Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Our Gospel reading this morning tells us that Jesus and His disciples sailed to the region of the Gadarenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, He was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time, this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at His feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times, it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss that is hell.

A large herd of pigs, St. Mark's account of this event states 2000, was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and He gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gadarenes asked Jesus to leave them because they were overcome with fear. So, He got into the boat and left.

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with Jesus, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So, the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

We often hear tell in both the Old and New Testaments stories about demons and the devil. The problem of Satan and demons has been with us since the creation of Man when the deceiver made an offer that Eve and Adam could not refuse. Today's encounter with the demonic is but another battle in a long war.

Verse 33 says “When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. Some translations say they rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were choked. The original Greek text uses the same word in both places which can be translated as choked. The disciples and readers of the original Greek text would have got this connection. They would have seen, in the choking herd, a vivid illustration of how the world and the distractions of the world often separate us from our call to follow Christ.

This morning’s Gospel sets before us an image of what we can expect when we do not face our own personal demons. Our demons, unchallenged and left to run amok, can certainly destroy both body and soul in hell.

Think of some of the things that act like demons, that are placed in our lives such as alcohol, drugs, and behavioral addictions. These can kill both body and soul, wreaking havoc on the victim, as well as their families and friends.

In his Gospel, St. Luke tells us of other encounters between Jesus and the demonic. In Chapter 4, he tells us about how Satan tempted Jesus in the desert. He also tells us about an incident in the Synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus cast out a demon from a man. In Chapter 9, He heals a boy with an evil spirit. There is another incident in Chapter 11, where Jesus drove out a demon and a man was then able to talk. Luke then proceeds to explain that when an evil spirit returns to a person because it finds no other place to rest, it brings more evil spirits and the person is in worse shape than he was at the beginning.

So, we can see from St. Luke's writing and other Biblical passages that the demonic forces were quite active in the time of Jesus' earthly ministry. But what about their activity now? It is not hard to see the demonic in our world when we see some of the heinous crimes against humanity reported almost daily. The work of the devil is the only explanation that I can conceive of for a pilot purposefully crashing a plane loaded with passengers into a mountain or the Twin Towers in New York. The devil is the only explanation I can conceive of for a person to go into an elementary school and systematically kill small children. The devil is the only explanation I can think of that would drive men to randomly slaughter innocent people in a nightclub in Orlando or at a concert in Las Vegas. There are so many other examples, hundreds, if not thousands of them, over the course of history, and too many in our own lifetime to recount.

Our young people today, these young children and young adults in our congregation this morning, are growing up with evil as a daily companion. They see its ugly face in drug, alcohol, and sex addictions; they see it in bullying, in racism, in sex abuse; they see it in violence, hatred, and prejudice. No matter where they look, they can see the devil at work, and the bitter and poisonous fruit he produces among us.

British author, professor, theologian, and intellectual, C.S. Lewis, now deceased, offers this sage advice regarding demons: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Screwtape Letters, which chronicles the advice of Screwtape, a senior assistant to Satan, to his young protegee Wormwood as to how he might tempt his “patient” - actually victim - into serious sin and ultimate rejection of Christ. One of the truths that I was reminded of in the book is Satan works in subtle ways. He does not need to turn us all into fiendish criminals to send us to hell. He does not need to have us naked, chained and living in the tombs.

In Lewis’ book, Screwtape writes to Wormwood: "You will say that these are very small sins, and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from God - who he calls the enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to keep the man away from the Light. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."

And this is exactly how Satan works; this is how he rolls (our younger members will understand the term). Evil is not always overt, or clearly identifiable. Evil is often masked by subtlety. It often appears quietly, very often not even perceptible to the human eye or ear. When we rely on our own falsely perceived goodness, rather than on the goodness and light of Christ, that is when we get into real trouble, and our lives get chaotic and unmanageable.

The Church has always taught that every person should follow his or her conscience. But there is a caveat to that teaching. Human conscience must be properly formed. It must be guided so that its development coincides with the will of God. We, as flawed and sinful human beings, though we are intelligent and endowed with reason, are nevertheless incapable on our own of forming a conscience that brings us back to our original state of holiness, purity, and innocence; the state in which God first created us.

Jesus Christ has given us, in His Body, the Church, the ability to form our individual consciences properly and in the manner which helps to restore what was lost by our first parents. When conscience is formed without any relation to God and His divine truth, what results is the confusion, problems, and chaos we see today in the world and in our own communities and yes, even, sadly, in the Church.

When each one of us lives by the dictates of his or her own conscience, and not by a conscience formed by the Gospel, the life of Christ, and the divine laws of God, then we have no one else to blame but ourselves for all the evil and problems in the world and in our lives. By our own unwillingness to listen to and obey God, we have opened the door to Satan and allowed him to work uninhibited in our lives and society.

When we defiantly celebrate our sins, we welcome the devil into our lives. When we live “high on the hog” and fail to adequately support the work of Christ in the local Church with our time, talents, and financial offerings we weaken the Body of Christ and empower the evil one. When we pray like the Pharisees, we condemn ourselves to a life apart from God, from His mercy and compassion.

Listen carefully to this passage of Scripture: “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all that I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner’” (Luke 18:11-13). Now, which of these two men went home justified before God?

You see, beloved, the Pharisee did not have a proper understanding; his conscience was faulty because his reasoning was faulty. His knowledge of the truth was inadequate and lacking. Had he opened his heart, not just his mind, to the spirit of Scripture, he would not have thought to prayer as he did. So too is it for us. We think we know what it right but the fact of the matter is, we do not always get it right.

If we honestly examine ourselves and confirm what we know to be true from the Word of God that has been set in our hearts, then we know that the devil and his demons want us. They know our strengths and weaknesses. They know us better than we know ourselves. They want us. They want to reason with us; they want to share their enlightened points of view with us. They tell us about all the good things we deserve. Their voices of reason tell us that Biblical truths are outdated; that the Church needs to update her teachings. They tell us that only some Scripture is the inspired Word of God. Truthfully, they want to grab us by the neck and drop our spiritually dead soul at Satan's feet.

