5th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

One of the challenges that comes with children is teaching them appreciation for the people that play an important role in their lives, in their development and growth. Whether as a child, or as an adult, many of us can recall a time when a gift was received by a child from a special visitor – perhaps a grandparent or other relative; sometimes, if these visits were repeated over time, a pattern emerged where the child repeatedly received something from the visitor; and eventually when the visitor arrives at the door, they might be greeted with “ Hi grandma or grandpa…what did you bring me?’

It then becomes the work of the parent to lead the child to an understanding that it is the giver that is most important, rather than the gift….that love doesn’t need to be expressed with ‘presents’; eventually the hope is that the child will greet the visitor with “ Hi grandma or grandpa…I love you. It’s great to see you. You didn’t have to bring me anything, but thank you for the gift.’

One of the more common temptations for Christians as they go through life, is this idea of placing a priority on gifts we receive. Whether blessings of health, employment, family, prosperity; we can be drawn into a type of ‘ Hi God, what are you going to give me” focus in our prayer life or in our relationship with God.

We might look at some gifts as our right to have, sometimes placing demands or conditions as if God owes them to us ; sometimes we might even treat gifts as if we don’t appreciate them; imagine how we would feel if after handing someone a present, they responded with, ‘ you gave me this? This isn’t what I wanted…”

Other times, we focus so intently on the gifts that we receive, that we lose sight of who gave them to us; We fall in love with the gifts, rather than the Giver.

Our first reading today is a passage from the Old Testament Book of Job; in this passage, Job is speaking with three friends and is commenting on the shortness of our lives on earth compared to eternity; taken only in itself, and not read in the context of the entire book, this is probably one of the most depressing pieces of Scripture you could read, “…I am allotted months of emptiness and nights of misery are apportioned to me..,”

Not terribly uplifting language. But to understand it in its context, the Book of Job relates how Job was very faithful to God, and was wealthy with estates and crops and livestock and children….the Old Testament image of a successful person blessed by God. A conversation occurs between God and the devil, in which the devil insists that the only reason Job is so faithful to God is because Job has so many gifts and blessings; the devil claims Job is in love with the gifts, not the Giver.

So the devil is given permission to influence Job’s life – Job loses his riches and his family, but still will not speak out against God – no doubt we’re familiar with the line “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away”…this is where it comes from.

God tells the devil that Job is still faithful and holds him up as an example – but the devil comes back with ‘ Job is only still faithful because he still has his health, and that gift is the only reason Job still praises you…’ so the devil is given permission to further tempt, and this time Job loses his health. And during this time, while he doesn’t praise God, he doesn’t speak out against God, until his friends visit him.

These friends could be looked at as our own society. They focus on the loss of gifts, as if these are the only measure of God’s love for Job. They speak out in judgment, trying to rationalize why Job is suffering….maybe he did something wrong and God is punishing Job, or maybe Job should question God or maybe demand an explanation from God……and eventually, Job agrees and demands to know from God why he has lost all of the gifts he once had….

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The dialogue between God and Job gives much food for thought…..it begins with God saying ‘who is this who darkens my counsel….” I will answer your question if you answer mine first…where were you when I laid the foundation of the universe? Where were you when I created all things? Was it you that I sought advice from before creating life?..and on it goes for several chapters.

The dialogue eventually ends with Job basically saying ‘You’re right God…you are God, not me, and you create and build for your own purpose, not mine. Thanks for gifts you did give me – all I ever had, I received from You in the first place.

In other words, You are the Giver, God, not me…all is gift and my focus should be on you, not on what you have or have not given to me.’ Your gifts are yours to give, not mine to take.

It is because of this sense of gratitude, then that God restores everything to Job, but God is not pleased with the three ‘friends’ who gave Job all of their advice….and you can read further in this book.

And yet, the response of the friends is a very common, human response. Instead of simply being present to Job in his suffering, they want to rationalize it, to provide a reason from a human standpoint…at no time do they comment on all of the blessings and gifts that Job had. At no point do they even try to comment that while they can’t give a reason for this ‘turn of fortune’, that Job should trust that God still loves him. It is as though the gifts were the sole measure of the relationship between Job and God. It is as though without gifts, the relationship was unimportant.

