Solemnity of Christ the KingBy Bishop John Mack
For the Kingdom and the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.
This flourish was put into the margin next to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew by one of the inscribers of the Middle Ages. In the days before the printing press, the only copies of books were produced by monks who spent long days meticulously reproducing the texts set before them. Imagine working 10-12 hours a day transferring text from one manuscript to blank pages—and not with a roller ball pen – but with a quill and Ink well. Imagine the patience and dedication that took. We, in today’s society get upset when someone has 10 items in the “8 items or less” line at the supermarket. Modern man pales in comparison. These men prayed over what they were writing. They weren’t human Xerox machines, they were God’s instrument to convey His word. The monk who wrote the flourish wanted to place a prayer next to what he was copying. He wanted to share what his soul was crying out. He wanted the world to know that God was the one and only king, the supreme king. He wanted the world to know that Jesus Christ had come to establish the Kingdom of God in this world.
This kingdom was different from any the world had ever seen. It was a kingdom of charity, a kingdom of love, a kingdom whose least members would be valued and cared for. And so, at the conclusion of the 25th chapter of Matthew, we have the story of the sheep and the goats. This seemingly simple story leads us to a profound meditation on the fundamental nature of the Kingdom of God on earth, the Church.
First, the Church is not just a humanitarian organization. The Church is the Body of Christ on earth. It looks to serve Christ and to be Christ in every area of its life. Humanitarians or “Secular Humanists” in the sociology jargon are concerned with the good of their fellow men. This is wonderful. The world has certainly benefitted from the determination of so many rich individuals and couples who have given a great deal of their wealth for worthy causes. God sees them. God will reward them.
But what we do in the Church is far more than humanitarian. We seek the very presence of the Lord in those who are hurting. When He tells the sheep that they will be rewarded or the goats that they will be condemned, the Lord does not just say that those who are suffering are important to Him. No, He identifies Himself with them. He says, “I was hungry; I was thirsty; I was naked; I was a stranger; I was sick; I was in prison.”
Our charity is not just something we do. It is our caring for the presence of Jesus Christ in those with profound needs. We are Christians, servants of the One who identifies Himself with the marginalized.
Secondly, we cannot be satisfied just with encouraging the government to care for all who are suffering. Yes, we must do that. It is patriotic for the Church to demand that our government be just and moral. But efforts to change the laws of the country do not supplant our responsibility to care for the weakest of our society ourselves. Whether or not the country is just or unjust, we must always be charitable.
Thirdly, we must respond to what we have received from the Lord. We have received mercy. We have received reconciliation. We have received acceptance as sons and daughter of God. It is a challenge for us to live out the gratitude we owe God. We demonstrate our gratitude in the way in which we treat those who are abandoned in the world today.
What is often called the preferential option for the poor is then something we undertake not out of a sense of duty, but out of a sense of gratitude for the extraordinary gift of God’s love. Love is amazing. We receive love only by giving love. We receive God’s love by sharing his love with others, particularly with those people with whom Jesus Christ has said he is present in a special way.
Our American society is suffering from extreme polarization: liberals vs conservatives, Republicans vs Democrats. Each side sees little good in the other side and little wrong in their side. Many people, including Catholics, are identifying themselves with political parties and political ideals. This is wrong. The Lord did not call us into a political party. He called us into the Kingdom of God. The way we need to identify ourselves is as authentic followers of Jesus Christ. When we do that, then we will find ourselves supporting various positions of each party because these positions best represent the one party we need to belong to, the party of Jesus Christ.
For the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory are His, forever and ever. Amen.
