Forgive us our trespasses...

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A

A Boat ride on the Sea of Galiliee
We don’t know from scripture what led to the incident in the Gospel reading today.  St. Matthew does not say.  Following St. Ignatius I want us to use our active imagination and put ourselves into the situation with Peter and Jesus.  Imagine that Peter has offered to take Jesus out on his fishing boat in the late afternoon / early evening to escape the heat of the day and enjoy a cool breeze on the Sea of Galilee.  So, they go down to the boat to depart, and instead of finding everything in order, it is a total mess.  Peter knows instantly that it was his brother who left this mess. – Andrew!  He is steamed by his brother’s messiness and really annoyed.  After all Andrew has been a slob and his messiness has ruined what would have been a wonderful evening.

Yet at the same time Peter knows that Jesus is calling him to conversion, to forgiveness, even of his own annoying brother.  So with that in mind he turns to Jesus and asks him.  "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?  Seven Times?”  Perhaps forgiving Andrew seven seems to be a lot.

Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. 

Oops, thinks Peter, I guess I need to work on my ability to forgive my brother…

But why Lord?  I don’t understand.  Look at this mess, Look at the impact it has on me as I need to take away from our time together to clean it up.  Look at how it ruined our evening!

Where is your heart looking - to yourself or to God?
The book of Sirach gives us some clues about why imitating the love of God is ultimately good for us.  It starts us where Peter is at – Look at how I suffer from Andrew’s sin!  It starts us at where our heart is at, and then leads us to where God’s heart is at.

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.

Injustice to the self?
When we are busy caught up in injustice it is often not a holy justice, but a selfish sense of justice.  And for the reason of the logic of the injustice, we can’t get beyond ourselves and the wrong to understand the injury from God’s perspective.  For this reason, we hug tightly to our sinfulness.

The backpack of Gruges?
Think of that image for a second.  It is like we wear a backpack of grudges, and every time we experience an injustice, instead of forgiving, and loving, we stuff the injustice into our grudge pack and keep on going.  And then the day comes when the grudge pack is full, and someone gives us another grudge, and gets a whole lot back in return!

Christ calls us to conversion
Yet Christ calls us to conversion.  To forgiveness.  Instead of holding onto those grudges, slights, injustices ourselves, he calls us to give them to God.  We surrender judgment to God who can judge justly, who judges with mercy.  Whose justice is his mercy and whose mercy is his justice because God’s justice is aimed at bringing about an authentic communion of love and relationship with himself and with one another.

God invites us into this relationship, but gives us the freedom to choose or reject it.

Forgive your neighbor's injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?

Forgive us…
This challenge is codified in the Our Father – Forgive us our Trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

IDEA:  Pray an Our Father each day for each person that you feel that you are angry / vengeful towards.  Do this on your way to work with them or when you recognize that you are avoiding them.  It is a way of keeping this idea from Sirach foremost in our hearts.

How to respond to Injustice
When we face those who treat us unjustly, who sin against us, or persecute us, then how do we respond?  With Mercy and forgiveness, with prayer and thanksgiving.  Jesus shows this in the parable he explains to Peter

That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.' Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. 

God is the King, we are the Servants
The King is God, and we are the servants.  We are in debt to God on account that he created us and invites us into a relationship of co-creation with himself, and we are called to witness the love of God to one another, and yet in our sin we destroy God’s gift.  This is the debt that we cannot repay.

How does the king respond to this debtor.
1. He listens!
2. He speaks the truth with love – he points out the reality of the debt.
3. He has a greater mercy than the debtor can even imagine.  The debtor pleads for time to repay and the King forgives.  This is extra-ordinary love!
4. The King’s response leads the servant to Freedom so he can choose to love God more fully – rather than imprisoning him.

This is important because the King teaches us how to be like Christ.

How do we respond to this gift of Mercy?
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, 'Pay back what you owe.'

Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused.  Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. 

Does the Servant Imitate the King?
When we are angry with others, when we are hurt by others do we choose to imitate the love of Christ?  Do we imitate the love and generosity and forgiveness of God?  This servant does not, and when the King hears how his forgiven servant responds, he has the servant suffer for failing to learn the lesson.
  • The servant does not listen – he says Give me my Money!
  • The servant does not forgive – he impressions
  • The servant does not lead his brother to freedom, he insists on getting “His right”.
The servant does not imitate the generosity and mercy of God.  He is owed much less, and yet his response is less generous.  His heart is hard, his goal is the self and not God’s Plan

Baptism - we are called to imitate the mercy of the King as a sacrifice.
This is why we have the second reading – to help us to understand our mission as Christians in the world.

