Who Is This Man?

March 24, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Discipleship, Faith, Father Nixon, Lent, Obedience, Sin

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
March 24, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Is 50:4-7 / Ps 22 / Phil 2:6-11 / Mk 14:1-15:47
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Today we embark on a profound journey that encapsulates the contrasting emotions of jubilation and solemnity, celebration and sacrifice.  As we wave palm branches and chant “Hosanna,” we join the crowd in welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem, acknowledging Him as our King and Savior.  Yet, intertwined with this triumphant entry, is the shadow of the cross looming over Him.

Today, the Church begins Holy Week with Palm or Passion Sunday.  What is the correct title?  Is it Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday?  Well, actually, it is both. At the beginning of the Mass today, there is the blessing of the palm branches, and then there is the long gospel narrative of the suffering and death of Jesus.  What does all of this mean as we begin Holy Week, going on to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter?

With Palm Sunday, we begin the yearly journey, a journey not so much toward a destination, but a journey into a sacred time.  We follow Jesus as He accomplishes His Paschal Mystery, which is His suffering, death, and resurrection, or in simple terms, the saving mission of Jesus.  Jesus wants to save us from our sins and bring us closer to God.  The readings of Palm Sunday invite us to reflect deeply on the mysteries of Christ’s Passion, inviting us to walk alongside Him in His final moments.

In the gospel narrative, we witness the fickleness of human nature as the same crowd that hailed Jesus with hosannas later cries out for His crucifixion.  This stark comparison challenges us to examine our own commitment to Christ.  Are we truly devoted to Him, or do we falter when faced with adversity or societal pressure?  From the depths of human weakness and sinfulness, Jesus wants to lift us up to God and to living a life of holiness, a life for which God has created us to live.  As we walk with Jesus through St. Mark’s account of the Passion, we are challenged to answer, perhaps for the first time, or perhaps for the hundredth time, the Jesus question:  Who is this man that died on the cross and what does His death have to do with me?

The painfully detailed description of Jesus’ sufferings will bear no fruit in us unless we face this question and offer our personal answer.  Our answer may start us on a lifelong commitment to Christ, or it may deepen a commitment we made long ago.  We may struggle with darkness and with many more questions and find ourselves on our knees at the foot of the cross, but we cannot walk away from the Passion without an answer.

There is so much to ponder as we read the account of the plot to kill Jesus, the anointing at Bethany, the treachery of Judas, the Passover preparations, Jesus’ prophecy of His betrayal, His institution of the Eucharist, His agony in Gethsemane, His betrayal, arrest, and trial, Peter’s denial, the judgement of Pilate, Jesus’ humiliation and torture, His crucifixion, death, and burial.  We could spend a lifetime mining the depths of the Passion narrative and this would be a fruitful way to spend a lifetime.

The urgent issue, however is that we truly encounter Jesus through this story.  We do not know how long our lifetime will be.  We cannot wait.  We cannot put off our answer until a tomorrow that may never come for us.  The Passion narrative invites us to contemplate Christ’s unwavering obedience to the Father’s will, even in the face of immense suffering.  Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane reveals the depth of His humanity as He grapples with the impending ordeal, but His prayer, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me.  Still, not my will, but yours be done,” embodies the epitome of submission and trust in God’s plan.

As we meditate on Christ’s journey to Calvary, we are confronted with the harsh realities of sin and its consequences.  The betrayal by Judas, the denial by Peter, and the abandonment by His disciples, serve as poignant reminders of human frailty and the prevalence of moral weakness.  Yet, amidst these betrayals, Jesus extends forgiveness and compassion, exemplifying divine mercy in the face of human sinfulness.

At the heart of Palm Sunday lies the profound mystery of redemption, the sacrificial love of Christ poured out for our salvation.  Jesus willingly embraces the cross, bearing the weight of our sins so that we may be reconciled with God.  His cry of abandonment, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” echoes through the ages, encapsulating the depths of His solidarity with humanity in its darkest hour.

Palm Sunday beckons us to journey alongside Christ embracing the paradox of the cross, the instrument of suffering transformed into a symbol of victory and redemption.  May we, like the faithful centurion who witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion, profess with conviction, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”  May our hearts be stirred with gratitude for the immense sacrifice of love offered for our salvation, and may we respond with renewed dedication to follow Christ faithfully, even to the foot of the cross.

As we enter into Holy Week, no matter how many times we have walked the way of the cross with Jesus, watched Him die, attended His burial, and dwelt in darkness at the tomb waiting for the light, it is a time for us to face right now the central question, Who is this this man who died on the cross and what does His death have to do with me?

 

 

 

 

 

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Ascend the Mountain of Prayer

February 25, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Baptism, Commitment, Discipleship, Father Nixon, Lent, Obedience, Prayer, Trust

Second Sunday of Lent
February 25, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18 / Ps 116 / Rom 8:31b-34 / Mk 9:2-10
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

As we journey through the Lenten season, the readings invite us to pause, reflect, and deepen our commitment to spiritual growth and transformation. This Sunday’s scriptures call us to embrace the call of discipleship, acknowledging the challenges and joys that come with following Christ.

The first reading, from the book of Genesis, recounts the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, demonstrating profound obedience and trust in God’s providence. Abraham’s faith challenges us to examine our own willingness to surrender our desires and plans to God, even when it requires great sacrifice. Like Abraham, we are called to trust that God will provide and to step out in faith, knowing that His promises are faithful and true.

In the second reading, from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans, we are reminded of the power of God’s grace to transform us from within. Paul writes of the assurance we have as heirs with Christ, heirs who are called to share in His suffering and glory. This passage invites us to reflect on the ways in which we are called to die to self and to live for Christ, allowing His grace to shape and mold us into His likeness.

The gospel reading from Mark recounts the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, where Peter, James, and John witness His divine glory. This extraordinary moment reminds us of the importance of encountering God in prayer and contemplation. Like the disciples, we are called to ascend the mountain of prayer, to seek moments of intimacy with God, and to be transformed by His presence. In these sacred encounters, we are reminded of our identity as beloved children of God and are empowered to live out our faith with courage and conviction.

There is a story of a young shepherd named David, who lived in a small village nestled between towering mountains. David was known throughout the village for his unwavering faith and his deep connection to the land. One day, as David led his flock to graze in the lush meadows, he felt a strange pull toward a distant mountain peak. Despite the warnings of his elders, David felt compelled to climb higher and higher, drawn by an inexplicable force.

