Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

About a year ago I was praying the Liturgy of the Hours, which are the daily prayers that all priests, deacons, and religious pray. As I was praying, I came across the antiphon, “Surrender to the Lord, and He will do everything for you.” Now, that sounds nice and pious, but I remember thinking, “Everything? The Lord will do everything for me? I don’t want the Lord to do everything for me. I mean, I want Him to take care of some things, the big things, the things I can’t handle on my own. But I’m a grown man. I can take care of most things myself.”

Now, I realize that those aren’t the most virtuous thoughts. I’m sure that, as a priest, I am supposed to live a life of absolute and total surrender to God. But that’s tough. And I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with that. I think there is a perennial temptation as believers to treat God as our personal assistant. He’s the one that we call on to do the things that we don’t have the time, the energy, the desire, or the ability to handle ourselves. But we take care of the rest on our own. We wouldn’t necessarily admit to it. If you asked me, I would tell you that I trust God with everything, that I see Him as the source of all that I have. But in my heart, I trust God with some things, and I see Him as the source of those things, but I see a lot of what I have and am as the result of my own abilities.

Our readings today stress that God wants to take care of us. In our first reading, the Prophet Isaiah expresses it in poetic, symbolic terms. “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever.” God wants to provide for our needs and take away that which afflicts us. And not only supply for our needs, but to do so in a most extravagant way. Isaiah doesn’t just say that god will give us food and drink, as if He’s just going to toss us some stale bread and water. And He isn’t just going to provide for a few people. “The Lord of hosts will provide for all people a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” Isaiah is not just talking about God giving us good food, but God providing us everything. In the second reading, St. Paul says it much more directly, “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” God will fully supply whatever we need. God is so amazingly abundant with His graces to us. Again, God doesn’t want to give us just the bare minimum. And God doesn’t want to just be a stopgap. He doesn’t want to just fill in the parts that we can’t do on our own. He will fully supply us with whatever we need. God wants to give us everything.

But that means that we have to rely on Him for everything. And as easy as that is to say, it is hard to do. Ever since we were infants, we’ve been taught that the goal is to do things ourselves. Our parents applauded when we took our first step, when we could feed ourselves or tie our own shoes. We’ve been taught, explicitly and implicitly, throughout our whole lives that it is a virtue to be able to do things on our own. Asking people for help, relying on others, being unable to do something, is seen as a bad thing. How often, when someone has offered to help you, have you responded, almost instinctively, “I’ve got it. I can do it.” We don’t want help unless we feel that we absolutely need it.

In the Gospel today, Our Lord takes a parable of a king who tries inviting his guests to a feast, but they refuse. When we first hear the parable, that may seem absurd. Why would anyone do that? But how often do we refuse to let God provide for us, choosing instead to rely on ourselves? It is as though the king invited us to a feast, but we said, “Oh, no thanks, I have plenty of food myself. I’m good.” I’m not saying that we are terrible people committing atrocious sins. But we are simply self-reliant, rather than seeking the Lord in all things. Even as a priest, this is a temptation. All too often, I find myself relying on myself and my own abilities rather than seeking to surrender everything to the Lord and allowing Him to provide. For example, I think of how many times I have sat down to begin writing a homily, and my approach is, “What am I going to say about these readings?” rather than, “What is the Lord saying through these readings?” When meeting with people, I think, “What great advice can I give them?” rather than, “What is the Lord saying to them?” Again, it is so easy to fall into this self-reliance, that we don’t even notice it. When you are at work, is your approach, “What am I going to do? How am I going to handle this situation?” or is your approach, “Lord, I give this all to you and ask you to provide for me as you see fit, because I know that you will always fully supply whatever I need?” In your relationships with other people, whether that is your spouse, your kids, your friends and coworkers, strangers, are your words and actions guided by yourself or do you ask the Holy Spirit to guide you? Imagine how radically different our world would be if we allowed everything we did to be guided by God. If we truly allowed the Lord to provide for us in every situation of our lives and relied not on our own understanding and will. The Psalm today proclaims that the Lord is my shepherd. But do I allow my shepherd to lead me, or do I lead myself?

