From the Rector

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

In the wild West, a tough, old cowhand sauntered into a saloon and began drinking whiskey by the bottle. The more he drank, the more unruly he became, shooting holes in the ceiling and floor. Everybody was afraid to take on the old cowhand. Finally, a short, mild- mannered storekeeper walked up to the unruly cowhand and said, "I'll give you five minutes to get out of town."

The old cowhand holstered his gun, pushed the whiskey bottle away, briskly walked out, got on his horse, and rode out of town. When he left, someone asked the storekeeper what he would have done if the unruly cowhand had refused to go. He said, "I would have extended the deadline.“

In the parables we have considered in the past few weeks, Jesus comes to a point that we don’t really want to spend much time considering. Eventually we will stand before God and in the light of God’s love honestly consider our relationship with him. We often call it a judgment, but actually it is simply facing the facts.

They are what they are. Whatever in our life is unworthy of a child of God will be clear. And because we cannot know when this moment will occur, the wise counsel of Jesus is always that we need to do what is necessary now to be prepared.

In the parable of the wedding feast for the king’s son, the plan for the celebration begins with an elite group – those chosen because of their close association with the king. But, because they did not appreciate what was offered, the king invites everyone who can be found to fill his banquet hall. It is clear that as Jesus paints this picture of how God looks at things, the plan is to have everyone join him for the eternal feast. The parable ends with an especially troubling detail. One man is discovered who is not properly attired, and he is thrown out.

The reaction seems so harsh after the king has gone to so much trouble to invite in everyone. But, the custom for a royal event was to provide the proper attire to all who attended. This man is not in trouble for an unfortunate fashion choice. He is ejected for ignoring the garment that was offered to him. He is silent before the king because he has no excuse to give.

We know that there are things we need to change in our life, but we always assume that God has extended the deadline – we still have time to do what we should.

We have good manners and treat strangers and coworkers with respect because we don’t want to have a bad reputation. But, when we get home, we take those closest to us for granted. We know that we are to forget our self and serve others, but don’t really remember that this applies to taking out the garbage or helping with the dishes. We are counseled by Jesus to turn the other cheek when someone offends us, but in the privacy of our own home we sometimes let our anger out on those we love the most, simply because they are the nearest target.

We know we should do everything we can to make our home a place of loving care, and some things need to change today. But, perhaps the deadline has been extended.

As the parable reminds us today, everyone is welcomed by God. And we speak often of our brothers and sisters in Christ. But it is part of human nature to make our self the judge. We look at someone and often accept that we do not have to welcome them or accept them because of what they look like, or the way they are dressed, or the language they speak. And we let the words of our politicians enter into whether a person is a part of our community or should be put out.

God looks at us with complete love. He invites us to look at one another in the same way. And if we are not yet doing so, the time to change is now.

But, perhaps the deadline has been extended. At this time, the moment we stand before God is purely theoretical. It has not yet occurred. And we are assured by the words of Jesus that God is preparing wonderful things for us, and everyone is welcome, and he is offering everything we need to be there with him forever. So, if we were to come to that moment unprepared, the reason is discovered in our self.

The time to change is now. Of course, perhaps the deadline has been extended. We cannot be sure!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

There was a church located next door to a supermarket. Since the church was short on parking spaces and the supermarket was closed on Sundays, the church leaders asked the owner of the supermarket for permission to park in his lot.

The owner’s response was “Fine. You are welcome to use it 51 weeks a year.” “What about the other week?” the church members asked. “That week,” said the owner of the market, “I’ll chain off the lot so you will always remember that the lot belongs to me, and not to the church.”

Today the first reading and the gospel feature a parable about a vineyard. The stories are similar, and it is clear in both stories that the vineyard belongs to God, and those who care for it are expected to use God’s property to produce a good harvest.

Jesus uses many different stories and examples to remind us of this important truth. Everything we have is a blessing and a responsibility. We are expected to use God’s gifts in a way that honors him. And one day we will be asked to account for what we have done with what we have received.

Each time we hear Jesus making this point we already know how the story will end. But we have to remember those tenants became so accustomed to being in charge of the vineyard that they began to think that everything belonged to them. Forgetting who the owner was led to their downfall.

There is no doubt in our mind that the beautiful newborn baby placed in our arms is a gift from God. But, when that baby won’t stop crying, or gets a little older and will not get along with others, or becomes a teenager asserting their independence from our guiding wisdom, God is giving us reminders about the precious gift he has placed into our care.

They learn about the patience of God through our patience. They learn about God’s forgiving nature through our willingness to forgive and begin again. They discover that they are treasured and loved unconditionally by God as they experience that spirit of acceptance surrounding them in their home.

