. We are to harvest the grapes of life in ways that give life: through honesty, respect, purity and decency.

As we consider what Jesus presents to us, we realize that we don't always live up to God's expectation. We know the kind of vineyard that God wants us to cultivate.

Too often we allow sin, fear and selfishness to prevent us from producing the kinds of fruit that gives life. Instead of grapes of life, we may find ourselves producing grapes of wrath: jealousy, envy and indifference, or worse, hatred, violence and injustice.

As we look within ourselves and at the world around us, we can find ourselves at times discouraged and anxious. At these moments, we need to listen to St. Paul:

"Have no anxiety at all." Francis de Sales has told us why: “With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul.” Francis then explains his observation. “Instead of removing the evil, anxiety increases it and involves the soul in great anguish and distress together with such loss of strength and courage that it imagines the evil to be incurable - all this is extremely dangerous.” ( Introduction, 4. 11)

We need to be honest. We need to identify those areas of our lives - our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions - in which we experience difficulty in cultivating a harvest of peace, justice, reconciliation and love. But we need to do this without anxiety because anxiety both weakens our ability to turn away from sin and robs us of the courage we need to do what is right and good.

After acknowledging the reality of sin and the shortcomings in our life, we need to dedicate more of our energies to living “according to what you have learned and accepted then, the God of peace will be with you.”

Let us strive each day to produce a harvest of love from the vineyard of life …but avoid anxiety in the process.

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 1, 2017)

St. Paul reminds us today that there is one way of acting that will keep us united in the Christian community: “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.” Then he proceeds to sing the great hymn of Jesus’ loving humility.

The Son of God emptied himself of his divine glory in order to become like us in our humanity. Jesus humbled himself even more, becoming obedient even to death on a cross. Because of this, God exalted himself and made him Lord, so that we might kneel before Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Paul makes it very clear that kneeling before Jesus as Lord and Savior is not enough. We must take on the attitude of Jesus in our daily lives. We must make the daily effort to be a community of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.

Paul urges us to do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory, thinking that we’re better than anyone else. We’re all sinners redeemed by Jesus. In our efforts to be like Jesus, we must learn to humbly regard others as more important than ourselves. We must learn not just to consider our own interests, but consider the interest of others as we go about our day.

Learning to live this way will take a great deal of effort. This is not the way the world around us lives. How will we do it? Each day we will have to learn to be conscious of the loving humility of Jesus. We might use Paul’s hymn for our daily morning meditation.

Today’s Gospel encourages us not to get distracted by the times we fail in our efforts. Our failings humble us before God. But our God is generous in forgiving, desiring to strengthen us with his grace. St. Francis de Sales urges us to get up and begin again as often as we must.

Let us encourage one another every day to have the attitude of Jesus, so that we can be of one mind and one heart, loving humbly as Jesus has loved us.

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 24, 2017)

As I listen to the parables of Jesus, I often find myself drawn to one or another of the characters in the story. On first hearing today’s parable, I can understand the complaints made by those who had worked in the hot sun all day. They had worked long and hard and they were the last to be paid. That must have been hard enough, but when they finally got their wages - disappointment and anger - they got the same wage as those who had only worked an hour. This was obviously unfair treatment; they deserved more.

As I listened a second time, I could imagine the surprise and joy the last group hired must have felt when they got a full day’s wage. They must have had broad smiles on their faces as they greeted the last group to be paid. I can almost hear them saying, “Suckers.”

As I listened a third time, Jesus’ closing words struck me: “Thus, the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” That just doesn’t seem fair at all. Jesus is drawing our attention to the words of the prophet Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” Our God treats us with generous mercy - outrageously generous mercy - much like the owner of the vineyard. And he reminds us: “I am free to do as I please with my mercy, am I not? Or are you envious because I choose to be generous?”

None of us would argue with God’s desire to be generous with his mercy; all of us sinners are benefiting from it. The real challenge comes when Jesus tells us: “Be compassionate as my heavenly Father is compassionate.” Compassion is not measured by justice, what others might deserve; rather compassion is measured by love.

This is how our Father has treated us. In order to be compassionate as Jesus asks us to be, we must learn to develop the sight of God - seeing others as his children who are loved just because they are his children. As generous as God’s compassion is to us, so our compassion must be toward anyone in need - even if they haven’t worked as hard as we have to be like Jesus.

Generous compassion is how we conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the good news that Jesus has revealed to us. Let us try to be such good news to others.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 17, 2017)

The old law required that a person forgive three wrongdoings. When Peter asks Jesus about forgiving the wrongs done to us, he suggests forgiving seven times -twice the required number plus one for good measure - a very generous measure he must have thought. Jesus’ response must have surprised him - “Seventy times seven times.”

Jesus was telling him that there is to be no limit to a disciple’s forgiveness.

Jesus goes on to explain “why” in a parable about God’s reign. The king generously writes off the debt of the official who owed the king so much that he could never pay it all back. When the official leaves the king’s presence he immediately begins to throttle a fellow servant who owes him a small debt. He doesn’t even listen when the slave pleads with him for patience.

The obvious question arises: has this man forgotten so soon how forgiving his master had been? The anger he shows doesn’t seem like the appropriate response to the forgiveness he has received. Where is his anger coming from?

One possibility is that the man doesn’t know how to receive forgiveness. He may feel that the master now has a hold on him and he has no way to get out of that hold. Perhaps if he repaid some of his debt, his master would have less of a hold. The one hundred denarii of his fellow slave would be a start.

For this man, forgiveness has not been a freeing experience; rather it has bound him even tighter to his master in his thinking. He has misunderstood his master’s act of forgiveness.

Jesus immediately applies the parable to his disciples, to us. His Father has forgiven us any debt we have incurred with Him by our wrongdoing, even the most evil of our sins.

The Father’s forgiveness sets us free; and we don’t owe the Father anything. But His Father hopes that this freedom will give us the example we need in forgiving one another. God holds nothing over us, so we are not to hold anything over each other. This is to be true not only in giving forgiveness, but in receiving it as well. True forgiveness means that no payback is ever necessary. The result of forgiveness is a newfound freedom to choose to love again.

Isn’t that good news? And we are to share that good news with each other every day - by forgiving freely.