Homily – Sunday OT 21 C

Is 66.18-21
Ps 117       R/. Go into all the world and proclaim the good news.
Heb 12:5-7, 11-13
Lk 13:22-30

‘Kerygma’. How many of you have heard this word before? Kerygma is a Greek word that we use to describe the content, or the heart, of the Gospel, the Good News.

The kerygma — it’s a noun — can be summed up as this: ‘We are sinners, condemned to death for our sins. But God loves us, so He sent His Son Jesus to free us from our sins. Jesus died our death on the Cross, redeeming us from our sins, and offers forgiveness to all who repent’.

You’ll notice that the kerygma isn’t just the heart of the Gospel, it’s also s good summary of the whole Bible, of the whole of salvation history. And so, while it’s an ancient Greek word, it really is one with which every Christian should be familiar. That’s why I’m introducing it to you today, but also because it’s a word we’re going to hear a lot more often in our Parish as we embark on the Alpha experience this coming program year. And while Alpha won’t start until October, our readings this Sunday already point us to the content of this word.

In our first reading, Isaiah prophesies how the Lord will declare His glory among the nations (Is 66:19), not only by bringing His own people back to Jerusalem, but others, too, whom He will also call His own. Through the faithful remnant, the survivors, God will make His name and glory know to all. This is the great message of hope that salvation isn’t just for the Jews, but for all nations, for all peoples, for all sinners.

The Psalm refrain reminds us that it’s our mission as Christians, as God’s people, to make this message know to others: Go into all the world and proclaim the good news.

The second reading reminds us that God sees us not as His possession, but as His children: the Lord disciplines those whom He loves, and chastises every child whom He accepts (Heb 12:6). And that He heals us precisely through the discipline that He gives us. This is the role of His laws and commands.

That’s why in the Gospel today, Jesus tells us that people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God (Lk 13:29). This is our hope, that God loves us and comes to save us.

But only those who accept the kerygma, the Good News, the forgiveness that Jesus offers, will be able to enter the Kingdom of God. That’s why Jesus encourages us to [s]trive to enter through the narrow door (Lk 13:24).

And the narrow door is the Cross of Christ, which calls us to repentance and to a change of life. That’s why the kerygma is more than just a word, more than just a message, but is truly Good News that calls us to a transformation of heart, mind and life.

Since we’ve been purchased by God through the death of His Son, we’re no longer our own; we’re His. And the transformation of life this calls for is more than just accepting the Good News, more than just accepting Jesus as our Saviour once for all. Rather it’s a constant accepting of this unmerited gift of God’s love, a constant repentance for our sins, and a constant turning to Jesus in prayer to seek His assistance and grace to remain faithful to the gift He’s given us from the Cross.

As we heard in the Gospel, saying we follow Jesus isn’t a guarantee of salvation; Baptism isn’t a guarantee of salvation, but only fidelity to Jesus. Notice how it was only those who followed the owner into the house or those who went in seeking him that were accepted in; those who lingered behind or hung around outside the door were locked out and rejected by the owner.

My brothers and sisters, yes, Jesus loves us; yes, He died for us; yes, He calls us to be His disciples, but for our part we must actually follow Him and walk in His ways. We must respond to His invitation, accept His gifts, and allow the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and souls in order to inherit the Kingdom that God extends to us.

Through grace, through discipline and through repentance, may we be found worthy to enter into the Kingdom. Amen.


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Homily – Sunday OT 20 C

Jer 38:4-6, 8-10
Ps 40         R/. Lord, come to my aid.
Heb 12:1-4
Lk 12:49-53

In these past days we’ve been experiencing the first week of the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and I’m sure many of you have been watching. It’s quite something to see these athletes compete and show off their skill and all their hard work. And hard work it is! You don’t make it to the Olympics in your first year in a sport. What we’re watching is the culmination of a lot of time, effort and training. These athletes have been working hard for this competition, and not merely for months but for years. They started in their sport in their youth and have been training ever since.

