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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Woe to the Complacent Lying on Beds of Ivory!

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 25, 2016
St. John the Apostle Awasi Catholic Church, Kisumu Archdiocese, Kenya

"Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall! They drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils; yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph! Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with. (Amos 6:1a, 4-7)

Today again we listen to the prophet Amos. His words are directed to the Judeans, those living in the southern kingdom of Israel. He addressed them as "the complacent in Zion." (Zion is another name for Jerusalem).

Perhaps this warning came after the Assyrians destroyed the Northern kingdom of Israel which in today's reading is called "Joseph." Joseph is the name of the patriarch who was sold into slavery by his brothers, ending up next to Pharaoh in power in Egypt.

Many of his descendants had settled in the northern portion of Israel, which the Assyrians destroyed. The complacent in Jerusalem were living pampered, comfortable lives paying no attention to the devastation of the north and not concerned that their own country was headed towards the same fate because of their social and moral depravity. Amos' words proved true.

A lot of people say "money is the root of all evil," thinking they are quoting the Bible. But what the Bible actually says in 1Tim 6:10 is that "the love of money is the root of all evil."

Jesus never condemned the wealthy for having wealth. He condemned them for letting
Fr. Joe Mungai visiting the United States
wealth cause them to forget about God who had blessed them so generously.

It is like the farmer we heard about several weeks ago. He had such a great harvest that he had to tear down his barns to build bigger ones and he gave no thought to the afterlife.

Jesus condemned the wealthy for letting their wealth lead them into dishonesty like the unjust steward we heard about last week.

This week Jesus condemns the wealthy because they let money turn them into complacent self-centered persons like the man in today's gospel, (Luke 16:19-31), who commits the sin of indifference. 

Lying at his door every day was the poor man, Lazarus, covered in sores, who would have gladly eaten the scraps from the rich man's table. 

Today's parable would have been quite a shock for the Pharisees who heard it. For in those days, many people thought a wealthy man was a good person, whom God favoured. If a person was poor, sick or infirm, they were assumed to be sinners, whom God was punishing. 

But things didn't work out that way for the rich man, who ignored Lazarus and ended up in a place of torment when he died. 

This is the kingdom that Jesus preached. Those who wish to be part of this kingdom must love God and neighbor.  Love is not a warm fuzzy feeling, but a willingness to make sacrifices for others. 

Jesus did ask some to give everything away, but not all. He told everyone to love God with our whole heart and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. 

What should the rich man have done? Jesus doesn't give us a specific answer. Perhaps he wants us to ask ourselves what we might have done if we were in his place. 

He does hint at the answer later in the parable. The rich man wanted Lazarus to visit his brothers and warn them about how they should be living. Jesus said they have Moses and the prophets, that is, they have the Scriptures to guide them. If they don't pay attention to the Scriptures, they probably won't be impressed by someone who rises from the dead. 

In reading the Holy Scriptures, we are constantly reminded of God's love for the poor. We are invited to share with the needy and learn how to live generously so that others may live. 

Money is a good servant when properly used, but becomes a tyrant when it controls our lives. To hear the voice of God in Holy
Is money your boss? 
Scripture, we must take time to study, pray and live it.

In Jesus' days, people never knew what was going on elsewhere in the world. Now with the internet we know the instant earthquakes, tsunami, drought, and other catastrophes happen and leave countless people dead and  homeless. 

Knowing all this can make us feel guilty. But we can't help everyone. I try to help people in need according to my time and resources, according to their need and according to the responsibility I may have toward them. 

Charity does begin at home, but it does not stay there. If we all tried to do what we can,  we would be more peaceful within ourselves and beginning with our own communities the whole world would be transformed with love.  

As we come to the Eucharist today, remember where our blessings come from and offer thanks to God. We ask God to help us in the days ahead when we might be in need. Amen

Fr. Joe Mungai was first mentioned on this blog in I Was Thirsty and You Gave Me to Drink

Friday, September 23, 2016

Why It's Still Planet Earth! Catholic Education in Austria

by Susan Fox

“Kumbaya my lord, Kumbaya
Kumbaya my lord, Kumbaya
Kumbaya my lord, Kumbaya
O Lord Kumbaya”
Listen HERE while you read

Why it’s still planet earth!

The moon looks exactly the same! There are real people and they are willing to try to speak English.

I have learned to say “God’s Greeting” in German. “Grouss Gott!” It’s the only thing I can say in German except “Machts nichts!” It doesn’t matter.

