6th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year A)

Our society seems to have a really difficult time when it comes to admitting that sometimes one thing is better than the other (unless it’s a sports competition like the Olympics).  Rather than encouraging our young people to strive to excel at school, for example, we minimize the achievements of some, so that others won’t feel less successful; instead of holding out the example of excellence, we celebrate mediocrity so that no one ‘feels bad’ – as if we can shield them from disappointment or struggles their entire lives.  This attitude permeates our entire culture.

This attitude is often reflected in our personal relationships with God.  We seem to act as if we can be minimalist in our approach to our Creator.

We may hear someone say, ‘well I’ve never sinned; I haven’t killed anyone or robbed a bank’ as if this is the threshold of acceptable behavior or sin.  I’m sure we can all agree that there are things short of killing someone that are not acceptable – or other ways of stealing that may be less than robbing a bank; and I’m sure we can all agree that these ‘lesser’ offences are no less offensive.  But if we continually use the extreme as the example or threshold of what we can ‘get away with’, then we do the opposite of what we are called to in our spiritual life (and indeed in our Christian journey); we fall into a trap – a mindset where we rationalize our own words and actions to minimize the damage they do to our own relationship with others, and to somehow fool ourselves into thinking that we are not distancing ourselves from a relationship of deep love with God.

We know the consequences of our actions, whether we choose to openly admit it or not; if we continually speak in anger or uncharitably to another, eventually that relationship will be beyond repair – if we look outside our relationships with lust, eventually that will have a damaging effect on the relationships we are in.  And God allows us to freely choose; in the first reading from Sirach, we hear, “Before each person are life and death, good and evil, and whichever one chooses, that will be given.”  God doesn’t force us to truly love him or to truly love others; but there is a responsibility we face for all of our choices and an accountability for them; it says a little later in this same passage, God “has not given anyone permission to sin.”

Perhaps we need to reacquaint ourselves with the word ‘sin’; we don’t like the word, however we have come to know its meaning; but just ignoring it because we don’t like it doesn’t deny its existence.  In its simplest terms, sin means anything – thoughts, words, actions – in which we deliberately choose those things which draw us away from God, towards our selves.

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives pretty serious examples – and then shows how much higher that bar should be raised; he refers to the Law of Moses, and says it basically presents us with a threshold for our exterior actions; but it’s a minimum threshold if we are truly serious about living a life in complete and total union with God.  The Law says not to commit adultery, but then Jesus says if we look at another person with lust, we have already committed adultery in our hearts; the Law says not to murder, but then Jesus says if we are angry or insulting in our words to others, we will face judgment.  It sounds like an impossible task for our fallen human nature – and it is. This whole Gospel passage underscores our need to rely on God’s grace in helping us to live and act in union with Him and with each other.

While these words from Jesus sound very harsh, there is also great love in them.  He is reminding all of us that rather than satisfy ourselves with some ‘minimalist’ threshold of thought or action, we are called for nobler, greater, and far more wondrous things than we could possibly imagine; and it all starts with the intentions of our hearts.  If our thoughts and words and actions constantly center on ourselves, our wants, our personal desires, then eventually we will find ourselves drawn deeper into ourselves and further away from God and others. If our desire is fixed on God, and we nurture that desire, then we will be drawn more and more towards that union of great and deep and awesome love; and that union will find itself expressed more and more in our own thoughts and words and actions; and those external expressions will find us growing more deeply in our relationship with all of those around us.

While Jesus’ words are words of warning, they are also words of encouragement and support; rather than trying to rationalize selfish behaviours (and that’s very hard work), we can simply admit to ourselves that we cannot possibly attain God without His love and the help that Christ holds out to us.  That admission frees us from all of the other ‘work’ and ‘weight’ of trying to rationalize our own actions, and opens us up to the grace of God’s strength and love.  And we cannot imagine what that relationship holds out for us.  Because as the author of 1st Corinthians tell us, “… no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

hands

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

If there is ever an event that can cause the most drastic swing of emotions, it would have to be when a parent loses or at least ‘thinks’ they have lost their child.  The absolute sense of dread and panic; of sheer terror is, if not the worst, then certainly among the worst things one could ever experience.  But the flood of emotions experienced when we find that child again; relief, exasperation, and joy are just as intense. We don’t care how they ‘got back’; we’re only glad that they are back.

It is at these times that we realize it is not important what we have; what we own; we would give it all up just to have our child with us; to keep them close; because that relationship between a parent and their child is what is most important; it is the relationship that makes a family; it is that relationship that fills us with joy.

We are presented in today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke with three parables from Jesus, who is trying to , once again, explain to some of the Pharisees why it is so important that he associates with the lost and the broken, the outcasts;  the ones whom the Pharisees refer to as ‘sinners’.  It’s interesting to note the wording of the comment by the Pharisees:  they say” This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  That phrase, ‘this fellow welcomes’ would give us a hint that Jesus is actually not just a guest of honour, but actually hosted gatherings; it’s not that he happened to be at public gatherings, like a parish potluck dinner and the ‘sinners’ happen to show up:  Jesus would host events at which he encouraged and welcomed those who had drifted away from their faith, and from a relationship with God to come back.

In relating these three parables, Jesus says the return of those who have distanced themselves from God, who have broken their relationship with God, is indeed a cause for rejoicing, not just in a family, or local parish church, but in heaven itself: Jesus states it quite plainly: “I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the Angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  If there was ever a passage in Scripture that shouts encouragement for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, this is it.

Each of the three parables seems to hold a graduating degree of ‘fault’ on the part of that which is lost: we have an innocent little lamb that just kind of wanders off for no particular reason; we have a coin that is ‘misplaced’; but it is in the third parable, the one we have come to call the Prodigal Son – or perhaps better The Loving Father – where the responsibility of becoming ‘lost’ really rests with the conscious decisions of the one who wanders away.  It’s really quite a study in our relationship with our Creator, and is just as relevant to our society today as it was in first century Palestine.

The younger son is not interested in a relationship with his father; “give me my share of the property that will belong to me,” He’s talking about an inheritance – well, ordinarily to receive an inheritance, the original owner of the property has to die.  In essence, what this younger son is saying to his father is, ‘I wish you were dead. I have no interest in you or being part of your ‘family’; I just want your property that would come to me if you were no longer around.  I want what you have – I just don’t want you.”  How often do we hear that echoed in our own society; a society that is all too happy to take everything that God has provided, but rejects a relationship with God – at times even rejects the existence of God.

Well, the father gives this younger son half of his property, an unusual move in the culture of Jesus time, and as we read, the younger son takes this abundance and squanders it all, living a life completely counter to his culture, his religion, and his family’s honour.

And when he finally hits rock bottom, the Gospel says, he comes ‘to his senses.’ And decides to return home; but it’s not really for any high-minded ideal or deep sense of conviction; it’s because he’s broke, and hungry; and he knows his father will at the very least feed him.  And as he is on his return home, it is the father who sees him from a distance and runs out to meet him; the son has a speech he has prepared; a set of conditions to offer his father in return for his coming home – but the father doesn’t let him complete his speech (especially the part about treating him like one of the servants) but in joy makes a tremendous show of welcoming his wayward son home.  In effect, he says to the boy, that it’s not important to him why his son has returned; it only matters that he has returned home and the father welcomes him back into relationship.

Even the elder son starts to drift away from relationship; he complains to his father about all the work he has done and how his father hasn’t given him a small goat in exchange for his efforts to have a little party;  the elder son is sounding like he expects something from the father – as if the father ‘owes’ him ‘something’ in exchange for his years of loyal service; but he too misses the point; that everything the father has to give him is his for the asking; but what is really important is the relationship between the father and his children.

We may be tempted to view this parable only in relation to those who have committed some great grievous and public sin; or those who in some very visible way have broken faith with God and with the Church; or those whose lifestyles we may ‘judge’ as not in keeping with the Gospel values.

But the truth is, every time we say or do anything that is contrary to the teachings of Christ and His Church; each time we sin, even in a small way, we distance ourselves from God; we turn away from that closeness of that relationship with God.  We take the gifts that God has given us, and in effect behave like the younger son in the parable of the prodigal and say, ‘I’m more interested in what I can get from you, than being close to you; I will take everything you have to give me, but I don’t want a relationship with you because that suggests commitment and changing my focus from me to you.”

Fortunately for us, God is like the father in this parable; yes, the son has to make the first move, deciding he wants to return home, but that’s the extent of his work in this ‘reunion’.  The father is constantly watching the horizon, waiting for the day that his child will come back to him;

However we stray or wander away from God, He always waits for us to return.  Whenever we admit our own failings, and turn back to Him, to re-enter that relationship with Him, He rejoices with the angels.  He runs to meet us, and embraces us, and He says to each of us, “I’m just glad you’re home.”

prodigal son

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

18th Sunday Ordinary Time

There are many times in each of our lives, when our plans just don’t work out – when events that we might have set in motion, or circumstances beyond our control, take all of our schedules, activities and organizational goals and render them useless.  It might be an economic downturn wiping out a stock portfolio; it might be an injury which halts a career in sports; it might be putting a repair job off for another day, only to have a bigger repair job as a result. 

As Christians, we need to constantly be on guard that we have not put our ambitions, and goals for acquiring ‘things’ ahead of God.  We can have dreams, yes, and goals and hopes – but if our heart is set only on getting and having more and more, directed towards our selves – then this is the opposite of what God calls us to, and what Christ commands us to do.  We can acquire things or enjoy accomplishments, but if these are gained by exploiting others, then the law of God and the teaching of the Church tells us that this is wrong. 

