10.23.22 30th S. Homily: Compete Well

Today’s homily is for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 23, 2022, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily is here.

In today’s second reading the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, his coworker in faith. St. Paul is on house arrest and is nearing the end of his life. In his love for Jesus, and his desire to share the Gospel, he was beaten multiple times, arrested multiple times, nearly lost his life in a shipwreck, and had found himself in jail multiple times. It is from his jail cell that he writes what was probably his last letter to Timothy around 67A.D. 

He writes, “Beloved: I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me.” I think those are probably some of the most beautiful and important words in scripture. Shortly thereafter, St. Paul was beheaded under the Emperor Nero. He competed well. He finished the race. He kept the faith. The crown of righteousness is his. 

It’s helpful, I think, to know where St. Paul is coming from, however. Over a decade earlier, at the beginning of his ministry, from the city of Ephesus, St. Paul wrote the first letter to the Church in Corinth. St. Paul challenges the Corinthians with this truth in the ninth chapter, verse twenty four, “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.” Run so as to win, he tells them. He uses Roman Olympic athletes as the example of necessary Christian discipline, perseverance, commitment, and long suffering, sacrifice, discomfort. He tells them, “Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should lose the prize.” What St. Paul worried most about was the horrible thought that salvation might not be his. 

St. Paul’s advice to the Corinthians is to stay focused on the prize. Our every action should be filtered through this one lens–is this helping me advance the kingdom of God? Is this thought or word bringing me closer to salvation? Is this purchase giving glory to God and his kingdom? Do others hear Jesus, see Jesus, and experience the love of Jesus when they see me at home with my family, at work, or in the world? 

I attended TMIY, That Man Is You, at All Saints yesterday morning. What came out of the discussion was a greater awareness that too often in this life I seek comfort first. I want a better car, better shoes, better house, comfortable living, warm showers, creamer in my coffee, and dessert– always dessert! I’m afraid that my desire for comfort will keep me from bearing my cross–crosses are heavy and demand much of us. Too often we run aimlessly–without passion or purpose; we fight as if we were shadow- boxing with no real enemy. We do not drive our body nor do we train it, and we never even for a moment fear that we might lose the prize of salvation. We need to get our mind right. We need some holy fear. We need to be a lot more okay with discomfort if we have any hope of receiving the prize of salvation.

Is it any wonder that we start Mass by beating our breast in humble recognition of our failings, like the tax collector in the Gospel? We’re not proud. We’ve got no claim on God. He doesn’t owe us anything. We just  confess to God and to each other that we have sinned, in our thoughts, words, actions, and even in-action. It’s no one’s fault but ours–no one to blame but ourselves, and we need help from Mary, the angels and saints, and everyone here. Pray for me to get my priorities straight, to stop being so lazy and comfort seeking. To get up each morning and pray. To serve to exhaustion and give to the point of poverty. To compete well, to finish the race, to keep the faith. The Crown awaits, but only those who persevere to the end will be saved. Run so as to win. Start today. Our departure could be close at hand. There’s no time to waste. Make things right today. 

10.16.22 29th S. Homily: What We Need

Today’s homily is for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 16, 2022, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily is here.

Have you ever gone through some papers or emails you thought were so important at the time, but now as you go through them, you realize they weren’t as important as you once thought? I get hundreds of emails a day and most I read and get rid of, some I file into folders, and some are action items that stay in my inbox until I complete them. As odd as this may sound, this is a very healthy way to approach prayer as well. 

Our first reading shows the power or the effectiveness of prayer, and the importance of a couple good friends. As long as Moses had his hands raised up in prayer, the victory was theirs—but if his hands dropped, they would begin to lose! Lucky for Moses, Aaron and Hur were there to help him keep his hands raised to God! We need to keep our hands raised to God in prayer—and we should be encouraging each other, maybe admonishing each other, but certainly supporting each other, because clearly, prayer matters to God, and to us. As St. Ephraem the Syrian said, “Do nothing at all unless you begin with prayer.”

We should pray often, St. Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing!” (1 Th 5:17), like the widow in today’s Gospel. She had nothing to offer the unjust judge–only her cries for justice. He didn’t care about anyone or anything, but she kept going back to him time and time again to ask for what she wanted. And Jesus raises her up as an example for all of us. Jesus is telling us, God never tires of hearing and responding to the needs of his children. Even in the Lord’s prayer Jesus taught us, are seven petitions. God wants us to ask. We must learn to pray without ceasing. 