In much the same way, our passage from St. Mark’s Gospel raises this notion. Continuing from what we heard last Sunday, from Jesus’ early ministry in Capernaum and his visit to the synagogue and casting out a demon, this passage takes place on the same day, and a very full day it is. Jesus goes to the house of St. Peter where he heals St. Peter’s mother in law, and she waits on them. After hearing about the happenings in the synagogue, the local citizens bring all of the sick and suffering to the door of St. Peter’s house at sundown…it says the whole city was gathered there, and Jesus performs many miracles of healing and casting out of demons well into the night. In the early morning, while it is still dark, Jesus goes away by himself to a quiet deserted place to pray, to spend time alone with God, the Giver of all things.

It says the disciples ‘hunted’ for Him, and when they found Him said ‘Everyone is searching for you.”

The question we might ask at this point is ‘why’ was ‘everyone’ searching for Jesus? For some it may have been his teachings in the synagogue…for others it may have been a feeling of being drawn to Jesus in his generosity and kindness in his dealings with people…but for many it was likely to see another miracle performed, to witness another ‘gift’ of healing at the hands of Jesus.

And how does Jesus respond? Rather than going back into Capernaum and giving more gifts on command, He says it’s time to go to the neighboring towns…” so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.” The focus of Christ’s ministry is proclaiming the Good news of salvation; that God is acting to reunite Himself to humankind. But it seems that in dealing with people at this time, that’s not the news they are interested in ; that’s not the gift they want most –the gift of relationship with God – they are more interested in the gifts of something miraculous that they can see – something extraordinary or visibly outstanding…..

Almost an expression of ‘Hi Jesus, what did you bring me?’

In our own world, many people thirst and hunger for a relationship with God…in fact, we could echo the words of the disciples, God “Everyone is searching for you.” But unfortunately, many seek to fill that hunger with things that draw them away from God – entirely focusing on material gain, power, luxuries…as if these ‘gifts’ could satisfy their deepest longings…but these ‘gifts’, these ‘things’ don’t satisfy because they are not eternal. As St. Augustine noted ‘our hearts can never rest O Lord until they rest in you.’

We have gifts at every Mass; we have a miracle at each and every Eucharistic celebration, when through the power of God, bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus, Our Savior. We receive and hear the living Word of God proclaimed in the readings. We gather to worship, and in that gathering of two or more Christ Himself is in our midst. The Church has all of these gifts, they are a constant. But they are not ours to demand or take – that are God’s gifts, freely given out of love for each of us.

They are an expression of God’s invitation to enter into a deeper relationship with Him.

They are an invitation to us to live in gratitude for the knowledge that God knows each of us, and loves us and wants us to live in Him.

They are a reminder of self-giving, and that more important than any blessings and gifts that we have received in our lives, the most important is God’s gift of Himself in the person of Jesus to us;

that the Giver is the ultimate gift.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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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!

Exultation of the Holy Cross – Sept. 14th (Year A)

This Sunday, September 14th marks the feast of the Triumph of the Cross; this celebration was actually put in place to mark several historic events in the history of the Church. Many will be familiar with the story of how the Roman Emperor Constantine, early in the fourth century, had a vision on the eve of a battle, of a cross in the sky with the words, “by this sign you will conquer.” Constantine was victorious and eventually made Christianity the official religion of the Empire, ending the persecutions which had been so numerous up to that time. Some years later, the remains of the true cross were recovered during excavations in Jerusalem by Constantine’s mother, and churches were dedicated in honour of this. As time went on, this relic was considered the greatest and most valuable in the entire Christian world. Several centuries later, this relic was seized by the Persians during the many wars that plagued the middle-east, and carried off. However, the relic of the True Cross was recovered from the Persians in the seventh century by the Roman Emperor Heraclius. From that time on, commemoration of the Finding of the Cross and the Exaltation or Triumph of the Cross has been observed on the 14th of September.

But what is the real Triumph of the Cross? Is it simply a matter of a historical relic? Is it only about political and military victories that allowed the easing of laws against the spread of Christianity?

From the time our first parents, Adam and Eve, separated themselves –and as a result US- from God, God set things in motion to enable us to eventually be reunited with him. Throughout the history of the world, beginning with the ‘choosing’ of Abraham, and then through the children of Israel, God spoke to humanity, inviting them to draw closer. But as salvation history would show, the people themselves could not cure this separation from God on their own – God had to directly intervene to save humanity from an eternity of sin and death; through his prophets, God gave hints throughout the history of Israel how this would be accomplished.

