Archive for the ‘Parables’ Category

Learning from the Dishonest Steward

September 17, 2022

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Victor Feltes

In today’s strange parable, Jesus presents the scheming of a thief and a liar as an example we can learn from. We are not to imitate this dishonest steward’s treachery but rather his proactive shrewdness, “for the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”

How shrewdly proactive are we in doing good? We hunt for bargains at the store or online. But do we pursue opportunities to be generous? You have wealth and skills – so share them creatively. We invest and save for retirement. But do we intentionally store up treasure in heaven like Jesus tells us to? You can take nothing with you when you die; but you can increase what wealth awaits you by sending it ahead of you beforehand through generous deeds done now on earth. Jesus tells us to be “as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.” He wants us, in cooperation with his grace, to show initiative in strategically and sinlessly serving his Kingdom for God’s glory, for our good, and for the good of all. That’s a worthwhile takeaway, but let’s look a little deeper. Like many of Jesus’ stories, today’s parable contains weird details which goad us to grapple with it further. What do we discover when we imagine ourselves in the shoes of the dishonest steward?

In this story, a rich man has a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. (A steward is someone entrusted to manage another’s property, finances, or affairs.) The master summons his servant and said, “What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.” If you and I are this steward, then who is our rich master? Our Lord is God. We are his servants, and who could be richer than the one from whom all good things come?

What has God entrusted to us? St. Paul replies, “What do you have that you did not receive? … For we brought nothing into the world.” Even the hardest-working farmer relies upon God’s soil, sun, air, and water to transform the seeds into his harvest. Even our own efforts in doing good come from God, “for God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work,” as St. Paul tells the Philippians. Every good thing we have is his.

Have we squandered what God entrusted to us as stewards? Every sin is a misuse of what we’ve been given, and who of us has used what we were given to its full potential? Our Lord has put us on notice that a day is coming when our present stewardship will end with a full accounting of our stewardship, “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,” St. Paul writes, “then each of us shall give an account of himself to God.”

The steward in the parable says to himself, “What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.” He recognizes he is too weak and too proud. Similarly, who of us is strong enough to overcome death, to dig ourselves out of the grave? And if you or I were perfectly humble instead of proud, we would always live in the truth (about who God is and who we are) and we would never sin—and yet we do sin.

The steward says to himself, “I know what I shall do so that when I am removed from the stewardship they may welcome me into their homes.” He calls in his master’s debtors one by one, asking them, “How much do you owe my master?” He then forgives portions of their debts – sometimes a fifth or a half of what they owe. And in the end, amazingly, when what this dishonest steward has done is revealed, even his betrayed master commends him for acting prudently and this steward is welcomed into many mansions.

The Our Father prayer as it appears in St. Matthew’s Gospel says, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Whenever someone sins against you they sin against God too, creating a kind of debt, but you yourself can forgive a portion of that debt. When our Lord sees this, he commends you for it. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” And when you are more mercifully generous than what is deserved, you gain blessings. “For the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” So learn from the dishonest steward. Forgive the sin-debts of others, be creative and proactive in your generosity on earth, and one day “you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, The Lost Son

September 10, 2022

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

On this twenty fourth Sunday of Ordinary time, by our faith in Christ, we have gathered in the presence of our Lord who is Loving, merciful, forgiving, and compassionate God. The Good News Jesus preached was that God is not a cruel, judging, and punishing God. He is our loving and forgiving Heavenly Father who wants to save everyone through His Son Jesus.

In the first reading of today, we discover a God who is faithful to his vows. As a merciful and compassionate father. Moses is imploring a forgiving God to have mercy on the sinful people who have abandoned Him and turned to idol-worship. He reminds God of His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to show mercy to His unfaithful people. God heard the prayers of Moses on behalf of his people God hears Moses’ plea and takes his people back.

Today’s second reading, St. Paul repeats his story of conversion, intending to offer to everyone who will listen. As Saul of Tarsus, a zealous Jew, persecuted the church of God, but not only he forgiven, he is called to be an apostle. St. Paul always contrasts his life before Christ with his life after his Damascus experience. He had been the greatest of sinners, as a blasphemer and arrogant persecutor, God showed great mercy towards him. St. Paul invites us to marvel at the mercy of God and to find hope and help for dealing with our own need for conversion.

In the Gospel reading, the first two parables, there are the common elements of loss, searching, finding, rejoicing, and sharing of the joy. But in the third parable, we see a God forgiving and receiving sinners, the parables tell us about God’s generosity in seeking and receiving the sinner and the joy of the sinner in being received by a forgiving and loving God.

All three parables of Luke 15 end with a party or a celebration of the finding.  Since the self-righteous Pharisees, who accused Jesus of befriending publicans and sinners, could not believe that God would be delighted at the conversion of sinners, Jesus told them the parable of the lost sheep and the shepherd’s joy on its discovery, the parable of the lost coin and the woman’s joy when she found it, and the parable of the lost and returned son and his Father’s joy. Besides presenting a God who is patiently waiting for the return of the sinners, ready to pardon them, these parables teach us of God’s infinite love and mercy.

We need to live every day as our merciful God’s forgiven children: Let us begin every day by prayer so that we may learn how to obey God’s holy will by doing good, avoiding evil, and trying to live in God’s presence everywhere. Before we go to bed at night, let us examine our conscience and confess to God our sins and failures of the day, asking His pardon and forgiveness.  Let us resolve to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation if we have fallen into serious sins. Let us continue to ask for God’s forgiveness before we receive Jesus in Holy Communion during the Holy Mass. Thus, let us live a peaceful life as forgiven prodigal children, getting daily reconciled with God, our merciful and forgiving Father.

Let us not act like the Scribes, the Pharisees and the elder brother of the prodigal son who hold on to others’ sins rather we should act like Jesus who easily overlooks our faults and forgives us of our grave sins and then welcomes us back. We pray that the mercy of God may find us whenever we miss our track and patiently bring us back to his merciful bosom.

Parables of Towers & Kings

September 3, 2022

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

The disciples asked Jesus, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” The gospels show him explaining parables to his apostles in private, but the meanings of Jesus’ symbolic stories about the Kingdom of God were kept somewhat hidden from the crowds. Christ’s enemies and scoffers would dismiss these tales as nonsense but those with faith in him would keep them and contemplate them. The foes to his public ministry walked away with no additional ammunition to attack him with, but his faithful disciples would discover wisdom in his teachings. 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.”

