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THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2019

Passing through Western Nebraska, it is not uncommon to drive by a dilapidated farmhouse surrounded by a few straggly trees. Once a pride and joy for a family, one can imagine a whitewashed home with gingham curtains showing through well-washed shiny windows. In the yard suspended from one of the trees hung a swing where the children played after finishing their daily chores. On the clothesline hung sheets drying in the bright sunshine. Behind the house, a garden grew rows and rows vegetables. Nearby chickens scratched the dirt, and a milk cow chewed her cud. In our minds, we can see an idyllic scene filled with safety, enveloped by the warmth of fire, food, and family.
Now, however, there only an empty house of a dreary gray weather-worn color. A moaning wind blows through the broken windows rattling the loose clapboards. This derelict of a home is even more troubling to look at, for at one time within these walls resided the optimistic promise for the future. Now there is the only discomfort as one only sees a loss of hope in this desolated, rotting structure. No longer can one feel consolation or security in this bleak scene. In our lives, the promise of a safe and comfort is one of our greatest desires.
Therefore, when Jesus, in today’s Gospel, describes the days before the Last Judgment, we are filled with anxiety and feel defenseless. How can we combat disruptions that nature hands us, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, droughts, and volcanos? How successful have we been at halting wars, poverty, famines, and plagues? Our ability to control these aspects of our lives leaves us in distress. Jesus tells us that as time progresses, we will experience more threats to the comfort and security we desire.
Jesus is reiterating to us that the earth is not our paradise. He is reminding us that the buildings we build of wood, stone, and steel will not last the winds of time. He is stating that no action of humans can alter the events of nature. Jesus is telling us that humans alone will not resolve the strife between countries and people. He is confirming that when we live without God in our lives, our human capabilities will fail.
In recognizing the forecast of gloom and doom predicted for this world, it easy to take up the thought of despair. It may seem that we should give up and stand on a street corner with a placard reading, “The End is Near,” awaiting death. If we do this, then we are deceiving ourselves, for we have lost hope in the power of God.
Maybe we have lost hope if we are not listening to the whole meaning of Jesus’ predictions. While the end of the world will certainly happen, that does not mean that Jesus has left us to our own devices. Lest we forget, Jesus came to earth to establish a New Covenant. God’s love for us is so great that he sent his only Son who became man bringing us to salvation. This everlasting covenant is the promise that God will always take care of his children. Therefore, in no way has the Lord walk away from us even though the world seems to be gasping its last breaths.
Instead, Jesus tells us to have faith, to persevere in following the Word, although evil will continue to pursue us. Even if we profess our allegiance to Jesus, we should still expect to encounter many woes in proclaiming ourselves Christian. Civic leaders may persecute us for our refusal to deny Jesus. We may find ourselves in prisons because of hatred for our Christian beliefs. Even family and friends may turn against us when following Jesus becomes our greatest desire in life.
Jesus reminds us that we are to live our faith, confident that he knows of our love for him and our neighbor. He tells us that we should not be concerned about those that threaten us. They may kill us for our dedication to Jesus, but they cannot destroy the comfort and security we feel being in his presence. He knows of our faithfulness and perseverance, so that even though we may lose our life in his name, but we will be rewarded with the promise of eternal life where no one will ever harm us again.
Safety and comfort are desires we often dream of as we continue to encounter the violence and suffering in this world. The evils of this world often leave us fearful when it seems almost impossible to endure one more event that shakes our faith. However, even in the deaths of what we hold as dear in this life, following Jesus will bring us into the everlasting love of God.
Enduring in faith regardless of natural and man-made disasters will win for us eternal life. Enduring in our efforts to pray from the depth of our hearts will enable us to come to know God’s will. Enduring in our persistence to live our lives in the presence of God, will enable us to love him and our neighbor. “By your perseverance, you will secure your lives.”

