32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings are an example of why it’s good to understand the historical context of Scripture.   The stories may make sense to our 21st Century minds, but looking at society as it was in Biblical times gives them a little more meaning.

The first reading and the Gospel today deal with widows. It’s important to realize that widows in those times were usually in desperate straits. There was no Social Security. There was no life insurance. There were no pension plans. Unless they had a generous extended family, widows were among the poorest of the poor. Women didn’t work at paying jobs, so their prospects were very bleak. They had no hope.

Yet, here we have two widows, both being asked to give. In the first reading, not only is the main character of the story a poor widow, but at the time, around 900 BC, the Middle East was caught up in a draught and famine. Nobody had enough to eat, let alone this poor lady. But along comes Elijah the prophet asking her for water, something that was in short supply. But the widow does as Elijah asks. As she’s walking away, Elijah calls after her, “Please bring along a bit of bread.”

The lady explains to Elijah that she has just enough flour and oil to make one last meal for herself and her son. That’s it. That’s all there is. When they’re finished with their bread and water, they’re going to die. Imagine how hopeless she must have felt.

That’s when Elijah says something so outrageous that it would be funny if it weren’t so sad. He asks her to make him a cake! Seriously! He wants a cake??? Maybe he’d like some ice cream to go with it? But, he goes on to tell the widow that if she does as he asks, “The Jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.”

 

Sure enough, she makes Elijah his cake and she and her son have enough to eat for a year. She gave the little she had, and she was blessed in return. You know, God still works that way today. God can never be outdone in generosity. If you don’t believe me, just try it.

Now, let’s look at the Gospel. The scene is very different. Mark tells us that Jesus is speaking “to the crowds,” as opposed to the scene in the Old Testament reading where there were only two people, Elijah and the widow. A lot of people are following Jesus now. When He speaks, they listen. He’s describing those synagogue officials who like to run around in long robes, letting everyone see how important they are. He says “They devour the houses of widows, and as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

This is the flip side of the first reading’s message. The first reading tells us to give and it will be returned to us many times over. The Gospel is telling us that the men who “devour the houses of widows” will receive a “very severe condemnation.”

The story continues with one of those widows coming into the temple and giving two small coins to the treasury, all she has, her whole livelihood. Jesus tells the disciples that this poor widow has put in more than “all the other contributors to the treasury.”

So, what’s the message here? The logical answer is that here’s where I tell you how important it is to give money to the Church and to other charities. Give ‘til it hurts. Give, not from your surplus, but give all you have. That’s certainly part of it. It’s called “stewardship”. God has given us what we have and it’s up to us to give back. Like the first widow, God will give back to us in much larger measure that we give to Him. But I think the message here is bigger than that. It’s about faith.

How do we grow our faith? We grow it by sharing it with others. Our faith gets bigger when we give it away.

Last Sunday we held our Goulash Festival. It was a success. We served more dinners and made more money than ever before. But that’s not what made the event successful. What made it successful was the way you all worked together, the way you represented our faith community to our visitors. Over 400 people visited us and many of them had never been here before. They enjoyed the food, but the majority of comments we got were about the atmosphere of Saint John Nepomuk.

They were impressed with how well everyone worked together and with the friendly greeting they got from you. That’s called “evangelization” even if not a single word was spoken about Jesus, or God, or Catholicism. We grow our faith by giving it away, just like the two widows in today’s readings.

The Goulash Festival only happens once a year, but we have the chance to share our faith every single day. We don’t do it by running around in long robes or taking seats of honor in the church. We do it by the little kindnesses we do for one another every day. We do it by dishing out goulash once a year, but we also do it by welcoming visitors to our chapel at every mass.

We become disciples by making disciples, and we make disciples by giving to others. In his speech to Congress, our Holy Father summed up his whole message, and Jesus’, in one statement. Live by the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.32

Transfiguration of the Lord

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to Him!”

Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of the Lord.  Jesus goes to the top of the mountain with Peter, John, and James.  They, and we, get a small glimpse of what God has in store for His Son, and for us.  His garments become white as the sun and Moses and Elijah appear with Him.

The three Apostles have fallen asleep.  I guess the climb was too much for them.  These guys do have a bad habit of dozing off at crucial times.  Remember the Garden of Gesthemani?  Fortunately, they wake up in time to see what’s going on.