Our first reading today from the book of Numbers recounts an event during the Exodus, when the children of Israel had been freed from slavery in Egypt and were wandering in the desert with Moses on their way to the Promised Land.

The people were being bitten by poisonous serpents and were appealing to God through Moses to do something to save them; God told Moses to fashion a serpent of bronze and set it on a pole or staff, and whoever gazed on it would be saved…now before we start thinking of this serpent as a ‘magic charm’, we need to understand that Jewish tradition teaches that it was much more than this: The trust was not in the bronze figure; it meant that when Moses erected it, the Israelites looked at the bronze figure and put their trust in THE ONE who ordered Moses to do so; then God would send them healing.”

This event, though was in itself a prophesy of how God would deliver all people from slavery to sin; from the serpent bite of death. It is not difficult to see how this is a reference to the crucifixion of Jesus; but rather than Jesus simply being ‘mounted’ or ‘placed’ on the cross, he willingly embraces it, offering himself, the God-man, to atone for the original sin of humanity in separating ourselves from God. It is a complete and total gift of self-giving, not only by Jesus, but from God as well.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”

That is the expression of God’s true gift of love; think about someone you love very much, and what you would be willing to give to or give for that person –

Now, as parents; think how much we love our children –

Now think about that passage again – that God so loved the world He gave His only Son; not only in the incarnation as a baby in a manger; but He gave His only Son to atone for the broken nature of every person in the entire world…that’s the Father’s expression of love;

And the Son? His expression of love was to give His own life on the Cross as a gift of love to all people to reunite them to the Father; he didn’t simply die for His apostles, for His friends…He died as a gift, a sacrifice for all people – the crowds who followed Him, the Pharisees who condemned him , the Romans who crucified him…everyone; an unreserved, unconditional total gift of self sacrifice in love for all;

We sometimes tend to think of the sacrifice of the Cross as the Sacrifice of Jesus alone; but consider as a parent the sacrifice of the Father in giving His only Son for that reason, so that all of us could at last become adopted daughters and sons of God, reunited at last with God as we were meant to be.

That is the real Triumph of the Cross – that God would take what historically was an instrument of humiliation and torture and turn it into a sign of love and self-giving. And beyond that, we too are even given the gift of participating in this victory, this triumph; we are invited to share in this continual outpouring and sharing of love, caring for others and inviting them into that relationship.

One concrete, visible expression of our faith in Christ who was lifted up or exalted or glorified on the Cross, is how we live out our life, in imitation of Him in our daily lives;

Think again of the gifts we have – do we sacrifice or give away something of ourselves to others; to our families, our communities, to our brothers and sisters in need?

We have inspiring examples of those who have made a gift of their lives to others, sharing in the Triumph of the Cross, living out the Gospel message;

Look, for example at St. Francis of Assisi who gave away everything to live in service to the poor and reviving the Church ….think of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and her work among the poorest of the poor…..or Jean Vanier who founded and continues his work in the L’Arche communities working with developmentally challenged adults, trying to restore their independence and dignity…

There are those in our own parish who are an example of this kind of self-giving love, showing the victory of the Cross in their own lives; those who visit the sick; those who bring the sacrament of Holy Communion to shut ins….those who work to aid those in financial and social difficulty…. Those who give their time to others experiencing spiritual poverty, helping people to come to a closer relationship to God and to better understand the Gospel…those who help feed the hungry, or clothe the poor…

We can all express this love for others, this sacrifice, this gift; perhaps not on the scale of a Teresa or Francis, but according to our own abilities and means; In our own community, the Food Bank is struggling to meet demand, and is appealing for help as the summer ends and as food and fuel prices increase, affecting more and more people who suffer in our own towns – if we cannot volunteer our time, we can do as much as we can to contribute to the needs of the Food Bank through food or other donations.

Giving what we can out of love for God and love for our brothers and sisters in need.

In the Triumph of the Cross, God gave us in love, the best that He had to give. In imitation of Christ, in sharing in the Triumph which He gives to us, what are we prepared to give to Him?

