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Sunday, February 26, 2017

God Alone is Enough

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai
8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 26, 2017
St Mary of the Pines Catholic Church, Shreveport, LA, U.S.A.

"Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you." (Isaiah 49:14-15)

One day, the German mystic Johannes Tauler met a beggar. "God give you a good day, my friend," he said. The beggar answered, "I thank God I never had a bad one." Then Tauler said, "God give you a happy life, my friend." "I thank God," said the beggar, "I am never unhappy." 

Tauler then said in amazement, "What do you mean?" "Well," said the beggar, "when it is fine, I thank God. When it rains, I thank God. When I have plenty I thank God. When I am hungry I thank God. And since God's will is my will, and whatever pleases Him pleases me, why should I say I am unhappy when I am not?" 

Tauler looked at the man in astonishment, "Who are you?" he asked. "I am a king," said the beggar. "Where, then, is your kingdom?" asked Tauler. The beggar replied quietly, "In my heart."

Today’s readings give us an invitation to avoid unnecessary worries by putting our trust in the love and providence of a merciful God, and then living each day as it comes, doing His will and realizing His presence within us and others.

Today’s first reading, 
(Isaiah 49:14-15) begins with the Lord God’s tender question “Can a mother forget her infant?” This is one of the most touching expressions of God’s love in the Bible. Through the prophet, God assures Israel of His unfailing love when the people of Israel cry out in despair, believing that they have been forgotten by God. 

Isaiah reminds Israel that even the best of human love is only a shadow of God’s eternal, life-giving love for His people. "Rest in God alone, my soul." Today’s responsorial
psalm also invites us to hope in the strength and providence of a loving God.

Responding to criticism (1Cor 4:1-5), Paul warns the Corinthians not to judge him or other preachers. It is only God who has the right to judge. St Paul draws our attention to what should matter to us, and this is the fact that we are: “Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God.” So, rather than worry over what others think of us,  we should strive to be found “worthy of God’s trust.”

What matters  is what God thinks. We should seek to please God who has called us to be servants.

The Gospel today, 
 (Mt 6: 24-34) tell us again: don’t worry about your life. God will provide. It is impossible to serve two masters.
Our "master" is whatever governs our thoughts, shapes our ideals, and controls the desires of our heart.

Do not let the love of money, the glamour of fame, or the driving force of unruly passions  become your master and rule your life. God is easily forgotten and pushed into the background. “Mammon,” in today’s Gospel passage, stands for whatever tends to “control our appetites and desires.” 

But man’s ultimate happiness is God Himself.  
The search for holiness should be our primary purpose in life. Hence, Jesus calls for a detachment from material goods and invites us to live a life of simplicity and dependence on God.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet  your heavenly Father feeds them."
 Poor people worry that they have no money and rich people worry that they don’t have enough money. Sick people worry about their premature death, and healthy people worry about getting sick.  The tragedy is that we worry so much about tomorrow that we never claim the resources that God has given us for today. 

Here are Jesus' reasons why we should not worry:

1) Worry is a pagan or an irreligious attitude of those who don’t believe in a loving and providing God.

2) In nature, other creatures, like birds, do not worry about  their daily food, but God


3) Worry is useless because we cannot increase even an inch of height by days of worrying.

4) Worry is injurious to the health because it causes physical and mental problems and illnesses. Worry robs us of faith and confidence in God’s help, and it saps our energy for doing good.

5)Worry takes all the joy from life and wears out the mind and body. Doctors agree that emotional stress can bring actual changes in the organs, glands, and tissues of the body. It’s not so much "what I’m eating" as "what’s eating me" that’s getting me down.

Hence, Jesus exhorts us to live serenely. He is not advocating a shiftless, reckless, thoughtless attitude to life. Rather, He is forbidding a care-worn fear, which takes the joy out of life. But He wants us to make good use of our human resourcefulness and to plan our lives in a responsible manner. What is important is to live well today, doing God’s will, realizing His presence with us, within us and within every one we meet.

Much of our worrying could be a symptom of an "Atlas-complex." In Greek mythology, Atlas is a god who cannot move because he literally bears the world on his shoulders. Many people take the world on their shoulders.  This state of mind flows from spiritual pride and a lack of trust in the God, who is the Master of the universe.

Let us adopt a spiritual revolution.  Yes, I am uniquely created God. I have been chosen by Him! He is my final end. I am looking forward to eternal happiness with God. Today, I need to make meaningful choices towards the fulfilment of this purpose of my existence. 

And God is! He keeps all things in being. He provides the meaning to my existence. He constantly assures me: “I am with you!”  Does a woman forget her baby at the breast? Yet even if she forgets, "I will never forget you." (Is 49:15).

Open the doors to the works of God! Jesus is knocking.

 "Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things pass away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. He who has God finds he lacks nothing; God alone suffices." (St. Teresa of Avila)

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.