Watch And Be Ready!

May Advent hope lift you to peace!

Advent season is special for all Christians because as the first reading expresses, we long to experience God.  We need God’s help to turn away from sin and to be freed from things that weigh us down.  In the Gospel, Jesus tells us to watch!  He means that we have to keep God foremost in mind and be on our toes to recognize his presence and action around us.  Advent is a time of hope and a time of preparation!  I have been thinking about the event of the Annunciation and how Mary and all the Jewish people must have been hoping that God would deliver them from oppression and sadness due to the Roman occupation of their land.  Millions of people throughout the world are experiencing the effects of oppression, injustice and corruption.  Like the Jewish people of Mary and Joseph’s day, we have a longing for God to break into our world and restore integrity, truth, justice and peace. We are told that Mother Mary made the effort to be ready for God’s presence and action by reflecting on God’s Word and by prayer.  Advent is a time when we are invited to follow Mary’s example and like her, we too will experience God’s love and strength more deeply in our lives.

As you know, Advent means “coming” which tells us that God is no doubt up to something!  I know that this time of year we are usually up to something too!  In fact, perhaps too many somethings!  I can’t think of a time when we are busier than Advent.  It is important for us to gather, connect and appreciate the joy of our families and friends.  While we are doing that, Jesus reminds us to “watch” for something special that is from God.  Some of our family of faith are perhaps closer to Mary this month because they are expecting the gift of a new life in their homes.  For some of us, this is the most difficult time of year because we may feel alone or experience the pain of loss for loved ones.  As we journey into this special season, we can watch for ways that we welcome Christ more deeply into our lives and also make Jesus known and loved like never before.

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

Our Shepherd King

May the peace of Christ reign within you!

This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, which concludes the liturgical year.  For the past couple of weekends, the readings and Gospels have been directing us to reflect upon the ways that we have been using the gifts that God has given us and the account that we will give for how we’ve used them.  The Gospel this weekend depicts Christ as the sovereign ruler and judge of all.  The message is simple and clear: those who have listened to God, the shepherd/guide, are the ones who have worked in the world caring for others, while those who did not listen to him are those who decided to serve themselves.

Most of us who attend Mass on a regular basis hear and understand God’s call to service.  The Word of God has living power and it invigorates the community, strengthening us in faith ready for action.  The Word penetrates and divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the reflections and thoughts of the heart.  The Spirit of the Word guides our discernment in what is true and false what is good and bad, what should be done and what should be avoided.  Our True Shepherd not only shows us the way, he also gives us strength and inspiration with heavenly food.  Jesus comes to dwell within us through the Eucharist and we actually become his own hands, his eyes, his voice, his ears in the world and our actions show his presence.  This is one of the ways we can understand part of the Angelus: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  Those who follow the shepherd find joy in doing the works of the shepherd.  The noble heart that loves and serves God through faith-filled, humble service experiences a levity of spirit that simply cannot be described!  It is a foretaste of what is to come!  May Jesus, our Shepherd King, fill you with lasting joy!  May we come to eternal joy with him!

God bless you all! +++ Fr. Peter

Be A Good Steward!

Peace and grace to you!

The first scripture reading depicts a woman of virtue who is industrious in all her affairs.  It seems like she has thought of everything and that she has applied herself to become expert in every detail of running her household.  Her family must feel blessed to have such wonderful care and wise counsel!  It is obvious that she is thoughtful of others too because she makes it a point to provide something to share with those in need.  This woman mindfully serves the Lord and models good stewardship and we see how God blesses her with abundance.

The Gospel parable praises the people who are most industrious at using their goods for gain, doubling what they have for a profit.  The ones who doubled their wealth were praised while the one who, out of fear, took no risk and made no effort to gain was condemned.

As Christians, we don’t usually look at ourselves the way the parable invites us to.  We don’t think of God as a stern master who expects a lot from us.  The story effectively creates within us a sense of urgency and dread.   We are supposed to want to be the praiseworthy, industrious stewards and avoid being like the lazy one that just made excuses for why he couldn’t make a profit.  As we approach the Solemnity of Christ the King, we must consider the gifts and talents that we have received from God and how we have used them to serve others: fruits for God.  It is also important to reflect upon the forces of fear and self-interest and the times that they have influenced us away from living a life of charity more fully.  For his part, God doesn’t hold anything back from us; he gives his all even when we don’t deserve it.