As he ascended the rugged terrain, David encountered trials and obstacles along the way, but with each step he felt a sense of peace and purpose guiding him forward. Finally, after a long journey, David reached the summit of the mountain and there, in a breathtaking moment of revelation, he beheld a sight that filled him with wonder and awe. The sky seemed to open up, and a radiant light enveloped everything around him. In that divine moment, David experienced a profound connection to something greater than himself: a glimpse of the glory of God. It was a great mountaintop experience.

As he descended the mountain on the return to his village, David knew that he had been forever changed by his encounter with the divine. Though he could not fully describe the experience, he carried within him a newfound sense of purpose and clarity. From that day forward, David lived his life with a renewed sense of faith and devotion, sharing his story with all who would listen. And though some doubted his tale, those who truly listened could sense the truth in his words, a truth that transcended the limitations of human understanding.

In the gospel of St. Mark, Jesus’ disciples have been following Him and watching what He does. What they were seeing was the human side of Jesus, who was mostly healing people and telling them not to tell anyone, because He didn’t want to become known just as a healer. In earlier passages Jesus had healed a blind man and told him not to return to his village. He told the deaf man that he healed to tell no one. And He told the leper that He cured to tell no one anything.

In a previous passage in Mark, Jesus told His disciples that He would suffer greatly, be killed, and rise after three days. What kind of human leader could this be? So, to help His followers see more than His human side, Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a mountaintop to reveal His divine side. Even after that experience, Jesus wanted it to be a secret until after He had risen from the dead, because only then would His followers be able to understand that He was the Son of God.

The deeper meaning of Mark’s narrative for us during Lent is that, even after moments of transcendence and transformation, we must come back to earth, continue to hear the voice of Jesus, and follow Him on the way to the cross.

After the Transfiguration, Jesus’ followers had to leave their mountaintop experience and descend down the mountain to continue to follow Jesus and to do the more mundane things of building up the Kingdom. We too cannot continue to live on a mountaintop, but we have to come down to help build up the Kingdom. Like Peter, James, and John, we cannot remain there, but we have to come down to wherever we spend most of our regular life.

Jesus’ disciples did their part two thousand years ago. We must do ours in our home, school, place of work, in the parish, and wherever we connect with God’s people.

At Baptism, our ears were blessed to hear the Word of God, and our mouth was blessed to proclaim the Word of God. So, how is our proclamation going? Are we telling people about the way to salvation, or do we need to seek a mountaintop experience to set ourselves in motion? Just as Peter, James, and John witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, so too can we experience moments of profound transformation, when we open our hearts to the mystery and wonder of God’s presence in our life.

So, as we reflect on the readings today, may we be inspired to deepen our commitment to discipleship, to embrace the challenges and joys of the journey, and to trust in God’s unfailing love and providence. May we ascend the mountain of prayer, encounter Christ in His glory, and be transformed by His grace, so that we may shine as lights in the world, bearing witness to the love and mercy of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

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The Ultimate Authority

January 28, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Discipleship, Father Nixon, Mission, Obedience, Scripture, Trust

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 28, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Dt 18:15-20 / Ps 95 / 1 Cor 7:32-35 / Mk 1:21-28
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Once, a government surveyor brought his equipment to a farm, called on the farmer, and asked permission to go into one of the fields and take readings.  The farmer vigorously objected, fearing that the survey was the first step toward the construction of a highway through his land. “I will not give permission to go into my fields,” said the angry farmer. Whereupon the surveyor produced an official government document that authorized him to do the survey. “I have the authority,” he said, “to enter into any field in the entire country and take necessary readings.”

Faced with such authority, the farmer opened the gate and allowed the surveyor to enter the field. The farmer then went to the far end of the field and opened another gate, through which one of his fiercest bulls came charging. Seeing the raging bull, the surveyor dropped his equipment and ran for his life.  The farmer shouted after him, “Show him the paper! Show him your authority!”   Yes, the unfortunate surveyor has the authority, but the farmer’s bull has more convincing power.

Brothers and sisters, the same can be said about the gospel we preach and teach. The people of Capernaum received sacred instruction in their synagogue every Sabbath.  One Sabbath they had a different teacher, Jesus.  What Jesus taught them that day, as well as the way He presented and demonstrated His message, simply astonished them. Why?  It is because He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Jesus’ teaching contrasted sharply with that of the scribes. In one word: Jesus taught with authority. The scribes did not.

Jesus astonished the people around Him for three big reasons. First, the teaching of Jesus is from the heart and not just from the head. He teaches with absolute conviction in his message, because He knows that His message is in accordance with the mind of God.  As He says in the gospel of St. John, when trying to persuade His unbelieving audience, “Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony.” His preaching is a personal testimony of His intimate relationship with God, His Father, unlike the scribes. They got their knowledge, not from their personal communion with God, but from their long and intricate commentaries on the law. As a result, most of their teaching is from the head and not from the heart.

If we claim to have faith in Christ, it is essential that we must listen to Him. We need to open ourselves to His wisdom and authority. The bottom line is not to take His teachings on the level of theories and ideas. Rather we must situate it into our faith life experience. For faith, devoid of practical action, is empty.  Theology without praxis is nothing. Knowledge waning in application is useless.

Second, it focuses on the spirit, and not on the letter of the law.  The scribe seeks to apply the prescription of the law to the letter. Jesus goes deeper, to find out the spirit, the original intent of the law, like for example, the law of the Sabbath observance. The scribes would busy themselves trying to determine precisely when the Sabbath begins and ends, and what constitutes work and what does not. Jesus would rather seek the mind of God, who gave the law to His people as an expression of His fatherly care and love.  His conclusion is that the Sabbath is a day we keep away from our work in order to serve God and do God’s work.

Lastly, it inspires a positive change of heart in the hearers, and not just to make the people feel bad. Like, for example, the man born blind.  The scribe seeks to explain why he is blind: whether it was he who sinned, or his parents. Jesus, on the other hand, is only interested in curing the blindness. For this reason, Jesus performed healings and exorcisms together with His teachings to show that His primary concern is to change the human situation and not just to explain it.

These are the three big reasons why people get astonished with Jesus: He teaches from the heart and not just from the head. He focuses on the spirit and not on the letter of the law. And he inspires a positive change of heart in the hearers.

