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

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11th Sunday of Ordinary Time

This weekend’s homily:

We walk by faith and not by sight. That’s what Saint Paul says in today’s second reading. And, he’s right. And not just in the spiritual sense that you might be thinking. When we physically walk, when we put one foot in front of the other to get from here to there, we walk by faith. We have faith we won’t fall on our faces. We have faith we won’t get struck by lighting or hit by a car. Without faith we couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Faith is crucial to our existence.

Of course, Paul IS talking about spiritual faith. Our faith, which we call the Catholic faith, expects us to believe a lot of things that we can’t believe by sight. Last week we celebrated the Body and Blood of Christ as we receive them in the Eucharist. They look like bread and wine. They smell like bread and wine. They taste like bread and wine, but our faith tells us otherwise.

Two weeks ago we celebrated the Holy Trinity, one God, three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can’t understand that intellectually. We must have faith.

In just a little while I’ll be marrying a couple here at Saint John’s. I’ll remind them that a sacramental marriage isn’t just permission for them to live together. We believe that there will be an actual change in them, making them one. It’s another one of those things that we have to see through our faith. They won’t look any different. They’ll still be the same people, but there will be an actual change and the longer they’re together, the more obvious that will be. Those of us who have been married for a long time know it’s true.

There are some other things that our faith teaches. Some are hard to accept just using our puny human minds. Some are a little more obvious. Here are some things that our Church teaches us.

  • Abortion is ALWAYS wrong.
  • The use of artificial birth control is a sin.
  • Cohabitation outside of marriage is a sin.
  • Marriage is only to be between a man and a woman.
  • Homosexual acts are always sinful.
  • You’re supposed to go to mass every week.
  • You should receive the sacrament of reconciliation on a regular basis.
  • The Ten Commandments are not suggestions.

I could go on, but here’s the thing. You can attend mass every week at a lot of Catholic parishes and you would never know these things are part of the faith. Why not? Easy. A lot of priests and deacons don’t like to talk about sin. We don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. We don’t want to make anybody mad. God forbid you should stop giving to the church because the truth hits too close to home. Of course, we also don’t want to face our own sins.

All these things are like the mustard seeds that Jesus talks about in the Gospel. They can start small but they can grow very large. See, there’s this guy called Satan. You may remember him. You used to hear a lot about him. But he’s clever. He’s managed to convince a lot of us that he’s not around anymore. Trust me, he is. And like that little mustard seed, once he gets into your life, he’s hard to get rid of. A good public relations man will tell you that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but in Satan’s case he’s done an amazing job of keeping himself out of the limelight. Evidence of his work is all around us, but so many of us just don’t believe he exists. But, I digress.

Jesus didn’t tell this story to teach us about agriculture. He told it to teach us about faith. We have to have it. Everybody has it. Even atheists have faith. It may be misguided, but it’s THEIR faith. They have faith that this life is all there is. Lucky for them, God still loves them like He loves each one of us.

So these seeds we have can be good or bad. Whatever they are, by living our lives we sow these seeds. What we have to ask ourselves is whether we’re sowing good seeds or bad. What kind of faith are we showing to the people around us? It’s not an easy question to face and even harder to answer.

 

 

27th Week of Ordinary Time

FAITH!  All of our readings today speak of faith.  But what exactly is “faith”?  The dictionary definition is the belief in something that can’t be proven.  We can’t prove that Jesus rose from the dead, so if we believe it that means we have faith.  But, there are other kinds of faith.  Even atheists have faith in something, even if it’s misplaced faith that there is no God.

 

I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow in the eastern sky.  I can’t prove it.  But my experience of almost 65 years is that it rises every day so it must surely rise tomorrow.  But there are a lot of crazy people in this world who have the capability of blowing up the planet if they decide to, so there’s at least a small possibility that there won’t be a tomorrow, let alone a sun rise, at least here on earth.

 

It could also be cloudy and overcast tomorrow so we can’t see the sun.  But even under the heaviest clouds, some light gets through so we know the sun’s up there somewhere.

