Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time

Luke 13:1-9
Some people told Jesus about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
He said to them in reply,
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!
Or those eighteen people who were killed
when the tower at Siloam fell on them–
do you think they were more guilty
than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?
By no means!
But I tell you, if you do not repent,
you will all perish as they did!”
And he told them this parable:
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard,
and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,
he said to the gardener,
‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree
but have found none.
So cut it down.
Why should it exhaust the soil?’
He 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.
If not you can cut it down.’”
What strike me are the two persons presented in the parable:  the owner  of the garden and the gardener.  The owner wants to cut down the fig tree, and he certainly has a reason to:  After all, three years is a long time to wait for a fig tree to produce fruit.  The “owner,”  in my mind, represents the image of God possessed by those people Jesus is addressing.  The listeners believe that the bad things that happen to people are a punishment from God because of the sinfulness of those people.
Whether or not that is true—I do not believe it is— the main point is not the sinfulness of those people but the  image of God possessed by those who approached Jesus.  They see God as someone ready to punish, ready to inflict pain and suffering if His will is not followed or His love and grace are squandered.  God will “cut down” the person who guilty of sin, making him or her suffer for it.  He is not patient with those who do not follow His laws.
This is in contrast to what Jesus is telling those who approached him.  His parable presents another image of God:  that of the gardener.  The gardener also sees that the fig tree has produced no fruit for three years, and he know s that this is a long time.  Still, he asks for one more year, and  will pay close attention to the care he gives to the fig tree.  The gardener will take extra measures to help the fig tree produce fruit; all he asks in return.
Even the gardener, though, recognizes that there is a limit to what he can do, and he tells the owner that he may cut down the tree if there is no fruit after that year.  Notice who has the last word.  The gardener has won the argument, and he has won the right to care for tree, to help it grow and mature, just as Jesus  desires to nourish us, to care for us, to save us.  This is the image of God that Jesus is trying to present to his listeners.
That brings us to a question:  Which image of God do we have?  Which image is the one we live out of?  Is God an ogre, waiting to punish us, or is God someone who cares for us and helps us to live better lives?  It is our decision to  make and ours alone.  No one can tell us how we are to view God, but it is not hard to see that the image of God we have will affect everything we say, hear, think, and do.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time

Luke 12: 54-59
Jesus said to the crowds,
“When you see a cloud rising in the west
you say immediately that it is going to rain–and so it does;
and when you notice that the wind is blowing from the south
you say that it is going to be hot–and so it is.
You hypocrites!
You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky;
why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
“Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?
If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate,
make an effort to settle the matter on the way;
otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge,
and the judge hand you over to the constable,
and the constable throw you into prison.
I say to you, you will not be released
until you have paid the last penny.”
First of all, I want to say that my reflections are personal reflections:  I do not speak for any religious denomination or any other religious organization, only myself.  My hope is that this reflection will be of some help to anyone who chooses to read it.
The two things that stand out to me about this passage are:  1) The people did not interpret their present situation correctly. 2) They did not think on their own about what was right.
What makes people—young people especially—act, dress, think, talk,  and recreate in a similar way?  Sometimes, it’s because a way of thinking or acting is a good and effective way to think or act, so people adopt the habits engendered by this way of thinking or acting.  Many times, however, people act, talk, or dress a certain way because that is what society has said is the best way to act, talk or dress.  People caught up in the way of the world do not see clearly that they are being moved by something that does not have their best interests in mind.
This was happening in Jesus’ time, but it related to how to worship and follow God.  The priests, Pharisees and Sadducees were the people to whom everyone looked, regarding questions of morality and religious observance.  No one questioned the religious authorities about the religious and moral rules they gave to the people.  Everyone thought that the priests and religious leaders knew best.
Along came Jesus, with a different message, a message that no one had heard before, a message that was different from the religious authorities.  His words and deeds were powerful, and his message was attractive, but what were people to do?  Jesus clearly was not a Pharisee or Sadducee, he was not a priest of the Temple, and he did not claim to be one.  In fact, he never claimed to be anything or anyone of importance.
Consequently, a tension began to build between the teachings and example of the Pharisee and the teaching and example of Jesus.  Again, what were people to do?  Jesus had the answer:  “Think for yourself; judge for yourself what is right, holy, and true.”  He chastised the people for being able to interpret the signs of the weather but not the religious and moral signs that were being presented by the Pharisees and Sadducees, on one hand, and Jesus, on the other.
Jesus asks us the same question today:  Are we going to think for ourselves, with the teachings and example of Jesus?  Are we going to just go with the group and not worry about whether or not we are growing closer to Jesus, whether or not we are trying to think with Jesus?
Now, more than ever, we need to ask ourselves this question and honestly try to see the answer:  to see where our blind spots are, where we do not see or hear Jesus.  Only then, with God’s grace, will we be able to move away from ways of acting and thinking that are not in line with Christ's call to us nor with his message of love and compassion.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thursday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time

