First Sunday of Advent
December 3, 2023 — Year B
Readings: Is 63:16B-17, 19B; 64:2-7 / Ps 80 / 1 Cor 1:3-9 / Mk 13:33-37
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Advent is a unique time in the liturgical calendar. It is a sacred time set aside for us to journey in faith with the Church as she prepares to celebrate the birth of Christ. In these weeks, as we look deeper into our hearts and into the heart of our Faith, we may experience a mixture of conflicting emotions: joy and sorrow; hope and fear; thanksgiving and remorse; anticipation and dread.
The readings on this Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, stir up many such thoughts and feelings. The gospel today gives us strong and somewhat alarming words from Jesus: “Be watchful. Be alert. You do not know when the time will come.”
We know that the Lord is coming, but we do not know the time. This can make us uncomfortable. We do not want to be caught off guard or unprepared for what we know is coming. We may even feel some anxiety about what we anticipate. On the other hand, we are also quite capable of putting things out of our minds. We know what will come, but we simply do not think about it. We get lulled into complacency, procrastination, or distraction. With His strong words Jesus jolts us out of our complacency by reminding us that He may come at any time, so we need to be constantly vigilant.
There is a story about a man named John, who was always waiting for something. He was waiting for the right time to start his business. He was waiting for the right person to marry. And he was waiting for the right moment to retire.
One day, John was talking to his friend, Anna, about his waiting. Anna listened patiently, and then she said, “You know, John, you’re always waiting for something, but what if you just started living your life now? What if you stopped waiting for the perfect moment and just started doing what you wanted to do?”
John thought about what Anna said, and he realized that she was right. He had been waiting for so long that he had forgotten what it was like to live in the present moment. John decided to start living his life now. He started his business; he married Anna; and he retired when he was ready. He was happy that he had finally stopped waiting and started living.
The lesson of this story is that we should not wait for the perfect moment to start living our lives. We should start living now, and we should enjoy the journey.
The gospel reading for this Sunday is Mark 13:33-37. In this passage, Jesus tells His disciples to be watchful and alert, because they do not know when the Son of Man will come. This is a reminder to us that we should always be prepared for the coming of the Lord. We should live our lives in such a way that we are ready to meet Him at any time. We should not wait for the perfect moment to start living our lives. We should start living now, and we should enjoy the journey. And we should always be prepared for the coming of the Lord.
Jesus entrusts us with His gifts and grace, and He expects us to be ready for action and prepared for the future. Our call is not only to believe, but to watch; not only to love, but to watch; not only to obey, but to watch.
What are we to watch for? The greatest event to come is the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time, but the kind of watching Our Lord has in mind is not a passive or “wait and see what happens” approach to life. The Lord urges us to be vigilant and to pray actively. One way to be prepared for the coming of the Lord is to live our lives in a state of grace. This means that we should be free from sin and in a state of communion with God. We can achieve this by confessing our sins regularly and receiving the Eucharist.
Another way to be prepared for the coming of the Lord is to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to Him. This means that we should live according to His commandments and strive to do good in the world.
We should also be watchful and alert for the signs of the times. These signs include the increasing violence and hatred in the world; the environmental crisis; and the growing number of people who are suffering. When we see these signs, we should be reminded that the end times are near and that we should be prepared for the coming of the Lord.
We should not be afraid of the coming of the Lord. Instead, we should rejoice, for He is the one who will save us from sin and death.
While we wait, we have work to do. Like the man who put his servants in charge of his house, Jesus puts us in charge of His house, which is both the Church and the world. We all have something to do in preparation for His return, as He has left each with his own work. Jesus makes it clear that His message is not only for the apostles but for all of us. “What I say to you I say to all: Watch.”
St. Paul, in the second reading, reminds us that our readiness for the Lord is not something we accomplish, but a gift of grace that we are to welcome. We do not need to fear the Lord’s coming, for although we are sinners, we have been enriched in every way. Thus, we can rejoice in anticipation of the Lord’s return. As St. Paul says with great confidence, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As we begin the holy season of Advent, we are not relying on our own human strength, but on His divine strength. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ Himself is the source of our hope and joy.
And so, as we continue to celebrate our Mass, let us pray that we will always be prepared for the coming of the Lord. May we live our lives in a state of grace in a way that is pleasing to Him, and watchful and alert for the signs of the times.
May Jesus Christ be praised.KEEP READING
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!
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
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 15, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 25:6-10a / Ps 23 / Phil 4:12-14, 19-20 / Mt 22:1-14
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
The world is full of opportunities knocking on our doors, just waiting for us to open them. It is full of opportunities for us to live life to the fullest. However, they are not always present. We must seize the opportunity while we still have the time and the opportunity, or else we will end up blaming ourselves, not others.
An invitation is an example of an opportunity knocking on our door, waiting to be opened. But rather than getting up to open the door, we sometimes whine about the noise.
There was a story of a young man who went away to other places in search of fortune. A few years later, he returned to his home with trucks loaded with riches. “Now I’m going to play a trick on my relatives and friends,” he said to himself. He donned some ragged clothes and went to see his cousin Mike first. “I’m your long lost cousin,” he said. “I’m back home after several years in other places. Just look at me, how miserable I am. May I stay with you for a while?” he said. Mike said, “I’m sorry, but there’s no room here for you.”
