Sunday, February 25, 2018

Witnessing Something Majestic

Witnessing Something Majestic
February 25, 2018    2nd Sunday in Lent - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Whenever I hear one of the passages on the Transfiguration, I have an immediate image of standing on Sunset Peak back in Idaho on a cool fall day.  On a clear day, you can see for hundreds of miles from its summit, including into Canada to the north and to Montana and Washington State to the east and west, respectively.  It’s a truly breath-taking view, but more on that in a minute.

The Transfiguration story is in all three of the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – and we hear one or another of the versions at least 3 times a year, including this second Sunday of Lent and on the Feast of the Transfiguration in August.

Today’s version is fairly brief compared to the other two, but all three contain the basics – Jesus, Peter, James and John all climb a high mountain; the three disciples witness as Jesus changes in appearance before them and has an encounter with Moses and Elijah; they hear God the Father speak; and then it’s over and down the mountain they come.  In all three Gospels the event occurs about a week after Jesus first tells his disciples that he will go to Jerusalem to die.

What makes the Transfiguration so important to us today?  Especially during the Lenten season, what is God trying to tell us?

Often we think this passage is about how we need to transfigure ourselves. Especially during Lent, we work on efforts to become a better person, and so we use the three pillars of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving – to try and improve ourselves. Through our efforts we hope to become more Christ-like.

But that’s really not what the Transfiguration is about.  It’s not about US being transfigured; it’s about witnessing something that gives us hope.

I want to focus on 3 points of the story:

1.    The four CLIMBED to the top of the mountain.  Jesus might have led them, but they all had to make a considerable effort to get to the top. No ski lifts or gondola rides.  The disciples didn’t know what they were going to encounter once they reached the top, but they knew that Jesus was with them and they trusted that it was worth the effort.

2.    Once they reached the summit, they WITNESSED something so extraordinary that it left them in awe.  Jesus changed before them.  Or, more accurately, was TRANSFIGURED.  Jesus was still Jesus, but in that intimate encounter at the top, Peter, James and John experienced an aspect of Jesus that they hadn’t really experienced before, despite all of the miraculous signs he performed – an overwhelming sense of his divinity.

3.    Once the moment had passed, they still had to come down the mountain and RETURN to their day-to-day lives.  They themselves didn’t change and they didn’t know what they were going to face once they returned.  They weren’t even to share the experience with others until the right time - after the Resurrection.

Let’s go back to my mountaintop in Idaho for a minute. Sunset Peak is one of the highest mountains in the area, and it is home for radio repeater towers for all sorts of communications.  As such, there is sort of a road that leads up to the top, if you want to call it a road.  You don’t need a 4-wheel drive to get there, but you won’t be racing up it in your family Chevy, either.  The road drops off steeply on one side and goes straight up on the other.  If by chance you should meet a car coming from the other direction, well, better be ready to back up a way.  A long way.  The point is, it takes a fair amount of time to reach the summit, even in a vehicle, and it takes concentration and a desire to get to the top. 

Climb. The same is true of our spiritual journey in life.  Living our faith is often like climbing a steep mountain without really knowing what to expect at the end.  But the story of the Transfiguration reminds us that the higher we climb, the more the view is revealed to us.  And so we climb.

Once on top, the view is spectacular.  As I said, on a clear day you can see for hundreds of miles in all directions.  This particular fall morning was no exception.  It was a beautiful day, the cold air crystal clear in the early morning sun.  Standing on top like that helps you feel close to God, and the view is majestic.  In the movie “The Bucket List”, Morgan Freeman has as his #1 goal in life is to “Witness Something Truly Majestic”.  In his case, it was the Himalayas. Mine is Sunset Peak.

Witness.  In our spiritual journey we are often called not to do anything, but to be a witness to something truly majestic – the presence of Christ still alive in the world today.  And once we do, we are then called to share that witness when the time is right. Like my sharing my mountaintop experience with you today. Like my sharing my faith with you every Sunday.

Finally, there’s the journey down the mountain. As spectacular as the view was, I had to return to normal life.  This particular day the peak was above the fog bank that encircled the valleys below – you could not see anything at the bottom.  Mountain peaks poked out of the clouds like little islands in the middle of a frothy, foamy sea, and the road down led through it.  And so I had to focus on the road ahead as I came down, making sure that I didn’t lose my way.

