From the Rector

Third Sunday of Easter

Father Stephen's Homily

Easter Sunday

Father Stephen's Homily

Palm Sunday

Father Stephen's Homily

Fifth Sunday of Lent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Fourth Sunday of Lent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Second Sunday of Lent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

First Sunday of Lent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Ash Wednesday

Father Stephen's Homily

Sixt Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Stephen's Homily

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Charles R. Swindoll, in his book Dropping Your Guard, tells of Flight 401 bound for Miami from New York City with a load of holiday passengers. As the huge aircraft approached the Miami Airport for its landing, a light that indicates proper deployment of the landing gear failed to come on.

The plane flew in a large, looping circle over the swamps of the Everglades while the cockpit crew checked out the light failure. Their question was this, had the landing gear actually not deployed or was it just the light bulb that was defective?

To begin with, the flight engineer fiddled with the bulb. He tried to remove it, but it wouldn't budge. Another member of the crew tried to help out . . . and then another. By and by, if you can believe it, all eyes were on the little light bulb that refused to be dislodged from its socket. No one noticed that the plane was losing altitude.

Finally, it dropped right into a swamp. Many were killed in that plane crash. While an experienced crew of high-priced and seasoned pilots messed around with a seventy-five-cent light bulb, an entire airplane and many of its passengers were lost.

The crew momentarily forgot the most basic of all rules of the air -- "Don't forget to fly the airplane!" As the gospels describe the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, it was a very hectic and demanding time. There were crowds of people, each person craving his attention. When he retreated to the quiet of Peter’s home, Peter’s mother-in-law was sick.

As Jesus took some quiet time away, the gospel says that his companions pursued him to tell him people were waiting to see him. The simple life of a carpenter, working at his own pace, was gone forever. We can understand his experience, because in so many ways our life reflects the same situations. Whether we are at work or at home, there is always a coworker, or a friend, or a child, or a spouse, or even a stranger wanting our attention and needing something from us.

When we retreat to the quiet of our own home, we may have someone sick who needs our care, and our companions in life need daily attention, and the outside world is always pressing in on us because we have so many devices to bring it in. Jesus remained focused on what was most important – he was preaching a new way to understand God so that everyone would realize they were welcomed and forgiven and loved.

And the key to keeping his focus was simple – getting away to pray. In his conversation with his Father, Jesus could put everything into perspective. He had come to do the will of his Father. That was most important. We also know that prayer is important in our daily life, to help us keep things in focus, to see what is important. But, we often let the distractions and demands of daily life turn our conversation with God into a passing acknowledgment that he is present or a frantic call for help when things become serious.

The key is to remember the example of Jesus, to make the effort and give a part of our day to quietly being in the presence of God. In a quiet moment with the Lord, we can discover that the ability to put things into perspective and not let a thoughtless word or action cause us to be angry or vindictive. Instead, we become a source of peace. In a quiet moment with the Lord, even as we think about the worries a loved one is bringing us, we are reminded of how much they are loved and how important they are. We see the reason we will forgive and love them in their imperfection.

In a quiet moment, we discover that God loves us, he blesses us, he seeks us out even when we ignore him. We begin to marvel at God’s relationship with us. There is no end to people who need us and troubles come when we least expect them. And it is easy to lose our focus. But, we cannot forget to fly the plane. That is why we pause, take our quiet time with the Lord and remember what is most important.

He will remind us about who we love, and why we love them. And when we see that, everything in our life becomes clear.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

For centuries Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time. People believed that Aristotle was right when he said that the heavier an object was, the faster it would fall to earth. Of course, anyone could have taken two objects, one heavy and one light, and dropped them from a great height to see if he was correct. But no one did until nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle's death. In 1589 Galileo summoned learned professors to the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Then he went to the top and pushed off a ten-pound weight and a one-pound weight. Both landed at the same instant. The theory of Aristotle was disproved. But, the power of belief was so strong, that the professors denied their eyesight. They continued to insist Aristotle was right.

Capernaum was the home town of Peter, Andrew, James and John, the fishermen called by Jesus to be his first disciples. And as Jesus began his public ministry, he went to the synagogue just down the street from Peter’s house. It was customary for the leader of the synagogue to invite someone who felt they had something to say to do so.

And as Jesus took his turn, it became clear that he was different. He did not feel the need to quote from the words of one of the prophets or to give weight to what he said by pointing to other learned scholars who thought as he did. Instead, as we read all through the gospels, he clearly spoke by his own authority. Jesus knew the truth of God just as surely as Galileo understood the power of the force of gravity. As he spoke and the manner in which he treated people revealed a way of understanding God that had not been possible before. Jesus was the authority on God, for he was God.

The gospel says that the man Jesus encountered in the synagogue was afflicted by an unclean spirit. As the unclean spirit begins to proclaim the divine power of Jesus, Jesus silences it and it leaves the man with a loud cry. We can’t help but bring to mind all sorts of Hollywood images of demonic possession and exorcisms.

But the true point is that this good man sitting in a synagogue had an unclean spirit, and Jesus demonstrated that there was no reason to despair. His authority was greater. The unclean spirit could not maintain its hold on the man. To this day, it remains hard for us to always accept Jesus at his word, to truly believe that God is as Jesus says he is. We too have our unclean spirits. Perhaps we have been hurt and our anger and resentment keeps us reliving the offense and giving it power in our life, so that we cannot imagine moving past what has happened, much less forgiving from our heart.

But, Jesus offers to lend our heart the same love that he showed as he hung on the Cross and prayed for those who placed him there because they did not realize what they had done. Jesus shows us it is possible, if we will believe him.

It is possible that we have lost a loved one, or the circumstances of our life have taken us far away from the places and people that we love. And in our loneliness we begin to doubt that we are loved by others, and feel that we are far away from God. We may even decide that God has forgotten us or is punishing us. But, in the gospels, Jesus assures us that when we are weary and find life burdensome, he is there at our side, offering us comfort. He will inspire us with new opportunities to see his hand at work in our life, for he is always seeking the sheep that is lost.

In those moments when we wonder how we could be loved so much, because we are so imperfect; when we cannot see the good in another person because they have hidden it so well behind their imperfections; when we decide we may as well just keep on sinning because we have already been forgiven more times than we deserve, we become sure that God sees us as we see our self. But, Jesus is clear – God is not vengeful, or angry, or looking to punish. Jesus says we should call him, “Our Father” for so he is. We believe this on the authority of Jesus. What more could we need?

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

A heavy rain had been falling as a man drove down a lonely road. As he rounded a curve, he saw an old farmer surveying the ruins of his barn. The driver stopped his car and asked what had happened.

“Roof fell in,” said the farmer. “Leaked so long it finally just rotted through.”

“Why in the world didn’t you fix it before it got that bad?” asked the stranger.

“Well, sir,” replied the farmer, “it just seemed I never did get around to it. When the weather was good, there weren’t no need for it, and when it rained, it was too wet to work on!”

We all remember as a small child having people ask us what we wanted to be when we grew up. And there was no pressure to commit to our decision. After all, we could want to be a movie star one day and an astronaut the next and a teacher the next. We had many years ahead of us in which to get around to making a final decision.

It is interesting that as the gospel describes the manner in which Jesus began to invite others to join him in his ministry, it began with a decision made in an instant that changed everything. Peter left his business and his wife behind to begin following this young man who invited him to come along. And James and John left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men to accept Jesus’ invitation. When Jesus called, there was not time to think about what might happen in the future or what others might think about their decision. Their decision to walk with Jesus each day took their life in a direction they had not planned for or expected.

So often we act as if following Jesus is something we can get around to when we need to. So, we are inspired by something we hear in a sermon or look back on a missed opportunity to do something good and decide we are going to do better. We decide it is time to start praying because we really need God’s help at this point in our life. If we were asked we would admit we are a follower of Jesus, but it is hard to say he is our constant companion.

Our decision to follow Jesus sets our life on a course that makes our life different. But we discover that the decision is not really about what our life’s work will be, as it was for Peter and Andrew and James and John. Instead, wherever we are, whatever we do, Jesus is inviting us to follow him.

He says we are to love everyone, even an enemy, and we cannot imagine why he would want us to have a welcoming and generous attitude toward someone who does not seem to be very loveable. But Jesus is inviting us to follow him in that moment.

And we know we should be forgiving because we have been shown mercy so many times. But surely that is not expected when we or someone we love has been hurt by a person who does not care about what they have done. But Jesus is inviting us to come with him at that moment.

When we are in pain or everything we had planned is falling apart, and we don’t know where God could be in all this darkness, Jesus is there, inviting us to join him and place our trust in our loving Father as we join our suffering with his on the Cross.

