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
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 20, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 56:1, 6-7 / Ps 67 / Rom 11:13-15, 29-32 / Mt 15:21-28
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
A man was walking close to a steep cliff, lost his footing, and plunged over the side. As he was falling, he grabbed the branch of a tree that was sticking out about halfway down the cliff. He managed to hang onto the weak limb with both hands. He looked up and saw that the cliff was almost perfectly straight and that he was a long way from the top. He looked down and it was a long, long way down to the rock bottom. At this point, the man decided that it was time to pray.
He yelled out, “God, if you are there, help me.” About that time, he heard a deep voice coming from high up above that said, “I’m here, my son, have no fear.” The man was a little startled at first by God’s voice, but he pleaded, “Can you help me?” God replied, “Yes, I can, my son, but you have to have faith. Do you trust me?” The man answered, “Yes, Lord, I trust you.” God said, “Do you really trust me?” The man, who was trying to hold on, replied, “Yes, Lord, I really trust you.”
Then God said, “This is what I want you to do. Let go of the limb. Trust me; everything will be all right.” The man looked down at the rocks below, then he looked up at the steep cliff above him and yelled, “Is there anybody else up there who can help me?”
Brothers and sisters, in last Sunday’s gospel, we heard that Jesus chastised Peter for having so little faith. In today’s gospel, he honors a pagan woman for having great faith. The comparison between Peter and the woman gives us a valuable instruction. We naturally assume that Peter, a Jewish man and close follower of Jesus, must have a great advantage over a Gentile woman who had never even seen the Lord.
Peter was one of the children of Israel; he belonged at the table. He had never eaten anything profane or unclean in his whole life, and that can be found in Acts 10:14. The woman was an outsider. She was looked down on by the Jews as unclean and unworthy, one of the dogs. She had no business claiming some right to the Lord’s favor. However, the woman outshines Peter in the one thing that truly matters: faith – a strong, persevering, humble faith.
The Israelites, Abraham and his descendants, were given a unique privilege. They were the first people to whom the Lord chose to reveal himself. As Moses told the people when they were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, “You are a people sacred to the Lord God. He has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people particularly his own” (Dt 7:6).
The idea sometimes arose among the chosen people that, since they were specially chosen by God, other peoples were excluded from His love. They misunderstood the favor of God as a kind of ethnic superiority. They thought that being a physical descendant of Abraham was more important than living by Abraham’s faith. The prophets thought otherwise.
As we see in today’s first reading, Isaiah clearly proclaims that foreigners too, if they joined themselves to the Lord and followed the covenant, would find a place with the Jews in the house of the Lord. Indeed, the Lord reveals that His plan includes everyone. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”
The Canaanite woman in the Gospel shows that this prophecy came to be fulfilled. If she had gone to the temple in Jerusalem, she would have been strictly forbidden to enter. However, now that Jesus had come into her neighborhood, there was no need for her to go elsewhere in order to be counted among God’s people. She found salvation by putting her faith in Jesus. She honored Him as the Messiah, crying out to Him, “Lord, son of David.”
In order to benefit from the beautiful example of this woman of faith, we must first identify and overcome the sin of prejudice in our hearts. How easily we fall into an attitude of superiority over others. Prejudice prevents us from seeing the goodness of other people, simply because they fall outside of our narrow criteria of goodness. The problem is on display in the scornful attitude of the disciples. When the Canaanite woman begged Jesus to heal her daughter, their prejudice came spilling out in their words, “Send her away.” They would not put up with being pestered by a “dog.”
Brothers and sisters, whenever we let this sort of attitude take hold of us, whenever we are saying or thinking about anyone, “Send her away” or “Send him away,” we shut ourselves in a small box, where we breathe only the stale air of our own opinions. Prejudice is an offense against the dignity of others, but it is also a self-imposed limitation on our love. Ultimately, it is a rejection of the love of God.
This is not what we have learned from Jesus Christ. He fills us with His spirit of love, so that we may be free from slavery to sin. Jesus’ own attitude toward the Canaanite woman is revealed to us only gradually. He never closes His heart to her, of course, but He does subject her faith to a series of tests. At first, He is simply silent, then He tells her that His mission is to the Jews. When she persists, falling before Him and pleading for His help, He tells her that it is not fitting to throw the food of the children to the dogs.
This sort of language is jarring to us. It sounds like an intolerable insult, like a slap in the face. In fact, in the context of the times, it would have not sounded nearly so harsh. Jesus’ point is to distinguish between the Jews and the Gentiles.
The Jews are the first to be fed with the message of salvation. The word “dogs” here refers not to street dogs, but to little domestic pets. They live in the household, but they are not children of the family. However, Jesus’ statement may have struck her in a remarkable way. The woman gently turns his own words against him. The insult suddenly becomes an argument in her favor.
