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TWENTIETH SUNDAY ORDIANRY TIME 2019

“I have come to set the earth on fire.” Jesus did not come into the world for us to be satisfied here on earth. If that were true, then Jesus would have eliminated all disease. He would have eradicated hatred, injustice, and conflict. Jesus would have stopped the suffering associated with the evils associated with poverty. Jesus would have restored the world to the Garden of Eden if his goal was to create heaven here on earth.
“I have come to set the earth on fire.” The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus is the fire that destroyed the threat of sin and death. Through our Baptism, the Holy Spirit has set fire to our hearts for our Lord to prepare us for heaven. It is this fire that purifies our hearts to seek God with a more intense desire. These words come from the heart of Jesus, who wants us to seek that holy relationship with God that is necessary for our salvation.
“I have come to set the earth on fire.” Jesus was not discounting his teachings or his actions of peace. He remains the same man of whom the angels sang of “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Man” at his birth. He is one who rode a donkey, not a warhorse as the crowds called him King as he entered Jerusalem. Jesus prevented further bloodshed in the Garden of Gethsemane after Peter cut off an ear of one those who had come to arrest Jesus. Instead, he wants the brilliance of his love to change the world.
“I have come to set the earth on fire.” Jesus disconcerting words of conflicts between family members seem to in direct opposition of Jesus’ words of loving one another. He is attempting to identify; instead, the most important relationship to develop is the one with God. Jesus was reminding us that we cannot amble through life unconcerned about our relationship with God. Even familial relationship cannot supersede the attention one should give to the Lord. This prioritization of the Lord over anyone else is a challenge for spouses after a lifetime together or attachment between a child and a parent. However, our salvation is found in heaven, not on earth for a spouse or parent cannot provide eternal happiness.
“I have come to set the earth on fire.” Jesus is not supporting the idea of a person walking away from family responsibilities. He is not suggesting that individuals purposefully cause dissension in the family. He is not supporting the destruction of relationships. Instead, Jesus depends on us to facilitate lifestyles through our words, actions, and prayer to be his disciples assisting all of his ‘lost’ sheep to the fruitful paradise of heaven.
“I have come to set the earth on fire.” Jesus is reminding us to recognize that our time here on earth is limited. We are far too preoccupied on the win/loss record of our favorite team, the latest fashion trends, current grain prices, and an assortment of other priorities that seem to shape our lives. Of more significance are the words of the Bible that remind us of God’s love and ongoing commitment to us since the beginning of creation. We should be looking for the signs of Jesus’ presence in our lives, to turn away from our sinful ways and pray for repentance that leads to salvation.
“I have come to set the earth on fire.” Unfortunately, the earth has not been set ablaze for God because the world has not listened to Jesus’ message. The cross continues to be an incongruity for the societal attitudes of self-centered gratification. Jesus selfless entered into the suffering associated with his death for no other reason than to save us from the fires of hell.
“I have come to set the earth on fire.” If we are faithful to God, he will be faithful to us. If we believe in Jesus, then let us take up our cross, demonstrating our love for others. Let us live in humble self-denial of the promised wealth of this world in favor of the experiences of joy, peace, and happiness of our salvation. Let us continue our pilgrimage seeking the Lord, who sets our hearts on fire in love.
Deacon Dan Gilbert

NINETEENTH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2019

So what about the treasures that we store up? It seems that we put much effort into maintaining those things that will not long-lasting in the history of humankind. We struggle to keep intact well-recognized world treasures somehow thinking that we will have the pyramids, the Four Faces on Mount Rushmore, or the Mona Lisa forever. However, natural things, like Chimney Rock, eventually erode and disappear. Therefore, it is unrealistic to believe that we can preserve human creations forever. Fires, wars, robberies, terrorist activities, and even age causes the decimation of these most precious of our worldly treasures. The eight hundred year Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris that was severely damaged due to a fire earlier this year shows how faulty our beliefs are about the longevity of human treasures.
As humans, we take pride in the expressions of beauty that are on display in our world, both natural and human. We make every effort to preserve these majestic sights for either they are formed by the hand of God or are inspired by the grace of God. Therefore one of the common efforts on the part of Catholics is to preserve beautiful churches that represent glorious monuments to God using products of the natural world and shaped into forms to praise and honor him.
One of the challenges in the American Catholic Church today is the consolidation of parishes with the corresponding loss of the religious art associated with many of these churches. These ongoing reorganizations are occurring for several reasons. One is that there are in some rural and urban areas a Catholic Church every five miles or so. The relative closeness of these parishes was necessary at a time when transportation was limited to walking or by horse. Now, instead of sharing resources, the independent attitude of parishes results in the unnecessary replication of many ministries. Certainly, the decrease in the number of active priests requiring the sharing of priests between parishes is a reason to reduce the number of churches. Another significant consideration in the consolidation of churches is the decline in the number of parishioners in each one of these parishes. With these reasons and others, finances have become a driving factor for dioceses in deciding how many parishes to keep open.
The closing a parish or consolidation with another parish is especially hard on families who have attended a specific church for generations. The ancestors of a current family’s ancestors often scraped together money over time, to build a church by hand in reverence for their Lord and Savior. It is in this church where families received their Sacraments starting with Baptism. This is the church where a family member’s funeral Mass was held and is buried in the adjacent cemetery. It is within the four walls of the church where one’s family and religious history resides. Therefore, the resistance to altering the sacred part of a family past is often not well received. As an example of the importance in the connections that people place on churches, one woman that I met in my travels refuses to attend Mass since her childhood church was torn down.
If one stops to consider this extreme response to a building, this seems somewhat confusing. The faithful of Paris did not stop attending Mass because they could not go to Notre Dame. If the Vatican were to suddenly destroyed, we would mourn the loss of the central church of Catholics, but our faith would continue. It is not an individual building that determines our Catholic faith. When we place earthly things, even a church, as being equal to Jesus, it is time to re-evaluate our priorities. It is ultimately the belief in the Words and the Sacraments of Jesus that are our treasures.
Yes, the grandeur of a church provides us with a space to worship and recognize that all we have belongs to God. However, remember that nothing in a church, except the small pieces of concentrated bread that have become the body of Christ truly is God. All else are only representations of the Trinity and the Saints to assist us in our prayers to the Creator. We should not fret so much on these worldly interpretations lest these stones, wood, metal, and paint become a replacement for Jesus.
The things of this earthly life that we place value on will eventually come to an end. To live, as if they won’t are leanings towards idolatry-false gods that offer nothing lasting for us. It is the building up of the Church, made of his faithful people; this is our real wealth.
It is the treasures of heaven that are our lifeblood of faith. Jesus wants us to focus on the riches that last forever. Let us, therefore, be diligent, assuring that we do not substitute any imitations for our lasting relationship with the Lord.

