Saturday, August 31, 2013

“If you have a candle, the light won't glow any dimmer if I light yours off of mine.”

“Am I ever angry or frustrated? I only feel angry sometimes when I see waste, when things that we waste are what people need, things that would save them from dying.” – Mother Teresa (The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living)

Gospel text (Mt 25,14-30):
Jesus told this parable to his disciples, «Imagine someone who, before going abroad, summoned his servants to entrust his property to them. He gave five talents of silver to one, then two to another, and one to a third, each one according to his ability; and he went away. He who received five talents went at once to do business with the money and gained another five. The one who received two did the same and gained another two. But the one with one talent dug a hole and hid his master's money.

»After a long time, the master of those servants returned and asked for a reckoning. The one who received five talents came with another five talents, saying: ‘Lord, you entrusted me with five talents, but see I have gained five more with them’. The master answered: ‘Very well, good and faithful servant, since you have been faithful in a few things, I will entrust you with much more. Come and share the joy of your master’. Then the one who had two talents came and said: ‘Lord, you entrusted me with two talents; I have two more which I gained with them’. The master said: ‘Well, good and faithful servant, since you have been faithful in little things, I will entrust you with much more. Come and share the joy of your master’. 

»Finally, the one who had received one talent came and said: ‘Master, I know that you are an exacting man. You reap what you have not sown and gather what you have not invested. I was afraid, so I hid your money in the ground. Here, take what is yours’. But his master replied: ‘Wicked and worthless servant, you know that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not invested. Then you should have deposited my money in the bank, and you would have given it back to me with interest on my return. Therefore, take the talent from him, and give it to the one who has ten. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who are unproductive, even what they have will be taken from them. As for that useless servant, throw him out into the dark where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’»

There was a young Filipino guy who was born from a very poor family. At a young age, he was forced to work to support his mother and all his 5 siblings after his father left the family for another woman. He worked in the dangerous streets of General Santos City in the Philippines selling breads and other bakery goods. But he realized that he had something more to offer to the world than just being a street vendor. He discovered he had a passion for boxing. He worked on it, nurtured it with his incredible speed and the amazing power of his left hand. To cut the long story short, through boxing he earned a name not only for himself or for his family but also for all Filipinos everywhere in the world.

Because of his firm determination to develop what he’s been given by God, Emmanuel or Manny Pacquiao as he is popularly known, is now one of the most inspiring figures in the Philippines.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because our gospel today invites us to make use of our talents and abilities according to what God has given us. Like Manny Pacquiao, we all have “something more” to offer to the world. Each one of us has something not to be kept for ourselves but to share.

God doesn’t expect us to be PERFECT in using what He has given us. He just wants us to make GOOD use of “it”, whatever “it” might be.

In the final analysis, we must share our talents. Not one person here or in the whole world can honestly claim, that he or she has got all the talents God can give. This is so  because we need each other. We need to engage with each other and grow together.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Of all the sad words of tongue or pen the saddest are these: "It might have been"

"Don’t fancy that your age can make you look forward to a long life. It is too uncertain, my dear boys. Rather, it is quite certain that some day you shall die and that a bad death brings eternal misery. Therefore, be more concerned with keeping yourselves in the state of grace in order to meet death than with anything else." – St John Bosco

Gospel Text: (MT 25:1-13)
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins
who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
Five of them were foolish and five were wise.
The foolish ones, when taking their lamps,
brought no oil with them,
but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
Since the bridegroom was long delayed,
they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight, there was a cry,
‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
The foolish ones said to the wise,
‘Give us some of your oil,
for our lamps are going out.’
But the wise ones replied,
‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you.
Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’
While they went off to buy it,
the bridegroom came
and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.
Then the door was locked.
Afterwards the other virgins came and said,
‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’
But he said in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’
Therefore, stay awake,
for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Without getting over-dramatic or apocalyptic, we need to remember that we don't know the "rest of the story" when it comes to our life. We don't know the “hour or the day”.

Over the years I've heard so many people say, "I'm not ready to really get serious about my faith; maybe later." They have never joined the “bridal party”.

Others are like the five foolish virgins. Having begun in the Church, their “lamps” have grown dim or dark due to pride or the cares and allurements of this world.

Let us not wait for a “tomorrow” —that may never come— to trim up the lamp of our love for the “Spouse”. Carpe diem! We must live every second of our life with all the passion a Christian must feel for his Lord. It is a well-known saying but we might as well refresh our memory: «Live every day of your life as if it is your first, as if it is your only available day, as if it is your last day» - A realistic call for a necessary and reasonable conversion that we have to carry out.

"Memento Mori" - Remember Death

Thursday, August 29, 2013

“A man is either free or he is not. There cannot be any apprenticeship for freedom.”

“True freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom and peace.” - Pope John Paul II

Gospel text (MK 6,17-29): 
Herod had sent to have John arrested, and had him chained up in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife whom he had married. For John had told him, «It is not right for you to live with your brother's wife». So Herodias held a grudge against John and wanted to kill him, but she could not because Herod respected John. He knew John to be an upright and holy man and kept him safe. And he liked listening to him, although he became very disturbed whenever he heard him.

Herodias had her chance on Herod's birthday, when he gave a dinner for all the senior government officials, military chiefs and the leaders of Galilee. On that occasion the daughter of Herodias came in and danced; and she delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, «Ask me for anything you want and I will give it to you». And he went so far as to say with many oaths, «I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom». She went out to consult her mother, «What shall I ask for?». The mother replied, «The head of John the Baptist». The girl hurried to the king and made her request: «I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist, here and now, on a dish». The king was very displeased, but he would not refuse in front of his guests because of his oaths. So he sent one of the bodyguards with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded John in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl. And the girl gave it to her mother. When John's disciples heard of this, they came and took his body and buried it.

St. John the Baptizer was a simple man, not a member of the elite. He was stirred by conscience and the Holy Spirit to throw convention to the wind. He paid dearly for it. As Christians we inherit the abundant fruit of his daring and liberating choices. The way he exercised the great gift of his human freedom instructs us in exercising our own.

The Lord desires our human flourishing and happiness. He wants us to be free. He invites us to choose Him over our own selfish pursuits. In that continual choosing we are freed and made new. In Jesus Christ we have been given all that we need to overcome the obstacles which impede us from that freedom.

Too often we associate repentance with some kind of wrong- headed self hatred. To the contrary, for those who have been schooled in its lessons like John the Baptizer, the way of voluntary penitence and conversion becomes the path to true joy.

John the Baptizer was free. He freely gave himself away in love for Love. That response in our lives is the path to true freedom. Living that way, we can also grow in courage and be used by the Lord in ways which will surprise us.

Let me conclude with some words from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

The choice is ours.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

“Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us daily.”

"There are no borders, no limits: He sends us to everyone. … Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent.” – Pope Francis

Scripture Text: (1 THES 2:9-13)
You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery.
Working night and day in order not to burden any of you,
we proclaimed to you the Gospel of God.
You are witnesses, and so is God,
how devoutly and justly and blamelessly
we behaved toward you believers.
As you know, we treated each one of you as a father treats his children,
exhorting and encouraging you and insisting
that you walk in a manner worthy of the God
who calls you into his Kingdom and glory.

And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly,
that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us,
you received it not as the word of men, but as it truly is, the word of God,
which is now at work in you who believe

For a sinner the greatest thing about the Lord Jesus is that He identified Himself and revealed Himself to the lost.

St Augustine, whose feast day the Church celebrates today stated most eloquently, “You called, shouted, broke through my deafness; you flared, blazed, banished my blindness; you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you; I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace."

The world today needs people who are in love with God, or rather witnesses who reveal themselves as disciples whom Jesus loves. The only thing that can break through the complexity and the confusion of the people of our time is the simple and holy Love of God.

Ever try teaching chastity to a teen, correcting a person who is hurting many, or consoling a person who is suffering in the wake of immeasurable loss? Without the love of God, these things are impossible or perhaps even futile. It is only the Spirit of the living God that lives and sings in the hearts of disciples that can ignite this fire in others.

There is great need for apostles of our age to be on fire with this love, to first burn brightly with it and then share it like fire that catches others. But first we must understand something very important, this “unquenchable love” does not below to us, it belongs to God alone. You can not manufacture it no matter who you are, how smart you are, or how privileged you are. In order to acquire it, we must empty ourselves, so we can be filled by it. There is no other way.

John the Baptist put it like this, “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30). Two thousand years later, Mother Teresa also taught the same thing when she said, “When you look at the inner workings of electrical things, you see wires. Until the current passes through them, there will be no light. That wire is you and me. The current is God. We have the power to let the current pass through us, use us, to produce the light of the world, Jesus, in us. Or we can refuse to be used and allow darkness to spread.”