Like you, I want to respond to God more generously with what I have for the good of all.  The best way for that to happen is to give God his rightful place as the priority of my life.  If I truly place God first and trust that whatever I have belongs to him, I am more free to be generous in love and service to others for God.  There is joy and peace in that!  One secret I do know, God cannot be outdone in generosity!  If I give a little, God gives abundance in return!

God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Faith And Wisdom

Peace and grace to you!

Is there something that you’ve been thinking of doing for a while and you just haven’t gotten around to it?  Maybe you’ve been thinking about saying “thank you” to a friend or doing more with your son or daughter, grandchildren, or your spouse but you just haven’t done it yet.

This weekend’s first reading teaches us about wisdom.  As we reflect upon it, we get a sense of how active and agile the spirit of wisdom is.  The Holy Spirit has a continuous spontaneity and is always creative in love and joy.  For our part, we need only ask the Holy Spirit to come to us and embrace us.  When we do, we experience the Holy Spirit as a joy filled stream!

In the Gospel, Jesus uses a parable depicting the wise in contrast with the foolish.  In the story, the wise are those who brought oil for their lamps while the foolish did not think ahead.  At first we ask ourselves what does the oil in the story represent?  There are some other sayings of Jesus that give us a clue here.  When Jesus said, whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me, – or – you are the light of the world, let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”  So we can understand that the oil stands for good deeds, deeds of charity.  But good deeds alone are not enough.

Jesus referred to the wise and the foolish when he said Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them, is like the wise one who built his house on rock.  And everyone who does not act on them will be like the fool who built his house on sand.”  Obviously, our efforts to make the Word become flesh must be grounded in faith and discipleship in Jesus.  One part of the story that raises inner tension for us is the fact that all of the virgins went out together to wait for the Lord.  That is faith—but without works, as St. James says, faith is dead.  Another poignant realization is that those with more oil did not share with those who had less, because the deeds that others do in faith cannot be attributed to those who do little or nothing.  Each of us must give a personal account.  As good stewards, we are mindful of God’s gifts to us and we watch for the opportunities to give to God that come before us each day.  The works we are called to are many and our joy increases as we engage in them.

May God bless you with wisdom and peace! +++ Fr. Peter

Keeping God Above All

Peace and Grace to you!

In the first reading the leadership of the community is cautioned against straying from a close relationship that places obedience to God above all things.  Some have fallen into the temptation of self service and using their positions of leadership and power for personal gain and the political corruption of playing favorites.  There are negative consequences as a result.  Sound familiar? We know that human weakness is a natural part of any person, structure, or culture.  In this world there will always be a struggle for perfect justice.

Jesus shows us a way to transcend the flaws and imperfections that exist in our world.  Jesus points to personal holiness through an attitude of servitude to God and of service to others as the remedy.  When we think about what Jesus says, it really makes sense!  Isn’t it so much easier and more peaceful when we meet people who are humble and are earnestly concerned for the good of others?  This past week, we celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints.  The Saints are those who discovered the Holy Wisdom of Jesus’ message.  They didn’t have easy lives!  They faced great inner struggle and hardships!  Their humility came through humiliating situations but they discovered that the only wound they suffered was against human pride.  They did not seek retribution or return insults or curses for the poor treatment they received.  They hid themselves in Christ’s own wounds and found him to be a true Master, Teacher, Refuge and Savior!  Jesus doesn’t force us or threaten us but he invites us to listen and follow him.  His way leads to peace and joy in life!

God bless you always! +++ Fr. Peter

Love Of God And Neighbor

Peace and grace to you!

In the first reading from the book of Exodus a set of do’s and don’t’s is established so that the Israelites may understand that God loves all people.  And as God’s chosen people, these basic rules will guide them in manifesting God’s love in their day-to-day affairs with each other and with foreigners.

In the Gospel, Jesus talks about love too.  When he says love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, he is indicating that there are in fact different levels of love.  The basic rule set forth in the first reading is the minimal level but it is foundational because it assures mutuality and fidelity in fairness.  Rising from that is another level in which the lover is not satisfied with the minimum but desires to do more for the other person to show greater love and concern.