With no hint of offense or discouragement and with no attitude of entitlement, she makes a claim based on her strong faith. The banquet of the Lord is so great that even to receive a few crumbs falling from the table will be enough to heal her daughter. The Lord finds this declaration irresistible. He immediately proclaims what He had in mind all along, that this woman is not a dog. She is an admirable woman of great faith. His harsh treatment of her has brought out the best in her.
This wonderful episode shows us what great faith really looks like in practice. It is not a matter of belonging to the right social class. It does not depend on mastering all the properly religious words and rituals. It does not seek to prove to anyone that we are holy or deserving of divine favor. Great faith is persevering and humble.
Sometimes the Lord is silent and does not say a word in answer to us. Sometimes He reminds us of our insignificance or our weakness or our unworthiness. None of these are obstacles to us if we have faith. They simply purify us of all self-importance and make us more ready to receive the Lord’s favor. Nothing is impossible for us when we have great faith, because nothing is impossible for the Lord in whom we trust.KEEP READING
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 18, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 19:2-6a / Ps 100 / Rom 5:6-11 / Mt 9:36-10:8
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Brothers and sisters, fatherhood is a God-given mission. It is not just an obligation, neither is it just a human aspiration, nor just a personal passion. It is a commitment to become a real shepherd and to become a worker disciple in the Lord’s vineyard. The call on every father is to focus not so much on the worldly commission, but on the divine mission. This is also the message in our readings today.
The gospel message from Matthew gives us the account of Jesus commissioning the twelve men whom He has chosen, giving them the charge to continue the work He has begun here on Earth. Matthew tells us that these were the first people who were authorized to spread the good news to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Jesus charges the twelve to go out and cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons. Just imagine yourself lucky enough to be selected by Jesus himself to be one of the twelve. But then you are given the assignment to go and cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons.
Did Jesus really mean for them to actually do all these things? How could these twelve men – fishermen, tradesmen, common folks including a tax collector and even the one who would betray Jesus – be capable of accepting these assignments?
Down through history, Jesus has chosen unlikely people to do seemingly impossible tasks. We can pick up the book, The Lives of the Saints, and find numerous examples of ordinary people who responded to God’s call. The Church, throughout its history, has had regular, ordinary people performing what might be considered impossible tasks, simply because they have responded to Christ and His teachings. People like Saint John Vianney, Saint Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, Maximilian Kolbe, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton are just a few examples of people who responded when they were called to spread the good news to others.
Jesus is now calling us. We are just like the twelve whom He chooses. We now have the responsibility to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons. We accepted this call, this responsibility, at our baptism, but the question we immediately ask ourselves is how in the world do we cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons?
Can we cure the sick? Yes, we can help cure those who are sick. We can help to provide for physical, psychological, or spiritual ailments. We can be caregivers by assisting those in need. It could be simple things like making an appointment with a physician or providing transportation to a physician’s office. Perhaps it could involve something more complicated by administering care at your home or the home of the individual that is ill. We might be required from time to time to provide simple one-on-one counseling to someone who is depressed, so that the person may find inner strength that he or she needs to make a decision enabling them to help themselves and to return to their daily activities.
How can we raise the dead? Taken literally, we know this is impossible, but sometimes people are dead in their faith. We can provide spiritual assistance to those who are dead in their faith experience. Perhaps it is someone who has fallen away from the faith because of a simple misunderstanding. We can be instruments of hope to those who might think returning to God is hopeless. Sometimes it is as simple as answering a question about the faith, providing information that will help heal the person of their spiritual illness. Perhaps the person is dead spiritually because they were involved in a marriage that ended in a divorce. We can provide information to help them understand their rights as a divorced person, and if they are in need of an annulment, we can provide resources for them to begin the annulment process.
Can we cleanse lepers? The question we have to answer is who are the lepers in our lives? It could be the individual at work that constantly is getting under our skin. It could be the neighbor up the street who seemingly forever has knocked our children or has constantly criticized us because they don’t like our dog. It could be a brother-in-law who has been on our case from the first day we met. What can we do? Sometimes the best way to handle people like this is to kill them with kindness. We can simply smile or offer help to them with a project. Perhaps we could send some greeting card or surprise them in some way that causes them to think or to ask why this person is being so kind to me. We can present ourselves to these people as true followers of Christ, someone who is willing to clear the air, make amends, and try to begin a new relationship.
Can we drive out demons? The answer is yes – sometimes those demons are in us and all about us. They are the things that prevent us from being the best person we can be. It could be those inner feelings that constantly cause us to see the negative side of life. Perhaps we are constantly seeing the glass as half empty instead of always half full. The demons could be feelings that can cause us to fall into various states of depression. What can we do? Obviously, we can seek professional counseling. We can confide in family and friends. However, because we are members of the Church, baptized into faith, we can many times rely on the gift of faith to help us through those difficult times. Many times, prayer is a good way to rid ourselves of those demons. Through prayer, we can seek the intercession of our patron saint, or call upon St. Joseph, or ask the Blessed Virgin to intercede for us with her Son to help us overcome times of negativism and the states of negative thought.