Of course Peter, in his enthusiasm wants to build tents so the people can come and see Jesus and the other two.  But the sky suddenly gets dark and God’s voice booms out from the clouds:  “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.” The Apostles fell silent and didn’t tell anyone at the time what they had seen.

Of course, what they had seen was very important.  It was a rare look into the future.  Jesus was transfigured, just as He was and you and I will be when we enter into God’s kingdom.

What they hear was even more important.  It’s the second time God has spoken directly to human beings about His Son.  The first time was at the River Jordan as He was baptized by John.  He IS my Son.  Listen to Him.

The message is no less important today than it was way back then.  That’s why we have an annual feast to remind us.  When He says “Listen to Him” He doesn’t mean sometimes.  He doesn’t mean when it’s convenient or when it won’t separate us from our friends.  He means always.  Every day.  In every circumstance.  His words are truth.  Anyone who speaks against His words is a liar.  That’s it.  End of story.

I don’t think they do so much anymore, but for a while it was a fad for kids to wear bracelets and T-shirts that said WWJD?, What would Jesus do?   But that’s not really the point.  Jesus walked on the water to get to his friends in the boat.  We can’t do that.

A better slogan might be WDJS?  What did Jesus say?  There’s no situation we can run into where the answer doesn’t lie in Jesus’ words.

“This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”

Mea Culpa

Wednesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kgs 18:20-39

It’s been a while since I’ve posted and I apologize for the long absence.  Fortunately Christians are a forgiving people so I hope I won’t be stoned.

Fire is a funny thing.  The other day I was at my late mother-in-law’s house helping clean things up.  Since I was working in the garage, I took the opportunity to enjoy a cigar, something I would never do in the house.  I took some bags of trash out to the back yard and threw the extinguished stogy into the burn barrel.  [For you city kids, a burn barrel is something they use out in the country to dispose of combustible trash.]

When I returned with another bag of trash there was a roaring fire going in the aforementioned barrel.  Here’s the thing.  My kids make fun of me because of my inability to get a camp fire started.  When they were young we used to go camping a lot and I admit to being less than successful as a fire starter.  More than once they had to eat raw hot dogs because I couldn’t get a fire going with three weeks worth of newspapers, two bags of kindling, three cans of charcoal lighter and wood that had been drying for over a year.

You know those bags of charcoal that are supposed to start with just one match.  I couldn’t get a spark out of one of them with a blow torch.  But I toss what I thought was an unlit cigar into a barrel of twigs and Smoky Bear is shaking his finger at me and making threatening gestures with his shovel.

It’s kind of like Baal’s prophets.  Elijah has been trying to convert the people to the Lord, but they just can’t make up their minds.  So Elijah says “Let’s have a contest.  I’m the Lord’s only living prophet.  Baal has 450 prophets.  Let’s get two young bulls.  We’ll build two fires.  I’ll put my bull on one fire.  You guys put your bull on the other.  Whoever’s god lights his guy’s fire is the winner.”

Baal’s 450 prophets spend the whole morning asking Baal to light their fire.  They hopped around the altar and did everything they could to wake Baal up, but there was no answer.  Elijah made fun of them and said maybe Baal’s on vacation or maybe he’s just asleep.  Try yelling louder.  They did yell louder and even slashed themselves with swords and spears.  Nothing.  I know the feeling.

Then Elijah told them to come over to HIS altar.  To make things more difficult, he even doused his wood with four jars of water, not just once but three times!  Then He asked the Lord to send His fire.

And He did.  He sent enough fire to burn up the meat, the wood, the stones, and even the dust.  The flames even lapped up the water.

Once the people saw what the Lord had done, the fell prostrate and said “The LORD is God!  The LORD is God!

And, He is.

The moral of this story is “Ask, and you shall receive.”  Or, only God can start a fire with wet wood.

2nd Sunday of Lent

Listen to Him!

If you’ve been watching television for the last two weeks the scene in today’s Gospel seems a little familiar, doesn’t it?  Three men standing side-by-side on top of a mountain.  But, in this case, they haven’t come there to receive gold, silver, and bronze medals.  Moses and Elijah have come to meet Jesus, as Peter, John, and James look on; the famous story of the transfiguration.

