Reflection for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2014


What is our
return on investment?

His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

So a person walks up to one of us and gives us a bunch of money and says, go do something with it. Now let’s add to the scenario – this individual is someone we know and we know they can be really demanding. What do we do?

None of us may believe we are particularly shrewd or great investors. We may have worked for others all our lives, or we worked in the home. We have never run a business. What do we do?

Let’s add one more fact to this scene – the money this individual gives us is incredible – literally more than we could make in a lifetime. What would we do?

This is the situation Jesus was describing. A talent, as a unit of money, was the largest unit of currency at the time. Some calculate the talent in the parables to be equivalent to 20 years of wages for the common worker. Today, in New York, this would represent twenty times $63,000, which is average yearly wage paid in our state. One talent would be worth $1.3 million. If we had ten, we would have $13 million. What would we do?

God has invested richly in us, a value we cannot calculate or even estimate. He invested His life, suffering, and death for our salvation. He paid more than any money could measure and says to us: ‘Here is my investment in you, go do something with it.’ He also told us that He is coming back to see what we have done with His investment in us.

Certainly the servants who doubled the investment were welcomed. They received even more because they were profitable (a 100% return isn’t bad). The servant with ten talents came back with twenty (that’s $26 million to us). But, was it enough? Christians are called to measure their return on investment by Jesus’ standards.

Certainty, the servant who receives all of Jesus’ treasure and buries Him in the ground, ignoring Him and who returns nothing, is unprofitable, distanced from Jesus by his or her own choices and decisions.

For the rest of us, who are faithful and profitable, let us consider what we can do to up our return on investment. Can we return 200%, 300%, or more? It isn’t even hard – bringing a friend to church. 1 friend = a 100% return. That is worth eternity for both of you.

Reflection for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2014


Living a life

For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words.

As we discussed last week, the Thessalonians accepted the Word and were faithful to it. They modeled what it means to be Jesus’ Church working in such a way as to advance the cause of the gospel in their lives and the lives of others.

They did have one concern. It was common in the early Church to believe that Jesus would return quickly and that all believers would be there to greet Him. They began to worry because, of course, some had died. They wondered whether their loved ones had done something wrong. They thought that those who had fallen asleep would not be there to meet the Lord. Paul set out to clarify that both those who were still alive and those who had fallen asleep would both be there on that wonderful day. Paul told them to hold onto that hope: For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

We are like the Thessalonians. Centuries have gone by and we begin to think – when will Jesus come? Will it be soon or in the distant future? Furthermore, Jesus is telling us that we always have to be ready, that we must be prepared: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

The last few weeks of Ordinary Time focus on the last things, on preparation. What does it mean for us to be prepared? How do we keep our lamps filled with oil and the flame burning?

Make no mistake, Jesus is coming again. When you look at our parish church you see the altar facing liturgical east. Why? Because that is the direction from which Jesus Christ will return in glory with the rising of the eternal Sun. We worship and pray in a way that shows our preparedness, facing the east, waiting for Him.

In our parish life we receive the sacraments that strengthen us and prepare us. We fill up our “oil stocks” with the gifts of grace – forgiveness of sins, the body and blood of our Lord. We encourage each other in reforming our lives, serving others not out of obligation, but out of joy, for we want them to experience the love of Christ. We invite others to come and worship, to be baptized and to believe so that they too may meet the Lord with lit lamps. What more must we do? The key to being prepared is to reject focus on our trials, to live, even when we suffer, with eyes focused on Jesus’ return.

Reflection for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014


Living the model

But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children. For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God. And we also thank God constantly for this.

What is the model Church? Paul’s letter to the Church at Thessalonica gives us some clues of what it means to live the model Church, to be part of it, to live lives as models of Jesus’ call to discipleship.

This weekend also presents us with a vision of what will happen for those who have modeled discipleship in the model Church – they will become saints.

A model is an ideal. It may be a model practice, a model process – it is the best way of going about something so to reach success. In business we might see model sales practices or model accountability processes.

So what does it mean to be model Christians in the model Church? As mentioned, Paul gave us some clues.

To live model lives of discipleship in the model Church we must allow the Gospel to make an impact on our lives as it did on the Thessalonians. They received and lived the Gospel faithfully and Paul had praised them for it. If we take up their model practices we will live faithfully, labor diligently, and remain steadfast in the love of the Lord. We will be fully convicted of the absolute truth of Jesus’ way of life. We will imitate the lives of the saints. We will receive and proclaim God’s way of life – the Gospel – even in the face of much suffering and opposition because our true joy is in the Holy Spirit and the promise of everlasting life (something we particularly remember all of November). The model Church proclaims and teaches all these things, is godly in its conduct, and has its sole focus on leading people to God’s truth, in no way ‘watering it down.’

