Laboring For The Lord

May the grace of Christ be your consolation and joy!

The past couple of weekends have been strong encouragements for us to continue our efforts in the work of personal conversion, transformation and renewal.  This weekend’s message comes as a consolation because we are affirmed that God is generous in love and mercy.  No one should fear to ask God for forgiveness—even if they continue to struggle with sins or bad habits.  Perhaps the strongest encouragement to trust God’s love comes through St. Paul who was once a persecutor of the Church, a murderer, and God changed Paul’s heart with an experience of divine love rather than with punishment.  Hopefully all of us can be completely won over by God’s love as St. Paul was for he said: “to me life is Christ, and death is gain … I long to depart this life and be with Christ for that is far better.”

In the Gospel, Jesus tells a parable that gives us a hint of how beautiful, generous, and loving God really is.  If you or I had a job opportunity and we were treated like the last laborers hired in the story, we would be overwhelmed with amazement.  That kind of generosity is not how things are done in this world!  That’s why Jesus’ parable is so powerful!  And yet, it only hints toward the truth about the greatness of God’s love and mercy.  In reality, God is too good to be true!  God’s goodness is beyond our imagination and our understanding.  Jesus tells us that none of our good deeds will ever be forgotten!  The parable encourages us to be laborers for God’s kingdom and the reward for our acts of service and efforts to make Jesus known and loved will have an incomparable reward.  The invitation is there, do you hear it?

God bless you! +++ Fr. Peter

The Freedom Of Forgiveness

May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts!

This weekend’s readings draw us to reflect more deeply upon the way of forgiveness, which is different than reconciliation.

The sage in the book of Sirach begins by describing negative behavior based upon sin.  He then directs the reader’s thoughts toward higher realms by posing a simple logical question: how can you expect forgiveness and peace for yourself, if you keep angry and hateful thoughts toward someone else?  It doesn’t make sense, it’s hypocrisy!  In the Gospel, Peter’s question seems logical because we all get exasperated at times when there are repeated behaviors that offend us and there is no sign of change (imagine what it must be like to struggle with an addiction!).  According to Peter, there has to be some limit so that you can withdraw from being hurt.  I can understand Peter’s point.  I am sure that many of you do too.  Jesus, the Fount of All Wisdom, guides us to the kingdom of heaven through Peter’s question.  Forgiveness must be given by us, so that we also may be forgiven: there is no choice.  Forgiveness means giving over to God the divine right to just retribution or recompense for an offense against you.  It can only be given by the one offended.  It cannot be bought, sold, or merited by an offender.  This is what forgiveness means.

Reconciliation is another matter.  To be reconciled is to have a relationship repaired and trust re-established.  The offender must make a sincere apology, then demonstrate a change in behavior to manifest the change of heart & mind.  The decision to allow the person back into a relationship of mutual trust rests with the one who was offended.  Depending upon the magnitude and frequency of the offense, reconciliation may or may not be possible.  When reconciliation is not possible, it is still possible to forgive by giving the pain and offender over to God.  In the sacrament of Penance, God reconciles us to himself.  Even though we will sin again, God will always embrace us because his love is so great!

Understanding the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation is important because not everyone who offends is going to apologize, nor are they necessarily able to change.  In such cases, we have to forgive so that we do not carry the wound in our hearts.  We can be free and well by trusting them to God who knows what is best for them and us!  Thank you Jesus for this freedom!

God bless you all! +++ Fr. Peter

Love And Reconciliation

Peace and grace to you!

In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel is placed in a position of responsibility before God.  Part of Ezekiel’s responsibility includes confronting wrong doing and giving instruction when necessary so that those who err may turn back to God and away from their faults.  The difficulty for Ezekiel is that God will hold him accountable if he fails to point out the error by remaining silent.

We receive a similar challenge in the Gospel but Jesus gives us some excellent additional advice by outlining a method that actually works very well in most cases.  If you have ever had a conflict or disagreement with another Christian or person of good will, you have no doubt discovered how well Jesus’ method works! Seldom does it happen that other people must become involved.  Frequently, both parties want resolution and the matter is quickly settled and greater friendship results.  However, this is not always the case.  Jesus’ instructions show us the way to proceed when a challenge continues, if it persists without resolution, it is best to separate from that person.

