Category Archives: Stewardship Reflections on Lectionary Readings
May 26, 2013 –– The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Today is The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. A “Solemnity” is the highest-ranking Holy Day possible in our Church calendar (followed by a Feast, and then a Memorial). Pope John XXII instituted this Holy Day in the 14th Century.
The Most Holy Trinity is perhaps the most fundamental belief we have as Catholics and Christians. We can never fully understand the mystery of the Trinity, but we can sum it up in the following formula: God is three Persons in one Nature. The three Persons of God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — are all equally God, and They cannot be divided.
All the readings for this Holy Day include the idea of the Holy Trinity. The first reading from The Book of Proverbs presents a segment of Chapter 8, The Discourse of Wisdom. This chapter is one of the most significant sections of the Old Testament — a major influence on both Jewish and Christian thought. It represents that the Holy Trinity was there before the beginning — “When the Lord established the heavens, I was there.”… “and I found delight in the human race.” God created all, but God also wanted to be close to and to interact with humankind.
The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans amplifies the idea of the Trinity and of God’s complete interaction with us His flock. Paul’s letter was written to the Roman Christian community to make it clear to them that they were justified by faith, not by law. Paul’s use of particular words in this short passage is noteworthy. In just a few sentences he includes “faith, peace, grace, glory” and most of all “hope.” As Paul reminds us “…hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
The Gospel from John parallels the first reading. However, it also portrays our own relationship to Jesus at times. The Lord begins by saying to the disciples, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” Isn’t that the way we sometimes relate to God? We want to know and understand everything. It was not possible for the Apostles, who were so close to Him, and it is not possible for us. Jesus makes reference to all three elements of the Holy Trinity in this Gospel passage. Just as the Apostles do not fully grasp the complete meaning, neither do we.
The reason we celebrate the Holy Trinity goes back to the thought that God wanted to be a part of our lives; God wanted to interact with us; God wanted to love us and the Lord wanted us to love in return. This Holy Trinity Sunday should bring us to serious reflections as to how we can love God completely. Living out our love for God in this world is quite simply stewardship. It is through stewardship that we can fully express our love for God. It is through stewardship that we can fully appreciate God’s love for us.
May 12, 2013 –– The Ascension of the Lord
There is something brilliantly appropriate about the readings for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord in that they begin with the first verse and first words of the Acts of the Apostles, and they conclude with the final words of the Gospel of Luke.
What makes the above statement even more convincing is the fact that most scholars agree that it was Luke who was also the author of Acts. Thus, the statement which opens the first reading, “In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up…” becomes even more connected to the conclusion of today’s Gospel: “As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.”
Nonetheless, it is worth examining each of today’s key readings as they relate to Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven. It would seem scholars have had enjoyment with the first statement from Acts, which is addressed to Theophilus. Who might this Theophilus be? Deep-thinking intellectuals have established with credibility that Theophilus is everything from a wealthy philanthropist who funded Luke’s education as a doctor, to a relative of the Roman Emperor. Theophilus means, in Greek, “friend of God.” It is probably more likely that Luke is addressing this to each of us, each practicing Christian, all of whom are surely “friends of God.”
In the second reading, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes about what positions Jesus Christ assumed once He ascended. There is an important stewardship message in this reading when Paul states, “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened.” Stewards look beyond; stewards see with more than some intellectual appraisal. Paul’s appeal to us is that we know and understand that our relationship with the Lord is much deeper than a meeting of minds — it is a meeting and merging of spirits. It is something found in the depths of our souls. Paul’s hope is that in the very deepest recesses of our hearts we will come to know, to appreciate, and to love God, and to understand that God’s love for us is equally profound and unlimited.
Many who speak and write about stewardship as a way of life include lay witness as an important characteristic for parishes seeking to be stewardship parishes. There are two references to “witness” in today’s readings. The first reading quotes the Lord as saying “you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” Wherever you may live you can rest assured you live within those limits. You can also be certain that even though Jesus was giving this charge to the Apostles, He was also giving it to us. As stewards, wherever we are, we are expected to witness to our faith.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells them again, just prior to His Ascension, “You are witnesses of these things.” Witnessing has not changed since that time. In truth, to be a witness to our faith is more than talking about it though. Truly witnessing to our faith in Jesus is living as stewards. How we live and how we love in His name says more than any words can. As St. Francis once said, “Preach the Gospel every day. If necessary, use words.”
May 5, 2013 –– Sixth Sunday of Easter
The readings for this Sixth Sunday of Easter provide us with both a history lesson about the Church virtually 20 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, and a deeper understanding of how God interacts with the Church, with its leadership, and with each of us on a daily basis.
From a historical perspective, we need to know and understand that all of the were originally written in a form of Greek called Koine (or “common”) Greek. It made sense to write in that particular language and form of Greek because it was the most widely spoken language of the day. Writing in common Greek meant the message could be spread more quickly and effectively.
One of the most important aspects of our sense of stewardship in relation to the Church is having a firm understanding of what and who we are. That means we need to be able to grasp the significance, especially historical importance, of the intricate facets of our faith and beliefs.
The first reading from Acts makes reference to the Council of Jerusalem (also known as the Apostolic Council), held around the year 50. The major reason for this gathering was to define how the Gentiles (which includes almost all of us) were expected to live in relation to the old Laws. The whole point of this reading is to point out those four representatives — Paul, Barnabas, Judas Barsabbas, and Silas — were to go to Antioch with a letter pointing out that the old laws did not apply to the Gentiles.
Revelations 21, the second reading, provides another insight into what Heaven is like. Sometimes we get a little too literal as we read the Book of Revelations. What is described is a city beyond our imaginations. Many scholars feel the walls illustrated are merely an implication of what a secure and safe place Heaven is — safe from the evils, the pains, the sadness, and the burdens of the world we know.
The key for us, however, is found in the Gospel of John. What we find there hearkens back to the fact that John wrote in common Greek. In his original text, St. John wrote of the paraklêtos. That word can be translated in many ways; we translate it as “advocate,” but other translations can be “counselor, comforter, helper.” Then John identifies this “advocate” as the Holy Spirit. The other message of this Gospel passage is that we must always trust in God. This is what makes us good stewards — the understanding that by trusting in God we accept the fact that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is always with us, always assisting us with what we say, what we do, and what we accomplish. It reminds us of another important admonition for the good Catholic, the good steward — “With God all things are possible.”
April 28, 2013 –– Fifth Sunday of Easter
Love and redemption are the resolute messages for this Fifth Sunday of Easter. From the dedication and sacrifice of Sts. Paul and Barnabas in the first reading, to the visions of John in the second to one of Jesus’ last meetings on earth with the Apostles, those two themes come shining through — love and redemption.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounts the journeys of Paul and Barnabas, during which they “proclaimed the good news.” Of course, throughout their journeys they made it clear that Christ had “opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.”
The second reading from Revelation involves visions of the future. In fact, the name of the book — Revelation — traces its roots to the Greek word apokalypsus, which means “unveiling” or “revelation.” John envisions our world of the future: “The old order has passed away.” He sees a world where we live hand in hand with the Lord — where there are no tears, no pain, no death, and no sorrow. The Lord “makes all things new.” This is the world on which we must focus.
This account of love and redemption culminates in the Gospel from John, where Jesus declares, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”
Isn’t this the formula to stewardship? Isn’t this the answer to the question, “What is a stewardship way of life?” Stewardship is an act of love. It is something we do with our freewill; it is not a law laid down by God or the Church.
In none of the readings does it become evident that God wants our resources. That is an error many make when trying to translate stewardship into how they live and what they do with their many gifts. Jesus does not want only our resources; He wants us. What Jesus was calling His followers to do, and what He is calling us to do, is to recognize how much He loves us (He redeemed us with His very life); He then asks us to love one another in the same way. It might be called a Circle of Love. Jesus loves us; we love Him; we love others in His name; they love Jesus; they love us.
The late Bishop Edward W. O’Rourke once described God’s love this way: “It is like sitting near a warm fire. You may not be rich; you may not be a genius. But you still feel the warmth. That is the way God loves us, but He also asks us to share the warmth with others.”
April 21, 2013 –– Fourth Sunday of Easter
“My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.” With these words our Lord and Savior reaches out to us individually and as a multitude, embraces us, and escorts us home. On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, we learn who we are and what we can be.
There are two key concepts, which are reinforced by the readings: First is the symbolism of Jesus as the Lamb of God and our Shepherd, and the idea that we are His sheep, His flock. And, second, is the revelation (and it was a revelation at the time of the Apostles) that the Kingdom was open to all, including Gentiles.
It is perhaps the last verse of the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles that resonates so fully with us — “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” Is that not exactly how we should feel during this Easter season? Of course, there is more depth to that statement than appears when we take it out of context. The reading from Acts recounts the experience of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch, a city in the south of what is now Turkey, and a stop on Paul’s first mission journey. Incidentally, Barnabas is believed by many scholars to be the first cousin of St. Mark the Evangelist.
The key message in this reading is that Paul not only preached to the Gentiles, but he informed them that they, too, were included in the salvation proclaimed by Jesus Christ. A Gentile by translation is anyone who is not Jewish. The Jews, we need to recall, were God’s chosen people. In keeping with Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, nevertheless, salvation was for all people, not just for the Jewish people. Some of the Jewish leadership were offended by this open invitation to non-Jews, and Paul and Barnabas were driven from the city. Knowing the truth, though, as stated above, “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit” as they departed.
The second reading from Revelations reinforces the first reading. It opens with John stating that he had envisioned “…a great multitude… from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” Truly we were all saved, and the Kingdom of God was open to all believers and followers. As is often the case in the three readings for any given Sunday, the image of the shepherd and the sheep is brought forth, “For the lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water.”
Today’s Gospel is one of the shortest of the liturgical year, but it is filled with the message of hope and fulfillment. Jesus says directly, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.” For us as believers and as Gentiles, as saved, and as good stewards, this is the message of hope on which our lives of stewardship can be based. If we do practice stewardship; if we do follow the Lord; if we do trust in His saving grace, then we, too, must be filled with “joy and the Holy Spirit.” As stewards we must respond to the love given us by Jesus. As Blessed Mother Teresa once stated, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”
April 14, 2013 –– Third Sunday of Easter
“Feed my sheep.” That was the Lord’s instruction to Peter when Jesus appeared for the third time near the Sea of Tiberius (Note that the Sea of Galilee had numerous names, including Lake Tiberius. It is 64 square miles in size and 145 feet deep.). Of course, He was saying much more than that, not only to Peter, but also to all of us.
The readings for this Third Sunday of Easter are filled with how we as Christian stewards are supposed to live — how we are to respond to Jesus’ call to discipleship. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles finds Peter, John, and the others called before the Sanhedrin to answer the charge that they continue to spread the Word when this has been forbidden. The Sanhedrin was the highest court, the equivalent of our U.S. Supreme Court.
This was not the first time they had been called before this high court. Chapters 4 and 5 in Acts recount how they were tried and how the court ordered them to quit preaching and healing in Jesus’ name. In the end, they were whipped and then released, but Acts 5:41 tells us they departed the court in “joy” because they had been found “worthy” to suffer in Jesus’ name.
The word “worthy” also appears in the second reading from Revelations. John describes Jesus, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain…” Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb” or the “Lamb of God” 28 times in the Book of Revelations. This is another case of how closely connected the readings can become — from the worthiness of the Apostles in the first reading to the worthiness of the Lamb of God in the second to Jesus’ admonition to “Feed my sheep” in the Gospel.
The Gospel of John recounts Jesus’ third appearance to the Apostles, and the exchange between the Lord and St. Peter echoes down through the centuries to us today. Three times Jesus enjoins Peter — the first time to “Feed my lambs,” then to “Tend my sheep,” and finally to “Feed my sheep.” Most scholars and theologians have concluded that this was Christ’s command to Peter to create the Church — to establish a formal means through which the flock, the sheep, the people could be fed through the gift and power of the Eucharist. Through the Church the sheep are nourished also with the Word of God. This is particularly significant to us at this time as we Catholics now have a new Shepherd, Pope Francis: the 265th Pope from St. Peter to now.
For us as stewards, there are some strong messages as to what we are supposed to do. The first reading includes the response by Peter to the Sanhedrin that “We are witnesses of these things.” In other words, Peter is making it clear that he and the others are not about to stop preaching and practicing their faith. And in fact they did not. The next verse after the first reading in Acts proclaims “They never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news of Jesus the Messiah.” We are called to the same kind of stewardship. Our lives, each and every day, in our homes, in the places we work, and in our communities should proclaim by how we live them — “We are witnesses to Christ.” Stewardship as a way of life helps us be “worthy.”
April 7, 2013 –– Second Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy)
All of the readings for today involve the real presence of Jesus after His Resurrection. From Peter healing the sick through the intercession of Christ, to the story of poor Thomas, forever known as “Doubting Thomas,” Jesus is present throughout.
The first reading is from Acts rather than from the Old Testament, but the Old Testament connections are numerous. The second sentence in the reading announces, “They were all together in Solomon’s Portico.” Constructed at the time of Solomon on the east side of the Temple in Jerusalem, this porch or gate is referenced many times in scripture. In John 10 it is reported that Jesus was walking in this area. Now, just a few years later, as reported in Acts 5, Peter and the other Apostles gather here. It is a direct connection to Jesus. Scholars cannot agree if this is the original built by Solomon, or whether it was a rebuilt colonnade made to look like the original, but that fact is irrelevant. What is important is that we see Peter and the Apostles walking where Jesus walked.
John’s Gospel has always been considered unique when compared to the other three. It was most probably the last one written, and its scope and themes are completely different. In fact, the Gospel of John covers only the last three weeks or so of Jesus’ life, and more than 30 percent of the Book concentrates on the final 24 hours of Jesus’ life before the Crucifixion. That is also what makes the second reading from Revelations particularly of interest. John, the youngest of the Apostles, and the one who in many ways is the closest to Jesus (it is he whom Jesus charges to care for His mother), has a vision. John was on the Island of Patmos, part of a string of islands off the coast of what is now Turkey. The island was used by the Romans to house political prisoners in a remote place where they could not cause trouble. John was a prisoner.
As reported in the second reading, John had a vision. In it he saw seven golden lamp stands (almost entire books have been devoted to the significance of these lamp stands ranging from a Jewish Menorah to the seven Christian communities located near Patmos, seven “lights” to the world, if you will. John makes it clear that the middle lamp was the Lord Himself, and Jesus speaks to John, saying, “Write down, therefore, what you have seen, and what is happening, and what will happen afterwards.” In other words, John is told by Christ to write the Gospel we have, with emphasis on Jesus as God, as God crucified, and as God risen.
The real stewardship message, nonetheless, occurs in the Gospel reading from John. It is that infamous story of “Doubting Thomas,” how Thomas the Apostle insisted that he had to see Jesus face-to-face, and he had to personally see and feel his wounds before he would believe that the Lord was truly alive. Thomas He fell to his knees proclaiming, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus responds, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed.”
Like us, we sometimes hold back and have doubts. But as Thomas proves, trust in God is the very essence of what it means to be a steward.
March 31, 2013 –– The Resurrection of the Lord
As difficult as Jesus’ Resurrection is to understand, it is important to note what happened when John and Peter arrived at the tomb as reported in today’s Gospel. They were initially in disbelief, even though Jesus had tried to make it clear to them over and over. John, it is said “saw and then he believed.” We hearken back to our Scripture reading of a few weeks ago that proclaimed, “Faith, Hope, and Love, but the greatest of these is love.” Today — Easter — is the fulfillment of hope. That is why we greet this day with joy, but it is also why we as stewards must fulfill that hope by living lives of love.
The first reading on this Holy Easter is not from the Old Testament, as is most common, but it is from the Acts of the Apostles. Peter speaks of being present, being a witness, and if we listen carefully to his words, we can sense his enthusiasm, his dedication, and his zeal that Christ has risen.
We are called to be an Easter people. There is a significant difference between being an Easter people and just a Church people. If we are truly an Easter people, our focus is on the victory that Christ’s Resurrection presents to us. Easter and the promise it presents us make us a joyful people who worship with a sense of hope and confidence. Easter people as good stewards live their lives with an attitude of gratitude, not a sense of obligation. Easter people do not fear death, but have comfort in the promises and salvation of Christ.
“Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” (Col 3:3-4)
March 24, 2013 –– Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
This Palm Sunday represents one of the great liturgical dichotomies. We begin the liturgy with a procession of celebration — a commemoration of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, as the people shouted “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” and “Hosanna in the highest.” We continue to the reading of the Passion, which reaches its zenith with the Lord calling out, “ ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’; and when he had said this he breathed his last.”
It is as if we move from joy and celebration to utter defeat and emptiness. However, that is the essence of our entire Lenten journey, and our beginning of Holy Week, which is today. One of the important aspects of our sense of stewardship is increasing our understanding of our Faith. If you are over 60 years of age, you may recall that up until Vatican II, there were three consecutive weekends — Passion Sunday, Palm Sunday, and Easter Sunday.
After Vatican II the Church combined Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday for the purpose of placing greater emphasis on the solemnity of Holy Week — giving it the official title of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. During this holiest of weeks we are beginning, Christ presents the great contradiction of the way He was praised and loved by some and reviled by others. Just as this Palm Sunday opens with joy and closes with seeming sorrow, our Holy week follows the same formula — including His death for us on the Cross, but closing with a complete sense of triumph.
All of the readings for this Palm Sunday of the Passion of our Lord are significant, but they naturally culminate with the proclamation of “The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke.” The Passion represents the longest Gospel of the entire liturgical year. It is worth considering some of the important features of this Gospel.
This Gospel is vivid; it is, so to speak, a “slap in our faces.” The joy of the beginning of the Mass is contrasted against the betrayal of Jesus by a trusted friend… His bloody suffering at the hands of Pilate and the Romans… His utter humiliation as He carried a Cross through the city to a jeering crowd… and His final pain and degradation as He is nailed to the Cross and He dies.
The steward understands that she/he travels with the Lord every step of the way, from the highs to the lows, from triumph to evident disaster. Throughout Lent we have been striving to deepen our relationship with Him. Nevertheless, when it comes right down to it, we may resist His invitation to us because it can mean pain, sacrifice, and suffering. That is why we must experience Lent. That is why we must experience His Passion. And that is why next week on Easter Sunday we will arise with the Lord in triumph, joy, and celebration. Truly, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
March 17, 2013 –– Fifth Sunday of Lent
If there is one consistent message in the readings for this Fifth Sunday of Lent, it is that we must look to the future, not to the past. As Catholic Christians, we are a people of eternity, a people who concentrate on the hope and promise of our Lord and Savior. Jesus reminds us many times that His “Kingdom is not of this world.” (Jn 18:36)
Living a life of stewardship places a person with an eye always on that other kingdom. St. Augustine once wrote that “A life of holiness does not lead one to Jesus, but Jesus can lead one to a life of holiness.” That is our challenge as good stewards — to keep our eyes on the Lord, our minds open to His Word, and our hearts open to His love. If we do that in the present, the past will not weigh heavily upon us, and the future will take care of itself.
The first reading from Isaiah reinforces the idea of looking to the future, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new.” The passage goes on to speak of the release of the Israelites from captivity. It is the harbinger of what it is to come — Jesus’ redemption of us, so that we can be a part of His Kingdom.
St. Paul reminds the Philippians in the second reading that their focus must be on what is to come, not on what has been or what may be. Paul views what he calls the “finish line” in the last verse of the reading: “Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward that goal, the prize of God’s upward calling.” As we continue our Lenten journeys, this is an excellent reminder — we are striving toward Easter, but we are also striving toward Christ — we must not lose our focus.
The Gospel, as is often the case, brings it all together. What the woman had done in the past was not the focus of what Jesus tried to teach. There are two important elements in His teaching, both of which we need to take note. First, He forgives the sin of the woman, but tells her to “Go and sin no more.” He is trying to bring her to repentance by showing her His mercy. However, a second factor, equally important, is the Lord’s effort to show the “prosecutors” their sins. “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” He is providing us with two cautions, both notable to us during Lent in particular. Not only are we to strive to be without sin, but also we are called to avoid the sin of self-righteousness, the sin of not being forgiving ourselves.
