And so there’s in the reality of saints first a desire to find people who have lived good lives and say oh let’s remember what they did, and how God loved them, and then try to follow their example. Saint Paul oftentimes talks about making sure you follow my example, and do what I tell you. And sometimes those examples of the saints who ran through many of the difficult problems that we’ve run through in our own life, in our family, in our work, in our spirituality, they can give us that direction. But we must always remember that saints who are alive are part of a wonderful family. That’s what I think of. Just as I know that God is honored when a husband and a wife and a family come together and, and pray together to God, that doesn’t mean that we downplay the one intercessor who is Jesus, but we believe that God loves when families come together… not only families, but when communities come together and praise God.
Well, believing in that, we then take the step of believing that a person who has died and is now with the Lord is not someone who is far off, but united with us through that Holy Spirit in a wonderful life giving way. And so when I pray, for example, to, let’s say, my mom who has passed away, and who I believe now enlivened by the Holy Spirit is in the presence of God. And I believe that the love that my mom has for me up in there, and here in the face of Jesus the one intercessor is one of saying Jesus, please take care of my son.
That’s not in any way taking away the one intercessor who is Jesus, but it’s allowing us to be part of a very beautiful family, of praying together to the one intercessor who is Jesus in a great way. The idea is like turning to someone, for example, here in our own world and asking them to pray for us. I might turn to you and say would you please pray for me? And I believe that your prayers are important, or you might turn to me and say hey, would you pray for me, Father Mike? And that’s what we get in these letters, and I pray for people.
That doesn’t mean that I deny Jesus as the one intercessor, we’re all interceding with one another to the one intercessor Jesus. But we’re forming a community and a family. So when we talk about saints, we’re talking about the reality of God’s love that never, never ends, and the life that never ends, and that we’re called to both the people who are living and those that are in heaven, being part of a, a mystical body, part of a beautiful union of all the saints both here on earth and in heaven, praising God in a great way. I really believe that God loves the fact of many people coming together and praising him. And I think that you and I need to be able to say that with our husband, our wife, our children, our relatives. But we can also say that to our grandparents who are with the Lord now, let us come together and let us pray.
And just as I would ask that you watch over my wife or you watch over my husband, you watch over my children, I believe that the love of those that are in heaven are still interceding for us in a very beautiful way. And it’s for us to continually be open to that, and say yes to that in a good way, you know?
But one of the sacraments that’s also very important is the sacrament of confession, the sacrament also of the word — reconciliation. But the question arises, hmm, why is it that you Catholics have to confess your sins to a priest? Well, let’s try to see if I can give you some understanding of that. First of all, if you read in the bible where Jesus actually is speaking of the church of God being empowered to speak the forgiveness of God. We have this in Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18, and even in the Gospel of John. Remember after the resurrection, and Jesus comes back to the apostles in the upper room, and in the twentieth chapter of John, he breathes on them. And after he breathes on them he gives them the power to forgive sins. He gives them the power to speak God’s forgiveness as a church community. Well it’s nothing more than the church in the sacrament of reconciliation trying to be faithful to that call of Jesus, that we are called to speak the forgiveness that God wants to give to the world.
Now, before I say more about this thing of the priest coming and giving forgiveness, I think it’s important that we remember that whenever we deal with sin, number one is after I’ve committed a sin I need to go to God. I need to turn to God and say God, I’m sorry. I’ve offended you, you’ve asked me not to do this sin, and I’ve sinned against you, and I’m sorry. But have you ever thought that whenever we do commit a sin, no matter what sin it is, it always has an effect on another person. So that after I’ve asked forgiveness of God, I need to ask forgiveness of the person that I’ve offended. But we as Catholics believe that there’s also a dimension, and that’s following this call of Christ to speak of the power of the community to forgive sins. That when I do commit sins, I need to be reconciled with the community that I’ve offended. And so the priest who represents the bishop, who represents the authority of the church speaks in the name of the Christian community, and in the name of God, and brings forgiveness to people. May you be willing in your heart to speak that word to the Father, may you be willing to be reconciled with the people you’ve hurt, and may you also be willing through the sacrament of confession to be reconciled with the community.
Well let’s go back and see what they say here now. It says “But do not call any man on earth Father, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. My, my. Maybe, maybe there’s something wrong with that, of calling me Father.” Well let me say to you my own explanation as to why I think it’s important that we do call me Father.
