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-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
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 10, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ez 33:7-9 / Ps 95 / Rom 13:8-10 / Mt 18:15-20
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Sometimes in the Bible we come across certain passages that are as relevant and practical in our lives today as they were a thousand years ago when they were first written. Today’s readings are good examples of such passages. Together they remind us that, as faithful Christians, it is our responsibility to reach out to our not-so-faithful brothers and sisters and bring them back into the fold. They even go on to recommend practical steps for how to go about doing this.
A young woman, Lydia, strayed from the church as a teenager. After nine years of experimenting with atheism, spiritism, and New Age, she found her way back again to the Church, by the grace of God. Relating her story, Lydia said that what hurt her most was that, in all her years of spiritual exile, nobody in the Church missed her. Nobody ever phoned or visited to find out what was wrong. “I got the impression that the Church did not want me,” she said.
Of course, the Church wants her, but what are we doing to help the many men and women in her situation to find their way back into full communion with the Church? Today’s readings invite us to review our “I don’t care” attitude toward fallen and lapsed members of the Church, reminding us that, yes, it should be our business to reach out to them.
Why should it be our business whether somebody else decides to serve God or not? As members of the Church, we are not just priestly people who offer a sacrifice. We are also a prophetic people, meaning that we are God’s spokespersons.
Today’s first reading is, in fact, a compact job description that God gave to the prophet Ezekiel on what it means to be a prophetic person. The first reading is a passage in the new phase of the prophetic ministry of Ezekiel, and it occurs in the context of an invasion of Palestine by a hostile army. Just as a watchman who warns the people of impending danger is not to be blamed if they do not listen, so Ezekiel is not to be blamed if the people to whom he preaches do not reform their lives. But if he fails to preach to them, then he must accept the blame.
St. Paul, in the second reading, reminds everyone that love is the key to obeying each of the commandments. Real love is love that looks out for the interest of other people. For a person who really loves, other people come first. In the passage from Matthew, Jesus gives an instruction in how to handle a refractory disciple. The instruction describes a formal procedure in three steps:
Step One: private confrontation. If there is no success, then the next step is recommended.
Step Two: the use of one or two additional formal witnesses. Failure here leads to a final step.
Step Three: Resort to the community, such as the local church. If there is no success here, the disciple is to be placed outside the communion of believers, as we say ‘excommunicated’.
Members of the Church who view church membership as being the same as citizenship in a civil government should think twice after hearing today’s reading. In a civil society, objection about fundamental policy is not only at times permitted; disagreement is at times required in order to be loyal to God.
But the Church in its fundamental teachings lives at a level much more profound. The leaders of the Church are invested with the authority of God, which means that they have to move within the bounds indicated to them by God, such as by being attentive to the scripture and tradition, the two sources of revelation.
Leaders of the Church in fundamental matters cannot do whatever they feel like. They are responsible to God for the flock entrusted to them. If they neglect to proclaim the message entrusted to them, God will hold them responsible. They are invested with the authority of God. But this authority is designed to help them and all of the Church’s members listen to God’s voice in the profoundly important matters of life, involving principles of moral and religious actions.
The Church can function as it should only if all of its members — leaders and non-leaders alike — obey the fundamental call of Jesus to love. But precisely because love is the fundamental law of the Church’s existence, decisive action with Church leaders is at times necessary, if they are to remain true to their calling by God.
God clearly wants everybody to be saved. He does not desire the death of a sinner. “Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked?” says the Lord God. “Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live? (Ez 18:23).” That is why Jesus teaches us in the gospel about fraternal correction; how to correct an erring brother and bring him back to the path of salvation.
Underlying the whole thing should be genuine love or charity. For St. Paul says in the second reading, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” God’s law of love asks all of us to be vigilant, not only for outside dangers, but also to keep watch within. Keep guard and watch over our hearts to ensure that we love as God loves, and our hearts do not harden into legalism, lack of compassion and mercy, or apathy. We’re all sentinels, watchpersons, vigilant for any discord, hatred, or inconsistency with the Gospel, and vigilant within ourselves for resentment, jealousy. Desire begins in the heart.
