Sunday, February 23, 2020

Perfection in the Eyes of God

Perfection in the Eyes of God
Feb. 23, 2020     7th Sunday in Ordinary Time – A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

What does it mean, to be perfect?

In today’s Gospel taken from near the end of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the people to “be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”  What does that mean? Isn't it impossible to be perfect?

When you think about it, it seems that as a society we are obsessed with perfection, aren’t we?  Just look at the self- improvement infomercials on TV.  Learn a new language.  Get rich selling real estate.  You can become a younger, more beautiful version of you by following these fitness tips.

Or how about those commercials which try to convince you that you’re missing out on perfection that only their products can provide?  Are you seeking adventure and want to be one with nature?  Buy our new SUV.  Want to fit in?  Try our stylish clothes.  There are even those weird commercials for perfume that you need because you must smell bad and you  won't ever get a date if you don’t use it. 

And if you're getting older or aren’t feeling perfect?  Take this new drug and you'll feel years younger or prettier or healthier or more virile.  Warning - the side effects may kill you.  But that’s OK because you’ll be a better- a more perfect - you.

But I think the most damaging influences we face are often those people, even our friends, who try to convince us that we can’t possibly be happy as God made us because we’re not perfect.  And after all, we want to be happy, don’t we?

So, what is perfect?

I asked some friends what perfect meant to them and one replied that perfection is something that fits us well. It’s different for different people, and it’s a temporary or passing state of mind.

But … I don’t think that is true.

Perfection is a goal that we seek because, as St. Augustine says, we have a hole in our hearts that needs to be filled, and it cannot be filled until it is filled by God.  It’s as if we’re a jigsaw puzzle that’s missing some pieces.  Those missing pieces are shaped like God, and when we don’t look for Him to fill those holes, we’ll look for something that we think looks like that hole and try to force it to fit.  It won’t, of course, and the picture that results will always be a little – off.

Yet still we allow others to tell us that it is OK to reject the person God made us to be and to make ourselves into someone that they(or we) think is perfect .  Why do we allow others to sell us a bill of goods like that?  It seems like we don’t even know who God made us to be anymore; that we need someone to tell us what we should already know.

First and foremost, we are children of God.

And as a child of God, we are given instructions, self-help advice if you will, on how to find the happiness we seek and to become what God wants us to be.  Perfect in His eyes.  And God does not see as man sees.

Think about this.  We love the imperfect artistic efforts of our children and delight in them as "perfect", whether they’re stick figures of ourselves with long curved fingers and weird-looking eyes or scribbled multi-colored landscapes of confusion.  Children may not be pro-athletes but we’re proud whenever they make the effort to compete, and if their efforts fall short of perfection, we console them and praise the effort which they’ve made while encouraging them to try harder. They may not be perfect by worldly standards, but they are (or should be) perfect in our eyes.

And God sees us as His children, no matter how old we get, and He responds the same way.  Despite our grown-up mentality, we’re still children in His sight and as long as we’re striving to please Him, then as Thomas Merton said, our efforts indeed do please him.  God will keep us on the path to perfection.

Yet, instead of accepting that God loves us for who we are, we think that our imperfections can somehow be “fixed” and we go to extreme efforts to "fix" ourselves.  We are convinced by others that we can be whoever WE want to be and we try to change ourselves into something we are not, and we do it for the worst of reasons – opinions or pressure by others. We try to please others, instead of God.

So how do we become “perfect” in God’s eyes?

Well, we’ve all heard the story about the rich man who comes to Jesus and asks him what he needs to do to get to heaven.  After Jesus tells him to keep the commandments and such and the man says that he does all that, then Jesus says to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  The young man leaves because he is owned by the many possessions he has.  Yet, despite that, the Gospel says that Jesus still loves him.

And Luke’s version of today’s Gospel gives us a little different twist.  It has the “love your enemies and do good to them" stuff, and to "lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked" like Matthew.  But in Luke, Jesus says, "Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful.

So in God’s eyes, it appears that Mercy can be thought of as perfection.  And we add still another dimension from today’s 1st Reading from Leviticus:  “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

Be Perfect. Be Merciful. Be Holy.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which we have been listening to for the last few Sundays, gives us the directions to follow in order to be all three.

They are tough directions.  Love your enemies. Offer no resistance to one who is evil.  If someone hits you, let him do so again.  (I have a real problem with that one). 

But if we want to be perfect – to be HOLY, then that’s the advice we should be listening to, not what we’re told by the media or by those who do not know God.  Not trying to change what God made us to be, but to embrace it with the desire that a child has to please a parent.

And beginning this week we have a great opportunity to work on our perfection.  Lent begin this week with Ash Wednesday – the one day of the year that more non-Catholics and former Catholics come to Mass than any other time of the year.  We can make Lent our time to seek perfection, to seek holiness, through action:  Attend your parish mission nights. Participate in a day of reflection. Go on a retreat.  Jump-start your spiritual growth.

So, what does it take to be perfect?  St. Paul tells us, “You are the temple of God, You are Holy.”  If we are followers of Christ, then we are Holy.  If we are Holy, we must be Merciful.

And if we are Holy and Merciful, then in God’s eyes, we are Perfect.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Jesus Christ is Coming to Town

Jesus Christ is Coming to Town
Dec. 22, 2019     4th Sunday in Advent - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

As most of you know, whenever we reach this point in Advent I usually start out my homily with my rendition of “Twas the Week Before Christmas”, but this year, with just 3 more days before Christmas arrives – two if you begin your celebration on Tuesday night – I thought I would begin with a variation of another popular song:

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Jesus Christ is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
And he knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake …

It’s funny how we often take Bible stories, those lessons that come to us from Scriptures, and use them in a secular manner, like this song.  For although the story of Santa Claus in one of its various forms has come to be part and parcel of our holiday tradition, the real Christmas story is that God so Loved the World that He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into our salvation history as a baby, and we celebrate it not because it is a birthday party (well, maybe a little) but because it represents the wonderful gift that we have received from God of Himself, becoming Man to be with us and to save us.  And we celebrate to remind ourselves that Jesus not only became one of us in history, but He will come again in Glory.

It can be easy to forget that when, in just a few more days, we celebrate the birthday of Jesus.  For many it will be a joyous occasion, with lots of gifts, lots of food, and maybe even a bit of overindulgence.  But for some, it will also be a time of sadness, stress, worry or, frankly, more than a little aggravation. And I’m sure that it wasn’t any better 2,000 years ago.

Today’s Gospel gives us some insight into the worry, the stress, the sadness, of one of the key players in Jesus’ birth – St. Joseph.

Of all of the significant players included in the entire Bible – both Old and New Testament – whose lives played an integral part in salvation history, there are few as enigmatic as St. Joseph.  Considering the role he played as the foster-father of Jesus, when compared to all other characters in the Bible he is, if not the only one, one of the very few who has no lines whatsoever in the story of our faith.  What little we know of him comes from today’s Gospel and a handful of other asides scattered here and there and through tradition:

So what do we know of St. Joseph? Well:

•    According to Matthew’s geneology, Joseph was a son of Jacob (not the same one who became Israel) (Mt 1:16).  But according to Luke, Joseph was the son of Heli (Lk 3:23). And when the Angel in today’s Gospel calls him “son of David”, it of course doesn’t mean literally, but that Joseph is direct descendant of David.  It is that in that relationship that Jesus will fulfill the prophesy and promise of the coming of a savior made by the prophets.
•    And it is through Matthew’s Gospel that we learn that Joseph was a carpenter and Jesus was his son (Mt 13:55).  In Mark’s Gospel, Joseph is never mentioned by name. In fact, Mark only refers to Jesus as the carpenter – and as the son of Mary (Mk 6:3). And while Joseph gets a lot of coverage in the infant narratives of Luke, there’s no mention of either Joseph or Jesus as being carpenters at all.
•    Jesus himself also never refers to Joseph as his father. He only refers to God as being his father, as when his mother Mary asks him: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” and he replies: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:48-49), and again in Matthew’s Gospel when told his family was outside wanting to talk with him: “Who is my (family)? … (W)hoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12:50).

So, beyond his relationship to Jesus, what else do we know of Joseph as a person? We get most of what we know of him as a person from today’s Gospel.

•    He was to be married to Mary, who was betrothed to him.
•    He was a righteous man.
•    He had a strong faith in God – enough to believe the visions he received in his dreams from God’s angel messengers, and
•    He did as he was told by angels:
     o    When told not to be afraid to Mary as his wife, he obeyed and took her into his home.
     o    When told that the child’s life was in danger and to flee to Egypt, he did.
     o    When told to return from Egypt, he did, and upon returning he was directed to the region of Galilee, where he went.

I don’t know about you, but I personally would find it hard to believe anything I was told to do in a dream – especially if it was as dramatic as what Joseph was commanded to do.

And why do we assume that Joseph was overly poor? After all:

•    He was a craftsman, a necessary trade of the times and his skill was recognized by those in the region.
•    When they traveled to Bethlehem, they had transportation – a donkey – and did not have to travel by foot.  Think of all of the refugees that we see around the world who flee their homes on foot.  That’s poor.
•    There was no room at the Inn – not necessarily because he couldn’t afford it.  They had an expectation that they would be staying at the inn but, probably due to Mary’s condition and the birth of Jesus being imminent, they had to travel slowly and so arrived later than expected.  Knowing that Mary needed shelter, Joseph did the best that he could.

One thing for certain, even without ever recording a word spoken by Joseph, we know that through his actions that he had to have had an impact on Jesus as he grew up.  And like Joseph, good or bad, the presence – or in many cases the absence – of our fathers have shaped us in into the people we are today.

Which brings us back to our Christmas song. This song is especially for us adults.  During these next three days and into the Christmas season, it can be easy for us to get caught up in the stress and worry of this season instead of celebrating the joy that it represents – the gift of God from God to us. We may not feel like celebrating – we might even be angry or scared or worried or just overwhelmed.  But the true gift of Christmas – Jesus – and His peace and joy and strength is for each and every one of us.  Drawing on that gift can help us in how we face our challenges and will affect those we encounter – as parents and co-workers and neighbors and friends.  And we have an opportunity to share the Good News with all who we encounter. Let us embrace the gift of Jesus and proclaim to one and all the great joy of Christmas: Jesus Christ is coming to town.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Are You The One?

Are You The One?
November 28, 2019     Thanksgiving
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

In the Gospel passage often used for Thanksgiving, Jesus asks, “Ten were cleansed, were they not?  Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”

How often when things go wrong in our lives we are quick to blame God, and yet when something goes our way or we receive a special grace we tend to ignore its source?  It's like the person who is late for a meeting and prays, "Dear God, help me find a parking place" when suddenly a car pulls out of a spot right in front of the door and the person says, "Nevermind, God, I've got one now." 

It may not seem like it at times, but our mere existence is a gift from God. And even in our trials and tribulations, if we look close enough we can see gifts from God in the form of those who love us, the beauty of a world revealed to us, the peace of mind which is shared with us.

And so, this Thanksgiving, this is my prayer:

"Thank you, God, for Your many blessings, great and small, that I have received from You throughout the year - even for the trials which have tested me and drawn me closer to You.  Thank you for the family and friends, co-workers and business associates, prayer partners and even strangers who have journeyed beside me.  May I continue to be blessed by You through those You place in my life, and even in the smallest consolations may I always remember to give You thanks every day of my life.  Amen."

Let me be the one who returns to you.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

It's the End of the World (as we know it)

It's the End of the World (as we know it)
Nov. 17, 2019     33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Once again, as we approach the end of our liturgical calendar, our readings reflect the eschatological theme of the end times.  I hate the word, since I normally mispronounce it, but the definition for it is clear: it’s the study of 'end things', whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, the end of the world or the nature of the Kingdom of God.  Or, to quote the R.E.M. song used in the movie, “Chicken Little”, “It’s the end of the world as we know it.

And there seems to be five main scenarios predicting the near end of the world in our movies today (in no particular order): 

1.    An Alien Invasion
2.    Hit by an Asteroid
3.    A Catastrophic Geological Phenomena (earthquakes, etc.)
4.    Our own Self-Inflicted Armageddon (whether that be from nuclear war, biological war or the ever present man-made Global Warming – excuse me, Climate Change), or
5.    (My favorite):  the Zombie Apocalypse

And despite all of the death and destruction portrayed, at least in the movies we usually seem to avert annihilation.

It also seems that, while any of the above scenarios might possibly happen (with the remote exception of the Zombie Apocalypse), we’ve heard them so often that I sometimes think that we’re becoming like the villagers in the Aesop’s Fables story about the little shepherd boy who cried “wolf” – the Big One could happen, but not in my lifetime.

We’ve become complacent about our own, personal, impending end-of-the-world.

Oh, sure, there are those doomsayers that predict the world is coming to an end.  Just like in Jesus’ time, there are those who claim that the world as we know it is over, and they can even tell you the date it will happen.  I’m amazed that in just the last twenty years alone, there’s been at least one prediction of a world-ending catastrophic event each year. (Except for 2004 and 2005 – I wonder where the doomsayers were those two years?)

It makes me wonder: were the people in Jesus’ time also fixated on spectacular events signaling the end of the world?  Did they have a morbid curiosity about it, like many today?  It kind of sounds like it, doesn’t it?  It almost sounds like Jesus could be talking to us today.  And, in fact, he is.  His examples from today’s Gospel can be seen in our own history.

Take, for example, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  While most Catholic scholars believe that Luke’s Gospel was written after the destruction of the Temple, the mere destruction of a place of worship does not mean that the second coming is near, as we can see with the fact that the Temple had been “destroyed” before – the Babylonians razed it in the 500s BC, and it had been desecrated many times after it had been rebuilt before its final destruction by the Rome in 70AD. 

We too have seen beautiful sanctuaries of worship damaged or destroyed, such as the St John Lateran Archbasilica, whose feast we celebrated last weekend.  It is considered the mother church of the Roman Catholic faithful, given to the Church in the 4th century. it was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 897, rebuilt and rededicated twice during the next two centuries; ravaged by fire around 1308 and again in 1361; and its current appearance was completed in 1735.

Or, how about the Cathedral of Notre Dame?  Originally constructed around the sixth century, it was destroyed by the Normans in the mid-9th century and then rebuilt.  Its current structure started around the 12th century and sustained massive damage last spring from fire. Its reconstruction began in September.

Let us look at Jesus’ other warnings.

 “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”  It seems that we have always been at war.  We’ve faced:

•    Intra-national or wars within a country like our own civil war
•    Inter-national wars or wars between two nations like our battle for independence with England
•    Global conflicts like World War I and World War II.

There will be powerful earthquakes…”  Our catastrophic geological disasters have included:

•    The 1556 earthquake in Shensi, China, with about 830,000 deaths,
•    The Christmas earthquake and tsunami in the Indian ocean in 2004 that killed ¼ million;
•    Or the Haitian earthquake in 2010 that killed over 200,000 people.

Famines…”  Examples of famines which have rocked the world:

•    The Russian famine of 1601-1603 left an estimated two million dead;
•    The Great Bengal famine of 1770 which claimed an estimated 10 million in Bengal, India
•    Persian famine of 1917-1918 - the deaths of up to one-quarter of the total population of Iran.

Plagues…”  Plagues have been particularly devastating in history:

•    The Plague of Justinian (mid-6th century.) Death Toll: 25 million
•    The Black Death (mid-1th century.) Death Toll: 75 – 200 million;
•    Flu Pandemic of 1968.  Death Toll: over 1 million
•    HIV/AIDS Pandemic (at its peak, between 2005-2012)  Death Toll: 36 million

So what is Jesus telling us here?  Since these things have been happening now for over 2,000 years, does that mean that we are not living in the “end times” that Jesus warned us of? 

NO.  He points out that while there will be many tragic events that may occur in our lives before the second coming, he admonishes us that they, in and of themselves, do not mean that the end of the world is here.  We each have a mission to fulfill, despite the scary-ness of the times in which we live.

And we will each most likely face our own end times before the end.

But each of today’s readings is a warning to us against becoming too complacent in our own lives, and they give us hope as they point out to whom we should be looking to in order to face any of our challenges.  God.  Jesus. The Holy Spirit.

In the movie, “Rim of the World”, four misfit pre-teens are caught up in a doomsday scenario – the end of the world by alien invasion (option 1).  Although these kids have to fight aliens and even their own people in order to save the world, their biggest challenges are in overcoming their own personal battles – the boy who is afraid of everything; the kid who has been labeled a criminal; the girl who is an orphan because her parents didn’t “want” her; the kid who has lost everything because his dad was sent to jail.  It wasn’t the alien who threatened them the most; it was their own fears.

That’s US.  And how we face our individual fears, those challenges, those OPPORTUNITIES to witness to others the love and mercy of God with the light of Christ, which will define how we will meet our own “end times.”  And not everyone will agree or accept our testimony.  We may face persecution; we may lose everything we have including our lives, or at least our livelihoods.  But if we persevere; if we do not become complacent; God will save us.  We will not fear the end of the world as we know it.  We will experience the best of all possible end times:

An eternity with God.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Perseverance

Perseverance
Oct. 20, 2019     29th Sunday in Ordinary Time - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

If there’s one word which can be used to describe the call of all three of our readings today, it might be Perseverance. 

•    Perseverance in prayer, as we see in today’s Gospel;
•    Perseverance in action, as we see in our first reading about Israel at war; and
•    Perseverance in faith, as we are encouraged to be by St. Paul.

Of what value is Perseverance?  We’ve all probably heard the little ditty that was taught to school children since the mid 1800s: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” 

Why?  Why not W.C. Field’s version; “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again – and then give up”?  It seems that that has become the mantra for far too many people today.

St. James states it clearly: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”  (Ja 1:12)

We live in a world that is full of challenges, but despite what some people think, the challenges of today are no more or less severe than those faced by previous generations.  War, natural and man-made disasters, and life-threatening illnesses were part of the world that faced those in Jesus’ time and the early Christians, just like we do today.  What’s different?

Maybe it is because as a society, we are losing a sense of hope for a better world.  And it begins with our loss of faith.

In a recent Pew report from 2018, while 80% of adults in the United States said they believed in a “god”, only 56% believed in the God of the Christian faith, while a total of 33% said they believed in some other sort of god or some higher power.  About 10% stated no belief in a higher power at all.

And, as belief in God diminishes, so does hope. A recent report from the Center for Disease Control states that despair is at an all-time high, especially for young men and women in the ages between 15 and 34. Is it any wonder that our world seems to be more cynical and less loving today?

BUT, there really IS hope.  God has promised to never abandon us, and Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise.  The Gospels are full of hope, and with every generation God continues to call upon his saints-in-the-making to help us see the brightness of our futures, or, as the prophet Jeremiah said, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you – plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you.”  (Jer 29:11-12)

Which brings us back to today’s readings.  The hope of our future lies in our perseverance as seen in the examples given to us today:

1.    St. Paul calls us to “proclaim the Word of God and to be persistent in doing so, whether it is convenient or inconvenient” – in other words, whether others, or we, like it or not.  We must live our faith; we must profess our faith.  And we must do so with humility and charity.

2.    And Jesus tells us that in order to proclaim the Good News, we too must reach out to God and “pray always without becoming weary”, for God will always listen and answer our prayers, and will give us the strength to persevere.

3.    Finally, we are reminded that we cannot do it alone – it takes a Church to do so.  Moses, God’s favored one, was still unable to sustain his “prayer” in the heat of the battle without the help of Aaron and Hur.  If we ever think that we don’t need our “religion” because we can go “directly to God”, this should remind us that we need friends of faith.  God has placed others in our lives to help us to get to heaven – and just as important has provided us to others to help them as well.  We should not be afraid to turn to others for help – and to be persistent in our efforts to help others.

This is what gives meaning to life – a belief in God, the promise of heaven, and help for the journey.  We need perseverance: perseverance in prayer, perseverance in actions, perseverance in faith.  Praying to God leads to faith; Faith leads to Hope; Hope leads to action; action leads to God. 

And it is God that gives meaning to our lives.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Are You Saved?

Are You Saved? 
August 24, 2019     21st Sunday of Ordinary - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

Are You Saved?

How many times have we been asked this question by our non-Catholic Christian friends?  If we are not strong in our faith, it is a question that can either make us scratch our heads in confusion, or leave us feeling uncomfortable because we are not convinced we know the answer.  The short answer, by the way, is “Yes”, but our readings today might help us understand why that answer may not be quite as simple as our Protestant friends would like us to believe.

In the scripture passages leading up to today, Jesus has been preaching to the people about the Kingdom of God, and he has been cautioning them of their need for repentance, and what may befall them if they don’t.  And, in today’s Gospel when the person in the crowd asks Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”, he probably was really thinking, “Lord, will * I * be saved?”

Jesus responds in normal Jesus fashion with a parable. And his answer about the doors locked by the master of the house at first might seem a little strange.  “I do not know where you are from.”  Not: “I do not know you” but “I do not know where you are from.

We often use that phrase as a question, especially when we met someone for the first time. “Hi, I’m Bob – where’re you from?”  And it doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily asking about what part of the country they’re from – we might use it to determine what company they’re with, or even what family they belong to. It’s a question that we use to help us to get to know someone, and unfortunately we often use that question to judge people.

“Where are you from?”


We hear this same phrase used elsewhere in scripture, usually referring to Jesus himself.  It’s a statement made by the Pharisees, scribes and other leaders of Jesus’s time and most often seen in John’s Gospel – for example:

•    The first time that Jesus preaches in the Temple: "However, we know where this man is from; but whenever the Christ may come, no one knows where He is from." to which Jesus replies, "You both know Me and know where I am from; … I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.” (John 7:27-28)

•    And again later, after the incident with the woman caught in adultery; the Pharisees dismiss him as only testifying about himself.  Jesus responds:  "Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.” (John 8:14)

•    Finally, in the story of the man born blind, the Pharisees ridicule the formerly blind man with: "We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man (Jesus), we do not know where He is from." (John 9:29) and he replies with “If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” (John 9:33)

So, when Jesus uses this phrase, he really wants to know, “Are you from God?

His answer offers both hope and a warning.  He begins his answer with, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

We want to believe that everyone goes to heaven, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: … To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell." (1033)

When Jesus says that the master doesn’t know where we are from, he’s not talking about any particular region of ancient Judea. He is pointing out that our actions do not always reflect what we profess.  It’s a warning that we should not be complacent about our faith, or worse, presumptuous about our salvation.

But God NEVER leaves us without hope. 

Both our first and second readings talk to us about what God will do for us in order that we not only are “known” by God but also to help us understand “where” we come from, and He does it through “discipline”.  Too often we equate the word “discipline” only with “punishment”, and it’s really much more than that.  In fact, the Greek word used here that has been translated as “discipline” and which is used most often in the Bible is Paideia (pai·dei·uh), which means to instruct, especially the instruction of children.  In the culture of ancient Greece and later of the Greco-Roman world at large, it referred to the rearing and education of the ideal member of the city-state or society. While it often has consequences associated with it that seem punishment-like in their nature, the primary purpose is not judgement, but training. 

And why does God train us?  Three reasons.

1.    As preparation for the battles we face in life as seen in Deuteronomy:  “He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD. ... So you must know in your heart that, even as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD, your God, disciplines you.” (Deut 8:3-5)

2.    To remind us that we are part of an eternal kingdom as seen in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “…but since we are judged by [the] Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” (1 Cor 11: 32)

3.    And as a sign of love, as seen in the Book of Proverbs to which today’s letter to the Hebrews refers:  “The discipline of the LORD, my child, do not spurn; do not disdain his reproof; For whom the LORD loves he reproves: as a father, the child he favors.” (Prov 3:11-12)

God loves us.  He wants us to be saved. He wants to spend eternity with us.  He knows that in the world in which we live, especially today, it will require strength of will to “…enter through the narrow gate.”  And so, like athletes who “punish” themselves in their training to be the best they can be, God “trains” us, through the “discipline” or hardships that we experience in our lives. 

And so, we get back to the question, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”  The answer?
NO. There will be many, many who will be saved.  But Jesus wants us to understand that those who are saved may not be those who we expect.  God said through Isaiah: ”I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.” Jesus said that “people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.

Fr. Tymo mentioned in his homily on Friday that there’s – “room for everyone at God’s table.”  And the Beatitudes tell us those who will be seated in the places of honor: the poor, the meek, the mourning, the merciful, justice-seekers, the clean of heart, the peace-makers – those who suffer persecution for the kingdom of God. And they will come from all nations, all states of life – and even from those who may not be of our faith.  And God will seat them beside us – or rather, He will seat us beside them for “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” 

So, are we Saved? YES!  But are we living our lives so that God can tell that we are from Him? Have we made room in our hearts for all those who God has invited to His table?  Will we be comfortable with whoever is seated beside us?

Are we ready to accept His salvation?

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Go And Do Likewise

Go And Do Likewise
July 14, 2019     15th Sunday of Ordinary - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi   

In today’s gospel, a scholar of Jewish Law asks Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” For people of faith, it is the question that we all should ask ourselves – or rather, a question to which we should already know the answer. But do we?

We see this question asked of Jesus in all three of the synoptic Gospels, so it must be important. In John’s Gospel, Jesus isn’t asked this question, although in his Last Supper discourse he commands his disciples to “love one another”.

But in the synoptic gospels, depending on who Jesus is talking with, there appears to be two different answers.  In Luke 18:18, Mark 10:17 and Matthew 19:16, when Jesus is talking with someone of wealth, the answer reflects the Mosaic Law as seen in the 10 Commandments:  You shall not kill or steal or commit adultery or bear false witness, and you shall honor your father and your mother.

In the responses given to scholars of the law, however, as we see in today’s passage from Luke chapter 10 and in Matthew chapter 22:35 (where Jesus is asked “which commandment in the law is the greatest?”, Jesus refers to more foundational elements of the Jewish faith as stated in The Shema, the prayer that serves as a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services found in Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 5 – “You shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” and from the Jewish rules of conduct listed in Leviticus chapter 19: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Only in Luke do we find Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.  We’re all probably familiar with this story – the comparison of the Levite and the Priest to those who you would think would be most compassionate – and so I would like to focus on the last two lines from today’s Gospel: the answer by the legal scholar to Jesus’ question of who was neighbor to the robbers' victim –  "The  one who treated him with mercy" and Jesus’ response: "Go and do likewise."

"Treated him with Mercy."  What is mercy?  The definition from Merriam-Webster is as good as any: “compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power.

Subject to one’s power…”  What does that mean? Often we think of someone who has a legal or institutional authority as one who wields power: police officers, judges, military personnel.  Even in the corporate world, we think of executives as powerful; as children we most likely thought the same of our parents – at least until we became teenagers.

But in his parable, it is the Samaritan who has the power to show mercy.  The Samaritan is portrayed as an average Joe, albeit an outsider, who was passing by on business when he came across the injured man.  As a Samaritan, he probably didn’t have much “authority” or “power” in Jewish society in the legal sense, but he did have the ability to care for the victim.  And the same is true for us today. When Jesus tells the scholar to “do likewise”, he is actually talking to every one of us.

Think about the definition of mercy: “compassion or forbearance shown especially to someone subject to one's power.”  We have more “power” than we think.  The gifts we have received from God – our time, our talents, our treasures – all are reflections of the power that has been given to us by God.  We don’t have to be policemen or judges or someone in a position of authority to wield power.  We only have to be aware of, and be willing to use, the power granted to us by God in order to show another mercy.

Sometimes we don’t realize that there is always someone who needs OUR mercy.  For mercy is more than just forgiveness for some injury inflicted upon us. Mercy is more than just monetary help to someone in need.  Mercy is our compassionate response to Jesus’ command to love one another.  Which brings us back to how we inherit eternal life.

Love God.  Love one another.   Follow God’s commandments.  Be willing to make the sacrifices necessary for others.

For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you… No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out."

The Law of Love is written on our hearts. The Samaritan in the parable understood this.  We understand this.  We have only to carry it out.

God is always there to show us His mercy for those who seek Him.  Let us go and do likewise.