Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (December 30, 2018)

Today’s Gospel focuses our attention on the Holy Family, as members of a wider family, the family of God. The Father has bestowed his great love on us in calling us His children, brothers and sisters of Jesus who has shared his very life with us. Our Father’s final gift to His children will be seeing our God as He is – full union with our God forever. The Spirit has been given to us as the pledge of God’s everlasting love.

As God’s children, we are asked to reflect on a strange incident in the life of the Holy Family. What might we learn? When Mary and Joseph discovered that the boy Jesus was missing, they didn’t waste their time arguing about who was to blame. Together, they went to search for Jesus. When they find him in the Temple among the scholars, they expressed their anguish about missing him. Jesus focused them by reminding them that they should expect to find him in his Father’s house.

Jesus was asking them to trust him, even if they didn’t fully understand.

In our experience in the family of God here at Childs, there are often enough misunderstandings and anguish of one kind or another. We can lose sight of Jesus in these difficult moments. Jesus instructs us, as he did Mary and Joseph: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Each day we come here to find Jesus in our Father’s house. Like Mary and Joseph, we can tell Jesus about our misunderstandings and anguish. Jesus always invites us to put them in his hands, then hear our brother’s comforting words to us and join him in offering our sufferings with his to the Father. And he feeds us with his own Body and Blood and gives us his peace. Healed and nourished, we can go forth to grow in wisdom, knowledge and grace as a more united family of God.

May our Eucharist on the feast of the Holy Family encourage us to live more fully as children of our Father, as brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Nativity of Jesus Christ: Midnight (December 25, 2015)

Tonight, we celebrate once again the most wonderful news: the long-awaited Messiah-Savior has come to live among us!

The Son of God has taken human flesh in the womb of Mary and comes among us as an infant, humbly wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Mary and Joseph attend their child with great care and watch in wonder as shepherds come to adore their child and later wise men come with gifts befitting a king.

It’s easy tonight to get caught up in the wonder of the moment and forget to consider the great gift we have been given in Jesus. St. Francis de Sales puts it this way: “In becoming (human), Jesus has taken our likeness and given us His.”

Jesus is our God, loving us here and now, inviting us to love in return. He comes with saving grace to restore us as children of God. He comes to live in us so that our hearts can be at peace – peace with God and peace with one another.

Our celebration tonight is a reminder that God’s favor rests on us. Our God shows us once again that he loves us immensely. We have nothing to fear.

Jesus comes to us tonight not just as an infant in a manger. He also comes as the Bread of Life in Eucharist, promising us life and happiness that will never end. He challenges us to let him live in us more fully – as St. Paul says: to reject godless ways and worldly desires and live a life that is balanced, just and holy, as we confidently await our blessed hope: the return of Jesus and the completion of the kingdom.

In this Christmas Eucharist, Jesus comes to us again. As we receive him as a gift and later kneel before the infant in the manger, let us be quiet and say nothing. Let us allow Jesus to reach out and hold our hands and tell us how much God is loving us tonight. Then let us ask him to stay in our heart so that we can share the love we are receiving -- giving it as a gift to all who come into our life. Every day you and I are a bearer of Jesus, God’s love among us! Let us rejoice in the good news we celebrate tonight.

Nativity of Jesus Christ (December 25, 2018)

The Scriptures recall “in times past.”

Think back to the stories of Moses’ encounters with God. Moses asked God to see his glory, not his face. In the cleft of the rock, Moses is protected by God’s hand and sees God’s back as he passes by.

In today’s Gospel, John tells us “we have seen his glory,” but even more.

Divinity has become visible in the Word made flesh. In the face of Jesus, we see God’s face and live to tell about it. And even more wonderfully, we learn that the divine desire to share life and love culminates with “the pitching of his tent” by the Word of God among his people.

With the birth of Jesus, God inhabits the “tent” of human flesh, not in a place apart, but right in our midst as a person. God makes “grace upon grace” directly available to every single person.

John wants us to know the deep intimacy of God’s love that is revealed to us by the “only Son” who is “in the bosom of the Father.” This divine intimacy is shared with all Jesus’ disciples. You and I make visible in every generation the face of God in human flesh.

