32nd Sunday in Ordinary TimeBy Fr. Gary Spencer
The first reading from 2nd Maccabees, and the Gospel reading from St. Luke, both have as their subject matter, the Resurrection. That is, the promise of being raised from the dead in much the same way Christ Jesus was raised up on the third day. And, to believe in the resurrection requires faith.
The story of the mother and seven brothers in 2nd Maccabees demonstrates to us the power of faith and the courage that can be derived from it. How faith can sustain and fortify us in times of great torment, or when we are helpless. And what great faith this family had.
King Antiochus IV had attacked and defeated the Jews about 170 years before the birth of Christ, and the king denies the Jews freedom of worship. The mother and her seven sons are arrested and brought before the ruler because they refused to eat pork as the king had ordered. One of the brothers, speaking on behalf of the rest of the family, basically tells the king that no matter what he does to them, they are not going to eat pork in violation of the Law of their ancestors. This really ticks the king off, and in the part of today’s reading that is omitted, he orders that great frying pans be brought out and heated up so he can sauté these riff raff. Before being thrown on the skillet, the son who spoke for the rest is scalped, and his hands and feet are lobbed off and his tongue cut out. When he was completely maimed, but still breathing, the king ordered him to be fried. All this was done in the presence of his mother and brothers. As a cloud of smoke rose from the pan the mother and brothers encouraged one another to stay strong and die bravely, and that they do. One by one they suffer the same fate, yet none of them would violate their religion and sin against God. All this over not eating pork! Their belief in God and what He said was so strong that they held fast to their religious law.
It was their faith and the belief in the resurrection that emboldened them even in the face of this hideous torture. The words of the three brothers we do hear from reflect various aspects or stages in the development of this concept. The first brother asserts that God, who is really the ruler of this world regardless of what circumstances might suggest, will raise the faithful up to live again. The second is willing to be stripped of his tongue and his hands because he believes that his body will share in his resurrection. The third brother insists that only the righteous will be raised to new life. These declarations reveal only a hint of the resurrection faith we have come to know through the teachings and example of Jesus.
But what about us? Is our faith as strong as this mother and her sons? Would we accept suffering in an effort to defend our faith? That’s a question that cannot be answered until we are in such a predicament.
We don’t need to be threatened with torture to test our faith and question our beliefs. Not in this modern age. Take, for example, how science can sometimes clash with faith. Today, and into the future, science is growing by leaps and bounds, and, influenced by the marvels of science and technology, some people feel that faith and religion are old hat. They feel they are too sophisticated, too cosmopolitan to have faith and believe in God. They say there are too many unanswered questions in religion, that there is too much you just have to believe without tangible evidence to back it up. Too much that you just have to take somebody’s word on it. Well yeah, that’s faith, and that person whose word we have to take is Jesus! As for unanswered questions, science has them too. What does a Quark look like? What is dark matter made of? Where does the stuff go that is sucked into a black hole? How does an electron change orbits around a proton without passing through the space in-between when it makes a quantum leap? Oh, and one more very important question, who lit the fuse that set off the Big Bang?
So, you see, there are unanswered questions no matter what you hold as sacrosanct. But, here’s the thing… God Himself told us what to believe. Jesus, God made man, came down to earth to teach us, and by His death on the Cross, opened the gates of heaven, and offered us the opportunity for salvation. Jesus not only taught His disciples about the resurrection, He rose from the dead and presented Himself to them, so that by His example they could teach others the truths of the Gospel. And those truths are found in the New Testament, so we, and future generations, can learn them too.
In the Gospel reading today, the Sadducees (pronounced Sad-u-sees), who did not believe in the resurrection, tried to show up Jesus with a trick resurrection question, but Jesus uses the words of Moses to prove them wrong. Jesus states that the dead will rise and that even Moses made that known in the passage about the bush, when he called out ‘Lord,’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” // Notice, Moses didn’t say Lord, who was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, meaning that those men are dead and gone. He says Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the present tense, meaning that these three men are still alive somewhere, and that somewhere is heaven. They’re not dead. They’re alive and waiting for the resurrection on earth. Their soul’s, of course, have already been resurrected to heaven.
There is a little play on words that can help you remember the difference between Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Pharisees, like many Jews and the followers of Jesus, believed in the Resurrection of the body. The Sadducees didn’t believe in the Resurrection. That’s why they were sad, you see.
This week, have courage and show your faith so that all who come in contact with you see that Jesus’ message of love, justice, and the Resurrection is alive in you. Let your prayers be heard in your home. Don’t be afraid to give thanks and praise to God for something that happens to you in public. And witness to others about the wonderful things God has done for you. Your family and friends will see and experience this courage, and might just follow your example.
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Gary Spencer
My sisters and brothers in Christ;
I would venture to say that from time to time each of us thinks about God. Often, I wonder, what is our focus when we think about God? Do we think about how much God loves us, or do we focus on how God will judge us?
Wisdom tells us in the first rading: You love all things that are and loathe nothing that You have made. This first reading is like a poem to the love that God has for all of His creation. As we ponder today’s readings we must hear over and over in our hearts that God loves all things that He has created!
Far too often we create in our own minds a sense that God is simply there in our lives to judge us. So, we try to do right so as not to offend Our Heavenly Father. Because of this attitude we end up living our lives in fear of God’s judgment, rather than living our lives as a response to the love that God has for us. Instead of fearing doing wrong we need to accept God’s love for us and let love guide our hearts. We need to listen to our hearts and center them on the love that God has for us and for all of His creation, and for all peoples and all persons.
The Second Letter to the Thessalonians tells us not to be shaken by rumors that the end is coming soon. We need to know that the Day of the Lord is always at hand, which means that no one knows when it will happen and that it could happen any day. This is the same reality that each of us faces each day: we might die today! Most of us don't get extremely upset by such a message, even though we know that it is true. Instead, such a message is supposed to get us to be aware of the presence of the Lord in our life, and to respond to that presence with love.
The Gospel from Saint Luke today is considered a delight. We are told about Zacchaeus, a man that he was short of stature. For a picture in your mind’s eye picture Danny Devito, or Peter Dinklage, he was the dwarf CEO in the movie Elf, and he also played a prince in the Game of Thrones TV show. So here we have this small man who wants desperately to see Jesus. He knows that he won't have a chance in the crowd and so goes ahead of the crowd and climbs a tree. This is a man who has money and a good home, and a role in society, and he climbs a tree on a city street. People must have laughed their heads off to see such a prominent person climbing a tree! It is kind of humorous, I guess, but we must also recognize that the deep desire and love for Jesus shown by Zacchaeus is worthy of our imitation.
Think of the wealthy men or women of our own time, who have social prominence, or who are involved in high government positions. Can you imagine any of them being willing to climb a tree because of wanting to see someone?
The bystanders are amazed that Jesus wants to go to this man's house and they grumble among themselves. This is so typical of us humans: that person is no better than I am. Why would anyone want to go to his house instead of mine? In fact, they probably thought that person is worse than I am and so Jesus should come to my house. Why is this religious leader, this holy man, going to eat with Zacchaeus the tax collector? Tax collectors were then, and are now, not the most loved of professionals.
The good news of Jesus Christ is that God loves each one of us and is willing to come to our house--if we invite Him. We need to, every once in a while, think about our own, personal relationship with God. Do I invite Him? Do I really try to live His word? Do I have enough interest in God to make a fool of myself for Him?
My sisters and brothers in Christ, let us invite the Lord today! Let us not be afraid to make fools of ourselves for God because God loves us. And let us always cry out in our hearts: Blessed Be God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - CBy Fr. Gary Spencer
Last week, for Christian Family Sunday, praying was discussed as a way to a better Christian life. How when we pray as a family bonds are strengthened not only among family members, but especially with God. Today’s readings exhort us to be persistent in prayer and in spreading the Word of God.
Jesus tells His disciples to pray always w/o becoming weary. And to drive the point home, He tells them the parable of the widow and the judge. A widow goes before a crooked judge and demands he render a just decision. This judge, who was most likely installed by the Romans or Herod, probably regularly put off making decisions until one of the parties slipped him a few silver pieces. But this poor widow had nothing but her tenacity, so she came before this judge whenever she had the opportunity. She comes before the judge over and over until her persistence pays off. The judge gives in and renders her a just decision. Now the judge may not have rendered his decision for the right reasons, but he did do the right thing. I guess you could say the squeaky wheel got oiled.
In the Old Testament reading Moses must be persistent in keeping his arms up in prayer while holding the Staff of God in order for the Israelites to win the battle against Amalek. Moses couldn’t do it alone, however. Aaron and Hur helped Moses keep his arms raised to heaven, but that’s OK. You see, it’s OK for us to get help keeping our arms lifted in prayer also, as long as we pray, and pray often.
St. Paul tells Timothy to proclaim the Word of God persistently whether convenient or inconvenient. We too should heed the behests of St. Paul and be persistent in spreading the Word of God, and praying to God as well.
That Gospel reading we heard today, about the widow and the judge actually has a double lesson. The first lesson teaches that being tenacious pays off, and Jesus wants us to be tenacious in our prayer life. The second lesson teaches that if a crooked judge can be worn down by the persistence of a defenseless widow, how much more will a person who persists in prayer be heard and rewarded by such a loving God as ours.
Persistence in prayer means keeping our petitions before God as we live our lives day to day. To do this we must bear in mind that we can pray anywhere. Never mind that stuff about we can’t pray in school, or in our workplace. Who can stop us? Praying is talking to God, and because God is all powerful and all knowing He will hear our prayers whether we pray aloud, or silently in our hearts. God will hear us and answer our prayers. Now, God may not answer us right away, but don’t mistake delay for neglect. Your prayers will be answered in God’s own time. However, sometimes the answer is no! We may not understand now, but when we are made perfect in heaven we will understand perfectly. For now we see dimly, as in an ancient polished metal mirror, but once we are made perfect in heaven everything will be crystal clear.
Earlier I mentioned that persistent prayer is keeping our petitions before God as we live our daily lives, but that’s only part of it. Prayer is also thanking God for all the graces He has bestowed upon us, and telling God how much we love Him. And we have much to thank Him for and many reasons to love Him. For it is by the grace of God and the sacrifice of Christ Jesus that we are saved.
Every one has heard of, or seen the ying-yang symbol of the Orient, yes? Well, there is a yang to prayer’s ying. And that is listening, sometimes referred to as meditation. Listening is the often forgotten part of our prayer life. Sometimes we can be so caught up in talking to God that we don’t hear when God talks to us. So always spend some time in quite meditation after praying whenever you can, and listen for the voice of God.
Today’s Gospel reading ends with the question, “But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” The answer is yes, if we follow Jesus’ commandments and teachings. Because when we are persistent in prayer and meditation we grow tremendously in Faith, Hope, and Love.
This week we must make every effort to increase the time we spend praying and meditating. Like that chef on TV used to say, ‘we gotta kick it up a notch.’ And if you know someone who doesn’t know how to pray, or for some reason can’t pray, go to that person and pray for them. Maybe it’s a small child, or someone who is ill or disabled, or maybe it’s just a person you know who would like someone to pray for them. They will feel better and so will you knowing that God hears you and loves you.
Christian Family SundayBy Fr. Gary Spencer
We Catholics are blessed to celebrate in prayer, Christian Family Sunday. A day to focus on the Christian Family unit. As Christian families, we must love, and we must live our lives full of Jesus. That is, we must keep Jesus Christ always present in our lives.
This morning’s reading by St. Paul to the Colossians is a blueprint for Christian families. Listen once again to his words: Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourself with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Beautiful!
We are to clothe ourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, forgive one another, and over all these virtues we are to put on love. We are to do this because this is exactly what Jesus did, and, if we are to imitate Jesus, then this is the way we are to try to live our lives everyday. But it’s hard to do all of these things, isn’t it? Maybe we should all read this part of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians every morning to remind ourselves how we should feel and conduct ourselves. And you know what? This is what makes us “good people”. Could you imagine a world where everyone used these words of St. Paul’s as a model for living? Peace and tranquility would abound. Respecting one another, and ultimately, respecting and loving God.
The model for today’s Christian Family, as throughout Christian history, is the Holy Family: Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. Through Scripture we know quite a bit about Jesus, a little about Mary, and very little about Joseph. As a matter of fact, there are no recorded words of Joseph in any of the NT writings. Yet, we know that Joseph was a kind and caring step-father to Jesus. Back during the time of Jesus men ruled the roost. The father of the house was the master of the house who controlled the lives of his wife, children, and servants. Yet, when Joseph and Mary finally find 12 yr. old Jesus in the Temple after three days of searching, it is Mary who begins to scold Jesus, not Joseph. Back in what we refer to as Biblical Times scripture stated that if you love your children you will not spare them of a beating, so fathers back then would have really given it to their son for wondering off as Jesus did, yet Joseph was silent. For Joseph was a kind, patient, forgiving, and loving step-father if ever there was one.
How many times have you heard people joke that they don’t give you a manual on how to be a parent or husband or wife when you get married? Well, Paul did.
I know what you ladies are thinking: What’s with the wives be submissive stuff St. Paul writes about. Well, as I stated above, men ruled the roost back then. However, Paul does break the mold when he tells men that they must love their wives and avoid all bitterness toward them. And, in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” So, even though it seems like the wives are being suppressed, St. Paul demands that a husband love his wife as Christ loves His church. That is a tall order, indeed.
Paul also tells fathers not to nag their kids because this causes them to lose heart. We dad’s do tend to get on our kid’s cases, but it is because we love them and want them to grow up to be upstanding, good citizens. However, sometimes dads need to be reminded of the ramifications our words cause our children should the nagging become overdone. It’s so easy to yell at our kids when they goof up. Therefore, it is up to us fathers to be more like St. Joseph in dealing with our children, rather than someone like… oh, Archie Bunker (explain). Kids are more emotionally fragile then we think, so treat them with love and kindness, and be patient with them.
