Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Law

February 16 
6th Sunday Ordinary Time - Year A http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021620.cfm

I remember when I was a kid and my older brother was annoying me and I got angry and I said to him ‘Raqa’ and my mother heard me say this so she sent me to see the Sanhedrin without dinner ---  Ok, that one was a dud!

But seriously, I needed to find out what that word Raqa meant.  The New American Bible, Revised Edition has this note on that word:
Raqa: an Aramaic word rēqā’ or rēqâ probably meaning “imbecile,” “blockhead,” a term of abuse.
It also notes:
Anger is the motive behind murder, as the insulting epithets are steps that may lead to it. They, as well as the deed, are all forbidden.

There really isn’t an exact word translated to English for that word but we know it’s an insult.  We know that it offends the law.

That’s what today’s readings are all about, the law and how Jesus would define the law a bit differently than the Jews, especially the Scribes and the Pharisees.

To the Jews, the word law would mean the Ten Commandments, or the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, also the Law and the Prophets meaning all of scripture and finally, it could mean the Scribal Law.  The Scribal Law is a whole different ball of wax.  The Scribes would take a commandment like “Keep holy the Sabbath” and add many rules and opinions on just what it means to “keep holy the Sabbath”.  To them, it means no work, and then they would define hundreds of things that are considered work.  An example is if you were trying to assist somebody with a wound it would be considered work if you used a salve in addition to a bandage to help them, so only a bandage could be applied to the wound unless they were in danger of bleeding to death.  True first aid was only allowed if the person’s life was in danger.  The Gospel of Luke tells about when Jesus healed a woman on the Sabbath.  She was crippled by a spirit and couldn’t stand erect.  Jesus heals her and here is how the leaders respond:
But the leader of the synagogue, indignant that Jesus had cured on the sabbath, said to the crowd in reply, “There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath day.” The Lord said to him in reply, “Hypocrites! Does not each one of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it out for watering?

The Scribes and the Pharisees lived for the Law and also made their interpretation of the law very difficult for the people to follow.  Their goal was to satisfy every single letter, every iota of the law.  They lived for the law.  This is why Jesus took issue with them so much.  Obeying the law was more important than loving and helping your fellow man, so much more important they could put you to death if you broke the law, even if it was for healing on the Sabbath!

Jesus has come to fulfill the law, he wasn’t here to abolish it.  He was here to let the Scribes and the Pharisees know that they got their interpretation of the law wrong.  He wanted to correct their erroneous ways and to fulfill the Law in its correct form, how God meant it to be fulfilled.  The Ten Commandments aren’t laws God gave us because He wants to see us worry and suffer.  God gave us laws because he loves us, yes even though we are sinners and we still break God’s laws, he still loves us.  

Now Jesus seems to add a little bit to the laws here, but it’s ok, they are just necessary clarifications.  You shall not kill means more than just murder.  Jesus teaches us that talking poorly about somebody or gossiping kills their reputation and therefore breaks that commandment as well.   Next, Jesus tells us, well, mostly the men, that we must keep our eyes in check, and I don’t mean by seeing the optometrist!  Thou shall not commit adultery, and that involves what we look at and what we think, not just our actions!  This was a big one because Jesus tells us it’s better to lose a part of our body like our eyes while living on earth than to suffer in the fires of Gehenna whole (also known as Hell).  

This Gospel isn’t an invitation to go home and dismember yourself!  Jesus really just wants you to cut away any sin that is so severe, so mortal that it destines our soul for Hell.  How do you do that?  We actually discussed this at That Man Is You last week.  A great idea is not to think of another person in a material way but instead change that line of thinking into prayer.  If that person has on a wedding ring, pray for their marriage, if not pray for their vocation to marriage or whatever else, simply praying for that person is enough.

I’ve been trying to modify my thoughts while driving lately.  Instead of mumbling to myself that that person is an idiot or - Raqa! I try to pray for that person and any other person who might encounter this distracted driver on their commute today.  It’s hard to stay angry while praying, at least for me.

We need to find ways to help us keep the commandments, as Sirach tells us:
If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live

That might be our biggest stumbling block in all this, the fact that it’s up to us and we can choose to keep the commandments or we can choose not to.  We have the gift of freewill for without freewill we cannot love, love has to be given freely and we must choose correctly.  Sirach also says:
Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.
The Psalm today tells us:
Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.
So wisely use your freedom to choose, and let your yes mean yes and your no mean no and keep the evil one out of your life!

St. John Paul II defined freedom well when he said:
Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Sanctify!

January 19, 2020
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011920.cfm


Have you ever read a scripture passage so many times that you just don’t feel it’s fresh anymore, as if there is no new material in it for you to learn from?  I shouldn’t be guilty of this but I am and now I stand here to tell you - DON’T DO THAT!  Scripture is alive, the living breathing word of God!  Scripture’s meaning doesn’t change but our perception of it can as we learn more and God brings us closer to the truth of who the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is.

Today, something in the Gospel struck me that I hadn’t noticed until meditating on it these past few weeks.  The Gospel of John has this quote from John the Baptist:
‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’

Because he existed before me!  But John the Baptist is six months older than Jesus!  John the Baptist was giving a quick course in Christology before anybody even knew who Christ really was!   Christ always existed - he was begotten, not made of the father when the word became flesh.  Christ the Son, like God the Father and the Holy Spirit are all and always have been eternally one!

Ok, with that said, the next thing we need to discuss is that today we once again wear green, welcome back to Ordinary time! Today is actually the second Sunday of Ordinary Time, but last week was actually not the first week of Ordinary time, it was the feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Sunday and that ended the Christmas season so, in essence, we don’t get a First Sunday in Ordinary Time!  Confused?  Yeah, me too. When I researched how to lodge a complaint about the missing Sunday with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (or USCCB) I stumbled across what they say about Ordinary Time:
Ordinary Time is a time for growth and maturation, a time in which the mystery of Christ is called to penetrate ever more deeply into history until all things are finally caught up in Christ. The goal, toward which all of history is directed, is represented by the final Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Ordinary time should be a time where we reflect on how God should sanctify our lives in all areas, even what we find ordinary like waking up to go to work or school.  

Our sanctification isn’t like going to a spa where we sit back and relax and let the sanctification do its work.  Our sanctification and salvation rely on our actions and that is clearly stated in today’s readings.  Today’s readings also state that our sanctification through our work is not just for ourselves but for the whole Church.  We see this right away in Isaiah:
The LORD said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.
And then goes on to state:
I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

The Responsorial Psalm gives a good line to meditate upon during prayer or in adoration:
Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.

We are called to live a life of service to God in every aspect of our lives, to do God’s will.  When we go to work and walk into the office each day we are called to bring God there with us, we shouldn’t be saying: “God, you wait here in the car, I’ll be back in about nine hours”.  When we go on vacation we need to bring God with us and at a minimum, we need to make every effort to find a local Church and attend Mass that weekend while we are away from home.

Again, I can’t stress this enough, God must be first always, and then everything else will fall into place.  Our lives will be sanctified and our community as well!  As Paul’s letter to the Corinthians said:
you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

That is for all of us, all the time, and with our church here at Holy Family I feel I’m preaching to the choir - we are a small but very active parish here in East Taunton and it doesn’t go unnoticed.  Others have often said to me how much we have going on with our bible studies, adoration, special Masses, Youth, March for Life (pray for the March Pilgrims as we leave for the March on Thursday morning), Saint Vincent de Paul, Knights of Columbus, That Man is You and WINE - Woman in the New Evangelization ministries for the men and women of our parish and others too.  Our outreach has affected the lives of many enriching the spirituality of those individuals as well as that of our parish and beyond.

If you feel you are on the outskirts of all these parish ministries jump in, find one of our very active ministries and get involved.  If you already are involved then invite a friend or two or twelve to get involved with you and share that gift with them! If you aren’t comfortable with that then just spend some time at our adoration chapel in the Parish center praying for the church.  Don’t neglect the power of prayer, it is one of our most important ministries to help sanctify us and our Church and our world.

As Saint Francis of Assisi said:
Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Fear not!

December 15, 2019
Third Sunday of Advent

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121519.cfm


I’m going to start today by reflecting on the Theology of A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Seriously, bear with me as I explain.  I was reading a blog about this and it touched upon something I bet not many of us noticed.  I certainly never noticed it after watching it yearly for over 50 years.  When Linus is on stage, explaining what Christmas is all about to Charlie Brown and the others, there is a moment that is very subtle but says a lot.  As Linus says the words: 

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy…

The moment Linus says “fear not” he drops his blanket.  Linus never drops his blanket, remember the exchange when his sister Lucy tells him:
And get rid of that stupid blanket! What's a Christmas shepherd gonna look like holding a stupid blanket like that?

And to that Linus replies:
Well, this is one Christmas shepherd who's going to keep his trusty blanket with him.

The thing that gets Linus to let go of his trusty blanket is when he states that line from Luke talking about the good tidings of old where the savior that they had long awaited had finally come!

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah tells us:
Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense, he comes to save you.

He comes to save you.  Yes, you, not just me, not just that person sitting beside you, not just those of us serving here on the altar.  He comes, also to save that person in your family who is not here with you today.   This salvation is for all!  This Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete means rejoice.  Yet we seem to live in a world filled with anxiety, darkness, and fear.  Why?  

One of the reasons is we seem to focus more on our earthly security blankets.  These cannot be trusted.  My major security blanket is stability.  I do not like change at all, I am “one Christmas shepherd who's going to keep his trusty stability with him” you could say.

I’ve been at my “starter” job for 30 years.  I’ve been in my first starter home for about 25 years now.  I've had my starter wife for 30 years!  Seriously though, I really probably shouldn't kid about the sanctity of marriage and I have indeed been happily married for all those years.  But anyway, I need that stability, that lack of change.   This fear of change almost kept me from the diaconate.  I knew my life would change, I’d have to take four more years of classes, I’d have to do well in those classes and then, who knows?  This fear brought darkness and anxiety.  I turned to the light of Christ to dispel that darkness!  I turned to prayer.  I turned to more time in adoration.  I turned to scripture.  These things became, for me,  the light that got me through that darkness to illuminate the truth of what God really wants me to do.

I remember when I was younger (but still probably older than I like to admit) I had a terrible fear of darkness.  My mind would conjure up all sorts of terrible nasty things that lived in that darkness.  Back then all it took was a light, any light, to dispel those unseen boogymen back to a place they couldn’t bother me and my fear would disappear.  You see, darkness has one weakness.  Light.  When in a dark room all you need to do is light a candle and the darkness is gone.  The darkness has no power over that candle, the candle, once lit cannot be beaten by darkness for that darkness ceases to exist.  We need to let Christ be that light that dispels darkness for us.  What dark areas of our life do we need to shed light on this final week of Advent?  

We must always remember that we are preparing to once again celebrate the coming of Christ, of God, of the word becoming Jesus the flesh.  It is kind of a big deal and is the best news to come to us while here on earth.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 522 states:

The coming of God's Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries. He makes everything converge on Christ: all the rituals and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the "First Covenant". He announces him through the mouths of the prophets who succeeded one another in Israel. Moreover, he awakens in the hearts of the pagans a dim expectation of this coming.

Prepare ye the way indeed!  Confession is a great way to allow us to prepare for this awakening.  Maybe spend an hour or more in adoration over the next couple of weeks meditating on scripture such as Luke chapter 2.  Put aside the shopping, the last minute hurried preparations and really discover the true meaning of Christmas so we aren’t asking what Charlie Brown had to shout out on that stage:
Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

It’s about the humble beginnings of the birth of the man that came to earth to reverse the fall of Adam and grant us all salvation.  All we need to do is accept that gift and cherish it.  The birth of Christ is indeed the greatest gift we will ever receive at Christmas.