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

In his works, ‘The Hobbit’, and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy,author J.R.R. Tolkien introduced us to a character who, in many ways, illustrates for us in an extreme way, what can develop in all of us, if we do not heed the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew.

That character starts out life as a hobbit named Smeagol, one of many of those gentle little folk who live in ‘The Shire’ in this classic work of fiction. At one point in his life, though,  Smeagol discovers the lost Ring of Power, and becomes so drawn to this ring, this treasure, that he kills to possess it; he is so consumed with his desire to have and keep and protect this treasure at all costs, that his desire drives him out, away from the peaceful ‘Shire’ and off into the wilderness, to hide in caves and caverns; as long as he doesn’t associate with anyone, no one will be able to take this treasure.  He eventually devolves into a completely different creature than when he started out in life; he becomes this pale, shriveled, murderous, crazed creature named Gollum, who lives only for one purpose; to have and possess and protect this ring. The transformation is not something that happens immediately; it grows as the character’s possessiveness of a material thing and the need to protect it grows; it increases as his slavery and worry over this one thing increases, until it consumes his every waking moment.

The notion that Jesus presents to us; that a servant can only serve one master – God or wealth – is a very accurate one if we take the time to reflect on it.  If we are a slave to or servant of wealth, we spend time concentrating on that wealth; how to get more, make more, and have more- the only way to get, make and have more is to keep from giving any of it up, to prevent others from having more, which would mean ‘us’ having less.  It can lead to a constant worry, almost to a paranoia about acquiring and protecting wealth from any possible person, situation or event that could diminish that wealth in any way shape or form.  To be of that mindset is not to enjoy any of the fruits of one’s labour, because one is constantly on the lookout for any threat to those fruits. The constant worry about their wealth does not permit them to either enjoy it, or to see their neighbours as anything but threats or opportunities to gain more.

Wealth or possessions are things; they are meant to serve us, not the other way around – if we serve wealth, then in reality, we serve nothing, not even ourselves.  We cannot be open to the joys and graces that the presence of others in our lives can bring.  We actually end up depriving ourselves of much.

On the other hand, the one who is a servant with God as their master follows those two great commandments; loving God with our whole being, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.  That type of servant surrenders all – their gifts, talents, possessions – to the glory and service of God, and the service and need of their neighbor.  Yes, they have what they need, but they do not spend their days consumed with worry and fear about whether or not their material wealth or possessions will be decreased or lessened tomorrow.  It is implied that they trust that the same God who has blessed them with the gifts that they currently have – work, home, sustenance – today, will provide for them tomorrow.  It doesn’t mean they don’t plan for the future, but they are not consumed with needless worry about things that will limit their ability to live out their destiny, as children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.  Worrying does not increase anything about us; worrying only decreases our ability to move out beyond ourselves and prevents us from increasing in our potential to more closely identify with Christ in His Divinity.

This Gospel passage comes at an opportune time as we prepare to enter the season of Lent.  It gives us an opportunity to reflect on where we have placed our priorities; where our ‘servant-hood’ lies; to decide whom we truly serve.  It gives us an opportunity to examine our own lives and to re-dedicate ourselves to serving God in gratitude for the many blessings we have received, trusting that He will continue to provide and make Himself known to us more deeply each day.  It provides us with a chance to set aside those attitudes and things that draw us into a grasping, self-centeredness; to open our hands in confidence, without worry, to receive those graces that we can share with our neighbours  each and every day.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sometimes we read today’s Gospel passage about the tax collector and the Pharisee in the Temple with an air of ‘superiority’ – especially if we are reading it in Church.  We might think we are ‘better’ than the Pharisee. We might read it with a sense of humility, being more humble than the tax collector.  In either view, we need to understand not only the context of the parable Jesus relates, but the heart of the message.

This was not particularly a “swipe” at the Pharisees as a general group; nor was Jesus suggesting that what tax collectors in Israel were doing to their own people in extorting money and living opulent lifestyles was acceptable.  He was using figures familiar to the people in their own culture as reference points to make His point.

What was His point? St. Luke relates how Jesus told this parable “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.”