As Christians families, we should also wear our Christianity on our sleeves. By that I mean people should know we are Christians by our actions, and by our possessions too. When someone enters our house or apartment they should know that they are in a Christian home. We should all have a crucifix or religious artwork in our home, revealing us to be Christians. This serves not only to show visitors who we are, but reminds us of who we are when we begin to lose out patients with our loved ones.
Another thing Christian families should do is pray together. Remember that old saying, “The family that prays together, stays together.” It’s true. If you have trouble praying aloud, in front of people, you can start by saying grace before meals with the family. Take turns among family members so that praying aloud becomes second nature to everyone. And don’t be afraid to show your Catholicity in public. Say grace even when you go to a restaurant, and begin and end with the sign of the Cross. Don’t be shy about praying in public – after all, Jesus hung on the Cross suffering, in public, for three hours for us, so we can do these little things for Him.
And, of course, Christian families should attend Mass together. Receiving the Sacraments together is so important because it not only bonds the family to one another, but it bonds them to Christ as well, through the hearing of God’s Word, and through Holy Communion.
So today and everyday, we need to pray for our families constantly that we all may be merciful, kind, humble, meek, patient, forgiving, and loving. By doing this our lives together here on earth will be so much more pleasant, and our reward in heaven will be great.
27th Sunday in Ordinary TimeBy Fr. Gary Spencer
Faith is a big thing in Christianity. It’s at the core of our religion. We find faith spoken about in all three of today’s readings. At Mass, we recite a creed of Faith: I believe! I believe in God, the Father Almighty. I believe in the Jesus Christ, His only Son. I believe in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father. It’s about believing that, which is revealed to us by God, is true. Faith is an infused gift of God to us. Infuse means to insert one thing into another so as to change or affect it, so God puts faith in us to change us in some way. It changes us by giving us the ability to comprehend beyond our senses and intellect. A Scriptural example can be found in Matthew’s Gospel where he tells of not only Jesus walking on water, but Peter also. Matthew writes, “And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately He spoke to them saying, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear.” And Peter answered Him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me to come to you on the water.” He said, Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Yes, Peter had little faith, yet he was able to walk on water. It wasn’t until his senses and intellect took over that he began to sink. Peter sensed the wind, and his intellect cried out to him, “what are you doing? You can’t walk on water. You’re going to sink!” And, he started sinking. But while he was sure in his little faith, he was walking on water.
Remember also in the story of Doubting Thomas, with Thomas saying he wouldn’t believe unless he could stick his fingers into Jesus’ open wounds. After Jesus appears to him He says, “Blessed are they that have not seen and believe.” That’s us! Just by having a little faith, just the size of a mustard seed, about the size of a poppy seed, God blesses us. What a wonderful and merciful Father, God is!
Yes, faith is strong stuff. Faith is what healed the women with the hemorrhage; Faith restored sight to blind people, cured lepers, and others. The Apostles saw Faith in action, so it is no wonder that the wanted their faith increased. Yet, Jesus told them that it was not necessary to have more faith – that just a little faith, real faith – was enough. It’s strong stuff.
So too with us, we don’t need to increase our faith. What we need to do is keep it from decreasing, and there are a couple of ways of doing this. One way, the best way, is to frequently attend Mass and receive the Holy Eucharist. Another way is to learn all you can about the Apostles and Early Church Fathers, and to study what they had to say about Jesus and their faith in Him. Theirs was a faith that kept them strong, even to a martyr’s death. The reason I mentioned studying these particular Saints is that they were either the direct disciples of Jesus, or direct disciples of the Aostles.
But even if we do not seem to perceive ourselves growing in faith we must remember that as long as we have that wee bit of faith we should be all right. We need to remember this especially when we struggle in life, or when we are afraid for some reason all we need to do is use that little poppy seed sized bit of faith we have and put our trust in God. God works His wonders in many ways and through many different people. You know I speak a lot about doing what’s right as taught us by Jesus Christ so that we can attain the kingdom of heaven, but this is our current reality and often times we need help now! So whether we need are preparing ourselves for our afterlife, or we need help now, we need to lean on that little bit of faith and God will help us in one way or another. Sometimes we need to ignore our senses, and do what we know is right in our heart of hearts where God is speaking to us.
So today, at the Eucharist, let us tell Our Lord that we believe His Word is true, and let us all ask Jesus to help us cultivate and nurture that little mustard seed size faith of ours so that it may sustain us all our lives. And may we always thank God and tell the Lord how much we love Him. Hold fast to your faith, and may God bless you always; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.