The man visited some more of his relatives and friends, but he was not accepted by any of them. So he decided to return to where he had left his riches, dressed himself in luxurious clothes, rode through this place with a large entourage of servants, purchased all the businesses about to close down, and began to build a majestic mansion. After only a few days, the news of his riches had spread all over the place.
“Who could have imagined it?” asked one of the relatives and friends who had rejected him. “If we had only known, we would have acted differently. But it is too late now; we’ve missed the riches.”
The readings today show us what joy there is in accepting God’s invitation and what sorrow there is in refusing. The word of God challenges us to examine our own response to His call. God extends to us the greatest invitation we will ever receive: Come to the feast. Come to the banquet of eternal life. Sooner or later, each of us has to give Him an answer. Our RSVP can either be “Yes, I’m coming,” or “No, I will not come.” The choice is ours and it has eternal consequences.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells a parable directed to the chief priest and the elders. A king arranges a wedding banquet for his son, and sends out his servants to call the guests. Strangely, the invited guests flatly refuse to come. When the king tries again, those being invited treat the servants shamefully, even violently.
When we first read this, it may sound absurd. People simply don’t act that way when they are invited to a royal feast. Why would anyone respond so negatively when being invited to something so wonderful? But the parable is not about an earthly wedding feast. It is about the Kingdom of God. Jesus is exposing the disgraceful ways in which we respond to Him. Like the invited guests, sometimes we simply refuse for no logical reason. We do not want to be bothered. When we hear God’s call, His words, His commandments, His prompting in the heart, we reject it, without even considering it. Other times, we consider other things more important right now: our farm or business, or any number of high priority matters. God’s will is simply not that important to us.
Then there are times when we have an outrageous reaction to God’s invitation. We do not literally kill the messenger, but the word of truth can make us hostile and defensive. When we are called to repentance, we get angry. We act as if we have been imposed upon, or insulted, or threatened. Interiorly, we fight, complain, ridicule, resist. What at first seems to be a rather absurd reaction by some strange people in a parable becomes, upon closer inspection, a disconcerting reflection of our own hearts.
God truly is like a king who wants to fill His banquet hall with guests. The blessings He has in mind for us are symbolized by the glorious feast so beautifully described in the first reading. The prophet Isaiah foretells a feast of rich foods and choice wines, which the Lord of Hosts will provide for all peoples.
There is more to this feast than good food. This is a prophecy of eternal life. God promises that He will destroy death forever. The veil of mourning that enshrouds all peoples and nations, the tears that are shed by every generation, the wave of death that ensnares every person will be destroyed.
What God is inviting us to is a victory celebration: a feast of everlasting rejoicing, a life without tears, or mourning, or death; everything we mean by the word Heaven.
In our Lord’s time, wedding invitations went out well in advance, and were accepted definitively. The final call just before the event occurred was a mere formality. It would be an unspeakable insult to decline when the final call arrived. They had already accepted and had made their firm commitment. And so the master in the parable sends out messengers to the highways and byways, that is, to everyone, respectable or not. All are invited. From now on the invitation is being made, not to a select and exclusive minority of privileged people, but to the wider public forum, to all people. All who respond are welcome. There is no special preference anymore. Sinners, outcasts, gentiles—and you—are all invited.
Those accepting the invitation are not any better than those who declined. It’s just that the poor and the outcasts, not having any other options and seeing what a rare gift this was, accepted and attended. Again, it reminds us not to be complacent or superior, as all of us are truly blessed to be invited.
This parable reminds us that this invitation is for all of us. But the invitation can be refused. The kingdom is open to all, but guaranteed to none. We don’t earn the kingdom, but we sadly can decline it, which would be madness.
One final thought: The waifs and strays enter the banquet, but then one gets kicked out for not wearing a wedding garment. It seems unfair at first glance. Consider, however, that although the invitation is for all, acceptance means a change of standards and values. These are symbolized by being clothed in the garment that resembles and represents the baptismal garment of goodness and Christ-like living. We must wear this robe with devotion and humility, keeping the Gospel values of Christ in our hearts, very central and very safe.KEEP READING
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
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 1, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ez 18:25-28 / Ps 25 / Phil 2:1-11 / Mt 21:28-32
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today’s gospel is a parable about the contrasting attitudes of two sons. The first son said no, but after he came to his senses, he did his father’s wish. The second son said yes, but later, he did nothing. The meaning of this parable is crystal clear: The Jewish leaders are people who said that they would obey God and then did not. The tax collectors and the prostitutes are those who said that they would go their own way and then took God’s way.
There was a minister who was walking down the street, when he came upon a group of about a dozen boys, all of them between ten and twelve years of age. The group surrounded a dog. Concerned lest the boys were hurting the dog, he went over and asked, “What are you doing with that dog?” One of the boys replied, “This dog is just an old neighborhood stray. We all want him, but only one of us can take him home, so we have decided that whichever one of us can tell the biggest lie will get to keep the dog.”
Of course, the reverend was taken aback. “You boys shouldn’t be having a contest telling lies,” he exclaimed. He then launched into a ten-minute sermon against lying, beginning, “Don’t you boys know it is a sin to lie?” and ending with, “Why, when I was your age, I never told a lie.” There was a dead silence for about a minute. Just as the reverend was beginning to think he had gotten through to them, the smallest boy gave a deep sigh and said, “Alright, give him the dog.”
