All Saints Day – 16

All Saints Day – 16

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

This gospel, 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.

But do we really understand what that means? As we mark this All Saints Day, it is tempting to put saints, literally, on a pedestal.  Just look around this church.  We see saints in stained glass, in wood, in marble.

They are plaster figures we put on a shelf and decorate with flowers or adorn with halos. We collect them in holy cards and venerate them in icons. But to think of the saints that way reduces them to something merely decorative—and risks making this feast seem unnecessary.

This day is necessary. We need to hear what this feast says to us. It is a summons, a call, a challenge to every one of us who is here. Looked at another way: All Saints Day is nothing less than a dare. This feast says to us: dare to be more. Dare to be a saint.

Some of us may hear that and laugh. Sainthood is a noble ambition, an ideal, but is this something we can realistically expect to attain? The short answer is: yes. Because the great truth about saints, something we so easily forget, is that they were just like us.

Flesh and blood, strength and weakness. They were people of appetites and longings, ambitions and disappointments, vanities and eccentricities. They were simple sinners just like the rest of us. That was how they began. But that wasn’t the whole story.

The simple but reassuring fact is that nobody is born a saint. It’s something you have to become.

Consider St. Margaret of Cortona. As a teenager, she was the mistress of a young nobleman. She lived with him for nine years, even had a son with him, hoping at some point her lover would marry her. He never did.

When he was finally murdered, the shock caused Margaret to re-evaluate her life. She went on to take vows a Franciscan. Her son also joined the order.  She was canonized in 1728. Nobody is born a saint.  It’s something you have to become.

Sometimes those who become saints aren’t the ones we expect. They may be the filthy, the rejected, the outcast, the homeless. People like Benedict Joseph Labre. He grew up the son of a prosperous shopkeeper, but felt called to give up everything and follow Christ.

He spent his life wandering from church to church in Rome. He rarely bathed, never washed his clothes. Some people were repelled by him. But the purity of his devotion and his love of God moved and inspired those who saw him day after day.

When he died at the young age of 35, priests of Rome preserved his filthy clothes as relics and they buried him in one of the churches he loved. Today, he is the patron saint of the homeless. Nobody is born a saint. It’s something you have to become.

Don’t dismiss any of the saints. They 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, 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. Ending on a lighter note: A priest once asked a class of nine-year-olds: “What do you have to do to become a saint?” One hand shot up: “Die, Father,” said the little boy.

But Jesus would say, rather: “Live your life to the full!” For indeed, sainthood starts right here and now.


31st Sunday O T Year C – 16

31st Sunday O T Year C – 16

Wis.11:22 – 12:2; 2Thes.1:11 – 2:2. Lk.19:1 – 10

There is a story about a local fitness center that was offering $1,000 to anyone who could demonstrate that they were stronger than the owner of the place. Here is how it worked. This muscle man would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass, and then hand the lemon to the next challenger.

Anyone who could squeeze just one more drop of juice out, would win the money. Many people tried over time – other weightlifters, construction workers, even professional wrestlers, but nobody could do it. One day, a short and skinny guy came in and signed up for the contest.

After the laughter died down, the owner grabbed a lemon and squeezed away. Then he handed the wrinkled remains to the little man. The crowd’s laughter turned to silence as the man clenched his fist around the lemon and six drops fell into the glass.

As the crowd cheered, the manager paid out the winning prize and asked the short guy what he did for a living. “Are you a lumberjack, a weightlifter, or what? “The man replied, “I work for the IRS.”

Today’s Gospel describes the conversion of a Jew who worked for the first-century Roman IRS. The basic message of today’s gospel account is that Jesus went into Zacchaeus’ house and Zacchaeus ended up going into God’s house.

The message in all three of today’s scripture readings is all about receiving God’s life-changing love, about receiving and accepting the presence, power, and love of God, which is why He has invited us here today into His house.

Let’s take a deeper look into what I am talking about. Last week we heard Jesus telling us of the tax collector sitting in the back of the Temple and the self-congratulating Pharisee sitting up in the front. You remember them, I’m sure.

