Happy Labor Day!
This year before Labor Day, schools are open, it seems like we are more active, and society is more engaged and busier. It is an opportunity for us to pray for each one of us, our labor, and whatever we do. It is also a special moment to pray for our children and youth, who are going back to school. That’s their labor - study well. Let us pray for them, their families, teachers and so on.
Labor Day is the day we can be proud of what we do, and respect others for their great service. Pope Francis pointed out, "Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. . .. It gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one's family, to contribute to the growth of one's own nation." Happy Labor Day weekend!
During this ordinary time, I mentioned a couple of times that the reading focused on the formation of disciples. Today’s reading invites us to reflect on the cost of true Christian discipleship. In the Gospel of Luke 14:25-33, Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem. Luke says that a great crowd was following him. He knew his destination and was fully aware of the cost he must pay. It is a total commitment. At the same time, crowds expected him to liberate them from the Romans and regain control of their land. He would be their Messiah and savior. Jesus turned around and told them you can’t follow me unless you hate your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even your own life. We see in Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Here Jesus told them to hate. Did he really mean hate? It is an idiomatic expression of “to love less.” We read in the Gospel of Matthew 10:37, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Jesus is not asking his disciples to “hate” their families but rather to make him our first love. There should be nothing to stop us from the commitment to the Lord.
Discipleship is a serious commitment. Jesus says, “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?” (28). We read in the Gospel of Matthew 10:38, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” Since Romans used crucifixion to torture the criminals, Jews needed no explanation. The difference is that before Jesus’ crucifixion the cross was a sign of shame and rejection, afterwards become a sign of victory. Christ clearly instructed his listeners about the call to discipleship.
In the second reading, Paul wrote to Philemon from the prison. He was imprisoned not for crime but for his commitment to God. The first reading from the book of Wisdom reminds us that as a disciple of Christ, we need the gift of wisdom from the Holy Spirit. Wisdom cannot be acquired by human effort alone; it requires the correct disposition of humility and obedience. God gives us this Divine Wisdom directly in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, and the Spirit empowers and instructs us through Divine Revelation in Scripture and Sacred Tradition. We need the gift of wisdom to understand God's way and live discipleship.
St. Anthony Daycare is temporarily closed.
As you know the daycare was always struggling to find enough staff. You might have noticed in the bulletin and website; my name was listed as Daycare director. Finally, this summer we had enough staff in our daycare. By the end of May, Morgan joined as one of the teachers for the summer. She is a college student and now she is going back to college. Stephanie joined us as director. This was her first time as a director. First place, she didn’t want to be the director, but I asked her to try. So, she did try for three months, and she decided to leave. Morgan, another teacher, is moving from Park Falls. Now we have only one teacher left. We were searching for teachers, but the applicants were not qualified. They were willing to go to school, but they won’t be able to help us until they finish the classes. So St. Anthony Daycare is temporarily closed. Thank you to all of the teachers, parents, and all those who supported our daycare.
"Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God” Sirach 3:18. The theme of today’s readings is the need for true humility which leads us to develop a generous heart that shares with others. The readings give a warning against all forms of pride and self-glorification. They say the virtue of humility helps us to open our minds and hearts to the needs of the people.
The first reading from the book of Sirach reminds us that if we are humble, we will find favor with God, and others will love us. The virtue of humility has two aspects: being humble before God and opening our hearts and hands to others. We read in Matthew 23:12, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” The prayer before communion should exemplify our inner mode before God, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
Ben Sira is perhaps warning his students against the perils of Greek philosophy. Greek philosophy of the day insisted on reason as the sole arbiter of truth. But Jews knew that faith had a great role as well. Catechism of the Catholic Church (159) says that faith and reason compliment each other and work in tandem.
In the Gospel, Jesus talks about a wedding banquet: "When you go to a banquet" and "When you give a banquet." Jesus offered a lesson on humility and charitable generosity without seeking neither honor nor reward. C.S Lewis writes, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” Jesus instructs us to sit in the lowest place – a lesson of humility – greatness measured by the concern for the other. We read in James 4:6, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 1Peter 5:6 says, “So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”
“When you hold a banquet, don’t invite friends or relatives or wealthy neighbors, …Rather invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, who are unable to repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:14). Matthew 10:42 says, “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” God will look favorably on works of mercy at the judgment. John 5:28&29 says, “Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voices and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation.”
The second reading from the Hebrews compared the two covenants of Moses and of Christ. This passage gives us the image of the heavenly liturgy. In contrast to the theophanies of God at Mount Sinai that so terrified Israelites, the new covenant, the heavenly liturgy is one of celebration and unity. Our weekly participation in the Mass is so vital to our spiritual lives. Abel’s murder put Cain in danger of death by retaliation (Genesis 4:8-9), but the death of Christ brings in the forgiveness of sins and salvation.
We bring each one of us with our blessings and needs, strength and weakness to the celebration of Mass and ask God to bless us and give us nourishment so we can grow in our relationship with him by doing the works of mercy.
From the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time onwards the reading was progressing on discipleship. It started from the call, sending out two by two, prayer, inheritance and now we are reflecting on how many will be saved.
In the first reading, Isaiah answered prophetically a similar question about salvation. Jews were trying to recover from their long exile and enslavement in Babylon. The prophet sees great things for Jerusalem. He tells the people that someday people of all nations would come to worship. The third part of the Isaiah (56-66) tells us that He is God for all the people rather than Jews alone. It shows us that God wants everyone saved.
Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, and he was teaching. Some asked him an interesting question, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" We may want to know the answer too, isn’t it? First, we have to depend on the grace of God. We read in Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God…” Second, it depends on our cooperation and obedience. We read in Philippians 2:12 “So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
Jesus stresses the difficulties of entering through the narrow gate. There is a story behind the narrow gate. A narrow gate was a small gate built into the much larger city gates of a city. It allowed someone to enter after hours when, for security reasons, the main gates had been closed and locked. The gate was too small to enter with more than a few items. Animals, carts, weapons, and other large items had to remain outside the gate until the opening of the main gate in the morning. The night gate for the city of Jerusalem was nicknamed the “needle’s eye”. Jesus doesn’t answer the question regarding how many people will be saved. He was not interested in statistics. His answer was more personal…here’s how YOU can be saved. It is not easy to go through a narrow gate. You may have to wait or bend yourself. There will be challenges.
Spiritual life is not that easy, so only a few will enter the glory of God. In the Gospel of Matthew 22:14, we read, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” The final judgment will come at the end of time when the faithful will be rewarded and the unrepented will be punished. We read in Matthew 21:43, “Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” Jesus also tells us that it is not easy when we see others from the east, west, north, and south reclined at the table in the kingdom of God, while we are cast out.
Jesus does not tell us all this to depress us or to discourage us, but he loves us. To know and experience his love, we just need to do is to look at the Cross. His love sums up there. He gave every means to enter the narrow gate. We have sacraments, we have Eucharist, and food for our journey: we listen to his words, eat His Body, and drink His Blood. We may fail from time to time, He gave us the Sacrament of reconciliation. He gave us fellow Christians to support and to walk with us. Let us ask God to bless us with his grace, so we can walk with him and grow in our discipleship and enter through the narrow gate.
A couple of years ago, Fr. Jacques Hamel, whom ISIS terrorists murdered, and recently Christians in Nigeria were murdered. A couple of priests were captured and found dead. This weekend's readings encourage us to live our faith courageously. It raises two questions: are we able to live our faith in our daily life? Are we facing challenges?
In the first reading, Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern because he refused to tell the king what the king wanted to hear. The reading takes us back 600 years before Christ when the land we know now as Iraq was named Babylon. The Babylonians were mighty at that time. Jeremiah showed the courage of his prophetic conviction by telling King Zedekiah that the Lord God said he had to surrender to the mighty army of the Babylonian empire to save Israel. Such talks were viewed as unpatriotic, and Jeremiah was considered a traitor. The prophet was cast into a cistern but was saved from death by the Ethiopian official Ebed-melech. Since the king did not listen to God’s counsel given by His prophet, Babylon captured and destroyed Jerusalem. Jeremiah faced suffering and opposition for following God’s word. His life was not easy. In chapter 20 we see Jeremiah was going through the interior crisis and cursed his own life. “Cursed be the day on which I was born! May the day my mother gave me birth never be blessed!” (20:14).
