Friday, October 31, 2014

All Soul’s day.
Stewardship Commitment:
Tomorrow/today is All Souls’ day. But in our diocese it is stewardship Sunday as well, asking us to reflect how good a steward we are with the gifts God has granted us. Safeguarding material and human resources and using them responsibly and being generous in giving of time, talent, and treasure, is an expression of our gratefulness and love for God and one another.
Four year old Morgan’s  Mom and Dad were just starting to teach her about giving. As the ushers came down the aisle with the offering plates, Morgan asked her mom what was happening. Mom told her, "They are taking up the offering, and when they get here you can put your quarter in the offering plate."

Morgan replied, "But this quarter is for Jesus." Mom explained how, by putting her quarter in the offering plate she was giving it to Jesus. And she told about all the ways in which her gift would be used for God's work. As the plate came down her pew, Morgan carefully put her quarter in the plate, then turned to her Mom, and loud enough for everyone in the whole congregation to hear, asked, "If that money is for Jesus, why wasn't there more in the plate?"

Morgan understood the purpose of stewardship. she understood that all that we give is for Jesus. The basic tenet of stewardship is that all that we have is from God and IS God's. We are simply the stewards, those put in charge of that which God has given us.

In my evaluation in 4 months, you all are pretty good stewards in the way you give to the parish. You are good in giving your time, talent and treasure, especially at the parish activities I observed. But we can be better. Last year’s financial statement showed $17,000.00 debt. So, we may need to push a little bit more this year to get to our goal. But I am sure you will do that. Otherwise we will have to do some more picnics, may be one every other month.  But remember to give with love. Don’t commit or give in the offering place if you really don’t love to give to God. I don’t think we want to use that kind of money in the parish.  St.John Paul II said: Remember the widow’s mite. She threw into the treasury of the temple only two small coins, but with them, all her great love…. It is, above all, the interior value of the gift that counts: the readiness to share everything, the readiness to give oneself.
Next Sunday you will be asked to fill in the commitment sheet. So, pray about it how much you are willing and able to give to the Lord, through the parish community, for the parish ministry.

Today the world's one billion Catholics are praying for the eternal rest of our brothers and sisters who died in friendship with Christ, but who hadn't yet reached spiritual maturity. God has taken them into his spiritual hospital, purgatory, where he is healing and purifying them from the wounds caused by their sins here on earth.
Purgatory is just inside heaven's gate, where God lovingly purifies and heals his children from the damage their sins inflicted on their souls while they were still on earth.
Through today's prayers, we are speeding up that painful process and hastening our departed brothers' and sisters' full entrance into heaven. The Church is a good mother, and she knows that it is a good thing to think of and pray for the dead, so she gives us All Souls' Day.
But not all Christians believe in purgatory and the value of praying for the dead. They say, among other things, that since the word purgatory doesn't appear in the Bible, it must have been invented by popes and bishops as a way to frighten and manipulate ignorant Christians during the Middle Ages.
Although the word itself doesn't appear in Scripture, there are various passages that have always been interpreted as referring to it. For example, in Matthew 12:32 Jesus points out that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only sin that will not be forgiven, "either in this world or in the next," implying that some purification from sin does take place after death.
He also speaks more than once about sinners being kept in prison until they have "paid the last penny" (Matthew 5:26, Luke 12:59), referring to a period of purification between earthly life and heaven.
One of the most explicit passages is when St Paul says that some people will be saved, but only "as through fire" (1 Corinthians 3:15), in other words, by being passively purified after death.
The Second Book of Maccabees (12:41-45) praises offering prayers for the dead. Second Maccabees 12:39-46 describes how Judas Maccabeus and members of his Jewish military forces collected the bodies of some fallen comrades who had been killed in battle. When they discovered these men were carrying “sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear” (v. 40), Judas and his companions discerned they had died as a punishment for sin. Therefore, Judas and his men “turned to prayer beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out . . . He also took up a collection . . . and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably . . . Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (42-43, 46). The protestant brethren do not have the book of Maccabees in their bible. So they refute the concept of Purgatory.
Common sense also tells there is a place between heaven and hell. In our court system when one is tried he may be judged a culprit and be punished or be innocent and be freed. But in some cases the person may be partially culpable, not fully involved in the crime. So such a  person gets a minor punishment, and will not be freed until that small punishment is suffered. This applies to heaven’s court as well. Scripture says nothing unclean goes to heaven, because God is all holy. So, if there is some impurity that has to be cleansed it may be done so.
Praying for the dead and offering Masses for them has been in practice since the beginning of the Church.
St Augustine's mother, in the 300s, asked him to "remember her at the altar" when she died - in other words, to pray for the repose of her soul, just as we are praying for the deceased today.

Later that same century, St John Chrysostom, wrote simply: "Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them. Remembering this in every Mass we pray for the deceased. In our creed we say we believe in the communion of saints: which means we on earth and those in heaven are in communion with those in purgatory and we can help them with our prayers. As we remember all the departed souls today let’s make it a point to remember and pray for our dead so that they may reach their eternal home soon.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

XXX.O.T. EX 22:20-26; Thess 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40
 In today’ Gospel Jesus gives us the message, to be truly religious is to love God and to love the man whom God created in his own image. The first reading from Exodus explains the second greatest commandment, namely, loving one’s neighbors, especially the underprivileged. The chosen people of Israel should remember that once they were aliens in the land of Egypt.  Just as God protected them and treated them kindly, so they are to protect others and treat them with kindness.  Thus, they should become a humane society rooted in the basic religious concept of loving God living in their neighbor.  
Arthur F. Sueltz told about a man he knew who bought a lovely house in the suburbs. On the day he moved in, the man's new neighbor came running across the yard in an obviously belligerent state. "Did you buy this house?" asked the neighbor. "Yes I did," was the reply. The neighbor continued, "Well, I want to tell you something. You bought a lawsuit. You see that fence of yours? It's at least seven feet over on my side of the line, and if it takes every dollar I've got, I intend to sue you and get that fence moved." The new homeowner said, "Well, neighbor, I'm sorry to hear this. I bought this house in good faith, but I believe you're telling the truth about this situation and I'll tell you what I'm going to do. First thing tomorrow morning, Ill have that fence moved back those seven feet." The neighbor was dumbfounded. "What did you say?" The new owner repeated, "I'm going to have that fence moved back seven feet." "No, you're not," was the response. "You leave it right where it is, and anything you need is yours for the asking."

We don't know what had happened between that angry man and his previous neighbor. All the man seemed to be asking for was to be treated with a little dignity and respect. That is what most people crave. Someone who does not accord dignity and respect to others does not know the Gospel.
There is no obedience to God which does not have to prove itself in the concrete situation of meeting one's neighbor. "Jesus does not separate love for God from love for man, since the latter flows from the former, and since without the latter the former is impossible." They both are like two sides of the same coin. But the first is always the first. Loving God has to be manifested in our life.
Pastor Jimmy D. Brown tells about the first girl who ever caught his eye. They were in second grade together. Up until this point he confesses that he just wanted to throw rocks at girls. But this girl was different. He didn’t want to throw rocks at her. Her name was Sherri and she was as cute as anything young Jimmy had ever seen. She had short little pigtails and wore the sweetest little dress with a great big teddy bear on it. She also had the prettiest smile, especially with that middle tooth missing. And she could jump out of a swing farther than any of them. In short, Sherri was great, in his estimation.
          He remembers one day this lovely child passed him a note during class and it read, “Do you love me?” Uh-oh, things are getting serious. He says he didn’t even know what love was, but he learned early that girls like to hear you say that you love them, so he checked, “Yes” on the note and passed it back.
At recess that day Sherri came up to him with a big smile on her face and said, “Say it.” By this time he had no idea what she was talking about.
“Say what?” he replied.
“Say that you love me,” she said. It kind of embarrassed him, but he went ahead and said, “I love you.”
          The next day Sherri came up to him and said, “Do you really love me?”
          “Yes,” he replied.
          “Do you mean it?” she asked seriously. “A lot of the boys tell me they love me, but some of them don’t mean it.”
          Even at the tender age of 7, says Brown, he knew the right answer to this question. “Of course I mean it.”
          He says that satisfied her for that day, but on the following day she came up to him again and said, “If you love me and you mean it, then why don’t you show it?”
          “Good grief,” he was thinking. “I let her have my special GI Joe eraser, I stopped pulling her pigtails, I even made Tommy and Billy stop calling her names. What more did she want?”
          “You’re supposed to hold my hand,” she said with a stern look on her face. “And play with me at recess. And sit next to me during free time . . . you’re supposed to show it.”
          “Almost twenty‑five years have passed since that day,” says Pastor Jimmy Brown. “It always makes me laugh when I think back to that second grade class. It also always amazes me how God can use the ordinary events of life, even that of a 7-year-old boy, to teach us about Him. For instance, God asks the same questions that the little girl asked me. ‘Do you love me?’ Quickly we check off the appropriate box, ‘Yes. Of course I love you, God.’
“‘Then, say it.’ He responds. ‘Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.’ (Psalms 107:2)
“‘I love you, Lord,’ we say with a smile, particularly on Sunday mornings or during our daily prayers.
“‘Do you mean it?’ He asks. ‘Because a lot of people say that they love me, but some of them don’t mean it.’ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.’ (Mark 7:6)
          “‘Of course, I mean it,’ we quickly answer.
          “‘Then show it.’ God concludes. ‘If you love me, keep my commandments’ (John 14:15). 
Concludes Jimmy Brown, “do you love God . . . Do you really love Him? If you do . . . SAY IT, MEAN IT, SHOW IT. Say it with your words, mean it in your heart and show it with your actions. After all, that’s what He did for you when He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross.”
         The component of biblical love is not affection or a fussy feeling, but a commitment, a choice, a decision we make to place Him above all else.
Of course the most important way we show our love for God is by how we live our life. When we leave this place of worship, our friends and our family will know whether we’ve truly been in the presence of God by how we live.
Let’s pray that we may whole heartedly love God: love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and all being. And love our neighbor as ourselves.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

