Author Archives: Deacon Joe Shriver

About Deacon Joe Shriver

Deacon Joe is a Roman Catholic Deacon who served at Holy Cross Parish, Lake Stevens, WA in the Archdiocese of Seattle. Deacon Joe was ordained in 2007 at Saint James Cathedral in Seattle, WA. In the spring of 2018, we moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to family. Deacon Joe is currently serving at Saint Joseph Parish in York, PA.

20200216 Ordinary 6 A

Jesus was brilliant.  We don’t normally think about Jesus in that manner, but he brought more explanation and depth to the Law.  He studied with a Rabbi as a child.  He was in the Temple learning from the Doctors when his parents finally found him after three very stressful days.  And his Heavenly Father gave him Wisdom and understanding of the Scriptures and people’s tendencies. 

Today’s readings take us deeper into relationships, relationships with God and relationships with others and the purpose behind our actions. 

The opening words in the First Reading address our relationship with God.  “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; …”  It continues “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.  The eyes of God are on those who fear him; he understands man’s every deed.”  We have the option to choose life or death. 

Jesus continues this theme in the Gospel.  He said that he did not come to abolish the law.  The rules are there for a reason; to help us follow God.  Then, Jesus takes it further: it is what is in our hearts.  Our intent is more important than just keeping the law for public acceptance or appearance. 

Jesus continues to give examples of how we sin based on the intent in our thoughts even without committing the act.  This seems harsh!  It is not what we think of when we think of sin.  Jesus was pointing out that our intent is good or evil as the First Reading tells us.  That intent is only known to us, within our hearts and minds, and to God. 

Jesus drives the point home when he said “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Everyone knew that the scribes and Pharisees strictly followed the Law to the nth letter of it.  But everyone also knew that they did it for a public display seeking approval of how good they were because of how they observed the Law.  Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees for their pious observance of the law without a contrite heart. 

Once again, Jesus takes it one step further when he said “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” 

This may seem a little strange to us today but in Jesus’ time, a person brought a gift to the railing in the Temple, to hand to the priest to offer on the altar as an offering to God.  We too bring a gift to the altar when we come to receive him in the Eucharist.  We bring the gift of our contrite heart seeking forgiveness and grace through his Body and Blood. 

John Pilch writes “Jesus forbids anger and insults that could escalate to murder.  For Jesus, squelching the feud even takes precedence over Temple worship!”  Maybe our anger doesn’t escalate to physical murder, but have we murdered a person’s reputation? 

Notice that in this case, Jesus didn’t say if You have anything against your neighbor but if your neighbor has anything against you.  Is our neighbor’s hard feelings because of something we did to them?  

Or is it because they don’t like the color of our hair, our skin, our culture, our religion or some other reason.  Jesus didn’t make any distinction about why, he said that if we know that someone has something against us, we should make it right.  We should not let hard feelings fester and boil over into an argument or a fight. 

Family members and one-time close friends don’t talk to each other over issues and arguments that have caused hurt and pain that will not be easy to heal.  Political positions have dissolved friendships and split families.  I am appalled by what some Catholics post on social media.  It is harsh and unchristian.  What we post and re-post on Facebook and other social media reveals what is in our heart.  I have a friend who has never posted an unkind word on social media – so it can be done. 

We do have a choice: The First Reading tells us that we have Life and Death; Good and Evil before us.  Jesus said that it is not just our actions that result in Life or Death for us but the intent of our heart.  Which will we choose?  It is a crucial question because we will receive what we choose. 

To help us choose Life and Good, we must spend time in prayer.  This is what will help us change the intent of our hearts.  An additional five minutes of prayer a day will draw us closer to God.  Only God can change our hearts and make us more loving and kind with others. 

When a coworker says or does something that really irritates us this week, will we be angry and hateful towards them?  Will that anger only be in our thoughts or will it be reflected in our actions?  Jesus said that it is the same; the intent of the heart (hatred) causes the act or the thought. 

When the person passes us on the road to cut us off to make a turn, how will we react?  Will we be angry?  Will we curse at them?  Or will we pray a prayer that God will keep them safe and prevent them for hurting others? 

When we think something on social media is wrong or bad or just disagrees with how we believe, will we write a hateful post or pray a prayer for ourselves and the other person? 

We have Life and Death, Good and Evil before us.  Which will be given to us? 

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20191225 Christmas Day A

There are two sides of Christmas for us; a time to attend mass for the spiritual celebration and the festive celebration of gifts and food with family and friends.  

Christmas is a holy time when we pause to reflect on that night when, as John describes it “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”  This was the night when Jesus, Emmanuel, the Savior of the World was born. 

Christmas is also big celebration.  Gifts are exchanged with family and friends.  A big feast with turkey or prime rib or the celebration meal that is our tradition is prepared.  The air is filled with excitement and we look forward to seeing everyone.  The radio and tv have Christmas music and movies about Christmas.  It is the most joyous time of year and even people who are usually grumpy brighten up at Christmas. 

These two radically different views are apparent in today’s Gospel.  John said that Jesus came to his own people and they rejected him.  Some accepted Jesus and to those he gave the power to become children of God. 

Let’s go back approximately two thousand thirty years ago to the night Jesus was born.  What was that celebration like?  Well, there really wasn’t one.  Joseph took Mary, like everyone else form the House of David, to Bethlehem to be enrolled.  Enrolled was the term used for a census.  In the United States there is a census every ten years when people are counted where they live.  The difference is that Joseph had to go to his ancestral family city to be counted as a descendant of David.  Joseph searched for a place to stay.  He tried all his family and acquaintances, but there was no place where they could stay for a few days to be enrolled.  Everyone was too busy or already had too many people staying.  This is the familiar story we know of how there was no room in the inn. 

But Bishop Mueggenborg wrote “The Greek word kataluma actually doesn’t mean “inn,” but rather “place of hospitality.”  Our Lord was born in the cold darkness of a stable, not because there were no available rooms, but because the people did not welcome the Holy Family with compassion and hospitality.  This passage is more about rejection, disconnection and disinterest in the plight of others than it is about a lack of vacancy.” 

Finally, Joseph is able to find someone who will let them get out of the weather by staying in a shelter with the animals.  During the night, Mary gives birth to her firstborn son and they name him Jesus as instructed by the angel.  

No one in Bethlehem other than Mary and Joseph knew or even cared that Jesus was born.  And even if they would have known that a baby was born, they would not have known the significance of who Jesus was – the Son of God, the Messiah, Emmanuel – the Savior of the world. 

The shepherds living in the fields keeping the night watch to protect their sheep on the hillsides outside of town knew.  During the night, an angel appeared to them and told them “today, in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” 

Then a multitude of heavenly hosts joined the angel saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  The shepherds went and found the baby Jesus like the angels told them.  Then the shepherds returned to their fields glorifying God for all they heard and saw. 

The Magi saw an extremely bright star in the sky and wondered what it meant.  They are positive that the star has a very special meaning, something of universal importance but they know they must find the answer for the bright star.  They begin packing to follow that bright star, to discover the star’s meaning.  It will take them a while to get there but they know that the star has a special significance. 

But on the night that Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem, and no one knew that the Savior of the World was born.  In the Gospel we heard how “He (the Savior of the world) came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.” 

But not everyone is uncaring nor uncompassionate.  The shepherds and Magi went in search of the Christ Child.  John tells us how some accept Jesus as the Son of God, Emmanuel, the Savior of the World.  “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.”  Jesus brought hope to the world darkened by sin.  We are able to become children of God. 

The people of Bethlehem didn’t realize that the Savior of the World was born during the night.  Thirty years later, the people would still not realize that the Savior of the World was with them when Jesus started his ministry.  In fact, three years later, they would reject him and have him crucified. 

The story of Jesus’ life is one of rejection and lack of compassion from the time he is born to his death on the cross.  Today, we celebrate the birth of Mary’s firstborn son, Jesus, Emmanuel, the Savior of the World.  But how do we celebrate it? 

