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
The Ascension of the Lord
May 21, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Acts 1:1-11 / Ps 47 / Eph 1:17-23 / Mt 28:16-20
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There is an old saying: “Words push; examples pull.” Someone adds: Any good Christian is a walking Bible. Even though he has never quoted a verse, in fact, good Christian example may be the only gospel illiterate people can read.
In other words, brothers and sisters, even if we speak convincingly, even if we speak a lot, if our actions contradict what we are saying, then nothing happens. Even if we convince people, we cannot fool God, who knows and sees everything in what we are doing.
Today we are celebrating the feast of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven. That is, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father, as the Apostles’ Creed tells us.
After Jesus gathered His disciples in Galilee for their last time with His physical presence, He instructed them on what to do. He ascended into heaven to be with His Father, who is also our Father. His ascension into heaven is a sign that His life here on earth has ended. He ends also His teaching and suffering here on earth.
Hence, His ascension was not just a farewell party for Him. Above all, it is the giving of unfinished business: that is, His mission which He entrusted to His apostles and also to all of us. He expects us to continue this mission. But what is this mission?
This mission is not new to us. It has existed for more than two thousand years. This mission is not only given to a few people but to all of us. And it is, in three parts: To witness to Christ in the world. To preach the good news that God redeemed us. And to show by our love that He is always with us.
The first part of our mission is to witness to Christ in the world. Jesus said, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16). But how? Through our prayer and worship, loving concern, and care for others.
Somebody commented that he will not join any church organizations, nor he will go to church anymore, because, as he observed, those who serve in church, or those people who go to church every day, they remain the same. Nothing happens; nothing new. They’re still in their old self and old ways. And furthermore, he continued by saying, “Sad to say, some are even becoming worse.”
The answer to that, brothers and sisters, is that we should not base our conversion and change on the behavior and deeds of others. But there is some truth to what he said. That is why that, if we enter into this kind of life, a Christian life, more is expected from us. If our life before was not pleasing to God, hopefully, now that we are coming back to church, now that we pray always, we have been changed.
The second part of our mission is to preach the good news that God redeemed us. But how can we preach to other people if we do not know what to preach? How can we give to other people if we don’t have anything to give? That is why our parish and our diocese give training, education, and other programs in order for us to prepare for this this second part of the mission.
We know that nowadays, the most popular way to spread news is through social media. So let us try to use social media in spreading good news. Blessed Carlo Acutis was beatified by Pope Francis on October 10, 2020. He was a fifteen-year-old Italian computer whiz and website designer, who was known for documenting Eucharistic miracles around the world and cataloguing them onto a website. So in his youth, he offered his life, his knowledge, in spreading the love of God to the world by gathering all those Eucharistic miracles all over the world and putting it on a website.
I encourage all of us, especially our young people: Use computers, use social media in spreading God’s love and God’s word to the world. Use it in bringing others closer to Jesus.
That’s why Blessed Carlo Acutis is now a patron saint for young computer programmers. His motto was: “To be always united with Jesus. This is my plan of life.” How beautiful it is, a fifteen-year-old person who desired to be with Jesus always. Using his own gift that the Lord had given to him, he used it for God’s glory by spreading God’s love to the world. Young people, make Carlo Acutis your patron saint. Imitate him. Make him your inspiration in following Jesus.
The third part of our mission is to show by our love that He’s always with us. But how? We can do it through the testimony of our daily living. We can be witnesses to Christ in our homes, in our workplaces, in our schools, and in the whole world. We do it by simply making an effort to become the kind of person Jesus teaches us to be. We witness to Jesus and teach others by our love when others need us; by our patience when others annoy us; by our forgiveness when others wrong us; and by our perseverance when we feel like quitting.
So brothers and sisters, in this Mass, let us pray that we can faithfully fulfill our mission. And always remember this: Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. And live what you teach.