33rd Sunday in Ordinary TimeBy Bishop John Mack
He called in His servants and handed his funds over to them according to their ability – Matt 25
Last Sunday and this Sunday we heard two parables from the first part of the Twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. Last Sunday the parable was the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, five wise and five foolish. This Sunday we have the parable of the Talents. This is the parable of the three men who were called upon to invest money, or talents. Next Sunday, we will have the remainder of the Twenty-fifth chapter, the parable of the sheep and goats. Just as last Sunday’s Gospel was really not about bridesmaids but about the proper use of time to prepare for the Lord, this Sunday’s Gospel is really not about investing money but is also about preparing for the Lord to come, this time, to seek a reckoning. It might seem strange that those entrusted with a number of talents should be expected to return a greater number to the Lord, and the one man who protected the money given to him would be admonished. It really is not strange if we consider that the parable isn’t about money after all. It is about the Word of God and about Grace. The man who is given five talents is a man who has received a great deal of Grace. He is a man who has been nurtured by the Word of God from his first days. Perhaps for Matthew he represents those who were first Jewish and then became Christian. They had the benefit of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures. Or maybe he represents those who had a first-hand encounter with one of the apostles, or perhaps with Jesus Himself. And perhaps the man who received the two talents represented someone who came from a family not acquainted with the Hebrew Scriptures, and therefore a gentile who did not enjoy the same amount of Grace that was given to the first man. Maybe he was from a second generation of Christians, and only heard stories about Jesus and the apostles. He had less to work with then the first man, but he was determined to spread the faith the best he could. And perhaps the man who received the one talent represents those who had heard about Christ but chose to resist the Gospel and the spreading of the Word of God. He had nothing to show for the grace that he received. He, in fact, had rejected this grace, buried it. It was taken from him, and he was thrown out of the light into the darkness. The parable demands that we consider the grace that we have received and how well we are using this grace to spread the Kingdom of God.
Most of us are cradle Catholics. We received the Grace of God from our infancy. We were brought up in Catholic homes. We have been given the opportunity to grow in our faith throughout our lives. For most of you there were and are the graced moments of marriage, and children being born, and their receiving the sacraments. For those of us in religious life or the priesthood, there are other graced moments. There are the graced moments of religious profession and ordination to the diaconate and priesthood. Perhaps more important, we get to experience the graced moments of witnessing the faith of the people we are called to serve. For all of us there are the graces of the Church year. When we kneel at the manger on Christmas or beneath the cross on Good Friday, when we rejoice in our new life in the Lord on Easter and our reception of the Power that is the Spirit on Pentecost, we enter into times of profound prayer and receive Grace after Grace. What do we do with the Grace we have received? That is the question that the Gospel demands we consider. That is the question that we will have to answer when we come before the Lord at the end of time or at the end of our own personal time. How well have we lived our faith? Is the Kingdom of God stronger on earth because of us, or have we squandered the grace we have received and done little or nothing to enrich the world with the Presence of the Word Become Flesh?
Sometimes we like to play the “comparison game” with God. Well – I’m not as bad as “so and so.” Somehow this makes some people feel better. We also do not have the right to judge how others have responded to the Grace they have received. We do not know what Graces they have received, nor do we know anything that they have experienced in life. My deepest concern, and my deepest regret, are both the same. That is: how many times have I not taken advantage of all the Lord has given me? How often have I allowed His Grace to slip through my fingers like grains of sand? How many people would have come closer to God if I had only invested what I was given better? I am sure you all have the same concern. At least you should. How much better would others have become if you, and I, were more concerned with spreading the love of the Lord than we were with returning insult for insult and hurt for hurt? The Parable of the Talents can be quite frightening. Perhaps, that is why the Gospel of Matthew places the story of the sheep and the goats immediately after this parable. Remember the sheep. They are pleasantly surprised when the Son of Man tells them to come and inherit the Kingdom the Father has prepared for them from the foundation of the world.
He said to them, “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” When they asked Him “When did we see you hungry or thirsty, or naked, or a stranger or ill or in prison?” he told them that as often as they did this for the least of his people they did it for him. The sheep didn’t realize that they had invested the grace they had received by being gracious to others who needed help.
God sees the times that we have reached out to others. He sees the return of his investment in our own works of charity. We need to remember 1 Peter 4:8. “Love covers a multitude of sins.” At the end of the Church year, we are told to consider the end of time, including the end of our own time. We are reminded that the end has not yet come. There is still time, time to take advantage of a bull market of grace. We can and we must reach out to others. We can use the grace we have received well. There is still time, plenty of time, to invest wisely. I pray that we all will do so until the day we are called home. Amen
All Saints DayBy Bishop John Mack
They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb - Rev 7
In our society today – words have had their meanings changed or at least altered to a point that the word no longer has the status that it once had. Take the world of sports for example: Last month the Tampa Bay Lightning returned home with the Stanley Cup. Names such as Stamkos, Hedman, Vasilevsky and Kukcherov became the new heroes of Tampa Bay area hockey fans. The same holds true to football: Kelly and Thurman Thomas in Buffalo / Franco Harris, Rocky Bleir, Bradshaw and “Mean Joe” Green in Pittsburgh. Many of these athletes participated in charitable causes during their careers and others have gone on to do good works after their retirement in the communities in which they played. However, I really do not think that hockey players, football players or any athletes are heroes. What they do on the ice, or the field has little to do with whom they are. A hero is someone with the courage to be not just the best hockey player or football player, but the best person he or she can be. A person can be a good athlete, or politician, but not be a very good person. We don’t have to look far in the world of sports to find examples. Hero status belongs to those who are the best they can be in every aspect of their lives. The saints are really heroes. They completed their lives united to God, truly being all that God created them to be. They live on now united to the Lord in heaven, praying for us here on earth, and guiding us to be the heroes that God calls us to be.
Let’s glance at some of the heroes we find in the Bible. There are heroes in the first part of the Bible, the Old Testament. For example, Abraham and Samson and David and Deborah and Ruth were all heroes because they allowed God's plan to work through them. They had the courage to stand by God's plan and to bring that plan to completion. The Old Testament prepares us to experience the greatest of all heroes, Jesus Christ. I bet you never consider that. Jesus Christ is a hero, the greatest of all heroes. He gave himself completely to the will of God the Father, even though this meant being crucified for that part of creation that could have chosen God but who rejected him, mankind. Jesus Christ has restored God's reign among his people. He is the ultimate hero. He transformed the world with the Love of God. The New Testament also presents Jesus’ mother, Mary, as the greatest women who ever lived.
She was open to God’s will no matter how much she suffered because of it. We also learn about Joseph, the Lord’s foster father, who sacrificed everything for this child and the child’s mother.
Jesus calls us to be heroes. On the Mountain of the Beatitudes, today's Gospel, he calls us away from being self-centered to being God centered. He calls us to be poor in Spirit. Whether we are rich or poor or somewhere in between, the center of our lives must be God, not money. He tells us that we cannot close our eyes to the atrocities of the world. "Blessed are those who mourn." The Lord wept over Jerusalem because it refused to recognize the presence of God in its mist. We weep over our society that allows children to be exploited by drugs, sex and crass commercialism. We mourn over a society that allows a million and a half abortions a year. The meek who inherit the earth are those who are not going to allow hatred to dominate their lives. They will fight for what is right, but they will be merciful, they will be sincere, they will be peacemakers for the sake of the Lord. Finally the beatitudes speak about those who are willing to suffer the mockery of the world, those who would rather be in the minority who choose God than be in the majority of those who go along with the pagan materialism of society.
The saints, whom we honor today, give us an example of people emptying themselves to allow God's plan to work in them, people who have the courage to be genuine heroes. They are not plaster or plastic statues of unreal people in pietistic poses. They are real people from every walk of life who met the challenge of Christianity and conquered. They are priests and nuns, like Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Sienna, married people and single people, like Thomas More and Rose of Lima, very old and very young, like Theresa of Avila and Theresa of Liseaux, They were geniuses, like Thomas Aquinas, and people of simple intelligence but vast wisdom, like John Vianney. All of these and all whom I could not possibly name accepted the challenge of Christianity and had the courage to wash their baptismal robes in the Blood of the Lamb, as Revelation says. They had the courage to live the sacrifice of Christ in their lives. They had the courage to make the love of God real in the world.
The Book of Revelations also notes that there is a throng of people before the throne of the lamb, people from every race and nation, a number too numerous for anyone to count.
These are those who have gone before us, who live now and who will live in the future who are willing to sacrifice everything for the Kingdom of God. These are the true heroes following the greatest of all heroes, Jesus Christ.
Am I among that number? Are you? Do we have the couBrage to proclaim God’s love with our lives? Well, that is why we pray today on the Solemnity of All Saints. We pray for the courage to follow the Lord. We pray for the courage to put God first in our lives.
