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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

SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2019

“Lord, teach us to pray,” and so Jesus taught his disciples the prayer that we call the ‘Our Father.’ As we know, this prayer has become the mainstay of the Christian religion. Since Jesus pronounced these words, at every moment of every day somewhere, someone is repeating these words.
The words in the ‘Our Father’ describe God’s power and might and our complete dependence on him for our existence in this world and the world to come. We bow before him asking for his love and mercy as we are sinners and need his forgiveness. When we use this prayer to pray to our Father, we must remember that we should pray from the depths of our heart to realize its promises.
These words of the ‘Our Father’ do not have a magical capability. We cannot flippantly repeat the words to magically expect to receive our daily bread and the remission of our sins. If one thinks that only saying and not praying the ‘Our Father’ is all that is necessary to receive what he or she wants, the person will not find fulfillment. Using a recitation format is no different than believing that one can control God by identifying a list of demands.
There is a distinction between make demands of the Lord and praying for his indulgence. Our Father listens and responds to each of our prayers to him. Often his generous response is not in the format that we imagined in our prayer but he always replies to the prayers from the heart. He always acts for our benefit. As Jesus says, “What Father among you would hand his son a stone when asked for bread? Or hand him a snake when instead of a fish? Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg?” These words confirm that we can in confidence in praying to our Father assured that he would never act in a way that causes harm to us.
Jesus, in the Gospel, also indicates the need for perseverance in prayer to the Father. God’s response to our prayer does not follow our schedule. God may well delay his response for us to grow in our faith, to become closer to our heavenly Father. If we give up on prayer if we don’t get immediate gratification, how will we ever come to know the all-loving Father?
By now, we should be well aware that we cannot hide anything from the Lord. He knows we have sinned before we confess it. He knows our deepest desires, good or bad, even when we have never spoken them out loud. He, therefore, knows if our prayers are memorized words or if they are said in the intensity of faith. If we spend our lives deliberating on Jesus’ words in the ‘Our Father,’ we will discover every secret of happiness and peace. These words show us how God wants us to approach him and be with him.
If we don’ express spiritual desire while praying the ‘Our Father,’ it is no more effective than a child singing the ABC song. The child sings from memory to please a parent or a teacher, but singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star would result in the same level of satisfaction. Therefore, repeating the ‘Our Father’ from memory is no great accomplishment. The second-grader can perform the same feat.
If the ‘Our Father’ is just words with no meaning, there is no relationship being built between the Lord and the one who says the words. If such a person stands before the gates of heaven asking for admittance because he has over his lifetime has said the ‘Our Father fifty thousand times and a few ‘Hail Marys’ to round off the number. However, he failed to pray with the intensity of a true believer; the Lord will then say to him, ‘I do not know you’ as the gates are closed with the person still on the outside.
God desires an intimate relationship with us. He wants us to speak to him the words that we feel uncomfortable saying to anyone else. He wants us to ask for our heart’s desire so that he can fulfill our needs while still protecting us from ourselves. It when we stop praying when we dissolve the relationship of his ability to guide us toward the most significant desire - eternal salvation, is diminished. We then are indicating our decision making is better than his, that our independence is of more value that maintaining our spiritual bond with our Father.
Prayer is much simpler than you think, for God is always with you at your side and in your heart. He is always paying attention to you, thinking of you. God is always interested in what you are going through and what is on your mind and heart. Remember this, believe it, and prayer will become as natural as breathing. You never have to be alone. He is the one who knows you wholly and loves you no matter what. Live in the awareness of God’s presence; let him be your life’s companion.

Deacon Dan Gilbert

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