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From the Desk of Fr. Bala

September 24, 2023

God Is Gracious

In today’s gospel, we hear the story of a harvest in which some workers put in more work than the others. When pay time comes, they are all treated equally and the early birds among them begin to complain and grumble. Why do the workers in the vineyard complain and grumble whereas the workers in the family farm do not? The answer is simple. One group of workers is made up of family members and the other group is made up of unrelated individuals drawn from the wider society. The norms of behavior, of contribution and reward in a family are different from those in the wider society.

The big question that today’s parable poses to us in the church today is, do we see ourselves as a family with a common purpose or do we see ourselves as a bunch of individuals, each with their own agenda?” we call ourselves brothers and sisters. Why then do we often see and treat one another as rivals and competitors?

The notion of the kingdom of God as family is central to understanding this parable. The kingdom of God is a family more than a society. A society is characterized by we-and-them, by rivalry and survival of the fittest. A family, on the other hand, is ‘all we’ and ‘no them’. It is characterized by a spirit of cooperation rather competition. If the latecomers were family members of the early birds, the early birds would have rejoiced with them at their good fortune rather than grumbling.

A fresh apple pie fills the kitchen with its tempting smell. The expectations are high as the family gathers around and the grandma cuts the pie into equal pieces. Even little Jimmy gets a big slice. “Hey, he didn’t even help to make the pie. Why should he get that much” complains his sister, who helped grandma slice the apples. The other siblings join in with similar complaints, but the grandma only smiles and hands jimmy a fork. “We are all part of the family.” Grandma replies. “Why don’t you all just enjoy what you have got? It is plenty!”

God’s rewards are not earned. They are gifts. As someone said: “Rule number one is, God is gracious. Rule number two is learning rule number one.” God’s ways are not our ways.

 

THINK DIFFERENTLY

September 3, 2023

Jesus says, “If anyone wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” This is not an extreme statement: “Come, join our faith and suffer.” Actually, Jesus is giving us the common-sense wisdom of human life. if you want to follow a medical or engineering or legal career, you must deny too many nights out parting, take up your cross of rigorous study, and follow the teacher.

What Jesus is saying is an insight into life itself: there are no free rides. No cross means no growth. No pain, no gain or no gain without pain is an exercise motto that came into prominence after 1982 when actress Jane Fonda began to produce a series of aerobics workout videos. In these videos, Fonda would use “No pain, no gain” and “Feel the burn” as catchphrases for the concept of working out past the point of experiencing muscle aches.

Christianity goes further. As Father William Bausch explains, “Christianity teaches that there are three types of crosses: the cross of inconvenience, the cross of witness and the cross of martyrdom.”

What is the cross of inconvenience? If I pray for a close friend today but do not inconvenience myself to go and see him or her and send a get-well card to let him or her know that I am thinking of him or her, how is that prayer supposed to touch him or her? Our prayer needs a level of inconvenience to back it up. The second cross deals with bearing witness under pressure. This is about being different in a world of conformity. To follow Jesus means: think very differently, St. Paul says, “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

The third cross is martyrdom. Here we have two categories. They are ‘wet’ martyrdom and ‘dry’ martyrdom. Wet martyrdom means shedding your blood for truth. We have a whole litany of people who did that. Dry martyrdom means the martyrdom of surrendering your security for Jesus.

So, we are left with the words of Jesus. “If anyone wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

I know who I am

August 27, 2023

Every day, Tim would go to the nursing home and visit with her. Each time, she would ask Tim who he was and why he was visiting her. And each time Tim would explain who he was and why he was visiting her. He would tell the story of all his children and grandchildren, all the activities and the all the news of his family. And while he was feeding her lunch each day, he would gently remind her that he was married for 52 years to the same woman and that woman was her. Then each time, she would smile brightly as if told for the first time. That woman was Margaret, and Margaret suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. She moves in and out of reality.  Tim leans towards to her every day before he leaves, he hugs her gently, kisses her and tells her that he loves her dearly, knowing well, that tomorrow, he will have to repeat the whole routine over and over again. His friends plead him with Tim as to why he continues to put himself through this. They tell him, “She does not even know who you are any more.” And he would always respond the same way, “But I know who I am.”

The reality in our own lives is that we are known by our actions. How we treat one another is how we first know, who we are for ourselves and that is how others come to know us.

And that is what Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” He knew who he had been with these people; he had been healing them; he had been forgiving them; he had been preaching to them. But he wanted to know if they know who he was, not because he didn’t know who he was but he wanted to know if the people could recognize in His actions That He was truly the Son f God. And so, the many spectators had it wrong but Peter, His closest friend, knew who He was. Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Because Peter knew him the best, he had spent the most of the time with Him; he of all the people would have known. But it was not just because of that, but because the heavenly Father revealed this to Peter.             

