Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 1, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ez 18:25-28 / Ps 25 / Phil 2:1-11 / Mt 21:28-32
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today’s gospel is a parable about the contrasting attitudes of two sons. The first son said no, but after he came to his senses, he did his father’s wish. The second son said yes, but later, he did nothing. The meaning of this parable is crystal clear: The Jewish leaders are people who said that they would obey God and then did not. The tax collectors and the prostitutes are those who said that they would go their own way and then took God’s way.
There was a minister who was walking down the street, when he came upon a group of about a dozen boys, all of them between ten and twelve years of age. The group surrounded a dog. Concerned lest the boys were hurting the dog, he went over and asked, “What are you doing with that dog?” One of the boys replied, “This dog is just an old neighborhood stray. We all want him, but only one of us can take him home, so we have decided that whichever one of us can tell the biggest lie will get to keep the dog.”
Of course, the reverend was taken aback. “You boys shouldn’t be having a contest telling lies,” he exclaimed. He then launched into a ten-minute sermon against lying, beginning, “Don’t you boys know it is a sin to lie?” and ending with, “Why, when I was your age, I never told a lie.” There was a dead silence for about a minute. Just as the reverend was beginning to think he had gotten through to them, the smallest boy gave a deep sigh and said, “Alright, give him the dog.”
I think, brothers and sisters, we all find ourselves guilty at times of stretching the truth, sometimes innocently at first, but over time this can begin to affect our relationships. For instance, we have all known someone at some point who has a habit of saying one thing but doing another. I think that can be a frustrating experience over time.
The common question for today’s gospel is: Who is better between these two sons: the one who said no, but at the end fulfilled his father’s wish, or the one who said yes, but later did nothing? Maybe our answer would be: the one who said no, but in the end did fulfill his father’s wish.
The key to the correct understanding of this parable is that it is not really praising anyone. We have to admit that neither of these is an acceptable way of conduct. Neither was better than the other, in the sense that the two sons both caused the father pain and sorrow. The one caused pain at the beginning and the other one at the end. Neither of the two was the kind of son to bring full joy to his father. Both could have been better sons by giving a wholehearted Yes, spontaneously and joyfully, and by carrying out the order efficiently, and not the other way around, by which the No of the first son turned into Yes, and the Yes of the second one became a No.
The true Christian should be better than both: What he says, he does. There should be consistency in his words and actions. What he teaches is what he acts.
The readings this Sunday pack a powerful message and tell us very clearly that we have to have a healthy Christian moral life. This healthy Christian moral life is founded on three pillars.
The first pillar is the assurance of grace. Our God who is gracious is a forgiving God. His assurance of grace to us is this: He who has chosen to renounce all his sins shall certainly live (Ez 18:27). This grace is so insistent that by its force many can undo change. In other words, we must develop our friendship with God and follow Christ faithfully.
In one of the chapters of the book, The Purpose Driven Life, which was subtitled, Developing Your Friendship with God, it is said that, like any friendship, we must work at developing our friendship with God. The author gave at least four ways to develop our friendship with God.
First, we must choose to be honest with God. God does not expect us to be perfect, but He does insist on complete honesty. If we look at the Bible, friends of God were not perfect. If perfection were a requirement for friendship with God, we would never be able to be His friend. Fortunately, because of God’s grace, He is still the friend of sinners.
Second, we must choose to obey God in faith. Every time we trust God’s wisdom and do whatever He says, even when we don’t understand it, we deepen our friendship with God. We obey God, not out of duty, fear, or compulsion, but because we love Him and trust that He knows what is best for us.
Third, we must choose to value what God values. This is what friends do. They care about what is important to the other person. The more we become God’s friends, the more we will care about the things He cares about, like the redemption of His people. He wants all His lost children found. Friends of God tell their friends about God.
Fourth, we must desire friendship with God more than anything else. An example of this is David in the Book of Psalms, in which he uses words like “longing,” “yearning,” “thirsting,” “hungering,” etc.
The second pillar of Christian morality is the awesome gift of personal responsibility. This means that to be a person is to be responsible. To be responsible is to do one’s duty. God never excuses us from our duty. It is our duty to be consistent with what we say and do, as proclaimed by Jesus in today’s gospel. As Christians, there should be consistency in our words and actions. What we teach is what we act.
It is like the story of a businessman who was ordering five hundred ball point pens from an office equipment salesman. The latter was writing the order in his notebook, when suddenly the buyer exclaimed, “Hold on, I’m canceling the order.” The salesman left the store wondering why the wholesaler suddenly changed his mind. “Why did you suddenly cancel that order of ball point pens?” asked the surprised bookkeeper. The businessman angrily answered, “Because he talked about ball point pens to me for half an hour, using every convincing argument, and then he wrote out my order with a pencil. His practice did not agree with what he professed.”
In other words, a man’s words must be followed by action. No one likes a person of empty promises. “Seeing is believing” is what an old adage has said.
The third pillar of Christian moral life is self-forgetfulness. Self-forgetfulness is not a false humility. It is rather to consider the other person better than us, so that nobody thinks of his own interests, but the interests of others. Just like what St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians (Phil 2:3-4) in our second reading: Thinking of other people’s interests first, like the common good of the society, may entail larger considerations.
Neither of the two sons in the parable is a model of obedience, because both were imperfect. The perfect model is Jesus who, in obedience to the will of His Father, emptied Himself, accepting death, death on the cross, as St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians in the second reading today. It was the unwavering obedience of Jesus to the will of the Father that saved us.
Brothers and sisters, as we obey, we listen to the word He is speaking to us, either audibly or in silence, in a continuous encounter that entails “un-selfing,” just like Jesus emptying Himself.
May Jesus Christ be praised.KEEP READING
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 10, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ez 33:7-9 / Ps 95 / Rom 13:8-10 / Mt 18:15-20
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Sometimes in the Bible we come across certain passages that are as relevant and practical in our lives today as they were a thousand years ago when they were first written. Today’s readings are good examples of such passages. Together they remind us that, as faithful Christians, it is our responsibility to reach out to our not-so-faithful brothers and sisters and bring them back into the fold. They even go on to recommend practical steps for how to go about doing this.
A young woman, Lydia, strayed from the church as a teenager. After nine years of experimenting with atheism, spiritism, and New Age, she found her way back again to the Church, by the grace of God. Relating her story, Lydia said that what hurt her most was that, in all her years of spiritual exile, nobody in the Church missed her. Nobody ever phoned or visited to find out what was wrong. “I got the impression that the Church did not want me,” she said.
Of course, the Church wants her, but what are we doing to help the many men and women in her situation to find their way back into full communion with the Church? Today’s readings invite us to review our “I don’t care” attitude toward fallen and lapsed members of the Church, reminding us that, yes, it should be our business to reach out to them.
Why should it be our business whether somebody else decides to serve God or not? As members of the Church, we are not just priestly people who offer a sacrifice. We are also a prophetic people, meaning that we are God’s spokespersons.
Today’s first reading is, in fact, a compact job description that God gave to the prophet Ezekiel on what it means to be a prophetic person. The first reading is a passage in the new phase of the prophetic ministry of Ezekiel, and it occurs in the context of an invasion of Palestine by a hostile army. Just as a watchman who warns the people of impending danger is not to be blamed if they do not listen, so Ezekiel is not to be blamed if the people to whom he preaches do not reform their lives. But if he fails to preach to them, then he must accept the blame.
St. Paul, in the second reading, reminds everyone that love is the key to obeying each of the commandments. Real love is love that looks out for the interest of other people. For a person who really loves, other people come first. In the passage from Matthew, Jesus gives an instruction in how to handle a refractory disciple. The instruction describes a formal procedure in three steps:
Step One: private confrontation. If there is no success, then the next step is recommended.
Step Two: the use of one or two additional formal witnesses. Failure here leads to a final step.
Step Three: Resort to the community, such as the local church. If there is no success here, the disciple is to be placed outside the communion of believers, as we say ‘excommunicated’.