I think, brothers and sisters, we all find ourselves guilty at times of stretching the truth, sometimes innocently at first, but over time this can begin to affect our relationships. For instance, we have all known someone at some point who has a habit of saying one thing but doing another. I think that can be a frustrating experience over time.
The common question for today’s gospel is: Who is better between these two sons: the one who said no, but at the end fulfilled his father’s wish, or the one who said yes, but later did nothing? Maybe our answer would be: the one who said no, but in the end did fulfill his father’s wish.
The key to the correct understanding of this parable is that it is not really praising anyone. We have to admit that neither of these is an acceptable way of conduct. Neither was better than the other, in the sense that the two sons both caused the father pain and sorrow. The one caused pain at the beginning and the other one at the end. Neither of the two was the kind of son to bring full joy to his father. Both could have been better sons by giving a wholehearted Yes, spontaneously and joyfully, and by carrying out the order efficiently, and not the other way around, by which the No of the first son turned into Yes, and the Yes of the second one became a No.
The true Christian should be better than both: What he says, he does. There should be consistency in his words and actions. What he teaches is what he acts.
The readings this Sunday pack a powerful message and tell us very clearly that we have to have a healthy Christian moral life. This healthy Christian moral life is founded on three pillars.
The first pillar is the assurance of grace. Our God who is gracious is a forgiving God. His assurance of grace to us is this: He who has chosen to renounce all his sins shall certainly live (Ez 18:27). This grace is so insistent that by its force many can undo change. In other words, we must develop our friendship with God and follow Christ faithfully.
In one of the chapters of the book, The Purpose Driven Life, which was subtitled, Developing Your Friendship with God, it is said that, like any friendship, we must work at developing our friendship with God. The author gave at least four ways to develop our friendship with God.
First, we must choose to be honest with God. God does not expect us to be perfect, but He does insist on complete honesty. If we look at the Bible, friends of God were not perfect. If perfection were a requirement for friendship with God, we would never be able to be His friend. Fortunately, because of God’s grace, He is still the friend of sinners.
Second, we must choose to obey God in faith. Every time we trust God’s wisdom and do whatever He says, even when we don’t understand it, we deepen our friendship with God. We obey God, not out of duty, fear, or compulsion, but because we love Him and trust that He knows what is best for us.
Third, we must choose to value what God values. This is what friends do. They care about what is important to the other person. The more we become God’s friends, the more we will care about the things He cares about, like the redemption of His people. He wants all His lost children found. Friends of God tell their friends about God.
Fourth, we must desire friendship with God more than anything else. An example of this is David in the Book of Psalms, in which he uses words like “longing,” “yearning,” “thirsting,” “hungering,” etc.
The second pillar of Christian morality is the awesome gift of personal responsibility. This means that to be a person is to be responsible. To be responsible is to do one’s duty. God never excuses us from our duty. It is our duty to be consistent with what we say and do, as proclaimed by Jesus in today’s gospel. As Christians, there should be consistency in our words and actions. What we teach is what we act.
It is like the story of a businessman who was ordering five hundred ball point pens from an office equipment salesman. The latter was writing the order in his notebook, when suddenly the buyer exclaimed, “Hold on, I’m canceling the order.” The salesman left the store wondering why the wholesaler suddenly changed his mind. “Why did you suddenly cancel that order of ball point pens?” asked the surprised bookkeeper. The businessman angrily answered, “Because he talked about ball point pens to me for half an hour, using every convincing argument, and then he wrote out my order with a pencil. His practice did not agree with what he professed.”
In other words, a man’s words must be followed by action. No one likes a person of empty promises. “Seeing is believing” is what an old adage has said.
The third pillar of Christian moral life is self-forgetfulness. Self-forgetfulness is not a false humility. It is rather to consider the other person better than us, so that nobody thinks of his own interests, but the interests of others. Just like what St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians (Phil 2:3-4) in our second reading: Thinking of other people’s interests first, like the common good of the society, may entail larger considerations.
Neither of the two sons in the parable is a model of obedience, because both were imperfect. The perfect model is Jesus who, in obedience to the will of His Father, emptied Himself, accepting death, death on the cross, as St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians in the second reading today. It was the unwavering obedience of Jesus to the will of the Father that saved us.
Brothers and sisters, as we obey, we listen to the word He is speaking to us, either audibly or in silence, in a continuous encounter that entails “un-selfing,” just like Jesus emptying Himself.
May Jesus Christ be praised.KEEP READING
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 24, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 55:6-9 / Ps 145 / Phil 1:20c-24, 27a / Mt 20:1-16a
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
Today’s readings give us a message of hope in God’s love and mercy. No matter how badly or how often we choose sin, He is always, to quote King David (who wrote today’s Psalm 145), “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness” (Ps 145:8-9). However, today’s scripture passages are also a challenge. I’m going to focus on Jesus’ challenge to accept God’s justice and to reject envy when it seems unfair to us.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah encourages the “scoundrel and the wicked” to turn to God, for He is “generous and forgiving” (Is 55:7). Isaiah lived at a time when Israel earned what it was getting, which was a collapse of its culture and exile under Babylonia. Nevertheless, he encouraged his people to repent and return to God. Why was he kind to them? For the same reason we all should be kind to the lost, because he had a similar experience to the one we can have at every Mass if we remain spiritually awake.