Return.  Despite the closeness we feel to God at times when we are at Mass or in Adoration or even in our rooms in prayer, we still have to re-enter the secular world with all of its distractions and obstacles and temptations.  Even after witnessing the Transfiguration, the disciples still returned to arguing about who was the greatest and worrying about their day-to-day journey.  We, too, often fall back into our daily routines, forgetting those moments where we have witnessed the majestic presence of Christ in our lives.

Still, we should crave those AHA! moments where we can encounter Christ, even if they require extra effort on our parts to experience them.  That is why we resort to fasting and almsgiving and additional prayer during Lent – to prepare ourselves for that very special encounter, the witness of the Resurrection of Christ at Easter.

One final thought.  If you would really like to experience a Transfiguration moment – one where you can see the Divinity of Christ at work - I urge you to consider attending the upcoming men’s or women’s ACTS retreat.  The word “retreat” is sort of misleading, as ACTS is really more of an encounter with the living Christ present in the hearts and spirits of all who put on the retreat AND in those who attend it.  During your time there you will witness how God works in the lives of others and it will open your heart to His presence within you.  It is a truly transforming event.  Does it require you to “climb”? Certainly!  You have to be willing to take the time to attend.  If you think you are too busy and cannot take the time, then you’re one who needs it the most. 

Witnessing Jesus’ Divinity in the Transfiguration was a truly awesome experience for Peter, James and John.  As we progress through Lent, I pray that you too will have an awesome personal encounter with the Divinity of Christ.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Fishers or Sinners

Fishers or Sinners
Homily for January 21, 2018    3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

The calling of the first disciples is one of the few stories that can be found in one form or another in all four Gospels.  Last week we heard John’s version where Andrew and John were followers of St. John the Baptist and he pointed Jesus out to them, which led Andrew to bring  his brother Simon Peter to Jesus;  in Luke’s version there is a detailed interaction between Simon Peter and Jesus, with Jesus getting into Peter’s boat with him and Peter experiencing the miraculous catch of fish.  Both Matthew’s version and today’s version from Mark are briefer;  Jesus merely says to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” and they immediately drop everything and follow him.

Why is this calling so important that all four Gospels include a version of it?  Last week Fr. Szatkowski talked about the call to religious vocations, and indeed, with the call of our first Pope, St. Peter, that indeed is a significant message to us all, especially to the young men and women who are considering life as a priest or a member of a religious community.  But Jesus’ call is more than just a summons to future clergy and religious.  He is summoning each of us to become “fishers of men.”

I want to tell you a little story.  Fifteen years ago this month I made my first mission trip to Honduras and the Sunday Gospel was about this call.  Three years later, I went back and again, the Sunday Gospel was a version of this story.  Who knows?  Maybe that’s why I became a deacon?

In any case, on the first trip I was traveling with a priest friend of mine who, fortunately, spoke better Spanish than I did.  Better, but not perfect.  You see, he presided at the Mass and proclaimed the Gospel, and when he got to the part where Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men", which in Spanish is "Síganme y haré de ustedes pescadores de hombres" (forgive my Spanish), he said, "Síganme y haré de ustedes pecadores de hombres", which in English would be "Come after me, and I will make you sinners of men." 

Instead of Pescadores, or fishermen, he referred to the first Apostles as Pecadores, or sinners.

The local priest who concelebrated the Mass with him loved the slip of the tongue, and he used it all week long in his homilies to make a very important theological point – Jesus calls US – sinners – to become fishers of men.  Every one of us.

What would it take for you to abandon your livelihood and follow Jesus?  What was it about Jesus that drew people to Him?  This was at the beginning of his ministry – while in Luke’s version we see the “miracle” catch of fish, really at this point in Jesus’ ministry there are no real “signs” and wonders yet – none of the big stuff.  Yet in all four instances, those first called left everything to follow him.  In today’s Gospel, Peter and Andrew “abandoned” their nets and followed him.  James and John left behind parents and coworkers and followed him.

One thing is certain.  The early Christians believed Jesus when he said, “The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the Gospel."  Gospel.  The Good News.  The GOOD news.

Good?  Jesus said this just after John the Baptist had been arrested and thrown into prison. Although Mark’s Gospel is considered the first of the four to be written down, remember that all of the Gospels were written after Jesus had been crucified, died, and had risen from the dead so the early Church had a pretty good idea of what would happen to them if they followed Jesus, and they did anyway.

Do you believe that the Kingdom of God is at hand today?  In our first reading, we hear how a pagan city – Ninevah – believed in a messenger from God – Jonah – that their “world”, their city would be destroyed in 40 days and, without even an “or else” to offer them hope, abandoned the status quo of their lives in the unspoken hope that God would save them.  Jonah didn’t even want to tell them – in a way we might think of the whale that swallowed Jonah as a “fish FOR men”?

The Kingdom of God IS at hand.  We are ALL called to be fishers of those people who are in need of the Good News.  We do not need to walk away from our families or livelihoods to proclaim the Good News – we can do it right where we are: to our children (or parents); to our friends; to our co-workers; to our neighbors.  Will it take sacrifice?  OF COURSE! While St. Paul may have seemed a little extreme in his letter to the Corinthians today, he is correct in that we must learn to place Jesus and his Good News as the priority of our lives.

One final thought.  Bishop Robert Barron, in a homily on John’s version of today’s message, said that it “offers a compelling meditation about the importance of Christ for the activities of the Church. Christians are meant to be fishers of men, but when we operate according to our own agendas and efforts we will catch nothing. We must act under the Lord's direction. If we follow Christ we will do great good indeed.”

Whether we are Pescadores or Pecadores, God has need of us.  And as pecadores, we have need of Him.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas
Homily for December 24, 2017    Fourth Sunday of Advent - B 
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the land,    People were worried, wringing their hands.
“What should I buy? What should I get?”
    Will my expectations of Christmas be met?
Mom in her apron, in a very foul mood,
    Worried about cooking: would there be enough food?
Dad, too, was cranky, showing ill-will,
    Worried about paying those big Christmas bills.
And the children were impatient – the girls and the boys,
    As they thought only of presents: the gifts and the toys.
But then what to my blood-shot eyes should appear,
    But an angel of God, with good tidings to share.
“A child will be born – he’s on his way,
    That if you will let Him, will change all your ways.”
“The gifts He brings are Joy, Mercy and Love,
    Sent by the King of Kings from above.”

Are you ready for Christmas?  Do you feel that Christmas came a little quick this year?  If so, maybe it’s because we were a bit short-changed this Advent.  A quick trivia question:  how long is Advent?  It’s a trick question, since it depends on the year.  While there are always 4 Sundays in Advent, this year, because Christmas falls on a Monday, we lose all of the week days that normally follow the 4th Sunday of Advent.  So we had only 22 days to prepare.  No wonder we might feel a bit rushed – do you think maybe Mary felt a little rushed when Jesus decided to be born while she and Joseph were traveling?

Today’s Gospel is about CHOICES – making decisions.  We heard this same passage a couple of days ago – the announcement by the Angel Gabriel to Mary that she was to have a child.  We ponder it every time we say the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.

It sounds like it was a command, but was it?  Did Mary have a choice?  Of course she did!  God has given all of us the gift of free will and Mary was no exception.  She could have said, “NO”.   But she didn’t, and her “FIAT” – her “YES” – started in motion a series of events which would forever change the world.  And although Gabriel told her about Jesus’ future kingship and his greatness, I’m sure that she had no idea of what her choice was going to mean to her or to the world.

When was the last time you made a decision that changed your life forever?  God presents us with choices both big and small every day.  We’ve all had to make them, and we do – sometimes we make good choices and sometimes, not so good.  Most of the time we do not know the impact of our decision until much later.  And even if we make the “right” choice, there can be consequences that, at least initially, we wish that we didn’t have to deal with.  But first and foremost, do we pray over our choices to seek and understand God’s will?  Are we willing, like Mary, to say, “May it be done to me according to your word.”?

Look at King David in the first reading.  David was a warrior; in his battles against the Philistines and others God was certainly with him and blessed him with his victories.  His kingdom was at peace and he himself was living a pretty good life.  And yet, his desire to build a house for the Lord was not what God had in mind.  God wanted David to understand that there was a bigger picture than what David could see, extending through future generations, and that there would be others who would also need to choose to follow God. 

God didn’t want David to build a house of wood to enclosed God; God Himself would build a house of faith to enclose David and his descendants.   David’s kingdom was only a prelude to something far greater to come.  As St. Paul said, it’s an ancient mystery to be revealed through Jesus Christ.  We must show through our actions – our choices – that we want to be part of God’s Kingdom.

That must be the goal of ALL of our choices today.  Choosing to follow God’s will is never easy.  One of the things that Advent is meant to do is to prepare us for making those choices in the future by reflecting on and seeking God’s will in the choices we have to make. 

As we prepare to celebrate the historical birth of Jesus, we must also prepare ourselves to be part of that greater Kingdom of Faith that Jesus proclaimed with his life.  Have you used Advent for that, or have you spent you Advent becoming frazzled in the preparations for the party instead of the guest of honor?

We will receive many gifts from God this Christmas, the most precious being the gift of Jesus still present today in the Eucharist.  And among the other gifts that we will receive this Christmas and throughout our lives are those that God has sent us through his Son – the gifts of Joy, Mercy and Love.

And so the Angel exclaimed, as he faded from view:
“Merry Christmas to all – to me and to You!”

I’ll see you all for Christmas.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

What's Your Talent?

What's Your Talent?
Homily for November 19, 2017                                    33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

What’s a talent?  Today, when we hear the word “talent” we often think about exceptional artistic skills like painting or singing or playing the piano (none of which I possess), or physical skills like playing sports (which I don’t have, either).  And we like to showcase those abilities that we consider exceptional in shows or competitions.  For example, I’m sure many of you have seen or at least heard of the TV show “America’s Got Talent.”   I personally don’t watch it but go check out the YouTube videos of last season’s winner: Darci Lynne Farmer, a 13yr old Oklahoma girl who is a phenomenal singing ventriloquist.  And don’t forget our fascination with football – we’d say some football players have particular talents.  Too bad it doesn’t seem to be the Cowboys…

But as we hear in today’s Gospel in biblical times, a “talent” was a unit of measure usually used to weigh precious metals.  It varied between about 60 and 75 lbs, depending on the culture - Greek, Roman, Egyptian and so on – with Jewish tradition being on the higher end.  It was also the equivalent of about 3000 shekels, and a shekel was what some say was the equivalent of the average daily wage for the common laborer of the time.  So the one who received only one talent still received the equivalent of 10 years wages.  And with gold currently worth about $1300 an ounce, that means your average 10yr old child, who weighs about 70lbs, is worth about $1.5 million dollars today – if he or she was made of gold.

But whether or not we’re talking about talents as precious metals or talents being special skills or abilities, do we recognize that they are gifts from God?  They are.  And whether we have been blessed with financial success or a great voice or ability to play sports, it is up to us to cultivate that talent – for the glory of God.

In today’s Gospel, the Master gives his servants a ridiculously large sum of money to take care of, and then he just – leaves.  No instructions on how to use the talents, no instructions on how to invest them – he simply entrusts his servants with them.  And he leaves.

God has done the same thing with us, with one exception:  God has given us instructions on what needs to be done with the talents that he has entrusted to us, as in the parable of the sheep and the goats about the Works of Mercy and in the Beatitudes, even if he hasn’t given each of us individual instructions on just how to accomplish it.  That challenge has been left up to us.

What are your talents?  Do you have any hobbies?  What are you good at?  Have you ever taken inventory of ALL your skills, your resources – even the personal, fun ones?  These all make up YOUR talents.  We often don’t think that some of the things we are good at are of any value to others, but God has gifted you with all sorts of talents and each one is to be used, first and foremost, for building of the Kingdom of God.  Every one!  Trust me.  When I was being yelled at to be quiet as a kid, I would never have guessed that one of my most precious talents as a deacon would be my big mouth. 

One final thought.  Talents are meant to be nurtured and grown. Today’s Gospel ends with, “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Whatever your talents – athletics, money, singing, whatever – if you do not use them FIRST for the Glory of God then no matter how successful you are, how famous you are, how rich you are – you’ve buried your talent in the earth.  And eventually, as all things buried in the earth, they will waste away and soon be of no value to you or anyone else.  Especially for you.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Love Thy Neighbor - Or Else?

Love Thy Neighbor - Or Else?
Homily for October 29, 2017    30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

When I first looked at the readings for today I thought, “Finally! The makings for a good fire and brimstone homily!”  I mean, just look at our first reading: if you wrong any widow or orphan, God will KILL you with the sword.  Doesn’t sound like a kind and loving God to me.  Pretty Old Testament stuff.  A god of vengeance and judgment. 

And then we come to our Gospel passage: Love God and Love our Neighbor.  And Love yourself – don’t forget that.  Makes me think back to my younger days of hippies and flower power.  Did God change?

Even in the New Testament, we tend to gloss over Jesus’ admonitions to his followers about what happens to those who ignore God’s call for justice. In Matthew’s Gospel alone we hear about the parable of the sheep and goats: "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" and his admonition “do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”  And how about the one about entering “through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it”?

Yep. Hell is Real, and there will be some who will discover it first-hand. And the quickest way to find out is to disobey the two commands we hear today.

And that is a real challenge, isn’t it?  We as a society have made it almost impossible to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We have set our personal standards too high; we’ve allowed the poorest of the poor to drop too low.  It is easy to fear what we don’t know and it is hard to love what we fear.  We live in a world of violence and hatred; a world of greed and jealousy, a world that distrusts anything that it cannot control.  How can I love my “neighbor”?

Further, we often don’t even know our “neighbors” in the personal sense.  A priest friend of mine often states that the downfall of civilization began with the invention of the air conditioner – prior to it, people would go outside in the evening and sit on their porches while the house cooled down from the daily cooking and other activities, and they would greet their neighbors as they walked their dogs or played with their kids.  Kids would climb trees and play ball in the streets; we’d run in and out of each other’s houses like they were our own. 

Nowadays we have sanitized our kids’ activities to keep them “safe” while the streets are now less safe than ever before.  We lock doors and erect privacy fences which isolate us from each other.  We live in fear and often won’t even answer a knock at the door – we now have electronic “eyes” so that we can remotely see who is coming to our house even when we’re miles away.  It’s very difficult to love those you do not know.  And if I can’t love those closest to me physically, how can I love those who are half a world away?

Do you know what the opposite of Love is?  It isn’t hatred, or even fear.  It’s INDIFFERENCE.  We don’t have to hate someone to not love them.  All we have to do is ignore them.  Be apathetic to their problems.  Don’t care one way or another.  THAT’s the opposite of love – and it is the real danger that we all face today. 

On September 27 Pope Francis launched a global campaign to support migrants and refugees around the world called “Share the Journey”. Two weeks ago, the bishops in the U.S. asked Catholics around the country to help kick off the campaign by taking part in a week of prayer and action for migrants and refugees from October 7-13.  Did you respond to their call to action?  It’s all about loving our neighbors.

And what about loving God?  If the greatest command is to Love God, what does that say about us?  It’s much more than a feel-good, fuzzy feeling; how do we orient ourselves to God?

I just finished reading a book called, “God is Not Nice”, by Ulrich Lehner.  In it, Lehner points out that we’ve sanitized God to the point that we think of Him as a “nice guy” and we no longer afford Him the respect that is His due – it isn’t about God being a vengeful god or a judgmental god or a complacent god or a god who is aloof and who doesn’t get involved directly in our lives.  It is about a proper orientation toward the Creator of the Universe and the Master of our Lives.  A God of Infinite Mercy but one of Justice as well.

The story of our faith shows us a god who is intimately in love with His creation and especially in us, with whom He has shared the joy and stewardship of His creation.  A god who desires us and wants us to spend eternity with Him.  A god who shows us just how we can share that love and gives us, as we hear in today’s Gospel, the two most important things we can do in our lives – Love God and Love our Neighbors.  And the most important is “Love God”.

One of the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit is “Fear of the Lord”.  This isn’t the kind of fear where one is shaking in his shoes; it is akin to wonder (or awe): With it, one is made aware of the glory and majesty of God. At a June 2014 general audience Pope Francis said that this fear “is no servile fear, but rather a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur and a grateful realization that only in Him do our hearts find true peace”.  To Love God is to hold Him in Awe and reverence in our hearts.

In Luke’s version of today’s Gospel, scholar of the law asks Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”, and includes the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s not a question about the greatest commandment but how to get to heaven.  Same answer.

God commands us to Love.  We cannot be indifferent to the suffering of those around us and still love them.  Love is a choice; Love is an action.  And it is in this love of those around us that we can experience the Love of God for us.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Workers in the Vineyard

Workers in the Vineyard
Homily for September 24, 2017    25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Jesus today compares our participation in the Kingdom of Heaven to working for a landowner in his vineyard.  It reminds me of the day-workers that gather at a local landscaping nursery. I see them almost every morning on my way to work.  They arrive around dawn and hope that they will be called upon to join a work crew.  If they don’t get picked, they don’t get paid that day.  And I’m pretty sure that they get paid by the hour so if someone comes by at noon to employ them, they’ll only get a partial day’s pay for the time they do work.  It’s a hard way to make a living, but better than no job at all.

Did you know that unemployment is one of the top 5 stressful situations a person can face, along with Divorce, Moving, Major Illness, and Death of a loved one?

Financial problems doesn’t crack the top 5, although financial woes are often related to them.

And of all of the social problems we face in this country – whether it be discrimination, marginalization or any other type of inequality – they are almost always intertwined with employment or lack of it.  The dignity of the worker and fair treatment in employment is in the foundation of Catholic Social Justice teaching.

I think we all know of someone looking for a job – maybe we’re even unemployed or underemployed ourselves.  The average person spends almost 1/3rd of their adult life working, at least if they’re given the opportunity.  And nothing shatters a person’s self-worth, their sense of dignity, than to be out of work, especially if they have been fired. 

So, why do we work?  So we can afford to eat?  Put a roof over our heads?  Earn enough so we can retire and not have to work anymore?

No.  We are made for it.

From the very beginning, in the 2nd chapter of Genesis, we hear that:  “The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom he had formed.  … The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.”  We were made to work – to care for God’s creation – and each other.

We might not be happy at the work we currently do, but if we don’t find suitable work for ourselves according to God’s purpose for us, we definitely won’t be happy.  Think about how you’ve felt at the end of a “job well done.”  The satisfaction we feel – that warmth and peace in our hearts – that’s God smiling on us.

Pope Francis said a few years ago, on the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker: "We do not get dignity from power or money or culture. We get dignity from work." He noted: "Work is fundamental to the dignity of the person. Work, to use an image, 'anoints' with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God who has worked and still works, who always acts."

And so we have today’s Gospel about workers in the vineyard.  We can look at this Gospel from two perspectives:  the earthly “Here-and-Now” and the spiritually “Eternal Kingdom”.

First, the Here-and-Now.  On the face of it, it seems unfair – those “who bore the day's burden and the heat” earned the same as those who only worked an hour before sunset. Where’s the sense of justice?  Where’s the indignation?  He made those who didn’t work “equal” to those who did – what did they do to deserve that?

It is an almost socialistic attitude. 

But Jesus wasn’t talking about an earthly kingdom – he was talking about the Kingdom of Heaven.  And his comparison of the various workers and how they were hired reflects God’s desire for us to enjoy the eternal rewards He has prepared for us.

It starts with the landowner going out to hire the workers.  He doesn’t send an underling to do it – he goes himself and hires a crew.  He goes out again, and again, and again – each time finding more workers.  Where were they when he first went out?  Doesn’t matter.  For whatever reason, they weren’t in the first group.  He sought them out anyway. 

Jesus is telling the Jews that they were indeed called first by God as His Chosen People. But Jesus is also telling them that God is calling everyone, even those who are sinners or Gentiles – all are called.

Second, he agrees to pay each group the daily wage.  When you think about it, that is what we ask of God every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer:  “Give us this day our daily bread.”  There’s an implicit recognition that we are dependent upon God for every day of our existence, and in turn God will give us what we need – today.

And there is an underlying understanding that anything more than our “Daily Bread” can cause us to sin.  We see that in the 7 Deadly Sins:
Pride (I earned more than you), Lust (I want this for my pleasure),
Envy (I want what others have too), Greed (This isn’t enough for me),
Sloth (If this is all I get, I don’t need to do more),
Gluttony (I’ll take it all), or Anger (Give me more – or else.)

Third, he calls those he first called, “friends”.  There is an intimacy between the landowner and his workers that is beyond just an “employee” – a relationship that is based on trust, or, in our case, faith, that he will do as he promised.  The Jewish people were privileged to have an intimate relationship with God and God made promises to them that He had – and would – continue to fill.

Finally, why not treat the first group “special” and give them more?  Because in God’s eyes, we are created equal and receive an equal portion of His Love – and that is infinite for each and every one of us.  Even if we are “called” late to the game due to our sins, as we heard in our first reading he is “generous in forgiving” and is out there still looking for us.

You know, we too are called each and every day to work in God’s vineyard.  We as Christians are now the “Chosen”, called at our baptism.  And we should be willing and able to do the “heavy lifting” of tending the vineyard by spreading the faith – a responsibility we must not take lightly.

But while God continues to seek us out as long as we live, we must be ever vigilant and answer His call to work, even in our twilight years.

Paul said in his second letter to the Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.”  If we want to dine in the Kingdom of Heaven, we have to do our part.

Are you hungry for the Kingdom of Heaven? Are you ready to work for it?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Who Are You?

Who Are You?
Homily for August 27, 2017    21st Sunday in Ordinary Time - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Who do people say that YOU are?  If you asked a group of your friends what others thought of you, what do you think they would say?  Would it be the same thing that those closest to you would say?

There are usually three types of people that we encounter:
•    Strangers: those that don’t know us or only know us by name;
•    Acquaintances: those that know OF us or who have met us briefly; and
•    Friends:  those who THINK they know us.

And, there could be a 4th group – those who indeed know us.  The REAL us.  Maybe.

Do YOU know who you are?  That can be a tough question.

We live in a world of false images and aliases; of secret identities and masks – sometimes with good reason.  We fight fiercely to hide our identity so that others won’t steal it.  We want our privacy so we build both physical and emotional walls to protect us.  Often we don’t want people to know us too well simply because we know that there are aspects about us that they might not like – that WE don’t like about ourselves.  We can develop dual personalities – one visible to the world, and one hidden within ourselves which hides the pains and scars caused by the physical and emotional traumas of our life.  We live so long behind our masks that we can forget who we are.

But God knows who we are, even when we don’t.

Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus asking his disciples what others say about him.  These are the people who would be strangers, per se – not quite to the level of acquaintances, although they may have heard about Jesus or saw him in passing – maybe even sat at table with him somewhere.  But these are the people who can only relate to Jesus through rumor and gossip; they DON’T know him at all.

Then Jesus asks his group, “What about you?  Who do YOU think I am?”  Now, these guys – and a few gals, I’m sure – have been with Jesus going on a couple of years now and so have seen him in action more than once, and so have an understanding of WHAT he’s capable of.  But is that enough to KNOW who he is?

Simon Peter thinks he does.  "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!" 

But there is a difference between knowing ABOUT someone and KNOWING someone.  When he tells Simon Peter that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father”, Jesus doesn’t mean that God the Father whispered it into his ear or even tattooed it on his heart.  Jesus refers to the knowledge gained as a witness to his works, which reveal his divine nature.  And, as we will see next week, despite his “knowing” who Jesus is here; he still doesn’t fully understand WHAT he thinks he knows – and none of them will fully understand THAT until after the Resurrection.

Simon Peter’s statement does show a certain level of knowledge, even if he doesn’t fully understand what it means.  And Jesus, in turn, does something that is extraordinary, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first, when he tells Peter that he will “give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” 

What did Jesus mean when he says that he would give the keys to Simon Peter?  As Catholics we see in this the office of the Pope, but what else do the keys symbolize? 

Well, think about what keys are used for?  To unlock something.  And why is something locked?  To protect it.  So to be entrusted with keys is to be entrusted with the responsibility of protecting something; or in this case, someone.  Us.  Keys are less about authority than they are about responsibility.  And we will see Jesus give the responsibility of the keys for protecting the fledgling Christians to Simon Peter in the last chapter of John’s Gospel.

Finally why would Jesus command his disciples to not tell anyone he was the Christ?  Two reasons.  First, the disciples do not yet fully understand what it means for Jesus to be the Christ. They might think they know him, but they still only know about him.  He isn’t done teaching them yet and since the image of the Christ in Jewish eyes was one of an earthly kingdom, he needs for them to get to know him better before they will understand what the Kingdom of God is.

Secondly and maybe more importantly, he wants others to figure it out themselves.  When we look throughout all of Scripture, we see God reveal himself to His chosen people a variety of ways – through His prophets; through the signs and wonders of Nature; and most importantly, through the words and actions of His Son.   

You see, in the eyes of God, we are not only individuals, but a people.  Not “people”, but “A People”.  Why is that important?  Because we experience immortality as a people, as Christians.  The Body of Christ needs to KNOW who it is.

And that brings us back to the question, “Who Am I?”  We are, first and foremost, children of God. Second, we are members of the Body of Christ and one – in unity with Christians everywhere – in the Lord.  Just as we need to know and care for our physical body for our well-being, we must know and care for the rest of the entire Body of Christ for our - and its - spiritual well-being.

Pope Francis said that in order to know Jesus,  “what is needed is not a study of notions but rather a life as a disciple.” 

Can I say that I am a disciple?

Who do you say that YOU are?