King of what?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.

Here we are at the end of our weeks considering Jesus’ teachings on the end time, the last things. Today, Jesus gives us a vision of what that day of days will look like.

Throughout these weeks, the Apostles in their writings, John’s letter, Paul’s letters, kept reminding us of who we are in Christ. John told us we are God’s children – we represent Him. Paul told us that we have power as imitators of Jesus and that we will be caught up with Jesus in the clouds; that we are in the light – not in darkness. We are reassured that we belong to Jesus. Belonging to Him is more than a superficial statement, it is an all-encompassing change in who we are and how we approach daily life.

In this vision of the future, a view into that day of days, we come to grips with the accountability God will demand of us. Jesus points to judgment based on our obligation to live out the commandment of love, seeing in the other the image of God. Did all-encompassing change take hold of me? Did I make Jesus happen in my life and in the world or keep Him stored away? Was I that saint of God in the world – in the smallest ways? Have I used the oil of grace given me, or toss it aside? Did I grow the kingdom one meal, one drink, one coat, one welcome, one visit at a time?

I pray to God I can answer yes and be forgiven those times I missed the chances I had to minister to the Lord in the other. I know I have tripped and fallen along the way, I have missed chances, sometimes purposefully. Forgive me those sins!

As we celebrate this Solemnity of Christ the King, Lord call us back into conformity with Your Lordship and Your Rule. Forgive us of the opportunities we have missed. When we come to that next encounter with Your image in the other, give us the grace to see in the other’s poor, hungry, naked, thirsty, lonely, and apart eyes Your Royal presence. Recall to us Your Kingship.

Some Churches have renamed today’s Solemnity to Christ the King of the Universe. I ask you to consider how limiting that is! If Jesus’s kingship is limited in any way, He is not King. Rather, let us commit to the fact that Christ is King of every universe, every dimension, things seen and unseen, of my life, heart, soul, spirit, and mind, of my home and family, of the action of my hands, and of how I see every person, the other I encounter.

In these last days Lord, recall to us the all-encompassing change You have called us to be in the world. Lord, when You come in Your glory to rule over and above all, find us having accomplished all You have called us to do and more so.

To…

His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!’

We have spent several weeks focusing on Jesus’ teaching on the last things, the end times. These teachings all point to what we are called to… to liveto beto use, and to grow.

We can see the pattern that developed over these weeks. The central message is about the ‘obligation to’ that comes from our baptism, our acceptance in faith of Jesus as Lord.

October 25th – we are called to live the great commandment – committed love of God and for each other.

November 1st – we are reminded of our call to be the saints of God in the world.

November 8th – we are told to use the oil, constantly provided by God, to build His kingdom and to be ready to enter eternity carrying the light we have provided to the world.

Today, Jesus reminds us of the treasure we have been given. Having faith is the receipt of treasure and the obligation to take that treasure and to grow it.

The talent given, in Jesus’ day, was worth about fifteen years of wages. It was a lot. Even the person who received only one talent received a massive treasure.

Being given treasure like that is a great thing. It is like finding big sacks of money. Rejoicing, we would perhaps throw the treasure in the air, roll around in it, but then – What’s next? The treasure of faith is a call to rejoice in what we have been given and an obligation to work investing it for growth.

The gospel shows us three people who received treasure. Two spend a second saying: ‘Wow, I have treasure!’ and then got to work with it. The other person gets treasure but doesn’t even rejoice in it. The treasure is an instant turn-off to them. Factually, this person doesn’t throw it in the air, or roll around in it, or rejoice at all. They don’t want to see it, so they bury it; get it out of sight.

The massive amount we are given calls us to live God’s treasure – attracting others to it, to be God’s treasure in the world, to use His treasure to call others by the light burning in us, and finally to grow His treasure by our work so we may return to Him with results.

