30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In a commentary on today’s gospel passage, I read the following statement: “Love of God and Love of neighbor: you can accept both or you can reject both, but you cannot separate them or choose only one of them.” Jesus is very clear in telling us that love of God and love of neighbor go together. We cannot separate them, choosing one over the other. We may easily learn one or the other. However, putting both into practice changes us and the world.
The command of love is explained in a very human way in the first reading from the Book of Exodus. In that call to love neighbour, the reading stresses that the poor, weak and vulnerable be our primary concern.
Pope Francis restated all of this in his new encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti” On Fraternity and Social Friendship. In this encyclical, published on October 4th Pope Francis invites us to imagine a better, inclusive and more just world and to consider together what it might take to bring that world about. In the encyclical, he proposes a way of life marked by the flavour of the gospel. That flavour, says Pope Francis involves welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, giving a hand up to the poor, and defending the rights of all.
At the heart of the new encyclical’s appeal is a meditation on the parable of the good Samaritan and particularly on how Jesus takes a legal scholar’s question, “Who is my neighbour,” I think the message of love of God and love of neighbour is so excellently retold in the encyclical in it’s focus on the story of the good Samaritan. In his reflection on this parable, he calls us to become a neighbour to all especially those most in need of aid. Thus, the correct approach is not to ask the question “Who is my neighbor or who is not my neighbour?” but rather to ask, “Am I a good neighbor to others?”
“The parable,” he continues, “shows us how a community can be rebuilt by men and women who identify with the vulnerability of others, who reject the creation of a society of exclusion, and act instead as neighbours, lifting up the fallen for the sake of the common good.” In the face of so much pain and suffering, our only course is to imitate the good Samaritan,” the pope said. The Holy Father sees in the parable also a reminder that the natural love we experience for family members should be consciously extended to those who are vulnerable.
We know that we are called to love God with all our hearts and our neighbours as ourselves. What is it that gets in our way when we encounter people who need our help? We might find it difficult sometimes to love and when we find it hard to love, it’s then that we need to call upon the reserves of a love deeper than our natural affection. And that is to remind ourselves of the way God loves us. John makes this point: “This is love — not that we loved God, but God first loved us.”
Once we really begin to let that sink in — God first loved us — then, of course, our response will be to try to love in return. God loves each of us with a deep and pure love, a love which will develop within us the more we relate to him. So, it is important that we must be rooted first, in our relationship with God.
God calls each one of us to love with the same intense love that God has for us. As we experience his love anew through this Eucharist, we pray for the grace to translate into action our love for God into love for one another.
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the gospels, we see the Pharisees trying hard to trap Jesus on several occasions. And today’s Gospel is an instance of that. In response to the Pharisees Jesus asks for a coin and then asks them whose image is on it. When they reply “Caesar,” He gives His famous answer: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God the things that belong to God.
The key word in Christ's response is "image.” We tend to think of an image as something symbolic like a painting or a sketch. In the Bible, the "image" of something shares in the very nature of the thing itself. When we say we are created in the image and likeness of God, what that means is that every one of us shares -- in a real way -- in the nature of God himself.
Once we understand this, the impact of Christ's response to Pharisees becomes clear. By his response Jesus is making a claim on every human being. He's saying, "give to Caesar those things that bear Caesar's image, but more importantly, give to God that which bears God's image". Jesus does not elaborate on what that entails; but since life comes from God, in whose image and likeness humans are made, Jesus could be reminding his hearers of the call to devote their lives to God.
The Pharisees wanted also to trap Jesus by pushing him to choose sacred over secular power, or vice versa. But Jesus would not fall prey to their trick. There is no doubt that Jesus recognizes the obligations we have as citizens of our country. But Jesus goes on to affirm the even greater responsibility we owe to God.
If our focus is too centered on this world, we may lose sight of the ultimate concern of our lives which is our relationship to God now and into eternity. Sometimes we tend to see ourselves as only citizens of God's kingdom. If our focus is too otherworldly, there is a danger that we may lose sight of social issues and of our responsibility for one another. The second Vatican council reminded Christians as citizens of two cities to actively participate in building a just society.
Fr. Donald Senior, a Passionist priest shares the experience of a political commentator that I think can help us in our reflections. This political commentator noted that for many years he had been an atheist, but gradually had been drawn to a life of Christian faith. He confessed, however, that most of his values remained unchanged. He learned the civic virtues of justice, honesty and integrity from his family, his education and the example of other good people.
His Christian faith had not changed those values but did lift up more intensely the need to care for the poor, the vulnerable and to protect life. Even more fundamentally, his faith had given him an understanding of all reality on a deeper level. How does our faith inform and direct our lives, especially as we are called to respond to the many challenges in response to the Gospel?
Today is World Mission Sunday and we are reminded of our responsibility of helping the missionary activities of the Church. Pope Francis, in his message for World Mission Sunday, implores us, “In this year marked by the suffering and challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the missionary journey of the whole Church continues in light of the words found in the calling of the prophet Isaiah: “Here I am, send me” (6:8). This is the ever-new response to the Lord’s question: ‘Whom shall I send?’ This invitation from God challenges both the Church and humanity in the current world crisis.” World Mission Sunday offers each one of us an opportunity to actively participate in Jesus’s mission in His Church through prayer and material help.
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I imagine this year’s Thanksgiving celebration will be different from the previous years for a lot of people as the Pandemic continues to impact our lives. Many of us may not be able to travel to be with our loved ones. We may not be able to invite people that we would like to invite to our Thanksgiving Celebration. But I hope we can still celebrate in some meaningful and joyful way and to thank God for the Blessings in our lives.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, the scripture readings for this Sunday are about banquets. The first reading talks about a sumptuous banquet hosted by God. Isaiah’s vision of God’s banquet is one where there is rich food, well-aged wine and all of this in abundance. But food and drink are not the main focus of the vision. The focus of the vision is that God is going to remove the dark and heavy burden that oppresses people. Added to that is the wiping away of tears and the end of suffering — in other words, everything that people have yearned for since the beginning of time.
It is a comforting and hope filled vision of a loving and generous God and an encouragement for all humanity. It is meant to assure us that whatever suffering and tribulation humanity will undergo — it is not our ultimate destiny nor is it God’s last word. God intends happiness, peace and salvation for all people. It is important to keep this vision in our minds and hearts as an inspiration and source of hope especially in dark times.Today I am reminded of the story of Martin Rinkart who I think kept such a vision in his life. Martin Rinkart was a Lutheran minister who wrote one of the most popular Christian hymns, "Now Thank We All Our God."
Martin to Eilenburg, a German town at the beginning of the Thirty Years' War. Armies overran the city three times. The city became the refuge for political and military fugitives resulting in severe famine. At the same time, the city also fell victim to the plague that took the life of many in Europe.
Included among the dead were Martin Rinkart’s wife and children. Yet, in the midst of such a social and personal loss, Rinkart never lost courage or faith and he would write this great hymn of praise and thanksgiving.
Even when he was waist deep in destruction, Rinkart was able to lift his sight to a higher plane. He kept his mind on God's love and God's promises when the world was filled with hate.
This I think is a remarkable and inspiring story that reminds us that no matter what is going on in our lives, we need to learn that gratitude is an expression of profound faith that no matter what happens God stands with us, God walks with us.
During stressful periods, we tend to focus on the stress, and so can overlook the places where God is reaching out to us. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is essential to maintaining perspective. Being thankful is vital to our well-being, to our relationships with others, and our relationship with God. St. Ignatius of Loyola taught his followers to take time at the end of each day to review the day in order to discover the hand of God at work in their lives. It is a powerful form of prayer. It is also a simple and profound way to understand how much we have to be grateful for and how many times God blesses our lives each day.
Thanksgiving calls us to be aware of this God of ours whose only desire is to nourish and sustain us. Thanksgiving is not about being grateful for the abundance of whatever we have. Thanksgiving calls us to discover, once again, that God’s love surrounds our lives and It is God who sustains us. May all of us have a blessed Thanksgiving. May we sing “Now Thank We All Our God” with hearts filled with trusting faith and the sure knowledge that God is with us today, tomorrow and forever.
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In today’s scripture readings, we hear about the landowners who prepared their land and planted the best vine expecting a bountiful harvest. But due to various reasons, the tenants to whom the vineyard was entrusted were not able to produce the desired result. The scripture readings for today encourage us to ask ourselves first of all what is expected of us? “What is God really looking for?” What is the harvest that God, the landowner, is expecting to receive from us?
To help us understand this parable, we must look at the first reading from Isaiah, where we have another story of a vineyard. In this reading God chose the people of Israel and he said to them, “I will provide you with everything you need and these are my expectations.” And we read about how the landowner does everything to make as good a harvest as possible.
Every once in a while, God has a review with the people of Israel to see how things are going. Are they still in focus? Do they understand what is expected? This reading from Isaiah is one of those reviews.
God was looking for justice but saw bloodshed. God was looking for righteousness, but heard a cry." In Jesus’ parable, we have the same image of a vineyard. The owner is looking for a harvest, but instead received, violence and bloodshed.
What God is looking for from his people is justice and righteousness. Justice and righteousness means the right ordering of relationships and resources. It is when people learn to cooperate instead of competing. It is when people learn to love instead of dominating. It involves our relationship to God. It involves our relationship to one another. It involves our relationship to the earth.
What does today’s scripture ask of each one of us? We’ve all been given vineyards. They are the people, relationships, the gift of creation, circumstances and events of our lives that God has entrusted to our care. That means our family, our work, our church community, our daily decisions and choices, they are the vineyards entrusted to us. We are gifted to be the persons that God wants us to be. We are nourished and strengthened by the teachings and example of Jesus, nourished and strengthened by the sacraments.
What we provide, and only we can provide, is the “will” to do what needs to be done to bear good fruit, the will to work in the vineyard every day. And it is this strong will that will be translated into action. Wherever we spend vast amounts of our time and energy working at a job, caring for a parent or child, helping those in need, caring for the very gift of God’s creation, these are places and moments for us to be conscious of the fact that we are doing work in God’s vineyard.
I am sure we all want and long to be good tenants. We want to use the God given gifts and opportunities to produce good fruits. As weak human beings, we may not always produce the desired results. But let us not be discouraged. The Good News is that God, the owner of the vineyard, who has given us all the blessings that we need, will never give up on us. God's faithful, compassionate heart never gives up on us. He will continue to be patient, compassionate and gives us another chance, another opportunity.
The question for us to ask ourselves today is: What is God really looking for?” what is expected of us and how are we doing in response to that? Just as God did a review with the people of Israel, we are invited to review our lives to see the kinds of fruits that we produce with our lives and with what is entrusted to us.
Today God gives us an opportunity to respond to God's invitation to use the gifts and opportunities we are given to serve him. As we continue to celebrate this Mass, we pray for ourselves and for each other that each of us, with the help of God’s grace, will produce a life-giving harvest.