Second Sunday of Advent 2020
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: December 6, 2020
Who passed on the faith to you? Which people led you to embrace the faith? Perhaps a parent, or a grandparent. Perhaps a teacher or a priest. Perhaps a friend. Who was an instrument in preparing your heart for faith?
John the Baptist is described as a messenger “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” Calling out to people, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” People from the Judean countryside and from Jerusalem were going out to him to be baptized in the river Jordan and to confess their sins.
John the Baptist was preparing their hearts for faith. The season of Advent is a time waiting, of preparation, to open our hearts to faith. What were those people waiting for? For the Messiah, for God’s salvation? What are our hearts waiting for at this time?
Some of you are perhaps waiting to be loved, or to be accepted by someone, or to be healed in some way, or to be forgiven, or to be at peace with someone. During Advent, whatever else, we are all waiting and preparing our hearts for faith.
A child within it’s mother’s womb is waiting, but that child does not know what to expect, cannot imagine life outside the womb. We are like that child in the womb as we live in this life. We are waiting for heaven. In this life we cannot imagine what that heavenly life outside life in this world will be like. We see only in faith.
In our second reading from Peter today, he speaks of the patience of God with us and of our need to wait patiently and in peace. When we do not see the final goal, when we do not feel the presence of God in our lives. Then we need that faith that allows us to wait in peace.
During the season of Advent, the Prophet Isaiah is a focus. You could say that Isaiah is the prophet of Advent. In today’s first reading, Isaiah speaks of how “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low.” What are the mountains and hills that are obstacles to our faith?
Like John the Baptist we need to help one another to prepare our hearts for faith. We need to help others to persevere in faith.
One important way we do this for others is by the words we use, the words we speak to others. Our words matter. Do the words I speak to others prepare the heart of others for faith, or are they obstacles to faith? Isaiah has God speaking these words, “Comfort, O comfort my people,… speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” We need to speak words that comfort others.
In the coming of Jesus the word of God has spoken to humanity, it is Good News. A word of forgiveness. Someone once said that the whole story of Israel is the story of unfaithfulness forgiven.
Like John the Baptist we need to prepare the hearts of others for faith. The words we speak to others need to be words that bring comfort, words that are good news, words that are able to prepare the heart of another for the grace of God. The words I speak to others can either be like a mountain blocking faith or they can prepare the heart for faith.
Be a John the Baptist today, be a messenger that helps people around you to have a heart prepared for faith. Reflect on the words you speak to others. Are they good news, are they able to open the heart for faith?
13th Sunday In Ordinary Time – Year C
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: June 30, 2019
What are temptations that are especially dangerous for religious people, in particular for Christians?
In today’s Gospel, we see two temptations that we need to avoid, two temptations that religious people can fall into. The first temptation is that of making excuses. We who are Christians, followers of Jesus, easily make excuses to justify our compromises. We make excuses for not following the way of the Gospel faithfully, for accepting what seems to be an easier way.
As they are on the way to Jerusalem, several persons are called to follow Jesus or ask to follow Jesus. They each respond with, “Yes, but….” Jesus does not accept their excuses, does not accept mediocrity or compromises from those he calls to follow him. He says, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
I think of people who will make excuses for not coming to Mass, “I don’t have time, or I am too busy, or I have important things to take care of.” I can imagine the response of Jesus to such excuses.
But, more important are the excuses we make when our faith calls us to act to oppose injustice, to fight against some evil. Or when following the Gospel faithfully, doing what is right and true, will cost us in some way. Then we are often ready to make excuses, to justify our compromises.
Jesus is clear that there are no good excuses for accepting compromise with the truth, with justice, with goodness.
The second temptation for religious people we see in today’s Gospel, is the temptation to a religion that is harsh, condemning, excluding. As Jesus is going toward Jerusalem with his disciples, the Samaritans refused to receive Jesus.
The response of his disciples James and John was to condemn and exclude them, they ask Jesus, “… do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” We see one of the worst temptations of religious people, one of the worst temptations of Christians to condemn, reject, exclude. But, Jesus rebukes them, this is not the way of Jesus.
A true Christian way that reflects the way of Jesus is about inclusion not exclusion, about embracing not rejecting, about bringing into the Kingdom of God and not keeping out.
So, we who are striving to follow Jesus today, those of us called to be Christians today, we need to examine ourselves for two temptations. First, the temptation to make excuses, to compromise, to accept mediocrity in living our Faith. Second, the temptation to a religion that condemns, rejects, excludes.
We are to embrace a Faith that is uncompromising in following the truth, goodness, the way of the Gospel and a Faith that is about inclusion, embracing, opening doors to the Kingdom of God.
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: August 19, 2018
Think for a moment, the all powerful God, the Creator of the universe, chose to become one of us, to become so weak, to be vulnerable, entering our human life and death. This is the incredible humility of God. It is Faith that allows us to see the face of God in this Jesus.
Jesus describes himself as the bread of life. It is Faith that allows us to see that the Eucharist is not just bread, but the living presence of Jesus. The humility of the all powerful God is seen in this as well, Jesus becomes so weak as to be held in our hands, in a sense to be cared by us as we are to receive with reverence. Seeing Jesus in the bread of the Eucharist, this is Faith.
But, we are also to see Christ present in the weakness of the poor. That also requires Faith, to find and see Jesus in the poor, in the difficult people in our life.
The person who is unemployed and in the struggles drinks too much. Some might look at them and call them lazy and irresponsible and not deserving of our care. Are we able to see the face of Jesus?
The person struggling with depression. Some might look at them with no understanding and complain about their lack of effort. Are we able to see the face of Jesus?
The person who commits murder. Some might look and say they do not deserve to live, wanting Capital Punishment. Our Church has stated that Capital Punishment is not the solution and that even a person who commits murder remains a human being who is capable of redemption. Are we able to see the face of Jesus?
The person who is sick and dying with cancer. Some do not want to see this weakness and illness. Are we able to see the face of Jesus?
The person who is a refugee from a country or religion we are not comfortable with. Some would want to reject them. Are we able to see the face of Jesus?
It is possible for us when looking at human beings in difficult places in life, to see them as things, as objects, they often lose their self respect, we see them as less than human. Our Faith calls us to find and see the face of Jesus.
Think of Jesus on the Cross, covered with blood and spittle and sweat, executed as a criminal, how difficult to see and recognize the Christ in this Jesus.
As we see the real presence of Jesus in the bread of the Eucharist, we are to see the real presence of Jesus in the appearance of human misery.
How surprising where we find and see the Christ. In bread, in the poor.
There is statue of a homeless man laying on a bench. But, when you look closely at the statue you see the wounds in his hands of the crucified Christ. Where do we fail to recognize Jesus in the people around us?
A bishop in Brazil told a story of a Sister coming a long way from an isolated hospital. She came by foot to the bishop to tell him that they had no chaplain and he hadn’t had the joy of receiving Christ in communion for a long time. So, first the bishop gave her communion, then he reminded her: “Dear Sister you spend your days with the living Christ, you are there with the sick, there are Christ. You handle Christ with your own hands. This is another Eucharist, the living presence of Christ.”
I think some times of the spouse whose elderly husband is sick and unable to leave their home. She is unable to get to church for Mass because she needs to stay and care for him and there is no one to relieve her. Is she really missing communion with Jesus the bread of Life?
Jesus, the bread of life. We need Faith to see him in the bread consecrated at this Mass. We also need Faith to see the face of Christ in the poor, the sick, the difficult people in our life.
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – A
Fr. David Reitzel
Preached: Nov 12, 2017
It sounds a little harsh, don’t you think: to be excluded from the wedding banquet simply because they forgot to bring enough oil to keep their lamps lit. And, as if it wasn’t bad enough, when they knock, the master responds, “Truly, I tell you, I do not know you.”
After hearing this parable of Jesus, we can think that Heaven must be a hard place to get into. One little mistake, one little slip, and “slam . . . your out”. I mean, what if one of the bridesmaids was pushed and spilled her oil. Would she be allowed in then? Or what if one bridesmaid had a defective lamp, the fault of the manufacturer no doubt. Would the master take that into consideration? After hearing the parable of the five wise and the five foolish bridesmaids, we can think that getting to heaven is like playing a game where we haven’t been told all the rules, yet God still expects us to do everything right none the less.
However, the truth is no one gets to heave by chance. And no one is excluded because they simply forgot something. God is not that fickle
So how can we understand Jesus’ parable. Well remember that a parable is a story is which the characters and objects represent things in the real world. In the parable of the sower who threw seeds in the field, the seed represented the Word of God and the soil represented us receiving it.
