Category Archives: charity

Ready for Jesus

Dear Folks,

Our Gospel today talks about being ready at any moment to meet Jesus. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit’ – you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. Instead you should say, ‘If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.’ But now you are boasting in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).”

Life is full of things we can neither predict nor control. If things have been steady for a while, there is danger that we will think we can count on things just continuing. Life can change in an instant. Empires can rise and fall with amazing rapidity.

Two books come to mind. “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard talks about the human tendency to think we are entitled not to be affected by change, and how we can choose to stay stuck or to adapt. “Age of the Unthinkable” by Joshua Cooper Ramo speaks of how life is changing faster and faster, compared to previous centuries. He recommends resilience. St. Paul understood resilience: “I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living abundance and in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me (Philippians 4:11b-13).” Our relationship with God gives us something to cling to when the storm hits, and the stronger that relationship, the more powerfully it can carry us through the turmoil.

That brings us to Treasure in heaven. Luke 12 talks about giving alms and talks about a prudent (phronimos) steward who is found doing God’s work when the Lord comes (which could be any time).

Matthew 6 talks about prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and that we must be careful not to do it for the wrong reasons. Story of the rich young man Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30 all tell of Jesus saying that giving alms will bring us treasure in heaven.

With all those in mind, it might be worth rereading the parable of the dishonest steward in Luke 16:1-13, and understand Jesus is talking about stewardship that builds treasure in heaven.

There is a point I want to emphasize really hard: this is not about buying heavenly bitcoin. If we ever reduce Christianity to a business transaction, we have missed the point. Christianity is a love relationship with God, and the more powerful the relationship, the more joyfully we encounter our beloved. Heaven is consummating our relationship with God, and the more our hearts are by our discipleship here, the more we are open to that love in heaven. How do we get our hearts widened? Love relationships stretch us by being attentive to the presence of our beloved (as in prayer), choosing our beloved over other goods (as in fasting), and doing things to please our beloved (as in almsgiving).

May our desire for God ever grow, and enable us to seek first His Kingdom.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Focus on Love

Dear Folks,

The essence of the Gospel is the gift of self. The Lord gave Himself completely for us, not withholding the last drop of His blood. By His Pascal Mystery, He empowers and invites us to receive that gift, and to give ourselves to Him in return. In this exchange of love is the fullness of life, the fullness of freedom, and the fullness of joy.

There are two problems. One, we are free simply to refuse. We can choose to live for ourselves and our desires alone. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 16:25; see Luke 17:33 and John 12:25).” The other problem is more insidious and more dangerous. It is the false gift of self. It allows us to tell others (and often ourselves) that we are really committing ourselves, but the reality is different.

We all know about people who claim to be your friend when it is convenient for them but ignore you when it is not. Sometimes people make a commitment and either never intended to keep it or change their minds when they find out it will be harder than they thought.

This can take many forms. In the Scriptures, there is a continual problem of false gifts to God. God teaches His people how to be in relationship to Him (in the Old Testament this is embodied in the Torah, and in the New Testament it is embodied in Jesus). People keep trying to make it something less. Isaiah 1 and Psalm 50 are about those who offer ritual sacrifices but do not follow God’s teaching, as if they could just buy Him off and continue to do what they wanted. The scribes and Pharisees in the Gospels were classic examples of those who went through the motions, but their hearts and minds did not belong to God, and they refused to be corrected.

The Scriptures make an analogy between our relationship with God and the relationship between husband and wife. The book of Hosea, Ezekiel 13 and 23, and other texts compare idolatry with adultery. God made sex as the ultimate gift of self between husband and wife and the power to generate life. People keep trying to make it something less, and that has caused serious harm to people’s lives, to families, and to society as a whole. People are exploited, children are neglected or considered disposable, and people lose the power to connect on a deep level. To use it as a toy, a sport, or a casual interaction harms the people involved. All of Catholic sexual morality is to preserve its power as authentic gift of self.

Some do charitable work but are less concerned about what will really help people than about feeling good about themselves or having other people praise them.

This Sunday we read the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). This story, unique to Luke, is a story about authentic charitable work. It involved an emergency, and someone who helped with nothing to gain for himself. His friends would never praise him for helping a Jew, in fact, they would probably sneer in disgust (such was the hatred between Jews and Samaritans). The man he helped would probably be angry he was helped by a Samaritan, and there could not be expectation of gratitude from him. He took a risk stopping in a dangerous place, used his own resources, and now had to walk instead of ride. He even left himself open to extra cost. He probably even had to deal with a feeling of disgust himself for this victim.

