Second Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2022 — Year A
Readings: Is 11:1-10 / Ps 72 / Rom 15:4-9 / Mt 3:1-12
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
When big events are approaching, people start to worry about a lot of things and how to prepare for them, not the least of which is what they will wear. Many of us are already engrossed in the preparation for Christmas; a good number have sent out their Christmas cards; and Christmas shopping is already in full swing. Malls are filled with Christmas stuff. Others are engrossed in deciding what gifts to give, while children are busy deciding what they want to get from their parents or from Santa.
Many of us are excited as we look forward to the big day. The trouble, it seems, is that our modern society has commercialized Christmas, so that we have mistaken the icing for the cake. Somebody once made this strange proposal: Christmas should be abolished because it only makes the poor suffer more. The season only dramatizes the sharp contrast between those who can go on shopping sprees and those who have virtually nothing. We should not, however, be too strict about brushing aside the external trappings – the decorations, gifts, food and drinks – if we brush them out, the spirit surrounding Christmas would be lost.
But let us remain aware that there is always the danger of losing the right perspective. Hence, we need to constantly remind ourselves to keep Christ in Christmas.
Another truth is that Christmas is a religious event. We are celebrating the birth of our Savior who came down centuries ago. Think about it: The child whose birth we are all celebrating and rejoicing in came as the least of men. Poor and simple. He would never be able to afford our glittery and incredibly extravagant celebrations. In this case, we overlook, in the flurry of preparations, the internal preparations in our heart. Let us be ready to share some of our blessings this Christmas that would cheer somehow, or somehow alleviate the harsh condition of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
That is why in today’s gospel it instructs us to prepare in the true spirit — that is, inwardly – by which John the Baptist beautifully announces, “Reform your lives; for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The Christmas carol Joy to the World puts it beautifully: “Let every heart prepare Him room.”
This is a big event, the coming of God’s Kingdom. Indeed, it is a big event in world history. But John does not worry about his outfit, or what he will eat, or even his popularity with the leaders of the Jews. John does not worry at all. He simply gets ready for the coming of the Lord, and, as God’s messenger, he wants the rest of the people to get ready, too. He wants them to prepare for the very Son of God who will enter human history, not dressed in silken clothes nor sleeping in an air-conditioned or heated room, nor sleeping on a mattress, but dressed in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
Advent is a time for preparation. It is also a season of conversion and repentance, a time to live out the message that John proclaims: “Reform your lives, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
The kingdom does not appear out of the blue. It will not come automatically. God will bring about the realization of this via people. This will come only when certain conditions are met: where people are converted to a new style of life; where they are willing to commit to banish injustice, either personal or societal; and ready to stand for one another. In this, the kingdom is at hand. But whether it will materialize depends on each one of us. Our Church reminds us that repentance and conversion will not only happen during Advent. It should be forever, but the question is: “In what way?”
It is by begging pardon for our sins, because sin is like a poison in the body, which it slowly kills. Penance is the way to detoxify our souls. Many of us collect sins and, before we know it, our souls are cluttered, like attics filled with junk. To prepare for God’s coming, we need to do some housecleaning. We must make room for Him by getting rid of sin. Sacramental confession is a great help. We are not only looking for Christ, but we are looking for His coming at the end of time. We are so very thankful for His continual presence in us. But He can only enter a heart that is contrite and pure: a changed heart.
As Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “Change your hearts. Unless we change our hearts, we are not converted.” The Greek word metanoia means “change of heart.” Metanoia is a biblical term for repentance or “complete change of heart.” It turns one away from sin, to serve the living God. In the Old Testament, the prophets called for a conversion that would turn the people away from idolatry, and from a merely superficial practice of religion to live in fidelity to God’s law and their social responsibilities.
In the gospel of today, John the Baptist, and then later Jesus, preach a radical change of heart, as demanded by the coming of God’s kingdom. That is why the baptism of St. John the Baptist is a baptism for repentance. During apostolic times, in the name of Jesus, the apostles invited people to be converted and baptized, and so begin a new life in the spirit. So today let us reform and repent. Let us turn away from sin and say we are sorry. And we must do it now, for tomorrow may be too late. Now is the acceptable time because the kingdom of God is at hand.KEEP READING
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 30, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Wis 11:22-12:2 / Ps 145 / 2 Thes 1:11-2:2 / Lk 19:1-10
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Benjamin Franklin was a scientist, inventor, political philosopher. Before I could get my citizenship, I had to study a little bit about the history of the United States of America. He helped draft and signed the Declaration of Independence and was the first postmaster of the US.
