I’ve set up my Ping.fm account to post to my blog. Now I have more incentive to keep my status updated. Yes, I’m a geek. 😉
In our Gospel today, Jesus is once again being tested by the Pharisees. They’re looking for something that they can use against Him to condemn Him, so they ask Him to state the greatest commandment. They want him to say something that is blasphemous and against the Jewish beliefs. Instead of falling into their trap, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach the Pharisees, and us as well, about how we should relate with others and how our relationship with God should be structured.
He tells us that the first commandment is that we must “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and that this is the greatest commandment. What does that look like to say we love God? We show our love of God by first of all making sure that our faith is not a one-hour-a-week thing. It’s all too easy as Christians in the world today to fall into the trap of not letting our belief in God influence most of our lives. We will spend one hour a week at Mass, possibly some time driving to and from the church, but as soon as Mass is over, Christianity has no influence on our behavior. We act no different than anyone else in the world. We don’t allow our faith to influence our daily lives. We’ve done our hour a week with God, so we’re good, right? Not quite.
We must take time throughout our days for regular periods of prayer. Prayer should be a priority within our days. Now, this doesn’t mean entering into a monastery or becoming a priest, but it does mean spending some time throughout each day in prayer. If we truly love God, we’ll want to spend some time with Him.
A popular way of doing this is to say the Angelus Prayer three times throughout the day. At 7:00 AM, 12:00 Noon, and 6:00 PM, the bells here at the church ring for a minute or so to remind those in town to spend a little time in prayer. Another common way is to spend time driving, say between here and Miles City, praying a Rosary instead of listening to the radio. However we do it, we truly show our love of God by spending time with Him in prayer on a daily basis.
After talking about loving God, Jesus then brings up love of neighbor. He didn’t need to talk about the second commandment, as the Pharisee only asked about the first commandment. By mentioning the love of neighbor, Jesus shows that the two commandments are closely linked. Our love of neighbor comes out of our love of God. If we don’t have our relationship with God in right order, we won’t be able to truly have a relationship with those around us.
Christianity is not a “me and Jesus” thing, an idea that is very common in our culture today. We hear televangelists talking about a “personal relationship” with Jesus, promoting an individualistic faith where it’s between me and God, and other people don’t matter. In contrast, Jesus tells us that our love of God leads us to love our neighbor. Our relationship with God is not individualistic, but should lead us to be open to the larger community around us. If we truly want to follow Our Lord, we’re going to reach out to our neighbor.
How do we show this love of neighbor? Jesus tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself,” so we must be willing to reach out to those around us who are in need. I’ve personally experienced this following the death of my grandfather, where friends and neighbors prepared meals for us while we were making preparations for the funeral. We also can show our love of neighbor by listening to someone who is going through a difficult time. Love of neighbor is also shown through providing some necessity of life when someone is lacking these necessities, such as food or shelter.
We also show our love of neighbor by not talking negatively about them. Gossip is all too prevalent, and is very easy to fall into. It’s also very destructive of our relationships with those around us, as it frequently paints others in an overly negative light. All of us are influenced, in one way or another, by what we hear about others, and this affects how we interact with them. We all have our failings, and we must be willing to overlook the failings of those around us, just as we would want them to overlook ours.
As Christians, we are called to love God completely. May our love of God lead us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Like many Americans, I’m getting very tired of the presidential election cycle. The two candidates spend very little time talking about what they’re going to do if they get elected. Instead, they expend great quantities of hot air showing us how he’s the savior of the country (if not the world), and his opponent is evil incarnate and will destroy the known world the moment they’re elected. I’m looking forward to November 5th, at which point the political advertisements will no longer be running. Sure, there will be at least a week of finger pointing and recounts before one or the other is named President of the United States, but that can be avoided by refusing to turn on the 24-hour news channels.