May the Lord help us to stand for him and with hBim. I truly enjoy the words of today’s processional hymn: especially the last line that says:
”For the Saints of god are just folk like me and I mean to be one too!” Today we pray for the courage to be genuine heroes / to be counted amongst THE SAINTS OF GOD! AMEN
Solemnity of the Christian FamilyBy Bishop John Mack
He went down with them then, and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. Luke 2
The PNCC today celebrates the solemnity of the Christian Family. Mary and Joseph had the authority of parents over him and he listened to them, though, as today’s Gospel relates, Jesus’ true father was the Eternal Father in heaven. We read in scripture that Joseph took leadership in the family, even getting them up in the middle of the night to flee to Egypt. We know that Mary cared for her child because he needed her to grow into the man the Eternal Father sent the Word to the earth to become. We know that Mary was present for her Son throughout his life, supporting him even as her Son was dying on the cross. We are certain that this family was indeed holy, separate for the Lord.
How about our families, the families you are part of right now, and, for the single and the young, the families that you might be forming in the future? Are they, or will they be holy families? The Kingdom of God needs holy families. The family is the main vehicle for the living of the faith. Yes, we have many other experiences of faith in the world, and yes, people can be people of great faith even when the faith of their own families is weak or non existent. God’s grace is not limited by our failings. All of us have had the opportunity to grow closer to the Lord in situations outside of our families. But the main vehicle for His Grace is the Christian family. The Christian family is called to be holy, separate, set aside for the Lord. That means that the Christian family has got to be different than families where the Lord is an afterthought, if any thought at all. The Christian family must be the battlefield where evil is defeated now, and through the children, in the future. How can families be holy? What must families do to be set aside for the Lord? First all, families need to keep the presence of the Lord alive in their homes by nurturing the presence of the Lord in each individual in the family. Children need opportunities to pray in their own way. For most families these opportunities are before meals and at bedtime. That’s great. Moms and Dads also need the opportunity to pray, only their schedule is a lot more crowded. The best time for prayer might be the first thing in the morning, before the children get up, but sometimes that is impossible. One parent has to leave for work very early in the morning. Or perhaps the Mom spent the night caring with a baby who would not sleep, or, perhaps, caring for a sick child.
For many the easiest time to pray is at night, first as a couple who like Tobias and Sarah recognize the presence of the Lord in their marriage, then over their babies, then with their little children as they say night prayers, continuing to pray for them when they sleep. When the children get older and need their privacy, or when they move on in life, Mom and Dad should still pray for them every night. Young people, when you think about marriage, look for someone with whom you can pray for your children.
Secondly, families need to keep the presence of the Lord alive in their homes by protecting their homes from anything that would lessen His presence. Obviously, there is plenty of bad stuff available on TV and internet that we cannot allow into our homes and into our lives. We need to be careful about the subtle ways that evil compromises the integrity of our family. One of evil’s main weapons is to bend our minds to accept immorality as part of life. In so many sitcoms the character with moral values is portrayed as right wing, mean, and hateful, politically IN-correct while the characters who live blatantly immoral lives are presented as warm and loving. These shows wear us down into accepting immorality as a viable option in life. We need to be careful what we allow into our homes. We need to be vigilant as to what our children are encouraged to bring into our homes from other places. There is a war to be won. We must fight it in our families. Our motto must be Joshua 24:17, “As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
A third action a family can and must embrace to be holy, separate for the Lord, is to seek out his presence in others, particularly those who need special care. What did Jesus do, during those three years of his public ministry? He healed the sick. He cared for people. The blind, the deaf, the lame, the poor, the repented thieves masquerading as tax collectors, and the women who sold themselves for money, all were all healed by the Lord. The family that seeks to reach out to the presence of the Lord in those who are suffering will come to a deeper appreciation of the presence of the Lord in the home. Or, to put it simply, they will be holy. In today’s gospel, twelve year old Jesus was left in the Temple. And they only had only one to look out for. Well, the story of the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple is told to re-enforce that Jesus was the Son of the Eternal Father. Still, Mary and Joseph did appear to fail parenting 101. Actually, their mistake was quickly remedied. As Jesus said, they should have realized that he had to be about his father’s business and should have checked the Temple first. Perhaps, some of you folks can relate this to some of the mistakes you might make in your parenting and realize that it is impossible to be perfect parents. No family is ideal. Not the family you are part of now, nor the family you might form in the future. The family is made up of human beings. We humans have times that we are weak. So many of our families realize this and go to confession not just for the spiritual strength of each individual, but for the spiritual strength of the entire family. It is impossible for us to be perfect, but if we nurture the presence of the Lord in our families through prayer, if we are vigilant fighting against the attacks on the integrity of our families, and if we reach out to the Lord in others, we will be holy families, set aside for the Lord. And we will win for the Kingdom of God each battle that is waged in our homes.
