Saturday, September 28, 2013

26th Sunday Ordinary Time - Luke 16:19-31 - "The Message"

The path toward salvation runs through the back alleys of the poor and downtrodden. The road to righteousness winds, not through scenic hills and bountiful valleys, but through the mean streets of poverty and oppression.  It is the stranger, the immigrant, the outcast and the shunned who will lead us to the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven.

We all want to get to heaven. That’s why we come to church, isn’t it?  We don’t come to Sunday or even daily Mass because we have nothing better to do.  We live in hope!  We live in the belief that by coming to church we are living virtuous, faith-filled lives - that will lead us into God’s promise of Life Eternal in His Kingdom.  And, in coming together in church to worship and praise God is certainly a fitting way of living out a part of our call to live good Christian lives, but there is an additional message in today’s readings, especially in Amos, the Psalm and in the Gospel.

Amos begins with a list of the benefits of the good life enjoyed by the rich.
  •          They have fine housing filled with comfortable furniture. 
  •          The rich have food and drink in abundance. 
  •          They have cosmetics and healthcare to adorn them and keep them looking well and attractive. 
  •          The rich have time for entertainment and diversion from the boredom of life. 
  •          Their busy, important lives are too busy and important to be bothered by the plight of the poor. 
  •          They, who have no care or concern for anyone, but themselves, will be the first to suffer the pains of loss and banishment from the joys of the heavenly kingdom.

Jesus continues this theme of our call to care for the poor so we too may enter the kingdom of God.  In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, he gives us a very vivid picture of the contrasts between the rich and the poor. This is a story set in ancient times, but just as relevant in today’s world.

Here is a rich man, an over-consumer, who wears the finest of clothing in the latest style: a person who never wants of anything and has more than he needs.  He doesn’t just eat a meal – he feasts! – Sumptuously! – Everyday!  I am sure we can all easily conjure up a mental picture of what this man looks like and how he acts in life – arrogant, self-indulgent and filled with his own importance.

Meanwhile, at his gate, lying in the dust of the road is Lazarus.  Here a very different picture comes to mind from Jesus’ description: A poor man, dirty, nearly naked, repulsive; covered in sores, hungry to the point of starvation.  Even the stray dogs that Lazarus competes with for food scraps come to lick the sores that cover his weak and worn body.  There is no one - lower, - poorer or - more outcast than Lazarus.  Even when he dies, there is no mention of his having the dignity of being buried, like the rich man.

Now, in death, we see the fruits of a life turned inward; a life of self-concern.  The rich man, who ignored poor Lazarus, finds himself in torment in Hades.  Amid the flames now consuming the riches he surrounded himself with in life, he calls out for mercy and consideration.  In his still present arrogance, he directs Abraham to send Lazarus to relieve his torment – unlike how he relieved the torments of Lazarus in life.

Abraham tells the rich man that Lazarus, who received all bad things in his life, now rests in the comforting embrace of Abraham and because there is a great divide between their eternal worlds, Lazarus, even if he wanted, could not cross over to relieve the rich man’s agonies.

Still filled with himself, the rich man then instructs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn the rich man’s brothers of the fate that awaits them for their lives of selfish indulgence; lives of not caring for the poor.

Abraham tells him that they already have such a warning - in the scriptures - and in the teachings of the prophets, the messengers of God.  They only need to listen.  If they fail to heed the message they have already been given, then they will not listen to another messenger, even one who has risen from the dead.

Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”  The poor are our constant reminder to love one another, as Jesus loves us.  His care and concern for the outcast, the sinner, the poor, the hungry and voiceless is the message Jesus leaves for us: To love our brothers and sisters – all God’s children, especially those in most need, as we are loved.  Jesus’ message for all of us to heed is: Love the poor and care for them as we love and care for Jesus. ~Amen.


Deacon Don Ron

Sunday, September 15, 2013

24th Sunday Ordinary Time - Luke 15: 1-32 - The Greatest Sinner

Jesus speaks to us about loss in his parables – the loss of a sheep, the loss of a coin and the loss of a son.  But instead of dwelling on the loss he tells us about the joy and rejoicing over that - which was lost – now being found and returned to its rightful place: The sheep to the flock: the coin to the purse, the son to the father.

God so loves us that there is rejoicing in heaven when we are reconciled to him and returned to our heavenly family.  The saints and angels leap with joy when one of God’s lost children hears the Father’s call and responds: Turning his face toward heaven and crying out, “Abba!”

No matter how far we have strayed or how deeply we have sinned, the Father is always ready to welcome us into his embrace; showering us with the finest he has to offer and holding us close to his heart.

God’s mercy and forgiveness is endless.  We only need to ask.  He welcomes us back into his kingdom with great rejoicing and celebration – like the Prodigal Son, once lost, but now found and returned to the Father’s embrace.

There is only one condition under which we commit the unforgivable sin - Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  This is when we turn our backs on God; keeping him from forgiving us.  We keep backing away from his outstretched arms; preventing Him from reaching out to embrace us, hold us; forgiving us completely: without condition or question.  God’s forgiveness is a forgiveness we humans, like the older son in the story, find hard to understand, let alone do. 

