November 10, 2019
Deacon Bill Hough
The new liturgical year starts December 1, the first Sunday of Advent. As we leave Cycle C and the year of the Gospel writer, Luke, these last few weeks focus on the last things and the hope of the resurrection and eternal life with Jesus.
In the month of November, our mortality is placed before us, literally, as we display the books of our deceased relatives, and we contemplate our own hope for the life of the world to come.
For us Christians, the word hope does not mean that we wish for something, like “hoping” to win the lottery. With faith in Jesus, our hope is the absolute belief that what He tells us is the truth.
We are resurrection people who will share eternal life.
Our first reading from 2Maccabees stresses the doctrine of the resurrection of the just. Though this earthly king is depriving the brothers of their present life, they have the hope that the King of the world will raise them up to eternal life.
Not only that, the third brother professes the hope that God will also restore his body at the Resurrection.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms all this. In addition, it adds that our hope is in the person of Jesus Himself who said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life”. The Catechism states that, “It is Jesus Himself who on the last day will raise up those who have believed in Him, who have eaten His Body and drunk His Blood”.
We profess this belief in the Creed every Sunday at Mass – “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
In our Gospel reading, Jesus has finally completed His journey to Jerusalem. There He encounters the Sadducees, who do not believe in the Resurrection, but believe that living a just life is more for the benefit of our descendants. The Sadducees, unlike the Pharisees, believed only in the written Scriptures, particularly the Torah – the first five books of the Bible – and did not accept oral tradition.
With their complex story about the seven brothers who marry the same woman, Jesus recognizes the Sadducees’ attempt to ridicule the Resurrection. He takes the opportunity to make a distinction between how we live in the midst of human history and how things will be in the next life.
Although we cannot know exactly what our life in heaven will be, Jesus does give us a few clues in the Gospels. Today He is teaching us that for people reborn in the Resurrection, life and relationships are comparable to that of angels – our lives will not be a continuation of our material lives on earth.
Furthermore, we also cannot view the Resurrection in temporal terms as something that will happen in the future. The life of the world to come exists now, as we pray for those who have gone before us. Jesus tells us today that God “is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive”.
We have great cause for hope. The one who has risen from the dead has given us His word – that He is the God of the living, that when we awake from the sleep of death, we will behold His face and be content in the presence of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
We can only imagine the incredible peace when that moment comes.
But we can a glimpse of it now. If you’ve been to a Catholic funeral, you know what I mean. It is not uncommon for the words of that Mass to lead someone to our faith, to share the hope we have for eternal life.
In every Mass, we profess our hope to one day share in the heavenly banquet.
The greatest fear most of us have is death. But by professing and living the words of Jesus and trusting in the life He offers; we can live here and now in the light of the Resurrection. If we are willing to give ourselves to Jesus, even in the details of our life, He will change our hearts and give us the courage to confront whatever comes in this life, so that we will be ready to rise with Him in the next.
November 3, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
Last week a tax collector in one of Jesus’ parables taught us that humbly trusting in God’s mercy is the proper way to approach God in prayer. This week another tax collector in real life humbly seeks out and receives the Son of God into his home, confirming the good news of last week’s parable.
Jesus has every intention of quickly passing through Jericho on his way up to Jerusalem, where his rescue mission will be accomplished. However, in his encounter with Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, Jesus’ plans are changed and Zacchaeus is forever changed. Jesus smiles as he sees what lengths this wealthy sinner will go to in order to see him, as Zacchaeus humbles himself to do so. Imagine the sight of this well-dressed adult man perched in a tree and hear the laughs from the crowd when they see him there, legs dangling from a branch. Zachhaeus is willing to humble himself, to not even care what others think, in order to grab a glimpse of Jesus.
The crowd plays the role of last week’s Pharisee, judging this tax collector as unworthy, especially unworthy of a visit by Jesus. Comparing and judging, they only see the surface, and what they see is a great sinner, a hated man who has become wealthy by cheating them and abusing his power. But Jesus sees deeper, he sees into the heart, and what Jesus sees in Zacchaeus’ heart causes him to alter his plans that day and stay in Jericho. Usually Jesus goes to people’s homes at their invitation, but he steps out on a limb and invites himself into Zacchaeus’ home.
