Sunday, January 17, 2021

Is That You, God?

Is That You, God?
January 17, 2021 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - B
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

I’m sure we all have our pet peeves - those things that we find particularly annoying.  My pet peeve is – robocalls.  You know the ones; the prerecorded messages trying to sell you something.  Even though I am on every “do not call” list available, inevitably I will get a few of them every week.  The worst? The ones that begin with “we have an important message for the owner of…”, or the ones which are in some sort of Asian dialect I can’t understand.  Of course there are also the ones which threaten to arrest me if I don’t pay my fine with an Amazon gift card within the next 24 hours.

It is so bad that if I don’t recognize a phone number, I usually won’t answer the call and will let it go to voicemail. Unfortunately, every now and then I miss an important call where they do NOT leave a message. Especially if it is from some customer service department that I really need to speak with.  And they rarely leave a call-back number; which leads us to today’s readings – answering God’s call.

“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

How often have we used those words in our prayers?  I mean, they are the words that are used most often to show a response to the call to discipleship – “Speak Lord, for your servant is LISTENING.”  

But it can be really hard to hear God.  God doesn’t shout at us, but He speaks to us in whispers.  It’s not like we get a phone call or text message; and the last time I checked, Jesus hadn’t “friended” me on Facebook. I’m sure He doesn’t have a Twitter account, and I know He doesn’t follow me – I know all eight of those who do.  Even if he did call, I’d probably not recognize the number and so would let it go directly to voicemail - and God is one of those I wouldn’t expect to leave a recorded message.  (I saw the movie “Oh God” with George Burns and John Denver and nothing God said in court was on the recorder.) If he doesn’t reach out and touch me using the latest technology, how do I know He’s calling me?

Even if we think God is calling to us, those closest to us might not understand and misdirect us.  In today’s first reading, Samuel hears God’s call but doesn’t know what it is so he turns to Eli, his boss – his mentor – thinking that it must be Eli who is calling to him in the middle of the night.  Eli, a man of God whose life is focused on serving God, at first tells him to “go back to sleep”.  I can understand.  If my kid woke me up in the middle of the night saying, “Here I am, you called me”, I would respond in the same way, “You’re dreaming.  Go back to sleep – and leave me alone.”  (I still say that to my dogs when they wake me up, but then again I’m sure it’s Mother Nature and not Father God calling them).

But God is calling us.  Every day.  If we listen, we can hear Him in the stories we read, in the people we meet, in the things that we see.  

Sure, there are lots of distractions in our lives that keep us from recognizing God’s call to us.  Even in church:  noisy distractions from children; cell phones that haven’t been turned off, and especially the noise in our heads from all those thoughts about what we need to do after Mass.  We become impatient and our mind gets so busy that we forget that we are supposed to be listening for God - listening TO God.

In fact, do we even listen to ourselves when we pray?  Sometimes we rattle off a Rosary like a machine gun: HailMaryFullOfGraceTheLordIsWithYou.  A priest friend of mine tells a story about a man who wanted to buy a horse.  He asks the owner if he would sell the horse and the owner says, “I’ll GIVE you the horse if you can say the Lord’s Prayer without interruption.  The man replies, “OurFatherWhoArtInHeavenDoesTheSaddleComeWithTheHorse…

Let’s face it.  We live in a world today that is so full of distractions and noise and busy-ness that it takes an extra effort to hear God’s call.  But if we just listen, we will.

So, how do we prepare ourselves to hear God’s Call?

By setting aside time to listen. Making time for spiritual reading.  Meditating on Scriptures. Prayer.  When we do these, we invite God to speak.

“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

So we’ve invited God to speak to us, but do we really mean it?  Are we really listening?   Sometimes I think when we ask God that, we really don’t expect, or even want, an answer.  I mean, it’s kind of like meeting a person and saying, “Hi, how are you?”  If we’re even listening for a response – and frankly, most of the time I don’t think we do – we expect to hear, “Fine” or “OK”, or something equally quick and positive.  But we’re uncomfortable hearing, “Terrible” or “Not so good.”   We dread having someone launch into a long litany of complaints that hold us hostage, or that drag us down.  Even worse than that is when we are asked to do something that makes us uncomfortable – to go somewhere, to give something, to help someone – to Make A Commitment.

