22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

We have an interesting set of readings today. In the first reading Moses tells the people “Hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your Fathers, is giving you.”

He goes on to tell them that if they observe the laws carefully, they will give evidence of their wisdom and intelligence to the other nations. This was a tall order. The halakhah, or Jewish law, contains 613 individual laws covering every aspect of life; what you do when you wake up in the morning, what you can and can’t eat, what you can and can’t wear, how to groom yourself, how to do business, who you can marry, how to observe the holidays and the Sabbath, and how to treat God, other people, and even animals.

The halakhah was a handbook for Jewish life and Jews were expected to observe it, as Moses tells them today. These laws are still in effect and many, but not all, Jews follow at least some of them. Whether a Jew eating a ham sandwich is destined for eternal damnation is a question that’s open to debate. But probably not, any more than you and I are going to hell for eating that same ham sandwich on a Friday during Lent.

As Christians, we believe in both Testaments, Old and New. Obviously we wouldn’t have an Old Testament reading as part of most masses if we didn’t believe it. But, look at today’s Gospel. Jesus contradicts Moses! He and His disciples didn’t follow Jewish dietary law. They were eating without purifying their hands, among other things that the scribes and Pharisees are more than anxious to point out.

Jesus responds by calling them “hypocrites”.

Jesus was a faithful Jew. He knew the Scriptures and the halakhah, all 613 laws of it. What’s the deal? What happened between Deuteronomy and Mark’s Gospel? What changed?

Maybe I can clear it up a little bit. When we were children we had to follow a lot of rules. We couldn’t cross the street without holding Mom or Dad’s hand. We didn’t have the experience or the maturity to make good decisions to keep from getting hurt or killed.

We had rules about when we got up and when we went to bed; when to clean our rooms and when to take a bath and brush our teeth. It’s a parent’s job to teach us how to live our lives. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I had more than 613 rules to follow as a kid.

But as we grow and mature, we have fewer rules. We learn to look both ways before we cross the street. We don’t have to hold Mom or Dad’s hand anymore. We learn that if we want to have friends, there are certain rules of hygiene that we have to follow.

Don’t get me wrong. If you leave here today and head up Lafayette Avenue and the light is red, you’d better stop. Not so much because it’s the law, but because there’s liable to be a car coming up Tucker that’s going to cream you if you don’t stop because he has the green light. Traffic laws are there for a reason and we should all follow them to protect ourselves and others.

So, what’s that got to do with today’s readings? The people of Moses’ time were spiritually immature. They needed a lot of rules. But after a few thousand years, God decided that we needed something else. We needed a Savior. He sent us His Son.

Rather than insisting that we wash our hands before meals, Jesus came to offer us something much simpler, and at the same time, much more difficult. He said that nothing that enters us from the outside can defile us. What defiles us is what comes from within. “Evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within.” Get rid of those things and you’ll be pure whether you wash your hands or not.

So, what happened between Deuteronomy and Mark? Jesus happened. He came to form a new covenant. Love God. Love your neighbor. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What would Jesus do? “Greater love has no man than to lay down His life for his friends.”

Instead of a giant book of laws, we have wall hangings and bumper stickers. It’s all very simple. But in many ways it’s harder than the original Jewish law. Under the old covenant, you could look at the laws and know what you had to do. If you could follow instructions, you could be a loyal and faithful Jew.

You and I have to make decisions. What does “love your neighbor” mean. Does it mean I have to be his best friend? Or does it mean that I just have to tolerate him? When I see a beggar in the street, do I have to give him all my money, or just some of it? Or can I just pass him by, knowing that he’ll probably spend any money I give him on booze or drugs? Is it up to me to make that call? It’s just all so confusing.

But, if we’re going to have freedom, we have to make choices. Sometimes they’re easy choices. Sometimes they’re hard. But the New Covenant gives us free will. We can eat that ham sandwich without a guilty conscience, even though a salad might be a better choice.

Of course, we still have laws. We have those pesky traffic laws. But a speeding ticket isn’t going to send you to hell.