Luke 12:49-53
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
First of all, I want to say that my reflections are personal reflections:  I do not speak for the Catholic Church, or any other religious organization, only myself.  My hope is that this reflection will be of some help to anyone who chooses to read it.
What strikes me about this passage are:  1) the image of a fire burning; 2) the “division” that Jesus wants to bring to the earth.
The “fire” that Jesus wants to bring to this earth is not a fire of pain and suffering, but the fire of God’s love.  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit paleontologist, said something along the lines of  as soon as the human race fully embraces the love of God, humanity will discover fire for the second time.  That is the “blazing fire” that Jesus wants to give to the world:  the fire of God’s love.  This love is not a weepy, emotional, drama-driven, soap-opera love:  God’s love is fiercely compassionate, unyielding and tenacious in ministering to the poor and oppressed.
This love will not tolerate a Pax Romana, a false peace based upon subjugation or fear.  God’s love brings about divisions, because when we turn to God and let Him into our lives, God seeks out the sin and fear that is holding us prisoner.  Once found, Christ’s love penetrates deep within our hearts and souls and vanquishes the sin that keeps us from being fully alive in Christ.
As a result, those places of our lives that are controlled by sin or fear will experience a “holy upheaval,” as immoral habits, insecurities and bad relationships are exposed to the purifying, white-hot fire of God’s love and grace.  With the light from the fire of God’s love, we are able to see clearly those habits or relationships that are keeping us from fully loving God and others, and we are able to begin to extricate ourselves from those unholy and healthy realities with laser-like precision.  Of course, this process will often create painful divisions, but with God’s love and grace these divisions are filled with new habits and new relationships that bring us closer to Christ and closer to fullness of life.
So, we should be grateful that Jesus’ love is one that creates divisions. Opening ourselves to God’s love and grace, we should be confident that the blazing rays of His love will purify us of any sin or fear that is holding us as a prisoner of false peace.  Only then will we experience the “holy division” that will lead us to true peace and fullness of life.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wednesday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time

Luke 12:39 - 48
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be sure of this:
if the master of the house had known the hour
when the thief was coming,
he would not have let his house be broken into.
You also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
Then Peter said,
“Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?”
And the Lord replied,
“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward
whom the master will put in charge of his servants
to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?
Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.
Truly, I say to you, he will put him
in charge of all his property.
But if that servant says to himself,
‘My master is delayed in coming,’
and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants,
to eat and drink and get drunk,
then that servant’s master will come
on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour
and will punish the servant severely
and assign him a place with the unfaithful.
That servant who knew his master’s will
but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will
shall be beaten severely;
and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will
but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating
shall be beaten only lightly.
Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
First of all, I want to say that my reflections are personal reflections:  I do not speak for the Catholic Church, or any other religious organization, only myself.  My hope is that this reflection will be of some help to anyone who chooses to read it.
There is much in this passage that is interesting, but I want to focus on two characters and their situations:  1) the servant who knew his master’s will, but did not do it; 2) the servant who did not know his master’s will and did not do it.
In the first case, it is not sufficient to say that the servant did not do his master’s will—he did worse than that.  Why?  He convinced himself that what was not true was actually the truth:  namely, that “My master is delayed in coming.” As such, he made himself the “master” and lorded his “authority” over his “subjects,” the other servants.  Without his true master’s presence, he turned to drunkenness and debauchery.
We do that as well, when we believe that God is not listening to us, when we “feel” that God is far away from us, when we forget what God has called us to do.  It is then that we can fall into the temptation to believe what is not true:  that God is delayed in coming or that God is not coming to be with us.  Believing this can lead us to be less vigilant, or, as in the case of the disobedient servant, to actually do harm to others and to ourselves.
By believing that the Master is not coming or is not already with us, we can fall into the temptation of making ourselves the Master, which will only lead us to sadness.  We must, therefore, be vigilant, like the good servant who believes that his master is coming, will come, and carries out the master’s wishes.  This will lead us to peace.
Finally, I would like to say a word about the servant who was ignorant of the master’s will and was not following the master’s will.  This servant was beaten “lightly,” because he was not disobeying the master, as he was not aware of the master’s will.  In this case, we see that the master lenient with those servants who act out of ignorance, and I believe that this is the case with many people. 
God knows us.  He knows our weaknesses and our strengths, and he knows when we are acting out of our weaknesses—our fears, needs, inadequacies, biases or past hurts—instead of our strengths.  I believe that in these moments, when we “forget” God’s will for us, God gives us a “light” chastisement, not a severe beating.  It may be a different matter for those, however, who believe that God is not with them and who knowingly plan to act in direct contradiction to God’s will.
Our goal, in all of this, is to be that “faithful and prudent steward” who knows God’s will and is vigilant about carrying it out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time