Sometimes I wonder if God hears my prayer at all though. Maybe you feel that way too sometimes. There are times when I lift my hands up to God, pray without ceasing, and still–only silence. It is during these times especially when I lean on the teaching of Evagrius Ponticus, a monk who lived in the middle of the third century. He said, “Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask him; for he desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to him in prayer.” Isn’t it possible that I might be praying for the world, but God has the universe in store for me? Or maybe that I’m praying for peace in this moment, but God desires my peace for eternity? 

We often cry out to God for things we think we need, or experiences we believe we should have—but the truth is that our vision is so narrow, clouded by sin and desires for earthly things and we think only of those things that will bring us pleasure or gain, without thinking how my want effect others, or even that my sacrifice or suffering my bring about transformation far greater than I might achieve with answered prayers!

The church teaches that when we pray, it is the heart that is first transformed by our petition (CCC 2739). God wants to bless us but more than anything he wants to transform us. God wants to widen our vision. God wants to deepen our love for him and our neighbor. And the more we love and as our vision is broadened and deepened, the more we may come to realize that our prayers, while pure, ultimately fell short of the great plan God had in store for us. 

So God wants us to go to him in prayer. He wants us to be persistent and constant. He wants us to raise our hands to him, and to gather friends around us in prayer on behalf of the world and ourselves, but more than anything, God wants us to be with him forever in heaven–that’s the goal. As I get older I reflect back on my prayers, and they’re sort of like going through those old files or emails that I thought were so important at the time but now are easily discarded. Thankfully God knows our future, he knows what we need, he wants us to ask for what we want, but he only gives us what we need for salvation.

10.2.22 27th S. Homily: Right Relationship

Today’s homily is for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 2, 2022, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily is here.

Today the apostles say to the Lord, Jesus, “Increase our faith.” I’m going to humbly submit that if the only prayer we ever prayed was this one, it would be the only prayer you would ever need. This is the perfect prayer of petition, “Lord Jesus, increase my faith.” 

What is faith? We have the profession of faith, articles of faith, teachings of the faith, and George Michaels sings that you gotta have “faith, faith, faith.” In the Catechism, paragraph 142, we read that the invisible God addresses us as friends, and the adequate response to this invitation is faith. And in 143 we read that by faith we completely submit our intellect and will to God. This is called the obedience of faith. In Romans 4:3 Abraham believed God, was strong in his faith, and became the father of all who believe.” But what is faith? 

Mostly when I ask, “What is faith?” I hear things like, “To have faith is to believe,” as the catechism teaches, or “to have faith is to trust.” I’m going to ask you to think about the other non-religious ways we use the word faith because I think that would be helpful. Have you ever heard of a “good faith estimate,” or to act, “in good faith.” These uses of the word faith speak of relationship. To act in good faith, is to act in right- relationship. No shenanigans here. A good faith estimate was traditionally given when buying a home. It lays out all the costs that are included in the total cost of a home. It says, “I’m on the up and up. We’re good. You have my word.”

Stay with me here…you see, belief and trust are not synonyms for faith, I am suggesting that they are products of faith. Faith itself is our relationship with the unseen God. And because I am in a relationship with God I trust in the promises of God and all that God has revealed, and I trust that God has my back at all times, and I have peace in this life because the God of the universe is my friend. We’re good. That’s why Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for, and evidence of things unseen.” 

To have faith is to finally have what our heart truly longs for heart–to know and be in relationship with its creator. That’s what Saint Augustine taught, “Our hearts were made for you, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” That’s faith. And faith is the evidence of things unseen. One of my students once called me years after having him in class. He asked, “Mr. Valgos, how do you know that God exists…and don’t say faith!” I said, “Raymond, that’s how you know. When you are in a relationship with God, there can be no doubt about God’s existence.”

If we had even an ounce of faith there is nothing we couldn’t accomplish. We are so far from God. We have so little, and such weak faith. We sound like the prophet Habbukuk, “I  cry for help but you do not listen. Why do you let me see ruin? Why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me.” We claim to be people of faith but we forever doubt God’s love for us. We doubt God’s power over the universe. We allow sin to triumph over us, we forget or don’t make time to pray, and we do not adequately support the ministers and ministries of the Church. And as if that were not enough, we then start to talk about what we deserve. We want gold stars. We want to be recognized.

Jesus reminds us what our attitude should be, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” If we knew the greatness of God, if we had any faith at all, if we had any idea, we would never doubt, never boast in ourselves, and never stop worshiping God–that’s faith. “Lord, increase our faith.”