Discipleship is not so much doing but being. Go down the list of the twelve apostles, and you’ll notice that nothing was said to describe what they did, except Matthew the tax collector and Judas who betrayed Him. Perhaps that should lead to deeper appreciation of our personhood rather than of our so-called achievements, not so much of what we carry in our hands but what we carry in our hearts.
Christ is calling us to do his work now on Earth. The beautiful thing that we have going for us as members of the Church on earth is our diversity. We all have different talents and different abilities to accomplish the work our Lord has entrusted to us. Jesus, whether we realize it or not, sends us out to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers. and drive out demons.KEEP READING
May 28, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Acts 2:1-11 / Ps 104 / 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13 / Jn 20:19-23
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
Here is a true story that illustrates the need to intentionally invite the Holy Spirit into your life and to intentionally surrender control to Him when He needs to use you to help someone else.
A good Catholic man, who knew the scriptures and his Catholic faith, shared a story of praying outside an abortion clinic. He spoke to a woman who was headed in, but despite his faith and his spiritual learning, he couldn’t speak anything of meaning to her, and she proceeded to the door of the clinic and grabbed the door handle. The man tossed up a five-second prayer, “I’m so sorry Lord. I don’t know what to say. Help me, Holy Spirit!” Suddenly he spoke the most eloquent words to her; no, he blurted out two words, “hair bows!”
The woman stopped, let go of the door handle and walked back toward him, tears in her eyes. She asked, “What did you just say?” He said, “Hair bows. I just thought you would enjoy putting bows in the baby’s hair if it is a girl.” Turns out the woman had a strong memory of her mom and hair bows, strong enough to penetrate the darkness and despair she was in and to displace it with Christ’s light and truth. Those two little words awakened in her a love for her unborn child and for motherhood. The Holy Spirit came through in a surprising way. You might even say the Spirit enabled the man to speak in tongues, for the words he spoke were understood by that woman in a way that saved her soul and her baby’s life. That’s how the Holy Spirit rolls!
Happy Pentecost everyone. Today we celebrate the fulfillment of the Father’s promise to baptize us with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1). Pentecost in Greek means “fiftieth.” The Jews celebrated Pentecost fifty days after Passover, which is a celebration of deliverance from bondage in Egypt and of God coming down upon Mount Sinai in fire, shaking the mountain. This prefigured the new Pentecost, which we celebrate every year, fifty days after the new Passover, which we now call Easter (Pitre).
You may have picked up on how the Christian Pentecost is similar to the Jewish one in its remembrance of that day at Mount Sinai. Listen again. “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” But in the new Pentecost something dramatically different, something astounding happens that did not happen at Mount Sinai. Fire came down, yes, but “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2-4).”
In this homily I hope to expand your awareness of the Holy Spirit and of His supernatural gifts that may be untapped in your life. I also hope to help you make your family life, school life, work life, prayer life, and sacramental life more intentionally focused on the Holy Spirit as that is what is best for you, your loved ones, the Church, and the world.
Before ascending into heaven, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to “teach [us] everything and remind [us] of all that [He] told us.” (Jn 14:26). Jesus also said, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish that it were already blazing (Lk 12:49).” Fire, like in the tongues of fire, refers to the Holy Spirit. What does fire do? It transfigures that which is burning into itself. In our case, the Holy Spirit restores our divine nature, makes us holy, and equips us with supernatural gifts. Why? The Psalmist wrote the answer, so that “you [can] renew the face of the earth (Ps 104:30).”
What supernatural gifts does the Holy Spirit equip us with? Sanctifying gifts and Charismatic gifts. The seven sanctifying gifts are listed in Isaiah 11:1-3 and are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Catholic theologian Mary Healy points out that Isaiah was describing the Messiah upon whom the Spirit would rest. Therefore, we receive the seven sanctifying gifts through baptism and confirmation, since we receive the Holy Spirit in those sacraments, and He forms us in the character of Christ (CCC 1831 / Healy 29-30).
What are Charismatic gifts? They are supernatural gifts meant for the service of others (1 Cor 12:1-7 / Healy 24). Again, drawing from Dr. Healy, the term charismatic comes from the Greek word charisma, which is based on the word for grace, charis. Therefore, a charism is a “tangible expression of God’s grace in a person’s life (Healy 24).” Every one of us was created by God with a specific role to play in building up the Church. The way God qualifies us to fulfill our unique role is with these many graces called charisms (CCC 798).
In Romans 13, St. Paul lists charisms for the building up of the Church, “serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others, leadership, and showing mercy.” And in a slight twist, St. Paul lists roles in the Church that the Holy Spirit anoints people for. They include apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Eph 4:8-11/ Healy 28). The Holy Spirit even desires to supernaturally enhance or elevate our natural gifts or aptitudes such as music, art, crafts, teaching, administration, etc., making them more efficacious than we can do on our own (Healy 24). Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your gifts and to help you grow them and to put them at the service of the Church.
The longest single list of charismatic gifts is in 1 Cor 12. They are word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healings, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues. To learn more about these gifts, I recommend reading Dr. Healy’s book, “The Spiritual Gifts Handbook – Using Your Gifts to Build up the Kingdom of God.”
How is living life in the Holy Spirit best for you? Dr. Scott Hahn and Fr. Dave Pivonka both answered that question with the same metaphor. Living your life in the Spirit is like sailing, where the wind does most of the work. When you live in the Spirit, you may have a sense that you are moving through life’s challenges with less resistance. But like the wind, with the Holy Spirit, you never know for certain what He will do or where He will take you, and you have to wait for Him. Bishop Barron echoes this in his reflection on the third Glorious Mystery. He says we don’t make the Holy Spirit show up. We call and we wait like the disciples and Mary were waiting in the upper room when He came.
What characteristics will a person have who does so? St. Paul listed them as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). That is a great list to take to prayer and to use as an examination of the soul. It can help us see where we need to grow more like Christ by intentionally inviting the Holy Spirit into our life and following His promptings, even if they seem silly like, “blurting out hair bows” in a desperate situation.
We are blessed to be Catholic, for we experience the Holy Spirit’s power in the sacraments. We are baptized in water and the Holy Spirit, who made us His temple. In Confession, your sins are forgiven by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the priest who, in the prayer of absolution, says that “God the Father of Mercies sent the Holy Spirit into the world for the forgiveness of sins.” Today’s gospel, by the way, is the strongest biblical proof that Jesus gave His priests His power to forgive sins.
In the prayers during Anointing of the Sick the priest calls on the Holy Spirit as the consoler.” In the Eucharistic Prayer we hear Father pray, “Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them as a dewfall.” You can’t miss it. The Deacon kneels as Father prays those words, and the altar server rings the bells. Finally, in Confirmation and Holy Orders the bishop lays his hands on the faithful’s head, imparting the Holy Spirit.
Despite all the ways we receive the Holy Spirit, you are not alone if you struggle with identifying with Him. Theologian Sr. Elizabeth Johnson summarized this well, writing, “While the Son has appeared in human form and while we can at least make a mental image of the Father, the Spirit is not graphic and remains theologically the most mysterious of the three divine persons.” (DANIEL P. HORAN OFM in National Catholic Reporter, January 12, 2023). That is one of the reasons God gives us signs.
Healings are one of those signs He gives us to make the Holy Spirit’s presence and power manifest. Some of you may remember former Holy Name of Mary parish Deacon, Ray Roderique, the father of several of Holy Name’s parishioners. He and his wife, Kathy, were very active in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement. Deacon Ray was particularly known for the gift of healing. Our former priest, Fr. Steve McNally, shared that, while on a trip with Deacon Ray, he was having a good bit of pain from a kidney stone. Ray prayed over him, and he was cured. I reached out to a couple of Ray’s adult children for their thoughts on the Holy Spirit.
His son, parishioner Paul Roderique, shared Sr. Johnson’s quote. One of his sisters, former parishioner, Colleen Crist, had this to say:
“The Holy Spirit is the single most important relationship a person can have if they desire to be as close to Jesus as possible! The Holy Spirit transforms, elevates, and increases every aspect of a person’s prayer life (“hair bows”). The Holy Spirit takes the fear out of it. He helps you realize that it’s not about you, but rather you are a team, and He’s doing the heavy lifting (Remember the wind moves the boat easier than our paddling). He gives you the courage, and the ability, and the wisdom, and the words to do the praying. We are simply allowing Him to use us. All it takes is being open, trusting, and malleable. When we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit and extend the invitation sincerely, then He can get to work. He will never force himself on us. To receive Him, simply extend the invitation. Invite the Holy Spirit in and ask Him to transform your life. Ask Him to teach you how to pray.”
Let’s do that right now and close with a favorite prayer of Colleen’s, an invitation to the Holy Spirit from St Augustine. Imagine yourself as that sailboat on the lake. Ready the sails, which are your faith. Take a deep breath and blow it out slowly and let’s see where the Father’s Holy Breath takes us. “Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work too may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I may love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me then, O Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy.” Amen.
Mary Healy & Randy Clark. The Spiritual Gifts Handbook – Using Your Gifts to Build the Kingdom of God. Chosen Books 2018.
Bishop Barron. The Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. Hallow app.
Fifth Sunday of Lent
March 26, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 37:12-14 / Ps 130 / Rom 8:8-11 / Jn 11:1-45
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
From today’s Psalm we hear, “I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word (Ps 130: 5-6).” It is a good Lenten practice to ask ourselves, Do I trust God? Do I understand what is meant by divine providence? When my future is uncertain or I am experiencing suffering, darkness, death, or discord in my life, do I trust that He hears and answers my prayers? Today’s gospel clearly affirms that in God’s plan, “[S]uffering and death are not meaningless (Martin 200).”
On Hallow’s forty-day Lenten series, Jonathan Roumie shared a story that illustrates how God, in His providence makes good come from suffering. Fr. Walter Ciszek, a Polish-American Jesuit priest who was doing clandestine missionary work in the USSR, was imprisoned in a Soviet Union labor camp for twenty-three years. While in prison, he struggled with the seeming crushing of his dream to spread the faith. Despair came upon him, until he surrendered to God in the midst of his imprisonment, forced labor, and nutritional and spiritual deprivation.
How did Fr. Ciszek’s Catholic faith enable him to move from despair to helping the other prisoners “find God and attain eternal life (Hallow)?” A key insight was that he came to realize that “God is in all things.” He wrote, “To see His will in all things was to accept each circumstance and situation and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust. No danger could threaten me, no fear could shake me, except the fear of losing sight of Him. The future, hidden as it was, was hidden in His will and therefore acceptable to me no matter what it might bring.” This quote is from his autobiography, “He Leadeth Me,” which he wrote in peace and comfort in America. His autobiography is accomplishing his dream of spreading the faith much more effectively than if he had not suffered as he did.
Now let’s look at the gospel for a message on trust in divine providence. When Jesus receives word from Mary and Martha that Lazarus is ill, does He go and heal him as Mary and Martha expected their intercession to bring about? No. Listen to the oddness in these two verses. “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was ill, He remained for two days in the place where He was (Jn 11:5-6).” Jesus, who is God, loves them and hears their prayer request to heal Lazarus, but does not do it. Why?
Jesus gives us a couple of reasons. After telling the disciples that Lazarus has died, He says, “I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe (Jn 11:15).” At Lazarus’s tomb, He tells His Father that He is praying out loud “that they may believe that you sent me (Jn 11:42).” Jesus delayed so that people would come to believe He was sent by God and has power even over the grave.
Dr. Brant Pitre shares the reflections of three saints on Jesus’ delay. They shine a light on divine providence that Mary and Martha, in the sorrow of the moment, could not see. St. Peter Chrysologus explained it this way: “For Christ, it was more important to conquer death than to cure disease. He showed His friend His love not by healing him but by calling him back from the grave. Instead of a remedy for his illness, He offered him the glory of rising from the dead (Sermon 63:1-2).”
My favorite of the three reflections Pitre shared may be from St. Andrew of Crete. He imagined Jesus at Lazarus’s tomb saying, “Lazarus, Come out!…As a friend, I am calling you; as Lord I am commanding you…Come out! Let the stench of your body prove the resurrection. Let the burial linen be undone so that they can recognize the one who was put in the tomb. Come out!…Come out of the tomb….(And here is the clincher….) Teach them how all creation will be enlivened in a moment, when the trumpet’s voice proclaims the resurrection of the dead (Homily 8).” St. Andrew was alluding to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, which tells of an angel blowing a trumpet when Jesus returns on the last day and the dead being raised at its sound. This spiritual truth is sung at the Easter Vigil in the Exultet, “Let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud the mighty King’s triumph!”
The third reflection was from St. John Chrysostom. He points out that, “Many are offended when they see any who are pleasing to God suffering anything terrible…They do not know that those who are especially dear to God have it as their lot to endure such things as is the case with Lazarus, who is a friend of Christ but was also sick (Homilies on John).”
God knows the big picture. We do not. Mary and Martha did not. While they just wanted their brother healed, Jesus wanted to draw more people to Himself by showing that He has power even over death. Through divine providence, Mary and Martha received a gift much greater than what they asked for.
The saints seem to get this, and so they do not fret over their suffering or impending death. St. Pope John Paul II, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, and the aforementioned St. John Chrysostom come to mind (Pitre). They could live lives of heroic virtue because they trusted that God’s providence would bring about a greater good out of their suffering and death.
In raising Lazarus from the dead, we see Jesus vastly exceed that for which Mary and Martha prayed. This teaches us to trust that God hears our prayers and sees our tears (remember He wept with them). We have been doing extra fasting, abstinence, prayer, and charity for five weeks, but do we trust that God is doing something with our efforts? If you have not noticed any change or transformation in yourself, it may be that like Mary and Martha you are focused on looking for what you asked for instead of looking for what God chose to do. Ask Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, to reveal what the Father has done and is doing in you.
Here is another true story about providence, and this one is from a friend of mine named HV. He was a 16-year-old when his family had to flee their home country of Vietnam. HV remembers suffocating heat worsened by standing shoulder to shoulder on a boat with other refugees. People began to die around him as they had no water for three days. Ultimately, his family arrived in Virginia Beach. HV had no friends, could not speak English, and struggled with American culture.
Growing up, HV’s parents had prayed the rosary regularly with him and his siblings. His father had even taken him to a seminary to apply for the priesthood. (He was turned down.) Nevertheless, the awfulness of his family’s refugee experience led him to decide that God did not exist. Like Fr. Ciszek, though, HV came to see God in all these things.
His family survived the boat trip and were now living, in HV’s words, “in the greatest country on earth.” He ended up marrying, having children and becoming an engineering manager. He and his wife served the youth in their parish, and he served in the Knights of Columbus. And on September 25, 2021, the man who was turned down by that Vietnamese seminary, was ordained with me and is now a permanent deacon. And, by the way, his easy-going manner and sense of humor made him the class favorite and enviably, my family’s favorite as well. His parent’s prayers were heard, and God made a greater good come about for his family from the evil of war than if it had never happened.
My last sharing is from the Litany of Trust by Sr. Faustina Maria Pia of the Sisters of Life in New York. It was prayed in Hallow’s 40 Day Lenten challenge. She wrote that, “The Lord knows that we don’t have what it takes on our own. He comes to us with great love. He sustains us at all times, even when we are not aware of Him.”
Let’s close with part of the Litany so that you can continue to pray your own form of it these last days of Lent. I invite you to respond in your heart after each petition, Jesus, I trust in You. “That You are with me in my suffering…Jesus, I trust in You. That Your plan is better than anything else…Jesus, I trust in You. That You always hear me, and in Your goodness always respond to me…Jesus, I trust in You. That you give me all the strength I need for what is asked…Jesus I trust in You. That you can deliver me from resentment [and] excessive preoccupation with the past…Jesus, I trust in You. That my life is a gift…Jesus, I trust in You. That I am Your beloved one…Jesus, I trust in You.”
Brothers and sisters, make the saints’ trust in divine providence yours and, with God’s grace, move your Lent from doubt to confidence and from struggle to peacefulness. God is in all our experiences and so our future, no matter what it holds, is the best. Amen.
Hallow App. Lent #Pray40 Part 1: Imitation of Christ. Week 5 Tuesday and Wednesday reflections. March 2023.
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.
Fr. Francis Martin & William T. Wright IV. Catholic Commentary of Sacred Scripture. The Gospel of John. Baker Academic, 2015.KEEP READING
Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 19, 2023 — Year A
Readings: 1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a / Ps 23 / Eph 5:8-14 / Jn 9:1-41
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Our gospel today is about a man who was born blind. What a privilege for the blind man to have met Jesus and be healed by Him! What a privilege for him to have Jesus touch his eyes and bring him sight! Yet who would think that a paste of clay put on one’s eyes and then washing in the Pool of Siloam would restore the blind man’s sight? But Jesus worked through clay and water. Jesus used ordinary elements around us in nature to convey his healing power. Jesus gave the gift of sight by using matter. The blind man could feel the paste of clay on his eyes; he could feel Jesus touching his eyes; he could hear Jesus. He could feel the water washing off the clay. He could not see Jesus, but Jesus came to him through touch and hearing.
In the first reading God works in a similar way. Samuel, under instructions from God, anointed David with oil, and when he did so, the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. In the first reading and gospel, God’s power and healing were conveyed through elements of nature applied to the body and were conveyed through matter.
So, when Jesus comes to us, how does He come? Every time we receive the sacraments, Jesus comes to us, and there is a visible sign of Jesus coming to us invisibly through His sacrament. Just as the Holy Spirit came mightily upon David when he was anointed with oil by Samuel, and just as Jesus used matter of clay and water for the healing of the blind man, Jesus comes to us in each sacrament with matter used together with prayer, and we call the prayer “the form.” So the matter and form of every sacrament is the visible sign of Jesus coming to us invisibly, but powerfully, in the sacrament.
In the Sacrament of Baptism, the matter is water, which is poured over the head to baptize and symbolizes washing. And the form is that the priest will say the name of the person or the baby, and then continue by saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” which is prayed at the same time as the water is poured.
In the Sacrament of Confirmation, the matter is the bishop using his thumb to anoint the forehead with Oil of Chrism. And the form is that he says the name of the person and says, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the matter is bread made from wheat and wine fermented from grapes. The form is the words of the Consecration at Mass over the bread and wine. “Take this, all of you, and eat it. This is my body which will be given up for you. Take this, all of you, and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.”