Are we like the people of Bethlehem who didn’t care about a man with his pregnant spouse looking for a place to stay?  It’s easy for us to criticize the people of Bethlehem for their disconnection from the plight of Joseph and Mary.  But do we do the same thing when we turn our head the other way when we see a homeless person on the corner? 

Are we so full of bubbly cheer that we don’t care or notice anything going on around us?  Or will we reach out to the person in the corner who is crying from the loss of their spouse or child to cancer last Christmas? 

Do we shrug our shoulders when we hear how immigrants are treated because we don’t know them?  Or do we contact our legislative representative to demand better treatment for the stranger we don’t even know. 

Will be live our lives like the people of Bethlehem; uncaring and rejecting those we don’t know?  Or will we be like the shepherds and Magi seeking the one who brings salvation for troubled sinful world? 

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20191215 Advent 3 A

So far in Advent we have been preparing for the coming of the Messiah.  Advent is more than half over so it’s time to pause and rejoice that Christ’s coming is near.  The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday.  We use a rose-colored candle and vestments for Gaudete Sunday to show that it is different from the other Sundays in Advent.  The name comes from the first word of today’s antiphon.  In Latin that word is gaudete which translates as Rejoice! 

Today’s antiphon reads “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near.” 

Last week, Father Jim told us how Advent is at the darkest time of the year.  We are waiting, looking forward to Christmas with Hope.  Hope that things will be better. Hope that light will shine through the darkness.  Hope that spring will come with longer days of warmth and sunshine. 

For us, the winter nights are cold outside, but we are blessed to be warm inside our houses.  It was quite different in the past.  The long winter nights meant hours of cold unbearable shivering.  It truly was a time of darkness and looking forward to warmer nights and more sunshine during the days.  A time to encourage each other that the worst would soon be over and warmer times were coming. 

Our lives are much like this.  We live through the winters of pain and suffering; the times when cancer hits us or a family member, the times when we lose our job just before Christmas and we don’t know what to do to provide food and shelter let alone gifts for the children, the times when our marriage is breaking apart and we don’t know where to go for help, and the trouble just seems to on and on.  How can we rejoice and look forward to better time ahead? 

It’s interesting that the Gospel starts with John the Baptist, who is in prison, questioning who Jesus really is.  This it the same John who said “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.”  John then baptized Jesus. 

The next day (after he had baptized Jesus) John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.  I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’  Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

John stated emphatically that Jesus is the Son of God; and yet here he is in prison wondering if he really is the Son of God.  How could this happen?  John the Baptist questioning what he said so emphatically three years ago?  Times were a lot different now.  John is in prison and doesn’t know what will happen to him.  He is discouraged and begins to doubt. 

Does this story sound familiar?  It is easier for us to begin to question God’s existence when everything is going wrong in our lives.  We think that we are all alone in our despair and desolation, when we doubt that God cares for us or maybe that he even exists. 

John sent several of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 

While Jesus did not say that he was the Messiah, he told John’s disciples to report back what was happening.  “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”  In other words, tell John that there is hope; the sick and poor, the widow and orphan, the immigrant and stranger, the marginalized of society are being helped by Jesus. 

When the disciples of John were leaving, Jesus to the crowds and said “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” 

Jesus knew that John sent his disciples to ask because of his doubts.  Here Jesus is telling us that if the greatest person born into the world could doubt, then we should rejoice because there is hope for us too. 

This is a time of celebrating and parties.  But for those who are suffering the loss of a loved one, for those struggling with cancer or other illnesses, for those who are lonely or depressed it is a difficult time instead of a time of celebrating.  They may begin to doubt like John.  We must help those around us in their time of sadness and despair. 

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near.”  There is hope!  We are not alone.  The Lord is near! 

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20190721 Ordinary 16 C

Jesus was always pushing the boundaries.  He ate with sinners; he condemned the righteousness of the Pharisees and he forgave the sins of those he healed.  This is what ultimately got Jesus in trouble with the religious authorities of his day. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is once again pushing the boundaries for his time.  Generally, men were students.  Women were to manage the house and serve; not study at the feet of a teacher.  And yet, here was Mary listening intently to Jesus to learn from him in the presence of the men who were there too. 

Martha invited Jesus into her home and immediately began to scurry around preparing something for Jesus and the others who normally travelled with him.  Martha is frustrated that she is the only one working to feed the guests.  Martha resented that Mary was too busy listening to Jesus to help prepare the meal for Jesus and those with him.  She asks Jesus to make Mary help her prepare the meal. 

Jesus responded “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.”  That statement defines us today.  We are so busy and torn in many directions with the busyness of living.  There are baseball practice and games, gymnastic lessons and competitions, vacations to plan, pack and travel, there are even meals to prepare for the family. 

It’s hard to keep up with it all.  We get anxious and up tight.  Like Martha, we are always doing something.  It seems that we don’t have any down time to refresh our spirits. 

It’s not that the tasks that Martha was doing were wrong.  Someone must do all these things.  We must take care of our families, we must work to provide for housing and food for them, to spend time teaching and playing with them.  Even within the church, it’s possible to be so busy helping others that we lose sight of the real purpose that we serve.  The spirit of Christ must show in our lives when serving others.  And that is difficult to do when everything is out of control around us. 

Mary, on the other hand, is contemplative.  She is sitting at the feet of Jesus and spending time learning from him.  We have such little quiet time in our world today.  And Social Media doesn’t help any.  We are checking to see what someone said about us on Facebook, responding to texts from family and friends, reading the latest Breaking News and weather reports.  We watch our favorite shows on tv and listen to the radio when we are in our car. 

We seldom have time to be quiet and listen for God to speak to us, for God to guide us and show us his will.  What can we do? 

We must be doers like Martha, or nothing will get accomplished.  But we must act like Abraham who served out of a desire to serve, not because it had to be done.  And we must be contemplative like Mary so God can truly work through us and our spirit can be refreshed. 

We are unable to serve others as Jesus serves without spending some quiet time with him.  Without the quiet time, we become so consumed with the busyness of serving that it comes across as a chore without the love of Christ in it. 

How do we find the quiet time with Jesus so we can serve with love?  We can start by setting aside five minutes a day to read the Daily Mass Readings which can be sent to your phone from the USCCB.  Then we can spend a couple of minutes in prayer, asking God to help us share the true spirit of the Gospels when we serve others.  It will be difficult to set aside five minutes a day, but it is necessary for our spiritual growth.  The tasks still need to be done and we need to spend time with Jesus. 

What will this coming week be like for us?  Will we be like Martha working hard just to get the tasks completed?  Will we be like Mary spending time with Jesus to learn his will for our lives?  We must somehow meld both into our lives so that the love of Christ is visible to those we serve. 

How will we respond to Jesus’ comment about the better part?  Will we continue our busy way just completing the tasks to get them done?  Or will we commit to set aside five more minutes a day to let Jesus fill us with his love and share that love with others?  Will we break the boundaries that society has established today and help those in the margins; the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the poor, the incarcerated, the unborn and the immigrant? 

Will people see God’s love in us when we serve others? 

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20190419 Good Friday

Jim Caviezel, the actor from Mt Vernon who portrayed Jesus Christ in The Passion, made the following statements in a speech at a FOCUS conference.  He talked about the sacrifices he made during his time playing Jesus in The Passion of the Christ.  

“When I was up there on the Cross, I learned that in His suffering was our redemption.  Remember the servant is no greater than the master.  Each of us must carry our own cross.  There is a price for our faith, for our freedoms.  I have been literally scourged, hit by the whips, crucified, struck by lightning, yes, open heart surgery — that’s what happens after five and a half months of hypothermia.” 

He recounted a moment during the filming of The Passion, when he was wedged under the cross and someone else pulled it the wrong way, causing his shoulder to become dislocated.  He said this footage remains in the final cut of the film and commented that had the production taken place in a studio, we might never have seen such an authentic performance.  “The suffering made my performance, just as it makes our lives.” 