We have already decided to follow Jesus. Being his follower does not require us to leave everything familiar behind. Instead, we will be invited over and over to bring Jesus into wherever we are, with each person we meet. We cannot be satisfied with waiting to get around to accepting the invitation. We may be holier one day, or have more time later, or be better prepared to be reflect Jesus than we are now. But the invitation is going to be offered sooner than we expected. We have to accept it when it is given, for it will not come our way again.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Samuel was left by his mother to live with Eli at the temple when he was three years old. He was familiar with the daily routine at the holy place. But, as we read in today’s first reading, he suddenly discovered that his life with God was going to involve more than the prayers and rituals with which he was familiar. He was destined to be the great prophet of God who anointed King David and helped guide him as he established the nation of Israel. But first, Samuel had to learn to listen for the voice of God and answer him.

President Franklin Roosevelt often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir." It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, "I'm sure she had it coming."

So often we are comfortable thinking that God is not speaking directly to us. After all, we do not hear a booming voice coming from the clouds above, nor have we had a conversation with a burning bush. We even speak to God in our rituals and in our personal prayers, but we do not really expect a direct reply. But all through the day, God is speaking to us in more simple ways. 

As we find we cannot sleep in the middle of the night, instead of lying there reliving all the troubles of the day, God is gently opening the way for us to spend a quiet moment in prayer, simply putting our self in his hands, thanking him for his blessings, whispering a prayer for the person not known to us who is spending the night in pain because they are ill, or suffering through the night because they have no safe place to sleep.

Every day is filled with activities and demands on our time. And all through the day, God is presenting us with opportunities to show how much we love him. He is speaking through the cranky, demanding child who needs to be patiently comforted. He is speaking to us through the person who offends us, as he invites us to put into practice our decision to forget our self and turn aside from anger so that we can love as we are loved by God. He is waiting for us to speak his words of welcome to a stranger, to treat someone who is different not as an annoyance, but as a brother or sister.

  At times God speaks words that inspire and challenge us. After a long time, we suddenly realize that God deserves to be included in our daily routine, and so we decide to have an appointment every day to quietly sit in the presence of God to pray and reflect on his love. After a long time, we admit that we have grown comfortable with our selfishness or anger or pride, and it’s time to make a change. After a long time, we admit that we can be more generous with our money, or help as a volunteer, or make sure that those we love hear from our lips how important they are to us.

In some ways it would be easier if we could hear God calling us with a loud voice from above. We would not have the option of ignoring such a command. But, instead, we have to be attentive, train our self to see God at work and hear his invitation to come closer and love him more. Samuel was to be a great prophet, guided by God’s voice all his life. But first, he had to sit quietly in the night and say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And we have to do the same.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

The Epiphany of the Lord

Father Stephen's Message

There are fourteen peaks in the world that are considered major challenges for mountain climbers. Fourteen peaks over 26,000 feet, which is about five miles high. These are the major challenges for mountain climbers. One must supposedly use oxygen to be able to climb to the top. There is only one individual living that has climbed all fourteen peaks. His name is Reinhold Messner.

Reinhold has been the object of scientific inquiry to understand why he alone has been able to do what he has done. They looked at his technology. He had no more technology than anyone else. In fact, he didn't use as many ropes or ladders or technology that others did. And he used no oxygen at all. Then they looked at his athletic ability and decided he was no more athletically gifted than another million people in our world. Reinhold was an individual who had been able to do what nobody else had ever been able to do.

They asked the question, "How?" There are those times in life when we come to a wall, whether we say to ourselves or the world says to us, "This is impossible. You can’t go no further." But people like Reinhold Messner say, "I am going on." And he does so. He does not let failure detour him. He is not put off when people say, "You can't!" He continues to go on. He finds a way. He pursues. He perseveres. He persists The men we celebrate today are a mystery to us. We are not sure exactly of their country of origin.

We often call them wise men because in the ancient world those who studied the movement of the stars and planets in the night sky were considered to be the most educated, able to decipher mysteries ordinary people could not understand. We usually focus on the gifts, which were very expensive and had a symbolic meaning beyond their extravagant nature. But, their greatest importance is that they were the first nonJewish people to be led by God to witness the remarkable thing that God was doing. He had become one of us!

As they entered the house to worship and offer their gifts, they represented each of us, who are also called to follow their example, searching for the signs in the world around us that Jesus is present, and then offering our gifts in gratitude for his being with us. And so, we cannot let failure cause us to give up. Even as we remember our sins, or we despair because of something we said to another we wish we had not said, Jesus is inviting us today to give him the gift of our heart, because he came to assure us that there is always the opportunity to begin again, to be forgiven and rebuild what has been destroyed. We seek the light of his wisdom, and he will show us what to say and what to do.

We know that we should imitate the love of Jesus, who welcomed the imperfect and the sinner. But we find it hard to look past the fact that someone looks different, or speaks another language, or does not fit into our group. Jesus is inviting us today to see each individual as a new opportunity to welcome him, to honor his presence, to serve him. It is not always easy, but we seek the strength to not give up, so that we can give this gift of our self to the Lord.

These three men were not sure where their journey was taking them or how long it would take. And they did not imagine how the journey would end, in the presence of a baby born to simple people. But God brought them exactly where they needed to be. God did not become human just to save a few people. He came to welcome all people. And these three men offered their gifts, not to gain some advantage for themselves, but in gratitude for learning the greatest truth of all – God is with us!

Our challenge is to imitate their example, to seek to discover Jesus present all around us. And we can never give up looking for ways to offer him our simple gifts – love, service, generosity. It is the least we can do to express our gratitude for God’s great gift to us.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

New Year's Day Mass

Father Stephen's Homily

New Year's Eve Mass

Father Stephen's Homily

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Father Stephen's Homily

Christmas Day Mass

Father Stephen's Homily

Christmas Eve Mass

Father Stephen's Homily

Fourth Sunday of Advent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Third Sunday of Advent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Father Stephen's Homily

Second Sunday of Advent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Carl Michalson, a brilliant young theologian, once told about playing with his young son one afternoon. They tussled playfully on their front lawn when Michalson accidentally hit the young boy in the face with his elbow. It was a sharp blow full to his son's face. The little boy was stunned by the impact of the elbow. It hurt, and he was just about to burst into tears. But then he looked into his father's eyes. Instead of anger and hostility, he saw there his father’s eyes sympathy and concern; he saw there his father's love and compassion. Instead of exploding into tears, the little boy suddenly burst into laughter. What he saw in his father's eyes made all the difference! James W. Moore, (Some Things Are Too Good Not to Be True )

In today’s second reading, St. Peter reminds us of an important truth about our relationship with God. He says, “The Lord does not delay his promise, but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” God is so patient!

Of course, we often forget that. We get discouraged because we have tried to resist temptation in our life or turn from a sin with which we have been comfortable. And when we sin again, we decide that we may as well just give up and keep on sinning, because we are not going to be able to change. But, that is not the way God sees us. He is never disappointed, or discouraged. He does not give up. He welcomes us back, gives us his pardon, and then gives us his grace to help us once again to carry out our good intentions.

God is so patient! We want everything to go well. And so we plan our life, we plan special events, we plan each day. And when things do not work out as we expected, it is easy to become angry or to get discouraged. But, in the end, we cannot control everything that happens, and the guiding truth of our life is that everything is in the hands of a loving Father.

He often allows our patience to be tested, and leads us in directions we do not expect, but through it all, he will continue to work with us to fill our life with blessings and opportunities and love. God is so patient!

People hurt our feelings or treat us unfairly. We look around and it is obvious that some people have more than we do, and some families are so happy and contented, and even people who are not concerned with living a good life seem to have everything they want. We have moments when we wonder if God is listening to us or perhaps we are being ignored. When we get our feelings hurt, we may even decide to be angry with God and turn away from him. But, God looks at us and loves us completely. God is so patient!

The little boy was assured of his father’s true intentions and feelings when he looked into his eyes and saw reflected there his father’s love. And in those moments when we wonder if we are forgotten, or if God truly loves us, we remember that he sent his Son. His Son understands our sufferings, he shows us how to follow God’s will, he looks at us in our imperfection and offers to give himself in our place on the Cross. And if we forget how much we are loved, when we cling to the things that keep us from loving God as he deserves, God does not give up. He looks at us with eyes filled with love and offers us another opportunity to get closer to him. We have not had our final chance to be holier and closer to God. This second week of Advent we are being invited again to repent and turn back to God. God is so patient!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

First Sunday of Advent - Cycle B

Father Stephen's Message

Sue Monk Kidd tells about when her daughter was small and got the dubious part of the Bethlehem star in a Christmas play. After her first rehearsal, she burst through the door with her costume, a five-pointed star lined in shiny gold tinsel designed to drape over her shoulders. "What exactly will you be doing in the play?" her mother asked her. And with a big smile her daughter answered proudly, "I just stand there and shine." (Eric S. Ritz) 

In the parable, as the man leaves the country, he gives each of his servants their own work to do. And it is obvious as the simple story unfolds, that they are each expected to do their work while he is gone, because the point of the story is that since they cannot know when he will return, they have to always be ready.

It is remarkable to consider how much confidence God places in each of us. He wants those who are struggling and hungry and cold to be cared for, so he gives us money and an open-hearted generosity so that we can bless them in his name.

