Today’s Thoughts: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” These words of Pope Francis seem to find life in our Gospel reading today. In the Gospel (Luke 14:12-14) Jesus asks us to think and act not just within our comfort zone but to think and act outside it. We are challenged by both Jesus and Pope Francis to walk out into a bruised, hurting and dirty world and to celebrate life with the people we find there.
This is not an easy challenge. It takes guts, it takes selflessness, and it takes the ability to love. As Jesus puts it to the Pharisee in our Gospel today it takes a humble regard for others, seeing them as important as ourselves. It takes a community effort with no one person being more important than everyone else. It takes the ability to offer generosity without any quid pro quo!
Pope Francis’ constant theme is for the Church to be a Church of Mercy. he has asked us to find dignity in each person and to invite all to God’s banquet. The challenge today is to ask ourselves, do we find dignity in each person we meet and are we willing to journey with them to God’s banquet?
Have a great Monday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: In today’s Gospel we meet one of the most recognizable characters in Scriptures - Zacchaeus. And once again, we experience the Great Reversal theme in Luke’s Gospel that we have been hearing about throughout the summer and fall. Today reversal – the lost will be found! Today’s Gospel is the continuation or second half of last week’s Gospel. It is another story that emphasizes Jesus’ invitation to forgiveness and newness of life.
Zacchaeus has some struggles. He is small. He is a tax collector for the occupying Roman Empire, which means he takes money from the Jewish people, his own people. He himself is rich, which puts him at odds with his neighbors. In a strange way on the one hand, he is, by being small, below others, but by his occupation, he has made himself above others. In our story he climbs a tree to just catch a glimpse of Jesus who was passing that way. Zacchaeus literally puts himself above his neighbors, but at a safe distance from Jesus, not wanting to be seen or encountered. The story tells us that Zacchaeus put himself in a position to see, but it is Jesus who sees him first.
In the previous chapter, (Luke 18, 26) there is a big question about who can be saved. It follows the story of Jesus’ invitation to a young man to leave everything to follow him and the man could not do it, because of his many possessions. In our Gospel today Jesus’ decides to stay at the house of Zacchaeus. We might say that the result of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus is that tax collectors and all kinds of sinners can be saved if they allow themselves to be seen by Jesus.
Jesus does not say anything about conversion or forgiving sins. He doesn’t tell Zacchaeus to give up his day-job, or his fortune. Jesus simply says that he desires to stay with this socially unaccepted person. In other words, he desires to know and be in a relationship with Zacchaeus. For Zacchaeus this means his life is going to change because Jesus has helped him see his dignity. He slides down the tree and welcomes Jesus joyfully. He also realizes that his life needs to change. He offers half of his wealth to the poor and is willing to fulfill the Jewish law of repayment by repaying those he may have overtaxed. Luke has Zacchaeus do what the man in the previous chapter could not do, he gives of what he has in order to help others. Thus, we might say an encounter with Jesus is a call to conversion; Jesus meets us, and the hope of this encounter is that our life changes, that there is difference in our actions.
The Gospel continues with the grumbling bystanders making a prophetic announcement: “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” The story ends with Jesus restating his mission of seeking and saving the “lost”.
This is central to Luke’s presentation of Jesus. Jesus is the One who came to see and find Zacchaeus, who like the Prodigal Son, was lost and is now found. Jesus has come to take up residence with us.
I often wonder about all the people whom Jesus finds, forgives, heals, - how did they live the remainder of their lives, how did their lives change? Each of them had a past that they live. They had to live with their histories. People knew Zachaeus, they know who and what he was before his encounter with Jesus. He lived among his Jewish townsfolk from whom he had collected taxes and they knew him as wealthier than perhaps he should have been. Zacchaeus himself had to live with himself as well. This is not easy for any of us to do either.
The message for us today is that God’s forgiveness is not a legal arrangement, but personal invitation that hopefully changes our lives. God desires that we live free, free from the past, free to encounter and live a hope filled future. Once we have encountered the forgiving touch of Jesus out task is to extend it to others. We are invited by grace to offer forgiveness to those we encounter who are seeking God even though we may know their sinful pasts. The Apostle Paul had his sinful past; St. Augustine had a sinful past as did many of the people we call saints today. But like Zacchaeus they were invited to climb down from their trees of inferiority, of struggle, of distance in order to meet Jesus, and that made all the difference them – and so it can for us too.
Have a great, holy and blessed Sunday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." These words from the end of our Gospel today (Luke 14:1, 7-11), seem to be the center of what Jesus is trying to teach. Humility leads to success and respect. However, in our world today that is often not the case. How flamboyant, outrageous, bigger than life, and self-centered a person is offers them the place of honor.
If we think for a moment about where our success comes from the answer we might come to is others. God has given us our gifts and talents. Parents, family and significant other people in our life have helped us develop and hone our gifts and talents. Still others have given us opportunities to use our gifts and talents. Yes, we have had a lot to do with our success, but we always have help along the way.
That is why we always need to be grateful and humble. If we look at our life honestly, we can see how much we owe others. We also can see that we have failed and if it wasn’t for others picking us up we would never reach the positive successful moments in our life.
Another reason for humility is that God’s unearned love is always there for us. It is a gift that we can never earn, but one God’s is always willing to give to keep us going. Thus, to live life humbly means to acknowledge our dependence on God and others and makes a part of the human family, the Body of Christ and the Kingdom of God. Living humbly makes it possible to hear the words at the end of our life, “Well done, good and faithful servant, come share my joy!”
Saturday blessing to all!
Today’s Thoughts: As we celebrate the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude today, two apostles, two friends of Jesus, the thoughts I would like to offer you today come from one of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor. Barbara writes about what it means to be a priest. Her thoughts have given me food for thought recently and so I offer them to you today.
“...a priest is someone willing to stand between a God and a people who are longing for one another's love, turning back and forth between them with no hope of tending either as well as each deserves. To be a priest is to serve a God who never stops calling people to do more justice and love more mercy, and simultaneously to serve people who nine times out of ten are just looking for a safe place to rest. To be a priest is to know that things are not as they should be and yet to care for them the way they are.”
We might say that St. James and St. Jude were members of a group of people who stood between God and his people. They certainly were people who knew that things were not the way they should be and yet cared for them the way they were. Thanks to their journey with Jesus.
I hope I live up to what it means to be a priest most of the time. I know at times I do fail and I pray that my failures do not hurt others or keep them from God. I do know that things are not as they should be and I hope and pray that I do care for all the way they are!
Have a blessed and holy Friday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: I have to say this morning that our scriptures today are not my favorite. What I struggle with are the images that they present to us. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians uses the image of a soldier dressed for battle. The soldier has his or her shield, sword, armor, and is ready to do battle which for St. Paul is against the forces of evil. This kind of imagery comes to us throughout the scriptures, Old and New Testaments. But I must confess it is the imagery that I have the hardest struggle with. I don’t see my life as a battle. I don’t see faith as a shield. I don’t see myself wearing armor.
I have never desired to be in the military. I am not a physical fighter, never been in a physical fight and I have always struggle with the militaristic imagery in the Sacred Scriptures. I know I am in the minority and perhaps would be consider unamerican by many, but that is how I feel about life and live my life.
I cannot provide for you any better images of life than what St. Paul does. I certainly understand how he has come to use these images after all the culture of his time was a constant physical struggle to survive, war abound. Perhaps our present days are no different. We do face “rulers of this present darkness.” The image of a soldier doing battle with life, with evil, with the devil I assume works for most and it is certainly imagery that many in our Church depend upon even today. But not me!
I look upon life as a journey. Perhaps because I am a runner, I look upon life as a marathon. Life presents us with the challenges of work, of home, of neighbors, of relationships and other things that surround us externally, we are also confronted with many interior thoughts and feelings that enter our hearts making life difficult and a struggle. As we sort through them, we come to know that some are not of God and they do not lead us to God.
Yes, St. Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians gives us practical advice. We are to rely on faith. St. Paul says it is a shield, but I prefer the image that faith is an energy, a spirit, a grace that helps me to continue the journey, that helps me to run the race, that helps me power through the struggles, that helps me overcome the obstacles, that helps me stand true when threatened by the presence of evil. Jesus never put on armor, held a sword, entered into battle.
It is my friendship with God, with Jesus, with the Spirit that helps me confront the feelings of fear and thoughts of I am in over my head, my feelings of aloneness and thoughts of no one understands. I am sorry for my reflection today if you find doing battle, being a soldier for Christ, putting on your armor of good and carrying the shield of faith inspiring images for your life. As I have said above I do not. I will continue to run the race of life and trust that the water and nourishment stations will be there when I most need them and that more importantly, I do not run alone.
God’s word challenges us today: “In all circumstances, hold faith as a [grace, a spirit, an energy for the journey of life].”