Jesus is as serious about sin as he is about peace and our offering to God.  He asks us to reflect within ourselves to discern if another has anything against us—we must be humble and transparent before God, who knows us through and through, and go make an apology to that person.  Most of us try to be honest and sincere in this regard.  Some have a great deal of pride, they remember every offense committed against them and never forget!  Yet they refuse to admit they have done anything wrong—like the last case scenario that Jesus indicates today.  Sadly, they have few if any friends and poor relationships because they hurt people and refuse to apologize or change their attitude.

When someone sins against us, there is a responsibility to let the other person know.  Sometimes other witnesses have a shared responsibility to point out the fault so the offender can make an apology and amend their ways. Sometimes it’s easier to remain silent without confronting them for their behavior.  But Jesus’ instructions are intended to not allow hurt or anger to grow and create a gap caused by sin.  Jesus wants us to be happy and have good relationships with other people.  Following Jesus always leads to the way of peace and reconciliation.  It requires love for God first, for God is above all things—as we say in our act of contrition.  It also requires love of neighbor—for God asks us to love them.

In our “Love Dare Journey” many of us discovered new and effective ways to deepen our relationships—it brought us a lot of joy!  Perhaps there is something in Jesus’ words for you today that will help you lead a happier, fuller life!  God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

The Necessary Cross

Peace and grace to all!

This weekend Jesus informs his disciples that he will undergo great suffering and finally death.  We can imagine that Peter is speaking for all the disciples’ when he expresses incredulity and opposition at the Lord’s message about his suffering and death.  Jesus then poses a stern challenge before his disciples, “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Like Peter in the Gospel story or Jeremiah in the first reading, we can feel dismayed or overwhelmed by the cross.  It seems like a daunting challenge to be sure, unless we look upon it and touch it in faith.  Only then can we understand the cross as the door to sanctity and our way to intimate love with Jesus as the greatest example.

For Jesus, the cross is necessary; not an option and he makes it clear that the Cross is necessary for his followers too.  As Catholics, when we gather for the celebration of the Eucharist and remember Jesus’ sacrificial love, we must bear in mind that the Eucharist does not come to us except through the sacrifice that Jesus gladly gave for us all.  Each one of us will be asked to give of ourselves for the sake of the other in imitation of Jesus no matter which vocation we have.  Some are called to follow Jesus more closely and become priests.  The priest is standing in the place of Christ, with Christ and is sustained by Christ as one who gives his body and blood for the life of the world.  The priest is set apart, consecrated as a sacrifice, to serve God and his people through a daily cross.  God extends this precious vocational gift to the Church in answer to our prayers and words of encouragement to young men.  When coming to the altar to be nourished in the Eucharist, please remember to pray for all priests and for vocations to the priesthood.  Please encourage young men to listen for God’s call to this beautiful vocation.

May God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Hold Firm In Faith!

May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts!

From the readings this weekend, I am reminded of the true sovereignty of Jesus and that in order for one to experience Jesus’ saving power, one must approach him in humble, sincere faith.

The message in the first reading from Isaiah foretells that God will replace someone of royalty because he is corrupt and guilty of neglecting his responsibility to provide care for the people.  His replacement will be a servant of God and like a father to the people caring for them from the heart.  God will sustain him and establish his rule firmly because he strives to follow God’s law and fulfill justice.

St. Paul praises the wonderful, mysterious wisdom of God and expresses his recognition that God, as creator of all, has sovereign dominion over all things, but more importantly is moved by love.

Jesus asks the disciples “who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Out of all the disciples, Peter is the first to make his profession of faith in Jesus as Son of God.  Jesus recognizes that Peter’s faith is a gift from God and then Jesus establishes Peter’s faith as the foundation of the Church and extends to him the authority and responsibility to govern the Church with the promise that God will always sustain the Church.

As Catholics, this passage is a great comfort to us because we know that God, the source of all power and authority, has pledged that he will establish, protect, guide and sustain the Church forever.  We also hold firm faith that Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the Church is a reality and that the bishops and the Pope are sustained and guided by God’s spirit in the duty of teaching and governing the Church.  God fulfills this promise even when human beings fail, no matter if the one who fails is the pope, a bishop, a priest or a lay person.  God sustains the Church in being and God is fully active in all the sacraments beyond any particular clergy or lay person.

Every one of us is invited, like Peter, to have an intimate relationship with Jesus: to love and experience Jesus’ love.  Think about the forces that were part of the ancient world.  Fear, sickness, political oppression and corruption, subterfuge, riots, violence and war, widespread poverty, pagan worship of idols and false gods topped off with demonic possession were common tensions that people had to live with.  Jesus came as a healer, a teacher of truth, peace and justice and he showed God’s genuine love for the people.  Many of us need to experience salvation on a daily basis from all the oppressive forces that are in our lives.  Like Peter, we must come in sincere faith and ask Jesus for help.  We experience deliverance in different ways: through prayer, community fellowship, Word and the sacraments mainly.  But it is only through faith that we are able see and experience God’s presence in action around us and through us.

God bless you all! +++ Fr. Peter

No Vacation From Vocation

Peace and grace to you!

This weekend Jesus took his disciples with him on a vacation from their usual ministerial activities.  The region of Tyre and Sidon would have been a place where they would have been noticed as Jews but the people of the region would not have known anything beyond that.

I remember my Clinical Pastoral Education summer in Denver Colorado at St. Anthony Hospital.  I had been to Denver plenty of times for visiting or various activities but never for an extended stay.  The course that I was taking was specialized and focused and I was an unknown to the instructors and other students.  I had made previous arrangements to stay at a near-by parish: Our Lady of Fatima.  The Pastor, Walker Nicholas, who is now the Bishop of Sioux Falls would frequently say to me: “there is no vacation from a vocation.”

I think that is what Jesus is showing the disciples and all of us today.  No matter where we are or what we are doing, as disciples we have an order of priority that places God first and witnessing to our faith by being responsive to other people.  It isn’t just at Church on the weekends; it must be true in our homes and everywhere we go—even on vacation!

To many, Jesus’ first response to the woman seems hard, like he is rejecting her.  This isn’t the Jesus we are accustomed to so it catches us off guard.  As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Jesus is challenging the woman’s beliefs in order to bring about in her a stronger, more certain faith in him and in God’s love and care for her.

As we go about our summer break or on vacation, watch for the moments when Jesus calls us to grow deeper in our expression of faith and act as his disciples.  We can’t compartmentalize.  It all has to flow from the one inner connection we have with Jesus.

God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Praying Through Challenges

May the grace of Christ console your hearts!

This weekend we are reminded of our need to pray through the many challenges that confront us in life.  Although God is always there to help us through them, we do not always remember or recognize God’s presence and nearness to us while we are in the midst of difficulties.

Elijah has had to face Jezebel and all the priests of Baal who oppose the one true God.  As God’s prophet, Elijah was familiar with opposition and difficulty but he had reached a point of loneliness and weariness that were so overwhelming that he asked God to end his life.  While he was lying on his mat waiting for death to come, an angel was sent to stir him to eat and then journey to the mountain to where God would speak to him.  As you already know, “going to the mountain” is a literary image used to convey that Elijah’s journey was spiritual which includes prayer.  In the midst of an overwhelming storm and violent natural forces, Elijah finds God’s presence with him in the still, small voice: in the quiet of prayer.

In the Gospel scene Jesus sends the disciples out on their own.  The wind and sea against them indicates that they are experiencing difficulties and challenges in their efforts to be disciples.  Meanwhile, Jesus takes time to pray and get face to face time with God: yes Jesus needed to pray!  Jesus walks across the water showing that union with God lifts us above torments, struggles and chaos.  As He draws near them, he is aware of their struggles.  Jesus extends to Peter the power to “walk on the water,” to rise above the chaos and confusion of the challenges but Peter loses his focus on Jesus and succumbs to sinking into human fear.  But, when Peter calls in need, Jesus saves him and raises him up!  Isn’t it amazing?  Elijah was saved by his cloak, a piece of cloth signifying his devotion to God and God’s providence, shelter and protection for him.  But we have something greater than what Elijah had: we have the name of Jesus!  We do not need anything but Jesus’ name for our salvation and when we call to him, he is with us immediately!  So when storms and tempests, challenges and difficulties arise in our lives, we call on the one who is always near and has power to save!

God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter


Peace and Grace to you!

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. In the first reading the prophet Daniel’s vision describes an experience of being present with God in heaven.  The language and imagery he uses conveys the Holy Trinity.  The Ancient One, the surging stream of fire and the Son of Man we all recognize as ways of referring to the Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus the Son of God and Son of Man.  On the event of the Transfiguration, the disciples described Jesus as transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.  They would later recognize this event as a fulfillment of Daniel’s vision and a confirmation of Jesus’ identity as the written account in the Second Letter of Peter shows.   There is also hard evidence of Jesus’ splendor shining through his humanity in the Shroud of Turin.  Scientific analysis describes the imprint on the burial cloths of Jesus as not stains from natural elements such as blood or aloes and spices but rather from a brilliant flash of light.  Like a photographic negative.

