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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lent! Time for Housecleaning.

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai
Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017
St Mary of the Pines Catholic Church, Shreveport, LA, U.S.A.

Let’s suppose that, after we left church today, we locked up the doors—and none of you
came back here until five years later. Not a single person set foot on this very property until Ash Wednesday 2022. When you do come back, what would your church look like after five years of no upkeep? 

The grass would be waist-high, the hedges would be overgrown and uneven, the church sign would be full of bugs and the exterior of this building would have ugly mildew patches all over it. The mailbox would be so full of letters and bills that the mailman would have stopped trying to fill it years ago. And because none of those bills had been paid, the electricity would be off and the entire property would be dark. In short, there would be a whole lot of cleaning up to do before church life here could get back to normal.

This gives you some idea of the state of the Temple in Jerusalem when the prophet Joel was a young man. (
Joel 2: 12-18)    Many years of misuse and disuse had caused Solomon’s once magnificent structure to look more like a building in the slums rather than in the upscale section of Jerusalem. Then, there was a turnaround. At some point, this dilapidated building was cleaned up and refurbished. Remodeling was done, all the debris was cleared away, offerings and sacrifices were restored and temple life returned to normal. Well, it returned almost to normal!

The prophet Joel spoke these words we hear today to the Israelite community because there was, still, a problem. The turnaround was not complete. Everything was looking good on the outside—but there really had not
been much change in the people on the inside. Joel prophesies: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.”

What the Israelites needed to know then—and what we need to know now—is that the Lord wasn’t looking for an outer change as much as He was looking for an inner one. This is why our Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday every year. God is calling us to come back with a total commitment to living life with Him. He is not talking about part time encounters. He’s not talking about occasional drop-ins. He’s not talking about using Him only as a crisis hotline. He is asking for our 
total commitment to Him—because He has never stopped giving His total commitment to us! 

Someone might be thinking: “I don’t have a need to return to God. I’m not that bad.” Someone else might be saying to himself or herself: “I can’t find the time to commit myself totally to God.” Well, Church, there is no one here who cannot afford to get back to God, get close to God and stay close to God! 

If God had not blessed us with the ability to get up and move on our own, we would not have been able to even get away from God!
If God had not given us all that we needed, we would not know how to turn away from God. But because He has done so much for us; because He has provided for us, even when we didn’t ask for it; because He has blessed us, even when we didn’t bother to say “Thank ya,” we have every reason to get back to God! This is what repentance is all about. It’s turning ourselves around and getting back to God for all that God does right!
Return to the Lord with all your heart!
In this season of Lent, the real challenge is for us to return to the Lord different than the way we left Him. This is why the discipline of fasting is important for some house cleaning on the inside. 

Most people think of fasting as giving up some type of food — something we should have been giving up all along. Some people think of Lent as something different to do for 40 days. God’s call to “return to me and rend your hearts” is to make a change — not just for forty days or forty years — but forever! Rend your hearts — not your garments! This is what total commitment is all about!

We will do some fasting from certain foods during Lent. Let us also consider the fact that it is as important to control what comes out of our mouths as it is to control what goes into our mouths. Consider this! Let us start fasting from foul language. The air around us in full of it — and it’s not just on the Jerry Springer talk shows. We can get it in movies, in rap songs, in novels, in magazine articles and in some everyday conversations. We can even hear of children speaking it imitating our adults. 

Consider this! Let us keep judgments of others from spilling out of our mouths. Imagine what a challenge it may be for some to commit to a full day of not passing judgment of anyone else they might meet or hear about. Let us make no judgments about other people: about their motives, their goodness and badness, their social standing, their defects, their clothes, their color, their jobs, their mistakes or just because! Let us commit to seeing everyone as God’s children— the ones Jesus Christ died for—fellow pilgrims on the same journey with us.

Consider this! Let us fast from verbal negatives that slip so easily out of our mouths. Let us start a fast—not just from the hate language but also from the put-downs, the jabs that hurt, the insults, the criticism, the condemnations, the sarcasm, the harmful gossip and the vicious rumors. Sounds like a tall order? 

Not sure if you can do it? Of course, you can! All of us can! All we have to do is start small and build from there. Just choose one day of the week as a “no gossip” day! Choose one day of the week as a “won’t complain/won’t criticize” day. Choose one day of the week as a "no rumors” day! You’ll be surprised at how clean and pure your heart will become and how much more others will see and appreciate all the good that is in you.

Consider this! Let us fast from saying “Yes” to the wrong things and saying “No” to the right things. Let us say “No!” to drugs; “No!” to foul language and foul company; "No!” to infidelity; “No!” to cheating; “No!” to half-truths and blatant lies; “No!” to unhealthy habits; “No!” to profane and vulgar entertainment; “No!” to the ways of this world. At the same time, let us  say “Yes!” to words of healing and comfort; “Yes!” to words of appreciation and encouragement; “Yes!” to generous giving; “Yes!” to service and sacrifice; “Yes!” to patience and acceptance of others; “Yes!” to  prayer; “Yes!” whenever Jesus comes knocking on the doors of our hearts!

Thus says the Lord:
“Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and 
mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.” 

Church, let’s get busy with the housecleaning, so that we will not only return to the Lord, but also welcome Him to come and live in our hearts!


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.