Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 4, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Jb 7:1-4, 6-7 / Ps 147 / 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23 / Mk 1:29-39
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
The word “apostle” comes from two Greek words that together mean: one who is sent. Each Christian has an apostolate to follow. We have been called to evangelize, to be sent out like St. Paul and the twelve apostles, to announce the Good News of the love that God has for us all.
Today in our gospel reading, St. Mark continues his story about the first days of Jesus’ public life. Mark tells us that Jesus preached in the synagogues, and that upon leaving the synagogues, He drove out many demons. One day after preaching in a synagogue in Capernaum, the town in which Simon Peter and Andrew lived, Jesus decided to visit their home, together with James and John. When He arrived, Jesus was told that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever.
Jesus immediately decided to cure her. That was how Jesus’ miracles occurred. He saw the plight of the people that wanted to be cured, and He cured them. Jesus approached Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, grasped her hand, and she was cured. She immediately got out of bed and began to serve Jesus. This was the way she showed that she was thankful for being cured.
After learning of this occurrence, the townspeople spread the news of the Lord’s miracle. The news went from home to home, and soon the entire population of the town crowded around the door of the house. From the surrounding area, people brought all who were sick or possessed by demons. Jesus cured those who came to Him in faith. The next day before dawn, Jesus went off to a certain place where He prayed. Jesus was praying when the apostles arrived to tell Him that everyone was looking for Him. People who wanted to be cured continued to arrive, but instead of returning to town, Jesus said to the apostles, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” Our Lord’s true mission was to evangelize, to announce to all humanity the Good News of the love that God has for all human beings.
The gospel reading for this Sunday presents a glimpse of Jesus’ ministry, for He not only preached, but also engaged in acts of healing and compassion. After healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and numerous others, Jesus retreated to pray, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a deep connection with the Father. He then expressed His mission to preach the Gospel to other towns, underlining the purpose of His coming. Jesus came to preach. He came to proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God, to invite all humankind to let God reign as king in their hearts and in their lives, to reconcile us with God and with one another.
Much of the sickness, poverty, and suffering that exists in our world is traceable to the disharmony or sin that separates us from God and from one another. By healing this root cause of all of our problems, we find ourselves in a position to receive God’s abundant blessings in all areas of our lives: spiritual as well as physical, moral as well as material, social as well as psychological. But to try to seek physical healing and material well-being without first making peace with God is to miss the point.
In reflecting on the gospel passage, we are invited to consider our own response to the call of discipleship. Like Jesus, we are called not only to receive His healing and grace, but also to actively participate in the mission of sharing the Good News. Our faith is not meant to be passive, but dynamic, influencing our actions and interactions with others.
St. Paul invites us in the second reading to follow the example of the Lord to evangelize. The true mission of all Christians is to proclaim the gospel to a world that needs to hear the word of God. Our second reading reminds us of what St. Paul said to the Christians of Corinth, that for him, preaching was an obligation. He did not do it for his own glory or to become rich. He did not even start to do it on his own initiative. He had been given a task to do: to be a missionary of the Word of God, to become all things to all, so that he could save at least some.
St. Paul did not do this without problems, but despite the difficulties, he continued to announce the gospel. He continued on the mission that he had been given. If we want to do the same, we have to do as St. Paul did. Our mission does not end when we walk out of the doors of this church after Sunday Mass. It continues.
At Baptism, all Christians receive the same mission: to evangelize within the boundaries of our own lives, every day, whether at school, at work, or in the home, in our words, our example and our way of life. We are obliged to show that we are Christians, that we follow Christ, and that because we follow Christ, we constantly fight against evil and injustice in this world. As Jesus’ message spreads to other communities, those people, too, receive His message and consolidate it, nurture it, and allow it to become part of them, abiding deep within them. The Holy Spirit builds on it, in and through the people who hear and respond to it.
There is so much to be done, so much we can do, so little time to do it. There are never enough hours in the day, days in the year. We do what we can and keep our eyes on the big picture. We draw strength, inspiration and vision from our prayerful “time-outs” with God to focus our energy, direct our choices, and lead us mindfully through the busy-ness of our days comprised of so many different possibilities and needs. We can’t do everything. We are all too aware of our limitations, so we ask the Lord to help us do what we can do, well, with focus, clear priorities, and above all, with love and compassion.
As we continue to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, let us reflect on the ways we actively participate in the mission of Jesus. Are we open to being instruments of healing, compassion, and reconciliation in our communities? Do we recognize the urgency of sharing the Good News in a world that thirsts for hope and meaning?
May we, like Jesus and St. Paul, respond to the call of discipleship with enthusiasm, trusting that God’s grace will empower us to fulfill our mission in the world. Let us also ask the Virgin Mary to help us to be faithful to the mission that God has given us, just as she was. And let us thank God for having called us to carry it out.KEEP READING
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 28, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Dt 18:15-20 / Ps 95 / 1 Cor 7:32-35 / Mk 1:21-28
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Once, a government surveyor brought his equipment to a farm, called on the farmer, and asked permission to go into one of the fields and take readings. The farmer vigorously objected, fearing that the survey was the first step toward the construction of a highway through his land. “I will not give permission to go into my fields,” said the angry farmer. Whereupon the surveyor produced an official government document that authorized him to do the survey. “I have the authority,” he said, “to enter into any field in the entire country and take necessary readings.”
