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Forgiving others is crucial (and maybe easier than you think.)

September 12, 2020

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In Jesus’ parable today, a servant owes his king a huge debt, more precisely (in the original Greek) 10,000 silver talents. This was an amount equal to 150,000 years’ worth of labor in the ancient world, something akin to $4.5 billion today. It’s an unrepayable debt, but the servant’s king is rich in compassion; he feels pity and forgives the man’s entire loan.

Now, this servant was a creditor himself, and one of his fellow servants owed him a significant but much smaller amount, literally 100 denarii, which was 100 days’ wages back then. Think of it like $10,000. The newly debt-free man sought out this fellow servant and started to choke him, demanding, “Pay back what you owe!” Despite pleading for patient mercy, that first servant put the second into debtors’ prison until he should pay back his debt.

Now when other servants witnessed all of this they felt deeply troubled by it. They went and reported the whole situation to the king and master of them all. The king summoned the unforgiving servant and pronounced a swift judgment: “You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” Then, in anger, his master threw him into debtors’ prison as well until he should pay back his whole debt.

The king was clearly angry. One rarely-considered reason for his anger is that all of these servants were his own. The 100 denarii debtor suffered by being tossed into prison, his fellow servants suffered from witnessing the scandal, and all of this impacted the king personally. Their distress affects him deeply, for the king is compassionate, but it affected him in another way as well: his servants being detained or disturbed by this unhappy affair kept them from doing his important work. They’re all his servants, but the actions of one impeded the others from freely and fully fulfilling his will.

Of course, the king and master in this parable represents God. Who on earth forgives someone’s $4.5 billion personal debt like our Lord forgives the debt of our sins? And we are each his servants, like St. Paul says, “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” So, if we are to learn a lesson from the servant whose great debt was forgiven, how can we avoid imprisoning or impeding our fellow servants? Through merciful love.

When someone is angry with you, yells at you, or criticizes you, when you know someone dislikes or despises you, how does that affect you? Does your tension and anxiety go up? Do you think about that person and the situation obsessively? Do you run scenarios in your mind about what you wish you had said or done previously, or what you’ll do the next time you cross paths? Do you avoid that person, or the places they could be, and feel uncomfortable in their presence? Do you gossip to others about your ongoing bitter conflict, thereby spreading the scandal to them? If so, then you’re being imprisoned, partially impeded in your peaceful service of our Lord.

We can easily have this effect on others by how we treat them. And cherishing and nurturing our own anger makes a prisoner of yourself to anger. When you experience some slight or shortcoming from another, be gracious. Maybe just let it be; let it pass. Give their actions a most-generous interpretation. Mistakes are more common than malevolence. And you yourself have bad days, too.

Sometimes, though, we need to address matters for the common good. As we heard about last week, love sometimes calls us to do fraternally correction. But when we do it, let’s do it with a kindly, gentle spirit, sharing the truth in love that they might be able to receive it. Merciful love is necessary to keep each other out of prison, the prison of unrepentance and the prison unforgiveness.

In the Our Father, we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus teaches his disciples, “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” And at the end of today’s parable, Jesus warns us that our fate will be like that of the unforgiving servant ‘unless you forgive your brother from your heart.’ Now many Christians find this teaching deeply disconcerting. They’re troubled because they believe they just can’t forgive. But I usually find they think this because they imagine forgiveness means something it’s not.

Forgiving is not the same thing as forgetting. You can’t force yourself to have amnesia and forget. You might remember the misdeed for the rest of your life. And forgiveness doesn’t mean saying what someone did wasn’t serious or wrong. The offense committed may have been a grave sin and to say otherwise would be a lie. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what someone did no longer hurts. Only grace and time can heal some wounds, but we can forgive even with lingering pains. Forgiveness doesn’t require you to pretend nothing happened. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that everything must go back to the way it was before. Forgiveness might lead to full reconciliation, but not always. You can forgive someone even before they can be trusted. You can forgive even before they are sorry for what they did. Why? Because forgiveness means loving someone despite the wrongs that they have done.

Forgiveness is loving someone despite their sins. Is there someone you’re worried that you haven’t forgiven? Then pray for them, because you can’t hate someone and pray for them at the same time. Is there someone you find it hard to pray for? Then that’s whom you should pray for, for their sake and for yours. Jesus came to reconcile us to one another and to the Father. So have mercy. Jesus works to heal the wounds of sin and division. So have mercy. And Jesus intercedes for us with our Father. So have mercy, too.

Coming Home — Funeral Homily for Michael “Mike” Morning, 69

September 7, 2020

The communities of St. Paul’s and St. John the Baptist’s offer you our sympathy at Mike’s passing. We also offer the support of our prayers with this, Jesus Christ’s perfect offering to the Father, in the Holy Mass. May our prayers help Mike on his way, and help all of you as well, whom he dearly loved and dearly loves; especially Jackie, whom he married at St. John the Baptist Church 43 years ago, and his siblings, his friends, his nieces and nephews, grandchildren and godchildren, and others.

I often say that no brief funeral homily can capture the full mystery of a Christian life, and you who have known Mike for years surely know him better than I. The best I can do is to examine one part of his life which reflects something of the whole story for Mike, and you, and me.

Among the many things Mike did on earth, he had an active role in establishing the Eagleton Softball and Baseball fields. If you don’t know it, Eagleton is a small, unincorporated town to the southeast from here, seven and a half miles down the road. Their baseball field is no Major League park like Wrigley or Fenway, but Mike was right to be proud of it. He looked at what he had made and saw that it was good. With outfield fences some 250 feet out, lights for nighttime play, four bases and a mound; it had everything needed to host the game.

Baseball and softball are somewhat unique among sports. In most sports, the offense side carries, catches, throws, or kicks the ball to score. But baseball and softball are among the few games where the defense side controls the ball. Batters who are up don’t exactly know what pitches will be thrown their way, but they get to choose their swings. Some of them advance, but many strike out.

A good coach can help them though; giving them signs and instructions on which pitches to swing at and which pitches to take, and, once on base, when and how to advance further. Through his past experience as a player, his intimate knowledge of the game, and his personal investment in training his players, a great coach can produce hall of famers. In addition to the indispensable coach, teammates are important too, in helping to get home.

