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TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2019

One of the ways we can describe Jesus is as being pure love and mercy. There are no conditions attached when Jesus offers his love and mercy to us. He is not capable of saying, “I will love you if you do this for me.” Jesus would never say, “If you love me, then I will be able to love you.” Jesus’ love is without limits or restrictions. Jesus also offers his mercy in the same way, without any constraints.
In his mercy, Jesus will forgive every one of our sins regardless of its depravity. A key point to remember is that Jesus can only offer us his mercy. As with the love of Jesus, his mercy is never thrust upon us. It is up to us whether we embrace his compassion that will deliver us from our sins.
We are the ones who must present ourselves before Jesus asking for forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation to experience his mercy. As we know in Reconciliation, Jesus gives us absolution for our sins before we leave the confessional. There are no strings attached. Jesus wipes away our confessed sins. The penance we receive should remind us of the cross Jesus bore for us to be able to experience the redemption from sin. In completing the penance given, we are expressing our desire to conform our lives to Jesus, the desire to live without sin.
However, lurking about is the devil who immediately pushes us to begin to sin again. He brings us to the threshold of sin, time, and time again. As opposed to the common belief, it is not the devil does not make us sin. He only gives us the opportunity; we are the ones who step over the line. The devil presents us with choices that tweak our desires. We are the ones who fail to follow the moral conscience the Lord provides to help us determine right from wrong.
Thus, we need to determine which master we want to serve, the devil, or God. If we want to follow the Lord, then this life on earth will be an effort as we suppress our free will to follow the desires that violate our moral conscience. We will experience being merciful to others by sharing our gifts, whether financial or talents. We will recognize that we will struggle to live in Jesus’ words to love God and our neighbor. Over and over again, we will need to humble ourselves from our inevitable faults and ask for forgiveness. We will strive to be faithful, growing stronger each day through Jesus’ love and mercy. We will prayerfully keep our hearts focused on the promise of heaven.
Alternatively, others chose to follow the devil. The evil one makes promises that appeal to one’s vanity, one’s desires to be powerful and wealthy, to know all the pleasures of the world. One can be self-indulgent, prideful in collecting everything that brings satisfaction to every selfish want. If one follows this master, sin is a silly word that will not factor into any decision made.
Such is the attitude of the steward in today’s Gospel story. He confidently steals from his master until the master becomes aware of the miscreant’s deeds. Instead of showing remorse, the steward continues in his sinful ways habits by collaborating with his master’s debtors to rewrite promissory notes for smaller amounts than the actual debt owed.
All parties in the parable have colluded with the devil in their actions — the threat of the effects of sin on their souls was not a consideration. The steward reduces the debt, with the hope that the debtors will remember his efforts and see to his physical needs for shelter and food once he loses his job. The steward, who seemed to be doing a merciful act by reducing the debts, is only enabling the debtors to become dishonest as well. In their acts, the debtors are as guilty of stealing as is the steward. The master, who should be furious when he discovers an additional loss of his income, praises the steward for his sinful ingenuity. We can see how the devil has infiltrated every aspect of this event, successfully tempting all these men to place wealth as the ultimate goal. In no part of this story, does one find any action that leads any of them to Jesus, the master we should follow if we want eternal life.
In the parable, one may believe money to be the cause of the evilness that occurred. Money itself is not evil. It is the acts that people do after procuring wealth that brings about wickedness in people. Money becomes tainted with evil because it is easy to fall victim to the devil’s temptations of identifying personal gain as the priority in one’s life. Money, however, loses its sinful stink when we use it to serve others and not indulge ourselves. Jesus does not want us to abstain from all the world’s pleasures and entertainments, but we should be using our moral conscience to guide us.
We cannot serve two masters. We must choose between Jesus and the devil. There are no other options. If we direct our acts to design a personal paradise in this world, then we are obligating ourselves to the devil. Following his beck and call will eventually bring us to despair and torment. Continually listening to his lies takes one down the slippery slope of sin that ends in the fires of hell for all eternity.
If one chooses Jesus as the master of our lives, then we accept the suffering on earth looking forward to the peace of heaven. If we are using our acquisitions of material goods to seek eternal happiness, then we are allowing Jesus to guide us. With Jesus as our master, we are confident that by placing our trust solely in him, we will receive his love and mercy that is unending.
Take time today to consider; which master are you following?
Deacon Dan Gilbert

TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2019

It is frustrating to lose something. There is a certain amount of impatience for it we are looking then we need the object. There is also a level of fright, however slight that it may be lost forever. In those moments in time we find that we do not control the events in our life.
One of my brothers once lost his keys. He had been diligently searching his room for them when I came home. What I encountered was every dresser drawer opened and empty with mounds of clothes piled on the floor. The mattress was upside down and halfway off the bed. Books from the bookcase were tossed on the bedsprings. It looked like an isolated windstorm had struck the room stirring up everything in the room.
When I walked into his bedroom, my brother has resorted to looking in the obscure places; the toes of his winter overshoes, the pockets of a suit he had not worn for several years, even in the ceiling light shade. All the while I heard this mumbling, “I know left them in here. They’ve got to be someplace in here.” A few years later I found the keys stuffed inside the couch in the living room.
More than likely we have experienced at one time where we have lost or misplaced something. We may spend a significant amount of time in the search. There is a feeling of incompleteness until we can locate the object. If we are fortunate and locate the missing it is a reason celebrate for that was lost has been found.
The examples in the Gospel today reiterate this tendency in the human psyche to diligently look for that lost object that has value to us. Jesus uses the people in these parables to describe the extremes that a person may use in the search. What shepherd would leave ninety-nine sheep to look for a single sheep? If he leaves, he runs the risks of flock wandering away from the meadow or being attacked by wolves. How long might he confidently look before he needs to return to care the flock? Is it worth the effort to search for one when he still has ninety-nine?
Then there is the woman who loses the silver coin. She thoroughly searched her house looking in every dark corner. More than likely her hunt was different from my brother’s. She probably cleaned as she when through the rooms instead of making piles objects which later had to be returned to their proper spot. How could she stop all of her other household chores in order to look for this coin? How long would this woman search? Would she be satisfied to give up even afte she had looked in every possible spot?
Jesus uses these stories to describe the lengths that the Father would go to recover the lost sinner. God loves each of us so immensely, that he will go in search of even one person who is lost to sin just as the shepherd went in search of one sheep. God has just as much love for the sinner as he as for those who are faithful. Of all the souls that exist, God feels incomplete even if one has fallen away from the flock. When the sinner repents and return to the fold, there is rejoicing for the lost soul has been saved.
God is also like the housewife who never stops in his efforts to locate the lost. He is tireless in his search for sinner. God is willing to follow the sinner into the deepest holes of depravity to recover even those tarnished by the blackest of sin. Then there will be rejoicing when the lost is found.
So how can we relate to being the ones lost? Maybe we are like a young child who has gone to the carnival with his father. As they enter the midway, the child sticks close to his father unsure of what he is about to encounter. Soon however the child’s fear diminishes as he begins going from booth to booth looking at the babbles and the bright lights.
Then he notices the people pressing in on him, and he cannot move except where the crowd wants to go. He is frightened, wanting his father, but unsure where to look. He begins to worry, “How will I get home? Will I ever see my mommy and daddy again?” He starts to sob, crying loud “I want my daddy.”
Then a gentle, loving hand is suddenly resting on his shoulder, and the child turns and sees his father’s face. The father says, “Don’t be afraid you were never lost. I have always been with you. You only need to turn around, and I was there.”
Maybe we have been neglectful like this child in our lives following the trinkets and bright lights of this world. Then day hits when we realize that our spiritual life is in jeopardy and we don’t know the way back to the Father. We have become the lost sheep missing out of the flock. We are that tenth missing coin. We are the little child crying his daddy.
We may think we have lost God because we have been looking for him. However, it is only because we fail to turn towards him. If we turn and he doesn’t seem to be there, then we have let sin hide him from us. It only takes the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist to realize that we are not lost.
We never need to search for our Father. We only need to turn our backs on the fake promises of the world. We need to turn our backs to our sinful life. When we turn; we find the Father waiting for us. His love is too immense. He would never leave us alone.