God is love, and Satan is hate. The relationship between God and Satan is like that of oil and vinegar; they do not mix. No matter how hard one tries to get them together, they ultimately separate.

One would think that it is not possible for a person to listen to both God and Satan at the same time, or to serve them both at the same time. You would not think such a thing would be possible, but it is. People listen to both God and Satan every day and do the work of both at the same time. Hence, the sad and unfortunate state of our world, our society, the communities in which we live, and in the Church as well.

Jesus told us that we cannot serve both God and mammon. What He meant in that instance is that we cannot serve both God and the lust of wealth, which is greed. Greed is a creation of the devil. It is a tool he uses to draw souls away from God and make slaves of them. In saying that people cannot serve both God and mammon, Jesus was also telling us that one cannot serve both God and the devil since greed comes from the devil. Remember the evil demon Screwtape's advice to Wormwood. “You can separate your patient from God with little things. The wickedness does not need to be spectacular.”

Jesus gave us the best advice when He taught us to pray. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to protect us from the evil one. We ask God that His will be done. We ask to be free of temptation; that we may not be put to its test. We are to forgive freely so that we may be forgiven. We are to ask that His Kingdom come. We are to ask that His name be hallowed. We are to ask for our daily needs.

The prayer that God answers “yes” to all the time is the one which is in His will. If we pray for His will to be done, we ultimately align ourselves with His will. And His will is that we deny self, take up our cross daily and follow Christ. (Luke 9:23) Jesus wants committed followers, not fans sitting on the sidelines. The Pharisee who prayed in the Temple is one of the sideline fans. But the tax collector is the one who ultimately found favor with God. He was the one who knew his sinfulness and acknowledged his own demons by saying: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

This is the prayer of the tax collector is one we know well and is one we should recite every day: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer of the heart, which we call the Jesus Prayer, is powerful. It not only reminds us of our true state and our need for forgiveness, but it keeps Satan away from us; for Satan hates and despises the name of God. When we ask God into our lives and invoke the name of Jesus, Satan and his demons scream and cringe in terror and indescribable pain.

Saint Paul, who himself had a messenger from Satan to harass him, tells us to put on the full armor of God. Paul writes: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Like a general encouraging his troops, St. Paul tells us that the victory is certain because Christ has already won the war. Through our Baptisms, we are clothed with Christ. The demons can drown in our Baptismal water. Christ has promised us living water to further drown our demons. We rely on the strength of Christ. Demonic forces are lined up against the Church and followers of Christ. This is spiritual war and it must be fought with spiritual weapons, not worldly weapons.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Newspapers in the former Soviet Union and other countries started running an article in the early 90’s about a group of scientists who were conducting deep drilling experiments in Siberia. These scientists claimed that they drilled into the core of the earth and found the temperature exceeded 2,000 degrees. The also claimed to have recorded screams coming from the center of the earth on a microphone mounted on the drill. They determined the screams were from people lost in hell. That story has since been proven to be a hoax, but truth be told, hell is no hoax, nor is it a myth.

In our Gospel this morning, Jesus allows us to hear a message or conversation from hell about two literal people, who were not characters that He invented to make a point or an interesting story. Jesus also makes a point to tell of two very real places: heaven and hell.

I recently read that, when it comes to hell, a little over 58% of Americans believe in a literal place of torment called hell. Now, the devil believes in hell, but he does not want us to believe. He would love nothing more than for all of us to believe the doctrine of the Unitarians which teaches that hell is here on earth and that everyone will go to heaven.

There are also many other Christians who believe that God will forgive everyone their sins and all people will go to heaven. I am sorry to disappoint them but not everyone will be going to heaven. God will definitely send some people to hell. He will not be happy about it, but it will be necessary, for while God is always merciful, He is also just.

Now let me say that I would much rather preach about heaven than hell. When we think of heaven we think of a place of perfect peace, where there is no more sickness, nor suffering. We see visions of a place where we are reunited with those we love. Yet, I MUST warn those without Jesus and you who claim Him as Lord, about the reality of hell and what awaits those who are condemned to spend eternity there.

Jesus preached on heaven, yet, study the teaching and preaching of Christ, and you will find that He preached, and taught, far more about hell than He did about heaven! The rich man, in our Gospel reading this morning, though he had everything going for him. He was financially set. He lived in a nice home surrounded by walls with a gate. He wore the best clothes money could buy. Whatever he wanted he could buy. He did not need anything or anyone. Or did he?

One day, the rich man woke up and realized that he was dead. Not only did he wake up dead, but he woke up in a real place called hell. Did you know that God has more dedicated disciples in hell than in the Church today?

The rich man did not end up in hell because he was rich, and Lazarus did not go to heaven because he was penniless. Both men ended up in their final destination because of decisions they made about God while they were still alive and breathing.

There are three important realities this morning’s Gospel brings to light and which deserve our serious attention and consideration. The first is that there are no prayers answered from hell. This was possibly the first time the rich man ever turned his eyes toward God. Yet, he was unable to blame God for his present situation or even make excuses for his ending up in hell. You see, God never wanted hell for the rich man; He does not want it for me, for you, for our families, or for our friends. In his second Epistle, St. Peter tells us: “The Lord is not really being slow about His promise, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed but wants everyone to repent” (1 Peter 3:9).

The second reality is that prayers for relief for those in hell will never be answered. While living on earth, the rich man had all he ever wanted, but in hell, the torment is so severe that he prays for a single drop of water. Can you imagine a place so unbearably hot that a single drop of water would be a welcome relief? Burned but never consumed.

The third reality is that prayers for lost family members will not be answered from hell. When he realized how hopeless his situation was, he quickly turned his attention to his brothers. But it was too late for him to do anything for them.

