Reflection: Be the Tax Collector

Reflection for October 23, 2016 – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

pharisee and tax collector.jpgIf last week’s readings showed us the importance of prayer, then this week’s readings demonstrate how we should pray: in humility, trusting God. In our society, how often do we see famous personalities exalting some good work they have done? While not everyone is like this of course, we often see celebrities and others praising their own virtues, showing off their good deeds to the world. The same attitude is seen with the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, who shouts aloud his apparent virtues, going so far as to say to the Lord, “I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity!” The Pharisee, like some famous individuals we see in modern times, was saying and doing all the “right things,” but did he have the right intent or disposition? After all, while our external actions carry great weight and consequence, in the end, it is the final disposition of our hearts that God examines.

Should we look to the Pharisee or the Tax Collector as an example of how we should pray? Is the Pharisee an example of the humble attitude we should take before God, when we enter into prayer? No, of course not! Instead, we need to be more like the Tax Collector, who recognized his unworthiness before the Lord, and yet still approached Him, saying, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” This attitude of humility is important to remember as we approach the end of the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis: not only must we spread the message of God’s love and mercy to others, but we must embrace it ourselves. Trusting in divine mercy, turning to God and saying, “Let my soul glory in the Lord,” we can find true peace in our lives.

Question for reflection: What are some ways I can cultivate humility in my prayer life and my interactions with others? An example might be to do a good deed, make a sacrifice, or dedicate a Rosary or Mass to someone or some situation without telling anyone about it.


As part of my pastoral internship, I have been given the responsibility for writing our weekly bulletin reflections. Due to the nature of the medium, they are short, but try to take into account the current Sunday’s readings, most especially the Gospel. I will post these reflections here each weekend; your feedback, whatever it may be, is most welcome as I seek to refine my writing skills and ask the Holy Spirit to guide my words! You can read these and other types of reflections based on the readings at Mass by going here. Pax.

Reflections: On True Discipleship

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Isaiah 50.5-9A, Psalm 116.1-2, 2-3, 5-6, 8-9

 James 2.14-18,  Mark 8.27-35

What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? Does it mean helping the less fortunate? Perhaps. As Christians we are called to help the poor and the lonely. Does it mean that we need to act nicely to people, be helpful and courteous to those around us? Maybe, since we are called to be meek and humble of heart. Does it mean that we need to go to Church on Sunday? Yes, I suppose. We need to give reverence where it is due.

To be brutally honest, however, we could be doing all of these things and not have the faintest idea of what it means to be His disciple.

jesuspeter

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means a complete surrender and sacrifice of our lives. We are called to allow God to open our ears so that we may hear, so that the promptings of the Holy Spirit may guide us throughout our daily lives. This is no easy task! After all, the Holy Spirit doesn’t exactly call us up on the phone or shoot us a text message! Nonetheless, He is there, and if we trust in Him, if we are truly disciples of the Lord, we will allow Him to take and lead us, to be our help and shield, no matter what or who may confront us in life. If we walk before the Lord, as the Psalm says, then our lives will become so much more than doing good works or even going to Church on Sunday (although that is a good, necessary, and essential part of being a Christian): by recognizing our place as children of the Father, He becomes our only light, and again as the Psalm says, He frees us from death and keeps our feet from stumbling. When we open our ears to hear, He in turn hears and guides us with His grace.

We see then that the first step is hearing and listening to God, and that is a big step! I know – I still struggle every day to hear the voice of the Lord, trying to overcome my own shortcomings and foibles. But next, we have to do something, for after all, St. James tells us that if our faith does not do anything, then it is dead. Does that mean that we must prove our mettle as good Catholics through the works that we do? Should I go around saying, “ooh, guess how many Hail Marys I said today” or should I devote all of my waking moments to some sort of project or program, no matter how good, to the exclusion of my prayer life, in order to somehow gain favor with God? Of course not! But the evidence for a true faith is found in its fruit, in the works that it produces, and likewise, works that are not supported by faith carry so much less weight.

So we open our ears to the Lord in order that we may hear, we allow our faith to bear fruit in its works, and then we take another step in our journey, and it is the most important step of all: we follow Christ Himself to the Cross, accepting and embracing the reality of the Paschal Mystery. We cannot be like Peter, rebuking Christ, because if you notice in the Gospel, it is when Peter protests the Cross that he is told by Jesus to “Get behind me, Satan!” Rather, we must “call upon the name of the Lord” and follow Him. We must deny ourselves and take up our own crosses, just as He took up His cross for us. This is not some sort of masochistic thought that we have, wanting to delight in the pain of the cross. No! We take up our crosses to share in His, to come to the reality of the Paschal Mystery and the love of the Trinity. By emptying ourselves, we leave room for Him, and can join Him at the heavenly banquet of which we are called to partake. This is true joy!

By offering ourselves, our joys, our sufferings, our triumphs, and our challenges, we make the sacrifice complete, not in a way that says His sacrifice was somehow incomplete, but rather in that way that St. Paul shows us we complete the sacrifice of Christ, namely by cooperating with His fully effective sacrifice by joining ourselves to Him, or as St. Thomas says, by patiently bearing the trials that God sends us, so as to become like Christ. (cf. Col. 1:24). Only then, through surrender to Him, can we realize the beauty and depth of the Paschal Mystery and come to join Him at His table.

It is from here, my friends, that those good works mentioned above develop into true fruit. Only after we become true disciples, that is by joining Him, taking up our cross and following Him, can we perform the good works to the fullest extent that we are called to perform them: to feed the hungry, relieve the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. Only by becoming true disciples and opening our ears to hear can we instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs, forgive offenses, comfort the afflicted, and pray for all people both living and dead. This is a life-long task that has been given to us, and we must strive daily to fulfill it, persevering, and trusting that even when we fail, like Peter did, He is with us.

In Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection, do we find the true meaning of discipleship, good works, and life itself. To God be the glory.

Reflections: On the Supreme Court, Faith, and Living the Gospel

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24; Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13;

2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43

Over the past year, I have cultivated a new practice. Each week, I try to spend dedicated time reflecting on the following Sunday’s readings. It’s a slow process, but I spend time with each passage during Lectio Divina, and then jot down some reflections. This practice has been a fruitful one, and I encourage others to do it too. I suspect that since I am heading back to seminary this fall, it will hold even more meaning for me, and my ministry as a future priest.

This week, however, I had a very difficult time. I’m not sure why, but nothing was coming to mind. All of that changed with the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, a ruling that will allow all 50 states to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I suspect that the following words may anger some, and perhaps even affect long-held friendships. I sincerely hope that is not the case, but as a Christian, I also must live and speak to what I know to be true. In any case, back to the ruling…

When news of the ruling broke, some people were jubilant, and others were upset, to say it lightly. There were people literally dancing for joy in the streets, and other people who were sad at the current state of affairs in our country. While my own views on the whole situation should be quite obvious, I would like to speak not about the new reality that faces us in our country (at least not with this post), but rather I would like to speak about the reactions of those associated with the ruling, especially those of my brothers and sisters in the Faith.

As I scrolled through Facebook yesterday, I must say that I was distressed. Some posts talked about how this would usher in the Second Coming (not a bad thing, but still alarmist), others insinuated that all of this would lead to another civil war. Still others said things against the opposing side that caused me to hang my head in embarrassment.

All of this is also true of the other side I might add, in regards to posting things that had no right being there – some of the things I saw posted from those who support the ruling were vicious, vindictive, and outright nasty. In other words, it seemed that some people on both sides should have taken a bit of time to think before pressing the “enter” button, but I’m not here to talk about that right now…

In any case, what I saw from my brothers and sisters in the Faith seemed to disregard what we learn in this Sunday’s Gospel. Here I saw posts written in dejection and despair, whereas in the Gospel reading, we find two individuals who respond to seemingly insurmountable circumstances in the way that we all should respond: with complete and unrelenting faith. In one moment, we see the sick woman, approaching Christ and daring to touch His cloak, hopeful for a healing from her hemorrhages. What happens? She is healed! Upon learning the truth, Christ even responds to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” Faith prevails.

Then in another moment, we see a synagogue official approaching the Messiah, despite admonishments from detractors, seeking His grace and healing touch. Christ reassures the official, telling him, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Our Lord proceeds to the official’s house, rebuking other detractors, and approaches the girl, grabbing her hand and raising her to new life. Faith prevails.

Here we have these profound examples of faith and hope in Christ, and yet there are some who were in despair over Friday’s ruling. It just doesn’t make sense.

It doesn’t make sense because we are called to something bigger and better. We are called to be a light in the wilderness, and to live a life of faith, not despairing at the state of affairs in the world. After all, we are called to be in the world, not of the world (cf. Romans 2:12). We are called to live a life of love and witness to the Gospel truth.

But today, what does this life look like? Well, I think we are partially in new territory, so we need to figure that out. But I think that it looks something like this (and in some ways I am speaking to both sides here): we approach all people in love, recognizing them for the children of God that they are, created in His image and likeness. We enter the conversation in a civil manner, seeking not to malign or bring down, but rather to have an open and honest discussion. What’s more, we must stand for Gospel truth. As a Church, we cannot water down the teachings of Christ, but we must also be respectful. We cannot give in to undue compromise, but we also cannot ignore the lived reality of all of those around us. In short, we are called to true and genuine love, the love of Christ, the love that heals all and reconciles all in Him. But this love does not mean ignoring truth; no, truth and love go together in tandem, and must be taken together.

We must be courageous in the proclamation of the Gospel, in both word AND deed. We must defend traditional marriage, voice our opinions, spread Truth, and work to bring authentic Christian values back into our society, but that also means we reach out to those who have different views, in hopes of a fruitful and loving dialogue.  We must also pray for our country, our fellow man, and have faith that Christ, in His love, knows what He is about. After all, He is God.

In short, we are called to love, and Love always wins.

Pax.