PASTORIAL PERSPECTIVE

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Today we hear these words from St. Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy: “I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Timothy was a young man who was a friend and companion of St. Paul on many of his missionary journeys. Despite his young age, Timothy was respected by fellow believers. Well-grounded in Paul’s teachings, Timothy was a reliable evangelist skilled at presenting the gospel and he was a priest and a bishop. Like St. Paul, Timothy spent some time in prison for his faith. In today’s reading, Paul is trying to encourage Timothy to draw upon the strength bestowed on him from his ordination—as a priest and bishop—through the imposition of hands, he says: “I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.”

Timothy may have been intimidated because of his youthfulness in the face of his colossal responsibilities. We see this in Paul’s 1st letter to Timothy: “Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. Until I arrive, attend to the reading, exhortation, and teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate” (1 Tim, 4:12-14).

Today’s readings are an inspiration for all of us to persevere in faith, no-matter what our shortcomings may be, by stirring up the flame of our Baptism, Confirmation or Ordination. In Baptism, we are filled with God’s grace and become members of the Body of Christ through water, anointing with oil, and in the name of the Holy Trinity. In Confirmation and Ordination, we are further infused with faith and the gifts of the Holy Spirit through the imposition of hands. Like Timothy, who struggled with being so young with so many responsibilities, we too struggle with different things. Perhaps we feel like we are not educated enough to share our faith or feel like our faith is too weak. Like Timothy, we are called to be skilled evangelists and missionaries. Therefore, let us ask ourselves: What unique gifts do we have and how is Jesus calling us to use them in the service of the Body of Christ—the Church?

In the gospel, Jesus encourages us to rely on faith to accomplish the mission that he gives us. We see this when the disciples are not feeling up to the challenge of being evangelists, and they ask Jesus for an increase in faith. Jesus responds: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea’ and it will obey you.” 

The good news is that Jesus never leaves us in a lurch when he calls us to be his missionary disciples in the world. God will never put us out there to do his work without giving us the gifts and the grace to accomplish it, despite our misgivings.

May today’s Eucharist help us to answer the call to serve by relying upon our faith, and by stirring up the flame of faith already within our hearts.

In Christ,

Fr. Robert

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Today’s readings and gospel invite us to reflect upon what we are grateful to God for and to express that gratitude. In the gospel, we see Jesus being approached by ten lepers who cried out to him saying: “Jesus, master! Have pity on us!” Jesus then sent them to the priests to be cleansed, and while they were on their way all ten of them were healed. However, only one of them returned to Jesus to thank him and glorify God. Jesus said to this grateful man: “Stand up and go, your faith has saved you.” In this story, we see that only one of the ten lepers was totally healed. Nine were only healed physically and only one was healed both physically and spiritually; only one was saved by his faith for all eternity. 

I know a man in his mid-forties who almost died because of his unhealthy lifestyle. He smoked a pack of cigarettes a day since he was in high school, drank too much, and had a very bad diet (among other things). One day, he developed a terrible lung infection and pneumonia. When he arrived at the hospital, he flatlined and had to have his heart revived. When I arrived at the hospital, he was unconscious and on a ventilator. I gave him the sacrament of the sick, after which I held hands with his family and friends around the bed and we prayed. The man’s lungs were no longer functioning, and they were filled with an infectious fluid that was eating away at his lung tissue. No one knew if he would survive. When he regained consciousness, he went through several invasive procedures, which included a trach, the removal of a piece of his lung and a drainage tube that went through his back and into his lungs. Moreover, he was struggling with alcohol withdrawal that caused him to shake violently. Praise be to God, after a long hospital stay and weeks of physical rehab, the man was physically healed. The only question left for me, him and his family and friends was: Will he be healed completely? Would this second chance at life lead to gratitude, a change of lifestyle and spiritual healing?

Thanks be to God, the man returned to the Lord with gratitude and his life has totally turned around for the better. This man’s story reminds me of the one leper in the gospel who returned to Jesus after his physical healing in order to give thanks and praise. Like the leper, this man was completely healed both physically and spiritually.

The story of the leper and the man who almost died are extreme examples of complete and total healing. Most of us have not been in situations as extreme as these. However, all of us battle with different struggles in our lives that need physical healing. These struggles can be physical, mental, emotional, material or circumstantial. Most of us, as believers, have no problem going to the Lord for help when it comes to our physical ailments. However, the gospel today invites us not to stop there. It invites us to seek complete and total healing.

It seems to me, that a good place to begin is by being grateful to God for the countless times that he has healed us, protected us from danger, and answered our prayers. Do we return to Jesus with thanks and praise and with faith-filled hearts? This is a large part of what we do when we come to Mass, as we hear in the prayers before the consecration of the Eucharist: “It is truly right and just our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks.”

The Eucharist is the ultimate source of healing and salvation for all eternity. When we receive the Eucharist, we return to Jesus who is literally fully present, body, blood, soul and divinity. How blessed we are to have this great gift. How is the Lord calling us to take this gift out into the world and help others to be truly healed? We can do this by our love, our prayers and by inviting others to come to Christ, the font of healing from which we receive salvation.

