33rd in Ordinary Time (Year B)

We grieve and pray for those in Paris who died in the terror attacks on Friday, and those in Beirut who died earlier in the week, also from terrorist violence. The events of this past week on the international stage show us that death comes for us all, at some point and some time, and most often, not at a time of our own choosing. Just as certainly as death comes for us, so too will be the judgement we will each face after our departure from this life.

But our culture often wants to approach things like ‘judgement’ in a minimalist sense; what is the minimum ‘passing grade’ or what is the least I must do to achieve the maximum result? It is as if we can wait until just before the moment of death and fulfil whatever the least is that we need to do, so that we can approach the throne of God with our passports stamped, because we did what was ‘necessary’.

Perhaps that is the greatest danger in seeking to know the time of, as St. Mark’s Gospel calls it ,’the end which is to come’. If we know when the end is, then we can live as we please up until that time, thinking that we will always have enough time to avail ourselves of God’s mercy.

The truth is, though, while God’s mercy is limitless, the time we have in this world to receive it, to turn towards it, and to show it to others is limited to our lifetimes. We don’t have unlimited opportunities to live for God as if we really mean it. We need to act, and we need to act in the immediate moment because we simply do not know when the ‘end’ will come, either of our own individual lives, or when the ‘end of the world’ will come.

Often groups or people will say they have figured out or calculated or ‘deciphered’ the clues in scripture that give an exact date or time; just as often, these groups and individuals have been proven wrong; the date of ‘the end’ has been predicted by people time and again, and yet here we remain. But Jesus is quite clear when he says ‘about that day or hour no one knows, neither the Angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”…and the Father isn’t telling anyone. Why not?

Because while God’s kingdom in heaven is something we aspire to, to dwell in eternity, the truth is the Kingdom begins in the here and now; in our present circumstances and lives. Jesus repeatedly told those who would listen, that because He had entered into our humanity, our world, He would say ‘the kingdom of heaven is upon you’ – it isn’t just something we plan to act for down the road; it begins now, – the way we treat others, our actions, our words; the way we live out our faith; our relationships with God and others – whether we act upon all that God has given us to guide and lead us closer to Him now – not later – but right now.

Rather than worrying about when the end will come, so we can get ready to spend eternity with God, we should be concerning ourselves with how we are living for God now, so that when the end does come, we will simply be continuing to live for and with Him; living in His mercy, His justice, and His love.

We may not know when the end of time will be; but we do know when the time to start living for the Kingdom of heaven is – that time is now.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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Christ the King (Year A)

here was an educational television program my children used to watch when they were small, called ‘The Magic Schoolbus’, and the central figure was a teacher named ‘Miss Frizzle’.  That character’s common advice, given to her students before they would embark on a class project would be, ‘take chances; make mistakes and get messy!’

The wisdom in this, of course, was that the students couldn’t learn anything if they didn’t take their studies beyond their classroom walls, and that they were bound to make mistakes if they tried – but they could learn from their mistakes.  Most importantly though, it was the advice to ‘get messy’ that cut to the heart of the learning experience;  life is seldom orderly; our best laid plans often don’t go exactly as we intended, and this reinforces for us the notion that we really are not in control of anything in life.   Life is an ongoing creative process – and creation in itself is a messy business.

It is that ‘messiness’ of life, in the lives of all people, that Jesus addresses in today’s passage from the Gospel according to St. Matthew; the story of the last judgment, of the separating of the sheep from the goats.  For the past number of Sundays, as our liturgical year comes to an end, we have heard several parables from Jesus telling his followers to be ready to meet Him, to be alert, to follow His commands; and in these parables, we hear the consequences for those who are not ready, who are not alert, or who refuse to follow Him.  In today’s passage, both the message of reward and the warning of consequence is blunt and direct.

Jesus, as the Son of Man in His glory, sitting on His judgement seat separates those who did His will – the sheep – from those who did not – the goats.  And His will explained in this parable, is to be involved in the ‘messiness’ of the lives of those around us, of all who are in need.  He cites as examples the hungry, the homeless, the naked and the imprisoned; to those who cared for these people, Christ welcomes into His Father’s kingdom – to those who ignored them, He directs them to the eternal separation from God that they have chosen themselves, through their own actions and choices.

Jesus continually emphasized during His public ministry, that the kingdom of heaven was not just something far off, after we left this lifetime; rather the kingdom of heaven begins here and now, and continues on; so the message in this Gospel is quite clear; to be part of His kingdom, we need to be involved in the ‘messiness’ of the lives of others, in their need.  To refuse to do so, not only isolates us from others, but it isolates us from Christ here and now.  If it becomes our regular ‘routine’ or ‘pattern’, then when it is our turn to stand before His throne, we will have shown a life of choice to isolate ourselves from Christ in our brothers and sisters; and if we have chosen to isolate ourselves, we can’t then blame God or Jesus for our decisions.  We will be accountable for our actions in this lifetime or in the next.

This gospel is a call to charity.  And in reality, charity can be broken down into two types; there is clean charity, and messy charity.  Clean charity is when we might contribute in some material way to some identified need – perhaps cash donations, or food or clothing; in themselves these are good things to do; but in this way alone, we keep our hands clean.  Messy charity is when we actually get physically involved in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned – it means rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty by being directly involved in the ‘messiness’ of the lives of others in need, and doing it simply for the love of God.   That need is great, and that need is all around us; it can be something as simple as spending a little time visiting someone who is homebound or sick; cleaning a small child’s face, wiping away a friend’s tears, serving a bowl of soup at the local soup kitchen – introducing ourselves to someone new in our parish…so many ways to be involved in the lives of others, from the least to the greatest.

