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Twenty Eighth Sunday In Ordinary Time

Following Jesus
By Father Pete Iorio

One of the books that I am reading is called The Road to Character by David Brooks. While it is not a “spiritual” book, it contains true wisdom for our time, really for all time. The author focuses on the deeper values that should inform our lives and challenges us, and himself, to move from “resumé values” – achieving wealth, fame and status – to our “eulogy values” that exist at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty and faithfulness.

I definitely see a correlation between the book The Road to Character and the Scriptures for today. Today’s readings present us with examples of people making choices. Solomon, in the first reading, clearly chooses God’s gifts of prudence and wisdom over other gifts that might be tempting to others: power, riches, and even health and beauty. Guided by the spirit of wisdom, he sees beyond the desirability of the things of this life to perceive the beauty of God’s wisdom – a beauty that might be hidden to others.

In the Gospel, there is something absolutely right about the young man, something spiritually alive, and that is his deep desire to share in everlasting life. He knows what he wants, and he knows where to find it, in Jesus. Jesus responds to his wonderful and spiritually alive question by enumerating many of the Commandments. The young man takes this in, and replies, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my childhood.” So Jesus looks at him with love and says, “Go and sell what you have and give to the poor.…After that come follow me.” God is nothing but love, straight through, and therefore the life of friendship with him, in the richest sense, is a life of total love, self-forgetting love. Jesus senses that this young man is ready for the high adventure of the spiritual life: he is asking the right question and he is properly prepared. But at this point the young man goes away sad. He cannot give it all. The spiritual life, at the highest pitch, is about giving your life away, and this is why the many possessions are a problem.

It is so easy to get caught in the same dilemma as the rich young man as Jesus challenged him to go against the common understanding of the day which was “my wealth and possessions are signs that God is blessing me.” Does this sound familiar or even ring true in your own belief system? If so, it is not from Christ who said: Blessed are the poor.

Solomon’s values – and those of Christians – are much less visible and obvious. Many would label the rich young man as foolish to give up all the advantages he had always enjoyed to follow an itinerant preacher.

In contrast, the disciples – who admittedly had less to give up than the rich young man – were more easily willing to give up all they had to follow Jesus. Yet, they also took a risk – giving up their trades and a way of life that they knew and that had become comfortable for them – in order to follow Jesus. Like the rich young man, they were drawn to Jesus, but unlike him, they were able to give up the familiar to follow Jesus.

In Brooks’ book, he says that people of character ask different questions than ones that are self-focused. The man asks Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Instead of asking a question that benefits me, like “What do I want to do when I grow up?” you ask a different set of questions: “What does life want from me?” I would substitute the word God for life. What does God want from me? We are summoned by life, Brooks says. We who believe in God who is the Lord of all life, know that God is the one who summons us.

I quote from the book again and here Brooks is using a word which is definitely part of our religious vocabulary: “A vocation is not a career. A person choosing a career looks for job opportunities and room for advancement. A person choosing a career is looking for something that will provide financial and psychological benefits. If your job or career isn’t working for you, you choose another one.  A person does not choose a vocation. A vocation is a calling. People generally feel they have no choice in the matter. Their life would be unrecognizable unless they pursued this line of activity.”

Jesus continues to call the people of our world to follow him, to take on his values and those of the Gospel, to prefer God to riches and pleasure. The key is to listen prayerfully for Jesus’ call in life, and to follow him in that call. He could be calling today’s young men to priesthood, or young men and women to religious life or to the vocation of marriage. Jesus might offer others the path of a difficult life as a physician, requiring a great deal of personal sacrifice for the healing of others, or the path of an educator who dedicates his or her life to teaching and guiding students. God aligns each call with the interests, personalities and gifts of the recipient and with the needs of the world.

But God does not offer us these choices only once in a lifetime. Each day is filled with countless choices, from how we respond to a particular situation, to the books we read, the attitudes we take on each day, or the ways we spend our waking hours. We here present have made a wondrous choice: to allow God to transform us in word and sacrament. So as we listen carefully in prayer and allow the Spirit – God’s wisdom – to guide us, and soon partake of the Eucharist, let us commit to making choices that reflect only the values of the Gospel and a faith filled YES to do whatever Jesus asks of us, even if it seems absurd.