 

Closer to home, I have faith that when I leave here today and head down Highway 55 toward home that someone won’t be coming the wrong way and hit me head on.  That faith is a little weaker, because I know it does happen.  I’m having faith in my fellow motorists which isn’t quite as strong as my faith in God or the cycles of the universe.

 

Even animals have some faith.  If you feed your dog everyday at 8 in the morning, you know he’s going to be waiting for you at 7:59 tomorrow.  As far as your pet is concerned, you’re god in his world and he has faith in you.

 

So, what’s Jesus telling us today.  If we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move trees with just our voices.  A mustard seed is pretty small.  If I were to hold one up even you people in the front row probably couldn’t see it.  But this teeny-small seed can produce a fairly large tree; one tall enough for you to sit under it and enjoy the shade.

 

I’d like to think my faith is bigger than that little seed, but frankly I don’t believe that I can tell a tree to move and that it will obey.  Of course we live in modern times.  I guess if I had a friend with a bulldozer and I told him to move a tree, technically I’d be moving the tree with my voice, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.  After all, He did like to speak in parables and use examples.

 

I believe what he’s telling us is that He can move trees with just a command.  And, if we have enough faith in Him, He will hear our prayers and move the big things in our lives.  Maybe not trees, but there are a lot of other obstacles that seem just as stubborn that He can move for us if we ask.  But, if we don’t believe that He answers our prayers, there’s a pretty good chance that He won’t.

Look at our own church as an example.  In 1870 I think most people around here gave the Bohemian founders of Saint John’s zero chance of building a magnificent house of worship.  Frankly the locals weren’t crazy about the new immigrants.  Some of them probably secretly hoped that the Czechs would fail.  The odds were against them.  What did they know about building a church?  They didn’t have a lot of money.  But they did build it.  And their neighbors were amazed!  The day it was dedicated was a HUGE celebration.  They had done something that seemed to be impossible.  They had moved the sycamore tree.

 

Then just 26 years later a tornado destroyed their beautiful church.  They could have given up, but they didn’t.  They rebuilt it bigger and better than ever. And I’m as sure as I’m standing here that their faith, and their prayers, were just as important, if not more important than the skill of the builders who did the actual labor.

 

That’s what’s lacking today.  It’s no secret that our country is in a mess.  Unemployment is high.  Prices are high.  The government is shut down.  Politicians on both sides of the aisle find it impossible to sit down and come up with workable solutions to these problems.  What went wrong?  I believe it’s a lack of faith.  If every Christian in America, whether they’re Catholics, or main-stream protestants, or fundamentalists, would forget our differences and get down on our knees to pray for our country, there would be a miracle.  And let’s not leave out the Jews and the Muslims and everybody else who believes in the Almighty.  Right now our churches, regardless of faith tradition, should be standing-room-only.

 

But so many people have lost their faith in God that they don’t have faith in anything else either.  Who really believes that our present government, and I’m talking about both parties, can solve our problems?    If we don’t have faith in God, how can we have faith in men?

 

Our politicians are so busy trying to blame the other guys, that nothing gets done.  The Republicans don’t want to see the Democrats succeed and the Democrats don’t want to see the Republicans succeed.  Look at the current government shutdown.  Neither side wants to admit that they’re part of the problem.  It’s all about blaming somebody else.

 

And, isn’t that true of our whole society.  Nobody wants to take responsibility for their actions.  Alex Rodriguez, who used to be a hero to millions of kids, but threw it away using banned drugs is now suing Major League Baseball for ruining his reputation.  What reputation?  He’s a cheat and a drug abuser.  But it’s not his fault.  Isn’t it always somebody else’s fault?  I guess maybe now he’ll sue me too.  Good luck with that!

 

We all have to take a look in the mirror on this one.  How often have we said, “it’s not my fault.” ….when it really is?

 

I read something interesting this week while I was on retreat and I’d like to close with it.  We all know about Adam and Eve.  They sinned.  You ask somebody what they did and they’ll say they sinned.  How did they sin?  They ate the apple.  Everybody knows that.  God told them not to eat the apple but they ate it anyway.  But that wasn’t the real sin.

 

What did Adam say to God when He caught him red-handed with the apple core in his hand?  He said, “It’s not my fault.  That woman you gave me made me do it.”  Then God confronted Eve, standing there with apple juice running down her chin.  What did she say?  “It’s not my fault.  That serpent that you made, tricked me.”

 

Eating the apple, disobeying God, may have been sinful.  But what do we know about God?  He forgives sins.  If Adam had said, “Lord, I’m sorry I disobeyed you.  I shouldn’t have eaten that fruit.”, he might still living in the garden.  If Eve had admitted her sin and that she had talked Adam into eating the apple with her, and then asked for forgiveness, she might still be in the garden with him.

 

No the worst sin was refusing to take responsibility for their own actions.  That’s what got them thrown out of paradise.  And yet, so many people today think they’re going to get INTO paradise after committing the same sin, not just once, but over and over again.

 

 

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”

 

Today’s Gospel is the same one we read just Friday, the Feast of the Sacred Heart.  I mention this only because it occurred to me Friday morning that we celebrate the Sacred Heart but we don’t have a Feast of the Sacred Head.  After all, Jesus was smart.  Even at age 12, when He was separated from Mary and Joseph, when they found Him in the temple, Luke tells us in Chapter 2 of his Gospel that “all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.”

 

So, if Jesus was wise and learned, what’s He telling us today?  I think I know.  I spent five years in classes preparing for ordination.  Priests spend twice that much time.  We’re required to take continuing education every year.  I have shelves full of books at home and more shelves of books in the rectory.   Do I need all this for my ministry?  I do.  Does any of this get me any closer to God?  No, not really.

 

My five-year-old granddaughter Isabella just finished a week at Bible camp.  I promise you that she’s closer to God right now than I am.  Being wise and learned won’t keep you out of heaven but it won’t get you in either.  If you tell a five-year-old that Jesus loves them, they believe it.  If you tell an adult that Jesus loves them, they’re going to want proof.  That’s where all the books come in.  For centuries men have been trying to prove what we believe.  I think they’re doing it all wrong even though I’ve done the same thing myself.

 

What we need is faith.  Faith is the belief in something that can’t be proven.  IF we could prove the existence of God; IF we could prove that He and His Son love us, we wouldn’t need faith.  And, life without faith is no life at all.

 

You remember the song “Jesus Loves Me”?

Jesus loves me, this I know

For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong.

They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

The Bible tells me so.

That little song is profound.  It’s really all you need to know.

 

Yes, wise and learned people can get into heaven.  They just can’t let all that wisdom and learning get in the way.  All we really need is a simple, child-like faith in God’s love.  My favorite Bible quote is John 15:12, “This is my commandment.  Love one another as I love you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for ones friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

 

That’s it!  Short and to the point.  Love one another and you’ll be my friend.

Sadly, as we grow up life gets more complicated.  Black and white turn into thousands of shades of gray.  We lose our childlike faith.  We know Jesus loves us.  We know what He wants us to do to love Him back.  But life can get in the way.

 

Fortunately for us, we have a way to get back to the basics.  We’re doing it now.  It’s called Mass.  This is where we can sit quietly and be taken up in the mystery.  This is where we can receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  We’re blessed to have this beautiful church as our place of worship.

 

But it’s not the building that makes us “church”.   It’s the act of worship that makes us “church” and we could do that on the parking lot or in somebody’s home.  It doesn’t matter if the lights are on, or if the candles are lit, or if the air conditioner’s working properly. All we really need is a place to gather and a simple child-like faith.  “Yes, Jesus loves me.  The Bible tells me so.”

 

This weekend we celebrate the 235th birthday of our nation.  On July 4, 1776, our Founding Fathers declared our independence from Great Britain.  Most of us can’t recite the Declaration, but as Jesus said, it’s not necessary to be wise and learned to understand what those 18th Century men were trying to do.  They wanted “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle(d) them.”

 

Most of us are familiar with the beginning of the Declaration, “When in the course of human events….” But do you know the ending?  The final sentence says, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

 

In spite of all their wisdom, in spite of their learning, in the end it was their reliance on Divine Providence, their child-like faith in God, that gave them the courage to risk their very lives on the success of their cause.

As we sit in church today and as we celebrate the 4th of July weekend with barbecues and fireworks we should all take time to thank God for the gift of our own faith and for the faith of the men who founded our nation.  They were driven by their belief in their God-given rights and thanks to them we have those rights today.  As Catholic Christians we also have faith, and a responsibility to do all that we can to make sure our children and our grandchildren have those same rights.

 

Friday of the Third Week of Easter


Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you do not have life within you.

A big Gospel for a Friday, don’t you think?  This is where Jesus separates the men from the boys, so to speak.  We’ve read The Book and we know how it ends.  But for Jesus’ audience this was a bizarre statement.  Remember, this was a Jewish crowd and Jews had (and still have) very strict rules about what they put into their mouths.  “Eat His Flesh!?  Drink His Blood!?  He must be crazy!”

If you read on in John’s Gospel, beyond the part that we read at mass this morning we see that

“Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.”

Let’s think about that for a minute.  Here’s Jesus, sent by His Heavenly Father to establish a new church.  He’s gaining a decent number of followers.  His Father is “well pleased”.  Then He makes the statements we read today and many of his disciples turn away.

If Jesus was speaking metaphorically, as many of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters believe (and too many Catholics, too) wouldn’t He have said, “No!  Wait!  I wasn’t speaking literally.  I was only talking about bread and wine.”   But He didn’t say that.  He let them go.  If they didn’t have enough faith in Him to take His words seriously, they were on their own.

Of course we know that He wasn’t expecting anyone to take a bite out of His arm.  He explained it all at the Last Supper.  “This is my Body.  This is my Blood.”  The Eucharist is His body and blood.

I find it odd that so many people insist that the Bible must be taken literally, word-for-word, yet won’t accept this vital teaching.  Jesus loves us so much He wants to be part of us.  He accomplishes this by making Himself present in the bread and wine transformed by the priest into His Precious Body and Blood.

Yes, it’s a “hard saying”.  Yes, it’s impossible to prove.  Yes, it defies our human common sense.  But we have faith.  We believe Jesus can’t lie.  If we don’t except everything He said, then we can’t count on anything He said.

Saddest of all are those who have been brought up in the faith yet choose not to practice it.  “Former Catholics” are the second largest religious group in the United States.  (Practicing Catholics are first.)  They should know better.

So, as we approach the half-way point in the season of Easter, we should pray for those whose faith isn’t strong enough to believe Jesus’ words.

Some things can’t be proven.  Some things just are.

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!”

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

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The Gospel for today is the story of the loaves and the fishes.  Of course this famous story is the precursor of the Eucharist.  Jesus fed the crowd with a small amount of food with enough left over for each of the disciples to have a wicker basket full of the leftovers.

Father Thomas Merton had this t0 say about the Eucharist in his book, The Living Bread:

“Now in the sacrament of the Eucharist, precisely, when we ask the question [What is this?] of the consecrated Host, we must listen to the answer of faith, which responds in the words of Christ “This is my Body.”  The words “my Body” designate the only substantial being which is now present.  There no longer remains anything of the substance of bread.  We see the accidents of bread, but they contain the substance of the Body of Christ.”

The Eucharist may be one of the greatest tests of our faith.  It looks like bread.  It tastes like bread.  Common sense tells us that it must be just that, a simple combination of flour and water.  But Jesus said it was His Body.  If he lied to us about that, how can we believe anything else He said?

But He didn’t and doesn’t lie.  It’s Jesus’ inability to tell us a falsehood that makes our faith possible and tests our faith as well.  Face it, He made some pretty outrageous claims.  Some believed His words.  Some didn’t.  As we head into the final days of Christmas, we might want to examine our faith.  Without faith how can there be life?  The answer is that there can’t.  Everyone, even atheists, have faith in something.

We have faith that we’ll wake up tomorrow morning.  We have no proof.  We have faith.  We have faith that the car coming toward us at 60 miles per hour will stay in its own lane.  The driver could be drunk or could be talking on his or her cell phone and not paying attention.  Again, no proof.  Just faith.  The examples go on and on.

But if we have faith in God and in the words of His Son, then faith in anything else is trivial at best.  If we don’t wake up tomorrow or if that other driver does crash into us head-on, we know, through faith, that God has something better waiting for us.  How do we know?  I think you know the answer.