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25th Sunday in Ordinary Time 

By Bishop John Mack

2020-09-18 00:00:00

I am free to do what I please with my money --- am I not?? - Matt 20

Today the Gospel presents to us the parable of the Laborers in the Marketplace. It is set forth to teach us a lesson in compassion, charity, caring for the needs of the downtrodden – but most importantly the danger of letting jealousy and envy consume us. In today’s modern world, Human Resources would not have been happy with that landowner. Sometimes, it seems that Human Resources does not want to come out on the side of generosity. Back in the times of the Lord, Human resources did not exist. However, people had a sense of what was just and what was unjust. Day workers were given the daily wage of one denarius. The workday was sunrise to sunset. So, it would seem just that those who worked less than a full day should receive less. But in today’s parable, also referred to as the Parable of the Good Employer, the landowner has pity on those who could not find work throughout the day. They had families they had to feed. It was not their fault that no one hired them. Therefore, he hires them, some of them even a few hours before sunset, and gives them all the same daily wage. He is not being unjust to those hired in the early morning. He is being charitable, merciful, to those hired at the end of the day. Justice and mercy are compatible when charity is involved. "Are you envious because I am generous," the owner says to those hired at sunrise who protested that they did not receive more. The exact translation of this is "Do you view my actions with an evil, jealous eye?" This occurs in the Gospel of Matthew where we also read, "If your eye causes you to sin, then pluck it out." Usually we relegate this phrase to a sexual connotation / the temptation to have a “wandering eye.” The famous or perhaps infamous example was when President Jimmy Carter admitted in an interview to having “lusted in his heart.” He was probably the most Christian President in the latst 50 years, but it got blown out of proportion. Properly applied to the point of today's parable, the Lord is saying, "If you begrudge generosity to the less fortunate, than you cannot be a Christian." If we do not rejoice in the benefits given to others, then we cut ourselves off from the benefits we have received. As Christians, we are obligated to care for the poor. We need to establish governmental and private means to aid those who cannot help themselves. Yes, these agencies are not perfect and must be regulated to eliminate those who abuse them. That is justice. And – of course that doesn’t always happen. Yet our main concern must be to care for those who have less. That is mercy.

Some people reduce those forced into situations where they have to seek help from others. This is not how a Christian should act. Yes, we should be happy when we realize that poor, sick, or people hurting in any way are being helped, but more than that, much more than that, we should be extending the hand of God to lift others up. “Are you envious because I am generous?” Envy and jealousy are horrible. The jealous person looks for ways to destroy another person’s life. The jealous person usually ends up destroying his own life. Or her own life. The jealous person does not appreciate his own gifts. He can only see the gifts that others have. It is a three-year-old mentality that proclaims: “Bobby got the bigger piece of pie!! A jealous person hates the other person for their gifts. And his hatred destroys him. Everybody is different. No two people are the same. We do not have the right to compare or contrast others to ourselves.

This parable should also be applied to our view of our relationship to God. God loves the person who is faithful throughout the day. He loves those baptized into the faith who attend church and live out their faith throughout their lives. He also loves those who come to him during the day and even in the evening. Many people respond to God’s mercy at the end of their lives. I believe that it was John Wayne, the famous actor in Westerns that confessed Jesus on his deathbed. Many people were upset with this revelation saying. “You mean he gets into heaven too?” Yet --- God loves them for taking a huge step away from their former lives and for falling into the arms of His Mercy even if it is in their last days, or last hours God loves those who take this step, even though they join St. Augustine who led a dissolute life for many of his early years. He said with a repentant heart: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient ever new. Late have I loved you.” What matters is that they are with him now. God loves life-long believers and he loves converts. He loves those who practice their faith throughout their lives, and he loves those who return to the faith. We should rejoice in those who join the faith or return to the faith. We don't consider ourselves superior to them because we are not superior to them.

At the end of the gospel reading we come upon the phrase, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” We cannot impose our ways on the Lord. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” That is from our first reading. We cannot tell God how to be God. We have to do our best to respond to the call to labor in God's vineyard as we have received it. That call demands that we are open to God's mercy in our lives and that we become vehicles for God's mercy in the lives of others. That is Christianity.

To act otherwise is to begrudge God for his generosity, or to be scripturally literal, to look upon God's goodness with an evil, jealous eye. The parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard calls upon us to ask God to help us be vehicles of His Mercy.

It’s kind of like seeing a hitchhiker on the side of the road (although this practice has almost vanished due to the risk involved) But for those who remember that era --- Will we stop and offer that traveler a ride – or simply pass him/her by? It’s the same with our mercy and compassion –will we welcome others travellers into our church, and care for their needs - or we will simply say – sorry too Late – the Door is closed!!

God (through His revealed Word) has told us HIS ANSWER – What is Yours??
Amen

Solemnity fo Brotherly Love 

By Bishop John Mack

2020-09-18 00:00:00

Love has no room for fear / Perfect love casts out all fear --- I John

The unique Solemnities of the PNCC always fall on the same Sundays in the calendar year. Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Brotherly Love – the second Sunday of September. The second Sunday of October is designated as the Solemnity of the Christian Family. They do displace the “Normal” Sunday of ordinary time – these are movable because of how we designate our liturgical calendar. I feel a little bit cheated however – because of the beautiful Gospel that would have been proclaimed today. That Gospel deals with the number of times that we need to forgive – another parable of Jesus. In it – Jesus talks about forgiving 70 times 7 which (doing the quick math) equals 490. Now – don’t take this literally. In our lifetimes – I’m sure that all of us will be called upon to forgive more than 490 times. If we live to be 80 – that’s only a little over 6 forgivenesses a year. Some of us are asked to forgive that many times in a month – or maybe a week -- hopefully not in 1 day. But – I believe that the two gospels:; one about forgiveness and the other about our duty as Christians to help someone in need are very similar. I want to illustrate this with a story about the Amish Community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I went back and re-read some of the details. It is the best example I have ever read about binding up someone’s wounds and about forgiveness.

On October 2, 2006, a shooting occurred at the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in the Old Order Amish community of Nickel Mines, a village in Bart Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The gunman was Charles Carl Roberts, a married man with three children. No one knows why he did what he did. Perhaps he was suffering from some mental or psychological illness. Maybe he just hated the Amish. No one knows why he did what he did. Skipping the sordid details: he fired 13 rounds: killing 5 & injuring 3 more before taking his own life.

On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, "We must not think evil of this man." Another Amish father noted, "He had a mother and a wife and a soul, and now he's standing before a just God." Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: "I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts."
A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Amish Community members visited and comforted Roberts' widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts' sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. The Samaritan in the Gospel for today’s Solemnity held the man who had been assaulted in his arms – binding up his wounds and caring for him and setting up funds for his care . Anyone who understands the human condition knows that there is little difference if any between physical hurt and emotional hurt. Hurt is Hurt!
About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts' funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims. Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, "Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you've given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you." That Amish community - shaken but still filled with faith and hope was the Good Samaritan of today’s Gospel
Forgiveness / Hurt / Healing / Love / Compassion – these are all the marks of a true Christian. Bp Francis Hodur established the unique Solemnities within the PNCC in response to the conditions of the times he lived in. Those conditions are no different today, nor have they been any different since the beginning of mankind. Bp Hodur saw the plight of the blue-collar worker in and around Scranton, PA. Also note that he also travelled extensively to other communities to establish parishes and congregation. He saw the need for humane working conditions / for fair and just wages for workers who toiled long hours in hazardous jobs. He saw the results of a mine or rail accident that took the life of the husband in a family. The eldest son of any age (if there was one) would then take his place in the mine / if there was no one to replace the bread-winner, the family would be forced to move out of the company house by the end of the week. He also saw a need for a church that would not only tend to the spiritual needs of the person—but their entire being.

He saw that neither of these was being met by the church he had been ordained into. He set his face like flint as a reformer / an innovator and sought to regenerate the Catholic church.

Obviously – he would be met with opposition, derision and scorn. This he expected from his former church. In the early years of the PNCC there was name-calling, rock throwing and bloodshed on the steps of Sacred Heart of Jesus in South Scranton. Bp Hodur defended the movement, but never sought out physical retribution or chaos. His sword was the pen – and his brilliant mind wrote many stirring articles. Later he faced opposition – this time from within the church. On one occasion he walked out of a synod – and had to be begged to come back. Perhaps the most stinging question we could ask of ourselves is whether or not we have lost this zeal as a denomination collectively and as God’s people individually.

Many times people mistakenly say: Bishop Hodur founded the PNCC. Not Correct – Jesus Christ founded the PNCC and any other church professing Jesus as Lord. Bp Hodur was the organizer of the PNCC. We don’t follow Bp Hodur – we follow Jesus: Crucified, Risen and coming again at the end of time. Tomorrow when I am in the Mother Cathedral of the PNCC: St. Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr – I will gaze up at the ceiling in the trancept of the church. In a mural on the ceiling is depicted the scene of a young Fr. Hodur leading the founders of that cathedral -- men, women & children to a new expression of their Catholic faith – but leading Hodur is the figure of Jesus Christ.

On this Solemnity of Brotherly Love – may we too find ourselves following Jesus, unafraid of the cost or commitment involved. The first letter of John tells us: we too must love, because God first loved us – and God IS LOVE!
Amen

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 

By Bishop John Mack

2020-09-08 00:00:00

If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked man from his way, he shall die for his guilt. But I will hold you responsible for his death. – Ezekiel 33

Today I’d like to talk to you about being part of a minority. Maybe you’ve never thought about it this way. There’s a lot of talk about minorities these days --- and of people’s prejudices against them. This minority has nothing to do with ethnic origin, race, economic status or where you live. It has to do with people who choose faith and belief in God.

Think about a single mom whose husband left her because she gained a few pounds over the years – or “just wasn’t keeping herself up.” -- You heard the kids stirring this morning. You opened your eyes. It can't be morning already. It's Sunday, I have to get them dressed. You wash up. You get the kids washed up. You throw the paper inside and try to keep the kids from killing each other over who gets the comics first. You get some breakfast on and get some coffee in yourself and cereal in the kids. You look at the clock. 8:45 already! “Get the kids in the car, we've got to go.” You drive down your street. You seem to be one of the few families stirring. Everyone else is going to have a relaxing breakfast. It hits you. We are in a minority on our block. We are one of the few families that goes to Church Sunday morning. People have told me that they are one of the few families in their sub-division that go to church. I’ve told you that the easiest day to pull out of my driveway out onto Broadway is on Sunday morning around 8 AM. Very little traffic!!
How about this scenario. Your work sends you on a business trip. Five of you made the trip to corporate headquarters in Phoenix. The second night four of the others found dates; three of them are married, but their view is what their spouses did not know wouldn't hurt them. So you go to a movie and it is so clear to you, “I wouldn't even think of cheating; yet, I'm in the minority.” How about a school scenario. You are among ninety-six of the most brilliant college graduates who have been accepted to a particular medical school. Your excitement includes finally getting to study to be a doctor; as well as the new way you have to frame your life with an off campus apartment in a quiet area so you can study in the few hours you are not in class. You ask for the location of the nearest Church and find that there are only three others of the 96 who even believe in God. You are in the minority.

