A Lot Like Coffee

iced or hot coffee Today’s reflection is for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 18, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that there’s nothing quite like a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning! Of course, because coffee isn’t just for breakfast, many take delight in coffee later in the day. And because we’re reaching over a hundred degrees these days, iced coffee has become quite the treat for many, myself included. While some like coffee cold, and many like coffee hot, I don’t think I know anyone who can’t wait to have lukewarm coffee.  Lukewarm would seemingly promise to please everyone, but in truth, it pleases no one, and the same is true of our Christian discipleship. Jesus tells us today that he came to set the earth on fire! He desires nothing less than people burning with the fire of his Holy Spirit, filled with life and love and goodness and truth.

In fact, this is one of my favorite verses from the Book of Revelation. The angel of the Lord tells John to write this to the well-to-do Church in Laodicea, “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Today’s Gospel is very clear, if we are going to call ourselves his disciples, then we must take a stand. We must be red hot for him. In fact, he tells his disciples that their allegiance must be so decided that it will no-doubt cause division for many–even within one’s own family. There is no tighter bond than between father and son or mother and daughter, but the decision to follow Jesus may in fact be a source of brokenness. How many children in non-Christian countries (and even predominantly Christian ones) have made the decision to follow Jesus only to be rejected by family and friends.

Jesus tells us, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three…” Jesus’ desire is, of course, unity and love, but he knew all too well the tragedy of brokenness and sin that would cause many to turn away from him. Many in our church today, while claiming to title of Christian, remain luke-warm. For many years I straddled the fence between Christ and his church and the world. I called myself Catholic for an hour on Sunday, but made no commitment to following Jesus or the teachings of the Church at any point throughout the week. I was neither hot nor cold. I was a lot like Jeremiah–stuck in the mud and going nowhere fast!

The book of Jeremiah has some helpful wisdom for those who are luke-warm,  in a dark place, or stuck in the mud and muck of the world. We need an Ebed-melech and three or four good men. When we are stuck in our ego, stuck in the allure and promise of worldly wealth or power; when we’re stuck in desire for pleasure and earthly friendships and fame we need some good friends who will speak openly and honestly to us about where we are in our life and in our faith.

Disciples of Christ are called to burn hot with the fire of the Holy Spirit, but the world is a difficult place and we can too easily become side-tracked and begin to cool. I want to encourage you this week to seek spiritual direction, read Scripture often, attend Mass weekly, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, join a Catholic book club, pray the Rosary, attend parish events, start a Catechism study, and pray daily. These activities will not only help your faith grow strong but will also surround you with like-minded people who are also seeking to be more like Jesus and burn with his love. These are the friends who will get you out of the mud when you’re stuck in your dark place!

All of these activities and friendships will provide fuel for the fire! Everytime we do these things we burn a little hotter for Jesus! Jesus has come to set the world ablaze and he is calling us to join him. There is no in between, I’m afraid. Like coffee, there’s only hot or cold. That’s it. Which one are you?

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

All Alone

All aloneToday’s reflection is for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 11, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

In today’s Gospel Jesus warns his disciples that while the Master is away there is an expectation of appropriate behavior! They must be “faithful and prudent stewards,” lest they be cast aside with the “unfaithful.” Who are these unfaithful? And what made them so?

I’ve heard many people wrongly claim that the Old Testament reveals the wrath of God, the angry God, and the punishing God, while the New Testament reveals Jesus and the love, mercy, and tenderness of God. My friends, make no mistake, the God of Israel was patient, merciful, and loving with his rebellious children, and Jesus has some pretty clear and harsh teachings on the consequences of being far from God. He unequivocally demands that we make a choice. We are either with Him and for Him, or on our own and against Him. We are to choose either light or darkness, in or out, faithfulness or unfaithfulness. There are clearly only two choices and each of us must make a personal decision that is either for or against God and His Kingdom.

I believe today’s second reading from the book of Hebrews holds the key to understanding Jesus’ harsh teaching about the faithful and unfaithful, as well as what we might expect to see among those who are faith-full. Hebrews reads, “Brothers and sisters: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (11:1) Hebrews says faith is two things: 1. getting what we hope for, and 2. evidence for the invisible God. People are usually quick to equate faith with trust and belief, but I think trust and belief and products of faith. There can be no greater hope for our heart than relationship and unity with God, our Creator. Faith is the attainment of that relationship. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for,” according to Hebrews. When we are in that relationship (faith) with God, then we have all the evidence we need for the truth of God. Of course God exists! We are in an intimate, loving relationship with Him! “Faith is evidence of things not seen.” And because we are in the relationship, we can trust and believe!

Relationship with God, like any relationship, must be attended to. I must spend time with, talk with, learn about, and share with others the beauty that I have discovered in my beloved. If we want a strong relationship with our spouse or with our children, we must attend to them, and it is true also with God. Faith grows like a mustard seed! It starts so very small–maybe as an infant in Baptism, but if nurtured and cared for, attended to and cultivated, it grows to be so big and strong that it brings comfort and consolation to others during times of need. Our relationship with God must be authentic, attended to, never neglected, and always shared.

Finally, Hebrews teaches us that because of his faith–his relationship with God–Abraham “obeyed,” “went out,” “sojourned,” “looked forward to,” “received power from,” and even “offered up,” his only son, trusting that God would raise him up again. In other words, Abraham’s faith caused him to do something! And therein lies the key for those who claim to believe. If we say we believe, if we have faith, if we are in a relationship with God, but we do not do what The Master commands, then we are no more in a relationship with Him than any anybody else! And if the faith-full are truly full of relationship with the God of the universe, then the un-faithful are those who find themselves alone. Faith is to recognize God and live in a loving relationship of obedience and service. Yes, to be a “faithful and prudent servant.” To disobey, to act as though there is no Master, and that the Master will not return, is to separate oneself from God; to walk away; to reject; to give our “no” to Him, His will, and His Kingdom.

So the faithful servants are in a relationship with God that causes them to act in a way that is responsible and brings glory to God and His kingdom of love, mercy, and justice. To be unfaithful is to reject that relationship, to store up treasure not in heaven but here on earth. It is to refuse to forgive, to show no mercy, and to love no one but oneself. When you love only you…you end up all alone…for eternity. And God honors that decision freely made by that person.

Choose faith. Nurture it. Act on it by serving those most in need. Be the good and faithful servant, because the Master will return at an unknown hour. Be ready. Get to work while there is still time. Amen?


By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Pray For Riches!


Today’s reflection is for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 4, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells the crowd what I think we all need to hear. He tells them, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Let that sink in a bit, though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions. My brothers, we must remain on guard lest we become possessed by our possessions.

To be possessed means to be influenced or controlled by something. Many times we talk about people being possessed by an evil Spirit, that takes control of their mind and body. To be possessed is to longer do what we want to do. We act in a way that we know we should not act and do things that we know we should not do. Most of us will not be possessed by a demon or an evil Spirit, but I bet we’ve all been possessed by our possessions at one point or another.

We grow up being told how important money is. We are told that we need to get an education so we can get a good job so we can make lots of money and have lots of things! From as early as I can remember I was told that money is KING…get that money! Game shows, radio, tv shows, the lottery; all promise joy and happiness that we’re led to believe can only be found in stuff. And we buy it, and hoard it, and we become slaves.

We fill our rooms with pants, shoes, jackets, and jewelry. We fill our houses with furniture, dishes, and paintings. Our garages with tools, boxes, bins, cars, boats and trailers. We buy sheds when our garages can’t hold any more stuff, and we rent storage facilities when our houses and garages, and sheds overflow…and then we buy locks, and security cameras, and alarms–because we don’t want anybody stealing our stuff! We are entirely convinced that when we have that one more thing…then we’ll be happy. We just need a little more money. We strive for it. We dream about it. We steal for it. We hurt people to get it. We even kill people to have their money, or what they have bought with money.

Have you ever seen The Lord of the Rings? Gollum wants the ring so badly–it’s the only thing he cares about. He is willing to kill for it, and because it’s the only thing he thinks about, it slowly kills him. Do you know people like that? Do you know people who nothing is ever good enough and nothing is ever enough?

Today’s message is a message that leads to liberation, true freedom, and life. Today’s message is an important reminder that we need to be a lot less selfish and a lot more self-less. We are called not to be rich in the stuff of this world, but instead to be rich in what matters to God. What a funny thing to think about: What matters to God, that we might be rich in it? The Gospel story that Jesus tells is like someone today making it rich with business or with the lottery. All at once you have more than you could ever have dreamed about, but the next day, you’re gone. What a wasted life. A life without meaning, and life without true wealth that brings joy and lasting happiness.

What is the wealth of happiness? What is the treasure of God? What should we be storing up right now that will last for eternity? God told Solomon that all he had to do was ask, and God would give him anything he wanted. Solomon did not ask for gold or women or power, he asked instead for wisdom to lead God’s people.

It would be good to be rich in wisdom. How about if we were rich is counseling others? If we always gave good advice to friends and family? Have you ever had a friend who always seemed to know what was good? What if you could do that for others?

Wouldn’t it be great if we were like the Bill Gates of knowledge? If we could know a ton of stuff and help figure out the world’s problems? If you’re like me, you need to be rich in strength. Sometimes I cave too easily! I too often go with the flow when I should stand against the storm. These are the gifts of the Holy Spirit that I’ve been talking about. Knowledge, Understanding, Wisdom, Counsel, Strength, Piety, Fear of the Lord. If you want to pray for riches–God wants to give you these! Honestly, how often do we pray to be rich in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?

Or how often do we pray to be rich in the Fruit of the Holy Spirit? I want you to think about your heavenly bank account, are you wealthy  in love–both what you give and what you get? Are you rich in joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, faithfulness, and self control. If you’re like me, you’re barely able to pay the rent with some of these! Far from being rich in the things that matter to God, I’m actually broke!

And that my friends is a scary thought. I spend most of the minutes of my entire day trying to get the riches of the world–and I can’t even take it with me when I die, and that could be on the way home today. I spend so little time acquiring the wealth that matters to God. I spend too little time being generous and patient and kind. St. Paul tells us that all those who have been raised with Christ are to “seek what is above,” and “not on what is on earth.” My brothers, I think we all have some work to do. Don’t wait. Start investing in God today. Pray for and seek what is above. Amen?

By Deacon Stephen Valgos