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Monthly Archives: September 2017

TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-17Once again, this week’s readings invite us to consider the ways of God’s justice and mercy. He teaches His ways only to the humble, as we sing in today’s Psalm. And in the Epistle today, Paul presents Jesus as the model of that humility by which we come to know life’s true path. We can only come to God, to serve in His vineyard, the Church, by having that same attitude as Christ. Israel’s leaders in their vanity, they presumed their superiority—that they had no further need to hear God’s Word or God’s servants.

Jesus asks yet another question— “What do you think?”—and then launches into a parable about two sons. When their father asks the sons to work in the vineyard, one son says something like, “Sure! I’ll get right on that!” But he doesn’t follow through in the end How often have we made a promise or a commitment that, for whatever reason, we couldn’t keep? But the focus of the parable is on the other son—the one who, unlike his brother, initially says he won’t help but winds up doing so in the end, regardless of what initially prevented him, the son eventually accepted his father’s invitation to go to work in the vineyard.

At its core, this parable is the pattern of our life with God. No matter what we’ve done, or what may have initially prevented us, God is always extending an invitation to us. We are constantly being drawn into a new place—to new depths of faith, to a new place.

No matter if this is the first time we’ve ever heard the Gospel, or if we’ve been faithful Christians for decades, this parable lays bare one fact: God isn’t finished with us yet! There’s no such thing as a retired or part-time disciple of Jesus! But here’s the thing: life with God is always forward-looking, always calling us out of the past and present and into something new. To live we must be willing to leave the past behind—no matter how comfortable or familiar and turn toward the future, complete with all its uncertainties and questions and anxieties. And make no mistake: that’s hard!

The Chief Priests and the elders of Jesus’ day, had quite a bit invested in the status quo. Leaving the past behind meant forfeiting their claims to power and position, which had become their entire identity. Stepping into life with God meant leaving all of that behind, in favour of a future they couldn’t predict and couldn’t control.

And, then there were the tax collectors and prostitutes, whose past was marked by derision and servitude; of being treated as things rather than as persons. For them, God’s future brought new life!

This is the essential question that every single one of us must faithfully discern: Is God calling us out of our past or present circumstances, into something new?

The truth is, sometimes the answer to that question is unsettling. After all, for as hopeful and encouraging as the future might seem, it’s always uncertain. At least we know our past, even if it is limited.

As people of faith, we are called to hold that tension between the certainty and comfort of our past and the uncertainty and discomfort of God’s future. We’re called to ask ourselves how our past has been allowed to determine our future, how it has restricted our ability to live faithfully, and to consider where it is that we find life and joy and peace, versus where we find resentment and fear and death.

We’re called to ask these questions of our communities of faith, too. How have our churches become entrenched in the structures and strictures of the past? How does doing the same old thing because we’ve always done it that way cut us off from new and life-giving possibilities? What parts of our common life together need holding onto, and what needs letting go?

But, one final word of caution: when we ask these questions from fear and anxiety—wringing our hands over what our future or our church’s future will be—these questions bear little transformative power. But if we ask them from a place of discernment and faithfulness, we can be sure that as we do this hard and holy work, God will be with us on the journey. He is the food we need for our strength. He is our way, our truth, and our life.

And in the end, we will find life more abundant!

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Posted by on September 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-9In St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus moves from Galilee to teach in Judea where he is sought out by great crowds.

The parable of the five o’clock people tells of how fragile we are as humans and how boundless God’s love truly is. Many of us have heard a sermon every year on this parable. On the surface, the parable of the workers in the vineyard appears to be an offense to common sense. Sometimes it focuses on the anger and resentment of the people who showed up earlier in the day, sometimes it looks at why the people showed up at five, and other times we hear about how grace is given freely to all simply because they showed up. All of these ring true.

There is something quite fragile about humans; our fragility shows up when we baptize babies and ask their families to protect them from evil and for the community gathered to look after them. Each of us is born with the love and hope of God implanted in our hearts; unfortunately, we are born into a fragile and broken world. At baptism, each of us had people promise to look after us as we grew into the person God imagined us to be in the midst of our communities.

This is the world of the parable: good and fragile people doing their best, wondering why some got more for doing less. What we and the workers forget is that God is not like us. God’s ways, however, are far from our ways, as we hear in today’s First Reading. And today’s readings should caution us against the temptation to resent God’s lavish mercy. God is better and more loving than we can imagine being. God looks at the workers and says, “I love you regardless of what time you showed up for work, I’m just glad you showed up.” God’s love is not conditional on our behaviour, God just wants us to show up and work. It is a reminder that we need to be grateful for help in the work God has given us to do, regardless of what time that help arrives. The work is often about being a sign of love to the world, and finding ways to love others even if they don’t agree with us, look like us, or behave the way we want them to… or show up first thing in the morning for work.

One of the best ways we can be signs of love in the world is to say thank you. Gratitude is an expression of love. When someone does something kind for us, regardless of whether they had to or not, it is a reminder of the goodness in them meeting the goodness in us—and the natural response to kindness is gratitude. Gratitude is extraordinarily important because it is a way for us to remember the goodness in others and ourselves—but still, it is easy to forget to be grateful. Here we find Jesus telling a parable that is about how much we are loved.

The parable reminds us that although God owes us nothing, he offers abundantly and equally. We are occasionally tempted to think that our own actions deserve more reward, more of God’s abundant mercy, than the actions of others. But God’s generosity cannot be quantified or partitioned into different amounts for different people. When we think that way, we are trying to relate to God on our terms rather than to accept God’s radically different ways. The landowner says to the early laborers, “My friend,” (which would likely NOT be a term used by an employer to a labourer); “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go.” In other words, you have my love…. it’s yours for the taking!

In Jesus’ story, we don’t know how those who worked only one hour reacted to being paid a full day’s wage, but I imagine they too were mystified by the goodness of the landowner. Hear God’s reassurance: I love you. I have plenty for everyone and I will give you the provision you need. All of us, no matter who we are or what our lot is in life, are welcome at this table. As you come forward with your arms stretched out to receive the Eucharistic meal, be assured that whether you’re in the front of the line or at the end, there is an abundance and we will all be fed Our task is to continue working in His vineyard. As Paul says in today’s Epistle, let us conduct ourselves worthily, struggling to bring all men and women to the praise of His name.

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-9Today’s Gospel reading directly follows last week’s Gospel in which Jesus taught the disciples how to handle disputes and conflict within the Christian community. The story has two scenes: first, inside the throne room of a powerful king; second, just outside in a palace corridor. The story tells of two worlds: the world as we know it, and the world as God wants it. The throne room changes in a moment from the world as we know it to the world as God wants it. That palace corridor, however, starts out as the world we know but fails to become the world as God wants it.

The throne room, starts out as the world we know. It’s a world of calculation and control. The king is reviewing accounts, and a servant, owes him big time. The servant gets called but that’s only a formality. No way can this servant pay back what he owes. Financially, he’s dead.

Everybody there in the throne room thinks his appearance is a mere formality. Everybody, that is, except him. Upon hearing the sentence imposed on him he drops to his knees crying out for mercy. He makes promises he knows he can never keep. This is a world of calculation and control.

Well, in the story Jesus tells, something unexpected happens. Against the advice of his accountants he forgives the servant his astronomical debt.

There we are, my friends. If the cross of Christ and the Christian life mean anything, this is what they mean: By forgiving us the sins we cannot make up on our own, God dies to the world of power and control.

This is a part of Christianity that is scandalous, shocking, and hopeful. It’s good news, for anyone who even suspects that God is the Great Bully in the Sky. God is dead to that sort of world, the world of calculation and control and so are we.

What happens next to the servant in the story? His learning curve is, well, pathetic. He runs into somebody who owes him something. There in the palace corridor, he grabs the fellow by the collar and tries—unsuccessfully—to shake the money out of him. Welcome back to the world of calculation and control.

This second debtor pleads for mercy. You’d think it would be a no-brainer for the forgiven debtor to remember that as of a few moments ago, he was dead to the world of calculation and control and that he should act accordingly in dealing with his debtor out there in the corridor. You’d think that mercy received would result in mercy given.

But that doesn’t happen. He acts out the world of calculation and control. He refuses to show mercy, he fails to help his debtor die to a world of oppression. Instead, he’s ready to send him into the nearest prison. The palace corridor remains in the world of calculation and control.

Here we get to the heart of why forgiveness is hard. We conveniently forget—or maybe we’ve never acknowledged—that we are forgiven sinners, debtors who have been let off the hook. We don’t admit that the king has dropped dead to the world of power and control so that we might have another chance, and another, and another. We don’t realize that if faith means anything, it means we’re free from this world of control and calculation, and all it claims, thanks to a king who dies for us.