In this life-changing encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus’ life is transformed. A little sign of God’s love from Jesus changes Zacchaeus. His encounter with Jesus impacts the lives of others— Zacchaeus’ family who will feast with Jesus that night, those he has cheated, whom he will repay abundantly, and the poor, who will be blessed by his generosity.
This wonderful story in the 19th chapter of Luke’s Gospel is a perfect example of how the Lord Jesus draws us to himself, that we might be “found” by Him. This encounter between Zacchaeus and Jesus also reveals how “being seen” by Jesus and held in his loving gaze changes us. Feasting on Jesus’ merciful love as he invites himself into our lives not only changes our life forever, but also impacts and changes the lives of others as well.
God always acts first in these encounters, seeking us out, desiring us, wanting to share divine life with us. In Zacchaeus’ desire to see Jesus, the power of God’s grace is already at work. His curiosity arises from what he has heard about Jesus and how Jesus has transformed the lives of others. His curiosity produces a desire which impels him to do something laughable— climb a tree—just to see Jesus. In his desire for something more, in his hunger to fill the emptiness in his life, the grace of God is already at work in Zacchaeus, drawing him to the Son of God.
Jesus desires to invite himself into our lives, into our homes, into the “house of our heart.” Whenever he finds the slightest opening, he invites himself in. No matter our past life, he says, “I must stay at your house today.” No matter how great a sinner we’ve been, no matter how long we’ve been away from him, the Lord Jesus says to us here and now: “I must stay at your house today.”
When we encounter this life-changing love of the Lord Jesus, when we open the door to our lives and to our hearts and let him in, we are transformed. But not only are we changed, but everyone whose lives intersect with ours is changed by our encounter with the Lord. For our relationship with Jesus is never private, it is never meant to be just between “Him and me”. This relationship impacts every relationship in our life.
The members of our families come to know Jesus’ saving love and mercy flowing through us. When we make amends with anyone we have wronged, then they want to do the same. Sharing our possessions with the poor, we restore their hope and bring them new life, so that they want to share what they have, too.
Those who today are taking their first public step to become Catholic have experienced a life-changing encounter with the Lord Jesus. He has sought out and found them, inviting himself into their lives.
These adults and young people come before our community of faith today, humbling themselves like Zacchaeus, in order to more clearly see Jesus as he comes to them. Like Zacchaeus, they may feel like they are perched in a tree for all to see, as they come before us express their desire for the Sacraments of the Church, to be one with us in our Faith.
The Spirit of the Lord Jesus has been at work in their lives, prompting a curiosity to see and know Jesus. For catechumens, this curiosity has deepened into a strong desire to come to know Jesus in and through this Community of Faith. For baptized candidates, their curiosity has increased their desire to know Jesus more fully. In many different ways, they have “seen” Jesus in the lives of people of faith. Through the Rite of Acceptance and Welcome, the Lord Jesus invites himself into their “house.”
In this ongoing encounter with the Lord who has sought out and found them in the embrace of his life-giving love, our catechumens and candidates have been changed. Their lives are different. Jesus has knocked at the door of their heart, and they have opened it and invited Him in, and that has made all the difference!
This encounter with Jesus, who loves them as they are, impacts the lives of others. Some of their family members are also being drawn into the Church by their example. Other family members and friends and co-workers will become curious about the change in them, curious about what has happened to make them more joyful and more generous.
Their joy and generosity, both fruits of the Spirit of the Risen Jesus, will bless the lives of others, who in turn will be more apt to be generous and joyful toward others. These catechumens and candidates also impact the lives of all of us gathered here to worship, as we see them publicly declare their desire to deepen their relationship with Jesus living in the Church. Our faith is strengthened, our eyes are opened to see how the Lord seeks out and saves others, and how He is doing the same for all of us at this very moment.
C.S. Lewis once observed that the greatest sinners and the greatest saints are made of the same stuff. We need look no further than the the lives of the two pillars of Christianity, St. Peter and St. Paul.
Luke the evangelist shows us something similar in the story of Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus had accumulated wealth with great zeal, and now, in his encounter with Jesus, he turns that same zeal to the service of the Gospel, as he shares with incredibly generosity his material goods and his life with others.
