THIRTY_FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Finding Freedom in Christ

In the gospel reading today Jesus speaks about authentic discipleship, and serving the Lord to be of service to him, not to glorify ourselves.  Jesus says something quite perplexing when he says “The scribes and the Pharisees vsit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, wbut not the works they do. xFor they preach, but do not practice.”  Why would Jesus say to follow the Pharisees but don’t follow their example?  I believe he was saying that their scriptural teachings about the law were accurate and should be followed, but for the Pharisees it was more of an intellectual pursuit, not a spiritual one.  They seemed to enjoy all the attention, and being held up above others in their teaching.  However, it wasn’t a heart issue with the Pharisees, or at least with some of them, it was more about law then relationship.

I believe too that Jesus saw that they were missing one key ingredient in their  relationship with God, and that was Freedom.  This is the freedom that can only come from a loving, spirit lead relationship with God.

Never one to pass up a chance to talk about the music of Bob Dylan, there is a verse out of one of his songs that directly speaks about freedom.  It goes like this “Then she opened up a book of poems and handed it to me – written by an Italian poet from the fifteenth century. And every one of them words rang true. And glowed like burning coal. Pouring off of every page like it was written in my soul from me to you.”  While the song speaks abouta man and woman who are “tangled up” in their lives, Dylan is also referring to Dante’s comedy which Dante outlines his journey from the depths of sin to a freedom where the chains of sin are broken and he can now live a life in Christ.

Pope Francis spoke about freedom as well when he said “May the Lord grant to all of us this paschal Spirit, of going forward along the path of the Spirit without compromises, without rigidity, with the liberty of proclaiming Jesus Christ as He Who has come: in the flesh.”

I think it is key when Pope Francis says “May the Lord grant to all of us, the spirit.”  He is reminding us that we are all on this journey together.  It is a great lesson to all of us, clergy and faithful alike to work together, and to be humble in our practices and in our service, and to keep our focus and our heart on Jesus and his teachings.  Jesus offers us a freedom truly not of this world.

 

God bless you all, Deacon Dan MacDonald

THIRTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

The Greatest Commandment

The reading today touches at the heart of our relationship with God, and is at the heart of how we are to live as
Christians in the world. St. Augustine, as well, saw the importance of this particular teaching of Jesus. He would
say to his students that loving God, and loving your neighbor is the “guiding principle by which you can interpret
the whole of scripture…this is it”.
If we follow the law of God by the letter, it really means nothing if we do not have a love for God.
Consequently, if we truly love God, it should be impossible not to love all humanity.
I can’t help but think about Pope Francis, who at times in his pontificate has snuck out in the middle of the
night to minister to the poor and to hear confessions. He does this because his love for God and his love for
humanity are so strong, he simply can’t help himself it seems. Today’s Gospel passage is made real through the
pontiff’s actions.
I am sure you can all think of people that are examples of this, and there has been so many incredible things
that have happened because of Christians expressing their love of God, through to their love of neighbor.
However, there is so much work left to do, as there are many people living on the margins in our society.
I was speaking with someone recently about all the people of God living on the street, in our local neighborhood..
There is a guy at the Dollar Store near our parish, and he is there all the time. If you give him a donation or in the
summer my family gave him bottles of water, he will always say “thank you, and God bless you”. If you stop and
talk to him, you will find a nice and interesting man.
Another example, for me, was some time back I became aware of a student who committed suicide. She was
transgender and was rejected by family and fellow students. No one was there to help and minister to her, so she
ended her life. Sadly, it is just one example of an all too common occurrence in our schools.
A third example came from someone in a senior’s home that I took communion to. She asked me to ask my
fellow parishioners if they would come visit her, as she doesn’t get many visitors. Her family is away, and she
spends most of her time in a small room by herself. If anyone wishes to visit this nice lady, please talk to me, or
send me an e-mail.
This is an exciting time in our parish as we move from maintenance to mission. What better way to do
that than by reaching out to those in need and making this Gospel passage a reality in our lives and in the world.
God bless you all, Deacon Dan MacDonald

TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

We are dual Citizens

In the Gospel reading today, the Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus in His
words by presenting Jesus an impossible situation. But as we know, with
God….all things are possible. The Pharisees say to Jesus: “Tell us then,
what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus
saw what they were doing and skillfully answered their question by replying
“render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the
things that are God’s.”
This scene reminds me of some biased interviews on TV lately, where
the interviewer is clearly trying to trap his guest, or at least belittle what
they are saying. I remember reading about an interview with Saint
Mother Teresa, where the interviewer was clearly skeptical about Prayer,
and Christianity. The interviewer said basically, “Do you really talk to
God?” Saint Mother Teresa said “Yes, but mainly I listen’. Then the
reporter asked, “Does God talk to you?” Mother Teresa replied “ Yes, but mainly He listens”. After a couple of
moments of awkward silence, the reporter moved on to another subject.
I feel that Jesus is saying to us that we, in a sense, are dual citizens. We have one foot in the temporal world, and
one foot in the spiritual. It is good of course to pay our taxes and be part of the world. We raise our children in this
world, and we find our spouses, and we discover nature which can be absolutely breathtaking. Take a drive to Cape
Breton in the next few days and you will see what I mean. There are many joys in the world.
However, we live in the Spiritual world as well, where at Mass and in prayer, we connect with the Father in heaven.
In fact, it is in the Mass where earth and heaven become one, and we reach perfection, and Jesus is present in our
midst. I am coming to realize that while full communion with God may be something to come in the future, the
kingdom of God truly is present to us today. Last week’s reading really highlighted that to me.
By living in the spiritual world, and living the values of Jesus, we can truly bring a lot to the temporal world.
Take for example the truth that God created us in His image and likeness. To me, that is our first and most important
truth to remember, and our dignity, along with the dignity of everyone, comes from this fact. God created us
out of love, and He wants us to love Him back. How different would the world be, if we looked at each other first
before anything else, as children of God? I feel people are missing the mark when they try to exclude God from the
public arena. The problems of the world are not just political, social, or economic, they are also spiritual. We must
remind the world that we are all children of God. God bless you all, Deacon Dan MacDonald

TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

The Parable’s speaking to us today
In the Gospel reading this week, Jesus is sharing another parable with the people of Israel. In this instance he is
answering the question, “What is the kingdom of God like?” What is remarkable in the parable is Jesus’ ability to
speak directly to his first century audience, but also to speak to our realities today?
We first read from Isaiah 5 that the vineyard symbolizes Israel. Since the vineyard has been planted by God, it
represents the gift and love of God. Yet the vineyard also demands the labor of the farmer that enables it to produce
grapes that yield wine. It symbolizes as Fr. Rosica says in his reflection “the human response and personal effort
and the fruit of good deeds.”
If the vineyard refers to Israel, then the tenant farmers represent Israel’s religious leaders, who despite their professed
loyalty to Israel’s law, refuse to give God his due by acknowledging and accepting God’s mighty presence in
the life and mission of Jesus. It is very similar to last week’s reading where the first son accepts the mission of the
father, but later turns away from it. When successive servants are sent to the “tenants” – and killed – they heard
Jesus remind them of the habit leaders had in ignoring many of the warnings the prophets had previously announced.
The religious leaders were being criticized for ignoring their own God-sent messengers. The vineyard is Israel and
the landowner is God. This shows that everything on earth belongs to God, as he is the creator of all things. The
slaves sent to collect the produce are the prophets sent to Israel. The son whom the tenants throw out of the vineyard
and kill is Jesus, who died outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem.
As I mentioned earlier, Jesus is speaking to us today as much as He is speaking to the first century Jews. We must
focus attention not so much on what the passage has to say explicitly about Jewish leaders, but as to what it implies
about Christians. The “others” to whom the vineyard is given over in verse 41 are accountable to the owner. They
too are charged with the heavy responsibility of producing the fruits of the kingdom.. This reading compels us to
look at our lives, our attitudes and actions, in light of whether we will embrace or reject Jesus’ saving message. We
must ask: what does it say about us Christians? What is my vision of the kingdom of God? How am I producing a
harvest for God’s kingdom, in my private and in my church life? What does the parable say to me about my own
relationships with family, friends and colleagues? What does the story teach me about my inability to forgive others
and forgive myself? How do I respond to God’s boundless mercy and goodness that He offers me each day?
God bless you all, Deacon Dan MacDonald

TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

It’s more about doing than not doing

When Jesus says “What do you think” in the Gospel for today, it kind of reminds me of a class I took at AST.  The professor used to give scenarios to the students, and have us use theology to find the answer to the scenario.  In the Gospel passage Jesus gives two imperfect examples, the first being the one son who first agrees to work in the vineyard but later decides not to.  The second is of a son who first says no to the vineyard, but then later decides to work in the vineyard.  I believe that Jesus in the first scenario is telling the people of Israel that they have a heart problem.  They have a heart problem in the sense that like the first son, they agreed to a life of faith but later turned away from God and his love and his mercy, but still kept an outward appearance of piety.  In the second scenario, Jesus speaks of the tax collectors and prostitutes of the day and how they may have originally led a life away from God.   But many of them, after hearing the message God had sent, repented, turned to God and started living lives that were obedient and pleasing to God.  One such example I found in my research was Zaccheus. Just like the ultimately obedient son in the parable, they started out saying no to God, but they later repented and did what they knew they were supposed to do – living lives that were pleasing to God.

I say that neither of these scenarios are ideal because the ideal situation would be a son that would say “Yes Dad, I’ll do it!” and then would cheerfully, without complaining, obey his father completely.  This kind of son will no doubt bring immense joy to his father.

For me the Gospels are less about don’t do something, as much as it is about do something.  So to live out the message of the parable this week we must make our faith life active and obedient to the will of God.

Going to Church on Sunday is wonderful, and enriching, and necessary.  However, we worship God with how we live our lives from Monday to Saturday.  When we care and love for our children, we are living out this Gospel passage.  When we are remembering, and caring for the poor in our community, we are living out this Gospel passage.  When we evangelize others and tell them of the joy of the divine life, we are living out this Gospel passage.

Our words – no matter how impressive they are, no matter how convincing they sound, only ring true when they are backed by actions of love and mercy.

God bless you all

Deacon Dan MacDonald

Finding God Even to the End

I remember back when I was growing there was an older man who lived near where my father grew up.  This man lived in the woods and was an alcoholic.  He lived in a small cabin where he would drink for part of the day and then start walking and stop in a people’s houses along his route and talk for a while and then continue on.  Everyone knew him and was very generous to him, often feeding him meals when he stopped by the house.  The interesting and kind of sad thing was that when he was sober, he was the kindest, nicest person you would want to meet.

One day, the man fell ill and ended up in the hospital.  Everyone knew this would be his last days and so he had a lot of visitors coming by to say goodbye.  Unfortunately there was no family around to be with him.  However, a priest came by the visit during those last few days, and they had a number of talks where the man was able to unburden himself and come to terms with his life, and in the end he came to Jesus, and found peace in a new found relationship with God.  Finally, after so many years he found God and the peace he so longed to have.

I feel as though this story is precisely what this week’s gospel passage is referring to.  It is the desire for God and the need to keep seeking God right to the very end.  I remember the joy that people felt knowing that the man found God at the end of his life.  I distinctly recall my father speaking to someone about how it was such a peaceful experience as the man found the peace of Christ in his life.  Occasionally you hear a prayer which ends with asking God for a happy death, this seemed to me to be a happy death.

