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THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2019

      When I go out to eat a restaurant, on occasion, I am brought a menu, and the wait staff says, ‘I’ll be right back to take your order.’  I now must decide from a multitude of choices. Should I try something new or pick an old reliable? After I have ordered, I began to have regrets. I shake my head, thinking maybe I should have ordered something healthy. Or I look at a nearby table and ask myself, ‘Why didn’t I choose that? It looks more appetizing than my choice.’
      We go through life making choices; some are as uncomplicated as what to eat, and others that have long term consequences. Some are easily decided while others weigh heavily upon us. Picking from a multitude of options is challenging, but we would be even more frustrated when we are not allowed to decide.
      Freedom of choice is a gift that the Lord as human beings. After creating Adam and Eve, God did not prevent them from eating fruit from the Tree. God permissively enables us to make choices, whether good or bad. God, however, is always providing us with wise decisions if we are listening. God is available to us at every moment to assist in making a choice. A prayer asking assistance directed towards God becomes the identifiable act that will enable us to determine the right decision. Prayer gives us the courage to follow the truth and the comfort that God will not lead us astray.
      In the first reading from 1 Kings, Elijah picks Elisha, at the direction of God, to be Elijah’s replacement as the prophet for the Israelites. Elisha, listening to God, commits whole-heartedly and assures that he cannot back away from this decision. Elisha ‘burns his bridges’ using the plow to build a fire and to cook the oxen he was using to plow the field feeding his family before following Elijah. Elisha acknowledges that his vow to the Lord is greater than anything, and he will not reconsider his choice. 
      Such is the depth of the commitment expected for a man considering priesthood or a woman weighing life as a consecrated religious. Is one willing to make a drastic change in lifestyle by giving one’s life entirely over to the Lord? A choice of this magnitude can only be undertaken after a significant amount of time in prayer. If priesthood is right the right option, then the Father will provide that indication. 
      However, it is not just priests and religious sisters who need to commit to God. Each one of us sealed with the Holy Spirit through Baptism relationship with God. In our Baptism, God chose us to be his sons and daughters in the faith. Therefore, his voice calls us all to vocation for him; some to religious life, others into marriage or even to a chaste single life. We cannot sit wavering on the fence. Either we are going to commit ourselves to God, or we are going to commit to worldly desires. Do we follow the voice of God who wants to guide us to eternal happiness?  Or do we want to be like Adam and Eve who listened to the devil and suffered from the effects of sin?
      In the Gospel today, Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem, aware of his impending death, but also knowing with the resurrection, he will be with his Father. He is resolute his journey to the Father. Nothing will sway his endeavor to enter heaven. Jesus’ walk to Jerusalem is our walk through life.  We know death is also at the end of our travels. We should not be distracted by excessive human desires from achieving the glory of the Kingdom.
      Jesus, on the way to his passion, meets a man whom Jesus instructs to follow him. The man replies, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” Jesus responded, “Let the dead bury their dead. But, you go proclaim the kingdom of God.” The response seems very hash to a man whose father has just died. However, Jesus is exaggerating his reply to bring to light the number of times where we have put off seeking the Kingdom of God.  How often do we say… ‘This is the day I start going to daily Mass.  Or this is the week that I commit myself to pray before the Blessed Sacrament for an hour. Or today I will go to Reconciliation so that I can start receiving Communion again.  Or today I will call to schedule to have my child baptized. Or today, I will start the annulment process so that I can return to the full participation of the Church.’
      Then we do nothing, and another day passes without us committing to the Lord. Which voice, God’s or the devil’s, is offering us advice when we say, ‘God will understand. I have time.  I’ll get around to it?’  Jesus is reminding us, in rebuking the man who wanted to bury his father that every step we take brings us closer to our death and reckoning with the Lord.  Jesus is telling us to stop with the excuses.  Make a change NOW to commit your life to God. 
      Another man along the road to Jerusalem says to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” Jesus replies to him “No one who set a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom go God.” Jesus is telling us that our promise for the Kingdom lies in the future, not in the past.
        The farmer knows that in plowing a field, he must have his eye turned forward to a distance for a reference to keep his furrows straight. The farmer may look back occasionally to see the progress he has made.  However, if he continually focuses on the past by looking backward, his forward movement becomes erratic, and he loses the focus of his goal.
      The same is true for us in life. Once we have committed to the change that God offers, we cannot be looking over our shoulder to the lifestyle of the worldly desires we have walked away from in our promise to follow him. Let us set our sights on longingly looking forward toward the spiritual happiness that extends into eternity.   
      So chose to follow God. It is as easy as picking a salad over those deep fat fried French fries. The choice to draw near to God will provide for the positive, long term consequence of spiritual satisfaction.      
      Deacon Dan Gilbert 

CORPUS CHRISTI 2019

Have you noticed that some of the more heartfelt movements that occur with Jesus are in connection with a meal? There many are examples of where Jesus changed lives that ranged from the many to the one and started with eating together. Jesus did not refuse to eat with anyone who opened their lives to him. There were sinners, prostitutes, and those who cheated others. He even sat down with Pharisees who sought to have him killed for no one was excluded.
      In each of these stories that began with a meal, Jesus shares himself with those he loves, intervening in a very personal way. He is at a meal with a Pharisee when the sinful woman whom in her great sorrow bathes his feet with her tears and then wipes them with her hair. In his mercy, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7: 48, 50).
      Then there was the time when Zacchaeus, the tax collector opens his home to Jesus. Zacchaeus, in an exclamation of repentance, promises to give half of his wealth the poor and to reimburse by four times anyone whom he may have defrauded. Jesus says to him, “Today salvation has come to this house. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9,10).
      We also read of the day when the five thousand, drawn by his words of healing, continued to listen to him into the evening hours even though they would go hungry. The disciples are distressed when Jesus says, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16) for they had no means to gather provisions for so many.  Jesus then took up five loaves of bread and two fish, blessed them, and fed the five thousand. And when all had eaten, there remained 12 baskets of broken pieces.
      Jesus, in feeding the five thousand provided a miracle so that the people might come to recognize that he is the Son of God, and therefore, his words are God’s words. Jesus fed the crowd so that all might know that the Kingdom is a place none is sent away hungry. Everyone in the Kingdom will have their fill because of God’s endless bounty. Jesus feeds the five thousand so that they may come to see the depth of God’s love.
      On another occasion, after Jesus’ Resurrection, he instructed some of his Apostles to lower their net once again, and they hauled in a great catch of fish.  Jesus then ate with them on the shore. After they had eaten, Jesus then allowed Peter to re-establish his loyalty to Jesus even though denying him on that Thursday night. Jesus instructs him to “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17) after Peter expressed three times his love for Jesus before all else.
      Jesus comes from the Father, who gives all authority in heaven and on earth to Jesus.  Until one has that belief, no story told in the New Testament can be accepted as true. He forgave the sins of the woman at his feet, Zaccheus, and Peter. However, unless they in faith acknowledge that Jesus is the Father’s Son, these absolutions were empty words for only God can forgive sins. 
      Finally, the most intimate and most lasting of the various meals Jesus would have is at the Last Supper. Knowing that this was his last meal before his death, he gathered his Apostles. While he had fed many during his ministry, this was to be different for, in this meal, he offered his very Body and Blood. “This is my body, which is given for. Do this in remembrance of me. This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19, 20). Jesus, the Son God, in this supper sanctifies us, fills us with life, and blesses us.
      The Last Supper then takes on a whole new dimension. The food is not to fill the empty stomach and the drink not to soothe a thirsty throat, but the feast for eternal life. Jesus has moved beyond providing for the physical sustenance to giving us spiritual nourishment.  Jesus, at the Last Supper, gave us a new and everlasting covenant with God that is based solely on love.
      In every sin that is forgiven, in every malady, whether physical or spiritual, that is healed, Jesus reestablishes our relationship with his Father. If we are people of faith, then we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and the offering of his Body and Blood is a guarantee of the Father’s endless love. He has allowed us to sit at the most desired feast possible. Where there is always enough, and everyone is seated in a place reserved the most beloved.  The only requirement of us is to respond with love.
      God, the Father, knew of no other way to express the deepness of his love for us, and so he gave up his Son.  As Jesus said, on the night before his Crucifixion, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for a friend” (John 15:13) and then he did that blessed act. Jesus, in giving us his body and blood shows that no facet of human life can so dear to us that we cannot offer it up to God.  Everything comes from the Father and will return to the Father.
       “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).  When we prayerfully reflect on how immense God’s love is, there is only one response that we can give. ‘Take all that I possess. I offer all up in sacrifice to you, Father, for I have all that I need, your love.’ 

HOLY TRINITY SUNDAY 2019

My summer assignment this year is to attend a spiritual formation program at Creighton University in Omaha called the Institute for Priestly Formation. It runs from the end of May through the end of July. Another 176 seminarians from across the United States, Haiti, and Canada, and I are here to deepen our relationship with the Lord.
Just recently, the week before Pentecost, all of us were on an eight-day silent retreat. The only time it was permissible to talk during those eight days was at a daily meeting with our spiritual director and participating during Mass. This silence meant no texts, no e-mail or other social media, no slow mail or newspapers for those who know what those things are. We refrained from all videos or music. We could not even use an app to look at the weather for the day.
In this silence, we were set apart from the outside world. There is no knowledge of why the flag was at half staff for part of the week. For those following their Major League Baseball team, there was no means of knowing who won or lost or the current standings. We didn’t know what outlandish comments the President made or the equally inane responses by the opposition. We could only look outside at the beginning of the day, to try to decide whether an umbrella would be needed.
Now we could have broken the silence at any time and gained access to any of that information we if we had desired. We had voluntarily made this vow of obedience to the Lord. One of the amazing realizations for this retreat we discovery was all that “stuff” that once seemed important had much less meaning. The politicians’ comments, team standings, and a multitude of other bits of information decreased in significance. Of what was the real value was our experience, in the silence, was encountering our relationship with the Lord.
In silence, we prayed to allow God to enter us so that his graces could act through us. Now you may say we must already have a good relationship since all of us are in seminary studying to be ordained as priests. However, to be the faithful servants of God for life, we need to open our hearts fully allowing God to overwhelm us with his love. This prayer means asking God to enter into us so that we can be one with him.
This Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday, the Solemnity where we celebrate one of the great mysteries of Christianity, and the Three Persons, who are the oneness of God. St. Patrick used the three leaves of the shamrock separateness of the Trinity, but the leaves did not describe the unity between the Three Persons. We continue to explain in simplified terms the relationship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, who is God only in different aspects but the same aspect. No matter in the infinite ways that we attempt to describe the Trinity, we fail because human words, representations, and imaginations are not enough to describe our Creator. None of the Three Persons act independently. Each action is done in the awareness and in accord with the Three. There is never a dissenting vote on this Board of Directors. In the mercy of God is his attention directed to each one of us separately, including those from the beginning of time to those at the end of time. And for each person, God focuses his care and love on each one fully and equally so that no one is ever forgotten or slighted. As we continue to think about this relationship between the Three persons of the Trinity as God and his intertwining with each of our lives, we begin to think of God as being more and more complicated because we see these connections like a computer system with massive bundles of wires carrying information back and forth.
In actuality, God is simple, simpler than we can imagine, and our senses are unwilling to absorb the uncomplicated nature of God. If we began to list the attributes of God, we would exhaust our descriptions and still not know God in his fullness. It is like trying to define love or justice or beauty. We may get to the edge of the meaning, but we cannot express the breadth of their meanings. We can describe what we think love is, but another would offer something different. How can one define justice so that it expresses righteousness in every circumstance? Beauty, too, is an intangible value that cannot be limited to one description. Maybe these words, love, justice, and beauty, are difficult to represent because they are what God is.
When we think of God as only pure love, justice, and beauty but united together we begin to understand the depth of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We grasp the meaning, but we cannot quite reach out and make the entire connection. This feeble understanding of the majesty of God, but not complete comprehension is the mystery of the Trinity.
The oneness of the Trinity, with its focus on love, demonstrates the love that we hope to share with God. Our greatest desire is to be so united with God so that nothing can separate us. There must be a seamless relationship between us. In that way, the devil cannot use his corrosive ways to weaken than indivisible bond. If God is one with us, and we are one with God, then we are confident that our actions are God actions.
How does one achieve unity with God? Take some time each day to be in the silence – like we were for those eight days, no interruptions– and ask God to become one with you. The most beautify thing to remember that he is already there waiting to continue his relationship with you.

Deacon Dan Gilbert

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