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Deacon John Hackett

When we hear the creation account in Genesis today we have to dismiss any former notions we may still have. At a previous time our unfamiliarity with the Scriptures gave us notions that led to stereotypes. A casual reading of the creation of humans shows how we can draw simplistic conclusions. For example… since the man was created first, he appears to be the primary focus of God’s plan for creating humans. The woman seems to be an afterthought and created just for the purpose of giving the man companionship and comfort.

Biblical scholarship and a thoughtful reading show the woman’s equality and her partnership with the man. She is created from the same “stuff.” Thus, God intended man and woman to live in cooperation and meant to share life with one another. The text asserts that in marriage the two become “one flesh.”… even their derivative names, “man,” and “woman,” (wo-man) affirm their intimate relationship. The Genesis reading forms the backdrop for our gospel passage today.

The question posed by the Pharisees was not if divorce was allowed, but when it was permissible. The question of divorce had been debated for a long time among the religious teachers. The texts about it were scrupulously studied. So, for example, Deuteronomy 24:1 – “Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, so he writes her a certificate of divorce….” It does not take a biblical scholar to realize how vulnerable the wife would be to the pleasure of her husband. What was the “something objectionable” that would be grounds for the divorce? That was the focus of the debates. And there were a lot of debates…

You see, during the times of Christ divorces had become commonplace, and the commonness of divorce was influenced by the debates of the current rabbis, (the master teachers), of Jesus’ day.  The debates about divorce were a hot topic between the followers of the rabbi Shammi and the followers of the rabbi Hillel. Rabbi Shammi said that divorce was allowable only for adultery and infertility;  Rabbi Hillel was more “progessive” (or modern) and he said that divorce was allowable for other reasons as well  : burning the bread, talking with a man in public, finding another man attractive, not bearing a son, and old age

It isn’t hard to imagine how society would be affected by such easy divorce procedures. Divorce involves legal issues, and much more, since family and community relationships are affected by divorce. For example, married couples are responsible to care for and protect children who are intimately affected by a divorce. As the Scriptures show, God is also involved in married relationships, and in our Catholic tradition, to signify that marriage is a sacrament.

Consider the dire straits a divorced woman would undergo in Jesus’ world. For the most part women did not own property. Marriage would provide them and their children support and protection. On their own they would be hard-pressed to find life’s essentials. Hence, the law was crucial for protection of women and their children from the more powerful forces aligned against them.

Jesus’ stricter interpretation of the law was characteristic of his desire to protect the least in society. In other places in the gospel Jesus calls his disciples to follow him, leaving behind their families. He was creating a new family, not related by blood ties. But about divorce and its consequences, he chose to follow God’s intention – the teaching we heard in today’s Genesis reading: “the two of them become one flesh.” “Therefore,” Jesus teaches, “what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

What I think is preach-able from today’s gospel, is not the absolute prohibition of divorce. In the light of domestic violence, for example, there is need for divorce to protect the vulnerable partner in marriage. Here’s where I would come down on Jesus’ teaching – the reason for his interpretation. Marriage was supposed to be permanent, but some husbands too easily cast off their wives. As he always did, Jesus seeks to protect those excluded who didn’t have societal recourse.

Jesus responds to the Pharisees in good rabbinical fashion, by asking another question, “What did Moses command you?”  Moses permitted divorce with a certificate from the husband; which was a way to protect the wife from abandonment in their male-dominated society. With the certificate a woman was free to marry again and have the legal support she needed. Jesus refers to Genesis to show God’s original intention: the equality of man and woman. The man found the animals inferior that God presented to him. When God presents the woman to Adam he finally finds one like himself – “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”

What about the charge of adultery for remarriage? In Jesus’ world if a man were unfaithful he wasn’t committing adultery against his wife, but only against other married men. If a woman committed adultery she would be stoned. So, Jesus’ teaching now includes men in the charge of adultery if they remarry. (It’s important to note here that Jewish women could not divorce their husbands, but Mark addressed his Gentile audience where women could divorce and own property.)

Jesus preached with urgency the coming of God’s kingdom, which would enable a whole new way of living. Hence, among his other teachings, he forbade oaths and divorce (Matthew 5:34-37). But as the Christian community grew and spread they found they could not live up to all the ideals and they compromised over some of his teachings. So, for example, they struggled with how to support permanent marriages in light of human weaknesses.

Our country allows women to own property, receive wages and seek divorce. Still, women and children are the most vulnerable in our society. While divorce may be easier, society fails to enforce adequate child support, thus yielding an increase of those on the poverty roles – comprised primarily of young mothers and children. In summary, Jesus does not reject law. He wants life to have order and structures, and to provide and nurture those most in need.

In ending, and as an addendum,  today’s passage also includes his comments about children. In light of our ongoing crisis of clergy abuse of children, and our obligations to protect our vulnerable members, his words are empowering. One way of “embracing,” and “blessing” children, as Jesus does, is for church members, clergy and laity, to call for full disclosure, the removing of violators from working in the church and to do whatever we can to facilitate healing among those who have been betrayed and violated. Jesus’ rebuke of the behavior of his disciples and his instructions to them about proper behavior towards the least, challenge and empower all of us disciples not to take a “wait and see” attitude, but to do what we can do to move us out of the muck we now find ourselves in.

 

 

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Stewardship Commitment – All of us are with Christ in His Mission to serve and to give
By Father Pete Iorio

Have you ever been outside the “in group“? What’s the reason you are out? You’re not cool enough, whatever the definition of “cool” is. You don’t have the right education, you were not born in this country or you speak with an accent or you do not have the correct legal status, or sports ability or wealth or social status or religious upbringing or you weren’t in the right place at the right time so you missed out on the inside story? Whatever it may be, there is always that human tendency to exclude. There is also the human tendency to be jealous of other people. This is what’s going on in the scripture this weekend. In the first reading Eldad and Medad were not present when the spirit fell upon the big group of prophets. Yet the spirit did fall upon them. God does not show partiality and works beyond the bounds of human categories.

Moses does not give into the “in group” and the “out group thinking” of Joshua who told him to have them stop. He simply states, “would that the Lord bestow the his spirit on them all.” The disciples too in the Gospel complain to Jesus. There are some who are driving out demons in your name, but they’re not one us, the 12. And Jesus gives that beautiful lesson: “whoever is not against us is for us.”

Seven years ago, I could have had a jealousy attitude when a (Glenmary) priest arrived and took some of our talented and money giving parishioners away to start a new Catholic mission in Erwin 15 miles from here. I believe in the Law of the Gift. When you give away what you love, God will increase you and not decrease your being. September 29th is a great day because on the feast of the Archangels, Bishop Stika officially raised the community from the status of mission of St. Mary’s to the status of being its own parish. We did lose parishioners.

But the law of the gift is in full force. Whatever we love most and are willing to give away, God will multiply it and make it bigger and better. The Catholic Church is growing in Northeast Tennessee. Praise the Lord!

Everyone here today no matter what your age or religious knowledge or practice of the faith or spiritual maturity, you are with us. We are bringing our focus on stewardship to fulfilment. I am asking you in a special way to be included in our census. We always have new people and they bring new ideas and practices. One of them is this update form which helps us to include you and to serve you better. It came from a parish in Dallas, Texas. You received papers, an envelope and a pencil. There are two forms. One is for time and talent and the other is for treasure. I have learned through experience that mailing things out in the post does not yield great results with all of you parishioners. In fact, we tend to lose money by doing that. I am asking you who are present today to fill out the forms along with me. You are always free to not respond.

Two weeks ago, we had a ministries fair which invited you to know the good things that are going on here and to invited you to join. Thanks to those who did. For those who did not, maybe you prayed and discerned that now you would like to participate. You can indicate that on the form.

You can turn in the forms with the collection, give them to ushers on the way out or you may take the forms home with you and fill them out later and return them to us. But don’t forget.

I am so grateful to the generosity here at St. Mary’s. Let’s continue to put our time, talent and treasure at the service of Our Lord by working together in mission.

 

 

Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Humble Service and Stewardship
By Father Pete Iorio

We talk a lot about greatness in our country… of being number one. In sports – did your team win yesterday? in politics, in the entertainment industry. We consider greatness as being better than another team, another political party or opponent, another country, another performer, etc. For the most part, we really don’t care about the loser if we are on top.

