Archive for the ‘Parables’ Category

The Lazarus You Know — 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

September 25, 2016

Sunday Readings

Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door

The Lord says though the prophet Amos, “Woe to the complacent,” to those warm and well-fed, comfortable on their couches without concern for others. Indeed, Scripture says, “whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1st John 4:20) You know of Jesus’ concern for the needy. Though he was rich, dwelling in the comfort of the Trinity, our Lord came to earth and became poor for your sake, so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2nd Corinthians 8:9) The rich man in Jesus’ parable could not have been unaware of the man lying at his door. Apparently, the rich man even knew his name: “Father Abraham…  Send Lazarus…” But the rich man came to deeply regret his indifference toward this neighbor.

You know a Lazarus as well. He’s not sleeping on your doorstep, but you probably know his name. He (or she) may be well-known to you or only an acquaintance. Maybe Lazarus goes to your church, or hasn’t come for years. Maybe Lazarus lives just down the street or in a nursing home far away. Your Lazarus is in great need, but probably not for food or shelter.

St. Teresa of Calcutta, who cared for many Lazaruses in India’s slums, said, “The spiritual poverty of the Western World is much greater than the physical poverty of our people.” The poorest of the poor are in our midst. Knowing this, I ask that you to earnestly pray to the Holy Spirit, that He may reveal your personal Lazarus to you, so that you may lovingly attend to that person as Jesus would have you do.

3 Interpretations of the Parable of the Dishonest Steward

September 17, 2016

Luke 16:1-13

The Parable of the Dishonest Steward, Biblia Ectypa, 1695.#1: The previously-dishonest steward is merely writing-off his own commissions. Likewise, we must forgive our debtors’ debts (or sins) so that we may be shown mercy. (Matthew 6:12) But why would his commissions be 20% for one debt and 50% on another? Perhaps the dishonest steward is actually covering his thievery’s tracks. Which brings us to…

#2: The steward is giving away what belongs to the rich man, his boss. Likewise, everything that we possess belongs to God, but we win favor though sharing these blessings with others. Both Mercy and Generosity win welcome into eternal dwellings, for Jesus says ‘whatever you do for the least of these you do it for me’ and ‘the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.’

#3: What would have become of the dishonest steward without his decisive plan and action? Disaster. Likewise, we must be intentional about our own religious/spiritual growth. “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” What excuse do we have? More importantly, what is our plan?

The Prodigal Us — 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

September 11, 2016

Readings

It has been said that there are two kinds of people in this world: sinners who think they’re saints, and saints who know they’re sinners. Every saint has a past, and every sinner can have a future. We all have been the Prodigal (or wasteful) Son at various times in our lives. Whether for years, for days or hours, or just for moments, we have each strayed from and returned to our Father-God who delights to have us back. When we are being tempted to sin, we are being tempted to leave our Father’s house and no longer keep his company. In sinning we say, even if in a small way, “You may not be dead, but I want it to be as if you were. Give me an inheritance now. I can have an easier time, or a more enjoyable time, misusing your stuff than I can have by remaining with you.”

The Prodigal Son took his father’s things and went off to a distant country. The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this World are countries distant from each other, and yet they exist side-by-side. Sinners and saints live side-by-side together here below, but the difference between them is vast. A life of sin may be easier for awhile. The Prodigal Son enjoyed sensual pleasures and was free of his duties, like working in the fields with his older brother. But sin soon leaves us spent and depleted, as in drought and famine. If honest with ourselves, we sense our dire need.

At first, the Prodigal Son attempted his own coping-mechanisms short of repentance. He hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the pigs. (For Jews, tending ritually-unclean pigs would be one of the most degrading things a person could do.) The Prodigal Son longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. (His boss provided for the swine better than for him.) A sinner’s life is slavery. It’s unsatisfying, it’s unhappy, and they feel unloved. This does not excuse away the bad and harmful things they do, but hurting people hurt people. And knowing this, we can feel compassion for sinners.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, St. Petersburg, 1662.Coming to his senses, realizing how much he has lost, the Prodigal Son decided to go back home. He knew his unworthiness, so he prepared a speech to persuade his father to show mercy. But his Father needs no persuasion. While his son was still a long way off, the father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. I imagine the father saw him from a long way off because he often looked to that road hoping his son would return. This day, he did. The father ran to his son—even though in that culture a dignified men would not run. Men might walk or let others come to them, but this father ran to his son. Then the father restores his son, with robe, sandals and ring, and declares a feast.

The son had decided to leave and decided to return home. The decision to dwell in the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of this world is our choice. We are free, to wander or return, because God’s offer of grace (including his invitation to the sacrament of reconciliation) is always there. Though we wander in sin, averting our eyes from God, we can never escape his sight. Psalm 139 says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in the underworld, there you are.” And when we turn back to him, he runs to us, as the same humility we saw in the Incarnation. And then the celebration begins. As Jesus says, “There will be more joy in heaven [and among the angels of God] over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

As St. Paul declares in our second reading, “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Every saint has a past, and every sinner can have a future. In this Year of Mercy, let us each trust in God’s mercy, respond to his mercy, and practice mercy as Jesus would have us do.

How Many Will Be Saved?

August 19, 2016

In this Sunday’s gospel, someone asks Jesus from the crowd, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus replies, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” (Luke 13:24) Instead of quoting some particular figure, like one million or ten billion souls, Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate…” We are left to wonder: in the end, will the number saved be numerous or few?

All-Saints by Fra Angelico, 1400's.In the Book of Revelation, St. John witnesses a vast number of saints worshiping God in heaven. He beholds “a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” (Revelation 7:9) Note that this ‘countless multitude’ is different and much larger than the “one hundred and forty-four thousand marked from every tribe of the Israelites” that St. John enumerates several verses before. Jesus came to save souls not only from the twelve tribes of Israel. As the Lord declares through the prophet in Sunday’s first reading, “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.” (Isaiah 66:18) Based on this, we can confidently say that a great number will be saved.

On the other hand, in our gospel’s parallel passage from St. Matthew, Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14) The ‘few’ who enter the narrow gate to life sounds smaller than the ‘many’ who do not. Based on this, it would seem that the number saved will be comparatively small.

However, “few” and “many” are relative terms which depend upon the context. For example, more than 18,000 Olympic medals have been awarded in the modern Summer and Winter Games and that is indeed many. But how many Olympic medalists have you personally ever met? Probably, at most, only a few. In a more tragic example, around 130,000 Americans die annually in accidents and that is awfully many. But at the same time, roughly 99.96% of Americans do not perish in accidents each year, making the 0.04% who do a relative few. The word “many” sometimes refers to a majority of people, but not always.

Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to redeem all mankind. Even if there were only one sinner on earth in all of human history, it seems that Jesus would have become man in order to offer himself for just him, or her, or you. Suppose that the number of human souls condemned on the last day turns out to be only a dozen. Knowing how much our Lord loves each and every person, will not those twelve feel like many in the heart of Jesus and those billions he saves seem too few? In any case, Jesus never reveals to us whether most human beings will be saved or lost. Either outcome is possible.

Why was Jesus not more clear about exactly how many people would be saved? Because he knew how such knowledge would be harmful for us. He knew that if we were told that most people would be saved in the end, it would lead us into dangerous presumption. If we were told that most people would be lost, he knew it would lead us into poisonous despair. Jesus “did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” (John 2:25)

Instead of providing us with some number or percentage, Jesus gives us some much more valuable and beneficial advice: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate (for whether you are saved or not depends, in part, upon you.)” God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” (1st Timothy 2:4) And to “as many as did accept him, [Jesus] gave power to become children of God.” (John 1:12) Let us strive to cooperate with God, let us accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives, so that we may be numbered among “the few” who are saved and enter into life.

The Braod and Narrow Way, 1883.

Be Rich In What Matters — 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

July 30, 2016

The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627.

The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt, 1627.

