No Better Offer
Do you ever wait to RSVP to an invitation thinking that you might have a better offer? Even when the invitation is extended, I’ve had people ask me, “Would you come to our house for dinner with my family—unless you have a better offer?”
In this Sunday’s readings, there can be no better offer than the banquet Jesus proposes. Listen closely to all the banquet and feast language that is found in each of the readings. Imagine juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines, lavishness, abundance, goodness, and kindness. This festival language only begins to describe the fullness of life we will have in the presence of God, in God’s heavenly kingdom.
The invitation to the feast is extended each time we celebrate Eucharist. Our RSVP is both our presence, our expression of belief, and also a commitment to act. We are guests and we are also the ones doing the inviting. What happens to us, in our own conversion and transformation, becomes an invitation not only to stay on the path but also to invite others to enter the journey.
When Jesus says, “Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find,” Jesus is asking us to be inclusive at the table—to invite ALL. Jesus is asking us to enlarge the table, to make the circle expansive, to welcome those least expected to be participants.
This is our way of preparing for the ultimate banquet—the reign of God! Ven al banquete! Come to the feast! There is no better offer! Help us clothe ourselves with gratitude, generosity, and mercy.
Happy Feast Day!
Most of us know something about him. We always think of the blessing of animals, the love of creation, statues and birdbaths. Beyond that, we might think of selling all and living poverty, of a peacemaking journey to a Sultan, a brotherhood of men and what they learned from each other. Visiting Assisi reminds us of the need for quiet, for simplicity and for an intentional “building up of the church.” That building up for us today is our great desire to be bridge-builders—to risk being community with friends we do not know yet, those we might not ever imagine welcoming into our midst.
Our Franciscan sisters and brothers teach us additional values that are their way of life and that offer something for us to reflect on as well. They teach us about contemplation, poverty, and conversion. Francis’ conversion story is a radical “turning around” from a focus on riches and possessions to a complete following of Jesus. That meant deep study of Scripture, lots of return to simple ways of just being with nature, and a refocus on what matters if we are disciples of Jesus.
At St. Francis, we celebrate by remembering why our community, our church came to be. Read our mission statement; better yet, sing it with us on Sunday. And let your prayer and reflection, your intentions and your actions be a response to Francis’ example to us all. Happy Feast Day!
Our Parish Mission Statement
We, the parish family of St. Francis of Assisi, formed in 1980, are gifted with wisdom, productivity, and vitality. We are Sacramental people journeying toward our Christian mission to know, love, and serve Christ. To better know, love, and serve Christ, we strive to emulate our patron, St. Francis of Assisi by:
Focusing our greater concern on the building of our people, giving our time, talent, and treasures, in reaching out to others, and promoting peace and harmony within God’s creation.
The Nature of Obedience
These two common expressions sum up the Gospel parable we hear this weekend. Jesus is asking about the nature of obedience. Do we say “Yes” and then not do anything about it? Do we say “No” and then, upon mature reflection, decide that it really is the right thing to do? Who among the two is the obedient one?
Sometimes our reluctance, our hesitation to say YES might really be the right thing to do. And sometimes taking time to reflect and pray results in a YES that means something far more than we could have ever imagined!
Of the two sons (and yes today they could be daughters), which one needs to change? What counts more, saying some good words, or actually doing some good deeds?
Obedience is really about listening, about paying attention to the many “voices” and “choices” that influence us. Who of us has not said “No” and then relented and turned to God’s ways? God’s mercy calls each of us to do just that—turn to God’s ways of justice, mercy, compassion, and love.
Then we can truly live the words of the second reading: “…humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his (her) own interests, but also for those of others.”
Justice and God’s Generosity
Strict justice or outrageous generosity? You probably remember the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The workers come into the field at different hours of the day, all agreeing to work for the “usual daily wage.” They all want to work and they all want to be paid. This they all had in common.
But in the parable, at the end of the day, each gets paid the SAME amount, regardless of the hours they had worked. And here is where the grumbling begins. “These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.” Does this sound like anything you’ve ever experienced? Unfair?
We hear grumbling about some of the same kinds of issues today. They usually come about because of what we understand to be “entitlement.” Why should I pay for something if I am not using it? Why should others get benefits if they are not paying the same amount into the system? I worked hard to earn this money. And another claims to have worked even harder.
In the parable Jesus says, “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”
I have to really reflect hard on what would happen if God’s grace were doled out based on people’s rules rather than God’s ways. What if God’s ways were like our ways, if God’s outrageous generosity did not exceed the level of simple distributive justice?
I’m sure that each of us has at some time received great, undeserved generosity. How does that experience help us understand this parable? What does it mean when Jesus ends the parable with “The last will be first, and the first will be last”?
Sometimes God seems to act unfairly, but it is really God’s generous justice in action. Perhaps having a bit more of God’s generous nature would help us all be more just.
Who is forgiveness for? I have been thinking and praying about this for a long time. Is there anything that can’t be forgiven? Is forgiveness based on conditions? I’ll forgive you if….I must admit that for a long time I waited for others to ask for my forgiveness. I was so hurt and so demanding of someone else to make it right. I wanted justice.
And then I realized that I needed to be the one to forgive. Why? Because I realized that not to forgive to is harbor anger, resentment, bitterness, and a heavy spirit. I realized that the words on a poster were true: “Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing you were the prisoner.” Forgiveness is not for others. It’s for me! Forgiving isn’t forgetting. Forgiveness gives rise to new life when the anger, resentment, and bitterness are given up for the sake of peace that helps us to be resilient in the face of anything that happens to us. Is there anything that can’t be forgiven? When we know and experience deeply God’s grace of forgiveness, we also gain the capacity to forgive. Then we can experience the gift of freedom that comes from forgiving others.
Be on the Lookout for the Greater Community
A theme of the Scriptures for this weekend is our shared responsibility in humanity’s journey to holiness. Ezekiel is appointed by God to be a watchman, a sentry, and even a prophet to Israel. Ezekiel is told that his destiny depends on the efforts he puts into convincing people to change their wicked ways. What does it mean today for us to be on the lookout for the greater community? What are we called to do?
I’ve been reflecting lately on who it is that I look out for—who are the people in my life, in my community, in my country that I look out for? What are they doing that makes me want to or need to look out for them? What situations are they in that require my using my voice or my acting on their behalf?
Our journey to holiness, consisting of multiple conversions or transformations in our lives, includes the capacity for our hearts to be open to hear God’s voice, especially when we recognize that our hearts are hardened. We can become so easily desensitized to others’ needs. We can become overwhelmed by all that is wrong with the world. We can begin to feel like nothing we do will make a difference. And we begin to grumble, or become angry, or just retreat from it all.
When Paul writes to the Romans, he reminds them that the only thing we are to owe to one another is love. So what does love demand of me when it comes to “looking out for” those who have benefitted from DACA and are now being threatened with deportation? When we think of the flooding that so many are experiencing, what does love demand of us when we begin to examine how ignoring environmental concerns in favor of housing needs and population growth has “unintended consequences?”
Does God still send watchmen or watch-women to address injustice in the world today? Who are they? Do we have a shared responsibility for others and for the world? Are you a “watch-person” in some way? What seems unjust as you watch? How can we find new ways of bringing justice and God’s love into the lives of those we care for? Into our workplace? Into other places in your life?
Like Fire Burning in My Heart
For a week now, most of us have been praying desperately and with grit, almost unendingly, for safety for ourselves and for those we love. I wonder if there is anyone in San Antonio that has not been affected by the hurricane and subsequent floods. We see the images of suffering, and we hurt for others. In some ways, our lives are not unlike those of the prophet Jeremiah.
Jeremiah doesn’t like his suffering any more than any of us like seeing the suffering of so many around us. Even so, he cannot stop speaking of God—“it is like a fire burning in his heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”
So what is it about God that is searing our hearts? What is the message that God speaks to us in the midst of our anxiousness, our sorrow, our compassion-fatigue?
Jesus’ words in the Gospel for this weekend are particularly meaningful for us today. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” I have cried often these days. I cry not just for the losses of so many, but also at the sight of those who are willing to deny themselves and take up the cross of compassion to help in whatever way they can, to support in prayer and in physical assistance, to work endlessly to “rescue” in body and in spirit those who are in most need of our mercy.
And I have prayed the prayer of St. Francis over and over again. Here it is:
Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
Coming to Know Jesus
How do we get to know Jesus? If Jesus were to ask us “Who do you say that I am?” what would you answer? Perhaps those of us who read Rediscovering Jesus last Lent would have some specific answers. Perhaps your last retreat, especially an ACTS retreat gave you some evidence.
In RCIA, and in other areas of parish life where we are intentionally and consistently trying to be more aware of how God is working in our lives, we frequently name ordinary experiences. For example, this morning I met a family who came to the church office. Their daughter was excited about beginning to get ready for her First Holy Communion. Her mother and father would do the formation with her, and she was so pleased that it would be done at home.
And then Mom knew that it was time for her to get serious about her own faith. She had been baptized in another denomination and, although married in the Catholic Church and raising her daughters as Catholic, she realized that she too was being called to embrace Catholicism. The RCIA journey begins for her and for her family. Her daughter’s faith is one way that is helping her to know Jesus.
Many and great are the opportunities to know Jesus that await our YES! We can know Jesus and answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” in our awareness of how God is working in our lives every day. These days I feel especially challenged by the events in our world. What would Jesus do if he walked into the middle of a protest group spouting hatred for other human beings? Who would Jesus be for those refugees who were being hauled like cattle without air and water in an 18 wheeler? What would Jesus do if he saw any death by execution?
We also know Jesus in hearing a good homily or reading a good book. We come to know who Jesus is in conversations with friends as well as persons who are not yet our friends. Music and the beauty of nature can inspire us to know and follow Jesus.
Anne Osdieck used this quotation from Pope Francis from his Morning Meditation of February 20, 2014, said:
We come to know him “in the daily encounter with the Lord, each day. Through our victories and through our weaknesses.”
We come to know Jesus…as disciples on the path of life, following behind him….This is a work of the Holy Spirit, who is a great worker; he is not a union organizer, [but] he is a great worker. And he is always at work in us: and he carries out this great work of explaining the mystery of Jesus, and of giving us the mind of Christ.
This weekend we give expression to our relationship with Jesus in “the work of the people” that we call liturgy—in our celebration of the Eucharist, when we remember how his disciples came to know him and recognize him in the breaking of the bread in the presence of others in the community.
O Woman, Great Is Your Faith
The Canaanite woman inspires me. She is persistent. Because she doesn’t belong with the followers of Jesus, even Jesus ignores her, and the disciples ask Jesus to get rid of her. In spite of this rejection and isolation, it is her love for her child that emboldens her to keep asking, to keep pleading—“Have pity on me, Lord! My daughter is tormented.” “Lord, help me!” “Please, Lord!”
Do our prayers these days have anything in common with those of the Canaanite woman? I tend to think that most of us are praying desperately for members of our families. Some are drug addicted or in abusive relationships, some are suffering hatred and exclusion because they are different or don’t belong because of sexual identity. We don’t always know what to do except to plead for mercy.
Besides our personal, family, or community struggles, we are inundated with images of violence and threats of more that come from hatred, fear, bullying, and distrust of the other.
In the Mass, we pray in Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation II: “By your Spirit you move human hearts that enemies may speak to each other again, adversaries join hands, and peoples seek to meet together.” Like the Canaanite woman, we are called to be persistent and bold in our begging and pleading for mercy and for change. She desperately wanted the demon to leave her daughter. And Jesus says that her faith was GREAT!
What are the demons occupying us these days? What divisions and separations, exclusions, and isolation separate us from living as disciples of Jesus?
Can we make our houses—the persons we are, the families and homes we live in, the churches we worship in, the communities we live and work in—houses of prayer for all peoples? What is the healing that needs to happen in each of us to allow our human hearts to be reconciled with enemies and adversaries so that we can live in Isaiah’s vision—all people will be welcome on God’s “holy mountain.”
Should we even hesitate to ask God for what we need?
Leaving the Safety of the Boat
If You Want To Walk on Water, You’ve Got To Get Out of the Boat! That’s the title of a popular book written about 15 years ago. That’s what Peter was invited to do. Remember the scene and the conversation. After an exhausting day, Jesus takes some time on the mountain to pray by himself. He sends his disciples ahead to cross to the other side of the sea. After some time passes, in the midst of a storm on the sea, Jesus comes walking on the water towards the disciples. They thought he was a ghost.
Jesus calms them with, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter is emboldened: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says, “Come.”
We know that Peter succeeds in walking on water, and when he becomes frightened, he begins to sink. When he cries out to Jesus, “Save me,” Jesus extends a hand and catches Peter.
At least Peter tried! He did get out of the boat. He took a “leap of faith,” faltered, and had to ask for help. And he got it!
What are our invitations or “calls” to get out of the boat? Do we get out of the boat when we pray? When we act on some conviction? When we aren’t sure what value or principle is guiding or leading us?
How persistent are we in asking for help? In praying? In acting courageously? What causes us to falter, to lose sight of our goal—that relationship with Jesus that invites us to get out of our comfort zones, the safety of the boat (or whatever structure, belief, value keeps us afloat) to some untested, unpracticed “walking on water” for the first time.
Do I want to walk on water? Do I even want to try?