One day Benjamin Franklin met a lady walking along with her young son. She asked him, “Why is it that the riches of the world bring unhappiness?” He didn’t answer her. Instead, he got an apple from a basket and gave it to the boy. The little boy was very happy and ate the apple immediately. Franklin gave him another, and then another one, until both of the boy’s hands had three apples. Since he couldn’t hold them all, an apple eventually fell to the ground. The boy cried loudly.
Franklin then said to the mother, “You see, when the boy had two apples, which he could comfortably carry, he was happy. But look, when he had too many to carry, and one of them dropped, he started crying. So also with wealth.”
Zacchaeus was a wealthy man, but he was lonely. He had everything, but he was not happy. He was at the top of his profession, but he was despised by his fellow men.
His parents named him “Zacchaeus.” Jewish names have meanings that correspond to one’s personality, just like when we give names to our children. For example, Gabriel means “man of God.” Dominic means “belonging to the Lord.” Irene means “peace.” Ann means “grace,” Corazon means “heart.” The name Zacchaeus means “just” or “clean.” Yet, when the people of Jericho heard the name “Zacchaeus,” they did not think of a just man or a “Mr. Clean” guy, but a detestable and dishonest man.
Tax collectors were despised and considered outcasts, traitors, puppets of the Romans, no doubt because they accumulated great wealth at the expense of others. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and was much hated by all the people. Beyond collecting his quota that he turned into the state, he surcharged the poor and pocketed the extra money that he collected.
The chances of Zacchaeus entering God’s Kingdom were minimal. No self-respecting Jew would endorse his application. Even Jesus Christ pointed out that a rich person would find it very difficult to enter the Kingdom. The rich young man who actually led a clean life was not able to follow; how much more difficult for Zacchaeus, who had sold his soul for money?
Yet Jesus, in today’s gospel, singled out Zacchaeus for the honor of staying at his home. Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Zacchaeus, hurry down, for I must stay at your house today.” Imagine that Jesus said to you, “I must stay at your house today.” How would you react to such an invitation? Would you be excited or embarrassed? Would your home be ready? Would you be personally ready to welcome Jesus into your home?
Why would Jesus single him out? It is because Zacchaeus needed God’s merciful love and forgiveness. In his encounter with Jesus, he found more than he imagined possible. He shows the depth of his repentance by deciding to give up half of his goods to the poor, and to use the other half for making restitution for fraud. This shows how radical his conversion was, coupled with restitution. Just like in the sacrament of Reconciliation, after we have confessed all our sins to the priest, the priest will advise us to return what we have taken, restore the dignity of others that we have destroyed, and more. Then he gives penitential works to restore what we have destroyed.
We have another reason why Jesus singled out Zacchaeus. It is because in Zacchaeus’s entire life, he was always looking down for money and business. His focus is on profit and worldly pleasure. But he was asked to rise up and see that the love and forgiveness of God is vast, and that he has the opportunity to change himself for the better.
When he was at the top of the sycamore tree, Jesus asked him to go down. It means that we should not always be at the top and seeing heaven, but to go down and continue doing the mission that Jesus has given us.
There are people who keep their distance from Jesus. They call themselves Christians, but they do not get involved. They are in the tree observing all that is going on in the Church. They are liberal with their comments, generous with their recommendations, and always ready with advice. But they will stay there at a safe distance, looking down from a sheltered observation point.
Today’s gospel ends with a beautiful saying of Jesus: The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost. Jesus Christ is telling us that He seeks the sinners and the lost in order to offer them, and us, salvation. Such is the great love of God. The sinners have an important place in His plan of salvation. But seeking God does not mean that we need to wait until He finds us. Choosing to hide ourselves from Him never helps us in the process. Life is, and should be, a constant search for God.
So, answering the call of Jesus means to come down from our position as observer. We cannot be spectators. We have to join the community and participate in its activities. We have to let Jesus enter the inner sanctuary of our personal lives.
As we continue the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us pray for those who do not have the Lord God dwelling in their homes. Let us ask the Lord to reach out to these souls so that they, too, may partake in the universal salvation plan of God.KEEP READING
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 23, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Sir 35: 12-14, 16-18 / Ps 34 / 2 Tm 4: 6-8,16-18 / Lk 18: 9-14
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
Has frustration or doubt crept into your prayer life? Two weeks in a row, the Church’s readings have emphasized prayer. The theme last week was perseverance in prayer, illustrated by that great scene with Moses having to hold up his arms for the Israelites to win the battle (Ex 17: 8-13). The battle went on so long that two others had to hold up Moses’ arms for him, and so the battle was won. Jesus assured us in last week’s gospel that God will “speedily” answer our prayers (Lk 18).