Sometimes the gospels explicitly tell us Jesus’ interpretations of his parables, as with The Parable of the Sower or The Parable of the Weeds. But many parables get presented without being unpacked, like our parables today: a parable about building a tower and a parable about considering battle against a stronger king. The context gives us clues to their meaning but some ambiguity remains. I believe this openness to interpretation can be intentional – inspired by God to convey multiple ideas at the same time, like that optical illusion where two profiled faces outline a vase between them, or the one where the same image depicts either an old woman or a young lady. Is the tower being built in today’s parable a good thing or a bad thing? Is the opposing king we contemplate fighting a wicked one or righteous? Each of these interpretations teaches us a lesson for the Kingdom of God.

In the first parable, 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.’” In this parable, is the tower something good or something bad?

What is the Bible’s first and most famous tower? It’s the Tower of Babel in Genesis. The people at Babel said: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth!” This was after God had commanded Noah and his descendants to “Be fertile and multiply and fill the earth.” But the people of Babel turned inward, seeking to glorify their own name apart from God through building a city and tower rivaling heaven.

The God of heaven, whose name is above every name, had to come down to examine their efforts. And God, foreseeing what evils Babel’s unchecked hubris and concentration of power would bring about on earth, confuses their speech. Having amusingly lost the ability to even say, “Hey, pass me that brick,” great and mighty Babel must abandon its proud project and its people scatter across the earth. Babel is the image of a wicked tower project, but another kind of tower in the Bible has positive connotations.

Both the Old Testament prophet Isaiah and Jesus Christ in the gospels speak of building watchtowers for vineyards to safeguard their previous fruits. Jesus’ Parable of the Tenants begins, “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower…” This echoes Isaiah’s song about his friend’s vineyard, which also notes, “within it he built a watchtower.” A farmer would dwell atop his tower to watch and guard his vineyard during harvest time, on the lookout for hungry foxes, badgers, jackals, and even human thieves. But a vineyard’s half-finished watchtower is of little or no use at all. Unlike the Tower of Babel, this sort of tower is good and wise to complete.

There also are two ways to take today’s second parable. Jesus asks, “What king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.” Can you prevail against an enemy who outnumbers you two-to-one? In ancient battles the side with the far more numerous forces typically won, but there were exceptions.

In the 1st Book of Maccabees, the army of the wicked, pagan King Antiochus, led by a commander who sought to ‘make a name for himself,’ came to fight the people of God on the battlefield. The soldiers of the Jewish leader, Judas Maccabeus, asked him: “How can we, few as we are, fight such a strong host as this? Besides, we are weak since we have not eaten today.” But Judas replied: “Many are easily hemmed in by a few; in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between deliverance by many or by few; for victory in war does not depend upon the size of the army, but on strength that comes from Heaven.” The people of God prevailed that day. Though outnumbered, the Jews would go on to win battle after battle against their enemy, so long as they were faithful in serving and honoring God.

So what do today’s parables mean for us? Well, what kind of tower are you intending to build? Is it a structure of sin, vanity, and pride (like the Tower of Babel) which will not reach heaven? Then sit down, recognize your foolishness, and change your plans, lest your foreseeable failure become your mockable, lasting legacy. Or do you plan to build a watchtower to guard your soul and protect your good fruits from anything or anyone (that is, any temptation) that would rob you? Then do not only invest in your project halfway. You cannot clear a ten-foot-wide chasm with five-foot jumps. Our hearts must not be divided, but fully devoted to Jesus Christ.

Jesus tells us, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon (or, both God and money)… Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions (that is, anyone who would be unwilling to sacrifice his wealth to do my will) cannot be my disciple.” Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me without hating (that is, if anyone loves more than me) his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” This is the level of commitment that Jesus Christ expects from us.

And who is the powerful king we contemplate doing battle with? If that king in the parable is God we would be foolish to oppose him. You could not defeat him or the coming of his Kingdom with even a billion troops at your command. So it is wise to seek out and accept his peace terms now before Jesus Christ returns. Alternatively, what if that king in our parable is the Evil One? Then we should not be afraid. The devil and the demons hate us and war against us; they are legion. Yet “victory in war does not depend upon the size of the army, but on strength that comes from Heaven.” As St. James writes, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

In conclusion, as you can see, the simple parables of Jesus contain riches for those who listen and keep them. Reject the foolishness of pride and vanity. Resist sin and the devil by being fully allied with Christ. Do not have a divided heart, but instead wisely invest all-in with Jesus.

Are you Friends with Jesus?

August 21, 2022

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

How many friends do you have on earth? When was the last time you counted them? It’s not the same as the number of Facebook friends you have. Each of us have many acquaintances, but fewer friendly acquaintances, and still fewer true friends. What is it that makes you and your friends friends? Are you friends with Jesus and how can you tell?

Luke’s Gospel relates a parable which foreshadows that not all will die as friends of Christ. The Lord Jesus is the master of the house and he plainly warns us that after he has arisen and locked the door, many will stand outside knocking and saying, “Lord, open the door for us… We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” But he will answer, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!” In the parallel passage to this which appears in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus cautions us, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven… I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.’” Seeing many figures from the Old Covenant and from around the world saved, reclining at table, and feasting in the kingdom of God, those kept outside will be angry and grieved, wailing and grinding their teeth, at having squandered their chance to enter.

But doesn’t Jesus say elsewhere: “Knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened”? That is true for us during this lifetime, but at the moment of death one’s eternal fate is sealed. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.” (CCC #1021) We must come to Jesus. Jesus says, “I am the gate…. No one comes to the Father except through me… Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Now is the time to approach him and befriend him for our salvation. We know that he loves us, but are we friends with Jesus?

When I was growing up, I thought about how many friends I had. I wondered, “Who counts as a friend?” I came up with a test: my close friends were those who could invite me to their house for supper with their family, or whom I could have over to eat with mine, without it being strange. With most of my grade school peers such invites would have felt weird, but with my handful of friends it felt fine. Eating with other people has been a sign of fellowship since ancient times. This is partly why Jesus calls us to Mass, to this meal together with him and the family of God. What greater dinner invitation could we receive than this?