As it is in baseball and softball so it is in life. We do not control what’s thrown our way, what curveballs come across the plate, but we each must decide how to swing in our at bat. Will we listen to the wisdom of our coach, who has been in our shoes himself, and who earnestly desires that after forming us in his likeness that we could be called up to the big leagues far from here.

Jesus encourages us in today’s gospel, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” If we would listen and allow him, Jesus promises to lead us home, and tells us we know the way. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” he says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

In baseball and softball as in life, our goal is to get home. Mike might already be there with the holy hall of famers in Heaven, but in case he is still rounding the bases, let us as his teammates and friends aid him in getting home through our prayers. And may each of us heed and follow Christ our coach and play this one pivotal game of life so as to win.

Saving Dates & Saving Souls

September 5, 2020

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The just shall flourish like the palm tree… They shall bear fruit even in old age, they will stay fresh and green…” (Psalm 92)

In the time of Jesus, forests of Judean date palms covered the whole region from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. This plant, the date palm, symbolized ancient Israel. When the scriptures call Israel “the land of milk and honey” we today think of cow’s milk and the honey of bees. But milk in the Old Testament is just as likely to be goat’s milk and the honey it refers to is usually the sweet honey of dates. By the 1500’s, human activity or changes in the climate had caused the Judean date palm to disappear. Because of that species’ extinction, the date palm plants grown across Israel today were brought over from California in the 1950’s and 60’s; they’re different in species and originally native to elsewhere in the Middle East. However, the Judean date palm was not to be lost forever.

The Judean Date Palm Tree Methuselah in 2018

During the 1960’s, archaeologists excavated the mountaintop palace fortress of Masasda built by King Herod the Great near the Dead Sea. There they found, preserved dry and sheltered in an ancient jar, a cache of date seeds which carbon testing indicates are 2,000 years old. These seeds were kept in storage at an Israeli university in Tel Aviv for forty years. Then, in 2006, an American-educated horticulturalist in Israel planted several of those seeds. To her and her colleagues’ delighted surprise, one sprouted. They named that plant after the oldest person in the Old Testament, Methuselah. Today it’s over eleven feet tall. After their success with Methuselah, they planted more ancient date seeds from Masada and the caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, and six new samplings have grown. They hope to pollinate one or more of the new female palms with pollen from Methuselah, which is male palm, eventually yielding the famous delicious dates of ancient times.

While the fruit of Judean date palms was celebrated for its sweet flavor and medicinal uses, its palm branches are also noteworthy. They were probably the kind of palm branches that the crowds waved and laid before Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on the Sunday before he was killed, the day we call Palm Sunday. Jesus once lamented: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Jesus knew the history of the prophets as he entered Jerusalem – how God would send them to proclaim the right path to his people, usually urging conversion from their sins. Heeding the truth will set you free; but first, it may make you uncomfortable, defensive, and angry. God’s people typically resisted the saving message and derided, denounced, attacked, imprisoned, and killed the prophets. And then, the unhappy consequences the prophets had foretold would follow naturally and unchecked. Knowing how reluctant sinners are to listen and change, why did the prophets bother? And what was the point of it all when people so rarely listened? I suggest God’s prophets had three motivations.

One was to personally avoid God’s judgment themselves. In our first reading, the Lord warns the prophet Ezekiel: “You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.” The prophets did not want to be condemned for failing to do their holy duty.

A second motivation of the prophets was love, love for God and love for their neighbors. As St. Paul told the Romans in our second reading: “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… whatever other commandment there may be, [is] summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If you were in danger, recklessly or unknowingly headed towards some serious physical or spiritual harm, don’t you wish someone would warn you? The prophets loved enough to try.

And a third motivation of the prophets was hope, hope that one day, perhaps many years later, the people they spoke to would be saved. The previously rebellious people, seeing their city ruined and their kingdom conquered as the prophets had foretold, would know that God had warned them and know that their next step should be to return to the Lord and walk in his ways. What motivated the prophets of old should motivate us as well, for many people go astray today.

Brothers… if a person is caught in some transgression,” St. Paul tells the Galatians, “you who are spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit…” Jesus teaches us in today’s gospel, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault (privately,) between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have (successfully) won over your brother.” And as St. James writes in his New Testament letter, “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Fraternal correction isn’t fun, I know, but “admonishing the sinner” is a spiritual work of mercy you and I as Christians are called to do. Like the prophets, we are to place seeds, seeds containing the power and potential to yield sweet and healing fruit. Sometimes these seeds produce an immediate holy harvest through conversion. Yet we know our seeds will often be set aside, discarded, and forgotten; until, perhaps many years later after much desolation, these dormant seeds’ true and precious value is recognized, they’re allowed to sprout with deep new roots, and life that was once lost and dead is fully restored, producing good fruits again, to the joy of all God’s people.

Her Very Close Friends — Funeral Homily for Doris Prince, 92

September 2, 2020

Doris has been a faithful and longtime parishioner of St. John the Baptist’s in Cooks Valley. At the end of this hour, we will be taking her earthly remains there, to St. John’s Cemetery, to await day of the resurrection. The reason we gathered here at St. Paul’s Church for Doris’ funeral Mass was to guarantee that there would be enough space in church for all of you to attend. There are now more than seven and a half billion people living on this earth. Consider that you who are gathered here (plus those who attended Doris’ visitation yesterday) are the people on earth who know her best and love her best. There are many ways one could preach a funeral homily for a devout woman like Doris, but I believe Doris is pleased to know that I am going to speak to you about friends of hers who have known her and loved her better than any of us here. You’ve probably never met them and you don’t know most of their names. They formally introduced themselves to Doris herself for the first time only just last week, but they have been faithfully there for her and she has been fond of them for many years. I speak of the angels.