There was an Indian prince who was a lover of knowledge. He had collected thousands of books in his large library. It happened that he was appointed the right hand of the king.  This position demanded that he travel almost always, in the kingdom’s vast territory and neighboring kingdoms, to represent the king. He brought along with him his books; thirty camels were needed to carry them.

Realizing the impracticality of loading all the books, he said to his chancellor, “Read all the books and then give to me the only book that is most important for my journey.”  After some time, the chancellor gave to the prince the book that summarized all the wisdom of the world. It was the Bible.  The prince asked, “What authority does this book have for it to be the only one that I should carry with me? Whereupon the chancellor replied, “It is the authority of the Son of God.” Shortly afterwards, the prince was baptized.

Brothers and sisters, we witness Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue with a profound authority that astounds the people. The crowd is amazed, not just by His words, but by the power with which He speaks. His authority is not like that of the scribes but comes from a deeper source. It is the authority of the Son of God, the Word Made Flesh.

As we reflect on this gospel passage, we are invited to examine our own lives and consider who or what holds authority over us. Do we recognize Jesus as the ultimate authority in our life, or are we swayed by the many competing voices in the world?

Jesus’ authority is not oppressive, but liberating. It brings healing, freedom, and a deeper understanding of God’s love.

In our daily lives, we may encounter challenges and struggles that test our faith. The authority of Jesus is a source of strength and hope during these times. When we submit to His authority, we open ourselves to the transformative power of His love and mercy.

So, as we continue to celebrate the Holy Mass, may we take a moment to reflect on the authority we recognize and submit to.  Let us renew our commitment to follow Jesus, allowing His authority to shape our thoughts, words, and deeds. In doing so, we embrace the freedom and joy that come from being in communion with the One who has authority over all creation.

May Jesus Christ be praised.

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Answer the Call

January 21, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Courage, Discipleship, Father Nixon, Mission, Obedience, Uncategorized

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 21, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Jon 3:1-5, 10 / Ps 25 / 1 Cor 7:29-31 / Mk 1:14-20
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

There is a story about a despondent man who came to his mother and said, “Mom, I’ve stopped going to church, for two reasons.   First, I don’t like the people and second, the people don’t like me.”  And the mother looked at him and said, “My son, you should go back to church for two reasons.  First, you are already fifty-nine years old and second, you are the pastor!”

But, brothers and sisters, as we reflect on the readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, we are invited to ponder the profound concept of Divine Calling.  In the gospel, we witnessed the pivotal moment when Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, and John to become fishers of men.  This summons, with its immediacy and simplicity, carries timeless significance for each of us.  The gospel narrative unfolds with a sense of urgency, mirroring the immediacy of Jesus’ call.

In our own lives, we may hear the echoes of that same call, urging us to respond promptly and wholeheartedly to the divine invitation.  Jesus calls us to a life of discipleship, to follow Him with courage and conviction.  Simon, Andrew, James, and John provide us with inspiring models of immediate obedience.  Without hesitation they leave their nets and professions in order to follow Jesus.  Their response challenges us to examine our own readiness to abandon whatever may be holding us back from fully embracing our calling.

The metaphor of fishers of men calls us to engage actively in the mission of spreading God’s love and compassion.  We are called not merely to catch fish, but to cultivate relationships, to cast the net of love and inclusion.  This mission beckons us to be present in our communities, reaching out to those who may be lost or in need of hope and help.

A story was told about a pious Christian lady who had to do a lot of traveling for her business, so she did a lot of flying.  But flying made her nervous, so she always took her Bible along with her to read, and it helped her to relax.  One day she was sitting next to a man who didn’t believe in God.  When he saw her pull out her Bible, he gave a little chuckle and went back to what he was doing.  After a while, he turned to her and asked, “Do you really believe all the stuff in there?”  The lady replied, “Of course I do.  It’s the Bible – the Word of God.”   The man said, “Well, what about that guy that was swallowed by that whale?”  She replied, “Oh. Jonah.  Yes, I believe that.  The Bible says that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, and I believe it, and if it had said that Jonah had swallowed the whale, I would believe that too.”  The man laughed and asked, “Well, how do you suppose he survived all that time inside the whale?”  The lady answered, “Well, I don’t really know, but I guess when I get to heaven, I will ask him.”  “What if he is not in heaven?” the man asked sarcastically.  “Then you can ask him when you reach hell,” the lady replied.

Brothers and sisters, in the first reading, we encountered Jonah’s mission to Ninevah.  Here, too, we witnessed the transformative power of responding to God’s call.  The people of Ninevah heed Jonah’s warning and repent.  This reminds us that our response to God’s call can have a profound impact, not only on our lives, but on the lives of those around us.

In fact, the entire readings of today’s liturgy emphasize the absolute need for total repentance and our immediate need for a quick and prompt response to God’s invitation to repentance.  Whereby, we face God’s wrath of perpetual destruction in hellfire should we ever play down the entire content of divine revelation, seeking our redress as portrayed in the funny response of the pious traveler to the atheist in the story.

In the second reading, St. Paul orders the Corinthian Church to waste no time in embracing the message of the Good News and in renewing their lives with repentance.  Whereas, the gospel reading describes the summary of Jesus’ preaching, “Repent, and believe in the Good News.”  It also describes how Jesus called His first set of disciples, Andrew, Peter, James, and John, which portrays how we sinners need to respond to God’s call with total commitment by abandoning our accustomed style of sinful life.

Today’s readings are all rather extraordinary.  Each of them shows an immediate and wonderful response.  First Jonah preaches, and the Ninevites surprisingly repent and change immediately.  Then Paul calls upon everyone to live in the immediate moment, for the day of the Lord is imminent.  Then Jesus calls His disciples, and they leave immediately.

Jesus’ call is offering a whole new world, a new vision and a new set of relationships.  The values of the Gospel are revealed in their fullness.  If the disciples had paused and thought about what they were doing, they could have dreamed up heaps of reasons why they should not go – their business, their insecurities, and so on.  They did not let these things get in the way.

Thank goodness they responded to the call straightaway.  This is not encouraging recklessness, because surely Jesus called people after a lot of prayer and discernment, and He called disciples whom He had observed were already living in the way that showed their longing for the value of the Kingdom to be established in its fullness. Along comes Jesus and He says, “The time has arrived.  Come, follow me.”  And they do – immediately.  It is what they had been waiting for.