A little baby grows up so fast that the time to accomplish great things for God with them is short. Everyone loves a wedding. Two young people who are so much in love promise everything to each other, in good times and bad, sickness and health, for their entire life. Soon enough the worries and struggles of living together and having a family and facing the future become a part of daily life.

But through it all, God is sending them reminders of what a precious gift they are to each other. When wonderful things happen, they have someone special to share the moment. When troubles come, they have a shoulder to cry on. When everything seems dark, there is a wonderful ray of light shining in their life – someone who loves them is at their side.

No couple knows how many years they will be given to work together, so remembering the little things that express love every day is important. We work hard and use our talents and we take care of our needs and those of the ones we love. And because of our opportunities, we take for granted a level of comfort in our life that people in other parts of the world have no hope of ever obtaining.

We begin to believe that all that we have is the result of what we do. But, then God sends us little reminders that all these things are gifts. We see pictures of people who have lost everything in an earthquake or a flood; we see a poor man begging on the street corner; we feel the call in our heart to tell others about God’s work in our life.

There are so many ways we can give our time, give our money, share our talents and our willingness to help. And amazingly, however much we give away, God is simply going to give us more to continue his work! God is in control of everything, even when we forget. He is generous and patient and offers us gentle reminders every day that there are new opportunities coming to us to accomplish great things for him.

And every good thing we do is preparing us to be ready for that day when he calls us home and we give an accounting of what we have done. And God will love us so much for what we have accomplished for love of him.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

The sixteenth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center was a couple of weeks ago. Among the thousands of victims of that attack was Father Mychal F. Judge, the fire department chaplain who, while ministering to the fire fighters working at Ground Zero, was killed by falling debris from the Towers.

In Father Mychal's pocket was this prayer that he always carried with him: "Lord, take me where You want me to go; Let me meet who You want me to meet; Tell me what You want me to say, and Keep me out of Your way."

Jesus told the parable of the two sons to invite the religious leaders, who believed they were holier and better than the others, to look into their own life. These people declared by their words, and by the way they dressed and by how they told others to act that they were the ones closest to God. But, they were judgmental and angry and did not truly help others to understand God’s love.

The parable reminds us of a simple truth – words do not meaning anything if they are not put into action. One said “Yes” and did not go, the other said “No” but then went to obey his father. We know we have been like both of the sons. It all depends on our attitude at the time. Sometimes we give our self permission to continue sinning simply because we’ve already sinned so we might as well continue.

Sometimes we are discouraged because we have not done as well as we could have, but then we realize that if we try harder next time, we can do better. We get inspired by something we hear or read and decide we are going to be a force for good, helping others in a time of need. And then we get busy and our good intentions fade into the background and nothing changes.

We always want to say “Yes” to God. “Yes” he loves us completely. “Yes” he has blessed us more than we can imagine. “Yes” he deserves more from us than we are presently giving. Wherever God wants us to go, whatever he wants us to do, the proper response, because we love him, is to say “Yes.” But, “to say” is not the same as “to do.” We say that everyone is loved by God, but then we see that person who has hurt us and we want to figure out a way to pay them back, because revenge would make us feel happy.

God invites us to remember how much we have been forgiven and put the memory in the past and pray for peace in our heart. But, will we say “Yes” and then do it? We know we should do more to express our gratitude to God for all the blessings we have been given. And so we could volunteer our time to serve our community as a volunteer with St. Vincent de Paul, or teaching or helping with faith formation classes, or being more generous with our money in helping our parish or someone in need. God is presenting us with opportunities to share with others every day.

But will we say “Yes” and then do it? We have our plans, but so often things just don’t go as we expected. Someone needs our help at an inconvenient time. We know that Jesus invites us to forget our self and serve another. Sickness or a change in our work suddenly takes our daily life in a direction we did not expect, and we remember the example of Jesus who entrusted himself to the will of the Father as he hung on the Cross. We want to say “Yes” in every situation, but it is so hard to do it.

It would be much easier if we could just say “Yes” to God one time, accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and then go straight up to heaven. But, God is not stuck in just one moment. Over and over, he invites us to remember how much we are loved and then to decide in this particular moment, with this person to make his love present in our words and actions and thoughts. We know we want to say “Yes,” so we also have to do it!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Message

A young man and his wife were expecting their first child. He was filled with anxiety because all he could think about was the new responsibility that was coming to him.

He wondered if he would be able to welcome this unknown person into his life and not simply feel the burden of worrying about providing for his growing family.

And then he held his new son in his arms for the first time, and he was overwhelmed with love –there was nothing he would not do to protect and care for his child.