The Pharisee was in the front of the Temple justifying himself and claiming to be better than the tax collector who was huddled in the back of the Temple asking only for God’s mercy.

Today we have another tax collector, a chief tax collector named Zacchaeus, whom Jesus encountered in real life. Note that today’s Gospel account isn’t a parable; it’s an account of what Jesus actually said and did with a real person, a named person, Zacchaeus.

In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were not popular people. They were collaborators with the Romans and were despised by many Jewish people. The tax system allowed them to charge more than what was required so that they could make a profit for themselves.

Thus, they were considered sinners by their countrymen. Observers in the crowd that day grumble because Jesus dines with a sinner. Throughout Scripture, Jesus’ choice of dinner companions set him apart from other observant Jews of his time.

In first century, Jewish culture, to dine together was to show a bond of fellowship and peace among those at the table. Observant Jews did not generally dine with foreigners and sinners. Yet, Jesus chooses to honor the tax collector, Zacchaeus, by staying at his house.

Even before Jesus comes to his home; Zacchaeus shows himself to be someone in search of salvation. Zacchaeus, described as short in stature, climbs a tree in order to see Jesus.

We know from Luke’s description that Zacchaeus was no ordinary tax collector; he was, in fact, the chief tax collector and a person of some wealth. In his search for salvation, he humbled himself by making a spectacle of himself by climbing a tree.

Jesus recognizes the faith of this tax collector exhibited in his search for salvation and calls him down from the tree. In the hospitality, he extends to Jesus and in his conversion of heart, Zacchaeus is raised up by Jesus as a model of salvation.

With that background, you can now realize the shock that electrified the Jews when Jesus calls out to him and says “Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I am coming to stay in your house.” Not only was Jesus going to dine at Zacchaeus’ table, He was going to stay in his house!

For the Jews that was unthinkable. Yet Jesus did it. Zacchaeus, wealthy and oppressive at the expense of others, was friendless up to this point in his life. No one of his own people would associate with him. No one, that is, until Jesus came down the road.

Suddenly he had the greatest Friend anyone could ever have! Two things need to be seen. One was that the Jews had completely misjudged Zacchaeus. The second was that as a result of his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus was completely changed.

Not only would he make good on any fraud or extortion he had committed, he would see to it that his victims were more than repaid. He went beyond simple restitution and in effect put those whom he had oppressed into standards of living they had never known before.

Well, so what? What’s the point? The first thing is to ask of ourselves just who it is that we condemn and harshly judge. By what standards do we judge them and condemn them? And how do we think God judges them?

Do we know what’s in their hearts and do we know their intentions better than God does? More importantly, when we judge our very own selves, why do we apply such rigid and perfectionistic standards to ourselves?

Perhaps we have such an idealistic image of ourselves that we set ourselves up with impossible standards to meet. Is it false pride lurking within us? Two evils flow from that. One is despair.

Because we despair of ever meeting our impossible standards we excuse ourselves from prayer, from going to church, or any sense of closeness to God. In place of high standards, we toss up our hands and rid ourselves of any and all standards.

Despair is a terrible evil. It leads to a complete giving up on ourselves. It leads to self-punishing behavior that certainly doesn’t please God. It forces others to live with a person who is miserable. They don’t deserve that… God doesn’t… and neither do you.

The other effect is to rationalize ourselves out of coming to Mass. It provides a convenient excuse for not participating in the Sacraments and in the life of the Church. “I’m such a terrible sinner,” we say, “that even God couldn’t forgive me.” Therefore, I don’t need to go to church any more.

Finally, observe that Zacchaeus is much like the prodigal son who lived among the pigs and who came home to find his father to be even more prodigal in forgiveness while the elder son stood aloof in icy condemnation and furious judgment.

The story of the prodigal son and the story of Zacchaeus are stories of God’s unbounded prodigality in sharing His forgiveness along with His all-powerful, life-changing love.

Do you find yourself to be up a tree and distantly observing Christ as He walks by? If so, be prepared to hear Him call out to you and tell you that He wants to come to your house today and stay with you. Hopefully your response will be as holy as Zacchaeus’ response.

We are here in God’s house because He has invited us to come to His house. The paradox is that God wants to enter your “house” and stay with you. In Holy Communion God enters into the house that is your heart and soul, there to give you His love, there to stay with you. Amen.


30th Sunday O T Year C – 16

30th Sunday O T Year C – 16

Sir 35:12-14, 16-18; 2 Tm 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18:9-14

“I never come to this Church for Sunday Mass,” boasted a wandering parishioner to his pastor. “Perhaps you have noticed that Father?” “Yes, I have noticed that,” said the pastor. “Well, the reason I don’t come is that there are so many hypocrites here.”

“Oh, don’t let that keep you away,” replied the pastor with a smile. “There’s always room for one more.”

The main theme of today’s Gospel is that true humility must be the hallmark of our prayers. However, the central focus of today’s parable is not on prayer itself, but rather on pride, humility and the role of grace in our salvation.

The first reading, from Sirach, is a perfect companion piece to the Gospel parable. In one striking image from Sirach, the writer talks about “the prayer of the lowly, piercing the clouds to reach the unseen throne of God.”

Such prayers are heard because they come from the hearts of people who know how much they need God. Although God has no favorites and answers the prayers of all, the oppressed, the orphans, the widows, and those who can least help themselves are His special concern.

The best prayer is humble and selfless service. In the second reading, Paul, a former Pharisee, humbly acknowledges his work as accomplished by the grace of God, and he thanks God for enabling him to fight a good battle — to run a good race while keeping his Faith intact and proclaiming it.

In today’s Gospel parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector, Jesus reminds us that God hears the prayers of those who approach Him in humility with a repentant heart. God did not hear the prayer of the Pharisee because he exalted himself.

His prayer was a prayer of thanksgiving that he was not as evil as other people. He announced to God his freedom from sin and detailed his fidelity in observing the prescribed fast and in giving tithes.

The tax collector’s prayer, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” was heard because he humbled himself, acknowledging his sins and requesting God’s mercy.

The gospel account we just heard is famous, one with which we are all familiar. It tells the well-known story of the sinner who sat in the back of the Temple beating his breast while seeking mercy and the Pharisee who sat up in front reminding God what a laudable and holy person he is.

The “holier than thou” argument is often used as an excuse by those who don’t go to church in order to criticize those of us who do, calling us hypocrites. But the story goes much deeper than the comparisons people make between themselves and others.

The parable deals with our perception of who we are in the eyes of God. This parable reaches to the core of our relationship with God. We need to understand that the basis of that relationship is the fact that God chooses us. He establishes the relationship. We haven’t won this relationship with our prayers, or our actions. God has chosen us.

This has not been easy for many to accept. Perhaps we fear that His love for us is too demanding. Maybe we’re afraid that getting close to God means we have to give up all of the fun things in life.

Maybe we’re afraid He will ask us to give up things that we feel we simply just can’t give up. Or… maybe it’s a control issue. Do I control my life, or should God govern my life? Our motives are many and complex, God’s motive is simple and uncomplicated.

In our relationship with God each one of us has been gifted with God’s love, a love flowing to us through our family of faith, the Church. Yet at the same time His love is, because we are individuals, unique to each one of us.

I stand before God’s eyes all by myself. Each one of you has his or her own unique and individual relationship with God. By that I mean that someone is not better or worse than another person in the eyes of God. God sees you as you, not in comparison with someone else.

Yes, we are all God’s children. Yet God sees us and loves us individually. He doesn’t judge us as better or worse than another person. Our actions and behaviors may be good or bad but we are all God’s children and He loves us all as His children.

One of the ways that we tend to avoid accepting responsibility for our actions is to contrast ourselves with those whose actions appear to be worse than ours. The Pharisee thought: “Look at that guy; he is a sinner and a tax collector.

At least I’m better than him.” Is that any different than the thought, “Look at that guy, he’s a drug addict. At least I’m better than him.” Thank God for your own goodness, but at the same time realize that God sees into the hearts and souls of each of His children.

He looks into our hearts and He sees all those hidden forces that have pushed us in one direction or another. He judges us as individuals. He is not concerned with who is better than whom.

He is only concerned with how well we each individually respond to His love, what we as individuals has done with the gifts He has given us.

Catholicism is often accused of putting people on guilt trips. That is not true. Catholicism puts people on reality trips. Catholicism dares to speak about unpopular topics like sin. Catholicism dares to invite people to consider their own participation in sin and seek God’s forgiveness.

Is this really a guilt trip? Or is it a reality trip? I firmly believe that Catholicism fosters a realistic approach to living. It recognizes that our salvation is a process we are engaged in. We are not saved yet; we are being saved.

Catholicism recognizes that we are human beings and that we can, because we are wounded, give in to temptations to sin. It tells us that the Lord was one of us and that He experienced temptations and that He understands our need for mercy.

He gave us the Sacrament of mercy, the Sacrament of Forgiveness, because He wants His mercy, not our guilt, directing our lives. Catholicism is not concerned with guilt; it is concerned with mercy. So many times, I have had people tell me how much they need the loving mercy of God.

They are realists. We all need the mercy of God. As we come to a deeper understanding of all that God has done for us, we also come to a deeper understanding of how much we need His mercy and forgiveness.

A Pharisee and a tax collector come into the Temple. Both are there to pray. Only one is a humble enough to recognize his need for the healing hand of God. He is the one who truly prays because he realizes how much he really needs God.

He is the one who leaves the Temple with God’s arms around him. The Pharisee leaves having nothing but his own self-satisfaction. The tax collector leaves with a great treasure: the love of God in his heart.

So, two men, Two prayers, Two attitudes and Two verdicts. And so let us pray every day: “Be merciful to me, a sinner.” Amen.


29th Sunday O T Year C – 16

29th Sunday O T Year C – 16

Ex.17:8-13, 2Tim.3:14-4:2, Lk.18:1-8

The pilot announced to the passengers that the two engines of their plane stopped working. From 30,000 feet the plane started to crash dive. Everyone except the priest, seated at the farthest end of the plane, became very hysterical.

An elderly lady stood up and proposed: “Let us all together pray the novena to St. Rita, the saint of the impossible and beg her intercession to make the plane fly even without the engines!”

Heeding the suggestion, everyone followed after the elderly lady as she read aloud the prayers to St. Rita. But no miracle happened. The plane was down to 25,000 feet. Many suggested praying St. Jude, the saint for desperate cases and begging his intercession. Still no miracle happened.

The plane was down to 20,000, then 5,000 feet. When they had exhausted all their prayers, the passengers noticed the priest calmly sitting at the rear as if nothing happened. They implored him to teach them a prayer that might bring a miracle to their desperate situation.

The priest stood up and walked to the middle. The passengers looked at him with bated breath and silent anticipation. After asking them to close their eyes, he told them to repeat after him: “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you and I detest all my sins…”

Persistence is the dominant theme in all three of today’s readings. It is, for a change, a simple and direct theme, and one that can instill great hope in God’s children.

Imagine that your four-year-old wants an ice-cream cone. He keeps asking and asking, and you tell him many things to hold him off. You just had lunch. You’ll spoil your supper. You’ll get your clothes dirty. You didn’t do what I asked earlier.

But the child keeps nagging and nagging until you can’t stand it anymore and you break down and buy the child an ice-cream cone. God is rather like that parent. The parent may have many good reasons why we should not get what we are praying for.

As the adult, in this case – the all-knowing God – the parent may see things in a perspective that we don’t see – but, we keep hounding God with our prayers, we keep begging relentlessly. What will God do? According to Jesus, God will act like any parent, and will give us what we ask for.

One hundred per cent of the time? No, of course not. Sometimes the parent does know more than the child and there are very good reasons why the child cannot have an ice cream cone. Perhaps they are lactose-intolerant. Perhaps there is a bigger treat awaiting them at home.

But Jesus tells us that indeed, if we are persistent, we can wear down even God. This theme is also present in the First Reading from Exodus. As long as Aaron held up the rod, had persistence in doing so, the Israelites would win.

The added lesson here, though, is that Aaron couldn’t do it alone, much as we can’t be persistent by ourselves, as least as persistent as we need to be. We need support, just as Aaron did – the support of the community. In our case this is the Church community.

One of the reasons that we have the Prayers of the Faithful at Mass is because what is a private need becomes a group concern – a group act of persistence – as each week we read for people who need healing, who need our prayers because they have died, who have social justice issues which need correction, and generally people who need our help.

The community can reach God with a louder voice, perhaps, and so we share our needs with the persistent community.

In the letter to Timothy, St. Paul also talks about persistence. His persistence, however, goes full circle back to us. Just as we are persistent in our requests to God, we need to be persistent in our proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ.

We must fight injustice persistently. Our goal is the kingdom of God – “on earth as it is in heaven”; and to reach that goal, Paul says we must be persistent.

When people are enduring great difficulties along with emotional and spiritual crises of various sorts you may have heard them say: “I’ve tried everything. Now the only thing left to do is to pray.” It’s as if praying is something to be done only as a last resort in times of trouble.

Then, when all else has failed and we sense impending failure we, in desperation, turn to God and ask Him for a miracle. Someone said, “Prayer is not a spare wheel it is the steering wheel.” At first we try to solve problems on our own using our own judgments and powers.

Some of our methods don’t make much sense at all. Some of our methods are harsh and mean-spirited. Some inflict pain on others while other methods only bring more pain down upon us. Smashing things on the floor doesn’t work.

Giving the cold shoulder and the silent treatment doesn’t solve family disputes. Calling others names and refusing to negotiate is on display in the present crises in Washington. It’s childish. How many times have you heard folks mentioning that our present crop of politicians are acting like children?

God’s ways are found in the bible. In today’s Gospel account we hear Jesus giving us the parable of the woman who continually calls on the judge to hear and answer her petition. what is Jesus telling us?

Again, that consistency, perseverance, steadfastness, along with continuing courage, are needed in our lives and that these strengths, these virtues can be found only in a life lived out in persistent prayer. Prayer should be our normal way of life, not just a last resort in times of difficulty.

We can only live life well and effectively in a sustained connection with God. Prayer is not an isolated act – it is a way of life. Nor does it come cheap for us. There’s a price to pay for coming to Mass each and every weekend. It’s not something by which we can “go it alone” with God.

We need our mutual support. We need our family of faith. We need each other’s prayers. We need each other’s strength. That should be a constant in our lives. So, too, we find that truth in the writers of the N T. For example, St. Paul in writing to the Thessalonians admonishes us:

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1Thess.5:16)

We live now in a world that offers us quick answers to our problems along with quick responses to our needs. Think of all of the “time saving” devices that surround us. With our smart phones we can communicate with others anywhere in the world with the touch of a few buttons.

Television ads and Internet ads offer us instant loans of money. Any number of products can be purchased with a few strokes on our computer keyboards. Moreover, we can instantly pay for them via credit cards using a few more key strokes on our computers.

Even the Post Office allows us to pay for postage on its Internet web page. All of our needs and wants can be fulfilled these days in no time at all. It’s no wonder that our days are crammed, jammed with things to do.

Amidst all of this, prayer, meditation, and time with God are in an uphill battle. The world has shaped us into being an impatient people. But are we altogether different from the people of St. Paul’s time? I don’t think so. In today’s second reading we find St. Paul writing to one of his most devoted followers: Timothy. He said:

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching… (2Tim.3)

So when the Son of Man comes back again, will he find anyone praying, praying consistently, and faithfully? Will He find faith on earth? The answer depends on each one of us. Amen.