In our lives, brothers and sisters, Jesus calls each one of us in big and small ways.  In the daily events of life, in our words, actions, and priorities, let us respond immediately and with trust.  As we reflect on the readings today, let us prayerfully consider the nature of God’s call in our lives.  Are we attuned to His voice?  Are we ready to leave behind our nets and respond with unwavering trust?  May the example of the first disciples inspire us to embrace our calling with joy and purpose, recognizing that in our response lies the potential for transformation, both for ourselves and for the world.

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The Invitation

October 15, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Eternal Life, Father Nixon, Grace, Heaven, Joy, Repentance, Uncategorized, Wedding

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 15, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 25:6-10a / Ps 23 / Phil 4:12-14, 19-20 / Mt 22:1-14
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

The world is full of opportunities knocking on our doors, just waiting for us to open them.  It is full of opportunities for us to live life to the fullest.  However, they are not always present.  We must seize the opportunity while we still have the time and the opportunity, or else we will end up blaming ourselves, not others.

An invitation is an example of an opportunity knocking on our door, waiting to be opened.  But rather than getting up to open the door, we sometimes whine about the noise.

There was a story of a young man who went away to other places in search of fortune.  A few years later, he returned to his home with trucks loaded with riches. “Now I’m going to play a trick on my relatives and friends,” he said to himself.  He donned some ragged clothes and went to see his cousin Mike first.  “I’m your long lost cousin,” he said.  “I’m back home after several years in other places.  Just look at me, how miserable I am.  May I stay with you for a while?” he said.  Mike said, “I’m sorry, but there’s no room here for you.”

The man visited some more of his relatives and friends, but he was not accepted by any of them.  So he decided to return to where he had left his riches, dressed himself in luxurious clothes, rode through this place with a large entourage of servants, purchased all the businesses about to close down, and began to build a majestic mansion.  After only a few days, the news of his riches had spread all over the place.

“Who could have imagined it?” asked one of the relatives and friends who had rejected him.  “If we had only known, we would have acted differently.  But it is too late now; we’ve missed the riches.”

The readings today show us what joy there is in accepting God’s invitation and what sorrow there is in refusing.  The word of God challenges us to examine our own response to His call.  God extends to us the greatest invitation we will ever receive:  Come to the feast.  Come to the banquet of eternal life.  Sooner or later, each of us has to give Him an answer.  Our RSVP can either be “Yes, I’m coming,” or “No, I will not come.”  The choice is ours and it has eternal consequences.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable directed to the chief priest and the elders.  A king arranges a wedding banquet for his son, and sends out his servants to call the guests.  Strangely, the invited guests flatly refuse to come.  When the king tries again, those being invited treat the servants shamefully, even violently.

When we first read this, it may sound absurd.  People simply don’t act that way when they are invited to a royal feast.  Why would anyone respond so negatively when being invited to something so wonderful?  But the parable is not about an earthly wedding feast.  It is about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is exposing the disgraceful ways in which we respond to Him.  Like the invited guests, sometimes we simply refuse for no logical reason.  We do not want to be bothered.  When we hear God’s call, His words, His commandments, His prompting in the heart, we reject it, without even considering it.  Other times, we consider other things more important right now:  our farm or business, or any number of high priority matters.  God’s will is simply not that important to us.

Then there are times when we have an outrageous reaction to God’s invitation.  We do not literally kill the messenger, but the word of truth can make us hostile and defensive.  When we are called to repentance, we get angry.  We act as if we have been imposed upon, or insulted, or threatened.  Interiorly, we fight, complain, ridicule, resist.  What at first seems to be a rather absurd reaction by some strange people in a parable becomes, upon closer inspection, a disconcerting reflection of our own hearts.

God truly is like a king who wants to fill His banquet hall with guests.  The blessings He has in mind for us are symbolized by the glorious feast so beautifully described in the first reading.  The prophet Isaiah foretells a feast of rich foods and choice wines, which the Lord of Hosts will provide for all peoples.

There is more to this feast than good food.  This is a prophecy of eternal life.  God promises that He will destroy death forever.  The veil of mourning that enshrouds all peoples and nations, the tears that are shed by every generation, the wave of death that ensnares every person will be destroyed.

What God is inviting us to is a victory celebration: a feast of everlasting rejoicing, a life without tears, or mourning, or death; everything we mean by the word Heaven.

In our Lord’s time, wedding invitations went out well in advance, and were accepted definitively.  The final call just before the event occurred was a mere formality.  It would be an unspeakable insult to decline when the final call arrived.  They had already accepted and had made their firm commitment.  And so the master in the parable sends out messengers to the highways and byways, that is, to everyone, respectable or not.  All are invited.  From now on the invitation is being made, not to a select and exclusive minority of privileged people, but to the wider public forum, to all people.  All who respond are welcome.  There is no special preference anymore.  Sinners, outcasts, gentiles—and you—are all invited.

Those accepting the invitation are not any better than those who declined.  It’s just that the poor and the outcasts, not having any other options and seeing what a rare gift this was, accepted and attended.  Again, it reminds us not to be complacent or superior, as all of us are truly blessed to be invited.

This parable reminds us that this invitation is for all of us.  But the invitation can be refused.  The kingdom is open to all, but guaranteed to none.  We don’t earn the kingdom, but we sadly can decline it, which would be madness.

One final thought:  The waifs and strays enter the banquet, but then one gets kicked out for not wearing a wedding garment.  It seems unfair at first glance.  Consider, however, that although the invitation is for all, acceptance means a change of standards and values.  These are symbolized by being clothed in the garment that resembles and represents the baptismal garment of goodness and Christ-like living.  We must wear this robe with devotion and humility, keeping the Gospel values of Christ in our hearts, very central and very safe.

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No Cross, No Crown

September 3, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Blessings, Commitment, Discipleship, Father Nixon, Obedience, St. Paul, Strength, Trust

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 3, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Jer 20:7-9 / Ps 63 / Rom 12:1-2 / Mt 16:21-27
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

A nun was explaining the Stations of the Cross to her class.  They got to the fourth station where Jesus, on the road to Calvary, meets His mother.  The nun explained that even though they could not talk to each other, the mother and son spoke to each other just using their eyes. “What do you think they said to each other?” she asked the pupils.  The class gave many answers.  One said that Mary said, “This isn’t fair.”  Another said that she said, “Why me?”  Finally, a sick little girl raised her thin hand, got up, and said, “Sister, I know what the Blessed Mother told Jesus.  She said to Him, ‘Keep on going, Jesus.’  Why would a mother encourage her only son on the way to crucifixion, to keep on going?  Because she understood the Christian principle of no cross, no crown.”