Our Christmas celebration reminds us how blessed we are. As Francis de Sales reminds us: “Let us stay at our Savior's feet, saying with the heavenly Bride: 'I have found him whom my soul loves, I hold him and I will not let him go.’ “

May we live each day joyfully, as we manifest the Savior dwelling in our midst.

Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 23, 2018)

The angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary contained 2 discrete, yet related, messages: (1) Mary would be the mother of the long-expected Messiah, & (2) her cousin Elizabeth had conceived a child.

No sooner has Mary said “yes” to the invitation to be the mother of the Messiah than she is off “in haste” to visit her cousin.

In a very real sense, long before she actually delivered the child who would redeem the world from the hopelessness and despair of sin, Mary was already giving birth to the Messiah through her own willingness and eagerness to serve the needs of another: in this case, a relative who, because of her age, might have been considered a woman with a “high risk” pregnancy.

On the face of it, there is nothing noteworthy about Mary's action. After all, wouldn't any decent human being do the same for a relative in need? What makes Mary's service remarkable is the urgency with which she did it. She truly is a model of virtue, one who clearly demonstrates in her own life that the best way of saying “thank you” for God's goodness to her is to be a source of that goodness to others.

St. Francis de Sales observed: “Mary does not consider that she is wasting time when she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. No, it is an act of loving courtesy." (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 159) In her "haste" to serve Elizabeth, Mary shows us the path of true devotion. Francis de Sales continues: "God rewards us according to the dignity of the office we exercise. I do not say that we may not aspire to the outstanding virtues, but I do say that we must train ourselves in the little virtues first without which the great ones are often false and deceptive.”

Advent reminds us that the great hope for which we all long is built upon the foundation of little, simple, ordinary things: kindness, graciousness, welcome, patience, honesty, hospitality, and compassion. Mary shows us that even the most singular demonstrations of God's love for us, first and foremost, challenge us to recognize the opportunities already present in our ordinary lives to devote our energies in promoting the welfare of one another.

Like Mary, may we come to see that our willingness to do little things for one another with great love and enthusiasm - to display "loving courtesy" - is the first step in our ultimate vocation: to give birth to the Great Promise of God's love for all people - Jesus Christ.

Third Sunday of Advent (December 16, 2018)

We just heard St. Paul tell us: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” The prophet Zechariah told us: “The Lord is in your midst.” Our God comes to renew us in his love and he is rejoicing over us with gladness.

Imagine, our God loves us so much that he rejoices over us. God’s great love for us is the source of our heart’s peace. We have nothing to be anxious about when we allow God’s love into our hearts.

John the Baptist reminds us that Jesus came to baptize us with the Holy Spirit – to fill us with the life and power of God. Jesus also comes to separate the “wheat” from the “weeds” in our lives, so that there will be more room in our heart for the Spirit.

During our Advent preparations, we are encouraged to look into our hearts and ask the Spirit to reveal to us anything there that may be blocking the flow of God’s love in us. Are there attitudes in our heart about other people

which get in the way of God’s desire to love others through you and me? Jesus desires to come into our hearts more fully in order to soften and heal these attitudes, so that God’s love can flow out to others. In our kindness and compassion to one another, God can be more fully in our midst.

My sisters and brothers, we really do have much to rejoice about, much to be thankful for. In our thankfulness, even our sinfulness can become a reason to rejoice. Our God comes to save us from our sins. God desires to renew us in his love.

During these final days of Advent, let us hear the call of God’s love to repent. Let us listen to the voice of the Spirit within us, encouraging us to change – to grow. Let us rejoice in God’s saving grace given to us in Jesus. Let us open our hearts more fully to God’s love, so that we are better able to draw more deeply from God’s life within us – and love others as we are loved.

Second Sunday of Advent (December 9, 2018)

Today we hear John the Baptist crying out his Advent message in the desert:

“Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths.” He is proclaiming repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Luke likens the Baptist’s message to the prophecy we heard from Isaiah. In the ancient world, whenever an important ruler was set to visit an area, all the roads of the area were repaired: valleys filled in, winding roads made straight, rough roads made smooth. All this was done so that the visit would be pleasant and delays could be avoided. And the people would benefit too, because the ruler would bring gifts and declare a holiday. All this preparation led to a welcome.