We have Jesus’ words in Sacred Scripture and that’s all we really need. There are thousands of books that have been written trying to tell us how to be good Christians. But one book is all we really need. Hopefully we all have one. It’s called the Bible. A friend of mine calls it B-I-B-L-E; Basic Information Before Leaving Earth.

Also, don’t forget that Moses told the people that they must follow the law to “take possession of the land”. Jesus wasn’t interested in land. He was interested in saving our eternal souls. He gave us a very simple code to follow. “Love God. Love thy neighbor.” That’s it.

He left us with one very important decision to make. Do we want to be Pharisees or do we want to be disciples? It’s up to us.

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6th Sunday of Easter Happy Mothers Day!

All Jesus’ talks, all His miracles, all His parables, come down to what He tells us today.“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.”

Think about that.  We know, through the doctrine of the trinity, that God and Jesus are one and the same; Father and Son.  They share an intimate and infinite love.  Here’s Jesus telling us that His love for us is the same.  God the Father and God the Son love us as much as they love one another, and themselves.

But, and this is important, If we want to remain in His love, we must keep His commandments.  In other words, we can lose His love if we don’t do what He tells us.  Then, rather than give us a laundry list of things we have to do, He says, “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 one’s friends.”

That’s it!  All we have to do is love one another.  But you and I both know that some people are more lovable than others.  Sometimes loving one another can be a HUGE challenge.  But this love that Jesus asks us to have for each other means a very specific thing.  In spite of what the 70’s movie said, love DOES NOT mean never having to say you’re sorry.

According to Father Robert Barron, love means willing good for the other person as another person.  In other words, love doesn’t mean hoping that you win the lottery so you can share your winnings with me.  Love means hoping you win the lottery only because I want you to be happy.  Love also means that I’m not jealous of your good fortune.

Today being Mother’s Day, it’s natural to compare God’s love to a mother’s love.  The mother’s love is unconditional, just like God’s love.  But there’s one thing missing.  On a purely physical level, a baby knows that she has an attachment to her mom.  But a baby doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to understand what that means.  Dogs and cats relate to their mothers just like we do.  Love between a mother and her offspring is a natural thing.

The difference between us and the animals is that as that human baby grows physically and emotionally, she begins to appreciate what this special connection means.  But, it’s a slow process.  It has it’s ups and downs.  I have five grandchildren; three of them from one set of parents.  Love means something very different to each one.  As they grow and mature, their ability to love will grow and mature.  (Until they get to be teenagers, then they’ll likely to hate their parents, but that’s just a phase.  They usually grow out of it.)  Unfortunately, for many of us, we don’t really appreciate our mom’s love entirely until they’re gone.

I think we approach God’s love in the same way.  When we’re little we know that God loves us.  How?  Because grownups tell us so.  I went to Grandparents’ Day this week at my five-year-old grandson’s school.  One of the songs they sang was

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart

Down in my heart to stay
And I’m so happy

So very happy

I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart

Down in my heart”

Five, six, and seven-year-olds know they love Jesus and that He loves them in a very basic, simple way.  As we grow older, we understand more of what that means.  Unfortunately, we also make it more complicated.  Remember, Jesus calls us to have a child-like faith.

Let’s get back to moms for a minute.  Jesus said that no one has greater love than to lay down their lives for their friends.  We see that in Jesus as He died on the cross to save us from our sins.  But mothers lay down their lives for their children every day.  All of you moms can testify that once you gave birth, your life was never the same again.  Some changes were small.  Some were huge.  But nothing is ever the same.

There’s a reason why men don’t have babies.  We couldn’t handle it.  A mother’s love lets her do the impossible on a daily basis.

Today as we celebrate our moms, and all those women in our lives who fill the role of mothers, it’s good to reflect on what Jesus tells us today.  A mother’s love is the closest we humans can come to perfect love.  Our mothers’ love teaches us how to love as Jesus loves.

