Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 17, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Sir 27:30-28:7 / Ps 103 / Rom 14:7-9 / Mt 18:21-35
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
A 99-year-old woman, pushing on in years, boasted to her pastor that she didn’t have an enemy in the world. He was very impressed. What a wonderful thing to be able to say after all those years! And then she added, “I have outlived them all!” If we live long enough, we’ll also be able to make the same statement.
“What goes around comes around” is a common expression. Its familiarity springs from the truth. When we offer words of kindness and love to others, that invites words of kindness and love in return. On the other hand, isn’t it true that words of anger only produce more anger on each side? The harsh judgement we pass on others easily could apply to us as well. In the final analysis, we will be judged by how we treat others, not how they may have treated us.
So what is it that we want to go around and come around? The reply that we offer should not be merely words, but also deeds. The wise man Sirach in our first reading says, “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” These words in many ways echo the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We have indicated that we want the same treatment as we give others.
The problem is, if we treat others in an unkind manner, we are asking that God treat us the same way. For example; if the young people here do not cooperate with their elders by loving them and obeying them, it means that they are saying to God: My parents shouldn’t love me and shouldn’t respond to my wishes. Jesus is saying that if we treat others poorly, then it’s only natural that they will treat us the same way. You are in command. Treat others well, including parents, and they will treat you well.
There is a story of a six-year-old, John. During night prayer he paused before his brother’s name and said to his mother, “I will not ask God to bless Paul. He gave me a big blow on the nose today.” The mother said to John, “But Jesus asked you to forgive your enemies.” Little John responded, “That’s the main problem. Paul is not my enemy, and that’s the reason I cannot forgive him.”
The reaction of little John tells us that forgiveness is hard, and that forgiving family and friends is even tougher. Forgiveness and reconciliation are twin virtues that hold a relationship whether it is an interpersonal or interethnic or interreligious relationship.
One of the hardest things to do is to forgive those who are mean to us. To forgive those who have done or said terrible things against us, or even to forgive those who contribute, or those who continue to put us down and those who hate us with disdain.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where it was difficult to forgive someone who offended you? Yes, forgiveness can be very hard in certain situations, and for this reason it takes such a long time before we train ourselves to forgive our offenders, especially when they are people we trusted so much.
The first step towards forgiveness is the ability to say, Yes, I forgive. It really takes a lot of courage to forgive. The second step is to ask for the help of God by admitting, God, I really want to forgive, but I do not know how to forgive. Help me to forgive totally and completely from the depth of my heart.
Too often we wait for others to make the first move. We hesitate because we might face rejection, or we don’t want to seem too weak or eager for reconciliation. That’s not how Jesus treated us. He made the first move. He loves us so much that He died for us. We can show the same love by having His courage to treat our family and our friends in the same loving manner, not waiting for them to display their love but to offer our love first. Each of us must be Christ-like: We must take the initiative.
Our Lord gives this gospel as a warning that we must be constantly on our guard. God has forgiven us for things we could not possibly hope to repay. And we are duty bound in gratitude and compassion to share the graciousness, forgiveness, and charity that God gives to us and others around us.
In the gospel, Peter is asking about the limits of forgiveness. Isn’t it true that if we just grant forgiveness to someone who’s treated us in an unloving manner that they will continue to take advantage of us? Jesus says, “No, don’t forgive friends or members of your family seven times, but seven times seventy times.” Unlimited.
Jesus willingly gave His life for us because He loves us. We show our love in the same manner and, if we do, that love will be returned, whether it be from our child, our parents, our friend, or even from someone we don’t like. We do it not because we are weak, but because Jesus has asked us to do it, and He has promised we will be blessed for our actions.
Also, we must learn to forgive ourselves. Imagine you’re responsible for something very serious; you are driving a car while under the influence of alcohol, there is an accident and a young person is killed. That life cannot be brought back. For more and more people, there is something in their background, some skeleton in the closet, as we say. A broken marriage, an abortion, a pregnancy outside marriage, a broken relationship, or a serious mistake. And for many of us we do not believe that there is another chance, much less seven times seventy chances.
This is not the teaching of Jesus. God doesn’t just give us another chance, but every time we close a door, He opens another one for us. The Lord challenges us not to make serious, damaging mistakes. But He also tells us that our mistakes are not forever. They are not even for a lifetime, and time and grace wash us clean. Nothing is irrevocable.
The words of Sirach in the first reading say it all. “Think of the commandments. Hate not your families and friends, remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.” And so, as each of us takes a few minutes coming to Communion, think of what we can do for our families, our children, our siblings, and all of our friends so that we will love one another as Jesus has loved us. Let us continue to promote that awareness that we are all in communion with one another and with the one God. What we do to others we are taken as doing to God himself. May Jesus Christ be praised.KEEP READING
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 25, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Jer 20:10-13 / Ps 69 / Rom 5:12-15 / Mt 10:26-33
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
In case you missed it, on June 16 we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the day after that, the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This past Thursday we celebrated the Memorial of St. Thomas More, and just yesterday, the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist. I see in that sequence of celebrations the love of Jesus’ Sacred Heart burning in Mary’s, Thomas More’s, and John’s hearts, enabling their great victories. We receive His Sacred Heart at every Mass in the Eucharist! Keep this truth and these spiritual heroes in mind during this homily on trusting in God’s grace when the world persecutes us for witnessing to His truth and love.
