The Passage through a World that is Passing Away – A Meditation on the Gospel of the 33rd Week of the Year

In the month of November the Church has us ponder the Four Last Things: death judgment, heaven and hell. As the golden gown of autumn gives way to the lifeless look of winter we too are encouraged to see that our own lives are on a trajectory that leads ultimately to autumn and then the winter of death. But for those who have faith this passage to death leads ultimately to glory.  Scripture says, And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever (1 John 2:17).

In today’s gospel the Lord Jesus gives us a kind of road map of life and calls us to have a sobriety as to the passing and perilous nature of this world in which we live.

There is an historical context in which our Lord speaks. There were political rumblings in Israel in the early 30s AD that would eventually lead to war. Hatred of the Romans is growing among the Jews. The Zealot party and other factions are building power. Jesus, in this passage, prophesies that war will come and lead to Jerusalem’s ultimate destruction. Everything that they knew was going to pass away. By the Summer of 66 AD a three and half year war ensued that resulted in the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the death of 1.2 million Jews. Josephus records the war in great detail in his work The Jewish War.

That is what this text we read today meant historically. But we also need to know what it means for us today. So let’s look at the text from that perspective. The Gospel can be seen in three major sections.

1. PORTRAIT OF PASSING THINGS – The text says, While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, “All that you see here( the days will come when there will not be left  a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” Then they asked him,  “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” – Notice how they admire the temple and its beauty. But the Lord reminds them that, glorious though it now is, it is all going to be thrown down. We too must hear that whatever glory we see or experience in this world will not ultimately last. It is all going to pass away. The Temple is a portrait of passing things. Just as it was in splendor and now is gone, so too everything we see now and admire will pass. This is a sober truth we must come to accept, even if it is difficult. Other scriptures remind us of this truth. For example, The world as we know it is passing away (1 Cor 7:29). And again,  And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever (1 John 2:17). Hence this world is passing and we too are passing from it one day soon. Note however, for them as well as for us, one world was ending, but another was beginning. The Old Testament, Old Covenant order of the Temple was ending but the New Testament age of the Church was beginning. It was already breaking forth, even as the old was coming to an end. And so for us, we should not lament the end of this world or even our death, for a newer great world of heaven awaits if we are faithful. In fact, through the liturgy and sacraments that new world is already breaking forth if we partake of it.

2. POINTS OF PASSAGE TO PROMISED THINGS – Having been informed at the passing of all they see the apostles ask for signs that will precede the coming end to the temple and all things they know. We too can learn from what Jesus teaches them and apply it to our lives. Jesus warns them of four perils on the passage to the promised land of the New Testament of the age of the Church. We too will experience perils in our journey to the Promised Land of Heaven.

A. FALSE MESSIAHS – The text says,  “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying,  ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them!– Do you want Jesus Christ to be the Lord of your life? Then you’ve got to get rid of false messiahs. There are just too many people giving worldly  things and people greater authority in their life than Jesus Christ and what he teaches. Fads, fashions, philosophies, all those people, things and philosophies we  submit our lives to in hope that we be happy. The danger is that something or someone is reigning in your life other than Jesus Christ. Perhaps it is someone in power we admire, or someone in the media whom we give authority and allow to influence us inordinately. Perhaps it is political positions that we allow to trump the scriptures and the teachings of the Church. Perhaps it is just our own convictions or ideas that over-rule God’s teachings. A false messiah is any one or any thing that is telling you how to organize your life other than Jesus Christ. Before Christ can reign unambiguously in your life false powers and influences have to go. Too many people look only to science, popular culture, economics, medicine, education, politics and the like. It is not that we can’t use these things but they are not the messiah. None of these things or people every died for you. Only Jesus did that. The power to save you is in the blood of Jesus Christ. It is not in the statehouse, courthouse, or White-house – it’s in the blood, the saving blood of the lamb.

