No Sin Like Selfishness

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 23, 2018.

I remember reading a wonderful book a number of years back called, Fr. Joe. Click here for the book. Father Joe claimed that the number one problem with the world, and ultimately what lies at the root of every sin, is selfishness. Every other sin is in some way a manifestation of asserting my will over and against God and Neighbor, and keeps me from abiding by the #1 Commandments of Jesus–to love them.

The bottom line is this, God is love, and by its nature, love is self-diffusive; it pours forth. It is other-seeking. The one who is selfless is indeed close to God.

On the other hand, selfishness is self love. It turns inward and loves itself for its own sake. The selfish person cannot see past his own wants, his own needs, his own problems, and even his own solutions. The selfish person cannot possibly image God–cannot know God, and worships himself as God. How lonely.

All of today’s readings point to this basic truth, namely, peace is from God and conflict comes from within. Selflessness leads to love and peace. Selfishness leads to division, and get, arrogance, and pain–and blinds us to what is good and true and holy. James says it well, “Wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.” Wisdom is from God and calls us to concern ourselves with the good of others.

On the other hand, James goes on, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” James 3:16-4:3

And isn’t this indeed the condition in which we find so many problems in the world today? How can there be so great a separation between the haves and the have nots? How can there be so much waste and so many in need? How can we have such a great divide between poor and wealthy individuals, communities, and countries. Selfishness blinds us to the Common Good and makes my only concern what is good for me. We stop asking, “What’s good?” and instead ask, “What’s in it for me?”

This attitude must not and cannot be found among the disciples of Christ. Concern for the common good was the concern of Jesus himself, and is the whole reason he came to earth–so that others could be healed and know salvation. His passion and death was the example of service to others. The teaching of the Church on the Common Good can be found here, as it stands as the foundation for the 7 Themes of Catholic Social Teaching, all of which help us to fulfill Jesus’ teaching to his disciples in today’s Gospel.

Like selfish children, Jesus’ disciples have no sooner heard of his exit than they already begin to imagine their own grand entrance! They begin to bicker as they posture for who will succeed him. In their own desire for power or prestige they argue with each other. The Gospel tells us, “They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.” Mk 9:30-37

Jesus doesn’t miss this important opportunity to teach them about humility and service that are the hallmark of the Christian life. Not fame, not fortune, neither wealth, nor health (no matter what some televangelists claim), but only humble servanthood. Of Christ’s disciples the only comment should be, “See how they loved one another.” That means we need to be a lot more selfless tomorrow than we were today. Join me.

Blessings, Stephen

For Reflection

To what degree do I concern myself and sacrifice to alleviate the suffering of others? Do you have any examples?

How committed are you to the “common good” as opposed to what is only good for you, or your community?

Are you familiar with the Church’s teaching on the 7 Principle ways in which we renew and help to recreate the social order?

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Do All Things With Great Love


Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-forth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 17, 2018.

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

The lyrics above are from one of my all time favorite songs, written in the 1960s by the late Fr. Peter Scholtes. Do you know it? I love it because it perfectly captures Jesus’ own words to his disciples in John 13:34-35, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The interesting part about this particular verse is that it comes right after the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples. In John’s Gospel, Jesus washes their feet, tells of Judas’ betrayal, and then predicts Peter’s denial. In the midst of all this sadness and pain, our Lord tells his disciples to love. Amazing. What a challenge.

The first reading today from Isaiah 50:5-9a shows a man of insurmountable faith! He returns violence with perseverance in love knowing that God is his vindication. As a foreshadowing of the cross, Isaiah, shows how our faith allows us to love in spite of derision, disgrace, and discomfort. No wonder that Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek! I have heard so many bad sermons that dishonor Jesus’ high demands to love! Both Isaiah and Jesus know that the cycle of violence does not end until one or both parties choose to love instead of hate, talk instead of fight, come to the negotiation table instead of taking up arms.

The commandment to love was as difficult to hear in Jesus’ day as it is in our own. If we’re not going to live it, who is? As the Dean of Students at a middle school of almost 1,600 students, I see one conflict after another. All day long I see bullying (physical and cyber), fighting (with words and fists), name-calling, pushing, shoving, vandalism, and drugs. I wonder how many of those in my office claim the name of Christ. How many of those in our juvenile or adult prisons claim Christ? How much of the lying, and cheating, and bullying, and gossip, and violence, and slander, and abuse in the world is committed by those that claim to follow Jesus, but are absolutely ignoring his commandment to love? From the halls of congress to our jobs, to church, we must be the ones who respond differently.

The disciple of Jesus Christ does everything with the love of Christ in mind. We should be visibly different. Everywhere we go we bring light and love, goodness and truth. A Christian in the workplace transforms that place. A Christian at school changes the nature of the classroom, the lunch line, or the sport activities. We pick up, not put down. We share, we uplift, we encourage others to be their best and do their best! We applaud encourage greatness whenever and wherever it is found. When we see a need, we do not turn a blind eye, we courageously do something about it!

St. James admonishes his brothers and sisters to not only be people of faith, but to to be people who put that faith into action! Our faith must be lived! We who are in relationship with the God of love, must be love not in word only, but in deed as well! He asks, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” Of course, the answer is a resounding NO! Faith that is salvific is a lived faith! It comes to the aid of those in need. A lived faith looks at the resources the Lord has given and seeks to share them with those in need! Disciples of Jesus Christ are constantly evaluating their lives so that they live more humbly, act more generously, and engage more peacefully. Again, James teaches, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, ‘but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” James 2:14-18

We cannot be duplicitous in this regard. We are called at every moment of every day to be people of faith–not just on Sunday, and not just in our private time. We believe in the dignity of every person and seek to transform society by these values and views that we hold. If we do not light into legislation and love into our laws, we have failed to use the authority given to us by God to make the world His! The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1929-30 teach the following:

Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him:

What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt.(John Paul II, SRS 47.)

Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. (Cf. John XXIII, PT 65.) If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church’s role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.

So, are you in or not? When Jesus was on the way to Caesarea Philippi, he asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter said, “You are the Christ.” This is what it means to be a Christ-ian. We are those who do not say that he is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the other prophets. No, we are like Peter. We believe and have faith that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. We have been reborn into him, possess his mighty Spirit, and are commanded to love. It’s just that simple. We are no longer ours, we are his, and everything we have, and everything we do is for his glory. He asks of us just one thing, to take up our cross daily and follow him. We must be willing to lose our ego, our pride, our anger, our jealousy, and even our life for his sake and the sake of the gospel. Mark 8:27-35

Yep. That’s it. Are you still in? Does your life reflect your commitment to him and his commandment to love? James tells his Church, “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone might say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.” Let’s go out today and demonstrate our faith by the good work that we do. It’s as we’ve said all along – faith and works. It’s gotta be both.

When Christians clean up a mess, we do it with great care. When Christians make a sandwich, we don’t just throw it together, we make it amazing. When we work, we work diligently and carefully, not squandering time or resources that are not ours to waste. When we parent, we parent differently. We spend more time with our kids, teaching, guiding, and spending family time together. Christians put down the phone and look others in the eye. We give high fives, compliments, and bring joy and life to the woman or man at the cash register. Our whole life is marked with a different outlook and attitude. So much so, that someone who encounters us might think to themselves, “Surely, that person is a disciple of Jesus.” After all, they will know we are Christians by our love.

For Reflection:

If I were put on trial today for being a Christian, would my accusers find enough evidence to convict me?

To what degree do I commit myself to loving and serving others? Do I do all things well and with love?

Is my outlook and attitude any different than anyone else around me? Or do I stand out as the positive, loving, hard working person?


By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Be Strong. Fear Not.

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 9, 2018.

Today the prophet Isaiah tells those who are frightened, “Be strong, fear not!” Is 35:4-7a Scripture teaches us that those who fear are not yet perfect in love!

Perfect love is the only goal for the Christian life. God is love, and our goal is to be like God, in whose image we were made, but due to sin whose likeness we have lost. Our goal, due only to Christ’s death and resurrection, is to be restored by perfect love, to love perfectly. Fear, then, is the enemy.

Why do we fear? Jesus makes it very clear that we are to love both God and neighbor but that fear prevents many from loving as we ought. Similarly, out of a desire for a little assurance here on earth, though we know God will always provide for what we need, we sometimes hedge our bets nonetheless.

It seems that we too often have a tendency to be more like the Pharisees than like Jesus, our Lord. We like rings and fancy things. We like places of honor and show favoritism to those who might offer some hope for advancement in this life, at work, or amongst friends. In other words, we stop caring about others for their sake, but instead for our own. We stop loving people for who they are, but instead for what they can do for us. In short time, we are people who love things and use people instead of loving people and using things. We can become shallow or empty, and see people not as children of God but instead as a means to an end.

This is, of course what St. James warns against in the second reading. He says, “My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here, please, ” while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?” Jas 2:1-5

It was a fear and danger then, and remains a fear and danger now. We treat others as a means to an end. We use others to get what we want. We manipulate and wrongfully use others. I’ve been guilty of this myself many times, I’m sorry to say.

The readings today teach us to stop trampling on the poor and the weak. They tell us to stop plotting and manipulating. They tell us to lives honestly and uprightly without ulterior motive. In other words, as Christians, our hope is not in those who can help us gain advantage on earth but instead on He who offers us eternal glory! Isaiah says, “Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.” Is 35:4-7a

We need to wake up! Too many of us are living in a dream where this life will provide all that we need and if we work all the angles just right. And if we have the right connections we’ll find peace and happiness. Today Jesus says to us, “‘Ephphatha!’— that is, ‘Be opened!'” so that like the deaf man our ears–and even our hearts might finally be open so that we might hear the voice of God and love as he desires for us to love–completely and without agenda.

May we, like Jesus, do all things well. Amen?

For reflection:

When choosing friends, do I have an agenda?

When making decisions, do I keep the good in mind, or what’s good for me in mind?

Do I pray daily that my ears, eyes, and heart might be opened by God?

By Deacon Stephen Valgos