The LA Dodgers major league baseball organization recently held a public event in their stadium to give a “Community Hero Award” to a group of men who dress as nuns and mock the Catholic Church, which is to say they mock Christ (CNA). Now pray today’s Psalm 69 again, “For your sake I bear insult…I have become an outcast to my brothers…the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.”
Washington Nationals pitcher and Catholic, Trevor Williams, responded to the Dodgers’ celebration of mockery by becoming the first major league player to denounce the Dodgers’ award ceremony for an organization the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called “blasphemous (CNA).” His Twitter comments denouncing this attack on the Catholic faith have been retweeted thousands of times. He has been criticized, yes, but Williams said he wanted to show his four children that if they are ever tested, it is ok to stand up for their faith. By the way, Trevor’s own faith took off after going to Adoration as a teenager.
In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah is lamenting how those “who WERE [his] friends” denounce him, watching for “any misstep” so they can trap and “take vengeance on him (Jer 20:10).” However, Jeremiah doesn’t worry about being “canceled” for his faith in God. He defiantly writes, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion. (Jer 20:11-13)!”
St. Thomas More can relate to Jeremiah’s lamenting about friends turning on him. More was King Henry VIII’s chancellor, and the King wanted More to sanction his illegitimate second marriage in addition to his self-proclaimed position of head of the Catholic Church in England. More refused to sanction either, and King Henry VIII began to cancel More’s job, his status, money, and reputation. But More’s faith did not break. The King was frustrated and finally ordered More’s beheading.
More’s last words exemplify Jesus’ exhortation in today’s gospel. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna (Mt 10:28).” Likewise, More said, “I die his majesty’s good servant, but God’s first.” This is called holy fear, which Bishop Barron describes as fearing “losing intimacy and friendship with God (Barron 72).”
St. Paul, in the second reading, wrote to the Roman Church, “But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” Living the hope of these words in prison before his execution, Thomas More wrote, “His grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience.” In doing so, More also echoed today’s Psalm “See, you lowly ones, and be glad; you who seek God, may your hearts revive! For the Lord hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not (Ps 69:33).”
Like the baseball player Trevor Williams, More also wanted to teach his child through his actions. In his letter from prison to his daughter, Margaret he wrote, “Do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.”
What of the people who mock the Church and try to teach our children to do the same? Jeremiah called the mockers “evildoers” and spoke of God “putting them to shame.” These strong words can be difficult for us, because as Christ’s followers, we look at our persecutors like the first deacon, Stephen. As he was being stoned to death for sharing his faith, he said in imitation of Jesus on the Cross, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
When we read the Bible, it is important that we read it in light of the gospels which rightly order our thoughts. To better understand this difficult challenge, it is illuminating to look at Jeremiah’s words through the lens of today’s gospel reading. Jesus said to the Twelve: “Fear no one…And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Mt 10:28).” What is Jesus doing here? He is, in His perfect love, “casting out all fear (Jn 4:18)!!” What causes the cycle of accusations, mockery, and violence? Fear. However, if my heart is fed by and enfolded in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, then I fear no one, nowhere. Free from fear, I can respond with Christ’s love and break the chains of conflict and discord. I can even pray for God to forgive those men mocking our Lord, “to not hold their sin against them.”
Sound unreasonable or naive? Thomas More, like all the great saints, shows us the way. In his letter to Margaret, he did not mock Henry VIII, nor point out his sin of adultery. He, with an eye on eternity instead of the here and now, wrote this about Henry: “His Majesty has done me such great good with respect to spiritual profit that I trust that among all the great benefits he has heaped so abundantly upon me I count my imprisonment the very greatest.” Like the bold hymn, Faith of our Fathers, More was “chained in prison dark, but was still in heart and conscience free.”
Is there no justice or accountability, then, for those who persecute and mock us? Do we just let them walk all over us? A wise priest once told an angry man, “You cannot do worse to that person than God will.” Jesus said, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father (Mt 10:33).” That is a polite way of saying not everyone goes to heaven. God commands us to forgive our enemies. Justice is His domain.
Do not be afraid to speak the truth. Remember that there is no love without it. It is a spiritual oxymoron to say I want someone to be happy while suppressing the truth when I am with them. Could speaking the truth cause me pain and suffering? Yes. No doubt some of you have experienced this in your own families and at work and school. So, I ask myself a question: Do I fear the Lord who can cast body and soul into Gehenna, as much as I fear acknowledging Him when it might cause me discomfort? We must keep an eternal perspective of our life. Psalm 85 says, “Salvation is near for those who fear Him.” But take heart! God does not abandon us when we testify to His truth, love, and good news. Remember Jeremiah’s words, “My persecutors will stumble; they will not triumph.”