How about another scenario – maybe you work in an office where most people actually are “churched.” At least they think so. About half of them are Catholic. You are shocked when someone talks about abortion and says, "Well, I'm Catholic, but I don't go along with what the Church is saying on abortion." Everyone else seems to be agreeing with the person. You are in the minority. The sociology teacher in the high school asks, "How many of your families are active members of some Church or synagogue?" Less than ten of the 35 in the class raise their hands. You suddenly realize that you are in the minority. Perhaps some of these situations or others like them have occurred in your life. Perhaps they occur frequently. Perhaps you have wondered, “Why am I the one in the minority. Why am I getting up early on Sunday morning when the rest are sleeping in? Why am I the one who is alone at the movie when others are out having a good time? Why am I the only one in Med School who structures Church into my crowded week? Why am I the only one who accepts the Church's teaching on abortion? Why is my family the only family going to Church?” When questions like this disturb us, we have to remember, Jesus never promised that we would be in the majority. He just promised that he would be with us always.
The Gospel of Matthew revolves around this very theme. Jesus is with us, even if we seem to be just a small, insignificant number. In the beginning of Matthew, Jesus is called Emmanuel, the name that means, "God is with his people." The last words of the gospel are "Know that I am with you even until the end of time." Moreover, in the middle of the Gospel we have the concluding words of today's reading. "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." We go to Church because we believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in his presence in Word and Sacrament. We need his presence in our families. We come to Church to get our spiritual batteries charged with the grace of his scriptural and sacramental presence. We come so we can have the courage to make it through another week, especially if we are called upon to stand for our faith. We come so we can pray, "Lord, my life is difficult at times, but you called us to marriage, you made me a father or mother, help me to answer your call well." We come to pray for others, "Lord, may the people on my block nourish the place you must have in their families. Lord, may the people at work learn to honor, value, and respect their marriages.

Lord, may the others in med school learn that without you, medicine is a science without direction, Lord, may other Catholics stand behind your spirit in the Church, and Lord, may my family and the families of all in my high school class grow closer to you." And we come to receive the grace to live our lives in a way that proclaims the presence of the Lord on earth.

Christianity has millions of people claiming that they belong to “The Church.” Yet there are countless millions who have never heard the Gospel; never known Jesus. We are, and will always be in the minority. Yet He just promised that he would be with us always. We need to get busy turning the minority into the majority. A lofty dream and goal – of course! Will it ever become a reality?? Yes – with God’s help and inspiration and OUR COOPERATION – IT CAN and it must! We may NEVER see that day – but in God’s time it will be accomplished!! AMEN!

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - A

By Bishop John Mack

2020-09-01 00:00:00

Get out of my sight – you Satan!

Boy, Peter sure was told off in today’s Gospel. “Get behind me Satan.” It didn’t take ole Pete long to fall off the pedestal Jesus put him on. The Gospel passage comes immediately after last Sunday’s Gospel when Jesus called Peter, “Blessed”, for proclaiming that Jesus was the Christ. Now in the passage that follows all this, Jesus calls Peter Satan. How did Peter fall so quickly? He fell because he was reasoning things out the way people of the world would reason. He was not thinking the way God thinks. He lacked wisdom. The way of the world would be, “Save your life. Don’t let anyone kill you.” The way of the Lord would be, “Make the sacrificial love of God real. Sacrifice yourself for others.” It is easy for us to think the way the world thinks. Everything around us tells us to take not give, to be concerned about ourselves first and others second, or third or fourth. Fit God in somewhere, if you care. That is the thought process of the world.

How many times have I heard “believing Christians say “Times have changed, Bishop. I’m only doing what is perfectly acceptable by our society.” And with these words, the elderly lady explained away her present living condition. And with the same words, the young man justified his “wild” lifestyle, and with the same words the abuser justified his actions. And on and on and on. Add in whatever immoral behavior you can think of, and someone will say, “I’m only doing what is perfectly acceptable by society.” But what society is that? In what society is immorality acceptable? It is acceptable by the society that finds nothing wrong with hedonism, putting one’s pleasure before every other good in life, including respect for others, respect for country, respect for life. (We’ve been seeing a lot that lately in the news) What is the society that so many claim for themselves? It is the society that is at best amoral, but which is mostly immoral. It is the society that is at best pagan, but mostly atheistic. When a person hides his or her immoral behavior behind the “acceptable by our society,” argument, that person is invoking the society that St. Paul calls “this age,” or, according to some translations, “the pattern of the world.” This is the world that Jesus Christ came to save. It is the world of selfishness, a world of pride, a world where God is not wanted. It is a world of darkness. It is a world to which we Christians cannot belong.