This is the message of today’s passage, and while it applies to our involvement in this life as the hands and feet of Christ to our neighbours, to be prepared to see and meet Christ in the poor and lonely and marginalized in the here and now, it invites us to be resolved to live in such a way as to be prepared to be counted among the sheep at Jesus’ right hand.  It is an invitation to take the risk of stepping outside of our prayers and liturgy (our comfort zone) and get involved in the lives of those in need – it is an invitation to do the best we can, recognizing that however well we plan, we will fall or fail from time to time, but with God’s grace we will get up and try again – it is an invitation to roll up our sleeves to work toward the kingdom for Christ our King, and get our hands dirty in the need of those around us.

Or to use the words of Miss Frizzle – ‘take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!’

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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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17th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year A)

Yet again, our Gospel passage from St. Matthew recounts the parables of Jesus concerning the ‘Kingdom of heaven’; this week, we hear Jesus comparing the kingdom to a field with a great treasure concealed in it, or a pearl of tremendous value. Those who discover this treasure or find this pearl ‘sell everything they had’ to buy the field or the pearl.

Jesus clearly tells us throughout the gospels that the Kingdom of heaven is not just a far off place that we are able to enter after we pass from this life. If we focus solely on that, then it is easy to slip into the mindset that God too is far off and impossible to encounter and live with on this side of the veil.

God’s kingdom begins here and now, in this life. God, the Creator and Lord of all is always present to His creation. Quite often it is His creatures that are not present to Him. This becomes quite evident when we see the horrible suffering inflicted on Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria; when we witness the fighting and killing in Israel and Gaza; when we hear of the violence in the Ukraine.

Perhaps we don’t consider this as evident in our own neighbourhoods or homes or communities; but it is just as apparent in those times and places when we are unkind to each other; when we select the bad over the good because it is ‘popular’ or ‘socially acceptable’ to do so.

We can’t fool ourselves into thinking God is not present all the time, calling His children to love and serve and care for each other, every day, everywhere. That is where the Kingdom of heaven, the Reign of God begins; here and now.

And in those times when we truly and deeply experience that encounter with God, it is indeed a tremendous treasure, an incredibly valuable prize – in fact, when anyone has a deep, authentic experience of God’s presence they would rather stay there than anywhere else; they would give everything up in that moment to remain there – to have that ‘treasure’.

While that treasure is something we should always be seeking and willing to sacrifice our own selfish pleasures for, it is not something that we can clutch and grasp and hold all to ourselves. It is meant to be shared, to be extended to all people. It is in this way that the Kingdom becomes self-evident in our world. It is in this way that we make those small steps towards reconciliation in our own day-to-day lives and, just perhaps, extend that sense of love and compassion and reconciliation to others.

God’s Kingdom does not enter into our lives when we don’t seek or desire it. It doesn’t become the ‘place where we dwell’ if we encounter that ‘treasure’ and decline the movement to possess it.

May God grant us the grace as individuals and as a people to strive for that treasure, and the generosity of spirit to share it with each other.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

16th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year A)

Our gospel readings continue this week from where they left off last week, in the midst of a number of parables Jesus used to teach the people and His disciples, recorded for us by St. Matthew. Once again Jesus uses, among others, a parable involving seeds and sowing or scattering – but this time, rather than talking about the type of crop produced given the right conditions, He talks about the influence of different types of seeds, and the consequences of following those influences – and the ultimate destination of one crop over another.

In the first parable, Jesus talks about weeds among the wheat.  As He further explains later in this passage to His disciples, this first parable is clearly about final judgement; heaven or hell.  The wheat’s ultimate destination is to be gathered into the barn while the weeds are gathered and destroyed.  While we might be too caught up in our day-to-day living to concern ourselves with questions of eternal salvation or condemnation, it’s important to realize that, as in these parables, it is in our day-to-day lives that we determine the choice between those ultimate destinations ourselves.

All too often, it is possible to sow weeds among the wheat in our own lives.  We might plant the wheat of prayer, participating in the life of the Church, practicing almsgiving, charity and kindness.  We might volunteer our time to help out in food banks, seniors’ homes, hospitals and shelters.  We may make a special effort to assist one of our neighbours who has no way to get to appointments, or help out babysitting a friend’s child to help them take the time to focus on a particular task.  These are all good things.   Centred on Christ, these can all be great things.  They are all ‘wheat’ seeds, if you will, that carry the potential to influence those around us, to encourage them to do likewise, and to come to know Jesus in a practical, concrete way.

At the same time, though, we might allow ‘weeds’ to creep in and grow in the midst of that wheat.  If we offer to take on part of a neighbour’s burden, and then complain to someone else about how hard we have to work to help that neighbour; if we involve ourselves in ministry enthusiastically, only to find that since it wasn’t what we thought it should be like, we might participate haphazardly; we may be very active in a group that furthers the community work of the Church, yet gossip about how other people participate in that activity or community; we might preach to others how to keep God’s commandments and never make an effort to follow them in our own lives.

Each one of these ‘weeds’ can actually become the fruit by which we are known, and by extension, by which Christ and His Church is known in our own communities and circles.  These weeds take time to mature, but when they do, and we engage in honest reflection, we can – as the Master pointed out in the parable – uproot them from the ‘fields’ that are our lives, permanently removing them to ‘the furnace’ so that they don’t choke off the wheat or good crops, and thus poison whatever fruit we have to offer Our Lord in return for His goodness to us.

And just as weeds can spread beyond our fields, so our behaviour can spread and influence others.  We need to uproot these weeds so they don’t spread into the fields of others’ lives.  We need only to share the ‘wheat’, the good fruit produced by the seed of the Spirit that was sown in our own hearts by Jesus.  This is how we will be known truly as His disciples.

This is why we will be gathered into His barn.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!