30th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year A)

If the events of this past week in our country serve to remind us of anything, it is most certainly that in our troubled world, sometimes bad things happen. Some people do bad things to others, as we saw in the attack in Ottawa that claimed a young soldier’s life and threatened our seat of government; illness strikes us as we see in the worldwide concern over the spread of the Ebola virus; hurricanes, earthquakes and natural disasters occur too spreading destruction and loss in their wake.

Perhaps one of the most striking images, for me, in all of the media presentations of the week’s events, was of the people who, of their own accord – rushed to the aid of the dying Cpl. Nathan Cirillo as he lay near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to administer first aid and CPR; ignoring their own safety and wellbeing in the moment to do what they were able to do to help and comfort a fellow human being in his hour of need.

I think one of the most touching comments I read was how one of those who rushed to his aid, a woman named Barbara Winters, kept talking to Cpl. Cirillo, telling him that he was loved. In his final moments, someone cared enough to remind another person, that he was cared for and appreciated.

Our Gospel passage today from St. Matthew tells us how a lawyer from among the religious leaders asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is. This person is not a lawyer in the sense we think of today, when we speak of lawyers being in civil or criminal courtrooms.  This person was an expert, well versed in the Law of Moses, the cornerstone upon which the Pharisees built their entire system of religious observance in trying to remain faithful to God.  There were 613 laws, which ranged from moral laws of pre-eminence, to dietary and social restrictions.  To ask which of these 613 laws is greatest or most important, perhaps for us, would be a difficult task – yet Jesus cuts right to the heart of the Law.

The first is to love God with every fiber of our being; the second is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. These two laws sum up the entire Law of Moses – because the laws have to do either with worship or personal conduct in the community; and the heart of God’s Law is mercy and compassion.

These two great commandments go hand in hand; our love for God is not simply expressed in words or inner feelings towards our Creator – our love for the God we cannot see is expressed in our love for our brothers and sisters who we can see, who we interact with and communicate with and work, learn and play with.

As St. John in his first letter says, how can we say we love God who we cannot see, if we do not love our brother who we can see? These two commands Jesus promotes as the greatest have everything to do with relationship – relationship with God and with each other.  When we abandon one, we abandon the other, and in a very real sense in doing so we abandon our humanity, shutting ourselves off from others who, like each of us, were created in the image and likeness of the God we profess to love.

It’s easy to sense God in joyful moments, in beautiful scenes of nature, in times where plenty and peace abound. It’s not so easy when evil presents itself in our midst.  Yes difficulties, hardships and tragedies happen in our broken world.  That is part of our human condition; but it is through the actions of those around us, often in these sad and awful circumstances, that we can see the mercy and compassion of God also in our midst; if we take the time to  reflect honestly and thoughtfully, and look with eyes of faith, hope and love.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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29th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year A)

There was a time, shortly after my wife and I were married, with our whole lives before us, that we believed we were the masters of our own destiny – the world, as they say, was our oyster…. then we had children.

And we realized very quickly that things were going to be completely different forever.  As I was praying over this Sunday’s readings, and thinking of a time when the kids were quite small, when on more than one occasion, someone would escape from the bathtub and run down the hall, with one of us chasing after them with a towel – it reminded me of the fable of the Emperor’s new clothes….and I think I actually did refer to one of the kids when they were a baby as ‘the little Emperor’.

The acceptance of a change in life is part of growth; it’s a sign of maturity. And while these changes come and go, as we grow we come to understand that we have to direct our attention to these matters at hand, and they become part of our routine; our daily realities; our existence. But there is always a possibility that we can become so involved in something, that we ‘put on blinders’ and lose sight of other things around us, things that should be included in our priorities. Sometimes we forget the most fundamental things that should be important to us.

We know as human beings that if we become over-absorbed in something, it can bring about stress, it can impact our relationships with others, it can harm our performance in our work or school………in short, this tunnel vision can cause harm to our physical, emotional and social well being. We lack balance; a balance which God created in us and intended us to have. We get lost in the ‘distractions’. We lose focus. We forget that we are not only physical beings – but spiritual beings as well.

Western society in particular, has gotten so caught up in this mentality of ‘separation of Church and State’ to the extreme that religion and faith are pushed so far to the margins, that we act as if the material world is all there is. In the midst of the secular, we have lost the sacred.

And how do we avoid this trap?

Jesus provides us the answer Himself in the exchange concerning giving the emperor what belongs to the emperor and giving to God what belongs to God.

These things become like the Emperor in today’s Gospel – those putting the question to Jesus are seeing the Roman Emperor as the single most important influence on everything in their lives, and it is preventing them, as Jesus points out, from seeing what should be truly important to them (especially since those asking the question are part of the religious leadership of Jerusalem).

