from Deacon Gary Newton
This Sunday is Respect Life Sunday. We typically refer to the welfare of the unborn and the elderly, but there has been increasing violence between people that have differing moral and political views. Disagreements should never lead to violence. We hear almost daily about the war in Ukraine, and the deaths from drug overdoses to just mention a couple areas of concern. Things may seem out of control and we may ask, where is God in all of this? The question God may challenge us with is where are we in all of this? It is people that cause these issues, we need people to help solve them. This doesn’t mean God will not help us, but we need to put skin in the game. We are Disciples of Christ, inaction is not part of the job description.
President John F. Kennedy once said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” These historic words challenged everyone to contribute to the common good of all. I like to think that these words of inspiration came from Kennedy’s Catholic roots. Let’s substitute the words “your country” with “the Church”. “Ask not what the Church can do for you – ask what you can do for the Church.” The point is the same, it is meant to challenge everyone to contribute to the common good of all.
So many people say that the Church has failed us. But they may have forgotten that “we” are the Church. If the Church has failed us, the reality is we have failed ourselves. I am referring to our spiritual life, our relationship with Christ, our connection, or lack of connection to the Eucharist and the giving of ourselves in service to others.
There was a deep sense of spiritual unrest in Jesus’ time. Is that different than today? People then and now are not really any different. The advantage we should have today is the 2000 years of history with the Church. The Church has had its ups and downs, but the constant never wavering truth of the Word of God keeps us grounded. Without the Word of God, we drift aimlessly like a leaf blowing in the wind. We begin to look out only for ourselves which isolates us. But our goal is heaven, a communion with God and all his children. The key is in the Lord’s Prayer, that the Father’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
We have heard in scripture that when you go to heaven you will enjoy the heavenly feast. In Isaiah 26:6 it states: “…the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.”
There is a story of heaven and hell that you may be familiar with. The story depicts hell the same as heaven, both having a great banquet. Someone died and went to hell. As he entered he saw a large banquet table with everything you could possibly imagine to eat, but everyone was malnourished and moaning with hunger. They were given a 4 foot fork to use to eat the food. How torturous it was for them because since the fork was so long there was no way they could get the food into their mouths. A table of plenty right in front of them but they were starving.
Someone else also died but went to heaven. Just like hell as he entered heaven he saw a large banquet table with everything you could possibly imagine to eat, but everyone was well fed and having a great time even though they were also given a 4 foot fork to use to eat the food. The difference in heaven is that they used the 4 foot fork to feed the person across the table from them. The only difference between heaven and hell was that in hell they were focused only on themselves while in heaven they were focused on others.
Unrest befalls all those looking out for only themselves. We see this in the First Reading today that states: “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene.” In the Second Reading today it states: “… bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” God will help us, but what are we doing about it? We have been empowered by the Holy Spirit through our Baptism. Do we actually believe that? Do we have the faith that the Holy Spirit of God dwells within us and empowers us?
In the Gospel it states: “The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” Even the apostles struggled with faith, the intangible truth. But Jesus reassures them and us that even the smallest amount of faith can empower you to do what may seem to be impossible. But He is not saying that this path of life is easy. Jesus goes on to say: “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”
These words also challenge us to make a self-assessment if we have shared in Christ’s suffering for the good of all or are we giving of ourselves only out of our excess. Suffering would require giving more than from our excess, we must tap into the core of our being, into the very depths of our soul.
Many people know exactly what this means when they burn the candle at both ends with caring for a sick loved one over an extended period of time but still needing to go to work. But even when they are exhausted they find their love deepens as they see the fruits of their labor. It’s an emptying of oneself and a taste of heaven.
This goes back to that statement, “Ask not what the Church can do for you – ask what you can do for the Church.” Since we are the church, heaven on earth begins with service to others. If everyone truly focused on others, there would not be unrest in the world, there would be no abortions, no untimely death of the elderly, no wars, no violence. This is what we mean by heaven on earth. We may say that it is impossible, but Jesus has told us that even with the smallest amount of faith miraculous things can happen. We must then put our faith into action. Miracles can happen but they start with us.