Sunday, August 18, 2019

Fire & Division?

The Catholic Liturgy for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Aug. 18, 2019. Gospel – Luke 12:49-53. Theme: Fire & Division?

Today’s gospel can be quite a contrast to our traditional image of Jesus! Where is the meek and mild gentle Jesus of our Christmas carols? The Jesus who commands us to turn the other cheek and love our enemies? The Jesus whom Isaiah calls the Prince of Peace?  The impression of Jesus we encounter in today’s Gospel seems so very different, what with talking about setting the world on fire and saying that he has “not come to bring peace but division”.

But we have to remember that, when Jesus became a human being he entered into a specific time of history and into a specific culture which became his own. And so, we hear him today speaking as a 1st century Jew using a very common Hebrew form of over-emphasis and exaggeration in order to prove his point.  Translated roughly into 21st century English, what he is saying is this: “If you would be a Christian in actuality and not just in name only, your relationship with me must take priority over every other relationship even if this causes difficulty.”

I personally know of couples where only one spouse is a devout believer while the other is not so much or even not at all, and who struggles to understand the commitment of the other, sometimes causing friction as each Sunday approaches. Or of parents at odds with a child who has abandoned the faith of their baptism and has taken up a lifestyle diametrically opposed to Christianity. Or of siblings who ridicule one of their own brood because of his or her adherence to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

I’m sure many of you have encountered or perhaps are even now experiencing such things. We all know that there are times in life when we just have to make a choice and take a stand.  We have to be strong in our convictions and firm in our faith but in a way that does not intentionally attack or offend others.  And the key word here is intentionally, because it is impossible to live in peace with everyone, but the first one we must live in peace with is God.

But this challenge of faith in our relationships is nothing new. Ever since the earliest days of Christianity, there have been many who have been shunned, disowned or even martyred by their own families because of their conviction for Christ, fidelity to his Word, and obedience to God’s commandments.  Someone who always comes to my mind in this topic of maintaining the priority of our relationship with Christ is a teenage martyr of the 7th century to whom I am very devoted: her name is St. Dymphna. 

I wish she was better known in our times because she is a saint we need so much today.  She is the patron saint of emotional and mental health, and a powerful intercessor with Christ for such things as nervousness, anxiety, panic, depression, suicide, phobias, eating disorders, addictions and co-dependency.  Dymphna was a living example of today’s gospel and she paid the ultimate price for the sake of her commitment to God over family, as difficult as it was for her to do. (To hear her story, listen to audio homily).

But that isn’t the full story of St. Dymphna. But before going on with it, I want to recall another strange thing Jesus says to us today.  He informs us that he wants to set a blazing fire on the earth!  This fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to maintain the priority of our relationship with Christ. And by doing so, the Spirit empowers us to influence others and be a force for good in our surroundings. This is what Jesus means by setting the fire ablaze.  The fire unleashed through St. Dymphna in the village of Geel is still burning 1,500 years after her martyrdom, which brings us to the rest of her amazing story. (Listen to audio homily for the rest of her story)

By clinging jealously to our relationship with Christ like St. Dymphna did, and by opening our hearts to the fire-power of the Spirit, we can move out of our mediocrity and lukewarm existence as Christians. We can be truly transformed from the inside out and become instruments of peace and justice, leaving our mark in the world just as she did.

For more information about St. Dymphna, prayers and religious articles of her, go to this link to her National Shrine in the USA:

Sunday, August 11, 2019

No Fear!

The Catholic Liturgy for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Aug. 11, 2019. Gospel – Luke 12:32-48. Theme: No Fear…

Jesus says a lot of things, but the one that really jumped off the page and caught my attention was the opening line “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”   This short little sentence from Jesus touches the heart and reveals to us three things:

First, He assures us that we never need to live in fear. It’s a familiar and frequent reminder that he gives to his followers because he knows how easy it is for fear to take hold of our lives. There are so many things these days that can have the effect of allowing fear in one way or another to invade and disturb our hearts. Worry, panic, anxiety and the like can become so paralyzing for some people and rob them of the peace and enjoyment God wishes them to experience.  We are not in control of everything that happens in our lives but God is.  And he will make all things work out ultimately for the good of those who trust in him. If, instead of spending time worrying about things, we use some of that time for our personal conversation with God in quiet prayer from the heart, we will see that fear begins to go slowly away and serenity enters in to take its place, giving birth to trust in our lives.

Second, Jesus calls us his “little flock”. This term of endearment reveals the intimacy and depths of his love for us. Jesus has a gentle and compassionate heart which yearns to enter into a meaningful relationship with each one of us.  These words, calling us “his” reveals not only that we belong to Jesus but that he will shepherd and guide us throughout the ups and downs of life. Once we grasp the depths and reality of his love for us, we will easily reject temptations to fear, to be afraid. As the Scriptures tell us, perfect love casts out all fear.

Third and lastly, Jesus reminds us to reject fear because God our Father calls us to live within the safety of the Kingdom of God. Jesus once said that “the kingdom of God is within you” and this becomes a reality when we receive him in Holy Communion. This makes total sense because a kingdom is where the King lives, and so through our reception of the Eucharist, Jesus the King lives within us. This awesome reality should drive out all fear from our hearts and increase our trust in him. We do not need to be afraid any longer because we carry the King of heaven and earth within us!

As we continue our liturgy and prepare for the awesome gift of Holy Communion, let’s keep in mind these intimate words of our compassionate Lord Jesus. Let’s allow his words to cast out all fear from our lives and to increase within us the desire to draw closer to his Sacred Heart, which loves us so much and asks only for our love in return.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

You Can't Take It With You

Catholic Liturgy for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Aug. 4, 2019. Gospel – Luke 12:13-21. Theme: You Can’t Take It With You…

Dale Schroeder was a simple man born and bred in Iowa. He grew up poor, never went to college, never married. He labored as a carpenter for almost 70 years, driving back and forth to work in his rusty Chevy pickup truck. His friends described him as a typical frugal Iowan, raised in the post-depression era: a blue-collar lunch-pail kind of guy who went to work every day and to church every Sunday. They also said he had a generous heart.

But they had no clue as to just how large his generous heart was! To everyone’s great surprise, when Dale Schroeder passed away in 2005, he left behind a 3 million-dollar fund that he had carefully saved throughout his working years. He had intentionally ear-marked this money for the purpose of enabling poor small-town Iowa kids like he had been to go to college and have a life he was never able to have.  In 2014, a group of 33 college graduates of various ages gathered in Iowa around Dale’s lunch pail for a ceremony honoring, remembering and thanking the man they had never met, but whose lack of greed had made a world of difference in their lives.

Kira Conrad, now a practicing therapist, was one of this group that was named “Dale’s Kids”. She shared about how at her graduation party she sadly informed her friends and relatives that, much as she wanted to, she would not be going to college. She had the grades and the desire alright, but not the money. That’s when she said her phone rang.  It was Dale’s Scholarship Fund calling and Kira, like the other 32, was given a full ride for all 4 years of college. They were told that since they could never pay Dale back as he was deceased, they must pay it forward by imitating his self-forgetfulness and generosity with whatever God blessed them with in this life.

And that is exactly the heart of Jesus’ teaching to us today in the parable of the foolish rich man.  This man, the polar opposite of Dale Schroeder, saw his wealth as his own personal treasure and made plans to keep hold of it for himself. And in the meantime, he figured he would live it up, enjoy the so-called “good life” and then retire in leisure and then have a worry-free pleasurable life for many years to come.  But how very wrong his plans turned out to be! Through this parable, Jesus teaches us that such a selfish attitude is really a delusion for two reasons.

The first reason is that we are simply the recipients of blessings from God, we are not their source or origin. Whatever capabilities we have in life are due to the genetics that we received, giving us our particular talents and aptitudes. They came from God through our biology and we had nothing to do with it. Even the circumstances in life that favored our education and development were a gift.

Yet in our pride and foolishness, we can so easily deceive ourselves into thinking that we are indeed the origin of it all. St. Paul urges us to avoid this way of thinking because it is the foundation of greed which is idolatry. Greed is such a destructive sin, a selfish way of living, that promotes the violence we see all around us, contributes to the neglect of the poor and destroys so many family relationships. He calls it idolatry because, if you stop to think about it, greed causes us to bow down and worship both ourselves and money as the most important focus of life.

The second reason flows naturally out of the first: the gifts we have been given are not meant to be hoarded but to be shared with others. Like Dale Schroeder’s Scholarship Kids, we are supposed to pay it forward and use what we have received as a means for growing rich in what matters to God. And what matters to God is that we love him and concretely express this love through our care and concern or others.

As the old saying goes, “you can’t take it with you.”  However, we can and do take our spiritual wealth with us when we die, and this kind of treasure is made up of all of our prayers, our faith and hope, the deeds of love while we carried out on earth.  These are what make us rich in the sight of God and reap for us an eternal reward of our investment in Heaven. 

Finally, in this whole topic of greed versus generosity, it is very important for us to remember that sharing God’s blessings isn’t something reserved for just the wealthy as many people often think. The life of Dale Schroeder shows us how anyone and everyone can reach great heights of Christian generosity with whatever they have been given in this life and grow rich in the sight of God. Because what counts in God’s eyes is not how much we give but the largeness of heart, the openness of hands, and the thoughtfulness of others that motivates our giving. 

When we stand before God at judgment, do we want to receive praise from him because we chose to use our blessings as a means to grow spiritually rich in his sight… or are we willing to hear the words addressed to the rich man in today’s parable, “you fool…”?