This week’s theme for prayer is, “God is a good-good Father.” In the gospel, we meet the sinful tax collector praying, “O God be merciful to me, a sinner (Lk 18:13).” He was justified, Bible-speak for “made right with God.” St. Francis de Sales reflected on this and wrote, “Alas! Since the goodness of God is so immense that one moment suffices to obtain and receive His grace, what assurance can we have that he who was yesterday a sinner is not a saint today (Barron 408/Introduction to a Devout Life)?” May we share in God’s goodness and make the apologizing other person right with us as speedily as God did the tax collector!
The reading from Sirach describes God’s goodness. He is just, “knows no favorites,” listens to the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow (Sir 35: 12-15). Let’s put these Bible words into American English. For oppressed, think beat down or abused or unfairly treated at work. For orphan, think orphan and those rejected by or cast out of their family. And for widow, think widow for sure, but I would add widower and people abandoned by their spouse against their will. In all these downtrodden states of life, we long for goodness.
That longing wisely and often takes the form of prayer. The author of Sirach writes that our prayers reach heaven when we “serve Him and are lowly (Sir 35: 16).” That describes St. Paul in the second reading, in his letter to Timothy, which Paul was writing as God’s servant and as a lowly prisoner. Paul said his friends abandoned him. But then, echoing Sirach, he writes, “but the Lord stood by me and gave me strength (2 Tim 4:16).” In this stressful situation, St. Paul is able to see God’s grace and goodness.
King David, who wrote today’s 34th Psalm, obviously had a similar distressing life experience to Paul’s proclaiming, “The Lord is close to the broken hearted; and those who are crushed in spirit He saves (Ps 34: 18).” I have heard many sad life stories over the years. However, as the song says, we have a “good, good Father,” and He answers all prayers.
I’ll share one such story of prayers answered. At this past summer’s mission trip to the mountainous, southwest corner of Virginia, near the UVA Wise campus, I met a man named David. Our group of teenagers and chaperones went to his home in the middle of the mountains on Father’s Day. Our mission was to rebuild his deck and to add a wheelchair ramp to it, all in God’s name. David only had one leg. He had almost died three times, including a motorcycle and a car accident, as well as in surgery. He had been a rough and tumble coal mine worker. He told me he used to relish a good fight, but in his own words, he would get dangerously violent and couldn’t stop himself.
We invited him to pray with us each day when we arrived, when we did our lunch scripture reflection, and before we left each day, and he always participated. He often joked and laughed with the youth, who affectionately called him Big Dave. One time, while the others worked, He and I had a deep spiritual conversation. When I asked him if he thought God made good come from the loss of his leg to rescue his soul, the only way God could get through to such a rough and tough son of a gun, David teared up, looked off into the distance, and just nodded yes. For a few minutes, David was too choked up to speak.
At the end of the week, his deck was fully restored, complete with a safe ramp for his wheelchair. At our week’s ending banquet, David took the microphone and told all the priests and seminarians, chaperones, Deacons, and youth that when those teenagers showed up at his house on Father’s Day, it was the best Father’s Day he had ever had. He wiped away tears while giving each of the teens and us chaperones a hug before saying goodbye. All of this was an answer to someone’s prayer. David knows his good, good Father who visited him on Father’s Day, rebuilt his deck, made him laugh and cry, and affirmed his dignity.
King David, Paul, the tax collector, and Big Dave all had been made lowly by a checkered past and all experienced God’s grace born by the winds of someone’s prayer. But prayer doesn’t just transform the lives of those prayed for, but also of those who pray for them. And that brings us to the all-important question at this point in every Mass, “How do I respond to today’s readings, this homily, and the sacramental grace we are about to receive?”
Here is something to try this week. You know how an athlete will warm up and get their mind focused before competing? Fr. Thomas Dubay suggests we approach prayer in a similar fashion (Dubay Prayer Primer). Here’s one way to do that. Start your prayer by telling God that He is a good, good Father who answers every prayer and sends grace wherever it is needed. Follow that with a prayer of recollection, recalling the times in your life He cared for you. Recalling those times will cheer your heart and strengthen your faith so that you can finish your prayer in confidence that it is being answered. Remember that Jesus said that even a tiny bit of faith can move a mountain (Mt 17:20-21).
Here are a few gems of wisdom for amping up your prayer. St. Theresa of Avila said, “…it is impossible to speak to [God] and to the world at the same time,” so give Him your undivided attention. To get centered on God like that, Bishop Barron prays the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” He suggests breathing in on the first part and out on the second part. Father Dubay says we need to go to Mass; the liturgy has sacramental power that nourishes our prayer. He adds that while praying, don’t think much, but love much. And St. Augustine, putting a different spin on today’s reading from Sirach, reminds us that, “To pray well, one must live well.”
I’ll close by sharing some wisdom from my spiritual director, Carrie McKeown. She noticed that I prayed a lot for healing of my lung disease and for help overcoming it so I could be a good husband, father, Deacon and manager. So, she asked me a simple question, “Do you believe God takes care of you?” This is one of those questions that is tempting to answer quickly but bears more fruit if we examine our life in light of it. It’s ok to pray for your own needs, but my prayer was leading to aggravation with God, not restfulness in His goodness.
St. Margaret Mary Alocoque (who developed the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus) said it this way: “Keep your heart in peace and let nothing trouble you…for God’s dwelling is in peace.” Padre Pio and other saints have said similar things. If I’m stressing instead of seeing God’s grace like St. Paul did in prison, do I always believe God takes care of me? Since that time a couple of years ago, I mostly pray for others and sure enough, God has taken care of me. This is a key to being a wounded prayer warrior, knowing deep down God is good and cares for you. Let’s make Chris Tomlin’s lyrics our prayer this week. Lord, “You are a good good Father. It’s who you are, it is who you are…And I’m loved by you. It’s who I am, it’s who I am.” Amen.
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 11, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Ex 32:7-11, 13-14 / Ps 51 / 1 Tm 1:12-17 / Lk 15:1-32
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today’s readings from the Holy Scriptures teach us about the overflowing mercy and forgiveness of God. They also talk about sin and repentance, confession, and communion, courtesy of the prodigal son and his father.
We heard in the First Reading that when Moses was on Mount Sinai, the chosen people were acting perversely. They had cast for themselves an image of a cow, were worshipping and making sacrifices to it, and giving credit to the idol for bringing them out of slavery in the land of Egypt. With that, the Lord became very upset. God was prepared to destroy them all. But Moses implored God to have mercy and forgiveness for the sinful people. Hearing the plea of Moses, God changed His mind and decided not to destroy the people as He had originally planned.
In the Second Reading, we also heard how the mercy and forgiveness of God sanctified St. Paul, because he had sincerity of heart. By the mercy of God, St. Paul, formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence, was made an example to those who would come to believe in Jesus for eternal life.
Today’s gospel also speaks of the mercy and forgiveness of God. In this case, three parables are given to declare the magnitude of the mercy of God. These are the parables of the lost sheep, of the lost coin, and of the Prodigal Son. Many tax collectors and sinners came to Jesus, and this drew criticism on the part of the Pharisees and the Scribes. They grumbled because Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.
Brothers and Sisters, let us meditate on the parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable begins with a request. The prodigal son says to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that should come to me.” Here we are given our first insight concerning sin: Sin always involves the misuse of something good.
For example, sins of the tongue, like gossip, slander, swearing, and lying, all involve the misuse of something good: namely, the God-given gift of speech. Sins of the flesh are committed when people misuse the good gift of sexuality, which the Lord intends for marriage only.
Notice that in the story, the younger son requested the share of the estate that was coming to him. He was not making an improper request. He was not asking for something evil. He was requesting something good, which his father was planning to give him anyway. His sin came when he misused the good gift and squandered his inheritance on what the gospel calls “dissolute living,” a life of dissipation.
The next interesting point is that he does all this squandering in a distant land. I don’t think that was a coincidence. When people commit sins that they intend to repent of, they desperately try to run away from the Heavenly Father, just like this boy tried to run away from his father. Those of us who commit sins make every effort to keep them secret, so that nobody knows about them. But that is a very big mistake because, eventually, all sins catch up with us, as the boy’s sins eventually caught up with him. In the parable we are told that he spent all his money, and then a famine broke out, and he found himself with nothing to eat. He ended up dining with pigs.
There we have another insight concerning sin: Sin turns us into slaves. This is something that people who have an addiction know a great deal about. A recovering alcoholic will tell you that when he started to drink excessively, he was acting in total freedom. But eventually it came to the point where he could not stop. He had become a slave to his sinful behavior.
Finally, praise God, the prodigal son wakes up and comes to his senses. He repents, but notices that his repentance is rather superficial. He has what the Church would call “imperfect contrition.” Imperfect contrition is when we are sorry for our sins because we fear the consequences, especially Hell. Perfect contrition is when we are sorry for the best possible reason: because we have offended our Heavenly Father, whom we love above all things. But notice that his father still forgives him. The Church teaches us that our Father will do the same for us. He will forgive us our serious sins if we go to Confession with at least imperfect contrition in our hearts.
Once the prodigal son is forgiven, he is able to share once again in the family meal. For us, that is symbolic of the Eucharist. That is why the Church teaches us that, if we have mortal sin, we cannot receive the Eucharist again until we have gone to Confession and confessed our sin.
The Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, has a beautiful description of sin: Sin is before all else an offense against God and a rupture in our communion with Him. At the same time, it damages communion with the Church. For this reason, conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
Mother Theresa had advice for living a good life. She said:
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of having selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
So, as we continue our Eucharistic celebration today, let us pray for those who have fallen away from the grace of God, so that divine mercy and forgiveness may reach out to them before it’s too late. May their ears be open so that they will hear that Jesus is welcoming them back home.KEEP READING
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 7, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Wis 18:6-9 / Ps 33 / Heb 11:1-2, 8-19 / Lk 12:32-48
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
One day in 1780, the state of Connecticut was enveloped by a mysterious darkness. The same thought came to all: The Last Day had arrived. In the House of Representatives, members were heard asking for an adjournment, so that they could go home and wait for the Lord’s coming together with their families. The chairman, Abraham Davenport, made a short speech. “Either it is the day of judgment or not. If not, there is no need for adjournment. If it were the day of judgment, I would rather be found doing my duty. I wish candles to be brought.”
Brothers and sisters, the parable of today’s gospel focuses on the unpredictable return of Jesus and our need to be prepared for His return. He is saying to us, Ready or not, here I come.
Normally, when we think of being ready, we usually think of being prepared for the worst that could happen. Locks on the doors in case of thieves. Life jackets in the event of a boat accident.
Isn’t it interesting that most of us believe in preparation for many uncertainties, but not for the most important event of our lives? We carry a spare tire in our car as a preparation for a flat tire. We have insurance in preparation for our death. Fire truck in preparation for a fire. Airline stewards provide pre-flight instruction in preparation for turbulent weather. And we seek education in preparation for a good job.
Preparation, in our society, is a sign of wisdom. But think about this: Of all the preparations that we make for the things I just mentioned, not a single one is a certainty. Yet we feel compelled to prepare ourselves for them.
The return of Jesus is a certainty. We can never know precisely when He will return or when we will die, but His return is certain. We must constantly watch, being always faithful and ready, so that we may be found worthy to share in the heavenly banquet He has prepared for us.
The question of the parable is not whether or not Christ is coming again, or when He’s coming, or even how He’s coming. The point is being prepared for His coming and ready to receive Him whenever He comes, now or later.
When a family was vacationing in Europe, they found that they needed to drive three days continuously, day and night, to get to Germany. They all got into the car: Mom, Dad, and their three-year-old daughter. The little daughter had never traveled at night before. She was scared the first night in the car, seeing only the deep darkness outside the window.
“Where are we going, Daddy?”
“To your uncle’s house in Germany.”
“Have you been to his house before?”
“Then do you know the way?”
“Maybe we can read the map.”
“Do you know how to read the map?”
“Yes, we will get there safely.”
“Where are we going to eat, if we get hungry before arriving?”
“We can stop at restaurants if we are hungry,” the Dad replied.
“Do you know if there are restaurants on the way?”
“Yes, there are.”
“Do you know where?”
“No, but we’ll be able to find some.”
The same dialog was repeated several times during the first night and also the second night, but on the third night, his daughter was quiet. The Dad thought that she might have fallen asleep, but when he looked into the mirror, he saw that she was awake and was just looking around calmly. He couldn’t help wondering why she was not asking questions anymore.
“Dear, do you know where we are going?”
“Germany, uncle’s home.”
“Do you know how we are getting there?”
“Then why aren’t you asking anymore?”
“Because Daddy is driving.”
Because Daddy is driving. Yes, brothers and sisters, our Father is driving. We may not know the destination, and sometimes we may just know it as the child knew it – Germany — without understanding what or where it really is. In the road of life that we follow, there are many uncertainties and distractions. We do not know where the road will take us. We do not know when it will end. But one thing is certain: At the end of life’s journey, Our Lord will be there to meet us, to welcome us into the heavenly kingdom, if we have prepared ourselves.
