Kingdom of God

October 26, 2021

Each day, I reflect upon a word or a phrase inspired by the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? To what can I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.” (Luke 13:18-21)

KINGDOM OF GOD: I think when we hear the phrase ‘Kingdom of God,’ our thoughts immediately turn to heaven and the gift of eternal life. Jesus is certainly preparing us for eternal life by encouraging us to live out the Gospel message.

However, I believe Jesus had more in mind than the next life. I believe that if we truly prepare as He instructs us, we are in reality creating a Kingdom of God right here on earth.

If we plant our mustard seed of faith (tiny as that may be), nurture it with loving service to others, and shine our light on it, it will grow. Our witness will be life-giving, and others will seek refuge in it (live in its branches). They in turn will plant their own seed…and on, and on.

Eternal life is definitely our goal, but joyful preparation for the Kingdom of God will help create our own heaven on earth.

Homily: “In the Spirit” Defined

October 25, 2021

Brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:12-17)

The following homily, referencing the same reading from Romans we have today, was originally delivered in July 2014:

Did God set us up to fail?

I certainly don’t want to second-guess God, but at times what He asks of us, and the position He puts us in, do not seem to be in alignment.

I am sure you have heard the expression, “Put yourself in a position to succeed.” The implication is that we should do things that accentuate our gifts and talents, that allow us to use our strengths while diminishing our weaknesses.

We follow that logic at school. We schedule students into classes based on their academic abilities and strengths. We put teachers in front of them who are licensed and competent in the subject matter, in the hope that the students experience success. We wouldn’t put a student who struggles in Math into the highest level Calculus class, or assign a teacher to the class who is trained to teach Social Studies. We would be setting that student up to fail.

Which brings me back to my original question: Did God set us up to fail?

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he distinguishes between being “in the flesh” and “in the spirit,” saying: “You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit…if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit…you will live.”

What does Paul mean when he says, “in the spirit”? He means that God created us in His own image and breathed life into us, giving us the gift of the spirit, and confidence that God is present in our lives. Thus, we are “in the spirit.”

Yet we also have a sinful nature. We are imperfect creatures who are easily tempted and prone to poor judgment. Then God takes us – His “in the spirit,” sinful creations who are prone to exercise poor judgment – and drops us into a temporal world…a world very much “in the flesh.”

What does Paul mean when he says, “in the flesh”? He means we live in a world that is “of the world”:

  • A world in which people are consumed by what makes them feel good, with little regard for consequences
  • A world focused on acquiring “things” – chasing after material possessions that go far beyond basic human need
  • A world in which people are objectified for the personal pleasure of others
  • A world in which beauty is defined by appearances rather than value
  • A world in which the needs of others are someone else’s problem

This “in the flesh” world is a shortsighted world, concerned only with the here and now, with no regard for eternal life. It is empty and shallow and unfulfilling.

Paul tells us that this world comes with a warning: “…if you live according to the flesh, you will die.” If you live by the rules of the world, you die by those same rules. You die empty and unfulfilled.

This is the world into which God has placed us.

Ironically, the “in the spirit” human beings into whom God breathed life are the ones who created the “in the flesh” world. He had to have seen that coming.

Did He set us up to fail?

could answer that question by saying, “Yes, God set us up to fail” and send you all home depressed and hopeless. I won’t do that.

If we really thought God wanted us to fail, we would need to believe two things:

  1. That He gave us none of the gifts, talents, or skills needed in order to take on the world and overcome its negative effects
  2. That He offers us no additional resources…nothing that we can rely on for assistance when times are tough.

Clearly, neither of these things are true. God not only gave us the aforementioned spirit breathed into us at creation, but He also endowed us with the gift of free will.

It is free will that allows you to say, “I have a choice.” You do not have to accept the world as it is. You do not have to surrender to its fleshiness, or fall into the hopelessness that so many people allow to control their lives. You can choose not only to avoid the pitfalls of this world, but also to be an agent of change. You can choose to make a difference.

There are others just like you who do not want to be swallowed up by an “in the flesh” world. You are not alone.

As for the idea that God offers us no additional resources – there is nothing further from the truth. There are at least two undeniable resources always at our disposal.

First and foremost, God Himself serves as a resource. He offers Himself to us on an as needed basis, and He is always open for business.

In our uphill battle against an “in the flesh” world, we will likely grow tired and weak. We may also feel alone. It is comforting to know that we can turn to God when we are burdened, and He will give us rest. He will allow us to rest and recuperate before heading back into battle.

The second resource extended to us is forgiveness. In every battle there are casualties. Remember, we are imperfect, sinful creatures. We will stumble at times and fall victim to the fleshiness of this world. When we do stumble, that does not have to be the end. We do not need to be permanent victims.

With rest and forgiveness, we are strengthened and reconciled to the spirit. And when we live “in the spirit” we have the hope of eternal life.

In 33 AD, Jesus commissioned His apostles – a small group of fisherman, farmers, and tax collectors – to take the Gospel message out to the world. The world at that time was “in the flesh” just as it is today. These men were untrained and unqualified. They were sinful, and stumbled countless times along the way, even denying that they knew Jesus.

Despite all of this, there are nearly 2.2 billion Christians in the world today. So were the apostles set up to fail?

God gives us life “in the spirit” and the gift of free will. God offers us rest and forgiveness.

He has put us in a position to succeed.

Bear Fruit

October 23, 2021

Each day, I reflect upon a word or a phrase inspired by the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

“The gardener said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future.” (Luke 13:1-9)

BEAR FRUIT: In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree. The tree had produced no fruit for three years, so the landowner ordered the gardener to cut it down. The gardener asked that the tree be given another year, and he promised to fertilize it, nurture it, and do all he could to make the fig tree produce fruit.

