Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

            As we are going through the All Things New process, I have heard a lot of comments from people about what they think would fix the problems in the church. And, very often, the solution they had rests on someone else. Someone else is not doing what they “should” be doing, and that is the source of our problems. “Father, if those Catholics who don’t come to Mass regularly would come every Sunday, then we would have more people.” “Father, if people would have more kids, then our schools would be fuller.” “Father, if the Archdiocese would just do this or that, then it would fix the problem and we wouldn’t have to do all these mergers.” I have yet to have someone come up to me and say, “Father, the problem is that I personally haven’t done what God calls me to do, and that has contributed to the overall situation in the Church that has led to All Things New.” The problem is always some “them,” some group that I am not part of.

            I think of that in light of today’s Gospel. St. Luke clearly wants to make sure that his reader understands the point Jesus is trying to make, so he introduces the parable by saying, “Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” “Those who were convinced of their own righteousness.” Those who were convinced that they were right, that they had nothing of which they could be accused. Those who knew that they were the good ones, and if there was a problem then surely someone else had caused it.

            It is one of the perennial temptations of anyone who tries to live their faith. As we grow in following God, we begin to become self-satisfied. We become convinced of our own righteousness, that we have reached a point beyond reproach. And when we do that, we can quickly start dividing the world into two classes: those who are righteous, like us, and the sinners. That is what the Pharisee does in the parable. He is convinced of his own righteousness, convinced that he is not like the sinners out there. To him, there are two classes of people: himself, and maybe a few others like him, and, as he says in his prayer “the rest of humanity.”

            It is easy to fall into the same mindset as the Pharisee, dividing other members of the Church into good Catholics and bad Catholics. I’m a good Catholic because I attend Mass, but those people who don’t, or don’t attend it as regularly, they’re bad Catholics. I’m a good Catholic because I voted for this person, but those people who voted for someone else, they’re bad Catholics. I’m a good Catholic because I’m part of this ministry or I volunteered for this event, but those people who didn’t, they’re bad Catholics. I’m a good Catholic because I sent my kids to Catholic school, but those who don’t are bad Catholics.

            This dividing of people into the righteous and unrighteous can bleed out of the bounds of our faith as well. It can manifest in our attitude towards those who are in need. Many people assume that if someone is homeless or in need, it is because of some failing or wrongdoing on their part. Underlying this is the idea that good people like me don’t end up in that situation, so if someone is in that situation they must have done something wrong.

Often, this dividing people into “good” people and “bad” people shows in how we are willing to allow the “bad” people to be treated in ways that we would not allow for ourselves. We see this in the treatment of undocumented immigrants. There are plenty of examples of undocumented immigrants being treated in shockingly inhumane ways, ways that certainly none of would want to be treated. Yet this treatment is justified by those who support it by claiming that the people being mistreated broke the law. I wouldn’t want to be treated that way, but I’m not like them, so it is okay to treat them that way.

This dividing of people is also at the heart of racism, both the overt, explicit acts of racism as well as all the subtle ways that racist beliefs can color our thoughts, words, and actions.

Far too many Christians have adopted the mindset of the Pharisee in their treatment of LGBTQ people, ostracizing them and treating them as though they are inherently bad people. This past summer, as monkey pox cases were spreading especially among gay men, I was shocked to see how many used veiled, or not-so-veiled, language to essentially say, “This isn’t affecting people like me, so I’m not concerned about the people whom it is affecting.” It was sadly reminiscent of stories from the AIDS epidemic. Again, it is rooted in this mindset that there are good people, people like me, and there are bad people, and I am not like those bad people.

            These are just a few examples. There are a myriad of ways that we can fall into the mindset of the Pharisee and divide people into two group: the saints and the sinners, the righteous and the unrighteous. Whether it is because of something they have done, their politics, their economic background, who they are, or any number of other things, we can classify people and create a division between those we deem good and those we deem bad.

            How do we avoid falling into the mindset of the Pharisee? First, as we see in the Gospel, we need to humbly and honestly acknowledge our own sinfulness. This can’t just be lip-service. It is far too easy to say, “Yes I am a sinner,” but then immediately say, “But I’m not like them. They’re the real sinners.” This is not humbly and honestly acknowledging our sinfulness. I am not better than someone else just because my sins are different from theirs. I am a sinner, no asterisks or caveats.

            Second, we need to remember that the good we do is the result of God’s grace in us, and so He deserves the glory, not us. That is what the Pharisee forgot. Everything the Pharisee said may have been true. It may be true that he was not greedy, dishonest, or adulterous, that he fasted twice a week and paid tithes on my whole income. But he used that to glorify himself rather than the Lord. On the contrary, St. Paul in the second reading acknowledge the good that he has done. “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” But, St. Paul adds, that was not his doing but God’s. “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength,” he says. “To him be glory forever and ever.” It may be true that my sins are less severe than others, but that is not because I am a good person and they are a bad person, but because God has been generous with me in ways that I don’t deserve.

            The readings call us to honest reflection. How have I divided people into two groups: the righteous, like me, and the unrighteous? Whom have I looked down upon as inherently worse than me? Where have I permitted others to be treated in ways that I would never allow for myself because they are different from me in some way? Let us ask the Holy Spirit to heal us from this attitude of division, and acknowledge that we, just like everyone else, are sinners in need of God’s mercy.

XXII Domingo Ordinario

            Tenemos que tener mucho cuidado con el Evangelio de hoy, porque, si no lo hacemos, podemos leerlo de una manera que refuerce ideas falsas. Si leemos mal el Evangelio de hoy, puede reforzar la falsa idea de que la humildad significa pensar mal de nosotros mismos, o que otras personas son más merecedoras de las cosas que nosotros. Cuando Jesús nos dice que tomemos el último lugar en la mesa, podemos pensar que nos está diciendo que tomemos el último lugar porque creemos que merecemos el lugar más bajo.

            Pero la humildad no significa pensar que somos inferiores a los demás. La humildad no significa tener una mala imagen de sí mismo. De hecho, la humildad es lo contrario. Para ser verdaderamente humildes, tenemos que tener una buena imagen de nosotros mismos.

            Veamos el ejemplo que da Jesús. Piense por un minuto en el tipo de personas que insisten en tener el lugar principal. Las personas que siempre tienen que ser las primeras, que siempre tienen que ser reconocidas, que siempre tienen que ser alabadas y atendidas. ¿Tienen estas personas una imagen propia buena y fuerte? Usualmente no. Eso es lo que proyectan al mundo. A menudo se muestran muy seguros de sí mismos, muy arrogantes, incluso narcisistas. Pero esto es una fachada. Las personas que siempre exigen admiración y aprobación suelen tener una imagen propia muy pobre y frágil. La razón por la que exigen tal trato de los demás es porque su propia imagen depende de la admiración y aprobación de los demás. No tienen una fuerte imagen de sí mismos, por lo que deben tratar de construirla con la forma en que los demás los tratan.

            Sabemos que no debemos ser la persona que proyecta arrogancia como una tapadera para una imagen propia débil. Pero tampoco se supone que seamos la persona que piensa que no somos buenos. La actitud que dice: “No soy bueno. Soy peor que nadie. No puedo hacer nada bien” no es la verdadera humildad. De hecho, es realmente una forma de orgullo, porque todo el enfoque está en mí, en lo mal que soy y en lo diferente que soy de los demás. Si pienso que soy la mejor persona del mundo o la peor persona del mundo, ambas son una forma de orgullo porque ambas son la creencia de que no soy como los demás.

            Las Escrituras nunca nos dicen que pensemos mal de nosotros mismos, que pensemos que somos inútiles o que no valemos nada. De hecho, nos dicen lo contrario. Nuestra segunda lectura de hoy nos dice cuál es nuestro valor. La lectura comienza diciendo: “no encontraron nada material, como en el Sinaí: ni fuego ardiente, ni obscuridad, ni tinieblas, ni huracán, ni estruendo de trompetas, ni palabras pronunciadas por aquella voz que los israelitas no querían volver a oír nunca”. Esto se refiere a la revelación de Dios a Moisés en el Monte Sinaí. En el Sinaí, Moisés subió a la montaña, pero a nadie más se le permitió subir o incluso tocar la montaña.

            La Carta a los Hebreos dice que no hemos experimentado eso. Más bien, “Ustedes se han acercado a Sión, el monte y la ciudad del Dios viviente, a la Jerusalén celestial, a la reunión festiva de miles y miles de ángeles, a la asamblea de los primogénitos, cuyos nombres están escritos en el cielo. Se han acercado a Dios, que es el juez de todos los hombres, y a los espíritus de los justos que alcanzaron la perfección. Se han acercado a Jesús, el mediador de la nueva alianza”. Lo que tenemos en Jesús es mucho más grande. Si crees que lo que Moisés experimentó en el Monte Sinaí fue un gran honor para él, lo que tenemos en Jesús es infinitamente mayor.

            Cuando la Carta a los Hebreos describe el maravilloso don que hemos recibido en Cristo, cualquier idea de menospreciarnos a nosotros mismos se va por la ventana. Hemos recibido cosas que la gente del Antiguo Testamento ni siquiera podía soñar o imaginar. Y si realmente creemos eso, entonces sabemos que nuestro valor se encuentra en Dios. Nuestro valor no se encuentra en el lugar donde nos sentamos en un banquete, en si otras personas nos honran o no. Hemos sido lavados en la Sangre de Cristo, hechos hijos de Dios por el bautismo, llenos del Espíritu Santo y dados del propio Cuerpo y Sangre de Jesús para sustentarnos y santificarnos. ¿Cómo podría importar algo más? ¿Cómo podría algo más compararse con eso? ¿Qué podría agregar o disminuir lo que Dios nos ha dado? Somos humildes, no porque pensemos que somos malos, sino porque sabemos el valor que Dios nos ha dado, y sabemos que este valor no puede ser afectado por nada más. ¿Alguien más recibió elogios por algo que yo hice? ¿Alguien más fue tratado mejor que yo? ¿Alguien me criticó o me juzgó? ¿Qué importa? ¿Por qué debería importar algo de eso a la luz del valor que Dios ya me ha dado?

            Jesús nos llama a ser personas tan seguras de nuestro valor y valía en Él que no importa cómo nos traten los demás. Podemos tomar el último lugar en la mesa no porque pensemos que somos personas terribles que merecemos el último lugar, sino porque no nos importa qué asiento tenemos. Podemos tener el último lugar o el lugar principal, podemos ser elogiados por todos o ignorados por todos, y no importa, porque sabemos que nuestro valor y nuestra valía no dependen de otras personas.

            Ese es el tipo de humildad que Jesús nos anima a tener. No es la creencia de que somos indigno, porque Dios nos ha dado un valor insondable en Cristo. Tampoco es arrogancia, porque reconocemos que nuestro valor viene de Dios, no de nosotros mismos. Nuestra primera lectura nos dice, “hazte tanto más pequeño cuanto más grande seas”. Las Escrituras reconocen que cuando alcanzamos la “grandeza”, cuando tenemos éxito y la gente nos alaba y afirma, podemos comenzar a encontrar nuestro valor en nuestra propia grandeza. Cuando las Escrituras nos dicen que nos hagamos más pequeños, nos recuerdan que debemos ser aún más intencionales para encontrar nuestro valor en Dios, en lugar de en nuestras propias habilidades.

            Te invito a considerar, ¿cómo sería diferente tu vida si tu autoestima estuviera verdadera e firmemente fundado en Cristo y en lo que Él ha hecho por ti y en ti? Si no tuvieras que preocuparte por la aprobación o desaprobación de los demás, ¿qué diferencia habría? ¿Cambiaría la forma en que interactúas con los demás, la forma en que te ves a ti mismo, las metas y los planes que haces? ¿Cambiaría lo que te preocupa y lo que no te preocupa?

            Jesús mismo es nuestro modelo de la verdadera humildad. Aquí, en la Eucaristía, Jesús viene a nosotros, no radiante de gloria, rodeado de huestes de ángeles, sino bajo la apariencia de pan y vino. ¿Por qué Jesús no eligió darse a sí mismo a nosotros de una manera que parezca más extravagante, más adecuada a su gloria divina? Porque Él no necesita hacerlo. Jesús conoce su valor. Ya sea que Él venga a nosotros en toda Su gloria y majestad o que Él venga a nosotros bajo la simple apariencia de pan y vino, no cambia Su dignidad. Mientras nos preparamos para recibir el asombroso don de Jesús mismo en la Eucaristía, pidamos a Dios que nos haga verdaderamente conscientes de la inmutable e inestimable dignidad que Él nos ha dado. Y, sabiendo nuestro valor en Él, pidámosle la humildad de no preocuparnos de nada más.

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

            We have to be very careful with today’s Gospel, because, if we aren’t, we can read it in a way that reinforces false ideas. If we read today’s Gospel incorrectly, it can reinforce the false idea that humility means thinking poorly about ourselves, or that other people are more deserving of things than we are. When Jesus tells us to take the lowest place at table, we can think that He is telling us to take the lowest place because we believe that we deserve the lowest place.

            But that is not what humility is. Humility does not mean thinking that we are lower than everyone else. Humility does not mean having a poor self-image. In fact, humility is the opposite. To be truly humble, we have to have a good self-image.

            Let’s look at the example Jesus gives. Think for a minute of the kind of people who insist on having the seat of honor. The people who always have to be first, who always have to be recognized, who always have to be praised and catered to. Are these people with a good, strong self-image? Usually not. That is what they project to the world. They often come off as very self-assured, as very arrogant, even narcissistic. But this is a façade. It is an act. People who always demand admiration and approval usually have a very poor and fragile self-image. The reason why they demand such treatment from others is because their self-image is reliant on the admiration and approval of others. They don’t have a strong self-image in themselves, so they have to try to construct it with the way others treat them.

            So we know that we aren’t supposed to be the person who projects arrogance as a cover for a weak self-image. But we also are not supposed to be the person who thinks that we are no good. The attitude that says, “I’m no good. I’m worse than anyone else. I can’t do anything right.” is not true humility. In fact, it is really a form of pride, because the focus is all on me, on how bad I am and how I am so different from everyone else. Whether I think I am the best person in the world or the worst person in the world, both are a form of pride because both are the belief that I am not like other people.

            The Scriptures never tell us to think poorly of ourselves, to think that we are worthless or no good. In fact, they tell us the opposite. Our second reading today tells us what our worth is. The reading begins by saying, “You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them.” What it is referring to here is God’s revelation to Moses on Mt. Sinai. At Mt. Sinai, Moses went up the mountain, but no one else was allowed to go up or even to touch the mountain.

            The Letter to the Hebrews says that we have not experienced that. Rather, “you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” That’s a lot, and we don’t have time this morning to go into all of it. But it is telling us that what we have in Jesus is so much greater than what was given in the Old Covenant. If you think that what Moses experienced on Mt. Sinai was a great honor for him, what we have in Jesus is infinitely greater.

            When the Letter to the Hebrews describes the amazing gift we have received in Christ, any ideas of disparaging ourselves goes out the window. We cannot think that we are worthless when we realize all that God has given to us. We have received things that the people of the Old Testament couldn’t even dream of or imagine. And if we truly believe that, then we know our worth is found in God. Our worth isn’t found in where we are seated at a banquet, in whether other people honor us or not. We have been washed in the Blood of Christ, made children of God by baptism, filled with the Holy Spirit, and given Jesus’s own Body and Blood to sustain us and sanctify us. How could anything else matter? How could anything else compare to that? What could possibly add to or diminish what God has given to us? We are humble, not because we think that we are awful, but because we know the value that God has given to us, and we know that this value cannot be affected by anything else. Did someone else get the praise for something I did? Did someone else get treated better than me? Did someone criticize me or judge me? So what? Why should any of that matter in light of the value that God has already given to me?

Jesus calls us to be people who are so certain of our value and worth in Him that it doesn’t matter how others treat us. We can take the lowest seat at the table, not because we think that we are terrible people who deserve the lowest seat, but because it doesn’t matter to us which seat we have. We can have the lowest seat or the highest seat, we can be praised by everyone or ignored by everyone, and it doesn’t matter, because we know that our value and our worth is not reliant on other people.

            That is the kind of humility that Jesus encourages us to have. It isn’t the belief that we are worthless, because God has given us an unfathomable value in Christ. Nor is it arrogance, because we recognize that our value comes from God, not from ourselves. Our first reading tells us, “humble yourself the more, the greater you are.” The Scriptures recognize that when we achieve “greatness,” when we are successful and people give us praise and affirmation, we can start to find our value in our own greatness. When the Scriptures tell us to humble ourselves more, it is reminding us to be even more intentional about finding our value in God, rather than in our own abilities.

            I invite you to consider, how would your life be different if your sense of self-worth was truly and unshakably founded on Christ and what He has done for you and in you? If you didn’t have to worry about the approval or disapproval of others, what difference would it make? Would it change the way you interacted with others, the way you see yourself, the goals and plans that you make? Would it change what you worry about and what you don’t worry about?

            Jesus Himself is our model of the true humility. Here in the Eucharist, Jesus comes to us, not radiant in glory, surrounded by hosts of angels, but under the appearance of simple bread and wine. Why didn’t Jesus choose to give Himself to us in a way that seems more extravagant, more fitting of His Divine Glory? Because He doesn’t need to. Jesus knows His worth. Whether He comes to us in all His glory and majesty or whether He comes to us under the simple appearance of bread and wine doesn’t change His dignity. As we prepare to receive the amazing gift of Jesus Himself in the Eucharist, let us ask God to make us truly aware of the unchanging, inestimable dignity that He has given to us. And, knowing our value in Him, let us ask Him for the humility to not worry about anything else.

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

            Before a funeral, I always try to meet with the family and ask them to tell me a bit about their loved one. One of the saddest experiences I ever had meeting with a family was for an elderly gentleman who had died. I was meeting with his adult children, and I asked them to tell me about their father. They talked at length about his career, how hard he worked, how successful he was, and how he had worked well past retirement age. And that was it. Nothing about his relationship with his family, nothing about his faith, nothing about his friends or participation in the wider community apart from work. I tried to find a tactful way to ask if there was anything about their father apart from his work that they wanted me to know, and they couldn’t think of a single thing.

            Now, here’s what really shocked me about this whole interaction. This man’s children weren’t telling me this with a sense of sadness. They weren’t saying, “Dad was a hard worker, but he was probably too engrossed in work and we wish he was around more.” They were very proud of their father’s professional accomplishments. They seemed unfazed by the fact that their image of their father was so fully enmeshed with his career that they could not tell me anything about him apart from that.

            This family was certainly extreme, but they weren’t completely unique. Our society places a very high value on work and productivity. To call someone a “hard worker” is considered a great compliment. We give significant respect to people who have climbed the corporate ladder. One of the first things that we ask people when we first meet them is what they do for work. Those who are retired aren’t immune from this mindset either. Many retirees still find their value in what they do and their ability to be productive. Others who are no longer able to work feel like their life has lost meaning or, even worse, that they are now a burden on other people because they cannot be productive. And this mindset starts young. If you ask an elementary school student why it is important to do well in school, they will tell you that they need to do well in school so that they can go to college and get a good job. These kids didn’t come to this conclusion on their own; they’ve been taught it by their parents, teachers, and society at large.

            If you want to see just how strongly our society values work and productivity, listen to how people talk about the poor. It is common to hear people dismiss the poor as being lazy, as though not working hard enough is a profound character flaw that warrants suffering. When people speak of assistance programs, they will often say that they don’t think people should receive assistance if they are not working. This means that we think that working and productivity are so fundamental to human dignity that if someone doesn’t work or isn’t productive enough, they don’t deserve the necessities of life like food, shelter, and medical care. And yet, we say these things and don’t even bat an eye, because they seem like common sense to us.

            In this mindset, today’s first reading can sound shocking. Qoheleth, the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes, proclaims, “Vanity of vanities […]. What profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? […] This also is vanity.” Is the Bible saying that hard work and productivity are vanity? Yes, and that shocks us. We need to properly understand what that means. When Ecclesiastes calls something “vanity,” it is not saying that it is worthless or that it is a bad thing. Rather, when Ecclesiastes says that something is vanity, it is saying that this thing should not be our primary goal in life. The Hebrew word for “vanity” is the same as the word for “breath.” Breathing is not worthless. Breathing is very important. But we don’t make breathing our primary goal in life. We don’t dedicate our life to breathing or find our purpose and meaning in breathing.

Likewise, the Bible is not saying that work is bad or worthless. And it is also not saying that we should just loaf around all day and be lazy. The Bible speaks in many places precisely of the importance and value of using our talents. What Qoheleth is saying is that work is not worthy of being pursued as the primary goal in our life. It should not be the thing that gives our life meaning or purpose. Work is what we do; it isn’t who we are. Work and productivity aren’t what determine our worth as human beings. They are things that exist to serve a purpose, not as ends in themselves.

In the Gospel, Jesus gives an illustration of the vanity of productivity when pursued as the goal of our life. He speaks of a landowner who has reaped a bountiful harvest and makes detailed plans to store up his produce, but doesn’t realize that he is going to die that very night, and his great wealth and abundant harvest will be of no use to him. He dedicated his entire life to amassing wealth, and, in the end, what does he have to show for it? He is a very wealthy corpse, and that is all.

Despite this, we can all be tempted to buy into the message of our society that hard work and productivity are what give our life meaning and value. So many people sacrifice their physical health, their mental health, and their relationships with their family and friends, for the sake of their career and in the name of “productivity.” But, in the end, like the man in the Gospel, what will we have to show for it? Nothing but a wealthy, previously productive corpse.

St. Paul says in the second reading, “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Jesus exhorts us to be rich in what matters to God rather than storing up treasures on earth. Today’s readings invite us to examine what gives our lives meaning. Do we try to find our purpose and meaning in what we do, in work and productivity? Are we basing our lives on the things of this earth, on things that are ultimately vanity? Or is our meaning and purpose found in God?

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

            In the Gospel, Jesus tells us, “ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Which sounds very nice, but can also sound too good to be true. Each day, thousands of people around the world pray for food or shelter and yet go to bed hungry and homeless. The people of Ukraine have been praying for months now for safety, and yet the Russian attack on their country persists. How many of us have been praying for over two years now for the end of the pandemic, and yet not only is it not ended but it is once again on the rise. I’m guessing most of us have had the experience of praying for something and yet not getting what we ask for. What gives? Jesus says “ask and you will receive.” So why does it feel like we so often ask and yet receive nothing?

            To discuss this, we first need to talk about what prayer is, and what it isn’t. For too many people, we can have a rather underdeveloped view of prayer. We often approach prayer with the mindset that our job in prayer is to convince God to do something. We come to God knowing what we want to happen, and our role is to tell Him what to do. Or we may think of prayer as trying to convince God to care enough to do something. Or we think that God wants to do something, but He isn’t going to act until we ask Him. Sometimes, we approach prayer as though we have to find the right words or the right prayer and then God will do something.

            These approaches to prayer are problematic. God is infinitely loving. We don’t have to convince Him to care; He already cares more than we ever could. Nor is it our place to tell God what to do. God is not our servant whom we command to act. God does not require our prayers before He does something, as though He were some sort of narcissistic despot who needs his fragile ego to be built up before taking action. And prayer is not a magical incantation where if we say the right words in the right way we are guaranteed to get what we want.

            So if prayer is not any of those things, what is it? I think we can see an answer in the prayer that Jesus teaches us. In the Gospel today, the disciples ask Him to teach them how to pray. In response, Jesus teaches the Our Father. You may have noticed that the version here is slightly different from the way we normally pray it. The Our Father as we generally pray it is based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Why are there two different versions of the Our Father in the Gospels? Perhaps Jesus taught the same thing more than once, but used slightly different words on different occasions. It is also important to remember that the Gospels were written a couple decades after the events they record. It is possible that, by that time, St. Matthew and St. Luke simply remembered what Jesus said differently. Whatever the reason for the difference in wording, the content and meaning of the prayer is the same.

            When Jesus teaches us to pray, He tells us to say, “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” St. Matthew adds the line “Your will be done.” For a lot of people, when we pray, we are going to God and saying, “God, this is what I want. This is my will. Do it.” But that is the opposite of how Jesus tells us to pray. We don’t go to God to tell Him to build up our kingdom and do our will. We go to God to pray that His Kingdom would grow and His will would be done. Prayer does not change God. Prayer changes us. If we are praying like Jesus tells us to pray, then we are not coming to God saying, “God, here is what I want, now do it.” Rather, we are coming to God saying, “God, these are the things wherein I pray that Your Kingdom would come and that Your will would be done.”

            This form of prayer has the potential to challenge us. For example, if I think prayer is about me telling God what to do, then I go to Him and say, “God, this person is hungry. Feed them.” And then I sit back and expect God to act, because that’s His job. If, however, I go to God and say, “God, this person is hungry, and I pray that in his life Your Kingdom would come and Your will would be done,” I may discover that God’s will is that I would be the one to reach out and feed them. Or again, if I think that prayer is about me telling God what to do, I go to Him and say, “God, this person who I love doesn’t follow you. Convert them.” And then I wait for God’s grace to magically change that person. But if I say, “God, this person whom I love and whom you love doesn’t follow you, and I pray that in their life Your Kingdom would come and Your will would be done,” I may discover that God is calling me to be the one who walks with this person in their journey of faith to help them encounter Him in a new way. I may also discover that perhaps one of the reasons my loved one doesn’t follow God is because I have done or said things that pushed them away from God, and that I may need to apologize and change my own behavior.

            Sometimes, when we bring our prayers to God, it can seem so obvious to us what His will should be. This may be in regard to big, global issues. When we think of the millions of people who are affected by hunger, homelessness, oppression, and war, it seems so evident to us that God’s will would be that those people are protected and provided for. Or it can be something more personal. A child who is stricken with terrible illnesses, a family member or friend who finds themselves in a difficult or desperate situation through no fault of their own. We come to God and we say, “Your will be done,” but it seems so clear to us what His will should be. Yet sometimes it doesn’t happen. Is this God’s will? Does He want people to suffer? Does He not care?

            At times like this, it can be tempting to retreat to clichés. People say things like, “God’s will is not our will. We just have to trust Him. It will all work out in the end.” But these clichés often feel hollow. Even worse, clichés like these can be used as ways to try to invalidate someone’s pain. It can feel like the person saying them is actually saying, “What happened must be God’s will, and therefore you should just accept it and move on.”

            We don’t have time today to discuss the difficult question of why God permits evil or why it seems like He doesn’t answer prayers for things that, from our perspective, should so clearly be what He wants as well. From the perspective of prayer, it is important that our prayers to God in those times are honest. In prayer, we bring to God our frustration, our anger, our confusion, our disappointment, and our doubt. We bring them to Him honestly and say, “Father, I am angry or frustrated or disappointed or sad or all of the above. I bring these emotions to You, Lord, and I ask that in these emotions Your Kingdom would come and Your will would be done.” This isn’t about finding “answers” that make everything okay or make sense. Rather, it is praying like Jesus taught us to pray and inviting God into our pain.

            When Jesus tells us, “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find,” He is not telling us that God will give us everything we want. Rather, He is telling us that when we pray as He tells us to pray, our prayer is always answered. When we bring God our prayers, not asking for our will to be done but for His will to be done, our prayer is always answered.  

XVI Domingo Ordinario

Hace unos años, una mujer se me acercó después de este Evangelio y me dijo: “No me gusta este Evangelio. Jesús estaba equivocado; Debería haberle dicho a María que ayudara a Marta”. Permíteme ofrecerte un consejo: si decimos: “Jesús estaba equivocado”, probablemente seamos nosotros los que estamos equivocados, no Jesús.

Es importante señalar que Jesús no está criticando a Marta por sus esfuerzos por ser hospitalaria. La hospitalidad era una virtud importante en el antiguo Israel. Vemos eso en nuestra primera lectura, cuando Abraham hace todo lo posible para ser hospitalario con los tres visitantes. El deseo de Martha de ser hospitalaria con Jesús no es algo malo. Jesús no tiene ningún problema con su deseo de ser hospitalario.

Más bien, lo que Jesús le señala a Marta es “muchas cosas te preocupan y te inquietan”. Las palabras griegas aquí nos ayudan a entender exactamente lo que Jesús ve en Marta. La palabra griega que se traduce “te preocupan” viene del verbo “dividir”. La palabra que se traduce como “te inquietan” está relacionada con la palabra tumulto o alboroto, la misma palabra que se usa para describir la multitud el Viernes Santo que pedía la muerte de Jesús. Martha está dividida, preocupada por mil cositas. Y esto ha creado en ella un tumulto interior. Este tumulto interior es lo que desemboca en su súplica frustrada para que Jesús le diga a María que la ayude.

No es difícil imaginar la condición de Marta. Está revoloteando de una habitación a otra, ahora atendiendo esto, ahora ocupándose de aquello. Exteriormente, tiene una sonrisa amistosa plasmada en su rostro. Pero interiormente, ella está revisando continuamente su lista de lo que debe hacerse. Y todo el tiempo, su ira hacia su hermana se acumula.

¿Suena familiar? Creo que muchos de nosotros podemos vivir nuestras vidas en este estado de ansiedad y preocupación por muchas cosas. Nuestro enfoque está dividido entre mil cosas diferentes, convencidos de que tenemos que hacer cada una de ellas a la perfección. Vivimos en una sociedad que valora vivir en este estado de división interior. Tratamos la multitarea como una virtud, y cuando hablamos con los demás, a menudo puede convertirse en una competencia para ver quién está haciendo más cosas o qué calendario está más lleno. Pero este estado de correr constantemente en mil direcciones, como era de esperar, nos deja sintiéndonos inquietos y resentidos.

La respuesta, dice Jesús, es “escoger la mejor parte” y buscar solo “la una sola cosa necesaria”. Esa “mejor parte”, la “una sola cosa”, es Jesús mismo. Jesús nos está invitando a hacer todo en relación con Él y por amor a Él. Ahora, aquí está el desafío, para aquellos de nosotros que somos perfeccionistas, que nos digan “Hagan todo por amor a Jesús” puede aumentar nuestra ansiedad. Si voy a hacer todo por amor a Jesús, ¿no eleva eso el estándar de qué tan bien tengo que hacerlo?

            Creo que Marta compartiría ese sentimiento. Marta probablemente pensó que estaba haciendo todo por amor a Jesús, y por eso estaba tan ansiosa. Ella amaba a Jesús, y porque lo amaba, pensaba que todo lo que hacía por Él tenía que ser perfecto. Pero mira de nuevo lo que está haciendo Marta. Mientras ella piensa que está haciendo todo por Jesús, ¿realmente está creciendo en amor por Jesús? No lo parece. Por el contrario, parece que está resentida con Jesús. Está resentida con su hermana por no ayudar, pero también suena resentida con Jesús por no decirle a María que ayude. Ella puede pensar que está haciendo cosas por Jesús, pero, al final, en realidad está disminuyendo su amor por Él. En su perfeccionismo, en realidad no está sirviendo por amor a Jesús. Ella está sirviendo por ser la mejor anfitriona.

            Si hacer todo por amor a Jesús no significa hacerlo todo a la perfección, ¿qué significa? Imagina un niño pequeño que hace un dibujo para sus padres. Al niño no le importa si es el mejor dibujo que se ha hecho jamás. Simplemente dibuja. La calidad del dibujo no importa; el amor importa. Ahora imagina que este niño es un perfeccionista. Piensa que para que el dibujo sea una expresión de su amor, tiene que ser el mejor dibujo de todos, por lo que se queda despiertos toda la noche, obsesionado con cada detalle del dibujo, trabajando en un tumulto para asegurarse de que el dibujo sea absolutamente perfecto. Por la mañana, está exhausto, tanto física como emocionalmente, y le da el dibujo a su padre y le dice: “Toma, hice esto por ti, y porque te amo quería que fuera perfecto, aunque me dejó ansioso y desgastado.” Me imagino que la mayoría de los padres probablemente dirían: “Cariño, no me importa si tu dibujo es perfecto; Me preocupo por ti. Aprecio el dibujo, pero por favor no te lastimes haciéndolo por mí. Eso no es lo que quiero”. Para ese niño, el dibujo se convirtió en un fin en sí mismo, superando la relación.

            Asimismo, decir que debemos hacer todo por amor a Dios no es decir que debemos hacer todo a la perfección. De hecho, significa lo contrario. Hacer todo por amor a Dios significa que ya no tenemos que preocuparnos de si las cosas son perfectas, porque las cosas que hacemos no son fines en sí mismas, sino simplemente expresiones de amor. Sabemos que las expresiones en sí mismas no son lo que hace la relación.

            ¿Cómo se ve esto en la práctica? Cuando llevas a tu hijo a la práctica de fútbol, ​​¿es un acto de amor a Dios? ¿Llevar a tu hijo a la práctica de fútbol es una forma de mostrar gratitud a Dios por la vocación que te ha dado como padre y de vivir esa vocación pasando tiempo con tu hijo? ¿O llevar a su hijo a la práctica de fútbol es un fin en sí mismo que debe hacerse perfectamente por sí mismo? ¿Su hijo tiene que estar absolutamente a tiempo, con todo su equipo, independientemente de si eso los deja a ti y a él ansiosos, frustrados y resentidos? Cuando vas a tu trabajo, ¿trabajas por amor a Dios? ¿Ves tu trabajo como una oportunidad que Dios te ha dado para usar tus talentos y proveer para tu familia, y así participar en Su obra en el mundo? ¿O es su trabajo algo que es un fin en sí mismo? ¿Tienes que subir la escalera corporativa para demostrar tu valor? ¿Te inquietas y te preocupas por hacer todo a la perfección en el trabajo? ¿Traes la ansiedad de su trabajo a casa, dejándote dividido, incapaz de estar completamente presente para tu familia, e infligiendo las frustraciones del trabajo a tus seres queridos?

            ¿Qué te preocupa y te inquieta? ¿Qué te hace sentir interiormente dividido y en tumulto? ¿Qué se interpone en tu camino para que pongas tu corazón completamente en la una sola cosa necesaria? Sea lo que sea, Jesús no quiere eso para ti. Así que llévale esa cosa a Jesús. Tal vez Él te muestre cómo abordar esa cosa de una manera nueva, haciéndolo por amor a Él de una manera libre de ansiedad. O tal vez Él te muestre que no hay manera de hacer eso de una manera que no te deje ansioso y dividido, y tienes que dejarlo ir. Sólo Él tiene esa respuesta. Aquí, en esta Eucaristía, lleve a Jesús todo lo que te causa ansiedad y preocupación, y pídele la gracia de buscarle sólo a Él.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

            A few years ago, a woman came up to me after this Gospel reading and said, quite bluntly, “I don’t like this Gospel. Jesus was wrong; He should have told Mary to help Martha.” Let me offer some advice: if you ever find yourself saying, “Jesus was wrong,” it’s probably us who are wrong, not Jesus.

            It is important to point out that Jesus is not criticizing Martha for her efforts to be hospitable. Hospitality was an important virtue in ancient Israel. We see that in our first reading, as Abraham goes to great lengths to be hospitable towards the three visitors. Martha’s desire to be hospitable towards Jesus isn’t inherently a bad thing. Jesus doesn’t have a problem with her desire to be hospitable.

            Rather, what Jesus points out to Martha is that she is “anxious and worried about many things.” The Greek words used here help us understand exactly what Jesus sees in Martha. The Greek word that is translated “anxious” comes from the verb “to divide.” The word that is translated “worried” is related to the word for tumult or uproar, the same word that is used to describe the fever pitch of the crowd on Good Friday that called for the death of Jesus. Martha is divided, worried about a thousand little things. And this has created an interior tumult in her. This interior tumult is what boils over into her frustrated plea for Jesus to tell Mary to help her.

            It isn’t hard to picture Martha’s condition. She is flitting back and forth from room to room, now attending to this, now taking care of that. Outwardly, she has a friendly, hospitable smile plastered on her face. But interiorly, she is continually going through her mental checklist of what needs to be done. And the whole time, her anger towards her sister is slowly building.

            Sound familiar? I think many of us can live our lives in this state of being anxious and worried about many things. Our focus is divided between a thousand different things, convinced that we have to do every single one of them perfectly. We live in a society that seems to value living in this state of interior division. We treat multi-tasking as a virtue, and when we talk to others, it can often become a competition to see who is doing the most things at once, or whose calendar is fullest. But this state of constantly running in a thousand directions unsurprisingly leaves us feeling restless and resentful.

            The answer, Jesus says, is to “choose the better part” and seek only the “one thing needed.” That “better part,” the “one thing,” is Jesus Himself. Jesus is inviting us to do everything in relationship with Him and out of love for Him. Now, here’s the challenge, for those of us who are perfectionists, being told to “Do everything out of love for Jesus” can just set our anxiety into overdrive. If I’m going to do everything out of love for Jesus, doesn’t that raise the bar of how well I have to do?

            I think Martha would share that sentiment. Martha probably thought that she was doing everything out of love for Jesus, and that is why she was so anxious about it. She loved Jesus, and because she loved Him, she thought that everything she did for Him had to be perfect. But look again at what Martha is doing. While she thinks that she is doing everything for Jesus, is she actually growing in love for Jesus? It doesn’t seem like it. On the contrary, it seems like she is resentful towards Jesus. She is resentful towards her sister for not helping, but she also sounds resentful towards Jesus for not telling Mary to help. She may think that she is doing things for Jesus, but, in the end, she is actually decreasing in love for Him. In her perfectionism, she isn’t really serving out of love for Jesus. She is serving for the sake of being the best host.

            If doing everything out of love for Jesus doesn’t mean doing everything perfectly, what does it mean? Imagine a little child who makes a drawing for their parent. The little child doesn’t care if it is the best drawing that has ever been done. They just draw. The quality of the drawing doesn’t matter; the love does. Now imagine this child is a perfectionist. They think that in order to make the drawing an expression of their love, it has to be the best drawing ever, so they stay up all night, obsessing over every detail of the drawing, working themselves into a tumult to ensure that the drawing is absolutely perfect. In the morning, they are exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and they give the drawing to their parent saying, “Here, I did this for you, and because I love you I wanted it to be perfect, even if it left me anxious and worn out.” I imagine most parents would probably say, “Honey, I don’t care if your drawing is perfect; I care about you. I appreciate the drawing, but please don’t hurt yourself doing it for me. That’s not what I want.” For that child, the drawing became an end in itself, superseding the relationship.

            Likewise, to say that we should do everything out of love for God is not to say that we need to do everything perfectly. In fact, it means the opposite. To do everything out of love for God means that we no longer have to worry if things are perfect, because the things we do are not ends in themselves, but simply expressions of love. We know that the expressions themselves are not what makes the relationship.

            What does this look like practically? When you drive your kid to soccer practice, is it an act of love for God? Is driving your kid to soccer practice a way to show gratitude to God for the vocation He has given you as a parent and to live that vocation by spending time with your kid? Or is driving your kid to soccer practice an end in itself that must be done perfectly for its own sake? Does your child absolutely have to be there on time, with all their gear, regardless of whether that leaves both you and them anxious, frustrated, and resentful? When you go to your job, is it done out of love for God? Do you see your job as an opportunity that God has given you to use your talents and provide for your family, and thus participate in His work in the world? Or is your job something that is an end itself? Do you have to climb the corporate ladder to prove your value? Do you fret and worry about doing everything at work perfectly? Do you bring anxiety from your job home with you, leaving you divided, unable to be fully present to your family, and perhaps even taking the frustrations from work out on your loved ones?

            What causes you to be anxious and worried? What makes you feel interiorly divided and in a tumult? What gets in the way of you setting your heart completely on the one thing needed? Whatever it is, Jesus doesn’t want that for you. So bring that thing to Jesus. Maybe He will show you how to approach that thing in a new way, doing it out of love for Him in a way that is free of anxiety. Or maybe He will show you that there is no way to do that thing in a way that doesn’t leave you anxious and divided, and it is time to let it go. Only He has that answer. Here in this Eucharist, bring Jesus everything that causes you anxiety and worry, and ask Him for the grace to seek Him alone.

Baptism of Our Lord

            At first glance, it may seem like John the Baptist needs to work on his self-esteem. In speaking of the Messiah, John says that he is not worthy even to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  This task is the lowest, most menial, most servile task that someone could do. John is saying that his worth is so low in comparison that he is not even worthy of doing the most demeaning task. It might seem like John has an extremely low opinion of himself to think that he is unworthy of something so condescending. But here’s the important thing: John the Baptist is right. He is not worthy to loosen Jesus’s sandals. Jesus is God. Even loosening the thongs of his sandals is such an immense honor that no one, not even John the Baptist, is worthy to do it.

            But the amazing thing is that John is asked to do much more than just loosen Jesus’s sandals. John is given the task of baptizing Jesus. If John isn’t even worthy to loosen His sandals, he is infinitely less worthy of baptizing Him. But he does it. John doesn’t let the fact that he is unworthy of baptizing Jesus stop him from doing it. He could have. John could have refused to baptize Jesus, insisting that he was too unworthy of such an honor. In fact, the Gospel according to Matthew records John telling Jesus that he is not worthy to baptize Him. But when Jesus tells John to do it anyways, he does.

            I think we can often let our own sense of unworthiness get in the way of following God. For example, when I talk to people about prayer, they often say that they don’t know how to pray. When I tell them that prayer is just talking to God, people often say that they don’t know what to say or are afraid of saying the wrong thing. What is under the surface of this fear that our prayers have to be worthy of God. We are afraid that we might say something “wrong,” something unworthy of God. We don’t feel worthy of being able to freely speak to God, openly and honestly. We are convinced that there must be some sort of “right” way to pray – a way of prayer that is worthy of God. And because we don’t know what that is, we figure it is better to not pray at all rather than pray in a way that is unworthy.

            Or when I speak to people about sharing the faith with others, there are often plenty of excuses. “I can’t do that. I’m not smart enough. I’m not skilled enough. I’m not holy enough.” Ultimately, again, the underlying fear is unworthiness. We think that to be worthy to share the faith with others, we have to meet certain requirements. And because we don’t think we meet the requirements, we are not worthy to share the faith, so we don’t do it.

            I think of how many times I’ve stood up here at Mass and asked for volunteers for this or that, and, despite the fact that we have over a thousand people at Mass every Sunday, we’re lucky if anyone responds to a request for volunteers. And I wonder how much of that is because people assume that there must be someone better out there to do it than themselves. Surely there is someone with more time, more skills, more expertise – that is to say, more worthy.

            But what if worthiness doesn’t matter? John the Baptist was completely unworthy to baptize Jesus. He knew it, and Jesus knew it. But He did it anyways. And, yes, we are unworthy as well. Any prayer that we ever say will be unworthy of God. The most beautiful, well-worded, heartfelt prayer ever said was unworthy of God. We will always be unworthy of sharing the faith. The best, most well-trained missionary or evangelist in history was unworthy of sharing the faith. There will always be someone who is better than we are to fill this or that role in the Church. But the amazing truth is that it doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter to Jesus that John the Baptist was unworthy to baptize Him. And it doesn’t matter that we are unworthy either. Because our worth is not found in ourselves; it is found in Jesus.

            Jesus made John the Baptist worthy of baptizing Him. And He makes us worthy as well. Because Jesus was baptized, our baptism unites us with Him. His baptism by John makes our baptism holy. When we are baptized, we become sons and daughters of God. And as sons and daughters of God, we are made worthy. Jesus makes us worthy to pray, and to do so honestly and openly. Jesus makes us worthy to share the faith with others, even though we are imperfect sinners. Jesus makes us worthy to share in His work of building His Kingdom. We are worthy not because of anything thing we have done, but because of what He has done in us.

            That is where our focus should be – not on our own unworthiness, but on Jesus who calls us. Jesus called John to baptize Him, regardless of John’s unworthiness. And Jesus calls us also.

Solemnidad de la Epifanía del Señor

            ¿Qué significa evangelizar? A menudo, la gente piensa que evangelizar es decir las cosas correctas para hacer que alguien se convierta. Si bien es cierto que evangelizar requiere hablar, generalmente la evangelización ocurre mucho más por atracción que por persuasión. Es decir, es mucho más probable que las personas se vuelvan católicas porque ven algo o alguien que es católico que los atrae a la fe, en lugar de porque alguien los persuadió con palabras.

            En el Evangelio de hoy, los magos vienen en busca de Jesús. En los magos tenemos a las primeras personas de entre las naciones que escucharon la Buena Nueva, las primeras personas en ser evangelizadas. Pero, ¿qué los atrae a Jesús? Nadie los persuadió con palabras. Más bien, fueron atraídos por la estrella. Podríamos decir que sucedieron tres cosas que pusieron a los magos en el camino que los condujo al encuentro con Jesús. Primero, ven la estrella, es decir, ven algo diferente. Hay mucha especulación sobre qué era exactamente la estrella, pero en última instancia, no es muy importante. Lo que está claro es que había algo que era lo suficientemente diferente como para que los magos lo notaran. En segundo lugar, sabían que esta estrella, esta cosa diferente, era una señal de buenas noticias. Sabemos que en el mundo antiguo, a veces, los fenómenos astronómicos, como los cometas, se veían como malos augurios. Diferente no siempre significaba bueno. Pero cuando los magos vieron la estrella, supieron que significaba una buena noticia, el nacimiento de un rey. Y tercero, querían saber más. Eso es lo que los llevó a Israel. Los magos podrían haber visto la estrella, haber dicho: “Eh, parece que ha nacido un rey en Israel”, y luego simplemente continuar con sus vidas normales. Pero no lo hicieron. Querían saber más.

            Si vamos a evangelizar a la gente, si vamos a hacer discípulos, lo haremos de la misma manera que los magos fueron evangelizados. Primero, si vamos a evangelizar a la gente, ellos tienen que ver algo diferente en nosotros. Si nuestras vidas se parecen a las de todos los demás, si vivimos, actuamos y hablamos como todos los demás, entonces no hay nada que atraiga a las personas a la fe. Si los católicos no son diferentes a los demás, es fácil para la gente pensar: “¿Por qué ser católico? No parece haber nada especial en ellos”. Si vamos a atraer personas a Jesús, necesitan ver algo diferente en nosotros. Y entonces podemos preguntarnos: “¿Hay algo en la forma en que vivo mi fe que otros se den cuenta?”

Por supuesto, lo diferente en sí mismo no siempre es algo bueno. Si vamos a atraer a las personas a Jesús, no solo deben ver que somos diferentes, sino que esa diferencia debe ser atractiva. A veces, la gente ve a los católicos como diferentes, pero de mala manera. Ven a los católicos como críticos y excluyentes. Para algunas personas, los católicos son diferentes de otras personas, pero no de una manera que los atraiga. Si vamos a hacer discípulos, nuestras vidas deben ser diferentes en formas que atraigan a la gente. Debemos ser más amorosos, más misericordiosos, más generosos, más alegres y más acogedores que los demás.

            Finalmente, si vamos a evangelizar a las personas, deben querer aprender más. Así como los magos tenían que desear aprender más sobre lo que significaba la estrella, también cuando otros nos ven, necesitan no solo notar que somos diferentes y que la diferencia es algo bueno, sino también querer aprender más. No es suficiente que la gente nos vea y diga: “Es una persona tan agradable”, pero déjelo así. Aquí es donde compartir la fe es tan importante. La gente necesita no solo darse cuenta de que somos diferentes, sino también saber por qué somos diferentes. No solo necesitan vernos como personas amorosas, misericordiosas, y acogedoras, sino que también necesitan saber que la razón por la que somos así es por Jesús, y que también pueden ser transformados por Su gracia.

            Nuestra misión es hacer discípulos de todas las naciones. Todos estamos llamados a ser evangelistas. Y la fiesta de hoy nos muestra cómo hacerlo. El primer paso para ser un evangelista es asegurarnos de que seamos discípulos nosotros mismos, que nuestras vidas hayan sido transformadas por Jesús. Al celebrar esta fiesta de la Epifanía, y al comenzar un Año Nuevo, pidamos al Señor que transforme nuestras vidas, para que podamos dirigir mejor a las personas hacia Jesús.

The Epiphany of the Lord

            What does it mean to evangelize? Often, people think that evangelizing is essentially talking someone into converting. While it is true that evangelizing will require some talking, usually evangelization happens much more by attraction than by persuasion. That is, people are much more likely to become Catholic because they see something or someone who is Catholic that attracts them to the faith, rather than because someone persuaded them with words.

            In the Gospel today, the magi come in search of Jesus. In the magi we have the first people from among the nations to hear the Good News, the first people to be evangelized. But what draw them to Jesus? No one talked them into it. Rather, they were attracted by the star. We could say that there are three things that happened that put the magi on the path that led to their encounter with Jesus. First, they see the star, which is to say that they see something that is different. There’s a lot of speculation about what exactly the star was, but ultimately, it’s not super important. What is clear is that there was something that was different enough for the magi to notice it. Second, they knew that this star, this different thing, was a sign of good news. We know that in the ancient world, sometimes astronomical phenomena, such as comets, were seen as bad omens. Different didn’t always mean good. But when the magi saw the star, they knew that it signified good news, the birth of a king. And third, they wanted to know more. That is what ultimately brought them to Israel. The magi could have seen the star, said, “Huh, it looks like a king has been born in Israel,” and then just gone about their normal lives. But they didn’t. They wanted to know more.

            If we are going to evangelize people, if we are going to make disciples, we will do it the same way that the magi were evangelized. First, if we are going to evangelize people, they have to see something different in us. If our lives look just like everyone else, if we live and act and talk just like everyone else, then there is nothing to attract people to the faith. If Catholics are no different from anyone else, it is easy for people to think, “Why be Catholic? There doesn’t seem to be anything special about them.” If we are going to attract people to Jesus, they need to see something different about us. And so we can ask ourselves, “Is there anything about the way that I live my faith that others would notice?”

            Of course, different in itself is not always a good thing. If we are going to attract people to Jesus, they not only need to see that we are different, but that difference needs to be attractive. Sometimes, people see Catholics as different, but in the wrong way. They see Catholics as judgmental and exclusionary. To some people, Catholics are different from other people, but not in a way that would attract them. If we are going to make disciples, our lives need to be different in ways that attract people. We should be more loving, more merciful, more generous, more joyful, and more welcoming than others.

            Finally, if we are going to evangelize people, they have to want to learn more. Just as the magi had to desire to learn more about what the star meant, so too when others see us, they need to not only notice that we are different and that the difference is a good thing, but to want to learn more. It isn’t enough for people just to see us and say, “Wow, they are such a nice person,” but leave it at that. This is where sharing the faith is so important. People need to not only notice that we are different but know why we are different. They not only need to see us as loving, merciful, generous, welcoming people, but they need to know that the reason we are like that is because of Jesus, and that they can also be transformed by His grace as well.

            Our mission is to make disciples of all nations. Each of us are called to be evangelists. And today’s feast shows us how to do that. The first step to being an evangelist is making sure that we are disciples ourselves, that our lives have been transformed by Jesus. As we celebrate this feast of the Epiphany, and as we begin a New Year, let us ask the Lord to transform our lives, so that we can better point people to Jesus.