Actually, the Winter Olympics analogy is pretty weak, even for me.  Jesus lived in the desert.  I don’t think He was into winter sports.  He could have lived anywhere He wanted to and you notice He didn’t choose Minneapolis of Toronto.  Good for Him!

As usual, Peter, my favorite saint, gets it all wrong.  He wants to build tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.  Maybe he wants to sell tickets so people can come and see them.  Of course, the point isn’t for anyone else to see the three together.  It’s specifically for the three Apostles.  A cloud passes over them and the voice of God booms out, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” Kind of like the day that Jesus was baptized.

Of course, when the cloud passes, Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophets, are gone.  The symbolism here is profound.  God is telling the Apostles, along with you and me, that we no longer need the Mosiac law or the words of the prophets.  All we need is the Son of God.  God the Father says, “Listen to Him.” Interesting.

His Father says “Listen to Him.”  At the site of His first miracle, his mother said, “Do whatever He tells you.” In John’s Gospel He even tells us Himself, “You are my friends if you do what I tell you.” I guess, maybe, we should listen.  What do you think?  But this listening thing can get a little complicated.  It’s pretty easy to read the Scriptures and see what He’s trying to tell us…….sometimes.  But not all the time.  Even after all the classes I took and all the reading I’ve done, sometimes I’ll read a passage and go “huh???”  What the heck is He talking about?  I really hate it when that happens on a weekend I have to preach.  If I only talk about the two readings, or the responsorial psalm, or last week’s Gospel, chances are I don’t get what Jesus is telling us that day.

I once went to a two day workshop put on by a priest, Eugene LaVerdier.  Amazing.  I can’t remember where I left my car keys ten minutes ago but I remember Eugene LaVerdier.  Anyway, Fr. LaVerdier has spent his entire life studying Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.  Two books!  His whole life.  And he wasn’t a young guy.  He spent the entire first morning talking about just the first chapter of Luke.  This guy knew his Luke.  But on the second day a young lady, a PSR teacher, asked him a question.  He looked at her and said, “I never thought of it that way.”  I thought he was going to cry.  Listening to Jesus isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

Then there are the other times He talks to us.  You know, when you’re feeling sorry for yourself because your feet hurt and you meet someone who has no feet.  It makes you feel pretty silly.  Or maybe you’re meal didn’t turn out exactly the way you hoped it would, and you walk outside and there’s some pour soul begging for money to buy food.  I think these things happen to us more times than we even realize because we may not be paying attention.

Someone taught me a very simple, but very effective prayer that I try to say every morning.  “Lord, what do you want me to learn today?” Why is it a good prayer?  I’ll tell you.  Think about the last time you were shopping for a new car.  After you’ve narrowed your choice down to a pickup truck, but you haven’t decided on the brand, do you notice that about every third car on the road is a pickup?  They’re everywhere.  This is the same principle.  The prayer gives you a focus and you start to notice answers coming at you from every which way.  If you ask the right questions, answers will come at you from the places you’d least expect them.

Every once in a while, someone will come up to me after mass and say, you were speaking right to me today when you said….whatever.  And, I’m thinking to myself “what?”  Did I say that?  And I look at my notes and, sure enough, I did say it.  It wasn’t the main point.  It may have been just a phrase or a sentence, but for that person, at that time, it was exactly what they need to hear.  That’s why you can’t fall asleep when Father and I are up here talking.  Jesus may be talking to you and ou might miss it  I’m just sayin’………….

Finally, which is what I usually say before I make three or four more points, but this time I really mean it.  Finally, something happened to me this week that was pretty serious.  In the last few days, between the mass readings, the daily Liturgy of the Hours, the little Lent book that Father sent us, even in the stations of the cross, answers have been coming at me like questions at a presidential news conference.  “Deacon Mike!  Deacon Mike!  Have you thought about this?  How about this idea?  Think about how I suffered!”  It seems like either Jesus really wants to help me through this so badly that He can’t stop talking to me, or I’m just so much in need of help that I’m really paying attention.  I even had a message in a dream the other night.

God would never have told us to listen to His Son if His Son wasn’t going to have something to say.  So, as we make our way through this season of Lent, we can all recognize that there’s more to this than just eating fish on Fridays and giving up whatever we’ve decided to give up.  A very good practice would be to take God the Father’s simple two sentence instruction from today’s Gospel to heart.  “This is my chosen Son.  Listen to Him.”