If we truly attempt to live lives of stewardship, we must keep in mind that we follow that way of life as a “calling.” However, we are not to condemn others because they fail to live that way. We also must remember to love all regardless whether we think they are “good” people or not. All of this is fulfilled because we understand that our rewards are in Heaven, not necessarily on earth — in the future, not in the present. The eminent scholar, author, and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis put it this way: “When Christians cease to think of the other world in their future is when they become ineffective in this world.”
March 10, 2013 –– Fourth Sunday of Lent
No matter how we may interpret the three main readings for this Fourth Sunday of Lent, we cannot fail to realize that the theme of all three deals with reconciliation and forgiveness. There is a strong suggestion relating to our Sacrament of Penance (Confession, Reconciliation).
An important characteristic of stewardship is to faithfully follow our beliefs. As Catholics we are called to Confession at a minimum annually, and in reality more than that. Canon 989 states “All the faithful who have reached the age of discretion are bound faithfully to confess their grave sins at least once a year.”
Reconciliation/Confession is one of the least understood of the Sacraments of our Catholic Church. In reconciling us to God, it is a great source of grace, and we are encouraged to take advantage of it often. The Church strongly recommends that, in preparation for fulfilling our Easter Duty to receive Communion, we go to Confession.
The first reading shows God speaking to Joshua to inform him that He has forgiven the Israelites. St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, speaks of reconciling and reconciliation. He not only implies that we must be reconciled with God, but he goes a step farther declaring, “We are ambassadors for Christ.” Just as the Lord forgives, we are to forgive. This concept is reinforced in the Gospel.
The Gospel from Luke, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is filled with forgiveness and reconciliation. The word “prodigal” means “wastefully extravagant,” which perfectly describes the younger of the two sons in this parable. His “inheritance” for which he asks his father, is normally not available until the father dies, but he wants it now. His loving father grants it to him, but he squanders and exhausts it.
His return to his father to be reconciled follows the three requirements each of us must follow for our own reconciliation/confession to be valid. The three elements of confession for the penitent are contrition, confession and satisfaction/act of penance. While the Sacrament of Penance has three parts regarding the penitent, there is also a fourth part, absolution, required by the priest administering the sacrament. In the parable, the son repents his actions, his sins; he literally rehearses what he is going to say to his father (“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.”) And, then, the father offers the fourth part of reconciliation — absolution and forgiveness. The celebration begins.
There are two important elements of this parable which we as good Catholic stewards need to note. First is the reaction of the older son who resents his father forgiving his brother and then defies his father. We must strive not to be self righteous in response to those who sin around us. If we are truly to be Christ-like, we must endeavor to achieve the second element, which is forgiveness itself. We are called to be a forgiving people. Just as the father in the parable, who, of course, represents our own Heavenly Father, completely forgives his son and welcomes him and celebrates his return (…”this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again.”), we must reach out to those around us — perhaps family or friends with whom we have some dispute, and forgive and seek reconciliation. Lent is a perfect time to do that.
March 3, 2013 — Third Sunday of Lent
It would seem appropriate during Lent that Holy Scripture would issue some warnings to us. In effect, that is what occurs throughout the readings for this Third Sunday of Lent. Each reading contains a caution to us, or a strong suggestion.
The first reading from the Book of Exodus, is a story with which most of us are very familiar — Moses and the Burning Bush. There are, however, some subtleties within the reading that we may miss. Curiosity draws Moses to the bush. No doubt it is with some amazement that he hears the Voice of God emanating from the bush. God has chosen him to rescue His people and to lead them to that legendary “land of milk and honey.” But Moses hesitates, indicating both reluctance and uncertainty. This is a foreshadowing of the doubts and irreverence that will be shown later by the Israelites. It is as if God is making it clear to Moses — do this, but take care, and take care for I am and will always be.
St. Paul does not mince words in his letter to the Corinthians. Paul makes reference to the difficulties experienced by the Israelites. He states that “God was not pleased with most of them.” To make it absolutely clear, Paul continues that “These things happened as examples for us.” In Paul’s last statement in this scriptural passage he issues a warning that is so applicable to us for Lent — “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”
Although it may not be completely clear to the reader and the hearer of the Word, the parable reported in Luke’s Gospel addresses exactly the same issue that Paul wrote about. It is done, nevertheless, in the Lord’s inimitable style. Jesus has been teaching and imploring the crowd. In terms of historical context it is near the end of His ministry — His Crucifixion is fast approaching. The Lord is particularly disturbed by the way those who listen to Him are ignorant of the significance of His presence, the magnitude of this historical time.
Simply put, many scholars agree that we are that fig tree. The fig tree looks healthy; it appears to be complete; however, it produces no fruit. Jesus’ warning to us is particularly crucial during our Lenten appreciations — it is not the appearance of holiness — through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — which is important. It is the fruits of our penitence that is important. If we, like the barren fig tree, merely play and look the part, we are falling short if we do not truly build on faith and holiness which will culminate during Holy Week and the Easter celebration.
Living as a Christian steward is a response to Jesus’ call to discipleship and holiness. The steward nonetheless must be on constant watch — constant preparation. Stewardship, like our foundations for Easter throughout Lent, is an ongoing journey — a daily exercise and challenge. We, too, must take care “not to fall.”
February 24, 2013 — Second Sunday of Lent
Today’s readings make a challenge to us — they ask us to look beyond this life and this world. Of course, Jesus did that often in His ministry. In relation to His own life and His time on earth, He was fond of saying something similar to what He said in John 16:36, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”
Sometimes the concept of the Church may seem complex to us, and in some ways it is. Are you aware that the Church exists on three levels: The Church we know on earth, called the Church Militant; the Church in purgatory, called the Church Suffering; and the Church in Heaven, called the Church Triumphant? Of course, Jesus is the Head of all three of those divisions. Together they are the Mystical Body of Christ and represent the Communion of the Saints.
In the first reading from Genesis, God calls on Abram to look beyond his present existence. God asks him to look at the Heavens and count the stars. Naturally, that is virtually impossible. Then God speaks of what is to come — the generations who will follow — they will be like the stars, beyond Abram’s comprehension and his ability to count them.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, the second reading, states, “brothers and sisters, our citizenship is in heaven.” The English romantic poet William Wordsworth wrote a sonnet titled The World Is Too Much with Us. Although Wordsworth was not referring to us in relation to heavenly life, he did capture the quandary of our earthly existence — that is, as Paul says, we are citizens of another world — a heavenly world — but we are so deeply embedded in our existence here that we seldom are able to truly see it or to appreciate that it is there.
As is often the case in Scripture, all of the ideas about Heaven and life in Heaven are coalesced in the Gospel from Luke, the recounting of the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration has been called “the culminating point in Christ’s ministry on earth” — with His Baptism as the beginning point and His Ascension as the end point. During the Transfiguration His body and His face became dazzling — so bright that it might almost blind someone looking upon Him. It was His Divinity showing through.
Peter, who can be very much like us, wanted to stay there on the mountain top, build some tents, and create a permanent experience. But permanence is only in Heaven. Heaven is eternity. Stewardship calls us to recognize that — to strive to be as holy as we can be, and to serve as unconditionally as we possibly can. Nevertheless, what should be our driving force — our true comprehension — is that for us, just as for Jesus, our Kingdom is really not of this world. People who embrace stewardship as a way of life live with an awareness of the present and the future, of both time and eternity.
February 17, 2013 – First Sunday of Lent
On this First Sunday of Lent, we are called to continue our 40-day Lenten journey with most of it before us. Today’s Gospel, however, reminds us that those 40 days can be filled with temptation, and for us, perhaps hesitation. The number 40 appears again and again in the Bible: the 40 days Moses spent on Mount Sinai with God; the 40 days and nights Elijah spent walking to Mount Horeb; the 40 days and nights God sent rain in the great flood of Noah; the 40 years the Hebrew people wandered in the desert while traveling to the Promised Land; the 40 days Jonah gave in his prophecy of judgment to the city of Nineveh in which to repent or be destroyed, and, of course, Jesus’ 40 days in the desert.
For us, it is 40 days of preparation for celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord, during which we are called to prepare through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Traditionally, we, as Catholics have tended to focus on the denial aspects of Lent — that is, we give things up; we make an effort to make sacrifices, particularly in the area of foods, to help ourselves get a deeper sense of our total and complete dependence on God and not on the material things around us, and to connect ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice and his 40 days in the desert.
Even though self-denial is important, it is equally essential that we make active efforts to deepen our faith throughout the Lenten season through spiritual reading, bible study, catechism study, etc.
In the first reading from Deuteronomy, two important stewardship elements are reinforced. The first is represented by Deuteronomy 26:4: “The priest shall receive the basket from you and shall set it in front of the altar of the LORD, your God.” Most of us should recognize this as our offertory — the time when we RETURN (not give, mind you) a portion of our blessings to God through the collection. The second is a bit more profound, from Dt. 26:10: “I have now brought you the first fruits…”
From a stewardship outlook, every day is filled with temptation. There is the temptation to view our many gifts as ours, not God’s. We are tempted to share with God and those in need not our first fruits but what we see as feasible after we have met our own needs and wants. Jesus was confident in His Father; He trusted Him and was thus able to resist the temptations presented Him by the devil. Lent is a perfect time for us to reevaluate our own lives, to appraise in particular our gifts and how we share them. In a sense, we are in our own desert, and we are faced with our own temptations. Our goal should be to strive to share of our first fruits before we use them for our own benefit.
February 10, 2013 – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Each of the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time makes reference to people being “called.” Of course, each of us is called by God to be a disciple. The challenge for us is to hear that call, understand it, and then to respond to it with action.
The United States Bishops, in their Pastoral Letter on Stewardship — Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response — say the following about our personal vocations: “Jesus calls us, as his disciples, to a new way of life — the Christian way of life — of which stewardship is part. But Jesus does not call us as nameless people in a faceless crowd. He calls us individually, by name. Each one of us — clergy, religious, lay person; married, single; adult, child — has a personal vocation. God intends each one of us to play a unique role in carrying out the divine plan. The challenge, then, is to understand our role — our vocation — and to respond generously to this call from God. Christian vocation entails the practice of stewardship. In addition, Christ calls each of us to be stewards of our personal vocations, which we receive from God.”
The first reading from Isaiah reminds us of a hymn based upon that reading that most Catholics have sung and heard for the past few decades — “Here I am Lord,” composed by Dan Schutte, one of a group of Jesuit Brothers known as the St. Louis Jesuits, because they worked together and wrote hymns when they were all at the Jesuit St. Louis University. The hymn portrays Isaiah’s response to God calling him. The lyrics in the refrain, known to many, are “Here I am Lord. It is I lord. I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, where you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.”
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, from which the second reading is taken, reflects on his personal calling to be an apostle. As a sidelight, it is well to note the difference between an apostle and a disciple. Both have Greek derivations, with apostle meaning “messenger” and disciple meaning “student.” In the Gospels of Matthew and John the word “apostle” is not even used — John, for example merely identifies the 12 Apostles as “The Twelve.” Paul’s, point, however, is that we are called, just as he was, and we have a holy duty to respond.
The Gospel from Luke is a story known popularly — of how Jesus told Peter and James and John to go out in Peter’s boat and fish again, even though they had caught nothing previously. The catch was enormous and it was a changing point in the vocations of those men. They were fishermen, and had probably been fishermen since they were boys. Fishing was their vocation, but Jesus called them to something higher — to be “fishers of men,” and they responded by changing vocations from fishermen to apostles — messengers.
Some of us, like Isaiah, are called to vocations of discipleship which function parallel to our life’s vocation, our jobs. Others, like Peter, are called to lifetime vocations — holy orders. The point is not which vocation we follow — it is that as good stewards we recognize we have a vocation — a role — in building the Kingdom of God. Are we prepared and are we responding in the way we should: “Here I am Lord… I will go, Lord, where you lead me.”