Archive for the ‘*Faith / Church’ Category

If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

On the Fear of Death

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

This is the second in a series of articles on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.

For the faithful, the day we die is the greatest day of our life on this earth. Even if some final purifications await us, the beatific vision for which we long lies just ahead; our exile in this valley of tears is ended.

Is calling the day we die the greatest day of our life too strong a statement? I have seen some fellow Christians wince at this statement. In this age of emphasis on worldly comforts, medicine, and the secular, we rarely speak of Heaven—or Hell for that matter. I wonder if we have lost some of our longing for Heaven and cling too strongly to the trinkets of this life.

At the funeral of a relative several years ago, I was approached by a friend of the family. She was an unbeliever, a self-described secular humanist, and she made the following comment to me: “Perhaps there is Heaven for the faithful who believe that there is life after death, and perhaps, then, for them the day they die is the greatest day of their life, but I do not observe that Christians live as if they believe this. It seems to me that they are as anxious as anyone else about dying and earnestly seek to avoid death just as much as anyone else.”

It was a very interesting observation, one that I found mildly embarrassing even though I quickly thought of some legitimate explanations. Even after giving her some of those explanations, some of the embarrassment lingered as to the kind of witness we Christians sometimes fail to give to our most fundamental values. Based on her remark—and I’ve heard it before—most of us Christians don’t manifest a very ardent longing for Heaven.

There are, of course, some legitimate reasons that we do not rush towards death; there are also some less legitimate ones. Here are some legitimate and understandable reasons that we may draw back from dying and may not at first think of the day we die as the greatest day of our life:

  1. There is a natural fear of dying that is part of our physical makeup and, it would seem, hard-wired into our psyche as well. Every sentient being on this planet, man or animal, has a strong instinct for survival. Without this instinct, strongly tied to both hunger and sexual desire, we might not only die as individuals but as a species. It also drives us to look to the future, as we work to ensure the survival, even thriving, of our children and those who will come after us. It is a basic human instinct that we ought not to expect to disappear, because it has necessary and useful aspects.
  2. We would like to finish certain important things before we die. It makes sense, for example, that parents would like to see their children well into adulthood. Parents rightly see their existence in this world as critical to their children. Hence, we cling to our life here not just for our own sake, but because others depend upon us.
  3. The Christian is called to love life at every stage. Most of us realize that we are called to love and appreciate what we have here, for it is the gift of God. To so utterly despise this world that we wish only to leave it manifests a strange sort of ingratitude. It also shows a lack of understanding that life here prepares us for the fuller life that is to come. I remember that at a low point in my own life, afflicted with anxiety and depression, I asked the Lord to please end my life quickly and take me home out of this misery. Without hearing words, I felt the Lord’s silent rebuke: “Until you learn to love the life you have now, you will not love eternal life. If you can’t learn to appreciate the glory of the gifts of this life, then you will not and cannot embrace the fullness of eternal life.” Indeed, I was seeing eternal life merely in terms of relief or escape from this life, rather than as the full blossoming of a life that has been healed and made whole. We don’t embrace life by trying to escape from it. A healthy Christian attitude is to love life as we have it now, even as we yearn and strive for a life that we do not yet fully comprehend: a life that eye has not seen nor ear heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him.
  4. We seek to set our life in order to some degree before we face judgment. While it is true that we can procrastinate, there is a proper sense of wanting time to make amends and to prepare to meet God.
  5. We fear the experience of dying. Dying is something none of us has ever done before and we naturally tend to fear the unknown. Further, most of us realize that the dying process likely involves some degree of agony. Instinctively and understandably, we draw back from such things.

Even Jesus, in His human nature, recoiled at the thought of the agony before Him—so much so that He sweat blood and asked that the cup of suffering be taken from Him if possible. Manfully, though, He embraced His Father’s will, and our benefit rather than His own. Still, in His humanity, He did recoil at the suffering soon to befall Him.

Despite this hesitancy to meet death, for a faithful Christian the day we die is the greatest day of our life. While we ought to regard the day of our judgment with sober reverence, we should go with joyful hope to the Lord, who loves us and for whom we have longed. That day of judgment, awesome though it is, will for the future saint disclose only that which needs final healing in purgation, not that which merits damnation.

We don’t hear much longing for our last day on this earth or for God and Heaven. Instead, we hear fretting about how we’re getting older. We’re anxious about our health, even the natural effects of aging. And there are such grim looks as death approaches! Where is the joy one might expect? Does our faith really make a difference for us or are we like those who have no hope? Older prayers referred to life in this world as an exile and expressed a longing for God and Heaven, but few of today’s prayers or sermons speak this way.

Here are some of the not-so-legitimate reasons that we may draw back from dying:

  1. We live comfortably. While comfort is not the same as happiness, it is very appealing. It is also very deceiving, seductive, and addictive. It is deceiving because it tends to make us think that this world can be our paradise. It is seductive because it draws and shifts us our focus away from the God of comforts to the comforts of God. We would rather have the gift than the Giver. It is addictive because we can’t ever seem to get enough of it; we seem to spend our whole life working toward gaining more and more comforts. We become preoccupied by achieving rather than working toward our truest happiness, which is to be with God in Heaven.
  2. Comfort leads to worldliness. Here, worldliness means focusing on making the world more comfortable, while allowing notions of God and Heaven to recede into the background. Even the so-called spiritual life of many Christians is almost wholly devoted to prayers asking to make this world a better place: Improve my health; fix my finances; grant me that promotion. While it is not wrong to pray about such things, the cumulative effect, combined with our silence on more spiritual and eternal things, gives the impression that we are saying to God, “Make this world a better place and I’ll just be happy to stay here forever.” What a total loss! This world is not the point. It is not the goal, Heaven is. Being with God forever is the goal.
  3. Worldliness makes Heaven and being with God seem more abstract and less desirable. With this magnificent comfort that leads to worldly preoccupation, longing for Heaven and going to be with God recedes into the background. Today, few speak of Heaven or even long for it. They’d rather have that new cell phone or the cable upgrade with the sports package. Some say that they never hear about Hell in sermons, and in many parishes (though not in mine, thank you), regrettably, that is the case. They almost never hear about Heaven, either (except in some cheesy funeral moments that miss the target altogether and make Heaven seem trivial rather than a glorious gift to be sought). Heaven just isn’t on most people’s radar, except as a vague abstraction for some far off time—certainly not now.

This perfect storm of comfort and worldliness leads to slothful aversion to heavenly gifts. That may be why, when I say that the day we die is the greatest day of our life, or that I’m glad to be getting older because I’m getting closer to the time when I can go home to God, or that I can’t wait to meet Him, people look at me strangely and seem to wonder whether I need therapy.

No, I don’t need therapy—at least not for this. I’m simply verbalizing the ultimate longing of every human heart. Addiction to comfort has deceived and seduced us such that we are no longer in touch with our heart’s greatest longing; we cling to passing things. I would argue (as did my family friend) that we seem little different from those who have no hope. We no longer witness to a joyful journey to God that says, “I’m closer to home. Soon and very soon I am going to see the King. Soon I will be done with the troubles of this world. I’m going home to be with God!”

There are legitimate, understandable reasons for being averse to dying, but how about even a glimmer of excitement from the faithful as we see that our journey is coming to an end? St. Paul wrote the following to the Thessalonians regarding death: We do not want you to be like those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). Do we witness to the glory of going to be with God or not? On the whole, it would seem that we do not.

The video below features a rendition of the hymn “For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest.” Here is a brief passage from the lyrics:

The golden evening brightens in the West,
Soon, soon, to faithful warriors cometh rest.
Sweet is the calm of Paradise most blest. Alleluia!

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If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many
of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied
below with his kind permission.

Close Your Umbrellas! A Mediation on a Saying at Fatima.

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

On at least two different occasions, Sr. Lucia gave the following instruction to the crowd at Fatima: “Close your umbrellas. Our Lady is coming!” In the pictures of the throngs gathered on the 13th of each month in Fatima, one can often see umbrellas. They were sometimes used to shield people from the rain, but even more often to provide shade from the strong sunlight.

“Close your umbrellas” isn’t exactly one of the more famous aspects of the message of Fatima. However, the instruction has something important to say to us, especially in these days of ease when we seem so inconvenienced by the slightest hint of sacrifice or even minor discomfort.

An umbrella is used to ward off the heat of a hot day or the soaking of the rain. The call to close our umbrella is a call to accept the sacrifices that are often necessary to purify us so that we can receive greater blessings. How many of us who are concerned with the condition of our culture and our world are willing to make sacrifices for the conversion of souls? We want things to get better, but are we willing to do things such as fast or pray the rosary daily? For us who are called to be prophets in this unbelieving time, are we willing to close our umbrella and endure the heat of scorn from those who resist our witness? Are we willing to endure the discomfort of annoyance, ridicule, indignation, or scoffing indifference raining down on us? Closing our umbrella involves accepting the sacrifices necessary to preach the Gospel.

To lower our umbrella is also a sign of humility, for in lowering it we lower ourselves; we experience our frailty, unprotected from the elements. Humility is the key to unlocking greater blessings, for if we do not lower the umbrella of our pride and close the umbrella of illusory self-sufficiency we will miss the miracle and glory of greater blessings.

Consider a mere physical fact: October 13, 1917 was a dreary, rainy day. Photos of the nearly 70,000 who gathered in Cova da Iria at Fatima show an abundance of umbrellas, testifying to the poor weather. At the critical moment, just before the miracle of the sun, when the rosary beads were finished, Lucia said, “Close your umbrellas. Our Lady is coming!” The miracle of the Sun was about to happen, but in order to see it, the people had to come out from under their umbrellas. They had to submit themselves to the rain and take up the momentary sacrifice, in order to dispose themselves to see the miracle.

Now humbly uncovered and having made the sacrifice they could see what the Lord would show. Here is an account of that day:

As if like a bolt from the blue, the clouds were wrenched apart, and the sun at its zenith appeared in all its splendor. It began to revolve like the most magnificent fire wheel that could be imagined, taking on all the colors of the rainbow and sending forth multicolored flashes of light, producing the most astounding effect. This was repeated three distinct times, lasted for about ten minutes. The immense multitude, overcome by the evidence of such a tremendous prodigy, threw themselves on their knees. … The sun, whirling, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible. … Then the light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands … people wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited.

Thus we see that the people had to close their umbrella in order to see the miracle of the sun. This is a kind of paradigm for the whole spiritual life. If we are to see glory and experience graces it is often necessary to accept sacrifices and hardships and to humble ourselves by setting aside our self-designed protections. As long as we insist on hunkering down within our own enclosed world, we are turned inward and downward. Self-reliance too easily replaces faith and trust. We cling to our comforts rather than to the cross, which is our true ladder to glory and the key to Heaven’s gate.

What does it mean for you to close your umbrella? You will have to discern, with God, and see what it means. Perhaps it means discovering what things you are unreasonably relying on. Perhaps it means accepting some discomfort for the salvation of souls. Perhaps it means taking up a sacrificial practice such as voluntary abstinence, fasting, or additional prayers. Perhaps it is accepting a cross you already endure, but with less grumbling and complaining. Perhaps it means being willing to endure heat of other’s anger beating down upon you or the scorn of others raining down upon you as you speak up for what is true.

As an additional hint to help you discern, recall that Our Lady asked for the daily rosary. On May 13, 1917, Our Lady asked the three children, “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?”

In the end, we close our umbrella not only for our own sake, but also for the conversion of sinners. Find out what it means to close your umbrella.

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If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

St. Paul Was Not Ashamed of the Gospel — Are We?

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

St. Paul writes this in today’s reading from the Letter to the Romans: “I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).

“Gospel” here refers to the whole of the New Testament rather than merely the four Gospels. The gospel is the apostolic exhortation, the proclamation of the apostles of what Jesus taught and said and did for our salvation. This proclamation was recorded and collected in the letters of the apostles Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude, and in what later came to be called the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The gospel is the transformative word of the Lord proclaimed by the apostles in obedience to the command of the Lord,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt 28:19-20).

Of these apostles (“sent ones”) Jesus says this:

Very truly I tell you, whoever receives the one I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me (Jn 13:20).

So the gospel is the authoritative and transformative proclamation of the Lord’s word through the apostles in totality. Of this full and received message St. Paul says he is not ashamed, though he has suffered for preaching it; others have suffered and even been killed for it!

Can we say the same? Are we unashamed of the gospel? Sadly, too many people are to some extent ashamed of the gospel. Even among practicing Catholics and clergy, there are too many who promote a compromised, watered-down message rather than boldly, joyfully, and confidently proclaiming the full gospel.

  • Many are ashamed of the gospel’s moral vision, especially those parts that challenge the rebellion of our times against marriage, the family, the proper purpose of sexuality, and the sanctity of human life. If a priest or lay person brings up such topics, too many Catholics cringe, embarrassed that a controversial subject has been mentioned. Some worry that someone might be angered, challenged, or “hurt.” The embarrassment and nervousness are often visible by the looks on their faces or their seeming need to change the subject, speak in euphemisms, or talk in generalities and abstractions. It seems that they want to avoid a clear discussion of the truth in such matters at all costs.
  • Many are ashamed of the strong demands of the cross. Jesus wanted us to be under no illusions. Strong medicine is required for what ails us. The cross and the need for self-denial and sacrifice are at the center of the gospel, but many are ashamed when the concept of the cross goes from being an abstraction to something more specific. Thus when the world protests with rhetorical questions we are embarrassed and too often compromise or grow silent. For example, when someone indignantly asks, “Are you saying that a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape must carry the child to birth?” Instead of responding, “Yes, and we must help her to decide whether to raise the child or place the child up for adoption,” we often compromise, saying that maybe abortion is all right in cases of rape or incest—but it isn’t. The child is innocent; he or she does not deserve to be killed. We are easily ashamed of the cross in other cases, too, such as in the abortion of possibly “defective” babies or euthanasia/assisted-suicide for the suffering. We shy away from standing firm when it comes to embracing of any kind of suffering, inconvenience, or cross. It’s harder to get married and stay married than it is to divorce; it’s harder to resist sin than give way to temptation; it’s harder to delay satisfaction than to indulge right away. In these ways the cross is no abstraction; it is quite real. When it gets real, though, many of us are ashamed of the gospel and what it proclaims.
  • Many are ashamed of the proclamation that Christ as the exclusive and only savior. In our “pluralistic” world, which “diversity” is an absolutized virtue, the thought that Jesus is the sole savior of mankind is an embarrassment to many Catholics. Scripture says of Jesus, He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved (Acts 4:11-12). Jesus himself says, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (Jn 14:6). When the world says that there are many ways to God, that people have a right to worship the “god of their own understanding,” and that all ways are valid and good and true, too many Catholics are ashamed of our teaching that Jesus is the unique and only savior of mankind. If there are Muslims, Buddhists, or Zoroastrians in Heaven it is only because of the mercy and grace of Jesus. Talk like this engenders shame in many Catholics, who cringe and want to parrot the world’s view that Christianity has no preeminence or saving value above any other view.
  • Many are ashamed of what Jesus teaches on judgment and Hell. There are many passages in which Jesus and the apostles warn of Hell, judgment, and eternal exclusion from the Kingdom of God. Many shamefully dismiss Jesus’ parables and teachings about Hell and judgement as excess or hyperbole; strangely, they assert that when Jesus said that many would be lost and few would be saved that he meant precisely the opposite. They think that God will never say, “Depart from me you evildoers. Depart from me; I never knew you” Many are embarrassed by such teachings and simply dismiss them as implausible. They have shamefully reinvented God as a “sweetie pie” rather than the all holy God to whom we must be conformed if we ever hope to be able to endure His presence. Too many are embarrassed by the gospel and these teachings, most of which comes right from the mouth of Jesus.
  • Many are ashamed of simple biblical terms such as sin (especially mortal sin), evil, repentance, conversion, judgment, Hell, and phrases such as “woe to you,” “vengeance is mine,” and “fornicators will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Many dismiss such common biblical phrases as “unwelcoming,” “unkind,” and “un-Christlike.” Never mind that many of these biblical phrases were commonly on the very lips of Jesus. Too many are ashamed of the real Christ and prefer a refashioned, softened one.

St. Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel. What about us? Are we confident and uncompromising in proclaiming the gospel or are we ashamed and fearful? Do we compromise the gospel in order to avoid the scorn of an unbelieving, sin-sick world? Do we stand up without shame and proclaim the truth with love and confidence?

Are we ashamed of the gospel or are we joyful and confident?

This song says, “You should be a witness! Stand up and be a witness for the Lord!”

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Below are excerpts from a reflection by Fr. Daniel Doctor (source).

The Roman Catholic Church, that is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is the Bride of Jesus Christ.  This Church was established by Christ Himself to be the sole means of salvation for all of humanity. As Catholics, we know of no other way to salvation except through the sacramental system established by Christ and given to His Apostles.

Why is the Catholic Church in Near Chaos and Confusion?

the Church is in a state of near chaos and confusion over what She teaches and what She does not teach.  The overriding reason for this is because bishops, the clergy, teachers and parents, have completely failed in their duties to transmit the Faith to each of the successive past four generations.  And there are huge consequences for this failure.

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The vast majority of Catholics simply do not accept, believe, or practice the Faith anymore.  The results of this can be clearly measured in the lack of priestly ordinations, the increasing number of priests leaving active ministry, the number of priests who have been exiled, punished, and persecuted for speaking the Truths of the Catholic Faith, the closing of parishes, schools, hospitals, and other Catholic institutions, forced collaboratives, the clustering of parishes, and the constant moving of priests.  This is also seen in the burnout among the clergy because of the increased workload and the lack of any true support system from their Bishops or the people of God.  But all of this that is occurring in the church today, is giving to those of us who pay attention a much more truthful picture of reality of the Catholic Church in America.

…  all of us, most especially parents and priests, must become more pro-active, more aggressive in learning the true Catholic Faith and holding firm to it.  And then teaching this authentic faith to the next generation as well as to the current generation that has lost their faith.

I am here to tell you, and you can believe me or not, but there is a real active evil person, working every day to destroy us and our children. The same is true for so many young adults who are unprepared to counter or even believe in the diabolical, the true evil of this world, which has intensified greatly over these past few years.  This evil has gone unchecked by Faithful Catholics as well as the Church’s hierarchy.

We must, like the Saints, who have gone before us, learn the Catholic faith that we so casually say we believe in.  We must stand up for the Doctrine She has wonderfully taught for over 2,000 years and practice it wholeheartedly.  When we take the time to study and learn the true Faith, this is meant to energize our prayer life.  Do we as Catholics even have a prayer life anymore?  Are we developing a prayer Life?  The relationship with God, that the Church asks us?  This education in the Faith is meant to help us fall in love with the Catholic Church, Her teachings, and give us the strength and courage to oppose the Devil.  I can assure you, as a Roman Catholic Priest, the Devil is absolutely real.

For as St. Peter, our first Pope, taught us in his letters, “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith.”

If you feel, like I and a whole bunch of other people do, that things are spinning out of control in our world, and most especially in the Church today,  you’re right.  The underlying reason is because the Church is in a state of near chaos and confusion.  As Pope Benedict stated recently, “ready to capsize” this is all brought about by the Church’s chief enemy the Devil, and he is real.  Be assured, we have not arrived at this place in history by accident.  There is an intelligent evil being behind all of this work, bent on our destruction and the destruction of our Lord’s Catholic Church.

We must rededicate ourselves, as good Catholics, to knowing and studying the Faith.  This way, we can resist and fight with all our might against the evil that has plagued us for far too long.  Part of the answer to this problem involves setting aside time to study the Faith, to be enraptured by its glories and mysteries, its blinding truth.  This cannot happen if we don’t make the effort to learn our wonderful Faith, and then follow through with our good intentions.

There is no way to fight against the Devil other than to love God more. And we cannot love what we do not know. Knowledge of the Faith is absolutely crucial for any spiritual growth, and we need to get back on our knees and beg God to deliver us from the sinful evil of this current generation, and the filth, greed, lust, and heresy that has entered our church.

We are not alone in this fight.  We have never been alone. God, His Holy Mother, the Angels, and all His Saints, the whole of Heaven, watches and encourages us to get involved in this fight for the salvation of souls, as well as for the liberty and exultation of Holy Mother the Church, our only known source of salvation.  For as St. Thomas Becket, a martyr for the Faith so wisely taught us, as well as the testimony of so many Saints, without real effort no one ever wins the crown of everlasting life.

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Having recently sent some of my relatives the message below and only receiving one reply (an acceptable one), I must say it’s tempting to give up trying to reach out to people. However, this morning I read Msgr. Charles Pope’s post regarding this Sunday’s Gospel (copied below with his kind permission – following my message to family.)

My message to family:

As far as I know, no one to whom I am sending this message has renounced their Catholic faith. Therefore, I speak to you as a fellow Catholic, regardless of how actively each of us may be practicing our mutual faith. That’s between God and us, individually.

I think it should be obvious to all of us that there has been a great degradation in moral behavior among our fellow brethren throughout the world. And I think this is something we all should be gravely concerned about. I really don’t think I need to list specific moral behavioral aberrations. Even if you are only minimally in tune with the teachings of Jesus and his Catholic Church, all of them should be quite obvious to you. They are so numerous!

So what is the point of my message? It is to share with you my – and solicit your – grave concern for the wellbeing of ourselves, our loved ones and all mankind.

Perhaps we must first be attuned to and seriously concerned about what is happening in our Catholic Church. Hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, avalanches, tsunamis, nuclear bombs, and so on, can exterminate human lives, but only the violence of rejecting the teachings of Christ Jesus in union with his Father and the Holy Spirit, can exterminate the life of a soul. And that is what is going on in our beloved Catholic Church today. The most horrific crime against humanity and its Creator is being committed by those to whom Christ has entrusted our souls.