God wants to provide for us, richly and in abundance. But we have to let Him. We have to turn to Him, not just in the difficult situations, but at all times. That is hard. It takes constantly living in relationship with Him. It means in everything we do turning our minds to the Lord and saying, “God, I give this to you, and I ask you to provide for me in this situation.” We are called to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us, not just in the challenging situations or the ones that are beyond our abilities, but every situation.

So my challenge to you this morning is this: during this next week, as often as you can remember to do it, pray, “Lord, I give this to you, and I ask that you provide for me.” Do it in all things: at work, at school, at home, in whatever you are doing. It isn’t easy. It takes practice. You probably won’t do it perfectly. But the more we turn things over to God, the more that we allow Him to provide for us in all things, the closer we get to truly being His disciple. The more we trust God, the more that we will truly be able to say that we love Him above all things. And if we allow Him to provide, we will share in the feast that He invites us to.

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XXVII Domingo Ordinario

Una de las cosas bellas acerca de las escrituras es que tienen niveles múltiples de significado. Es cierto para la parábola en el Evangelio de hoy. En un nivel, la parábola es un relato de cómo Dios ha tratado con Israel. La nación de Israel es la viña. Los siervos que él envía para obtener la cosecha son los profetas. Los viñadores que maltraten a los siervos son los sacerdotes y los ancianos que no haga caso a las advertencias de los profetas y, por su mal ejemplo, mantuvieron la gente de hacerlo así. Por último, el propietario envía a su hijo, obviamente hablando de Cristo. De esta manera, la parábola es una ilustración de cómo Dios ha tratado con su pueblo, así como un castigo del jefe de sacerdotes y los ancianos.

Pero, en otro nivel, la parábola es acerca de cómo Dios viene a cada uno de nosotros individualmente. Dios nos envía frecuentemente a mensajeros para obtener el fruto de nuestra conversión. Nos da una conciencia, por el cual podemos juzgar lo correcto de lo malo. Él nos envía su gracia para guiar a nuestra conciencia. También nos da otras personas. El esposo, padre, madre, o hijo que nos recuerda nuestros deberes, el amigo que nos anima con sus palabras o buen ejemplo y muchas otras cosas puede ser instrumentos de la gracia de Dios en nuestras vidas, mensajeros nos llama a llevar fruto. Como en el Evangelio, Dios nos envía estos mensajeros una y otra vez, continuamente nos llama a la conversión más profunda.

Pero, como los viñadores en el Evangelio de hoy, tenemos que tomar una decisión de si o no respondemos a estos mensajeros de Dios. Somos capaces de escuchar a nuestra conciencia y elegir hacer lo que es correcto. También somos capaces de ignorar nuestra conciencia. Podemos escuchar a aquellos que servir como la voz de Dios en nuestras vidas o en nuestro orgullo podemos optar por ignorarlos. Dichosamente, como en el Evangelio, Dios no deja de enviarnos mensajeros, aunque los ignoremos. Pero como también dice en el Evangelio de hoy, en algún momento tendremos que dar cuenta de cómo hemos respondido a su gracia en nuestras vidas. Continuará tratar de llegar hasta nosotros, aunque lo rechazamos, pero no podemos rechazarlo continuamente sin consecuencia. Debemos elegir si responderle o no.

Octubre es el Mes de Respeto de Vida en la iglesia. Al examinar la cultura de la muerte en nuestra sociedad, vemos cuán fácil es para que nosotros ignorar nuestras conciencias y los mensajeros de Dios. ¿Qué podría ser más obvio que está mal a matar a un niño por nacer? ¿Qué podría ser más obvio que el hecho de que está mal a matar a alguien simplemente porque son de edad o enfermo? ¿Qué podría ser más obvio que el valor y la santidad del matrimonio? ¿Qué podría ser más obvio que debemos respetar los derechos y la dignidad de todas las personas, independiente de su raza o nacionalidad? Y sin embargo, como sociedad, amortiguamos nuestras conciencias a estas obvias afirmaciones de la razón. Y aunque Dios frecuentemente ha enviado sus mensajeros para proclamar estas verdades, respondemos como los en el Evangelio de hoy, enviarlos lejos sin hacer caso a sus palabras. Octubre es también el mes de concientización sobre violencia doméstica, que relata con el tema del respeto de la vida. La familia es la unidad fundamental de la sociedad y el lugar donde la vida es ser aceptado y cultivado. Domestic violence cuts at the heart of the family and turns what should be the source of life and love in the world into a source of violence, fear, and death. Otra vez, ¿qué podría ser más obvio que la violencia doméstica es un mal grave? Y, sin embargo, le atribuimos un estigma, lo ignoramos, y miles de mujeres, hombres y niños sufren.

Estamos llamados a ser la Viña de Dios, como escuchamos en la primera lectura. Estamos llamados a dar fruto abundante, para ser una fuente de vida nueva en el mundo. Somos la fuerza que contrarresta la cultura de la muerte. Pero en primer lugar, eso significa que debemos responder a lo que de Dios en nuestras vidas. No podemos ser mensajeros de Dios para los demás a menos que respondamos primero a Su gracia en el trabajo en nosotros. Debemos preguntarnos ¿cómo, por mis acciones o mis inacciones, por mis pensamientos o palabras, he alentado la cultura de la muerte en cualquier forma? Tal vez no es una promoción explícita del aborto o la eutanasia o la violencia. Pero ¿he alimentado la mentalidad de que ciertas personas son menos dignas de los derechos, o sus vidas son menos valiosas? Ya sean los jóvenes, los ancianos, los enfermos, los discapacitados mentales o físicos, los pobres, ellos de una raza o de una cultura diferente, ¿he contribuido a la idea de que ellos tienen menos dignidad que yo? ¿Cuáles son las otras áreas de pecado en mi vida que Dios me ha llamado a cambiar, pero he resistido a Su gracia? Todo pecado es, de alguna manera, una participación en la cultura de la muerte, porque es una rebelión contra Dios, que es la fuente de toda vida.

Cuando hemos respondido a la gracia de Dios en nuestras vidas, debemos ser sus mensajeros a los demás. A veces seremos rechazados, como escuchamos de los criados en el Evangelio de hoy. Pero nunca debemos rendirnos, porque Dios nunca se rinde a nosotros.

Dios no envía sólo a los mensajeros, pero, como dice la parábola, él envía a su hijo. Lo envió a morir y resucitar de los muertos para nuestra salvación. Él le envía a nosotros diariamente en el Santísimo Sacramento. Aquí en la Eucaristía, el hijo de Dios viene a nosotros. Que lo recibamos con alegría y respondamos a su venida dando fruto en nuestras vidas y siendo instrumentos de Su gracia en la vida de otros.

 

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

One of the beautiful things about the Scriptures is that they often have different levels of meaning. That is certainly true for the parable in today’s Gospel. On one level, the parable is an account of how God has dealt with Israel. The nation of Israel is the vineyards. The servants that He sends to obtain the harvest are the prophets that the Lord sent. The tenants who mistreat the servants are the chief priests and elders who did not heed the prophets’ warnings and, by their bad example, kept the people from doing so as well. Finally, the landowner sends his son, obviously talking about Christ coming. In this way, the parable serves as an illustration of how God has dealt with His people, as well as a chastisement of the chief priests and elders.

But, on another level, the parable is about how God comes to each of us on an individual basis. God repeatedly sends us messengers in order to obtain the fruit of our conversion. He gives us a conscience, by which we can judge right from wrong. He sends us His grace to guide our conscience. He also gives us other people. The spouse, parent, or child who reminds us of our duties, the friend or co-worker who encourages us by their words or good example, and so many other things can be instruments of God’s grace in our lives, messengers calling us to bear fruit. Like in the Gospel, God sends these messengers to us again and again, continually calling us to deeper conversion.

But, like the tenants in today’s Gospel, we have to make a choice of whether or not we respond to these messengers from God. We are capable of listening to our conscience and choosing to do what is right, even if we find it difficult. We are also capable of deadening our conscience and choosing to do whatever we want, regardless of whether it is right or wrong. We can choose to listen to those around us who serve as God’s voice in our lives, or in our pride we can choose to ignore them. Thankfully, as in the Gospel, God does not stop sending us messengers, even if we ignore them. But, as it also says in today’s Gospel, we will at some point have to give an account for how we have responded to His grace in our lives. He will continue to try to reach us, even if we reject Him, but we cannot reject Him continually without consequence. We must choose whether to respond to Him or not.

October is Respect Life Month in the Church. As we examine the culture of death in our society, we see just how easy it is for us to deaden our consciences and ignore God’s messengers. What could be more obvious than that it is wrong to kill an unborn child? What could be more obvious than the fact that it is wrong to kill someone simply because they are aged or infirm? What could be more obvious than the value and sanctity of marriage and the fact that it should be safeguarded? What could be more obvious that that we should respect the rights and the dignity of all people, regardless of their race or nationality? And yet how easily we, as a culture, deaden our consciences to these obvious claims of reason. And despite the fact that God has repeatedly sent His messengers to proclaim these fundamental truths, we respond like the tenants in today’s Gospel, repeatedly sending them away without heeding their words. October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which ties in beautifully with the theme of Respect Life. The family is the fundamental unit of society and the place where life is to be accepted and nurtured. Domestic violence cuts at the very heart of the family and turns what should be the source of life and love in the world into a source of violence, fear, and death. Again, what could be more obvious than the fact that domestic violence is a grave evil? And yet, we attach a stigma to it, we turn a blind eye to it, and thousands of women, men, and children are left to suffer.

We are called to be God’s vineyard, as we hear in the first reading. We are called to bear abundant fruit, to be a source of new life in the world. Our life-giving is to be the force that counters the culture of death. But first, that means that we must respond to God’s prompting in our lives. We cannot be God’s messengers to others unless we first respond to His grace at work in us. We must ask ourselves, where by my actions or inactions, by my thoughts or words, have I encouraged the culture of death in any form? Perhaps it is not an explicit promotion of abortion or euthanasia or violence. But have I fed the mentality that certain people are less worthy of rights, or their lives are less valuable? Whether it is the young, the old, the sick, those with mental or physical handicaps, the poor, those of a different race or background, have I contributed to the idea that they have less dignity than me? What are the other areas of sin in my life that I know God has called me to change, but I have resisted His grace and the promptings of my own conscience? All sin is, in some way, a participation in the culture of death, because it is a rebellion against God, who is the source of all life.

When we have responded to God’s grace in our lives, we are called then to be His messengers to others. Sometimes we will be rejected, just as we hear of the servants in today’s Gospel. But we must never give up, because God never gives up on us.

God sends not only messengers, but, as the parable says, He sends His Son. He sent Him 2000 years ago to die and rise from the dead for our salvation. He sends Him to us daily in the Blessed Sacrament. Here in the Eucharist, God’s Son comes to us. Let us not reject Him here by receiving Him unworthily. Rather, may we receive Him with joy and respond to His coming by bearing fruit in our lives and by being instruments of His grace in the lives of those we meet

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I hate using clichés in homilies, and if anyone tells my homiletics professor from the seminary that I began my homily with one, I will deny it. But we all know the saying “Talk is cheap.” It is easy for us to say that we care about certain things or have certain priorities, but most of us struggle to actually live them on a daily basis. For example, if you asked me, I would say that I care about eating healthy, which is generally true, right up until the point where I’m hungry and driving past a McDonald’s, and one Big Mac and large fries later, my priorities aren’t so clear.

We know this from our daily interactions with other people. If you tell your spouse,
“I love you,” but then are mean to them, then those words don’t really mean much. If we tell a friend, “You are important to me,” but then ignore them, it doesn’t really matter what we say

We see the same thing in the Gospel. The father tells his sons to go work in the vineyard, and the second son says yes. He’s a good son, and he would probably say that being obedient to his father is a priority for him. Maybe he really intends on doing what his father asks. He goes up to his room intending to put his work clothes on and head out into the vineyard. But along the way, something else catches his interest. Maybe there is something really good on TV, or one of his friends calls, or he decides to take a quick nap before heading out. Whatever happened, the son’s actions reveal that, despite his claims to the contrary, doing his father’s will is not as high a priority as he thinks that it is.

