What Happens When You Die — 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

November 9, 2019

Our days are growing shorter and shorter. In the fall, it’s impossible not to notice the dark night encroaching. The trees are being drained of the color of life, their foliage is falling dead to the ground, turning the trees into bare skeletons. The farmer’s field has yielded its harvest; the once-living crops have been cut down. This changing of nature chills us in our flesh. During this season of dying, we are reminded in the world and in the Church, of our own mortality. This is a topic personally relevant to us all. Unless Jesus comes back first, each of us is going to die. What happens next is what I’ll preach about today.

Human nature is a unity of body and soul. At death, our body and soul will separate. Our mortal remains, our dead bodies, will decay according to natural processes. Sometimes God works a miracle, causing a saint’s corpse to remain incorruptible in part or in whole, but ordinarily our dead bodies return to the dust from which we were made. Our immortal souls, however, will not go into the grave with our bodies; at death; the who that is you behind your senses, your soul, will appear for the judgment of your Creator. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment.”

In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ… each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith. … Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of Heaven—through a purification or immediately,—or immediate and everlasting damnation.”

Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called ‘Heaven.’ Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness. … [Jesus] makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will.

But what if we die spurning his friendship? We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “Hell.” Jesus speaks repeatedly of Hell in the Gospels, so we cannot dismiss its reality. The numerous rebel angels, the demons, experience Hell, and it seems that many human beings will experience it forever as well. It’s a terrible thing, but recall C.S. Lewis’ words: “The gates of Hell are locked from the inside. … There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.

What if I die as a friend of God but I’m still not yet perfect? What if I sincerely love God and my neighbor but I still retain a fondness for my sins. The Book of Revelation says of God’s Heavenly city “nothing unclean will enter it,” so how can I be cleansed to enter in? The Catechism teaches: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of Heaven. The Church gives the name ‘Purgatory’ to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.

On earth we know that personal conversion and change of lifestyle can be difficult. Private revelation suggests that the purifying process of Purgatory is both painful and joyful at the same time. It’s like a soldier returning victorious from a war overseas, traveling to his wife and family. His long trip home may be exhausting, but his great love for those who await him sweetens his journey and focuses his efforts to join them.

We should pray for one another on earth and we should pray for the dead as well. From her beginning, the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers for them, above all at Christ’s great sacrifice, the Mass, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends us, especially in the month of November, to almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance on behalf of the dead to help them on their way to the fully-unveiled presence of God. The saints in Heaven now behold the divine essence with an intuitive vision, without the mediation of any creature. The Blessed Virgin Mary, and possibly Elijah, Moses, and Enoch, already have their bodies there, but the reunited bodies and souls of all the dead, of both the just and the unjust, will rise again one day.

The resurrection of the dead, which in today’s Gospel the Sadducees denied and Jesus affirms, will precede the Last Judgment. This will be “the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man’s] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” Then Christ will come “in his glory, and all the angels with him… Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left… And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” This Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each of us has done or failed to do during our earthly life.

After this last and universal judgment, the universe itself will be renewed into what Scripture calls “a new Heavens and a new Earth.” Recall how Jesus’ resurrected body is the body that was pierced (for he still bears some wounds as trophies,) and it is the body that was buried (for the Easter tomb is empty,) but Jesus’ resurrected body is now gloriously transformed. The same body, but renewed Likewise, our resurrected bodies and this material universe will be renewed and transformed as well. Then the righteous will reign with Christ, glorified in body and soul, in a new heavens and new earth, forever.

From these reflections on the last things, I offer you these three takeaways. First: care for your soul. Be committed to prayer and the sacraments (particularly confession for the forgiveness of your sins.) Second: pray for the dead. They will appreciate it forever and pray for you too. Third and finally: remember that our time on earth is short. And forever is a very long time. You have just one life, so live and love heroically in Christ.

A Well-Nourished Tree — Funeral for Lois Eastman, 93

November 9, 2019

I offer my personal sympathy and the condolences of St. Paul’s parish at the passing of Lois, whom you know and love. In this church, 69 years ago, Lois married Jerry, her husband of 42 years. They went on to be blessed with six children. Today, we pray for Lois to have a special place among God’s children at the wedding feast of Heaven. No brief homily can capture the full mystery of a Christian life. At funerals, I just try to preach about one true aspect of the departed person’s life that reflects an important lesson for us with Jesus Christ and his Church.

Lois’ family told me a number of stories about her, and one theme I noticed was her fierce independence. For many years now, until quite recently, Lois always lived on her own. When not long ago, when her children suggested she use something to help her keep her worsening balance, she replied, “Canes and walkers are for old people.” Lois was 93 years old. Lots of people are set in their ways or stubborn, but here’s the really remarkable thing: not long after that remark to her kids Lois actually took their advice and started using a cane. In this and other things, Lois’s independence did not prevent her from accepting the help she needed.

Years before she absolutely needed a cane, Lois had trouble negotiating steps. But she would drive somewhere, by herself, with a plan: ‘someone will help me up and down the stairs when I get there.’ She would show us and say to someone she saw, “Hey, you over there, can you help me?” If the streets were icy in the wintertime, she would stand by her car until a person came along to help her up the curb and across the sidewalk to where she was going.

Lois was fiercely independent, but she acknowledged her need for help – and Lois knew she needed Jesus. Lois prayed every night, and until a couple years ago went to Mass every day, every day of the week except Sunday. (That’s because she went to the Sunday vigil Mass on Saturday night.) She sat in front pew to hear Jesus’ word and receive his very self. Lois knew that other people needed him too, so she would pick people up to bring them to church and brought our Lord in the Holy Eucharist to others at their houses or nursing homes.

We all want to be free. We all want our lives to be full and fruitful. And Jesus wants that, too. But people imagine that living their best life means keeping Jesus away while we do our own thing. Do you keep Jesus at arm’s length? Hear then the Parable of the Solitary Tree:

Once upon a time, there was a tree. This tree wanted to be free, to be its own tree, free to do its own thing, and not rely on anyone. So it told the Sun to go away, along with the rain clouds above it, the air all around it, and the ground beneath it. And the tree soon found itself in cold darkness – thirsting, gasping, and falling. Realizing its serious error, the tree asked, the tree begged them all to return, and they returned to the tree; which then lived and grew and produced much fruit.

In the same way, you and I were never meant be completely independent. Almighty God, the source and the sustainer of the universe, is not a solitude, but a Trinity, a loving communion of persons. So we are most fully ourselves when we’re connected to God and each other through Jesus Christ.

Pray for Lois, but do not fear for her. You know how she loved and relied on Jesus. And if you’ve been away from Jesus, I urge you to call him back and return to his house, his Church. Do not be afraid to rely on our Good Lord. To quote one of Lois’ favorite songs:

If you wonder how long he’ll be faithful
I’ll be happy to tell you again
He’s gonna love you forever and ever
Forever and ever, amen.

Preaching Aid for Advent, Year A

November 7, 2019

This is a homily creation aid for preaching on themes of marriage and family during the seasons of Advent and Christmas during Year A of the lectionary cycle. I wrote this guide back in seminary and I welcome its being put to good use.

Obstacles to Jesus — 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

November 6, 2019

Last week, Jesus told us a parable about a penitential tax collector. This Sunday, St. Luke recounts for us a true story about real one. Jesus came to Jericho and a man there named Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man, was seeking to see him. You just heard the ending of that story; Zacchaeus joyfully succeeds in to beholding and encountering Jesus, and Jesus happily succeeds in finding and saving Zacchaeus. But Zacchaeus’ story would have ended differently if he had allowed any earthly obstacle or any human excuse to stop him. What sort of things could have gotten in Zacchaeus’s way of seeing and encountering Jesus? Many of the same things that can get in our way.

For starters, Zacchaeus could have believed or claimed that he was too busy to devote time for Jesus. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, a busy man, and this appears to have been a working business day. Faithful Jews did not walk long distances on the Sabbath day of rest. The rabbinic tradition set the limit for Saturday travel at 2,000 cubits or about ¾ of a mile. (That’s not very far.) But Jesus walked to Jericho and had intended to pass through the town, suggesting that tolls and taxes from toilers and traders and travelers were there for the tax man’s taking. But Zacchaeus made time for Jesus in his busy day.

Are we busy? I’d bet that most people would say that they are, but busy with what? Last year, the average American adult spent 3 hours and 44 minutes a day watching television; that’s more than 28 hours per week, that’s a full 56 days in a year! Maybe you don’t watch TV at home (I don’t) but how much time do we expend with games and social media and entertainments online? Whether we have time or not for something is really a question of priorities.

We just celebrated All Saints’ Day’s. Have you ever considered, if you get canonized as a saint someday, what you would like to become the patron saint of? If I get canonized I’d like to be the patron saint of packing. I have a number of reasons for desiring this niche but needed patronage, but it all goes back to a lesson from my father. One time, for an Illinois trip, he taught me how to pack a car trunk. He said, “Put the big things in first, and then fit the smaller things in around them.” So it is with life; put the big things in first. Make time for weekly Mass, daily prayer, spiritual study, and spiritual growth. Make them your priority.

Another reality that could have made Zacchaeus give up on Jesus when they got in his way was other people. “Zacchaeus was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature.” (In other words, Zacchaeus wasn’t tall.) The crowd was not only an imposing physical barrier, but a hostile obstacle as well. They all knew him by sight and despised him as a sinner. Because of Zacchaeus’s small size, they could easily and effectively block him out or even push him away from Jesus.

On this occasion, the short of statue Zacchaeus was one of the “little ones” whom Jesus warns us not to despise: “It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” And Jesus warns of great woe for anyone who causes his little ones spiritual harm: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” It is gravely wrong to push people away from Jesus through sin, but it is also a great error for us to allow others to push us away from Jesus. Jesus’ Church is holy but it’s the home of sinners, too. Do not let Judas’s betrayals or Peter’s denials, as horrible as these scandals are, keep you away from meeting Jesus here.

Zacchaeus did not let the obstacle of other people thwart him. When he was unable to penetrate the crowd, “he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.” It is debated within scripture commentaries whether is was considered undignified for a first century Jewish man to run apart from an emergency. But another embarrassing aspect of this story remains recognizable for us today. When was the last time you saw a grown man climb a tree for any reason other than to cut down a branch? Climbing trees is something kids do. When people saw Zacchaeus, the rich man, sitting in a tree on Main Street they probably pointed and laughed at him. But Zacchaeus ignored their gossip and mockery to do this for Jesus, and that made the difference for his soul.

Jesus expects us to be different from the world sometimes, both in the things we do and the things we don’t or refuse to do. And people will not always respect us or like us because of it. There are various reasons for this hostility, but a major one was noted in the second century by a Christian who wrote: “the world hates the Christians not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.” Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper before his death: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.”

Do you sometimes avoid doing good things because you’re afraid of looking too pious or of being thought of as a goody-two-shoes? Do pray before meals to give thanks to God and ask him to bless your food at home but never at restaurants? Do you avoid receiving Jesus’ absolution in sacramental confession because you’re afraid of what the priest or others might think? When and where was the last time you mentioned the name of Jesus outside of church or apart from prayer? We need to be unashamed to be Christians, unashamed to be Catholics, not cowed by peer pressure but bold in doing what Jesus desires of us.

Let’s make a quick review of the things that might have prevented Zacchaeus, or might prevent us, from seeking and encountering Jesus: believing or saying we’re too busy; obstacles from other people, their sinfulness or peer pressure; and finally, our own resistance to full or true conversion.

When Jesus reached the tree he saw a fruit hanging in it for his harvest. Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And Zacchaeus came down quickly and received him with joy. Jesus was not content to simply exchange pleasantries and then go their separate ways. Jesus says, “I must stay at your house.” This more than merely a historical detail–this is a profound utterance; the Lord desires to dwell with Zacchaeus for all his days.

In encountering Jesus Christ, Zacchaeus realizes he must change the way he lives. He can’t play host to Jesus one day and then behave like it never happened. Well, he could, that’s the temptation. He can keep clinging to his sins, but his sins haven’t made him happy. If Zacchaeus had been content with his life he would not have been trying so hard to see Jesus. Now, Zacchaeus is free to change his life with Christ, and he’s excited by the new hope set before him. Zacchaeus declares: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” The focus of Zacchaeus’ life has changed. No more defrauding. No more hoarding. Now, the Lord dwells in Zacchaeus’ house as his honored guest. And giving away one-half of all his wealth suggests his heart’s intention to love his neighbor as himself. And Jesus says to him, “Today salvation has come to this house.

The name Zacchaeus is a Hebrew name. It means “clean” or “pure.” While Zacchaeus was still imperfect, still unclean, still impure, Jesus called out to him by name and said “today I must stay at your house.” And Zacchaeus, by finding and knowing Jesus, became true to his name, realized his true identity, became his true self. The Lord desires the same for each of us. So allow nothing to get in your way of seeing and encountering Jesus.

Preserved for Life — Funeral for Mark Schoonover, 65

November 6, 2019

Mark is loved and mourned by many in our community and in this parish. That’s seen in the many people here today. And we will miss him. Dying at age 65, Mark is one of the youngest people I have had a funeral for in my time here at St. Paul’s. And Mark will also be the closest parishioner, the closest friend, that I have buried here thus far. I often say that no mere homily can capture the fullness of the mystery of a Christian life well-lived. But I offer this brief reflection to reveal a truth about Mark’s life and the mystery of Jesus working in it. Mark’s family told me a number of great stories about his life that I hadn’t heard before, and I noticed a theme. Mark has faced death several times before.

In 1969, his family was driving in a car together when a drunk driver ran through a stop sign in front of them. His father, Tom, saw the crash coming and warned everyone to brace. There were no car seats, no seat belts in the car. Mark, just 15 years old, reached over and grabbed his 11-month-old sister, Wendy. He suffered a broken rib, broken collarbone, 30 stitches and a concussion, but he saved his sister’s life.

Later, as an A-6 Intruder Bombardier-Navigator in the Navy, I suspect there were a number anxious brushes with death he might not have ever mentioned. Flying hundreds of miles-per-hour in a complex military machine, in all sorts of weather, catapulting-off and landing upon aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean surely has its dicey, dangerous moments.

I’m told that one time, on the ground near his airbase in Washington State, Mark went sheep hunting alone in the mountains. He got his big sheep, and the family still has the picture of it, but he realized he would not make it out of the wilderness by nightfall. Something told him, to sit, to stay there. He sensed he should just stay there. So Mark sat vigil with the sheep. In the morning, when the sun rose and brought more light to his situation, he realized that he had been sitting just feet from the edge of the mountain. If he had tried to walk by himself in the darkness of that night, he may well have gone over the edge.

When Mark was diagnosed with brain cancer, there was great concern that he would die then. He told Traci, “God will get us through this.” And they were granted a gracious respite. Mark’s health recovered almost fully-back to normal for some blessed, precious months. However, his cancer treatments did a number on his liver, the organ in the body charged with expelling toxins. I was recently able to see Mark with Traci and Abby in the hospital. I was honored to anoint him and give him the Apostolic Pardon. Soon after, when his death was imminent, they brought him home, to the cabin on the lake up north. On the morning he died, Traci tells me that they watched the sun rise over the lake together. That is a beautiful death.

Sometimes older people in nursing homes, up in years and burdened with weakness and pains, ask me, not without faith but actually with a great deal of faith, “Why am I still here?” Their children are grown, most of their friends have passed away, they have grown tired of life and they wonder why the Lord has not taken them already. I always tell them the same thing, “If you are still alive on this earth, either God is doing something in you, or through you, or both.

Why did God preserve Mark throughout his years up till now? Because the Lord was working in him, and through him, both. Did God fail Mark in this last illness? Did God the Father fail his Son on the Cross? No. He who pleased God was loved, glorified through his passion, and brought to God by God himself.

The Book of Wisdom says of the just man who dies young:
Having become perfect in a short while,
he reached the fullness of a long career;
for his soul was pleasing to the Lord,
therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness.

And St. Paul reminds us:
If we live, we live for the Lord,
and if we die, we die for the Lord;
so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.

A day like this is challenging, and it is sad. Pray for Mark, but do not fear for him. You know of his life and of his faith in Christ. Talk to him. I ask him to pray for me. We are not abandoned, not without the helping graces we need. So cooperate with that grace, that grace of God working in you and through you, so that one day all of us may be reunited in Christ, rejoicing with Mark, forever.

Humility, Truth, & Love — 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

October 28, 2019

Today’s second reading from the Second Letter to Timothy has St. Paul declaring near the end of his earthly life: “I have competed well, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me…” Recall how at the Visitation, after encountering her cousin Elizabeth, St. Mary declares about herself: “[God] has looked with favor on his lowly servant; from this day all generations will call me blessed.” Are these humble things for Mary and Paul to say about themselves?

Well, they’re both true statements, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Paul, having finished his race, is now a triumphant saint in Heaven, and the Church calls Mary the Blessed Virgin in every generation even to our day. True humility is not thinking that you’re dirt, it is being down-to-earth, well-grounded, and rooted in reality. Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others,” and the Blessed Virgin Mary pleases and honors God when she states, “The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.” God has done good things for you as well, so thank and praise and glorify him for it!

But wait a minute, someone might object, wasn’t the Pharisee who went up to pray at the Temple in Jesus’ parable today also thanking God and declaring true statements about himself? What if this Pharisee did fast twice a week; what if he did pay tithes on his entire income; and was neither greedy, dishonest, nor adulterous? That is what’s implied by the parable, and those are all very good things! So why then does he incur our Lord and God’s displeasure?

Today’s gospel says “Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” Jesus says the Pharisee took up his position at the Temple and spoke this prayer to himself, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector.” Imagine the Pharisee praying these words out loud, within earshot of this tax collector in front of everybody. Yet, even if the Pharisee prayed silently, or quietly to himself, and his neighbor did not hear him; the Pharisee despised the tax collector and the rest of humanity, and did not gain God’s pleasure. Like St. Paul once wrote, “If I give away everything I own, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.” In order to gain Heaven; truth, love, and sacrifice all need to go together within us.