Brothers and sisters:
None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.  

What is our orientation in life – for myself and the little debts that I am owed – debts of justice, debts of uncharity, debts of cruelty?  Or is my orientation to imitate Christ and his love?

For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord;

Baptism is a commission to be a source of forgiveness
To die is to suffer the injustice of another and then to offer it in prayer for the salvation of the other.  Remember that it is by our Baptism that we enter into the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.  In our Baptism we are called to share in the priestly ministry of offering sacrifice for those who cause us to suffer.  Jesus took our debts with him into the grave when he died on the Cross, and then he left them there and rose to eternal life with God the Father.

so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
For this is why Christ died and came to life,
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Are we watering the seed of eternal life we were given at Baptism with these opportunities for prayer, forgiveness and grace, or are we ignoring the invitations of the King?


Three Mountains

Feast of the Transfiguration

Why Do I Climb Mountains?

As many of you know, I love the wilderness and mountain climbing.  The feast today has challenged me to examine the question – Why do I climb mountains?

·     I climb mountains because I like the perspective from the top.  It changes your outlook on the world.
·     I climb mountains to find solitude with God.
·     I climb mountains because it is hard.  My friends and I enjoy the challenge.
·     I climb mountains to encounter nature –it’s beauty and ruggedness, nature that is raw, unruly and untamed.
·     I climb mountains to know that I am alive - it is not simulated or fake – it is creation at it’s best.

The Three Mountains of Scripture
There are 3 Mountains in scripture related to the Feast today.  Tabor – the Mount of the Transfiguration, Calvary – The Mount of the Crucifixion and Olivet – the Mount of the Ascension.

·     Tabor shows us the Glory of God, and teaches us that God comes to touch us.
·     Calvary shows us the Love of God, and teaches us that God can heal us from our sin.
·     Olivet teaches us the Reality of Heaven, it teaches us about our final destiny.

Fortunately, we cannot skip from mountaintop to mountain top, rather we need to descend into the valleys and then toil our way back to the top of the next peak.  Let’s examine the Gospel to see how Jesus climbs.

How Does Jesus Climb Mountains?
Jesus took Peter, James and John and climbed up a high mountain to be alone… 

Do not climb alone
The first thing that we notice in the Gospel today is that Jesus does not climb alone.  Climbing alone can be a bad idea, because if we get into trouble we have no one to help us.  Jesus brings along Peter, James and John to the top of Tabor because he wants them to experience the fullness of the Father’s Glory together – in community.

Am I climbing alone?  Time for community
For this reason Christ established the Church – that we journey together.  Who is in my Church?  Who is in the group that I can have those authentic faith-filled discussions with – my friends who share my faith and challenge me in my journey.  Is that my family?  Are these my friends?  Where do I find my companions for the journey?

Who do they encounter on the way?  Moses and Elijah
While they are on the way Jesus, Peter, James and John encounter Moses and Elijah.  They are conversing with Christ about the next mountain that Christ would climb – Calvary. 

Moses represents the Law – that is knowing how to be in relationship with God.  Elijah represents the Prophets – Knowing how to act out of our relationship with God.  These two men show us how to have an authentic relationship with God, and how to live out of that relationship.  It is a kinetic experience – it is moving and flowing and transforming.

Peter wants to memorialize this into the tabernacles.  He wants to get caught up in the here and now – yet Jesus reminds him that it is a journey that we are called to.

Then we encounter the presence of God the Father.
When I was younger I climbed Mount Massive, the second highest peak in Colorado.  We made it to the top on a windy and cloudy day.  While we were atop the mountain, looking off to the north west a cloud was blown up and onto the top of the mountain.  We were enshrouded in fog and the vast vista was cloaked in mystery.  After a minute or two a hole opened up in the sky and the sun shone down onto the cloud that we were in – atop the mountain and the fog was transformed into this curtain of dazzling bright white light.  It was as if we were trapped inside of a sun beam.  Everything was illuminated.