There is another level beyond the first two.  It goes beyond reason or logic.  It seeks to give itself away entirely for the good of the other.  Some people do not understand this level of love.   I am glad to say that I have experienced this kind of love between people.  I think that for many of them, they don’t realize they have this depth of love until a situation arises in which they choose to give themselves in this way.

Lastly, there are those disciples who have turned to God and given themselves completely to him in religious vocations through the priesthood or religious life.  Their life focus is an imitation of Jesus and Mother Mary who loved God above all and served God’s will perfectly, especially in teaching and humble service to those in need.  These are good examples of different levels of human love that reflect divine love but the most perfect love that we know is Jesus’ love for all of us.  He emptied himself and became a slave, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross so that we might be free from sin.

In today’s Gospel Jesus links love for God to love of neighbor because all love begins in God and finds its way of expression in loving our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.  For some of us, learning to love ourselves the way God wants us to love ourselves opens the door to loving God and our neighbor in deeper, better ways.  Ask Jesus to help you!

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

Citizens Of Heaven

Peace and Grace to all of you!

In the first reading, King Cyrus is overtaking the Babylonian kingdom under Nebuchadnezzar who took the Israelites captive about 60 years before.  Cyrus, a pagan, is well disposed toward the Jewish people.  The prophet Isaiah points out that it is God who establishes kings and kingdoms of the earth even though the kings and armies may be unaware of it.  In the Gospel, Jesus is questioned in regard to the idea of paying taxes and citizenship under the pagan, Roman Empire.  His response is that we, as Christians, possess a dual citizenship.  We live in two worlds: we are citizens of earth and citizens of heaven.  We are obligated to lead by example in the world so the world can experience the salvation that our faith brings to all people.  Christians keep in mind that their true home is in heaven, in the meantime, we are united to Christ in this effort, it is our mission!

As Americans we support a government built upon faith in God and a democratic process.  We know that there will always be tensions between different political parties and faith communities.  We know that there will always be laws and policies that do not reflect our values as Catholic Christians.  Does that mean that we should write it all off?  Does it mean that we should rebel?  According to the wisdom of Jesus, we should value the rule of law for the stability and peace that are necessary for society.  If we, as good stewards, are going to grow and build the kingdom of heaven on earth, we should use everything within our power as good citizens through reasonable tax support and use our voices through the polls where we vote.  We also MUST be involved in local structures such as school boards and city council.  As Christians, we bring Gospel values to everything; not hatred, anger, greed, corruption and destruction.

Remember, even one vote can make a big difference.  According to Mark Link, S.J., one vote can be monumental! Here are some examples:  Had it not been for 1 vote in 1776, the official language of the United States would be German instead of English.  Had it not been for 1 vote in 1868, the state of Texas would not have become part of the United States.  In 1645, 1 vote placed Oliver Cromwell in control over all of England.  In 1649, 1 vote sent Charles I of England to execution.  France became a republic in 1875 because of 1 vote.  By 1 vote Adolf Hitler became the leader of the Nazi party in Germany.  Just think, 1 vote could have saved millions of lives and perhaps delivered our world from the deep scar of WWII!  Jesus reminds us that while we live on earth, we should try to bring Gospel values into our sphere of influence because the Gospel does bring life, peace, liberty and justice for all.  This is our mission and we are the messengers of good news!

God bless you all! +++ Fr. Peter

Come To The Feast!

Peace and grace to all!

The parable of the wedding feast reminds us that the kingdom of heaven is primarily an invitation from God and it is open to all people; not just a particular group of “chosen ones.”  This is good news!  It underlines our awareness of God’s love for all people and all creation.

The invitation extended to us from God in the context of a wedding feast suggests a special joy, an excitement, an anticipation of a future full of new hopes, enrichment and possibilities!  It reminds us of God’s protection, blessing and providence.  God is lovingly present to each of us personally every moment.  God is mindful of all that we need.  Mindfulness on our part is watching for the ways that God is actively being a part of our everyday lives.  It means noticing the hundred little things that fall into place or noticing that things could have been a lot more difficult or worse of God wasn’t there, almost imperceptibly, helping us each day.  Prayer is the conversation we have with God many times a day.  These are the moments when stewards and disciples consciously recognize God’s presence and activity and they give thanks for the help and make known desires and hopes—its a real relationship of love!

This parable also reminds us of the wedding feast of the Mass!  For Christians, Sunday Mass is a Holy Day of Obligation in which we remember how he gave of himself completely for our sakes—and he still does!  His is an undying, endless love!  The right clothing represents those disciples and stewards who come before God to give thanks and offer a return for his many gifts.  Suitable attire for this event means being clothed entirely in a way of life that honors and reverences God above all things and reflects the teaching of the Church.  The Church identifies this inner disposition as charity: love of God and of neighbor.  If we have hate, anger, harsh judgement, grudges or anything of that sort, then we are present in body only and we are unfit to receive Communion because we are not in a state of grace.  The sacrament of Penance is required in this situation for healing and restoration of the true spiritual disposition we are called to.  Let’s always be appropriately dressed for such a great event!

God bless you all! +++ Fr. Peter

Imitate God’s Patience

Peace and grace to all!

This weekend’s readings help us to grasp a biblical view of God.  I say “biblical view” because the biblical view is sometimes a contrast to our own humanistic view of God which is what is depicted in the parable told by Jesus.  The vineyard stands for the people of Israel.  The vineyard owner stands for God.  The tenants stand for the chief priests and Pharisees that God set in place to guide his people.  The servants in the first group that were sent to receive a share of the grapes were the early prophets; the second group was the later prophets.  The owner’s son who was killed is Jesus.  The new tenants are the Apostles of Jesus and they replace the chief priests and Pharisees as the new leaders of God’s people.  From the story Jesus tells, we understand that God is patient and understanding and that God is a just and fair judge.  We are encouraged to ask ourselves a question: is the new model immune from the same type of faults depicted in the story by the first tenants?  We all know the answer to that is– NO.  As God’s people, we will always struggle with our differences of opinion and different ideas about God and the Church.  Even Jesus’ closest companions didn’t always understand him!  Even so, as disciples of Jesus we know we are called beyond our own personal views to embrace something much greater.

In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul teaches us the way we can experience God’s kingdom of unity and peace.  It must be well understood that Paul is a former Pharisee—completely rule oriented and a hard judge of right/wrong rules of religious practice.  It is striking how much his understanding changed after he encountered Jesus. He gradually began to understand God’s plan for his people in a new and personal way.  St. Paul’s conversion serves as an example of how to be a true disciple of Jesus and turn away from pettiness, politics and distractions that lead us away from the treasure of freedom, peace and joy that right faith provides.  Jesus teaches us that God is first of all merciful, patient, kind, gentle and understanding then a fair and just judge second.  We are asked to understand then imitate this example.

God bless you all! +++ Fr. Peter

Seek Harmony With God’s Will!

Peace and grace to you all!

This weekend we are reminded that in order to experience God’s Kingdom of peace, harmony, hope, mercy, love, encouragement, and every other good thing from God, we must live in a manner in which we are always turning to God.  We know that it is not always easy to do this.  In fact, quite frequently people experience a resistance toward God’s will.  They know in their head that God is always right and true, but for various reasons the feelings they have in their heart or desires they have do not coincide with God’s plan.  Resolving a struggle like this can take just a few moments or many years!  It varies from person to person and situation to situation.

In his letter to the Church at Philippi, St. Paul addresses the factions and rivalries that are destroying the good will and peaceful relationships that God desires for his people.  St. Paul first points to harmony as a mark of God’s kingdom and what people really want: “being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.”  He further explains what is necessary to attain a harmonious experience when he says “Do nothing out of selfishness or vain glory; rather humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”  This is the attitude of Christ Jesus and we should make his attitude our own.  Remember the way Jesus emptied himself, the way he suffered and served others.

Jesus points out to the hardhearted and self-righteous Pharisees that prostitutes and criminals were experiencing the love and goodness of God when they turn away from sin and selfishness to obey God’s plan.  We might see others around us experiencing the joy and love of God while we don’t.  Our path is not against other people but against forces of darkness in order to follow the Gospel.   Hopefully today, many of us who feel a desire for greater harmony and peace can be like the son who changed his mind, who listened and followed God’s plan.  If people do this together, the harmony comes to be, but it only happens when they work together to achieve it.  It never happens if only one tries.  It is a strong reminder to us that we should really try to listen for what God wants for us and others while we pray in our hearts.

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