Saturday, July 30, 2016

OT XVIII Eccl 1:2; 2:21-23; Col 3:1-5, 9-11; Lk 12:13-21

A family put up a hummingbird feeder with four feeding stations. Almost immediately it became popular with the hummingbirds that lived in the area. Two, three, or even four birds would feed at one time. The feeder would be refilled at least once a day.
Suddenly the usage decreased to almost nothing. The feeder needed filling only about once a week. The reason for the decreased usage soon became apparent. A male bird had taken over the feeder as his property. He was now the only hummingbird who used it. He would feed and then sit in a nearby tree, rising to attack any bird that approached his feeder. Guard duty occupied his every waking hour. He was an effective guard. The only time another bird got to use the feeder was when the self-appointed owner was momentarily gone to chase away an intruder.
That hummingbird was teaching a valuable lesson. By choosing to assume ownership of the feeder, he forfeited his freedom. He was no longer free to come and go as he wished. He was tied to the work of guarding his feeder, his STUFF. He was possessed by his possession

The common theme of today’s readings is the futility of the greedy acquisition of wealth and power because everything and everyone is “here today and gone tomorrow.”Therefore, the meaning of life cannot be found in possessions but in the sharing of time, treasure and talents with the needy.  The first reading, taken from Ecclesiastes, reminds us that the greedy acquisition and the selfish hoarding of goods are useless because when the hoarder dies he goes to eternity empty-handed, and his heir gains, and perhaps squanders, his riches.

Jesus did not condemn the man in the parable for eating, drinking and being merry, nor even for being rich. Rather the man was called foolish for building bigger barns. The point of the story is that the entrepreneur was planning to store more of his wealth than he needed to eat, drink and be merry. Look again at the words of the story. The man says, "What shall I do for I have nowhere to store my crops?" Not true! He has barns. His problem is that his harvest has been so great that his present storage facilities will not hold all of the grain. So he decides, "I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain. Then and only then will I have ample goods to eat, drink and be merry." Again, not true! He already has ample goods. He does not have to live in the moment. He has barns for his future. They may not be as big as he would like, but he has plenty to eat, drink and be merry. The man already has enough wealth to enjoy Shalom. He has a sense of well-being and security because God has generously blessed his land with fruitfulness.

He was called "foolish" because he did not recognize that his wealth had brought him happiness and that it could do the same for others if only it were not locked up in those bigger barns. His sin was not that he had become wealthy, but that he wanted to hoard all his wealth. His sin was not that he ate, drank and was merry, but that he was withholding the means for others to do the same. He had become a bottleneck in the flow of Shalom blessings to others.
The story, so understood, is not a teaching condemning the foolishness of gathering wealth. It is rather a parable which condemns the refusal to share the wealth we do not need. It warns about the shortsightedness of failing to be a good custodian of the abundance that God entrusts to us.

Greed is like poison ivy. The key to poison ivy, once you have it, is not to scratch. Restraining yourself is hard, for your skin itches and you want relief. But scratching only makes poison ivy worse.
Avarice works the same way. We get infected, and we want to scratch, although we know we shouldn't do so. Possessing more and more promises relief, but only makes the situation worse. We keep scratching, but it's no solution.
Someone asked John D. Rockefeller (of all people) "How much wealth does it take to satisfy a person?" He replied, "Just a little bit more." The Romans had a proverb: "Money is like sea water; the more you drink, the thirstier you become."
Suppose a robber approaches us tonight and ordered, "Your money or your life!" What will we choose?  Will I say impatiently, "Don't rush me, I'm thinking about it.? Well, we may not get much time. Think about it now.
Let’s get back to the basics and re-establish our priorities. Let’s get rich in what matters to God. We need to follow the Great Commandment, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37-39). It’s as simple as that: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33). 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

OT XVII [C]  Gen. 18:20-32, Col  2:12-14, Lk 11:1-13

The main themes of today’s Scripture readings are the power of intercessory prayer, the Our Father as the ideal prayer, and the necessity for persistence and perseverance in prayer, with trusting faith and boldness. In short, they teach us what to pray and how to pray.  The first reading, taken from the book of Genesis, gives us the model for intercessory prayer provided by Abraham in his dialogue with God. Although Abraham seems to be trying to manipulate God through his skillful bargaining and humble, persistent intercession, God is actually being moved to mercy by the goodness of a few innocent souls.  

