Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 24, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 55:6-9 / Ps 145 / Phil 1:20c-24, 27a / Mt 20:1-16a
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
Today’s readings give us a message of hope in God’s love and mercy. No matter how badly or how often we choose sin, He is always, to quote King David (who wrote today’s Psalm 145), “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness” (Ps 145:8-9). However, today’s scripture passages are also a challenge. I’m going to focus on Jesus’ challenge to accept God’s justice and to reject envy when it seems unfair to us.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah encourages the “scoundrel and the wicked” to turn to God, for He is “generous and forgiving” (Is 55:7). Isaiah lived at a time when Israel earned what it was getting, which was a collapse of its culture and exile under Babylonia. Nevertheless, he encouraged his people to repent and return to God. Why was he kind to them? For the same reason we all should be kind to the lost, because he had a similar experience to the one we can have at every Mass if we remain spiritually awake.
Around the year 740 BC, Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting on a throne.…Seraphs were in attendance above him…And they called [out], ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord’” (Is 6:1-3). Isaiah said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! Then one of the seraphs flew to [him] holding a live coal [from the altar] …and touched his mouth with it, saying as he did so, ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed, and your sin is blotted out’” (Is 1:5-7).
Isaiah had experienced God’s unmerited grace from the heavenly altar while still a sinner. The hot coal that touched his mouth was a foreshadowing of Jesus in the Eucharist which we, too, receive from an altar that heaven touches. And like Isaiah, we know our uncleanness, but we trust that our sin is forgiven. Isaiah prayed, “Woe is me” in his conversion moment. We pray, “Lord I am not worthy…” Isaiah’s experience formed him in humility and in awe of God’s kindness and mercy; so too, should our Holy Communion. Isaiah’s conversion awakened compassion within him, helping him to accept God’s generosity and justice. Keep his experience in mind as well as your experience at Holy Communion, as we meditate on the gospel.
Recall St. Ignatius’s way of drawing near to God in scripture. You start by composing the place to center your mind, so it does not wander. Just prior to Jesus’ parable today, Matthew tells us that Jesus “left Galilee and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan” and that “great crowds followed Him, and he cured them there” (Mt 19: 1-2). To the twelve apostles and this crowd he tells today’s parable. Place yourself in this scene, caught up in the excitement of the crowd that hangs on this miracle worker’s every word.
Step two in this Ignatian exercise is to name the grace you want to receive from this encounter with God in the gospel. Maybe the grace we could ask for today is for Jesus to reveal where our heart and mind need further conversion.
Step three is to play out the scene. Jesus is telling a parable for the “kingdom of heaven,” saying it is like a landowner who went out to hire workers for his vineyard. Imagine you are a hard-working laborer and devout Jew listening to him.
We are intrigued by the story, wondering what Jesus is going to teach us by this parable. He says that the landowner went out about every three hours, from dawn until 5 PM, hiring laborers. As an ancient Jew, you know that a day’s wage is one denarius. So, when the landowner tells the laborers he hired at 9 o’clock, “I will give you a just wage” (Mt 20:4), you expected they would get less than those hired at earlier in the day.
However, the first paid were those hired at 5 o’clock, one hour before quitting time, and they received one denarius! Good for them, you think! You are excited to hear what the landowner is going to pay those who were hired at dawn. You are all for higher pay for laborers. But then you find yourself angry and aggravated that they also received one denarius. What the what?! You side with the laborer who complains how he worked all day and bore the heat, but still was paid the same as those hired late in the day. This is, in our eyes, an injustice. How quickly we forget Isaiah’s words that God’s ways are “so high” above ours.
Sitting there among the crowd, listening to Jesus, we recall the grace we prayed for when He began to preach, “Jesus, reveal where my heart and mind need further conversion.” Jesus continues his parable telling us how the landowner gently chastises the grumbling laborer. “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Are you envious because I am generous” (Mt 20: 13-16)?
Ah, there it is. Jesus gives us the grace we asked for. He suggests we are envious. Envy is one of the seven deadly sins. Does it lurk anywhere in my heart and mind? What is envy? The catechism shares that St. Augustine called envy “the diabolical sin…from it are born hatred, detraction (gossiping about someone’s serious sin), calumny (making false statements about someone), joy caused by the misfortune of neighbor, and displeasure caused by their prosperity.” (CCC 2539)
Let’s do an examination of conscience around envy. When a recent convert or revert surpasses us in his pursuit of Jesus or seems to gain a higher position in the parish to which we have belonged much longer, are we envious? If so, confess it. When a political figure or celebrity, co-worker, or classmate that we cannot stand falls from grace, do we enjoy that and share their misfortune or sin in gossip with others? If so, confess it.
