Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (November 26, 2017)

The Scriptures today remind us that God has fulfilled his word to Ezekiel.

God himself is now tending his sheep in Jesus. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is seeking out the lost and strayed, and healing the injured and sick. He is looking after each of us.

The Scriptures also remind us that there will be a day of reckoning, of mercy and judgment. Jesus will come again in glory and will separate those who have heard his voice and lived by it from those who have chosen to ignore what they have heard.

Those who have listened - who have chosen to serve Jesus in the hungry and the sick, have welcomed him in the stranger and clothed him in the poor - these will be welcomed into the kingdom that has been prepared for them from the creation of the world. Those who have chosen not to see and serve Jesus in their less fortunate brothers and sisters have condemned themselves already.

As we close the Church year and prepare to begin a new season of discernment, the Church encourages us to sharpen our focus as we go about our daily living. How we live today and tomorrow - whether or not we choose to see Jesus in one another and take care of one another’s needs in Jesus’ name - has eternal implications for each of us.

Jesus, our King and Shepherd, loves us and calls us by name each day. May our experience of his love send us to our knees in worship, and send us out into the world, eager to share his love with each person we meet.

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 19, 2017)

Judgment Day - has a sense of finality to it, doesn’t it?

Well, it should. St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Consider the majesty with which the sovereign Judge will appear, surrounded by all the angels and saints. Before him will be borne his cross, shining more brilliantly than the sun, the standard of mercy to the good and of punishment to the wicked. By his awful command, which will be swiftly carried out, this sovereign Judge will separate the good from the bad, placing the one at his right hand and the other at his left. It will be an everlasting separation and after it these two groups will never again be together. When this separation has been made and all consciences laid bare we will clearly see the malice of the wicked and the contempt they have shown for God, and we will also see the repentance of the good and the effect of the graces they received from God. Nothing will lie hidden.” ( Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter 14)

In the next life, nothing will be hidden. In this life, one thing in particular should never be hidden: our God-given gifts, abilities, talents, skills and graces.

Today's Gospel issues a stern and stark warning: we must not return unused the gifts (no matter how great or small) that God gives us.

To be sure, to invest these gifts in the lives of others requires our willingness to take risks. There are few guarantees in life. We cannot be certain on any given day how well we will use our gifts, to say nothing of whether or not our gifts will be appreciated, honored, accepted or welcomed by others. Still, we must endeavor to take prudent care of and make good use of our God-given time, talents and treasure in this effort: the risks that we take in generously share ourselves with others should not be rash or reckless.

But as risky as naming, embracing and investing our gifts might be, we must never allow the anxieties of an uncertain world to tempt us to do the unthinkable: to bury our talents. To act as if we possessed nothing with which to give honor to God or to meet the needs of others is far worse than any mistake we might generally make on any given day in using our abilities.

To be sure, we will make mistakes in our attempts to make good use of our God-given graces. But there is no greater mistake than to live our lives as if we had no gifts to use in the service of God or others by burying them: obscuring them from the light of day.

When in doubt, keep them out: for you – for God, and for others – to see. And, in the process, share your Master’s joy…today!

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 12, 2017)

As the Church year draws to a close, our attention is once again drawn to the “end times.”

There will come a day for each of us and all of us when earthly life will end and the fullness of the kingdom of God will be present in all its glory. St. Paul reminds us that God’s promise of resurrection with Jesus is the source of our hope - and it’s our consolation when we experience the death of a loved one. “We will be with the Lord unceasingly.”

That promise brings us joy even now as we await his coming.

But the Gospel parable brings us back to the reality of living - while we’re here, we have work to do. The wise person listens with careful attention to the word of God and puts it into practice each day with prudence and foresight. Preparing our day well each morning gives us the preparedness and foresight we need to let Jesus live in us more fully this day.

We hear Jesus tell us: “keep your eyes open, for you know not the day or the hour.” Some people hear his words and feel great fear and anxiety stir within them. Those who are in tune with the wisdom God has given us welcome Jesus’ words and understand that he is encouraging us to live lives of watchfulness and prudent preparedness.

There’s nothing to fear! But there’s good reason to keep ourselves attentive to living faithful and loving lives. God is loving us right now, and wants us to share his life and love with one another today and every day. That’s the best way we can prepare for the “end time.”