Members of the Church who view church membership as being the same as citizenship in a civil government should think twice after hearing today’s reading. In a civil society, objection about fundamental policy is not only at times permitted; disagreement is at times required in order to be loyal to God.
But the Church in its fundamental teachings lives at a level much more profound. The leaders of the Church are invested with the authority of God, which means that they have to move within the bounds indicated to them by God, such as by being attentive to the scripture and tradition, the two sources of revelation.
Leaders of the Church in fundamental matters cannot do whatever they feel like. They are responsible to God for the flock entrusted to them. If they neglect to proclaim the message entrusted to them, God will hold them responsible. They are invested with the authority of God. But this authority is designed to help them and all of the Church’s members listen to God’s voice in the profoundly important matters of life, involving principles of moral and religious actions.
The Church can function as it should only if all of its members — leaders and non-leaders alike — obey the fundamental call of Jesus to love. But precisely because love is the fundamental law of the Church’s existence, decisive action with Church leaders is at times necessary, if they are to remain true to their calling by God.
God clearly wants everybody to be saved. He does not desire the death of a sinner. “Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked?” says the Lord God. “Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live? (Ez 18:23).” That is why Jesus teaches us in the gospel about fraternal correction; how to correct an erring brother and bring him back to the path of salvation.
Underlying the whole thing should be genuine love or charity. For St. Paul says in the second reading, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” God’s law of love asks all of us to be vigilant, not only for outside dangers, but also to keep watch within. Keep guard and watch over our hearts to ensure that we love as God loves, and our hearts do not harden into legalism, lack of compassion and mercy, or apathy. We’re all sentinels, watchpersons, vigilant for any discord, hatred, or inconsistency with the Gospel, and vigilant within ourselves for resentment, jealousy. Desire begins in the heart.
We now see the rapid and unrelenting spread of evil and immorality and sin in our world. Shall we continue being passive and impervious to all this? Unless we do something now, we may find ourselves the next on defense. As the famous quotation from Edmund Burke says, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
Let the gospel this Sunday inspire and empower us to proclaim the truth courageously, to denounce evil and sin resolutely, and to correct wrongdoers in truth and charity. The essence of discipleship and faithfulness to God is love. This is a love that is formed from within by God’s grace. It fosters loving watchfulness inside and out, and it softens the heart and saves us from ourselves. It turns us back toward each other and creates understanding, healing, and reconciliation. For us Christians, goodwill and kindness are not things we may choose to do or not to do. It is a debt we owe to each and every one.KEEP READING
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.KEEP READING
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
August 6, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Dn 7:9-10, 13-14 / Ps 97 / 2 Pt 1:16-19 / Mt 17:1-9
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There is a story of a young man who thought he was a worm. He would hide under the bed whenever he saw a chicken, because chickens eat worms. One day he was hiding under the bed, because he saw a chicken roaming around. His best friend decided to help him overcome his problem. He went under the bed with him and told him to repeat after him, “I am a man, not a worm.” After a few repetitions, his best friend urged him to come out and prove himself a man. He came out and walked around confidently until he saw a chicken and then immediately hid under the bed again. His best friend went under the bed and asked him, “Why don’t you believe you are a man, not a worm?” The young man replied, “I do believe I am a man, not a worm, but does the chicken believe that?”
Jesus believed that He was the beloved Son of the Father. Even in His most painful and despairing moments, He believed that. The disciples also believed that Jesus was the Son of God, but the moment the trials and persecutions came along, they ran and hid under the bed. Later on, however, they truly believed and laid down their lives for Jesus.
The Feast of the Transfiguration reminds us of who Jesus is and also reminds us of who we are. Today we are celebrating this feast. The word, transfiguration, is derived from the Latin word, transfigurare, or the Greek word, metamorphosis, which means change in form or appearance. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, a special trio in the twelve, up the high mountain of Tabor where the glory of His destiny is revealed to them. This glory belongs to Him as God’s beloved Son. Transfiguration is the foretaste of heaven. This is signified by His dazzling white clothes.