In the reading today, Jesus teaches us that we must overcome jealousy and envy. This is brought out in today’s parable of the labourers who come to work at different times of the day, but receive the same salary. Those who came at the first hour grumbled against the landowner. “He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you… Are you envious because I am generous?’

The generosity of our Lord is beyond measure and understanding.  We are called at the same time to not be generous or envious when someone comes to the Lord, even if it is later in their life, and we have been a faithful follower of Jesus for many years previous.  Jesus is speaking to the people of Israel in this parable, he is teaching that the kingdom of is for the gentiles as well.  And for us, he is saying that the kingdom of God is for everyone, and anyone we encounter.

God bless you all

Deacon Dan MacDonald

TWENTY_FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

It’s as much for you

Many years ago I went to see a musician perform at a small venue in Edmonton.  During the concert, he started talking about a relationship that he had with a friend that went sour.  He spoke about being on the driveway of his farm with his dog, kicking a soccer ball, and having an argument with his friend.  The argument ended with his friend driving away in anger.  The two didn’t speak for ten years when one day the musician was back in the same driveway with the same soccer ball, and a different dog.  So the friend, totally unannounced pulled up and got out of the car and the two talked for many hours, and patched up their differences.

I remember the musician when he finished the story said “I totally recommend reconciling your differences”.  I remember this story because you could see the relief on the musicians face and in his voice, it was obvious that parching up the relationship, and forgiving his friend freed him, as much as it helps his friend.  Over the years I am growing in the understanding that forgiving someone does as much for us as it does for the person that offended you.  However as someone said to me the other day, “forgiveness is hard work”.

Forgiveness is perhaps one of the most disturbing and emotional experiences we will ever encounter in our lives. It may involve feelings of anger, revenge, resentment, hurt, hostility, sadness, bitterness, and retaliation. But it also involves reconciliation, compromise, contrition, repentance, and redemption. It is not just an intellectual activity; it is also spiritual.

When Peter asked Jesus “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?   As many as seven times?” He replies, “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Jesus is saying to never stop with the process of forgiveness.  You may have to forgive someone many times before you can go beyond saying the words, and truly feel it in your hear.  And it may also be even longer before you can trust the other person again.  But I can tell you for sure that you will be set free once you forgive, even if the other person never says they are sorry, the hurt you felt from that person will never hurt you again.  The hardest part of forgiveness is often to simply take the first step, which is where we begin.  We may have to take that first step many times before we move on to the second one, but it is possible with prayer and rely on the Lord for the strength, perseverance, and the patience that is required.

God bless you all

Deacon Dan MacDonald

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

We are one body

Have you ever had the occasion to watch a symphony orchestra rehearse?  I was fortunate many years ago to be able to spend about an hour watching a symphony and I can tell you it is amazing to watch.  It is interesting because of all the instruments, and musicians that come together and contribute their piece of the composition.  At the helm is the conductor, who puts all the elements together and quickly corrects one of the musicians if what they are playing is not fitting with the others.  After all the rehearsals are over, we get the finished product, which is a masterfully woven composition with all the parts working perfectly together.

I read a piece in another reflection that I think capsulizes this very well.  It says “We are intended to be a symphony, an orchestra, a group that harmonizes and seeks agreement. Jesus is not only part of our ensemble, but He is also the Director. His command is to love one another and through that love to seek to harmonize and to live our lives in emulation of Christ.”

What jumps out to me about the symphony is the fact that all the musicians are so interdependent of one another.  The same is true I believe with the kingdom of God.  As 1 Corinthians says, “We are one body”, and we are all interdependent members of that body.  So when we see someone suffering or in need we cannot say “well that’s not my problem”.   If we hear about a flood in Texas, we are called to help in any way we can.  When we learn about a child suffering in a country far from us, we are called to help.  When we see someone living on the street, we are called to help, in any way we can.

As for correcting one another, we are called to do it in love.  Sometimes when we see someone’s actions are dangerous for themselves or for others, we may need to say something, in order to prevent something destructive from happening.  But a good measuring stick we can use is to ask ourselves, if I say something, am I also willing to help that person?  If the answer is no, it may be better to not say anything at all.  So before you say something to someone else, a good exercise may be to do an examination of conscience first and ask yourself some tough questions first.

At every point though, even if the person rejects our advice, or the advice of the church community, we are called to speak in love and compassion for the other person.  That command doesn’t change, no matter what.

God bless you all

Deacon Dan MacDonald

SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Treasure in The Field!

Once again in the Gospel reading for this week, Jesus speaks in parables.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”  This parable would speak to the listeners of his time, as it was a common practice in biblical times to guard your valuables by burying them in the ground.  Jesus is making the point that someone would buy the priceless items, and give up everything to obtain it.  Jesus is speaking of the supreme value of the Kingdom of God, and our desire to give up everything to obtain it.

Biblical scholars have said that the meaning of this parable is that the field is the world, and the man who gave all to buy it is Jesus.  I believe a reflection on stewardship summarizes this very well when it says.  ”And it is with joy that He gives all to buy the field, to save the world and each of us. What makes the treasure so wonderful that the Lord would give all, His very life? Each of us. In other words, each of you! Jesus gave everything to redeem the whole world to preserve a treasure it contains. He gave all because we, His people, are the treasure.”

So what are we called to do in this age today?  I believe it is simply as we spoke of before, to give back the gifts he has given to us.  Also, we are to share the gift of Jesus and the Gospel to those around us.  The sharing of the Gospel reminds me of a story I heard once about a violin.  A musician once heard a violin played at a concert, and he was so amazed by the sound of the violin, that he made contact with the owner and asked to buy the violin.  Unfortunately the violin was bought by a collector and was now in another city.  Eventually the musician tracked down the collector, but the collector refused to sell it to the musician.  Dejected, the musician asked if he could play just one time.  The collector agreed and the musician played the violin.  When the collector heard the musician play so well, and he heard how beautiful the violin sounded, he said to the musician “something so beautiful must be shared” and he gave the violin to the musician permanently.  It is so with the Gospel, it is so beautiful it must be shared.

 God bless you all
Deacon Dan MacDonald

 

SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

The Final Judge!

 This week’s reading reminds us that it is the Lord who guides us throughout our lives.  He guides us through our decisions, our problems, and is with us in our joys as well. It is quite a journey of faith that we walk, as we try to live God’s will and try to guide our families and journey with our friends in their journey. In the parable of the weeds, it is made pretty clear that at a later time the weeds will be separated from the wheat.  It is also clear that God is the one who will do the separating, not us.

I see this as an invitation to define people as children of God, not as sinners, not claiming ourselves as judge and jury over someone else.  The best thing we can do is to live along side each other, supporting and loving along the way. We must take care not to be judgmental and self righteous but to make sure we have a solid relationship with God ourselves, and to make sure we are not weeds in our community.

Later Jesus speaks of the mustard seed once again, the smallest seed you can find.  Jesus is speaking to the early church who more than likely was discouraged with the slow growth of the church that they so hoped would grow.  However, He is also speaking to us who may be scared or discouraged by the slow progress of a growing faith in our family members.  He is saying that God’s work may seem slow, but be assured that God is working in all our lives.  Pope Francis was right when he said recently that we must be creative when we evangelize.  I recently had an experience where I found that much of today’s music has it’s lyrics come from scripture.  Everyone from Lady Gaga, to One Direction, to Mumford and Sons have lyrics based on scripture.  Discovering this made it possible to open dialogue with some teens who didn’t see the connection before.

Jesus is saying to us that even the faith as small as a mustard seed can grow into something beautiful, and like
Christianity can reach to all ends of the earth.

 God bless you all
Deacon Dan MacDonald