Deacon Dan Gilbert

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2019

Jesus is presenting an extreme message in the Gospel today in commenting that it is necessary to hate one’s relatives and even life itself in order to be his disciple. Jesus is trying to startle us by using the word ‘hate.’  Throughout his ministry, he describes the need for defining our relationships in terms of love. It is then surprising when Jesus uses the exact opposite word in this Gospel passage.
      As whenever there is a conflict in Jesus’ words, we need to look for a deeper meaning than what is written. Jesus, in employing ‘hate,’ means to direct our focus on the real and ongoing problem of pursuing the relationships of this world and our physical desires instead of the much-needed work on constructing the spiritual elements of our lives. When we are attuned only to family and friends, we fall behind in the most vital relationship that we have, which is with the Lord.
      Jesus, in this passage, is helping us to see that substituting anything or anyone else in place of him; we will not realize the fruits of salvation.  When we look only to the possibilities of this world, we are not preparing for the Kingdom. Jesus willingly sacrificed any comfortable existence to carry his cross for our salvation.  Unless we take on a lifetime of hard, enduring work in his name by carrying our cross and offer our sacrifice up to Jesus, the possibility of being received in the Kingdom diminishes.
      One cannot merely walk into Jesus’ heart without accepting the suffering associated with the cross. Our struggle with the cross seems far too difficult as it is with linked with pain and suffering in those parts of our life we want most to avoid. Fortunately, we can lean on the Lord for support. He is always there to give us a boost when the hill seems to steep or lift away some of the weight when the beam becomes too heavy. In carrying our cross and sacrificing for Jesus throughout our life, the cross, once an instrument of pain and destruction, now becomes the symbol of peace and eternal reward.
      Sacrifice is the way of life for a true Christian. Those who follow Christ do not fall victim to the current attitudes of ‘doing whatever feels good.’ Instead, the disciples of Christ know the Church’s teachings and lives by them, even if it means that challenges will occur with family and friends.  The Church teaches the appropriate ethical responses for such topics as abortion, contraception, divorce, same-sex marriage, and capital punishment. Unfortunately, a majority of people these days are not in accord with the Church, believing that their conscience is more valid than the two thousand years of experience the Church has in listening to the words of Jesus.
      Reflecting on these issues and thinking about the ethical reasoning for the Church’s stance fails to occur when we neglect our obligations of Mass and daily prayer. As we know, there is a tendency to set aside the normal times reserved for prayer and Mass because of “more important” events. If we repeatedly find an excuse in not devoting time to be with the Lord, we are not considering the primary reason for our existence, the attainment of heaven.
      Contrary to currently social norms, we were not put on the earth to own our dream car or house and assure that we will never experience any distress.  For that reason, it usually takes an intense emotional experience to stimulate our desire to seek out the Lord. It may be the death of a loved one or another type of loss.  Alternatively, we may be joyous at the birth of a child or encounter a situation which causes an emotional uplift.
      Care must be taken to not rely solely on these emotions and inspirations to interact with Jesus. Emotions can cause us to be irrational and misguided in our response.  An emotional event may make us proclaim a commitment to the Lord that we later abandon because the intent was made in the heat of the moment. Eventually, these sensations will cool and we will find ourselves once again distant from the Lord. To prevent this yo-yo experience of being hot and cold for Jesus, we must work at building a firm foundation with him.  As a wise follower of Jesus, the development of an intellectual plan of spiritual and apostolic work will help to use reason instead of relying only on fluctuating emotions. Life exposes us to suffering and sweat that can be almost unbearable. These toils become more endurable with the aid of reason, knowing that sacrificing for Jesus reassures us of the lasting peace in eternity.
      While the world emphasizes possessions to identify our stature, the latest model car will not drive us into the eternal Kingdom. That beautiful house recreated from our dreams is no substitute for the palace that God offers to his faithful children. One can search the world over looking for the ideal spouse only to realize too late that it is Jesus who is the perfect companion that guarantees the promise of everlasting love. If we seek out the Lord only our in times of need, we are fooling ourselves for we have forgotten the reason for our existence. Jesus is asking for us to give up everything in sacrifice, including our lives, to achieve our heartfelt desire, the promises of everlasting glory in heaven with him.
     
      Deacon Dan Gilbert
     

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