We are Christians in what we say and what we do. We have to reflect on this. We have to be honest with ourselves in: “Who do people say that I am,” but start with the question, “Who am I?” And am I really living up to those difficult words of discipleship, to love others, to forgive others and serve others. These are not easy things to do, but that is our claim.   

So, know that in Tim loving his wife Margaret, he continues to love her not because she knows who he is but because he knows who he is; he is her husband of 52 years. You and I have responsibilities as members of the body of Christ, to love others, to forgive others, to serve others and it starts with the question that we must ask ourselves, “Who am I” and “Who do people say that I am?”                                                 

KEEP YOUR EYESON THE PRIZE

In the Gospel reading for this weekend, we hear a dialogue between Jesus and the Canaanite woman. The woman in the story teaches us a few truths about our faith and prayer.

The first thing she teaches us is persistence. Her persistence is recognized by Jesus. This is an important lesson when all of us struggle.

The second thing we can learn from this woman is the need for clear focus. The civil rights movement call it: “Keep the eyes on the prize.” When Jesus spoke to her in language that demanded her people, she did not lose her cool but kept her eyes on the goal of her mission, which is to show that even non-Jews are entitled to God’s blessing in Christ. obstacles are those frightening things you see when your eyes wander off your goal. Keep your face to sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.

The third thing we learn from this woman is courage. Being a foreigner and as woman, it took phenomenal courage on her part to decide to approach the all-Jewish and all -male company of Jesus and his disciples. She was out there for a “One-woman demonstration”, giving us message not to be afraid to challenge prejudice and falsity even in religious high places.

Of course, it is the story of a mother with a terribly distressed child. Who know what strange behavior the child was manifesting? whatever it was, it causes us to think about some of the demons tormenting our children. We don’t have to look far to name a father or mother suffering because of a child who is tormented by the modern-day demons: drugs, alcohol, abuse and bullies. Sometimes the ‘possessed behavior’ s seen by turning on parents, family, friends and teachers; becoming violent, drifting and troublesome at school and becoming indifferent in class and rejecting activities they once loved. How many parents, desperate to help their children, like the Canaanite woman, have accompanied them to talk to teachers, or sit hours with them in the company of counsellors and therapist to calm their troubled and tormented spirits?

The Canaanite woman’s prayer is my most common prayer. It is the simple prayer, “Help me, Lord”. I say it in the morning as I think about the coming day. And I find myself saying it often in the course of the day. Lord, help me. Let it be your prayer too.

From the desk of Fr. Bala

God Is Revealed All Around Us

The Fascinating story of the prophet Elijah begins on the 19th Sunday of the Ordinary time. It is interesting to find him hiding in a cave on the mountain, Horeb.

What was he doing there in the cave? How did he end up in the cave? The answer is, he was a runaway prophet. He had just crossed words with the reigning ruler, Queen Jezebel. He had mocked her pagan prophets, ridiculed them publicly and proven their gods were frauds. Queen Jesebel did not take kindly to   this humiliation so she declared Elijah an outlaw and sent her soldiers to fetch him for execution. And so here he is, a fugitive from justice, hiding in a cave for the fear of his life, and rapidly losing his faith in God.

As the prophet Elijha sat in the mouth of the cave feeling depressed and abandoned, he expected to see God in a storm that passed by, an earthquake before that shook everything, and a fire that burnt everything before him. But God was not there in any of them at all. But after all these events, nature quieted down and there was an eerie silence. Then he heard it, a kind tiny whispering sound in his own heart. And he knew God was there. When all the noise is gone, there is only God. Ralpha Waldo Emerson says, “Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of God.”

What is it for me in this story of Elijha? In a culture, so loud and noisy, we think we will find God in a special effects and grandiose event; wind, earthquake, fire, and Woodstock. We will not find God there. But God is in the quiet. God is in the time we spend in silent prayer, on a retreat, on a pilgrimage, the time of reading a spiritual book. Any time we turn down the cell phone, incessant rock music, the commercials and the traffic noise, we will know the presence of the Lord and we will be his prophets. When we quiet ourselves, we will find God, closer to us than our own breathing. If we practice silence long enough, we may, like Elijha, sense God in the most surprising moment of our lives.

For an action plan, as Alice L. Camille suggests, name two recent theophanies (A theophany is the way God behaves when the Divine could be noticed) in your life. what did God have to say to you?

Submitted Pieces and Reflections

Angels on Our Shoulders

In partnership with Faith in Action this group of volunteers offers a multitude of services for our community. Grocery Grabbers will pick up your grocery order from Henson's County Foods and deliver to your doorstep. Books With Wings will deliver books you check out from the Minong Area Library, http://www.minonglibrary.org.  Look at their brochure below and take advantage of their many services. If you would like to volunteer with the group the please contact Louis Columbus at 224-578-2537. Further information is on the brochure. 

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