But in the final analysis, no matter how we respond to him, God never stops loving us and continues to call us out of the tombs we have constructed for ourselves! Whenever we turn to him, he gives us the courage to search our hearts, the humility to confess our sins, and the grace to take another step into the light of Christ. As we do, he doesn’t only help us to shed our sins—he makes us into the very “aroma of Christ,” spreading “the odor of the knowledge of him” everywhere we go (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Oh, I am a great sinner!" "All the better! Go to Jesus: he likes you to tell him these things!"

I think we too are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord's most powerful message: mercy. – Pope Francis

Gospel Text: (MT 23:23-26)
Jesus said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin,
and have neglected the weightier things of the law:
judgment and mercy and fidelity.
But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.
Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You cleanse the outside of cup and dish,
but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.
Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup,
so that the outside also may be clean.”

The word hypocrite comes from the Greek word for "actor." Jesus' main issue with many of the scribes and Pharisees was the incoherence of their life. They were pretenders, doing things for others to see and admire, focused just on the externalism of good deeds while their hearts were wicked.

They did not practice the word of God they preached. They wore masks, keeping all the proper outside appearances while hiding moral cesspools on the inside.

By his brutal candor, Jesus is trying to call them to conversion in terms that will jackhammer through the “pride-induced concrete” that their hearts have become. He calls them to cleanse their insides. He summons them to do more than keep appearances, more than getting an Academy Award for playing someone holy, but rather to come to him for healing so that they could change from blind guides to those who walk by faith and lead others into the kingdom.

How does this story relate to our current culture today?

«Purify the inside first, then the outside too will be purified» (Mt 23:26). How true this is for each of us! We know how personal cleanliness makes us feel fresh and vibrant. Even more so in the spiritual and moral realm, our inner self/spirit, if clean by making a good Sacramental Confession, will shine forth in good deeds and actions, that «will glorify God and render him true homage» (Jn 5:23).

Let us look at the bigger picture of love, justice and faith and not settle for the smaller nitty-gritty which consume our time and make us small and petty. Let us jump into the vast ocean of God’s love and mercy.

Remember the words of the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins are scarlet, God's love can make them white as snow. (Isa 1:14-19) This mercy is beautiful!! Therefore, we must cleanse ourselves first and foremost on the inside before the outside as today’s Gospel says.

Monday, August 26, 2013

“It's not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It's what we do consistently.”

“When there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual and make it resident in a certain type of life only, the spiritual is apt gradually to be lost.” ― Flannery O'Connor (Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose)

Gospel Text: (MT 23:13-22)
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men.
You do not enter yourselves,
nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You traverse sea and land to make one convert,
and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna
twice as much as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say,
‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’
Blind fools, which is greater, the gold,
or the temple that made the gold sacred?
And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing,
but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’
You blind ones, which is greater, the gift,
or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it;
one who swears by the temple swears by it
and by him who dwells in it;
one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God
and by him who is seated on it.”

It is Gospel readings like this that really remind me that Jesus was God made man. We often think of him as a more mild-mannered, patient man, but Jesus was not afraid to tell it like it is.

Like all of us, he must have been frustrated, impatient and, yes, angry when he came across what he saw as injustice or hypocrisy. The scribes and Pharisees bear the brunt of his words in the readings. It’s a lesson we can learn from today. We can’t just pay lip service to the Gospel’s message. We have to live it. Sitting in church each week and dutifully filling out our offertory envelope with a check is not enough. Certainly, those things are part of our life in the church. But we have to live the Gospel. We can’t be blind to our obligations to live our lives both in church and outside of church with love and compassion. Jesus knows it’s not easy for us. We have busy lives filled with so many things. But we need to remember that our faith is not just something to check off on a list and move on to something else. We need to infuse our life with the Gospel and live it as best we can every day. One way to do that might be making a new list.

