Saturday, June 25, 2016

Grace is costly; how much so, just look at a crucifix.

Luke 9;51-62. Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. June 26th, 2016

Today’s readings have the theme of discipleship. To be a disciple means that we follow a master or someone who teaches us a skill, a trade or a knowledge that we ourselves do not have. In our first reading, Elijah calls Elisha to follow him as a disciple. Although Elisha desires to settle his affairs first, Elijah demands that he come immediately. It would seem here that Elijah was being harsh. This was not the case however; Elijah was really testing Elisha to see if he really desired to become his disciple. And so, when Elijah saw Elisha’s heart, a heart desiring to be led, Elijah waited for Elisha.

In our Gospel, Jesus also calls people, in fact all people, to follow him. Just as Elijah demanded an immediate response, so too does Jesus. Jesus also tests the “would be” disciples to know their hearts; he knows the hearts of those He called in the Gospel. He knows that their hearts were “divided.” It wasn’t just a matter of returning to bury a father or say goodbye to a family, it was a matter of their wanting to follow the Lord later, when it was more convenient to them. The father of the one who said, “let me first go and bury my father,” was still very much alive. So what was really meant was, when my Father dies in ten or twenty years then I will follow you…!

Jesus desires us as well to be his disciples, but it would seem the price is very high. Jesus makes no bones about the commitment necessary to follow Him faithfully. Jesus assures us that discipleship will present its challenges and that it will require a great commitment. But it is a commitment in which Jesus never forces anyone to follow him. In the end the choice is our; it is a free choice. Jesus for His part however, wants no divided hearts, only our whole heart.

And so, when we stop to count the cost of being a disciple of Jesus we realize that the cost is indeed high-it is everything, everything we have, are and possess. We must spiritually detach ourselves from everything and everybody to be Jesus’ disciple-we must live our lives for Him alone. Everything we do, must be done for love of Jesus. Even when we serve others, it must be done primarily for love of Jesus.

During World War II, a German Protestant minister, Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote a book on this cost of discipleship; the book was entitled, “Cheap Grace; the cost of discipleship.” Bonheoffer said that to be a disciple of Jesus meant that everything in your life must be centered on Jesus, and lived for Jesus alone, and that this commitment in the end would cost you everything. He condemned the notion of “Cheap Grace” and preached the truth about “Costly Grace.” To quote Bonheoffer in his own words, “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

Discipleship did indeed cost Bonheoffer everything, as he was killed in a Nazi concentration camp for his faith, for his discipleship. Perhaps the Lord might not be calling us to give up our very life as a martyr (although in our day it seems to be a very real possibility), but Jesus does ask us to intentionally (that is from our heart) give up our lives to him today completely, fully and without reserve, without looking back—for love is always the complete gift of self to the other with nothing held back.

We hear a lot of God’s Mercy in our day, but we hear very little about the need to repent of our sins in order to accept this Mercy. We hear very little about the need to be about being “just” toward our neighbor and very little about how we can’t be just without accepting and living the truth. As in Bonheoffer’s day, we hear a lot about “Cheap Grace” but very little about “Costly grace.” Grace is costly; how much so, just look at a crucifix. It may be free but it isn’t cheap! (the same can be said about mercy)

And so, to follow Jesus, to accept His mercy and to show His mercy to others we must give up many things. We must give up what we think, give up what we feel about things, we must give up “being right, “ and we must submit ourselves to He who is the Truth, Jesus.

We submit ourselves to Jesus by following His teachings as expressed through the teachings of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church which He founded to proclaim His truth in all of its fullness. This necessarily means we make changes in our lives and in our family in order to conform ourselves more closely to Christ--this requires daily change, which is the same as saying daily conversion, daily repentance a daily turning away from sin and turning more fully toward Jesus. And to follow Jesus, then we must give up not only our sins, but also our own will, our very self and commit ourselves to Him and His Holy Will (Thy Will be done).

Practically we do all of this by committing ourselves to pray intimately each day to the Master, Jesus, doing all we do for love of Jesus, and love of our neighbor for love of Jesus. Also, we commit ourselves to conform the way we worship at Holy Mass to the mind of the Church, which is the mind of Christ himself, (for it is Jesus who primarily offers the Holy Mass, not us). We must commit ourselves as well to receive the Sacraments more frequently, especially that of Confession. And we renew in ourselves a commitment to treat others with Justice and so with the dignity and respect they deserve as children of God; only in justice can we show mercy and we can only show mercy in justice with the truth, the truth that comes from God and is proclaimed fully and without error by His Catholic Church.

Just like in today’s gospel, over the next few Sundays, we will see different reactions of people in their call to discipleship of Jesus. Some drop everything and follow immediately and wholeheartedly while others find it much more challenging to respond to the invitation given. But regardless of people’s reaction to Him, Jesus invitation or call to follow him goes out to everyone regardless of their situation in life. It is personal call, to follow the master immediately and without reserve.

We know that as Christians, every one of us is called as well. It is call for which each one of us was created. Each one of us is called to a specific vocation or a unique path that will lead us to our fullest perfection in our life’s journey towards God’s kingdom-only by answering this call fully and completely will we have happiness, will we have peace. When we give ourselves fully to Jesus with great trust, we lose nothing of ourselves but gain everything besides. Jesus is calling us today; He may not repeat the call tomorrow; now is the acceptable time.

As the crucifixion of Jesus is re-present at this Holy Mass in a few moments, let us intentionally, that is in our hearts, renew our own discipleship and our own offering to Jesus as our Lord and our Master. During the Mass, we pray, “let us lift our hearts to the Lord; we lift them up to the Lord.” This is what we are being called to do. We are called to freely sacrifice our whole life for Jesus, in union with him- following him as he offers himself and makes present for us this offering on the cross for us. We are called to place our heart completely on the paten along with the host to be offered to God. We are called to adore and beg God for the grace to live this complete self-offering out in all the events of our daily lives. This offering entails change, radical change for each and every one of us if it is to lead to faithful discipleship and union with the Most Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Change is hard for all of us; let us, through the immaculate heart of Mary, ask Jesus for his free but costly divine grace to help us become closer disciples of His. The Virgin Mary, was the one disciple who never looked back, who was always faithful, who offered herself totally to God, in word and in deed even to the piercing of her own soul with a sword at the foot of the cross. Let us place our heart on the Paten at this and every Holy Mass through her hands. She will help us to cut any strings holding our hearts to this earth. Through her intercession she will help us to never look back and to live totally for Jesus as His faithful disciples. In this, through the Holy Spirit we will be transformed and He will renew the face of the earth. God Bless.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Only the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierce for our transgressions, knows the pain and misery within the human heart, within in our own heart.

Luke 7; 11-17 Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. June 5th, 2016

In Today’s Gospel we hear of the widow of Nain, who had lost hear only Son, and we see the great compassion and mercy of Jesus, in response to her cry. In Jesus, we truly have a God who knows what it is to suffer; to suffer the loss of a loved one, to suffer death, for He alone has entered fully into the human condition. Today as well, along with our Saviors loving response in the Gospel, we hear a call for us to share His compassion and mercy to others, to be His instruments of Divine Mercy for the world.

I am convinced that there is a sound that is unlike any other in the universe. It is sound that is louder than any explosion, louder than any supernova star exploding. It is sound that pierces a man to the very core of his being. Once heard it is a sound that you never forget. And that sound is the sound of mother who weeps over the loss of her child.

Having at one time served on a rural ambulance I have heard that cry. I remember hearing a mother cry over the loss of all four of her young children, and I will never forget her weeping. Having been a priest for over 14years I have too often heard that same weeping, especially in these years that I have been a priest/chaplain at this hospital. Yet, even though I have heard it too often, it is sound that one never gets “use to;” it is a sound that moves one’s heart to feel compassion on a mothers heart, that like the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate heart over the death of her Child, is pierced by a sword.

In Jesus” response to this weeping mother, we learn the meaning of true compassion. Jesus does not, as our Gospel reading says, have “pity” on this poor mother. The translation used in today’s Gospel is, dare I say, not the best one, a better one would be compassion. In Latin “compassion,” means not pity, but rather, “com” –“Passion”—with passion; in others to suffer with, to accompany another in their suffering in their passion. This is not to show them pity, but MERCY!

We are call to response to suffering with the Love and mercy of Christ, to love others, not merely in words, not merely with emotion (which is merely pity), but to love others by merciful deeds. We should love others with merciful deeds even though we may not get “anything” out of it, even thought it may not make us “feel good.” Sadly, too often “good deeds” or done out of vainglory. Truly, we are called to love other with Jesus own Heart alive and beating in us, our heart united to His Sacred Heart.
We are called to care for the bodily needs of those our Lord puts in our way, first out of love for God and then for the sake of the other out of love for God. And so, we are call to care for, to love, even those we don’t like, even our enemies…for we must do good even to those who hate us.

This care for the bodily needs of others is expressed in the Corporal works of Mercy as found in Sacred Scripture and expounded on and explained in the Teachings of the Catholic Church. We are to: Feed the Hungry; Give drink to the Thirsty; Cloth the Naked, Give Shelter to the Homeless; Visit the Imprisoned, Visit and Care for the Sick; and finally, To bury the Dead (by the way to bury the dead in the ground and not keep their ashes, their cremated body in our homes or sprinkle them somewhere).

But our call to reach out to others in need, to do good to others, goes far beyond supplying merely for their material needs. We are to care for their body, yes, but we are called to be even more solicitous for their spiritual needs, for their spiritual poverty and hunger—we, as followers of Jesus, are called to even lay down our life for their spiritual needs.

This primary care, the care for the soul, is expressed in the Spiritual Works of Mercy, which are primary over the corporal works; in fact if we only do the corporal works and ignore the spiritual works we will be judged harshly by Jesus. Many there are who will say to Jesus on the Last day, “but `Lord, when did we see Thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to Thee?' (Mt 25; 35-46)” And Jesus will response to them, “ ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." In other words, these will be those who may have provided for the bodily needs of others, but failed to care for or ignored the care of their eternal soul by carrying out the Spiritual works of mercy. This is why they will be so shocked by Jesus response because they will think, “…but Lord we were good.”

The Spiritual works are, to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinners, comfort the afflicted; forgive offenses; bear wrongs patiently; pray for the living and the death.

Man was not made merely for this world but for the world to come. In the life to come is where man’s true hope lies. This is what is so wrong with our modern materialistic ideologies, which tried to convince us that this world is all there is, and that all we need to do is work for peace and justice, striving to illuminate poverty and suffering this world especially by getting rid of any unjust social structures that stand in our way. Yes, it is true, we need to do what ever we can to prevent suffering, to eliminate poverty and to spread happiness to who ever we can, but despite our best efforts, “the poor we will always have with (cf. Mt 26;11). But this is not to really go about doing the ultimate good to others; in fact striving for this alone deceives man robbing him of his true hope leading him, sooner or later, into the depths of despair. For no matter how hard we try, we will never eliminate poverty in this world, we will never eliminate suffering in this world, and so, we will never eliminate death.

Jesus, in today’s gospel, shows that the true and principal good of others does not consist in any material or worldly good but consist in their union with God, which will lead them one day to total happiness in heaven. This is not a matter of having pity for another but being moved with compassion, being with those who suffer, and rejoicing with those who rejoice, giving them that hope which comes from knowing that they are indeed children of Almighty God and coheirs to Christ and to eternal life, no matter what the situation in this present life may be. This is to show them God's mercy!!!

This leads us to a even greater deception in our world today, not one which tries to convince that this world is all there is, but a deception that tries to convince that everyone goes to heaven, that there is no hell or if there is, no one goes there. This error leads to a loss of missionary spirit in the Church, a loss for concern of another eternal salvation. It sees then suffering only as something to be overcome but not as something to be embraced on a personal level in order to united it with Jesus’ own suffering for the sake of His body the Church (cf. Col. 1;24); and so, for salvation of souls.

In the weeping mother, we are then pointed to another Mother who weeps for her children who are more profoundly dead than the son of this weeping widow in today’s Gospel. This other “Mother” is Holy Mother Church who weeps for her children who are dead to sin, who are “deader” than any bodily corpse. It is this Holy Mother who weeps with great sorrow not only for the loss of their earthly life but also for the loss of their eternal life. She offers to these “poorest of the poor.” the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus. And in Christ’s name, she beckons us to do the same.

While I have never experienced the loss of a child, I have experienced the loss of the spouse. To lose someone we love for a lifetime is harder, harder than anything we will ever experience, but what is to lose someone forever…what does it mean to lose a soul for eternity. I really do believe that if we understood this, even a little, if we were too see heaven and to see hell we would suffer the worst suffering we could on this earth and do it many times over in order to save even our worst enemy.
The Blessed Virgin Mary in her apparitions to the three little of children actually showed these little ones, the youngest of which was just six years old…she showed them hell and souls who were there. St. Lucia, the oldest of the Children said later, “if not that our Lady was with us, I think we would have died of fright.”

The children, especially the youngest-Jacinta, were so profoundly affected by the horrors of hell that they begin to offer up any suffering the could for the salvation of poor souls. They even took on voluntary mortifications like sleeping on the floor or wearing a coarse cord around their waist in order to atone for the sins of poor souls and so earn for them from Jesus and Mary the grace of their conversion.

Only the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierce for our transgressions, knows the pain and misery within the human heart, within in our own heart. It is only in the wounds of His Heart that we can find the solace and refuge we are looking for. Today, at this Holy Mass, Jesus invites us to entered more fully into His most loving and compassionate Heart through a deeper faith in the Holy Eucharist—the Divine Mercy of the Father. The Holy Eucharist is truly His Most Sacred Heart made available for us in the Miracle of the Holy Mass. He offers His entire Heart to us, may we through the Immaculate Heart of Mary offer ours in return, so that in the Spirit, three Hearts may be as one. Then and only then can we become Instruments of God’s Divine Mercy, sharing His compassion with others, bringing them the Love, healing and Salvation of Jesus.