One of my nephews has been doing gymnastics for two years. His coaches are already pointing him toward Olympic training because they see potential in him. So starting in September he’ll be training nine hours each week. Nine hours a week! And he’s just seven! While he might show potential of being an Olympic athlete, by the time he’s old enough to compete at that level, he’ll have trained for fourteen years! And not just for nine hours a week: that’s sure to double by the time he’s a teenager. That’s the kind of work it takes to get to the Olympics, and only for a couple of minutes of competition! It certainly takes a lot of dedication, work and drive to win a medal. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who can compete at that level.

That’s the image the author of the Letter to the Hebrews is calling to mind in our second reading today as he tells us to run with perseverance the race that is set before us (Heb 12:1). It echoes St. Paul words to the Corinthians, Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it (1 Cor 9:24).

My brothers and sisters, like athletes, Christians are called to run the race of life so as to win, not a perishable crown or a medal, but the crown of holiness given by Christ to those who persevere in faith and charity to the end (cf. 1 Cor 9:25). Jesus died so that we might live; He gave His life for us so that we might be united to Him in this life and in the next. But in order for us to receive this crown of glory, we must train and work at it. Like Olympic medals, holiness won’t be given to those who don’t run the race!

That means that if we want to get to Heaven, we need to live as if we’re already there. We need to practice the virtues until they become second nature. We need go beyond ourselves, beyond our fallen nature, and imitate Jesus in His love and mercy. We need to make efforts to make our faith in Jesus a priority and to train ourselves in the practice of prayer and service. We need to be serious in our quest for holiness as if our life depended on it, because it does!

No one gets to their destination without focussing on it, without setting themselves on the right path to get there. This is what each one of us is called to do in the life of faith, to set our hearts and minds on Jesus and to make the sacrifices necessary to follow Him.

Our task in this life is to lay aside every weight and the sin that clings to us so closely, so that we might be found running the race when Christ comes. That means we must be intentional in our discipleship. A person doesn’t become an athlete by accident, and an athlete doesn’t make it to the Olympics by accident. It takes intentional effort, coaching, training and sacrifice. Likewise, we won’t make it to Heaven by accident or become saints by accident, but only by making a commitment to follow Jesus and allow His grace and the Holy Spirit to transform our lives. And at the end of the day, that’s all holiness is. It isn’t about being perfect or being able to perform miracles, but about allowing God’s grace to transform us, to change our hearts so that Jesus becomes visible in us.

So like athletes, we must set our hearts on the prize and compete so as to win. We must be willing to let go of certain things so that we might follow Jesus. Are we willing to make faith a priority in our lives? Are we committed to attending Mass every Sunday even if that means leaving guests at home or missing a game? Are we willing to follow Jesus even if that means being rejected by family or friends? Are we willing to say no to something so that we might be able to say yes to Jesus and allow His grace to be fruitful in our lives? Are we willing to fight sin and temptation, even to the point of shedding blood (cf. Heb 12:4)?

May the Holy Spirit set our hearts on fire with His love so that we may run the race so as to win. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday OT 19 C

Wis 18:6-9
Ps 33         R/. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen as His heritage.
Heb 11:1-2, 8-19
Lk 12:32-48

In the Scriptures this Sunday, the Lord calls us to look beyond what we can see, to go beyond where we are. Through Abraham and the Prophets, and especially through Baptism, God has called us to be His people. He’s called us out of our earthly city to journey toward Him and the Heavenly City.

You see, my brothers and sisters, as Christians, we’re not like everyone else; we cannot be! Because we belong to God; He has chosen us to be His people, to be His family. This is the very meaning of the word ‘church’, ekklesia, the assembly of those who have been ‘called out of’ something to be made into something else: called out of sin to be made holy; called out of darkness to live in the light; called out of death to be made alive.

That’s why, in the second reading, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews harkens back to Abraham, the father and model of faith. He left everything to follow the voice of God, not knowing where he was going. He trusted, even though he didn’t understand or see what the plan was. He believed, he obeyed, and he walked in faith and in the hope of what had been promised to him.

This, my brothers and sisters, is what we’re also called to do: to believe the Word of God, to obey the Lord, and to walk toward Him in faith and in hope, because, as St. Paul reminds us, the one who calls [us] is faithful, and he will do this (1 Thess 5:24).

