Today, on this Last Sunday after Trinity, the lectionary gives us the most important principle: loving God involves deeds rather than words. We need to do practical justice in the world. But a quick view into the world shows us that is not the case. Even in the Christian world we see a lack of respect and a lack of love. And when we take a stand we are often approached aggressively and vile, even by our fellow Christian brothers and sisters. Our Lord shows love of God and genuine love of the other are the two basic aspects of the same call. There is no contradiction between the two: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
The scripture readings that come to us the last weeks are very fitting in election season . It shows us the different Religious groups in Jesus time, with their 'political' motives. That is oppose Jesus in a very aggressive and vile way, something we see back in modern day politics. Last week we had the Sadducees and this week it are the Pharisees that try to test Jesus...and so hope for his down fall. When we are honest we know that the political arena is contrary on the Gospel: Greed, desire for power, untruths, playing games. We might be closer to the paganism as St. Paul mentions in his readings. Today’s world is hostile to the bone to all that Jesus represents.
Jesus was not a politician as we can clearly hear today. He tells it like it is, something to politicians are often afraid off. They rather twist and turn or not answer at all. Not so with Jesus. If they thought that Jesus would be the same, they have something coming. Jesus has no trouble with giving straight forward answers. Even if that would bring him in trouble…he simple does not mind. It is so refreshing to hear Jesus being totally straightforward with the Pharisees. They want to test him, to trick him if they can.
“Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” This is the most discussed question, endlessly debated among the theological schools at that time. Heated discussions about the subject. It seems almost like politics. And as my mentor in theology liked to say: “2 Jews, 3 opinions”. Jesus quotes the answer from Deuteronomy 6: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the great commandment. The words are prefaced by: “Hear O Israel!” This is in Judaism called the “Shema”, the Hebrew word for “Hear!” And as you all know we recite these words at the beginning of Mass, every time again.
Jews today still quote these words today. Even when they go to visit the gas chambers of Auschwitz, they have these words on their lips. They often stand silently and then for a long time and then sing: “Hear O Israel, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Jesus honors this great commandment by quoting it. So, we can take it as our great commandment also. We are called to love God and neighbor. But though he has answered the lawyer, Jesus does not leave it there. He then quotes another commandment from Leviticus 19. We heard it today in our first reading: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself “. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” says Jesus. The quotes are well known but now Jesus merges them together. You shall love the Lord your God; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. If we reflect on the second commandment, we need to understand that it has everything to do how we love ourselves. Loving the other as oneself only becomes possible if we have, or can grow into, a healthy, sane level of self-appreciation.
Today’s readings invite us to reflect on how well we receive strangers, make them feel at home in our society and in our church. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” They are distinct from us, and, often, different from us. Yet, the Lord gathered about himself a community of great diversity. Even within the twelve there was to be found a tax-collector and a zealot. Two men on the other side of the political spectrum. We pray for a greater openness to the many ways the Lord comes to us in life. No one could disagree with the ideal of loving God and loving one’s neighbor. But it is possible to politely listen and agree, without feeling called to a practical implementation in life. Paul mixed closely with the communities whose lives he shared. His attitudes and work-habits were in tune with the message that he delivered. The people of Thessalonika accepted his message and found that it had a power to change their own outlook on life.
Genuine human concern that touches lives is an effective sacrament of the transcendent love of God. A truly Christian life is rooted in the earth and yet reaches up to the mystery of God in a life of love. People can be quick to condemn those who have offbeat values or live a different lifestyle. We can fail to appreciate the faltering efforts others make to cope with the struggles of frail human nature. If we could be more empathetic and integrate it in our own approach towards others, we might be able to connect better with others. The gift of our humanity could become a reflection to the mystery of God for ourselves. Amen.
Scripture is very clear this Sunday. Only God deserves our worship and not our self-made idols. It don't matter what our modern day idols are: celebrities, political candidates, sport stars or wealth. It does not deserve our worship or adoration.
The world of religion is often divided from the secular world. That is nothing new. The clash between religion and the secular state is therefore not new. The story of the Christian West is largely a history of this conflict. For the first few centuries of its existence, Christianity was harshly persecuted by the state, leaving in its wake a bloody trail of martyrs. All that changed with the conversion of the emperor Constantine.
Soon Christianity became the state religion. Now the boot was on the other foot. After the 16th century the Church lost a lot of it's influence. The state has been clawing back the ground once claimed by the church and the church has reluctantly gave up the previous influence.