THIRTY-SECOND SUNDDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 2019

What words would you use to describe heaven? No matter the words we use, we would fail in giving an accurate description of God’s paradise. The reason is that we reference everything from what we have seen or imagine as perfection. However, that is the problem, for we have never encountered perfection, nor will we until we encounter God in heaven.
Therefore, whatever we perceive here on earth is not the experiences we will have in heaven. Jesus is trying to explain that to us in the Gospel today when he responds to the Sadducee when asked which of the seven men will be the woman’s husband in heaven. Jesus, in his response, tells us that even those things we cherish the most on earth, for example, marriage, will not be retained in the same way in God’s Kingdom.
The understanding of spousal relationships, which is among the strongest that we know will be nothing to the interconnection we will have between all souls in heaven. For married couples, this is hard to imagine. For much of their lives, they have communicated the most personal feelings from depths of their hearts to each other. However, Jesus tells us that even the bond of marriage is nothing in comparison to what we will discover in heaven.
For spouses who have lives so closely together and for so long, this pronouncement by Jesus seems very frightening. After being together here on earth and then idea changing their relationship in heaven does not appear righteous. The love that two people had throughout their lives is a love that they expected to have also through eternity, together forever.
Jesus is well aware of the intensity of the spousal love that couples have, and he does not deny the quality of that relationship. As the spouses will discover, upon entering heaven, God’s love will not fail them. In the showering down of God’s love upon the couple, they will know a more intense love than happened during their earthly existence.
Keeping in mind that the Lord never does anything to harm us, then our death may not seem quite so frightening. When a loved one dies, the loss of physical connection is unbearable, all the while there remains connections that do not disappear. Memories of events, of smells, of touch, and his or her voice expresses a love that cannot be erased by death. God knows of that love and will allow us to reunite at our death. After we enter God’s Kingdom, death will never again lead to the separation of a loved one.
This reuniting of loved ones in heaven is not reserved only for spouses. Parents and children and friends, all of God’s faithful, will also experience the joys of heaven. The possibility of eternal separation of parents from their children is a heartache that many parents know. Parents may question how they failed in their efforts to religiously educate their sons and daughters when their children fall away from the Church. These parents continue to struggle with the horror of their children not being able to enter heaven because off their indifference to the faith. Therefore, a universal prayer that erupts from the hearts of a parent is, “Help my child to return to the Church so that they may experience the joy of heaven.”
That is the intensity of the love parents have for their sons and daughters. So in not difficult to understand how a parent wants to go to any lengths to preserve the eternal life of a child by urging, pleading, and demanding that he or she start going to church again. However, as a parent soon discovers, these actions usually cause more obstinance that increases with intensity from each forced religious discussion.
The parents cannot continue to think their adult child as still being five years old, unable to correctly apply his or her moral judgment and free will when facing a choice. Parents must accept that their child has become an adult, with his or her opinions about everything from politics to sexual activity to religion. While some of his or her thoughts are morally wrong, as an adult, the son or daughter will need to accept responsibility for his or her decisions.
The most effective effort for parents to assist their adult children in reconnecting with the faith is through prayer and being open to discussions, not arguments, about religion. If we trust in the Lord, then we believe that God will provide, even for the salvation of errant children. We need to believe that God will continue to reintroduce the challenge of our wayward children to turn to the faith as he challenges us to grow closer to him, for he will lead us to salvation.
Remember it is Jesus, not us, who will determine the eternal fate of each person. Therefore, let us never cease to pray, asking Jesus to be merciful to us and those that we love. God’s love is beyond our knowledge, and his love is never ceasing even for the fallen away. As we cannot know the perfection of heaven, we cannot know what God has in store for our loved ones and us at our death.

