Becoming What You Can Be

February 14, 2024 |by N W | 0 Comments | Charity, Family, Father Nixon, Generosity, Humility, Lent, Prayer, Repentance

Ash Wednesday
February 14, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Jl 2:12-18 / Ps 51 / 2 Cor 5:20-6:2 / Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

There is this beautiful saying which is very fitting to our celebration today. It says, “Let today be the day you give up who you have been for what you can become.” What do we need to give up today in order for us to become the person that is pleasing before the eyes of the Lord?

Today we celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent: forty days of preparation for the coming of the Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection, which we call the Pascal mystery. Forty is a very important number, because we know that, when Jesus was tempted by Satan, He was there in the desert for forty days and forty nights to prepare for His public ministry. During that time Jesus encountered a lot of challenges and temptations.

After the homily, we are going to receive the ashes, which are a sign of our repentance. This is also a reminder of our human weakness, that we are all in need of God’s mercy. When we receive the ashes, there are two formulas that will be said. The first one says, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” and that can be found in Mark 1:15. The second formula that we are going to use is, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” and that can be found in the book of Genesis 3:19.

Ashes remind us of our humanity: that we are all created by God. That’s why in Genesis 2:7 it says, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Here we can see, brothers and sisters, that when God created us, He created us from the dust, and because we came from dust, this is also a good reminder for us not to be proud. The scripture lets us continue to remain grounded, to be humble.

But in spite of the fact that we came from dust, of all God’s creations, He only breathed the breath of the Spirit on man. That’s why we are all so special in the eyes of God. Hence the formulas that are used as we receive the ashes, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” and “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

This may lead us to ask the question, what does this challenge us to do today? As we try to reflect on the words that we will be hearing soon, this helps us also understand the call of Lent. The word ASH can also be an acronym.

“A” stands for almsgiving. Our human weakness tells us that we only think of our own needs. Everyone always tells us: Think of yourself first before you think of others; just think of yourself. Our human weakness tells us we are always tempted to be selfish and greedy, to think of ourselves. That is why during the season of Lent we are reminded that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, that we belong to one body of Christ. That because we are one body, we need to think of others also. That’s why we are encouraged during the season of Lent to give.

Our gospel today reminds us that when we give, we should not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. There are people who, when they give, just seek to be praised. Of course, that’s not what our gospel tells us. When you give, do it in secret; do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. This tells us that when we give, our giving must be inspired with true love and brotherhood.

“S” stands for sacrifice. Worldly people will think that suffering, or any form of sacrifice is worthless. Comfort, happiness and physical satisfaction are all they are looking for. And that’s what the world tells us: satisfy your thirst, satisfy your hunger, satisfy your longings. We as Christians are taught that suffering can be valuable if we offer it with the Cross of Christ. Our pains, our problems, sufferings in life can only be meaningful when we learn to unite all our problems and sufferings with the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus reminded us in the gospel of Saint John, chapter 15, that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend. That’s true love. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest also reminded us that there is no love when there is no sacrifice. That’s very true. That’s why for us Christians we can only show a genuine love when sacrifice is there.

That’s applicable to anybody that we deal with, even between husbands and wives. You say I love you, honey. I love you, sweetheart. You must be willing to sacrifice, willing to forgive, willing to understand, willing to remember the promises that you made during your wedding day: “I will be with you in good times and in bad.” That’s the promise you made a long time ago that you cannot deny. It’s like saying, “Show me your flaws, and I will not leave you, I will be there, I will be here.” We are bound by the promise that we made not only in front of the community but in front of God, I will not leave you, I will be with you whatever will happen.  That’s one way of showing our sacrifice.

When we give something that hurts us, that is true giving. You should learn to sacrifice yourself. Learn to forget yourself in order to see the needs of others. And that’s a Christlike act.

Lent also encourages us to fast. And when we fast, we fast not only for health reasons or for beauty. That should not be our intention in fasting: I want to be healthy. Brothers and sisters, when we fast or when we sacrifice something, when we don’t eat, when we don’t purchase something, that’s a sacrifice. Our normal thinking will tell us that we save, we don’t purchase something we don’t eat in order for me to save.

But fasting tells us that when we don’t eat, what we don’t eat belongs to the poor. Every time we fast, we should put something aside for the poor and remember those people who have nothing to eat. That’s why, during the season of Lent, we are given the Rice Bowl container, so that every time we fast, we put an amount of money in there. That’s our way of expressing our solidarity, our charity towards poor people.

We don’t only fast, but we also feel how it is to be hungry. Fasting is about giving. Fasting is also an invitation for us to conquer our selfishness. That’s also the main purpose of fasting. It’s a time during the season of Lent to combat our cravings and greed. This is the best time for us to learn to discipline ourselves. To fight against our cravings and our desires.

“H” stands for humility. How do we humble ourselves? The answer is through prayer. Prayer is an act of humility. Someone once said prayer is nothing but a humble acceptance of our total dependence on God. People who pray wholeheartedly are people who realize that apart from God, we are nothing and we can do nothing. That’s why we need to pray, brothers and sisters, because our prayer will make us realize that we are really nothing and we can really do nothing without God.

People who do not pray, even if they don’t say it, are proud because they think that they can survive life without God, that things can be well even without God. That’s where prayer is very important.