The same is true in our spiritual life. It is easy to say, “I love God.” It is easy to say, “God is important to me.” It is easy to say, “I am Catholic.” But all of that talk doesn’t really mean anything unless we live it. We don’t get into heaven just by saying, “I love God. I’m Catholic. I’m a good person.” Our Lord tells us that we are judged on our actions. All of our talk doesn’t mean anything if we don’t live it out.

We can say that we love God above all things, but does the way that we spend our time and our money show that, or does it show that what we really love above all things is ourselves? We can say that we’re Catholic, but if we miss Mass, or show up late and leave early, and don’t go to Confession, and don’t make time for prayer and reading the Bible, then our actions show something else. If someone were to listen to every word that we say for a week, could they tell that we are Catholic? If someone were to look at how we spend your money, would it be evident that God is the most important person in our lives? If someone were to watch us for a month and see how we prioritize our time, would they report back that we are a person who loves God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength?

The danger is that we tend to be very good at lying to ourselves. We know the kind of person that we want to be, that we wish we were, and we are very good at telling ourselves that we are that person, even if the evidence doesn’t prove it. Today’s Gospel calls us to honestly examine our lives and see if our actions really match our words; if we are really the people that we claim to be. I say that I love God above all things, I say that I am Catholic and that my faith is important to me, but where is the evidence? What are the concrete actions in my life that show that this is true? Are there actions in my life that show that this isn’t as true as I would like it to be? Do my actions show that having a big bank account and a good stock portfolio is really more important to me than having a good spiritual life? Does the way I live my life show that my will is really more important to the way I prioritize my time than God’s will?

And, if so, what steps do I need to take in my life so that my actions really do match my words? No one wants to be a hypocrite; no one wants to be the kind of person who says one thing and does another. But, if we’re honest, that’s what most of us are. I know I am. Most of us don’t 100 percent of the time live our lives the way that we would like to say that we do. So what do we need to do to change that? What changes do I need to make in my life so that my actions really do show that I love God above all things?

No one likes asking these questions. We don’t like admitting to ourselves that we don’t always live up to the standards we set, that our actions don’t always match our words. It requires humility. Thankfully, there is hope for us. St. Paul reminds us in our second reading of the great gift of Christ’s death. Through his obedience, His humility, He has won the forgiveness of our disobedience. Our Lord always did the will of the Father, even when it resulted in His death on the Cross. By doing so, He has merited the forgiveness of all those times when we have not made doing the Father’s will our first priority.

We are all called to examine our lives to see how we have said one thing, but lived something else. Where are those areas that I do not yet love God above all things? Let us seek God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Confession for those times when we have not followed Him. And may this Eucharist give us the grace to truly follow Him not just in words but in every action of our lives.

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Unity Day)

We gather here today to pray for unity. But people can be united by many different things. A sports team is united by the game they play. A band is united by music. A company is united by their business. These are examples of human unity. It is a group of people choosing to come together and unite themselves for a chosen cause. There is nothing wrong with that. But the unity for which we pray today is a deeper unity. We want more than human unity. We don’t come here to unite ourselves but to be united by God. God unites us, not by any human cause or purpose, but by love. As St. Paul says in our second reading, “love is the fulfillment of the law.” Love is God’s command to us and the force that He uses to unite us.

If love causes unity, what causes division? I think the Gospel today alludes to that. Sin. Sin is the ultimate source of division. We see that from the very beginning. When our first parents sinned, it caused division, division between the two of them, and division between them and God. The same is true for us. Sin is the source of division in our lives as well, whether that be division between nations, division between communities, or division between individuals. The sin of pride, the sin of judgement and prejudice, the sin of anger, the sin of unforgiveness. It is sin that divides us.

If we want unity, we have to work for it, and we have to work at overcoming the sin that divides us. Too often, when we encounter the sins of others, we stay quiet. Our first reading says that if we see others sinning and do not warn them, we will be held responsible for their sins. If we see others causing division and disunity and do not correct them, God will hold us responsible for the division they have caused.

We pray today for unity, but we have to do more than pray. God calls all of us to actively work for unity, to be instruments of His love in the world, so that all may be one.

 

Nos reunimos hoy para orar por unidad. Pero la gente puede estar unida por muchas cosas. Un equipo deportivo está unida por el juego que juegan. Una banda está unida por la música. Una empresa está unida por su negocio. Esos son ejemplos de unidad humana. Son grupos de las personas que se reúnen por una causa que ellos eligen. Esto no es un problema. Pero oramos hoy por una unidad que es más profunda que una unidad humana. No estamos aquí para unirnos a nosotros mismos, pero ser unidos por el Señor.  Dios une a nosotros, no por una causa humana, pero por el amor. Como dice San Pablo en la lectura segunda, cumplir perfectamente la ley consiste en amar.” Amar es el mandamiento de Dios para nosotros y es la cosa por que Él nos une.

Si amor crea a la unidad, ¿qué crea a la división? Pienso que el evangelio nos dice. El pecado. El pecado es la última fuente de la división. Podemos ver eso desde el principio. Cuando nuestros padres primeros pecaron, eso pecado creó a la división. División entre los dos, y división entre ellos y Dios. Lo mismo es la verdad para nosotros. El pecado es la fuente de la división en nuestras vidas también: la división entre países, la división entre comunidades, la división entre individuos. El pecado de orgullo, el pecado de prejuicio, el pecado de ira, el pecado de falta de perdón. Todos los pecados crean división.

Si queremos unidad, es necesario que trabajamos por ella. Necesitamos resistir los pecados que nos divide. Muchas veces, cuando nos encontramos con pecados, permanecemos quieto. La primera lectura dice que, si vemos a otras personas pecando y no los advertimos, seremos responsables por sus pecados. Si vemos a otras personas creando división y desunión y no los corregimos, Dios nos mantendrá responsables de la división que ellos han causado.

Oramos hoy para la unidad, pero necesitamos hacer más que orar. Dios llama a nosotros a trabajar activamente por la unidad, a ser instrumentos de Su amor en el mundo, para que todos sean uno.

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

“You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.” That is how our first reading starts. It isn’t exactly how we expect a prophet to talk to God. “You duped me, O Lord.” So what’s going on here? Why is Jeremiah accusing God of duping him? Jeremiah has been a prophet for a while at this point, and his message is not an easy one. He was commanded to tell the people that they have turned from God and done evil, and that they are going to face punishment for their many sins. This is not an easy message for Jeremiah to preach. Jeremiah has done everything the Lord told him to do, he’s preached the message God called him to preach, and in return he has received hardship, rejection, and imprisonment. False prophets have turned the people and their leaders against him. No one is heeding his message. And so Jeremiah cries out to God, “You duped me, and I let myself be duped.” He is angry at God. Haven’t I done what you told me to do? Why have you allowed this to happen to me?

We don’t expect a prophet to talk to God this way. We don’t expect them to be angry with God. And yet, if we read the Bible, again and again it happens. Moses got angry at God. So did Job, and Habakkuk, and Jonah. And so do we. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone say to me, “Father, I was angry with God.” And they say it with such shame, as though they’re the only person who has ever felt that way and the fact that they got angry with God makes them the worst Catholic ever.

I think part of the problem is that most of us spend most of the time putting our best face forward. That’s just part of life. When the people at the office ask you, “How’s it going?” you instinctively answer “Fine.” You don’t tell them that your spouse is mad at you, your dog is sick, and your kid is failing algebra. You say that you’re fine. We all do it. It’s just social convention. But unfortunately we can begin to actually believe that everyone around us actually is fine, and that we’re the only person with struggles and problems.

We can have the same problem in the spiritual life. Every single one of us has struggles and challenges in the spiritual life, but we often think we are the only one.  So allow me to let you in on a little secret: we all struggle in the spiritual life. And the more seriously we take it, the more we struggle. The only people who don’t ever have challenges or difficulties in the spiritual life are the people who don’t take it seriously enough to care.

Take the Gospel today for instance. Our Lord says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” That’s all well and good, but there are days that I don’t want to deny myself and take up my cross. Likewise, St. Paul in our second reading exhorts us “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” Again, that’s tough. There are times that I don’t want to do it. I’m not saying I want to go off and become the most brazen sinner in history, but sometimes I don’t want to put forth the effort it takes to truly follow Christ. I bet I’m not the only one. I bet I’m not the only one who has faced temptation and thought, “I know this is wrong, but I really don’t want to resist it.” I’m not the only one who has thought, “I know I should pray, but I just don’t want to.” I bet I’m not the only one who has been angry at God, or doubted, or faced difficulties in the spiritual life. And I also bet that I’m not the only one who, when facing those difficulties, has felt like I am the only one.

