Sunday, October 27, 2013

30th Sunday Ordinary Time - Luke 18:9-14 - "The Penitent Man"

In the movie, Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail, Indy tries to approach the place where the Grail is hidden, but has to pass three tests. The clue to the first test is, “The penitent man humbles himself before God.” The entrance to the crypt is littered with the headless bodies of those who had already failed in their attempt at seeking the prize of immortality.  Indy realizes, at the last moment, that the truly sorrowful need to bow humbly before God or lose their heads.

I think in this scene we can capture a sense of Jesus’ parable in Luke’s Gospel. 

It is God we approach with our prayers and petitions.  It is before God that we bow; approaching on bended knee with true sorrow in our hearts. God does not ask for a list of our accomplishments, he knows our hearts and the sincerity of our deeds.  He knows the love in our hearts.  God asks us only to seek his mercy and love to obtain His forgiveness, with sincere and contrite hearts. 

In the parable we see two people, a Pharisee and a tax-collector.  The first an outwardly pious person who obeys the law; living within the well-defined margins of what was expected of someone of his class.  The tax-collector is a despised member of society, the lowest of the low, a public sinner held in great contempt by the “good people”.

The Pharisee comes into the temple, not to ask for God’s mercy and love – seeking forgiveness – he never asks to be forgiven, but he lists his accomplishments to show how he has obeyed all the rules: thereby, in his mind, making him better than all others, certainly better than the tax-collector.  He isn’t praying to God, but to the god he’s made of himself. He stands at the front, not meek and humble before God, but self-righteously – God’s equal. 

His disdain for all others oppresses the least of God’s children.  His thoughts would translate into his actions, betraying his true heart to God.

I have worked with victims of domestic abuse, a form of bullying and I have seen how abusers attempt to make themselves feel better, righteous, if you will, through the humiliation of others.  Their thinking is very much like the Pharisee’s – focused on how good or justified they are over other people.

Meanwhile, at the back of the temple, in a dark corner, bows the tax-collector, a sinner.  He knows he’s a sinner, unjustified and without a shred of righteousness.  He is a penitent man, bowing humbly before God. He asks God for mercy and love without expectation.  He makes no assumptions about his position in life and where he stands in the eyes of God.

What I find surprising in this story is the tax-collector even coming into the temple to pray, especially when faced with the contempt of the Pharisee.  How many of our “tax-collectors” today would feel welcome to come into church, let alone, seek God’s forgiveness.  Maybe that’s why there is great rejoicing in heaven when one ‘lost lamb’ returns to the flock.

Jesus embraces the sinner, the tax-collector, the lost, the miserable and oppressed.  He asks each of us too, - to embrace the least of God’s children, our brothers and sisters in Christ:
  • to lift up the sinner,
  • to seek justice for the oppressed,
  • relief for the suffering,
  • And peace for the troubled.

It is in loving, with the heart of Jesus that we bow humbly before God; seeking His mercy and forgiveness, finding justification through doing His will and loving as we are loved – all our sisters and brothers. ~Amen

Deacon Don Ron

Sunday, October 20, 2013

29th Sunday Ordinary Time - Mission Sunday - "The Lord hears the cries of the poor"

Today the Church celebrates World Mission Sunday.  We know this by the second collection that will be taken up for the Church’s missions throughout the world. 

The need is great to continue to spread the Gospel message through out the world.  So many people have not yet heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, his message of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness – His promise of salvation and eternal life in His heavenly Kingdom. 

They do not know, as we know, that they are God’s beloved children – 
  • Called to live in peace and harmony
  • Called into the embrace of God’s love and mercy
  • Called to live with dignity and respect
  • Called to be holy; working to make saints of one another
  • Called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world
  • Called to bring hope, healing and freedom
  • Called to know and love the one true God

There is darkness in the world, dark places where God is unknown.  Places where God’s love has yet to reach.  Places where hope, love, mercy and forgiveness are unspoken.  It is our mission to bring the Light of Christ into these dark places. 
  • To speak of God’s love and mercy for all people
  • To give hope to the despairing
  • To bring peace to the troubled
  • To heal our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ who have:
    • Never felt God’s love,
    • Never known God’s embrace
    • Never tasted the goodness of God's gift of life as His beloved child

So many of our brothers and sisters in Christ know only hardship and despair in this world. They suffer – poverty, starvation, exploitation, slavery, illiteracy, unsafe living and working conditions – which condemns them, especially women and children, to the very bottom of the human condition – offering them no hope and little opportunity for survival.

This world offers them little, but we, through our missionary support, can bring them hope – hope in the knowledge that they are loved and that God listens to their cries of anguish and despair. God hears the cries of the poor.
So many others worship false gods or no god at all.  They know only
  • gods of their own making,
  • gods who cannot love, who cannot care,
  • gods who cannot heal or bring peace.