Pharisees were a lay movement concerned with preserving the law of Moses and ensuring that that law, which was as much a part of their religion, history and culture as anything, was lived out amongst the people.  As with any group, there would be those who carried things to extremes, considering themselves to be the final word and paying extreme attention to details, losing site of the big picture; or those who considered themselves more important than the message that they were to be delivering and living out.  We can see this reflected in our own society – every organization has within it, people who get so caught up in the rules and regulations that they don’t pay attention to what the ‘end point’ of those rules and regulations is.

What this suggests is that not all, or even most Pharisees were legalistic and overbearing – it suggests there were some, just like any other group today.

With the tax collector, those who collaborated with the Roman occupiers, their particular ‘trade’ was considered traitorous to the other children of Israel. They over-collected taxes to pad their own lifestyles, and by associating with the Romans, made themselves unfit to participate in Temple activities. Many used the force of Roman troops that were part of their ‘office’ to extort money from their own people, and many lived only concerned with their own wealth, comfort and privilege.

The example suggests, again, that while many of the tax collectors fit this description, not all of them did.

Maybe if we look at our own modern culture, we could see similar examples in our own secular world; we could substitute other fields for our principle characters; maybe people who consider themselves better than others because they belong to the ‘right crowd’ – religiously or secularly- versus people who have isolated themselves through their own actions, and recognize they are isolated.

Think about government agencies; the popular myth might be that they treat you like a number, not a person – and yet when we deal individually with the people who work in these places, we find they are people just like us; maybe at work they go out of their way to help others; outside work they are generous and caring.  We could say there is a stereotype, but not all , or even most fit that stereotype.

We might say church organizations are full of people who are concerned only with processes and not people, with rules rather than compassion; and yet we find that when we deal with these people one on one, again we find that very few actually fit that stereotype.

At the opposite end of the scale, we may think of jail inmates with contempt; as dangerous, hard people.  Yet we may find that individually they may be compassionate, generous and humble.  Yet again, perhaps very few fit the stereotype.

In this parable, Jesus speaks to all of us regarding our own opinions of our own righteousness before God, and our contempt of others.  We are to diligently guard against falling into this mindset ourselves.  He did not provide this parable as a means of patting ourselves on the back and pointing at others with contempt.  The point of this parable was to remind us all of what our internal disposition should be whenever we approach God.

We need to recognize that everything is gift; undeserved, unearned, freely-given blessings from God.  We have no right to demand or feel entitled to God’s grace because of anything we have done or said in our lives.  If we participate in devotional practices, we do it out of love and for honour of God; not because God will be impressed with us or ‘owe’ us anything after.  When we approach God, it should be as one who recognizes that we have been given far more than we could possible earn or deserve – we have been given the opportunity to live in relationship with the Creator of all.

It should be in a spirit of humility, recognizing our own limitations, that we approach God; God who is always willing to forgive, to provide, to love us, no matter who we are, what we have done, or where we have been.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

This particular weekend in Canada we celebrate Thanksgiving. How appropriate,  that as we observe the holiday of Thanksgiving on our secular calendar, we are given a gospel message that speaks of gratitude.  A passage that speaks of giving thanks to God:  it is this word, ‘thanksgiving’ which is at the very heart of our Catholic faith:  the Greek word for thanksgiving is ‘eucharistia’ from which we get the word Eucharist:  the Eucharist, which as we are told in numerous church documents, is the source and summit of the Christian life.

In our gospel passage from St.Luke today, we are told that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem; that he is in the region between Samaria and Galilee – on the fringes of the Jewish areas, and the fringes of the Samaritan areas

And in this place he encounters ten lepers – leprosy being a disease which in its day, and up to our current times, created a tremendous fear among the general population: if someone was found to have this disease, they were set apart – they were unclean; no one could go near them for fear of catching it….they had to live in isolated areas, and for the Jewish lepers, they had to call out ‘unclean’ to warn people from coming near them

Anyone who came in contact with lepers was also considered unclean according to the law of Moses; to protect the rest of the population they had to spend a period apart from others, and they were also forbidden from entering the Temple until they had fulfilled certain purification rites.