Around the year 740 BC, Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting on a throne.…Seraphs were in attendance above him…And they called [out], ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord’” (Is 6:1-3). Isaiah said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! Then one of the seraphs flew to [him] holding a live coal [from the altar] …and touched his mouth with it, saying as he did so, ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed, and your sin is blotted out’” (Is 1:5-7).
Isaiah had experienced God’s unmerited grace from the heavenly altar while still a sinner. The hot coal that touched his mouth was a foreshadowing of Jesus in the Eucharist which we, too, receive from an altar that heaven touches. And like Isaiah, we know our uncleanness, but we trust that our sin is forgiven. Isaiah prayed, “Woe is me” in his conversion moment. We pray, “Lord I am not worthy…” Isaiah’s experience formed him in humility and in awe of God’s kindness and mercy; so too, should our Holy Communion. Isaiah’s conversion awakened compassion within him, helping him to accept God’s generosity and justice. Keep his experience in mind as well as your experience at Holy Communion, as we meditate on the gospel.
Recall St. Ignatius’s way of drawing near to God in scripture. You start by composing the place to center your mind, so it does not wander. Just prior to Jesus’ parable today, Matthew tells us that Jesus “left Galilee and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan” and that “great crowds followed Him, and he cured them there” (Mt 19: 1-2). To the twelve apostles and this crowd he tells today’s parable. Place yourself in this scene, caught up in the excitement of the crowd that hangs on this miracle worker’s every word.
Step two in this Ignatian exercise is to name the grace you want to receive from this encounter with God in the gospel. Maybe the grace we could ask for today is for Jesus to reveal where our heart and mind need further conversion.
Step three is to play out the scene. Jesus is telling a parable for the “kingdom of heaven,” saying it is like a landowner who went out to hire workers for his vineyard. Imagine you are a hard-working laborer and devout Jew listening to him.
We are intrigued by the story, wondering what Jesus is going to teach us by this parable. He says that the landowner went out about every three hours, from dawn until 5 PM, hiring laborers. As an ancient Jew, you know that a day’s wage is one denarius. So, when the landowner tells the laborers he hired at 9 o’clock, “I will give you a just wage” (Mt 20:4), you expected they would get less than those hired at earlier in the day.
However, the first paid were those hired at 5 o’clock, one hour before quitting time, and they received one denarius! Good for them, you think! You are excited to hear what the landowner is going to pay those who were hired at dawn. You are all for higher pay for laborers. But then you find yourself angry and aggravated that they also received one denarius. What the what?! You side with the laborer who complains how he worked all day and bore the heat, but still was paid the same as those hired late in the day. This is, in our eyes, an injustice. How quickly we forget Isaiah’s words that God’s ways are “so high” above ours.
Sitting there among the crowd, listening to Jesus, we recall the grace we prayed for when He began to preach, “Jesus, reveal where my heart and mind need further conversion.” Jesus continues his parable telling us how the landowner gently chastises the grumbling laborer. “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Are you envious because I am generous” (Mt 20: 13-16)?
Ah, there it is. Jesus gives us the grace we asked for. He suggests we are envious. Envy is one of the seven deadly sins. Does it lurk anywhere in my heart and mind? What is envy? The catechism shares that St. Augustine called envy “the diabolical sin…from it are born hatred, detraction (gossiping about someone’s serious sin), calumny (making false statements about someone), joy caused by the misfortune of neighbor, and displeasure caused by their prosperity.” (CCC 2539)
Let’s do an examination of conscience around envy. When a recent convert or revert surpasses us in his pursuit of Jesus or seems to gain a higher position in the parish to which we have belonged much longer, are we envious? If so, confess it. When a political figure or celebrity, co-worker, or classmate that we cannot stand falls from grace, do we enjoy that and share their misfortune or sin in gossip with others? If so, confess it.
Now, with social media there are many opportunities to fall into the sin of envy. Sin harms us and envy is no exception. It robs us of happiness and can cause us to become depressed or anxious. A youth counselor said when parents request she treat their child for anxiety or depression, before she will treat them, she has them put down the cell phone for six months. She says the majority of their anxiety is healed simply from doing that. So, with social media in mind, are we envious of someone else’s home or popularity or beauty or talent or career or spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend? If so, confess it.
The catechism reminds us that “the 10th commandment requires that envy be banished from the human heart.” (CCC 2538) So how can we combat it or “banish it from our heart?” We strive for humility. St John Chrysostom gave us one description of this, preaching, “Would you like to see God glorified by you? Then rejoice in your brother’s progress and you will immediately give glory to God.” (CCC 2540)
Whether we are average in every way and daydream about being amazing, or we are brilliant and talented and think we must do remarkable things to earn love and respect, we are in the same trap. This trap tempts us to the sin of envy, which at its root, is a desire to be great in the eyes of others, or as Deacon Barry said, “To be somebody.”
So, how do we think of ourselves as little, yet do so in a way in which, while we are smaller, we are stronger? In which we do not need the love and adulation of others, yet feel more loved and affirmed? Spoiler alert on the answer. There is no Harry Potter magic spell that makes this happen instantly. Healing our ego by shrinking it is a paradox that takes time living in faith, hope, and charity to achieve. But the peace and joy and freedom we gain are worth the effort!