Let’s console and encourage one another with this message.

Dedication of the Latern Basilica (November 9, 2017)

Today the Church marks the anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral church of Rome by Pope Sylvester I, on November 9, 324 AD. As long ago as this was, the truth is that human beings have been building one thing or another since the beginning of time: the Tower of Babel; the Ark; the pyramids; the coliseum; the Great Wall of China; The Eiffel Tower; the Statue of Liberty; the World Trade Center…

As co-creators with God, we are charged with making something good out of all that God has entrusted to us. We are charged with building a world marked by liberty, justice, freedom, peace, reconciliation, truth, honest, kindness and care. In short, we are called to build up the Kingdom of God here on earth, laying the ground work for that great and mysterious day when the ongoing creative, redeeming and inspiring work of God will reach its fulfillment: life on high with Jesus Christ.

Closer to home, there’s lots of work to be done. Building upon the foundation of Christ, Paul, Sylvester and countless others, we must build things that give glory to God and which serve the needs of one another. However, the most important things that we build aren’t things at all: they are our relationships with each other: husband, wife, mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, friend, neighbor, and co-worker.

Look at Jesus himself. He never helped to break ground for a new school. He never laid a cornerstone for a new synagogue. He never constructed a monument. He never attended the ribbon-cutting for a new store. What he built was much more important and powerful: a web of relationships in which men, women and children personally experienced God’s love for them; a web of life and love meant to be shared and expanded with future generations.

Here we stand, countless centuries since the dawn of creation. So much has been built, but so much more, with God’s help, remains to be constructed and strengthened…especially honest, just, peaceable, freeing, life-giving relationships with one another.

  • Are we careful to learn from out experiences of the past?

  • Are we up to the task today?

  • Are we clear about the kind of foundation are we laying for tomorrow?

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 5, 2017)

As I read today’s Scriptures, I was very conscious that God’s word was making me feeling a little uncomfortable.

I have often found that a feeling of uncomfortableness with God’s word may indicate that God’s grace is calling me to be more open to growing as a person and as a priest. God’s love for me is inviting me to become more fully the person God has made me to be.

As I read the Gospel, I heard Jesus speak about the Pharisees: “They preach but they do not practice.” I used to hear these words as condemning me. I haven’t always practiced what I was preaching so well. In the last two years, I have experienced in a very personal way that God has always loved me just as I am.

Now I can hear Jesus’ words as encouraging me each day to live more fully what I encourage others to be in my preaching.

I also heard Jesus say: “All their works are performed to be seen.” I know how easy it is for me to use my gifts and talents for my own benefit. Grace is speaking to me, reminding me that whatever talents I have are given by the God who loves me.

I hear St. Paul’s admonition: “What do you have that you did not receive?” When I’m honest with myself before my God, I can only answer: “Nothing.” That realization is my foundation for growing in humility. I want to use my gifts and talents in a way that reflects my thanks to the Giver of all good gifts. Each day I want to follow the advice of St. Francis de Sales: “Be who you are and be that well to give honor to the Creator who made you.”

The Church believes that the Scriptures are God’s living word, speaking to us about our daily living. I have offered some examples of my own trying to listen to God speaking to me. I encourage you to listen carefully for God’s word to you.

Our God loves each of us with an everlasting love and wants to speak to our hearts and encourage us to grow each day. Listen carefully and you will experience the nudge of God’s grace in your life.

Commemoration of All Souls (November 2, 2017)

On the subject of praying for the dead, St. Francis de Sales wrote: “We believe that we may pray for the faithful departed, and that the prayers and good works of the living greatly relieve them and are profitable to them, for this reason: that all those who die in the grace of God, and consequently counted among the saints, do not go to paradise at the very first moment, but many go to Purgatory, where they suffer a temporal punishment, from which our prayers and good works can help and serve to deliver them.” (The Catholic Controversy, 3, pages 353- 354)

We pray for our departed brothers and sisters. We pray that they may be at rest. We pray that they may be experiencing the fullness of peace. We pray that they may no longer want for anything. We pray that they may take their place at the eternal banquet of love, a place prepared for them by God before the beginning of time.