B. FIERCE MILITARISM – The text says: When you hear of wars and insurrections,  do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,  but it will not immediately be the end.”  Then he said to them,  “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. A war was looming for those ancient people. And we too are in a war, a battle. Before Christ can reign unambiguously in you the false powers in you have to be defeated. They will not go without a fight. The world, the flesh, and the devil can be expected to wage a fierce battle to keep their power.  Are you in a battle?  Too many Christians have lost the sense of battle. Scripture says, Resist the devil and he will flee from you(James 4:7). And yet  too many not only do not resist him, they welcome him. Scritpure also says, Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace;  besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God(Eph 6:14). And old hymn says, I’ve seen lightning flashing, and hear the thunder roll, I’ve felt sin-breakers dashing, which tried to conquer my soul; I’ve heard the voice of my savior, he bid me still to fight on. He promised never to leave me never to leave me alone. On our way to the promised land of heaven we will encounter necessary battles. Battles for what is right, battles against sin, battles for proper priorities.

C. FAR-FLUNG MARVELS – the Text says: There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues  from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky. In the time of Jesus and the era just preceding the war there were in fact many earthquakes, droughts and even heavenly signs. Historians of the time speak of a comet and strange views of what we know today as the Aurora Borealis. But what of us? For us What are earthquakes of life? Earthquakes involve the shaking of the ground! The shaking of that which is most stable and basic to us. What are you basing your life on? What is the foundation of your life? For most of us the foundations of this world are things like, Money, Politics, Friends, Family, our own skills. All of these things are shaken in life and all of them will eventually fail. Our talents and personal powers fade as we age, family members and friends die, move or fail us. Political power and worldly access fails. Haven’t we all experienced our world shaken, our soul famished, the plagues of sin that infect our world and ourselves? Haven’t the stars, all the things that orient us, fallen from the sky from time to time and the sun, the light we see by darkened. Has not the world turned upside down? Maybe it was the sudden death of a loved one, the loss of a job, trials, tragedies, testings, and tumult, a diagnosis of cancer or Alzheimer disease. This is why God has to be our ultimate foundation. Either Jesus is our foundation, or something else is. Without God as our foundation we cannot stand. The foundations of this world will cave, Christ must be our sure foundation.

D. FEARFUL MALICE – The text says, Before all this happens, however,  they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors  because of my name…..You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends It will lead to your giving testimony.  Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking  that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. and they will put some of you to death.  You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. The early Christians had much to suffer through persecutions. Most of us in the Christian West have had less to suffer but more difficult days may well be ahead as the secular West grows increasingly hostile to the traditional Christian Faith. Persecution however is an expected part of the Christian journey to the promised land of heaven. Even if we’re not handed over it is a truth of our time that many of us are not taken seriously, are written off or called names even by our closest family and friends? Christ tells us not to worry of such things. They are part of the normal Christian life. And even if some of us eventually lose our life for the faith, the Lord promises that not a hair of our head will be harmed. That is, our souls will be saved. The world can only harm our body but not our soul, unless we allow it.

So these are the perils that we must soberly accept on our journey home to the promised land of heaven. This leads to the final exhortation of Christ.

3. PRESCRIPTION for the PASSAGE to PROMISED THINGS – The text says, By your perseverance you will secure your lives. Despite these perils we can only journey on and not lose faith or lose heart. There is glory waiting for us if we persevere. Scripture says elsewhere: But he who endures to the end will be saved (Mat 10:22) and again, For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry;  but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”  But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls (Heb 10:37). An old Spiritual says, Hold on just a little while longer, everything’s gonna be alright.

I’m Gonna Ride the Chariot in the Morning Lord! – A Meditation on the Readings of the 32nd Sunday of the Year

In the readings today, the Church presents for us a strong reminder and teaching on the resurrection. Jesus himself leads the charge against those who would deny the resurrection from the dead and the seven Brothers of the first reading along with their mother bring up the rear. Let’s take a look at what we are taught in three stages.

1. Ridicule of the Resurrection – The Gospel opens with the observation that Some Sadducees, who deny there is a resurrection, came forward and put [a] question to Jesus. These Sadducees propose to Jesus a ridiculous example about a woman who was married seven times to successively dying brothers and had no children by any of them. They suggest that the resurrection will cause there to be a real confusion in determining whose husband she really is! Now we’re all supposed to laugh, according to these Sadducees, and conclude that the idea of resurrection is ludicrous. Jesus will dismiss their absurdity handily as we shall see in a moment. But let’s take a moment and consider why the Sadducees disbelieved the resurrection.