The Baptist is inviting us to make a similar preparation for welcoming the coming of our God in Jesus. Those who wish to welcome the Lord of life should desire to fill in the valleys created by our sins, make the winding roads of our conflicting desires straight, and smooth the rough roads of our anxieties and fears. This is repentance: a graced change in the way we choose to live. And the gifts that the Lord will bring us are the forgiveness of our sins and a deeper sharing in the very life and love of our God.

The Baptist is reminding us: If you really want the love of God shown to you in Jesus to fill you more deeply, then you must be willing to make room for him in your heart. You must clean out anything that takes up the space that he wants.

As we continue our preparations for welcoming Jesus among us, let us heed the Baptist’s invitation: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths.” With the grace of God, let us choose to turn from our sinfulness more completely, so that our God can more easily come and dwell in us.

First Sunday of Advent (December 2, 2018)

Each year, we begin our Advent season with a strong reminder: we are preparing ourselves for the return of Jesus who has already come among us, sharing our humanity.

We hear St. Paul exhorting us to let the Lord come more fully into our lives this Advent, so that his love in us may increase and overflow into the lives of those around us. We hear Jesus telling us: be vigilant and pray for strength. Don’t let your heart become distracted by the anxieties of daily life.

We all know how easy it is to become frightened and anxious as we look around us and see the signs of our times. There is much happening in our world - and closer to home, our own personal lives - that can distress us. That’s why Jesus encourages us to stand erect and raise our heads. Our redemption is at hand.

Jesus has suffered and died for our sins; we are saved. He has risen, and he shares his life and love with us. He has told us that God’s great desire for us is to be one with him. Jesus’ love within us makes this possible. We have nothing to fear as long as we hold his hand each day. His presence and the power of his grace are the reason for our confident hope.

Advent is a season of waiting, a season of expectant hope. As disciples of Jesus, our waiting is always active and alert. We are looking for Jesus wherever he wants to be found. In order to do this kind of waiting, we must learn to discipline ourselves often each day. Discipline ourselves to be aware of Jesus within us seeking to reach out in loving kindness to anyone who needs to experience God’s loving presence in his or her life. Discipline ourselves to be accepting and thankful whenever Jesus chooses to surprise us with his love given through others.

This discipline of vigilant waiting only happens when we choose to be prayerful in our daily living. Perhaps this Advent season could be well spent learning this prayerful discipline. It isn’t difficult. All we must do is choose to take a few moments several times each day to be aware and thankful for Jesus’ great love within us. That awareness and our thankfulness will make it more likely that we will choose to reach out with Jesus’ love to those around us.

As we learn this discipline, we will understand why we can be confident in the face of the distress in our world. Jesus’ love within us makes us ready whenever he chooses to return.

Christ the King (November 25, 2018)

Each time we gather to celebrate Eucharist, we come together as the Body of Christ to offer thanks and praise to God through Jesus who is our Head.

We honor Jesus who is the “faithful witness” - the one who has shown us the love God has for us by dying on the cross to free us from our sins. Jesus who died and is risen has shared his new life with us, incorporating us into his Body, making us one with him and with each other. As today’s reading from the book of Revelation reminds us: “He has made us a royal nation of priests in service of his God and Father.” We are here today to exercise our baptismal priesthood - to give praise to God and offer ourselves in his service.

Our service as priests is to testify to the truth which we have learned by listening to the voice of Jesus, our Priest and King. Our commitment to living and speaking the truth is our priestly service to the world. Our openness to hearing God’s word to us today and our eagerness to be fed with Jesus’ Body and Blood as food for our journey enable us to grow in our priestly service.

Our remembering in Eucharist is not limited to making present today the power of Jesus’ death and rising to free us from our sins and give us a deeper sharing in his new life. We also call to mind that we are part of God’s continuing work of building the kingdom, preparing ourselves and our world for the time when Jesus will return to present the kingdom to his Father.

We continue to witness to the truth of all that Jesus said and did. Through us, the power of saving grace is made evident to the world. Who we are and how we live each day makes it possible for the grace of salvation to change the world around us. Think of it! God is reconciling the world to himself through you and me.

