Saint John Chrysostom

Today we remember Saint John Christostom.  Saint John lived in the late 300s and early 400s, around the time of Saint Patrick.  You may not be familiar with him, but he and I have a running conversation.  He’s the patron Saint of preachers, and I speak to him often, especially when I’m getting ready to speak to you.

Saint Joh was quite the speaker.  In fact, the word Christostom means Golden Mouth.  Today I thought today I’d let him speak directly to you.  This is from one of his homilies.  His words are just as appropriate today as they were in the 4th Century.

The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly on a rock.  Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock.  Let the waves rise they cannot sink the boat of Jesus.  What are we to fear?  Death?  Life to me means Christ, and death is gain.  Exile?  The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord.  Confiscation of our goods?  We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it.  I have only contempt for the world’s threats.  I find its blessings laughable.  I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth.  I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good.  I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence.

Do you not hear the Lord saying, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst”?  Will he be absent, then, when so many people united in love are gathered together?  I have his promise:  I am surely not going to rely on my own strength!  I have what he  has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbor.  Let the world be in upheaval.  I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison.  What message?  “Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!”

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Beloved: I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry. I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.

I could have written these words myself, but Saint Paul beat me to it. To put it in context, the second reading today is from Paul’s first letter to Timothy. It’s believed that the letters to Timothy were written later in Paul’s life and were instructions to the younger man on carrying on Paul’s ministry.

We know from the Acts of the Apostles, that Saul, who became Paul, was no friend to the Christians. He persecuted them, even torturing them and killing them. It was Saul who was responsible for the stoning death of Saint Stephen, the first deacon. But God, in His mercy, chose Saul to not only preach the Gospel, but to put his thoughts in writing. Paul’s letters contain the sum and substance of our faith, even today.

He goes on:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in Him for everlasting life.

In other words, if Christ had chosen the best and the brightest, that wouldn’t have proved anything. Even in His time on earth, Jesus chose tax collectors and fishermen to be His Apostles. He chose shepherds to announce His arrival on earth. He hung out with sinners. This Church of ours isn’t a museum for saints. It’s a hospital for sinners.

Jesus made Paul an example. By choosing the new Church’s worst enemy to be it’s number one evangelist and teacher, He shows all of us that no one is beyond redemption. By choosing me to be a deacon He shows us that His mercy is still at work in the world. Like Paul, I can honestly say that Jesus is displaying all His patience by letting me represent Him and His Church.

But wasn’t that His way from the beginning? On the very night that He instituted the Eucharist, the night before His passion and death, one of His closest companions sold Him out for a few silver coins. When He went into the garden to pray, He asked His Apostles to pray with Him. What happened? They fell asleep.

When the Roman centurions came for Him, Peter, “the rock”, the man He had chosen to lead His new Church, denied that he even knew Him. Three times. The rest of His Apostles ran away and hid.

But it was these eleven men who would lead the Church and spread the Gospel after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The actions of the twelve Apostles was just the first of many scandals that would plague the Church, right up to the present time. If the Church could survive the twelve, it can survive anything–even you and me.

By giving us free will, God the Father gave us the opportunity to sin. He doesn’t want us to sin, but He knows we will. By sending us His Son to die on the cross, He gave us the opportunity to be saved. Down through the ages, He’s given us encouragement by choosing taking sinners and making them saints. If the first Pope denied even knowing Jesus, then there’s definitely hope for us.

If Saul the persecutor could become Saint Paul the evangelist, there’s hope for us. If Mike Buckley the sinner, the non-church-goer, can become Deacon Mike, anything’s possible.

Jesus makes the point in today’s Gospel. Luke begins, “Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus.” Of course, the Pharisees and scribes aren’t happy. “C’mon, this guy eats with sinners. What’s up with THAT?”