In the Gospel the disciples were arguing among themselves as to who was the greatest… using similar criteria as we do today.  And what does Jesus say? “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” And then he took a child and he placed it in their midst.

He uses a play on an Aramaic word that can mean either servant or child.  Talya or child in Aramaic can also mean servant. Presenting a child before them, Jesus explains that one who wishes to be the first among them must be a servant to all.  True greatness consists in serving one’s fellow men and is never self-centered.  It lies in the ability to see and respond to the needs of others, and it presupposes compassion and sympathy. The two conditions of true greatness are humility and service. This vocation to service belongs to the Church as a whole and to every member of the Church.    In other words, the Christian vocation is an apostolate of bearing witness to Christ through loving, humble service.  Christian history teaches us that whenever the members of Christ’s Church have forgotten or ignored this call to service, the Church has suffered.

During these weeks at St. Mary’s, we are focusing on stewardship. In a particular way, we focus on Jesus as gift and how we ourselves can give of ourselves as gift as He Himself did and still does. Last weekend, we had a ministry fair, and invited all of you to give of your time and talent to promote the mission of Christ in some way… to humble yourselves and to humbly give of your time and talents. What measure of yourself did you give away?

Jesus still gives Himself humbly and completely to ys. On the altar at every Mass, we celebrate a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ who humbly served others and who gave away his own life. The priest offers up the sacrifice of the Son. We return to God what He has given to us. We offer this sacrifice back to Him. The effect of Jesus’ self-giving is amazing abundance…the bread of life that nourishes and grows our souls. The life of Jesus Christ grows in all of us and should have the same effect in our lives, in our ability to give ourselves in loving service.

Bishop Robert Barron teaches a principal is on display from the beginning to the end of the Bible. He calls it The Law of The Gift. Your being increases in the measure that you give it away. Your being decreases in the measure that you cling to it.  This is the greatness that Jesus constantly preached and put into practice.

In the Gospel of Mark, up until now, Jesus caught people’s attention and I might say that He was showing God’s greatness by performing miracles of healing people, preaching with authority, calming storms, multiplying bread, contending with opponents. Today, he makes a distinction when He predicts His death on the Cross. What greatness is there in dying a horrible shameful death? Jesus chose to give his entire life away in love. Did his life diminish? Maybe for three days. And then… it increased amazingly when He rose to new life. This is the Law of the Gift in its most wonderful display. The greatest life ever lived is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We my brothers and sisters participate in that very life of greatness.

Stewardship is a word that embodies the fullness of Jesus’ teaching on humble service. A good steward is one who offers time, talent and treasure for the good of others. Last weekend, we focused on doing good works through the practice of our faith.

Today, I focus on treasure. Money can be used to make people great in our world. We even use economic indicators to measure our greatness… if we as individuals or as a country have a lot of money, we are considered healthy and great in the way that human beings think.  Our Lord Jesus constantly preached on wealth and money.  His teaching is countercultural to this way of thinking. He told us constantly not to accumulate wealth for ourselves.

The Law of the Gift in regard to treasure is related to Jesus’ teaching of greatness. The measure in you give it away, your life will increase. The measure in which you cling to money, your life will decrease. It is truly a spiritual act of faith, that requires trust in God to provide.

Jesus even used a poor widow to show greatness. She put her last coin in the temple treasury. She had such faith that God would provide. When she gave this total gift of self, her being increased exponentially. In our stewardship focus, I ask us, no matter how much we have or do not have, how willing and how much are you willing to give away?

It is a whole different way of thinking, not as human beings do, but as God does, that my very being depends on giving myself and my talents and money and time away and not begrudgingly with a sourpuss attitude, but with joy because the life of Christ, God’s greatest gift is in you.

Even you young people if your receive an allowance or make money working, you too are not too young to give and have your faith and your being increase by giving.

I ask you to pray about your financial gift to St. Mary’s. How large is it? Is it a percentage of my income or an amount in dollars? Do I have faith enough to increase my gift not because St. Mary’s needs it, but because I believe, or I am going to take a courageous step in faith to put the Law of the Gift into practice? the more you give away what you love, the more your being is enhanced.