Jesus is the living head of the kingdom to which we belong. As members of the kingdom, we give honor to our King today. As we honor Jesus, let us also recommit ourselves to him - choosing to live fully our priestly witness by making God’s compassionate love evident in us.

May his love reach out to all his children through us.

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 18, 2018)

Today’s Scriptures remind us that the world as we know it will come to an end.

The apocalyptic events described in today’s gospel sound terrifying. How often we have heard them repeated. As believers, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, we must be very careful that we don’t let ourselves become so focused on the possible terrifying events that may occur, that we forget all that Jesus has told us about the end. He will come again “with great power and glory.” But Jesus is also our brother. He is not a stranger but the one whom we know by faith. He knows our human existence from inside and he has suffered and died once for all for our sins.

We may not know all the details of his return, but we can be confident that it will happen. What should be our attitude toward his coming again? Put briefly, Jesus wants us to be confident. He wants us to be secure in him every day of our lives.

And he wants that security to move us out into the world and offer others the same reasons for confidence that we have.

Our names are written in the book of life. They have been written in the blood of Christ and cannot be erased. Salvation is a promise from our God to all who are baptized into Jesus and have welcomed him into their hearts. Forgiveness of sins has occurred, and continues to occur, so we are very safe. Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith – not us. He has won our salvation and he will keep us safe so long as we stay close to him.

Our faithful living of our vows as Oblates is our way of staying close to Jesus – letting Jesus live in us. We are to be witnesses that Jesus touches human lives and lifts them up to be of service to the Church.

As you renew your vows and we await the return of our Savior and Brother, let us share our joy and hope with our brothers and sisters. With the daily grace of our God, let us become pillars of strength for all those who don’t yet know the salvation that is available to all God’s children.

May our God continue this good work in us and through us.

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 11, 2018)

All of us are familiar with today’s Gospel parable.

Did you notice that the end of the passage doesn’t fit the content of the story? All the young women in the story feel asleep. So the command, “Stay awake” must not be the point of the story. Wisdom is the real point of the story – wisdom which led the five young women to prepare themselves for their duties. They did everything they could to get ready, so they were able to wait patiently for the wedding party.

There is a very practical message for us in Jesus’ parable. When it comes to the events of daily life, we humans make two contributions: intention and attention. Often, we don’t have much control over the outcome. That’s a very hard lesson for us humans to learn, but it’s an important one. It can prevent a lot of agitation and negative self-talk. Often enough, I’ve heard my frustrated self say: “I worked so hard. I put my best in, and it didn’t turn out as I planned. Where did I go wrong?” I forgot the difference between human control of input and outcome.

The application of Jesus’ story reaches into all aspects of our life. As disciples, we believe that God’s providence cares for all creation and the plan of God’s will is always effective. God’s grace makes us holy; our responsibility is to use the grace we are given. If that is our belief, then my responsibility in human actions is limited to: good intention for doing whatever I do ( I want to please God) and good attention to what I do (I put myself fully into what I do). God will take care of the rest.

This is what living a holy life means: asking for the grace of God as I begin any action, then doing well what I am doing with the intention of pleasing God. When I do this, then I can accept whatever results as God’s will for me. I am free to “let go and let God.”

Wisdom is a gift of God which enables us to understand life from a divine perspective. Wisdom allows me to place my trust in God whose provident care upholds the universe. Wisdom encourages me to ask the best of myself and be happy with that best.

Let us ask for the gift of wisdom so that we will be prepared each day with our best and have the patience and calmness to wait for the coming of the Lord.

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary (November 4, 2018)

“Which is the first of all of the commandments?”

When we get right down to it, what is the most important dimension of our faith? Upon what foundation does the edifice of Christianity rest?

Jesus’ answer is unambiguous: love. This love has three facets.

Love of God. Francis de Sales tells us that the reason that we love God is because of who God is: our dignity, and our destiny. “We love God because God is the most supreme and most infinite goodness.”

Love of neighbor. Francis de Sales tells us: “Love of God not only commands love of neighbor, but it even produces and pours love of neighbor into our hearts. Just as we are in God’s image, so the sacred love we have for one another is the true image of our heavenly love for God.”