Yet, simply eating with our Lord does not guarantee our closeness. During his public ministry, Pharisees invited Jesus to dine with them while regarding him with suspicion, and recall what those locked outside in the parable say to our Lord: “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” Merely being present for these activities does not automatically yield a close friendship with Christ. At every Mass, Jesus’ Word is taught and his Body and Blood are consumed, but friendship with Christ is about more than just coming to church. So how can we be closer to him?

I recognized my boyhood friends in those whom I would visit for meals and whom I would likewise welcome to dine with me. Jesus invites us to visit him in the Eucharist but desires that we in turn would invite him to our homes. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” How can we invite Jesus inside? How do we receive him into the places where we live?

Jesus knocks upon the door of our souls and hearts and minds each day, and through daily prayer we let him in. Open the door to him by prioritizing your relationship with habits of devotion. Be a gracious host to your great guest and make him feel at completely home, listening to his voice and fulfilling all his requests. Seek to serve the Kingdom of Christ and embody his righteousness as a saint like him. Reject your sins and love like him, for Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Jesus knows we’ll mess up sometimes, but Christ’s true friends will strive to be his close friends.

Choose the Narrow Gate

August 20, 2022

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

Salvation is a past, present, and future event. We were saved from the bondage of sin when we were baptized as children or adults. We are being saved in the present, when we cooperate with God’s grace by loving others as Jesus did, by sharing our blessing with the needy, and being reconciled with God daily through His forgiveness of our sins. We will be definitively saved when we hear the loving invitation from Jesus, our Judge, at the moment of our death when we hear Him say, “Good and faithful servant, you were faithful in little things enter into the joy of your Master.”

Today’s first reading about the prophesy of Isaiah, we hear about the return of God’s people to Jerusalem. It is an assurance that God will fulfill His promise to His People. God will soon fulfill his promise of restoring us to Himself. He will do this to show His saving power. God has the purpose for this gathering, this is for the glory of his name. In other words, every work he does has the remote aim of giving Him Glory. In addition to gathering us unto Himself, God will also make us his ambassadors to other nations.

Today’s second reading from the letter to the Hebrews gives us the “narrow gate” theology. The road less often taken and the gate less often chosen are the paths of God’s discipline. The pain and suffering Christians experience are the parts of God’s discipline given in love. We are being disciplined by our afflictions, strengthened to walk that straight and narrow path – that we may enter the gate and take our place at the banquet of the righteous. The experience is similar to that of a child being disciplined by loving parents who desire only to help him grow, mature, and become responsible.

In the Gospel, Jesus answers a very difficult question, “Lord, will there be only a few saved?” His response was very simple, “Try your best to enter by the narrow door.” Jesus affirms that God wants all persons to enjoy eternal life. But he stresses our need for constant fidelity and vigilance to His commandments throughout our lives. Thus Jesus reminds us that, even though God wants all of us to be saved, we all need to work at it. Entry into God’s Kingdom is not automatically granted. Jesus came to bring God’s love and freedom to the whole world. The message of his Gospel is that there is not a single person, people, nation, race or class which will be excluded from experiencing the love and liberation that God offers.

We need to make wise decisions and choose the narrow gate. God allows us to decide every day what road we will walk down and what gate we will choose. He encourages us to choose His way and His life. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me,” this means a consistent denial of self for the steady follower of Jesus.

We need to cooperate with God’s grace every day, by choosing the narrow way and the narrow gate of self – control of our evil tendencies, evil habits, and addictions. God gives us divine strength to practice self – control. We are enabled to love others, see the face of Jesus in them, and share our blessings with them. The Holy Spirit guides us through the narrow way in daily prayer, bible reading, and reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.

In the Boss’s Shoes

August 7, 2022

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Once upon a time, you had an idea, an idea to bless the entire world by starting a new business from scratch. You fully invested yourself into the project – your time and talent and treasure – to make this enterprise successful, and it was very successful. After leading your business for many years without a single vacation, you announced you would be taking some time away. You reassured your employees the company would continue and that you would be back, perhaps in a few weeks or maybe several months.

You gave careful instructions to all of your managers for what they were to do in your absence, and then you left on a journey which was out of this world. You celebrated a beautiful, destination wedding which you had long-looked forward to and enjoyed many other things. Then one Friday afternoon around 3:00 PM, you returned to your workplace, your creation.

Driving into the parking lot, you’re surprised by how few cars there are. Your confusion turns into shock when you discover the building’s front doors are locked, despite it being business hours. Fishing out your keys from your pocket you unlock the door and walk into an empty lobby. First, you go to your office and find your dear secretary, Mary, at her desk.

Thank God you’re here,” she says and she begins to tear up. “After you left, everything became horrible. Despite what you told them, people started doing their own thing. When I tried to correct them, they wouldn’t listen and were cruel.” “Where are they now?” you ask. “Most of the salaried employees have simply stopped showing up, and the rest are skipping work today to make it another ‘long weekend.’” “Mary, I thank you for your faithfulness. I’m sorry this happened to you, and I will make it up to you.

As you walk throughout the building you notice many empty beer bottles and pizza boxes laying around. The cubicles and warehouse are nearly deserted, except for Jennifer helping customers over the phone at her computer and Michael moving shipping crates on his forklift. Then you find several of the junior employees goofing-off in the break room. They become very quiet when you enter.

Why aren’t you working?” “Because… no one has told us what to do.” “Fine! Start by clearing these tables and picking up the floor. Clean these workspaces and take out the trash. Then report back to me.

Returning to your office, you immediately dictate two memos: the first, firing all of your current managers for cause, and a second memo giving large raises and promotions to Mary, Jennifer, and Michael, appointing them as the new leaders of their departments. I trust this tale sounds familiar; it is similar to Jesus’ parables but dressed in modern clothes.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus urges us to be prepared “like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” Blessed will such servants be upon his arrival, especially if he finds them vigilant in nighttime’s “second or third watch,” that is, during this world’s darkest hours. Their joyfully returning lord and master will be so grateful for their proven faithfulness. “Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them,” just like Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, dries their feet with a towel wrapped around his waist, and gives them his Eucharist at the Last Supper. Our Lord and Master, who shall come knocking on an unknown future day – either on the day we die or on the Last Day – is Jesus Christ himself.

