Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Saints Day : Rev 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12a

All Saints Day is a universal Christian feast honoring all Christian saints – known and unknown. One thing that strikes you first about the Saints is their diversity. It would be very difficult to find one pattern of holiness, one way of following Christ. There is Thomas Aquinas, the towering intellectual, and John Vianney (the CurĂ© d'Ars), who barely made it through the seminary. There is Vincent de Paul, a saint in the city, and there is Antony who found sanctity in the harshness and loneliness of the desert. There is Joan of Arc, leading armies into war, and there is Francis of Assisi, the peacenik who would never hurt an animal. There is the grave and serious Jerome, and there is Philip Neri, whose spirituality was based on laughter. How do we explain this diversity? God is an artist, and artists love to change their styles. The saints are God's masterpieces, and He never tires of painting them in different colors, different styles, and different compositions. What does this mean for us? It means we should not try to imitate any one Saint exactly. Look to them all, study their unique holiness, but then find that specific color God wants to bear through you. St. Catherine of Siena was right: "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire."  (Fr. Robert Barren).
"What is it like to be a Christian saint?" "It is like being a Halloween pumpkin. God picks you from the field, brings you in, and washes all the dirt off you. Then he cuts off the top and scoops out the yucky stuff. He removes the pulp of impurity and injustice and seeds of doubt, hate, and greed. Then He carves you a new smiling face and puts His light of holiness inside you to shine for the entire world to see." This is the Christian idea behind the carved pumpkins during the Halloween season.

All baptized Christians who have died and are now with God in glory are considered saints. All Saints Day is a day on which we thank God for giving ordinary men and women a share in His holiness and Heavenly glory as a reward for their Faith. In fact, we celebrate the feast of each canonized saint on a particular day of the year. But there are countless other saints and martyrs, men, women and children united with God in Heavenly glory, whose feasts we do not celebrate. Among these would be our own parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters who were heroic women and men of Faith. All Saints Day is intended to honor their memory. Hence, today's feast can be called the feast of the Unknown Saint, in line with the tradition of the “Unknown Soldier.” Today, the Church reminds us that God's call for holiness is universal and that all of us are called to live in His love and to make His love real in the lives of those around us. Holiness is related to the word wholesomeness. We show holiness when we live lives of integrity and truth, that is, wholesome and integrated lives in which we are close to others while being close to God.

In today’s Gospel, the Church reminds us that all the saints whose feasts we celebrate today walked the hard and narrow path of the Beatitudes to arrive at their Heavenly bliss. The Beatitudes are God’s commandments expressed in positive terms. They go far beyond what is required by the Ten Commandments, and they are a true and reliable recipe for sainthood.
Life messages: 1) On the feast of All Saints, the Church invites and challenges us to walk the walk of the saints and not just talk the talk: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven" (Mt 7:21). 2) The feast gives us an occasion to thank God for having invited so many of our ancestors to join the company of the saints. May our reflection on the heroic lives of the saints and the imitation of their lifestyle enable us to hear from our Lord the words of grand welcome to eternal bliss: "Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joys of your master" (Mt 25:21). 3) Today is also a day for us to pray to the saints, both the canonized and the uncanonized, asking them to pray on our behalf that we may live our lives in faithfulness like theirs, and so receive the same reward.

Thomas Merton was one of the most influential American Catholic authors of the twentieth century. Shortly after he was converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Thomas Merton was walking down the streets of New York with a friend, Robert Lax. Lax was Jewish, and he asked Thomas what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic. “I don’t know.” Merton replied, adding simply that he wanted to be a good Catholic. Lax stopped him in his tracks. “What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!” Merton was dumbfounded. “How do you expect me to be a saint?” Merton asked him. Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you consent to let him do it? All you have is to desire it.” Thomas Merton knew his friend was right. Do I want to be a saint? Let’s ask ourselves this challenging question. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

OT 30 [A]: Ex 22:20-26; I Thes 1:5c-10; Mt 22:34-40  

The Constitution of the United States started off with only 7 articles and 21 sections that took up only four handwritten pages including signatures! 4 pages! But to that we added 27 amendments.
Today, the United States Code, which is all of the laws in this country, fills up around 80 volumes of books, nearly 800,000 pages, and this doesn’t even include the Federal Regulations.
But, let’s not think for a moment that we are the only ones to take something simple and make it complex. God gave the Israelites something simple to follow, the Ten Commandments. Just ten simple rules to follow. Nothing complex about it. But were the Israelites content with just ten commandments? Oh, no. They ended up making 613 separate commandments, 365 negative and 248 positive. Try following all those laws in order to be considered faithful and righteous, and you probably thought the original ten was hard enough.