Fundamentally, they rejected the resurrection due to the fact that they accepted only the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Now this is somewhat debated among scholars but for our purposes we can surely say that if something was not explicitly in the Law of Moses, they were unlikely to accept it. All the other Old Testament books such as the prophets, the historical books, the psalms, and the wisdom tradition were set aside by them as authoritative sources. They further claimed that, in these first five books, the resurrection of the dead was not taught. Most other Jews of Jesus’ time did accept the complete Old Testament, and teachings such as the resurrection of the dead which are set forth there, but the Sadducees simply did not. They were a small party within Judaism (Josephus said they were able to persuade none but the rich). Nevertheless they were influential due especially to their wealth and to the fact that they predominated among the Temple leadership. You can read more of them here: Sadducees

Hence the Sadducees arrive to poke fun at Jesus and all others who held that the dead would rise. They are no match for Jesus who easily dispatches their arguments. And Jesus uses the Book of Exodus, a book they accept to do it. In effect Jesus argument proceeds as such:

  1. You accept Moses, do you not?
  2. (To which they would surely reply yes)
  3. But Moses teaches that the dead will rise.
  4. (Jesus must have gotten puzzled looks but he presses on).
  5. You accept that God is a God of the living and not the dead?
  6. (To which they would surely reply yes).
  7. Then why does God in Exodus identify himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all of whom have been dead some 400 years? How can he call himself their God if they are dead?
  8. Obviously they are alive, for he could not call himself their God, for he is not a God of the dead but of the living.
  9. So they are alive to God. They are not dead.

Hence Jesus dispatches their view. For us the point is to see how forcefully and clearly Jesus upholds the fact that the dead are alive in the Lord. He powerfully asserts an essential doctrine of the Church and we should rejoice at how firmly Jesus rebukes their disbelief in the resurrection of the dead. Rejoice! For your loved ones are alive before God . To this world they may seem dead, but Jesus tells us firmly and clearly today, they live. Likewise we too, who will face physical death will also live on. Let the world ridicule this, but hear what Jesus says and how he easily dispatches them. Though ridiculed, the resurrection is real.

2. Resplendence of the Resurrection– Jesus also sets aside the silly scenario that the Sadducees advance by teaching in effect that earthly realities cannot simply be projected in to heaven. Marriage scenarios, perceived in earthly ways, cannot be used to understand heavenly realities. The Saints in heaven live beyond earthly categories. Heaven is more than the absence of bad things and more than the accumulation of good things. Heaven is far beyond anything this world can offer. Scripture says, No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived — the things God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9). And Again, The sufferings of this world cannot compare to the glory that will be revealed in us  (Rom 8:18).

Do you see the majesty of this teaching? We have a glory waiting for us beyond imagining. Consider your greatest pleasure, your happiest experience, your most fulfilled moment. Now multiply them by ten trillion. You are not even close understanding the glory that waits.

And this glory will personally transform us. The Lord once told Catherine of Sienna that if she ever saw the glory of a Saint in heaven she would fall down and worship because she would think she was looking at God. This is our dignity, to be transformed into the very likeness of God and reflect his glory. Earlier this week I recorded an elaboration of Catherine’s vision of the soul of a saint in heaven:

It was so beautiful that she could not look on it; the brightness of that soul dazzled her. Blessed Raymond, her confessor, asked her to describe to him, as far as she was able, the beauty of the soul she had seen. St. Catherine thought of the sweet light of that morning, and of the beautiful colors of the rainbow, but that soul was far more beautiful. She remembered the dazzling beams of the noonday sun, but the light which beamed from that soul was far brighter. She thought of the pure whiteness of the lily and of the fresh snow, but that is only an earthly whiteness. The soul she had seen was bright with the whiteness of Heaven, such as there is not to be found on earth. ” My father,” she answered. “I cannot find anything in this world that can give you the smallest idea of what I have seen. Oh, if you could but see the beauty of a soul in the state of grace, you would sacrifice your life a thousand times for its salvation. I asked the angel who was with me what had made that soul so beautiful, and he answered me, “It is the image and likeness of God in that soul, and the Divine Grace which made it so beautiful.” [1].

Yes, heaven is glorious and we shall be changed. Scripture says we shall be like the Lord for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2). Too many people have egocentric notions of heaven where “I” will have a mansion, I will see My relatives, I will play all the golf I want. But the heart of heaven is to be with God for whom our heart longs. In God we will experience fulfillment and peace beyond any earthly thing. There is more to heaven than golf, reunions and mansions, certainly more than clouds and harps. The “more”  can never be told for it is beyond words. St Paul speaks of a man (himself) who was caught up into heaven and affirms it cannot be described, it is ineffable, it is unspeakable:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven….And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. (2 cor 12:2-3).

Do you long for heaven? Do you meditate on it? Is there a part of you that can’t wait to get there? There’s an Old Spiritual that says, “I’m gonna ride the Chariot in the mornin’ Lord. I’m getting ready for the judgment say, Mah Lord, Mah Lord! And this leads us to the final point.

3. Response to the Resurrection– What difference does the resurrection make other than to give us joy if we meditate upon it? To see that answer, look to the first reading today, where the seven brothers are willing to accept torture and death. If there is a great reward waiting for those who remain faithful and we see that reward as the greatest thing we have , then we will endure anything to get there. Notice how the vision of heaven spurs them on to reject demands of their persecutors that they deny their faith:

We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors…. You are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying….. the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s courage, because he regarded his sufferings as nothing (2 Maccabees, 7:2,9, 12)

Only their vision of the rewards waiting for them could motivate them to endure the awful sufferings described in the 7th Chapter of 2nd Maccabees

And what of us?  Do we meditate on heaven and value it’s reward enough to be willing to endure suffering to get there? We need a strong vision of heaven to be able to endure and stand fast. Too many today have lost a deep appreciation for heaven. Too many pray to God merely for worldly comforts and rewards. But these will pass. We ought to ask God for a deep desire and drive for heaven and the things waiting for us there. What athlete will discipline his body so severely as they do, without the deep motivation of reward and the satisfaction of meeting goals? What college student attends thousands of hours of school, reads lengthy books and writes lengthy papers if it is not for the pot of gold and career at the end of the trail? Then, who of us will endure the trials of faith if we are not deeply imbued with the vision of glory and deeply desirous of its fulfillment no matter the cost? Without this our moral and spiritual life become tepid and our willingness to endure trials falls away. An old hymn says:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Meditate on heaven often. Although we can never fully grasp its glory here, we ought not let that stop us from imagining what we can. Read Revelation Chapters 4,5, 8, 21 & 22. But above all, ask God for an ever deepening desire for Him and the good things waiting for you in heaven. Look to heaven, long for heaven, desire God and deeply root your life in him. Heaven will not disappoint!

This African American Spiritual says, I’m gonna ride the chariot in the morning Lord! I’m gettin ready for the judgment day, My Lord, My Lord! Are you ready my brother? (Oh yes!)  Are you ready for the journey? (Oh Yes!), do you want to see Jesus (Yes, Yes!) I’m waiting for the Chariot ’cause I ready to go.  I never can forget that day, (Ride in the chariot to see my Lord), My feet were snatched from the miry clay! (Ride in the chariot to see my Lord!)

To Make a Long Story Short – A Meditation on the Gospel for the 31st Sunday of the Year

The Gospel today is of the familiar and endearing story of Zacchaeus, a man too short to see Jesus, who climbs a tree, encounters Jesus, and is changed. The danger with familiar stories is that they are familiar and we can miss remarkable qualities.  Perhaps it is well that we look afresh and search for the symbolic in the ordinary details.

1. Shortsighted Sinner – Zacchaeus was physically short, and so, could not see the Lord. But let me ask you, do you think that Luke has told us this merely to indicate his physical stature? Well, I’m a preacher and I’m counting on the fact that there is more at work here than a physical description. I suspect it is also a moral description. Zacchaeus cannot see the Lord because of the blindness sin brings. It is his moral stature that is the real cause of his inability to see the Lord. Consider some of the following texts from scripture that link sin to a kind of blindness:

  • My iniquities have overtaken me, till I cannot see. (Ps 40:12)
  • I will bring distress on the people  and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the LORD (Zeph 1:17)
  • They know not, nor do they discern; for God has shut their eyes; so that they cannot see, and their minds so that they cannot understand (Is 44:18)
  • Because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed within her the blood of the righteous, now they grope through the streets like men who are blind (Lam 4:13)
  • Unless one is born again by water and the Spirit, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
  • Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God. (Matt 5:8)

So sin brings blindness, an inability to see the Lord. Now Zacchaeus has fallen short through sin and hence he cannot see Jesus. “How has he sinned?” You might say. Well, he is the chief tax collector of Jericho. Tax collectors were wicked men, I tell you no lie. The Romans recruited the mobsters of that day to collect taxes. These were bad guys. They ruffed people up and extorted money from them. The Romans permitted them to charge beyond the tax as their “cut” of the deal. They were corrupt, they exploited the poor and schmoozed the powerful. These were men who were both feared and hated, and for good reason.  They were, to a man, wicked and unjust. Zacchaeus was not just any Tax Collector, he was Chief  Tax collector. He was a mafia boss, a Don, a “Godfather.” Got the picture? Zacchaeus isn’t just physically short. He’s the lowest of the low, he doesn’t measure up morally, he comes up short in terms of justice, he’s a financial giant, but a moral midget. Zacchaeus is a shrimp, well short of a full moral deck. That he cannot see the Lord is not just a physical problem, it is a moral one.

Now I am not picking on Zacchaeus. For the truth be told we are all Zacchaeus, Zacchaeus is us. You say, “Wait a minute, I’m not that bad.”  Maybe not but you’re not that good either. In fact we’re a lot closer to being like Zacchaeus that to being like Jesus. The fact that we are not yet ready to look on the face of the Lord is demonstrable by the fact that we’re still here. We’re not ready and not righteous enough to look upon the unveiled face of God.  How will Zacchaeus ever hope to see the Lord? How will we? Let’s read on.

2. Saving Sycamore– Zacchaeus climbs a tree to see Jesus. So must we. And the only tree that can really help us to see the Lord is the tree of the Cross. Zacchaeus has to cling to the wood of that old sycamore to climb it, and we too must cling to the wood of the old rugged cross. Only by the wood of cross and power of Jesus’ blood can we ever hope to climb high enough to see the Lord. There is an old Latin chant that says, Dulce lignum, dulce clavos, dulce pondus sustinet (sweet the wood, sweet the nails, sweet the weight (that is) sustained). So Zacchaeus foreshadows for us the righteous that comes from the cross by climbing a tree and being able to get a glimpse of Jesus.

3. Sanctifying Savior– Jesus stops by that tree, for we always meet Jesus at the cross. And there at that tree, that cross, he invites Zacchaeus into a saving and transformative relationship. It is not a surprise that Jesus invites himself for what amounts to dinner at Zacchaeus’ house. Though dinner is not mentioned here, it was  just a basic aspect of Jewish hospitality. But remember, it is Jesus who ultimately serves the meal. Consider these texts:

  • Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev 3:20)
  • And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom (Luke 22:29).
  • As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther.  But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. (Luke 24:28-30)

Yes, Zacchaeus has now begun to see the Lord, and the Lord invites him into a Holy Communion, a relationship and a liturgy that will begin to transform him. And Zacchaeus is us. We too have begun to see the Lord through the power of the Cross to cast out our blindness and the Lord draws us to sacred Communion with him. The liturgy and Holy Communion are essential for this,  as the Lord invites himself to our house, that is to say, our soul and our parishes.

4. Started Surrender – Zacchaeus is experiencing the start of a transformative relationship. But this is just the start. Note that Zacchaeus promises to return four-fold the money he has extorted and also to give half his money to the poor. Now there’s an old song that says, “I surrender all….” but Zacchaeus isn’t quite there yet, and, probably most of us aren’t either. Eventually Zacchaeus will surrender all, and so will we. But in time. For now he needs to stay near the cross to see and continue to allow Jesus to have communion with him. One day all will be surrendered.

So here is the start for Zacchaeus and us. The best is yet to come. You might say, that the Gospel ends here to make a long story short 🙂

This sermon is recorded in mp3 here: http://frpope.com/audio/31%20C.mp3

This song says, “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore. Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more. But the master of the sea heard my desparing cry and from the waters lifted me, now safe am I. Love lifted me! When nothing else could help, love lifted me!”

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!