Love of self. This is the aspect that perhaps we are most tempted to overlook: after all, “self-love” sounds suspiciously like being self-centered. Why should we love ourselves? Simply and profoundly because “we are God’s image and likeness,” says Francis de Sales. When we are at our best all of us are the “most holy and living images of the divine.”

Why is authentic love of self so critical to our love of God and neighbor? Simply, if we fail to love ourselves, how can we possibly give praise and thanks to God for creating us? If we fail to love ourselves, how can we possible love our neighbor who is not only made in God’s image, but who is fundamentally made in the image and likeness of us since we all come from the same source – God himself.

The fullness of Christian perfection – the fullness of living Christ’s life – can be likened to a three-legged table. To the extent that any one of the three legs is weak, the whole table is seriously at risk. Such a table cannot hope to support any significant weight. So, too, if any one of the three loves of our lives – God, self and others – is deficient, all three will suffer, and we cannot hope to carry the weight of God’s command for us to build up something of God’s Kingdom here on earth.

To be sure, love is the simple answer to what is most important in our lives. In our lived experience, however, this love is never quite so simple as we might like to believe.

How is your love of God? How is your love of neighbor? How is your love of self?

Really?

COMMEMORATION OF ALL SOULS (November 2, 2018)

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, 2018)

“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 28, 2018)

All of us like short, clear instructions. Jesus’ fulfills our desire in today’s Gospel passage. When he is asked about the greatest commandment, he quotes a text from the book of Deuteronomy (6.5) familiar to his listeners: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” Then he adds the familiar commandment from the book of Leviticus (19.18): “The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Jesus’ response is short and clear: loving God, neighbor and self is everything that God commands. It should be very simple, then, to do all God commands. If your experience is like mine, we know that loving God, neighbor and self is not easy at all. It takes a lot of effort and concentration to love each day, every day. Loving means that I have to look beyond myself and my needs and notice and respect the needs of every person I encounter.

Today’s first reading from the book of Exodus reminds us that caring for the least among us is an important aspect of loving. How we treat the alien, the widow and the orphan among us reveals something about the way we love God. Remembering where we have come from can help us to be sensitive to the value and worth of those who are less fortunate.

Isn’t it interesting that the Lord asks the Israelites to remember that they were aliens at one time in Egypt. What might the Lord be asking you and me to remember today that will help us to be more attentive to people less fortunate than we are?

Jesus spoke to us very simply and clearly this (afternoon/morning). He told us how we are to live if we want to be pleasing to our God. Love God with your whole being, and love your neighbor as yourself.

We can benefit greatly if we take these words of Jesus and pray with them this week. As we read them slowly and prayerfully, we can ask the Lord to show us how we can live them out today.

The word of God then becomes a living word for me, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide me in every day life. Let us pray for each other that we may be open to the ways the Lord will call us to love this week.

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 21, 2018)

It’s interesting that Jesus does not directly criticize James and John when they ask to sit at his side in glory. Instead he challenges them: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” He contrasts their lofty ambitions with his humility: zeal for glory is set against God’s call to humble service.

Jesus’ humility was born of his love for the Father and for the world. Because he loves, Jesus is willing to endure anything – even death – in order to save the human race. This kind of humility releases God’s love to the world and advances the kingdom of God. It’s this kind of humility we heard Jesus teaching his followers: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be a slave to all.”

It’s obvious that Jesus is not trying to gather a bunch of shrinking violets. That’s not the kind of humility he’s looking for in his disciples. He wants a people like himself who will shoulder the Father’s sadness over the suffering in the world. He is looking for a people who will work with him so that the world will be free of sin.

Rather than rebuking the misdirected ambition of James and John, Jesus channels it into an embrace of the Father’s will: “The cup that I drink of you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.”

Jesus is speaking to you and me, is challenging you and me. The challenge is not an easy one. It would be easy for us to become discouraged. What Jesus shows us through his life and suffering and death is that the cup of sacrifice is also one of intimacy with God. Every willing act of death to self for the sake of the kingdom brings us closer to Jesus.

The more fully we are willing to drink of this cup, the more fully we learn that Jesus never asks more of us than he empowers us to give. Jesus is always inviting us to “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jesus is reminding us that he knows what our suffering is like, and we never have to suffer alone. He is telling us that our suffering can be a time of grace – for us and others.