Faced with such authority, the farmer opened the gate and allowed the surveyor to enter the field. The farmer then went to the far end of the field and opened another gate, through which one of his fiercest bulls came charging. Seeing the raging bull, the surveyor dropped his equipment and ran for his life. The farmer shouted after him, “Show him the paper! Show him your authority!” Yes, the unfortunate surveyor has the authority, but the farmer’s bull has more convincing power.
Brothers and sisters, the same can be said about the gospel we preach and teach. The people of Capernaum received sacred instruction in their synagogue every Sabbath. One Sabbath they had a different teacher, Jesus. What Jesus taught them that day, as well as the way He presented and demonstrated His message, simply astonished them. Why? It is because He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Jesus’ teaching contrasted sharply with that of the scribes. In one word: Jesus taught with authority. The scribes did not.
Jesus astonished the people around Him for three big reasons. First, the teaching of Jesus is from the heart and not just from the head. He teaches with absolute conviction in his message, because He knows that His message is in accordance with the mind of God. As He says in the gospel of St. John, when trying to persuade His unbelieving audience, “Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen, yet you do not receive our testimony.” His preaching is a personal testimony of His intimate relationship with God, His Father, unlike the scribes. They got their knowledge, not from their personal communion with God, but from their long and intricate commentaries on the law. As a result, most of their teaching is from the head and not from the heart.
If we claim to have faith in Christ, it is essential that we must listen to Him. We need to open ourselves to His wisdom and authority. The bottom line is not to take His teachings on the level of theories and ideas. Rather we must situate it into our faith life experience. For faith, devoid of practical action, is empty. Theology without praxis is nothing. Knowledge waning in application is useless.
Second, it focuses on the spirit, and not on the letter of the law. The scribe seeks to apply the prescription of the law to the letter. Jesus goes deeper, to find out the spirit, the original intent of the law, like for example, the law of the Sabbath observance. The scribes would busy themselves trying to determine precisely when the Sabbath begins and ends, and what constitutes work and what does not. Jesus would rather seek the mind of God, who gave the law to His people as an expression of His fatherly care and love. His conclusion is that the Sabbath is a day we keep away from our work in order to serve God and do God’s work.
Lastly, it inspires a positive change of heart in the hearers, and not just to make the people feel bad. Like, for example, the man born blind. The scribe seeks to explain why he is blind: whether it was he who sinned, or his parents. Jesus, on the other hand, is only interested in curing the blindness. For this reason, Jesus performed healings and exorcisms together with His teachings to show that His primary concern is to change the human situation and not just to explain it.
These are the three big reasons why people get astonished with Jesus: He teaches from the heart and not just from the head. He focuses on the spirit and not on the letter of the law. And he inspires a positive change of heart in the hearers.
There was an Indian prince who was a lover of knowledge. He had collected thousands of books in his large library. It happened that he was appointed the right hand of the king. This position demanded that he travel almost always, in the kingdom’s vast territory and neighboring kingdoms, to represent the king. He brought along with him his books; thirty camels were needed to carry them.
Realizing the impracticality of loading all the books, he said to his chancellor, “Read all the books and then give to me the only book that is most important for my journey.” After some time, the chancellor gave to the prince the book that summarized all the wisdom of the world. It was the Bible. The prince asked, “What authority does this book have for it to be the only one that I should carry with me? Whereupon the chancellor replied, “It is the authority of the Son of God.” Shortly afterwards, the prince was baptized.
Brothers and sisters, we witness Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue with a profound authority that astounds the people. The crowd is amazed, not just by His words, but by the power with which He speaks. His authority is not like that of the scribes but comes from a deeper source. It is the authority of the Son of God, the Word Made Flesh.
As we reflect on this gospel passage, we are invited to examine our own lives and consider who or what holds authority over us. Do we recognize Jesus as the ultimate authority in our life, or are we swayed by the many competing voices in the world?
Jesus’ authority is not oppressive, but liberating. It brings healing, freedom, and a deeper understanding of God’s love.
In our daily lives, we may encounter challenges and struggles that test our faith. The authority of Jesus is a source of strength and hope during these times. When we submit to His authority, we open ourselves to the transformative power of His love and mercy.
So, as we continue to celebrate the Holy Mass, may we take a moment to reflect on the authority we recognize and submit to. Let us renew our commitment to follow Jesus, allowing His authority to shape our thoughts, words, and deeds. In doing so, we embrace the freedom and joy that come from being in communion with the One who has authority over all creation.
May Jesus Christ be praised.KEEP READING
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 21, 2024 — Year B
Readings: Jon 3:1-5, 10 / Ps 25 / 1 Cor 7:29-31 / Mk 1:14-20
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There is a story about a despondent man who came to his mother and said, “Mom, I’ve stopped going to church, for two reasons. First, I don’t like the people and second, the people don’t like me.” And the mother looked at him and said, “My son, you should go back to church for two reasons. First, you are already fifty-nine years old and second, you are the pastor!”
But, brothers and sisters, as we reflect on the readings for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, we are invited to ponder the profound concept of Divine Calling. In the gospel, we witnessed the pivotal moment when Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, and John to become fishers of men. This summons, with its immediacy and simplicity, carries timeless significance for each of us. The gospel narrative unfolds with a sense of urgency, mirroring the immediacy of Jesus’ call.