He wants the stranger to be welcomed, and so he helps us recognize our sister or brother in the person who doesn’t speak our language well, or dresses differently, or does not seem to be like us. With a warm smile and a loving embrace, we welcome them in his name and God blesses us with a new friend.

God wants someone who has lost their way to be gently guided back onto the right path. He gives us the right words to speak, if we will only say them.

He wants the one whose heart is broken to know that they are not alone and that they will be helped to find their way through the darkness. We know they are there, if we will only go stand at their side. God insists that every child be seen as his precious gift, and inspired and cherished by us as deeply as they are by him.

We have to remember that as we love and forgive and give away what we have to help them become the wonderful person God created them to be. God has never chosen the most perfect to act in his place. He chooses us. He gives us each our own work to do.

The story Jesus tells ends with a warning: “Watch!” We cannot know exactly when God will decide that our work for him here in this world has been completed. And, while we are waiting, we are to be busy every day, serious about doing our part in bringing the love and mercy and generosity of God into the world. We don’t have to make up opportunities. We just have to make sure we stand there and shine with the love of God, reflecting him to every person we meet. Then, we will be ready when he returns.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Christ the King

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

A man arrived at heaven and was shown into God's office to wait for judgement. One wall was a huge window looking down on earth. The earth was beautiful with its blue waters, green forests, and white clouds. There was a pair of glasses on the table. He decided they must be God's glasses.

No one was around, so the man tried them on and looked at earth again. This time he saw hunger, poverty, sickness, and so much inhumanity that he could not bear it. He heard a voice behind him, "Take off my glasses." He did so, and he awaited his punishment. After a pause, the voice gently asked, "What did you see?" "I saw hate, corruption, and evil!" the man answered.

"Did you feel any love or compassion?" the voice asked. "None!" said the man. "I would destroy the whole planet without any hesitation or regret!" "That's why you can't use my glasses," said God. "You may not see what I see, unless you can feel what I feel." (Stan Meade)

Today’s gospel contains Jesus’ description of the moment when he will return in glory and the judgement that has been made on each individual’s life will be publicly revealed.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the scene is that the basis on which God has judged human beings is not really what we expect. Jesus does not speak about avoiding mortal sin, or being faithful in attending Mass. A faithful person, in love with the Lord, would find those things to be a natural part of life.

The test involves simple things anyone can accomplish. Feed the hungry, give water to a thirsty person, clothe someone who is ragged, welcome a stranger, take care of someone who is ill, visit someone in jail. Simple things, but not easy.

We forget to make a donation to St. Vincent de Paul because the collection happened and we weren’t ready. The person far from home and family sits all alone as we celebrate a holiday because we did not invite them to join us. Colder weather is coming, and we have extra coats in the closet that we will never wear that would change a person’s life.

We think about calling our aging grandmother who cannot get out of her home to come visit, but then we let the inspiration pass by without any action. We judge someone standing on the street asking for help, or the person sitting near us in church who seems different and decide that they are not our concern. We have kind words that can be spoken, and we can decide to smile in a difficult situation, and being kind and generous in little things does not take much time or effort. Simple things, but not easy.

Today we declare that Jesus is the King of our life, that he is our inspiration and source of strength and the reason for all that is good in our life. But we should not forget the most interesting part of the parable – the reaction of both groups is exactly the same.

The good are surprised that their actions were in service of Jesus, because his love and service and generosity had become so much a part of their nature that they did not have to consciously think of why they acted that way. And those found lacking are surprised, because they had become so indifferent to relating their life to Jesus that they could not see him in any situation.

The world around us is filled with people who need to be welcomed and cared for and encouraged and inspired and comforted. And the world is filled with those who need to be forgiven and challenged and changed by our influence. We are not asked to change everything for the better. But, as we grow closer to the Lord and let his love grow in our heart, we begin to see things exactly as God sees them. The test is simple: every person is an opportunity to express our love for Jesus. But, it is not easy. We need the Lord’s help to make it happen!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

Thanksgiving Day

Father Stephen's Homily

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

A college graduate moved to New York City to make his fortune in banking. He was driving a very nice car, a graduation gift from his older brother. One day as he was getting into his car, a poor twelve-year-old boy from the inner city stood admiring the car. "My brother gave it to me," the young banker explained. The kid started, "I wish...." And immediately the banker thought he was going to say, "I wish I had a car like that!" But, instead, he said, "I wish I could be a brother like that!" "Do you want a ride?" the banker asked. "Wow! Sure I do," the boy said and got in. Soon the boy asked if he could stop in front of an old building while he ran upstairs. Thinking the boy was going to fetch a friend to gawk at his car, he was amazed when his young neighbor came down carrying his severely handicapped brother. "Just look at this car! Isn't it fine? Someday I'm going to buy you a car like this!"

The parable about stewardship in today’s gospel reminds us that God looks at his giving differently than we generally look at our giving. The Master gives each man differing amounts – one five, another two, another only one. And then he does something remarkable. The first two took what was entrusted to them and doubled it. And because they were trustworthy in this small way of taking care of their master’s property, greater responsibilities were handed over to them.

Each of us is entrusted with differing talents, according to our ability. Perhaps we have been blessed with a family. And God expects us to increase the gifts he gives – welcoming a new baby; helping our children to learn about patience and forgiveness and sharing as they see their parents practice these virtues in their home; making sure that our home is a place of peace and an inspiration to faith by the way daily life is lived together

Perhaps we have enough financial success that we are comfortable and not worried about life day to day. We know the Lord is not going to be worried about what kind of car we drove, but if it was used to take us to places to help others. And the Lord is not going to be impressed with how large our home was, but if we did something for those around us who are in need of food and clothing and shelter. The Lord will not be concerned only with our sitting in the pew every Sunday, but also about whether we used our financial gifts to help care for our parish family.

The first two men returned to the rich man and simply said, “What was received has been doubled.” That has to be our attitude as well. We have a smile, and as we share it, we brighten someone else’s day and they in turn share a smile. As we welcome someone who is a stranger, or different, or alone, we treat them as a brother or sister in Christ and open the door to discovering a new friend. Each time we give away a blessing, we are not losing anything, because God will continue to bless us with even more, so we can continue to double his gifts in the world.

The sad example of the third man makes us nervous because his failure could become our failure. The Master did not expect much from him, and he received even less than expected. In fact, when he is confronted about doing nothing with what he received, this man tries to say the problem is that the Master expected him to do something with what he was given. He did not want to be responsible.

In the end, we have to admit the ownership belongs to God – he is the source of everything we have and all the opportunities we enjoy. But, God has such confidence in us that the stewardship is ours. We have to be sure every day that we are worthy of all that we have been given. We have to be careful to see the responsibility our gifts carry with them. We want to be the kind of person who sees the gifts as God sees them – an opportunity to bless our brother or sister in Christ.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

Rev. Robert Schuller served the Crystal Cathedral in California for many years. He once told of traveling with an associate, Mike Nason. On the plane they were studying their itinerary--about three pages detailing several events in upcoming cities.

When Schuller had finished reviewing a page of the itinerary that he thought summarized that day’s events, he took the sheet of paper and crumpled it up to throw it away. Mike said, "That’s tomorrow’s page! Don’t throw away tomorrow."

Robert Schuller said, “A light went on. I discovered a universal principle: Don’t throw away tomorrow. That’s so easy to do. Crumple the paper. Throw it away. Move to the next subject.” (Robert H. Schuller, Don’t Throw Away Tomorrow: Living God’s Dream for Your LifeI)

Ten young women were invited to a wedding. The custom of the times was that the groom would surprise his bride by appearing when she did not expect him. These women knew they possibly would have to wait a long time before he decided the right moment had come. In the parable, half the young women are described as wise, and half are described as foolish.

It seems that the one characteristic that distinguished the two groups was that some were looking ahead to the possibility that the wait would be long. They came prepared with extra oil for their lamps. The others were only focused on the present moment. So, as the night drew long, their lamps burned out.

And because they did not look beyond the present moment, they threw away their opportunity to join the celebration. We often find our self in the same situation. We grow discouraged because we seem to commit the same sins over and over and changing is not easy. So we decide that since we have already sinned, we might as well keep on doing it.

But, we cannot throw away tomorrow. God never grows discouraged with our imperfection. Tomorrow we can begin again, because when God looks at us, his love for us sees the saint he created us to be.

Our human relationships can often break our heart. A child will not listen to our advice and we know they are headed down a path that leads to problems and failure. A parent cannot accept the person we are and insists that we change to be what they want us to be.

A friend in whom we place our confidence proves to be untrustworthy and we can no longer trust them. The easiest thing is to simply give up. But, as we choose to give the gift of our love in a difficult moment, we discover that tomorrow offers a new opportunity to treasure and rebuild an important relationship in our life.

We grow discouraged because life is difficult and God does not seem to be listening to our prayers. We wonder if God is ignoring us or perhaps angry with us for some unknown reason. And since we cannot control the future, we begin to worry if this is the way things are going to be for us from now on.

But, as we look at our life, we remember other difficult moments that God has helped us through. And we remember so many blessed moments that came without our planning or expecting them to happen. And the same loving God who has been with us at every moment, will continue to be there tomorrow, gently leading us through the dark moments.

God loves us so much and so personally that at a certain point in time he brought us into existence, and he always has his attention focused on us, and he has already planned a special place only for us with him in eternal happiness and peace.

So, we cannot be comfortable living as if today is all we have. We have to always be preparing our self, because God has wonderful plans for us. We can’t give up, or ignore our opportunities, because that would be like throwing away tomorrow!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

31th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

A man arrived in 1953 at the Chicago railroad station to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. He stepped off the train, a tall man with bushy hair and a big mustache. As the cameras flashed and city officials approached with hands outstretched to meet him, he thanked them politely. Then he asked to be excused for a minute.

He walked through the crowd to the side of an elderly black woman struggling with two large suitcases. He picked them up, smiled, and escorted her to the bus, helped her get on, and wished her a safe journey. Then Albert Schweitzer turned to the crowd and apologized for keeping them waiting. It is reported that one member of the reception committee told a reporter,

"That's the first time I ever saw a sermon walking." (Roy T. Lloyd, Charades and Reality) It is interesting that the scribes and the Pharisees at the time of Jesus knew all about religion. And they knew well their place in society. They were used to being respected and given honor because they were considered to be closer to God than most ordinary people were able to be.

The problem came to be that they did not make sure that what they expected everyone else to be was actually reflected in the reality of their personal life. That is why so often Jesus calls them hypocrites. The challenge Jesus gives is to be what we say we are.

He gives a litany of titles to avoid: teacher, father, master. Each of these positions are part of life, but the prestige associated with them does not come from the position itself. Jesus offers a different standard. “. . . whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” We are a teacher only if we are a true teacher.

We are a father only when we are a true father. We are a mother only when we are a true mother. We are a worthy master only when we a true guide to others as we lead them to be someone better. Humility gives us the ability to admit it is not about us at all. There is someone more important.

Whatever we do is about reflecting and honoring Jesus, whom we are committed to follow and imitate. That is why we say we are Christians. But, we have to always be considering if that is true. It is not enough to simply carry the title. We live in a nation of great freedom and opportunity. We are able to enjoy life, and plan a bright future for our children, and work hard to accomplish good things in our life. We are grateful.

But the truth of that is discovered in how we use our opportunities – if we have a concern for those who are newly with us, seeking the same opportunities; if we look for opportunities to help someone else by blessing them with our own money, not waiting for some community program to do so.

We know that suffering and struggles cannot be avoided in life. And Jesus is clear that if we are his disciple, we will be invited to take up our cross every day and follow him. But, it is a temptation to look at the happiness and comfort someone else enjoys and feel jealous because our life is so different. It is difficult to remember that a loving Father is guiding our life when all our plans seem to be falling apart and we are upset and frustrated by the direction of our life.

The Cross is a powerful sign of the depth of love that Jesus has for us. But, it is also the test of whether our love for Jesus is truly what we say it is. We know there is no end to people who are difficult to like, and moments of decision about if we will forget what we like and give someone else the pleasure of having their way instead. We know that in spite of our good will, there will always be someone who is selfish and infuriating in the way they treat us. We may even know that sometimes we are better than someone else, and have accomplished more.

But, in the eyes of Jesus, what is important is that we keep things in the right perspective. Our being a follower of Jesus is not about what we say we are, it is about what is true about the way we think about others, and what we say to them, and how we treat them. A title is not enough. Each of us is meant to be a sermon walking, truly putting into practice our love for Jesus as we love those around us.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Message

IsidorIsaac Rabi, a Nobel Prize winner in Physics, and one of the developers of the atomic bomb, was once asked how he became a scientist. Rabi replied that every day after school his mother would talk to him about his school day. She wasn't so much interested in what he had learned that day, but how he conducted himself in his studies. She always inquired, "Did you ask a good question today?" "Asking good questions," Rabi said, "made me become a scientist."

As we read the gospels we often find that Jesus is being asked a question. Many times the person is a serious enquirer, hoping to gain insight or inspiration from the words of Jesus. Other times the question is asked to set a trap so that the words of Jesus can be used against him. Jesus is asked good questions and bad questions.

Once again in today’s gospel Jesus is being tested. And his simple summary of all that God expects from us challenges us to ask our self some good questions.

Jesus reminds us first of all that God expects us to give him all that we have —our whole heart and mind and soul. And so we have to ask a good question. Are we actually inviting God into all parts of our life? The answer is there if we are honest.

Of course we do not live in a monastery with our entire day scheduled around prayer and meditation and work for the Lord. That way of life is only meant for some people. Our challenge is to begin each day thanking God for new opportunities and asking him to show us all through the day new opportunities to love him.

Faced with a challenge, we are invited to seek his wise counsel as we decide what to do. As we are with loved ones, our loving God invites us to see what a gift they are and to treat them always with respect and patience and generosity. As we look back at the end of the day and realize that there were times we ignored God or turned away from him, our loving Father pardons us and promises us another opportunity to give him all we have tomorrow.

The second part of the answer is so familiar —love your neighbor as you love yourself. We remember the man in the gospel who didn’t want to deal with the implications of that statement and asked for a definition of who is a neighbor. We don’t need to go there because Jesus answered with the story of the Good Samaritan. Our good question is will we treat each person as we treat our self?

We understand that being under pressure or having a bad day makes us impatient or irritable. We feel the injustice when someone will not give up reminding us of a past mistake. We know how uncomfortable we are with a group of people who know each other already and make no move to invite us into their conversation.

Loving our neighbor as our self involves such simple decisions. We decide to turn aside from anger and treat someone with patience. We decide that we will not let an offense build a fall between us and a loved one, and so we give our pardon and move on because we love Jesus. We decide that we will not place a person in our preconceived categories but instead see them as a unique individual with a special place in God’s world. And so we welcome them with respect.

The questioner in the gospel was looking for simple answers to an important question. But as we consider what God expects from us we realize the simple answer is going to take an entire lifetime to answer—one day at a time, one person at a time, one decision at a time.

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Father Stephen's Homily

Father Stephen's Message

The gospel passage today says the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. We can see why they left, because if you are going to try to trap someone into saying something they shouldn’t, you do not plan it in front of them.

But, there is more to it than simply being sneaky. Jesus was teaching in the temple area, and these religious leaders had such respect for God that they felt they had to leave the area for their plotting, and send their disciples back to do the dirty work. That way they were free of responsibility for offending God in his own house.

They felt they devised the perfect trap. If Jesus agreed that the Roman tax was reasonable, the ordinary people who despised their oppressors would no longer feel that he was on their side. And if he spoke against the Roman tax, he would be in trouble with the ruling authorities. They were sure that Jesus could not escape.

But Jesus simply pointed out that the coin had Caesar’s face on it, so it already belonged to him. But, then he leveled a much more difficult challenge. Repay to God what belongs to God.

Honesty requires each of us to admit that everything we have is a gift from God, so if we are serious about accepting the words of Jesus, then we have to consider how we are going to repay God for all we have received.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkinserves the Synagogue of the Performing Arts in Los Angeles. In his recent book, Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, he tells how he begins his presentations. He asks his audience how many of them can go for 24 hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, anybody.

Many people raise their hands "Yes." But many people admit the truth. "No," they cannot go 24 hours without saying at least one negative thing about somebody.

Rabbi Telushkinthen brings the point home. He challenges the crowds in words to the effect that "If you can't go 24 hours without a drink, you're an alcoholic.

If you can't go 24 hours without a fix, you're a druggie. If you can't go 24 hours without cutting someone down or saying unkind words about others, you've got a serious, serious problem with your tongue. You've lost control over your mouth.

Repay to God what belongs to God. Today as we contemplate the attempt to trap Jesus if he says the wrong thing, perhaps we should pause to think about the amazing power God has given us in our ability to speak.

We are able to go beyond simply barking and grunting at each other to get our ideas across or express our emotions. We can speak of our love to another and move their heart and mind as they receive our love and return love to us. We can inspire another to see within themselves possibilities to accomplish great things in their life that perhaps they cannot see on their own. We can join our words to beautiful music and help others imagine the glory of God or powerful emotions of patriotism or joyfulness.

But, our words also have a terrible power. A lie destroys the confidence and trust that we have created in our relationship with another. A cruel word spoken in anger can be remembered over and over, and the wounded heart cannot heal very easily.

Our words of prejudice destroy our ability to see each individual as a special opportunity to recognize the face of Jesus in another and welcome him in them.

Repay to God what belongs to God. Imagine how different the coming week will be if each of us simply decided today to use our gift of speech in a way that honors the one who gives us that ability.

For 24 hours only speaking words of love. For 24 hours only speaking words of encouragement. For 24 hours only speaking words of welcome and friendship to each person we meet. It is hard to imagine what it would be like. So, let’s try it, and see what happens!

Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk

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