As for those who say “the master is delayed in coming” or imagine he is never coming back, who mistreat other people (the menservants and the maidservants) and serve their own selfish desires (eating and drinking and getting drunk), our Lord will come at an unknown hour and punish them severely, condemning them to where the unfaithful go.

In the beginning, God had an idea, an idea to bless our entire world, creating this universe from scratch. Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made, has fully invested himself into his enterprise’s success. Yet Jesus has given us all freewill. Though never far, Christ leaves us free to choose to be his good co-workers or to do our own wicked thing. Today I hope that, having imagined yourself in the Boss’s shoes, you may better personally feel and appreciate how much our Lord treasures your faithfulness and how eager he is to reward it.

What Truly Lasts

July 31, 2022

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

Our God is a personal God who is concerned about each and every one of us and personally takes care of us. He is a benevolent Father caring for the needs of his children and planning a future for each one. The Bible presents God as a father who takes care of His children. His concern is beyond our understanding. The readings of today invite us to place our trust in God. We are invited to focus our attention on the heavenly realities more than on the earthly shadows.

Today we are also reminded that we are in a transitory world. This means that everything here changes. Everything passes. Hence, it is a call to make use of the things of this world prudently without losing our ultimate goal. Heaven is our goal. In heaven, nothing passes away.

The first reading of this Sunday begins with a warning, “Vanity, vanity,” the reading says, “vanity.” The author reminds us that there will be an ultimate end to all created things. This strikes a reality that most of us have neglected. However, one day each of us will come to terms with it. The author also calls us to remember God in all we do. And, he reminds us that the ultimate goal here on earth is to walk our way straight to heaven.

In the second reading, St. Paul advises the Colossian community that they must look for the things of heaven where Christ is. He wanted all thoughts to be centered on heavenly things, not on the things that are on earth. He reminded the Colossian community that in Baptism they have become new persons as they have been raised with Christ. There we find the perfect image of God in Jesus who is the perfect pattern of our life.

In today’s Gospel, in the parable of the foolish rich man, Jesus warns us against all types of greed, because greed takes our life’s focus away from God-away from serving and loving God and other people. Jesus says that God calls the greedy rich man a fool because the man thought he would not die soon and that he was not accountable for the way he used his riches. The rich man forgot the fact that his wealth had been lent to him by God for sharing with the needy. Jesus also warns us that our eternal life does not consist of earthly possessions. These we should share to gain eternal life.

We are invited to share our blessings with others, the parable of the rich fool gives us a warning as an invitation. It reminds us that our possessions are merely lent to us by God. And that we are accountable for their use. We must be generous in sharing our time, our treasure, and our talents in Christian stewardship. Even if we are financially poor, we may be blessed with intelligence, good will, a sense of humor, or the ability to console, encourage, inspire, support, and help others. God expects us to give our thanks to Him for all these blessings by sharing them with others for His glory.

Let us control our greed. Our greed takes different shapes and forms. For some, it may be the desire for the approval and praise of others, for some it may be an uncontrolled desire for power, control, or fame. For some still others, greed takes the form of excessive and sinful indulgence in eating, drinking, gambling, or drugs. Greed also turns our life away from God and away from loving and serving Him and other people. Greed directs all our energy and attention to fulfilling the self. We need to come out of ourselves and understand God and His creation, all the created things will pass away, but God never changes or passes away.

Stories of Three Fruitful Conversions

July 30, 2022

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Leah Darrow grew up in a strong Catholic family, but she recalls that in high school her Catholicism started to get “fuzzy.” By the time she was in college, Leah says she had become a “Catholic But,” as in, “I’m Catholic but I don’t agree with the Church’s teaching on cohabitation… I’m Catholic but I don’t see the problem with a couple who love each other sleeping together before their marriage… I think the Church is behind the times.”

One evening at college Leah watched a reality show called “America’s Next Top Model.” She thought to herself, “I’m pretty cute, maybe I could be on that show.” Leah tried out, got accepted, and competed on national television against other gorgeous women. Even though she didn’t win the competition this exposure and fame jump-started her modeling career. She still recalls her excitement at receiving her first modeling paycheck featuring a number with a comma in it. Leah’s chosen path eventually led her to an experience in a New York City skyscraper which forever changed her life.

She came to pose for a risqué, international, men’s magazine. They brought out a number of itsy-bitsy outfits for her, she put one on, and the photoshoot began. Yet while Leah was posing, a vision flashed into her mind: three images in the span of perhaps a second or two. First, she saw herself standing in a large white space wearing that immodest outfit. She felt no pain in that moment, but had a sense that she had died. In the second image, Leah was looking up, holding out her open hands at her waist with the knowledge that she was in God’s presence. In her third and final scene, Leah saw herself holding her hands all the way up, offering God all that she had, but she saw that she was offering him nothing. She realized that with all of the blessings, talents, and gifts God gave her she had wasted them on herself. She saw that if she had died at that moment she would have nothing to offer Christ.

Leah abruptly abandoned the photo session, changed back into her own clothes, and ran down 5th Avenue balling. She called home saying, “Dad, if you don’t come get me I am going to lose my soul.” So her father drove across the country from Oklahoma to New York City. When her dad arrived, though Leah wanted to leave for home immediately, her father insisted upon seeing the sights. “But first,” he said, “we go to confession.” Leah made a good confession through tears, and came out of the confessional healed, like a new woman. In the years since, Leah Darrow has been bearing good fruit as a national Catholic speaker.

I was reminded of Leah’s story by a young man’s testimony this week. My spiritual retreat house in Illinois was a short distance from the Mundelein Seminary, which allowed me to take in a portion of the Courage International conference being held there now. Courage is a fellowship helping men and women who experience same-sex attractions to live chastely — faithful to Jesus Christ and Catholic teaching on sexuality.

Part of the training day for clergy was hearing a Courage member share his story. He grew up Catholic with faithful, loving parents, but like the Prodigal Son went off on his own way. He says his lifestyle had many pleasures but there remained an unsatisfied sadness. He knew what he was doing wasn’t right. One night, awakening from sleep, he also had a life-changing vision. He saw his heart of flesh descending over a dark ocean, dropping deeper and deeper down into the depths. And then he heard the Lord say two things to him (if I recall the phrasing precisely): “My son, come home,” and “Time is running out.” This experience helped him see he was God’s beloved but needed to change his life. He was called by Christ to something greater, and now his joyful life is bearing good fruit.

A different speaker at the conference shared another great story. It was an anecdote about a husband and father who had an addiction to viewing indecent images. Through renewed devotion and the help of God’s grace, this man began to experience victory and freedom from this sin. One day, as he was driving down the road chit-chatting with his four-year-old daughter in the backseat, she remarked, “I like new daddy more than old daddy.” (To be clear, both “old daddy” and “new daddy” were references to him.) This man’s four-year-old daughter did not know why things were now different, but she delighted in how much more present, attentive, and open her dad had become for her by valuing pure love more than sin.

As St. Paul urges us in today’s second reading, “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” Your old self and its practices must give way to the new. “Think of what is above,” Paul writes, “not of what is on earth.” Be renewed in God to share in his delight and great rewards.

The rich man in today’s parable gathered earthly wealth, planning and preparing for himself pleasures in this life. He thought he still had many years ahead of him to enjoy, but his time was running out. God calls him a fool since he is soon to appear before the Lord with empty hands, poor “in what matters to God.” “Vanity of vanities,” our first reading says; this world is full of vanities! Stop chasing after and clinging to worthless things. Remember that you are loved, that you were made for great things, and that the joy and freedom Jesus Christ has given to others he can also give to you.

The Parable of the Midnight Visitor

July 24, 2022

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Imagine a visitor arrives at your home. He’s hungry but you have nothing to feed him. Suppose it’s so late at night that all the stores are closed. So you go down the road to the house of your friend and knock on his door. You rap gently and quietly at first, but then beat more firmly and loudly. It’s midnight, and your friend won’t answer the door. So you call out, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him!” But your annoyed friend replies from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.”

Is it really true that he cannot give you anything, or just that he would rather not? Notice what he doesn’t say; he doesn’t say he has no bread. Jesus assures us that if this neighbor of yours does not get up to give you those loaves of bread because of your friendship, he will surely get up to give you whatever you need because of your persistence. Why is this so? Because of his kids. Your neighbor inside says he and his children are already in bed. Are his children asleep? They were… before you came knocking. What will happen if you’re persistent and keep on calling at the door? The kids will not be happy. They will cry and complain, and their father will find no peace. That’s why his surrendering of some bread is guaranteed.

So what is Jesus really teaching us through this story? How to bother your friends and extort their food? The meaning of this parable is revealed by its context. Right before this story, Jesus’ disciples are taught how to pray to our Father. They are encouraged to ask him to “give us each day our daily bread.” And right after the parable, Jesus invites his disciples to seek and knock and ask, that we may find that we receive at an opened door. Jesus then reminds us that if even sinful fathers know how to give their children good gifts when asked, how much more so will our sinless Father give good gifts like the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? Today’s parable about knocking and asking at our friend’s door is likewise a lesser example teaching a greater truth: if your flawed and annoyed earthly neighbor can be persuaded to get out of bed in the middle of the night to give you bread, how much more readily will your perfect, patient, heavenly Father give you the daily bread, gifts, and graces you ask of him in prayer?

Later in the New Testament, St. James writes, “You do not possess because you do not ask.” So why don’t we ask God for more things in prayer? Perhaps you don’t ask because you’re afraid of being selfish or needy. But it’s not selfish to ask for what you or others need. Our parable’s protagonist had a praiseworthy purpose, to feed a hungry guest. To ask our Father for his good gifts is a good thing we are commanded to do. So if you never pray for yourself, or if you never pray for others, then definitely add such petitions to your prayers. Perhaps you don’t ask for more things in prayer because you worry you will ask for the wrong things. But that is not something to fear. If your son asks you for a poisonous snake or scorpion, would you then hand them over to him? Of course not. Nor will your heavenly Father grant wishes which would harm you.

And here’s a final reflection. If we are the main character in today’s parable (the one who is seeking and knocking and asking), and God is the father whom we approach with our request, then who are the father’s children at rest with him in his house? Who else in heaven can hear our prayers and add their voices to our requests, not because of annoyance at us but from their great love for us? We see in the Book of Revelation that in this present age (before the Second Coming) the saints in heaven are offering prayers to God. They do not pray for themselves, but for us. Like Abraham who once interceded before God for Sodom, the saints in heaven can intercede for us now. So ask them. As St. James wrote, “The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.”

Jesus’ parable would teach us to not be bashful but be bold in asking for good things from God. So knock on the door of heaven, with your prayers to our Father and his children above.

God Close to Us

July 11, 2022

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

Today we celebrate the God who is close to us both in His Word and in our neighbor. As the image of the unseen God, and as the Good Samaritan, Christ is close to us in all circumstances of life. So, the church asks us to acknowledge the presence of God both in his Word, and in our neighbor. Jesus teaches us through the parable of the Good Samaritan that God’s grace comes to us in all forms and through all kinds of people.

The first reading taken from the Book of Deuteronomy is one of the most consoling and joyful words given to the people. It was time for Moses to take leave of his people as he could not reach the Promised Land. He says to his people God is our life, hear the voice of God from the Law and to keep His Commandments, He tells them God is very near to them in the neighbors we shall encounter each day. When we act as neighbor to them, we act as neighbor to God Himself.

The second reading is from the Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians. It tell us about the divinity of Jesus and that Jesus is the image of invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. All creation was in Him, through Him, and for Him. Since all is created in and through him, Christ is the center of Unity. Jesus is the full revelation of God, it is this Jesus who lives in us and in our neighbors. We love Jesus when we love our neighbors.

In today’s Gospel, a scribe asked Jesus a very basic religious question, “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” In answer to the question, Jesus directs the scribe’s attention to the Sacred Scriptures. Love God and express it by loving your neighbor.

God could be found in his Word which is close to him. To love God therefore is to love his Word. The Word of God is personified in the Good Samaritan in today’s gospel. The word of God is Jesus himself, who speaks to us, and Jesus who is ever close to us like the Good Samaritan.

The Gospel also presents to us another way through which God is close to us. That is, in our neighbor. As a humble master, he is always available to us in simple ways and things. He is close to us in the scriptures, in the poor, in the just, in the pious, in the marginalized, in the sick, and in the weak. Like the Good Samaritan, if we search for God in these, we will find Him. The Good Samaritan saw God in the victim, and so was moved to help him.

The Good Samaritan represents those who seek Christ in the weak, wounded, and the poor. He represents those who are mindful of their neighbors and those who are wounded. Also, he represents Christ who is always quick to come to our help when we are weak, despised, and abandoned. He is ever ready to help us to recover from our injuries, and He is so close to take care, and to heal us.

We have one life and we do not get another one. So live your life praising God and if you fall astray, always run back to Him because He will always welcome you with open arms. Use the gifts He has blessed you with to serve others. Do not live your life wasting away with the temporary happiness of life, find permanent happiness in living out the virtues and serving others. God loves us so much that He gave us this life.

A Heaven-Sent Hug

July 10, 2022

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Last month, a parishioner told me she looked forward to the great stories I would bring back from vacation. Today, I would like to tell you the best story from my time away. It’s actually a story of Tori, the wife of a former college roommate I visited. It is a God story which all involved are happy to share with others, and this story is entirely true.

Tori worked ten years at a Christian school in Oregon with a much-beloved Bible teacher named Dave. He was like a father figure for her. Tori did not really know his wife, Marcy, but he often spoke of her in glowing terms. When Tori had left her teaching job and moved away, Dave was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer shortly after his retirement. Dave and Marcy helped keep their friends and family in the loop through their joint Facebook account until he passed in 2017.

Amanda Robin Sandberg

Fast-forward to May of 2022. Tori and her family have lived in Northern Idaho for a little more than a year. And it so happens that Marcy, the now remarried widow, has also moved to Idaho and lives less than two miles away from Tori, though they still remain merely acquaintances. One Monday, Tori is scrolling Facebook and sees one of Marcy’s posts: it’s the picture (right) of a smiling 42-year-old woman paired with the caption “My beautiful daughter.” This seems like a rather benign item, but Tori’s thoughts keep returning back to it, over and over. So Tori revisits the post the next day and reads its many replies. From this she learns that Marcy’s daughter Amanda has died, recently and suddenly, in an unmentioned way.

Being a mother herself, Tori’s heart breaks; she weeps, moved with compassion. Seeing far away Facebook friends writing to Marcy saying “I wish we could be there for you,” Tori prays, “I’m right here, I’m close. God, what can I do?” And the idea she receives is, “Go! Go to her house!” Tori thinks, “I don’t know her very well. I should bring her cookies or flowers.” But this was answered with, “No, don’t bring anything. … Bring her a hug. That’s what you’re allowed to bring her and nothing else.”

Now Tori is very kind, but naturally an introvert. This plan to just drop-in on a mourning acquaintance was not her preference. She asked, “Is this really what you want me to do?” And the compelling idea continued urging her like a mantra: “Show up, bring her a hug. Show up, bring her a hug.” Like she had experienced in previous inspired episodes, this thought’s persistence despite Tori’s personal fears and doubts were a sign to her that it was coming from the Lord. Tori reports, “I felt stronger and stronger: ‘This hug is from her daughter. This is what she wants to give her.’

Late Tuesday afternoon, her stomach sick with anxiety, Tori went to Marcy’s home and rang the bell. Marcy soon opened the door with a surprised but friendly expression. Tori said, “I believe I saw something on Facebook.” Marcy’s face fell and she nodded. Extending her arms, Tori said, “I’m here to give you…” and Marcy interrupted, “A Hug!” Tori is ordinarily a light hugger but she gave Marcy strong embraces. Marcy joyfully said to her husband, “She hugs just like Amanda!” The two women smiled, cried, and hugged again and again.

Amanda had died just four days before in a car accident. She was the same age as Tori. Marcy had Christian faith her daughter was in heaven but was asking God for a sign that Amanda was alright. Just hours before Tori’s visit, Marcy had told her husband one of the things she was going to miss most were Amanda’s hugs. Marcy told Tori that Amanda had once hugged her mom so tightly that she broke some of her mother’s ribs. “I never told her,” Marcy said, “but I guess she knows now!” What beautiful things would the Lord do through us if we were more open to his promptings?

This morning, Jesus shares with us one of his greatest Gospel stories. In this famous parable, after evil befalls a traveler on the road at least three people happen by. When the priest, Levite, and Samaritan began their days’ journeys none of their plans had foreseen a detour to help a stranger in need. The priest and the Levite both saw the robbers’ victim but they were too busy or too afraid to help, or they simply assumed God didn’t want them to get involved. The Samaritan, however, was open to the will of the Lord that day in a way the other two were not. The Samaritan was moved with compassion and approached the man; cared for him, lifted him up, provided help for him, and left him better than he found him. Of the three, Jesus presents the Good Samaritan as an example for us to follow, telling us to “go and do likewise.”

You can do likewise by being open and asking, by asking the Lord and being open to his promptings. First, choose to increase your openness to loving “the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Then ask the Lord in prayer to use you as his voice, hands, and feet; as his conduit, his vessel, his powerful instrument in your daily life. (“God, please show me your will.”) Finally, as you go throughout your day, be open to his invitations.

What are the Lord’s promptings like? When some innocuous thing seems highlighted in Tori’s attention or when someone comes to her mind during prayer, in a dream, or in the course of her day, she pauses to ask Jesus about it. Maybe she is supposed to reach out to someone with inspired words or some good deed. Tori notices the Lord’s ideas hit her differently than her own, they stick with her rather than fade away, returning to her in quiet moments. And if she were ever to hear an evil suggestion, she would then know it’s not from him. Provided Tori does not give in to busyness or distraction, when she is welcoming heaven’s invitations, “Every time I’m open to God doing something,” she says, “he does stuff.”

This spiritual openness, asking and listening and doing, is a skill to practice. Like when cultivating a new garden or starting to lift weights, it is better to begin small and to grow over time than to never start at all. Be prepared to take some risks for Jesus. It is better to make small mistakes than to miss amazing opportunities. Christ died for us. We must be concerned about more than merely our own comfort and plans. Like the Good Samaritan, be interested in helping to save and bless others. Be open and ask God to use you, ask our loving Lord and be open to his great ideas.