My husband counsels me to use that latter phrase sparingly
Susan and Lawrence Fox on the way to Seattle to
take a plane to Austria Aug. 15, 2016.
in the right context.

Lawrence — the husband in question — and I have landed at the International Theological Institute in Trumau, Austria, for our first semester of graduate study in theology. The school was founded by Pope Saint John Paul II to help prepare Catholics for the New Evangelization. The world is asleep! We will shake them awake.

This blog has been very quiet over the summer as we sold our house in Denver, Colorado, disposed of all our belongings and like Abraham and Sarah set out for a land that is not our own, hopefully according to God’s call.

I left my easy chair in Denver as I explained on Mardi Gras 2014 “LENT AGAIN: Fast from Your Easy Chair. Put on Christ!”

I landed in Paradise. Around our apartment there grows rosemary, chives, sage, thyme, strawberries, tiny kiwis, plums and pears — all free and available to the enterprising student who likes to cook (like me). And I didn’t have to plant them! After creating vegetable gardens in most of my recent homes, I really appreciate that someone else does the work and all I have to do is harvest. 

Sometimes I don’t even have to harvest, for one of the students knocked on my door the other day and handed me a giant jar of plum jam made from the plums in our communal garden. Another gave me hedgerow berry jam she made in the UK. Can life be any sweeter?

When I go to the drug store and the clerk says something in German that I don’t understand, I say, “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” Two days ago I asked the question and two women in line behind me passionately volunteered to translate for me. I was overwhelmed with their generosity.

At Mass on Sunday, we celebrated the harvest at the Trumau parish church. They handed out delicious grapes after Mass. At Mass, there was the most beautiful 32-person choir I have ever heard. Lawrence and I were stunned when their opening song was Kumbaya in English, a standard spiritual sung around the campfires of America since the 1950s, during which time both Lawrence and I were born. (I won’t tell you who was born first.)

We have lovely liturgies daily in English (the Byzantine Rite), Latin (the Roman Rite) and German (also Roman Rite).
Father Lukasz gives his first blessing as a priest
in the new Byzantine Chapel at ITI.
Today a young priest said his first Mass for us and we received his blessing.

On Oct 1, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn will dedicate our new Byzantine Chapel and the Archdiocese of Vienna has promised to give us first class relics of both St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John Chrysostom!

I have fallen in love with the Akathist Hymn of the Byzantine Rite, which is a sung litany to Mary. It is the loveliest song I’ve ever heard. We have it every Wednesday night with confession.

Along with the easy chair, I gave up the big French peasant sink, the garbage disposal, screens on our windows and two separate private offices. But, hey, who wants to be turned
In lieu of garbage disposals, Austrians make their own
compost, a process that fascinates the author
into a pillar of salt? (Lot’s wife looked back as her family escaped from Sodom and Gomorrah, and so she became a pillar of salt.) Or who wants to be like the Children of Israel in the Book of Exodus grousing because they can’t have meat and onions like they ate when they were slaves in Egypt? They ate well while their newborn sons were murdered by the Egyptian Pharoah. Put your hand to the plow and don’t look back — that’s my motto.

What I gave up in the United States is very small in exchange for so much happiness. 

I am making a ton of new friends, young and old. We have served dinner in our apartment to Catholic youth from Singapore, Germany, Holland and Australia. We have socialised with countless others from Ireland, Syria, China, California, Lithuania, Slovakia, Austria, the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic. Every one spoke of their homes where Catholics are poorly catechised and ignorant of their faith. The whole world is awash in spiritual apathy! Our new young friends all confided they wanted to learn their faith well so they could share it in their native countries, and elsewhere in the world.

These Catholic youth literally want to save the world! The story of each one is unique, but it comes down to the same bottom line. Evidence of their youthful enthusiasm and sacrifice fills me with joy. The International Theological Institute is a bit of Eden on earth.

Did you know Eden was an actual physical place? The geographic description of the Garden of Eden is in Gen. 2:10-15.

“A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.”

Amazingly the description of the Land God promised to Abraham and his descendants — the Holy Land — is the same place!

“Now Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt; they brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.” (1Kings: 4:20-21)

That is what is called the literal sense of Scripture. It describes an historical fact. But what happens to the literal geographic Promised Land when God makes it holy? It becomes a spiritual place where man dwells with God like in Eden. God pitched His tent among men. That is His plan. He wants to live with us.

“Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land… and they will be My people, and I will be their God.”
(Ezekiel 37:21,23)

The land is holy and God wants all there to put away their idols and live a holy life. So He gives them the 10 Commandments, a place to live (Paradise on earth), and asks them to worship Him alone.

So follows in the Old Testament, the life and death story of a people who fell away from God, had bad things happen, and then repented and returned to Him until finally some rejected and killed God’s own Son. The Temple — their place of dwelling with God — was destroyed in 70 AD.

This is the story of all men without Christ.

This is the story of our world today. The Catholic youth here attest that is taking place in their home lands. I know it is also occurring in the United States. 

It is most apparent in the tragic story of the wars convulsing the Middle East. These conflicts threaten to wipe out all of the Christians in that ancient land.

“Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the land.” (Matt 5:5) If we lived Christ's words in His Sermon on the Mount, humanity would not be facing such tribulation.

The Land was everything for the children of Israel: family, safety, peace with God. For the Christian, who worships God in Spirit and Truth, it is — spiritually — God Himself. 

Other religions expect carnal delights in the next life, but Christians expect to receive the reward of God Himself.

I once had a dream about this third beatitude taught by Jesus Christ.

In the dream, a priest entered and found me and my friends asleep on a giant bed in Mercer Island, Washington, USA. He said, “You are asleep!” I literally was asleep. But he meant I was not watchful, waiting for the coming of the Lord.

He took me outside to the front of the house — a huge mansion. He pointed to a vague area behind the house, which looked like a giant vacant lot. It went on for miles. Ah, the Land!

And he said, “You like dessert. Go to the back of the house (the Land), and I will meet you there and give you dessert.” Then he went back into the house. 

I do love dessert and so I was motivated to achieve this goal. But the Land appeared to be a long way away as it was a very big house.  I looked around and one of my friends was sitting on an adult-sized tricycle. I pushed her off the bike, (I wasn’t meek). I hopped on the vehicle and began peddling my way to the back of the house where the Land lay. Of course, I woke up before I could get there because obviously I wasn’t ready for it. If I were ready, I would not have pushed my sister off the tricycle. That is the action of a child. 

Years later in real life, I must have made some progress on the third beatitude because the same priest walked past my table and gave me half his dessert. People around me were shocked by his action, but I was thrilled.

Now I find myself receiving the Land that was promised to me in the dream. This is the dessert: the people with me here are God’s children, and we are studying the very inner life of God Himself and His Household. Nothing happens accidentally, all is given providentially.

"The Fathers of the Church distinguish between theology (theologia) and economy (oikonomia). "Theology" refers to the mystery of God's inmost life within the Blessed Trinity and "economy" to all the works by which God reveals himself and communicates his life." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #236)

Blessed Karl von Habsburg,
the last emperor of Austria-Hungary,
and his bride Zita,
smile benignly down on me
in the ITI classroom dedicated
to his name
Here in Trumau, we dwell together with God in a stunningly real way. It is part of the charism of the school, which grants three canonical degrees in Sacred Theology, studies the original writings of the great Masters of Theology, in addition to Sacred Scripture, especially the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and offers a rich Catholic community that lives and prays together in close proximity. Students from all over the world and Eastern Europe provide us with a genuine experience of the universal church, which must "breathe with both lungs" East and West (Pope Saint John Paul II).

It is heaven on earth.

And the classes — conducted as lecture and discussion seminars — are Wunderbar!

We Did It!

Lawrence and Susan Fox both graduated on June 8, 2019 magna cum laude! Larry received a Master's in Sacred Theology and Susan  received a Master's in Marriage and Family. We will stay here two more years while Larry finishes his licentiate. Susan will take classes in Scripture and the Early Church Fathers. 

Lawrence Fox prays at the Grotto of the Sorrowful
Mother in Portland, Oregon, Aug. 15, 2016 on
our journey to Austria. We left Denver, Colorado in late July,
and flew out of Seattle, Washington, Aug 23. Note the picture in the
background of Our Lady and St. Joseph's flight
into Egypt to escape Herod.
Interested in studying at the International Theological Institute? You can apply here.
Each student at ITI is only charged 6,000 Euros a year in tuition, but the actual cost of the education is 20,000 Euros.
Donate here

Or contact: Dipl. Ing. Alexander Pachta-Reyhofen, Director of Development (Europe), International Theological Institute, Email: a.pachtareyhofen@iti.ac.at