Jesus was raised in the Jewish traditions, and we have numerous examples of how he too observed the laws and religious observances – the fact he was ‘going up to Jerusalem’ ; he was making a pilgrimage to the Temple, a typical practice for a devout Jewish male.  This tells us he took religious observance very seriously; but as he so often taught in other episodes from his life and teaching, the heart of the law was more important than the letter of the law; and the heart of the law is mercy and compassion:

Jesus places himself in a situation that will cause tension with his Jewish followers and the teachers and religious leaders;  socially, Jesus goes out on a real limb to meet with and heal these ten lepers; and not just that, he deals and associates with one who is a Samaritan – this is the equivalent of ‘two strikes’ in terms of Jesus being ‘allowed’ to offer sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem – he is risking his own opportunity to celebrate with his own religious community:  he will have to follow rites of purification to be ‘clean’ in order to observe his religious practices. But this doesn’t prevent him from what he does next.

Jesus shows compassion on these ten lepers, has contact with them and works a great miracle; but he doesn’t just wave his hand and they are healed:  he tells them to go and show themselves to the priests – something that was necessary so they could be proclaimed ‘clean’ and could participate in community worship: a religious observance to bring about a spirit of thanksgiving.

It is while they are on their way to the priests, as Jesus has told them, that they become clean.  And only one who notices they are now clean, turns back and thanks Jesus before reporting to the priests  – and this man is a Samaritan;

The other nine have continued on their way, we are left to assume to report to the priests; but the gospel doesn’t recount or tell us whether or not they were thankful or praised God for this great gift of healing that they had received. 

Only a Samaritan – one who was outside their tradition – understood who had healed them; and he returned to thank God in the person of Jesus for this tremendous gift that he had received.  Fulfilling the religious observance could come for this man only after he had expressed his thankfulness – his gratitude:  it would be in this spirit of thanksgiving that he could then praise and worship God with a heart filled with gratitude.

This attitude of gratitude is what we are all called to have, particularly when we gather to celebrate the Mass; at the heart of our gathering together is worship – before all else; we don’t approach God primarily to ask for something: first and foremost we gather to worship God and to give thanks for all of the ways he has blessed each and every one of us; ways that are too numerous to count; 

It seems at times we would prefer to hang on to reasons not to be grateful; to ignore the ways in which we have been blessed, and to concentrate on some way in which we feel we might have been ‘short-changed’ by God.

But in the earliest part of the Mass, when we sing to the praise of God, in the prayer we call the Gloria; we say it quite clearly “ we give you thanks for your great glory!”

We come first and foremost in thanksgiving, in eucharistia, to thank God simply for loving us into existence, and for giving us the gift of Jesus, the gift of Himself in our humanity, to give us the gift of adoption as his sons and daughters.

We need to understand that primarily we gather to worship God and to thank Him: we don’t come just to ‘get’ something;  we don’t come just to ‘get’ His Word – we don’t come just to ‘get’ Holy Communion – anything we receive during the Mass is a gift and a grace; but if we only gather to ‘get’ something, then we are really no different from the nine lepers who received the cleansing, the healing from Jesus, and went on their way without a second thought of returning to him to offer thanks.  They got what they wanted, and off they went.

We are called to be thankful as we gather as God’s people; we are called to be thankful as we received His Word; we are called to be thankful as we receive Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar; if we are not approaching the altar with an attitude of thanksgiving, then perhaps we have no business approaching the altar at all.  How fortunate we are, that we have a God who is so generous and understanding, always willing to forgive and continues to reach out to us to welcome into his healing and loving presence.

As a country we pause this particular weekend in our calendar year to offer thanks; some of us have family traditions where we might gather as an extended family for a great feast and offer some thoughts on particular things that we are thankful for.

But as Catholics, we have been given so much that we should be thankful each and every day, always seeking opportunities to be like the Samaritan leper, to turn back to Jesus and say ‘thank you’. 

Thank you for the gift of life – thank you for the gifts of community, of friends , of healing; but thank you most of all dearest and most generous Lord , for the precious gift of yourself, sacrificed, broken and given for all of us; you have made us a Eucharistic  people; a people of Thanksgiving.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“You owe me!”

A common enough phrase to be sure.  We hear that in culture, in the media, likely even in our own day-to-day dealings with each other.  This sense that one is indebted to the other because one has completed some task or fulfilled a request or perhaps even satisfied some expectation.

