Strength of Faith

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Over the months of Ordinary Time, a time dedicated to growth, we focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith. Remember to focus on our Strength of Faith.

Today we again take a brief break from Mark’s gospel account and this time venture into Luke’s account of the challenge Jesus faced from the lawyer. How do I get to eternal life? What must I do?

The Jewish faith, from outward appearance, even to this day, has a very strong emphasis on doing. Wear this, wash this way, cook this way, spend the Sabbath like this. Pray this way. Responding to Jesus, the lawyer could have just quoted every one of the 613 commandments and all the rabbinical commentary on them. If you do all this, you shall live.

Perhaps the lawyer was just a bit wiser than that. For him, it came down to the two core commandments of love, love of God, love of neighbor.

Then confusion set in, for the 613 commandments make very clear distinction between insiders and outsiders. Commandment 166 and 167: A bastard child cannot become an Israelite. A eunuch or sexually mutilated man may not enter the community. Or 596 and 597: Destroy the seven Canaanite nations. Not to let any of them remain alive. Then there is always 449: A skin-diseased person will tear his clothes, grow his hair long, and cry out, “unclean, unclean.”

Could these people possibly be my neighbors? Do I have to love them? They are outside the community.

We all know that Jesus takes the Samaritan businessman, and uses him as the example of right behavior, for proper brotherly love, for strength of faith. Jesus is being totally politically incorrect and inappropriate for the Samaritans were more despised than the gentiles. A Samaritan woman was always considered “unclean.” Jews and Samarians hated each other. Some Pharisees even accused Jesus of having a demon and being a Samaritan Himself, as insulting as one could get.

This detour into Luke tells us two things. The first is that our studies on strength of faith cannot be just studies. Faith does not live if it is on a bookshelf. We are to live out our strength of faith. We must move from discipleship to apostleship, from students to doers of love.

The second lesson is that strength of faith calls us to the harder work. Ever meet one of those people who when presented with a challenge are already underway in taking it on; before the question is even over? Yes, that is how we are to be. Strength of Faith must be translated not only into doing, but into heroic doing. We are called to love in great self-sacrificing ways, to conquer even the most challenging call to love in Jesus’ name. That is what we must do.

For where your treasure is there also your heart will be.

I like Labor Day, in fact I really love Labor Day because it gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we do each and every day, whether we do it as retired people, when we hop in our car or get online to go to work, when we go to school, or the work we do when we’re searching for new work, for a new job, for a new opportunity. It takes time it is a struggle. It is a constant effort to do those things and to do them well as a representative of Christ Jesus.

The thing we must be careful of each day and what is pointed out by God on this day especially, is that we cannot compartmentalize our lives. We cannot say: Well, it is 8 a.m or 7 a.m or if you’re a construction worker 6 a.m. Now it is time to go to work and I am going to do my work and that is going to be one little compartment of my life. Then I am going to drive home at the end of the day and that is going to be another little compartment. Then I am going to get home with my family and that is going to be another compartment. Then I am going to watch some TV and do some gaming and do some other things around the house that need to be done (maybe mowing the lawn or pretty soon shoveling the snow). That is another compartment.

As you have likely experienced, we tend to break things into ordered segments. The segments of our lives are ordered according to the schedule of our days. As such, what we must be careful of, and what God calls us to consider this day, is that all those segments must not be segregated from our work as Christians.

Bishop Hodur, in organizing the Church, was a great advocate for the Labor movement. Why? Because he saw the Labor movement as a reflection of God’s kingdom design. In Unions people come together to accomplish. He did not say: Well the Labor movement is going to do this and they’re going to do their work in this little box, No, he said Labor and the work of the Christian member of Labor has to be a consistent activity focused on the building up of the Christian man or woman, of their families, and all pointed to the building up of the Kingdom of God.

No, work cannot be segregated from God. Pleasure and time spent in relaxation cannot be segregated from God. Time spent in school, time spent searching for work, time spent shoveling the snow or mowing the lawn or caring for the garden cannot be segregated from God.

