Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Joy Of Saying "YES"

Our Heavenly Father is delighted that we are here today. He rejoices that we are taking time this day to gather as His people, hear His word and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

This great banquet of love has been centuries in the making. He first offered Himself to the people of Israel as a paschal lamb which they ate before fleeing from slavery in Egypt. As they traveled through the desert to the Promised Land, He fed them with manna to sustain their journey. The prophets continually foretold that the coming of the Messiah would be like a wedding banquet. It is just such a proclamation that we hear in today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines...” Finally, when Jesus appeared, He gave us His body and blood in the form of bread and wine at the Last Supper. This Blessed Sacrament would be the way that we could continue to draw life from the saving power of His death and resurrection throughout the centuries.

Our gathering today is really a partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in today’s first reading. Our Heavenly Father has prepared a banquet for us. The first course is His holy word which reveals to us His loving mercy and instructs us in how to live a good life. When we hear the scriptures proclaimed, we are hearing God’s own voice echoing down to us through the centuries. The second course is the Body and Blood of Jesus which is given to us in the form of bread and wine. When the priest prays the words of institution, that is, the very words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper, then the gifts we offer are no longer bread and wine but truly the Body and Blood of Jesus. Can you think of any finer food that could be given to us? Can you think of any greater feast we could celebrate?

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the parable of a king who sends out invitations to his son’s wedding banquet. When the people rejected the invitation, he reached out to them again reminding them just what it was that they were missing. “Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast.” We can hear the sadness and hurt in his voice that no one had responded to his generous invitation. However, he did not call the banquet off, but reached out to others of lower social status to fill the banquet hall and join him in celebrating the marriage of his son.

That is why God is delighted with us today. We are among those who accepted the invitation to join in this banquet of love. Like the wedding feast in the parable, we are a mixture of good and bad. We have great saints among us and great sinners. We have those who live the faith everyday and those who are just going through the motions. Very often the great sinners and the great saints are the same people! However, despite our weakness, despite our failings, despite our doubt, we come to this feast. No matter where we are in our walk of faith, Jesus welcomes us and rejoices that we have said “Yes” to His invitation.
At the same time, we cannot help but carry a heavy heart for those who have rejected the invitation, for those who have found other things to do than join us for the celebration of the Eucharist today. There may be a thousand reasons why they chose to say “no”, and, of course, it is not our place to judge them. However, what often happens is that people make bad choices and fall into patterns of sin. Sin always makes us focus in on ourselves. Eventually, we get to a point at which we think that it is impossible for us to turn back. We imagine that God could never forgive us because of everything we have done. Other times, pride blinds us. We refuse to admit that we have done anything wrong, anything that we need to ask forgiveness for.

Jesus makes it perfectly clear - He came to call sinners. Whenever a sinner turns to Him, He rejoices. He never rejects anyone who comes to Him with a sincere heart. Even when He knows we will fail again, He always welcomes us with an open heart. He longs to show His mercy to us. The greater a sinner we are the more He rejoices in lavishing His mercy on us. There is no reason to stay away from the banquet that God has prepared for us, to turn away from Jesus’ mercy or to continue enslaved in patterns of hate, addiction or corruption.

It is up to us, then, who are enjoying this rich banquet and who have feasted on the Divine Mercy to extend the invitation to others. It is as simple as saying to a friend or family member, “Why don’t you join me at church this Sunday?” If that does not work, we can always share with others what we learned at Mass, what great programs are underway in our parish or diocese, or how faith in Christ has changed us. By sharing our faith, we give others something to think about which then opens a path for the Holy Spirit to work. Finally, we can always pray for those who have left the faith, that whatever hurts they have experienced will be healed and that whatever obstacle keeps them from joining us will be cleared away. In the end, it is God’s work to send out the invitation and to choose who will be welcome.

Soon we will hear the words, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.” We are truly blessed beyond measure to gather every Sunday to hear God’s word and receive Jesus’ Body and Blood. It is both a fulfillment of what the prophets foretold and a foretaste of the wedding feast of heaven when Jesus will unite Himself fully with His bride, the Church. Until that day, we strive to fill this church with those willing to accept the invitation, no matter their social status, income or race. This makes our Heavenly Father’s joy complete!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Hound Of Heaven

Poor Francis Thompson just could not find his way in life.

He was born in 1859 in Lancashire, England. Like his father, he studied to be a doctor but could never keep up with his classwork. After failing the medical examination three times, he decided to give everything up and move to London to be a writer.

However, the big city was not kind to young Francis. Unable to find work, he became homeless and was reduced to selling matches on the street corner. It was also during this time that he became addicted to opium and any money he managed to earn went to supporting his habit. Francis, finding himself in a state of utter destitution, cried out to God for help.

A prostitute noticed him in an alley close to death from starvation. She took him in, fed him and nursed him back to health. Off the streets, he decided to dedicate himself to his dream of writing poetry. After his first poem was published, he entered a monastery for two years to try to break his addiction to drugs. During this time, he wrote some of his most moving poetry and finally found the success he had hoped for.

However, the years on the street had taken their toll. He finally died of tuberculosis in 1907 at the age of 48.

Though he had lived a short life, his poems went on to inspire many other writers. His most famous poem is called “The Hound of Heaven”. In it, he describes God as a hound who relentlessly pursues him. No matter how hard he tries to flee from Him, God continues to chase after him. No matter how destitute he became as a drug addict, God never gave up on him. He finally has to stop and ask himself why he was trying so hard to escape from God’s love.

The poem is not easy to read, but it conveys a powerful and beautiful truth about our Heavenly Father. He loves each one of us with a burning passion. He cannot rest until He has found a way to reach us. No matter how hard we try to avoid Him, no matter what other choices in life we may make, He will not give up on us. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us any less or to keep Him from trying to convince us to love Him back.

The many parables that Jesus tells are all concerned with this great love of God for His people. In today’s gospel, He tells the story of a king who sends out invitations to his son’s wedding. Though the guests fail to respond to his invitation, he will not take no for an answer. If the invited guests fail to arrive, he insists on inviting others no matter how lowly they may be. He will have his son’s wedding banquet filled with people no matter the cost.

Like the king in the parable, God has sent an invitation to each of us, and He is waiting for our response.
It may often seem to us that we are the ones who are seeking God, but the opposite is in fact true. God is searching for us. No matter what it is we think we may want in life whether it be happiness or love or meaning, all of it can be found in our Heavenly Father. There is nothing we desire in life that God cannot provide for us. After all, He created us and everything in this wonderful world. If we would only stop and let Him catch up to us, we might just begin to realize it.

Why do we so often hide from God and not open the invitation we have received from him? Could it be that we are just so wrapped up with the concerns of daily life to answer His call? Is His invitation left on the table along with the junk mail and unpaid bills? Or are we afraid that if we  accept His invitation we will have to change? Are we afraid what God might ask of us if we do say yes to Him?

It is natural to be concerned about the cost of following Jesus. It is not easy to live the message He preached and to accept the invitation to live a life of total trust in Him. But we should never forget that there is also a high cost to saying no to that invitation. It means spending our lives chasing things that in the end can never satisfy us. It often means years of  feeling empty inside and wondering what is missing. It often means literally exhausting ourselves to earn success and accumulate possessions that fail to give us the security and status we thought they would. And, in the end, it could mean that we would have lived our whole lives on this planet without fulfilling the purpose for which we were created - to know, love and serve God.

God is seeking each of us out. He sent His Son to make clear to us how much He loves us and how desperately He wants us to love Him in return. We do not have to go looking for God because He is already looking for us. All we have to do is stop and let Him catch us. All we have to do is stop allowing fear to keep us on the run. Then we can accept the invitation to a personal relationship with the God who created us. We can know the joy and peace that our hearts were created to feel. We can stop running and start living.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The King Requests Your Presence

It has been several years now when the whole world was caught up in the wedding of England's Prince William to Kate Middleton.  Every detail of the ceremony was reported on the front page of newspapers throughout the world. It was the lead story of every news program. Imagine how honored those who were actually invited to the wedding must have felt. It would be impossible to believe that anyone would have declined to attend because they had something better to do.  No one would have missed what turned out to be one of the great social events of the century.

Those listening to Jesus' parable in today's gospel must have been asking themselves, "Who wouldn't accept an invitation from a king? Why would anyone refuse to go when it is the king himself requesting their presence?" Even if they hated the king, they would have wanted to show respect out of fear that he would hold it against them and punish them. But, the people in the parable not only refuse to show up, they maltreat and even kill the messengers. They act with no respect and no fear of the king's power, and so the king shows them no mercy. 

Who is the king if not God himself? And, who is invited to this great banquet if not all of humanity, all of us? We realize that it is our Creator - the maker of heaven and earth - who calls each of us to friendship with him. God himself honors each of us by inviting us to share in his very life. Such an invitation should fill us with awe and joy. But, so often, we decline to respond and even refuse to show up. For some unfathomable reason throughout all the world, God's invitation to know, love and serve him goes without a response or with an outright rejection.

Nonetheless, for a reason which is even more mysterious, God never tires of extending the invitation to us. As many times as we may refuse him, he turns back to us with another opportunity to fill ourselves with the riches of his banquet. Like the king in the parable, he will have his ballroom filled. One of the great saints of the Church, Saint Alphonsus Liguori, once wrote that God pursues us with intense love and devotion as if we were his god. The greatest example of this is the cross. God did not spare his own Son in his pursuit of us. And so we can be sure that God will not spare anything else to draw us into the life he has prepared for us in heaven.

Not only must we accept God's invitation for ourselves, but we must help God to extend that invitation to others. We are here today because we have said "yes". We have experienced the sumptuous banquet of God's life and love and have come back for seconds. Yet, so many in our world are unaware of the invitation which God has extended to them. They are busy with other concerns which seem more pressing. All the while, they are feeling the emptiness and pangs of a hunger they cannot identify. Their lives lack purpose and meaning, and they don't know what to do about it. We have the answer. We know what it is they are longing for because we have tasted God's goodness. For us not to tell them about the peace and joy we have found at the banquet of God's Word and at the table of the Eucharist would be like refusing food to someone who is starving. We must never fail to speak to everyone we meet about the hope and the peace we have discovered by saying "yes" to God's invitation to friendship with him.

In God's vast and infinite love, he has spread a rich banquet before us. For over two thousand years, saints have found inspiration and sinners forgiveness around this table. As we approach Jesus in the Eucharist, we cannot forget those who have failed to respond or have rejected God's love for some unknown reason. As we pray for ourselves that we never be separated from Christ, we must also pray for those who have yet to respond that they will say "yes" so that this banquet place may be full to honor God's Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Thoughts. Words. Deeds.

What thoughts have been crossing your mind lately?

Are you thinking about everything you need to do once you get home? Are you worrying about a situation at work or about completing a difficult homework assignment? Are you wondering how your favorite sports team will do this season? Or is the last song you heard on the radio playing in your head?

Wherever your mind may be wandering, I would ask you to gather your thoughts and listen to the following quote from Frank Outlaw:

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character for it becomes your destiny.

It is true that we have no control over what ideas float up from our subconscious into our consciousness. However, we can decide which thoughts we will give attention to and which we will dismiss. And we can be sure that whatever thoughts we choose to indulge will affect what choices we make, how we behave and, ultimately, what type of people we become.

For instance, consider the parable that Jesus tells us in today’s gospel. What thoughts were in the minds of the people who took control of the vineyard from the owner and then killed his son? Perhaps they harbored resentment against the owner. Why should he get the produce from the vineyard when they had been the ones laboring all summer? Perhaps they indulged envious thoughts, wishing they could have the vineyard all to themselves. Soon the greedy and malicious thoughts that they chose to mull over moved them to steal and, then, to murder.

What thoughts are we allowing to consume us? How are we behaving as a result? What kind of people are we becoming because of the choices we make? And, is there anything we can do about it?

As spiritual people, the first step we must take is to become aware of what we are thinking. Rather than allow ourselves to be carried away by the images and ideas that pop into our heads, we should take a step back and ask ourselves: Are these the type of thoughts I want to be filling my imagination with? Are there more wholesome and honorable thoughts that I can be focusing on? We can discipline our thoughts in much the same way as we discipline our body. Just as we make conscious choices about what we will eat and how much we will exercise, we can make conscious choices about what ideas deserve our attention and what thoughts we will push out of our minds because they will do us no good.

Consider this example. Most of us know someone who gets on our nerves. When thinking about this person, we could focus on his negative qualities and how much he irks us. We could daydream about how much we would like to see something bad happen to him. What would be the result of such thinking? Most likely, it will leave us feeling irritated and surly. If we stay in that state of mind, we will eventually act out by snapping at someone or saying something cruel.

However, what if we were to change our thinking? What if, instead of focusing on the negative qualities of the person who irritates us, we focused on his good qualities instead? For instance, we might say to ourselves: “Though Tom gets under my skin, he really is a hard worker.” Or, instead of concentrating on how the person’s behavior affects us, we might think to ourselves: “I wonder what is going on in Tom’s life to make him so angry all the time.” Everyone is struggling with problems that we have no idea about. By simply changing our thinking, we can eventually replace our hostility toward that person with compassion and understanding.

In today’s second reading, Saint Paul gives us another example of how we can replace negative thoughts with positive ones. He writes: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”

Much of our attention is given to worry. Our imagination conjures up every threat that is looming on the horizon and we fear that we will not be prepared when the worst happens. Indulging these worries only leaves us feeling anxious and afraid.

What does Saint Paul tell us to do instead? He tells us to replace our worry with gratitude. When I begin to worry about whether I have enough, I should reflect on how much God has given me already. When I begin to wonder whether I have what it takes to complete a project at school or at work, I should be thankful about how much I have already accomplished in my life. When I fear that I will never be able to conquer my bad habits, I can concentrate on God’s promise to always be with me and provide me with the strength I need. By focusing my attention on God and his power, I will not fall into the temptation of worrying that I have to face my difficulties alone. Making that simple choice to think about God and His goodness rather than on the negative situations in my life will help me live with less fear and more confidence.

Saint Paul goes on to tell us: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” A good first step to begin disciplining our thinking would be to go home and memorize these words. Then, when we are tempted to let our imagination carry us away, we can call this verse to mind and bring our attention to the things that matter. And if we think about what is true, honorable, just, pure and gracious, our actions will become true, honorable and just and we will find that we have become lovely, pure and gracious people.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Our Life Is On Loan To Us

Have you ever had someone entrust something precious to you? It could be a friend who asked you to watch his house while he was away on a trip, someone who let you borrow her car or a family member who lent you jewelry for a party you were going to.

How did you treat those precious articles which were entrusted to your care? Were you not even more careful with them than you would have been with your own property? When your friend came back from vacation, did you not make sure the house was even cleaner than when he left and the refrigerator was restocked with food? When you returned the car, did you not make sure it had a full tank of gas? And when you were done wearing the jewelry that you borrowed, did you not make sure to return it as soon as possible?

What would have happened if we did not take care of the things people lent us? What if the friend came home to find his house in disarray and furniture broken? What if we returned the car with dents in the fender and the gas needle on empty? What if we kept the expensive jewelry rather than return it? We would be showing our family and friends that we are not trustworthy. Not only would we ruin any possibility of being able to borrow those items again, but we would be damaging our relationships with those who are close to us. Our actions would show that we do not really value their friendship and have no respect for their property.

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the parable of some men who were given something precious to take care of - a vineyard. Jesus goes into great detail describing the lengths to which the owner went to build the vineyard - not only planting the vines but putting a hedge around it, digging out a wine press and building a tower. However, those he lent it to did not show as much care. Rather than appreciate that they were simply managing it until the owner returned, they began to see the vineyard as their own property. They believed they had a right to the produce and did not have to share anything with the one who sacrificed to build the vineyard in the first place. Even worse, they killed all those who came to claim the vineyard and its produce from them. The actions of the tenants were a  terrible insult to the landowner.

Jesus uses the parable to teach the religious leaders of His day a lesson. God had given them authority to teach the people the Law and to lead them in the ways of righteousness. However, they used that authority to create comfortable lives for themselves, to take advantage of others and to secure positions of power. Rather than serve the people, they served themselves. Now Jesus warns them that, unless they change, their authority will be taken away from them.

Jesus’ parable is not only meant for the religious leaders of His day, but for us who gather here to worship. What can we take away from His words? What has God entrusted to our care and how does He expect us to put it to use?

One gift we have all received from God is the gift of faith. We are here today because we believe. We have had an experience of the Heavenly Father’s love for us and His action in our lives. Faith is a pure gift. There is nothing we can do to earn it. All we can do is receive it with gratitude. However, this gift of faith is not given to us only so that we can have a comfortable life. Rather, it is given to us to share with others.

There are many in this world, including our family and friends, who do not have the light of faith to guide them. Rather than trust in God, they are consumed with fear and worry. Without the word of God to guide them, they are constantly making poor choices that ruin their relationships and their health. When they realize that they need to make a change in their lives, they have no idea whom to turn to for help. They are truly lost.

It is up to us who have this gift of faith to share it with others. We must always be willing to witness to them about what our faith means to us and how Jesus has changed our lives. It does not mean preaching to others about how wrong they are. Rather it is about showing through our kind words and actions that God has the power to change us for the better. It means putting away the fear that we will be judged or made fun of and sharing freely with others the power that comes when we put our lives in God’s hands.

Faith is a gift that God has entrusted to us, and He expects us to use it to help others.

Another gift we have received from our Heavenly Father is this parish community. Have you ever thought about our parish as a gift? We are here in this building today because of the sacrifices of generations of believers who came before us. They are the ones who donated their time to teach catechism. They are the people who sacrificed their savings to build this church brick by brick. We have inherited this beautiful parish from them. It has been entrusted to us to pass on to another generation of believers.

With this in mind we must ask ourselves, is our parish making a real and positive contribution to our neighborhood? Are we working hard to ensure that this vineyard which others have planted will continue to produce good fruit for years to come? Through our sacrifices, prayers and good works, will we be passing on a parish that is even more close knit, more faithful and stronger than the parish our parents entrusted to us? What can we do to make sure that happens?

We could go on and on describing all the gifts we have received from God and how He expects us to put them to use for His glory and for the good of those around us. God has given us the gift of faith and this parish community. He has entrusted them to our care. When He returns to collect them from us, what kind of shape will they be in? Will He find that we have put them to good use or will He find that we have neglected them? Will He find that we worked to serve others or that we used His gifts to make comfortable lives for ourselves? Those are questions we should be asking ourselves everyday if we want God’s continual blessings in our lives and if we want to be able to stand before Him on the day of our judgment secure that we will be returning in good shape what He lent to us.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Who Has The Son Has Everything

A very wealthy man and his son had one passion in life - collecting rare works of fine art. They traveled the world together seeking out art dealers to fill their collection with works by Rembrandt, Picasso and Matisse. When they were not traveling, they were at home enjoying all the pieces they had collected.

When the son turned eighteen, he joined the army and was sent to war. Several months later, the father’s worst fears came true when he received the news that his son had been killed in the line of duty. He was distraught and even his vast art collection could not console him.

One day, a knock came to the door. It was a young man dressed in an army uniform and carrying a package. The man explained that he was with the wealthy man’s son when he was killed. In fact, he had risked his life to carry him to safety when he had been wounded. He assured the father that his son died bravely and that the soldier owed his life to him. He told the father how he and his son often talked about their love for art and the works they had collected. Being an amateur painter himself, the young soldier wanted to give the father a gift and handed the package to him. Unwrapping it, the father was delighted with what he saw. It was a painting of his son. He was impressed by how the young soldier had captured his son’s youth and vitality. Counting it as his most prized possession, he hung it over the mantel of his fireplace. Whenever he had visitors to the house, it was the first piece from his collection that he would show them.

Several years later, the father died, and his vast art collection would be sold at auction. Wealthy art collectors came from all over the world to bid on the rare and valuable paintings. However, the bidding was to begin with the painting of the son that the young man had given him.

The auctioneer opened up the bidding, but the room was silent. “The son. Who will bid on the painting of the son?”, the auctioneer asked.  “No one wants that painting!”, one man called out.  “Bring out the Picassos and the Rembrandts!” But the auctioneer insisted that the bidding begin with the man’s most cherished painting. “Will anyone give me one hundred dollars for the painting of the son?”, he asked.

Finally a man who had served the family as a gardener stood up. “I offer fifty dollars for the painting of the son.” The auctioneer looked around the room to see if anyone else would bid on the painting. The room was silent. “Going once, going twice...sold for fifty dollars to the gardener.”

The auctioneer put down his gavel and began to walk away. “Hey, where are you going?”, someone in the crowd shouted out. The auctioneer returned to the podium and explained that the wealthy man in his will left specific instructions for the auction. The whole collection would go to whomever bid on the painting of the son. No other works of art would be auctioned that day. Whoever got the son got everything.

This simple story teaches us a very basic yet profound truth about our life of faith. God the Father has sent us His Beloved Son. In sending us His Son, He has sent us His very self. He has given us all He has to give. And so, when we receive Jesus, we are receiving the Father. When we welcome Jesus into our lives, we are welcoming the Father. And, like the gardener in the story, whoever has the Son, has everything.

However, very often like the tenants in Jesus’ parable, we reject the Son. We do not want to give Him His rightful place at the center of our hearts. Rather, we want to live life on our own terms. We want to be the ones in control of where we go and what we do. We want to go on making believe that our life is our own and that we can do with it whatever we please.

The fact is that our lives are a gift from God. He has a plan for all of us. That plan is more wonderful than anything we could ever imagine for ourselves. When we welcome Jesus into our life, it is transformed. As Saint Paul describes in the second reading, we live with a new sense of peace because an almighty and all-loving God is in control of our lives. We no longer have to fend for ourselves, but we have a Father who will provide for all our needs. When we have the Son, we have everything.

We should never be afraid of welcoming Jesus into our hearts. Because He is love itself, He can never do us any harm. He will not take us anywhere without giving us first the desire to go there, and He will not ask us to do anything without first giving us the strength to do it. Whatever He may ask us to give up, He will replace with something even better. Nothing in this world can match what Christ is able to do for us.

Jesus the Son of God welcomes us here today. He never rejects anyone who comes to Him with faith and sincerity of heart. Let us also welcome Him into our hearts and into our homes. Let us stop resisting Him and stop trying to live life on our own terms. Rather let us open ourselves up to the love that knows no bounds and the life that knows no end. We will quickly learn that when we have Jesus, we have everything.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Stewards Of A Great Treasure

A man was dying. When he sensed that his life on earth was close to its end, he called his oldest son to his bedside. From a bag on the end table, he pulled out a simple wooden box with a carving of a rose on it. He handed it to his son explaining that it had been given to him by his father and that he wanted him now to keep it. He promised his son that, if he took good care of it, the box would change his life. The son wasn't quite sure what his father was talking about, but took the box anyway and brought it home.

In a few weeks, the father died. After the funeral, the son took the box intending to put it on the mantel above the fireplace in his living room. He cleared the pictures off the mantel and placed the box right in the middle. Standing back to look at it, he felt that something wasn't quite right. He noticed that the pictures hanging on the wall really didn't match the box on the mantel. So, he took down all the pictures and rearranged them. Things still didn't seem quite right. So, he decided to rearrange the furniture. He pushed the couch, the love seat and the recliner in different positions around the room until he found an arrangement that matched the box and the pictures on the wall. Looking back on all the work he had done, he thought about his father's words that, if he took good care of the box, it would change his life. He laughed to himself as he thought that, to make room for that little box, he had already changed his whole living room around. He wondered to himself in what other ways that little box which he had come to treasure would change his life.

We have all been given a gift by our God, a gift that will change us if we take good care of it. That gift is the gift of life. Each of us was created by God. Each of us belongs to him. And, God expects each of us to do great things with this gift of life.

Our life is the first gift that God gives us. Everything else God wants to give us depends on it. What good would all the treasures of earth be if we didn't have our life to enjoy it? What good would even faith, hope or love be if we weren't alive to receive them? Before God can give us anything else, he must first give us the gift of life.

That is why, as believers in Christ, we must always work to guarantee a right to life for all people from the time they are conceived until the time of their natural death. We never look at any human being - no matter how sick, no matter how deformed, no matter how needy - as a burden. Rather, we look at each person as a gift, a gift from God. And, if we take care of the most vulnerable among us - if we cherish their lives as a precious gift - it will surely change us for the better. Like the man in the story found out when he put the box in a prominent place in his home, we discover that caring for the lives of the needy will force us to clear away the things which don't really matter, like anxieties about our appearance or our status. It will help us to place the gift of life and the right to life at the center of our families and our society where it belongs.

In today's gospel, the people who are put in charge of the vineyard forget that it doesn't belong to them. They want to keep the vineyard and its produce for themselves. They want to do with it whatever they want without respecting the demands of its true owner. They eventually go so far as to kill the owner's son. They took the gift they were given - the vineyard - and forgot to whom it belonged. Instead of honoring and protecting the gift, they squandered it, and it resulted in their ruin.

Can we see a parallel with today's society? How have we treated the gift of life which has been entrusted to us? How have we taken care of the weak and needy in our society?  Every year on this day - Respect Life Sunday - we ask these hard questions of ourselves and of our country. In an election year, these questions become even more pressing. Once we recognize life as a gift of God and every human life as made in God's own image and likeness, we can no longer fool ourselves that whether the unborn live or die is a personal choice. We can no longer kid ourselves that the lives of the innocent are ours to do with as we please. Otherwise, as a society, we risk the calamity that befell the men in today's gospel.

Each of us knows how precious our own lives are. We treasure the lives of our family members, our children and our friends. We strive to make of our lives something worthwhile and beautiful. And, we want to help enrich the lives of those we love and make our world a better place. Like the man in the story, we have embraced the gift of life, and it has changed us. On this day - Respect Life Sunday - let us renew our commitment to life, especially the lives of the most vulnerable members of our society.