This week, the Church…Universal…takes a moment in celebration and contemplation of the Mystery found in the Most Holy Sacrament…The Body and Blood of Christ. Again…celebration…fellowship…appreciation of us being called not only to be brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ; but, being made one with Him (Mysteriously) in His Body and Blood…if we allow the Miracle to engulf us.
This week, too, begins the Fortnight of Freedom 2017. We recognize as the Bride of Christ, our need to bring about God’s love and His kingdom on earth…as it is in Heaven.
The people of Jesus’ time were restless and fearful because their nation was occupied by the Romans (who were very brutal at times…just look at a crucifix we have hanging in our homes and work places). They lived with the tension of being faithful to who they were as the people of God and how the Roman governors treated them. In the case of Jesus’ crucifixion some of the religious leaders used the hated Roman law to remove Jesus, a fellow citizen, from the face of the earth. They were blind to the Author and Presence of all truth, God’s Truth. The truth is that we need God and His loving presence, mercy, and Spirit in Jesus. If we take Jesus and the power of His love seriously we have more inner strength to be loving, forgiving, humble and grateful for the blessing of someone as close as a spouse in marriage. Jesus wants what we want – a happy, joyful, life-long relationship of life giving love. As much as we are self sufficient and self-giving, we will find no greater inner peace and purpose than we do in Jesus and His truth that sets us free. His is the freedom that enables us to give without counting the cost…to look beyond petty differences to deepen love…to forgive from the heart so as not to remind the one who hurt us over and over again about how wrong he or she was.
It is the peace of His truth that gives us the desire to apologize for the pain and hurt we have caused. How important it is to live what we pray in the Our Father, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That is extremely difficult without our daily bread, especially the Bread of Life in the Eucharist every week.
It is the truth of Jesus that gives us the wisdom to see where we need to speak out against injustice and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Truth not acknowledged…unleashes evil. Truth ignored…expands evil’s reach. Evil unchallenged…contradicts the peace, hope and unity only the truth can make a reality. The Fortnight of Freedom reminds us: once one life is expendable…more freedoms and lives become expendable. Comfort, pleasure and irresponsibility replace sacrifice, generosity and justice. Those who speak truth against the evils of the world are portrayed as the ones who unjustly deprive others of their freedom to choose. Freedom to do evil has divided us and seeks to silence the voice of Truth. There are many Pilates in our nation who echo his question: Truth, what is that? That is followed by the blasé attitude of: Who really cares anyway?
The voice of Jesus calls us to care. Why us? We are the ones He loves and trusts. We are the ones He speaks the truth from His Heart to. How good it is when we have the courage to live it not only for ourselves, but for the good of our nation. And, before I forget: Thanks to all our fathers…those who naturally (often in silence) witness the love of the Father.
by Bishop Paul J. Swain – 8/1/2016
Recent events at home and abroad have left many bewildered and dispirited. The bold acts of violence, division among peoples, harsh rhetoric and lack of respect for one another seems overwhelming. How are we to cope and live with hope in the midst of such tragedy and uncertainty?
Much is beyond our personal control of course. Thus we pray that our leaders will be granted the wisdom, patience and perseverance that will lead to more peaceful ways to resolve differences using just, fair and respectful means. That is what our system of law is charged to do. Yet this constant churning affects us all.
There are three sources of consolation that can help us during such stressful times. They include prayer, understanding today’s reality as it truly is, and living Gospel values in our daily lives whatever is swirling around us.
The Prayer of Saint Francis offers us guidance and mission.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
“O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”
For some this plea seems simplistic or impossible to achieve so grave are the times and the impact of our fallen human nature. The most important word in this prayer is the first one: “Lord”. We need to strengthen our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, our Lord, to even begin to become his instrument of peace. When we are separated from Jesus even unintentionally the evil one plays to our weaknesses, raises doubts and seeks for us to despair.
Read the Full Article HERE.
When Jesus taught His apostles the Our Father prayer that we all know so well, I am convinced that He had in mind the “Abrahamic test” we read in the second lesson today. Consider the story of Abraham’s obedience to God (even to the point of sacrificing his own son) is the iconic lesson to understand what “faith” really means. Unfortunately, faith is often considered a feeling or attitude along the lines of Team loyalty. Sports fans know all too well the power and frustrations associated with rooting for your team. Each year you put your faith in your team. You follow their ups and downs, but most of all, you hope for a future glory, otherwise known as a championship.
We are reminded in the First Eucharistic Prayers that Abraham is called the “father of faith” not because he was God’s number one fan, when everyone else was rooting for other gods and goddesses. Abraham shows us an example of a man of faith because he put his trust in a promise that seemed so unrealistic. God told him that he would be the father of a great nation. But how could that happen if he sacrificed his only son? Abraham’s faith in God’s ability to raise Isaac from the dead challenges even the most faith-filled person who reflects on the theory of faith. Those who are into sports analogies can understand the faith one has in teams and teamwork. In baseball, all it takes is good pitching and good hitting. Well, of course it also requires good fielding and good relief pitching and good middle relief pitching, and ok, maybe better base running and coaching. But other than that, it doesn’t take a miracle…just hard work…and prayer to get to the World Series. Rising from the dead…now there’s a real miracle.
So, don’t let this Mass (or any Mass) pass you by without stopping to reflect on your faith in God’s ability to do the miraculous. If we lose this type of faith, we lose the best kind of faith there is. Remember (as St. Paul reminds us over and over again), following religious traditions do not always equal having real faith. All of us need to fight the temptation to believe we have the “faith of Abraham” simply because we do our religious duty. We can consider ourselves very saintly because we pull ourselves out of bed and spend an hour in church and put a few dollars in the collection basket. But what is that in comparison to being asked to sacrifice your own son, when your fame and fortune depend on him? And neither you nor I have been forced to show the faith that the martyrs have shown when they shed their blood and accepted death because of their trust in God’s promises. Don’t let this Mass pass you by without asking the Good Lord to increase your faith. Until we don’t need faith anymore at that future moment when we will be allowed to see God face to face…it is our duty to work to increase our faith. How do we do that? Every day contains its own Abrahamic test.
This coming 22nd and 29th, the Church honors the two subjects of our gospel this Sunday. Martha and Mary, who were sisters and friends of Jesus. They invited Jesus to their house so that He could get some needed R & R. The hosts had different roles to play. Martha did all of the dirty work: cooking and cleaning, etc. Mary supplied the chit-chat. Martha thought that the arrangement should be more equitable with Mary responsible for more chores and less gab: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Jesus wisely skirted the issue: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part of it and it will not be taken from her.” (Could you see Martha thinking to herself: “Fine, then you can all starve and find your own accommodations…I am going to sit it out too.”…But, you know what…that is exactly the point! We tend to forget: “I came to serve…not to be served.”)
The key question is this – what exactly was the part of Jesus that Mary was choosing? When St. Luke wrote that Mary sat at the foot of Jesus, he was not describing her posture but her relationship to him. “To sit at the feet” of someone meant to be that person’s disciple. Jesus had come to call all people, women equally with men, children as well as adults…even those who were considered sinners. They were all eligible for discipleship. Jesus insisted that Mary had chosen the better part of Him. She had made the right choice. Of course, someone had to prepare the meal if they were ever going to get something to eat. Jesus wanted Martha to be His disciple too, even if she spent a lot of her time in the kitchen.
Martha and Mary represent all of the women of the Church. They can also serve as a role model for men, because we all have the same calling, to offer the Lord the warm hospitality that He had experienced in the Bethany home of Martha and Mary, to listen to Him as intently as Mary had, to make Him the priority of our lives as Martha had, and to allow nothing and no one to deprive us of our relationship with Him. In the first reading this week, the prophet Abraham proved himself to be a highly gracious host (like Martha and Mary would later be). He provided hospitality to three strangers who turned out to be Angels, preparing for them a fine meal of beef, rolls, curds, and milk. Like Abraham, Martha and Mary…we must provide hospitality for the Lord.
At Mass we “sit at the feet” of Jesus the Christ…Right? We focus our attention on Him, hear His words in faith, absorb it and apply it to our lives…right? Then we are nourished with a Sacred Food, the Eucharist, which is prepared, not by Martha or Abraham, but by Jesus, Himself (the Real Host of the party). Some of us may find the example of Mary difficult to imitate. (After all, the busy work of Martha is physically hard…but mentally easy.) We can allow the preoccupations of daily living to distract us from hearing and following the teachings of Jesus. There is a temptation to let the false values of this society turn aside the truths of our Catholic Faith. At Sunday Mass we “sit at the feet” of Jesus. This wee bit of a church becomes our Bethany, the place where we learn to become true disciples of Jesus.
“According to Scripture, a tithe is a gift offered in support of the priests and priestly people—the Levites (cf. Num. 18:21). Not all Levites were priests…but the whole tribe of Levi was a priestly people.
Today an equivalent might be all priests and those who serve the Church: religious sisters and brothers, missionaries and groups that serve the Kingdom of God. The word tithe means literally “ten” and 10% constituted a full offering in the Bible. A tithe is also referred to as the “first fruits”: sacrificing to God the best we have to offer. In Old Testament times, this meant the best lambs or the best part of the harvest. Most of us work for money now, so the tangible fruits of our labor end up being figures in a checking account or stock holdings. The concept is the same.
A tithe serves two purposes – It supports the Church, and, more importantly, a tithe is a symbolic gesture that all we have really belongs to God. By offering back the first 10% of our income to God through the Church, we literally show that we trust Him. God the Father offered His “first fruit” – His Son – to us on the Cross, replacing the Old Testament sacrifices with His Son on the Cross and at Mass. We imitate the Father’s love by offering the best we have to offer.
St. Luke, frequently emphasized the compassionate side of Jesus. This Gospel is a classic example. In restoring the widow’s son to life, Jesus showed that He is the Lord of life. But in the mind of St. Luke, the story is incomplete without focusing clearly on the widow herself. This is the emphasis on compassion.
Most widows at that time were in bad shape. There was no help from the Roman occupied state: no pension, no welfare, no social security, no unemployment insurance, no tax exemption, and most especially no food stamps. When Jesus came across the funeral precession, we can assume that someone informed Him about the circumstances. A poor woman, who had already lost her husband, was about to bury her only son.
St. Luke observes that Jesus was moved with pity when He saw her. His sympathy was mostly with the widow, not primarily with her dead son. Jesus knew that the widow’s most difficult time was not then; but, later when after the burial she would have to return alone to an empty house. The Lord realized that her sorrow would be deepened by fear about her future and how she could possibly survive. Most of all in His mind, Jesus could see a future widow after a crucifixion following the lifeless body of her only son to the tomb. And so He said to the widow: “Do not weep.” From anyone else the words would have sounded hollow, but from the Christ they gave both comfort and hope. Jesus spoke those compassionate words to the widow as He did with his own Mother. “Young man, I bid you get up.” And then St. Luke carefully adds: “Jesus gave him back to his mother.”
In this second reading St. Paul remarks on how favored he was that God revealed His Son to him so that he might spread the Good News. “But when God, who from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, so that I might proclaim Him to the Gentiles.” We of the 21st century are the lucky ones…we of Northern European decent are the Gentiles St. Paul is referring to. (How are we doing with the gift of faith and proclaiming it to the world as St. Paul did?) Let’s look at the first reading – note the difference between what Elijah did and what Jesus did when both confronted death. Elijah called out to God and prayed that He would restore life to the woman’s son. But Jesus spoke in His own Name and by His own Authority. The Christ spoke words of real power. Elijah was indeed a prophet of God; but Jesus is Himself the Lord of life.
We admire and honor the prophet, but to Jesus we look to our rising from the dead. We will all die one day (just as both widows’ sons inevitably died). Jesus will not, however, touch our coffin or tell the pallbearers to halt. Instead He will reach out His powerful Hand to lift us up from the dead on the day of resurrection. And then we will joyfully praise Jesus, the compassionate Lord of Life.
“Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”
This happened in time of the Apostle…but it also happens now in our time. We had the celebration of Confirmation at St. Anthony’s a month back and Bishop Swain blessed and confirmed the faith of our young adults in making a great choice in being fully initiated into the Catholic Faith. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit engulfed our young people. And, like a subtle breeze, we feel His presence is our visible world today.
We all receive the Holy Spirit at Baptism, but at Confirmation we are sealed with the Holy Spirit. The gifts given us are strengthened and the Lord is completely with us. I truly felt a sense of pride watching those 30+ young folks walk up and receive those gifts… truly, authentically, perfectly – inspired. Bishop Swain, given this Gift at his ordination as Bishop in the Sioux Falls Diocese…I cannot thank him enough for all the good he brings us as he travels over the whole diocese to bring the Gifts of the Church; I truly feel blessed to have been a part of it.
This Pentecost perhaps, we can all reflect on our own Confirmation. If we have received that sacrament, think about the Gifts given and received: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Each one is different but they work in concert and when we allow the Gifts of the Spirit to be fostered by our way of life—by who God made us to be—we are truly cooperating with Him. Our love for Him will shine forth not just for us for our neighbor but (in this Year of Mercy especially) if you will to cooperate with God’s Gifts. Loving our neighbor is one of the hallmarks of Christianity, even those who might cause disharmony. We show we are Christian by our caritas. Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that “the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also to the love of our neighbor.” The Christian notion of Charity really is love of God and love of neighbor. The Christian life is the constant struggle to love as God would have us love and the more we are involved with many graced moments…it helps us to do love (charity)…it guides us and strengthens us. A true Christian seeks to unite with his or her fellow Christian, not divide, and in that unity the struggle for perfection continues on. It necessarily builds the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.