We can sometimes have a mistaken notion that following God is supposed to be this easy, peaceful, idyllic experience. It isn’t. Denying ourselves and taking up our cross is difficult. It rubs against our pride, our desire for ease and comfort, our illusions of self-sufficiency. Following Jesus is difficult. That is true for all of us. But if we think that it is supposed to be easy, then when we face difficulties, we can start to think that we are doing something wrong. I think that one of the most important things to know when we face difficulties in following God is that we are not alone. We are not the only one to ever get angry with God, or to have doubts, or to feel like we know the right thing to do but just don’t want to do it. We are not the only person who has trouble praying or gets distracted at Mass. We all go through those things. They don’t mean that we are bad Catholics or that we are failing or doing something wrong, they simply mean that we are human, with the same weaknesses and faults that everyone else has.

So what do we do when we face those difficulties in the spiritual life? What should we do when we are angry with God, or when we don’t feel like doing what we know we should do, or when we have doubts? The best thing to do is to pray, and to pray honestly. That is what Jeremiah is doing in our first reading. He is angry at God. He feels like God has duped him. And so he tells God that. He doesn’t sugar coat it. He doesn’t hide it. He openly and honestly tells God how he feels. Likewise, when we are facing difficulties in the spiritual life, the best thing to do is to tell God about it, openly and honestly. I think sometimes we feel like we can’t talk to God that way. But we can, and we should. There’s a great story told about St. Teresa of Avila. According to the story, she was walking one day in the rain when she slipped and fell in the mud. She then looked up to heaven and said to God, “If this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder why You have so few of them!” Most of us would probably feel like we shouldn’t say that to God. But St. Teresa knew that the most important thing in prayer is honestly. That is how she felt, so that is what she said. Likewise, when we have doubts, or when we struggle to do what we should, or when we are angry with God, the best thing to do is to tell God about it honestly. Don’t worry about saying the “right” words. Just bring yourself before God honestly.

When we do that, when we honestly bring our difficulties before God, then His grace can really work in us. When we sugar coat things or hide them from God, his grace can’t reach us, and our difficulties fester. But when we bring them to God honestly, His grace can reach us. A doctor can’t treat us unless we first tell them what is wrong. Likewise, God’s grace can’t really work in us unless we first open ourselves up to Him. In our second reading, St. Paul says, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” God’s grace can transform our anger, our doubts, our selfishness and reluctance, but only if we let it.

Don’t despair when you face difficulties in the faith. All of us have faced them. Rather, bring those difficulties before God honestly. Right here today, if you are facing some difficulty in the spiritual life bring it to God. If you are angry at God, if you have doubts, if you are having trouble turning from some sin or doing what you know God wants you to do, if you just aren’t sure if you care, whatever it might be, bring that to God. Maybe your life feels like it is falling apart, like nothing is going the way that you thought it would. Bring that to God. Maybe you feel like you should spend more time in prayer or reading the Bible but just can’t seem to find the motivation to do it. Bring that to God. And if right now your life is going well and your spiritual life is going well, then use this Mass to pray for those who are facing difficulties. Let the grace of this Eucharist reach you there, so that His love can transform you.

XXI Domingo Ordinario

Frecuentemente oigo a personas decir algo como, “Yo creo en Jesús, pero yo no necesito ser un miembro de la Iglesia. Yo puedo ir a Dios por mi cuenta. ¿Por qué necesito la Iglesia?” En la superficie, esto suena atractivo. Esto anima nuestro deseo ser autosuficiente, creer que podemos hacer todo por nuestra cuenta, que no necesitamos nadie o nada para ayudarnos. ¿Por qué necesito alguna institución como la iglesia que se interponga entre Dios y yo? La iglesia es solamente un grupo de hipócritas y gente que piensa que es mejor que nadie. Estoy mejor solo Jesús y yo.

Muchos de ustedes probablemente han escuchado cosas como esas. Tal vez han decido cosas como esas. Como yo he dicho, esto suena atractivo. Pero es totalmente no bíblico. En el evangelio, despues de Simón Pedro confiesa que Jesús es el Cristo, nuestra Señor dice, “Tú eres Pedro y sobre esta piedra edificaré mi Iglesia.” La Iglesia no es una institución hecha por el hombre. No lo creamos. Jesús lo hizo. Jesús tenía la intención para fundar la Iglesia desde el primero.

En el griego del Nuevo Testamento, la palabra para “iglesia” es “ekklesia.” Es el origen de la palabra española. Literalmente, ekklesia signifique un grupo de la gente que es llamado de otro grupo. La iglesia es la grupo que Cristo ha llamado del mundo para ser suyo. Además, cuando el Antiguo Testamento fue traducido al griego, usaron esta palabra, ekklesia, para refirse a los israelitas, el Pueblo de Dios. Cuando Cristo dijo que Él edificará una iglesia, un ekklesia, es claro que tiene la intención de crear un nuevo pueblo de Dios.

Durante todo de la historia de salvación, Dios no salva solamente individuos, pero Él salva una comunidad reunido en su nombre. En el Éxodo, Dios no sacó solamente individuos de Egipto pero una comunidad. Cuando Dios los trajo a la tierra prometida, Él los hizo una nación, un grupo organizado, unidos juntos. Del mismo modo, cuando Jesús vino para salvarnos, su deseo no era salvarnos solamente como individuos pero como un a comunidad, como una iglesia. Y tuvo la intención que esa iglesia ser una institución organizado. Cuando Dios fundó el pueblo de Israel, Él les dio una estructura, con jueces y sacerdotes y reyes. Igualmente, Cristo dio a la iglesia una estructura. El llamó a los apóstoles a guiar la iglesia y colocó a Pedro como cabeza. “Tú eres Pedro y sobre esta piedra edificaré mi Iglesia.” La estructura que tenemos en la iglesia hoy, con el Papa y los obispos y sacerdotes, no es algo inventado por nosotros. Es la misma estructura que Cristo mismo dio a la iglesia.

El problema con personas que afirman que pueden seguir a Cristo por su cuenta sin la iglesia es que Cristo quiere que formemos parte de la iglesia. Él fundó la iglesia. No podemos afirmar que seguimos a Cristo al negarnos a ser parte de la iglesia que Él creó. La Iglesia es el Pueblo de Dios, el Cuerpo de Cristo. No podemos tener unión verdad con la cabeza si no somos un parte del cuerpo.

¿Todos los miembros de la Iglesia actúan de la manera que deberían? Claro que no. Somos todos humanos. Todos pecamos. Todos nos falta al ideal al que Cristo nos llama. Vemos esto en el Evangelio. San Pedro no era perfecto. Los apostoles no eran perfecto. Y sin embargo, Cristo los llamó guiar su Iglesia. Del mismo modo, los líderes de la iglesia de hoy no siempre sean perfectos. Pero eso no nos da el derecho para salir de la iglesia. La iglesia es todavía el Pueblo de Dios, aun cuando las personas que la guían no actúan como deben.

El evangelio hoy hace claro que Cristo tuvo la intención para crear la Iglesia, y si queremos seguir a Él, necesitamos ser miembros de la misma iglesia. Gracias a Dios, como católicos, podemos decir que pertenecemos a esa iglesia. Podemos rastrear la sucesión de los obispos y los Papas en una línea continua hasta llegar a San Pedro y los apóstoles. Esta institución, en que somos miembros, no era creado por humanos, pero por Dios. Eso es como la iglesia ha sobrevivido durante veinte siglos, a través de persecuciones innumerables y intentos a destruirla. Nuestro Señor prometió a San Pedro que “Los poderes del infierno no prevalecerán sobre” la iglesia. Y Cristo ha sido fiel a su promesa. Las naciones han ido y venido, los reinos han subido y caído, pero la iglesia ha permanecido y permanecerá siempre. Que nosotros permanezcamos siempre unidos a la Iglesia que Jesús creó, para que podamos permanecer unidos a Cristo.