Paul himself lived a model life – calling non-believers to the faith, being gentle in teaching those new to the faith, working hard, not making a burden of himself, and boldly proclaiming the Gospel – never being ashamed of it; fully trusting in the Holy Spirit.

God has placed opportunity all around us. We meet people and are called to model Christ to them, to share the true faith, and to welcome them into faith. We are to work hard and even suffer by being counter-cultural – saying no to the sin of ‘everything goes.’ True and eternal freedom comes through Jesus, and faithfulness to Him. Model discipleship in the model Church, sainthood, calls us to live and work in such a way as to advance the cause of the gospel in our lives and the lives of others. We receive the word of God… accept it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God. And, we put it to work.

Reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014


We must do

Thus says the LORD: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.”

When we think of the Old Testament, what is the first thought that comes to mind? For some it is the personalities – Adam, Even, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Ruth, Esther, Isaiah and the prophets. For some, it is the journeys – the exodus and journey to the Promised Land, the exiles, and the returns to Jerusalem.

For others, the Old Testament is filled with judgment, war, betrayal, and hard laws. Some point to the many slaughters that took place and even question how God could condone such things.

Regardless of perspective, what most fail to recognize is that the Old Testament is replete with God’s call to justice. He continually called His people to do justice to their own and to those who were foreigners. His prophets continually called the rulers and people to recall justice and put aside injustice. Micah spoke to the rulers and priests saying: Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Is it not for you to know justice?

A really quick reference review indicates 212 biblical verses about justice; another 22 refer to acting justly.

Jesus came to offer humanity the fullness of God’s promise, to complete the law of the Old Testament. He came not to act as an opponent of the law. His goal was not to prevent its fulfillment. Rather, He revered it, loved it, obeyed it, and brought it to fruition. He fulfilled God’s call to perfect obedience and in obedience He acted with perfect justice. He calls us to live the very same justice. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

As followers of Jesus Christ, we recognize His command as perfect. Like Him, we must know and do justice. To do justice we must first and foremost recognize the inherent human dignity of each person and do nothing to diminish it, to steal it, or hurt it. By actions and work our parish family builds human dignity. As we do here, we must do every day in our homes, work, and leisure.

Reflection for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time and Heritage Sunday


What is it we

Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Today our Holy Church calls us to recall and honor the heritage of our members and of all people. It is a celebration of who we are as people — the gifts God has given us. More importantly, the Church calls us to properly order what is most important in our lives.

Whether our ancestors came to this country as immigrants, as indentured servants or involuntarily as slaves – we are called to honor their heritage and innate human dignity. We are to remember the struggles they faced and the battles they fought to grasp the freedom, honor, and dignity they and we are all entitled to. Where we come from is important because it is a part of who we are. Each culture and heritage enriches our common life and we share in each other’s heritage as members of God’s family.

The early Church recognized the gifts the faithful brought to the Church. Most importantly, it recognized that in Jesus Christ we all have equal membership in the one family of faith regardless of background. Heritage is a gift to be shared in the one family of faith. Thus, St. Paul reminded the Church at Galatia: There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

While we honor each person’s heritage, we must remember that in Jesus we are equal members in His family and that we are called to properly order what we worship.

What does that mean? It means that while we honor heritage and the gifts of each nation we must not make heritage or nation an object of worship.

Jesus is reminding the Pharisees of this proper ordering. Our first and foremost obligation is to give to God what is God’s. When we let anything interfere with the proper ordering of our relationship with Him – politics, national affinity, or heritage – when we quibble over this or that being most important, we lose touch with that which must come first in our lives.

Jesus’ response to His questioners offers us a guide to properly ordering our worship. The Roman coin – Caesar’s – referred to him as a god. Jesus reminded them (and us) that we cannot give worship to both God and Caesar. We have to choose our focus of worship and properly order our priorities. We should chose only God as the sole focus of our devotion and worship. By placing Him first we clearly proclaim that He alone is our God.

Reflection for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

Isaiah 5 1-7

Help me to remain

Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning his vineyard. My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press. Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes.

Today’s readings from Isaiah and from the gospel are cautionary. We need to take heed of their many lessons, but most especially the need to remain faithful to God’s call to live His way of life, to become more and more like Him, and to bear good fruit.

Both Isaiah and the gospel use analogy and parable to show what God had done for Israel. They also show that rejecting faithfulness will never lead to triumph.

The vineyard, hedge, wall, tower, and winepress represent God’s work at building Israel. He brought it all it needed to be beautiful, sweet, and successful. He protected it by His strong arm. He gave it kings to lead it, and prophets to reform it. He looked for its people to live real, genuine, and pious lives filled with virtue, godliness and righteousness.

Jesus makes plain that the landowner, that is God, in His care for us does not require any works on our part to come to faithfulness. He does all the work (plants, hedges, digs, and builds) so that we might freely give ourselves over to Him in an act of faith. He wants us to take up His work in the world and asks us to commit to it. If we live faithfully, we will build upon what Jesus has taught. He will be the true cornerstone for our lives.

The importance of faithfulness is made clear by the absence of that faithfulness in Israel despite God continued call and presence. God’s first chosen refused to be faithful. They brought forth “wild grapes.” This doesn’t just mean sour grapes – but grapes that are poisonous, offensive, noxious, and deadly. A life without faithfulness is empty and spiritually dead.

So, we see the two extremes. One is total faithlessness, the other faithfulness. We know that our life is a mix of the two. We fall from time to time in sin. The key aspect is that we recognize what Jesus calls us to do. When we loose our faithfulness, we must re-recognize His generosity towards us. We must recall that God never abandons us, but rather continuously offers us another chance. As God did for Israel He does for us. He calls us back, to recognize His faithfulness towards us. He helps us, by His grace to be faithful. Will we live real, genuine, and pious lives filled with virtue, godliness and righteousness, or will we reject Him completely and end up spiritually dead?

We must continue to work at our faithfulness, to recall our commitment to Him.

Reflection for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014


Ummm, let me think
about it.

A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.”

This wonderful gospel reading is a great illustration of something each of us has done or has experienced. I can hear my mom asking me to do something. I can hear myself asking my children to do something. I gave and get both of the responses Jesus talked about. ‘No, I won’t’ – then it gets done or ‘Yeah, sure’ – and it never happens.

We have two perspectives to consider and pray over today, that of the person being asked and that of the requestor.
Let’s start from the point-of-view of the person making the request. Like the father in the parable, God asks and seeks a response. He hears both kinds of responses – yes and no, and then waits to see if there will be follow-through.

Jesus illustrates that all of the sinners who were coming to the kingdom had been saying no to God’s requests for years, but finally they stood up to act. He convicts the Pharisees for saying yes, yes, yes for years, but then failing to act and follow-through.

All heard the request of the Father. What we often fail to recognize is that the requestor never stops asking. Unfortunately, our instinct it to think that the Father stopped asking after the first tries. But a deeper look at Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees reveals that God is calling to them once again – this time in the form of Jesus’ parables and words. We can think over the fact that many of these may very well have turned around later in their lives – turning their no into action consistent with God’s request. Acts tells us: And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

From the perspective of the person being asked we realize that God never stops calling us – and sometimes we say yes when we mean no, or no when we mean yes. We should take comfort in the fact that our failure to act will not cut us off from God’s requesting heart. He continues calling to us in many ways. In the end, all He cares about is whether we follow-through.

Today we see so many following-through. Parents, godparents, and grandparents heard God calling, and they ended up taking action. They are doing their Father’s will. They are entering the kingdom with their children and are blessed.

Whether we have said yes or no in the past, God never stops asking. He not only calls, but gives us the strength to respond. In His sacraments He gives us the grace we need to follow-through.

Reflection for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time and Back to Church Sunday 2014


Come back
to Me!

They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow, they shall flourish as a garden; they shall blossom as the vine, their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

Throughout the Bible we hear of God speaking of His love for His people. The word ‘love’ can mean different things in the Hebrew, but when speaking of God’s love for His people, love is likened to the ideal love that should exist between spouses.

Reflecting on this love, we see a God who looks after people as a husband and wife should look after each other. As that husband and wife want to do only good for each other, God longs to do only good things for us. As that husband and wife should consider each other above all else, God does not think about Himself when He loves us. The things that we need are of primary importance to God.

This sort of analogy really makes sense when we consider the perfection of God’s love and dedication. In our earthly relationships we find spouses who stray from each other. Their relationship may break down for many reasons. It could be betrayal, a sense of separateness, emotional or physical desertion, and a whole host of other reasons. They rightly feel betrayed and may take actions to separate themselves permanently. But, on occasion, we find those unique relationships where the spouses work hard to rebuild their relationship despite breakdowns. They commit – and spend the time and forgiveness necessary – to rebuild their love.

While our human frailty has difficulty overcoming these hurts, except in unique circumstances, God’s perfect love never fails. He can be likened to those uniquely dedicated spouses. He remains faithful to His love commitment and is always willing and ready for us to return. Through His Holy Spirit He doesn’t give up on us, and calls us back. God’s love works to overcome everything.

The totality of good comes from God. So much so that He gave Himself for us in His Son Jesus. All so that no sin, no breakdown, will stand in the way of our relationship with God. He has already overcome, we don’t need to do anything but say yes to Him. Because of this, St. Paul was able to declare: I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.

No matter past separation, God is ready for us and we can all partake of Him. He welcomes all and has already reconciled all things in Jesus. We can all join with Him, and in Him with each other. Jesus was careful to explain that those who would come to Him later will receive the same wage was those who came to Him first. God makes no distinction in loving us. In Him we are all loved.

Reflection for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014


Do I have to be

Jesus said to his disciples: “Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

There is a very close parallel between today’s Old Testament reading, Epistle, and Gospel. They all speak of a set of inter-related obligations we have as members of the Church. It is our call and obligation to be responsible for our brothers and sisters, to hold them accountable, and to do all of this in the spirit of love.

This call and obligation originate in our baptism. In baptism we are regenerated and made members of the Holy Church, the Body of Christ here on earth. As members and parts of the Body, we are responsible for taking care of the rest of the Body. As St. Paul tells us: But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

This responsibility extends to taking care of the parts of the Body that are sick – not just those who are physically or emotionally ill, but also those who are spiritually ill. This is one of the very hardest things to do, to encounter a Christian suffering in sin and to discuss it with them, to call them back to truth and faithfulness.

How hard is it to visit a sick person? That can make us feel uncomfortable. It reminds us of our human frailty. So much more is there fear in confronting a sinner. Not only is it uncomfortable, it reminds us that we sin and fall; that one day we too may be visited by someone who will call us back to faithfulness.

We must work diligently and pray for the courage to reach out to those who persist in sin, who have fallen away, or who bring division to the Body. This is an obligation of love. When we take up our responsibility we must be very careful so that it does not turn to judgmentalism or arrogance. As St. Paul notes: Love does no evil to the neighbor.

As we pray, we are given the grace and courage to lovingly call to the sick members of the Body to do what is right and to return. We are reassured that just as we act on our responsibility in a faithful manner, others will act responsibly toward us and bring us back when we fall ill with sin.

As we strive to live out our responsibilities, Jesus assures us that He remains with us. This gives us the confidence needed to take the track of loving responsibility.

Reflection for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Youth Sunday, and Labor Day


A call to be

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Today we celebrate a call to be changed, to offer ourselves to God in all we do, and in doing so to make His kingdom a reality.

How will we make this change real? How will we respond and get to work? What will we do to be transformed into people completely focused on carrying out God’s will for humanity?

Our Holy Church has designated this Sunday as Youth Sunday. Our youth will be returning to school. They will study and grow in knowledge so that they may take their place in society, contributing their work and effort – but to what end?

If their studies are self-focused, if they are taken up without due consideration of God’s call to be changed and to change the world, they will only make their lives small and self-serving. They may achieve earthly success, but in the process lose their souls. If however, their study and growth remain focused on God’s call to change and affect change in accord with His call, their lives will be glorious and complete. They will use what they have gained to come into union with God and to carry out His will. We must help them by our example, prayer, and support. Our duty is to continually assist them in realizing that everything they learn and do is a gift from God and requires a response to His call to change.

This weekend we also celebrate Labor Day. Our work and labor must also been seen in light of the call to be changed and change the world. Paraphrasing our organizer, Bishop Hodur: ‘The time will come when our heroes emerging from the homes of farmers and laborers will sweat and sacrifice not for kings or the rights of the privileged or a single class, but will battle and work for freedom and the rights of man. Let us gather and strive to be first in good and last in wrong. Then shall we bring ourselves, our nation, and the whole world closer to happiness and salvation.’

We are thus called to change ourselves and the world, to transform life away from the money-driven values of this world to the bringing of the kingdom of God.

We are called to make change real in the lives of our youth and in our lives. This is true worship: “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” Do not live the status quo. It is not enough! Jesus put His body on the line for us. So we must put our lives on the line, changing them for Him and working for the coming of His kingdom.