Today’s gospel, with its famous “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” has a particular importance in our world. While the principle is clear, it’s practical application in certain circumstances is a different case. It is not so simple when the world clashing. Things are complex in our world. As believers we need to show Christian behavior in all circumstances. No matter how deeply our convictions are, we must never resort to hate and violence. Which include of course intimidation and violence of the tongue. Muscular crusades, in the past or in our days, cause irreparable harm. We live in a world of pluralism where others think different than us, believe different than us and live different than us. There are others whose principles and beliefs differ radically from ours. To regulate that is up to the state. We as Christians should not be too much involved in that, as we are citizens of the Kingdom of God and not of the world. We only need to work on our Christian virtues and persevere in it. And that is always a gentle art. We persevere our Christian lives the best when we remember “not to let go down the sun on our anger”. We should not lower ourselves to name calling, insulting or humiliate people that not of our choice. That is an unchristian attitude.
We hear a kind of dramatic account in the Gospel. The question put to Jesus, as to whether it was permissible for Jews to pay tribute to Caesar. That is a question also asked to us. And we have to listen carefully to Jesus’s answer. But first it gives a clear insight into the minds of the Pharisees. They wanted to entrap Jesus, a political trap. And we know political traps because we see it every days (within every political party). Politicians use traps to come into the favor of the ones that need to support them. Politics is not an gently business. They wanted to set Jesus at odds with the Roman authorities or worse… to discredit him before his own people. At first they try to please as whether they would have regards for his opinion as a teacher. But than the big questions comes out: “tell us what is your own opinion? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
If he would say, “Pay the tax,” he would be accused of collaboration with the Roman oppressors. Were he to advocate non-payment, he could be arrested for sedition by the Roman authorities. Jesus’ response however is: “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,”. He left them dumbfounded behind. But in a way he left it in the middle. Because it did not touch the subject of the Roman ruling Israel nor does it specify “what is Gods” neither “what is Caesars”. The opposing claims of God and state were left to be decided by the conscience of each individual. And that is still the case today. However Jesus warned us about this subject in other parts of the Gospel. When speaking his famous Sermon on the Mount he says: “no one can serve two masters; one cannot be the slave, of both God and wealth” (Mt 6:24). It is up to us to choose who we want to serve: “God or Caesar”. Or if you want God or Nation, God or President, God or Flag, God or Government, God or employer, God or the leader of your country?
We should not forget that the world and all its resources were created by God for the benefit of all human beings without exception. God didn’t create border, we did. God didn’t create nations and politics, we did. It is the task of government to seek balance between policies that will help the common good of all the citizens. It is our task as Christians, to serve God and his kingdom, and nothing can should come before that. Not even your country, your flag, your president or the elections. We as Christians should always keep in mind the Gospel and love each other no matter what. We should never sink so deep that we become one with the world. We should never turn to violence or hate, in word or in deed. We need to choose between God or “Caesar” (government, politics, leadership). What is it going to be? The decision is up to you and to me. But it is a decision that will determine our eternity as well. Amen.
Today the readings want to encourage us to have the right attitude when coming before God. And that can be difficult as the first reading is telling us. There is a veil lying over the nations of the earth, is what Isaiah tells us in the first reading. And that is true, because we cannot see the world as God sees it. We have a limited understanding of the whole picture and we need to do the best we can. We need to serve God, exalt him, and love our neighbors. That is difficult when we don’t have the whole picture but nevertheless, we have to try. And in the second reading St. Paul tells us to rejoice, be reasonable, not be anxious but be content in every situation (good or bad). St. Paul did not have an easy life but he trusted in Christ. He had that faith that moves mountains: “I can do all things through him that strengthens me”. He followed Christ all the way in serving God and our neighbor. That is the red line to goes through the scripture verses of today. It is not just enough to show up and come before God. NO! We must do what he wants us to do.
That line continues in the Gospel. In chapter twenty-second of his Gospel Matthew gives us the parable of the wedding feast. Here Christ compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a great marriage feast. Christ tells about the king that who holds a wedding feast for his son. But those invited do not want to come. They make up all kinds of excuses, so he invites others. But one of the guests does not wear the right garment so he let us his servants kick him out. A lot of the things happen in the parable. So, let us see what lessons we can draw from this parable? First thing is that we need to know who the king is. That is not too hard. The King is God Himself who invites us. The marriage is a symbol for the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The feast symbolizes Christ's Church, which exists, in heaven and on earth. At first the king invites the people of the old covenant, the Jews, to join this great marriage feast. That means to come into the new covenant, which is the Church. But they failed to accept the invitation of Christ, twice. They are too busy with earthly things. Just like many people in our days are too busy with earthly things like politics.
St. John Chrysostom said once that "when spiritual things call us, there is no business whatsoever that has the power of necessity." So there is nothing more important than our spiritual life. When Christ persists with His invitations to the Jews, they kill Him, just as they killed the Old Testament Prophets. Christ tried to win them over, however, they refused Him. So, the ordinary people of the "highways" are invited. These represent the Gentiles, since the wedding feast, the Church, must be filled. Because the Jews refuses, God called others…. He called you and me. As you remember, the king sends his troops to kill the servants. St. John Chrysostom writes, that less than four decades after Christ's Ascension, Jerusalem fell to the armies of Vespasian and Titus, The city was destroyed and the people that survived were scattered to the four corners of the earth. The question would be, was Matthew telling us something he knew already, because he writes after the fall of Jerusalem. Or was it a direct prediction from Christ regarding the fall of Jerusalem?
Christ, has summoned us to His feast, which is to His Church. On every wedding you partake in food and drink. So also in Christ’s wedding feast. There we may partake of His sacred foods,—the Holy Mysteries—His Body and His Blood. This prepares us spiritually for eternal life with Him on the Wedding Feast of the Church in Heaven. But, for this feast we must prepare, we need to clothe ourselves with the proper garment. If not, we shall be cast into the outer darkness. This garment is, of course, a spiritual one. Without that spiritual attitude of being prepared, we are no better than those who rejected and crucified Christ. Our unpreparedness would be a form of rejection. And that my brother and sisters, would be a gross insult to the King which is God. So in the end we would not be better than those that rejected him in the first place. We have been invited to partake of the feast and we have accepted the invitation. When we attend Mass, we share in the feast that Christ the King has prepared for us. In that way we prepare ourselves for the wedding feast in the life to come. We prepare ourselves to meet our King and God by developing within ourselves this virtue of charity. We will only sit on the Table in Gods Kingdom if we acquire selfless love, a love that is in the end not selfish.
Our spiritual garment is woven, within two beams. One is the love for God, and one is the love for our neighbor. One must love God with his whole soul, and heart, and strength. It must be a total commitment. And the other is love for our neighbor. But this not just about a shallow romantic love. No, this is about the Agape love. We need to love our neighbor as God loves us. We need to love our enemy as God loves us. That is what it means to have true charity! That is what the wedding garment is all about. St. Gregory says: “whoever sits down at the wedding feast without it, let him watch with fear, for when the King comes in, he shall be cast forth." We can only obtain selfless love to make the other Christian virtues our own. If you come to the feast, the Eucharist, with hate in your heart for any of your brothers and sisters, you do not wear the right garment. If you come to church with a cold faith, you do not wear the right garment. If you come to the table for social reasons, then you are, spiritually speaking, not dressed in a wedding garment pleasing to the King. Christ ends His parable with the words, "Many are called, but few are chosen." It is the very nature of God, that only those who acquired selfless love may spend eternity with Him. It is only those that have acquired the right attitude that are entitled to receive the boundless love that radiates from God. He chooses those who have acquired some form of selfless love. Few, indeed, are chosen.
But we should not be discouraged, because with God there is always mercy. God's mercy is wondrous and that it is never too late. Whatever the circumstances of our lives are, we can begin now to prepare our wedding garments for the encounter with the King. Now is the time to begin weaving our garments and love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Now is the time to seek that selfless love and clothe ourselves with that sacred wedding garment, which gives us entry to the eternal wedding feast. Amen.
On this 4th of October, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the “Little Poor Man” whose life has inspired people of all faiths for over 800 years. Most of us are familiar with the poem’s main events: St. Francis embracing the leper, Christ asking him to rebuild his Church, St. Francis disrobing and renouncing all of his possessions, risking his life to preach to the Sultan, and becoming the first person ever recorded to have the stigmata.