THIRTY-FIRST SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2019

Today’s Gospel speaks of a man called Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector for the Romans. Because of his profession, two things become immediately obvious for anyone living at that time. First, he is hated and distrusted by his fellow Jews. He is seen as a traitor, one who would put wealth ahead of his civic and religious duties. Secondly, Zacchaeus is very rich. Everyone would assume that his wealth comes from the exploitation of the Jews. The tax collectors made their illustrious livings by requiring the people to pay more taxes than Rome demanded and then skimming off the excess for themselves.
Up until today’s interaction with Jesus, Zacchaeus was unconcerned about his lifestyle, other than becoming wealthier. The desire for more is a sickness that the rich possess. They are like a glutton who is never satisfied. There are no lengths such a person will not go to amass more and more. And for Zacchaeus, his wealth came for the overcharging of taxes ill-gotten gains to the distress of the people who eked out a living on a few coins.
And or what purpose? More properties with olive orchards? More gilding on the family chariot? More prized spices from the Orient? Stuffed peacock (a delicacy) twice a week instead of once a month? More gold earrings and rings for the wife? When there is money, anything desired becomes possible.
Even with all that he could purchase, Zacchaeus was still searching. Perhaps he was looking for someone to give him the answers to why he could never feel satisfied. That is why he followed the crowd as it surged after Jesus. He became so enamored to see a person that the throng of people desired to be with that he climbed a sycamore tree for a better look. He forgot that those who made up the crowd were the ones that he had cheated over and over again.
There he is out on a limb. He has run out options. He has no means to save himself. He cannot go forward as the branches will not support his weight. He cannot climb down from the tree as the crowd is waiting below. They have treed a tax collector.
How many people in the crowd have gone hungry for days on end as Zacchaeus dined sumptuously? How many have watched their child die of starvation so that he could add another pair of matched horses to his stable? How many of the crowd wear rags so that his wife can display her new gold ring for the Festival?
Not often do these poor can even the score with a tax collector. Far too often, such a man, when he finds himself in trouble, just buys his way out of the problem. The application of enough money can fix anything. However, maybe this the day when doling out money no longer works. Maybe this is the day that the crowd gets their pound of flesh in retribution for his hoarded pounds of gold.
And so, up a tree is where Zacchaeus first meets Jesus. Jesus, however, offers him a solution. Amazingly, he asks to eat at Zacchaeus’ home, to eat with the rich sinner, a traitor to the Jews. The crowd responds with, “How can Jesus eat with him when we starve? Will Zacchaeus repay Jesus handsomely with gold from his treasure for saving his life?” The crowd is appalled when Jesus does not take their side. This man needs to be stoned not pampered.
To the crowd, It might seem that Jesus was letting the man escape his deserved fate. However, Jesus has other motives, spiritual motives for eating with Zacchaeus. Jesus is bringing Zacchaeus to the brink of conversion, the realization that repentance is what will him get off the tree limb about to break. Zacchaeus only needs to take that next step, a step of faith.
While Jesus asks for Zacchaeus to open his home, what Jesus is really requesting is that Zacchaeus to open his heart to the Lord. In that way, Jesus may come into him and free him from his worldly desires and seek the real wealth of salvation. Zacchaeus climbs down from the tree and with a leap of faith, is saved from his sins. Jesus gives him mercy because Zacchaeus offers much of his fortune to the poor and those he cheated.
As with many other occasions in the Gospels, Jesus inserting into his teachings of the need for Social Justice. How we direct our lives describes our faith. Far too often, we live as if our wealth has more valuable than food, clothing or shelter for the needy. If we got in that direction, then we are inching our way out on a limb where only Jesus can save us. If we can be like Zacchaeus and seek out Jesus, by opening our hearts to him, we will discover his mercy.
Again, and again throughout the Gospels, Jesus offers salvation to the sinner, not concerned about the sin but the plea for forgiveness. The same type of forgiveness holds true for us as well. It takes several steps of hope and courage after recognizing one’s sin to want to change. It takes the steps of faith to seek out Jesus and believe that he will save us. And the result of opening our hearts is that Jesus will fill us with his love. We who were once lost to sin; Jesus has found us and will take us to his home.

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