Saturday, September 17, 2011

God's ways are not our ways!

Matthew 20, 1-16 Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Sept. 18th, 2011

Today in our first reading God, through the prophet Isaiah, invites us sinners to gaze at the sky and see how far it is above the earth. In our day, we would probable say it this way, “look up and see how infinite far are the reaches of the universe, how vast it’s space.” Isaiah here is pointing out the reality that even vaster than the reaches of the universe, God’s ways are above our ways. So much so is this true, that we are unable to grasp the infinite ways of God who continually invites us and all sinners, no matter how big, to receive His forgiveness and His unearned, infinite, merciful love. Today’s psalm goes on to tells us that God is near to all who call upon Him.

In light of last week’s Gospel in which God our Lord commands us to forgive “always,” even those who most terribly trespass against us-sin against us, we can easily agree with Isaiah. This past Sunday, I heard a newscaster interviewing a priest about 9-11. He began by reading last Sunday’s Gospel’s on forgiveness and then asking the priest, “does this mean I have to forgiven even the men who killed all those innocent people when they flew those planes into the World Trade Center?” The answer is of course, “Yes! Even them.” So far are God’s ways above ours.

This past week as well we celebrated the feast of the “Exultation of the Holy Cross.” This feast points out to us that God’s ways are definitely not ours. We have a God who became man in order to die to forgive the worst sins, to save the most harden and evil sinner. Although the most innocent of all men, He allowed himself to suffer the most horrible torture and death by these same sinners, crying out to the Father, “forgive them for they know not what they do!” Here, Jesus, was not just speaking of those who tortured and killed him, but of all sinners throughout the ages, including you and me, whom he would die for in order to offer the possibility of salvation, of eternal life.

I think this is the way to understand the parable in this week’s Gospel, which is by the way, I think, one of the hardest parables to accept. This parable seems to goes against our sense of justice, our sense of fairness! But when you look at it in terms of salvation it makes perfect sense. The “day” that the parable speaks about is really the day of a lifetime. Origen, one of the Father’s of the Church, said, “For the whole of this present life may be called one day, long to us, short compared to the existence of God.” To us life seems so long, but it is really just a “day” in the eyes of the Lord.

Our Lord desires that all men be saved, and so his patience is directed toward salvation. As long as one lives, God offers His Divine Mercy and love to the soul; and so even though the soul comes to Christ late in life, God will still draw near and take the soul to Himself. Every soul is precious in the eyes of the Lord.

With all that being said, this parable is also a warning for those of us in the Church already. Jesus is saying to us, “You have received the great privileged of having come into the Church already. In later days others will come in, but you must not claim a special honor and a special place because you came before them. Again, all men, no matter when they come, are equally precious to God.” Here Jesus is warning those who think that because they have been members of the Church for a long time, the Church practically belongs to them and they can dictate its policy. All the members of the Church are then supposed to bow down to what they want or think, to their own personal likes or dislikes… This points out another deeper warning.
While we have to be in the vineyard, that is, in the Church in order to be with Jesus, we also have to toil in the vineyard, producing the fruit of leading souls to God. We can’t be idle within the vineyard. Here’s what Pope Benedict said about this parable:

It is clear that that denarius {used in this parable} represents eternal life, a gift that God reserves for everyone. Indeed, precisely those who are considered "last," if they will accept it, become "first," while the "first" can run the risk of becoming "last." The first message of this parable is in the fact itself that the owner does not tolerate, so to speak, unemployment: He wants everyone to work in his vineyard. And in reality, being called itself is already the first recompense: Being able to work in the Lord's vineyard, putting yourself at his service, cooperating in his project, constitutes in itself an inestimable reward, which repays all toil.

The Holy Father goes on to say:

But this is understood only by those who love the Lord and his Kingdom. Those who, instead, work solely for the pay will never recognize the value of this priceless treasure (Pope Benedict’s Angelus Message September 21, 2008).

