The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle “A”

As I read the readings and the Gospel for this Sunday in preparation for the homily these themes brought back memories of an incident which took place in my life many years before.

I have a childhood friend back in Prince Albert, in Saskatchewan. I’ll call him Jack, that’s not his real name but just in case word gets back to him I don’t want to lose him for a friend. Today, Jack is quite well off. He has a couple of businesses. He has a few houses, a big boat and several cars. Each winter he and his wife Agnes go to Arizona for the winter. But, when we were kids back in PA growing up he was always a little bit of a worry to his mother.

We were both Catholic. We went to St. Paul’s Separate School. We were taught by the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary. Jack was never a very religious person. Anything to do with church and he would disappear. He would always try to skip Sunday Mass. Telling his mother that he had gone when in fact he had not. He was like that throughout his teen years also.

Several years ago, well actually about 45 years ago, when I was in my twenties, I went back to Prince Albert for a visit and I ended up at his house. His mother was there also.

I remember that after a nice supper we sat out on the back deck and his mother soon joined us. We began to reminisce about our childhood attending St. Paul Separate School and the trouble we used to get into there. And I just casually mentioned “Yeah, and you used to always pretend that you had gone to Mass when in fact you hadn’t.”

That did it. His mother started in on him just like she used to. He was only 26 years old and was already married twice. The first one was to a Catholic girl and they got married in the Catholic church and the second one was after he divorced the first one and got married again somewhere on the beach in the Dominican Republic. He hadn’t bothered to get a decree of nullity and so was now living in adultery. His Mother reminded him again that if he didn’t repent that he most probably was on his way to hell. And it bothered her a lot that Jack didn’t seem to care about heaven, hell or even God for that matter.

He responded by telling her that he didn’t believe in hell or in the Catholic church or in any of it’s teachings either. That was the wrong thing to say to his mom because then she began to tell both of us her version of one of Jesus’ parables about hell. You probably remember it. This is Jesus’ parable about the rich man and the poor man. Only Mom told it in her own words.

Both men had died. The rich man who had lived a sinful life ended up in hell while the poor man whose name was Lazarus ended up in heaven. The rich man was pleading that Lazarus be allowed to dip his hands in cool water and cross over to hell so that the rich man might quench his thirst since he was in agony being burnt with all the flames.

But Abraham, who apparently was in charge said, “No way. There is a huge valley between us and no one from heaven can go over there and no one from hell can come here.” Then said the rich man “If that’s the case, then can you please send Lazarus over to my Father’s house because I have 5 brothers and I don’t want them to end up in hell like me.” “No way” says Abraham. “They have the church and the Scriptures. Let them listen to and learn from them”.

“No”, said the rich man. “I never listened to the church and neither will they. If you send Lazarus from the dead to tell them about hell surely they will repent.” “No way” says Abraham “If they will not listen to the Church then neither will they be convinced and repent even if a dead man appears before them.”

Today, I know she was paraphrasing but back then I thought it was Gospel. For the exact words you need to read the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 16, verses 19-31. She ended her lecture with the words “You are on your way to hell, son. You need to come to the truth Jack and repent”. Her appeal to her son seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as Jack went on to divorce and marry again. However her words had a profound and lasting effect on me. It seems I was the victim (for lack of a better word) of collateral fire. Mom’s lecture was meant for Jack but I have never forgotten it.

What has that got to do with today’s readings?

Today being the 3rd Sunday in ordinary time the Gospel tells us that it is also the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. And what was the first word out of Jesus’ mouth as He began His ministry? Let me refresh our memory. “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent”. The first word out of Jesus mouth when He began His public ministry was “Repent”

What did Jesus mean “Repent”? To repent means to turn away from sin.

In order to repent we are told that we must first identify our sins, acknowledge our sins, confess our sins and then turn away from our sin. To do this correctly obviously we must be in possession of the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. In other words like Jack’s Mom said we need to be in possession of the truth.

What Jesus taught His disciples is the truth.

What His disciples taught their successors is the truth

What Jesus taught His church is the truth.

Therefore, what Jesus’ teaches us through His Church is the truth.

It follows then that if we are in the possession of the truths of the Catholic Faith then we are in possession of the truth. Jesus tells us that His Father in Heaven wants all people to come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved.

And here, just like my friend Jack, we have a choice.

We can accept Jesus’ teachings as presented to us by the church or we can reject it – that is our free choice. God gave us free will and He loves us so much that He will not interfere with our choices right or wrong, truth or error. It’s our choice. For example, the bible and the church teach us that there is a heaven. Do we believe this? Heaven is the place about which eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as entered the mind of man, the wonderful things that God has prepared for those who love Him. Our souls need to be absolutely spotless when we die in order for us to enter heaven.

The Bible and the Church also teach that there is such a thing as sin. The bible says that not all sin is mortal, that is, not all sin is deadly. Therefore there are sins which are deadly and there as sins which are not deadly.

We call these sins venial and mortal sins. Venial because they are not sufficiently grave enough to separate us completely from God. Others are called mortal because they are deadly – they separate us completely from God.

The Bible and the Church teach that there is a place called Hell. Do we believe this? Hell is the place that is reserved for the devil and his angels. It is the place of awful and terrible punishment where those who die unrepentant with mortal sins on their souls choose to spend all eternity with the devil and his angels separated from God.

Did you know that Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did about Heaven? No wonder He started His ministry with the word “Repent” – He is warning His dear children. Jesus doesn’t want us to choose Hell. The Bible and the Church teach that there is a place called Purgatory. Do we believe this?

Purgatory is the place where those who die with venial sins on their souls, or those who die without having made full reparation for their sins are purged of these sins and the attachment to sin before they can enter heaven. They are assured of their salvation but they must be purified first before entering heaven. The bible tells us that nothing impure can enter heaven. That is why we pray for those who have died, in case they are in need of our prayers – If they are in heaven they have no need of our prayers. If they are in Hell our prayers cannot help them. If they are in purgatory – our prayers on their behalf can help them.

All of these truths are called Dogmas. This means that they are divinely revealed truths which the church presents to us to be believed. Catholics are required to believe all Dogmas since they are divinely revealed truths.

Jesus instituted the sacrament of Reconciliation, confession. He did this for a reason. This was the way that Jesus chose to forgive sins after He had left us and ascended into heaven. If, like my friend Jack, we say that we have no need for confession to a priest and that we will confess our sins directly to God – that is not the way Jesus set it up – but that’s our choice. We have free will. If God says that we need the sacrament of Reconciliation and we say we don’t – that’s our choice.

Jesus instituted that Sacrament of Marriage.

If, like my friend Jack, we say that as that Catholics we don’t need a sacramental marriage – we can marry, and divorce and then marry again. And still come up and receive Holy Communion – If we believe that - then that’s our choice. That’s not the teaching of Jesus or the church and to do so means that we are committing a worse sin - a sin of Sacrilege - but that’s our choice. Jesus gave us His Body and His Blood, His soul and His divinity when He instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion.

He said “This is My Body, this is My Blood and He meant it literally. If we say that it is rather just a symbol of His Body and Blood – that is not what Jesus taught and that is not what the Church says. The Bible in John chapter 6 teaches clearly that it is the Body and Blood of Christ. But, if we choose not to believe then just like my friend Jack, that’s our choice. God loves us and will not interfere in our choice.

In fact, God loves us so much that He will not interfere in our choices even if our choice puts us in Hell for all eternity over Eternal Life with Him in heaven. If we have closed our mind to hearing the truth then what the Holy Father says, what the Bishop says, what Father says will not have much effect on us because we have already made up our minds.

My friend Jack is quite comfortable with his beliefs or non-belief - just as it is.

What he chooses to believe may not be the truth but he seems ready to accept the consequences. Jack knows the teaching of the Catholic Church but he continues to reject it – for now. He says when he gets on in years he may change his mind. But right now he’s not ready to do so.

My dear friends, the only way for us to know the truth is to ask God for the grace to know the truth when we see it. The only way to the truth is not through our own knowledge or ideas but rather through Jesus Christ. We can’t save ourselves.

Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Him. Jesus has provided a way for us to come to the knowledge of the truth. That is why He gave us a church. So that we might be guided to the truth. We need to turn on the light of Christ in our lives. We need to examine our lives and see where we need that light to shine. Where in our lives might we have rejected the truth?

When I was a kid, my mom and dad invited Father to come and bless our house. For the whole week before we kids had to help clean the house. Everything that did not belong in the living room was carted downstairs. Everything that did not belong in the dining room went downstairs into the basement. Likewise with the kitchen and the bedrooms. Everything that didn’t belong or was in the road went downstairs. On Saturday, Father came and blessed the house. He blessed the living room and dining room. The walls the ceilings, the windows, that bathroom, the kitchen and the bedrooms. He blessed the whole of the upstairs including the cat on the couch. (who didn’t like the Holy water very much).

Then Father started to leave. He put on his hat and coat and as he reached for the door he noticed the basement door and so he grabbed his holy water and headed for the basement. But, he was too slow because Mom headed him off at the door and said “That’s OK Father, the house is all blessed. Thank you very much.” Dad then gave Father a stipend and off he went.

Dad had a puzzled look as he wondered why Mom didn’t want the basement blessed and so he headed for the basement. He turned that light on and there it was - “Poof”, all the junk from upstairs was piled at the bottom of the basement steps. No wonder she didn’t want Father to see that mess. Sometimes our lives are like that. Everything seems bright and rosy as long as we don’t turn on that light in our basement.

We need to turn on the light of Christ in our lives. We need to accept his invitation to repent. Repentance gives us a chance to clean that basement. Repentance gives us a chance to identify our sins, acknowledge them and confess them. Then the light of Christ washes away all our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

We should not be divided in our beliefs. We need to accept the teachings of the Church. If we are Catholic then we should all be of one mind, one belief. If we are not, then we should ask Christ to show us the way to the truth.

St. Paul tells us: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

He goes on to warn us: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (that is those who are on their way to hell) but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.

God Bless you.

Deacon Bernie Ouellette

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