• Time for daily prayer

• Time for the people around me

• Time for less grumbling and more helping,

• Time for saying thanks to God for all we have

After all, if you can close and lock a door, it stands to reason that you can also unlatch one and throw it wide! That’s the awesome truth tucked away in today’s Gospel. We can actually open the door of heaven for other people!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

"Don't judge men's wealth or godliness by their Sunday appearance"

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”  - Mother Teresa

Gospel Text: (LK 13:22-30)
Jesus passed through towns and villages,
teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.
Someone asked him,
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
He answered them,
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.
After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door,
then will you stand outside knocking and saying,
‘Lord, open the door for us.’
He will say to you in reply,
‘I do not know where you are from.
And you will say,
‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’
Then he will say to you,
‘I do not know where you are from.
Depart from me, all you evildoers!’
And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth
when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
and all the prophets in the kingdom of God
and you yourselves cast out.
And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.
For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last.”

Yes, we are saved by faith. But our faith must be backed up by our actions. To borrow the words from the book of James, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:14 – 26). The bottom line is, we still have to strive to enter heaven by living according to the precepts of the Church and allowing the grace of the Sacraments and daily prayer to permeate our lives.

Striving is not wishful thinking. It’s not a vague hope. It’s not something we take care of in our spare time. No, striving to enter heaven should be the top priority of our lives. It’s what we “seek first” above everything else (Matthew 6:33).

Striving has to do with contending, putting forth a great effort, even pushing through some agonizing moments. A person who strives protects every time of prayer, stays focused on Jesus during every Mass, and does everything possible to care for the poor and needy. He or she has one goal in mind: ”to enter through the narrow gate” and arrive in heaven. Nothing takes precedence over that goal.

Jesus also told his followers that heaven is not a foregone conclusion. He says, in fact, that some people will be surprised to find that they don’t sail right through the pearly gates (Luke 13:25-27). But he does promise that everyone who believes in him, follows him, and bears fruit for him will find the way. And those are hopeful words indeed.

Friday, August 23, 2013

“The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things.”

"Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor... Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting."- - Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Gospel Text: (MT 22:34-40)
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law, tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

In today’s gospel, the Lord takes us to the depths of Christian catecheses, because «the whole Law and the Prophets are founded on these two commandments» (Mt 22:40).

This could explain the classic commentary of the two wooden beam’s of the Lord's Cross: the upright beam stuck in the soil is the verticality, looking at heaven towards God. The crossbar represents the horizontality, the relations with our fellowmen.

Often in the Church we use the word "charity" to explain agape. Unfortunately, the word “charity” has been co-opted to describe non-profit organizations and sometimes brings forth images of simply giving money.

Agape is a selfless, unconditional, and sacrificial love offered to others regardless of the response. This was the quality of love that Jesus possessed as he willingly endured scourging and the cross. This is the quality of love offered by his apostles in their service to others.

In his first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" (God is Love), Pope Emeritus Benedict talked about "agape" love as descending love, a love that finds its source in God and comes to us as persons and that it might be offered to others. This is why St. Paul describes "agape" by saying, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails." (I Cor. 13:7,8)

As Jesus said to his followers, "By this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

“We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners.”

"In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel." - Saint Teresa Of Avila

Gospel text: (MT 22:1-14)
Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and the elders of the people in parables
saying, “The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.
He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast,
but they refused to come.
A second time he sent other servants, saying,
‘Tell those invited: “Behold, I have prepared my banquet,
my calves and fattened cattle are killed,
and everything is ready; come to the feast.”’
Some ignored the invitation and went away,
one to his farm, another to his business.
The rest laid hold of his servants,
mistreated them, and killed them.
The king was enraged and sent his troops,
destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

Then the king said to his servants, ‘The feast is ready,
but those who were invited were not worthy to come.
Go out, therefore, into the main roads
and invite to the feast whomever you find.’
The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to meet the guests
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
But he was reduced to silence.
Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
and cast him into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

This is the wedding feast! In other words, we aren’t automatically divinized, there is some action on the part of our own freedom that accepts what God is offering. One has to embrace the life of God’s reign with Jesus and through the Holy Spirit. Mary, symbol for the Church, is the “bride” who is crowned queen of God’s reign – and all of us are invited to be as Mary is, perfectly docile to the desire of God for us – which ultimately is our perfect joy in participation at the Banquet of God.

In the same way, the man at the end of Jesus’ parable was out of place. He chose not to wear the wedding garment provided for him, in a sense snubbing the king’s generous offer to clothe him with dignity. We can liken this to the clothing of the saints in heaven, “the righteous deeds of the holy ones” spoken of in the Scriptures (Revelation 19:8; Zephaniah 1:7-8). We may think he was treated harshly, but it’s actually what he chose for himself. For the wedding garment—the righteousness available through Jesus’ sacrifice—was his for the taking. He just didn’t put it on!

You too have been invited to a wedding banquet, the “feast of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:19). You will never receive an invitation more important than this one. So don’t stick it in a drawer. Get ready! Take the grace you have been given and respond to it as best you can. Dedicate yourself to a life of virtue and holiness, which is a fruit of a Sacramental life and daily prayer. Cultivate your friendship with, and your love for, the bridegroom. Clothe yourself every day in “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 4:12).

As long as you are trying to love, you need never fear ending up like this unfortunate man.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Without labor nothing prospers.

“The fundamental objective of the formation of the lay faithful is an ever-clearer discovery of one’s vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live it so as to fulfill one’s mission. …The lay faithful, in fact, are called by God so that they, led by the spirit of the Gospel, might contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially in this way of life, resplendent in faith, hope and charity they manifest Christ to others.” - Pope John Paul II in Christifideles Laici

Gospel text: (MT 20:1-16)
Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
he saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
he found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

This parable tells us we all have a calling, a vocation, and a mission. No matter what time of the day we experience the invitation, it is time to get to work. The word vocation derives from the Latin word meaning voice, vocare. The Lord speaks to each of us and says, You go Into My Vineyard too! He invites us to respond afresh at every age and stage of our life.

When we live our lives in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world we come to understand this parable. Let us ask the Lord to open our eyes to see this truth and our hearts to receive it. Let us say Yes to His invitation to go into the Vineyard of the world.

Let us choose to be His laborers.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

“By what you get, you make a living; what you give, however, makes a life”

“Love is not patronizing and charity isn't about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same -- with charity you give love, so don't just give money but reach out your hand instead."― Mother Teresa (A Simple Path)

Gospel Text: (MT 19:23-30)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich
to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Again I say to you,
it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said,
“Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For men this is impossible,
but for God all things are possible.”
Then Peter said to him in reply,
“We have given up everything and followed you.
What will there be for us?”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you
that you who have followed me, in the new age,
when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory,
will yourselves sit on twelve thrones,
judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters
or father or mother or children or lands
for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more,
and will inherit eternal life.
But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

There's a story that an African priest tells about how hunters catch monkeys in his country that illustrates this central truth very well. The hunters start by slicing a coconut in two and hollowing it out. In one half of the shell they cut a hole just big enough for a monkey's hand to pass through; in the other they place a large orange. Then they tie the two halves together, hang the coconut from a tree, and retire into the bushes to wait. Sooner or later a monkey swings by, with his superior olfactory capabilities detects the smell of an orange inside the coconut, and slips his hand through the hole trying to extract his prize. Naturally he fails. While the monkey is struggling with the orange, the hunters approach and capture the monkey by throwing a net over it. As long as the monkey keeps its fist wrapped around the orange, the monkey is trapped. The animal is not smart enough to realize that he cannot have both the orange and his freedom. He could save himself simply by letting go of the orange. But the animal is trapped by his own greed.

No matter what tax bracket we're in, all of us have similar “oranges” that we need to let go of in order to live by faith.

"The love of money," St. Paul tells us, "is the root of all evil." It's not the money itself that is the problem, but the fact that it comes to possess us rather than the other way around. Pope Francis has been speaking out forcefully since the beginning of his pontificate about what he calls the "ferocious idolatry of money" that corrupts our relationships with God, with others, and with the material world, leading to a "spiritual worldliness" that places our faith, hope and love in material securities rather than in God. Rather than true worship, the cult of money just reinvents the worship of the golden calf of old.

That's why, to live by faith in God, we have to be willing to let go of our “oranges”, because we can't really fit through the door of faith if we continue to grasp on to them.

Remember, wealth, per se, is not bad; its origin is if it was unjustly acquired, if it is selfishly employed without bearing in mind the needy, if it closes our heart to the true spiritual values (where there is no need of God).

We cannot serve both God and mammon. Either we leave our attachments to “mammon” in order to pass through the door of faith into Christ's kingdom or we hold on to the “mammon”, like the Rich Young Man from yesterday’s gospel (MT 19:16-22) and remain outside.

Monday, August 19, 2013

“Give and it shall be given to you.”

'The best remedy for dryness of spirit, is to picture ourselves as beggars in the presence of God and the Saints, and like a beggar, to go first to one saint, then to another, to ask a spiritual alms of them with the same earnestness as a poor fellow in the streets would ask an alms of us.' - St. Philip Neri

Gospel Text: (MT 19:16-22)
A young man approached Jesus and said,
“Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”
He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good?
There is only One who is good.
If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He asked him, “Which ones?”
And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
honor your father and your mother;
and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The young man said to him,
“All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go,
sell what you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad,
for he had many possessions.

What do our possessions provide for us long term? Do they satisfy our desire for happiness and security deep down? Do possessions prevent us from giving ourselves whole-heartedly to God? Do we serve our possessions instead of serving the Lord?

Possessions make us comfortable in the short term but can not give us the kind of peace and happiness that we all desire. True peace and joy here on earth can only be found in doing God’s will. This applies to all us, whether we acknowledge God or not. God the Father made us for himself and until we accept that concept, we chase our tails looking for “something” that simply does not exist. No other treasure here on earth can compare with the Lord. Everything materially we “own” gets old and in time we simply lose interest.

Sometimes our hope for happiness gets misplaced in materialism. Jesus challenges our attachment to earthly possessions today in the gospel. Jesus challenges us to contemplate what our greatest treasure is truly. When you get right down to it, the “thing” we most set our hearts on is our greatest treasure.

This story below has been on social media for a few years. Whether or not authentic, I thought it spoke well to today’s readings at Mass:

An anthropologist proposed a game to the kids in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the kids that whoever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that, as one could have had all the fruits for himself, they said: “UBUNTU: how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?”

'UBUNTU' in the Xhosa culture means: “I am because we are.”

Sunday, August 18, 2013

“Choices are powerful things. In fact, they’re more powerful than most things.”

“God allows man to learn His supernatural ends, but the decision to strive towards an end, the choice of course, is left to man's free will. God does not redeem man against his will.”Pope John Paul II (Love and Responsibility)

Gospel text: (LK 12:49-53)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing! 
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! 
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? 
No, I tell you, but rather division. 
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

My observation is that the “tension”  with the Catholic Church and society are always about the same topics: contraception, abortion, papal authority, confession, sin and same sex marriage.

On the one hand some Catholics enthusiastically embrace the moral teachings of the Church, while at the same time ignoring the Church's social teaching.  Then, on the other hand, some will be passionate about the Church's social teaching, while throwing out the window the Church's teaching on contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage.  

To be Catholic means that we embrace the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church without tearing out the pages that we do not agree with. 

Why does Jesus cause division?  The answer is clear. 

Only Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Only in the name of Jesus can we find eternal salvation.  We all have a choice to make.  Either we follow Jesus or we simply wind up doing our own thing.  

Being faithful to God entails division. For truth is opposed to lies and deception; the spirit of charity is the opposite of a selfish spirit; justice is the opposite of injustice. In the world -and inside us- there is a mixture of good and bad; and we must take sides. 

"But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths" (2 Timothy 3:1; 4: 3-4).

Does this sound familiar? If not, look around……………..

Saturday, August 17, 2013

“Life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing.”

"The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest." -- St. Thomas More

Gospel Text: (MT 19:13-15)
Children were brought to Jesus
that he might lay his hands on them and pray.
The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said,
“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them;
for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
After he placed his hands on them, he went away.

"Why is it that children are eligible for the kingdom of heaven?

“Perhaps it is because, ordinarily, there is no malice in them. They don't know how to lie. They don't lie to themselves. They have no desire for luxury. They aren't drawn to riches. They are uninterested in ambition. But the virtue herein lies, not in what they lack interest in, or know nothing about, but in what they don't want to do. The virtue lies not in their inability to sin, but in their unwillingness to sin."

I have found that the admonition of Jesus, "Unless you become as a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom of God" (Mt. 18:13) is an invitation to real freedom. In the light of simple faith, even painful experiences become the material for our personal transformation and enable us to open ourselves more to the fullness of life. Through simple surrender to the loving plan of God, we are continually invited to go deeper into communion with God and respond to His loving gaze. In this communion with God, fear dissipates and everything is bathed in love. 

After all, when all is stripped away, there is only God.

Friday, August 16, 2013

“Happily ever after is not a fairy tale. It’s a choice.”

“The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish.” – Pope John Paul II

Gospel Text: (MT 19:3-12)
Some Pharisees approached Jesus, and tested him, saying,
“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?”
He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning
the Creator made them male and female and said,
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?
So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”
They said to him, “Then why did Moses command
that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?”
He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts
Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,
but from the beginning it was not so.
I say to you, whoever divorces his wife
(unless the marriage is unlawful)
and marries another commits adultery.”
His disciples said to him,
“If that is the case of a man with his wife,
it is better not to marry.”
He answered, “Not all can accept this word,
but only those to whom that is granted.
Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage
for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

The truth is, living any state of life as God intended is challenging. Circumstances change, and we scramble to adjust. In one way or another we all fail to live up to God’s ideal. We all fail God, our spouse or our religious community from time to time. This doesn’t mean we chose the wrong vocation. It simply means that we have momentarily forgotten how much we need to depend on God’s abundant grace. Fidelity in marriage or in the single life is only possible because God is faithful: faithful to guide us, faithful to sustain us, faithful to forgive us. To put it simply, we need His grace and in order to receive it fully, we have to open our hearts to it through prayer and the sacraments.

Look at the refrain for today’s Psalm at Mass: “His mercy endures forever.” God expresses it in many different ways at many different moments, but he is always faithful. His enduring mercy is the very thing we need in order to be faithful.

Spend some time today considering your vocation. Thank God for the call he has given you. Thank him, too, for being faithful to you as you strive to live out that call. Then ask him to show you one particular way to express your faithfulness today. Maybe it’s a little note of encouragement and love for your spouse. Maybe it’s a gesture of support to a brother priest or a sister religious who is going through a rough patch. Maybe God will show you something you are free to do because you haven’t arrived at a place of permanent commitment. Whatever it is, rejoice and do it!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

“Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.”

"Mary, give me your Heart: so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate; your Heart so full of love and humility that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life and love Him as you love Him and serve Him in the distressing guise of the poor."--Blessed Mother Teresa

Scripture Text: (RV 11:19A; 12:1-6A, 10AB)
God’s temple in heaven was opened,
and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in the sky;
it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns,
and on its heads were seven diadems.
Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky
and hurled them down to the earth.
Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth,
to devour her child when she gave birth.
She gave birth to a son, a male child,
destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.
Her child was caught up to God and his throne.
The woman herself fled into the desert
where she had a place prepared by God.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed One.”

Today, we celebrate the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in body and soul to Heaven. «Today —St. Bernard says— the Virgin, full of glory, is taken up to heaven, showering the celestials beings with joy».

Today’s feast tells us something about our own lives. It tells us that God rejoices every time we say “yes” to him. It tells us that he honors every single time we decide to follow him. It tells us that no act of faith, no act of trust, and no act of obedience escapes his notice. It tells us that where Mary has gone, we too can hope to follow—right up to heaven!

So rejoice today with the Virgin Mary!

Your “yeses” may not change the course of human history (or maybe they will), but they all have a ripple effect on the world around you. Just as a mustard seed of faith can move mountains, even the smallest of yeses can change the way other people see God. Nothing is too small for him to use. All God wants is our agreement. He can work with anything, even the most begrudging of yeses, and transform it into something beautiful, radiant, and life-giving. It may seem like a ripple to you, but when you give it to the Lord, he turns it into a mighty wave of grace!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

“Life is to be lived, not controlled”

“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God's providence to lead him aright.” - Blaise Pascal

Gospel Text: (MT 18:15-20)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church.
If he refuses to listen even to the Church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”

Nearly all of us, at some point or other, realize that we are not in complete control. We may find ourselves, one day, suddenly immersed in some unsolvable tragedy or circumstance for which it seems there can come no good end. Caught up in the situation, all our efforts often become concentrated on attempting to extricate ourselves from whatever seems opposed to our immediate, temporal happiness, while in the process we lose sight of the eternal landscape that lay on the horizon.

We can begin to misunderstand our purpose, and overlook the connection between the reality of our life and its events and God's providence. It is not unlike walking along a path while our gaze remains stubbornly riveted at our feet: our eyes fail to raise upon the rich meadows at our side and the magnificent sunrise that lay beyond. Unnoticed is the sky and the heavens above, infused with an astounding light reflecting the divine Other, whose unceasing whisper beckons us to direct our earthly pilgrimage toward the shores of an unseen yet tranquil, lasting home where the "night shall be no more" (Rev. 22:5).

Christ crucified beckons us to see in hope the "now" and beyond it into eternity. In doing so, aided by the Spirit and thus empowered to live in a new, even astonishing, recreated and transformed way.