We were joined to a new world when we were baptized. Each of us is a key part of the new world, the Kingdom of God. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of people in each of our lives who look to us to illuminate their darkness with the Light of Christ. The problem is that we can easily be enticed by all that is around us. We can easily reject all that is within us. And so we often straddle major issues in life. Our second readings from Romans 12 puts it very plainly.

I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.(A) 2 Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

I once heard a cute story about a man who was trying to get into a small rowboat. He was quite the novice and first untied the boat from the dock – put one foot into the boat and one on the dock. Of course, you know what happened. The boat began to move out and he was stuck doing the “splits” like an NHL goalie. As the boat moved further – he of course, fell into the lake. We often do this ourselves. We have one foot that we are convinced is safely planted in God’s world, but then we stretch out our other foot to another world, the world of pagan society. And we get stretched out. And we fall. Here is what I mean by this. Even though we recognize our dignity as sons and daughters of God, we often let ourselves get involved in actions that are far less than holy. We think that we are OK, because we are firmly planted on the Lord’s dock, but the forces the other foot has stepped into draws us away from the dock, and we end up in the drink. “I didn’t know Christianity would be this difficult,” the young couple who are doing their best to have a wholesome relationship complains. “Wait, you mean that commitment to Christ demands that I stay sober. Everyone I know gets drunk on Friday nights,” the senior in high school argues. How did we get into this? Well, Jeremiah really put it so well, so poetically well in today’s first reading: You duped me Lord, and I let myself be duped. You tricked me into a life of Love that is far more demanding than I ever expected. And I love it. We do not embrace Christianity for high theological reasons or arguments. We embrace Jesus Christ for one reason only: we are wounded by His Love. That is from an Irish saint, St. Columban: “Show me my hearts desire, O Lord, for I am wounded by your love.”

Men of God, women of God, we have been wounded by Love. When we made the conscious choice of Jesus Christ, we set out on a course of action that does not allow turning back. But we don’t care about the cost. We are wounded by His Love. And we love it. He is within us, burning out for us to proclaim his presence. Even if we wanted to ignore Him, we cannot. We are His.

The psalmist writes: Better is one day in your house, O Lord, better is one day in your house, than a thousand elsewhere. Better is one day savoring your presence in my life, than a thousand in a luxurious house gained through questionable business practices, gained immorally. Better is one day in your house than a thousand in the arms of an immoral love. Better is one day in your house, than a thousand as the most popular person in high school with a talent for quietly destroying others. Better is one day in your house than a thousand parties where drugs and drunks are plentiful.

For some escapism –and a few chuckles --- I still like to watch the old “Saturday morning cartoons” when they are on. Perhaps you’re too young to remember. Whenever there was temptation depicted – it was always a “little angel on one shoulder saying: You know what’s right and moral and on the other shoulder A red devil with a pitchfork saying: Oh – go head and do it / it won’t hurt you – it’s only a little sin –have some FUN! In our heart we begin to rationalize what Christianity means. “Does this all need to be so demanding? I am doing my part. Can’t I back off some.” To this voice, we shout angrily as Jesus shouted at Peter, “Get behind me, Satan. God’s work is all that matters.”

We are wounded by Love. And we love it. You duped us Lord, and we let ourselves be duped. We love it. We love you. Nothing else, no one else, matters. Not even ourselves. Better is one day in your courts, than a thousand elsewhere.

I pray that you believe this --- I pray more importantly THAT YOU LIVE IT!