Abide in Him

April 28, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Eucharist, Faith, Father Nixon, Love, Obedience, Sacraments, St. Paul, Strength, Trust

Fifth Sunday of Easter
April 28, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Acts 9:26-31 / Ps 22 / 1 Jn 3:18-24 / Jn 15:1-8
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

As we come to the Fifth Sunday of Easter, we find ourselves immersed in a season of renewal and growth.  The readings for this Sunday offer profound insights into the themes of love, unity, and the transformative power of faith.

The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, offers a powerful example of the transformative power of faith.  We witness the conversion of Saul, who after encountering the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, undergoes a profound spiritual transformation.  Formerly a persecutor of Christians, Saul becomes Paul, one of the greatest apostles of the early Church.  His conversion serves as a reminder that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace and mercy.  It is never too late for redemption, and God can work miracles in the most unlikely of circumstances.

In the second reading, from the first letter of John, we are reminded of the centrality of love in the Christian life.  Love is not merely a sentiment or emotion, but a concrete expression of our commitment to God and one another.  As followers of Christ, we are called to love, not only in word or speech, but in deed and truth.  Our love for others becomes a tangible sign of our discipleship and a reflection of God’s love for us.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus presents the metaphor of the vine and the branches, illustrating the intimate relationship between Himself and His disciples.  Just as branches draw nourishment and life from the vine, so we too draw our strength and vitality from our connection to Christ.  This imagery reminds us of the importance of remaining rooted in Christ, for apart from Him, we can do nothing.

This passage invites us to reflect on the nature of our own relationship with Christ.  Are we actively abiding in Him, allowing His love to flow through us and bear fruit in our lives?  Do we seek to cultivate a deep and abiding faith that sustains us through life’s trials and challenges?  As we ponder these questions, we are called to recommit ourselves to the journey of discipleship, continually striving to deepen our connection with Christ and bear witness to His love in the world.

Somebody once compared a Christian to a basketball player.  He said that to be a good player, it is not enough that you know how to dribble or avoid getting fouls.  What matters most is to be able to shoot, to make points, and to be productive.  We are called to not only observe and learn about Jesus, but also to allow Jesus and His presence, His message, His attitudes to become so much a part of us that Jesus lives in us, and we live in God and abide in each other.  Further, we gain our source, our meaning, and our fruitfulness from that connection to Christ.  Without Jesus, our efforts are misdirected and fruitless.  Connected to Jesus, our actions and efforts can bear much fruit by God working in and through our lives.

The great saint Thomas Aquinas contended that we could have an idea of religion through the meaning of the three etymologies of the Latin word religio:  to bind—religare, to read—legere, to choose— eligere.  We are by nature religious beings.  We come from God, and we’ll return to God.  We can lead the fullness of human life if we fully bind ourselves with God.  We read our life’s situation in the light of God’s kingdom, and we choose to love God above all things.  Real happiness results when there is communion with God in our lives.

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Whoever remains in Me and I in him, will bear much fruit.”  The connection to this image of the vine and branches can’t help but highlight the importance of the Eucharist.  In the Eucharist, Jesus comes to us in the form of food and drink.  We take Jesus in, and He becomes part of us so that we may become more like Christ in our words, actions, and lives.  The gospel you heard today is very special, because it shows us that we are all connected to our Lord.  We are friends and members of Jesus.

What Jesus wants to teach us in today’s gospel is the extreme necessity for us to remain.  What does to remain in Christ mean?  To remain in Christ means first, to listen to Him and keep His words.  Actually, we can refuse to listen to Him at all or we can listen to Him and then render Him lip service unsupported by any good deeds.  We can accept Him as Lord and then abandon Him in the midst of difficulties and temptations or attribute all of our difficulties and temptations to Him.

Second, is to recognize that Christ alone is the real vine, and that without Him we can do nothing of value to God.

Third, is to live in the Church, which is the mystical body of Christ.  (One of the popes appropriately said that one who does not have the Church as his or her mother cannot have God as his or her Father.)

Fourth, is to see God in all persons and things, even in our enemies and those things we do not like.

Fifth, is to have an active sacramental and prayer life.  Do we always pray?  Do we regularly attend Mass on Sundays?  Do we avail ourselves of the sacrament of confession?  How about if we spend just a few minutes talking about the word of God instead of talking about nothing?

Lastly, is to be convinced that there is a need to prune the structures, methods, approaches, and other things that have become old and obsolete in order to give way to new ones and to remain always with Christ, the everlasting, who Himself is the vine.

As we meditate on the readings this Sunday, may we be inspired to deepen our relationship with Christ, to bear fruit in our lives, and to love one another as He has loved us.  May we, like the early disciples, be empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the good news of salvation and to be agents of transformation in the world.

KEEP READING

Can I Get a Witness?

April 14, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Courage, Discipleship, Evangelization, Faith, Guest Celebrants, Trust

Third Sunday of Easter
April 14, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19 / Ps 4 / 1 Jn 2:1-5a / Lk 24:35-48
by Rev. Jay Biber, Guest Celebrant

Some of your fellow parishioners are away on a Cursillo weekend.  If you are not familiar with that word, it’s a Spanish word which means “a short course.”  In Christianity, it began almost a hundred years ago as a way of revitalizing the Faith among lay people.

And so, this is a women’s Cursillo going on this weekend, and like all Catholic stuff, there’s a specific order to it.  There’s reason behind it.  It’s ordered so it exposes the core elements of the Faith in an ordered way, but it’s also very personal.  There’s a lot of witnessing to people’s own experiences.  One of the things that happens is what they call the Emmaus Walk.

What we begin the gospel with today is the end of that walk.  Two discouraged disciples encounter Christ on the way to Jerusalem, on the road.  They are so discouraged and heartsick.  They think that everything they hope for is gone.  They meet the risen Christ, but they don’t recognize Him, and He explains it all.  He lays it all out to them – this is how it had to happen.  And then at the end, when did they recognize Him?  This is the breaking of the bread; that’s when they recognize Him.

The women on Cursillo this weekend are from as far Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, Roanoke, this whole part of the state.  On this Emmaus Walk, two participants are paired with each other; they go out and walk for half an hour.  They are a couple of days into this experience already, and it’s probably begun to shake up their hearts a little bit.  This is the time when they’re saying, “This is the time; what’s going on in there?”  They get a chance to talk; and they know they won’t be judged.  They probably don’t know the other person to start with.  But they know that God is at work, and it’s a good opportunity to put their faith into words.

At the core of our Faith is the capacity to take into the world, sort of like charity.  It begins at home, but it doesn’t end there.  The giving of witness, a testimony is a way of doing that.  Telling the stories begins at home, but it doesn’t end there.  The allusions to witnessing are strong.  If you believe you have a gift to give, a gift around which you can organize your whole life, a gift that echoes through the ages, that gift can be shared with simple people, complicated people, rich people, poor people, educated, not educated people.  We can give that gift to our children by telling them here’s where you are, you’re a member of this family, you belong here, you’re not just some piece adrift in the universe.  As you’re at this table, you’re part of a great family, and it goes way, way back in time and every place on Earth.

Think about Peter in the Acts of the Apostles.  He says the author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead.  Of this we are witnesses.  That’s what the apostles were doing – being witnesses and giving a testimony.  And then of course in the gospel, it is Jesus himself.  Thus, is it written – He’s laying out what you can do with your children and tell them the stories that say that Christ would suffer and rise from the dead.  So, you don’t have to panic or run away.  No – He said this was going to happen and that repentance for the forgiveness would be preached in his name.  Where?  To all the nations.  And you are witnesses of these things.

In the summer of 1983, I had completed my seminary studies but had declined ordination in 1972.  I went into the business world, enjoyed the heck out of it, and thought I’d be married with a family by 1982.  But it didn’t happen, and I began to consider ordination.  People asked if it was the hand of God, and I said no, I think it was the foot!  He was nagging me.  I thought I had a better idea, but long story short, I was in Boston at the time, and happened to meet the bishop; he asked if I wanted to go to school.  I said no, I need to decide if I have enough faith for something like this, and I don’t know if I’d be any good at it.  I needed to know if people would think I was any good at it.  I said I don’t know what I think; you’ll have to throw me in the pool.  So, he did; I started off at six months at St. Vincent DePaul by the shipyard in Newport News.  That was a special blessing because it was way ahead of its time in a lot of ways.  It was a very integrated parish.  I sang with the folk group and a gospel choir both.

When summer came, I knew this would be a real test because I worked up at what was then called Medical College of Virginia in Richmond.  I liked it, because it was a combination of the hospitals I had known in Boston, a little of Mass General, and a little bit of Boston City Hospitals – Mass General being the high-end teaching place for all the exotic stuff, and Boston City being a tough hospital in the inner city.  MCV (now VCU Medical Center) was both.  I spent ten weeks there in the summer of ’83.  And I was a wreck at the end of it – we were on call two nights a week and saw all that comes in in the course of a night.  My special unit was the burn unit in which people come from all over.  I also had general surgery which included a lot of gunshot and knife wounds. These are tough places to be.  I wondered if I could bring faith to this whole world, not just to Catholics.  It was awful at the time, but it did the trick, and I decided that I could go on.

At the same time, I realized that I was going to benefit from being there.  Broad Street in Richmond is a great dividing line between white and black neighborhoods.  And there I was on campus at VCU staying in one of the dorms.  And somebody recommended that I visit a Baptist Church right near here – Cedar Street Baptist.  So, I would go to Mass at St. Peter’s (the original Cathedral for our diocese) near the state capital, and then I’d go to Cedar Street Baptist, and there I experienced my introduction into this brilliant black culture, where the whole idea of witnessing is very important.  The gospel choir and the preaching are very important, and they would say that it’s not even a prayer until you break a sweat.  There’s an energy to it; ours is beautiful but much more modest.  There are so many beautiful ways to pray.  So, we’d be singing and then there was a quiet, beautiful ritual to it.  As it warmed up, you’d hear the Amen Corner.

We have our own Amen Corner; we have the back and forth which is a core of our worship.  “The Lord be with you.”  “And with your spirit.”  “Lift up your hearts.”  “We lift them up unto the Lord.”  We do that throughout the whole liturgy.  The antiphon is the back-and-forth prayer.  In the black churches, there was a time when the church was the only place they could legally meet.  The church was where everyone was at home, and as the preacher would warm up, people would say, “Come on now, preach!” to encourage.  At some point, he would ask, “Can I get a witness?”  They recognized the depth.  Of course, this is a witness that’s gone through things that you can’t imagine.  This is a witness that goes back how many generations?  A witness where the only one was God; the only one was Christ.

What a lesson.  You know, the centrality of the witness that would tell the story and break out into a testimony.  I had an event this past week in Lexington where there were a lot of college kids.  There was free pizza – what’s not to love?  The program was on loss and joy and included a bunch of kids from W&L and VMI and also parishioners.  I told them that I look at them differently than their professors do, because I look at you and I say, I want you to be ready to be able to your 3-year-old seven years from now, to be able to give a witness to your 10-year-old, to your 16-year-old, to put the story of your faith on your own lips, and learn how to do it with great confidence.  I want to say that you want to have children, that you are not afraid, and I have the big story of our Faith to tell them, and the personal stories that go with it – the personal stories that illumine the big story.  And I said that’s what I like to see.  Of course, giving a witness is a little bit like dancing – you’re scared stiff because you move one foot and you don’t know what the other is going to do yet.

But what a beautiful gift to give – it’s how the faith gets spread to the corners of the earth.  Our way of looking at things, telling the big story, as those women are doing on their Cursillo this weekend, telling their stories as well.  It becomes an enormous gift, because I know that whatever happens to my child, in success or in moments of difficulties, Christ will be there.  I’ll have words on my lips to say that we don’t have to run from anyone.

KEEP READING

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?

 

 

 

 

 

KEEP READING

Spiritual Blindness

March 10, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Faith, Father Nixon, Healing, Hope, Joy, Lent, Trust

Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 10, 2024 — Year B  (Readings for Scrutiny Year A)
Readings: 1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a / Ps 23 / Eph 5:8-14 / Jn 9:1-41
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Most Catholics know that the third Sunday of Advent is also known as Gaudete Sunday, the day on which our excitement for the coming of the Lord is heightened, because the Church assures us that it will soon be upon us.  Less known is Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent.  Both days refer to happiness.  In fact, the word Laetare means “rejoice” in Latin.  Gaudete means “joyful.”  The connection is obvious, as they are both days of joyous anticipation in the midst of what might seem like darkness.  In fact, Easter is exactly twenty-one days from Laetare Sunday.

As we journey through the Lenten season, the fourth Sunday of Lent offers us a profound opportunity for introspection and spiritual renewal.  This Sunday invites us to rejoice amidst our penitential practices, for we are reminded of the boundless mercy and love of God.

The gospel reading for this Sunday tells us the story of the man born blind, whom Jesus heals.  This miraculous healing serves as a powerful metaphor for the spiritual blindness that afflicts humanity.  Like the scribes in the story, we, too, can be blinded by our own pride, prejudice, and self-righteousness.  We may fail to recognize God working in our midst, and the transformative power of His love.

Someone once said to Helen Keller, “What a pity you have no sight.”  Helen Keller replied, “Yes, but what a pity so many have sight but cannot see.”

Jesus, toward the end of the gospel, says, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see may see.  And those who do see may become blind.”  In other words, this gospel passage concentrates on the distinction between physical and spiritual blindness.

The early Christians saw physical blindness as a metaphor for the spiritual blindness that prevents people from recognizing Jesus.  This story of healing of the man born blind testifies to the power of Jesus to heal not only physical blindness, but above all, the spiritual blindness of the heart.

How many blind men do you think are in our gospel today?  I’m sure most answers will be “one,” because there is only one identified blind person.  But I would rather say that there are four cases of blindness in this story.  The first blind ones are the apostles themselves, because they ask, “Who sinned, the parents or the blind man himself?” instead of helping the person.  The Jews believed that a person got sick because he was being punished for his sin or his parents’ sin.

The second blind ones are his parents, relatives, and neighbors.  Even though they witness that it is Jesus who heals the blind man, they refuse to say it.  They refuse to witness because of their fear that they would be expelled from the synagogue by the Pharisees.

The third blind ones are the Pharisees, because they refuse to acknowledge that Jesus had performed the miracle of restoring sight to the blind man.  They suspend their belief because of their biases against Him.  Instead, they call Jesus a sinner because He violated the law of the Sabbath.  They are blind to the truth already in their eyes.

The fourth blind one is, of course, the blind man himself.  A source said that eighty percent of our work depends on our eyes.  Eighty percent is rather a big chunk of activities.  It means that totally blind people have an output of only twenty percent with regard to work.  But based on experience by most blind people, even if they cannot see with their own physical eyes, God finds means by sharpening their other senses in order to go on with life.

This could be the case with the blind man.  He could not see with his physical eyes, but he could see and sense with his heart.  This could be the reason why he easily feels the accepting and healing attitude of Jesus toward him.  But Jesus cures him because of his faith and trust in Him.  Though he was blind physically, he could see with his heart.  The other three groups could see with their eyes, but not with their hearts, as fear, cowardice, prejudices, biases, and their own selfish interests blind them.

Today’s gospel gives us hope because Jesus Christ performs miracles for us.  He cures us of our sickness and feeds us with His Word, Body, and Blood.  But above all, He died for us and then rose from the dead and brings us to eternal life.

Like Jesus who is our light, and shows us the light of truth in our path, let us all, too, show the light and be a light while we are still alive.

There is a story about two soldiers who found themselves recovering in the same hospital room during World War II.  Every day, the one beside the window of the room would describe the outside world to the other soldier, who was paralyzed from the neck down.  Not only did he share many beautiful and exciting stories about the outside world, he also continued to give cheer and hope to his disabled comrade.

Then, one morning, the soldier beside the window died.  On that same morning, the disabled soldier was transferred to that other soldier’s bed upon his request, near the window.  He found out that there was nothing beautiful outside the window.  There was just a wall.  His friend who had just died was blind.

Our readings today challenge us to examine our own spiritual blindness and to seek the healing touch of Christ.  They call us to open our eyes to the marginalized and oppressed, to see the humanity in every person, and to respond with compassion and love.  Just as Jesus restored physical sight to the blind man, He invites us to open our hearts to His light, allowing it to illuminate the darkness within us and guide us on the path of righteousness.

As we continue our Lenten journey, let us embrace the message of hope and joy that Laetare Sunday brings.  Let us rejoice in the mercy of God, who calls us to repentance and offers us forgiveness and redemption.  May we open our eyes to see His presence in our lives and in the world around us.  And may we respond with gratitude and love.

KEEP READING

The Transformative Power of Knowing Jesus

March 3, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Evangelization, Faith, Father Nixon, Forgiveness, Healing, Hope, Humility, Mission, Sin, Uncategorized

Third Sunday of Lent
March 3, 2024 — Year B  (Readings for Scrutiny Year A)
Readings: Ex 17:3-7 / Ps 95 / Rom 5:1-2, 5-8 / Jn 4:5-42
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

In our readings today, we have one of the most profound encounters recorded in the Bible, the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well.  This passage is rich with lessons on faith, identity, and the transformative power of encountering Jesus.

At the outset, we find Jesus breaking social norms by engaging in conversation with a Samaritan woman, crossing boundaries of ethnicity, gender, and religion.  This interaction challenges us to examine our own prejudices and preconceptions about who is worthy of God’s grace and love.  Jesus shows us that His message is for all people, regardless of their background or status in society.  We also notice that the Samaritan woman has many excuses at the start of her encounter with Jesus.  In their dialogue, the woman’s responses are evasive.  Jesus is asking her to fetch her husband.  The woman says, “I do not have a husband,” instead of telling Jesus the truth that she has had six husbands.

This reminds me of the story of four high school students who decided to cut classes one morning and did not go to school until noon.  They told the teacher that they had a flat tire on the way to school and that was why they were late.  They were very relieved when they saw the teacher smile and heard her say, “Ok.  I understand, boys.  You missed a test, but you can make it up right now.”  She had them sit in the four corners of the room away from one another.  “Now,” the teacher said, “You will answer just one question.  Which tire was flat?”

Jews and Samaritans had been divided for centuries.  They had no dealings with one another, avoiding all social contact, even trade and intermarriage.  If their paths crossed, that meant that hostility would result.  When Jesus passed through Samaria, He did the unthinkable.  He conversed with a Samaritan woman, risking ritual impurity and scorn from His fellow Jews.  He also did something no strict rabbi would dare to do in public without losing his reputation.  He greeted a woman and spoke openly with her.  A rabbi during this time would not even talk to his own wife in public.  Not only was this person a woman, but a notorious adulteress as well.  No decent Jew would think of being seen with such a woman.

These are the interesting details of the process of the transformation or conversion of the woman.  Jesus guides the woman gradually to enlightenment.  Jesus talks back and forth with this woman seven times, more than with any other person in the gospels.  First, she started by calling Him, “Jew,” or outsider for Samaritans.  Second, “Sir.”  Third, “Give me this water.”  Fourth, “I do not have a husband.”  Fifth, “You are a prophet.”  Sixth, eventually, “Messiah.”  Seventh, leading the whole village to proclaim Him as savior of the world.

