You have or you will notice that the sanctuary of our Church has been reorganized. The Blessed Sacrament has been returned to the side altar where it was previously located to help us see what is essential in our Liturgical Celebrations!
The mass is divided into two parts – the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Together they make up one act of worship. They are of equal importance. The documents of the Second Vatican Council and the General Instruction on the Roman Missal remind us of this.
The Presider’s Chair is at the back of the Sanctuary. The priest presides over the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The altar and the ambo have been shifted to create a balance in the Sanctuary and to reflect what we know and believe. At our liturgy Jesus is made manifest in the Presider of the Liturgy (Bishop/priest), in the Word of God, in the Body/Blood of Jesus and in the People gathered (physically/virtually).
The physical lay out of our Church Building can help us to see this easily or not. If there are too many items, then our eyes wander as they seek to find a focus.
We will continue to work at creating a simple environment for our Liturgical Celebrations.
In our first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel the Lord challenges the people of Israel. They complain that the ways of the Lord are unfair. The Lord’s thinking goes like this:
In the Gospel, Jesus tells the chief priests and the elders a story about a father with two sons – one promises to go to work and does not. One refuses to go to work and then does go to the vineyard. The chief priests and elders are invited to think about who does the will of the Father!
The story concludes with Jesus warning the chief priests and elders that sinners are changing their hearts and doing what God asks them to do…they have seen it and so far, have done nothing to change their behavior. What do you think?
In our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Christians at Philippi, we hear Paul invite them to have the same mind as Christ Jesus – what that means for Paul is looking to the interests of others and not to your own interests. He then reminds them of what Christ has done. Christ acknowledged his relationship with God the Father. He surrendered and lived completely for God the Father – he did what the Father asked him to do.
How do these readings connect with us?
If you watch TV, surf the Internet, are engaged in social media, read the newspaper or listen to the radio, read the flyers that come from politicians with any of the political parties, listen to conversations at Coffee Row, listen to school teachers and priests we hear the message – take care of your SELF – your physical health, your mental health, your social health. Make sure you take care of yourself before you take care of others. Advertisers or marketing agents are good at appealing to that part of us which is concerned about being successful, beautiful, rich, happy, or the best at what we do. This is all good. Using our talents and resources to excel is a good thing. Making sure that we are successful and working hard to be successful – these are good things.
To complete the story however we need to listen to the scriptures of today.
Life is not just about us and what we want, what we desire, what we need, what we hope for. Life is also about looking out for those who do not have what we have. There is a lovely quote that my niece passed on to me, “When you have all that you need, do not build a wall; build a longer table.”
Sacred scripture invites us to think beyond our SELF. Fulfilling my religious obligations is good but it is not enough. I must also deal with my sin. Appearing nice (saying yes and doing no) is not enough. Lacking respect and then doing the right thing is not enough! We need to think about what is enough. We need to put our words and our actions together. Putting our words and actions together has very real consequences for those who are struggling and in need.
This week the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops invite us to think beyond our parish, our deanery, and our diocese by inviting us to contribute to the Needs of the Church in Canada. They invite us to think about the Church in Canada and the needs of people we do not see and do not think about. We are invited to share our blessings with them.
Next week we will kick off the Diocesan Appeal. Once again, we will be invited to think beyond ourselves, our parish, and our deanery; we will be invited to think about our Diocese.
All of that to say that Paul’s invitation to look to the interests of others is very real. We often struggle to look beyond ourselves. It takes practice.
Jesus says to the chief priests and elders, ‘What do you think?’ What might I answer if I Jesus asked me that question?
Am I respectful? Do I put into action what I believe? Do I support life in all ways? Are my words and actions inclusive? Do I welcome the stranger/the migrant and the refugee? What priority do I give to caring for the earth?
Responding to the gospel, let us be honest with ourselves and with others. Let us move beyond our SELF to greet, welcome, and bless the OTHER!
