Many know that I was assigned to St. Sebastian Church back in Connecticut when I was a deacon. It was a predominately Italian parish. (And, yes there is a difference.) I would visit and bring Communion to an elderly Italian lady who lived to be 102 years old. Every time I visited her one of the first questions out of her mouth with her heavy Italian accent was: “How’s your mother?” That was quickly followed by these words from her: “Nobody loves you like your mother!” Today we celebrate Mother’s Day. It is a special day to do what we actually do each time we see or think about our mothers – to give thanks for the life they have given us and their continued maternal love. Whether we are children or adults, whether our mothers are living or deceased…we have the gift of life because they carried us in their wombs and nurtured us as children.
There is another Mother I honor every day as well – Mary. As He was dying on the cross Jesus said to St. John and to all of us: “Son there is your mother.” Jesus knew the love of His Mother. She conceived Him miraculously in her womb through the power of the Holy Spirit. As she anxiously searched for a place to give Him birth which we know was a stable, she had the joy of seeing the wonder and awe of the shepherds who responded to the announcement to them by the angels and went and saw the newborn Christ Child. What wonder she must have felt when the Magi came, who prostrated themselves in gratitude, and offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Forty days after His birth, she and St. Joseph presented Him in the temple. There she heard the heartfelt words of the old man Simeon, who recognized the gift of God Himself in the child Jesus. He also foretold the sorrow His Mother Mary would experience when he said: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35) Like every mother, Mary knew the joy of her Son’s goodness and love for herself and others. She also knew the pain when He was rejected. But her love for her Son did not make her bitter, angry, or doubtful when others attacked, betrayed, or abandoned Him. Just as she trusted that she would conceive Jesus in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, so she stood at the foot of the cross with hope and trust in God.
We also have the blessing of belonging to and being part of Holy Mother Church. As Catholics we are a living, life-giving part of the Body of Christ on earth. Once we receive life from the Church we make the Church a powerful source of love, hope, healing, and assistance as individuals and as a community of believers. On a local level in the parish, most are fed weekly by God’s Word and Presence at Mass. (Some are able to be nurtured at our daily Masses.) When we fail because of human weakness and sinfulness, we are renewed, refreshed, and forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance. People who are sick or going into the hospital for surgery or other medical procedures are anointed with the oil where Jesus and His healing presence are encountered in the Sacrament of the Sick. We celebrate weddings, joining couples together in a bond of love that mirrors Jesus’ love for the Church. At funerals where we come together in sadness, compassion, love, and hope to pray for those who have died and to pray for and with their families and friends. We educate our children in the religious education programs. The Treasure Hut in Hoven reaches out to so many people who have a great number of different needs. Yes, Holy Mother Church is a powerful source for nourishment to thousands of people because together we are a Parish Family.
I wish all mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. May God bless you for the life, love and goodness you have so generously showered upon us. Along with the Blessed Virgin Mary…you are signs and sources that encourage all of us to be good, loving, generous, life-giving members of Holy Mother Church.
This weekend we celebrate the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings this weekend focus on loving God and loving Neighbor. The First reading from Leviticus focuses on Moses teaching the people to love your neighbor as yourself. In Paul’s Letter to the Corinthian’s, he reminds the community that they are God’s temple and are to be holy and helpful. In today’s Gospel of Matthew, we continue reading the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus calls his followers to be whole and complete. God cautions us to not take revenge or harbor grudges.
If we are dealing with a misunderstanding, holding a grudge with a family member, co-worker, classmate, fellow parishioner, priest (or bishop), let us let go of the negativity. You know: Let Go, and Let God.
We are invited to remember our baptismal call and spread the light of Christ around us. Let us give “light” to those around us searching for God in their life.
Since our Lord’s words about marriage and the afterlife are so mysterious, I share this reflection for marriage preparation with you. I begin with a short quote from PJPII’s Theology of the Body. It’s title: “Two kinds of solitude”.
We must read the narrations of Genesis in a wider context, which will allow us to establish a series of meanings of the ancient text to which Jesus refers to in Matthew 19 (in the beginning it was not so). Today, we will reflect on the meaning of man’s original solitude. …It is important to note that when…[God] speaks the words about the first man, ‘Adam, in Hebrew, he is defined as “’is” (the Hebrew word for mankind or human nature in general, not as male, the opposite of female. So God’s words about man’s solitude are in reference to the solitude of “man” as such, or “man” as in all of mankind and not just to that of the male. (cf. PJPII Message of Oct 10, 1979)
My CCD students will remember me talking about this in class. But, allow me to unpack this insight of Pope John Paul II. The story of creation has two senses of the human experience of solitude. We are all aware of solitude, but we miss a great insight of the Bible if we equivocate this solitude of Adam with our universal feeling of being alone.
We can all feel lonely when we are separated from our friends. We can feel alone when we are away from our loved ones. And almost every single person feels a sense of loneliness that yearns for the companionship of a person of the opposite sex. People preparing for marriage rejoice in a new found friendship that heals this radical sense of loneliness. It is part of the excitement of thinking about the future and feeling that you have solved one of life’s great problems. You rejoice because you can look towards your future and feel that you will never be alone again. If you’re a John Denver fan, it puts the beauty in the lines of that love song: “Come let me love you, let me give my life to you, let me drown in your laughter, let me die in your arms.” What can be more wonderful? What can be more life giving? Right? Well, almost right.
The Pope is wisely asking us to take the two meanings of scriptural “solitude” very seriously. Indeed, when a man falls in love with a woman, he conquers one aspect of his human “being alone”, his solitary existence. But the Pope points out that ‘Adam, as he lived in the Garden of Eden before Eve is created, represents all of us, male and female.’ Adam is in paradise with God. Man/woman can be solitary without the romantic anxiety of not having a human lover. Man/woman, in the garden before a spouse is created is alone but not lonely because he has God, his Creator to love. There is therefore a solitude defined, as “man without God” just as real as “man without woman”. It is a kind of loneliness that is not overcome even by the coming together in marriage. This is at the heart of the very common problem of feeling lonely even in marriage. This is why, everyone who marries, should realize, that there is a loneliness that cannot be “cured” by marriage alone. There is a loneliness that can ONLY be “cured” by participating in God’s Trinitarian love.
The months of May and October are recognized as the “Months of Mary”. October is specifically for Mary and the Holy Rosary. It is so fitting that God chose a woman to be such a key part of the functioning of His church. It is so fitting because family is such a key to everyone’s life. Praying for the intercession of Mary has been a part of my religiosity ever since I could find myself in school dedicated to Our Lady. (And, to make it clear, I never, ever thought I was praying to some other god or the fourth person of the Blessed Trinity.) So for someone like me, it takes a certain amount of meditation to get my head around those Christians who reject devotion to Mary. But the older I get, the more I’m convinced any anti-Mary sentiments have their roots in the Evil One, who does everything possible to keep the adopted children of the Father away from Mother Mary. Mary’s purity and mother’s love is an example for us…ranks right up there with Our Lord’s suffering is an example for us. This seems pretty obvious. What is not so obvious is the reality of vast quantities of us Catholics, who may not be (as the saying goes) “pure as the wind driven snow”…but are deeply fond of Mary’s charm. This is, I believe what confounds Protestant Christians.
I realize that these “separated brethren” like to engage in all sorts of scriptural gymnastics (like St Paul’s declaration that there is only one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ). But when you get right down to the logic of one’s heart it comes down to one’s coming to terms with purity of mind and body. Even one Hail Mary, reverently prayed has the power to bring a heart to terms with the tumultuous questions of purity. Over the years I’ve seen many brides offer their bouquet of flowers at Mary’s Altar. In a few of these beautiful people I have seen a genuine rebirth of innocence with a renewed appreciation of purity. (How unfortunate, that more young grooms do not join their brides in devotion to Mary.) How spiritually impoverished are those Christians who can’t or won’t open their hearts to Jesus’ Immaculate mother.
This being said, I throw my two cents into the top news story of the week. How should America respond to the wars in the Middle East (Jesus’ and Mary’s homeland)? The question debated is: “do we bomb or not?” Those who say bomb want to bomb because such evil doers must be taught a lesson. Those who say, don’t are saying we should have nothing to do with that fight. I disagree with both voices. I do not think we should indiscriminately “carpet” bomb BUT I do believe we should teach them a lesson, a very important lesson. In the simplest of terms we should say, “We very much want to help this whole area of the world … but until the Islamic culture that dominates this region shows a sign of reform regarding the equal dignity of women and a strong change in its violent treatment of Christian churches we are powerless to help. We could bomb one side or both sides, but both sides have demonstrated that dying for their version of their faith is the price they are willing to pay for the chance to dominate the region. What is needed is a more permanent lesson. Until we hear something to this effect: “ I’m afraid we the United States of America, as well as most of the rest of the world can only stand by painfully as your culture self destructs.”
Of course this kind of response could only come from a national leader who believes that our nation is guided by God who expects us to be a nation that teaches other nations God’s ways. Our power should be army strong…but our lessons need to be morally strong as well. Only by the grace of God, and a mother’s perfect love for her children, can hearts be moved.
This week’s parable is so familiar that it has given an expression to the English language. To say that a certain person is a “Good Samaritan” is to say that he or she helps people in need. (Here in South Dakota, some will think of senior assisted living and housing.)
The Samaritan who stopped and helped the man who had fallen in with the robbers was also, in a broader sense, a “good neighbor.” Surprisingly the bad guy was a Levite, a leader of the Jews while the good guy was “one of those people”…a foreigner! The Jews and the Samaritans mixed like oil and water. Some of the early Fathers of the Church put another spin on the story. They saw in the gentleman, who we refer to as the Good Samaritan, the image of Jesus Christ Himself. (A person Who is the very definition of an alien – moving from one world into our world.) In other words, they thought that the most unlikely person represents for us the most likely person to help. And help us God the Son certainly did. The human race had really been messed up by sin. Sin had stripped us of our dignity as human beings. It had robbed us from the grace of God the Father. It has beaten us up so badly that we were all like the victim in the parable, left half dead. The Christ lifted us up not on a donkey, but on His own shoulders. He brought us into the Catholic Church so that we could be cared for until He returns in glory on the day of resurrection. And so we know that the Lord will remain with His Church until the end of this world.
Through the ministry of the Church in Baptism Jesus heals the wounds of our sins, restores for us a life of grace, and gives us the dignity that is ours as children of God. In Confirmation God the Son strengthens that life of grace within us through the coming of God the Holy Spirit. Jesus confirms our identity as children of God and heirs of heaven. Our Lord comes to us in His Church through word and through the sacraments. He gives us the Sacred Scriptures. And He gives us His Own Body and Blood in the Eucharist as our nourishment.
Jesus proved Himself to be a good neighbor, more than just someone who lives in our proximity. He has made us part of His Mystical Body, the Church. In Him, only, can we continue in our life of grace. In this week’s second reading we see the Christ as the Head of the Body. As we continue on our journey that is this life, sin will continue to stalk us, waiting for an unguarded moment when it can attack us in our weakness. But we need never be alone in our struggle. It is important that we embrace the lesson of the responsorial psalm: “Turn to the Lord in your need and you will live.” When we turn to the Lord we will realize that He is neither too mysterious nor too remote for us. Jesus, the Christ, is more than our foreigner neighbor. He is our Good Samaritan.
“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.
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.