Sunday, September 25, 2016

Homily for Today


"Fight the good fight of the faith." [1 Tim. 6:12] Welcome my brothers and sisters in Christ to today's celebration of the Holy Mass on the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Today's message from the first and last readings is that the rich were self-centered, enjoying a life of luxury and insensitivity while the poor suffered around them. It would have been better if the rulers of Judah and Israel, and the rich man, had paid attention to St. Paul's message that we heard from the First Letter of Paul to Timothy, "Fight the good fight of the faith."

Today's First Reading from the Book of Amos [Amos 6:1-14] is the last of three woe that the Lord God promised to inflict upon Judah and Israel because of their evil deeds. These nations had rulers who were idle, insensitive to the need of the poor and lived in luxury. Accordingly, God said that they would be taken into exile.

History tells us that the rulers slept on extravagant beds that were inlaid with ivory panels. They ate the most costly food, including calves that had been raised on milk alone, this making the meat very tender. During meals, they listened to idle songs to the sound of the harp. In this environment of indolence (avoiding work), never mind drinking wine out of cup, they drank it out of bowls. Over and above all this, they anointed themselves with the finest oils.

These rulers were so insensitive that they did not even grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Here the reference to Joseph is not to a person but rather to a kingdom. Because Joseph was the ancestor of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the members of these tribes were frequently called the "sons of Joseph," the "house of Joseph," or just "Joseph." Joseph, these tribes, had been destroyed and the rulers were totally indifferent to that fact.

Because of such unacceptable behaviours, the rulers were going to be captured and taken into exile. Their days of celebrating were coming to an end. In other words, the party was just about over!

The Gospel Reading has a similarity. Again we heard of luxury and insensitivity. The rich man lived like a king and was totally insensitive to the needs of Lazarus. The difference in the Gospel of Luke versus the Book of Amos is that in the former reading, we heard of the outcome of such behaviour. While the rich man may have been blessed with great luxury, he was only successful for a time. When he died, he could not take his luxury with him in the afterlife. None of his luxury could defend him against the judgment that awaited him. In fact, his luxury condemned him.

When Jesus related this story, His intent was to spiritually awaken the Pharisees who were fond of money. As Luke 16:14 tells us, they "heard all this, and they ridiculed Him." The Pharisees had elevated themselves to the extent that no one, not even Jesus, could correct them for their own salvation. They were beyond reproach!

Returning to the rich man and the poor man, in the days of Jesus, it was understood that Jewish landowner were Yahweh's tenants. [Lev. 25:23] The landowner owed "taxes" to God's representatives, these being the poor. And they were expected to share the land with them in the form of assistance. [Mic. 2:9; Is. 58:7; Neh. 5:1-19] Based on this custom, the rich man was obligated to take care of Lazarus, ensuring that his basic needs were met. But this was not happening.

The reason as to why dogs were hanging around the table is because when the guests were invited to a feast, they would use bread to wipe their plates or their hands and then toss it under the table. Naturally, this would draw the dogs who would clean up the floor by eating what had been dropped from the table. This is the food that Lazarus longed to have so he could survive.

The Gospel of Luke tells us that the poor man was not very healthy. He had sores that the dogs would come and lick. Obviously the poor man could not afford medication and the rich man refused to acknowledge his presence and his needs. And so the poor man died. Soon after, the rich man died.

The poor man was taken to Heaven by angels and the rich man was sent to Hades where he was tormented. What followed was the rich man's request to Abraham, that Lazarus be sent to him so he could dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue, because he was in agony from the flames.

Abraham answered, "Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony." [Lk. 16:25]

These words remind me of the "Judgment of the Nations." Jesus said, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, etc..." [Mt. 25:34-5] "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." [Mt. 25:40] This is a very powerful statement! What the rich man did to Lazarus, he did it to Jesus!

Next, we heard that the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his father's house to warn his five brothers of the plight that awaited them if they continued to live as the rich man did. Abraham answered that his brothers had Moses and the prophets. In other words, they had the laws and the words of the prophets.

Equally today, we have the Words of Jesus and the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church that are continuously related to us through the ministers of the Word of God. As the rich man had plenty of opportunities to hear the truth, today, God's creations, within and without the Church, have all the necessary opportunities to hear the truth. Sending Lazarus back to earth in spirit form is not going to save anyone. Today, if someone was to see Lazarus, rather than listening to his message of salvation, they would ask him, "How did you do that?" Then they would try to reproduce the same result through scientific means so other souls can travel back and forth between Heaven and earth. They would miss the whole point!

