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Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross:
Perhaps you have noticed that when the Dallas Cowboys score a touchdown, there is a person who holds up a sign with the words: JOHN 3:16. When we find that verse in the Bible it is what we have heard in the words of the Lord today: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” This person is very motivated to get everyone around the world to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Some Christians insist that everyone, even a dying Catholic, or me as a Priest say the words: I accept Jesus Christ in my heart, as my Lord and Savior.” It is their belief that many of us have not spoken that formula of words and so WILL NOT BE SAVED FROM ETERNAL PUNISHMENT!
What I want to focus on today is not the speaking of a formula of words, spoken that will save me or that we can somehow MERIT by our words Eternal Life.
What is most important is that GOD LOVED THE WORLD and continues to LOVE US and sent His Son Jesus, to show that God’s LOVE will SAVE the world and us.
This is the insight of St. John when in his 1st letter Chapter 4 writes: “This is the revelation of God’s love for us that God sent his only Son into the world that we might have life through him. Love consists in this: it is not we who love God, but God loved us and sent his Son to expiate our sin. And so if God loved us so much, we too should love each other. Let us love each other since love is from God and everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God……. because God is love.”
This is also the 2nd reading of St. Paul: Christ Jesus, though he was God,….emptied himself (of that divinity) and took on the form of a slave coming in human likeness, humbled himself becoming obedient to death on a cross. And because of this (LOVE) every knee should bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord for the glory of God the Father (who sent His only Son to save us).So while we need to say that Jesus is the Christ and Lord and Savior, it is more important to not focus on what I am saying or doing, but rather on what God has done for us in sending out of love, Jesus to reveal the extent of God’s love for us. Jesus said: “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
So I invite you to focus on the LOVE of God for us and for our world because many times we have fashioned a god who is always ready to judge, condemn and PUNISH us and the World. One time I saw a bumper sticker that said: God is coming soon and He is really upset with us! It reminded me of how we so often think that God thinks the way we do. But let us remember what Jesus spoke to Peter: “You are an obstacle in my path because you are thinking not as God does, but as human being do.” Matthew 16 Those who want to force people to say a formula seem to be thinking that God has desires to condemn us, unless we say some words, unless WE DO THE SALVATION! Salvation comes from the Love of God which we see on the Cross and which we say in the profession of our faith: “FOR OUR SAKE, He suffered and died.”
This is the insight that Francis of Assisi came to see and embrace. He was overwhelmed that God would be born as a powerless little child in the care of Joseph and Mary. He made it visible to himself and to the people of Greccio outside the town by gathering outside a cave on a Christmas night and thus began the Christmas crib custom. He preached about the love of God with an image of a the Christ Child and it is said that when he spoke so enthusiastically, the child came alive! He was also bowled over by the love that He saw on the Cross and prayed that he might feel in his body some of the sufferings of the wounds of Jesus so that he would know more deeply the LOVE that God has for him a sinner. He received the nail marks and wounded side of Jesus SO THAT HE WOULD KNOW MOST DIRECTLY THE LOVE OF GOD FOR US!So I ask you to take from the WORD of God that we have heard, a NEW image of God: a God who LOVES the WORLD and LOVE each of us! Put aside your images of a God who wants to condemn you. That is an image that we often think is GOD, but as Peter found out, the wounds and sufferings of Jesus are the manifestation of the LOVE OF GOD for us. And any suffering that we carry can also become a SACRIFICE OF LOVE also, that we can offer to God here with the perfect Sacrifice that Jesus made for us, to save us from thinking God is a god who condemns. This is the Sacrifice where we intimately find a God who LOVED us enough to have His Son suffer the punishment that we deserve for our sins, so much did God love us. OPEN your eyes and your ears to THIS Word of God, a God of Love for the world, for each of us!
3rd Ordinary time:
Accident up ahead! Be careful! Watch out! Slow down! Many times we are warned of danger ahead. There are many warnings that we receive each day and even when taking a medicine there are warnings of side effects. But do we heed the warnings or ignore them? Have you tried to warn someone and they don’t listen and maybe retaliate back at you????
Jesus instructs the disciples who form his group of followers, how to warn someone who has sinned against them. We are to do it in private, one to one. ‘If the person listens to you, you have won over the person’ to see what their actions have done and then change the bad behavior. But if the person does not listen, Jesus tells us to make further measures. Hopefully, the person listens to your warning, and the hoped- for change takes place or an apology is offered.
But many times it seems that we struggle with another person’s bad behavior and when we attempt to change the person, they react negatively or even retaliate with strong words such as: “Who are you to tell me what to do? You should look at your own behavior”. Or: “ I do not see any need to change or apologize.”
These rejections are rather common in family life and in other areas where we work with other people and even in our Church life experiences.
Nevertheless, the point of the teaching of Jesus is that we go to the person and attempt to have them listen to what they have done. However, sometimes we are afraid to go to the person and confront them. We might gossip and talk about what the person did, which we find is easier than going to talk to the person in private. Let me suggest what someone wrote for better ways of confronting a person. They suggested a formula like this: You are a very good person of many good qualities, BUT when you did this_________ or said this_________________,
It made me feel__________________. In this way of confronting the person, the overall and broader picture of the person is recognized. Then the most immediate incident or words are pointed out and followed with how that made the person feel. Perhaps you would like to try this as a softer way to confront a person or a family member.
Jesus also tells the community that if this private way of talking with the person fails to bring a listening heart, then the matter needs to be addressed by 2 or 3 witnesses who can give first hand testimony. While this seems to center on a matter in the Christian Community, it reminds me of when there needs to be an intervention by several people when a person does not accept the degree of their alcohol use. Many times the wife has talked to the husband, for example, but the person does not listen. When the alcoholic behavior becomes worse and offends more people in the family, then several members of the family get together and sort of ‘corner’ the person who is abusing alcohol. When 2 o 3 people give first hand testimony to the person, that is much stronger than just one person who the alcoholic can avoid, dodge, or refuse to listen. These people can give the best overall facts about the behavior and then move to have the person seek a program of recovery which leads to a change of behavior. This is a very difficult step to take and needs to be well planned out so that the person does not slip away by retaliating and striking back at the family members in anger.
There is a 3rd step of taking the person to the Church members or a priest or counselor. Sometimes the person is embarrassed to do that, but it can also be a very effective way when people of solid faith and long time respect are brought to the person to call the person to a change of behavior.
All of these warning methods are ways in which we can improve our ways of addressing the situation of bad behavior that is offensive to someone. Try to think this wisdom over and try to make appropriate attempts in the times when you need to confront someone.
But before any intervention or confrontation, pray about it; ask the Lord how He would talk with the person. It also helps to write down what you really want to say to the person. By writing and rewriting what you want to say, you are focused with clarity, do not come with a condemning spirit or humiliating tone. Jesus did not condemn, but rather spoke directly to the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery. Very likely the person will listen to you because we have the spirit of Jesus. Try it this week in your home. Try to warn as Jesus does.
22nd ordinary time: `TRY TO THINK MORE LIKE GOD THINKS,
RATHER THAN THE WAY YOU THINK NOW.`
“God forbid that you suffer rejection by religious leaders, be killed, powerless on a cross”---Peter argued with Jesus. We often feel the same: God forbid that I end up like that, in a nursing home, with a stroke, unable to talk or move---God forbid that happens to me or you!
Jesus speaks some of the strongest words to our way of thinking, to Peter who had just identified Jesus as the Savior, but who did not understand how that salvation would come about. Jesus called Peter an OBSTACLE, like Satan tempting him to not go forward on this path of suffering. “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do,” Jesus tells Peter. This human reaction, this way of thinking is the obstacle that tries to trip up Jesus as he continues up the path to the Cross, death and resurrection. When we go down a road or street, many times we come to the famous orange barrels that block our path. They are obstacles that slow us down, cause us frustration and can trip us up and have us turn back on anther road. Our way of thinking about suffering is like an obstacle.
Jesus tells us that our way of thinking can be an obstacle, a strong temptation to turn away from suffering, rejection and death. Try to think as God Does and that is pretty hard to do and change. Peter’s expresses his fears as we often do: GOD FORBID THAT THAT HAPPEN TO YOU! The Obstacle was Peter’s way of thinking about suffering and death: it is not the path I want to go on. Let’s turn back!
Here are a few examples of obstacles that OUR thinking that can trip us up:
1) Suffering has no value and we need to avoid it at all cost. We take the palliative way to drug out the pain since it seems to have no value.
2) ME first and let ME do what I want. No one tells me what to do.
3) Try to gain the whole world, all the wealth that we can accumulate in life, and teach your children to study hard to reach this goal.
4) Turn away from anything that is hard and demands self sacrifice, even in religious matters.
5) There can not be a resurrection after death. Death is the end and final.
On the contrary, God thinks quite differently
Suffering has a value: Listen again to the 2nd reading to the Romans: I urge you, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” This gives us the meaning for what Jesus commands us all to do: carry a cross of suffering. We can offer it along with the living sacrifice of Jesus as our spiritual worship each time we bring our offerings to the altar. We not only can offer a financial offering, but more importantly, a LIVING OFFERING, OUR SACRIFICE of our suffering for the needs of our world today. Jesus, ‘FOR OUR SAKE’ as we say, suffered and died for us, for the forgiveness of sins and to destroy the power of death. WE CAN JOIN HIM for the SAKE OF MANY PEOPLE who are in need TODAY of our offering of our powerlessness, our weakness, our sickness, our suffering. THEN suffering takes on a great value, when offered to God for the sake of the many needs of people throughout the world! (Suffering has no value in itself. But it can take on a value, and not be an obstacle, but an opportunity to offer a LIVING SACRIFICE to God.)
Further on, The Letter to the Romans, Paul tells us: Bless your persecutors, never curse them, bless them.
1) Never pay back evil with evil, let God take care of that person .
2) If your enemy is hungry, give them something to eat, if thirsty, something to drink.
3) Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good. (Romans 12)
Do we think this way???? Does our government foreign policy or even in our own country or in our homes follow this way of thinking? These are just a few examples of the ways that the thinking of God is very different from our way of thinking. Our human way as a government policy is not to feed our enemies, but to boycott them of food so they will submit to our desires and ‘interests”.
It takes a lot of wisdom to understand why we should bless someone who is persecuting us. We want to run away from rejection like the prophet Jeremiah or Peter did when he ran from Jesus or we want to strike back with revengeful words or actions. Perhaps you can recall some of the ways that you think as a human being and not as God thinks. When someone hits you, we humanly think that we are ENTITLED to hit back and even HIT HARDER to teach them a lesson. We cannot escape from how we were taught to react. But today, Jesus challenges us to think as God does and to think and react as Jesus did. He sets the example of a human being who did not strike back, he did not spit back, he did not come off of the cross in his powerlessness. He trusted in the justice of God the Father and prayed: “Into your hands I commend my spirit and my destiny”.
If we bless our persecutor, we pray for them and they might even challenge us to grow and look at our defects of character. Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they are doing.”
Look at your ways of thinking this week and compare them to how Jesus thinks. Are you willing to follow Jesus or do you turn back to your old ways of thinking??? `Try more to think like God thinks and your life will become like Jesus.`
21st Sunday Ordinary time:
KEYS---open and close and if you don’t have the KEY, you can’t get in! Jesus gives “the keys” to the kingdom of heaven to Peter who gives a better INSIDE view of Jesus’ identity. Others see Jesus from outside. They have not the key to seeing who Jesus is from inside. Peter gets inside with the help of the Spirit of the Father who identifies him as the CHRIST, the Son of the living God. The title: the CHRIST is the Messiah, the Savior that the Jewish people were waiting for from the time of the sin of Adam and Eve which had brought on death, to our humanity, as a consequence. NOW Peter identifies who Jesus is and Peter is given “KEYS” which will open up more of who Jesus really is. On this insight from God, a community of faith, a church, will be able to be built. This is the base, the foundation for the structure: Jesus is the Son of the Living God. On this solid, rock foundation, we are built as a church! But remember that Jesus commands the disciples to tell no one yet that he is the Christ. WHY?
Keys are very important. If you have the keys for a car you can drive and move. If you have keys for a home or building you can enter. But if you do not, then you are locked out. When I came here as Pastor 5 years ago, Fr. Gino gave me a large amount of keys and told me that these would open everything in the Parish that I needed to get into. From that large key ring, I selected only the most important keys that I would need each day and if there was a room I couldn’t get in, I could find the key or call Juan our maintenance man who has even more keys than I do.
There are however, several keys on my ring which are called MASTER keys and they open special closets which most people are not able to open such as the closet where the safe for our Sunday collections are kept. Many people have the common key and can come in to the church. BUT the MASTER key is only given to 3-5 people who have need to enter these more special places and who are trusted to carry out these duties of opening and closing the places of great value.
This example of keys can help us to understand that ALL OF US who are baptized have the common key to open an understanding that Jesus is our Lord and Savior! From the moment of Baptism we have the KEY TO SALVATION, because we know that Jesus is the one who can save us from sin and death. He is the one who we listen to and who gives us the key to the LIVING GOD and to the kingdom of heaven. For that reason we baptize children, but guarantee that they will know how to open their minds and hearts to the one who can save them and reveal to them a LIVING GOD. Just like little children are unable to drive a car and are not given the keys, but ride with a good driver, and later learn from good drivers and a driver’s education course, are given the keys when the parents are sure that the child is responsible for the keys to the car.
In the same way, some people are given a more special key and that opens us to a more intimate relationship with Jesus. This key is the BIBLE, the WORD OF GOD and it leads to being given another key which opens up an even better relationship with God. That key is for those who are considered ready to receive the Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Jesus. This key is given to those who understand what Holy Communion opens up for us. Today 2 children are being given this key because they have been home schooled to understand the importance of this key that many of us have received. This is the common key that Disciples of the Lord receive. There is a special key that others receive such as Deacons and Priests. This is the key to administer Sacraments. When I came here I also received a letter from Archbishop Sheehan giving me the authority to open to you the Forgiveness of Jesus, to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and other Sacraments of great importance and to be your Pastor.
So I want to conclude by saying that you have a great privilege to have 2 keys as followers of Jesus. One is Baptism, then the BIBLE which is the great key that opens up our understanding of who God and Jesus are. (Unfortunately some Catholics do not want that Bible key or even if they have it on their key ring, they do not use it to open the understanding of who Jesus really is.) On the other hand, most of us here today have the key to Holy Communion with the Lord which opens up the most important places to the kingdom of heaven. (However, sometimes Christians don’t use another key, the key to the Sacrament of Marriage, which closes out the key to full Communion with Jesus. The final GREAT key is the Sunday KEY, which opens up the Resurrection of Jesus. The Resurrection of Jesus is the in final key that was not given to Peter at that time and only after the Risen Lord gave the power to forgive and promise LIFE after death. That key opens the fullness of the kingdom of heaven. SO, I ask you: how are YOU USING THE KEYS you have been given???
‘DOGS’--- the humiliating word Jews used to speak of non Jews, foreigners. We also say at times: ‘look at what that dirty dog did to me! They treated me like a dog, they are going to the dogs, She is putting on the dog…………………….” When we use a word in that way, we are doing what we often do: demonize the other person, creating a word which humiliates the other person. (Many dogs TODAY are not treated badly, but sometimes are treated royally, like a special child and get very special consideration from the owner.)
When Jesus speaks to the Canaanite woman, a foreigner, He uses the word DOG to refer to her and yet that word, commentators tell us that he was using a word in his language which means a little pet dog which begs food from the table. Jesus seems to open up a little type of play on words with the woman after the disciples want him to “send her away”. When they say this, it is very much reminds us of when the 5,000 people were with Jesus and they told him to send them away to buy bread themselves. Jesus once again, does not send them away, nor did he send away the little children that the disciples told him to do. Rather, he brings the woman into an intimate conversation with a play on the word Dogs. The woman takes up the playful game and reminds Jesus that even little pet dogs get a little bit of food from the children and that is all that she really wants: Just a little help for her daughter who is possessed by demon.
We don’t know what sort of demon the woman was referring to in her daughter. It might have been a sickness that didn’t go away or it could be a rebelliousness that the daughter had taken on which put her at odds with the mother. To me it sounds like what many parents suffer when a son or daughter seem to suddenly change from the child they knew and go in an opposite direction from what they lived before. Many times I hear parents say that their son or daughter no longer practices their faith nor goes to church and just seems to have changed so much and that they have a spirit in them that is very rebellious, very arrogant, very strong -willed which says: “Let me live my life as I WANT TO LIVE! This shocking turn of events seem like what the woman was asking the Lord to take from her daughter. She called him the SON OF DAVID and hoped that he would then have compassion for her and to drive out this evil spirit from her daughter, by his gentle love, a compassionate wisdom and understanding. She calls upon and strongly seeks the power of the word of Jesus and understanding. She keeps seeking that which He is calling us to follow: a narrow path that leads to LIFE, rather than the wide and easy path that many are on, but which leads to destruction. The wide path that a son or daughter might be on is very dangerous and the parents sense that it will lead their child to destroy their lives if they continue that type of behavior. It is like a coach standing on the sidelines, hoping that the player will do what is best, but the player seems to ignore the coach and stubbornly and arrogantly does what is self-centered and eventually candestroy the team and the chance for success.
The woman, like many parents need to come to Jesus and plead with him and not give up, or be sent away, but rather to continue an intimate and stubborn dialog with the Lord until they get the outcome that they are seeking.
Will you do that this week? No doubt there is someone who seems to have picked up an evil spirit of self centeredness, arrogance, know it all type of spirit, almost like the son who asked for the inheritance even before the father had died. The son went off and misspent his inheritance, threw out what upbringing his father had given him. Only when the boy was at rock bottom, had come to a severe hunger in which he even desired the food that pigs eat, did he finally COME TO HIS SENSES and decides to return to his father’s house .We too wait and pray for those who have gone astray and lost their way on the wide path that many are on, the easy way of doing whatever I want to do, but eventually leads to death. Let us beg the Lord to drive out this selfish demon, this arrogance know it all spirit and give our loved ones and many disoriented people the wisdom to make good choices that produce LIFE!
Let us also let go of the prejudiced words which we use for foreigners such as ILLEGAL ALIENS, CRIMINALS for those who come here to our country. For example, the 57,000 children who have come here since October are CHILDREN who are running away from violence, rape, killings, drug trafficking and are seeking to find a place that offers some better degree of hope and safety. THEY ARE NOT CRIMINALS! They are HUMAN BEINGS, CHILDREN, seeking a human life. They are not DOGS. They are like little ones, puppies who we need to protect and feed!