In our first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah we hear Isaiah encourage the people of Israel to seek the Lord. The seeking involves acknowledging sinfulness and then changing their ways. Isaiah reminds the people of Israel that the way God thinks, and the way God acts is different from the way they think and act.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about the owner of a vineyard who goes looking for people/workers in the marketplace at various moments during the day and he hires them to work in the vineyard. When the end of the day comes, he pays those who have worked only a few hours the same as those who have worked all day. The reaction of those who have worked all day suggests anger, resentment and perhaps bitterness. The owner asks them if they have been treated unjustly. They have not. The owner suggests that since it is his money, he has the right to be generous does he not? Jesus concludes the parable by suggesting that in the Kingdom of God human logic is dismissed in favor of God’s logic. Those who are first shall be last and vice versa!
In our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Christians at Philippi, we hear Paul talk about how Christ is revealed. Paul says that in his living and his dying Christ is revealed. Paul speaks of being pulled in two directions. While Paul would love to be with Christ, he recognizes the importance of remaining and helping the Christians at Philippi live their lives in a way that is worthy of Christ. He reminds them that this is their obligation – to live in a way that reflects the truth of the Gospel.
So what is the connection between these readings and our personal life experience?
Have you ever said, “that is so not fair!” or “I wish I had an easy job like that!” or “I resent the fact that they get away with that and I am expected to be the faithful one.” Or “I work way harder than they do and I get paid less!” or “For the work they do, they get paid way too much!”
While some of us suggest that we never sin – the fact is most of us do sin. Despite our protests we make good use of the sin of envy! We want what others have. We think we deserve more than what we get!
Today our gospel reminds us that in the Kingdom of God the way Jesus thinks and the way Jesus acts are different from the way we think and act. The people we would normally put first, God puts last. The people we would normally put last God puts first. Our work as Christians is to live in a way that Christ is revealed/recognized in what we say and do. Our work as Christians is to seek the Lord, to sin less and to be more like God. We are called to recognize our sin and slowly work at changing the way we behave so that sin becomes less of a driving force in our words and in our actions.
There are a couple of things in the Gospel that we would do well to imitate, that we would do well to practice in our daily life. In the parable, the vineyard owner is like God. What does he do?
During this pandemic I have read stories of Catholics being upset because their access to the Church building has changed, they cannot pray as they once did. While coming to the Church building is important and praying in the Church building is important, the purpose of gathering in the Church building is to help us to be better disciples of Jesus. It is easy to be a disciple of Jesus here. We are to be disciples of Jesus in our daily life – in our homes and in our workplaces. We ought to be doing what Jesus does – what God expects of us.
What God expects of us is made clear in Chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel. Feed the hungry, give water to those who are thirsty, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, clothe the naked, and visit those who are imprisoned. We are reminded of that again today. We ought to be looking for God in those who are most in need. We ought to be doing what God asks of us. We ought to remember our destiny – God is going to reward us and our reward is union, communion with him in heaven. Our destiny is the Kingdom of God.
We are not to worry about how much work others do. We are to be faithful to the work we have been given – to the work we have said yes to. Our God is generous and our God will be generous with us! In turn, we take that generosity and extend it to others.
Today we are being fed – with God’s word and with the Body of Christ. We are being supported by the prayer of our brothers and sisters present here…Let us take the life given to us by God’s Word, let us take the life that is given to us by the Body of Christ, let us take the life that is given to us by the support and prayer of our brothers and sisters and let us reach out to others. Let us comfort them, encourage them, feed them, and make sure they feel welcome. Let us strip from our lives envy, pride, jealousy, hatred and slander. These things destroy us! When we do them we destroy others too!
Perhaps when we gather next weekend for our Sunday celebration others will want to join us because they have experienced firsthand that Christ is Lord in our life. They will experience that we do what God does and maybe, just maybe they will want to become like us because they see in us the goodness and the love of God.
This Sunday we have this insightful reading from the Book of Sirach. He reminds the people of Israel that holding grudges destroys relationships – destroys the person who holds them. He goes a step further and suggests that when they hold grudges they end up on the wrong side of God. He calls us to mercy and suggests that when we extend mercy to others we receive mercy ourselves.
In the Gospel, Peter seems to want to put a limit on forgiveness. He suggests that forgiving someone seven times is enough. Jesus pushes him and suggests 77 times is more like it…in other words forgiveness is a forever attitude and action, then Jesus tells the story that highlights the relationship between forgiveness and behavior. His story points out the reality that often times our sin and our need for forgiveness is far greater than the sin we are upset about. He suggests that the forgiveness we have received should prompt us to be generous with the faults of those around us.
In the second reading, Paul points out with great clarity that we belong to Christ. Whether we are alive or dead, we belong to Christ because he has lived and he has died for us. His life, death and resurrection were aimed at setting us free, at giving us life, at drawing us into the love of the Trinity.
There is a clear theme of forgiveness in our scriptures today and it is good for us to think about forgiveness. Whenever I talk about forgiveness I am pulled in two directions. How do I talk about the teaching of Jesus and how do I keep people safe? Here is my dilemma: a family comes and tells me that one member of the family is abusing other members of the family. The family has sought help for their abusive family member and nothing changes. On the one hand we have the teaching of forgiveness and on the other hand we have a very clear and present danger – the danger of further abuse. How do we put forgiveness into practice?
You might say well that is a bit dramatic Father – the answer is clear – the family has to protect themselves from the dangerous member and so they have to move away. GOOD!
What about the husband/wife/friend who over and over again takes the other person for granted? Who repeatedly betrays, lies, reneges on commitments? How does one forgive repeated betrayal? How does one forgive years of emotional or verbal abuse? How does one forgive repeated acts of disrespect?
On the one hand the scriptures encourage us to nurture forgiveness and on the other we live in a world where we hurt others and are hurt by others. How do we practice forgiveness?
Each of us must learn to practice forgiveness. We also must teach – through words and action, what forgiveness looks like. Forgiveness is not about denying dangerous behavior. Forgiveness is not about downplaying the damage done. Forgiveness is not about forgetting. Forgiveness is not about putting one’s self in a dangerous position over and over again.
Forgiveness is about choosing not to hold on to anger and wrath. Forgiveness is about letting go – not nurturing the wound, not plotting revenge, not retaliating whenever possible.
Practically speaking, I can choose to forgive someone what they have done and yet walk away from them so that the other can no longer hurt me. Practically speaking I can remove myself from a dangerous situation and still value and practice mercy and compassion.
Today the readings urge us to look at the practice of forgiveness in our lives. God never tires of forgiving us. We should work hard at practicing forgiveness in our relationships. Jesus reminds us that there should be no limit to our forgiveness. In the parable it is clear that people are more important than money. Mercy and compassion are highly valued.
There have been a number of funerals this summer. People have died at various stages of life…some were just beginning their lives, some had accomplished a few things and some had lived a long time. Research shows that one of the attitudes that helps people die well is forgiveness. Forgiveness of self for things done and for things undone. Forgiveness of others. Forgiveness of God.
That might strike us as strange but sometimes we hold God accountable for what we think God has or has not given us. We hold God accountable for our bodies and minds and emotions – for our health or lack thereof, for relationships tried and failed, for our work, our abilities – the things we are good at and the things we are not good at.
Forgiveness helps us to live well and it helps us to die well. How do I practice forgiveness? Is it something I expect of others but am reluctant to offer? Do I expect God to forgive me and refuse to forgive my brother or sister?
There is a little saying that suggests that forgiveness does not mean the other was right or innocent. Saying, “I forgive you” sets the other person free and calls them to a new way of being. They can either step up or not!
Saying, “I forgive you” means I no longer carry the event, the wound in my heart. The event no longer has power to shape my life.
Perhaps this week we can think about how we practice forgiveness.
Today in our first reading Jeremiah laments the fact that God has enticed (tricked) him into doing what God wants. Doing what God wants has been difficult because his friends and people that he has known have mocked him, rejected him, and abused him. Even his own efforts to disconnect from God have left him empty, weary, burnt out and burnt up. Nothing satisfies him.
If we thought the gospel for today would bring us a little relief we were sadly mistaken because Jesus tells the disciples he is heading to Jerusalem where he will suffer and be killed by – wait for it – the Elders, the priests and the scribes – the religious leaders of the day, the very people who should be supporting him!
The grim news does not stop there. Peter wants to save his friend Jesus from this suffering and death he is talking about. He takes Jesus away and says, “Hey, this cannot happen! We need to change directions here because we need you alive.” Jesus tells him to step away, he is acting like the evil one and not a child of God.
