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TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 2019

Several ideas that St. Benedict emphasizes in his Rule for Monasteries includes hospitality and humility. Based on the passage from Matthew 25:35, St. Benedict comments about travelers seeking hospitality, “Let all guests that happen to come, be received as Christ, because He is going to say: “A Guest was I and ye received Me.” Three hundred years later a Benedictine Monk, Meinrad following St. Benedict’s Rule welcomed pilgrims to his hermitage that came to view the miracle-making statue of the Virgin Mary. Meinrad conscientiously opened his door to each pilgrim, sharing his meals with them. Two thieves, thinking that Meinrad had accumulated a treasure from the donations of pilgrims, took advantage of his hospitality and murdered St. Meinrad when he failed to produce the expected fortune. Unknown to these two, he had been giving all the donations to the poor. For his kindness to strangers, to the point of even death, St. Meinrad, is recognized as the Patron Saint of Hospitality. Hospitality has continued as a mainstay for the Benedictine order since St. Benedict wrote his rule many centuries ago.
Closely associated with hospitality is humility. St Benedict, in his rule, repeats the words from St. Luke, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted” (14:11). Only the humble person is able to share everything he or she has without the expectation of some form of recompense. St. Meinrad in giving away all he had received from donations rarely had enough to feed himself. He often went hungry in order to provide for those who appeared on his doorstep. A humble person never forgets that whatever he possesses came from God and in turn, gives whatever he has to another in greater need. St. Benedict remarks, “Not to love one’s own will or wish to fulfill one’s own desires, rather obeying the word of the Lord: ‘I came not to do My own will but the will of Him that sent Me’ "(John 6:38).
Jesus, in his ministry, frequently used hospitality and humility to teach his disciplines that all people are equal in the sight of God, and therefore, each person deserves respect as a child of God. Unfortunately, humans tend to deviate from this principle focusing more on desiring honor and avoiding shame for themselves instead of evaluating the needs of their neighbor. The attitude of, ‘Let others fend for themselves, as I am more worthy than them,’ however, leads the Christian heart precisely to dishonor and shame.
The parable that Jesus offers today provides an example of this hypocrisy. In the parable, guests attending a wedding feast rush to place themselves at the places of honor at the table. Jesus proposes that those who view themselves as more honorable not sit at the positions near the head of the table for they may be asked to move less valued if someone of more importance arrives. These self-inflated people would then experience shame as the host does not hold them in the same high regard.
Jesus suggests that those who expect deference because of their status sit at the place of less honor and allow the host to elevate them to higher positions. However, they also run the risk of being shamed if the host leaves them in these less honorable positions. If the host does not give them a place of recognition, they would be as red-faced as if the host had come up behind them as whispered in their ear, ‘I see you know your place.’ This dilemma of musical chairs leaves the proud in a quandary, ‘Where is the best place to sit to assure that I will be recognized since I am an important individual?’
Jesus did not introduce this parable to present the proper etiquette for parties. Instead, Jesus’ focus was to remind us that the heart of Christian life is not to place ourselves as the central figure in our life but instead to place God and neighbor in higher regard. Jesus placed this commandment as the priority in our relationships. This sin of self-centeredness, as with any sin, easily can describe as the specific effort to seek independence from God and to deny the graces he offers. For when we are directed solely to our desires, then we are no longer in communion with God. One is purposely deciding to acquire some self-aggrandized good that prevents bring one closer to the love of God and neighbor.
None of the desires or embarrassments in this world is forever. As with the seating arrangement at the wedding banquet, these cravings are transitory. What was important at one moment in time often soon loses its value. At times, it seems one would do almost anything to avoid being shamed in front of others. In truth, we experience many of these humiliating events throughout our lives and still survive these embarrassments. These experiences of yearnings and disgrace are just fancies of insecurity that we experience trying to identify our self-worth.
Jesus provides the example that we should all follow in understand our place at the wedding table. In his hospitality, Jesus did not segregate himself from sinners at meals. In his humility, Jesus avoided those who wanted to make him a king. In his Passion, he took on our shame, suffering for our sins rather than letting us experience eternal death.
Jesus, as the second person of God, humbled himself to born as a child becoming completely dependent on humans, the ones he created and the ones who would murder him. Not one act in his life was taken to place himself in the place of honor and very often he accepted the indignity of his detractors instead of lashing back. Jesus’ entire existence, as a human being, was directed in his love for us using the examples of hospitality and humility.
Deacon Dan Gilbert

TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 2019

 The Jewish people, identified as the children of God since the time of Moses, believed that God would save them. With this designation as his children, it seemed a foregone conclusion to the Jews that God would keep them from any suffering associated with hell.  The question of today’s Gospel, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?"  then is asking Jesus, ‘How many Gentiles (non-Jews) will be saved?’ since these people were not of Jewish blood or culture and therefore not of the chosen.     
      Jesus, in his response, emphasizes that salvation any person is not determined by ‘whom you know’ but ‘who you are.’ Each person must seek heaven through his or her merits. No person can arrogantly assume automatic an entry. Nor can one buy his or her way into heaven by money, power, or by the self-proclamation of being worthy of God’s grace. Therefore, God would welcome some Gentiles into Heaven before the self-righteous Jews who believed that heaven was owed to them. It is a person’s actions, while here on earth, in choosing good over evil that determines whether an individual will sit at the Lord’s bountiful table in heaven. 
      The devil provides many opportunities to sin for each of us. He twists our thinking and leads us to believe that by using any necessary manipulation, we will attain the satisfaction of perfection on earth.  How much do we advance our fulfillment of happiness with the practices of pride and envy? What depravities in lust and gluttony will we attempt to realize some base desires?  How many times have we ignored the opportunities to change our faith practices because of slothfulness?  How often does our anger overwhelm our rational thought? Does the desire for possessions and money cause greed to prioritize our lives? The accumulation of this evilness that changes our body and spirit may cause the Father to question whether we can sit at his table.  
      Whereas once we were pure of body and spirit at our baptism, exposure to the world altered our appearance.  Sin changes our spiritual appearance, adding a sooty blackness and unappealing lesions. Sin bloats us with the excess baggage of self-desires and self-righteousness that prevent us from passing through the narrow gate of heaven.  However, all hope is not lost, for we can slough off these impurities through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Confessing our sins can remove the stains, and the corruption to our spirit, returning us to the brilliance of purity as at our baptism.    
      At the judgment day, many will be seeking to pass through the narrow gate into heaven. God, the Father, will judge those who have qualified for eternal life in the Kingdom. Only those who have sincerely sought repentance of God for their sins will be able to enter. God’s demand for satisfaction for our sins has nothing to do with vengeance.  Rather than eliminating the penalty for our sins in, God upholds his respect of our human dignity. In giving us the freedom of free will to make choices, he treats like “adults’ in that he makes us responsible for our acts and the corresponding consequences. God knows whether one’s acts and words of contrition are expressed with the heartfelt desire to be one with the Lord.  
      Jesus emphasizes the need for discipline of the mind and heart. A person must center one’s heart on love of God and neighbor. A person must logical recognize that earthly desires are not the summit of one’s life.  There will always be those who want the rewards of the Lord’s feast but do not have the discipline in the struggle necessary to surrender their minds and hearts to Jesus.  For these people, the acts and words of faith are nothing more than the purchased price of a ticket to gain admission to heaven.
      It is an indefensible practice for those who use Holy Water or make the Sign of the Cross but have no faith, thinking that there is some magical property in these acts that will protect them or give them some advantage. This false performance is just as empty when consuming the consecrated bread and wine during Mass and not believing that they have become Body and Blood of Jesus. These individuals are the ones who repeatedly eat and drink at the Lord’s Table but ignore the actual price of admission. Jesus comment to these pretenders is, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, evildoers.”
      Those who have seen themselves as the privileged few in this world will be disappointed when attempting to place themselves at the head of the line entering heaven. Money, power, manipulation, none of these things will then have value on judgment day.  “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out.” It is us that need to change our attitudes; our practices to allow us to pass through for God will not be widening the gate to accommodate those who want into heavenly feast on their terms.  Those who have learned the lessons of placing love for God and others before acts of self-love will be first because they have found in their heart what Jesus knew in his heart – divine love makes all of us equal.
     
      Deacon Dan Gilbert

TWENTIETH SUNDAY ORDINARY 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

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