The image of Jesus Christ crucified is so important for our liturgical life that the Church requires that the crucifix be on or close to the altar at every Mass.  It should be the focal point of the Christian life.  All three of today’s scripture readings, with their emphasis on suffering and sacrifice, help us regain a proper appreciation of the crucified Christ and of the place of the cross in our Christian lives.

Jesus Christ proves to us how much God loves us by suffering and dying on the cross, that we may have eternal life.  The greatest expression of Christ’s love is the laying down of His life on the cross.  The very center of His mission is His death and resurrection for the life of the world.  We can recall that St. Paul declared, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world (Gal 6:14).”

Peter, James, and John have just left the sweet, reassuring, hallowed experience of the Transfiguration.  How thrilling religion can be!  How comforting for the heart.  Just when the apostles are wallowing in pleasant religious feelings, Jesus grows stern and tells them about His forthcoming cross.  Peter will have none of it and tells Jesus that this is for others, not Him and them.  Jesus, without missing a beat, cuts Peter with quickness by saying, “Get behind Me, Satan!”

Peter needed divine intervention to know that Jesus was divine at Caesarea Philippi.  Now he needs divine illumination again to understand that the nice feelings at Tabor are only bought with the dreadful feelings of Calvary.  You can sense the fire in Jesus’ heart as He speaks in glowing terms about the cost of following Him.  Of course, He knows where everything is heading:  Jerusalem and Golgotha, the grave and beyond.  His disciples are not as clear about the direction they are headed, but not for lack of hearing about it.  Peter actually takes Jesus aside and tells Him that this talk of suffering and death is inappropriate.  This should be the hour of victory, but Jesus insists on making the opportunity in front of them strangely grim.

Following Jesus is not a walk in the park.  It will not lead to a comfortable position sitting on His right or His left, but rather a taste of the cup from which He is to drink.  If we believe in Jesus and are willing to risk a love like His, then we have to be prepared for what the world does to truth-speakers like Him.

Perhaps, like Peter, we may be losing sight of our purpose in life. It is not to live totally for pleasure and avoid as many crosses as possible.  Rather, it is to live it in such a way so as to merit the reward of eternal life.  It is about living our few years in this life in a way that will reap for us the reward of eternal life in the next life.  More concretely, it is about picking up our crosses daily and accepting them in the same spirit that Jesus accepted His own cross.  The remarkable part is that once we begin living as Jesus taught us to live, everything will turn upside down.  Suddenly, what seemed to be an enormous cross, will turn out to be, in the light of this world and the next world, an enormous blessing.

Suffering then, is not an end in itself.  It is a pathway to glory.  Jesus has taken on the full weight of human suffering and has transformed it, giving it life-giving value.  This is why we willingly display the crucifix instead of rejecting it.  While we try to alleviate suffering through legitimate means, at the same time we strive to see it from God’s perspective to find its deeper meaning.  When we look at a crucifix, we are reminded that God does not see suffering as something to be avoided at all costs.  He knows how to bring good out of suffering.

St. Paul knows that the idea of sacrifice, which is voluntary suffering, does not fit the world’s way of thinking.  We are no longer to think as the world does or judge by the world’s standards.  Rather, we are called to be transformed by the renewal of our minds so that we may discern what is the will of God: what is good, pleasing, and perfect.

To be able to do this, we need to fix our gaze on Jesus Christ or the crucified Christ.  He is risen, but His cross and His passion are our strength.  The way of perfection passes by way of the cross.  Living by God’s will, no matter what form the cross may take in our lives, is what leads to our glory with Him.

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A Prize That Will Last Forever

July 30, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Discipleship, Eternal Life, Father Nixon, Life, Mission, Wisdom

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 30, 2023 — Year A
Readings: 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12 / Ps 119 / Rom 8:28-30 / Mt 13:44-52
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

A while ago, I read an article about a college athlete who was training to make the school’s football team. He got up every morning at five a.m. to train. He would run and lift weights for two hours straight. Then he would go back to the dorm, shower, eat breakfast, and go off to his classes. After his classes, he would go back to the athletic facility and work for three more hours with his teammates, learning the playbook, running plays, more weights, etc. The next morning at five a.m., he started the same routine all over again.

Obviously, he had very little, if any, social life. When a reporter asked him why he followed such a difficult schedule, the young man said, “My only goal right now is to be the best football player I can be and to help my team win a championship. If going to parties or anything else, for that matter, prevents me from accomplishing my goal, then why go?  The more I train, the better. You see, sacrifice is the thing.”

Brothers and sisters, I was wondering, if Jesus was living now instead of two thousand years ago, if in today’s gospel, He might have used a different story or two. Rather than speak about a pearl merchant who sacrificed everything to buy his dream pearl, or a tenant farmer who sold everything he owned to buy a field with a treasure in it, Jesus may have spoken about a young man who sacrificed a lot to be the best football player that he could be.

What’s the connection between a pearl merchant, a treasure hunter, and this young football player? What do they have in common? What they have in common is this: They have a total commitment to their dream. All of them are willing to sacrifice everything for the goal they have set for themselves. In one case, it is to own the perfect pearl. In the second case, it’s to obtain a great treasure. In the third case, it is to help make his team into a champion.

That’s precisely Jesus’ point in today’s gospel: To be a true follower of God requires total commitment on our part. Citizenship in God’s kingdom requires us to give one hundred percent all of the time, not just when we feel like it. God’s kingdom must be the top priority of our life. We cannot be a true follower of Jesus only part of the time, sort of like a hobby. We cannot be only admirers of Him.

Being a true disciple of Jesus is like being a pearl merchant. Being a true disciple of Jesus is like being a treasure seeker. Being a true disciple of Jesus is like being a football player. It involves total dedication and commitment.

But there is one difference – a big difference between a true disciple of Jesus and our pearl merchant, treasure hunter, and football player.  You see, those three people are striving for rewards that will not last, rewards that are transitory. Earthly rewards, while a follower of Jesus is striving for eternal, permanent rewards.

