Sunday, October 30, 2016

Jesus Invites Himself Over

What if Jesus were coming to our town. What would you do to make sure you had a chance to meet Him? Would you camp out on the street all night to make sure you had a good spot along the street He would be passing by? Would you climb a tree or a telephone pole so that you could get a good look at Him? Would you yell out to Him in hopes that He would hear you and look your way? Would you break through the police barricade and risk getting arrested to run up and touch Him? How far would you go for a chance to meet your Lord and Savior?

What if Jesus were coming to your house? What would you do to prepare? What do you think you would talk to Him about? What questions would you ask Him? What do you think He would want to know about you? Is there any part of your life that you would want to hide from Him? Is there any part of your life that you think He would not be pleased with? How do you think your life would change if Jesus were a guest in your home?

In the gospel we have just heard proclaimed, little Zacchaeus is in just such a spot. Jesus was passing through Jericho, and he was determined to get a look at him. The problem was that he was very short, and the crowd was already pressed tight along the way Jesus was passing. Worse still, little Zacchaeus was despised by the people. There was no way they were going to make room for him. If he was going to see Jesus, he would have to find a way to rise above the crowd. And so, he decided to climb up a sycamore tree. He could have let the crowd intimidate him. He could have decided it was no use and gone home. But Zacchaeus would not miss his chance to see the wonder-worker from Galilee. Because of his determination and efforts, Jesus recognized him and spent the rest of the day with Him.

We have come here today to get a glimpse of Jesus. All of us have taken time out of our weekend to hear His word and receive His Body and Blood. We encounter Him in our brothers and sisters gathered together with us. For some of us, it is natural to come to Mass every week and even every day. We have been doing it all our lives and would not dream of spending this time any other way. On the other hand, for many of our families it was no easy task getting the children ready, packing a bag for the baby and piling into the car to make it here on time. Others of us considered not coming because we had pressing chores at home or a television show we would have liked to watch. But we made the effort anyway. No matter why we are here or what efforts we made to get here, God is pleased. He, in turn, will make an effort to reach out to us. He knows each of us by name. And He is determined to be our guest.

There is one thing, however. For us to receive Jesus into our hearts, something about our life must change. When Zacchaeus agreed to have Jesus be a guest in his home, he pledged to give half of his belongings away to the poor and to repay anyone he may have defrauded. It was a stunning act for such a wealthy man. But he knew that he would be all the richer for having the opportunity to get to know Jesus personally. Each of us is likewise holding onto something that we must let go of if we are to stretch our hands out to Jesus. It could be an old habit or an unhealthy relationship. Our greed could be driving us to overwork ourselves and neglect our families. Or bitterness over past hurts could be making us unwilling to forgive others. We have to be willing to let it all go so that we can make room for Jesus in our lives.

We are all sinners. Each of us struggles to live the gospel message in a society which is hostile to it. Each of us is bearing a cross of some kind. We are very often forgetful of God and His love. We very often fail at reflecting His joy and mercy in our lives. But we keep showing up here. We keep praying, we keep hoping and we keep trying. We very often wish we could see more results but realize that our walk with Jesus is in baby steps not leaps and bounds. Despite our own shortcomings and the difficulties that are part of the Christian life, we are determined to move forward because we cannot be satisfied with anything else except Jesus. At this point, we see that the world cannot give us what our hearts truly desire. And so, even though the crowd tries to push us away and block our view, we find a way to rise above so that we can see Jesus who is our true joy. Whatever effort we have to make, whatever changes we need to make in our lives, whatever it costs us, we are willing to do it because there is no greater joy  than hearing Jesus call out our name and welcoming Him into our homes and into our lives.

And so, each of us has a decision to make today. Is Jesus just another man passing through town, or is He the Son of God, our Lord and Savior? Do we let the crowd intimidate and accuse us, or do we find a way to rise above so that we can see Jesus? Do we make excuses or do we make a way? Do we hold onto our sinfulness, or do we reach out our hand to Jesus?

However we answer these questions will make all the difference in our lives.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Gossiping About Jesus

If you wanted to know what was going on in the neighborhood, you only needed to stop by Rita’s house.

Every morning, she would preside over a group of ladies who sat around her kitchen table drinking coffee and gossiping about everyone else in the neighborhood. They amused themselves laughing over which husband was cheating on which wife, which young girl had just gotten pregnant or which couple was getting a divorce. If someone she knew was having trouble in her marriage or at his job, you could be sure that Rita was on the phone telling someone else about it and enjoying every minute of it.

It seems, however, that while she was so consumed with the troubles her neighbors were having, Rita could not see the problems in her own home. It all began to unravel for her one evening when her husband left a bar drunk and crashed his car into a tree almost killing himself and another passenger. Then one of her daughters told her she was separating from her husband even though they had only been married for eight months. Finally, her 16 year-old granddaughter became pregnant.

The friends who used to gather at her table weren’t coming around anymore. To her dismay, she discovered that the ladies who used to gossip with her were all too eager to gossip about her. Because she had such a reputation as a gossip and because she had hurt so many people’s feelings over the years, the rumors that spread about her family were even more vicious. She found herself alone with no one to support her.

This experience forced her to talk a good hard look at herself. Reflecting on all those years of gossiping, she understood that the reason she did it was because she did not feel good about herself. Talking about the problems of others distracted her from her own problems. Looking down on her neighbors who were struggling gave her the sense that she was somehow superior to them.

It was when she turned to her parish prayer group that she found the grace and strength to change. There she met people who supported others in their struggles and cried with them.  With time she was able to open up about her own problems and find comfort. At one meeting, she got up to share about her change of heart and told the group that rather than spend her time talking about the lives of others she was going to talk about what God had done for her. She called it “gossiping about Jesus.”

When Rita discovered that she was no better than anyone else - that misfortune could also touch her life - she could then begin to really support others in their struggles and find comfort in her own.

Like Rita and like the Pharisee in today’s gospel, we often fall into the temptation of considering ourselves better than others. If we are honest, we must admit that from time to time we are sizing others up and finding ways that we are superior to them. Either we live in a better home than they do, make more money or have more fun. This attitude is especially loathsome when religious people judge others to not be living the faith as well as they are. There is something particularly perverse about those of us who judge others because they sin differently than we do. Nothing is as deadly to a parish as parishioners who look down on others, judge them harshly and gossip about them.

It is said that the faults we see in others are often the faults we ourselves have. If we find ourselves trapped in attitudes of superiority, it is most likely because there is something going on in our lives that we are struggling to deal with. It is easier to dwell on the misfortunes and failings of others than to learn to cope with our own. When we catch ourselves judging others, it is a warning that we should stop and look at our own heart to see what we are trying to avoid.

The tax collector in Jesus’ parable was justified when he humbly  admitted his sinfulness and turned to God for mercy. Rita was able to change her heart when she discovered that all her gossiping was a way of avoiding her own problems. When we stop judging others, admit our own sins and turn to God for mercy, we too will find forgiveness and the strength to change.

We are all sisters and brothers. Each of us fails daily in living our Christian faith. We even fail at being decent human beings at times. What we need from one another is understanding and not judgment, support and not ridicule. This church especially should be a place where people experience the mercy of Jesus alive among us by the way we welcome them, cry with them and help them. There is no excuse for us to look down on others. Rather we should be lifting them up just as Jesus has lifted us up and forgiven us.

If today we can look into our own heart and humbly admit our weakness rather than dwelling on how much better we are than others, we will leave this church justified. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Have Mercy

Every Sunday when we gather to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we begin by taking a moment to remember that we have sinned. Before entering the presence of God, we remember that He is the good and holy One. We are sinners, unworthy to enter His house because we so often fail to reflect His love in our thoughts and actions. Nonetheless, He is merciful, quick to forgive us and close to us when we call. We set the tone for our worship together by remembering that our presence here has less to do with our own holiness or goodness and everything to do with His love and mercy. We are not here to pat ourselves on the back for all the good things we do. Rather we are here to celebrate and praise the God who saves us. And so we pray: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”

The Pharisee in today’s gospel has got it all wrong. He is no doubt a good man.  In his fasting and religious practices, he goes far beyond what the Law requires. On the outside, he is beyond reproach. But have his good works made him more grateful to God? Has all his fasting opened his heart to the needs of others? It seems from Jesus’ description that quite the opposite has happened. Rather than make him more humble, it has made him more proud. Rather than having greater compassion for others, religion has made this Pharisee harsh and judgmental. He is absolutely blind to his own need for God. In fact, God has no place in his prayer at all. It is all about what he has done and how much better he is than everyone else - not by God’s grace, but by his own efforts.

It is important for us to reflect on Jesus’ message in this parable. We are all more or less good and religious people. We come to Mass and observe the precepts of the Church. We contribute as much as we can. But what is happening in our hearts? Are we becoming more compassionate or more judgmental? Are we drawing more and more of our strength from God or is it all a matter of our own will-power and self-discipline? Do we come into God’s presence aware of our need for His mercy, or do we think our virtuous lives and good deeds somehow earn us a hearing from the Almighty?

One thing is clear. If being nice and following rules could get us into heaven, then it would not have been necessary for Jesus to die on the cross for us. The fact is that all of us are sinners, and no one is so good that he or she deserves a place at God’s table. Our faith and the good works it produces are a pure gift of God’s mercy to us. We can choose to accept it or reject it, but we have no right to brag about it or to look down on our brothers and sisters who may not seem to give as much as we do.

Following certain rules have their place in our walk with Christ. However, they are not the most important measure of our Christian lives. Rather, the closer we are to Jesus, the more we will love our neighbor. The deeper we grow in our faith, the more willing we will be to forgive and the more patient we will be with the weakness of others. And the more we draw our strength from the well of God’s grace, the more clearly we will see our own weakness and sinfulness.

On the other hand, if we are comparing ourselves to others and judging them, then we do not know Jesus, for He is, above all else, forgiving and merciful. If that is our attitude, then we have lost our way just as surely as if we had stopped believing altogether.

When Jesus walked among us as a man, he welcomed many different sinners and forgave them. Former prostitutes and tax-collectors were among those who followed Him. He was willing to forgive the thief who was crucified beside Him. He even forgave those who tortured and killed Him. But there was one sin that Jesus condemned in the strongest possible language. It was the sin of self-righteousness. It was not just their arrogance and pride that angered Him. What most frustrated Him was that they were completely blind to their sin. They could not repent or receive forgiveness because they did not realize they needed it and could not ask for it. Jesus could not teach them about His mercy because they were too caught up in their own goodness. Because of it,  they missed the opportunity that any of us would love to have - to meet Jesus, to speak to Him and to learn from Him.

How do we keep ourselves from falling into the same trap of trusting in our own goodness so much that we miss the opportunity to draw our strength from God’s mercy?

The first step is to go to confession. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we encounter Jesus who loves us and is willing to forgive us. It is such a powerful means of healing precisely because we come to Jesus just as we are - acknowledging that we have sinned and that there is no other way for us to be forgiven than to beg Him for it. Getting on our knees and confessing our sins is never easy. But it is the best medicine for a judgmental or critical attitude. When we face our own sinfulness, we become more patient and gentle in our dealings with others. Our hearts begin to soften, and love becomes a more natural response for us.

Once we have received God’s mercy, the second step is to show that same mercy to others through our good deeds. By practicing works of mercy - feeding the hungry, praying for the dead, visiting the sick and giving to the poor - we are showing to others the same love God has shown us. Our good deeds are no longer a reason for us to brag or to grow in pride but a response to the mercy of God. When our hearts are humble, we will be able to see Jesus and serve Him in the needy we encounter every day.

Jesus is here among us. We will drop to our knees as bread and wine become His very Body and Blood. We will be filled with awe that we have been forgiven and welcomed to the banquet of God’s love. Forever changed, we will leave this place to spread the message of His mercy by our good deeds. Then the whole world will know this God who hears the cry of the poor.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Timing Is Everything

Timing is everything.

The farmer knows just when the right time is to plant seeds, to water them, fertilize them and, ultimately, when to harvest them to get the maximum produce. If he does it too early, the crops may get harmed by the cold. If he waits too long, the crops may be burned by the heat or the produce may be over-ripe and start to rot before getting to market. Timing is everything if a farmer is going to get the most out of his land.

Musicians instinctively know the importance of timing. Not only must every note be played on key but it must be sounded at just the right time in the song. A note, no matter how masterfully it is played, if sounded too early or too late in the piece will sound off key and throw off the other musicians. Timing is everything when a musician is part of a symphony.

For athletes, timing can make all the difference in winning and losing. The baseball player has to swing his bat at just the right moment to connect with the ball to achieve the maximum speed and distance. A tennis player must have impeccable timing to swing her racquet just as the ball is bouncing off the court to get enough topspin to get it over the net and out of the reach of her opponent. All the strength, finesse and coordination in the world mean nothing if an athlete’s timing is off.

Also, timing is everything with God.

Not only does He know what we need but He knows exactly when we need it. His help never comes so soon that we are not ready for it nor so late that we no longer need it. Rather, at just the right moment He offers us just what we need to fight temptation, overcome obstacles and to help others. God gives us just what we need when we need it. His timing is impeccable.

However, when we are feeling under pressure, when our vulnerability seems too much to bear, we start to question God’s sense of timing. We wonder what is taking Him so long, why He is delaying in answering our prayer. Our doubts and fears rise up to disturb our peace of mind and we wonder whether God has forgotten us.

It is at moments such as these that we must remember Jesus’ words in today’s gospel: “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.”

From our vantage point, it may seem as though our Heavenly Father is slow in answering us. However, God has a much different perspective than we do. He will unfailingly give us what we need when we need it. All we need do is wait with trust and faith.

It can be tempting to give up hope and to stop yearning for something better. We pray to see our dreams realized and the desires of our hearts satisfied, but it just takes so long. In the meantime, we allow discouragement to step in and begin to wonder whether what we have been praying for is unrealistic. The devil then takes the opportunity to tempt us to settle for less than the abundant life God promises for us. We are often willing to accept less because we can get it quicker and easier.

When we succumb to that temptation, however, we are like a farmer who eats sour apples because he is not willing to wait until the fruit ripens. God is the one who puts such grand desires in our hearts and such wild dreams in our minds. He wants us to yearn for unconditional love, for a faith that overcomes all obstacles and a hope that endures all difficulties. He wants us to strive for more, to not settle for the ordinary and to continually stretch out our hands toward goods that seem just beyond our grasp. However, to realize those dreams and make those hopes a reality, we have to wait on the Lord and persevere in prayer. We cannot be so afraid of disappointment and failure that we give up on the abundant life God wants for us.

What dreams have you given up on? Where in your life has disappointment so broken your spirits that you have all but lost hope? Where does God seem absent from your life? Where have you settled for less?

It can all begin to change if we just offer it all up to the Lord, persevere in prayer and trust in His perfect timing and in His promise that all things are possible to the one who has faith. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Imagine you were all alone with no one to help you. Imagine you had no one to watch out for you or protect you. Imagine you were at the mercy of everyone around you, not knowing who you could trust. Imagine you had nothing and no one.

This was the situation of widows in Jesus’ time. Without a husband, they had no legal standing in the community. They could not serve as witnesses in trials. They were left with no rights at all. They had to trust in others to help them. They had no one to provide for them, support them or defend them when they were wronged.

This explains the behavior of the widow in today’s parable. She was seeking justice and no one was willing to give it to her. The judge who was hearing her case was corrupt so he would render a verdict in favor of the side that offered him the biggest bribe. However, this widow had no money to give him. She could not even afford a lawyer to represent her. All she had was her persistence. If all else failed she could pester the judge until he ruled in her favor. And that is exactly what happened.

Jesus holds this widow up as an example to us. She has something to teach us about prayer and our relationship to God.

Like the widow in the gospel, we are all poor. When we go before God, we really have nothing to offer Him. There is nothing we have that He has not given us. There is nothing we can do for Him which He could not do for Himself. There is no way of bribing God. We may sometimes try to bargain with Him, promising that if He does something for us we’ll start going to church more often or spend more time praying. But all that really means nothing to Him.

When we approach God, we can only do so empty handed. The only gift we have to offer Him is the faith in our heart. Just as the widow was at the mercy of the judge, so we are at the mercy of our God. However, He is not a corrupt judge. Rather He is a judge who can read the secrets of our hearts. Moreover, He is a judge who loves us and wants us to love Him back. He is a loving Father who wants to provide for all our needs. If we go to God with our hands full of half-hearted promises, lists of the all the good things we’ve done or reasons why we deserve to have Him answer our prayers, we will not be able to receive all the blessings He has prepared for us. Rather, like the widow we have to approach God in poverty. Then He can bless us with His mercy.

Like the widow in the gospel, we often find ourselves in desperate circumstances. We may be facing illness, the loss of a job or problems with our children that overwhelm us and for which we have no answer. Like the widow, we feel as though we are alone with no one to help us. Our burden can feel so heavy that we do not know how we are going to get through the day.

All of us experience these trying circumstances at least once in our lives. However, if we are honest with ourselves, our lives are much more precarious than we would like to admit. We may feel that we have enough money to get by, but all that could change with illness or a change in the economy. We all might be feeling healthy and agile, but an accident could change all that in a heartbeat. No matter how secure we may feel our lives are, we are really standing on shaky ground which could be pulled out from under us at any minute.

The fact is, we need God more than we would like to admit. We depend on Him more than we can ever realize. Every breath we draw is His gift to us. We are kept alive and healthy because He wills it. Everything we have and are is because of His continued generosity. Like the widow, we have to rely on someone else to provide for us and defend us. That someone else is God Himself.

Therefore, like the widow, not only are we poor and desperate, but all our hope is in God. There is no one else we can turn to who can provide for us when we are poor, who can protect us when we are alone and who can comfort us when we are in mourning. Just as the widow had only the judge to turn to for justice, so we have only our God to turn to for all our needs and desires.

When, through God’s grace, we can recognize how much we are like the widow - how poor, desperate and needy we really are - then we will persist in prayer. Once we realize that only God can provide for us, then we will seek Him with all our hearts. Once we realize that we must go to Him empty-handed, we will never cease to lift our hands up to Him until He fills them. Once we realize how desperate we are, will continually pursue God to give us security and peace. We will be persistent because we know that God loves us and that, eventually, He will answer us. Besides, we know that we really have nowhere else to go.

We gather here today in the presence of God, our just, loving Judge. We bring our needs to Him with faith. We lift up our hands to Him in praise. We sing to Him with confidence that He will hear and answer us. Trusting in Him, we are persistent in seeking to know Him more and more. Then we will come to find true riches, true security and true peace in the arms of our Heavenly Father.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Intense And Fervent Prayer

Prayer is powerful. When we humbly present ourselves before God and lay our needs out before Him, He answers us. He knows our thoughts and hears us. He knows our needs and wants to provide for us.

Each of us here today probably has a story of a time when, out of desperation, we cried out to God, and He provided us what we needed. It may have been for a loved one who was sick, for a friend who was in trouble or for our own needs. God surprised us by making what seemed impossible, possible. In a way that we could never have otherwise hoped for or imagined, a solution to our problem became evident. And there was no other explanation than that God heard and answered us. We became convinced of the power of prayer.

However, for every such story we may have, we most likely also have many others about prayers which were not answered. At the time, we may have wondered why it took Jesus so long to hear and answer us. We may have doubted that our prayers were even being heard at all. Looking back, we are probably glad that most of those prayers went unanswered. Mostly likely with time, better things came along or our perspective on life changed so that we no longer wanted what we had previously begged God to give us. We came to learn that God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows when to say “no” to us as well as when to say “yes.” And we learned that “no” can sometimes be a more appropriate answer to our prayers.

Saint Augustine calls prayer an "exercise in desire". Prayer trains our heart to desire what God desires. When we pray, we are calibrating our thoughts along the lines of God’s mercy and love. The power of prayer is not in getting God to give us what we want, but in transforming our hearts to love and desire what He loves and desires. Prayer trains us to think and to love as God does. As we become more like Jesus through the time we spend silently pondering his love, the things we pray for will be more in keeping with His will. Then we will see Him answer our petitions in powerful ways.

It is for this reason that incorporating the Bible into our prayer is so important. As Saint Paul teaches us in today’s second reading, all Scripture is inspired by God. The Bible reveals to us God’s plan for the world. When we read the Bible, it is the voice of God Himself that we are hearing. As we take each word in and reflect on the stories, we come to understand His love and mercy. The truth of the Scriptures corrects the falsehoods, misconceptions and prejudices that so often darken our minds. As we memorize verses that have special meaning to us and call them to mind during the day, we are given strength against the temptations to look the other way when someone needs us or to talk behind another person’s back. It immerses our minds and hearts into the mind and heart of God, and we begin to think, to act and to pray as He would.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus teaches us that we must persevere in bringing our prayers to God if we want them to be answered. Jesus tells the parable of a widow who seeks justice from a corrupt judge. The judge is not inclined to rule in her favor, but because she will not leave him alone, he eventually does what she asks. God, on the other hand, does want to provide for our needs. However, he also requires that we wait to receive an answer. First of all, He knows the proper time to answer our prayer. If it is something we truly need, we will get it when we need it and not a moment sooner. Secondly, if it is something that we do not need or that would be harmful to us, He wants to give us the time to realize that what we are seeking is not in accordance with His will and to lead us to find another way to solve our problem. Thirdly, by making us wait, God is often trying to strengthen our faith. By not giving up when our prayers go unanswered, we will face life’s other difficulties with that much more resolve and confidence.

It is true that, no matter how seemingly insignificant or daunting our challenges are, God cares about them even more than we do. But it is also true that God has a greater plan unfolding through history which we are just a small but important part of. It is by locating our place in that unfolding plan and committing ourselves to participating in it, that our prayers make any sense. Simply put, if what we want is contrary to what God wants, then our prayers will not be answered in the way we expect. I imagine that many good and pious people in Jesus' day prayed that He would be shown to be an impostor, or that they could come up with answers to the challenges he posed. Jesus himself prayed that the cup of suffering pass him by - but only if it be according to God's will. Just like the millions of other unanswered prayers, are we not glad those were not answered!

Persistence in prayer is necessary because God's plan takes time to unfold and our hearts and minds are slow to grasp His work in our lives. We so often want an instant response, but that is not how our Heavenly Father operates. He takes whatever time necessary to make sure His plan is executed perfectly.

God is more like a crock pot than a microwave.

For that reason, like Moses in today’s first reading who grew weary holding his arms up during the battle, we need each other’s help to persist in prayer both for our personal needs and in our struggle to make God's justice and peace real in our world. That is why we gather every Sunday as a community of faith. We pray for each other and strengthen each other through our witness of faith. Together we lift our hands up in praise and thanksgiving seeking the power that can only come from God. Our lives are transformed, our prayers are answered and we know the peace that comes from resting in God’s will.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Our Prayer Of Thanksgiving

There are many different forms of prayer.

Perhaps the one we are most familiar with and most associate with prayer is “intercessory prayer”.  When we are interceding before God we are asking Him to meet one of our needs or the needs of a loved one. It is this form of prayer that we see in today’s gospel when the lepers approach Jesus asking to be healed.

There is also the prayer of thanksgiving - giving thanks for everything that God has done for us. That is the prayer of the Samaritan in today’s gospel who comes back to find Jesus and falls at His feet grateful to have been relieved of the disease which had kept him from his family for so many years.

The prayer of gratitude is very pleasing to Jesus. When we say “thank you” to him, we are acknowledging that every good gift we have comes from Him. We recognize that, without Him, we are nothing.

Jesus tells us that unless we become like children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. To be child-like, we must be thankful. Sons and daughters understand that everything they have comes from their parents. Whenever they need something - whether it be food, money or a ride - they know to go to their parents. Children have confidence in their parents whatever circumstances they are in. A good child knows enough to thank His parents and not take them for granted. Even though they can rely on them for anything and everything, they still say “thank you” and take any opportunity to show their gratitude.

As sons and daughters of God, we must be people of gratitude. We can go to our Heavenly Father with whatever needs we have. There is nothing which is beyond the power of our God. Because He loves us as tenderly as parents love their children, we can be confident that He will take care of us. However, like children, we often do not know what we need. What we think would be good for us may be harmful and what we think is harmful may be good.

For this reason, we entrust all our needs to our Heavenly Father with absolute trust. If He answers our prayers in a way we like, we thank Him. However, if things do not work out the way we would like, we continue to thank Him. Like children, we place all our confidence in our Heavenly Father. In all circumstances we praise Him, knowing that He makes all things work to the good for those who love Him.

This is why the prayer of thanksgiving pleases Jesus - because it gives us a child-like heart.

The prayer of thanksgiving also keeps us humble.

Jesus tells us that God brings down the mighty and exalts the lowly. If we are to be pleasing to God we must be humble. The proud think that they are the source of their own good fortune. Rather than acknowledge that others have helped them, they want to take sole credit for their own successes. They forget that, without God, they would not even exist.

Humble people, on the other hand, recognize that whatever they achieve is only possible through the help of others, particularly God. When we raise up to God a prayer of thanksgiving, we are acknowledging that every good thing in our life is a result of His loving kindness to us. Any prosperity, health or well-being we may enjoy are not rewards we are entitled to. Rather they are gifts that are freely given to us by our Heavenly Father. When we say “thank you” we grow in humility by admitting that God deserves the glory and not we.

That is why the prayer of thanksgiving pleases Jesus - because it makes us humble.

The prayer of thanksgiving also pleases Jesus because it is good for our souls and good for our peace of mind.

Too many times we fall into negative attitudes. The weight of the world seems to be leaning on us and we want to hide. Around us, all we see is danger and threats. Everything looks bleak.

When we being to raise our hands in a prayer of thanksgiving, however, everything changes. We being to focus on what is good in our lives, not on what is bad. We find the positive in all circumstances rather than just dwelling on the negative. The darkness that saps our energy and diminishes our confidence is scattered by the light of optimism and hope. When we say “thank you” to God in all circumstances, we are reminded that He is in control and that He will not abandon us.

Jesus came so that we might have an abundant life and enjoy peace of mind and spirit. The prayer of gratitude pleases Jesus because it restores us to a spirit of calm and joy.

The word “Eucharist” itself means “thanksgiving”. Like the Samaritan in today’s gospel, we gather here today to give thanks. God has done great things for us. Calling it to mind constantly, no matter how bleak things may get, will give us a child-like spirit full of humility and marked by peace of mind. No matter how difficult the challenges of our lives may get, there is one gift we can always count on - the presence of Jesus in His Body and Blood offered every Sunday and every day on this altar.

As people of gratitude, let us ran to Jesus, like the Samaritan in today’s gospel, offering a prayer of thanksgiving and begin to live in a spirit of optimism, faith and joy. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Meet The Samaritans

The Samaritans are a people who are mentioned frequently in the New Testament. We all know the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus also met a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well as recorded by Saint John. And, in today’s gospel, a Samaritan leper is healed by Jesus and is the only one to return and thank Him.

To understand who the Samaritans were, we have to know a bit about the history of the people of Israel and the land they occupied.

The people of Israel were comprised of twelve tribes. Ten of the tribes made up what was called the “Northern Kingdom”. The capital was Samaria. The remaining two tribes were called the “Southern Kingdom” with their capital in Jerusalem. The kings of the Northern Kingdom began to worship idols and foreign gods. Though they were warned by the prophets that they would be punished, they continued to do so. The day of reckoning came around seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus when the Assyrians invaded the Northern Kingdom, levelling their cities and taking whoever survived the siege into exile. As predicted by the prophets, the land was utterly devastated and the ten tribes were gone forever leaving only the two tribes of the Southern Kingdom.

With no one inhabiting the land of the Northern Kingdom, the Assyrians began to repopulate it with their own people and re-established Samaria as the capital. These people came to be called “Samaritans” and the land they inhabited “Samaria” after the name of their capital. The Jews who remained in the Holy Land resented the presence of a foreign people in the land that God had promised them. In many ways, it is comparable to the resentment that many Palestinian Arabs feel toward Israelis in our own day.

Though there had always been some animosity between the two groups, the intense hatred and hostility came about around four hundred years before Jesus’ birth. The Southern Kingdom was about to rebuild the temple with the help of Cyrus, the king of the Persians. The Samaritans who had begun following the law handed down by Moses wanted to participate in the construction of the new temple and be included in worship with the Jews. However, the Jewish people refused not wanting to give a foreign people access to the Temple of God.

The Samaritans were offended and outraged. Not wanting to be shown up, they decided to build their own temple on Mount Gerizim. It is this temple that the woman at the well refers to when she says to Jesus, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain but you say that the place people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Therefore, Samaritans were not allowed to enter the temple in Jerusalem nor were Jews allowed access to the temple on Mount Gerizim. To the Jews, then, Samaritans were not only foreigners but they had corrupted the true religion of Israel. For these historic and religious reasons, we cannot underestimate the deep hatred and animosity that existed between the Jewish and Samaritan peoples.

Now that we understand the history, we can have a better understanding of today’s gospel. When Jesus tells the ten men to go show themselves to the temple priest, the Samaritan was not about to go along with them. He would not be allowed in the temple because he was a Samaritan and he would not go in because he worshiped only at Mount Gerizim. Therefore, while the others went on their way to meet their religious obligation, he was free to return to Jesus and thank him.

Also, because he was a Samaritan, he had even more reason to be grateful to Jesus. He realized that Jesus was a Jew. As a Jew, it showed even greater love and mercy on Jesus’ part to heal a man who was a historic enemy of His people. The Samaritan recognizes this and is all the more thankful because of it.

There are probably many of you here today who can relate to the Samaritan in the gospel. You may feel like an outcast and a foreigner in church. You may feel that you are so lost that you could never be found, so sinful you can never be forgiven or so dirty you could never be made clean. You may feel that you have drifted so far away from Jesus that you could never dare to approach Him. If you feel this way, then you are just the person God is looking to touch. In fact, you have an advantage over those of us who appear to be devout and religious. You can approach Jesus knowing how needy you are of His forgiveness and healing. You can approach Him with true poverty of spirit because you know that you do not deserve anything and that you are not entitled to anything. You know you are sinners. And it is just such people that Jesus wants to forgive and heal. If you turn to him, he will not turn away from you. If you approach Him, He will not avoid you. You can be assured that, if you are truly repentant, you will find a new relationship with Him and a new start for your life.

The Samaritan also has something to teach us who feel that we are devout and religious. Because we meet all the exterior obligations of our faith, we can fall into the trap of thinking that God owes us something. Because we give so much, we think we are entitled to graces and deserve to have a charmed life. We can often look down on others who fail to meet the high standards we have set for ourselves. Such an attitude can creep into our spiritual life in very subtle and dangerous ways. The Samaritan teaches us that all of us approach God as beggars. There is nothing we can give Him that He has not already given us. By showing gratitude, by taking the time to say “Thank you”, we learn humility and can fuel our spiritual lives not so much on our own efforts but on the action of the Holy Spirit at work within us.

In the presence of God, we are all foreigners, lepers and beggars. Yet He showers His gifts on us because He is faithful. The greatest of these gifts is the Body and Blood of His Son which will be offered on this altar for the forgiveness of our sins and the healing of our spirits. Let us approach this table with awe and gratitude, throwing ourselves down at the feet of Jesus as the Samaritan did, confident in His merciful and faithful love.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Thank God

When was the last time you received a thank you note? How did it make you feel? Did you feel appreciated and cared for? Did it cheer you to have someone acknowledge your kindness?

When was the last time you sent a thank you note? Have you ever written one just to acknowledge a simple act of generosity? How did it make you feel? Did it give you a deeper sense of gratitude? Did it make you more aware of all the good things you enjoy in life? Did it make you more willing to show kindness to others in turn?

And, if you have been meaning to send someone a thank you note but have been putting it off, what are you waiting for?

Heartfelt expressions of gratitude are good for our personal lives. But they are also essential for our spiritual ones. An important mark of a spiritual life is thankfulness. When we are grateful to God, we recognize that all we have and are is His gift. We did not create ourselves. We could not choose the family we were born into or the talents that we have used to lead a successful life. Even the money we earn and food we eat, though we have worked for it, all come from God’s providence. Without Him, we would be nothing. Faith and prayer help us to recognize that we are totally dependent on our Heavenly Father. That awareness causes gratitude to well up within us.

Spiritual people, however, know that they are not only to be grateful in good times but in hard times as well. Saint Paul is a perfect example of this. Today’s second reading is taken from his second letter to Timothy. At the time when this letter was written, Paul had been arrested for preaching the gospel. He will soon be beheaded by the Romans for his witness to Jesus. But the hardships and suffering he has endured have not made him bitter. They do not cause him to regret answering the call to spread the good news among the nations. Rather, he is grateful to have been chosen as a witness to Christ. And he is thankful that the chains he wears and the tortures he endures somehow are part of God’s plan to make Jesus known to all people. This gratitude gives Saint Paul the strength to endure imprisonment and deprivation and keeps him close to God by not allowing bitterness and regret to harden his heart.

It does not require faith to be thankful when things are going our way. Spiritual people give thanks even when life is difficult, when they have bills that they cannot pay, when they are sick and when they are surrounded by people who ridicule them. It is not an easy thing to do. We all face real problems and carry heavy burdens. When we are thankful even in the face of tragedies, we are not ignoring our grief and that of others. We are not simply telling ourselves that it could be worse. What we are doing is reminding ourselves that we are in God’s hands, and that everything that happens to us - good or bad - is part of His plan. Somehow, no matter how trying our problems may be, He will make good come out of it. Gratitude reminds us that God is at work in our lives. It gives us strength to bear the burdens we face every day. And it keeps regret, shame and bitterness from hardening our hearts and adding to our burden.

Finally, Jesus reveals to us the most important reason that we should be grateful.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus heals ten lepers. It is an extraordinary demonstration of his power over human suffering. But if we are looking only at the physical healing, we will miss the point of the story. In the ancient world, sickness was seen as a punishment for sin. The sick person - and lepers especially - not only had to bear the pain of their disease but were ostracized and shunned by their family and friends. People reacted to them with fear and disgust. For that reason, Saint Luke tells us that when the lepers ask Jesus to heal them, they keep their distance from Him. By healing them, Jesus not only cures their disease, but He removes the stigma of sin. Those who were healed could now return to their families. They could hug their wives and children again. And they could be welcomed back to worship in the synagogue and temple. It could be because they were so excited to show their family and friends that they had been healed that the other nine did not return to thank Jesus. The important thing is that one fo them - a man who was not even Jewish - did return. However, now cleansed from his disease and free from his sin, he did not have to keep his distance from Jesus, but could fall at His feet with deep, heartfelt gratitude.

The most important reason we have to thank God is not for our material possessions, our health and not even for our families. While they are certainly precious gifts, the most important thing we have received from God, the mightiest act of mercy he has shown us, is the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of faith. The mystery of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ has been made known to us. We know the truth and the freedom it brings. We are not stumbling in the darkness like so many people in today’s world. We know the way to peace, fulfillment and everlasting life. We know Jesus. We did not come to know Him because we are smarter than anyone else or somehow better. Rather, for some mysterious reason, God chose us to be the ones to hear and believe in the good news. It is a pure gift. We could not otherwise earn or merit such a privilege. God has revealed it all to us out of his immense goodness and love for us. For that reason, we should be truly grateful. Every other good thing in our lives - our loved ones, our possessions and our health - can all be taken from us. But we can never lose our faith and friendship with our Heavenly Father.

We are gathered here to express our thankfulness to God. Throughout the week we have experienced the abundance of his blessings, and we have returned to thank Him. We fall at his feet with wonder and praise knowing that even the difficulties we face are his gift to help us grow in holiness. Most importantly, we recognize that we are sinners, unworthy to draw near to Him, and yet, in His great mercy He forgives us and restores our friendship with Him. May the word we have heard and the mysteries we are about to receive break down our bitterness and fear and make us truly grateful for the love of God revealed to us in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Faith Uproots Injustice

The people of Brazil found themselves in a desperate situation.

In 1964, the political establishment of this beautiful South American country was in turmoil. With all the upheaval, the Communist party saw an opportunity to come into power. By March, they were poised to take control of the country bringing it into the sphere of Russia’s influence.

The Catholic people of Brazil were all too aware what a Communist takeover would mean for the practice of their faith. They saw what had happened just twenty years earlier in Eastern Europe when Russia installed totalitarian regimes in Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia. The Church was brutally persecuted resulting in the imprisonment and murders of thousands of believers. They also saw what was taking place in nearby Cuba which had just undergone a socialist revolution under Fidel Castro. It was clear to them that nothing but persecution would come to them if the Communists took over.

Not willing to stand idly by while their country was taken away from them, the women of Brazil decided to take to the streets. In the city of Sao Paulo, a demonstration was organized. They called it, “The March of the Family with God toward Freedom.” Over six hundred thousand women took to the streets not to shout out slogans, carry banners or threaten violence but to pray the rosary. Reciting this beloved prayer of the Church and singing hymns, they asked God to have mercy on their country, to deliver them from persecution and to make the nation a place where people of faith could worship in peace.

Their prayers were heard. By April 1st, the Communists had fled the country. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind - including the Communists themselves - that it was the power of faith and prayer which had won the victory for freedom in that nation. The people of Brazil were overjoyed. The next day, April 2nd, over one million people marched in the streets of Rio de Janeiro in what was called the “March of Thanksgiving to God” to celebrate what God had done for them. And it was all accomplished not with violence or political wrangling but by peaceful demonstration and prayer.

The people of Brazil discovered through that experience what believers throughout the centuries have known. Prayer makes a difference. Lifting our hands to heaven and calling upon our Father to step in and bring justice for His people has changed so many events in the course of history. As the poet Alfred Tennyson wrote, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”

When the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith, He tells them that even a small amount of faith can make what seems impossible possible. This was the experience of the people of Brazil some fifty years ago. That can be our experience as we face the challenges which our country and our world are dealing with.

Many times we can look at the state of our world and feel despair. We want to make the world a better place. We want to make a difference. However, the issues facing society are so complex that we often do not know where to begin. Even in our personal lives and families making a positive impact can seem impossible. What can we do?

All of us can pray. No matter what our talents or resources may be, we can all lift our hands to heaven and ask God to care for the poor, to bring justice to the oppressed and to bring peace to all nations. Prayer is not “doing nothing”. It is not sitting on our hands and waiting for someone else to take responsibility. Rather the prayer of the people of God is a powerful weapon for good in this world. When people pray with faith real change happens. Just ask the Communists in Brazil.

So when the problems facing the world or the Church seem overwhelming, our first instinct should be to turn to God in prayer. It will not change things overnight. But it will make a powerful difference if we approach our Heavenly Father with the type of expectant, patient faith we hear about in the today’s Old Testament reading: “For the vision still has time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”

As a Church, we take pride in being the largest charitable institution on the planet. We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and educate children better than any other organization in the world. But the most important work of the People of God is our prayer for the world. We can never know this side of heaven what good our prayer has wrought, how many disasters have been averted and how many lives have been saved. There is no scientific way of measuring the power of prayer because it relies on the mysterious work of God who cannot be observed. But there is no doubt that through the prayer of God’s faithful people, the world enjoys much more security, peace and prosperity than would otherwise be possible.

In today’s second reading, Saint Paul encourages young Timothy to “stir into flame the gift of God that you have received...” While he is talking about the gift of Holy Orders in this passage we could also apply it to our baptism and confirmation. Through those powerful sacraments we received the gift of faith. That gift increases and grows through prayer, especially the prayer of expectant, patient faith on behalf of the world. We gather here to stir that gift of faith into a flame rising up among us in power, love and self-control. We pray for our good and the good of our world. In so doing, we are making a powerful difference though we may never see it. And the world is a better place because of the power we are unleashing here as we lift up our hands to our Heavenly Father expecting Him to make the impossible possible.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Staking Our Lives On Faith

In June of 1859, Charles Blondin stretched a tightrope a quarter mile across Niagara Falls. No one had ever attempted such a feat before, and a large crowd gathered to witness the event. To their amazement and delight he crossed over the roaring waters not just once but several times. They were wrapped in wonder as he crossed the falls backwards, with a blindfold on and then in a burlap bag. For his final act, he walked from one side to the other pushing a wheelbarrow. As the crowd erupted in applause, he asked them, “Do you believe that I could walk across the falls with someone in the wheelbarrow?” “We do! We do!”, they excitedly replied. “Well then,” he said, “who wants to get in?”

The crowd grew silent. No one was willing to take up his challenge. Though they professed a belief that he could take them safely across, no one was willing to stake his or her life on it.

We have gathered here today to profess and celebrate our belief in God and in his Son, Jesus Christ. We believe that He can do all things and that He loves us. We believe that He died for us and that in His name we have forgiveness of sins. We believe that He has poured out the Holy Spirit upon us making us His children. Are we willing to stake our lives on that belief? Are we willing to give up our possessions, our time and our comfort to do what He commands us? Are we willing to face life’s challenges with hope and patience knowing that God will make all things work for our good? True faith is not only to believe that God can carry us through any difficulty, but to actually place ourselves in His hands and allow Him to carry us across.

Today’s first reading is taken from the prophet Habakkuk. It was written during a particularly difficult period in Israel’s history. The countryside had been ravaged by war. Poverty, disease and hunger were everywhere. The future was uncertain. It seemed that God had abandoned His people. The prophet begs God to show Himself and put an end to the misery all about him. When God finally does show Himself, He reassures Habakkuk that He has not abandoned His people. Rather, His plan is working itself out even in the midst of war, violence and suffering. God tells him and us that the just person is the one who trusts God even when tragedies arise. Unlike the rash person, they do not abandon their beliefs because they become difficult. Therefore, because they persevere in doing God’s will, they will receive His promise of salvation.

Nothing can deter God’s plan. No events of history, no matter how earth shaking, can thwart God’s will. We have to trust that He has everything under control, and that no matter how difficult our situation may appear, He will make it turn out for our good. Though we do not see clearly the road ahead of us and though it may seem impossible to believe that everything will turn out well, we have to place ourselves in His hands and allow him to carry us across.

We are living through a particularly difficult time in the Church’s history. Though we live relatively comfortable and peaceful lives, our spirits are assaulted daily by despair, doubt and worry. We are told that our faith has no place in the modern world. The media tempt us continually with images of all the pleasures a materialistic, self-centered life could bring us. Even worse, the scandals within the Church over the past decades shake our trust in our religious leaders. For these reasons, many have stopped believing. Many have chosen to leave. No doubt, many of us here have asked ourselves why we stay. The only possible answer is that we find Jesus here. No matter what the world may offer us, no matter what doubts may arise, in our hearts we know that Jesus will be here for us. And we trust that no matter what difficulties life may present us with, His plan is working itself out in our lives and in our world. And because we have trusted and stuck it out, we are beginning to see His promises unfold in our lives.

In today’s gospel, when the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith, he responds that faith is not a matter of size but of strength. The smallest of faiths can uproot the sycamore. In another place, Jesus says it can move mountains. The apostles were correct, nonetheless, in desiring more faith and in recognizing Jesus as the source of that faith.

Our faith grows in strength when we profess it and live it even though everyone around us is making different choices. God strengthens our faith when we make decisions that go against our own comfort and desires because we believe His commandments are true. When we give up possessions and leave behind a materialistic lifestyle to live according to Jesus’ words, then our faith multiplies. It moves the hearts and minds of those whom we meet. It uproots sin and ignorance. It casts into the sea selfishness and hatred. When we place ourselves in God’s hands and trust that He will carry us across though we cannot see the way ahead, then He will reward us abundantly.

As we stand to profess our faith in an all-powerful God, let us entrust ourselves, our world and our Church to Him and commit to living His word with renewed fervor and confidence.