|Diocese of St. Augustine|
CAMPUS PADRE Offers food for thought
Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
One major complaint about the church is that we don’t walk our talk. We don’t look like Jesus and we don’t live like Jesus. Someone might say to you, “You know what the problem is with you Christians?” and without rolling your eyes, you tell him “I’d love to know.” So he continues, “You guys have an outstanding product but your delivery system is messed up.” Confused, you ask “What do you mean?” He clarifies by asking, “You guys are selling Jesus right?” Despite the thoughts immediately swirling through your mind, you charitably respond “Uh, sorta. Yeah.” So, he goes on saying “Well Jesus is amazing. He’s incredible. What a tremendous product. But the delivery system – the church of the lukewarm, nobody wants that. You guys are like bait and switch salesmen… you talk a good talk but you don’t even believe it enough to walk the walk”
So there it is, take a minute and reflect on your own life and commitment to follow him. Mercifully, God never gives up and his word is always ready to speak new life into our souls, as it calls us back and teaches us how to go forward.
Paul, in today’s Second Reading gives us a key truth without which we will never realize the holiness for which we are made. He tells the Corinthians that it’s who and what we are in God, not what we have, that defines us. He affirms the Way of Christ which is to live in total freedom and holy detachment from that which isn’t lasting. If any of us is going to be able to respond to the voice of God calling us, we will first need to be free and detached, or at least somewhat internally oriented in this way and stay that way.
In the second part of today’s Gospel four fishermen are called and we see how free and detached they are. They weren’t unfamiliar with Jesus, they had already spent time with him. They would not have gone home without being changed. Now, after their encounter with the Lord and after a time of growth in understanding, Jesus seeks them out and calls them to be with him, learn from him and share in the mission of salvation; to proclaim the gospel of God: "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.". Acting with complete trust and total surrender, they left their nets and followed Jesus.
Most of us, are we like those first apostles or are we fearful and pragmatic? “Where are we going? What will we do? How long will we be gone? What do I need to take? Where will we stay?” However, God promised us that if we cling to Jesus and commit to lives that affirm our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, cooperating with the grace of God and the transforming power of relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit; then we will increasingly be able to recognize Gods voice, discern God’s will, and eagerly respond with freedom and complete surrender.
Jesus started a revolution, in the souls of a few people who said ‘You are the Messiah, to whom else could we go’ and, we are completely yours ‘be it done to me according to your word’! Let the revolution, in your soul happen. A revolution that transforms you and changes the world. THIS is the adventure of your life. We are saved to be sent. We are saved to serve. We are saved to share. This is how you will know the will God.
The call to repent, believe, follow and serve, continues to go out to each one of us. It’s also a progressively unfolding call. I am first called to ‘come and see’ and then to ‘repent and believe’. Then I’m called to ‘listen to him’ and to ‘do whatever he tells us’ as we increasingly learn how to live in the imitation of Christ. At some point, Jesus seeks us out some of us and calls us to participate directly in the mission as Priests and Religious Brothers and Sisters. For others, he calls to participate in the mission primarily through building the Kingdom of God as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers… and to love God and Neighbor through the mission of a holy family.
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: First Samuel 3:3-10, 19; Psalms 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10; First Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20; John 1:35-42
Everyone has a vocation: Today’s readings are about that. Everyone has a state of life to which their called and within which they will experience the fullest joy and realize their greatest potential for holiness. That’s what we mean when we say that everyone has a vocation. There are three vocations that a person could be called to live. Most people will be called to the vocation of marriage. Some to religious life / priesthood, and very few to consecrated single life. The readings today focus on the call to religious life / priesthood.
The first and second readings speak to us of two pillars for discerning your vocation. The first is becoming aware of God’s voice and listening. The second focuses on the importance of moral purity of life. Both of these become essential to being able to encounter Jesus, as they did in today’s Gospel reading, and to engage with him, to spend time with him and to discover your true self in him.
The second reading, about moral purity in life, is an important lesson to learn, understand and embrace. Sin and selfishness are like chains that bind the power of God to work within us. The more we serve ourselves, our sinful passions and treat others as objects to be used and abused, the more separated we are from God and the ability recognize the voice of Lord, to listen and to desire to follow as God leads us. Our commitment to moral purity and respect for the temple of the Holy Spirit, our bodies, is directly proportionate to our ability to grow in holiness and self-understanding. It affects our ability to love God, others and ourselves in the way in which we were made to love.
The gospel is also about how the Lord calling can be progressively understood / revealed. We have to be obedient, humbly surrender to God increasingly each day of our lives, in order to increasingly recognize how the Lord continues to lead us. “Come and see.” Knowing Jesus and where he stays is a matter of experience. One could know the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, all 700 pages of it, by heart and still not know Jesus. To know him in the Gospel sense is to seek, find and respond to his loving presence in the fabric of our daily lives.
But, it’s not just all about the will God over and above our own will. It is about discovering ourselves in God and embracing our identity in God. Our deepest desire is for God and our greatest good is to know, love and serve God. In uncovering that desire within and allowing it to flower in fullness, we will discover that our will and God’s will are in union. This is where our freedom is fully realized and our vocation is fully recognized. Just as Jesus said the disciples of John the Baptist, Jesus also asks of you: “What do you want?”
God speaks through others: So, today’s homily is not just for those who have yet to discover the vocation to which God calls. The first reading, although it is about learning to recognize God’s voice and listening, it is also a reminder that having a spiritual guide or mentor is really helpful, almost essential. The young prophet Samuel had been chosen to lead and instruct God's people but when God first started to speak to Samuel's heart, the future spiritual hero didn't even know how to recognize his voice. Eli, had to teach him. Samuel needed Eli in order to know how to directly encounter the Lord and respond.
Not only in this way, but also, every brother and sister in Christ who has realized their vocation, embraced it and continued to grow in holiness through living that vocation, also has a responsibility to become the help that others need for their discernment. John and Andrew had been chosen by God to become two of the twelve apostolic pillars of the Church, and yet, John the Baptist had to point Jesus out to them, twice, before they got the message. Andrew, then became not only a committed follower but the one who also calls. With great excitement he went and found his brother, Simon. Through Simon we see how encounter with Jesus reveals our identity in God. God speaks in so many ways, through so many messengers! Most of us will first experience the call of God through others. It might be parents, grandparents, godparents, friends, co workers, pastors, teachers… even strangers! We just need to tune in.
For all of us: Friendship with Christ, then, means wanting and working for whatever Christ wants and works for. Today's Psalm puts it beautifully: "Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will...,” that is to say, I want my will to be indistinguishable from your will, because I’ve discovered your purpose for having made me in your image and likeness. So, meaning in life, identity and vocation as well as our ability to be the voice of God in the lives of others are to be found in and through deep relationship with Christ. If we understand that, then our highest priority in life ought to be to constantly deepen that friendship. There are three essential ways to do this. First, you have to gradually develop a mature life of prayer. Second, you have to build your life around the sacraments. Third, allow the deepened relationship with Christ to reveal your true self.
Everyone, take the “Samuel” challenge this week: not just once, but everyday. Take a few minutes of silent prayer and say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” then listen. If you have trouble listening, or think the Lord is trying to tell you something, but don’t quite get it, ask someone, who can give you good spiritual advice, for help.
Fourth Sunday of Advent
"Therefore, though it is God who takes the initiative of coming to dwell in the midst of men, and he is always the main architect of this plan, it is also true that he does not will to carry it out without our active cooperation. Therefore, to prepare for Christmas means to commit oneself to build 'God's dwelling with men.” Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, 12 December 2006, Vatican City.
The message throughout Advent has been, to prepare / to be ready… for the coming of the Lord. Well, the day before Christmas, it’s probably a good idea if we do a bit of a personal check to make sure we’ve kept Christ in Christmas and took seriously the need to evaluate our relationship with God and that that relationship is transformative for us.
In the First Reading, we can see in the words of God to David, an acknowledgement of readiness and the unexpected way that God allows us a role in the great plan of salvation. God made a solemn promise to King David, that a descendent of his will rule an everlasting Kingdom. King David wasn’t ready to hear that promise and receive that joy until, "he was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies on every side." For us, his palace symbolizes our soul, our interior lives. Freedom from enemy occupation, symbolizes who is ruling the soul. Are there still some evil, self-centered desires, sinful habits or patterns, dominating our souls and our activities.
Does this reflect my interior spiritual reality? Who is ruling my soul?
David didn’t just get comfortable when all was ‘all was well with his soul’. He thought seriously about how he would continue to Love and Serve both God and Neighbor. It turned out that it wouldn’t be in the way that he imagined or presumed. In order for us to be prepared we too must be asking ‘What more can I do for God and neighbor? Each one of us is called not only to receive God's grace, but to be instruments of his grace.
Does this reflect my actions? What spirit inspires my choices?
St. Paul, in the second reading, shows us in his words the disposition toward God’s will in our lives that we should have. He praises God for the mysterious and wonderful plan of salvation, which was "kept secret for long ages," but now has been "proclaimed," revealed, and "manifested through the prophetic writings." The evidence of the first coming of Christ affirms the promises of God, the faithfulness, the love, the mercy and the coming victory.
Do I believe this? Does the truth impel me to Glorify God and share the Good News?
It is about living a life of Grace, the fullness of Grace through Christ. In today's Gospel, Mary gives us the perfect example of grace filled living as she declares that she belongs to God and her will is to do God’s will. The most profound openness to God, is in the way she allowed her womb to become the dwelling of the Lord. As Christmas approaches, we are increasingly focused on the notion of a dwelling place for God.
Is there room for Him?
Each of us, who remains open to God’s grace and being bearers of Christ to the world, live no longer for ourselves but for him who died that we might live… he must increase and I must decrease. “Surely you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you!... For God’s temple is holy and you yourselves are his temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17).
Third Sunday of Advent - 'Gaudete Sunday - Rejoice in the Lord'
Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54; First Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
Gaudete Sunday made a little more sense, back in the day. It was a sort of ‘break’, from the solemn tones and a reminder of the coming cause of great and lasting joy. In the past, Advent was a penitential season like Lent, and so the ‘feel’ was deliberately somber. Today, not so much. Everybody is too busy, or full of secular ‘Christmas Spirit’, or just to burdened with the realities of life to be able to ‘experience’ the season of Advent in the way all your priests and others are telling you to do.
Because, through our baptism the spirit of the Lord is upon us, we have been made like Isaiah, anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God. And so, as participants in the mission of the Messiah, to “Rejoice always,” as St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading. To do so by praying without ceasing and in all circumstances, to give thanks, because this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus.
What does it take, in a world of craziness, to “rejoice heartily in the Lord; in my God… the joy of my soul” as Isaiah says. Well folks, although our time in history isn’t without it’s trials and tribulations, let’s not forget that we don’t live in the worst of times, the busiest of times, the poorest, ugliest, most violent or oppressive of times. Let’s remember that Isaiah, John, Paul, Mary… everyone throughout scripture who tells of their great joy… they did it in the midst of their suffering.
The Scriptures were written over the course of human history and by people who knew what it meant to work day and night; who never had all they deserved or what they needed; for whom poverty and suffering were their life and lot; living under corrupt civil and religious authorities; hoping they could give their children better and fearing failure. These words in Scripture gave voice to the sorrows and the joys of those who were rich with stuff and poor in spirit; who were materially poor but rich in the Lord; they were refugees in foreign lands; they had intellect and ability but the wrong color skin or last name; of those who were rotting in prisons (the just among the unjust); those who were physically challenged with disabilities. Yet, alongside their lamentations about their sinful condition and the difficulties of their real lives, they rejoiced in the love of God, in the promise of a savior and their redemption.
So to, for you and I. Advent happens in real time, to real people. Throughout human history Advent has always be woven through with the promises of God to every suffering soul, dripping with God’s LOVE and that love finding its way through the real circumstances of our lives, to fill us with HOPE, PEACE, and JOY.
Every individual human being, was created in order to find lasting joy and fulfillment, the abundant life, through living union with God. But, we become so lost and tangled up in the dense jungle of selfishness and sin, that there’s no path through the thick of the jungle without God making a way for us. So, "The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God" (Catechism #457). We need a Savior.
Our Advent theme might well be ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ Lord, welcome to the concrete wasteland wrought by human sin. Into that jungle, the tangled reality of our lives, he comes, as he came into the world that night among barnyard animals and shepherds who smelled like the sheep. He comes full of love and joy, even though he can see the Cross of his sacrifice in the distance. Just as he will come again at the end of history, righting every wrong, wiping away every tear, and restoring every loss.
So, yes, our world is overflowing with bad news and unsettling truths… and yes, your life might not be perfectly awesome… there’s all the more reason to be full of joy… we and the world of people around us, need a savior… as much as ever… and here he is, God with us, as much as ever… because of that day when a young girl said, ‘behold, be it done unto to me according to your word’.
Good news for us, God isn’t willing to wait until the end of time, to start making things right, to start weeding the jungle of our world, our families, our lives, our hearts. His only begotten Son didn’t break on through to our side, just to suffer and let the enemy win. He did it to make us see, that even though we walk in the valley of the shadow of death, we ought not to fear the evil.
Now that’s cause for rejoicing, in the Lord! That we have come into possession of something good and whenever we lose our grip on it, we know where to go, to whom to go, and how to get it back. Our hearts are thirsty for a joy that will never go away, because that's what we were created for. And now, because of Christ, the true, lasting joy that each one of us desires more than anything else, is possible. Because of Christ, like our brothers and sisters in faith throughout history, in the midst of suffering and life challenges, we can avoid quenching the Spirit by despising God’s prophetic word; we can discern and retain what is good and refrain from evil; we can “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing… and in all circumstances give thanks.” We can believe and affirm that God will make us perfectly holy and preserve us blameless for when he comes again for us… because “the one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”
For the disciple of Christ, Love – Hope – Peace – Joy… are what permeate our daily experience. They are what give meaning to every aspect and experience of life. They animate our ability to live the truth of our Salvation in the freedom of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. But, for this to be true, we must be encountering the Lord daily through the habit of unconditional openness to the love of God.
Second Sunday of Advent
Because we are preparing to celebrate the birth of the Incarnate Son of God, it is essential that we pray and reflect on God’s love for each of us, and what transformative effect that is or is not having in our souls, our lives and the world around us. There must be no doubt in us that, “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son…” “And the Word was made flesh, and came to live among us,” because although it sounds great on a religious greeting card and in Christmas Carols, the truth of those words must be effective in the depths of our being, or they are meaningless and empty sentiment.
We are also preparing for that time when he will come again, because we desire to be ready to be recognized by our Savior and to receive our promised reward of eternal life in union with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not only filled with the desire to be ready, but also eager to prepare the way of the Lord for others. For our message to be credible, our witness must be irreproachable. Like John we are called to be recognizably people of holiness and integrity as disciples of Christ and children of the living God. We are called to learn and to teach. We are called to repent and call to repentance. We are called to love and call others to love.” We must be models of radical transformation in our way of thinking, living and loving. It means a conversion, a real turning around, a re-directing of one’s whole life.
The letters of Saint Paul are all oriented toward teaching us how to allow that transformation to happen and the way in which we are called to live as Saints. Today, St. Peter encourages us in our efforts, reminding us that “since everything is to be dissolved…, what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God”. God wants us to do our best, not by our own ability but in the power and grace of our Lord, to live lives without spot or stain so that, when He comes, He will find us full of peace and not racked with fear of judgment. The knowledge of the coming of the Lord and judgement does not leave his authentic disciples filled with fear and anxiety but, for those who ‘listen to him’ and ‘act on this word’, they are filled with a lasting joyful anticipation. The fruit of everyday living the Way, truth and life of Christ is a real and abiding interior peace. Transformation is a work of God within us, but it involves our active involvement, especially in removing all the obstacles that get in the way of God’s work.
The liturgy reminds us of this every time we come to Mass, when we trace the sign of the cross, 3 times, on our bodies. In the outward sign of crossing our forehead, lips, and heart, we are praying and affirming our desire that the Word of God to pierce our mind, lips, and hearts. We cross our forehead so that the Word of God may be in our thoughts and purify our minds. We cross our lips so that our speech may be holy and incline us to share the Gospel with others. And we cross our hearts to invite God to strengthen our love for Him and others. All of this is so that we might know, proclaim, and love Jesus Christ all the more.
The truth is, even in the Church we can and do lose sight of the real purpose of these weeks of Advent leading up to the celebration of the birth of our Lord. We can get caught up in the secularized sentimentality of it all and gloss over the opportunity that the Season of Advent sets before us. An opportunity to recognize our need for a savior, in the same way Isaiah articulated that need.
Our human story has had two periods, we are in the third and it will culminate with a fourth. The first period was from the dawn of Creation until Original Sin. The second period, was lived between the loss of our ‘original innocence’ and the Incarnation. It came to a close on that Holy Night, that Silent Night in a Bethlehem manger where Shepherds quaked at his sight and pilgrim kings brought gifts for the newborn King of kings. In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that it was on the occasion of this first coming of the Son of God incarnate, who was born of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit, that the prayerful lamentation of Isaiah was answered. The long expected Messiah had come, sent by the Father for love of us and in whose willing sacrifice we are invited to be redeemed, grace filled, enriched in every way.
We are members of the generations of the third age of human history, the age of the Church and of Grace. This is the period described by the parable in today's Gospel passage, where Jesus reminds us to take care of everything until he returns, until he comes again at the end of time when he will take all creation to himself.
Saint Paul also spoke of the Second Coming, and the beginning of the fourth period of human history when the old heavens and earth will pass away. When evil will be banished forever, and those who lived and died in friendship with Christ will enter into their everlasting reward. Jesus encourages us, in the Gospel, to look forward to his second coming and the everlasting joy it will bring. But, we are also reminded of the need to be ready, alert, to be awake. Not even the Son knows the hour or the day, and so neither do we know when the Lord will come to call us.
The coming of the Messiah, the Son of God in time and flesh, upon which in the Season of Advent we are invited to reflect, brings the second age of human history to an end. It is that first coming that the reading from Isaiah looks forward to with anticipation. “Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!” cries the prophet because he understands that the people desperately need God and have forsaken the covenant in so many ways. He continues, “We had long been rebels against you. We were all like people unclean, all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing. We have all withered like leaves and our sins blew us away like the wind.” For the people, he articulated the feeling of abandonment to sin and their inner desire that God would once again remember His people and set things right.
St Paul tells us that we must depend on God's grace if our lives are to be filled with the meaning and joy we thirst for; we can't do it on our own. That, as the Prophet Isaiah says, we must be like clay, the work of the hands of God who is the potter. We must be soft and malleable, and allow God to make of us something beautiful. Only when we trust God and are obedient to his commandments do we let him turn our lives into the beautiful works of art that we can become.
So, the Season of Advent is a time “When the Church makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.” However, if we stop at the surface and do not read these words within the whole tradition of the Church and Scripture leading up to Advent, we will not have within us that which makes it possible to in fact prepare for Christmas when Christ's first coming to us is remembered and as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ's Second Coming at the end of time. We will not, as that section of the Catechism concludes, authentically be able to celebrate the precursor's birth and martyrdom, through which the Church unites herself to his desire, that "He must increase, but I must decrease.”
As we enter into this Season of Advent, today’s ‘Words of God remind us that God is with us each and every day of our lives. That we were not left alone, Emmanuel, ‘God is with us’. The abiding presence of the Son, through the work of the Holy Spirit, which reflects the ongoing presence of God since the dawn of creation.
In order to really celebrate Christmas, which is a celebration of how much God loves us, we must pass through a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord. Essential to that time of preparation, is always, to more fully ‘repent and believe, for the Kingdom of God is at hand’! Review our priorities, our relationships, the fruitfulness of our faith, the depth of our love of God and Neighbor. Repent for what we have done and what we have failed to do, through our own fault our most grievous fault. Renew our commitment to God. Rejoice in his coming in history, rejoice in his being with you in your daily life, rejoice and eagerly anticipate his second coming! The only way to be free to rejoice, is to be free from sin. This is why our church year begins with the Season of Advent.
The Season of Advent is a time to be enlivened, united, quiet, moderate, longing and full of expectation… however, those must be borne, they must rise from our increased awareness of and regret for, the reason for Our Lord’s First Coming at Christmas: our sins and his desire to redeem us from them. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not just a moment with a special place during Advent… it is at the heart of Advent which is without doubt, according to the firm teaching and tradition of the Church… A Season of reconciling preparation in order to join fully in the choruses praising and with great joy, adore him.
In today’s Gospel Our Lord establishes the tone for Advent...
