26th S. 2020: Respect and Obey

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary time, September 27, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

Today’s Gospel hit close to home for me because I’m a man with two sons, and they’re old enough now for me to lean on them to do quite a lot around the house. We actually have a list: do the recycling, take out the garbage, pick up dog poo…And then my wife gives them chores: clean up your room, make your bed, dust and wipe down the baseboards… I must say, we are very blessed to have two boys that, for the most part, do their chores without grumbling or complaining. They are respectful and obedient, for the most part…

A child’s willingness to obey has been a struggle since the beginning, and in our society today, it is difficult to teach obedience to any authority at all–especially toward parents, it seems. Scripture, though, is full of verses that teach the importance of obedience toward parents. Honor for father and mother is the 4th commandment, and it begins the commandment to love thy neighbor. You remember that Jesus summed up all the commandments in only one: Love God and Love your neighbor.

It’s important to note that love of neighbor, the Great Commandment of Jesus, begins with honoring one’s parents. We honor our parents when we do two things: Respect and Obey. When a parent teaches respect and obedience to their child they train that child in respect and obedience toward God. Ephesians 6 reads, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Parents have a right to expect obedience!

Jesus certainly knew this commandment well when he told the parable of the two sons that we heard today. The crowd easily recognizes that it was not the son’s words that mattered most, but whether or not he actually did the father’s will. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.

But if you could imagine a continuum from bad to best on the obedience scale, I don’t think either of these sons is really doing all that well! I’m glad when my sons do what I ask, but I definitely wouldn’t want defiance to go along with it! What I expect of my kids, what I think you have every right to expect from yours, and what God expects from us, is that we say, “yes” and do what is asked. That’s respect and obedience. 

Out of respect we do not argue or defy our parents, and out of obedience, we do what we’re asked/or told. I don’t think parents are asking too much here! The Catechism, paragraph 2214 begins the Church’s teachings on the duties of children, and paragraph 2221 begins the duties of parents. The church teaches that respect for parents begins with a grateful heart: an attitude of gratitude. Quoting the book of Sirach, we read, “Remember that through your parents you were born: what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?” (2215) The answer, of course, is, “nothing.” But respect and obedience is a good place to start.

This teaching does not apply only to children and their parents. It applies also to all those who exercise the authority that God has given them. The fourth commandment includes extended family, honor and affection toward elders and ancestors, and even includes “pupils to teachers, employees to employers, subordinates to leaders, citizens to their country, and to those who administer or govern it.” (2199) Teachers, employers, and government leaders are experiencing a shocking amount of disrespect!

I think we all have a lot of work to do in this regard. There is far too much disrespect in our culture today. In the 1960s the most popular show on T.V. was Father Knows Best, and by 1980 it was Married with Children with Al Bundy–a clown to his family, who endured ridicule, disrespect and outright defiance–and America loved it. Now we’re dealing with it.

When respect does not begin in the home, it does not extend to law enforcement, nor local and national leaders. We don’t always have to agree with their decisions but each of us, all of us, can show respect and Christian charity to those who govern, whether we voted for them or not. As a Marine, my duty was to serve the Commander In Chief–whether I voted for him or not. I served him and his office with honor and respect.

As adults we want respect and obedience from our children, and rightfully so, but if we’re not modeling respect for leaders, not obeying legitimate laws and lawful leaders, if we are not caring for and providing for our own elderly parents, then we are acting hypocritically. Respect and obedience applies to adults too.

Paragraph 2218 reads, “The fourth commandment reminds grown children of their responsibilities toward their parents. As much as they can, they must give them material and moral support in old age and in times of illness, loneliness, or distress.” A very difficult teaching indeed for those charged with the care of the aged. So much patience is required.

St. Paul gives us the secret to respect and obedience. Listen to this, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory: rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others. Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.”

We have a lot of work to do. Our country has a lot of work to do. It starts with selflessness, humility, Christian charity, and a Christ-like attitude. All of us need to get over ourselves and show some respect and obedience. We must stop acting like dictators and start acting more like disciples. Amen?

25th S. 2020: Ordination Sunday

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary time, September 20, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

On this 25th Sunday in Ordinary time, I must say that today is no ordinary time for me! You may have heard that by God’s grace, I was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese of Stockton today/yesterday. So, it’s my first homily–be gentle! 

Today Isaiah admonishes God’s people in the first reading. He gives us advice that transformers lives, leads to holiness, and vocations to serve God. He says, “Seek the Lord, call him, forsake wicked ways and thoughts, turn to God for mercy.” 

For many years in my life, although I went to church, I made no real commitment to seeking the Lord nor forsaking wicked ways. I think a lot of us, both inside and outside the church often do the same, but God has so much more planned for us. 

But I am excited to say, God’s grace and mercy are always much stronger than sin. I remember a cartoon I used to watch as a kid, where a cat, painted like a skunk was endlessly pursued by a skunk who was absolutely in love with that cat! The cartoon was called Pepe Le Pew, you might remember it. And like Pepe’s pursuit of his beloved, so it is with God and us. God desires us, pursues us, calls us, and ultimately, transforms us, and then the world through us.