Here are some ways to banish envy. Build up others every chance you get, especially in those ways a person does well, but probably has not thought about: “Good job getting your family to Mass every Sunday.” “I appreciate the questions you ask in class.” “You are so good with the elderly, or you are so generous with your smile.” “Thank you for working for our family today, even though you were exhausted.” “Dad, thank you for taking care of Mom even though she can no longer return your love.” “I love how even though you just came into the church this past Easter, you are finding ways to participate in our parish!”
Spiritually, we combat envy with regular prayer, all the better if coupled with meditation on scripture. Here are a couple of verses that remind you that you are somebody. From Isaiah 43, “I have called you by name…you are precious in my eyes,” and from Psalm 139, “I praise you because I am wonderfully made.”
If those are too sugary for you, enter into the scene of Jesus on the cross and ponder and talk to Him about one of his last seven utterances. In your browser type, “Last Seven Words on Hallow” and you get a wonderful meditation on them. Here are a couple of His last seven. To all us sinners, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and to the good thief who comes to “work in the vineyard” at the very end of his life, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
From the cross, Jesus, who is paradox incarnate, makes the small feel big and the big feel small. In doing so, he banishes envy from our heart. Do beggars envy other beggars? If not, can fellow beggars of God’s love and grace envy one another? When our hearts are full of gratitude and our spiritual fuel tank is filled, there is no room for envy or any other sin.
Our Lady was free from envy because she was full of grace, so let’s seek her intercession:
Mary, you were a poor teenager in a small town, a humble handmaid, friend of the elderly neighbor, a wife and then a widow, a mother who lost her son, and our mother. By your Son’s gift, you were “full of grace,” leaving no room for envy. Pray for us lowly ones here that we may see our greatness through your Son’s eyes so that we are free to rejoice in others’ blessings. Amen!
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
First Sunday of Lent
February 26, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7 / Ps 51 / Rom 5:12-19 / Mt 4:1-11
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
Lent can present us with seemingly impossible odds of success. Be transformed in holiness in forty days despite being surrounded by temptation, working or going to school or both, raising kids, fighting chronic illness or pain, being distant from God or lukewarm in our faith, and struggling with any number of vices or addictions. One might say that entering into Lent is like setting sail on a perilous voyage.
For this metaphor, the story of the intrepid British explorer, Ernest Shackleton, comes to mind. His famous voyage to Antarctica took place from 1915 to 1916. He and his crew were faced with nearly impossible odds of survival. His ship, the Endurance, was made of wood. The ice trapped it and then broke and sank it, leaving the crew in lifeboats. No one else knew they were in trouble, for they had no radio nor phone back then.
Death could snatch their lives in any number of ways including freezing, starving, or drowning. They ended up making their way to a tiny island off Antarctica. Shackleton and five others left the crew there to go get help. They sailed by the stars over eight hundred miles in an open lifeboat, to try to get to a remote, South Georgia whaling island. If they missed it, they would run out of supplies and die, as would their crew back in Antarctica. Each day their routines kept them alive and brought a little hope, but as the days dragged on, doubt crept back. And not just of surviving, but of being heroes and transformed men. We will finish their story later, but for now let’s apply their plight to our 2023 Lent.
There was a recruiting poster for Shackleton’s voyage that read more like something to run from than to sign up for. “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” Imagine if we had a recruiting poster for Lent. What would be on it?
It could read something like this, “Men and women wanted for a spiritual journey. No wages, facing your weaknesses, confessing your sins, long hours of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Returning unchanged…doubtful. Increased peace and holiness in event of success. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Maybe it is not as ominous as the Shackleton poster, but it is not exactly a picnic either.
And yet, just as Shackleton’s poster filled his ship with crew members, so too does Jesus’ Lenten invitation seem to fill Catholic churches on Ash Wednesdays. God made us to desire and seek out challenges that will transform us into a better person, so off we set sail on our Lenten voyage with an ashen cross on our foreheads.
Mondays through Saturdays during a good Lent can be rough at times. Knowing that where we are is not the best place we can be, no matter how good we may think it is, we go about our daily Lenten routine religiously. We pray extra with the daily Lenten readings on the USCCB website and with our Catholic apps like Hallow, iBreviary, and Laudate. We fast daily by practicing the virtue of temperance…no snacking between meals, less phone time, less gaming, less TV, less coffee… And we increase our acts of love using the grace from God’s word and the extra prayer and by making good use of the time freed up by abstaining from or minimizing non-essential things.
If you really go for it, if you really try to allow God to form you more into the person He created you to be, the person that will feel whole and at peace, then you will come to each Sunday needing healing and hope like Shackleton’s crew left behind on the island. Lenten Sundays are like repair and restocking islands along our Lenten voyage. Why? Because there is a good chance you will have a wounded ego, having stumbled in your Lenten promises. Good! Catholic author and scholar Mark Searle wrote, “Lenten penance may be more effective if we fail in our resolutions than if we succeed, for its purpose is not to confirm us in our virtue but to bring home to us our radical need for salvation (Ordo 68).”
In today’s gospel reading, we see Jesus, without using His divine power, overcome the same temptations with which Satan conquered Adam and Eve. Jesus uses God’s word and His faith in it. We can, too. The Church has set us up with the right scriptures. Read the daily readings daily. They prepare you to more fully receive the grace of the Sunday readings.
