Franciscan Renewal Center

“For Your imperishable spirit is in all things!” These words from the first reading set up the rest of what we hear this weekend perfectly. ~ Take a moment and imagine all of creation… Think about the vastness of our universe; the multitude of galaxies, worlds, stars & planets… Think about our planet; then the seven continents in the middle of vast oceans. Think about the mountain ranges, tundra, forests, and deserts with hundreds of countries, and billions of people calling it home… Now, think about your country, your state, your county, your city, the place where your family resides… Picture the people in your immediate family… and now in your home… and finally, find yourself placed in the middle of all this vastness. The first reading describes this immense vastness as nothing more than a “grain from a balance” before God. Placing this in perspective can make you feel small, unimportant or insignificant, but it shouldn’t. It should make you feel loved! In all the universe, God’s imperishable spirit is in you! Knowing this makes it easier to sing, “I will praise your name forever, my King and my God” with Psalm 145.

The second reading lays out our responsibility. Our part in this vast universe is to “powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith” that God may be glorified in us, and we in Him. In the gospel, Zacchaeus understands being small. He had to climb a tree just to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Through Zacchaeus’ effort of faith, God was truly glorified through him, as sign to those grumbling, that God seeks and saves what was lost. …and there is no limit to who this may be. No club. No group. Everyone possesses God’s imperishable spirit, and God is there for all.

God was glorified not just through Zacchaeus, but in Zacchaeus. He was open to change and made the effort, in faith, to seek God. Once he physically recognized Jesus, he also recognized God’s imperishable spirit in his life, and allowed it to change him. ~ Zacchaeus, small as he was, discovered the love that is there, waiting for us all, individually, in the midst of this vast universe which is nothing more than a “drop of morning dew” before God.

Scripture Reference (Cycle C):

1st: Wisdom 11:22 – 12:2

Response: Psalm 145

2nd: 2 Thes 1:11 – 2:2

Gospel: Luke 19:1-10

The Gospel today is addressed to those who are “convinced of their own righteousness.” (It can be easy for any of us to fall into that crowd.) The Pharisee quickly recounts all the wonderful things he does right and then gives a litany of what everyone else does wrong. His piety has become his personhood. His practice of religion has taken the place of faith. Sure, it’s true that all of the things the Pharisee lists are good, but still, Jesus tells us that he did not leave justified. So what was he missing? Authenticity.

Our first reading says that the “prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds.” The psalm proclaims that the “Lord hears the cry of the poor.” So, what do the poor and lowly understand that the Pharisee is missing? Humility. Today, we are challenged to look at our lives and recognize it all as a gift. If we can do that, our prayer changes. Then, our piety and practices are not because of our righteousness, but because of God’s righteousness. When we fail in practice, from our lowly state, we can cry out to God and that faith keeps us in relationship. We can be, just as we are created, people who fall, but never fall out of God’s love.

Our prayer should never be about how great we are, but rather, how great God is, alive and living in us. ~ Humble authenticity.

Musician and composer, Matt Redman, wrote a popular song with this refrain; “I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you, it’s all about You Jesus.” These words echo the challenge we hear in the scriptures today. Let us, bringing who we truly are, humbly and authentically come back to the heart of worship, the heart of our prayer: Jesus, who is our heart.

 

Scripture Reference (Cycle C):

1st: Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18

Response: Psalm 34

2nd: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

Gospel: Luke 18:9-14

Persistence. Prayer. Promise. Faith. ~ If we were to follow this weekend’s readings on a literal, surface level, we would all be standing on the street corner, in front of a court house, looking up at mountains, and reading from the Bible with our arms raised up for so long that they fall off…and we would be missing the point. The Psalm frames these readings perfectly. “Our help is from the Lord.” Moses’ hands were not raised in an empty gesture, but as a visible sign that God was with the Israelites in prayer, leading them to His promise. In the second reading, Paul continues to encourage Timothy to remain persistent, holding on to faith. In the Gospel, the widow is persistent in search for justice and receives it.

So is that it? If we ask enough times, God will just give in? No…that would also be missing the point. Jesus uses the example of the dishonest judge to contrast the true promise we have with God. God is our help, and he will see us through. Persistence in prayer, relying on faith and trusting in the promise should be elements of our relationship with God. When we are in a good relationship with someone, we know what we should or should not ask for from the other.

The Collect in the Roman Missal for today reflects this as well. “Almighty, ever-living God, grant that we may always conform our will to Yours.” Just like with music, writing, sports, or anything like this, the more we do something, the better we become. Prayer is the same way. We are called to be persistent in our prayer and, because we are, our faith grows and we can recognize God’s promise being fulfilled in our life. And persistence in prayer is easier than we may think…St. John Chrysostom points out that we do not need to always find a church, or a sacred space, or the right time. We can still pray, persistently, through our very life. He said, “It is possible to offer fervent prayer even while walking in public or strolling alone, or seated in your shop… while buying or selling… or even while cooking.” ~ Make your life a prayer, persistently placing it before God. This way, we build that relationship of faith with our loving father. In faith, we will know and live in His promise and He will always see us through.

 

Scripture Reference (Cycle C):

1st: Exodus 17:8-13

Response: Psalm 121

2nd: 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:2

Gospel: Luke 18:1-8

Miracles take place on the journey ~ At the word of the prophet Elisha (after some convincing happened right before our first reading begins today), Naaman journeyed in faith down to the Jordan River to wash, and in doing so, his leprosy was cleansed. At the word of Jesus, the ten lepers journeyed to present themselves to the priests and were healed along the way. It took trust to listen, but, by stepping out in faith, miracles occurred along the way.

It is faith that moves us forward on the journey. In faith we walk our paths, hopefully recognizing the miracles along the way: Naaman recognized the miracle he received and changed his life; One of the ten lepers recognized the healing that took place for him, and returned to Jesus. Because of the recognition, Jesus tells the leper that he was saved.

In our second reading, Paul shares that, “if we persevere, we shall also reign with Him.”  This is a true and “trustworthy” promise. In the journeys, “The Lord has revealed to the nations His saving power (Psalm 98).” ~ May we not only recognize the miracles God works in our lives, but also allow those miracles to change us, to save us. May we know that as our journeys move us on “He remains faithful,” (even when we are not (2 Tim 2:13)), walking with us, healing us, and showing His love.

 

Scripture Reference:

1st: 2 Kings 5:14-17

Response: Psalm 98

2nd: 2 Timothy 2:8-13

Gospel: Luke 17:11-19

In the encyclical “Deus Caritas Est,” Pope Benedict XVI writes, “Faith, hope and charity go together. Hope is practiced through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God’s mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness.” ~ Habakkuk is clearly in a time of darkness as he cries out to God in the first reading, “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen!” In the second reading, Paul writes to Timothy from a place of darkness, imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel. In the Gospel this weekend the apostles ask Jesus for increased faith as they struggle to follow Him. It is in these times of darkness that our faith is often shaken. If we expand on what Pope Benedict wrote, when faith is shaken, hope can be lost and we can lose sight of love.

Jesus, in what can seem like a harsh critique of the apostles, gives us a path to endure these times—devotion. Paul seems to have figured this out as well. He tells Timothy that, in these times, stir into flame the gift of God which is God’s spirit inside of us! The Spirit gives us the strength to bear our hardships through our devotion to God. God’s promise to Habakkuk is the same, “For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”

God’s timing is not our own. Strength rises as we wait upon the Lord in faith, with hope, and trusting in His love. Stir into flame His spirit inside of us, then, holding on to Faith, hope and love. With devotion to God, we can bear the darkness.

 

Scripture Reference:

1st: Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4

Response: Psalm 95

2nd: 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14

Gospel: Luke 17:5-10

Complacency is a dangerous thing. It can trick us into inaction. When we are complacent, our only concern is maintaining the life we have settled into. Vision, dreams, goals, and challenges fade away. Even more so, we become blind to the world around us. This is what God is warning against through Amos; “Woe to the complacent!” Strong words from a loving God… But, these words are love!

When placed into the context of the rest of the readings, they become a challenge to live life fully alive. That’s why immediately after these words in the first reading we pray Psalm 146 and cry out, “Praise the Lord, my soul!” It’s a psalm of God’s unwavering faithfulness, even after we hear that God is exiling His people. The exile itself is a call back to God, to love (a love shown especially for those easiest to forget; the poor, the widow, the outcast).

We are called to move from complacency. In the second reading, Paul challenges Timothy, and he challenges us, “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness.” If we are seeking these things, we are not living in complacency. The parable we hear in the Gospel brings everything home. The rich man was never described as evil, or bad, but it is clear that he was complacent, ignoring Lazarus at his door. His life on Earth cost him an eternity apart from God, not because he was “bad” but because he couldn’t see the human dignity of Lazarus. ~ Life is more than our own, and a life lived fully is a life lived in the pursuit of righteousness, not complacent, but seeking God, seeking love, and manifesting that love to the world… especially thru the way we care for those in need.

 

Scripture Reference:

1st: Amos 6:1a, 4-7

Response: Psalm 146

2nd: 1 Timothy 6:11-16

Gospel: Luke 16:19-31

We are called to be holy. Saint John Paul II offers this beautiful reflection in the encyclical Ecclesia in America; “On the path of holiness, Jesus Christ is the point of reference and the model to be imitated: He is “the Holy One of God” and was recognized as such. It is He who teaches us that the heart of holiness is love, which leads even to giving our lives for others. Therefore, to imitate the holiness of God, as it was made manifest in Jesus Christ His Son, is nothing other than to extend in history His love, especially towards the poor, the sick and the needy.”

Stewardship, or giving of “time, talent & treasure,” as it is often spoken of in many churches, is a way to live that love, to manifest, to extend in history, Christ’s love to all. The “what” of stewardship is not important without the “who.” Who is our stewardship for? Our first reading today answers this clearly, Pope John Paul II echoed it in the quote above, and Pope Francis shares the answer every chance he gets… the poor. “Here this, you who trample on the needy and destroy the poor of the land! … The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!”(Amos 8:4&7)

At the end of the Gospel we are challenged to make a choice. We can’t serve God & money. Why? Because money is a gift, our talents are gifts, all that we have is a gift from God… to be given away to better the Body of Christ. Stewardship is about using the gifts we have to lift up all. Want to be holy? Use what you have been given in whatever way you can to imitate Christ and to imitate His love, a love He has especially for the poor. When we do this, we live holiness, our church lives holiness, and as Pope Francis hopes for, we can become a “poor church for the poor.”

-adam.

Scripture Reference:

1st: Amos 8:4-7

Response: Psalm 113

2nd: 1 Timothy 2:1-8

Gospel: Luke 16:1-13

“This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” ~ We find this line tucked into the middle of the second reading. This one sentence beautifully sums up the rest of what we hear in our readings this weekend. We are sinners. We all fall short. We make mistakes. We make bad decisions. We don’t always choose the right paths… and yet, Jesus still chose to come into the world!

Why? Jesus wants to save us, to restore us, to be in relationship with us. This is nothing new. In the first reading, we hear God speaking to Moses about His people, a people who He brought out from Egypt, and how they still turn away from Him. In this conversation, God sets aside His wrath, a wrath the people deserved, and keeps the relationship first. God calls His people, in love, back to Him. This wasn’t the first time God did this, and it won’t be the last (The whole Bible is not only full of stories like this, but it in and of itself is the story of God calling His people back to Him …Exodus is only the second book!).

Jesus continues to reveal this story to us in the Gospel. People are trying to use Jesus’ relationship with sinners as a character attack against him. As usual, Jesus takes the opportunity to reveal a different perspective. Why wouldn’t he be dining with sinners? Using the parables we hear, He teaches about a God that wants everyone to return to Him. God desires that no one remain lost. God’s desire to live in love with each one of us is so strong that He will seek us out, always calling us back to Him. However, this doesn’t mean we don’t have a part to play. We cannot remain complacent with sin. We must repent and return to our God who is waiting with open arms. His love for us is bigger than anything we think can or does divide us from Him. ~ Run to His love.

 

Scripture Reference:

1st: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14

Response: Psalm 51

2nd: 1 Timothy 1:12-17

Gospel: Luke 15:1-32

This weekend, we hear another challenging Gospel reading. We must hate our father and mother? Hate our own life? Our siblings? What!?  ~ National author and respected priest, Fr. James Martin S.J., writes about Scriptures like this in his book, “Between Heaven and Mirth,” and uses them as examples of Jesus’ humor and joy. Jesus uses the “extreme” as a teaching tool. We know that Jesus remained in relationship with His mother and as we know this, those hearing these words from Him would have recognized this too. They would have seen the comments as a kind of sarcasm, pointing to a deeper lesson.

Imagine ourselves hearing these words… Picture the joy and enthusiasm of a preacher sharing passionately a message from the heart. Just like great speakers and preachers we hear today, humor and joy are traits of engaging voices. Fr. Martin writes about how this is a common teaching tool of Jesus (Log & plank in the eye, etc…). It was an attention grabber to get to the heart of His message; nothing matters more than God.

Jesus continues to frame this message in “preparation.” Who would build a tower without giving it its due attention (or a new church)? To follow Christ, we need to give our discipleship due attention. What is its due attention? Nothing matters more than our relationship with God. Our possessions, family, friends, and even our own life must come after God. To prepare to follow God, we need to let go of any attachment to these things…and when all is said and done, yes, it may be challenging to be Jesus’ disciple, it may be hard to follow him, to be in relationship with Him, but we can.

Through Jesus, what we hear in the first reading can come to be. On our own we cannot conceive what the Lord intends or seek out the things of heaven, but with Jesus, and His Spirit, we can. It may not be an easy path, but it’s a path worth the bumps along the road. Seeking God matters more than anything else. As we hear the challenge, remember the promise: Even though this path is hard, and may cause pain and hurt, we remember what our Psalm today proclaims, “He will be our refuge.”

 

Scripture Reference:

1st: Wisdom 9:13-18b

Response: Psalm 90

2nd: Phmn 9-10, 12-17

Gospel: Luke 14:25-33

This weekend we are challenged with a call to humility. ~ Humility can often be a difficult concept to really understand and incorporate into our own lives. People often associate humility with some kind of self-pity, or degrading of, or down-playing of one’s self. This couldn’t be further from the truth!

If we frame the first reading and the Gospel with what we hear in the second reading, the picture of the humility we are called to becomes clearer. Humility is about right relationship. We recognize that we all fall short of God, and yet God invites us to touch Him, to enter His city, to be in relationship with Him.

We heard this last week as well… We don’t have all the answers, and we are not members of a private club, but rather, we are a community that includes everyone, loved equally by our maker, trying to be in right relationship with each other and with God. To understand this is to understand our place, and that is humility. We are no better than anyone else.

Wait? We are not unique or special? Yes—we are! We should rejoice in the gifts and talents we are given. We should rejoice in our successes, our accomplishments and even our status in life. But, as we rejoice, we remember that all of these things are not present for our own glorification, but for the glory of the one who gave them to us. ~ As we live our lives, using what we have to better our relationship with others and with God, we are living humility.

Scripture Reference:

1st: Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29

Response: Psalm 68

2nd: Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a

Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-14

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