Feast of Christ the King
Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; Psalms 23:1-2, 2-3, 5, 6; First Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46
How we have exercised the power that has been given to us will be judged by God. When we say every exercise of power, we include all familial and social relationships. We all know and believe this is true and we affirm the truth every week when we proclaim our faith together in the creed.
We must be biased, just as God is biased. God is biased in favor of those who are exploited, who live on the margins. Remember the parable of the rich man clothed in purple and feasting every day. He was without compassion on the poor man who longed to have even the crumbs that fell from the table. He may have loved God in his observance of religious law, but did nothing for his neighbor. The justice of God requires an equitable sharing of and access to the available and necessary resources due to every human person in light of having been created in the image and likeness of God. Those who do little or nothing for the poor, the hungry, the naked, the prisoner, the foreigner, the widow or the orphan are selfish tyrants with their wealth, power and authority.
If we have accepted that Jesus Christ is both our Lord and our Savior, then we have agreed to live according to the dictates of faith. We have agreed to submit ourselves to Christ the King and to live in imitation of him, to ensure that our will becomes aligned to the will of God. We are called to embody the words of St. Paul who said, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me”. As such, our faith will bear good fruit in the form of actions which are expressions of and manifest our love for both God and neighbor.
If we are sheep in the Good Shepherds flock; if we are subjects of the Good King; then we must be actively loving people no matter what response we get to our actions of love. It is not enough just to fulfil obligations, religious or otherwise.
At the final judgement there will be two kinds of people, described in today’s Gospel as ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’. When Jesus addresses the first group of people, he says: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father..." But when he addresses the second group, he says: "Depart from me, you accursed." The second group purposely and freely chose to live their earthly lives for themselves. They didn't enter into a friendship with God, because they didn't want the lifestyle of love and self-giving that goes with it. They rejected God's many invitations - the voice of conscience, the teachings of the Church, the example of believers, the lives of the saints, the beauty of creation. They freely chose to live separated from God, they chose Hell.
Hell is not God’s creation and God does not ‘send’ anyone to Hell. Hell is the eternal future without God that we freely design and choose by our beliefs and actions in this life which exclude or eliminate God. God respects your freedom to choose, life in union with the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and all creation or death.
St Theodosius had learned well the lesson of today's parable - Christ wants us to know what's going to happen after death, so that we can make the right choices throughout our life. St Theodosius was a monk who lived in Palestine in the 6th century, started a monastery. One of the first things he did was to dig a large grave, right in the middle of the cloister. When asked what the point of that was, he simply said that "Here you see a grave. Here we will all one day be buried and our bodies will return to the dust from which they were made. Remember this, my sons, so that you never stray from the Lord's sure but narrow road of prayer and self-denial. It is better to die to ourselves each day and rise again on the Day of Judgment than indulge ourselves foolishly now and remain in the grave forever."
So, the image of the Judgement in the Gospel should make us somewhat nervous, and it should challenge us to never cease to go beyond being ‘good enough’.
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Wisdom 6:12-16; Psalms 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; First Thessalonians 4:13-17 or 4; Matthew 25:1-13
If we are to be prepared, we will need Wisdom which is a gift of the Holy Spirit and we will need the Cardinal Virtue of Prudence. Wisdom is a matter of putting first things first, and prudence, which is the practical side of wisdom, is about planning to pursue and attain the things that matter most (Wisdom 6:12-16), the things that last.
In the first reading wisdom is eager to bring her gifts to us and depends on, as the psalmist says, our souls thirsting for God which leads to our being eager to receive the gifts of wisdom. The five virgins who were prepared, exemplified this kind of eagerness that made them prepared for the bride grooms arrival.
Although, for many Christians it seems that setting up a career and making money are more important priorities than making the Gospel truths a force that guides life and transforms the heart and mind. The children of God can’t really deny, as much as we might like to, that the truly wise person is the one who doesn’t wait until “sometime in the future” to embrace the fullness of their salvation.
It’s easy to deceive ourselves on this point. We can convince ourselves that communion with God in time and eternity is our driving goal and focus in life, but upon careful reflection we might just realize that we’ve allowed other things to become priorities and overtake the place of God and the life of faith. We might realize that we are making an idol out of something – like money, pleasure, comfort, possessions, knowledge, fame, power, or popularity.
According to his own words, St. Jerome wasn't unfamiliar with lukewarm commitment to Christ. Although he became one of the most intelligent and well-educated men in the history of the Church, as well as becoming one of the greatest writers of all time, an accomplished Greek and Latin scholar, a secretary to Popes, the official translator of the Bible, and a valiant defender of the faith; he didn’t get to such heights of sanctity without his struggles. But as a young man, he had a dream that changed his life. In the dream, Christ asked him, “Jerome, what is your faith?” He answered, “I am a Christian”, and Christ unexpectedly said “You are not. You are a Ciceronian.” Later upon reflection, Jerome admitted, that he was so in love with his studies and with the intellectual life that he hadn’t completely given himself to Christ.
What would Christ say to you, in such a dream?
We don’t know when Christ will come again, but we do know that he will. Either Christ will come again, bringing an end to history, and establishing his Kingdom definitively before we die; Or before that, he will come to each of us at the moment of our death and bring us to his judgment seat individually. Death is no farther away than what you think will be your next breath.
So, we must heed him when he says, “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The Twenty Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalms 96:1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10; First Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-2
“I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me.” Unlike the ruler Cyrus, because we are God’s own, we know this to be true, and we are called to align our whole selves; our hearts, our minds, our souls to this truth. In doing so, like the Thessalonians in the second reading, what was true of them will also be true of us. That as chosen by God and made heavenly citizens, brothers and sisters who are loved by God, our work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, will be done as it was for St. Paul and his co-workers in the vineyard, in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.
The central work of our faith which must be a labor of love and endure in the hope of the Lord, is our fruitful worship through the Eucharistic Celebration here in the vineyard of the House of God. This is essential to our participation in the mission of Christ as the Church which is the mystical ‘Body of Christ’, for our salvation and the salvation of the world and through which the glory and the Kingdom of God is manifested.
From the readings of the previous two Sundays, we have reflected on the nature of the Mass and our role in that Eucharistic Celebration. If we continue to go deeper into what makes for an extraordinary experience and offering in the liturgy, we must contemplate our nature and identity in God. "Whose image is this and whose inscription?" They replied, "Caesar's." At that he said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." Can these words be applied to our understanding of our Eucharistic Celebration, which must always be a work of giving glory and honor to God? Absolutely.
We bear the image and likeness of God whose inscription of the law is written upon our hearts. We belong to God and therefore, in all we are and all we do, we are to give glory and honor to God. As such, our worship must reflect who we are in God and our heavenly citizenship. What we do here, in the House of God, cannot be the same as an everyday family communal meal. It cannot be a concert of ‘praise and worship’ led by talented celebrities and informed by secular rhythms, whether those of 500 years ago or entirely contemporary. Neither you nor I can be the center of attention. What we do here is not merely or primarily a ‘meet and greet’. What we do here is not for the purpose of direct evangelization. We do not come to hear a ‘motivational speech’ filled with clichés of affirmation.
We come here, even in our brokenness, with joyful hearts and minds to rejoice and glorify the name of God, in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction…. To proclaim that we, too, have seen the salvation of our Lord. We come here, to the only place on earth united with heaven, to forever praise you with a new song of praise. We are here with the angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven proclaiming God’s glory without end: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua. Hosanna in excelsis. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest, hosanna in the highest.
We are here to repay to God, what belongs to God. Pure, unadulterated worship.
There are many things that make our worship what it ought to be. But indispensable to this, is our understanding of and ability to, enter into silence. Cardinal Sarah, who recently wrote a book on the subject, said “Silence is a necessary condition for deep, contemplative prayer, and an important component of the liturgy.” As Scripture says, “the Lord is in His Holy temple; silence before Him all the earth.”
He continued, “Ascetical, that is silence made possible through ‘holy indifference’ which inspires exterior silence, runs deep in our long tradition and serves to remind us of the nature of silence which God requires. The Fathers of the Church assign an eminent place to silence in the ascetical life. As Cardinal Sarah recently pointed out, think of Saint Ambrose (In psalm. 37, 12-15), Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory the Great (Moralia II, 48; XXII, 16; XXX, 16), not to mention Chapter VI of the Rule of Saint Benedict of Nursia on “taciturnity,” or Chapter 62 on grand silence at night, where he adopts the teaching of Cassian. Starting with those spiritual masters, all the medieval founders of religious orders, followed by the mystics of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, insisted not only on the ascetical but also on the mystical importance of silence.”
They tell us that silence is and experience of freedom, a sort of purging of the soul and a disposition of attentiveness. It is the humble obedience of one who comes to listen, learn and respond. Although this is an experience rich in spiritual reward for an individual in solitary devotional prayer, it is also a profoundly communal experience of one’s whole being, in communion with the whole assembly, in communion with the whole Church, in communion with our Triune God. Through this disposition of listening, we open wide the gates to our being and all its interior places, to a God who seeks to save us. In this communal quietness we are prepared to receive and know His presence; that still small voice speaking to our hearts through his various motions in the liturgical celebration.
In this silence…
I highly recommend reading the following article by Cardinal Sarah, in which he clearly articulates (sections 3 and 4) in his own words and with reference to the words of Scripture, Magisterial documents, and Popes… the role and importance of Silence in the Liturgy.
Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10; Psalms 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14 or 22:1-10
In the context of the parish family which gathers for worship, let’s be mindful the above statements as we take to heart the exhortations of Pope Saint John Paul II, who said “…the parish must be a place where, through worship in communion of doctrine and life with the Bishop and with the Universal Church, the members of Christ's body are formed for evangelization and works of Christian love. A parish will be involved in many activities. But none is as vital or as community-forming as the Sunday celebration of the Lord's Day and his Eucharist. Through regular and fervent reception of the sacraments, God's people come to know the fullness of the Christian dignity that is theirs by baptism; they are elevated and transformed. Through careful listening to the word of Scripture and sound instruction in the faith they are enabled to experience their lives, and the life of the parish, as a dynamic sharing in the history of salvation. That experience, in turn, becomes a powerful motive for evangelization.”
You’ll remember, that based on the connection between the readings for the 27th and 28th Sunday’s of Ordinary Time in particular, last week we focused on the House of God as the vineyard in which we gather and ‘work’ to produce bountiful fruit of worship due to God. This week, through the Scripture readings from the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, we delve deeper into what it means to ‘formed and transformed’ by the liturgy as well as a fuller understanding of the Eucharistic Celebration as ‘banquet’ in the context of the ‘heavenly banquet’.