Hell is no “Friday the 13th Movie” It’s real and the anguish is forever real. Several years ago, a book was published, entitled Beyond Death’s Door, by Dr. Maurice Rawlings, a specialist in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Disease. Dr. Rawlings, a devout atheist, considered all religion "hocus-pocus." To him, death was nothing more than a painless extinction. But something happened in 1977 that brought a dramatic change in the life of Dr. Rawlings, as he was resuscitating a man who was terrified and screaming about sinking down into the flames of hell. Dr. Rawlings said, "Each time he regained heartbeat and respiration, the patient screamed, ‘I am in hell!’ The man was terrified and pleaded with me to help him. I was scared to death. Then I noticed a sincerely terrified look on the man’s face, worse than the expression I’d seen in death! His pupils were dilated, and he was perspiring and trembling. At one point he said, ‘Don’t you understand? I am in hell. . . PLEASE don’t let me go back to hell!’ The man was serious, and it finally occurred to me that he was indeed in trouble. He was in a panic like I had never seen before." (Maurice Rawlings, Beyond Death’s Door, (Thomas Nelson Inc., 1979) p. 3).

Dr. Rawlings said, “no one who could have heard his screams and saw the look of terror on his face could doubt for a single minute that he was actually in a place called hell!” We need to understand that in hell pain will never be eased.

One of the greatest pains of hell will be the ability to remember. Every opportunity to be saved will be remembered! Every sermon preached, including this one, will be remembered. Every invitation from a friend will be remembered in hell!

The greatest pain will be the eternal separation from God. The greatest and most awful terror that one will experience in hell will be the absence of God’s love. There is no torture known to man that is as extreme, as painful, as horrible, and as cruel as the absence of God’s love and presence. Can you imagine being cast into outer darkness, as Jesus called it, eternally separated from the Lord who did all He could to keep you from hell?

Jesus understood the pain of separation. “He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’” (Matt. 26:39).

I believe with all my heart that Jesus was not concerned with dying on the cross for you and me. He was more than willing to do that for us. I cannot help but believe the cup that He wanted to pass from Him was the separation from His Father that He would experience, the moment every sin was placed on Hm. You see Jesus had never been separated from His Father. Before time as we know it He was there with the Father. But in those minutes in the Garden of Gethsemane, you can hear the pain as He cries to His Father and makes that plea from the depths of His heart.

I cannot imagine being forever separated from the love of God. There is no get-out-of-hell-free card. When you are in hell, you are there for good. There is no second chance. There is no hope. There is only eternal darkness and torment.

Imagine the torment the rich man must have been in, as he could see the comforts of paradise. He could see Lazarus and the peace that he was enjoying, yet he could not experience it for himself. Hell is a place where there will be no pardons, no paroles, no way out!

Are you sure you want to go? Beloved, let me ask you. Are you willing to let your family and friends end up there? Would it make a difference in how much you cared for your lost family members and friends if you received a letter from hell asking for help?

For those who believe that God does not get angry, think again. Remember the incident when Jesus drove the money changers from the Temple? He did not ask them to leave quietly or politely. No, he drove them out in anger, turning over tables in a rage of righteous indignation. Remember when He chastised the Pharisees and Scribes in the Gospel of St. Matthew, calling them hypocrites? He was by no means diplomatic or gentle.

God has shown His anger by sending all unsaved people to hell, who have pushed away His truth which was born in them inwardly. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. They can look at the created earth and stars to recognize there is a Creator with great power and personality. So, they have no excuses for rejecting God (Rom. 1:18-20). “God will punish sin wherever it is found because people have God’s law written in their conscience and it accuses them whenever they do wrong. They know what is right but don’t do it. The day will come when Jesus Christ will judge everyone by their inner thoughts and motives” (Rom. 2:12-16).

If you have forgotten, let me remind you of some very important truths: 1) Every person is accountable to God. There is no one alive today who will not have to give an account to God for all the bad things they have done and all the good things they should have done but failed to do. 2) Every human being can see the existence of God from His creation, the natural wonders that abound around us. 3) The power and majesty of God is made manifest in the greatness of creation. Thus, we know that God can do all things and has knowledge and choice from what he created. 4) Every person is born with a consciousness of right and wrong. All have an obligation to seek the guidance and instruction of the Church for assistance in properly forming their conscience and a morality that is faithful to God’s laws and will. 5) Every person will be judged because they have done wrong. No human being is without sin, and sin must be accounted for. Sins that are not repented of will be punished. 6) Those who reject God and His Son Jesus Christ will be judged accordingly and have no hope of salvation. 7)They will be judged who do not do right. And, 8) There is no salvation for those who know of the Church but live outside the Church.   

All these things may seem harsh and may be hard for you to hear and bear in your heart, but I would be remiss if I did not say them to you. I tell you these things out of love and concern for you and the salvation of your souls. God does not want any of us to go to hell, but if it should happen that some of do end up there, it is no fault of anyone except our own doing.

Think seriously about all I have said to you this morning. Do not let a day go by without trying to do good and live according to God’s laws and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Be not sad or troubled by my words, but rather take hope and encouragement from them, so that you may find yourself among the sheep at the right hand of Christ on the fearful Day of Judgment.


Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In 1886, after the state of Georgia passed prohibition laws, a young man named John Pemberton invented a carbonated non-alcoholic beverage which he thought would appeal to Americans given the prohibition against alcohol. It was marketed as a “soft drink,” as opposed to hard liquor, and contained a mixture made from cocoa beans and cola beans, which inspired the name Coca-Cola. John first started selling the soft drink in pharmacies in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, but he had a much grander vision for his invention. He had a dream that within 100 years every person on the face of the earth would have tasted the soda he created. He did not quite reach his goal, but I would still say he was successful. Today it is estimated that…

• 51% of the all the people living in the world today have actually tasted Coca-Cola
• 72 % have at least seen a can or bottle of Coke
• 97%, if they haven’t seen or tasted it, have at least heard of Coca-Cola (Statistics provided by

On the other hand, only an estimated 73% of the world’s population today has heard of Jesus Christ (from and I guarantee you, a whole lot fewer have actually tasted what He has to offer. I wonder how different things might be if Christians were as passionate about sharing their faith as John Pemberton was about sharing his soft drink. Would we achieve the same level of success as John if we tried as hard as he did to put Bibles instead of bottles in the hands of people all over the world?

