Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

Welcome on this Back To Church Sunday.

For those who are new here or newer, we keep this national day of welcome each year to provide an opportunity for those who may be exploring church for the first time or the first time in a long time.

For others of us, church is a regular thing. We are here almost all-the-time. Yet sometimes even among us who are frequent church goers – well we need a chance to reconnect, to re-establish in our lives those things that make church so very special.

The National Back To Church team surveys participating congregations each year to arrive at the next year’s theme. There have been some really great themes, but this one – well it is extra special. This year’s Back To Church theme is CELEBRATION!

You see, whether we are here for the first time, the first time in a long time, or for the millionth time we need to find in this experience of Jesus reason to celebrate.

Now, I must plainly admit, in my life getting up and going to church always seemed like a chore. I can hear my mom now, Get ready! Let’s go! We’re going to be late. Sometimes we face weather or just common driving challenges in getting to church. Then there’s the parking and walking. It could be a turn-off. Sometimes we don’t quite understand the pastor (I hope that’s not true…). It can be many things.

If our focus is on those things, perhaps we have lost touch with with the many things we have to celebrate in Jesus?

Peter asks Jesus about forgiveness: how often must I forgive?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

That is not an answer that relies on counting things, for we rely too much on keeping account of. Jesus’ answer means an uncountable number of times, an entire life filled with and marked by forgiveness, the forgiveness of a good and loving God.

That, brothers and sisters, is what we celebrate, that as Christians we have been forgiven everything, every time, an uncountable number of times. We are reconciled to God and saved forever. We celebrate because God gave Himself totally to save us. Because we can look at ourselves and each other differently, as freed people. Because Jesus instituted this – church – where regardless of former relationships we are family and care for each other – living Jesus’ way forever.

‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

Thank you for joining today as we continue our journey focused on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

Our Holy Church drives this listening, obeying, and witnessing home in very particular ways through special Solemnities celebrated throughout the year.

Today listening, obeying, and witnessing is stressed through our call to love. This Solemnity of Brotherly Love was instituted a long time ago, in 1923, when members of our Church were persecuted for their faith.

Yes, our people faced a hatred that resulted in beatings, firings from jobs, homes being foreclosed on, and even murder. 

They, the Church, decided they would not respond in-kind, they would not fight back with fists and clubs, but would focus themselves on Jesus’ teaching on love toward all.

Was that the past? It seems many have not listened to Jesus: ‘Go and do likewise.’ 

Love is harder to find, hate is far easier to see. Sometimes alleged Christians are right up front in fermenting something quite different from Brotherly Love. Let’s use a real-life example. Perhaps you have seen Deuteronomy 28:43-44 quoted in social media: Aliens residing among you shall ascend above you higher and higher, while you shall descend lower and lower. They shall lend to you but you shall not lend to them; they shall be the head and you shall be the tail. Of course, we should fear immigrants.

This scripture was from the listing of curses against Israel if they were unfaithful to God’s law. Everything they would do would fail. They would lose their crops, children, and nation. 

All this was set forth in a ceremony to be performed by the entire nation, so that they would understand the gravity of their choice whether to actually walk in the ways of God.

In the blessings and curses God warns in several places related to foreigners (see Exodus 22:21, and 23:9) and most particularly in Leviticus 19:33-34 “‘When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The stranger who lives as a foreigner with you shall be to you as the native-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” 

Brotherly love is a choice, an eternal choice. We must choose to stop for the stranger, to love all people totally, or face God’s consequences. What must I do? Love!

Additional Scriptural references:

  • Exodus 22:21
  • Exodus 23:9
  • Leviticus 19:33-34
  • Leviticus 25:23
  • Numbers 15:15
  • Deuteronomy 10:19
  • Deuteronomy 23:7
  • Deuteronomy 24:14
  • Deuteronomy 24:17-22
  • Deuteronomy 27:19
  • Ezekiel 22:7
  • Ezekiel 22:29
  • Ezekiel 47:22
  • Zechariah 7:10
  • Matthew 25:31-46

“You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Thank you for joining today as we continue our Ordinary Time journey focused on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

We’ve seen quite a bit over August. In our gospels we experience the Transfiguration, Jesus revealed to Peter, James, and John as the Son of God. Moses and Eli’jah give witness to Him. 

The power of Jesus was further revealed as He walks on the sea, teaches Peter a lesson in faith, and calms the sea. He heals the Canaanite woman’s child after her faith is tested and she perseveres in that faith.

As we discussed last Sunday, the disciples, who would become the Apostles, debated and discussed all this. That discussion was brought to a head in a conclusionary statement by Peter: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

An amazing revelation in the Transfiguration, amazing power at work – power over nature and illness, and then affirmation. Yet today we hear Peter advising Jesus on the future: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”

I remember back in my school and early workdays hearing a very wise saying – ‘a little knowledge is dangerous.’ That was often heard when I would venture an opinion that did not take everything into account. I needed to know more before venturing an opinion. Peter fell into that trap.

What should Peter have done? Firstly, Peter should have trusted Jesus, he should have let God be God. Second, he should have realized he did not know it all, gone to humility rather than advice.

Last week Peter followed what Jeremiah spoke about – the need to confess God’s revelation – when He declared Jesus’ identity. He could not keep it shut up within himself – so it shouted out of him.

Certainly, Peter’s statement today was not God revealed, was not worthy of trust nor necessary to say. It was whispered out of him in almost secret – Then Peter took Jesus aside.

Thinking as God does requires that thing Peter fell short of; that is the faith to trust and listen. We must attune ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s call, His revelation. All it takes is that we listen, and when we hear Him it will burn in us. Then we will have a hard time holding it in. Then we must speak and act.

He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When it was evening He was there alone. 

Thank you for joining today as we continue our Ordinary Time journey focused on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

You may recall, the last time we were in Year B Sunday readings, which we will be again starting this December in Advent, we read from the Gospel according to St. Mark. The Gospel according to St. Mark is sparse. There is no infancy narrative. Right in the first chapter, verse 35, after performing many great works, Jesus went out to a lonely place to pray.

We see this action several times throughout the Gospels. That time in private prayer culminates with Jesus’ prayer in the garden before His arrest.

What do you think Jesus prayed about?

The only account we have of His private prayer is that in the Garden – His agony foreseeing what would occur and His commitment to the Father’s will. All the other prayers are unaccounted.

We might take a clue about His prayer from the experiences surrounding Jesus’ prayer. He had just fed the thousands and saw them as sheep without a shepherd. Mathew’s gospel notes that [He] saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them. Jesus’ heart hurt for all humanity faced. His heart hurt for the blindness of the people as He wept over Jerusalem (see Luke 19:41-44). He rejoiced when He found mutual love and acceptance of the Kingdom.

Jesus, God of creation, the breath of God Who moved over the waters knew what was intended for us: our eternal happiness; fellowship in God; peace and comfort; endless joy. He experienced all that we must face in our brokenness, in the hurt and sin that pervades in the world and blocks our way to God’s desire for us.

As we pray when faced with difficult situations, as we plead in our frustrations, as we give thanks in times of joy so did Jesus. His humanity gave thanks and cried out, but with a unique perspective – God’s perspective. He prayed in His compassion for us.

As Jesus approached the disciples in the boat, they feared. As Peter sank, he cried out. In both cases Jesus responded to take away fear and to save. So, He does with us. What Jesus prayed for was us – that we accept Him, follow His way, and have  faithful courage in all things.

My dearest family in Christ, 

As many of you have heard, I was hospitalized at Ellis last Saturday evening (July 29th) with severe abdominal pain. That physical pain was compounded by the fact that I was inhibited from celebrating Holy Mass for and with you on Sunday. A partially completed bulletin was still on my computer at home.

I informed our Bishop as well as members of the Parish Committee and they reached most of you. We had hoped for a last-minute fill-in for Holy Mass but that could not be accomplished on such short notice.

On Sunday morning as you each prayed in your own ways, I underwent surgery at 11am. I remained in hospital through Wednesday afternoon. I am now at home continuing recovery. I have another procedure to undergo Monday morning and then on to the rest of my healing.