St. Francis is often especially honored for his love for animals and all creation. But that is only a small part of his life work. He should also be remembered as a radical reformer of the Church in the 13th century. In his time there was a rise capitalism in Europe. His evangelical zeal, consecration to poverty and charity in combination with his charism drew thousands of followers. Francis’s devotion to the human Jesus and to follow his example changed the medieval spirituality. In the days of St. Francis the Church drifted away from the life of it's base. People wished to live the Christian life with the same intensity as it had been lived by the early Christians. People followed great preachers as St. Damian and St. Anthony. We tend to talk about the saints as not really human. We idolize them and put them on a pedestal. But that is not what the Saints are at all. They are men and women of flesh and blood who were not perfect but learned to live a holy life. The same with St. Francis. But Francis himself would oppose that. He even said: "don't declare me a Saint to soon, because i am very well capable of conceiving a child". His life is more about change and to become more Christ like than anything else.
St. Francis was a great reformer, besides his love for all creation. But that love came forth out of following Christ. We all know the great stories of him preaching to the birds and taming the wolf of Gubbio, among all other famous stories, which are beautiful and moving. But it is not all there is. We have also to consider his life before he came to Christ and what brought about his conversion. It helps us to see that he was a real man from flesh and blood, with real ambitions, desires, weaknesses and with God’s grace became what God wanted him to be. Francis grew up in luxury and vanity of that time. He learned Latin, his catechism, and was influenced by the stories of knights and tales of chivalry. Francis grew up during a time of constant warfare. At some point he joined the Papal army to fight the German princes. Along the way he met a knight who was dressed in rags, and moved with pity, Francis removed the embroidered garments he was wearing and gave them to him. While sleeping he heard a voice telling him to go back to his own country, where it would be revealed to him what he should do next. The following day he returned to Assisi, where it became obvious to the people who knew him that he was a changed man.
God tells him to “rebuild” his church. At first Francis thinks this to be physical rebuild the Church in Assisi. Later he realizes this is a spiritual rebuilding of the Universal Church. After this revelation nothing of the world could satisfy him and he could only find contentment in the things of God. Even though he did not yet know exactly what God was calling him to do, he began to spend his time in prayer and meditation, trusting that God would show him the way. We know the rest of the story, and we know the incredible impact St. Francis’ life had on the people who he met while he lived, and on all those who have read or heard about him over the past eight centuries. There is a lesson to be learned in every single detail and event of the life of St. Francis. We see Francis struggle with God’s call, resist it for a time but then accept it.
Each of us can apply this example to our own lives. Maybe the results will not be quite the same. But when we listen to God’s voice when he calls us; and remain open, we will be changed. We will want to live more simply, so that we can give more to those in need, we will be filled with the joy that only God can give, and we will without a doubt grow closer to God, and be able to share our faith more authentically. Amen
Today is the Feast of the The Holy Guardian Angels. As a child we used to say our prayers at night to the guardian angels. Do we still do that or did left that as a childish way of faith? Scripture tells us about the guardian angels. Here is why we honor our guardian angels. Psalm 91 tells us that "for he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go". And Exodus 23 says: "The Lord say this: ‘ I my self will send an angel before you to guard you as you go and to bring you the place that I have prepared". And in todays Gospel we hear Jesus saying: "See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heave are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven".
The problem as adults is that we think that calling your guardian angel is just for children. We think we don't need help and can do it by ourselves. But the truth is that God sends us helpers “On Eagles Wings”. We as adults still need those guardian angels to become more like the Children of God. Why do we resist to become like a child, as the Gospel tells us. We know that children are pretty innocent and we know we are not. Is that a part of the problem? Do we think we are not deserving their help? We can think so but God thinks otherwise. He sends us His helpers all the time. We have to become dependent on God and accept the help he gives us. Sometimes that help comes in human form. As St. Paul says: " Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unaware". We might not see that angels came to us to help us. And when we in real trouble the winged eagles are there to guide and protect us.
Our Guardian Angels offer us divine protection. They fight on our behalf even without us knowing. They are God’s messengers of defense against bad things and also against to bad decisions. They keep us from falling or they help us up when we have fallen. We know we are not defenseless. God will send Angels and also his grace. We have spiritual armor. Thanks to our guardian angels and angels in human form. As scripture tells us we should heed and listen to the voice of our guardian angel. Today God calls us to renew our relationship with our Guardian Angel. Just like children, we also need all the help we can get in our journey through life. We are all dependent on God. We should never be afraid as God has given us our guardian angel. Whenever we are home, abroad or otherwise out and about, our angel is with us. These invisible spirits are here to protect us and guide us. Our guardian angels help to remind us of the need for us to always have a childlike attitude and humble ourselves before God. In that way we become the people that God wants us to be. Amen.