Jesus answers with the parable of the lost sheep. We’ve heard the story many times. It ends with the shepherd shouting to his friends and neighbors, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep!” Then He tells them, and us, that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

It doesn’t seem fair, does it? What about those ninety-nine who did it right? Why are they being left out? I’ll tell you why. Because in the entire history of Christianity, over 2,000 years, there haven’t been ninety-nine righteous people who didn’t need repentance. There was only one. Her name was Mary.

Then He tells them the story of the woman who lost and then found one of her 100 coins. Same thing. She rejoices over finding that one coin.

This morning I read the short version of the Gospel….. You’re welcome…… If I’d read the longer one you would have heard the familiar story of the prodigal son. Again, we celebrate the return of the lost son while the one who stayed at home fumes over the unfairness of it all. Which son committed the greater sin? It’s a toss-up. __________________________________________________________________________

You’ve probably heard the story of the dash. But in case you haven’t, here it is. When you die, not IF you die, but WHEN you die, they’re going to bury your body. Then they’re going to put up a tombstone. They’ll put your name on the stone. Below your name they’ll put the date you were born into this life, then a dash, then the date when you left this world.

The dates are just marks on the calendar. The real story is in the dash. That little mark represents everything you did here on earth and where you’re going next. How did you fill up all those years represented by that little rectangular gouge in the stone? How did you spend your dash?

We’re in the part of the year when the Church emphasises stewardship. Time, Talent, and Treasure. That’s what the dash represents. How did you spend your time? How did you use your talents? What did you do with your treasure? Maybe it would be better to replace the word “your” with the word “His”. See, we don’t own time, or talent, or treasure. They belong to God. He lends them to us then watches very closely to see what we do with them.

If we want, we can squander all of them. Or, we can use at least part of them helping others. Notice I said “at least part”. God doesn’t begrudge us the time to go to a movie or watch TV. He expects us to use our talents to earn a living for ourselves and our families. He doesn’t mind if we spend some treasure to buy a new car or to go out for dinner once in a while.

But He does expect us to use these gifts wisely and to give some of them back by helping others. This afternoon some of us will be volunteering to help with a kickball tournament to raise money for Captain Todd Nicely, a United States Marine who is a quadruple amputee. He was injured in Afghanistan, serving his, and our, country. It’s just a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, but it will mean a lot to the Nicely family.

Every month we donate food and other items to the poor through the Meal-a-Month program. It’s not a huge thing for any one of us, but when you add it all up, it’s a lot of help for the poor people in our community.

Each month we collect hundreds of empty pill bottles which are a big help in distributing medications in third-world countries. It’s something that doesn’t cost us anything in treasure, but it does take time to remove the labels and bring the bottles to church. It would be much simpler to just throw them away when we’re done with them. But this simple act of generosity helps literally thousands of our brothers and sisters who have less than we do.

Practicing good stewardship doesn’t mean we all have to be Mother Teresa. It just means that we should be aware of God’s generosity to us and to do what we can to give something back.

We can’t buy our way into heaven. That’s not how it works. But at the end of the day, or at the end of our lives here on earth, we’ll all be judged. We hope and pray that God is more merciful than just. If He’s just, most of us don’t have much hope. But, if He’s merciful, He’ll take a good look at our dash. He’ll weigh the good and the bad, and he’ll say to each of us “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Woe to Me if I Don’t Preach the Gospel

If I preach the Gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!

That sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it?  Woe to me.  According to the dictionary, woe means : grievous distress, affliction, or trouble.  When I was ordained, the Archbishop had me put my hand on the book and proclaimed that I was now a herald of the Gospel, but he didn’t say anything about grievous distress, affliction, or trouble if I didn’t preach.  But here it is, in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  It must be true.

I know some of you probably think “whoa”, as in stop, when I start to talk up here.  But I have no choice.  It says right here that I have to preach.  But we also have the famous quote from Saint Francis, a deacon by the way, speaking to his monks.  He told them to always preach the Gospel and if necessary to use words.  Saint Francis doesn’t trump Saint Paul, but he has a point.

