Time and Talent

The parable of the prodigal son is one of the best-known stories in all the Bible. I’d like to draw your attention to the first turning point in the story, where the younger son is in the middle of his terrible job feeding the pigs, and he realizes he doesn’t have to live like this. Some voice inside him told him that he was made for better than his current situation. He is not where he should be and he is not where he wants to be.

He hears what we know is the voice of God saying to him “I want you to have something better.” That voice says “I want you to be better.” In order to get the something better, which the son describes as being allowed to eat the slop that he’s feeding the pigs, the young man must go to his father and repair the relationship by admitting the truth of what he has done. That’s the action that the young man must take before he can enjoy the fruits of sonship with his loving father.

We see the same thing in the Old Testament reading. The people of Israel are down at the bottom of the mountain fashioning a molten calf to worship while Moses is at the top of the mountain in a personal relationship with God. And the message that Moses will take down the mountain is that the people of Israel should not give in to false gods, but they should have a real relationship with the true God.

And we see in the life story of St. Paul, which he references in the second reading today, that he was once a blasphemer — he tried to persecute the Christians — but now he glories in God’s love and the work of serving his Lord.

It takes time to make a change like this. It took time for the son to make his change: he needed to be uncomfortable for a while, he needed to honestly assess his situation, he needed to want to be better, he needed to work his way back to the father, and he needed to start fresh with his father with full honesty about what he had done and who he had harmed. Likewise, St. Paul spent about 14 years learning with Barnabas before he went out and preached to the Gentiles. So we cannot expect to have the relationship with our Lord that we were made for, and the relationship with our Lord that we want, if we are not willing to give him time and presence. We cannot just declare ourselves Christians and expect no further requirement on our part.

So it takes not only time, but commitment and effort. A few weeks ago, we as a parish made a commitment to praying. Every Catholic is required to go to Sunday mass, but our prayer lives should be much more than that minimum requirement of the Sunday mass obligation. And many of us signed up in some way to increase our commitment to prayer. And today we need to consider making a commitment of time and talent in two ways

    1. We need to work as hard on understanding of our faith as we do in our prayer life,
    2. We need to live out our faith in service to each other and in community with each other so that our lives match our prayer life.

 

Whatever commitment we make to God should not be a one-time thing. Christian conversion is always on-going. Moses and St. Paul didn’t just have one conversion moment, and neither should we. In our prayers, in our intellectual growth, and in our community service, we should renew our commitment to God every day.

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Expectant Waiting

The readings for last Sunday and this Sunday are about what’s important and how to protect it. Last Sunday’s readings were about what is not important. Riches are not important, building bigger barns or bigger retirement accounts is not important. This Sunday’s readings are about what is important. What is truly important is that we have faith in the promise made by God, and that we protect and sustain that faith.

When we use the word “faith” we can mean many different things. We use the term “Catholic Faith” to mean the body of beliefs that we hold to be central to what gives meaning to our lives. But sometimes faith another word for confidence, which seems to be the meaning we see in the Letter to the Hebrews today. The writer says, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

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Mary Has Chosen the Better Part

308px-Jacopo_Tintoretto_008-2One of the great topics of dispute in the Christian faith, from the time of St. Paul certainly through the time of Martin Luther and even up to our own day, is the question of faith versus works. The two sisters from our gospel today personify the interplay between faith and works, for Mary seems to represent faith while Martha seems to represent works.

Abraham, who is the father of our faith, certainly seems to be a man of action in the story we read from the book of Genesis today. He sees three men, he approaches them, he invites them to dinner, he runs home, he gets his wife busy cooking, he serves the meal, and he waits on them while they eat.

Today’s Psalm is one of those attributed to David, the king of Israel, and David was certainly a man of action. In this Psalm, the good and holy man is identified by his actions: one who does not slander with his tongue, one who does not lend out money at high interest rates, and one who does not accept a bribe. Continue reading

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Letter from a Suffering Church

Bishop Robert Barron just wrote a short book, Letter to a Suffering Church, in which he confesses the sins of the clergy and shows this is a regular pattern in church history.

He encourages us to stay and fight for holiness in the Church and its clergy. As a permanent deacon, I am a member of the clergy, though ordained only to service. As an investment professional, I am quite familiar how the priests and the bishops are seen by the faithful. It’s not good.

Clericalism is frequently listed as a primary reason for unholiness amongst the clergy, but clericalism seems to mean whatever the speaker wants it to mean. So let me speak plainly to a good bishop and priest and formator of priests (we have many Mundelein guys here, and not a dud in the bunch) about the root problem.

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The Mystery of the Trinity

Today is Trinity Sunday, when the Church celebrates one of its greatest mysteries. We affirm our belief in this mystery every time we recite the Nicene Creed. The mysteries of the Church are supernatural truths. These are realities that we know to be true, and we accept the fact that we cannot fully define them because they are above and beyond our human nature. We admit we simply don’t have the words.

Now, we need words for definitions, but they are not so important for contemplation. Trinity Sunday is a day for us to ponder the infinite, eternal, triune God. All the mysteries of the Church, including the mystery of the Trinity, are invitations to contemplation. And a good place to begin contemplation of a mystery like the Trinity is the writings of the Church Fathers.

St. Athanasius was a deacon at the Council of Nicea in 325, where the Church met to respond to the heretical claim that Jesus was not truly the same as God the Father. Athanasius soon became Bishop of Alexandria, and he spent the rest of his life defending the truth of the Holy Trinity.

Athanasius was firm on the “oneness” of God. In the Athanasian Creed it says, “the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.” God the Father is God, God the Son is God, God the Holy Spirit is God.

The Athanasian Creed is also firm on the “three-ness” of God, for it says, “there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.” Now, when I add one (for the Father) and another (for the Son) and another (for the Holy Spirit), I get a total of Three. Which is probably why the next line in the Creed is this: “But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.”

The three persons are all of the same substance so they are three yet they are one. If you think of the Trinity as an equilateral triangle, imagine the triangle as being a triangle that is also a circle at the same time because you cannot tell one of the three faces of the triangle from the other two because they are all one thing.
If you have some difficulty picturing a triangle that is a circle without losing its basic triangle-ness, then you are beginning to contemplate a mystery.

St. Augustine wrote a book on the Trinity in which he showed that we can understand the Trinity better when we consider Love. God is love, and when we think of love we realize for love to be there must be a lover, one who is loved by the lover, and the love between the lover and the beloved. Thus, we can better imagine the trinity if we imagine a communion of love: the lover, the beloved, and the love between them.

The mystery of the Trinity is only one of the mysteries that are central to our faith. We also believe Christ is both fully God and fully human at the same time, that he was born and died as a human being but is eternal as God. And we believe in the mystery of the Eucharist, that our sacrifice of the Mass today participates in the sacrifice at Calvary over 2,000 years ago and at the same moment participates in the eternal Mass in Heaven.

Why does God choose mysteries to be so central to our faith? We’ve just made an effort to understand the mystery of the trinity, and we have to accept that we don’t have either the words or the concepts necessary to fully comprehend this teaching of our faith.

What does God want from us? It’s not that he wants to test us. He wants to help us. He wants us to be his children and to let Him be our God. He wants us to accept the gift that he has given us, our salvation through the Cross and the Easter Resurrection. And he wants us to do the work that he has given us.
The gift is that we do not need to worry so much about performing well enough to deserve heaven. We will go to heaven because he has already paid the price. We don’t have to earn our way into Heaven, and indeed, none of us could ever be good enough to deserve it on our own merits. All we have to do is accept the gift.

Accepting the gift is our life’s work. Imagine you’re sitting hot and thirsty and you would love a glass of lemonade. And your father puts a bowl of lemons in front of you and gives you a knife. “There’s your lemonade,” he says. If it were me, I’d look at him and say, “No, I have lemons. I want lemonade.” And he would smile and say, “cut the lemons, squeeze the lemons. You’ve been given lemonade if you’ll accept it.”

To get the gift – lemonade or salvation – I have to accept the gift as given to me by the giver. I don’t get to set the terms of the gift or redefine the gift. I just take it as given.

Now I could spend time arguing with him. And I could raise one issue after another about how I deserve lemonade and want lemonade yet find myself surrounded by lemons. And my Heavenly Father would smile, and with love, he would say, “Pick up your knife. Cut the lemon. Squeeze the lemon. Enjoy your lemonade.”

This is what we do to accept the gift. This is how we prepare to drink the lemonade – the gift of eternal salvation. If we can do that work of the Christian disciple, if we can pick up the lemon of anger and squeeze it into the lemonade of kindness. If we can choose to love when presented with the opportunity to hate, or we can choose the path of humility instead of vainglory. If we can sit and squeeze each of these lemons then we will end up with a beautiful glass of delicious lemonade, the very thing we had been hoping for. And each lemon we squeeze we should squeeze as if it were our first lemon, our last lemon, or even our only lemon. Because we don’t know how many opportunities we are going to be given.

But we do know that when run out of lemons, we will have a full glass of delicious lemonade that we can enjoy for all eternity. That’s the work of the Christian disciple. And if we do that, we will manifest our own personal mystery of the faith: how a sinner can grow in holiness, how a servant of the Lord can grow closer to his God.
Amen.

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A New Commandment of Love

Our gospel reading picks up right after Judas has left to bring back the soldiers to arrest Jesus and begin the trials that will lead to crucifixion on Good Friday. And now that the passion is definitely under way Jesus proclaims to the remaining apostles, “Now is the son of man glorified.” And the next thing he says is, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” He tells us that as he has loved us so we should love one another. And it is through our loving each other that the world will know we belong to Christ.
The new commandment replaces the old covenant of the Mosaic law. Let us remember that we received the law from Moses because our forefathers had rejected the original relationship of loving harmony with God and neighbor. Adam and Eve had an intimate relationship with God, for the book of Genesis tells us that they walked naked with God in the evening in the garden of Eden. And they had no sense of shame at their nakedness. Shame came with the fall, with the decision to listen to the serpent and turn away from God.

When we hear Jesus announce a new commandment of love, we might be tempted to think that the message of the Old Testament is somehow different than the message of the New Testament. But the Old Testament and the New Testament are both parts of one message: our God loves us, he made us in love, and he made us for love. It was we who turned our backs on God and had to leave the garden of Eden. He didn’t kick us out, we did it to ourselves. But even as we were leaving the garden, God was planning on how to get us back. The rest of the Old Testament after that first couple of chapters in the book of Genesis is God reaching out to us through messengers and prophets calling us back to be in an intimate relationship with him. Sometimes it worked, but we could not maintain the relationship that he made us to have with him.

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Thomas and Truth

Caravaggio_Saint_ThomasThis gospel story today about Thomas speaks to us about the nature of truth and how we know it. In his homily last Sunday, Fr Neil spoke about the many ways that people come to decide as adults that they want to be Catholic, whether they are coming into Christianity for the first time or being received into the Church from another Christian tradition. As Fr Neil noted, there are many attractive aspects of our faith — from examples of personal holiness, to art, and liturgy — but ultimately those people made that decision because they came to believe that what the Catholic Church teaches is the truth.

This raises the question: How do we know something is true? Continue reading

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