It is not easy to share your faith though, is it? Maybe you do not know what you are supposed to say or how to broach the subject. And, of course, there is always the fear of rejection. What if the person you are speaking to gets offended? What if it turns into an argument? What if I ruin an otherwise perfectly good friendship? But my question to you is: What if we do not share? Then he or she will lose their souls.

God told Ezekiel in Ezekiel 33:7-9, “Now as for you, son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel; so you will hear a message from My mouth and give them warning from Me. When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life.”

God has given us His message to share, and it is His Holy Word. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is a message that transcends all time and we must share it today. We must tell people everywhere there is a consequence of sin, a penalty, which is death, eternal separation from God. But we must tell them also that there is a reward for being obedient and faithful to God’s Word and to His laws, and that reward is eternal life through faith in Christ Jesus.

St. Paul tells us in Romans 10:14-17, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (And that word preacher simply means a messenger) And how shall they preach, except they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel, for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report? So, then, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

What St. Paul is saying is that we are to tell others about Jesus, and leave the results up to God. He knows who will hear His message and be saved, but we, nevertheless. must tell everyone we meet about Jesus and the salvation He offers to the world and to all people.

I suppose the parable of Jesus that is widely known as the Parable of the Sower is familiar to most of us. And because it is so familiar to us, there is the danger that when we hear it again, as we did a few minutes ago, we may think we already know its meaning. We should never be so sure of ourselves. It has been a year since we last heard this Gospel passage, and in that time, we may have forgotten its meaning. More importantly, we may have forgotten its purpose. So, Holy Mother Church presents it to us again, so that we may hear it anew and learn a fresh new message which we can apply, hopefully, to our daily lives.

If you had been a follower of Jesus during the time He walked among us and you observed the things going on at the time he spoke this parable, you would have had no trouble imagining the Kingdom of God taking over the world. People were flocking to Jesus, people were being healed, raised from the dead, evil spirits were being driven out of people’s lives, and the power of the Kingdom was obvious to all who chose to see. It would have been easy to think that the Kingdom of God would simply overwhelm all who opposed it.

But as Jesus tells the parable, something puzzling occurs. If the parable referred to the growth of the Kingdom, then something seems wrong. The means of growth of the Kingdom seems a little weak: A tiny seed so small that it can be devoured by birds? Why does the Lord of the Universe use the image of a seed to teach about the growth of the Kingdom of God?

The answer, beloved, is quite simple: You see, the “seed” is the Word of God! God says in Isaiah 55:10-11, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return until there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, and giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it,” Jesus says in Matthew 24:35, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” In other words, His Word is eternal.

The seed of which Jesus speaks in the parable is the Gospel – the good news that will be proclaimed from Jerusalem to Samaria, Judea, and even to the ends of the earth through all the ages until the earth passes away! The preaching of the Gospel will germinate into a kingdom of God’s people that will expand and flourish as people hear and respond to the call of God. Do not underestimate the power of the Word! It transforms persons and nations

Some are embarrassed to use God’s Word to spread the Kingdom, often because they know so little of it or are ashamed of it. “Whosoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Luke 9:26). But rather than being ashamed, we must say, like St. Paul in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greeks.”

As Jesus looked out upon the crowds that flocked to hear Him, He knew that most of those apparent converts would fall away. Why? Because Jesus knew that there would be some who would hear but then the Devil, like a hungry bird, almost immediately comes and takes away the Word from their hearts, so that they would not believe and be saved.

St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, “But if our gospel be hidden, it is hidden to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” There were some in the crowd who had already made up their mind about Jesus and were not about to take His words too seriously.

We, too, encounter people who refuse to hear the Word of God and be saved. Some reject the word out of hand, without even considering it. Some refuse to change their destructive lifestyle. Some believe they have no reason to repent and receive the Gospel. Others reject the Gospel because they have their own form of spirituality. Still, others think they are just too sophisticated to believe religious “mumbo-jumbo.”

There are two kinds of people who receive the Gospel with apparent joy, but it does not last. The first are those who respond with superficial faith – their response is purely emotional, and it soon wears off because it has no foundation, no substance. They are like the “rocky” soil of the parable. The other type of short-lived response is where there appears to be some initial growth, but the commitment was not sufficient and deep enough. As time goes on, it withers away as other competing interests choke it out. They are like the “thorny” ground of the parable.

Finally, there are those who receive the Gospel wholeheartedly and live it faithfully so that it brings forth abundant fruit. These are the true disciples of Christ.

In closing, let me ask this question: In doing the work of the Lord, what is important? Is it the “seed” of the Gospel? The “sower” who spreads that seed? Or is it the receptive “soil” of hearts prepared to hear and respond when the “seed” is sown? The truth is that each is absolutely essential. Without the “seed” of the Gospel, what will the sower sow? And without the “sower,” how will that seed be spread? And without the “soil” of hearts receptive to the “seed” of the Gospel, the “seed” will not germinate and grow into the fruit of the Kingdom of God, which is the Church.

We have access to the “seed” and there are many here in our community whose hearts would be receptive to the “seed” of the Gospel. The only thing missing is “sowers.” Are you willing to be one? Jesus said in Luke 10:2, “Therefore said He unto them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few: pray you, therefore, the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth laborers into His harvest.”

The crux of the matter is that we all need to be sowing life into the hearts of sinners everywhere. Do not only listen to the Word of God but receive it into your hearts. Nurture it and cultivate it so that it will bear much fruit for the glory of God and the building up of His Kingdom.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Most of us have, at one time or another, experienced the death of a loved one. We all know what that experience is like. No matter how strong our faith in God is, the death of a loved one is always difficult, painful, and stressful. Some of us cope with this life-changing event better than others. But no matter how we get through it, we all wish we did not have to experience it. That is why today’s Gospel can make us a bit jealous, especially if we have experienced a recent loss.

When someone you loved died, did you ever wonder why Jesus did not interrupt the funeral or burial service to restore his or her life? The widow whose son had died and was brought back to life was lucky. Her son was one of only three people whom Jesus brought back to life while He was on earth. The other two instances were the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the raising of Lazarus. Jesus may have raised other people, but these are the three specific events of which we have been told.

Since Adam and Eve first ate the forbidden fruit, death has been a part of life. Romans 5:12 says, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people because all sinned.” When sin entered the world, it brought death. From the moment we are born, we begin to die. Is that not a cheerful thought? Remember the old saying? Only two things are certain—death and taxes. Until Jesus comes again, the human condition is 100% fatal. And there is nothing we can do about it. And it hurts. It hurts to lose someone you love.

Perhaps that is why Jesus had compassion for this woman. St. Luke tells us about Jesus that: “His heart went out to her.” The wording implies great compassion. After all, one of the largest injustices in life is for a parent to have to bury a child. It should be the other way around. Even then, it is not what God designed. Yet, I have participated in or officiated at way too many funerals of young children, teenagers, and young adults. It does not seem right. And it is not. Death is a thief, and it is not part of God’s original design for humanity.

In today’s story, death not only touched this woman’s son; it had earlier come for her husband. In biblical times, this meant she is almost certainly condemned to a life of poverty, living off the charity of others. Perhaps that is why the entire town is walking with her because her situation is so sad, so bleak, so hopeless.

Jesus’ response is at the same time both touching and puzzling. He goes up to the widow and says, “Do not cry.” He feels compassion for her. His heart goes out to her. He hurts where she hurts. This tells us our God is compassionate. God cares, God hurts when we hurt, and God hates the sting of death as much if not more than we do.

Yet, Jesus' words are nevertheless puzzling. Why does He say to the woman, “Do not cry”? Is this not a strange request of a person who has already lost her spouse and now has to bury her only son? Why should she not cry? What possible reason could there be for not crying under such circumstances?

There is no reason ... by human standards. Tears are appropriate when you have lost someone dear to you. Yet Jesus is not done yet. He offers more than empty words; He offers action.

The one perfect human to ever walk the earth reaches out and touches the curse of death. The truly clean one—God in the flesh—touches the uncleanness of death. Jesus reaches out and touches the bier, a platform for carrying an open casket. The pallbearers halt immediately. They know no Jew in their right mind would make himself ceremonially unclean by touching a dead person.

But Jesus does not just touch a dead person; He talks to the corpse as if it were alive. In fact, He commands the corpse, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” Can you imagine the thoughts that must have rushed through the minds of the mother, the pallbearers, the crowd? In that brief instant, they must have questioned Jesus’ sanity. I imagine they felt a rush of anger and shock. How dare this man interrupt their carefully planned funeral procession!

If you think about it, Verse 15 is quite humorous in its wording: “The dead man sat up and began to talk.” How do dead people sit up and talk? With God, all things are possible. The Author of Life is able to return life, to replace death with life, to overcome death for good.

Before you think too much about how Jesus did not do the same for your own loved one’s death, consider this: Jesus did not stop His own death. He could have. He could have avoided arrest, or at least finagled a release by Pontius Pilate, who was looking for a way to let Him go. But He did not. He prayed for the cup of sorrow and death to pass Him by, and He ended His prayer with words that we would all do well to adopt: “Nevertheless, not My will, but Thy will be done, Father.” Is not that what we pray every day in the Lord’s Prayer? “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus submitted Himself to the Father’s will, and even to death itself. Jesus died. Yet death could not contain Him. On the third day, He arose bodily from the dead. In so doing, Jesus gained the first resurrection body, a body that would never die again. The widow’s son would die again, as would Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus. Yet Jesus' body would never age and never die.

And the Scriptures say we will have resurrection bodies ourselves someday. Death is not the end. Cholesterol and high blood pressure will be a thing of the past. There is food in heaven, but no calories. There is fellowship but no sin. We can hunt down this unnamed widow and ask her what went through her mind when Jesus walked up to her son’s coffin. Will that not be something?

St. Paul tells us that Jesus came, “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). At times we fear death. It seems to rob those closest to us. Yet our fear is born out of doubts that whisper, “This is the end.” Or for our own approach to death, “Is this all there is?” But Jesus has destroyed death once and for all. It is not the end anymore. For those who are believers, when death occurs, life is merely changed, not ended. Hopefully, when we die, we will enter into Paradise and be with Our Lord, and our loved who went before us, for eternity.

As Jesus told Martha at Lazarus’ death, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). In Jesus, we have life forever. We do not have to fear death. As Paul writes, “death has lost its sting” (1 Corinthians 15:55).

I love how today’s story ends. Jesus returns the young man to his mother. Certainly, the crowd would recall Old Testament stories where both Elijah and Elisha also resurrected young men and returned them to their mothers (1 Kings 17:23; 2 Kings 4:36–37). Yes, Jesus is a great prophet. They have yet to discover, however, that He is so much more.

When the crowd sees what Jesus did, they are both awe-struck and full of praise. They tell everyone what they saw. This is the natural reaction when you see Jesus at work when you discover that death is not the end.

When professional golfer Paul Azinger was 33 years old, he had just won a PGA championship and had ten tournament victories to his credit. But he was also diagnosed with cancer. He wrote, “A genuine feeling of fear came over me. I could die from cancer. Then another reality hit me even harder. I’m going to die eventually anyway, whether from cancer or something else. It’s just a question of when. Everything I had accomplished in golf became meaningless to me. All I wanted to do was live.”

Then Larry Moody, who was teaching a Bible study on the tour and was aware of the anxiety Azinger was experiencing, said to him, “Zinger, we’re not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We’re in the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living.”

That one comment changed Azinger’s attitude toward his cancer. He went through chemotherapy, recovered from his cancer and returned to the PGA tour. Now he’s a TV golf analyst. He has done pretty well for himself. But that bout with cancer changed him. He wrote, “I’ve made a lot of money since I’ve been on the tour and I’ve won a lot of tournaments, but that happiness is always temporary. The only way you will ever have true contentment is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that nothing ever bothers me and I don’t have problems. but I feel like I’ve found the answer TO THE SIX-FOOT HOLE.”