At some time, every older sibling has pulled this on a little brother or sister who had a nickel they wanted.
"Okay," older child offers, "let's flip for it. Heads I win, tails you lose."
The little kids agree: "Sure!" Then when heads appears the older proclaims "Heads, I win!" Of course if tails comes up the declaration is "Tails, you lose."
At this point it suddenly dawns on the younger child that this is truly a no-win situation. Whatever way the coin lands it's going to land in their sibling's pocket.
In this week's gospel text the Pharisees think they've concocted the perfect no-win question to present before Jesus: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" If Jesus says yes, he'll alienate all those who continued to struggle against Roman rule and who ardently believed Israel must only be obedient to God and God's Torah. If, however, Jesus answers no, then he's immediately at odds with the entire Roman Empire and has identified himself as a dangerous opponent. Rome would deal swiftly with such a threat.
What amazed the Pharisees and the Herodians about Jesus' response was how he refocused the issue to something much bigger than they had intended. In essence Jesus said, give Caesar what he has coming, a silver coin with his image on it. It's already his anyway, so let him have it back. But give back to God all that God deserves, which is everything, including yourselves.
From this passage we cannot learn how or when to turn Christian convictions into public policy or how to vote in the next election. The fact of the matter is that Jesus did not say much about such things; and the rest of the New Testament provides different responses believers should have in response to human government. In Romans 13 Paul paints a positive picture of the role of government and commands Christians to obey it; but in Revelation 13 the author describes a government gone demonic and warns believers to resist it unto death. According to the book of Acts, it did not take Jesus' followers long to discover that "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
What we owe to God is infinitely more than we owe to Caesar. The Words of 1 Peter 2:17 help put the issue into perspective: Fear God, honor the king." There is a world of difference between those two obligations, no matter where we draw the line between God and the government.
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 then 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.
The movie: A Man for All Seasons, is based on the life of St. Thomas Moore, the Chancellor of England. By profession he was a lawyer. He loved his king. He loved his country and he loved its laws. Then a terrible dilemma developed for him when the king decided to end his allegiance to the Pope in Rome. Moore was conflicted. While he loved his country and his king, he also loved the church. He was faced with two deeply personal loves, and yet he realized he could no longer have both. As he weighed his options, he considered the fact that both the king and the church had its problems. The king he loved could be ruthless and he wasn’t faithful in marriage. The church he loved, on the other hand, was full of all kinds of sinful men. What was he to do?
In a powerful scene from A Man for All Seasons that takes place in the sweating walls of the Tower of London, his wife visits her prisoner husband and asks why he won’t just sign the statement of allegiance to the king so they could get back to their life of comfort and prestige. With anguish, Moore cries in a gut-wrenching scene that he is not made of the stuff of martyrs. He doesn’t know for sure if he is doing the right thing.
In the end, Moore is convicted of treason for his refusal to acknowledge that the king was the supreme head of the Church of England. Moore defended his actions by saying, “I am the king’s servant, but God’s first.” He weighed all decisions relative to his commitment and love for God. Even if it results in his personal loss of freedom.
What exactly belongs to God? Do we owe any taxes to the heavenly IRS?  All of us know the answer immediately; it is written in the very first pages of the Bible. All that we are, all that we possess, and all that we can hope for has come to us from 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 (Genesis 1:26), 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. Anything coming contrary to this purpose is not worth fighting for.
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.
As you will be going to the election booths, remember that there is nothing politically right that is morally wrong. Governments cannot legislate morality, that is God’s domain. If any government tries to take the right of God, it is our duty as Christians to resist that as did the early martyrs did with their lives. Let’s pray that people may seek light from the Holy Spirit before they choose to vote for a Candidate. And may we honor God by giving what belongs to Him.

Friday, October 10, 2014

XXVIII O.T. Is 25:6-10a; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20; Mt 22:1-14 
An older couple was being married. Both had lost their spouses to death and had grown children. The combined children sent out this wedding invitation in their behalf: “Phil, Richard, Karen and Allison, and John, Matt and Steve request the honor of your presence at the marriage of their Mother and Father. Because they are combining two households, they already have at least two of everything.  So please, no presents! Reception and garage sale immediately following the ceremony.”
There is no more hopeful event on earth than a wedding . . . at any age.  Jesus loved weddings. His first miracle was at a wedding. On one occasion he referred to himself as a bridegroom. So it is not surprising that at least one of his parables should feature a wedding.
In this parable one man showed himself not in the right clothes. Everyone else wore tuxes and evening clothes and he was in jeans. Does wearing the right clothes matter?
In his book, David Brinkley, A Memoir, Brinkley tells about coming to work for NBC in the 1940s. At that time, NBC considered itself the elegant network. The rule was that after 6:00 p. m., radio newscasters were required to read the news wearing tuxedos. Can you imagine that? Their radio audience couldn’t see the newscasters, but NBC management believed their attitude and presentation skills improved dramatically when they were properly attired.
 No wonder then why the church asks us not to come to church with beach clothes on. Because that would not make us properly disposed for the sacred mysteries.
In this parable the man came without proper dress not because he could not afford wedding clothes. Scholars tell us it was the custom in Jesus’ time for the host to provide free garments for all the guests. There was no excuse for this guest to be dressed inappropriately except for either ignorance or obstinacy. The attitude of the king indicates that it was the latter. His silence also provides added proof to this. The king didn’t cut him any slack: He said to his attendants, “Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
 This is a shocking text for many people. In fact, it is not about clothes at all. This text implies that there are certain qualifications for those who follow Jesus.  Many people today have heard the message of grace: “Jesus loves me, Jesus accepts me just as I am.  I’m saved. I’m headed to the Promised Land.” But that is only a part of the Gospel message. British bishop N.T. Wright comments: “We want to hear a nice story about God’s throwing the party open to everyone.  We don’t want to know about judgment on the wicked, or about demanding standards of holiness, or about weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
 He goes on to say, “[Jesus’] love reached [those who were invited to the feast] where they were, but his love refused to let them stay as they were. Love wants the best for the beloved.”
  “Actually,” he continues, “nobody really believes that God wants everyone to stay exactly as they are. God loves serial killers and child molesters; God loves ruthless and arrogant businessmen. But the point of God’s love is that he wants them to change. He hates what they’re doing and the effects it has on everyone else and on themselves too. Ultimately, if he’s a good God, he cannot allow that sort of behavior, and that sort of person, if they don’t change, to remain forever in the party he’s throwing for his son .
          “The point of the story is,” continues Bishop Wright, “that . . . God’s kingdom is a kingdom in which love and justice and truth and mercy and holiness reign unhindered. They are the clothes you need to wear for the wedding. And if you refuse to put them on, you are saying, you don’t want to stay at the party . . . .” . God loves us as we are, but God expects us to clothe ourselves with the character of Jesus Christ. 
 Just like the man who showed disrespect to the host by coming in inappropriate garments, the invitees who did not show up at all were offensive and culpable.
We may sometimes find ourselves in either of these camps.
When we don’t show up or don’t come prepared to meet the Lord, then we are like those who turned down his invitation to the wedding feast. Our excuses may run like this: We need our Sunday recreational times. We have to work. Sunday is the only time we have to spend with our family (and apparently we don’t want to spend it in worship). Sunday is the only day we have to sleep in. I would get up early to pray, but I have a busy day ahead and need my rest.  My spouse is not supportive of my faith.  I know I should read the Bible, but television is more entertaining. I can’t serve the Lord because my kids are active; I have to take them to ball game practice; and I want to share all these times with my kids, perhaps when they are older.
When faith becomes a compartment of life instead of life's vibrant center, when we are squeezing God in between everything else- we miss the party, or poorly dressed.
A legend tells the story of a fisherman called Aaron. Aaron lived on the banks of a river. Walking home with his eyes half-closed one evening after a hard day's work, he was dreaming of what he could do if he were rich. As he walked his foot struck against a leather pouch filled with what seemed to him to be small stones. Absentmindedly he picked up the pouch and began throwing the pebbles into the water. "When I am a rich man," he said to himself, "I'll have a large house". And he threw another pebble into the river. He threw another one and thought, "My wife and I will have servants and rich food, and many fine things". And this went on until just one stone was left. As Aaron held it in his hand, a ray of light caught it and made it sparkle. He was not throwing ordinary stones but valuable gems, throwing away the real riches in his hand, while he dreamed of unreal riches in the future." This legend summarizes our situation. The value of the Kingdom of God is before us if we will but realize.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