This is why Jesus calls us to keep our hearts and minds set on the things of heaven and not of this earth. While this is where we currently live, we’re not meant for a world of sin and death; we’ve been created for holiness and for life. And this holiness and life is precisely what Jesus has promised us.

This world, while beautiful and good, isn’t enough for us, we long for more; it cannot satisfy our desires, but only distract us with pleasures. And these pleasures distract us not only from the pain and suffering we encounter here, but also from our goal of being with God. How easy it is for us to forget that we’re not yet in the Promised Land! As we heard in the second reading, we’re here only as on a pilgrimage, as on a journey to somewhere else; this is not the place to make our home. Our home is with God, not with ourselves. And this, my brothers and sisters, is why we come to church every week, to be reminded that we’re not there yet, that we still have a ways to go.

The Word of God reminds us that we’re on this journey toward the One who has called us, toward the One who loves us, and it helps us to discern the way of that journey as we walk — it’s the road map, if you will.

The Sacraments remind us that our hearts are often not committed to this journey, that we’re often distracted by the lures of pleasure and sin, and they renew us in our call and strengthen us in spirit and in holiness to continue walking toward God.

Together, they nourish us and prepare us so that we might be made ready for the City of God when we get there. Together, the Word of God and the Sacraments transform us to become what God has called us to be: saints made alive in His Spirit and citizens of Heaven; children of God formed in the image and likeness of Christ.

But as our Lord said in the Gospel today, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Lk 12:34). And so, my brothers and sisters, where is your treasure? Is it with Christ in the City of God, or is it here below in the City of Man? Where is your treasure?

In order for us to progress in our journey toward God, we need to constantly examine ourselves and ask where we’re going. Am I living my life as a journey toward Heaven, seeking out God and His grace? Or am I simply wandering in this world, distracted by pleasure and sin? Where is my treasure? Where am I heading? What is my goal?

Jesus has called us out of this world to live with Him, to live for Him, and, as He reminds us, it’s the Father’s good pleasure to give [us] the Kingdom (Lk 12:32). Through His grace, may we set our hearts on Him, so that when we’re called to an account for our life, we may be found faithful pilgrims walking, with lamps lit, toward the Kingdom in the ways of the King. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday OT 18 C

Eccl 1:2, 2:21-23
Ps 90   R/. Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
1 Cor 12:31-13:8
Mt 5:13-16

Today in our society, we’re often told that it’s not appropriate to talk publicly about sex, politics, religion and money; they’re too sensitive of topics, they say. Funny enough, these were some of Jesus’ favourite topics!

You see, these four topics — sex, politics, religion and money — are sensitive because we all have very strong opinions in these matters, and we don’t like it when someone else tells us what we believe is wrong; so we take them personally.

Well, this is precisely why Jesus ventures into these topics! He wants to show us that faith in Him has consequences in all areas of our lives, including sex, politics, religion and money. Faith must permeate all aspect of our lives. And how we handle four theses things has an impact on our life of faith. Here’s what I mean:

Some people today believe that being rich is evil. They over emphasise the fact that Jesus loves the poor (and only the poor!), and they believe that people are rich for one of two reasons: either they’ve made their money off the backs of others, or because they never give. Don’t think I’m exaggerating; I’ve even heard Priests preach this way. But this is nonsense! It’s not what Jesus taught. In fact, to be frank, this is a Marxist perspective; it’s not at all Christian! But today’s Gospel points us toward a proper interpretation of Jesus’ teaching about money.

You see, Jesus had wealthy friends: remember the Gospel two weeks ago about Mary and Martha? Well, their brother Lazarus was a wealthy man, and John tells us that he and Jesus were close friends: Jesus loved him, wrote John (Jn 11:3). Jesus also dined with as many rich people as He did the lowly. Remember Simon the Pharisee? Or Zacchaeus? Or even St. Matthew? Jesus didn’t discriminate against people with money; He loved them all the same, and so should we!

But what about today’s Gospel, you might say; didn’t Jesus just condemn the rich man? No, He didn’t; Jesus condemned greed, not riches! The rich man in today’s parable is condemned because he wanted to horde his wealth for himself and ignore the needs of others.