God’s Universal & Personal Love

March 27, 2022

4th Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran 

God’s love is universal and at the same time, it is personal. Our God is concerned for each person individually yet at the same time he loves us the whole community. God loved the world so much that He sent only Son to gather us together so that we may have new life in Him. God also sends us to carry his divine love into the world and to share this message of life and light.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is called Rejoice (Laetare) Sunday anticipating Easter joy. Today’s readings invite us to rejoice by being reconciled with God through repentance and the confession of our sins and celebrating our coming home to be with our loving and forgiving God.

The First Reading tells us that Israel had reached the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. Their arrival was made possible by a miracle of the Lord. Just as the Red sea opened up for them as they escaped Egypt, the Israelites could live freely in their own country. The reading tells us that they happily ate the produce of the land. The manna which was their food for forty years ceased to come from heaven. The people could now enjoy the abundance of the Promised Land.

In the Second Reading, St Paul tells the Corinthians that if anyone is in Christ, there is already a new creation everything old has passed away, and everything has become new! Paul tells them that everything is from God, who reconciled them to himself through Christ and has given them the ministry of reconciliation. Jesus is the mediator in the process and our part is to accept God’s gift of Reconciliation. He invites them to remember that God for our sake made Christ be sin who was sinless so that in Him might become the righteousness of God. In other words, our sins are forgiven so we can share in the very holiness of God.

In today’s gospel, we have the story of the Prodigal Son which presents us with a picture of God is Love, care, and forgiveness. In the parable, we are given a most beautiful description of our heavenly Father. He is outside of the house waiting for the younger son to return. He is certain that he will return to him. When the son returns, his father runs to him, clasped him in his arms, kisses him tenderly and he brings him in and throws a party for him. When we return to God, He throws a party for us too.

The Father immediately readmits him as part of the family and gives the order to bring the robe, the ring, the sandals, and to kill the fatted calf for a celebration. The son had no understanding of what mercy really meant. Now he learns the depth of the love of the Father. In this parable, Jesus teaches us the depth of the generosity of God and His mercy. God, our heavenly Father, is always waiting at the door for us to come to Him. At every Mass, we receive the same invitation from Jesus, to share his body and blood and, hence, his forgiveness.

The lost son realized that in his father’s house there was sustenance for him. So he humbled himself, willing, if necessary, to be his father’s servant, and started back home. This turning away from sin and toward God is the first indication of His love for us.

This parable says that God is at work. That he is able to see the younger son when he was still a long way off means that the father has been watching for his son, waiting for him, longing for him. The father runs to him, embraces him, loves him, and gives him gifts. This is a wonderful picture of the great love of God towards us. He seeks after us, reaches out to us. When we come to Him, He washes away all our evil deeds of the past, not holding them against us. The road back to God is sometimes long, but easy.

How Both Brothers Are Alike

March 27, 2022

4th Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Victor Feltes

What do the two brothers in Jesus’ parable have in common? Both of them are loved by the same generous and merciful father, but neither one believes it.

In the beginning of the story, the younger son says to his father, “Give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” So the father divides the property between him and his brother. According to God’s law in the Book of Deuteronomy, a firstborn son got a double-portion of the inheritance. So in our story when dad divided the property between them, the elder son would receive two-thirds of the estate while the younger son took a third. After a few days, the younger son collects all his belongings, likely converting them into cash, and sets off for a distant, foreign country.

Carob Tree Pods

To be prodigal with one’s wealth means to spend it freely and recklessly. Everyone knows the younger son by this title for squandering his fortune in sinful and wasteful ways. After he spends it all, a famine strikes and he takes an area job as a farmhand. He’s now working on a farm with pigs, an often filthy animal which is also ritually-unclean for Jews. The younger son is starving, dying from hunger, and he is feeding swine. He is now so degraded that he longs to eat the pigs’ food, but nobody gives him any. This story’s original Greek text indicates he fed the pigs the pods which grow on carob trees. Carob pods have been used to fatten pigs and as a lower-class food from ancient times to present day. Though carob pods are tough, and hard on the teeth of those who eat them, they do contain a sweet, honey-like taste inside.

The Prodigal Son then sits down and thinks: ‘Wouldn’t I be much better off as one of my father’s hired workers? They always have more than enough food! I don’t deserve to be called his son. He surely despises me and feels like I’m dead to him. But there’s always lots of work to be done on the farm; maybe he’ll have me back as a laborer.’ So he gets up and goes back to his father. Imagine that son’s surprise when his dad sees him in the distance, runs to him, and embraces him (literally “falling upon his [son’s] neck”). The father kisses, clothes, and restores him, saying “let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again! He was lost, and has been found!” Despite everything, his father has never stopped loving him.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is also the story of the older son. This son has been obediently serving his father for years. He’s coming back to the house from working hard in the field when he learns of his brother’s return. His father is throwing a party with music, dancing, and a big steak dinner, but the older son becomes angry and refuses to go in. His father comes pleading to him, but he replies: “Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends! But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf!” Why is the older brother angry and jealous? Because he doesn’t believe his father loves him. ‘Why do you love my shameful sibling more than me? You never even gave me a young goat to feast on with my friends!’ (The elder son apparently never asked for this gift, for who could imagine his merciful father refusing him?)

The father replies, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” What his father says is true; everything on the family estate is already the elder son’s by the inheritance divided and bestowed at the start of the story. “But now,” his father explains, “we must celebrate and rejoice.” The father wants his treasured sons to be reconciled and added to each other’s inheritance from him. Likewise, Jesus wishes the Pharisees and scribes could be happy that their estranged brothers, the tax collectors and sinners, are now returning home repentant.

Both of the brothers in Jesus’ parable disbelieved their generous, merciful father loved them. You might feel that way, too. Maybe you’ve been unfaithful and believe, “God can’t love me because I’m too sinful.” If a Jewish man can longingly crave the hard-to-eat food of swine, God can love whatever sweet goodness there is in you. Or maybe you’ve been faithful to God through years of trial yet think, “God clearly doesn’t love me, because he doesn’t bless me.” Laboring in our Father’s vineyard can be difficult, but “whoever asks, receives.” Jesus says, “Behold, the kingdom of God is among you,” and “Behold, I am with you always.” God our Father tells us, “You are with me always, and everything I have is yours.” Perhaps you need to repent and return to our Father in the Sacrament of Confession, leaving your sins behind. Or perhaps you need to let go of your bitterness, realizing how truly blessed you are within our Father’s house. But you should definitely believe and accept this: that our loving Father loves you.

