Feb 16th 6th Sunday year A 2020
Once as a kid, my family, along with other aunts, uncles and cousins, went ice-skating. During it, I asked my dad for money to buy food at the concession stand. He said he wouldn’t buy food when we had plenty of food at home. I interpreted this as he personally wouldn’t spend money, but that didn’t mean others would. I later got money from an uncle, and when my dad saw me with food, he asked why I got food when he said not to. I tried to explain that he didn’t pay for it, so there was no problem, but I lost that argument. The underlying command was that I wasn’t to have food when there was plenty at home, so I was supposed to wait.
Jesus is continuing his sermon on the mount. In speaking on the commandments, Jesus does not only acknowledges them, but he expands upon them to include the interior life, the heart of the matter. There is the temptation to straddle the line, to see how far I can go to get away with something. How near the line can I get without crossing it?
It comes down to the whole, well, as long as don’t actually do it, then I can think about it and fantasize about it all I want, I can go halfway, or I can find some loophole, and there’s no trouble with it. Two things wrong with that. One, the more you think about doing something, the more you inch closer and closer, the more likely it is you might actually do it. Two, it completely misses the point of what it means to live as a Christian.
Jesus’ teachings, the grace we receive from him through faith, prayer, charity and sacraments, all of those things are to restore us, to heal us, to allow ourselves to grow in the divine life, to transform us into the persons we are meant to be. Its not just simply following rules, it allowing the commandments to guide us toward something greater.
Jesus says that in order to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, one would have to surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes. Which at first, would seem impossible, because those groups did everything right, on the outside. They were the ones who knew how to follow the specific rules, but despite their learning, didn’t understand the underlying purpose. They could play the part well, but there was no growth. Jesus would often call them hypocrites, since their hearts and actions did not agree. Their hearts were hardened, and so long as they didn’t cross any specific lines, they felt themselves justified and righteous.
Jesus wants us to work at the heart, the root of the matter. Don’t simply avoid killing, but avoid the anger that leads to it. Don’t simply avoid adultery, avoid the lust that leads to it. Don’t swear on things just to emphasize you’re really truthful this time, but always be one who tells the truth, letting your yes mean yes and your no mean no. Don’t just act kind and charitable, be kind and charitable, loving someone from the heart, and not just responsibility.
There is a certain phrase that is used in our church which is “avoiding the near-occasion of sin.” It means to avoid or cut off those things which may lead us to falling into sinful thoughts or actions. Maybe those things aren’t bad in of themselves, but we know they can get us into trouble.
Jesus gives a dramatic solution to such things. If it’s your eye, tear it out. If it’s your hand, cut it off. Maybe it’s a certain place, certain website or social media, it could even be a person or group of people. Now, if you have an opportunity to get away from those things, then you should do so, for your own sake. Why risk those things dragging you down, leading you to anger and resentment, and acting in a way that you don’t want or shouldn’t. Cut them off.
Maybe not easy, maybe painful, but its important for your personal and spiritual good. But maybe, due to circumstance, you can’t avoid certain people of places, perhaps because of work, that’s when you may have to better learn patience, forgiveness, and at times tolerance.
If we obey the commandments because we don’t want to get in trouble or get caught, then fine. It’s a start. But what Jesus ultimately wants from us is a clean heart, a heart that pours out love and charity, the seeks forgiveness and mercy, that is at peace with our neighbor and pure with others.
And so, as our reading from Sirach said, you all have a choice, a daily choice. Choose to keep the commandments, choose to trust in God. Choosing yes to these things leads to salvation and everlasting life. Choosing no leads to death and damnation. God gives us the commandments to follow so that we might be brought to eternal life.
Jesus gives us understanding to not just follow them, but live them in a way that is based on a genuine love and respect for God and for other people. Pray to God, then, that you not simply be able to follow the rules, but to be transformed and grow in the life of Jesus Christ, so that God may more fully abide and dwell with you.
Feb. 9th 5th Sunday year A 2020
This is the early parts of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus is speaking about the responsibility of his follows, what kind of people Christians ought to be. Here, he brings up salt and light.