On this feast of All Souls, we pray for all the dead whom we have loved and lost.

But prayer is a conversation. Prayer is an experience of mutuality. Prayer is never a one-way street. Therefore, we not only pray for the dead: we also pray to them, for they are not merely “the dead” but are now counted among the saints.

We pray to them for their assistance and support. We pray to them for guidance and strength. We pray to them for patience and forbearance. We pray to them for reconciliation and healing. Someday, we may pray to them for the ability to simply put one foot in front of the other.

Here is a simple example of this subject. Francis de Sales had occasion to write a letter of encouragement to a married woman. In it he recommended: “I should like you to consider how many saints, both men and women, have lived in the married state like you, and that they all accepted this vocation readily and gladly: Sara, Rebecca, Anne, Monica, Paula and a host of others. Let that encourage you and ask them to pray for you.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 61)

So, we not only pray for the dead, we pray to the dead. We ask them to pray for us. Just as death no longer has power over them, so too we pray that the effects of sin and death will not have power over us during what remains of our journey on earth. We ask them to pray that when we likewise pass from this world to the next, we shall join them at that eternal banquet of love.

All Saints (November 1, 2017)

“Let us join our hearts to these heavenly spirits and blessed souls. Just as young nightingales learn to sing in company with the old, so also by our holy associations with the saints let us learn the best way to pray and sing God’s praise.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II, Chapter 16)

We stand on the shoulders of giants. Over the last two thousand years countless men, women and children of many eras, places and cultures have spent their lives in the service of the Good News of Jesus Christ. From among these many, a smaller group of individuals have earned the distinction of being known as “saints.”

These are real people to whom we look for example. These are real people to whom we look for inspiration. These are real people to whom we look for encouragement and grace.

These saints – these real people - have blazed a trail in living and proclaiming the Gospel. The challenge to us is to follow their example in ways that fit the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves.

In case you haven’t yet figured it out, you, too, are called to live a saintly – a God-centered, self-giving - way of life in the very places in which you live, love, work and play every day. Francis de Sales wrote: “Look at the example given by the saints in every walk of life. There is nothing that they have not done in order to love God and to be God’s devoted followers…Why then should we not do as much according to our position and vocation in life to keep the cherished resolution and holy protestations that we have made?” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part V, Chapter 12)

What does it mean to be a saint? Surprisingly, it is much more down-to-earth and obtainable than we might think. Francis de Sales observed: “We must love all that God loves, and God loves our vocation; so let us love our vocation, too, and not waste our energy hankering after a different sort of life, but get on with your own job. Be Martha as well as Mary, and be both gladly, faithfully doing what you are called to do…” (Stopp, Selected Letters, Page 61)

In the view of St. Francis de Sales, sanctity – sainthood – is measured by our willingness and ability to embrace the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Saints are people who deeply embraced their lives as they found them, rather than wasting time wishing or waiting for an opportunity to live someone else’s life. Sainthood – sanctity – holiness – is marked by the willingness to embrace God’s will as it is manifested in the ups and downs of everyday life.

How are you being called to be a saint today?

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 29, 2017)

In his Treatise On the Love of God, Francis offers his reflection on the great commandments:

"Just as God created man in his image and likeness, so also God has ordained for us a love in the image and likeness of the love due to God's divinity. Why do we love God? The reason we love God is God himself. Why do we love ourselves in charity? Surely, it is because we are God's image and likeness. Since all people have this same dignity, we also love them as ourselves, that is, in their character as most holy and living images of the divinity. The same charity that produces acts of love of God produces at the same time those of love of neighbor. To love our neighbor in charity is to love God in others and others in God." (Book 10, Chapter 11)

For St. Francis de Sales, the love of God and the love of neighbor are not two distinct experiences as much as they are two expressions of the same reality.

Today’s first reading focuses our attention on an important aspect of God’s love - his compassionate love for the alien, the widow and the orphan - the helpless in society. God told the Israelites of old, and we can use the reminder today: “Remember that your ancestors were aliens once; I heard their cries and I answered them.” New aliens and widows and orphans are crying out to the Lord in their need. He wants us to be his compassionate presence to them today. It’s clear from today’s reading that the Lord is outraged at those who harm the helpless and those who choose to ignore their needs.

