22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

“Religion Is About Changing our Hearts!”

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

“The definition of religion is a controversial and complicated subject in religious studies with scholars failing to agree on any one definition.  One definition is: a particular system of faith and worship.”

            There is nothing subtle about today’s readings.  They are straightforward and blunt!  In today’s gospel, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were accusing him of ignoring their laws and traditions.  Jesus turned the tables on them and told them they’re missing the main point of what religion is all about.  Besides contradicting some of God’s laws, Jesus condemned them because they stressed only external observance.  Jesus reminds them (and us) that true religion is about a change of heart.

            In our society we encounter an overwhelming number of laws, some are from God, some from our religious leaders and many from our government and civil authority.  Law is important!  Without law there is chaos and anarchy.  At the same time freedom is also important.  We live in a society where too many people think freedom means doing whatever they want without having to answer to any authority.  Without laws there would be no freedom for we would be spending all our energy simply trying to avoid being annihilated. 

            Moses reminded God’s people in today’s first reading about the importance of keeping the law, and that they would be admired by their contemporaries, and they would prosper.  This is key – we must balance the restrictions that laws place upon us with the freedoms we want to enjoy in our lives. This requires maturity on the part of all of us, and we want to be able to keep that balance and most of us manage to do a fairly good job!

            Sometimes when we get tempted, we might think swell if no one is watching and I don’t get caught, then maybe I can get by with doing something I shouldn’t be doing or avoiding something I should.  When we think that way, we’re becoming like the Pharisees and thinking only about the externals.  This could easily be a sin of commission or a sin of omission. This is what Jesus is talking about.

            Now, external observance is very important.  We might feel like clobbering someone over the head with a stick, but it is a better thing not to do so.  St. James, in our second reading tell us: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”  If you want a good example of this, go home today and read the Ten Commandments; they are mostly about external behavior: worship God, respect his name, honor our parents, do not kill, lie, steal, commit adultery.  Only the last two are about what goes on in our hearts: when we want to take possession of what belongs to someone else.  Our feelings are not always the purest or the best, but if we behave in a kindly and appropriate manner, that is good!  Jesus wants nothing less than for our hearts to filled with his love and grace.

            Whether someone is watching or not, it’s when we have a right heart that we do the right thing.  That is a high level of moral maturity.  It’s a goal we try to teach our children, it’s a goal we strive for ourselves.  But until we get to that point, we stumble along with prayer and the sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist to help us on our way. 

            God bless us, and all who live in simplicity of heart!

Duet 4:1-2, 6-8

James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

“Making Dreams takes Commitment!”

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

          At the Winter Olympic games in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994, Dan Jansen, a favored speed skater for the United States was ready to win the 500 meters and bring home a gold medal.  It was not his time – he slipped and fell adding one more jinx to his Olympic career.

          However, four days later, Dan skated his last Olympic race, the 1000 meters and set a world record and won the Olympic Gold medal.  As he stood there during the singing of the National Anthem, with his medal proudly around his neck, Dan looked Heavenward and saluted, saying: “This if for you, Jane.  I love you!”

          Before he left the U.S. for Norway, Dan spoke with his sister Jane, who was dying of Leukemia.  Dan didn’t want to go, he wanted to be by his sister in her final days.  Jane insisted that he go and win the Gold Medal for his country and for her.

          Finally, after much soul-searching, Dan decided to proceed on to the Winter games in Norway where he won the Gold.

          Dan had looked in the face of failure many times before as he pursued the career of speed skating.  His first failure came at age 11 and didn’t stop until he won the Gold Medal.  But it was the choice of commitment that Dan had made early on in his life.  His sister Jane knew this and wouldn’t let him back out, even as she was dying.

In a Post-Olympic interview, when asked how he overcame the obstacle of knowing that his sister was dying and he wasn’t at her side, Dan responded: 

“It is a salute and a tribute to people everywhere-whether chasing the Olympic Gold or in pursuit on one’s own dream that in order to achieve goals one must learn to persevere, to overcome adversity, to never give up and to always strive to do your best.”

When faced with the choice of following false gods or the Lord of Life, the Israelites chose to follow the Lord of Life!  They knew by experience, that even during adversity, in the face of prejudice, in the face of ridicule, in the face of uncertainty, the Lord of Life had already lifted their ancestors from the grips of slavery, protected them on their journey through the desert and brought them to the Promised Land. 

In the gospel, the whiners and complainers are at it again.  “How can anyone take this seriously?” they ask.   “This sort of talk is hard to take” they say.   What did Jesus ask?

“Does it shake your faith?  Jesus knew that some would not follow him.  Jesus knew that some would despise him.  Jesus also knew that some would ridicule him.  Therefore, he says, “no one comes to me unless the Father draws them.”

Yet, it is Peter who has the right answer.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of Everlasting Life!  We have come to believe, Peter says, that you are God’s holy one!

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

“The Storms of Life: Challenge or Defeat?”