Peter wants to preserve this moment by erecting tents. He’s overwhelmed and terrified by the experience, and yet he doesn’t want it to end. Moses and Elijah are seen talking to Jesus about His death which He is to suffer in Jerusalem. This is seen by the three apostles. The three are wondrously delighted with this vision and Peter calls out to Christ, “Lord it is good for us to be here. Let us make three tents, one for Thee, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Then they hear the voice of the Father saying, “This is My Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”
This moment, not a permanent state of bliss, is given to them to help them realize the true identity of Jesus, that Jesus is the true Messiah, the Son of the living God. This conversation of Jesus with Elijah and Moses shows us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. (Moses represents the law, and Elijah represents the prophets.) His mission is not to destroy the ways in which the Father has already revealed Himself, but to bring this revelation to completion.
The vision that we are given today on this great Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord shows us that we are called to something far beyond anything we could have imagined.
Our first reading from the book of Daniel gives us a tiny glimpse into the awesome glory of Heaven, where the Father reigns with His Son. We get the sense that Daniel can barely find the words to describe the wonder of what he has seen. Everything is bright white, glowing as if on fire, seemingly blinding in its brilliance. Myriads of people from every nation are worshipping God. This vision already fills us with great hope. We want to be invited into this place where we can experience the glory of God and be counted among those who are privileged to stand before Him and worship Him.
The gospel, however, encourages us to hope for still more. Peter, James, and John are shown the same glory of God shining out through the very humanity of Jesus. They begin to understand that God is not content merely to have us join Him in heaven so that we can witness His glory. He wants to transform us so that we shine with that very same glory. The Transfiguration shows us more deeply who Jesus is. It also shows us who we are called to be in God’s plan.
St. Peter assures us, in the second reading, that this is not just some cleverly devised story. He himself was an eyewitness to the Transfiguration. He speaks of what he saw and heard. He declares that this promise of God is altogether reliable and exhorts us to be attentive to it.
Another possible reason for this display was that Jesus wanted to strengthen these three apostles for the trials of faith that they would have to face and endure at Mount Calvary when Jesus would not be on Mount Tabor, the mountain of the Transfiguration, but on Mount Calvary, the mountain of the cross.
God sometimes gives us moments of consolation and joy. We want such moments to never end, but that is not our lot here on earth. Before enjoying glory, we must first undergo suffering. These moments of consolation will help us to go on, to persevere in spite of difficulties. God invites us to see the many little transfiguration experiences that we have in our daily lives, such as changes of nature, the gradual opening of a flower, the blooming of trees, transformation of people, the growing of children, the cycle of birth and death, the realization that God is there.
Through the eyes of faith, we realize that it is a continuous process of seeing, not the flower, but the blooming, not the people but their talents, not the sun but its rising, not the miracle but God.
Every time that we gather for the celebration of the Eucharist, we also experience a moment of transfiguration where our Lord Jesus Christ is transfigured before our very own eyes. The bread and wine are transfigured and become His body and blood, thus our spiritual food for life in our journey toward eternal life. May we slowly come out of our fears, weaknesses, and sinfulness, and show others what we really believe in and who we are called to be—the people of God.KEEP READING
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.
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 16, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 55:10-11 / Ps 65 / Rom 8:18-23 / Mt 13:1-23
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
A story is told of a young man named Eric, who was giving testimony regarding the turnaround in his life. Two years before, he confessed, he had no appetite for the Word of God. On Sundays he would shop around the neighborhood churches for the priest that gave the shortest homilies. So, his idea of a good church service was one that took as little time as possible; the shorter the better. After the big change in his life, he could sit down and listen to the preaching of God’s word without thinking about the time.
Our disposition for the Word of God is a good indication of our relationship with the Lord. Today’s gospel is an opportunity to reveal our attitude to the Word of God.
Often, as we listen to the readings each weekend, we may have the feeling that they don’t apply to our lives. Today’s gospel could be one of those instances. Jesus talks about sowing seeds, but what do we know about seeds? Perhaps if you mention supermarkets, restaurants, or McDonald’s, we might have paid attention to it. Most of us don’t scatter seeds to obtain our food, and we probably don’t know much about the growth process of most of the crops from which we get our daily sustenance. But if we reflect upon it, is there anything else that we sow, that we spread, that does have an effect upon our lives?
What about our time? Yes, we do scatter the minutes of our day just in the way that a farmer would scatter seed in the field. We scatter 60 seconds each minute, and 60 minutes each hour, for about 16 hours each day. That’s about 57,000 seconds that we scatter throughout our daily routine. And that’s a lot of seeds.
So how does this apply to the words that Jesus spoke to His followers? He said that if the farmer scatters his seeds in certain ways, he will not create a bountiful harvest. His message to each one of us today is the same.
Jesus mentioned the seeds sown on the ground that is so hard that nothing can take root. That is like sowing grass seed on our driveway – nothing will grow. If we are sowing minutes each day on hard ground, pursuing money, power, or influence, we are making the same mistake the farmer made. If we have no time for prayer, no time for our families, no time for helping others, our minutes will not bear fruit. We will not store up an abundance of grace or of charity.
We, too, can spread our minutes on rocky ground. We can spend hours at the office or on the golf course. We can attend luncheons or bridge parties, and, like the seed that fell on rocky ground, we will have no roots. We will not have time to attend Mass during the week, or will be forced to pray the rosary while driving our cars. So, therefore, our minutes will not bear fruit.
Jesus said, “Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew and choked it.” If anyone sows their seed in the thorns of drugs, alcohol, and sins against the Sixth Commandment, Jesus warns us that our lives will be choked out. Some here are probably familiar with friends who sowed their seeds among the thorns and did not find the fulfillment of a rich harvest, but the agony of tragedy. Think of them as you listen to the words of Jesus this morning. There is a better way.
Is Jesus saying we shouldn’t work hard in order to support our families? Or that we should never relax and enjoy ourselves, or engage in wholesome entertainment with our friends? Not at all.
Jesus died so that we could be happy, so that our lives could be full, and so that we could have an eternal future with Him. However, for that to happen we must make a decision. We must recognize that He’s been talking about seed, but He’s talking about how we spend our minutes: whether or not we are making the same mistake the farmer made.
Going back to Eric’s story, prior to his conversion… Eric did not relish the preaching of the Word of God. Many young people today, and many who are not so young, are in a similar situation. The responsibility for this attitude toward God’s Word could be shared between those who communicate it and those who receive the message.
Some preachers often take pride in saying it just as it is. The fact that Jesus uses stories and parables to teach tells us that it is not enough to say it just as it is. How the Word is communicated is important, but the parable focuses more on how it is received. The parable today is a reminder that the Kingdom of Heaven is a mystery. It is something that we cannot fully understand with our minds, but we can understand it with our hearts if we are willing to believe and obey the Word of God.
Often, we read the Gospels and dismiss them as ancient history. In a way they are, because in the world in which we live we must be much more vigilant than those who lived in Jesus’ time. Look around us, and consider the challenges we face. Turn on the television or attend movies, and you will see graphic depictions of people living lives that were condemned by all in the time of Jesus.
In order to counteract the immoral society, Jesus is telling us to sow our minutes on the rich soil. Sow them in such a way that we can find happiness and fulfillment. But the question is: Where is the rich soil? It is right here; here in this church this day. We are all spreading our seeds, our minutes, in an atmosphere that allows us to grow, not in a worldly fashion, but in a way that ensures us of real life, a life of fulfillment in Jesus’ word.
What is real happiness? We find it in being charitable, prayerful, loving our children, loving and helping our parents. We find real happiness in honesty, chastity, sobriety, and freedom from drugs. We find happiness in the words of Jesus, when He said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” or “Love one another as I love you.”
Jesus has promised that we will reap a huge harvest by following His teaching. By following His commandments, by loving others as we love ourselves, by using our minutes to help those less fortunate, by spending time each day in prayer, and by realizing that His words guide us to true happiness, we can reap the harvest He has promised. Jesus has promised all this to us: we can have everything by spending our minutes wisely, both in His service and in following His commandments. He points the way to true happiness.KEEP READING
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 9, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Zec 9:9-10 / Ps 145 / Rom 8:9, 11-13 / Mt 11:25-30
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
“You was my brother, Charley. You should have looked out for me just a little bit. You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody. Instead of a bum.” Anybody recognize that? It’s Marlon Brando, the actor, and he’s portraying Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, a movie from 1954. If you haven’t seen that film, why not?
