Sunday, October 26, 2014

Two great commandments

Jesus gives us the two great commandments in today’s Gospel; love God and love our neighbor.  These are universal commandments for all people and for all times.  They aren’t something that we need to take a poll on or something that changes from one culture to another.  They are universal truths which Jesus has given us for our own good.
These two great commandments are shorter, more concise versions of the ten commandments which God gave to Moses.  Again these commandments are not just meant for the Israelites in the desert.  They are given to all peoples of all times to help us to live our lives in a way which will make us happy and, ultimately, will lead us to heaven.
So, if these commandments are so good for us, why do we continue to break them?  The answer to this is simple, because we’re human, because we listen to the evil one more than we listen to Jesus, and because we want to do our will and not God’s will.  We don’t want to turn away from God and sin, but like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we just cannot help ourselves.
When we break these commandments, we often hurt those closest to us.  That is why our families today and throughout the ages are often a mess.   Of course, the evil one wants to convince us that our families are not a mess.  He tells us they are normal, modern families, if you will. 
Our society and our Church have very different views about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman, what a marriage consists of, what love is, and even when what life is.  Over the last fifty years, we seem to have gone in the wrong direction as far as our families are concerned.  If my parents and grandparents were still alive, they would hardly believe how much things have changed in just the past fifty years. 
A group of our church leaders met recently in a synod on the family.  When you read the reports from this synod, it is apparent that many bishops are confused also.  On the one hand, they want to be pastoral, to welcome everyone and to meet them where they are.  After all, our Catholic church is meant to be a warehouse for sinners not a museum for saints.  But, the bishops don’t want to encourage the sinful behavior which is being promoted by most every other group in our society today.   How does our church hold the line on the ten commandments and on Jesus’ teaching and still remain open to meeting the needs of everyone?
Clearly, this is a difficult problem which isn’t easily solved. But there are several things we all can do during these challenging times.
First, we need to pray, pray, and pray some more.  We need to pray for our church fathers that they will listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and will continue to guide the church in the right direction.   Also, we need to pray for families.  Pope John Paul II said that as the family goes, so goes the church, and as the church goes, so goes the nation.  Today, our church and our nation are struggling because our families are such a mess.  And we won’t see the light at the end of this tunnel until families return to holiness.
Second, we need to trust in God and in our church.  Jesus told us that the gates of hell will not prevail against our church.  Sometimes, it seems like the gates of hell are prevailing, but we need to keep the faith and to do our part in building his kingdom on earth.  There have been disagreements at church councils and synods before and somehow the Holy Spirit always has prevailed.   Recently, I heard that at the Council of Nicea in the fourth century the discussion was so heated that one bishop punched another bishop and pulled his beard.  Fortunately, they didn’t have facebook or twitter in those days, so it didn’t become instant news.   We need to relax and not pay too much attention to the reports that we read.  Based on past experience, the initial stages of these types of controversial meetings are often messy and confused.  But, somehow the Holy Spirit always leads the church in the right direction. 
Third, we need to do our part in promoting and building strong families.  When I come on Sunday mornings and I see the families here, it gives me hope.   I see mothers and fathers who are bringing their little children to mass and I know that the future of our church is secure.  I don’t care how much noise those children make.  Their voices are like angels which drown out the evil one and guarantee the ultimate victory of the family.  All of us need to witness to everyone we meet about the joy of our families and the joy of raising children.  Too many people today have bought into the devil’s lie that:  Things are a blessing and people are a burden.  The truth is things are a burden and people are a blessing.  Just go to a family’s home with lots of children who are living their faith.  They might be having financial struggles, but if they are able to trust in the Lord, they will be joyful.  We need to embrace and to rejoice in our traditional families.
Finally, we need to love those who have somehow fallen off the track, who are in dysfunctional relationships or strained situations.  We need to love them even more than we love those who have it all together.  We need to love them as the children of God that they are.  Somehow, and this is difficult, we need to love them without embracing their sinful behavior.   I suspect that there isn’t one adult in this church who doesn’t have a friend or family member who fits this description.  Love them.  They are your neighbor.  They need a friend.  Love them not because they have sinned but in spite of the fact that they have sinned.  Who knows, we might need their love when we fall off track.

As Jesus tells us:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul.  And love your neighbor as yourself.  Love is the answer.  Do not be afraid.  Trust in the Lord and have faith in His church.  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

We're invited to a party

My family loves birthday parties.  In fact, we’ll have a party later this afternoon to celebrate two birthdays.  I have five children and seven grandchildren with number eight on the way.  Four of my five children are married and these four all live either in Mason or Lebanon.  So, our typical birthday party has seventeen people attending.  When these parties are at our house, which they often are, we are seated at a large dining table with a smaller table at the end.  This seats sixteen with one baby in a high chair.  I don’t know what we’ll do when we need another seat at the table. 
Today, Jesus tells a parable about a party, a wedding banquet.  Twice he sent his servants out to invite guests to this party.  Some people ignored the invite and others even killed his servants.  The king was enraged by this and killed the murderers and burned their city.  But, he sent out his servants once again to invite anyone they could find. One of those attending the wedding feast didn’t wear the proper wedding garment.  So the king had him tied up and cast into the darkness. 

In this parable, God is the king; Jesus the bridegroom.  The feast is eternal life as we hear in today's first reading.  The Israelites are those first invited to the feast by God's servants, the prophets.  For refusing invitations and killing His prophets, Israel was punished, with its city conquered by foreign armies. 

Then, God sent new servants, His apostles, to call not only Israelites, but all people - the good and bad alike - to the feast of His kingdom.  Who is this God who loves us so much that he wants us to be with him in heaven for all eternity?

Several weeks’ ago I attended a retreat with some other deacons.  The leader of our retreat was Father Vincent, a wise elderly monk.  Father Vincent told us to trust in the Lord and to follow his will and not our will.  He told us we could learn more about our great and loving God by reading the psalms slowly.  Today’s responsorial psalm, Psalm 23, tells us a lot about our God.  It compares our God to a shepherd, with us as his sheep.  It reads:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.   
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.
   You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
   you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.
   Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I thought of psalm 23 as I was reading today’s Gospel.   In the Gospel, we are encouraged by the king’s willingness to seek out guests for the wedding feast.  But, then, at the end of the parable, we might be taken back when the king tells his attendants to cast out into the darkness the man who wasn’t dressed in a wedding garment.  Is this God of ours a merciful God or a just God?

As we hear in psalm 23, our God is a merciful God.  He is a shepherd who constantly seeks us.  Our God is also a just God.  Since he gave us our freedom, he honors our freedom by allowing us to choose whether we will attend and be properly dressed for his wedding feast or not. Will we follow him, our loving shepherd, or seek our own way?

I love my children and my grandchildren.  I love celebrating birthdays and other occasions with them.  I’m sure those of you who have children and grandchildren also love them.  Our love for our children and grandchildren is just a small sample of God’s unsurpassed love for each of us.  Like a loving father, our God combines mercy with justice, compassion with freedom.

We may reject God, but God doesn't give up on us. There is a party planned and God, like a shepherd, comes out to find us.  He wants to share His joy with us.  After all, the invitation comes from Jesus, who wants us at the feast so much that he offers himself as a sacrifice on the cross and on the altar today to encourage us to accept his invitation.

By coming to Mass today we accepted an invitation.  We come to the supper of the Lamb seeking help putting on our wedding garment.  For, we must dress appropriately for the heavenly banquet.

Are we properly dressed for the heavenly banquet?  The time to prepare is now and the best place to prepare is here at this Eucharistic celebration. Let us rejoice and continue the celebration.