Please join me in my concern and prayers.

Sinner Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

There is an urgency and clarity about Sunday’s Gospel that is often lacking in modern Christians, including the clergy. The message is urgent, provocative, and clear: there is a day of judgment coming for every one of us and we must be ready for it. The message is a sobering one for a modern world that is often dismissive of judgment—and certainly of Hell. Jesus clearly says that the Kingdom of God can be taken from us for our refusal to accept its fruits in our life.

The parables that Jesus related to teach about judgment and the reality of Hell are often quite vivid, even shocking in their harsh imagery; they are certainly not stories for the easily offended. They are also difficult to take for those who have tried to refashion Jesus into a pleasant, affirming sort of fellow rather than the uncompromising prophet and Lord that He is.

No one spoke of Hell more often than Jesus did. Attempting to reconcile these bluntly presented teachings with the God who loves us so much points to the deeper mysteries of justice and mercy and their interaction with human freedom. This point must be clear, however: no one loves us more than Jesus does and yet no one spoke of Hell and its certainty more often than Jesus did. No one warned us of judgment and its inescapable consequences more often than did Jesus. Out of love for us, Jesus spoke of death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. As one who loves us, He wants none of us to be lost. So He warns us; He speaks the truth in love.

Historically, this parable had meaning for the ancient Jews that had already come to pass. God had established and cared for his vine, Israel. He had given them every blessing; He had led them out of slavery and established them in the Promised Land. Yet when searching for the fruits of righteousness He found little. God sent many prophets to warn them and to call forth those fruits, but they were persecuted, rejected, and even murdered. Finally, God sent His Son, but He too was murdered. There comes forth a sentence: He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times … Therefore, I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit. By 70 A.D., Jerusalem was destroyed; the Temple was never to be rebuilt.

The Jewish people are not singled out in the Scriptures., All of us, like them, are a vineyard. If we are not careful, their story will be ours. Like the ancients, we have a decision to make. Either we accept the offer of the Kingdom and thereby yield to the Lord’s work and bring forth a harvest, or we face judgment for rejecting that offer. God will not force us to accept His Kingship or His Kingdom. We have a choice to make and that choice will be at the heart of the judgment we will face.

Let’s take a closer look at today’s Gospel and apply it to the vineyard of our lives.

I.  THE SOWING – The text says, There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.

Note the care and providence of the landowner (God), who has given each of us life and every kind of grace. The image of the vineyard indicates that we have the capacity to bear fruit. This signifies the many gifts, talents, and abilities that we have been given by God.

The hedge calls to mind the protection of His grace and mercy. Though the world can be a tempting place, God has put a hedge of protection around us that is sufficient to keep us safe from serious sin, if we accept its power.

But a hedge implies limits. Although God’s protective graces are sufficient, we must live within limits, within the hedge that keeps the wild animals of temptation from devouring the fruits of our vine.

The tower is symbolic of the Church, which stands guard like a watchman warning those who live within the boundaries of the hedge of dangers. The tower (the Church) is stands as a sign of contradiction to the hostile world outside, which seeks to devour the fruit of the vineyard.

That the landowner leases the vineyard is a reminder that we are not our own; we have been purchased at great cost. God and God alone created all these things we call ours. We are but stewards, even of our own lives. We belong to God; we must render an account to Him and show forth fruits.

This point must be emphasized: God has given us great care. He has given us His grace and mercy—His very self. As the text from Isaiah says, What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done? God loves us and does not want us to be lost. He gives us every grace and mercy we need. The Lord says, As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ez 33:11) This must be emphasized because we grumble too quickly about the coming judgment. God offers every possible grace to save us. It is up to us to accept or reject His help.

II.  THE SEEKING – The text says, When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.

There come moments in our lives when God looks for fruits. Remember that He is the owner and the fruits are rightfully His. He has done everything to bring forth the fruit and now deserves to see the produce of His grace in the vineyard of our life, which is His own.

What fruits does the Lord seek? The values and fruits of the Kingdom: faith, justice, mercy, peace, forgiveness, chastity, faithfulness, generosity, love of the poor, love of one’s family and friends—even love of one’s enemy—kindness, truth, sincerity, courage to speak the truth and witness to the faith, and an evangelical spirit.

The text says that the owner sent his servants to obtain the produce. Here also is evidence of God’s mercy. Historically, God’s “servants” were the prophets. God sent them not only to bring forth the harvest of justice, but also to clarify and apply His Word, and to remind and warn sinners. God patiently sent many generations of prophets to help Israel.

It is the same for us. God sends us many “prophets.” Perhaps they are priests or religious, parents, catechists, teachers, or role models; but they are all part of God’s plan to warn us to bear fruit and to help call forth and obtain some of those fruits. Each in his own way says, as St. Paul did in today’s second reading, Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me (Phil 4:8-9).

Yes, God seeks fruits, and rightfully so. He sends His servants, the prophets, to help call them forth in us.

III. THE SINNING – The text says, But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

Despite all that the owner has done by sending His servants, the tenants reject them all, and with increasing vehemence; their hearts grow harder. The landowner even goes so far to demonstrate his love and his will to save that he sends his own son, but they drag him outside the vineyard and kill him. Yes, Jesus died outside the city gates, murdered for seeking the fruit of faith from the tenants of the vineyard.

What of us? There are too many who reject God’s prophets. They do so with growing vehemence and abusive treatment. Many people today despise the Church, the Scriptures, parents, friends, and Christians in general who seek to clarify and apply God’s Word and to warn of the need to be ready. Repeated resistance can cause a hardening of the heart to set in. In the end, there are some—in fact many according to Jesus—who effectively kill the life of God within them and utterly reject the Kingdom of God and its values. They do not want to live lives that show forth forgiveness, mercy, love of enemies, chastity, justice, love of the poor, generosity, kindness, and witness to the Lord and the truth.

We ought to be very sober because there are many, many people today who are like this. Some have merely drifted away and are indifferent. (Some have been hurt or are struggling to believe, but at least they remain open.) Still others are passionate in their hatred for the Church, Scripture, and anything to do with God, explicitly rejecting many of the values of His kingdom. We must continue in our attempts to reach them.

IV. THE SENTENCE – The text says, What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes? They answered him, ‘He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.’ Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.

Here, then, is the sentence: If you don’t want the Kingdom, you don’t have to have it. On one level, it would seem everyone wants the Kingdom. In other words, everyone who has any faith in God at all wants to go to Heaven. But what is Heaven? It is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. It is not just a place of our making. It is that place where the will of God, the Kingdom’s values, are in full flower. Many, however, do not want to live chastely, do not want to forgive, do not want to be generous, do not want to love the poor, do not want God or anyone else at the center, do not want to worship God.

Self exclusion – Having rejected the Kingdom’s values, and having rejected the prophets who warned them, many simply exclude themselves from the Kingdom. God will not force the Kingdom on anyone. If, even after God’s grace and mercy and His pleading through the prophets, you don’t want it, you don’t have to have it. It will be taken from you and given to those who do.

The existence of Hell is rooted in God’s respect for our freedom, for we have been called to love. Love must be free, not compelled. Therefore, Hell has to be a reality. It is the “alternative arrangement” that others make for themselves in their rejection of the Kingdom of God. At our death, our decision is forever fixed.

Yes, Hell and the judgment that precedes it are clearly taught in today’s Gospel and in many other places (e.g., Matt 23:33; Lk 16:23; Mk 43:47; Matt 5:29; Matt 10:28; Matt 18:9; Matt 5:22; Matt 11:23; Matt 7:23; Matt 25:41; Mk 9:48; Luke 13:23; Rev 22:15). These teachings come from a Lord who loves us and wants to save us, but who is also well aware of our stubborn and stiff-necked ways.

What is a healthy response to this teaching? To work earnestly for the salvation of souls, beginning with our own. Nothing has destroyed evangelization and missionary activity more than the modern notion that everyone goes to Heaven. Nothing has so destroyed zeal for the moral life and hunger for the Sacraments, prayer, and Scripture. And nothing is so contrary to Scripture as the dismissal of Hell with the false notion that all are going to Heaven.

But rather than panic or despair, we must get to work and be more urgent in our quest to win souls for Christ. Whom does the Lord want you to work with to draw back to Him? Pray and ask Him: “Who, Lord?” The Lord does not want any to be lost. He still sends His prophets (this means you) to draw back anyone who will listen. Will you work for the Lord? Will you work for souls?

There is a day of judgment looming and we must be made ready for it by the Lord. Will you be urgent about it, for yourself and others?

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If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

The Ministry of Angels, as Seen in a Commercial

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

Most of us struggle with the fact that God allows bad things to happen to us. Why does He not intervene more often to protect us from attacks of various kinds and from events that cause sadness, setbacks, or suffering?

While mysterious, the clearest answer is that God allows suffering in order that some greater blessing may occur. To some degree I have found this to be so; some of my greatest blessings required that a door slam shut for me or that I endure some suffering. If my college sweetheart had not ended things, I would most likely not have the very great blessing of being a priest today. Had I gotten some of my preferred assignments in my early years as a priest, I would not have been enriched by the assignments I did have. Those difficult assignments have drawn me out and helped me to grow far more than the cozy, familiar placements I desired would have. Had I not entered into the crucible of depression and anxiety in my thirties, I would not have learned to trust God as much as I do, and I would not have learned important lessons about myself and about life.

So despite that fact that we understandably fear suffering and dislike it, for reasons of His own (reasons He knows best), God does allow some degree of it in our lives.

Yet I wonder if we really consider often enough the countless times God did step in to prevent disaster in our lives. We tend to focus on the negative things in life and overlook the enormous number of blessings we often take for granted: every beat of our heart, the proper functioning of every cell in our body, and all of the perfect balances that exist in nature and the cosmos in order to sustain us.

Just think of the simple act of walking, all of the possible missteps we might take but most often do not. Think of all the foolish risks we have taken in our lives—especially when we were young—that did not end in disaster. Think of all the poor choices we have made and yet escaped the worst possible outcomes.

Yes, we wonder why we and others suffer and why God allows it, but do we ever wonder why we don’t suffer? Do we ever think about why and how we have escaped enduring the consequences of some awfully foolish things we have done? In typical human fashion, we minimize our many, many blessings, and magnify and resent our sufferings.

I have a favorite expression, one that I have made my own over the years, that I use in response to people who ask me how I am doing: “I’m pretty well blessed, for a sinner.”  I’ve heard others put the same sentiment this way: “I’m more blessed than I deserve.” Yes, we are all pretty well blessed indeed!

I thought of all those things as I watched the commercial below (aired during the 2014 Super Bowl). While it speaks of the watchfulness of a father, it makes me think of my guardian angel, who has surely preserved me from many disasters.

As you watch the commercial, don’t forget to thank God for the many times He has rescued you through the intervention of your guardian angel. Thank Him too for His hidden blessings—blessings that, though you know nothing of them, are bestowed by Him all the same. Finally, think of the wonderful mercy He has often shown in protecting you from the worst of your foolishness.

 

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In a September 24, 2017 CNN article ‘Irma brought out the truth about the Florida Keys‘, reporter Bill Weir paints, in my opinion, a very condescending view of people who make the Florida Keys their home.

He states that “It takes a special breed of cat to settle in the Florida Keys.” He continues with: “The slivers of land atop an ancient coral reef hold a mixture of hedonism and high water, luring anglers and divers, bikers and burnouts, pirates and professionals down US 1 to forget about life for a weekend … or forever. Depending on your point of view, it is a road to paradise or a highway to hell.”

I can’t speak for all people of the Keys nor can I speak for all Catholic Christians, but I do know that those of my fellow Catholics who take their faith seriously do not (even could not) embrace the philosophy or psychology of hedonism. And a share of us do live in the Florida Keys, where my wife and I recently made our home after having lived in “earthquake country” (specifically, the San Francisco Bay Area, for thirty years.

While we were riding out Irma in Ft. Myers, FL, having evacuated a newly constructed hurricane and flood resistant home in the Middle Keys, I watched some of CNN’s live coverage of Irma from their reporting base in Key Largo (which was on the bay side of the island). I was appalled by the reporter’s (quite possibly the same fellow who wrote the article) condescending comments when referring to the people of the Keys. I had the distinct impression that he was so very jealous of them, that he had to insult them in order to justify his fear of, or lack of ability, to live in the Keys. He was quite representative of CNN’s penchant for sensationalism and narrow focus on worse case scenarios.

The next time this reporter visits the Keys, it would be beneficial for him to visit my church (San Pablo Catholic Church) on any Sunday of the year when Pastor Rev. Luis Rivera or Deacon John Kirk happen to be preaching the homily (sermon). Perhaps he would learn how Catholicism and hedonism are so very much opposed to each other. He shouldn’t enter the communion line though, unless he is a baptized Catholic and presently in the state of sanctifying grace (of course, all non-Catholics are welcome to attend and share in all of the other benefits of a Catholic Mass). He should just observe, pray and listen. He may even become aware of just how much CNN’s deplorable embrace and promotion of immorality is so very much opposed to the Will of God.

Related:

The Theology of the Cross versus Hedonism

 

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