We see this truth in the rest of the story of the heroes we just heard about. Trevor Williams says many players and stadium employees have secretly thanked him. And on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, Trevor Williams was given the honor of leading the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for tens of thousands on the Hallow app. As for the British Catholic Church, seemingly taken over by Henry VIII, it is now the leading religion in Thomas More’s beloved London. John the Baptist was beheaded, but Jesus called him the greatest born of woman, and the Church honors his birth two thousand years later with its highest-ranking feast, a Solemnity!
And what about our awesome mother, Mary? She stayed at her son’s side, throughout His persecution and Crucifixion, despite extraordinary personal pain, her Immaculate Heart enfolded in His Sacred Heart. For her fidelity was she abandoned by God to poverty and loneliness with no husband and no son? No. Jesus, with one of His last seven utterances on the Cross, gave her a new son who went on to write of her victorious coronation as Queen of Heaven (Rev 12:1).
Let’s close with God’s word, which gives us hope and helps us to be bold in the Spirit despite our failings, inadequacies, and fears. The next time you need to proclaim His truth “from the housetops,” remember these words exchanged between Jesus and St. Paul. Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul responded, “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor 12:9-10).” Amen.
Bishop Robert Barron. The Word on Fire Bible-The Gospels. Word on Fire Ministries 2020.
Filip Mazurczak. Is a re-Catholicization of Britain underway? The Catholic World Report, July 14, 2020.
Peter Pinedo. Washington Nationals pitcher Trevor Williams speaks out on Dodgers controversy. Catholic News Agency (CNA), June 14, 2023.KEEP READING
Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
April 7, 2023 – Year A
Readings: Is 52:13-53:12 / Ps 31 / Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9 / Jn 18:1-19:42
by Rev. Jay Biber, Guest Celebrant
There is a dimension to our faith that allows us to see and experience things in a way that’s deeper and contrary to the initial impression. For instance, the very name that we have for this day is Good Friday. How can that be? How can that be, this greatest chaos, the unimaginable? The unimaginable is not that God rose from the dead, the unimaginable part is God in Christ died. He really did, that’s the unimaginable. How could this happen? This absolute chaos, and we call it good.
The letter to the Hebrews was written late enough in the first and second generations of Christians, for them to have had some time to reflect as a community, to absorb this trauma, and to reflect on it and then begin to develop a vision.
In the reading we just heard, “Son though He was.” When we are called son or daughter in baptism, it means you’re an inheritor, you’re in the will. I guess we would say everyone is conceived a child of God from that moment on. This familial relationship, this being a son, this being an inheritor of God, comes with baptism. God willing, it doesn’t end there, but begins a long journey, a great adventure of life.
Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and when He was made perfect. But wasn’t He perfect the whole time? In His mission and role as the Son of the Father, the first begotten of the Father, the mission becomes perfected in the obedience to the Father’s plan. The Father says this is what has to be done.
These people I love are yelling at me right now, are shouting insults at me right now, are denying they know me right now. To bring these people whom I’ve loved from the beginning, to bring these people back up on the rails, back on track: This is the perfection. John even uses the word glory.
When I hear the word glory, I assume he must be talking about the Resurrection or maybe the Ascension. That’s the glory. But no, when John writes about glory – “I will draw all people to me” — that’s not at the Ascension, that’s on the cross, the perfection of obedience. When He was made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.
How unusual is this faith? We can’t really wish anyone a “Happy Good Friday.” Yet this is the day the work gets done. It’s a work that gets done not only so that we can benefit from it, so that we can take the fruits of it and be nourished and grow up in it and become an adult in it and become mature in it and go through a whole life with it as the mysteries continuously unfold and more will be revealed, always more will be revealed.
It’s not just so that we can benefit from it. The strange part is the work gets done so we can do it. We become perfected by that openness, by that obedience to the will of God. Accomplish in me, Lord, what You will. Accomplish in me, Lord, what You will, and let me get out of the way so You’re free to do what needs to be done.
What is so good about this day is of course we see disaster; we see the emptiness of it. Did you notice in the liturgy that there was no singing when we came in today? There was no singing because of the day. You realize something different is going on right now, and it is. But it’s a great gift.
I believe that if you can imagine it, you just say, Lord, I haven’t got this figured out now, and I’ll never get it completely figured out. But somehow, I’m looking at You and Your suffering. I’m thinking of the scourges, I’m thinking of the crown of thorns, I’m thinking of Peter’s denial, I’m thinking of the apostles running away. No illusions, but in that is Your glory. and when my heart becomes shaped over the years along Your lines, maybe I’ll be able to do something like that. because I will have morphed through Your grace into You.
I was talking to a parent up in Lexington a couple of days ago, and one of the kids is having a hard time and just feels that it’s impossible to be good enough for God. It’s funny how conscience works. I suspect parents can identify with this. With one child something happens, and it goes right by. With the other one, the same word is said, and it sinks in deep, and it alters things.