Beloved, death is going to come to us all at some point or another. For some, it will soon. For others, it will not come for years. For some, it will come unexpectedly and without notice. For others, it will come at a ripe old age or after an illness has run its course. Regardless of when death comes for us, though, we should never be afraid to welcome it and accept it. Death should never be something Christians should fear. Christ destroyed the power and finality of death by His own death and Resurrection. When our time to die comes, we should receive it with the comfort and knowledge that, if we have lived a good life and have been faithful and obedient to God, we will be welcomed into the mansions of the just, where there is eternal feasting and joy and life fulfilled in the Holy Trinity.

Beloved, live each day as if it were your last. Remember, death can come to any of us at any time. That is why it is necessary for us to be thankful for each new day we are given, that we may share our love, our treasure, and our time with those we love and with our neighbors. Let us not go to bed being angry with those we love. And let us make sure we always let those who are important to us know that they are loved and appreciated. Begin and end every day with “I love you” and “thank you!” Finally, pray for those you love in your daily prayers at rising and before going to sleep. Do not forget also your neighbors, for they too need your prayers. Praying for others is an act of love, kindness, and compassion. What you do for others from your heart will be returned to you one hundredfold. And when you are called from this world, you will have built up treasure in Heaven.


Monday, October 2, 2017

Archbishop's Statement on the Las Vegas Massacre

Brothers and Sisters,

Once again, we have seen the hideous and grotesque face of evil in our midst. This morning, most of America awoke to disturbing and horrific images of a mass shooting which occurred last night during an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, Nevada. As we watched the news coverage stunned and horrified, we heard the sad and tragic news that more than 50 of our fellow human beings were viciously murdered and another four hundred wounded, all by a lone gunman who opened fire from the 32nd floor of a hotel across the street from where the concert was being given. As the day has gone on, we have learned that the numbers of those who died as well as those who were injured have risen. As many have said, today’s shooting is the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States.

On behalf of myself and the faithful of the Italo-Greek (Italo-Byzantine) Orthodox Catholic Church in the Americas and Canada, we offer our heartfelt condolences and the assurance of our continual prayers to the families, friends, and colleagues of the deceased and injured. We pray especially for those who were killed, that God will be merciful to them in judgment, forgive them all their sins, and establish their souls where the just repose. We pray as well for all those who were injured. May the Lord send them physical and spiritual healing. May they rise up from their beds of affliction and suffering and give glory and thanks to God for the gifts of life, family, and friendship.

May Almighty God shower all who mourn, grieve, and are saddened by this tragedy with His compassion and consolation. May forgiveness and peace reign in the hearts of all during this most difficult and trying time. It is easier to hate and bear anger in our hearts than it is to forgive and love those who hurt and do us harm. But with firm faith and belief in God, we can unite together and show so forth His love in ways heretofore unknown and not thought possible.

We offer our sincere thanks and gratitude to all those who rushed to the aid and care of their fellow human beings who were killed or injured. We acknowledge especially all the police officers, firefighters, EMT’s, paramedics and all others who put themselves in harm’s way to help their brothers and sisters. May they all be blessed abundantly for their selfless and unselfish efforts.

Finally, let us beseech God our heavenly Father, to grant peace, consolation, comfort, and unity to the people of Las Vegas and to all the American people. Through this tragedy may good fruit come forth. May we also grow in wisdom and love, in righteousness and holiness, in understanding and peace that we may eradicate such evil from among our midst once and for all.

Homily for the Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

“Today the Virgin stands in the midst of the Church, and with choirs of Saints, she invisibly prays to God for us. Angels and Bishops venerate Her, Apostles and prophets rejoice together, since, for our sake, she prays to the Eternal God!”

"From time immemorial, the Church has celebrated the Most-holy Theotokos as the patroness and protectress of the Christian people, who, by her intercessory prayers, implores God's mercy for us sinners. The help of the Most-holy Mother of God has been clearly shown numerous times, to individuals and to nations, in peace and in war, in monastic deserts and in densely populated cities. The event that the Church commemorates and celebrates today confirms the Theotokos' consistent protection of Christian people.

On October 1, 911, during the reign of Emperor Leo the Wise, there was an All-Night Vigil in the Blachernae Church of the Mother of God in Constantinople. The church was full of people. St. Andrew, the Fool-for-Christ, was standing in the rear of the church with his disciple Epiphanius.  At the fourth hour, he lifted up his eyes towards the heavens and beheld our most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary coming through the air, resplendent with heavenly light and surrounded by an assembly of the Saints. Saint John the Baptist and the holy Apostle John the Theologian accompanied the Queen of Heaven. On bended knees, the Most Holy Virgin tearfully prayed for Christians for a long time. Then, coming near the Bishop’s Throne, she continued her prayer.

After completing her prayer, she took her veil and spread it over the people praying in church, protecting them from enemies both visible and invisible. The Most Holy Lady Theotokos was resplendent with heavenly glory, and the protecting veil in her hands gleamed “more than the rays of the sun.” Saint Andrew gazed trembling at the miraculous vision and he asked his disciple, the blessed Epiphanius standing beside him, “Do you see, brother, the Holy Theotokos, praying for all the world?” Epiphanius answered, “I do see, holy Father, and I am in awe.”

The Ever-Blessed Mother of God implored the Lord Jesus Christ to accept the prayers of all the people calling on His Most Holy Name and to respond speedily to her intercession, “O Heavenly King, accept all those who pray to You and call on my name for help. Do not let them go away from my icon unheard.”

Saints Andrew and Epiphanius were worthy to see the Mother of God at prayer, and “for a long time observed the Protecting Veil spread over the people and shining with flashes of glory. For as long as the Most Holy Theotokos was there, the Protecting Veil was also visible, but with her departure it also became invisible. After taking it with her, she left behind the grace of her visitation.”

At the Blachernae church, the memory of the miraculous appearance of the Mother of God was remembered. In the fourteenth century, the Russian pilgrim and clerk Alexander, saw in the church an icon of the Most Holy Theotokos praying for the world, depicting Saint Andrew in contemplation of her.

Today’s feast is not only a time to honor Mary, the Mother of God, but it is also a fitting time to reflect on the essential role she plays in our salvation and in our missionary apostolate promoting life and family. During this month of October, we should strive to deepen our knowledge and love of our Most Blessed Mother through prayer, especially the Akathists, the veneration of her images, the reading of Sacred Scripture, the study of the Church’s teachings, and the writings of the Church Fathers.

At the very beginning of history, after the tragedy of the sin of our first parents, Mary’s intervention is promised by God in what the Church Fathers call the Protoevangelium, or first Gospel (Genesis 3:15). The Blessed Virgin Mary is the woman whose child will strike at the head of the infernal serpent. Many Church Fathers and theologians of the Church have stated that the woman in this passage refers to Mary.

Our Lady of Victory, a very popular feast among the Sicilian and Italian people, is shown holding the child Jesus who assists Her in crushing the head of a serpent that is ready to strike at Her heel — with a cross shaped like a lance. Fulfilling this promise, the Second Person of the Trinity became incarnate through her cooperation.

In our catechesis about the Virgin Mary, we insist that she is truly the Mother of God, the Theotokos, in whose motherhood human motherhood has obtained its exalted position. The vocation of motherhood is a great honor, one not to be taken lightly or entered upon carelessly. To be a mother is a holy thing and a sacred responsibility. To accept motherhood is to participate with God in the work of creation, namely the propagation of the human race.

In the motherhood of Our Lady, the Creator gives humanity the greatest example of motherhood for two reasons.  First, it was the motherhood of her divine Son, and second, it was the motherhood brought about by a woman who was free from sin and thus was full of grace, as the Archangel Gabriel proclaims at the Annunciation.

On the Cross, Jesus made Mary the mother of all by giving her as a mother to St. John the Apostle. This incredible gift is fully actualized by the ones who receive in baptism the magnificent status of adopted children of God and thus become incorporated into His divine family. 

At the same time, Mary’s motherly heart is particularly concerned for the ones who have not received baptism through no fault of their own. As a consequence, her motherly heart has a particular concern for the babies in the womb who are at risk of abortion. Mary’s heart is also filled with compassion toward those children born in irregular situations and who are deprived of a proper family formed by a man and a woman committed to one another in a permanent and faithful union.

Mary also intercedes to protect the natural family.  All families are called to imitate the virtues of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Parents are the primary educators of their children. Mary and Joseph certainly gave Jesus an excellent education and Mary herself likely received an excellent education in the Temple.

The Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple on November 21. The Fathers of the Church believe that she received a special education there to prepare her for her eventual role as the Mother of the Redeemer. In the Italo-Greek Orthodox Catholic Church, Saints Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, are considered Patron Saints of a pious education for this reason.

To build a culture of life we must also promote the virtue of chastity. Mary is a model of chastity for all, not because everyone is called to practice chastity in the same way she did, but because she placed her procreative powers completely at the service of God so that He could make her the instrument for the conception and birth of the Son of God.

Since life and family are under such a severe attack in our secularized society, we ask the Blessed Virgin Mary’s protection, knowing that she is the intercessor of all graces. The Theotokos intercedes for all her children here on earth before the Throne of her Son. As with all loving mothers, Mary is concerned about the health and well-being, both spiritual and physical, of all her children.

Through her intercession, the hour of Christ was moved forward, and water was transformed into wine at the wedding in Cana. When the very essence of marriage between a man and woman is under attack and we find many that some propose the so-called marriage between persons of the same sex, we ask the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary to defend marriage as God designed it. We ask her intercession as the Seat of Wisdom to be able to help us teach and defend the true nature of marriage in a clear and precise way so that we will be well understood by all persons of good will.

Every Christian is called to defend life and the family to some extent and to the best of their abilities. The success of our work in protecting life and the family depends entirely upon prayer and fasting. In these, as in many other ways, we must imitate Our Lady. 

In the protection of the Blessed Virgin,we place our total confidence and hope. Inspired by the Memorare, we express our assurance that if we seek her protection, implore her help, and pray for her intercession we will never be left unaided.

On this Feast of the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos, let us implore the defense and assistance of the Queen of Heaven, “Remember us in your prayers, O Lady Virgin Mother of God, that we may not perish by the increase of our sins. Protect us from every evil and from grievous woes, for in you do we hope, and venerating the Feast of your Protection, we magnify you.”


Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

St. Luke tells us this morning that “the crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear the word of God. He was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee) and He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, He asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the people from the boat” (Luke 5:1-3).

For days prior to this event, Jesus had been teaching, preaching, doing miracles, and healing the sick. But up until now, He did not have very many close followers. No REAL disciples. But that is about to change very quickly.

Jesus says to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we have toiled all night and took in nothing! But at Your word, I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they captured a large amount of fish. So full were their nets that they were in danger of breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw what was happening, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Now Jesus had done many other miracles around Nazareth, but none like this one. This miracle was personal. This miracle was just for Peter and his cousins, James and John. But this raises two questions: Why this miracle? And why these men?

To answer these questions, it helps us first to know what kind of men Peter, James, and John were. There was nothing remarkable about any of the three, none were really men of stature or outstanding members of their community, as far as we know.  They were common fishermen doing a common job, a job that they did over, and over, and over again; day, after day, after day. And I do not think they were very satisfied with their lives.

Like you and me, I am sure they had goals in life. Certainly, they would have wanted a nice house, be successful enough to able to pay their bills and feed their families, and maybe even have enough extra to take a vacation or trip somewhere.

I suspect, too, that they had dreams. Maybe one of their dreams was to get that one big catch. I can visualize them talking about “scoring it big” in the fishing industry and how it would change their lives forever. In fact, I suspect they may have even talked about that on many occasions while they were fishing or sitting around a fire on the shore warming themselves after a long, hard day’s work. They were probably even talking about it that very morning before they set out for their day’s labors.