The parable in the gospel teaches us that prayer is not putting coins in a vending machine called God to get whatever we wish. We must not look upon God as a sort of genie who grants all our requests. God is our loving Father Who knows what to give, when to give and how to give. This includes not only our daily bread to satisfy our physical hunger but also “bread” to satisfy our spiritual hunger. Prayer is a relationship -- an intimate, loving, caring, parent-child relationship. The Greek text means: "Ask and you will receive something good,"--not just whatever we ask for. The New Testament Greek also instructs us, "ask and keep on and keep on seeking...knock and keep on knocking.”  Hence, we are to be persistent declaring our trusting faith and dependence on God. One thing that is sometimes overlooked in this story is that this, like the story of Abraham bargaining with God for the lives of Lot and his family, is primarily a story about intercessory prayer. One friend goes to another friend on behalf of someone else. Bishop Sheen has this comment on prayer: "The man who thinks only of himself says prayers of petition. He who thinks of his neighbor says prayers of intercession. He who thinks only of loving and serving God says prayers of abandonment to God's will, and that is the prayer of the saints." 

"Prayer doesn't change God; it changes me." A colleague asked C.S. Lewis if he really thought he could change God with his prayer for the cure of his wife’s cancer. Lewis replied: "Prayer doesn't change God; it changes me." 

A mother sent her fifth grade boy up to bed. In a few minutes she went to make sure that he was getting in bed. When she stuck her head into his room, she saw that he was kneeling beside his bed in prayer. Pausing to listen to his prayers, she heard her son praying over and over again. "Let it be Tokyo! Please dear God, let it be Tokyo!"
When he finished his prayers, she asked him, "What did you mean, ‘Let it be Tokyo’?"

"Oh," the boy said with embarrassment, "we had our geography exam today and I was praying that God would make Tokyo the capital of France."
Prayer is not a magical means by which we get God to do what we want. Prayer is an inner openness to God which allows his divine power to be released in us. Ultimately, the power of prayer is not that we succeed in changing God, but that God succeeds in changing us.

William McGill summed it up this way. "The value of persistent prayer is not that God will hear us but that we will finally hear God." Keep in mind that Jesus has taught us to address God as Father.  A loving Father listens to his child, but does not blindly endorse every request.  Instead, the loving Father provides what is needed, including discipline. 
 One of the reasons why we don’t pray is that we think  a loving God should provide for us and protect us from the disasters of life, such as disease or accidents, without our asking Him. 

A fisherman who was out of fellowship with the Lord was at sea with his companions when a storm came up and threatened to sink their ship. His friends begged him to pray; but he demurred, saying, "It’s been a long time since I’ve done that or even entered a church." At their insistence, however, he finally cried out, "O Lord, I haven’t asked anything of You in 15 years, and if You help us now and bring us safely to land, I promise I won’t bother You again for another 15!”
Prayer is often an escape mechanism rather than a way of life for some people.
Prayer expresses our awareness of our need for God and our dependence on Him.

St. John Marie Vianney’s advice to a couple who asked him how to pray is this:"Spend three minutes praising and thanking God for all you have. Spend three minutes asking God’s pardon for your sins and presenting your needs before Him. Spend three minutes reading the Bible and listening to God in silence. And do this every day."

We must believe that God does answer all our prayers, but the reality must then be that the answer is so often no, no to the particular thing that we ask for. God does bring about good things in answer to our prayers, but what that good might be is often very different from any expectation and understanding we might have.
And, at this point, we are challenged to undertake a difficult, but very worthwhile, journey in the purification of our desires, as we seek to make better sense of what are the goods that God wants us to pray for, so that there can be a better conformity of what we ask for and what God gives, so that our will can be conformed more fully to God’s will. This is how Jesus prayed: Father, let this cup pass me by, but not my will, but Thy will be done.

And it’s here that we come to the recognition that for such purification of our desires we have to be open to the Spirit praying within us, conforming our prayers to the will of God. As St Paul teaches in the letter to the Romans: ‘The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words’ (Romans 8: 26). Today as the disciples asked Jesus to pray, let’s ask him too to help us pray the right way so that whatever is God’s will be our will too.

