Saturday, July 18, 2015

16th Sunday per annum (OF) - Resting in God

This time of year is filled with vacations.  The kids are out of school, work schedules seem to be more relaxed, and we all just want to enjoy the warmth as much as possible before the doldrums of winter return.  We understand also in taking a vacation that we need some rest from our labors, something to help recharge us and reinvigorate us for our daily tasks.  Yet how much do we take advantage of the rest that God calls us to observe every Sunday?
We hear in our Gospel today how Christ receives the Twelve after they have gone off and preached the message of repentance.  However, instead of calling them to a different task or sending them to a different place, He tells them: “Come away and rest a while.”  In ordering this for His disciples, Our Lord shows us the necessity not only of working but also of resting.  We were created not merely to work and to labor for our food, but we were also created to rest in God.  We can seen this in one instance during the French Revolution: when the revolutionaries tried to redivide the calendar into 10-day weeks, the people did not welcome working more days and having fewer days of rest.
Though we are meant for rest as well as labor, it is the type of rest which defines us as Christians.  God gave us the 3rd commandment which states, “Keep holy the sabbath day.  Six days you shall labor, and on the seventh you shall rest.”  But how are we to keep holy this day and how are we to rest?  Again, the Gospel shows us what this means when St. Mark tells us that Christ took the Twelve away to a deserted place.  In this withdrawal from the crowds who were coming and going in great numbers can be seen the identity of the rest God desires for us in the Sunday rest.
Certainly, God desires us to rest from our labors so as to be refreshed and ready for a new week.  But we are also to rest from the influence of the great temptations which plague every Christian: the temptations of the sinful world, the weak flesh, and the devil.  We are called not only to rest from something, but to rest in and with someone.  God wants us to be separated from the noise of our modern society trying to pervert us or corrupt in a thousand little ways; He wants us separate from the discord and strife which is plaguing the world; He wants us separate so as to remember that we are His and He is ours.
God calls us to enter into the Sunday rest so that we may draw nearer to the fountain of living water which flows from Christ through the Church.  Hence why the Church calls us to the Sunday Mass as “the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice.” (CCC 2181)  When we gather as a community every Sunday, we are strengthened by God so as to live out our Christian vocation more effectively and more perfectly.  We are also made present to the mystery of the work of God which has been effected by Christ for our salvation, primarily through His passion, death, and resurrection on Easter Sunday.  We rest in the labors that God has performed.
We also rest as a means of looking forward to that day when our labors will be completed, when we will no longer be called to the tasks at hand, but can begin to enjoy the fruits of our labors.  Truly the Christian holds out hope that God will lead him to verdant pastures, but the Christian must be ever mindful that he must walk through the dark valley, the valley of the shadow of death before reaching those pastures.  We are laborers in this life, though we receive a vision of this eternal rest in the Sunday rest God imposes upon us.  Yet we must not lose sight of the true goal of our labors and our rests in this world: the goal of eternal union with God.

Let us then strive to make our Sundays more a day of rest in the Lord than in the cessation of labor.  Let us not be like the legalistic Jews who will not even flip a light switch or open a door on the sabbath; St. Paul reminds us in our second reading that we Christians have been elevated above this legalism towards the greater path of love which desires to do all for the beloved.  We are to rest, but not in the mere avoidance of work; we are to rest in the work of God which we encounter in the liturgy.  Let us desire to truly sanctify our Sundays through our great care and love of God whom we encounter within the sacred liturgy, still teaching us many things about who He is and who we are.  Let us also learn from Christ our Teacher through our own study, making Sunday to be the Dies Domini, the Day of the Lord, by supplementing our encounter at the Sunday liturgy with our own prayer and study of this faith which we have received.  Let us find our rest with the Good Shepherd, who desires to refresh our souls with the gift of His body and blood so that, when our time of labor on this earth is complete, we may dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

First Weekend at My New Parish

I stand before you today as one who has taken up anew the command of Christ which we have just heard in our Gospel for this Sunday.  I do not come with another to accompany me, which I guess shows either great confidence on the part of the bishop or overconfidence on his part.  Either way, I stand before you as the priest given charge over this parish as the new administrator, as the new pastor.  But what does that mean for us?
We receive a hint about this when we hear St. Mark tell us that the Twelve went off and preached repentance.  The pastor is not a businessman, though he must be involved with finances.  He is not a janitor, though he does take care of buildings.  The pastor is, above all these things, a shepherd, as the prophet Amos hints at in our first reading.  That is the reason he is called a pastor, from the Latin word for shepherd.  He is meant to call the one flock of Christ together and minister to them.  He is charged with the duty of preaching the same repentance that the Twelve first preached as we hear today and which has been continually declared by the Church since the day of Pentecost.
But in what does this repentance consist?  Saint Paul provides some clues to this repentance in our second reading.  It all begins with God the Father calling us, from before anything even existed, to Himself towards holiness.  God desires all of humanity to be clean, without any blemish or sin, and has willed that for all of us.  Yet we have sinned; first through our parents in the garden of Eden, then in our own sins which compound the filth upon ourselves.  However, God did not leave us in this state of filth and brokenness.  In the fullness of time, God sent His Son, Christ our Lord, to win for us “redemption by His blood, the forgiveness of transgressions” (1:7).
This is the foundation of the message of repentance Christ desired His apostles to proclaim: that God is willing not only to forgive us of every sin, but is even willing to make us His children, which Saint Paul reiterates when he says that “in love [God] destined us for adoption to Himself through Jesus Christ” (1:5).  If we abandon everything that separates us from God, if we repent of our sins, then we can truly be what He has desired us to be since the first moment of time, and even before that.  Saint Paul even declares to the Christians in Ephesus and to us that this is already happening to those of us who have received the gospel of salvation, have believed in Him, and have been sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit.
All of this is what the pastor is meant to nourish and encourage within those entrusted to his care.  Nothing else matters except the salvation of souls.  Whether buildings are raised up or torn down, whether communities grow or diminish, whether there is peace or discord, the pastor must concern himself primarily with stirring up the people towards living out this message of repentance so that the same people can gain the prize of eternal life.  And that is what I promise to do for you for as long as I am here.
I make no other promise than this: that while I am here, I will do everything I can to bring to fullness the message of repentance which you have already received.  I cannot promise anything more, but that will hopefully be more than enough.  Every decision I make must be bound up in this task of your sanctification.  Already, I have made some changes to help better facilitate this through our participation in the Mass.  And you will probably notice other changes or differences from what Fr. Barth has done for you.  I do not critique anything he has done; he has done what he thought was best for you, and now I must do the same in my own way.
I ask of you now, as we begin our time together in the Lord, for a few things.  First and foremost: I ask for your prayers and support: we must all pray to God for understanding and guidance in all this.  If we do not do what God wills for us, then it is all for nothing.  Second, I ask that you please have patience with me.  This is my first time being in charge of a parish, my first great duty as a priest.  I will move slow in some things and quick in others.  Be patient with me as I begin to grow in my duties.  Finally, I ask for you to help me come to better understand you along with our parish.  Feel free to speak to me, to tell me your issues and concerns, your joys and your delight in our parish.  I, on my part, will do what I can to come to know you better.  I hope to meet every one of you both here and outside of here so that I am not a stranger to you nor are you a stranger to me.
Let us pray to our Lady assumed into Heaven that our parish may be strengthened by her intercession so as to hear and receive the message of repentance.  Let us pray to Saint Matthew, the patron of this church, that we will not only hear the Gospel but that we may also live it out faithfully.  Let us be resolved to be counted not among those whose dust is shaken from the feet of the apostles, but are numbered among God’s possession, to the praise of his glory which awaits us for all eternity in Heaven.