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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Faith Isn't Enough


28th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year A) 
Matthew 22:1-14


I’m not sure about you, but often when I read one of the gospels I can be confused as to what the actual meaning might be.

Today’s gospel from Matthew is one of those confusing gospels for me, at least it was initially.
Preparing for this homily I needed to spend some time looking into the specific references to understand what was actually being said.

After the use of a few concordances the parable began to come alive as is true for most parables once we begin to understand the deeper meaning and hidden message.

This parable however contains a deep and troubling message for many of us here today.
It speaks of faith, and how faith alone may grant you a meeting with God but not necessarily entrance into heaven.

Let’s take a closer look at the details of the parable.

First of all we must understand that the story is actually describing God as the King, Jesus as the son, and the bride is the invisible kingdom of heaven here on earth.

The first guests that were invited and who refused to come to the banquet were the Jewish people and their leaders, God’s chosen people.

They rejected God’s invitation.

Those of the second invitation were the gentiles, the non-Jewish people.

Some of them ignored the invitation and went away without giving the invitation another thought, while others not only rejected it, but fought fervently against the kingdom in opposition.

But our God, our King, being the merciful and forgiving Lord that he is, reaching out again and invited everyone, saints and sinners to the feast.

He invited anyone who cared to come.

They were invited to participate in the Kingdom of God.

Now this is where the story gets interesting, and the idea of the wedding garment can be confusing to some.

Thankfully Pope Benedict, citing Saint Gregory the Great in one of his homilies clarified that the wedding garment is actually a reference to charity, meaning love and service.

Now knowing this, the parable begins to make sense.

In other words, probably everyone who had arrived at the banquet had faith, but those who had failed to practice charity in their lives, meaning Love of God and neighbor, they did not gain admittance.
Still a little confused?

Let’s look at the scripture once again now knowing what we know.

“The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the King came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. The king said to him, ‘my friend how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’”

The man was silent; he knew exactly what God was saying.

He had passed from this world onto the next and was being judged for his life on earth.

Both he and God knew the truth and the man had nothing to say.

Actually there wasn’t anything to say or that could be said, the time to act had already passed.

God being a God of justice, then ordered the man to be cast out and into the darkness where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

We all know what and where that place is….. It’s HELL!

And the parable ends by reminding us that, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

WOW!

This message left me feeling more than a little troubled.

I always wanted to think of God as being infinitely merciful and forgiving, which he is, but I so often forget that he is also a God of Justice and that we will be judged for how we lived our lives while here on earth.

This parable made to stop and think about my own life, and how God will probably see me when I stand before him face to face.

Yes, I have faith, and so do you, if we didn’t we wouldn’t be here today. But so did everyone else who was invited to the banquet, they also had faith. Yet, Faith alone isn’t enough, isn’t that what Jesus is telling us in the parable.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am trying to say today. We don’t earn our way into heaven, or earn our salvation; Jesus already took care of that. But we do make choices in life; those choices are called our free will.

We either respond by living a Christian life in action and deed, or we do not, there really isn’t a category of being “A pretty good Catholic.”

One of my favorite scriptures is from the book of James and speaks of faith and works.

Saint James clearly states that Faith without works is a faith that is dead.

What a startling message for us here today.

Thinking that we might just be one of those people who have believed and believed without a doubt, and thought that we would be welcomed in heaven at our time of death, yet we might just be judged unworthy to gain entrance when that time comes upon us.

I think Jesus might be asking us to open our eyes a little wider and to take a step back and ask ourselves a few questions.

Have we loved enough?
Have we forgiven enough?
Have we cared for others enough?
Have we truly lived a life of service to others,
or have we lived  a life of mostly serving ourselves?

After pondering these questions for some time I came to the realization that to answer them honesty my answer to all of them would need to “No!

I have not done enough!”

I might assume also that some of you, if you gave the questions deep and honest thought, you might just be in a similar situation.

Believing in Christ is wonderful, but it is Christ and His Spirit in us that should be constantly changing us.

We should be growing in humility, patience, love, and charity each day of our lives.

This transformation is what empowers us to do the works of a sincere Christian.

In a few minutes we will be receiving Christ in the Holy Eucharist, we should allow him to change us, purify us, inspire us, and guide us.

The most powerful thing we can do is to worthily accept Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist and then respond to his call.

That call is so often heard in the quiet of our hearts, and that is why a time of quiet and prayer is so important after receiving communion.

Yet, we have to want to hear his voice.
We have to want to be changed.
We have to want to be a sincere follower of Christ.

Although today’s gospel contains a sobering message, it also contains the good news.

The good news is that we are still here on earth, we still have a free will, and that we can begin this minute thinking about our lives in a different way.