I have heard this parable interpreted a couple of different ways:

  • Jesus is the landowner, we are the gardeners, and the fig tree represents our lives. We are being judged on what we have done with our lives. We ask for more time to prove that we can be productive.
  • Jesus is the gardener and we are the fig tree. The gardener looks at us with love, seeking ways to save us.

Each interpretation speaks to the mercy of a loving God. Despite our failed efforts to live faith-filled lives, we are shown mercy, compassion, and understanding. A new start awaits us at every turn.

Food for thought: While God’s mercy is boundless, our time on earth is not. The fig tree will come down at some point. Will it have produced any fruit?

Feast of Saint Pope John Paul II

October 22, 2021 – Feast of Saint Pope John Paul II

Saint John Paul II’s Story

“Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass where he was installed as pope in 1978.

Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father, and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology.

Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon Fr. Wojtyla earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin.

Communist officials allowed Wojtyla to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong!

Bishop Wojtyla attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later.

Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations.

John Paul II promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s main synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations, and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria.

The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his papacy.

“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of John Paul II’s 1979 encyclical, Redeemer of the Human Race. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.”

His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. John Paul II began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union, but the governments in those countries prevented that.

One of the most well-remembered photos of John Paul II’s pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983, with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier.

In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities.

Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014.

Source: https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/saint-john-paul-ii

Fire

October 21, 2021

Each day, I reflect upon a word or a phrase inspired by the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49-53)

FIRE: Jesus’ normally calm and peaceful tone takes on a sense of urgency in today’s Gospel. His message goes beyond His disciples and unfortunately still rings true today.

We have become complacent in our faith. We go through the motions, checking off minimum requirements as good enough. Our focus is diverted away from the work to which God has called us, and re-directed toward worldly things. We roll the dice on when Jesus might come – there’s always time to set things straight later, right?

“Enough!” says Jesus.

When He gets our attention, when He locks eyes with us, what will He see?

Jesus is trying light a fire under us…to set us ablaze in our faith. Can you feel the heat?

Grace

October 20, 2021

Each day, I reflect upon a word or a phrase inspired by the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

For sin is not to have any power over you, since you are not under the law but under grace(Romans 6:12-18)

GRACE: The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1850), says this about sin: “Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it.”

The CCC (1996) says this about grace: “Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.”

So what is Paul telling us in today’s first reading? While we may choose to turn away from God through some of our actions, God will never turn away from us. Whether we deserve it or not, God’s grace flows freely.

Vigilant

October 19, 2021

Each day, I reflect upon a word or a phrase inspired by the readings of the day. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps incorporate that word or phrase into your daily prayer.

“Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.” (Luke 12:35-38)

VIGILANT: The Gospels are full of warnings to be aware, vigilant, awake and alert, prepared, and watchful. We have another example in today’s gospel.

Questions for your consideration:

  • If we truly believe what we say in the Creed – He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead – shouldn’t we be better prepared?
  • Shouldn’t we be doing the right thing all the time, just in case today is the day?
  • What state would Christ find us in if His return in glory happened today?
  • How prepared are we to be judged?
  • What planning and preparation have we done to welcome Jesus upon His return?

In my heart I know that I am unprepared. I think it’s because my day of judgment still seems so far off. There’s always time to right the ship, so what’s the hurry?

Does this sound like you?

Do whatever you need to do to prepare for the day you will meet Him face to face.

Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist

October 18, 2021 – Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist

Luke’s inspiration and information for his Gospel and Acts came from his close association with Paul and his companions.

Luke’s unique perspective on Jesus can be seen in the six miracles and eighteen parables not found in the other gospels. Luke’s is the gospel of the poor and of social justice. He is the one who tells the story of Lazarus and the Rich man who ignored him. Luke is the one who uses “Blessed are the poor” instead of “Blessed are the poor in spirit” in the beatitudes. Only in Luke’s gospel do we hear Mary’s Magnificat where she proclaims that God “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53).

Luke also has a special connection with the women in Jesus’ life, especially Mary. It is only in Luke’s gospel that we hear the story of the Annunciation, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth including the Magnificat, the Presentation, and the story of Jesus’ disappearance in Jerusalem. It is Luke that we have to thank for the Scriptural parts of the Hail Mary: “Hail Mary full of grace” spoken at the Annunciation and “Blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus” spoken by her cousin Elizabeth.

Forgiveness and God’s mercy to sinners is also of first importance to Luke. Only in Luke do we hear the story of the Prodigal Son welcomed back by the overjoyed father. Only in Luke do we hear the story of the forgiven woman disrupting the feast by washing Jesus’ feet with her tears. Throughout Luke’s gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God’s mercy.

Reading Luke’s gospel gives a good idea of his character as one who loved the poor, who wanted the door to God’s kingdom opened to all, who respected women, and who saw hope in God’s mercy for everyone.

Source: http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=76

Homily: Be a Pilgrim

October 17, 2021 – Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The following is a homily I delivered back in 2018, based on the same reading from Hebrews that we have today – Hebrews 4:14-16

When I need advice or help with a particular problem, I tend to go to someone with expertise in that area – someone who has experienced the same situation. Whether they succeeded or failed, at least they have been through it and can share their experience.

It’s why I used to call my dad when I had car trouble. It’s why our kids came to us when it was time to potty-train their own kids. It’s why our parish has married couples facilitate marriage preparation for engaged couples – to share with them the highs and lows of marriage, along with the pitfalls to avoid.

We also want to be sure our source has real-life expertise. For instance, I want to learn to drive a car from someone who has driven before, not someone who has only read about driving. When I hire someone, I don’t depend on a paper resume alone; I make some phone calls to people that have worked with the applicant to get real-life input.

This desire for practical expertise comes to mind for two reasons – the recent canonization of seven individuals to sainthood and today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews.

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