Sunday, July 31, 2011

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

Jesus satisfies!

This is the message to take away from Scripture today. When we speak to other people about the wonder of Christ, we usually start with salvation and the forgiveness of sins. Which is good, but it’s very theological and can sometimes sound empty if we forget why we salvation is good, why we want to be forgiven. It’s because Jesus satisfies us completely, in a way that nothing else does.

Like the first reading says, we are thirsty, and we come to the water. We are poor, but receive grain and eat. We pay no price, but eat rich food and drink wine and milk. These are metaphors, but they tell us that what is lacking in us in found in Jesus Christ. The best reason for getting to know Jesus, is that life is better with Him.

The second reading is powerful, and deserves to be read multiple times. Because what will separate us from the love of Christ? Not anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or death, or life, or present things, or future things; none of these can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that is a powerful statement.

When we struggle with temptation, what is it that we believe in that moment? We know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, and this is a love that satisfies, which gives us everything we need. Do we believe that? Or when we are tempted, do we believe that temptation is more powerful? This is the lie we tell ourselves, to convince ourselves to fail. Because Christ’s love is powerful and allows to conquer overwhelmingly the things which stand in our way.

Do we remember all that times that Jesus satisfies us? It is easy to forget, when there is always a new problem or a new worry. But let us take time right now to remember the good things that God has brought us, and how He has always been with us. Because God is good all the time, and all the time He will satisfy us if we will take and eat.

When Jesus feeds the five thousand, He is given five loaves and two fish. But He blesses that food, and when all is finished there is twelve baskets of food left over. What we have to give, is not enough for God’s work in the world; but with Jesus, everything we have is taken and multiplied until not only is there enough, but there is more than enough to satisfy.

When Jesus fed the five thousand, there were twelve baskets of food left over. What should be done with those twelve baskets? God satisfies us with more than we need, so the next logical thing is to bring the extra to those who are still unsatisfied. We have been given more of God’s love than we can hold, and so we must share it!

This is the good news, that we can be satisfied! And not by spending enough money, or dieting enough, or having enough sex or attention; we will be satisfied by the love of Jesus, if we only take and eat of it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

“Lord, I love your commands.”

That’s really the trick, isn’t it? If the story of Solomon teaches us anything, it’s that it’s not enough to know what is right. We can be as wise and as understanding as God, but if we don’t want to do what’s right we won’t. We will end up resenting the right thing to do, and hate ourselves. With good reason; I wouldn’t like someone either who forced themselves to do one thing, while being jealous of everyone else doing another and having way more fun doing it.

It’s not enough to do good because it is good. Actions alone do not merit Heaven, we have to change our desires as well. To be holy is to be free to do whatever you want, because everything you want is good to do. When our hearts conform to God’s will, we will be satisfied.

God encourages us in this, and “all things work for good for those who love God.” But learning to love God is the hard part, because God’s commands are often opposite to what we learn is satisfying. For those who want to be chaste, they may want to follow God but they also want be sexually active like the people around them. For those who want to be merciful, it’s hard when what you really want is to get revenge.

This is why Jesus describes the kingdom of Heaven in different ways, because each way gives a new meaning as to why we want it.

First, the kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure. We may or may not be looking for it, but when we find it we know it is better than anything else we have. And it is worth giving up everything to have it.

Second, the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant. The kingdom is also looking for us, and God will do everything to bring us to Him. While the kingdom is a treasure without equal, to God, so are we.

Third, the kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net. The people who are not worthy of it will not inherit it. It is a prize, and so, so good, but it will not be forced upon us. We who do not choose it will not receive it.

Why would we love God’s commands? Because in the kingdom of Heaven means free love, in the true sense of that phrase. Hate and sin bind us, bind us in jealousy, discontent, anger, despair, and every other chain. But God’s commands are not weights around our feet, but the sturdy bones of the Body of Christ. They hold us steady when we try to follow God, and when we are weak we lean on them. God’s commands are the first step on our road away from sin, and we love because they lead us to God. And when we know God, we love them because the commands are good.

It’s hard to describe the kingdom without sounding cutesy. When we are building the kingdom of Heaven on earth, we are loving others and they love us. What we want most of all is to be loved, just for who we are. When we are in the kingdom, we tear down the walls in ourselves and between us and others that keeps us from that love. But that openness does not come natural to us, and so God’s commands are our first teachers in love.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

What is our hope?

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus lays out the kingdom of Heaven in clear black and white. He tells us that there are children of the kingdom, and children of the evil one; the children of the evil one are those who cause others to sin and all evildoers. These are the ones who will be condemned to hell.

The readings last week and this week emphasize that there are only two choices in life; we are either of God or against Him. If we do not listen to the message of salvation and act on it, we will suffer for our evil because our God is a God of justice.

It’s not a comforting image of God. If this is all we had, God would not be our hope but our fear. And while Scripture says that “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” it is just the beginning. Read these words of the First Reading again:

“But though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; for power, whenever you will, attends you. And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”

Who of us could hope to be spared, if everyone who sins and causes others to sin will be condemned? But our God is NOT just the God of justice, but also of mercy; “You, O Lord, are good and forgiving,/ abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.” His strength is not that of the tyrant, who must punish all trespassers because he is fearful of rebellion. The strength of our God is complete in its confidence, and is strong enough not to fear sinners, but to love and pity them. This is what we hear in the Psalm, and they are not just empty words.

Sometimes, it is easy to think that God judges us like the worst kind of gym teacher. We think that God sets impossible standards, and then punishes us when we fall short. But God isn’t like that, God is like the yeast that makes bread rise. Alone, the bread remains flat and when it bakes it will be hard. But with yeast, the bread rises and becomes soft and fluffy. Yeast makes bread better; God makes us better, lifts us when we cannot lift ourselves.

We are not as we should be. We are weak, and sometimes we deny God because we want to be better liked. Sometimes we sin because it’s harder not to. Sometimes we hate goodness, and we hurt ourselves or others simply because it is bad. But God, in infinite power, does not immediately punish us but comes to the aid of our weakness. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and is there even when we would reject Him. God does not give up on us.

The kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. Though it may start out small and weak within us, it can grow larger than we can imagine, and we can a shelter for all those looking for Christ.

Our hope is the strength of God, because the God of justice taught us the just must be kind. His strength, though it starts out small within us, can grow until we have the strength to follow Him. His strength gives us power against sin, and courage against despair. Our hope is the strength of God, that is strong enough to show mercy.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

“My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

It’s important to know that the readings in each liturgical season fit together as a whole. Now that we are in Ordinary Time, each week’s Sunday reading will build upon the next. Last week the readings showed us that life with Christ is different than life without Him: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” But they didn’t explain what that meant, not really. This week, the readings show us that living with Christ means listening to the Word of God, because that is part of what changes us.

The first reading explains why the Word of God is so important: “My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” We have been given Scripture, and read Scripture at Mass, for our salvation. God’s word is effective, and understanding it changes us. When we soak in God’s word, and allow it to change us, we become amazing. Scripture describes the change using farming language.

The Psalm shows us symbolically how we are transformed by God’s word. Our paths overflow with a rich harvest, the fields are garmented with flocks, and the valleys are blanketed with grain. We are MORE with Christ than we are on our own, and God’s Word is the rain that helps us to grow into what we were always meant to be.

Last week we recognized that life isn’t easy. Much of this is because we are still being transformed with Christ. We are sinners, and we are still fighting for our salvation. This is why Paul says that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us; because Heaven is coming. Heaven is coming and we must be ready for it!

The readings today should be listened to closely, and though they don’t apply solely to Mass, we should think about how we listen to Scripture in that context. When Jesus talks about those who hear God’s Word in the parable of the sower, how do we listen to the readings? Do our eyes glaze over? Do we listen intently but forget the message after Mass? Do we try to live out the Scripture during the week between Masses? We should never forget that Mass is not a duty, but a respite from our work in the world. Mass is where we take strength from the Eucharist, the Word, and the fellowship of the Lord for our life with Christ. Our duty isn’t over at the end of Mass, but just beginning!

We at Mass are the seeds of the sower. It is not enough to hear God’s word, but to engage with it. If we listen, but do not understand, the devil will keep our heart from transforming with Christ. If we listen with excitement, but have no “roots” to develop our faith, we will not last, and will fall short of salvation. If we hear God’s Word, but let anxiety and the world paralyze us, then we will bear no fruit and lose salvation.

But, if we soak up God’s word, if we hear it and understand it, then we are the seeds which fall on good soil. Then God’s Word will be effective, accomplishing God’s purpose within us. We will carry the Word out into the world, and transform the world with us. Christ’s “yoke” becomes easier when we let God’s Word transform us, and guide our lives. This is the first step to living in Christ.

Let us work on being good seeds falling on good soil, to make effective God’s work upon us. Then we shall be amazing, and be fruitful for the Lord a hundred, or sixty, or thirtyfold.

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Life isn’t easy. This isn’t a surprise to anyone, not if you’ve ever played sports, or been hurt by someone you love. It’s not easy when we lose our jobs and can’t find work, and it’s not easy when we’re sick and can’t do anything about it. There doesn’t even have to be anything terribly wrong in life for it to be hard; we suffer when we’re lonely, when we don’t know what to do, or make a mistake that hurts someone else. And every day we stumble in sin.

Life isn’t easy for people with addictions, who struggle every day to master themselves. Life isn’t easy for those who are trying to stay chaste. And in a thousand different ways we can keep going with a laundry list of things that make life hard, and we are all Christians. So when Jesus says “my yoke is easy, and my burden light,” it is one of the most frustrating things we can hear. What does it mean?

It means we are different if Christ is in our lives, and we live by the Spirit. Even though the Spirit of God lives in us, we still cling to the life of the flesh. And Paul doesn’t mean physical flesh, but everything the world embraces. When celebrities encourage us to act like them, that is life according to flesh; when we think success means wealth, or fame, or recognition, that is life according to the flesh. When we try to do things without God, that is life according the flesh.

We have been given the Spirit of God inside of us. We believe that all things are possible with Christ who strengthens us. This is not something the people who are successful in the world can teach us. This is something that people who are weak, the “little ones” who relied on Christ can teach us.

We are not strong enough. We are not strong enough to overcome addiction, to take care of our families, to serve God without God.

Sometimes it feels like a cliché to talk about relying on God. But it’s amazing; when we start praying more, not just once a day but throughout our day; when we start asking Jesus for help things do become easier. Sadness lightens up a little bit, and we can endure.

But this is when we put ourselves under His yoke. When we try to do things outside of what God wants for us, things feel more like we are swimming upstream. Following God means following God, and sometimes that means going where we are afraid to go. Sometimes we are afraid to tithe, to follow God’s call to marriage or the religious life. Sometimes we are afraid to forgive people who have hurt us, and sometimes we are afraid to reach out to someone who needs our help.

Make no mistake, following God isn’t always easy, and there are plenty of saints who have suffered. But knowing Jesus means not being alone; it means having someone who loves you to suffer with you, and support you. Trust in God and the things you need will come.

Faith is hard, because we struggle so much with giving up control. But for all of us who struggle and are overburdened, giving up control is exactly what we need to do. Fighting against God will wear us out and leave us unsatisfied. But in Jesus Christ there is rest, and balm in Gilead. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”