But when we extend our invitation to God to speak, we are asking God exactly that, and God wants us to act like we mean it.  Look at today’s Gospel.  Jesus says, “Come and you will see” and they drop everything and go with Jesus.  Jesus says, “Follow me”, and away they go.

How about you?  Would you drop everything and walk away from it?  Job, car, family – leave it all behind and head off with just the clothes on your back, to follow a charismatic preacher?  

Maybe a more important question should be, “Does God require you to abandon everything in your life to follow Jesus?”

The answer is, “NO”.  God has a plan for each of us.  He has provided us with the gifts and the graces that He knows we need to accomplish that purpose, and He has placed us right where He wants us.  But that doesn't mean that God isn’t calling to us to follow Him.

Pope Francis once said, to the effect, that being called doesn’t mean we have to change “who” we are, but how we use who we are to respond to God’s call.

And We MUST respond to that call.

Opportunities abound for us to respond.  There are many opportunities  through St. Paul’s various ministries to serve God, even during these trying times.  There are stories in the news every day calling to us.  But in order to know how to respond, we must first listen to God.

You know, being “Called” doesn’t just mean that God is telling us to do something. Think about when we “call” someone.  It isn’t just to tell them to do something;  we call them to see how they are doing; we call them to share something good that has happened to us or to someone we know; we call to ask them a question or for guidance.  Maybe we call just to tell them we love them.  God’s call to us is all of these – and more.

And one of God’s most important calls is the Mass.  It is a celebration of God’s Love for us, and it is an opportunity for us to share His stories and to listen for God’s personal messages to us.  While right now it is difficult to gather as a family, we must fight the tendency to think of the Church as a place that we are obligated to go to instead of a family that we belong to.   Even during the trials of social distancing and live-streamed services, we can still share God’s love.  Like a family, our church communities can be messy, demanding – sometimes boring – but we should never forget that we are bound together with Love – God’s love.  

But what if you are alone?  You are still part of the body of Christ, and maybe the call you receive from God will be to reach out to others who are lonely too.  You’d visit a family member who was sick, wouldn’t you?  Even if you cannot be there physically because of social distancing, you can still "reach out and touch someone," like the old AT&T commercials used to say.  The number one illness in our country today is not the coronavirus, but loneliness, and with the isolation imposed upon us by the pandemic, it is worse than ever.  Do not be afraid to answer the call to love.  Share your love with your family, your friends, even strangers.

God often calls at what appears to be an inconvenient time, but He always calls us out of Love, and His call is always important.  If we are preoccupied, if we are not listening, we may miss His call, His message.  So take time to LISTEN.

And then be ready and say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Forgiveness Sets You Free

Forgiveness Sets You Free
Sep. 13, 2020     24th Sunday in Ordinary Time – A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

In last week’s Gospel, we heard Jesus instruct us on how to offer fraternal correction with love – first privately, then with only those who are close, and then through the church.  Finally, if all else fails, treat the person as Jesus would a tax collector or an outsider (Gentile).  In other words, with love.  And that is hard, especially in light of the mandate from Ezekiel about our responsibility to help others to return to God and Jesus’ mandate on doing it with love.  And if it is hard to provide fraternal correction in a loving manner; how much more difficult is it when you are called to forgive someone who has injured you? 

When you think about it, there are 3 types, or levels, of forgiveness, and they are (in order of increasing difficulty).

First is the forgiveness of those you love, those closest to you, or those that you can relate to. 

There’s a story told by Archbishop Fulton Sheen about a married couple that gets into a large fight.  Finally the husband says to his wife, “I’m sorry dear, please forgive me.”  She replies, “I forgive you, let’s just forget about it.”  Sometime later they get into another argument and she brings up the first incident.  This happens several times and finally the man says, “Honey, I thought you said that you believed in forgive and forget.”  “Oh I do”, she replied, “I just don’t want YOU to forget that I forgave you.”

We see this this kind of forgiveness when something happens and our anger flares up – then we see that it was caused by someone we know and we automatically shrug it off.  We might even joke about it.  Laughter often releases the tension of the situation, and forgiveness becomes almost automatic.  It is easy to resent someone who cuts you off in traffic or who steals that parking spot in front of you; but when the little old lady gets out of the car and smiles at you, you can usually feel the anger melt away and forgiveness comes naturally.

But then there's the second level:  Forgiveness of your enemies or those you hate.  This is a much greater challenge. 

Last Friday we remembered the tragic events that occurred 19 years ago on September 11, 2001.  There are those who still carry the scars of that day, if not physically, emotionally.  When the harm done by another results in the loss of life or is of such a horrifying nature that it is impossible to forget - how do we forgive?  When the harm we have received is so painful, so irreparable, so - unforgiveable?  We can’t – not on our own.  Only God can.  We need Jesus to show us how and to help carry the burden, the pain with and for us.  And he does, when he forgives from the cross the very ones who tortured, humiliated and crucified him.

But the third level, the most difficult act of forgiveness, may be the one in which you have to forgive yourself.  So many of the problems that we face in life are a result of our own weaknesses and failures and we allow them to drag us down, destroy our own sense of self-respect. The shame of our past life, the overwhelming burden of our current addictions, often bring with them an insurmountable sense of depression and despair. It is hard to respect others if you cannot respect yourself.

So how do we forgive the unforgiveable?

We tend to forget that while we are called to forgive the injury inflicted upon us, whether it be from someone we love, someone we hate, or ourselves, it is only God who can forgive the sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that in paragraph 1441.  But how can that be? Don’t we go to reconciliation in order to receive forgiveness?  We tend to forget that, in confession, it isn’t the priest who forgives; it is God acting through the priest that forgives.  Because while only God can forgive sins, we see throughout the Gospels that Jesus exercised this divine power and he shared that authority with and through his apostles: those he chose to shepherd his Church. It has been passed down through the centuries by apostolic succession to our priests even to this day.  We need someone to acknowledge our repentance; God knows that and gave us the priesthood.

And why do we forgive?  We see part of the answer in today’s Gospel. The servant was granted mercy but in refusing to accept it, to recognize the obligation that went with it, he sent himself to prison by his own choice.  We too imprison ourselves when we cannot or do not forgive.  And we need to forgive in order to experience mercy.

Mercy is not forgiveness.  Mercy goes a step further.  When an injury occurs, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, we look to earthly justice to “right the wrong”, to make reparation.  But when we forgive, we experience spiritual mercy and grant ourselves the freedom to let go of the hurt that we carry.  Mercy then results when one has the power to mitigate the consequences, or the “just punishment” as we sometimes say in our Act of Contrition after Reconciliation.  God grants us mercy; we must do so for others.  And God’s mercy leads us to forgive others.

Think about how many times during Mass that we ask for mercy:

•    During the opening penitential right: the priest absolves us when he prays, “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life.”
•    We beg for mercy through the Kyrie: “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”
•    During the Gloria we beg: “Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; you take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer; you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.”
•    In the various Eucharistic prayers, we acknowledge our sinfulness and express hope in God’s abundant mercy
•    In the doxology after the Lord’s Prayer the priest says: “by the help of your mercy”
•    In the Agnus Dei we again ask: “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”

We want to be freed of our sins.  We NEED to be freed from our sins.  In the Gospel of John (8:32), Jesus said: “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  And later, Jesus tells Thomas “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.“ (John 14:6)  And all through both the Old and New Testaments we hear that God is a God of Mercy.  So if God is Truth, then the truth is: God is Mercy.

And if truth will set you free; how much more so will mercy?  That is our lesson for today.  “Be Merciful, just as your heavenly Father is Merciful.”  For if you show mercy and forgive others, then God will show you mercy and forgive you too.  And God’s forgiveness will set you free.

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.