7th S. 2020: Know Your Dignity

Today’s reflection is for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 23, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This post continues the theme of “The Holy Family.”

I’m always saddened to hear about parents who abuse their children; verbally, physically, emotionally, or otherwise. It is such a contradiction in the order of things. It is quite clear to me that those who do not know their own worth will act as though they have none at all, and will often treat others the same.

All of our readings today point to the dignity and value of a person, not for what they have done or have failed to do, but simply because they are. What a beautiful thought. In a world that measures a person’s worth by accomplishments and/or wealth, the gospel teaches us that we are valuable because we are a child of the most high God. We have been created a masterpiece, filled with dignity and grace. Period. End of the story. Amazing.

It’s our inner amazingness that demands an outward expression. To fail in this regard is to fail to image God, in whose image we have been created, and whose temple we have become. Said in another way, we are great not because of what we do, we do what we do because we are great! St. Paul heard that the church in Corinth was not living up to their full Christian dignity—rivals, divisions, factions, arrogance, selfishness, idolatry, and revelry. He just assumes this can only be because they have forgotten who they are. He asks, “Brothers and sisters: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

Similarly, Moses is commanded by God, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” God is not saying to “be tall because I am,” or be fast, or be funny. God is saying to be holy—something all of us can be, because we are created like Him and by Him, and that’s what He is, and that’s what all of us can be if we choose to be so. We must make the decision each day to be like Him.

And this is the primary role of parents, of course—to be examples of who we are as Holy Children of God, who live and treat others with the dignity and respect that each of them deserves as God’s child as well—whether they know it or not, we do.

That starts in our home and is also lived out in the world. Children look first and foremost at their parents to understand who other people are in relation to themselves. If parents berate each other, insult others, dismiss, or ignore others then children quickly learn and do the same. They are taught that others are of less worth or less dignity than ourselves—and if that is true, then the scriptures and our faith is not. Far from worthless, we are worth-full!

EVERY person is created in the image and likeness of God and has worth beyond imagining. The homeless, the incarcerated, the theologian, the millionaire, the teacher, democrats, republicans, and the list goes on. Any given person (our children and ourselves included), at any given moment may not be living in a dignified and holy way, but they possess dignity and value nonetheless—because it is a gift freely given by our generous God. It is not something earned, but something received.

This is why the cycle of violence must end with we who know. As the Gospel teaches, we don’t take an eye when someone takes an eye, that would make not one but two people acting unholy and in undignified ways. When someone who does not know your worth, who does not know that you’re an amazing child of God strikes you on your cheek or takes your tunic, we cannot reduce ourselves that level of ignorance! We know better! We cannot act in an unloving way toward God’s children! We know who they are. We know their great worth—even if they don’t! We don’t act in kind when mistreated, we seek to educate through patience, long suffering and perseverance.

Thank God for great teachers who help children each day to know their own worth. So many of our students come to school dirty, in dirty clothes, without socks, with uncombed hair filled with lice—such a sad condition. If only someone had recognized the Christ in the infant Jesus the holy family would never have been thrust into the manger. Our teachers, holy people and holy parents, help people—and especially their children—to know their greatness, who help them see Christ present, and to respond to the greatness that is in them.

This is why Jesus commands us to, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The violence that is within us, and the cycle of violence within the world will not end by those who do not know, it can only end by people who recognize the dignity in the whole of humanity. And the violence toward the earth, whose stewards we are, will only end when we realize and take responsibility for the fact that the earth does not belong to me, but to the children of God in every generation. Let me never squander it.

May holy families always pray first. At bedtime each night think to include those that day who acted harshly toward us or others. Pray that God can use us to help them to see. In that way, we grow in holiness, recognize the holiness in others, and like Jesus, help to open the eyes of the blind that they too might see, and that we can see more clearly too. Amen.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

17th S. 2020: Wisdom Matters

SolomonToday’s reflection is for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 26, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Last week we heard about a wise landowner that said to his workers, “Don’t pull up the weeds, you’ll wreck the wheat! Let them grow together and we’ll separate them later.” In today’s Gospel we hear about a net full of fish that is separated when brought to shore. Sacred Scripture, the Church, and Jesus himself, are very clear, there is Heaven, there is Hell, and there will be Judgement—eternal separation. We said it during the Creed right after the homily, “He will come again in glory to Judge the living and the dead.” Do you believe it? We better.

The church is very clear about this, “God predestines NO ONE to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God is necessary, and persistence in it, until the end.” (C.C.C. 1037) God doesn’t want anyone of his children to be separated from Him for all eternity. That’s why he sent us Jesus! “God so loved the world that he gave his only so that all who believe in Him might not perish but have eternal life.” (JN 3:16). But we have to want it. We have to want Him. More than anything else, we have to want God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

We have to be like that guy in the Gospel today, who found a treasure buried in a field, or like that merchant who found an amazing pearl. They both made getting that treasure the only thing that mattered in their life; their number one priority…and they got it. They found both peace and joy. And so can we.

Solomon was given one wish from God. “Ask for anything you want,” God says, “and it’s yours!” If you had but one wish from God, what would it be? Just for a moment, think about that, if you could ask anything of God, really, what would you ask for? Fame? Fortune? Health? A mansion? Salvation for you and your family? No more credit card debt? I might or might not ask for a lifetime supply of sunflower seeds…

But honestly, would you even think to ask for wisdom, like Solomon, so you could make good decisions to govern yourself and your household wisely; to govern your community or the Church wisely? Wisdom matters. St. Aquinas taught, “Among all human pursuits, the pursuit of wisdom is more perfect, more noble, more useful, and more full of joy.” The truth is, with Wisdom, you get everything else you’ve ever wanted, or you might realize that what you’ve always wanted was the last thing you need…like a lifetime supply of sunflower seeds.

Well, have no fear—for all of us who think ourselves wisdom deficient, know this, we’ve already got it in spades! That’s right, the only thing that Solomon wanted, we’ve already been given, and six other gifts of the Spirit as well! Remember the seven gifts of the Spirit that we received at Baptism and were strengthened at Confirmation? Knowledge, Understanding, Wisdom, Council, Fortitude, Fear of the Lord, and Piety.

The gifts of the Spirit sustain us in our moral life. They help us choose the good in the concrete, real situations of life. The gift of wisdom makes us able to see the value of the pearl, to find the treasure, and the discipline to sell everything else to get it. The Church teaches that these gifts of the Spirit are permanent, and open us up to following the prompting of the Holy Spirit (C.C.C. 1830) that calls us to both desire and to do the good.

Judgement will happen, but fear not, we have all the help we need to stand tall in the end. The only question is will we be wise enough, in this life, to know God’s will, wise enough to choose it, and strong enough to do it?

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

16th S. 2020: Weeds to Wheat

weedsToday’s reflection is for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 19, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Before we get started, I’d like you to think about or come up with a few of the more famous Bible characters—that God chose as his very own, to advance Salvation history—Old Testament and New. Did you come up with Moses, King David, St. Matthew, St. Peter, or St. Paul? We’ll get back to them toward the end.

Last Sunday we saw the generosity and love of God in the Parable of the Sower. God spares no expense in distributing his Word to the whole world. This week we see that even in that good soil that Jesus spoke of, we end up with weeds. Let’s take a moment today to look at some weeds in the world, some weeds in our community, and the amazing power of God.

Now is the perfect time in this area to see some “weeds among the wheat,” though not wheat of course, it’s corn-growing season. Just on the way to Mass today I passed a number of corn fields. Every one of them had both weeds and corn. And so it is with people in our world.

Imagine that the field Jesus talked about today is the whole world. That would mean there is a field with approximately 7.8 billion plants—some weeds, some wheat. Who are the weeds? They are those who seek to rob us of our joy, of our treasure, and maybe even our life. Weeds are those who violate God’s commandments, have no respect for themselves, nor fear of God. Scripture refers to them as evil-doers. They lie, they cheat, they steal. They use profanity, get drunk, do drugs, vandalize communities, and scandalize their families.

And who are the wheat? The wheat are those who live God’s commandments to love Him and their neighbor. They worship, pray, fast, sacrifice, and give generously to those in need. They are kind to others, use kind words, are quick to give praise, and slow to anger. They do not drink to excess, uphold the law, and raise their children to respect authority and to grow in holiness. That’s awesome!

Wouldn’t it be just amazing if there were no weeds at all? Imagine for a moment what that world would look like. That would be a beautiful world indeed. As Jesus’ disciples, we strive, with God’s grace to create that world, but how? In the parable today, with great zeal, the servants, upon realizing there were weeds in their master’s field, offered to go out and rip them out! But the Master, who represents God, says, “no, let them grow together, and at the end of time the weeds will be separated and burned.” What?! Live together…with the weeds!

Like it or not, the message is clear: while on this earth, there will be both evil doers and lovers of God. There will be some who create and raise up, and there will be those who seek to destroy and tear down…and that’s just the way it is. It’s the way it has always been, and clearly, God is just, and will deal with evil doers, and they will receive their punishment—count on that. Hope on that. Believe that.

But I believe there’s a bit more to the story. Do you know anyone who is all bad, or even anyone who is all good? I certainly don’t. I know a lot of people who live in a way that is contrary to God’s law, but there is still good in them. Similarly, I know a lot of Church goers and God-lovers, who more often than they would like to admit, keep poor company, are selfish with their wealth, have a negative attitude, do not pray, receive the sacraments regularly, nor love as they ought. It doesn’t really seem as simple as weeds or wheat. In fact, it’s almost as though each of us are still a little bit of both.

In this very community, look around (okay, don’t look around), there are none who are pure wheat—myself included. This parable is not just about the state of the world, it’s about the state of the Church. And some of God’s servants, motivated by their love for their master, would seek to purify the church. Tear out those whose actions and attitudes are not those of the Lord’s, but if that were to happen, who would be left? Would you still be here? Would I? And this is the miracle of God, that God is the great transformer. God transforms weeds into wheat. That’s amazing!

From the moment of our conception, born into sin and into a world of sin,  through baptism we are healed one step at a time throughout our life. Eventually, and over time, we respond to God’s invitation and begin to grow in holiness. And this is the amazing gift of God, and the reason that we do not uproot the weeds—we are the weeds…but also the wheat. From the moment of our birth God is transforming us and saving our soul.

From the Psalms today, “Lord, turn toward me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant.” And so, we who are sinners and weeds have reason to hope. God is at work in us, transforming us, and saving us. Our destiny is not for the burn pile, but for the barn—the glory of heaven.

Moses was a murderer, King David an adulterer, Matthew a tax collector, Peter a denier, and St. Paul a killer. And yet they are the heroes of our faith, the wheat in God’s field. God is in the business of transformation—in us, in the Church, and in the World. So be gentle and loving this week, and see in every weed, the wheat that God sees and loves. We do not pull weeds, we pray for transformation of souls. Amen?

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.