CAMPUS PADRE Offers food for thought
The Twenty Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
In the second reading, St. Paul challenges us to be certain of our identity, by which we are strengthened to avoid becoming someone who fits the description found in the first reading! So, who are we? All of us here, in this house of God, who are about to receive communion… who are we? Those of us who will pray the Lord’s prayer and presumably mean it? Who are we? Are we children of darkness? Are we serving in the platoons of the enemy, at war with God? Are we unaware of the truth of what we believe and profess in the Creed?
OR, are we brothers and sisters who live for the Lord? The Lord who died for all, so that [we] who live might no longer live for [ourselves], but for Him who died and rose again on [our] behalf. 2 Corinthians 5:15 Are we people who embrace being creations who are made by God in the image and likeness of God? Are we people who, relying on God’s grace, are kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion; in imitation of our Lord? Are we children of God, of light and love, who know our own guilt and the debt we owe to Christ which we could never repay.
What if I said, no one leaves this Church today until they stop embracing hateful things and instead, choose life, choose to forgive. What if I said, no one gets to receive communion until they’ve opened their hearts to God, ready to give and receive forgiveness and really mean the words… “Lord I am not worthy, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.” What would you do? Who would you call? You might want to start with your spouse, and your kids who might be here with you… as you give the sign of peace and say those words…
During Mass, have you ever really considered the order of the parts? Particularly, the communion rite during the liturgy of the Eucharist. It begins with praying together as Jesus taught us… “Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (keeping in mind the words of Jesus who said, “If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But, if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.” Matthew 6: 12,14-15).
Then the Priest leads us in a concluding prayer which includes the petition, “grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress…” Followed by an invitation to offer each other a sign of that forgiveness which leads to unity and peace, to each other. This ‘sign of peace’ between us, is intended to demonstrate our unity with and love for one another. It's symbolically, and maybe for you in that moment, it’s very much really about the forgiveness that leads to reconciliation which gives rise to peace and effects unity, in the full spirit of Christ. Here, we are reminded of the words of Jesus' exhortation in, "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Matthew 5:23-24
"Christ is our peace, the divine peace, announced by the prophets and by the angels, and which he brought to the world by means of his paschal mystery," the 2005 circular letter on the ritual expression of the gift of peace at Mass, said. "This peace of the risen Lord is invoked, preached and spread in the celebration [of Mass], even by means of a human gesture lifted up to the realm of the sacred,” it continued. This exchange of peace comes after the consecration because it refers to the 'paschal kiss' of the risen Christ present on the altar, and it comes just before the breaking of the bread during which the Lamb of God is implored to gives us his peace.
Despite popular practice, especially among small groups and parishes, that sign of peace isn't about romantic affection, shaking as many hands as possible or high fiving your best buds. This is a profound moment in the liturgy after which we fall to our knees, recognize and adore the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, call upon his mercy, and then humbly acknowledge our weaknesses, our utter unworthiness and our absolute need for and dependence upon God to make us worthy.
Then, and only then, we approach the altar to receive the Lord in the Eucharist.
Yes, very powerful, if we are more like the merciful master and less like the other guy in the Gospel today. There are two big lessons about forgiveness in that Gospel. We are challenged to understand that there is to be no limit on the amount of times we forgive each other, because we ourselves have been forgiven a debt we could never repay. And let’s be honest… we’ve been forgiven by God probably more times than we could count.
We, as the children of God, are to reject an approach to our relationships which does nothing except produce death, pain, grief and the seeds for more of the same. Instead, being fully secure in the knowledge of being totally loved by God we realize that forgiveness and reconciliation aren’t really that difficult.
Some of us, will no doubt complain that this sort of attitude about forgiveness only breeds license in others. So, it’s good to acknowledge that although we must be always ready to forgive, we must also fight against sin. Forgiveness of the person, is not acceptance of the behavior. Nor is condoning unrepented sinful thoughts words and actions, expected. The Christian community ought not to fully receive a member who refuses reconciliation and healing of behavior that is contrary to our nature, to the truth and love.
