Monday, January 20, 2020

Homily, Ordinary Time, Cycle A - Planting seeds and Christian discipleship

Friday morning I went to the Catholic Business Exchange on the Northside of Indianapolis to attend Mass, hear an inspiring speaker, and share fellowship with other Catholics business people.  After the speaker finished I spoke with a guy named Tom who shared a story about how Christian discipleship can impact others.    He told me about a fellow student from law school who he hadn’t heard from in over 10 years.  His friend called him up out of the blue and asked him to go to lunch after all this time.  He remembered him as a social friend but was not particularly close to him.   He wasn’t really sure why he wanted to get together and he hoped everything was ok.    
Turning to today’s Gospel, did it sound a bit familiar?   It may have seemed like a repeat of the Baptism of the Lord, but it’s from the perspective of John the Baptist.   John’s mission, was to prepare for the coming of Jesus.  He was ministering in the desert, through ritual baptism with water calling people to repentance.  Many people were coming to him, and finally Jesus approaches.  John says he didn’t not know who Jesus was, but calls him the “Lamb of God.  How does he know this?  By spending time with God in prayer and listening to him.   John said the one who told him to baptize with water would send the Holy
Spirit come down on the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  John was given the gift of seeing the Spirit like a dove from heaven come down upon Jesus as he baptized him.  
John would recognize this as a sign of God’s peace, like the dove with the olive branch that returned to Noah after the flood.   The destruction was over and peace would reign.  There was an expectation in the Old Testament at the end time that God would send his Spirit into the world to reconcile man to God.   John recognized Jesus as this peace, testifying that he was the Son of God. John completed job that God sent him to do, announcing Jesus as the Lamb of God and Son of God. 
Isaiah prophesied that one would be sent to redeem Israel and be a light to the nations, and Jesus fulfilled this prophecy.   John was sent to prepare the way of the Lord, and announce he was the Son of God.  Paul was sent to be the apostle to the Gentiles.    We to are sent as well as disciples of Christ, strengthened by the  grace of our baptism, to proclaim Jesus as Messiah and Lord.  
How will we know how to do this?  Most importantly by spending time in prayer listening to God.  Through the sacraments, especially baptism, confirmation, communion and reconciliation will strengthen, nourish, and heal us, to prepare us for the mission we are sent.   We can also be open to the people God sends in our lives to impact us, parents, teacher, catechists, ministers, spouses, family, and friends,  Each time we pray we can reflect on how these people are doing God to impact us.   By doing His will it’s leading to be the person that God sent us into the world to be, which is Holy.    
Some of us are sent to be priests, deacons, and religious will be sent to minister in the Church and we need to be open to that possibility.   But many of us are sent into the world as single or married persons to impact the world through our families, friends, work, in recreation and where we volunteer our time.   We are sent to impact those around us by the way we live our lives as disciples of Christ.  
Returning to the story that Tom shared with me at the beginning, he met with his friend for lunch and they spent time catching up on their times in law schools, family, and careers.  But the big news he had to share was that he was in RCIA and would becoming a Catholic at the upcoming Easter Vigil. He said that Tom had a big impact on him.    Even though it was many years ago, he remembered that Tom was Catholic, and the way he lived his life had the greatest influence on him becoming Catholic. Tom didn’t think he did anything special and was far from perfect, but that he has always tried to be true to living out his Catholic faith.   He just planted a few seeds of faith by his Christian way of life that grew over time.  You never know how those seeds will impact others. 
I’d like to close with a paraphrase of prayer, We are prophets of a future not our own, shared with me by our youth minister, Emily Ketzner, that can help us realize on how of life of Christian discipleship can impact others.  

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. 
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God's work. 
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No program accomplishes the Church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development..
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own. 



3rd Sunday of Advent: The Kingdom is coming, just watch for the signs!

