Sunday, June 28, 2020

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Whoever Receives Me

Today's readings call us to accept Jesus, die to this world and represent Christ in the world with humility. 

The first reading tells us of Elisha visiting Shunem. He visited a woman of influence. At her home, he would often dine. She knew him to be a very holy and a man of God. Because of this, she had a room already prepared with a bed, table, chair and lamp. Out of gratitude, Elisha ask his servant Gehazi if something could be done for the woman. He wanted to repay her hospitality. The servant informed Elisha that she had no son and her husband was getting older. Elisha then promised that the next year she would be with a son.  This reading tells us the importance of being hospitable. Now, this does not mean we have to let just anyone home. We have to be prudent. Dangers are real and people do evil things. When God presents us with a stranger to care for, then we must welcome him or her. God will enlighten us in this regard. God will reward our hospitality.

This brings us to the Responsorial Psalm. We will sing God's goodness forever. God always keeps His promises. We all believe because we have experienced God. Many atheists love to make the claim that believers believer simply because a parent or older person raised us to believe. While there is some truth to this- we do learn things from those who teach us- the intention atheists have when making this statement is to discredit faith. God manifests to us in different ways. We each response accordingly. So in effect, no one teaches us to have faith in God, we grow in it as God gives us grace and we respond to it freely. This is why for generations, the faithful have proclaimed God's goodness and faithfulness. From the first chosen people the Jews, to the people now in the Catholic Church. Each generation has experienced God and His goodness. His kindness is established forever, especially in our hearts.  We are truly blessed and shout with joy. At Mass, we pray and sing "Glory to God!" We are linked to God. He is the Holy One of Israel and our King.

This brings us to the second reading. St. Paul tells us that when we are baptized, we are baptized in Christ Jesus and in His death. What does this mean?  Does not baptism give life?  Yes, it does. However, this life is the new life with Christ, spiritually speaking. Our bodies will still die but will rise again transformed. So in baptism, we die to the world and prepare for our physical deaths, but within Christ's body. At the end of time, we will rise again just like Christ rose from the dead. This new body will not die anymore. Death will die when this happens. This is because sin will be gone. Sin is what brings all the evils and troubles in the world. Baptism makes us dead to sin, dead to this world. This is why we cannot live like this world wants to us live.

Unfortunately, many believes get attached to this life and cannot divorce it from the faith. We must avoid this. We must be in the world, but of Christ. We must be dead to the world, but alive in Christ Jesus.  The things of this world should not influence us. We must be worthy of Christ Jesus. The Gospel for today reminds us of this.  Jesus tells us that we must love Him more that our own parents. This is a big statement. Recently, we celebrated mother's and father's day. We honor these two important people in our lives.  Without them, we would not be here physically. While they are not always perfect, we still appreciate our parents. They are sacred beings to us.

Similarly, when those who have children have them, they loved them immensely. This is why no parent wants his or her child to die before they do. It is literally a death of one's own body, in a sense since we all come from our parent's genetic makeup. It hurts a great deal to lose a child. Two years ago, I met the mother of Lesandro "Junior" Guzman-Feliz who suffered the great loss of her son. He was brutally attacked at a bodega in the Bronx. His death brought the world to mourn him and angered everyone to bring about justice and change to protect our children. He was only 15 years old and was supposed to graduate this June 2020. Had he been alive, he probably would have had to have a virtual graduation and would have been applying to college or the police academy since he wanted to be an NYPD detective. His death hurt his mom and dad a great deal. I remember being at the funeral home and watching them break down and make all kinds of sounds of deep pain. It was hard to watch. The experience was haunting. So as one can imagine, the love between parents and children is a strong one. Despite this, Jesus says that whoever loves a son or daughter more than Him are not worthy of Him.

Is Jesus being selfish or an attention fanatic? Not at all. Remember, Jesus is God. God created us and gives us what we have. We owe everything to Him. It makes perfect sense that we are to love Him above all things and people. Furthermore, Jesus says that whoever does not take up his cross and follow Him is not worthy of Him. This means accepting the suffering and trials we face in life. He continues stating that whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses it for His sake will find it. This means that whoever makes it big in life will lose it eventually. The ideas of success in this world are not of God. God is not about the prosperity Gospel. There exists no such thing. This is a man-made heresy. Now this does not mean it is bad to be successful in life. What this means is that we must not make life about being successful. There is much more to life. Our success must serve God and one another. Losing our life for Christ's sake means literally that. We lose our lives either via death as a martyr or socially. We are called to suffer and possibly die for the sake of Jesus.  This is why those Catholics who fear the Covid-19 Coronavirus are not paying attention to today's Gospel. They prefer to have Mass suspended and churches closed rather than facing suffering and death for Christ's sake.  We must be open to suffering and even death. It is our calling as Christians. However, that does not mean martyrdom is the only way to die for Christ. This happens socially as well, as stated.  It is no surprise that once you start professing faith in Jesus, you will make enemies. People will not like you. They will pick fights with you, mock you, be suspicious of you. You will lose friends and relatives you thought were close to you. This is another form of losing our life for Christ.

But do not fear. When this happens, it means you have died with Christ and you are dead to the world!  And if you died with Him, you will rise with Him!  This makes us a disciple of Christ. Christ then says that whoever receives you receives me. This means that we are quasi-representatives of Jesus in each person we encounter. That is why we must be careful how we comport ourselves in the world. We must behave as Christ would. Jesus then ends with the idea of receiving someone with hospitality for who they are, a disciple of Christ. This means doing little things. A simply glass of cold water is a big enough gesture to show to a believer. This is because Christ wants us to be simple. St. Francis of Assisi understood this well and is why he sought his order to be minors and not major figures. He was called the "poverello," or little poor man. We too must be like him and not expect great things. A simple cup of cold water is suffice. In turn, we must not reject Jesus nor put anyone or anything above Him. We must present ourselves as in this world but of Christ and accept the cross given to us; whatever it may be.  May Jesus Christ be praised!

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