Tag Archives: Gospel of Matthew

Sunday Sermon: Jesus Christ is the Church

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When it comes to their faith lives, folks with a deep conviction can be extremely defensive. I’ve even heard some go so far as to claim that those who don’t follow the same belief system and faith practices they do will even end up in hell when they die.

The fact is that neither you nor I, nor anyone else on this planet, has any idea whether any individual human being is going to end up in heaven or hell for eternity. That lack of knowledge holds for everyone from your local rabbi to the Pope. Our ultimate fate is God’s alone to know.

My own faith is rooted in Jesus Christ. I practice and celebrate that faith in the Catholic Church. That is mostly because it is the church in which I was born and raised. I went to Catholic school for 12 years as a child and teen. I even later graduated from a Catholic university as an adult.

While it is my belief that my Catholic Church is the best way to practice the Christian faith, in no way to I believe it is the only way. In the end, it’s not about the Mass or the building or the priest. The Church is none of those things.

The Church is Jesus Christ. He is not only the center, he is everything.

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of  all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In the famous verse of John 14:6, Jesus says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Nowhere does Jesus say that in order to get to heaven you must go to church – any church. He says that all authority is his. He says that he is truth and life. He says to follow him and his teachings if you want to be assured of eternity with the Father.

Don’t get me wrong, church is important. That is especially true of the Catholic Church. As I’ve written a number of times in the past, Jesus Christ founded His Church. It was important to him to have authoritative leadership and teaching continue.

In Matthew 16:18 we find this foundation: And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus founded one Church. The word “catholic” itself means universal.

However, in John 14:16-17, Jesus said: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper who will be with you forever. That helper is the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it doesn’t see or know him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be in you.”

Here Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will come into the world. He also states that the Spirit will not only live with us, but will live in us.
 
Jesus founded one Church, and that universal Catholic church continues today, more than 2,000 years later. 
 
However, the Holy Spirit did indeed come into the world and into our hearts. The Spirit has worked to inspire men and women in ways that have contradicted that universal Catholic Church over the centuries.
 
It would be dangerous, in fact totally wrong, to say and believe that any and every possible means of practicing a form of Christianity is healthy and appropriate. 
 
Misguided men have formed many harmful practices over time in the name of a church. Any honest assessment of even the Catholic Church history would show that misguided men can do a great deal of harm in the name of faith and church.
 
Many have seen the abuses within various Christian churches and decided to maintain a personal relationship with the Lord. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is not preferred, and you are cheating yourself if this is your practice.
 
In Matthew 18:20 we hear Jesus make his famous church and family proclamation: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” He tells us straight out that when we pray and worship him together, he will be present with us.
 
Whatever church you belong to, and even if you choose to maintain a personal or familial relationship with him, you cannot be making a mistake if your true center is Jesus Christ and his own words.
 
The teachings of the prophets in the Old Testament are excellent for education and inspiration. The preaching of the disciples in the Acts of the Apostles, the teaching of Paul, and other New Testament works are outstanding guides to follow.
 
But the fact remains that where his Word is present, there is truth. If you follow that Word, those teachings, then you are likely to end up in the spending eternity in the presence of the Father.
 
In the end, Jesus Christ is the Church. 

Sunday Sermon: A city set on a hill

The ‘Sermon on the Mount‘ was delivered by Jesus Christ shortly after he had chosen his original twelve apostles and begun his public ministry. It is covered most famously in chapter five of the Book of Matthew within the New Testament of the Bible.

One of the most influential, inspirational speeches in the history of mankind is widely believed to have been delivered at or near what was once known as Mount Eremos, a hill located between Capernaum and Tabgha in northern Israel.

During this speech, Jesus delivers three of the most famous teachings of his life: the ‘Golden Rule’, the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father), and the Beatitudes.

Another key element of what I personally believe to be the greatest speech ever given is a section that has become known as the “Similes of Salt and Light”, which appears at Matthew 5:13-16.

The simile of light section specifically reads as follows:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

On January 11, 1989, President Ronald Reagan delivered his Farewell Address to the Nation. In it, he famously referenced this passage as it had been adopted by John Winthrop.

Winthrop was one of the key figures in founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the second major European settlement in New England after Plymouth. He also served as the colony’s governor over four separate terms.

When his group of pilgrims to the New World had set out, Winthrop described their goal: “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”

The ‘Similes of Salt and Light’ section from the Sermon on the Mount was the subject of the gospel reading and homily at today’s Mass in our church.

In delivering his homily, the priest referenced the current political climate in the United States, particularly as it relates to the issue of immigration.

Father did a fairly good job of walking a hazardous tightrope, considering that he likely had folks from different political viewpoints sitting in the aisles of the church.

But the primary message that he was trying to convey is a valid one, no matter which side of the aisle you sit politically. As Christian Americans, we are called upon to rise above rancorous political discourse.

On this issue of immigration, all too often some members of the media and of certain political persuasions seem to want to paint conservative political thinkers as “anti-immigration”, which could not be further from the truth.

The majority of us are the product of immigration to the United States. At some point in the last century or two, most of us had ancestors who stepped off a boat and onto the shores of America. Like most of today’s immigrants, they were hoping to make a better life for themselves and their families.

It is important to remember that we are not at all “against” immigration. Instead, we are against unchecked, unvetted, uncontrolled, and illegal immigration.

In our efforts to better secure our country, we also need to remember that legal immigrants should be welcomed with open arms. Many people lawfully and properly enter our country and become citizens. Those people deserve our full support as first generation Americans.

As polarized as today’s society has become, it is far better to be “for” something than “against” anything. We are not against illegal immigration. We are for a lawful, orderly process, and a secure America for all of our lawful residents and visitors.

We need to remember, in our tone and our tenor, that we have to be better than the divisive politicians and professional agitators who thrive on driving us apart. This is particularly so when remembering that we are Christians in addition being Americans.

As good, law-abiding United States citizens and followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to stand up and ensure that our nation always serves as that city set on a hill. As a blessed people, we are called to shine the light of freedom before all others.

And all the while, we must keep in mind the last three words of the ‘salt and light’ section of Jesus’ timely message: “glorify your Heavenly Father.” Whatever we do, if we are doing it for God’s glory, then we will continue to be blessed as a nation.

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NOTE: this is a continuation of the long-running ‘Sunday Sermon’ series. All entries can be viewed by clicking on that link in the below ‘Tag’ section.

Brothers in Christ

In the Old Testament, the Book of Proverbs 27:17 reads: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

In the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew 18:20 quotes Jesus Christ as teaching: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

We modern men can be funny creatures. There are many who consider themselves to be men of faith, yet find themselves trapped by fear or embarrassment when faced with the challenge of publicly professing that faith, especially among other men.

In a world that is rapidly deteriorating all around us in matters of faith, spirituality, religion, and morality, we no longer have the choice to seek comfort in private prayer. We must come together, publicly, and call this world to order in the name of Jesus Christ.

There are many ways that you can individually participate in this calling. First, of course, you can simply go to Mass. Attending a service at Church on a regular basis establishes a personal and community base. It is only a minimum, but it is a must.

God commanded us all to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”, and we must set that time aside to publicly visit His house in the company of our family, friends, and neighbors.

Next, seek opportunities to expand your public prayer life within your community. Your own church community will likely have such opportunities. That is always a great place to start.

A few years ago, I began to serve my local parish as a Lector, and it has been greatly rewarding. I always feel that I am helping spread his Word by using the gifts that God gave me in this manner. You have gifts to use as well.

There are numerous groups on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites specifically established for men to join together and praise the Lord publicly, drawing strength and encouragement from one another. One has it’s own ‘hashtag’ of #BIC, standing for “Brothers In Christ”, and joins together posts mostly by men supporting the faith.

Finally, continue your private prayer. It is of vital importance as well. If you have never done so, consider learning to pray the rosary. I took up the practice of daily rosary prayer about a month ago. It takes only about 20 minutes to complete, and there are numerous resources in print, online, and even in apps, to teach and guide you.

We are all “Brothers In Christ”, as Matthew again quotes our Lord: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.

We need one another to magnify our prayer, and to stand stronger during these days of great challenge. The forces of darkness and despair grow daily. We must emerge from our prayer closets and begin to shine our light in the world, in the name of Jesus Christ.

Sunday Sermon: Two things about bad things

There are two things that we can absolutely say with certainty about bad things: they will happen to good people, and good people will do them.

The questions that all who want to believe in a loving, benevolent, saving God ask at some point in their lives often revolve around these two ideas. Those questions, of course, are:

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why do good people do bad things?

In looking at the first question, we need to examine what it is that we are actually asking – what is the allegedly “bad” thing that is happening to the allegedly “good” person. Let’s assume the second part of the equation here, that you or whomever you are asking about is indeed a “good” person.

So what is the “bad” thing that has happened? Has someone been injured in an accident? Is someone suffering from a debilitating illness? Has someone become the victim of a crime? Is there some major misfortune being dealt with, such as a house fire, a natural disaster, an inter-personal relationship gone bad? Has someone died?

If any of those things are the supposed “bad” thing then the answer is fairly simple: welcome to the real world.
Welcome to life. At it’s most basic, we need to understand that this life is not heaven. It is not paradise. When an innocent baby is born, and if that baby is destined to live a full, natural life span to about 80 years of age, they will experience a lot of hurt and pain. It is normal.

That pure, innocent child hasn’t hurt a fly. He or she has never done a bad thing to anyone, has never had a bad thought run through their minds. Once receiving Baptism and having ‘Original Sin’ released, they have no sin on their souls. They are, to use an old saying, “pure as the driven snow.”

So why does this baby not get to enjoy a life full of happiness, peace, joy, friendship, family, and love?

Well, again back to the most basic fact in life for the answer: they do. Every one, including those born with disease or illness, is going to experience love, joy, and happiness during the course of their lives. The most beaten down of us has experienced joy, just as they most blessed has experienced heartache.

The question of why bad things happen to good people is actually one that we shouldn’t really even be asking. Just as we hope for and expect to experience good things, we should expect to experience the bad in life. We can live a good life, treat others well, and pray – and we will still experience hurt, loss, and ultimately we will all experience death, usually having to deal with the death of dozens of family and friends before our own.

When the bad things come along, we find out how strong we are as people. Our relationships are tested. Our faith is tested. To say that this life is a “test” would be simplistic, but it clearly is an adventure that God calls us to experience in different ways. We all learn from one another, and especially we learn from the way in which those around us deal with the misfortune that comes to them and their loved ones.

We are spiritual creatures living a physical experience here on Earth, not the other way around. Of course we hope to experience as much joy and as little suffering during this physical stage of our existence as possible. But we all need to understand, accept, and live for the longer term of that spiritual existence. Eternity is far longer than a few decades.

Just as those bad things will happen, in many cases they happen because some good person committed a bad act, or allowed one to happen. This is the easier of the two questions to answer for believers: human beings are sinners. Since the Garden of Eden, men and women have taken shortcuts, yielded to temptations, given in to weaknesses, taken advantage of one another. We have treated one another, including people who we genuinely love and care for, in ways that are not very loving.

Should we just throw up our hands and accept it every time someone hurts us or injures someone we love, or commits some crime or heinous act, or when we allow ourselves to continue in sin, and just say “Oh well, I’m only human” or “Oh well, they’re a good person, they’re just being human.” No, of course not.

However, clearly those of us who are believers are called to forgive. In Matthew’s Gospel, Peter asks Jesus point-blank: “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” Jesus’ reply is just as pointed: “Seven? Hardly! Try seventy times seven!

For those who may have forgotten their multiplication, here is the Jesus math: 70×7 = 490.

Is Jesus telling us that we must forgive one another, at least our loved ones, 490 times during our lives? Of course not. He is making the point that forgiveness has no limits. He is calling us to simply do it. And he didn’t just talk the talk, our Lord walked the walk. While hanging on the cross, after being mocked, scourged, tortured, and left to die, Jesus called out to God: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

This life is our preparation for the next. It is meant to be lived for the Lord, for His glory. We are all called to manage our lives in a manner that will not only glorify Him, but that will demonstrate what His love is all about to our families and peers. You are called to live a certain way. Not to do as you have had done to you, but instead, as Christ taught, to “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

We will fall short. We will cause pain. We will feel pain. We will sin. But we are not to give up, never to give in to despair. Never to surrender to fear. Never to accept our own sins. God calls on us to be fighters against our own sin, against evil wherever we find it in this world. He calls us to do so with a heart never bent on vengeance, but full of forgiveness.

You should cherish the love you have in your life. Enjoy every moment of happiness, peace, and joy that God gifts to you during this life. In fact, you are called to do all you can to bring as much of that love, peace, and joy into others lives as you can while you are here on this Earth. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” The new commandment given by Jesus to all of us. That is how we are to try and conduct our lives.

When you think at times that you are being personally challenged, either by your own sins, or by someone hurting you, or by some negative circumstance – in other words, when some bad thing comes into your life, or some person, good or bad, causes you pain, remember this: God sent his only Son to suffer and die an excruciatingly painful death. He did this for you, to take on the weight of your personal “bad” things, even though you have sinned against him repeatedly. God has forgiven you, a sinner.

NOTE: This is a continuation of the “Sunday Sermon” series that has appeared and will continue to appear regularly on Sundays throughout the years. To visit the other articles in the series, simply click on that below ‘label’. 

Conspiracy, betrayal, denial

We are now just three weeks away from Easter Sunday, which along with Christmas Day is the celebration of one of the two greatest events in the history of mankind.

On that day of Easter we will celebrate the great victory of Jesus Christ over death, his rising from the grave into which he entered as a repentance for the sins of man.

But besides that sin for which his death was payment, there was a human process of actual conspiracy and betrayal that served as the mechanization leading to his crucifixion. And near that end there were a series of denials from his most beloved and respected friend and follower.

As the Bible tells it in the New Testament gospel of Luke, with the Passover festival about to begin the chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to put him to death. They feared Jesus’ popularity among the people, and that many of his teachings were outside the bounds, some directly in conflict with, the tenets of the Jewish faith.

The Gospel of Matthew tells that they assembled in the palace of the high priest, Caiaphas, and consulted on how best to effect his arrest and eventual execution. Their initial plan was to have this plot carried out after the festival was over, because as both Matthew and Mark tell us, they feared “a riot among the people”, such was Jesus’ popularity.

Their plots against him came together more suddenly than they wanted because, the fact is, they were not in charge of things. As Luke tells it, Satan “entered into” one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, Judas Iscariot, who approached the temple guards and the chief priests with an offer to betray Jesus and turn him over to them in exchange for money.

When the chief priests agreed to pay Judas the price of 30 pieces of silver, the conspiracy was in place. Judas began to seek an opportunity to lead them to Jesus when there would be no crowds around to cause a disturbance.

When the time came to celebrate the Passover meal, Jesus gathered with his disciples in the large upper room at the home of a Jerusalem man who was a supporter of their group. During the meal, Jesus instituted the Sacramental expression of the sharing of His body and blood.

In breaking bread and passing it among his friends he said “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” After they ate, the Lord then took the cup of wine and said to them “This cup is the new covenant of my blood, which will be shed for you.”

As they further celebrated the meal, an argument broke out among them as to who was the greatest of Jesus’ followers. Rather than select anyone of them, Jesus instead told them that true greatness comes not from lording it over others, but through service, saying “I am among you as the one who serves.”

When his closest follower and dearest friend, Simon Peter, told Jesus that he was prepared to go to prison and die for him, Jesus replied that “Before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me.”

Jesus also told his twelve friends that one of them sitting among their group would betray him saying “It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”

As we know through history, late that very night while the rest of Jesus’ followers slept in the garden at Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives, Judas saw the opportunity to turn him over. He led a group of soldiers to that location, approached Jesus, and identified him to the soldiers by kissing Jesus on the cheek.

Jesus was taken into custody and brought before the Sanhedrin, the council of elders, chief priests and scribes who would begin the process of a sham legal proceeding leading to his death.

While Jesus was in custody, three different times that day his friend Peter was approached and accused of being one of Jesus’ followers, and all three times Peter denied that it was so, just as Jesus had foretold.

As the celebrations of Easter approach we should all be reminded of these moments when the very Savior of mankind was conspired against, betrayed, and denied by his very closest friends and followers.

We need to remember that while our friends and family are important, no one is beyond Satan’s grasp, and no one is beyond doing the exact same thing to each of us.

In the end, we hope to count on the people in our lives at the most important moments. But the fact is that in the end the only one whom we can really count on is Jesus Christ himself.

Jesus was the one who stayed faithful to us. He is the one who went to the cross so that your sins would be forgiven. He was the one who suffered and died for each of you reading this.

Do not turn your back on him as his followers did. Use the approach of this holy and blessed season to set your lives on a path that draws you closer to Jesus Christ.