22nd Sunday, O T Year C – 16

22nd Sunday, O T Year C – 16

Sir.3:19-21, 30-31 / Heb.12:18-19 / Lk.14:1, 7-14

Winston Churchill was once asked, “Doesn’t it thrill you to know that every time you make a speech, the hall is packed to overflowing?” “It’s quite flattering,” replied Sir Winston. “But whenever I feel that way, I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I were being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big.”

“Well, Father,” I was asked, “what’s wrong with being proud of yourself? Aren’t we supposed to have some pride? Why are we supposed to be humble – what good does it do other than to allow others to take advantage of us?” That’s a good question, one that we should consider.

Balancing pride and humility is a problem for us all. My answer to the question about bring proud is: “It all depends.” It all depends upon what we’re being proud about. There are forms of pride that are good… and there are certainly forms of pride that are bad.

Let’s start with good pride. We should have enough pride to render good quality to our workmanship. We should do things well and be properly proud of that quality of the product of our craftsmanship.

We should be honorable, a quality lacking in today’s world. We should render an honest day’s labor for an honest day’s wage and be proud of it. We should care for our employees and workers and be proud that we care for them.

If we have musical or artistic talents, we should openly share them with others and not have a false humility that causes us to withhold what we can create for others. Hiding our light under a bushel does not give honor and glory to God, who gave us our talents so that we might brighten and build up the lives of those around us.

So, to be honest, there are forms of pride that are healthy and beneficial not only to ourselves but to others as well. Then there are forms of pride that are bad. They cut us off from others and isolate us. There is a kind of pride that comes from the delusion that tells us we’re totally self-sufficient.

Satan tempted Adam and Eve by telling them that if they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they would be like God, that they could decide for themselves what was good and what was evil. In other words, they could make their own reality.

The common theme of today’s readings is the need for true humility which leads to a generous blessed sharing with the needy. The readings also warn us against all forms of pride and self-glorification.

The first reading, taken from the book of Sirach, reminds us that if we are humble, we will find favor with God, and others will love us. The second reading, taken from Hebrews, gives another reason for us to be humble.

Jesus was humble, so his followers are expected to be humble, trying to imitate his humility. Paul reminds us that Jesus was lowly, particularly in his suffering and death for our salvation.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus explains the practical benefits of humility, connecting it with the common wisdom about dining etiquette. Jesus advises the guests to go to the lowest place instead of seeking places of honor, so that the host may give them the place they really deserve.

When God became man, He chose to occupy the lowest possible seat. Paul described in Phil.2:7-8, the six steps in humility that God took in coming to this earth.

“Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Humility was Jesus’ favorite theme.

“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk.14:11); “Whoever humbles himself like a little child is the greatest in the kingdom of God” (Matt.18:4); “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matt.11:29).

Humility is a strange phenomenon. As a rule, when we discover we have it, we lose it. Humility is like a rare flower –put it on display, and it instantly wilts and loses its fragrance! St. Augustine said:

“Humility is so necessary for Christian perfection that among all the ways to reach perfection, humility is first, humility is second, and humility is third.” He added, “Humility makes men angels, and pride makes angels devils.”

St. Bernard declared, “Pride sends man from the highest elevation to the lowest abyss, but humility raises him from the lowest abyss to the highest elevation.”

We are deluded if we think we can handle everything and that we don’t need anyone else’s help. We disguise it by saying, “my problems are my problems – they’re no one else’s business. I can take care of my own problems.”

For instance, there are horrible problem marriages. Pride rears its ugly head again, and I hear it said: “Well, I don’t need any counseling help. Counselors don’t know what they’re talking about. I can take care of my own problems – I don’t need anyone else’s help.”

So in this parable of Jesus that you’ve just heard, Jesus isn’t merely talking about nice table manners. No. He’s talking about the way you and I live our lives. He’s talking about the way we treat our selves, others, and God.

Pride keeps folks away from going to confession. They just can’t bring themselves to admit to a priest the nature of their sins. Too proud and too arrogant they say themselves “I can confess to God without needing to go to a priest.”

Such people are delusional – they end up striking their own bargains with God, setting their own terms for His forgiveness, deciding for themselves that they can take care of sin their own way. No help needed from you, Father.

If that’s so, then why did Jesus say to His first priests, the apostles, “Whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” When Jesus rose from the dead His first words to His apostles were “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” Are these words of Jesus not to be taken seriously? Was He wasting His time in speaking to us about our prideful denials – or did He have something to say to us that He wanted us to take seriously?

Going to confession requires humility. Pride has to be put down. Prideful refusal to confess our sins blocks God’s graces from entering into us through the Sacrament of Penance.

And pride affects our relationships with those around us. Living prideful and self-centered life brings me into a hell on earth in which my ego pushes God aside and causes me to dominate, manipulate, rule and control others. Pride, we must always remember, was Lucifer’s downfall.

Pride is the root cause of all sin. Perhaps that’s why Jesus spent so much time pointing it out to us and calling us to humbly deal with it under God’s power, under God’s terms. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t just talk about it…

He lived life humbly and died in humiliation that we might receive the power that humility gives us in order that our own lives and the lives of those around us can be a whole lot better, better because God is in charge and our egos are not.

We must admit the truths that we are sinners, that we do not know everything and that we do not always act properly. Nevertheless, we must also recognize that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and that we are called to help build the kingdom of God with our God-given gifts.

21st Sunday O T Year C – 16

21st Sunday O T Year C – 16

Is.66:18-21, Heb.12:5-7, 11-13, Lk.13:22-30

Responding to the beauty of a spring morning, Robert Browning wrote, “The lark’s on the wing, the snail’s on the thorn; God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.”

While the thought is beautiful, the poem suggests a misleading concept of God, which maybe most of us entertain from time to time. “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.” How often we imagine God as “away up there, somewhere,” while the world goes its separate way, with the events of every day independent of God.

As Jesus continues his fateful journey to Jerusalem, he answers the question as to how many will be saved by answering how to enter into salvation. And how urgent it is to strive now, before the Master closes the door.

Jesus asks us the question: Are you prepared to be saved, choosing the narrow gate? In the first reading, Isaiah’s prophecy speaks to the Babylonian exiles returning to Jerusalem some 400 years later, telling them that salvation is not a Jewish monopoly.

And that is why Yahweh will welcome the pagans also into Judaism. The prophet ends his great book as it began, with a vision of all the peoples of the world streaming toward Jerusalem, acknowledging and praising the God of Israel.

In the second reading, exploring with his readers the consequences of Christian commitment, St. Paul explains that “the narrow gate” of Jesus is accepting pain and suffering as God’s loving disciplining of His children.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus clearly explains that anyone who follows him through the narrow gate of sacrificial service and sharing love will be saved. Jesus also admonishes his followers to concentrate on their own salvation by self-discipline rather than to worry about other people’s salvation.

Have you ever heard of Three surprises in Heaven? Bishop Sheen tells us that we will have three surprises in Heaven.

The first surprise: We will be surprised to see that many people we expected to be in Heaven are not there. St. John of the Cross gives the reason why they are not there: “At the evening of our life, we shall be judged on how we have loved.”

The second surprise: We will be surprised to see that the people we never expected to be in Heaven are there. That is because God judges man’s intentions and rewards them accordingly.

The third surprise: We will be surprised to see that we are in Heaven. Since our getting to Heaven is principally God’s work, we should be surprised that God somehow “went out of His way” to save us, simply because we showed the good will and generosity to cooperate with His grace.

“Are you saved”? When the questioner asked Jesus “How many will be saved?” he was assuming that the salvation of God’s Chosen People was virtually guaranteed, provided they kept the Law.

In other words, the Kingdom of God was reserved for the Jews alone, and Gentiles would be shut out. Hence, Jesus’ answer must have come as a shock. Jesus affirms that God wants all persons to enjoy eternal life with Him. But he stresses the need for constant fidelity and vigilance 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, based purely on religious Faith or nationality, so we cannot presume on God’s mercy and do nothing by way of response to God’s invitation.

What Jesus is saying is that salvation is not guaranteed for anyone. “Outside the Church there is no salvation” was a rallying cry for centuries. But Jesus declares that nobody can claim that he is “saved,” possessing a “visa” to Heaven.

How many will be saved in the end is a decision that rests with God, and depends on whether His Justice or His Mercy finally prevails. 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, not a single people, nation, race, or class, which will be excluded from experiencing the love and liberation that God offers.

Hence, the role of the Christian community, from the beginning until now has been, first and foremost, to proclaim to the whole world the Good News of God’s love for the world, and then to show this Good News to be real, reflected in the loving, sharing and serving lives of individual Christians.

So to be “saved” means to live and to die in a close, loving relationship with God and with others. “Being saved’ is not a Protestant idea. Protestants, in fact, took the idea from Catholics. But in Catholic theology, “being saved” is the end result.

The end result is ‘seeing God face to face in Heaven’, and not a ready-made “passport and visa” as some of our Protestant brothers claim. Jesus explains that Salvation begins with Faith. But it is also the result of how that Faith is lived, as is seen in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets.

We, too, believe that we cannot “earn” our way into Heaven by good works alone, but we also believe that we must allow God to work in our lives through His grace, a grace that is reflected in our actions.

Hence, our answer to the question: “Have you been saved?” should be: “I have been saved from the penalty of sin by Christ’s death and Resurrection.  I am being saved from the power of sin by the indwelling Spirit of God. I have the hope that I shall one day be saved from the very presence of sin when I go to be with God.”

We need to cooperate with God’s grace daily given to us by choosing the narrow way and the narrow gate of self-control and self- disciplining of our evil tendencies and evil habits and addictions;

We need to cooperate with God’s grace daily given to us by loving others, seeing the face of Jesus in them and sharing our blessings with them sacrificially.

We need to cooperate with God’s grace daily given to us by obtaining the daily Divine strength to practice self-control and sharing love through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in daily prayer and Bible reading and through the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Amen.

20th Sunday OT Year C – 16

20th Sunday  O T Year C – 16

Jer.38:4-6, 8-10/ Heb.12:1-4/ Lk.12:49-53

A man was called into his bank to discuss his accounts. “Your finances are in terrible shape,” the banker stated. “Your checking account is overdrawn; your loan is overdue.” “Yes, I know.” said the man. “It’s my wife, she is out of control.”

“Why do you allow your wife to spend more money than you have?” asked the banker. “Frankly,” replied the man with a deep sigh, “because I’d rather argue with you than with her.”

Of the four Gospel accounts written by Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, St. Luke’s has been characterized by some scripture scholars as the most beautiful of them all. St. Luke’s Gospel contains accounts of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, for instance.

Mary, the mother of Jesus has a special place in his Gospel. Moreover, St. Luke has a special regard for women, for the hurting, the outcasts, and those who were seen to be at the bottom of the social heap in those days. The tender and compassionate heart of Jesus is prominent in St. Luke’s accounts of His life.

Given that context it’s startling to hear the words in today’s Gospel account taken from St. Luke. Whatever happened to the Christmas message about peace on earth and good will toward all men and women? How do we understand the words of the Prince of Peace that we just heard in today’s Gospel?

The central theme of today’s readings is that we should courageously live out our religious convictions and principles in our lives, as Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus did theirs, even if doing so should result in our martyrdom and turn society upside down.

Jeremiah, in our First Reading, is presented as experiencing the consequences of the burning word of God within him. Jeremiah’s preaching divided the city and incited such opposition that people sought his death.

He showed the courage of his prophetic conviction by telling the king that he had to surrender to the mighty army of Babylonian empire to save Israel. The result was that Jeremiah was thrown into a deep, muddy cistern to die for his “treason.”

Paul, in the second reading, challenges the Judeo-Christians to stand firm in their faith in Jesus, ignoring the ostracism imposed on them by their own former Jewish community.

Jesus, too, in today’s Gospel, preaches the word of God which continues to divide families, a word which, he knew, would lead ultimately to his death. The fire Jesus brings is the fire of love and the fire of hope.

There are those who think of Jesus as being accepting and tolerant in all things and toward all people. The truth is that He was not. Had He accepted anything and everything He would never have been put to death in a horrible crucifixion.

His teaching and His way of living enraged the religious and political power brokers of His day. He lived in a time when ties to family were far more important than they are in our culture. So how do we explain the words of Jesus we just heard?

Long, long ago a very wise person taught: “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.” That is very wise indeed. But how do we interpret it? Does charity, compassion, understanding, and love require that we accept anything and everything? Does turning the other cheek mean something similar? Hardly!

Today’s Gospel passage consists of two sections: in the first section (vv.49-50), Jesus speaks of his Divine destiny to endure suffering, and in the second section (vv.51-53), he prophesies the breakup of families resulting from his message.

Jesus explains his Divine destiny by highlighting his role of “setting the earth on fire” and being “baptized” in the waters of suffering. The images of fire and baptism refer to his mission, both in terms of the cost that it will exact from him and the decision it will require of people.

“I have come to “set the earth on fire.” In the Bible, fire is sometimes symbolic of purification, and, more often, is associated with God’s judgment. The image of fire is also used to symbolize God’s glory, His protective presence, His holiness, His righteous judgment.

The image of fire is also used of the Holy Spirit. Fire has many characteristics: it warms, purifies, refines, transforms, and burns. As a purifying force, fire burns up what is useless and refines what is impure besides giving warmth and energy.

Elijah brought the fire of judgment on the prophets of Baal and on the soldiers of King Ahaziah. John the Baptist promises that Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”, and that promise was fulfilled at Pentecost.

James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritans who rejected Jesus, but Jesus would not permit it. We are also reminded of the prophet’s words, “For he is like a refiner’s fire…”. The fire burns hot, removing impurities and leaving only that which is desirable.

These meanings suggest that the fire which Jesus brings will consume or purify the world. However, it is also possible that he means that his baptism will be a baptism of fire.

In the Aramaic language the word translated as “earth” can also mean “earth-oven,” the common stove in Mediterranean villages, heated by burning dried and salted camel-dung patties. The salt in the dried camel dung acted as a catalyst keeping fire burning for a long time.

In that sense, Jesus acts as a catalyst in his believers’ life.

“I must be baptized with a baptism:” The cup and baptism are metaphors for Jesus’ suffering and death when Jesus asks James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’

What Jesus means by his statement is “I have a terrible experience through which I must pass, and life is full of tension until I pass through it and emerge triumphantly from it.”

“I have come to establish division on earth, not peace.” As Jesus walked the road to Jerusalem, the disciples had to decide whether to go with him or not. To be with or against Jesus is a decision which has the effect of judgment and division.

Compromise is a difficult concept for us, just as love is difficult to live. When should we compromise and when should we not compromise? When should we trouble others or get ourselves in trouble with them, and when not? And just what will we compromise, anyway?

Should we ever compromise our beliefs and our values? No, and certainly not in the culture of our day. When Jesus tells us that He has come to bring division and not peace He’s telling us that peace is not to be found at any price.

There is a cost to genuine peace. Anything else is simply the absence of conflict. When people make fun of our Christian faith, or of our Catholic faith in particular, do we laugh and go along with them, or do we challenge them?

When the group we’re in wants to do things we know are wrong, do we simply go along with them? Certain business practices ought to bother us. They need to be challenged. We need to remember that many of the first Christians were martyred because of their values and beliefs.

St. Cecelia, St. Lucy, St. Agatha, and other Roman women were put to death for remaining virgins. King Henry VIII beheaded St. Thomas More, Chancellor of England, because More refused to compromise his beliefs. And that division goes on even today as we speak.

There are parts of the world today in which Christians are literally being put to death simply for being Christian. Who, then, brings division, hatred, strife, and conflict into our world? God, or humans? Love or jealousy? Good people or people who cannot stand goodness?

You know the answers as well as I do. It’s all a question of what we will stand for. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you,” Jesus told us. (Jn.15:18) Jesus was crucified for a reason and we should always remember that. Amen.

Or Another Joke: A Woman Shoots Her Husband for Stepping On the Clean Floor… A police officer jumps into his squad car and calls the station. “I have an interesting case here,” he says. “A woman shot her husband for stepping on the floor she just mopped.”

“Have you arrested her?” asks the sergeant. “No, not yet. The floor’s still wet.”

19th Sunday O T Year C – 16

19th Sunday O T Year C – 16

Wis.18:6-9/ Heb.11:1-2, 8-19/ Lk.12:32-48

During his sermon, an evangelist asked all who wanted to go to heaven to raise their hands. Everyone in the audience did so–except for one elderly man sitting near the front of the auditorium.

The preacher pointed his finger at him and said, “Sir, do you mean to tell us that you don’t want to go to Heaven?” “Sure I do,” the old man answered, “but the way you put the question, I figured you were getting up a busload for tonight!’

What awaits us in our future? Today’s scripture readings put that question to us. What does the future hold in store for us? What awaits us when we die? Is what is awaiting us when we die determined by what we did or didn’t do in this life?

These are the big questions we face today and in all of the days of our lives. So the central theme of today’s readings is the necessity for trusting faith in God’s promises and vigilant preparedness in the followers of Christ.

The first reading cites the Faith-filled preparedness of the ancient Hebrew slaves in Egypt before their mass exodus to the Promised Land. Their trusting Faith in their God’s promises gave them hope. We are told how their Faith and Hope resulted in their liberation.

With expectant Hope, the Hebrews obediently sacrificed the first Passover lamb and ate the first ritual meal, as prescribed by their God through Moses. They awaited their imminent release and were prepared for it.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm invites us to express our own confidence in God and declare our trust in His providence. In the Second Reading, taken from the last chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, Paul defines Faith as “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

He tries to bolster the Faith of the Jewish Christians (the Hebrews), by appealing to the example of their ancestors, starting with Abraham, and reviewing the things they had accomplished by Faith.

In the Gospel, Jesus challenges his disciples to trust the Father’s promise to give them eternal happiness in His kingdom. But they are to be prepared at all times, because the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour, either at the moment of their death or at the end of the world.

Using the master-thief parable Jesus gives a warning to be on our guard so that the thief (the devil), may not steal our treasure of Divine grace by his temptations. Using the master-servant parable, Jesus reminds us always to do the will of God by obeying Jesus’ commandment of love, offering humble and sacrificial service to others.

Jesus talked with His disciples (and we are His disciples) about the future, telling them they were to face it not with fear but with hope and in a spirit of positive expectancy. He spoke to them in terms of making investments, investments in their future.

“Sell what you have,” He told them, and buy into the sort of retirement plan I am offering you, a never-failing treasure with my Father and with me in heaven. “Wherever your treasure lies,” Jesus told us, “there you heart will be.” Stated the other way around he’s telling us: “Wherever your heart is, there will your treasure be found.”

But how can we live in a world and with a future that is not yet? Only by living it in faith. St. Paul tells us “Faith is the confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see.” And it is counter-cultural to live that way.

The secularists tell us not to have faith in anything, simply to accept what you can touch, taste, smell, measure ad control. Suspend your beliefs, the world tells us, and don’t accept anything else. Religion wars against science.

But can anyone really live without any faith? Can atheists and secularists really live that way? Well… no! People with no religion are in fact forced to live by faith. They cannot claim they have no need of faith. You cannot get married and not live in faith. You cannot buy a computer in a store and not have faith in what you’ve bought.

You cannot step onto an airplane and not have faith, faith in the engineers who designed it, faith in the ground crews who perform maintenance on it, and faith in the pilot and co-pilot who fly under the direction of the ground controllers who in their responsibilities control the paths of the planes placed in their care.

You can’t drive on our highways without having faith in the competence of the drivers of those vehicles you will either meet or pass. You can’t buy groceries without having faith in those who both produced the food and those who have marketed it for you.

Faith is not something that belongs only to religion, it belongs to everyday living. Each and every day we take risks and act on probabilities, hardly ever on certainties. We take risks in depending upon the decisions of others, never knowing with certainty what the outcomes will be.

Even scientists operate on theories, even the Theory of Evolution. Rarely does science give us proofs, proofs that last anyway. To be realistic, however, we must pay attention to the fact that a good deal of our recent history attacks our faith.

We have been betrayed and betrayed often by people in our lives, all of which erodes our basic need to believe in others. Life is unfair and bad things do happen to good people. And yes, many people are unreliable.

But, for all that is wrong in life, in our world and in others, we cannot afford to give up, stop believing, and lose faith. Jesus knew that back then and He knows that right now, which is why Christ presents Himself to us.

He comes to us, after all, in faith, placing Himself in Holy Communion in our hands with the belief in His heart that we accept Him in love and with a firm purpose to live with Him as He would have us live. Yes, this world belongs to God.

And yes, God has given us the dignity and the responsibility of working with Him to bring the world to completion, to wholeness and to that unity in which He made it to exist, and us in it, in the first place. For God, you see, has made a tremendous act of faith in you and in me.

God believes in you and in me to give you and me the freedom to choose His love, the freedom to choose to accomplish His work, the freedom to do good. For God made us to love Him and to live with His faith in us.

How comforting it is to know that others have faith in us. How tremendously comforting it is to know that God Himself trusts us, has high hopes for us, and believes in us. What a fantastic honor it is to realize that when we receive Holy Communion, God our Father has believed in us enough to put His only begotten Son into our hands.

The readings invite us to commit ourselves again to the Lord and to His word. We may not be perfect yet, but we know the road and can keep walking, no matter how often we fail. Just as our ancestors knew that God loved them, so we also know that God loves us.

Walking in faith, we allow this love to shape our lives. Faith is forever an adventure in living, an adventure in which God Himself lives and wants to share with us. Amen.