Saturday, August 24, 2013

Will many be saved? Only through Christ!

21st Sunday of OT year C:
            Today Jesus is presented with a disconcerting kind of question: Lord will only a few people be saved.  If you are like me, you are hoping that Jesus’ response is: no, no, everyone will be saved, don’t worry about a thing.  But, the actual answer that Jesus gives is just as disconcerting as the question: many will attempt to enter, but they will not be strong enough.  Then Jesus goes through this parable where the master of the house denies that he knows the people who are knocking.
            This might be an important thing for us to remember.  Salvation is not automatic.  Salvation is not easy.  Jesus calls it the narrow gate.  We have to strive for this narrow gate.  But, even if we do, many will not be strong enough to enter.  Is Jesus basically telling us that few people are going to heaven?  When I was in college I remember being quite worried when I read St. Thomas Aquinas.  In the Summa Theologica, Thomas asserts that salvation is not for the masses.  Rather, salvation is only for the exceptional, the gifted.  Being saved is like being a virtuoso piano player, a great athlete, or a mathematical genius.  Sure these things come along, but not everyone who played the piano is a master, and not every Christian goes to heaven.  If you are like me you would read this and get disappointed.  If salvation is only for the exceptional, why should we even try?  Why strive for that narrow gate if getting through it will be impossible?
            If we read today’s passage out of the context of the whole message of Scripture, we might be pessimistic.  We might think, like St. Thomas Aquinas, that salvation is a rarity.  But, think of some of the passages we read in other places in the Bible: God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son so that all those who believe in him might have eternal life.  Also, God sent his son not to condemn the world but to save the world.  Think of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, where we remember that the heart of Christ burns with fire for the salvation of the world; or, the Divine Mercy, where rays of love and mercy emanate from the heart of Christ. 
            So, when we think about the good news of salvation, then read today’s reading it seems somewhat contradictory.  But, listen to it again: strive for the narrow gate, many will try but will not be strong enough to enter.  What is that gate?  It is the gateway to heaven, to paradise.  If you think about it, none of us are strong enough to enter into paradise.  This problem goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.  Because of Original Sin that narrow gate is closed.  All of us are sinners, none of us can earn salvation, none of us can earn our way into heaven.  But, in the history of the world there was one man who could earn salvation, there was one man who was strong enough to enter that narrow gate.  That one man is Jesus Christ. 
            I think we should take with us a few key points today.  Salvation is not automatic.  It is a narrow gate that leads to salvation.  In fact, we cannot make it on our own.  But, that is ok, because God sent his son Jesus to be our savior.  The quicker we realize that we will never make it without Christ, the sooner we will turn to him in our weakness, the sooner we will rely on his strength and not our own. 
            We are about to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, which is often called the sacrament of our salvation, because it is the sacrament of the very offering of Christ on the Cross.  Right here on this altar we participate in the salvation that Christ won for us.  When we receive this Holy Communion we are united to Christ, the one who is strong enough to enter through that narrow gate.  Because of our communion with Christ, we believe that he will take us with him.  So today’s gospel reading is not meant to make us pessimistic, rather it should make us thankful, thankful that while we might not be strong enough to make it on our own, God loved us so much that he sent his Son to be our savior. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Do not be afraid

19th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Today in the Gospel there is an unusual tension.  On the one hand, Jesus begins by telling his little flock: do not be afraid.  This was one of the great messages from John Paul II: do not be afraid.  There is much in this life that could cause us fear and anxiety, but our relationship with Christ gives us the strength to face whatever comes our way. 
Yet, in the same reading we hear a stern admonition: you must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.  Jesus tells us to make sure we are one of the good stewards who is found doing the right thing.  If not, Jesus starts to talk about severe beatings, which don’t sound like much fun!  And perhaps the most challenging sentence in the whole reading is the last one: much will be required of the one entrusted with much.
My friends, all of us have been entrusted with so much.  Absolutely everything we have, everything we are comes from God.  We wouldn’t have life if it weren’t for God.  We wouldn’t have air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat.  God made all things, he sustains all things.  Without God nothing would exist.  Without God we wouldn’t exist.  All of our talent, enthusiasm, and hard work are also gifts that came from God.  Everything comes from him.  Further, think of the gift of salvation that the Lord Jesus gives us from the cross.  Think of his gifts of grace that he pours out in the sacraments.  Every day we gather around this altar and Jesus gives us his very Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.  If we stop and think about it, the generosity of God is truly amazing.
Today’s reading is a compelling reminder that each one of us will be asked to give an account.  Each one of us will be asked a simple question: after everything I have given you, and everything I have done for you, what did you do for me?  How did you repay my generosity, how did you put the riches I gave you to good use for those around you? 
I don’t know of anyone who is perfect.  I know that I am a sinner.  I know that I haven’t always lived up to my end of the bargain.  I know that sometimes I haven’t made the best use of all that God has given me.  So when we think about our judgment, we might have a tendency to get anxious and worried.  But, this is why I think it is so important to remember that first line of Jesus.
My little flock: do not be afraid.  We should not be worried or afraid when we hear today’s reading.  Rather, Jesus did not come to condemn us.  He came to save us.  He came to show us the way to the Father.  Today he is reminding us that we will give an account for all that God has given us, but he does not say this so as to instill fear.  Rather, he tells us this to motivate us always to grow closer to him. 
First, start with thanksgiving.  Remember that we are stewards of all the good things God has given us.  We need to remember that everything we have and everything we are is because God gives it to us.  Then we try to be as generous as God is to us.  St. Jude’s is already a very generous parish.  But, are there still more ways we can give?  Jesus does not want us fearful and timid.  Rather, he calls us to the same kind of generosity of spirit that he showed us on the cross.

Today as we celebrate this Holy Eucharist, we give thanks for all that God has done for us, and as we leave the church today we are sent on a mission to be the good steward who awaits the return of Christ our Savior.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

18th Sunday of OT, Year C:
Vanity of vanities, all things are vanity.  This Qoheleth guy really seems like a charmer.  I mean he doesn’t exactly seem like the kind of person you would want to invite over to your house for a party.  He probably wouldn’t want to come anyway, because parties are vanity too I’m sure.  What’s going on with this reading?  Is the Bible telling us to be pessimistic and downcast?  I don’t think so.  Rather, I think there is a great wisdom to be learned from our prophet’s straight-forward kind of approach. This has been a really helpful reading for me as I begin my assignment here at St. Jude’s.
This has been an amazing week in a lot of ways.  I have met lots of new people, I have had a chance to celebrate Mass, hear confessions, I even had a wedding today.  It has been a great week.  This is a very exciting time for me in my life.  I can’t tell you how excited I am to be the pastor here at St. Jude’s.
But in the midst of all this excitement we hear: vanity of vanities, all things are vanity.  Basically the prophet is reminding us that in the midst of all the passing things of our life, we have to keep before us those things that really matter.  I don’t think the prophet is just telling us to be depressed.  Rather, he is telling us that in the varied experience of the human life there are many things that will take up a lot of our time and energy.  At the end of the day, many of these things just pass away, they just disappear into the sands of time.  Just stop for a second and think about everything you did this week.  Think of all the pleasant things, all the difficult things; think about the exciting things, and the things that caused stress, anger, discouragement, or anxiety.  Now that you have thought about these things, how many of them will still matter in 20 years?  So much of what we do is oftentimes spent on those things that don’t really matter. 
Jesus came to give us direction.  He came to give us peace.  He came to lead us to salvation.  Jesus’ words today in the parable line up with the words from the prophet: why build those bigger barns when we never know what the future might bring.  Jesus and Qoheleth both are trying to remind us to stay focused on what really matters in life. 
Now, I’m not saying that everyone should go home and quit their jobs.  I’m not saying that we can avoid all the little things in our lives.  Rather, everything we do we should do it for God.  Everything we do, we should do it with God.  Everything we do, we can only do it because God gives us the help and strength in order to do it.  I think our reading from St. Paul today is a good one for us to keep in our minds and hearts.  He says: put to death those parts of you that are earthly.  And: seek what is above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God: think of what is above.  The bible is not telling us to try to escape from our human lives; rather, we should turn to God in the midst of our human lives.  We should try to keep before us those things that really matter.

This is great advice for all of us, but I found it especially helpful this week as I begin my new assignment.  There is so much going on here at St. Jude’s, it is new and exciting; but, I have to remember to think about what is above.  I have to always keep my eye on what is the most important.  And that is our relationship with Christ.  There are many responsibilities of a pastor of a parish, but the most important one is to help lead the parish closer to Christ.  I ask for your prayers that with God’s help I am able to do this.  So that all of us at St. Jude’s can keep our hearts and minds always in communion with Jesus Christ and his Church.