Have a holy and blessed Thursday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: “Let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice; turn to the Lord and his strength; constantly seek his face.” This is the entrance antiphon for today’s mass, and I must admit I do not often pay attention to the entrance antiphon. Some parishes where I have celebrated daily mass will always stand and read the entrance antiphon as I enter others do not. I have to say I rarely even read it. Yet at I was praying with today’s readings earlier this morning my eyes stopped at this entrance antiphon because I think in a few phrases it captures the essence of our readings today.
In our first reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul reminds the community at Ephesus where their faith begins and ends, in Christ. St. Paul tells children, fathers and slaves how to go about living their life. They need to be grounded in Christ. St. Paul challenges children, parents and slaves to seek the face of God, of Christ in all that they do.
In the Gospel Jesus is confronted with questions about who will be saved, and his answer is that to be saved is a hard journey which is not always predictable. Entering the Kingdom is fraught with many challenges and what is necessary is strength. The best way to find and enter through the narrow gate is to trust in the presence of God in life and to draw upon the strength we are graced with through our friendship with God. For Jesus it is all about the lens we look through in life. Do we see things as the world invites us to see things or do, we see things as God asks us to see things?
If we chose the world’s way of looking at things the road is wide and easy, but the end leaves us outside in the cold. If we chose God’s way of seeing things the road is narrow, difficult and challenging but in the end, we will find ourselves safe and warm in the Kingdom.
We do not make this journey alone we make our journey through life with the gift of Christ presence with us. St. Paul tells his community to let go and let God as they journey through life. With God as our Father, our Master there is no partiality, no favoritism.
So let us be a community, a Church of joy because our hearts seek the Lord; let us rely on God for strength for the journey; let us constantly be focus seeking, seeing the face of God in all we do today!
Have a blessed and holy Wednesday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: “What is the Kingdom of God like? To what can [we] compare it?” We might say that these questions have been asked over and over again down through history. We are always trying to figure out what the Kingdom of God is like. What does Heaven look like?
We are always trying to compare it to what we know. Even Jesus does it today in the Gospel (Luke 13: 18-21). Jesus uses two images out of nature to teach us about the Kingdom of God. He compares the Kingdom to a mustard seed and yeast not exactly what I would compare the Kingdom to but Jesus has a reason for picking these two examples. He compares the Kingdom to a mustard seed and yeast because they are things in nature that are alive. They are growing, ever changing. The Kingdom of God is ever alive growing and changing.
St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans today, images God’s Kingdom as “hope”. It is something that we cannot see, and we wait for it with patient endurance.
Our challenge today is to look around at the people, places and things of God’s creation that are a part of our lives and be thankful for them. When we ask the question what is the Kingdom of God like, to what can we compare it? All we need to do is look around because the Kingdom of God in alive in our life.
Perhaps Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ said it well when he wrote: “By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and molds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, when in fact we live steeped in its burning layers”
Or maybe Thomas Merton said it a little differently when he wrote: “When we are alone on a starlit night, when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children, when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet, Basho, we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash - at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the "newness," the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, all these provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance [a glimpse of the Kingdom].”
Have a blessed and holy Tuesday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: Reflecting on our readings today a rather famous line in a Robert Frost poem came to mind – “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
It has been said that Robert Frost intended the poem as a gentle mocking of indecision, particularly the indecision that Edward Thomas had shown on their many walks together in England. Frost later expressed chagrin that most audiences took the poem more seriously than he had intended. However, those last few lines of the poem which I began this reflection with have over the years come to reflect for many the challenge of living life whether Frost meant it that way or not.
Both Jesus and St. Paul are confronted by two roads, two paths to travel in our readings today. For Jesus it is to heal or not to heal on the Sabbath. For St. Paul it is to be compassionate and forgiving or the road of immorality, impurity and greed. We might say that they both choose the road, the path less traveled and for us that has made all the difference.
Our scriptures challenge us to look at the decisions we make in living our life of faith and how often the choice of the road, the path that is less traveled can make all the difference. Like our world today, St. Paul challenges the Ephesians to consider the roads they are walking down. Are they buying into the world around them, a world of immorality, impurity and geed or are they willing to walk the path of God’s presence, the path of compassion and forgiveness, the path of love. St. Paul asking the Ephesians and us to consider the road less travel by the world because it will make all the difference in our journey of faith, in our relationship with God, it will make us Children of the Light!
Jesus is confronted with a woman who has been crippled by a spirit for many years. Jesus responds to her with mercy and compassion and moves to heal her. The only problem is that it is the Sabbath. Yet for Jesus it is the road of healing, mercy and compassion that he takes and that makes all the difference for the woman, for those watching, for the religious leaders and for us.
If we truly believe the response of our responsorial psalm today – “Behave like God as his very dear children” – then when we are often confronted with two roads on our journey of faith, do we have the courage to take the one less travel because most often it will make all the difference? It will be the road where we will find God, ready to heal, ready to help and that certainly will make all the difference!
Have a blessed and holy Monday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: In our Gospel today, it is important to notice to whom Jesus’ parable was offered. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, the usual suspects and all others who are convinced of their own righteousness and spend more time affirming themselves by judging and reducing others with false, but self-flattering comparisons.
The first person in the parable happens to be a Pharisee and he gets up close and personal with God and prays to “himself”! This is the very word Jesus uses to express how self-centered and self-righteous this person is as he pretends to pray. He spends quite a bit of time being grateful that he is not like the rest of humanity, greedy, dishonest and adulterous, and he is thankful that he is not like this tax collector standing in the back of the temple. He then recites and recalls how he does the rituals of fasting and tithing. He is the perfect person of faith or so he thinks.
As I have often referred to over the last several months as we have read Luke’s Gospel each Sunday, Luke often uses a little literary device, called the “Great Reversal.” Luke presents things upside down and the usual becomes unusual. Jesus’ ways are contrary to worlds ways. As the story continues, we have a tax collector who stands at a safe distance from God and reflects on his imperfection, his sinfulness. He prays, not to himself, but to God and with words reflecting his truth.
Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Peter, the first to be called, came close to Jesus and asked Jesus to depart, because he, Peter, was a sinful man. Jesus didn’t deny that truth but didn’t deny Peter either. Jesus’ call Peter to follow him in his sinfulness. In today’s parable, Jesus stays consistent. He sends the tax collector out of the temple justified in his humility while the Pharisee seems to stay there all wrapped up in his self-righteousness.
Jesus is catching the attention of both the self-righteous and the self-condemning. Jesus is blessing the truth, but obviously not the sin. He is challenging the former concepts of legalistically based holiness. Jesus is consoling those who know their truth of fallenness and faithfulness at the same time. It can be assumed that both men will be back in their same positions; one patting himself on the back, the other kicking himself a little bit lower. Being forgiven and sent forth does not mean perfection. It does seem that the Christ-right person will return begging for and again receiving healing and mission. It does take the grace of humility for us to be missioned by the sacrament of Reconciliation knowing full well that we will be coming back for more and new healing graces for our recovering from the old fractures. Jesus is never ashamed of us, bored with us, fed-up with us. Jesus doesn’t change in what we call time. God’s love is ever-lasting, always new and always transforming with the opportunity to transform our lives if we dare.
Have a blessed, holy and joyful Sunday everyone!
Today’s Thoughts: Seeing Jesus to be a wise person, people ask him to help them understand the meaning of some recent catastrophes—Pilate’s slaughtering of some Galileans in the temple precincts and the death of eighteen people crushed under the collapse of the Siloam tower. Were these people singled out for catastrophe as punishment for being extraordinary sinners?
No way, says Jesus, opposing the popular view that bad things only happened to bad people. Then Jesus takes the occasion of their questions to make the paradoxical point that they themselves will suffer catastrophe if they do not repent. To understand what he means, we only have to read further in this chapter to the place where he speaks of the disaster of being locked out of the banquet of the kingdom of God (Luke 13:24- 30).
The parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6- 9) speaks about a fresh chance. When the owner of the orchard wants to cut down the unproductive fig tree, the gardener urges him to allow a little more time: fertilize it a little more, and maybe it will produce fruit. If we look at this story from our perspective at this moment in time we might say that Jesus is telling us that we still have the opportunity to act as people of faith and realize that the command to love our neighbor (even our enemies) requires that we voice our convictions regarding what our country, does in our name.
In responding to the Gospel means that we always need to examine our conscience on the matter of justice, respect, fairness and compassion and that we communicate our values and conscience to those who lead us. Our faith calls us to always find Christ even in the most difficult of moments and situations. The tragedies of life are often difficult to explain that is why faith is so important.
Have a holy and blessed Saturday everyone!
Fr. Paul R. Fagan, C.P. "Preacher on the Run"
Just a few thoughts to help you on your journey through life...let me know from time to time what you think...