Here is what I am talking about. Next Sunday, the Second Sunday of Lent, possibly having stumbled, we will be encouraged by getting a sneak peek at the glory we are striving for in Lent, as we gaze upon Jesus’ glory in the Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John. On the third Sunday, when our water rations are running low, we stop at a water well and listen in on the conversation between the lonely Samaritan woman and Jesus. Her encounter with Him restores her relationships in town, heals her interior wounds, and gives her life new purpose. The fourth Sunday, when we are losing our way in the dark and rough seas, we witness Jesus open the eyes of the man “blind from birth (Jn 9:1).” By the fifth Sunday, we are really wearing down and think we cannot go on. We start to lose hope of changing until we behold Jesus calling Lazarus to come out of his tomb, from death to new life.
These stories are like when Shackleton, dying of thirst and cold on his eight-hundred-mile lifeboat voyage, saw kelp and sea birds and realized that, though he could not see it, land and help were not far away. The sixth Sunday we see palm branches and know our journey is nearing its end; it is Palm Sunday, and the Resurrection is only a week away.
The daily readings the first few weeks of Lent are meant to remind us that we are sinners that need a savior. Mark Searle points out that in the second half of Lent the readings shift from a focus on our weakness to the power of Christ to heal and to renew our lives.
What is your destination this Lent? What is the conversion Jesus is calling you to this year? What ominous, threatening invitation was on your recruiting poster on Ash Wednesday?
In today’s first reading, Eve looked at that forbidden fruit and saw that it was “pleasing to the eyes and desirable (Gn 3:6).” What forbidden fruit have you given in to? Maybe Jesus is calling you to research the Church’s teaching on a moral issue with which you disagree or have given up on such as divorce, fidelity in marriage, pornography, abortion, capital punishment, gay marriage, gender dysphoria, or schools teaching kids worldly morality? These are tough issues confronting all of us. Learn why the Church stands opposed to the world on these issues. She is our mother, and she has the wisdom of two thousand years of battling against sin under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
King David tried the forbidden fruit. Despite being his nation’s leader and above the law, when he committed the sins of adultery and murder, his life took a turn for the worse. David realized his sin because a friend pointed it out to him. His subsequent confession and recognition of God’s mercy is today’s Psalm 51.
A good daily Lenten routine would be to pray David’s words and make them your own, “My sin is before me always…Against you only have I sinned…A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” Jesus answers that prayer through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, confession, and Holy Communion. In baptism and confirmation, He gave us a new heart and a steadfast spirit; His heart and His spirit. In confession and Holy Communion, He renews them within us.
What happened to Shackleton’s crew, left stranded on that tiny island off Antarctica? For their daily routine, to keep them from the despair of the seemingly impossible odds and to make sure they were ready when the time for rescue came, they broke camp every day and packed to be ready to board the rescue ship. However, days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. And 105 days later, when they were thinking the daily routine was a waste of time, their captain appeared on a rescue ship and called out, “Are you all well?” And the crew called back, “All safe, all well!” Not a single crew member died.
While struggling to survive and to avoid falling into despair, the crew was not aware of all their captain was going through to save them. They were not aware of what he would endure and overcome out of loyalty to them. He sailed across eight hundred miles of freezing ocean in an open boat. Climbed a frozen mountain despite suffering from frost bite, skin ravaged by constantly wet clothing, and a tongue swollen from a lack of fresh water. He climbed down a freezing waterfall and crawled across cracking ice on a frozen lake. And astoundingly, did not stop to rest when he found shelter, food, and water, but set sail the very next day to go get his crew. He had to make four attempts to get to them, turned back by ice and other obstacles three times. On the fourth try he returned and saved them.
You know where I am going with this. Shackleton was just a man and he saved his whole crew against seemingly impossible odds. Jesus is God, infinitely powerful. He is our captain. How much more so can He help us overcome our weaknesses this Lent?
Here is how you succeed. Imitate Shackleton’s crew. Keep your daily routine and when you fail, start it again the very next day. Have a crewmate or accountability partner and touch base daily. Use the daily readings and prayer to remind you what Jesus is doing while you struggle through Lent. He did not abandon us. He literally suffered, died, and went to hell and back for us. Our captain is with us every day as we pray, fast, and love. And when we fail even in sometimes shameful ways, He is shoulder to shoulder with us. He knows what temptation is like. He knows what feeling God-forsaken and lost is like.
He does not just show us the way to personal transformation. He IS the way. He IS our north star. The crucifix is our Lenten voyage compass, always pointing to heaven through our voluntary and involuntary suffering. Cajun priest, author, and spiritual director Fr. Mark Toups sums up Lent well and I am paraphrasing here. He wrote, “Remember that Lent is not about you. It is about Jesus. He is the one who wants this Lent to be transformational for you. Lent is not about what you are doing. It is about what God is doing with what you are doing for Lent. It is not so much about checking off a list of things you achieved during Lent, but about those things helping set you up for a life-changing, personal encounter with Jesus Christ like Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration, the Samaritan woman at the well, and Lazarus in his tomb (13).”
This coming Easter Vigil when our Captain calls out, “Are you all well?” May we all be able to respond, “We are safe and well, my Lord.” Amen.
Diocese of Richmond. Ordo – Order of Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and Celebration of the Eucharist 2023. Paulist Press 2022.