At the beginning, the woman was arrogant and proud, but one by one, Jesus broke down her defenses.  Jesus told the woman, “You are right because you have had five husbands, and the man with whom you are living is not your husband.”  In other words, her life was a mess.  But Jesus did not condemn her.  Neither did He excuse her and allow her to continue as she was.  At the end of their conversation, she was changed. Why was she changed?  Because she opened her heart.  She did not hold onto pride, rationalizations, and traditions that kept her from realizing and accepting the truth.  In other words, she let go, she surrendered, and just let Jesus take over her life.

But what is the point of Jesus’ exchange with the woman about water?  Water in this arid land was scarce.  Jacob’s well was located in a strategic fork in the road between Samaria and Galilee.  One can live without food for several days, but not without water.  Water is an absolute necessity of life.  We drink it, cook with it, and use it for keeping clean.  Water, too, is a source of life and growth for all living things.

The kind of water which Jesus spoke about in today’s gospel was living and running water.  Living water was a symbol for the Jew of the soul’s thirst for God.  As the conversation unfolded, Jesus revealed Himself to the woman as the source of living water, offering a deeper spiritual nourishment that transcends physical thirst.

In this encounter, we see the thirst of the human soul for something greater than worldly fulfillment.  Jesus satisfied this thirst by offering Himself as the true fulfillment of our deepest longings. The water Jesus spoke of symbolized the Holy Spirit and His work of recreating us in God’s image and sustaining in us the new life which comes from God.  The life which the Holy Spirit produces in us makes us a new creation in Jesus Christ.  The woman’s response is one of faith and openness.  She recognizes Jesus as a prophet and is willing to engage in dialogue with Him.  Her willingness to listen and learn, despite her past, demonstrates the transformative power of encountering Jesus.

Like the Samaritan woman, we are called to approach Jesus with humility and openness, allowing Him to reveal Himself to us and transform our lives.  As the passage concludes, we see the woman’s newfound faith leading to action.  She becomes an evangelist, sharing her encounter with Jesus with others in her community.  Her testimony serves as a powerful reminder that encountering Jesus leads to a mission of sharing His love and truth with others.

In reflecting on today’s readings, we are invited to examine our own encounters with Jesus.  Have we allowed Him to break down the barriers in our lives and reveal Himself to us?  Are we willing to respond in faith and allow His transformative power to shape our lives and actions?  Are we actively sharing the good news of Jesus with those around us?  May we, like the Samaritan woman, encounter Jesus anew and be transformed to live as His faithful disciples in the world.

KEEP READING

Into the Desert of Lent

February 18, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Faith, Father Nixon, Lent, Obedience, Reconciliation, Repentance, Self-Reflection

First Sunday of Lent
February 18, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Gn 9:8-15 / Ps 25 / 1 Pt 3:18-22 / Mk 1:12-15
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

On the first Sunday of Lent, the Liturgy invites us into a period of reflection, repentance, and spiritual renewal.   As we embark on the journey through the desert of Lent, the readings and themes for this day serve as guiding lights, illuminating the path toward deeper communion with God.  Lent comes from a Latin word meaning to soften.   Lent is a forty-day period which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends before the celebration of the Pascal Triduum.

Forty is the number often associated with intense spiritual exercises.  God caused it to rain for forty days and forty nights to cleanse the earth.  The Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years.  Moses spent forty days and forty nights on Mt. Sinai, and Elijah journeyed forty days and forty nights to Mt. Horeb.

The gospel reading for this Sunday centers around Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, highlighting the struggle between the forces of good and evil.  It prompts us to contemplate our own vulnerabilities and the temptations we face in our daily lives.  Through Jesus’ example, we find encouragement to resist these temptations with the strength of faith and reliance on God’s word.

In the Old Testament we encounter the story of Noah and the flood, symbolizing purification and renewal.  This narrative reminds us of God’s covenant with humanity and His promise of redemption even in the midst of trial and adversity.  It serves as a reminder of faithfulness and obedience in our relationship with God.

St. Jerome, the brilliant doctor of the church, lived for twenty-five years in the cave where the child Jesus was born.  One time he prayed to Jesus thus, “Dear Child, you have suffered so much to save me.  How can I make amends?”  “What can you give me, Jerome?” a voice was heard.  “I will spend my entire life in prayer, and I will offer all my talents into your hands,” Jerome replied.  “You do that to glorify me, but what more can you give to me?” the voice asked again.  “I will give all my money to the poor,” Jerome explained.  The voice said, “Give your money to the poor.  It would be just as if you were giving it to me.  But what else can you give to me?”  St Jerome became distraught and said, “Lord, I have given you everything.  What is there left to give?”  “Jerome, you have not still given to me your sins,” the Lord replied.  “Give them to me, so I can erase them.”  With these words, Jerome burst into tears and spoke, “Dear Jesus, take all that is mine and give me all that is yours.”

Brothers and sisters, the liturgical season of Lent calls us to introspection and self-examination, urging us to identify areas for growth and transformation through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  We are invited to draw closer to God and to our neighbors, embodying the love and compassion of Christ in our actions.

The gospel reading today tells us that Jesus went into the desert and spent forty days there.  It tells us about the first time that our Lord was tempted.  It was the first time that the devil openly confronted Christ and put Him to the test.  But as we know, Jesus did not sin.  He was like us in everything but sin.  The devil tempted Him overtly, but Jesus did not give in to the temptations that the evil one placed before Him.

This is a very important event in Jesus’ life.  This event in Jesus’ life shows us that we should not believe that Satan would never tempt us openly.  We cannot say as some do, that I do not ever commit a sin.  Satan puts everyone to temptation, and many times we give in to him, something that our Lord Jesus did not do.

Lent is a time for us to show our repentance through fasting and abstinence for the sins we have committed.  Mortification, penance, strengthens our souls so that we can resist the devil, who as tradition tells us during the entire year, but especially during these forty days of Lent and during the days that we commemorate the Passion of Christ, will try to tempt us with greater determination and venom.  We should not forget that even though Satan will tempt us, Christ, especially during these forty days, will help us to free ourselves from sin.  He will give us the graces that we need to conquer those temptations.  Of course, He will do this if we prepare ourselves, if we wipe clean our souls of sin, if we ask Him for those graces. When we are sincerely repentant and we say, “Lord, protect me from all sin,” He will do just that.

The season of Lent, the season of mercy is the best time for us to purify ourselves and strengthen ourselves to change our lives, to repent and follow Christ.  We begin to feel this process of conversion when we firmly resolve to better our spiritual lives and to change our lives if they need to be changed.  If we truly believe in the Good News, the Gospel of Christ, we must feel the radical need to abandon our lives of sin.

In those forty days spent in the desert, fasting and praying, our Lord gave us an example of what we need to do to prepare spiritually for Easter.  During these forty days of Lent, Jesus asks us to let go of all those worldly things that tie us to sin.  He asks us to let go of our selfishness, our sinful pride, our belief that we are better than everybody else.  The conversion that the Lord asks us to go through really means maintaining a close relationship with God.  It would be a lamentable error if we did not take advantage of these Lenten days, leaving for later what we know we need to do now in order to change our lives, with an ardent desire to change our lives, remembering that there is still time today, but it may be too late tomorrow.

Let us repent and confess our sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation.  As we reflect on the readings and themes on this first Sunday of Lent, we are reminded of the significance of this season as a time of spiritual renewal and preparation for the celebration of Easter.  It is a time to reorient our hearts and minds towards God, to seek forgiveness for our shortcomings, and to deepen our commitment to living lives of holiness and discipleship.

KEEP READING

Mary in the Annunciation

December 24, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Advent, Christmas, Deacon Mark, Discipleship, Faith, Mary, Trust

Fourth Sunday of Advent 
December 24, 2023 — Year B
Readings: 2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16 / Ps 89 / Rom 16:25-27 / Lk 1:26-38
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

It is still Advent, but in case I don’t see you at Christmas Eve Mass today, Merry Christmas, Maligayang Pasko, Feliz Navidad, Joyeaux Noёl, Buon Natale, and Wesołych świąt.

Holy Name of Mary parish is dedicated to Jesus’ mother, Mary, and on this Fourth Sunday of Advent we enter into the first joyful mystery of her most holy rosary, the Annunciation. As a deacon in a Marian parish, how can I not center the homily on Mary, when Luke centered the beginning of his gospel on her “who was with child (Lk 2:5)?” Interestingly, Matthew starts his gospel centered on Mary as well and, though John waited until chapter two to introduce Mary, chapter one prepared for her grand entrance at Cana, with Mary as the Queen Mother, asking her son, Jesus the King, to help the young married couple.

In a predominantly Protestant area, we can feel uncomfortable speaking of Mary, even to the point of fearing mentioning the name of our parish. Peter Kreeft said that “[non-Catholic Christians] object to our Catholic devotion to Mary because they think it detracts from our adoration of Jesus.” He added, “In fact, it is exactly the opposite: the more we love Mary, the more we love Jesus, and the more we love Jesus, the more we love Mary (Kreeft 82).”  Along those same lines, to try to put non-Catholics at ease with honoring Mary, someone once said, “You cannot love Mary more than Jesus does.”

But Peter Kreeft upped the ante and tied having a relationship with Mary to discipleship, to following Jesus. He wrote, “Jesus gave us Mary, when He said to St. John, the only disciple who stayed with Him at the cross, “Behold your mother” (John 19:27). So if we, like John, want to be Jesus’ disciples, if we want to be as close to Jesus as John was at the cross, then we must be close to Mary, because Jesus gave us Mary (82).”

Dr. Kreeft’s words are worth reflecting on. To be a disciple who will stand and face death and a seeming loss of all hope like John looking upon Jesus dying on the cross, it is most helpful to have Mary, the only perfect disciple, at your side like he did. For John must have realized that no matter how much sorrow he felt at that moment, it was not as deep as Mary’s, looking upon her only child dying in agony. Yet despite the awfulness of it all, neither Jesus’ suffering, a mocking crowd, nor the threat of mighty Roman soldiers could tear her from her Son’s side. When she told the angel Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” she meant it for better or for worse (Lk 1: 38).

From the moment of her freewill consent, she became the Christ Bearer, the Mother of God. How did she prepare to bring Jesus into the world? First, she set out to care for someone in need, her cousin Elizabeth who Gabriel told her had conceived a child in her old age (Lk 1:39-56). Second, she and Joseph patiently suffered in faith and hope, traveling eighty miles or so from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary suffering in discomfort, probably riding a donkey, being so near to giving birth. Joseph, hurting from a longing to take her suffering upon himself, but only able to give her his tender care. Joseph suffering from not being able to find her a comfortable room in which to give birth, and Mary suffering from having to give birth away from the comfort of her home and friends (Lk 2: 1-7).

But as He always does, God brought them great joy and consolation when they thought they could endure no more pain and anxiety. Mary shows us the way to live our lives in faith and trust in God’s plan for us. This side of heaven, our journey will entail suffering and pain at times, but with Mary, we can bear it patiently, with great hope, and even joy. The hope and joy she brings to us is her Son.

In The Lord of the Rings movies based on the books of devout Catholic J.R.R. Tolkien, the battle between despair and hope, darkness and light is vividly displayed in rich symbolism for the cause for Mary’s hope. One depiction takes place at a great battle called Helm’s Deep (The Two Towers). The battle begins in darkness and rain, and the enemy vastly outnumbers the free people. They fight with valiant hope, but eventually wear down and accept that death is their fate, that evil will triumph over good and darkness over light. But then, they look to the east, to the rising sun, and grace descends upon them in the form of friends and an angelic figure, dressed in white, charging down a high hill to their aid.

In a second depiction, an even greater battle is taking place, and the situation is even more hopeless. A great white, stone city (think of it as your soul) is under siege and burning (The Return of the King). The city’s caretaker has fallen into despair from listening to the enemy’s voice more than to the voices of wise friends.  As he walks in a somber procession to “die as he chooses,” the camera blurs out that hopeless scene and focuses on a single white flower that was barely noticeable in the foreground. The white flower was a sign, long awaited, that the city’s true king had returned and would restore the city to its former grandeur.

And so, here we are on the last Sunday of Advent, some of our suffering being voluntary from extra prayer, fasting, and charity, and some from the burdens and sorrows of life that weigh upon the young and old, rich and poor, strong and weak alike. If we bear our suffering and burdens with Mary, we will see what she saw in Bethlehem: hope in the newborn Savior, and hear what she heard from the shepherds about angels’ appearing in light with a message of peace. At every Mass, we, like those in Tolkien’s story at Helm’s Deep, look to the east.  Catholic Churches, whenever possible, are oriented such that the altar is set in that direction.

In our suffering and worries, we look to the altar. We hear Father call to us, not to despair in the cares of this world, but to “lift up our hearts (Roman Missal Preface).” And then a little while later, he encourages us to, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and we look up, to the east and see Father, clothed in white like that angelic figure at Helm’s Deep, holding the rising Son, Jesus come to save us (Roman Missal The Order of Mass). Notice that to look upon the Eucharist is like looking upon the white flower in Tolkien’s white city. It is both reminder and reality that our long-awaited King has returned and will restore our soul to the grandeur God made it for from the beginning. Jesus did this for His mother from the moment of her conception, which is why the angel Gabriel called Mary by the title, “full of grace (Lk 1:28).”

I am going to close this homily with a poem that Peter Kreeft shared, entitled “Jesus and Mary.” It illustrates how knowing Mary helps us know her Son, especially in graces God sends to us and most especially in the Eucharist.  Don’t get lost in all the words but hang on to the ones that touch your heart the most.

Body of Christ from Mary’s body;

Blood of Christ, from Mary’s blood.

Jesus the bread, Mary the yeast;

Mary the kitchen, Jesus the feast.

Mary the mother by whom we are fed;

Mary the oven, Jesus the bread.

Mary the soil, Jesus the vine;

Mary the wine maker, Jesus the wine.

Jesus the Tree of Life, Mary the sod;

Mary our God-bearer, Jesus our God.

Mary the silkworm, Jesus the silk;

Mary the nurse, Jesus the milk.

Mary the stem, Jesus the flower;

Mary the stairway, Jesus the tower.

Mary and Jesus, our castle entire;

Mary the fireplace, Jesus the fire.

Mary God’s ink, Jesus God’s name;

Mary the burning bush, Jesus the flame.

Mary the paper, Jesus the Word;

Mary the nest, Jesus the bird.

Mary the artery, Jesus the blood;

Mary the floodgate, Jesus the flood.

Mary and Jesus, our riches untold;

Mary the gold mine, Jesus the gold.

(Kreeft 82)

Mary, our mother, ask your Son to enable us always and in all circumstances, to remember to look east so that the Star of Joy and Hope may rise in our hearts and minds, every week being an Advent and every Sunday Mass a Christmas for us. Amen.

 

CITATIONS

J.R.R. Tolkien. “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King.” New Line Productions, Inc. 2002-2003.

Kreeft, Peter. “Food for the Soul; Reflections on the Mass Readings, Cycle B.” Word on Fire 2023.

The Catholic Church. “The Roman Missal.” Catholic Book Publishing Corp., N.J. 2011.

KEEP READING

Serve God With Your Gifts

November 19, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Blessings, Eternal Life, Faith, Father Nixon, Life, Mission, Service

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 19, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 / Ps 128 / 1 Thes 5:1-6 / Mt 25:14-30
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

There was a story of a Chinese boy who came from a very poor family in Hong Kong and never dreamed that he would go far. His parents left him behind to do some housekeeping and construction in Australia. Gifted with talents and skills for doing stunts and acrobatics, he developed and cashed in on this until he rose to become a famous movie actor, multimillionaire, and Asian superstar, that is Jackie Chan.

Brothers and sisters, we are given different talents by the Lord. For example, some of us are good at singing, dancing, and talking. Some are good at the arts, mathematics, sciences, and others. And sometimes our talents are very unique. All of us have talent. We cannot say, “I don’t have talent. I don’t know how to sing. I don’t know how to dance,” and so on and so forth.

The Church continues to reflect about the end of the world and the end of our lives. Last Sunday we were asked to reflect on the ten virgins, five wise and five foolish, and we were taught to be ready to meet the Lord. Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, which opens the last week of the liturgical year of the Church. Today’s gospel points out through the parable of the talents the difference between being ready and being unready when the Lord returns to settle accounts with us.

Jesus gives us a parable that the Kingdom of God is like a man traveling to a faraway land and calling his three servants to take care of some of his possessions. One servant has great ability, and so he gives this servant five talents. The second has average ability and he is given two talents, while the third has little ability because he was just given one talent. The first two servants immediately made their talents work and doubled the number of talents the master gave them, but the servant who received only one talent buried it because of the fear that he may lose it.

When the master returned, the first two servants who made their talents work reported what they did with the money, and the master was very happy with them, and he gave what the two servants earned to them. But when the last servant told him that he was afraid to lose the money and buried it, the master became angry. He gave the one talent to the servant who earned ten talents.

Brothers and sisters, most of us think of a talent as some kind of special ability, gift, or skill. In Jesus’ time a talent was a measure of money. We can understand the talents in today’s gospel as symbols of any of the gifts God has given to us, especially our faith, and we use these gifts to build His Kingdom.

Everyone has received something from God. Life itself is a talent. Time is a talent. Treasure is a talent. They are all talents we have to invest. Knowing that Jesus was describing servants being given huge amount of cash to invest helps us to understand just how generous the master was being and the opportunity each servant was given. The greatest gift God has given to us is the gift of Himself. The talents represent more than just the monetary resources God gives us.

Remember, this is a parable and all of Jesus’ parables are about a bit more than they seem. This parable is paired with the parable of the ten virgins who made the mistake of not having enough oil when the bridegroom arrives. It is also preceded by a story about a servant not using his position well while the master is away. All three stories are about being given something which must be used well and the consequences of neglecting or abusing it. In short, the talents represent what God has given us; our monetary resources, our callings to positions within the Church that can be found in Ephesians 4:11-16, our natural gifts. Each of these things and many others are given by God to use in ways that glorify Him and draw others toward Him.

There is a famous saying in the movie Chariots of Fire, where future Olympian Eric Liddell feels a tension between his chance to be an Olympic runner and his calling be a missionary in China. Eventually he tells his sister he will go to the Olympics and then to the mission field because both honor God. “God made me for a purpose, for China,” Liddell says, “but He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure. To give that up would be to hold Him in contempt.” In the end all talents are given by God to glorify Him.

The Bible makes it clear, there is no sacred versus secular world in the way we often think. Yes, there are official positions for certain church tasks; preaching, evangelizing, teaching, etc., and Christians should not be molded by worldly standards. However, all creation was made very good, and we must do all things to God’s glory. So, whatever we are doing, provided it is not a sinful activity, we serve God well by doing it well. As Dorothy Sayers put it in her essay, Why You Work: “If we follow God properly, all the work will be Christian work, whether it is Church embroidery or sewage farming.”

The Bible makes it clear that we don’t really own our gifts. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by God according to plans He laid out before we were born to glorify Him forever. The fact that the master owns the money he gave the servants, and he gets the results of their investments highlights who is in control.

We naturally want to believe we can use our gifts as we please. If we grew up in cultures where the individual is primary, we also tend to think we can live as we please. However, if we all want to be little gods of our own lives, serving ourselves, we miss our true place in life. We find our true joy and place in life when we serve God with our gifts. Jesus uses the parable of the talents to help us understand our calling as Christians and our responsibility to use what God has given us to bring Him glory and honor.

We have the most valuable gift of all, the Word of God and the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. This gift is for us to share with others through our words and actions. It is a great responsibility with great reward, as described in the parable of the talents. The parable of the talents should encourage us and challenge us to take what God has given us and invest in the Kingdom of God. There is a great reward waiting for those who steward well with what the Lord has given them. May Jesus Christ be praised.

KEEP READING

Give to God What is God’s

October 22, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Courage, Deacon Mark, Discipleship, Faith, Grace, Holy Spirit, Trust

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 22, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 45:1, 4-6 / Ps 96 / 1 Thes 1:1-5b / Mt 22:15-21
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

The Church has done her usual wonderful job of choosing a collection of readings that help us enter into the gospel with the right frame of mind. Isaiah tells us God is Lord and “there is no other” (Is 45:5). In Psalm 96, King David, fresh from bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem, writes, “Declare His glory among the nations.…The Lord reigns” (Ps 96:3,10).  In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote, “He has chosen you; for our gospel came to you in power and in the Holy Spirit…” (1 Thes 1:4).  So the right frame of mind is that Jesus, who is God, is the King of the Universe and we are His people, made so by the Holy Spirit.

King David points out God’s kingship in today’s Psalm, declaring that He reigns. Where is God’s throne? It is in heaven, yes, but Jesus also reigns in our very bodies.  Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, says God made our bodies into a temple of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Paul can say to the Thessalonians that they received the Gospel in the Holy Spirit. That Jesus made our bodies into temples is a key to today’s gospel.

Let’s use our imaginations and enter into this gospel by composing the scene. Return to this scene whenever your mind starts to wander. Jesus is in the great Temple of Jerusalem, the greatest religious structure in the kingdom of Rome. Its area would cover 35 football fields and it is several stories tall. The stone walls are thick, with some stones weighing several hundred tons. “Its appearance is radiant with polished marble and gold adornments.” (Mitch/Sri, 302) Jews, Gentiles, and priests are bustling about. The air is filled with many voices and other sounds, and the smell of smoke and incense. You are there, taking a seat to listen to the famous rabbi, Jesus, speak.

If you recall, the next thing we need to do before we unpack the gospel, is to ask Jesus for the grace we desire to receive from this encounter with Him. And today, Jesus tells us, through the lips of his enemies, what that grace is. The disciples of the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Tell us, then, what You think” (Mt 22:7).  In other words, we want the grace of interior knowledge of Jesus’ mind and heart; knowledge not written in the book but given to us by grace through the Holy Spirit.

Now, we play out the scene. Jesus is standing at the top of some steps. We are sitting at the front of the crowd at the base of the steps, eager to hear what He has to say. We have heard of His time in the temple, verbally jousting with the priests and elders. He has really started to stir things up. Knowing that, we are not surprised when some disciples of the Pharisees arrive, pushing their way through the crowd, brushing by you, and walking up a few of the stairs, but staying lower than Jesus.

What does surprise us is that they are accompanied by Herodians, traitors who have consorted with the Romans! The Pharisees’ disciples start lavishing praise on Jesus, but you can tell by the look on their faces, it is not sincere.  “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men” (Mt 22:16).  You have to admit, though, that what they said really is how you see Jesus. But then comes their trap, which in your opinion, is so predictable of that group. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”  Oh no. You want to yell out to Jesus, “Do not answer that question. It is a trap.”

You know that if He says do not pay the taxes, the Herodians will have him arrested and tortured for instigating a tax revolt (Mitch/Sri, 285.) If He says pay the tax, He will look like a Roman sympathizer, discrediting Himself in the eyes of the Jews. (Ibid.)  But then you recall how He has handled Himself before today, and you get a knowing grin on your face. This is going to be good.

Jesus asks the Pharisees’ disciples for a coin that pays the tax, and they give him a Roman denarius. Hypocrites, you think to yourself. They carry coins for taxes like everyone else!  Those coins have an image of Caesar with the blasphemous words, “Son of the divine Augustus” on one side and “high priest” on the other. (Mitch/Sri, 286) Sure enough, Jesus says, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites” (Mt 22: 18)?  And then He sets their heads spinning. After they tell Him the image on the coin is Caesar’s, He tells them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22:20-21).

His adversaries leave in stunned silence, brushing by you on their way out.  While triumphantly smirking at them, you suddenly remember the grace you asked for and get up the courage to raise your hand and to ask Jesus a question. “Lord, I get that paying our taxes does not compromise our duty to God, but tell us what it means to repay to God what belongs to God?” (Mitch/Sri, 286)

Jesus begins to explain, and you and the crowd grow silent again, glad that Jesus sent the hypocrites packing. He looks at you with fondness and His gaze fills you with warmth and joy. He says, “The Roman denarius bears Caesar’s image, so it belongs to him and should be returned to him.” But, looking at you, He asks, “What is it that belongs to God? Hmm?”  You kind of freeze up and your mind goes blank. You can feel the crowd staring at you. Jesus does not want you to feel embarrassed, because He sincerely loves you. He loves that you pushed your way to the front row. He loves you for not falling for the lies and games of the hypocrites.

To help you, Jesus asks you another question. “Who did God make in His image?” You smile, look around smugly at the crowd and answer, “Me! And all of us” (Gn 1: 26).  Jesus smiles with a chuckle, and says, “You have answered well.”  Someone behind you gives you a congratulatory pat on the shoulder. But then you notice Jesus staring at you looking for more. And it hits you and you shout, “Since our body bears God’s image, we must return it to Him. He is our King, and we owe Him all that we are and have! (Mitch/Sri, 286) Jesus opens His arms and makes an emphatic, “Yes!”  And then you realize that He has given you the grace we asked for, “Tell us what You think.”

To quote my boss, how do we put blue jeans on this? In other words, how do we simplify putting into practice returning to God our very self? First, we must examine our life and ask ourselves, “Where am I holding back giving myself to God because of my lack of faith?”  If you are not sure, then look for where you have fears or concerns or worries or anxieties or insecurities or, if you have none of these, then pride.

These are often revealed by your self-talk or inner voice saying, “I am too young. I am too old. I am too poor. I am too busy. I am too tired. I am not smart enough. I am not holy enough. I am too sinful. I am good right here.” Notice all these statements have something in common. They all use the words “I am.” A lack of faith can cause us to try to bear our burdens or to perform good works without God who is the great “I Am” (Ex 3:14).

If we flip these words around, we will see how silly our lack of faith is:

Too young for I Am? We have teenage saints. David was around fifteen years old when God anointed him to be a king.