Are we willing to drink of our cup, as Jesus drank of his? If we are willing, then let us approach Jesus where we will receive mercy and find grace to help us.

Twenty-eight Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 14, 2018)

In the closing minutes of the movie Field of Dreams, the character of Thomas Mann is invited by the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson to come “out” with the team. Ray Concella is incensed. Why is the writer invited instead of Ray? Ray launches into a litany of all the things that he has done in following the promptings of the “voice” and ends with the statement: “Not once have I asked what’s in it for me!” The ghost inquires: “What are you saying, Ray?” Ray responds: “I’m saying, what’s in it for me?”

How honest. How revealing. How human.

We hear echoes of this same refrain in St. Peter’s statement in today’s Gospel: “We have put aside everything to follow you.” Implied? “What’s in it for us?

The truth is that the Good News never seems to let up. Even as we grow in our love for God, ourselves and others the Good News always calls us to give more, to go deeper, to press on. Truth is, the Good News sometimes doesn’t feel so good.

No wonder we sometimes ask the questions: “What more do you want? Why should I do this? What’s in it for me?”

What’s in it for us is a twofold promise. First, we come to know the joy that comes with being more concerned about giving than receiving. We experience the freedom that comes with allowing God to penetrate all – not just some – of who we are. In short, we experience the wealth that is only known by generous people.

Second, we live each day with the belief that we shall one day enjoy God’s generosity forever in a life that never ends.

So, what’s in it for us? How about purpose, meaning and direction in this life? How about the fullness of these – and so many other gifts – in the life to come?

Now that’s Good News!

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 7, 2018)

Jesus’ words today may not be easy to listen to; they can make us uncomfortable. It’s important to hear his words in the context in which they were spoken.

Jesus is responding to a hostile question about divorce. Jesus responds to their question by explaining to them God’s plan for marriage. He invites his listeners to consider the creation story in Genesis.

God formed the woman directly from the man, not from the ground as he had made other creatures. Woman is created as a suitable partner for the man. She is the mirror of the man’s very being. The man recognizes their intimate relationship when he acknowledges the woman as “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

The author offers this acknowledgement of their intimate relationship by creation as the reason for the sacredness of marriage. The relationship of husband and wife in marriage

becomes a concrete realization of God’s plan for creation. As Jesus comments: “They are no longer two but one flesh.” And so he adds: “Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Jesus’ words are not spoken in judgment. They are meant to explain the place of marriage in God’s plan of salvation.

Perhaps this can help us understand why the Church places such emphasis on preparing couples for the sacrament of marriage. The Church wants couples to look more deeply at the sacredness of their relationship. Christian marriage is much more than the legal union of the secular world around us. The Church would like couples to think beyond their feelings of love and discern whether or not God has brought them together as “suitable partners.”

Are they willing to recognize that they are graced by God for each other? Are they willing to work with each other and with grace each day to become “one flesh”? For the Christian, marriage is a way of being holy together, not just a sanctioned way of living together.

Jesus is presenting us with the ideal for married love. He knows our limitations as human beings so he promises married couples the grace they will need each day to work patiently with each other toward that ideal. He is also compassionate and accepting of us when we fail.

During this Eucharist, let us pray for all married couples: for those who find joy in becoming “one flesh,” for those who struggle in their efforts to be faithful, for those who have been hurt and betrayed by their partners.

Let us pray too for those considering marriage. May they have the patience, wisdom and courage to seek “a suitable partner” made for them by God, with whom they can work to become “one flesh.”

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 30, 2018)

As always, the Scriptures challenge us in several ways.

The disciples in the Gospel, as well as Joshua in the Old Testament, are concerned that others outside their group are exercising God’s power. Jesus, and Moses before him, remind them (and us) that God can use anyone he wishes to work his wonders among his people. It’s very easy for us to become like the disciples and forget to rejoice that the Spirit of God works in many unexpected ways. Do I, do you, keep our eyes and hearts open each day in expectation that the Spirit of God may visit us in unexpected ways and through unexpected people?

The words of St. James offer us a challenge. The Oblate community has worked hard to provide us with all we have here. We have much more than many of our brothers and sisters. How do we live our vow of poverty when we have our needs taken care of so well? We can identify with our poor brothers and sisters by being grateful often each day. We can share our sufficiency through our hospitality to guests. And we can remember our brothers and sisters who have much less than we do, and cut short our complaints when we don’t have everything we may think we need.

When we take the time each day to be aware of God’s abundant providence, we also continue to be aware of our own ingratitude. We are aware that there are things about us that draw our attention away from God’s graciousness. Jesus challenges us to total concentration on the God who loves us. If something causes us to sin, cut it off. Jesus is not calling us to mutilation, but he is calling us to decision-making. If we are serious about responding to the great love God has for us, then we will make serious efforts to accept God’s grace throughout the day and choose to move beyond those things in us that lead us to be self-centered.

We have all lived long enough to know the things about us that tend to distract us from God’s loving providence. De Sales reminds us that these tendencies ought to become the subject of our morning preparation of the day. Together with God, we can develop a graced plan which will help us to become more dependent on God’s grace during our day. In this way, we learn to make practical decisions that “cut short” our tendencies toward selfishness and self-centeredness and refocus our attention on God who is providing for us.

Let us not overlook the challenges of today’s Scripture readings. They call us to grace.

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 23, 2018)

At Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, the Father had identified Jesus as his Son, the beloved one in whom he is well pleased. This is a reference to the “suffering servant” in the prophet Isaiah. The servant must suffer and die in order to fully actualize his identity.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for what is to come. He identifies himself with the “just one’ in the Book of Wisdom which we heard in today’s first reading. He will be put to the test so as to give proof of his gentleness and patience. He will be condemned to a shameful death – and God will take care of him.

Mark comments that the disciples did not understand the saying and were afraid to question him. Apparently they distracted themselves by arguing about who was the greatest among them.

Jesus was not distracted and continued to teach them about himself and how they were to live. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Jesus is among them as servant – the “suffering servant.”

The child Jesus places in their midst and embraces is how they are to receive him: peaceably, gently, without inconstancy or insincerity, open to wisdom from above.

Jesus comes to us as the “suffering servant” – Savior and Lord. He invites us to embrace him as he did the child. May we not allow ourselves to become distracted by petty, personal concerns. Let us accept Jesus as the First and Only in our lives, for he has shown us how to be the last and the servant of all.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 16, 2018)

Today’s Gospel passage is the turning point in the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus asks his disciples an innocent-enough question: “Who do people say that I am?” And we hear the various ways that people are seeing Jesus. Then Jesus asks the crucial question: “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter responds: “You are the Christ – the Messiah.”

We heard Jesus begin to tell them that he, the Messiah, is going to be rejected, suffer, die, and rise after three days. Peter is shocked and begins to argue with Jesus. Imagine his surprise when Jesus calls him “Satan.” “You’re not thinking as God does, but rather as human beings do.” And Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that, in order to follow him, they will have to take up their cross. They will have to lose their life in order to save it.

If they weren’t confused at first, they must be very confused now. Do I want to follow someone who offers me suffering and self-denial? That’s not a very appealing invitation.How is this “good news”?

What is “God’s thinking” that Jesus is talking about? We need to look at the larger picture of Jesus’ message. St. John tells us: “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that we might have life.” Jesus has come to show us how much God loves the world. He reveals God’s great desire for us – that we share in divine life and love. Jesus loves us so much that he is willing to give his own life for us – to suffer and die – so that we can be reconciled to God and share God’s life.

The Father’s love for Jesus is so great that Jesus’ willing death for us is transformed into new life in the resurrection. Self-denial and suffering are not ends in themselves. They are the inevitable consequences of unconditional love. When love is patterned on divine love, no cost is too great for the one who loves.

Divine love is always life-giving – eternal life-giving. Jesus’ love was so focused on us that self-denial and suffering, even death on the cross, became the means of salvation and reconciliation. You and I now share in God’s life and love because Jesus’ love for us was unconditional.

Jesus offers us the challenge: love one another as I have loved you. Loving others as Jesus loved will have its costs. Jesus has shown us that the costs are life-giving. When we embrace self-denial, suffering, and even death, because we love, they will always lead us to resurrection – new life – eternal life.

May we know Jesus’ great love for us and learn to love generously as Jesus did.