Peter Kreeft. Food for the Soul – Reflections on the Mass Readings for Cycle A. Word of Fire 2022.
Fr. Mark Toups. Lenten Companion, A Personal Encounter with the Power of the Gospel. Ascension Publishing 2023.KEEP READING
First Sunday of Advent
November 27, 2022 — Year A
Readings: Is 2:1-5 / Ps 122 / Rom 13:11-14 / Mt 24:37-44
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
According to Tryon Edwards, an American theologian, “Death has nothing terrible that life has not made so. A faithful Christian life in this world is the best preparation for life in the next.” This statement of Mr. Edwards has something to do with preparation for our death. It also has to do with the coming of Jesus Christ into our lives, especially now that we are in the season of Advent.
During the first Sunday of Advent, which begins the new liturgical year in the Church, there is an invitation for Christians to stay spiritually awake and to prepare for the Lord’s coming. Advent, which means, “coming,” is a time of preparation for Christmas, but it is more than that. Today’s gospel speaks of the coming of the Son of Man at the end of the age. In this sense, Advent then also points to the unknown time that will mark the end of human history.
According to Father R. H. Lesser, an English priest and author, in his book entitled Like Honey in the Rock, Jesus Christ has six comings. We have to get ready for Him by decorating our house, preparing sweets, and perhaps buying a new dress. The first coming of Jesus happened in a village in a remote province of the Roman Empire. In this sense, God is kind and merciful, since He sent us a savior, His son, to give us salvation. This mercy of God cannot be stopped even by man’s stupidity and malice. He saves us because He loves us.
The second coming, as I already mentioned is the mercy and kindness of God. The third coming, referred to by the fathers of the Church as the parousia, will be a different matter. As Saint Matthew said, “When the Son of Man comes as king, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His royal throne and the people of all nations will be gathered before Him, and He will proceed to judgment.” Our main sins, most of them least remembered in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, are sins of omission, especially disobeying the positive commandment of the New Testament, the commandment to love.
The fourth coming of Jesus is in the sacraments. The Lord comes in four different ways in the Eucharist: through the meeting of the people of God, through the priest who in a special way represents Christ, through the Word of God, and through the Eucharistic species. His real presence in the Eucharist is a real coming. Of this Eucharistic presence, most people are aware. We tend to neglect and forget the fact that He comes really and truly in every other Sacrament as well. For example, we can really and intimately meet Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as a forgiving God. Why not take advantage of this Sacrament?
The fifth coming is through the wind, the cries of children, the song of the birds, the rain. The problem is that our eyes are not open to see Him. Our ears are not alert to hear Him.
The sixth coming is an even more intimate one, mentioned by the Lord Himself when He said, “If you love Me, you will obey My commandments. My Father will love you, and we will come and make our permanent home within you.” Most of us know something about this internal coming, but do we actually experience it? If we have to prepare for the glorious coming of the Lord, then we must live our life in the spirit of the Lord, to actively involve ourselves in human interactions, to see in the face of everyone the face of a loving God, to believe that God is Emmanuel, God is with us, a God who is a father, friend, and companion. This is what it means to be spiritually awake.
As we begin today a new cycle of the Church year of grace, let us resolve to shun doomsday paranoia, on the one hand, and reckless complacency on the other. Let us resolve to be always awake in the Spirit by living a life of faith and love in service to the Lord, so that whenever He comes, we shall be ready to follow Him into the glory of eternity.
Christ continues to be present in the Church and in the world. His presence will remain until the end of time, but His presence is not fully manifested. There are still many people in the world who have not heard the Gospel message and have not met Jesus Christ. The world has not been fully reconciled with the Father yet. It is true that everything has been reconciled in Christ, but the grace of reconciliation has not been received by everyone. It is important for us to have this longing for the Lord’s return, but in His fullness. Therefore, we continue to pray constantly saying, “Your kingdom come.”
Not only at Christmastime, but in every celebration of this Eucharistic banquet, the joyful mystery of the coming and presence of Christ among us is made visible. This is the reason to repeat and insist over and over the need to experience Jesus’ coming. It is through this persistent waiting and continuous experience year after year that this image of God in which we were created by love in Jesus Christ will come to full maturity. He comes in so many ways to meet us. Let us go to meet Him.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
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 23, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Sir 35: 12-14, 16-18 / Ps 34 / 2 Tm 4: 6-8,16-18 / Lk 18: 9-14
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
Has frustration or doubt crept into your prayer life? Two weeks in a row, the Church’s readings have emphasized prayer. The theme last week was perseverance in prayer, illustrated by that great scene with Moses having to hold up his arms for the Israelites to win the battle (Ex 17: 8-13). The battle went on so long that two others had to hold up Moses’ arms for him, and so the battle was won. Jesus assured us in last week’s gospel that God will “speedily” answer our prayers (Lk 18).
This week’s theme for prayer is, “God is a good-good Father.” In the gospel, we meet the sinful tax collector praying, “O God be merciful to me, a sinner (Lk 18:13).” He was justified, Bible-speak for “made right with God.” St. Francis de Sales reflected on this and wrote, “Alas! Since the goodness of God is so immense that one moment suffices to obtain and receive His grace, what assurance can we have that he who was yesterday a sinner is not a saint today (Barron 408/Introduction to a Devout Life)?” May we share in God’s goodness and make the apologizing other person right with us as speedily as God did the tax collector!
The reading from Sirach describes God’s goodness. He is just, “knows no favorites,” listens to the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow (Sir 35: 12-15). Let’s put these Bible words into American English. For oppressed, think beat down or abused or unfairly treated at work. For orphan, think orphan and those rejected by or cast out of their family. And for widow, think widow for sure, but I would add widower and people abandoned by their spouse against their will. In all these downtrodden states of life, we long for goodness.
That longing wisely and often takes the form of prayer. The author of Sirach writes that our prayers reach heaven when we “serve Him and are lowly (Sir 35: 16).” That describes St. Paul in the second reading, in his letter to Timothy, which Paul was writing as God’s servant and as a lowly prisoner. Paul said his friends abandoned him. But then, echoing Sirach, he writes, “but the Lord stood by me and gave me strength (2 Tim 4:16).” In this stressful situation, St. Paul is able to see God’s grace and goodness.
King David, who wrote today’s 34th Psalm, obviously had a similar distressing life experience to Paul’s proclaiming, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted; and those who are crushed in spirit He saves (Ps 34: 18).” I have heard many sad life stories over the years. However, as the song says, we have a “good, good Father,” and He answers all prayers.
I’ll share one such story of prayers answered. At this past summer’s mission trip to the mountainous, southwest corner of Virginia, near the UVA Wise campus, I met a man named David. Our group of teenagers and chaperones went to his home in the middle of the mountains on Father’s Day. Our mission was to rebuild his deck and to add a wheelchair ramp to it, all in God’s name. David only had one leg. He had almost died three times, including a motorcycle and a car accident, as well as in surgery. He had been a rough and tumble coal mine worker. He told me he used to relish a good fight, but in his own words, he would get dangerously violent and couldn’t stop himself.
We invited him to pray with us each day when we arrived, when we did our lunch scripture reflection, and before we left each day, and he always participated. He often joked and laughed with the youth, who affectionately called him Big Dave. One time, while the others worked, He and I had a deep spiritual conversation. When I asked him if he thought God made good come from the loss of his leg to rescue his soul, the only way God could get through to such a rough and tough son of a gun, David teared up, looked off into the distance, and just nodded yes. For a few minutes, David was too choked up to speak.
At the end of the week, his deck was fully restored, complete with a safe ramp for his wheelchair. At our week’s ending banquet, David took the microphone and told all the priests and seminarians, chaperones, Deacons, and youth that when those teenagers showed up at his house on Father’s Day, it was the best Father’s Day he had ever had. He wiped away tears while giving each of the teens and us chaperones a hug before saying goodbye. All of this was an answer to someone’s prayer. David knows his good, good Father who visited him on Father’s Day, rebuilt his deck, made him laugh and cry, and affirmed his dignity.
King David, Paul, the tax collector, and Big Dave all had been made lowly by a checkered past and all experienced God’s grace born by the winds of someone’s prayer. But prayer doesn’t just transform the lives of those prayed for, but also of those who pray for them. And that brings us to the all-important question at this point in every Mass, “How do I respond to today’s readings, this homily, and the sacramental grace we are about to receive?”
Here is something to try this week. You know how an athlete will warm up and get their mind focused before competing? Fr. Thomas Dubay suggests we approach prayer in a similar fashion (Dubay Prayer Primer). Here’s one way to do that. Start your prayer by telling God that He is a good, good Father who answers every prayer and sends grace wherever it is needed. Follow that with a prayer of recollection, recalling the times in your life He cared for you. Recalling those times will cheer your heart and strengthen your faith so that you can finish your prayer in confidence that it is being answered. Remember that Jesus said that even a tiny bit of faith can move a mountain (Mt 17:20-21).
Here are a few gems of wisdom for amping up your prayer. St. Theresa of Avila said, “…it is impossible to speak to [God] and to the world at the same time,” so give Him your undivided attention. To get centered on God like that, Bishop Barron prays the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” He suggests breathing in on the first part and out on the second part. Father Dubay says we need to go to Mass; the liturgy has sacramental power that nourishes our prayer. He adds that while praying, don’t think much, but love much. And St. Augustine, putting a different spin on today’s reading from Sirach, reminds us that, “To pray well, one must live well.”
I’ll close by sharing some wisdom from my spiritual director, Carrie McKeown. She noticed that I prayed a lot for healing of my lung disease and for help overcoming it so I could be a good husband, father, Deacon and manager. So, she asked me a simple question, “Do you believe God takes care of you?” This is one of those questions that is tempting to answer quickly but bears more fruit if we examine our life in light of it. It’s ok to pray for your own needs, but my prayer was leading to aggravation with God, not restfulness in His goodness.
St. Margaret Mary Alocoque (who developed the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus) said it this way: “Keep your heart in peace and let nothing trouble you…for God’s dwelling is in peace.” Padre Pio and other saints have said similar things. If I’m stressing instead of seeing God’s grace like St. Paul did in prison, do I always believe God takes care of me? Since that time a couple of years ago, I mostly pray for others and sure enough, God has taken care of me. This is a key to being a wounded prayer warrior, knowing deep down God is good and cares for you. Let’s make Chris Tomlin’s lyrics our prayer this week. Lord, “You are a good good Father. It’s who you are, it is who you are…And I’m loved by you. It’s who I am, it’s who I am.” Amen.