Being
prepared.

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “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. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.”

As we worshiped last Sunday our brothers and sisters in Christ, men, women, and children, were being killed in Texas as they came together to worship God and declare their faith in Jesus. They held their lamps up brightly, filled with the oil of faith, ready to meet the Lord.

Many of us grew up in a time when coming to church was considered a light thing. Maybe our parents or grandparents had faced persecution as faithful National Church members, but not us so much. That was in the past. But, as is said, everything old is new again…

Today’s lesson from Jesus dispels the myth of faith as a casual endeavor. Jesus tells us, ‘always be at the ready,’ with our lamps prepared and with an extra stock of oil at hand. We do not know the day or the hour.

Prepared lamps and extra stocks of oil are not just about coming to church on a chilly Sunday morning. It is not about waiting for a moment to come someday. It is about actively preparing and living out our faith. If we are not watchful, if we are not making ourselves more and more ready, if we are not becoming more and more – like unto the Lord – what use is there to even having a lamp?

Violence, tragedy, and suffering are a raw truth. This truth is visited more and more upon Christians. From martyrs in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa to homegrown terrorists right here, to media, hate groups, and government casting people of faith as silly, backward, and ignorant, we might be tempted to extinguish our lamps, pour out our oil, and sit in the dark. Ssssshhhhh, be careful, snuff out the lamps, someone might see us. Is that who we are?

St. Paul tells the Thessalonians: do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. Wise words about how we are to face the challenges of our time. The followers of Jesus, the faithful, will not allow their lamps to even grow dim. Don’t tone it down! Rather, illuminate this dark time, cast a bright glow not just inside the walls of this church, neighborhood, or city – but across this world. Let our light not only glow outward, but also illumine us inwardly. Do not grieve, offer hope.

Let us picture our lamps at the ready, held up before us. Feel the warmth – it is the warmth of faith. See the glowing faces, they are the face of Jesus in the world. See the light before us, calling the people of our neighborhood, city, and the world to come to Jesus – the only way. The faithful: wise, prepared, ready.

I will see
and hear.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 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 whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

We have reflected on this gospel reading throughout Ordinary Time as it is read during Matins before Holy Mass. Who do we consider a neighbor? Really at the heart of the question, who matters? Jesus quickly answers the questioner: God matters and each and every person matters.

Doesn’t it make us happy and comforted to know that God thinks we all matter? So many try to draw circles around people, those inside, those outside. The good versus the bad, those like me and everyone else. Our lesson – once again, everyone matters.

Setting aside the view of others, and the labels they place, we also have to be careful about how we view ourselves. Sometimes, and likely all too frequently, we are our own worst enemy. We forget our inherent dignity – the goodness of our creation. The fact that God has his laser focus of care on us. We think ourselves less than worthy. Oh, I failed, I’m not good enough, I didn’t meet expectations, I don’t pray, read scripture, reflect on God enough, I sin too much, I fall over and over into habits that are harmful to myself and others. It’s easy to come up with a list of our own shortcomings because we forget God’s view.

God sees, hears and knows everything. Nothing is hidden from Him. Does He see where we fall short – sure. Yet, He doesn’t take his gaze from us. When we fully grasp and understand that His eyes are on us, His care is over us, His love and His Son’s sacrifice were for each of us, then we will allow Him to declare our value, and we will see that each and every person matters in the same way.

God does not operate like man. His thoughts and ways surpass that of man. They are way higher. Knowing how God is, we need to step up to see and hear as He does, to live valuing and counting ourselves and all people as those who matter.

We face challenges in this world, the naysayers, the put downers. We may even put ourselves down. As His people, we need to confront that head on with God’s truth, with the fact that He sees and hears and wants it different, “I will surely hear. I will hear; for I am compassionate.

Indeed, our compassionate God sees and hears. No division or label (even our self-labeling) can last before Him. We all matter. Let us take up God’s great commandment, let us live it loving Him and everyone. To live like He does, to be men and women with God’s vision.

Investing it
all.

Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied himself

Pretty much everyone knows who Warren Buffet is. He is the billionaire investor with the golden touch. He has been quoted many times, and certainly people seek his advice. Mr. Buffet, how do I succeed? One of his oft quoted rules is: “Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Never forget rule No.1.” Another of his rules is to focus on achieving high returns (making a lot of money) with very little risk. Avoid risk to get rich.

We have also heard anecdotes about that person who invested his or her last few dollars and because of making a good choice, or by being incredibly lucky, they became rich.

That is two ends of the spectrum. In one case, the rich get richer by conservatism, being very careful, minimizing risk. In the other case, we have those with little to nothing putting it all in and finding success.

St. Paul presents us with something completely different today. In the revelation He received, Paul was overcome by the awesomeness of what God did. God, who had it all, all power, all eternity, Who wants for nothing, invested it all. He gave it all away – for us.

Paul asks us to be of the same mind as Jesus. He asks us to put our whole selves in. To invest ourselves in the life of Christ – community and worship.

Paul goes on to give us the greatest Christological hymn ever written. He illustrates for us: This is who Jesus is, This is what Jesus is all about. Paul shows us, in this hymn, that Jesus literally stripped Himself down to nothingness in order to take on our humanity. He ended up stripped, on a cross, in abject poverty, having lost everything and to the point of despair feeling utterly abandoned by His Father. He dies this way to save us and because of this sacrifice, His name is to be adored.

Indeed, God invested it all, His whole being, for us. Paul then says: 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.

This is the essence of the Christian life. It calls us to invest fully. Like Jesus’ discussion today, it is not where we are, what we have done, where we have come from – but whether we believe, whether we put our all on the line.

When we invest it all in God – offering Him our faith, our daily lives, our dedication to His way, and our worship and dedication to the communal life, we grow truly rich. we preserve our lives for everlasting joy and really live.

Love is
hard – and worth it.

when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper

In the course of less than half-a-day, the Samaritan had the courage to walk up to a total stranger who was in trouble, used his personal store of oil and wine to clean this stranger’s wounds, bound the stranger’s wounds with his cloths, gave up his ride to let this stranger ride, took the stranger to an inn where he took care of him – meaning he fed him, kept him company, and assisted the stranger in every way he needed (consider he was likely taking care of the stranger’s bathroom needs too), and then having to leave, took from his own money and offered that too. He also pledged to come back again and make up any difference. These things cost, and pretty dearly. Beyond the outright cost of oil, wine, bandages, rides, a place to stay, and two days wages ($405 average in New York as of today), the Samaritan lost at least a day’s business. This little escapade – helping the stranger – likely cost the Samaritan at least $1,000 in today’s money.

Interestingly, economists have spent a lot of time and effort in studying Jesus’ parable. Jesus isn’t just for philosophers, theologians, and clergy anymore. “The Good Samaritan and Traffic on the Road to Jericho” by Ted Bergstrom studies situations where people encounter an unsatisfactory state of affairs and must decide whether or not to act or leave it for someone else.

Bottom line, the question of “Who is my neighbor?” involves estimating the cost and deciding on whether it is worthwhile or not. It is sad that we still ask this question, still count the cost. Look at the News or social media and we see debate – who is my neighbor? Many want what the lawyer wanted – that some people are not. The immigrant is not, the person with the different skin tone is not. The person whose religious beliefs are different or who has no religious beliefs is not. No, according to God we must be neighbor to all. We must act.

The stranger was hurt by violence and neglect. He was saved by one who saw him as neighbor. Jesus, the Samaritan, touched the unclean, went to the lost, outcast, and those in need. Jesus spent it all – far more than $1,000 – His very life – to save His neighbors.

What does it look like to love someone, to act? Is anyone off limits? Is any cost too high? Is any mile too far? Are there boundaries? Jesus’ answer to the lawyer in us is that we must have no boundaries or limits. We have been touched by complete love. Our response is to act, to pay it all, and to find complete joy and satisfaction in loving like Jesus.

Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

Did you ever wonder why we do what we do at church? Not the Holy Mass as an act of God directed worship or educating our youth as God has commanded so that they may have knowledge of the fullness of God’s love – those things are pretty straightforward. No, I mean the investments we make in church infrastructure for the future. Since the beginning of 2012, we have taken on twenty-two major infrastructure projects. This month we are replacing the entire sidewalk along the side of the church and have made major repairs to the church hall floor with the entire floor soon to be updated. Do you wonder why? If it were about dedication to just a building, or to memories, it would not be a wise investment. After all, what is a church without people, or memories without people to share them with. Grabbing onto Paul’s Letter to Timothy, we find the real reason for investing. It is about you! Paul exhorts us to guard the good treasure entrusted to us. We have Jesus in our midst and we have you in our family. The Holy Spirit guides us in what we do so that you may have a place, a home, and a family. A place to belong. We invest – we invest so the church is there for you – we invest so you may belong to and rejoice in being God’s precious treasure.

Join us this September as we celebrate brotherly love, take up a collection for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, and welcome you to a ‘Place to Belong’ on Back-to-Church Sunday, September 17th. There are lots of activities, a new kids corner, and best of all, a true sense of belonging.

You may view and download a copy of our September 2017 Newsletter right here.

Wait! I need
to ask.

“Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”

We look to continue our process of growth and becoming in our Christian journey; to become better in our walk with Jesus and each other.

In our Old testament scripture, we encounter Solomon, the young successor to his father, David, who had just died. Solomon, age twelve, took David’s throne. Before his passing, David acknowledged Solomon’s intelligence and wisdom saying: “You are wise; you will know what to do to.”

It is longstanding worldly human practice to go with what people say about us. We trust their wisdom and understanding, especially if they are people of power in our lives. Our bosses compliment us, we eat it up. A talented person says we are talented or special, we trust their judgment. A professor notes our intelligence, we trust that.

It would have been easy for Solomon to just trust what his father had said. After all, these were words from David’s death bed – words most people value in a very special way. He was wise and intelligent according to his father, the King. Thus, when God spoke to Solomon, Solomon could have asked for anything else. Why ask for wisdom and intelligence if he already had it? Instead, he humbled himself before God. He accounted himself as having nothing and asked God for the very things his father said he already had.

It should be this way for us as we grow and develop in our Christian walk. We should be the children of our heavenly Father asking Him for all gifts. This requires vast humility. Having that kind of humility is why Solomon was blessed and praised by God! Having that kind of humility gave Solomon not only the gift of wisdom and intelligence, but also long life, riches, success, and the life of his enemies.

St. Paul expands on this saying: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

If we love God, if we walk humbly with Him, if we trust judgment to Him and stay aligned with His will, we will be vastly rewarded. The littlest ones in our lives get this in a special way. If they are asked to do something or go somewhere, if they are asked to make a judgment, their instinct is to stop, say wait, and say: ‘I need to ask.’

This is what God is seeking from us. I think I am wise – Wait, I need to ask. I think I know what I should do – Wait, I need to ask. My judgments are correct and righteous – Wait, I need to ask.

The treasure hid in a field is God’s gifts for us. It is the kingdom and all it holds for us. There is a great treasure for us if we only ask.

Taking up the
yoke.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

These scriptures for Ordinary Time speak to where we are and urge us to deeper spiritual formation, authentic responses to God’s call in the midst of our challenges, and to a renewed commitment to evangelism.

Today we hear Jesus invite us to come to Him and find rest. He asks us to take up His yoke for it is easy and light.

As a young person, this verse confused me a little. Why would one come for rest only to take up a yoke? It seemed ironic at best to lay down one’s burdens just to take up another. What could this mean?

Jesus’ invitation is indeed for those who labor and are burdened down. The Greek words in original scripture speak of labor and burden as grinding toil and desperate burden. Desperate burden is that kind of weight that creates on-going weariness. It is seemingly inescapable.

As we reflect back on the lives of people at the time Jesus walked the earth we might imagine some of the burdens they carried. They had to turn over nearly everything they had to corrupt tax collectors. They had to scrape for a bit of oil and wheat to make some bread, maybe a bit of weak wine on a special occasion? On top of that there were the requirements of the old Law. Sacrifices had to be made for sin. Rules had to be obeyed diligently, often for no better reason then they were made requirements by religious leaders who enriched themselves.

Jesus invites these weary people to come to Him – He would give them true rest. The Greek word for “rest” used here suggests renewal and refreshment. It doesn’t promise that burdens will go away. It does not promise that people who receive this renewal and refreshment will never be weary again. Rather, their lives will be changed to such an extent that toil and burdens will pale in comparison to the glory they will receive.

Jesus’ invites the desperately weary to take up a new yoke – new life that brings joy – not weariness. As understood in Jewish culture, this yoke was beautiful submission and obedience to God. Jesus’ invitation was to know joy and freedom by following His path.

We too were once called to come to Jesus, to take up His yoke – to become His disciples. Perhaps some are called out of their burdens today. Inescapable weariness didn’t disappear in the year 100, 1,000, 1980, or 2016. What has changed is that we have the opportunity to say yes to a light and beautiful burden that destroys grinding toil and desperation. Take up His yoke, throw down burden, find joy.

She entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

We begin our summer with the celebration of Holy Mass on Sunday, July 2nd followed quickly by the celebrations of the Visitation and Independence Day. The Visitation holds special significance for us. What would summer be without visits with family and friends, getting together for picnics, or the traditional family road trip to go visiting? The scene of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth is part of the larger story of salvation. The story line in Luke’s gospel is the story of God’s powerful desire to visit with us, to be present in our lives. Mary’s visit with Elizabeth would not have been possible without the angel Gabriel’s visit with Zachariah (Elizabeth’s husband) telling him that they would have a son. It would not have been possible without that same angel’s visit to Mary, telling her that God desired to place His Son in the world, to visit with us. All of salvation history is a telling of God’s visitation with us. He wants to be with us, even when we do not want to be with Him. He remains with us and calls us back even when we wander off. He continually calls us into deeper and deeper relationship with Him. He is the visitor that never leaves! As we contemplate our best visitor, let us also take up Mary’s example As we get out there to visit this summer, let’s talk about the One best visitor ever. Help others invite Him into their lives.

Join us this summer as we continue to visit with Jesus, as we are assured of His abiding presence with us. There are tons of summer activities – Kurs Youth Camp, Independence Day, the National United Choirs Convention and Music Workshop, the YMSofR Golf Tournament, our neighborhood and community picnic, and so much more. We will continue gathering bras – that’s right, bras!

You may view and download a copy of our July/August 2017 Newsletter right here.

Real, present help.
No fear!

Jesus said to the Twelve: “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

I have had quite a week. Actually, a week-and-a-half. It has been filled with a constant barrage of work, travel, preparation for Church events. I have been in nine cities in seven days, with two more to go. I will be leaving to chaplain Kurs in less than a week. After that I am off to Baltimore and will be filling in for Fr. Mark at our neighboring parish. This weekend was my son’s high school graduation. We had family and friends with us with all the incumbent preparation that entails. Coincidentally, as we prepared for his graduation party, his first college bill came in the mail. Somewhere in here is a parish committee meeting.

As I read Jesus’ words and prepared for today, I said – this makes total sense. Not just “Fear no one…” but really, with Jesus, fear nothing!

This is one of those scriptures that speaks to us where we are. So it is as we enter Ordinary Time in the Church year. These scriptures will speak to where we are and will urge us to deeper spiritual formation, authentic responses to God’s call in the midst of our challenges, and to a renewed commitment to mission and evangelism.

Today’s scripture translates into a call to fearless witness. How easy it is to get overwhelmed by life, by the many pushes and pulls on our schedules. In the midst of the storm, we are called to remember that Jesus is with us. He is with us to tell us that as long as we cling to Him we will make it through. More than that, we will come out victorious. We are reminded that we can be like Jesus, in the back of the boat, in the midst of the storm – sound asleep and at peace.

Jesus tells us that we need not fear the “hosts of evil” around us however they might show up or appear in our lives. Jesus is with us and in control.

What places us in Gehenna? It is those things we think are greater than God. Is a crazy schedule, travel, messes of meetings and obligations greater than Jesus? Absolutely not! We are to take these challenges and flip them on their head. We are to see and use them as opportunity to deepen our faith in Jesus as our strength. Our authentic response is to freely praise God and to publicly acclaim Christ as Lord over all; giving public account for the hope that is in us. Let us live daily acknowledging, trusting, abiding in, and praising God’s real and present help – no fear.