We now see the rapid and unrelenting spread of evil and immorality and sin in our world. Shall we continue being passive and impervious to all this? Unless we do something now, we may find ourselves the next on defense. As the famous quotation from Edmund Burke says, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
Let the gospel this Sunday inspire and empower us to proclaim the truth courageously, to denounce evil and sin resolutely, and to correct wrongdoers in truth and charity. The essence of discipleship and faithfulness to God is love. This is a love that is formed from within by God’s grace. It fosters loving watchfulness inside and out, and it softens the heart and saves us from ourselves. It turns us back toward each other and creates understanding, healing, and reconciliation. For us Christians, goodwill and kindness are not things we may choose to do or not to do. It is a debt we owe to each and every one.KEEP READING
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 3, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Jer 20:7-9 / Ps 63 / Rom 12:1-2 / Mt 16:21-27
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
A nun was explaining the Stations of the Cross to her class. They got to the fourth station where Jesus, on the road to Calvary, meets His mother. The nun explained that even though they could not talk to each other, the mother and son spoke to each other just using their eyes. “What do you think they said to each other?” she asked the pupils. The class gave many answers. One said that Mary said, “This isn’t fair.” Another said that she said, “Why me?” Finally, a sick little girl raised her thin hand, got up, and said, “Sister, I know what the Blessed Mother told Jesus. She said to Him, ‘Keep on going, Jesus.’ Why would a mother encourage her only son on the way to crucifixion, to keep on going? Because she understood the Christian principle of no cross, no crown.”
The image of Jesus Christ crucified is so important for our liturgical life that the Church requires that the crucifix be on or close to the altar at every Mass. It should be the focal point of the Christian life. All three of today’s scripture readings, with their emphasis on suffering and sacrifice, help us regain a proper appreciation of the crucified Christ and of the place of the cross in our Christian lives.
Jesus Christ proves to us how much God loves us by suffering and dying on the cross, that we may have eternal life. The greatest expression of Christ’s love is the laying down of His life on the cross. The very center of His mission is His death and resurrection for the life of the world. We can recall that St. Paul declared, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world (Gal 6:14).”
Peter, James, and John have just left the sweet, reassuring, hallowed experience of the Transfiguration. How thrilling religion can be! How comforting for the heart. Just when the apostles are wallowing in pleasant religious feelings, Jesus grows stern and tells them about His forthcoming cross. Peter will have none of it and tells Jesus that this is for others, not Him and them. Jesus, without missing a beat, cuts Peter with quickness by saying, “Get behind Me, Satan!”
Peter needed divine intervention to know that Jesus was divine at Caesarea Philippi. Now he needs divine illumination again to understand that the nice feelings at Tabor are only bought with the dreadful feelings of Calvary. You can sense the fire in Jesus’ heart as He speaks in glowing terms about the cost of following Him. Of course, He knows where everything is heading: Jerusalem and Golgotha, the grave and beyond. His disciples are not as clear about the direction they are headed, but not for lack of hearing about it. Peter actually takes Jesus aside and tells Him that this talk of suffering and death is inappropriate. This should be the hour of victory, but Jesus insists on making the opportunity in front of them strangely grim.
Following Jesus is not a walk in the park. It will not lead to a comfortable position sitting on His right or His left, but rather a taste of the cup from which He is to drink. If we believe in Jesus and are willing to risk a love like His, then we have to be prepared for what the world does to truth-speakers like Him.
Perhaps, like Peter, we may be losing sight of our purpose in life. It is not to live totally for pleasure and avoid as many crosses as possible. Rather, it is to live it in such a way so as to merit the reward of eternal life. It is about living our few years in this life in a way that will reap for us the reward of eternal life in the next life. More concretely, it is about picking up our crosses daily and accepting them in the same spirit that Jesus accepted His own cross. The remarkable part is that once we begin living as Jesus taught us to live, everything will turn upside down. Suddenly, what seemed to be an enormous cross, will turn out to be, in the light of this world and the next world, an enormous blessing.
Suffering then, is not an end in itself. It is a pathway to glory. Jesus has taken on the full weight of human suffering and has transformed it, giving it life-giving value. This is why we willingly display the crucifix instead of rejecting it. While we try to alleviate suffering through legitimate means, at the same time we strive to see it from God’s perspective to find its deeper meaning. When we look at a crucifix, we are reminded that God does not see suffering as something to be avoided at all costs. He knows how to bring good out of suffering.
St. Paul knows that the idea of sacrifice, which is voluntary suffering, does not fit the world’s way of thinking. We are no longer to think as the world does or judge by the world’s standards. Rather, we are called to be transformed by the renewal of our minds so that we may discern what is the will of God: what is good, pleasing, and perfect.
To be able to do this, we need to fix our gaze on Jesus Christ or the crucified Christ. He is risen, but His cross and His passion are our strength. The way of perfection passes by way of the cross. Living by God’s will, no matter what form the cross may take in our lives, is what leads to our glory with Him.KEEP READING
Twenty first Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 27, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 22:19-23 / Ps 138 / Rom 11:33-36 / Mt 16:13-20
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
Thank you, Jesus, for calling Simon to be the Rock upon which the Church would be built! Jesus called him this before Simon had gained Christian courage or fortitude at Pentecost. He called him the Rock knowing that just moments later He would chastise him, saying, “Get behind me Satan.” He called him the Rock while knowing Simon would one day deny Him three times when He needed Simon the most.
Hang on to that thought a moment; we will come back to it in the second half of this homily. But now, let’s use a powerful prayer-centering technique from St. Ignatius of Loyola and place ourselves in the gospel scene. This is a time for you to use your imagination in a holy way that God intended. Once you have the image in your mind, go back to it whenever your mind wanders. It will help you stay centered. You can do this any time you pray with scripture.
Jesus and the twelve were in Caesarea Philippi, a mostly Gentile area with a temple to the ancient Greek god, Pan. There is a large spring there, which helps form the headwaters of the Jordan river. The spring makes the area lush with greenery. The area is mountainous with brown, grey, and orange-streaked rock all around.
Imagine Jesus and the twelve and you stopping underneath the shade of some trees and sitting on some of those rocks common to that area. There is a breeze cooling us off after our long walk from Galilee. Jesus sits on the largest of the rocks and begins to speak to us. Place yourself in this scene next to a disciple, except Peter. If your mind wanders, recall this scene and where you are sitting.
Jesus asks, “Who do people think I am?” We have all heard different things. Then He asks, “But who do you say that I am?” Before any of us can think it through, Simon says, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Jesus tells him that neither his intellect nor that of others came up with that answer, “[B]ut it was revealed to you by my heavenly Father.” And then Jesus stuns us who know Simon’s weaknesses, saying, “I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church…I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”
You lean over to the disciple you sat next to and ask, “Why did Jesus call Simon by the name Peter?” He replies, “When God changes a person’s name it is because He is giving them a new mission and a new authority. God did this with Abraham and Sarah who became the father and mother of the nations.” You suddenly realize God did this with Peter who becomes the first Pope. Pope is Latin for papa or father; Peter is to be the Father of the Church to which all nations belong (Cavins Session 15).
You ask the disciple, “What does it mean that Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven and that what he binds and loosens will be done in heaven too?” The disciple lightheartedly ribs you, saying, “You should have paid more attention to the first reading from Isaiah 22,” and he winks at you. He goes on, “Jesus was using the same language used by Isaiah. In Isaiah, a royal steward, Shebna, is removed from power and the keys were given to Eliakim. Stewards were the most powerful person in Israel under the king (Mitch_Sri 209).”
You tell him, “I learned in Adult Faith Formation that the power to rule in the king’s absence is denoted by keys that represent the office, not the person, and therefore this power or office can be handed down to successors (Cavins). There are some in my time who say that Peter had primacy among the twelve, but that it ended when he was martyred. They are wrong. The bible and historical records prove them so.”
The disciple asks you, “In your time, do you know what authority Jesus gave Peter?” You Google Catechism 553 and read to him while he looks curiously over your shoulder at the cell phone. “The keys are a symbol of his power to open the gates of heaven to men; ‘to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church.’” Not to be outdone by a machine, the disciple one ups Google and adds, “Jesus was using an ancient Jewish idiom or figure of speech of binding and loosing whereby rabbis exercised teaching and juridical authority (Mitch_Sri 211).
You tell him, “I heard in Fr. Mike Schmitz’s Catechism in a Year podcast that the authority of the pope and the college of bishops that we call the magisterium is vitally important to our faith. First, because authority must exist if we are to learn to be obedient like our Master, the one sitting on that tall rock over there, of Whom it was said, “Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him (Heb 5:8-10).” The disciple animatedly adds, “That is why we must teach our children to be obedient. We cannot be their buddy all the time. If they do not learn to obey their earthly mother and father, how will they learn to obey their heavenly Father through the Church?”
You emphatically agree, mentioning that, “Obedience to the Church is important to ensure the teaching of Jesus is not distorted by a constantly changing worldly culture or our own passions or brokenness. For example, there are Christians who now believe baptism is not necessary for salvation despite Peter’s writing later that, “[B]aptism now saves you (1 Pt 3:21).” End of the scene. Now let’s shift from the theology of today’s gospel to its spiritual meaning for our lives.
Recall that at the beginning of the homily I thanked Jesus for selecting Simon as head of the Church. Here is why. Prior to his being confirmed in the Spirit at Pentecost, he would sink in the water for he had little faith. He would tempt Jesus to avoid His Passion, prompting Jesus to say those words I mentioned earlier, “Get behind me Satan.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter would fall asleep multiple times while Jesus prayed alone in agony. While Jesus was on trial, Peter denied his friendship with Him three times. Despite knowing all this would take place, Jesus called him “the rock” before Pentecost.
So here is the question we all must answer, “Where is Jesus calling you to be a rock, but you resist His call because you feel unworthy, inadequate, ignorant, weak, too busy, too old, or too young?”
We know our past and our weakness almost as well as Jesus does, but we do not know as well as He does our strength, and especially not how strong we will be in the future by His grace. When He calls you to be a rock for a friend, for your spouse, for your children, for your students or patients or customers, for the poor, or for this wonderful parish, you can trust He knows you better than you know yourself.
What about when you fail after He calls you to be a rock for someone or something? Again, Peter shows us the way. In his fear and confusion after Jesus’ arrest, he continued to follow Jesus as best he could, albeit at a distance. By doing so, when Peter hit “rock bottom” (pun intended), denying Jesus three times, he was still near enough to Jesus to receive His saving grace, His divine glance. Across the high priest’s courtyard, Peter saw how Jesus looked at him and the healing and conversion of heart began with Peter’s holy sorrow falling as tears.
When you feel the frustration and hopelessness of your repeated failures to do God’s will or the confusion from being deep in darkness and despair from the natural evil of serious illness or the death of a loved one, or addiction, or the uncertainty of a new season in life like retirement, keep following Jesus. We do that by following Him in prayer, adoration, Confession, and Holy Communion. In those moments, even if we are not feeling strong in faith, we are close enough to see how He looks at us.
His glance, His gaze starts the healing and strengthening that enables us to fully receive the grace of our Pentecost, Confirmation. And this awakening to the power of the Holy Spirit within us transforms us from being unstable in doubt to being a rock in faith. But we still must move and act.
Here is my personal testimony to this truth, and this is for the glory of God. When I was six years old, Jesus called me a rock, if you will, in the happy moment of my first Holy Communion when I was asked to read one of the readings. It meant a lot to me at that time in my life. But then life happened. My dad lost his way, which led to my losing my way. I didn’t go to Mass or pray or think about God during my teenage years. Yes, Jesus brought me back to the Church through marriage, but I still was filled with self-doubt, worsened by sin and the baggage from those years, without an awareness of Him.
Fast forward to 2016, before I began the process of becoming a deacon, Jesus asked me to be a rock for my brother, Kevin, who was dying of cancer in home hospice and who was estranged from the Church. I had no medical training and no hospice experience. I tended to lose control of my emotions when those around me were experiencing strong emotions. Furthermore, I was the baby of my family, the youngest of five.
Through unmerited grace, I found the courage to fly to New Orleans to care for Kevin. As it turned out, his condition was direr than the doctors thought. The six weeks of life they thought he would have were only to be one. Throughout that week, in a somewhat surreal way, I was pondering the inner strength and joy I was experiencing. And I was quietly amazed that everyone turned to me, the normally overly emotional baby of the family, for strength and hope when they were overcome by fear and sadness.
A day or two after Kevin died, as we were in the midst of funeral planning, I received a text from my brother-in-law. He is a thinker, a cardiologist, so his opinions are something you pay attention to. I’ll never forget his few short words, which, looking back on it, were surely those of Christ. “Mark, you are the rock of your family.”
So again, I encourage you to rethink whatever person or cause or need for which Jesus has asked you to be a rock. And in a few minutes, before you come forward for Holy Communion, look for that divine glance as Father elevates Jesus before us and pray with a renewed faith, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” And maybe add in the quiet of your heart, “I will be a rock for whomever and whatever as you wish Lord.” St. Peter, once weak, but now the rock, pray for us. 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.
Jeff Cavins & Sarah Christmyer. Matthew – The King and His Kingdom. Ascension Press 2011.
Fr. Mike Schmitz. Catechism in a Year. Podcast on Hallow App 2023.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
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 13, 2023 — Year A
Readings: 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a / Ps 85 / Rom 9:1-5 / Mt 14:22-33
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Visitors to the Holy Land like to take a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, the sea that Jesus walked. A certain tourist wanted such a ride, and the boatman told him that the fare was $150.
“One hundred fifty dollars!” exclaimed the tourist. “That’s why Jesus just walked.”
If we go deeper into the gospel passage for today, this story of Jesus’ walking on the sea teaches us a lot about who Jesus is, about the Church and her journey through the world, and about the life of faith of individual believers.
First is the lesson about Jesus. The miracle of Jesus’ walking on the sea shows that Jesus is Lord and has authority over all forces, natural and supernatural. The Jews believed that the sea is the domain of supernatural demonic forces. A rough and stormy sea is regarded as the work of these hostile spirits. By walking on the raging waves and calming the storm, Jesus is showing Himself to be One who has power and control over these hostile spiritual powers.
There are Christians who have surrendered their lives to the Lord but still live in constant fear of evil spirits, sorcery, witchcraft, potions, and curses. There are many of us who go to fortune tellers and ask them, “What is ahead of us?” Many of us, too, read horoscopes to know what will happen to us during the day. Today’s gospel readings bring us the good news that these powers of darkness stand no chance at all when Jesus is present and active in our lives and affairs.
The second lesson is about the Church. The boat on the sea is one of the earliest Christian symbols for the Church in her journey through the world. Just as the boat is tossed about by the waves, so is the Church pounded from all sides by worldly and spiritual forces hostile to the kingdom of God. In the midst of crisis, Jesus comes to strengthen the faith of the Church. He assures us that no matter how strong the storm of life is at the moment, He is always to remain with His Church, and He keeps His promise always.
Some of our priests and bishops in the past have felt the persecution of the Roman emperors, the threat of the Anti-Christ, and heresies. The sexual conduct of some priests has cracked the Church. But the Church still exists and will continue to exist in the future, because Christ is with His Church.
The third lesson is about the individual believer. The first rule I learned regarding driving a motor vehicle is: Keep your eyes on the road always. And not on the steering wheel, not on the clutch or the accelerator, because if we do that we will certainly crash. The sight of Jesus walking on the sea, especially the involvement of Peter in the story, is a lesson for us who are tempted to take our eyes off of Jesus and to take more notice of the threatening circumstances around us.
Peter had said to Jesus, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water” (Mt 14:28). Jesus gives him the command, “Come” (Mt 14:29). But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened and began to sink (Mt 14:30).
The strong wind in our lives could be sickness, death, poverty, family problems, inability to correct unjust conditions, difficulty in finding decent work, apathy, impatience, the urge to give up in despair, and many more. Why did Peter sink? When Peter kept his eyes fixed on Jesus, he walked upon water well enough. But when he took notice of the danger he was in and focused on the waves, he became afraid and began to sink. So, today’s gospel reading holds the spiritual message for each one of us to focus our eyes on God at all times, and to fulfill His will.
Keeping our eyes focused on Jesus could be difficult. The gospels suggest three ways to us on how to do it. First, let us recognize that we cannot save ourselves. Like Peter, we have to face the fact that he could not save himself as he was slowly sinking. Some of us may have trouble admitting that we can’t make it through life on our own, but we can’t. We really can’t. It is not weakness to admit that we need God. It is foolish to think we don’t.
Second, reach out to Jesus. After we admit that we cannot save ourselves, reach out to Jesus like Peter did, and cry out to the Lord when we slip, “Save me!” But how?
One way could be by going to Confession. Reach out to Jesus in the Eucharist, and then reach out by seeking the help of Christian friends who will support us in our efforts to keep our eyes on Him. In other words, the three C’s of reaching out to Jesus are Confession, Communion, and Community.
Third, keep your grip on Jesus strong, like Peter did. He held onto Jesus for dear life. That is why he eventually made it back to the boat safely. How do we keep our grip on Jesus strong? That is through prayer, studying our faith in His words, and by making the daily effort to put our faith into practice. If we take prayer seriously, and not just make a few formal prayers to satisfy our consciences, if we study our faith diligently, and if we make the effort to live it out there in the world, then our grip on the Lord will not loosen.
If we lose our grip and fall into serious sin and suffering, then let us go back to Step One and start all over again. As long as we make Christ our vision, our point of arrival, and the center of our lives, we can survive. We believe that when big storms come our way, God is always there to help, and rescue us. We have to trust Him.
May the Lord increase our little faith, so that through all the storms of life, we should have our eyes and our trust constantly fixed on Jesus and His power and not on ourselves and our weaknesses.
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
August 6, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Dn 7:9-10, 13-14 / Ps 97 / 2 Pt 1:16-19 / Mt 17:1-9
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There is a story of a young man who thought he was a worm. He would hide under the bed whenever he saw a chicken, because chickens eat worms. One day he was hiding under the bed, because he saw a chicken roaming around. His best friend decided to help him overcome his problem. He went under the bed with him and told him to repeat after him, “I am a man, not a worm.” After a few repetitions, his best friend urged him to come out and prove himself a man. He came out and walked around confidently until he saw a chicken and then immediately hid under the bed again. His best friend went under the bed and asked him, “Why don’t you believe you are a man, not a worm?” The young man replied, “I do believe I am a man, not a worm, but does the chicken believe that?”
Jesus believed that He was the beloved Son of the Father. Even in His most painful and despairing moments, He believed that. The disciples also believed that Jesus was the Son of God, but the moment the trials and persecutions came along, they ran and hid under the bed. Later on, however, they truly believed and laid down their lives for Jesus.
The Feast of the Transfiguration reminds us of who Jesus is and also reminds us of who we are. Today we are celebrating this feast. The word, transfiguration, is derived from the Latin word, transfigurare, or the Greek word, metamorphosis, which means change in form or appearance. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, a special trio in the twelve, up the high mountain of Tabor where the glory of His destiny is revealed to them. This glory belongs to Him as God’s beloved Son. Transfiguration is the foretaste of heaven. This is signified by His dazzling white clothes.
Peter wants to preserve this moment by erecting tents. He’s overwhelmed and terrified by the experience, and yet he doesn’t want it to end. Moses and Elijah are seen talking to Jesus about His death which He is to suffer in Jerusalem. This is seen by the three apostles. The three are wondrously delighted with this vision and Peter calls out to Christ, “Lord it is good for us to be here. Let us make three tents, one for Thee, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Then they hear the voice of the Father saying, “This is My Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”
This moment, not a permanent state of bliss, is given to them to help them realize the true identity of Jesus, that Jesus is the true Messiah, the Son of the living God. This conversation of Jesus with Elijah and Moses shows us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. (Moses represents the law, and Elijah represents the prophets.) His mission is not to destroy the ways in which the Father has already revealed Himself, but to bring this revelation to completion.
The vision that we are given today on this great Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord shows us that we are called to something far beyond anything we could have imagined.
Our first reading from the book of Daniel gives us a tiny glimpse into the awesome glory of Heaven, where the Father reigns with His Son. We get the sense that Daniel can barely find the words to describe the wonder of what he has seen. Everything is bright white, glowing as if on fire, seemingly blinding in its brilliance. Myriads of people from every nation are worshipping God. This vision already fills us with great hope. We want to be invited into this place where we can experience the glory of God and be counted among those who are privileged to stand before Him and worship Him.
The gospel, however, encourages us to hope for still more. Peter, James, and John are shown the same glory of God shining out through the very humanity of Jesus. They begin to understand that God is not content merely to have us join Him in heaven so that we can witness His glory. He wants to transform us so that we shine with that very same glory. The Transfiguration shows us more deeply who Jesus is. It also shows us who we are called to be in God’s plan.
St. Peter assures us, in the second reading, that this is not just some cleverly devised story. He himself was an eyewitness to the Transfiguration. He speaks of what he saw and heard. He declares that this promise of God is altogether reliable and exhorts us to be attentive to it.
Another possible reason for this display was that Jesus wanted to strengthen these three apostles for the trials of faith that they would have to face and endure at Mount Calvary when Jesus would not be on Mount Tabor, the mountain of the Transfiguration, but on Mount Calvary, the mountain of the cross.
God sometimes gives us moments of consolation and joy. We want such moments to never end, but that is not our lot here on earth. Before enjoying glory, we must first undergo suffering. These moments of consolation will help us to go on, to persevere in spite of difficulties. God invites us to see the many little transfiguration experiences that we have in our daily lives, such as changes of nature, the gradual opening of a flower, the blooming of trees, transformation of people, the growing of children, the cycle of birth and death, the realization that God is there.
Through the eyes of faith, we realize that it is a continuous process of seeing, not the flower, but the blooming, not the people but their talents, not the sun but its rising, not the miracle but God.
Every time that we gather for the celebration of the Eucharist, we also experience a moment of transfiguration where our Lord Jesus Christ is transfigured before our very own eyes. The bread and wine are transfigured and become His body and blood, thus our spiritual food for life in our journey toward eternal life. May we slowly come out of our fears, weaknesses, and sinfulness, and show others what we really believe in and who we are called to be—the people of God.KEEP READING
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 30, 2023 — Year A
Readings: 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12 / Ps 119 / Rom 8:28-30 / Mt 13:44-52
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
A while ago, I read an article about a college athlete who was training to make the school’s football team. He got up every morning at five a.m. to train. He would run and lift weights for two hours straight. Then he would go back to the dorm, shower, eat breakfast, and go off to his classes. After his classes, he would go back to the athletic facility and work for three more hours with his teammates, learning the playbook, running plays, more weights, etc. The next morning at five a.m., he started the same routine all over again.
Obviously, he had very little, if any, social life. When a reporter asked him why he followed such a difficult schedule, the young man said, “My only goal right now is to be the best football player I can be and to help my team win a championship. If going to parties or anything else, for that matter, prevents me from accomplishing my goal, then why go? The more I train, the better. You see, sacrifice is the thing.”
Brothers and sisters, I was wondering, if Jesus was living now instead of two thousand years ago, if in today’s gospel, He might have used a different story or two. Rather than speak about a pearl merchant who sacrificed everything to buy his dream pearl, or a tenant farmer who sold everything he owned to buy a field with a treasure in it, Jesus may have spoken about a young man who sacrificed a lot to be the best football player that he could be.
What’s the connection between a pearl merchant, a treasure hunter, and this young football player? What do they have in common? What they have in common is this: They have a total commitment to their dream. All of them are willing to sacrifice everything for the goal they have set for themselves. In one case, it is to own the perfect pearl. In the second case, it’s to obtain a great treasure. In the third case, it is to help make his team into a champion.
That’s precisely Jesus’ point in today’s gospel: To be a true follower of God requires total commitment on our part. Citizenship in God’s kingdom requires us to give one hundred percent all of the time, not just when we feel like it. God’s kingdom must be the top priority of our life. We cannot be a true follower of Jesus only part of the time, sort of like a hobby. We cannot be only admirers of Him.
Being a true disciple of Jesus is like being a pearl merchant. Being a true disciple of Jesus is like being a treasure seeker. Being a true disciple of Jesus is like being a football player. It involves total dedication and commitment.
But there is one difference – a big difference between a true disciple of Jesus and our pearl merchant, treasure hunter, and football player. You see, those three people are striving for rewards that will not last, rewards that are transitory. Earthly rewards, while a follower of Jesus is striving for eternal, permanent rewards.
When the pearl merchant dies, his pearl will no longer be of any value to him. When the treasure seeker dies, his treasure will be as useless to him as snowshoes are to somebody in July. When the football player dies, his trophies will be just another keepsake for his family.
But when a true disciple of Jesus dies, a true Christian, the whole kingdom of God rejoices, because it will now shine brighter and brighter. All of God’s people will be edified eternally when a Christian dies.
Money and influence, in and of themselves, are neutral. Money is good when it is used to help others, not when it is only spent on ourselves. Influence and power can be great, even holy, when used to lift up those who have been beaten down by life’s brutality.
At the moment just before our death, I doubt very much if any of us will look back on our lives and wish we spent more hours at the office or made more money or played another round of golf. I do think, however, that we will look back on our lives and wish that we had spent more time with our families and loved ones. More time helping other people and doing good.
You see, then, on our deathbeds we will realize that there is only one thing in life that really counts, and it’s not whether in life we acquired a prize pearl or a rare treasure or won a sport championship. The only thing that will truly matter is what we have become, what we are in God’s eyes while we traveled our paths through life.
Think about this: If our pearl merchant and treasure seeker and football player were willing to sacrifice so much for a prize that will never last, how much more should we be willing to sacrifice for a prize that will last forever? Earthly prizes can be good and even satisfying for a time, but eternal prizes are the best, the very best. So don’t bet on the wrong horse, as they say.
If we are given the choice, what do we prefer: gold, glory, or God? It is easy to say that we prefer God in our lives, but sadly, this is not what we see in people’s priorities today. Often the desire for wealth and honor would push people to spend their precious time for work and business only. The prevailing culture suggests that, to be happy, one must have more and achieve more.
Hence, people are willing to sacrifice their time with the family in order to earn more money. Many are also ready to surrender their Christian principles and values just to keep their fame and glory.
The well-known story of Solomon in our first reading should inspire us all. In a dream, God offered to give him one thing that he wanted. Being young, Solomon could have asked for wealth or glory or long life. But realizing the great task ahead of him, Solomon thought that what he really needed was the wisdom to rule his people well in the ways of God.
Wisdom, or God’s inspiration, is what Solomon asked for, and God was so pleased with Solomon, that He promised him more than the gift of wisdom, including riches, glory, and long life. That’s why the song that we sang several weeks ago is right: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all good things shall be added unto you.”
Mother Teresa of Kolkata and John Paul II both died leaving no property, for they had not accumulated treasures on earth. They found their treasure in a life given totally to the service of God and of the Church.
The parables are true. Those who discover the treasure of the Kingdom will be happy to let go of everything to follow and be close to Jesus.
May Jesus Christ be praised.
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 16, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 55:10-11 / Ps 65 / Rom 8:18-23 / Mt 13:1-23
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
A story is told of a young man named Eric, who was giving testimony regarding the turnaround in his life. Two years before, he confessed, he had no appetite for the Word of God. On Sundays he would shop around the neighborhood churches for the priest that gave the shortest homilies. So, his idea of a good church service was one that took as little time as possible; the shorter the better. After the big change in his life, he could sit down and listen to the preaching of God’s word without thinking about the time.
Our disposition for the Word of God is a good indication of our relationship with the Lord. Today’s gospel is an opportunity to reveal our attitude to the Word of God.
Often, as we listen to the readings each weekend, we may have the feeling that they don’t apply to our lives. Today’s gospel could be one of those instances. Jesus talks about sowing seeds, but what do we know about seeds? Perhaps if you mention supermarkets, restaurants, or McDonald’s, we might have paid attention to it. Most of us don’t scatter seeds to obtain our food, and we probably don’t know much about the growth process of most of the crops from which we get our daily sustenance. But if we reflect upon it, is there anything else that we sow, that we spread, that does have an effect upon our lives?
What about our time? Yes, we do scatter the minutes of our day just in the way that a farmer would scatter seed in the field. We scatter 60 seconds each minute, and 60 minutes each hour, for about 16 hours each day. That’s about 57,000 seconds that we scatter throughout our daily routine. And that’s a lot of seeds.
So how does this apply to the words that Jesus spoke to His followers? He said that if the farmer scatters his seeds in certain ways, he will not create a bountiful harvest. His message to each one of us today is the same.
Jesus mentioned the seeds sown on the ground that is so hard that nothing can take root. That is like sowing grass seed on our driveway – nothing will grow. If we are sowing minutes each day on hard ground, pursuing money, power, or influence, we are making the same mistake the farmer made. If we have no time for prayer, no time for our families, no time for helping others, our minutes will not bear fruit. We will not store up an abundance of grace or of charity.
We, too, can spread our minutes on rocky ground. We can spend hours at the office or on the golf course. We can attend luncheons or bridge parties, and, like the seed that fell on rocky ground, we will have no roots. We will not have time to attend Mass during the week, or will be forced to pray the rosary while driving our cars. So, therefore, our minutes will not bear fruit.
Jesus said, “Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew and choked it.” If anyone sows their seed in the thorns of drugs, alcohol, and sins against the Sixth Commandment, Jesus warns us that our lives will be choked out. Some here are probably familiar with friends who sowed their seeds among the thorns and did not find the fulfillment of a rich harvest, but the agony of tragedy. Think of them as you listen to the words of Jesus this morning. There is a better way.
Is Jesus saying we shouldn’t work hard in order to support our families? Or that we should never relax and enjoy ourselves, or engage in wholesome entertainment with our friends? Not at all.
Jesus died so that we could be happy, so that our lives could be full, and so that we could have an eternal future with Him. However, for that to happen we must make a decision. We must recognize that He’s been talking about seed, but He’s talking about how we spend our minutes: whether or not we are making the same mistake the farmer made.
Going back to Eric’s story, prior to his conversion… Eric did not relish the preaching of the Word of God. Many young people today, and many who are not so young, are in a similar situation. The responsibility for this attitude toward God’s Word could be shared between those who communicate it and those who receive the message.
Some preachers often take pride in saying it just as it is. The fact that Jesus uses stories and parables to teach tells us that it is not enough to say it just as it is. How the Word is communicated is important, but the parable focuses more on how it is received. The parable today is a reminder that the Kingdom of Heaven is a mystery. It is something that we cannot fully understand with our minds, but we can understand it with our hearts if we are willing to believe and obey the Word of God.
Often, we read the Gospels and dismiss them as ancient history. In a way they are, because in the world in which we live we must be much more vigilant than those who lived in Jesus’ time. Look around us, and consider the challenges we face. Turn on the television or attend movies, and you will see graphic depictions of people living lives that were condemned by all in the time of Jesus.
In order to counteract the immoral society, Jesus is telling us to sow our minutes on the rich soil. Sow them in such a way that we can find happiness and fulfillment. But the question is: Where is the rich soil? It is right here; here in this church this day. We are all spreading our seeds, our minutes, in an atmosphere that allows us to grow, not in a worldly fashion, but in a way that ensures us of real life, a life of fulfillment in Jesus’ word.
What is real happiness? We find it in being charitable, prayerful, loving our children, loving and helping our parents. We find real happiness in honesty, chastity, sobriety, and freedom from drugs. We find happiness in the words of Jesus, when He said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” or “Love one another as I love you.”
Jesus has promised that we will reap a huge harvest by following His teaching. By following His commandments, by loving others as we love ourselves, by using our minutes to help those less fortunate, by spending time each day in prayer, and by realizing that His words guide us to true happiness, we can reap the harvest He has promised. Jesus has promised all this to us: we can have everything by spending our minutes wisely, both in His service and in following His commandments. He points the way to true happiness.KEEP READING