Here’s the thing.  Saint Paul wasn’t just speaking to deacons and priests.  His letter was to everyone in the church at Corinth.  He’s calling on all of us to preach the Gospel, not just those of us who’ve been called to Holy Orders.  When you look at it that way, Francis’ words make perfect sense.

We preach the Gospel every time we we interact with another human being.  At least we’re supposed to.  Our actions speak louder than words when we help someone who’s in trouble; when we give to charity; in all the little things we do every day.

Remember what Paul said, woe to us if we don’t preach the Gospel.

Happy Birthday, Mary

Birthdays.  We all have ’em, whether we want to or not.  Every year, just like clockwork.  Mine’s coming next month.  I’d just as soon skip the whole thing, but at least this year the government’s going to have to start sending me money every month, so I guess it’s not so bad.

Normally we don’t celebrate saint’s birthdays.  Rather than celebrate the day they entered this world, we celebrate the day they entered into eternal life.  In fact, we really only celebrate two birthdays–Jesus’ and Mary’s.

It’s pretty obvious why we celebrate Jesus’ birthday.  The birth of the Messiah is definitely something we want to remember.  We remember Mary’s birthday because without her, Jesus couldn’t have been born.  Her birthday is the key to the whole thing.  We know that from the time of her Immaculate Conception, she was something special.  She was conceived without sin, born without sin, and died without sin.  That’s the only way it could have been.  Our Lord and Savior had to be born of a sinless mother.

Today, as we celebrate her birth, we recognize our own sinfulness and thank God for the fact that He chose to send us His Son, born of a virgin, to allow us to escape this world and to spend eternity in paradise.

So Happy Birthday, Mary.  Thank you for saying “yes” to God.

It’s very appropriate that this feast falls on Wednesday this year so we have an opportunity to venerate Mary in our Perpetual Hope devotion, which starts right after our communion service.  It’s not a long devotion, but it’s very special, especially today.

Simon’s Mother-in-Law

After Jesus left the synagogue, he entered the house of Simon.
Simon’s mother-in-law was afflicted with a severe fever,
and they interceded with him about her.
He stood over her, rebuked the fever, and it left her.
She got up immediately and waited on them.

Wasn’t it nice of Simon to bring Jesus by the house to heal his mother-in-law?  Not every son-in-law might be so gracious.  There are thousands of mother-in-law jokes, some funny, some not so much.  But, in-law relationships have always been touchy, at best.

Of course, Simon’s generous motives become a little suspect when we get to that last sentence.

She got up immediately and waited on them.

I think the lesson today doesn’t come from Simon, or even Jesus.  The lesson comes from the mother-in-law.  When she was cured, she immediately began to serve the Lord and his companions.  That seems like a natural response, but how often do we do the same?

You and I have been healed by the Lord more times than we can count; more times than we may even be aware of.  We’ve been healed of fever, just like the mother-in-law.  We’ve been healed from colds, and flu, and every other kind of physical ailment.

We’ve been cured of spiritual illnesses, too.  God has lifted us from the fog of depression, sadness, loneliness, and grief.  Every time in our lives that we’ve been healed of anything, we know that the Lord had a hand in it.

But when we realize that we’ve been healed, do we get up and immediately start serving the Lord?  Each of us has to answer that question for ourselves.

Then there are the town’s people.  Jesus tried to leave and they followed Him, begging Him to stay with them.    Here’s where we see the difference between Jesus the God/man and Jesus the resurrected Lord.

But he said to them, “To the other towns also
I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God,
because for this purpose I have been sent.”

Even though He was the Son of God, He still had to go from town to town reaching as many people as possible.  The reach the people in town B, He had to leave town A.  As the Resurrected Lord, He speaks to all of us.  He’s right here, through His Holy Spirit, in our little church while He’s also at the church down the street and even half way around the world.

We don’t just claim Him for ourselves, we share Him with everyone.  When we get down on our knees in the privacy of our own homes, He’s there just as surely as He is for thousands of pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square.

In His time on earth He reached the people one at a time.  He still does.  But we can share Him with others knowing that by sharing Him, we keep more of Him for ourselves.