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8th Sunday in Ordinary Time - March 3, 2019


Homilia en Español

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By Deacon Tim Papa

Here is a story that I came across: Four monks decided to meditate silently, without speaking for two weeks. By nightfall on the first day, the candle began to flicker and then went out. The first monk said, "Oh, no! The candle is out." The second monk said, "Aren't we not supposed to talk?" The third monk said, "Why must you two break the silence?" The fourth monk laughed and said, "Ha! I'm the only one who didn't speak."


It is easy to label these guys: the first is careless, the second is the know-it-all, the third is a scold, and the fourth is a braggart. So now that we’ve done such a good job of labeling their shortcomings, where are we? Are we closer to heaven? Are they?


Psychologist will tell you that labeling is a human trait, and very necessary one. The ability of a hunter in Africa to label the lion jumping from behind a bush as a threat and a bunny doing the same thing as a non-threat helps that hunter provide food for their family without becoming food themselves. However, if we cannot overcome this labeling tendency in non-emergency situations, our ability to obey the dictate of Christ to “love one another as I have loved you” is irreparably compromised.


The wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach, the author of the first reading, is illustrated by the story of the monks. When I first said that there were some monks, you probably had a picture in your mind that was generally positive: these men could be holy, or maybe prayerful. It was after they opened their mouths that we probably started judging them, and most likely putting them in a less favorable light. Sirach is a prudent man, and his advice to withhold judgment of others until we hear from them is indeed wise.


Jesus of Nazareth is also a wise man, but He holds us to a much higher standard. He asks that we act not only wisely but also in a way pleasing to God. While it might be human nature to judge a person based on some actions and statements that we observe, we ourselves don’t want to be judged based on our actions because we know the fickle nature of people. As I mentioned in my homily on the beatitudes, the paradoxes that life presents means that a person can always questions another’s actions: one that acts quickly can be accused of not giving the situation sufficient thought, or on the other hand if one wants to take a day or two to sleep on a decision one set’s oneself up for a charge of inaction. Politicians are especially prone to this – what behavior they find abhorrent in a person from the other party they will find excuses for when it happens to a colleague from their own party. We all know people who constantly look on situations negatively. But what we are slow to recognize is when we ourselves are the ones being excessively critical.


Hypocrite is a very severe word, but it is the word that Christ uses. We may be tempted to give ourselves a pass on this: “Surely I’m not a hypocrite.” Matthew relates this same encounter in his Gospel that we read today in Luke. But unlike Matthew who has Jesus addressing the scribes and Pharisees, Luke in today’s Gospel has Jesus addressing His disciples. Since we too are disciples, we must look within ourselves to see where we also fail to be generous in judging others. None of us is hypocritical all of the time, but all of us are, if we are honest, hypocritical some of the time.
This then is a bold challenge: how can we love our neighbor, even our enemy? Especially our enemy! Can we withhold viewing their actions in a negative light and give them the benefit of the doubt? The story goes that Mahatma Gandhi, the famous Indian independence leader, after being turned away from a Christian church because he was not of a high enough caste, never again seriously considered Christianity, and said: “If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.” Do we have the boldness to live our lives in a way that, or as the hymn goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love”?


We should consider the opportunity that Father Oscar has challenged us with, that of Eucharistic Adoration, as a method for incorporating these lessons more fully into our daily lives. For those of you who have never experienced it, sitting for an hour in front of God, contemplating His infinite power and goodness, and acknowledging your small part in His plan – a small but an important and loving part of it – will put your priorities in proper perspective and allow you to view your life in a fresh and very rewarding light. It is impossible to contemplate the greatness that is our God without losing the pettiness that we show in our hunger for human status and privilege. For in the end, many of our labels are ultimately aimed at tearing people down so that we look better in comparison. The irony is that ultimately this is self-defeating, since we end up looking worse to everyone else. And most importantly, we fail to measure up to what God asks of us – to be the tree that bears the good fruit.


By Deacon Jeff Mevissen

A good person out of the store of goodness in his or her heart produces good.  St Thomas Aquinas taught that something is good when it fulfills its purpose.  For example, a river is good when it carries water to the sea; a river is bad when it floods and destroys property.  Of course, a river cannot be morally good or bad – it is a product of nature.  But what about a human person - what makes us good or bad?

As Christians be believe we are good, that is holy, when we fulfill the will of God.  The Virgin Mary is the model of this goodness when Gabriel said the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and she would conceive and bear a son and her child would be the Son of the Most High. And Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord – be it done to me according to your word.”  Jesus himself modeled this goodness when he fulfilled the will of the Father to humble himself to be born a human being.  Jesus again accomplished the will of the Father in his passion, death, and resurrection.  Remember his submission to the will of the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father if it is possible remove this cup of suffering from me – but your will be done, not mine.”

 

Another way to consider the goodness of Jesus is that he gave his life as a gift for us.  “This is my body which will be given up for you – this is the chalice of my blood which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  Then how do we make our lives a gift in imitation of Jesus?  This is our vocation, our calling.  Married persons are called to be a gift to their spouse.  When couples are young and passionate this is easy but in old age, love is a choice.  The wife in vigil at the bedside of her dying husband is offering an immense gift of love.  Remember at the end of the Gospel of John Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”  In Greek, Jesus is asking Peter for agape, a selfless sacrificial love and Peter responds with philein, a comfortable brotherly love.  This is our challenge, to grow to love sacrificially,

 

Celibacy is another way to make oneself a gift to the church and the world.  This is a vocation in which a priest, a brother or a sister forego their own family to spend their life for the community.  Celibacy is a witness to our culture in which love means romance and romance means sex.  Celibacy points to the love of God which is more powerful and wonderful than we can ever experience or imagine.  Single people, too, need to ask themselves, “How do I make myself a gift to my family, my friends, my community.  As parishioners of St. James we should be asking ourselves how we place our personal gifts at the service of our brothers and sisters.  When statistics show that 20% of the people in parishes do 80% of the ministry, today’s Gospel challenges us to do good from the good in our heart.

 

Fr. Oscar is asking us to become a good parish by perpetual adoration; that means dedicating ourselves to prayer before the blessed sacrament 24/7.  Fr. Oscar wants us to love sacrificially as a parish.  And when you do the math, an hour for Mass and an hour for adoration is only 2 hours in 168 for the week or 1.2%.  Who cannot give God 1% of the 168 hours God gives us each week?  I had a revelation over snack bars this week.  I used to bring five snack bars to work on Monday – but if I forgot – I would do without.  Then I thought of bringing the whole box of bars to work.  I realized that the box of snack bars is like stewardship.  Instead of resenting a tithe on my time, talent, and treasure, I can offer God everything I am and have – I can make my life a gift to God - and then rejoice when God offers back 90% of everything.

 

In the Providence of God, people know what I should be reading before I do.  My son, Paul, gave me a book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer was a German Theologian who was entering his professional life in the 1930s.  When the Nazis promoted a National German Church, Bonhoeffer was one of the few voices speaking against it.  Bonhoeffer objected that pastors should be preaching Christ, not the ideals of a dictator; Bonhoeffer ultimately paid with his life for his prophetic voice.  Bonhoeffer coined the phrase, “cheap grace.”  Cheap grace is when we are saved and ignore the plight of our brothers and sisters because we are already worthy of heaven.  Discipleship, on the other hand, is where grace transforms us to love sacrificially.  My dear brothers and sisters, as we enter Lent this week, may our prayer, our penance, and our charity lead us to a deeper living of discipleship.  May we hear God’s call to make our life a gift to others.



By Deacon Jim Hinnerschitz

The scripture readings over the past few weeks have been a lead-up to the Lenten season which begins in three days with Ash Wednesday.  In a way we could call these past few weekend scripture readings a pre-Lenten season.  There are many lessons that Jesus is trying to get across to us on the proper way to conduct ourselves and to live in love and harmony with others.
The Gospel readings from Luke have covered Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Plain’ where He defines in detail those that are Blessed and the Woes to those who do not follow the will of the Lord.  Then Jesus speaks to us about ‘Love of Enemies’ where He tells us to “do to others as you would have them do to you” and to “stop judging and you will not be judged”.  This week’s Gospel reading picks-up with ‘Judging Others’ with more details about not worrying about fixing other people’s faults, but instead fixing our own faults first – so we can see more clearly.


       As Jesus tells us, we need to remove the wooden beam from our own eye first so we can see more clearly and only then can we even attempt to help others to see more clearly.  It is humorous that the faults we most adamently denounce are often those committed by others and the defects we recognize with more accuracy are those of our neighbor.  Sometimes our most thorough and sincere examinations of conscience are often those that examine the consciences of others.  The temptations we face fearlessly, without yielding at all, are those that threaten the soul of our neighbors.


The message from Jesus is that we should attempt to learn from the faults we see in our neighbors and check to see if we ourselves are not guilty of the very same faults that we see in them.  Then try to correct these faults of our own before attempting to remove the splinter from our neighbor’s eye.  We must remove that wooden beam from our own eye first, so we can see clearly – said another way, with our own conscience cleared, we can offer assistance to our neighbors.  We don’t want to be like the hypocrites Jesus warned us about in today’s Gospel.


       We have an excellent guide in Jesus, who instructs us with confidence.  With mercy, toward understanding and compassion, leading us to forgive ourselves as well as our neighbors.  How and where does he guide?  And with what precaution?  Jesus speaks of mercy, the key to creating a better world inside and out.  The excellent teacher tells us that “from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks”.


       Jesus is the “master teacher” and His life and words are pure gold, showing us who God is, how we are related to Him and how we should relate to one another.  Each of us who follows Him, desires to be like Him and when life unexpectedly jars us, usually it is a good news, bad new situation.  The good news is that in years past we would have reacted much worse to certain situations.  The bad news is that we still are not responding fully like Jesus would.  But we have hope!  As Jesus told us “No disciple is superior to the teacher, but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher”.  We need to simply pause from time to time from our busyness and listen to the words of Jesus – and pick up some spiritual nourishment.


       About a week ago I found myself doing what Jesus told us not to do.  I made some comments about a coworker that were far from flattering.  Oops – that wooden beam was blocking my vision again and I was not looking within to see my own faults, instead I was looking outward at this coworker’s faults.  Thankfully we have a patient and forgiving God.  Patient because He knows that we don’t always listen to Him.  Forgiving when He still loves us after we sin and offers us absolution through the sacrament of Reconciliation.
       The first reading from Sirach proposes how to measure a person’s character, which comes down to how the person speaks.  Just as the fiery kiln is the proof of the clay pot and the fruit is the proof of the tree from which it is picked, so conversation is the proof of a person’s character and heart.  Jesus also speaks of the image of the fruit tree in today’s Gospel, which is comparable to a person’s virtue.  A good person produces goodness; evil produces evil.


       In the second reading from 1 Corinthians, Saint Paul reflects on the harvest of our sinful nature or of our virtue.  Those embedded in a life of sin and corruption are destined for death.  For those who are “steadfast and persevering”, death wins NO definitive victory; the harvest is eternal life.  The good people, who are “fully engaged in the work of the Lord”, know their toil is not in vain.  They shall bear fruit for eternal life.


       As the liturgical season of Ordinary Time draws to a close this Tuesday evening and we begin the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday; let’s start to put some of the lessons we have heard from Jesus over the past few weeks into action.  The forty days of Lent are a time for personal reflection, a time for almsgiving, a time for prayer, a time for making positive changes in the way we live our lives.  If we truly take advantage of the season of Lent to make small changes in how we live our lives and how we treat those around us we will be well prepared for Holy Week and the triumphant resurrection of Jesus on Easter.


       The choice is ours.  We can be happy with the status quo and make no changes to how we live our lives.  Or we can look to make positive changes in our lives that will hopefully bring us closer to God, to those around us and lead us to that best version of ourselves, that we are called to be.


       Here are some things that we can do less of or stop doing altogether:

  • Gossiping or taking part in idol chit-chat
  • Less complaining about things we can’t control
  • Being busy with things that don’t get us closer to God
  • Worrying about things that we can’t change
  • Worrying about what other people have or are doing
  • Judging others

       Here are some things that we can start doing more of or start doing:

  • Listening more and talking less (God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason)
  • Spend more time enjoying the family and friends God put in our life
  • Lend a hand to those in need – the elderly, the homebound, the lonely
  • Pray the Rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours daily
  • Attend a week-day Mass once a week
  • Sign-up to spend one hour per week of quiet time with Jesus in Adoration – this will only consume 0.6% of our time each week and will leave us with 167 hours to accomplish everything else that needs to be done for the remainder of the week

       This is a short list of suggestions (and far from complete) that we can use to help prepare for a great Lenten season.  We don’t have to do all of them.  We don’t have to do any of them.  The choice is ours, given to us by God through Free Will.  The question is what is holding us back from making some positive change in our life?


       Let us learn to forgive a little more.  Let us learn to be less judgmental towards others.  Let us learn to be more compassionate towards each other.  Let us learn to be like Jesus and love our brothers and sisters.  Lent is almost here, the time for action is now.  Remember, the choice is ours.