September 20, 2020
Hear to Serve …
“AM I YOUR FAVORITE?”
Our grandchildren stayed with us recently, and it made me remember something about children that I had forgotten. Their ages are 7, 5, and 3. They are normal kids and get along for the most part. But there are times when they all vie for attention. All of a sudden they are all saying, "Look at me. Did you see what I did?" If one comes and sits by you, they are suddenly all fighting to sit by you. You can sometimes feel like a jungle gym set, as they jockey for position to be the favorite one. I had also forgotten that young children have no idea of the concept that love from a parent or grandparent is there for all of them. There are no favorites; they are loved equally no matter if they are the youngest or oldest or what kind of talents they have.
In Matthew's Gospel today we hear Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard. These workers remind me of young children. Some of the workers want to be the most important one; they don’t want the other workers to have what they have. They want the landowner to recognize them as doing the most, and they want to be the most important one in the landowner’s eyes. They have a hard time understanding the concept that to the landowner they are valued equally.
We usually steer our thoughts towards money, and wealth when we hear this parable of the workers in the vineyard. This parable is really about the wealth of God’s love, which goes deeper and far beyond any of our earthly sense of fairness.
We have to realize that God’s love is always present and ready to be given without exception, as long as we open ourselves up to it. It doesn’t matter if we come to God’s love late or early in our lives, the end result is the same. We can’t do anything special or put in extra hours. We can’t get closer to God than the next person. It doesn’t matter what color our skin is or what kind of accent we have. It doesn’t matter if we are rich or poor. It doesn’t matter if we are straight or gay, young or old, shy or outgoing. There is no number one spot to have when it comes to God's love.
God is pure love. He will always love us no matter what. We just have to open ourselves to His love. God’s love is inexhaustible. God calls out sinners and the marginalized. God wants everyone to come into His everlasting life.
As we accept God’s love, we are called to share His love with everyone we meet. We are not to be misers or hoard God's love to ourselves. We are not to try and impose our standards or our idea of righteousness to God's love. As Christ’s disciples, we are required to embrace and share the Good News with everyone, and not use the Good News as a cause of resentment for some.
We are not little children anymore. We have to know that with our Father in Heaven there is no number one. We are all equal in His eyes. He loves us all the same. All we have to do is open ourselves up to God's love, do what we are called to do, and let God worry about the rest.
September 13, 2020
Hear to Serve …
“OVER AND OVER AGAIN!”
Once again, Peter just doesn’t know when to keep quiet and leave well enough alone. He just had to ask Jesus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me how often must I forgive?” Jesus replies, “I say to you not seven times but seventy-seven times.” The people in Jesus’ time understood these words very clearly. Jesus meant we have to forgive our brother over and over again. It doesn’t pay to count the number of times because our forgiveness of another’s transgressions against us should never end. Our forgiveness is to be limitless.
I don’t think there is anyone who hasn’t been hurt, beaten down, or wronged by another. We become angry. However, aren’t we always told that we shouldn’t become angry, that anger is one of the Seven Deadly Sins? We are human, and anger is a human emotion. However, we have a choice. The path we take our anger down will make all the difference. We can turn our anger towards revenge and vengeance, or we can move towards love and forgiveness. How we handle that anger tells the world if we are truly Disciples of Christ or not.
If we take our anger and turn it towards revenge, hatred, acts of violence, all in the name of gaining the upper hand to show our superiority then we have committed that deadly sin. Violence leads to more violence. Hatred churns in our hearts and causes bitter words, broken relationships, and more hatred. Anger can easily get out of control.
Jesus calls us to forgive. But He isn’t telling us to forgive and forget. No, Jesus is calling us to a higher standard of forgiveness. To forgive and to forget is to banish our transgressor into exile. To forgive and not forget means to call our transgressor into a community with us, where we share in equality with everyone. We are not supposed to take an issue and hide it or pretend it does not exist. No, we are to confront all issues in the light of Christ.
If you remember Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, they didn’t turn injustice, hatred, and anger into an excuse to seek vengeance or to gain superiority. They wanted to turn the injustices, the hatred, and the anger into a love that brought equality and community to all people. There are many things happening in our world today that require the understanding, healing, and forgiveness that Jesus is talking about.
Now, if you are sitting and reading this thinking, "That’s all well and good, but it’s different in my case,” remember the first paragraph from Sirach in today’s readings. “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for He remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbors injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” We may think that we do not contribute to the big issues we hear about on the news, but any anger that we do not deal with, any unforgiveness we hold on to contributes to injustice.
So, let us take our anger and turn it towards love, towards forgiving and drawing our transgressors into community with ourselves. Let us not point our anger towards vengeance, because that only leads to exile. Not only exile for our transgressor, but exile for us from God and his love.
September 6, 2020
Hear to Serve …
“CONFLICT RESOLUTION 101”
As we join Jesus today in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus is trying to teach us, his disciples, how to handle conflict in a peaceful manner that builds community and brotherhood, not tears us apart at the seams. We are to approach difficult situations and differences of opinion in a way that uses love, not hate.
Jesus tells us if we have a grievance with our brother, we must go to them, let them know what the issue is, and try to solve the issue on the first level. We are not to let things fester inside of us nor let the situation get out of hand. Then Jesus tells us that if our brother doesn't listen, we should take someone else with us to help present the issue and try to help them see the light.
This sounds reasonable, but Jesus throws in this statement, “So every fact may be established.” What this means, according to the notes in my Bible, is that a person shouldn’t be convicted on just one person’s testimony. There should be two or three that agree to the accusations or agree that the other person is truly in the wrong. We have to carefully listen to and consider the other person's side. We have to make sure that our opinion is firmly rooted in the truth. Jesus then goes on to say if this doesn’t solve the issue, we must go to a higher authority. Jesus uses the Church. The point is that we slowly build up to more severe measures in our disputes with others.
Finally, Jesus tells us if that person still doesn’t get the point we are to treat them as a Gentile or tax collector. What did Jesus do with Gentiles and tax collectors? Jesus loved them even more. Jesus went to their homes. He talked to them. He ate with them. Jesus didn’t shun them or treat them as dirt. Jesus loved those who needed love the most.
It seems as the year 2020 progresses, there are so many who need a class in the kind of love taught in today's Gospel. We see police shootings that seem to be racially targeted. We see protesters that are peaceful and trying to do good work but their efforts are overshadowed by protesters who loot and burn. Right here in Kenosha, WI we have a young man charged with shooting two other protesters. We have politicians whose greatest skill seems to be using social media to put out derogatory and misleading statements. We have federal and state legislators who seem to refuse to work together on anything. We have people fighting each other on how to fight the Covid-19 Pandemic. And we have the news media stirring the pot. In all of this, where is the kind of conflict resolution Jesus taught?
It starts with us. Have we always been up front and honest with people that have hurt us or have we found it easier to just stop associating with them? Have we repeated stories about coworkers or neighbors instead of taking the time to establish all the facts? Have we ever been part of that "secret group" that meets and solves our organizations problems from a dark booth in a restaurant instead of bringing the problem into the light? Are our opinions based on the teachings of the Church? Do we pray for those whose opinions are different from our own or whose actions we do not understand?
Saint Paul's message today reflects Jesus' starting point for conflict resolution. He says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor: hence love is the fulfillment of the law.” This is what Jesus calls us to do with our Gentiles and tax collectors, love them . . love them.
August 30, 2020
Pastor’s Perspective …
“THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP”
The readings for this Mass remind us that Christian discipleship demands honesty, the willingness to suffer, generosity and readiness to follow Jesus by obeying his commandment of love.
Our readings today explain how this Christian mission should be accomplished. Jeremiah, in the first reading, is certainly a prototype of the suffering Christ. In our second reading, St. Paul advices the Romans and all of us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God, by explicitly rejecting the ungodly behavior of the world around us and by discerning and do-ing the will of God.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus takes his disciples by surprise when, after Peter’s great profession of faith, he announces that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the hands of the elders, the chief priest and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. After correcting Peter's protest, Jesus announces the three conditions for Christian discipleship: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.
Some time ago when I was in Nigeria, there was this advertisement on the television by one of the “new generation” Churches. It said in part, “Come to Eagle’s Square. As soon as you step into that square, all your problems will vanish.” I asked myself what was being advertised. Was it a religion, the Christian religion or rather a commercial product, “a pain killer”, like Panadol or Aleve? “Take two Panadol tablets and your headache will vanish at once.”
That was not how Jesus advertised Christianity. Our Gospel reading today tells us how Jesus advertised Christianity: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
It follows that the cross is part and parcel of the Christian religion. A crossless Christianity does not exist; it has not yet been invented. If it were possible to be a Christian without carrying the cross, Jesus would most certainly have shown us how. Rather he himself carried his own cross all the way to Calvary. He drank the cup of suffering to the dregs, and invited his followers to take up their own cross and follow him on that same road. That road led to his resurrection and glorification. The same road will lead to our own resurrection and glorification. No other road will lead us there.
The Gospel of Christ is like a coin with two sides: the cross and the crown. If we try to embrace one side, the glorious side, and reject the other, the suffering side, we falsify the Gospel. The same Jesus who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” also said “If anyone wants to become a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Do we come to Jesus to be freed from our burdens or do we come to Jesus to take on the cross?
August 23, 2020
Pastor’s Perspective …
“ALL POWER BELONGS TO GOD”
The main message for today’s liturgy of the word is that God is the source of all power. God shares his authority to elected civil leaders to serve the people and to the Pope and the other church leaders for the material and spiritual welfare of his children.
Prophet Isaiah in our first reading tells us how God hates unfaithful and selfish officials by describing how he removed the proud “master of the royal palace,” Shebna from his office and promoted the humble and faithful Eliakim. The robe, the sash, and the keys are the insignia of this office. In today’s psalm, David thanks God for having raised him from lowly origins and given him authority as king over the people of Israel.
And in the second reading, St. Paul praises God for the depth of his wisdom and knowledge and correct judgments, and asserts that he is the source of all authority on earth and in heaven.
Today’s Gospel passage describes how Peter confesses Jesus as his Lord and Savior and how Jesus, in turn, approves it and gives the teaching and ruling authority of his Church to Peter, thus establishing a leadership role in his Church to serve the spiritual and physical needs of the Church. By his statement: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven” Jesus gives Peter and his successors the power to bind and to loose (make laws; exercise authority) in the Church, and the assurance that their decisions will be ratified in heaven.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, God has also given us power to lead in different ways in our families and in the Church. He is expecting us to carry out our duties faithfully by leading the people he has placed in our care according to his plan and purpose. Our first reading today shows us that God is watching on how we are carrying out our duties in our different capacities; as teachers, politicians, parents, doctors, business owners, priests, or whatever position we have, we must understand that we will be held responsible for our decisions and leadership.
God expects us to be faithful leaders in whatever capacity he has placed us. Let us reflect and ask ourselves how faithful we have been in our different leadership positions? We must understand that whatever position we are today is not all about us, we are only sharing from God’s authority, and should be able to lead those under us according to the mind of God.
August 16, 2020
Pastor’s Perspective …
“FAITH AND PERSEVERANCE IN PRAYER”
The Canaanite woman in our Gospel reading today was a gentile; a “pagan” from the Jewish point of view. She was not a believer in the one God of Israel. She was rather a believer in many gods, and possibly an idol worshiper too. But she had two important attributes that even the Jews needed to develop, and every Christian needs to develop even today. Those attributes are faith and perseverance. Incidentally, they are also two attributes that we need to bring to our prayers for them to be well made, for them to be efficacious.
The Canaanite woman had enough faith to believe that Jesus had power to heal her daughter. Therefore, she went to ask him to do just that. It so happened that, Jesus always demanded faith before performing a miracle. Maybe that was his way of getting the beneficiaries of his miracles involved in their own healing.
The Canaanite woman was persistent. Even when it appeared that Jesus was not going to help her, she persevered in pleading with him. She did not even take offense at Jesus' remark that “It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.” Her response amazed even Jesus to the extent that he praised her faith: “Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.”
Jesus, of course, knew what he was going to do all along. But he just wanted to test the woman's faith, how deep it was. The woman passed the test with distinction, and got what she asked for. In doing so, she taught both the Jews in her time and us in our own time an enduring lesson on prayer.
If we want our prayers to be answered by God, we must make them with faith. We must believe unflinchingly that God can do what we are asking and that he will do it for us; That is, God is not just able to do what we are asking, but also willing. He loves us enough and cares enough to want to do for us whatever is best for us.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we must persevere in prayer. We should not give up simply because the answer to our prayer is taking time to come. Remember that God's time is always the best. If we give up, we are the losers, because then, we are never going to get what we are asking for. But if we persevere, there is not just a chance, but a certainty that we shall receive the answer to our prayer in a way that God alone knows is best for us. It may not be in the way that we want it, but it will be in the way that God wants it, and it will always be the best for us.
When next our prayers take time to be answered, keep in mind the story of the Canaanite woman and also that God’s time is always the best.
August 9, 2020
Pastor’s Perspective …
“LOOK UP TO JESUS”
Simon Peter had faith. Only a man of faith would accept an invitation from a ghost--as he thought that Jesus was--to step out of a boat and attempt to walk across water, any water, as he did in our Gospel reading today. The trouble was that the sea was rough, “for there was a bad wind”. Peter walked confidently until he felt the force of the wind. He became distracted and took his eyes off Jesus. That was when he began to sink, and Jesus had to take him by the hand to prevent him from drowning.
A lot of people play one ball game or another. It may be football, basketball, tennis, table tennis, cricket, hockey or golf. Those who know these games always tell you to keep your eyes on the ball. The moment you take your eyes off the ball, you are bound to make a mistake. That is when a goal keeper will let in a cheap goal, a tennis player will put the ball into the net, and a golfer will miss the ball altogether.
Somehow, when it comes to religion, a similar advice can be given: “Keep your eyes on Jesus.” That was what Peter stopped doing, and he began to sink. In his own case it was fear that made him take his eyes off Jesus: “... as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink.”
Something like that can happen in the life of a Christian. We start off with a great deal of faith. We believe in Jesus. We believe that he is there for us, that he is both able and willing to come to our help in any situation. At that time, we have our eyes fixed on Jesus. But let some difficulty or problem crop up in our life, and many of us will become disoriented. It could be a serious illness, a pandemic, loss of job, a serious fi-nancial crisis, a court case, failed or failing marriage, or childlessness.
We are distracted, and we take our eyes off Jesus. We begin instead to look in other directions for solutions to our problems. Some people have been known to begin to seek refuge in occultism, secret cult, secret society or even witchcraft and so on. All of a sudden, Jesus is relegated to the background, if not repudiated altogether. At that point we find ourselves sinking and may be at the very point of drowning.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to trust Jesus for he is always there to take us by the hand, so that we do not drown, as he did to Peter. Peter had to reach out in his own turn, and take Jesus' hand. When we are in trouble, we too must do the same, if we do not want to drown. We must reach out to take the hand of Jesus. The way to do this is to renew our faith in Jesus and set our eyes back firmly on him.
We must reject all the idols we have erected for ourselves as solutions to our problems, for they cannot be the solutions; in fact, they are part of our problems. The sooner we let go of them, the freer we shall be to take the hand of Jesus and be saved from drowning.
August 2, 2020
Pastor’s Perspective …
“GOD'S LOVE AND DIVINE PROVIDENCE”
The central message for today's readings is the divine providence of a loving and merciful God who generously shares his riches with us, giving us his Son Jesus as our spiritual food, preparing us for the heavenly banquet, and challenging us to share our blessings with others.
After announcing the return of God's chosen people to their homeland from Babylonian captivity, the prophet Isaiah, in today's first reading, concludes his prophecies with God's invitation to the eschatological banquet. God's gracious invitation in the first reading is echoed by the Psalmist who asks the people to respond by praising and blessing God.
In the second reading, Paul argues that since God loves us, “nothing can come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Jesus, in our Gospel reading, demonstrates God's love and divine providence by miraculously feeding a multitude of people in a remote, desolate village called Bethsaida Julius, where the River Jordan flows into the north end of the sea of Galilee. Jesus acts out of his great compassion for the crowds.
First he challenges his disciples to give what they have - five loaves and two fish. Then he performs the four-fold action that prefigures the Eucharist: He takes, blesses, breaks and gives the bread and fish to the crowd, making of them a community of the Lord's banquet. Just as God supplies the needs of all living beings, so Jesus also heals the sick and feeds the hungry.
My brothers and sister in Christ, the Liturgy of the Word for today's Mass is reminding us that God really cares about his people and that there is enough and more than enough for everybody.
We all share responsibility for the fact that some people are still undernourished. It is necessary at this time to arouse a sense of responsibility in individuals, especially among those more blessed with material goods. It is too easy to blame God, too easy to blame the governments, too easy to see poverty, hunger and lack of jobs as other people's problems. They are also our problems.
That is the meaning of the Eucharist we celebrate here today. In other words, as Christians we have to commit ourselves to share and to work with God in communicating his love and compassion to all. God is a caring father, but he wants our cooperation. That is what the early Christians did, generously sharing what they had with the needy.
They were convinced that everything they needed to experience people around them. People of our time have to be encouraged to share their gifts and talents, even when they think they have nothing to offer. Whatever we offer through Jesus will have a life giving effect in those who receive it.
Our Gospel passage today shows us two attitudes: that of Philip and that of Andrew. Philip said, in effect: “The situation is hopeless; nothing can be done.” But Andrew's attitude was: “I will see what I can do, and I will trust Jesus to do the rest.” Like Andrew and the little boy, let us give what we have to God. For it is when we give what we have to God and ask him to bless it that miracles happen.