Thinking about how we treat our family, how we treat those sitting next us in church, and how we treat those in need that we haven’t even met yet.

We can choose to be people of action; with our smiles, our kindness, our love, our charity, and our friendships, or we can chose to be something else.

The Good News is that we have heard God speak today through the Gospel, we have understood his warning, and hopefully we can be inspired and guided by His Spirit to not only respond to the  invitation to the banquet, but to also be invited in, and accepted as eternal guests into the heavenly kingdom forever and ever, Amen.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Feast of the Holy Cross

Homily by: By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp

"Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim / Till all the world adore his sacred name." This popular hymn beautifully expresses our sentiments as we celebrate today the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, also known as the Triumph of the Cross or simply the feast of the Holy Cross. We celebrate this important feast for two reasons: (1) to recall an historic event that proved to be extremely important in the life of the Christian church, and (2) to underline the importance of the symbol and reality of the cross in the daily life of every Christian man or woman. 

The important event we commemorate is the finding in the year 326 of the relics of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. According to St John Chrysostom, St Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine, longed to find the cross of Christ. For this reason she travelled to Jerusalem where she organized a dig at the hill of Calvary. The diggers uncovered three wooden crosses. They could not tell which was the cross of Jesus and which were the crosses of the two thieves crucified with him. Finally they brought a sick woman and a dead man who was being carried to burial. The three crosses were placed one after the other on the sick woman and on the dead man. Two of the crosses had no effect, but on contact with the third cross, the sick woman was healed of her infirmity and the dead man came to life. These miracles clearly indicated which of the three was the holy cross. News of the finding of the true cross quickly spread and believers gathered to see the true cross and to venerate it. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Makarios, standing on a raised platform, lifted high the cross, "exalting" it, for all to see. The people fell to their knees, bowing down before the cross and crying out repeatedly: "Lord, have mercy!" 

 St Helen then commissioned a church to be built over the site. The church of the Holy Sepulchre was consecrated on September 13, 335. The feast of the finding and exaltation of the Cross was appointed to be celebrated annually on the following day. The basilica of the Holy Sepulchre is today regarded as the holiest spot on earth by Christians of all denominations. Today the sign of the cross has become a universal Christian symbol. When people sneeze and cross themselves or athletes make a sign of the cross before or during play, we recognize them immediately as Christians. Ornamental crosses are fashionable today in the form of necklaces, broaches, earrings, and the like. A crucifix (the cross with an image of Christ's body upon it) identifies a church as a Christian church. Likewise, crucifixes in the homes, the school and the classroom is a constant witness and reminder of our faith in Christ who died on the cross to set us free. These are all useful and important ways of proclaiming and lifting high the cross of Christ. The cross is not just a piece of wood. It is a symbolic summary of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ by which we have been redeemed. It is a symbol of our faith in the crucified and risen one, our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Jesus taught us that the cross should be a constant feature in the daily lives of his followers: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). To take up the cross in this way we need to do more than wear a crucifix or place it in our surroundings. To lift up the cross the way Jesus asks us to do is a way of life. It is to accept self-denial and sacrifice as part of our daily lives. Sacrifice means to give up something that is of value to me for the sake of God and the benefit of my neighbor. Another word for it is love. Love is measured by sacrifice. People who love much sacrifice much. Yet sacrifice does not make us poorer but richer. This is what we see in Christ. This is what we see in the lives of the saints. This is what we are all called to be. Let us all today resolve to "Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim / Till all the world adore his sacred name."

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Parable of the Seed


15th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A



My wife and I just returned from our annual mission trip to San Lucas Tolim├ín in Guatemala. Although we work on a variety of projects while we are there, including construction, reforestation, and coffee, it is spending time with the local people that I enjoy the most. The main town has continued to change over the years, modernize some, but the surrounding small villages have preserved a purity, simplicity, and peacefulness that is in great contrast to what we have become accustomed to.

Many of the children in the small villages still run and play without wearing shoes.The girls all wear brightly-colored woven clothing. And when a foreigner arrives they are quickly approached by the children with fearless and trusting curiosity. There are no iPods, gaming systems, cell phones, or texting amongst the children. Relationships are cultivated, nourished, and maintained directly and face to face.

Everywhere you go there is laughing, giggles, and smiles. One would not thinking of walking past another person without acknowledging their presence and greeting each other with either a “Buenos Dias”, “Buenas Tardes”, or “Como Estas”. These wonderful people have been preserved from the inward selfishness and self-centeredness that has become pandemic in our culture today.