As Christ’s disciples, we are called to seek out the companionship of sinners, even great sinners, for many of these are on the threshold of conversion. All they await is a sign of God’s love—perhaps from us—to become great saints.
October 6, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
The prophet Habakkuk’s lament rises up from our hearts today: “Destruction and violence are before me.” Violence seems to be everywhere we look, so we cry out to God with the prophet, yet He seems not to hear nor to intervene. The respect for the dignity of every life seems to diminish day by day.
There is the violence of abortion, an attack upon the weakest and most vulnerable lives. There is the violence of suicide, especially the plague of overdosing on opioids. There is the violence of euthanasia and capital punishment.
Mass shootings have turned places of worship into places of violence. The fear of violence permeates the air we breathe wherever we are, for whether on the road or in a store or at work or at church or at school, we fear someone will pull out a gun and start shooting away.
Then there is the violence done to those fleeing violence in their homelands, Children are separated from their parents, and those looking for refuge are refused entry into our land and sent back into places much more violent than our own land.
Destruction and violence are before us, everywhere we look, even in our Catholic Church. Clergy have abused children and those over them seem to have looked the other way, ruining young lives in many ways, especially impacting their relationship with God. Habukkuk’s lament is our cry: “Why do you let me ruin, why must I look at misery?”
Yet, there is more than physical violence, for today more than ever before, words are used as weapons harm others and destroy them. From the president down to the lowliest citizen, words are used to rip apart the reputation of others and to dehumanize them. Social media has becomes a battleground with words used as weapons.
Faced with destruction and violence, we feel overwhelmed, even paralyzed. What to do? How to live in such a world?
So, we join those first disciples in their cry to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” In such a violent time, we feel the need for more faith—give us more, Lord.
The reply of the Lord Jesus shocks us—if you had the tiniest bit of faith you could move that which seems unmovable, you could change that which seems unchangeable. In other words, the Lord Jesus is saying is not a matter of having more faith, but acting on the faith we have been given.
For we have been given a “spirit of power and love and self-control.” The Holy Spirit is more than enough, energizing us with divine power to love in the face of hatred and to control our initial response to any sort of violence, which is to strike back in kind. The mustard seed Spirit planted in us at baptism, the great gift of faith given to us, is more than enough. How is that possible?
Because the Spirit leads us into a relationship with the Prince of Peace. By surrendering our lives to Him, the Savior of the World, we find strength to love and live in a way previously unimaginable.
What we discover is that faith is not “some-thing” we have or don’t have or don’t have enough of, but rather a relationship with the Lord of Life. Each day He invites us to follow him, to go where he leads, to be nourished by the gift of his words and presence, his very life given to us. We “grow” in faith by growing in our relationship with Jesus.
We learn from Him that it is the little deeds of love and mercy which change the world. It is the daily deeds of kindness and compassion which transform the face of the earth.
This past Tuesday the Church celebrated the feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux, often called the “Little Flower.” Early in her life she had determined she wished to be a saint, and she devised her own method, which she called “the Little Way.” It was an effort to respond with love to each chore, encounter, or petty insult of her daily life. She believed that by the practice of this discipline she could take the ordinary business of life and convert it into the fuel of holiness. And by the small, molecular influence of each action and intention, she might transform the world.
Ironically, through her Little Way, this cloistered Carmelite nun pointed a way to lay holiness, a spiritual method that could be practiced by anyone in every situation of life.
This “little way” of faith is a way to respect life at every moment and in every situation. It is a choosing to respect the life of the person in front of me right now by choosing to love them, with the Lord’s help. That can be by an encouraging word or a challenge to change, by a kind deed or by a few short phrases: “I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
It is a choice in every encounter to move from hardness of heart to a soft, supple heart, which the Holy Spirit can then flow through into the world.
It is a movement, with the Spirit’s help, to receive every life as a gift, and to accept and respect the gift of our own life as well.
September 29, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
In this parable, Abraham informs the rich man suffering from eternal torment that his brothers back on earth have “Moses and the Prophets” to guide them to repentance. If they will simply heed these instructions from Sacred Scripture, his brothers will be saved.
“Moses” is shorthand for the first 5 books of the Old Testament, called the Pentateuch, The Jews of Jesus’ day attributed the authorship of these 5 books to Moses. In these 5 inspired books, over and over again the people of Israel are reminded that those who have, have been given what they have, to share with those who have not. Three special categories of people are identified to be cared for in a special way: the widow, the orphan, and the stranger (also referred to as the “alien in the land”).
The prophets challenge the people to care for the poor and remind them that not doing so will ultimately lead them away from God and into exile. Every year on the Friday after Ash Wednesday we hear the text from Isaiah stating that if we want God to hear our cries, then we need to listen to the cries of the poor and attend to their needs. (Isaiah 58: 6-9) Today and last Sunday the Church challenges us with the fiery words of the prophet Amos. Last Sunday Amos warned those who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land and this Sunday his warning is directed against those who seek only their own comfort and disregard the needs of others.
The living Word of God, which cuts like a sword to the very essence of what is important, is very clear— God is for the poor and God’s people must be so as well. Like a mother who pays special attention and takes extra special care of one of her children who is in greatest need, so is God when it comes to the poor.
The Word made Flesh, who is the Son of Mary and Son of God, is also for the poor. We have heard numerous times in this year of the Gospel of Luke how Jesus is for the poor.
In his inaugural address at the beginning of his ministry in Luke, Jesus proclaims: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” (Lk 4:18)
He then goes on to reach out to heal those who are hurting, to lift up those hungering for God’s mercy, and to teach by way of parables about God’s special concern for the poor. Think of the Good Samaritan who helps the man who has been robbed and left half-naked and practically dead on the side of the road, or the impoverished prodigal son who comes back home penniless and in tatters.
At the end of last week’s parable, Jesus warned that one cannot serve both God and mammon (Lk 16:13). Immediately after that statement and a little before today’s parable about Lazarus and the rich man, Luke states: “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things, and sneered at him.” (16:14). So to them Jesus addresses the parable of the great reversal, the parable of the Rich Man and the poor beggar, Lazarus. The consequences are clearly spelled out for ignoring the cry of the poor at one’s very own door.
Note that Jesus does not condemn the rich man for his wealth, but because he does not share anything of his abundance, not even a scrap of food, with Lazarus. Jesus ate meals with those who were rich, and his ministry was supported by the generosity of several well-off women. (Lk 8: 2-3) What is important is what one does with God’s gifts, and the warning from Jesus is that riches can blind one to the needs of others. Also note that he does not propose a program for combating world-wide poverty, but challenges his followers to put his words into practice by first of all helping the one in need on one’s doorstep, at one’s front door.
We must not forget, either, that Jesus was not only for the poor but that he became poor that we might become rich in God’s grace. Born in a stable far from his home, he soon became a refugee on the run from the murderous wrath of King Herod. Jesus traveled around the countryside preaching and teaching, depending on others to support him and his merry band of followers. He died without a single possession to his name, naked on the cross.
The Son of God was poor and he was for the poor.
The real sin of the Rich Man in today’s parable is that he was blind. He allowed his riches to blind him to the person of Lazarus at his door. His self-centeredness also caused him to be deaf to Lazarus’ cry for mercy.
The challenge, then, is to ask the Lord Jesus to heal our blindness and help us to see the human dignity of the poor at our door. To ask him to open our ears deafened by the screed of individualism and see how we are connected, how we are to be in solidarity with those who suffer in any way.
Too many people treat the poor person or the immigrant or the refugee as a problem instead of seeing them as a human being with inherent dignity, deserving our respect and love and care. Too many people in our own land see the poor as a threat to our security or our material wealth instead of as a God-given opportunity for us to do what we have been commanded to do: share our bread with the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, let the oppressed go free.
St. Vincent de Paul, whose feast day was this past Friday, wrote the following: “Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearances nor from the mental gifts they have received. On the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor.”
As our St. Vincent de Paul Conference continues this saintly man’s work, they operate on the same principle, going two by two to visit those who cry out for help, to hear their story, and to treat them first of all as a fellow human being, and to see even deeper the Son of God crying out for help.
This practice of “encounter,” which Pope Francis teaches frequently, changes the equation. When we can encounter the one in need as our brother or sister, as one like us, and see in them the face of Christ, everything changes. We want to share what we have, and we do so joyfully and generously. But as long as we wall ourselves off from the poor, we can be as blind as the Rich Man. As long as we build barriers between “us and them”, we become as deaf as the Rich Man was to the cries of Lazarus.
September 15, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
The Son of God comes into the world, becoming flesh of our flesh, in order to show us who God is and what God cares about. God’s Son seeks out & finds those who are lost & brings them home to His Father. By how he lives, Jesus teaches us about God’s longing for us, God’s great desire for us. By what he teaches, Jesus reveals the inner life of God, the very nature of God.
The nature of God is to find those who are lost, and these 3 famous “Lost and Found” parables in Luke’s Gospel reveal this passion. Throughout Luke’s Gospel, we see Jesus putting these parables into practice. On his last stop on this long journey to Jerusalem, Jesus encounters “lost” Zaccheus in Jericho and clearly states his mission: “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Leaving Jericho, he will then arrive in Jerusalem, where on the cross, Jesus will reveal to what extremes God will go to save what was lost.
It is somehow ingrained in human nature to be lost, or at the very least, to feel lost. Perhaps this is because imprinted in the deepest part of who we are is the knowledge that we have come from God, and all our life is spent finding our way back to our eternal home.
In this life-long journey home, we mistakenly think we have to find God, as if God were hiding, but actually the reverse is true, for we are hiding from God. From the very beginning with Adam’s choice to try and make himself into God, we human beings have been hiding from God, & God has been tirelessly looking for us. God’s question to Adam after his sin, as he hides naked among the trees in the garden, is a question God asks eternally of humankind: “Where are you?”
In Jesus Christ, we discover God’s passionate desire to find us where we are. In Jesus, our Heavenly Father proclaims: “Everything I have is yours!”
Today we come to this holy place to be found by God in Christ Jesus. We come feeling lost for any number of reasons, longing to be found by God’s mercy in Christ and to be renewed by His merciful love.
We find our way home to this banquet table of the Eucharist, and eventually to the heavenly banquet, with the help of others. Together we find the way, especially when we are feeling lost and cannot seem to find the way forward.
In the summer of 1992 I went to Italy with some good friends. We started our trip by meeting one of their friends, Sylvia, in a very small town about an hour and an half outside of Venice. We arrived in Sylvia’s town and immediately drove to Venice for a day visit. When the day ended, Sylvia took a couple of our group in her car and led the rest of us in our rental car back to her home in the country.
I was a passenger in the rental car, and I remember the terrible sinking feeling, when about 20-30 minutes outside of Venice, those of us in the rental car realized we were not following Sylvia’s car, that we had lost her. This was in the days before cell phones, so we had no way to call her. Also, we did not have her home phone number, nor did we remember the name of the little town she lived in. We felt so foolish and so very lost.
We stopped in the first town we came to and tried to communicate with an Italian policeman, but it was impossible. We were lost and did not know how to find the way home. However, as we left that first town, one of my friends saw a landmark that he remembered— a large round grain silo. “Turn here,” he said. Another friend saw a building that jarred her memory—“Turn there,” she said. I saw something familiar along that road as well which pointed us to our next turn. As we each remembered this or that landmark, we found our way home that night. Alone, we would have been lost, but together, we were found.
It’s one of the best reasons for the existence of the Church—together we journey home.
We “lost ones” are given to one another to help one another remember the way home. We remember the One who is our way home, Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, as he finds us in our wayward wanderings and carries us on his shoulders. His life-giving words are a lamp unto our feet, showing us the way forward. We remember that He has destroyed death and restored life, so in Him and through Him and with Him we find newness of life, even now.
So that found in the eternal embrace of God’s love, we are sent forth from this place to find others who are lost and bring them home. This is what disciples of Jesus do— we seek out and find the lost. We invite them to join us in the never-ending party of God’s merciful love in Christ. We rejoice because we who were “dead” have come back to life again in Him.
September 8, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
Paul’s letter to Philemon is the shortest book in the Bible. In this very brief letter, Paul encourages Philemon to embrace the dream of Jesus, to live as a member of the kingdom of God.
Onesismus is Philemon’s possession—he is a slave of Philemon. Onesimus ran away from his master, encountered Paul, become a Christian and then a helper to Paul during his imprisonment. Paul calls the runaway slave “my child” and “my own heart” and challenges Philemon to receive Onesimus as if he were Paul himself. So, Paul is sending Onesismus back to his master, Philemon, as more than a slave— as his brother in Christ Jesus.
