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SIXTEENTH SUNDAY ORDINARY TIME 2019

 In almost every discussion of the Gospel reading from Luke about Mary and Martha, Martha is disparaged for her acts when compared to Mary’s attentiveness to Jesus. Jesus’ words, when taken literally, seem very harsh and in discord with his merciful acts. Jesus says to Martha, “Martha, Martha you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it will not be taken from her.” Jesus’ words imply that Martha should immediately stop what she is doing and sit at Jesus’ feet and like Mary listen to him. Unless one looks deeper into his meaning, Jesus appears callous and unappreciative of Martha’s efforts. What did Martha do wrong, when Mary appears to have little regard for addressing the needs of her guests?
      Mary’s focus on Jesus and his words, as he says, is “the better part” for she has chosen to direct her attention to him above anything else. Mary does this because of her love for him. Mary is in quiet contemplative awe as she listening to his words in absorbing them into her being. She realizes that his words bring the everlasting truth that is too valuable to ignore. Jesus is telling us that likewise our hearts must be in quiet reflection, for he speaks of our everlasting salvation. Unless we turn to his words and hold deep them in our hearts we will be easily distracted by the devil with his showy and sparkling objects that tempt us to disregard our real desire of eternity with Jesus in heaven.
       But what about Martha; why is she in the wrong? She too loves Jesus as much as Mary for she bustles about the kitchen preparing a meal for Jesus and his disciplines. The efforts of hospitality are a cornerstone of the Jewish tradition. In the first reading today, Abraham takes great effort to show hospitality to three strangers who are passing by. God, in recognizing his generosity, promises Abraham a son. This promise coming at the end of the meal indicates pleasure of Abraham’s devotion to love of neighbor. Is not the act of opening one’s house and kitchen to care for others an example of such love, one that Jesus commands of us? Martha in her work certainly was saintly and was also much loved by the Lord.  In welcoming Jesus into her home she is asking Jesus to make her home his home. Martha stresses need for service to the Jesus and others as she move about preparing a meal.
      Then what wrong has Martha done that she was admonished by Jesus? St. Augustine, in several of his sermons, interprets Jesus words to Martha that she acting in the present where Mary is looking at the things to come.  St. Augustine reflects that Mary has chosen the better part. Not that Martha made a bad choice, but Mary a better.  In time, the burdens of these necessary worldly duties will be taken from Martha when she enters heaven. Then the toils of this world will be in the past for she then can join Mary in experiencing the sweetness of the truth that is everlasting. 
      This Gospel story is not meant to set one sister against the other. Each demonstrates her complete love for Jesus but in a different way. Mary shows the value of continual contemplation of Christ in our lives. Martha demonstrates the qualities of self gift her service to the Lord. The sisters symbolize side-by-side realities are meant to be in harmony. Therefore, although Christian history is fond of playing Martha and Mary against each other, the real task is to discover the proper relationship in our lives of service and reflection.
       If one lives only a reflective life, then daily activities come to a standstill. A housewife, who only thinks about washing the sinkful of dishes throughout the day, will still have dishes to wash at the end of the day. The farmer, who stands leaning against a fencepost contemplating whether to disc a field, will still have a weedy field tomorrow. The student who reflects on the story that needs to written for class, still needs to type the words on the page, before it can be submitted. Contemplation without action can be a block to reaching the goals one desires.
      Similarly, the workaholic who never stops to reflect on his or her relationship with others is focused more on the action than on the reason why the act is done.  For these people they find themselves on a hamster wheel  running and running  not know that there is more to experience that busyness. Jesus does not dismissing the importance of hospitality in his words to Martha; he only asks her to discover more than can be found looking out the kitchen window.
      The achievement of balance between a life service and contemplation is necessary in every aspect of our lives. For example, some individuals who come to Mass direct all of their attention solely on the word of God which is a holy act. In becoming so focused on prayer, however, one loses sight of the importance of the community that desires to develop a relationship with such a faith-filled person.  Other parishioners volunteer regularly for ministries such as ushers, greeters, extra-ordinary ministers, cantors and instrumentalists, lectors, altar servers, and sacristans find it difficult to set time aside in the Mass for prayer because of their duties. The quality of contemplation is compromised one never learns to pray from the heart.  The two ministries are complementary.  
      What is this means is that our parish community suffers when we are exclusively a Mary or a Martha. It is not appropriate to set the two sisters and their acts against each other. In the ministry of caring for our neighbor, we learn the expansive nature God’s love that cannot be kept to oneself. In the ministry of contemplation, we discover the depth God’s love in our hearts. Thus there is a balance to be achieved in our lives between  Mary and Martha. 
      Deacon Dan Gilbert

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 2019

 The Gospel today relates the well-known story of the Good Samaritan. Its message is to invoke in us the meaning of love for one’s neighbor. The parable comprises the second part of the Greatest Commandment “You must love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  If one were to compare this Greatest Commandment with the Ten Commandments that God gave to the Israelites through Moses, the words might be different, but the intent remains the same. The first three Commandments describe our relationship with our God and the depth of our love for him. The last seven Commandments express our obligations to others in assuring that we understand that our love necessarily extends beyond loving ourselves and God.
      The Greatest Commandment identifies with the stark simplicity of the life we are to lead. We often, however, seem unable to comply. The priest and Levite demonstrate the ability to walk away from another as when we believe our priorities are more important than the one suffering along the road. The excuse most often used in the parable was the need for the priest and Levite to avoid contact with any blood. Jewish religion practices forbade a man to participate in any Temple activity until he went through ritual purification after touching blood or a dead body. Practicing religion is more important than a man’s life?
      What are some of the excuses that we often use to avoid helping another? How about the thoughts of fear, hatred, pride, envy, indifference, a stranger, she’s unworthy, he’s not clean, or she’s not of our faith, the absence of faith, inappropriate use of our faith?  If we pause for a moment to consider, not one of these options provides any good reason for not actively demonstrating care for another. The enemy, the devil, will use any means to separate us from God, even religion.
      One of the most unfortunate excuses is to use religion as a cover for failing to attend to another.  We far too often forget that religion is a human creation to express what we think is pleasing to God. If we become so entangled with a religious ritual pattern and dismiss the intent of the meaning associated with the ritual, then we have let the enemy, not God, into our hearts. God’s focus is on love; where we love him and our neighbor.  If our religious practices ultimately do not point to the act of love, then we are falling into the abyss of the enemy.
      The content of the Sunday Mass is to bring us closer to the understanding of the love of God. If we are more concerned about the order of the Mass, then the enemy has turned our focus away from the love of God towards disunity and disruption.  The intrinsic value of the Mass is lost. The enemy is winning if our worry is about the length of candlesticks and the richness of the vestments and not the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It makes no difference whether the Mass is sung or spoken. Whether it is pronounced in Latin or Spanish, or Cantonese, God does not care. God’s concern whether your heart is speaking the words your mouth is saying.
      Assuredly, one of the methods that humans use to show their love to God is by building immense cathedrals and adorning them with beautiful art and treasure. The act of giving back to God in this way demonstrates an intense love for God who has given us everything.  However, lest we forget, God is just as present in a church built by those with limited resources and where the only adornment is a small crucifix behind the altar. The prayers offered at either location, if offered from the heart, are equally pleasing to God, the Father.  Therefore, as with all things, it is what comes from our hearts that shows the extent of our love.
      Recognize that the enemy, the devil, is using our pride as a means to turn us against God when we think of ourselves as more worthy of God‘s love than someone with less. The enemy’s sole purpose is to disrupt our lives and make us believe that if we don’t push our way to first in line, we have failed ourselves. When we use any excuse to make ourselves more important than those around us, we are breaking the Greatest Commandment. We then have consciously or subconsciously have placed our self-love above God or neighbor.  Being alone out on that narrow ledge of self-importance is a frightful place to be, for it is long, painful fall back to reality.
      Love, Jesus tells us that the most pleasing offering that we can give God is in the act of love towards him and our neighbor. There is not an excuse, not even using religion, where we can rationalize our failure to follow this Commandment that is steeped in love. If we routinely find ourselves justifying walking across the road to avoid the beaten man, then we have walked far away from God as well. If we discover that we are shadowing the acts of the priest and the Levite in the Good Samaritan parable, then we must accept our excuses are the work of the enemy.  Recognition of our egotistic failings is the first step in walking back into the brilliant light of love.
      Deacon Dan Gilbert
     