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time – B

“In life, storms come not to hurt you but to make you stronger.”
― Debasish Mridha

In the first reading and the Gospel there are storms, and the storms are calmed by the power of the Lord. Jesus tells his disciples that they should have faith, that they are not alone. When the storms arise, Jesus will be there to help them. He calmed the waves and quieted the wind.

Some may say: “well, that’s a Bible story, that’s not real life.”  But it poses a real question for all of us.  Where do we go during the storms in our lives? Some people turn to family or friends, some turn to food or drugs and alcohol.  Some people want to blame others or God for the storms in their life.

We hear, “Why is God doing this to me?  What sin have I committed to deserve this?” Or worse yet others have said: “This storm, is happening because of their sin” whatever it may have been.

The book of Job tries to explore this dilemma.  Job is a very holy and good man. Even God admits it at the beginning of the book. He is blessed in every way.  But by a few sudden tragedies he loses his crops, his livestock.   He even loses the respect of his children and friends. His wife and a few faithful friends kept telling him must deserve all this for something he did.  But even during this storm in life Job never quits on God.  He remains faithful and even says: “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes a way.”

God’s response to Job’s demands come in the form of questions, questions mostly about the mysteries of nature, question like we hear in today’s first reading. These questions go on for four chapters.  These questions were meant to lead the readers of the book of Job to a sense of trust that God is in control of all things.  We hear this in the gospel where Jesus calms the sea and then says to his apostles: “O you of little faith.”

We are sometimes like the apostles in today’s gospel, when storms come up in our lives we cry out, “Lord, don’t you care that I am going to drown?”  Some have even said to me: “God has abandoned me!”  But this is not true, not now, not ever!

Every time we gather here for the Eucharistic Liturgy, in Communion, in our prayers, our petitions, God gives us as many answers as he thinks we can understand at that time.  We have the Good News that God loves us so much he gave His Son for us.  We have the resurrection of Jesus to give us hope.  We have the Holy Eucharist to remind us that God is with us through everything, to challenge us, to give us strength and to unite us closely with him until the end of time.

The answers we get are like that of Job’s.  They require us to continue to have faith, trust in the Lord and be confident that there is no storm that will come upon us that God will not give us the strength to weather.  In the end, as is always the case, we have two choices:        1) to grow stronger with the grace and strength of God or

2) to give in and be defeated by the storm.

Remember, fear only gives the storm more power over us!

God bless our faith community, and all who live in simplicity of heart.

Baptism of the Lord – 1-10-21

“Baptism: ‘A Show and Tell of our Living Faith’”

Baptism of the Lord

          “Show and Tell” is a generally a popular time in elementary classrooms and this is for at least two good reasons.  First, education research has revealed that we learn best by concrete, hands-on experiences.  When the children can see and touch some object their curiosity is roused, questions come easy, and they are usually eager to run home after school and tell others about the experience.  Second, “Show and Tell” is popular because it boosts the self-esteem of the little one in front of the class showing and telling what they have learned.  Something significant to the child is shared with others and the interest of the classmates encourages the child and makes him or her feel important.

          “Show and Tell” is a manifestation of good learning technique and shows the worth of an individual.  This Sunday’s gospel tells of a kind of “Show and Tell” on the part of both Jesus and us.  It manifests who we are and how we have been gifted.  The Baptism of the Lord reveals to us all that we have been given many gifts in our baptism and connects us to the gifts that God has given us to do His work on earth in the name of Jesus Christ.

          In effect, Jesus’ baptism was different than John’s (his was, a baptism of repentance) Jesus’ was for the occasion of the revelation of Jesus’ identity.  In the gospel of Mark, which we read from this year, Jesus’ identity is revealed at the baptism when he comes up out of the water (it is not in the gospel of Luke).  The manifestation of Jesus’ identity as “beloved Son” while he was praying highlights for us the relationship with the Father and his identity as consistent with that relationship.  In other words, what Jesus can do because of his relationship with the Father.

          As we celebrate this Feast today, we also celebrate our baptism – not just in the waters of repentance but in the Holy Spirit which calls us to give ourselves completely in the work of the Church as we are connected to Christ and His ministry through our baptism.  Receiving the Spirit in our own baptism manifests our identity as ones who are saved, renewed, justified, and heirs of eternal life, that is, ones who share in God’s life.  Being baptized by fire (the Holy Spirit) means that we share in Jesus’ mission, including the total gift of ourselves. 

          The Catechism of the Catholic Church begins by addressing the desire for God.  Every vocation begins there.  A vocation begins when the person desires God more than anything else in life.  The desire for the presence of God, the desire for God is the beginning of any and every Christian vocation.

          As a faith community, we come to appreciate all this when we, like Jesus, contemplate this mystery of baptism in prayer. 

Like the simple “Show and Tell” time in the classroom, we learn from experiencing and encountering the Divine through others.  In this experience, our own self-esteem is boosted as Christian people when we realize that we ourselves are God’s presence for one another.  The gift far exceeds the cost!