In Christ,

Fr. Robert

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

In today’s gospel, we hear the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man “dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table.” The rich man was totally indifferent to Lazarus and would ignore him each day while living in the lap of luxury. The poor man eventually died, and the rich man died soon after. In the afterlife, the rich man suddenly found himself in the land down under - and I don’t mean Australia. He was burning and dying of thirst, and he could see Lazarus at peace, standing next to Abraham, on the other side of an impassable chasm. The rich man cried out, “Father Abraham, have pity on me! Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames!”  Sadly, Abraham could not help him, for he had received his due recompense just as Lazarus received his. Resigned to his situation, the rich man started to plead for his five brothers asking Abraham to send Lazarus to warn them about this horrible place of torment so that they might not end up there. The rich man thought that surely his brothers would change their ways if they could only see Lazarus rise from the dead to warn them. Abraham replied: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead."

This gospel gives us a lot to think about on many levels. First, it is a wake-up call to not take our faith complacently and our salvation for granted. I can imagine the rich man saying to God in the netherworld, “I never lied, I never stole, I never killed anyone; I wasn’t that bad, how could I end up here?” However, the rich man found himself in a place of torment not so much because of what he did, but more so for what he did not do; his life was overcome by selfishness, complacency and indifference. I once heard a priest say in a homily that the greatest sin in the modern world is indifference; he meant indifference in the sense of living as if God did not exist, as well as indifference to the suffering and needs of others. In our first reading, the prophet Amos warns the people of Israel of this kind of sinfulness that is often so hard to detect and so easy to excuse. “Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches…”

There is a saying: “People usually only change out of inspiration or desperation.” Unfortunately, most people cry out to God with all their hearts when they are desperate, in dire need, or when they are sick or on their deathbeds. Today’s readings invite us not to take this path, or the path of complacency. As we hear in St. Paul’s letter to Timothy today, we are invited to: Pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” And to: “Lay hold of eternal life, to which you are called.” 

The good news is that we don’t have to hit rock-bottom to live our faith as intentional disciples of Jesus. God has given us everything we need to be inspired and proactive Christians. The rich man and his five brothers had Abraham, Moses, and the prophets to help them; and they could only wish that the poor man Lazarus would rise from the dead as well. However, we have the Son of God, Jesus, who raised a man from the dead named Lazarus as a testament to who he was. We have the witness of Jesus’ death on the cross, and of his Resurrection. Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances were also an incredible witness, as he was seen by hundreds of people - many of whom gave their lives for this truth. Finally, we have the Church that Jesus left us, the sacraments and a myriad of saints who are all inviting us to become like Jesus.

 How is the Lord calling us to wake from the slumber of indifference and inaction? May today’s Eucharist help us not to take our salvation for granted, by helping those who are poor, forgotten, marginalized or in danger. Only then will we “Lay hold of eternal life”, to which we are all called.

In Christ,

Fr. Robert

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Today in the gospel, we hear Jesus say to the disciples: “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

Jesus is talking about the importance of being faithful and about how, as believers, we must decisively choose who we are going to serve. He is saying that we cannot serve both God and the world (mammon) with our entire hearts, else our hearts and minds will be divided. Jesus is calling us to belong to him by being in the world, but not of the world.

In 1 John we hear a warning in this regard: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not of God.”

It seems to me, this advice is just as important for us today as it was during the time of Jesus and in the early church. Today many Christians are confused because the spirit of the world has deceived them. This happens very easily when we are not serving the Lord and deeply rooted in our faith, but instead are trying to serve both God and mammon. As believers, we have to know the ways of the world and be fluent in its language; however, we must always do this with a filter, and that filter is our faith. Our faith has to filter the world, and not the world filter our faith. We are called to take from the world whatever is true, edifying and beautiful while at the same time be discerning enough to reject anything that is contrary to the spirit of God. This, of course, is not easy because it requires a total commitment to our faith and a transformation of our minds and hearts. Discernment is also difficult because the deceptions that come from the sprit of the world are extremely subtle and are usually disguised as something good. This would be things like false compassion; or the notion that is pounded into us by our culture that says that anything we are attracted to or that feels good, must be good. Another example is the idea that desiring certain things that are sinful suddenly makes them not sinful, just because we desire them.

This has been the nature of sin and separation from God from the very beginning in the story of Adam and Eve. Times have obviously changed, but the basic “sales pitch” of deception is still the same. When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, God told them that they had free reign except for the prohibition of eating from one tree in the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thus, when Satan entered into the garden in the form of a serpent he tempted Eve by saying: “God knows that when you eat of it (the tree) your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen, 3:5). These tactics of deception are evil, but brilliant. The evil one is using false compassion by saying: “Oh poor you who are oppressed by this restrictive God who doesn’t want you to live up to your own personal, god-like potential. I’m here to help you and to make you free! How could something like a fruit that God has given you a desire for be bad? He gave you that desire, didn’t he? You were born that way, weren’t you? God doesn’t want you to eat from the tree because he wants to keep you oppressed and ignorant.”

It is the same thing today when the spirit of the world says to us: “Why be oppressed by a religion that is nothing but a bunch of restrictions that will stop you from being who you really are?” The sad thing about this statement is that it is the exact opposite of what our Catholic faith is all about. Our faith begins with Jesus who said: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn, 8:32). And: “He whom the Son sets free is free indeed” (Jn, 8:36). Everything about the Catholic religion, including its prohibitions, is there to lead us closer to Jesus - especially the Eucharist. Therefore, the more we follow our faith in its fullness and serve God, the freer we will be.

May today’s Eucharist help us unite ourselves more closely to Jesus through our relationship with him, and by the power of grace he gives us through the church that he founded. May we be filled with the spirit of God and his discerning wisdom. Only then will we be truly free from the real oppression that comes from deception and the spirit of mammon.

In Christ,

Fr. Robert