This weekend as we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, the Church starts the new liturgical year B. In that way it is appropriate to wish you all a Happy New Church year. We start the season of Advent in which we prepare for the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord with Christmas. We looking forward to the coming of Jesus in our world in his first coming but also in his second coming. In a very special way he is coming to us every week in the Holy Eucharist. Advent means literally: arriving, coming or emerging. And this world is eager for the arriving of a Lord. A world that is suffering from a pandemic, a world that is dark, corruption around us, famines, war and hate. We are truly in need of a savior.
One of the themes that we can start our preparation with is found in today's first reading from the prophet Isaiah. Namely, that we have to return to God, confess our sins and hope for better days. And hope is what the world needs, always in these dark days before Christmas but especially this year as the whole world suffers from Covid 19 and it's restrictions. We need hope that there will be better days ahead of us. That we can return to normal soon again. Isaiah is eager for God to come down, as we are:. “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down….to make your name known to your adversaries”. In a way that is always the case. Gods adversaries is everything that goes against his plans and that includes our own shortcomings. Our shortcomings make us like an polluted garment, Isaiah tells us. And in the Gospel Jesus warns us against to walk too much inline with worldly things and it's rulers, for the end is coming sooner than we expect. Nothing will last forever and we need to be ready.
Everything that is contrary on God is his adversary and will disappear eventually. And that includes human made systems and leadership. Therefore we need not to put our trust in “human leadership”, that failed hopelessly throughout the ages, and keeps on doing so. We need to trust in God almighty only. At the end He is the only One that you can truly rely on. He will never leave or forsake you. If your complacent with the world you will lose at the end. We need to prepare for Gods coming in the flesh and submit to his plans.
Advent invites reassessment of where our ways are leading us. This reminds us that the world as we know it will one day end. When that is we don't know but we know that every individual will pass on someday. That might be scary but on the positive note we know that Jesus prepares a place for us. And But the positive side of this is that a new Spring day is dawning over the horizon, when Christ will come again into our lives with power to save us.
All of us travel once in a while. And not matter which form of travel you use to your destination, people that await you are eager for your coming. And if everything is well you as well. There is often excitement, ready with the broad smile of greeting to embrace the returning traveller. So looking for someone’s coming goes both ways. I believe the same it is the same with Jesus. We too wait for the Lord’s coming with eagerness, because we long for his presence…and Jesus is eager for our presence.
The waiting is important because, during our life’s pilgrimage, we are incomplete. As Augustine once said, “You have made us for Yourself, o Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” At some deep level of our personhood we are in need, a need that only God can fill. This is a time to open our hearts and invite the Lord to bring us to completion. We begin Advent, yearning for his coming. Today’s first reading puts this yearning into an image, that “We have all withered like leaves… blown by the wind.” The whirling, withered leaves of autumn are a familiar scene these past few weeks.
Isaiah proposes the dead leaves as symbols of all that is dried up and withered in our lives. But he also calls us to look for a better day. God is still in charge of creation, and our personal lives are under his loving care. We pray this Advent, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and make our own the words of the psalm, “Visit this vine and protect it, the vine your right hand has chosen.” It is a central plank of our faith that the Lord never abandons His people.
When people are waiting for their loved ones to arrive from travelling abroad it is an alert, active waiting – keeping an eye on the time. In today’s gospel Jesus says, “Be on your guard, stay awake.” He wants us to focus on our task here and now. We are to grow more mature in our relationship with others and with him, paying attention to prayer, and living with his message in our hearts. That’s what waiting for him should be like. And while we wait, we can enjoy his gifts, as promised.