Many of us grew up in the shadow of the veterans and those who lived during the Second World War.  Many of those veterans, returning from war, started looking for work; jobs were plentiful, and many of them worked multiple jobs, or worked extended hours.  They started their own families and worked harder; most of them engaged in long hours and hard labour so that, as they put it, “my children won’t have to.”  The ideal that their children would have a better life, better education, more opportunities than they had was something they strove for.  It was a laudable and noble motive.

But maybe, just maybe, the children should have had to work as hard.

The next gneration grew up, quickly acclimatizing to this sense of opportunity .  They didn’t have to work for it, it was given to them. With that, came a sense of entitlement, that these opportunities were not privileges but rights.  That bigger and better and brighter was theirs by birthright, and they quickly forgot that it was paid for by struggles, work and sacrifice of their forebears.  It developed into a widespread mentality that, not only were they entitled to all things grand and good, but they owed nothing to those that paved the way for them.  In fact, it would be better for the previous generation to ‘get out of the way’. This ingratitude was compounded with the mindset that anything they shared of their plenty, whether with subsequent generations or their own parents, was an act of such tremendous generosity , that they now ‘owned’ the recipients of their largesse.  Anything done for their offspring meant that their children now ‘owed’ them – likewise anything done for their aging parents was done grudgingly; “you had your time to run things – this is MY generation.”, and the parents should be grateful and appreciative for any small favour granted them.

I know this sounds pretty bleak, and perhaps a tad morose.  But I use this example in reflecting on the Gospel passages from St. Luke we have read the past several Sundays, including the one today concerning a conversation Jesus has with his disciples concerning grace. (Luke 17:5-10)

In recent weeks we heard the story of the ‘Prodigal son’ and how the two brothers were focussed on their entitlement to their father’s property rather than his love.  Last week we hear about the rich man, who while leaving Lazarus to starve at his gate, believed he was entitled to a happy eternity simply because of he was a son of Abraham. This week we hear how the disciples rather rudely demand of Jesus ,”Increase our faith!” as if somehow Jesus “owes” them something simply because they are his followers.

Punctuation is everything!  In that phrase “Increase our faith!” there is no sense of supplication, or humble request, or even a polite suggestion.  It’s a demand, an order and it actually sounds a bit like the antagonists of the previous parables ;  “Give me my share of the inheritance!” or “Send Lazarus to my father’s house!”

Faith, like the other theological virtues Hope and Love, are gifts.  They are not latent talents, achievable goals or ranks of conquest.  They are gifts lovingly poured out by God into the hearts of those who are open to receiving them in humility and gratitude.  We cannot demand them any more than we can ‘buy’ them.  We have no exclusive claim to them, and we certainly cannot control or dispense them on our own.

This is the point Jesus makes when he compares his disciples to servants or slaves.  They are there to work in the field and wait on the master.  They are fed and housed and clothed for what they have done.  They are not entitled to be treated better than their master, to be waited on by their master.  They have received what they have received from the master because he chooses to give it to them.  And in return they provide the service which is expected of them.  They are not doing anything ‘extraordinary’.  They are not ‘entitled’ to something more. If they receive anything more, it is simply because their master, in his generosity, grants it to them, not because he ‘owes’ them.

True gifts are freely given.  Genuine gifts are given unconditionally.  Authentic gifts are generously handed out by the giver.

As for the recipient; true gifts are received gratefully, are accepted without question, are deeply treasured and appreciated.

Jesus is making it clear through all of these parables that no one, even his disciples, can lay a claim on the generosity and graciousness of Almighty God.  The minimum expected of those who claim to ‘belong’ to Jesus, to be disciples of Christ, is to follow his teaching and to live that teaching out, in all things.  But we should never, ever delude ourselves into thinking that because we follow and live that teaching, that we ‘deserve’ the gifts of God’s grace, that somehow Jesus ‘owes’ us.  We should never presume in arrogance that we have ‘fulfilled’ some type of bargain and that Jesus has to ‘deliver’ an increase of graces and virtues as if somehow we have bought and paid for His services.

Faith, hope, love and all of the other virtues and gifts that God bestows on us are not ‘entitlements’; they are blessings freely and generously showered on us by God, not because he ‘owes’ us; but because He loves us.

If we truly spend time, prayerfully considering this, then we begin to understand who really owes who in this relationship of giving and receiving. We can begin to move towards an acknowledgement that God doesn’t owe us anything. 

We owe God everything. Especially our gratitude.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!