The wicked and lazy find no joy in the gift, so they bury it. It is not because they are risk averse – like someone who prefers certificates of deposit in a bank to playing the stock market or starting a business – it is because they reject the gift completely. For us, how we rejoice in the gift, and whether we do all we are called to, quietly and slowly, or quick and dynamic, let us live the gospel, be Jesus to the world, and use His gifts to grow His kingdom returning to Him, on the last day, with what we have done.

Oil, oil, and more oil.

“The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.

For a few weeks we have been considering Jesus’ teaching on the last things, the end times, and our preparedness for that blessed day. Today’s gospel brings the reality of God’s expectation home to us.

Oil was a primary product in biblical times, somewhat like today, but much more widespread in its application. It was a food product, was necessary to cooking and baking, kept the lights kit, was a cosmetic, and was used to make soap. When important guests arrived, they were honored by being anointed with oil.

Throughout Scripture, the symbol of oil was used to represent God’s anointing in both power and healing for both animals and people, His generous provision for the faithful, and the readiness of His people. We see kings, priests, and prophets anointed with oil. Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with aromatic oil at the banquet in Lazarus’ house just prior to His suffering and death.

The question seemingly before us today – when the end comes, will I have enough oil? But that’s not the real question. If we thought of it that way, we’d be saving up oil, hiding it away. The real question before us: Am I using the supply I have been given to prepare for the kingdom and do I trust God to keep my supply full, or am I unwisely sitting on what God has given, wasting it?

As the faithful, we should never worry about our spare supply. Our supply comes from our lived faith. It is constantly refreshed and restored by the grace of God. With faith and dedication to God’s gospel way, our lamps will never run dry. Take the lesson of the lamps that never went dry.

Maccabees, and the Talmud commentary on it, says that after the forces of Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered only enough pure oil to light the menorah for a single day, yet it burned for eight days. Elijah assured the Widow of Zarephath that her jug of oil would not run dry during a multi-year drought. These examples point to God continuing to fill His faithful, to His restoring our supply of oil. We can and must burn and burn our lamps, showing the light of Christ, doing His work, preparing for His arrival, and trusting that we will never run dry. For the faithful, there will be oil, oil, and more oil.

God expects us to trust in His provision for our work for the kingdom. Let us set to work, never worrying about running out, and confident in what we will have to show for our work when Jesus returns. The light we carry and show each day and the lamps we hold when the end comes, when Jesus, the Bridegroom, is at the doorstep, will be our testimony for entry into the kingdom.

We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.

As I’ve noted in my past few reflections, the end is near! Well, the beginning of the end. As Christians we are to be always prepared for the end times, for the last things, as well as for our own personal end at the time of our death. We will be called to account for how we have carried out our lives, how totally on-board with Jesus we were. 

Throughout November we will pray for those who have died and are awaiting entry into heaven, who are going through a time of purification. Are we absolutely certain of where they are? Did we know the state of their soul or how on-board with Jesus they were? Absolutely not! That is between each individual, their confessor, and God. Because we cannot know, it is proper and charity to offer prayers for them. This is not something invented, rather it is scriptural from the Second Book of Maccabees:

He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.

2 Maccabees 12:43-45

Your prayers, and offering of the Holy Mass, for departed loved ones helps them get into the Lord’s presence, it helps to atone for their sin, and is thus a worthy thing to do.  It is, in fact, a Spiritual Works of Mercy we should all be doing each day.

Unfortunately, the world, and sometimes the Church, avoids the topic of sin and its consequences. Accountability is a rare focus. Factually however, people sin, and sin a lot. They go forward, not thinking of the consequences, or of the need for purification and perfection before entering heaven. We certainly trust in the salvation won us from the cross of Christ Jesus. We know that He has atoned for our sins, but we must also stay on point, living lives that are pure and holy. We cannot cheapen Jesus’ sacrifice by failing to live the way He requires while sitting in our sins.