May Jesus Christ be praised.KEEP READING
Second Sunday of Easter
Sunday of Divine Mercy
April 16, 2023 – Year A
Readings: Acts 2:42-47 / Ps 118 / 1 Pt 1:3-9 / Jn 20:19-31
by Rev. Dan Kelly, Guest Celebrant
Last Sunday’s gospel describes the first hint of the apostles’ understanding of the Resurrection. The women went to the tomb to anoint the Body and thought that somebody had taken the Body away. Then when Mary Magdalene went there, she asked a person who she thought was the gardener (but was in fact Jesus), who had taken away the Body of Jesus away.
But the other apostles were skeptical. Remember the story of the two disciples who were walking a couple miles distant from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus, and they were discussing all the things that had happened. Jesus walks along and begins to explain all the scriptures, why this had happened. Those two disciples invite Jesus to have supper with them, because it was the end of the day. But those disciples didn’t know it was Him. It was not until Jesus took the bread and blessed it.
What became of the apostles? All except John, the youngest apostle, were martyred. After the crucifixion, John the apostle took the Blessed Virgin Mary into his home as his mother, as Jesus commended him from the cross. Everywhere around the Mediterranean that John went to preach, she accompanied him, and we believe she died in Ephesus, Turkey.
Two apostles were both named James: James the Less and James the Greater, based on their respective ages. One James missioned himself after the Resurrection to the Roman province of Santiago, Spain, and he preached there and did wonderful work, calling people to the Faith, explaining all about Jesus, and then preaching and celebrating the Eucharist. Eventually, he was martyred by the Romans in Spain. His remains are believed to be there in Santiago today.
The other James became bishop of Jerusalem. He also was martyred.
Thomas figures in our scripture today. He kind of gets a bum rap: Doubting Thomas, as if he did something wrong. Thanks be to God that he had that doubt, because he expresses what we have in our own lives today: the doubts about things in our own life. Are my prayers being heard? Why doesn’t God answer me? Why is my son or daughter not following the example I give? These doubts as to whether we have the attention of God and His coming into our lives.
So thanks be to God that we have Thomas saying, I’m going to want to see this in action. When he realizes and touches the Body of Jesus, he exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” After which, Jesus asks for something to eat, to further confirm that He is not a ghost by eating baked fish or other food. When we have the elevation of the sacred Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, you can also say, “My Lord and my God!”
After the Resurrection of the Lord and His Ascension into heaven, after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles spread out among the Middle Eastern countries. Thomas gathered some others and went to present-day Jordan and into Syria, and began to teach about Jesus Christ, and to bring the Faith to the people in the northwestern part of Syria, where they developed an Eastern form of the Mass.
Thomas then learns about India and people there who yearned for the Faith. So Thomas made the very long trek to the south of India, to the modern state of Kerala. He preached the Gospel there and formed a liturgy for them, too, based on the Syriac liturgy and vestments. These Christians were the Malabar people. To this day, we have Syro-Malabar Catholics, even in the United States, using the liturgy that St. Thomas developed for them.
Thomas apparently went to other areas in the south of India and met people who were not in favor of what he was teaching to the people of Kerala, and he was eventually martyred.
So thanks be to St. Thomas, who helps us in our faith, even in our doubts.KEEP READING
Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
April 7, 2023 – Year A
Readings: Is 52:13-53:12 / Ps 31 / Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9 / Jn 18:1-19:42
by Rev. Jay Biber, Guest Celebrant
There is a dimension to our faith that allows us to see and experience things in a way that’s deeper and contrary to the initial impression. For instance, the very name that we have for this day is Good Friday. How can that be? How can that be, this greatest chaos, the unimaginable? The unimaginable is not that God rose from the dead, the unimaginable part is God in Christ died. He really did, that’s the unimaginable. How could this happen? This absolute chaos, and we call it good.
The letter to the Hebrews was written late enough in the first and second generations of Christians, for them to have had some time to reflect as a community, to absorb this trauma, and to reflect on it and then begin to develop a vision.
In the reading we just heard, “Son though He was.” When we are called son or daughter in baptism, it means you’re an inheritor, you’re in the will. I guess we would say everyone is conceived a child of God from that moment on. This familial relationship, this being a son, this being an inheritor of God, comes with baptism. God willing, it doesn’t end there, but begins a long journey, a great adventure of life.
Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered and when He was made perfect. But wasn’t He perfect the whole time? In His mission and role as the Son of the Father, the first begotten of the Father, the mission becomes perfected in the obedience to the Father’s plan. The Father says this is what has to be done.
These people I love are yelling at me right now, are shouting insults at me right now, are denying they know me right now. To bring these people whom I’ve loved from the beginning, to bring these people back up on the rails, back on track: This is the perfection. John even uses the word glory.
When I hear the word glory, I assume he must be talking about the Resurrection or maybe the Ascension. That’s the glory. But no, when John writes about glory – “I will draw all people to me” — that’s not at the Ascension, that’s on the cross, the perfection of obedience. When He was made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.
How unusual is this faith? We can’t really wish anyone a “Happy Good Friday.” Yet this is the day the work gets done. It’s a work that gets done not only so that we can benefit from it, so that we can take the fruits of it and be nourished and grow up in it and become an adult in it and become mature in it and go through a whole life with it as the mysteries continuously unfold and more will be revealed, always more will be revealed.
It’s not just so that we can benefit from it. The strange part is the work gets done so we can do it. We become perfected by that openness, by that obedience to the will of God. Accomplish in me, Lord, what You will. Accomplish in me, Lord, what You will, and let me get out of the way so You’re free to do what needs to be done.
What is so good about this day is of course we see disaster; we see the emptiness of it. Did you notice in the liturgy that there was no singing when we came in today? There was no singing because of the day. You realize something different is going on right now, and it is. But it’s a great gift.
I believe that if you can imagine it, you just say, Lord, I haven’t got this figured out now, and I’ll never get it completely figured out. But somehow, I’m looking at You and Your suffering. I’m thinking of the scourges, I’m thinking of the crown of thorns, I’m thinking of Peter’s denial, I’m thinking of the apostles running away. No illusions, but in that is Your glory. and when my heart becomes shaped over the years along Your lines, maybe I’ll be able to do something like that. because I will have morphed through Your grace into You.
I was talking to a parent up in Lexington a couple of days ago, and one of the kids is having a hard time and just feels that it’s impossible to be good enough for God. It’s funny how conscience works. I suspect parents can identify with this. With one child something happens, and it goes right by. With the other one, the same word is said, and it sinks in deep, and it alters things.
Similarly, I’ve seen over the years people who have a particularly keen conscience. We use the word scrupulosity when it really goes to the far end and becomes a serious problem. But some have a greater conscience than others and have a deeper sense that whatever their sin is, it is so serious and irredeemable that not even God can touch it.
This is what happened to Judas, as we hear in Matthew’s gospel. He felt that somehow his sin was greater than God’s grace could ever be. His sin was greater than the divine mercy could ever be, and so, he acted accordingly in his hopelessness.
Remember that God didn’t wait until you’re perfect to love you. That’s what we learned today. God didn’t wait for you to be perfect to love you. Yes, Good Friday is very good, because, as St. Paul says, nothing can keep us from the love of God.KEEP READING
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 19, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18 / Ps 103 / 1 Cor 3:16-23 / Mt 5:38-48
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Late one night, a cheerful truck driver pulled up to a roadside café for some refreshment. As he was eating, three wild-looking motorcyclists rode up to the café’s entrance. The atmosphere became tense as they walked in wearing dirty leather jackets and tattoos.
Immediately they picked out the truck driver as the target of their meanness. One poured salt and pepper into his coffee. Another took his apple pie, placed it on the floor, and squeezed it under his dirty boot. The third overturned his coffee, causing it to spill into his lap. The truck driver said not a word. He merely stood up, walked slowly to the cashier, calmly paid his check, and left.
“That guy isn’t much of a fighter, is he?” sneered one of the motorcyclists. The waiter behind the counter peered out into the night and replied, “Yeah, he doesn’t seem to be much of a driver either. He just ran his truck over three motorcycles.”
Brothers and sisters, in today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Offer no assistance to one who is evil.” (Mt 5:39). He is really a good teacher, because He goes on to give an example of what He means. He says, “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.”
During the time of Jesus, Roman soldiers controlled Palestine, and they had life and death power over Jewish citizens. In other words, Roman officers could commandeer Jewish citizens and could order them to carry some objects for a distance – one mile for example. In other words, as Christians, we are expected to do more, to do extra, to go beyond our human transactions.
The Code of Hammurabi that existed between 1793 and 1750 BC, expressed the law of retaliation which we heard a while ago, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” the very first verse of our gospel, Matthew 5:38, which was not a command to do violence, but to set limits on giving vengeance for an offense. The debtor must pay his debts, but the creditor must never ask for more than the amount involved. Payment for one’s misdeeds must be in the same measure – no more, no less. In other words, before Jesus Christ, this precept was a law of mercy.
For example, if one of your friends knocked out one of your teeth, you could retaliate by knocking out one of his. If someone struck you in the eye, you could return the strike, but no more than one eye. But Jesus did not like this law and presents a real challenge – love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
Why? It is because Christians are expected to do more. A bishop once said: To love those who you know as friends is not extra. To give to those who have given you in return is not more. To work because you are paid a salary is not beyond. To give in order to be given in return in the form of honor, praise, or promotion is not extra. All this – friendship, salary, honor, praise, and promotion, are ordinary human grounds of transactions. Everybody, even pagans and bad people, do this.
Jesus also adds to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt 5:44). Whether we like it or not, we like to return evil for evil. We are like a rubber band; you stretch it hard and once it snaps, it stings. Gandhi said that if we take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, then the world would be filled with blind and toothless people. In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, it is said that if the moneylender Shylock were to be allowed to cut a pound of flesh from the body of Antonio, who failed to repay him, what would become of us, but a walking bone.
The Divine Counsel, however, tells us to return good for evil. In fact, St. Paul reminds us to conquer evil by our good deeds.
Just like what a mother said to a priest after Mass, “Father, we were late for Mass because on our way to church, we were robbed inside the bus. There were six of us, and four young robbers pulled knives on us.” Expressing concern, the priest asked, “Are you all right? What can I do to be a help to you? Do you still have money for your fare back to your home?” She replied, “We are a bit shaken, but we are OK, Father. I was able to hide enough money for our fare.
“But I want to make a request. You see, I was touched by your gospel reflections about the man who was robbed, and a Good Samaritan came to help. If you really want to be of help, in your next Mass, please pray for the young men who held us up.” The priest was shocked because he was praying for kind and loving people most of the time, for sick persons, etc., but never in his life had the priest prayed for robbers. If he would not pray, who would pray for them?
What Jesus said is a challenge to all of us. But why do we have to love even our enemies and not hate them instead? It is because first and foremost it is extra and more. To love those who are not lovable, to give to those who cannot give in return, to serve those who cannot serve in return, and to forgive even our enemies.
The other reason is that we are created in the image and likeness of God. Our vocation as humans is to resemble our Father in Heaven.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.KEEP READING
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 5, 2023 — Year A
Readings: Is 58:7-10 / Ps 112 / 1 Cor 2:1-5 / Mt 5:13-16
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Pierre Charles, the son of St. Ignatius of Loyola once asked, “How can I see Christ if I do not see Him in Christians?”
Also, the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, once wrote, “If Christians wish us to believe in their Redeemer, why don’t they look a little more redeemed?”
What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in our country? This is a question that is bound to elicit a variety of answers, depending on whom you ask. Possible answers might include mass media, popular culture, materialism, bad government policies, other religions, etc.
Jesus said to us in today’s gospel, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” Both salt and light are indispensable in our daily lives. Without them, we have major problems. We use salt to prepare delicious meals, and we rely on light to go about our normal activities. These two, salt and light, symbolize how we act and live as Christians in the world, to others, and also to ourselves.
Jesus did not say, “You should be…” or “You have to be like…” He said, “You are.” This is already the nature and the characteristic of a Christian. That is, to give good examples to somebody, so that, as the gospel says, “They may see your goodness.” They will see the goodness in your acts and they will give praise to your Heavenly Father, and not to your own self.
That is why, when I say something nice, or I say I appreciate someone, they respond to me, “Praise be to God, Father.” That really humbles me. Yes, we are so proud if someone praises us, and that is normal, but let these praises lead us to pray, praise, and thank God, who is the giver and author of all real talents and abilities.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says to His disciples, “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14) But elsewhere in John 8:12, Jesus says of Himself, “I am the light of the world.” So, who, then, is the light of the world, Jesus or His followers? This apparent contradiction can be solved by another passage in John 9:5, where Jesus modifies His statement about Himself. He said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
This shows that Jesus is talking about the flesh and blood as the embodiment of the light. As long as He is physically present in the world, He is the light of the world. But when He is no longer physically present, His followers will assume the role of being the light of the world.
The role of the Christian can be defined with two words in today’s gospel: salt and light. Now, what do these mean? Do you know that the word “sugar” never occurs in the Bible? In ancient times, salt was the ultimate seasoning that gave taste to food. Without salt, food would be tasteless. Jesus is saying that as salt is to food, so are Christians to the world. Christians are in the world to make it a better place.
How can we make the world a better place? We find the answer in the parallel passage in Mark that says, “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:50) As salt, we are called to be good disciples, friendly and kind, living at peace with everybody. As light, we are called to show the way. Without light, we bump into each other and fall into the ditch. But light says, “Here is the road: take it. Here is the danger: avoid it.” Without light and salt, the world would be in very bad shape, uninteresting, and impossible to live in. With light and salt, the world becomes a safer and better place. It is our duty as Christians to make the world a better place.
The Church tells us today how to do it: the same way that salt and light do it. First, salt must be different from the food before it can be of use. If salt loses its taste, it is useless, and can no longer make a difference. Light must be different from darkness in order to be of help. A flashlight with a dead battery is no good for someone in the dark. Being the salt and the light of the world means being different from the world. If believers have nothing that distinguishes them from the nonbelievers, then they are like salt that has lost its saltiness, and therefore cannot make a difference.
And what distinguishes us from nonbelievers should not be so much what we claim to be, or the badges and pins we wear, but the lives we live. As Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” Love is the distinctive mark by which you can tell the true Christian from the false.
Secondly, both salt and light operate by associating with the thing they want to change. Salt cannot improve the food unless it goes into the food and changes it from within. Light cannot show the way unless it encounters darkness.
Sometimes Christians think that the way to go is to keep away from getting involved with society and popular culture. But by shying away from the realities of our society and our world, we might indeed be hiding our lamp underneath a bushel basket. To make a difference, we must get up and get involved.
Today’s gospel is frightening. It says, in effect, that if there is so much darkness and bitterness in the world today, it is because we, as Christians, have failed in our job to be salt and light in the world. But we can decide to make a difference starting from today. We can decide to light a candle, rather than curse the darkness. Even the smallest candle helps in a world of darkness. This is our task; this is our challenge; this is our mission; and this is our goal.KEEP READING
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 25, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Am 6:1a, 4-7 / Ps 146 / 1 Tm 6:11-16 / Lk 16:19-31
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
The parable we heard today is certainly an indictment of the rich man. But the rich man didn’t really do anything wrong. He didn’t kill anybody; he didn’t harm Lazarus; he didn’t call the cops and have him sent away. He didn’t really do anything wrong, but still he was indicted here, and he was indicted because of what he did not do. In the beginning of the Mass, we recite the Confiteor: Forgive me for what I have done and what I have failed to do.
When Jesus was giving this parable, the people who were present probably all had a rich man in their hearts – especially the Pharisees, because that’s whom he was directing His message to. At the very beginning it says “He said to the Pharisees…”
Frankly, there is probably a little bit of the “rich man” in all of us today. In this message, we have the “literal” or surface meaning: It’s pretty clear that Jesus is calling out greed, self-importance, selfishness, gluttony, all of those things that are clearly ailments of our current society and culture. That surface message is a strong lesson for all of us to pray about, meditate on, and to consider in our lives.
Also, this severe contrast between the very rich and the super poor spotlights God’s love for all human beings and also our role in bringing about His love and His kingdom. I think the riches, the superabundance, the sumptuousness that we see on the rich man’s table in this story represent the grace of God, overflowing. And it’s available to all. But do we all know it? Do we all sense it, feel it, and believe it?
Israel, the people of God, in a very special way were called apart and gifted with the knowledge of this grace of God. God spoke directly to them; He walked with them, and talked with them, and brought them out of slavery in Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and eventually brought them to the Promised Land. Ultimately, he made salvation available to everyone through the Chosen People, in the person of Jesus Christ.
The rich man had all of this showered upon him in his house: the food, the abundance, the overflowing table representing God’s grace every single day – not just Sunday – and yet, he keeps it to himself. He’s comfortable. He’s fine. He’s taken care of. He’s secure. Or so he thinks. But we’re not called to gorge on God’s grace for ourselves. We, too, have these things, like the rich man had: We have Moses and the prophets; we have the Word of God; and we have the One who rose from the dead. We also have the Church and her sacraments.
In the story, Lazarus was close to the feast. He was right there: he could have picked up the scraps. There are probably Lazaruses even here in this gathering space or at home on Facebook, poor in spirit and desiring but a small scrap, not really knowing Jesus and His love for them, but do we see them? Do we even get close enough to know their names, the way Jesus knew Lazarus’s name? Note that this is the only parable Jesus told in which someone was named. In all the others, it’s “the father”; it’s “the women”; it’s “the blind man”; it’s “the virgin”. In this one, Jesus named him, because it’s important.
Then there are those brothers. There are those who are out there that may not be “close to the feast” of God’s grace: our friends and family, children and grandchildren, co-workers, fellow students. After we’re gone, it’s too late; we can’t reach them then. They have the prophets, they have the Word, they have Moses, they even have someone who rose from the dead, but do they know? It’s your job now — your job and my job.
We go through our lives in this material world and this Western enlightened culture with it baked into us: individualism. It’s all about me. I have a right. And consumerism. I, me, mine. I worked hard for this; this is mine. It trains our brains toward selfishness, even with grace, and the knowledge of salvation and the forgiveness of sins.
But here we are, we’re called to come. We’re here to worship. We’re not here to worship the priest, or the deacon, or the choir, or the altar servers. We’re not here to worship each other, or the architecture, or the décor. Don’t get me wrong: All of those are very, very important, because every single one of them either represents Jesus Christ or points us toward Him. They’re all very important.
But why are we here? We’re here to worship our Lord and Savior: the One who willingly sacrificed and died on the cross. We’re here to receive that abundant, sumptuous, overflowing grace poured out on this altar, on this table. We feed on that sumptuous altar with the Word and the Eucharist. And then we go out, and we take it out into the world where our brothers and sisters are. That’s why, at the end of Mass, the very last element of the Mass is “the Dismissal”. The Dismissal is so important that the Mass itself gets its name from the Latin word for dismissal. The Deacon, when present, gets the privilege of executing the Dismissal: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” “Go in peace glorifying God by your life.” “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord!”
Think about that: At the end of every Mass, we’re given that Dismissal; that call. Think about how important that Dismissal is. Because we’re to take those graces – that overflowing abundance of graces – and not hoard them for ourselves but take that abundance and that love of Christ out into the world to our brothers and sisters to make them aware of the knowledge of salvation and the forgiveness of their sins.
There are lots of ways we can do it: We can do it by words, smiles, hugs, encouragement, our actions, with our love and care for every human, with our charity, and with our prayers. Please pray – It works!
Certainly, we can help – and we are called to help and assist – everyone in need with physical needs, material needs, medical needs, all of those things. We’re always called to do that. Always! But foremost is to bring them the grace of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They have Moses, and they have the prophets, and praise God, they have you.KEEP READING