When the pearl merchant dies, his pearl will no longer be of any value to him. When the treasure seeker dies, his treasure will be as useless to him as snowshoes are to somebody in July. When the football player dies, his trophies will be just another keepsake for his family.

But when a true disciple of Jesus dies, a true Christian, the whole kingdom of God rejoices, because it will now shine brighter and brighter. All of God’s people will be edified eternally when a Christian dies.

Money and influence, in and of themselves, are neutral. Money is good when it is used to help others, not when it is only spent on ourselves. Influence and power can be great, even holy, when used to lift up those who have been beaten down by life’s brutality.

At the moment just before our death, I doubt very much if any of us will look back on our lives and wish we spent more hours at the office or made more money or played another round of golf. I do think, however, that we will look back on our lives and wish that we had spent more time with our families and loved ones. More time helping other people and doing good.

You see, then, on our deathbeds we will realize that there is only one thing in life that really counts, and it’s not whether in life we acquired a prize pearl or a rare treasure or won a sport championship. The only thing that will truly matter is what we have become, what we are in God’s eyes while we traveled our paths through life.

Think about this: If our pearl merchant and treasure seeker and football player were willing to sacrifice so much for a prize that will never last, how much more should we be willing to sacrifice for a prize that will last forever? Earthly prizes can be good and even satisfying for a time, but eternal prizes are the best, the very best. So don’t bet on the wrong horse, as they say.

If we are given the choice, what do we prefer: gold, glory, or God? It is easy to say that we prefer God in our lives, but sadly, this is not what we see in people’s priorities today. Often the desire for wealth and honor would push people to spend their precious time for work and business only. The prevailing culture suggests that, to be happy, one must have more and achieve more.

Hence, people are willing to sacrifice their time with the family in order to earn more money. Many are also ready to surrender their Christian principles and values just to keep their fame and glory.

The well-known story of Solomon in our first reading should inspire us all. In a dream, God offered to give him one thing that he wanted. Being young, Solomon could have asked for wealth or glory or long life. But realizing the great task ahead of him, Solomon thought that what he really needed was the wisdom to rule his people well in the ways of God.

Wisdom, or God’s inspiration, is what Solomon asked for, and God was so pleased with Solomon, that He promised him more than the gift of wisdom, including riches, glory, and long life. That’s why the song that we sang several weeks ago is right: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all good things shall be added unto you.”

Mother Teresa of Kolkata and John Paul II both died leaving no property, for they had not accumulated treasures on earth. They found their treasure in a life given totally to the service of God and of the Church.

The parables are true. Those who discover the treasure of the Kingdom will be happy to let go of everything to follow and be close to Jesus.

May Jesus Christ be praised.

 

 

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Our Primary Love

July 2, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Discipleship, Family, Father Nixon, Love, Mission

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 2, 2023 — Year A
Readings: 2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16a / Ps 89 / Rom 6:3-4, 8-11 / Mt 10:37-42
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

There was once a catechist who asked the students in her Confirmation class, “Which part of the liturgy or Mass is the most important?”  She was not prepared for the answer she received from one of her students.  The youth said, “The most important part of the Mass is the Dismissal Rite.”  After the class laughter subsided, the catechist asked, “Why did you say that?”  The youth said, “The purpose of the Eucharist is to nourish us with the Word of the Lord and the Body and Blood of the Lord, so that we may go forth and bear witness to the Lord and to bring the Kingdom of God into existence.”  The student continued, “The Eucharist does not end with the Dismissal Rite.  In a sense, it begins with it.  We must go forth and proclaim to the world what the disciples of Emmaus did.  We must proclaim that Jesus is raised from the dead.  We must proclaim that Jesus lives on.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus gives His disciples an extended teaching on mission, or ministry.  In the first part of the of the gospel, Jesus describes a missionary, or minister, who is worthy of the name “Christian.”  He said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” (Mt 10:37-38)

Why would Jesus say such a thing?  Before we can answer this question, we must deal with a more fundamental one.  Why do we love?  What is it that motivates us to love another person?

It is good that we perceive the person.  A man loves a woman because he finds something good in her:  her compassion, her joy, her patience, her kindness.  The fact is, however, that everything that is truly good comes from almighty God.  As we are told at the end of Eucharistic Prayer III, “All good things have their source in the Lord, even those good things which come to us through other people.”  So, yes, a man loves a woman because of her compassion, joy, patience, and kindness, but the only reason a woman is compassionate, joyful, patient and kind is because God has given her the grace to be that way.  This is what Bishop Fulton Sheen was getting at when he said, “It’s only because we are loved by God that we are lovable.”  God, who is love, places some of His love inside of us and that grace is what makes us attractive to others.

Consequently, it makes perfect sense for Jesus to tell us in today’s gospel that our love for Him must be primary.  We are to love Him with all our heart, because if it were not for Him, there would be nothing lovable in us or in anyone else.  In fact, if it were not for Jesus, we would not even exist.  As Saint Paul reminds us in his letter to the Colossians, “In Christ Jesus everything in heaven and on earth was created, and in Him everything continues in being.” (Col 1:16)

It also means that a minister or a missionary must be willing to accept and carry the cross or sacrifice, for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  In other words, a missionary or a minister of Christ must be someone who is in love with Christ in such a way that love of parents, children, spouses, and even oneself, assumes secondary importance.  To take up one’s cross and follow Jesus is a sign of one’s death, since the way to the cross leads to Calvary and the crucifixion.  The only worthy missionary or minister of Christ is the person who has found a reason to live and to die, and that reason is Jesus Christ Himself.

A case in point is the story of the young Spanish Jesuit by the name of Alfredo Perez Lobato, who was killed in December 1973 in Chad, Africa, at the height of the civil war.  While he was helping refugees, a stray bullet hit him.  The story of his short life is featured in the book, A Community in Blood, along with those of other Jesuits killed in different third world countries.  When asked by superiors why he volunteered to join the mission in Chad, Alfredo replied, “Why do I want to go to this poor country?  It is simple.  Because it is difficult.  I believe that I am called to the difficult and the demanding.”

It is natural for us to dream of a life of comfort, luxury, and pleasure.  If we are honest about it, most of our prayers are directed towards alleviating our suffering.  In short, we want a life free from trials and sacrifices.  Perhaps this is the reason why we attach our lives to the pervading values of the modern world so life can be easy and convenient.  In the book, Crossing on the Crossroad, it is said that the reason why people are frustrated is their failure to accept the crosses in their lives.  The moment we try to escape suffering, we encounter suffering ten times more.

Thomas Merton said, “The truth that many people never understand until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because the smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”

To conclude His teaching, Jesus encourages the people to be generous with His messengers.  Let us take these words of Jesus to heart and act on them to the best of our ability.  Remember, we do not need to give gold or silver.  A cup of cold water is enough.

“Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.   And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” (Mt 10: 41-42)

Jesus has entrusted us with the ongoing work of the Kingdom.  It is a work that does not allow any human attachment to frustrate the reign of God.  The work of the Kingdom transforms our average hearts into hearts which will forever sing the goodness of the Lord.

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Do Not Be Afraid

June 25, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Courage, Deacon Mark, Faith, Forgiveness, Obedience, Saints, Strength, Trust

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 25, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Jer 20:10-13 / Ps 69 / Rom 5:12-15 / Mt 10:26-33
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

In case you missed it, on June 16 we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the day after that, the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This past Thursday we celebrated the Memorial of St. Thomas More, and just yesterday, the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist.  I see in that sequence of celebrations the love of Jesus’ Sacred Heart burning in Mary’s, Thomas More’s, and John’s hearts, enabling their great victories. We receive His Sacred Heart at every Mass in the Eucharist! Keep this truth and these spiritual heroes in mind during this homily on trusting in God’s grace when the world persecutes us for witnessing to His truth and love.

The LA Dodgers major league baseball organization recently held a public event in their stadium to give a “Community Hero Award” to a group of men who dress as nuns and mock the Catholic Church, which is to say they mock Christ (CNA). Now pray today’s Psalm 69 again, “For your sake I bear insult…I have become an outcast to my brothers…the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.”

Washington Nationals pitcher and Catholic, Trevor Williams, responded to the Dodgers’ celebration of mockery by becoming the first major league player to denounce the Dodgers’ award ceremony for an organization the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called “blasphemous (CNA).” His Twitter comments denouncing this attack on the Catholic faith have been retweeted thousands of times. He has been criticized, yes, but Williams said he wanted to show his four children that if they are ever tested, it is ok to stand up for their faith. By the way, Trevor’s own faith took off after going to Adoration as a teenager.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah is lamenting how those “who WERE [his] friends” denounce him, watching for “any misstep” so they can trap and “take vengeance on him (Jer 20:10).”  However, Jeremiah doesn’t worry about being “canceled” for his faith in God. He defiantly writes, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion. (Jer 20:11-13)!”

St. Thomas More can relate to Jeremiah’s lamenting about friends turning on him. More was King Henry VIII’s chancellor, and the King wanted More to sanction his illegitimate second marriage in addition to his self-proclaimed position of head of the Catholic Church in England.  More refused to sanction either, and King Henry VIII began to cancel More’s job, his status, money, and reputation. But More’s faith did not break. The King was frustrated and finally ordered More’s beheading.

More’s last words exemplify Jesus’ exhortation in today’s gospel. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna (Mt 10:28).” Likewise, More said, “I die his majesty’s good servant, but God’s first.” This is called holy fear, which Bishop Barron describes as fearing “losing intimacy and friendship with God (Barron 72).”

St. Paul, in the second reading, wrote to the Roman Church, “But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”  Living the hope of these words in prison before his execution, Thomas More wrote, “His grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience.”  In doing so, More also echoed today’s Psalm “See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive!  For the Lord hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not (Ps 69:33).”

Like the baseball player Trevor Williams, More also wanted to teach his child through his actions. In his letter from prison to his daughter, Margaret he wrote, “Do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.”

What of the people who mock the Church and try to teach our children to do the same? Jeremiah called the mockers “evildoers” and spoke of God “putting them to shame.”  These strong words can be difficult for us, because as Christ’s followers, we look at our persecutors like the first deacon, Stephen. As he was being stoned to death for sharing his faith, he said in imitation of Jesus on the Cross, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

When we read the Bible, it is important that we read it in light of the gospels which rightly order our thoughts.  To better understand this difficult challenge, it is illuminating to look at Jeremiah’s words through the lens of today’s gospel reading. Jesus said to the Twelve: “Fear no one…And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Mt 10:28).” What is Jesus doing here? He is, in His perfect love, “casting out all fear (Jn 4:18)!!” What causes the cycle of accusations, mockery, and violence? Fear. However, if my heart is fed by and enfolded in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, then I fear no one, nowhere. Free from fear, I can respond with Christ’s love and break the chains of conflict and discord. I can even pray for God to forgive those men mocking our Lord, “to not hold their sin against them.”

Sound unreasonable or naive? Thomas More, like all the great saints, shows us the way. In his letter to Margaret, he did not mock Henry VIII, nor point out his sin of adultery. He, with an eye on eternity instead of the here and now, wrote this about Henry: “His Majesty has done me such great good with respect to spiritual profit that I trust that among all the great benefits he has heaped so abundantly upon me I count my imprisonment the very greatest.” Like the bold hymn, Faith of our Fathers, More was “chained in prison dark, but was still in heart and conscience free.”

Is there no justice or accountability, then, for those who persecute and mock us? Do we just let them walk all over us? A wise priest once told an angry man, “You cannot do worse to that person than God will.” Jesus said, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father (Mt 10:33).”  That is a polite way of saying not everyone goes to heaven. God commands us to forgive our enemies. Justice is His domain.

Do not be afraid to speak the truth. Remember that there is no love without it. It is a spiritual oxymoron to say I want someone to be happy while suppressing the truth when I am with them. Could speaking the truth cause me pain and suffering? Yes. No doubt some of you have experienced this in your own families and at work and school.  So, I ask myself a question: Do I fear the Lord who can cast body and soul into Gehenna, as much as I fear acknowledging Him when it might cause me discomfort?  We must keep an eternal perspective of our life. Psalm 85 says, “Salvation is near for those who fear Him.” But take heart! God does not abandon us when we testify to His truth, love, and good news.  Remember Jeremiah’s words, “My persecutors will stumble; they will not triumph.”

We see this truth in the rest of the story of the heroes we just heard about. Trevor Williams says many players and stadium employees have secretly thanked him. And on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Trevor Williams was given the honor of leading the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for tens of thousands on the Hallow app. As for the British Catholic Church, seemingly taken over by Henry VIII, it is now the leading religion in Thomas More’s beloved London.  John the Baptist was beheaded, but Jesus called him the greatest born of woman, and the Church honors his birth two thousand years later with its highest-ranking feast, a Solemnity!

And what about our awesome mother, Mary? She stayed at her son’s side, throughout His persecution and Crucifixion, despite extraordinary personal pain, her Immaculate Heart enfolded in His Sacred Heart. For her fidelity was she abandoned by God to poverty and loneliness with no husband and no son? No. Jesus, with one of His last seven utterances on the Cross, gave her a new son who went on to write of her victorious coronation as Queen of Heaven (Rev 12:1).

Let’s close with God’s word, which gives us hope and helps us to be bold in the Spirit despite our failings, inadequacies, and fears. The next time you need to proclaim His truth “from the housetops,” remember these words exchanged between Jesus and St. Paul.  Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul responded, “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:9-10).” Amen.

 

Citations

Bishop Robert Barron. The Word on Fire Bible-The Gospels. Word on Fire Ministries 2020.

Filip Mazurczak. Is a re-Catholicization of Britain underway?  The Catholic World Report, July 14, 2020.

Peter Pinedo. Washington Nationals pitcher Trevor Williams speaks out on Dodgers controversy. Catholic News Agency (CNA), June 14, 2023.

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Performing Our Miracles

June 18, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Commitment, Courage, Discipleship, Evangelization, Family, Father Nixon, Healing, Mission

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 18, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 19:2-6a / Ps 100 / Rom 5:6-11 / Mt 9:36-10:8
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Brothers and sisters, fatherhood is a God-given mission.   It is not just an obligation, neither is it just a human aspiration, nor just a personal passion.  It is a commitment to become a real shepherd and to become a worker disciple in the Lord’s vineyard.   The call on every father is to focus not so much on the worldly commission, but on the divine mission.   This is also the message in our readings today.

The gospel message from Matthew gives us the account of Jesus commissioning the twelve men whom He has chosen, giving them the charge to continue the work He has begun here on Earth.   Matthew tells us that these were the first people who were authorized to spread the good news to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.   Jesus charges the twelve to go out and cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons.  Just imagine yourself lucky enough to be selected by Jesus himself to be one of the twelve.   But then you are given the assignment to go and cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons.

Did Jesus really mean for them to actually do all these things?   How could these twelve men – fishermen, tradesmen, common folks including a tax collector and even the one who would betray Jesus – be capable of accepting these assignments?

Down through history, Jesus has chosen unlikely people to do seemingly impossible tasks.  We can pick up the book, The Lives of the Saints, and find numerous examples of ordinary people who responded to God’s call.   The Church, throughout its history, has had regular, ordinary people performing what might be considered impossible tasks, simply because they have responded to Christ and His teachings. People like Saint John Vianney, Saint Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, Maximilian Kolbe, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton are just a few examples of people who responded when they were called to spread the good news to others.

Jesus is now calling us.   We are just like the twelve whom He chooses.  We now have the responsibility to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons.   We accepted this call, this responsibility, at our baptism, but the question we immediately ask ourselves is how in the world do we cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons?

Can we cure the sick?   Yes, we can help cure those who are sick.   We can help to provide for physical, psychological, or spiritual ailments.   We can be caregivers by assisting those in need.   It could be simple things like making an appointment with a physician or providing transportation to a physician’s office.   Perhaps it could involve something more complicated by administering care at your home or the home of the individual that is ill.  We might be required from time to time to provide simple one-on-one counseling to someone who is depressed, so that the person may find inner strength that he or she needs to make a decision enabling them to help themselves and to return to their daily activities.

How can we raise the dead? Taken literally, we know this is impossible, but sometimes people are dead in their faith.  We can provide spiritual assistance to those who are dead in their faith experience.   Perhaps it is someone who has fallen away from the faith because of a simple misunderstanding.  We can be instruments of hope to those who might think returning to God is hopeless.   Sometimes it is as simple as answering a question about the faith, providing information that will help heal the person of their spiritual illness.   Perhaps the person is dead spiritually because they were involved in a marriage that ended in a divorce.  We can provide information to help them understand their rights as a divorced person, and if they are in need of an annulment, we can provide resources for them to begin the annulment process.

Can we cleanse lepers?  The question we have to answer is who are the lepers in our lives?   It could be the individual at work that constantly is getting under our skin.  It could be the neighbor up the street who seemingly forever has knocked our children or has constantly criticized us because they don’t like our dog.  It could be a brother-in-law who has been on our case from the first day we met.   What can we do?  Sometimes the best way to handle people like this is to kill them with kindness.   We can simply smile or offer help to them with a project.  Perhaps we could send some greeting card or surprise them in some way that causes them to think or to ask why this person is being so kind to me.   We can present ourselves to these people as true followers of Christ, someone who is willing to clear the air, make amends, and try to begin a new relationship.

Can we drive out demons?   The answer is yes – sometimes those demons are in us and all about us. They are the things that prevent us from being the best person we can be. It could be those inner feelings that constantly cause us to see the negative side of life.  Perhaps we are constantly seeing the glass as half empty instead of always half full.  The demons could be feelings that can cause us to fall into various states of depression.  What can we do?   Obviously, we can seek professional counseling.  We can confide in family and friends.  However, because we are members of the Church, baptized into faith, we can many times rely on the gift of faith to help us through those difficult times.  Many times, prayer is a good way to rid ourselves of those demons.  Through prayer, we can seek the intercession of our patron saint, or call upon St. Joseph, or ask the Blessed Virgin to intercede for us with her Son to help us overcome times of negativism and the states of negative thought.

Discipleship is not so much doing but being.  Go down the list of the twelve apostles, and you’ll notice that nothing was said to describe what they did, except Matthew the tax collector and Judas who betrayed Him.   Perhaps that should lead to deeper appreciation of our personhood rather than of our so-called achievements, not so much of what we carry in our hands but what we carry in our hearts.

Christ is calling us to do his work now on Earth.   The beautiful thing that we have going for us as members of the Church on earth is our diversity.   We all have different talents and different abilities to accomplish the work our Lord has entrusted to us.  Jesus, whether we realize it or not, sends us out to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers. and drive out demons.

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