We remember that Jesus Himself is the perfect model of selfless love. He was already on the highest throne in heaven, and had nothing to gain by saving us, but He did at great cost to himself. This is the challenge He gives us today.

Blessings,

Fr Jim

Pentecost and Peacemaking

Dear Folks,

This is Pentecost, the great feast of the Holy Spirit, and the birthday of the Catholic Church.

The Holy Spirit came and brought people together, breaking down barriers between people, and enabling them to have relationships. This is a path to peace. This is the path to peace.

With the recent shooting that was in the news, I think it is good to talk about some violence in our society. There has been so much lately, such increases in different kinds of violence and cruelty, from shootings to rioting, to assaulting people on the subway, to suicide. What has caused this? I think as a society we need to put our collective energy behind building some values, some norms, and some habits.

On is empathy, an awareness and attentiveness to the state of another person. Often, we are focused on how things affect us, but deep awareness of what’s happening in others is precious.

This is built in good relationships, interacting sharing, and working together (texting is not enough). Essential is good fathering and good mothering. Could we agree that fathering and mothering are crucial, heroic vocations that should be honored and celebrated? Could we work to develop respect for people when we disagree, and try to understand them rather than insult them? This requires recognizing that the way things look to us in not always how they look to others, and we can’t just demand they see things our way.

Humans have a desperate need for agency. I have observed that we humans have a real need to make a mark in the world, ideally to do great and noble things, but if we feel we cannot, it is easy to make a mark by being destructive. We must nurture the potential greatness in each person, so they can see themselves as heroes and not victims. We must build the fortitude to keep going when that road gets harder than expected (which it will). We must focus on strategy and tactics for making changes large and small.

We need reverence for boundaries. Because we think we are right does not give us the license to use tactics that we would condemn in the other side (they think they are right too). We must measure violence by those on our side with the same scale we measure violence by our opponents. We need support and for law enforcement and consistent enforcement of laws.

Some people have been proposing what they consider the solution, and berating those who do not agree. They do not make a case for their solution but seem to presume it is obviously the thing to do, and they say that those who don’t follow their plan do not care and do not love children. I think this is the exact opposite of what we need. What if there are intelligent people of good will who do care very much, but believe that this proposed solution will not help, but will in fact do harm? This approach is guaranteed to fail. It completely neglects to look at other people’s point of view. It makes both sides feel more helpless and pushes people farther apart. No amount of browbeating is going to make me accept a solution that I think will just make things worse. Let people make a case for their proposed solution, recognizing that their other side has their case too. We need to go through how it would be implemented in practice. We need to recognize that we are all biased in favor of our own arguments, and we need to work harder on making our case than we think we do.

As a Christian, I believe that the starting point is Jesus, and I highly (very highly) recommend getting to know Jesus better. However, if anything I’ve said resonates with you, my efforts have not been wasted. Let’s move the conversation forward. Let’s make the situation better.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Loving Those Hard to Love Part I

Dear Folks,

In our Gospel today, Jesus teaches us unconditional love, even our enemies. If people know anything about Christianity, they know we are to love one another. This is wonderfully easy to say. It is much harder to do. The first issue is spiritual. There are some

people it is easy to want to love, while others, who can be so aggravating, are much more difficult. It is hard to empathize with someone who has caused pain, difficulty, or harm, and seems not to care about it.

It helps to pray for such people. It always begins with seeking God’s help. It is good to remember the goal: not to destroy the person but purge the evil from them and rejoice with them in heaven. God says, “Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked—oracle of the

Lord God? Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live? (Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 33:11; Luke 15:7).” The more focused we are on the eternal goals the more we can handle worldly problems.

Another problem is practical. In Christianity love is not a feeling but a decision to seek the good of others for their own sake.

In Ann Garrido’s excellent book “Redeeming Conflict” habit #4 is “Undo the knot of intention.” Good intentions don’t necessarily mean good consequences, and bad consequences don’t necessarily mean bad intentions. It is harder. I have learned, again and

again, that I can intend to do good and have it not work well. Now, God will judge our hearts, and if we are doing our best, that is having a loving heart. That said, if we do less than our best to find out if we are really doing good, I don’t think that will go well.

Doing parish work, I’ve found that there are some people who focus their energy and skill in getting resources from helping agencies, and they can refine that to an art. I think about

what they could do if they put that intelligence and energy into doing something constructive. Some people say to just give them money, and if they misuse it, “that’s on them.” Is that really seeking others’ good, or is that about making ourselves feel good?

Someone referred to one such person as “he helps the poor to stay poor, because he needs them to be poor.” I know that sometimes I risk being taken. I’m quite sure I do get taken from time to time, but we can’t close our hearts in an effort to be safe. One thing I’m sure of, we don’t want to be in the position of explaining to God why we didn’t try (Matthew 25:14-46). Sometimes the aggravation is part of the price for loving our neighbor. Direct help in emergencies is great; helping people who cannot help themselves is great; when we can help people move themselves into a better situation where they can flourish, that is wonderful. I love our community dinners and our food pantries; sometimes getting a meal from someone who treats you with courtesy, kindness and respect can make all the difference. I love Habitat for Humanity, because people who participate in their program tend to flourish

more afterward. I love Have Mercy, the program for the homeless in Montcalm and Ionia counties. They give a great deal of immediate help and will regularly move homeless people into permanent homes. I love Alpha Family Center who help people in a uniquely vulnerable time in their lives, giving help they can be grateful for for the rest of their lives. There are some many good things being done, and I hope we can learn more and more ways to help people in need. We don’t ask if they deserve it; we ask what is truly helpful. How to be helpful is something we can spend the rest of our lives learning and practicing.

If we dedicate ourselves to helping people we don’t know and can do nothing for us, maybe that will strengthen our ability to love even the people who harm us.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Breaking Down Barriers

Dear Folks,In our Gospel today (Mark 7:31-37) Jesus heals a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment, thus enabling him to connect to other people. I would suggest that the biggest barrier to people connecting nowadays is not a problem with the ears but a problem between the ears. We have people talking at each other but not making sense to each other, and the more they talk the more alienated they become. This is a huge problem for the world, and it seems to be getting worse.As someone who has spent a large part of his life talking to people without connecting, I have worked very hard on this problem for a long time. While I have a long way to go, I can state confidently that I have made a great deal of progress from where I used to be (trust me, you are lucky you don’t have to deal with who I was in my teens and twenties). Things can get better if we want them to.I started with Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It was eye opening, for the first time introducing me to the idea of focusing on what the other person wants and what the other person is thinking instead of just what I want and what I’m thinking. This alone would be a huge improvement in a lot of conversations we are seeing today.If I could recommend one book for people, I would emphasize “Redeeming Conflict” by Ann Garrido. I have mentioned it before, but it is time to mention it again. It is about twelve habits that can transform conflict and make it a spiritual journey. The twelve habits are 1. Sidestep the triangle (go directly to the person with which you have the problem). 2. Be curious (what is happening with the other person? What is that person thinking? What is that person seeking? What might this person see that I don’t? Is there more to the situation than either of us sees?) That is related to 3. Listen to understand (We usually listen to refute their point of view, but remember their beliefs make sense to them, so how do they fit together in their mind?). 4. Undo the knot of intention (we tend to judge ourselves on our intentions and others on their results, but good intentions don’t guarantee good consequences, and we need to keep that in mind for both parties). 5 Welcome emotion (our emotions give us clues to what is really happening inside us, and what this situation means to us). 6. Speak your voice (while we emphasize hearing and understanding the other, the situation cannot truly be resolved without your side of the story being articulated). 7. Know and steady thyself (some issues trip our triggers, and we can go off and say things we will regret. It is good to know and compensate for such tendencies). 8. Pray to forgive (Forgiveness is essential to dealing with conflict, and the ability to do so is a gift from God, so we need to pray for it). 9. Repent (very often, both sides have contributed to the problem, at least somewhat, and we need to own our part). 10. Problem solve (It really helps to develop creative solutions where both sides win).11. Be trustworthy, not necessarily trusting (not everyone is trustworthy, but we need to be, and Christians are called to do right no matter how much others do wrong). 12. Practice prudence (knowing which of these habits to exercise and when is more art than science). It is a very Catholic book, but I don’t think there is anything there to offend our non-Catholic brothers and sisters.Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9). Jesus took a whole beatitude to emphasize this point (I have a lot to say about how important the beatitudes are in the teaching of Jesus). If we want to follow Jesus’ teaching (we do, don’t we?) and we want to be called “children of God” (we do, don’t we), would we not be intentional about increasing our ability to be peacemakers?Blessings,Fr. Jim

Blessed Father Michael McGivney’s work

Dear Folks,

This Friday, August 13, we celebrate the feast day of Blessed Michael McGivney, parish
priest. He lived from 1852 to 1890, and those were difficult days to be Catholic. Many
were poor immigrants, and in those days, there were signs on businesses that said, “Irish
need not apply.” Italians were discriminated against as well. Many had to take the most
dangerous jobs in mines, railroads, and factories, and if a man who was husband, father and
breadwinner died on the job, there was no provision for the widow and children. It is easy
to imagine many families in dire straits.

