Archive for the ‘Elijah’ Category

Widows’ Gifts

November 6, 2021

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Beware of the scribes… They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.” Jesus denounced those scribes for their greedy hypocrisy. In recent decades, some televangelists and megachurches’ prosperity preachers have told believers ‘give your money to our ministry and God will bless you back with even more,‘ and then used the meager wealth of many widows to purchase mansions or private jets. This of course, gives scandal, leading many to think faith is just a grift and alienating people from Christ. Is it wrong for preachers to be paid? St. Paul defends the right of ministers to receive compensation, “for scripture says, ‘The laborer deserves his wages,’” but our holy work is not meant to be about getting rich.

The presence of unworthy motives among some Christian ministers is nothing new. St. Paul writes to the church at Corinth, “We are not like so many others who trade on the word of God for profit.” Such men were a problem in Paul’s day, too. So it might seem that poor widows should never be asked to give and that poor widows should never donate. That answer would be simple, yet God’s truth is not that simple.

In today’s first reading, the Prophet Elijah meets the widow of Zarephath during a time of great drought. He asks her for a cup of water and a bit of bread. She replies, “There is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.” (She is preparing their last meal.) But Elijah says, “Do not be afraid. Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” She left and did as Elijah had said. And the poor widow, her fatherless child, and God’s prophet were all able to eat for a year. The jar of flour did not go empty, and the jug of oil did not run dry, as the Lord had foretold through Elijah. As today’s psalm tells, “The Lord keeps faith forever… The fatherless and the widow he sustains.

And in our gospel today, when Jesus sees a poor widow putting into the Temple treasury two small coins, which is all she has and her whole livelihood, what does he do? He does not try to stop her. He does not criticize her for being foolish. He calls his disciples to himself, he points her out to them, and he glorifies her trust in God in having given more than all the others. Her deed is still remembered to this day. Would it have been better if she had not given her gift?

I do not have a one-size-fits-all answer for how much poor widows should give. The Catechism teaches that the Church’s precept, “’You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church,’ means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability,” so there’s recognition that some people have greater or lesser ability than others to materially assist the Church’s mission in this world. But if even poor widows are sometimes called to give, to trust in the Lord and give him the chance to prove himself their faithful provider, how much more so are the rest of us called to be generous?

We live in the wealthiest country in all of human history, and yet most of us only give a tiny fraction of our income to church and charity to support the good works they do. What accounts for this? Some of it is from the love of money and some of it is from fear. The Book of Ecclesiastes says, “He who loves money is never satisfied by money, and he who loves wealth is never satisfied by income.” Some are slaves to their greed, and some are shackled to their anxiety.

As an early teen, I felt reluctance at giving any money away for anything. I thought, “Who knows what my future holds? What if I need that money later? Every dollar I give away now is another dollar I’m exposed to future, unseen danger.” My mindset wasn’t informed by the Gospel, but when I finally read the Gospels myself I encountered Jesus’ teaching there. He says: “Do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. … Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.” The Lord was calling me beyond my comfort zone and into a deeper relationship with him.

I remember standing in St. Paul, Minnesota’s awe-inspiring cathedral. It was my first time there and I saw near the south exit a donation box labeled “For The Poor.” The largest bill in my wallet was a ten or a twenty, and I both wanted and very much did not want to give it, yet I knew what I should do. Once I had done it, I walked out smiling. It was a small donation, but even then I knew it was a big moment, and it changed the rest of my life.

I recall the story of one married couple. They used to pay their bills and then give to God if there was something left —and sometime there was nothing left. But God put it on their hearts to tithe consistently, so they began setting aside their gift to him first before paying their bills. And when they approached their giving in this way they discovered there was providentially always enough for both God and the bills.

God commands, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test,” yet in his Old Testament Book of Malachi he says to test him in this: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, and see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven for you, and pour down upon you blessing without measure!

And so, without embarrassment, I ask you to be generous in giving, not only so that our church may put your gifts to good use, but for the sake of deepening your personal relationship with our good and faithful God.

Praying Like Jesus

August 9, 2020

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

From the start to the finish of his public ministry, Jesus makes time for private, personal prayer. We see this throughout the gospels. In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, the morning after Jesus cured Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and others in the town of Capernaum, it says, “Rising very early before dawn, (Jesus) left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” Then, before calling certain men from among his many followers to form his key inner circle, Luke’s Gospel notes: “(Jesus) departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named apostles.” And Matthew’s Gospel records how, on the night before he died, “Jesus came with (eleven of those Apostles) to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his apostles, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter, James, and John, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” Today’s gospel begins with another example of Jesus’ commitment to private, personal prayer.