I imagine that this was the kind of experience that Peter, James and John had when the Father spoke to them atop Mt. Tabor – they found themselves wrapped in the presence of God the Father.  That presence can be terrifying because it illuminates the reality of where we are and where we are in our relationship with God.

Mount Calvary - Sin separates us from God. 
Our sin becomes like a mountain that divides us from God.  Our sin is why Jesus needs to go from Tabor to Calvary – to die to conquer the mountain of our Sin.  In the Psalm today the psalmist prays.  “The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the LORD of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his justice, and all peoples see his glory.”, and later on he prays “Because you, O LORD, are the Most High over all the earth, exalted far above all gods.” 

When we harden our hearts with sin they become like mountains of rock that block us from the love of God, and when we choose to sin we make ourselves god in place of God – and yet when we have the opportunity to experience the Transfiguration like Peter, James and John the presence of God melts the mountains of our sin and we recognize the reality of God.  This is an experience of humility.

Jesus comes with a healing touch to cure our sinfulness
In the depths of their sin it is Christ who reaches out and touches them.  It is a human, a physical interaction that Christ performs to draw Peter, James and John out of the terror of the moment so that they can resume the journey with Him.

We experience the touch of Christ here in this liturgy tonight – He touches our ears when His word is proclaimed in the Mass.  He touches our hearts when we receive Him in the Holy Eucharist.  He calls us to touch others as we go out into the world this week to live out this Gospel.  Take a moment during this Mass and allow Christ to touch you.

Mount Olivet
After Calvary, Christ is raised from the dead and then leads the Church to Olivet – the Mount of the Ascension.  It is at Mount Olivet that we learn that Christ takes our Humanity into the fullness of the Divinity.  This is expressed in the vision from Daniel in the first reading today.  Here comes the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven he received dominion, glory, and kingship.  All things enter under the providence of God – the Truth of who we are, our sin is subjugated and we enter into life with God for eternity – it is the ultimate goal that we are created for, and that we strive for.

Why am I Catholic

I am Catholic for many of the same reasons that I climb mountains –
  • I desire a better perspective on life. 
  • I have fallen in love with the beauty of divinity.
  • I thrive on the Challenge to become a better man, a better person.
  • I love to work to grow closer to God – In Prayer, in my actions, in my deeds.
  • I am Catholic because I love the community – Like Peter, James and John I am not alone, but I have Brothers and Sisters who climb with me.
  • I am Catholic because I realize in my encounter with God that He is wild, unruly, untamed.  There is a rawness to the reality of God that energizes and inspires me.  Like Peter I can say that God is reality and not simulation, and the encounters that I have had with God inspire me to become more connected to Him in His totality.



The Gospel today is filled with Contradictions

  • What is hidden from the wise is revealed to the little ones
  • The King Comes to You
  • The Flesh is Death, the Spirit is Life
  • Take on my yoke - because it is easy

How are we to take this into our hearts and live it out in our lives this week?

What is hidden from the wise is revealed in these little ones.

No one comes to the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him to.

We are the Body of Christ - We are Christ in the world today - it is through His disciples that Christ is revealed.

  • How do we share Christ with those around us?  Are we willing to share our encounters with Him with others?
  • Do we choose to encounter Christ in our daily lives?  Not just on Sundays, but Monday through Saturday?
  • When we receive Christ in the Eucharist do we allow that encounter to transform us?

Yet - realize that as the disciples of Jesus Christ - we are the ones that the Son has commissioned to share the love of the Father with the world.  When we share our encounter with Christ with others in our lives, then we are sharing in the mission of Christ - Revealing the Love of the Father to His little ones.

The King comes to Us - In a normal world I need to go to the King
This is the second contradiction of the scriptures today.  In a "normal" world when we had trouble we would have to go to the King, and bribe palace officials for an audience or wait for days for the King to hear our case and then to receive his judgment.  Yet the Prophet Zechariah uses this imagery of the King coming to seek us - not with a royal procession, guards, and important people, but meek and humble, riding on the colt of an ass - a beast so small and fragile that it needs gentleness and tenderness.

The image of the King coming to help us is the image of a Father coming to the aid of a hurt child.  Perhaps he fell down and skinned his knee?  How would a loving Father respond?  Perhaps he is sick with the flu, then instead of being imperious, he would scoop his child up and place him in his own bed to get better.  Bring him Soup, crackers and care for him in his sickness.  This is the kind of King that Zechariah shows us.