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the matter is not something that we can see as in the other Sacraments, or something that touches our senses. Instead, it is our sorrow and repentance and the penance we perform after receiving the absolution. The form is the words of absolution prayed over us by the priest, which conclude, “And I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father (the priest makes the sign of the cross), and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
In the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, the matter is the anointing with the Oil of the Sick on the forehead and on the palms of the hands. The form is a prayer prayed by the priest at the same time, when he says, “Through this Holy Anointing, may the Lord, in His love and mercy, help you through the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Then he anoints the forehead, and he continues by saying, “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” Then he anoints the palms.
In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, in which deacons, priests, and bishops are ordained, the matter is the laying on of hands by the bishop on the head of the man being ordained. The form, the prayer of consecration immediately following the laying on of hands, differs on whether it is a deacon, priest, or bishop who is being ordained.
In the Sacrament of Matrimony, the matter and form of the Sacrament is the mutual self-giving and self-acceptance by the couple as they hold each other’s right hand.
When David was chosen by God as King, the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him when he was anointed by Samuel with oil. When the blind man was healed by Jesus, the healing of Jesus came to him through being anointed with a paste of clay and washed in the Pool of Siloam. He could feel the paste of clay on his eyes, he could feel Jesus touching his eyes, he could hear Jesus, he could feel the water washing off the clay. He could not see Jesus, but Jesus came to him through touch and hearing.
Every time we receive the sacraments, Jesus comes to us by touching our senses, and there is a visible sign of Jesus coming to us invisibly in these sacraments. Who would think that anointing with oil would be the signal for the spirit of the Lord to fall mightily on David? Who would think that anointing with a paste of clay and washing would restore sight?
But God uses ordinary elements of nature to convey His power and healing to us in the sacraments, and in every sacrament, Jesus comes to us invisibly, but powerfully. So, as you receive the sacraments, you hear Jesus and Jesus touches you. Jesus touched the blind man and Jesus touches you when you receive the sacraments.KEEP READING
Third Sunday of Lent
March 12, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 17:3-7 / Ps 95 / Rom 5:1-2, 5-8 / Jn 4:5-42
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
For a few moments I’d like for you to put yourself in the place of the woman at the well in today’s story. Imagine you’re her and you’re there. It’s dusty and it’s hot, even in the shade. The dust and the wind are hot, and they’re sticking to you because you’re sweaty. You’re a long walk from the village. You’re alone. The jars are heavy even when empty.
I am the woman at the well, and I swim in dirty waters. I exist and I swim in the waters of this world, this culture. It can be a cesspool really. The world doesn’t love me; it doesn’t care about me. Society, the culture, they wish for my power as their own. I’m worth what I produce for it. My dignity is ambiguous, my morality is ambiguous, dependent on what others might see in me or gain from me, so I behave the same. This culture that corrupts me by bombarding me with its messages: consume, it’s your truth, love whomever you’d like, if it feels good do it, the baby is not a person, the old man is a burden. This culture that has shaped me is the same that will condemn me, shun me, ignore me, separate me whenever it seems helpful to it. Governments, business, academics, art, media, these can’t save me. I am the woman at the well, and I swim in dirty waters.
I am the woman at the well, and I am a cast away, rejected, shunned, alone with my sin and my pain. There’s a reason I’m at the well far outside of town, alone with the sun at its peak and the heat. I am a cast away. That’s because no one will be there, no one carries heavy containers of water in the heat of the day; they go in the early morning or the late evening when it’s cool. But me, I go when no one will be there, no one to deride me, no one to judge me, no one to make me feel worse about myself than I already do. No one can help me, no one cares, no one loves me. Do I even deserve love anyway? I just need to exist. I just need to get by. I am the woman at the well and I am a cast away.
I am the woman at the well and I doubt Him. Why talk to me? Why care about me? I am a woman, I am from Samaria, I’m a pagan. You don’t know me; You can’t know me. Everything about me is the antithesis of what someone like You would value. I float in sin. I doubt You can help me. You don’t even have a vessel, a container for the water, and my darkness is deep, too deep for You to reach. How could You sustain me for even a few moments, let alone eternally? No, this doesn’t make sense, this must be some trick. You must want something from me or wish to gain something by this encounter. I am the woman at the well and I doubt Him.
I am the woman at the well and I accept Him. Wait, He does know me. He really, truly, knows me. He knows my heart, hardened and despairing as it is. I’ve never met Him, and yet He softly identifies everything about my darkness. He dips deeply into my well of shame and loathing and somehow accepts it, accepts me. He accepts who I am. His grace is bigger than my past, much bigger. He’s met me in the dark and barren places of my heart where I am and offered me His love without requiring anything. And yet, I feel I want to return to Him somehow. I want to acknowledge this immense gift. I welcome His gift. It’s what I’ve unknowingly been seeking. He has risen me to pure living water. I’m unsinkable. I live. I am the woman at the well and I accept Him.
I am the woman at the well and I know Him. I’m not even going to haul the water back or the containers. I’m lighter than air now. I’m restored. My burdens lifted. My guilt and shame washed away. I’m floating. But what about the others? They don’t know, they can’t know. They swim in dirty waters. They are castaways. They doubt love. If they knew Him, they might be light. I must share. I must let them know, because even me, and all my darkness and brokenness and doubt, even me He loves and wants to save. You’ve got to meet Him. There’s nothing greater, nothing more important, nothing more beautiful. He is the living water, salvation, the Christ. I am the woman at the well and I want you to know 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
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
April 10, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Lk 19:28-40 / Is 50:4-7 / Ps 22 / Phil 2:6-11 / Lk 22:14 – 23:56
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
Today is Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. On this Palm Sunday, we gather together to join Jesus in His final journey toward His divine purpose. After five weeks in the desert of Lent, we are all joyful and relieved that Easter is coming, and Jesus is near.
Just a few moments ago, we gathered in the commons with our palms being blessed, anticipating Him of whom we’ve heard so much. There was a little excitement and a sense of community as we looked at others across the circle. You could feel a sense of purpose. Then we joined in that triumphant procession toward this holy place, our “temple,” just like the people in the gospel arriving in Jerusalem. We, like them, were marrying our hopes and aspirations to those of this simple teacher from Galilee.
In very short order, however, our joy and hopes were crushed, as we listened in horror to the gospel dialog of the Lord’s Passion. Thankfully, we know the outcome. We know the victory. We have the blessing to be on this side of history, looking back for our assurances. The people there, the disciples there that day, had an uncertain future. Their lives were so difficult in a brutal and occupied territory.
I’ve heard this Palm Sunday set of readings for years, and I read it quite a few times as I was preparing for preaching this weekend. There is one character in the story that I could not get out of my mind this past week. He’s a minor detail, really, easily brushed off and forgotten. I’m talking about the donkey.
Why did Jesus need a ride and why did He choose a donkey? Jesus had been walking all over Galilee, Judea, and Samaria, for three years. He walked everywhere and I would imagine that He was very fit and used to walking. He had set His mind on the journey to Jerusalem just a few weeks ago. He was making a beeline to Jerusalem, and yet He stopped just a mile or so from the destination, and decided to send two of His disciples to go get a donkey for this last little piece. Curious, isn’t it?
Every Jew in Jesus’ day and especially in His audience would have been very familiar with the prophesy of Zechariah about the king’s entry into Jerusalem. Zechariah 9: 9-10 says:
Exult greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!
Behold: your king is coming to you, a just savior is he,
Humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem;
The warrior’s bow will be banished, and he will proclaim peace to all the nations.
His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Jesus, choosing this donkey, verifies this prophecy.
What does it say to us, that He is riding in on a donkey? It says to us that Jesus is a king, and that the King is coming to you. To you and to me by name. It says Jesus is a just Savior. He wants to save you, to remove you from sin and death, to justify you, moving you from darkness to light. It says Jesus is humble. He is not riding a great stallion or being carried in an ornate wagon. He is gentle, caring, and arriving on a common donkey. It says Jesus is peaceful. He is not conquering with horse and chariot, and bow. No violence. Peacefully, He comes to you. He doesn’t force your heart. He asks. It says Jesus’ reign, His dominion, is universal from sea to sea. That tells us He’s coming for everyone, every single one of us. Are we open? Are we ready?
Another curious thing about the story is that in order to complete this divine mission, in getting the help of this common creature, we learn that the donkey was born for one purpose and one purpose only. The donkey had never been sat upon by anyone. The donkey’s purpose was to serve the Lord. But the donkey couldn’t come on his own. He was tethered and needed guidance. Luke makes so much of the fact that the donkey was tethered and needed to be untied.
I started thinking that maybe you and I are the donkey. Weren’t we all born for one purpose: to serve the Lord? Aren’t we also tied up, bound to so many other things? Take a moment and think about what ties you, what binds you, what holds you back and separates you from truly loving and truly serving Him? Jesus, in His wisdom and compassion, sent disciples to help us, to untie us and lead us to Him. The Church, her Sacraments, her clergy, and all her holy and prayerful people have all been around and are still here to help set our hearts free and guide us to the Master, whom we were born to serve.
What binds you? What is your tether? Is it pride, or fear, indifference, busy-ness, or shame? There is something in the world out there causing separation. Our tether has been expertly bound by sin. Satan works around the clock to keep those knots tight and secure. But this week, as we go through Holy Week, we learn how and by whom we are liberated.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.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