We see the truth, authentic love, and self-sacrifice combined in the inspiring life of the twentieth century saint, Edith Stein. She was born into a Orthodox Jewish family but renounced her faith by the age of thirteen and embraced atheism. She went on to become a respected PhD in philosophy. Then, one night while staying with friends on a vacation, she read the entire autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. The following morning she put the book down and declared, “That is the truth,” and responded accordingly. She was baptized a Catholic at the age of thirty, became a Carmelite nun and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, like the Carmelite St. Teresa of Avila before her. During World War II, because of her Jewish ancestry, the Nazis came to arrest her along with her biological sister Rosa, who worked at the convent. Teresa Benedicta reportedly said to Rosa, “Come. Let us go and die for our people.” They were taken to Auschwitz where survivors of the death camp testified that the nun helped other sufferers with great compassion. A week after their arrest, she and her sister were killed in the gas chamber. St. Teresa Benedicta comes to my mind this Sunday because of one of her most famous quotes: “Do not accept anything as truth that lacks love and do not accept anything as love that lacks truth. One without the other is a destructive lie.

It could be said that the proud Pharisee in our parable had the truth without love, while our culture today has many (so called) loves apart from the truth. Through our friendship, our prayers, and our perseverance, the tax collectors we know today need to encounter love and the truth, that they might turn to Jesus and say “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” and be saved. If you think you see someone seriously sinning; perhaps in your circles or our community, on TV or in the news; be sure—at very least—to pray for them. Maybe you’re right, which means that they are greatly in need of your prayer. Or perhaps you’re judging rashly or too harshly, in which case you are in need more prayer. In any case, you cannot both hate someone and pray for someone at the same time, because praying for someone is an act of love.

As Jesus tells us, “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Praying for and loving sinners makes you their servant in the likeness of Christ. Jesus came to us, he told us the truth, he prayed and interceded for us, and he even died for us – you and me and everyone. Jesus wants all of us to be like him, loving in truth and sharing the truth in love.

Jesus and His Wounded Church

October 27, 2019

On October 15th, her feast day, I heard a story told of St. Teresa of Avila I had never heard before. It may be a pious legend (as I have not found any primary sources for the tale) but it contains a truth all the same. The story goes that Satan once appeared to the 16th century Spanish nun in the glorious guise of Jesus. Satan intended to lead Teresa astray, but she quickly saw he was not Christ. Before departing from her the Devil asked how she was so certain. She replied, “Because you have no wounds.”

In the Book of Acts we read that on the road to Damascus Saul heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, sir,” asked the afflictor of the Early Church. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Jesus had already, some months or years before, bodily ascended into Heaven, but Our Lord felt all the afflictions of the Church on earth as his own. Saul repented, converted, and became St. Paul.

Jesus hates the grave mistreatment and harming of his members but his Body suffers and bears wounds still; wounds inflicted both from outside and within his Church. Jesus told his disciples, “Things that cause sin [literally “skandala,” scandals or stumbling-blocks] will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur.” Yet even as Jesus heals and avenges his innocent, injured sheep he desires the salvation of wrongdoers too – that, justly-chastised, the sinner would ultimately appear before God as a saint.

Pray for our whole Church without despairing, for the victory of our Faithful Bridegroom is assured. St. Teresa of Avila said, “I do not fear Satan half so much as I fear those who fear him,” and she urged her sisters to unshakable confidence in Jesus Christ:

“Let nothing disturb thee; Let nothing dismay thee:
All thing pass; God never changes.
Patience attains all that it strives for.
He who has God finds he lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.”

Examination of Conscience (for Grades 6, 7, & 8)

October 18, 2019


Jesus preached, “What man among you having 100 sheep and losing one of them would not leave the 99 in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who have no need of repentance.And Jesus also said, “I am the good shepherd… Do not be afraid any longer, little flock…
(See Luke 15:4-5, John 10:11, & Luke 12:32)

Downloadable Booklet Version

Sins against our God
Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)

  • Since my last, good confession, did I neglect daily prayer?
  • Did I reject God, the Lord Jesus Christ, or my Catholic Faith?
  • Did I receive the Holy Eucharist in a state of mortal sin?
  • Did I break the one-hour Eucharist fast and still receive Him?
  • Did I intentionally hold back from confessing my serious sins?
  • Did I put faith in magic, astrology, horoscopes, or superstitions?
  • Did I use the Lord’s name like a curse word?
  • Did I “swear to God” about something unimportant or untrue?
  • Did I ignore Friday as a special day for penance?
  • Did I ignore Sunday as a special day for worship and rest?
  • Did I act irreverently toward the Eucharist, holy persons or things?
  • Did I come late, leave early, or skip Sunday Mass by my own fault?
  • Did I attend Holy Mass irreverently or inattentively?
  • Did I make false gods (or idols) of delightful persons or things?
  • Did I stubbornly doubt God’s existence, goodness, or love for me?

Sins against our Parents & Teachers
Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord, your God, has commanded you, that you may have a long life and that you may prosper…” (Deuteronomy 5:16)

  • Did I neglect to show my parents love and gratitude?
  • Did I disobey my parents or neglect my household chores?
  • Did I lie to my parents or hide things from them?
  • Did I manipulate my parents to get what I wanted?
  • Did I disrespect a parent, through sarcasm or back-talking?
  • Did I disobey or disrespect a teacher?
  • Did I cheat on tests, plagiarize for papers, or copy homework?
  • Did I choose not give my best effort at school, work, or home?
  • Did I purposely break any rules or laws?

Sins against Others
Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)

  • Did I hate someone? (Is there anyone I am unwilling to pray for?)
  • Did I fight or quarrel with anyone?
  • Did I intentionally physically harm or kill someone?
  • Did I wish harm or revenge on someone?
  • Did I slander someone by spreading falsehoods about them?
  • Did I tell negative facts about someone for no good reason?
  • Did I judge others uncharitably or rashly?
  • Did I act as an unfaithful friend?
  • Did I tell any lies?
  • Did I steal or damage someone’s property on purpose?
  • Did I lead another person to sin by something I said or did?
  • Did I just stand by while another person did wrong?
  • Did I tell impure, mean, or offensive jokes?
  • Did I hurt someone by my teasing or prank?
  • Did I dress, speak, or behave immodestly?
  • Did I do sexual acts with another person?
  • Did I act selfish or phony in my relationships?
  • Did I manipulate someone to get want I wanted?
  • Did I act impatient, rude, envious, jealous, or indifferent toward others?

Sins misusing God’s Creation
God looked at everything He had made, and found it very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

  • Did I get intoxicated with alcohol or use illegal drugs?
  • Did I smoke or vape?
  • Did I use steroids or misuse medications?
  • Did I overeat, starve myself, or “binge and purge”?
  • Did I intentionally do harm to my own body?
  • Did I plan or attempt suicide?
  • Did I mistreat animals or the environment?
  • Did I watch, read, or listen to something I shouldn’t?
  • Did I lust using media?
  • Did I use technology to send or receive bad images?
  • Did I disrespect someone by viewing them as an object?
  • Did I do sexually-immoral acts by myself or in fantasy?
  • Did I use any form of technology addictively?
  • Did I use entertainments or media in isolating ways?
  • Did I act greedy or ungenerous?
  • Did I act as if God would not take care of me?

Examination of Conscience (for 2nd-5th Grade)

October 18, 2019

Christ with the Twelve Apostles by Tissot

On Easter evening, Jesus appeared to the Apostles in the upper room and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”  (See John 20:19-23)

Downloadable Booklet Version

Sins against our God
Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)

  • Since my last, good confession, did I not pray daily?
  • Did I reject God, the Lord Jesus Christ, or my Catholic Faith?
  • Did I receive the Holy Eucharist in a state of mortal sin?
  • Did I break the one-hour Eucharist fast and still receive Him?
  • Did I hold back from confessing my serious sins on purpose?
  • Did I put faith in magic or superstitions?
  • Did I use the Lord’s name like a curse word?
  • Did I “swear to God” about something unimportant or untrue?
  • Did I ignore Friday as a special day for penance?
  • Did I ignore Sunday as a special day for worship and rest?
  • Did I act disrespectfully toward the Eucharist, holy persons or things?
  • Did I come late, leave early, or skip Sunday Mass by my own fault?
  • Did I behave disrespectfully or inattentively at Holy Mass?
  • Did I make false gods (or idols) of delightful persons or things?
  • Did I stubbornly doubt God’s existence, goodness, or love for me?

Sins against our Parents & Teachers
Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord, your God, has commanded you, that you may have a long life and that you may prosper…” (Deuteronomy 5:16)

  • Did I fail to show my parents love and thankfulness?
  • Did I disobey my parents or skip my household chores?
  • Did I lie to my parents or hide things from them?
  • Did I push or nag my parents to do what I wanted?
  • Did I disrespect a parent by being sassy or back-talking?
  • Did I disobey or disrespect a teacher?
  • Did I cheat on tests or copy homework?
  • Did I choose not to give my best effort at school or at home?
  • Did I purposely break any rules or laws?

Sins against Others
Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)

  • Did I hate someone? (Is there anyone I am unwilling to pray for?)
  • Did I wish harm or revenge on anyone?
  • Did I fight with anyone?
  • Did I physically harm someone on purpose?
  • Did I touch anyone in a bad or inappropriate way?
  • Did I use technology to hurt someone?
  • Did I spread untruths about someone on purpose?
  • Did I tell negative stories about someone for no good reason?
  • Did I judge others unfairly?
  • Did I act as an unfaithful friend?
  • Did I tell any lies?
  • Did I steal or damage someone’s property on purpose?
  • Did I try to get someone to do something wrong?
  • Did I lead another person to sin by something I said or did?
  • Did I just stand by while another person did wrong?
  • Did I tell mean or inappropriate jokes?
  • Did I hurt someone by my teasing or pranks?
  • Did I dress, speak, or behave inappropriately?
  • Did I act selfish or phony in my relationships?
  • Did I push or nag someone to get want I wanted?
  • Did I act unkind, impatient, rude, or jealous toward others?
  • Did I exclude other people?

Sins misusing God’s Creation
God looked at everything He had made, and found it very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

  • Did I abuse alcohol or use illegal drugs?
  • Did I smoke or vape?
  • Did I overeat, starve myself, or “binge and purge”?
  • Did I intentionally do harm to my own body?
  • Did I mistreat animals or the environment?
  • Did I watch, read, or listen to something I shouldn’t?
  • Did I use any form of technology addictively?
  • Did I use entertainments of media in isolating ways?
  • Did I act greedy or ungenerous?
  • Did I act as if God would not take care of me?

Catholic Twitter

October 16, 2019

Twitter.com is a social media website where both famous figures and less famous folks share their free thoughts of 280 characters or less. Pope Francis posts there daily (@Pontifex) alongside many other Catholics as well. There is a good deal of Catholic community, evangelization, and defenses of the Faith to be found on Twitter, depending on whom you follow. I recently came across a wonderful reflection by Fr. Dylan Schrader, a Catholic pastor in Missouri with a Ph.D. in systematic theology. @FrDylanSchrader wrote:

If the Catholic Church fulfills the figure of Noah’s Ark, then of course the Church is ridiculed and seems stupid, crazy, or like a waste of time to the world until all of a sudden we realize that it’s our only hope.” Like Jesus says in the Gospels, in the days before the Great Flood people were eating and drinking, marrying and given in marriage, up until the day that Noah entered the ark. They had disbelieved until the flood waters came, and it carried them all away. So it will be with the Second Coming of Christ.

Twitter allows threads of conversation and Fr. Schrader’s tweet was apparently replied to by a Protestant Christian who wrote: “CHRIST JESUS, alone, is the hope of a [C]hristian… if your hope is in a church, then your hope is misplaced.” Does the Church displace or minimize the Lord? To this, Fr. Schrader answered, “That’s like saying that it’s Noah who saves from the flood, not the Ark.” Indeed, Noah built his Ark and Jesus builds his Church. The Ark was God’s means to save a portion of humanity through Noah. Likewise, the Catholic Church is God’s means for saving the human race through Christ.

Lepers’ Lessons — 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

October 14, 2019

Naaman, an army commander from Syria, suffered from some kind of skin disease. He came to Israel seeking a miraculous cure. And, at the direction of the prophet Elisha, Naaman washed seven times in the Jordan River. Perhaps Naaman plunged those seven times all at once, or maybe he bathed across a longer span of time, bathing at morning, midday, and evening, such that he was cured on the third day. But regardless, after Naaman’s washing in the Jordan River, “his flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean of his leprosy.” After his baptism, it was like Naaman had been born again. And Naaman was, understandably, extremely grateful.

Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel,” he said, “Please accept a gift from your servant.” But Elisha replied, “As the Lord lives whom I serve, I will not take it,” and despite Naaman’s urging, he still refused. Why did the prophet refuse him? Perhaps Elisha sensed that to receive any gifts from him would make Naaman feel like his debt of gratitude to God was paid. But God desired Naaman to be in ongoing relationship with him. Unable to give any gift in Israel, Naaman took two mule-loads of earth back home with him to Syria so that he might always worship and offer sacrifice to the God of Israel on holy ground. Naaman was returning to a pagan land, but he intentionally created space for the true God in his life.

Today’s Gospel features another man from a foreign land with a skin disease who comes to seek healing from the Lord. As Jesus was entering a village, a Samaritan and nine other skin-diseased people stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” Jesus tells them to present themselves to the priests. he Old Covenant directed the Jewish priests to administer examinations and rituals regarding people with various skin diseases which our translations somewhat inaccurately call “leprosy.” What we think of as leprosy, Hansen’s Disease (the victims of which St. Damien of Moloka’i and St. Marianne Cope cared for in Hawaii in the late 1800’s) reportedly did not exist in the ancient world. In any case, as Jesus’ ten petitioners were going, their skin was cleansed. And one of them, a Samaritan, realizing he had been healed, returned glorifying God in a loud voice, fell at the feet of Jesus, and thanked him. Jesus says in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Apparently, there were some non-foreigners, some Jewish persons, among the other nine. Jesus says to the healed Samaritan: “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.

These stories from God’s Word present multiple lessons for us today. Listen and consider, with the help of the Holy Spirit how these lessons apply to your life.

  • Like in the case of Naaman with the prophet Elisha, God can’t be bought off with just a few of our gifts. And God does not desire to be honored just one day, but every day of our lives. God wants you, and he wants all of you. That might sound like an unwelcome burden, but it is in the friendship and service of Jesus that we live a worthwhile life. Sure, I can cling to sin, like tolerating a leprosy corrupting my flesh, but how much better off will my life be if I acknowledge God as my master and ask him to heal me?
  • As I noted before, there were apparently Jewish persons among the other nine lepers who didn’t come back to Jesus. Sometimes cradle Catholics can take the gracious gifts we receive for granted. The fervent enthusiasm often seen in converts into the Church reminds us how precious our Catholic Faith is.
  • Among the ten healed lepers, only one showed gratitude. How much do we complain compared to compliment? How often are we criticizing compared to celebrating? The Samaritan made a choice to thank and give praise, and so should we. “Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands,” says our psalm, “break into song; sing praise.” And today’s Gospel antiphon quotes the New Testament, “In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
  • When the lepers saw Jesus they cried out saying: “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And after his healing, the Samaritan returned glorifying God in a loud voice, fell at the feet of Jesus in front of everybody, and thanked him. The Samaritan raised his voice for both occasions and purposes. How much do we pray to God to ask for things, and how much do we pray to God to thank and praise him? God commands us to offer prayers of petition: “Ask and you will receive,” but we also need raise prayers of praise and thanksgiving to him. And we shouldn’t care too much what others think about us doing so.
  • As I said before, Naaman the Syrian knew the pagan land he was returning to, and he intentionally created a holy space in his home within that pagan culture. As today’s modern culture, its entertainments, its schools, its modes of thought, and laws become less and less Christian, we too must be intentional about preserving pure and holy spaces for ourselves and our households. Always going with the flow of this world will lead you down the drain. Instead, build your house on the rock of our Faith.

This saying is trustworthy: If we die with Jesus, we shall also live with him; if we persevere with Christ, we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, and merciful, and just, for he cannot and will not deny himself. Learn from the examples of Naaman the Syrian and the Samaritan Leper. Approach the loving and powerful Lord. Ask him to cleanse you of your impurities and heal you. And live a better life which will be happily remembered and celebrated forever.

Close Companions of a Third Kind

October 9, 2019

Our Creator God has created living creatures in a vast variety. Some are as big as redwoods or blue whales and some are as small as amoebas or plankton. Many living things ordinarily cannot be seen with our naked eyes. Some creatures have intelligence (like monkeys, dogs, or octopuses) while some show little or none (like goldfish, slugs, and houseplants.) God has given earthly creatures material bodies and to the human race he gives rational, immortal souls as well, but third kind of his living beings are pure spirits without physical bodies. They are called the angels.

“Annunciatory Angel” by Fra Angelico, circa 1450.

As for intellect, every angel is likely infused by God with more knowledge than any human being on earth. The angels who did not rebel and become demons are entirely sinless. Angels are not all-powerful (for they are merely God’s creations) but they are mighty, as when St. Michael the Archangel led the battle expelling Satan and the demons from Heaven. Being without a body, angels can give their immediate attention to various places at the same time; beholding God in Heaven while attending to matters on earth. And angels are loving, even desiring that our holiness and glory would surpass their own.

You have an accompanying angel whose mission is to help you to both greater holiness and Heaven. We know this because Jesus tells us. “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.” (Matthew 18:10) From the first moment of his or her existence, a child is entrusted to an angel’s care. This Guardian Angel is tasked by God “to light and guard, to rule and guide,” as the famous prayer says. “For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go.” (Psalm 91:11)

As the old saying says, “Out of sight, out of mind.” We tend to forget about these close companions that humans only rarely see on earth. But we should remember to frequently thank our personal angels for their faithful support and to call upon their help. Ask your sinless, holy angel to pray for you. Your angel is incredibly brilliant and can see the bigger picture, so also ask for ingenious inspirations and astute guidance. Your angel can attend to many matters, so ask for helpful reminders and nudges. (For example, if you want to pray more often, give your angel permission to remind you to pray every morning and night, so that when you first open your eyes and before you drift off to sleep your thoughts will be to pray.) And our angels are fiercely powerful, so call upon their strength to fight off tempters or to dispel needless fears. These angels of God, our dear guardians, will be daily at our sides, so let us commit ourselves to their wise and loving care.

 

Generous Stewards — 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

September 21, 2019

Of all of Jesus’ parables, today’s is among the most peculiar: “Hey disciples, listen to my story about a dishonest steward who successfully swindles his boss. You can learn from him!” Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus says, “You shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud… Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” So what lesson does Jesus want us to learn from this antihero?

Well, we have a lot in common with that fellow. We are in a similar situation. Our Creator God, the sustainer of the universe, is like the rich man, to whom by right belongs everything in the heavens and the earth. We are his stewards, the managers of his possessions, who each must present an account of our stewardship once our positions here on earth are taken away from us. Knowing this day of reckoning approaches, what shall we do? We have often squandered what has been entrusted to us. We are too weak to dig ourselves from the grave of death. And we are too proud, for if we lived fully in the truth, about who God is and who we are, we would not sin. Jesus urges us to follow the dishonest steward’s example, to be very generous, so that after this life, when we are removed from our present stewardship, we may live happily together with friends forever.

The dishonest steward calls in his master’s debtors individually. To the first he says, “How much do you owe my master?” That man replies, “100 measures (that is, 800 or 900 gallons) of olive oil.” He says to him, “Here’s your bill. Sit down and quickly write one for 50 (measures.)” Then the steward says to another, “And you, how much do you owe?” He replies, “100 kors (that is, 10 or 12 hundred bushels) of wheat.” The steward says to him, “Here’s your debt note; write one for 80 (kors.)”

Elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel, the forgiving of sins is likened to the forgiving of debts. Every sin creates a debt because it is depriving another of what is rightfully owed to them. Stealing deprives others of property, lying deprives them of the truth, and rudeness deprives them of the respect and kindness they deserve. Sin forms a debt, first and foremost with God, but also towards the people we trespass against. Luke’s version of the Our Father says, “Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us.”

Some have suggested that the steward in today’s parable was simply forgiving the portion of his master’s accounts which was his own rightful commission as steward. If we are prudent, we will quickly take the present opportunity to forgive our debtors the share of debts they owe us by forgiving the sins they have sinned against us. For we have it on Jesus’ word, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” Forgiveness means loving those who have wronged you, it means, at the very least, praying for them. The person you have a hard time praying for is who you need to pray for.

This lesson about forgiveness is true, but I am not convinced that the steward here was an upright servant merely forgoing his fair share. His urging that the debtors “quickly” write new invoices suggests that he and they are doing something that they don’t want to be discovered. Jesus himself called him dishonest, and the varied commissions of 50% off of the olive oil while getting a 20% commission from the wheat are strange. More likely, this steward is covering the tracks of his embezzlement. If the steward had given every debtor the same write-off, say, a 50% markdown for everyone, the master could have easily undone the scheme by doubling all the figures back. But because of these varying percentages (20% here, 50% there) the deed cannot be reversed, and even the master cannot help but to admire the steward’s cunning craftiness.

Forgiveness is always timely, but this parable is really about being generous with the material possessions God has entrusted to your care. Jesus ends today’s gospel declaring, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” That is to say, you cannot love God and riches. Like a servant with two masters, or an employee with two bosses, you will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. A person who is trustworthy in small things will be trustworthy in great ones; and a person who is dishonest in small things will be dishonest in great ones. If we are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, with these passing things on earth, how can we be entrusted with the true wealth of Heaven where everyone loves their neighbor as themselves?

When I consider that we’re arguably living in the all-time wealthiest country in the world, living in the greatest technological comfort of any stage of human history, I wonder if I am being generous enough with the possessions given to me. This question concerns me. I think about these powerful words of St. Basil the Great, from a 4th century homily he preached:

When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor. Thus, the more there are whom you could help, the more there are whom you are wronging.” St. Basil delivers this gut punch to his hearers who always say, “I have nothing to give. I am only a poor man”: “A poor man you certainly are, and destitute of all real riches; you are poor in love, generosity, faith in God and hope for eternal happiness. Give to a hungry man,” St. Basil urges, “and what you give becomes yours, and indeed it returns to you with interest. As the sower profits from wheat that falls onto the ground, so will you profit greatly in the world to come from the bread that you place before a hungry man.” St. Basil notes, “You are going to leave your money behind you here whether you wish to or not. On the other hand, you will take with you to the Lord the honor that you have won through good works. In the presence of the universal judge, all the people will surround you, acclaim you as a public benefactor, and tell of your generosity and kindness.”

This Sunday is our parish Fall Festival. I invite you to come, to enjoy it, and to generously support it. I am not ashamed to ask you to give generously to our parish because I believe in the great importance and the great goodness of what we do here. But supporting the work of Christ in our parish is not the end of our calling to generous stewardship in this wide world of needs, both spiritual and material. Give like a saint so that someday you may hear the Lord declare to you, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come share your master’s joy.”

Three Parables for Us — 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

September 14, 2019

It was not without design that Jesus, St. Luke, and the Holy Spirit place before us today a trio of Gospel parables: that of a sheep that strayed and was found, that of a coin that was lost and then recovered, and that of a son dead through sin but then returned to life. The lost sheep is joyfully brought back by the Shepherd. The missing coin (specifically a Greek silver drachma worth one day’s wage) is joyfully found by the woman. And the son, repenting of his sinful wandering, retraces his footsteps to his father and is joyfully embraced.

The Pharisees and scribes had complained about Jesus: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus replies with these three parables, three allegorical stories teaching spiritual truths about God, the Church, and us. So where are we symbolically in these parables? We are that sheep, we are that coin, and we are that prodigal son.

Who is the good shepherd in today’s parable? This Good Shepherd is Jesus Christ, who took upon Himself your sins and bears you upon His own Body because he treasures you. And who is the woman who has lost her silver coin, a coin perhaps from an ornamental belt which held her sentimentally-valuable marriage dowry? This woman, this bride, is the Church, who searches and longs for you, because you are precious to her. And who is the merciful father? The merciful father is God the Father, the Father who receives you back.

Consider how, amongst our Good Shepherd’s riches, we are but one one-hundredth portion. Besides us he has vast, sprawling flocks: the angels and archangels, thrones and dominions, and possesses in himself every divine attribute and glory. But he stepped away from these in a mysterious way to save us. In the words of St. Paul, ‘though was in the form of God, Jesus emptied himself, coming in human likeness; he humbled himself for us, even facing death.’ “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says. “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Consider how that ancient drachma coin would bear an image, perhaps the likeness of a god or of the king who had minted it. In whose image are we minted?

God created mankind in his image;
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”

The Bride of Christ rejoices in every coin she picks up and holds, because each one bears an image of her beloved, uniquely shows his face, and enriches her all the more with him.

And consider how living in our Father’s house is better than life in a country distant from him. The word “prodigal” means to spend wastefully, and the son’s time spent away was truly wasted. After paying to enjoy sinful pleasures in the dark of night what did he have left to show for it in the new day’s light? But living in the Father’s household bears good fruit, “fruit that will remain.” And there is more than enough food to eat. “Whoever comes to me will never hunger,” Jesus says, “and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” And the joyful celebrations his Father’s house are not regretted after.

These three parables today are about us. We are the sheep; let us heed our Good Shepherd’s voice. We are precious coins; let us believe our great worth. And we are beloved children; let us live in our Father’s house.

Loving & Serving Jesus Foremost — 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

September 11, 2019

Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” That teaching certainly demands one’s attention. But how does it mesh with our Lord saying: “I give you a new commandment: love one another”? This teaching, like Jesus’ parables, invites us to question and wrestle a little for our Lord’s meaning, so that, through the struggle, we will understand him more deeply and his words will go more deeply in us.

Loving our family members is not the problem that Jesus is warning us against—the problem comes from loving someone or something more than him. We are called to universal Christian love. We are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, and therefore, by extension, commanded to love ourselves as well. (Because if I did not love myself, then what good would it be to love my neighbor as myself?) We should love our neighbors and love ourselves. However, if I am seeking to always please myself or seeking to please everyone around me, that will not lead me to Heaven.

Whatever Jesus asks of me, ultimately will, sooner or later, yield happiness for me. Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these (good) things will be given you besides,” and “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Doing what Jesus asks us leads to happiness, but that doesn’t mean that I, or the people around me, will always be thrilled about what we’re called to do.

Suppose someone is called to be more healthy (which is a good goal) and begins to eat better, exercise more, drink less, and/or quit smoking. This person is loving their body by acting in healthy ways, but at the same time their flesh may, at first, hate these changes. In time, these healthy habits will bear happy fruits, but at the beginning you may have to love your body while displeasing your flesh. Healthy choices can face resistance from other people as well. Family members might object when there’s less junk food snacks in the kitchen cabinets, or when you don’t go out so often for fast food. Drinking or smoking-break buddies may complain that you’re never around, or somehow no fun, anymore. Ultimately, you have to decide whom you are going to serve, listen to, and follow. Jesus Christ insists that we serve him first.

My dad told me that when he was a kid he thought bad people did bad things because they wanted to be bad, like dastardly villains in cartoons and comic books. But in reality, nobody does evil solely for evil’s sake. Every single person, every angel and demon, acts in pursuit some real or perceived good. Sinners are simply pursuing happiness in wrong ways. The unrepentant usually feel justified in what sins they commit; and human beings can create justifications for anything they want.

In the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel, the people said, “Let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky…” They sought, in other words, to build a city and a tower into Heaven. But they attempted to do this without God, and they never got close. Genesis says ‘the Lord had to come down to see the city and the tower that the people had built.’ They fell far short. Today Jesus asks, “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’”

Who, of themselves, has the knowledge or resources to construct paradise, to build an earthly tower into Heaven? No one. We see many people try to build their own foundations for their lives and fail in every sort of sinful way. ‘For human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ If we follow Jesus he leads us into the City of God and his Heavenly Kingdom, the Church, the Church here below and above in glory. Following Jesus means being his disciple, and to be a good disciple is to listen, to learn, and to apply the teachings you are taught.

On earth, Jesus never penned a book, but he did establish a Church, a Church with a Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations”. Make disciples how? Through the sacraments, beginning with baptism, and by “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” In this, the inspired, Sacred Scriptures of the Church play an important part. “And behold,” Jesus says “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Jesus is present in our Church today. Jesus still teaches through his Holy Catholic Church throughout the world.

Is there a part of your life where you’re not listening to Jesus? Perhaps you’re not listening as he speaks in your conscience, in your prayer, or through his Bride, our Mother, the Church? It could be about money, or sexuality, or your life’s vocation, about something you’re doing, or something you’re refusing or afraid to do. Whatever it is, the Lord knows what it is, and you probably do, too.

I’d like to share with you a technique or approach I’ve used to help me take the next step when the Lord was calling me somewhere I wasn’t eager to go; like when I was in middle school and the Lord was calling me to take my faith more seriously, when it would have been easier to ignore him. Or later, when I was called to be more generous with my wealth, but I was frightened of risk. Or when he started calling me to become a priest, and that wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do with my life. Picture yourself on your death bed someday, having not taken the Lord’s path now. Imagine looking back and having to wonder, “What would my life have looked like if I had trusted and dared more for the Gospel? How much better, how much more fruitful, would my life have been?” Or think of yourself standing before God’s judgment seat and him asking you, “Why didn’t you live your life like I wanted you to live it? I desired so much more for you.” Avoid having to look back someday with regret, at the end of this life or in the next. Bravely take the path that God is calling you to choose. Jesus desires abundant life for you, so carry your cross and follow him.

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler” by Heinrich Hofmann, 1888