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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Whose Image Do You Worship?

Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct 22, 2017
Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Tucson, AZ
During the past week we have been listening to the parables of Our Lord Jesus Christ calling us to conversion.

Those parables angered those who opposed Christ. 

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 22:15-21) makes it clear  that the Pharisees do not have much admiration for Jesus. In fact, the Pharisees were out to get Jesus. They sent their representatives to Jesus along with the Herodians -- Jews that supported King Herod.

The Pharisees ask Jesus about the legitimacy of the census tax. This tax created controversy because Jews were made to pay it to the emperor of Rome. The Pharisees hoped to use the census tax to trap Our Lord. 

If Jesus said, “Yes, pay your taxes,” He turns away his most loyal followers who despised the Romans.They followed Jesus, who  proclaimed the Kingdom of God, hoping that He would free them from the Roman occupation. 

But if Jesus said not to pay Caesar’s tax then He incites the Romans to arrest Him as a rebel rousing zealot. Fully aware of their trickery, Our Lord does not play their game. He knows that the Pharisees were not questioning Him for the greater good. They were not questioning Him to know the truth.

It is this evil cunning that irritates our Lord. Knowing their malice, Jesus says, "Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?” He says,
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." In other words, Our Lord is saying do what is right.

My brothers and sisters, it is these last words of Our Lord that make up the essence of our Lord’s message in today’s Gospel. Yes, we too live under civil societies with laws and taxes and so on. But, the bottom line is that all things belong to God! Every government, every society, every single thing we make, create, or build belongs to God!

It is when persons and societies and cultures forget that God is the ruler of everything that persons and societies and cultures and even religious institutions lose their way. This is what happened to the Pharisees whom we hear of in today’s Gospel. The Pharisees were the religious leaders of their time, but they had turned the Jewish religion from worshiping God into worshiping an image made in the likeness of themselves. This is why our Lord was so upset with the Pharisees. They had forgotten the truth found in today's Psalm:
"Give to the Lord glory and praise, give to the Lord the glory due His name!"

Today’s Gospel calls us to reflect on what we make the centre of our lives.  Who or what are the rivals to God in our lives?

As Caesar’s image was on a coin, this coin

therefore identified the Roman ruler. This
coin has the head of the Roman emperor on it and the inscription, “Glorified Son of Augustus.” In other words, the coin symbolized all the institutions that tend to divinize themselves as the ultimate in authority. While Our Lord Jesus does not comment on this blasphemy, He reminds us Who really is in charge -- God Himself. 

Therefore, it is God’s image alone that shall be worshiped.
In fact, each one of us is made in the image of God. Do we reflect God’s image in our lives? Or, do we make a false image of ourselves that reflects what is not of God? Are we as concerned about giving back to God what is God's when we think about our image? Does our image reflect our Catholic values?

We all know that today our society teaches us to place ourselves at the center of the world. Our own false image means everything in this

culture: How much money we make… What material possessions we have… Are we attractive? Our society even encourages us to make false images of ourselves and one another based on sexual preference.

Yet, as Catholics we are called not to identify ourselves by labels and images created by the world. As Catholics we are called to identify ourselves as sons and daughters of God and therefore live a new life in Christ! We are called to render God praise for saving us from a fallen world that is passing away and rejoice in thanking God for this great gift! As Catholics we are called to worship God will all our minds, hearts, and to love our neighbours 
as ourselves who have been reborn in the image of Our Lord Jesus Christ!

My brothers and sisters, today’s Gospel
Fr John Paul Shea
passage calls us to give credit to where it is due and to live our lives accordingly. Our God has given us every single thing we have. Our God has given us the very life in which we live and the breath in which we breathe. Most importantly, our God has given us the opportunity for salvation through His Son our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us therefore live our lives today in this society as best we can by doing what is right in what we should do, but most importantly let us place our lives into the hands of God who is the owner of all that we are and all that we have. For He alone deserves the glory due His name. Amen.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Lord of the Vineyard Comes: Bring Forth Good Fruit

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai, FMH
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct 8, 2017
St. John the Apostle Awasi Catholic Church, Kisumu Archdiocese, Kenya
On this Sunday, the Church enjoins us to rejoice -- we are highly-favored -- because God chose us as to be in charge of His Beloved Vineyard. To carry out His task effectively, we need much prayer, which draws the peace of God
closer and closer to us. In light of this, we are to put on our best in order not to disappoint God who appointed us.

Recently , I went to a nearby fruit shop to buy some fruits for my mum. As I was walking through the shops, examining the fruits in order to make my choice, one young man insisted that I buy from his shop because his produce was fresh. Actually, I had admired his produce because they looked really good. So, I bought some mangoes from him. 

Unfortunately on getting home, the first fruit my mum tried eating was already deteriorating and had maggots inside. She took, the second, third, fourth and in fact the results were all the same. 

So, out of disappointment she threw the remaining into the garbage can. The next time I went to the same market, the same man beckoned on me to buy from him but I ignored him. When we use the term disappointment in relation to persons or things, we simply mean that a person's action or promise falls below our expectation. What do we do at such times? We express our feelings of disappointment. In like manner, God feels disappointed and even frustrated when we perform badly.
Our first reading popularly known as “the parable or song of the vineyard" (Isaiah 5, 1-7) is an allegory. In this reading, God recounts His love and care for Judah. He chose her as the apple of his eye. (Zach 2:8) He did everything possible to make her comfortable.

Unfortunately, God was rewarded with sour grapes: “He expected justice, but found bloodshed, integrity but only a cry of distress.” 

What a pity! How has it been with us? Many times some of us have treated Our Beloved ungratefully for all His pains. We have given Him hardness of heart, instead of repentance; unbelief, instead of faith; indifference, instead of love; idleness instead of holy industry and impurity instead of holiness. 

Our world today is marked and punctuated by violence, victimization, hunger, homelessness, greed, conspicuous consumption, corruption etcetera. We have cared more about selling things to our neighbors than we have cared for our neighbors. I think we can do better. We should do better and God expects us to do better. Unfortunately, and tragically, instead of justice, God sees violence; and instead of righteousness, God hears the cries of victims. So as His vineyard, are we also going to disappoint Him in spite of His goodness to us?

The service club, Rotary International, has a guiding principle referred to as the four-way test. It is an ethical guide for their personal and professional relationships. It  always reminds me of 
Philippians 4:8""For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things."

The four principles include: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendship? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

Today, in his last letter to the Philippians (Phil 4, 6-9)Paul exalts us not to be worried. If we remain close to the Lord of the Vineyard, He
will allow His peace to abide with us. 

Finally, He draws our attention to the basic stuffs that God expects to find in us, His vineyard: Everything that is true, just, noble, lovely, of good fame and of virtue.  

So, that means we should only think about things that are respectable; whatever is right in that it conforms to the standard of God’s righteousness; whatever is pure, in that it is free from defilement; whatever is lovely in that it is pleasing in its motive and actions towards others; whatever is good in that it is laudable; excellent and worthy of praise, and officially approved.

Unfortunately, we no longer ask, “Is it true?” but “Does it work?” and “How will it make me feel?” 

But in order to keep the peace of God, Paul tells us to keep doing all that we have learnt from the good news of Jesus Christ. If we do that, the Lord of the Vineyard will come and bless our lives because we did not disappoint Him.

In today's Gospel (
Matt 21:33-43), we find another allegory of the vineyard. In it, Jesus addressed the chief priests and the elders of the people in the temple. The Pharisees and the Scribes are portrayed as the wicked tenants who, instead of rendering a good account, decided to overthrow the landlord. The question is after the wicked tenants are thrown out, who would be given the vineyard?  The good news is the landlord will: “lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him whenever he arrives.” 

When the Pharisees and their accomplices rejected the gospel it was taken to the Gentiles. This reading therefore, richly conveys some important truths about God and the way he deals with His people. First, it tells us of God’s generosity and trust. Second, it tells us of His patience and justice. 

Of course this parable reminded the Pharisees that they killed the prophets and would soon kill the Son of God, Christ
Himself. However, the judgment pronounced on the original tenants must serve as a warning to the new tenants as well, because:
“To whom much is given much is expected.” 

Second is the fact that in whatever activity we find ourselves now, we must be ready to render a positive and fruitful account to the Master and Lord of the Vineyard. When we oppress the weak, the poor, our subordinates, and those under our care; when we fail to render justice to whom it is due; when we overturn the truth and prefer lie; and when we bring others pain and sorrow instead of joy, we disappoint God.

Finally, Jesus says:
“The stone the builders rejected became the key stone.” Indeed, as much as He speaks to the Pharisees of old so does He speak to us also. They rejected Christ the Heir to the vineyard and even killed him, thinking that was the right thing to get full ownership. But unfortunately what they thought was their advantage became their ruin. 

Accepting the Lordship of Christ as the Heir to God’s Vineyard is very important in our lives. Allowing Him to take his rightful position in our lives -- God’s own vineyard -- is the only way we can bear good fruit. This is the only way we can be filled with what is true, noble, pure, worthy of praise and of course, virtuous; and it is the only way we can faithfully render a good account to the Lord.
So, for the times we have disappointed God let us with the Psalmist today implore the Lord of the Vineyard: “God of hosts, turn again, we implore, look down from heaven and see…God of host bring us back… and we shall not forsake you again!”

October is the month of Rosary. We encourage you to pray Rosary daily.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

*Fr. Joe Mungai, FMH, is a Franciscan Missionary of Hope, a relatively new congregation started in Nairobi, Kenya in 1993. He was ordained June 7, 2014. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Abounding in Mercy, Rich in Kindness!

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai, FMH
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 24, 2017
St. John the Apostle Awasi Catholic Church, Kisumu Archdiocese, Kenya

Happy Sunday!

Today's readings show us that God is
outrageously generous and merciful, and that His wisdom surpasses our human categories of value and judgment.

In the first reading (Isaiah 55:6-9), Isaiah exhorts the people of Israel, returned from exile in Babylon, to sincerely search for the Lord who is merciful and generous. Dispirited by the experience of a devastated homeland, they have become weary of their faith and their vaunted heritage. He reminds them that the Lord’s ways are not obvious to us, and need to be actively sought while we have the opportunity.

In the second reading (Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a), St. Paul shows us the spirit of true Christian service. He asserts that he would bring honor to Christ, whether by life or death. Death for him is gain for he would relish the heavenly reward. To continue to live in this world, however, would mean a more fruitful labor for the Gospel. This would benefit more greatly the community of faith and encourage them to live a life worthy of the Gospel.

The gospel reading(Matt 20:1-16a), presents us with the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. It demonstrates the difference between our spontaneous judgements and God’s thinking. In the Kingdom of Heaven, all are equally loved. Human standards are not to be used to measure God’s generosity
which is founded on His mercy and
compassion. His ideals of justice, concern and love for all can never be matched by any purely human program. It is God’s will and wisdom to save all who want to work for Him, and that should be our intention too.

Several things stand out for our understanding.

First, equality -- as we understand it -- may convey justice. But it is goodness, generosity and love as personified by Jesus Himself that enable us to go beyond justice and share with those who are marginal, unfortunate and abandoned members of society. And lest we forget, even these virtues are gifts from God.

In fact, there is nothing that we are and have that has not come from God. We cannot be envious or jealous because God is generous to someone else. The tender compassion of
God is all visible for us to see and emulate. A person out of work is a tragic figure and all the late comers wanted some opportunity to work and God out of his generosity gives it.

Second, a life of generosity reflects God’s nature in a special way. Surely, God is just; but He is also outrageously generous and merciful at the same time. We do not get what we deserve. Rather God gives us more than we deserve. Today, He calls each one of us to be a generous people. We know forgiveness is hard, but we see that real generosity is even harder than forgiveness. 

Generosity is a fight with human nature, with what we like to call fairness, but which can often turn into resentment -- not resentment against injustice, but against the grace God throws around to other people. When it happens to us, we praise God for his grace to us and our families. When it happens to someone else, as often as not, we get out the calculator, and switch on the lamentation mode.

Finally, we all are welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven; where new comers belong; where 
the last are first and the excluded are included; because God's thoughts are not our thoughts. God's standards are not our standards. Each one of us must feel at home. We can therefore begin to mirror heaven in our homes, in our jumuias (African online shopping), in our Churches and let all our brothers and sisters feel welcome. 

There are not tribal or political or social affiliations in heaven. At the table of God, we all belong. We who will live in eternity together in heaven, ought to begin here on earth, embracing those who are different from us, loving those whom we have been taught to hate, in imitation of God Himself.

The Lord is kind and full of compassion,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
How good is the Lord to all,
compassionate to all his creatures
(Psalm 145)