Similarly, I’ve seen over the years people who have a particularly keen conscience. We use the word scrupulosity when it really goes to the far end and becomes a serious problem. But some have a greater conscience than others and have a deeper sense that whatever their sin is, it is so serious and irredeemable that not even God can touch it.
This is what happened to Judas, as we hear in Matthew’s gospel. He felt that somehow his sin was greater than God’s grace could ever be. His sin was greater than the divine mercy could ever be, and so, he acted accordingly in his hopelessness.
Remember that God didn’t wait until you’re perfect to love you. That’s what we learned today. God didn’t wait for you to be perfect to love you. Yes, Good Friday is very good, because, as St. Paul says, nothing can keep us from the love of God.KEEP READING
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 15, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 49:3, 5-6 / Ps 40 / 1 Cor 1:1-3 / Jn 1:29-34
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today our gospel reading relates the beginning of the public life of Jesus. Christmas is over. The child is grown up. He has become a man and is baptized in the waters by John the Baptist. This is a sign of His oneness with all of humanity. He is indeed the Messiah; true God and true man.
Today we hear John the Baptist testifying that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and Son of Man. Jesus is walking by and John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He doesn’t say, “Behold the Messiah.” He doesn’t say, “Behold the Son of God.” Instead, he says, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
Lambs are very important to a shepherd people. Of course, we think of the lamb most of all when Jesus says that He is the shepherd, and the lambs hear His voice and follow Him.
This, however, is not what John the Baptist has in mind. What John has in mind is something much deeper, something much more important. He’s telling his followers that this is the sacrificial lamb offered at the time when the people were under the slavery of Egypt. The lamb was offered that terrible night, with its blood placed upon the doorpost of all the children of Israel. The lamb became the sacrifice by which all of them were freed. This is the lamb who is the sacrificial lamb. This is the Messiah who does not come with great armies. This is the Messiah who comes to us as a sacrificial lamb, and as John says, who offers His entire life so that sins may be forgiven.
The word, sin, is very much used, but does not exist in any other language except Hebrew. This word is a gift of the Jewish people, who recognize something very important in its use. We think of sin as something that offends the ten commandments. It’s not that. We think of sin as something terrible that other people fall into.
Very seldom do we ourselves sin, because we think it is a series of activities against laws. It’s true that if you break a law, you break a commandment. If you break a commandment, that commandment is the law of God and therefore you have sinned. But that is not what sin means.
Sin is a very interesting word. It really means that you have failed to love. God has given you His love, and you have turned your back on Him. God has given you Jesus, and He becomes a lamb led to the slaughter to show you the depth of God’s love and to help you understand that when we say, “I have sinned,” we have not broken a commandment. Rather, we have broken a promise. We have broken a person. We have nailed Him to the cross.
Sin is a failure to care, a failure to love. It is not meaningful to simply say, I broke the sixth commandment, or the tenth commandment, etc. When you sin, you break a heart, not only the heart of Jesus, but the heart of the person that you have sinned against. This is why it is such an important word.
When Jesus enters the waters, He becomes one with us, walking with us through life, feeling the things we feel and hoping the things we hope. He is every bit a human being. When He does this, He’s coming so that He might take away all sin. For if sin is a sin against the love of God, Jesus redeems us by His great love, not only for God, His father, but also for all of us. It is in the love of Jesus that we are forgiven, for He never held it against us. He never went away and hid, waiting for an apology.
Sometimes we think a confessional is where our sins are forgiven. Forgiveness, however, begins in the heart of Jesus and there is no sin that Jesus Himself does not immediately forgive, because His love is so great. When you go to confession, you come in contact, not with the judgement of God and being forgiven. Instead, you should come to understand that when Jesus offered Himself on the cross for all mankind, the greatest love that a God-made man could offer His father, that all was forgiven to all for all.
This is the message that the gospel teaches us, and this is the message that we often forget. Remember, that when we sin against each other, it is not merely the breaking of a rule, regulation, or law. It is the breaking of another person’s heart. We must realize that Jesus came only to love. That’s why He said, “I have not come to judge, but only to teach you how to love.”
Jesus tells us today that He is the Lamb of God. This means, of course, that He is the shepherd, and we are the lambs. Through Him, we are to become the lambs of God, to become the sons and daughters of God, or as it says in the readings, the children of God. The one thing that God calls us to do each day is to love. Jesus teaches us each day that there is only love and that, if we sin, we take ourselves out of the one thing that is necessary for our heart, soul, and lives: the fullness of God’s love flowing through us into each other.
This is why Jesus came and why today we say with great gratitude, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He takes away everything that stands between us and the love of a loving Father, who has given us Jesus to show the way and, as mentioned in the gospel today, fills us with His Holy Spirit.KEEP READING
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 30, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Wis 11:22-12:2 / Ps 145 / 2 Thes 1:11-2:2 / Lk 19:1-10
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Benjamin Franklin was a scientist, inventor, political philosopher. Before I could get my citizenship, I had to study a little bit about the history of the United States of America. He helped draft and signed the Declaration of Independence and was the first postmaster of the US.
One day Benjamin Franklin met a lady walking along with her young son. She asked him, “Why is it that the riches of the world bring unhappiness?” He didn’t answer her. Instead, he got an apple from a basket and gave it to the boy. The little boy was very happy and ate the apple immediately. Franklin gave him another, and then another one, until both of the boy’s hands had three apples. Since he couldn’t hold them all, an apple eventually fell to the ground. The boy cried loudly.
Franklin then said to the mother, “You see, when the boy had two apples, which he could comfortably carry, he was happy. But look, when he had too many to carry, and one of them dropped, he started crying. So also with wealth.”
Zacchaeus was a wealthy man, but he was lonely. He had everything, but he was not happy. He was at the top of his profession, but he was despised by his fellow men.
His parents named him “Zacchaeus.” Jewish names have meanings that correspond to one’s personality, just like when we give names to our children. For example, Gabriel means “man of God.” Dominic means “belonging to the Lord.” Irene means “peace.” Ann means “grace,” Corazon means “heart.” The name Zacchaeus means “just” or “clean.” Yet, when the people of Jericho heard the name “Zacchaeus,” they did not think of a just man or a “Mr. Clean” guy, but a detestable and dishonest man.
Tax collectors were despised and considered outcasts, traitors, puppets of the Romans, no doubt because they accumulated great wealth at the expense of others. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and was much hated by all the people. Beyond collecting his quota that he turned into the state, he surcharged the poor and pocketed the extra money that he collected.
The chances of Zacchaeus entering God’s Kingdom were minimal. No self-respecting Jew would endorse his application. Even Jesus Christ pointed out that a rich person would find it very difficult to enter the Kingdom. The rich young man who actually led a clean life was not able to follow; how much more difficult for Zacchaeus, who had sold his soul for money?
Yet Jesus, in today’s gospel, singled out Zacchaeus for the honor of staying at his home. Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Zacchaeus, hurry down, for I must stay at your house today.” Imagine that Jesus said to you, “I must stay at your house today.” How would you react to such an invitation? Would you be excited or embarrassed? Would your home be ready? Would you be personally ready to welcome Jesus into your home?
Why would Jesus single him out? It is because Zacchaeus needed God’s merciful love and forgiveness. In his encounter with Jesus, he found more than he imagined possible. He shows the depth of his repentance by deciding to give up half of his goods to the poor, and to use the other half for making restitution for fraud. This shows how radical his conversion was, coupled with restitution. Just like in the sacrament of Reconciliation, after we have confessed all our sins to the priest, the priest will advise us to return what we have taken, restore the dignity of others that we have destroyed, and more. Then he gives penitential works to restore what we have destroyed.
We have another reason why Jesus singled out Zacchaeus. It is because in Zacchaeus’s entire life, he was always looking down for money and business. His focus is on profit and worldly pleasure. But he was asked to rise up and see that the love and forgiveness of God is vast, and that he has the opportunity to change himself for the better.
When he was at the top of the sycamore tree, Jesus asked him to go down. It means that we should not always be at the top and seeing heaven, but to go down and continue doing the mission that Jesus has given us.
There are people who keep their distance from Jesus. They call themselves Christians, but they do not get involved. They are in the tree observing all that is going on in the Church. They are liberal with their comments, generous with their recommendations, and always ready with advice. But they will stay there at a safe distance, looking down from a sheltered observation point.
Today’s gospel ends with a beautiful saying of Jesus: The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost. Jesus Christ is telling us that He seeks the sinners and the lost in order to offer them, and us, salvation. Such is the great love of God. The sinners have an important place in His plan of salvation. But seeking God does not mean that we need to wait until He finds us. Choosing to hide ourselves from Him never helps us in the process. Life is, and should be, a constant search for God.
So, answering the call of Jesus means to come down from our position as observer. We cannot be spectators. We have to join the community and participate in its activities. We have to let Jesus enter the inner sanctuary of our personal lives.
As we continue the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us pray for those who do not have the Lord God dwelling in their homes. Let us ask the Lord to reach out to these souls so that they, too, may partake in the universal salvation plan of God.KEEP READING
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 11, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Ex 32:7-11, 13-14 / Ps 51 / 1 Tm 1:12-17 / Lk 15:1-32
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today’s readings from the Holy Scriptures teach us about the overflowing mercy and forgiveness of God. They also talk about sin and repentance, confession, and communion, courtesy of the prodigal son and his father.
We heard in the First Reading that when Moses was on Mount Sinai, the chosen people were acting perversely. They had cast for themselves an image of a cow, were worshipping and making sacrifices to it, and giving credit to the idol for bringing them out of slavery in the land of Egypt. With that, the Lord became very upset. God was prepared to destroy them all. But Moses implored God to have mercy and forgiveness for the sinful people. Hearing the plea of Moses, God changed His mind and decided not to destroy the people as He had originally planned.
In the Second Reading, we also heard how the mercy and forgiveness of God sanctified St. Paul, because he had sincerity of heart. By the mercy of God, St. Paul, formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence, was made an example to those who would come to believe in Jesus for eternal life.
Today’s gospel also speaks of the mercy and forgiveness of God. In this case, three parables are given to declare the magnitude of the mercy of God. These are the parables of the lost sheep, of the lost coin, and of the Prodigal Son. Many tax collectors and sinners came to Jesus, and this drew criticism on the part of the Pharisees and the Scribes. They grumbled because Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.
Brothers and Sisters, let us meditate on the parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable begins with a request. The prodigal son says to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that should come to me.” Here we are given our first insight concerning sin: Sin always involves the misuse of something good.
For example, sins of the tongue, like gossip, slander, swearing, and lying, all involve the misuse of something good: namely, the God-given gift of speech. Sins of the flesh are committed when people misuse the good gift of sexuality, which the Lord intends for marriage only.
Notice that in the story, the younger son requested the share of the estate that was coming to him. He was not making an improper request. He was not asking for something evil. He was requesting something good, which his father was planning to give him anyway. His sin came when he misused the good gift and squandered his inheritance on what the gospel calls “dissolute living,” a life of dissipation.
The next interesting point is that he does all this squandering in a distant land. I don’t think that was a coincidence. When people commit sins that they intend to repent of, they desperately try to run away from the Heavenly Father, just like this boy tried to run away from his father. Those of us who commit sins make every effort to keep them secret, so that nobody knows about them. But that is a very big mistake because, eventually, all sins catch up with us, as the boy’s sins eventually caught up with him. In the parable we are told that he spent all his money, and then a famine broke out, and he found himself with nothing to eat. He ended up dining with pigs.
There we have another insight concerning sin: Sin turns us into slaves. This is something that people who have an addiction know a great deal about. A recovering alcoholic will tell you that when he started to drink excessively, he was acting in total freedom. But eventually it came to the point where he could not stop. He had become a slave to his sinful behavior.
Finally, praise God, the prodigal son wakes up and comes to his senses. He repents, but notices that his repentance is rather superficial. He has what the Church would call “imperfect contrition.” Imperfect contrition is when we are sorry for our sins because we fear the consequences, especially Hell. Perfect contrition is when we are sorry for the best possible reason: because we have offended our Heavenly Father, whom we love above all things. But notice that his father still forgives him. The Church teaches us that our Father will do the same for us. He will forgive us our serious sins if we go to Confession with at least imperfect contrition in our hearts.
Once the prodigal son is forgiven, he is able to share once again in the family meal. For us, that is symbolic of the Eucharist. That is why the Church teaches us that, if we have mortal sin, we cannot receive the Eucharist again until we have gone to Confession and confessed our sin.
The Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, has a beautiful description of sin: Sin is before all else an offense against God and a rupture in our communion with Him. At the same time, it damages communion with the Church. For this reason, conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
Mother Theresa had advice for living a good life. She said:
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of having selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
So, as we continue our Eucharistic celebration today, let us pray for those who have fallen away from the grace of God, so that divine mercy and forgiveness may reach out to them before it’s too late. May their ears be open so that they will hear that Jesus is welcoming them back home.KEEP READING
Fifth Sunday of Lent
April 3, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Is 43:16-21 / Ps 126 / Phil 3:8-14 / Jn 8:1-11
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There is a little-known sidelight to the story of the woman taken in adultery. After the Pharisees dragged her before Jesus for sentencing, and Jesus says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” a stone comes flying from the crowd. Jesus looks up, frowns slightly, smiles a little and says, “If you don’t mind, mother, I am only trying to make a point here.”
In one way, this is a good joke because it shows the natural tendency of good people like the Pharisees and the Scribes to throw stones at those they consider sinners. In other ways it is a bad joke because it tries to paint sinless Mary in the colors of sinful humanity. The last person who would want to throw a stone at the woman caught in adultery would be the Blessed Virgin Mary, God’s most favored one. According to the joke, Jesus says He’s trying to make a point here. So now the question is: What is the point that Jesus is trying to make? Why would the Church give us this story for our spiritual nourishment on the last Sunday before Holy Week, when we commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus on our behalf?
The story of the woman caught in adultery had a very curious history in the early Church. Many ancient Bibles do not have it. Some have it as part of a different chapter in the Gospel of John. Still others have it as part of the Gospel of Luke. Some scholars think that originally this story could have been part of Luke’s Gospel. Why? Because it reflects themes that are dear to Luke, such as concern for sinners, interest in women, and the compassion of Jesus.
The fact that it is missing in some early Bibles and found in different locations in others suggest that some early Christian communities had removed this story from the Bible. When later Christians tried to put it back into the Bible, they were no longer sure of its original location.
So why would anyone want to remove this story from the Bible? There are people who cannot understand why Jesus would sympathize with a convicted adulterer. After all, it is decreed in the Bible that such offenders should be put to death. (Lv 20:10)
Does this not seem like an obstruction of justice? What do you think? Perhaps you remember the case of Karla Faye Tucker, a self-confessed repentant murderer who was executed in Texas in February 1998. Many Christian organizations, including the Vatican, pleaded for her pardon, yet her execution was carried out. Supporters of the death penalty argued that no one should interfere with the course of justice. Well, Jesus just did in our gospel today.
There are people who think that compassion and leniency are a sign of weakness. These are probably the kind of Christians who tried to suppress the story by removing it from the Church’s Bible. How could Christians read this marvelous story of Jesus’ compassion and still take a hardline stand with regard to correctional services?
The answer lies in how one reads the story. Some people identify themselves with the Pharisees when they read it. Their interest is in how to deal with other people who break the law. Their answer is usually that justice should be allowed to run its due course.
Now you can begin to understand, in the history of the Church, why the medieval Church did not see anything wrong with burning at the stake convicted witches like Joan of Arc. Didn’t the Bible say that no one who practices sorcery should be allowed to live? That is the law; that is justice. Our only duty is to implement it.
But when we read this story, identifying ourselves, not with the Pharisees, but with the woman herself, then we begin to see the story for the good news that it really is. Like the woman, we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Like her, we all deserve death. Why? Because the scripture says “the wages of sin is death.” But when Jesus comes into the picture, He overturns our death sentence. He sets us free with His words of absolution: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more. “
The story shows how Jesus stands up for sinners before the law. In doing so, he draws upon Himself the hostility of the hardline officers, who will eventually arrest Him and give Him a taste of their justice. The Church puts this story before us today, so that we can see ourselves in the sinner woman, whom Jesus saves from sure death, at the risk of attracting death to Himself.
This season of Lent urges us not to be judgmental of others. We are all sinners and in need of God’s mercy and grace. Only God has the right to judge people, because He alone is perfect.
Somebody said that God Himself does not propose to judge a person until he’s dead. So why should we judge him?
Sometimes people ask me, “Father, is it wrong to judge?” Of course, the answer is: It depends on how you deal with judgment.
There are two ways of judging people: with compassion or without mercy. If we judge the person with compassion, just like Jesus did, then we are doing the right thing. If we judge the person without mercy, without compassion, then we end up like the Scribes and the Pharisees in our gospel today. They want the woman to be stoned to death. Or we end up being like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He could not accept his brother for having squandered his parents’ money and property.
Someone asked me yesterday, “Father, what if I tell my children, “Don’t go with a drug addict.’ Am I judging the drug addict?”
Of course, that is a different story. Your intention is not to judge the drug addict, but to keep your children away from drugs.
Or how about Putin, who killed all these innocent people? Are we not going to judge him? Judge him with mercy. That is what Jesus wants us to do. Mother Teresa of Calcutta reminds us of this when she said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
So perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is this: When do you judge and act like the Pharisees and the Scribes? Are there times when you judge others because of your biases and prejudices? Are there times when you judge others even though you only know a little about the person?
If you are a person who judges others, try reflecting on these pieces of advice:
1) Never judge someone without knowing the whole story. You may think you understand, but you don’t.
2) Never judge someone by the opinion of others. Often, we are victims of this kind of judgment. We easily listen, especially when the person telling us the judgment or the criticism is someone we trust, or someone who is close to us.
3) Every single person on the planet has a story. Don’t judge people before you truly know them. The truth might surprise you. Sometimes it is very easy to judge a person by their face, especially if the person’s face is ugly or he looks like a madman. But we may end up realizing that the person leads a very saintly life. And there are people who look like saints, but the way they lead their life is the other way around.
4) Don’t judge a person without fully understanding them. Just because you and the person don’t agree doesn’t mean you’re right.
We must be conscious that the way we judge things is limited. Our minds, our intellect, is just limited. That’s why, in philosophy, only God is an unlimited being. He’s the only perfect being. We, created beings, are all limited beings. Even our thinking is limited; the way we say things; the way we understand things; the way we hear things is limited, and prone to mistakes. If we are aware of that from the very beginning, then we end up realizing that we are not supposed to judge others right away. Jesus is telling us in our gospel today to judge others with compassion, with mercy, so that we won’t end up to be condemning.
We may be hounded by remorse for our past sins we have committed, like stealing, giving or accepting bribes, committing abortion, gossiping, making intrigues, or infidelity to one’s spouse. We feel we must do something more in order to make a balance of our spiritual account sheet. In short, make reparations.
So, this story is a fitting preparation for Holy Week. We see Jesus making the ultimate sacrifice to grant us clemency; we who are already sentenced to death by our sins.
As we prepare for Holy Week, let us thank Jesus for His mercy and love. And let us promise him that we shall commit ourselves to doing exactly as He tells us: To go and sin no more.KEEP READING
Third Sunday of Lent
March 20, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15 / Ps 103 / 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12 / Lk 13:1-9
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today is the Third Sunday of Lent. The season of Lent is a wakeup call for all of us, a time to be brutally honest with ourselves, so that we come to know how deeply we depend on God’s mercy and providence. We know that the God we worship and believe in has proven to be loving, forgiving, and saving throughout the history of our Faith.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells about a fig tree that never bears fruit. So, like any sensible farmer, the owner thinks it’s probably time to get rid of it, simply because it does not bear fruit. But the man who works in the field has a better idea: I’ll give it a big dose of loving care, then we’ll hope to see its branches bend under the weight of juicy figs.
That is exactly what Jesus does for us. He feeds us, not with fertilizer, but with His Own Body and Blood. He invites us to stop boasting and be humble and let Him gently point out what we are doing wrong.
A story is told of an eight-year-old boy named Jimmy, who was acting up. He refused to do what he was told to do and did everything he was told not to do. In desperation, his father finally sent him to bed before dessert was served. Just then, a neighbor dropped in. He always liked Jimmy, and after a while he asked the parents if he could talk to the boy.
With a prayer in his heart, he reminded the lad that his disobedience displeased his parents and made them sad. It especially displeased God. The boy began to cry. “What can I do?” The visitor called his parents, who listened with tears in their eyes, as Jimmy told them he was sorry.
What the visitor did for Jimmy, Jesus does for every one of us. That is the meaning of the story Our Lord tells us in our gospel today. The man who planted the fig tree is God the Father. The fig tree means the chosen people of God: you and me. And the vinedresser or the worker in the vineyard is Jesus.
In justice, God the Father decides to cut down the fruitless trees. Christ intercedes. He pleads and prays that we be given more time, that we be given another chance. For the sake of His Son, the Heavenly Father gives us another chance.
This is the story of our life with Christ. We have not borne fruit. We have not done what we were created to do. We have even done what God told us not to do. We have disobeyed His ten commandments. We have not produced. You can’t blame God for being dissatisfied.
He decides to remove us, but Christ intercedes. He intervenes. Christ steps between us and God and asks for another chance. Pleading for us is one of the principal tasks of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He asks for mercy for us. He gets us another chance. Not only does He beg His Father for forgiveness, Jesus begs for all the good things we need.
That is one reason why every official prayer of the Church, especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, ends with a plea: “Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord,” or some variation of this thought.
There is a rather famous painting that shows a young man playing chess with the devil. They are playing for possession of the young man’s soul. The painting portrays the devil as having just made a brilliant move. Chess players who studied the arrangement of the chess pieces in the painting feel immediate sympathy for the young man. He has been put in a hopeless situation. He has been led down a blind alley with no exit.
Paul Charles Morphy, a former world class chess player, became intrigued by the painting. One day, while studying the arrangement of the chess pieces, he saw something that no one else did. Excitedly, he cried out to the young man in the painting, “Don’t give up! You still have an excellent move left.” There is still hope.
The story fits in beautifully with the point Jesus makes in the parable of the fig tree today. Like the young man in the painting, the fig tree seems lost, then suddenly a ray of hope breaks through. Like the young man in the painting, the tree is not doomed after all; it gets a last minute reprieve. It gets a last minute second chance.
This is an important message for all of us. Because of Jesus, we are never doomed, no matter how bad things seem. Because of Jesus, there is still hope for us, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. Because of Jesus, there is always one more move left to make, no matter how late in the game it is.
This brings us to the most important point of all. How does all this apply to our lives in a very practical way? All of us, to some extent, are like the young man in the painting and like the fig tree in Jesus’ parable. All of us, at one time or another, have arrived at a point in life when it seemed that we were in a no-win situation. Perhaps some of us are at such a point in our lives right now. Perhaps some situation threatens to engulf us and overwhelm us. Perhaps some relationship threatens to destroy everything we believe in. Perhaps some problem has led us down a blind alley that seems to be a dead end.
It’s right here that today’s gospel has an important message for all of us. Because of Jesus Christ, we are never doomed, no matter how bad things seem. Because of Jesus, we always have one more move left. Because of Jesus, there is still hope for us, no matter what the situation.
This is the lesson that’s contained in today’s scripture. This is the good news that we celebrate in today’s liturgy. And this is the message that God wants us to carry back into our world to share with others.KEEP READING
Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
December 26, 2021 — Year C
Readings: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 / Ps 128 / Col 3:12-21 / Lk 2:41-52
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
On the first Sunday after Christmas, the Church always celebrates the Feast of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. They are the number one model of a family that follows God’s will. That’s why this Sunday’s reading features three essential elements of a Christian or sacred family. (more…)KEEP READING
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 31, 2021 — Year B
Readings: Dt 6:2-6 / Ps 18 / Heb 7:23-28 / Mk 12:28b-34
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There is a story told of a man who was liberated from a concentration camp in WWII. He was called “Wild Bill Cody.” They called him that because the man had an unpronounceable seven-syllable Polish name and a handlebar moustache like the ones on Old West heroes.
While the rest of the Jewish prisoners were emaciated and haggard, Wild Bill was in excellent condition. Because of his amazingly good health, the Americans assumed that he had been in prison a very short time. When his papers came through, however, they showed that Wild Bill had lived on a starvation diet and slept in airless, disease-ridden barracks for six years – just like the rest of the prisoners. But Wild Bill had done it without physical or mental deterioration. (more…)KEEP READING