Thankful For Thanksgiving

At this time of year with the Thanksgiving Holiday still hovering in our memory, it is helpful to give thought to all we have to be thankful for.  Actually, the list is endless, from life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (at least here in America), spouse & family who love us, job (hopefully meaningful), roof over our heads, friends, all the way to a Church that expands our understanding of a God who loves us.

The overall quality of our lives is greatly enhanced if we remind ourselves of these many blessings every day.  That act of remembering will help us fend off the normal human tendency to get lost in the little daily things that don’t go our way, and the grumbling that follows.

The two stories of widows, one in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament can also give us insights into the depths of thankfulness.  In both cases, the widows gave the last tidbit that they had left in the world.  Think about it for a minute, put yourself in that moment of action: they gave all that they had left.  One gave her last morsel of food and one gave her last few pennies with which she would have bought a last morsel of food.

Each was so grateful & thankful for the love & provision of their God that they trusted Him that deeply.  They put themselves completely in his hands for their very life.  If He found a way to save them from their need, fine, if not, fine.

Granted there is a fine line between faith and presumption, still the stories give us a view of the absolute need for us to be thankful.

During this Thanksgiving season as we approach the coming of the Christmas season, let us all examine ourselves to ensure that we are “thankful” at the very core of our being.

 

Portions taken from homily by Msgr.

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Revenge, How Sweet It Is!

When someone does something bad to us one of the emotions that arises within us is the need to get even, to return the favor so to speak.  Something deep within us at a primary level, often called the lizard portion of our brain, reacts and searches for ways to get even.  Our world is set off kilter and we desperately want to set it right again.

There is an interesting scripture in Genesis 12, 3 that reads: “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you”.  If we consider that ‘blessing us’ means to do good to us, then clearly, someone who curses us means they do bad to us.  So, God is saying when someone does good to us He Himself will do good to them in return,  and, conversely, when someone does bad to us He Himself will do bad to them.  In other words, He will return the balance.  He will make it right again. We don’t have to do it.  We don’t have to exact our revenge.  This is a balancing concept that He has built into our world in His wisdom.

We often call that concept by other terms such as, “what goes around, comes around”, or we use the term Karma to describe it.

In fact, when someone does us harm, we SHOULD let it go, and let Him settle the score.  God has built that response into His creation so strongly that Jesus Himself was aware of it and asked Him to stay His hand when He hung on the cross.  Those who had crucified Him had, in effect, cursed Him and Jesus deliberately asked the Heavenly Father to not curse them in return by literally saying the words, “Father do not hold this against them, they know not what they have done”.

Besides asking God directly to not take action as Jesus did, another way to ask Him to stay His hand is by trying to settle the score ourselves.  When we do that, He steps back and says, “Ok, if you want to respond, then I won’t”.

What a relief that concept should be for us.  We don’t have to worry ourselves or involve ourselves in getting even with those who have done us wrong.  It will surely happen at some point in the future.  The balance will be restored by Him.  He will handle it.  We can move on unencumbered by anger, hatred, or hard feelings.  We can instead focus on the positives in life and make sure that we spend our time blessing others.

The concept of letting God handle it can change our lives, and change our portion of our world.

“Shema, Hear Oh Israel”, Homily

Homily, Nov 03-04, 2012: Cycle B, 31st Sunday, Ordinary  Time

A few years ago, we had a priest come down to teach an Adult Ed Class on Islam & the Middle East conflict.  His presentation was well received by parishioners.  As a follow-up, I went to Amazon to purchase a book on the subject.

I deliberately picked one that showed a dark image of a militant on the cover and I thought it would help me understand the mind-set of the radical side of the conflict. I expected it to justify radical behavior. I wanted to know what makes a suicide bomber tick, no pun intended.

What I got was a book that was balanced and well written, and once again, I learned the proverbial lesson that you can’t judge a book by the cover.

Today’s Gospel reminded me of that same lesson.  As long as I can remember, I have always thought of the OT as dealing with the Letter of the Law of God.  In the NT, I expected to hear Jesus call us beyond the Letter of the Law of the OT, to the Spirit of the Law.

For me that understanding was an ‘unexamined presumption’. I presumed it to be true without examination.

For example, the OT says you shall not commit adultery.  Jesus says we should not even look lustfully at another.  He is concerned with what is going on in our hearts, not just obedience to the cold, letter of the Law.  He’s trying to move us from the fear relationship to the love relationship with God.

In our Gospel, if you remember, the Scribe asked Jesus, which is the first of all the commandments? What’s the most important commandment?

Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone. You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all of your strength.  The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than this.”

Jesus’ answer was clearly a “spirit of the law” answer, something I would expect from the NT.

Yet, when you look at the footnote, it says Jesus’ answer was actually a quote from Deuteronomy 6, our First Reading today, that’s the Old Testament & written thousands of years before.

(St. Augustine’s comment on the NT & OT?  “The NT is hidden in the old, & OT is revealed in new.” Very true in these scriptures.)

Furthermore, that scripture from Deuteronomy 6 is called the Greatest Commandment and is said to embody the whole Law & the Prophets.  Jews refer to it then & now as the “Shema”.  They physically place parchment with those words on it in a tube on the doorpost of their homes & touch it as a reminder, going & coming much like we make the sign of the cross reminding ourselves of the work of Jesus.

In addition, not only does it embody the whole Law, it calls for Us to respond with our Whole Self:

Loving God with our whole heart, is our Emotional component.

Loving God with our whole being, our very soul, is our Spiritual component.

Loving Him with all our minds, is our Intellectual component.

And, Loving Him with all our strength, is our Physical component.

Every major aspect of our humanity is to be involved with loving God & loving our neighbor.

I know from the lifelong of learning about my normal tendencies that kind of love is not very likely to happen without a lot of help & specifically the help of the Holy Spirit.  Why the Holy Spirit? Because…

1 – It is the Holy Spirit who reveals Jesus to us in others, in scripture, and in circumstances.

2 – It is the Holy Spirit who opens us to the divine mysteries of God, giving us those “aha” moments, epiphanies, and paradigm shifts.

3 – It is the Holy Spirit who speaks to our hearts with the still, small voice to lead us and guide us & draw us into relationship with Jesus.

All those things can happen only if we don’t grieve Him with our sinfulness, and if we don’t allow the noise of daily life to drown Him out.

Well, all of that sounds nice, but from a practical standpoint, what does it means for us.

How do we love God with all of our heart, our emotional component?  Well, we can make the effort to remove the emotional baggage we all carry – the largest chunk of which is un-forgiveness.

We can learn to forgive others, unilaterally, even if they never ask for our forgiveness. We can forgive them and move on.  By moving on I mean with no grudges and no lists of wrong.  That action opens our hearts and makes our hearts accessible to the Holy Spirit to build a “love of God & neighbor” connection in us…

How do we love God with all of our soul, our spiritual component?  We can understand that He wants to build an intimate personal relationship with us, and not just for our good but for His as well.

We can spend time with Him in silence, in scripture, or at Mass & the Eucharist to build that kind of relationship with Him.  God will use any & all of our efforts to help us grow in that relationship, because remember, He wants that, too.

Intellectual pursuits focused on Him will help us love Him with all of our mind.

We can spend time reading spiritual material, & quality material in general, not just that of authors who write what we want to hear.  We can allow other viewpoints to expand our understanding.  As I said a few months ago: If we are Fox News people – watch CNN & MSNBC sometime.  And, vice-versa.  If we are MSNBC people watch Fox News.  Who knows, we might even clear up a few ‘unexamined presumptions’ and learn something.

Loving Him with all of our strength, our physical component, could mean viewing our bodies as the ‘Temple of the Holy Spirit’ and doing all that we can to keep it running smoothly through good habits, good hygiene, and good healthy activities.

Serving others is hard work. Talk to the people who went to Haiti, or the Gulf after Katrina, or Manor house every week. Talk to our Youth who cleanup Dixville one week every Summer.  Hard work…

These are just a few possibilities to consider as ways to deal with the Greatest Commandment in our lives.

As Jesus said & the Scribe agreed, “You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” The Shema!

And, whether God gave us that beautiful truth in a book with Old Testament or New Testament written on its cover….

We should look for ways to mark that truth on the door-posts of our lives.