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KNOW YOUR GIFT

November 7th, 2017

The Mass readings for 11-7-17 have a lot to say. The first one was Romans 12:5-16. It’s a recipe for Christian community. Verses 6-8 speak of the so-called motivational gifts. Every Christian has one dominant gift. It’s the thing we’re best at. It’s the thing that comes easiest to us. It’s the thing we enjoy the most. That’s the area where we should devote most of our time and efforts. That’s how we will contribute most effectively to the Body of Christ.

Our primary gift area may be prophecy. People with that gift are good at speaking the truth, whether popular or not, whether politically correct or not. We need those people. We need to hear them. Some have the motive gift of Christian service. They really love to serve, and they’re good at it. We need them. Some people have the motive gift of teaching. They love studying the word of God and teaching it. They make great teachers and we benefit from their teaching. Some have the gift of exhortation. They always seem to know the right thing to say. They encourage us, support us and build us up. They make good counselors. Some have the gift of giving. They love to give. They’re extremely generous. God often blesses such people with great financial resources so they can use this gift to the fullest. Some have the gift of giving aid. They love to help people who are going through difficult situations. They provide great comfort.  Some have the motive gift of mercy. They manifest God’s love and forgiveness. They show great sympathy and empathy. A Christian community functions best when there are people with each of the motive gifts serving in their particular gift area.

The problem in many churches is that you have a few people trying to do everything. They’re trying to do things that are not within their motive gift area. They’re not really very good at those things and they don’t really enjoy doing them. Meanwhile, there are people in the congregation whose motive gifts are not being used. They would love to minister in those areas and the congregation would greatly benefit from it.

As you read today’s first reading I would encourage you to ask yourself what your motive gift is. Better yet, ask God. Then, seek opportunities to minister in those areas.

The Gospel was Luke 14:15-24. You’ve been invited to the kingdom of God. It’s the most important invitation you’ll ever receive. Make sure you accept it. Some people refuse the invitation. Some ignore it. Some make excuses. But what could be more important than going to heaven? It’s more important than anything on earth. This is the one banquet we can’t afford to miss.

Seeing is not Believing

October 31st, 2017

Today’s first Mass reading was Romans 8:18-25. Romans 8 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. It says so much! But what struck me today was verse 24. It says “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees.” In other words, we’re saved by faith. But if we only believe in what we can see, that’s not faith.

Some people say that if we could just prove the existence of God or the truth of Christianity, then they’d believe it. But that’s not faith. It doesn’t take faith to believe what you can see or prove. Some people say that if God would just give them a sign, then they’d believe. But for those who believe, no sign is required. And for those who don’t believe, no sign is sufficient.

The fact is, there is substantial evidence that God exists. There is substantial evidence that Christianity is true. God has already given us many signs. But it still takes some degree of faith to believe. God operates on a faith system. He is glorified by our faith. Our faith is counted as righteousness. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. That’s not too much to ask is it?

EVANGELIZATION: PAUL AND US

August 29th, 2017

Today’s first Mass reading was 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8.  What struck me about it was that Paul was a model of evangelization.  He had suffered and been shamefully treated for his ministry.  But, as he puts it in verse 2 “. . . we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition.”  Verse 4 tells us he did this because “. . . we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts.”  Verses 5-7 tell us how he did it.  He didn’t flatter people.  He didn’t seek glory from men.  He was gentle, like a nurse taking care of her children.

As Christians we too have been entrusted by God with the gospel, the good news, the message of salvation through Jesus.  We too are approved and called to share it, even in the face of great opposition.  Few of us have suffered and been shamefully treated like Paul.  But there is opposition to the gospel today.  It isn’t politically correct.  The Bible isn’t politically correct.  Jesus isn’t politically correct.  But we need to have courage in our God to declare it; not to flatter people, not to seek glory from men, but to fulfill our mission as Christians.  If all Christians would do this we could change the world.

The Responsorial was Psalm 139:1-6.  I love this Psalm.  I read it at my daughter’s wedding.  If you want to know how well God knows you, read this Psalm.

The gospel reading was Mark 6:17-29.  John the Baptist was beheaded for speaking the truth.  Unbelievably, that’s still happening in some parts of the world today.  May we all have the courage to speak the truth in love, regardless of the consequences.

Harder for the Rich

August 22nd, 2017

Our Gospel reading today was Matthew 19:23-30.  It’s the one where Jesus says it’s very hard for a rich person to get into heaven.  Like his disciples, I wondered why.  His disciples apparently felt that rich people were especially blessed by God.  If anyone would have an easy path to heaven it would be them.

What came to me is that, first of all, in order for us to be saved we have to realize our need for God.  Rich people may have a problem with that.  They tend to think they’re self-sufficient.  It may be hard for them to realize their need for God.  Secondly, the Gospel repeatedly tells us not to value worldly riches but to seek first the kingdom of God.  It calls us to be generous and to give our money to the needy.  Like the rich young man in the Gospel, people generally don’t get rich by giving their money away.  So that may be a challenge for a rich person.

But then it occurred to me that I am actually a rich person.  In fact, though we may not consider ourselves rich, most Americans are very rich by the world’s standards.  That’s a challenging thought.  But when the disciples asked Jesus “Who then can be saved?”, Jesus responded “With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible.”  That’s the good news.

 

ADVICE FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS

August 14th, 2017

I think the Bible has some good advice for students going off to college this fall.

First of all, when Jesus sent his apostles out he said “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves . . .”  (Matthew 10:16)  I think those words apply to kids going off to college these days.  Your faith will be challenged.  It’s going to be very important that you know what you believe and why.  In that regard, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is an excellent reference.  In the CCC you can easily look up any topic and see the official Catholic position on it as well as the reasons for the position.

Psalm 1:1 tells us not to walk in the counsel of the wicked, not to imitate sinners, and not to hang around with scoffers.   Bad people give bad advice.  Beware of people who scoff at your faith.  Listen to the word of God and you’ll be blessed.

Don’t believe everything you hear.  2 Thessalonians 4:21 says to test everything and hold fast what is good.  See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.  (Colossians 2:8)  Don’t be led away by diverse and strange teachings.  (Hebrews 13:9)

Continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from your hope in the gospel you’ve heard. (Colossians 1:23)  Stand firm and hold to the traditions you’ve been taught.  (Galatians 5:1, Philippians 4:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:15)

 

 

 

Walk on Water

August 8th, 2017

Today’s Gospel reading is Matthew 14:22-36.  It’s the story of Peter walking on the water.  I love the image because I can relate to it.  There was a time in my life when I was sort of sinking, but like Peter I cried out “Lord save me”.  Jesus reached out his hand and saved me.  He came into my heart and became my Lord and Savior.  He gave me the gift of eternal life.  As Psalm 40:2 puts it “He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”  Maybe you’ve had a similar experience of the love of God.  I hope so.

Sometimes we’re going along in life and everything seems fine.  But then we hit a bump in the road and we start sinking.  Our faith is challenged.  We may start to doubt.  We may start to fear.  Has that ever happened to you?  Maybe you’re in such a situation now.  Like Peter we can always cry out “Lord save me.”  Jesus will respond as he responded to Peter.  He will reach out his hand and pull us back up.

The Responsorial for today is Psalm 51: 3-7, 12-13.  It ties in somewhat with the Gospel reading because it’s a Psalm of confession and repentance.  That’s what we need to do to receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Afflicted but not Crushed

July 25th, 2017

Today’s Mass readings are very reassuring.  2 Corinthians 4:7-15 tells us that in this lifetime we may be afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, and even struck down; but we’ll never be crushed, driven to despair, forsaken or destroyed.  Why?  Because we carry the transcendent power of God within us.  In him and through him we are able to overcome every obstacle.  The life of Jesus is manifested within us.  He who raised Jesus will raise us also and bring us into his presence.  Wow!  That’s good news for these perplexing times isn’t it?

The responsorial is Psalm 126: 1-6.  It’s a prayer for God’s favor.  But also read Psalm 125.  It’s very encouraging.  It assures us that those who trust in the Lord will never be moved.  They will abide forever.  The Lord surrounds his people on all sides.  Those who turn aside and follow crooked ways will be led away with evildoers.  But the scepter of wickedness will never rest upon the land allotted to the righteous. So trust in the Lord.  May our land be righteous so the scepter of wickedness will never rest upon it.  May we never follow crooked ways.

The Gospel reading was Matthew 20:20-28.  Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as our ransom.  The price for our salvation has been paid.  All we have to do is accept it and receive it.

THE GOOD NEWS

June 15th, 2017

Last Sunday’s Gospel reading was John 3:16-18.  John 3:16 is probably the most often quoted verse in the Bible.  It’s the one you see so often on signs at sporting events.  It proclaims the good news.  It says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  It’s the basic message of salvation.  Luther called this verse “the Gospel in miniature.”  And so it is.

But what struck me was John 3:18.  It may be the least quoted verse in the Bible.  It says “He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”  Really?  Those who don’t believe in Jesus are condemned?  We don’t want to hear that.  It sounds so exclusive!  It doesn’t sound like good news.  Why would God say that?

Well first of all, I believe that “he who does not believe” means he who absolutely refuses to believe.  I think it refers to those who know the Gospel message but refuse to accept it.  They reject God’s offer of salvation.  I don’t think it refers to people who try to live as Christians but may have honest doubts from time to time.

But why is there only one path that leads to eternal life?  I picture it this way.  When Satan sinned he was sentenced to hell forever.  He didn’t get a second chance.  Justice would require the same punishment for man.  In effect, when man sinned we chose Satan over God.  We became captives of Satan.  I picture it as if God approached Satan and offered himself as our ransom.  He offers to become human and die for our sins.  Satan accepts the offer, reasoning that if God became human and died for us he (Satan) could return to heaven and take over.  God would be dead.  He didn’t anticipate the resurrection.

But that’s why there would be only one path to salvation.  We can’t do it on our own.  I believe that after man sinned, there was only one way we could still get to heaven.  God would have to become human and die for our sins.  He would do this for us, but we would have to accept this free gift.  If we refused it, we would not have it.  That’s why we need to proclaim the good news to the world; the whole world.

COME HOLY SPIRIT

May 24th, 2017

I was privileged to be alive during the time of Vatican II.  I believe it was one of the most exciting times in Catholic Church history.  At the beginning of the Conference the windows were opened as a symbolic gesture to show that we were inviting and welcoming the Holy Spirit to come in and take charge of the Conference and the Church.  In the days and years that followed Vatican II, that happened.

The Holy Spirit wanted more participation at Mass, and there were dramatic changes to bring that about.  The Holy Spirit inspired volumes of new music that was uplifting, joyful, and lively, but also reverent and prayerful.  The words were mostly based on Scripture and the melodies were easily sing-able.  The Holy Spirit wanted the Mass language to be based on true meaning rather than literal translation.  He wanted us to say what we mean and mean what we say.  Mass was no longer a spectator event.  There was a new excitement in the Mass.  It was something we really looked forward to.  The focus was on Jesus, not on ritual and religion.  There was a new zeal and enthusiasm for our Catholic faith.

In 1967 there was a powerful outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  It spread like wildfire through the Catholic Church and other mainline denominations.  There was a new discovery of and intense interest in the Bible.  Countless lives were transformed as Catholics invited Jesus into their hearts and experienced a new personal relationship with him.  The Holy Spirit desired unity in the Body of Christ.  The ecumenical movement grew and flourished.  There were many large gatherings and conferences where Catholics and Protestants joined together in powerful praise and worship.  The Holy Spirit desired community in our parishes.  Many small faith sharing groups developed where parishioners really got to know and love one another.

As we approach Pentecost we need to open the Church windows once again.  We need to invite the Holy Spirit to come in and take charge of our lives and our Church once again.  We need to allow him to take us where he wants us to go.  We need to sincerely pray that he will rekindle in us the fire of his love, his joy, his peace, his mercy, his power, his gifts, his fruits, his zeal and his enthusiasm for our precious faith. You can make this a Novena to the Holy Spirit by praying it every day for nine days beginning this Friday.

The early Church grew and prospered because it was a true Pentecostal Church.  They were filled with and led by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was in charge.  That’s what we need if we are to grow and prosper individually and as the Church today.

 

 

PAUL – AN INSTRUMENT OF GOD

May 5th, 2017

Today’s first Mass reading is Acts 9:1-20.  It recounts the dramatic story of Paul’s conversion.  Several things struck me in this reading.  First of all, Jesus equates persecution of Christians with persecuting him.  (verse 4)  So Jesus himself is being persecuted in the world today in various places by various people, even here in the U.S.  It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when the President has to sign an executive order prohibiting the persecution of Christians.  It’s basically like issuing an executive order that people have to abide by first amendment of the Constitution.

The second thing that struck me was how sudden and dramatic Paul’s conversion was.  Within a few days Paul went from persecuting Jesus to proclaiming him as the Son of God in the synagogues.  He didn’t hold back.  He didn’t worry about being politically correct.  He knew the truth and he was going to proclaim it no matter what.  We need people like that in the world.  I think the closest example in my lifetime is Billy Graham.

Thirdly, I think the reading helps us to think about our own conversion stories.  We come to the Lord in different ways.  For some people it’s sudden and dramatic.  For others it’s more gradual.  Our testimony should basically answer three questions:  1. What was my life like before I met Jesus?  2.  How did I meet Jesus?  3.  What has my life been like since I met Jesus?  Can you answer those questions?  If so, you have a conversion testimony.  For me there have been two major turning points in my life.  First I was born again on January 29, 1976.  Second, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1983.  My life changed substantially after each of these experiences.

Finally, the reading said that Paul was a chosen instrument or vessel of God to carry the name of Jesus to Gentiles and kings as well as the Jewish people.  I think as Christians we’re all chosen vessels of God.  We’re all called, in some way, to carry the name of Jesus to someone.   God help us to discern what we’re called to do and to have the faith and courage to do it.