Today is Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent. Gaudete means joy in Latin.  We have been preparing for the coming of the Lord our first few weeks in Advent.  During the first week of Jesus called us to stay awake, preparing for the His coming at the end times.  Last week John the Baptist called his followers to prepare through repentance of their sins.  John the Baptist returns today, but there is a major turn of events. He is now in prison and is in need of hope to endure the trial of being in captivity. The first reading we hear from Isaiah is a key that gave him some hope, and us as well.
         The reading from Isaiah provided hope to the Jewish exiles who had been captivity for many generations. It’s a prophecy of God coming to rescue them. Some vivid images are used to describe a turn of events for those in exile. The desert would bloom with abundant flowers rejoicing with joyful song. It would be turned into lush, rich forest full of life like the northern part of the country. He also tells of the restoration of physical ailments.  The feeble and weak would be made strong, the blind would see, the deaf would hear, and the lame leap like a stag.  This healings and blooming in the desert represented God actions in returning them to their homeland where they would sing in everlasting joy. Isaiah’s prophecy let them know that God was faithful to his people.
John now being in prison was in need for some hope.  He heard of Jesus ‘works and sent his disciples to find out if he was the Messiah asking, “Are you the one to come?” Jesus didn’t answer directly, but instead quotes Isaiah to John’s disciples:  the blind see, the lame walk, and the deaf hear. This was a sign to John that the works of Jesus were prophesized by Isaiah.  This provided John some joy that Jesus could be the long awaited Messiah and would provide hope to endure his captivity. Jesus also spoke of the most important point of his own mission as Messiah: The poor would have the good news proclaimed to them!  This good news was that He would bring salvation to many through the forgiveness of sins. This may not have been the type of Messiah that John and his disciples were expecting. Many thoughts that the Messiah would be a mighty ruler who would overcome the Roman occupiers. This would have only been a short term earthly victory.   Jesus’ victory was an eternal one: overcoming death and bringing about eternal life. John wouldn’t live to see Jesus fulfill this role on earth, but he did accomplish the task God gave him of preparing the way of the Messiah. Jesus told the crowds John was someone very special, much more than a prophet and that none born of women were greater than he. But he had something much more important to tell them: that the least in the kingdom of heaven would be greater than John! This good news for the crowds it possible for them to enter the kingdom of heaven. They just had to come to believe that he was the Messiah and follow the beatitude of Jesus, ”And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me”. This was hard for many at that time, and still hard for people today.
Through our faith in Lord we have hope of being greater than John the Baptist by being least in the kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus make this possible for us through the Church and the Sacraments. Through baptism we become children of God and members of his Church.  We’re provided gracethrough the Eucharist and Confirmation to be Christian disciples in bringing about the kingdom of heaven.  This is something that we can rejoice in!
But before we rejoice, we need to ask: Where do we see the kingdom of heaven?  In this world it seems like we are still in captivity and in exile from the heavenly kingdom of our Lord.   Just turn on the TV or computer for the recent news and it certainly doesn’t sound like the kingdom of heaven is here. We can get discouraged if we don’t have patience to endure as we wait for the coming of the Lord. But if we make our hearts firm and patiently keep the faith in our Lord, we can bring about the kingdom of heaven as disciples of Christ.   We just need to look for the signs of the kingdom of heaven among us.  
Where can we see these signs?  Have the blind regained their sight?  For the single mom who faced the darkness of being alone in an unexpected pregnancy, but now sees the light of hope with help from Gabriel project, I think they have.  Have the dead been raised?  For the people whose faith was brought back to life by attending Welcome retreat, I think they have. Has the good news been proclaimed to the poor?  For the thousands of people served at our food pantry and thanksgiving distribution who now can pay for their housing with going hungry, I think it has. Were there lepers who were cleansed?  For the hundreds of persecuted families throughout the world welcomed by Catholic Charities to resettle in Indianapolis, I think they were. Were there deaf able to hear?   For the hundreds of men and woman imprisoned in Johnson County jail who hear the Word of God and receive the Eucharist weekly, I think they have. 
The kingdom of heaven is made present by the loving action of the Christian community who have faith in Jesus and hope in his coming again in Glory. We can bring the kingdom of heaven in our everyday lives in doing simple things ourselves:   Sharing a kind word with someone at work or school who is difficult to get along with,  visiting a neighbor or relative who can’t get out, or just being patient when driving with those around us who aren’t so patient. 
So, let us be joyful as we anticipate the coming of our Lord, waiting patiently for the birth of a humble little baby like each of us at Christmas.   Let us also rejoice in our hearts as we receive the Eucharist and patiently wait for Jesus‘ coming in Glory to fully usher in the kingdom of heaven.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Be a fool to see Jesus and wise in the eyes of God - Homily 31st Sunday cycle C

Today we have the story of a short man, Zacchaeus, who went to great lengths to see Jesus.   Being a bit height challenged myself, I kind of like Zacchaeus.  Sometimes when obstacles get in the way of seeing we need to make an extra effort to be able to see clearly.    Zacchaeus made that effort and some in the crowd thought he was foolish.  Can you imagine a grown man climbing a tree? What a sight that must have been! Zacchaeus’ tree climbing may have seemed foolish to the crowd caught up in the ways of world, but very wise in the eyes of God.
Zacchaeus was not someone the Jews held in esteem.     He was a Jew who worked for the Romans collecting tolls on goods from people traveling to and from Jericho.   As a chief tax collector Zacchaeus had agents working for him, which made him wealthy without having to do much of the work.  The agents would collect an extra cut above the Roman tax so they could pay themselves and Zacchaeus.  If you were considered wealthy with many resources, people thought that you were guilty of  taking away from those who were in need. Being a chief tax collector and wealthy, Zacchaeus was considered a sinner.  
Zacchaeus was somehow compelled to see Jesus when he came to Jericho.  We’re told he ran to see Jesus and climbed a sycamore tree to be able to see him.  This sounds
like he did this with a sense of urgency.  He could now clearly see Jesus. Jesus saw him as well and picked him out of the entire crowd with some greater plan.   Jesus insisted on coming to stay at his house that very day.   Zacchaeus quickly climbs down and welcomes Jesus with joy!  The crowd wasn’t happy about this and complained, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner”. They may have expected Jesus to perform some miraculous cure of the lame, sick, possessed, or raising of the dead, but not for Jesus to come stay with a sinner!    But that’s exactly what Jesus intended to do.
Zacchaeus took the initiative by climbing over his obstacles to see Jesus.  He really wanted to see him, but Jesus wanted something even more for Zacchaeus: he wanted to save him.   Zacchaeus joyfully welcomes Jesus into his house and this encounter profoundly changes him, committing half his possessions to the poor and to restoring four times more to anyone he’s extorted. Jewish law only required restoration of what was taken plus twenty percent. Zacchaeus had truly repented because he made the effort to see Jesus.   Our Lord returned the hospitality of Zacchaeus with something even greater, saying to him, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”     Through this encounter Zacchaeus received the gift of everlasting joy of Jesus.
Can we sometimes be a little bit short sighted like Zacchaeus, not able to clearly see Jesus?  Are there obstacles that keep us from being able to see him?  Our culture drives us to focus all our time and effort to make more money, have more stuff, and to be constantly entertained.   This may bring short term pleasure but doesn’t lead us to everlasting joy and eternal life.   Are we willing to make the effort like Zacchaeus to seek out Jesus or do we just fit him in when there’s a crisis or it’s convenient?   
It’s especially joyful to see all of you here making the effort to see Jesus.   The Church provides us with many opportunities to see Jesus so he can save us.  We are blessed to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist every week and receive him with joy!  His grace strengthens us to overcome the many obstacles in our lives.   We also have the Sacraments of reconciliation and anointing of the sick that can help heal our souls to clearly see Jesus.   We can also see him daily in prayer and Scripture.   In many of the people we encounter daily we’re also able to see Jesus, if we are open to this possibility. We just need to plan the effort to seek him out. He’s always there for us, no matter what we’ve done, ready to seek and to save us.
This past Friday I was able to spend some time with the men and woman at communion services at Johnson County jail.    These people are struggling with all kinds of obstacles that keep them from seeing Jesus.   Many of them are challenged by addictions that may bring short term pleasure, but no lasting joy. I’m encouraged to see them come to the communion service, in the midst of their struggles.   They get a chance to be with Jesus, as they’re away from the distractions that keep them from him. I was especially touched this week by a young lady, who cried tears of joy as she received Jesus in the Eucharist.   After the service she took a Bible and prayer book, and she was very grateful.  I think her encounter with Jesus was a lot like Zacchaeus, knowing Jesus came for her to seek and save what was lost.  
So, what are the obstacles keeping us from seeing Jesus? Before it gets too busy with the Advent and Christmas season take some quiet time to pray for the grace to climb over these obstacles.  Be foolish in the eyes of the world by making the time and effort, to quickly climb up the tree like Zacchaeus did to see Jesus.  By doing so you’ll be wise in the eyes of God, seeking to be with the one who seeks to save us.



