Sunday, September 4, 2016

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Seek Heaven

Today's readings remind us about looking towards Heaven as our priority.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta was just canonized today by Pope Francis.  She is a great example to use for today's reflection.

In the first reading, we are reminded that no one can truly know God or His thoughts (Job 36:26, Romans 11:34).  No one can be God's counsel because God is absolute truth.  How can a created thing tell the creator what to do?  Does the created know more than the creator?  We who are the created live in a mortal state which is timid.  Every day we worry about any little thing; where our food will come from, how to pay bills etc (Matthew 6:27).  This is because we are "pressed" against the limits of time and our thoughts have adapted to that state of being.  This is why our plans are "unsure," as the readings tell us.  We can plan many things now, but tomorrow we can die from a disease or accident, God forbid (Proverbs 16:9).  The corruptible body does burden the soul (Mark 14:38). We are held back many times because of the limits of the body.  However, the reality is that we must focus on heaven above (Colossians 3:2).  We do this by opening ourselves to God's grace via wisdom (Proverbs 4:6-7). Many atheists ask questions about heaven and God.  "How do you know" is their favorite question.  We can only offer them answers based on divine revelation (Proverbs 3:5). This is the best we can do because heaven cannot be searched out.  We cannot put heaven in a laboratory, or view it with the Hubble telescope.  Heaven is something we must analyze via the grace of God, not the senses (Hebrews 5:14). The senses are too limited.

Blessed Mother Teresa, now Saint Teresa of Calcutta often suffered the "dark nights."  She often doubted God and heaven.  Even St. Therese of Lisieux experienced this.  One may wonder why?  Atheism, in a sense, is part of the spiritual life.  As we get closer to God, we are "blinded" by God's radiance, metaphorically speaking (Psalm 34:5).  This causes the soul to get disoriented because God is too immense for it.  During this disorientation, we feel that God abandoned us or may not even exist.  Think of it as when you look at the Sun or something very bright.  At first, we see our surroundings, then we experience temporary blindness. This blindness makes us anxious and disorients. The dark night of the soul is something similar, but not physical.  We pray and nothing happens.  We plan and nothing happens.  At one point, we think God gave us a plan and that plan seemed to be coming to fruition, but then, things go wrong (Psalm 22, Job 21:7).

Take me for example. My Google plus account was suspended over a week ago out of nowhere.  The last thing I posted was my reflections for August 21 and a Google Hangouts You Tube broadcast of me praying the morning prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours (See these video captures: 1)  2) Trolls falsely reported my account and now Google is having an issue with my pen name "Sacerdotus." They asked me for more information on it and I provided it.  To date, they have not responded nor have restored my account.  Similarly, in 2013, my Twitter was falsely reported by trolls and I was permanently suspended.  Also, in December 2015, Facebook locked my account after it was reported by trolls because of the name.  Now, I could have panicked and said, "Why God!?"  I could have said, "God abandoned me" or "maybe God really does not exist."  However, I did neither.  What I did was accept it and prayed.  I took it as maybe God wanted me to slow down or was testing me (Jeremiah 17:10). My life as a Catholic does not consist of being "Sacerdotus," it is much more than that.  God directs my life, not me.  This is one of the main things we should get from this first reading. We must focus on God, trust Him, rely on wisdom to understand what is really going on and not try to be a know-it-all.

No one knows God's mind, not even the most intelligent theologian (Romans 11:34).  Saint Teresa of Calcutta and others knew this.  They went through the darkness and trusted God.  These saints knew they were not God's counselor, nor could they know His mind.  They knew instead that God was their refuge, as we read in today's responsorial Psalm  God controls all things, including our lives (Jeremiah 1:5).  When we die, it is because God is calling us back: "You turn man back to dust, saying, 'Return, O Children of men'"  God is beyond space and time. A thousand years is like a day which has come and gone (2 Peter 3:8).  Our lives are the same. We may live until 100, but to God, our lives are just a mere second, metaphorically speaking of course.  This should remind us to be humble like the readings from last week called us to be.  The Psalm today reminds us of our mortality and dependency on God.  We may have free will, but God has free control.  We do not dictate when we are born or when we die.  This is why we must ask God to "teach us to number our days aright," in other words, to teach us how to live life appropriately (Psalm 119:133).

We must ask God to be merciful to us and guide us by the hand because we do not know what we do most of the time (Luke 23:34). In one moment, we can be like a classroom of college kids sitting still observing the professor, in the next, we can be like a pre-k class running amok.  We must ask God to set our paths aright and care for us; prosper the work we do in His name. We must be a "prisoner" for Christ, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading.  St. Paul describes himself as a "prisoner for Christ Jesus."  What does this mean?  It means that he is a servant of Christ; that he has given himself completely to Christ (Galatians 2:20).  The word "prisoner" has a bad connotation.  We often think of it as a consequence of breaking the law.  In this case, St. Paul follows the law of God and becomes the property of Christ.  We too are called to this.  It was what we were created for.  St. Paul also says that he became the father of Onesimus who was a slave to Philemon of Colossae and bishop of Byzantium.  This is why we call priests "father."  They become our spiritual fathers.  The reading today reminds us that we are set free from the chains of the world.  Christ sets us free. We belong to Him now just like St. Paul and Onesimus. We are no longer slaves to the world.  We are now brothers and sisters in Christ, the true family of God.

Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus says something we may find strange today in 2016.  He says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."  What does He mean that we have to hate our father, mother, wife and children etc?? Before we pass judgment on Christ, let us try to understand what He means.  What Christ means is that God is more important.  God is more important that even our parents, siblings, children and ourselves.  Is this because God is selfish?  Absolutely not!  Why would He create a world with families and love if He wanted it all for Himself?  Since He is the creator and all things come from Him, it is logical that He is the most important. Without God, we cease to exist.  This goes for our parents, siblings, children etc as well.  If God stops thinking of the universe, it will cease to exist.  The universe with all its glories and designs is just a mere thought of God.  Jesus uses hyperbolic tones in order to make this point.  We must leave all behind.  We must detach ourselves from everything and everyone. This does not mean we become isolated.

Unfortunately, many cult leaders have used Jesus' words to lead their flock away from their families in order to deceive them.  Jesus does not want this.  Remember, we call called upon in the commandments to honor our parents (Exodus 20:12, Matthew 22:38).  God cannot contradict Himself.  He is truth.  We have to look at what Jesus really means.  We must be focused on God.  This is why Jesus says that one does not construct a tower before calculating the cost.  In other words, we must not decide to follow Jesus without first realizing what we must give up (Luke 9:62).  St. Gregory of Nyssa tells us, "The Gospel somewhere says that a person who begins to build a tower but stops with the foundations and never completes it is ridiculous. What do we learn from this parable? We learn that we should work to bring every aspiration to a conclusion, completing the work of God by an elaborate building up of his commandments. One stone does not make a complete tower, nor does one commandment bring the perfection of the soul to its desired measure. It is necessary to both erect the foundation and, as the apostle says, "to lay upon it a foundation of gold and precious stones" (1 Cor 3:12). That is what the products of the commandments are called by the prophet when he says, "I have loved your commandment more than gold and much precious stone" (Ps 118:27). ("On Virginity, 18", quoted in Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 242.)"

We must put our old selves alway.  This will be hard.  We must set aside all earthly concerns and focus on our spiritual well-being.  St. Cyril of Alexandria stated, "Jesus says, 'He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. He that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.'  By adding 'more than me,' it is plain that he permits us to love, but not more than we love him. He demands our highest affection for himself...The love of God in those who are perfect in mind has something in it superior both to the honor due to parents and to the natural affection felt for children. ("Commentary on Luke, Homily 105", quoted in Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 240)" This echoes the commandment to love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength (Matthew 22:38).  By loving God, we better understand what is love because God is love (1 John 4:8). But first, we have to remove the distractions of the world.  St. Bede writes, "There is a difference between renouncing all things and leaving all things. For it is the way of few perfect men to leave all things, that is, to cast behind them the cares of the world, but it is the part of all the faithful to renounce all things, that is, so to hold the things of the world instead of by them being held in the world. (Quoted in Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Luke, ed. John Henry Newman, vol. 3 (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1843), 520.)"  We must be in the world, but not of it.

Let us get closer to God, focus on Him and love Him above all, including our loved ones.  May Jesus be praised!  May St. Teresa of Calcutta pray for us and teach us how to see Jesus in everyone.    


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