While one might be able to avoid the commercials, debates, and other attacks by simply not turning on the TV (not a bad idea in the first place), it’s hard to avoid when representatives of one of the candidates call on a Friday night while I’m enjoying watching Babylon 5 on DVD (yes, I’m a sci-fi weenie). On Friday night, I received a call from the local representatives of the Obama campaign. Unfortunately for her, I decided long ago that I could never in good conscience vote for a candidate who is so openly in the back pocket of Planned Parenthood and NARAL. You see, I was born in 1976. Roe v. Wade was January 22, 1973. Do the math. Abortion matters to me because I realized many years ago I would not be here if my mom said 4 words: “I want an abortion.” Now, my mom is very much against abortion, but the fact that I could have been aborted legally, and that over 1 million boys and girls my age were aborted in 1976, matters to me very deeply. Also, the fact that we are over 48 million “legal” deaths due to Roe v. Wade and counting concerns me even more. Needless to say, I cannot vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights advocates.
Anyways, now that you know where I’m coming from, this poor unfortunate volunteer from the Obama camp calls to encourage me to vote for him. As part of our conversation, she asks me, “What keeps you from voting for Barack Obama?” My response, after a short pause when I was deciding whether to be nice to this lady or not, was as follows:
“Ma’am, I’m a Roman Catholic priest. As such, respect for human life is of vital importance to me. Mr. Obama has made statements that cause me concern regarding his respect for all human life, especially regarding abortion.”
She kind of stammered out an “I understand.” Then, after a short pause of about a second or so, she invited me to visit their office in town for more information and wished me a good night. I really don’t think she expected to ever hear that response, and was completely unprepared for it. I almost feel sorry for her.
Like I said, I can’t wait for November 5th.
It seems like the Pharisees are constantly trying to trick Jesus into saying something that would get Himself into trouble, and today’s Gospel is no exception. It seems an innocuous question regarding taxes, but is a cleverly devised trap that they think will cause Him to either go against the Jewish faith or the Roman authorities. Instead of falling into their trap, Our Lord once again shows us how far God is above anything we can comprehend.
At the time of Jesus, the Jewish people were under the control of the Roman Empire. The Roman coins had the image of Caesar stamped on them, and were forbidden to Jews by the strictures in the Mosaic Law against graven images. The Roman money wasn’t even allowed into the temple, thus the moneychangers within the temple precinct. If Jesus would have outright allowed the tax, the Pharisees would have claimed that He was acting against this command, discrediting Him with the people.
Likewise, the Roman authorities were not popular within Palestine, as they were viewed as conquerors and occupiers. Many movements had come and gone trying to roust out the Roman military and government officials from their land, and was still a popular sentiment. If Our Lord had outright encouraged the Roman tax, the Pharisees would probably have denounced Him as a Roman sympathizer, causing those around Him to turn on Him.
The Pharisees also knew how to play both sides of the fence. If Our Lord would have spoken against the Roman tax, the Pharisees would have immediately reported Him to the Romans calling him a revolutionary who wanted to overthrow the Roman governance, starting with the Roman taxes. Rome was not known for being well-disposed to revolutionaries within their realms, so their response would have been very swift and brutal against Our Lord.
Jesus refuses to fall into their trap, and uses this as a teaching opportunity to make the distinction between the things of the world and that which is dedicated to God. By “[giving] to Caesar what is Caesar’s”, Our Lord is talking about the things of the world, our possessions, our money, even the essentials that we need for basic survival. He’s not saying that these things are bad, or wrong to have and keep, but that they are the things of the world and could be taken away by the worldly authorities at any time. Even our very lives on earth could be taken away by civil authorities or military force.
While our life on earth is subject to the authority and power of the Caesars of the world, everything we have and are is God’s. The earthly governments could take away everything we own, even our lives, but they cannot destroy our essence, who we are. God has promised us that we will have eternal life with Him, if we choose to join Him at the end of our earthly lives. The governments and powers of the world cannot take that away from us unless we allow it. Our very existence is a gift from God, and no earthly power can do more than end our life on earth.
Because our lives and even our very existence are gifts from God, we are called by Our Lord to dedicate ourselves serving God. We serve him by living out our vocations to the fullest, while also spreading the Gospel message that Jesus died for our sins and wants us in relationship with the Father. This doesn’t mean that we have to stand on the street corner preaching, but that we have to live the Christian virtues in our daily lives, treating all those we meet on a daily basis with true charity and respect.
Sometimes living out the Christian life means a willingness to give up our lives in service of the Gospel. We are very fortunate in this country that we are not called to martyrdom for merely being Christians. In other countries, however, being a Christian is at best a jailable offense, and could even lead to death. These martyrs show us the example of how to truly dedicate oneself to God, even being willing to give up one’s life for Christ.
Through the example of a simple coin, Our Lord shows us that all that we are is God’s, and that we must be willing to serve Him. May we have the strength to dedicate ourselves to Him.
We’ve just received a great invitation. We’ve all been invited to an incredible banquet where there will be lots of food, drink, and joy. Where is this banquet? It’s going to be on the mountain of the Lord, which is biblical language for Heaven. Yes, this invitation is for all of us to join Our Lord in Heaven for eternity. How do we respond?
Do we respond like the invited guests in the Gospel parable? They had been notified in advance that this wedding feast was in preparation, and should have been ready for it. Instead, when the servants came to summon them, they either ignored them or killed the servants. Is this how we respond to God’s invitation to the Heavenly banquet? Do we spend our lives behaving as if God isn’t important, putting the things of the earth before Him? When we put our faith in a box, only bringing it out once a week (or less) for Sunday Mass, it says that God’s role in our lives is negligible, if not altogether nonexistent. It says that the things of the earth are far more important and what the world offers is more enticing than the eternal banquet that God offers to us.
Do we respond like the guest who was not prepared for the wedding banquet? This guest, when informed about the banquet, did not prepare himself by changing into more formal clothing. Instead, he showed up in whatever ordinary clothing he happened to be wearing that day. Are we like that when we come to Mass? To we take time before Mass to prepare ourselves spiritually to receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament? How about making sure to go to Confession on a regular basis to confess our sins and receive absolution? We might make weekly Mass a priority, but still not be prepared to receive Our Lord. We are all a sinful people, and regularly need to approach God with humility, asking Him for forgiveness of our sins. When we receive the Blessed Sacrament with Mortal sins on our soul, we are like the guest who showed up at the wedding feast without the wedding garment. Mortal sins cut us off from God, keeping us from being in a state of grace. We must be in a state of grace when receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist, and only contritely confessing our sins to God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation can restore that grace.
So, how should we respond to God’s invitation to the Heavenly Banquet? We must respond with an open and joyful heart. God is willing to give us the greatest gift of all: eternal life in Heaven. No more pain, no more sorrow, and no more sins. Life in Heaven will be a life of eternal joy and praise of God. We will be so joyful that our entire being will want to praise and honor God. This is the image of the Lord’s mountain that the prophet Isaiah gives to us.
It’s important to realize that all of us have received this invitation, but not all will accept it. God wants all of us to enter into His kingdom, but he also gives us the free will to choose. We can accept or reject the invitation of eternal life through our actions. When we respond like the invited guests and the guest who was unprepared, we choose to refuse God’s invitation. Likewise, when we approach Him with humility, admit our sins and failings, and ask his forgiveness, we accept His invitation for eternal life. We may have to do this many times throughout our lives, but God’s invitation is always open. We just need to accept it.
While I’m in a Blogging mood, I want to throw out a pitch for an excellent book written by one of my professors at Mundelein Seminary. Dr. C. Colt Anderson, who has since moved on from the seminary to a better job elsewhere, is the author of The Great Catholic Reformers: From Gregory the Great to Dorothy Day, a discussion of major reformers within the Catholic Church.
In his introduction, Dr. Anderson notes that the Church is constantly in need of reform, and all of us are called to be a part of that reform. To this end, he offers ten major reformers within the history of the Church who were able to accomplish much in the way of reform while still remaining in unity with the Church.
In my opinion, for a reform movement to be valid, it must remain within the unity of the Church, and must not enter into dissent. A danger in any reform movement is to consider its opinions and positions as above the Church. We can see this operating in many of the reform movements like Call to Action or FutureChurch, but is also prevalent in more “radical traditionalist” movements that are sedevacantist.
I’m only about 20 pages into Great Catholic Reformers, but I’ve already found it to be an inspiring and interesting read. Dr. Anderson is a great professor, willing to challenge much of what we held as seminarians, and is also a great author who is willing to do the same for his readers.
Today is the feast of St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusians. The Carthusians are said to be one of the most ascetical monastic orders, with much of the monks’ lives spent under the Grand Silence. Chanting the Divine Office is a very important part of their daily life, as well as daily celebration of the Holy Mass. They live a simple life, filled with prayer and work (ora et labora, as St. Benedict put it).
A good way to celebrate St. Bruno’s life and work might be to watch Into Great Silence, a documentary about life in the Grande Chartreuse, St. Bruno’s original monastery. It was very highly regarded when it first came out, and even won several awards. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to watch it, but I plan on doing so this afternoon in honor of St. Bruno and his Carthusian monks.
A group known as the Saint Michael the Archangel Organization is promoting a Worldwide Rosary for Unborn Babies. They are asking Catholics throughout the world to pray a rosary to end abortion at 9:00 AM local time on Saturday, October 18. The hope is that there will be a wave of Rosaries that will sweep across the world over a 24-hour period. This sounds like a worthy endeavor worth promoting, and I highly encourage everyone to participate.
(I’m posting the first draft of my homily for Respect Life Sunday. While it became a bit too long for me to preach, as I try to stay within 5-7 minutes on my homilies, I felt that the whole thing needed to be posted here.)
Vineyards were very prevalent in the Holy Land, so it’s not unexpected that both the prophet Isaiah and Jesus would use a vineyard in the readings that we just heard. Much as farmers and ranchers protect their land today with fences, the vineyards were protected from wild animals and those who would try to steal from the vineyard with fences and hedges. For God to remove his protection on the Israelite people would be like the farmer removing the fences and hedges that protect the vineyard.
Why would God remove his protection from Israel? He gave the Israelite people the Promised Land and led them in battle against far larger numbers. He even called them the Chosen People, so why allow them to be conquered? He did this so that the Israelite people would return to Him and give up worship of false gods from other nations, much like an overgrown vineyard being cleared and replanted.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus goes after the religious leaders who have rejected Him and the prophets that came before Him. He states that the vineyard, God’s chosen people, will be removed from the Jewish religious authorities and given to the care of His Church. Now, instead of the Jewish temple with the Levitical priesthood and the Sadducees and Pharisees leading the people, we have the Church to care for God’s people.
As part of her mission, the Church is called to proclaim the truths of Christ to the whole world. While much of what the Church teaches is welcomed by people both within the Church and outside of her, there are more than a few areas of Church teaching that are disagreed upon, sometimes very tenaciously. This becomes no more apparent than during election campaign season, which we are obviously well into in the United States. At times like this, the Church’s teachings often stand in direct opposition to the platforms advanced by politicians on all sides of the political spectrum.
This weekend, one month before the Presidential election, we mark Respect Life Sunday. Due to the bombardment of political slogans, promises, and misinformation that occurs in most political campaigns, issues that directly affect human life are often thrown around in order to score political points and smear the opposition. With all the noise the comes with political campaigning, it is all the more crucial that we as Catholics become informed voters, electing politicians who will ensure the respect for all human life, regardless of what stage of life it is in.
This issue became all the more apparent in the last several months, when not one, but two Catholic politicians went on national TV and misrepresented Catholic teaching on when life begins. When acting as politicians, the bishops keep out of the way, but when politicians try to present themselves as learned theologians, as these two politicians did, the bishops have to respond, and respond they did. Well over 20 bishops wrote in response, including our own Bishop Warfel in the latest issue of the Harvest. These politicians presented an erroneous position on the respect for life.
So, this brings up the obvious question: what is the Church’s position on respecting life? In short, human life must be respected from conception to natural death. We believe, thanks to the incredible advances of science, that human life begins at very moment of conception. We also believe that all humans have been made in the image and likeness of God, and each human being must be respected as beloved children of God, from the smallest embryo to the poorest of the poor.
Throughout history, human dignity and respect has always been under attack. From racism and slavery to poverty and war, sins of humanity carry a terrible toll on recognizing the beauty and dignity of all humans. Some issues, however, are a direct attack on human life and must be seriously considered when voting for candidates for public office at any level, not only the Presidency and the federal Congress, but also candidates for state and local levels. Three issues in particular have become particularly urgent within the current election cycle: abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research. All three of these issues view particular classes of humans as either problems to be removed or matter to be experimented with. By viewing any human as an object to be manipulated, we denigrate the dignity of all humanity.
To justify a particular candidate who might be troublesome in one of the three issues, a Catholic might say, “He’s in line with the Church on illegal immigration and poverty, even if he does support embryonic stem cell research.” While it is good that this politician supports respecting the dignity of illegal immigrants and those who are suffering from poverty, they have to have life in order for poverty or immigration to be problems that they’re facing. Without the right to life, all other rights become irrelevant.
As Catholics, we are called to uphold the respect of all life in our lives, and during this election cycle, we are called to vote for candidates who have a true respect for life. This may mean having to vote for a candidate that we may not particularly like or may be running for a party that we have not traditionally voted for. For those who are politically conservative, this may involve voting for a candidate who is on the liberal side of the political spectrum, or vice versa. We must not vote for a candidate who will not stand for the respect of life, regardless of how good their other issues may appear.
In our culture, human life is under direct attack. This November, we must elect politicians who will use the power of government to respect human life, starting with those who are most defenseless, the unborn and the elderly.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that all of us have a selfish streak deep within us. In some way or another, we all want to be recognized for something we have or do. Whether it’s for our talents, for the work that we do, or even for things that we own, we want to be noticed and affirmed.
In contrast to our selfish desires, we are called to “do nothing out of selfishness and vainglory,” as St. Paul tells us in today’s second reading. As Christians, we are called to self-giving instead of self-centered. We are called to reach out to those around us instead of trying to draw others to us.
Ironically, by being self-giving, we can often become unappreciated. Many of us probably know someone who is self-centered, and has moved up the ranks of an organization, whether a corporation, a political structure, or a volunteer organization, based off of promoting himself to the exclusion and even detriment of those around him. Meanwhile, we may also know another member of the organization that has worked just as hard as the selfish member, but works to support and help the other members of the organization. This self-giving member may not receive the promotions and accolades of those who are willing to “toot their own horn”, but still continues to serve, day after day.
We are called to be like the self-giving member of an organization, even if it means giving to others to the detriment of ourselves. St. Paul tells us to “humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.” We must be willing to overlook our interests, our desires, even our needs to fulfill the needs and interests of others.
Why should we be willing to do this? After all, someone who is more selfish than us will more than happily take advantage of us. St. Paul answers this question by showing us the example of Jesus himself. As St. Paul states, Our Lord humbled himself by becoming human and was willing to give of himself so totally that he died on the Cross. Because of his self-sacrifice, He was highly exalted by the Father, and now we proclaim the name of Jesus with great honor and reverence.
We probably won’t be as greatly revered as Jesus is, but those who are willing to give of themselves are often highly regarded by those they serve. As a new priest here, I’ve been hearing about those who were members of the parish before I arrived. Usually, and almost without exception, the people whose names are mentioned time and time again are those who went out of their way to serve others, regardless of their own issues or problems. They were there at every social event, usually helping put it together, at every volunteer opportunity, and every time someone was in need of help. I’m sure all of us could name someone who fits that description, and who is dearly missed. This is who we are called to be, and we are encouraged by the examples of those who have gone before us, especially Our Lord and the saints.
Those who are self-giving aren’t often noticed here on Earth. There are those who graciously serve us every day, and we often don’t pay attention to how someone has gone out of their way to help us. All too often, we’re wrapped up in ourselves and our needs to recognize the needs of those around us. We must be more aware of how others serve us, and be more willing to express gratitude for their service.
As I am very much guilty of this, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who help out here in the Church, and all those who have helped Fr. Rob and myself in some way. I truly am grateful for everything you do, and appreciate the willingness of each of you to give your time and talent to helping us. It is greatly appreciated, even if I don’t always take the time to say so.
St. Paul reminds us that we are all called to place others over ourselves. By doing so, we may not be recognized on Earth, but our reward will be great in Heaven.