Sunday, October 20, 2019

Persevere in praying - Homily, 29th Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C

A few weeks ago, we heard a parable about a dishonest steward.   Today in another parable Jesus tells us, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.”  What’s all this focus on dishonesty? Jesus’ focus is not so much on dishonesty, but he uses the dishonest judge to make a point of the the widow’s persistence for justice. This is a model how we’re to persist in our prayer with God. 
The widow was really facing an uphill battle.   She lived in a culture that only recognized males having the rights to own property. Since she was petitioning the judge on her own, she didn’t have any sons.  This meant she wouldn’t be able inherit her husband’s
property. Without any family, she was in a dire situation.   There were no safety nets of support like we have today. In Jewish tradition, God favors the poor, especially widows.  But the judge would not have sympathy for her plight.  He didn’t fear God or respect his neighbor.  In her distress, the widow kept after him.  She had no means of support, so what did she have to lose by being persistent? She only had something to gain.  She was not only persistent, but a bit feisty as well.   The original Greek text of the scripture translated to “the woman would give him a black eye”. I would say that’s a bit feisty.  Eventually the dishonest judge was worn down by her persistence, and he renders a just decision.
So, what can we learn from the widow’s persistence?     The widow’s plight was hopeless, but she eventually received justice.   If a dishonest judge, who doesn’t fear God or respect any human being, delivers justice to the widow, wouldn’t it make sense that a loving God would be even more just to those who persevere in prayer? Jesus told his disciples this to reinforce the necessity to pray always and not to be discouraged.
When were faced with a trying situation such as a serious illness, death of a loved one, job loss, or a broken relationship it’s a time we should turn to God in prayer?    Asking others to pray for us as well is a good idea.  The more prayers the better! But when the situation doesn’t improve, it may seem that God is not answering our prayer.  We can get discouraged and give up.    That’s just what the devil wants us to do, to give up on God and break our relationship with him.   
We need to keep in mind that God is not a genie in a bottle.  We can’t make a wish, and POOF, everything is just the way we want it. That’s an image that portrayed in stories and movies. God does listen and answer our prayers.  
But the way he answers may not be exactly what we ask or in the timeframe we desire.    This can be very difficult. When this happens, we need to be honest and let God know your feelings and frustrations.  This may be all that we can pray to God, but at least we’ll still be in relationship with him.  
Maybe the perseverance in relationship with God is part of the way your prayer is being answered.  Sometimes blessings can come out of the trials in our lives.
A few weeks ago, we celebrate the Feast of St. Monica.  She prayed for the conversion of her son, St. Augustine, to become Christian for over 15 years.  St. Augustine did convert shortly before his mother’s death and became a great saint. This was a long time to wait to see the fruit of prayer. She is a great example of perseverance in prayer.  Ask for her help when you need to persist in prayer.
So how and when should we pray? We should prayer without ceasing! 
We need to build a relationship with God when times are good, as well as when they are troubling.   Praying daily is a good practice to get into.   Pick the time of the day and place that works best for you. 
How do we pray?  It doesn’t have to be formal. Think of it as having a conversation with God.  A good format for prayer can be something I heard while watching this week’s Opening the Word video on Formed for the Sunday readings.  The priest suggested using an acronym, MATA, (Say M A T A), to help guide us in prayer.   M is for mercy, asking God for forgiveness of our sins. A is asking God’s help for our needs.  T is for offering thanks to God for the blessings in our life.  Finally, A is for adoration.  This can be the hard but may be the most important.    It’s just being quiet and adoring the presence of God.  In our world it’sso hard to do with all the noise and distractions.   But if we can be quiet for just a few minutes we can able to listen to God in the silence of our hearts.   We also need to be open to the possibility that sometimes God speaks to us in the words and actions of others. Being quiet in prayerful adoration can help us to realize when this happens!
Sometimes we may not have the words to pray.  That when our formal prayers of the Our Father, Hail Mary, or Rosary, can be very fruitful when we’re struggling for words to pray.   There may be times that we feel like we can’t pray at all, but only sigh or moan.   When this is the case keep in mind the words of St. Paul to the Romans: The Spirit too helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercessions for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech.
We also persevere in prayer as a community at Mass.  The Mass is the powerful prayer of all.  In it we are following the M A T A format.  We ask for God’s mercy at the beginning of Mass.  We offer up prayers of petitions asking for God’s intercession. In thanksgiving we offer gifts of bread and wine for the Eucharist.     When we receive Jesus’ Body and Blood, we can adore his presence spiritually being with us and listen quietly after receiving him in prayer.   
So, as we continue throughout the week lets presevere in prayer like the widow.  Continue daily to pray in good times and bad so we grow in our relationship with the Lord.  Pray for our own needs and support others in prayer.  And when faced with difficult situations remember St. Paul’s advice to Timothy: be persistent whether it’s convenient or inconvenient. 