“There was a lot of pain and suffering before the resurrection and your path will be no different.  So embrace your cross and race towards your goal.  I want you to go out into this pagan world and shamelessly profess your faith in public.  The world needs proud warriors, animated by their faith.  Warriors like St. Paul and St. Luke who risk their names and reputations to take their faith, their love for Jesus into the world.” 

What a challenge!  Christ suffered a lot of pain during his trial and while carrying his cross to Calvary.  He suffered even more by his crucifixion.  Yet he willingly accepted his Father’s will in the cup of suffering and death to provide salvation for us. 

Jim Caviezel said that “Each of us must carry our own cross.  There is a price for our faith, for our freedoms”.  What crosses will we endure for our faith?  Many of us have pain and suffering in our lives, many of us ask “Why?”, “Why me?”, “Why my spouse?”, “Why our child?” or “Why our parent?” 

Jim said, “The suffering made my performance, just as it makes our lives.”  Jim emphasized that the suffering makes our faith strong.  That’s difficult to understand and accept when we are suffering.  Jesus endured his Passion and cross to bring us salvation.  We too must endure the suffering and pain of this world to gain the eternal life that Jesus died to obtain for us. 

Jim Caviezel experienced some of the pain that Jesus experienced in his Passion and Crucifixion.  It was not close to the actual pain Jesus felt but it left an impact on Jim that changed his life.  Many of us experience severe physical pain in our lives.  Others experience emotional and mental anguish which is just as difficult.  It’s hard to understand that the pain makes our faith strong when we are living that pain.  But we do not walk life’s journey alone.  Jesus walks with us, to comforts and encourage us, in our pain. 

Jim told the college students at the FOCUS convention: “So embrace your cross and race towards your goal.  I want you to go out into this pagan world and shamelessly profess your faith in public.  The world needs proud warriors, animated by their faith.  Warriors like St. Paul and St. Luke who risk their names and reputations to take their faith, their love for Jesus into the world.” 

I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if I had the zeal for Christ that the early disciples lived.  What would happen in the world if each of us lived our lives with the same fervor of St Paul, St Luke, St John or St Peter?  Each of them endured suffering in their lifetimes.  Peter denied Our Lord three times.  Was he weak?  Yes, he failed.  Are we weak in our suffering?  Yes, we fail.  Will Jesus forgive us like he forgave Peter?  Yes, he will.  His love is grater than any force in the universe. 

As we pray the Stations of the Cross and venerate the Cross where Jesus died, let us meditate on the suffering that Jesus endured to provide salvation for us.  What great love it took to accept his Father’s will and endure such suffering to provide salvation for us.  May we commit to forgive others and help someone else in their suffering as Christ forgives us. 

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20190418 Holy Thursday

It seems that we forget that Jesus was not a Christian; he was a Jew.  The book of Acts tells us that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.  It was a very derogatory name used by unbelievers to identify the group who believed in Christ. 

As a Jew, Jesus was raised by his parents to observe his Jewish faith.  Joseph and Mary taught Jesus and he learned from the Rabbi and leaders.  As a boy Jesus attended classes and practiced his faith just as our youth do today.  He was twelve when Joseph and Mary and Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover as was their custom

Here it is thirty years later, and Jesus is going to Jerusalem to observe the Passover as he has done since he was child.  But it is different this time.  Jesus is going to Jerusalem not as a child being obedient to his parents but as a man completely responsible for his actions.  During the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah discussed with Jesus how he would suffer and die.  He is going to Jerusalem knowing his Passion and Death.  Yet, he still goes to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover.  John states “Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.” 

In those days, practically everybody walked to get where they were going.  People wore sandals and a person’s feet would get dirty from the dusty roads.  It was custom for a servant to wash visitor’s feet when they arrived.  The servant had to kneel down and wash the visitor’s feet.  This task was relegated to the newest or worst of the servants. 

Today’s Gospel starts when Jesus and the disciples arrived in the Upper Room.  Jesus takes off his outer garments to assume the role of the servant to wash the disciple’s feet.  When Jesus comes to Peter, Peter asks Jesus if he is going to wash his feet.  Peter is trying to preserve the Master – Disciple relationship.  But Jesus is teaching a different way, a life of service to others.  And Jesus starts by being an example of what he is teaching. 

After Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, he asks them “Do you realize what I have done for you?”  Jesus gives his disciples a mandate when he said, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”  Jesus was telling them more than literally washing each other’s feet.  He was telling them to serve and help each other, to love others more that themselves. 

Tonight, we will literally follow Jesus’ mandate and symbolically wash one another’s foot.  While this is a great symbol of showing how we humble ourselves to serve others, it is more important that we follow the real mission that Jesus mandated.  We must serve others who are in need. 

Holy Cross Parish truly serves the community around us.  The Out Reach Program is unlike any other around the area.  Being known as the Potato Parish is gratitude for what you bring to the Food Banks for miles around. 

While we are an example of service to others as a community, which is important, we also need to serve others in our daily lives.  It’s easy to dislike the neighbor whose children play loud music, play ball in our yard or whose dog comes into our lawn and digs or makes a mess.  Sometimes we even tell our neighbor about the things they do that irritate us.  Will others view us as Christians when we act that way? 

Jesus asks us to accept our neighbors without harsh feelings just the way they are, just the way that Jesus accepts us as we are – with all our faults and sinfulness. 

As we wash each other’s foot this evening, let us remember to take this love that Jesus has for us into our lives and share his love through service to others – even those we may dislike. 

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This I Command You

Gospel Jn 15:9-17

Jesus said to his disciples:
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.

“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you:  love one another.”

This I command you:  love one another.

It was Tuesday morning and I was reading the Daily Readings on my phone.  When I reached the end of the Gospel, this stood out to me. 

Jesus was always telling us to love one another, love one another as I have loved you, etc.  But here Jesus gave it as a Command!!!  “Love one another.” 

If we love one another, we treat each person with respect, with dignity and we defend them and support then when they are in trouble.  This is difficult if the person(s) are homeless wearing tattered clothes with unkept hair.  It may be even more difficult if we know them and they are mean to us. 

Jesus did not give any room for exceptions.  This I command you:  love one another. 

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20190407 Lent 5 C

Reflection for St Joseph Bulletin Cover during Lent

We have spent time on our Lenten Journey contemplating God’s love and mercy and our sinfulness and loneliness. We have asked God to forgive us for the times we failed and to teach us to follow him every day. As we searched our hearts for the times we failed, we may have found circumstances that still bother us, that still trouble us, sometimes from long ago.

It seems easier for us to hold onto the past and our loneliness than to open our hearts to God’s ever-present love. The prophet Isaiah wrote “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!”

Our minds find change very difficult to accept. We get into our routines and don’t like to get outside of them. There is something unnerving about change. But Isaiah said that God was doing something new! Then Isaiah asks “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Then Isaiah explains how God will provide water for his people to drink in the wastelands and the desert.

Water gives life. We can survive without food for a long period, but we can survive about three days without water. God provides the water; the healing our hearts need in the wasteland and desert. We have all spent time in the wasteland and desert of our lives. The times when we were lonely and even afraid of what would happen to us. Maybe it was a time of addition or a time when we were out of work and didn’t know how we would provide food or shelter for our family. Maybe it was an abusive relationship that we struggled to get out of for our own safety. Maybe it was a relationship with a family member that ended in a bitter fight and still eats at us today.

The prophets did not speak on their own. They were God’s spokesperson telling the people the message that God gave to the prophet. That message is still as valuable to us today as it was to the Israelites in Isaiah’s time. God promised that he would do something new for us.

Now it is up to us to reflect with penitent hearts the words of the prophet: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!”

It’s hard to let go of the past: the hurt, to let go of the pain caused by someone we knew, loved and respected. We have a chance to open our hearts to God and ask him to forgive the past and to provide healing for our hearts. May the rest of this Lenten Journey bring each of us closer to what new events God has in store for us.

Deacon Joe

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20190331 Lent 4 C

The parable of the Prodigal Son is the wonderful story of a father’s love for his child.  A young and rambunctious child asks for the Father’s inheritance.  In a small town where everyone knew everyone else, word would travel about his act of disrespect.  This act would bring shame on the family, but the youngest son just wants to enjoy life.  After losing everything, the young man comes to his senses and returns home to become a hired servant but at least a fed, clothed and housed person who could live a better life than he was living feeding hogs. 

When the father sees the young son he thought he had lost forever coming, he acts out of love and rushes to him and accepts him back as a son.  This is more than the son was hoping for even though he knew that he would not get an inheritance when his father died. 

When the brother, who was out working hard in the fields, comes into the house in the evening, he hears music, dancing and smells the meat cooking.  He asks one of the servants what is happening and learns that his youngest brother has returned home, and his father butchered the fattened calf.  A fattened calf would feed over a hundred people so the he knew the father was inviting the whole town.  What would the town people say?  What a disgrace to be talked about like that. 

The older brother is angry and refuses to come into the house.  This act of defiance hurts the father as much as losing his youngest son when the youngest took his inheritance and left home for a foreign land.  The wonderful part of this parable is that the father has the same compassion for the eldest son that the father has for the Prodigal Son. 

The father comes out and pleads with his oldest son, tries to reason with him but the oldest son will have nothing to do with the celebration.  He is resentful that the father is celebrating and accepting his no-good brother back as a son.  It would be bad enough to accept him as a servant after the shame his younger brother brought upon the family but to accept him back as a son was unforgivable! 

The older brother throws it back in his father’s face the terrible life that his no-good brother lived and how good a life he lived.  He always obeyed his father and worked hard in the fields to increase the value of his father and his land.  Not that he had ever asked for a feast with his friends in the past, but now it becomes important to him in his jealousy of his brother and he throws it up to his father. 

We often hear homilies about the father’s great love to accept the Prodigal Son back as his son, but we seldom address the older brother.  It is doubtful that many of us are like the youngest son; for one thing, it is even rarer to receive an inheritance early today than it was back then.  And most of us have not spent our lives living off our parents when we were in our twenties, thirties or forties. 

We consider ourselves good Christians; maybe even cradle Catholics who have attended mass all our lives, we always followed the rules and helped others.  We consider ourselves better than those who live a shameful life injecting drugs and living a life of prostitution or stealing to pay for the drugs they so desperately need, just like the Prodigal Son.  We may even look down on those people who live like that, just like the Pharisees and scribes that Jesus was addressing in this parable. 

We live in our own little world in the United States that is unlike the reality that the rest of the world lives in today and throughout history.  We would not consider ourselves wealthy in our society in the United States today, but we are wealthy beyond belief to most of the world.  Indeed, God has blessed us as a nation and that is evidenced by the throngs of immigrants trying to enter our country to live in a land of plenty. 

Our society and social media teach us that these immigrants are bad people.  Yes, a few of them probably are bad, but the majority only want safety for their family with food and shelter for them.  They want the same freedoms we have that they could never obtain in the countries where they were born.  How do we feel about the immigrant?  Do we consider them “Those people”?  The term “Those people” usually refers to someone we look down on as less than us. 

Do we feel that the immigrants trying to enter our country are individual people, families with spouses and children, trying to find a better life?  Do we wish they would go home, or do we pray that they will be able to enter our country and find the life they only dream of for their family? 

How do we feel about drug addicts?  Do we wish the addict would disappear from the street corner where we see them?  Or do we pray that they find the help they need to be able to quit the drugs that are destroying them?  Would we welcome them if they came to our church and sat next to us for mass in their tattered and torn clothing? 

The father loved both of his sons.  He accepted the wayward son who shamed the family and the son who resented his father’s love for the wayward son.  Which son are we?  Have we squandered the opportunities that came our way?  Or do we act like the older brother; resentful that our father cares for the sinner who disobeys God’s law and the law and order of the land? 

As we continue our Lenten Journey, let us examine our hearts and conscience to honestly determine how we really look at others.  Which son are we?  Are we like the son who sinned in public view where all could see?  Or are we like the son who followed the rules but sinned in our hearts?  It really doesn’t matter.  God loves both us the same.  Let us prayerfully ask God for his love and mercy to consume us with forgiveness for our sins and compassion for others. 

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20190217 Ordinary 6 C

We are blessed to live in the United States.  Even with all the dis-function of our political system and our inability to work together, it is still the greatest country to live in today.  We sometimes forget that when we listen to the news.  The freedoms and culture we enjoy also make it difficult for us to understand the background in today’s Gospel. 

We are taught to get a good education, work hard, and enjoy the rewards of wealth that comes with the hard work.  Those with wealth obtain power over others.  Because of their wealth, they pretty much get what they want, even to the detriment of others, as evidenced in our society today.  Our system is based on the economic principle that wealth will bring power. 

In Jesus’ day it was the exact opposite.  John Pilch explains that power came first in Jesus’ time.  Wealth was obtained by those who had power.  The powerful could take whatever they wanted.  It was the reverse of now; it was a principle of social standing or power versus an economic accomplishment. 

The cultural differences between Middle Eastern culture and our Western culture are significant.  Middle Eastern culture has changed very little in the past two thousand years.  Any means necessary to preserve honor or to retaliate when shamed were considered acceptable.  This included lying, bribing someone to lie, cheating, destroying someone’s reputation and, if necessary, killing a person to save honor. 

This is appalling for Catholics who respect the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death.  But it is a reality in many parts of the world.  Once we understand these differences in culture, we can better understand today’s readings. 

Jeremiah, who lived six hundred years before Christ wrote “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose hope is the LORD.”  While Jeremiah warned of a curse for those who turned from God and trusted in human strength to overcome obstacles, he gave hope for the person who trusts in the Lord to survive the hardships and difficulties of life.  Even the Psalmist tells us “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.” 

Jesus gave that same hope of a blessing in heaven for those who suffer at the hands of others.  

When Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.” we think of someone who is homeless and hungry.  However, the poor in that culture consisted of those who were socially disadvantaged; the widow, the orphan and the immigrant. 

When a woman lost her husband, it was custom for one of their sons to take her into his home to care and provide for her as part of his family.  Jesus followed this custom when he was dying on the cross.  He asked John to take, Mary, his mother into his home to care for her as his own mother.  A widow could have several million dollars but is still considered “a poor widow” even today without a son to look out for her, to protect her. 

The orphan had no one to look out for them so the powerful took advantage of them.  The orphan would work for a powerful person for little if any wages.  The immigrant had the same disadvantage; they didn’t speak the language nor understand the laws and customs. 

Jesus said Blessed are those who are hungry for you will be satisfied and Blessed are those who weep for you will laugh.  Then Jesus gave warnings to the rich who seemed to have everything, especially in the eyes of the poor that Jesus was talking with that day.  These blessings for the poor and warnings to the rich provided hope to a downtrodden and discouraged people.  It gave them hope in a world of oppression and suffering.  Though it seemed hopeless now, they would receive their reward in heaven. 

Jesus was providing hope to the socially disadvantaged of his time.  The good news is that he provides us with that same hope today.  When we are discouraged and see no end to the misery in our life, it is easy for us to revert to the principles of Middle Eastern culture of saving face, preserving honor.  Many of our public figures are a prime example.  They criticize and belittle anyone who disagrees with them.  It’s so easy for us to criticize the public figures for their actions and demeaning behavior, but how often do those same attitudes and acts infiltrate into our lives? 

We belittle and lash out at someone, a family member or friend, who has hurt us, disagreed with us or failed to support our view in a critical matter.  There are family members who don’t speak to each other because they are on different sides of the political issues or because of hurt feelings from an event that happened decades ago. 

When we try to save face, to preserve honor; we always end up hurting someone when we lash out at or ignore the person we think caused us the pain we feel right now. 

We too can find the hope that Jesus gave the multitude that day.  Will we trust in ourselves to make others feel the pain that we feel?  Or will we be satisfied knowing that one day we will laugh? 

Will we trust in our ability to make it happen on our own?  Or will we trust in God to sustain us when our life is coming apart at the seams?  Will we blame others for the disasters in our life or will we pray that God will sustain us; will feed us, will give us his peace with the hope of our reward in heaven? 

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