Christianity states that forgiveness is necessary. It is not an option, but an imperative. Christianity also makes it clear that forgiveness is hard. It is costly. The one who forgives dies to the world as we know it to usher in the world as God wants it.

His death brings with it a challenge to the one forgiven. By accepting and passing on forgiveness, such a person bears witness to the scandalous truth that, yes, everybody is a sinner, and everybody is forgiven by a mercy that is God-sized.

It’s easy to forget to forgive. That is why we gather Sunday by Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. Here we present time after time, through prayerful word and action, how the king died on a cross, our debt has been paid in full. Not because we deserved it, but because God decided the possibility of a relationship is more important than allowing sin to prevent it. How we respond is up to us. God’s desire is that we use our forgiveness as a beginning point for a new and healthy relationship with God and with one another.

My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Saviour has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace

 

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Reflections for Our Lady of Sorrows

2It would not be an exaggeration to say that Mary is the most blessed, privileged, person to come from the hand of God. She was, after all, chosen to be mother to his only-begotten Son. Imagine her delight in raising the Savior of the world, challenging though the job must have been! Throughout her life, Mary pondered and treasured the work of God and rejoiced to see his plan unfold through her.

Yet Mary also knew the deepest of human sorrows. Just days after her son was born, the prophet Simeon told her, “A sword will pierce your own soul” (Luke 2:35). These words certainly could have discouraged Mary from embracing the role that God had laid out for her—or at least drained her of all enthusiasm for her calling. But they didn’t. Instead, Mary embraced them, pondered them, and continued to live by faith in God.

Mary certainly suffered, but she was also a woman of joy and hope. Her intimacy with God was a source of consolation and trust that could withstand any tragedy. Mary is called Our Lady of Sorrows not because of the bad things that happened to her but because of the way she joined her heart to the heart of God. As she saw her son endure the hatred of some of Israel’s religious leaders, as she saw his disciples abandon him in his moment of need, as she saw him arrested, tried, and put to death—in all these things, Mary grasped how deeply the Father’s heart was aching with love for a wayward people. Hers were the sorrows of an intercessor who knew the suffering in the world and longed to see all people turn to Jesus for healing and salvation.

As she stood at the foot of the cross, Mary’s heart was indeed pierced—not only by the sight of Jesus’ suffering but also by all the suffering in the world. Even now, as she intercedes with her Son in heaven, she is the mother of all those who suffer in any way. Even today, she continues to weep over all the crushing needs in this world. Like Mary, let us lift our hearts in intercession for all those who are lost or hurting.

Pray for us, O Most Sorrowful Virgin, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ Lord Jesus, we now implore, both for the present and for the hour of our death, the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Your Mother, whose Holy Soul was pierced during Your Passion by a sword of grief. Grant us this favor, O Savior of the world, Who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.​

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-9As Ezekiel is appointed watchman over the house of Israel in today’s first Reading, so Jesus in the Gospel today establishes His disciples as guardians of the new Israel of God, the Church. We find one of only three instances in which Jesus uses the word church in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus addresses personal conflict by urging people to resolve their differences directly first, and then, if necessary, to bring others into the discussion. Jesus’s mission is to create committed communities of believers that will witness God’s love to a battered and broken world.

There are some basic premises at work here: One is that Jesus teaches that God loves all God’s children and that our need to be right is not always helpful. The organization for families of alcoholics, Al-Anon, teaches this premise and reminds its members that all of us, including the alcoholic, have a Higher Power who is not taking sides. People can work out differences in community by listening as much as lecturing, by understanding as much as demanding to be understood. Another premise of Jesus is that healthy people are loving and primarily concerned about others. This is what God does when it comes to us. We certainly offend the Lord by our sins and failures. Yet God keeps reaching out to us. God never give up on us, that is why he sent his Son as our Lord and Redeemer. In many ways, we are keepers of our sisters and brothers. We have social responsibility in family and in neighbourhood. Jesus is saying something like that today. We have a responsibility for each other, for the common good. We teach by example and by love. St Francis taught “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”

Jesus does not envision the Church to be a place of contention and conflict. But we know stories of his disciples and from the Book of Acts that the Early Church experienced a lot of tension and disagreement, even among its apostolic leaders. However, as the church expanded into the Greco-Roman civilization in the West, it had to take on and embrace different norms and customs, as it does even today. The challenge for the Church will always be to find and implement new ways of proclaiming the Good News. When we are engaged in that enterprise, when we are more concerned about serving others than survival, there will be less conflict and more delight in the people that God sends to us and sends us to. Sunday’s Gospel challenges us never to give up when it comes to trying to restore relationships. We need to bind ourselves to the Lord’s way of dealing with hurts and to loose ourselves from the world’s way of anger, gossip, and resentment.

The passage from Matthew for this Sunday concludes with a well-known teaching: “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I will be in the midst of them.” This is always heard as a reassurance that God desires us to be in community, whether small or large. Being alone is not necessarily bad, but it can lead to isolation and arrogance. It is good to remind ourselves of the presence of Jesus among us all the time, in the heart and hearts of his people. The Divine Triune God is a God of relationships, a dynamic force that empowers our spirituality and grounds us in faith. the Father Creator, the Son our Brother, and the Spirit our energy, our strength and our truth. The Trinity models what our relationships are to be: fully in unity and desiring of diversity. This is all summarized in the two verse reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans. “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another…. Love does no evil to the neighbour; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

1-1Today’s First Reading catches the prophet Jeremiah in a moment of weakness. His intimate lamentation contains some of the strongest language of doubt found in the Bible. Following God’s call, he feels abandoned. Preaching His Word has brought him only derision and reproach. What Jeremiah learns, Jesus states explicitly in today’s Gospel.

Today’s Gospel continues the story that began in last week’s Gospel. Simon Peter was called the “rock” upon which Jesus would build his Church, and yet Peter continues to show the limitations of his understanding of Jesus’ identity. Now that the disciples have acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus starts to reveal that he expects to undergo some significant suffering at the hands of the powers that be. He shares that he expects to be killed. Jesus confides in them the outcome of his ministry. His disciples probably react in some of the ways you might expect, but it is Peter who pulls Jesus to the side and rejects these grim predictions. Immediately Jesus rejects Peter’s resistance to reality. “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus is not calling Peter ‘the devil’. Jesus is saying to Peter, ‘you’re tempting me as I was tempted at the beginning’, to give the whole thing up and preach magic and easy answers: I say now as I said then ‘Get behind me, Satan’. He’s saying to Peter, NO: don’t make my proclamation domestic and cosy and smooth, don’t take out the rough edges of reality.

Peter shows that he is no longer speaking based on the revelation from God but as a human being. Jesus then teaches all the disciples about the difficult path of discipleship: to be Christ’s disciple is to follow in his way of the cross. Peter could not yet understand what it meant to call Jesus the Messiah. It is unlikely that the other disciples understood any better.

The common view was that the Messiah would be a political figure, a king that would free Israel from Roman rule. This is perhaps what Peter envisioned when he was led to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. In this passage, however, Jesus is beginning to teach his disciples that he would be the Messiah in a different way. “Join the path on which I am walking,” Jesus seems to say. “Lose the preoccupation with the way you wanted or expected things to be, and get on board with reality!” Sometimes we need to hear the same message.

Indeed, following Jesus has, does, and will continue to lead us on a path of transformation. It is not, however, we who change the world, but rather God in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, who changes us.

God calls us out of our ideas and the more we follow Jesus, the more we read the gospels, and the more we pray and meditate on Jesus’ life, the more we will encounter those in need. Not only that, the more we seek God, the more God will lead us to face our enemies, face our fears, and face the challenge of risking everything for Jesus’ sake.

This is what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus. To follow Jesus is to go to the place we would not normally go, to follow a path that leads to the outsider, and to seek an encounter with the Living God. When we follow that path, we often find ourselves in intimidating circumstances, but God is with us, and where we find ourselves with God.

A group of tourists was gathered at the base of some cliff. A ranger was orienting them for a walking tour to some less accessible sites. The ranger said; “People, in the next two hours you will hike into a canyon, climb rope ladders with 300 rungs, and crawl through narrow passages on your hands and knees. If you have a heart condition, I don’t recommend your coming. Are there any questions?”

The group was silent, intimidated, many of them doubting they were up to the challenge. Finally, an excited 12-year-old girl’s hand shot up. Almost breathless, she exclaimed, “Do we really get to hike into a canyon and climb 300 steps on a rope ladder and crawl through rocks on our hands and knees? Is it true? Do we really get to?”

The ranger smiled, and responded, “Now that’s the spirit I’m looking for! Let’s go!” And off the group went.

Jesus is looking for some followers who are willing to endure any obstacle, any challenge, for the joy of following him. Yes, by the grace of God, we really do get to follow! And we already have God’s Spirit.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2017 in Uncategorized