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King or Christ King of the Universe. On this we have to realize the difference between Christ’s Kingship and the rulers of the world. Jesus before Pilate said: “my kingdom is not of this world”. It is a different kingship. A king that humbles himself for his people. Not something we can say of the rulers of the world (then and now). The Prophet Ezekiel gives us a foreshadowing of that Kingship. It is a Shepherd-King. Someone that takes care of his people, rather than for himself. A king that is righteous, humble and caring. That is our Jesus, that is our Christ the King. He does not rule with absolute power like the ‘kings’ of our world. He does not shove people out of his way if they fail…. rather he lifts them up and gives them another chance. The Old Testament lesson gives us the beautiful shepherd metaphor in vivid and dramatic language. It shifts the focus on God as the Great Shepherd. That image eventually leads to the first human shepherd in the person of David. He became the best-known and loved king of ancient Israel. He is a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ himself, who would be born out of the house of David. His name became a symbol of a great king, but also one that showed human frailty and failure. He was not perfect, for that he had too many errors…many wives, dysfunctional children, his Uriah and Bathsheba failure, his killing and the constant and unending wars which specifically was a thorn in the eyes of God. Nevertheless, he was humble enough to repent before God. And He was even with all his failures a King after Gods heart, despite all his failures.
Jesus is the perfection of the good Shepherd King. The New Testament lesson of St. Paul shows us a picture of a glorified Christ raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God. David, though a beloved king, showed the frailty and failures of human leadership. Though the word “king” does not enter in this narrative. The language is filled with power and majesty that is usually given to kings and emperors, but it does not use the word King. The first time we find the word King the New Testament is in the birth narrative of St. Matthew. The Magi visitors, accustomed to the great potentates of the East, are looking for the “king of the Jews” and inquire in Jerusalem. When Herod gets word of that he is greatly troubled. He is already king of the Jews, right? And as any leader he did good and bad. But now he went down the hill. He killed his wives and his own children in order to hold on to his throne. And soon he will order the slaughter of the innocents in order to stay in power. That is how the rulers of this world function, then and now. The image that Herod leaves us is not that of a great king, but rather a miserable one. So here is the newborn King, directly out of the line of David. People in the days of Jesus knew the prophecy. The child grew up to be a wise teacher, healing, prophet and for many…the anointed one of God, the Son of God. Jesus claims the title not really for himself too much, rather he uses the kings in his parable. Not triumphant kings glorious in battle or boasting about how great they are, but kings that make tough decisions when it comes to justice. Kings who give banquets where everyone is invited. And finally, he presents to us the magisterial image of the kings of kings that bestows apocalyptic message of justice in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.
This parable of the Great Judgement must be familiar to those that want to follow Jesus and do as he did. When we compare it to the rulers of our world, they become almost pathetic leaders. This is a tough parable, without sentimentality. We hear people often say: “Jesus is King” but it does not always look like that. If you see how often people “worship” worldly leaders, it does not look like Jesus is their King. You cannot have both, it is Jesus or “Caesar”. Another thing that is important to know is that Jesus is King yes, but a different one than people often think He is. Today it is not about a triumph king but about humility. All the teachings of Jesus find a culmination in this parable. The one who taught that “the last shall be first”. He brings to his right hand, a position of honor, those that served other rather than themselves. “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” This is a radical kind of kingship in the eyes of people, then and now. In our days there are not much royal houses left and they are different from back then. But we all know what it is to live under the leadership of persons who promote greed and selfishness instead of compassion and humility. This Jesus ate with the poor and the outcasts, healed the sick, came close to lepers, honored women and elevated the worth of little children.
Paul visualizes Jesus Christ handing over the kingdom to God the Father at the end of time. St. Paul writes that: "When He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power, for he must reign until He has put all enemies under his feet". If you read that carefully you have to conclude that, in Paul’s eyes, all human leadership is an enemy of God or at least opposite from Gods Kingship. For a simple reason: human leadership is self-centered and puts its own interest before others. Gods Reign puts others first! This ideal kingdom is not something merely hoped for as a future gift, but something that we should strive for. The kingdom is coming but somehow it is also in our midst. It is a process of becoming. Today’s gospel shows us how we can contribute to the coming of Gods kingdom. It becomes manifest when justice is done for “the least of these, my brothers and sisters”. It is done when the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the oppressed are taken care of. To do this is to imitate our Shepherd-King who is presented in the Gospels. Our King is one who eases alienation, who feeds, gives rest, heals, unites and makes strong. He always had compassion on people, even in his final hour on the cross. He showed mercy to the thief crucified with him. He did not ask about the how’s but just showed mercy and compassion.
The best way to honor Christ our King is to work for the unfolding and promoting of his kingdom. In working for the oppressed and marginalized people. That is how we serve Christ, because he always identified with people in need. To be deaf to the cry of our neighbor is to be deaf to Christ. To be blind to the anguish of the sick and dying is to be blind to Christ. If we proclaim Jesus Christ as our Shepherd-king than we have to be shepherds in a way as well. In many churches, Christ the King Sunday is filled bells and extravagant praise. The contrast with the life of Jesus could not be greater and sometimes troubles us. But we should not forget that this feast was added to the Church calendar only in 1925, in a time that the Church wanted to oppose the failures of human leadership with this image of Christ the King. Jesus as the Son of Man is the man that proved through his own suffering and death that he is beside us in the struggle. He shares in our suffering and challenges in life. In this time of a deadly virus he is with us. In a climate fear, division, selfishness and hatred our king is at our side. He rules with love and compassion. Fear, hatred and being self-centered has no place when we proclaim Jesus as King. We have our King to lead us when “the going gets tough and the tough gets going” (as Billy Ocean once sung).
We have our Shepherd king that helps us on our journey through life. As his father raised him from the death. He will raise us unto his right hand, we hope, at the end of times. But until then he will also raise us up unto his right hand in our struggles in life. We have a king that doesn’t take care of himself, like the leaders of our world, but he cares for others. This is our Shepherd King, that is our Jesus. And we are called to follow him in the way we live our lives. Amen.
The basic message of today’s Gospel is that we all have talents. Maybe not in the way other people have: celebrities, sport stars, politician, charismatic speakers and so on, but we all have talents and nevertheless important. Experts say that people in general only use a little fraction of their talents. You are gifted, whether you realize it or not. It just up to you to figure out what it is and do the best you can to use it. Sometimes people don’t use their talents is because other people belittled them or laughed about the things they wanted to explore. To belittle makes someone feel small, less and is bad for their self-esteem. Sometimes it is been done through: cynicism, sarcasm, non-appreciation, taking for granted. The opposite from belittling is to lift people up, to encourage them to value themselves.
Looking at the parable, you might think at first that the third servant took the safe approach. But taking no risk in life at all might at the end not be very rewarding. It might spoil the talents could have used and you didn’t. That might leave you with regrets at the end of your life. The third servant has also a very twisted view on the character of God, which Jesus wants to correct. He tells the master: “I heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown.” Look carefully at the word “heard”. He thinks but he does not really know. Here is Jesus criticizing the scribes and Pharisees, towards whom it was directed. Their vision was: God demands perfection and only a scrupulous observance of the Law can give us security. But Jesus says: NO, that is not what God is like! God’s way is different: He loves us and wants us to do something with our lives that is beneficial. He wants an abundant harvest. Jesus wants us to know that salvation comes to those who prepared to take risk, even if they might fail in their efforts. A talent is given to bear fruit and not to be wasted. It may seem wise not to risk, but in the end it is not.
We know from our own experience that everyone has different different abilities. We determine who is good in what and entrust people with tasks that are in line with their ability. We also learn from experience what our own abilities are. And of course we learn where we not that good at or what our limitations are. The rich man in today’s parable was a kind of good manager (they do exist). He knew exactly what the qualities of his servants were and what they were capable off. Before he set out on his journey he entrusted each of them “according to their abilities”. He knew that and only gave them as much as they could bare. The man who received five made five more; the one who received two was capable of making two more; the one who received one talent was capable of making one more (but he didn’t). The first two servants worked according to their ability. The third servant did not lived up to his ability. He gave only back what was given to him, instead of the two talents he was capable of gaining. What held this servant back from working according to his ability? The Gospel gives the answer as well. It was fear. “I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground.” We, at times, might feel sympathy for the third servant. Deep down, we are also often hold back out of fear. It is fear that prevents us from doing what we are well capable of doing.
Sometimes even fear that we are not good enough in each others eyes and in Gods eyes. But the thing is we are good as we are to God but he wants us to accomplish what he knows we are capable of doing. Fear is a powerful force in our lives. For some more then others. There are many reasons for this. Those who have experienced a lot of criticism growing up, might have troubles taking risks and will have a more fearful approach to life.
There is a Irish proverb that goes as following: “praise the young and they will make progress”. It makes much sense but the opposite can be true as well. Criticize the young and they will be held back. Unfair criticism can stunt our growth and prevent us from reaching our God-given potential. We hide what we have been given in the ground. There it remains safe, but useless. Jesus was only too well aware of the disabling power of fear in people’s lives. It is striking the number of times in the gospels that he uses the words: “Do not be afraid.” He said it to Simon Peter when he said: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”. He knew that it was fear that held him back into the new way of life. Jesus was capable to release people from their fears. He did not want it to hold them back for the life that he knew that they were capable of. He was able to cope with failure in others. He knew that they could learn from failure.
The tragedy of the third servant in the parable today is that, out of fear, he hid what had been entrusted to him. Though he had the ability to use it to grow. God gave us our talents, everyone in our own way, to the service of others. If we hide what he gave us, others will miss out on that. Most of us need some encouragement and uplifting words, to place our gifts for the benefits of others. Part of our baptismal calling is to give others courage, to encourage others. It is as Paul tells us today: “Encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” In these difficult times for the church and the world, the ministry of encouragement is even more important than ever. There is much to be learned from past mistakes. But God wants us to learn from these mistakes and go forward again. Now is not the time to hide our talents, out of fear, in the ground. On the contrary, now is the time to encourage each other to share this treasure we have. So that the Church and the World will benefit from it and becomes a better place, where The Living God is present. Amen
I greet you in the Name of the Lord Jesus on this commemoration of “Veterans Day.” On November 11, 1919, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Armistice Day, as it was called originally, to be observed annually. To honor the armistice ending World War I— formally ending the “great war” at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. It was suppose to end all wars but that didn’t happen as we very well know. After WWII, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law, that November 11 would be a day to honor all veterans, and so today our country celebrates Veterans Day.
You might ask yourself what the link is between St. Martin of Tours and Veterans day. For one November 11th is his feast day. Second because Martin of Tours was a veteran himself. He was a soldier before receiving his calling. So it is quite fitting, for today is a feast day of one of our Church’s well known and beloved soldier Saint, a patron Saint of soldiers along with St. Michael, St. George, and St. Ignatius, and St. Joan of Arc. St. Martin of Tours, born of pagan parents, was the son of a veteran, a soldier and officer in the Roman army, though Martin was actually forced to serve in the army against his will at the age of 15. The word Chapel and Chaplain is been said to go directly back to St. Martin…because he cut his cape or cloak (cappa or cappella in Latin). In English it is a little hard to recognize the word in cappella but in my native language, Dutch, it is not. In the Dutch word kapel you can easily recognize cappela. Cappelanus came to the English language via Old French as ‘chaplain’. In Dutch it became kapelaan (associate priest).
While, serving in the army, Martin began to desire Christian baptism, and was enrolled as a catechumen. There is the famous story when on a bitterly cold day ,the soldier, Martin met a poor man, almost naked, trembling in the cold and begging at the city gate. Martin had nothing but his weapons and his clothes. So he drew his sword, cut his cloak into two pieces, gave one to the beggar. Some of the bystanders laughed at his now odd appearance, wearing only half a cloak; others were ashamed at not having relieved the man’s misery themselves. That night in his sleep Martin saw Christ dressed in the cloak he had given to the beggar and said, “Martin, still a catechumen, has covered me with his garment.” At the age of 23 he told his commander: “I have served you as a soldier; now let me serve Christ.” Martin was discharged from the army and became a hermit under the direction of another saint, St. Hilary. Martin was elected bishop, dedicated much of his efforts to evangelization, founded a monastery, and attracted many vocations to the monastic life. He continued to live the ascetic life as a bishop, always keeping to heart, “that which you did for these least of my brethren, you did for me” as he did for that beggar. St. Martin reminds us of our duty as Christians towards those in need, and our duty to conform ourselves to Christ whatever our vocation—through prayer, detachment from material things, prayerful and right living, that our whole lives might be put at the service of our King and shepherd, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.
Back to Veterans day. When Veterans day was proclaimed it was supposed to end all wars…but it did not happen. Undoubtedly, those wars can make us depressed and sad about the state of the world. We were so hopeful that goodness and truth would come out of violence and evil; and it did not happen. Moreover, we are even now living through precarious and dangerous times. We had our own ‘tribulation” with all the wars. From Vietnam to Korea and from Afghanistan to Iraq (and so many more). In times of ongoing war there is always fear around the corner. There is an unspoken undercurrent of anxiety and uncertainty. We don’t know what the future holds. But what we do know is that there is a true and living God. To speak in the words of Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19). Let us be hopeful that the good will always win. Our veterans deserve our respect because they fight for the freedom we enjoy. Veterans fight to preserve our constitutional rights. Veterans die so we can live. So, on this Veterans Day, let us give thanks to God for their service and keep them in our prayers always. Amen.
Today we hear about the Prophet Amos, who was called to prophecy to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. From history we know that after the death of Solomon, the kingdoms were split up in two. The ten tribes of the north rejected the dynasty of David. They also rejected the worship of the Jerusalem temple. They set up their own places of worship. That is the setting that the Prophet Amos came into being. He was a farmer from the Southern Kingdom that was called away from his occupation to minister to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Like many people before and since, we might perhaps also going through the motions of worship? Did they really ‘seek good" and be close to God? Perhaps they felt that their religious exercises were enough, without adapting their lifestyle. But now their worship was under scrutiny. It was like Jesus says in the Gospel: ‘These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’ (Matthew 15:8). God says through Amos: “Take away the noise of your songs (psalms), for I will not hear the melody of your viols” (Amos 5:23). Worship is reduced to merely noise in the eyes of the LORD when our hearts are not right. God wants rather justice. “Rather let justice roll down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). That is what it is all about. If we don’t live the way God wants us to live, then our worship is worthless. He wants us to be always expectant watching out for his coming in our lives. He is the bridegroom, and the Church is his bride. It is about relationship, a covenant. We are supposed to be on the same page as our God.
That brings us to today's Gospel. The refusal of the wise virgins to share may appear selfish. The answer might sound harsh. But here we are not talking really about lamps and oil but about people and life. We can learn from one another and be inspired by one another. The wedding banquet symbolizes eternal life in the New Testament. The traditional explanation is that the parable warns us that it is possible to exclude ourselves from the banquet of eternal life. It was only those who were ready, who went in with the bridegroom to the wedding hall. That might be true, but the Gospel leaves other questions for us. Like the question we started out with: “were the wise virgins selfish?” And were the foolish excluded by the wise virgins or by the groom? What is really the mistake of the foolish virgins? When you read the parable correctly you can see that all the bridesmaids fell asleep, even the wise, when they should have kept awake. But what would have happened, had the if the bridesmaids simply would have waited in the darkness of the night? That might be their mistake. They left, when it would have been better if they just stayed. I cannot imagine that the bridal couple would have rejected them. Would they really have been overconcerned about the oil in their lamps? I bet they would just been happy to see their friends waiting for them.
It would have taken some faith and courage to wait in frailty but it would have been the best thing to do. What is also clear in the parable is that the wise break up the bridal party and send if the foolish away in search for oil. Not the greatest advise. It would have been better if they would had encouraged them to stay. They went through the oil while all the rest were sleeping. The bridegroom would surely understand that. If we make this parable about exclusion that would be contrary on the gospel message of the gospel of radical inclusivity and compassion. Would we really believe that Jesus would turn someone away who gives the best they have? According the customs during the first century, the groom would have arrived at the wedding celebration with the bride. The bridesmaids would have been her friends and would be awaiting her return with the groom. Many scholars agree that the original parable likely included the bride and the bridegroom arriving late together. However, this would contradict the conventional understanding of the story.
In the end, Jesus says, those on their way to heaven will be decided by what they gave away, whether they fed the poor, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, visited the sick and imprisoned. Whether they shared what they had. Whether they shared their oil. The wise on earth had their wedding feast on earth. But that is not how it will be in the kingdom of heaven. So, if you find yourself feeling like the foolish bridesmaids, remember to wait in the darkness. Don’t run from it. It is a holy place and God will meet you there. The bottom line from the parable is to wait for the Lord and not walk away…even if your out of oil. Amen.
A veil of mystery hides what lies beyond this mortal life here and now. Saint Paul recognizes when he says that “No eye has seen; no ear has heard, nor has it entered the human heart to imagine what God has prepared for those who love him.” [1 Cor 2:9].
But yet holy Scriptures gives us a glimpse of what lies beyond this world, for those who love God. Those in heaven are no plaster saints, without human failures, but it is a glorious band in the heavenly realm. People who lived lives of love, so they went straight back to the God. And that is true for both canonized and un-canonized Saints. We know all the canonized: The blessed virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Peter, St. Thomas, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Mary Salome, St. Veronica, St. Mary James, St. Mary and St. Martha of Bethany, St. Joanna, St. Susanna, St. Francis, St. Anthony, St. Michael and all the angels, and the list goes on.
They went to meet with the One who always held them in the palm of his hand. Heroes and ordinary people. Some who have inspired the church for centuries. Others are the unknown heroes, living a quiet life of kindness and duty. We can all call some of these people to mind. Many of us have weird notions of what a saint looks like. We often think that famous people are perfect and infallible. But these people are as fallible as we are all. But is it really true that the saints never broke the rules (St Augustine?), never experienced the dark night of the soul? Do you think Saints did not enjoy life or had a sense of humor? St. Theresa of Avilva said: ‘God save us from sullen Saints’. You think the Saints never broke into a great smile? The answer is, ‘of course it is not true.’ The saints were fully human. They struggled with temptation; they savored life’s joy.
On All Saint’s day we think of all the good people who have crossed our lives - parents, grandparents, classmates, parishioners here in the parish. They were not perfect, but they were in their own way great human beings and enriched our lives. That reminds me of the story of a priest who asked his class: what do you have to do to become a saint? One hand shot up: ‘You have to die, Father’ said the little boy. In a way he was right of course but we also know many living saints who are on the way to eternal union with him. Sanctity is not an achievement of our own but a divine grace in which we share. We cannot experience it by ourselves. We are all called to holiness. Each person is anointed with the Spirit and the grace of God. We only have to be aware of the power of God’s grace. is not being aware that we have it. We are all children of God, not only when we die, but right here and now. “A great multitude that no one could count”, we hear in the book of revelation today. God is rich in mercy. As Jesus told us: “In My Father’s House there are many mansions”. There’s place there for all of us. Jesus has told us how to get there. He shows us how to be people after Gods own heart. We know that these qualities are different from the world.
The world says, blessed are the rich, because they can have anything they want. But Jesus says, blessed are the poor in spirit. By poor in spirit he means those who put their trust in God rather than money. The world says, blessed are those who live it up, and never stop having fun. But Jesus says, blessed are those who mourn. He means those who let themselves feel the misfortune, pain and sorrow of others, and know how to respond with empathy and compassion. The world says, blessed are the bullies, the tough, the dividers and the aggressive with big mouths. But Jesus says, blessed are the gentle. Gentleness is not weakness, but a form of strength. The world says, blessed are those who hunger for power, status, and fame. But Jesus says, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The only power and status we really need is to keep living in God!
The world says, blessed are those who show no mercy! But Jesus says, blessed are the merciful. Happy are those who forgive mistakes and whose greatness lies in their ability to forgive. They will receive mercy and forgiveness from God for their own sins. The world says, Happy are those that know how to maintain a beautiful body. But Jesus says, blessed are those with clean and beautiful hearts. It’s from the heart that all our thoughts, words, and actions flow. The world says, blessed are those who get even and exact revenge. But Jesus says, blessed are the peacemakers. Happy are those who spread understanding among people, welcome all and strive for an equal society. They are truly the children of God. The world says, blessed are those who lie and cheat and get away with it. But Jesus says, blessed are those who make a stand for what is right and true. Jesus practiced what he preached. In his own person he was the beatitudes. Living them day after day.
Today’s feast is not about the canonized saints but about all the good and holy people who have ever lived. Maybe we don’t expect to be a Saint one day, but today’s is reminding us of that deep calling to become better people! It is reminding us that Jesus Christ can and will empower us to live what he preached and lived. We need Him to show us the way, the truth and the life! We need to follow him and become the people God wants us to be! And we always need to receive Him as our Bread of Life in the Holy Eucharist to strengthen us on our journey through life. Amen!
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