The Humility that Christ has clothed himself shows up in another contradiction - the contradiction of the Flesh and the Spirit.

Christ comes to us clothed in humility.  His grace, his Spirit is like water - it is the gentlest of forces, and yet the most trans-formative of forces on the earth.  Water shapes rock, it transforms mountains, it provides life.

The Spirit versus the Flesh.  We are creatures of the Flesh yet we are also creatures of the Spirit.

That water is seeking to free us from our attachments to unclean things (to sin).  Zechariah speaks of this as the king and his kingdom coming to rid us of the weapons of war.

When I joined the Navy, I did not know how to swim.  You think that this would be an important thing for someone who might be sent away on a ship thousands of miles from the shore. In boot camp they threw us all in a pool to see who could swim.  If you couldn't, you'd thrash yourself to the side of the pool, and be assigned to the remedial swim lessons.

When we got to the swim lessons, they taught us to relax in the water, and to open up our lungs, to use our arms and legs so we could actually stay afloat.

This is an analogy for the third contradiction that shows up in the reading from St. Paul to the Romans - If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if you live according to the Spirit you will live.

Another way to think about this is how am I living - selfishly (according to the Flesh) or selflessly (according to the Spirit).

Am I spiritually downing and trashing because my arms are busy holding onto those things that lead me to Sin or am I swimming because I reaching out to live according to the Spirit.

Selfishness occurs in every sin - When I choose myself, my pleasure, my gratification, my satisfaction over God or another.

When I am busy grabbing or holding onto stuff that is for me, then I can't stay afloat (spiritually) and so I will drown.

On the other hand if I let go of the crutches that Christ is trying to free me from - from my attachment to sin then I am free to help others and to live truly according to the spirit.

This brings us to the final contradiction

My Yoke is Easy and my Burden is Light.

A Yoke is a big hunk of wood that we put on the neck of an oxen when we want to tie them to a plow and do some work - prepare a field for planting.

A Yoke, to our world today looks like an instrument of enslavement.  You are no longer free to do what you want, but you need to do what God asks.
How many of us have had to answer questions - or complaints against Christians - If you become a Christian, if you become married then you are no longer free to do what you want.

God gave us the gift of freedom in order to choose to love Him, not to do what we want - that is selfishness.  Christ invites us to take up his yoke, to allow our lives to become productive.  To prepare the soil for planting, that our sacrifice and selflessness becomes fruit for others to come to eternal life.

The Yoke is to live the Beatitudes - the commandments of Christ.  If we focus our lives to following Christ, to being his disciples then it becomes possible for Christ to transform not only us but those around us.  We then begin to respond to the grace of God that surrounds us like water and to live according to the spirit rather than according to the flesh.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit,
  • Blessed are they who mourn,
  • Blessed are the meek,
  • Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
  • Blessed are the merciful,
  • Blessed are the clean of heart,
  • Blessed are the peacemakers,
  • Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,

Come to me all you who are labor and are burdened (with Sin) - put my Yoke upon you (live the beatitudes) for I am gentle (like a father to a sick child) and humble of heart (like water).  And you will find rest for yourselves (because you will no longer have to flee the effects of Sin).  For my Yoke is easy and my burden light (for you to illuminate to the world)...


The land of the Free and the home of the Brave

Francis Scott Key wrote the Stars Spangled Banner while aboard a British ship during the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the war of 1812.

America is the land of the ____?
And the home of the _____?

The challenge of the Gospel today is to examine our lives and our country.  I think that the core question that the readings lead us to ask is “Are we living in a culture that promotes sin and encourages us to be opposed to God?

Are we living in the land of the Free?
Are we really in the home of the brave?  I ask these questions because the readings today talk to us about our core relationship with God, and the necessity for us to confront sin in our lives – to be brave.

Freedom is the Foundation of Love
The first reading today from Sirach reminds us that the foundation of the moral life is freedom.  God gives us freedom to choose him or to reject him.  Why?  Freedom is the foundation of love and without freedom there can be no love.

Are our actions life-giving or death dealing?
God reminds us that we are free to choose life or death – for ourselves and for others.  We do this with our actions.  Are our actions life-giving or death dealing?