It’s what St. Athanasius meant when he said:
“He became what we are so that He might make us what He is.”

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Care for your Soul

Nov 17, 2019, Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

In our first reading today Malachi is not talking about Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks when he says:
Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven and that day will set them on fire.
Our ovens will indeed be blazing but hopefully, the day isn’t coming when your turkeys will be set on fire!  

The second reading is what I want to post on my fridge for my older children to see as Paul writes:
we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat
In reality, Paul wasn’t trying to get his kids to rake the lawn or do the dishes in his letter to the Thessalonians, instead, he was talking about those among them who stopped working.  Some Thessalonians were so certain that the end times were imminent that they decided they should stop working to wait for Christ’s return. It makes me wonder if the blazing wrath that Malachi discusses will come to those who decide to do nothing until the Lord of Hosts returns.  To be that lazy is foolishness, for Christ himself told us we know not the hour of His return. If we sit around and do nothing we become like the wicked lazy servant from the parable of the talents who, out of fear of his master buried the money entrusted to him in the ground and gained nothing more with it.  The instruction from Paul to those Thessalonians is clear:
Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food.

These words can seem to conflict when we hear the Gospel.  We have not been lazy when it comes to fixing up our church here at Holy Family Parish.  We have done a lot of work to make it look like something new. It looks fantastic and people are always talking about how nice it is now and then today we hear the words of Jesus in Luke:
"All that you see here--the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."

Say what?  Should we have bothered with all that fuss?  After all, there will be a day that comes that this church will no longer be here.  Let’s all pray that it is hundreds of years from now but it will happen. Do Jesus’ words make this building irrelevant?

No, this building is important to all of us and how we worship, VERY important.  I think today I want to focus on how Jesus’ words are not all about the building where they worshiped, but instead, His words should get them to focus on the state of their faith in Jesus Christ and how their perseverance in times of trouble will secure their lives.  Today in time this also holds true. This church is important, I’m not trying to say it has no purpose. It is where we gather together, where we laugh together, where we cry together and most importantly where we hold our sacred Liturgy together. Those are very important roles, however, what is more significant, what is totally indestructible and will live forever, is our soul.  We have done well to take care of this building that houses our worship but do we do as well taking care of our souls?  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 366 has to say this about the human soul:
The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - it is not "produced" by the parents - and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection

Some of us, myself excluded, go to the gym, work out, eat right, try to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night (ok, I’ve nailed the sleeping part of this), we try to take care of our bodies as we should. It’s important!  Just read the first letter to the Corinthians chapter 6:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.  

So we should care for our bodies but our souls need care as well more than our bodies and more than this church building as those will pass away but our souls are eternal!

Now I could make a bad joke here that I change my oil and rotate the tires and wash and wax my Kia Soul, my car, often enough but I’ll spare you from that.  Instead here is a list of things Jesus said in the Gospels about things we can do to keep our soul healthy.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, there are other things we can do, and things we should avoid to grow closer to Christ and strengthen our souls.  The way we need to think as we are doing or saying something is “will this bring me closer to Christ or are we walking away from Him instead. We all need to be like Peter:
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Pray for the Dead!


Homily for the Mass of Remembrance, Nov 3, 2019, http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/110319.cfm 
The first reading from Wisdom tells us that before God the whole universe is like a grain from a balance or morning dew, something small, seemingly insignificant. Now imagine us, we are like a grain to the earth, which is like a grain to the universe which is like a grain to God. Sounds like we are very insignificant so I think we need to hear this quote from the great Star Wars Jedi master Yoda:
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm? And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.”
Our ally isn’t the Force, our ally is God who has mercy on us all and will overlook our sins if we repent. There is significant hope in those verses from Wisdom, hope in our own salvation and also for those that have gone before us. In our second reading, Paul is writing to Thessalonians and it begins with such an important line.
Brothers and sisters: We always pray for you that our God may make you worthy of his calling.
Paul’s words are so very true for us and for those who have gone before us. We must always pray for them to help them reach that final destination, that final calling of God and that is to spend eternity with God in Heaven. He wants nothing less of us than all to be saints with him at the end of our earthly journey. Even today’s gospel from Luke is about salvation. Zacchaeus and I don’t have a lot in common, he was a wealthy man who extorted money from his subjects, a thief, a cheat and short of stature. I, however, am tall. Yet, Zacchaeus knew there was something about Jesus worth climbing a tree for. Zacchaeus didn’t know what he needed or what Jesus could offer at that time, he probably had just heard some amazing stories about a man named Jesus. What Jesus would give Zacchaeus that day was so much more than he could have imagined. Zacchaeus received Jesus with great joy and furthermore repented, offering to give half of his possessions to the poor, repay the money he stole from others with four times interest and Jesus, who cannot be outdone in generosity, gives Zacchaeus the best gift ever when He says to him:
"Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."
Do we believe that? Do we believe that Jesus was sent for our salvation? Do we believe that Jesus came to save all of our friends and relatives who have died before us? I certainly do! A wise Directory of Religious Education who was very ill once replied, when I asked if she needed anything replied: "yes, prayers, and pray for me when I am gone, don't assume I'm in Heaven". I thought about that a lot. It made me realize that our job now is to pray for our friends, neighbors, fellow parishioners, and beloved family who have gone on before us and the greatest thing is that these prayers will never be wasted. God doesn’t get our prayers, look at them and think, “Oh this person is in Heaven already” and then throws the prayer in the trash, no, that prayer will be used for somebody else who needs it. Perhaps, that prayer will be what one soul needed to get them into the gates of heaven that same day. When it comes to praying for the departed souls my wife Allison was the one who taught me the necessity of this devotion. Quite a few years ago she started dragging me along to the cemetery visits she does annually. I initially thought this was an odd devotion, cemeteries didn’t scare me, I worked in one for 8 years, but going there for a devotion, well, I have to be honest, it struck me as odd but a lot of things Allison does strike me that way so I just went along. Boy was I wrong! What a powerful devotion this is and it’s so great to know that we can help our departed loved one’s spirits attain eternal glory with God if they have not achieved that yet! The holy souls that were not fully ready for Heaven now reside in Purgatory and they also cannot earn their own way out of Purgatory and that’s where we come in! I’m stealing this directly from Allison now, it’s ok, I have her permission, but here are some ways we can help: ● Attend Mass, as often as you can, from Nov.1-8 to pray for the Holy Souls. ● Visit a cemetery, as often as you can, from Nov. 1-8. My family makes field trips out of this devotion, visiting a different cemetery each day. We will travel (usually on the days that fall during the weekend) to cemeteries uncommon in our area such that honor the military, primarily serve non-Catholics, or just because we thought it was architecturally fascinating. ● Attend Mass Nov. 2, the Feast of All Souls’ to pray for deceased family members, for those who have no one to pray for them, and for all of those who have died this year. ● Pray the rosary during the entire month of November for the Holy Souls. ● Pray the novena for the Holy Souls, written by St. Alphonsus Liguori, followed by the Prayer to Our Suffering Saviour for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Allison also found a prayer she likes to pray while visiting cemeteries as she walks up and down the rows, looking prayerfully at each name while reciting: ● Five Apostle’s Creeds ● One Hail, Holy Queen ● One Our Father (Lord’s Prayer), Hail Mary and Glory Be ● Conclude with the Requiem: Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them, and may they rest in peace. Amen. Not only are you praying for the Holy Souls but you might just hit your step goal while you are at it!
St. Augustine said “One of the holiest works, one of the best exercises of piety that we can practice in this world is to offer sacrifices, alms, and prayer for the dead”

 Confused by Purgatory? Fr. Mike Schmitz Explains All!