We are called by God to live a consistent and holistic life that is focused on the work of the Kingdom. If we do that, what Saint Paul points out will be accomplished in our lives. We will be building with gold, silver, and precious stones.

Remember, Paul is saying that a foundation has been laid in Christ. That is the foundation we are building upon in every aspect of our lives. As Christians, we do not build in some small Sunday compartment. Everything in our lives is meant to build upon the foundation established in Jesus Christ.

It is about how we build on the foundation. Some build with gold, silver, and precious stones. They put their whole selves into the work of the Christian life, not segregated or compartmentalized.  Other use wood (probably not pressure treated), straw, or hay.

When the DAY comes, and Paul is referring to the end times, all of that is burned away. What will be left but the gold, silver, and precious stones.

What is going to burn away is the work of those who compartmentalize and segment their lives. They are not all-in. they have built weakly, with straw and with hay and with wood rather than gold, silver, and precious stones.

So, our whole efforts, our entire work, everything we do is to be within our life in Christ and Christ in us. On this Labor Day then, let us reflect upon what we do each day and resolve to be builders for God, building with only our best.

Strength of Faith

Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.

Over the months of Ordinary Time, a time dedicated to growth, we focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith. Remember to focus on our Strength of Faith.

As we return to the Gospel according to St. Mark, we are asked to pause in our growth in Strength of Faith to assess exactly how changed we are. How fully do we live as Jesus did? How do we walk the gospel walk?

Moses is presenting the Lord’s commandments to the people. These commandments were given by God in love to help His people to grow toward Him.

As you may recall from a few weeks back, the heart in Hebrew, the Lev, means the whole self. God was seeking the hearts of His people, a relationship with the whole self of each of them as individuals and them as a community.  Through these laws they would live in relationship with Him and grow ever closer to Him in strength of faith.

We know our God is a God of relationship from the identity of God as Trinity, to His creation, to the salvation He won for us through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

To remain in relationship, God gave us His Holy Spirit Who dwells with us and helps us in the process of loving Him more fully and deeply. He gave us each other, the reason I am so happy and blessed to be here in this time and moment where we are for each other.

So, today (and everyday) we are asked to assess how we are changed by our relationship with God, how our faith is strengthened, how deep we are willing to go with God and His Church. We also figure where we must improve.

The people Jesus encountered, the leaders and officials, no longer cared for depth of relationship. They left the heart behind and reduced relationship with God to motions and actions. They did not have Strength of Faith, but rather adherence to ritual for the sake of the ritual. Growth ended when life became mere performance.

St. James, writing less than a decade after Jesus Ascension, took the time to remind the people to live fully in Strength of Faith. We must not reduce our faith to motions but rather live it out. St. James says: Do not hold back, do not sell yourself short, be all-in just as God is all in for you. He tells us that we have been changed and we are to live changed from the top of our heads to the tips of our toes. He willed to give us birth by the word of truth that we may be a kind of firstfruits. We are a new creation.

We need to be whole-hearted, whole-self livers of new life in Jesus. We are something remarkably special. Let us then check-in on how we live changed and new in strength of faith.

Strength of Faith

Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Over the months of Ordinary Time, a time dedicated to growth, we focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith. Remember to focus on our Strength of Faith.

We are at the culmination of our five-week detour into the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, the discourse on the bread that came down from heaven which we must eat to have eternal life. Next week our study on Strength of Faith returns to Mark’s gospel account.

Some people can go about their life never having their faith tested. It is rare, but it does happen. They face no confrontation. They experience no difficulty. No criticism is encountered. They never have to choose between representing Jesus or just going along. For the rest of us, we have faced and will have to face those moments.

I want to clearly distinguish that God does not send challenges to test us. He is not the god of the science lab where we all get mixed and shaken until we either wither or explode. That said, the world is what it is, worldly. So, we face tests.

Sometimes we face the test of education. That is the moment in which someone who wants to understand God better confronts us and asks for an explanation. Here is where we can shine, not by being all philosophical and theological, but by recounting what the experience of Jesus and His Church hold for us.