A large crowd surrounds Jesus as he preaches and teaches. During a brief pause, a man in the crowd says to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me!” Presumably, his brother is there amongst them as well (otherwise how could Jesus reprove him?) Yet the Lord replies to the man, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” That seems like an odd response from Jesus. Is Jesus denying his own authority?  On a different occasion, Jesus stated, “If I should judge, my judgment is valid, because I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me.” Imagine if the man in the crowd had answered Jesus’ rhetorical question, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” The man might say, “Well Teacher, we think you’re God’s prophet, so you speak for God.”

To this, Jesus could reply, “Indeed, the words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. But if you accept that I am God’s prophet, that I speak for God, then listen and heed all that I teach, not just the things you want to hear. On the last day, when I return in my glory with all the angels with me, I will sit upon my glorious throne with all peoples assembled before me and I shall judge and separate the righteous and the unrighteous, one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Yet, my Father God did not send me into this world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through me.

In our Gospel, Jesus goes on to tell the crowd (including those two feuding brothers): “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Jesus is warning the crowd, the brothers, and us that ‘personal bitterness and earthly greed will hinder you from entering the Kingdom.’ Rather, we must keep a heavenly perspective. As St. Paul urges in our second reading, “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

Of course, we all have material needs as human beings here on earth —we’re not angels and we need our daily bread. So Jesus teaches us to practice prudent stewardship, marked by frugality, generosity, and a trust in the Lord that frees us from worthless worrying. However, both Jesus in our Gospel and King Solomon in our first reading note the futility of amassing riches for ourselves.

Jesus tells a parable of “a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’” (Notice how “He asked himself, ‘What shall I do?” The man does not look beyond himself for holy wisdom or guidance.)

And [then the rich man] said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.” (Why does he need to tear down his old barns? Does not the rich man, who just reaped a bountiful harvest, own plenty of land on which to build more barns? It seems his vanity desires to tear down the old barns so that his new barns may be huge and impressive.)

The rich man continues his conversation with himself, “[In my new barns] I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’” (He shows no thought for his family or friends, his neighbors or the needy, only his own personal pleasure.)

The rich man has made grand plans for himself, but God says to him, “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you!” If this man is only interested in his own will, his own glory, and his own happiness in this life, then how will he love his neighbors, hallow God’s name, or desire God’s will in the next life?

To find ourselves at home in Heaven someday we should seek and follow God’s will for our time, talents, and treasure today. We should practice faithful stewardship, with prudence and trust, frugality and generosity. And this stewardship should include tithing and supporting worthy causes—not to buy Heaven (for God cannot be bribed or bought) but in order to become more virtuous and loving, to become more fit for Heaven. Those who store up treasure for themselves on earth profit nothing in the end. Let us not be foolish. Let us instead become rich in what matters to God by becoming more like Jesus, who has been so generous to us.

History’s Ten Wealthiest People and the Vanity of Riches

July 27, 2016

In estimated billions of present-day dollars

  1. Cornelius Vanderbilt ($185, died 1877)
    This railroad tycoon’s only large philanthropic gift gave about 1% of his fortune to build Vanderbilt University.
  1. Henry Ford ($199, died 1947)
    This deceased automaker’s name survives on vehicles seen upon every road and junkyard.
  1. Muammar Gaddafi ($200, died 2011)
    This dictator of Libya, after being discovered hiding in a desert culvert, was killed by his people.
  1. Jakob Fugger “the Rich ($221, died 1525)
    While he lived, this German merchant-financier declared, “The king reigns, but the bank rules!
  1. William The Conqueror ($229, died 1087)
    After killing many to capture England, this Duke of Normandy, France joined the dead.
  1. Mir Osman Ali Khan ($230, died 1967)
    As head of the state of Hyderabad, India, he used a 185-carat diamond as a paperweight.
  1. Czar Nikolas II ($300, died 1918)
    This Russian ruler was assassinated along with his family by communist revolutionaries.
  1. Andrew Carnegie ($310, died 1919)
    This steel magnate and philanthropist said, “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.”
  1. John D. Rockefeller ($340, died 1937)
    He sold oil drawn from Ohio’s earth and now lays buried in the same.
  1. Mansa Musa I ($400, died 1337)
    This African king of Mali was the richest man to ever live. But have you ever heard of him?

Psalm 49:7-12 :

“No man can buy his own ransom, or pay a price to God for his life. The ransom of his soul is beyond him. He cannot buy life without end, nor avoid coming to the grave. He knows that wise men and fools must both perish and must leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes for ever, their dwelling place from age to age, though their names spread wide through the land. In his riches, man lacks wisdom; he is like the beasts that are destroyed.”

 

A Game of Monopoly & the Rich Man

March 10, 2015

Lazarus at the Rich Man's DoorGospel: Luke 16:19-31
Thursday, 2nd Week of Lent

    A UC-Berkley psychology professor sets two people down for an experiment: the pair will play a game of Monopoly with modified rules. One player will get the Rolls Royce while the other will be the old shoe. The player with the car will start with $2,000 and play by standard Monopoly rules, while the old shoe’s player gets $1,000, rolls just one die (making doubles impossible,) and collects only $100 for passing “Go.” Who gets which is decided by a fateful coin-flip. At the end of the game, the professor asks the winner (invariably the Rolls Royce player) whether they feel like they deserved to win the game. And the winner always says ‘yes.’

    I can understand the winner’s perspective. At the beginning of the game both players had a fair chance of winning (for either could have ended up with the car,) but the winner won that coin flip, played by the rules, and did what was necessary to arrive at victory. If the winner had cheated the loser, stealing cash or refusing rents, then that victory would feel undeserved.

Abraham, Lazarus, and the Rich Man    The Rich Man who showed no concern for poor Lazarus may have felt like one of those Rolls Royce players. He “dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day,” but nothing in the text indicates that he had defrauded or exploited anyone to obtain his wealth. Maybe he looked at poor people like Lazarus and shrugged, “Some receive what is good in their lifetimes while others receive what is bad,” words that Father Abraham would throw back in his face. Perhaps the Rich Man had not so much perpetrated evils, but rather (ignoring the Scriptures) felt no responsibility to help the less fortunate outside his door.

    May the one who reads this—a winner in the coin-toss of life—not be condemned for failing to give alms.

Our Lady’s Wisconsin Message: The Meaning of the Two Trees

September 25, 2014

In the Garden of Eden, there were many fruit-bearing trees, but Genesis mentions only two by name: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. By partaking of the Tree of Life the human race could keep living forever, but the Lord warned that to eat from the other tree would mean our certain death. On October 9th, 1859, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared near Green Bay to a 28 year-old Belgian immigrant named Adele Brise while she was walking eleven miles home from Sunday Mass. Interestingly, Our Lady chose to appear to Adele not in a church, or a thousand other places, but between two trees: a Maple and a Hemlock.

Maple LeavesYou’re familiar with the beauty and goodness of the Maple. In the fall, its leaves turn the most striking colors, and in the spring its sap yields sweet syrup. But do you know about the Hemlock tree? The poison that the Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned to drink came from this plant. Ingesting just six or eight fresh Hemlock leaves can kill a healthy adult. The Maple is a tree of life while the Hemlock is a tree of death. Mary, the New Eve, stood between the two.

Three Conium Maculatum (or Poison Hemlock), Cedar Bog, Champaign CoMary told Adele, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.” Our Lady’s message between the two trees is akin the words of Moses, who told the Israelites: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land….

Peshtigo Fire MapApparently, Our Lady’s warnings were not sufficiently heeded. In October of 1871, exactly twelve years later, disaster came. Both in terms of size and number of lives lost, the Peshtigo Fire remains the worst recorded forest fire in U.S. history. Between 1,200 and 2,400 lives ended in that firestorm which saw, according to an eyewitness, “large wooden houses torn from their foundations and caught up like straws by two opposing currents of air which raised them till they came in contact with the stream of fire.” This seems to be the punishment due to sin that Mary spoke of, yet this does not mean that everyone who perished in that fire was condemned. We should remember that at harvest time, the wheat and the weeds are pulled up together in a moment, but their future fates are not the same. Once uprooted, the good are gathered and kept in the barn, while the bad are thrown away forever.

