Saturday, October 30, 2010

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Wis 11:22-12:2; 2 Thes 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10

Gerry went to confession and told the priest he’d taken bits of wood from work.

The priest said “How much?”

Gerry replied, “Not much, Father, just enough to make a garage at the back of the house.”

Now, Gerry you know that’s not right and for your penance I want you to make the Stations of the Cross.”

What size do you want them, Father, so as I get the right wood?”

(The story is from More Quotes and Anecdotes by Anthony P. Castle)

It is quite ironic that the name Zacchaeus in Hebrew means one who is just or clean. Before he met Jesus, the Zacchaeus that we know in the gospel had no moral integrity. He was a chief tax collector who enriched himself through anomalous means.

Zacchaeus belonged to the higher echelon of society. Yet, he was unhappy for he had chosen a life that made him an outcast, an enemy of his own people. During the time of Jesus, tax collectors were employed by the pagan Roman occupiers and, ordinarily, they made money through the large interests that they imposed on the working people. It was understandable that the Jews would look at tax collectors with disgust and anger.

The gospel tells us that Zacchaeus was seeking to see Jesus whom he heard would pass their place that day. Perhaps he was one of those people whose hearts were restless in search of something genuine and meaningful. He might have realized that wealth could not satisfy him or make him happy. Providentially, the Spirit was silently leading Zacchaeus to Jesus.

It was not easy for Zacchaeus to see Jesus. We are told that the crowd was blocking his sight because he was small in stature. Perhaps, this was the gospel’s way of expressing the awkwardness of Zacchaeus to join the crowd in welcoming Jesus given his bad public reputation. To solve his dilemma, Zacchaeus climbed up a tree which did not only make him see the Lord but also made Jesus find him.

The conversion of Zacchaeus was initiated by Jesus who invited him to come down from a high, embarrassing position. Commentators would interpret it as an invitation for Zacchaeus to leave his place of corrupted power and dishonest wealth. In a way, the Lord called him to come down to earth, to enter into contact with reality, with the people whose poverty he had taken advantage of.

Zacchaeus responded beautifully well: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” Notice how Zacchaeus suddenly recognized the poor and how he desired to make good reparations. Bible scholars tell us that Jewish Law ruled that if voluntary confession was made and voluntary restitution offered, only the value of the original goods stolen had to be paid, plus one-fifth (Lev 6:5). Zacchaeus manifested his sincerity by intending to give back more than what the law demanded.

A writer recalled how a rich young man failed to become a disciple of Jesus despite living a clean life. Zacchaeus led an immoral life but received salvation because he was willing to leave everything for Jesus, something that the young man refused to do.

The conversion-experience of Zacchaeus inspires us to do at least three things:

First is to find peace with our Creator. St. Augustine reminded us that we are made for God and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. Zacchaeus knew this by experience. He found real joy only when he received the Lord Jesus in his life. May we likewise find our way to meet Jesus who also is constantly seeking for us!

Second is to acknowledge humbly our faults and ask for mercy and forgiveness. Sometimes we like to blame others for our wrongdoings. Other times we minimize the gravity of our sins or justify them with trivial excuses. Let us emulate the example of Zacchaeus who confessed his crime, accepted responsibility and showed remorse in the presence of Jesus. Saint Augustine once said: “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.”

And third is to make sincere reparations for whatever injuries we have committed against others. Most of our sins have social implications. We offend others by taking advantage of their miserable situations, or by taking something that rightfully belongs to others, or by destroying another person’s name. We also harm others by living scandalously or by giving bad examples. If conditions would allow it, let us try to restore whatever damage we caused in other people’s lives.

Friday, October 22, 2010

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Sir 35:15-17, 20-22; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18:9-14

In order to give a lesson to the self-righteous, Jesus narrates the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

The Pharisee is a devout observer of the Law. He commits himself to a life of regular prayer, tithing and fasting. We might think that with these religious practices, the Pharisee would easily please God. Yet, according to the parable, the Lord criticizes the Pharisee because in his prayer he shows some kind of arrogance and self-righteousness. This is what the Pharisee says: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector.” Obviously, the Pharisee recognizes the moral frailties of others but not his own human weaknesses. He behaves like he is a perfect individual, incapable of sinning.

In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul reminds us that all have sinned, no one is exempted (3:22b-23a). Hence, God offers mercy to all of humanity through his Son Jesus Christ. The Pharisee is wrong when he separates himself from his fellow sinners. Because of this, he no longer feels the need to ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

The tax collector is regarded as someone with no moral integrity by virtue of his employment. By working for the pagan Roman occupiers, he and other publicans are considered traitors and sinners. Surprisingly, however, the Lord praises the tax collector for praying with all sincerity and humility. The parable says that he continues to beat his breast and prays: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” His humility to accept his unworthiness and sinfulness leads him to beg for God’s mercy. And for this, the tax collector goes home justified.

The story is told that one day Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, visited a prison and talked with each of the inmates. There were endless tales of innocence, of misunderstood motives, and of exploitation. Finally the king stopped at the cell of a convict who remained silent. “Well,” remarked Frederick, “I suppose you are an innocent victim too?” “No, sir, I’m not,” replied the man. “I’m guilty and deserve my punishment.” Turning to the warden, the king said, “Here, release this rascal before he corrupts all these fine innocent people here!”

(The story is from Throw Fire by John Fuellenbach)

What do we learn from today’s gospel?

First of all, we are taught that the virtue of humility is an important foundation of prayer. Like the tax collector in the parable, we need to approach God with a humble heart. Jesus says that “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The first reading affirms by saying that “the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal” (Sir 35:17).

Second, we are inspired to recognize our wounded nature and our sinfulness. Like the tax collector, let us entrust ourselves to the immeasurable mercy of God which is definitely greater than any sin we might have committed.

And finally, we are reminded not to look down on our fellow sinners who also need God’s mercy and forgiveness. Let us not follow the example of the Pharisee in the story whose arrogance goes to the extent of criticizing another worshipper at the temple. Instead, may we learn to support one another in our battle against all forces of evil and to pray for the salvation of all!

A voyaging ship was wrecked during a storm at sea and only two of the men on it were able to swim to a small, desert like island. Not knowing what else to do, the two survivors agree that they had no other recourse but to pray to God.

However, to find out whose prayer was more powerful, they agreed to divide the territory between them and stay on opposite sides of the island.

The first thing they prayed for was food. The next morning, the first man saw a fruit-bearing tree on his side of the land, and he was able to eat its fruit. The other man’s parcel of land remained barren.

After a week, the first man was lonely and he decided to pray for a wife. The next day, there was a woman who swam to his side of the land. On the other side of the island, there was nothing.

Soon the first man prayed for a house, clothes, more food. The next day, like magic, all of these were given to him. However, the second man still had nothing.

Finally, the first man prayed for a ship, so that he and his wife could leave the island. In the morning, he found a ship docked at his side of the island. The first man boarded the ship with his wife and decided to leave the second man on the island. He considered the other man unworthy to receive God's blessings, since none of his prayers had been answered.

As the ship was about to leave, the first man heard a voice from heaven booming, “Why are you leaving your companion on the island?”

My blessings are mine alone, since I was the one who prayed for them," the first man answered. "His prayers were all unanswered and so he does not deserve anything.”

You are mistaken!” the voice rebuked him. “He had only one prayer, which I answered. If not for that, you would not have received any of my blessings.”

Tell me,” the first man asked the voice, “what did he pray for that I should owe him anything?”

He prayed that all your prayers be answered.”

(The story is from an unknown author)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Ex 17:8-13; Tim 3:14-4:2; Lk 18:1-8

Jesus knows that sometimes people get tired of praying for something over and over again without any apparent results. And so, by way of a parable, he challenges his followers to persevere in prayer and not to lose heart.

This Sunday’s parable is about a callous judge and a poor widow who is seeking for justice. The judge is the epitome of power, but he has no sense of personal responsibility to God and people. The widow represents the depth of powerlessness and helplessness. The truth may be on the widow’s side, but she has no resources to fight her case. Ironically, her only chance of getting justice is to ask help from this ruthless, indifferent judge. For some time the judge ignores the widow’s request. But she is so persistent and continues to seek the help of the judge. In the end, the judge decides to give in to the widow’s appeal thinking that this is the only way to stop her from disturbing him again.

To drive home the main point of the parable, Jesus says: “If that cruel judge finally gave in to the appeal of the widow because of her sheer determination, how much more will the heavenly Father readily answer the incessant prayers of his children?”

There are two things that we need to clarify here. First, let us remember that God is not like the unjust judge. We don’t need to beg him to death in order get the things we ask for. Rather, God is like a loving Father who never gets tired of the never-ending requests of his children. And second, let us not forget that we are not exactly like the widow in the parable who counts for nothing in the eyes of the judge. In contrast, we are God’s children and we remain precious in his eyes.

And yet, after all that is being said above, the troubling question remain: Why do we need to implore and wait at all when we pray? In his book entitled His Word Resounds, Fr. Albert Cylwicki gives us three possible explanations.

First, God may choose to delay in answering our prayers so as to purify our intentions. What are we asking for in our prayers? Are they things essential to life? Or are they things that we merely desire? What we pray for may be a beautiful thing but it might only make us more selfish and proud.

Second, the Heavenly Father may decide to postpone the answer to our request in order to intensify our desire. Where there is little desire on our part, we hardly succeed in our endeavors. But where there is intense aspiration, we often reach the heights of excellence.

And finally, God may take time in responding to our prayers to make us appreciate his gifts more. Isn’t it true that God’s gifts are valued more when we have to wait for them?

There are many things that we cannot fully understand. God’s ways are not our ways; he sees not as we see. We, however, trust that being a loving Father, God will only think and do what is best for each one of us.

An unknown author writes a beautiful poem about prayer:

Just close your eyes and open your heart,

And feel your worries and cares depart.

Just yield yourself to the Father above,

And let Him hold you secure in His love.

For life on earth grows more involved,

With endless problems that can’t be solved.

But God only asks us to do our best,

Then He will take over and finish the rest.

So when you are tired, discouraged and blue,

There is always, one door open to you,

And that is door to the House of Prayer,

And you’ll find God waiting to meet you there.

And the House of Prayer is no further away,

Than the quiet spot where you kneel and pray,

For the heart is a temple when God is there,

As we place ourselves in His loving care.

And he hears every prayer and answers each one,

When we pray in His name they will be done.

The burdens that seemed to heavy to bear,

Are lifted away on wings of prayer.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4; 2 Tim 1:6-8, 13-14; Lk 17:5-10

An elderly woman lived in one half of a duplex apartment. She was extremely poor, but a good woman. She prayed a great deal. In the other half of the duplex lived the owner, a man of no faith, no prayer, no religion. He often made fun of the old lady’s trust in God. One day this woman was praying, quite loudly, telling the Lord that she had no food in the house. The godless one heard her and decided: “I’m going to play a trick on the old gal.” He took a loaf of bread, laid it at her front door, rang the bell, and then hurriedly back to his apartment, to hear through the wall her cry of delight: “Thank you, Lord, I just knew You wouldn’t fail me.” With a devilish grin the man came back to her front door and told her: “You silly old woman. You think God answered your prayer. Well, I’m the one who brought that loaf of bread.” Undaunted, the old woman exclaimed: “Praise the Lord! He always helps me in my needs, even if He has to use the devil to answer my prayers.”

(The story is by Gerald Fuller, OMI)

The readings for this Sunday teach us lessons about faith and trust in God.

In the first reading, the prophet Habakkuk complains to God: “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen!” The prophet is asking whether or not God cares for his people. There is war and violence, misery and death all around their place. The powerful Babylonians are now about to demolish the people of Israel. How can God allow things like these to happen?

Habakkuk is trying to question the loving presence of God, perhaps like many of us when we are confronted with great problems and so much pain. Remarkably, God appears not to be displeased with Habakkuk since he answers him in gentle and reassuring words. It sounds as if he is telling the prophet: “Be patient because I have a plan. I will intervene when it’s time. What I ask of you now is faith, and if you have it you will live.”

What kind of faith does God ask of Habakkuk? The prophet believes in God’s existence; in fact, he is already imploring for divine intervention. Yet, God wants Habakkuk to develop a kind of faith that is trustful and steadfast. In the face of trials and difficulties, God would like Habakkuk to keep believing that God will not abandon his people and that he will save them in his own time.

In the gospel, the apostles ask Jesus: “Increase our faith.” The apostles themselves realize their need for a more solid kind of believing in order to persevere in following the Lord. Real faith is necessary considering the fact that it is not easy to understand the radical teachings Jesus (e.g., leaving home and families, daily carrying of the cross, forgiving one another and loving one’s enemies). It is even more difficult to follow the Lord’s way of life (e.g. living simply, serving the poor, teaching the ignorant, touching lepers, exorcising demons and challenging authorities).

The Lord says in reply: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea.’ And it would obey you.” Jesus compares faith with a tiny mustard seed, whose power does not depend on its size but on its great potential hidden within itself. Faith, even when it is little, has the capacity to do unbelievable things in the life of individuals and communities.

The use of the image of a small mustard seed also suggests that the quality of the faith is more important than its quantity. We might think that the more we know theology, the more prayers we recite, or the more religious organizations we join, the stronger our faith becomes. Such is not necessarily true.

In the gospel of John, the Lord says: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do . . .” (Jn 14:10-12). Somehow, these words will help us understand the kind of faith that we need to develop in our lives. Faith is our unqualified acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of humankind. Our faith is genuine if we believe in the person of Jesus, his salvific words and actions, and if we trust in his absolute power over darkness and sin. The believer would manifest meaningfully this faith by participating in the saving works of Jesus.

In the Mass, let us also ask God to increase our faith. And as we try to face with courage our own problems in life, let us not forget that our difficulties can never equal the sacrifice of Jesus which he offered for our sake.

A young married man thought he knew the meaning of faithfulness and love, until his attractive and affectionate wife was seriously injured in an automobile accident. Instead of coming home after work to a well-prepared dinner and the responsive love of a vibrant woman, he found that he had to be housekeeper and nurse during the long weeks of her convalescence. He slowly went from generous service to impatience, almost exasperation. He resented the heavy burden that had been placed upon him, as he forgot that he had married for better or for worse, in sickness as well as in health.

During one of his darkest moments, his father pointed out that his wife, weak and frustrated on a bed of pain, had not uttered a single word of complaint. His father added these simple words: “Your wife is a very strong woman. If your roles were reversed, don’t you believe that she would not hesitate to do anything for you?” Later that night, the husband stood over his sleeping wife with tears in his eyes and prayed for forgiveness. He resolved that he would be faithful to her, no matter what.

(The story is from The Word Made Flesh by Charles E. Miller)