We are called to bring the knowledge of our living God into their lives.  To show them the God who loves his children and wants them to live with Him eternally in heaven.  Through the Word of God, we bring the Good News into these dark places; spreading the Light of Christ, dispelling the darkness and giving hope of a Life Eternal in the peace of God’s Kingdom to those who know only the confines of this world.

A few days ago a remarkable woman passed away.  She was known as Madre Antonia (Mother Antonia) and she was one of those missionaries who brought the Light of Christ into dark places.  Mother Antonia lived in La Mesa penitentiary in Tijuana, Mexico.  She was not a prisoner, but a nun who took private vows and served both the prisoners and guards in one of the worst prisons in the world. 

Living in a 10 X 10 cell, sleeping on a prison cot with a bible and a Spanish dictionary, she brought hope and spiritual guidance to the very least of God’s children.

Mother Antonia was called to her missionary life of service through an encounter with the Risen Christ.  She was blessed and given the grace to live as the Lord himself lived – in service to sinners, the miserable and forgotten; bringing them knowledge of God’s love and mercy.

We may never have such an encounter with Christ as did Mother Antonia, but we can always hope.  Meanwhile, we can support the work of missionaries like Mother Antonia and like so many courageous others who bring the Word of God into the dark places of the world. 

Please give generously to support missionaries and as the parable in Luke’s Gospel today reminds us: Persevere in Prayer, God hears the cries of the poor and brings them His justice. ~ Amen


Deacon Don Ron

Sunday, October 13, 2013

28th Sunday Ordinary Time - Luke 17:11-19 - Unclean! Unclean!

“Unclean!  Unclean!  Beware! Stay Back! Unclean!”

Imagine having to shout “Unclean” wherever we walked or hearing “Unclean, Beware” shouted in the streets as a warning to others that we had a ‘disease’ and were not ritually pure and that our presence could infect others with whatever terrible ‘disease’ we had.

For good and obvious reasons, the people of Jesus’ time were very sensitive to disease, especially sores and scales on the body.  Medical care was primitive or non-existent and catching a disease could be life-threatening.  The Jewish community formulated a whole set of laws concerning ritual purity that governed their worship, but the root of those laws was set in keeping people healthy and away from contagious disease.

In Luke’s Gospel, we find 10 men afflicted with leprosy traveling together.  Now this was most likely not true leprosy because there is no anthropological evidence of true leprosy existing in Israel until much later in time.  More likely this was a form of eczema, psoriasis or some other scaly, flaky disorder of the skin.  Whatever it was, the people feared it and required anyone afflicted to remain outside of community, the mainstay of Middle-Eastern existence. This meant they were not allowed to socialize with anyone; they could not stay or associate with family members or live within their community.  They were not allowed to worship in the Temple; to work, farm or earn a living in any way.  They were banished completely and cast out – alone - without means of survival – relying solely on begging to stay alive.

It is no wonder why, when they encounter Jesus they ask, not for healing, but for mercy.  They desired a return to life in the community – where their life could again - be normal.  Jesus, recognizing their need and understanding the consequences of their disease – its effect on their very existence – takes pity on them.

Someone who was healed from leprosy or - other disease that rendered a person unclean - had to present themselves to the priest before being allowed to re-enter the community: to live, to worship, to work, to re-enter their lives among family and friends.  Sending the lepers to show themselves to the priests was necessary for these men to be welcomed back into the life of the community.  In essence, they were “dead” and through Jesus’ healing power - now brought back to life.

I find a great parallel in this story with the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  When we sin, we, in effect, place ourselves outside our community of faith.  Our sins, - especially grave sins, - separate us from the love of God and divide us from our community and the unity of faith in which we all profess.

In a state of sin, we are like the ten lepers roaming the countryside cast out from our community of faith.  We don’t go about shouting, “Unclean!  Beware!” – imagine that, if we did!  But within our hearts, even though we participate in our daily lives – we are outsiders, looking in.  We are no longer whole – no longer fully members participating in the life of the community of believers.  And like the ten lepers, we go searching about for the One who can heal us and return us to life, Jesus Christ.

We seek out Jesus and ask for His mercy and forgiveness – through which we may be healed.  In His great love for us, he makes us whole and restores us to life among our family and friends; returning us to our community of the faithful.  He sends us to the priest, to present ourselves for examination – showing - that by His power - we are healed and freed from sin and division. 

In Jesus’ love and mercy, He returns us to life.  He restores us so we may live again among our family and friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ, so we may take our place at table; giving thanks to God –
  • For our healing and freedom from sin –
  • For the gift of our life and
  • For all the gifts He bestows on us in His great love for His children. ~ Amen


Deacon Don Ron