After Jesus had fed the crowds with the loaves and the fishes (which we heard about last Sunday) he made the apostles get into a boat and depart before him for the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Then Jesus went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening, he was there alone. Like the Prophet Elijah in our first reading, who retreated to a mountain to encounter God, Jesus seeks out a quiet and deserted place to pray. Though the wind, the earthquake, and the fire outside of Elijah’s cave all reflect something of God’s glory, chasing after these would be a distraction. God’s presence is revealed to Elijah as “a tiny whispering sound.” Do you put yourself in a place, do you give yourself enough time and space and silence, to encounter within you God’s tiny whispering sound through prayer? If it was very important for Jesus Christ the Son of God to devote focused time for prayer (and he did) how much moreso for you and me?

What was on Jesus’ mind and heart the night he prayed in today’s gospel? What did Jesus take to prayer? Recall that John the Baptist had recently been murdered. John’s disciples, after burying his body, went and told Jesus. When Jesus hears this news, he withdraws in a boat for a deserted place with the apostles where he finds thousands awaiting him. He heals them and teaches them and feeds them all. Then he dismisses the crowds, sends the apostles off ahead of him, and goes up the mountain to pray alone.

Was Jesus feeling sad that evening? Our Blessed Lord once said, “Blessed are they who mourn.” And he himself wept at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus mourning at the death of John the Baptist, his friend, relative, and ally, is easy to imagine. Might Jesus have felt angry that night? Anger is the natural human reaction to a perceived injustice, and what happened to John was gravely wrong, a great injustice. Anger, like all human emotion, can be turned toward good or evil. For instance, zeal for his Father’s house moved Jesus to make a righteous mess of a marketplace that was hindering peoples’ worship and profaning the temple in Jerusalem. There are a number a divinely-inspired prayers among the Psalms which give voice to human sorrows, frustrations, and anxieties.

Did Jesus feel stress and strain about the steps of the path ahead of him? When people saw Jesus multiply those loaves and fishes, John’s Gospel tells us the crowd was going to carry him off to make him King of Israel, the Messiah of their dreams. But that would have derailed Christ’s redemptive mission as the Lamb of God, so Jesus did not permit his followers to do so. Jesus’ enemies, of course, presented obstacles as well. How was Jesus to reach and drink the cup at his mission’s end? In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus under great stress and strain even speak to his Father about the course of the Father’s plan. In prayer, Jesus could bring to God his Father, whatever he thought or felt.

Did Jesus pray for other people? In our second reading, St. Paul reveals a “great sorrow and constant anguish” in his heart. He swears by the Holy Spirit that he could wish himself “cut off from Christ,” could wish himself condemned to Hell, if that would somehow lead his people, the Jews, to Heaven. Do you think Paul prayed with that sorrow and anguish for others’ salvation? If Paul prays with such intense feeling, how much moreso does Jesus pray for the salvation of others from his Sacred Heart?

Jesus Christ is not only our Lord and Savior, he’s the best example for our Christian life. We must learn from him and imitate him. Here are three things Jesus does that we all should do likewise. First, Jesus makes time for private, personal prayer. Whether early morning or late at night, he created time for communing with the God who loves and leads him. Turn off the car radio, the TV, the devices, to make some silence to hear within you the “tiny whispering sound” of God. Second, Jesus prays with everything on his mind and heart. No thought or feeling need be hidden from the God who knows and loves you better than you do yourself. The Holy Trinity and our other heavenly friends want us to share these things, so that we may grow close together in their likeness and friendship. And third, Jesus prays for himself and others. Jesus says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore, if you only pray for yourself, or only pray for other people, something is out of balance in your prayer. In conclusion, make time for personal private prayer. Pray about anything on your mind and heart. And pray for yourself and others. Make this sacrifice, give yourself this gift, of communing in prayer with the Lord who loves and leads you.

The March for Life: A Reason for Hope

January 16, 2014

In the days of Elijah, the people of Israel were divided between commitment to the Lord and to the cult of Baal. Baal worship entailed intoxication, heterosexual and homosexual immorality, self-harm, and the human sacrifice of children. The prophet Elijah, even after his victory against 450 prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18), despaired for his people and his nation. He felt all alone. He felt like giving up. But the Lord God reassured him that there were still 7,000 in Israel who had neither bent the knee to Baal nor kissed him. There was reason for hope in Israel.

This Wednesday, January 22nd, pro-life Americans will march in Washington D.C., as they have for 40 years. The major news media will largely ignore this event, or perhaps mention the “thousands of abortion rights supporters and opponents” in a ten-second blurb (despite pro-lifers outnumbering the abortion supporters there literally on the order of 1,000 to 1.) Yet the estimated half-million people who will be marching down Constitution Avenue this week provide reason for hope for the future of our country and our culture.

Let Advent Be Advent — 2nd Sunday of Advent—Year A

December 5, 2010

John the Baptist was living quite differently compared to people in his day. What he wore was different, what he ate was different, and what came from his lips was also different. Yet, John shared something in common with us today. Like Christians in this season of Advent, John knew that the Christ, or Messiah, had already been born, years before in the past. Like us, what John was preparing for was the coming of Christ anew.

That’s the reason why in Advent, in this season of awaiting the Messiah’s arrival, John the Baptist is so prominently featured in our Sunday Gospel readings, like today’s. By looking at John we can learn how to prepare ourselves for Christ’s arrival. As I mentioned before, John was rather different from his neighbors in his day. Today I suggest that we in the Church need to be a bit more different from everybody else if we want to prepare better for Christ’s coming this year.

What did John do with all that time alone in the desert, when he wasn’t out preaching or baptizing? Surely, John was praying, asking for grace and contemplating the one who was coming. The desert is a quiet place, free of distractions, and conducive to prayer. The world can make this month before Christmas a very stressful time. This Advent, you must find a desert, a quiet place, free from distractions, where you can pray each day. Create a daily desert space for your own family as well and prayer together as one. You cannot prepare well for Christ’s coming without daily prayer and the peace it gives.

What did John eat in the desert? He ate locusts, or grasshoppers, and wild honey. The wild honey may sound pretty sweet, until you realize that it was guarded by wild bees. John ate simply. Our meals in Advent should be simple too. You know how it is at Easter, when you enjoy what you gave up for Lent again for the first time? You find yourself enjoying what you denied yourself more than ever before. Then just think of how much greater your Christmas feasting will be if you eat more simply in Advent. (Besides, if you fast or diet now, there will less pounds to lose next year.)

John dressed differently than other people in his day. He wore a garment made of camel’s hair and tied a leather belt around his waist. He dressed like the Old Testament prophet Elijah because he wanted people to know that these were special days. You can also dress in ways that witness to the world that these are special days. One way to do this is to dress liturgically. As you can see, the main color of Advent is purple. If you have purple outfits or ties, now is their season.

By the way, this Wednesday, December 8th, is a holy day of obligation and Christ is asking you to attend the worldwide feast in honor of His immaculately conceived mother. On such a day, intentionally wearing blue or white would honor her. Try dressing liturgically and you’ll find that it reminds you and others of what makes these days special.

What came from the lips of John was different, and despite the large crowds, whatever he spoke was not for himself but for Christ. This year, wish people “merry Christmas” instead of “seasons greetings,” and instead of “happy holidays,” say “happy holy days,” for by this you give witness to the true reason for the season.

John knew that he must decrease and that Christ must increase, for John himself was not the light but had come to give testimony to the light. In the world, the Christmas songs have already begun on the radio and the Christmas trees are all up and lit in the malls, but the day after Christmas their songs will stop and their decorations will be taken down. But as the world is packing Christ away for another year, the Church is just beginning its celebration. You know the “twelve days of Christmas?” On Christmas day, the twelve day begin, not end. Like Easter, the Church celebrates not just one day, but for weeks after.

This year, let Advent be Advent, and save Christmas for Christmas. Sing Advent songs for Advent, and (as much as possible) save Christmas carols for their time. I suggest leaving your Christmas lights, on your tree and on your house, unlit during Advent. Then, when you plug-in at last on Christmas Eve, you shall enjoy a joyful sign that the light of the world has come.

St. John the Baptist calls to you through the Scriptures. I encourage you here, before you. And I hope the Holy Spirit is now prompting you, in your hearts and minds, to keep Advent as Advent this year, and to prayerfully prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas more profoundly than you ever have before.