The Ku Klux Klan was very powerful in the south, though it had reach up north as well
(we remember that they burned a cross on St. Charles’ lawn in 1924). There were various
other secret organizations, not necessarily violent, but many had beliefs and practices
contrary to Catholic principles. Many Catholic men, feeling hemmed in, were sorely
tempted to join one.

During these years, alcohol consumption was at its historical peak. Many, working in soulcrushingly tedious, meaningless, and stressful jobs in factories, would go to the taverns on
Friday, spend the rent and grocery money, and come home and beat up their wives. This is
how the temperance movement began. There was a great need for men to gather to
encourage each other in virtue and support each other emotionally and spiritually. There
was a great need to promote a positive vision of Catholic manhood.

To make a (very) long story (very) short, Fr. McGivney met with 24 Catholic men in the
basement of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, and founded the Knights of
Columbus. In 2016, there were almost 2 million members who contributed more than 177
million dollars in charity and more than 75 million hours of charity.

Fr. McGivney died at age 38, having been a priest for only 13 years. I remember what I was
like after 13 years of priesthood, and with the skill level I had then, I could no more have
formed a such an organization than I could have jumped to Jupiter. What Fr. McGivney
had accomplished in such a short time leaves me awestruck. Not only that, he was also
known for his great compassion in helping those in need, and wonderful dealing with
troubled souls. He was beatified in 2020, and many are praying for his canonization.

If you want to learn more, there is an interesting book called: “Parish Priest: Father
Michael McGivney and American Catholicism” by Douglas Brinkley and Julie Fenster.
Don’t forget the prayer service Friday August 13 at 6:30 pm at St. Charles.

Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Love: Easy to say; hard to do

Dear Folks,
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” Leviticus 19:18 commands
that we love our neighbors as ourselves, so what is new here? What is new is the standard
to love as Jesus loves. Great. How do we do that?

Many years ago, Joseph Fletcher wrote a book called “Situation Ethics”. In it he claimed
the only rule of morality we should have is to love others. Then he would pose situations
and say that the rules say this but what is the loving thing to do? I soon realized that he
thought it was obvious what the loving thing to do was, and that every honest, decent
person would come to the same conclusions. A moment’s reflection will tell us that is not
true. We have terrible disagreements on how to seek the good of others. First, we don’t
agree on what is good. Is getting what I want the greatest good? An addict most wants to
feed his addiction, but enabling the addiction is not the loving thing to do. As sinners, we
are all something like addicts, and our sinful state distorts our vision of goodness (This is
called concupiscence). Jesus came and showed us a greater good, one that often involves
letting go of things we strongly desire, for the sake of something greater. The other issue,
even when we agree on what is good, what will get us to that good most effectively. Can
we better fight poverty with more government programs or more free enterprise solutions (I
have opinions, but I won’t bore you with them now)? Sometimes we think the
disagreement is about ends when it is about means.

What does it mean to love as Jesus loves? Some people project their own prejudices and
desires. I remember an animal rights group who put up a sign that said that Jesus was a
vegetarian. When they were challenged how they knew this, they said that Jesus was a
good person, so of course He would be a vegan. Of course, we know that He was not a
vegetarian. In Luke 24:43, it very explicitly says that He ate a piece of fish. We also know
about His multiplying loaves and fishes, and miraculously enabling huge catches of
fish. Furthermore, He observed Jewish practices throughout His earthly life, which would
include eating Passover lamb. What is clearly happening is people are either not reading
the Gospels, or reading and missing a lot, and then presuming that Jesus would see things
the way they do.

Demanded complete loyalty and unlimited sacrifice (Matthew 10:37-39). Jesus threatens
with hell. A Lot. I found Matt 5:22; 29-30; 7:13; 19; 23; 10:28; 33; 39; 11:23; 12:32; 37;
13:30; 42; 49-50; 16:25; 18:3; 21:43-44; 22:13-14; 24:48-51 in Matthew alone (I did not
count the times in Mark, Luke, or John). By the way, that doesn’t mean we should be quick
to threaten people with hell. What works for one audience will not work with another. Part
of loving service is taking the effort to get to know people well enough to understand how
to connect with them.

Jesus’ teaching on marriage was fierce in Matt 19:1-15. His teaching is based on natural
law, the way we were created. We notice that He doesn’t talk about love (we are to love
everyone), but on the fact that “From the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and
female.’” The consequences were so serious that He scared the disciples who said, “If that
is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus said marriage was not for
everyone, “but only to those to whom that is granted.” Marriage is a heroic act if one takes
it seriously, and it takes a great deal of courage. To teach that nowadays would get you
called “unloving” or even “hateful” in some circles.

Jesus loves all people; He does not love all behaviors. Jesus taught things that were hard. If
we think we have it all figured out, we are probably wrong. It takes a lifetime of
discipleship to learn how to love as Jesus loves. Then we have to do it. We need a lot of
grace. Let’s pray hard.

Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Helping Those in Need

Dear Folks,
As we continue to celebrate Easter, we are reading a lot from the Acts of the
Apostles. It is a continuation of the story of the Gospel of Luke, and the story
of the early Church, and a wonderful picture of how to be an Easter
people. This is what the first Christians did as a response to the resurrection
and the descent of the Holy Spirit.
In our first reading this week we see the early Church worked together as one
body. They each cared, not just for themselves, but for the good of all the
members of the Church. Soon we will see Christians helping others who were
not members of their faith community. This was not something people did in
the ancient world, and it made Christians stand out as different. It is one of the
reasons many people decided they wanted to learn more about Christianity. It is
a way of proclaiming the Gospel that not only gets people’s attention but earns
a good deal of credibility.
Right now, as I understand it, the Catholic Church does more to help those in
need that any other organization. However, could we agree there is room to
grow? As a rough guess, what would you figure is the proportion of our
church’s resources that are dedicated to keeping the church itself going? Now,
what proportion do you think is dedicated to helping people in need beyond our
church? What proportion would Jesus want, if the church worked the way He
would like it?
Imagine a central database of opportunities to help those in need, so that
everyone could find some need that would match their gifts, abilities, and
circumstances. Some can do more, and some can do less, but if all one can do
is a teeny amount, if it is done with love, it is huge in God’s eyes (Mark 12:41-
44; Luke 21:1-4).
This will accomplish three things:

  1. It will make Jesus happy (do we need another reason?)
  2. It will proclaim the Gospel in a way that connects to people who are not
    impressed with institutions or rituals (at least, not impressed yet).
  3. We will encounter Jesus personally in the people we serve (Matthew
    25:31-46).
    We are called to do two things: encounter Jesus and share Jesus. The more we
    do those two things, the more we will flourish as church, the more we will
    flourish as disciples, and the more we will flourish as human beings.
    For the past year we have been playing defense. It is time for that to
    change. We will revisit the survey that had been taken. I will share the work
    that has been done as a result, some mistakes that I made and what is to be
    done in the future. One of the things that needs to improve is messaging. I am
    determined to do better with that myself, and everyone can play a role in
    making that happen. I believe there is much reason to approach the coming
    year with hope.
    Blessings,
    Fr. Jim

Sheep in the Midst of Wolves

Dear Folks,
“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd (clever/cunning/
crafty) as serpents and simple (innocent) as doves (Matthew 10:16).” The greater the evil
that we fight, the more important to hold ourselves to a higher standard of behavior. On
Amazon I saw a book called “In Defense of Looting” that apparently suggested that looting
was an effective tactic of protest. (Wasn’t Amazon the group that de-platformed Parler?
But they allow this?) If we say that our tactics are justified because our cause is so right and
just, we want to remember that Everyone’s cause is right and just in their minds, and those
tactics may be used for causes we don’t approve of. Many have pointed to those who
defended the rioting last summer as making it easier for others to believe they should break
into the capital. I highly recommend Ann Garrido’s book “Redeeming Conflict.” Her habit

4 is “Undo the knot of intention.” Good intentions do not guarantee good actions. The

scribes and Pharisees who opposed Jesus certainly thought of themselves as the good guys,
but they lacked self-reflection. They had a mighty lens for seeing any hint of fault in
others, but were blind to their own shortcomings, or dismissed them because they
considered themselves so good.
Of course, the Bible has some helpful stuff. Ephesians 4: 26 “Be angry but do not sin; do
not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.” James 1:19-20
reminds us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” and that our wrath “does not
fulfill the righteousness of God.” Matthew 12:36: “You shall be held accountable for every
idle word that you utter.” When we are about to say something or type something, imagine
talking with Jesus on the last day and explaining how this comment is serving the kingdom
and showing His goodness. Jesus was sometimes fierce, but He wasn’t mean for the sake of
being mean, no matter how much someone deserved it. Jesus was very angry in Matthew
23, but he didn’t stay there; he moved to sadness and mourning for Jerusalem. Then He
went to work.
In Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he says, “In any nonviolent
campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices
are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.” He knew that their efforts needed
to be based on facts that would stand up to skeptical scrutiny. He did not just grab a few
tidbits of information that seemed to support his narrative. He describes their purification
like this: “We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the
questions, ‘Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?’ and ‘Are you able to endure
the ordeals of jail?’” This was disciplined and they held themselves to a very high
standard. They showed their power not with physical force but by imitating Jesus.
After the murder of George Floyd, there was a lot of consensus in this country, and a great
moment to have some serious conversation about how to prevent such things in the future.
There could have been serious steps taken so people could be confident that when they
interact with the police their lives would be protected and their dignity respected, as well as
the police being confident that if they do their jobs wrong there will be consequences and if
they do their jobs right their superiors and the community will stand by them. Then there
were riots night after night. The country was divided, and the moment was thrown away.
That may be the greatest tragedy of all.
I think we can heal as a nation. It will take a lot of self-examination. It will take many
deciding to look beyond their anger at what is wrong, to some well thought out strategies
for solving problems. It will require being clever as serpents and innocent as doves.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Finding the King in the poorest

Dear Folks,
We finish off the liturgical year by celebrating Christ the King, the ultimate victory feast.
Our Gospel reading is the final word of Jesus’ public teaching in the Gospel of Matthew,
and it is about the Last Judgment. Jesus first refers to Himself by the title “Son of Man,”
then compares Himself to a shepherd, then refers to Himself as “king.”
“As the visions in the night continued, I saw come with the clouds of heaven One like a son
of man. When he reached the Ancient of Days and was presented before him, he received
dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, people and tongue will serve him. His
dominion will not pass away, his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-
14).” The term “son of man” is in contrast to the horrible beasts that rule before Him
(Daniel 7 is quite a chapter).
Our first reading is from Ezekiel 34, and that entire chapter is about the image of the
shepherd. It is also worth reading. There is another well-known image of God as shepherd
in Isaiah: “Here he comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm; here is
his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his
arms he gathers the lambs, leading the ewes with care (Isaiah 40:10-11).” We remember the
greatest king of Israel in the Old Testament was David, and he started out as a shepherd.
The first two parables had main actors who were regular folks: a “bridegroom” and a
“man.” This time He is pulling out all the stops to get us to be fully aware and conscious of
His glory, power, grandeur, and importance. This should get our best attention. If we are
going to get anything right, we need to get this right.
In those days, when a king came to power and reached the throne, it was common to settle
accounts. If you had been a faithful supporter, life was good. If you had undermined him,
not so good. See Luke 19:11-27 for a familiar example.
The disciples would have known the Old Testament, and all of these images would have
been evoked in their minds when Jesus told this story. They would all seem fitting and
proper for the One for whom they had been waiting. The surprising thing was how the king
defines the sheep and the goats. The Old Testament, of course, spoke about concern for the
poor and those in need. That was a concept that most of the world did not recognize, but it
was familiar in the nation of Israel. Jesus, however, ups the ante: to care for those in need
is to care for Him personally. We are told to look for the highest and most exalted in the
people who are lowliest. This is a new thing. This is revolutionary. Throughout the
Gospels, the more clearly we see Jesus’ glory, the greater His emphasis on the cross and
servitude. Caring for those in need in not just a nice thing that Jesus encourages, but it is
responding directly to Him.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and Father is this: to care for orphans and
widows in their affliction and keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).”
This is an essential component of how we practice our faith, and an essential component of
how we proclaim the faith. I rejoice that our community does so many things to help those
in need. Now the question is do we have room to grow? Are there ways we can draw more
people into this work? Given how many people have drifted away from the Catholic
Church, is there a way we can show more powerfully that the love of Jesus is at work here?
Would it make Jesus happy if we grew in this area? Many people would like to be more
involved but don’t know how they can do it with their circumstances. My fond hope is that
we can make it more possible for people to be more connected in 2021. I ask everyone to
pray for this, and to be attentive whenever there is a call for help: is Jesus calling us?
Blessings
Fr Jim