Then, along comes Jesus, and He ends up giving them the desire of their heart. Having had no success all day, Jesus tells Peter to cast out his net again, and as tired and disappointed as Peter was at not having caught any fish all day, he does what Jesus tells him to do. All of a sudden, they catch more fish than they have ever caught before in their entire lives. So, what do they do? They drop everything, even leave their boats and nets behind, and begin to follow Jesus.

Why would they do that? Why would anybody leave a job, even a job that was mediocre but was nonetheless a source of income, to follow a man who was unknown and nothing more than an itinerant preacher? They must have seen or felt something powerful and profound in Jesus that compelled them to make such a life-changing decision. Why would they give up anything to follow Christ? Why would anyone give up everything they have in life to follow Christ?

I believe it is because that even if people get all they ever dreamed of, it fails to satisfy them like they thought it would. At such a point in their lives, they finally face the same nagging question we all ask ourselves at some point: “Is this all there is? Is this all there is to live for?”

In the Book of Ecclesiastes, we are told that God has “set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). In other words, God has placed in our hearts the belief that we were made for more than this. We were made for bigger and better things! It is because God has set eternity in our hearts that people often look at their lives and ask: “Is this all there is?” It is because God has revealed to us the eternal good things that we all come to that point where we say: “There has to be more to life than this!”

Beloved, if you have ever felt discontent in your life; if you ever feel a restlessness, a dissatisfaction with your life, it is because you have not obtained what your heart truly desires. And what your heart truly desires is a relationship with God.

In your heart of hearts, you know that the only one who can fulfill all your desires and dreams is the God who created you and set you in this world with the help of your mother and father. God’s only desire is for you to be happy. But because He has given us all free will, He leaves it up to us to find our way to that happiness. We may think we know what it takes to make us happy, but God knows better. That is why He gives us signs and little nudges here and there.

You do not have to be a “religious” person to follow Christ. Jesus chose common people to follow Him; simple people, people who were flawed and imperfect. Take, for example, St. Peter. He was impetuous, hard-headed, and quick-tempered. Peter was not the kind of person we would expect to be entrusted with the care of the Church. Yet, Jesus knew His potential. He knew Peter’s heart.

Jesus frequently chooses the simple, the uneducated, the foolish, the weak, and the obscure and raises them to positions of authority and leadership to humble the proud, the educated, the elite, the arrogant, and the powerful. He does this to show us that money and position oftentimes do not necessarily make one a good leader.

Jesus is not interested in how much money we have or how many college degrees we have hanging on our walls. No, Our Lord is more concerned with what is in our hearts, with how we live our lives and how we treat our fellow human beings. Jesus is interested in the quality and degree of love we possess in our hearts and how we share it with and manifest it to others.

The miracle which Jesus performed in the sight of Peter was for his benefit, and that of James and John as well. The miracle was intended to show them that first, all things are possible with God, and second, that God is the only one who can fulfill all our desires. Peter recognized this when he fell to his knees before Jesus and begged Him to depart. Peter realized, at that very moment, that he needed something more substantial, something more fulfilling in his life than just a successful day fishing. He realized that no amount of fish he could ever catch would ever satisfy the longing that burned in his heart, a longing he knew only Jesus could satisfy.

In the end, material possessions proved not to be important to Peter, James, and John. What became important to them was the excitement of being fishers of men, of the ability to make a difference and positively impact the lives of others. They did not know exactly what they would be doing or where they would be going, or how they would live, but they knew that their hearts burned and yearned to be with Jesus. They wanted to be a part of whatever it was He was doing.

While Peter, James, and John ultimately left everything behind to become disciples of Jesus, we must not forget the fact that Peter initially resisted. When Jesus told Peter to set out in his boat and drop the nets into the water, Peter responded by saying that they had fished all day and did not catch anything. Peter did not really want to go out again into the sea. Yet, He did as Jesus instructed him.

How many times does Jesus tell us what to do and we resist Him? Sometimes, we get frustrated, disappointed, or discouraged and we feel like we just do not want to go on. Jesus comes to us and tells us to do something and we initially hesitate or even refuse. But, in the end, we do as He asks and we are surprised by the results.  It is at that time that we realize that our lives are better when Jesus is with us.

Jesus came into the world to reveal God and to redeem the cosmos. But He is known to us only through the witness of His Apostles. The call of the first disciples marks the beginning of a movement that culminates in the founding of the Church.

The Church did not come into existence through a group of persons who wanted to start a good, even benevolent, organization. From the Gospels and Holy Tradition, we have come to learn and know that the Church had its beginning with Jesus, who called certain persons to follow Him. Jesus established a community of disciples who heard Him preach and teach, saw Him heal and perform miracles, and who witnessed His Transfiguration, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension into Heaven.

The story of the Church is reflected, to some degree, in our Gospel reading this morning. When Jesus calls, Peter is initially hesitant and thinks that what Jesus asks of him is both unnecessary and too demanding. Nevertheless, Peter responds and in doing so, he experiences an epiphany of God.

God often becomes manifest in the ordinary, even seemingly unnecessary events of a person’s life – events which nevertheless are in accord with some purpose that is or is not known. Throughout history, the Church has continued to exist and carry on its ministry and mission in spite of the tenuous responses of its members. The ancient image of the Church as a fisherman’s boat tossed about on the sea, but sustained by the presence of the living Lord, is appropriate in every age and generation.

Many of us are often hesitant and reluctant to answer when Jesus calls us. Sometimes we just do not want to be bothered. Sometimes our priorities are misplaced. Sometimes we just do not know what to do. But one thing is certain. Our lives will never be fulfilled without Jesus in them. Our lives will never be complete unless we answer Jesus’ call to follow Him and live our lives in Him.

What will it take, beloved, for all of us to understand and realize that we have been born for something better than what we have, who we are, and where we are today? God knows what is best for us and what we need to be truly happy. When you next hear God calling you, do not hesitate to answer Him and do not refuse Him. Living as a true disciple of Jesus is a life worth living; it is a life which will bring you much happiness and great joy.