Saturday, October 29, 2011

XXXI-Sunday in Ordinary Time. (A)

XXXI- Sunday- A
Mal.1:14-2:2, 8-10; 1 Thess. 2:7-9, 13; Mt. 23:1-12

A Texas rancher met up with a Wisconsin dairy farmer. The two men began talking about their land and the milkman told the cattleman that he operated his business on 125 acres. The Texan scoffed at such a small parcel of land. He said, "Yankee, that ain’t nothin’. On my ranch I can get in my truck at sunrise and I won’t reach the fence line of my property until sunset." The dairy farmer snorted, "Yeah, I used to have an old truck like that."

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2

In the first reading, the prophet Malachi condemns the irresponsible, proud and lazy priests of his day. In today’s gospel, Jesus offers a word of judgment against contemporary religious leaders who are more concerned about self-promotion than service to others. Those leaders had the tendency to call attention to themselves instead of bringing people to God, they bring people's attention to themselves. In their misguided zeal for religion, they sought respect and honor for themselves rather than for God. They expressed their love of honor in several ways, thereby converting Judaism into a religion of ostentation.
Jesus castigated the proud hearted Pharisees. He told them: one who humbles himself will be exalted. Humility and self-denial are always admired, but rarely practiced. Pride is a cancerous, lethal, and destructive quality, which probably more than any other negative quality, has brought down more kingdoms, toppled more empires, caused more wars, destroyed more marriages, ruined more friendships, and made many criminals than all of the other negative qualities combined and put together.
The Bible has some pretty dire warnings about dealing with pride: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud. Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.” – Proverbs 16: 18-20
Though pride is hated by most people, many still succumb to its enticing and seductive nature, and many end up losing everything as a result of the consequences of wallowing in it for too long a period of time.
Once pride starts to seep into someone’s personality to any significant degree it will start to seep into their emotions, actions, and behaviors. And once this negative quality starts to manifest into their actions and behaviors, then their judgment will start to cloud. And once their sense of proper judgment starts to cloud up, they will no longer be able to separate truth from error. They eventually end up becoming their own little god, thinking they have all of the answers to everything and that the entire world revolves around them. Hence, the scriptures emphasize the need to be humble. St. Peter wrote, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:6).

The proverbs teach us about the transitory nature of our existence. It says “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” (Proverbs 27:1)
Hawaii is the 50thstate of the United States. Before it became a part of the USA, there was a civil war in Hawaii between two rival chieftains. One of the generals in this war was a man named Kaiana. Kaiana was a seasoned warrior, and had gained a big advantage in the war by positioning his forces in some strategically well-defended areas. Kaiana was also a proud man, and he was known to display his rank among the soldiers by wearing bright clothing with many colors. Unfortunately, Kaiana failed to realize this would make him more noticeable on the battlefield, and the general met his end after being shot by a cannon.
Pride will always be one of the most difficult sins to guard against because it has a way of hiding behind the things we value. Perhaps you take pride in your athletic ability, but do you flaunt that ability over your teammates or use it to inspire them? Maybe you take pride in having a nice job with a high salary, but does that pride make you generous or arrogant? What about your appearance? Are you proud of the way you look, and if those looks were gone, would others still find you beautiful?
Take a lesson from Christ. He was the son of God, yet chose to lay down his infinite majesty to become a human. His followers could have been priests and princes, but he extended his hand in friendship to fishermen, foreigners and outcasts. He was the King of Kings, but the only crown he wore was made of thorns. Don’t allow pride to shape who we are. God made us to be an amazing person, and his work is always better.
One of the best stories of humility I know is that of a man who arrived in 1953 at the Chicago railroad station to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He stepped off the train, a tall man with bushy hair and a big mustache. As the cameras flashed and city officials approached with hands outstretched to meet him, he thanked them politely. Then he asked to be excused for a minute. He walked through the crowd to the side of an elderly black woman struggling with two large suitcases. He picked them up, smiled, and escorted her to the bus, helped her get on, and wished her a safe journey. Then Albert Schweitzer turned to the crowd and apologized for keeping them waiting. It is reported that one member of the reception committee told a reporter, "That's the first time I ever saw a sermon walking."

We are called to be righteous, but not self-righteous. We are to be humble. One should wait until such time as God grants him a place of honor. He should not be creating his own place of honor. We need to become servant leaders in a serving community: The church is a servant community in which those who hunger are to be filled; the ignorant are to be taught; the homeless to receive shelter; the sick to be cared for; the distressed, consoled; and the oppressed, set free. Leaders should have a spirit of humble service in thought, word and deed. “The measure of a true Christian is not how many servants he has, but how many men he serves.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

XXIX-Ordinary Sunday- Cycle A

Isaiah 45: 1, 4-6; 1 Thess. 1: 1-5 ; Matthew 22: 15-21

One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him. The scientist walked up to God and said, "God, we've decided that we no longer need you. We're to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don't you just go on and get lost?"

God listened very patiently and kindly to the man. After the scientist was done talking, God said, "Very well, how about this? Let's say we have a man-making contest." To which the scientist replied, "Okay, great!" But, God added, "Now, we're going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam." The scientist said, "Sure, no problem" and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt. God looked at him and said, "No, no, no. You go get your own dirt."

With the numerous and tremendous inventions we see today, man feels God is not necessary in this system; without ever realizing that it is God who set the foundation for all this when he said to the first human beings “Be fruitful and multiply, conquer the earth”. And therefore, God needs to be acknowledged and honored as the Supreme Being in this world.

Some people say: Let the church take care of its own business and keep their noses out of social and political issues. That would be fine if it worked. There are obligations we have to the governing authorities, such as paying taxes, exercising our right to vote, and obeying civil laws. But as followers of Jesus Christ, our ultimate obligation is to "seek first the kingdom of God," and all other obligations have to have a lower priority. There can only be one top priority.

Every Christian holds dual citizenship, each one of which has its own benefits and duties. Our birth made us citizens of an earthly nation; our baptism made us citizens of a heavenly Kingdom. Sometimes they overlap, but in the end, our earthly citizenship will finish, while our heavenly citizenship will last forever. It's obvious which one is more important. Through the centuries, the many Christian saints and martyrs have taught us that if we are ever forced to choose between the two, if ever Caesar tries to take what belongs to God, we must be faithful to our true, everlasting homeland, even if it means suffering painful consequences here on earth. We know about St Thomas More who gave his life for the sake of defending God’s right, to give what belonged to God, to give supremacy to God and his Church than to King Henry VIII of England. If we as Christian accept God's sovereignty over all creation including human activity and history, even what belongs to Caesar also belongs to God. Caesar ultimately is answerable to God. Caesar in a way ultimately pays his tax due to God.

Just as the Roman coin bore the image of the Emperor who made it, so the human soul bears the "image and likeness" of God our Creator and our Father. He called each one of us into existence; he wants each of us to exist, so that we can enter into and develop a personal relationship with him. This is the whole purpose of our lives: to live in communion with God, starting now and leading into everlasting life. As the Catechism puts it (#44): "Coming from God, going toward God, man lives a fully human life only if he freely lives by his bond with God." Freely living by our bond with God means living as he created us to live.

There is no reason why the state and the Church cannot work together to improve the lives of their citizens. There is usually no conflict -- unless the government forces people to act in a way contrary to God’s law. Then we must act in accordance with God’s law and not man’s because, while the state only exists in this world, God’s law exists in this world and the next. This means that sometimes we have to refuse to obey our government. In South Africa's apartheid system, many Christians were forced to violate the immoral laws of their government. In the United States, both the black and the white people violated the segregation laws of many states. Wherever there is immoral or unjust behavior, there has to be conflict which paves the ground for society’s progress.

It is precisely our Catholic faith, full of God's revelation, that enables us to distinguish between foundational and secondary issues. Treating unborn children like a disease, as abortion does, is a foundational injustice - what good are any of the other human rights if those innocent people never even make it out of the womb? Treating homosexual unions like true marriages is a foundational injustice - true marriage between one man and one woman is the DNA of human society; would you like someone to mess around with your DNA? When we vote for political candidates and issues, we cannot pretend that those kinds of foundational issues are on the same level as other important but secondary issues like taxes, diplomacy, and alternative energy sources. These secondary issues are like the walls of a house: you can knock out a wall or rearrange a room without the house falling down, but if you mess with the foundation, you lose the whole structure. If foundational issues are at stake in an election, we must give them first priority. Foundational issues are things that belong to God, not to Caesar, and when Caesar tries to take them over, we who are God's children must defend them. When the state oversteps the mark and puts itself in the place of God, Christians are, in the last resort, absolved from obedience. We must give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and not the things that are God's. We must “obey God rather than human beings.”

We have the right and the responsibility to apply a moral litmus test to the dictates of our nation. The people of Germany did not do this in their own country during the last century and closed an eye to Nazi anti-Semitism. They now suffer the guilt imposed by their lack of action.