First of all, I think that as Jesus speaks these words, we must take it in context. Remember he said, “Call no man Rabbi, call no man teacher”, along with calling “no man Father”. What is he concerned about? And then as he ends, he talks about the importance of being a leader who’s continually serving. The use of titles, Rabbi, Father, Teacher, is wrong if somehow those titles raise you up above other people, and somehow make you think that you are better than anyone else. The real call is that there is only one Rabbi, there is only one Father, there is only one Teacher. But that doesn’t mean then that we can’t call a person a Rabbi, we can’t call the father of children a father, nor do we need to be nervous about calling a person who is the teacher in a school a teacher, you know? Because that’s just a designation of who they are.
But as soon as those people start taking on a position of somehow becoming more important than they should, and not really being the servants that Jesus called for from the leaders of his world, that’s where the problem arises. So it’s not the, the calling of a person Rabbi, or the calling of the person Father, or calling the person a Teacher, which are the three things he’s concerned with. He’s concerned with those who use titles to make themselves better than other people.
Now, the term “Father” for me is also a challenge that every time you call me Father, again I must make sure that I’m never trying to say that I’m better than anyone else, but that I, who have chosen a life which is following the words of Jesus of, of celibacy, of not being married. And one of the dangers of not being married is that it can be a free ride if you will, from the responsibility of what it means to be a father. And yet no person should ever do that, that I now as a celibate, not having my own natural children, am now called to have children in my family of the parish, children who are part of the family here of the television ministry that we’re working with. And every time you call me Father, you demand of me that responsibility, that I give of myself just like a good father does when he’s caring for his child, when he’s caring for his wife. That I am continually called to be a person, giving of my time, giving of my talents, giving of my love to the people that I’m with. Think about that, would you?
So that’s my response to why you call me Father. And again, every time you do that, oh you make me responsible for making sure that I take on the responsibility of caring for people as a father. And I am called to make sure, as Jesus says, that in my role of leadership, as a Father, as a celibate, that I am never dominating, I am never Lording it over another person. Amen. I hope that kind of comes to a bit of understanding.
Well let me say to you very clearly that the bottom line is for me and for Catholics, Mary is nothing without Jesus. The greatness of Mary comes from the fact that she is loved by God. Mary is a person needing the salvation that God gives through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. And yet as we read especially through the Gospel of Luke, we find that there’s a special openness of God toward Mary. She’s the one that the Angel Gabriel comes and says, waiting for an answer, Will you become the Mother of the Messiah? She’s given that choice as to whether or not she will or she won’t. And isn’t it marvelous that God loves that much? And then we hear in the beautiful word of Mary, My soul magnifies the Lord. It makes big the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, because God has looked on his lowly servant with love and care, and that’s Mary’s greatness. Not in what Mary does, but in what Mary receives in the terms of grace.
The beauty of Mary is the beauty of one who receives God, who receives Christ in her womb. And it’s Mary who is the one that we look to, to remind us that we, too, are temples of the Holy Spirit as, as Saint Paul says. And may we always live with that confidence of a beautiful woman, loved by God, and in that she is great.
Oftentimes it seems that Catholics give an undue stress to Mary, and I, I must admit that oftentimes when I’m with them they seem to speak more about Mary than they do about Jesus, and that’s wrong. And it needs to be always remembered that Mary is nothing without Jesus, but her greatness comes in the love that God has given her, and we see that in the words that she gives of saying My soul glorifies the Lord. Because the Lord had looked at me in my weakness and in my humility, and has found great things. And that’s the joy of Mary. And it’s the joy that we have in the midst of all of our sinfulness. We too, like Mary, believe that God can still love us. Even though we’ve failed, even though we’ve sinned, God can come to us and love us, and believe in us, and call us to everlasting life. And Mary if you will, is the one that we turn to and look to a beautiful example of something more.
Sometimes we suffer as innocent victims. As we grow old our body causes us many aches and pains. A drunk driver might cripple us. We might contract cancer despite a good diet and healthy exercise.
Yes, we all know suffering whether we choose it or not.
In today’s readings we are reminded that Christ entered into our world of suffering. In his desire to show his love for us, he wanted to make sure that he was a part of our life. He wanted to relate to us in all things. He is with us when we suffer.
Christ’s suffering also is the path to our salvation. Christ suffers and dies. And in this he pays the price for our being able to have our sins forgiven and we can attain heaven and eternal life with God.
In a marvelous way, we believe that we can unite our suffering with the suffering of Christ. In a way that transcends time, our sufferings today, both the suffering we choose and not choose, are united with the suffering of Jesus. Our suffering becomes part of the suffering of Christ for the salvation of all people and of the world.
This means that when you are suffering and wondering what value your pain has, our faith tells us that we can unite our suffering with the salvific suffering of Christ. Our suffering becomes part of Christ’s suffering for the salvation of all people in the world.
St. Paul gives us an insight into this when we wrote in his letter to the Colossians, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.” Colossians 1.24 That means that Christ is relying on us to be part of his suffering and cross. He values our suffering. That means that if we are in bed and all alone with our pain, we are doing something powerful with God. Our suffering is bringing salvation to people. We are bringing to competition the sufferings of Jesus. Our suffering has a mighty value.
As we look to a positive value in our suffering, we must be careful not to fall into inflicting suffering on ourselves merely for the sake of suffering. We read of some Christians who do harm to their bodies, they whip and scourge themselves. I don’t think this is proper. We can inflict enough suffering on ourselves merely by trying to live the Christian life and bearing the persecution that’s involved.
God is anxious that we bear fruit in our lives. We have all been entrusted with gifts from God. God wants us to cultivate trim, water and let the fruit of our talents to affect the world in which we live. God has made an investment in us. He’s empowered us. He expects results.
So many of us are satisfied with just getting by in our lives. We don’t strive for excellence. Developing our talents means a big expenditure of time and energy. We’re lazy. On top of that, we run the risk of being rejected, misunderstood and laughed at as we develop our talents. Perhaps it’s easier to just get by in life without causing too many waves.
Also we can claim to develop our talents but be doing so for the wrong reasons. I might have a talent for leadership but use that talents to dominate and enslave others. I might have a talent for healing but use that talent mainly to gain money. The development of talents that I’m talking about is aimed to enhancing and enriching the lives of others.
If we sincerely want to follow Christ, we can’t be satisfied with the mediocre. His call is a tireless call to strive for perfection in the use of our talents to care for the needs of others.
We can get a handle on how effective we are in cultivating our talents by looking at four different situations in our lives:
1. In evaluating the fruits of my talents, I first look at my personal response to the development of my talents. Am I willing to grow? Do I risk using my talents? Do I strive to discover talents I didn’t know I had? Do I see the fruits of my talents?
2. Are my talents affecting my family, the people with whom I live? Is there more peace, honesty and joy in my family because of the talents I’ve brought to fruit?
3. Are my talents affecting in a good way the lives of the people of my parish? Am I a person who attends Mass each Sunday and passes on my weekly donation? Is that the extent of the fruit of my talents? How is the parish affected by me? Is it better because of me? Are people growing because of me?
4. Jesus had a definite world vision. He didn’t restrict his mission to people who attended synagogue. He taught and ministered to lepers, sick, alienated and forgotten. He reached out to Jew and Gentile, male and female, rich and poor, holy and unholy. We must use our talents not only to affect our family and church, we should also strive to touch the lives of people outside of our comfort zone. We should allow the fruit of our talents to touch the lives of the vast majority of people who don’t go to church. We do this by allowing the fruit of our talents to be tasted by people in schools we attend, businesses where we work, and the stores where be shop. We are expected to bring the fruit of our talents to all the people who are so close to us around the world through telephone, email, radio and television.
5. We are called to feed ourselves, our family, our parish and our world with our talents. We are called by Christ to help usher in the Kingdom of God with the use of these talents.
I’m better than you!
I think that the most dangerous and destructive words we can say to another person are, “I’m better than you are.” These words whether spoken or implied cause division, racism, prejudice and war. I can either succumb to the words and be defeated or I can begin to fight to prove that I’m better than the speaker.
Whether we succumb or fight back we awaken in our hearts a deep insecurity. We are terribly frightened that the world will know of our fearful failure.
This situation arises because we are living in a world where being number one is the goal of all relationships: sports, business, education and even marriage. Men and women, rich and poor, educated and not educated, country between country and especially religion between religion. Striving to be number one is deeply ingrained in our way of being.
The only way to get out of this battle with peace is to surrender to God’s love for us. Once we surrender and know that God loves us, we have the strength and courage to let go of the contention and divisiveness. We can relax in God’s love and know that that is all that we need for peace. We don’t have to prove ourselves to anybody. With God on our side, we can do all.
The problem is that we find a surrender to God’s love very difficult. We know of our sinfulness and failures. Sometimes God’s love is so difficult to accept. But if we can let go and believe in God’s love for us, we have the confidence to let go of the threat of “I’m better than you are.” and not react negatively.
Rather than react negatively to the “I’m better than you” threat and we can relax. We can even be foolish enough to support the purported greatness of the other. With God’s love for us as a foundation, we can build up others who threaten us.
I believe that God is reaching out to each of us at this moment with His love. All we have to do is say “Yes” to it and then let the contention of the “I’m better than you.” world slip away.
Jesus told a story about a man giving his servants some money. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand and to a third a thousand. The man left on a journey and returned. He was happy to learn that the ones with five and two thousand doubled their money. The one with the thousand played it safe. He didn’t risk passing the money into the hands of an investor who might lose the whole thing.
The man giving out the money was upset with the one who played it safe. He favored the riskers.
We can take the lesson that the Lord wants us to develop our talents: playing the piano, singing, speaking, studying, building… All these talents are good to increase. I was thinking of another talent we should make grow- the people with whom we live. Husbands should consider themselves responsible for fostering the grow of their wives in their many talents. Wives should do the same work with their husbands. Parents should do this fostering of grow with their children. And children should work on fostering growth in their parents and brothers and sisters.
What are some of the things we can do to foster this growth in those who are close to us? Listening is vital. Encouraging dreams, praise, giving direction and offering a milieu of freedom.
What a key to a successful marriage and family if each member strove to help develop the talents of others. That’s a powerful challenge from the story of Jesus.
A Catholic who speaks of tradition distinguishes between sacred tradition and human tradition. God reveals sacred tradition which will not change: for example, in the trinity there are three persons in one God. On the other hand, human traditions can change: for example the Mass can be said in Latin for four hundred years and then be said in vernacular languages.
Regretfully, many Catholics like me were not raised with love and appreciation for reading the Bible. In my own home we didn’t read the Bible, and in grade school I had only a cursory exposure to the sacred Book. When I went to Mass, the Scriptures were read in Latin, and I followed along with a book that had an English translation.
In the 1940s Pope Pius XII opened the Bible to study by Catholic scholars in a new way. He asked them not always to interpret the Bible literally. He wanted them to ask some very basic questions as they read God’s word: who wrote what, under what circumstances, when, where, and why? He thought that scientific inquiry into the cultural background of the Bible would help to plumb the depths of the Bible’s true meaning.
This opened a floodgate of interest among Catholics in the study of the Bible. Twenty years later, when the Catholic bishops from all over the world met in Rome for what is called the Second Vatican Council, they put a new stress on individual reading of the Bible and group study.
With the Mass now in English, the readings for daily and Sunday Masses were organized so that over three year cycles, Catholics can hear most of the Bible read at Mass. Priests were called on to preach each Sunday on the Scriptures and to offer at daily Mass a homily based on the Scripture readings.
When I was in the seminary, I studied the books of the Hebrew Bible and then read the New Testament many, many times. In my last years of seminary, I had four years of intense Bible study.
Today a Catholic parish that doesn’t have a Bible study group is more and more an exception.
Catholics believe that salvation is a free gift from God. When Jesus died and rose He paid the price for our sins. That salvation is a wonderful gift. I receive that gift by an act of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This gift is not something that I can earn. It’s outright free. But now the question arises, “Do I have to do anything once I have that gift?” Well, of course. The gift from the Lord requires a response. We must love and worship the Lord. We must care for His people. The parable in Matthew 25 speaks of works of love for the poor as a key to attaining salvation.
Back in the 1500’s Luther got very upset with the Roman Church over the issue of Indulgences. Catholic leaders were selling indulgences that gave the buyer a guarantee that he or those for whom he bought the indulgences, living and dead, would be freed from the punishment their sins had incurred. In many ways
Luther was correct to object to the practice of selling indulgences as it was carried out in his time. Indulgences in themselves are really quite beautiful. They come from the store of loving acts of Christ and members of His Body. For example, if someone you love is suffering right now with arthritis or cancer, for a Christian, that suffering is not wasted or meaningless. It is united with the sufferings of Christ in a way that transcends time. That suffering can now be applied to help a struggling person perhaps on the other side of the planet. The help comes in the form of grace.
One of the clearest explanations of this power of human suffering comes from the words of St. Paul to the Colossians 1.24: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church.” Indulgences speak of the power of our suffering being united to the suffering of Christ. The Father unites our suffering with those of Christ and brings the grace of salvation to people around our world today. Indulgences speak of the value that God places in our suffering. What a beautiful gift.
The granting of indulgences sometimes lost its deep spiritual significance and was merely a means of manipulation and a way of gaining money. The impression for some was that the Church was saying that salvation could be bought or worked out by prayer or mere human effort. We can never do anything that would merit our salvation. Still, given this gift, we must strive with all our power to be as worthy of this love by loving God and our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Because you and your wife share the life of the Holy Spirit which you received at Baptism, your souls are alive with God. That is her life even though her body is in the grave. She’s alive. I don’t think that love ends. I think your love is enhanced by her presence with the Lord. I believe that she’s asking the Lord to watch over you in a special way. This is her way of loving communication.
When you both are in heaven, you will continue with that vital life of the Spirit. Your love will grow in the presence of love itself.