All of this brings us to the Second Reading, the First Letter of Paul to Timothy. St. Paul begins today's reading by calling Timothy a "man of God." [1 Tim. 6:11] The title "man of God" was generally applied to the great figures in the Old Testament such as Moses and to the prophets. [Deut. 33:1; 1 Sam. 2:27; 1 Kgs. 12:22, 13:1, etc...] The application of this title most likely meant that Timothy was very dedicated to the service of God.

When St. Paul told Timothy to fight the good fight of the faith, he was stating two things. First of all, Paul compared the Christian faith to a race. We read of this in one of his letters where it states, "Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified." [1 Cor. 9:24-7]

Towards the end of his life, St. Paul added, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." [2 Tim. 4:7]

Secondly, St. Paul was reminding Timothy that at his baptism, he had made a profession of faith before many witnesses. Before God, the Church and the faithful, Timothy had an obligation to persevere in his faith to the end of the race.

Timothy was charged to keep the commandment without spot or blame. In other words, he was charged to protect the complete deposit, all the truths of the Catholic faith that had been entrusted to him.

Much more could be said about today's readings. But what has been said is sufficient for all of us to perceive that our Christian faith calls us to do two things. First of all, to persevere to the end. Secondly, to preserve the truths of the faith that have been entrusted to us at our baptism. And for us to preserve the truths of the faith, it becomes necessary for us to learn them prior to passing them on to others.

This week, let us commit some time to review how we can improve our knowledge of the Catholic faith so when we speak on behalf of the Church, we do so with sound doctrines. Some may chose to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Others may chose to read one or more Councils of the early Church. There are Encyclicals that can be reviewed. All of these are excellent tools that will richly increase our knowledge of the Catholic faith for the glory of God.

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1AM 6:1A, 4-7

Thus says the LORD the God of hosts:
Woe to the complacent in Zion!
Lying upon beds of ivory,
stretched comfortably on their couches,
they eat lambs taken from the flock,
and calves from the stall!
Improvising to the music of the harp,
like David, they devise their own accompaniment.
They drink wine from bowls
and anoint themselves with the best oils;
yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!
Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile,
and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.

Responsorial PsalmPS 146:7, 8-9, 9-10

R. (1b) Praise the Lord, my soul!
or:
R. Alleluia.
Blessed he who keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
or:
R. Alleluia.
The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who were bowed down;
the LORD loves the just.
The LORD protects strangers.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
or:
R. Alleluia.
The fatherless and the widow he sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
The LORD shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
or:
R. Alleluia.

Reading 21 TM 6:11-16

But you, man of God, pursue righteousness,
devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. 
Compete well for the faith. 
Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called
when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.
I charge you before God, who gives life to all things,
and before Christ Jesus,
who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession,
to keep the commandment without stain or reproach
until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ
that the blessed and only ruler
will make manifest at the proper time,
the King of kings and Lord of lords,
who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light,
and whom no human being has seen or can see. 
To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.

AlleluiaCF. 2 COR 8:9

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Though our Lord Jesus Christ was rich, he became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelLK 16:19-31

Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man's table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. 
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. 
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.'
Abraham replied,
‘My child, remember that you received
what was good during your lifetime 
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go
from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father,
send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers,
so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.'
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, 
neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Prayers for Today

"Lord Jesus, you are my joy and my treasure. Make me rich in the things of heaven and give me a generous heart  that I may freely share with others the spiritual and material treasures you have given to me."

In you, Lord, I find all my joy and happiness. How could I offend you by chasing after fleeting success and lifeless trophies? I believe in you because you are truth itself. I hope in you because you are faithful to your promises. I love you because you have loved me first. I am a sinner; nevertheless, you have given me so many blessings. I humbly thank you.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Homily


Welcome my brothers and sisters in Christ to today's celebration of the Holy Mass on this beautiful Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Today's readings from the Holy Scriptures teach us that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. His message from the Heavenly Father was one of pure love and mercy.

During the First Reading from the Book of Exodus [Exo. 32:7-11, 13-14] that is found in the Old Testament, we heard that while Moses was on Mount Sinai talking to God, the Lord became very upset because His chosen people were acting perversely. They had casted for themselves an image of a calf, worshipped it and sacrificed to it, giving credit to the idol for bringing them out of slavery in the land of Egypt.

Greatly offended by the people for having turned away from the way that He had commanded them, God was prepared to destroy them all, indicating to Moses that He would make a great nation out of him alone. Hearing this, Moses implored God to have mercy on the sinful people, reminding Him of His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Israel. If the people is destroyed, God would have broken His promises to their forefathers. The new people would only be descendants of Moses.

Hearing the plea of Moses, God changed His mind and decided not to destroy the people as He had originally planned. As history tells us, the people continued to sin. Consequently, except for two men who remained faithful to God, He punished all six hundred thousand men, [Ex. 12:37] denying them entry into the promised land. [Numb. 14:20-24] Only their descendants received the promised land under the leadership of Joshua. [Jos. 1:1-2]

In Exodus 32:7, when God first spoke to Moses about the perversion of the people, He referred to them as "your people," and no longer as "My people." Here we perceive how God detaches Himself away from those who renounce Him, especially when the credit for the manifestation of Divine power is given to false gods.

While God has no second thought about separating Himself from sinners, in this case, it was because of the personal relationship that Moses enjoyed with God that the Lord showed mercy towards the people. God had that same kind of relationship with Abraham, Isaac and Israel. Because of His love for the prophets, God held back His Divine vengeance. Powerful is the intercession of those who live righteously on behalf of those who are unrighteous. It is the intercession of the righteous that draws the mercy of God.

In the days of the Old Testament, Moses, a sinner himself, mediated for the sinful people. Now, we have "one Mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, Himself human, who gave Himself a ransom for all." [1 Tim. 2:5-6] "He is the Mediator of a better Covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first Covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one." [Heb. 8:6- 7]

There is an important lesson to learn from this reading. Frequently, it is heard that it is alright to sin because Jesus is all loving and merciful. He will forgive our sins. Based on what has just been said, had it not been for Moses, God would have destroyed His people. While Jesus is all loving and merciful, as our only Mediator before the Heavenly Father, will He defend those who voluntarily persist in sin? Did He not institute His Church, appointed its leader and handed over the keys of His Kingdom and its authority? Did He not institute the Sacraments and provided the people with a written record (the Holy Bible) of the spiritual laws by which they must live?

Therefore, as Mediator of mankind before the Heavenly Father, to some extent, is Jesus not bound by the Holy Catholic Church and its doctrines because of the promise that He has made regarding the keys to the Kingdom? If such is the case, while Jesus is our Mediator and will surely provide us with the best legal defence to secure our salvation, is His love and mercy not dependable upon our loyalty and obedience to the Holy Catholic Church?

During today's Second Reading from the First Letter of Paul to Timothy, [1 Tim. 1:12-17] we heard how the mercy of God sanctified St. Paul because he had a sincerity of heart. By the mercy of God, Paul, "formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence," [1 Tim. 1:12] was made "an example to those who would come to believe in (Jesus) for eternal life." [1 Tim. 12:16]

St. Paul began today's reading by expressing his gratefulness to Jesus for the call that he had received to preach the Gospel. He recognized that the grace of our Lord overflowed in him with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. [1 Tim. 1:14; Rom. 5:20]

Motivated by zeal to serve God, [Phil. 3:6; 2 Tim. 1:3; Acts 26:9] Paul had bitterly persecuted the Church [Acts 8:1-3] before receiving his calling. [Acts 9:3-6; 1 Cor. 15:8-10; Gal. 1:13-16] Because of the immense amount of suffering that he has created upon the Church, he possessed a large amount of gratitude towards Jesus for the mercy that had been shown toward him.

When Paul mentioned that "the grace of Our Lord overflowed for (him) with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus, he omitted the virtue of hope. This is because faith and love are primary virtues that identify the Christian. The virtues of faith and love are mentioned alone in other places in the Holy Bible. [Eph. 3:17, 6:23; Phlm. 5] In other instances, such as in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 and 1 Corinthians 13:13, all three virtues are mentioned together.

In verse 15 of the same Second Reading, Paul said "that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." [1 Tim. 1:15] This truth was affirmed by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke where I read, "For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost." [Lk. 19:10]

When St. Paul identified himself as the foremost of sinners, [1 Tim. 1:15] he was depicting humility. A similar passage is found in his Letter to the Ephesians where he said, "I am the very least of all the saints (Christians)." [Eph. 3:8]

When reviewing the first chapter of this Letter, it becomes obvious that Paul was telling his listeners that since he had been the greatest of sinners and yet, God has shown great mercy towards him, then this should be sufficient reasons for lesser sinners to convert. His conversion was the type of example that touches the heart and reason. There is no arguing that if God could show such great mercy towards St. Paul after all what he had done to the Church, therefore God would surely show equal mercy to other sinners who convert with a sincerity of heart.

Today's reading from the Gospel of Luke [Lk. 15:1-32] also speaks of the mercy of God. In this case, three parables are given to declare to magnitude of the mercy of God. These are the parables of the "Lost Sheep," [Lk. 15:3-7] of the "Lost Coin," [Lk. 15:8-10] and of the "Prodigal Son." [Lk. 15:11-32]

What brought about these parables is that the type of people who were coming to listen to Jesus, the tax collectors and sinners, drew criticism on the part of the Pharisees and the scribes. [Lk. 15:1] they were grumbling because Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them. Poor Jesus, it did not matter what He did, there was always someone complaining about Him.

The first parable of the Lost Sheep that is found in two other Gospels [Mt. 18:12-14; Jn. 10:1-21] echoes the prophecy of Ezechiel regarding the incarnation of God. "For thus says the Lord God; I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flock when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries... I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice." [Ezek. 34:11- 16]

God incarnated in Jesus Christ did not come to save those who were already saved, but rather the sinners who needed to be saved.

The second Parable of the Lost Coin relates to us how valuable we are to God. As the woman greatly rejoiced when she found her lost coin, calling together her friends and neighbours, so it is in Heaven. When a soul has a change of heart and consequently receives its salvation through the grace of God that has been manifested through it, the angels rejoice in Heaven in the Presence of God. God has created so many angels that some of them must have been created just to sing Divine praises upon hearing that a soul has been saved. Alleluia!

The last parable of the Lost Son is also known as the parable of the "Prodigal Son." Again, we see the mercy of God at work in this example. The father had two sons and the youngest of the two wanted his share of the property so he could go and enjoy it. In those days, a father could abdicate before his death and divide his wealth if he chose to do so. [1 Kgs. 1-2; Sir. 33;19-23] So the father divided his property between his two sons. [Lk. 15:12]

Verse 13 tells us that after having travelled to a distant country, the youngest son squandered his property in dissolute living. [Lk. 15:13] In verse 30, the oldest son explains in clear terms how the property was squandered. The youngest son had wasted his property with prostitutes.

Then we heard that when the youngest son ran out of money, he turned to raising pigs and went hungry. At this point, seeing that the pigs were eating better than himself, the son must have stolen his food in order to survive. When his future looked hopeless, he experienced a change of heart. He decided to return to his father and admit to him that he had sinned against Heaven and his person. He was even prepared to be disown as a son and humble himself as a hired hand.

For the son to expect his father to show goodness towards him, he must have had fond memories of his father as a loving and caring man. After all, if his father had been an old grouch, the son would not have dared approach him, knowing that he never would have heard the end of his foolishness. But this was not the case. The love of the father had been instilled in the son, even before he had left or considered returning.

As we heard, the son returned home, the father welcomed him back and his brother resented the treatment that the father gave to his lost son. So upset was the older brother that when he spoke to his father, he would not even call him "father" as the younger son had done. (v. 21) When he spoke of his brother, he referred to him as "this one" instead of saying "my brother." (v. 30) Here we see a son, the oldest one, who thinks he is so holy and perfect while his brother is dirt in his eyes. Woe to those who judge! True holiness and perfection embraces love and mercy.

The Gospel Reading finished with the words, "this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found." [Lk. 15:32] Truly, I tell you, this younger brother was eternally lost until he came to his senses. Before that happened, he had to lose everything he had. That is good! Because had he remained rich to the day that he would have died, he would have gone straight to hell. By the grace of God, He was saved because of his poverty and his suffering. Through poverty and suffering, he experienced a change of heart and obtained the mercy of God.

Like all of the aforementioned, God's people in the days of Moses, St. Paul, the shepherd who lost one of his one hundred sheep, the lady who lost her coin and the father who lost his son, we all have a complete dependence on the mercy of God. Some of us may need more grace and mercy from God than others because we truly are greater sinners. But no matter how great a sinner one is, there is always time to turn back because Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us pray for those who have fallen away from the grace of God so that Divine mercy may reach out to them before it is too late. May their ears be opened so they will hear that Jesus is welcoming them back home.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1EX 32:7-11, 13-14

The LORD said to Moses,
“Go down at once to your people,
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt,
for they have become depraved. 
They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,
making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,
sacrificing to it and crying out,
‘This is your God, O Israel,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’
“I see how stiff-necked this people is, ” continued the LORD to Moses.
Let me alone, then,
that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them. 
Then I will make of you a great nation.”

But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying,
“Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people,
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt
with such great power and with so strong a hand? 
Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,
and how you swore to them by your own self, saying,
‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky;
and all this land that I promised,
I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’” 
So the LORD relented in the punishment
he had threatened to inflict on his people.

Responsorial PsalmPS 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19

R. (Lk 15:18) I will rise and go to my father.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
R. I will rise and go to my father.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
R. I will rise and go to my father.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
R. I will rise and go to my father.

Reading 21 TM 1:12-17

Beloved:
I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord,
because he considered me trustworthy
in appointing me to the ministry. 
I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant,
but I have been mercifully treated
because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief. 
Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant,
along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 
This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 
Of these I am the foremost. 
But for that reason I was mercifully treated,
so that in me, as the foremost,
Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example
for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life. 
To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God,
honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Alleluia2 COR 5:19

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelLK 15:1-32

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 
So to them he addressed this parable.
“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them
would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert
and go after the lost one until he finds it?
And when he does find it,
he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
and, upon his arrival home,
he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
I tell you, in just the same way
there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous people
who have no need of repentance.

“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one
would not light a lamp and sweep the house,
searching carefully until she finds it?
And when she does find it,
she calls together her friends and neighbors
and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’
In just the same way, I tell you,
there will be rejoicing among the angels of God
over one sinner who repents.”

Then he said, 
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them. 
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. 
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need. 
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. 
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger. 
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father. 
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion. 
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. 
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. 
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began. 
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing. 
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. 
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him. 
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns,
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours. 
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”

OrLK 15:1-10

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 
So to them he addressed this parable.
“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them
would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert
and go after the lost one until he finds it?
And when he does find it,
he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
and, upon his arrival home,
he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
I tell you, in just the same way
there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous people
who have no need of repentance.

“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one
would not light a lamp and sweep the house,
searching carefully until she finds it?
And when she does find it,
she calls together her friends and neighbors
and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’
In just the same way, I tell you,
there will be rejoicing among the angels of God
over one sinner who repents.”

Prayers for Today

"Lord Jesus, may your light dispel the darkness of sin, deception, and ignorance, so that all who are lost or confused may find their way to the Father's home and be united with him in a bond of peace and friendship. Transform my heart with your merciful love that I may point many others to the good news of joy and new life which you offer to all who put their trust in you, the Good Shepherd and Savior of the world." 


 Lord Jesus, I believe that you came into this world to redeem sinners. I hope in you, and in your power to transform my soul, by your grace, from sinfulness to holiness. Lord, I love you and offer you the longings of my heart to put you truly first in my life. I want to love you with all my mind, heart, soul and strength.


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Homily

"And thus the paths of those on earth were set right, and people were taught what pleases you, and were saved by wisdom." [Wis. 9:18] One of the Books of the Old Testament that I really enjoy reading is the Wisdom of Solomon. Why? Because when I read it, I replace the word "wisdom" with the words "Holy Spirit." By doing so, I come to perceive a completely different perspective of this Book. I come to perceive the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in my life and in the world.

Today's First Reading from the Book of Wisdom tells us five things.

(1) First of all, we as human beings are very limited in our reasoning because we lack Divine knowledge and understanding. We are limited in our ability of doing things and of knowing the Divine Will of God. When we pray to do the Will of God, we always question if our words and our actions are according to His Divine Will. It is only after years have passed by, when we look back at our lives, that we are able to perceive if we have done the right thing and subjected ourselves to the omnipotent Will of the Lord.

Our limitation in knowing and understanding God is because our earthbound body is a weigh on our heavenward aspirations. "For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent (us) from doing what (we) want." [Gal. 5:17] In other words of St. Paul, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." [Rom. 7:15, 19]

(2) Secondly, God sent the Holy Spirit to give us Wisdom. This verse is prophetic in nature. Written nearly 1,000 years prior to the ministry of Jesus, it echoed the promise of the Lord to send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. [Jn. 14:26, 16:7] Such was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. [Acts 2:1-13]

(3) Thirdly, the Holy Spirit teaches us the way, the truth and the life. [Jn. 14:6] Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would teach us everything, and remind us of all that He has done. [Jn. 14:26]

(4) Fourthly, through the Holy Spirit, we learn how to please God. In the words of Jesus, "The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." [Jn. 4:23-4]

(5) And finally, through the Divine wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we are saved. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are born again. Jesus said, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the Spirit is spirit." [Jn. 3:5-6] Through faith in Jesus Christ and the Church Sacrament of Baptism, we are born again as new creations. We were buried with Christ so that we could be raised from death to walk the new life that we have received through Christ. [Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12] (C.C.C. # 628) "The new creation is everything!" [Gal. 6:15]

Today's Second Reading takes us to the Letter of Paul to Philemon. Through verse 19, we learn that Philemon had been converted through the efforts of St. Paul. Philemon was the master of the slave Onesimus. This slave had runaway and somehow found himself in the company of Paul who converted him. Now, St. Paul was appealing to Philemon's good will to welcome Onesimus back while hinting how useful the slave had been to him.

In today's Reading, Paul begins by referring to himself as an old man and a prisoner of Christ Jesus. [Phlm. 9] In those days, an old man would have been considered around the ages of 50 to 60. In his reference to being a prisoner of Christ Jesus, St. Paul was not seeking sympathy. He may have been hinting of his senior status in the Christian community, possibly even as an "ambassador of Christ." [Eph. 6:20] The introduction of this letter is very important. Paul had to win the heart of Philemon so when Onesimus returned to him, he would not be walking into a hostile environment.

Paul knew that through his letter, he had to spiritually uplift Philemon so that his actions would reflect a Christlike behaviour towards Onesimus. St. Paul most likely had some of the quotes of Jesus on his mind. "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." [Jn. 14:15] "Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me." [Mt. 10:40] "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the last of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." [Mt. 25:40]

As an apostle of the Lord, St. Paul could have ordered Philemon to welcome back Onesimus in love. Rather, he chose to appeal to him in the Name of the Lord Jesus.

In verse 10, Paul stated, "I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment." Imagine the shock of Philemon when he received the letter. Here his runaway slave, that he most likely figured he would never see again, had been led to Christ. By who? By Paul, a prisoner, the same Paul who had converted him.

Here we see the wisdom of God at work. As Philemon was saved by wisdom, (the Holy Spirit,) so was his slave Onesimus. It was no coincidence that Onesimus was saved by St. Paul. It was the awesome and miraculous way of God at work. Both, the master and the slave, had been converted by the same man, but yet in different places and under different circumstances.

In verse 12, St. Paul says, "I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you." In other words, Paul was saying that through the loss of the slave Onesimus, he would be losing something he greatly cherished. It was like losing part of himself. As a spiritual father, St. Paul must have become very fond of the goodness of Onesimus that the Lord Jesus had placed on his path.

It should be noticed here that St. Paul did not condemn or forbid slavery. To the contrary, Onesimus was being sent back to his master. Knowing that both, the master and slave were children of God, Philemon was obligated to treat Onesimus with Christian love. At the same time, Onesimus was obligated to serve Philemon in Christian faithfulness. As such, Paul was not doing an injustice to Onesimus by sending him back.

Also, there is the spiritual law of restitution at work here. In the Sacrament of Confession, the penitent receives a penance for his sins after having been absolved of them. In the case of Onesimus, while the Sacrament of Baptism would have absolved him of all traces of the original sin and those committed since his birth, this did not cancel the debt that he owed to Philemon. As a new Christian who was still a worldly slave, Onesimus was obligated to make right the wrong that he had done as much as it was humanly possible. He was obligated to return to his master and to correct the wrong that he had done to him.

In verse 13, Paul stated, "I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel." These words indicate two things to Philemon. First of all, the service of the slave Onesimus had been commendable. Secondly, Philemon was indebted to St. Paul who was his spiritual father. Since Philemon was not available to assist Paul in his needs, Onesimus was the next best choice. Now, such flattery must have certainly raised the eyes of Philemon. If he was proud of having St. Paul as his spiritual father, which I am sure that he was, how much more would he have been proud to be able to provide a slave to serve an apostle who was known throughout the land.

In verse 14, we read, "but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced." While Paul would have liked to keep Onesimus as his servant, he could not do so without the knowledge and permission of Philemon. Nor could he force his kindness upon him. Whatever would take place in the future, it had to be with the consent of the master.

In verse 15, Paul says, "Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever." While hinting that he would have liked to have Onesimus continue to work with him, St. Paul recognized the master's right to his slave.

Throughout this Letter of St. Paul to Philemon, we see spiritual wisdom at work through the Spirit of Christ. We see "that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose." [Rom. 8:28] Philemon may have been bitter over the loss of his slave. Now he was about to be tested to see how he would welcome Onesimus back. Onesimus may have thought he was gaining his worldly freedom. By running away, he became a slave of Christ, being indebted to the Lord forever for his salvation.

In verse 16, we read, "no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother - especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord." Onesimus was no longer a slave but a brother in Christ, an adopted son of God through the Sacrament of Baptism. [Rom. 8:15] Both, Philemon and Onesimus, as brothers to the Lord Jesus, have come to know their obligations towards each other as master and slave. [Col. 3:22-4:1; Eph. 6:5-9] As a convert, Onesimus was now a better person than he was before. What Philemon was receiving was a greater gift from God than he enjoyed before, not just a slave, but a brother in the Lord. The fear of the slave towards his master was being replaced by love.

In verse 17, St. Paul asked Philemon to welcome Onesimus in the same way as if it was he, St. Paul, appearing at his door. If Philemon regards Paul as a member of the Body of Christ, then he has to receive Onesimus on the same basis. This is not implying that Onesimus should be treated as a member of the family without obligation to perform his duties, but rather that he should continue to serve Philemon by living his faith in Christ.

The message from today's Gospel is "the cost of being a disciple." Such demands total dedication. [Lk. 14:26, 33-5] For some time now, large crowds had been travelling with Jesus. [Lk. 14:25] The time had now arrived for the Lord Jesus to sift those who were truly committed from those who were not. Now was the time to see who was ready to deny himself, even to the point of death for Jesus.

To discern the spirits, Jesus presented two parables. He compared the Christian life to a building project and to warfare. In the first parable, Jesus related that before someone builds a tower, he sits down and calculates the cost. If he does not have enough wealth to finish the tower, in all wisdom, he does not begin the project. Otherwise, the project will come to an end before it is completed and everyone will laugh at the builder. So it is with disciples!

In the second parable, Jesus said that a king going to war against forces that are far more superior than his, must carefully calculate the cost. He must carefully consider his chances of winning the battle. If he does not have any chance or the risk is too high, he must surrender unconditionally. So it is with Christian discipleship. A disciple cannot serve two masters. He must chose to either commit himself or to withdraw himself. He cannot stand halfway between both sides. He cannot be lukewarm, neither cold nor hot. If he attempts to do so, on Judgment Day, the Lord God will spit him out of His mouth. [Rev. 3:15-6]

Counting the cost is a very important factor when it comes to conversion. The potential convert must decide if he will receive the Sacrament of Baptism as a condition of his membership in the Body of Christ, the invisible Kingdom of God on earth. He must decide if afterwards, he will receive the Sacraments of Confession and the Holy Eucharist on a regular basis to maintain his righteousness in the eyes of the Lord God. He must decide if he is prepared to commit his living faith in Christ on a daily basis until the end. He must carefully consider all the factors related to conversion and living one's faith as expected by God and the Church.

A true disciple must forsake all to follow Jesus. He must love Jesus above all others. When Jesus said that His disciples must "hate father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself," [Lk. 14:26] this passage must be taken in context with Matthew 10:37-8. There we read, "Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me."

When Luke refers to a disciple taking up the cross, he uses the words "carry his cross." [Lk. 14:27] The Greek word for "to carry" is "bastazo." This is the same word that Luke used to refer to Jesus carrying His cross to Calvary. [Lk. 23:26] As such, Luke literally expected the disciples of Jesus to follow Him in His sufferings and death.

Finally my brothers and sisters in Christ, true discipleship is to commit onself to a life of self-renunciation. It is to embrace suffering, persecution, obedience, servitude and humility, all for the love of Christ. When such has been accomplished, it can be said that the believer has been saved by wisdom, by the Holy Spirit who has taught him and guided him step by step towards salvation and the eternal Kingdom of God.