27th Sunday in Ordinary TimeBy Bishop John Mack
He will lease his vineyard out to others who will see to it that he has grapes at vintage time Matthew 21
What were they thinking? How did the tenant farmers ever get it into their minds that they had the right to keep the grapes and vineyards that they did not own? How could they justify killing the owner’s servants and then his son? To understand this Sunday’s parable, we need to consider the situation back in the time of Our Lord. Very often farms and vineyards were owned by foreigners or by wealthy Israelites who lived a great distance away, usually in foreign countries. By taking over the farm or vineyard for themselves, the workmen would actually be part of a rebellion against foreign powers or against Jewish people who had given themselves over to foreign powers. In addition to this a Jewish law read that if a landowner died without an heir, his property would become the possession of whoever grabbed it first, in the case of the parable, the workmen.
Basing himself on Isaiah 5, our first reading, Jesus tells the people that the vineyard is the b. The vineyard in Isaiah 5 is cut down because the people of Israel have not been faithful to their God. The vineyard in the parable from the Gospel of Matthew is a source of turmoil because the workmen have been keeping the fruit for themselves. The workmen here are the elders and leaders of the Jewish people. They were more concerned with themselves than with the work of God’s kingdom. Jesus came at a very inopportune time for the Jewish leaders. Politically, these leaders were winning concessions from Rome that would keep them in power. Financially, the leaders of the people were afraid that they would be thrown into poverty if they lost their position. To the leaders of the Jewish people, this was not a good time for a Messiah.
But the world was waiting. God was ready. The timing was really perfect. The extent of the Roman Empire, the way that Rome interlocked culture, economics and military conquest, made the timing perfect to spread the Gospel. Eight hundred years ago a man was born who embraced the attitude of bearing fruit for God so completely that he reformed the entire Church. His influence is still felt.
This man, whose feast day falls today is St. Francis of Assisi, perhaps the most popular saint this side of the Apostolic Era.
Francis recognized early in his life that concern about power, position and finances could lead a person to act like the wicked vine dressers. At the time of his radical conversion to Christ, Francis was about to inherit his father’s position and power. His friends told him that the time was not right for him to turn so completely to God. He should wait until he was well established, then he could be generous to charity. But Francis heard a call for immediate action. He could see himself embracing a life of sin if he didn’t listen to this call. He decided to concentrate all his energy on bearing fruit for God. So before the civil authorities and in the presence of his father, he renounced all his possessions and embraced a life of bearing fruit for God. In the movie, “Brother Sun and Sister Moon” – Francis disrobes before his father and walks out of his very luxurious house wearing only his “birthday suit”. In his poverty Francis became the richest man in the world, calling the sun his brother and the moon his sister. In many ways, St. Francis of Assisi was a Christian romantic, excited by the b of following Christ.
It was clear to Francis that timing was everything, providing the timing was the Lord’s time, not his. This has to be clear to us also. The call to follow the Lord comes when God chooses, not when we choose. Vintage time is upon us. The owner of the vineyard is looking for the results of our labor. Are we to strike Him – causing Him to abandon the field and then go on with our lives as though we own the vineyard? Or can we have the courage to put the Lord and his Kingdom first in our lives and in the world?
We come to Church seeking the courage to be the Lord’s laborers in his vineyard.We come to Church not to be seen by others – not to “show off” our piety or our goodness. We come to Church not so that we can have personal gain in other areas of our life. We come to acknowledged that we are in fact sinners – unworthy to receive God’s blessing and love --- yet nonetheless this is exactly what He offers to us. We come to be fed with His precious body and blood – taking Jesus Himself into our very being – knowing that this heavenly foobd – is exactly what we need to nourish us for our life on earth and the life to come. This gift is more precious than all the grapes in the world and every bottle of wine even filled. Let us treat the owner of the vineyard with the highest honor & respect. Let us be faithful stewards of his vineyard. Amen
26th Sunday in Ordinary TimeBy Bishop John Mack
Your attitude must be Christ’s - Paul to the Philippians
What if the “Final exam” for entering into heaven was to describe to a 4-year-old who Jesus was – what He stood for – what he did for mankind – why you follow Him. What would we say? How would we describe the Son of God. I don’t know about you – but I’d try to throw in some quotes from Second Philippians. This Sunday we are treated to one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. Paul begins by telling us to be kind, and loving, and merciful to each other. We are to put the interests of others above ourselves. Then he tells us about Jesus. He says that we should have the same attitude in life as Jesus had. He was forever God, but he did not regard this as something to be grasped. Instead, He emptied Himself of His Divinity. He became a human being. More than this, He became a slave for all of us. And He obeyed His Father for our sake, even when this obedience led to His death on the cross.
