Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ordinary 29 Thursday

A priest from Nepal, once shared with me his amazing conversion story. Born and raised a Hindu, Fr. Silas Bogati became involved with the American “hippie” drug scene of Katmandu in the 1970’s. He was headed down the wrong path until he was introduced to Jesus Christ by a street preacher.

Fr. Silas was ultimately was ordained the first native-born Nepalese priest. But his conversion came at a terrible cost. When he became a Christian, Fr. Silas was shunned by his Hindu family because, according to the caste system, he had become an “untouchable.”

Many of the earliest Christians, who were Jewish, experienced much the same thing, because when Jews became Christian, they were expelled from the local synagogue and effectively cast out of their families. Jesus’ words in today’s gospel about divided families spoke directly to their situation, and to their pain.

However, these early believers must have been consoled by the fact that by following Jesus they received a new family: the Church, a family of brothers and sisters in Christ, united not by blood ties, but by the unbreakable bonds of the Holy Spirit.

The same is true today. We Christians, throughout the world, are one big family. And in a world full of broken families, families separated by great distances, and those who have no families, this reality should fill many people with inspiration and hope.

The task for us, however, is to act and live as if we are family. In our parish communities, we need to work at being welcoming, friendly, and inclusive. We need to serve one another, respond to one another’s needs, and challenge, support, and pray for each other. In short, we need to make our parishes feel like family to attract those who are looking for a new family to call their own.

(My new book of daily Advent devotions for 2014, the latest installment in The Living Gospel series by Ave Maria Press, is now available: )

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ordinary 29 Wednesday

Legend has it that a traveling pilgrim once found St. Francis of Assisi cultivating a row of beans in his garden. The pilgrim asked Francis, "What would you be doing right now if you knew this was the last day of your earthly life?" St. Francis smiled and replied: "I would keep on hoeing this row of beans." Francis was so at peace with the Lord that the prospect of meeting him didn’t change his daily plans one bit.

However, if someone were to us the same question, what would we do?

   Would we rush to tell certain people that we loved them, especially those we hadn’t told in a while?
   Would we run to church; grab our rosary; make an act of contrition?
   Would we apologize to someone?
   Would make a hasty donation to charity?
   Would we start refining our excuses?
   Would we weep with regret? Would we be afraid?
   Or, like St. Francis, would we be filled with peace?

As today’s gospel reminds us, our Lord will return at “an unexpected day and at an unknown hour.” Therefore, Jesus calls us to be watchful and prepared, so that we aren’t caught by surprise. In other words, we should live each day in expectation of meeting our Lord. So that when he does come, we can welcome him with joy.

(My new book of daily Advent devotions for 2014, the latest installment in The Living Gospel series by Ave Maria Press, is now available: )

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ordinary 29 Tuesday

If we were to conduct a poll and ask people about what they imagine heaven to be like, chances are that many would offer a description that sounds a lot like a celestial Club Med- you know, people lounging in beach chairs under palm trees, sipping fruity drinks.

In all fairness, this imagine isn’t entirely off base, because in heaven we will indeed receive rest and refreshment. However, this image is also one-sided and incomplete, because in heaven we will give as much as we receive.

Think of it this way: In our fullest Christian understanding, heaven is a place- if we can call it a “place”- of perfect love. And perfect love, as Jesus has revealed it, is expressed in service to others, in selfless self-giving, as in “greater love has no one than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends.” We’ll receive this love in heaven- from God, the angels, and everyone else who’s there! But you and I will return this love, too.

Jesus hints at this vision of heaven in today’s gospel. He spoke of his return in glory by telling a parable of a master’s return from a wedding. And upon his arrival, what did the master do to his faithful servants? He got on his knees and served them! The servants were still servants; they still served the master. But the master served them too. And that’s what heaven will be like; mutual, loving service- both given and received.

As you and I await the return of Jesus our master, he calls us to live lives of loving service- service to him, service to each other- in order to “practice” for heaven, and to bring a little bit of it, here to earth.

(My new book of daily Advent devotions for 2014, the latest installment in The Living Gospel series by Ave Maria Press, is now available: )

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ordinary 29 Monday

Economists tell us that 35% of our nation’s wealth rests in the hands of but 1% of the population. In contrast, many Americans struggle to make ends meet. It would be easy to conclude, then, that Jesus’ story about a rich man with a vast surplus of wealth is directed only to a small handful of people. Most of us might wipe our brows with relief and think that we’re off the hook! However, we can’t forget that Jesus prefaced this story with a warning about the dangers of greed. And greed is a temptation that anyone can struggle with. “A person can be materially poor,” taught Pope Benedict, “yet his heart can be full of greed for wealth.”

A quarter century ago, Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping proclaimed: “To get rich is glorious!” Many Americans would happily agree with this claim. But not Jesus. “One’s life does not consist of possessions,” he warned, and to store up treasure for oneself is to become poor in the eyes of God.