We are our mothers’ flesh and blood the same way we’re Jesus’ flesh and blood.  We’re about to celebrate Jesus’ love for us by receiving His actual Body and Blood in the Eucharist.  In a real way we celebrate His love and our mothers’ love with every breath we take.  When He said “love one another as I have loved you” He was telling us all we need to know.  “Honor you father AND your mother” is one of the Ten Comandments.

Jesus spoke these words just before He gave up His life for us.  They were some of His last words before the crucifixion.  The Gospel ends with Him saying, “This I command you: love one another.”  It’s not a suggestion.  It’s not something that would be nice for us to do.  It’s His commandment.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.”

This monologue is the sum total of everything that Jesus taught in His earthly ministry.  This is the message that He wants us to remember.  Never forget that the whole point of His becoming a man was to teach us this one thing.  And, as we celebrate a day dedicated to our mothers, if we want an example of what that love looks like, all we have to do is think about our mothers’ example.  Remember, Jesus’ last act before He gave up His life on the cross was to give us His Mother, the most perfect example of a mother’s love in all human history.

 

Happy Mothers’ Day!

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Love

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

I have no official statistics, but based on my own experience I’d say that at least two out of three couples choose our second reading today from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for their wedding ceremony.  And, why not?  It’s the ultimate definition of the word “love”.  But if you read Paul’s letter in context, he’s not writing about married love, or even male/female love.

 

Our reading today is the third in a series from the 14th Chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  Remember, two weeks ago we learned that the community was divided.  The people were arguing with one another about who had the greatest spiritual gifts.  “My gift of healing is greater than your gift of prophesy!”  “No my gift of discernment is better than either of your gifts.”  And on and on.

 

Paul reminded them that each gift came from God and that no gift is more important than any other. That was verse 4-11 of the 12th chapter of Paul’s first letter to them.

 

Then last week we read verses 12-30.  Still trying to get them to stop arguing Paul uses the analogy of the body.  Each part of the body makes its special contribution.  The hand isn’t better than the foot and the eye isn’t greater than the ear.  All of the parts have to work together.  If any part suffers, the whole body suffers.  “If one part is honored, all parts share its joy.”

 

In our reading today, Paul wraps up the series by telling them that there is one thing greater than any of the other spiritual gifts and that’s love.

 

In spite of the fact that this is such a popular wedding reading, the kind of love Paul describes isn’t necessarily married love, though the definition fits the love between a man and wife perfectly.  But, notice that Paul doesn’t say anything about holding hands, or sending flowers, or spending the rest of your life with the same person following the sacrament of marriage.

 

No, he’s talking about the kind of love that we’re all supposed to have for one another.  Remember that Jesus told us in the 15th Chapter of John’s Gospel that the greatest love of all is to lay down one’s life for his friends.  He gives us His two great commandments:  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  In this passage Paul tells us what Jesus meant.

 

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”   When I was in high school I was in the band.  I was a drummer.  We used gongs and cymbals for marches and big dramatic music.  When we played a ballad or a love song, we put the cymbals away.  Cymbals were loud.  They were noisy.  They only played one single note and that note was always brash and emphatic.  When you play the piano, you tickle the ivories.  You toodle a flute.  You stroke a violin.  But you beat a drum.  Gongs resound and cymbals clash.

 

In other words, no matter how great your gifts, if you don’t have love they’re just so much noise.

 

“If I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge, if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”  He’s telling them that none of their gifts are worth a darn without love.  Even if he “gives away everything he owns, and if he hands his body over so that he may boast, but does not have love he gains nothing.”

 

Now comes the good part.  This is the part that the wedding couples really like.  But think of it as not so much about married love but more about this love that Jesus calls us to have for Him and for our neighbor.  It sounds really good but if you think about it, it’s really hard.

 

“Love is patient.”  If you’re married you know this is true.  Jan and I have been married almost 45 years.  She must be the most patient person on earth.

“Love is kind.”  OK, it’s easy to be kind to your wife or your kids.  It may not be so easy to be kind to the homeless person who asks you for money.  Do they really need it or are the running some kind of scam.  Maybe they want the money to buy booze or drugs.  Maybe when you pull out your wallet they’ll pull out a gun and rob you.  No, kindness to strangers isn’t always easy.