Of course, our gospel also today reminds us that when we pray, we don’t pray like the hypocrites, just to win the praise of others. Our intention in praying is to give praise and glory to God. Not to win, not to receive praise from other people. Yes, it is true that we can pray everywhere, we can pray even in our workplace, in the marketplace or wherever we are, but let us always remember that we need to pray in the silence of our hearts. We don’t need to show it to other people that we are praying. Even in our own silence, even in the midst of noise or chaos, we can continue to pray in the silence of our hearts.

Brothers and sisters, let us take the challenge. Let today be the day you give up who you have been for what you can become.

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Perfect Surrender

December 8, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Father Nixon, Humility, Mary, Obedience, Reconciliation, Repentance

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
December 8, 2023 — Year B
Readings: Gn 3:9-15, 20 / Ps 98 / Eph 1:3-6, 11-12 / Lk 1:26-38
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

A preacher once said, “Saying yes to God does not mean perfect performance.  Rather, it means perfect surrender to the Lord, day by day.”  Today, as we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, perhaps it is a good time to reflect on whom we are going to follow:  Adam, who in our first reading said no to God, or Mary, who in our gospel reading said yes to God.

Today, in our first reading, we hear the Lord call to Adam, saying, “Where are you?”  Adam replies, “I hid myself.”  In our gospel, we also hear Mary, whose response to the angel’s prophecy of her Son was, “I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”

In a homily many years ago, Pope Francis said, “’Here I am’ is the opposite of ‘I hid myself.’  ‘Here I am’ opens one to God, while sin closes, isolates, and causes one to be alone with oneself.”

The words of Mary today are full of wisdom.  We should use these words every time we pray to the Lord each morning.  If we say to the Lord, “Here am I, your servant,” like Mary with all sincerity, that shows humility within us. These words would show that we are willing to do what God asks us to do for the rest of our day.  This is an act of humility because a person who is open to the will of God is a person who recognizes that God will continue to work in his life no matter what happens along the way.   Mary is our example in this.  Mary experienced many difficulties, especially witnessing the suffering of her son.  She was able to endure everything because she knew very well that God was with Him, blessing Him, giving Him the grace that He needed in order to survive any challenges in life.

Some people, however, do not love or respect the Lord and are not willing to admit that they are God’s servants.  They think that they can live without God.  These are the people who are proud, because they do not want to be told what rules to follow, such as the commandments.   For them, the ten commandments are a hindrance to their happiness.  They think they want to be independent.  If they are independent without any moral guide to follow, then their only guide is their own personal desires and cravings in life.  That’s what they follow.  People without a moral guide, or no God, are guided only by their desires.  If they like to eat, they do that, if they get angry, they hurt people. They are not much better than animals.

Christians have a moral guide, a guide that does not curtail our freedom, but rather gives us freedom.   The more we follow this moral guide, the more it makes us realize the true meaning of what we are doing.  It will make us realize the meaning of our existence in life.

Sin puts us away from the grace of God.  It isolates us, as Pope Francis says.  It causes us to be alone with oneself.  Every time we fall into sin, we feel like Adam who hid himself.  Every time we fall into sin, we have no face to show in front of the Lord.  That’s the normal feeling brought about by sin.  That is why we should always remember that the Lord is willing to search for us when we lose our way by sinning.  Every time we fall into sin, God always searches for us.  He will always claim us as His own.  God will tell us, “You are mine.  I created you.  I made you.  I made you to be good.  When you go astray, I have to look for you.”  We sinners should not continue hiding ourselves as Adam did.  We should get out and show ourselves with all humility before the Lord.  We must say to the Lord, “I’m sorry.  I want to start over.”  There is no sin that God cannot forgive.

Nothing is impossible with God, as the angel said to Mary.  God can take the most evil thing in the world and make it holy.  One example of something evil that God made holy is the cross.  Before they hung Jesus on that cross, a cross was a symbol of shame, a symbol of death, a symbol of defeat, embarrassment, and everything negative.  But after they hung Jesus on the cross, the cross became holy, a source of life, a symbol of salvation, a symbol of power.  That’s how powerful God is.  God can take the most impossible thing and make it possible.  There are many examples of this in scripture.  Today’s gospel provides the example of what happened to Mary.  How could she conceive?  Mary asked the angel, and the angel told her nothing is impossible with God.

We should not be afraid.  We should strive our best to offer our whole life to the Lord. Every time we fall into sin, we should remember what Saint Paul says, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”  Ask the Lord’s forgiveness.  Go to confession and start all over again.  Never give up in following the Lord.  One day, the Lord will show us how He has prepared us for the place He has made ready for all His faithful followers.  Let us not forget that saying yes to God does not mean perfect performance, rather it means perfect surrender to the Lord day by day.

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Servant Leaders

November 5, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Discipleship, Father Nixon, Generosity, Humility, Mission, Service

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 5, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Mal 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10 / Ps 131 / 1 Thes 2:7b-9, 13 / Mt 23:1-12
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

One of the criticisms directed at Catholics by our Protestant fundamentalist brethren, especially the born-again Christian groups, is about the address we give to the Pope as “Holy Father” and also to all priests as “Father.”  They say that this is against the teaching of Christ in the Bible.  They cite today’s gospel reading, especially verse nine that says, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.”

If we follow this kind of interpretation, it is an absurd one.  If taken literally, the word would forbid us to call our natural father, “father.”  How would a father feel if his children did not address him as Father, Dad, Papa, or Daddy?  Instead, his children would be forced to use his given name.  Would he agree to this?  Surely not.  He may even scold or get angry with them.  Along these same lines, how are we to address our schoolteachers if there is only one teacher?

What Christ wants to teach us is that our concern should not be for honors, worldly dignity, and a craving for first places in gatherings.  If we extend our helping hands to others in need, we should not be proud that it is coming from us, but rather, we should announce that it is coming from God.  We are just doing our job and should not expect any return.

In today’s gospel, Jesus affirms the Pharisees and scribes as legitimate leaders of people following Moses.  He tells His disciples to obey and respect them, but not to follow their example.  What they say is true, so follow them, but in practice, they are misusing their authority for the sake of their selfish advantage, so do not imitate their example.

Why does Jesus forbid His disciples to use the titles of “father” and “teacher”? Even Saint Paul referred to himself as the Father of the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 4:15. Is it because this can be abused and misused?  It is in the abuse sense that these titles are forbidden from being used.  Many use their titles, positions in organizations and government, and honors, to threaten, look down on, exploit, deprive, and oppress other people.

The message of today’s gospel is a clear warning to all who hold office and authority in God’s Church, whether as priests, bishops, or superiors.  This gospel also applies to all of us.  One such example is when parents use their authority as parents to justify what they are doing instead of listening to their child’s pleas.  For our government officials, corporate leaders, and to anyone that holds authority, many people say that authority is bad.  They say that power corrupts.  Every day we hear stories in the media about scandals among politicians, corporate heads, even in the Church, and among others who hold positions of authority.

Authority, however, is good because it comes from God.  God entrusts a share of His authority to men and women.  It is the abuse of authority that makes it a bad thing.  Just like money.  Money is good and is not the root of evil.  It becomes the root of evil when we begin to love it and make money our god.  Authority is entrusted to us by God, not to dominate and exploit others, but for service.  Leadership is service and should be by example.  It is service that matters.  If we want to become great human beings and outstanding Christians, then we must serve the rest.

Our service might take the form of meeting material and physical needs like washing or cooking meals for the family.  These are small things and often taken for granted, but in the eyes of God, the greatest performance we ever have.  Our service might take the form of caring for the emotional and psychological needs of others, like offering companionship and friendship when they are down, speaking words of hope and encouragement, showing acceptance and giving recognition.  Servanthood is not about position or skill.  It is about attitude.

We have undoubtedly met persons in service positions, like people in government organizations, church, and others, who have poor attitudes toward servanthood.  Just as we can sense when a worker doesn’t want to help people, we can just as easily detect when a leader has a servant’s heart.  The truth is that the best leaders desire to serve others, not themselves.

John C. Maxwell, in his book Leadership Promises for Every Day said, “The true servant leaders put others ahead of their own agenda, possess the confidence to serve, initiate service to others, are not position-conscious, and serve out of love.”  The call to leadership through service is not only addressed to clergy and to those who hold apostolic office in the Church and to those who hold positions.  All Christians are called to show leadership through service.

Those baptized people who do not seek to serve God and their fellow human beings cannot be Christians.  Each one of us has the responsibility to show the authenticity of the Christian message through our love and service.  For example, the best husband is the one who meets the needs of his wife most generously.  The good boss is the first one to do what he expects from his subordinates.  The concerned school principal who reports to school early, joins the teachers in being punctual for their duties.  The dedicated head of the office that attends to his tasks, inspires the other employees to work efficiently and effectively.  Thus the greatest among us must be the first to serve.

Even the Pope is reminded of this by his title, “Servant of Servants.”  If we know some Christian leaders who are as hypocritical as the scribes and Pharisees described in today’s gospel, the challenge for us would be to try to make a distinction between what they teach (which may be sound) and how they live (which may not be worthy of emulation.)  Those who distance themselves from the Church because they heard or saw unbecoming behavior of a Church leader may indeed be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  We must not do this.  Abuse of an office does not nullify the validity of the office itself.

The gospel ends up with a call of evangelical humility which is recognition that in the eyes of God, everyone is equal.  It is the recognition that those who evangelize or minister to others, are not below us, but are in fact equal to us in the eyes of God.  With this humility, preaching becomes not talking down to the people, but sharing with them our common struggle to understand and live God’s word.

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Consistency in Word and Action

October 1, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Discipleship, Evangelization, Father Nixon, Generosity, Grace, Humility, Obedience

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.

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Banish Envy and Rejoice in the Success of Others

September 24, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Blessings, Deacon Mark, Grace, Humility, Love, Mercy

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 24, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 55:6-9 / Ps 145 / Phil 1:20c-24, 27a / Mt 20:1-16a
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

Today’s readings give us a message of hope in God’s love and mercy. No matter how badly or how often we choose sin, He is always, to quote King David (who wrote today’s Psalm 145), “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness” (Ps 145:8-9). However, today’s scripture passages are also a challenge. I’m going to focus on Jesus’ challenge to accept God’s justice and to reject envy when it seems unfair to us.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah encourages the “scoundrel and the wicked” to turn to God, for He is “generous and forgiving” (Is 55:7). Isaiah lived at a time when Israel earned what it was getting, which was a collapse of its culture and exile under Babylonia. Nevertheless, he encouraged his people to repent and return to God. Why was he kind to them? For the same reason we all should be kind to the lost, because he had a similar experience to the one we can have at every Mass if we remain spiritually awake.