Then we have in what we might call: “Bible Speak” a Christological hymn: Because of this God has bestowed on Him the name that is above every other name; so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, both in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father. It is difficult for us to explain our belief in Jesus. Jesus is so much more for us than Christology, the study of Christ. Jesus is not just a revealed truth of the Church, an intellectual doctrine. He is a living person. We have a personal relationship with Him. We go through our days speaking to Him and listening for Him to speak to us. We know that He is the eternal Son of the Father, the Word of God present from the beginning of creation. That is not how we relate to Him, or He to us. He is our closest friend, our deepest Love. We look at the Cross and are amazed at the extent of His Love for us. He is God, and yet He became one of us. More than that, He became a slave for us. Jesus came to serve us. He came to free us from the grasp of materialism. He came to renew the quest for the spiritual within us. He came to restore us to that place in creation that we deserted out of pride and selfishness. We might include in our answers this point. Sometimes we tell the little children, “Jesus came to open the gates of heaven.” That is beautifully concrete, the way that a little child can understand. For us adults we develop this thought into: He came to instill the spiritual within us so that we can be united to the Eternal.
“Be like Him,” St. Paul says in the first reading. “Serve others. Stop being selfish. Look at others as more important than yourself.” This is difficult. So much of our society pressures us to think that the world revolves around our wants and us. However, it does not. The world is the Lord’s. With the Grace of God, we can do the work of God. But this is work, and work is hard. Work takes time and strength. Work means exhausting ourselves to be understanding, in your case, of your husband or wife, your children, your parents. In my case, the people God calls me to serve. It is really the same for everyone here. For all of us, doing the work of the Lord means emptying ourselves for others. It also means doing everything we can to stay away from all that could hurt us. It takes work to control our temper. It takes work to be spiritual in our homes. It takes work to turn a house into a place of prayer, a little Church. This is the work of Jesus, who humbled Himself for others, for us.
Like the two sons in the Gospel, we are called to work in the Father's vineyard. The vineyard is your house and my house. The vineyard is your life and my life. The vineyard is that place where others are reaching out to us, seeking the love of Christ in us. They long for Jesus. And they can find Him. They can find Him within us, within us as Church and within us as individuals. For God to work through us, we have to take on the humility of Christ and be more concerned with those for whom we are called then with ourselves. I am sure you have had situations where you must show humility and forgiveness. Every married person has had to be more concerned with caring for his or her spouse then with how he or she has been treated by that same spouse. One snaps at the other, and the other has various choices: retaliate and snap back, employ the old classic passive aggressive behavior known as the silent treatment, sulk, or say, “I’m sorry for my part in this,” and look for something to do together to change the subject and ease the upset. Certainly, the silliest words ever uttered by Hollywood were from the old movie, “Love Story”. The famous line was: “Love means never having to say you are sorry.” No, love means always having to say you are sorry. However, that takes humility. Pride and marriage cannot co-exist, at least not peacefully. Nevertheless, through humility you can be like Jesus for each other. Let’s return to the Gospel passage for today:
Matthew 16:24: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” We usually just relegate this and similar passages to the way that we handle crises, perhaps a diagnosis of cancer, the death of a spouse or some other such crisis. Today’s second reading is more expansive. It directs us to take up our cross in our daily lives. It tells us that to follow Christ we have to change our attitude in life to be like His. We have to be like the One who humbled Himself. This is difficult. Yet - we can be the people that God needs us to be for His Kingdom. By doing so, we can joyfully take up our cross and lead others to Jesus by our example. Amen
25th Sunday in Ordinary TimeBy Bishop John Mack
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??
Solemnity fo Brotherly LoveBy Bishop John Mack
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!
23rd Sunday in Ordinary TimeBy Bishop John Mack
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 - ABy Bishop John Mack
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!