 

Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Mystery of Suffering and Faith with Works
By Father Pete Iorio

Welcome anyone has come here seeking refuge from Hurricane Florence. The pun is intended when I say that we have been saturated with suffering these days: the hurricane, the scandals in the Church and remembering the terrorist attacks of 911.   Why is all this happening? Doesn’t God love us? Some say, if there is a God, He would not allow suffering. These are huge questions and they are not easy to answer. We who are Christians look to our relationship with Jesus, true God and true Man for the answers. Today in the Gospel, Jesus reveals his identity as the Christ- the anointed of God, Messiah in Hebrew. In my experience, Christians today have as much difficulty accepting what he said about having to suffer just as the disciples did back then. As He told them, He tells us that we are not thinking as God does but as human beings do.

My brothers and sisters, greatness is not all about being number one or being better than others, nor is it about having the most money, security, or health. For Christians, greatness is about living very simply in God who is LOVE.

True confession: When I suffer or encounter pain, I don’t like it. I hurt. I feel the pain and sadness and frustration. Then, I pray. I imitate Mary and I reflect on the deeper meaning of these situations in my life. I relate them to my Lord Jesus who is the Christ. I ask for the capacity to love like He did, to let His life grow in me. As I have grown in my faith, my understanding and acceptance of the “Cross” in my life has changed and matured, thanks be to God.

Today we are invited into a reflection on the Mystery of Suffering. I see in those who suffer God’s invitation to us of drawing out of us greater love. When I say YES, God always expands my capacity to love.

Here’s a tough experience where someone was able to transform their suffering in Jesus: When his wife first got her stroke, Wilfred was tempted to leave his family, but together with his wife and children, he got the strength to start again. He said, ‘At the beginning we felt we were lost. Then little by little we found the answer together, me and the children, how to cook, to wash the floors, to clean the house, all the things she used to do. We had to be with their mother in a new way and together, we had to help their youngest child with his studies.

Wilfred says: ‘Now we’re very different. We used to spend days, weeks and sometimes months hardly talking. But everything changed when with the kids we decided to live the Gospel of love seriously with the help of other families. To take the first step, to forgive, to see the positive in each other…and our life has changed.’

‘God is love. You have to believe it,’ he said, ‘even in suffering, our relationships have grown. We saw how pain can turn into love.’

To choose suffering love/a love that costs you in some way is always a free choice. It is a mystery as to why God chose this path…to suffer and die on a cross out of love for us. Jesus preached: There is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. (JOHN 15:13) Then he put it into practice on the Cross.

What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Today’s second reading, taken from the Letter of James to the Church, emphasizes again that suffering is not only something to be accepted but also something to be alleviated. James tells us that our Faith in Jesus the Messiah should be expressed in alleviating others’ suffering through works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual. In other words, professing Faith in the Divinity of Christ and his role as our Redeemer is useless, unless we practice that Faith in genuine deeds of love, mercy, forgiveness and humble service as Jesus lived and demonstrated these qualities.

I invite you to put your faith into works. Today, we are showcasing the good works that happen at St. Mary’s with the Ministries Fair. We are a vibrant parish and especially we want new people to join us in living the faith by serving. For some, it is a cross to take up when you give of your precious time and talent to serve in the Church. This too is an opportunity to love in greater capacity.

Learn adult faith formation
Heal parish nurse, pro life
When I was hungry Food pantry, Melting Pot, bereavement meal ministry
When I was in prison, you visited me
When I was homeless, Family Promise, St. Vincent de Paul
Care of Creation – good stewards JPIC, maintenance and grounds, flower garden upkeep
Leadership PPC, front Office. Communications
Building Community Knights, Ladies United, Tuesday coffee
Prayer and Worship  liturgical ministries, adoration and Divine Mercy
Teach Children’s Faith Formation (CFF), youth, St. Mary’s School, pro-life, RCIA

There is something near and dear to my heart. Right below us is the lower level of the Church. Every Wednesday evening over 100 youth members of our parish in grades 7-12 are formed in the faith. Right now, we have only one paid minister. She desperately needs your help, parents. Even if you do not have children this age, we can use your help. There are many different things that Stephanie does to engage the youth in loving Christ and in living the faith. They don’t just happen on Wednesday. And the assistance you give can be short term. Check out the youth ministry table. We need you. Our young people need you. Christ needs you.

Won’t you deny yourself and lose yourself in the mission of Jesus the Christ?

 

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