There are some important lessons for us to take from this: Take seriously the call to holiness and the gospel path; Do not judge others – no one can know a person’s inner soul but God; and Let us hold ourselves accountable. The call to holiness and to walk in the way of the gospel is absolute for the baptized believer. Hebrews 12:14 tells us: Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. We must all answer for how we lived this out. Let us get as close as possible right now while we have the opportunity and help those who have preceded us to do so by our prayers.

Second Corinthians tells us:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Corinthians 5:10

Judgment is a dreadful prospect, isn’t it? Being called to account for how I have carried out my life, how totally on-board with Jesus I was worries me. That is why what we do today, throughout November communally, at Holy Masses offered for deceased loved ones, and by our personal prayer and sacrifice is so important.  That is why it is so very important that we remain realistic and ask others to be realistic about us. Don’t canonize me at my funeral and pray for me.

I know I am not worthy of heaven, that I, as St. Paul told the Church at Rome (Romans 3:23): “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” My sins stand in the way and I pray that my sinful body be done away with, that I no longer remain in slavery to sin and I work to get better. I place my hope in what Paul says next (Romans 3:24): That I am justified freely by His grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus

I am accountable and I am in need of purification. That is why I must work now. That is why I beg my children and ask my friends to pray for me when I die, each day, each November, and to offer as many Holy Masses as possible.

Turning point.

“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.” He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”

As I noted last week, the end is near! Well, the beginning of the end. As Christians we are to be always prepared for the end times, for the last things, for we will be called to account for how we have carried out our lives, how totally on-board with Jesus we were. So, let us begin again today. Let us take this very moment as our turning point.

Last week introduced us to the beginning of Jesus’ teaching on the end times. Next week we will go deeper into those teachings. Today we reflect on the lives of the saints, those already taken into the Lord’s presence. It is what we will see one day if we accept our turning point. Thereafter, and throughout November, we will pray for those who have died and are still awaiting that moment, who are going through a time of purification, who missed their turning point. Your prayers, and offering of the Holy Mass, for departed loved ones helps them get into the Lord’s presence, so it is a worthy thing to do.

Revelation talks about “the ones who have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” These are the saints of God, the martyrs, confessors, abbots and abbesses, bishops, priests and deacons, evangelists hermits, kings and queens, monks, penitents, princes, virgins, widows, writers – the people who have been faithful to Jesus in how they carried out their  lives, who were totally on-board with Jesus. They all took Jesus’ beatitudes seriously in the moment they came to their turning point.

We are all familiar with the heroic virtues of the saints, but often miss that moment they encountered their turning point. That turning point pushed aside their self-created ideal life. They finally listened to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. The Lord doesn’t want you to do that, but to use your life to accomplish something so much greater. The Lord wants you to turn away from your sin and to live out the opposite beatitude. This is what we must hear, what we are called to say yes to.

In recent decades, saints have been cranked out; people being called saints through a process that is more political and publicity than a recognition of complete life altering transformation. We must not be fooled by cheap processes. The call to sainthood – our call – requires we encounter that transformative moment, accept it, and live new lives in accord with what God desires from us, the beatitude life: poor in spirit, meek, thirsting for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, insulted and persecuted. This very moment is our turning point chance to be among those wearing white robes and standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

Charity = Love

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The end is near! Well, the beginning of the end. As Christians we are to always be prepared for the end times, for the last things, for we will be called to account for how we have carried out our lives, how totally on-board with Jesus we were. So, let us begin again today.

The scriptures for today introduce us to the beginning of Jesus’ teaching on the end times. In the end it is how we live the commandment of love. The first reading from Exodus calls us to awareness of our obligation to others. It opens us to the idea that how we encounter others must be in line with God’s way of love. If it is not, the consequences. We will be killed with the sword; the voices of our accusers painting us with the blood from their suffering. 

Wow, that’s dark – but yes, it is that serious. In the language of scripture, particularly the New Testament, the word for love is the same word used for charity. That favorite wedding reading, and the greatest of these is love, is also translated, and the greatest of these is charity.

Our loving, our charity must be complete and other directed. In Exodus, God calls His people to account for how they actually live. Don’t just say it, don’t just pray it, don’t just speak it, live it. He reminds us that He hears of our actions, He sees what we do. We cannot hide.

Each day we walk the road to the end. Where we end up, how we are recompensed, is totally dependent on whether we are, as St. Paul says, a model for all the believers. Their testament in the end times: in every place [their] faith in God has gone forth. God grant that this be said of us.

The end is near! Well, the beginning of the end. We begin again today to approach the moment of accountability.

Jesus sets the ultimate standard of love and charity for which we are accountable. He stresses the interconnectedness of love for God and others. As St. John would later write: Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. Now it is up to us.

The reality goes beyond our usual ideas of what love/charity are. For God, our love is shown by our dedication, worship, and communication with Him, not forgetting Him. For others, it is more than dropping a few bucks. It is looking in their eyes and gaining an understanding of the truth of their pain – then showing love in working to relieve that pain. The end – let us not show up empty.

Gifts from heritage.

“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 Church celebrates Heritage Sunday. Scripture provides reasons to celebrate this particular aspect of God’s creation.

When our Church was organized, it took care to stress the fact that God makes Himself and His teaching manifest through the use of nations and peoples.  Each nation is given gifts, unique perspectives and charisms that, when shared, enrich our faith in Jesus and teach us more about Him. We are called to respect, cherish, and celebrate what God has created and to learn from it.

Jesus came to God’s own people, the Jewish nation, to reveal all that God is and to call them to walk in the Way of the Gospel. They were called to see kingdom already but not yet fully present. Then, they were to cooperate in bringing the Kingdom of God to completion.

Paul, in writing to the Church at Galatia, reminds the gentiles that the Gospel preached to the Children of Abraham contained within it the promise that through them, all nations would be blessed (Galatians 3:8). The scriptural promise is fulfilled in that Abraham becomes the father of many nations.

While each nation has: allotted periods and boundaries, as well as the call to seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him (Acts 17:26-27), scripture also calls us to use great care in recognizing that we are citizens of heaven. Thus, we are never to place nation over God, or over the Holy Church, or over our call to first a foremost find our way toward God.

So, our Church set out to do exactly that. We honor heritage and all nations as a gift and as a means by which we find our way to God and build His kingdom.

Instructive in the way God works through nations is our first reading. Cyrus was called by God to free the people of Israel. Cyrus did not know God. As ruler over many nations he saw many gods and forms of worship. Cyrus himself likely worshiped Marduk. Yet, God used him and his nation to free and restore Israel.

Jesus understood that we will be established in nations as a means by which the Gospel is known and experienced. No one nation is good, and in all cases, we are to maintain perspective. Practical societal requirements (like taxes), are not what is important. Our growth in knowing God, appreciating His gits, and in building His kingdom, which has no coins, is what matters.

Power of together.

God said, “let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.”

The early Church understood the power of community. The Book of Acts tells us, right from the get-go, after Jesus’ Ascension: All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer. In other words, they were together, of one heart and mind, one in prayer, one in love and support for each other. Even in the face of all they feared, they were together as One in the Lord! 

Pentecost came and thereafter the community grew. People were added, not at distance, but in community. Led by the Holy Spirit, a pattern of life developed: They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life… All who believed were together and had all things in common; Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

We may find it hard to fathom, but they could not get together by phone, Skype, Zoom, or Facebook. They could not support each other by sending a check. In fact, to learn from the Apostles, to pray, and to do what Church does, required them to be together. This togetherness brought them a power and influence beyond human comprehension.

What did this togetherness do? It brought them favor with all the people, i.e., the people saw their goodness, it was apparent and every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. People wanted part of what the Church had and were brought to salvation in Christ exactly because of the together they observed. That’s real power, power from together.

Now, many a preacher could launch into the lack of togetherness in today’s world and heap laments on all of us, but it is not true. The vestiges of the early Christian together life, that power, remain still today.

It starts here in our together and the together we have with every Sunday worshiping Christian. It comes from our baptism into the one body of Christ. It comes from our sharing in the bread and cup, the Lord undivided.  It comes from our reading the Acts and Epistles and reading the ‘you’ therein as the plural ‘you.’

From here, we bring the symbols and signs, the sacrament of together to the world as families. This is where our Christian growth, maturity, and discipleship are most often seen. It is the place from which will come favor with all the people. And those who are being saved. It is what we specially celebrate today.

Cornerstone.

Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes? Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

How does a dead son become the cornerstone of a renewed vineyard?

Today, Jesus alludes to Isaiah’s parable, a grower’s love-song for his planted vineyard that ends up disappointing him. The grower ends up turning the disappointing vineyard over to destruction. 

Jesus re-interprets the love-song about a vineyard. In Isaiah, God was the caretaker of this vineyard. Despite careful attention from the grower, the vineyard produced only worthless “wild grapes.” The vineyard’s failure forced the grower to remove his care.

In Jesus’ parable, the “produce” was fine, but the delivery system was malfunctioning. The problem was with the tenant farmers themselves. They were violent, destructive, and uncaring. Their ultimate goal was to place themselves in control, to be the cornerstone of the vineyard: “come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 

In the honor and shame culture of Israel, the landowner’s decision to send his son as emissary, in spite of how the servants were treated, was appropriate since he could expect proper respect for his appointed heir, the cornerstone of the future.

For Matthew, the twist comes from the reality he knew. The murdered son became the cornerstone of the kingdom. The kingdom is founded upon Jesus, the Son who was sent by the Father, Who was killed, Who rose, and Who, having died, has become the cornerstone of the renewed vineyard, the new covenant.

We are now the tenant farmers, charged by God with cultivating His vineyard and with producing for Him. He loves this vineyard and has carefully established it. So, we live with the reality of this charge, and with the obligation to deliver the fruit from our effort into the hands of the Son upon whom this vineyard has been built.

How to do it? We follow Paul’s command to Philippians. We do not get anxious about the work, rather we do it with eyes of faith focused on Jesus the cornerstone. We realize His Father’s provision for us, the fact He will bring us success. We pray, we offer petition to God, we live thankful lives, and we focus on the good. Then we Keep on doing what we have learned and received.

Others.

…complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.

Last week we considered the question of me, will God welcome me even if I am late in responding? We were reassured in hearing that if we have taken the opportunity to come, whether the first time, as a moment of return, or even for the 23,660th time, God and His people welcome us into the kingdom.

Today, our Holy Church takes time to reflect on the work of the PNU, Spójnia – and as God provides, we are given to hear Paul’s words about others.

This is the attitude of Christ’s Church, His very body on display before the world, that we are of one mind and action in love. Love moves us to encourage each other; to compassion, mercy, and singlemindedness toward others in our work.

Spójnia was founded in 1908, 112 years ago as the Church’s love response to the persecution its members faced for their faith. We seem to think that being persecuted for the faith is something that occurred in Caesar’s Rome, or perhaps in this and the last century in Communist or other oppressive regimes. Yet, the reality is that it happened here, in Schenectady, Albany, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Scranton and wherever we gathered to pray. Faith in Christ made us objects of derision and targets for active persecution.

As with the Solemnity of Brotherly Love, the Church did not declare war, did not respond in kind toward its persecutors. Rather, when we were cast out of fraternal organizations, banks, insurance companies; when savings were lost, and tragedies came to the faithful and their families – we built regarding others as more important than ourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.

In our day, this message resonates as perhaps it has not in years. How we live as the family of faith, how we treat others, respond, and build will be the markers by which our adherence to the gospel of Jesus is measured.

Paul goes on to illustrate the great sacrifice of Jesus for others – i.e., all of us. He laid it all down for us, to the point of death, even death on a cross

As Jesus has done, so must we for others. Therefore, let us set to work in the vineyard, for God will not regard our prior failure to act or respond, but our actual action today.