The Twenty Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (Post delayed by Hurricane Irma)
When it comes to living in the imitation of Christ and remaining committed to responding to our call to holiness, St Paul is our guy in Scripture for explaining doctrine and giving instruction. The words in the letter to the Romans, today, are no different. Paul reminds of the law and strives to raise our understanding to see that law is the natural fruit of the kind of love we are to have for ourselves because of the love which God has for us, and that our love for others is then itself a reflection of the love which God has for each of us.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta explained Christian love, clearly when she addressed the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, in 1994. She told the political leaders of the United States that:
We are members of the family of God, a community of brothers and sisters who constitute the mystical ‘Body of Christ’ the Church. That’s a big deal. How we live community, must be expressive of our Eucharistic Communion. Cain, the son of Adam, once said in response to God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and God has spent our entire human history teaching us the answer to that question. Sending the embodiment of that answer in Christ, his beloved Son and pleading with us to listen to him. Christ, in word and action, unceasingly demonstrated what it means for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to live in accord with the two great commandments, to Love God and Love Neighbor. As Scripture says, “By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35) and “As often as you did/did not do it to the very least of my brothers and sisters, you did/did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:40,45).
God will allow us to suffer the consequences of choosing to live contrary to our nature, but first and foremost God desires reconciliation rather than punishment. God never ceases to say ‘Repent and believe’. So, God sends each of us as his ambassadors of love, to each other. “If two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where [even] two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.” Wherever Christians meet in truth and love, we are stronger, good things get done, God is glorified and people are saved. We are each other’s life line. I heard a story told by a pastor here in town which really exemplifies this point.
Love contains all other Christian obligations. “Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbor; I have to look carefully at the needs of my brothers and sisters. If I see them hurting themselves or someone else, that is my business. Which brings us to the first reading, “[If] you do not speak to warn the wicked man to renounce his ways, then he shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death.” I am my brother’s and my sister’s keeper. But not absolutely. “If, however, you do warn a wicked man to renounce his ways and repent, and he does not repent, then he shall die for his sin, but you yourself will have saved your life.” We do not help each other by turning a blind eye to behavior which is clearly unchristian. I have a responsibility to save my brother from sin, although not responsible for his salvation. The last choice will always be with him.
At stake is not only your own dignity as a human person (created in image of God), but also the dignity of the whole community to which you belong. Sin destroys unity. So—in order to achieve real unity—we must confront what causes division: sin. Peace in the world begins at home, it begins inside each one of us. By confronting the sin inside ourselves, and in the community around us, we work toward bringing the peace of Christ, to all the world.
The Twenty First Sunday of Ordinary Time
Today, the vast majority of the world isn’t at all interested in Jesus. But, the people around us, are interested in who we are! Essential to our own identity, is the answer to the Gospel question we hear today. Who is Christ to you?
Today’s First Reading is a Scriptural foundation for, and helps us to understand what Christ meant when he invested Peter with his authority, represented by the imagery of the keys. We see examples of this throughout history, as Kings invested their authority in trusted and faithful servants. We see it in our own Military, in the sense that the President is the ‘Commander in Chief’ and his generals act with his authority, trusted to be faithful to the Commanders desires. We see the principle at work in our places of employment and in our homes. All of us, understand what it means to be invested with the authority of a superior.
God the Father chose Peter as the one to whom would be revealed this otherwise incomprehensible truth about Jesus. Jesus readily recognized the Fathers choice and affirmed it in his own words. It is this moment in the life of Peter and the early Church, that makes Peter ‘first among equals’ results in ‘Petrine Authority’ and what we now call ‘the See of Peter. From that authority all Bishops derive theirs and subsequently all priests exercise their authority as a participation in the authority of the local Bishop and his successors. So, we then can say that all authority in the Church hierarchy flows from the ‘See of Peter’. When we speak of the Pope’s office, we speak of the Apostolic “See,” which means seat. Aided by the Holy Spirit, when the Pope makes a doctrinal declaration regarding faith and morals that all Catholics are to believe, we say he’s speaking ex Cathedra (from the chair). All these things are represented by the Chair of St. Peter. The chair in the sanctuary, from which the Priest presides, is the symbol of his authority, through the Bishop to the Pope, the Petrine ministry that watches over the unity of faith and love in the Church.
This authority in the Church is substantially different from secular authority. Ours is authority in service. In service of the Truth and in service to the people. In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that a great treasure and responsibility has been entrusted to Peter and his successors. The Father gave authority to the Son, who then shared it with Peter. The focus was to protect and to pass on the treasures of God “the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.” Our Lord entrusted Peter and his successors with what we call today the deposit of faith. Our treasure is the truth about God, about who Our Lord is and what he said and did, about the path to holiness and happiness. The greatest treasure the Church watches over and communicates is the truth about who Jesus is which reveals the truth of who we are. The Son was revealed divinely to Peter by the Father, through which revelation the Son was then able to reveal to Peter the truth about himself. Peter will spend a significant amount of time through to the passion of Christ, his ascension and into the early years of the Church, deepening his understanding of these revelations and maturing in his ability to embrace, appropriate and live their truths.
While recognizing the above as true, good, beautiful and essential parts of our faith and history… we cannot deny the humanity of Peter and the very real difficulties he faced. That divine revelation did not immediately make him perfect as a man. Peter’s answer points us all toward the treasure of God that leads us to be able to both understand and to receive; the truth about Christ and about ourselves. As well, just like Peter, we too continue to grow in understanding of these unfolding revelations, and in our ability to embrace, appropriate and live the truth.
We also have to recognize, because we are not blind to our history, both distant and recent, that God did not choose to rely on perfect human beings in order to ensure that ‘the gates of hell would not prevail’. Rather, God chose the weak and the broken. God chose to offer everything necessary for their healing and perfection. God never was and never is, surprised by the unfaithfulness of the chosen… God never desires their unfaithfulness. The promises of God aren’t dependent upon the absolute faithfulness of one person or several persons, although the fidelity of all the children of God would vastly change everything. Unimaginably so.
It isn’t Peter himself who is important in this story, it’s the choice of Peter, by Christ. The choice of a man who would even deny Christ. Christ affirms that there will always be a ‘Peter’ and that that man will always be first among his brother servants and their chosen co-workers. That God will never cease to raise up from among his children those whom he calls to this succession of apostolic servants, alter Christus’. Though some may one day deny or betray, the will always be those who truly, ‘become what they touch’. So, in truth, God ensures that “the gates of hell shall not prevail”. The enemy may tempt, torment, torture and take down individual foot soldiers, but will never succeed in killing the Church, the ‘Body of Christ’.
Only faith could have led Peter to say what he did and only original sin could have led him to do what he did. Only faith could have led Peter to repent and only God’s love shown in mercy through forgiveness could have raised him up again. Peter came to understand, that all meaning comes from knowing the truth of the revelation, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and to become the person who was able to die for that truth.
Peter was the rock, the foundation of the community which carried the truth in the name and the authority of Jesus to the whole world. On him, together with his Apostolic companions the Church was built and stands firm in existence today, with you and I as ‘living stones’.
We know ourselves to be sinners. We know God calls us to holiness and that God provides us with what we need to become ‘perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect’. We know that God keeps promises. With that in mind, we must also stand firm in faith and knowledge that no matter the challenges faced from the enemies work among us, inside and outside the ‘Body of Christ’ and the sins committed, that threaten the Church and weaken the body… under NO circumstances will the gates of hell prevail. NONE.
Now, let’s each and every one of us ‘go forth and sin no more’, so that which we cannot imagine, will come sooner to be!
There is no preached audio recording this week
The Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalms 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
Contrary to many ‘theology light’ interpretations of these Scriptures, this is not a lesson in how the mind of Jesus was changed by this woman, and suddenly he realized that salvation should be extended beyond the chosen people. This is not a story of how Jesus the ‘racist’, ‘ethnic purist’ had his heart melted and his understanding changed by a really nice Canaanite who was suffering terribly because of the suffering of her daughter. This is not a story of how surprising it is that a woman in a gentile women in a pagan culture somehow came to have faith and be a disciple of Christ, before Christ got there. It’s also not a story of how Jesus tested the woman to see if she was worthy to be heard and given what she was asking for.
First and foremost, this encounter between the woman and Jesus, is an affirmation that God’s love and mercy is never withheld from someone who, although they may not be able to fully understand their desire and what moves them, is genuinely seeking God, seeking truth, and who are open to grace as they demonstrate that hallmark of faith, self-sacrificing love and humility. It is also a reminder of a particular law for the Jews. The interaction between Jesus and the woman is very much a word play that speaks to the expectation that Jews will not glean their own fields after the harvest but instead, leave that part of the harvest for the ‘outsider’, the ‘foreigner’. In Leviticus chapter 23 verse 22 we read, “When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God.’” When we consider this encounter, in light of Leviticus and that this event takes place soon after the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 and shortly before the miracle of the feeding of the 4000… the beauty of this story becomes much more evident!
The woman, having found Jesus, pushes her way into the crowd and cries out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” She refers to Jesus according his proper titles of ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’. Jesus didn’t turn toward her right away, but he could not help but hear in her cries what his heart most yearns to encounter in others, self-forgetful love and humility. She was so concerned for her daughter, that she was willing to make a humiliating public spectacle of herself. The life of her daughter is at stake and she won’t give up, as she continues to cry out, “Lord, help me,”. Jesus breaks his silence, saying, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Undaunted, the woman replies: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” When Jesus hears this answer which immediately points to the Jewish law, he says, “Woman, great is your faith!” “Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed.
The power of God working in the hearts and minds of ‘man’, brings down the walls we build between us. Through actions of humble self-sacrificing love and prayers for peace and healing, let the power of God be unleashed to cast out the demons that oppress the people of the world.
The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
The Lord told Elijah to "Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by." Although God is sometimes present and acting in the big and powerful hard to miss ways, God seems to prefer to meet us in the quiet moments in which the Lord’s voice, like a “tiny, whispering sound” can be heard. It’s that voice which we all long to hear and find it almost impossible to hear because we have lost our peace to the noise and troubles of daily life. Elijah had lost his peace and God was decided to help restore it. It was in the quiet of creation, of Elijah’s being that he was enabled to encounter God and experience the restoration of peace which allowed him to recognize God speaking to him.
After having fed, taught and dismissed the crowds, Jesus “went up into the hills by himself to pray”. He heads to the place of the Father for some serious quality time alone. The disciples, meanwhile, are making their way across the lake. As Jesus prays and the disciples cross, time passes and in the deep of the night the winds become strong and the seas grow rough. Just at that point in the night before the dawn begins to break, they see the figure of a person walking on the lake and approaching them. They become terrified. “It is a ghost!” But, that familiar voice speaking familiar words calls out to them saying “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.”
When faced with difficulties and turmoil non-believers and believers alike, seek God. When faced with rejections and persecution, believers seek God. When full of fear, the disciple cries out to Jesus. Today’s readings can speak to us in many ways, such as when it convicts us of only resorting to faith and prayer as a last resort. But let’s focus instead on understanding God’s abiding peace and how essential prayer is for helping us never to allow that peace to be disturbed or destroyed.
Let’s allow God to remind us that there is never any need for fear and anxiety. Today’s readings remind us that living in God’s abiding presence allows us to remain in peace and that conversing with God in prayer should be our first instinct, at all times. In this way, we will succeed where Peter failed and always be able to see and hear what the own chosen people continue to miss. If we are to succeed where others failed, we must realize that prayer is a non-negotiable essential part of growing and maintaining strong relationships with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Prayer at times alone with God, and prayer at times with others such as when we gather together here in God’s house. Jesus quietly speaks and gently touches us every day. We can never miss it, if we remain in Him and He remains in us. The Holy Spirit helps us to remember what Jesus said to his disciples at the last supper, John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” He is the abiding source of peace for us in the turbulence of the world, our families and our own hearts.
If we don't take time to cultivate these relationships, chances are our peace, our confidence will be swept away by strong winds and rough seas of life and be replaced with fear, anxiety, doubts and feelings that God has abandoned us. We will fail to recognize the Lord when he comes to us on the seas of life, most especially when he comes to us in the Eucharist.
We need to spend time in personal prayer every day, to go up the mountain and into the enveloping stillness, alone with God. Shhh… can you hear it, the "tiny whispering sound" of his voice. We need to gather together and pray with each other, here on this mountain the house of God. Where Jesus gives himself to us in silence and peace; really present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the sacrament of the Eucharist - the ever-present safe harbor for our souls. When we receive Holy Communion, when we gaze upon the Host at Mass, it is a privileged moment of intimate, personal contact with our Lord. Christ, comes to us once again across the stormy seas of our concerns, worries, and weaknesses; welcome him. Proclaim "Truly, you are the Son of God."
Only when everything is still and quiet does Elijah hear the voice of God and receive the guidance he needs.
Feast of the Transfiguration
Due to technical difficulties, there will be no Preached Homily
Through this experience shared with Saints Peter, James and John, which was first and foremost an experience of prayer, the divine glory, the divine nature of Jesus is revealed. As if that wasn’t enough to convince them, and us, the Father speaks loud and clear! The Messiah is not just an incredible man; he is Son of God, he is God.
So, what does it mean that Jesus was ‘transfigured’? The idea of something, or in this case, someone being transfigured… is often mistakenly taken to mean that that person has been transformed. That the person or some aspect of the person has changed from being one thing into being another. Our confusion is understandable because in English the two words have often been used interchangeably. As well, the Greek word used by Saints Matthew and Mark to mean transfigured, has the same root as the word transformed and could be translated one way or the other. The confusion is compounded because of the continuing influence of Greek and Roman thought, myths and mysticism up to our own time in history. In the Greek and Roman world that influenced the earliest Christians, the idea of metamorphosis was common and was understood to mean you weren’t just changed in appearance, but that you were changed in what you are.
However, the Church has always resisted the confusion and insisted that the scripture ought to be translated to mean that Jesus was not transformed, but rather, he was transfigured. St. Luke, who did not use the same Greek word as Saints Mark and Matthew, used a word that more clearly affirmed that Christ was transfigured and not transformed. This was also true in the earliest translations of the scriptures into Latin. The evangelists used the words intending to mean that Jesus "transfigured" and not "transformed" to emphasize that this man was still identifiable as Jesus but also so much more than his humanity would allow to be seen.
The word "transfiguration" as it relates to Jesus, signifies a complete change of appearance which results in revealing his divine glory which his humanity served to veil. No aspect of Jesus became something substantially different nor was he changed into something which formerly he was not. Jesus is and was a body soul unity just as we are, but unlike us Jesus has two natures, each in their fullness. The divine nature of Jesus had been hidden, but on Mt Tabor that day, it was revealed to Saints Peter, James and John and they were blessed to be witness to this revelation. Jesus, fully divine and fully human stood before them, completely revealed, and their understanding of Jesus began to be transformed.
Encounters with God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit have a ‘transformative’ effect in as much as our thoughts and actions are changed, and these encounters as well as the continued graces which we receive, have a ‘transfiguring’ power. Our appearance can be changed as we become like living stones, images of Christ, salt and light reflecting the glory of the Lord. As we grow in holiness through our sanctification, we increasingly reflect that glory more brightly and more fully reveal that which is hidden. The divine. God.
Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
In the Gospel reading today the apostle Matthew speaks of the “Kingdom of Heaven”, which could be mistakenly thought to refer to life in union with God in heaven. But, Jesus is actually speaking about the here and now. The ‘Kingdom of heaven’, or as Saint Mark puts it, the ‘Kingdom of God’, represents the kind of world that God desires to see realized among us here on earth. So, when we break open these scriptures for deeper understanding, we learn that St. Matthew intends for us to properly understand the words of Jesus to mean that God desires all the children of God to live according to the way, the truth and the life of Christ.
God, having created within us knowledge of and desire for God, made us with the deepest desire to live and move and have our being in God. Our ‘highest good’ then, is to reveal within ourselves Christ, who is himself the revelation of God. In this way, we bring the reign of God into the world. Individually we are members of and collectively, united in the reign and rule of God, we are the mystical ‘Body of Christ’ the Church, which manifests the Kingdom of God on earth. We pray for this in the Lord’s Prayer – “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth – as it is in heaven…” This can only come about in so far as we repent, believe and grow in that holiness that allows us to go and sin no more.
This is what it means to be the ‘wheat’ referred to in today’s Gospel. Yet, this becoming the bread which we touch in the Eucharist, isn’t easy and God isn’t unaware of our weakness. Today’s first reading reminds us that God sees everything, even though we try to hide our sins. But it also reminds us that God’s just judgement can be outpaced by God’s grace… because God gives us plenty of time to seek forgiveness and that gives us hope. Jesus affirms this message in the parable of the weeds among the wheat, as he speaks of the wisdom and love of God which will not destroy the weeds while they are growing, but patiently waits for the harvest. While waiting for the harvest, God offers transformation to the ‘weeds’ into ‘wheat’ (insofar as they are seen to represent human beings), so that all may come to love and serve God in this world and be with God in the next.
Our hope is made firm in believing what St. Paul reminds us of in the today’s second reading. That for the sincere disciple of Christ, that which is borne in the depths of each of our souls at the moment of conception, is aided by God’s grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit within us at the moment of our baptism. The Holy Spirit whose groaning within us is so powerful to transform us, it is inexpressible. The Spirit is the cause of our sanctification, from the sacraments we receive to the prayers we say, to the righteous lives we [can] lead. Such is how, together, we become a bountiful harvest.
Although the coming of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, as the reign of God, might not be a neat and tidy process, it is the ultimate realization of the deepest desires of all human beings, and the Church as the ‘Body of Christ’ is the instrument by which the invisible within us becomes the visible Kingdom on earth.
Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his apostles: "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. Matthew 10:37-39 This week we are reminded that God doesn’t leave us on our own to make that journey toward greater holiness without the grace necessary. Just as God spoke last week of the rewards of faithfulness, this week God’s great mercy is shown to us in God’s willingness to walk with us and to lead us on our journey toward greater holiness, by the yoke of his teaching.
The peace, the joy, the consolation we so deeply desire is found in their truest form when we do as he asks, “Shoulder my yoke… and you will find rest… Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 Such a statement seems counterintuitive, if we are familiar with animal yokes. We normally think of a yoke as a heavy, burdensome and possibly painful piece of wood laid on the shoulders of Oxen. But actually, the Oxen become more powerful and exert less energy because of the yoke. They can pull the weight of the plow or cart much more easily, and adjustments can be made in order to compensate for one of the animals being weaker than the other. Now you have an image in your mind (and you can look at the pictures) of what it means for animals to be yoked together, which means you can imagine yourself being yoked with Jesus, pulling together. Where he goes, we go, pulling together and making everything in life so much easier.
Another way of understanding the image of the yoke is the way in which the Hebrews understood it, apart from farming and transportation. In rabbinic theology the yoke is a symbol of service and servitude which could be negative or positive, such as when the contrast is drawn between the "yoke of the kingdom of man" and "the yoke of the kingdom of heaven." We see this in the Jewish Avot, which is a tractate of the Mishna and composed of ethical maxims of the Rabbis. The Avot says, "Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of the Torah, they remove from him the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly concerns, and whoever breaks off the yoke of the Torah, they place on him the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly concerns" (Avot 3:5). In Avot 6:6 the phrase "bearing the yoke with one's fellow" means "sharing his burdens." This is what we hear Jesus talking about in today’s Gospel reading. He wants us to join him in his yoke, which he says is light and easy. It is light and easy because its God to whom we are surrendering ourselves. It is the yoke of Gods teachings which, if we remain united with God, make the challenges of life and discipleship much more bearable.
When we understand what it means to surrender and take on this yoke, then we realize that there can be no other way of living in true freedom and peace. We realize that this is what we are talking about when we proclaim that Jesus is our King, that he is a Prince of Peace, and more deeply understand how Jesus can be identified with the king in reading from the prophet Zechariah, “He will proclaim peace for the nations.” He is a king of peace, but not just in the sense of an external absence of violence but of a deep, inner peace.
The key to that inner peace is surrendering ourselves and receiving the yoke of Christ, to abandon life of the flesh and live life in the Spirit just as Saint Paul exhorts. “Brothers and sisters: You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you… if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” God calls for the total giving of self, as the only way to find one’s true self.
Whatever demands God might make of us, Jesus wants us to follow his example in the garden of his agony, when he said He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” And then, like him, to rise from our prayer with dignity and strength and face of the challenges. To be full of inner peace from having said that total ‘Yes’ to God. Peace comes when what I desire is what God desires. When God’s will and mine are in union.
Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: Second Kings 4:8-11, 14-16; Psalms 89:2-3, 16-17, 18-19; Romans 6:3-4, 8-11; Matthew 10:37-42
To love as God loves…
Jesus’ desire was to draw all into the Kingdom where everyone, in perfect mystical union with God, loves as God loves and does as God does. The fulfillment of that desire is dependent upon each one of us, because it requires conversion. The sad truth is that many reject Jesus’ invitation precisely because they have no desire to change. Such people are in our families, our places of work and indeed all around us. They need our prayers and our lived example of God’s love. Such people are also, in fact, you and I here today. If we consider the cost too high or inconvenient, we tend to reject the call to the Cross and the demands of conversion for those areas of our hearts and minds which we prefer to remain beyond God’s influence.
In the Gospel today, Christ goes to the core area of difficulty in relation to our complete commitment to him. That is, for even the most faithful of his disciples, having to choose between him and members of our family can be very difficult. Clearly, Jesus calls us to overcome our preference for familial attachments over him, because any person or thing that moves us to not choose Jesus first, is a choice which is not borne of ‘true love’. Rather than being moved by Gods definition of love, we are more likely moved by the fear of hurting or depriving ourselves or family members. To love as God loves, is to allow hurt to happen if, and when necessary. That’s the moment when love is tough for ourselves and for the other person, a moment when we are tempted to deny Christ. Love for Jesus must be greater.
Our possessions, dreams, family, and ways of thinking must come under the lordship of Christ. Living his way, according to his truth is the narrow path that leads to the fullness of life. We must be conformed to him through total transformation, therefore anything that gets in the way of total surrender to Christ, must go or take its appropriate place in our lives. Does that mean I stop loving or meeting the real needs of my family? No, but it does mean that there is a higher love, a higher calling, that must take precedence so that all other righteous responsibilities will be met according to Gods wisdom and providence.
Is to do as God does…
Although, neither this Gospel exhortation nor others, is meant to limit our acts of love to our brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is speaking in today’s reading specifically about his disciples loving and serving each other. To love as God loves leads us to do as God does. The extreme to which God will go, for love of us, was exemplified for all time at the place of the skulls, Golgatha. Jesus went to the extremes of love as he stretched out his arms, suffered, died and rose again. He tells us, “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me.”
The example of Christ who gave his life, is the image of excellence for Christian loving and doing in imitation of Him. The ‘universal call to holiness’ necessarily demands becoming increasingly excellent lovers. In order to help us to rise to that challenge, God has also given us the examples of the Saints who help us understand and believe that we can in fact achieve by grace, that to which we are called.
One of the great temptations of our time in history is to ‘love and do’ according to what is convenient. This breeds mediocrity of faith and action. We are all, in some way at some time, inclined to do only what we need to, to get by. This is true at work, at home, in our faith journey and in our active participation in and contribution to the life of the Church. Many of us have accepted a domesticated Gospel, which is to say, if Jesus teaches something that makes us uncomfortable, we try to take the sting out of it, twist it into something more acceptable or just ignore it. We water down its demands and create a less transformative and challenging Gospel.
You are all familiar with the five precepts of the Church, the basics points in order to be considered a ‘good catholic’, which can be reviewed in sections 2041-2043 of the Catechism. The fifth precept challenges us to help provide for the needs of the Church. In the first reading and in today's Gospel, Gods Word speaks about this precept. Jesus also promises, that even a small gift to support the mission of his Church, will not be forgotten. When we put our time, talents, and treasure at the service of his Kingdom, he will always make sure that we share in the benefits of that Kingdom. Obeying the fifth precept of the Church is an investment with both eternal and immediate rewards.
One concrete way to carry out this precept is through the biblical practice of tithing, which has its roots in the old testament. For us, this can and should involve intentionally discerning and deciding to give to the Church a certain percentage of our income – the first 10%, for instance. Whether that amounts to the widows mite, or more. But, tithing is just one possible way of fulfilling the fifth precept. Although the Church does exhort and expect us to financially support Christ’s mission, tithing or stewardship is also much more that the financial aspect. It is also up to each one of us to decide, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the other ways in which we can contribute through prayer, active service in various parish ministries that exist now or ministries that are yet to exist because you haven’t brought your divinely inspired ideas forward yet.
The Gospel calls us to evaluate all aspects of our lives in the light of this teaching. We are asked to reflect and to identify the areas of our thinking, acting and being where we have accepted a Gospel of mediocrity which does not challenge us to excellence, in both loving as God loves and doing as God does.
Neither be afraid, nor inspire fear!
That’s what Jeremiah faced because he chose to be faithful to God and the mission he had been given. The people, influenced by sinful desire and aroused to irrational emotionally driven reaction, eagerly waited for him to slip up, to make a mistake. Even today, lay and clerical leaders encounter this kind of opposition from both the secular world and their brothers and sisters in Christ. For pastors especially, the challenge of preaching the truth to others, can be very daunting.
We, in the Church of Christ, are not immune to this temptation. We witness this work of the enemy who inspires fear and opposition when there is a new Pope, Bishop, Pastor, Ministry leader, diocesan policy or parish initiative. The crowd, who previously seemed to be so genuinely loving, gathers and waits to rabidly cry ‘crucify him’. But we can avoid becoming guilty of this, if we all keep our focus on the Lord, as Jeremiah did. Healthy relationships with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit will overcome that fear and stir up the courage to follow as God leads.
Jeremiah lived in desperate times, yet he believed in God’s abiding presence. He shares with us his experience of being rejected because of the message, and allows us to recognize in him a kindred spirit when the task of faithful commitment seems overwhelming. He also offers us an example of how to deal with the opposition. He did not turn away from his ministry, but rather, obediently offered himself as a guide to the broken, fearful people who persecuted him and, trusted firmly, that God “rescue(s) the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!". Jeremiah was full of hope and trust in God. His confidence, even in the face of seeming failure should bolster all who, in whatever capacity, serve as ministers of God’s word.
There is a spiritual battle going on in this world, but, Jesus tells the apostles 3 times, not to be afraid. Today’s Gospel reading gives us insight into how Jesus wants us to engage in the battle which rages inside and outside of us. As the apostles are preparing for their first missionary journey, Jesus counsels them about the interior battle that Paul, in his preaching, will go on to frequently describe and focus on teaching others how to overcome. Paul, in the second reading, describes that interior battle which we all must come to terms with, as persecuted and persecutor. He celebrates salvation in Christ as a gift which forever liberates us from the influences of the enemy, death and separation from God, and points us to be open to the grace we need which comes through Christ. That grace not only sustains us in communion with him but with the Father as well
Jesus also assures the apostles and all who walk the way of Christ, in the truth of Christ toward the fullness of life in Christ. He assures us of the Father’s constant and careful attention and that Jesus will acknowledge, before his Father, all those who remain fearless and faithful. Jesus tells all of us to place our trust in God who cares for us, and to ‘fear’ only the one who tries to destroy our souls. The only fear we should have is of spiritual death: a life separated from God. Trusting God should embolden us, more than evil and disbelief in the world should intimidate us.
It’s true that in our weakness we have moments where we question whether the Lord really knows what He’s doing, understands what’s going on, realizes that we might be the wrong choice, or if he truly cares about us. But it’s also true that healthy relationship with God, hunger for righteousness, thirst for justice and desire for holiness… through Jesus Christ, is the remedy against such doubts arising. We are strengthened in the certain knowledge that ‘God so loved the world that he sent Jesus, his only son, to save us’ and that Jesus promised to be with us to the end of the age and send us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our lifeline and the Eucharist is our nourishment of grace for the strength to cling to that lifeline.
At the heart of this message, is God’s infinite love for us and our call to love as God loves. Our love is founded upon the God who cares for us and never betrays us. If we vigilantly put on the armor of God and remain in God’s love, nothing will separate us from his love. Great indeed is the confidence our Savior wants us to have in His care.
If we love as God loves, we will show our love in the way in which we affirm the value and dignity of all human beings, through our words and actions. No one is lost to God’s saving grace until death claims their body. No one is beyond God’s love. Neither the President nor Hillary, not the leaders or workers of Planned Parenthood, not a Pope you fear, a Bishop you distrust, a Pastor don’t want or family, friends, co-workers you don’t like. As the Catechism tells us in its very first paragraph, "For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. "He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. "He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church." Nothing escapes God's all-loving, all-powerful providence. God’s love is never guilty of devaluing human life or acting against the dignity of human beings, just as ours ought not to be.
In those times when we are the persecuted, and when you and I fall prey to feeling that we make little difference in our world; when we are the ones on the receiving end of the attitudes and actions inspired by the one enemy and manifested in the culture of death; when we are the ones who feel helpless and insignificant; and when we like sparrows seem to have little or no value at all… Jesus tells us the same thing He told His apostles: “Do not let men intimidate you… Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. Whoever disowns me before men, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”
Jesus wants to us understand that with God there is no such thing as a nameless, faceless individual human life; not you, not me, not anyone. We all matter. No matter how dark the tunnel of life gets, as Christians, we are always able to see a light ahead: our resurrected Lord. God knows in detail each and every aspect of our lives. Even though at times others make us feel small, worthless and of no significance whatsoever, that is not how God our Father feels about us.
Living free. Living in union with God. Living a life of love that leads others to learn of the God who loves and wants to free them; this is the greatness that is ours, if we have no fear and never inspire fear in others. Embrace God's grace given as a gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the supernatural courage that gives us strength to resist the enemy and overcome all of his works.
Peace doesn't just happen; it's made.
CampusPadre is a college ministry Priest Chaplain with 30 years experience in youth and young adult ministry, who strives to let the Holy Spirit lead and challenges students to seek holiness above all.