Memorial of Sts. John de Brebeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests and Martyrs, and Companions
Luke 12:35-38
Jesus said to his disciples:
“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.
Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself,
have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.
And should he come in the second or third watch
and find them prepared in this way,
blessed are those servants.”
First of all, I want to say that my reflections are personal reflections:  I do not speak for the Catholic Church, or any other religious organization, only myself.  My hope is that this reflection will be of some help to anyone who chooses to read it.
The two things that struck me about this passage are: 1) what the master does; 2) what happens to those who are vigilant during the second or third watch.
When the master comes and finds the servants alert and waiting for his arrival, he immediately treats them as he himself would be treated.  This is directly related to what Jesus did for the Apostles at the Last Supper, and I believe it is how God relates to us.  God does not “lord” his power over us; on the contrary, he is waiting for the opportunity to be of service to us, to help us, to heal us, to feed our hungry souls with his life-giving grace.  God is waiting to fill our lives with His peace and love.
I think it is helpful to know that that the second and third watches were based upon the Roman system of military watches.  The second watch was from 9 pm until midnight, and the third watch was from midnight until 3 am.  The servants who were served by the master were discovered by the master during the first watch, from sundown until 9 pm.  At this time, there would still have been food available, and so the master would have been able to wait on the servants at table.
However, for those servants who were discovered by the master at the second or third watches, there would have been no food available during those times.  What does Jesus say about these servants?  They are “blessed,” but the master does not wait upon them, as he would have if he had arrived during the first watch.  What does this mean?
I think it means that the servants who were waited upon by the master received their blessing in a concrete way.  The servants who were found to be vigilant at a later time did not receive this concrete blessing that the first servants received; instead, they received another blessing.  The blessing for these servants is treasure in heaven (Mt. 6:20).  These servants were vigilant, even at a time of day when they knew that they would receive nothing concrete (i.e., a sumptuous meal), in return.
And so it is with us.  When we are younger, we expect to receive concrete things--toys, games, dolls, meals at restaurants, movies, etc.—when we do something good.  As young adults, we tend to reward ourselves for good behavior or for accomplishing some goal, and there is nothing wrong with this.  It’s a good practice.  As we grow older and more mature in the Holy Spirit, we begin to desire more the gifts of the Holy Spirit and we begin to desire less the material things that the world has to offer.
If we mature in the Spirit during the second and third “watches” of our lives, our attention is more focused on the Lord, on His will and His love for us.  By the grace of God, our desire is to be more vigilant, so that we may serve Him readily when He calls us, no  matter what the hour.  In so doing, we will be blessed with heavenly treasure.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist

Luke 10:1-9
The Lord Jesus appointed seventy-two disciples
whom he sent ahead of him in pairs
to every town and place he intended to visit.
He said to them,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.
Go on your way;
behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals;
and greet no one along the way.
Into whatever house you enter,
first say, ‘Peace to this household.’
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.
Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you,
for the laborer deserves payment.
Do not move about from one house to another.
Whatever town you enter and they welcome you,
eat what is set before you,
cure the sick in it and say to them,
‘The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.’”
First of all, I want to say that my reflections are personal reflections:  I do not speak for the Catholic Church, only myself.  My hope is that this reflection will be of some help to anyone who chooses to read it.
There are again two things that stand out to me:  1) the numbers that are used in this passage;  2) God’s providence.
The numbers 72 that is used in the text is a rich number, meaning that the pairs of numbers that can be multiplied to equal 72 (besides 1 and 72) when added up, have a sum that is greater than 72.  When the 72 disciples are sent in pairs, there are 36 pairs, and 36 is also a rich number (See for yourself!).
I am not saying that this is the reason that Luke used the number 72, but I do believe that these mathematical facts about 72 and 36 were known at the time of Jesus.  So, perhaps these known facts about these numbers were used to indicate something more spiritual.  For me, this “richness” of the numbers 72 and 36 relates directly to the second idea, God’s providence.
The 72 disciples take nothing extra with them when they go out amongst the “wolves.”  Why  not?  They had no need to:  God would provide for all that they need.  The fact that Jesus tells them to “eat whatever is put before you,” means that there would be something put before them to eat.  The disciples’ needs would be taken care of.  How?  Through God’s providential care.
In today’s world of material excess, it is hard to imagine that we would just let go of all our material goods, and simply trust in God to take care of us.  Perhaps that is not what Jesus is asking of us in this Gospel; he may be asking us to live in the awareness that all we have is a gift from God.   Maybe that is what is lacking in our world today:  an awareness that all that we have, especially our existence, is due to God’s providential love and care.
If we lived out of that awareness, I believe that, like the 72 disciples, we would not be afraid to go out into the world to reap a rich, abundant harvest for the Lord.  God Bless.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Lk 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.
He said, "There was a judge in a certain town
who neither feared God nor respected any human being.
And a widow in that town used to come to him and say,
'Render a just decision for me against my adversary.'
For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought,
'While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being,
because this widow keeps bothering me
I shall deliver a just decision for her
lest she finally come and strike me.'"
The Lord said, "Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.
Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night?
Will he be slow to answer them?
I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.
But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

First of all, I want to say that my reflections are personal reflections:  I do not speak for the Catholic Church, only myself.  My hope is that these reflections will be of some help to those who choose to read.

There are two things that occurred to me as I read today's Gospel:  1)  That the widow was aware that there was an injustice committed against her; 2) That she did not resort to violent means to obtain a just decision from the judge.

From the first point, I believe that the people who are most attuned to injustice are the weak and unfortunate.  They are more aware of the unfairness of life, when it affects them or affects others, because their experience of being disadvantaged is first-hand.  Because of this, the weak and disadvantaged are much more reliant upon God's help, since the normal means for dealing with life's inequities are not so easily available to them.  As such, the widow uses God's grace to combat the injustice that has been dealt her:  She persists in her pursuit of justice.

This is precisely what God does for us, because in God's eyes we are all weak and disadvantaged children.   None of us has attained a state of perfection that automatically guarantees us a place in heaven.  As a result, God persistently calls out to us, loves us, cherishes us, embraces us in order to help us combat the injustice in our lives, whether we are aware of that injustice or not.  He is our Advocate, our Defender, our Protector, and our job is to open our eyes to the injustice in our lives and allow God's grace to help us persistently combat that injustice.

As to the second point--that the widow did not resort to violence--I believe it is interesting to note that the evil judge was conscious that there possibly could be violence involved if he did not decide in the widow's favor.  Perhaps the injustice against the widow involved a lot of money, and she could have hired a "hit-man" to threaten the judge if he did not rule in her favor.  But, the widow did not resort to violence:  She simply kept coming back to the dishonest judge time and time again, with the same petition:  that he recognize the injustice done to her and rule in her favor.

The same thing is true of God:  He does not resort to violence in dealing with us, in helping us to see the injustice in our lives.  No, God simply comes to us time and time again, with the same request:  Recognize the injustice in your life and allow me to help you correct it.  How many times will God have to come to us?  My sense is that it will be for the rest of our lives.  However, if listen to God and recognize the injustice in our lives, and if we let Him help us to correct it, we will be on our way to receiving a just judgment from the Eternal Judge, whose only goal is to lovingly call and cherish His children, inspire of the injustice in our lives.