     

FOURTEENTH SUNDAY ORDIANRY TIME, 2019

In the Gospel today, Jesus sends out seventy-two disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells them to travel without supplies, having faith that God will provide. Jesus instructs them to meet with the people in their homes for Jesus desires to have a personal relationship with each person. Jesus also tells the seventy-two not to be concerned about their inability to cause a change of heart in everyone, but to walk away harboring no resentment leaving the disbelievers to their fate of one day facing God’s judgment.
      So how do these words of the Gospel find meaning for us today?  We are Christ’s modern-day disciples sent out to invite others to come to know Jesus. That does not mean that we need to walk barefoot to the surrounding towns and begin knocking on homes and asking if the family knows about the Kingdom of God. We all know how irritating it is when it happens to us. Like the seventy-two, we are to proclaim the love of Jesus to those we encounter by our manner and our expressions of faith. The most effective evangelist is one expresses him or herself by examples of right living, prayer, and a willingness to speak of Jesus when asked.
      We cannot force our faith on to anyone. We cannot make a person love Jesus any more than parents can make a 3-year-old enthused about eating cook spinach. If the child defies the request, then the parents are forced to use promises, threats, pleading, and other assorted tactics to get compliance. Consumption may occur, but that does not mean the child enjoyed the experience.
      Jesus is not looking for people who are made to believe, forced into faith by the proposition of going to hell for not turning to Jesus or ridiculing other faiths. If one becomes Catholic because of threats or false promises, then the love and joy of being with the Lord will not be realized. We are then looking at a person who cut corners, who make the minimum effort to be compliant because they only follow the rules. The Catholic faith has no value, like convincing the 3-year-old eating spinach is good for him. Instead, Jesus wants converts who react from a desire for his message of salvation offers.
      Therefore, even if becoming a follower of Jesus is the healthiest option for another’s soul, we must allow him or her the time to develop a longing for the truth. It may be a long, onerous process with many retreats before the individual turns toward the salvation Jesus offers. The decision to commit to Jesus, however, is between the person and the Lord. Remember that the Lord is working within the hearts everyone to bring the love of Jesus to their consciousness. It not for us to determine the time that conversion will occur. Our efforts as Christ’s disciple, is to plant the seed of a thought into their soul. It is God who will nourish the idea bringing it to fruition.
      Conversion, therefore, happens only when a person is ready. Christ too failed to convert some in his ministry (think Pharisees). If our efforts of evangelization are made with words and actions that are pleasing to the Lord, then we have met our obligation.   If we have faith, then we know that God will continue to build on the work we have begun by our words and actions. 
      The seventy-two that Jesus sent out were no different from us. The only tools necessary to evangelize are a belief in Jesus, frequently praying and speaking a personal way about the love we have for Jesus, demonstrating that we understand those words in how we live our lives. Simple words that express a personal relationship with Jesus have much more meaning than any theological oration.
      When we listen to a homily, we are stirred to our very souls when one speaks of Christ’s message from the heart instead of a homily that speaks only academic renditions of religion.  We want to hear a message that thrills us to know that Jesus is alive within us and calling us to be one with him. These are the stories that evangelize those who need a planting of the seeds of desire to know more about Jesus.
      Therefore, be true to the faith you profess. Live your life, knowing that Jesus is at your side to give you strength when encountering daily difficulties and celebrate with you on the moments where the work of God is evident. Be the one who stands out in the workplace, the checkout line, the ball field, or a restaurant because your actions demonstrate that nothing can shake your inmost calm because Jesus is with you. Be prepared to tell your faith story when asked. Tell your story with sincerity, of your struggles in understanding, your conversions after sinning, and your ongoing commitment to Jesus.
      And presto, you are an evangelist. These are the stories that pull people to want to know of the salvation that Jesus promises. Blessed are you who speak the word of God from your heart, for you know the love of the Lord.
     
      Deacon Dan Gilbert
     

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