Monday, November 12, 2018

Give from your poverty & trust in God, Homily, 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B

The first reading and the Gospel today have a common link, a generous widow who trusts in God.   The plight of a widow at the time of the Scripture was quite dire.  There was no safety net like we have today with government programs, retirement income, and charitable care.  In marriage the widow had left the care of her father’s house.   Through her widowhood, the security of her husband was lost.   If the widow did not have a son to care for her she was left destitute.   There were little opportunities for a widow to earn income outside of the home, as only men were able to do so. So a widow was considered the poorest of the poor.

So why would Elijah call on a widow for food and water?  Elijah was a prophet, whose name mean “my God is the Lord”. Just prior to his encounter with the widow, Elijah was on the brink of starvation himself.  He had proclaimed to the king that no rain would fall on his kingdom, and to rely only on God’s Word to sustain the kingdom.  Elijah had fled into the wilderness hiding to escape persecution by the king, with God providing him food & drink.  But when the river ran dry he was forced to seek sustenance elsewhere. He journeyed to a land of a foreign god, Zarephath, encountering the widow asking her for food and drink. She seems the least likely to be of help to him.   

The widow is down to the last meal for herself and her son, telling Elijah they’ll die after eating it.  Despite this dire situation in her hospitality she generously provides food and drink to the prophet.   Elijah tells her: don’t be afraid, God will provide for you. Through the widow’s trust in God’s providence and she and her son are able to eat for a year.  Elijah’s encounter with the widow illustrates the God’ preference for the poor and the widow’s trust in God’s care.

The widow in the Gospel illustrates a similar trust in God.  The two coins she donated were
equal to a daily wage, probably just enough for a meal. But she gave all she had, trusting in God.  The wealthy gave out of their excess.  They had little to worry about and even less dependence on God.   In taking notice of the widow, Jesus shows his disciple’s God’s favor for the poor.    

An early Church Father related story of widow’s contribution of two coins as a metaphor of Christ’s sacrifice.  The coins represent Christ’s divinity and humanity.  Christ become poor for us taking on human form.  He sacrificed all by giving his life for our sins, in trusting obedience to God the Father.  Through his divinity he was resurrected and gives us the hope of salvation.

We are sustained by the memorial of the Eucharist, where we partake in the food and drink that leads to our eternal life.  God sustains us in the poverty of our sin, by trusting in the grace of the sacraments to nourish and heal us while we wait for Christ’s return to bring us salvation.  As we’re sustained by the sacraments, we can be instruments of God mercy to bring about his Kingdom by caring for the poor.

As Jesus’s disciple’s, we’re given the opportunity to share in God’s preference for the poor.    Our support of the Thanksgiving food drive, food pantry, Christmas store, and outreach assistance, shows our care for the poor here in our community. 

The ministries of Catholic Charities and Catholic Schools supported by the United Catholic Appeal also directly impact the poor throughout the Archdiocese. These ministries provide homes for families through Holy Family Shelter; food, clothing, and transportation assistance through the Crisis office, and resettlement of refugees persecuted for their faith or ethnicity.  Students of impoverished families are able to choose to attend Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese.   Our support of these ministries provide for all of us to be God’s instruments to the poor who put their trust in God.

In my ministry of charity to offenders at Johnson County Jail I’m able to directly see the impact of God’s care for the poor.  The offenders in jail struggle with both physical and spiritual poverty.  They’re hungering for a relationship with God.  They’re been led astray by the false gods of the world which leads them into trouble.  Many of them have been trapped in a cycle of poverty and broken family relationships. When volunteers from St. Rose and I go into the jail, we’re able spiritually feed them through God’s Word and the Eucharist.  We also give them hope that someone cares enough to visit them weekly at the jail.

One thing I’ve recently started doing is to tell them about the Harvest food pantry and Thanksgiving food drives at Ss. Francis and Clare and St. Rose.  
I’ve noticed a great deal of interest when speaking about this, and sense how great a need there seems to be.   Many have families have lost the income of their jailed family members, and appreciate the help to feed their families.   This ministry supported by all of you through your donations shows God’s care for the poor. Through this generosity it hopefully strengthens their trust in God.

So as you share in the gifts God’s has given you, trust in God, and give generously.  God gave his all though his Son’s sacrifice on the Cross. May the Eucharist we receive nourish us so we can be instrument of God’s care for the poor.

Don't let your possession, possess you. Put Christ first in your life! Homily, 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B

What must I do to inherit eternal life? That’s the question the man asked Jesus in the Gospel today.   Jesus’ responded very directly: Sell all you have and give to the poor and then follow me.  Did that answer make any of you a little uncomfortable? It did make me feel a bit uncomfortable.  I’ve been blessed with a nice house, cars, and money saved up for retirement and college for my son.   Is Jesus asking us to give up all that we have in order to follow him?

The man in the story was very sincere in his question to Jesus.  He diligently followed the commandments from a young age. Jesus sensed his sincerity and lovingly invited him to be one of his disciples by giving up all that had.  Jesus knew man lacked one thing: making Jesus the top priority in his life.  The man’s possessions were his highest priority.  Jesus wanted him to be free of them, so he could inherit eternal life.  Unfortunately, the man’s possessions were too important, and he went away sad.  His possessions, possessed him.

Do we need to take Jesus words literally?   Do we need to sell all we have and give to the poor?   Some of us may be called to that, but for most, we have to consider the responsibilities we for our families.  We need to earn a living and own some things for our families well-being and also dedicate some resources to help the poor.   Some of us may own businesses and need resources to provide goods, services, and employment that helps others. If we’ve been blessed with abundant resources it’s ok, as long as have the wisdom to put some of them to good use to help others.  So having possessions can be a good thing, as long as they don’t possess us. But we need to ask: are there things in our lives that possess us that keep us from following Jesus?  

Our possessions can make it very hard to enter the kingdom of God if they’re first priority in our life.   We can become too reliant on our own resources and feel like we don’t need to depend on God.  If we’re always trying to keep up with Joneses: getting a bigger house, buying a new car, or wearing the latest fashions and we can lose focus on what’s most important: our relationship with God. Our “possessions” can become our “god” and we can be possessed by them.

Jesus tells us that it’s hard to enter the kingdom of God for those who have wealth.   How hard is it? It would easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.   Wow.  This that sounds impossible to do.  I guess none of us will make it into God’s kingdom if we have to rely on our own capabilities.   But Jesus tells us that, “with God all things are possible”.  He’s telling us that if we put God first in our life, IT WILL be possible to enter God’s kingdom. 

The only way we will be able to do this is through God’s grace.  There’s not anything we can do on our own to inherit eternal life.  It’s a gift that only God can give.  We can accept this gift, but we can also reject it. By having a relationship with Jesus and it will open us up to the gift of God’s grace.   

One way to follow Jesus is to simplify our lives.  We have too many distractions in our busy lives. We have a model to follow in living a simpler life and putting God first through our patron St. Francis.  St. Francis lived a life of wealth and luxury in his younger days, but was called to authentically live out the Gospel, by giving up all he had to follow Jesus.    He publicly gave up all of his wealth, family, and even his clothing to show his reliance on God. This allowed him to focus on living out the Gospel, in prayer, worship, and seeing God in his brothers and sisters that he served. Eight centuries later his way of life in living the Gospel continues through thousands of Franciscan religious and laypersons following his simple way of life. 

If we give up what possesses us and follow Jesus what will we get?   We will receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brother and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.   How so? Through our brothers and sisters in Christ, which is all of you here. Through all the churches, schools, hospitals, and charitable ministries throughout the world spreading God’s love.

Jesus added that persecutions are to be expected as well.  We see this in our culture today.  In living as a Christians, we may be being mocked for our beliefs at work or school. For some it could be more serious, such as the many refugees leaving their homes in the Middle East.  But through these trials we need to remember that we’ll receive eternal life in the age to come.

So as we continue, think about what’s possessing you from making Jesus first in your life. Are there things, activities, or habits that come before our relationship with Christ?  If so, why not make a commitment to change.   Don’t walk away sad like the man in the Gospel. Pray for God’s grace to help.   Reach out to your brothers and sisters in Christ and ask them for support.  If Christ is first in your life, help others to do the same.    As we continue the Mass lets offer thanks to God for grace we receive through the Eucharist to help put Christ first in our life.


Get connected to Jesus, 23rd Sunday of Ordinary time, Cycle B

(The homily starts off by Deacon Ron putting on headphones and walking to the front of the altar while staring at my phone)

This is what I see many people doing as I start my morning workout at the downtown YMCA. It seems like almost everyone is wearing headphones connected to their phone or tablet listening to something.  I suspect it’s either music, a sports show, or the daily news.   On some days I’ll go out for lunch and walk along canal and see a similar scene. On a rare occasion I’ll see people talking to one another, which is a refreshing site. 

