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TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2019

How often do we get a second chance? In our human frailty, we often make mistakes and must depend on the forgiving nature of another to allow us to try again. It takes great humility first to admit we are wrong and secondly to ask for forgiveness. Without that forgiveness, we cause separation and possibly even death in the relationship with the who suffered because of our mistakes.
The first reading from Second Kings and the Gospel today references the disease of leprosy, which was equivalent to societal death in the community. Because of the possibility of spreading leprosy from one person to another, lepers were forbidden to come in contact with the rest of the population. Society considered those with an apparent disease, and especially leprosy, to be suffering from God’s wrath for a sinful life. Leprosy, a particularly dreadful disease exhibiting symptoms of scaly skin lesions, the loss of fingers and toes, and facial disfigurations, spoke to the community that those experiencing God’s punishment from this appalling disease indicated the horrendous nature of their sin. Thus the separation from lepers was necessary for the physical and spiritual well-being of the community.
In the first reading, Elisha cures the leper, Naaman, who is a pagan military officer in the enemy’s army, through ritual cleansing in the River Jordon. Naaman attempts to provide a gift to Elisha for his curing power, which Elisha refuses since it is the Lord who must be praised. In his return to health, the non-Jew, Naaman, is converted. He then actually takes two mules loads of dirt with him back to his homeland so that he can worship from the sacred soil of Israel where the One True God resides. Naaman receives a second chance as he able to return to his former position in the army freed from leprosy.
A similar event occurs with Jesus and the ten lepers. The lepers, hearing of his miraculous powers, approach Jesus begging for salvation from a fate that was equivalent to death. For the ten, no family member could come near. Never again would the leper receive a kiss from his wife. He would never be able to hold his child. The leper, living alongside a road, received only scraps for food thrown toward him from a distance. His clothes were a heap of rags that had no other use. Without adequate food, shelter, clothing, or contact with family, the leper was a dead man waiting to die.
Jesus cures the ten from their disease, enabling them to re-enter their communities. Because they express their faith that Jesus could perform miracles, Jesus took away their leprosy. Jesus required the priests to inspect the ten, thereby forcing the religious elders to admit that he has done what only God can do, free the ten from their disease and their sins. Even after experience this gift from God, only one, a Samaritan, an enemy of the Jews, returns to thank Jesus for the second chance on life.
What of us? Have our sins caused us to acquire symptoms of a spiritual leper? Do our evident sins cause others to shy away from us? Do we feel isolation from God, family, and friends? Has the sloughing off our sinful acts infected the purity of those we hold most dear? Has the disfigurement of our spirit caused us to be unrecognizable in the eyes of the Lord?
Our sinful ways can be just as damaging to us as the disease of leprosy. In our sin, we become like the ten lepers, the dead waiting to die. It now that we need to turn to the Lord, asking for another chance to change our ways.
Jesus, knowing of the sins of the human beings, did not relegate us to hell when our leprous transgressions distorted our spirit. Instead, he came to earth, took on all of our sins, whether a believer or not, died on the Cross, and was resurrected to new life. His Death and Resurrection gave us a second chance in life. Jesus shows us another way life, a life of purity and goodness that is found in freedom from sin.
However, because of our exposure to sin, it continues to infect us; Jesus gives us more than a second chance. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we can be cured over and over again of our spiritual diseases that plague our capacity to live as a child of God. In the depth of his love, Jesus can forgive any sin, if we approach him in faith as ten lepers did, asking for a miracle.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a miracle for us. We come before the Lord, recognizing that we have abused our relationship with him. Our actions have isolated us from his graces. We have sought independence from our saving Lord and fallen victim to the devil’s disease-ridden ways. There is only one way to become clean again by seeking out Jesus and beg for his mercy. In humility and pain, we appear before Jesus asking for a miracle that only he can provide, to begin life again, to get another chance to be free from the disfigurement of sin.
In gratitude, Naaman swore allegiance to the God of Israel, even though he was a pagan. In gratitude, one of the cured men returns to Jesus, prostrating himself before Jesus, even though he was a Samaritan. Naaman carries home soil from along the Jordan so that he might stand on the sacred ground of Israel to worship God. The cleansed Samaritan returns to thank Jesus even before he has been designated as clean by the priests. Both of these men were saved because of their conversion of faith.
How will we show gratitude to the Lord for the forgiveness of sins? How do we respond to demonstrate our faith is in the saving power of Jesus? On what sacred ground will we stand on to pray to God? Where will we bow down before the presence of Jesus? Jesus came into the world to give us a second chance. How will we change our lives to demonstrate our gratitude?

Deacon Dan Gilbert

TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 2019

Once upon a time, a young man was challenged by his father to do well academically as he was about to enter high school. The father told his son that if he would get As in every class throughout his high school years that he would buy him a new car at graduation. The young man who naturally did well in school thought that he had the car in hand.
Now while the teenager did well in school, he was a bit a prankster often getting in trouble for minor incidents so of which resulted in a ride home in the police unit. His parents expressed their concern about his rambunctious nature and attempted to curb it. However, their frustration grew throughout the son's high school years as he continued to be a rascal. One of the efforts that the father continued to suggest was that the son read the Bible to seek a more fruitful life.
Graduation day finally arrived, and the father gave a gift box. The young man with anticipation shook the box, hoping to hear keys, but it only thudded. When the son opened the box, instead of car keys, there lay a Bible. He was stunned. There was nothing else in the box. The son, so enraged with this deceit, and screaming, “You cheated me,” walked out the door vowing never to speak to his father again. He would not answer his father’s phone calls, erased his text without reading the content, would not answer the door if he saw it was his father on the doorstep.
While attempting to ignore the father’s treachery, the young continued to suffer for years of distrust. He was driven to succeed in his job. However, he was unable to share his talents and wealth. His marriage failed because he thought his wife no longer loved him. As he grew older, he became a bitter man, and no one could break the shell that he made to protect himself from being led astray.
The son received notice that his father had died and even though his mother begged him, he refused to go to the funeral. In all those years, his hatred had not lessened. Shortly after the funeral, a package arrived in the mail from his mother with a note that said, “My dear son, you need this now more than ever.” Inside he found the same Bible his father had gifted him forty years before.
While his first impulse was to toss it into the trash, in utter desolation, he opened the Bible to verse Luke 17:6, “The Lord replied, ”If you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.’” The man thought, “Not very applicable to me. Look at what happened to me when I placed my faith in my father.”
And as he flipped through the Bible, before setting it aside, he came across a note written by his father. The son thought to himself, “I wonder what other lies he going to tell me.” The note said:
Dear Son,
I am so proud of you on this day. Your academic achievements promise for you success in anything you decide to do. As I promised here is the registration, the insurance and receipt for payment in full for your new car. I also give you this Bible to remind you that there are more important things to seek in your life. While this car is important to you in your life at this moment, please know that our relationship and my love for you can never match the price of a car.
Your Loving Father.
Sometimes it is difficult to understand what the Lord expects of us. As Luke comments in today’s Gospel, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” How do our actions have any impact on the Lord, who as the Master, can easily accomplish any good thing without us?
What is the reason that we do good works? Why do we give to the poor, build houses for the homeless, or serve at soup kitchens? Are we trying to buy our way into heaven? Maybe we think, “See what I am doing in your name, Lord. Now assure me that I will enter paradise.” God, however, does not work on a barter system. We cannot purchase God’s love by good works or donations to the Church.
Why is there an aspect of human nature to identify wrong from right? Why are we sorrowful when we recognize that we have sinned? What gives us the desire to go to Reconciliation to rid ourselves of the curse of sin when it is not readily visible to those around us? Maybe we frequently consider, “God’s patience must be wearing thin since I cannot control my sinful ways.” However, there is no sin that we can do that negates God’s love.
If we think our works of service for others are to gain recognition with God and receive his favor, then we don’t know him. If we fill ourselves with pride, not recognizing everything God gives us and believing that our acts of mercy are accomplished only by our will, then we unquestionably do not know God. God’s love is not dependent on our actions in determining whether we do or do not deserve his love. God’s love is constant and unending, whether for the sinner or the saint.
If all of this is true, then what is the purpose of our good works? Are we working way too hard in responding to the needs of others if God’s love remains? Is our attempt to avoid the near occasion of sin an unnecessary element of the Church doctrine if God loves us despite our sin?
The point of our acting in accord with the teachings of Jesus is for us to grow in our faith. When our faith grows from a tiny mustard seed to large bush, we then can withstand the trials of this world for faith will carry us forward. When our faith grows to the dimensions of a mustard bush, then we become united with God and can accomplish great wonders and miracles, like the Apostles. It is then that we will accomplish the essential goal of our existence? “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” and “You shall love our neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37,39).

TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2019

     As Abraham says in today’s parable if brothers of the rich man will not listen to the prophets of the Old Testament, they would not listen to the one who is raised from the dead.  Those who are focused on this world do not seek the greater wealth offered in the world to come. The prophets of the Lord repeatedly tell the Jews to repent of their worldly ways and seek the salvation offered by God. However, very few ever respond to the prophets’ messages especially when it meant to give up the possessions and power they could see, hear, and taste, for the promises of God that depended solely on faith.  
      Abraham is correct in his evaluation of the brothers in rejecting the words of one raised from the dead if they are of the same mindset as the rich man. The question we should ask of ourselves is, does he describe us also? Do we listen to the words of Jesus who rose from the dead? Maybe we are still waiting for a personal invitation from Jesus like the rich man wanted for his brothers before we make an effort to reconfigure our lives. If Jesus’ Death and Resurrection are not enough, what then will be sufficient? Does Jesus need to tell us, as he did to Thomas, to place our hand in his side and fingers into the nail marks of his hands? Will that be an adequate reason to seek to reconcile our attitude and actions?
      Human nature is inconsistent in responding to the graces that the Lord offers. Something as startling and miraculous as producing enough food to feed five thousand from a few pieces of bread and fish, driving out demons of possessed people, and even causing people awaking from death was not enough to impress the crowds following Jesus for very long. Their response distinguishes the difference between something that appears magical and a change of heart that allows Jesus to enter into us found in faith.
       Faith, like when an acorn is planted, needs regular attention from faith-building experiences to grow into a sturdy oak that weathers the even most extreme storms that try one’s beliefs in the saving power of God. Often we may encounter a person who claims, “to see the light” and vows make a dramatic change in life practices, only to see those promises dissipate over time. The allure of offerings of this world can poison and stunt the growth of faith. The oak never matures because the development of faith becomes stalled from a lack of regular prayer, inattention to the Scriptures, and the absence of graces received in the Sacraments.  The rich man from the parable demonstrates the fate of those who fail to tend to the sapling of faith.    
      As the parable tells us, there are two possible fates for us after our death, heaven or hell. If we live like the rich man striving to live out paradise here on earth with little concern with our relationship with God and those we encounter, then we are tumbling down the path the leads to hell. It is evident the rich man failed to consider his destiny after his death; he was wealthy; he had everything the man could desire, and therefore he never experienced suffering. Thus he became inattentive to the meaning of “the pains fo hell.” 
      Hell is the inverse of heaven. If in hell, we would be across an enormous chasm looking at those in heaven who enjoy the continued glory of God while we, on the other hand, would be permanently separated from the Lord.  The pain would be unbearable because there is no hope of relief. In hell, we would not find eternal peace because our pleas of release from this atrocious fire pit would go unheard. There would be a permanent void in our soul where Jesus would no longer reside. No experience could ever be worse than to suffer the fires of hell. If we find ourselves in hell, who can be we blame but ourselves? 
      If we design our lives to grab whatever we can see, touch or hear to fulfill our desires, then we need to acknowledge our fate might well be hell. When we seek to fulfill our wants, we allow our animal instincts to rule our actions. We wolf down everything that we can obtain much like a dog that eats a piece of meat in two gulps, satisfying our current desires and then begging for more. God gave humans an intellect to envision a future instead of only focusing on the present as occurs with the animals. In reasoning, we can then set goals such as seeking salvation and working towards that achievement.
      This parable should frighten us. The parable implies that each person suffers whether here on earth or in hell. Lazarus may have never felt any relief on the doorstep of the rich man. At his death, God took Lazarus to heaven, where the Lord eliminates every pain and care. Suffering on earth does have a conclusion; however, the suffering in hell will be endless. We can be like the rich man, disillusion about his fate, going through life thinking everything is right with the world only to discover the horrors of hell at the moment of death.  Only then did the rich man realize that his sins outweighed his goodness to experience the fires of hell.
      God, in His merciful love, sent his only son to us to die on the cross and to be resurrected so that we strive to experience the peace of heaven instead of knowing the agony of hell. Let us, therefore, use the reasoning God gave us to seek the promise of the beauty of paradise and not become enthralled with the inadequate offerings of this world. God desire is for us to be in heaven, but unless we are willing to walk through this life with faith in his salvation, he will not be able to save us from ourselves.
      Deacon Dan Gilbert

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