This question put to Jesus was incredibly volatile…; to understand how volatile this question was – it was the exact issue which, about 30 years later in history, would lead to the Jewish revolt which ended with the complete destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans and the dispersal of the Jews throughout the known world….the ones that asked it were hoping Jesus would either say ‘yes pay taxes to the Romans’ in which case he would alienate most of his Jewish followers….or he would say ‘no don’t pay the taxes to the Romans’ in which case, the Roman governor’s guards would have to arrest him on the spot for sedition.

Either way, the questioners were hoping this exercise would put an almost immediate end to Jesus mission, so they could stop listening to Him and go back to their own routine.

Those things which become our Emperors likewise threaten our interior mission; to try to put an end to the movement of Jesus deeper into our hearts and our lives. When they become the end, rather than a means to an end; when we can’t even consider that God may have an interest in how our daily lives play out in our homes, our workplaces our communities; that’s when we have taken what belongs to God and given it to the Emperor; that’s when we risk not only our own emotional and physical well being, but we hamper and threaten our spiritual well-being too.

What are our Emperors? Anything can be; when it changes from being one of a number of concerns we need to deal with in real life, to something which is all-absorbing; keeping all our attention focused only on it; …the mortgage, outstanding debts….a new house…career advancement….employment opportunities….personal pursuits or hobbies…a particular relationship…accumulating material goods….

What do we owe God? Well, quite simply and bluntly – everything; we owe God our lives, all of our blessings we’ve received, the struggles that have helped us grow, the people that have come and gone in and out of our lives, in short, our very existence is a gift from God – we owe God everything.

Do we respond as if everything belongs to God? Here is where the intention of our heart is so important – do we respond to God grudgingly, out of some sense of duty ? Or do we respond because we desire to respond?

Coming to Sunday Mass is a good thing. Our faith teaches that we are obliged to come to Sunday Mass, that we should give that time back to God……but is there more we could do in nurturing our own relationship with God?

Could we spend time with God in personal prayer, even if only a few minutes a day?

Can we reach out to those around us, both in our communities and in the wider world? This Sunday marks World Mission Sunday, a time when we are asked to keep in mind all those who suffer throughout the world, not only material poverty, but spiritual poverty as well – those who do not have a relationship or knowledge of Christ; and those who serve in the mission fields. But mission work isn’t only for a select few in countries far away. It is as close as our own homes and towns.

We can give of our treasure, but more importantly, give of our time to those in need, and do it for the love of God; maybe an estranged family member; maybe an elderly acquaintance who has no family near by; maybe volunteering at a local charity like the food bank; perhaps giving your service through one of the groups in our parish like the Legion of Mary, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, or the Lay Missionaries of Charity.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in explaining the rules of her new order, once wrote, ”our life should be one of giving love –sacrifice to God…of our own free will and choice. We quench His thirst – not because we must – but because we love.”

Listen to the way God speaks to His people through the prophet Isaiah in the first reading today; “I call you by name, I surname you, though you do not know me…I arm you, though you do not know me, so that all may know from the rising of the sun and from the west there is no one besides me. I am the Lord and there is no other… ”

This isn’t the demand of some angry, overbearing oppressive God, although our secular society would have us believe otherwise. This is not God ordering us to give him our hearts; it’s an invitation to come into closer relationship with God, a relationship which can’t help but have a bearing on every aspect of our lives.

This is a statement of who God is for us; and very much the same as any loving parent, God provides his children with guidance to keep them from harm- in fact God is the ultimate parent …. whether it’s chasing wet toddlers down the hall at bath time, clothing, feeding, nurturing and providing for them…good parents don’t hand the children a statement or invoice each day and say, ‘ you owe me.’ The ideal parent provides and guides their child because they love them – not because they expect a return on the investment of their time and care; ultimately, it’s up to the child as they grow and mature to decide whether to listen or not; whether or not they want a closer relationship with their parent.

And so it is with our relationship with God –; being united with God – that’s what holiness is; and holiness is what we are all called to, it is the fundamental calling of each of us… we are God’s children; He loved each of us first- and he invites us to return that love, that which belongs to God, back to Him .

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

28th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year A)

Many of us in Canada are preparing to gather with family to celebrate this Thanksgiving weekend; and for many, this celebration centres around a feast; we enjoy the bounty of the harvest of all kinds of food; we share that feast with those we love; we express gratitude for the many ways in our lives in which God has blessed us. When we are really conscious of the many blessings we have received, it tends to instil in us a true and honest humility; a humility that recognizes that everything we have – all our abilities, our talents, our successes – everything, comes from God. And that makes us deeply grateful.

A spirit of deep gratitude is one of the themes which is woven through the parable Jesus teaches in today’s passage from St. Matthew’s gospel. It is the parable of the wedding feast, put on by a king in honour of his son.

That gathering for a banquet, for a very important feast is a symbol that Jesus uses quite frequently in the gospels. The metaphor of a banquet is often used by Jesus to describe the kingdom of heaven – of being invited to intimately share the life of God. But unlike other places where He uses the wedding feast example, Jesus uses very extreme language in this parable – and the behaviour of those invited and the reaction of the king seem ‘way over the top’ – killing servants, burning cities, destroying murderers and so on…

The parallel Jesus draws to the treatment of the prophets of the Old Testament is very clear; but the reason He uses such extreme, even shocking language, is because He is stressing how important, even how urgent it is for those who are called by God to enter into that intimate relationship, to make certain they come to that ‘feast’ with a deep sense of gratitude. When those invited refuse the invitation, even going to extremes to do so – making excuses and rejecting and abusing those who speak God’s Word – they show their lack of gratitude for being invited by the king to this very special occasion. When the king opens that invitation wider, and sends his servants to gather everyone – complete strangers –the banquet hall is filled. The king doesn’t seem to be concerned whether it is his ‘A list’ of guests who fill the hall or the ‘B list’ – the hall will be filled one way or the other. But the parable doesn’t end there. There is one guest who is in the banquet hall, but is not wearing a wedding robe – is not ‘properly attired’ for this occasion; it is an insult to the honour of the host; for this insult, this person is cast out from the banquet; again, harsh language, but the message is pretty clear here, that ‘something ‘is expected of those who enter into this ‘banquet’ – this ‘ honoured’ place in that relationship with God.

If we are to share in this banquet, then we are to honour the Host. As Christians we do this by loving God with our whole being, and loving our neighbour as ourselves; and we can only genuinely do this when we are truly grateful to God for having called us to Himself, and truly humble recognizing that everything we have comes from God and we could do nothing without Him in the first place. If we think we are entitled to God’s blessings, or somehow God owes us His gifts because of who we are, then we are neither humble nor grateful.

We celebrate that relationship, that heavenly feast each time we celebrate the Mass; and at the heart of the Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist – a word which means ‘Thanksgiving’. It’s all about gratitude- truly humble gratitude, recognizing that everything is ‘gift’. Even the Mass, when we commemorate Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, is a gift to us from Christ himself.

Receiving the very body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ within ourselves – as Catholics, He is that gift – more than anything else that we will give thanks for this weekend- Christ is that gift, for which we are most truly thankful.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

It’s very easy, in our day and age, to become somewhat dismissive of our Christian faith and traditional practices as ‘quaint’ or ‘idealistic’ or even worse, ‘irrelevant’.

Perhaps, though, the worst of all, is to take our relationship with God for granted, thereby making all things that flow from that relationship unimportant or insignificant.

We might say to ourselves, ‘I’m all right with Jesus,’ or ‘I’m okay with God,’ if we even give a thought to Jesus or God throughout or busy days. Considering that the commandment for Christians is to love God completely and love our neighbour as ourselves, we might find ourselves not only giving very little thought to our Creator; we may also find we give little thought to those who share this world with us.

This sense of complacency is deadly to the spiritual life of a Christian. It is a posture of ingratitude and is contrary to those two commandments.

In our Gospel passage this week from St. Matthew, Jesus takes a dim view of this posture displayed by certain leaders of the local religious community. He says they have become complacent, believing that they are in union with God because of who they are, not because of what they do or how they practice their faith. Just because they are sons of Israel they presume to ‘own’ the kingdom of heaven.

Yet Jesus is very clear, that the workers who presume to take by force the vineyard or inheritance that is not theirs, will not inherit that vineyard. Their rejection of a proper relationship with the vineyard owner and his son will result in their loss of whatever share they have in that inheritance, and it will be given to those who enter into that right relationship.

We cannot presume to say ‘we’re Catholic’ and that’s enough, as if saying that means we are ‘good to go’ in some sense, with God. If we give no more than lip-service to truth, justice and right; if we distance ourselves from serving the poor in our midst, no matter who they are; if we not only do not welcome others into a relationship with Christ, but actually prevent them from coming to know Him; in all of these and more, we will be like those workers entrusted with the care of the vineyard, the kingdom, who presumed to simply take it over and run it as they saw fit – as if it was theirs to use and abuse.

Gratitude for being invited into that relationship, that entry into the kingdom, is the basis from which all of our words, thoughts, and actions will stem from in our spiritual life; and that spirituality must be reflected in our daily, busy, practical lives. We must always bear in mind whose kingdom it is that we are offered a share in – and reflect on what an awesome wonder that truly is.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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