Friday, July 15, 2016

OT XVI [C] Gen 18:1-10a; Col 1:24-28; Lk 10:38-42

 The central themes of today’s readings are the importance of hospitality in Christian life and the necessity of listening to God before acting. Today’s first reading describes how Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality to strangers was rewarded by God. The Gospel passage describes how Martha, a true child of Abraham, wanted to extend the traditional generous hospitality of her people to Jesus, the true Messiah, by preparing an elaborate meal for him, while her sister Mary spent her time in talking to him and listening to him. Presenting Martha as a dynamo of action and Mary as a true listener to the word of God, today’s Gospel invites us to serve others with Martha’s diligence, after recharging our spiritual batteries every day by prayer - listening to God and talking to God – as Mary did.

The key to the Christian life is SETTING PRIORITIES: Jesus Christ first, then everything else. The only way really to learn that lesson is to spend some time every day, "sitting at the feet of Jesus." Traditionally, today’s Gospel story has been interpreted to mean that the quiet life of contemplation and prayer led by monks and nuns as personified in Mary, is superior to a busy life of activity and action, personified in Martha. Jesus did not intend to belittle Martha and her activity, but rather to show that hearing the word of God is the foundation of all action, and that the word of God must permeate all other concerns. The highest priority must be given to listening to the word. Prayer and actions must be continuous, complementary and mutually dependent. Prayer without action is sterile, and action without prayer is empty. We are expected to be "contemplative in action" because only those who listen carefully to the Word of God know how to behave in the way that God wants, when they show deep concern for the well-being of other people.  That is why Jesus reminds Martha that proper service for him is attention to his instruction, not just an elaborate provision for his physical needs. Mary shows her love for the Lord by listening to him. Jesus in fact, needed Mary and Martha to keep him company and to listen to him because he was preparing to face the cross.
  Some single men in a Bible study group were discussing who would make the better wife--Martha or Mary. One fellow said, "Well, I think Martha would make the better wife. The way to a man's heart is through his stomach. It sounds like Martha surely knew how to cook. I would love to be married to a woman like that!" Another man said, "I think Mary would make the better wife. She was always so thoughtful, sweet and loving. I could be very happy, married to a woman like Mary!" Finally, another fellow settled the argument when he said, "Well, I would like to be married to both of them. I would like Martha before supper and Mary after supper." Today’s Gospel challenges us to combine the listening spirit of Mary with the dynamic spirit of Martha in our Christian lives.

Max Lucado is right on target when he writes: "Every church needs a Martha. Change that. Every church needs a hundred Marthas. Sleeves rolled up and ready, they keep the pace for the church. Because of Marthas the church budgets get balanced church buildings get repaired and cleaned. We have a lot of Marthas serving here in the ministries of Women who care, the meals on wheel service, the St.Vincent De Paul, The Tue Crew, the Catholic Order of Forresters, Church cleaners and Sacristans and music ministers etc. You don't appreciate Marthas until a Martha is missing and all the Marys of the church start scrambling to fill the shoes of one Martha. Yes, the Marthas are the Energizer Bunnies of the church. They keep going and going and going."
Martha was a live wire to be sure. However, even live wires need a time out for recharging. Work without worship will soon burn you out. Even in church we can lose our sense of perspective

It is a well-known fact that those who are in the caring professions, like doctors, nurses, pastors, social workers and even parents, often suffer from burnout and terminal exhaustion as Martha did.  People suffering from burnout often end up angry, anxious, and worried. Hence, occasionally we need to put aside the work we do for the Lord in serving others and just spend some time being with Him, talking to Him and listening to Him, fully aware of His holy presence in our souls. We may do the recharging of our spiritual energy also by our personal and family prayers, by the meditative reading of the Bible and by participating in the celebration of the Holy Mass. Christian husbands and wives should develop “couple spirituality” and seek more opportunities to pray together. The Martha and Mary episode teaches us the need for balance between service and prayer and the need for spending time with the Lord, learning from Him and recharging our spiritual batteries with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