Terry is striving to be somebody. And his route is boxing. Fighting. Winning. His goals: money, fame, respect, accolades, honor. Maybe he could have been a contender. Maybe he could have gotten that title fight. But we know that he put his faith in these goals, the money, the fame, accolades. And he put his faith in those people wrapped up in that world, including his brother Charley.
I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, if by some miracle you haven’t seen it. But his faith in these goals? Well, they let him down. The enticements. The allure. They became false burdens on his soul. And their contradictions labored his moral sense. He hitched himself to glory, and the weight took him down.
You’ll have to watch or rewatch it to learn of Terry’s redemption, but for now, I could have been somebody. I want to be somebody. Deacon Barry, I want to be somebody. All of us want to be somebody. It’s in our nature. And so we strive and we work. And we work and we push, and we push and we learn, and we learn more, then we strive again. Progress, progress, progress. If we’re not doing it, if we’re not progressing, we’re going backward.
And for what? The end game is money. The recognition. To reach the top or the pinnacle. To get all the accolades, the attaboys. That’s what our culture wants. Our culture affirms these as our primary goals. Our culture wants us to become a contender, at the very least. And our stories are how we are becoming somebody or how we became somebody.
But I’m telling you now, today, right here in this homily: You are somebody. You’re absolutely somebody. You are somebody because Jesus loves you, and He wants you to be with Him. He knew you before you were stitched in your mother’s womb. In last week’s gospel, we heard that even all the hairs on your head are counted. Do not be afraid.
You and I, we have a terribly difficult time realizing just how “somebody” we are to Jesus. And even at times when we realize it, we forget it. And we hitch ourselves right back onto Charley and the glory and the things of this world in our rise to be a contender. And that carries a heavy, heavy burden. In last week’s gospel, we also heard: Whoever does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever does not take up his cross.
That sounds hard. I want to say, Oh Jesus, please take me, but without a cross. Give me a mission or project. A goal, something I can strive and push and push and learn and strive again to achieve. But not a cross. That sounds like a burden.
But this week in the gospel we hear: The burden is light. His yoke – His cross – is light. That is not a burden. My burden is light. What a relief. My burden is light. How liberating is that? We don’t need to reach; we don’t need to strive to become somebody. Really, it’s the closer we get to nobody, the more we become who we’re truly meant to be: this somebody that Jesus knows and loves and wants to be with. When we stop trying so hard to become somebody, that’s when we become who we truly are.
Letting go of pride. Letting go of ego. Let go of the striving and make room. Create some space for Jesus to enter and pick up the weight with His yoke and remove the burden.
Who is Jesus talking to? Who’s this message for? He says we have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and yet revealed them to the little ones. Of course, His message is for every human who ever existed. Everyone. But we are so full of ourselves. So caught up in this worldly striving for power and honors, the message is hidden, it’s out of reach. We’re like know-it-alls, not open to the spiritual and mystical and the unseen.
But the little ones, the little ones are his disciples, those that have chosen to follow Jesus, those that are childlike. Seeking wonder and open to the amazing. Low and humble in their hearts. Let go. Surrender to His will and make ourselves low. Jesus did it. God on Earth did it. The creator of everything became the servant to everyone. And He’s our example. He said meek and humble of heart. Die to self, become nobody. Strive to become nobody, and as we approach “nobody,” we gain everything. And recognize deeply that we are somebody.
The paradox, let go and let God. Let go and let God. Then life becomes a miracle. Everything, every day, every person becomes a miracle. My burden is light. I am the light of the world. Light from Light, true God from true God. Take heart, dear friends, for you are somebody. When you empty room for Jesus and you are more than a contender, so much more than a contender, for the victory is already won by Him who conquered death.
Faith in Him, faith in Jesus Christ. That is the victory. That is the victory that overcomes the burden and labors of the world. Amen.KEEP READING
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.KEEP READING
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.KEEP READING
The Ascension of the Lord
May 21, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Acts 1:1-11 / Ps 47 / Eph 1:17-23 / Mt 28:16-20
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There is an old saying: “Words push; examples pull.” Someone adds: Any good Christian is a walking Bible. Even though he has never quoted a verse, in fact, good Christian example may be the only gospel illiterate people can read.
In other words, brothers and sisters, even if we speak convincingly, even if we speak a lot, if our actions contradict what we are saying, then nothing happens. Even if we convince people, we cannot fool God, who knows and sees everything in what we are doing.
Today we are celebrating the feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven. That is, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, as the Apostles’ Creed tells us.
After Jesus gathered His disciples in Galilee for their last time with His physical presence, He instructed them on what to do. He ascended into heaven to be with His Father, who is also our Father. His ascension into heaven is a sign that His life here on earth has ended. He ends also His teaching and suffering here on earth.
Hence, His ascension was not just a farewell party for Him. Above all, it is the giving of unfinished business: that is, His mission which He entrusted to His apostles and also to all of us. He expects us to continue this mission. But what is this mission?
This mission is not new to us. It has existed for more than two thousand years. This mission is not only given to a few people but to all of us. And it is, in three parts: To witness to Christ in the world. To preach the good news that God redeemed us. And to show by our love that He is always with us.
The first part of our mission is to witness to Christ in the world. Jesus said, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16). But how? Through our prayer and worship, loving concern, and care for others.
Somebody commented that he will not join any church organizations, nor he will go to church anymore, because, as he observed, those who serve in church, or those people who go to church every day, they remain the same. Nothing happens; nothing new. They’re still in their old self and old ways. And furthermore, he continued by saying, “Sad to say, some are even becoming worse.”
The answer to that, brothers and sisters, is that we should not base our conversion and change on the behavior and deeds of others. But there is some truth to what he said. That is why that, if we enter into this kind of life, a Christian life, more is expected from us. If our life before was not pleasing to God, hopefully, now that we are coming back to church, now that we pray always, we have been changed.
The second part of our mission is to preach the good news that God redeemed us. But how can we preach to other people if we do not know what to preach? How can we give to other people if we don’t have anything to give? That is why our parish and our diocese give training, education, and other programs in order for us to prepare for this this second part of the mission.
We know that nowadays, the most popular way to spread news is through social media. So let us try to use social media in spreading good news. Blessed Carlo Acutis was beatified by Pope Francis on October 10, 2020. He was a fifteen-year-old Italian computer whiz and website designer, who was known for documenting Eucharistic miracles around the world and cataloguing them onto a website. So in his youth, he offered his life, his knowledge, in spreading the love of God to the world by gathering all those Eucharistic miracles all over the world and putting it on a website.
I encourage all of us, especially our young people: Use computers, use social media in spreading God’s love and God’s word to the world. Use it in bringing others closer to Jesus.
That’s why Blessed Carlo Acutis is now a patron saint for young computer programmers. His motto was: “To be always united with Jesus. This is my plan of life.” How beautiful it is, a fifteen-year-old person who desired to be with Jesus always. Using his own gift that the Lord had given to him, he used it for God’s glory by spreading God’s love to the world. Young people, make Carlo Acutis your patron saint. Imitate him. Make him your inspiration in following Jesus.
The third part of our mission is to show by our love that He’s always with us. But how? We can do it through the testimony of our daily living. We can be witnesses to Christ in our homes, in our workplaces, in our schools, and in the whole world. We do it by simply making an effort to become the kind of person Jesus teaches us to be. We witness to Jesus and teach others by our love when others need us; by our patience when others annoy us; by our forgiveness when others wrong us; and by our perseverance when we feel like quitting.
So brothers and sisters, in this Mass, let us pray that we can faithfully fulfill our mission. And always remember this: Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. And live what you teach.
May Jesus Christ be praised.KEEP READING