In our own lives, we may hear the echoes of that same call, urging us to respond promptly and wholeheartedly to the divine invitation. Jesus calls us to a life of discipleship, to follow Him with courage and conviction. Simon, Andrew, James, and John provide us with inspiring models of immediate obedience. Without hesitation they leave their nets and professions in order to follow Jesus. Their response challenges us to examine our own readiness to abandon whatever may be holding us back from fully embracing our calling.
The metaphor of fishers of men calls us to engage actively in the mission of spreading God’s love and compassion. We are called not merely to catch fish, but to cultivate relationships, to cast the net of love and inclusion. This mission beckons us to be present in our communities, reaching out to those who may be lost or in need of hope and help.
A story was told about a pious Christian lady who had to do a lot of traveling for her business, so she did a lot of flying. But flying made her nervous, so she always took her Bible along with her to read, and it helped her to relax. One day she was sitting next to a man who didn’t believe in God. When he saw her pull out her Bible, he gave a little chuckle and went back to what he was doing. After a while, he turned to her and asked, “Do you really believe all the stuff in there?” The lady replied, “Of course I do. It’s the Bible – the Word of God.” The man said, “Well, what about that guy that was swallowed by that whale?” She replied, “Oh. Jonah. Yes, I believe that. The Bible says that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, and I believe it, and if it had said that Jonah had swallowed the whale, I would believe that too.” The man laughed and asked, “Well, how do you suppose he survived all that time inside the whale?” The lady answered, “Well, I don’t really know, but I guess when I get to heaven, I will ask him.” “What if he is not in heaven?” the man asked sarcastically. “Then you can ask him when you reach hell,” the lady replied.
Brothers and sisters, in the first reading, we encountered Jonah’s mission to Ninevah. Here, too, we witnessed the transformative power of responding to God’s call. The people of Ninevah heed Jonah’s warning and repent. This reminds us that our response to God’s call can have a profound impact, not only on our lives, but on the lives of those around us.
In fact, the entire readings of today’s liturgy emphasize the absolute need for total repentance and our immediate need for a quick and prompt response to God’s invitation to repentance. Whereby, we face God’s wrath of perpetual destruction in hellfire should we ever play down the entire content of divine revelation, seeking our redress as portrayed in the funny response of the pious traveler to the atheist in the story.
In the second reading, St. Paul orders the Corinthian Church to waste no time in embracing the message of the Good News and in renewing their lives with repentance. Whereas, the gospel reading describes the summary of Jesus’ preaching, “Repent, and believe in the Good News.” It also describes how Jesus called His first set of disciples, Andrew, Peter, James, and John, which portrays how we sinners need to respond to God’s call with total commitment by abandoning our accustomed style of sinful life.
Today’s readings are all rather extraordinary. Each of them shows an immediate and wonderful response. First Jonah preaches, and the Ninevites surprisingly repent and change immediately. Then Paul calls upon everyone to live in the immediate moment, for the day of the Lord is imminent. Then Jesus calls His disciples, and they leave immediately.
Jesus’ call is offering a whole new world, a new vision and a new set of relationships. The values of the Gospel are revealed in their fullness. If the disciples had paused and thought about what they were doing, they could have dreamed up heaps of reasons why they should not go – their business, their insecurities, and so on. They did not let these things get in the way.
Thank goodness they responded to the call straightaway. This is not encouraging recklessness, because surely Jesus called people after a lot of prayer and discernment, and He called disciples whom He had observed were already living in the way that showed their longing for the value of the Kingdom to be established in its fullness. Along comes Jesus and He says, “The time has arrived. Come, follow me.” And they do – immediately. It is what they had been waiting for.
In our lives, brothers and sisters, Jesus calls each one of us in big and small ways. In the daily events of life, in our words, actions, and priorities, let us respond immediately and with trust. As we reflect on the readings today, let us prayerfully consider the nature of God’s call in our lives. Are we attuned to His voice? Are we ready to leave behind our nets and respond with unwavering trust? May the example of the first disciples inspire us to embrace our calling with joy and purpose, recognizing that in our response lies the potential for transformation, both for ourselves and for the world.KEEP READING
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 19, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Prv 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 / Ps 128 / 1 Thes 5:1-6 / Mt 25:14-30
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There was a story of a Chinese boy who came from a very poor family in Hong Kong and never dreamed that he would go far. His parents left him behind to do some housekeeping and construction in Australia. Gifted with talents and skills for doing stunts and acrobatics, he developed and cashed in on this until he rose to become a famous movie actor, multimillionaire, and Asian superstar, that is Jackie Chan.
Brothers and sisters, we are given different talents by the Lord. For example, some of us are good at singing, dancing, and talking. Some are good at the arts, mathematics, sciences, and others. And sometimes our talents are very unique. All of us have talent. We cannot say, “I don’t have talent. I don’t know how to sing. I don’t know how to dance,” and so on and so forth.
The Church continues to reflect about the end of the world and the end of our lives. Last Sunday we were asked to reflect on the ten virgins, five wise and five foolish, and we were taught to be ready to meet the Lord. Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, which opens the last week of the liturgical year of the Church. Today’s gospel points out through the parable of the talents the difference between being ready and being unready when the Lord returns to settle accounts with us.
Jesus gives us a parable that the Kingdom of God is like a man traveling to a faraway land and calling his three servants to take care of some of his possessions. One servant has great ability, and so he gives this servant five talents. The second has average ability and he is given two talents, while the third has little ability because he was just given one talent. The first two servants immediately made their talents work and doubled the number of talents the master gave them, but the servant who received only one talent buried it because of the fear that he may lose it.
When the master returned, the first two servants who made their talents work reported what they did with the money, and the master was very happy with them, and he gave what the two servants earned to them. But when the last servant told him that he was afraid to lose the money and buried it, the master became angry. He gave the one talent to the servant who earned ten talents.
Brothers and sisters, most of us think of a talent as some kind of special ability, gift, or skill. In Jesus’ time a talent was a measure of money. We can understand the talents in today’s gospel as symbols of any of the gifts God has given to us, especially our faith, and we use these gifts to build His Kingdom.
Everyone has received something from God. Life itself is a talent. Time is a talent. Treasure is a talent. They are all talents we have to invest. Knowing that Jesus was describing servants being given huge amount of cash to invest helps us to understand just how generous the master was being and the opportunity each servant was given. The greatest gift God has given to us is the gift of Himself. The talents represent more than just the monetary resources God gives us.
Remember, this is a parable and all of Jesus’ parables are about a bit more than they seem. This parable is paired with the parable of the ten virgins who made the mistake of not having enough oil when the bridegroom arrives. It is also preceded by a story about a servant not using his position well while the master is away. All three stories are about being given something which must be used well and the consequences of neglecting or abusing it. In short, the talents represent what God has given us; our monetary resources, our callings to positions within the Church that can be found in Ephesians 4:11-16, our natural gifts. Each of these things and many others are given by God to use in ways that glorify Him and draw others toward Him.
There is a famous saying in the movie Chariots of Fire, where future Olympian Eric Liddell feels a tension between his chance to be an Olympic runner and his calling be a missionary in China. Eventually he tells his sister he will go to the Olympics and then to the mission field because both honor God. “God made me for a purpose, for China,” Liddell says, “but He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure. To give that up would be to hold Him in contempt.” In the end all talents are given by God to glorify Him.
The Bible makes it clear, there is no sacred versus secular world in the way we often think. Yes, there are official positions for certain church tasks; preaching, evangelizing, teaching, etc., and Christians should not be molded by worldly standards. However, all creation was made very good, and we must do all things to God’s glory. So, whatever we are doing, provided it is not a sinful activity, we serve God well by doing it well. As Dorothy Sayers put it in her essay, Why You Work: “If we follow God properly, all the work will be Christian work, whether it is Church embroidery or sewage farming.”
The Bible makes it clear that we don’t really own our gifts. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by God according to plans He laid out before we were born to glorify Him forever. The fact that the master owns the money he gave the servants, and he gets the results of their investments highlights who is in control.
We naturally want to believe we can use our gifts as we please. If we grew up in cultures where the individual is primary, we also tend to think we can live as we please. However, if we all want to be little gods of our own lives, serving ourselves, we miss our true place in life. We find our true joy and place in life when we serve God with our gifts. Jesus uses the parable of the talents to help us understand our calling as Christians and our responsibility to use what God has given us to bring Him glory and honor.
We have the most valuable gift of all, the Word of God and the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. This gift is for us to share with others through our words and actions. It is a great responsibility with great reward, as described in the parable of the talents. The parable of the talents should encourage us and challenge us to take what God has given us and invest in the Kingdom of God. There is a great reward waiting for those who steward well with what the Lord has given them. May Jesus Christ be praised.KEEP READING
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.KEEP READING
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 29, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 22:20-26 / Ps 18 / 1 Thes 1:5c-10 / Mt 22:34-40
by Rev. Jay Biber, Guest Celebrant
We have this great commandment to love from Jesus. At first it seems that there’s two commandments here, but in reality, there are three. The second one has two parts. The first says to love the Lord with your whole heart and soul, and the second says to love your neighbor as yourself. So, there’s the commandment to love the neighbor but also a commandment to love yourself.
These three commandments are very much interdependent with one another. They’re like a tripod. A tripod has three legs; if you remove one of the legs then the other two fall. That’s the way it is with these commandments; they are interdependent. They’re all intertwined with one another.
Think about the commandment for loving yourself, having a healthy self-love: Why shouldn’t you? God created you in love, and you were conceived in love. A healthy self-love is very important, because if you don’t have a healthy self-love, and you’re looking down on yourself, how can you really have a good relationship with other people? If you don’t love others, you can’t very well love God. Saint John, in his first letter, asks, how can say you love the God you can’t see if you don’t love the neighbor you can see? And of course, if we don’t love others, we probably have a dim image of ourselves without the proper image of love of God.
Those are very important and of course, the love of God is all encompassing. In the love of God there is a commandment to love God and all of God’s creation and all of God’s people. That’s important, because if we don’t have that overarching love of God, then our love of ourselves and our neighbors is too exclusive. It’s not broad enough if we don’t have that love of God.
Seeing God reflected in all of creation, in all people, leaving none of them out, and realizing also that the love is not always easy. It’s not always easy to love your neighbor – some of them aren’t very lovable, let’s be honest. Of course, there are things to get in the way, like grudges that last for generations. Yes, it’s not always easy to love our neighbors, but it is our call to do that. The overarching love of all creation calls us to love everyone and everybody – we don’t leave anyone or any groups of people out.
For love to be love it has to be active. When there’s no activity, there is no love, and so our love has to be very active and involved. If we don’t take time to treasure love ourselves, then everything’s going to falter. Loving others meets an active love, going out of our way to love them.
Who’s the neighbor? The neighbor is anyone God puts in your path. That’s the neighbor, whether it’s your immediate family, your extended family, your workplace, your neighborhood, your church, people you meet in the street, anyone God puts in your path is your neighbor. The thing is that God makes the choice – we don’t always have a choice about who our neighbor is. We probably wish we did, but that’s whoever God manages to put in our path. Sometimes that can be very difficult if you’ve got other agendas going and this person steps into your life and is demanding your attention right now, it’s not always easy. But it’s a call to love your neighbor as yourself, whoever that neighbor may be.
Then this is really big today – loving God and all of God’s creation and all of God’s people. We cannot exclude any groups of people, and there’s too much of that in the world today, and too much of that in our history. We’ve excluded the Blacks and the Native Americans. In the love of all creation, we’re not doing too good a job of loving all creation. We are destroying creation, and this is important as to whether or not we’re going to live, and not just for us but for the generations that come after us.
Loving God and all people and all creation – the Church is really calling us to this. Eight years ago, Pope Francis put out an encyclical on the environment, calling us to honesty and calling us to respect the environment as God’s precious creation. And in the last couple months he added an addendum to that where he’s bringing the process even further along. I’d like to say this is important; this is whether or not we’re going to survive.
Love God with your whole heart and soul, and see God reflected in all people and in all creation. That’s a pretty serious obligation. One thing that I thought of being connected with this was an American Indian way of ending a prayer. We say “amen,” but many of them say “all my relations.” That doesn’t mean all their relatives; it means a relationship with all people and all creation – all my relations. And the significance of that is that if you’re not in all creation, there’s something dishonest about your prayer. That’s pretty profound; that you can’t pray worthily unless you’re a in a relationship with all people and all creation. All my relations – could we honestly say that at the end of a prayer instead of amen?
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 10, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ez 33:7-9 / Ps 95 / Rom 13:8-10 / Mt 18:15-20
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Sometimes in the Bible we come across certain passages that are as relevant and practical in our lives today as they were a thousand years ago when they were first written. Today’s readings are good examples of such passages. Together they remind us that, as faithful Christians, it is our responsibility to reach out to our not-so-faithful brothers and sisters and bring them back into the fold. They even go on to recommend practical steps for how to go about doing this.
A young woman, Lydia, strayed from the church as a teenager. After nine years of experimenting with atheism, spiritism, and New Age, she found her way back again to the Church, by the grace of God. Relating her story, Lydia said that what hurt her most was that, in all her years of spiritual exile, nobody in the Church missed her. Nobody ever phoned or visited to find out what was wrong. “I got the impression that the Church did not want me,” she said.
Of course, the Church wants her, but what are we doing to help the many men and women in her situation to find their way back into full communion with the Church? Today’s readings invite us to review our “I don’t care” attitude toward fallen and lapsed members of the Church, reminding us that, yes, it should be our business to reach out to them.
Why should it be our business whether somebody else decides to serve God or not? As members of the Church, we are not just priestly people who offer a sacrifice. We are also a prophetic people, meaning that we are God’s spokespersons.
Today’s first reading is, in fact, a compact job description that God gave to the prophet Ezekiel on what it means to be a prophetic person. The first reading is a passage in the new phase of the prophetic ministry of Ezekiel, and it occurs in the context of an invasion of Palestine by a hostile army. Just as a watchman who warns the people of impending danger is not to be blamed if they do not listen, so Ezekiel is not to be blamed if the people to whom he preaches do not reform their lives. But if he fails to preach to them, then he must accept the blame.
St. Paul, in the second reading, reminds everyone that love is the key to obeying each of the commandments. Real love is love that looks out for the interest of other people. For a person who really loves, other people come first. In the passage from Matthew, Jesus gives an instruction in how to handle a refractory disciple. The instruction describes a formal procedure in three steps:
Step One: private confrontation. If there is no success, then the next step is recommended.
Step Two: the use of one or two additional formal witnesses. Failure here leads to a final step.
Step Three: Resort to the community, such as the local church. If there is no success here, the disciple is to be placed outside the communion of believers, as we say ‘excommunicated’.
Members of the Church who view church membership as being the same as citizenship in a civil government should think twice after hearing today’s reading. In a civil society, objection about fundamental policy is not only at times permitted; disagreement is at times required in order to be loyal to God.
But the Church in its fundamental teachings lives at a level much more profound. The leaders of the Church are invested with the authority of God, which means that they have to move within the bounds indicated to them by God, such as by being attentive to the scripture and tradition, the two sources of revelation.
Leaders of the Church in fundamental matters cannot do whatever they feel like. They are responsible to God for the flock entrusted to them. If they neglect to proclaim the message entrusted to them, God will hold them responsible. They are invested with the authority of God. But this authority is designed to help them and all of the Church’s members listen to God’s voice in the profoundly important matters of life, involving principles of moral and religious actions.
The Church can function as it should only if all of its members — leaders and non-leaders alike — obey the fundamental call of Jesus to love. But precisely because love is the fundamental law of the Church’s existence, decisive action with Church leaders is at times necessary, if they are to remain true to their calling by God.
God clearly wants everybody to be saved. He does not desire the death of a sinner. “Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked?” says the Lord God. “Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live? (Ez 18:23).” That is why Jesus teaches us in the gospel about fraternal correction; how to correct an erring brother and bring him back to the path of salvation.
Underlying the whole thing should be genuine love or charity. For St. Paul says in the second reading, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” God’s law of love asks all of us to be vigilant, not only for outside dangers, but also to keep watch within. Keep guard and watch over our hearts to ensure that we love as God loves, and our hearts do not harden into legalism, lack of compassion and mercy, or apathy. We’re all sentinels, watchpersons, vigilant for any discord, hatred, or inconsistency with the Gospel, and vigilant within ourselves for resentment, jealousy. Desire begins in the heart.
We now see the rapid and unrelenting spread of evil and immorality and sin in our world. Shall we continue being passive and impervious to all this? Unless we do something now, we may find ourselves the next on defense. As the famous quotation from Edmund Burke says, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
Let the gospel this Sunday inspire and empower us to proclaim the truth courageously, to denounce evil and sin resolutely, and to correct wrongdoers in truth and charity. The essence of discipleship and faithfulness to God is love. This is a love that is formed from within by God’s grace. It fosters loving watchfulness inside and out, and it softens the heart and saves us from ourselves. It turns us back toward each other and creates understanding, healing, and reconciliation. For us Christians, goodwill and kindness are not things we may choose to do or not to do. It is a debt we owe to each and every one.KEEP READING
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 30, 2023 — Year A
Readings: 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12 / Ps 119 / Rom 8:28-30 / Mt 13:44-52
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
A while ago, I read an article about a college athlete who was training to make the school’s football team. He got up every morning at five a.m. to train. He would run and lift weights for two hours straight. Then he would go back to the dorm, shower, eat breakfast, and go off to his classes. After his classes, he would go back to the athletic facility and work for three more hours with his teammates, learning the playbook, running plays, more weights, etc. The next morning at five a.m., he started the same routine all over again.
Obviously, he had very little, if any, social life. When a reporter asked him why he followed such a difficult schedule, the young man said, “My only goal right now is to be the best football player I can be and to help my team win a championship. If going to parties or anything else, for that matter, prevents me from accomplishing my goal, then why go? The more I train, the better. You see, sacrifice is the thing.”
Brothers and sisters, I was wondering, if Jesus was living now instead of two thousand years ago, if in today’s gospel, He might have used a different story or two. Rather than speak about a pearl merchant who sacrificed everything to buy his dream pearl, or a tenant farmer who sold everything he owned to buy a field with a treasure in it, Jesus may have spoken about a young man who sacrificed a lot to be the best football player that he could be.
What’s the connection between a pearl merchant, a treasure hunter, and this young football player? What do they have in common? What they have in common is this: They have a total commitment to their dream. All of them are willing to sacrifice everything for the goal they have set for themselves. In one case, it is to own the perfect pearl. In the second case, it’s to obtain a great treasure. In the third case, it is to help make his team into a champion.
That’s precisely Jesus’ point in today’s gospel: To be a true follower of God requires total commitment on our part. Citizenship in God’s kingdom requires us to give one hundred percent all of the time, not just when we feel like it. God’s kingdom must be the top priority of our life. We cannot be a true follower of Jesus only part of the time, sort of like a hobby. We cannot be only admirers of Him.
Being a true disciple of Jesus is like being a pearl merchant. Being a true disciple of Jesus is like being a treasure seeker. Being a true disciple of Jesus is like being a football player. It involves total dedication and commitment.
But there is one difference – a big difference between a true disciple of Jesus and our pearl merchant, treasure hunter, and football player. You see, those three people are striving for rewards that will not last, rewards that are transitory. Earthly rewards, while a follower of Jesus is striving for eternal, permanent rewards.
When the pearl merchant dies, his pearl will no longer be of any value to him. When the treasure seeker dies, his treasure will be as useless to him as snowshoes are to somebody in July. When the football player dies, his trophies will be just another keepsake for his family.
But when a true disciple of Jesus dies, a true Christian, the whole kingdom of God rejoices, because it will now shine brighter and brighter. All of God’s people will be edified eternally when a Christian dies.
Money and influence, in and of themselves, are neutral. Money is good when it is used to help others, not when it is only spent on ourselves. Influence and power can be great, even holy, when used to lift up those who have been beaten down by life’s brutality.
At the moment just before our death, I doubt very much if any of us will look back on our lives and wish we spent more hours at the office or made more money or played another round of golf. I do think, however, that we will look back on our lives and wish that we had spent more time with our families and loved ones. More time helping other people and doing good.
You see, then, on our deathbeds we will realize that there is only one thing in life that really counts, and it’s not whether in life we acquired a prize pearl or a rare treasure or won a sport championship. The only thing that will truly matter is what we have become, what we are in God’s eyes while we traveled our paths through life.
Think about this: If our pearl merchant and treasure seeker and football player were willing to sacrifice so much for a prize that will never last, how much more should we be willing to sacrifice for a prize that will last forever? Earthly prizes can be good and even satisfying for a time, but eternal prizes are the best, the very best. So don’t bet on the wrong horse, as they say.
If we are given the choice, what do we prefer: gold, glory, or God? It is easy to say that we prefer God in our lives, but sadly, this is not what we see in people’s priorities today. Often the desire for wealth and honor would push people to spend their precious time for work and business only. The prevailing culture suggests that, to be happy, one must have more and achieve more.
Hence, people are willing to sacrifice their time with the family in order to earn more money. Many are also ready to surrender their Christian principles and values just to keep their fame and glory.
The well-known story of Solomon in our first reading should inspire us all. In a dream, God offered to give him one thing that he wanted. Being young, Solomon could have asked for wealth or glory or long life. But realizing the great task ahead of him, Solomon thought that what he really needed was the wisdom to rule his people well in the ways of God.
Wisdom, or God’s inspiration, is what Solomon asked for, and God was so pleased with Solomon, that He promised him more than the gift of wisdom, including riches, glory, and long life. That’s why the song that we sang several weeks ago is right: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all good things shall be added unto you.”
Mother Teresa of Kolkata and John Paul II both died leaving no property, for they had not accumulated treasures on earth. They found their treasure in a life given totally to the service of God and of the Church.
The parables are true. Those who discover the treasure of the Kingdom will be happy to let go of everything to follow and be close to Jesus.
May Jesus Christ be praised.
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 2, 2023 — Year A
Readings: 2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16a / Ps 89 / Rom 6:3-4, 8-11 / Mt 10:37-42
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There was once a catechist who asked the students in her Confirmation class, “Which part of the liturgy or Mass is the most important?” She was not prepared for the answer she received from one of her students. The youth said, “The most important part of the Mass is the Dismissal Rite.” After the class laughter subsided, the catechist asked, “Why did you say that?” The youth said, “The purpose of the Eucharist is to nourish us with the Word of the Lord and the Body and Blood of the Lord, so that we may go forth and bear witness to the Lord and to bring the Kingdom of God into existence.” The student continued, “The Eucharist does not end with the Dismissal Rite. In a sense, it begins with it. We must go forth and proclaim to the world what the disciples of Emmaus did. We must proclaim that Jesus is raised from the dead. We must proclaim that Jesus lives on.”
In today’s gospel, Jesus gives His disciples an extended teaching on mission, or ministry. In the first part of the of the gospel, Jesus describes a missionary, or minister, who is worthy of the name “Christian.” He said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” (Mt 10:37-38)
Why would Jesus say such a thing? Before we can answer this question, we must deal with a more fundamental one. Why do we love? What is it that motivates us to love another person?
It is good that we perceive the person. A man loves a woman because he finds something good in her: her compassion, her joy, her patience, her kindness. The fact is, however, that everything that is truly good comes from almighty God. As we are told at the end of Eucharistic Prayer III, “All good things have their source in the Lord, even those good things which come to us through other people.” So, yes, a man loves a woman because of her compassion, joy, patience, and kindness, but the only reason a woman is compassionate, joyful, patient and kind is because God has given her the grace to be that way. This is what Bishop Fulton Sheen was getting at when he said, “It’s only because we are loved by God that we are lovable.” God, who is love, places some of His love inside of us and that grace is what makes us attractive to others.
Consequently, it makes perfect sense for Jesus to tell us in today’s gospel that our love for Him must be primary. We are to love Him with all our heart, because if it were not for Him, there would be nothing lovable in us or in anyone else. In fact, if it were not for Jesus, we would not even exist. As Saint Paul reminds us in his letter to the Colossians, “In Christ Jesus everything in heaven and on earth was created, and in Him everything continues in being.” (Col 1:16)
It also means that a minister or a missionary must be willing to accept and carry the cross or sacrifice, for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In other words, a missionary or a minister of Christ must be someone who is in love with Christ in such a way that love of parents, children, spouses, and even oneself, assumes secondary importance. To take up one’s cross and follow Jesus is a sign of one’s death, since the way to the cross leads to Calvary and the crucifixion. The only worthy missionary or minister of Christ is the person who has found a reason to live and to die, and that reason is Jesus Christ Himself.
A case in point is the story of the young Spanish Jesuit by the name of Alfredo Perez Lobato, who was killed in December 1973 in Chad, Africa, at the height of the civil war. While he was helping refugees, a stray bullet hit him. The story of his short life is featured in the book, A Community in Blood, along with those of other Jesuits killed in different third world countries. When asked by superiors why he volunteered to join the mission in Chad, Alfredo replied, “Why do I want to go to this poor country? It is simple. Because it is difficult. I believe that I am called to the difficult and the demanding.”
It is natural for us to dream of a life of comfort, luxury, and pleasure. If we are honest about it, most of our prayers are directed towards alleviating our suffering. In short, we want a life free from trials and sacrifices. Perhaps this is the reason why we attach our lives to the pervading values of the modern world so life can be easy and convenient. In the book, Crossing on the Crossroad, it is said that the reason why people are frustrated is their failure to accept the crosses in their lives. The moment we try to escape suffering, we encounter suffering ten times more.
Thomas Merton said, “The truth that many people never understand until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because the smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”
To conclude His teaching, Jesus encourages the people to be generous with His messengers. Let us take these words of Jesus to heart and act on them to the best of our ability. Remember, we do not need to give gold or silver. A cup of cold water is enough.
“Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” (Mt 10: 41-42)
Jesus has entrusted us with the ongoing work of the Kingdom. It is a work that does not allow any human attachment to frustrate the reign of God. The work of the Kingdom transforms our average hearts into hearts which will forever sing the goodness of the Lord.KEEP READING
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 18, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Ex 19:2-6a / Ps 100 / Rom 5:6-11 / Mt 9:36-10:8
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Brothers and sisters, fatherhood is a God-given mission. It is not just an obligation, neither is it just a human aspiration, nor just a personal passion. It is a commitment to become a real shepherd and to become a worker disciple in the Lord’s vineyard. The call on every father is to focus not so much on the worldly commission, but on the divine mission. This is also the message in our readings today.
The gospel message from Matthew gives us the account of Jesus commissioning the twelve men whom He has chosen, giving them the charge to continue the work He has begun here on Earth. Matthew tells us that these were the first people who were authorized to spread the good news to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Jesus charges the twelve to go out and cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons. Just imagine yourself lucky enough to be selected by Jesus himself to be one of the twelve. But then you are given the assignment to go and cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons.
Did Jesus really mean for them to actually do all these things? How could these twelve men – fishermen, tradesmen, common folks including a tax collector and even the one who would betray Jesus – be capable of accepting these assignments?
Down through history, Jesus has chosen unlikely people to do seemingly impossible tasks. We can pick up the book, The Lives of the Saints, and find numerous examples of ordinary people who responded to God’s call. The Church, throughout its history, has had regular, ordinary people performing what might be considered impossible tasks, simply because they have responded to Christ and His teachings. People like Saint John Vianney, Saint Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, Maximilian Kolbe, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton are just a few examples of people who responded when they were called to spread the good news to others.
Jesus is now calling us. We are just like the twelve whom He chooses. We now have the responsibility to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons. We accepted this call, this responsibility, at our baptism, but the question we immediately ask ourselves is how in the world do we cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons?
Can we cure the sick? Yes, we can help cure those who are sick. We can help to provide for physical, psychological, or spiritual ailments. We can be caregivers by assisting those in need. It could be simple things like making an appointment with a physician or providing transportation to a physician’s office. Perhaps it could involve something more complicated by administering care at your home or the home of the individual that is ill. We might be required from time to time to provide simple one-on-one counseling to someone who is depressed, so that the person may find inner strength that he or she needs to make a decision enabling them to help themselves and to return to their daily activities.
How can we raise the dead? Taken literally, we know this is impossible, but sometimes people are dead in their faith. We can provide spiritual assistance to those who are dead in their faith experience. Perhaps it is someone who has fallen away from the faith because of a simple misunderstanding. We can be instruments of hope to those who might think returning to God is hopeless. Sometimes it is as simple as answering a question about the faith, providing information that will help heal the person of their spiritual illness. Perhaps the person is dead spiritually because they were involved in a marriage that ended in a divorce. We can provide information to help them understand their rights as a divorced person, and if they are in need of an annulment, we can provide resources for them to begin the annulment process.
Can we cleanse lepers? The question we have to answer is who are the lepers in our lives? It could be the individual at work that constantly is getting under our skin. It could be the neighbor up the street who seemingly forever has knocked our children or has constantly criticized us because they don’t like our dog. It could be a brother-in-law who has been on our case from the first day we met. What can we do? Sometimes the best way to handle people like this is to kill them with kindness. We can simply smile or offer help to them with a project. Perhaps we could send some greeting card or surprise them in some way that causes them to think or to ask why this person is being so kind to me. We can present ourselves to these people as true followers of Christ, someone who is willing to clear the air, make amends, and try to begin a new relationship.
Can we drive out demons? The answer is yes – sometimes those demons are in us and all about us. They are the things that prevent us from being the best person we can be. It could be those inner feelings that constantly cause us to see the negative side of life. Perhaps we are constantly seeing the glass as half empty instead of always half full. The demons could be feelings that can cause us to fall into various states of depression. What can we do? Obviously, we can seek professional counseling. We can confide in family and friends. However, because we are members of the Church, baptized into faith, we can many times rely on the gift of faith to help us through those difficult times. Many times, prayer is a good way to rid ourselves of those demons. Through prayer, we can seek the intercession of our patron saint, or call upon St. Joseph, or ask the Blessed Virgin to intercede for us with her Son to help us overcome times of negativism and the states of negative thought.
Discipleship is not so much doing but being. Go down the list of the twelve apostles, and you’ll notice that nothing was said to describe what they did, except Matthew the tax collector and Judas who betrayed Him. Perhaps that should lead to deeper appreciation of our personhood rather than of our so-called achievements, not so much of what we carry in our hands but what we carry in our hearts.
Christ is calling us to do his work now on Earth. The beautiful thing that we have going for us as members of the Church on earth is our diversity. We all have different talents and different abilities to accomplish the work our Lord has entrusted to us. Jesus, whether we realize it or not, sends us out to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers. and drive out demons.KEEP READING