This priority of relationship with God is reflected in our personal lives; we might say to ourselves – “I’m really busy building my career, or gathering property, taking care of my desires, but “someday, I’m going to visit an elderly relative;  someday, I’m going to do something nice for my neighbour;  someday, I’m going to do this or that activity with my children;  but as life so often tells us, and the parable of the rich man in today’s Gospel reminds us, ‘someday’ might never come at all.   

We might find ourselves saying, I want to work on my relationship with God; someday I’m going to go to the Sacrament of Confession; someday, I’m going to spend more time in prayer; someday, I’m going to clothe the poor, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless; but then life changes literally in a heartbeat, and all of our plans to ‘someday’ grow closer to God are suddenly gone. 

We seem to forget the wisdom of our grandparents or parents who reminded us that when we have a real priority to attend to, that rather than putting it off, that there is no time like the present. 

In the 1500’s in Spain, a young man named Ignazio spend his life dreaming and planning of one day being a great knight; he came from a family of some means, which meant he could spend time at the royal courts, surrounded by people of wealth and privilege.  He spent his youth in pursuit of glory and honour in a military career; he loved to read and hear stories of adventure and valour – and although he was Catholic, his relationship with God was not particularly high on his priority list. 

Ignazio, as a soldier, participated in a number of skirmishes and battles that were part of the everyday life of Europe in that period in history – this was, after all, how one built a military career and advanced towards gathering a reputation and standing in that society.  But in one of these battles, he was struck by a cannon ball, which shattered his leg. 

In that instant, his life completely changed; due to events that he had set in motion, combined with circumstances beyond his control, Ignazio’s plans meant nothing.  He was taken from the battlefield, and after being treated for his injuries, went to the estate of a friend to recover.  He spent a considerable amount of time convalescing, and during this time, looked for something to read.  He was hoping to find books of adventure and romantic tales, but could only find stories of the life of Christ, and the lives of the Saints.  

Ignazio began reading these stories and found the beginnings of an inner stirring that would mark the start of a profound conversion in his life.  He would no longer seek out military honour, but would instead seek to move closer to God, to make a return to God in love for all that God had given him.  Over time Ignazio would dedicate himself completely to God, becoming a priest and founding a congregation of priests and brothers that would spread out as missionaries, traveling throughout the known world, the new world and the far east, covering the globe to spread the Gospel .  This congregation would be known as the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, and Ignazio, their founder, might be more familiar to us as St. Ignatius of Loyola, whose feast day is celebrated July 31st

In today’s passage from St. Luke, Jesus reminds us in the parable of the rich man just how fragile our lives and circumstances are; how in an instant all of our circumstances can change, and the decisions and actions we take in this life will indeed have a bearing on our eternity. 

Our desire to be with God should not simply be based on a fear of punishment; our desire to be with God should be out of the instinct within our souls – to be with and love God simply because He loves us. The rich man set his heart on material wealth – on gaining more and more; the implication in the way Jesus teaches this parable is that the rich man gave no thought to the needs of others, or the justice of having far more than he could possibly use while others were in need, or even his relationship with God. 

Maybe he was thinking there would be other times to get to know God, or what God wanted in his life.  Perhaps he was thinking that there would be lots of opportunities once he accomplished his gathering of wealth to maybe give a little time to considering God.  We don’t know – this is not part of the story. 

Maybe this is reflected in our own lives – we can become so busy in business, in social climbing, in gathering ‘things’ that we may think nothing of God or very little of God – perhaps we are thinking there will be plenty of time for this later. 

Truly God’s love is without limit.  God’s mercy is also limitless.  But the opportunities we have to spend time in prayer; to participate in the Sacraments; to reach out in love to the poor and the marginalized in our world; to grow into a deeper relationship with God – these opportunities are limited by the fact that we are mortal, and in our lifetimes we do not have an unlimited number of days. 

We can choose, as did the rich man in this parable, to spend our lives completely absorbed in gaining more and more in material wealth, in privilege, in possessions, in power; or we can choose to accept all as a gift from God, and to base our life on a relationship with God.  That from this relationship we can determine what the real priorities are in our lives, and build our lives on those priorities – always keeping in mind that we were created to be united to Our Creator – that is why Jesus entered into our humanity – to offer Himself to re-unite us with God. 

Jesus doesn’t say we can’t have ‘things’, or not to make any kinds of plans;  what he does say, though, is that these ‘things’ and  ‘plans’ cannot take priority over our relationship with God, because we will not be spending eternity with our physical things or wealth.  In choosing a time to express our desire to grow closer and to spend eternity with God, there is no time “like the present”; in our participation at Mass; in our prayer; in our receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. 

Unlike the rich man in the parable, we need to be ‘rich for God’; to spend time in building or deepening our relationship with God – and rather than waiting for ‘some day’ to do this, we begin in the present moment, right now; in simply taking a moment in the depths of our hearts to say, “yes God, I do love You – help me to grow closer to You in my heart and my soul and my will.”   

birds over blowing rocks

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!