XXVII. O.T. Is 5:1-7; Phil 4:6-9; Mt 21:33-43 
The common theme of today’s readings is the necessity of bearing fruit in the Christian life and the consequent punishment for spiritual sterility, ingratitude and wickedness.  The parable of the wicked tenants is a theological summary of the entire history of the ingratitude, infidelity and hard-heartedness of the Chosen People.   Its importance is shown by its appearance in all the three Synoptic gospels.
Jesus describes the mysterious absence, the seeming distance of God, in terms of a landowner who goes away on a long journey, leaving his vineyard in the care of others. The servants fail the tests: they forget that they are stewards, not owners. The stewards reject even the owners’ son which was a terrible mistake, leading to their damnation.
There is a legend about a simple man who was lifted from the gutter and magically granted three wishes. First he wished for material goods and forthwith became very rich. Then he wished for understanding and soon became very wise. At last he used his third wish to express his desire to become as God, and immediately he found himself back in the gutter.
So it was with the wicked tenants. Dissatisfied with their role as stewards and not owners, they eventually lost the very vineyard which supported them. The tenants of the vineyard are most to be pitied.
Jesus quoted the words of the Psalmist to open their eyes to the mistake the Jewish leaders were doing: "The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head stone or the corner stone." The cornerstone is the keystone or capstone completing the arch and supporting the entire structure. There was a legend that was well known in New Testament times that in the building of the temple of Solomon most of the stones were of the same size and shape. One stone arrived, however, that was different from the others. The builders took one look at it and said, "This will not do," and sent it rolling down into the valley of Kedron below. Then years passed and the great temple was nearing completion, and the builders sent a message to the stonecutters to send the chief cornerstone that the structure might be complete. The cutters replied that they had sent the stone years before. Then someone remembered the stone that was different than all the rest that somehow did not seem to belong. They realized that they had thrown away the cornerstone. They hurried into the valley to retrieve it. Finally under vines and debris they recovered it and with great effort rolled it up the hill and put it in place so that the great temple would be complete. The stone that had been rejected had become the chief cornerstone. Jesus, who had been rejected now reigns at the right hand of the Father. From rejection to rejoicing.
October is Pro-Life month. Abortion and the culture of death are far from conquered. It is the worm killing the grapes in the vineyard, and spoiling the garden. There is an axiom in law which states that the greater the person offended, the greater the offense itself. Since God Himself was the victim in today's parable, the offense against Him was beyond measure. Jesus directed the story at the Pharisees. Who does He direct it to in today's society?
Parables are never only past; they are also present. How do we treat the prophets and truth tellers of our day? How do we care for the earth, which God has put into our care? Do we welcome truth even when it sounds harsh to our ears? Do we act like owners or like stewards whose master is on the way?
Recognizing that we have to honor the contract we made at the baptism with God, the owner of the vineyard, let us ask ourselves these questions.
What kind of grapes do we as a parish community produce?  Are they sweet or sour?  What is our attitude toward everything God has given to us?  Are we grateful for everything God has given to us, or are we like the ungrateful tenants who acted as if they owned everything God had given them?   Do we measure the quality of our parish by what happens during Mass, or on what happens when we leave Church?  How do people see us? By what we do on Sunday, or by what we do on Monday as well?

Let’s pray that we may be good stewards in God’s vineyards by producing good fruit and being responsible with our Christian duties?.