Sunday, September 29, 2019

Vincentian Appeal: Touching Hearts & Changing Lives

From the Catholic Liturgy for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 29, 2019. Gospel of Luke 16:19-31. Theme: Touching Hearts and Changing Lives

(Our parish's annual appeal for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul)

Today’s Gospel of the Rich Man and Lazarus, ends by reminding us that people will not experience conversion of heart simply by hearing Bible stories, such as those about Moses or the prophets.  We are told that not even the eyewitness stories of the Crucified Christ miraculously risen from the dead will do this!  And I am sure we have all experienced this among some of our own family and friends who, having grown up hearing all Moses and the prophets and the Resurrection of Jesus, nevertheless live apart from Christ and his Church.

It’s easy for people to close their ears to mere words, because as we say, “talk is cheap”.  But it’s not so easy to ignore faith-in-action. It’s one thing to hear the Church preaching about taking care of the poor and it’s is quite another thing to see Christians rolling up their sleeves and actually doing it.  This kind of Christianity cannot be ignored. It has the power of God’s grace. It has the power to touch hearts and change lives while doing some good in the world.

And this is precisely what happened in Paris in 1833, a time when France was in the throes of revolution.  The destitute poor were starving and being decimated by sickness in their slums, while the wealthy including many leaders of the Church, like the Rich Man in today’s gospel, were carrying on with their opulent lives. A devout 20-year-old Catholic law student at the Sorbonne University named Frederic Ozanam was challenged by a classmate to shut up about Christ because he was sick and tired of just hearing words from religious people.

In response to this challenge, Frederic gathered together with 5 other students and began to look for ways to put faith-into-action, to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.  Even though it was extremely dangerous, Frederic and his companions decided to go 2-by-2 into the shacks and hovels of the Parisian slums. Through the works of mercy, they gave tangible proof of the love of Christ for the poor, the sick, the suffering and the vulnerable. This was the beginning of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a now world-wide Catholic lay association that today has close to 100,000 members just in the USA alone.

We here at St. Sebastian’s have very blessed to have had a parish Conference of the Society continuously for over 40 years.  Its members, called Vincentians, still go 2-by-2 into the homes of those who ask for their help, just as Frederic and his companions did. They go to discover the suffering that is there and to do their best to help alleviate it. They go as ambassadors of you, the parishioners, whose contributions make it possible to meet the needs they encounter. 

Vincentians are ordinary everyday parishioners whose love for Christ impels them to go out in search of the hungry and sick Lazaruses of today. Some of them are sitting beside you in our pews but you may not even know they are Vincentians because what they do is not about them. Rather, for them it is all about doing something beautiful for God and for the poor who are so often ignored like Lazarus.

And do we might wonder, what does the poor Lazarus that our Vincentians encounter look like today in Marin County? He looks like the Elderly person who has to decide whether to buy food or medicine with the remnant of their social security check because they can’t afford both… He looks like the under-employed working poor who are literally just dollars away from being homeless every single month, living continually under this stress…He looks like the Recovering Addict just out of rehab or the Inmate newly released from prison, who have no source of financial help to get them on their feet and headed in a new direction in life.  If real-life stories like these speak to your heart then please know that there are three ways in which you can personally respond to these cries of the poor…

First, Spiritual Support. The Society is not simply a humanitarian organization like the Red Cross or Peace Corps. It is truly a continuation of the ministry of Jesus who came to heal and bring good news to the poor. This means that we cannot function and bear fruit without a solid spiritual foundation. And so, we and those we serve need your daily prayers.  This is something everyone can do.

Second, Material Support. In a typical month, we Vincentians dispense anywhere from $2-3 thousand for the needy who live within our parish boundaries. We make this formal appeal to you only once a year and simply leave envelopes for your free-will donations throughout rest of the year. I can personally assure you that every penny donated goes directly to the needs of the poor. Today’s second collection is for the support of these works. St. Sebastian parishioners have always been extremely generous to the Society and I am confident that this generosity will continue. Thank you ahead of time!

Lastly, Vincentian Membership.  If anyone has a desire to give new life to your faith-relationship with God and put your Christianity into concrete practice, then seriously consider making the gift of YOURSELF to the poor as a Vincentian.  There are several ways to do this: active members, associate members and contributing members. Each has its own level of engagement and participation, but all are needed. You will receive both spiritual and practical formation for this task and the reward is eternal. If this idea touches a compassionate-place within you, please contact me or any Vincentian you might know. Come to our monthly meetings which are announced in the Sunday bulletin and learn how we seek to tend to the many bleeding wounds of Lazarus right here in our little part of Marin County.

But no matter if a person is a Vincentian or not, we are all called to give concrete witness to our love for God and our neighbor.  Of course, we must always be willing to speak about our faith as opportunities arise, but even more-so we need to be like Jesus, like St. Vincent de Paul, like Blessed Frederic Ozanam and show the authenticity of our faith with actions more than just words. This is the kind of Christianity that no one can ignore, the kind that has the power to touch hearts and change lives while doing some good in the world.

Sunday, September 22, 2019


Catholic Liturgy for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 22, 2019. Gospel of Luke 16:1-13. Theme: Are You Purpose-driven in the Right Direction?

The parable we heard today was not told in order to give us a lesson in business management or financial investments. So, no need for us to get caught up in the details of the steward cutting his commission to make his customers like him and welcome him into their homes.  Or in wondering what the curious phrase “dishonest wealth” might mean.

It is simply an attention-getting story Jesus used to convey his teachings on wealth, trustworthiness and keeping a proper perspective on material things.  And it’s a reminder that what we do in this life has a direct connection to where we will spend eternity in the next.  Jesus is telling us to be wise in what we do with our money, in how we use it for the sake of the bigger picture of our lives. He wants us to look ahead to the end of our temporary time on earth, and make a long-term investment that will yield for us the dividends of eternal life.

Like the clever steward of the parable, Jesus wants us to be purpose-driven, but he wants us to be purpose-driven in the right direction!  And that direction is towards Heaven. He knows that attachment to wealth and riches too easily become for us an obstacle, a distraction and a deception.  It misleads us away from the ultimate purpose of human life, which is to know, love and serve God in this world so as to be happy with him forever in the next.

And to make sure we could grasp his message in one way or another, Jesus taught us by both word and example.  I think we often seem to forget that, as God-come-in-the-flesh, he could have pre-arranged for himself a life in a luxurious palace with royal parents, but instead he freely chose to enter our world and grow up in the simple home of a poor working class family, becoming himself a laborer in Nazareth. And, for the last three years of his life he lived in utter simplicity, devoting his time and energies to preaching about the true riches that last, the treasure that we make for ourselves in Heaven by our acts of love for God and neighbor.

You see, Jesus knows that the spiritual danger of wealth is not at all in the money itself, but in the attitude, the attachment, of those who possess it, or better yet, who are possessed by it.  Both rich and poor can become consumed with an unhealthy desire for more and more – which we call greed -  allowing it to become a driving force, a central motivation in their lives.

Jesus knows that greed – this obsessive love of money - is such an ugly thing that can fool even the best of us:  It lures us to see people as potential profits or debits instead of as persons.  It tempts us to dismiss the poor and needy as a drain on society.  It motivates us to use our talents primarily for ourselves and our personal advancement instead of also for God’s glory and the good of the human family. It works against us in storing up treasure for Heaven and instead accumulates for the greedy a deposit awaiting them in Hell.

Ultimately, what Jesus is telling us in today’s gospel is that from God’s point of view the amount of money we have matters very little. It’s what we do with it that makes all the difference in this life and in the next.  I think we can each see where we stand in the light of this teaching by honestly asking ourselves some important questions such as: 

·       If I am wealthy, am I attached to the money I have? Would life seem to have become less meaningful if it was all suddenly taken away? 

·       If I am not wealthy, am I obsessed with the desire for the money that I wish I had?

·     Do greed and envy dwell in my heart? Do I truly understand deep within me that while money can take care of my needs, it can never be the source of my joy and fulfilment in life?

·       Do I keep in mind that one day I will have to stand before God and give an accounting of how I used the riches that he has given me?  

·       Do I realize that there is a direct relationship between how I use wealth in this world and where I will spend my eternity in the next?

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Precious & Invaluable

Catholic Liturgy for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 15, 2019. Gospel of Luke 15:1-32. Theme: Precious & Invaluable

Today’s gospel present us with three beautiful parables aimed at trying to help us better understand and live our relationship with God. Each one is so full of meaning within itself that it should be its own Sunday Gospel.  But, be that as it may, they do have a united message in that they each speak to us about something that is lost but then is found; someone who seems to dead to life but then becomes alive again. Each of these parables show us how precious and valuable we are as individuals in God’s eyes.

Like the one lost sheep, God goes seeking after us, so to speak, and continues the quest until he has found us. And when he finds us he scoops us up in his arms, presses us to his heart, and carries us home over his shoulders. This image reveals to us how precious we are to God. It reminds us that the individual is important to God; that we are not just one person lost in a crowd of a billion faces to him.

Like the one lost coin, God can see and find us even amidst all the messiness in life. The coin that Jesus is talking about was actually a very expensive piece of currency, but it was extremely tiny. It was very easy for it to get lost in the straw and dirt floors of the homes in his day. And so, the lady of the house turned the entire place upside down until she found her treasure. This shows us that even if we feel like we are nearly invisible in life, small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, we are nonetheless extremely valuable in God’s sight. No matter what we do or what mess we may have made with the gift of life, God does not give up the quest to set things right with us again.

Like the father of the prodigal son, God is on the lookout for us to return home to him. And as soon as he sees the tiniest bit of remorse or sorrow within us, his joy over our change of heart causes him to run out and embrace us. And not only does he welcome us home, he goes above and beyond, dressing us in the finest clothes and jewelry, symbols of the many graces and blessing she showers down upon us.

Jesus is giving us in these parables deeply personal and touching examples of what we call reconciliation: being restored to a personal intimate relationship with God after we have chosen to ignore or destroy it by sin.  Each of these parables show us how messed up our understanding and thinking can be when it comes to our relationship with God. You see, we tend to think that when we commit sin, God is angry with us, wants nothing to do with us, stops loving us.

What Jesus is trying to get into our thick heads through these parables is that none of that is true! When we sin, we are actually the ones who have strayed from the flock, become lost in some corner of life, or walked away from our relationship with God. But he is rich in mercy and doesn’t hold that against us.  There is no such thing as God holding a grudge! He is always reaching out to us and hoping for our return.  God is the one who takes the initiative, the first steps in reconciliation. All we need to do is humbly accept it.

This is why Jesus gave us the Sacraments of Confession. It enables us to accept the gift of reconciliation and personally encounter the Risen Living Lord through the ministry of his priest. In this Sacrament of Reconciliation, we express our sorrow for having hurt the ones we love and we seek to make things right again.  We come to God with an awareness and sorrow like the prodigal son had once he came to his senses and could properly evaluate his life.  And like the father in that parable, God runs out to meet us when he sees us approaching the sacrament, and before we can even kneel down to confess he is wrapping his arms around us and showering us with his grace.

The truth that Jesus teaches us in today’s gospel is something that each one of us should memorize and treasure in the depth of our hearts.  When we awake in the morning and when we go to bed at night, and even often throughout the day, we would do well to repeat it to ourselves as a short on-going prayer: “I am precious to God and invaluable in his sight.”