Monday, November 10, 2014

WHOSE IMAGE IS ON YOUR COIN

(A homily for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus when they demanded his opinion about paying taxes to Caesar. One of their guys called out from the crowd,

“(Hey) teacher, ..., what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay (taxes) to Caesar or not? ”

Now Jesus probably had heard this question before and knew that, coming from these guys, the Pharisees, it was a trick question.  At the time of Jesus there were, among the Pharisees those that felt that paying taxes to Caesar was immoral and many faithful Jews agreed with them. Caesar was the title of the Emperor of Rome and so the title represented the civil authority in Palestine at the time. If Jesus agreed with them his enemies would report him to the Romans as a tax dodger. If he disagreed with them they would claim that he was not a faithful Jew.

He asked them to show him the coin that was required to pay the tax. When they handed him a Roman coin. Jesus deflated their trap with a simple question.

Whose image is on the coin? 

Lets try it here. You and I probably have, in our pocket or our purse, some examples of the currency that we use to pay our taxes? Take out one bill and look at it. I see see that many of you are now holding a one dollar bill.

Let me ask each of you - whose image is on that dollar bill? {George Washington}  And what does it say just above his picture? {United States of America}. 

We all agree, then, that this is the "coin", the money, used to pay taxes in our country?

Then we hear Jesus say, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

This confrontation on the shore of the Sea of Galilee gives us a way to understand how we can be both a faithful follower of Christ and a good citizen. Since this reading is usually heard on a fall Sunday and our annual election day comes up every fall in November we remind you that a good Christian not only pays his or her taxes but votes. So be sure you get out and vote in November.

Now Jesus was called “Teacher” by his Disciples and by the Pharisees. However, he was not a teacher of Roman Tax Law nor of Roman civil law regulating life in an occupied country, he was known as a teacher of God’s Truth. Lets listen to Jesus’ statement again.......

“.. repay to Caesar what belong to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”

Obviously Jesus is about the business of teaching about the second part of his declaration, our relationship with God.

If you or I  apply for a Job we are often asked to take tests and participate in an interview where the potential boss asks us questions. We are asked to list our credentials, our degrees and our experience. You might say they are checking if you or I  have the "coin" to do the job.

Likewise, when we encounter God he asks us to show Him the coin of our lives. What are we living for. What is it that we are seeking and what are we doing to obtain it? Our God asks us to open our hearts and tell him:

“Whose image is the coin of our hearts?”

Of course the coin that Jesus will ask you and I about is not literally a metal coin or paper bill. What is the coin of our lives and how can we determine the image on that coin?

Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians (that we read today) says he thanks God for them (the Thessalonians) because of their Faith, Hope and Love (Charity). You might say he recognizes them as Christians because the coin of their lives are Faith Hope and Love.

Bankers will evaluate the value of coins and bills based upon the financial strength of the issuing country and its banking system. In the case of money the image or inscription on the coins or bills identifies the issuing country and thus their value.

In the case of the coin of your life or mine, our Faith, Hope and Love, the issue is who stands behind this coin.

Paul goes on to say,

“The Gospel did not come to you in word alone but also in the power of the Holy Spirit,” 

Just as in money there is a big difference between currencies that are created by printing and those  currencies that are backed by an economy and reserves.

You might say the value of a currency backed only by a printing press is zero but the currency backed by a strong economy and reserves is high. Thus different currencies are rated differently in comparison to each other. Even if currencies come in the same denominations, as Canadian and US currencies are both called dollars and cents, they are given different values in the market place.

And so when we look at the Faith, Hope and Love of our lives we are concerned with whose economy and reserves is backing them.

When anyone asks to see currency of your life does the image of our God shine through?

At the end of your life, when God asks you whose image is on your coins, will you be able to say your life reflected the image of God?   Or will your spiritual coins reflect the images of other gods, gods such as money, power, pleasure or self worship? 

When Jesus asks you about your coins of faith, hope and charity will you be able to show they bear the mark of God’s economy and not that of man. That they are of great value because they are backed by the power and reserves of the Holy Spirit? 

My friends, if we belong to God, the "coin" of our lives must clearly reflect His image.

© Copyright 2014 Joseph E. Hilber. All rights reserved. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Human Life at Every Stage of Development - Does ND Value It?

 Next door to the state where I live voters will have on their ballot, this year, the the following article to be added to the North Dakota Constitution:

"The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected."

First a few items in the interest of transparency:
  •  Both side have claimed major interference from forces outside the state. While I grew up in North Dakota and came to love politics studying its history, I am currently a citizen of a neighboring state so I am one of those "outsiders."
  • Both sides claim that significant non-ND funding is driving their opposition. It appears that the Vote No side gets the prize for funds from outside. While my family makes a major contribution to ND taxes (via sale tax)each year, I am in no position to provide any significant funds at this time.
  • There have been endless side taking about the well being of those of us at the later stages of human development if this amendment is approved. My age is within months of the life expectancy (77.4, WHO, 2014) for males in the US.
  • It has been a long time since I have seen so many ad hominem attacks on Catholics as I have read in recent weeks. I am one of those terrible Catholics.
  • One trait I took on during my years in politics was to try to know my opponents' rational for their positions as thoroughly as possible. My initial analysis of this issue (its not just a ND issue) put me on the vote yes side. Thus I have read more editorials, letters and position papers from the vote no side.
  • Both sides seem to agree that the origins of this proposal is from proponents of a right to life. This is documented well in any list of declared organizations supporting the measure. I am one of those proponents. The label(s) "pro life" (and  "pro choice") are used by our media as designations of single issue positions. However, most supporters of a right to life see it as a human right of any human in any situation or stage of life, obviously not a single issue position.
The most surprising discovery in reading all those papers, letters and editorials from lawyers and doctors on  the Vote No side, was that many claimed that a "right to life" would result in denying seniors, such as myself,control over their own health care decisions. Now, in my understanding of language, logic and the meaning of rights in political thought, it seems to me to be just the opposite. In other word, it seems to me, a constitutional protection of my right to life would in fact protect my ability to control my own health care. The ability to control, accept or reject, or choose alternatives for health care seems to be an integral part of of my human dignity, my right to life.

My fraternal recommendation to friends and relatives on the other side of the state line is to vote yes on measure one.





Thursday, October 23, 2014

INTRO TO JENNIFER

It been a while since I wrote about Jennifer Fulwiler. Now that her book has been published she is less present on the net (Book tours and speaking engagements). Here is a short summary of her journey via You Tube video.



You can order her book here in either paper or electronic form. It is entitled , Something Other Than God with a subtitle that mentions happiness.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Universal (Catholic) Hospitality

The readings for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time remind us about the universal opening of God's call to all peoples found in both the Old and New Testament. They reminded me of a story I wrote many years ago. I re post it below.




-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A STORY OR PARABLE OF
WHAT PREPARING TO LIVE A CHRISTIAN LIFE IS LIKE



Years ago, in a more formal culture, than our own, a young woman married the youngest son of a very well to do family. The patriarch had died and his widow, the young woman’s mother-in-law, guided the family fortune with a tight grip on the reigns. She had made it clear that her children and their families would inherit a share of the families wealth only if they led a cultured and aristocratic life. The young couple moved to their own estate many miles from the mother-in-law’s home as had the husband’s brothers and sisters at the time each married.

Now the mother-in-law would travel around to visit her children’s homes but she would try to surprise them with her visit. She felt that in the surprise they would reveal if they were living the life she thought suitable for those of great wealth.

The fact was the that the young wife had come from a family of somewhat less means than her new family. Thus every visit of the mother-in-law Was pure hell. She would only have a few day or hours notice. She would run around and borrow good plates and buy her mother-in-law’s favorite tea. She would brief the butler and the cook on special measures to be taken during the visit and so on. After each visit she would feel great relief and things would return to normal. At first she thought that she would have to do this only a few times as her mother-in-law was quite old.

But after a few years it got to be quite a drag. She tried getting a cook in her mother-in-law’s house to spy for her in hope of getting a little more notice of a visit. Since communications systems were not what they are today this didn’t help much.

After a while she came up with another tactic. She began buying lots of the special tea so that she would always have it on hand. She instructed the butler to always announce "dinner is served" at exactly the right time each day. She had the cook and kitchen staff serve each meal with the all the right plates, utensils and in the right sequence every day. And she bought enough good dresses that every day she could be dressed as though an important visitor was coming. Now she began to relax, she was always ready and could not be surprised by her mother-in-law.

Her mother-in-law lived for many years. After a while the young woman grew older and became famous for her hospitality and manners. You see she welcomed and treated every person that came to her home as though they were the matriarch.

When the matriarch lay dying her financial advisor asked her how she would carry out her long planned decision on which of her children would inherit the family wealth. As they went down the list she already had enough data to drop some from the list. Others it was not clear and more data needed to be collected.

When they came to the youngest son the matriarch said, ""I already know the answer"". You see she had been hearing for years from friends and relatives of the younger woman’s great hospitality and style. Even strangers reported, ""she treated me just as though I were you!""

And so it came to pass that the youngest son and his wife inherited the bulk of the family wealth.

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My friends each of us is called to be a Universal Christian. I challenge each of you to get in shape for a Christian life worthy of the inheritance that our God has planned for you. So that at the end of your race the Lord will welcome you home, just you welcomed peoples of all nations as though they were Christ himself.


© Copyright 2014 Joseph E. Hilber. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission of the author.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What has lain hidden from the foundation of the world?

Matthew tells us that:



"He spoke to them only in parables,
to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:
‘I will open my mouth in parables,
I will announce what has lain hidden
from the foundation of the world.’" (Psalm 78:2)



I don’t know about you, but this verse gets my attention. What is being announced in these parables that had lain hidden for all those centuries? Each parable seems to lights up some aspect of the wonderful mystery that is being revealed.
 



Our hearts certainly desire to know all we can about God and his gifts to us. Yet, Jesus did not come so that we might know more about God. He came so that we might know God himself!





Jesus did not come only to assure us that forgiveness and healing of our consciences was possible. He came so that we might receive forgiveness and healing directly from him in the sacrament of confession or reconciliation.


Jesus did not come so that we could think about and discuss and yearn for a personal and intimate relationship with God. He came and established a kingdom in which you and I can experience personal and physical intimacy with our God weekly and even daily in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.


Jesus did not come so that we might know that we are created as man and woman and that we can participate in creating new human life. He wants to join with us in this creative vocation not only through the reality of our physical bodies as men and women but in his grace, his help as co-creator in carrying out this procreative vocation through the Sacrament of Marriage.


What is the secret that was hidden for all those ages?


In a way the secret is so awesome that it cannot be explained in one parable or one sermon or one bible class. In a sense it is the secret that our Pastor preaches about every Sunday.


Because God’s love for us is so boundless we never tire of learning more about it and in truth we never tire of experiencing it in our lives.
 

We Catholics call it a mystery. A mystery because God’s love for us keeps surprising us, we keep leaning about and experiencing it in new ways.  Paul attempts to explain God’s unconditional love for us in his letter to the Romans.


"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."



Yes God loves us when we are feeling good, when we feel close to God. But He also loves us when we are deep in sin, when we are angry with Him, when we are ignoring him. He loves us when we misunderstand Him or try to put Him in a box way too small for his God Size Love.


So how do we loose God’s love? The Catholic answer is that we cannot, its impossible to,’ loose his love’.


AH - But we can refuse it, walk away from it, turn our backs on it. Yes we can and many of us do wallow in our guilt rather than accept his loving forgiveness and healing in the sacrament of reconciliation. Yes you and I have gone weeks, months and sometimes years without accepting his invitation to dine with him in the Eucharist.


Through it all His love is constant. Many of us discover that because in our darkest moments of spiritual or physical suffering we found him there offering help to endure the pain or disappointment, help to make a hard decision, or help to run into his loving arms.


Should we be surprised that we humans can turn our backs on God? In a sense it’s the way God made us. Scripture and our faith teach that we are created in the ‘image’ of God. In what way are we an image of God?


We probably don’t know the full answer but we do know some of the answer.
One dimension in which we image God is in our freedom. As Catholics we believe that God created humans to love Him and each other. A necessary prerequisite for love is freedom.To put it another way, no one can be forced to love. Love must be chosen freely or it is not love!
 

The proof of freedom’s reality is that we humans can say yes or no. We can say yes or no to our boyfriend’s proposal, we can say yes or no to a job offer, and we can say yes or no to God’s love, and God wants it that way!
 

When we say yes to God He wants it to be true love, that is, freely chosen. He has chosen to love us for eternity but we are not God and we have to work hard to image his faithfulness.


This should not surprise us. If we are married we, or at least I, mess up almost every week. I’m so numb, I don’t listen, I’m surprised by the slammed door. We do get back on track, not so much by our own wisdom but by the pledge we make every time we pray as Jesus taught:


"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."


At that moment when our squabble resolves to an embrace we know that our faithful God, our partner, has given us the additional gift of imaging Him in an additional way in that moment. And it is not just in marriage but also at work or in the neighborhood.


The secret hidden for ages?
A God who will not stop loving us!


As a Catholic I know that at the very moment of my anger with my wife or a hurtful comment to a neighbor that Gods loves him or her without reservation even if I haven’t and yes, He even loves me in this moment of failure.

God is seeking you and me now, today. May we have the wisdom to turn back to Him and accept his faithful love and healing embrace.


 
© Copyright 2014 Joseph E. Hilber. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission of the author.




Sunday, June 29, 2014

Jesus' Shocking Secret

Suppose you had a secret the was so fantastic that no-one would believe it.
Would you start doubting it yourself?

Suppose you had a secret that would make your life better if you implemented it?
Would you take action to implement it?

Suppose you had a secret that would help a lot of people.
 Would you tell them about it?

Suppose you had a secret that was so valuable that revealing it would put your life in danger.
Would you reveal that secret anyway?

Today, in our Gospel reading from Chapter six of John’s Gospel we hear the shocking revelation of Jesus’s secret,
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven: whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

And Jesus went on saying,
“Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you.”

Following the verses we read this morning John goes on to explain that many of his followers turned to each other and said, “this is hard to believe” or “I can’t take this seriously.” Hearing the murmuring he challenges them, and us, “does this shake your faith?” 

John tells us that many of Jesus’ followers turned away from him at this point. You and I know many friends and relatives that have don’t believe Jesus’ secret either. For example:

“I think that Jesus was a great ethical teacher but I don’t think he was God.”

Another part of the secret was revealed when Jesus says, “My flesh is real food and my blood real drink. Those that feed on my body and drink my blood remain in me and I in them” 

Again many are skeptic here, “I can’t accept that God would interact with mere humans in such a personal way.”

Do you suppose that life would be better if God himself was walking with me, or as Jesus said, dwelling within me? Today we hear Jesus’ instructions of how to implement this offer!

By now, in this discussion, most of us can see that Jesus’ secret revealed in John Chapter Six is also the great Catholic secret.

Jesus is God.
Jesus/God came
To free us from sin and
To share with us the divine life
through the physical intimacy of the Eucharist.

What fantastic news, what Good News! 

I think this news is worth sharing! Have you been sharing this news?

I suspect there are a lots of folks you know that could benefit from a closer walk with God?  Yet there are even some, who consider themselves Christian, who do not know this secret! What is the worst that can happen if you share this secret? That the person rejects the idea. Don’t feel bad. Even Jesus had long term followers turned away when he shared this secret. If this Good News is as valuable as we Catholics believe, it truly is worth sharing and inviting others to share in God’s Sacramental gifts.

Now it is true that in many countries political regimes prohibit persons of one faith or another from the sharing of their faith in public or in print or even electronically. In these places the virtue of the Christian’s lives may remain the only way to share the Good News. In thousands of cases over the last century Christians have indeed paid for their faith with their lives. Are we prepared to do the same?

In our country we currently can speak and write  publicly about our faith and the Good News but challenges to that are arising every day. Earlier in my life I was deeply involved in politics. I was appointed to several government boards and ran for political office three times. I won two elections and lost one.

As a politician and as a citizen involved in the public debate I have heard opponents on certain issues claim that my opinion should be ignored because I was Catholic or Christian. In many cases this was a tactic to avoid discussing the clearly political, scientific or other non-religious reasons for my political position. This devaluing of Christian Citizens opinions appears to be growing and has alarmed many religious leaders who have called for prayer in support of freedom of speech.

If Jesus is God (sh! Its our secret) then his teachings are God’s instructions for our lives. If Jesus is God  (sh! Its our secret) we should do our best to follow his teachings!

Yet we face a new challenge that is called “moral nullification.”  This involves tricking or forcing an opponent (usually a political or business opponent) to perform or pay for something he or she is known to consider immoral. Their opinion on related issues or their products can then be ridiculed.

For example a manufacturer (A)  may suggest that its competitor(B) uses child or slave labor in its factories. If this is true the public might have a justified negative view of the competitor or his products.

If however company A can control or bribe the government where company B is located to require company B to use child or slave labor then company A has used forced moral nullification to make their opponent vulnerable to ridicule.

In our country this is currently being attempted by requiring most businesses including religious non-profits to pay for employee insurance that will pay for abortions and other procedure that are considered immoral by many religious groups or face fines of millions of dollars each month.

This week EWTN, the Catholic TV, Radio, newspaper and media non-profit was told by a Federal Judge that they must pay for this insurance for their employees.

This forced moral nullification then interferes with Christian efforts to implement Jesus’s teaching.

Our Bishops have designated the two weeks leading up to the Fourth of July as a “fortnight for Freedom”, a time of prayer for religious freedom and freedom of speech. More than anything, it is a call to all Catholics to respond more deeply to the freedom we have been given in the Spirit as the children of God.

Why is this important to us? Remember how we began this talk about Jesus’ secret, now our secret, a secret we have told the whole world :

Jesus is God
come to live with us
and to teach us his ways.

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* Bible quotations from  New American Bible, revised edition, click here for link to permissions.

© Copyright 2014 Joseph E. Hilber. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission of the author.

Joseph E. Hilber
P.O. Box 501
Pelican Rapids, Mn 56572-0501