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is when our pride and shame keeps us from accepting God’s love and mercy – wrongfully thinking that we are so unforgivable, so unlovable, so despised, wretched and unwanted - that not even God can forgive us.  The evil-one convinces us that we are so wronged, so terribly bad and sinful that God would have no choice, but to condemn us to the everlasting fires of Gehenna.

This is so wrong, - so unnecessary – so perverse and egotistical.  To allow the evil-one make us think that we are greater than God - that we are such tremendous sinners that even He – our Creator – is not great enough to forgive us.  In doing so, we place ourselves above God – away from His love and the peace of His Kingdom – into a universe of our own making - where we reign supreme – “the greatest sinner there ever was, so great that not even God will forgive me!”

Wow! What an ego! But I am sure we’ve all heard people say such foolish things.

When we hear people say such nonsense – like, “If I went into the church it would fall down” - we are called to remind them that God loves all of us completely.  We are his creation, - his children: made in his image.  He wants all of us to be with Him in His eternal Kingdom forever and ever.  He has made a place for each of us to dwell with Him – a home
  • where no tears are shed,
  • where there is no want or deprivation,
  • where conflict and strife do not exist,
  • where each live with dignity and respect – love and peace.

This is the Kingdom of God, the kingdom that “no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor can man imagine what God has prepared for those who love Him” – the place where God wants each of us to live - with Him, His children, - the God who is love, - the God who is always seeking us; - always calling to us, - always reaching out to us. 

We are called to remind everyone that God’s love knows no bounds: His forgiveness is endless and everlasting.  We need only to hear his voice: surrender ourselves; falling into his embrace – to enter into His promised Kingdom.

Return to him, for we are his own.  Listen to His call in the quiet of the night and in the roar of the day – at all times:
  • When we are most vulnerable and at risk 
  • When we are miserable and alone
  • When we are wounded and sick
  • When we are angry and bitter - or
  • When we are full of ourselves and in need of humility and God’s grace

Remind those ‘great sinners’ that God seeks us always, -- He is with us always - at the darkest moments of our lives,  - in our tragedy, - in our suffering, - in our pain. And on those brightest occasions – in our triumphs, - in our joys, - in our success.

He is always there watching over us, - loving us, - calling us, - seeing us when we are far away - welcoming us back with great joy and celebration, like the lost lamb, - the misplaced coin or - the headstrong son: Gathering us into his embrace.  For we arenowalways and forever – His beloved children ~Amen

Deacon Don Ron

Sunday, September 8, 2013

23rd Sunday Ordinary Time - Luke 14:25-33 - The Cost of Discipleship

Once again Jesus reminds us of the cost of discipleship.  In harsh and unyielding terms, he tells us that following him is not a casual endeavor or a part time pursuit, but a call of dedication into a new way of life –

away from the comfortable,
away from the familiar,
away from surety of family and friends,
away from our possessions and entertainments
away from the safety and security of our known world:

Taking on a life under the burden of the cross – following in his footsteps, loving as we are loved and living in a radical new way.

Jesus tells us that when the Spirit moves us to follow him, - to become his disciple, - we must make sure of our commitment to this new life – our life in Christ – our life under the cross.  He warns us that this is not an easy life, a life of comfort - where we can be his disciples and still continue in our old ways of living.  It is a radical call to leave behind all our possessions, all our ties to family and community, all the things of this world – to seek God and his Kingdom above.

This is not a life of half measures or for the faint-hearted, but one of total dedication.  Once we begin our journey, Jesus tells us not to look back, - longing for what was left behind, but to go forward - guided by our belief in the Word of God and strengthened in our faith through God’s love and grace.

Our journey should not be clouded with doubts and hesitations.  When we start out on this road of discipleship, we should have a clear understanding of the destination and the costs to reaching our goal.  We need to ask ourselves:

Do we have the strength of belief - to reach the destination?
Do we have the commitment of faith - to stay the course, no matter the hardship? 
Do we have the courage to accept - that we will be challenged and tested along the way? 
Do we recognize that it is only through the love and grace of God - that we will be able to suffer hardship, persecution and rejection for the sake of the Gospel and for the name of Jesus?

In becoming a disciple of Christ, we are not given a promise of a life of ease in this world.  Jesus tells to leave this world behind and to give away all the things we’ve come to know, love and rely on, - so that we may pursue the better things, the higher things, the things not of this world, but the things of the God’s Kingdom.

Jesus warns us that we cannot serve two masters or live two lives.  His disciples, should not be distracted by worldly pursuits –
the things that rust and decay –
the things that are not everlasting –
the things that cannot save -
But focus on what can save, - what is enduring, and everlasting; the Love of God and eternal life in the peace of his heavenly Kingdom.

Jesus promises us that we will not be alone in our journey of discipleship, - but that he will be with us always - until the ends of the earth and that we are beloved children of God, - the God who desires us to be with him forever.  He does promise that when we take up the cross of Christ: our yoke will be easy and our burden light - for he has sent the Spirit to be with us; to comfort us, to guide us and to teach us.

Our call to discipleship, - to a life of wonder and fulfillment in the love of God, - is not something we should take on lightly. Jesus wants us to know that disciples should have their eyes wide open - before entering into this new life – the life of a follower of the Way, the Truth and the Life.  That discipleship in Christ Jesus means leaving behind all the things of this world - that keep us from loving God as God loves us – completely, without question or hesitation – forever and ever ~Amen.

Deacon Don Ron