“It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude.”  Can any of us really say that we’ve never been jealous, pompous, inflated, or rude?  We may not even mean it.  You may have noticed that I have kind of a dry sense of humor.  Sometimes I say things that I think are funny but that people take the wrong way.  They think I’m being rude.  And frankly, I’ve learned that my being a member of the clergy makes some people think it’s OK to be rude to me.

 

“It does not seek its own interests, Let’s be honest.  Why are we all here today?  We come to mass to praise God and to receive His Body and Blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  But why do we do that?  Because we want to go to heaven.  We’re definitely seeking our own interests by coming to mass.  For mass to be really meaningful for us, it has to be in the context of loving God, not in fulfilling an “obligation” so we can get to heaven.

 

[Love] is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.”  Every time I receive the sacrament of reconciliation I have to confess that I have a quick temper;  EVERY TIME!  I confess it and I sincerely mean to be better but then something happens that set me off again.  I think I’ve gotten better, but I’m beginning to wonder, at 64 years old, if I’ll ever master my own temper.

 

“Love never fails.”  Paul goes on to explain how the other gifts will fail. Basically he says that as a grown-up he’s given up childish things.  At present, we can’t see clearly.  We only understand partially.  Someday when we meet God face-to-face we’ll understand it all.  But for the time being “faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

 

So, kudos to the young (and not so young) people who choose this reading on their special day.  I hope and pray that they’ll practice what Paul says in their married lives.  But, Paul is really talking to you and me.  You can give your entire fortune to charity but if you’re doing it for the tax deduction and not because you love your fellow man, it’s a hollow gesture.

 

If I have the gift of prophesy but delight in telling people that bad things are coming, I’m a clashing cymbal.  If I have faith to move mountains but don’t have love…….I’m nothing.

 

Paul doesn’t really say anything in this reading about prayer.  But we know that the greatest thing we can do for our neighbors is to pray for them.  Prayer is our best and most important expression of love.  I mentioned in today’s bulletin that our US Bishops have issued a call to prayer for life, marriage, and religious freedom.  Our secular society and even out government are attacking our core beliefs on these issues.  And it’s not just a “Catholic thing”.  It’s a Christian thing.

 

Abortion, same sex “marriage” and the HHS mandate are critical issues in our today.  Every day we kill thousands of babies in this country and no one raises an eyebrow.  Friday the government issued a so-called compromise on the HHS mandate that changed nothing at all.  It seems like every day we see something in the news that undermines the sacrament of marriage.

 

I don’t think most of us are inclined to join marches or protests.  It’s just not our style.  But we can all pray.  At the bishop’s request, we will be having a monthly holy hour, maybe an even longer period of Eucharistic Adoration every month.  But even if you don’t attend, you can still pray for our country.  Pray for an end to abortion.  Pray for the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage.  Pray that common sense and decency will prevail and religious institutions will not be forced to provide services that violate our beliefs.  Most of all, pray for the courage and the conviction to speak out against evil every chance you get.  And most of all, as Saint Paul tells us, do it with love.

 

 

31st Sunday of Ordinary Time

God loves us.  No surprise there.  We learned that when we were little kids.  “Jesus loves me, this I know, ‘cause the Bible tells me so.”  And….hopefully….we love Him back.  But……what IS this “love”?

 

I love my wife.  That’s one kind of love.  I love my kids and grandkids.  That’s another kind of love.  I also love my leather, Laz-y-Boy recliner chair.  That’s something else altogether.

 

I love baseball, and hockey, and soccer.  I was surprised how sad I was when I heard that Ernie Hays had passed away.  Even though he’s been retired for a couple of years, he provided  the sounds of baseball and hockey for many years.  Who didn’t get goose bumps when the Clydesdales marched around the stadium while Ernie played “Here Comes the King?”

 

The word “love” has a lot of different meanings for all of us.  Sometimes the English language doesn’t do a great job of explaining what we mean.  I guess that means that there will always be jobs for poets and songwriters.  Lucky them.   But, I digress.

The first reading today, from the book of Deuteronomy begins with Moses telling the people to “FEAR the Lord, your God, and keep…all His statutes and commandments.”  I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound too lovable.  It sounds pretty scary.  But Moses goes on and finishes with the words “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength”, the exact same words Jesus uses in today’s Gospel.  Yet, there’s a difference.

 

One of the scribes [remember Jesus hasn’t always had the best relationship with the scribes] asks Him which is the first of all commandments.  He answers, quoting Moses in the first reading: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”  Then He adds a second commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

When the scribe repeats Jesus’ words back to Him, Jesus tells the scribe that he’s not far from the kingdom of God.  “And no one dared to ask Him any more questions.”  See, there’s that little element of fear again.  No one DARED ask any more questions.  Besides, what could they ask?  Jesus has just given them the ultimate answer.  There is nothing else. “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Understand Jesus’ words, as the scribe did, and you won’t be far from the kingdom of heaven.

But, what kind of “love” is Jesus talking about?  Remember I said at the beginning that God loves us.  Does He love us like a spouse, or like a parent, or does He love us like I love my Laz-y-Boy?  I think the answer is “none of the above.”  The difference between you and me and God is that God IS love.  He can’t do anything but love us.  He couldn’t stop loving us if He wanted to.  No matter how much we sin, no matter how much we mess things up, no matter how little we may think of ourselves, He still loves us with an intensity that we can’t even imagine.

 

If you think about the greatest love of your life, probably your spouse but it could be anyone; if you think about the entire love experience with that person, even if you’ve been married 50 or 60 years, even if you were childhood sweethearts, it’s nothing compared to how much God loves you.  Whatever love you and I are able to feel is just a tiny percentage of the love that He feels for us.

 

It doesn’t matter if you’re the worst sinner in the history of the world, God is head-over-heels in love with you.  You might think you’re totally unlovable.  You may think you’re a total waste of space and that nobody could possibly love you and God still loves you with a love that’s beyond our understanding.

 

God loves Judas.  God loves Adolph Hitler.  God loves Jeffery Dahmer.  God loves every tyrant and mass-murderer who ever lived.  How can He not love you and me?

 

Jesus is telling us to repay that love.  “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Easy to say….hard to do.  In fact, we can’t do it….alone.  We need God’s help.  That sounds kind of silly.  We can’t love God without God’s help.  But it’s true.  We have to feel it and we have to show it in the way we live our lives.  That’s where the love your neighbor part comes in and that’s where prayer comes in.

 

When you pray, ask God to give you the grace to love your neighbor more.  Look for ways to show your love.  Right now, hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters are suffering from the big storm in the Northeast.  First of all, pray for them.  I hate it when someone says “the least I can do is pray for them.”  The sentiment is good.  Their heart is in the right place.  But praying for them is the MOST you can do.  Imploring God to come to their aid is HUGE, especially if millions of people do it.

 

Not to downplay anyone’s suffering but when disasters happen, that’s when God-loving Christians shine.  We couldn’t help others if no one needed help.  If you can send money, that’s good too.  There’s an address in this week’s bulletin for Catholic Charities.  The money you send there will be forwarded to Catholic Charities in the affected areas.

 

But I have a bigger challenge for you.  Jesus says to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  I’m willing to bet that that a lot of us don’t love ourselves as much as we should.  C’mon.  Admit it.  You wish your were in better shape.  You wish you were smarter.  You wish you were better looking.  Loving yourself, as you are, is called self-esteem.  I’m not talking about vanity.  That’s sinful.  Self-esteem, like almost everything else in this world can be a sin if you take it too far.

 

On the other hand, a total lack of self-esteem can lead to mental illnesses like anorexia, bulimia, depression, drug abuse, and alcoholism.  Most of us fall in between the extremes, but too many of us are on the low end of the scale.  YOU WERE MADE BY GOD!  You are part of God’s plan.  Give thanks for what you are.  Don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve yourself.  I’m trying to lose weight.  [Not too successfully, but I have lost a little.]  The thing is, God didn’t make me fat.  That’s on me.

 

I’ve said it before.  God wants us to be the best version of ourselves we can be.  He wants us to be more, to learn more, and to do more.  That’s one way we show our love for Him.

 

Pray every day.  Read good Catholic books, especially the Bible. Eat less.  Exercise more.   If we do those things, we’ll automatically think more of ourselves, be more thankful for who we are, and love God, with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength.

9th Sunday of Ordinary Time–Love One Another

It seems like there’s a big difference between the words of Saint Paul and the words of Jesus in today’s readings.  Paul writes to the Romans “a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”  Sola Fide.  Faith alone.  Once saved; always saved.  Many of our protestant brothers and sisters believe this passage justifies their belief that all we have to do to be saved is to accept Jesus Christ as our savior.

But then we have Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel.  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”  So what’s the deal?

There’s more than one answer to this question, but take a close look at what Paul said.  “For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.” What are these works of the Law?

In the Jewish faith there are 613 laws which are taken from the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament.  Included in these 613 laws are the Ten Commandments.  But the Jewish religion has rules on every aspect of life;  what to eat, what to where, how to worship, how to speak.  You name it and the Jewish Law, the Halakhah, has a rule for it.

Now, at the time, there was a dispute among the early Christians about whether you had to be a Jew to be a Christian.  Did you have to follow the Halakhah to follow Christ?  The biggest issue was circumcision.  Remember, there was no such thing as anesthesia and circumcision was kind of a deal-breaker for adult men.  Scripture doesn’t say, but I imagine the women of the time didn’t think it was such a big deal.

Anyway, when Paul writes that a person is justified by faith, “apart from works of the Law”, that’s what he was talking about.  You could be a Christian without having to observe all 613 of the Laws.  The Ten Commandments were still in, but a lot of the other things were out.  Around the year 50 the Church held it’s first Council meeting, which we call the Council of Jerusalem to settle the issue.So, our protestant friends ask, wasn’t Jesus’ death on the cross enough?  Do we human beings really think we can add anything to that?  Why aren’t we justified by faith alone?

I think Jesus gives a pretty good answer in today’s Gospel reading.  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”  Yes, Jesus’ death was enough, but we have to complete the work He started.

I think if I had to choose one passage in the New Testament that’s my favorite, it would be John 15:14.  It’s part of Jesus’ story of the vine and the branches.  “I am the vine and my Father is the vine grower.” He goes on to tell the Apostles that they must remain on the vine lest they wither and die.  The Father will cut away the vines that don’t bear fruit.  In verse 14, right in the middle of his monologue, he says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” What is His command?  “Love one another as I have loved you.”

That’s it!  Our whole faith is summed up in that one thought.  “Do what I tell you.  Love one another.  Then you’ll be my friend.”

So, how do we reconcile the idea of “faith alone” with doing good works?  Do we not need to run Catholic hospitals, and Catholic schools, and Catholic Charities, and Saint Vincent de Paul?  Should we bring all our missionaries home?  Of course not.  We know we’re saved by our faith in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But we also know that our faith requires us to do what Jesus tells us.  To be his friend, to stay on the vine, we’re called to love one another.  And we fulfill that love by doing good things.  We feed the hungry, and shelter the homeless, and visit the sick, and a thousand other works of mercy, not because we have to, but because we want to be Jesus’ friends.

That’s all there is to it.  Love one another.  Eat pork if you want to.  Eat shellfish if you want to.  If you like your steak rare, that’s ok.  And circumcision is definitely optional.

Now, you may be thinking, “wait a minute, deacon.  Lent starts next week.  We’re not supposed to eat meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent.  How’s that different from Jewish Law?  The difference is this.  We abstain from meat as a form of penance.  It’s a way of sharing in Jesus’ suffering on the cross.  We do it because we’re Jesus’ friends.  But it’s not a law.  You’re not going to hell if you eat a hamburger on Ash Wednesday where the consequences for a Jew who eats a pork chop is a whole different matter.

We observe the Lenten traditions because we want to, not because we have to, in spite of what your mom may have told you forty years ago.  Think about it.  How big a sacrifice is it to skip meat for eight days each year?  I mentioned in this week’s bulletin that “fish fry season” is my favorite time of the year.  I’m already working on my Friday dinner schedule for March and part of April.  It’s not a sacrifice.  It’s not penance.  But the Church asks us to do it, so we do.  What I’m suggesting this morning is that we all find some other form of penance for the next six weeks, something we either add or take away from our normal routine that requires a little effort, or maybe a lot of effort.  And, hopefully something that makes you a better person; a better version of yourself.

The Church today has gotten away from a lot of the “must dos” and I think it’s a shame.  No one in the history of the world has done more for us than Jesus of Nazareth.  He gave up His life for us and all He wants in return is for us to love one another as He’s loved us.  It seems like a very, very small price to pay.

 

 

 

Thursday After Ash Wednesday

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“Blessed the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.”

It’s kind of a paradox, this Christian faith of ours.  Today’s Responsorial Psalm is just one example.  We’re blessed if we delight in the law of the Lord.  Here we are, just beginning Lent, a time of penance, but we’re called to delight in the sacrifices we’re asked to make.

If we’re doing it right, this is a time of giving things up, a time of doing more, yet we delight in that.  We’re even asked to meditate on God’s law day and night.

Throughout Church history we see examples of saints who made huge sacrifices, including martyrdom, yet they were full of joy.  Very few of us will ever be asked to give up our lives for the faith, but if we are, we’re expected to do it happily, blessing our tormentors.

That’s a big order.  None of us really knows for sure how we’d react in that situation.  But we all know someone who can’t be bothered to fast for two days, or to abstain from meat for eight days.  You ask them what they’re doing for Lent and they tell you that they’ve given up some trivial thing, maybe even something that they never enjoyed to begin with.

No, most of us will never be called on to be martyrs.  But we are called to do things that may be incredibly difficult.  How we respond says a lot about our faith.  Some couples refuse to follow Church teaching on birth control.  In spite of the fact that natural family planning is by far the most reliable form of birth control, it takes effort and the occasional sacrifice and that’s just too much for some folks.  It’s much easier to take a pill every day in spite of the proven connection between those pills and cancer.

Think about that for a minute.  Once in a while, not that often really, NFP requires a couple to abstain from sex.  Most of the time, thought not always, this is more of a sacrifice for the man than for the woman.  Rather than show his love for his wife by the simple act of postponing his own gratification, many men prefer to ask the woman they love to take a drug that could cause her to have serious health problems down the road.  That’s love?

Heck, we all know people who can’t even be bothered to go to mass once a week.  There are 168 hours in a week, but spending just one of them in church is asking too much.

No, the “old-fashioned”  idea of sacrifice may be foreign to many of us, even during Lent.  That’s too bad.  Sacrifice truly can make us joyful.

The First Saturday of Advent

Saint CyprianListen to the podcast.

n today’s Office of Readings, Saint Cyprian offers these words on the value of patience.  He writes:

“Patience is a precept for salvation given us by our Lord, our teacher:  Whoever endures to the end will be saved. And again “If you persevere in my word, you will truly be my disciples; you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

Dear brethren, we must endure and persevere if we are to attain the truth and freedom we have been allowed to hope for; faith and hope are the very meaning of our being Christians, but if faith and hope are to bear their fruit, patience is necessary.”

Advent is all about patience.  We wait for the glorious coming of our Lord and savior.  But it’s easy for us.  Advent lasts less than a month.  First century Jews had been waiting for thousands of years.  Those who didn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah are still waiting, another 2,000 years later.  We’ve come to the end of the first week of Advent.  Our wait is almost over.

But that doesn’t make patience any less important the other eleven months of the year.  Cyprian concludes by saying,

“And in another place he says:  Bear with one another lovingly, striving to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. He shows that neither unity nor peace can be maintained unless the brethren cherish each other with mutual forbearance and preserve the bond of harmony by the means of patience.”