Too old for I Am? Simeon, ready to die of old age, announced Jesus as the Messiah.

Too poor for I Am? Mary and Joseph were poor. Jesus was born in a barn!

Too busy for I Am? He keeps the universe in motion. He is the Lord of time and will help you find more.

Too tired for I Am? He does not sleep.  He spoke to me about this gospel before the sun rose.

Not smart enough for I Am? He makes the simple wise. St. Peter, a fisherman, in his first attempt at preaching brought three thousand to the Lord.

Not holy enough for I Am? He freed Mary Magdalene from seven demons and the sinful behaviors caused by that, and she went on to proclaim His resurrection to the twelve apostles.

Too sinful for I Am? St. Augustine wrote one of the world’s first autobiographies, candidly sharing his sins of fornication and careerism in his book, Confessions. Today, he is quoted throughout the Catechism and studied by Catholics and Protestants alike.

Our King protects us, guides us, and strengthens us. He loves when you return to God what is God’s by rendering your children to I Am in Baptism, your sins to I Am in Confession, your body, heart, and soul to I Am in Holy Communion, bowing your head to I Am in Confirmation for impartation of the Holy Spirit, rendering your tired and sick body to I Am in Holy Anointing of the Sick, rendering your best friend to I Am for His blessing of your Marriage, and rendering your sons and husbands to I Am in Holy Orders!

What more does I Am need to do for us to trust Him enough to render to Him what is His…which is you and me? Give Him yourself, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your husband, your wife, your children, your classes, your job, your retirement, your virtues and your vices. This is how we render to God what is God’s. We give Him our good and our not so good.

Oh Great I Am, you are King of the Universe, and we render to you our very selves and ask that you reign in our bodies, your temple. Amen!

 

Citations

The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition. Ascension Publishing 2018.

Curtis Mitch & Edward Sri. Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, The Gospel of Matthew. Baker Academic 2010.

KEEP READING

Using Our Freedom

October 8, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Faith, Father Nixon, Grace, Self-Reflection, Thanksgiving, Trust

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 8, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 5:1-7 / Ps 80 / Phil 4:6-9 / Mt 21:33-43
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

The gospel this Sunday gives us the parable of the vineyard.  It is actually a disturbing parable because it refers to the rejection of the prophets and the Son of God by the people of Israel, the chosen people of God.  This ultimately led to the death of Jesus on the cross.

As the gospel suggests, the history of Christianity is a history of rejection.  It is a story filled with rejection.  If you look back through our history of salvation, God first sent prophets to be His servants in His vineyard, but they were killed by the so-called tenants of the Lord’s vineyard.  Later, God sent His only son thinking that the tenants might respect His son, but again, Jesus was hunted by the elders and the chief priests and was killed.

In 1978, a man flew to Cincinnati to attend the funeral of a man named Max.  For the past twenty years, Max had been like a father figure to this man.  There was nothing out of the ordinary about this except for the fact that as a fifteen-year-old, this man stole his mother’s car and killed Max’s five-year-old son just a few weeks before Christmas.

A shocked judge heard Max’s request that the charges be dropped soon after the accident. Instead, he wished to employ the death-car driver and assist him with his schooling.  Max accomplished all of this and more by essentially adopting the fifteen-year-old youth into his household.  Max opened his home, time, and compassion to the disturbed adolescent.  How could Max do this?  Why would someone befriend a youngster who had just murdered his five-year-old son?  Max must have been insane to go out of his way to become a father figure in this way.

In today’s gospel story, God is portrayed as a landowner who created a magnificent vineyard for His people to manage.  When harvest time arrived, He dispatched His servants twice, but they were all slaughtered.  The people wanted the entire harvest, not just a portion of it.  Again, the vineyard is Israel.  The planters are the Jews. The messengers, prophets, and leaders were meant to lead God’s people back to Him, but they were sometimes rejected and slaughtered.

Finally, He sent His son because He assumed they would respect Him, but they also killed Him.  He understood what was going on, but regardless, He sent His son.  God’s love for us is without condition, but as a consequence, the Jews lost their vineyard, and it was given to the pagans (us) who have received the faith in Jesus.

This parable is also a warning to all Christians, and to each of us personally.  Is being a Christian just fulfilling minimum obligations like going to Mass on Sunday, receiving Holy Communion?  This parable is also a warning to us Christians because we must accept God’s messengers: prophets, teachers, the hierarchy itself, the pope, and anyone who helps us read the signs of the times and see in them the loving hand of God who urges us to produce good fruits.

Heeding such messengers will immediately pinpoint areas of deep trouble in our weak faith:  immorality in the family, corruption in the government, and the scandalous injustices from top to bottom in our society today.  We cannot afford to become complacent and rest on our traditional forms of piety, hoping that being Christians will give us salvation.  The Jewish people were deeply religious too, and yet lost the kingdom, because their fruits were nowhere to be found.

The parable also teaches us a lot about God and how He relates to us.  First, we see the providence of God: “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.” (Mt 21: 33a) Before God entrusts a responsibility to us, He makes provisions for all that we will need to carry out that responsibility.

The parable continues, “Then He leased it to tenants and went on a journey.” (Mt 21:33b) This shows God’s trust in us.  God does not stand looking over our shoulder, policing us and making sure we do the right thing.  He leaves the job to us and goes on vacation to a far country.  God trusts that we will do the right thing.  Unfortunately, many of us do not.

The story also highlights God’s patience with us.  God sends messenger after messenger to the rebellious managers who would not render to God His due.  With each messenger, God provides another chance for us to put an end to rebellion and to do the right thing.

Finally, there comes a last chance.  God plays His trump card, and He sends His only begotten son.  If we miss this last chance, we miss it for good.  In the end, we see God’s judgement in which rebellious humanity loses their very lives, and their privileges are transferred to others who are more promising.  The picture is that of a providing, trusting, patient, but also just, God.

From this we can learn about ourselves and how we stand in relation to God.  First, we see human privilege.  Like the managers of the vineyard, everything that we have is a privilege and not a merit.  This is what we mean when we say that everything is God’s grace.  Grace is an unmerited favor.  Life itself is a privilege which can be taken away from any of us at any time.  Privilege comes, however, with responsibility.  We are ultimately responsible and accountable to God for the way we use or abuse our God-given privileges.  God has given us all we need to make a judicious use of all our privileges, yet we retain the ability to abuse it.  This is called freedom.

The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, as this parable is sometimes called, is a parable on the misuse of human freedom.  Let us today pray for the wisdom and courage never to abuse our privileges, but rather to make good use of all the privileges and opportunities that God gives us.

KEEP READING