Wisdom Matters: 17th S. 2020

SolomonToday’s reflection is for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 26, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Last week we heard about a wise landowner that said to his workers, “Don’t pull up the weeds, you’ll wreck the wheat! Let them grow together and we’ll separate them later.” In today’s Gospel we hear about a net full of fish that is separated when brought to shore. Sacred Scripture, the Church, and Jesus himself, are very clear, there is Heaven, there is Hell, and there will be Judgement—eternal separation. We said it during the Creed right after the homily, “He will come again in glory to Judge the living and the dead.” Do you believe it? We better.

The church is very clear about this, “God predestines NO ONE to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God is necessary, and persistence in it, until the end.” (C.C.C. 1037) God doesn’t want anyone of his children to be separated from Him for all eternity. That’s why he sent us Jesus! “God so loved the world that he gave his only so that all who believe in Him might not perish but have eternal life.” (JN 3:16). But we have to want it. We have to want Him. More than anything else, we have to want God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

We have to be like that guy in the Gospel today, who found a treasure buried in a field, or like that merchant who found an amazing pearl. They both made getting that treasure the only thing that mattered in their life; their number one priority…and they got it. They found both peace and joy. And so can we.

Solomon was given one wish from God. “Ask for anything you want,” God says, “and it’s yours!” If you had but one wish from God, what would it be? Just for a moment, think about that, if you could ask anything of God, really, what would you ask for? Fame? Fortune? Health? A mansion? Salvation for you and your family? No more credit card debt? I might or might not ask for a lifetime supply of sunflower seeds…

But honestly, would you even think to ask for wisdom, like Solomon, so you could make good decisions to govern yourself and your household wisely; to govern your community or the Church wisely? Wisdom matters. St. Aquinas taught, “Among all human pursuits, the pursuit of wisdom is more perfect, more noble, more useful, and more full of joy.” The truth is, with Wisdom, you get everything else you’ve ever wanted, or you might realize that what you’ve always wanted was the last thing you need…like a lifetime supply of sunflower seeds.

Well, have no fear—for all of us who think ourselves wisdom deficient, know this, we’ve already got it in spades! That’s right, the only thing that Solomon wanted, we’ve already been given, and six other gifts of the Spirit as well! Remember the seven gifts of the Spirit that we received at Baptism and were strengthened at Confirmation? Knowledge, Understanding, Wisdom, Council, Fortitude, Fear of the Lord, and Piety.

The gifts of the Spirit sustain us in our moral life. They help us choose the good in the concrete, real situations of life. The gift of wisdom makes us able to see the value of the pearl, to find the treasure, and the discipline to sell everything else to get it. The Church teaches that these gifts of the Spirit are permanent, and open us up to following the prompting of the Holy Spirit (C.C.C. 1830) that calls us to both desire and to do the good.

Judgement will happen, but fear not, we have all the help we need to stand tall in the end. The only question is will we be wise enough, in this life, to know God’s will, wise enough to choose it, and strong enough to do it?

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Weeds to Wheat: 16th S. 2020

weeds

Today’s reflection is for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 19, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Before we get started, I’d like you to think about or come up with a few of the more famous Bible characters—that God chose as his very own, to advance Salvation history—Old Testament and New. Did you come up with Moses, King David, St. Matthew, St. Peter, or St. Paul? We’ll get back to them toward the end.

Last Sunday we saw the generosity and love of God in the Parable of the Sower. God spares no expense in distributing his Word to the whole world. This week we see that even in that good soil that Jesus spoke of, we end up with weeds. Let’s take a moment today to look at some weeds in the world, some weeds in our community, and the amazing power of God.

Now is the perfect time in this area to see some “weeds among the wheat,” though not wheat of course, it’s corn-growing season. Just on the way to Mass today I passed a number of corn fields. Every one of them had both weeds and corn. And so it is with people in our world.

Imagine that the field Jesus talked about today is the whole world. That would mean there is a field with approximately 7.8 billion plants—some weeds, some wheat. Who are the weeds? They are those who seek to rob us of our joy, of our treasure, and maybe even our life. Weeds are those who violate God’s commandments, have no respect for themselves, nor fear of God. Scripture refers to them as evil-doers. They lie, they cheat, they steal. They use profanity, get drunk, do drugs, vandalize communities, and scandalize their families.

And who are the wheat? The wheat are those who live God’s commandments to love Him and their neighbor. They worship, pray, fast, sacrifice, and give generously to those in need. They are kind to others, use kind words, are quick to give praise, and slow to anger. They do not drink to excess, uphold the law, and raise their children to respect authority and to grow in holiness. That’s awesome!

Wouldn’t it be just amazing if there were no weeds at all? Imagine for a moment what that world would look like. That would be a beautiful world indeed. As Jesus’ disciples, we strive, with God’s grace to create that world, but how? In the parable today, with great zeal, the servants, upon realizing there were weeds in their master’s field, offered to go out and rip them out! But the Master, who represents God, says, “no, let them grow together, and at the end of time the weeds will be separated and burned.” What?! Live together…with the weeds!

Like it or not, the message is clear: while on this earth, there will be both evil doers and lovers of God. There will be some who create and raise up, and there will be those who seek to destroy and tear down…and that’s just the way it is. It’s the way it has always been, and clearly, God is just, and will deal with evil doers, and they will receive their punishment—count on that. Hope on that. Believe that.

But I believe there’s a bit more to the story. Do you know anyone who is all bad, or even anyone who is all good? I certainly don’t. I know a lot of people who live in a way that is contrary to God’s law, but there is still good in them. Similarly, I know a lot of Church goers and God-lovers, who more often than they would like to admit, keep poor company, are selfish with their wealth, have a negative attitude, do not pray, receive the sacraments regularly, nor love as they ought. It doesn’t really seem as simple as weeds or wheat. In fact, it’s almost as though each of us are still a little bit of both.

In this very community, look around (okay, don’t look around), there are none who are pure wheat—myself included. This parable is not just about the state of the world, it’s about the state of the Church. And some of God’s servants, motivated by their love for their master, would seek to purify the church. Tear out those whose actions and attitudes are not those of the Lord’s, but if that were to happen, who would be left? Would you still be here? Would I? And this is the miracle of God, that God is the great transformer. God transforms weeds into wheat. That’s amazing!

From the moment of our conception, born into sin and into a world of sin,  through baptism we are healed one step at a time throughout our life. Eventually, and over time, we respond to God’s invitation and begin to grow in holiness. And this is the amazing gift of God, and the reason that we do not uproot the weeds—we are the weeds…but also the wheat. From the moment of our birth God is transforming us and saving our soul.

From the Psalms today, “Lord, turn toward me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant.” And so, we who are sinners and weeds have reason to hope. God is at work in us, transforming us, and saving us. Our destiny is not for the burn pile, but for the barn—the glory of heaven.

Moses was a murderer, King David an adulterer, Matthew a tax collector, Peter a denier, and St. Paul a killer. And yet they are the heroes of our faith, the wheat in God’s field. God is in the business of transformation—in us, in the Church, and in the World. So be gentle and loving this week, and see in every weed, the wheat that God sees and loves. We do not pull weeds, we pray for transformation of souls. Amen?

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Good Soil: 15th S. 2020

grassToday’s reflection is for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 12, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

Our family has recently moved into a nice house in Denair, but while the house is great, the soil is horrible! We didn’t want to put in sod, so we used grass seed instead…that may have been a mistake! Growing grass from seed is incredibly difficult—especially in bad soil! No wonder Jesus uses it as a way to help us understand faith and God’s word, and Christian discipleship.

Jesus mentions four places where the seed, which is a synonym for faith in Jesus, the Word of God, fell: on the path, on rocky soil, among thorns, and finally on good soil. Our work today, is to reflect quite honestly about the soil of our heart and of our home. In what way are we the target of Jesus’ message for us today?

As we heard, the “path” are those who hear God’s word, but it has no effect. It does not penetrate the heart, and the evil one steals it away. Tragically, many times the environment in which a person hears God’s word is twisted and unloving. One of my best friends is an Atheist today, after his Christian-missionary father quoted Scripture while abusing him as a child. Clerical abuse as well has created dry, arid soil, that is opposed to faith. It is very difficult indeed to receive God’s word when the heart remains closed; when the soil was ruined by neglect or abuse. Seed without love or seed amid abuse fails to penetrate the heart. We should mourn and pray for the sinful world that makes the ascent of faith such a difficult hill to climb.

Other seed, Jesus tells us, is sown on the rocky path, and it does begin to grow, but it’s delicate. Without roots it cannot weather the sun. When I planted my lawn, I had to water every day, a few times a day. The water quickly went through the soil and the roots of the baby grass were too small to reach it. So it is when we practice the faith in a minimalistic, obligatory sort of way. When we do only what we must to do: Mass on Sunday, Catechism on Sacramental years, and reconciliation only once a year. The Word is there, but it lacks frequency, depth, and produces no passion. It’s better than nothing, but it doesn’t get us through the real trials that life brings—death of loved ones, disease, accidents, and the like. A bunch of water all at once is no good. Water only occasionally is no good, but a light watering, often, does wonders for nurturing new faith. Parents must remember this when catechizing their children. When faith is new, we must not stay on the normal watering cycle. A little bit, often, in a loving, prayerful environment is the key.

Some seed, we hear, fell among thorns, and as St. Paul told the Corinthians, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1COR 15:33) We usually think about this with regard to kids and faith, but this is equally true of adults and faith. Who we hang around will either help our faith grow, cause our faith to flounder, or destroy our faith. If we are hanging around people whose values are not those of Christ and the Church, whose political views are not aligned to the love of God and others, whose language, drinking or drug habits, or anger issues are inconsistent with the Good News of Jesus Christ, then our faith and that of those we love is being choked out. We are disciples 24/7/365. Is our company faith-fertilizing, or full of thorns?

Finally, it was in the rich soil that fruit was produced in abundance. As we have come to understand, rich soil doesn’t just happen. It is intentional. I brought twelve yards of topsoil into my backyard, and soil requires water and nutrients. We must feed our soil if our desire to have a beautiful yard, and we must feed our faith if it is to be beautiful, strong, and lasting so that Satan will not steal it away, that suffering will not wither it, and that bad company will not corrupt.

Hear me, each of us for our own faith and soul’s sake must commit ourselves to doing those things that nourish and enrich our faith. Sunday Mass for sure, but maybe daily Mass once in a while too, reconciliation often, intentional prayer at least twice a day, Scripture and Catechism study, reading about the Saints, or watching movies about faith and the people of God, study groups, retreats, Teams of Our Lady, and similar groups. These are the practices that enrich the soil of our soul making it a place where the love of Jesus and His Church can grow.

If we are parents, and are not practicing this life with our children, while their academics and sports may be spot on, the seed of their faith, which is ours to nurture, is on the path, on rocky ground, or among thorns. St. John Chrysostom said, “Isn’t it absurd to send children out to jobs and to school, and to do all you can to prepare them for these, and yet not to ‘bring them upon in the chastening and admonition of the Lord’ (EPH 6:4)?” He says, “Discipline is needed not eloquence; character, not cleverness; deeds, not words. These gain a man the kingdom.” Amen?

God’s word does indeed go forth as Isaiah says, but will it fall on the rich soil that Jesus speaks of today? Is our faith growing or has it become stagnant? Is my child’s faith growing? What can I do to make it better? God’s desire is that the seed of his Word rest in good soil and produce fruit a hundred or sixty or thirty-fold in us, in our family, and in our church. The only question is, “Do we have ears to hear?”

For YouTube video presentations of this and other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

Be Free!: 14th S. 2020

4thToday’s reflection is for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 5, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.

I hope some of you remember the movie Gladiator, in 2000, starring Russel Crowe. The opening scene shows Roman general, Maximus, defeating Rome’s enemies, finally bringing peace to Rome, and to the heart of it’s great emperor Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius is exhausted, having been at war for over two decades. He wants only peace and needed rest from violence and bloodshed.

The truthfulness of that scene made an incredible impact on me when I saw it not long after getting out of the Marines. War is exhausting, violence is exhausting, and peace is a beautiful and delicate flower. As we celebrate Independence Day this year we honor those brave men and women who sacrificed so much, and those who continue to stand guard so that our hard-won freedoms remain secure.

July 4th is not about barbeques and fireworks, but about celebrating the long-awaited peace of independence and liberty from tyranny, oppression, and violence. St. Augustine said, “Peace is the tranquility of order.” We gather today as a family, to be recreated, rejuvenated, and to put things in proper order—God, Family, country, and friends. The Hebrew word for this peace, tranquility, and order is shalom.

The 1st reading from the Prophet Zechariah gives the people of Judah new hope as they return from Exile in Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem and their temple. They look forward to a king. A king that will bring sedekah and shalom—justice and peace. Zechariah says that this great king would banish the instruments of war, the chariot, the horse, and the warrior’s bow, and proclaim shalom to the nations.

The Jews believed that a good king would ensure justice (sedekah) to the most vulnerable in society, namely, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant, and bring peace (shalom) within the nation and between one nation and the other. And shalom/peace does not simply mean the absence of conflict, but rather the fullness of life—within the nation and among nations.

Peace was the only thing that Marcus Aurelius wanted and it’s what we should want too, in our heart, in our family, in our streets, nation, and world. It’s also our only prayer for those who have died, that they Rest In Peace (R.I.P.), and it’s what Jesus promises in the Gospel today. Sadly, too few people find in this life.

Jesus tells a weary, conflicted, exhausted people, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest…my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Exhausted war-torn people need peace, and justice, and Jesus…and the resultant joy.

As we celebrate our Independence Day, let us be mindful that although we are free from the tyranny of British Colonization, we are yet still far from free as a people and as a country, and I believe it’s why we still lack peace in our hearts and in our streets.

I hope you love this country as much as I do, and are honest enough to admit that though free in principal, we have much room for growth in practice. While we still live in sin, we are not free. While children starve we are not free. While domestic violence exists, we are not free. While racism, sexism, and elitism exist we are not free. While addictions and poverty and homelessness, intolerance, violence, and ignorance exist we are not free.

I believe with all my heart that we can be free and we will be free, but we’re not quite there yet. We need Jesus. We need to know our dignity and the dignity of others. We need to recommit ourselves daily to prayer and lives of holiness, that serve others, stand in solidarity with others, and speak up for others. This country is amazing, but renewal and recommitment is absolutely essential.

True independence is not about freedom from, but rather freedom for. We do not measure independence based upon what we do not have to do, but rather what we can do. I can be generous during times of scarcity. I can be courageous in the face of danger. I can be loving toward those who do not deserve my love. Why? Because I can…because I’m free. Free to love, free to give, free to serve, free to worship, free to live for God, family, and country.

St. Paul tells the Romans today, “We are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live.” So, join me on this Independence Day to cook some BBQ and to let off some fireworks, to spend time and be recreated with family and friends, and to celebrate our Nation’s independence.

But even more than that, join me in putting an end to conflict, to struggle, injustice, intolerance, and violence. And above all, to putting an end to slavery to sin which leads to death. Join me in clinging to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, saying yes to God, yes to life, and yes to love. Because only then will we truly be free, find joy, and know shalom. Happy 4th of July.

For YouTube video presentations of other reflections, please click here.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos