8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. Luke 2:8-20 King James Version (KJV)
After 2000 years of Christmas sermons, in hundreds of languages, in different countries throughout the world, and by way of innumerable faith traditions, is there anything new or original left to be said about Christmas, and what it means, that hasn’t been said before? Perhaps not. However, like re-reading that favorite book for the 17th time, or watching that favorite movie or television show for the 358th time, even when you know exactly what comes next, what the very next word is going to be, often we find a new meaning or a new slant on something that is as tried and true as Christmas itself.
And so it is with me this year. This Gospel reading recalls the story of the angels bringing the news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds. Now, we all know that story. We’ve heard it many times over, and those of us who cherish “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will always, in some ways, hear Linus quoting from Luke, no matter who is reading that passage of the Bible to us. We know the story. We SEE the story in every Nativity scene we pass by. There is almost always a shepherd near the manger carrying a lamb on his shoulders and another lamb or sheep to be seen somewhere hanging around. It’s always seemed to me that the sheep and the shepherds were just THERE, minor players in a Christmas play, the “extras” assigned to the kids who didn’t quite measure up to the roles of Mary or Joseph; they enter stage left, ooh and aah over the baby, and exit stage right, singing “Go tell it on the mountain”, singularly unimportant and taking secondary roles to the more illustrious wise men (who in reality weren’t there at all) and most definitely playing supporting roles to the Holy Family, or just standing around as so much scenery, contributing to the mood and filling up the bare spots in the Nativity scene. I overheard a conversation recently that made me really think about the shepherds. While visiting some friends, their cat jumped into the midst of the family crèche and knocked over the obligatory shepherd. It was chipped. The younger daughter of the family was somewhat distressed, and to make the little girl feel better, the mother said to her, “Don’t worry about it, Honey. It’s just the shepherd. He’s not all that important.” I didn’t think much about it at the time, but when reading the Scripture appointed for today, it struck me. Not all that important? But weren’t they? Who WERE these shepherds? Why were they there in the first place? Why did THEY get the news of Christ’s birth in such a spectacular way? Who were they that they should be eyewitnesses of God’s glory and receive history’s greatest birth announcement?
In Christ’s day, shepherds stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder. They shared the same unenviable status as tax collectors and dung sweepers. Only Luke mentions them. When the twelve tribes of Israel migrated to Egypt, they encountered a lifestyle foreign to them. The Egyptians were agriculturalists. As farmers, they despised shepherding because sheep and goats meant death to crops. Battles between farmers and shepherds are as old as they are fierce. The first murder in history erupted from a farmer’s resentment of a shepherd. Smug religious leaders maintained a strict caste system at the expense of shepherds and other common folk. Shepherds were officially labeled “sinners”—a technical term for a class of despised people.
Into this social context of religious snobbery and class prejudice, God’s Son stepped forth. How surprising and significant that God the Father handpicked lowly, unpretentious shepherds to be the first to hear the joyous news: “It’s a boy, and He’s the Messiah!” What an affront to the religious leaders who were so conspicuously absent from the divine mailing list. Even from birth, Christ moved among the lowly. It was the sinners, not the self-righteous, He came to save. So is it really all that surprising that the first announcement of Christ’s birth was to the lowly shepherds on Bethlehem’s hillsides?
Consider the events leading up to Christ’s birth. Mary was barely 15. Christ was born to an unwed mother, Mary, a servant girl; Mary the young woman who delivered while only betrothed to Joseph. He was born in a stable, a cave! A holy God being born to a couple no different than immigrants, far from home and in a strange city, in a place where animals were kept. A couple who couldn’t even find a place to stay, turned out of every inn! It’s all too bizarre.
Yet this is the God we experience. This is our claim; This is the meaning of his very name: Immanuel, meaning “God with us” — with us not just in nice times, but most especially in the times of our lives when we are in the caves, and stables of our lives, when we are turned out of the places we’d like to be, when we are at the lowest of low points, when we are out in the dark, and in the cold like the shepherds.
Our God, the God who comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ, is the God of the oppressed, the repressed, the depressed; the God of the sad, the grieving, the sorrowful; the God of the lonely, the lowly, the poor, the God of the Shepherds; the God of the despised, the destitute, the dejected. Our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who stood with the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt, who led them out of Egypt to a promised land of freedom. Our God is the God of widows and orphans and stranded travelers. Our God is the God who doesn’t stay neat and tidy and spotless, but comes and stands beside us in our times of deepest need, who comes among us as the child in the dirty manger and the God of the shepherds on the hillside. The God we’re speaking of dares to join the unsuccessful, the failures, the dispossessed, and the downtrodden; the God of the Shepherds.
Wherever there is suffering, our God is there. He stands with Zacchaeus, the despised tax collector, and with Bartimaeus, the blind beggar. He is with us when we face cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments. He is with us when we face amputations, operations, loneliness, the loss of a loved one, or even death itself. The God of the manger and the Shepherd is Immanuel, God with us. At our deepest times of loss and need, in the dirtiest and most embarrassing parts of our lives, God is with us, His rod and His staff, they comfort us. It is God who glues us back together when we become, like that figure in my friends’ Nativity scene, chipped, flawed, and much less than perfect.
And it is up to us, to demonstrate the love of God, the God of the lowly, the downtrodden, to the world. We, like the shepherds in the Christmas story, are to be the ones who are to proclaim the good news “which shall be to all people” to all the people of the world. It is our responsibility as Christians to be the instruments through which God can work in this world. As was most famously stated more than four centuries ago by Saint Theresa of Avila:
Christ has no body but yours,
no hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
My very favorite Christmas carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” includes the lines, “What, then, shall I bring him, empty as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man I would do my part. What can I give Him? I can give Him my heart.”
Won’t you, this Christmas, give Him your heart? Won’t you, like the shepherds in the children’s plays of the Christmas story, be one to “go tell it on the mountain, over the fields and everywhere” that Jesus Christ is born? Amen.
Jesus tells us that one day a man went away on a journey. But before he left, he entrusted his assets to three of his servants. They were each given “talents.” The Greek word talanta literally means “weights.” Back in those days, a talent or weight was valued according to the kind of metal of which the weight consisted. It could be a talent of copper, gold, or silver. The most common talent was silver. Assuming that these were silver talents, then they could have been worth more than $1,000 each. So one servant was given five talents, or over $5,000; another two talents, or more than $2,000; and the last servant was given one talent, a “measly” $1,000 or so. How many of you could use even a measly $1,000 right now? I know I could!
Now Jesus told many of His parables as a way to explain what the kingdom of God is like. The parable of the talents is another one of those. And so, you see, the characters in the story represent various types of people in the kingdom. Who is this rich master who went away to a far country? It’s the Master…JESUS.
When He told this parable, Jesus was well aware that within weeks He too would go on a long journey. He would depart from the top of the Mount of Olives and ascend up, up and away to a far land—to the distant heavens—and there take up His place at the right hand of the Father. In the same way that verse 19 tells us that the rich man would be away for a long time, Jesus knew that His return would not be as soon as some people might think. Yet Jesus also knew that He, like the rich man, would return to receive back His property and obtain a careful accounting from each servant.
Now who are these three servants in the parable? They represent you and me, and every other person who is called to serve the Master. They symbolize every servant of God who is born into His house, bought with His blood, and employed for His praise and profit.
1. God has entrusted much responsibility to His servants.
Verse 14 says that the man “called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.” So the first point I want to make is that God has entrusted a lot of responsibility to His servants.
While the rich man called his servants to manage his financial empire, the Lord Jesus has called you and me to manage His earthly kingdom. We have been given an enormous responsibility. We manage the earthly affairs of the Master of masters…the Lord of lords.
God has entrusted much to us. King David in Psalm 8:3-6 expressed his wonder at how much trust God has placed into the hands of human beings: 3 “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, 4 what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? 5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.” Think of it! God went to all that work to create a perfect world; yet He put man in charge of it all. What incredible confidence He has in His finite and fallible creatures!
Verse 14 tells us that the servants were commanded to manage his “goods,” or his property. Servants in those days owned nothing themselves. Everything they had, even their spouses and their children, were the property of the master. And even when he would go off to a far country, they had no right to say, “The boss is gone now, let’s take our money and run.”
Let’s face it, everything we call ours is really His. Even our own bodies are not ours. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:19,20: 19 “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
As servants of Jesus we own nothing. We are managers of God’s property. Our knowledge of the “mysteries” or “secret things” (1 Corinthians 4:1) is still the knowledge of the mysteries of God. Our husbands and our wives, our sons and our daughters, our houses and our land, our spiritual gifts and our ministries, our time and our talents—they are all His property, entrusted into our care until He returns to receive them back.
Now if we would only realize that we are but tenants on His land, we would be less selfish and demanding; if we would only realize that we are not the king of the castle, but He is the King, then we would not be so quick to run away from our responsibilities. In fact, we would ask His permission before we did anything.
Now before I leave this point about God entrusting great responsibility to us, we must not ignore the fact that not all of us have equal responsibility. Verse 15 of our text says, “ ‘And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability….’ ”
Not every servant was entrusted with the same number of talents. One was given five talents, another two, and the third servant was given only one. What we discover is that God makes us managers according to our “manage-ability.”
The master in this parable is not only wealthy; he is also wise. He knew that his servants did not have equal ability. Likewise, God never gives to us more than we can handle. He knows our strengths and He knows our weaknesses. God never demands from a man abilities which he has not got; but he does demand that a man should use to the full the abilities which he does possess. Peter said it well in 1 Peter 4:10, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
2. But many of us don’t make the most of what we’ve got.
So my first point is that God has entrusted to each of us some kind of important responsibility in the kingdom, though it might not be equal to the responsibility given to someone else.
The second point I want to stress, and it’s something that Jesus wished to stress, is the fact that although God has entrusted something to each of us, some of us who have been entrusted with little don’t make the most of the little we’ve got.
Servant number three was given only one talent to invest. We’re told in verse 18 that upon receiving his talent, he “went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.” Now at first glance, this doesn’t appear to be such a terrible thing to do. His master told him to look after one talent and so that’s what he did. He buried the talent for safekeeping. In those days, it was common to hide some of your money in case some invading army conquered the land and took over the banking system.
So this third servant perhaps said to himself, “I’m going to keep my master’s money safe and sound by digging a hole and burying the talent it might get a little muddy, but at least it wouldn’t be stolen.”
But what did the master think of this servant’s logic when he returned? He was not impressed at all. We’re told at the end of the parable that not only was he fired from his job, but the master ordered that he be thrown “into the outer darkness,” a place where there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
It’s scary to admit this, but did you know that many of us are just like that poor one-talent servant? Many of us don’t make the most of what we’ve been given. And because we don’t make the most of what we’ve got, even the little we have will one day be taken away.
I want us to take note of the behavior and attitudes that characterized this third servant and caused him to displease his master so much.
The Fear of Failure
Upon the master’s return to ask his servants for an accounting, the third servant tries to justify himself, saying in verse 24 of our text that he knew his master to be a “hard man.” And then in verse 25 he says that he was “afraid,” and therefore went and hid his master’s talent in the ground. So we see that the first thing that characterized this third servant and that caused his master’s displeasure was fear.
He buried his talent because he was afraid. Afraid that if he took the talent and invested it, he might risk losing it all and then have nothing to return to his master. For fear of losing everything, he did nothing.
Fear is probably the most powerful enemy of success. So many people miss opportunities to do something significant with their gifts or talents or possessions simply because they fear failure. You may have been blessed with a natural ability to sing, but much of this talent has gone to waste because you fear you’d fall apart once you stepped on the stage. Or fear of being booed by an audience. What a tragic thing it will be if you bury your God-given talent.
Some of you have been given a naturally warm and loving personality. Yet you’ve never allowed yourself to get close to anyone because of the fear of rejection. And so you’ve buried a treasure. It’s buried so deep that most people don’t even know that you have it. Instead of warmth and love, they see you as cold or shy. Only you know that deep down inside there is something in your possession of great worth.
Some of you have been given a marvelous gift of communication. But because you think that you might say the wrong thing, you freeze up, you lock your lips, and you’re paralyzed because of fear.
How many of us, because we fear to step out and invest the gifts and abilities God has given us, are missing opportunities to use and develop our talents to their full potential? We leave the treasure lying buried in the dirt.
That’s the first characteristic of the third servant: He was paralyzed by the fear of failure. Now let me mention a second characteristic: laziness.
Servant number three had one more tragic flaw. When the master returned to settle accounts, he indicated what he thought of that servant’s decision to bury his talent. In verse 26 the master called him a “wicked and lazy servant!”
If fear of failure is a great enemy of success in the kingdom, laziness at least runs a close second. It probably took servant number three all of five minutes to dig a hole and bury the talent. He saved himself all the time and energy needed to think through all the investment options that were available to him. He couldn’t be bothered researching the possibility of buying a house or a piece of land at a bargain price and finding good tenants. Nor did he even have enough ambition to make a trip to the bank and take the time to decide on whether to invest the talent in a daily-interest shekel account, or a fixed-interest foreign-currency account, or whatever. This man was just plain lazy.
The Bible has a lot to say about lazy people. Proverbs 10:4,5 declares: 4 “He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. 5 He who gathers in summer is a wise son; he who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame.” Proverbs 20:13 advises, “Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread.” And I love this line from Ecclesiastes 10:18, “Because of laziness the building decays, and through idleness of hands the house leaks.”
We can be lazy at school or work. And we may be too lazy to pray for other each day.
So we have seen that God has entrusted us with much responsibility; yet even when this responsibility is smaller than that received by others, many of us fail to make the most of what we have been given. Like servant number three in Jesus’ parable, we may be paralyzed by a fear of failure, or we may be lazy, or both. Now I want to make a third point: There are serious consequences for a person who doesn’t make the most of what he’s got.
3. There are serious consequences in failing to make the most of what you’ve got.
Losing What You Have Been Given
The first consequence of fear and laziness for servant number three was the loss of even the one talent that had been entrusted to him. When his master returned and found that the servant had been negligent and had buried his talent, he was angry. He said in verse 28 that the talent should be taken from him and given to the servant who had 10 talents. Now in this parable Jesus is not justifying taking from the poor and giving to the rich (a kind of Robin Hood principle in reverse). What Jesus is doing is teaching a simple principle of life: If you don’t use it, you will lose it.
This principle has been proved in my own life. Many years ago I played the trumpet and the drums. I practiced hard. I developed a talent. But if you were to hand me a trumpet or a drum right now and I were to try and play them for you, you would plug your ears! I can’t play the trumpet or drums today. Why? Because I haven’t used my talent.
That’s what can easily happen to buried talents. The third servant not only didn’t achieve a profit on his master’s money; he even lost the one talent he was given to manage. This fearful and lazy manager had dug a hole, little realizing that he was digging it for himself! He didn’t realize that if he didn’t use it, he’d lose it.
Sometimes we wonder why others seem to succeed but we don’t. Maybe it’s because we are not using the talents that God has given us. How would you feel if you gave a friend a gift (one you were sure they would like and use) but then you noticed that they never wore the shirt you gave, or never took the game you bought out of the box? Wouldn’t you be a bit offended? You might think twice about ever giving another gift to that thankless person.
I wonder if God sometimes feels that way about us. He has given us gifts. We have buried them in the ground out of fear, or because we’re just too lazy to do anything with them. Why should God ever give us more gifts and more responsibility if we aren’t faithful to use what He has already given us?
Jesus said to a group of “religious” people in Matthew 21:43, “ ‘Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.’ ”
Future Everlasting Darkness
If losing the only talent he had was not enough, then the third servant heard his master call him an “unprofitable servant” in verse 30, and order that he be cast “into the outer darkness,” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Here was the second consequence of his failure to make the most of what he had.
What could Jesus possibly mean by these harsh words? Remember, we learned in verse 19 that the master returned to settle accounts with his managers “after a long time.” This speaks to us of Jesus’ own return. Yes, it’s been two thousand years and He hasn’t returned yet. But this “long time” is coming to a close. The signs are clear. And one of the reasons He is returning is to settle accounts. Paul warns us in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” Jesus will look for a profit on his investment.
Here Jesus is not talking about just our natural gifts or talents. Here He is talking about how we will deal with the greatest gift of all, the one gift that God has offered to everybody…the gift of salvation. The greatest gift that you have been offered is the gift of Jesus, God’s Son…the gift of the Savior. We read in John 3:16-18:
16 “‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.’ ”
God has given us the one gift that, if accepted, will give us eternal life, a life in heaven full of reward and personal fulfillment. But if we reject it, because we’re afraid or too lazy to receive it and act upon it, then even the life we have now will be taken from us. In place of eternal life, we will be cast “into the outer darkness,” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
To conclude, I don’t know about you, but I want to be most like the first servant, not the last one. It says in the parable in verse 16 that the one “who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents.” In another Bible version, we read that this man “went AT ONCE.”
One thing that set this servant apart from the third servant was his faith. And there were two things that showed that he had faith. First of all, he took a certain measure of risk. He could easily have taken the safe route and buried his talents too. But instead, he took his money and invested it.
Another indication that this was a man of faith was the fact that he “went at once.” Alexander the Great, when asked how he had conquered the world, replied, “By not delaying.” This servant didn’t waste any time in investing his master’s money. He didn’t want to lose even a day’s interest on that money, so he “went at once.” He wasn’t fearful or lazy, but he believed so strongly that he could make a profit with his master’s money that he “went at once.”
There’s a man named Lee Iacocca and he was the chairman of Chrysler Motors. Iacocca said, “Obviously, you’re responsible for gathering as many relevant facts and projections as you possibly can. But at some point you’ve got to take that leap of faith…because even the right decision is wrong if it’s made too late.” “You’ve got to take that leap of faith.” Very few things are ever accomplished unless we step out in faith and take certain risks.
Many of us have problems making decisions, taking steps of faith. And we end up being poor managers of God’s resources.
It’s no accident that I’m sharing this message with you. God planned this encounter before you and I were born; He wanted you to receive this message. God is offering you His free gift—His son Jesus. You can take Him or leave Him. But before you leave Him, before you reject Him, at least take a good look at Him. Take a close look at this gift, this treasure.
Read the instruction manual, the Bible, before you say to yourself, “Jesus doesn’t work for me.” I can tell you from life experience that Jesus works! I’ve read the instruction manual. I’ve read the Bible. And one day I decided to believe that Jesus works, and at that moment God flipped on the power switch and Jesus started working in my life. I have never been the same since.
God has given you gifts and talents. Use them. And God has given you the greatest gift of all, Jesus. Don’t reject that gift. Don’t bury Jesus. Take a step of faith and believe and follow the instruction manual. He’ll work for you too!
When I first set out to write this sermon I was a little overwhelmed as at first it seemed to me to be one of the more difficult Gospel readings to write about and so I did what I always do when I’m stressed or worried about something; I prayed. It was then that the message itself began to be clearer to me and through the things that I have been going through at work lately, I began to understand What Jesus meant when he said. “Render to Caesar’s the things that are Caesar’s.” This reading began to have very profound meanings for me firstly, that we should only give to those not of our family (Christians) that which they rightfully deserve nothing more and nothing less because as said in Proverbs, “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, Cease from your consideration of it.” (Proverbs 23:4) We as Christians and as Dominicans should do what we must to satisfy our means to survive in the secular world as we are members of this realm in life, but we should not over exert ourselves to satisfy those of this world because one day this world will cease to exist. We should instead work to do what satisfies the will of our Father through his son Jesus and not let ourselves to be lead astray by the Pharisees of the world.
In this gospel reading the Pharisees are asking Jesus a question about paying taxes to catch him thinking he will either say yes to paying taxes which would not only put doubt on his allegiance to Israel but also could be considered breaking the second commandment as the money (Denarius) used to pay taxes not only had the head of Caesar but also called him ‘Divine’ there by committing idolatry; or that he would say not to pay taxes there by undermining the Roman government which could lead to his arrest. Not only does Jesus immediately sense their intent and scolds them saying, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?
Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” He then gives them a lesson of their own by stating in the simple sentence, “…render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Matthew 22:18-21)
Through Jesus’ scolding of the Pharisees, we learn that we should not question or doubt the will of the Father and to do so is hypocritical because God always does what is right and just and so to question our Father’s will is to put us on the same rank as the Israelites who because, “the Lord’s anger burned against [them], He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the entire generation of those who had done evil in the sight of the LORD was destroyed.” (Numbers 23:13) We are shown that if we disobey Him however, that he will further teach us ways to understand his will so that we may reconcile ourselves to him.
Jesus then reminds us that we should not,
“…store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
In making sure that we only have what we must to survive in the temporal realm and that we obey the law of the land by, ‘rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s’ we will be able to better serve Him and build up our treasures in heaven rather than trying to cling to that which belongs to Caesar.
We are further reminded that if we want to follow Him we should, “… go, sell [our] possessions and give to the poor… Then come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21) As Jesus further explains in Luke if we sell our, “…possessions and give to the poor. [we] Provide [ourselves] with purses that will not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” (Luke 12:33) Through, ‘giving to God’s what is God’s’ we are reminded to not only pay taxes (because it is giving those of this realm the things they are due) but also if possible to be as little involved with earthly riches and wealth as possible as we are reminded in Job that,
“They [who] shut themselves up by day; They do not know the light. For the morning is the same to him as thick darkness, For he is familiar with the terrors of thick darkness. They are insignificant on the surface of the water; Their portion is cursed on the earth… Drought and heat consume the snow waters, So does Sheol [for] those who have sinned.” (Job 24:16-9)
We should however not be discouraged or fear the Wrath of God for all will be forgiven in the end if we,
“deny [ourselves] and take up [our] cross and follow [Him]. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:24-8)
Continue to guide us in ways that help us denounce those who try to entrap us and lead us in the ways in which we can leave our earthly possessions behind to take up our cross and follow you.
We ask that the power of the Holy Spirit Guide us so that we may be claimed as heirs to your heavenly treasures and Eternal Kingdom by our redemption through your son our savior Jesus Christ.
Recently, I was talking to a dear friend of mine about a mutual friend of ours who was soon to meet our Lord. I expressed confusion, and doubts, as to why God would call this dear soul home so soon. But mostly, I was angry! It seems here lately too many people, whether casual friends, or those dear to me, are dying or have left us way too soon. Between natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes, to violence inflicted on so many who woke up never realizing today was their last day on earth, the overwhelming emotion I believe many of us are experiencing, besides sadness……is outright anger.
While is would be easy to blame God, for all the tragedy and suffering that seems to be prevelant in the world today. We are cautioned in Ecclesiastes 9:12 (NKJV) ” For man also does not know his time: Like fish taken in a cruel net, Like birds caught in a snare, So the sons of men are snared in an evil time, When it falls suddenly upon them.”
In Exodus 32:1-14 we are also reminded that anger isn’t only a human emotion. Even our Lord expressed anger at His people, yet was reminded of His promise. And, I think it’s this sacred promise we need to remember during these turbulent times.
“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel. The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'” And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”
So, during these turbulent times, as natural disasters, senseless shootings, random violence, and political quarrels divide not only our nation, but our world, I think its crucial we pray daily, and reflect on Psalm 23. For in this well known Psalm, there is a never ending source of comfort, peace, and abundant promises.
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.”
In the Name of God; +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
On October 7th, 1571, Pope Saint Pious V sent a coalition of Christian forces to rescue the Christian outposts in Cyprus that were taken by the Muslims. This small group faced almost certain death when compared to the large Muslin Navy. In response, the Pope called for all of Europe to pray the Rosary for their victory and led a Rosary procession in Rome. After about 5 hours of intense sea battle, the Christian forces were able to stop the Ottoman Navy and prevent the Sultan from invading and capturing Rome. This great victory was attributed to the Virgin Mary. October 7th became the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, now known as Our Lady of the Rosary.
Although a simple string of beads used to help us count our prayers, the Rosary has long been a weapon against the forces of darkness and a shield of protection from harm.
The following inspiring episode from World War II, written by Sr. Mary Sheila O’Neil and reported in the October-December, 1979 issue of Garabandal Magazine illustrates the power of the Rosary:
It was a busy day in March. As a teacher-principal in the 1950’s, I had to make sure that each day provided the time for the two separate roles. On that March fourth, an incident between a teacher and a parent had kept me out of my class for almost an hour that morning, so for the rest of the day, I was desperately trying to make up class time. Hence, the knock on my door at 2:00 p.m. was not welcome.
With relief, I found it was only a salesman who needed my signature and even produced his pen. As he did so, his Rosary had caught onto the pen’s clip and came out as well. I signed as I said indifferently, “So, you are a Catholic.” “Oh no,” he said, “but a lot of us owe our lives to Our Lady, and I promised Her I would always keep my Rosary with me and say it every day.”
Twenty minutes later, I was still at the door listening, fascinated, to the account of one of the wonderful experiences a group of airmen had had with Our Lady. My visitor hesitated to start, for he had noticed my “non welcome” opening of the door. But eager now to hear his story, I assured him that the class was doing an exercise, and I begged him to proceed. He continued:
It was May, 1940, and we had joined the Air Force in late September. At Halifax, we were given an intensive training course, because they needed us overseas, and to us young lads, the whole program was exciting.
We were grouped into squadrons, each of which consisted of six to ten planes, and each was trained to maneuver as a unit. Therefore about thirty to fifty men made up a squadron, along with the squadron leader who gave all the orders and kept the group functioning in unity.
In May, our squadron was told we were going overseas and would be in action at once. We would work on nightly missions over enemy territory until the war was over. We were waiting for our new squadron leader, due to arrive in two days on a 9:00 p.m. air-force flight. Being an officer, he would, we thought, go at once to the officers’ quarters.
We watched the plane, glimpsed him from the distance, and resigned ourselves to waiting until the next day to “size him up.” A couple of hours later, this squadron leader, Stan Fulton, in full uniform, entered our bunk house.
“Well men, we’re going to spend some dangerous hours together, but let’s hope we all meet back here when it’s over. Ah, there’s a free bunk and I am tired! I’ll meet each of you tomorrow.”
With that, he threw his bag on an upper bunk. Our squadron leader, an officer, sleeping here with us! We liked him at once and our liking and our admiration grew each day.
That first night he knelt on the floor and prayed his Rosary in silence. Astounded, we were struck dumb. When he finished, he looked at us with his friendly smile and said, “I hope you guys don’t mind a fellow saying some prayers because where we’re going, we’re going to need them.”
The next day our maneuver practice, under his command, assured us that Fulton was not just our military leader, but our friend. He was one of us; he never tried to intimidate us with his rank.
That night, he repeated his prayer session. Although our group had trained together for six months at least, I had never seen anyone kneel in prayer, and had no idea that any of our group was Catholic; but the third night three of our companions joined Fulton in saying the Rosary. The rest of us did not understand but we kept a respectful silence.
A few nights later — we were quick learners — we all answered the Hail Marys and Our Fathers. Fulton looked pleased, and thus we ended each day in prayer.
On June 1, 1940, we were to leave Halifax to begin a series of night raids from England over Germany. The evening before, Fulton gave each of us a Rosary.
“We shall be in some tight situations, but then, if you agree, we’ll say the Rosary. If you will promise to keep the Rosary with you always throughout your life and to say it, I can promise you that Our Lady will bring you all back safe to Canada.”
We answered, “Sure thing.” Little did we dream we would be in action for four years, many times in dreadful danger with fire all around us. At such times, Fulton’s voice would ring through each plane, “Hail Mary…” How reverently and sincerely did we respond! How many hundreds of Rosaries we must have said.
After two years, it was noted that ours was the only squadron that had not lost a plane nor a single life. We said nothing, but we knew.
Finally, the terrible war was over. During those years, we lost all sense of excitement and adventure. All that concerned us was survival! We did survive, too. All returned to Canada in 1945, fully convinced that Our Lady had taken care of us.
So I never forget to keep my Rosary with me and say it every day although I am not a Catholic. When I change my trousers, the first thing I transfer, even before my wallet, is my rosary.
This Feast day is a special one for me as a Dominican. Tradition holds that the Virgin Mary gave the Rosary to St. Dominic. As a Dominican, my devotion to both Our Lady and the Rosary helps shape who I am as a Christian.
Today as I stand before you a newly ordained Priest in the Church of God, I can’t help but think of all I’ve been through. The hurdles that I had to jump. The mountains I had to climb. The fights I had to fight. Life has not been easy up to this point and I suspect it won’t become any easier now that I have been set apart for service in the Church.
I first felt a call to ordained ministry as a small child…..a calling that I have strived to answer throughout most of my life. No easy task! A Bishop once told me that the closer I get to serving God and serving the Church, the more Satan will up his attacks on me. At first I thought he was a little crazy, but it’s very true indeed. Life has presented me with many challenges. Challenges that most people would not be able to deal with. How did I deal emotionally and spiritually with these many challenges? Where did I turn for a spiritual booster shot? To the Rosary! Well, to my set of Anglican Prayer Beads to be exact, but don’t hold that against me. LOL
Raised Anabaptist, worship aids such as prayer beads were seen as Romish and evil. Prayers to Mary were idol worship. I don’t know why, but I was always drawn to the use of prayer beads and to a deeper relationship with our Heavenly Queen. I explain it as I did not choose her, rather she chose me! Somehow she spoke to me. Spoke to my heart in a way I can not begin to describe. For the longest time, just like the pilot in the story earlier, all I did was carry those beads around with me. I didn’t know how to use them for prayer. I was too afraid to search how to pray the Rosary online for fear that my uber Protestant parents would spaz on me! Although I never used them for prayer, those beads provided me with strength and with comfort. It was as if the love of Mary and of her Son Jesus were in those beads and every time I clutched them in my hand it was as if I was being held in their loving embrace.
After my mother passed in 2011, my relationship with our Holy Mother grew stronger. It was at that time I actually began to use my Rosary with the assigned prayers. And oh what joy it brought to my soul! Whenever I was sad, downtrodden, scared, stressed, worried, or lonely I turned to my Rosary for comfort and encouragement. Through life’s many battles, this little string of beads helped me to win the victory; just as the Christian forces over the Muslim Navy.
In today’s Gospel the Lord tells his disciples that He has given them the power of the enemy. I say this is true in the power of the Rosary. A gift….a spiritual weapon against the forces of evil….given to us by the Mother of God. Through our faith in Jesus, through the intercession of the most blessed Virgin Mary, through the power of the Rosary, we have power and dominion over the forces of darkness.
“Francis is the easiest saint to understand and love, while Dominic is the most difficult,” thus saith Chesterton.
This is sadly true for many Catholics and non-Catholics alike. When we think of St. Francis of Assisi: a joyful ever-smiling beggar standing in a lush garden, surrounded by birds, rabbits, and a tame wolf. Everything about Francis has been positive: his preaching to the birds, Canticles of the Sun, and even the newfound love for Pope Francis has propagated this pleasant image of the humble saint.
But then, there is St. Dominic. Who is he? Many, many people have no idea. Isn’t he that stern-faced preacher wearing a regal black-and-white robe who always carries a book? Didn’t the start the Inquisition? He must have been a real piece of work. Maybe he was pretty smart and all, but he doesn’t sound like a real great guy. Was he?
Unknown to many, St. Francis and St. Dominic were, in reality, contemporaries and friends. Surprise!!!! We read the following story:
One summer night in 1215, during his stay in Rome, Francis had a vision: he saw Our Lord prepared to unleash the most terrible chastisements upon the world. His Most Holy Mother was making an effort to placate Him, asking His mercy and forgiveness. For this purpose, she presented two men who would labour for the conversion of the world and return a countless number of lost sheep to the fold. Francis recognised himself as one of these apostles. He did not recognise the other one, however.
The following day, he was in one of the churches of Rome when suddenly an unknown person came up to him, embraced him, and said: “You are my companion, we will work together, supporting one another toward the same end, and no one will prevail against us.” Francis recognised him as the other man in the vision. It was St. Dominic, who had also received a similar vision before the meeting. When he saw Francis in that church, he immediately went to greet him, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
While in reality Dominic loved peace and the poor as much as Francis did (Dominic sold his expensive and rare theology books to feed the victims of famine!), and both had a profound Marian devotion, Francis and Dominic were indeed two very different personalities, and consequently they infused these different characters into their respective orders. The Franciscan Order is known for their simplicity in approach to life and faith. The great conversions of the Franciscans came about through the consideration of the Wounds of Our Lord, His Passion, His poverty and spirit of sacrifice. They preach with zest directly from their fiery souls, for they aim to move the will through the heart.
Meanwhile, the Order of Preachers, the Dominican Order, is the “scholarly order”; to his friars Dominic always emphasised study, because he believed that solid evangelisation wouldn’t be possible if they hadn’t studied first. The Dominican mission is an intellectual work, that is, the study and teaching of philosophy, theology, and apologetics. St. Dominic was known to spend sleepless vigils poring over his books, and later in life these study sessions transformed into nights of thorough preaching and conversions. Indeed, the Dominicans move the will by appealing to the mind.
A great similarity leads to friendship, but so also does a great dissimilarity when it is not the dissimilarity of opposition, but rather one that is complementary. One had something that the other was lacking. Together they constituted a harmonic ensemble. For this reason, they admired one another. These two holy men embraced each other and were enthusiastic for each other’s mission, because although they had different approaches, their end was essentially the same: the conversion of souls and the building of the Kingdom.
To this day, the two orders enjoy a unique and special relationship. The Franciscans celebrate St. Dominic with a Feast, and likewise the Dominicans honour St. Francis of Assisi in their calendar of saints. A Dominican event can be led by a Franciscan friar, and likewise a Franciscan ceremony may be led by a Dominican. Even in the Litany of the Saints: the names of St. Francis and St. Dominic are mentioned together!
Today, we as a Dominican Order not only celebrate our father, St. Francis, we also celebrate our centuries old friendship with the Franciscan Order. We wish you all a very blessed Feast Day!
We often think of guardian angels as a special angel only for children, but the truth is that we all have a guardian angel for our entire lives. Our angels are a gift from God. They watch over us, aid us in prayer, enlighten us, guide us and protect us. Angels are mentioned in both the Old and New Testament and many saints have had visions of their guardian angels. We can hope that our Guardian Angel will help us during our journey to eternal happiness in Heaven. The Feast of the Guardian Angels is celebrated on October 2nd. Although Guardian Angels have been venerated since the early days of the Church, it wasn’t until the 17th century that Pope Clement X extended the feast day to the universal Church. It comes just two days after the Feast of the Archangels Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael.
On this Feast of the Guardian Angels in 2011, Pope Benedict XVI said,
“Dear friends, the Lord is always near and active in human history, and follows us with the unique presence of His angels, that today the Church venerates as ‘Guardian,’ in other words those who minister God’s care for every man. From the beginning until death human life is surrounded by their constant protection.”
It is an established Catholic belief that each individual person has their own guardian angel assigned to watch over their soul. There are three important verses in the Catholic Bible from which this belief is drawn:
Psalm 90:11: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”
Matthew 18:10: “See that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.”
Hebrews 1:14: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to do service for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation?”
These verses have led St. Jerome, one of our early Church Fathers, to conclude, “How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.” Many others wrote about our guardian angels, including St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, and St. Thomas Aquinas. According to Aquinas, our guardian angels have a good influence over us, but they cannot control our free will. Guardian angels influence or guide us by acting upon our intellect through our senses and our imagination. When they do this, they are influencing our will to do good and avoid evil. So really, their job is to help you get to heaven. Thus guardian angels do not control us by any means, but they do greatly assist us in finding and doing God’s will. Our guardian angels are also able to protect us from danger as well as assist us in prayer and meditation on the divine things of God.
We don’t only have the Scriptures and the Early Fathers of the Church who tell us about our Guardian Angels. We also have the saints, some of which actually witnessed their guardian angel in action. In many cases their Guardian Angel was visible to them. These include St. Padre Pio, who could see his guardian angel, which would often send him on special missions; St. Faustina Kowalska, whose Guardian Angel accompanied her to observe the pains of the Holy Souls in Purgatory; and St. Gemma Galgani, to name a few. St. Gemma Galgani wrote much about her Guardian Angel in her autobiography, including this account:
“One evening, when I was suffering more than usual, I was complaining to Jesus and telling him that I would not have prayed so much if I had known that He was not going to cure me, and I asked Him why I had to be sick this way. My angel answered me as follows: ‘If Jesus afflicts you in your body, it is always to purify you in your soul. Be good.’”
Ask yourself this question today: How is my relationship with my guardian angel? Do I listen to him? Do I say good morning to him in the morning? Do I ask him: Watch over me when I sleep?’ Do I speak with him? Do I ask his advice? He is by my side. We can answer this question today, each of us: How is our relationship with this angel that the Lord has sent to watch over me and accompany me on my journey, and who always sees the face of the Father who is in heaven?” So, today is the day to tell your guardian angel “Thank You” for their daily guidance, and to show gratitude to God for assigning a powerful heavenly protector for your personal care. It is also a good time to make the resolution to pray to your Guardian Angel daily as our Holy Father admonishes us.
As St. Bernard of Clairvoux plainly states in his sermon:
“‘He has given his angels charge over you to guard you in all your ways’. These words should fill you with respect, inspire devotion and instill confidence; respect for the presence of angels, devotion because of their loving service, and confidence because of their protection. And so the angels are here; they are at your side, they are with you, present on your behalf. They are here to protect you and to serve you.
But even if it is God who has given them this charge, we must nonetheless be grateful to them for the great love with which they obey and come to help us in our great need. So let us be devoted and grateful to such great protectors; let us return their love and honor them as much as we can and should. Yet all our love and honor must go to Him, for it is from Him that they receive all that makes them worthy of our love and respect. Even though we are children and have a long, a very long and dangerous way to go, with such protectors what have we to fear? They who keep us in all our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray, much less lead us astray. They are always loyal, prudent, and powerful.
Guardian Angel Novena:
Loving God, you are so good that you gave me a Guardian Angel to protect my body and my soul. Help me to know and follow my angel so that, with their guidance, I will be worthy of being in Heaven with You!
My sweet Guardian Angel, you are my defender every day of my life. Protect me from sin and bodily harm. Help me to learn to defend and protect myself so that I can be the person that God is calling me to be.
You are with me all the time so you already know these my intentions that I ask you to deliver to the Lord. (Mention your intentions here…)
My guardian angel, my defender, protect me!