Well, in today’s parable, everything seems to focus on this flame the bridesmaids have in their lamp. If the lamp is still lit when the master comes, then all is well. But if not, well we know what happens. So what does this flame represent and why is it so important? The answer came last Sunday.
Last Sunday, we had the baptism of seven beautiful newborn children. At one point in the celebration I invited the godparents to come forward and one by one they receive a little candle that was lit with the fire of the pascal candle. And while they stood there I said to them,
“Parents and Godparents, this light is intrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. These children of yours have been enlightened by Christ . . . May they keep the light of faith alive in their hearts. When the Lord comes may they go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”
The lighting of the baptismal candle is a direct reference to the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. We want these children to go out to meet the Lord when he comes just as the wise bridesmaids did when their master came. But did you catch what it says about the flame, what it represents? Let me repeat that part, it says “let them keep the lite of faith alive in their hearts.” – the light of faith. Faith is what these flames represent. The flame of the baptismal candle represents the faith of the children, and likewise the flame of the lamps represent the faith of the bridesmaids in the parable.
This understanding of the fame makes even more sense if we consider that the master was coming late at night. There were no street lamps in Jesus’ time, so the streets would have been pitch black. The only way for the bridesmaids to see their master was with the flame of their lamp. I can think of no better symbol for faith, because one can only see Jesus with the light of faith, and outside of that faith there is only darkness. Those bridesmaids who had their lamps lit, then, were able to see their master when he came, but those whose lamps had gone out, all they could see was darkness.
Those foolish bridesmaids, then, were not excluded because of a technicality. They had lost their faith. They let it burn out and now were in darkness.
The primary message of the parable seems to be that only those who keep the flame of faith alive in their hearts will enter the kingdom of heaven. This itself should encourage us keep the faith and do what we can to support others whose faith is wavering. However, the parable has another, more practical, message that we can take to heart.
The foolish bridesmaids’ lamps went out because they ran out of oil. They neglected to seek out the very thing that fuels the flame. On the contrary, the wise bridesmaids made the effort ahead of time and obtained the fuel they needed to keep their lamps alight.
If the flame in this parable represents faith, then the fuel represents God’s grace. The Christion life of faith is fueled exclusively by God’s grace. With it we are sustained and become lights for the world, and without it we wither away.
And where is this fuel to be found? In one sense you can find it anywhere. Any prayer you offer to God is a source of grace. In the morning, in the middle of the day or at night, you can ask God to fill you with his grace, and he will respond. In fact there is a prayer called the Angelus, traditionally said three times a day at 6 in the morning, 12 noon, and 6 in the evening. And that prayer we ask for God’s grace saying, “Pour forth, oh Lord, your grace into our hearts”. Adopting this practice of praying the Angelus or any prayer three times a day will only increase God’s grace in us and give us that oil to fuel our faith.
Also, while prayer is a source of grace, the greatest prayers and greatest sources of grace are the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. In the Eucharist we offer up the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and then we receive him in Holy Communion. Quite literally God enters into our souls and floods us with his grace. God has given us the gift of the Eucharist because he knows that our lives are tough and that our faith is tested, strained, and sometimes exhausted thought the week. That is why he wants us to come to him at Mass to receive the fuel that will help us keep our faith alive for another week.
I say this to encourage you who are here. I know that it is not always easy to come to Mass. Sometimes we just don’t feel like going. And if you can keep it a secret, even priests feel that way sometimes. But if we understand that we need this – our faith needs this – then we can fight that temptation and come to the altar where Jesus will give us what we need.
I also say this to inspire you to think of those who are not here. We know that they need God’s grace just as much as the rest of us. You may have a neighbour that has the light of faith but the fuel is running low, how much longer will it be before they run out, give up on God, and lose the faith? Can we find a way to reach out to those people, and invite them to come to the place where they will be welcomed and their faith will receive the re-strengthening it needs? I challenge you to think of someone right now who you could simply invite to Mass next week.
In the end, Jesus’ parables are there to help us get to heaven. He has provided us with an example of wise and foolish bridesmaids. May we learn from his parable, and always strive to be on the side of the wise bridesmaids, so that we might be welcomed into the master’s banquet when he comes.