I made it through by God’s abundant blessing and the presence of Christ (thank you to Ellis’ ministry team), with the great support of my wife Renee and children, Adam and Victoria. Victoria took me to the hospital and stayed with me until 4am. Adam sat with me most nights – nearly around-the-clock. Renee took care of all that needed doing – she was there for me in every way she possibly could have been. I am also grateful to my daughter Stephanie and sister Andrea who kept in contact and kept my spirits going. Thank you to Paul, Larry, and Pete who informed you on Sunday. Thank you to everyone who visited, sent cards, texted, brought balloons, and most especially prayed.

Thank you to the entire Ellis team. They were phenomenal! Dr. Sanchez, the 3rd floor A nursing team, especially TerryAnn, Hadiye, and Jennifer, all the Techs, who worked so hard in the face of terrible staffing shortages. They are dedicated men and women who deserve our respect and support.

I thank God for those I was able to minister to while I was in hospital – God opens doors.

Speaking with Bishop Bernard, I so wanted to celebrate Holy Mass for the Solemnity of the Transfiguration, but he in his wisdom urged me to fully heal and not take risks. Thank you to Deacon Michael for coming out to minister on the Solemnity (he is wonderful).

Indeed, experiences like these if understood in light of God’s abundant mercy are transformative. They help you to understand things anew, to correct ways that have veered off, and to see things in clearer light. May God’s grace continue in transfiguring each of us into His image.

I expect to return next Sunday, August 13th. Weekday Holy Mass will resume August 14th. I love you all and miss you dearly. May Almighty God bless you for your goodness and compassion and your resolute faith.

– Fr. Jim

Listen, Obey, Witness

“But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

Thank you for joining today as we continue our Ordinary Time journey focused on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

This is a perfect time of year for the parable Jesus offers us today, the parable of the sower and the seed.

Top level, this is a growth parable. The sower represents God, and the seed is His message. Just as a planted seed starts to grow, the word of God starts to deepen and grow within a person who is open to it, that is the person who is made up of good soil.

Considering growth, let’s think of our own gardens. Some of us have significant fruit and vegetable gardens, others smaller ones. Some have beautiful flower gardens, others a few evergreen bushes put in years ago which haven’t really been addressed since. Maybe we grow a tomato plant or two in a pot on our deck.

Regardless of situation we know the things we face. Maybe, like me, we have very rocky soil – shale about an inch or two under the soil. Maybe we have a proliferation of thorn bushes, thorny weeds, and brambles. Maybe we drop some seed on the driveway or walkway. 

Nearly every person faces situations. It is rare to find a person who meets God with readied good soil. His word is sprinkled over us as we listen and learn in church. We may even pick up scripture references in TV shows and movies. Yet, that word will have no effect, will bring about no bounty, unless we set to work preparing our soil.

Everyone can listen, or at least hear the word, but we must work to gain understanding by reading and studying the word as well as praying it. Almost anyone can receive the word with joy – be ecstatic about it – but we must keep our focus and concentration on it by placing it into action, living Jesus’ gospel. All of us have rocks and thorns and no, our soil will not be good and ready and productive without hard work.

To be the good soil God needs us to be we must first trust in Him and readily accept His grace. We cannot prepare ourselves in a vacuum. We cannot ask God to wait outside while we tidy up. We need His help and the humility of asking is a necessary step.

Then there is the work we must set to. We cannot just cut back the thorns and brambles that choke God out, we must dig down and pull them out by the root, so they never get in the way – that is repentance from our sins. We cannot just shovel topsoil over the rocks and stones in us, because their exitance will block God’s word from taking full root. We need to get rid of obstacles to God by placing Him first, above all other things and events – really.

God’s word is the seed that contains all life and goodness, peace and joy, comfort, gentleness, and love. We are called to diligence in preparing our good soil to receive life and produce good fruit in the kingdom.

Listen, Obey, Witness

“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.”

Thank you for joining today as we continue our Ordinary Time journey focused on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

This statement of Jesus, concerning taking up of a yoke – a weight, an obligation, a means of being controlled – seems odd. Why would Jesus ask us to do that? Didn’t He come to free us and take the weight of sin off our shoulders? And anyway, I’m not going to allow myself to be obligated to anyone.

First, let’s be honest about Jesus’ statement. Yes, He means we are to submit to His will. We are to turn over control of our lives to Him. We are to allow Him to direct us and take us where He will, not where we will. We are to let Him do this through His Word and His Holy Church.

I can hear people say, well forget that. Who does God and His Church think they are. I can make my own decisions.

Yes, we can make our own decisions, and this decision is a key one because unless we accept the yoke of Jesus, we have no hope of entering His rest.

Is this decision easy? No. It is bad enough when we have to allow someone else to drive us around, much less to have completely surrendered control over our lives to another.

What may help us in reaching the right decision is the metaphor Jesus uses, the yoke itself. The yoke is used throughout scripture as a symbol, but unless we liked Westerns (Wagon Train?) or lived near Amish farmers, we have little practical knowledge of what a yoke is.

A yoke is a binding devise for two animals who walk side-by-side. Oxford Dictionary defines yoke as: ‘a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull.’

You see, Jesus is not asking us to pick up His yoke and put it on our necks and do it all ourselves, for His yoke is Him on one side and us on the other. We are bound together when we accept Jesus and decide to walk in His footsteps, side by side doing His work.

We never go it alone with Jesus. He stands with us, sets to work with us, plows God’s field with us. He tells us that His yoke is easy, and light because He is carrying almost all the weight for us.

If we bind ourselves to Jesus, accepting His yoke, we accomplish great things. Lives are saved, sinfulness is ended, the good news is proclaimed, people accept Jesus and they are made new. The joy we encounter in doing Jesus’ work, at His side, makes even the slightest burden lighter.

Let us then listen to Jesus’ call to the yoke, obey Him by taking it up, and walking with Him witnessing the kingdom, and drawing in those who do not know Him to also take up the yoke.

Listen, Obey, Witness

“Whoever receives you receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the One who sent me.”

Thank you for joining today as we continue our Ordinary Time journey focused on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

Why does Jesus say such difficult things? It is a common question and a very popular question in our day and age. People pick up the tough sayings of Jesus and say: ‘Look at this – how stupid. He doesn’t’ want me or us to be free. God is not worth believing in because He is mean and controlling.’

Indeed, Jesus does ask much of us. He wants us all-in, completely dedicated to listening to His commands and His way (not my way), to obedience (not going my own way), and to witness to His tough call (do I really have to?). He tells us that this priority is first, even before family. 

We cringe, don’t we, when we hear words like obligation, obedience, duty, sacrifice, submission, requirement, restraint, perseverance, follow, and commandment. I am sure you could think of others. But those are the all-in things Jesus asks of us, to put Him and the Kingdom first.

Jesus asks us to put our old selfish selves and self-interest away and allow ourselves to listen to, obey, and witness to Him above all things.

What does it mean to carry out Jesus’ work, to fulfill our obligation for His having saved and reconciled us and for forever ending death so we might have eternal life? It means that we must level-up our faith. We must work hard to overcome the things that are broken in us and the obstacles and enemies in our way with the help of His grace. We must endeavor to be not just different, but different and ever better.

If we were to draw a map from where we were just a few years earlier, and for older folks perhaps decades earlier, would we be on the same level or have we leveled up?

You may remember the picture of Jesus standing outside a door. If you observe closely, He is knocking but cannot enter on His own. The door on the outside has no doorknob. We must open the door for Jesus. That is where we start leveling up, by letting Jesus in. Unfortunately, too many think they are being progressive, by not only refusing to open the door, but by locking it and barring it. Don’t let Jesus in. I’ll stay where I am. It looks like I am moving, but I’m just falling. Waaaaaaaa…

As we set forth into the days and decades ahead let us resolve to level up. Let us level up our faith, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and our love. Let us let Jesus in and accept His grace and His tough sayings which will make us better than we are today.

To those who say: ‘Look at this – how stupid. Jesus doesn’t’ want me or us to be free. God is not worth believing in because He is mean and controlling,’ we can say: ‘God wants me to succeed, to level up, to listen, obey, and witness and to obtain all His glory.’

Listen, Obey, Witness

“Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

Thank you for joining today as we begin our Ordinary Time journey and place our focus on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

Today we begin in Jeremiah. When we hear the phrase ‘the Lamentations of Jeremiah’ we are reminded of the difficult message he had to bring to a people who would not listen, and the cost he faced for bringing that message.

Let’s set this up a little bit. Just before the opening verse “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!’Jeremiah had been in the public stocks outside the Temple. The Chief of the Temple police, Pashhur (whose name means freedom and peacefulness) had arrested him, whipped him with thirty-nine lashes, and put him in the stocks. He then let Jeremiah out early. Jeremiah immediately called Pashhur a name: Magor-Missabib, literally ‘Terror on Every Side.’  Jeremiah had no intention of moderating or covering over God’s message. He boldly told the priest and chief of police that destruction was sure to come, and they would be at the center of it. They would be ‘terror on every side.’

Now we hear Jeremiah quoting the people. In mockery they call him Magor-Missabib, ‘Terror on Every Side.’ They try to use God’s words against him. They will watch for any misstep and use it as pretext for destroying Jeremiah and as an excuse for ignoring God. Knowing this Jeremiah again proclaims his faithfulness to God’s message and work.

Jesus tells his disciples that their listening to Him, obeying and carrying out the work of witness He has given them will, just like Jeremiah, not be easy. He also reassures them of God’s attention to and protection of their work. They are valued by God for listening, obeying, and witnessing. To drive the point home, he repeats “do not be afraid” three times.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to an incredible and glorious task. We are asked to listen to, obey, and witness to Jesus and His gospel teaching. We are called to the discipline of the Holy Church and her teachings which are the Holy Spirit’s proclamation to us of all He heard the Son teach (cf. John 14:26, 16:13).

We have choices. Listen, obey, and witness are three components in which we must choose to follow God’s way or go our own way. Choosing God in everyday life and daily encounters has consequences and sometimes they are unpleasant. However, choosing our comfort, convenience, our own way has consequences as well. Jesus – God Himself told us: be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. The evil one leads us in our own ways, in a mirage of freedom which is not freedom at all. Let us choose rightly so Jesus acknowledges us before the Father and does not see us as ‘terror on every side.’


Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by His life.

Thank you for joining today as we complete this short time wherein we consider the mysteries of God and His action to save us. This includes the Mystery of the Trinity (two Sundays ago), of the Body and Blood of Jesus (from Thursday the 8th through Thursday the 15th), and the power of God’s Word (today).

From June 4th through today each of these topics is put before us, not so we get some academic explanation of them, but so we can learn of God’s awesome love, His desire for us, His self-revelation, and finally His desire that we trust and love Him in return.

Throughout this mini season we have focused on the connection between mystery and trust and how the Christian life must rejoice at God’s revealed mysteries. Trust is key to our relationship with God.

As you well know, our Holy Church has defined the Word of God proclaimed and taught as a sacrament, and our Church sets aside this first Ordinary Sunday after Lent, Passiontide, Easter, Pentecost, and this mini season as Word of God Sunday. We are called as clergy to make extra effort to enshrine and honor God’s word as an expression of what the Word of God means to us.

First, I would like to recommend that you do something special concerning the Word of God at home tonight, whether it is dusting off an unused Bible, or taking up that one you use regularly to share a special verse with the rest of your family. Perhaps you will think of something else beautiful for yourself and your household. Do it.

Beyond that, on this special day, consider the power of God’s Holy Word and how His Word has instructed us, has brought us into intimacy with Himself. That’s what the 12 were sent to proclaim.

The mystery we consider is defined for us in John 1:1, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. We are told that Jesus is God’s Word, existing eternally and focused on interacting with us.

Jesus, the Word, is God’s self-revelation. We know God through Jesus. The unknowable, unsearchable mystery of God’s life becomes our possession and in knowing Him we are invited into union with Him. As St. Paul tells us, the Word came at the Father’s command to reconcile us, to save us, because it was impossible to do anything of ourselves.

Paul says: how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by His life. This is not something Jesus once did and left the room. Rather He has left us His word to continue to teach us, to help us strive for full on gospel lives, and ultimately trust in what He taught, all documented in His Holy Word.