What we ask for – God will give us
Sirach affirms that we are truly free to follow God or to reject God.  We are free to take fire or water, life or death – good or evil.  What we ask for God will grant.

Two ways to understand freedom – lies and truth
There are two ways to look at this freedom – and one is truthful and life-giving and the other is false and death dealing.

The false way is to say that I am free to live any way that I want.  Therefore – God must intend that I live this way.  Sirach affirms that this is false when he says “No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.”  The true way is to examine our freedom and understand that “The reason that God gives me the choice is so that I can learn to love”

The Home of the Brave – Jesus continues the Sermon on the Mount
We use the gift of freedom when our actions align with the Gospels.  In the Gospel today Jesus continues the Sermon on the Mount and invites us to make the choice to choose Christ in the way that we live out our lives today.  This is where we need to have the courage to be brave – to examine our lives in four difficult areas to see where our lives need to be reformed so that the will of God can flow through us.

Anger – The power to kill or to correct
Jesus starts the Gospel today with a reflection on Anger.  Anger is a tool that leads us to action.  The question is what sort of action does anger lead us to?  To Death or to Life?  When we are angry with another do we choose to kill the friendship – to end our relationship – to freeze them out or ignore them.  To minimize the impact they have on our lives?  Or do we choose to allow our anger to give us the courage and determination to reflect on the injustice and to address it?  This is why Christ says that when we recognize that another is angry with us – we should stop everything and seek to be recognized.

Sometimes the other is not open to reconciliation.  We have to respect their freedom – but be clear that we are open to healing and addressing the wrong that we have done.

Anger can fuel us to change or isolation.  In which direction is my anger leading me?  How would God ask me to use this anger?


National Week for Marriage
Providentially this Gospel falls in the middle of national marriage week.  The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has set aside this week (ending on Valentine’s day) to be a week to pray an live out our marriages more fully.

In the midst of this reflection comes this Gospel with two challenges to marriage – Lust and Divorce.

Last year people spent 4.5 Billion hours viewing pornography – working against Christ’s warning in the Gospel today.  That is a staggering number of hours.  For example, if we could harness the effort that people put into the viewing of Pornography we could complete the entire Apollo Moon Landing program in one year and still have 1.5 Billion hours left over!  Staggering!

Pornography is destructive to our hearts because it take s an intimate, personal and private expression of love between spouses and exposes it to the world.  It misuses something that is meant to create life and instead uses it to destroy others souls.  It corrupts our capacity for intimacy by transforming self-giving into self-serving.

Lust traps us with shame and fear.
We fear to confess and we are ashamed of our actions.  These two factors often keep those trapped by Lust in the state of lust.  Live in the home of the brave and have the courage to confront this sin in your life it is present!

What can we do if we recognize this evil in our life?

  • Clear out your browser cache and history
  • Move your internet viewing habits to a public area
  • Avert your eyes and thoughts when you recognize the temptation for lust.
  • Read “Create a clean heart in me” – This is a document created by the USCCB to address the issue of pornography in our culture.

This is a difficult topic for me because I am a divorced man.  Yet we need to listen to the Gospel with open hearts.

Christ teaches that what God joins, no man can divide.  For this reason the Church does not recognize civil divorce.  Yet we live in a culture where this is rampant.

There are some common questions around divorce that are often asked.

Are divorced Catholics excommunicated?

Can divorced Catholics receive Holy Communion?
Yes, divorced Catholics who are in good standing with the church, who have not remarried or who have remarried following the death of their spouse or an annulment may receive the sacraments.  Catholics who are civilly divorced are encouraged to speak to their parish priest or deacon about the matter.

Taking Oaths
The last area of the Gospel that Christ addresses is taking oaths, and the topic of swearing.  When we take an oath it is that we are asking God to witness our actions.  Unfortunately, as a culture we have lost our foundation in God, and so we take oaths lightly and do not understand the seriousness of saying yes or no.  The challenge to us is – Have I been faithful to my vows – In my marriage, in my Holy Orders?

In the Gospel today Jesus says “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Our actions reflect to the world what we believe.  We are here this Sunday to show our love for God.  In this encounter God is inviting us to reflect on the actions of our lives.

  • Are we living in the Land of the Free?  
  • Are we acting like those from the Home of the Brave?  

God has given us the gifts of Freedom and Courage – This is the week to use them!