Now, with social media there are many opportunities to fall into the sin of envy. Sin harms us and envy is no exception. It robs us of happiness and can cause us to become depressed or anxious. A youth counselor said when parents request she treat their child for anxiety or depression, before she will treat them, she has them put down the cell phone for six months. She says the majority of their anxiety is healed simply from doing that. So, with social media in mind, are we envious of someone else’s home or popularity or beauty or talent or career or spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend? If so, confess it.
The catechism reminds us that “the 10th commandment requires that envy be banished from the human heart.” (CCC 2538) So how can we combat it or “banish it from our heart?” We strive for humility. St John Chrysostom gave us one description of this, preaching, “Would you like to see God glorified by you? Then rejoice in your brother’s progress and you will immediately give glory to God.” (CCC 2540)
Whether we are average in every way and daydream about being amazing, or we are brilliant and talented and think we must do remarkable things to earn love and respect, we are in the same trap. This trap tempts us to the sin of envy, which at its root, is a desire to be great in the eyes of others, or as Deacon Barry said, “To be somebody.”
So, how do we think of ourselves as little, yet do so in a way in which, while we are smaller, we are stronger? In which we do not need the love and adulation of others, yet feel more loved and affirmed? Spoiler alert on the answer. There is no Harry Potter magic spell that makes this happen instantly. Healing our ego by shrinking it is a paradox that takes time living in faith, hope, and charity to achieve. But the peace and joy and freedom we gain are worth the effort!
Here are some ways to banish envy. Build up others every chance you get, especially in those ways a person does well, but probably has not thought about: “Good job getting your family to Mass every Sunday.” “I appreciate the questions you ask in class.” “You are so good with the elderly, or you are so generous with your smile.” “Thank you for working for our family today, even though you were exhausted.” “Dad, thank you for taking care of Mom even though she can no longer return your love.” “I love how even though you just came into the church this past Easter, you are finding ways to participate in our parish!”
Spiritually, we combat envy with regular prayer, all the better if coupled with meditation on scripture. Here are a couple of verses that remind you that you are somebody. From Isaiah 43, “I have called you by name…you are precious in my eyes,” and from Psalm 139, “I praise you because I am wonderfully made.”
If those are too sugary for you, enter into the scene of Jesus on the cross and ponder and talk to Him about one of his last seven utterances. In your browser type, “Last Seven Words on Hallow” and you get a wonderful meditation on them. Here are a couple of His last seven. To all us sinners, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and to the good thief who comes to “work in the vineyard” at the very end of his life, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
From the cross, Jesus, who is paradox incarnate, makes the small feel big and the big feel small. In doing so, he banishes envy from our heart. Do beggars envy other beggars? If not, can fellow beggars of God’s love and grace envy one another? When our hearts are full of gratitude and our spiritual fuel tank is filled, there is no room for envy or any other sin.
Our Lady was free from envy because she was full of grace, so let’s seek her intercession:
Mary, you were a poor teenager in a small town, a humble handmaid, friend of the elderly neighbor, a wife and then a widow, a mother who lost her son, and our mother. By your Son’s gift, you were “full of grace,” leaving no room for envy. Pray for us lowly ones here that we may see our greatness through your Son’s eyes so that we are free to rejoice in others’ blessings. Amen!
The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition. Ascension Publishing 2018.
Curtis Mitch & Edward Sri. Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, The Gospel of Matthew. Baker Academic 2010.KEEP READING
February 22, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Jl 2:12-18 / Ps 51 / 2 Cor 5:20 – 6:2 / Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today is the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday. Our gospel today reminds us of the three traditional gestures, or balances, so that we can enter into the spirit of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. This also helps us to prepare for the suffering and death and resurrection of Our Lord, who is the source of our salvation.
Today the Church asks us also to fast and abstain. Fasting is a form of penance that imposes limits on the kind or quantity of food and drink. This is applicable to ages fifteen to fifty-nine. Abstinence refers to refraining from certain kinds of food or drink, like meat or those cravings or those foods that we like to eat every day. This applies to ages fourteen and above.
Why, brothers and sisters, does the Church ask us to fast and eat only one full meal today and on Good Friday? (Fasting is only for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.) We don’t fast in order to save money or to lessen our expenses.
First, we fast so that what we gather or what we collect we can share with the hungry. Sanctifying ourselves has to do with tenderness and compassion for the poor and the needy. Our penance has a social dimension, so that we can be in solidarity with others who are hungry.
Second, we fast because we are hoping that we experience physical hunger, so that it will awaken in us a deeper level of hunger. What is that deeper hunger? It is the hunger for God, hunger and thirst for God.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters observe fasting, which they call Ramadan. It is said that, when they are at the height of their hunger because of long fasting, that is the time when they read the Koran, their holy book. They believe that, when the body is very hungry, it is open to receive God.
The same thing with us. When we feel hunger, it awakens the deeper hunger that we have: our hunger for God. This hunger of ours for the Lord will bring us to our brothers and sisters who are hungry because of poverty.
In our first reading, the prophet Joel tells us that God, the Lord, is gracious and merciful. In our second reading, Paul reminds us that we are God’s coworkers, and he urges us not to receive God’s grace in vain. Connecting the meaning of the two readings, they tell us that the mercy that the Lord has given us, we will need to share with others.
How can we keep our penance and our compassion from making us sad people, because doing our penance or showing an act of compassion can be a very challenging thing?
Fasting is not only for food but also for our bad habits. Yes, it is true that every one of us here has our favorite food, but we also have our favorite sins. During the season of Lent, we’re invited to avoid these sins by denying ourselves, by controlling our desires and cravings.
Going back to the question, how can we keep a happy heart even if we deny ourselves? A spiritual writer said: “We can be happy even with our sacrifices and self-denial if we put emphasis on what we say ‘yes’ to, not to what we say ‘no’ to.” If we focus more on what we say ‘yes’ to, that makes us happy.
If we want to be happy in all our sacrifices, we need to focus on the reasons why we say ‘yes.’ For example, as parents, your ‘yes’ to your children is “I want my children to be successful, and that’s my commitment, that’s my ‘yes.’ But that ‘yes’ has a payment. It involves a lot of sacrifices. That’s why, in order for my children to succeed, I must work hard. Sometimes I work overtime. When I get my salary, I will take good care of it, and I will not waste it on my vices.”
That’s a big sacrifice on the part of the parents. They work so hard, even if they are tired. They continue to work overtime because of their love for their children, because they have that vision, they have that ‘yes’ that “I want a good future for my children. That’s a big sacrifice and it is meaningful for me, as a parent, and that’s what makes my heart joyful.”
So, brothers and sisters, we focus our commitment on saying ‘yes,’ because if we do that, we can be closer to the Lord. Our penance, every time we celebrate the season of Lent, is to be closer to the Lord and closer to the poor and those who need our help.
Saint John Paul II said, “The deepest fulfillment of every human person is in the giving of self.” Who can do this? Who can give their selves to others? Only those people who are hungry and thirsty for God.KEEP READING
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 12, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Sir 15:15-20 / Ps 119 / 1 Cor 2:6-10 / Mt 5:17-37
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
I was at lunch several years ago with a very kind priest, and we got to talking about a young man we knew who started missing Mass and avoiding church and the sacraments and prayer life. In fact, he was openly disagreeing with many of the Church’s teachings. I said, “Father, even so, he’s a good guy; he’s nice and thoughtful, kind and generous,” and as I was saying that, the priest started getting visibly agitated. And pretty strongly he said, “Deacon, I’m tired of hearing ‘He’s a good guy, or a good boy, or a good girl.’ We’re not called to be good; we’re called to be holy.”
So, I had to kind of think and take it back a little bit; one, it was uncharacteristic of his demeanor, but two, it made me think quite a bit about it. And in a way, in today’s gospel, Jesus is saying something similar.
Does it work for me to say, “I’m ok, I’m a good guy, I haven’t killed anyone.” That’s our goal? That’s our standard? That’s the bar that we set for ourselves in our moral and spiritual lives? Just to simply avoid the major obvious sins, and I’m ok, I didn’t kill anyone, haven’t cheated on my wife, haven’t bad mouthed God. I haven’t lied, at least no big ones, just little white ones.
No, brothers and sisters, that’s not the goal. Jesus says today, “I have come.” That’s pretty important, the Son of God has said, “I have come.” What’s going to follow? I have come to fulfill the law and the prophets. I have come to fulfill, to extend, to complete, to make perfect. I have come. I have come. He’s come to call us to something higher, something better, something more noble, something heaven-like.
He shows us that worldly dominance passes the closer we get to God, and it’s replaced with humility, and love, and mercy. He sets the bar higher and calls us, not only to recognize that bar, especially the thou-shalt-not bars, but to look the other way for our goal: to look the other way from that bar, and to look inside for the ideals, inside of us where He planted His Holy Spirit at our baptism.
Do I look at that boundary, that thou-shalt-not-kill, that murder boundary, and just see how close I can get to it in my life without crossing over it into moral badness, if you will? I stay safe on this side: I really want to hurt the guy, but I’m not stepping over the line.
Or do I hold in my heart the love of my neighbor, the love of the other, and of their God-given true dignity? Do I work to remove my anger, or my resentment, or my jealousy, and replace it with love? Love, wishing the good of the other, wishing for that person to join me in the kingdom?
The ideal is a high bar and it’s not defined by a list of borders, a list of boundaries, a list of what’s morally good and what morally isn’t. It’s not contained in two lists: Here are the do’s and here are the don’ts. The bar is a change in our hearts; it’s a modification of the direction of our lives and our love.
What must I do to follow Jesus, to be a good Christian, to become holy? Every now and again in my spiritual life I ask myself that question, and I imagine some of you have asked it as well; what am I supposed to do to be a good Christian? And oftentimes when I’m talking with folks in RCIA who are considering coming into the Church, they have that same general question: What do I do to be a good Christian, and follower of Jesus?
And in moments of clarity, very rare moments of clarity, I can give them an answer: If you want to be a good Christian, doing what Jesus asks is a good start. Pope Francis had a similar answer, and he didn’t ask me for any help when he came up with it. He explains, “So if anyone asks what one must do to be a good Christian, the answer is clear: We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount.”
We’re in the third out of four weeks of going through the Sermon on the Mount during this ordinary time. Two weeks ago, we did the Beatitudes: “Blessed are they…” Last week we were salt and light. We’re still salt and light this week too. Next week we have another reading from the Sermon on the Mount.
So Pope Francis says, “Just do what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount.” That’s pretty easy, isn’t it? Pretty simple? Well, it isn’t quite so easy when we probably have to hear the message over and over. Let’s read about it, let’s pray over it, let’s meditate over the gospel of Matthew, chapters five through seven. Wash, rinse, repeat. Read it again.
Let it sink into our hearts, so they’re pointing the opposite directions of those boundaries, those borders, the “I didn’t kill anybody.” Because the message is love centered on Christ, and it is directed toward others, wishing, praying for the good of the other. It’s our relationship in the world. It’s salt and light, and it’s mercy, forgiveness and mercy.
Now remember, mercy doesn’t mean leniency. It doesn’t mean morally compromising. It doesn’t mean lowering the bar. When Jesus is giving His teaching today, you don’t see Him lowering the bar, He’s extending the bar into the heart. He’s not appeasing the social norms or the civil norms or the governmental norms of his day, He’s not doing it then, He’s not doing it today, because the ideal is high and we as Christians are bound to Him and our goal is heaven, our goal is to be a saint. That’s my goal, I pray that it’s your goal as well. It’s a very high ideal.
Mercy is there, mercy is available, sure, when we fall short of the ideal, when we miss the mark, which is another way to say when we sin. But Jesus and His Church don’t lower the bar, because it’s that important. Instead, we are called to extend His love, and extend His mercy, to live a moral life. We can’t do that alone; we cannot do it by ourselves; we need help.
And we get help, praise God we get help, because we’re washed of our sin and filled with light at our baptism, the light of Christ at our baptism. So that Jesus accompanies us and assists us because he becomes our moral compass and He is our only goal, He is our moral bar, and our earthly wish is to carry Him always in our hearts, because we don’t want to just be a good guy or a good girl or a good woman or a good boy. We don’t want to be just a good guy, but we want to be saints.
At the beginning of every mass, we have this opening prayer, when Father says “let us pray” after the Gloria. It’s called the “Collect.” That’s when we’re all collecting together and beginning the Mass, and that prayer is a summary of the purpose of today’s Mass. I want to repeat it because I think it’s beautiful: “O God who teach us that You abide in hearts that are just and true, grant that we may be so fashioned by Your grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to You.” Isn’t that beautiful? Praise God and amen.KEEP READING
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
November 20, 2022 — Year C
Readings: 2 Sm 5:1-3 / Ps 122 / Col 1:12-20 / Lk 23:35-43
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Why is this Feast Day of Christ the King placed at the end of the liturgical season? Today we finish with the Liturgical Year C, reading from the Gospel of Luke. We begin Year A next Sunday with the first Sunday of Advent and will switch to the Gospel of Matthew. Why Christ the King today?
Some background thoughts on the reasons for and need for this Feast:
Godless, atheistic nations and states rising in power, threatening their neighbors. God and Jesus forced out of the public forum and leadership, forced out of politics. Society and culture diminishing God. It’s not safe in some places to talk about Jesus. He’s kept in a small box at church or in your living room.
I’m not talking about society and the world today. I’m talking about 1925. In 1925, Pope Pius XI was looking out over the world in a post-World War I environment, and these are the evils that he saw. He, along with the Church, decided to create a Feast, a Feast to remind the faithful and the world where true power resides, where to place our allegiance and devotion. As we’re ending this cycle, this Liturgical Year, we’re punctuating this ending and transition time with this Feast of Christ the King.
But why not Christ the Risen or Christ Ascended or Christ the Shepherd? Christ the King is what the Church chose. It makes the point Pope Pius wanted to precisely make. Jesus is Christ the King, and He supersedes all worldly views of power and influence.
But He doesn’t look like a king. Imagine this scene from the gospels. There are people gathered around. Rulers were there, as were soldiers. Jesus was hanging there on the cross with criminals. The inscription above His head was, “This is the King of the Jews.” Almost all of these people were deriding Him, poking fun at Him. They were taunting Him with, “If you are the Christ, if you are the Chosen One, if you are the King of the Jews.” These three taunts mirror the three temptations that the devil gave to Jesus in the desert. (“If you are the Son of God, save yourself by turning these stones into bread, etc.”).
Remember also that the people of the Roman government of that day thought their methods were good, noble, kind, advanced, progressive, and fair. Jesus didn’t look like a king. He was a criminal, actually a slave. At that time, if you were not a Roman citizen and you did something against the state, you became a slave. He had no rights. Convicted slaves, for a crime that warranted it, were subject to the painful and humiliating death by crucifixion. (On the other hand, Roman citizens like the Apostle Paul were given a more humane sentence of beheading.)
Jesus was there on the cross as a slave with the criminals. He was poor, beaten, humiliated, crushed. He did not look like a king. He did not act like a king either.
We know that God is all-powerful. We know that Jesus is God. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians that we heard today, he describes Jesus: “He is…the firstborn of all creation. For in Him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together.”
Do you think He was scared to death of Pilate? Do you think He worried at all about what the emperor of that day might do? He is all powerful. Everything that exists, exists because of Him. He could care less about the emperor, or the governor, or the president, or the czar, as these are merely a speck of dust in time.
Jesus had and has infinite power. He could have annihilated everything in existence in the flick of a second while He was there on that cross. He could have called a host of angels to save Him and everyone that was hanging there. But He chose not to exercise that power. We think that kings portray force, power, superiority, dominance, and violence. But Jesus didn’t choose to lord power over us.
Even His closest disciple, Peter, did not comprehend what was going to happen. Jesus told His disciples that He was going to go to Jerusalem, going to suffer and die, going to rise again. Peter pulled Him aside and started to rebuke Him, saying that he would allow no such thing to happen. Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking as humans do, not as God does.”
Jesus did not choose power, but rather mercy. He allowed Himself to become powerless, to become a slave. He allowed Himself to become the sacrificial lamb. Why? To atone for our sins and to save all of us. His mercy is unbounded. The good thief, the one who recognized what was happening, only asked to be remembered: “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” In His unbounded mercy, Jesus granted that thief eternal paradise with Him right then. His mercy is far beyond anything that we could comprehend.
Jesus did not act like any other ruler or king. But He’s the king I choose to follow: a king that loved me so much that He gave up everything. He suffered for me. He took all those insults and humiliation for me. He died, just for me and for you. That is my king and yours. Live that. Be His living example in a fallen world. Our society, our governments, think they are good, noble, kind, advanced, progressive, and fair, just like the Roman empire did. They are far from it, and they need our help.
Go in peace, glorifying God by your life. Serve our King in this world. Our baptism demands it. Jesus won’t be kept in a box, or here at church, or just in our living room. As if He could be. He can’t be contained.
This is the end of the Liturgical Year. I am here on Pope Pius’s behalf, to give an annual reminder that Jesus Christ is King. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.KEEP READING
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 11, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Ex 32:7-11, 13-14 / Ps 51 / 1 Tm 1:12-17 / Lk 15:1-32
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today’s readings from the Holy Scriptures teach us about the overflowing mercy and forgiveness of God. They also talk about sin and repentance, confession, and communion, courtesy of the prodigal son and his father.
We heard in the First Reading that when Moses was on Mount Sinai, the chosen people were acting perversely. They had cast for themselves an image of a cow, were worshipping and making sacrifices to it, and giving credit to the idol for bringing them out of slavery in the land of Egypt. With that, the Lord became very upset. God was prepared to destroy them all. But Moses implored God to have mercy and forgiveness for the sinful people. Hearing the plea of Moses, God changed His mind and decided not to destroy the people as He had originally planned.
In the Second Reading, we also heard how the mercy and forgiveness of God sanctified St. Paul, because he had sincerity of heart. By the mercy of God, St. Paul, formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence, was made an example to those who would come to believe in Jesus for eternal life.
Today’s gospel also speaks of the mercy and forgiveness of God. In this case, three parables are given to declare the magnitude of the mercy of God. These are the parables of the lost sheep, of the lost coin, and of the Prodigal Son. Many tax collectors and sinners came to Jesus, and this drew criticism on the part of the Pharisees and the Scribes. They grumbled because Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.
Brothers and Sisters, let us meditate on the parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable begins with a request. The prodigal son says to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that should come to me.” Here we are given our first insight concerning sin: Sin always involves the misuse of something good.
For example, sins of the tongue, like gossip, slander, swearing, and lying, all involve the misuse of something good: namely, the God-given gift of speech. Sins of the flesh are committed when people misuse the good gift of sexuality, which the Lord intends for marriage only.
Notice that in the story, the younger son requested the share of the estate that was coming to him. He was not making an improper request. He was not asking for something evil. He was requesting something good, which his father was planning to give him anyway. His sin came when he misused the good gift and squandered his inheritance on what the gospel calls “dissolute living,” a life of dissipation.
The next interesting point is that he does all this squandering in a distant land. I don’t think that was a coincidence. When people commit sins that they intend to repent of, they desperately try to run away from the Heavenly Father, just like this boy tried to run away from his father. Those of us who commit sins make every effort to keep them secret, so that nobody knows about them. But that is a very big mistake because, eventually, all sins catch up with us, as the boy’s sins eventually caught up with him. In the parable we are told that he spent all his money, and then a famine broke out, and he found himself with nothing to eat. He ended up dining with pigs.
There we have another insight concerning sin: Sin turns us into slaves. This is something that people who have an addiction know a great deal about. A recovering alcoholic will tell you that when he started to drink excessively, he was acting in total freedom. But eventually it came to the point where he could not stop. He had become a slave to his sinful behavior.
Finally, praise God, the prodigal son wakes up and comes to his senses. He repents, but notices that his repentance is rather superficial. He has what the Church would call “imperfect contrition.” Imperfect contrition is when we are sorry for our sins because we fear the consequences, especially Hell. Perfect contrition is when we are sorry for the best possible reason: because we have offended our Heavenly Father, whom we love above all things. But notice that his father still forgives him. The Church teaches us that our Father will do the same for us. He will forgive us our serious sins if we go to Confession with at least imperfect contrition in our hearts.
Once the prodigal son is forgiven, he is able to share once again in the family meal. For us, that is symbolic of the Eucharist. That is why the Church teaches us that, if we have mortal sin, we cannot receive the Eucharist again until we have gone to Confession and confessed our sin.
The Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, has a beautiful description of sin: Sin is before all else an offense against God and a rupture in our communion with Him. At the same time, it damages communion with the Church. For this reason, conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
Mother Theresa had advice for living a good life. She said:
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of having selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
So, as we continue our Eucharistic celebration today, let us pray for those who have fallen away from the grace of God, so that divine mercy and forgiveness may reach out to them before it’s too late. May their ears be open so that they will hear that Jesus is welcoming them back home.KEEP READING
Fifth Sunday of Lent
April 3, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Is 43:16-21 / Ps 126 / Phil 3:8-14 / Jn 8:1-11
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There is a little-known sidelight to the story of the woman taken in adultery. After the Pharisees dragged her before Jesus for sentencing, and Jesus says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” a stone comes flying from the crowd. Jesus looks up, frowns slightly, smiles a little and says, “If you don’t mind, mother, I am only trying to make a point here.”
In one way, this is a good joke because it shows the natural tendency of good people like the Pharisees and the Scribes to throw stones at those they consider sinners. In other ways it is a bad joke because it tries to paint sinless Mary in the colors of sinful humanity. The last person who would want to throw a stone at the woman caught in adultery would be the Blessed Virgin Mary, God’s most favored one. According to the joke, Jesus says He’s trying to make a point here. So now the question is: What is the point that Jesus is trying to make? Why would the Church give us this story for our spiritual nourishment on the last Sunday before Holy Week, when we commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus on our behalf?
The story of the woman caught in adultery had a very curious history in the early Church. Many ancient Bibles do not have it. Some have it as part of a different chapter in the Gospel of John. Still others have it as part of the Gospel of Luke. Some scholars think that originally this story could have been part of Luke’s Gospel. Why? Because it reflects themes that are dear to Luke, such as concern for sinners, interest in women, and the compassion of Jesus.
The fact that it is missing in some early Bibles and found in different locations in others suggest that some early Christian communities had removed this story from the Bible. When later Christians tried to put it back into the Bible, they were no longer sure of its original location.
So why would anyone want to remove this story from the Bible? There are people who cannot understand why Jesus would sympathize with a convicted adulterer. After all, it is decreed in the Bible that such offenders should be put to death. (Lv 20:10)
Does this not seem like an obstruction of justice? What do you think? Perhaps you remember the case of Karla Faye Tucker, a self-confessed repentant murderer who was executed in Texas in February 1998. Many Christian organizations, including the Vatican, pleaded for her pardon, yet her execution was carried out. Supporters of the death penalty argued that no one should interfere with the course of justice. Well, Jesus just did in our gospel today.
There are people who think that compassion and leniency are a sign of weakness. These are probably the kind of Christians who tried to suppress the story by removing it from the Church’s Bible. How could Christians read this marvelous story of Jesus’ compassion and still take a hardline stand with regard to correctional services?
The answer lies in how one reads the story. Some people identify themselves with the Pharisees when they read it. Their interest is in how to deal with other people who break the law. Their answer is usually that justice should be allowed to run its due course.
Now you can begin to understand, in the history of the Church, why the medieval Church did not see anything wrong with burning at the stake convicted witches like Joan of Arc. Didn’t the Bible say that no one who practices sorcery should be allowed to live? That is the law; that is justice. Our only duty is to implement it.
But when we read this story, identifying ourselves, not with the Pharisees, but with the woman herself, then we begin to see the story for the good news that it really is. Like the woman, we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Like her, we all deserve death. Why? Because the scripture says “the wages of sin is death.” But when Jesus comes into the picture, He overturns our death sentence. He sets us free with His words of absolution: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more. “
The story shows how Jesus stands up for sinners before the law. In doing so, he draws upon Himself the hostility of the hardline officers, who will eventually arrest Him and give Him a taste of their justice. The Church puts this story before us today, so that we can see ourselves in the sinner woman, whom Jesus saves from sure death, at the risk of attracting death to Himself.
This season of Lent urges us not to be judgmental of others. We are all sinners and in need of God’s mercy and grace. Only God has the right to judge people, because He alone is perfect.
Somebody said that God Himself does not propose to judge a person until he’s dead. So why should we judge him?
Sometimes people ask me, “Father, is it wrong to judge?” Of course, the answer is: It depends on how you deal with judgment.
There are two ways of judging people: with compassion or without mercy. If we judge the person with compassion, just like Jesus did, then we are doing the right thing. If we judge the person without mercy, without compassion, then we end up like the Scribes and the Pharisees in our gospel today. They want the woman to be stoned to death. Or we end up being like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He could not accept his brother for having squandered his parents’ money and property.
Someone asked me yesterday, “Father, what if I tell my children, “Don’t go with a drug addict.’ Am I judging the drug addict?”
Of course, that is a different story. Your intention is not to judge the drug addict, but to keep your children away from drugs.
Or how about Putin, who killed all these innocent people? Are we not going to judge him? Judge him with mercy. That is what Jesus wants us to do. Mother Teresa of Calcutta reminds us of this when she said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
So perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is this: When do you judge and act like the Pharisees and the Scribes? Are there times when you judge others because of your biases and prejudices? Are there times when you judge others even though you only know a little about the person?
If you are a person who judges others, try reflecting on these pieces of advice:
1) Never judge someone without knowing the whole story. You may think you understand, but you don’t.
2) Never judge someone by the opinion of others. Often, we are victims of this kind of judgment. We easily listen, especially when the person telling us the judgment or the criticism is someone we trust, or someone who is close to us.
3) Every single person on the planet has a story. Don’t judge people before you truly know them. The truth might surprise you. Sometimes it is very easy to judge a person by their face, especially if the person’s face is ugly or he looks like a madman. But we may end up realizing that the person leads a very saintly life. And there are people who look like saints, but the way they lead their life is the other way around.
4) Don’t judge a person without fully understanding them. Just because you and the person don’t agree doesn’t mean you’re right.
We must be conscious that the way we judge things is limited. Our minds, our intellect, is just limited. That’s why, in philosophy, only God is an unlimited being. He’s the only perfect being. We, created beings, are all limited beings. Even our thinking is limited; the way we say things; the way we understand things; the way we hear things is limited, and prone to mistakes. If we are aware of that from the very beginning, then we end up realizing that we are not supposed to judge others right away. Jesus is telling us in our gospel today to judge others with compassion, with mercy, so that we won’t end up to be condemning.
We may be hounded by remorse for our past sins we have committed, like stealing, giving or accepting bribes, committing abortion, gossiping, making intrigues, or infidelity to one’s spouse. We feel we must do something more in order to make a balance of our spiritual account sheet. In short, make reparations.
So, this story is a fitting preparation for Holy Week. We see Jesus making the ultimate sacrifice to grant us clemency; we who are already sentenced to death by our sins.
As we prepare for Holy Week, let us thank Jesus for His mercy and love. And let us promise him that we shall commit ourselves to doing exactly as He tells us: To go and sin no more.KEEP READING
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 26, 2021 — Year B
Readings: Nm 11:25-29 / Ps 19 / Jas 5:1-6 / Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
My hope in today’s homily is that all of us might leave today with one temptation and sin in mind that we are going to root out of our life with an intentional plan of attack that includes changes in our behavior and Jesus’ grace in the Sacrament of Confession. (more…)KEEP READING
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 12, 2021 — Year B
Readings: Is 50:5-9a / Ps 116 / Jas 2:14-18 / Mk 8:27-35
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There is a story about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson on a camping trip. As they lay sleeping one night, Holmes woke Watson and said,
“Watson, look up into the sky and tell me what you see.”
Watson said, “I see millions of stars.”
Holmes asked, “And what does that tell you?”
Watson replied, “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?”
Holmes answered, “Someone stole our tent.” (more…)KEEP READING
Sunday of Divine Mercy
April 11, 2021 — Year B
Readings: Acts 4:32-35 / Ps 118 / 1 Jn 5:1-6 / Jn 20:19-31
by Rev. Salvador Añonuevo, Pastor
A number of years ago early in my priesthood, when I was an assistant pastor in a big church in Manilla, I was having a pastoral conversation with my pastor, Monsignor Jose, and we heard a commotion and shouting on the second floor of the church’s pastoral center. The building was adjacent to the rectory where we lived.
I ran to see what was going on, and Monsignor followed me, just walking slowly. When I got there, I saw a middle-aged woman shrieking and screaming with her mouth foaming, and being pinned down on the floor by seven men and women, but she seemed to be a lot stronger than all of them. I was reminded of one of the scenes in the movie, The Exorcist, when I saw her. (more…)KEEP READING
Fifth Sunday of Lent
March 21, 2021 — Year B
Readings: Jer 31:31-34 / Ps 51 / Heb 5:7-9 / Jn 12:20-33
by Rev. Salvador Añonuevo, Pastor
All of us who have attended funerals in the past where there is a eulogy know that the friends and members of the bereaved family will always say all of the good things that the deceased has done. If ever the person being eulogized has done something wrong, all those things are forgiven and forgotten. But of course it is unfortunate that most people only do this to the dead and very seldom to the living. The great news for all of us is that we have a God who forgives and forgets. (more…)KEEP READING