You see, God allows some people to be rich so that His generosity might be revealed in them. God gives to us so that we might give to others, and so that through giving, we might grow in charity and be saved. God doesn’t condemn the wealthy! Rather, He invites them to be generous as He is generous! God condemns those who are greedy, those who refuse to share and help others (rich or poor!). Wealth is a gift from God, and like all gifts, it’s intended for the blessing of many.

Now, I know I’m preaching to the choir here! I know many of you give generously to the Parish, and many of you also give generously of your money, as well as time, in other ways in the broader community. In just one month since I presented our Sanctuary project, we’ve already financed about 80% of both phases! The Knights of Columbus and the CWL actively fundraise for various groups in town, which many of you also support. We give around $14K every year to help Fr. Joe in his missions. And when it comes to our annual charities campaign, Together We Serve, our targets are four to five times higher than other Parishes our size because of your generous giving over the years. And we’ve exceeded these targets in both years! This is beautiful, because it means that you hear Jesus’ message; that you respond to His invitation to share with those in need. Thank you!! This makes us a community rich in faith and in charity, and that gives me hope and joy.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve done enough. Did you know that nearly 80% of our Parish finances come from just 26 families? That’s less than 10% of our Parish families! Now, I’m not saying you need to give more; I’m simply posing a question: ‘Is there more we can do? Individually? As a family? As a Parish?’ I want you to think about this, to pray about this: ‘Is there more I can do with the blessings God gives me?’

Many Christian communities require tithing; they expect parishioners to give 10% of their annual income to the Church, and they check to make sure! Even in a small Parish like ours, that would mean a collection of about $2M per year! Can you imagine that?! Imagine what kind of charitable services, programs and outreach we could do with that! We would never need another second or special collection again; we could even build a new church, debt-free, within just a few years!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you need to give 10%; that’s not what the Church asks. As St. Paul said to the Corinthians: Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). But as St. Mother Teresa reminded us, we are called to ‘give until it hurts’. Sacrificial giving is a necessary response to the workings of God’s grace in our lives, to the gifts of the Gospel and of the Holy Spirit. Generosity is a fruit of faith.

So I invite you to think about this, to ask yourselves: ‘Am I attached to my possessions? Do I give enough? How can we, as a family, share the blessings we’ve received? How and where is God calling us to serve Him? To be generous?’

Thinking, praying and talking about these questions at home as a family will help us to be detached from our possessions — to see them as tools for God’s glory —, will open our hearts to grow in charity and concern for others, and will increase our capacity to be generous as God is generous. It’ll prevent us from being greedy with our possessions like the rich man in today’s Gospel, and teach us to build in our Parish an even stronger culture of generosity rooted in the love that Christ shows us.

So if you’re poor, bless the Lord! And give thanks that He’s made you more dependent on Him. If you’re rich, bless the Lord! And give thanks that He invites you to participate in His works of charity. In this way, we will all be rich toward God (Lk 12:21) and store up for ourselves treasure in Heaven (cf. Mt. 19:21; Mk 10:21). Amen.

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Homily – Sunday OT 17 C

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Gn 18:20-32
Ps 138       R/. On the day I called, O Lord, you answered me.
Col 2:12-14
Lk 11:1-13

Last week, in my homily I shared about how we’re called to offer our sufferings to Jesus in prayer. Today, in our Gospel today, Jesus gives us a lesson in prayer. Through two short parables, Jesus shows us that He wants us to turn to Him in prayer. God wants us to pray to Him; He wants us ask for mercy, for grace, for help, for the Holy Spirit. That’s because He is the friend who won’t turn us away, He is the Father who won’t give us a snake. Ask, and it will be given; search, and you will find… [H]ow much more will the heavenly Father give [you] the Holy Spirit… (Lk 11: )

You see, prayer is about talking with God, a conversation between friends. And like any conversation with a friend, prayer is about ‘dialogue over time’. The more time we spend together talking and listening, the deeper the friendship gets and the stronger it becomes. This is what God wants with us! A strong, deep, intimate friendship with us.

In spending this time together with God we come to know Him and ourselves. Time in prayer opens our hearts to see God, to hear Him. It opens our hearts and minds to His love and to the demands of that Love. It forms and informs our conscience about what’s good and what’s evil.

But praying isn’t just about reciting specific prayers; there’s a difference between ‘saying prayers’ and ‘praying’. Formulated prayers are good, but they’re meant to lead us into a more profound interior movement of the heart and mind toward God. They set the tone and focus our attention so that we can learn to speak from the heart, because that’s what lovers do, they speak heart to heart, and this is what God wants from us.

Jesus wants us to share with Him what’s on our hearts: our joys and our sufferings, our dreams and hopes, our fears and disappointments, our frustrations and successes. He wants us to talk with Him in the very same way that we talk with family or friends: heart speaking to heart, with the full honesty and vulnerability that this requires. Jesus already knows what’s going on in your life and in your heart; you can’t hide anything from Him. But He respects you and won’t intrude, that’s why He invites you to share yourself with Him. And this is the goal of prayer.

But as with any relationship, this emotional and spiritual intimacy is only built up over time and with the frequency of our visits. It doesn’t happen with a ‘one-off’, but through repetition as the relationship grows and develops, and goes deeper and deeper the more time is spent together in conversation, in talking and listening. And this is exactly what Jesus wants with each of us: an intimate relationship rooted in His love for us that builds up and strengthens our love for Him. That’s why prayer is the life-blood of the Christian life; without it, we have no real relationship to God; without it, we aren’t grafted to Christ; without it, we have no way of knowing Him. So what’s the best way to build such a relationship? What’s a good way to begin this kind of prayer? Here are four easy steps:

Now, it’s important not to try to take on too much. Every relationship begins with small steps. In prayer, that means we don’t try and take an hour the first time we sit down, and we don’t try to cram everything in. So first, set aside a specific amount of time in a quiet place, free of distractions. Grab a cup of coffee or tea and your Bible, sit in your favourite chair, and shut off your phone for ten minutes. Or even come by the church during office hours.

I recommend starting with a decade of the Rosary as a way to compose yourself and focus your heart and thoughts on Jesus. Then call on the Holy Spirit: ‘Come, Holy Spirit, open my heart, fill me with your love; bring Jesus to me and me to Jesus’, or something like that.

Second, tell Jesus about what’s going on in your life. What are the good things happening? What are the struggles you’re facing? What are your needs, your concerns? Tell Him what’s on your heart, and ask Him to be with you in each of those things.

Third, open up your Bible. Conversation isn’t just about talking; it also about listening. The Bible is God’s Word for us; through it, Jesus speaks to us, so it’s important to include the Bible in prayer. Begin with the Mass readings of the day, or with the Gospel of Luke or one of Paul’s Letters. Carefully read one paragraph, or a single story or event. Reread it again slowly. Then in silence, ask something like: ‘Jesus, what are you trying to tell me in this passage? What are you trying to teach me? What does this reveal about you? About me?’ Slowly reread the passage again. If a phrase, a word, an event or an image from that passage catches your attention, go with it. Focus on that and ask Jesus these questions again. Then, in silence and stillness, give Him the space and the time to answer. Give this at least three minutes to start.

Fourth, thank Jesus for the gift of this time together, for His love, and for anything He’s given you in that time. Then present Him with some intentions, some prayer requests for other people, and finish with an Our Father. This can all be done in about ten minutes or so, but you need to do it frequently, working up to doing it everyday.

It can even be done in a group. Do it as a family once a week, using the next Sunday’s Gospel and share your insights. It’s a great way to prepare for Mass.

At first, it might seem awkward or forced, but prayer is also an art. It takes practice, and the more you do it, the easier and the more natural it becomes. In fact, the more you do it, the more time you’ll want to give to it; let it grow as the relationship grows.

Jesus loves you and wants you to come to know and experience this love. He wants to tell you how much He loves you and wants you to come to know Him as a living person, not just an idea. All of this is the goal of prayer, and prayer is the only means by which it can be done. May we all make the time, then, to be with God in prayer, to speak with Him from the heart, to listen to Him with the heart, and allow Him share His love with us. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday OT 16 C

Audio Version

Gen 18:1-10a
Ps 15         R/. O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Col 1:24-28
Lk 10:38-42

These past couple of weeks have brought a lot of violence and suffering to the foreground. The world is hurting, people are hurting, and many are searching for meaning in the sight of such suffering.