The message in the Gospel is clear and simple:  This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to him.  This statement and experience resonates with the event of Jesus’ baptism.  We all know that this two-fold revelation is God’s way of emphasizing the importance of believing who Jesus is, receiving his instructions, and putting what he teaches into practice.  Those who are baptized are also reminded of their own identity as God’s beloved Children.  Through Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, God has gifted us with a share in his own divine life and we are his message to the world as Jesus was.  It is expected that we always be mindful of this great gift and do our best to show God’s presence shining through our lives.  We are also reminded that, although this miracle of glory is hidden from our sight now, when we come to heaven, we will shine with this same Glory and splendor of Jesus.

May God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Life Of Prayer

Peace and grace to you!

The readings this weekend lead us to reflect on our life of prayer with the Lord.  In the first reading we get an insider’s view of Solomon’s heart and deepest desires as he prays to God.  Solomon was praised for his wisdom during his lifetime and through the centuries, so we know that God granted his desire.  When we read his prayer, we understand why—he isn’t asking for something selfish.  Solomon understands that he needs God’s help more than anything else to serve as a leader and so he asks for wisdom to serve God in his office as leader.  St. Paul’s wisdom is shown through his spiritual insight “that all things work for the good of those who love God.”  No matter what it is: trial or ease, hunger or feast, persecution or peace, sickness or health, wealth or poverty, in all these things the one who loves God grows closer to him.  In the Gospel, Jesus explains that the kingdom of heaven is the greatest wealth and treasure that anyone could ever have.  Jesus is telling us that there are a lot of things in the world that demand our attention and capture our interest but the most important and lasting thing of all consists in our lively, personal relationship with God.

One of the principal ways that we experience God’s abiding presence within us is through prayer.  Like you, I have had to work very hard to develop a discipline and routine of prayer.  Prayer is easy when there is the sweetness of spiritual consolation.  But prayer is much more difficult during the arid periods and when we are too busy or when we don’t feel like it or when we don’t think that God cares or hears us, or we’re too tired, or whatever.  Through all these changing emotional climates, thoughts and conditions, prayer must continue even if it seems of no use or accomplishment.  Our faithful practice of prayer leads us into remembering that God is always present and actively assisting us!  There are many types of prayers and devotions that people feel drawn to.  The Rosary, The Liturgy of the Hours, periodicals like the Magnificat or Give us this Day.  Lectio Divina is spending quality time in God’s Word each day and the weekday Mass readings are always a rich source of spiritual nourishment.  Choose what works for you.  God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Weeds And Wheat

May the peace and grace of Christ be with you!

Last weekend we heard the Parable of the Sower.  This weekend we get a set of three parables: the Weeds and the Wheat, the Mustard Seed and the Yeast for Leaven.  As you know, these are popular titles used for the purpose of easy reference but the stories themselves are multifaceted.

Of the three parables we have had, the one that strikes me most is the story of the Wheat and the Weeds.  I guess it’s because when I visualize it, I see the wheatfields of Western Kansas and my friend Melvin’s farm along Prairie Dog Creek with the terraced hills covered with wheat.  I walked those fields with Melvin and my dog, Dirty Girty, hunting pheasants.  Pheasants like to live in the weeds but their lives depend on the wheat as their food.

Part of the reason I am struck by the Weeds and the Wheat is because we often think of good and bad as polar opposites that are mutually exclusive—and that’s reasonably true.  After all, even the workers in the story want to go out and remove the weeds from the wheat but Jesus stops them.  Why?  Take a closer look at our surroundings like the world we live in, our country, our state, the political parties, our town, our own family, and finally ourselves, if we are intellectually honest, we must admit that almost everything has a mix of some good and bad to varying degrees and we have to learn to do our best in the midst of it all.  Building God’s kingdom requires time and patience.  Change takes time.  It has a rhythm all its own and God is at work with each and every human heart coaxing a secret transformation, like the yeast in the flour or the growth of the tiny mustard seed.  God is patient and lenient with all of us.  God doesn’t impose with force or use violence.  St. Peter aptly reminds us that God’s patience is directed toward the salvation of each soul.  Some of us struggle with more weeds in our lives than others but we all want to bear good fruit.  We need to give and receive forgiveness; we need mercy to experience God’s saving love.  It is here in the Church and the sacraments that God’s word, God’s holy seed, can grow, ripen, blossom and change us for the better.  It happens a little at a time.  Isn’t it wonderful to know that God is patiently helping us grow each day?

God bless you all! +++ Fr. Peter