Philemon lives in Colossae and is a member of the Christian community Paul has established in that Greek city. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Philemon and the other Christians in Colassae hear more about this dream of God for humanity Christ Jesus:
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all in all.”
Jesus Christ breaks down the barriers between God and humankind, and also the walls human beings build between each other. By preferring Christ above everything else, by making one’s relationship with Jesus Christ the top priority in one’s life, one discovers with St. Paul that there are no longer distinctions that divide us, but Christ is all in all.
In Christ, our family expands beyond our nuclear family to include the family of humankind. The relationships of love we have with our own particular family members are meant to strengthen us to love of others as our own brothers and sisters, to include in “our family” the Christ who lives in the refugee and immigrant, the hungry and homeless, the vulnerable and voiceless ones.
In order to live from our identity as adopted sons and daughters of our Father and brothers and sisters to the Son of God, we have to renounce and reorder. Living the dream of Jesus, bringing the Kingdom of God to earth, means renouncing the hold that other things have on our life in order to prefer Him above all things.
That’s the meaning of the powerful phrase of Jesus, you cannot be my disciple without hating father and mother, wife and children…. That Semitic expression Jesus uses with the word “hate” means in our terms, “love less.” In other words, we are to love Jesus first and foremost and then all the other “loves” of our life fall into place, into proper order.
Renouncing possessions means there is no-thing which can take the privileged place of God in our life. No-thing can be made into an absolute, because when this happens, we become enslaved to it. When our relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important thing in our life, we experience more freedom. When we are living out the dream of Jesus for a world where all people live as sisters and brothers, then we see that our possessions are given to us to share with others, especially those in most need.
What we have been given by God is more than just material things but also time— 1440 minutes each day. How we spend our time says something about our relationship to Jesus and our desire to further the Kingdom he establishes. What we give our time to speaks volumes about what holds importance in our life.
Renouncing the stranglehold that possessions can have on our life is one way to renounce our life, to prefer a grander and greater and more expansive life in Christ over the small, self-contained, self-centered life. To “hate” our life means rejecting the demands of our “ego”, means rejecting the temptation to live life with a small “l”. To prefer Jesus Christ, to make him the center of our life, means living life spelled with a capital “L”. In Him, we discover abundant life, a life which takes us out to others.
A life spent pursuing God’s dream for us after the example of Christ brings meaning to our life and gives our life eternal consequence.
Preferring Jesus Christ over family relationships, above any thing we have, making him the center of our life and not our selfish, death-dealing desires— all of this naturally leads to taking up our cross. Because as we follow Jesus along the way to Jerusalem, we are going to the cross with him. After all, the cross is his destiny and ours.
Christian discipleship means following where he leads, and he leads us to the cross, the most powerful image of sacrificial, life-giving love.
Sacrificial love is the energy the sons and daughters of God bring to building towers which connect heaven to earth and opposing the forces that want to diminish the dignity of human life. Empowered by the Spirit of the Crucified and Risen Lord, we can love sacrificially. We can enter into the battle with Christ Jesus to oppose the “isms” of our day– consumerism, materialism, secularism, sexism, racism, nativism—and emerge victorious.
From the perspective of our relationship with Jesus Christ, and empowered by his Spirit, the sacrifices of discipleship look radically different from an ego-driven life. An ego-driven life— a self-centered life—views discipleship as way to costly, as giving up “stuff” we need, and sacrifices as painful. In a Christ-centered life, sacrifice becomes the act of self-giving which makes life holy and fashions a future never seen before.
We all pay a price. There is a cost to every decision, to every action which demands our time, energy, attention, our very life. We are “spending” our life away each day, in minutes and hours we will never recapture.
We can spend our life being enslaved by the desire for more money and more stuff. We can spend our life focused on the small, death-dealing desires of the ego. We can spend our life pleasing others instead of God.
Or we can choose to spend our life following Christ Jesus as his disciples. To be worthy of Jesus we follow Jesus rather than follow the expectations of anyone else. Discipleship demands something of us–it is costly. It costs something of us, more than we can even imagine. But the reward is beyond our best and brightest and most glorious dreams.
August 25, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
Notice Jesus does not answer this question. Salvation is not about numbers—how many are getting in? Salvation is not about who gets in, because then we humans start doing the judging on who is worthy and who is not.
This Gospel passage challenges exclusive thinking, challenges religious elites and nationalists, as Jesus emphatically states that people of all nations and races will come to the feast at the banquet table in the Kingdom of God. They will come from every direction, from every place on earth. Even the people who are least respectable, who are the ones Jesus gets accused of associating with by the holier than thou folks who judge and condemn him for the company he keeps.
The warning Jesus issues to the questioner is exclusive thinking and a judgmental attitude will lead one to be on the outside looking in. The very mindset of separating out who is worthy or not puts one outside looking in, in danger of being locked out of the feast.
So Jesus’ answer is basically, “Pay attention to yourself.” You strive to enter through the narrow gate and stop wasting your energy judging others. But what are we striving for?
We are striving to be like Jesus, to make his values our own. Jesus comes from a heart set on God that cooperates with the divine Spirit to love all people, regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Jesus loves God his Father with every cell in his body, and he pours out his life in love of his neighbor.
It is not easy to center our life on love of God and love of neighbor. It is a life-long discipline.
Discipline, as the author to the Hebrews reveals, signifies learning and knowledge. Discipline involves education and training and instruction, but also correction and punishment. The sacred author of Hebrews clearly indicates that maturing into a son or daughter of our Heavenly Father is not easy. It requires effort, struggle, even suffering.
The instruction comes from the stuff of our life, from living life itself. From the pains and joys of each day, we are taught by God how to mature into actually living like his children. From the classroom of life where we encounter the suffering and delights of each day, we are challenged to respond in being more generous and loving and merciful and kind, and so take on the values of the Beloved Son, Jesus.
God keeps teaching us and instructing us. The root meaning of the word “discipline” in the Letter to the Hebrews is the kind of training which comes from being instructed and trained. Sometimes that instruction is painful, because it demands that we change, that we die to an old way of thinking and living in order to begin a new life. Like a good teacher, our heavenly Father helps us learn by making us stretch beyond what we thought we were capable of, and he places before us the example of His Son.
One of the most demanding teachers I had in high school was my English Composition teacher, Mrs. Harris. Her class was hard—she expected a lot from us. But she prepared me for college and eventually for seminary by teaching me how to write, how to compose essays, reports, research papers, and stories. I could not of done so well with the many papers I had to write in my seminary studies if I had not been “disciplined” (instructed) by Mrs. Harris. I could not so readily write a daily Mass homily or Sunday homily or put together a talk if I had not gone through the “fire” of her classes on English Composition. I struggled initially with the idea of an “outline” for writing a paper, but Mrs. Harris’ insistence that we learn how to do “outlines” before even writing helps me to this day.
Now at the opposite end of the scale was my class on Oklahoma history, taught by one of the football coaches who expected nothing from us. We had fun in his class playing “paper football” games but I learned hardly anything about the history of our State, which I regret today.
The Master Teacher, the One who is Truth itself, the beloved Son of God, instructs us every day through His Spirit. To be his disciple literally means to sit at his feet and learn from him, Notice how close that word “disciple” is to the word, “discipline.”
I am still learning, and I have so much more to learn. I am still striving to enter through the narrow gate.
The Gospel is the handbook, the guidebook, shedding light on who we are called to be. In fact, the “narrow gate” is the Gospel—with its call to faith, to generosity, to forgiveness, and to justice, especially for the poor.
It is not enough to eat and drink with him at this table. It is not enough to simply listen to His teaching in this place. We are invited to assume his values, to be like him, to look like him, to invite Him into our lives so that our lives might be changed.
Christian faith is not a matter of going with the flow, of simply pursuing what makes us feel good, of engaging in a comforting spiritual hobby. Our relationship with Christ Jesus is to be rooted in the innermost parts of our being. This relationship is meant to transform our lives and how we love.
Just as Jesus’ struggle and obedience made it possible for his 1st disciples to do the same, everyone who strives today to enter through the narrow gate makes it a little easier for another to follow. Our faith and our struggle continue Christ’s work of salvation, of bringing all people from all races and places into the feast that is the Kingdom of God.
For the more we strive, the more we understand that salvation is accomplished in surrendering ourselves to the saving love of God, a divine love which makes brothers and sisters of us all.
August 18, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
Jesus is a man on fire, on fire with the redeeming love of God Jesus burns with a profound passion to establish the Reign of God, a kingdom of justice and peace. A kingdom where peace is the fruit of justice, where all God’s people live in right relationship with each other. Jesus is so consumed with love of His heavenly Father and with a desire for all of his heavenly Father’s children to live in peace, that he is willing to be baptized in his own blood poured forth from the cross.
The fire of Jesus’ love brings warmth to those whose hearts have grown cold in despair. The fire of Jesus’ love brings light to those who walk in the darkness of suffering. The fire of Jesus’ love purifies hearts that have grown hard with indifference and apathy.
Jesus’ words and life are meant to call people, all people, to repentance. Remember, to repent does not mean feeling sorry but to change the way you think.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ constantly challenges us to change the way we think about ourselves, others, and God. Division happens not because of Jesus or his message, but because of the effects of what he does and says.
People are challenged to make a choice— I will change the way I think, and so change the way I live and love OR I will not. This is where the division comes in, as some choose to follow Jesus, to learn from him, to grow in their understanding of what is required of them to live as children of God. Then there are those who refuse to listen, who refuse to change their minds, who even plan and plot his death.
From the time Jesus was born, he was a threat to those in power, as the Holy Family fled as refugees into Egypt, escaping the murderous intents of King Herod. As an adult, Jesus tells Pilate, “I came into the world to testify to the truth,” (Jn. 18:37) and then he is tortured and killed for doing so.
To live the Gospel message, to establish the reign of justice and peace, is challenging. We face opposition from others who resist our efforts at bringing about the Kingdom of God. It can be difficult to be merciful and kind in a culture which encourages retribution and revenge. We do separate ourselves from others, we are divided from them, when we disturb them with the tough love of kindness and the humble deeds of mercy.
The first followers of Jesus struggled to put Jesus’ teachings into practice. Remember back when we began this journey to Jerusalem in Luke’s Gospel, when he wanted to pass through a Samaritan town, but the Samaritans there would not allow him passage. Recall the reaction of James and John— “Lord, do you want to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” (cf Lk 9: 52-56) Jesus rebuked the Sons of Thunder who wanted to call down lightning upon their enemies, and instead they went peacefully on to another town.
It can be exhausting to work for peace in a world that glorifies violence. The peace of Jesus Christ is much more than the absence of war— it is when all people live in right relationship to each other, when the goods of the earth are shared justly so that no longer a few hold onto most of the world’s wealth.
Recall Jesus’ inaugural address in Luke’s Gospel: “I have come to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind.” (cf Lk. 4:18) Those who benefit from the status quo, from the way things are, do not want to see how they have to change. They would rather remain blind, refusing to recognize Christ in the stranger and the oppressed, in the poor and the powerless.
Jesus came into conflict with those who exploited the weak and the poor. His dream of all people being welcome in the Kingdom of God brought him into conflict with the narrow minded and the bigoted.
Promoting and defending the dignity of every human life is exhausting in a culture of death. Responding to vengeance with forgiveness is challenging. Working for that peace which is the full fruit of justice is a tiring task.
But we are invited to persevere in running this race of faith and to not give up hope.
One Saturday morning back when I was a college freshman I entered a 3 mile race. The race began on a steep hill right outside my dorm room. I sprinted down that hill and for the first mile or so I was staying with the leaders of the race. But then a little while after mile one I felt as if my lungs were on fire and my legs felt like lead. I could not keep running.
I started walking, trudging along with my head down, wondering how I was going to finish the race. A little kid came running by me and shouted out— “Come on mister, you can finish the race.” His words gave new life to my legs and fresh breath to my lungs. I started to run again, and I did finish the race.
God sends people into our lives who encourage us to persevere in running the race of faith, especially when we are tired and worn out, especially when we grow weary and lose heart. God sends people here on earth, as well as those who have gone before us to heaven. They encourage us by their prayers and their love to keep on keeping on. They are the great cloud of witnesses, who surround us each day, and urge us on.
All of them say, “Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.” (cf >Hebrews 12:2