Around the year 740 BC, Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting on a throne.…Seraphs were in attendance above him…And they called [out], ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord’” (Is 6:1-3). Isaiah said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! Then one of the seraphs flew to [him] holding a live coal [from the altar] …and touched his mouth with it, saying as he did so, ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed, and your sin is blotted out’” (Is 1:5-7).

Isaiah had experienced God’s unmerited grace from the heavenly altar while still a sinner. The hot coal that touched his mouth was a foreshadowing of Jesus in the Eucharist which we, too, receive from an altar that heaven touches. And like Isaiah, we know our uncleanness, but we trust that our sin is forgiven. Isaiah prayed, “Woe is me” in his conversion moment. We pray, “Lord I am not worthy…”  Isaiah’s experience formed him in humility and in awe of God’s kindness and mercy; so too, should our Holy Communion.  Isaiah’s conversion awakened compassion within him, helping him to accept God’s generosity and justice. Keep his experience in mind as well as your experience at Holy Communion, as we meditate on the gospel.

Recall St. Ignatius’s way of drawing near to God in scripture. You start by composing the place to center your mind, so it does not wander. Just prior to Jesus’ parable today, Matthew tells us that Jesus “left Galilee and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan” and that “great crowds followed Him, and he cured them there” (Mt 19: 1-2).  To the twelve apostles and this crowd he tells today’s parable. Place yourself in this scene, caught up in the excitement of the crowd that hangs on this miracle worker’s every word.

Step two in this Ignatian exercise is to name the grace you want to receive from this encounter with God in the gospel. Maybe the grace we could ask for today is for Jesus to reveal where our heart and mind need further conversion.

Step three is to play out the scene. Jesus is telling a parable for the “kingdom of heaven,” saying it is like a landowner who went out to hire workers for his vineyard. Imagine you are a hard-working laborer and devout Jew listening to him.

We are intrigued by the story, wondering what Jesus is going to teach us by this parable. He says that the landowner went out about every three hours, from dawn until 5 PM, hiring laborers. As an ancient Jew, you know that a day’s wage is one denarius. So, when the landowner tells the laborers he hired at 9 o’clock, “I will give you a just wage” (Mt 20:4), you expected they would get less than those hired at earlier in the day.

However, the first paid were those hired at 5 o’clock, one hour before quitting time, and they received one denarius! Good for them, you think! You are excited to hear what the landowner is going to pay those who were hired at dawn. You are all for higher pay for laborers. But then you find yourself angry and aggravated that they also received one denarius. What the what?!  You side with the laborer who complains how he worked all day and bore the heat, but still was paid the same as those hired late in the day. This is, in our eyes, an injustice. How quickly we forget Isaiah’s words that God’s ways are “so high” above ours.

Sitting there among the crowd, listening to Jesus, we recall the grace we prayed for when He began to preach, “Jesus, reveal where my heart and mind need further conversion.” Jesus continues his parable telling us how the landowner gently chastises the grumbling laborer. “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Are you envious because I am generous” (Mt 20: 13-16)?

Ah, there it is. Jesus gives us the grace we asked for. He suggests we are envious. Envy is one of the seven deadly sins. Does it lurk anywhere in my heart and mind? What is envy? The catechism shares that St. Augustine called envy “the diabolical sin…from it are born hatred, detraction (gossiping about someone’s serious sin), calumny (making false statements about someone), joy caused by the misfortune of neighbor, and displeasure caused by their prosperity.” (CCC 2539)

Let’s do an examination of conscience around envy. When a recent convert or revert surpasses us in his pursuit of Jesus or seems to gain a higher position in the parish to which we have belonged much longer, are we envious? If so, confess it. When a political figure or celebrity, co-worker, or classmate that we cannot stand falls from grace, do we enjoy that and share their misfortune or sin in gossip with others? If so, confess it.

Now, with social media there are many opportunities to fall into the sin of envy. Sin harms us and envy is no exception. It robs us of happiness and can cause us to become depressed or anxious. A youth counselor said when parents request she treat their child for anxiety or depression, before she will treat them, she has them put down the cell phone for six months. She says the majority of their anxiety is healed simply from doing that. So, with social media in mind, are we envious of someone else’s home or popularity or beauty or talent or career or spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend? If so, confess it.

The catechism reminds us that “the 10th commandment requires that envy be banished from the human heart.” (CCC 2538) So how can we combat it or “banish it from our heart?”  We strive for humility. St John Chrysostom gave us one description of this, preaching, “Would you like to see God glorified by you? Then rejoice in your brother’s progress and you will immediately give glory to God.” (CCC 2540)

Whether we are average in every way and daydream about being amazing, or we are brilliant and talented and think we must do remarkable things to earn love and respect, we are in the same trap. This trap tempts us to the sin of envy, which at its root, is a desire to be great in the eyes of others, or as Deacon Barry said, “To be somebody.”

So, how do we think of ourselves as little, yet do so in a way in which, while we are smaller, we are stronger? In which we do not need the love and adulation of others, yet feel more loved and affirmed? Spoiler alert on the answer. There is no Harry Potter magic spell that makes this happen instantly. Healing our ego by shrinking it is a paradox that takes time living in faith, hope, and charity to achieve. But the peace and joy and freedom we gain are worth the effort!

Here are some ways to banish envy. Build up others every chance you get, especially in those ways a person does well, but probably has not thought about: “Good job getting your family to Mass every Sunday.” “I appreciate the questions you ask in class.” “You are so good with the elderly, or you are so generous with your smile.” “Thank you for working for our family today, even though you were exhausted.” “Dad, thank you for taking care of Mom even though she can no longer return your love.” “I love how even though you just came into the church this past Easter, you are finding ways to participate in our parish!”

Spiritually, we combat envy with regular prayer, all the better if coupled with meditation on scripture. Here are a couple of verses that remind you that you are somebody. From Isaiah 43, “I have called you by name…you are precious in my eyes,” and from Psalm 139, “I praise you because I am wonderfully made.”

If those are too sugary for you, enter into the scene of Jesus on the cross and ponder and talk to Him about one of his last seven utterances. In your browser type, “Last Seven Words on Hallow” and you get a wonderful meditation on them. Here are a couple of His last seven.  To all us sinners, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and to the good thief who comes to “work in the vineyard” at the very end of his life, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

From the cross, Jesus, who is paradox incarnate, makes the small feel big and the big feel small. In doing so, he banishes envy from our heart. Do beggars envy other beggars? If not, can fellow beggars of God’s love and grace envy one another? When our hearts are full of gratitude and our spiritual fuel tank is filled, there is no room for envy or any other sin.

Our Lady was free from envy because she was full of grace, so let’s seek her intercession:

Mary, you were a poor teenager in a small town, a humble handmaid, friend of the elderly neighbor, a wife and then a widow, a mother who lost her son, and our mother. By your Son’s gift, you were “full of grace,” leaving no room for envy.  Pray for us lowly ones here that we may see our greatness through your Son’s eyes so that we are free to rejoice in others’ blessings. Amen!

 

Citations

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

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

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Seventy Times Seven

September 17, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Family, Father Nixon, Forgiveness, Healing, Humility, Love, Obedience, Reconciliation

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.

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Persevering and Humble Faith

August 20, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Charity, Faith, Father Nixon, Healing, Humility, Trust, Uncategorized

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.

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More Than a Contender

July 9, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Deacon Barry, Discipleship, Humility, Life, Love

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 9, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Zec 9:9-10 / Ps 145 / Rom 8:9, 11-13 / Mt 11:25-30
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist

“You was my brother, Charley. You should have looked out for me just a little bit. You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody. Instead of a bum.” Anybody recognize that? It’s Marlon Brando, the actor, and he’s portraying Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, a movie from 1954. If you haven’t seen that film, why not?

Terry is striving to be somebody. And his route is boxing. Fighting. Winning. His goals: money, fame, respect, accolades, honor. Maybe he could have been a contender. Maybe he could have gotten that title fight. But we know that he put his faith in these goals, the money, the fame, accolades. And he put his faith in those people wrapped up in that world, including his brother Charley.

I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, if by some miracle you haven’t seen it. But his faith in these goals? Well, they let him down. The enticements. The allure. They became false burdens on his soul. And their contradictions labored his moral sense. He hitched himself to glory, and the weight took him down.

You’ll have to watch or rewatch it to learn of Terry’s redemption, but for now, I could have been somebody. I want to be somebody. Deacon Barry, I want to be somebody. All of us want to be somebody. It’s in our nature. And so we strive and we work. And we work and we push, and we push and we learn, and we learn more, then we strive again. Progress, progress, progress. If we’re not doing it, if we’re not progressing, we’re going backward.

And for what? The end game is money. The recognition. To reach the top or the pinnacle. To get all the accolades, the attaboys. That’s what our culture wants. Our culture affirms these as our primary goals. Our culture wants us to become a contender, at the very least. And our stories are how we are becoming somebody or how we became somebody.

But I’m telling you now, today, right here in this homily: You are somebody. You’re absolutely somebody. You are somebody because Jesus loves you, and He wants you to be with Him. He knew you before you were stitched in your mother’s womb. In last week’s gospel, we heard that even all the hairs on your head are counted. Do not be afraid.

You and I, we have a terribly difficult time realizing just how “somebody” we are to Jesus. And even at times when we realize it, we forget it. And we hitch ourselves right back onto Charley and the glory and the things of this world in our rise to be a contender. And that carries a heavy, heavy burden. In last week’s gospel, we also heard: Whoever does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever does not take up his cross.

That sounds hard. I want to say, Oh Jesus, please take me, but without a cross. Give me a mission or project. A goal, something I can strive and push and push and learn and strive again to achieve. But not a cross. That sounds like a burden.

But this week in the gospel we hear: The burden is light. His yoke – His cross – is light. That is not a burden. My burden is light. What a relief. My burden is light. How liberating is that? We don’t need to reach; we don’t need to strive to become somebody. Really, it’s the closer we get to nobody, the more we become who we’re truly meant to be: this somebody that Jesus knows and loves and wants to be with. When we stop trying so hard to become somebody, that’s when we become who we truly are.

Letting go of pride. Letting go of ego. Let go of the striving and make room. Create some space for Jesus to enter and pick up the weight with His yoke and remove the burden.

Who is Jesus talking to? Who’s this message for? He says we have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and yet revealed them to the little ones. Of course, His message is for every human who ever existed. Everyone. But we are so full of ourselves. So caught up in this worldly striving for power and honors, the message is hidden, it’s out of reach. We’re like know-it-alls, not open to the spiritual and mystical and the unseen.

But the little ones, the little ones are his disciples, those that have chosen to follow Jesus, those that are childlike. Seeking wonder and open to the amazing. Low and humble in their hearts. Let go. Surrender to His will and make ourselves low. Jesus did it. God on Earth did it. The creator of everything became the servant to everyone. And He’s our example. He said meek and humble of heart. Die to self, become nobody. Strive to become nobody, and as we approach “nobody,” we gain everything. And recognize deeply that we are somebody.

The paradox, let go and let God. Let go and let God. Then life becomes a miracle. Everything, every day, every person becomes a miracle. My burden is light. I am the light of the world. Light from Light, true God from true God. Take heart, dear friends, for you are somebody. When you empty room for Jesus and you are more than a contender, so much more than a contender, for the victory is already won by Him who conquered death.

Faith in Him, faith in Jesus Christ. That is the victory. That is the victory that overcomes the burden and labors of the world. Amen.

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The Art of Loving

May 14, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Courage, Faith, Family, Father Nixon, Humility, Love, Prayer

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 14, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17 / Ps 66 / 1 Pt 3:15-18 / Jn 14:15-21
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor

Someone once said that man is an able creature, but he has made 32,647,389 laws and hasn’t yet improved on the Ten Commandments.

In our gospel today, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn 14:15) Jesus is telling us that the reason we follow God’s commandments is that we love Him.  That is why it is wrong to say that we follow God’s commandments because we are afraid of Hell, or that we follow God’s commandments because we are expecting something.  We go to Mass not because we are afraid of committing mortal sins.  We help the poor and needy, we try to be good, we try to please God simply because we love Him.  That should be our motive in doing good and in loving God.

So, what are God’s commandments?  There are only two: Love your God and love your neighbor.  When Jesus says to keep these commandments, He is telling us that love is not a mere word, but an action.  The question is how to make God’s love concrete and possible in our lives.

In psychologist Erich Fromm’s book, The Art of Loving, he suggests ways to make love concrete and possible.  First, love must have discipline.  Discipline means doing something hard because it is right.  We are usually not very disciplined people.  Why?  Because we tend to avoid the difficult to take the easy way out.  Sometimes in following God’s commandments and loving God, we want the easy way out.  Even in our prayer, when we get very busy, we sometimes say that God will understand, and I will pray tomorrow.  But sometimes when we talk to God, we say, “Lord, you are the most important person in my life.”  Is that really true?  If God is truly important in our lives, why do we keep suspending our prayer life?  Why do we keep delaying our prayer life, or making excuses in terms of our relationship with Him?

We often do not do what is right because it involves sacrifice, even in our dealings with one another.  That is why we sometimes try to have that kind of culture where we silence the right in order not to hurt the wrong.  Or in other words, we try not to speak the truth, so that we won’t be rude to evil.  That’s why we try not to speak about anything that is immoral, especially if the person who is doing it is a family member or close friend of ours.  We don’t tell them that a man loving another man or a woman loving another woman is wrong and sinful.  We don’t say that because we don’t want to appear to be rude.  We don’t want to make that sacrifice.

Again, let us not forget what St. Maximilian Kolbe once said, “There can be no real love without sacrifice.”  Sometimes when we love, especially with our children, or with other people we love, we need to speak the truth, and we need to make that sacrifice.  Love is hard.

Today we celebrate Mother’s Day.  The love of a mother for her children is a classic example.  This reminds me of a story of a mother named Patricia, who donated part of her liver to her son, Carlos, who underwent a liver transplant surgery because of a congenital liver disease.  When the mother was interviewed, she said, “If God will allow, maybe I will have another child like Carlos.  I will continue to donate any part of my body to make sure my child will live.”  That’s the heart of a mother, willing to sacrifice for her children.

During World War II, in France, an officer was walking with his soldiers.  They noticed that a bush was moving, so the officer asked one of the soldiers to check the bush.  The soldier found a starving mother with her two sons.  The officer took a loaf of bread and gave it to the mother.  The mother broke the bread in two pieces and gave it to her two sons.  The soldier asked the officer, “Sir, is she not hungry?  I thought she was starving.”  The officer replied, ‘No, it is because she is the mother.”

That’s the heart of a mother – willing to sacrifice herself for her children.  That’s why today on Mother’s Day, children, always remember to love your parents, especially your mother.  Yes, it’s good that you send greetings to your mother, but always remember to show her that you love her and be respectful towards her.  You cannot just be kind and loving in your words, but also show it in your actions.  Sacrifice.

Second, Erich Fromm says that we must have patience.  Love is not something that comes abruptly.  We have to work at it and let it grow.  A person with patience knows how to wait.  That is why we must be patient with ourselves and with others.  Patience is also very important in our desire to love God and our neighbor.

A story is told of Abraham, who one evening was standing outside his tent, and there was an old man walking on the street, around eighty years old, and this man was cursing God.  Because Abraham was a good servant of God, he invited the man into his tent.  He washed his feet and then fed him.  While the man was eating, the man continued to curse God.  Abraham was infuriated and grabbed the man and threw him out of his tent.  That very evening, God spoke to Abraham in a dream, and God asked, “Abraham, where is that old man?”  Abraham replied, “Lord, I threw him out of my tent because he does not worship You and he kept cursing You.”  God said, “Abraham, Abraham, for eighty years that man has disowned me.  He has kept cursing me, but I continued to give my love, my grace, and my patience to that man so that he will come back to me.  But you cannot give your patience and love to that man.”  And Abraham woke up crying.  Patience.

Third, Erich Fromm tells us that love must have humility.  Brothers and sisters, the biggest obstacle to love is pride.  Sometimes it is very difficult to say I’m sorry.  Let us not forget what St. Augustine once said, “It was pride that changed angels into devils.  It is humility that makes men as angels.”  True.  Pride can ruin our lives, can ruin our morality, can destroy our desire to love God and our neighbor.  Humility is the foundation of real love.

President Lincoln once got caught up in a situation where he wanted to please a politician, so he issued a command to transfer a certain regiment.  When the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, received the order, he refused to carry it out.  He said that the President was a fool.  Lincoln was told what Stanton had said and he replied, “If Stanton said I am a fool, then I must be, for he’s nearly always right.  I’ll see for myself.”  As the two men talked, the President quickly realized that his decision was a serious mistake and without hesitation, he withdrew it.

Unlike the story of King Herod and John the Baptist: When Herod gave the word that John the Baptist should be beheaded, even though he knew that what he said was wrong, he did not take it back.  That was pride.  So, humility is very important in our desire to fulfill the commandments of God, which is to love him and our neighbor.

Fourth, love must have faith.  Faith means that we believe even if we do not have any evidence whatsoever of our beliefs.  The deadliest enemy of love is lack of trust and faith.

Lastly, love must have courage.  In many ways, it is the most important of them all, because we have to reach out and touch other people.  How often, we do not reach out because we are afraid of rejection.  It takes a lot of courage to love.

So loving is what life is all about.  But it takes discipline and patience.  It needs faith and trust, humility and courage in order to make it concrete and possible.  To remain in love with God every day, we must remind ourselves that our most important appointment of the day is our appointment with God, and that our most important agenda is to love Him and our neighbor.

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Your Lenten Voyage

February 26, 2023 |by N W | 0 Comments | Courage, Deacon Mark, Faith, Grace, Humility, Lent, Scripture, Sin, Strength, Trust

First Sunday of Lent
February 26, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7 / Ps 51 / Rom 5:12-19 / Mt 4:1-11
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

Lent can present us with seemingly impossible odds of success. Be transformed in holiness in forty days despite being surrounded by temptation, working or going to school or both, raising kids, fighting chronic illness or pain, being distant from God or lukewarm in our faith, and struggling with any number of vices or addictions.  One might say that entering into Lent is like setting sail on a perilous voyage.

For this metaphor, the story of the intrepid British explorer, Ernest Shackleton, comes to mind. His famous voyage to Antarctica took place from 1915 to 1916. He and his crew were faced with nearly impossible odds of survival. His ship, the Endurance, was made of wood. The ice trapped it and then broke and sank it, leaving the crew in lifeboats.  No one else knew they were in trouble, for they had no radio nor phone back then.

Death could snatch their lives in any number of ways including freezing, starving, or drowning. They ended up making their way to a tiny island off Antarctica. Shackleton and five others left the crew there to go get help. They sailed by the stars over eight hundred miles in an open lifeboat, to try to get to a remote, South Georgia whaling island. If they missed it, they would run out of supplies and die, as would their crew back in Antarctica. Each day their routines kept them alive and brought a little hope, but as the days dragged on, doubt crept back. And not just of surviving, but of being heroes and transformed men. We will finish their story later, but for now let’s apply their plight to our 2023 Lent.

There was a recruiting poster for Shackleton’s voyage that read more like something to run from than to sign up for. “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” Imagine if we had a recruiting poster for Lent. What would be on it?

It could read something like this, “Men and women wanted for a spiritual journey. No wages, facing your weaknesses, confessing your sins, long hours of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Returning unchanged…doubtful. Increased peace and holiness in event of success. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Maybe it is not as ominous as the Shackleton poster, but it is not exactly a picnic either.

And yet, just as Shackleton’s poster filled his ship with crew members, so too does Jesus’ Lenten invitation seem to fill Catholic churches on Ash Wednesdays.  God made us to desire and seek out challenges that will transform us into a better person, so off we set sail on our Lenten voyage with an ashen cross on our foreheads.

Mondays through Saturdays during a good Lent can be rough at times.  Knowing that where we are is not the best place we can be, no matter how good we may think it is, we go about our daily Lenten routine religiously. We pray extra with the daily Lenten readings on the USCCB website and with our Catholic apps like Hallow, iBreviary, and Laudate. We fast daily by practicing the virtue of temperance…no snacking between meals, less phone time, less gaming, less TV, less coffee… And we increase our acts of love using the grace from God’s word and the extra prayer and by making good use of the time freed up by abstaining from or minimizing non-essential things.

If you really go for it, if you really try to allow God to form you more into the person He created you to be, the person that will feel whole and at peace, then you will come to each Sunday needing healing and hope like Shackleton’s crew left behind on the island. Lenten Sundays are like repair and restocking islands along our Lenten voyage. Why? Because there is a good chance you will have a wounded ego, having stumbled in your Lenten promises. Good! Catholic author and scholar Mark Searle wrote, “Lenten penance may be more effective if we fail in our resolutions than if we succeed, for its purpose is not to confirm us in our virtue but to bring home to us our radical need for salvation (Ordo 68).”

In today’s gospel reading, we see Jesus, without using His divine power, overcome the same temptations with which Satan conquered Adam and Eve. Jesus uses God’s word and His faith in it. We can, too. The Church has set us up with the right scriptures. Read the daily readings daily. They prepare you to more fully receive the grace of the Sunday readings.

Here is what I am talking about. Next Sunday, the Second Sunday of Lent, possibly having stumbled, we will be encouraged by getting a sneak peek at the glory we are striving for in Lent, as we gaze upon Jesus’ glory in the Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John.  On the third Sunday, when our water rations are running low, we stop at a water well and listen in on the conversation between the lonely Samaritan woman and Jesus. Her encounter with Him restores her relationships in town, heals her interior wounds, and gives her life new purpose. The fourth Sunday, when we are losing our way in the dark and rough seas, we witness Jesus open the eyes of the man “blind from birth (Jn 9:1).” By the fifth Sunday, we are really wearing down and think we cannot go on. We start to lose hope of changing until we behold Jesus calling Lazarus to come out of his tomb, from death to new life.

These stories are like when Shackleton, dying of thirst and cold on his eight-hundred-mile lifeboat voyage, saw kelp and sea birds and realized that, though he could not see it, land and help were not far away. The sixth Sunday we see palm branches and know our journey is nearing its end; it is Palm Sunday, and the Resurrection is only a week away.

The daily readings the first few weeks of Lent are meant to remind us that we are sinners that need a savior.  Mark Searle points out that in the second half of Lent the readings shift from a focus on our weakness to the power of Christ to heal and to renew our lives.

What is your destination this Lent? What is the conversion Jesus is calling you to this year? What ominous, threatening invitation was on your recruiting poster on Ash Wednesday?

In today’s first reading, Eve looked at that forbidden fruit and saw that it was “pleasing to the eyes and desirable (Gn 3:6).” What forbidden fruit have you given in to? Maybe Jesus is calling you to research the Church’s teaching on a moral issue with which you disagree or have given up on such as divorce, fidelity in marriage, pornography, abortion, capital punishment, gay marriage, gender dysphoria, or schools teaching kids worldly morality? These are tough issues confronting all of us. Learn why the Church stands opposed to the world on these issues. She is our mother, and she has the wisdom of two thousand years of battling against sin under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

King David tried the forbidden fruit. Despite being his nation’s leader and above the law, when he committed the sins of adultery and murder, his life took a turn for the worse. David realized his sin because a friend pointed it out to him. His subsequent confession and recognition of God’s mercy is today’s Psalm 51.

A good daily Lenten routine would be to pray David’s words and make them your own, “My sin is before me always…Against you only have I sinned…A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.”  Jesus answers that prayer through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, confession, and Holy Communion. In baptism and confirmation, He gave us a new heart and a steadfast spirit; His heart and His spirit. In confession and Holy Communion, He renews them within us.

What happened to Shackleton’s crew, left stranded on that tiny island off Antarctica? For their daily routine, to keep them from the despair of the seemingly impossible odds and to make sure they were ready when the time for rescue came, they broke camp every day and packed to be ready to board the rescue ship. However, days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months.  And 105 days later, when they were thinking the daily routine was a waste of time, their captain appeared on a rescue ship and called out, “Are you all well?” And the crew called back, “All safe, all well!” Not a single crew member died.

While struggling to survive and to avoid falling into despair, the crew was not aware of all their captain was going through to save them. They were not aware of what he would endure and overcome out of loyalty to them. He sailed across eight hundred miles of freezing ocean in an open boat. Climbed a frozen mountain despite suffering from frost bite, skin ravaged by constantly wet clothing, and a tongue swollen from a lack of fresh water. He climbed down a freezing waterfall and crawled across cracking ice on a frozen lake. And astoundingly, did not stop to rest when he found shelter, food, and water, but set sail the very next day to go get his crew. He had to make four attempts to get to them, turned back by ice and other obstacles three times. On the fourth try he returned and saved them.

You know where I am going with this. Shackleton was just a man and he saved his whole crew against seemingly impossible odds. Jesus is God, infinitely powerful. He is our captain.  How much more so can He help us overcome our weaknesses this Lent?

Here is how you succeed. Imitate Shackleton’s crew. Keep your daily routine and when you fail, start it again the very next day. Have a crewmate or accountability partner and touch base daily. Use the daily readings and prayer to remind you what Jesus is doing while you struggle through Lent. He did not abandon us. He literally suffered, died, and went to hell and back for us. Our captain is with us every day as we pray, fast, and love. And when we fail even in sometimes shameful ways, He is shoulder to shoulder with us. He knows what temptation is like. He knows what feeling God-forsaken and lost is like.

He does not just show us the way to personal transformation. He IS the way. He IS our north star. The crucifix is our Lenten voyage compass, always pointing to heaven through our voluntary and involuntary suffering. Cajun priest, author, and spiritual director Fr. Mark Toups sums up Lent well and I am paraphrasing here.  He wrote, “Remember that Lent is not about you. It is about Jesus. He is the one who wants this Lent to be transformational for you. Lent is not about what you are doing. It is about what God is doing with what you are doing for Lent. It is not so much about checking off a list of things you achieved during Lent, but about those things helping set you up for a life-changing, personal encounter with Jesus Christ like Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration, the Samaritan woman at the well, and Lazarus in his tomb (13).”

This coming Easter Vigil when our Captain calls out, “Are you all well?” May we all be able to respond, “We are safe and well, my Lord.”  Amen.

Citations

Diocese of Richmond. Ordo – Order of Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and Celebration of the Eucharist 2023. Paulist Press 2022.

Peter Kreeft. Food for the Soul – Reflections on the Mass Readings for Cycle A. Word of Fire 2022.

Fr. Mark Toups. Lenten Companion, A Personal Encounter with the Power of the Gospel. Ascension Publishing 2023.

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