Here’s what I would say and have said: In meeting God in Church each week I am renewed and refreshed. I find order in my life, peace, the necessary quiet that is lacking in the world. I can face challenges knowing that God has me in His hands. I am reassured even in the hardest times. And I am blessed doubly and triply over.

Sometimes we face the test of hatred, disdain, and the sin of human arrogance. Here too we can shine as the presence of Christ in the world. If we react as the world would have us react, we belong to the world. If we however react as Christ would, then we have citizenship in heaven.

Yes, I have faced those moments, and I have learned to react in only one way, a word or gesture of peace and kindness. It is rarely accepted, but my conscience is clean, and I maintain my citizenship. Sometimes (especially online) it is by not reacting, by silence.

At some point or another, unless we are that extremely rare person, we will be challenged. Will we: As a result of this return to our former way of life and no longer accompany Him? Or will we too say: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Strength of Faith and our growth in faith may be tested at any moment. In that moment let us, His disciples, say: This is hard; but I accept it!

Strength of Faith

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.

Over the months of Ordinary Time, a time dedicated to growth, we focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith. Remember, we are focusing on our Strength of Faith.

We have heard various examples of strength of faith among those whom Jesus encountered, and in Jesus Himself. I cannot stress strongly enough that our call is to walk the gospel way, to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, to encounter Him over and over because in living His way we receive ever greater grace to do so.

Grace is this, an encounter in the eternal and heavenly doorway where Jesus stands opposite us and hands over all we need to be powerfully successful in our mission and ministry.

As we experience today, this encounter begins at baptism. We meet Jesus in that doorway for the first time and He says, you are now a member of my body, the Church. You now have access to this doorway anytime and every time you approach. Come back a lot.

The catch, we must show up, certainly in church every Sunday for the particularly strong encounter we have for Jesus said: I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever. That is the bread we need, the sharing in the heavenly bread that gives us the victorious eternal life Jesus won for us and that renews us for the work we need to show up for every day.

The catch, we who are called by the Father must return to the doorway again and again, each day, asking Jesus to meet us there is prayer so we become better and better outfitted for walking in strength of faith, for living the gospel way, walking the gospel path. Then speaking, proclaiming, and sharing Jesus.

Living Jesus’ way is not easy. This week Renee and I were up in Maine for Carly and Dom’s wedding – a truly beautiful event. We walked the streets of York and visited the Kittery Trading Post on our way back. We encountered people totally dedicated to readiness, spending the time needed. They were ready for the sea. They were ready to hike the highways and byways. They were prepared against dehydration and hunger. Their lesson to us – be ready. Like they do, let us be dedicated to readiness by strengthening our faith in the doorway every day.

Like anyone dedicated, we must spend the time needed to encounter the deep sea of grace, to walk the highways and byways proclaiming the Word of God and partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus so that we may never hunger or thirst. 

We the baptized, and today, Cameron, pledge to be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love by strengthening our faith and living it out in strong active witness to Jesus.

Consecrated

“Consecrate them in the truth.  Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”

We all know what happened on the birthday of the Church which we celebrate next Sunday on the Solemnity of Pentecost. As with the Apostles that day, so we have received the Spirt and have been consecrated so that everything Jesus had taught would come pouring out of us and into the world. As the Apostles were sent, so we are sent.

We have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit calling us to a life defined by the gospel and to strong proclamation of the gospel message to the world. Repent and believe!

As we listened to Jesus’ prayer in today’s gospel, did we believe He was speaking about us? If we doubted that, here is where we need to alleviate that doubt. Indeed, Jesus was praying for us, for you and me. He asked His Father to consecrate us in truth, the very Gospel, and then He stated that we are sent by Him.

For the Apostles and disciples, Jesus’ prayer came to fruition Pentecost day. There and then they fully understood their consecration and undertook living it. For us, Jesus’ prayer is not just some words from the past, but a living and active prayer that has consecrated and sent us. So, we must understand we are consecrated and undertake to living our consecration.

To be consecrated means to be set apart, to be fully dedicated to God’s Divine purpose. Do we think we are? Are we living that way? Are we grabbing the opportunities laid before us to witness to the gospel entrusted to us?

Think of the importance of the word consecrated – for it is the word which describes the greatest of the sacraments, the bread and wine mystically made the Body and Blood of Jesus. Consecrated. Just as a church building and priests are consecrated for sacred work, so has Jesus prayed that we be consecrated for His work.

Being consecrated tells us that we are kept in the Father’s Name, that we are all one, that we are partakers (sharers) in Jesus complete joy, and that we, like Jesus, bear the Father’s word – that Word placed into our hearts, minds, and hands in trust by Jesus.

We are that important to Jesus and therefore are to live the consecrated life.

John the Apostle understood what that meant, and he shared this understanding with us. It means that we remain in Him and He in us, that He has given us of His Spirit. It means we must tell people, testifying that the Father sent His Son as Savior of the world. It means that we who acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God have God remaining in us and that we are in God. Let us then be reinforced in how we live as God’s consecrated people. 

Checked in and
joyful.

And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Last week, we discussed our call to stand up, to hold our heads high for the Day of the Lord. Our hearts focused on plugging in and being ready, rather than on giving up and checking out.

If indeed we plugged in and walked in the path of readiness, something wonderful happened. I know I felt it.

It was a long week for me. I left on Tuesday morning for San Diego. Everyone encouraged me, Oh, you’ll have fun, its sunny and warm. Well after about six hours of traveling, I arrived to a setting sun. Not as warm as I expected, but I packed wisely, just in case. Two days of rain and flooding later, it got sunny and warm, just as I entered the airport for the trip home on Friday.

I knew I’d be home late – actually early Saturday morning. I’d be exhausted. As you might imagine, traveling is no joy in this day and age. My trip had its share of what normally would be annoyances. There were a few additional things that go thrown on my plate mid-week as well. But something was different. Expecting Jesus really changed my days and turned annoyances into moments of prayer. Jesus turned times of dread into opportunities. I am so thankful.

Dreading being alone, eating alone, away from friends and family – a brother priest happened to be in the same city at the same time. Neither of us had to be alone. The person snoring on the plane, directly across the aisle from me, for three hours? I had the chance to pray for that person, for healing and better health. There were other moments like that too.

Like the Israelites returning to the Promised Land, we who are checked in and preparing are able to hold our heads high, to march forward with joy knowing the Lord has us in the palm of His hand; is protecting and guiding us.

Like John the Baptist, we are taking charge and doing God’s work with joy. In many ways we announce the kingdom, call sinners to a renewed and joyful life, and heal hurt. Even when the work is hard, and we are down to our last few locusts for dinner, the light of true joy doesn’t leave us.

Enter the
realm.

Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.

All of our readings and Gospel today preach one essential lesson about our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ: He is King, Lord, and Ruler. He owns all dominion and glory. He is to be served by all, and will be lamented by those who missed the opportunity to do what we do today.

I have been in many church buildings in my life. Cathedrals, Basilicas, large imposing structures build through the hard work and sacrificial pennies of immigrant ancestors, small and humble wooden structures. No matter what kind or type, even in the most modern, blank wall, social realism inspired church buildings, or older buildings that have been wreck-o-vated, you can always find one point, one corner at least, that glorifies God and His Son Jesus. Those buildings while human built monuments, praise the only King, the only government that matters. They call us into His realm.

Those places, in their simplicity, or in their grandeur, call to us; they draw our eyes and hearts to Jesus and focus us on His realm, all the varied and wonderful aspects of Jesus as our King.

More than just the buildings, the gathering of the elect, that’s you and me, is what puts it over the top. We are here to praise, magnify, and petition. We kneel and adore. We offer and we trust. We sign and call out with joyful noise to our King. Our human action, through His grace, draws us closer into His Kingdom, his realm, and sets forth an eternal sign and action through which we meet Jesus.

Lord, how good it is for us to be Yours, to worship You, to be drawn into Your realm.

God’s eternal love, Jesus’ setting aside of heavenly glory to save us, is now owned by us. Jesus came not just to save, not just to teach, not just to open heaven to us, but all-in-all to leave us a gift. Put together, all those things are what He most intended, the things that allow us to change, to be different, to be His ministers and heirs to the Kingdom. As St. John saw, He brought us into a kingdom, and made us priests for his God and Father. Our call is to be His, accept His gift, and enter the realm of the King.

Who lit the
fire?

“In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”

There are many jobs that require a moment’s notice to be ready. Included are emergency workers, utility crewmen, soldiers and sailors. Today, Jesus speaks of the end of the world. Telling what it will be like, He reminds us that we too have to be ready at a moment’s notice. We will talk today about what we should be ready for and what we should do to prepare.

Our preparation must be centered on belief in Jesus. More easily said than done! It is very difficult for the people to believe in Jesus, not just today, but even when He walked among us. The world questioned and still questions His abilities, background, and leadership. True belief lived begets dedication, proclamation, and a deepening of relationship. We must check in to make sure our belief is doing that in our lives.

If we know Jesus, if we are growing in relationship with Him, we should consider ourselves specially blessed – and be thankful. Jesus promised that He would raise those who do believe in Him on “the last day.” What a great gift, an everlasting gift, a gift for everyone no matter who we are – as long as we believe in the Name of Jesus; no matter where or when, a gift just for us.

What we should be ready for are those things Jesus laid out for us. There is and will be tribulation. There are choices to be made, and we want to be in the group of his elect.

If you have looked into the history of our Church, you would note, as some do with a bit of humor, that our organizer, Bishop Hodur, ‘extinguished the fires of Hell.’ Well not exactly (some took it that way). What he did rather was work to remove fear of Hell fire as the motivator for preparation. We must not have fear as our motivator. Our motivator must be to grow in belief through more intimate knowledge of the grace and glory of God – to know Him, to experience the Holy Spirit, so to desire preparation for what is to come: Us on fire with belief, ready for that moment’s notice, and thankful to be so.

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood

The words above are taken from the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 20, verse 28. St. Paul is meeting with the elders – the Bishop and leadership of the Church in Ephesus. Paul speaks of how he was plotted against, how he held to the truth, and how he preached repentance. Paul focused on the example he set. He is telling the leadership to follow that example – to live it. In other letters, Paul spoke of how he worked for his own bread, how he battled temptations, and how he went willingly into the unknown for Jesus.

Many Roman Catholic faithful have been shocked and disturbed by recent and past revelations of evil doing, abuse, and how those acts have been covered over/covered up for decades. You may be among them, asking: ‘What happened to the example laid down by Paul and the other Apostles?’

All Christian faithful are supposed to live, first are foremost, the life of Jesus. We are all called to walk in the footsteps of the Blessed Virgin and all the saints. Paul did that! We ask again: ‘Shouldn’t the leadership of the worldwide Roman Church be on the same page?’

We feel for you and are sad for your experience. It is heartbreaking to have one’s trust broken repeatedly, to see one’s role models and leaders fall so hard by their own fault.

You may feel conflicted because we are all taught to forgive, to reconcile, but we know there are lines we cannot cross. We know that calls to prayer and fasting among the faithful laity are not enough. Real change is needed now. Meetings months from now isn’t soon enough. Committees and focus groups cannot be left to debate issues without real resolution. Vows of sorrow and pleas for forgiveness do not really change anything unless it is followed by action and significant change. You do not want to just sit in a pew for weeks, months, and years awaiting change. No reasonable person would.

Brothers and sisters,

We offer you an invitation. If you are looking to get away, to take a break for awhile, we can help. We offer you that break, a time away for peace, quiet, and prayer. We offer you solid Catholic worship and a chance to take a step away for healing.

We are not asking you to join our parish, or to leave the Roman Church. Come, pray and worship in surroundings that are comfortable and safe. Then, when you are ready, go back to start anew.

Note that Roman Catholics are allowed to receive the sacraments in our parish under the provisions of Canon 844.2 of the Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law. Canon 844.2 states that the sacraments are lawfully received from a priest in the National Catholic Church: “Whenever necessity requires, or, a genuine spiritual advantage requires it, and provided the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, Christ’s faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a [Roman] Catholic minister, may lawfully receive the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-[Roman] Catholic ministers in whose churches these sacraments are valid.”