Lets begin this week with coming to more deeply understand the Eucharistic Celebration as ‘banquet’, without forgetting the nature of our role, as I said in the previous reflection, that we are essential. I mean this in the sense that at every Eucharistic Celebration, no matter how many people are present... every person present must be committed to the work at hand, ready, willing and able to bring forth the worship of God which is due. Then and only then can our celebration be worthy fruit. Then, it will flow with integrity. In its orchestral beauty, it will never fail to draw us into the depths of the living Word, raise our souls, guided in ritual expression of the inexpressible, to sing our praises and bring us to our knees in humble prayer. We will rest in the wellspring of silence as a refuge from the distractions of the enemy and a gateway into the mysteries. With our bodies, with our minds, with our souls… an integrated whole, caught up in the vastness of the love and mercy of God which washes over us in abundance. We are made one by the animating Holy Spirit, mystical ‘Body of Christ’.
Unite those words with the words of Isaiah who gives us a graphic description of the great banquet that God will prepare and himself provides for his people, of the richest food and finest wines. No expense is spared for this pre-eminent banquet where he wipes our tears and declares death destroyed. The Israelites look to the universal feast which would celebrate the destruction of their enemies, the establishment of God on his holy mountain and the end of suffering and death. All their tears, wiped by the merciful hand of God. This is the eschatological heavenly banquet of Israel as well as that of our salvation where we rejoice in exultant celebration.
But this is not the only meaning of these words, they can also be understood as a prophetic pointing to the establishment of the Church of the ‘Body of Christ’ through which we enter the Kingdom of God where heaven and earth intersect in time. Recall the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “For us, the eucharistic banquet is a real foretaste of the final banquet foretold by the prophets and described in the New Testament as "the marriage-feast of the Lamb", to be celebrated in the joy of the communion of saints”. (Is 25:6-9 Rev 19:7-9)
When Isaiah says “On this mountain” we can also understand that to mean the Church as the Psalmists words affirm, “Yes, the LORD has chosen Zion, desired it for a dwelling: “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I desire it. I will bless Zion with provisions; its poor I will fill with bread. I will clothe its priests with salvation; its devout shall shout for joy.” And echoed in 2 Chr 6:41; Is 61:10.
In connection to the above, we see this image of the mountain, Mt. Zion, referred to in Ephesians 2:20-22
[You] built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord, in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
and more clearly drawn in the book of Revelation 21:9-14
One of the seven angels who held the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” He took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It gleamed with the splendor of God. Its radiance was like that of a precious stone, like jasper, clear as crystal. It had a massive, high wall, with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed and on which names were inscribed, [the names] of the twelve tribes of the Israelites. There were three gates facing east, three north, three south, and three west. The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
and affirmed in Hebrews 12:22-24
You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them, for they could not bear to hear the command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so fearful was the spectacle that Moses said, “I am terrified and trembling.” No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.
On that mountain where “the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines,” we see a banquet that is both ceremonial and ritual. Providing an opportunity to celebrate the unity of mind and purpose between the host of the banquet and the invited guests and a transformation of a stranger into a guest or of an enemy into an ally. This is just as it is in the Church. In our Eucharistic gathering as a family to which we respond to the invitation and are nourished by God. Where there are no strangers and the repentant are reconciled with God… made worthy to receive the Lord present in the bread and wine which become his body and blood.
These truths ought to move us to reflect on how the sharing of meals and the ways in which the production and consumption of food has radically changed and affects our understanding of both the ‘Heavenly and Earthly banquets’. Since we no longer have time for ‘family feast’ and we are no longer directly involved with or even aware of where our food comes from, and considering how demanding we are for ‘fast food’… is it any wonder that our understanding of the nature and the importance of both the ‘Heavenly and Earthly banquets’ is a shadow of that of our ancestors. It’s no wonder that we have developed a consumer mentality toward the Mass and either a selfish or disinterested dispositions toward God’s invitation.
Our ancestors in faith, as evidenced in Scripture, easily recognized the feast of the Eucharist as a realization of Isaiah’s vision and as a prelude to the heavenly eternal banquet to which all the blessed are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Jesus himself emphasized that we should see in him the fulfillment of the promise. That in the Eucharist we find the bread of life! In the passage from the Psalms quoted above, which equates Zion with the dwelling and resting place of God, we see it is also a place where hunger is satisfied, “For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her needy with bread. Her priests also I will clothe with salvation, And her godly ones will sing aloud for joy.”
When we think of this ‘Mountain’ and the veil that veils all people, we are reminded of Moses and the glory of his visage which necessitated a veil, as well as the veil of the temple which separated the ‘holy of holies’ from the people. The veil is taken away in Christ. The darkness which covered the people under the Old Covenant was being removed from all God’s people, as each us is made free in Christ. Isaiah wrote that the veil is removed “in this mountain,” which we have understand to be the church, and St. Paul confirms the same, saying “Therefore, since we have such hope, we act very boldly and not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites could not look intently at the cessation of what was fading. Rather, their thoughts were rendered dull, for to this present day the same veil remains unlifted when they read the old covenant, because through Christ it is taken away. To this day, in fact, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Clearly, the church in the first century was the fulfillment of the removal of the veil.
Paul’s teaching also opens up for us the words of Isaiah, “he will destroy death forever,” when he equates the swallowing up of death with our liberation from the condemnation of the law; “And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?,” and directly quotes from the prophet Hosea!
How and why is this death swallowed up, “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” And so, the prophesy of Isaiah “The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face,” becomes the reality for the disciples of Christ. We also recall the later words of Isaiah, “Yet it was our pain that he bore, our sufferings he endured. We thought of him as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted, But he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed.” With our sin cast away as far as east is from west, the reason for our tears is wiped away. But this gives us much more a sense of the eschatological joy of reward received, whereas if we consider the words of Revelation as well, we also understand the ‘here and now’ sense of this part of our reflection. We have seen how the ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ and ‘Mt. Zion’ are the same, and how as Revelation affirms, this ‘mountain’ is the Church where God dwells with us and wipes our tears away. In Revelation we read, “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”
Isaiah says that on that day and in this mountain, “the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth.” On what day must that be? The day of our salvation, the Lords crucifixion. Where does God continue to remove the rebuke of His people? In that mountain, the Church. Where does God continue to have the sacrifice of His Son re-presented (the unbloody sacrifice of our Lord, the acceptable oblation of the Church)… at Mass!
Isaiah continues, “On that day it will be said: "Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!" For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.” So it is that St. Paul is able to affirm for us, “hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” As every member resounds with worship and praise in the Eucharistic Celebration so too does every stone and timber of the Church resonate and amplify our voices. Heaven and earth meet on that ‘mountain’, in one voice to acclaim our praises and the Lord rejoices in our offering. It is just as the prophet Zephaniah said it would be, “The LORD has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, Zion, do not be discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior. Who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, Who will sing joyfully because of you, as on festival days.”
So, here we gather in the ‘House of God’ as the mystical Body of Christ, with joyful hearts and minds to rejoice and glorify the name of God, in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction…. To proclaim that we, too, have seen the salvation of our Lord. We come here [to the mountain, the New Jerusalem], to the only place on earth united with heaven, to forever praise you with a new song of praise. We are here with the angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven proclaiming God’s glory without end: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua. Hosanna in excelsis. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest, hosanna in the highest.
We are gathered at the source of the river of life where none who, according to the gift of faith and respond to the invitation to the banquet, encounter the living God and remain the same. As we are transformed, so to our relationships with others are change and through these, changed is effected throughout society and its structures. Our continuing transformation in and through the graces which flow from this celebration, and the Eucharist worthily received, can truly continue to in their relations with others, unchanged. As we are changed, our relationships are changed which effect change in society and its structures. Sacramentum Caritatis #70-97
In ancient Palestine, one of the social customs at wedding banquets was for the host to provide a festive garment for all the guests. There are only two possible reasons why a guest wouldn't have a wedding garment: either he sneaked in without being invited, or he didn't care about celebrating the wedding and just wanted enjoy the food and drink while doing his own thing. In either case, such a guest is not a guest at all - he has no relationship to the bride and bridegroom, and so he has no reason to be there. And so the king threw him out.
When we try to follow Christ without accepting his will and the teaching of his Church, we are trying to get in to the wedding banquet while refusing to put on the wedding garment. Christianity is not a self-help buffet where we can pick and choose according to personal preference; it's the revelation of God, and it requires humility, obedience, and trust.
The Church Militant is, and always will be, a Church of those who are sinners but who are also becoming saints. The early Christians were also aware that not everyone who received an invitation would remain as a guest because although everyone is invited to the party, some, will choose not to ‘put on Christ’ but rather remain as they were refusing to be formed and transformed. God expects that we reject the enemy and all his works, so as to live in the freedom of God’s children who refuse to be mastered by sin! Formation and transformation is not optional, we simply cannot willfully continue in our sinful ways.
St. Paul, the embodiment of one who was and continued to be transformed, believed that everything paled in significance when compared to his relationship with Christ. His priority was Jesus and his strength came from that relationship, empowering him to receive blessing and suffering with equal depths of joy. He lived his life and engaged in his ministry with ‘Holy Indifference’, filled as he was with desire for Christ. Paul understood that his contentment was not achieved by his own strength of will but through the gift of God in Christ Jesus. Paul’s example and challenging message has lost none of its significance over the centuries. Disciples, brothers and sisters of Christ, will possess joy and peace and the ability to cope with life’s challenges to the degree that they are authentically committed to and centered on Christ.
St. Paul intimately understood, the profound nature of the Eucharistic Celebration and its power to remake the world. The early disciples of Christ had no doubt about the power of the liturgy to form and transform us, even as we in our current imperfection enter in and offer our worship, because first and foremost it is a work of God. The feast of heaven and earth, as source and summit of faith, is of primary effect for the formation and transformation which is itself the process of “putting on” Christ. Through Baptism, the sacrament by which one is given access to the wedding banquet of the Lord, here and through the Sacrament of Forgiveness by which we gain a place at the Heavenly Banquet… we grow to be clothed in the spirit and teaching of Jesus.
Christ the King invites us to come to the House of God for the great feast of heaven and earth with every celebration of the Eucharist, where we can be formed and transformed and from where we will be sent as missionary disciples to form and transform the world.
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.