The Gospel today reveals the persistent landowner that never stops seeking workers for his vineyard. He goes out from morning to evening calling on all who might enter his field to work. And so it is with God. God calls some to His service very early in their life. Some hear God’s call in their 20s or 30s, and some not until they have children and grandchildren. And some only hear God’s call as death knocks at the door.

But whether early or late, the lover indeed seeks his beloved, and our response is the indication of our love in return–we must enter the field. We must be willing to work. It’s no wonder that the kingdom of God is compared to a bunch of guys looking for work! The lazy need not apply. Generosity is hard work. Patience and love are hard work. Being a priest, a deacon, a sister, a husband or wife, a mother or father…listen, it’s hard work! 

What do we think? We want the riches and rewards of eternal life with God, but we think it’s not going to cost us anything? That’s the problem with a society that gives something for nothing, that rewards without putting in the work! This is not what Jesus teaches us and it is not, nor has it ever been, the Chrisitan message. Our salvation is an amazing gift, bought at an incredible price–it cost the Son of God his life. And to follow him we must be willing to offer him our life in return, to work in his vineyard, to proclaim the kingdom of God. 

It is my honor to work in this field of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish. I look forward to serving you and serving alongside you in the years to come. May God bless you abundantly. 

The ordination was live-streamed at 10am and was be put up on the Diocesan YouTube page. Below is the link.

Diocese of Stockton Ordination to the Order of Deacons, September 19, 2020, St. Stanislaus Parish, Modesto, CA.

24th S. 2020: Let Go

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary time, September 13, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Sirach tells us today, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” In the course of my job as the AP at Crowell Elementary School, and even when I was the Dean at the Junior High, I would often get students in my office who had said hurtful things, were angry with each other, and who may even had been in a physical fight. 

As the students enter my office, I make sure that they are going to be okay in the same room together, and I sit them in separate corners, not far apart. Then I find out what’s going on and how this all started. With eyebrows low one refuses to talk, and the other almost always says, “Well, we used to be friends but…” As the student tells his or her story, I interrupt to make sure I understand, ask questions of each of the participants, and act as though this is the first such instance that has come into my office. 

Buffoonery is a big part of this experience too. As they share I act the fool–stuffing chips in my mouth, being silly, exaggerate parts of their story and the like. In short-time both former friends are laughing with each other, they notice how hard, unforgiving, and unloving they had become, and they both acknowledge their share in the problem that eventually ended up in my office. 

As they smile and laugh I invite them to apologize for the wrongs they have done, and to forgive each other from the heart–they do. I invite them to see how much better it feels to laugh and smile than to be angry and hate. I tell them that humans are not made for anger and hatred, but love and unity. That’s why it feels so good to laugh and forgive, to love and to be loved. I invite them to stop hugging tightly to wrath and anger and hateful things, and to forgive their neighbor’s injustice. They don’t know that they’re following the teachings of Scripture, but they do experience life, love, and communion with God and neighbor that we’re made for.

Sadly, adults are not different than children and are much better at justifying our anger, holding grudges, and refusing to forgive. Maybe because adults are much stronger (willed) than children, we hug more tightly, but in the end, the truth is the same–if we want to experience life and love, unity and peace, we’ve got to forgive our brothers and sisters from the heart. We will not find forgiveness and peace if we are not willing to grant forgiveness and make peace. 

In my experience, an unwillingness to forgive usually stems from pride. We have been mistreated or maligned in some way and we are hurt. Our dignity has been impounded and we’re not going to let others treat us in this way. But the problem is that holding onto the anger adds to the mistreatment, our own self-inflicted pain, anxiety, and suffering. Like a cow chews the cud, we continue to chew on the pain, burp it up again and again, never swallowing it and never letting it rest. As Sirach says, “Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin!” We must forgive to find peace.

Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. Seven is the number of perfection in Scripture. Peter offers to forgive what seems perfect. Jesus invites him to forgive perfectly…to perfection. It isn’t about the other person at all, actually. They are perfectly forgiven, but our forgiveness doesn’t make them perfect, it makes us perfectly perfect. 

We find peace, life, love, and levity when we forgive. God died to forgive sins, and when we forgive we die to ourselves and live like him, with him, and for him. As St. Paul says, “Whether we live or die we are the Lord’s.” It is not easy to forgive, and some people just never seem to stop needing forgiveness! 

But if we remember that we too seek forgiveness from God and God never tires of forgiving us. And Jesus died to forgive my sins and is only asking me to be willing to forgive others in return. And that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily change others but it does change me. And that the only goal I have in my life is to be more like Jesus and this is an opportunity to do it. Then I might actually look forward to opportunities to be merciful and forgiving of others; opportunities to be like God.

As I live out each day, I might be far more willing to forgive, to show mercy and kindness to the worst of sinners, and even to sacrifice my own will and die to myself so that others might live. Sound familiar? Let’s try to be more like Jesus by forgiving others from the heart this week. Amen? 

A reminder that on the 19th of this month, I and six other candidates will be ordained to the Permanent Diaconate. The ordination will be live-streamed and put up on the Diocese of Stockton YouTube page and Facebook page. Below are the links for both.

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC06T0lUeTI-MBotrlWKIXJA

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StocktonDiocese

Also, on the 19th after my ordination, I will launch my new website, www.thecatholicdeacon.com. I’ll be posting there in the future so you’ll want to check that out next week when it launches and add your email to follow my posts.