As I watched the local Mayan people, and visited with a few of the friends that we have made there over the years, I quickly realized that their lives contain much more struggle and strife than my life does. Nutritious food can be scare at times. The water supply is infected with Amoebas. Many of the village people have chronic illness and have no means of obtaining help. Yet, they smile, laugh, and are optimistic about the future. They even graciously welcome strangers into their lives and treat them as a gift from God.

The faith of the Guatemalan people is deep and encompasses their entire life. These marvelous people fervently participate in the Mass unlike anything I have witnessed before. They sing at the top of their lungs. They pray with such deep emotion. And despite a church overflowing, there is complete reverence for the Sacred Mass. Maybe it has to do with their deep struggle in life. Or maybe is has to do with not knowing when they will again have Mass since routine Mass is not guaranteed. But, When the Mass is over, and the exit procession is complete, everyone in the church lowers down upon their knees for a few minutes of silent prayer before leaving, this is a quiet time for personal prayer and for thanking God for the holy encounter. There isn’t a single person who leaves Mass after communion, or who would ever think of leaving Mass early. What a wonderful example of faithfulness, honor, and respect.
___________________________

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of his word as being a seed. He speaks of 4 different kinds of people who receive it.
  • One who hears it but doesn’t understand it.
  • One who hears it, understands it, but allows the message to quickly fade away.
  • One who hears it, understands it, but allows worldly ways to push it aside.
  • And one who hears it, understands it, embraces it, and nourishes it, while allowing it to grow, and then receives great benefit from it. Let us take a minute and honestly think about our own lives, our relationships with others, and the quality of our personal and intimate relationship with Christ.

¿Which of the four people that Christ is talking about best describes us?

Let’s ask ourselves a few questions that might help us discern where we are spiritually right now.  Is our faith at the forefront of our lives?  Do we truly appreciate what we have in the Holy Mass?  Are the relationships with others in our lives more important than anything else?  Do we embrace strangers and the encounters with them as a gift from God? Do we regularly express external kindness more often than not?

Christ sews seeds in all soil, good and bad. We are that soil. In order to receive it and for it to bear fruit we have much work to do in our lives. We must begin by removing the objects within us that would prevent growth, be it jealously, pride, or lust. We must take Christ’s words to heart and act upon them, graciously serving those around us. We must nourish our mind with learning the faith, studying the saints, and listening to our Pope. We must get rid of the toxic things in our lives by using the sacrament of Confession regularly, choosing our friends wisely, and scrutinizing what we read, watch on TV, and search out on the internet.  And finally, getting to know in a deep, profound, and intimate way, who Christ is in the Holy Eucharist. Everything of who we are, and who we are called to be, originates right here in the Eucharist. He is the Source and Summit of our lives.
______________________

A few days ago I spoke to my daughter, Mackenzie, who has been working in Honduras and Guatemala this summer as a missionary and translator for the visiting American groups. She stated that the greatest and most profound experience that she had this summer, although heart-wrenching, was found in Honduras. She stated that she was asked to visit a home for abused girls and women, some as young as 10, and to minister to them. She described their wounds as deep and large. Only being 18 years old herself, she initially felt unqualified and inept to minister to them. All she could do was hold them, talk to them, listen, make them laugh, and love them.

Isn’t that all we want as well? To be heard and loved!

Maybe all we need to do in life is to hold one another.

Hold each other close and invite others into our lives.

To turn our gaze and focus outward.

Make each other laugh.

And simply, to just love one another, to love as Christ has loved us.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Free Download of my newest novel (May 28 and 29, 2014)



Greetings Friends and Family, My newest novel is available as a FREE Download through amazon from 05-28-14 through 05-29-14 from this site.

I had a lot of fun writing this one and I hope you enjoy it.

If you like the book, please tell a friend. It is my way of spreading the "Good News" and supporting the missionaries of The Family Mission Project.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day Poem


"When you thought I wasn't looking"

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator,
and I immediately wanted to paint another.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I saw you make my favorite cake for me,
and I learned that the little things can be the special things in life.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I saw you make a meal and take it to a friend who was sick,
and I learned what it means to serve one another in brotherly love.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I heard you say a pray over me and kiss me goodnight,
and I felt loved and safe.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I saw how you handled your responsibilities even when you didn't feel good,
and I learned what it means to glorify God in all things.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I saw you give of your time and money to the church and to people in need,
and I learned that God loves a cheerful giver.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I saw tears come from your eyes,
and I learned that sometimes things hurt,
but it's alright to cry.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I saw that you cared,
and I wanted to be everything that I could be.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I saw you praying and reading the bible,
and I learned to depend on and trust in him too.

When you thought I wasn't looking,
I looked at you and I wanted to say '"Thanks for all the things
I saw when you thought I wasn't looking."