Using salt as flavor. When it comes down to it, most food on its own is fairly bland. Fruits being a general exception. But consider a vegetable, plain bread, water, even meats. Such things are good on their own, they’re adequate. But were generally not satisfied with it. We need to add something. A spice, a dressing, a sauce. Have you ever eaten a plain potato? I mean, just a cooked or baked potato. No salt, no butter, no pepper, no sour cream, not deep-fried, just plain.
There are a number of things that add to the world, to not make the world boring or bland. Various forms of entertainment, sports, comedies, things that give excitement and good feelings. What the Christian adds is something much more important. Entertainment and excitement are good on the emotional level, though they do not necessarily provide satisfaction. What we as Christians are supposed to add is goodness, holiness, charity, confidence, hope, joy. These are the things that last, that people can have and use in every moment of their lives. It affects how we respond to blessings, to sorrows and tragedies, and triumphs. Remember that salt, as well as adding flavor, is also a preservative. Somethings things only add brief moments of excitement, but what Christian action brings can be held on for life.
The actions of Christ, the goodness of Christ, preserves us for eternity, and our actions in imitation of Christ also help to flavor and preserve the lives of those we serve. We are told how to do this. “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.”
St. Paul said that he came to preach the gospel with a demonstration of Spirit and power. What is that? That means putting the gospel to action. That our faith in Jesus Christ, his gospel message, it not just knowledge, but action. It’s not just ideals, but a way of life to put to practice. Not just to know about God’s goodness, but to experience God’s goodness. Not just to talk about God’s ways, but to demonstrate God way’s through our own actions. This is what it means to be the light for the world. Light naturally spreads and illuminates, reaching every corner that it can. And we must do the same in our own lives.
Jesus, though, gives us a warning. What good is salt that isn’t salty? What good is sugar that isn’t sweet? What good are Christians that aren’t living as Christians? Jesus’ answer is nothing. They add only to the blandness and cynicism of life. Practicing Christians however show forth the divine life, the life of God, which dispels darkness, removes gloom, and brings forth hope and great joy in the life of God, and of his promise of life everlasting. So be that light, be that salt, so that others may see the glories of God.
Feb. 2nd Presentation of the Lord 2020
This is a feast that supersedes even a Sunday. So most only experience it every so often. Jesus presented in the Temple.
A little background on what’s going on in today’s gospel. According to the law, every first born male, human or animal, belonged to God. For a male animal, it was sacrificed. For a human, an offering was made in its place, and in the Holy Family’s case, two young pigeons. Mary is also here to be purified. According to the law, a woman was not to participate in Temple worship for forty days after giving birth. After forty days she had to go through a purification ritual to be allowed to participate again. And it just happens to be the case the February 2nd, this feast day, is 40th day since Christmas.
The irony is that Jesus doesn’t need to be purified, and Mary, though temporarily barred from Temple worship, could worship God more closely than anyone. In fact, it will be Jesus himself who will preform the great purifying for the world, being a light to the nations and offering himself as a sacrifice, so that we may be purified, made clean, and exulted.
Jesus Christ comes to purify the world. Purification can be intense. Purification brings out the best in us, allows us to reach our full potential. But it can be a painful process. Think of objects that have rust, dirt, grime, things that build up and obscure their appearance. If left untouched for sometime, it requires much more effort to clean. But if given time and effort, all those things can be removed, and they’ll shine like new. Jesus has come to make all things new, to purify us. Our first reading describes this as a purifying fire, which can be intense, but does it job well. When we are purified, we are able to better recognize God and follow his directives.
We see this with Simeon and Anna in today’s gospel. How did Simeon know that this was the child he was waiting for? He recognized him because of his holiness and closeness to God. What I mean is, because of his dedication to serving God, knowing him, following his commands, he is attune to that which comes from God. As such, the Holy Spirit was with him. He is not tainted with things that would obscure or mar his relationship with God.
And thus is was the Spirit that told him to enter the temple that day and be ready to see the Christ. So when he sees the child Jesus with Mary and Joseph, he knows who he’s looking at. It’s the same thing with Anna, the prophetess. She’s devoted to God, she knows what to look for and how to listen. Therefore, she too is able to recognize Christ.
Interesting to note; Simeon tells Mary that a sword will pierce her heart. She who is incredible united to God and with her Son, will also suffer on account of Jesus’ own suffering. When we unite ourselves with Christ, we indeed unite ourselves with his life and resurrection, but before that, his passion and death. That is the cross, which can be painful and difficult. Through the cross we are purified and made clean, made new in the life of God, and are raised up and glorified.
Let us present ourselves before God in prayer, worship, thanksgiving, with contrite hearts, and openness to let his grace do its job.
January 26th, 3rd Sunday year A 2020 (Word of God)
I’ve been speaking on ways of living the gospel message, spreading that message as well. The best place to learn about the gospel, of course, is through the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, of just simply, the Bible. There is an old Catholic stereotype that says Catholics do not know or read the Bible. Perhaps they can name the books or know some of the stories but are mostly unfamiliar and rarely read it. I think there is some truth to that. Perhaps for this reason, Pope Francis has declared that this weekend, the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, be known as the Sunday of the Word of God, where we refocus on the living Word of God found within Sacred Scripture.
The Bible is not a collection of history books or a chronicle but is aimed entirely at the integral salvation of the person. The evident historical setting of the books of the Bible should not make us overlook their primary goal, which is our salvation. Everything is directed to this purpose and essential to the very nature of the Bible, it is a history of salvation in which God speaks and acts in order to encounter all men and women and to save them from sin and death.
Baptism and confirmation in the Spirit have made all of us into messengers of God's word because of the grace of hearing we have received. We must therefore be the bearers of the same word in the Church and in the world, at least by the witness of their lives. The word of God proclaimed in the celebration of God's mysteries does not only address present conditions but looks back to past events and forward to what is yet to come. Thus, God's word shows us what we should hope for with such a longing that in this changing world our hearts will be set on the place where our true joys lie.
Sometimes people will want to read the bible, so they start with Genesis, why not, before long they run into a bunch of law books, and I don’t know how many people enjoy reading lawbooks. Some do. So my personal advice is to start with the Gospels, the four books where you will directly encounter Jesus Christ, learning who he is and what he message is all about.
The other books of the Old and New Testament certainly add important and necessary context, but if you’re just starting out, you want a solid foundation, and that foundation is with Jesus Christ.
Consider this. Let’s say you meet someone, or hear about someone, and you want to learn more about them. But then you get, “Well, there were born on this date, here’s what they did when they were two, here’s what they did when they were three, here’s their first day of school.” That’s not what you want to know. You want to know what they are about now; you want to know their most defining traits and characteristics. How they got there can come later.
You want to know Christianity, you want to know why it centers of Jesus Christ, then start with Jesus. Read the Gospels. If you are familiar with nothing else in the Bible, be familiar with the Gospels. That is your starting point. In every liturgical celebration, we always stand for the Gospel. We have a special book just for the gospels. Sometimes a special procession just for the Gospel. It is the centerpiece, the crux of the Bible, and every other book must be read with the Gospels in mind to fully understand Scripture as a whole.
But it is my hope that you may ultimately be able to read all of it at least once, to experience God’s Word in its fullness. The Word of God is the most important book, the most important text that you will ever read. In it, you will find the entire history of God’s relationship with us, his creation. If you don’t have a Bible, get one. If you do have one and don’t read it, open it up.
I will also say this. Don’t simply read the Bible. Pray about it, meditate on it. There is a popular practice called Lectio Divina, in which one reads a passage of the Bible, and then stops to dwell on what you have just read. It helps to really let the Word of God sink in and remain with you.
Don’t be afraid to also gather and discuss the Bible with your friends. Meet in groups. Such groups already exist at the parish. And they’re very easy to form. You go to your friends, and you say, “Hey, let’s meet and discuss a certain section of the Bible.” That easy. If you get confused on some part, give me call. Some people have already done just that.
The Word of God is both uplifting and challenging. It is both sweet and bitter. The sweetness of God’s word leads us to share it with all those whom we encounter in this life and to proclaim the sure hope that it contains. Its bitterness, in turn, often comes from our realization of how difficult it is to live that word consistently, the challenges it places before us. Do not be afraid to wrestle with the Word of God, for it is very substantial. But through your reading and experiencing of God’s Word, you will come to a greater knowledge of understanding of God, your relationship with him, and the great love and joy that he calls you to share for eternity.