Jesus has more grim news. Jesus tells his disciples that if they want to follow him, they had better get ready to carry their cross. If they want to save their life, they better prepare to lose it. If they choose success according to the vision of the world they will in fact be giving up their life.
There is a little consolation at the end of the Gospel today. Jesus tells us that God will reward those who make the sacrifice to follow Jesus.
In his letter to the Christians at Rome, Paul reminds them that they are to give their whole self to God. This is what worship is all about – giving of yourself. Taking up space in a house of prayer – regardless of how regular you do it, is not enough. We need to put our words into action. Paul warns the Christians not to be drawn in by the way the world measures success – slowly renew and grow your connection to Christ so that you can discern what is good, acceptable and perfect – what is God’s will!
As I prayed with these texts I thought – wow – heavy stuff for the last Sunday of August!
In actual fact, Scripture is clear today – nurturing a relationship with God is not easy work. Being a follower of Jesus is not easy work. Figuring out what God wants is not easy work.
So how do we follow Jesus, nurture our relationship with God and figure out what God wants/expects from us.
First of all, our lives are intimately linked to the life of God. We come from God and we will return to God. Jeremiah had a choice – God called and Jeremiah said yes and he continued to say yes, even though his life was disrupted and difficult. Jeremiah nurtured his relationship with God even as he complained about what God was asking him to do. Time and time again Jeremiah looked for God, returned to God and worked hard to do what God wanted him to do. We nurture our relationship with God by turning to God over and over again – in the good times and in the not so good times.
Secondly, being a follower of Jesus, standing alongside Jesus means going into difficult places – it means suffering, it means carrying our crosses while our friends try to avoid them. It means teaching ourselves how to love unconditionally. It means loving the other when our friends say, ‘don’t go there’.
This is not about being reckless or foolish, it is about choosing to be kind, to forgive, to encourage others when many say do not do it!
Here in Western Canada that might mean reaching out to support immigrants and refugees rather than engaging in racist and self-serving words and actions. It might mean befriending men and women who are Muslim, Metis or Indigenous and speaking up for them and speaking with them to governments, organizations and political movements that choose to nurture unjust policies and behaviors. It might mean supporting initiatives that protect our environment when others dismiss the impact of climate change. It might mean supporting LGBQT people and initiatives when some Church leaders and political organizations urge us to reject them. It might mean speaking up when our Church and Government leaders ignore the rights of women to jobs, just wages and a voice at the table where decisions are made. It might mean choosing to educate our children in the faith and engaging in Sunday worship when others suggest our spiritual journey is not that important. It might mean protecting someone’s reputation when others are spreading false information on social media and nurturing hatred. Every day we have the chance to take up our cross.
Thirdly, God works slowly. We are all about speed. We want quick results and God works slowly. Paul talks about the slow transformation of the human person in his letter to the Romans. If I continue to read sacred scripture and pray with sacred scripture, if I spend time with the poor, if I seek out the lost and listen to them, I am going to be changed. I am going to notice my attitudes and behaviors change. My words become less harsh, less rigid, less accusatory. I will notice my words becoming more encouraging, more positive, and much, much kinder!
Following Jesus, nurturing our God relationship and doing that which is good, acceptable and perfect means living intentionally every day. From time to time we will hear people criticize us as Catholics/Christians. They criticize us because they notice a discrepancy between what we say and what we do. From time to time we will hear the news media critique us as Catholics/Christians because of what we say and what we do, what we do not say and what we do not do. We tend to get mad and we feel singled out because of our faith.
People and the news media who critique us and point out our failures are doing us a favor when they call us out because of our discrepancies and our behavior. They are helping us to sharpen our focus. Does it hurt? Yes! Is it good for us? Oh yes! We need encouragement AND we need the words of our critics. They help us purify our thoughts and our actions.
This week listen to those people who profess to be atheists, non-believers, those people who dislike Catholics and critique us. Let their words touch our lives and help us to be ever more faithful disciples. Let us continue to be kind to those who have power over our lives! Let us be kinder yet to those who are poor! Kindness will help us to choose what is good, acceptable, and perfect. Kindness will help us to be better followers of Jesus, will help us nurture our God relationships and kindness will help us discern what is God’s will.
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI