Sunday, September 30, 2018

Faithful Stewards of God's Gifts

The Catholic Liturgy for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 30, 2018. Readings: Num. 11:25-29, James 5:1-6, Mark 9:38-48. Theme: Faithful Stewards of God’s Gifts.

Today’s Scriptures all follow a common theme: we are each called to use what God has given us to glorify Him by putting His gifts to us – whatever they are – at the service of others, especially the poor, the sick and the vulnerable.  We Catholics has taken this responsibility so seriously that we are, and always have been, the largest charitable community on the planet. We can’t help it…that’s just who we are!

It flows out of us, as the fruit of our faith-relationship with Christ who very clearly said, “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to Me.”  One awesome way to respond to these words of Jesus is through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. St. Sebastian’s is very blessed to have had a parish Conference of Vincentians continually serving Christ’s poor for over 40 years of those years, doing something beautiful for God and for the poor.

Like many residents of Marin, you might be surprised to learn that there are so many truly poor and vulnerable people living within our neighborhoods.  They face tough decisions every day to just get by. Some real-life situations that Marin Vincentians encounter include:

  • Elderly who have to decide whether to buy food or medicine with the remnants of their social security check because they can’t afford both…
  • Families whose members take turns sleeping on the one mattress they possess…
  • The under-employed who are literally just dollars away from being homeless every single month…
  • Children who struggle at school, not because they have learning problems, but because they live out of a car and are unable to have even just a stable place to study and do their homework.
  • Recovering addicts out of rehab with no family or financial help and who need seed money to get started on a new life.

If these stories speak to your heart then please know that three ways in which you can personally become part of this “something beautiful for God and for the poor”:

First, Spiritual Support. We seek to bring Christ and His love to those we serve while seeing to the vital things they need to live a decent life. We truly cannot function or bear fruit without a solid foundation of prayer and spiritual support coming from our parish community. This is something everyone can do.

Second, Material Support. It should come as no surprise to anyone that relieving the suffering of the poor requires financial resources from those who have the means to give.  We make this formal appeal to the parish only once a year and St. Sebastian parishioners have always been extremely generous. You enable us to provide for the poor. Thank you.

Lastly, Active Membership.  If anyone has a desire for something more, to jump start your faith and put the Gospel into concrete practice, to make the gift of YOURSELF to Jesus in the poor, then seriously consider joining us in the Society. I wholeheartedly invite you to become a living channel of Christ’s Presence and make a difference in someone’s life. As you ponder and pray over this option of becoming a Vincentian, I ask you to consider these words written by a saint about those who minster to the needy:

Christ has no earthly body now - He needs you to continue his mission of mercy…
Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the needy… 
Yours are the feet with which he walks to bring good news to the poor…
Yours are the hands through which he touches and relieves those who are suffering. 
Yours is the smile through which he brings joy and light to those who feel hopeless…
You do not need to worry that you will not be up to the task at hand
For the One who calls you to this mission is the same One who said,

“I am with you always, until the end of the world.”

Sunday, September 23, 2018

True Greatness, True Success

The Catholic Liturgy for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 23, 2018. Gospel – Mark 9:30-37. Theme: True Greatness, True Success.

Today’s Gospel begins where we left off last Sunday: with Jesus and his disciples leaving Caesaria Phillipi where He confirmed that He is, indeed the Christ, the Promised Messiah. And even though He was telling them quite clearly – for the second time now - that as Messiah He was going to be arrested, tortured and killed they still didn’t get it. They were so stuck in their own ideas of what it meant to be the great successful Ruler of Israel.

Like all devout Jews of their time, the Apostles were expecting a mighty warrior-king Messiah, who would lead a powerful army into Roman-occupied Jerusalem, where he would conquer the oppressors, take up his royal throne, and begin his glorious reign. That’s why Mark tells us that the Apostles were arguing among themselves. They were having a verbal competition about their dreams for success, about making it big in life, about their potential greatness as companions of the Messiah.

