“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth”

In Luke 10:21-24 Jesus teaches us how to rejoice with God.

Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said,
I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike. 
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. 
All things have been handed over to me by my Father. 
No one knows who the Son is except the Father,
and who the Father is except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

Turning to the disciples in private he said,
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 
For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

Reading backwards slightly in this Gospel passage from Luke, the disciples are reporting gleefully back to Jesus about their conquest of demons. And Jesus tells them, don’t be so excited about your power over demons, but be joyous that your names are inscribed in Heaven. Then He lifts up praise to the Father with joy in the Holy Spirit. What a beautiful moment Luke captures here, uniting the Holy Trinity in prayer.

When we are joyful, when we are grateful, when something happy comes to us, what is our experience? How do we respond? In this instance, we see that Jesus rejoices in the Holy Spirit and prays to His Father in Heaven. Do we block out the Holy Spirit? Do we give praise to the Father? Do we thank Our Lord Jesus Christ? It’s a unique opportunity to interact with God in a special and joyous moment, one that God would want to share with us, for God is love.

In this passage, Jesus shows the disciples how to respond to God in joy. And while God hides this communion with God from the “wise and learned”, He has revealed it to “the childlike” (or as it is expressed in my personal Bible from an earlier published version, “the merest child”.) So are you more like the wide and learned, or are you the childlike? Do you resist the joyous encounter with God or do you embrace it like a child?

God loves you. He wants to share in your great moments of life, just as He wants to share in your sad moments. It’s okay to love Him back! It’s okay to respond to God’s invitation to commune. Many kings and prophets desired to have it. Blessed are the eyes that see what you can see.

Glory to God!

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“Prepare the way of the Lord”

Today, as we prepare for Christmas, let us prepare a place in our hearts for Christ. In Mark 1:1-8, we hear the Gospel’s call to prepare the way of the Lord.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”

John the Baptist appeared in the desert
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel’s hair,
with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Today in many Christian churches around the world, we celebrate the second Sunday of Advent. This is the reading we hear in many houses of worship as we prepare ourselves for the birth of Our Lord and Savior.

Mark tells us of Isiah the Prophet presaging the appearance of John the Baptist, with words in the scriptures: Prepare the way of the Lord. John finally comes and says to the people of Jerusalem and the whole Judean countryside, “One mightier than I is coming after me.” Prepare yourself for His coming.

So on this second Sunday of Advent, that is God’s message to us. Prepare the way of the Lord. One mightier than us is coming. You may have been baptized with holy water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

What a contrast this season of Christmas is to that of Easter, and this season of Advent is to the season of Lent. Now we have the rush of holiday shopping, the anticipation of parties and family gatherings, television specials and the glut of decorations. There are no church restrictions on eating or celebrating before the big holiday. Yet we await for the arrival of Our Lord in the birth of Jesus Christ.

So how then do we prepare ourselves the way of the Lord? For the one mightier than we? It’s tough when we have children and excited family members ramped up on the “holiday spirit”.

We humble ourselves before God. The cultural celebration of Christmas is “about me”. The spiritual celebration of Christmas should be about Christ. It should be about opening a place in our hearts for the Christ Child, who will find a home there and grow into adulthood during the year, becoming full as we mature as Christians.

Mary will become pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Imagine how she must have humbled herself for that experience. Use Mary for your inspiration. Accept God’s will and make yourself a vessel for God’s grace this Christmas. Give birth to Jesus in your heart — he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

The whole experience with God is about love. If we can just understand that, if we can just let that come through and power everything we do, doing God’s holy will, we can prepare the way of the Lord for the whole world.

Glory to God!

“May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping”

Watch! God is present everywhere. Don’t be caught asleep, Jesus tells us in Mark 13:33-37.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'”

First, let me wish you a happy first Sunday of Advent. We are watchful for Christmas, the coming birth of Our Lord and Savior. These days, we can hardly miss this event. But in the days of His birth, no one knew, save a few inspired sages, and their knowledge was greeted with fear rather than with joy.

There are a couple of different ways to take Our Lord’s warning in today’s passage.

On the one hand, He warns us of being complacent in our Master’s absence. It’s been about 2,000 years since His death and Resurrection with many predictions of His return, yet we are still waiting. But Jesus tells us, “Watch! May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.” When He returns in glory, we must be ready to go with him, not dally.

On another, God walks with us in life. The Holy Spirit comes to us and touches our hearts. Jesus hears us and responds to our prayers. The Father hears our prayers and provides for us. When the living, acting, responding, sustaining God comes to us, we must be open to Him, to respond to Him. When we read scripture, the Word of God, we must be ready to be moved by it and act according to God’s holy will. If we encounter someone whom God wants us to help or respond to in some beneficial way, we must be ready to act. God loves us and we must be ready to love Him. “Watch! May He not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”

On still another, we encounter God in our Church community, at Mass if you are Catholic or during Service if you are Protestant. It’s a time of spiritual invigoration for us. We hear the scriptures read and a homily given. For many of us, we receive the holy body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. There is also the encounter of Christian fellowship, where we share the community of faith. Jesus says in the Gospels that where two or more of us are present in His name, there is He also. And so when we meet in community, Christ is among us. If we aren’t aware of all of this, if we are “asleep” in faith, we miss out on these sacraments of faith and these many encounters with God. “Watch! May He not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”

As we observe this first Sunday of Advent, may we be watchful for the presence of Our Lord in the many aspects of our faith life. May we not be asleep, but ever mindful of God’s presence as we interact with others and do so with love.

Glory to God!

“This poor widow put in more than all the rest”

What is the measure of charity? Jesus addresses it in Luke 21:1-4.

When Jesus looked up he saw some wealthy people
putting their offerings into the treasury
and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.
He said, “I tell you truly,
this poor widow put in more than all the rest;
for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”

The lesson from this passage isn’t about how much you give to the Church, although I’m sure churches all around wouldn’t like me to say that, strapped as they often are. No, this is about giving from your heart to the needy. And that doesn’t always come in the form of coins or paper money.

A few years back there was a big debate about who gave more to charity, conservatives or liberals. It was a political argument, really. What the proof came down to was who was able to show from their income tax statement more dollars given. Conservatives thought straight dollars and cents shown on a tax form would tell the story, although they never mentioned that they got that money back either in tax refunds or in reductions to the taxes they owed. What was omitted from their calculations was the hours given in community service, in personal service, and in simple kind acts to others.

An example I always fall back on in Christian charity is that of former President and First Lady Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter. They aren’t particularly rich, but they spend countless hours working for Habitat for Humanity, not just raising funds, but in actually working on building homes for the homeless. Jimmy Carter is 93 years old and he still goes to build sites and frequently actively does carpentry work on Habitat homes. At his side is Rosalyn, who is 90. They give of their time and their talent as well as from their wallet.

Model Christians do far more than put money in the collection plate. They make meals for funerals and sick families. They take care of their neighbors. They volunteer in thrift shops. During disasters they volunteer for the Red Cross to hand out blankets and hot meals to the suffering. You will also find them distributing fresh fruits and vegetables at food banks and stocking shelves at senior pantries. They rush to the scene of accidents and incidents to tend to the wounded and bewildered, and sometimes they provide shelter to the homeless.

My bet is that the poor widow observed by Our Lord in this passage was the same way. She not only gave her only two coins to the Temple, I’ll bet she also helped her neighbors in time of need, cared for the sick in her home and in her community. I can’t speak for the others that Jesus observed. Perhaps many of them did so, too. But did they do so from their lack or from their abundance? And that was Jesus’s point.

Also, Jesus’s point wasn’t so much to judge those who only gave out of their abundance, but to laud the poor woman “who offered her whole livelihood.” She put more than all the rest.

So what are we to take from this passage from Luke? Giving money to the Church is nice. It’s even necessary to sustain the community of faith. But should it be the only measure of charity? Shouldn’t we give our all in service to others, as Our Lord commands, in love? Our Lord appreciated the sacrifice of the poor woman, but what if we stopped comparing what we give to what others give and instead give of our whole selves. And what if we stopped measuring it in coin and paper and measuring it in how much we do for one and other — all others.

Glory to God!

“What you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me”

Are you a sheep — or a goat? You can read what that means in Matthew 25:31-46.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
he will sit upon his glorious throne,
and all the nations will be assembled before him.
And he will separate them one from another,
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left,
‘Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
a stranger and you gave me no welcome,
naked and you gave me no clothing,
ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”

This will be the reconciling of the moral books in Heaven, according to Jesus. Not did you observe all the commandments faithfully, not could you recite scripture accurately, not did you know all the laws and prophets and books of the Bible. But did you treat your fellow human being with compassion and mercy and love. Did you do for one of the least of these?

This is the measure of the Christian. Did you provide for the hungry, the homeless, the disabled, the sick, the alien, the widowed, the orphaned, the elderly, the prisoner, without scoffing or judging or demanding repayment? By this will you be judged. It’s going to be that simple.

So the question really becomes, on your day of reckoning, will you be a sheep or will you be a goat? When you had the chance to do for one of the least of our brothers and sisters, how did you really do for Jesus? Remember, rhetoric won’t impress Jesus.

Glory to God!

“Well done, my good and faithful servant”

Far from being about growing rich in wealth, Jesus parable in Matthew 25:14-30 is about growing rich in sharing the gifts and strengths that God has given us.

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“A man going on a journey
called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.
To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–
to each according to his ability. 
Then he went away.
Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them,
and made another five.
Likewise, the one who received two made another two. 
But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground
and buried his master’s money.

After a long time
the master of those servants came back
and settled accounts with them.
The one who had received five talents came forward
bringing the additional five. 
He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. 
See, I have made five more.’
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities. 
Come, share your master’s joy.’
Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said,
‘Master, you gave me two talents. 
See, I have made two more.’
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.’
Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, 
‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person,
harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. 
Here it is back.’
His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!
So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant
and gather where I did not scatter? 
Should you not then have put my money in the bank
so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? 
Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. 
For to everyone who has,
more will be given and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'”

Well done, my good and faithful servant. I have highlighted it twice in the passage above. Why? Because Our Lord said it twice. He shows us that there were two instances in which a servant was good and faithful and was rewarded. And what Jesus’s story tells me in these two instances is that God gives many different kinds of gifts, many different levels of strengths but rewards us equally for using them. One gift, one strength is not greater than another; rather, using the gifts and the strengths that God has given us is what He loves.

Thus, one who shares his wealth to help the needy is not greater than one who shares her gift of healing the sick. Nor is one who speaks the loudest to proselytize greater than one who works quietly behind the scenes to aid the disabled.

Too, Jesus story tells us that the one for whom Jesus saves his wrath is the one who shirks his responsibility to use the gifts and strengths that God has given him. Thus, he who fails to give shelter to the homeless, or food to the hungry, or aid to the disabled, or care to the sick, or mercy to the widow and orphan, or pity to the prisoner is liable to God for the consequences.

God knows our gifts and our strengths. And he expects us to live up to them. “Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities,” He says. And when we have carried them out, He says, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich.” He is speaking metaphorically there in that last stanza. When you use your gifts and strengths to do good, you will be given grace, and you will be given more and more through the love of God you share. Because it should come naturally to share your gifts and strengths when they come out of your love for God. And your love of others.

Glory to God.

“You should forgive him”

It’s easy to hold a grudge. Jesus tells us in Luke 17:1-6 we should forgive instead.

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Things that cause sin will inevitably occur,
but woe to the one through whom they occur. 
It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck
and he be thrown into the sea
than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.
Be on your guard!
If your brother sins, rebuke him;
and if he repents, forgive him.
And if he wrongs you seven times in one day 
and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’
you should forgive him.”

And the Apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
The Lord replied, “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 would obey you.”

Oh, people, how we can hold a grudge. But it’s very clear here: Jesus calls on us to forgive, especially if someone repents. And even if he should wrongs us multiple times in one day! If he repents — if he has a change of heart — we should forgive him.

There are people who take advantage of this, of course. They say they are sorry, but then they go on to do the same thing again and again. Should we still forgive them? If we can get them to change their hearts, certainly. And there is a certain grace in forgiving the sinner while rebuking the sin itself.

The language Jesus uses here is interesting. He says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.” Two lines farther down he says, “If he wrongs you seven times in one day…” Then is Jesus distinguishing between different kinds of sin, or is he really talking about personal abuses against us? What kinds of sin can we forgive? Are there sins we cannot forgive? Or is Jesus really calling on us simply to be compassionate and loving of others, enough so to be forgiving the faults of others?

If there are sins we cannot forgive, such as sins committed against others, perhaps Jesus is calling on us to be forgiving in our own hearts. Such an act would be to not judge others and not to condemn. Another act would be to recognize the sin and get that person help to repent and reform, while not condemning. Perhaps even acting to help reconciling the two.

Forgiveness is a tremendous gift. It is a gift to others and a gift to ourselves. Given to others, it is an act of love. And as we know, Jesus calls on us to love others. Sometimes it is difficult to forgive a slight, an abuse, a betrayal, an aggression, an attack. But afterwards, forgiveness can be healing. So then, let us not forget to love ourselves enough to forgive another and in the process help ourselves, even forgive ourselves when for whatever reason we blame ourselves.

Love is an amazing force. If we act to forgive out of love — love of God, love of others — we can do amazing things. So clearly, Jesus tells us, “You should forgive him.”

Glory to God.