OT XV [C] Dt 30:10-14; Col 1:15-20; Lk 10:25-37

Two women were sitting in church. One woman said to the other, "I’ve always wished that God would touch me, but I suppose that’s too much to ask."
The other woman replied, "That sounds like a reasonable desire. Have you prayed about it?"
"Well, no. Of course not."
"Why not? There’s certainly nothing wrong with a prayer like that. You should pray about it."
"All right. Maybe I will sometime."
"Not sometime. Now. What better place to pray than here in the Lord’s house?"
Thus persuaded, the woman reluctantly folded her hands, bowed her head and closed her eyes in prayer, asking that God would touch her. About ten seconds later the other woman gently laid her hand on the folded hands of the friend at prayer. She responded as most of us would do. She jumped and said, "He did it! He touched me." Then, after a moment’s thought "But that felt an awful lot like your hand."
"It was my hand," her friend replied.
Disappointment was on the other face. "And I thought God had touched me."
"He did touch you. How do you think God touches people? That he comes down like a fog blanket or a pillar of fire? When God touches people he takes the nearest hand and uses that."
That sounds good, doesn’t it? And it’s almost right. Almost, but not quite. She left out one word. When God touches people he takes the nearest WILLING hand and uses that. The Gospel for today is a case in point.

A scribe asked Jesus in today’s gospel a very basic religious question: “What should I do to inherit eternal life?”   In answer to the question, Jesus directed the Scribe’s attention to the Sacred Scriptures.  The Scriptural answer is “love God and express it by loving your neighbor.”   However, to the scribe, the word “neighbor” meant another scribe or Pharisee – never a Samaritan or a Gentile. Hence, the scribe insisted on a clarification of the word “neighbor.” So Jesus told him the parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable clearly indicates that a “neighbor” is anyone who offers help.  
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus presents three philosophies of life concerning our relationship with our neighbor:  

1.The philosophy of the thieves who robbed the Jewish traveler –Greed: “What is yours is mine; I will take it by force.”   This has been the philosophy of Marxism and other revolutionary movements and of modern terrorist groups. In accepting this philosophy of life, the thieves, like their modern counterparts, terrorized others and exploited them, ignoring human rights and having selfish gain as their chief motive.  
God has given us things to use, and God has given us people to love. But when we begin to love things and use people, we become thieves.
 A little boy returned home from Sunday School, and his mother asked him what lesson the teacher taught. He said, "It was about two preachers who saw a man in a ditch, but they didn't stop because he had already been robbed."

2) The philosophy of life of the Jewish priest and the Levite – Legalism: “What is mine is mine; I won’t part with it.” The priests were powerful upper-class authorities governing the Temple cult. The Levites were the priests’ associates, who provided music, incense, sacred bread, Temple curtains and adornments. Their duties also included “kosher meatpacking” and banking. In the parable, the representatives of these classes did not pay any attention to the wounded man because of their utter selfishness. Misplaced zeal for their religious duty gave them a couple of lame excuses:  a)”If the man is dead and we touch him we will be unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11), and disqualified from Temple service.”  Thus, they saw the wounded man on the road, not as a person needing help, but a possible source of ritual impurity.   b)  “This may be a trap set for us, by hiding bandits.” [This excuse has some validity, as bandits sometimes did use a “wounded” member to decoy a prospective victim into stopping, thus setting himself up for robbery.] The parable's priest and Levite, however, represent people who are always demanding their rights, but never talking about their responsibilities.

3) The philosophy of the Samaritan -- Love: “What is mine is yours as well. I shall share it with you.”   The Samaritan was generous enough to see the wounded Jew as a neighbor.   He ignored the long history of enmity between his people and the Jews.

Columnist Ann Landers once wrote, "Be kind to people. The world needs kindness so much. You never know what sort of battles other people are fighting. Often just a soft word or a warm compliment can be immensely supportive. You can do a great deal of good by just being considerate, by extending a little friendship, going out of your way to do just one nice thing, or saying one good word."  Mark Twain once wrote, "Kindness is a language that the deaf can hear and the blind can read."

Life messages:  We need to remember that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho passes right through our home, parish, school and work place. The Jericho Road is any place where people are being robbed of their dignity, their material goods or their value as human beings.  It is any place where there is suffering and oppression.  As a matter of fact, the Jericho Road may be our own home, the place where we are taking care of a mother or father, husband or wife, or even our own children.  We may find our spouse, children or parents lying “wounded” by bitter words, scathing criticism or other, more blatant forms of verbal, emotional or physical abuse. Hence, Jesus invites us to have hearts of love.  As we go out of the Church today, let’s prove to be a neighbor to anyone lying wounded on the road of life.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

O.T.XIV[C]:  Is 66:10-14c; Gal 6:14-18; Lk 10: 1-12, 17-20

Today’s Gospel describes how Jesus sent his disciples out to towns and villages to prepare for his visit, and gave them “travel tips” for their missionary journey. While all the synoptic Gospels mention a mission of the Twelve, only Luke adds a second mission of the 72. 

Christ's appointing seventy-two disciples (some Greek manuscripts identify seventy) to collaborate in his mission is an action with deep Biblical significance. When Moses was leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land, God had him appoint seventy elders to receive Moses' same spirit and become his assistants. Later, the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel after their return from the Babylonian exile, was made up of 71 elders.
The number 72 may even have yet another level of meaning. The Book of Genesis described the division of the non-Jewish world into 70 nations. So Jesus' choice of 72 disciples may reflect the universality of his saving mission. It includes those 70 Gentile nations, plus the nation of Israel, and, perhaps, his Church, the new People of God. A total of 72.
By following this pattern, Christ, the new Moses, shows that he is bringing the Old Covenant to its fulfillment. This Old and New Testament insistence on God's choosing coworkers to help build his Kingdom shows us something essential about our Lord: he is a team player. Jesus is saving the world, but not all by himself. He wants to do it with our help. From the pope down to the most recently baptized believer, we all share the same mission: to help Christ build up his Kingdom.
As Pope Benedict once wrote: "I am convinced that there is a great need for the whole Church to rediscover the joy of evangelization, to become a community inspired with missionary zeal to make Jesus better known and loved." 

The disciples received instructions as to how they were to carry out their mission. For example, they were to "carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals." This would help them avoid the appearance of being mercenary.  Their detachment from material goods would enable them to uphold the absolute priority of preaching the Good News. They did not need a staff or provisions because God would take care of them through the people to whom they were to preach.

The basic idea behind Jesus’ instruction is that his disciples were sent as walking witnesses, and, hence, they were not to depend on anything or anybody except on the Holy Spirit of God and on Divine providence.

"Greet no one along the way." (See also 2 Kings 4:29). This instruction implies that the mission was so urgent that nothing should divert the disciples from it. 
In the Old Testament we read that Elisha heard of the news of the death of the Shunemite woman’s son. He ordered his servant Gehazi to gird his loins and take up his staff in his hand and go and lay the staff on the face of the child. If anyone saluted him he was not to reply. Gehazi was entrusted with a mission. Jesus sent out His disciples in the same manner. They too were entrusted with a mission. So they were not to stop until they reached their destination.

"Let your peace come back to you.”  This means, “Don’t take it personally, if your mission is a failure.  You have done your part, so don’t worry about the outcome.” It is not up to us to force anyone to accept Jesus. Our mission is to prepare the way. If a person's heart is open, the Lord will enter in.

The disciples were told to travel in pairs (perhaps for mutual support), suggesting that the work of evangelization should be a collective one. It may also indicate that the couples, husband and wife may evangelize their family together.

How much do we realize our duty to evangelize others? If people don’t evangelize, say, for 100 years, there won’t be Christians in the world any more. If only 32% of the world population is now Christians it is because we are doing a poor job on evangelizing.
A preacher in the Midwest tells of a woman who called him to speak of her dissatisfaction with the program of the Church. He invited her to come to his office and talk the problem over with him. She accepted the invitation and brought to his attention some of the things that were needed and could be done.
He gratefully acknowledged the wisdom of her ideas. He then said, "This is wonderful that you are so concerned and interested in this. You are the very person this Church needs to head up this program. Will you take the job?"
Her reply was just as immediate. "Oh, no, I don't want to get involved. With my club work and the hours that I put on some other things, I just don't have the time. But I will be glad to advise you any time."
The preacher's answer was classic and well put: "Good, gracious, lady, that's the problem now. I already have 400 advisers. I need someone who will work."

Sometimes we forget that Jesus wants us to be active members of his Church, not just advisers. Sometimes we think of the Church kind of like a gas station - somewhere we go to fill up our spiritual tanks. That's part of the story, but not the whole story. Today Jesus is reminding us that we are players on his team. And on his team there are no bench-warmers.
As we continue celebrating this Mass, let's ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds, so that each one of us can make an honest evaluation of our own discipleship. All of us are here because we love Christ and want to follow him more closely. He wants the same thing. So when we receive him in Holy Communion, let's ask him to show us how to be better followers, let's ask him to send us out this week to bring his Good News to someone who needs to hear it.