The Hidden Mass in Today’s Gospel and the Perfect Thanksgiving – A Meditation on the Gospel for the 28th Sunday of the Year

One of the great human inadequacies is rendering proper and adequate thanks to God. Perhaps the biggest problem is that we don’t even know 90% of what he does for us. It is hid from our eyes. A further problem is that we tend, in our fallen condition, to be wired to magnify our distresses and problems and minimize or discount the enormous blessings of each moment. God sustains every fiber of our being and every atom of creation, his hidden blessings  are countless. But we get angry if our iPod is malfunctioning or if one or two out of the trillion blessings he gives is withdrawn.

But in the end an old gospel song says it well:

 I’ve got so much to thank God for; So many wonderful blessings  and so many open doors. A brand new mercy along with each new day. That’s why I praise You and for this I give You praise. For waking me up this morning , For starting me on my way, For letting me see the sunshine, of a brand new day. That’s why I praise You and for this I give You praise. So many times You´ve met my needs, So many times You rescued me. That’s why I praise You.

For every mountain You brought me over  For every trial you’ve seen me through.  For every blessing, For this I give You praise

Fundamental Question – So here is the question at the heart of today’s Gospel. It is best asked in the Book of Psalms: What return shall I make to the Lord for all the good he has done for me? The same psalm goes on to answer the question in this way: The cup of salvation I will take up and call on the name of the Lord. (Psalm 116:12)

The Mass is signified – Yes indeed, how can I possibly thank the Lord for all the good he has done for me? Notice that the psalm points to the Eucharist in saying, The cup of salvation I will take up….”  As you know the word “Eucharist” is a Greek  word which means, “thanksgiving.” We cannot thank God the Father adequately, but Jesus can. And in every Mass we join our meager thanksgiving to his perfect thanksgiving. Jesus takes up the cup of salvation and shows it to us at every Mass through the priest. This is the perfect and superabundant thanks that only Jesus can offer the Father. And he joins us to his perfect sacrifice of thanks in every Mass. This is how we give thanks in a way commensurate with the manifold blessings we have received.

Hidden Mass! – Now the Gospel makes this point, that the Mass is the perfect offering of thanks to the Father, in a remarkable and almost hidden way. But for Catholics it is right there for us to see if we have eyes to see it. For the Gospel today contains all the essential elements of Holy Mass. In so doing, this Gospel about giving thanks reminds us once again that it is the Mass which is the perfect thanksgiving, the perfect  “Eucharist.” Let’s look and see how it is a Mass:

  1. Gathering – Notice first that there is a gathering. Ten lepers (us) have gathered and Jesus comes near as he passes on his way. We do this in every Mass, we gather and the Lord draws near. Indeed, in the person of the priest, who is the sacrament, the sign of his presence, Jesus walks the aisle of our Church just like he walked those ancient roads.
  2. Kyrie – Next they cry out for mercy just like we do at every Mass: Lord have mercy! Jesus, Master, have pity on us!
  3. Liturgy of the Word – Next Jesus quotes Scripture and then applies it to their life  just like he does for us at every Mass. In saying, “Go show yourselves to the priests”  Jesus is referencing Leviticus 14 which gives detailed instructions on how the priests of old were to diagnose leprosy and also its having been cured. Jesus quotes this scripture and applies it to their life. This is what we do at every Mass wherein God’s Word is proclaimed and then the Lord Jesus, speaking through the priest or deacon, applies the text(s) to our life.
  4. Liturgy of the Eucharist – Next, the text says that one of them: fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. This is what we do during the Eucharistic prayer, we kneel and thank Jesus, and also, with Jesus,  give thanks to the Father. As we have noted, the word “Eucharist”  comes from Greek and means “to give thanks.” Here is the perfect thanks rendered to the Father. To those who say they can stay home and give adequate thanks to God, there should only be the rebuke that they are prideful. Only Jesus can give perfect thanks to the Father. And we can only give adequate thanks to Jesus by following his command to “do this in memory of me.” We have to be at Mass.
  5. Ite Missa est – Finally, Jesus sends him on his way, saying  Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.  We too are sent forth by Jesus at the end of every Mass when He speaks through the priest or deacon: “The Mass is ended, God in peace.”

So, there it is. In this Gospel that very clearly instructs us to give thanks to God is the very structure of the Mass. If you want to give proper thanks to God and you made it to Mass this morning, you’re in the right place. Only here is perfect and proper thanks given to God.

It was all prefigured in the psalm long ago:  What return shall I make to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?  The cup of salvation I will take up and call on the name of the Lord (Psalm 116:12).  It is the very cup of salvation, the chalice containing Christ’s blood that is held up at every Mass. It is the perfect sacrifice of thanks. It is the prescribed sacrifice of praise. It is the proper sacrifice of praise.

This video is of the Song I quoted above:

Five Fundamentals of a Firm Faith – A Meditation on the Readings for the 27th Sunday of the Year

The readings for today’s Mass provide a rich fare in describing some essential qualities of faith. Each of these amounts to a fundamental for firm faith. There are five fundamentals that can be seen:

1.  Want   The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”  (Luke 17:5-6). There’s an old saying, “What you want, you get.” It is true that many doubt this and think that they have wanted many things that they did not get. But it is likely they didn’t want it enough. Precluding physical impossibilities and other impossible things, when we really want something enough we usually get it. That’s because we work at it and have a passion for it.

Many people who say they cannot find time to pray or go to Church still find time to golf, watch TV and eat. They find the time because they want to do these things. They do not find time to pray or go to Mass because they do not want to do these things enough.

Hence, the apostles ask the Lord to increase their faith. In effect they ask for a deeper desire to know the Lord. Too often we miss a step in our prayer. We might ask the Lord to help us to pray when what we really should ask for is that the Lord give us a desire to pray. For, when we want to pray, we will  pray. When we want to be holy, we will naturally strive for holy practices. It is about what we desire, what we want. Ask the Lord to help you want Him and his kingdom. Ask the Lord for a new heart that has proper wants and desires. Ask the Lord for a new mind that has proper priorities and that prefers to think on what is good, true and beautiful. What you want, you get.

 2. Wait How long, O LORD? I cry for help  but you do not listen!  I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord. Then the LORD answered me and said:  Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets,  so that one can read it readily.  For the vision still has its time,  presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;  if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.  The rash one has no integrity(Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4) –

Waiting is one of the great mysteries of the Christian life. Why God often makes us wait is not always clear. Perhaps He is trying to strengthen our faith. Perhaps he is helping us clarify or confirm our desires. But, truth be told, waiting on the Lord has a lot of mystery about it. Nevertheless it is consistently told us in scripture that we must learn to wait on the Lord  and that there are blessings  for those who do.  For example:

  1. Ps 37:8 Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil….those who wait for the LORD shall possess the land.
  2. Is 49:23 those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.
  3. Lam 3:25  The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
  4. Is 40:31  but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

And so, waiting is a fundamental of firm faith. Gospel music is replete with waiting themes. One song says , You can’t Hurry God, you just have to wait, trust and never doubt him, no matter how long it takes. He may not come when you want him but he’s always right on time.  Another song says, Weeping may endure for a night but joy will come with the morning light. Other songs counsel that we must hold on and hold out:

  1. I promised the Lord that I would hold out, he said he’d meet me in Galilee
  2. Hold on just a little while longer, every thing’s gonna be alright
  3. Keep your hand on the plow…Hold on
  4. Lord help me to hold out, until my change comes!

The reading from Habakkuk above warns that the rash man has no integrity. That is another way of saying that waiting is integral to the Christian life. It is a fundamental of faith. To have integrity means to have all the necessary pieces and parts which make up the whole. To lack patience then is to lack integrity, to lack an essential fundamental of the Christian faith.

3. Withstand God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.   So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,  nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. (2 Tim 1:6-8)  This quote from today’s second reading tells us that life has its difficulties and challenges. Things do not always get easier by becoming a Christian. In fact, they often get harder since we must endure the hatred and ridicule of the world. Thus a fundamental of the Christian Faith is that we be able to withstand such things with courage.

Notice that this courage, power and love come from God, not from us. Hence it is grace that is being described here. This is not a moralism or a slogan. Withstanding means that God is “standing with” us, and we with God. Such withstanding is only possible by the relationship with God that comes by faith. In this way we discover the power, the capacity to withstand, to courageously live the Christian faith in a hostile world.

4. Work –  Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field,  ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?   Would he not rather say to him,  ‘Prepare something for me to eat.  Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.  You may eat and drink when I am finished’?   Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?  So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.‘” (Luke 17:6-10) This saying of the Lord in today’s Gospel can tend to irritate us and even seem hurtful if we misunderstand grace and seek to understand this text by the flesh. Our flesh is self-centered and thinks we deserve praise and good things from God for the good things we do. The flesh expects, it demands,  rewards. But the fact is that we can never have God in debt to us, never. If we have good works, they are not our gift to God, they are His gift to us.

All our works of charity and faith which our flesh wants credit for, they are all God’s work and God’s gift. The letter to the Ephesians makes this clear:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God–  not because of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10)

Hence if I think that I did something deserving of praise and reward I am thinking in terms of the flesh not the spirit. All I can really say to God is “Thank You” when I have done something good like caring for the poor or keeping the commandments. His grace alone permitted me to work them. God may speak elsewhere of rewarding us but that is His business. He is not in debt to us in anyway. When we have done everything we ought our one disposition should be gratitude. We are useless servants in the sense that we can do nothing without God’s grace. We can only do what we are told and what He enables us to do.

That said, it is clear, work is a pillar of faith. The text from today’s gospel and the text from Ephesians just above both make clear that work is something God has for us.  James 2:17 says,  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. Likewise, Jesus says, “It was not you who chose me. It was I who chose you that you should go and bear fruit that will last”(Jn 15:16) Work is a fundamental of faith.

5. Win –  For the vision still has it’s time, it presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint. It will surely come, it will not be late.(Hab 2:3) Yes, it is true that we must want, wait, withstand and work. But we do not do this to no purpose. We have a cross to carry. But if we carry it with the Lord, we carry it to glory. The end of today’s first reading makes this clear. There is an old Gospel song that says,

Harder yet may be the fight, Right may often yield to might, Wickedness awhile may reign, Satan’s cause may seem to gain, There is a God that rules above, With hand of power and heart of love, If I am right, He’ll fight my battle, I shall have peace some day. I do not know how long ’twill be, Nor what the future holds for me, But this I know, if Jesus leads me, I shall get home some day.

This is what Habakkuk describes, that we will win with Jesus. He describes a victory that is

  1. Future – the vision still has it’s time, it presses on to fulfillment
  2. Fantastic – and it will not disappoint
  3. Firm – It will surely come
  4. Fixed – it will not be late

For all those who walk with Jesus on the way of the Cross, there is victory up ahead. Even here we already enjoy the fruits of crosses past. Our withstanding of the past has given us strength for today. Our waitings of the past have had their fulfillment and are the hope that our current waiting too will have its fruit. Our work by God’s grace has already granted benefits to ourselves and others.

But these are but a small foretaste of  a greater glory to come, which waits for us in heaven. Yes, if we want, and wait, withstand and work,  we will win! I promise it to you in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Refrain of this song says, I do not know how long t’will be nor what the future holds for me. But this I know, If Jesus leads me, I shall get home some day.

The Hell There Is – A Meditation on the Gospel for the 26th Sunday of the Year

In the Gospel for today about the rich man and Lazarus the Lord gives us some important teachings on judgment and on hell. Now it is a fact that we live in times where many consider the teaching on Hell to be untenable. Many struggle to understand how a God described as loving, merciful and forgiving can assign certain souls to Hell forever. No matter that the Doctrine of Hell is taught extensively in Scripture and quite a lot by Jesus himself, the doctrine does not comport well with many modern notions and emphases of God, and, hence many think  it has to go.

But this reading goes a long way to address some of the modern concerns about Hell and so we ought to look at it. Prior to doing that however it might be important to state why Hell has to exist. I have done that more extensively on this blog here:  http://blog.adw.org/2010/07/hell-has-to-be/   However I summarize that lengthier article in the nest paragraph

Hell has to exist essentially for one reason: “Respect.” God has made us free and respects our freedom to chose his Kingdom or not. Now the Kingdom of God is not a mere abstraction. It has some very specific values and these values are realized and experienced perfectly in heaven. The values of the Kingdom of God include: Love, kindness, forgiveness, justice to the poor, generosity, humility, mercy, chastity, love of Scripture, love of the truth, worship of God, God at the center and so forth. Now the fact is that there are many people in our world who do not want a thing to do with chastity, or forgiveness, or being generous and so forth. And God will not force them to adopt and live these values.  While it is true that everyone may want to go to heaven, heaven is not merely what we want, it is what it is, as God has set it forth. Heaven is the Kingdom of God and the values thereof in all their fullness. Hence there are some (many?) who live in such a way that they consistently demonstrate that they are not interested in heaven, since they are not interested in one or many of the Kingdom values. Hell “has to be” since God respects their freedom to live in this way. Since they demonstrate they do not wnat heaven, God respects their freedom to choose “other arrangements.”

Now this  leads to today’s Gospel which we can see in three stages.

1. The Ruin of the Rich Man As the Gospel opens we see described a rich man (some call him Dives, which simply means “rich”). There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. Now it is clear he lives very well as has the capacity to help the poor man, Lazarus,  outside his gate. But he simply does not. His sin is not so much one of hate, but of indifference. He is living in open rejection of one of the most significant Kingdom values, that of the love of the poor. His insensitivity is a “damnable sin” in the literal sense since it lands him in Hell. So the ruin of this rich man is his insensitivity to the poor.

Now the care of the poor may be a complicated matter and there may be different ways of accomplishing it, but in no way can we ever consider ourselves exempt from caring for the poor if it is in our means to help them. We simply cannot avoid judgement for our greed and insensitivity. As God said in last week’s reading from Amos regarding those who are insensitive to the poor: The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done! (Amos 8:7)  God may well “forget” many of our sins (cf Is 43:23; Heb 8:12) but apparently, trampling the poor and disregarding their needs isn’t one of them.

Hence this rich man has willfully and repeatedly rejected the Kingdom and is ruined by his greed and insensitivity. He lands in Hell since he doesn’t want heaven where in the poor are exulted (cf Luke 1:52) Abraham explains the great reversal to him: ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.

2. The Rigidity of the Rich Man– Now you might expect the rich man to be finally repentant and to have a change a heart but he does not. Looking up into heaven he seems Lazarus next to Abraham. Rather than finally seeing Lazarus’ dignity and seeking his forgiveness, the rich tells Abraham to send him to Hell with a pail of water in order that the rich man might be refreshed. He still sees Lazarus as beneath him (even though he has to look up to see him). He sees Lazarus as a “step and fetch errand boy” and wants him to come to Hell. Notice too, the rich man does NOT ask to be admitted to heaven!  He is unhappy with where he is but still does not seem to desire heaven and the Kingdom of God with all its values. So he has not really changed. He is regretful of his currently tormented condition but does not see or desire heaven as a solution to that. Neither does he want to appreciate Lazarus’ exalted state. He wants to draw him back to the lower place he once occupied.

Now this helps explain why Hell is eternal. It would seem that there is a mystery of the human person which we must come to accept. Namely,  that we come to a point in our life where our character is forever fixed, where we no longer change. When exactly this occurs is not clear. Perhaps it is death that effects this fixed quality. The Fathers of the Church often thought of the human person as clay on a potter’s wheel. As long as it is on the wheel and moist it can be molded, changed and fashioned. But there comes a moment when the clay is taken off the wheel and placed in the fiery kiln (judgment day (cf1 Cor 3:15)) and it’s shape is forever fixed and cannot be changed. The rich man manifests this fixed quality. He has not changed one bit. He is unhappy with his torments and even wants to warn his brothers. But he apparently does not intend to change or somehow experiences his incapacity to change. Hence,  Hell is eternal since we will not change there. Our decision against the Kingdom of God and its values (a decision which God respects) is forever fixed.

3. The Reproof of the Rest of Us – As already noted, the rich man, though he cannot or will not change, would like to warn his brothers. Perhaps if Lazarus would rise from the dead and warn his brothers they would repent! Now let’s be clear, we are the rich man’s brethren. And we are hereby warned. The rich man wants exotic measures but Abraham says no, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ The rich man replied, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,  neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'”  Of course, this reply is dripping with irony given Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. That aside, the fact is we should not need exotic signs to bring us conversion. The phrase “they have Moses and the Prophets” is a Jewish way of saying, they have Scripture.

And the scriptures are clear to lay out the way before us. They give us the road map to heaven and we have but to follow it. We ought not need an angel or a ghost, or some extraordinary sign. The Scriptures and the teachings of the Church are sufficient. Their instructions are clear enough: Daily prayer, daily scripture, weekly Eucharist, frequent confession all lead to a change of heart wherein we begin to love the Kingdom of God and its values. We are more merciful, kind, generous, loving toward the poor and needy, patient, chaste, devout, self controlled and so forth.

In the end we have to be clear: Hell exists. It has to exist for we have a free choice to make and God will respect that choice even if he does not prefer our choice. You and I are free to choose the Kingdom of God,  or not. This Gospel also makes it clear that our choices lead ultimately to final and permanent choice wherein our decision is forever fixed. The modern world needs to sober up. There is a Hell and its existence is both reasonable and in conformity with a God who both loves us and respects our freedom.

This Homily can be heard here: http://frpope.com/audio/26%20C%20OT.mp3

You Must Faithful Over a Few Things to Be Ruler Over Many Things – A Meditation on the Gospel of the 25th Sunday of the Year

The Lord Jesus give a penetrating analysis of the state of the sinner and some very sobering advice to we would-be saints in today’s Gospel. Let’s look at the Gospel in two stages: The Analysis of the Sinner and the Advice to the Saints.

I. ANALYSIS OF THE SINNER –  The Lord Jesus describes a sinful steward in the opening lines of this gospel. Let’s look at the description:

A. DEFINITION (of the sinner)- Jesus said to his disciples, “A rich man had a steward  – Notice he is called a steward not an owner. God is the owner of everything, we are but stewards. A steward must deal with the goods of another according to the will of the owner. This is our state. We may have private ownership in relation to one another. But before God we own nothing, absolutely nothing. Part of the essence of sin is to behave as though we were  the owner. We develop an arrogant attitude that what I have is really mine to do with as I please. We think, “It’s mine, I can do what I want with it…..I call the shots…..I can do as I please with my own body….” and so forth. But the fact is everything belongs to God. Scripture affirms, The earth is the LORD’S, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein (Ps. 24:1). Even of our bodies which we like to think of as ours, Scripture says: You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:19). And old song says, “God and God alone created all these things we call our own. From the mighty to the small, the glory in them all is God’s and God’s alone….” So the Lord defines the sinner as a steward, though the steward acts as if he were an owner.

B. DISSIPATION (of the sinner) who was reported to him for squandering his property. The Lord here describes the essence of many of our sins: that we dissipate, we squander the gifts of God.  We waste the gifts we have received and using them for sinful ends. For example in greed  we hoard the gifts he given us to help others. Instead of helping, we store them up only for ourselves. Yet all the goods of the world belong to all the people of the world and they ought to shared to the extent that we have excess. Other examples of squandering the things of God are in gossip, lying and  cursing wherein we misuse the gift of speech; in laziness wherein we misuse the gift of time; in all sin wherein we abuse and squander our freedom. This is dissipation, this is the squandering of God’s goods. God has given us many good things, and instead of using them to build the Kingdom, we squander them and dissipate the kingdom.

C. DEATH (of the sinner)  –  He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you?  Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ – Here the Lord teaches and reminds us that  someday we will all be called to account and our stewardship will end. Elsewhere scripture reminds us So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body. (2 Cor 5:9  ) . We have an appointed time to exercise our stewardship but our stewardship will end and the books will be opened.  Here too Scripture reminds: And books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (Rev 20:11) While it is true that many pay little heed to the fact of judgement Scripture warns Say not, “I have sinned, yet what has befallen me? For the Lord bids his time. Of forgiveness be not over-confident, adding sin upon sin. Say not, “Great is his mercy, my many sins he will forgive.” For mercy and anger are alike with him; upon the wicked alights his wrath. Delay not your conversion to the Lord, put it not off from day to day. For suddenly his wrath flames forth; at the time of vengeance you will be destroyed(Sirach 5:4). Every steward (us) will die, our stewardship will end, and we will be called to render an account. It thus follows that we ought to listen to the advice which the Lord next gives.

II. ADVICE  TO THE SAINTS– After analyzing the sinner the Lord has some advice for those of us sinners who want to be saints. He gives Four principles we ought to follow:

A. Principle of  INTENSITY The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do,  now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me?  I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.  I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ He called in his master’s debtors one by one.  To the first he said,  ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ Then to another the steward said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ The steward said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting shrewdly. For the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation  than are the children of light. – The Lord is telling us here many of the worldly are more crafty in what matters to them than the Spiritually minded in what (supposedly) matters to them. The fact is many of us are very intense and organized when it comes to wordly matters. We spend years of preparation in college training for careers. We work hard and are dedicated to climbing the company ladder. In worldly expertise many are dedicated to developing skills, and becoming incredibly knowledgeable. In earning money and holding  a job many display great discipline,  getting up early to go to work, working late and hard to please  the boss. But when it comes to faith many of the same people display a third grade knowledge of things spiritual and show little interest in advancing in the faith or of  praying. They will please the boss, please man, but not God. Parents will fight for scholarships for their children to get into the best schools. Students will compete for scholarships. But when it comes to saving truth, the pews are empty, Sunday School is badly attended.

To all this, the Lord says to us here that the spiritually minded ought to show the same intensity, organization, dedication and craftiness  that the worldly show in their pursuits. We ought to be zealous for the truth, for prayer, for opportunities to sharpen our spiritual skills and increase our holiness. We ought to be as zealous to be rich in grace as we are to be rich in money. So the first principle the Lord gives us is intensity.

B. Principle of INVESTMENT I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. –  The Lord told of how the dishonest steward made use of the money at his disposal to make friends who would help him in the next stage of his life. How about us? Are we willing to use our money and resources to bless others, especially the poor, who can bless us in the next stage of our life? On the day of your judgment will the poor and needy be able to speak up on your behalf? Will they be among the angels and saints who welcome you to eternal dwellings? I don’t know about you, but I am going to want the poor to pray and speak to God on my behalf the Day I am judged. Scripture says that the Lord hears the cry of the poor and needy.

In this Gospel the Lord Jesus tells us to wise in our use of worldly wealth (which the Jewish idiom calls “dishonest wealth” indicating the intrinsic injustice of this world). Now the world tells us to take our wealth and invest it wisely so that it will reap future rewards. Well the Lord says the same thing. He says, “Use your  money wisely. Invest it well.” How? By storing it up it up in up in heaven. How do we do that?  By giving it away. Then it will really be yours.  You can’t take it with you but you can send it on ahead. Scripture elaborates this elsewhere: Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Tim 6:17) Notice how the passage says that through their generosity here the rich lay up treasure in heaven. This is the scriptural principle and the great paradox in the Kingdom of God: that we keep something eternally by giving it away. We save our find our life by losing it, we keep out treasure and store it in heaven by giving it away. So invest my friends, invest wisely! Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matt 6:20)

C. Principle of INCREASE  – The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones;  and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth,  who will trust you with true wealth?  If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours?  What is the small matter of which the Lord talks  and in which we can prove trustworthy?  The small matter is money. We make money the most important thing in life. But Spiritual matters are more important. Scripture attests to this clearly:  The Book of 1st Peter says our faith is ore precious than fire-tried gold. The Book of Psalms (19:10) says The words of the Lord are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.  So God says let’s see how you are in the small but significant matter of money, then I’ll see if you are able to able to handle bigger blessings. Do you think you can handle heaven and the spiritual blessings of holiness? Well let’s see, If you are trustworthy with worldly wealth, God will give you true wealth. If  you’re trustworthy is what belongs to God, he’ll give one day what is yours. You want more even here?  Use well what you’ve  already received. Then God will know he can trust you with more. You want increase?  A gospel song says: You must faithful over a few things to be ruler over many things. Be faithful unto death, and God will give you a crown of life.

D. Principle of INDIVISIBILITYNo servant can serve two masters.   He will either hate one and love the other,  or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and mammon. Pay attention. To serve, means to obey. Most people obey money, affluence and worship the American standard of living before they obey God. They meet their world obligations first and then give God what is left over.  But we are called to obey God alone, to have an undivided heart. The wording here is strong You CANNOT obey the world (money) and think you’re also going to obey God. You have to choose what will be more important.  Now don’t tell me you don’t need a lot of grace and mercy here! Money and the lure of the world is very powerful. It’s to get on our knees and pray for a miracle to prefer God to the world.

This Homily is in mp3 format here: http://frpope.com/audio/25th%20C.mp3

This song says, You must faithful in a few things to be ruler over many things. Be faithful unto death, and God will give you a crown of life…. The sung builds to wonderful refrain: Well done good and faithful servant, Well done!

God’s Love For Us Is Crazy! A Meditation on the Gospel for the 24th Sunday of the Year

Crazy! – The three parables of today’s lengthy Gospel challenge our conventional thinking. All three of them are quirky and describe people doing things that we most likely would NOT do. In fact all three of them, especially the first two, seem crazy. Who would ever do what the shepherd of the lost sheep and the woman of the lost coin do? No one, really. Likewise the Father in the Story of the Prodigal Son breaks all the rules of “tough love.” His forgiveness has an almost reckless quality. No father of Jesus’ time would ever tolerate such insolence from his sons. It just wasn’t accepted. So all three of these parables, at one level, are just plain crazy.

But that is one of the most fundamental points Jesus seems to be making here. The Heavenly Father’s love for us is just plain “crazy.” I do not mean it is irrational by using this word, but it does stretch the limits of our human thinking. Neither do I intend irreverence by using the word “crazy.” Permit a preacher’s hyperbole so that we can enter into the astonishing quality of God’s love and mercy. It cannot be understood or really explained in human terms. Who really understands unlimited and unconditional love? Who can really grasp the depths of God’s mercy? His grace is “amazing” in that it goes completely beyond my ability to comprehend. It transcends merely human concepts. Thank God! If God were like us we’d all be in trouble, frankly, we’d all be in Hell.

Let’s look at each Parable. The Gospel texts are too lengthy to reproduce here. But you can read the whole of it here: Luke 15

1. The Parable of the Lost Sheep– The Lord speaks of a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to search for one who is lost. Would a shepherd likely do this? Probably not! The passage drips with irony, even absurdity. Perhaps if the lost sheep were near at hand he might venture over the next hill. But the average human shepherd would cut his losses and stay with the ninety-nine. Many of us might even consider it irresponsible to leave ninety-nine to search for one. Some people try and make sense of this parable by appealing to possible shepherding practices of the First Century. But this seems to miss the point that God’s love is extravagant, personal, and puzzling. In the end, it would seem that God loves us for “no good reason.” He seems to love us even “more” when we stray. He intensifies his focus on the one who strays. To us this is not only crazy, it is dangerous, possibly enabling. But don’t try to figure it out. Don’t analyze too much. Just be astonished, be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves me is crazy, unexplainable.

2. The Woman and the Lost coin– A woman loses a drachma. It is a small coin. Not worth that much really, perhaps one day’s wages for an agricultural worker. In modern terms less than $100. Not insignificant, but not really huge amount either. She sweeps diligently for it. So far, this seems reasonable. I’d probably look around a while for a missing “Benjamin” ($100 bill). But then it gets crazy. She finds it and rejoices to such an extent that she spends most, if not all of it, on a party celebrating the found coin! Crazy! But that is exactly the point. God doesn’t count the cost. Some commentators try to explain the craziness away by suggesting that perhaps the coin had sentimental value as part of her dowry or ceremonial head-dress of ten coins. But here too, over analyzing and trying to explain or make sense of it may well miss the point. This woman is crazy because God is crazy. His love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t analyze too much. Just be astonished, be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves me is crazy, unexplainable.

3. The Prodigal Son– A young son, entitled by law to a third of the Estate (since he was the younger son) tells his Father to drop dead. He wants his inheritance now. The old man isn’t dying fast enough. Incredibly the father gives it to him! Crazy! No father in the ancient world would ever tolerate such irreverence and insolence from a son. The Father is a nobleman (land owner) and could hand his son over to serious retribution for such dishonor. The son leaves his father and goes off to “a distant land” where he sinks so low, he is looking up to pigs. He comes to his senses, rehearses a speech and returns to his father, hoping only to be a hired worker.

But here’s where it gets even crazier! The Father sees him a long way off (meaning he was looking for him). He does something a nobleman would not do: he runs. Running was considered beneath the dignity of a nobleman since it would imply he was either a slave on an errand or a fugitive running. Further, in order for a person to run in the ancient world, they had first to gird the loins of their garments. Since the garments were long flowing robes they had to be “hiked up.”  Otherwise, the legs would get tangled in the garment and the person would trip. But for a nobleman to show his legs was considered an indignity. Get the picture? This nobleman, this father, is debasing himself, humbling himself. He is running and his legs are showing. This is crazy. Do you know what this son has done? Done he deserve this humble love? No! This father is crazy! – Exactly! The heavenly Father is crazy too. He actually loves me and humbles himself for me. He even sent his own Son for me. Do you know what I have done….what you have done? Do we deserve this? No! It’s crazy.

The second son is also a handful. When he hears of the party for the wayward brother he refuses to enter. Again this is unthinkable in the ancient world for a son to refuse to report when summoned by a father. What does the father do? He comes out and pleads with him! Again, crazy! Unthinkable. No father in the ancient world would ever permit a son to speak to him in the way this second son spoke. The son basically calls him a slave-driver who issues orders and refuses to enter the party that his father is hosting. He says he’d  rather celebrate with his friends than with his father. But (pay attention here), the goal in life is not celebrate with your friends. The goal in life is to celebrate with the Father in heaven.

This father is crazy. He is crazy because God the Father is crazy. Do you know what it is to refuse to do what God says? And yet we do it every time we sin! The heavenly Father should not have to tolerate this. He is God and we are creatures. If he wanted, he could squash us like a bug. But he does not. The father in this parable is almost “dangerously” merciful. Shouldn’t his sons learn a lesson here?  Shouldn’t he punish them both for their insolence? Yes, all our human thinking kicks in. But God is God, not man. There are other scriptures that speak of his punishments. But in the end, none of us get what we really deserve. The point of Jesus here is that God is merciful and his love is crazy. It makes no human sense.  His love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t analyze too much. Just be astonished, be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves me is crazy, unexplainable.

Crazy!

Four Demands of Discipleship: A Meditation on the Gospel of the 23rd Week of the Year

In today’s Gospel Jesus defines four Demands of discipleship. We can look at them one by one.

1.  The CONTEXT of the discipleship. The text says that large crowds were following Jesus and so he turned to address them. Just about any time you find a mention of a large crowd fasten your seat belts and prepare for a hard teaching. Jesus didn’t trust the big crowds who were often out for the goodies. They were looking for miracles, multiplied and free bread, physical healings and a fiery sermon. So upon sensing a large crowd the texts says, rather provocatively, that Jesus turned to address them. He then gives a series of “hard sayings” which seem almost designed to thin the ranks and to distinguish true disciples from the “lip service” crowd.

We will see in a moment what he says. But let’s take a moment and examine other incidents where the gospels demonstrate Jesus’ tendency to distrust big crowds:

  • Mat 7:13 Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
  • Matt 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.
  • Luke 6:26 Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

There is also the tendency in the gospels for the mentioning of a large crowd to be followed by a “hard saying:”

  • Matt 13:1-9 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.”
  • Matt 19: 1-6 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (cf also Mark 10)
  • Luke 11:29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.
  • Luke 14:26-27 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
  • Luke 12:54-56 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?
  • John 6: 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick….and He said to them, I am the living bread come down from heaven…..the crowds murmured.

So, the CONTEXT of discipleship is not usually with the crowd. Though many are called, indeed all are called, only few make the cut and become true disciples. There is a kind of remnant theology at work here, to be sure. But it is a common pattern that Jesus thins the ranks and distinguishes the many who are called from the few who are chosen. This is a fact not only in the Scriptures but it also remains true that the Lord has often had to prune his Church. Even now we are seeing a large falling away, a kind of pruning as large numbers depart who are not able to take the “hard sayings” of Jesus and the Scriptures about sexuality, forgiveness, love of one’s enemies, heroic charity and generosity, and so forth. The CONTEXT of discipleship is with the few, rather than the many.

2. The CENTRALITY of the discipleship. Jesus indicates that we can prefer or love no one more than him if we are going to be his disciples. This extends even to our family relationships: If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Now “hate” here does mean that we are to have contempt for others or nourish unrighteous anger toward them. What we are dealing with here is a Jewish idiom. The Hebrew language, for some reason, has very few comparative words such as: more, less, greater, fewer, and so forth. Hence in ancient Hebrew if one were to prefer vanilla ice cream to chocolate one would say, “I love vanilla but hate chocolate.”  But what “hate” means here in context is that I “prefer” vanilla, not that I literally hate chocolate.

So, what Jesus means is that we cannot prefer anyone or anything to Him. He’s first, he’s number one. Jesus says, I must have absolute priority over the closest human relationships in your life. If there’s anyone in your life that can talk you out of obeying God, forget ‘em! Anyone who keeps you away from God has too much power. Anyone who can keep you from your Christian walk has too much power. Anyone who can pull you into unrighteousness has too much power. So if The boss instructs us to do something immoral – sorry boss. If the accountant or lawyers advise saving money by paying unjust wages or cutting necessary benefits – sorry boys. A boyfriend pressures his girl friend to have sex – sorry dear. Peers pressure to use drugs or abuse alcohol, skip school, or steal – sorry buddies. A spouse calls his or her mate away from teaching the children the ways of faith. – sorry honey. A child pressures a parent to that which is unwise or wrong. – sorry child of mine. So, do you get it? No one is to have priority of Jesus Christ and what he teaches., The word “hate” here may not be literal but on second thought, if Jesus really does have priority in our life it may cause some to say, “You’re so devoted to him, I think you hate me!”

3. The CROSS of discipleship. Jesus says if we want to be a disciple we must be willing to carry the cross. Now the cross comes in many forms, but in the end, to be a disciple does not mean we are in any way exempt from the troubles and trials of this world. Jesus indicates that we will be hated by the word (cf  Jn 15:20), persecuted and sorely tempted by this world. But if we hold out, victory will be ours. It is a simple rule: No cross, No crown. There are some who want to preach a prosperity gospel. There are others who demand a gospel stripped of its moral imperatives. Still others demand an updated faith that tickles their ears and affirms their aberrant behavior. But Jesus points to the Cross, not to torture us, but because it is the only way to glory. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33). Now, for a little while you may have to suffer various trials…(1 Peter 1:6)

4. The COST of discipleship. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. Jesus asks us to count the cost of what he is teaching here. Many of the Protestant preachers like to emphasize that salvation is free,  and it is. But discipleship is costly. Jesus gives the image of someone building a tower or of a king going to battle. But, truth be told, these examples are distant from us. So Jesus brings it home and says to us: anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.

The Greek word  ἀποτάσσω (apotasso) translated here as “renounce” also means, “to say farewell.” And the Lord is reminding us that heaven costs everything. Ultimately we must say farewell to everyone and everything we consider precious here in order to inherit heaven. This of course is not something that waits merely for death.

At one level, we give back everything to God as we go, little by little. We have all given back loved ones. Perhaps too we have given back youthful figures, strength, good health, and so forth. Ultimately we will give it all back.

But at another level the Lord is clear to say here that we must be willing to part with anything that hinders discipleship now, not later. The fact is that many things attach us to this world and make discipleship difficult. Are we willing to de-clutter our life, simplify and get more focused on being disciples? Or will we go on setting down roots here and amassing a worldly kingdom? What’s it going to be, the world or the Kingdom? Count the cost. See what it really means to be a disciple and what it cost, then decide.

What Jesus is looking for are disciples who, having counted the cost and realistically assessed it, are ready, nonetheless, to be his disciples. Tag-alongs, lip service Christians, fair weather folks, need not apply. So today Jesus is looking at a big crowd and teaches in a way that is meant to distinguish true disciples from the “lip service” disciples. We are asked to ponder in which category we most truthfully belong.

This Homily is available in recorded form here: http://frpope.com/audio/23%20Sun%20C.mp3

On Being Sober and Serious in Seeking Salvation

Today’s Gospel is a sobering summons to be serious about our spiritual life.  Now it is a sad fact today that many, if not most people are not serious about their spiritual life. They do not pray, they do not read scripture, do not attend Mass or go to confession. They are playing around and goofing off like life were some big joke. They are often locked in serious and unrepented sin and will not be ready when judgment day comes. It is just a fact.

Perhaps you think I am overly pessimistic but I would argue that I am on strong biblical grounds. In today’s Gospel the Lord dispatches one of the most common errors of today. The error held is that most people are going to heaven. The Lord rather directly refutes this and summons us to be sober and serious in seeking salvation. Let’s look at the readings for today in three stages.

1. The Danger Described. – Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough (Luke 13:22-23). Elsewhere Jesus elaborated on this more:   Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Mat 7:13-15).  So, when asked if those to be saved are many or few the Lord answers, “Few” and goes on to describe that “many” will be unable to enter the Kingdom of Heaven but are on the wide and easy road that leads to destruction – see photo above right!

This of course flies in the face of what most people think today.  We have to be sober about this and realize that many live lives that show little interest in God or the Kingdom of God. At some point this decision becomes final and God accepts their disinterest as their final choice. Beware! To persist in worldliness and to be self absorbed increasingly becomes our final disposition.

Now it is true that every says they want to go to heaven. But it is usually a heaven that they have invented. But the real heaven is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom of God has values that many people today do not want. It is a place where justice, mercy, generosity and chastity are celebrated. Now it is clear today that many today are not interested in forgiving those who have hurt them. They do not want to love their enemy. They surely do not want to live chastely. The concept of justice annoys them and usually makes them suspicious that someone is after their money. Generosity too annoys them for they would rather not part with a dime. But this is what the Kingdom of God is all about and what is celebrated in heaven.

Further, heaven is described in the Book of Revelation (4,5,8) as  like a liturgy where God is at the center and is praised.  Hymns are sung, a scroll containing the meaning of all things (Scripture) is read  and the Lamb is on a throne-like altar. There are candles incense, prostrations, standing and all the things of the Mass. Now many people today say by their absence from Mass that none of this interests them. OK fine, God will not force it on any of them. Neither will he force them to accept the values of the Kingdom of God. But THIS is what heaven is about, the fullness of the Kingdom.

Now as time goes on, a person grows hardened in their aversion to the Kingdom of God, to heaven. Eventually their aversion becomes forever fixed. So on Judgment Day they are not able to enter heaven and frankly would not be happy there anyway. So here is the danger: walking the wide and worldly road that hardens the heart to God and the things of God so that heaven is “not able” to be tolerated. Hell is not God’s fault, it is the preference of damned who have hardened their hearts to God and the realities of the true (not the fanciful) heaven.

2. The Divine Desire. Now God does not want hell for anyone. He does not rejoice in the decision of the damned but he does respect it. God is clear he wants to save everyone: As surely as I live, says the LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ez 33:11-12)  Thus in today’s First Reading there is described how God widens the call of salvation to the whole world: I come to gather nations of every language;  they shall come and see my glory. …that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations. …Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the LORD. (Is 66:18-21) Yes indeed, the Lord wants to bring people from every nation and race to his kingdom. The Lord wants to save us all. So the problem of Hell is not about God and what He wants, it is about us and what we want. God will  ultimately respect our final choice. I have written more on this here: http://blog.adw.org/2010/07/hell-has-to-be/

3. The Delivering Discipline  This then leads to a manner in which we can be sober and serious in seeking salvation. It is described in the 2nd reading today: My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord  or lose heart when reproved by him;  for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;  he scourges every son he acknowledges.”  Endure your trials as “discipline”;  God treats you as sons.  For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?  At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,  yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it (Heb 12:5-7). We have a clear call from the Lord to submit our lives to his discipline and training. Notice how closely related the discipline is to discipleship. The Lord has a discipline for us that makes us true disciples.

Our discipline includes daily prayer, daily scripture, daily repentance, frequent confession, Mass every Sunday. We are to grow in the training of the Lord which comes from the study of our faith and the reception of the Sacraments. As we do this we grow in desire for the things of God and heaven. We come to share the kingdom values and are less worldly. More and more we start to love who and what God loves, we start to have His priorities, are transformed by the renewal of our minds. This is what God’s discipline, what his teaching, grace and mercy do for us.

So, in the end, God is not our enemy, he is our Savior and the only one who can get us ready for judgment day. But we have to be sober and serious in seeking salvation. All the playing around and goofing off, the presumption and worldliness has to end. The Letter to the Hebrews from today’s second reading has three last things to tell us:

  1. So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees – In other words lift up your hands in prayer and have strong knees that are accustomed  to kneeling in prayer.
  2. Make straight paths for your feet – get off that wide road that leads to destruction and get on the narrow path that leads to God. The Next time some one calls you narrow minded thank them and invite them to join you!
  3. that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed – Sin makes us lame, weak and tired of doing good. But get used to walking the straight and narrow path that is uphill to heaven and watch your strength grow, and your weak knees be healed.

 Here’s an excerpt from a Funeral Sermon I posted some time ago that seems apt for today’s theme:

A Recipe for Readiness – Meditation on the Gospel of the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the Gospel for this weekend (Luke 12:32-40) the Lord presents a “Recipe for Readiness.”  It is frequent problem in the Christian life that many remain vague about what is necessary to be ready to meet God. What Jesus does in this gospel is to give us some pretty specific and concrete things to do that will help us to be ready when the Lord shall call us. It is not an exhaustive list, for no one passage  of Scripture is the whole of Scripture. But here are some very practical and specific things to reflect on and do. Let’s look at this recipe, this list.