Loving your neighbor - Homily 26th Sunday Ordinary Time, cycle C

In today’s Gospel we hear a vivid story about a rich man and Lazarus.  Jesus addresses this story to the Pharisees. He does this to challenge them.  The Pharisees were the leaders of the Jewish faith community, but they didn’t always live the faith.  They were more interested in the recognition of their position, wearing fine clothing, and being taken care of, than loving God and neighbor. Jesus’ story was to make them feel a bit uncomfortable.
We hear about a rich man who was dressed in purple fine linen clothe and eating sumptuously each day.   It’s ok to eat a really good meal for holidays and celebrations, but he was doing every day. He was living a life of excess with no concern for others, especially Lazarus.       
Meanwhile, we hear of Lazarus lying at the rich man’s door, covered in sores, who longed for the scraps that fell from rich man’s table. In order to get in and out of the house, the rich man, would probably need to step over Lazarus. You would think he’d notice him with the dogs licking his sores, but we don’t hear a word of this.  When I read this I thought that dogs licking sores was a bad thing, but I was told that dogs will lick wounds to help with healing.    It would seem that animals show more care for Lazarus than the rich man did.  He is absorbed in his life of luxury and has no concern for the poor.    
One thing interesting to note, we know the name of the poor suffering man as Lazarus, but does anyone recall the name of the rich man?   It’s never mentioned.  He remains nameless.  In the world today, if your wealthy or famous it seems like everyone knows their name.   But for the poor, it’s not the case.    They seem to remain nameless, as they’re not seen important to people of this world.  In referring to Lazarus by name, Jesus is showing us God’s favor for the poor.     
Both the rich man and Lazarus eventually die.  The tables seam to turn in the afterlife for the rich man.   He is in torment, while Lazarus is seen at the side of Abraham in comfort.  This is a sign of Lazarus being in heaven, with the rich man suffering in hell. 
While the rich man is now in eternal suffering, he still doesn’t seem to get it. He calls to Abraham to send Lazarus to relieve his thirst.   The rich man never did a thing for Lazarus in his earthly life, but he expects to be served by him in the afterlife.  Abraham responds he’ll have to endure torment, while Lazarus is comforted.   The divide between the place of torment and comfort is too wide to cross for the rich man to escape the suffering. The rich man has sealed his fate. 
The rich man seems to be a bit remorseful and appeals for Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family. Abraham responds that they’ve already had plenty of warning from Moses & the prophets, and the even someone rising from the dead wouldn’t make a difference to them.   This is prelude of Jesus’ own death, and resurrection, and the refusal by many people to change their ways and believe in him.
This story probably made the Pharisees feel a bit uncomfortable and was a warning for them to change their ways.  They appeared to be practicing their faith, worshipping in the temple.  But their focus take care of themselves while ignoring the poor had some dire consequences.   They could end up like the rich man did. 
This story can make us a little uncomfortable as well.  Many of us have been blessed with the things that we need to live a comfortable life.   We don’t lack food, shelter, and healthcare like Lazarus did.  We’re here today worshiping together to show our love for God and Jesus calls us also to remember to love for our neighbor.  
Fortunately, we are blessed to have many opportunities to do so.  With our Outreach ministries of the food pantry, Gabriel project, back to school backpack drive, Thanksgiving food distribution and many others, we have numerous opportunities do show love for neighbor as well.  I’m sure there are many other ways that each of us shows our love of neighbor as well.  
If this has been missing in your faith life, I’d like to share something I talked about at Johnson County Jail on Friday.  I shared with the inmates that helping materially poor may be difficult in their situation, but they could help those who are starving for love.   There’s some people who have never really been shown much love, kindness, or respect in their lives. I suggested they could show the love of neighbor by offering a smile, a kind word, or friendship to one of the other inmates who seemed to need it.    That’s a good place for us to start as well where we spend our time, at work, school, shopping, or recreating.
As we continue with this Mass and receive the Eucharist, thank God for the gifts we’ve be been blessed with, and to be inspired to share some of these with our neighbors.  Pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit on how best to do this.  By doing so we’ll have the hope of being in the comfort of Abraham along with Lazarus and our Lord Jesus.  


Sunday, August 18, 2019

Lighting the fire of truth and family divisions, Homily, 20th Sunday, Cycle 3, 8/18/19

Wow! The readings we have today are very difficult. In the first reading we hear the people of Israel under King Zedekiah don’t like what they hear from the prophet Jeremiah.  They’re supposed to be God fearing people, but when they don’t like what the prophet tells them, they act very ungodly.  So they take Jeremiah to a cistern and lower him in to die a slow death. Speaking the word of God can lead to trouble.   In the Gospel, Jesus tells us he did not come to establish peace, but rather division.  I thought Jesus was supposed to be the prince of peace?  This division is going to happen among those who are the closest: families.  A house will be divided, three against two, father against son, mother against daughter, and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law.  This does not sound very encouraging at all.
Jesus said he came to light a fire on earth.  That fire was to preach the truth to the people.  This truth would go against the grain of the culture.  Some of the people heard and accepted this truth and became his disciples. They would become his family, his brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers.  This was a source of division Jesus referred to. 
During Jesus’ time, family was of utmost importance.  You were obligated to protect your family to preserve its honor.  Family was your first obligation above anything else. It was shameful to do anything to disrupt the family.   It was also forbidden to change the status you had in society.  If you were from a poor family, you remained among the poor.   You were not permitted to improve upon your situation.   If you were wealthy, you could not associate with the poor. This would dishonor your family.
Those who became Jesus’ disciples prioritized him over their own family obligations or their status in society.   This would lead to the divisions that Jesus spoke about in today’s Gospel.   Following Jesus would go against the cultural norms of the times and result in hardships for his disciples. 
Do any of you have divisions in your own families due to being a disciple of Jesus?  I certainly do.   I’m sure many of you do as well.   Much like the times of Jesus, we have divisions in our own families. One of the cultural norms of today is to refrain from discussions on religion and politics at family gatherings in order to keep peace.   This may keep peace for the family gathering, but does it bring true and lasting peace for those who don’t really know Jesus?
I was recently at the annual St. Lawrence Day dinner for all the deacons and their wives.  Archbishop Thompson spoke and commented on the topic of tolerance.  Tolerance is an ideal that’s embraced by our American culture today of acceptance of any belief, lifestyle, or behavior as long as it doesn’t “hurt” someone else.   He mentioned some disappointment he experienced at a recent Catholic education event he attended.  The speaker’s topic of the event focused on the “virtue” of tolerance. He said unfortunately tolerance is not a Catholic virtue, but is a virtue of our culture.  
The problem with tolerance is that truth is not spoken at the expense of not offending the other person.  If you speak the truth its considered not being kind.  If the truth is not spoken, you may be kind, but you’re not showing love for the other person.   Sometimes the truth is what people really need to hear.  Jesus didn’t come to be kind, he came to show us love, the love of God.
Jesus said in today’s Gospel that “I came to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!  The fire he was speaking is the truth of the Gospel he came to proclaim.   By being Jesus’ disciples and following his teachings, The letter to the Hebrews tells us, we have the hope of the joy that lay before him.   This hope is eternal life with Jesus in heaven.  Jesus came to save us through his death on the cross, and gave us his Church so we can become his disciples through the sacraments and following the Church’s teaching.  Many of the Church’s teachings are difficult to accept.  They are counter-cultural.   As Jesus disciples, we are called to follow His teachings and share them with others by speaking the truth.  If we share these truths in a loving way, even with those who disagree with us, we are showing them love.  Jesus tells us that if we do this there will be divisions, even in our own families.
How can we share the truths with others in a loving way? The letter to the Hebrews offers some good advice: persevere in running the race that lies before uswhile keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.   If we look at the race as a marathon and approach it with patience and keeping a steady pace over the long haul, we can accomplish the task.   We can keep a steady pace through daily prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments. By being patient with those we our divided with, we may eventually be able to share the truths of our Christian faith with love at the right time, so they can have the same hope as we do, of eternal life with our Lord and Savior. 

Persistence in Prayer: Homily for week 17, cycle C, July 27, 2019

For most people in our American culture, prayer may come to mind only when we’re in need of something.  When people do pray, it may only be as a last resort. With the advancements in science, technology, and medicine we’ve become accustomed to relying on our own human efforts to take care of all our needs. There’s very little credit given to God in all the modern wonders we have today. When prayer is called upon, it may be disappointing when the request of the prayer doesn’t seem to be answered by God.  So what’s the use in praying anyway?
Prayer is the common theme of today’s readings.  There are three main points on prayer that are recurrent in the readings.   First, that prayer is a relationship with God, second is the necessity to be persistent in prayer, and third to ask for help when you need it.
Prayer is much more than just making a wish when you need something and having it granted.  God isn’t a genie in the bottle. God is the loving creator of the universe, whom we rely on for everything.  He made us in his image and wants each of us to thrive.  He gave us the freedom to know, love, and serve him.  In order to know how we can know, love, and serve God, a good relationship is needed.   Good communication on a frequent basis, especially listening, is necessary for a relationship to thrive.  This relationship requires work on our part.  God is just waiting for us to be in relation with him.  Prayer opens us up and those we pray for to God’s graces. 
In the first reading Abraham provides a good example of how to be in relationship with God.  He engages in a dialogue with God on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, requesting God’s mercy.   The people were in great sin, and Abraham was appealing on behalf of the faithful few, that God would be merciful.  Abraham appeals for God’s mercy six times.  Each time god responds Abraham presses for him to be more merciful. I bet there are a few parents out there, who may have had a similar conversation with their own children negotiating for more lenient punishment for their misgivings.
In the Gospel, Jesus, return’s from praying himself and his disciples ask him how to pray.  Jesus then teaches them a most familiar prayer, the Our Father.  We pray this ourselves so much, that we may not think about what the words really mean. Jesus first instructs to call God “Father”, setting the tone of a close family relationship.  In Middle Eastern culture of the times, family was of primary importance. God is not far and distant.  Some of us may not have had a good relationship with our own father.  If so, think about someone who is a close family member or friend who really cares for you. That’s what Jesus is trying to get across.
Jesus instructs them to start off giving praise and reverence, in praying “hallowed be thy name”.  This is not because God needs it, but to acknowledge our own reliance and gratitude to God.  By praying, “thy kingdom come”, we welcome God’s action and presence in our world.  After acknowledge the Father, we turn to our own needs and God’s mercy on us. In asking “give us each our daily bread”, he’s encouraging us to recognize our dependence on God for everything, not only when we think it’s needed.  In praying, “forgive us our sins” and “do no subject us to the final test”, we are reminded of our continual need for God’s mercy and protection from our own inclination to sin.  We’re also called to be merciful to other’s as God has been to us, by “forgiving everyone in debt to us”.
Persistence in prayer is another focus of the readings.  Abraham asks for God’s mercy on Sodom and Gomorrah six times.   Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread.  He also gives the example of the friend who comes in the night asking for bread.   Prayer is something we need to persist in, and not do only when a need arises. Consistent continual prayer keeps the communication with God open to help with our needs. I read Fr. John Hallowell’s twitter post this morning illustrating persistence in prayer.  He shared his daily prayer routine includes three prayers, the Angelus, to St. Michael, to St. Peregrine for those with cancer.  He noted only one person has died from cancer on his prayer list and there had some amazing miracles had happened.
Finally, we need to ask God for our help in prayer. If we don’t ask God for help, how is he going to do so?  Of course God knows all, but he’s waiting for us to ask.  We’re told to ask, seek, and knock.  In our culture we are so reliant on ourselves and the advancements in science and technology. We have become too reliant on ourselves and leave God out of the picture.    In our Catholic tradition a both/and approach may be a more appropriate response.  Sometimes I’m amazed when I hear of people having a major surgery and illness and not requesting to receive God’s graces through anointing of the sick. What could it hurt to ask for God’s help directly or through the intercession of the Saints for our needs as soon as an issue arises.
Last, I’d like to address when it seems that God is not answering our prayers.  Jesus gives us the example of what father among you would give his son a scorpion when he asks for an egg. God always answers our prayers, but it may not be how we expected.   Many times an answer to a prayer may be through other people we encounter, our family, friends, co-workers.  We need to rely on the Holy Spirit to help us understand how God answers our prayer. The answer to some prayers, may be a change in us.   Yesterday, I was preaching at the Johnson County jail when prayers seem to be unanswered and seeking to understand.  One of the inmates spoke up about his own prayer to keep from going to jail, but he later realized that being in jail kept him away from the drugs and the people he was associating with.  He admitted that God did answer his prayers, but not in the way he was originally asking.
So be persistent in your prayers daily to be in good relationship with God; asking, seeking, and knocking on his door for his love and support. Pray the Our Father to praise him and offer him gratitude for all the gifts he’s given you.   Seek to receive the daily bread, especially in the Eucharist, to provide the grace to help with the trials of life.