All Saints Day – 15

All Saints Day – 15

Rev 7:2-4, 9-14 / 1Jn.3:1-3 / Mt.5:1-12

The Beatitudes may be one of the most familiar in all of scripture. Its litany of what it means to be “blessed” can be seen as the ultimate blueprint for living the Christian life. In the context of today’s feast, it tells us: this is how you become a saint.

All Saints Day is intended to honor the memory of countless unknown and un-canonized saints who have no feast days. Today we thank God for giving ordinary men and women a share in His holiness and Heavenly glory as a reward for their Faith.

The Church reminds us today that God’s call for holiness is universal, that all of us are called to live in His love and to make His love real in the lives of those around us. Today is All Saints Day. To better understand the meaning of this Feast day, we need to know what a saint is.

There are really two meanings of the word saint, two ways that we use this word, and they reflect the two meanings of this Feast. “Saint” means “those who belong to God”, so it partially means all the people in heaven, but it also means all the people in the Church, including us.

We belong to God. So today we celebrate the achievements of all the saints in heaven, and we celebrate the possibility of all the saints on earth. What is the achievement of the saints in heaven? They are happy. They are praising God forever. They are doing what humans were meant to do.

If a saint from heaven appeared to us right here, we would think they were an angel or one of the ancient gods, but really they are just a human like you and me. Just some Joe or Sally who lived the way we live. On earth their appearance probably was not impressive, but now we would be embarrassed to stand in their presence.

“What is it like to be a Christian saint?” “It is like being a Halloween pumpkin. God picks you from the field, brings you in, and washes all the dirt off you. Then he cuts off the top and scoops out the yucky stuff. He removes the pulp of impurity and injustice and seeds of doubt, hate, and greed.

Then He carves you a new smiling face and puts His light of holiness inside you to shine for the entire world to see.” This is the Christian idea behind the carved pumpkins during the Halloween season.

Today’s feast of All Saints proclaims a very profound teaching on the spiritual authority of the Church. With the authority bestowed on her by Jesus Christ and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church makes the bold declaration of the names of those who have attained the reward of heaven.

There are over 10,000 canonized saints and just recently, we also witnessed the canonization of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II. When the Church officially canonizes a person to be a saint, the Church also declared that the person is in heaven and in the presence of God.

This feast is also for us a feast of awareness and closeness – an awareness of the spiritual world, and the closeness, the communion, of those saints with us. As people of God and people of faith, we believe that the saints are canonized not for their own honor but for the glory of God.

And to some of these saints are given a particular mission. For example, on Wednesday, we celebrated the feast of St. Jude (Thaddeus), patron saint of desperate and helpless cases. And then for lost articles, we turn to that famous saint, St. Anthony of Padua.

And as for St. Therese of the Child Jesus, she is the patron saint of the missions and also of florists. The awareness of the saints and their particular missions will also lead us to be in communion with them. Because their main heavenly mission is to help us on our earth journey.

To help us to live the life of holiness and to do the will of God and to grow into a deep love for God and neighbor. The Beatitudes that we heard in the gospel is the expression of the lives that the saints lived while on earth, and it is also the life that we are called to live.

And as much as the saints want to pray for us, we must ask them for their intercession. And now, what is our possibility, we saints on earth? To be like those saints in heaven. A few years from now, not so many, probably less than we expect, we might be in heaven.

We might be like the angels. But how do we turn this possibility into a reality? The answer is in the readings today. Revelation tells us that salvation belongs to our God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ. If we are going to get into heaven, it will not be by our own strength.

In Revelation we see all the saints in heaven praising God. If you want to grow up to be a basketball player or a violinist or anything else, you have to practice, practice, and practice. If you want to grow up to be a saint, you have to practice praising God.

We do not praise God because he has low self-esteem. We do not praise him for his benefit but for our own. We praise God not out of flattery or fear but because it is the truth. He is great. He is wise. He is powerful. He is wonderful. He is mighty. We forget these things unless we say them.

We begin to think that some human person, ourselves perhaps or a star, is the greatest, or, if get beyond this delusion, we begin to think that nothing in existence is really that great after all. If we are going to become saints we have to learn the truth: there is something wonderful in this universe and it is God.

The psalm gives us advice about how to get to heaven. It asks, “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord or who may stand in his holy place?” This was the very question we had, but the answer is not as easy as we hope.

That higher standard is set today in the Gospel today. We have heard the beatitudes, these beautiful blessings. Some people consider them to be a kind of commandment, but I think they ought to be thought of more as a ruler.

The saints are closer to us than we may realize. They have struggled with sin and temptation, they’ve walked the journey toward holiness, sometimes stumbling, sometimes falling, but always getting back up and moving on, resolving to do better, to be better, and to aim higher.

They worked to be what this gospel is calling us to be. To be poor in spirit. To be meek. To be merciful. To make peace. This is how we begin to become what Jesus called “blessed,” and what the Church calls saints. It’s a tall order. And it is nothing less than a call to greatness.

But this feast day reminds us, whether we realize it or not: it can be ours. This kind of greatness is within our grasp. All Saints Day beckons us to something beautiful. It reminds us of our great potential—the promise that lies within each of us, the promise of holiness.

It is the promise that was fulfilled in the countless people we venerate this day—our models, our companions, our inspirations, our guides. All the saints. They give us blessed hope. Because they assure us again and again: no one is born a saint. But every one of us, by the grace of God, can become one.

All Saints Day is nothing less than a dare. This feast says to us: dare to be more. Dare to be a saint. Amen.


30th Sunday O T Year B – 15

30th Sunday O T Year B – 2015

Jer.31:7-9; Heb.5:1-6; Mk.10:46-52

Back in the late 1700’s a man named John Newton, an alcoholic libertine and a man committed to destroy the Christian faith, was by the grace of God, rescued, restored, healed, and given the sight to see what he was and what God wanted him to be. He wrote a hymn with words you will recognize: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound.

There is a beautiful anecdote in the book, “When Bad things happen to good people” written by Harold S. Kushner. There were two storekeepers who were bitter rivals. Their stores were across the street from each other.

They would spend each day sitting in the doorway keeping track of each other’s business. If one got a customer, he would smile in triumph at his rival. One night, an angel appeared to one of the storekeepers in a dream and said, “God has sent me to teach you a lesson.

He will give you anything you ask for but I want you to know that whatever you get your competitor across the street will get twice as much. If you like to be wealthy, the man across the street will be twice as rich.”

The man frowned for a moment and said, “All right, my request is, strike me blind in one eye, so that the man across would be blind in both eyes. While the man in this story was praying to become blind, Bartimaeus in today’s gospel was crying out to Jesus to be healed of his blindness.

The first reading tells us how a forgiving and compassionate God has been healing the spiritual blindness of His Chosen People. They were captives in Babylon and now He will liberate them, bringing them back to their homeland.

Today’s second reading presents Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for sins and as the true High Priest of the New Testament. It also gives us the assurance that our High Priest, Jesus, is sympathetic to us because he has shared our human nature.

In today’s gospel account we find Jesus at the threshold of Jerusalem. He was about to climb on a donkey and ride into Jerusalem, an event we celebrate every Palm Sunday. Bar-Timaeus, the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting begging along the way.

We don’t know for how many years he was a beggar but evidently it was many because he was well known by the local citizens. He was regarded as a nobody, so much of a nobody that he wasn’t even called by his own name. He was known only as the son of a man by the name of Timaeus.

Bartimaeus had evidently heard about the miracle worker, Jesus of Nazareth, and here was Jesus entering into Jerusalem with the crowd shouting and singing hosannas, alleluias, and such. Amidst all of this din and commotion Bartimaeus shouts out to Jesus.

I want to draw four points out of today’s gospel account. The first and the most important point is that Bartimaeus knew he was blind. Do we? Do we know that we really don’t see reality as Jesus sees it, that we miss seeing the works and the hand of God in our lives?

We are blinded by the glitz and glitter of this world, and that our souls are surrounded by a spiritual darkness, and that we often do not let the light of Christ illumine our way through that darkness? Do we realize we are blind when it comes to seeing ourselves as Jesus sees us?

The second observation I have is that those around Bartimaeus tried to hush him up and keep him from Jesus. It’s significant because that’s the situation in which we find ourselves today. There are a whole lot of voices and forces attempting to keep us from contacting and personally encountering Jesus Christ. If you don’t think so then you really are spiritually blind.

Bartimaeus took the courageous risk of going against the crowd. He didn’t let his hope be deterred by the local populace and the voices of those who tried to keep him down and in his place. Any faith response worthy of the name requires the same sort of risk. Bartimaeus is a true hero because he went against the crowd and in his darkness took the risk.

Thirdly, Jesus stopped everything to pay personal attention to him. St. Mark records this as the last miracle Jesus worked before entering into Jerusalem there to suffer and die. As He enters Jerusalem to suffer and die, Jesus brings His whole redemptive journey to a halt.

He did this in order to respond to this blind man’s request – that’s how important he to Jesus. I have no doubt whatsoever that we are just as important to Jesus as was Bartimaeus and that, if we call out to Jesus, He will drop everything to give us the same level of attention, love and compassionate care as He gave to Bartimaeus.

Finally I want to note that after Bartimaeus received his sight he followed in Jesus’ footsteps, which is a shorthand way of saying that Bartimaeus followed in the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus. He wanted to see and experience life as Jesus did.

We could spend the rest of this day discussing the various types and forms of blindness along with answering the question “Who is really blind, and who really sees?”

What in this world of ours do we see? What do we deliberately not see? What do we fail to see due to apathy, indifference, selfishness, pride and arrogance? Do we see the hurting, the hungry, the miserably poor, the outcast, and the little people?

The media presents us with the glittering beautiful people, those at the pinnacle of political and corporate power, the superstars in the sports and entertainment industries. Mother Teresa and Pope Francis invite us to see other people, not just ourselves but those around us.

Do we see them and really look at them, or do we ignore them? All of this leads us to the great question of the day. How does Christ see you? What is Christ’s vision for you? The answer is, of course, not simple. But what is at issue is the question of what it means to be a human person.

And what it means to be a human person is the overriding question of our day. Why can’t we see that? Join with me now in asking our Father in heaven for vision:

Heavenly Father, help me to see myself as you see me;

Help me to see others in the world around me as Jesus, your Son, sees them.

Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us all, that we may see what you want us to see

And do what you want us to do. You have filled your world with beauty;

Each and every one of us is precious in your sight.

Heal our blindness and bring us to walk in the Light of your Son.

For we ask you this through Christ, who is our Lord. Amen.

29th Sunday O T Year B – 15

29th Sunday O T Year B – 15

Is.53:10-11; Heb.4:14-16; Mk.10: 35-45

A priest went into a Washington, D. C. barber shop for a haircut. When the barber finished, the priest asked him what the charge was and the barber responded, “No charge, Father, you are serving the Lord and I consider my service rendered to you as a service to the Lord.”

The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop he found at his front door a stack of usable Christmas cards and a note of thanks from the priest. A few days later, a police officer went to the same barber for a haircut.  When he went to pay, the barber said, “No charge, officer.

I consider it a service to our community because you serve our community.” The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop there were a dozen donuts at the front door and a note of thanks from the policeman. A few days after this an influential senator came in for a haircut.

“No charge, Senator, I consider it a service to my country.” The next morning when the barber arrived at his shop there were two congressmen waiting for their chance for the barber’s free service, carrying a note of thanks from the Senator!

Today’s readings describe leadership as the sacrificial service done to others and offer Jesus as the best example. They also explain the servant leadership of Jesus, pinpointing service and sacrifice as the criteria of greatness in Christ’s kingdom.

The first reading is a messianic prophecy taken from the Fourth Servant Song in the second part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It tells how the promised Messiah would save mankind by sacrificing himself as the atonement for our sins.

The second reading, from the letter to the Hebrews, tells us that, as a God-man and mediator-High Priest, Jesus offered a fitting sacrifice to God his Father by offering himself as ransom to liberate us from the slavery of sin.

Today’s gospel explains how Jesus’ mission of saving mankind by becoming the “Suffering Servant”. A suffering servant challenging his followers to become great by serving others: “Whoever wishes to be great must be a servant.”

The gospel teaches us that true happiness comes from surrendering ourselves completely in humble service to God through Christ. And all we need is a servant’s heart, mind, eyes and touch. Our Gospel reading for today is another classic text on the question of ambition. For the third time, (Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:32), Jesus predicts his own death.

In spite of Jesus’ two previous predictions, James and John still thought of him as a revolutionary freedom-fighter and shared the Jewish belief that the Messiah would be a political king, sitting on David’s throne and ruling over a re-united Israel.

They thought that they were sure that the purpose of Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem was to overthrow the Roman rulers. Hence, they wanted an assurance from Jesus that he would make them his first- and second-in- command in his messianic kingdom. James and John picked a bad moment.

St John Chrysostom said, “Their timing was precisely wrong for this was not the right time for crowns or prizes. It was the time for struggles, contests, toils, sweat, wrestling rings and battles.” Jesus is going deliberately towards suffering and death.

It is easy to imagine that procession: Jesus striding ahead, the disciples following in a daze, and the crowd bewildered. Normal prudence would urge us to avoid suffering and death – to go in the other direction. But this scene is telling us something about the wisdom of the cross.

The request of James and John revealed their lack of understanding of true leadership. They were looking for positions of power and prestige. They thought that leadership came from where you sat rather than how you served.

Jesus gave them a sharp rebuke when he said, “You do not know what you are asking.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Without fully understanding what Jesus meant, James and John quickly affirmed that they could share in their master’s cup and baptism.

They had no understanding of the personal cost that lay behind these two images. To drink the cup is to accept the reality of suffering and to do God’s will in the midst of it, as Jesus did in Gethsemane.

Those who follow the way of Jesus and seek to imitate his example of servant leadership must be willing even to suffer for others. Naturally, the request of James and John angered the other disciples. They were upset that James and John had tried to gain some advantage over them.

So Jesus called them all together to give them yet another lecture on real leadership in the kingdom of God. Jesus told his disciples plainly what his mission was, how he was going to accomplish it and what should be the criteria of greatness among his disciples.

He summarized his mission in one sentence, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Here, he challenged his apostles to share not only his power, but his service, by sacrificing themselves for others as he had done.

According to Jesus, greatness consists not in what we have, nor in what we can get from others but in what we give to others. The CEO in Jesus’ kingdom is the one who serves the needs of all the others. Very often, people in authority act as if others exist only to serve them.

We forget the fact that authority is different from power. Power is something a person has and forces on people. Authority is something a person gains – it’s given to one by the people one leads. One can gain authority from those one leads only through service and sacrifice.

When people see that a person has their best interests at heart and is willing to sacrifice and serve them, they will be willing to follow. That’s real leadership and authority. Jesus saw authority as an opportunity to serve others rather than to promote his own honor and glory.

He connected authority with selfless service. He considered authority without sacrificial love as merely self-serving. We are challenged to give our lives in loving service to others. To become an authentic disciple of Jesus means to put ourselves in the humble, demanding role of servant to others, to intentionally seek the happiness and fulfillment of those we love regardless of the cost to ourselves.

Over one billion Catholics all over the world observe today as World Mission Sunday. This annual observance was instituted 89 years ago in 1926 by a Papal decree issued by Pope Pius XI. Every year since then, the universal Church has dedicated the month of October to reflection on and prayer for the missions.

On World Mission Sunday, Catholics gather to celebrate the Eucharist and to contribute to a collection for the work of evangelization around the world. This annual celebration gives us a chance to reflect on the importance of mission work for the life of the Church.

It reminds us that we are one with the Church around the world and that we are all committed to carrying on the mission of Christ, however different our situations may be.

Let me end with the words of Rabindranath Tagore an Indian Poet. “I discovered that Service is Joy.” It may sound unbelievable, but it is true that Asia’s first Nobel Prize winner in Literature (1913), Rabindranath Tagore, was behind the three great national anthems of three nations.

The nations are Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. He was also the first non-westerner to win the Nobel Prize in literature. He did so in 1913. He wrote this short poem:

I slept and dreamt that life was Joy;

Then I awoke and realized that life was Service.

And then I went to work – and, lo and behold, I discovered that Service is Joy. Amen.

28th Sunday O T Year B – 15

28th Sunday O T Year B – 15

Wis.7:7-11, Heb.4:12-13, Mk.10:17-30

A little child was playing one day with a very valuable vase. All of a sudden he put his hand into it and could not withdraw it. His dad, too, tried his best, but all in vain. They were thinking of breaking the vase when the father said, “Now, my son, make one more try.

Open your hand and hold your fingers out straight as you see me doing, and then pull.” To the Dad’s astonishment the little fellow said, “Oh no, Dad. I couldn’t put my fingers out like that, because if I did I would drop my pennies that I have in my hand.

Many of us are like that little boy, so busy holding on to the worthless pennies of the world that we cannot accept liberation. The rich young man in today’s gospel is just another example. He wants eternal life but will not let go “the peanuts” of riches. The young man is a metaphor of all our lives. His story deserves our attention.

Today’s readings remind us that we do not possess anything in our life that we refuse to surrender to the Lord. In reality these things often possess us, and we become the prisoners of our possessions.

The first reading advises us to use the God-given virtue of prudence and to seek true wisdom in preference to vanishing realities like riches or political and social influence. Solomon chose Wisdom before everything else. But when he accepted Wisdom, he received everything else along with her.

The second reading warns us that we are accountable before God as to how we use our blessings. In today’s Gospel we find three sections: a narrative about Jesus’ encounter with a rich man, Jesus’ sayings about wealth as a possible obstacle to following him and Jesus’ promise of reward for those who share their material possessions with the needy.

Let me quote a sentence from the first reading. “I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me…. Compared with her I held riches as nothing.” This is the background to the gospel story of the rich young man, who made the wrong choice: when the choice was put to him “his face fell and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.”

This man (in Matthew, a young man) runs up to Jesus and with totally exaggerated courtesy asks him what he must do, etc. Full marks for enthusiasm, but none for follow-through. You can imagine him running up to any and every new teacher, and turning away disappointed when they asked him to change his life.

He wanted religion as entertainment; he was interested in using religion for his own purposes, perhaps, without being challenged by it. We all have that in us. Some of us avoid the challenge by refusing to change, others by changing all the time.

The rich young man was a true believer in the other God: Mammon. There can be no final peace between these; they are the ultimate rivals. Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon” (Matt.6:24). Some people would say, “Can we not serve God and Mammon?

We become very skilled at keeping them in combination. Sometimes we are capable of using God as a cover for our worship of Mammon. More commonly we serve God, as we imagine, but with the mind of Mammon, calculating in every area of life as if everything were bargains and profit.

But the most common solution of all is to keep them in separate worlds; God in the world of theory and Mammon in the world of practice. Is there any hope for us? Yes, there’s always hope. As usual, Mark shows a more ‘feeling’ Jesus. Matthew and Luke write simply, “Jesus answered…”, but Mark writes, “Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and said….”

From Matthew and Luke you could get the impression that the rich man was a write-off. True, he is never heard of again in the New Testament, but could anyone whom Jesus loved be a write-off?  Jesus did not demand perfection of him; he just held it before him as an invitation.

An invitation is by its nature optional; you cannot imagine Jesus taking any kind of revenge on him for refusing it. There are stages in our life, and the Lord has more patience with us than we have with ourselves or with one another.

All three Gospel writers say that the rich man became “sad.” They didn’t need to say that Jesus was sad, because it was so obvious. The Twelve were all called individually by Jesus, and they all followed. Even Judas followed for three years.

But the rich young man is the only one in the New Testament who was called individually and did not follow. “He went away sorrowful, because he was very rich” (Matt.19:22). There is nothing quite like wealth for closing the ears and the mind, for deadening the conscience.

After a while it also closes the eyes, so that we no longer see the poor. That rich young man is never heard of again in the New Testament. He might have become a greater apostle even than Peter or John.

A wealthy older gentleman had just recently married a lovely young lady, and was beginning to wonder whether she might have married him for his money. So he asked her, “Tell me the truth: if I lost all my money, would you still love me?”

She said reassuringly, “Oh honey, don’t be silly. Of course I would still love you. And I’d miss you terribly.” Obviously, this young man who came to Jesus in search of eternal life really wanted to be accepted by Jesus as a disciple.

However, Jesus did not want this man as a disciple on his own terms, but rather on Jesus’ terms. The young man claimed that, from his youth, he had observed all the commandments Jesus mentioned, including the fourth commandment.

His tragedy was that he loved “things” more than people. He was trapped by the idea that he could keep his possessions and still obtain God’s mercy. He failed to realize the fact that his riches had built a wall between himself and God.

In other words, his possessions “possessed” him. Even though the rich man had never killed, stolen, or committed adultery, he was breaking both the commandment forbidding idolatry and the one commanding love of neighbor.  He worshiped his wealth more than God.

We need to “Do something beautiful for God” by reaching out to others. That’s the message we need to reflect on. Our most precious possession is our souls. Let us give ourselves away and give lavishly. Mother Teresa puts it in a different way: “Do something beautiful for God. Do it with your life. Do it every day. Do it in your own way. But do it!”

We all have something in our lives that serves as a major obstacle to happiness and peace. We must recognize this obstacle and address it head-on. It may not be riches – it may be anger, holding grudges, alcohol, drugs, lust, apathy, lies, unfaithfulness, theft, or fraud.

Let us invite God into our lives and into our efforts to face and remove that one obstacle to holiness. We have a decision to make: whether to go away sad like the rich young man, or to follow Jesus and be happy. Let us choose Happiness. Amen.