In Jesus’ parable, God asked the rich man, “The things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” Jesus might just have well has said, “You can’t take it with you.” Until that moment, the rich man thought that he “had it made.” He could “eat, drink, and be merry” for the rest of his days, enjoying a life of leisure and luxury. But then he learned that what we take into eternity is not our cash, but our character. It’s not what we have that counts, but who we are. And God will hold us accountable, not just for what we do with any wealth we may have, but even our attitudes toward it. Our Lord makes himself quite clear: The way of selfishness and greed is the pathway to death; but the way of simplicity and generosity is the gateway to life.

(My new book of daily Advent devotions for 2014, the latest installment in The Living Gospel series by Ave Maria Press, is now available: )

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A cartoon I once saw featured a boss speaking to his staff. “Honesty may be the best policy,” he said, “but it’s not our company policy.” And while it may be funny, this cartoon reflects the sad truth that lying in our society has reached epidemic proportions. For instance, newspaper headlines speak of corporate scandals, fraudulent accounting practices, and insider trading. In schools today, surveys have shown that a majority of students cheat on tests or download research papers which they try to pass off as their own work. Job seekers pad their résumés with fake or exaggerated information. Car odometers are rolled back, expense accounts are padded, and spouses fib about how much they spent on that new dress or set of golf clubs. A recent university study revealed that a quarter of people’s “most serious lies” related to an affair. And considering that Jesus in today’s gospel spoke of the need to pay one’s taxes, it needs to be said that tax cheating is all too common.

           Jesus gave this teaching after he had been approached by his opponents. They said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” The irony is, when they said that they believed Jesus to teach the truth, they were lying through their teeth. In a sense, all of us can relate to this experience of our Lord, because all of us have been lied to. And let’s face it: We’ve probably told a few lies ourselves.

            People tell lies for all sorts of reasons. In our highly competitive society, , lies can help one gain an advantage over others and stand out from the crowd. And if everyone else is doing it, that makes it all the easier! Some people lie to get their “fifteen seconds” of fame- like the guy a few years ago who made up the story about witnessing one of the sniper attacks.

            Other people, seeking revenge against someone they believe has hurt them, may start a vicious rumor. Some experience a thrill from lying because it gives them a feeling of having power over others. It’s not uncommon to lie in order to avoid punishment. You may remember Susan Smith, who in 1994 strapped her two boys into her car and then sent them into a lake to drown. If you recall, she tried to stay out of trouble by going on TV, saying her sons had been kidnapped, and pleading for their safe return. Finally, low self-esteem can lead some to exaggerate or even make up accomplishments or achievements, in order to feel better about themselves or impress others. For instance, phony war stories allow people with feelings of inferiority to be linked with the virtues of loyalty and courage.

            Most of us believe that we do what we do for good reasons and with honest intentions. Therefore, when we lie, it’s easy to rationalize that what we’re doing is justified or even the right thing to do. We can think things like: “Nobody’s really getting hurt, so there’s really nothing wrong.” Or “I cheated on taxes or insurance- but only to get the money I rightly deserve.” Or “If everyone else lies on their resume, I better do it too so I won’t lose that job offer I want.” Or “If I told the truth about the way I feel, we’d just get in a fight and things would become even worse.”

            As Christians, however, we are called to honesty and truth. This doesn’t mean that we have to be a bull in a china shop. We do need to be prudent and discrete in revealing the truth, because we don’t want to needlessly hurt or antagonize others. And this doesn’t mean that everyone has the right to hear the truth from us. To give an extreme example, no one would have to tell the Nazis where a Jewish family was hiding.

            Nevertheless, God insists that we be honest people. As we all know, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” is one of the Ten Commandments. Indeed, God himself is truth, Jesus his Son reveals the truth, and they have sent the Holy Spirit of truth into our lives that we might walk in the truth and bear witness to it. Any lie, then, is really an offense against God himself.

            Honesty and truthfulness are also requirements for justice and are essential for a civil society. “Men could not live with one another,” wrote St. Thomas Aquinas, “if there were not mutual confidence that they were being truthful to one another.” This is because lies always hurt those around us- even when we think they don’t.

            In addition, Jesus has promised that the truth will set us free. It will free us from having to cover our tracks, live with shame and guilt, and the fear of our lies being discovered and exposed. The truth will liberate us to take off our masks and just be ourselves. It will also result in better relationships, less stress for ourselves, and less anger from others.

           There is a cost to being honest! We may lose that job offer to the person who lied on their resume. We may have to “face the music” for something we’ve done or accept the reality of who we are, and not who we’ve been pretending to be. Our co-workers may resent us, because as one human resources expert has said, “employees who operate honestly and ethically often inspire anger, guilt, and resentment (from others).” Maybe we’ll end up with less money than we may have had if we’d fudged our tax returns. Nevertheless, we’ll be blessed with the assurance that God smiles upon our honesty, and we can unite our suffering with those of Jesus upon the cross.

            As Mother Teresa once wrote, “If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

(My new book of daily Advent devotions for 2014, the latest installment in The Living Gospel series by Ave Maria Press, is now available: )