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Scripture Musings

     In his book Rediscover Catholicism, Matthew Kelly talks about journaling at Mass. He recommends that you take a notebook with you to Mass and jot down what God speaks to you during the course of the service. He believes that God will speak at least One Thing to you that will be the key lesson that He desires to teach you today. What follows are my thoughts about the One Thing God is showing me this day.

First Sunday of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2-7; Psalm 80; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37

      “Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.”

      If we look deeply into our hearts, we are very aware of our sinfulness, our pettiness, our striving after the wrong things. We wander from God’s ways and our hearts have become hardened so that we don’t fear the Lord. So, God has every reason to be angry with us.

      And what should our response be to our God? We need to cry out to Him, to ask for His mercy, not only for ourselves, but for our world that has grown far away from its creator. Even as we search our souls and see the truth of our lives, we should beg God for His mercy and His love, to not forget us and not turn His face from us, for we are the work of His hand. We beg Him to “rend heaven and come down” to save us. We ask Him to turn our hearts once again toward Him, so that He will “no more withdraw from” us, as the psalm tells us. We ask Him for new life, that we would once again call upon His name, that we would “see His face and we shall be saved.”

      St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians that God has bestowed His grace on us so that we are not “lacking in any spiritual gift” and that He will “keep us firm to the end.” Although we are sinners, we are still the work of God’s hands, and He loves us and wants to draw us to Himself. He will do all He can to turn us back to Him, to soften our hearts, to help us overcome our temptation to follow the world instead of Him.

      But Jesus warns us in the Gospel that we must remain vigilant. It is so easy to turn back to old habits and walk in the ways of darkness. One small step in the wrong direction can lead us miles off track if we are not careful. Jesus warns us to be on the alert at all times, to not be found sleeping, but to remain vigilant and watch for the coming of the Lord into our lives.

      And God will come into our lives. Probably not in big ways that are abundantly clear, but most likely in small ways that we won’t even perceive if we are not vigilant, just like a tiny baby appeared a few thousand years ago in an obscure village in the Middle East.

      Watch for the signs. Watch and be ready. Make your hearts right with God, so that when He appears, you will welcome Him with open arms into your life, where He will make a home and dwell with you forever.

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46

      “Lord, when did we see you hungry…?”

      What strikes me about this verse is that both the “righteous” and those on the left used the same words, starting by addressing God as “Lord.” There are so many people today who say Jesus is their Lord, but they do not live like it. I am reminded of the Scripture from James, Chapter 2: “Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”

      There are so many wonderful promises in the Scriptures, including the ones we read today. In Ezekiel, the prophet speaks the words of God as he says, “I myself will pasture my sheep, I…will give them rest... The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal…’

      In the psalm, the psalmist tells us, “…he gives me repose…he refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths…You spread a table before me…you anoint my head with oil…only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life…”

      In the reading from First Corinthians, Paul tells us, “…so too in Christ shall all be brought to life…”

      These amazing promises can all be ours. But they are not given to everyone, only the “righteous.” And who are the righteous? In the Gospel, Jesus tells us the righteous are the ones who ministered to “the least brothers of mine...”

      Salvation is a free gift from God, but it is not a free ride. If you have given your heart to Christ, it is now time to give your hands and your feet and your voice to your brothers and sisters in need. Loving God and serving your fellow man are intricately intertwined and cannot be separated. If you truly love God, you will serve your neighbor. And when you do, you can trust that God will see your good works and say to you, as we heard in last week’s Gospel, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalm 128; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30

      “Come, share your master’s joy.”

      What wonderful words to hear, especially if they are spoken to us from God our Father after a life lived in His service.

      What must we do to hear those words spoken to us? The Gospel tells us that we must use the talents that God has given us wisely, investing them in His kingdom, not hiding them out of fear.

      I looked up the word “talent” in the dictionary, and its original meaning was “a unit of money.” The blurb about the word origin said that the definition was expanded to our current understanding through the influence of the interpretation of the Scripture we read today. Perhaps, then, our understanding of the meaning of the word needs to expand some more.

      When I look at the other readings the Church has chosen for us today, I see the description of a virtuous woman in the Book of Proverbs, I see the type of people God desires to bless in the psalm, and I see the alert followers of Jesus in the epistle. What have any of them got to do with talents?

      The talent of the Proverbs woman was not just her ability to spin cloth, but her “loving hands” which reached out to the poor and needy, and her fear of the Lord. In the psalm we see that God desires to bless those who “fear the Lord, who walk in his ways.” And we see those in the epistle who are “children of the light and children of the day” who are “alert and sober” waiting for the coming of the Lord. Perhaps these are their “talents.”

      In these cases, talents are not just the natural abilities that God has given someone, but they are also their disposition toward God, their desire to serve Him and to follow Him. Do we have these same “talents”? Or are we just looking at all our natural abilities? Perhaps it might be time to look at our supernatural “abilities” as well.

      Are we investing in our supernatural “talents?” Are we growing them? Do we spend time in prayer and adoration? Do we spend time reading God’s word? Do we reverently receive Christ in the Eucharist? Do we take time to do good deeds for others? God wants us to invest in our supernatural talents as well as our natural talents and grow them both so that one day we can stand before Him and hear those same words, “Come, share your master’s joy.”

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalm 63; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

      “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.”

      Psalm 63 compares our souls to a desert: parched, lifeless, and without water. We may not be aware of it, but our souls are always in that state until they are satisfied with the waters that only God can give; the waters that will well up within us; the living waters of the Spirit.

      Often in Scripture, the Spirit is revealed as Wisdom. In the first reading, we see that the Spirit as Wisdom is “found by those who seek” her. (Although Wisdom is depicted as a woman, we understand that convention was used in ancient times for any of the virtues; we know that God is spirit and therefore is neither male nor female.) And the Spirit as Wisdom “makes herself known in anticipation of their desire” and “graciously appears to them in the ways, and meets them with all solicitude.” The Spirit wants to “meet with us” if only we would seek Him.

      Another symbol for the Spirit is oil, signifying the anointing of the Spirit. In the Gospel reading we see five individuals who have welcomed the Spirit into their hearts, who have sought Him and found Him and made Him part of their lives. And we see five others who have not sought after the Spirit. When the Bridegroom comes to take His bride, only those who have the Spirit will be recognized and welcomed. The Spirit helps us see the Bridegroom; helps us to know how to reach out to Him and let Him be our Lord. We need the Spirit.

      Our souls are indeed thirsting. We are parched, lifeless, without the living water that is the Spirit. We need to cry out to Him and ask Him to fill us to overflowing with Himself so that we can live as He called us to, so that we can “pursue in freedom of heart the things” of God, as it says in the Collect, the opening prayer of Mass.

      As we sang the psalm response, I heard the words, “Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary to see your power and your glory.” I looked up, drawn to the image of the crucifix hanging above the altar. I gazed into the sanctuary and I saw the power and glory of the crucified Jesus. I saw His kindness that is a “greater good than life.” How could I not glorify the Lord with my lips?

      I wanted to bless the Lord, to lift up my hands toward Him, to call upon His name. My eyes dropped to the altar below and I recognized that “with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied.”

      Let us hunger and thirst after the Lord and His Spirit. Let us come to the altar and receive Him with a deep desire to be joined to our Bridegroom at the marriage supper of the Lamb. As we consume Him, let us be filled with the Spirit that we would go forth from there ready to change the world because we have experienced the touch of the One who has changed us so radically. “Behold,” He says, “I make all things new.”

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10; Psalm 131; 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12

      “They preach but they do not practice…”

      When we talk about raising children, I’ve often heard it said that most lessons “are caught, not taught.” By that, I take it to mean that children see us and how we act, and those actions speak so much louder than any instruction we can speak to them. You can’t expect your child to limit their time on their smartphone when you can’t put yours down for any length of time.

      The Scriptures today talk about children as a way to understand our relationship with God. “Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me,” the psalmist tells us. Have we humbled ourselves, becoming like little children, so that we can learn the ways of the Lord?

      The psalmist also says, “My heart is not proud, nor are my eyes haughty; I busy not myself with great things.” Have we become proud and no longer willing to take instruction from the Lord? Do we know better? God had to rebuke the leaders of the ancient Israelites for their pride. “You do not keep my ways,” He tells them. He goes on to say, “You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction.”

      Jesus continued to rebuke the religious leaders of His day. He says to His followers, “Do not follow their example. For they preach, but they do not practice.” He goes on to say, “All their works are performed to be seen.” Pride has become the centerpiece of their lives. They have forgotten the childlike humility that is needed to be a follower of the Lord. Jesus concludes his discourse today by telling his listeners, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

      The reading from the Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians is a sharp contrast to both the Old Testament passage and the Gospel reading. Here, Paul models exactly what a good leader should do. “We were gentle among you,” he says, then goes on, “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well.”

      We can look at our church leaders today and want to apply these Scriptures to them. But we also have to look at ourselves in whatever leadership roles we play, whether it be in a work setting or a community setting, or especially as parents. Have we humbled ourselves and become like little children when it comes to instruction from the Lord? Have we then taken that instruction and applied it to our lives so that, in all humility, we can correct and guide those who are put in our charge?

      We want to be like those followers of the Way in Thessalonica, whom Paul recognized as receiving the Word of God and witnessed that it was “now at work in you who believe.”

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Exodus 22:20-26; Psalm 18; 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10; Matthew 22:34-40

      “You shall love the Lord, your God, will all your heart…”

      The words we hear Jesus speak today in the Gospel are part of the prayer of every good Jew prayed morning and evening, known as the Shema. This would have been so common for all Jesus’ listeners to hear that they probably lost the full meaning of it because it was so often repeated.

      I’m reminded of one of the first questions in the Baltimore Catechism, which many of us learned as little children: “Why did God make me? God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in the next.” I wonder how many of us really understand what those words mean for us now.

      Jesus said this was the greatest commandment: to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. How many of us can truly say we do that? I know I fail miserably. And yet that is our call, our greatest commandment from the Lord.

      So, how can we begin to do that? It requires time spent in prayer, time spent in His Word, time spent in Eucharistic adoration, time spent in worship of God through songs and hymns. And then comes the second part: Putting that love into action. We can grow in our love for God by loving our neighbor. The second commandment that Jesus talks about stems from the first. As we begin to practice virtue by helping others in need, we can draw closer to God. Our acts of mercy to others reflect our time spent with the Lord. The two commandments become reciprocal. They build upon one another to continue to deepen our relationship with God and deepen our commitment to our fellow human beings.

      St. Paul talked a little bit about that in his letter to the Thessalonians. He says, “You became a model,” for their neighbors with how they treated Paul and how they spread the faith they received.

      And St. Paul makes it clear that those who do not grow in their faith with suffer dire consequences. The ones he praised would be delivered by Jesus “from the coming wrath” that others would experience.

      The reading from Exodus sounds even more ominous. If you do not love your neighbor, God tells the Israelites, “My wrath will flare up and I will kill you with the sword…”

      God is serious about this. It’s not just a nice thing to love and serve God by loving your neighbor with actions. It is required of you. Having faith is not all about warm fuzzy feelings; it’s about the hard work of serving God even when it’s not comfortable. But if we truly love God, we will want to serve Him regardless of the circumstances.

      May our love for God grow stronger each day, that we would be able to say that we love Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. And may we show that in how we love our neighbor.

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b; Matthew 22:15-21

      “…Knowing … how you were chosen.”

      This phrase really stands out to me in the reading from the Letter to the Thessalonians. Paul goes on to say, “Our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit…”

      God has chosen us. He has called us. And, for many of us, we have heard that call through the Word of God proclaimed to us each week, but also through the power of the Holy Spirit being poured out on us each day as we seek God in prayer. And, as I mentioned in another reflection, I believe God’s power is His mercy. We should not think of empowerment like the world does, where we now have the strength to lord it over others, but instead we should recognize that we have been touched by God’s mercy and we, in turn, can give that mercy to others.

      In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, it talks about how God had chosen Cyrus to do His will to bless His people even though Cyrus did not know Him. God can, and will, orchestrate the things that happen in your life to draw you to Himself, even if you do not yet acknowledge Him as your Lord and Savior! He loves you that much.

      In the Gospel reading, Jesus says to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” I think it’s pretty obvious in the lesson what Jesus is referring to that belongs to Caesar: it is the coin. So, it is clear that we must “repay” to the world what the world gives us—we must be obedient to the laws of the land, as long at they are righteous and do not conflict with the laws of God.

      But what do we have that belongs to God that we must repay to Him? It is our very lives! Everything we are and everything we have comes from God. And therefore we “owe” it all back to Him. And how do we repay? By surrendering our hearts to Him. Elsewhere it says in the Scripture that we should “love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength…” That is how we can “repay” God for all His love for us.

      When we acknowledge that we belong to God, that should bring us such joy, such happiness, such peace. The God who created the universe claims us as His own special creation, His very children. We are loved! And this is a love beyond anything we have ever experienced in this world. Nothing can compare with the magnitude or the depth of His love for us.

      If we could truly grasp that reality, we would shout with the psalmist, “Give to the Lord glory and praise; give to the Lord the glory due his name!”

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10a; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14

      “The Lord … will provide for all peoples a feast…”

      Banquets. Feasts. Today’s readings almost all center around them. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast…,” says Isaiah; “You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes…” from the Psalms; and from the Gospel: “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast…”

      We understand the feast to refer to the wedding feast of heaven that the Church as His bride will celebrate with Jesus for eternity. But we live out the reality of that feast here now through our celebration of the Eucharist. This is our wedding feast. We are the bride and Jesus is the groom. He waits on the holy mountain of the altar to give Himself completely to us under the forms of bread and wine. It is our participation in the feast of eternity, glimpsed only dimly now in our own celebrations.

      There is so much joy, so much promise in what God is calling us to. “He will destroy the veil that veils all people…he will destroy death forever. The Lord will wipe away the tears from every face…” This is a banquet of juicy, rich foods and pure, choice wines. “This is the Lord for whom we looked (to save us); let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”

      The Psalm continues to tell us of the wonderful gifts God is lavishing on us. “In verdant pastures he gives me repose…he refreshes my soul.” “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

      The reading from St. Paul even echoes these sentiments: “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches…”

      Yet, how many of us turn away from the invitation? I am too busy: I’ve got my kid’s soccer game today; there’s an important football game on this afternoon and I’ve got to get home for it; I just want to sleep in this morning.

      There’s a banquet prepared for you with all that God desires to give you and you have excuses why it’s not important. If you understood the reality of what you were invited to, you would see how foolish is the desire for anything other than making it a priority to get there as quickly as possible.

      But then comes the second part of Jesus’ parable. “But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment…”

      In the Church, we understand this as an analogy which refers to the garment of righteousness that we receive at Baptism. God has clothed us in Himself as we have turned to Him. As we sin in life, we stain that garment. So, when we come to the feast, we need to have prepared ourselves by washing our garment so that it is spotless and ready. St. Paul tells us in First Corinthians, Chapter 11 that we should not approach the table of the Lord unworthily.

      An image came to me during Mass. I imagined as people stepped forward to receive communion that suddenly their garments of righteousness were visible for all to see. And how many of them were stained and dirty and unsuitable to be at this wedding feast.

      Oh, how little we understand the love of God, the mercy of God, the joy of being His children. We daily squander all that, like the prodigal son, then we come to the wedding feast, expecting to receive from our Lord, and our hearts are not ready. They are hardened by sin, by making choices that have drawn us away from God rather than toward Him throughout the week.

      God is always calling. Turn to Him now and ask Him to wash you clean of your sins and the poor choices you have made through the week. Take this time now as you wait to ascend the holy mountain to let Him restore your wedding garment so that when the time comes for the invitation to the feast, you will be ready to accept it and to receive all the gifts that God desires to lavish on you.

      “Come to the feast of heaven and earth…” as the song says, and receive all that God has for you. You are His children; He loves you and He desires to give you His very self. Take now, receive. And rejoice!

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80; Philippians 4:6-9; Matthew 21:33-43

      “What more was there to do…that I had not done?”

      Have you ever felt like the vineyard in the first reading? God has done so many wonderful things in your life, has shown you that He is walking with you each day, has given you gifts and talents that make you the unique individual that you are. Yet, you in return, have given Him a harvest of wild grapes. Rather than surrendering everything to Him, you have decided how you will live your life. You have decided what is best for you. The choices you have made have all been about you.

      And where has it gotten you? A lot of unhappiness, lack of fulfillment, restlessness. The peace of God that St. Paul describes in the second reading is far from you. And you really have no one to blame except for yourself.

      Have we been like the tenants in the Gospel reading? Are we squandering the gifts that God has asked us to steward for Him? Have we been jealous of our accomplishments and not desired to offer them to God?

      After Jesus speaks the parable, he turns to the religious leaders of that day and tells them, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to people that will produce its fruit.”

      Can you imagine Him speaking those words to you? How devastating to have been given such great gifts, only to squander them and eventually have them taken away.

      But God is merciful. In the Collect, the opening prayer, we pray, “…in the abundance of your kindness…pour out your mercy upon us to pardon what conscience dreads and to give what prayer does not dare to ask.” And God does pour out His mercy upon us, in abundance.

      No matter how far you are from God, no matter how many of His gifts you have squandered, He, like the father of the prodigal son, welcomes you back with open arms. St. Paul tells us, “have no anxiety at all, but in everything…make your requests known to God.” If we do so, we can expect “the peace of God…will guard your hearts and minds.”

      Turn now to God. Pray, as the psalmist does, to “give us new life,” to “restore us,” “then we shall be saved.”

      At communion, we sang the song “Here I Am, Lord.” The third verse particularly struck me: “I have borne my people’s pain. I have wept for love of them. They turn away. I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone.”

      God’s desire is always to bring His children back to Himself. He is waiting. He is calling. Turn to Him now and let Him change your heart from a stony, hardened heart to one of flesh. Let Him show you how much He loves you. He desires to take the vineyard of your heart and pull out the weeds, rebuild the wall, hoe and fertilize your tender vines once more so that you would produce fruit that will bring joy to others, to yourself, and to your Father.

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalm 25; Philippians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32

      “All that you have done to us, O Lord, you have done with true judgment, for we have sinned against you and not obeyed your commandments. But give glory to your name and deal with us according to the bounty of your mercy.” (Daniel, chapter 3)

      This is today’s Entrance Antiphon, rarely heard at Mass these days, but powerful to set the tone with this Liturgy. God has every right to punish us for our sins, to deny to us the gift of eternal life. We certainly don’t deserve it. But we beg Him to deal with us according “to the bounty of [His] mercy.” And He does!

      In the Collect, the opening prayer at Mass, we hear: “O God, who manifests your almighty power above all by pardoning and showing mercy…” God’s power is wrapped up in His mercy. He shows us His power by being merciful to us. The Psalm Response echoes that sentiment: “Remember your mercies, O Lord.”

      We hear in the first reading, from Ezekiel, our need for mercy. If we are virtuous but turn away from that to commit iniquity, we shall die. And this is not the literal sense of death; this refers to a spiritual death—losing our salvation. But if we turn from our wickedness, and do what is right, we can preserve our life. God will have mercy on us and bring us to redemption.

      The parable in the Gospel sets up a similar scenario. One son refuses to obey his father, but then repents and does what is required of him. The other son seems to be obedient to the father, but instead does not obey him. Who is the one who has done the will of the father?

      Even those in the crowd Jesus was addressing knew the correct answer to that question. But they didn’t realize he was talking about them! They said yes to all the commands of God, but in the end did not obey because their hearts were hardened. They thought they knew better about what God wanted and how to please Him. But they were really only pleasing themselves and doing things for others to see.

      Have we ever gotten caught in that trap? Have we told God we would obey Him, but then began to do things our way, pleased that we looked good before others, and squashing that little voice inside our head that tells us this is not what God has called you to do? It’s time to stop lying to ourselves. It’s time to turn—to repent—to follow Jesus with our whole hearts and leave behind our wrong choices.

      We need to ask, as the psalmist does, for the Lord to make His ways known to us, to teach us His paths, to “guide me in your truth and teach me.”

      We know we have failed Him up to now. We pray with the psalmist: “Remember that your compassion, O Lord, and your love are from of old. The sins of my youth and my frailties remember not…” And as we pray, we know that God will answer our prayer. “Good and upright is the Lord; thus he shows sinners the way…”

      Let God lead you. Do not remain in your sin, but cry out to God for mercy. He will hear your plea and will answer you and set you free from all your sins. Stop trying to play God in your life, but humble yourself before God and He will raise you up. Become “obedient to the point of death” as it says in the second reading. This death is death to sin in your life, the cross of your own making. As you do, the mercy of God will wash over you like an ocean wave, cleansing you of your sins and making you new again, and permitting you to enter into the kingdom of your Father as His beloved children.

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isaiah 55:6-9; Psalm 145; Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a; Matthew 20:1-16a

      “I will give you what is just.”

      I have always liked this parable that Jesus shares in today’s Gospel. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because I often look at myself as one of those workers that arrived in the vineyard later than many. And yet Jesus promises me the same wage as those who worked the whole day long.

      When we read this parable, our sensibilities are often set on end because we think it’s patently unfair what the landowner did. And then he purposely pays the last employees first so that all will see that he is putting them on equal footing with the day-long laborers. He could have been more discreet and never let the earlier workers know what he was doing. But he chose to show his generosity to all and that irked them all the more.

      Why? This thing about fairness, about justice; we have really overrated it. If we want justice for ourselves, we might find that what we deserve is not nearly as nice as what we have been given. In fact, in justice we should be condemned for our sinfulness. We have no right to any reward from God. We are the prodigal. We have taken all that God has given us and we have plundered it on worthless things, adding sin upon sin in our lives. And we excuse all that sin, rationalizing it so that it is more palatable. But God knows our hearts. He knows just how wicked we really are. And yet He loves us and continues to reach out to us and offer us Himself and His forgiveness.

      “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness. The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.” So says today’s Psalm Response. He is good to all and compassionate toward all His works. Look around you at the people you see and recognize that God is good to all of them and has compassion on all of them. All. Not just the ones who are good, or loving, or faithful. But all. His desire is for all to work in the vineyard, even the ones who don’t answer the call until the last hour.

      In Isaiah, it says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near. Let the scoundrel forsake his way, and the wicked his thoughts…Turn to the Lord for mercy, to our God who is generous in forgiving.” Today is the day. Now is the hour. It is no longer time to make excuses for why you did what you did or to say that it doesn’t really matter; it was no big deal.

      Sin is always a big deal. But God is always ready to forgive. He wants you to come to Him, to seek Him out, and to seek His forgiveness, that you may be grafted into His kingdom and become His child.

      Surrender your heart to Him. Let Him cleanse you of your sins and make you new again. Ask Him to wash you in His precious blood that He would make you whiter than snow. He will change your heart and you will be able to say, like St. Paul, that you don’t know which is better, to depart this life and be with Christ, or to stay and work for His kingdom.

      Do not be envious because Jesus is generous to others who appear to be less “deserving” than you. Rejoice that He has called you, He has chosen you, and He desires you to be part of His family. He has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Celebrate His love. And call everyone you know to come into the vineyard as well, that they might receive from the Lord His mercy.

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Sirach 27:30-28:7; Psalm 103; Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35

      “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.”

      I like the sentiments in this Psalm Response. It is full of encouraging words: “He pardons all your iniquities, heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, crowns you with kindness and compassion…Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he requite us according to our crimes…As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.”

      That is the kind of God I want: One who doesn’t take into account my failures; One who forgives me in spite of my waywardness. But then I look at the contrast in the first reading: “The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor’s injustice, then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins?”

      Our relationship with God is a little more complex than just “God loves us despite what we do.” While that is true, it is also true that He will love us all the way on the road to hell if we choose not to live in the fullness of His mercy, which necessitates that we be merciful to others.

      When I look at the wicked servant in the Gospel, I think how can someone who has been forgiven so great a debt not be able to forgive his brother a lesser debt? And I think the key is in the servant’s own words: “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.” The servant never fully realized his debt was forgiven. He was still determined to pay it back. He figured he was given a reprieve, so now he better start working to pay that debt off, and how better to start doing it than to get money from someone who owed him. Which is why he was so unrelenting with his fellow servant.

      His master had offered him mercy. But he didn’t receive it. I read somewhere recently that said you cannot have forgiveness for others if you’ve never received it from God. How many times do we stop to realize that God has truly forgiven us? Or do we figure we still owe God something; that we’ve got to “make up” for our sin by great acts of penance or some devotional practice? Elsewhere in the psalms it says, “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you…” And twice earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus makes it clear that God “desire[s] mercy, not sacrifice.” We can only learn mercy when we have received mercy.

      St. Paul tells us in the reading from Romans that “none of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord.” Do you feel that’s true for you? Are you so sold out to the Lord that you recognize that you belong to Him and your life is in His hands? If so, can you receive all the mercy He has for you? Can you allow Him to forgive you so completely that you are able to look at the lesser faults of your brothers and sisters and forgive them as you have been forgiven?

      In the opening prayer at Mass, the Collect, it says, “Grant that we may serve you with all our heart.” “…that we may feel the working of your mercy.” It is only when we submit ourselves fully to Him that we can truly begin to understand and accept His mercy in our lives. And that is not a one-time thing; it is an ongoing process.

      Take the first step. Ask Jesus to come into your heart, to forgive your sins, and to make you new. Receive Jesus with reverence in the Eucharist. Let “its effects, and not our own desires…always prevail in us,” as it says in the Prayer after Communion. The frequent reception of your Savior will allow you to grow closer in your union with Him and to become more like Him. Watch as He begins to transform you into the image of His Son. And then offer forgiveness to those who have offended you. Let the mercy you have received be the mercy you give.

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

      “I will hold you responsible for his death.” Very disturbing words to hear from the reading in Ezekiel today.

      I have often heard about the idea of sins of omission: when we should have done something but did not do it. Here is a perfect example: when your brother is in sin and you see it but do not “warn them” for God, then you are liable. That’s hard to hear. And hard to put into practice.

      In our culture today, we have no shortage of people that are very willing to point out their brother’s faults. Social media shaming is all too common, and almost always unloving. God did not appoint you judge. You have no right to publicly point out another’s fault, especially when your heart attitude is of one-upmanship, instead of the love for a brother or sister whom you desire to bring back to a relationship with God.

      Jesus makes very clear in the Gospel how we should approach our duty to bring a brother or sister into truth. It requires first, private discussion, and again, done in love. If that is not successful, then one or two witnesses, then finally, the church. But the focus is always on trying to bring a brother or sister back to the truth, to help ensure that they will not lose their immortal souls. This is not about who is right and who is wrong. This is about love. If you care enough for that person, you want to see them back on the right path that leads to their eternal salvation.

      In the Collect—the opening prayer—we pray that God, by whom “we are redeemed and receive adoption” would “look graciously on your beloved sons and daughters” that they “may receive true freedom and an everlasting inheritance.” Do we see this one with whom we are angry as our brother or sister, also a beloved son or daughter of God as much as we are? If we can learn to accept that truth, then we can more easily approach one another in love and speak in love, even if the words we speak are words of chastisement.

      God has called us into a body—the Body of Christ. This is more than just a group of people that have the same ideas and same goals—it’s not that kind of body. Look at your own body—your arms and hands and fingers, your legs, knees, toes. That’s the kind of body the Body of Christ is. We belong to one another; we are all one. How can one toe look at another toe and judge and condemn it? They are part of you. Rebuke them, chastise them, but do it in love. When they are hurt, ultimately, we are hurt too. That’s how much we are a part of one another.

      The psalmist tells us today to “harden not your hearts.” I’ve always considered this passage to refer to us in dealing with our relationship with God. But today, I feel like God is telling me it’s also in relationship to our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we recognize our relationship with God, that we have been adopted into His family and we are now part of His Body, then we cannot have hard hearts where our brothers and sisters are concerned, because they are also adopted into His family and are part of His body.

      St. Paul makes it very clear in the reading from Romans. He tells us that all the commandments can be “summed up in this saying, namely ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor.”

      Can we love others like that? Can we see their faults and point them out to them in love the way Jesus tells us to? Can we seek reconciliation and wholeness in the Body, rather than try to prove we are right?

      If we do, then we can approach the Communion rail, and, as it says in the Offertory Prayer, “By partaking of the sacred mystery, we may be faithfully united in mind and heart.”

      Unity is one of the signs of Christianity. Let our unity begin with loving our brothers and sisters enough to correct them in love and bring them back to the fold that they, along with us, “may merit an eternal share in his life,” as it says in the Prayer After Communion.

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

      Jeremiah was an honest man. And his relationship with God was full of honesty. He had no problem complaining to God. “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.”

      Jeremiah had done what Paul talks about in the reading from Romans. He had offered his body “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” God, in turn, had given him a difficult assignment: to “cry out” with “violence and outrage” as his message. Jeremiah was apparently still in the process of having his mind transformed and renewed since he struggled so much with the assignment God had given to him.

      Have you ever been in a situation where you have tried to do the right thing, but because of it, you have suffered and been treated badly by others? Have you ever cried out to God, complaining about how awful things are because you obeyed God? Have you ever wished, like Jeremiah, that you had never spoken up and caused yourself all this grief?

      Remember the words of Jesus from the Gospel: “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Can we truly believe that? Do we trust that God knows better than we do, and that if we choose His path, we will find true happiness?

      Even Peter didn’t understand that. After making his amazing profession of faith in last week’s Gospel, led by the Spirit to pronounce that Jesus was “the Christ, the son of the living God,” Peter did not understand that Jesus must do the will of the Father wherever that would take Him.

      I think it’s interesting that Peter begins his rebuke of Jesus with the words, “God forbid…” We think of that now as a colloquialism, but I believe Peter literally meant exactly what he said. He wanted God to forbid Jesus to do such a thing. But Jesus saw that Peter was not thinking with a transformed mind; that he needed to begin thinking as God does, not as human beings do.

      How often are we like Peter, or even Jeremiah for that matter, when we look at the way that God has chosen for us and we see it with minds that are not transformed by the Gospels? We may have had experiences of God revealing Himself very clearly in our lives, but we still hold onto the old ways of thinking. We are not yet able to “discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

      We must seek more diligently after God in order to allow Him to transform our minds and hearts. We must cry out like the psalmist: “for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless, and without water.” We must “gaze toward [Him] in the sanctuary to see [His] power and [His] glory,” and let Him take our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God,” so that He can transform our minds. We must open our minds and hearts that He would pour out His Spirit upon us like the “riches of a banquet” that will satisfy our souls. We must “cling fast to [Him]” that He would uphold us.

      Consider Eucharistic adoration. This is a perfect opportunity for you to enter His sanctuary and let Him fill you with His presence so that He can transform your mind. A long time ago, I had a friend who challenged me to spend an hour before the Blessed Sacrament every day for a month. I modified that a little and only spent a half hour each day, stopping at an open church after work each evening. And although there were times when I felt like I got nothing out of it, after 30 days, I saw changes in my life. God was indeed beginning to transform me.

      I still have a long way to go. I still cry out to God sometimes, complaining about the situations I believe He has brought me to, feeling very much like He duped me as well. But, as I continue to cling to God, I know He has a plan for me that is better than anything I could imagine or have chosen for myself.

      God is patient. His plan unfolds gradually, in the world, and in each of our lives. Wait patiently for Him, trust in Him, and you will eventually see His hand at work, transforming you and your life into what is good and pleasing to Him.

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isaiah 22:19-23; Psalm 138; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20

      “Grant your people… to desire what you promise.”

      The first thing that stood out to me today was from the Collect—the opening prayer of Mass: “grant your people to love what you command and to desire what you promise, that…our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found.”

      We are praying not that God would gives us our desires, but that He would give us a love for what He desires! He wants to change our hearts; to help us think anew about the world and ourselves. He doesn’t just want to be our cosmic Santa Claus who gives us all we want; He desires to transform us and make us into the image of His Son, so that we would desire only what is best—for us and for those around us.

      I must admit that the key words of the Gospel reading did not jump out at me today. “But who do you say that I am?” It wasn’t until our pastor began to speak in his homily that I was touched by those words.

      Our pastor shared about a trip he took to the Holy Land several years earlier. He said that he was spending some quiet time in the evening on the grounds of his hotel and God spoke very clearly to him and asked him, “Who do you say that I am?” Being a Catholic for many years and a priest for some years at that point, he felt like God should know how he felt about Him.

      The next evening, the same thing happened again. It was then the priest realized that what God was asking of him was to know who he thought God was to him NOW. How did he see his relationship with God at that moment?

      I thought about that and realized that over the years my view of the answer to that question has changed. There are many names for God in the Bible, each of them referring to some attribute of God’s relationship to us. “El Shaddai” means God almighty, Elohim means the creator, Yahweh Yireh means God provides, Yahweh Ropheka is the God who heals, Yahweh Shalom is the God of peace, and so on. The name that immediately struck me as my pastor was speaking was “Abba,” God my father. And I think it’s interesting that Jesus would reveal that name of God to us when he taught His disciples the Lord’s prayer. It’s translation is not “Father” as we understand the formal term; it is more correctly translated “Daddy.” Can you imagine the shock that this group of Hebrew men experienced when Jesus told them that? In Hebrew culture, they had great reverence for God and His name, so much so that they dared not speak it at times. Yet, here was Jesus telling them to call God their daddy.

      And I am learning to do the same. This God who created the universe, who controls the winds and the seas, holds me in the palm of His hand and calls me “son.” I am overwhelmed by that thought sometimes.

      I have been listening to a few worship songs recently that speak of that. “Come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide…” and “You’re a good, good father, that’s Who You are, that’s Who You are. And I am loved by You, that’s who I am, that’s who I am.”

      God desires to transform me so that I would become more like His son Jesus. And He knows best the area where I need the most help to allow Him to transform me.

      In the Offertory prayer, we pray that the God “who gained for yourself a people by adoption through the one sacrifice offered once for all...” We are adopted into His family; we are His children.

      It talks in the first reading about Eliakim being given the office of Shebna and in the Gospel a parallel reading where Simon is given an office as well, and even a new name to show his transformation, which was only beginning at that time.

      God calls each of us. And He calls us in different ways to different places in His kingdom. But He does have a place for each of us, and He wants to transform each of us to be able to fulfill that role He has called us to.

      Open your heart. Let God speak to you, calling your name. And then pray for the strength to be able to answer with your whole heart. What He has called you to is far better than anything you would have chosen for yourself.

      And then we can pray with the psalmist, “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart…I will sing your praise; I will worship at your holy temple.”

      Jesus is calling. As the song says, “Come to the altar…” and receive Him Who will transform your life; He Who will make you new again. He’s waiting for you.

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 67; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

      “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

      What a remarkable thing for Jesus to say! And how shocking it must have been to be on the receiving end of that comment. Essentially, Jesus is calling the woman a dog and saying she has no right to ask a favor of him.

      How would I have reacted to a statement like that if it had been directed at me? I’m sure I would not have been as humble as that woman was. But her great need helped her to put aside her own feelings of self-righteousness and continue to beg God for what she asked. How she must have loved her daughter!

      Her answer to Jesus not only shows humility, but also great wisdom. She is willing to bargain with God even after He insults her! “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table…”

      Christ sees her faith and her putting aside herself in order to receive from Him. And so, He grants her wish. I was reading a little meditation on this Scripture that talked about that very thing. How, if we can truly abandon ourselves to God, then nothing can shake us from continuing to hold onto Him and eventually see His hand working in our lives.

      The Collect—the prayer at the opening of Mass—says the following: “…fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of your love, so that, loving you in all things and above all things, we may obtain your promises…”

      Loving You in all things and above all things. Can we do that? Sometimes I believe that I can love God above all things, but then He usually shows me somewhere in my life where I am still holding onto something that I love more than Him. But the really hard one for me would be to love Him in all things. That means all the circumstances of my life as well as all the difficult people in my life. Can I love Him there?

      We have been given a great gift in being allowed to be called His children. It says in the reading from Romans, “just as you once disobeyed God, but have now received mercy…” because of the disobedience of the Jewish people. And then he continues, “God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.”

      We don’t understand why God orchestrates things the way He does. But we know that everything is planned in order to bring all of us into the kingdom. The psalm today says, “May God have pity on us and bless us… so may your ways be known upon earth; among all nations, your salvation.” God desires nothing more than that ALL be saved, that all become one in Him.

      So, what’s a little dying to self with all that at stake? Can we do it? Can we let our self-righteous go and humble ourselves before God, recognizing our unworthiness because of our disobedience, and then beg Him for His mercy? We may be surprised to find that He tells us, “great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a; Psalm 85; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:22-33

      “…there was a tiny whispering sound.”

      When I first looked at today’s readings, I didn’t sense any particular theme running through them. But the more I looked at them and prayed over them, the sense that emerged for me was that God often acts unexpectedly in our lives.

      Elijah could have expected the Lord to come in a mighty wind or an earthquake or fire. Hadn’t the Israelites experienced something similar when Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the Law? And, in the Gospel reading, Jesus “made the disciples get into the boat and precede him” so that he could later walk on the water toward them. He planned it!

      Yet, I think the surprising thing in these readings is how the people reacted. Elijah knew that God was not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. He recognized God in the “tiny whispering sound.” Peter and the disciples did not recognize Jesus at first—they thought it was a ghost! Once Peter recognized Jesus, he had the courage to step out of the boat and begin to walk toward Jesus on the water! Maybe we forget that. Maybe we just remember that he sank because he had so little faith. But he actually did begin to walk on the water! He was able to do the unexpected because he knew Jesus and who He was.

      Even St. Paul, in the reading from Romans, recognized the Messiah in the unexpected carpenter from Nazareth. And his reaction was to believe so firmly that he had “great sorrow and constant anguish in (his) heart” when his fellow Jews did not believe.

      Do we recognize Jesus in the unexpected? Are we attuned enough to our Savior that we can see Jesus working in the circumstances of our life that are sometimes so confusing or so frightening or seemingly so hopeless? Can we see Him there? Can we hear His still, small voice calling to us to “take courage…do not be afraid”?

      One of the things that stood out most to me at Mass was from the Collect—the opening prayer. We prayed that “taught by the Spirit, we dare to call [God] our Father,” and ask that He “bring…to perfection in our hearts the spirit of adoption as [His] sons and daughters.”

      We are His children! We are beloved by Him because of that. That amazes me. And then I see that He loves us so much that He desires the intimacy of letting us receive Him, body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the Eucharist. He wants to give Himself completely to us in the Eucharist! What more unexpected way could God come to us than that? But are we able to see Him there? Do we realize what an honor, what a privilege, what a joy it is to go forward and encounter our God there in the bread and wine now changed into His precious body and blood?

      Look for God in the unexpected in your life. Look for Him in the little ways, the hidden ways, in the moments of silence and stillness. And look for Him when you come forward to receive the Eucharist. Let your reception of the sacrament be a true encounter with your Father who loves you and gives Himself completely to you. And then offer yourself completely to Him in return. You cannot imagine the joy your will experience as you deepen your relationship with your Father. And the peace and the wholeness that comes from that.

      “I will hear what God proclaims, the Lord—for he proclaims peace. Near indeed in his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land.”

 

 

 

 

 

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