Deacon Dan Gilbert

EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 20189

      Once, long ago there was a young boy, Aurelius, who want to live in a world of affluence. From his earliest years, Augustine possessed an inquisitive mind and an attractive personality who set his sights on a career that would bring him both wealth and fame. To prepare for this prestigious career, Aurelius was sent to the best schools and studied under well-recognized teachers. He eventually became well-known as a philosopher and public speaker.
  However, one impediment of Aurelius was his passions. His parents and any authority figure found it impossible to control him. He felt that he was unfairly treated when he was punished by his schoolmaster for refusing to do his schoolwork. Aurelius willfully stole fruit from his neighbor, not because he was hungry, but from the thrill of doing something not permitted. There was no adventure that he would not try. His attitude of being of privilege child continued into in his teenage years where Aurelius prided himself on his sexual prowess. Even after he fathered a son, Aurelius rejected the idea of marriage as he refused to be restrained by any obligation.
      Aurelius did eventually find his fame as a public speaker; he became an advisor to the Roman Emperor. However, even with the fame, and the freedom to seek any pleasure, there remained an emptiness in his heart that nothing seemed to be able to fill. Although raised Catholic, Aurelius turned to several non-Christian religions searching for the elusive answers as to his existence. Aurelius had everything he could imagine, but it still was not enough.
      When is enough enough? For those who suffer from the sin of greed, the answer would be ‘there is never enough.’ These individuals seek to acquire more and more, afraid that unless they have it all, they will not be satisfied. These people have become like the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street, who could never have enough. As the Cookie Monster, unable to stop eating, says, ‘More cookies, more cookies.’
      Greed does not need to be just hoarding money. It can also be associated with the desire of accumulating possessions, fame, sexual conquests, compliments, and power. Aurelius exhibited immense levels of greed in his youth chasing his earthly desires. In the sin of greed, pursuing these pleasures becomes more valuable than any relationship. The amassing of more and more can easily control us if we are not diligent. 
      Indeed, we want to live comfortably and not be concerned if we will outlive our retirement money. We want to experience new things we have not done before, see locations that we have dreamed of, but when is enough enough? How many trips are necessary before we discover that essentially one place is not much different from another? How many things can we buy ‘to make our life easier’ before we discover that whatever it is, does not satisfy? Do we greedily accumulate experiences and things thinking that this the answer only to discover there nothing of lasting value?
      As in the parable of today Gospel, there is a day of reckoning coming. For some, that day will be at death when there is no opportunity to amend one’s ways. Everything one had greedily accumulated and hoarded for his or her self-gratification now belongs to someone else. For others, that day of reckoning occurs sooner when they realize that the Lord is the only solutions to the desired that found deep within one’s heart. For those amending one’s way lead to the promise of the Kingdom. 
      Aurelius eventually discovered he could not relieve the ache in his heart that no human experience could soothe. While in the court of the Emperor, he listened to the homilies of the bishop of the region and acquired a growing interest in Christianity.  Unfortunately, even with spiritual words of the bishop, Aurelius continued to struggle weighing whether to continue to live his earthly desires or turn to Christ who promises much more.  One day, listening to a tiny voice that prompted him, Aurelius randomly opened his Bible and from a page read:
Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies, and drunkenness, not promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the desires of the flesh.  Romans13:13-14
He was astounded that this passage so accurately described his life. He immediately without further regrets became a Christian for he saw this as a sign from God to repent.
      And who was this Aurelius?  You probably know him better as St. Augustine. He struggled until his thirties with his greedy desires of fame and lust. St. Augustine, after leading a decadent life, then changed. When he concluded that the only way to fill that unsettling void in his heart was to seek out God, Augustine resigned his post as the Emperor's advisor. He left behind his sexual lust to become chaste. Augustine gave up all his wealth returning to his homeland, prepared to live in solitude as a monk. One of his often-repeated quotes from his conversion story, Confessions, is “Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you, God.”
      Once St. Augustine placed his life into the hands of the Lord, dramatic changes occurred. Against his desires, he was ordained a bishop for Hippo in Northern Africa. St. Augustine, a prolific writer of the faith, was named a Doctor of the Church.  St. Augustine achieved his fame not as the Emperor’s philosopher but as a saint who gave up everything and gained everything for his heat by the graces of God.
      When is enough enough in your life? Ask yourself which kingdom do you seek, one of the earthly desires or the eternal kingdom? How beautiful are ways in which God can work when we turn from our earthly desires to opening our hearts and asking God to come into us so that he may act through us to exhibit his loving ways to all the world.
     
      Deacon Dan Gilbert

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