To work for “pay” only, that is what we are going to get out of it, leads to seeing God’s great generosity of bringing souls into the vineyard and giving them the same pay and friendship with Him only as unjust or unfair. If we are practicing stewardship, that is, giving of ourselves, our time, talent and treasure for the Kingdom of God and its work of saving souls, far from being jealous of new comers we will welcome them as members of the family, members whom we ourselves have worked hard to bring in, in order to join in the labor for other souls. It goes without saying then how much faithful stewardship has to do with the very essence of what it means to be Christ’s “faithful stewards.” Not to practice stewardship will ultimately lead us to becoming last in the Kingdom, not matter when we came in, and we will lose our eternal reward.

This advent the New Missal to be used in the English Speaking world will be implemented. One of the Changes will be with the words of consecration said over the wine in order to change it into the precious Body and Blood of Jesus. Now the priest says, “This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the New and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins will be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.” The new translation will be, “This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for the many. Do this in memory of me.” Beside the obvious change from cup to chalice…(one drink many things from a cup…coffee, tea, etc, but the precious Blood of Jesus Christ is drunk from a chalice) besides this obvious change there is another…the change from saying, “shed for you and for all” to “shed for you and for the many.” (in the Latin it has always been for the many or “multis” in the original Latin).

This change in the English translation more fully brings out the fact, that while Christ died for all, not all will accept his gratuitous infinite gift of salvation, only the “many” will….the others will remain idle either within the vineyard or with out. In the end justice will be fully served and we will receive our recompense for what we have done or fail to do. Only those who come into the Kingdom and work and sacrifice themselves in the vineyard for love of God and for love and for the salvation of souls out of love for Him will share in the fruit of the final harvest. And that fruit is eternal life, unbelievable happiness immersed in the eternal Family of God, in the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and all the angels and saints.

The Virgin Mary is the perfect vine in the Lord's vineyard. From her there grew the blessed fruit of divine love: Jesus, Our Savior. May she help us to respond always and with joy to the Lord's call, and to find our happiness in the possibility of toiling for the Kingdom of Heaven. (The end of Pope Benedict’s Angelus Message September 21, 2008"

Sunday, September 11, 2011

To forgive is divine.

Matthew 18, 21-35. Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary time. Sept 11, 2011

The Book of Sirach, from which our first reading was taken, must have been one of Jesus’ favorite books of Scripture because He often talked about the moral teachings that are included in it. The Book of Sirach was, in fact, written about 200 years before Jesus was born; and ever since that time it has frequently been used for moral teaching and for its insights into human nature, or I should say fallen human nature.

In today’s reading we hear the author of the book, a man named, Jesus Ben Sirach, writing, "Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail." Sirach, then goes on to argue that one who has been faulted must forgive if he is to really keep the commandments; especially the highest of all Commandments-to Love God above all and then to love your neighbor for love of God.

In our gospel, Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive the sins committed against him. Peter asks, "As many as seven times?" I don’t know about you but (in our society) seven times seems kind of high; we have a very vengeful society-just look at our movies. As the bad guy is getting his, by the good guy who is dealing out vengeance more than justice, how many of us haven’t egged the “good guy” on, and in our minds hoped that vengeance would be served? In our hearts we may have even cried out, “kill the creep.”

But, what does Jesus tell Peter? (Pause) We must forgive seventy-seven times, which literally means we must never stop forgiving—or as it means in the original Hebrew, we must forgive always. It seems to me that if we take what Jesus tells us seriously, we truly must have a change of heart. To forgive as Jesus instructs us, commands us, we must we truly become serious followers of Christ, and as St. Paul tells us, "live no longer for ourselves but for Christ." We must become so imbued, so filled with the Holy Spirit that forgiveness becomes part of our nature, part of who we are.

All of us have been sinned against, trespassed against. To live in the real world is to be abused or to be betrayed, to not be respected or to not be listened to, to be cheated and lied to, to be pushed around, to be used and to be insulted, sadly, even by those in our families or in our parish family; us priests or not exempted.