Jesus reminds His questioners that if they are so concerned and careful about paying taxes to the state, they should be much more concerned and careful about their service to God and their obligations to Him as their Creator and Lord. Do I pay to God what is His ? time, treasure, talent ? Do I love God with all my heart, all my soul and with all my mind ? OR do I steal from God and give to Ceasar?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

XXVIII-Sunday in Ordinary time -Cycle A.

XXVIII Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Isaiah 25:6-10 / Ps 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6 / Phil 4:12-14, 19-20 / Mt 22:1-14
At a church conference in Omaha, people were given helium-filled balloons and told to release them at some point in the service when they felt joy in their hearts. All through the service worshippers kept releasing balloons. At the end of the service it was discovered that most of them still had their balloons unreleased. If this experiment were repeated in our church today, how many of us would still have our balloons unreleased at the end of the service? Many of us think of God's house as a place for seriousness, a place to close one's eyes and pray, but not a place of celebration, a place where we can have joy and jubilation. The parable of the Great Supper in today's gospel paints a different picture. The Christian assembly is a gathering of those who are called to the Lord's party. In the Eucharist we say of ourselves, "Happy are those who are called to his supper." The Lord invites us to a supper, a banquet, a feast. Can you imagine a wedding feast in which everyone sits stone-faced, cold and quiet?
The parable of today shows us three possible kinds of guests. There are the absentee guests who initially accepted the invitation, but when the time came to honor the invitation they drew back. Then there are the guests without wedding garments who attend the feast but do not take the trouble to prepare adequately for it, as the occasion deserves. And then there are the guests with wedding garments who make the necessary preparation to present themselves fit for the banquet of the King.

The scary thing about the absentee guests is that they are not sinners. They were not engaged in sinful activity. One went to his farm, another to his business. These are gainful and noble employments. Sometimes what keep us away from the joy of the kingdom is not sin but preoccupation with the necessities of life. To be serious with our job is a good thing, but when our job keeps us away from attending the Lord's Supper, then it becomes an obstacle that hinders us from experiencing the joy of the Lord in our life. Some people attend church service to fulfill a "Sunday obligation," otherwise it would be counted against them as sin. Though this kind of fear no longer motivates young people today.
The point of the parable is: if you must go to the dance, you must wear your dancing shoes. If you must go to a wedding, you must wear your wedding garment. By not wearing a wedding garment, the man in the parable was physically in the party, but his mind and spirit were not there. He was in the feast but he was not in the mood for feasting. Jesus hates this kind of hypocritical attitude. In fact, it is better not to attend at all than to be there and yet not there.
The kingdom of God is freely offered to us. Those of us on the way to the kingdom must spare no effort in acquiring the moral and spiritual character that is consonant with life in the kingdom. This parable warns us not to take God's grace for granted but to clean ourselves up and become the most beautiful person that we can be in God's sight.
There are only two possible reasons why a guest wouldn't have a wedding garment: either he sneaked in without being invited, or he didn't care about celebrating the wedding and just wanted enjoy the food and drink while doing his own thing. In either case, such a guest is not a guest at all - he has no relationship to the bride and bridegroom, and so he has no reason to be there. And so the king threw him out. When we try to follow Christ without accepting his will and the teaching of his Church, we are trying to get in to the wedding banquet while refusing to put on the wedding garment.
This is what so many public figures in our generation are doing when they say that they are Catholic, but then support things like abortion and homosexual marriage, which directly contradict God's plan for the human family. Christianity is not a self-help buffet where we can pick and choose according to personal preference; it's the revelation of God, and it requires humility, obedience, and trust. The important question before us is, whether we have a wedding garment. It was given to us on the day of our baptism. It stands for sanctifying grace. It is the garment essential for our salvation. Our entrance to the heavenly banquet table depends on our wedding garment.

We need to wear our wedding garment for the Eucharistic banquet: God incarnate waits for us in his house of worship, offering himself for us on our altars and inviting us for the sumptuous banquet of his own body and blood for the nourishment of our souls in the Holy Eucharist. According to St. Gregory, men and women who come to the wedding feast with hatred in their hearts do not wear the acceptable garment spoken of in the parable. Men and women whose faith and love are cold, who attend Church for social reasons, to show off their clothes and jewelry, or to visit with acquaintances are not dressed in a wedding garment pleasing to the King, Christ Jesus. Our wedding garment is made of our grace-assisted works of justice, charity and holiness. Let us examine whether we have fully accepted God’s invitation to the messianic banquet and remember that banqueting implies friendship and intimacy, trust and reconciliation.