Increase Our Faith
Is quantity really an issue when it comes to faith? Or is it the quality of the faith? Jesus makes the apostles think, and his challenge is great. Jesus likens faith to a mustard seed—in its smallness and in its power. Jesus promised that faith the size of a mustard seed, one mustard seed, could move mountains. With God all things are possible!
Do you know people with incredibly strong faith who have moved mountains? Who are they? What have they accomplished? Can your faith help you to do the kinds of things they did? How does faith help us overcome obstacles?
Faith in God provides a vision of hope, a vision of strength, a vision of power, even in smallness. Faith is a gift to be asked for and then acted on. The Gospel connects the power of even a little faith with Jesus’ call to willing and obedient service to God. “Thy will be done” are the four words we pray in the company of our community of faith before we receive Jesus in the Eucharist. The Eucharist gives us the power to be sent forth, to do incredible things in sharing our faith openly and whole-heartedly!
This weekend, as we celebrate the feast of our patron, St. Francis of Assisi, we too ask for an increase in our faith! We ask that the seeds planted in our church community 36 years ago continue to grow and move mountains. May all be possible, as we ask for faithfulness in being attentive to God’s will in our lives and then ACTING on it. Happy Feast Day, everyone!
The Rich Man and Lazarus
Heaven or hell? Have’s and have-not’s! The story of the rich man clothed in purple and the beggar, Lazarus! Have you ever been amazed at which one actually has a name in this story? Surprised?
The story of the rich man and Lazarus invites us to reflect on some harsh realities in life today. What was your first reaction to hearing the Gospel story? With whom did you identify? Why? And now, think about what it would be like to be the other character.
When I read or hear this Gospel, I think of so many who are brought to our doors, to the end of the table—those who need assistance even to get there. And what is our response? To offer scraps? To identify with the poor, the sick, the victims of injustice? To understand the plight of the sex-trafficked woman, the homeless and mentally ill? To work for change, for conversion of attitudes that make us indifferent to the plight of our brothers and sisters? To be advocates? To be change agents?
The reading from Amos warns us about our attitudes that say “we deserve” our blessings. When we truly realize that everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God, we can begin to live with all women and men as our brothers and sisters. And we can know, perhaps for the first time, that we are simply neighbors who never met.
Everything Belongs to God
Do I really believe that everything I have belongs to God? What are the implications of realizing that what belongs to me, belongs to God first?
I, like many of you, am an adult orphan. My parents are both enjoying eternal life with God. For me, the most powerful lesson in understanding that everything belongs to God comes at the end of every funeral Mass, when we raise the bowl of incense in blessing the earthly remains and entrust the soul of our loved one into God’s hands. We rejoice with profound gratitude for the time on earth that we had. And we also lovingly give back to God what was on loan to us. Everything belongs to God!
We are stewards of what God has given us. God owns it; we use it. So how do we use those God-given talents we enjoy? How do we use the time that we have on earth, before we return it back to God?
Sometimes, I think that I am most generous in volunteering service hours at church and in spending time at church at Mass. I pray for others and I take good care of my family. I think I am being exemplary in my understanding of what it means to give time and talent. Additionally, when that basket gets passed around at the Offering of Gifts (that is what it is called), I put “something” in.
The rest of my talents, my time and my money are mine to do with as I please? Not exactly. Everything belongs to God! So God should be taken into consideration in everything I do.
And so I pray: Dear God, you provide for all that I need. Let me be free of my need to call them my gifts, my time and my talent. May I be generous in serving all, in giving generously and may I be blessed with the realization that what I have and what I am will always be enough with you as the center of my life. Let me live in gratitude for all of your gifts to me.
A Caress of Love—Mercy Lived
What is “lost” in your life? And what are we to do about what is lost in our lives? Jesus teaches us using three images—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. All three speak to us of God’s boundless love and bountiful mercy. Most especially these stories tell us that no matter how far away from God we may find ourselves, God is always waiting for us, ready to welcome us. God loves each one of us as if we were the only person on earth.
When we truly, deeply experience God’s love in this way, knowing our own brokenness and admitting that we too are often lost, we learn what kind of mercy we are called to express to others. When you reflect on what is lost in your life, think of the shepherd finding the one in a hundred, the woman who persists in finding the lost coin, and the father who is filled with compassion and runs to meet his wayward son, regaling him with the finest clothing and the finest party. Imagine yourself in the stories and befriend the feelings that arise.
Who are the people in my life that I am called to welcome back, to caress with love and compassion? How persistent can I be in looking for that which is lost? And how can I celebrate not only the “finding of the lost” in my own life, but also my own being found by God again. God looks for us constantly! Where and when can we be found?
The Cost of Discipleship
Discipleship calls us to continually refocus our lives and our thoughts on Jesus and on the Gospel. What does it mean for us to be disciples? What did it mean to you when you were seven years old and received Holy Communion for the first time? What did it mean when you were confirmed? When you left your parents’ home? When you got married? At the birth of your first child? When you lost something very valuable to you? What was that “cost of discipleship?”
Jesus’ words in this Sunday’s Gospel are very direct and strong: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” and “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” These are hard imperatives. But if we love as Jesus teaches us to love, we know that love makes us willing to sacrifice anything and everything for the sake of another. We sacrifice because we love. Love changes everything and we can bear almost any kind of burden, any kind of cross. When we reflect on the Paschal Mystery in our lives, we come to realize that suffering and death to old ways of thinking and being, do lead to Easter glory, to Resurrection!
When we are passionately and intentionally focused on following Jesus, we know that we must be faithful to the process—to continuous calls to bear burdens and to renounce possessions or the things that possess us! How does following Jesus shape our daily life, values, decisions and goals?
As you prepare to enter into the liturgy this weekend, tell Jesus what it means for you to take up your cross and follow him. And be sure to LISTEN as Jesus responds to you.
It’s Hard to be Humble
“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” Do you remember those lyrics to Mac Davis’ 1980 song? For some strange reason, that song came to my mind as I read the Gospel for this weekend. It might be because, in recent weeks, I’ve noticed how much effort there is to be “first,” to be at the top. There’s no end to competition in sales, in sports, in politics. We desperately need this Gospel to remind us that in Jesus’ invitation to the banquet, there is a complete reversal of what we consider to be the best ranking.
Admittedly, it is hard for some of us to be humble. And others put themselves down and deny their giftedness. That might be a kind of “false humility.” So exactly what is the humility that Jesus desires? I think the call is to not think of ourselves greater or lesser than anyone else. Can we stand in a balance, knowing ourselves honestly, assuming equality with all others? Matthew Kelly reminds us that our sole responsibility is to become the best version of ourselves that God intended for us to be. The tricky, thorny part is what GOD intended for us to be!
Jesus in both words and actions tells us that all are welcome at the table. All are invited to sit at the table. My imagination tells me that in Jesus’ time, tables would be circular. In a circle, there is no real place of honor. In Jesus’ way of thinking, all are included in sharing their gifts—diverse and rich! To be different does not mean deficient. In God’s eyes, all are equal. We are all beloved children of a loving God.
Imagine yourself this weekend having Jesus come to you and invite you to meet the poor, the homeless, the illiterate, the jobless, the person of a different race or faith tradition. Listen to them speak to you. And pay attention to your response. Try to not talk back… just listen contemplatively.
Does the narrow, closed door puzzle you? If you had the choice of doors to walk through, which would you choose? In the Gospel reading this weekend, we hear of narrow doors, persons knocking on locked doors and surprises about who will enter into the kingdom of heaven. In other words, this story is about gatekeepers and “insiders” and “outsiders.” Who exactly will experience the kingdom of heaven?
In my family, everyone depended on my grandmother to pray us into heaven. My brothers, to this day, will claim that they can live life as they want because they have a sister who is a nun and ultimately, she will pray them into heaven. That’s counting on a lot! I keep telling them they are on their own!
This Gospel for this weekend hits hard….it isn’t about who you know or what you have done. Only one relationship counts. And that relationship is with Jesus. We can sit in church every Sunday and listen, we can check off every sacrament we have received, we can do good deeds. But in the end, “insiders” will be left out, and “outsiders” will be brought in. The first shall be last, and the last shall be first. So many reversals.
Ultimately what matters most is whether Jesus recognizes us as related to him in our hearts. Can we call Jesus our “essential and first friend?” And does it matter where we are put, what door we walk through, as long as we are with Jesus? Read Anne Osdieck’s poetic portrayal of this Gospel here.
To Be Set on Fire and Already Blazing
Jesus said to his disciples, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” Who are the people you know who have set the world on fire with their passion for a cause? Jesus was referring to prophets who are not afraid to speak truth to power. Where in your life do you experience the call to be prophetic? Is it with your family, friends, workplace, neighborhood? Speaking truth to power is not easy and does not win us friends. The Gospel of Jesus calls us to a radical way of life that often stands in contradiction to popular beliefs. And for those who remain radically faithful to the Gospel, it could mean suffering and death. This weekend gives us an opportunity to reflect on some of the people we consider to be modern day prophets—Dorothy Day, Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Romero, Sister Dorothy Stang, the priest in France martyred in church.
The Gospel is never fulfilled with complacency! Our challenge is to “be on fire,” to be fired up and blazing—not just in sports, or in motivation in the workplace. To be a disciple of Jesus, faithful to the Gospel, is to have one’s life challenged to the core. The values and morals of each generation inevitably come into conflict with what Jesus teaches. Strength for the journey comes from the witness of community, celebrating the Eucharist and doing justice—this too we do in remembrance of Jesus!
Making Alternate Investments
Money is a very important to all of us. We keep it in purses, wallets, money clips and sometimes even under a mattress. We have investment accounts, savings accounts and health care plans. We have to learn to be good with money so that we can provide for and be responsible for our families and all that matters to us in life. So what then does it mean to “provide for yourselves money bags that do not wear out?” Jesus’ message in Luke’s gospel is about not knowing when we will be called to our final destination, or when death will come to us. So all of us must be prepared. To be prepared is to have stored an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can steal or no moth can destroy. And how do we acquire such treasure? The command is hard: sell your belongings and give alms. It means that we are called to take our responsibility to the common good just as seriously as we take the securing of our own welfare and that of our families. Our happiness on earth may be linked to material goods. That’s the temptation. How good are we with the treasure that won’t wear out, the responsibility for the common good? Jesus is very demanding, insisting that we make hard decisions if we intend to enter the kingdom. It might be time to make some alternate investments! One good one is spending time in gratitude to God this weekend at our Sunday Mass.
What does it mean to be rich in what matters to God? Most of us can probably describe well what it means to be rich. Some of us would like to be rich. Some of us are already rich and don’t know it.
Jesus teaches that possessions and wealth are not bad. Rather, it is one’s attitude toward possessions that matters. We can become possessed by possessions, focused on things and wealth, rather than keeping God as the center of our lives. The danger is often greed and selfishness. I know too many people, some in my family, who worked so hard to accumulate more and more, saying that they would enjoy life when they retire. They would spend more time with their wife and children, visiting family, reading books, volunteering for church activities and learning how to pray more when they retire. And they died soon after retirement began, and some even before.
Jesus teaches me to trust God, not myself, and to be rich toward God. What do I need to grow rich in the sight of God? What do I need for this growth to take place? I’m going to reflect and pray for conversion on my part at Mass this weekend. See you there? Together, in community, we can explore God’s calls to us to be “rich toward God.”