Today’s Scriptures encourage us to keep in mind the least among us:

  • the millions of fellow citizens who live below the poverty line

  • the one out of four children among us who goes to bed hungry each night

  • the million or more pregnant women who have poor or no pre-natal care

  • the millions of aliens among us seeking a better life for their families.

    These are our brothers and sisters, “the aliens, widows and orphans” of our day. As disciples and citizens, we should want our nation’s leaders to help us be compassionate to the least among us.

    My brothers and sisters, let us be sure to keep the voices of the least among us in our hearts as we prepare to discern new leaders.

Hello, World!

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Times (October 22, 2017)

As the Church reminds us in the new Catechism, the Scriptures are the living Word of God meant to speak God’s word for our living today. Today’s second reading is a good example.

God wants you to know that he is aware of how you are working each day to live your faith. He wants to encourage you to continue the good work you are doing, allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to guide your living.

Today’s other two readings remind us that we live our faith in a real world and we are to take an active role in our world. As disciples of Jesus, we are members of his body, the Church. As citizens of the United States, we must be involved citizens who show our concern and care for our country and our fellow citizens, especially the least powerful among us.

Jesus tells us in the Gospel that we have rightful duties as good citizens, but the state cannot lay claim to what belongs to God. As the prophet Isaiah reminded Cyrus, the pagan ruler of Persia, it is God who is the source of any power he has as ruler. As disciples of Jesus, we may well have to remind our elected officials that any power they have comes from God and ought to be used for the good and well being of the people they serve. Our reminders must always be given in a caring way with a concern for the truth, and not be given in self-righteous judgment.

In the gospel incident, Jesus didn’t allow himself to be drawn into the deceptions of those who questioned him about paying the tax. He answers with the truth: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but remember to give to God what is God’s.”

Reminding our fellow citizens that there is a higher good (a good which comes from God) is an important part of living our faith in a real world.

May the Lord continue to strengthen us to be faithful disciples of Jesus and concerned citizens of our country. May his Spirit within us guide us to speak the truth in the most loving way we can.

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 15, 2017)

The prophet Isaiah chose the imagery of a sumptuous banquet provided by the Lord as a way to offer hope to the Israelites during their period of exile in Babylon.

There will come a day when the God whom they look for to save them will come among them and bring them back to the holy mountain, Jerusalem. There he will provide a sumptuous feast for them. The veil that has separated them from him will be lifted and death will be destroyed. God himself will wipe their tears from their eyes and they will see him face to face.

Jesus uses the same banquet image in the Gospels when he speaks about the kingdom of God. All are invited to share in the banquet of the kingdom. Sadly some will choose not to attend, and a few will even abuse and kill those sent to invite them. Jesus came among us with the invitation to share in his Father’s banquet, and some in their foolishness put him to death.

The Eucharist we share in today is the banquet of the Lord, and a sign of the eternal banquet to come. Jesus is the shepherd leading his flock to the holy mountain. He is also the host of the banquet, and most amazing of all, he is the Food we are given to eat at the banquet. His Body and Blood are certainly the richest of food and the choicest of wines.

Knowing the magnificent riches of this Eucharistic feast made it possible for St. Paul to learn to cope with the times of plenty and the times of little that he experiences on his earthly journey. The God who feeds him is the source of his strength to face anything that comes his way. God is also the basis for his gratitude

for the gifts that the Philippians have sent him while he’s in prison. Paul reminds them, as Isaiah did long ago: God will supply their needs fully, in a way worthy of his magnificent riches in Jesus.

Today’s readings give us more than a little food for thought:

  • God is providing a banquet that will fulfill our needs, both here and hereafter.

  • We must be wise and choose to share in the banquet he is providing.

  • The banquet of Eucharist gives us the nourishment we will need to handle anything that comes our way in this life.

  • When God is the only source of our strength, then we will be generous in sharing all that we have.

May Jesus, our shepherd, our host, and our banquet food, give us the courage to live each day with the strength he provides.

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 8, 2017)

The image of the vineyard is the focus of two of today's readings. In both cases, things in the vineyard happen not to turn out the way the owner had planned. It seems that the people responsible for caring for the vineyard haven't held up to the owner's expectation.

