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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Risk-Takers versus Care-Takers: The Parable of the Talents

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai, FMH
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 19, 2017
New York, U.S.A.

A man got mad with God. “God,” he said, "I have been praying daily for three years that I should win the state lottery.
You told us to ask and we shall receive. How come I never received all these three years I have been asking?” Then he heard the voice of God, loud and clear. “My dear son,” says God. “Please do me a favour and buy a lottery ticket.”

This is not supposed to be a promotional for state lotteries. Rather it illustrates the saying: “If you wanna win, you got to play.” There are two kinds of people in our churches today: risk-takers and care-takers. The problem with care-takers is that they might show up at the undertaker’s with little to show for their lives. Jesus warns us against this in today’s gospel on the Parable of the Talents. (Matthew 18:21-35)

In the parable we hear about “a man going on a journey who summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability” (Matt 25:15). From the beginning of the story we are told that the servant who received just one talent is a man of little ability. He is not a genius. Yet it is interesting to note that the master has a talent even for his relatively disabled servant. All God’s children have got their talents, even those who appear to have very minimal abilities in comparison with the more gifted ones.

The master departs and the first two servants “went off at once and traded” with their talents. The third servant, on the other hand, digs a hole in the ground and buries his one talent. Why does he do that? Because he is afraid
he is going to lose it if he trades with it. He must have reasoned like this: “Well, those with more talents can afford to take a risk. If they lost a talent, they could make it up later. But me, I have only one talent. If I lose it, end of story! So I better play it safe and just take care of it.” 

Many of us in the church are like this third servant. Because we do not see ourselves as possessing outstanding gifts and talents, we conclude that there is nothing that we can do. Do you know a woman who loves to sing but who would not join the choir because she is afraid she is not gifted with a golden voice?
Do you know a young man who would like to spread the gospel but is afraid he does not know enough Bible and theology? When people like this end up doing nothing, they are following in the footsteps of the third servant who buried his one talent in the ground.

The surprise in the story comes when the master returns and demands an account from the servants. First, we discover that even though the first servant with five talents had made five more talents and the second servant with two talents had made two more talents, both of them receive exactly the same compliments: “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” They are rewarded not in proportion to how many talents each has made but in proportion to how many talents each of them started off with. Booker T. Washington was right on target when he said, 
“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles that one has overcome while trying to succeed.”

There are more reasons than one why the third servant decided to hide his talent. Maybe he compared himself to the other servants with more talents, saw himself at the bottom rung of the ladder, and became discouraged. He did not realise that with his one talent, if he made just one more talent,
he would be rewarded equally as the servant with five talents who made five more. We are not all measured by the same rule. To whom much is given, much is required.

All of us in the church today have received at least one talent. We have received the gift of faith. Our responsibility as men and women of faith is not just to preserve and “keep” the faith. We need to trade with it. We need to sell it to the men and women of our times. We need to promote and add value to faith. This is a venture that brings with it much risk and inconvenience. But, unless we do this, we stand in danger of losing the faith just as the third servant lost his talent.
Fr. Joe Mungai in the U.S.A.
The way to preserve the faith, or any other talent that God has given us, is to put it to work and make it bear fruit.

*Fr. Joe Mungai, FMH, is a Franciscan Missionary of Hope, a relatively new congregation started in Nairobi, Kenya in 1993. He was ordained June 7, 2014. He is moving from his parish in St. John the Apostle Awasi Catholic Church, Kisumu Archdiocese, Kenya to hospital ministry in New York. Keep him in your prayers. 

Come Share Your Master's Joy!

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 19, 2017
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Tucson, AZ

“For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Matt 25:29)

In today’s Gospel passage this Sunday we reflect on our responsibility as Catholics. Our Lord speaks a parable about a man who goes on a journey and entrusts everything he has to his servants. 

The key message of this story is not the different amounts that each of the three servants received, but the message is what they did with the amount they did receive.
When the master returns, he praises two of the servants because they used his money wisely. To both of these servants he says, “Come share your master’s joy.” 

Yet, the third servant did not make any interest on what he had been given. He simply dug a hole in the ground and buried his master's money. When his master returns the servant even admits that he did not act responsibly. The servant knew that his master was a demanding person and expected some return, but he failed to follow his master’s orders.
Therefore he would not share in his master’s joy. Our Lord says of this servant who did not follow his master’s orders that “this useless servant [is to be thrown] into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

My brothers and sisters, today’s Gospel message calls us to acknowledge whether or not we are practicing our faith as God is asking of us. Each one of us is given the gift of grace in our baptism. God is love, and the outpouring of His love-gift of grace seeks a return of love from us. We can bury this grace or we can allow this grace to bear perfect fruit, love that will last. We can allow God’s grace to grow within us by loving God and living pure and righteous lives or we can reject His gift of grace within us by living in sin without seeking repentance and conversion of heart.

As Catholics we have a great responsibility because we have been given the teachings of our Church. These teachings are given to us to grow in God’s grace. Do we live the teachings of our faith in love and sincerity? Are we good and faithful servants by living our marriage vows?

Do we follow our Church teachings on areas that our society denies such as our Church’s teachings on contraception? Are we reading the Bible and the Catechism? Do we come to Mass regularly? Do we come to confession? Are we taking advantage of the opportunities God gives us to do good? The truth is how can we expect Our Lord to give us great responsibilities in heaven if we do not strive to live in God’s grace today?

In fact, let us think about that third servant in today’s Gospel. (Matt. 25:14-30) What did he do after he buried the talent? He probably went off his merry way without any thought of his master or his master’s return! Aren't there people nowadays who live their life like that, as if there is no end time?

Yet, in today’s second reading (1Thes 5:1-6), Saint Paul warns us strictly about living as if there is no end time. Saint Paul reminds us that we must not live as children of the night. No. We are children of the day. Therefore, Saint Paul says, “Let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober” because the “the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.”

My brothers and sisters, let us take to heart today’s Gospel message.
Fr John Paul Shea
This current world is ending soon and God will take an accounting of each one of us as to how we have used the life He has given to us. 

If we live in God’s grace by offering our heart to God each day for His glory then we will bear eternal fruit. Let us therefore live in the grace we have received by following Our Lord’s commandments in love and truth so that when we meet Jesus face to face at the end of our lives He will say to each one of us “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.” Amen.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Whose Image Do You Worship?

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct 22, 2017
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Tucson, AZ
During the past week we have been listening to the parables of Our Lord Jesus Christ calling us to conversion.

Those parables angered those who opposed Christ. 

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 22:15-21) makes it clear  that the Pharisees do not have much admiration for Jesus. In fact, the Pharisees were out to get Jesus. They sent their representatives to Jesus along with the Herodians -- Jews that supported King Herod.

The Pharisees ask Jesus about the legitimacy of the census tax. This tax created controversy because Jews were made to pay it to the emperor of Rome. The Pharisees hoped to use the census tax to trap Our Lord. 

If Jesus said, “Yes, pay your taxes,” He turns away his most loyal followers who despised the Romans.They followed Jesus, who  proclaimed the Kingdom of God, hoping that He would free them from the Roman occupation. 

But if Jesus said not to pay Caesar’s tax then He incites the Romans to arrest Him as a rebel rousing zealot. Fully aware of their trickery, Our Lord does not play their game. He knows that the Pharisees were not questioning Him for the greater good. They were not questioning Him to know the truth.

It is this evil cunning that irritates our Lord. Knowing their malice, Jesus says, "Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?” He says,
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." In other words, Our Lord is saying do what is right.

My brothers and sisters, it is these last words of Our Lord that make up the essence of our Lord’s message in today’s Gospel. Yes, we too live under civil societies with laws and taxes and so on. But, the bottom line is that all things belong to God! Every government, every society, every single thing we make, create, or build belongs to God!

It is when persons and societies and cultures forget that God is the ruler of everything that persons and societies and cultures and even religious institutions lose their way. This is what happened to the Pharisees whom we hear of in today’s Gospel. The Pharisees were the religious leaders of their time, but they had turned the Jewish religion from worshiping God into worshiping an image made in the likeness of themselves. This is why our Lord was so upset with the Pharisees. They had forgotten the truth found in today's Psalm:
"Give to the Lord glory and praise, give to the Lord the glory due His name!"

Today’s Gospel calls us to reflect on what we make the centre of our lives.  Who or what are the rivals to God in our lives?

As Caesar’s image was on a coin, this coin

therefore identified the Roman ruler. This
coin has the head of the Roman emperor on it and the inscription, “Glorified Son of Augustus.” In other words, the coin symbolized all the institutions that tend to divinize themselves as the ultimate in authority. While Our Lord Jesus does not comment on this blasphemy, He reminds us Who really is in charge -- God Himself. 

Therefore, it is God’s image alone that shall be worshiped.
In fact, each one of us is made in the image of God. Do we reflect God’s image in our lives? Or, do we make a false image of ourselves that reflects what is not of God? Are we as concerned about giving back to God what is God's when we think about our image? Does our image reflect our Catholic values?

We all know that today our society teaches us to place ourselves at the center of the world. Our own false image means everything in this

culture: How much money we make… What material possessions we have… Are we attractive? Our society even encourages us to make false images of ourselves and one another based on sexual preference.

Yet, as Catholics we are called not to identify ourselves by labels and images created by the world. As Catholics we are called to identify ourselves as sons and daughters of God and therefore live a new life in Christ! We are called to render God praise for saving us from a fallen world that is passing away and rejoice in thanking God for this great gift! As Catholics we are called to worship God will all our minds, hearts, and to love our neighbours 
as ourselves who have been reborn in the image of Our Lord Jesus Christ!

My brothers and sisters, today’s Gospel
Fr John Paul Shea
passage calls us to give credit to where it is due and to live our lives accordingly. Our God has given us every single thing we have. Our God has given us the very life in which we live and the breath in which we breathe. Most importantly, our God has given us the opportunity for salvation through His Son our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us therefore live our lives today in this society as best we can by doing what is right in what we should do, but most importantly let us place our lives into the hands of God who is the owner of all that we are and all that we have. For He alone deserves the glory due His name. Amen.