To set them straight, Jesus he takes a little child and explains that here, before their eyes, is the reminder of what will make them great according to God’s definition of success. You see, in their day a child was considered a nonperson with no rights, no claim to lawful protection, no social status. Jesus is teaching the disciples that the Messiah’s way to greatness is through self-forgetful love, expressed in service to the least among the people. It is not found in the celebrity and social status they were seeking.

This concept of greatness, of power and influence, completely blew away the preconceived ideas of the disciples.  But that seems to be the way Jesus operates, doesn’t it? He challenges us to rethink our ideas and definitions in light of His truth that sets us free. The Gospel teachings of Jesus call us to rethink how we are living and ponder what it really means for us to be successful, to be great in this life. 

There are so many inspirational Catholics whose lives show us what it means to really encounter Jesus personally in our lives, not as an historical figure but as our Risen Living Lord, and to take up his call to greatness through self-forgetful love.  One of those who illustrates today’s Gospel is someone who is still alive and serving others at 90 years of age. He is a layman named Jean Vanier, whom many call a living saint. (listen to audio homily to hear his story).

Jesus teaches us that a successful life on planet Earth means that we have lived a life of self-forgetful love and have reached Heaven, bringing others with us along the way. He teaches us that the things we typically use as identifiers for making it big in this life- such as how much money we have; what kind of car we drive; the size of our house or the high-end style of our clothes – count as nothing to God when it comes to judging a successful life. The great mystic St. John of the Cross put it well when he wrote, “in the twilight of life God will not judge us on our earthly possessions or human success, but rather on how much and how well we have loved.”

And so, I think that we each would do well to ask ourselves....What is my definition of success, of greatness in this life? What do I hold to be the goal of life on planet Earth, why am I here? And then each one of us can compare our answers to the teaching of Jesus in today’s Gospel and see just how close or how far away we are from living in the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

You Are An Anointed One!

The Catholic Liturgy for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 16, 2018. Gospel – Mark 8:27-35. Theme: You are An Anointed One.

Peter said to him, “You are the Christ.”   So, what exactly does that title mean? To understand it’s great importance in the Bible, we have to recall the first or original sin of Adam and Eve. Because of this sin the whole human race was spiritually alienated from God, but He promised to heal the rift and make things right again by sending a Savior. This Promised One came to be known as the MESSIAH.

In Hebrew, Messiah means “anointed one”. In the Bible, those who were chosen by God to be prophets or priests or kings were ANOINTED with holy oil as a sign of their mission.  Since the Messiah was to be the greatest of these, He was known as THE Anointed One.  When Greek became the primary world language “Messiah” was translated into word, CHRISTOS which in English is CHRIST. And so there you have it. Christ means the Messiah:  the anointed prophet who would speak God’s Word to us, the anointed priest who would enable us to offer worship true worship to God, the anointed king who would lead not by strict domination like earthly kings but by loving service.

Now here is an awesome truth: each one of us who are baptized share in this Messiah-mission.  That is why we are called Christians.  As you might imagine, this word comes from the same root as Christ and it means “anointed ones”. Right after baptizing us with water the priest or deacon anointed us with Chrism, a consecrated holy oil that also comes from the same root word as Christ and Christian. And he prayed these words as he anointed us: God the Father of our Lord Jesus…now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King…And if that wasn’t enough, we were anointed once again, at Confirmation. What does this anointing ask of us?

A prophet is anointed to be a messenger from God, a person who speaks for God by word and action. Prophets call people to conversion, to a relationship with God. Prophets speak the truth even when people do not want to hear the truth. However, prophets are often persecuted and sometimes even killed for this message. But Jesus assures us in today’s Gospel that “whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” We Anointed Ones are called to bring God’s message to others first of all by living it and even by being ready to die for it.

A priest is someone who offers worship and sacrifice to God.  You might be surprised to know that the Bible and the Church teach that all baptized Christians are a priestly people. We especially exercise our baptismal priesthood by joining with the ordained priest in worship at the Eucharist. At Mass, we encounter the Sacrifice of the Cross in a deeply mystical but real way, and can unite our struggles and difficulties with those of Jesus. We offer up all that we endure as an act of love and worship to the Father for the good of the world.

Finally, we Anointed Ones are royalty, sharing in the Kingship of Christ. But Jesus reminds us that He is a very different kind of king that the ones we might imagine. He comes to establish the Kingdom of God in human hearts.  As Anointed Ones that is our mission as well. In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to follow Him, that is, to imitate His example, His way of living and loving, so that the Kingdom of God can spread to every human heart through us.

Our baptismal anointing is not a gift that God gives us for our own sakes.  We are called and anointed for the sake of others.  That’s why the liturgy has deacons dismiss the congregation from Mass with words like: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”  So, when you are dismissed today remember that each one of you has been anointed WITH Jesus, in order to BECOME other Christs among those with whom you live, work and socialize, helping to them draw nearer to the God and 

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Rules, Rituals & Relationships

The Catholic Liturgy for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 2, 2018. Gospel – Mk 7:1-23. Theme: Rules, Rituals & Relationships

I grew up in an immigrant Italian family still very much tied to the culture and ways of the Old Country. Though my immediate family never ever went to Mass or the sacraments, I would get a salami sandwich slapped right out of hands on Lenten Fridays, along with the reminder that we Catholics do not eat meat on those Fridays!  And when I asked why… the reply was “because that’s just what we do.” What’s wrong with this picture? 

Well, Jesus tells us what’s wrong with it in today’s gospel:  it’s religion based on rules and not relationships. Washing the body without cleansing the soul. It’s lip service without the heart being involved. In other words, it’s hallow, it’s empty show.  Jesus is strongly warning us that this approach to religion has absolutely no power to transform, to change, to save the human person. Instead, it blinds us the real heart of the matter, to the ultimate purpose of Christianity which is conversion of life, changing the ways we think, speak and act.  

External religion cannot empower us to forgive those who hurt us. It cannot motivate us to serve the desperate needs of the hungry, the poor, the sick and the lonely. External religion cannot produce saints, let alone good Christians. In other words, keeping rules and rituals without them being an expression of our love for God will not lead us to Heaven, but only to the other place…and it will fool us all along the way.

The #1 way to insure against falling into this trap is by having and nourishing a sincere and prayerful relationship with God, communicating heart to heart.  But we also need to be aware of our rituals and understand what they mean, know why we do them. Let’s take a quick look at some of these that we use during the Liturgy.  Perhaps this can help us remember what they really mean so that they will not be simply empty actions…

  • ·     When we enter the church we take holy water…are we aware that this means we are renewing our baptism, promising to reject Satan and sin and live for God above all else
  •      We begin and end the liturgy with the Sign of the Cross.  This classic Catholic ritual is a profession of faith using body language. It means that we believe that God is Holy Trinity of Persons & that salvation comes only through the cross & resurrection of Jesus. Is this true for me personally?
  •    When we recite the Confiteor or the Kyrie, many of us strike our chest which is an ancient symbol of sorrow for sin…this action of repentance should lead us to a regular reception of the Sacrament of Confession…does it?
  •     When we stand for the Gospel we make a small Sign of the Cross on our forehead. lips and heart…this ritual is supposed to mean that we desire to think like Jesus, speak like Jesus and love like Jesus. Does that describe us?
  •     We bow during the part of the Nicene Creed that mentions Jesus becoming human, born of Mary…this is a ritual honoring that truth that God became flesh and embraced our human nature. It should lead us to treat all human beings with the dignity each one deserves since Jesus became Brother to all…do we? 
  •     At the Offertory, we put money in the basket for the works of mercy…it’s a symbol of giving something of ourselves to relieve the sufferings of others. Is it a true reflection of how we try to help & comfort others in everyday life?
  •     When we receive Holy Communion, we bow before the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and then become one with Him… Do we consciously try to bring this presence of Jesus living within us to those with whom we live, work and socialize through our words and behavior?

As we prepare to enter into the Liturgy of the Eucharist, let’s ask God for sincerity of heart and true religion, so that Jesus can never ever say of us what He said in today’s Gospel, This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.”