Hearing is something that’s so important in our lives.  It’s essential for interacting with our surroundings and being in relationship with others.   It allows us to enjoy the beauty of music & lyrics so we can sign along with our favorite songs.  It’s the primary way we learn when we’re very young so we can learn to speak.  It would be very difficult to do most of the things we do in life without the ability to hear.  God has given us the gift of hearing and it’s something we can be truly grateful for. 

Unfortunately, today much of what we hear in the world is noise that deafens us to God.  We have too many distractions: music, news, sports, and entertainment that constantly consumes our time.  Sadly, some of the noise are the negative things within the Church and it can be discouraging.  This makes it very difficult to be open to the most important thing to hear, the word of God, through Jesus, the one restores us and gives us everlasting life.

Today we heard about Jesus’ healing of the deaf man in district of the Decapolis.   This was a region of ten cities that were mainly in Gentile territory.  Jesus goes into this area to proclaim the Kingdom of God to those who have yet to hear of it. This was a sign of Jesus coming to save all people, even those who are far from God.  The people bring the deaf man to Jesus, but he doesn’t perform the healing amongst the crowd. Jesus took the deaf man away by himself.  He wanted to be in relationship with the man who needed healing.   He didn’t want heal just for show to the other people. We’re told that Jesus touched the man’s ears and tongue and groaned Ephphatha, which meant be opened! The healing was immediate and the man could hear and his speech impediment was also gone. He could not only hear, but could now clearly proclaim the good news of what Jesus did for him.  We’re only able to proclaim what we are able to hear well.

Most of us here today have received the healing grace of baptism that restored the imperfection of original sin, so we could become children of God.   Through Christ, we’re being perfected through our relationship with him.   This was made possible through the Rite of Baptism. In this rite after the Baptism with water, the Ephphatha prayer is prayed by the priest or deacon. They touch the ears and mouth and prayer the following:  The Lord Jesus made the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.  May he soon touch your hearts to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.   We’ve received the same gift as the deaf man to hear and proclaim the Good news of Jesus Christ!

So how can we be open to the word of God and proclaim it?  By being in relationship with Jesus just like the deaf man was.  This requires taking some time away from the noise and distractions of life and spending it with Jesus.  We first need to be absorbed in the Word of God so we can proclaim it.  The more we hear it the better we’ll be at sharing it with others.   Coming to Mass weekly is essential for this.  At Mass we have the opportunity to hear the word of God in the readings, psalms, and Gospel. We also have the rich prayers of the liturgy, especially the Eucharistic prayers.  The hymns that we sing also help to support the readings and season we’re in, and add to the hearing of God’s word.

Each week we can also listen to God’s word prior to coming to Mass.  This can really help the Mass become more rich and alive.  There are plenty of resources in print or online that provide the weekly readings and reflections on them.  Two that I really enjoy listening to are podcasts of the Sunday readings and a homily by Bishop Robert Barron through his Word on Fire ministry.  I really like Bishop Baron’s homilies as he has a unique way of relating Jesus to today’s culture. I’ll listen to these multiple times while driving to work, exercising, or working in yard.  It really helps stay connected to Jesus throughout the week. There is also the Opening the Word video reflection on the weekly readings that’s another good resource.  It’s on the opening screen of the parish’s Formed subscription that you can access online. Sharing the readings together with a small group, your spouse, or family can also be helpful to hear God’s word.  Finally, it’s always good to plan some quiet time in prayer to connect with Jesus and get away from the noise that distracts us from him. 

The last few weeks have been a bit of a challenge with the negative news about the Church.  It can be discouraging and take the focus away from what’s most important: hearing the Good News that Jesus proclaims.  To help with this I’ve relied a lot on the Blessed Mother’s intercession. Praying the mysteries of rosary has really helped me to focus on Jesus.    Also keeping the Blessed Mother’s last words in the Gospel of John, “Do whatever he tells you,” has helped me to listen much more attentively to the words of Jesus, and gives me the hope to proclaim the good news they bring.  So this week I hope you can disconnect from the noise in the world and get connected to hearing the word of Jesus so you can proclaim the Good News.