Hidden Wealth — Wake Service Homily for Leonard Stewart, 80

July 17, 2021

Leonard Eugene StewartToday St. Paul’s Parish is pleased to open our church and offer our prayers at this wake service for Len, whom you know and love so well. No brief homily can capture the fullness of someone’s life. But I believe that aspects of a Christian’s life will contain images of Christian mysteries. Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God using images like captured fish, sprouting seeds, precious pearls, and other things as illustrations. Similarly, a particular part I learned about Len’s life—though surely not the most important aspect of his life—especially strikes me as an icon of important Christian truths.

After Len and Carolyn moved to Eau Claire to build their home and raise their children there, Len began a coin game machine business. He bought gaming machines and would service them for customers on his route. Len reasoned, “People will always have quarters.” But eventually, in 2008, Len started a similar but greater line of work. Len began managing ATM (automatic teller) machines. He was still working around many of his previous customers. Not being showy, he continued dressing like them, unassumingly; with frayed hems, holes at his knees, and a ratty hat atop his head. But now, instead of lugging heavy heaps of quarters, Len might be transporting many thousands of dollars. He was adept at hiding this great wealth. Len’s family tells me, “He could carry $30,000 and you’d never know it.” He looked like everybody else so people didn’t notice that he carried a treasure with him. As I said, this strikes me as an icon of important Christian truths.

Men and women are born into this world with heaps of blessings, many tokens of God’s goodness. But the Christian experiences a greater, richer life. The Christian might keep the same company as others; their dress and appearance might be unremarkable; but they carry with them a hidden wealth. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us,” St. John exclaims, “that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are! …Beloved, we are God’s children now.” The world might not notice the great treasure concealed in us, but this figures; they didn’t notice the greatness of Jesus the Son of God, either.

Though, as the psalm says, “man’s days are like those of grass; like a flower of the field he blooms; the wind sweeps over him and he is gone, and his place knows him no more,” Jesus reassures us in the face of death. He tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” Jesus has died and has gloriously risen, and he promises the same for us, his brothers and sisters, his friends. Jesus tells us, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places….I am going to prepare a place for you… and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” So, though it is natural to feel sadness on such a day as this, with the sadness we possess a joyful expectation, for Len and for ourselves: Jesus will always have quarters for us.

Receiving the Gift

June 13, 2021

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Deacon Eric Mashak

Christmas PresentThis is awesome! This Gospel. What a gift God wants to give us: Salvation, Himself, Heaven. The parable of the mustard seed which becomes the massive tree is symbolic. The mustard seed is the grace and faith which God gives us in this life; often times it seems so small that we hardly notice it. The huge tree is the fruition of what God has started in us by His grace; God bringing us to Himself: Heaven.

This is an amazing gift. Probably, many of you are good at giving gifts. There is a certain pleasure in giving the perfect gift to someone at a special occasion; birthdays, Christmas, or at holidays. Some of you may know a certain type of gift giver whom we would call a ‘re-gifter.’ You know, that person who has everything that they want, and who doesn’t keep any gift they receive; instead they give it away to someone else. There was one such person, a ‘re-gifter,’ who happened to be a priest from Detroit, Michigan. He was not only a ‘re-gifter’ but even an ‘expert re-gifter’ because he would receive a gift and then keep it for a decade to avoid getting caught re-gifting. One Christmas he was given a small Christmas Ornament by a family in his parish. As usual he briefly looked it over, put it back in the box, and set the box on his shelf in the closet … and didn’t give the ornament another thought for over ten years!

Obviously, this is no way to receive a gift! … and the gift of faith and of Heaven, which God wants to give you, are infinitely more precious than any gift we know how to give. This is because God desires to give you Himself! It’s not like God wants to give you some random object. He wants to give you Himself—and that is what Heaven is: the Beatific Vision is unmediated vision of God. After all, between true lovers, only the gift of self will do. I don’t want more cars … more money … more vacations! The best thing that you can give to someone is yourself … and that is exactly what God desires to give you.

Two weeks ago we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. We learned of that beautiful exchange which happens between the Three Divine Persons, and we know that the Holy Trinity, which is God, is inexhaustible … we can’t get bored with God. He is a gift which surpasses everything we have ever known; He cannot be passed over briefly or forgotten.

And so that Christmas Ornament sat on that priests shelf in his closet for 10 years … 12 years … 15 years, until finally he moved to a different parish. It was at that moment that he thought he could ‘re-gift’ the ornament with no one being the wiser. He decided to give the ornament to some parishioners whom he did not know very well. A few days later they came to his office in tears to thank him … and the priest was very surprised at this … because, after all, wasn’t it only a small Christmas Ornament. The parishioners saw his confusion at their heartfelt thanks and explained to the priest. “Father, when we looked closely at the ornament and found the hidden latch on the back … and when we opened it and found the $500 dollars which you had hidden inside for us … we were very surprised! We didn’t know that you loved us so much!” The priest thought to himself, “Me neither!

Some gifts take time to appreciate! The gift of grace and of salvation, which God wants to give us, takes time to unpack. The gift which God makes of Himself to us is like the Christmas Ornament: You have to spend time with it. You can’t get it all in one go. How are we to receive such a gift? For St. Paul tells us in the second reading (to the Corinthians), “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ … so that each might receive recompense … whether good or evil.” This gift is received through death and judgement—places we would not expect to look. This gift of salvation is found on the same path that Jesus walked. Our standard of success cannot be different from that of Christ: who suffered and died for us. From the Garden of Gethsemane to the Carrying of the Cross, to His Crucifixion and Death, all the way to His Glorious Resurrection. We receive salvation ONLY in our Crucified and Risen Lord. So please, this week, spend some time with the gift that God wants to give you … in the sacraments … or in your own homes with 10 minutes of good quality prayer each day — get to know your Lord! 10 minutes a day may seem small … like a mustard seed, but in the end it makes a huge difference … perhaps an eternal difference.

As we gather before this altar to receive Jesus Christ, in His Body and Blood, may we ask for the grace to come to know Him and to love Him … so intimately that we would place all of our trust and confidence in Him—in His power to save us—such that at our particular judgement (that great moment when we come face to face with love itself) we might hear the words, not only of our judge, but also of our friend: “Well done, my good and faithful servant, come, share in your master’s joy.”