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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Conquer Evil With Good

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 18, 2017
St Mary of the Pines Catholic Church, Shreveport, LA, U.S.A.
Fr. Joe is on leave from his parish in Kenya, St. John the Apostle Awasi Catholic Church, Kisumu Archdiocese.

Today, the Church turns its attention to this
very important theological virtue, Love. The Lord is Love, and the Church calls us to be like Him. This is because, we are living stones built into Christ, a Temple erected to give glory to God.

In our first reading (
Lev 19: 1-2), Moses is urging the "chosen community" to be holy because their God is also holy. The chosen people are called to be separate and distinct from the people and nations surrounding them. Those who belong to God are commanded to love each other as they love themselves. 

In the Gospel (
Mat 5:38-48), Jesus continues his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Mathew presents Jesus as the true interpreter of the Law of Moses received on Mt Sinai. It is good for us to remember that Jesus assures the Jews that he didn't come to abolish any part of the law, but to fulfill the law. He takes the challenge to love to another dimension, the heart of man. 

The Old Testament taught an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But Jesus says offer no resistance. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, give him your left. For those
who live in the teaching of Christ there must be no retaliation for an injury.  This leads to the most difficult command. Love -- not only your neighbour -- but love and do good to your enemies.

We need to ask ourselves then, why did Jesus give this strange advice? I will answer it with this example; A new patient walked into the office of the famous psychiatrist Dr. Smiley Blanton. The patient noted a copy of the Bible on Dr Blanton's desk and said, "Don't tell me that the great Dr. Blanton reads the Bible!" The doctor answered, "I not only read the Bible. I meditate on it. It's the greatest book on human behavior ever written. If people followed its teaching a lot of psychiatrists could close their offices and go home."
 What Jesus is telling the Jews, is that if a Roman tells you to go a mile with him, don't be angry, go two miles. When people resent their enemies, they end up hurting themselves. One author explains it this way: "When we hate our enemies, we give them power over us -- over our sleep, our blood pressure, even over our happiness and health." Our enemies would dance for joy if they knew how our hatred tears us apart. Our hatred is not hurting them at all. It only turns our own days and nights into hellish turmoil. 

My dear people of God, we hurt ourselves by bearing a grudge. Hating people is like
burning down your own house to get rid of a rat.  Can blood be washed with blood and can injury repair injury? Of course it is human to strive to get even with an enemy but it is Christian to forgive for we are all children of God who loves both the good and the bad without any discrimination. Hence Christ in the Sermon on the Mount is concerned with the heart of man.

In the end of his discourse, Jesus gives us a goal: “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

In the novel,  Alice in Wonderland, we find Alice wandering around in a dream world. She stops to ask a cat: “Would you tell me, please, which way I should go from here?”
The cat replies: “That depends a good deal on where you want to be.” Alice said: “Oh, I don’t much care.” With that the cat responds: “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.” But Alice persisted: “But I want to get somewhere.” Whereupon the cat, with a wry grin, said: “Oh, you are sure to do that!”

We can be a lot like Alice, saying “Oh, it doesn’t much matter” to a whole lot of things. It doesn’t much matter which church you go to. It doesn’t matter what you believe, and so forth. Pretty soon nothing much matters at all. Eventually our lives don’t matter, and we’ll be just like Alice drifting aimlessly in our own little wonderland going nowhere!

Some will say: “Well, what kind of a goal is that? Nobody can be equal to God anyway. So what’s the point?” How can we, mere mortals that we are with all of our faults and failures, be as perfect as God is perfect? Good point. It’s sort of like telling a child who has just learned simple arithmetic to solve a problem requiring calculus.

We need, of course, to look deeper into the words of Jesus. He uses an Aramaic word that carries the idea of completeness in the word “perfect.” Be ye complete as your
Heavenly father is complete. That's what Jesus is saying. Love completely as God loves completely. He loves without boundaries.

To be holy, however, does not mean for us to boast about our piety and our devotion to God. That is the way of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, which Our Lord Jesus rebuked. Being holy does not equate us saying prayers aloud in public, or being seen carrying holy relics. All these are external signs of faith without genuine holiness mean nothing for us.

St Paul in our second reading (
1 Cor 3:16-23) reminds us that our call is to remain united in Christ and avoid division since we are that temple of God where the Spirit of God dwells.  Human wisdom might make us think that we are followers of Paul, Apollos or Cephas, forgetting we are followers of Christ. We should avoid factions.  St Paul urged us to live in love as one family.

A popular Protestant preacher, Emmet Fox, once explained it in a way I think we all can understand. And it starts with something so simple, but so hard: forgiveness. It is a necessary first step. He says by not forgiving we “are tied to the thing [we] hate. The person whom you most dislike is the very one to whom you are attaching yourself by a hook that is stronger than steel. Is this what you wish?” I think we all know the answer. We need to detach ourselves from that hook. Then, and only then, can we begin to heal, and to love, and to pray for those who have hurt us so deeply.

Today, as you approach the altar to receive the body of Christ, pray to detach that hook. Pray for the grace to love the unlovable, to forgive the unforgivable, and to remember in prayer those you’d rather

I have a long way to go to achieve that. I think most of us do.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

MESSAGE TO YOUTH: God Has Set Before Us Good and Evil. Let Us Choose Life!

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 12, 2017
Youth Camp Retreat, Mount Lemon, Arizona

In today’s Gospel (Matt 5:17-37), Our Lord speaks of the importance of overcoming sin.

It begins with Our Lord Jesus speaking to the Jewish people about the commandments, which God had given them so that they could live according to God’s plan, and He reminds us that He has not come to abolish the laws and commandments, but to fulfill them. 

These are fulfilled in His Person as He is God’s Son, who came to suffer and die for our sins. Following the commandments is essential if we want to have eternal life. 

"You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” (Matt 5:21-23)

Take a moment to realize what Our Lord is saying. If we are angry with our brother, we  are liable to judgment. If we call someone a “fool,” then we are liable to hell. 

If we carry grudges against another person, then we need to stop this anger in our lives now. We must reconcile the situation and apologize. Our Lord says, “
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.”

Lack of forgiveness doesn't just disappear when we die. No, we take these issues with us into the next life. That is why we must strive to make peace and reconciliation today.

Further Our Lord says, “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife - unless the marriage is unlawful - causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

The Church takes the sacrament of marriage seriously. We take divorce seriously. Why? Because Our Lord does.
“Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matt 19:4-6)

Therefore, if you are called to the vocation of marriage, now is the time to make good preparations. Marriage is for life. Making a bad choice in this area could have devastating effects on you and your children's lives. Preserving your chastity now will make for a better marriage later. It's not necessary to date more than one person in your life -- your future spouse. Dating someone exclusively in your youth when you are not planning to marry can actually cut you off from opportunities for other friendships and academic achievement. Even if you date chastely, it can be hurtful when these relationships inevitably break off and someone goes to college. Make the most of your time as a single person! Use your creative talents. Volunteer and give yourself to others. This is the best preparation for marriage.
Today’s Gospel reminds us of the seriousness of committing the sin of impurity -- even in our thoughts.  “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman [or man] with lust has already committed adultery with his her [or him] in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.”

There are many lures to immodesty and impurity in our society today. Jesus does not want us to seriously cut off our hands and feet, but His point is that we must make every effort to overcome the near occasion of sin! Such an effort will benefit you later in life whether you marry or choose a celibate vocation in the Catholic Church.

We must cut out of our lives whatever leads us from eternal salvation. If we struggle with pornography, for example, than we must do all we can to cut ourselves off from watching such filth. Even some television programs verge on being pornographic. If we have a boyfriend or girlfriend who leads us into sin, then we may have to end the relationship. If we are addicted to computer games, we need to find something else to do.  

Fr. John Paul Shea
My dear teen brothers and sisters, the overall message of Our Lord Jesus in today’s Gospel is that the choices we make in this life determine the course of our lives and where we will live after we die. Our Lord Jesus has come to save us. He died for us! He wants us to live happy lives and then come home with Him forever. 

In today’s first reading (Sirach 15:15-20), God says that he has [set before us] fire and water, life and death, good and evil, to whichever [we] choose shall be given [us]. God says,
“If [we] choose to keep the commandments, they will save [us]; if [we] trust in God, [we] shall live.” 

Let us therefore choose life. Let us follow the teachings handed down to us so that we can have eternal life. Let our "yes" mean "yes" and our "no" mean "no." 

May God give us the grace to understand His words to us today. May God bless each one of you with His Holy Spirit to protect you always. Amen.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Holiness Arises in the Heart!

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 11, 2017
St Mary of the Pines Catholic Church, Shreveport, LA, U.S.A.
Fr. Joe is on leave from his parish in Kenya, St. John the Apostle Awasi Catholic Church, Kisumu Archdiocese.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

You all know people with a decent reputation. They are respectful of others and law abiding. We also know some who with a good reputation turn out to be different than we
thought. Some bring terrible hurt and inflict real damage. As the old saying goes, appearances are deceiving. Looking good does not mean that our hearts are filled with goodness.

The first reading today (Sirach 15:15-20) tells us this:
“If you trust in God, you too shall live.” The gift of wisdom comes from God and that wisdom is practical knowledge of how to live
well in all relationships, learned from generations of experience and reflection on life with God and one another.

In the second reading, (
1 Cor 2:6-10), Saint Paul tells us: “We speak a wisdom to those who are mature.” Because our wisdom originates --not from human reason  -- but from the eternal, hidden plan of God, rulers of the present age cannot know it. It can only be grasped through divine disclosure. God's character and plan are revealed in Christ's passage through the humiliation and agony of the Cross to the Resurrection. 

This wisdom is the spiritual eye that can see the effects of God's love and saving power working in us through Christ's redemption. We are called to use it. A blind man slowly turned around the corner of a street feeling his way
with his white cane. A young man coming from the opposite direction collided with him. "Why don't you look where you are going?" barked the hurried young man. The blind man gently replied, "Why don't you go where you are looking?" Many times we fail to use the  eye of Wisdom God has given to us.

In our Gospel (
Mt 5:17-37), today, Jesus wants us to use that "spiritual eye." He wants us to see the world through His glasses. He reminds us that it is not external behavior that determines everything, but what is more important is what is happening in our hearts.

Matthew's Gospel was written primarily for Christians who were grounded in the scripture and traditions of the ancient Hebrews--or simply Christians who had first been Jews. The gospel also focused on Jews who were considering becoming Christians as well as all who wanted to learn more about this New Way as our faith was first called.
Matthew's Gospel has numerous references to the Torah, the most important part of the Hebrew Scripture. The Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. In Matthew, there are five main talks or discourses of the Lord modeled on the five books of the Law or the Torah. The first main discourse of the Law is the most important--the Sermon on the Mount, part of which is in today's gospel reading. Just as Moses went up Mount Sinai to bring the Ten Commandments, God's Law to the people, Jesus climbs the mountain of the Beatitudes to present the New Law to the people.

With this in mind, we can understand Jesus's opening remarks in today's gospel: "I came not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them." In the Lord's eyes, the Hebrew Scripture is not only valid, but it holds a place of greater reverence than ever before. But merely fulfilling the precepts of the ancient law was not enough. The attitudes and lifestyles of the Christian must reflect living the law.

When he introduced the New Law of the Kingdom of God Jesus said something that was absolutely shocking. He said that the holiness of the people had to surpass that of
the scribes and the Pharisees. How could anyone be holier than the Pharisees? The pharisees were referred as
"Perushim" [separated ones]. They strictly observed the Torah and hence they refused to mix with those who didn't observe torah vigorously.  

The Pharisees dressed wearing numerous images of their religion--including phylacteries, or miniature lists of the ten commandments. These hung from their headbands so whenever they turned their
Phylactery on his forehead, miniature 10 Commandments
head they would fulfill the law: keep these commandments always before your eyes.

They fasted. They said loud prayers for all to hear. But Jesus said that his followers had to be holier than these Pharisees. How could that be possible? Well, Jesus explains, our external actions must be a reflection of what we are really like in our hearts. If what we do is not a reflection of who we are, then we are hypocrites. Hypocrite, that’s the word that Jesus uses over and over to describe the Pharisees. 

To demonstrate his point, Jesus contrasts the written law of the Torah with the new attitude of the Kingdom that must motivate this law. For example Jesus says, "You have heard it said that murder is wrong, but harboring hatred is also wrong even if you don't physically kill someone."  Why? Because murder is conceived by hatred. The person who hates but does not murder is not a good person. He is just a person who has followed the social norms perhaps to avoid punishment. It is the same with all the laws and rules of the New Kingdom. The Lord's point is that following the law demands living the lifestyle that gives rise to the law. Living the life of the Lord
motivates the Christian rather than the minimal performance of the law.

It is important that we convey this message to our children. I know how adamant you all are to provide the best for your children. I and all your priests are edified by your efforts to be the best parents you can be. I want to re-enforce those efforts that I know you are making to have your children understand the motivation for their actions. Consider asking the children "why" a particular action is good or bad. For example, "I saw you playing with your cousin today and sharing your toys with him or her. That was very good. Do you know why?" Hopefully, your child will answer, "Because people are more important than our stuff." 

Maybe we need to do the same thing for ourselves. For example, "I am here in Church. This is good. Why?"  This is because I belong to God and He belongs to me. I need this intimate union with Him in the reading of Scripture and partaking of the Eucharist at least once a week. Or, "I really lost it with my spouse or my kids. This is bad. Why?"  It's not just because anger is bad, but I sinned against the love that animates our family, the Love of God."

You see, it is not in the action itself but it is in the motivation behind the action where the person's true identity is found and formed. We are called to take upon ourselves the very identity of Jesus Christ. We are called to be selfless givers. We are called to be eternal lovers of the Father. We are called to rejoice in His presence in our families. We are not called to be minimalists in the faith. We are called to develop the facility of finding meaning in the laws that God gave us so that our external actions might truly be a reflection of our internal attitudes.

So, is it easier to be a modern Christian than an ancient Jew? Absolutely not. Christianity is extremely demanding upon us all because it calls us to be 100% committed to living in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.When we make efforts to be wholesome and sincere, then our holiness will surpass even that of the scribes and Pharisees.
God gave us the tremendous gift of freely choosing. Love isn’t truly love unless it is freely given – and freely received.  God has paid us a tremendous compliment in that He respects our decisions. He offers and then He waits for our response. His love for us is unconditional. His only law is love, a love within us that governs our choices and the actions that flow from our choices.
Matthew’s Gospel repeats the same lesson: doing good actions that look good in the eyes
of the world and yet do not contain our complete commitment to Him is not enough:
“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’” We cannot fool God. God wants us to give ourselves completely to Him. He will give Himself to us beyond all that we can imagine!