For the lawyer and the Pharisees there was certainly a complex issue at stake. The Israelites were under assault from a man who claimed to be God, and who did God-like things. But this man was a Jew; he should have known better, no one is God, but God. Yet, he was a man who knew and quoted the Hebrew scripture, who knew the laws and commandments better than any religious leader.
The Pharisees had to put a stop to it, the situation was getting out of control, it was becoming too complex to let it go on much longer. This man must be stopped and the only way to stop him was to discredit him. And what better way to discredit Jesus, the Jew, than to ask him such a question, on a complex issue about the greatest commandment, that any answer he gave would spell defeat.

In answering their question, Jesus cited the first sentence of the Jewish Shema prayer: … “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5).  Then He added its complementary law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).  Finally, He declared that the “whole Law and the prophets” depended on the commands to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind” and to love “your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus actually combined the originally separate commandments and presented them as the essence of true religion.

The uniqueness of Jesus’ response consisted in the fact that he understood the two laws as having equal value or importance.  We are to love our neighbor and our self as a way to love God: God gives us our neighbors to love so that we may learn to love Him.  Thus, Jesus proclaims that true religion loves God both directly and as living in our 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."

A man once observed a young boy out in a field flying a kite. He noticed that there was something odd about the way the boy was standing and holding on to the string. He walked up to the boy and then learned that the boy was blind. He said, "Do you like flying kites?"
The boy said, "I sure do."
This piqued the man's curiosity and he asked, "How is that when you cannot see it?"
The boy answered, "I may not be able to see it but I can feel it tugging'!"
We may not always be able to identify the love of God in this world. Like the little boy, we may not be able to see love but it has a tug that lets us know it is there. Loving our neighbor may be like holding on to the string, while you get feel of the pull in your heart.

Lewis L. Austin, in This I Believe, wrote: "Our maker gave us two hands. One to hold onto him and one to reach out to his people. If our hands are full of struggling to get possessions, we can't hang onto God or to others very well. If, however, we hold onto God, who gave us our lives, then his love can flow through us and out to our neighbor."

Loving our neighbor as ourselves means looking at and treating others with the respect God gives them.  This love begins at home with one's parents.  It then extends to others. As the parable of the Good Samaritan explains, Love of neighbor extends beyond our family and friends to strangers, especially to the poor, the sick, and the sinner.  Love of neighbor knows no national borders or class distinctions or barriers of any kind, because God knows no such impediments.

Jesus underlines the principle that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves because both of us bear God’s image, and to honor God’s image is to honor Him.  Love for our neighbor is a matter, not of feelings, but of deeds by which we share with others the unmerited love that God lavishes on us. 

Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength means that we should place God’s will ahead of ours, seek the Lord's will in all things and make it paramount in our lives.  There are several means by which we can express our love for God and our gratitude to Him for His blessings, acknowledging our total dependence on Him. 
If we know how to love ourselves, the commandant to love our neighbor bids us to do all we can to bring our neighbor to love God. This is the worship of God; this is true religion; this is the right kind of devotion; this is the service which is owed to God alone.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

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, seditious opponent. Rome would deal swiftly with such a threat.

In the Gospel, Jesus escapes from the trap in the question, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” by stating, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” By this answer, 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.
By birth we become the citizens of the country of our birth, and by Baptism we become the citizens of heaven.  In every age, Christians are faced with balancing the demands of Caesar with the commands of God. Jesus’ answer forms the guiding principle in solving the problems that arise from our dual citizenship, belonging to God and to our country.  As Christians, we are to obey the government, even when it is pagan and non-Christian.  A loyal Christian is always a loyal citizen.  Failure in good citizenship is also failure in Christian duty.  We fulfill our duties to our country by loyally obeying the just laws of the State, by paying all lawful taxes, and by contributing our share, whenever called on, toward the common good.  Both St. Peter (1 Pt 2:13-14), and St. Paul (Rom 13:1-7), stressed the obligation of the early Christians to be an example to all in their loyalty as citizens of the state.  As the famous martyr St. Thomas More said of himself: "I die the King's good servant, but God's first."  Cooperation with secular authority cannot interfere with our primary duty of "giving back to God" our whole selves, in whose image - like the stamp on the coin - we are made.  Consequently, we give taxes to the government but we give ourselves to God. A faithful Christian is a loyal citizen.

A young lady was soaking up the sun's rays on a Florida beach when a little boy in his swimming trunks, carrying a towel, came up to her and asked her, "Do you believe in God?" She was surprised by the question but she replied, "Why, yes, I do." Then he asked her: "Do you go to church every Sunday?" Again, her answer was "Yes!" He then asked: "Do you read your Bible and pray every day?" Again she said, "Yes!" By now her curiosity was very much aroused. The little lad sighed with relief and said, "Will you hold my quarter while I go in swimming?" A faithful Christian is trustworthy member in a community.

We should be loyal to the state and the laws of the state, but when the state oversteps the mark and puts itself in the place of God, Christians are, as a 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.” 

Since everything is God’s, we must give ourselves to Him 100%, not just 10% on Sundays.  We should be generous in fulfilling our Sunday obligations and find time every day for prayer and worship in the family, for the reading of the Bible and the proper training of our children in Faith and morals.  St. Augustine teaches that when we truly succeed in "giving to God what is God's," we are "doing justice to God."  Our contribution to the parish Church   should be an expression of our gratitude to God, giving back to God all that he has given us.  This will help us to combat the powerful influence of materialism in our lives and enable the Church to do God’s work.  

This Sunday we should do a thorough examination of how well do we give to God what is His due. Do we take what belongs to God and give to somebody else?

Friday, October 13, 2017

OT XXVIII [A]  Is 25:6-10a; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20; Mt 22:1-14

At the end of World War II, the Russian head-of-state gave an elaborate banquet to honor the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  The Russians arrived in their best formal wear -- military dress uniforms -- but their honored guest did not.  Churchill arrived wearing his famous zipper coveralls that he had worn during the German bomb attack in London.  He thought it would provide a nostalgic touch the Russians would appreciate.  They didn’t.  They were humiliated and insulted that their prominent guest-of-honor had not considered their banquet worthy of his best clothes.  Wearing the right clothing to a formal dinner honors the host and the occasion; neglecting to wear the right clothing is an insult.  Weddings were such an important occasion in Palestine in Christ’s days that people were expected to wear the proper clothing to show appreciation and respect for the invitation.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus demands and provides the wedding garment of righteousness from his followers.

Today’s Scripture gives us the strong warning that if we do not accept God’s love, if we reject His gift, we can have no place with Him. We have to stay prepared for the freely-offered Heavenly banquet and wearing the freely-given wedding garment of grace always. Our wedding garment is made of our grace-assisted works of justice, charity and holiness.  The parable warns us that membership in a Church alone does not guarantee our eternal salvation.

 This parable is obviously more than a story about a king and a banquet.  It is the story of Salvation History in which God sent prophets and Christian evangelists with Good News.  The first-invited are now rejected, but strangers are accepted.  In other words, the Gentiles have replaced the Jews who refused to respond to Yahweh's call.  This was the way that first-century Christians looked at the Jewish rejection of Jesus.

The “refusal of a king's invitation by the VIPs, without any valid reason suggested rebellion and insurrection” (The Interpreter’s Bible).  That is why the king sent soldiers to suppress the rebellion. The other invited guests challenge the king's honor directly by seizing his slaves who bring the invitation, beating, and killing them.  Clearly this action demands reprisal, and the King obliges.  Later, Christians tended to see the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. as a similar judgment of God upon the people who had rejected the invitation by Christ to the eschatological banquet.

God’s invitation includes an offer of the correct dress for the feast, namely, the robe of Christ's righteousness. The invitation to the ordinary people from the byways tells us that God’s invitation to each one of us is purely an act of grace and not something that we deserve by our good works.  The parable also warns us that God will judge those who refuse His invitation.
In those days, participants in a banquet were expected to dress in clothes that were superior to those worn on ordinary days.  Guests who could afford it would wear white, but it was sufficient for ordinary people to wear garments as close to white as possible.  It was customary for the rich hosts to provide their guests with suitable apparel. For royal weddings, special outfits were given to any guests who could not afford to buy their own.  Hence, to appear in ordinary, soiled working clothes would show contempt for the occasion, a refusal to join in the King's rejoicing.

The Christian must be clothed in the spirit and teaching of Jesus.  Grace is a gift and a grave responsibility.  Hence, a Christian must be clothed in a new purity and a new holiness.  In other words, while God, through the Church, opens wide His arms to the sinner, the sinner can only accept His invitation to this relationship of mutual love by loving Him back, and so by making some effort to repent and change his life. It is not enough for one simply to continue unabated in one’s sinful ways.  Although Jesus accepted the tax collectors and prostitutes, he demanded that they abandon their evil ways. 

We need to be grateful to Christ for the invitation to the Heavenly banquet: From the moment of our Baptism, we have been invited to the Heavenly banquet and provided with the wedding garment of sanctifying grace.  These great privileges and blessings are freely given to us by a loving God.  But the same obstacles which prevented the Pharisees from entering the Kingdom –- pride, love of this world, its wealth and its pleasures –- can impede us too.  Hence, we must be prepared to do violence to our ordinary inclinations and offer ourselves in love and service to Jesus and to his people.  That is how we will make our wedding garment clean and bright every day.  Receiving these gifts of God fully also demands that, instead of remaining marginal members of our parish community, we bear visible witness to our beliefs.  
Let us pray that we may keep our wedding garments pure and spotless and that we may become disciples who really practice the teachings of Jesus, rather than remaining mere Sunday Catholics.  Let us pray for a deeper Faith and love and a better spirit of responsibility to our community.

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. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

OT XXVII [A]  Is 5:1-7; Phil 4:6-9; Mt 21:33-43

Andrew Carnegie, a multimillionaire, left one million dollars to one of his relatives, who in return cursed Carnegie bitterly because he had left $365 million to public charities and had cut the relatives off with one million each. Samuel Leibowitz, criminal lawyer and judge, saved 78 men from the electric chair.  Not one of them ever bothered to thank him. Many years ago, as the story is told, a devout king was disturbed by the ingratitude of his royal court. He prepared a large banquet for them.  When the king and his royal guests were seated, a beggar shuffled into the hall, sat down at the king's table, and gorged himself with food. Without saying a word, the beggar then left the room.  The guests were furious and asked permission to seize the tramp and tear him limb from limb for his ingratitude.  The king replied, "That beggar has done only once to an earthly king what each of you does three times each day to God.  You sit there at the table and eat until you are satisfied.  Then you walk away without recognizing God, or expressing one word of thanks to Him."  The parable in today’s Gospel is about the gross ingratitude of God’s chosen people who persecuted and killed all the prophets sent to them by God to correct them and finally crucified their long-awaited Messiah.

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.   Its importance is shown by its appearance in all the three Synoptic gospels. In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us Christians that since we are the "new" Israel, enriched with additional blessings and provisions in the Church, we are expected to show our gratitude to God by bearing fruits of the Kingdom, that  is, the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, in our lives.  
The parable reflects the frictions in tenant-landlord relations in Palestine.  Most of the vineyards were owned by rich, absentee landlords living in Jerusalem, Damascus or Rome who leased their lands to tenants and were interested only in collecting rent.  The country was seething with economic unrest.  The working people were discontented and rebellious, and the tenant farmers had picked up the revolutionary slogan, “land for the farmer.”  Hence, they often refused to pay the rent previously agreed upon and in some cases assaulted the landowner’s representatives.  It is natural, then, that Jesus’ parable should reflect the popular hatred of foreign domination and the monopolizing of agricultural land by a rich minority who supported Roman rule.
The Lord’s vineyard at present is the Church, and we Christians are the tenants from whom God expects fruits of righteousness.  The parable warns us that if we refuse to reform our lives, to become productive, we, too, could be replaced as the old Israel was replaced by the "new" Israel.  We cease being either God's vineyard or the tenants of God's vineyard when we stop relating to others as loving servants. In the parable, the rent the tenants refuse to pay stands for the relationship with God and with all the people of Israel, which the religious leaders refuse to cultivate. This means that before anything else, God checks on how well we are fulfilling our responsibilities to each other as children of God.  The parable teaches that instead of glorying in our privileges and Christian heritage, we are called to deeds of love, including bearing personal and corporate witness that invites others into God's kingdom.

Are we good fruit-producers in the vineyard of the Church?  Jesus has given us the Church, and through her everything necessary to make Christians fruit-bearing: i) The Bible to know the will of God.   ii) The Sacrament of Reconciliation for the remission of sins.  iii) The Holy Eucharist as our spiritual food.  iv) The Sacrament of Confirmation for a dynamic life of Faith.  v) The Sacrament of Matrimony for the sharing of love in the family, the fundamental unit of the Church. vi) Role models in thousands of saints. We are expected to make use of these gifts and produce fruits for God.

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?