Several years later he and his wife were expecting again, and he had a new worry. He loved his son with all his heart. How would he be able to explain to the new child that it would not be possible to love them as much as he already loved his firstborn?

But, something wonderful happened. When his wife presented his new daughter to him, he discovered something he did not know was possible.

His capacity of love had not been divided, it had been multiplied. Now he loved his daughter with all his heart just as he loved his son.

We are so used to thinking in terms of fairness and equality in the workplace that when we listen to the parable about the workers in the vineyard, we focus on the poor workers who labored all day long and did not receive any more payment for their hard work than the ones who worked for only an hour.

If God is going to be just as generous with the one who turns to him at the last minute as he is to the one who is faithful all their life, then where is our motivation for working hard to stay as close to God as we can? God is going to be generous to everyone!

That would be an interesting excuse for doing less for God if it were true that we are at work earning our way into heaven. Then, perfect attendance at Mass would count for more than just coming to Mass on Christmas and Easter.

Sharing our money with the work of the church or to help someone in need would get us higher up in heaven than just keeping everything for our self. We would always be careful about what we say and do and think if God were simply a celestial accountant, adding up all the good and bad in our life, because what if the good in our life was out of balance on the day we stood before God?

We should always remember that our life with God is not a contest –he is not comparing us to anyone else, or testing us more than anyone else. He knows us so well and he loves us completely.

All we have is a gift. That is why we have to be uncomfortable as we begin to pass judgment on God’s generosity or his wisdom as we wonder about what we have been given compared to another.

All is a gift. As we remember that it is God who placed us in a family where we learn about his love, we realize that there is still so much more that our life of faith can become. As we are involved in serving our parish community, and devoting time to our prayers, and looking for the signs that God is at work in our daily life, our capacity to love increases.

We cannot ever say we have done enough, because the more we receive, the more we need to give back. We are surrounded by the love of God, so we have to stop measuring what we have received, and realize there is so much more love yet to be given. We are surrounded by infinite love –we call him God. So what reason can we ever have to be jealous of another or to stop returning that love?

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

A man was an umpire in a softball league in Colorado. One day, during the off season, this umpire got stopped by a police officer for speeding. He pleaded for mercy.

He explained to the policeman that he was a good driver and told why this particular day he had to be in a hurry. The officer didn’t buy his argument. “Tell it to the judge,” he said.

When softball season rolled around, the umpire was umpiring his first game. The first batter up to the plate was the same police officer who ticketed the umpire for speeding.

They recognized each other. It was awkward for the officer. “So, how did the thing with the ticket go?” the officer asked as he prepared to swing at the first pitch.

With a menacing look on his face the umpire replied, “You better swing at everything.” (John Ortberg, Faith and Doubt) It is hard for us to imagine how important forgiveness is to our relationship with God. In the beginning, as Adam and Eve chose to sin, God’s response was to promise a Savior.

For generations, God prepared his Chosen People for the coming of their Savior, and all along the way, he forgave them when they were unfaithful and began again with a new generation.

God was so intent on teaching us the lesson of how to forgive that he became one of us. Jesus not only illustrated how central forgiveness is to our relationship with God with powerful stories like the one in today’s gospel.

Jesus demonstrated such loving pardon as he hung on the Cross, and he offered himself thinking of us personally, giving away all that he had, so that we could be forgiven.

Our personal relationship with God is based on this powerful gift we have been given – we are forgiven. We did not earn forgiveness. We cannot demand to be forgiven. It is God’s nature to forgive.

God’s gift brings with it a terrible responsibility – we pray every day, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Over and over we commit our self to be as generous in pardoning as God is with us.

In the days of Jesus, the rabbis taught that a person had to Forgive someone three times. So, Peter doubled that amount and added one more and thought he was going well beyond what was required.

But, Jesus in effect made forgiveness a requirement that knows no limits. When we have been forgiven so much, we have to reflect the same attitude. The test of our willingness to forgive is usually not very dramatic.

As we drive down the street and another driver does something dangerous, they cannot hear what we yell or what we call them in our mind. And they will not know that we have whispered a prayer for their safety and the protection of those around them.

When someone we love does the thing that they already know irritates us, they don’t have to realize the momentary anger we have felt if we decide to just let the moment pass by because we love them.

Even in the presence of someone who has hurt someone we love, we can discover the ability to pray that God will give us peace in our heart instead of resentment. He answers such prayers.

The most important fact in our relationship with God is that we are forgiven. We see the proof every time we look at a crucifix. But, the love we see there is also meant to be present in our heart.

Because we have been forgiven so much, we too must forgive one another.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk