In today’s Gospel Jesus is speaking from the same place He was for the Last Supper. In this passage Jesus is giving us His last will and testament. What is He going to leave to His followers? His love. That love includes not only Himself, but the Father and Holy Spirit. He fulfills His Last Supper promise: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (John 14: 15-16) Jesus did die on the cross, but He did not leave us. As we see in His words He will come and dwell within us and the Father will come with Him. A few verses later Jesus promises to send us the Holy Spirit. Our inheritance from Him is the fullness of the life of God. We began that life the moment we were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (We remind ourselves of this treasure every time we bless ourselves in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.)
When you think about it, those we love do dwell within us. They are an intimate and intricate part of who we are. They are always in our hearts that are filled with love for them expressed in our concern, goodness, gratitude, humility, sacrifices, mercy, and generosity. In this Gospel passage Jesus expressed what was going to happen when He died and rose from the dead. Our inheritance from Him is the gift of Himself, the Father, and Holy Spirit dwelling within us. How does this inheritance affect our lives? The more we “use” our inheritance from Jesus, the more we recognize the gift of peace that He also promises in today’s Gospel: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” This is the peace we long for as individuals, families, communities, nations, and worldwide. Human efforts have helped us to defeat the countless powers that seek to separate us from God and one another (just ask a faith-filled veteran). Yet still, in all too many places around the world, there is violence, injustice, destruction and the abuse and taking of human life.
So, what is this peace Jesus is leaving us? It is the peace that comes from truly believing that He knows us as we are at each moment of our lives and is with us in all we say, do and think each day. This thought is expressed so clearly at the beginning of each of the four Eucharistic Prayers (for Various Occasions): “You are indeed Holy and to be glorified, O God, Who love the human race and Who always walk with us on the journey of life. Blessed indeed is Your Son, present in our midst when we are gathered by His Love, and when, as once for the disciples, so now for us, He opens the Scriptures and breaks the bread.” Obviously we need to accept His invitation to be renewed by our inheritance from Him through our heartfelt participation in the Mass every week. Jesus never tires of inviting us to open our eyes to His Love for us and His Presence to us. It is Jesus and our inheritance from Him, which is Jesus Himself, that lifts us beyond the confusion, challenges, and obstacles we face as individuals, families, communities, and nations. Only a nation under God can be one nation. It takes God to not only take away the confusion…but also to enlighten us with the truth of who we truly are and what we are ultimately capable of in the best sense possible.
The idea is that every aspect of human existence was better in the “good old days” than it is today. What childish nonsense! All of us are required to live in the present. The “good old days” are right now. The advances in modern technology and medicine are tremendous. People are living longer than ever before. The quality of life is much better now than in the “good old days.”
This Catholic Church of ours has our spiritual welfare in mind during these forty days. In Lent we rise above childish limitations to appreciate the value of this special liturgical season. The Church sees Lent in terms of three different aspects of our life in faith. The first aspect is: the Pascal Mystery, the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ which brings about our salvation. The Church gives us these forty days as a preparation for the celebration of the great event of Easter. The Paschal Mystery is at the very heart of our faith in Christ…as the Savior. It is through the Paschal Mystery that the Church came into being.
With the first aspect of Lent comes the second: Christian initiation. Early in Church history it became clear that the most appropriate time to introduce new members into the faith and Christian community is through the spiritual birth of baptism as the Church was celebrating Her own birth. Lent then became the annual season of preparation for the Sacrament of Baptism.
The third aspect of Lent is: Repentance and Renewal. The Church recognizes that Easter is the time for us Catholics to become reconciled to God and to His Church through the repentance that comes to us in the Sacrament of Penance. Each liturgical year one of the three aspects of Lent take on a prominence. And so during the year of Cycle A it is the turn of repentance to occupy center stage, because of the Gospel of St. Matthew, which features parables about the forgiveness of Jesus. As St. Paul preached repentance to the Romans by explaining how the Lord forgives sinners. “For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly.” Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
So Jesus suffered, died, and rose for all sinners, even the really bad ones. On this Second Sunday of Lent, we should turn our attention to our need for repentance by going to Confession (which isn’t just for the CCD students) as an important part of our preparation for Easter. And giving up treats, snacking between meals, (… or Twitter, Facebook, etc.) like we did in the “good old days” puts us in the proper penitential frame of mind.
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.
Father Kevin’s Reflection – June 12, 2016 – Now is the time to reflect … Especially during this Year of Mercy
I have gotten sickened by those in the media who talk about being “good stewards” of the earth. It has become the 21st century’s version of the worshiping of a Golden Calf. I find it humorous when someone in Washington, DC thinks they know how to care for farmland and animals because they have a window box “organic garden” and a pet dog (or cat)…which they often refer to as members of the family!
The Lord wants us to trust Him in all things, and He knows that trusting Him with our finances is the most practical example of stewardship in the 21st century. God specifically asks us in this week’s readings to do exactly that! He also promises that when you do, He will “pour down blessing upon you without measure.” If we can trust God with our finances, it becomes easier to trust Him in other things as well.
While we should not tithe expecting material blessings, sometimes they occur. The greater lessons I have learned about tithing are detachment and trust. And, take it from me…coming from a successful business with my father in Denver, coming to South Dakota is considered by this world as a downslide. And, NONE of the money we receive as priests is our own; it comes from the generosity of our parishioners, so it should be easy to offer up the first 10% of it. Right? Well, even I struggle to practice tithing.
Even when it is not easy, making that offering builds in our hearts a detachment from money, self-interest, or the “what’s in it for me” attitude. Instead, one turns to a trust in God to provide. In a materialistic age, it reminds us that Jesus is Lord of our lives. But it also is a spiritual offering to God. There is a reason that the collection is symbolically carried up to the altar as part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and offered up with the bread and wine. Spiritually we should offer ourselves up – our time, talent and treasure – during the offertory of each Mass. (This is why the priest offers to God the Father: “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.”)
When stewardship is discussed in parishes, the three T’s mentioned are Time, Talent, and Treasure. But often people hear “just another talk about money.” Stewardship is so much more. It is the offering of our entire selves to God. We have a choice: to live self-willed lives or Christ-centered lives. God gives us all our time, talents and treasure; we should give back to him the first fruits of these gifts.
Fr. Andrew Kemberling (a priest in Denver) once said, “Giving God our skill and our wealth without giving of our self is meaningless. If a man showers his wife with gifts but does not love her, his gestures are empty. If the wife loves the gifts more than him, her actions are equally as empty. Stewardship is truly Spirituality.”
Quite frankly, I find no excuse whatsoever, when people do not commit to giving of their time and talent to build up God’s Kingdom. What would it look like to give God 10% of your time? In a 24-hour day, that adds up to almost two and a half hours (2 hours, 24 minutes) of time given directly to God. The time could be mental prayer, perhaps getting to and attending daily Mass, doing some spiritual reading, praying the rosary each day, and getting involved in at least one ministry of the Church. Perhaps you are called to serve in one of many charitable works in the area (Senior Center, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters, Right to Life groups, Altar Society, (in Hoven) the Treasure Hut, just to name a few). Assisting in the various ministries during the Mass, or visit the elderly in nursing homes, or feed the hungry and clothe the poor comes to mind too.
God does not just want our money – He wants our hearts. He wants us to show Him that we are in love with Him, and that He is in first place. Tithing of our treasure, apart from giving God our talent and our time is empty…like the husband who gives his wife lavish gifts but never spends time with her…or Him. While most people find it difficult to immediately start giving 10% of themselves to God, it is important to try to strive to make that an eventual goal. Maybe, a good gauge to start is by giving at least one hour’s wage to the Lord each week. After all, isn’t it the Lord that provides for your needs now?
Yes…it is wisdom to plan to save for: an emergency fund, short term needs and long term needs. But always make a provision for God first. Allow Jesus Christ to be Lord of your checkbook, too! What amount of the day do you currently give to God in prayer? How do you show Him that you love Him above all things? What are some ways in which you might be able to share more of your gifts (talents) with the Church and your neighbor? Are your priorities really in the right place…if you are too busy for the Lord…your priorities are definitely in the wrong place.
Whenever politicians, bureaucrats or boards want more tax dollars, the common (and successful ploy) is to say: “We need it for the children,” or “It’s for the sake of the children,” or “How can we deny an opportunity for the next generation?” And, like I wrote…it is very successful…though too often proven to be rooted in emotional response rather than a reasoned response. However, when I require that the WHOLE FAMILY attend Mass for the sake of the children…everything turned upside down. One would think I am asking to destroy the next generation…rather than to save it. And, this is the very point Jesus teaches us in this week’s Gospel: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
What is it about the Mass that is such a problem? Or, better said, Why go to Mass? This is a question so many more Catholics who do not go are asking. Some experience a dissonance between church teachings and their choices (birth control, divorce and remarriage, sexual mores, etc.); others say church seems irrelevant to daily life (citing church scandals or remember being made not to feel welcome). Some say that they have little time for church: ‘with two working parents’, ‘kids in organized sports’, ‘caring for elderly parents’ (and many, many more). They feel a need for time to themselves. Some say Mass is boring, feel let down when they don’t get the euphoria some claim after worship at an entertaining, non-denominational church. (Matthew Kelly’s The Dynamic Catholic and CD’s does a good job exposing these ideas…and how to cast off the temptations the devil uses to distract us.)
While at first understandable, upon closer examination a good number of these are poor excuses. Worship is not so much looking at how church relates to our lives but how we relate to God. The purpose of our worship is a gradual, steady transformation…all of us hearing God’s Word and receiving the Eucharist…being slowly, steadily fashioned into other Christs. It’s not all about expecting good feelings inside after Mass or getting winning numbers for the lottery from the hymn-board!
When I hear somebody say: “I’m too busy to go to church, I work three jobs, etc.” it might be better paraphrased as: “I have better, other things to do.” They sound a bit like the rich young man, invited to follow Jesus…sadly walking away when invited to be a follower because he had too many things and other things to do. Disappointed, Jesus looked at him with love! Our worship requires engagement and participation. It takes some effort. It is a commitment.
We need to do a better job of attracting and truly understanding those who care to criticize, but need also to invite a certain self-criticism that recognizes ‘reasons’ for the poor excuses they often are. Worship is not about me and God; it is first about God, then about the best me. I can be because of God. We come not to get something out of it; but, to let Jesus put His love into us (a love that goes far beyond a good feeling, that produces goodness in living, doing justice, walking humbly, loving tenderly as God has planned).
As He was ascending to the glory of the Father, Jesus said: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). And He also taught us: “Amen, amen, I say to you: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53). He fulfills both of these promises by remaining with His Church and giving Himself to us in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
“The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend. In the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of Our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained….It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament…The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of bread does not divide Christ.” (cf. CCC 1374, 1375, 1377)
“The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: ‘Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly His body that He was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, that this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood. This change the holy Catholic Church fittingly and properly calls transubstantiation.’” (CCC #1376)
In the Most Blessed Sacrament we behold the same Christ now worshiped in glory by the angels and saints: Come, let us adore Him!