But what do we do with the pain of abuse that is thrown at us? Do we hold the pain in our hearts and, as Sirach says, "hug wrath and anger tight?" Are we resentful to those who have hurt us? In our spare time do we think of ways to get back at those who have hurt us…vengeance? Do we close our hearts to them and act as if they don’t exist? Do we wait for them to come crawling back to us, groveling back to us? Or, do we have some other way to justify our un-forgiveness, and so avoid forgiveness, hang on to the resentment and "hold tight to our wrath and anger?" (Pause) Or, instead do we follow Jesus’ commandment to not hate our neighbor and instead act as Jesus does; forgiving even when the person who is to be forgiven does not, by any worldly standard (or our own standard), either deserve or maybe even care to be forgiven?

Because forgiveness is a divine attribute, it is not an overstatement to say, “that to forgive someone who has really hurt us is divine”- to forgive is divine. In order to forgive as Christ asks us, to forgive as Christ forgives, we need the help and grace of God. How incredibly much God as forgiven each one of us (no exceptions). In light of this truth, St Jose Maria Escriva, said, “Force yourself, if necessary, always to forgive those who offend you, from the very first moment. For the greatest injury or offence that you can suffer from them is as nothing compared with what God has pardoned you.”

When we realize how incredibly much God has forgiven each one of us our trespasses, how can we but not forgive those who have trespassed against us. I remember someone confessing to me that they had committed a sin equal to murder; and then later on saying that they could not forgive one of their loved ones who had wrong them. The forgiveness of our brother becomes easier to the extant that we realize how grievous our own personal sins really are, how much they offend God and hurt our neighbor and ourselves. We need to realize how much an act of Mercy it is for God to forgive our own sins, for the one who has been forgiven much, and realizes how much they have forgiven, loves much, and so is also very forgiving to others.

One of the things that becomes apparent when looking at cases in both the medical field and psychological field is that the root cause of many illnesses could be directly attributed to a lack of forgiveness. A common example is a daughter or a son who refused to forgive the failings of a mother or a father and who for decades held on to their resentment or hatred for their parent. Holding on to anger, often unconsciously manifests itself in depression, anxiety disorder or even some physical illness. The same can be said of refusing to forgive ones brother, sister or spouse, or dare I say even one’s priest, for some real or imagined slight. (I say imagined slight, because if we have not dealt with the sin in our lives, we can project that sin onto others around us, seeing in them the sin that is in our own heart even though they may not be guilty of it all.) Both anger and un-forgiveness is like a cancer that eats away the soul and destroys its peace. This spiritual cancer can even manifest itself in physical cancer.

To forgive is to live in freedom as children made in the image and likeness of God. Forgiveness is freeing both to the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven. I want to insert true story here about a Nazi Commander. He shot and killed the entire family of a woman in front of her husband; he killed her mother, father, sisters and brothers. Her husband never told her who it was who killed them. One day the Nazi commander came into the store that this lady and her husband owned. Her husband was working at the counter and of course notice the commander right away. The man began to tell this Nazi about the forgiveness and mercy of God. The commander mocked him: “You Christians and your mercy and forgiveness, what is mercy and forgiveness?” The husband said, “I will show you.” He called his wife down from the upstairs and said to her; “Honey this is the man that killed your entire family.” She immediately walked up to the commander and gave him a hug and said in his ear. “I FORGIVE YOU!” The commander immediately fell to his knees sobbing and converted right there on the spot. And so, we see that forgiveness not only leads us closer in our relationship with God, but with one another. And remarkably, our forgiveness of the other has the power to move them closer to God and to us as well. Forgiveness has the power to save.

But how can we forgive a grievous sin against us? First, as I said before, to forgive, especially very hurtful offenses, takes the grace and help of God. If you need to forgive someone, realizing that it is to your advantage to do so, beg Christ to give you the gift of forgiveness. And, then, keep begging until he gives you the grace to be able to do so from the heart.

Second, to forgive does not mean that we forget about what was done to us, or try and somehow say it was okay or was nothing. If the act against us was wrong, it was wrong—Call a spade a spade. “What you did was wrong, and you deserve to be punished, but I forgive you any way.”

Third, we need to remember that we don’t need to “feel like it” in order to forgive. To forgive is an act of our will. In order to be able to forgive does not mean the feelings of un-forgiveness, anger or even hatred need to disappear first. To forgive is not a feeling; it is, like love, a choice. We can, with God’s grace, rise above our feelings of un-forgiveness, vengeance and anger. I choose to forgive this person, because Christ commands me to, because Christ has forgiven me for even greater offenses. And so I chose to love this person because Christ has loved me, died for me and He loves this person as well and died for them also.

Today when we receive Christ in Holy Communion, let us all think of someone who has hurt us and for whom we may hold resentment or anger. Ask Christ, who becomes one with you during Holy Communion, to give you the grace to truly to forgive them, to let the anger and hatred go. And by the way, if you refuse to forgive someone, please don’t receive our Lord in Holy Communion; it will do you more harm than good. Let us pray: Jesus you have told us, ‘if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.’ Jesus, in light of all that you have forgiven me, in light of your love for me, I choose to forgive, please help me to forgive completely from my heart. Our Lady of Divine Mercy pray for us.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

We are our brother's keeper!!!

Today’s scripture readings have an underlying message that we may at first miss. The message is this, “we really are our brother’s keeper”. Cain’s infamous answer to our Lord’s question in the Book of Genesis comes to mind here, “Cain where is your brother?” And Cain’s reply, “Am I, my brother’s keeper?” Remember, Cain had killed his brother, Abel, out of jealously. Let’s use this story to look at our commitment to one another more closely.

Abel, for his part, had worshiped the Lord with full, active, and conscious participation, that is with full heart, mind, soul and strength. Abel’s offering of his earthly treasure really reflected the reality of his inner offering. In other words, Abel really offered himself, humbly and completely, to the Lord in loving thanksgiving for all that the Lord had given to him (which was everything). And the Lord for His part accepted Abel’s true act of worship and love, done for love of God and by the way love of neighbor.

Cain, on the other hand, merely fulfilled the prescription of the Law, but his heart and mind was not in it. He merely showed up for Sunday Mass, if you will, in order to fulfill an external observation of the law but he did not offer himself in love to his Creator who loved him so much.

As a result, Cain’s offering was rejected because it wasn’t done in love; that is, it didn’t reflect the offering of himself—love always gives the gift of self to the one loved. And so, Cain refused to truly love God and worship God fully, and as result he refused to truly love his neighbor, which in this case was his brother, Abel.

Cain’s refusal to love God with his whole heart, soul and mind actually led to him to despise his brother Abel, who did, so much so that Cain killed Abel. This story shows us the connection between the love and proper worship of God and love of neighbor, especially love of neighbor within our Christian Community. We are to worship God not only as individuals but also together as community. Our act of adoration with Jesus while being our most intimate and personal act is at the same time also our most communal act. It is the most important act we do as a community together because we worship our God as a community. In fact, our individual worship is bound to the act of worship of our entire community.

We must love God above all and then we must love our brother and sister and care for them, to love them more than self in order to show our love for God; this is the perfection of love. If we do not care for our brother as our other self, then we, in a sense, perpetuate the rotten fruit of Cain’s selfishness and murdering act of his brother. And so, are we our brother’s keeper? Our Blessed Lord’s answer to Cain and to us today is a definitive and thunderous YES!

Our Lord in our readings points out our binding personal responsibility to our brothers and sisters, if we are to love Him and worship Him fully and properly. We are bound to one another by Charity, St. Paul reminded the early Roman Church in today’s second reading. This clearly means that we do have a responsibility toward the Christian community and to those individuals who make it up. This is an aspect of our faith that many Christians today, I think, don’t realize. It can never be just about “me and Jesus.” We live our faithfulness and our relationship to Jesus within a community, again I like family better; we live our relationship with Jesus within a family of believers or we don’t live it at all.

No one of us can say I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love outside a family of faith. Just as a child without a family to raise him never reaches maturity and in fact, becomes developmentally and mentally stunted, so too the believer who tries to believe without the family of faith becomes spiritually disabled, never able to reach that maturity that is God’s call for each individual in Christ Jesus. This all brings up something that I have spoken about many times. That is our need and our great responsibility to the parish family as our family of faith.

It is not true Christian living when we do not make our relationship with our parish family and integral part of our relationship with Christ. In fact, we cannot have a true authentic relationship with Christ without an active, actual and full participation in the entire life of the parish family. Not to do so would be spiritually immaturity; it would render our soul incapable of ever coming to the mature love God calls us to. Just as we receive love and learn to love in our individual families so to, and in an even more deeper way, we receive love and learn to love in our parish family; you just can’t have one without the other if you are to love as God commands, that is as He has loved us with His own love alive with in our hearts, minds and souls.

As a parish family we are indeed one another’s keepers; we have a grave responsibility to one another; a responsibility of perfect love and charity. Our eternal salvation, and I am not exaggeration here one bit, our eternal salvation depends, absolutely on whether or not we are faithful to this responsibility. The parish is more than just the place where one shows up to grab the morsel and then runs; in fact, the first person to do that was named Judas. This is not being bound together in love, in Charity.

Our parish is the family in which we have a responsibility to actively partake in the life of this family by our presence, our commitment, and by our fidelity and faithfulness to the parish and to its individuals. Love begins in the family, and is perfected in the “Family of families,” the parish family. Our individual lives and our individual family lives should then revolve around the parish family’s life, not the other way around, for it is from her that we receive the graces we need to become holy and thus to live lives of authentic Christian witness to others in order to live and help others live in the freedom and joy of children of God. We cannot make it without the parish family; we need it and we need one another in order to be happy in this life and in the life to come.

All of this teaches us that the Parish family life can never be placed on the periphery of our own lives; that is, off to the side. And so, it is a sign of Christian immaturity, an immaturity of love, when members of a parish family do not get to know one another; yes, first by worshiping God with one another every Sunday at Holy Mass, but also by getting to know one other while partaking in parish events and activities.

It’s a sign of Christian immaturity when we don’t correct one another in love, support one another, help one another and yes, forgive one another.

It’s a sign of Christian immaturity when we don’t pray for one another, fast for one another and even offer our sufferings and our whole selves for one another.

And it is a sign of Christian and spiritual immaturity, an immortality of love, when members of the parish family do not support one another by sharing generously and sacrificially their time, talent and treasure to the parish family. It is not at all authentic faith and witness when we fail in stewardship; our very relationship with Jesus depends on our faithful stewardship. Sadly, there are many members of the family that don’t give a dime to the support of the family and don’t share their time and talent in any way. This is not being our brother and sister keeper.

And I have to add this; it is a sign of Christian immaturity when there is not fidelity to the parish family, when one runs off somewhere else because it is too difficult here or because they like an easier message somewhere else or because they don’t like someone here or because they don’t get their own way. Again we need each other’s full presence here, as we adore God together, helping one another to offer ourselves lovingly to the Lord.

Let us then be bound together by love, by charity; let us truly be one another’s keeper, concerned for one another’s well being, especially for one another’s spiritual well being and eternal salvation. Often I think about how difficult it is to have lost for a lifetime, someone I loved. But then I think how much more difficult, and unbelievable difficult to know what it is to lose a soul for all of eternity. And so I pray, as should you, that your or I never be a cause, in word or in deed of any soul turning away from God or not drawing near to God. And even more so, I pray that your and I would be able to lay down my life for the sake of my brothers and sisters, that is for you my dear parish family and all those souls who are depending on us for their eternal salvation.

We truly are responsible for the salvation of one another’s soul; we are our brother’s keeper; this cannot be a responsibility we take lightly. Our parish family must truly be a Family of families helping one another get to heaven and depending on one another to get to heaven!

At this holy Mass let us pray for the grace to love one another as God loved us by loving and adoring Him, offering ourselves totally as a sacrifice of love to our Father in union with Jesus’ sacrifice on this altar by the power of the Holy Spirit for the love of God and for the love and salvation of our brother and sister’s in our parish family, the family of St. Patrick’s…a family of love. Our Lady, Mother of our Parish family, pray for us sinners who have recourse to thee. Amen.