The firestorm came and surrounded the shrine of Our Lady, where hundreds had come for refuge with their families and herds, beseeching her intercession before God. As many as fled to her there were saved. The shrine’s consecrated earth was an emerald-green island in an ocean of smoldering ashes as far as eyes could see.

Mary, the Queen of Heaven, prays for the conversion of sinners and she wishes you to do the same. You receive Holy Communion, and that is well. But you must do more. Begin by receiving the sacrament of reconciliation regularly, because it is powerful for growing in holiness. The sinner whose conversion you are most responsible for is your own.

Generosity & Envy — 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

September 21, 2014

Readings: Isaiah 22:6-9; Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a; Matthew 20:1-16a

DenariusHe woke up while it was still dark and kissed his wife while she slept.

He dressed and left home quietly, so as not to wake up the children across the room.

He walked into town and came to the large market square, where the venders were already setting up shop, and day laborers like himself were congregating.

At dawn, landowners came to hire men to harvest their vineyards and fields.

He was left behind, yet he did not leave.

Hopefully, someone would hire him at noon for at least a half-day’s work.

Three o’clock came, and he was still standing there unemployed, refusing to go home. How could he go home… empty-handed?

Around five o’clock, a landowner found him and asked, “Why do you stand here idle all day?”

Speaking for those standing with him he answered, “Because no one has hired us.”

The landowner said to them, “You too go into my vineyard.”

When it was evening, the vineyard owner had his foreman summon the harvesters and pay them—in this he was abiding by the command in the book of Leviticus, “You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your laborer.”

When he received his pay, the man thought there had been some mistake.

Though he worked only an hour, he had been given a silver denarius coin, the standard pay for a full day’s work.

He badly wanted to leave with it, but he was a righteous man, and quietly approached the foreman.

But the foreman reassured him—there had been no mistake!

Oh, the joy he felt! For tonight and tomorrow, his family would not be hungry.

*  *  *  *  *

Was the landowner unfair in the treatment of his workers? At the beginning of the day, the Greek text says the landowner achieved ‘harmonious agreement’ with the labors regarding the usual daily wage. This was not fraud nor exploitation, but a just wage for an honest day’s work. Were the later workers been idle due to laziness? No, they honestly say, but “because no one has hired us.”

Let us revisit the landowner’s arguments in his own defense: he said to one of the grumblers in reply, “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” The landowner was not being unfair, he was being generous. He kept the precept of Leviticus, which ensured that poor laborers would not be deprived of their daily bread overnight, but he also kept the command which comes in Leviticus five verses later: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Would the grumblers have been happier if the coins were taken back from the hands of all of the one hour workers? Yes, and no. For the envious person is not happy until everyone is unhappy like himself. And even then, he is still unhappy. What if the grumblers had had perfect hearts? Then they would have been concerned about those unchosen workers, as impoverished as themselves, that were left behind in the marketplace, and upon seeing those latecomers receive a full daily wage they would be happy and relieved for them. But these grumblers’ thoughts were not God’s thoughts, and their ways were not his ways.

Saint Augustine in his Study by Botticelli, 1480Beware of envy. Envy is sadness at the sight of another’s blessings and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, when envy wishes grave harm to a neighbor, it is a mortal sin. St. Augustine rightly called envy “the diabolical sin,” for the book of Wisdom tells us that “by the envy of the devil, death entered the world.” St. Augustine observed, “From envy are born hatred, detraction, slander, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor, and displeasure caused by his prosperity.”

What is envy’s antidote or preventative vaccine? A good will towards all people, and rejoicing in their blessings and happiness as much as your own. Do you feel envious out of fear or resentment that there may not enough good things for you? Remember that the landowner in today’s parable, who ensures that his laborers receive their daily bread, represents God, who provides for the needs of those who serve him. As the psalmist says, “The Lord is near to all who call upon him.”

In Jesus’ parable, the landowner represents God, the laborers are those who faithfully serve him, and the equal pay they receive is salvation, eternal life, the reward of Heaven. Does this mean that all who serve God receive an equal reward? Once again, the answer is yes, and no. Each is given Heaven, but not all souls enjoy the same glory there. In our second reading, St. Paul says, “If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.” He is not sure if he would rather live or die (“I do not know which I shall choose”) because death means peaceful rest with Christ, while more labor in life means a greater reward.

St. ThereseWhen St. Therese of Lisieux was a little girl, she was rather put out to learn that not all souls enjoy the same glory in heaven. For the young, fairness means simple sameness. Her older sister, Pauline, told her to fetch a thimble and her father’s water tumbler and to fill both of them to the top with water. Pauline then asked her which one was fuller. St. Therese saw that every soul in heaven is filled to its brim and can hold no more; each being full of God and completely happy. In Heaven, there is enough love, glory, and happiness for everyone, even if we grow and develop different capacities for these while on earth.

So who will have the largest capacity in Heaven? Who will hold the most glory? I believe, as Jesus says, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” The greatest glory will not go to those who are focused on who is first and greatest, but to those interested in promoting in the greater glory of all.

God’s angels have different degrees of glory and power, yet they find delight in one another. They have labored for the Lord since the beginning of time, yet they rejoice that God has been generous with us latecomers and included us in his work. Let us be like our angels, who happily pray for us and aid us, so that we might attain a glory greater than their own. Let us pray that others might become holier than us, provided we become as holy as we ought.

Ezekiel’s Consolation — Tuesday, 19th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

August 12, 2014

Readings: Ezekiel 2:8-3:4; Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14

The Lord GOD said to me: “As for you, son of man, obey me when I speak to you: be not rebellious like this house of rebellion, but open your mouth and eat what I shall give you.” It was then I saw a hand stretched out to me, in which was a written scroll which he unrolled before me. It was covered with writing front and back, and written on it was: “Lamentation and wailing and woe!”

He said to me: “Son of man, eat what is before you; eat this scroll, then go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat. “Son of man,” he then said to me, “feed your belly and fill your stomach with this scroll I am giving you.” I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. He said: “Son of man, go now to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them.”

How can a message of “lamentation and wailing and woe” taste sweet in the prophet’s mouth? Ezekiel found the message sweet because it meant God was neither blind nor indifferent to the evils in his midst and that these evils, one way or another, would not continue forever. Either sincere conversion or painful events would soon check his people’s wickedness. This was the prophet’s consolation. Jesus says:

If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray?

Guardian Angels by JHS MannIn the parable of the Lost Sheep, we focus on the lost sheep’s consolation while forgetting the ninety-nine’s desolation. The flock may fare just fine, but they will find the experience quite unsettling. Jesus tells us:

Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.

It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.

For forty years, the people of our land have intentionally and legally ended the lives of roughly one million unborn children annually. What would the opposite of receiving Jesus look like, if not this? Jesus warns 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.

This represents a warning, because God’s angels are fearsome and righteous creatures. Let us earnestly pray for our country’s conversion to a culture of life. Yet we too share Ezekiel’s consolation, for one way or another, this evil in our midst will not go on forever.

Travelers & Merchants — 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 30, 2014

Readings: 1st Kings 3:5, 7-12; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-46

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

What do these two analogies or parables of Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven (or Kingdom of God) have in common? Both tell about men who find something precious and sell everything they have to possess it. These short stories are quite similar, but how do they differ? (There must be some significance to these differences otherwise Jesus would not have given us both images.)

Jesus does not give us many details, but in my imagining the first story goes like this: A traveler is walking a dusty road that he has walked many times before, but this time, as he is looking to one side at nothing in particular, a golden glint catches his eye from the adjacent field. Out of curiosity, he investigates and discovers a wooden crate full of gold coins which has been uncovered by recent plowing. Putting the coins back inside and fixing the lid, he reburies the treasure and joyfully goes to sell all that he has in order to buy that field. “Why doesn’t he simply carry the crate away?” Because that would be stealing and true happiness cannot be obtained through wickedness. One does not come to possess the treasure of the Kingdom of God through evil means.

Pearl MerchantIn the second story, a pearl merchant comes upon a high-priced specimen in a marketplace. Its price is, let’s say, one hundred thousand dollars. Many people have admired it before, but the merchant has an expert and discerning eye. He sees that this pearl is worth ten times more and he shrewdly sells everything he owns to possess it. To onlookers, he looks crazy (“Selling everything for just one pearl?”) but he knows what he is about. Those who forsake all else to possess the Kingdom of Heaven may likewise be thought foolish by some, but the wise one recognizes the pearl’s true value.

Both the traveler and the merchant find precious treasure, but one difference between them is that the merchant knew what he was looking for and actively sought it, while the country traveler did not. Some people seek out the true, the good, the beautiful, the eternal things. They seek God himself, and those who seek, find. Others do not seek the higher things of God, yet our humble Lord has been known to blindside them with the truth of his reality and love. So what do these parables mean for us here, who have already come to know Jesus Christ and his Church?

An important aspect to finding and possessing your treasure in the Kingdom of God is knowing and embracing your vocation. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare,” which means “to call.” Your vocation is your life’s calling from God. Your vocation is the means by which God intends for you to become holy and a blessing to all.

Some people find their vocation like the traveler on the road—stumbling upon it without having sought it. I think this is true for many marriages. A man and woman can be drawn to each other, fall in love and delight in each other, and decide to spend their lives together without discerning God’s purpose for their lives. Yet, since “we know that all things work for good for those who love God,” (as St. Paul says in our second reading) the Lord still guides them according to his purposes. If you are in the sacrament of marriage your vocation is clear: your mission in life is to become the best spouse and parent you can be and to help lead them to heaven. You need not travel to a mountaintop monastery in a distant land to find your vocation and become a saint. Your vocation, your means to holiness, is as ordinary and close as a field or marketplace, yet your treasure is found there. Your vocation is sitting beside you.

Other vocations are usually discovered only with discernment, by searching like the merchant. One does not become a priest, a religious, or a dedicated single person without a firm decision to offer one’s life entirely to God. These people also find sanctity and bless others in the greatest way through their God-given callings. If you have not yet discovered your vocation, remain close to God in prayer and faithfulness, and he will reveal his will to you.

In our first reading, the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream and says, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon, the new, young king, feels overwhelmed by his office. “I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Solomon’s request for wisdom to benefit the kingdom pleased the Lord, so God granted him great wisdom and all the gifts he had not asked for as well. As Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Pray to God for the wisdom to know your vocation and to embrace it (like the traveler and the merchant) with the investment of everything you are. In this way, you will come to possess the Kingdom’s precious treasure.

How God The Father Loves His Son

June 16, 2014

How does the Eternal Father love Jesus Christ his Son?
The Scriptures provide us insights into their relationship.


The Father gives his Son instruction and example

God the Father BlessingAs Jesus once said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, a son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will also do,” adding, “I cannot do anything on my own.” The Father loves his Son and shows him everything that he does. Sometimes believers find it harder to relate to God the Father than Christ the Son. But what is the Father really like? He is just like his Son. Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.” As Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  The Father offers his Son the perfect example, and his Son perfectly follows him.

The Father listens to his Son

Outside the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me…” Jesus shares his own attitude toward prayer when he tells us, “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This is how you are to pray: Our Father…” Jesus knows that wordy, poetic prayers are not necessary because his Father is always listening.

The Father encourages his Son

At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, the Father declared from heaven, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And on the summit of Mt. Tabor, at Jesus’ Transfiguration, the Father spoke from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” The Father encourages his Son with reminders of his love.

The Father provides for his Son

Jesus said, “Everything that the Father has is mine.” Jesus’ Father is like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son who told his first-born, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” Confident in his Father’s providence, Jesus tells us to be likewise unafraid concerning our basic needs, what we are to eat and drink, or what we are to wear: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” The Father also provides his Son with gifts greater than material things. At the Last Supper, Jesus said of disciples, “Father, they are your gift to me.”

The Father welcomes closeness with his Son

It was a big deal when Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father.” As St. John Paul the Great observed, “An Israelite would not have used [“Abba” to address God] even in prayer. Only one who regarded himself as Son of God in the proper sense of the word could have spoken thus of him and to him as Father–Abba, or my Father, Daddy, Papa!” Because the Father welcomes intimate closeness with his Son, Jesus can say, “I and the Father are one.”

The Father loves his Son’s mother

At the Visitation, filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth declared to Mary, “Most blessed are you among women,” and Mary rejoiced, “From this day all generations will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” By pouring his love and blessings into Mary, God the Father gave his Son a loving mother full of grace.

The Father fosters growth in his Son and sends him on mission

The Letter to the Hebrews says, “Son though he was, [Jesus] learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, declared by God high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” But this raises a question: how can the divine Son grow in any way? Though perfect in heaven, the Son of God had no firsthand experience of weakness, suffering, or the trials of obedience, until his Incarnation. Through these things he was made complete so that he could be the savior of humanity. The Father prepares his Son and sends him on a mission to transform the world. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

The Father as our model for Fatherhood

Whether we are biological or spiritual fathers, Jesus’ heavenly Father gives men a model for our fatherhood. We are to give our children instruction and good example. We should listen to them and encourage them, letting them know that they are well-beloved. We should provide for our children, according to our abilities, supplying their basic needs without neglecting the greater gifts. We are to welcome closeness with our children. We are to love our children by loving their mother, whether she be our spouse or the Church. We are to foster maturity and virtue in them so that they may go forth in mission to transform the world.  Which aspect of your fatherhood are you resolved to grow in with God the Father?

God the Father in the Creation of Man by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Vatican.Our Perfect Father

Some of us have had very good fathers, while some of our fathers were very far from perfect. But regardless of the quality of our earthly fathers, we all have a heavenly Father who loves us perfectly. As Jesus tells us, “the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me…” Our Father instructs us and shows us his example through his Word. He always listens, and we should not be surprised when he encourages us, speaking to us, in prayer. Our Father provides for our material needs and gives us the greater gifts. “For everyone who asks, receives…” Our Father welcomes intimacy with us, giving his children the spirit of his Son so that we too may cry, “Abba, Father!”  And he gives us Mary, the same perfectly loving mother he provided for his Son. Our Father would grow and mature us into greatness, into saints, into the likeness of his Son, and send us on mission for the transformation of the world.

Cut It Out — Thursday, 7th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

February 28, 2014

Gospel: Mark 9:41-50

Jesus said to his disciples: “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

In establishing his first covenant with Abraham, the Lord said, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” (Genesis 12:3) Likewise, Jesus declares that whoever does the least kindness to those in his covenant will be rewarded, while whoever leads one his own into sin faces dire consequences. Sin is a serious thing.

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”

“And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.”

“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”

Of course, Jesus does not want us to mutilate ourselves because our bodily organs are not the real cause of our sins. But let us consider: what actions or material possessions do I take in hand, to what places do I go by foot, what sights do I perceive with my eyes, that are near occasions of sin for me? Let us firmly resolve with the help of God’s grace to cut these things out of our lives, so that we may be a blessing to all and a scandal to none, the salt of the earth and never cast out.

Praying For Rain — February 10 — St. Scholastica

February 10, 2014

While some people only pray when they need or want something, others pray frequently but hesitate to ask anything for themselves. Like the Prodigal Son’s older brother, these think it more proper to never ask God for special gifts (not “even a young goat to feast on with” their friends.) However, the Office of Readings selection for St. Scholastica written by St. Pope Gregory the Great shows us that God is pleased to give His children the good gifts they request:

Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate. One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together.

Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” “Sister,” he replied, “what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.” When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well,” she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.” Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.

It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more. Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself. Their minds had always been united in God; their bodies were to share a common grave.

Of Earth & The Universe — 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

February 9, 2014

Literally, from the Greek:

You are the salt of the [ground] … You are the light of the [cosmos.]”

A Christian’s ordinary life on earth reveals the divine light responsible for the universe.