As we consider these two passages, Jesus wants us to understand that God is the owner of the vineyard of life. We are responsible for the upkeep of God's vineyard. We collaborate in God's ongoing plan of creation, redemption, inspiration and salvation. We are to harvest the grapes of life in ways that give life: through honesty, respect, purity and decency.

As we consider what Jesus presents to us, we realize that we don't always live up to God's expectation. We know the kind of vineyard that God wants us to cultivate.

Too often we allow sin, fear and selfishness to prevent us from producing the kinds of fruit that gives life. Instead of grapes of life, we may find ourselves producing grapes of wrath: jealousy, envy and indifference, or worse, hatred, violence and injustice.

As we look within ourselves and at the world around us, we can find ourselves at times discouraged and anxious. At these moments, we need to listen to St. Paul:

"Have no anxiety at all." Francis de Sales has told us why: “With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul.” Francis then explains his observation. “Instead of removing the evil, anxiety increases it and involves the soul in great anguish and distress together with such loss of strength and courage that it imagines the evil to be incurable - all this is extremely dangerous.” ( Introduction, 4. 11)

We need to be honest. We need to identify those areas of our lives - our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions - in which we experience difficulty in cultivating a harvest of peace, justice, reconciliation and love. But we need to do this without anxiety because anxiety both weakens our ability to turn away from sin and robs us of the courage we need to do what is right and good.

After acknowledging the reality of sin and the shortcomings in our life, we need to dedicate more of our energies to living “according to what you have learned and accepted then, the God of peace will be with you.”

Let us strive each day to produce a harvest of love from the vineyard of life …but avoid anxiety in the process.

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 1, 2017)

St. Paul reminds us today that there is one way of acting that will keep us united in the Christian community: “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.” Then he proceeds to sing the great hymn of Jesus’ loving humility.

The Son of God emptied himself of his divine glory in order to become like us in our humanity. Jesus humbled himself even more, becoming obedient even to death on a cross. Because of this, God exalted himself and made him Lord, so that we might kneel before Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Paul makes it very clear that kneeling before Jesus as Lord and Savior is not enough. We must take on the attitude of Jesus in our daily lives. We must make the daily effort to be a community of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.

Paul urges us to do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory, thinking that we’re better than anyone else. We’re all sinners redeemed by Jesus. In our efforts to be like Jesus, we must learn to humbly regard others as more important than ourselves. We must learn not just to consider our own interests, but consider the interest of others as we go about our day.

Learning to live this way will take a great deal of effort. This is not the way the world around us lives. How will we do it? Each day we will have to learn to be conscious of the loving humility of Jesus. We might use Paul’s hymn for our daily morning meditation.

Today’s Gospel encourages us not to get distracted by the times we fail in our efforts. Our failings humble us before God. But our God is generous in forgiving, desiring to strengthen us with his grace. St. Francis de Sales urges us to get up and begin again as often as we must.

Let us encourage one another every day to have the attitude of Jesus, so that we can be of one mind and one heart, loving humbly as Jesus has loved us.

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 24, 2017)

As I listen to the parables of Jesus, I often find myself drawn to one or another of the characters in the story. On first hearing today’s parable, I can understand the complaints made by those who had worked in the hot sun all day. They had worked long and hard and they were the last to be paid. That must have been hard enough, but when they finally got their wages - disappointment and anger - they got the same wage as those who had only worked an hour. This was obviously unfair treatment; they deserved more.

As I listened a second time, I could imagine the surprise and joy the last group hired must have felt when they got a full day’s wage. They must have had broad smiles on their faces as they greeted the last group to be paid. I can almost hear them saying, “Suckers.”

As I listened a third time, Jesus’ closing words struck me: “Thus, the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” That just doesn’t seem fair at all. Jesus is drawing our attention to the words of the prophet Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” Our God treats us with generous mercy - outrageously generous mercy - much like the owner of the vineyard. And he reminds us: “I am free to do as I please with my mercy, am I not? Or are you envious because I choose to be generous?”

None of us would argue with God’s desire to be generous with his mercy; all of us sinners are benefiting from it. The real challenge comes when Jesus tells us: “Be compassionate as my heavenly Father is compassionate.” Compassion is not measured by justice, what others might deserve; rather compassion is measured by love.

This is how our Father has treated us. In order to be compassionate as Jesus asks us to be, we must learn to develop the sight of God - seeing others as his children who are loved just because they are his children. As generous as God’s compassion is to us, so our compassion must be toward anyone in need - even if they haven’t worked as hard as we have to be like Jesus.

Generous compassion is how we conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the good news that Jesus has revealed to us. Let us try to be such good news to others.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 17, 2017)

The old law required that a person forgive three wrongdoings. When Peter asks Jesus about forgiving the wrongs done to us, he suggests forgiving seven times -twice the required number plus one for good measure - a very generous measure he must have thought. Jesus’ response must have surprised him - “Seventy times seven times.”

Jesus was telling him that there is to be no limit to a disciple’s forgiveness.

Jesus goes on to explain “why” in a parable about God’s reign. The king generously writes off the debt of the official who owed the king so much that he could never pay it all back. When the official leaves the king’s presence he immediately begins to throttle a fellow servant who owes him a small debt. He doesn’t even listen when the slave pleads with him for patience.

The obvious question arises: has this man forgotten so soon how forgiving his master had been? The anger he shows doesn’t seem like the appropriate response to the forgiveness he has received. Where is his anger coming from?

One possibility is that the man doesn’t know how to receive forgiveness. He may feel that the master now has a hold on him and he has no way to get out of that hold. Perhaps if he repaid some of his debt, his master would have less of a hold. The one hundred denarii of his fellow slave would be a start.

For this man, forgiveness has not been a freeing experience; rather it has bound him even tighter to his master in his thinking. He has misunderstood his master’s act of forgiveness.

Jesus immediately applies the parable to his disciples, to us. His Father has forgiven us any debt we have incurred with Him by our wrongdoing, even the most evil of our sins.

The Father’s forgiveness sets us free; and we don’t owe the Father anything. But His Father hopes that this freedom will give us the example we need in forgiving one another. God holds nothing over us, so we are not to hold anything over each other. This is to be true not only in giving forgiveness, but in receiving it as well. True forgiveness means that no payback is ever necessary. The result of forgiveness is a newfound freedom to choose to love again.

Isn’t that good news? And we are to share that good news with each other every day - by forgiving freely.

Exultation of the Holy Cross (September 14, 2017)

“He was known to be of human estate and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross.”

The feast commemorates the finding of the True Cross in 325 by St. Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine I during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was then built at the site of the discovery, by order of Helena and Constantine. The church was dedicated nine years later, with a portion of the cross placed inside it. In 614, that portion of the cross was carried away from the church by the Persians, and remained missing until the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius recaptured it in 628. The cross was returned to the church the following year after initially having been taken to Constantinople by Heraclius. The date used for the feast marks the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 335. This was a two-day festival: although the actual consecration of the church was on September 13, the cross itself was brought outside the church on September 14 so that the clergy and faithful could pray before the True Cross, and all could come forward to venerate it.

Of course, there is the physical cross itself. Then there is the ongoing meaning of the cross in our lives. Francis de Sales wrote:

“The wisdom of the Cross is wholly contrary to that of the world. Even though Our Lord cried out again and again, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, the peacemakers, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice,’ the world cannot embrace that wisdom. It cries out: ‘Oh, how blessed are the wealthy, the oppressors, those who take vengeance on their enemies, and those whom no one dares offended.’ See how the perfection of the Cross is folly in the eyes of the world precisely because it embraces what is abhorrent to human nature. It loves correction and submits to it; it not only takes pleasure in being corrected, but it has no greater pleasure than in being reproved and corrected for faults and failings. Oh, blessed are they who speak only to give fraternal correction in a spirit of charity and profound humility! But more blessed are those who are always ready to receive the Cross with a gentle, peaceful and tranquil heart.” ( Sermons for Lent, 1622, p. 166)

St. Jane has her own take on the exultation of the Cross and its relevance to our pursuit of devotion. She wrote:

“The true happiness of the Christian is to know God in the person of his Son, and imitate him in the virtues he practiced in his life, in his holy Passion, in his humility, poverty, abjection, contempt, pain and suffering; nature has no liking for this, but we are not born to live according to its instinct. The mind of the flesh will disquiet us when we are denied anything, whereas the Spirit of God will lead us to submit to his will in our miseries, and to bear them with patience; the humble are always gentle and courteous; they are so little and lowly in themselves that they never say a cross word…” (Exhortations, Conferences and Instructions)

The exultation of the Cross challenges us to surrender mere human instinct so as to live on the higher plane of divine life. The exultation of the Cross challenges us to critically examine popular culture and to promote the culture of divine love. The exultation of the Cross challenges us to find greatness in littleness; to fight fire with peace; to confront violence with gentleness.

The triumph of the Cross is not easy to swallow...nor to live.

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 10, 2017)

The Scriptures today focus on our responsibility as members of the community of the Church.

We heard St. Paul tell us that the commandments can be summed up in one: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” As Paul sees it: “Anyone who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Paul sees love as the debt that binds us together as a community.

The Scriptures have presented two aspects of love for our consideration. The first Paul considers as obvious: “Love never does any wrong to the neighbor.” Christian love is not a feeling; it’s choosing a manner of living with others that does good to them. That’s the reason why Francis de Sales encourages us to be conscious of God’s presence and grace often each day to and direct our intention as we begin each new activity of our day.

This practice is meant to assist us in choosing to do good to one another - to love -and so avoid doing wrong to one another as we go about daily living in community. Our recent General Chapters have encouraged us to spend some time prayerfully considering the early Jerusalem community described in the Acts of the Apostles and using it as a model for our daily living as Oblates. Each of these practices is meant to assist us in choosing the loving things to say and do as we go about our day.

Today’s Gospel presents a second aspect of love - the mutual responsibility we have for each other as members of the community. We are responsible for supporting one another in our practice of love. There may be times when that responsibility will call us to correct a member who strays or is having a bad influence on the larger group. Our concern in this situation should be marked by our love and by the care we take to admonish such a person in as private a way as possible. Mutual love and support must be our only reason for speaking up.

In this way we are building up the community, not destroying it.

May the words of today’s Scriptures strengthen us in our resolve to grow in a loving attitude toward all we say and do each day. In this way, Jesus is better able to live once again in our love for one another.

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 3, 2017)

We have just heard a very traumatic exchange between Peter and Jesus. I have always found it hard to listen to - and yet it points out very dramatically that suffering cannot be avoided by anyone who would follow Jesus.

Jesus reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways - a reminder that we need to hear frequently. Jesus also encourages us to conform our ways to God’s.

Jeremiah puts the struggles of a disciple in very emotional terms. He had accepted the role of prophet, but the words of violence and outrage that God had put in his mouth are not happy words. They have brought him pain and suffering and opposition. He feels that God has tricked him - and he knows that he let himself be tricked. Now, even when he tells himself that he isn’t going to speak up any more, the word of the Lord is like a fire burning in his heart, and he gets very weary trying to hold it in.

He has found that obeying God’s call to be a prophet is no longer a matter of choice for him, even if it brings him pain. His pain is real, yet it’s easier for him to endure his pain than it is to struggle to resist his summons to speak on God’s behalf. His emotional outburst offers us great insight into true discipleship. Faith and fervor and the ensuing suffering are made very clear for us.

St. Paul approaches the suffering and sacrifice of a disciple from another point of view. Paul envisions the struggles as a battle between our inclinations and our inspirations. He pleads with us to see things more clearly (to judge what is God’s will) - and to depend on our better insights to guide our behavior. Our struggle to do this every day is part of living as a disciple.

The daily sacrifices involved in conforming our ways to God’s are the great means we have of taking up our cross daily and following in Jesus’ footsteps.

At the end of today’s gospel passage, Jesus reminds us that there is a reward for our willingness to conform our ways to God’s. We have a sharing in his Father’s glory. Taking the time each day to keep in touch with the desire for God burning in our hearts can help us to continue our struggle even when we may feel that we have been tricked by the Lord. Whenever we make the choice to lose our life for the sake of God, then we will find the only life that means anything - life with Jesus.

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 27, 2017)

The passage we have just heard is pivotal in the Gospels. Everything that precedes this passage is preparing us for it; everything that follows it is an explanation.

Jesus asks his closest followers a fundamental question: “Who do you say I am?” Peter speaks for the apostles: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” They acknowledge that Jesus is the promised Messiah; he is the very Son of God.

This is a true moment of faith, proclaimed for the ages. Jesus makes it very clear that they are responding with the gift given to them by his heavenly Father, not just to the mere sum of their own experiences of Jesus. This becomes clearer as the Gospel progresses, and we see that they have much more to learn about how Jesus will be the Messiah-Savior.

At this point in the Gospel narrative, they have no idea that Jesus will suffer, die on a cross, and rise on the third day. Despite their lack of full understanding, Jesus uses this moment of faith to set the foundation of the Church on the “rock” of Peter’s confession of faith. He entrusts the keys of the kingdom to Peter: the symbol of authority in the community of believers. The Church will have power to continue when Jesus returns to his Father.

For the moment, Jesus orders his disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Messiah because they have much more to learn before they can accurately communicate the full truth of faith in Jesus as Messiah. Once they have experienced Jesus’ death and resurrection and have received the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will tell them to go out to all the nations and proclaim the Good News of salvation.

We heard St. Paul sum up the wonder of God’s plan of salvation, meant for all people. His words are a reminder that we are part of the continuing plan as members of the community founded on the authority of Peter. As we continue to grow in our knowledge and experience of the good news, we can well echo Paul’s words: “O, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!”

As we speak his words, let us be grateful for the gift of faith and renew our commitment to live by what we have come to believe - so that all we are and do is seen as coming from God, done through his grace, and leading us to give God glory today and every day!

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 20, 2017)

Today’s Scriptures call us to reflect on the greatness of God’s merciful love.

St. Paul reminds us that God desires to be merciful to all – no one will be excluded. Paul knows that God’s call to the Jews is irrevocable. He suspects there is irony in the working out of God’s plan.

When the Jews did not accept Jesus, this opened the way to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. God’s mercy desires to reconcile the whole world to himself – even his chosen people. The unfolding of God’s plan of mercy will reveal the greatness and faithfulness of God’s love.

The Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel is one example. Her simple plea – “Lord, help me” – reveals her faith in Jesus. Her persistence in faith is met by Jesus’ merciful response: “Your faith is great! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

God never refuses humble love.

What are we to learn from today’s readings? The obvious lesson is the wideness of God’s mercy. As individual Christians and as a community of faith, we must be welcoming to all. Our God tells us: my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people. It’s too easy for us to be satisfied with ourselves and forget that God’s calls us to open our minds and our hearts to all the people around us, inviting them to join with us in faith and love.

God desires us to build up a community of faith and love, a community that reaches out with divine mercy – a mercy that knows no limits or partiality.

We are not to make the decision who will/will not will benefit from God’s mercy. God wants everyone to experience it through you and me.

Let us be humble and persistent in our faith and welcome all our brothers and sisters in love.

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 13, 2017)

Today’s Scriptures remind us that God’s presence can be found in a tiny, whispering sound and in the winds and waves that toss the disciples boat on the sea. We are always in God’s presence; he is always speaking to us.

We heard Elijah recognize God’s presence in the tiny, whispering sound. Then he hid his face in his cloak and stood at the entrance of the cave that sheltered him as the Lord passed by.

In a very different circumstance, Jesus walks on the turbulent water and approaches his disciples’ boat. The disciples are afraid until Jesus speaks to them: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then the ever-bold Peter wants Jesus to enable him to walk on the water. Jesus says, “Come.” When the strong wind distracts Peter, he begins to sink and calls to Jesus for help. Jesus takes Peter by the hand and chides him: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

While these two stories differ, they both speak of faith and trust in God’s loving presence. I’m sure each of us has had moments when the Lord has spoken to us in a “tiny, whispering sound.” And there certainly have been times when he has spoken in the turbulence of our life. God is always saying: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid. Come, take my hand and walk with me.”

Then we have the choice. We can “come,” trusting in God’s loving presence and care for us. Or we can become distracted by the turbulence and confusion around us and may be within us, and lose sight of the Lord who is caring for us.

It would seem to be wise if we learned ways to hear Jesus’ words more often each day: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” He is our sure hope!