1. REASSESS YOUR WEALTH. Jesus says, Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms.   Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out,  an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.   For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. In effect the Lord is giving us here a triple teaching on wealth. First he says that we ought to

  • Fore-go Fear. In the end it is fear that makes us greedy and worldly. We grab up the things of this world because we are terrified of not having enough for tomorrow. But what if we could receive the gift to trust God more and know and experience that he will give us our daily bread? He has given us the Kingdom, why not everything else besides? He may not give us everything we want but we can learn to trust that he will give us what we really need. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these other things will be given unto to you (Matt 6:21). If we can just allow God to diminish our fear we will be surprised how easy it is for us to be generous with what we have and not hoard it.
  • Forward your Fortune– We store up treasure for ourselves in heaven when we are generous to the needy and poor. Treasure is not stored in heaven by way of a rocket ship or balloon. It is stored there by generously distributing our wealth to others in wise and creative ways. This was discussed in last week’s reading more sustantially see here:  Instructions on Income .   While it may not be appropriate for us to sell everything and go live on a park bench, the Lord is surely telling us to be less attached to and passionate about money and things for they root us in this world. And where our treasure is, there also will our heart be.
  • Fix your focus – Our focus is wrong and worldly because most of us have our treasure here. But once we become less fearful and more generous, our obsession with worldly treasure subsides and our joy in heavenly treasure grows. And this fixes our broken focus. For now our heart is where our treasure really is and ought to be: in heaven with God. So simplify, be less rooted in this world and come to experience that your greatest treasure is God and the things waiting for you in heaven.

So, reassess your wealth. What is it and where is it? That will tell you a lot about your heart too.

2.  READY TO WORK – The Lord says Gird your loinswhich is the ancient equivalent of “roll up your sleeves.”  The Lord has a work for us and wants us to get about it. Surely the Lord has more than a worldly career in mind. He has in mind things like raising kids in godly fear, pursuing justice, and growing in holiness. The Lord wants us to work in his Kingdom. We must commit to prayer, Sunday worship, the reception of the Sacraments, to obedience and holiness. And the Lord has a particular work for us based on our gifts. Some can teach, others are good with senior citizens, still others are good entrepreneurs and can provide good work for others at a just wage. Some are skilled at medicine and the care of the sick. Some are called to priesthood and the religious life. Some are called to suffering and to offer that suffering for the salvation of souls. Some serve in strength, others in weakness. But all are called to serve, called to work. So work with what the Lord gave you to advance his kingdom. Part of being ready means doing our work.

3. READ THE WORD – The Lord says, light your lamps.”At one level, the phrase “light your lamps” is simply a symbol for readiness (eg. the Wise and Foolish Virgins in Matt. 25:1-13) But in another sense “lamp” is also a symbol for Scripture. For example, You Word O Lord is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Ps 119:105). Or again, We possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19). So here we can also understand that the Lord is teaching us that an essential part of being ready is to be rooted and immersed in the Scriptures and the Teachings of the Church. It makes sense of course. There is just too much stinking thinking in this increasingly  secular world hostile to the faith to think that our mind is going to be anything but sullied if we are not reading Scripture every day. How will our minds be sober and clear if we are inebriated by the world? Clearly, being ready means reading Scripture each day and basing our life on it.

4. REMAIN WATCHFUL – The Lord says, “And be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks…..Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come”  Now there are different ways to watch and wait. There is the passive watching and waiting that we may do when waiting for a bus. We just sit there and look down the street. But there is another way of waiting that is more active. Consider the kind of watchfulness that one has who waits on tables. This is an active waiting and watching. It observes what is necessary and what will soon become necessary and moves to supply what is needed. And so it is that the the watchful and waiting spirit the Lord has in mind here is like that active waiting when we have invited a guest to our home and prepared the house and all is readiness. We know that his arrival is imminent and so we prepare and place all in order. And to set our house in order is to sweep clean our soul of sin and all unrighteousness by God’s grace and to remove all the clutter of the worldliness. Regular confession, daily repentance,  sweep clean the house, and simplifying our lives and freeing ourselves from  worldly attachments de-clutters the house of our soul.

Have you prepared the home of your soul for the Lord’s arrival? If not the Lord says, you may experience him as a thief. Now the Lord is not really a thief for everything belongs to him. But if you and I have not renounced our worldliness and greed, if we have not de-cluttered our lives of attachments to this world, the Lord WILL come to and take back what is his but he will seem the thief because we think it is ours. It’s never a good idea to call God, the Lord and owner of all, a thief. Bad move.

5. REFLECT on your reWARD – The Lord says, Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.  Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and  proceed to wait on them.  And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants. – The Lord is clear that he has a reward for those who are found ready. It is prefigured in the banquet of the Eucharist wherein the Lord prepares a meal and feeds us. The Lord says, Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20). And again, And I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom (Luke 22:30). We have so much easy food today but in the ancient world one of the most pleasant things they looked forward to was a hearty meal in the company of good friends and family. The Lord offers us the magnificent blessing of heaven wherein we will be with him and those whom we love forever in unspeakable joy and peace.

Do you meditate often on heaven and long for its rewards? One of the stranger aspects of the modern world is that, even among believers, we talk so little of heaven. True, it is not a place any of us have been yet so it’s hard to fully understand what it will be like. But reflect often on the joy waiting for you in heaven.Part  of being ready to go home to Lord is to long for that day to come. When we want to do something we eagerly prepare for it, we are motivated and make sacrifices to do it. Last year a group from the Parish went to the Holy Land. Many of them saved and sent in money for two years on a payment plan to be able to go. As the day of departure grew near we gathered, studied maps and read Bible stories prepare for the trip. On the day of departure many in the group were up early and at the airport hours early. Eagerly reflecting on heaven and the joy waiting for us there is the same. When we desire it we will more naturally get ready and lay aside whatever is necessary to make the passage there.

The recording of this sermon is here: http://frpope.com/audio/19C.mp3

So here are five elements constituting a recipe for readiness. Better set your house in order ’cause he may be coming soon!