Preparation cannot be a “sometime” thing but living each moment of our life for Jesus. If we can do that, we will be prepared to greet our Master whenever He comes.
How can one be prepared in this matter? If you can still remember when Jesus talks about the Last Judgment, He makes it clear that this preparation or preparedness would be measured by our readiness to serve the people we meet. He said, “What you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do this unto me.” We have to complete the task entrusted to us every day and be at peace with, and at the service of, our neighbor now, to be ready for His Second Coming.
Another way is to be faithful to the life and mission of Jesus, as we await the end time, His Second Coming. Despite criticisms, rejection, pain, and suffering, let us remain faithful to the love of the Father, as Jesus did. Let us fulfill the mission entrusted to us, that is, to proclaim God’s reign to all.
God loves faithfulness and rewards those who are faithful to Him. What is faithfulness? It means keeping one’s word or promise, and commitment, no matter how tough or difficult it gets. Faithfulness is a character trait of God and one that He expects of us.
May Jesus Christ be praised.KEEP READING
Fifth Sunday of Lent
April 3, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Is 43:16-21 / Ps 126 / Phil 3:8-14 / Jn 8:1-11
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
There is a little-known sidelight to the story of the woman taken in adultery. After the Pharisees dragged her before Jesus for sentencing, and Jesus says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” a stone comes flying from the crowd. Jesus looks up, frowns slightly, smiles a little and says, “If you don’t mind, mother, I am only trying to make a point here.”
In one way, this is a good joke because it shows the natural tendency of good people like the Pharisees and the Scribes to throw stones at those they consider sinners. In other ways it is a bad joke because it tries to paint sinless Mary in the colors of sinful humanity. The last person who would want to throw a stone at the woman caught in adultery would be the Blessed Virgin Mary, God’s most favored one. According to the joke, Jesus says He’s trying to make a point here. So now the question is: What is the point that Jesus is trying to make? Why would the Church give us this story for our spiritual nourishment on the last Sunday before Holy Week, when we commemorate the suffering and death of Jesus on our behalf?
The story of the woman caught in adultery had a very curious history in the early Church. Many ancient Bibles do not have it. Some have it as part of a different chapter in the Gospel of John. Still others have it as part of the Gospel of Luke. Some scholars think that originally this story could have been part of Luke’s Gospel. Why? Because it reflects themes that are dear to Luke, such as concern for sinners, interest in women, and the compassion of Jesus.
The fact that it is missing in some early Bibles and found in different locations in others suggest that some early Christian communities had removed this story from the Bible. When later Christians tried to put it back into the Bible, they were no longer sure of its original location.
So why would anyone want to remove this story from the Bible? There are people who cannot understand why Jesus would sympathize with a convicted adulterer. After all, it is decreed in the Bible that such offenders should be put to death. (Lv 20:10)
Does this not seem like an obstruction of justice? What do you think? Perhaps you remember the case of Karla Faye Tucker, a self-confessed repentant murderer who was executed in Texas in February 1998. Many Christian organizations, including the Vatican, pleaded for her pardon, yet her execution was carried out. Supporters of the death penalty argued that no one should interfere with the course of justice. Well, Jesus just did in our gospel today.
There are people who think that compassion and leniency are a sign of weakness. These are probably the kind of Christians who tried to suppress the story by removing it from the Church’s Bible. How could Christians read this marvelous story of Jesus’ compassion and still take a hardline stand with regard to correctional services?
The answer lies in how one reads the story. Some people identify themselves with the Pharisees when they read it. Their interest is in how to deal with other people who break the law. Their answer is usually that justice should be allowed to run its due course.
Now you can begin to understand, in the history of the Church, why the medieval Church did not see anything wrong with burning at the stake convicted witches like Joan of Arc. Didn’t the Bible say that no one who practices sorcery should be allowed to live? That is the law; that is justice. Our only duty is to implement it.
But when we read this story, identifying ourselves, not with the Pharisees, but with the woman herself, then we begin to see the story for the good news that it really is. Like the woman, we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Like her, we all deserve death. Why? Because the scripture says “the wages of sin is death.” But when Jesus comes into the picture, He overturns our death sentence. He sets us free with His words of absolution: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more. “
The story shows how Jesus stands up for sinners before the law. In doing so, he draws upon Himself the hostility of the hardline officers, who will eventually arrest Him and give Him a taste of their justice. The Church puts this story before us today, so that we can see ourselves in the sinner woman, whom Jesus saves from sure death, at the risk of attracting death to Himself.