The conflict that Jeremiah provoked within his own household and his ministries illustrate Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel reading (Luke 12:49-53) that he came “to set the earth on fire,” not peace, “but rather division” and that household will be divided against each other. The fire is a symbol of God’s presence and love (Deuteronomy 4:24; Acts 2:3); God’s judgment on sinners (Leviticus 10:2, Matthew 22:7), and divine purification (Luke 3:16; 1Peter 1:7).
God offers us his love, mercy, salvation, and desire that we accept and respond to his gifts. God offers these gifts freely and generously, but all are willing to accept them so that division will occur even within the families. Luke 14:26, Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Peace is possible only if we embrace him in faith (John 14:27).
The second reading from the Hebrews, which Paul wrote to the Judeo-Christians who had been rejected by their fellow Jews, expelled from their synagogues, and cut off from family and old friends. Christ presents the ultimate example of patients and persevering fidelity to the will of the Father through his suffering and death on the Cross. He went to Jerusalem knowing that he will be arrested and crucified.
We, too, are called to do our best until our great run for the Faith is crowned with victory. God walks with us every moment. He knows we face difficulties and temptations, so he gave us sacraments to give us nourishments, forgiveness, and healing. He also gave us fellow Christians to support each other in our faith journey. Let us grow in love for our faith and share it with many.
Cling to the Lord….
Last weekend we meditated on true treasure and this weekend how do we grow in our faith and how do prepare to embrace the true treasure? The second reading starts with the definition of Faith. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrew 11:1). Faith involves trust and confidence in God’s word even if it cannot be verified by our human senses and reasoning. The virtue of hope springs from his combination of faith and confidence. We cannot see God directly as he is, face to face, but by faith, we know God and have a personal relationship with him.
In the First reading from the Book of Wisdom, we hear the faith of the Israelites. We are told how their Faith and Hope resulted in their liberation. They were warned of the coming Passover; they were prepared, escaped from the angel of death, and offered the righteous sacrifice in peace.
Our reading reflects Exodus chapters 11 and 12. While the angel of the Lord was striking down the firstborn of Pharaoh and other Egyptians, Israelites were vigilantly offering righteous sacrifice to the Lord and eating the lamb's meat to fortify themselves for their coming escape. That night was the first Passover. They were in full of hope and confidence in their God, the liberator. At the end of the Passover meal, they praise God by singing the Psalms. We read in the Gospels, that Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples. In Matthew 26:30 we read, “Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” We read in the Gospel of Mark 14:26, the same.
The Gospel (Luke 12:32-48) warns Christians to be ready for the second coming, like servants waiting for the master’s return to the house. Luke emphasizes for his readers the importance of being faithful to the instructions of Jesus in the period before the parousia. The parable of the faithful and the unfaithful servant is about leadership and responsibility. The apostles were compared to domestic servants who were charged with various duties in the household of the kingdom.
The Gospel talks about the necessity of watchfulness. If the master comes during the second watch, which is between 10 pm and sunrise, the faithful servant would be ready to receive him. We can see a similar message in the Gospel of Matthew 25:1, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.” The message is to be prepared, be vigilant.
According to the Fathers of the Church, Jesus’ words in this passage have two senses. In the narrower sense, the words refer to the Second Coming of Jesus, but in the broader sense, they refer to the time of our own death, when God will call us to meet Him and to give Him an account of our life on earth.
The question for reflection is how do we prepare? Gospel gives us the answer: Love and God and love one another. In the Gospel we read, Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father, is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
Last weekend we meditated on treasure: focus on God. This weekend we meditate on all other treasures: money, talent, time, and so on. How do use our treasures?
We should be like Israelites, who were not taken by surprise on the night of the Passover because they were saved because they had been warned. We, too, must cling to the Hope of a future that may seem too good to be true, and we, too, are expected to be steadfast in our Faith, even when we see no signs of the fulfillment of God’s promises. Be a faithful servant.