My brothers and sisters, in our second reading today, St. Paul teaches us about the value of human suffering: I am now rejoicing in my sufferings … and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions… (Col 1:24).

Suffering is one of the great mysteries of our fallen human existence. It’s unpleasant, unwanted and frequently confusing. So why does St. Paul rejoice in suffering? Isn’t that just madness? The rest of us do everything we can to avoid it, some even go so far as to kill themselves or others to avoid suffering. So why is Paul rejoicing? Is he insane? Is he masochistic? Or is it perhaps because he understands something we don’t?

You see, my brothers and sisters, suffering isn’t ‘natural’. What I mean is that it isn’t part of what God created; it doesn’t come from Him. Suffering is the result of something missing; it’s the absence of something good — health, peace, comfort, love, hope… In this sense, suffering isn’t ‘positive’, it’s ‘negative’: something good has been negated, removed. We suffer because things aren’t how they should be.

The Bible teaches us that this is the result of sin, which negates and destroys goodness. Original sin broke our relationship with God, and particular sin destroys His grace in us. It’s this brokenness that brings us suffering.

Now that doesn’t mean that all suffering is directly related to sin. A person doesn’t have cancer because he or she has sinned, or a child isn’t abused because he or she has sinned. The connection between sin and suffering is much broader and more foundational than that. But suffering didn’t exist before Adam and Eve disobeyed God. All of Creation was in harmony before the Fall: animals, plants and humans all coexisted peacefully and without hostility or death. Sin — Adam and Eve’s disobedience — broke this harmony and suffering entered the world. Love was wounded by distrust, order by rebellion, harmony by selfishness. And the farther away from God the world gets, the greater the suffering. This, too, we see in the Bible: the next sin after Adam and Eve’s disobedience is Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. And it just gets worse from there. We need only to look at the events of the past couple of weeks to see how sin and suffering multiply.

In this sense, suffering is an evil; it isn’t part of God’s goodness and plan for us. But God is always able to turn evil into good. And He does the same with suffering.

The human struggle with the mystery of suffering is a major theme throughout the Bible. The people of Israel had long understood that suffering was a necessary dimension of being God’s chosen people. He chastises those closest to Him, said Judith (cf. 8:27). [He] disciplines those whom he loves, we hear in Hebrews and Proverbs (Heb 12:6; Prv 3:12). Israel understood that it was through suffering that God would teach them to trust Him, teach them to be faithful, teach them to be obedient. Through suffering, God would purify their hearts for love of Him.

Now it’s not that God punished them or that He caused them suffering, but rather that He allowed the consequences of sin — again, original and particular, as well as individual and societal — to help them understand the reality of what it means to be separated from Him. It’s like a parent who lets a stubborn child learn the hard way that disobedience or dangerous play has consequences. Through suffering the child comes back to mom and dad with tears looking for comfort and reconciliation. God allows suffering because it reminds us of what we’ve lost and that He’s still waiting for us.

But in Jesus, God brings about a new dimension in suffering. Jesus, conceived without sin and not guilty of sin, endured tremendous suffering. And He did so not out of a struggle with disobedience like the rest of us, but willingly: Jesus chose to endure suffering, and for our sake! He suffered for us, not for Himself! This is what St. Paul is getting at.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells us that love bears all things… endures all things (1 Cor 13:7). Jesus reveals this to us in His suffering. In His love for us, He chose to bear our suffering and make it His. Now, whenever Jesus enters into the human condition in this way, He transforms it, and this is what He does to suffering.

Before Jesus, suffering only had educational value: it was only good to teach us the consequence of sin and the reality of our distance from God. But now, Jesus, because He chose to suffer out of love, transformed suffering to give it a ‘positive’ dimension. Suffering can now redeem and bring about salvation! And not just the salvation of the one who suffers, but also the salvation of others. By His Passion and Death on the Cross, Jesus saves us. His suffering gives the fruit of our salvation, and not just yours and mine, but of all humanity — past, present and future. His Death He died once for all so that all might be redeemed from sin and death (1 Pt 3:18; cf. Rom 6:10). This is why we rejoice in His sufferings on the Cross — by His stripes we are healed (cf. Is 53:5; 1 Pt 2:24).

Ok, that’s great; it explains Jesus’ suffering, but what about mine? Why should St. Paul or I rejoice in suffering? And if Jesus suffered and died for all people of all times, how could anything be lacking? Well, my brothers and sisters, this is the mystery that St. Paul understood and that we often don’t. No, nothing is ‘lacking’ in the sufferings of Jesus. His Passion and Death has repaired all sin; nothing’s been left out. That’s not what St. Paul is saying.

When I began my homily with St. Paul’s quote I intentionally left out two short but important phrases: I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church (Col 1:24).

St. Paul rejoices in his sufferings because He understands them to be a participation in the Passion and Death of Jesus. Through Baptism, we became one with Jesus; we became a member of His Body, the Church. Therefore what happens to Him happens to us, and what happens to us happens to Him. If one member suffers, all suffer together, wrote St. Paul (1 Cor 12:26).

What’s lacking in Christ’s afflictions, according to St. Paul, are my sufferings and yours. As disciples of Jesus, as members of His Body, we can and must join our sufferings to His. Through prayer, we can give our sufferings to Jesus and join them to His Passion. This is what will give them meaning and fruitfulness.

This is why Paul is rejoicing in his sufferings, because he’s united them to Jesus’ Passion for our sake! He loves us as Jesus loves. And in doing so, his love for us increases and he’s conformed in an even more perfect way to Jesus who suffered for us. Paul rejoices because he understands that suffering is a means of being more closely united to Jesus in His love for the Father and for the world. And he rejoices because he understands that by offering this suffering to Jesus as an act of love and communion, he’s able to experience the strength and consolation of Jesus who suffers for Him and with Him. In other words, Paul rejoices in his sufferings because they’re a source of grace, a source of divine life, and therefore also of hope and salvation!

Because of Jesus’ Passion and Death, rooted in His love for the Father and for us, our sufferings have value; value for us as a means of communion with Jesus, and value for others as we embrace suffering as an act of love and offer it for their salvation. Through suffering, we have a unique way of being one with Jesus. This is why St. Paul is able to say elsewhere that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20), and, I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me (Phil 4:24).

That said, it doesn’t mean that we ought to go out looking for sufferings to embrace for the sake of our sanctification and the salvation of the world. It isn’t about suffering, but about union with Jesus. Suffering will find us; there’s no shortage of it in our world today. We’re simply called to accept the suffering that comes our way — whether physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual — and prayerfully offer it (repeatedly!) to Jesus, uniting it to His Passion for our own conversion and for the salvation of others. Jesus will do the rest. The more we do this, the easier it will be, and the lighter and more joyful will the suffering itself be, even to the point of calling suffering ‘sweet’ and ‘joyful’ as St. Paul and so many of the Saints have done before us.

As we celebrate Mass today, may we bring all of our sufferings, all of our sorrows, all of our pains to the Lord, placing them on the Altar with the bread and wine, uniting to Christ’s sacrifice so that through Him we may also experience the consolation and joy of the Father’s love. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday OT 15 C

Deut 30:10-14
Ps 19         R/. The precepts of the Lord are right, and give joy to the heart.
Col 1:15-20
Lk 10:25-37

Audio of the Homily.

Today in our Gospel reading we encounter one of Luke’s great parables of mercy — one of the best-known parables of the Bible along with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I think it’s safe to say that most people know this story by heart.

But knowing it and understanding it are two different things. While this parable touches the human heart of all who hear it, how many of us are moved to imitate it? When we hear it, do we just say, “Yeah, I know that one. Mercy is good; Jesus is good. It makes me feel good”, or do we reflect on it and say, “Wow, that’s really challenging! I generally don’t help people in this way. Maybe I should. With the help of God’s grace I will!”?GoodSamaritan

You see, too often we hear the words of Jesus and our selfishness filter kicks in and we push them to the back of our minds and pat ourselves on the back with reassurances that we’re nice to others and that we nonetheless do ‘good’ things, even if we don’t go as far as the Good Samaritan. But this isn’t enough!

In the last verse of today’s Gospel, Jesus is quite clear, Go and do likewise (v. 37). Jesus wants us to go and show mercy to others, and He doesn’t make it a suggestion, He commands it: Go and do! And as Moses tells us in the first reading, Obey the Lord your God by observing His commandments and decrees (Deut 30:10). To be merciful as God is merciful is a necessary dimension of the Christian life (cf. Lk 6:36)! This has been a central message of Pope Francis’ pontificate and the reason why he’s given us this Jubilee Year of Mercy: we really do need to go and do likewise.

But in order for us to do likewise, we first need to experience and understand the depths of God’s mercy, and that’s also at the heart of this parable.

Jesus gives this parable in answer to a question, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (v. 25). In other words, to inherit eternal life we must be merciful like the Good Samaritan. It’s not enough to just love God; we must also love our neighbour, and this love is expressed first and foremost through mercy.

In the parable, the Priest and Levite — Jewish ministers of God — pass by the half-dead man. Now it’s not that they didn’t see him or that they simply ignored him, or even that they didn’t feel moved by his condition. They most certainly did see him, but they were stopped from helping him because they put themselves and their needs and plans ahead of the man.

You see, in Jewish law, touching a dead body would defile you, make you ritually impure. Had they helped him, the Priest and Levite could not have fulfilled their religious office as ministers, at least for a week or so. They refused to help the man in order to stay pure, to remain ‘holy’ according to the Law. They put themselves ahead of the needy man; they didn’t want to be inconvenienced. They were being selfish, and this is what prevented them from having mercy. It’s this attitude that Pope Francis decries as ‘pharisaic’. Through this parable Jesus calls us not to be concerned about what the needy person believes, how they live, what they think of us, and so on; He just calls us to respond to their needs, and to do so with love.

The Good Samaritan didn’t let the purity laws be an obstacle. Moreover, Samaritans and Jews were sworn enemies, and yet, he was moved with pity (v. 33) for the half-dead man. He was able to see and respond to the needs of the man with mercy and compassion because he understood that the Law of Moses was intended not to make him cold-hearted, but loving. He understood that charity trumps the Law, and so he allowed his love of God to move him to mercy, and was able not only to help the man but also show that he in fact loved God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind, and his neighbour as himself (cf. v. 27).

But the Parable of the Good Samaritan isn’t just a moral lesson; it’s also an allegory of our own life. St. Augustine says that we are the man half dead by the road. Through the devil’s deceptions, we’ve been beaten by sin to the point of death. Jesus is the Samaritan who, moved with pity, picks us up and brings us to the inn (the Church) for healing and recovery through the Sacraments (symbolised by the oil and the wine). It’s Jesus who goes down into the ditch of our sin to carry us out and bring us forgiveness, healing and holiness. This is what Pope Francis means when he says the Church is a ‘field hospital’; it’s where Jesus brings wounded sinners for healing and recovery.

Is this how we see ourselves? Do we see ourselves as wounded sinners, half dead along the road, in need of mercy, healing and forgiveness? Only when we see ourselves as being in need of mercy, of being rescued by Jesus, of being saved by Jesus from sin and death — only then will we be able to turn around and be merciful to those around us.

The Priest and the Levite thought they could achieve holiness by their own efforts in strictly following the Laws of Moses. The Good Samaritan understood that God’s love for him called him to help the man in need. Jesus tells us that we, too, need to recognise our own brokenness, allowing it to lead us into His care and grace, so that in turn we might go out and be merciful to those in need; that in gratitude for the mercy we’ve received from Him, we should ‘pay it forward’, as it were.

As we celebrate this Year of Mercy, may we allow God’s mercy to bring us to repentance, healing and conversion, so that in turn we might go and do likewise, bringing mercy to a world, half-dead and in desperate need God’s mercy, healing and grace. Amen.

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