This season of Lent urges us not to be judgmental of others. We are all sinners and in need of God’s mercy and grace. Only God has the right to judge people, because He alone is perfect.
Somebody said that God Himself does not propose to judge a person until he’s dead. So why should we judge him?
Sometimes people ask me, “Father, is it wrong to judge?” Of course, the answer is: It depends on how you deal with judgment.
There are two ways of judging people: with compassion or without mercy. If we judge the person with compassion, just like Jesus did, then we are doing the right thing. If we judge the person without mercy, without compassion, then we end up like the Scribes and the Pharisees in our gospel today. They want the woman to be stoned to death. Or we end up being like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He could not accept his brother for having squandered his parents’ money and property.
Someone asked me yesterday, “Father, what if I tell my children, “Don’t go with a drug addict.’ Am I judging the drug addict?”
Of course, that is a different story. Your intention is not to judge the drug addict, but to keep your children away from drugs.
Or how about Putin, who killed all these innocent people? Are we not going to judge him? Judge him with mercy. That is what Jesus wants us to do. Mother Teresa of Calcutta reminds us of this when she said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
So perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is this: When do you judge and act like the Pharisees and the Scribes? Are there times when you judge others because of your biases and prejudices? Are there times when you judge others even though you only know a little about the person?
If you are a person who judges others, try reflecting on these pieces of advice:
1) Never judge someone without knowing the whole story. You may think you understand, but you don’t.
2) Never judge someone by the opinion of others. Often, we are victims of this kind of judgment. We easily listen, especially when the person telling us the judgment or the criticism is someone we trust, or someone who is close to us.
3) Every single person on the planet has a story. Don’t judge people before you truly know them. The truth might surprise you. Sometimes it is very easy to judge a person by their face, especially if the person’s face is ugly or he looks like a madman. But we may end up realizing that the person leads a very saintly life. And there are people who look like saints, but the way they lead their life is the other way around.
4) Don’t judge a person without fully understanding them. Just because you and the person don’t agree doesn’t mean you’re right.
We must be conscious that the way we judge things is limited. Our minds, our intellect, is just limited. That’s why, in philosophy, only God is an unlimited being. He’s the only perfect being. We, created beings, are all limited beings. Even our thinking is limited; the way we say things; the way we understand things; the way we hear things is limited, and prone to mistakes. If we are aware of that from the very beginning, then we end up realizing that we are not supposed to judge others right away. Jesus is telling us in our gospel today to judge others with compassion, with mercy, so that we won’t end up to be condemning.
We may be hounded by remorse for our past sins we have committed, like stealing, giving or accepting bribes, committing abortion, gossiping, making intrigues, or infidelity to one’s spouse. We feel we must do something more in order to make a balance of our spiritual account sheet. In short, make reparations.
So, this story is a fitting preparation for Holy Week. We see Jesus making the ultimate sacrifice to grant us clemency; we who are already sentenced to death by our sins.
As we prepare for Holy Week, let us thank Jesus for His mercy and love. And let us promise him that we shall commit ourselves to doing exactly as He tells us: To go and sin no more.KEEP READING
Third Sunday of Lent
March 20, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15 / Ps 103 / 1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12 / Lk 13:1-9
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today is the Third Sunday of Lent. The season of Lent is a wakeup call for all of us, a time to be brutally honest with ourselves, so that we come to know how deeply we depend on God’s mercy and providence. We know that the God we worship and believe in has proven to be loving, forgiving, and saving throughout the history of our Faith.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells about a fig tree that never bears fruit. So, like any sensible farmer, the owner thinks it’s probably time to get rid of it, simply because it does not bear fruit. But the man who works in the field has a better idea: I’ll give it a big dose of loving care, then we’ll hope to see its branches bend under the weight of juicy figs.
That is exactly what Jesus does for us. He feeds us, not with fertilizer, but with His Own Body and Blood. He invites us to stop boasting and be humble and let Him gently point out what we are doing wrong.
A story is told of an eight-year-old boy named Jimmy, who was acting up. He refused to do what he was told to do and did everything he was told not to do. In desperation, his father finally sent him to bed before dessert was served. Just then, a neighbor dropped in. He always liked Jimmy, and after a while he asked the parents if he could talk to the boy.
With a prayer in his heart, he reminded the lad that his disobedience displeased his parents and made them sad. It especially displeased God. The boy began to cry. “What can I do?” The visitor called his parents, who listened with tears in their eyes, as Jimmy told them he was sorry.
What the visitor did for Jimmy, Jesus does for every one of us. That is the meaning of the story Our Lord tells us in our gospel today. The man who planted the fig tree is God the Father. The fig tree means the chosen people of God: you and me. And the vinedresser or the worker in the vineyard is Jesus.
In justice, God the Father decides to cut down the fruitless trees. Christ intercedes. He pleads and prays that we be given more time, that we be given another chance. For the sake of His Son, the Heavenly Father gives us another chance.
This is the story of our life with Christ. We have not borne fruit. We have not done what we were created to do. We have even done what God told us not to do. We have disobeyed His ten commandments. We have not produced. You can’t blame God for being dissatisfied.
He decides to remove us, but Christ intercedes. He intervenes. Christ steps between us and God and asks for another chance. Pleading for us is one of the principal tasks of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He asks for mercy for us. He gets us another chance. Not only does He beg His Father for forgiveness, Jesus begs for all the good things we need.
That is one reason why every official prayer of the Church, especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, ends with a plea: “Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord,” or some variation of this thought.
There is a rather famous painting that shows a young man playing chess with the devil. They are playing for possession of the young man’s soul. The painting portrays the devil as having just made a brilliant move. Chess players who studied the arrangement of the chess pieces in the painting feel immediate sympathy for the young man. He has been put in a hopeless situation. He has been led down a blind alley with no exit.
Paul Charles Morphy, a former world class chess player, became intrigued by the painting. One day, while studying the arrangement of the chess pieces, he saw something that no one else did. Excitedly, he cried out to the young man in the painting, “Don’t give up! You still have an excellent move left.” There is still hope.
The story fits in beautifully with the point Jesus makes in the parable of the fig tree today. Like the young man in the painting, the fig tree seems lost, then suddenly a ray of hope breaks through. Like the young man in the painting, the tree is not doomed after all; it gets a last minute reprieve. It gets a last minute second chance.
This is an important message for all of us. Because of Jesus, we are never doomed, no matter how bad things seem. Because of Jesus, there is still hope for us, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. Because of Jesus, there is always one more move left to make, no matter how late in the game it is.
This brings us to the most important point of all. How does all this apply to our lives in a very practical way? All of us, to some extent, are like the young man in the painting and like the fig tree in Jesus’ parable. All of us, at one time or another, have arrived at a point in life when it seemed that we were in a no-win situation. Perhaps some of us are at such a point in our lives right now. Perhaps some situation threatens to engulf us and overwhelm us. Perhaps some relationship threatens to destroy everything we believe in. Perhaps some problem has led us down a blind alley that seems to be a dead end.
It’s right here that today’s gospel has an important message for all of us. Because of Jesus Christ, we are never doomed, no matter how bad things seem. Because of Jesus, we always have one more move left. Because of Jesus, there is still hope for us, no matter what the situation.
This is the lesson that’s contained in today’s scripture. This is the good news that we celebrate in today’s liturgy. And this is the message that God wants us to carry back into our world to share with others.KEEP READING
The Baptism of the Lord
January 9, 2022 – Year C
Readings: Is 42:1-4, 6-7 / Ps 29 / Acts 10:34-38 / Lk 3:15-16, 21-22
by Deacon Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. It’s a big day. Sometimes that feast seems to get lost, as we’re coming out of the huge feast of Christmas, but it really is a very, very big day. Secular (or non-religious) historians say that this is one of two events that happened with certainty with respect to Jesus. One of those events is the crucifixion of Jesus; historians are pretty certain that that took place. The other is the Baptism of the Lord. Secular historians use this event as the basis for their study of the life of Jesus. So it’s a pretty significant event. Hallelujah! (more…)KEEP READING
Second Sunday of Advent
December 5, 2021 — Year C
Readings: Bar 5:1-9 / Ps 126 / Phil 1:4-6, 8-11 / Lk 3:1-6
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
The season of Advent is a time for us to prepare our hearts for Christmas. In our gospel today, on this second Sunday of Advent, we hear John the Baptist preparing the people for the coming of Jesus, a voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his path straight.” (Lk 3:4). We hear these familiar words of John the Baptist calling all people to conversion.
Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians in our second reading today, reminds us of three wonderful things. First, Saint Paul reminds us of the joy of the Lord. (more…)KEEP READING
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 26, 2021 — Year B
Readings: Nm 11:25-29 / Ps 19 / Jas 5:1-6 / Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
My hope in today’s homily is that all of us might leave today with one temptation and sin in mind that we are going to root out of our life with an intentional plan of attack that includes changes in our behavior and Jesus’ grace in the Sacrament of Confession. (more…)KEEP READING