Doris had a huge collection of angels she collected over the past fifty years or more. There were more than two hundred of them within her house, some in almost every room. She had angels of all kinds; porcelain angels, plastic angels, cloth angels, some glittery angels, some outdoor angels, some that glowed in the dark, and that some played music, all for Doris to delight in. In her later years, an angel was the go-to gift one gave to her. After moving into the nursing home seven years ago, Doris began giving away her angels as gifts herself. She even gave them out to surprised trick-or-treaters. God has similarly collected angels for his own delight, and the Lord has shared his angels with us, to lead us to the Father’s house on the mountain of God to share in their heavenly joy.

What is an angel? Angels are purely spiritual beings, created by God but not made of matter. Angels are personal and immortal creatures possessing intellect and will, knowing and choosing. They surpass in perfection every earthly creatures we can see. Never having fallen, they are sinless and glorious; loving God, one another, and human beings with a intense and extraordinary devotion. Precious Moments statues rightly depict angels as pure and innocent, but these small and fragile figurines do not reflect angels’ awesome power and often intimidating presence. The Bible records that angels who reveal their otherworldly glory to human beings throughout salvation history have typically needed to first calm and reassure, “Be not afraid.”

God sends angels to us as his servants and messengers. As the Book of Hebrews rhetorically confirms, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” Though “some have entertained angels unawares,” we seem to rarely see angels; yet, angels are never far from us, even the smallest children. Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in Heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” So, even the littlest ones have angels. Each of us, from the beginning to the end of our lives, have been assigned a guardian angel whose mission from God is to help to enlighten, and guard, and rule, and guide us through this world. In the words of St. Basil, “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.

Each angel has a name, but we know only three individual angels’ names from Scripture, all of them archangels: St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. An archangel announced the first coming of Jesus to the Virgin Mary; and today’s second reading from St. Paul says an archangel’s voice will announce to us the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus descending from Heaven. We have no authority to name our angels; they are named by God and belong to him, but we may ask our angels to reveal their names to us.

Your relationship with Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, is most essential, but do you have a personal relationship with your guardian angel as well? We can and should have a relationship with our angels. Thank them for their assistance and ask them for their help. We can ask them to pray for us. The New Testament Letter of St. James says, “The prayers of a righteous person are very powerful,” so imagine how powerful these sinless creatures’ prayers are before God.

We can ask them to remind us of important things because angels never forget. They are brilliant creatures, more intelligent than any of us, and we can ask them to enlighten us. (For instance, I asked angels’ help in writing this homily.) We can also ask them to go on small missions for us, to lend aid to others we care about wherever they may be. Our angel guardians’ ultimate mission is to lead us to salvation. The angels are more glorious than any creature on earth, but their humble and earnest desire is that we would become even more glorious than themselves in Heaven.

Doris has been a friend to the angels. May you be their Christian friends as well. For our beloved, devout, and faithful Doris, who surrounded herself with angels, and someday for all of us here:

“May choirs of angels lead you into paradise,
and may the martyrs come to welcome you,
to bring you home into the holy city,
so you may dwell in new Jerusalem.

May holy angels be there at your welcoming,
with all the saints who go before you there,
that you may know the peace and joy of paradise;
that you may enter into everlasting rest.”

Your Chosen Cross

August 30, 2020

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In last Sunday’s gospel, Simon Peter was inspired to declare of Jesus, ‘you are the Messiah, you are the Christ,‘ and Jesus affirmed that it was true. Then, immediately following in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus begins to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the Jewish religious leaders, be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter is scandalized by this news. The Messiah is supposed to be our triumphant king! How could the Christ suffer and be killed? Peter has seen Jesus’ powers; like curing the sick, casting out demons, multiplying loaves and fish. The Lord doesn’t have to let anyone get the better of him. Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Peter presumes that he knows better than the Lord. Jesus turns and says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” (“Satan” is the Hebrew word for “adversary.”) You are [being] an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.

God the Father did not prepare an easy life for his beloved Son. That’s what Peter had hoped for, a smooth and easy path to glory. Jesus’ life was marked by joy and sadness, struggles and sacrifice, death and resurrection. Christ’s was not an easy life but a great and glorious life, and Jesus calls you and I to follow him. Jesus says to his disciples, “whoever wishes to save his life (from every trial, hardship, and sacrifice) will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake (whoever devotes himself in love and service for me) will find it. Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” This call included Peter. Notice how Jesus in correcting Peter does not say to him “Depart from me, you accursed,” but rather “Get behind me”; in other words, “Follow me.

In the New Testament, we see that Simon Peter was not perfect. Both before and after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter made mistakes. Yet Peter’s faith in Jesus Christ was a foundation the Lord could build upon. And through a lifetime of providential trials, Simon Peter grew more and more into Christ’s likeness. Peter became the first pope, the first bishop of Rome, and while there, in 64 A.D., the Roman Emperor Nero unleashed a severe persecution of Christians, scapegoating the Church for a six-day fire that devastated Rome in July of that year. One tradition says that Peter, seeing the danger, reasoned that it would be better to flee the persecution so he could continue to lead the Church. However, on his way out of the city, Peter had a vision of Jesus walking in the opposite direction. Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?” (“Domine, quo vadis,” in Latin.) “I am going to Rome to be crucified again,” Jesus replied.

This story comes to us from a late second century text and may or may not be pious legend, but what follows is very firmly known. St. Peter was arrested and condemned to die by crucifixion at Rome. However, Peter did not consider himself worthy to die in the very same manner as our Lord, so he made an unusual request. He asked to be crucified upside down, with his feet toward Heaven and his head toward the earth, and this is what the soldiers did. Peter died, his body was taken down from his cross, and Christians buried him in a grave very close-by. That place, a Roman hill, bears the same name now as it did then: Vatican Hill. The Emperor Constantine built a church over the place in the fourth century, and an even more magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica was built over the same site in the 1500’s and stands there to this day.

In the mid-twentieth century, archaeologists uncovered and forensic scientists studied ancient bones from below St. Peter’s, found some sixty feet directly below the main altar. Analysis indicates these bones came from a man between sixty and seventy years old, about five foot seven inches tall; and possessing a robust frame, as we might expect a fisherman to have. These bones were formerly wrapped in a very expensive cloth comprised of gold and purple threads in the pattern of an ancient Roman weave. The skeleton is largely complete but the feet are missing. If the Roman soldiers had no respect for Peter’s remains, it’s easy to imagine them using a sword to hack down his body from the cross, leaving his feet behind, nailed high on the wood. Jesus once declared, “You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church.” It appears that Jesus has not only fulfilled his words spiritually, through St. Peter’s faithful life, but has literally built his Church over St. Peter’s bones as well. This is what Jesus did and achieved with a man formerly so flawed and fickle as St. Peter. The Lord would do great things through the transformative trials of our lives as well.

Once upon a time, one night, a Christian had a dream. They were carrying a cross, representing all of their burdens, temptations, and trials, and approached Jesus standing beside a large warehouse. The Christian said, “Lord, my cross is hard to carry. May I exchange it for another?” Jesus invited them inside the warehouse containing millions of crosses of different styles, materials, and sizes. Walking the aisles, the Christian sees an attractive, short cross with straight edges and flat sides made of pure gold. Gold is extremely heavy, about ten times denser than brick, so the Christian was not strong enough to lift it up. Going further on, there was a beautiful, tall and thin cross made entirely of diamonds. Now diamonds are very hard; they are sometimes employed at the tips of drill bits because they are harder than pretty much anything else. The Christian could lift this cross, but it poked and gnawed and cut into one’s palms and shoulder, so it was set down again. Circling back, the Christian saw a wooden cross of head-height leaning against the wall. Its sides were uneven but wear had smoothed them. It was not light, but not too heavy to carry. It was a simple cross, but a noble one. The Christian returned to Jesus and said, “This is the cross I’d like to carry.” And Jesus replied, “That’s the cross you came here with.

Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Great Gifts Gained

August 16, 2020

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus withdraws to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Sidon and Tyre were two pagan cities on the Mediterranean seacoast. Both cities still exist today, about twenty-five and fifty miles south of Beirut, in Lebanon. In today’s gospel, a local, non-Jewish, Canaanite woman, a gentile, finds Jesus and wins a grace from him.

This gospel story from Matthew is also told in Mark. Combining these two accounts, we learn that Jesus was staying in a house there and wanted nobody to know about it, yet he could not escape notice. This woman heard about Jesus, and came to him pleading. She cries out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But surprisingly, Jesus does not say a word in answer to her. His disciples even complain to Jesus: “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” Jesus replies, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (That is, the Jews.) The woman comes, kneeling at his feet, and says, “Lord, help me.” He tells her: “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the little dogs.” What’s going on with this unexpected reaction from Jesus?

Previously in Matthew’s Gospel, another gentile, a Roman centurion, a commander of soldiers, asked Jesus to heal his servant who was lying at home paralyzed and suffering dreadfully. Luke records that at the time some Jewish elders were urging Jesus to save the man’s dying servant, saying, “He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.” Jesus said, “I will come and cure him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him and, turning, said to the crowd following him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” From this we can gather that the centurion was more than just an unbelieving pagan, but a God-fearer; that is to say, he was a gentile who believed in and worshiped the God of Israel yet had not gone all the way over to becoming a Jew himself, enduring circumcision and keeping all the rules of the Law of Moses. The centurion showed great faith in both Yahweh and Jesus as the Christ. Perhaps Jesus’ challenging reply to the pagan woman was to elicit from her a greater display of faith in both God and Jesus as well.

In Matthew, a couple of chapters after healing the centurion’s servant, Jesus sends out the twelve apostles on mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God, having first instructed them: “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” That’s just like he tells the woman, a few chapters later, in our gospel. Maybe Jesus is trying to keep a low profile during his stay near Tyre and Sidon and reluctant to work any miracles there because the time is not yet ripe for the pagans to be evangelized. “Let the children be fed first,” he tells the woman, signaling that her people will be fed later. This is the mission to the gentiles St. Paul speaks of in today’s second reading. Yet the woman wins Jesus over and he grants the miracle she seeks.

How does she do it? Through her faith, hope, and love, her asking and persistence, and her great humility. She has faith, calling him “Son of David,” a title for the Messiah. She hopes that he can heal and free her beloved daughter, the love for whom has led her to this encounter. She asks and keeps asking, until her humility wins the day. When Jesus tells her, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the little dogs,” she doesn’t hurl an insult at him, or storm off enraged. She replies, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” The eternal, divine, Son of God, who so had incredibly humbled himself by becoming human as an obedient suffering servant, admires this reply. She wins the dialogue by humbly speaking the truth. As a result of her faith, hope, and love, persistent asking, and humility, Jesus says to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour. Upon her return home she finds her daughter well, lying in bed, and the demon gone.

This Canaanite’s story provides a lesson for us in our life of prayer. When you wish to approach Jesus to ask for some grace imitate the virtues we see in her. Perhaps there is also a lesson in her example for how we dialogue with others, especially about contentious topics; at home in daily life, or in society during this election year. And here is a final reflection for our benefit. Imagine how joyful and grateful the woman must have been when she came home and found her daughter cured. She knew this was because of Jesus. It was a foretaste of the gifts and graces which were to come to the gentile nations. And the Church of Christ has since spanned across the world to us here and now, few of whom have much biological connection to the Jews. Most of us here have been Catholic for as long as we can remember. It’s been a given for us. But here’s a question for a car ride discussion or to bring to your prayer: If you couldn’t be Catholic anymore, and further, if you couldn’t be a Christian anymore, what things would you miss the most?

The gifts of Jesus which come to my mind are having a life with meaning, purpose, and hope. I’m not seeking to hasten my death, but I do not regard dying with horror. I posses a Sacred Tradition of moral truths which is not merely my opinion or the changing opinion of culture, but God’s teachings for how to live. And I have, in this era without heroes, a Communion of Saints on earth and in Heaven, to inspire and support me. Consider, discuss, and pray about this question yourself. Give thanks and rejoice that these great gifts are now yours through Jesus Christ and his Church.

The Saint Lawrence

August 10, 2020

The Feast of St. Lawrence

The Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario) comprise the largest body of freshwater in the world. All told, these five lakes contain one-fifth of all the freshwater on the surface of the earth, about six quadrillion gallons (that’s six million billions) a figure not fully fathomable for the human mind. Like all moving waters, these flow downhill from high to low. Near Buffalo, New York, between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, they descend 167 feet with a mighty rushing sound at Niagara Falls. Leaving Lake Ontario, they become a river that flows past a “royal mountain” and city of the same name: Montréal. The name of this river in which whales swim, which empties into the world-spanning ocean, is the Saint Lawrence River.

The river is named for St. Lawrence, one of the Seven Deacons of Rome under St. Pope Sixtus II. (Both of these saints’ names are invoked at Mass in Eucharistic Prayer I.) In 258 A.D., the Roman Emperor Valerian issued an edict commanding that all bishops, priests, and deacons should immediately be put to death. The pope and many others were martyred, including St. Lawrence on his present feast day, August 10th. Back then, deacons managed the Church’s funds and charitable efforts. Though the tale is uncertain, St. Ambrose of Milan writes that when his persecutors demanded that Archdeacon Lawrence handover the Church’s treasures, he showed them the poor and the sick. This same source also recounts how during his slow death upon a gridiron over a fire St. Lawrence quipped, “I am cooked on that side; turn me over…

God’s graces are like The Great Lakes; vast, life-giving waters beyond our full comprehension. They flow down from above into a channel open to receive them, like the Saint Lawrence. Through such rivers, waters pour forth across the world in the sight of the Royal Mountain and the City of God to the delight of the angels. Let us imitate St. Lawrence and God’s other saints who by humble willingness became mighty streams of His goodness and glory.

 

Praying Like Jesus

August 9, 2020

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

From the start to the finish of his public ministry, Jesus makes time for private, personal prayer. We see this throughout the gospels. In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, the morning after Jesus cured Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and others in the town of Capernaum, it says, “Rising very early before dawn, (Jesus) left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” Then, before calling certain men from among his many followers to form his key inner circle, Luke’s Gospel notes: “(Jesus) departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named apostles.” And Matthew’s Gospel records how, on the night before he died, “Jesus came with (eleven of those Apostles) to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his apostles, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter, James, and John, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Today’s gospel begins with another example of Jesus’ commitment to private, personal prayer.

After Jesus had fed the crowds with the loaves and the fishes (which we heard about last Sunday) he made the apostles get into a boat and depart before him for the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Then Jesus went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening, he was there alone. Like the Prophet Elijah in our first reading, who retreated to a mountain to encounter God, Jesus seeks out a quiet and deserted place to pray. Though the wind, the earthquake, and the fire outside of Elijah’s cave all reflect something of God’s glory, chasing after these would be a distraction. God’s presence is revealed to Elijah as “a tiny whispering sound.” Do you put yourself in a place, do you give yourself enough time and space and silence, to encounter within you God’s tiny whispering sound through prayer? If it was very important for Jesus Christ the Son of God to devote focused time for prayer (and he did) how much moreso for you and me?

What was on Jesus’ mind and heart the night he prayed in today’s gospel? What did Jesus take to prayer? Recall that John the Baptist had recently been murdered. John’s disciples, after burying his body, went and told Jesus. When Jesus hears this news, he withdraws in a boat for a deserted place with the apostles where he finds thousands awaiting him. He heals them and teaches them and feeds them all. Then he dismisses the crowds, sends the apostles off ahead of him, and goes up the mountain to pray alone.

Was Jesus feeling sad that evening? Our Blessed Lord once said, “Blessed are they who mourn.” And he himself wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus mourning at the death of John the Baptist, his friend, relative, and ally, is easy to imagine. Might Jesus have felt angry that night? Anger is the natural human reaction to a perceived injustice, and what happened to John was gravely wrong, a great injustice. Anger, like all human emotion, can be turned toward good or evil. For instance, zeal for his Father’s house moved Jesus to make a righteous mess of a marketplace that was hindering peoples’ worship and profaning the temple in Jerusalem. There are a number a divinely-inspired prayers among the Psalms which give voice to human sorrows, frustrations, and anxieties.

Did Jesus feel stress and strain about the steps of the path ahead of him? When people saw Jesus multiply those loaves and fishes, John’s Gospel tells us the crowd was going to carry him off to make him King of Israel, the Messiah of their dreams. But that would have derailed Christ’s redemptive mission as the Lamb of God, so Jesus did not permit his followers to do so. Jesus’ enemies, of course, presented obstacles as well. How was Jesus to reach and drink the cup at his mission’s end? In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus under great stress and strain even speak to his Father about the course of the Father’s plan. In prayer, Jesus could bring to God his Father, whatever he thought or felt.

Did Jesus pray for other people? In our second reading, St. Paul reveals a “great sorrow and constant anguish” in his heart. He swears by the Holy Spirit that he could wish himself “cut off from Christ,” could wish himself condemned to Hell, if that would somehow lead his people, the Jews, to Heaven. Do you think Paul prayed with that sorrow and anguish for others’ salvation? If Paul prays with such intense feeling, how much moreso does Jesus pray for the salvation of others from his Sacred Heart?

Jesus Christ is not only our Lord and Savior, he’s the best example for our Christian life. We must learn from him and imitate him. Here are three things Jesus does that we all should do likewise. First, Jesus makes time for private, personal prayer. Whether early morning or late at night, he created time for communing with the God who loves and leads him. Turn off the car radio, the TV, the devices, to make some silence to hear within you the “tiny whispering sound” of God. Second, Jesus prays with everything on his mind and heart. No thought or feeling need be hidden from the God who knows and loves you better than you do yourself. The Holy Trinity and our other heavenly friends want us to share these things, so that we may grow close together in their likeness and friendship. And third, Jesus prays for himself and others. Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore, if you only pray for yourself, or only pray for other people, something is out of balance in your prayer. In conclusion, make time for personal private prayer. Pray about anything on your mind and heart. And pray for yourself and others. Make this sacrifice, give yourself this gift, of communing in prayer with the Lord who loves and leads you.

The Disciples’ Burdens

August 2, 2020

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Only one miracle (besides the Resurrection) appears in all four Gospels: that’s today miracle – Jesus’ multiplication of five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food to feed more than five thousand people. Bringing all four of these Gospel accounts together provides us with a detailed picture of that day, one of the most amazing days in Jesus’ ministry. However, for the apostles, much of that day probably felt far from awesome.

First, the terrible news had recently arrived that John the Baptist had been murdered by the government, his neck severed by a soldier at Herod’s command. John the Baptist was Jesus’ beloved relative. At least two of the apostles had once been John’s own disciples. They all held the Baptizer in high esteem. So the unjust killing of this righteous man was shocking, and the senseless death of their friend was sorrowful.

Another strain on them that day was their shared fatigue. The apostles had just come back from the villages Jesus had sent them out to in missionary pairs to preach, and heal, and cast out evil spirits. Upon their return to Jesus, Mark’s Gospel tells us that “people were coming and going in such great numbers that they had no opportunity even to eat.” So Jesus says to his apostles, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” The apostles might have thought to themselves, “Finally, a break.

Jesus and his apostles embark in the boat by themselves toward a deserted place called Bethsaida on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. But other people see them leaving, word gets around, and many come to know about it. They hasten there on foot from all the towns and arrive at the place even before the boat did. So when Jesus and the apostles disembarked, a vast crowd of thousands was already there waiting for them. Imagine the apostles’ mixed emotions; “Great, another massive crowd. I guess our retreat is over.” But Jesus beholds the crowd and his heart is moved with pity for them, for they are like sheep without a shepherd, unsettled and unled. Jesus cures their sick and proceeds to teach them many things. So maybe the apostles got a little break that afternoon after all.

When evening came, the apostles approached Jesus to say, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus says to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” They respond, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” They’re already mourning an unexpected, painful loss. They’re burnt-out from their recent labors. And now, Jesus seems to expect the impossible from them. Can you relate to that today?

Of course, we’ve heard the gospel story and know how it ends. You and I now already know what happens next. Taking the five loaves and two two fish, and looking up to his Father in Heaven, Jesus says the blessing, breaks the loaves, and gives them to the disciples, who in turn (at Jesus’ command) give them to the crowds. They all eat an are satisfied and finish with more than they began. Jesus takes what his disciples offer him (as meager as it is), gives each of them an important role to lay, and works something amazing through them.

Brothers and sisters, what will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? Do these things separate us from the love of Christ? What of pandemics, or quarantines, or closures, or face coverings, or financial troubles, or personal failures? Will these things separate us from the love of Christ? No, in all these things we can conquer overwhelmingly through him who loves us. For neither death, nor life, nor spirits, nor politicians, nor time, nor space, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. These are hard days, and we might be tired and discouraged. But do not doubt the good you are doing, nor the good that you will do, because Jesus Christ is with you.

Jesus Psalms

July 30, 2020

To pray the psalms in a fresh new way, wherever you see “the LORD” in a verse substitute the name “Jesus“. For example, here is most of this Sunday’s psalm (Ps 145:8-21) as explicit praise and celebration of God the Son:

 

Jesus is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in mercy.

Jesus is good to all,
compassionate toward all your works.

All your works give you thanks, Jesus,
and your faithful bless you.

They speak of the glory of your reign
and tell of your mighty works,

Making known to the sons of men your mighty acts,
the majestic glory of your rule.

Your reign is a reign for all ages,
your dominion for all generations.

Jesus is trustworthy in all his words,
and loving in all his works.

The Jesus supports all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.

The eyes of all look hopefully to you;
you give them their food in due season.

You open wide your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Jesus is just in all his ways,
merciful in all his works.

Jesus is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.

He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.

Jesus watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he destroys.

My mouth will speak the praises of Jesus;
all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

A Redecorated Soul — Funeral Homily for Linda Gorka, 70

July 29, 2020

There’s a natural sadness from the passing of a loved one and added stress from life’s current strains. But there is profound consolation from our faith in Jesus Christ and we are blessed in our freedom to be able to gather here today. St. Paul’s Parish is honored to be offering our greatest prayer, the Holy Mass, for Linda’s soul and for all of you who know and love her. No mere homily could capture the full mystery of a human life; no brief homily can tell the fullness of the story of how Christ has shepherded Linda’s life. But a funeral homily can reveal something of what Jesus Christ has done, and does, in the lives of Christians.

Rodney tells me that Linda loved interior decorating. Though never formally trained, she had a talent for it — a creative flair. For holidays, especially the Christian celebrations of Christmas and Easter, Linda’s house was transformed; nick-nacks here and there, wall and window coverings, all set the season; providing a pleasant backdrop when she would entertain welcomed guests at parties. She loved being a grand-hostess for her friends.

Another thing Rodney recollected to me is how the companionship between them helped them through each other’s serious health trials. She remained by his side, minded his meds, and drove him for treatments during his throat cancer nine years ago. And last year, Linda helped him through his recover from a bad car accident. Then, in this her final year, Linda received support and care during her purifying crucible experience of suffering with cancer. (Rodney wants to thank all those who helped before and after Linda death: her daughter Michelle and Arianne, son David, grandson Joe, friends Randy and Dawn, and others whom Rodney may have forgotten.) We believe, like St. Paul says, ‘this momentary light affliction is produced for her an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,’ because Linda died as a Christian with Christ.

Three weeks ago, I went to visit Linda in the hospital and did something I have never done before. Rodney had informed me that, though Linda believed in God and Jesus Christ, neither she nor her family members had any knowledge or evidence of her ever having been baptized. She was not speaking very much at that point, but when I asked her whether she wished to be baptized she answered that she did. I baptized Linda with water on her forehead right there in her bed, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” — a conditional baptism, ensuring that whether or not she had ever been baptized before, she was assuredly a baptized Christian after.

What is the meaning and purpose of all these trials of life? If this life were all there is, if Christ were not raised and all people and things were destined for unending death, our lives would have no enduring significance. But Jesus is risen, so this life is vitally important, yet it’s only the beginning of eternity, so the God allow trials to transform us more and more into the likeness of Christ, who often suffered with love and virtue. The famous Christian author C.S. Lewis once observed that, like Linda, God is something of a master interior redecorator as well:

Imagine yourself as a living house,” Lewis wrote, “God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

St. Paul writes that, “We know that if our earthly dwelling, a tent, should be destroyed, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in Heaven.” And Jesus tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. …I am going to prepare a place for you… I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” And so, today, while we mourn Linda’s departing from us, we rejoice in her going to God. The journey of life through death to a next life awaits us all. Let us, each and all, respond to Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd as one of his sheep, so that our story may be happily joined to his own great story forever.

Finding Your Treasure Map

July 27, 2020

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

Jesus gives us few details but I imagine his first story like this. A traveler is walking a dusty road he has gone down many times before, but today as he looks out at a field nearby he notices a sunlit glint coming from the dirt. Now curious, he investigates and discovers a broken wooden crate full of gold and silver coins, apparently uncovered by recent plowing and rain. (Reportedly, in the turbulent conditions of the Holy Land in that era, it was not unusual to safeguard valuables by burying them in the ground.) Shoving the coins back inside, the man reburies the treasure on the spot with handfuls of dirt and then joyfully goes off to sell all he has in order to buy the entire field with the treasure in it. But why doesn’t he simply carry the treasure away? Who would ever know? Because that would be stealing, and in the words of our psalm the commands of God are “more precious (to him) than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” True happiness is not to be gained through evil, and one cannot come to possess the riches of God’s Kingdom using wicked means.

In Jesus’ second story today, a pearl merchant comes across a high-priced pearl for sale. Its price, let’s say, is a hundred thousand dollars. Others may have beheld this beautiful jewel before, but this pearl merchant has a discerning, expert eye. He recognizes that this pearl’s worth is significantly more than its cost and shrewdly sells everything he owns to possess it. To onlookers, he seems crazy. “Selling everything you own just for one pearl?” But the man knows what he’s about and that he will profit from this transaction.

Obviously, these two parables are similar. In both stories, men find things of great value and sell everything that they have to possess them. In this, both the traveler and the merchant display courage; courage against others’ judgments, and courage against their own natural fears. Onlookers might tell them, “What are you doing? Are you nuts? You’re giving up everything just for that?” And because we all have an incredible ability to doubt ourselves, the traveler and merchant might wonder, “What if I’m mistaken and the thing I found is a worthless fake? Or what if sell all I own and return to find the thing has disappeared?” These men will only possess the treasure or the pearl (and the profit which come from them) if they do not give in to their own unfounded fears or the misplaced criticisms of others.

We can also learn from these two stories’ differences. The fact that Jesus gives us two parables instead of just one suggests he’s teaching through their unique details. For instance, both the traveler and the merchant find valuable things, but the pearl merchant knows and actively seeks out what he’s looking for in market after market, while the traveler stumbles upon his treasure. As Jesus says, both of these parable stories describe aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” he says.

Humanity seeks after Jesus and his Kingdom; some knowingly, but many without knowing. Some seek him everywhere and rejoice to find him. Others love truth, beauty, and goodness, and are surprised to find these in Christ in his Church. His parables tell us that when we find Jesus, he expects of us a total commitment, an all-in investment; that we would love and serve him more than all else, and that we would love everyone and everything in light of him. We do this especially by embracing and living out our vocation.

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare,” which means “to call.” Your vocation is your life’s calling from God. Your vocation is the means by which he intends for you to become holy and a great blessing. Some people find their vocation like the traveler on the road – stumbling upon it without having sought it. I think this is often true for marriages. A man and woman can be drawn to each other, fall in love, delight in each other, and decide to spend their lives together with or without much discerning God’s purpose for their lives. Yet, since “we know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,” as St. Paul says in our second reading, leading us to where he wants us even despite ourselves. If you are in the sacrament of marriage, your vocation is clear: your primary mission in life is to be the best spouse and parent you can be and to help lead your spouse and children to Heaven. There will be other works to do and people to bless through your life, but your treasure is not to be found in different fields or shops; your means to holiness is already in your midst and in your grasp.

On the other hand, some people are still searching for their vocation, like the merchant for his pearl. One does not become a priest, a religious sister or brother, or a holy celibate person in the world without a firm commitment to live one’s life for God. To others, such a choice may seem crazy: “You won’t be happy! You’re throwing your life away! We want grandchildren!” And within ourselves, it’s possible to feel cold feet and doubts toward any real commitment in this life. (“What if… what if… what if?”) But when God calls us to our vocations, we will only possess the treasure or the pearl and the profit which come from them if we do not give in to their own unfounded fears or the misplaced criticisms of others. To find and embrace your vocation requires prayerful discernment, courage, and desire for what’s truly valuable, for what ever endures.

In today’s first reading, the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream and tells him, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon the new, young king, feels overwhelmed by his high office, and says, “I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Solomon’s request of wisdom for the benefit of the kingdom of God pleased the Lord, so God granted him great wisdom and all the gifts he had not asked for as well. Likewise, Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.

Pray to God for the wisdom to find your vocation and, having found it, to joyfully embrace it (like the traveler and the merchant) with the investment of everything you have. In this way, you will come to possess treasure and the pearl of great price – Jesus Christ and his Kingdom.

Meet St. Paul’s Newest Teacher

July 20, 2020

Rachael Butek is a Cooks Valley native and graduate of Christendom College. She will be teaching English and Religion at St. Paul’s Catholic School this fall.

Why did you choose to teach at St. Paul’s?
Because to me teaching is a mission, not just a job, and as a member of St. John’s for the past 15 years I desired to give back to the community which has done so much for me.

What do you love about English?
Everything! I love the intricacy of our language, and delving into its origins in order to better understand how we communicate today. I also enjoy exploring the way that good literature can communicate Truth and Beauty to us.

What are ten other things you like?
In no particular order: Anglo-Saxon England, gardening, calligraphy, wild turkeys, book binding, singing, bugs, dancing, long walks, and good conversation. Feel free to ask me about any of them!

What do you wish to become patron saint of someday?
Good communication. I think about 90% of the worlds problems could be improved by better communication skills!

To learn more about enrolling into St. Paul’s Catholic School call our principal, Jackie Peterson, at 715-568-3233.

Prophetic Parables

July 19, 2020

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Why does Jesus speak in parables? Why does he use symbolic stories to teach about our salvation and the Kingdom of God? One reason Jesus employs parables is revealed by the story arc of Matthew’s Gospel.

After being baptized by St. John the Baptist and spending forty days in the desert, Jesus begins preaching and calling his first disciples. Then he proclaims his famous Sermon on the Mount through chapters 5, 6, and 7. As with parables, Jesus’ teachings in that sermon employ images – such as putting a lamp under a bushel basket, or serving two masters at once – but Jesus tends to explain his symbolisms there pretty clearly: your good deeds must shine before others, and you cannot serve both God and wealth. After his great sermon, Jesus works amazing miracles, healings, and exorcisms for two chapters, increasing his renown. Next Jesus commissions and sends forth his twelve apostles but warns them of coming persecutions. His disciples must be courageous; division and sacrifice will be inevitable, but they are promised great rewards. And then, Jesus faces doubters, answering John the Baptist’s disciples, chastising the disbelief in the familiar towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, and finally (in chapter 12) the Pharisees appear in force.

The Pharisees were those whom St. John the Baptist had called a “brood of vipers,” that is, a family of poisonous snakes; cunning predators, quick and deadly. They see Jesus’ hungry disciples picking and eating grains and complain, “Your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.” They see a man with a withered hand in the synagogue and question Jesus, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath,” so that they might accuse him. And after Jesus performs an exorcism, the Pharisees denounce him, “This man drives out demons only by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” It is in Matthew chapter 12 that the Pharisees first take counsel against Jesus to put him to death. When Jesus realizes this he withdraws from that place and begins to teach in parables without explaining them to the crowds.

Today’s gospel says, “He spoke to them only in parables.” When his disciples asked him last Sunday, “Why do you speak to (the crowds) in parables,” Jesus’ response might have confused us: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” Doesn’t Jesus want to be understood? Yes, by any of good will. Those who approach him with love, or at least an open mind, can ponder his parables and gain from them, while those who hate him will ignore his stories as being (in their eyes) irrelevant nonsense. As Jesus says, “To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” If Jesus had come out and announced “I am the Christ, and I am not only the Messiah but also God incarnate in your midst,” his earthly ministry would not have lasted three Passovers. His parables allow the humble to become enlightened while providing his haters no ammunition against him. In Jesus Christ (and St. Paul after him in the Acts of the Apostles) we see that we should be shrewd against opponents in the midst of doing good, while recognizing that conflict with the mob may ultimately prove impossible for us to avoid.

Another reason Jesus preaches with parables is because we human beings love stories. Stories stick with us better than bare teaching alone. And the images Jesus uses are relatable for all generations – sowing and harvesting, wheat and weeds, bushes and birds, and making bread. All these things are very likely to exist until Jesus comes again, even if that proves to be thousands of years from now.

Yet today, some sixty-six generations after Jesus preached, one might wonder during moments of discouragement whether the promises Jesus makes in his parables will ever come to be. We see good and evil growing side by side. Will the Son of Man ever come with his angels to gather the good and confront the wicked? Will those who cause others to sin and all evildoers ever be compelled to stop and the righteous be blessed to shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father forever? If that feels improbable now, consider how impossible Jesus’ prophetic parables must have seemed in the era when he first preached them.

The Kingdom of Heaven,” Jesus said, “is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds (that any passing bird might gobble up), yet when fully-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.” Jesus is a mustard seed buried in the earth – who would have imagined anything more to come of him after he died? His Church is also a mustard seed, threatened to be consumed by the nations from the beginning. Yet today the Church of him who rose from the dead has members that dwell in her from every nation.

The Kingdom of Heaven,” Jesus said, “is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Three measures of wheat flour weighs about fifty pounds, yet the admixture of a little yeast can change and raise up the entire batch of dough. So it has been with Christianity mixed into this world by the Bride of Christ, the Church. To take one example, slavery was ubiquitous in Jesus’ time, but today it is condemned around the world today because of the influence of Christianity. Wicked human traffickers still exists in our day, the Chinese government is operating concentration camps with slave laborers right now, and that is unacceptable. But these perpetrators must hide their deeds from the world only because Jesus Christ and his Church have changed and raised up the world’s understanding of human dignity.

Jesus’ prophetic parables have been proven true. His words have been fulfilled in history despite every earthly expectation. Whoever has ears ought to hear. Whoever has eyes ought to see. And whoever has an open mind can accept that Jesus Christ will come again with judgment on this world and salvation for his people.

Virtuous Thomas

July 14, 2020

Doubting Thomas — That is how the apostle is remembered since he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Upon seeing Jesus alive he professed, “My Lord and my God,” but the ignoble nickname endures. St. Thomas has just four quotes in the gospels, all of them found in John; his two other quotes reveal more of his character.

After Lazarus had died, Jesus said, “Let us go back to Judea,” and the disciples objected, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you and you want to go back there?” When Jesus insists on going, Thomas says to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.” Then later, Jesus says at the Last Supper, “Where I am going you know the way.” And Thomas relies, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?

From his four quotes we glimpse Thomas’ weakness and his strengths. He should have believed his friends’ testimony that they had indeed seen and touched and spoken with Jesus resurrected (especially after having witnessed Lazarus risen from the dead) but Thomas was lacking in trust. Yet at the same time, Thomas possesses great loyalty and courage.

Where is Thomas one week after Easter Sunday? The disciples are gathered in the upper room, hiding behind locked doors for fear of those who murdered Jesus, and Thomas is right there with them. He could have chosen to retreat to someplace safer but he is loyal and brave and these virtues lead him to encounter the risen Christ.

We typically focus on our faults and flaws, on the vices and sins that hinder us. However we each possess virtues as well, areas where God has had success in us. Know and acknowledge these virtues, give thanks to God for them, and utilize them to grow. Pray for grace and use your strengths to lead you to perfect holiness like St. Thomas’ virtues led him to glory with Jesus Christ.